Sunday, April 6

Surprise Presents


Almost any of my close friends and family can attest to how much I love presents. Surprise presents especially and handmade gifts like the photo of the above painting, made for us by our lovely twelve-year old god-daughter, are even higher on my favorites list. If if you didn't already guess, our god-daughter is amazing. Not only is she sweet, beautiful, fun, and adventurous but she is also brilliant and artistic. 


She and her parents visited us in Stockholm last weekend and they came bearing gifts: A fun and elegant candleholder that glows orange when lit, a photo frame made from a bicycle chain, the above painted portrait of “our family,” and a baking cookbook that looks absolutely divine. I can’t wait to sink my measuring cups into it, or perhaps more aptly, my kitchen scale, as our friend informed us that in England baking requires a scale. All ingredients are measured in weight. 


The wrapping paper used for the presents was lovely as well. Natural brown paper covered with bicycles in black ink. Someone knows that we love bicycles. Of course I saved some of the paper for a yet unknown future craft project. Rest assured that you will be witness to both a future craft project featuring this adorable bicycle paper, as well as something tasty created from this beautiful cookbook. 


Maybe elderflower poppy seed cake? 


Or perhaps a batch of homemade crumpets? (Oh my goodness! I LOVE crumpets!)



Stay tuned to see what it will be….

*Photo of orange candleholder above by Johanna Winter.

Saturday, March 22

Vårkänslor


Vårkänslor, or the feeling of spring, is definitely in the air in Stockholm this weekend. After our two, faux-winter days this week, filled with storms resulting in a complete covering of a LOT of cold, white stuff, normally known as snow, the warmth and brightness of spring is back once again. And not a moment too soon. I have lived in Sweden now for just over four years. If you count up how many months of winter that is (approximately six months per year) it adds up to two years of winter. Two. Years. Of winter. 

So half of the time I have lived in Sweden, it has been winter. That seems fair to say. It has been a cool experience (ha!) living in a region that is basically the exact opposite to the temperature extremes where I grew up in Texas. I mostly like winters in Sweden. It is only around this time of year, when it isn't quite "warm" enough to go without a coat but not cold enough anymore to go skiing or ice skating, that I start to get the feeling of being imprisoned in an igloo. 

But soon enough spring (and then summer) will be here (I can't wait!), and in all honesty, there is nothing more glorious. Spring in Sweden is like no other experience of spring. The flowers are more vibrant, the sky more blue, the air more crisp and clean... Yes, vårkänslor, the feeling of spring, is something greatly coveted in the land of perpetual winter ;-). 

Sunday, March 16

Frozen




The above photo was taken in March 2010. Almost exactly four years ago today and just a few months after we had moved to Stockholm. We were standing in the middle of the water way that, in warmer times, flows between Djurgården and Gärdet. It is called Djurgårdsbrunnskanalen, or “The Canal of Djurgården Spring.” The water was frozen over and covered in snow. I clearly remember this day. We had ventured out to Djurgården for a nature walk and a visit to Rosendals Trädgården for an afternoon fika. 

We were making our way home, sauntering leisurely down to the path along the shore when my husband suddenly made a b-line towards the water, er ice and said, “let’s go out on the ice.” I was hesitant but he stepped out bravely, even though it was actually somewhat slushy around the shore and you could feel the ice move as it floated above the freezing cold water below. Not wanting to be left behind, I took a step out. Then another step… and another until I was eventually standing next to my husband looking back at the safety of the shore. Yikes. 

That day was my first time walking on water. Well, frozen water :-). I remember feeling pretty terrified the whole time but I forged on, embracing my fear. There were many other people out walking on the ice so I figured if I just followed their well-worn trail across the middle of the canal I’d be okay. Walking out on the ice with so many other people around made me feel a bit more comfortable but I was still apprehensive and I am pretty sure my heart was pounding the entire time. Even so, I can honestly say that it was a rush to stand out in the middle of the frozen-over canal, looking back at the city. 


The building in the back ground of the photo above is the Nordic Museum. It was pretty impressive standing there mingled among the tree tops. Today I would have to be in a boat out on the water to get the same perspective. The ice has been melted for many weeks now and we are heading full-force into spring. Not that I am complaining or anything. The thought of more warm days ahead, I welcomed with open arms.

Wednesday, March 12

Practice Kindness


What does kindness entail? Is it simply being polite and considerate to others? Or does it require an actual act? Are we kind if we are only kind to certain people? How can we be more kind? Kindness, like happiness, is a choice we get to make every day of our lives. While on the train back to Stockholm from Gothenburg this past weekend, I had a little time to contemplate what it means to be kind and also assess how kind I’ve been lately. Which, unfortunately, hasn’t been so much. 

I find that when a part of my life is unhappy, I start to lose my ability to express happiness, kindness, tolerance, etc. Everything feels like a chore and I walk around in what feels like a little, black rain cloud of grumpiness. But what I realized is that, if I allow this small part of my current situation to rule how I present myself to the world, I have let it win. I have allowed it to beat me. 

It doesn’t have to win. We ultimately have control over what we allow ourselves to experience. And while sitting day after day in a situation that feels overwhelming, diminishing, and just well, not good, it does not have to have the power, the upper hand. We can take back control at any time. We can put up an invisible “force shield” around us to protect us from the black rain clouds. Just like having a happy talisman to trigger feelings of happiness, we can train our minds and hearts to practice kindness. 


"Practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty" - Anne Herbert


Here are five ways we can try to be more kind to ourselves and those around us:

1. Decide each day before you leave home, that you will be more patient with people you encounter, especially strangers and even if they are rude. Perhaps they are having the worst day of their lives and your kindness could make their day. 

2. Smile and make eye contact with five people, strangers or otherwise (cats and dogs count, though it can be pretty difficult to make eye contact with a cat). 

3. Give yourself a mental hug by acknowledging five things you love about yourself each morning before you get out of bed. Even one or two make a difference.

4. Go for a walk, or spend some time outdoors, and appreciate the miracle of nature. 


5. Give up at least one thing that irritates you. Just let it go and watch it fly away from you.

Saturday, March 1

Apricot Dreamy


On my birthday this past year I was taken out to lunch by a lovely friend of mine to one of my favorite Italian restaurants in Stockholm, Primos Ciao Ciao. Oh heck, I might as well just say it was a pizza place because, though they do serve other dishes, I've never eaten anything other than pizza there. Aside from a ordering a salad once which was in addition to sharing a pizza with my husband. The salad was supposed to make us feel better that we were eating pizza. 

Well, my friend and I both ordered pizza, of course. And they were delicious. We had finished eating and were just hanging out, chatting and contemplating dessert when I saw the most divine looking drink/cocktail being served to a man sitting at a neighboring table. It was served in a champagne flute and was layered with what looked like an apricot colored juice on the bottom and cream or milk on top and it looked simply amazing. I had to know what it was. So I asked one of the servers. 

She in turn sent over the manager who revealed to us that it was a special drink from Italy that is served to children, similar to our idea of a Shirley Temple. This Italian Shirley is made with ice, apricot nectar, and milk. And, of course, all layered in a fancy champagne flute with a straw. Not too long after our conversation with the manager,  the server emerged with two more of those tasty looking cocktails and brought them to my friend and me, compliments of the house. How fun is that?! And let me just say, the drink tasted just as good as it looked. It was like an apricot dreamsicle. So delicious and fresh and decadent. I can see why Italian kids love it. 

The only catch is finding apricot nectar in Stockholm. Well, as luck would have it, I happened to come across some just recently in an Italian cafe I sometimes stop by for lunch. Of course I picked up a couple of bottles to take home. Now I can make this fancy Italian Shirley in the comfort of my home. And what a fun brunch cocktail it would make!


Today's simple brunch: Apricot Dreamy, hardboiled egg, toast two ways: honey & cinnamon and smoked turkey and cheese. Divine!

To make your own Apricot Dreamy:
  • Champagne flutes
  • Ice
  • Apricot nectar
  • Milk, I used regular low fat milk but I am sure it would be delicious with soy milk or another alternative milk
  • Fancy straws
Fill champagne flutes half full with ice.
Pour apricot nectar to the half way point, or slightly more.
Top with milk and finish with a straw.

Enjoy... and Happy Spring! I've pretty much decided that winter is over :-)

Delish!

Friday, February 21

Words for the Day


Courage. Strength. Discipline. Words to focus on as I embark upon the last stage of the Tjejklassik, and what I feel, will be the hardest stage thus far. The weather and minimal amount of snow in Stockholm has not been exceptionally kind for preparations and training for a cross-country skiing event. I've done the best I could to prepare, even making a couple of road trips north in search of snow. Now it's just to relax and try to enjoy the day tomorrow. 

Many people have told me with confidence that I will "klara det," or in English, complete it. Meaning the race. I have to trust them and hope for the best. And I do think that I will, in fact, finish the race. I just know it is going to be challenging, especially given what little experience I have with cross-country skiing. 

But when I think of the sense of accomplishment I already feel from the previous stages I've completed: the Tjejvättern, 100km bike race, the Vansbro Swim, 1km in ice cold open water, and the Lidingö Tjejloppet, 10km run, I already feel like I've achieved the greatest goal. That goal being to go above and beyond what I thought I could do. To push myself to limits I thought were impossible. This past year has shown me how much strength, and guts, I truly have. 

So whatever happens tomorrow, here's to a great experience and a day of true fun and adventure!

Skåll!!! (Och välkommen till Sverige!)

(Cheers! And welcome to Sweden! 

Wednesday, February 19

Trumped by a Possum

(The road to Mora. We travelled this road a couple of weeks ago and will be embarking once again on a journey there tomorrow! The Tjejvasa takes place on Saturday. Gulp.)

You may or may not remember how or when this whole song and dance got started. And by song and dance I mean this blog and my sometimes crazy stories. This particular story that I am about to tell has roots in my very first post when my husband and I had embarked on a friendly game of competition. 

Fast forward (or rewind) to this past Friday morning, which was February 14th. The alarm went off earlier than usual. Or so it seemed. My husband was covered in pillows and blankets and a soft snore could be heard as I quietly made my way out of bed to go make coffee, feed the cat, & prepare a special Valentine breakfast in bed.  Being the hopeless romantic that I am, I was planning to use a cookie cutter to cut heart shapes into a couple of cardamom bullar (buns) I'd picked up. I had hoped to find something already heart-shaped but this would have to do. I can't help it. I just love hearts. 

Cat fed, coffee brewed, and heart bullar ready, I headed up to surprise my Valentine. I tip-toed quietly into the dark bedroom, careful not to jolt him awake, and whispered "Happy Valentines's Day" to the pillow and blanket covered bed lump. He had been out with some work colleagues the night before so I knew he was extra tired. Ha. Suddenly he jumped up and spun around to face me and with the most joyous expression you can imagine, he exclaimed, “Fipin!" He was playing possum. 

What??! I was completely and utterly stunned. I just stood there with the tray in my hands staring at him. Was it true? Yes, I had a vague recollection of our game way back around the Christmas holidays when we set the date for Valentine’s day at 7:00 a.m. (But didn't you mean the year 2015??!!) If you don’t remember, Filipin is a game played when you eat hazelnuts, whole in the shell hazelnuts that you must crack open to eat. The game occurs when you open a shell and discover two hazelnuts inside of one shell. A rare find, but completely possible. You then choose a player and the two of you set a date and time in the future, could be near, could be far, and the first person to say “filipin” after that date and time wins. 


Being so focused on this upcoming cross-country ski event and all of the training and stresses it entails, I was obviously off of my game. I have won most of our past games but perhaps this will begin a new trend. I can honestly say however, that seeing his face so bright and cheery and happy made it worth losing. (No, I’m not a sore loser. What makes you think that? :-p) 

Ps. God-willing, I will complete the Tjejklassik this Saturday when I (hopefully) reach the Tjejvasa finish. More on that later ;-). 

Sunday, February 16

Valentine, I'd Follow You to the Ends of the Earth... On My Bike


Valentine's Day was a few days ago but for various reasons I was unable to make myself sit down and complete this post. So here it is now. Better late than never, right? 

These photos are of the valentine that I made my husband. I bought these tiny, tiny figures a couple of weeks ago from a hobby shop, knowing I wanted to use them in the making of my valentine but coming up with zero ideas. I sat for hours thinking about how I could cleverly incorporate them and the only image popping up in my head was to attach them to the top of a little wooden box (which does not actually exist in real life) that could be used to hold special keepsakes etc. 

This idea came from me assuming that the small figures were painted iron, or some similar hard substance. However, when the day finally arrived and I removed them from their packaging I realized that they were semi-soft plastic and most likely would not hold up to being glued to a box that one might use repetitively. That idea was out the window. 

So as I sat wrapping the tube that held my husband's valentine's present (three small artworks made by the very talented Ashley Percival), my cat helping the entire time, this idea sprang to life. I am not sure I would have come up with the idea if it hadn't been for my cat causing the tube to fall onto its side. My original thought was to glue them to the top of the tube, even though it looked ridiculous and the tube kept falling over. Lying there on its side I suddenly envisioned a single road down the middle and everything fell into place from there. 

Valentine's Day saved, I could then relax. Normally I love to make my own valentines, and this year was no different, though I was not expecting to feel empty of creative ideas. Sometimes that happens unfortunately and you just have to go with the flow. Most times I find that if I just take action and start making something, the creativity will eventually release and come out to play. Lucky for me my creativity kicked into gear just in the nick of time. :-)


Hope you have a Happy Day!

And don't forget... you can celebrate love any day, with or without a a Valentine.

"may my heart always be open to little
birds who are the secrets of living" 

Excerpt from an e.e. cummings poem

Wednesday, February 5

Lillstugan

(Lillstugan in Mora, Sweden)

Well, this lovely little cabin, aptly named Lillstugan, will be our home away from home on Saturday. We are renting a car and driving up to Mora, which is in the Dalarna region of Sweden, to cross-country ski. The snow situation has been less than ideal in Stockholm and since I have not had much experience with cross-country skiing previously, we decided that getting away to a place with snow and well-maintained ski tracks would be good (or actually, awesome) for my pre-race training. Now, calling it a race is a bit of a leap, since the only "race" that will be happening in my world is the race against time to get to the finish before they close the finish. 

Mora is home of the Tjejvasaloppet finish line and I think it is only appropriate that we are heading directly to the finish this weekend, even if the race isn't until February 22nd. This way my animal instincts will get to know the "smell of the barn" so to speak, and I will know where "home" is during the race and perhaps be able to detect it as I am getting closer. My husband raced mountain bikes a few years back and one of his friends liked to joke that he "smelled the barn" as they were getting closer to the finish because he would speed up. Just like cows start to walk faster when they are coming in from grazing. They smell the barn and speed up. 

Well, hopefully that will be me in a couple of weeks. Hopefully I will smell the barn and there will still be enough umpfhin me to speed up. Heck, if I just make it in time before the finish closes I'll be happy :-). But this weekend? It will be all about honing the new mad skills I acquired last Sunday in my ski lesson. And having some fun with my favorite person in the world. 

Hope you all get to spend time with your favorite person and have a Happy Weekend too!


Tuesday, February 4

Tacos Equal Happiness


(The finished product... Mmmmmm!!!! So delicious!)

On Sunday my husband said, "I'm gonna make tortillas." Homemade corn tortillas, that is. My whole being started to hum with happiness. Corn tortillas, especially homemade ones, are one of my favorite foods. You can make so many tasty meals: huevos rancheros, breakfast tacos, regular tacos, tostadas (just bake in the oven to crisp up to your liking), and enchiladas. I even have a favorite tortilla soup recipe that calls for corn tortillas as the thickening agent. 

(Pressing the tortilla)

Don't get me wrong, I pretty much love any kind of tortilla but the corn tortilla has a special place in my heart (and stomach). When my husband announced that he would make tortillas I immediately had the idea to make roasted veggie tacos. I was thinking zucchini, carrots, green onions, maybe some sweet potatoes... but then he suggested black bean and roasted sweet potatoes and since black beans and sweet potatoes are my new favorite combination ever (just add a little crumbled feta and a spoon or two of salsa and I am good to go), I said, "sure!"

(A perfectly pressed tortilla ready to grill)

We have always been a good team in the kitchen, easily splitting up prepping tasks and mostly avoiding too many bumps. And I don't know why but we seem to always find ourselves making up new dance moves in the kitchen as we cook (and groove to some music). We have created dances called The Robot Chicken and Korta Ben (Short Legs), to name a couple. Normally the dance creations come along when we are out at our summer house on Tjörn, but recently dance production has made its way into the kitchen on Södermalm. If nothing else, we have some good laughs. And by "good laughs" I mean, rolling on the floor, tears streaming down our faces, peeing our pants laughs. You should try it. Kitchen dancing. Makes the food taste better too.

(My mouth is watering just looking at these beauties again)

Once we started prepping for the sweet potatoes and black beans, my husband started on a secret project (that involved red onions, small red chilies, limes, & oranges - oh my yum!) and I sliced up an onion to roast and eat later as a taco topping. It is so easy to do. The roasted onion not only makes your kitchen smell edible and wonderful but the flavor and crunch it adds to the tacos is just... well, sheer perfection! Set your oven to 200 C (400 F) and roast in a thin layer of olive oil, turning as needed and removing the ones that reach desired doneness as you go. I like to let mine caramelize. It takes about 30 minutes total, give or take a few minutes depending on your oven.

(Ready for the oven!)

We layered our taco fillings in this order: a drizzle of sour cream, black beans, sweet potatoes, roasted onions, the secret pickled onion/chili combo my husband created (that was amazing!), crumbled feta cheese, and a spoonful of salsa. We would have finished them with a sprinkling of cilantro but the store was fresh out. The resulting tacos however were astoundingly great, even minus the cilantro. When we finished eating my husband said, "I could eat three more of those!" And even though my belly was full and I was in taco heaven, I felt the same way. So yummy! 

(Sheer perfection on a plate)

Ps. We did stop at three tacos each. Mostly because we had already put the remaining tortillas in the freezer and all of the taco ingredients that were left over, along with some leftover brown rice in the fridge, became my burrito bowl lunch for the next day. ;-)

Tacos = Happiness

If you are in need of a happy moment, eat a taco. It may not solve any problems but it will make you feel better. :-) That and a square or two of chocolate. 

Happy Hump Day! Hang in there, we are half way to Friday!


Saturday, February 1

Heart Happy


Forget about wearing your heart on your sleeve. Why not wear your heart... on your heart? For all the world to see! Be bold. Be direct. Let everyone know that you mean [love] business. I went through a crafting phase a year or two ago of appliquéing hearts on sweaters. Inspired by DIY projects I'd discovered on Pinterest, as well as a sweater I’d seen in one of my favorite clothing stores, I went to work on making my own. I ended up completing one striped sweater with heart-shaped elbow patches and then this solid black one with the large, bigger-than-life red heart right smack dab on the front. 

I don’t know why but they make me feel a little jolt of happy when I wear them. Perhaps it is because of my love of love and heart shapes, or possibly it is just knowing that there is a little bit of love “hanging around” me. Or just maybe it is the simple fact that I made it myself (and saved some dough). Either way, it is a fun project that you can do by yourself, with your cat, or with a group of friends. :-) And who doesn't want to wear hearts on their clothing?!

Items you will need for this project:

An iron & ironing board
A sweater you don’t mind renovating, or an inexpensive new one from Target or H & M
Iron-on backing, fusible webbing, or even those strips you can purchase to “iron hem” curtains
Felt or other material for your heart
Needle & thread
Old newspaper to make your template, plus a few pins to hold your template in place

Here is a tutorial to show how to make and iron on appliqués and anchor the edges down with a blanket stitch. In addition, this video, also found in the tutorial, gives a great example as well. 

If you start on it now,  you could be finished just in time for Valentine’s Day! 

Thursday, January 30

Oatcake Recipe Testing 1... 2...


Have you ever come across a recipe that sounded so yummy you had to go straight home and make it right away? Only you were missing a couple of the ingredients so you put it off for a day or so. Which turned into a couple of weeks. (sigh) Then finally the day arrived when you just said, "Screw it, I'm making this dang recipe and I'll make substitutions if I have to." Though you were pretty sure you had everything. Except enough maple syrup!!! Ugh. Among other things! Well it turns out that "ljussirap" (light syrup) works fabulously and then using brown sugar (the light variety) instead of white sugar provided just the right amount of caramel-y flavor that you decide this will now be your adaptation of the original recipe.

And by the way? The author of the recipe said it would make twelve muffins but it produced slightly more. I sort of thought 3 cups of oats + 2 cups of flour + at least a cup of wet ingredients sounded like way more than 12 muffins, but I went along with it. In fact I only prepared a twelve muffin tin and when I figured out I had enough batter for several more, I was scrambling with my lame glove-covered left hand (index finger coated in sticky oat batter) trying to pull more muffin liners out of the baking drawer without getting batter everywhere. Because who would think to remove said glove first?! 

One thing I discovered is that a) you don't actually need a muffin tin, the paper muffin liners hold their shape enough that you can just stick then directly into the oven, right onto your wire rack even, and they bake up just fine, and b) the muffin tin ACTUALLY helps the muffins cook evenly and they brown more in the tin. Go figure, my observations cancelled each other out! 

All things considered, these oatcakes turned out pretty darn tasty. Below is my adaptation of the original recipe. 

(Swedish ingredients in parentheses)

3 cups / 10.5 oz / 300 g rolled oats (havregryn)
2 cups / 8 oz / 225 g spelt flour (dinkelmjöl)
1/2 teaspoon aluminum-free baking powder (bakpulver)
2 teaspoons salt 
1/4 cup / 1.5 oz / 45 g crushed flax seeds (krossade linfrön)
3/4 cup / 3 oz / 85 g walnuts, lightly toasted & chopped (Valnötter)
1/3 cup / 2.5 oz / 70 g extra-virgin coconut oil 
1/3 cup / 3 oz / 85 g unsalted butter (Or salted butter and reduce amount of salt by 1/2 tsp)
3/4 cup / 180 ml light syrup (ljussirap)
1/2 cup / 2.5 oz / 70 g light brown sugar (muscovado socker)
2 large eggs, lightly beaten 

Preheat the oven to 325°F / 160°C with a rack in the top third of the oven. Line a 
standard 12-cup muffin pan (and possibly have some additional muffin liner cups handy for extra batter)

Combine the oats, flour, baking powder, salt, flax seeds, and walnuts in a large mixing 
bowl. 
In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the coconut oil, butter, light syrup,
brown sugar and slowly melt together. Stir just until the butter melts and sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside to cool for approximately five minutes. 
Pour the melted sugar and oil mixture over the oat mixture. Stir a bit with a fork, add the eggs, and 
stir again until everything comes together into a wet dough (mine was very thick!). Spoon dough into muffin cups, nearly filling them. 

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the edges of each oatcake are deeply golden. Remove the 
pan from the oven and let cool for a couple minutes. Remove muffins from tin and place onto a cooling rack to cool further. Serve warm or at room temperature. 

Makes 12 17 [caramelized buttery] oatcakes :-) 

But who's complaining?! Deliciousness multiplied! It's a win win. 


Ps. Can you believe it is already Thursday??! Sorry this is my first post this week... it's been particularly dark, cold, and wintry these past few days... these muffins definitely helped cheer me up! :-)


Thursday, January 23

HAPPY


Okay. I did not BUY a gym membership but I did go to a gym and work out this week. AND I went for a run last night (in the cold and snow I might add!). I have one more gym to test out before I make my decision but I hope to do that this weekend. So things are looking up for my New Year's resolutions. :-)

On another note, going to the gym means that I like to listen to my own music when I work out. It really pumps me up and pushes me to work out harder when I listen to an upbeat, fast tempo song. What I realized during my evening on the treadmill and cross fit trainer was how much I truly love music. It is something I seem to connect to deep in my body and soul. It used to be that I would get my music fix while driving my car and listening to the radio or a CD, but I don't have a car here, which makes that difficult.


After my visit to the gym I decided I should start listening to music on my way to and from work. So now my "headphones," which are really earbuds but I can't stop calling them headphones, accompany me on my subway ride and walk to work. It is truly awesome. I have rediscovered the healing and energizing power of music. When I was a teenager I used to listen to "1999" while I was getting ready to go out. (Remember that Prince song?!) It can really put me in a good mood to listen to one of my favorite songs.

And I have discovered something else too. I don't know if it is because I was a professional dancer in my former life (or if I was a dance BECAUSE of this) but I simply cannot stand still and listen to a great song. My body HAS to move. My foot taps, my shoulders bop, and my hips want to join in the party. Would it be weird if I just launched into my own private music dance video on the blue line? or in central station? Probably. Therefore I compromise and sit [mostly] still.

Anyway, as you all know, it is that wonderful day of the week again - FRIDAY!!!

I came across THIS SONG, by Pharrell Williams, last night and even though I've heard it before, for some reason hearing it and watching the video last night just brightened up the whole universe.

The name of the song is Happy and, well, it is just HAPPY.

Enjoy!


And have a HAPPY WEEKEND!

Ps. The photos are from our engagement photo session five years ago. We celebrated our five year anniversary a couple of months ago and so it felt appropriate to post a few of these... from one of my happiest moments :-).

Wednesday, January 22

Sunshiny Days


Sunshiny days make me happy. They just do. When I was in my early twenties, I moved to Los Angeles, California to dance professionally. One of the things about that time in my life that I remember most were the beautiful clear blue skies that seemed to haunt the days year round. I say "haunt" but a better term might be "grace," as these sunny days were a thing of beauty, a wonderful gift, that I appreciated every moment. 

My soul has a direct connection with the sun. I seriously never once missed the rain or wished for rain during my Cali days. Perhaps it was a result of my upbringing in southeast Texas, where a thunder storm could appear out of nowhere in a matter of minutes and humidity often hovered around 100%. The air in that part of Texas can be likened to soup. I kid you not. Just like the desert of the 1930's was called the dust bowl, southeast Texas could easily be called a soup bowl. So imagine the daily delight I experienced living in what felt like paradise by comparison. Sunshine, blue skies, and warmth. 

That last bit about warmth is an important detail to note just now because yesterday in Stockholm, the sky reminded me of those lovely, year-round warm LA days. Only I was wearing an insulated coat, a wool hat, and my touchscreen gloves, so I could take this lovely photo on my iPhone without taking them off, of course. Yes, there was sunshine and a gorgeous blue sky but the warmth part was missing, sadly.

My memory of those sunny, southern California days coupled with the sunny blue sky in Stockholm yesterday, gave me just the boost of warm glow and vitamin D that I needed. Especially after several days of overcast, cold gray days. Just the other day at work one of my (Swedish) colleagues said, "Spring is just around the corner."  At the time I thought she was crazy. I mean, here we are, finally getting snow and moving full force into the two coldest months of Swedish winter and she's already talking about spring. I get it however. Because having that glimmer of warm, sunny times on the [far] horizon helps get us through these bitterly cold days. 


Ps. Dear spring,

If you want to come early this year, that would be okay with me. As long as it's after February 22nd. That's the day I have to ski 30 kilometers on my spaghetti skis. Gulp. 

Yours truly,
Grace Ann

(Lover of warmth & sunshine)  

Tuesday, January 21

Morning Routine


Every morning I get up and go downstairs to make coffee for the cat and feed my husband some wet food. Oh wait, I mean the other way around - I make coffee for my HUSBAND and feed the CAT some wet food! Her long-awaited and very much loved wet food breakfast. We all love morning routine around here. 

Kissekatten (Pina, aka cat) has been with us now for just over three years and during this time she has gone from hopping all over us in the mornings, pushing things off our night stands, and in general being a holy terror until I get up and go downstairs, to sleeping in right along side us, waking up slowly and slithering down the stairs to the kitchen. Most days however she practices the art of subtle manipulation. She hops up onto the bed and comes over to one of us, purring loudly, butting us with her head, and being as cute as possible. This can happen several times before she tires of that and moves on to a new tactic. The final straw, for us both, is when she jumps up onto my night stand. At this point I know she is saying, “Either get up now, or someone gets hurt.” That someone being whatever she decides to push off of the night stand. 


Never-the-less, after I have finally “woken up” both she and I make our way down to the kitchen where I prepare her wet food with a little warm water (to make the gravy of course). We love the gravy. And by we, I mean Pina. Some days she sits patiently at her placemat waiting for me to bring over her food but most days, she is standing impatiently beside me, on her back legs while reaching her outstretched front paws up toward the counter, yelling the whole time until I turn to make my move toward her placemat. She then runs to her bowl with vigor (yelling and trying to trip me along the way) where she immediately slurps down the gravy. 

Sometimes I want to tell her, “Take it easy kitty, the next bowl won't arrive for another 24 hours.” But she doesn’t care. There will be treats and dry food (and an occasional people food treat) to tide her over until then. 


But the absolute best part of morning routine is when I get to sit down and enjoy my morning cup of joe. Some days I cannot wait for morning to arrive for this moment. The anticipation is nearly as good as the reality, but not quite. Some years back I stopped drinking coffee. I know, why? Right? But I had my reasons. Now I cannot imagine being without my strongly brewed, dark roast with just the right amount of cream. No sugar, just cream. And it has to be real cream, milk does not do it for me. A good dark cup of coffee can only be complimented with a rich shot of cream. To drink coffee with milk is like adding water to a smoothie. It merely dilutes the beauty of the bitter roast. In my opinion. That being said however, I would never turn down my morning joe simply because my beloved coffee cream is lacking. It would only reinforce my anticipation for the next time I get to enjoy it my way. That in itself is worthwhile.  

What routines and rituals do you have that make your days a little brighter? 

Thursday, January 16

Happy Talisman


Everyone has one whether they realize it or not. It could be a small trinket that you’ve had since you were a kid, a favorite handbag that expresses your personality (or has the perfect number of pockets and zipper pouches, you know what I mean ladies), a shirt that brings you good luck and perks up those drab Mondays, or maybe your talisman is a special memory that you carry around close to your heart. This morning it dawned on me that having a talisman, a symbol of happiness, that can trigger us to feel happy or alter our state of mind could be a great way to keep happy alive and well in our every day. 

I started thinking about hypnosis and how the hypnotist tells the person (I have not actually experienced this personally) that they will awaken in 5 seconds, refreshed and not remember anything that was discussed. And they will go on to have a fabulous day. I made that last bit up but wouldn’t it be cool if you could whip out your talisman and just a peek at it could trigger a forgetting of the thing that was raining on your parade and you could just move on to having a happy day? 

Well, perhaps it could be just that simple. I am willing to try it. Want to do it with me? Pick out a talisman for yourself and give it special powers and permission to take away your bad mood, sadness, and un-happiness and replace those feelings with a sense of peacefulness and calm. Choose a happy memory to bestow upon your talisman so that every time you see it, you will be reminded of that special moment. Allow your talisman to inspire you to keep that feeling alive for the rest of your day. 

What would your Happy Talisman be? You are free to choose anything but how nice would it be if it was something small enough to carry around with you and whip out from time to time for a bit of happy inspiration? Perhaps mine will be a lucky Texas quarter… to remind me of warm, sunny Texas days and being surrounded by my friends and family back home…

Sunday, January 12

Fresh Flowers


After packing away all of the cheery Christmas ornaments and dragging our poor, dried out Christmas tree to the Christmas tree graveyard, the apartment seemed a little dreary and sad. So when I was picking up a few things at our local ICA grocery store and tulips were on sale, I decided to brighten up our spirits with some fresh flowers. 

I don’t know if you have experienced this with fresh tulips before but they have a tendency to grow over night. And when I say grow, I mean GROW. I trimmed the bottoms a couple of inches before placing them in the vase with water and the next morning a few rambunctious wranglers to the right had grown at least three inches above the rest of the tulips. I know this about tulips and yet every time I am utterly astounded at how fast they grow. By the next day, it was as if the rest of them had caught up and then proposed a race to see who could grow the tallest. 

Now look at them! I have since trimmed about four additional inches off of the stems and they continue to grow. It is truly amazing. I know that white tulips are not so exciting when there are gorgeous orange, purple, and pink shades to choose from but these white beauties sure have brightened up our kitchen. 

Fresh flowers = HAPPY :-D

Hope you have a Happy Sunday!

Friday, January 10

When Old is New



I have always loved antiques and old things. I love the charm of their imperfections, the hidden stories they seem to contain. My favorite items have been passed down to me from my family: My cast iron bed that my father slept in as a child, costume jewelry that belonged to my maternal grandmother and her sister, my great aunt, my mother’s engagement ring that was also worn by my paternal grandmother, numerous beaded and embroidered sweaters belonging to my mother’s mother, quilts made by both of my grandmothers, the list goes on and on. 

Since meeting my husband however, my antique collecting habits have changed somewhat. Influenced by my upbringing in Texas, living in California on and off for eleven years, and a Scandinavian husband, my tastes have undergone a transformation leaving behind a style composed of clean and modern, with bursts and fits of color, quirkiness, and the old thing or two mixed in here and there. 

(Kitty likes my wooden spoon too!)

There are still certain things that, no matter how much my taste in design and decorating is transformed, I will always be drawn to. The antique, wooden spoon above is a perfect example. As soon as I saw it I knew I had to have it. Once I clean it up and oil it, I think it will make a perfect scoop for my flour jar. I bake quite often so this means I will get to enjoy it on a regular basis. :-)


This photo is of the little antique shop where I found my lovely wooden spoon. The shop had MANY tempting items. I may have to go back and stumble across some other [hidden] treasures....


This photo was taken before Christmas but I just love their window display. 

What do you think? Do antiques and old things pull at your heart strings too?

Oh, and by the way, Happy Friday!

I hope you get to do something especially fun today!

Monday, January 6

A New Year


What do you aim to achieve this year? Sounds like an interview question, doesn't it? Only they usually want to know what your plans are for the next FIVE years. Who knows what they want to do in five years?! Your entire life can change in that amount of time. So, when you consider that, coming up with a plan for one year seems like it should be a piece of cake, right? (Now I want cake! I am easily swayed when it comes to food). 

But anyway, back to my goals for the next year. Before I get that far however, I would like to just talk about those recurring goals that seem to follow me around like a lost puppy. The list below could easily have been the same every year, for many years:

1. Get in shape (like, for real).
2. Eat healthier (more green stuff).
3. Be a better person (nicer, less grumpy).
4. Save [more] money.
5. Travel [more]. 

The fact that they usually show up on the next year’s resolutions list obviously implies that I didn’t quite reach the level I’d aimed for in the previous year. However, I think these are a prime example of what we should keep as daily goals, not just New Year’s resolutions. I mean, who doesn’t want all of these things? All the time? 

The question is, how can we get from A (before goals are achieved) to B (goals achieved and living like a rock star)? That is the million dollar question isn’t it? For the record however, I would just like to say that chocolate is healthy. And avocados count as green stuff. 

So how do we go about achieving out goals and resolutions? Baby steps is the way to go. If you are having a hard time getting started or motivated, start small. For number 1, take the stairs at work instead of the elevator, park your car further away so you are forced to walk farther. Number 2, add an extra piece of fruit and one additional vegetable to your daily diet, or if you don’t eat fruit or veggies, start with one each per day. Smoothies are a great way to sneak in spinach, by the way. 

How to be a better person, just smile. Force it if you don’t feel it, if anything it will make you laugh and that is a good start. Money? Instead of going to lunch or coffee with a friend, meet for a walk. Then you kill two birds with one stone. Want to travel more? Plan a trip. Book the trip. Take the trip. Maybe it isn’t your dream vacation, but go away for a weekend to a neighboring city. Just taking that action will ignite your wander lust and soon you will just figure out how to save money for that bigger trip you want to take. Can’t go for a weekend? Take a day excursion. Explore a new area in your city. 

Bottom line is, it just takes a little creativity and action. 

And it IS a New Year! So start now!

What are your goals and aspirations for 2014?

A few of mine include:

1. Prepare more home cooked meals to take to work for lunch.
2. Clean out my closets and get rid of at least one item each month.
3. Get a gym membership (for REAL). Sigh. This one is killing me.

Update: Our Christmas tree and decorations are taken down and packed away now. Sad face. But the good news is that now I can really focus on my New Year’s goals. 

Have a Happy Day!

Christmas Past


It's always so much fun at the beginning of December to pull out the ornament box and start decorating for Christmas. I love the excitement of that first moment, removing the lid and taking it all in before pulling out each ornament and decoration one by one

My husband's job is to place the tree in its stand and hang the lights. That's where I come in. My job is to decorate it and I truly relish this task. I treasure each moment as I unwrap our ornaments, tomtar (Swedish Santas), and all of our other ornaments that we have collected separately and together. This year's tree was probably my favorite yet. 


As I sat in the living room this afternoon, admiring a few of my favorite ornaments on the tree, I was brought back to a Christmas from my childhood. My mother had purchased a collection of terracotta gingerbread houses, boys, and girls, and she, my brother and I sat around the dining table painting them by hand. Today these ornaments are still among my favorites. I have a few of them and I believe my brother has the rest. 


I love the imperfections, the splotches of blue or red paint "outside the lines" and the obvious ones mostly likely painted by me, the youngest. 


This gingerbread house is probably my favorite. I love the steep, slanted roof, covered with snow, the red door, the flower box under the window, and especially the heart at the top, signifying a house filled with love.

(An ornament I made Christmas 2006)

It is not the same amount of fun taking down the ornaments and packing them away for another year so it was especially nice to sit in the quiet peacefulness of the living room, enjoying our tree and all of our beautiful decorations, before packing them up for another year of slumber. 

And while the ornaments slumber, we get to move on to the New Year... 

I know the first of January was last week but it doesn't truly feel like the New Year until Christmas has past and been packed away until next December. Now I can truly focus on what's in store for 2014.... 

What do you have up your sleeve for the New Year? Do you still make resolutions? Goals? 

My first resolution was to start blogging again here at Finding Happy. Stay tuned for my other resolutions and goals....

Happy New Year, belatedly! ;-)

Saturday, January 4

After Christmas Sales


I used to love after Christmas sales. I couldn't wait to rush to the stores first thing the morning after Christmas. Stocking up on wrapping paper and cards for the next year at half price was always my first priority. Then I would head systematically to a few of my favorite clothing boutiques, hoping score a sweater I'd had my eye on for weeks. And hopefully at half the price, or less if I was lucky. 

Lately however, the after Christmas sales have not been as enticing and I've been perfectly happy ignoring the ads and window signs offering 50% or more off. That is, until Marimekko posted their after Christmas sale, with 40% off (Omg! Omg!)! For anyone who is familiar with Marimekko, 40% off still leaves quite a chunk of change left to pay. But at the same time, 40% OFF at MARIMEKKO is still rather AMAZING!!!! So off I went on this dreary, rainy day. I made a b-line for Marimekko. Just to "look around" and see if I spotted anything I couldn't live without. Secretly hoping a particular shirt I'd had on my Christmas wish list was still available, and on their sale rack. 

As luck would have it, the shirt was available. In my size AND discounted. I was in heaven. There were plenty of other things my eyes (and soul) coveted but I very rationally took my top to the counter, paid the nice girl, and left. Whew! 

Happiness meter growing steadily. 

Friday, January 3

Thank God It's Friday


I think even after I retire I will always love Fridays. Even though my Mom consistently confirms that after retirement, the days blend together, and 5pm on Friday starts to lose it's romantic, star-gazed hold. Still, it is a magical moment for me. I feel drunk with power when I think of all the things I can do and want to do now that the weekend is here.

It's not so much that I live for the weekends, though sometimes it seems so. I just really enjoy doing what I want to do with my time, as opposed to what someone else wants me to do with my time. And while getting paid is a good trade off, I have to be honest and say that the weekend has a much larger glow surrounding it when your job is just that, a job. However, I must say that there is a certain aura already glimmering around 2014, an excitement in the undercurrent (do you feel it too?). I think it's going to be an excellent year. 

So, Happy Friday to you!

Happy Weekend! 

And... 

once again...

Happy New Year! 

(Skål!!! och Välkomen till Sverige!) 

Thursday, January 2

The [True] Source



"Find the true source of happiness." 

The true source of happiness. What would that be? I'm sure the answer is different for different people. And each person probably has a different answer at different times, depending on the situation or season of the year. For example, in the summer time, an ice cream cone is sheer joy. In the spring, the cherry blossoms finally in bloom. In the fall, well anything pumpkin works for me. And in the winter, it could be a number of things from getting some sunshine, to the cozy, candle-lit evenings, to holiday cheer, to the first snow. 

Ultimately, these are just things. If they were all take away, what would that leave us with? The simple choice to just be happy. For no apparent reason. Well, tell that to my grumpy side! The simplest thing is not always the easiest. Therefore I think having a list of the things that make us happy is a good idea. We can look at it any time of day for a mood lift. Or maybe it is a photograph or a trinket that reminds you of a happy memory. 

Regardless, I think it is good to be prepared. So here is my list of happy today:

1. A hug from my husband. 
2. Head butts from my cat. 
3. Dark chocolate covered almonds with turbinado sugar and sea salt (soooooo good!!!). 
4. Internet telephone so I can call my family & friends back home for free! (Minus the yearly fee, which is minimal)
5. Pinterest

I know that last one might seem lame and some of you may not be familiar with Pinterest but let me tell you, it is a pack rat's dream come true. You can collect as many things as you want, recipes, craft ideas, wish lists, recipes, clothing ideas, etc. and it is all electronic and takes up about as much space as, well, your computer (or smart phone, or pad). Pretty awesome, right?

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts. What is your [true] source of happiness?

Wednesday, January 1

New [Happy] Frontiers


For those of you new to Finding Happy, I'd like to give you a big welcome. For those of you who followed "Finding Happy in 365 Days" during my one year project in 2012, well, I am back. Why, you may ask, am I back over here, when I have a new blog (On My Bike with Scissors and a Cast Iron Skillet) now? Well, the honest truth is that I need it. I am just not feeling the same amount of happy these days. It's not that I am focusing on negative things but they keep rearing their ugly heads, forcing me to look smack dab at them. It's gross, I know. And a bit pathetic, when I consider how happy I should be and feel. I have a really nice life. I am married to a wonderful man who is the most understanding and supportive person I could have possibly been matched with in my life, I have a lovely home, no real problems to speak of. So why the dreariness?

I could reply in a deep, meaningful way and say something profound but I really feel that it would only be a half-truth. After my one year of Finding Happy, and having Happy be my focus every single day for that entire year, I really do honestly feel that the key to happiness is basically choosing happiness. But not all of us are that strong mentally. After being away from "Finding Happy" for nearly a year, I have discovered that I was happier when I was consciously focusing on Finding Happy. Having this project and being fully committed to it, to finding and writing about something Happy every day, even when the last thing I wanted to do was to think a positive thought, gave me something. A purpose. And whether or not that purpose was fulfilling my own personal need to finding a happy or positive focus, it gave me what I needed, and hopefully you benefited as well.

We all face things in life that we feel are not fair. Not everyone gets to have a healthy body. Not everyone gets to live to be 45 years old. Not everyone gets to experience living in a foreign country, not everyone gets to be a mom or dad, not everyone gets to find their soulmate, not everyone gets to ride a bicycle, go for a jog, see a rainbow, hear music... You get my point. And all of those people out there with seemingly perfect lives, well, they too have something they must deal with. Something that is their cross to bear. No one gets to have the perfect life. Though it seems so when you are on the outside looking in.

But there IS something that we all have the opportunity to have and that is our own thoughts and our own free will to choose happiness. Sometimes finding happiness is a piece of cake (literally!) and sometimes you have to scrape the bottoms of your shoes, just for one little, teeny, tiny glimmer of happy... but it IS there. Waiting to be found.

So now I am about to embark upon yet another journey of Finding Happy. This time it may not be every single day but do I commit to posting about something positive or happy at least 3 days a week, possibly, hopefully more. I hope you will join me on this journey and actively seek happiness along side me. Because the only thing better than finding happiness yourself... is getting to share that happiness.

Happy New Year....

Be Happy!