The Celtic New Year

The old traditions of Samhain, All Hallows Eve, Día de los Muertos, All Saints and All Souls have melded into an interesting mix of religious and cultural celebrations here in Sweden. It makes perfect sense that people mark the transition from summer-harvest-abundant life to winter-dormancy-death. And many cultures believe that “the veil between the living and the dead is thin” during this time, so it is common to visit the cemeteries and hold ceremonies of remembrance. The shift to darkness seemed sudden, but the weather has been warmer than normal and there have been a few hours of partial sun to break up the “höstrusk” or autumn rain and gloom.

Halloween is growing in popularity, though Swedes insist on celebrating it over the period of several weeks, rather than only on October 31st. Trick or Treating, if it has been adopted by ones neighborhood or community, typically happens on the Saturday closest to the 31st. Costume parties are also popular during these several weeks, based on my observations of people around town and at the train stops.

We were invited to two such parties this year and went with the relatively simple Alice in Wonderland theme. There were some uber creative costumes such as The Øresund Bridge, Picasso and his Painting, the Oreo Trio, The Addams Family, the Heathers, and many more!

There were lots of fun seasonal treats!

On Friday I went to an All Saints Day hike with Stephanie and Carole in Malmö. It was organized by the Church of Sweden’s Pilgrim’s Walk but I didn’t know what to expect. It was more religious in nature than I thought it would be. It was led in Swedish, starting with a lantern lighting ceremony, after which we walked single file in silence to various locations between the two main churches. Along the way we stopped to hear readings on the theme of light (Matthew 5:14) which was good practice for my Swedish. There was a lot about angels and connecting with each other and with memories of the dead, I think. It was clearly more emotional for many of the participants and I felt a bit out of place, but it was peaceful and quite interesting. Hil actually passed by on the bus after the last session of Model UN in Malmö and saw our group as we carried lanterns through the cemetery.

The actual cemetery part of the walk was much too dark for photography. Here we are emerging near Sankt Pauli Kyrka. There was a prayer service after the hike but we made a quiet exit and managed to get tea at Hollandia just before closing!

About 50% of people in Sweden visit the cemetery or attend some All Saints/Souls celebration. The majority of cemetery visits, services and concerts happen on the first Saturday in November, the official church holiday. We were invited to dinner with the Westall Lundqvist family (my Danish Swedish relatives, Anne is my third cousin according to the Ancestry family tree) here in Lund. Before the dinner I thought it would be fun to take a quick walk through the cemetery just 2 blocks from our house and sure enough it was a big deal! Most graves and pathways were lit with candles and lanterns and there were people cleaning the graves and placing flowers. It was more solemn than what I’ve seen of the Day of the Dead but had a similar, if less colorful, vibe.

A Giant hare at Norra Kyrkogården scared me! Lots of Fall activities at the orchard, botanic garden etc.
brunch at Solnäs Gård -Kiviks orchard

Autumn in Spain

Our plans to visit my Spanish friend, Laura, had been on-hold since 2020 due to covid concerns and other circumstances. So I decided to take a solo trip. Even though it was not ideal to travel so soon after moving, I was tired of waiting for the perfect time. Laura’s daughter is spending a year as an exchange student in Golden, CO (where I taught for a year before moving to Denver Public Schools!) so she had the extra room available for me to use at her apartment in Valladolid, overlooking the Pisuerga River and most of the city. Spanish workers had Oct 12 off for National Day so Laura had more time than usual for leisure. She was able to do a bit of work from home and take some time off from her job as an engineer at Renault.

Pisuerga River from Laura’s apartment

We spent a day touring Valladolid and doing a few things that were new to Laura or that she had forgotten over the years. The cathedral tower guided tour was worth the scolding we had to endure for being 5 minutes late, which is not typically a problem in Spain! At 70 meters high, the views were fantastic and we could see Laura’s building- marked with a blue X sticker over the photo. The bells and clocks used to be run entirely by hand, of course, quite an important job and difficult as well. The original wooden spiral staircase still exists in usable condition but the elevator is much easier 🙂 The bells were extremely important to the community…each neighborhood had its own fire “code” and there were other general signals that everyone knew. The announcement of births, deaths, floods, etc all had their own tones. Now everything is run by electrical impulses that are programmed. When Valladolid was the Spanish capital, plans were for the cathedral to be the biggest in the country. But as politics and funds shifted over the next century, construction halted after only 2 towers (one forth of the original plan) had been completed. The missing tower on the left collapsed in 1841 (due to seismic and earlier structural damage)

I follow Laura’s Zumba (pronounced thoomba) class on FB and she didn’t want to miss her weekly session so I tagged along and did my best to keep up with the dancing, and it was really fun, but my favorite part was the table reserved at the cafe next door for “The Zumba Girls”. Really cute decor and antiques for sale, too.

coffee break en route to Laguardia, along the Camino de Santiago, busy with travelers

It was great to spend time with Laura, especially since her mother died shortly before our move to Sweden. Returning to Portillo without Chelo there to greet me was sad, and at the same time it rekindled wonderful memories and stories that made us laugh. We spent an afternoon in her hometown of Portillo, checking on her parents’ house while Laura’s dad was away. Laura knows everyone so a walk around Portillo is quite a social experience. We stopped every few minutes to chat with a friend or relative and eventually made our way to Laura’s aunt and uncle’s house. Laura wanted to show me the Pino Pinilla, tallest of the area’s pine trees, so her aunt went with us to teach us about pine nut harvesting since her father used to harvest them. We gathered fragrant herbs, the only one of which I could identify was thyme and wandered the pine and herb scented trail where the town holds its annual New Year’s Day 5k run. This year’s pine cones had already been harvested so Laura’s aunt gifted me one of the giant cones her father had saved, complete with seeds. Back at the house she showed us how to extract and crack open the seed shells and the nut was still fresh and tasty even though the cone was many years old. She fed us the best tortilla española and gave me some tips for making it turn out so well. But I don’t hold much hope of that. It’s truly an art to get the consistency perfect.

The bench reads “Portillo at my feet, you by my side” We were laughing because I had just pointed out to Laura that we would look like a couple in this photo. Laura’s childhood home is just off to the left.

La Vendimia, or grape harvest, had just finished up in the region. It should have gone through mid-October but climate change is pushing it earlier. This year was the earliest harvest on record, according to one of the bodegas we visited. Grapes were still being moved in from the fields and we would see grapes spilled here and there along the roads. In many places, the only vehicles allowed near the bodegas are those small tractors, a precaution to protect the caves from damage.


We were able to book tours of two wineries and visited several others without a guide. Since we didn’t have reservations during peak season we were quite lucky to find last minute restaurant availability most of the time, and when we didn’t, the Spanish tradition of Pinchos, small portions of food and drink served at a counter, suited us well. It gave me a chance to try many foods that didn’t appeal to me when I was younger and it was less expensive than a restaurant meal.

The 2 wine tasting experiences (cata de vinos) were very different from one another and both amazing. At Otañón el templo de vino we learned about tasting the wines and toured a modern winery with art installations while in Haro’s CVNE bodega, the tour was focused more on how wines are produced and featured exploration of the penicillin covered wine caves and their history. The old wines stored there, from as early as 1884, are completely encased by penicillin mold that is allowed to grow as it forms a protective barrier against harmful microorganisms.

We ate a few really nice meals, one at a bodega in Rueda and another in Laguardia, the 13th century fortified town on a hill, with much of the original wall, buildings and wine caves completely preserved. We ate lunch at a 400 year old palace and toured the bodega beneath it. They offered Laura their collection of readers to borrow, the better to read our wine list, my dear! And we had a good laugh. The tomatoes were so tasty that we asked where they were from and the server sent us to a nearby market that was stocked with vintage charm as well as fresh produce. In Haro we found a restaurant that did not require a booking and we waited in line for an hour, passing the time in conversation with locals who come nearly every Sunday for the house special, roasted lamb. In Valladolid we ate at the Red Tuna where we had 6 different preparations of tuna and dined al fresco, enjoying the amazing weather.

We enjoyed the evening in Logroño, partaking in the ritual of Pinchos sampling along Laurel Street, as mentioned in The Wine Lover’s Guide. And on the way back to Valladolid we managed to squeeze in a visit to one of Spain’s most famous cathedrals in Burgos.

Though we didn’t go inside, we passed by the palace in Burgos where Ferdinand and Isabella bestowed upon Cristóbal Colón his “privileges” in 1497.

And then suddenly it was time to make the trip back to Sweden. The high speed train was amazing- so fast and comfortable. Changing to the local airport tram was a bit harder, mostly due to the ticketing machines which were not working properly, and it took a few nerve wracking tries and lots of conversation in Spanish to finally get the correct ticket. And then they never even checked it! But I was at the airport with plenty of time for one more bocadillo and a bit of duty free wine shopping! I can’t wait to take Bryant on the next wine tour of Spain. Tusen tack och saludos a mi amiga Laura. Hasta la próxima!



Flag at half-mast for QE2

Another long-weekend adventure with my friend, Stephanie. We headed to Edinburgh in that small window where the crowds have gone but the weather is generally still pretty good. Of course the death of Queen Elizabeth put a twist on our plans so instead the city was fairly crowded, with nearly all the typical tourist sites closed. The road closures didn’t impact us too much since we had booked a tour outside of Edinburgh to see some of the castles and villages. Our guide said she had to make only a small change in the route back into the city so that was fine. It ended up being a fantastic trip, really, once we adjusted our mindsets and made the best of the circumstances. In fact, I’m glad it worked out as it did because we had the chance to be in on an exciting bit of cultural history. And because we missed the usual sites, I can go back again with Bryant and see everything. I think he’s going to love it, and he’s the one with Scottish ancestry. I found this serendipitous book at the library in Lund called “111 places in Edinburgh that you shouldn’t miss” so we will have plenty to do.

We packed in so much during 3 days that I can’t fit it all in one post so here are some highlights from Edinburgh proper… Old Town, New Town, The Royal Mile and the area around our hotel which ended up being amazingly convenient with a bus stop right in front, on a route that took us directly to the center of everything. The people were extremely friendly and helpful, though accents were a bit of a bother and we had some fun trying to communicate. Folks on the bus or street often wanted to chat and that’s how we learned what was going on with the Royal Processions, transportation cancellations, street closures etc. We were a bit slow on the uptake, not realizing what a big deal the Queen’s passing would be for Edinburgh. At one point we were “trapped” in a small area near the procession route, unable to cross in any direction. That’s when we tried haggis, neeps and tatties washed down with a local ale and followed by a leisurely afternoon tea at another restaurant in the closure zone. Not a bad way to pass the time considering that the crowd was so dense that we didn’t stand a chance of actually seeing much.

The Queen’s image was EVERYWHERE

The vibe in Edinburgh was certainly different due to the royal events. It seemed like every shop, and public space had some sort of tribute, some quite elaborate, to the queen. Some shops had signs indicating that the muzak was specially chosen to convey sympathy or otherwise demonstrate respect, solidarity or solemnity. Another strange happening was the seemingly unannounced minute of silence at the airport while we were in the middle of security. An intense Brit literally shushed us!!! While only one guy, as far as I could see, chose not to cooperate. He went boldly on his way without pausing. I felt a tad rebellious about being compelled to honor the queen, but I didn’t have the nerve to do anything different.

Dean Village and the river Leith
Dean Village and the Water of Leith
Armchair books, the national library and University

On the last morning we got up early to catch the sunrise over the Firth of Forth which is a fjord and estuary or “firth” where several rivers meet the North Sea. Our hotel was a 20 minute walk from Portobello Beach. Again we really lucked out on the weather!

View over the Firth of Forth

Because the weather was so perfect, we focused on nearby outdoor attractions such as Calton Hill, Dean Village and the Royal Botanic Garden. We even managed to squeeze in High Tea of salmon dill sandwiches and cream scones. The whiskey tea had a wonderful aroma, being barrel-aged in a whiskey cask.

Another birthday in Sweden!

Our 14 year old (yikes!) says we need to do something different for her birthday this year to distinguish it from the photos of previous b-days in Sweden. She’s right- it’s hard to tell since she requests the same cake, gets similar gifts in more or less the same setting. So this year we changed a few details and though Bryant had to work the 3 of us headed out on a little adventure to Malmö by bus rather than train. It was easier than train and more pleasant except for the lack of AC on an 80 degree day. I think this was largely due to the kids choice of riding in the upper deck which they deemed more exciting. Luckily we had an abanico (Spanish fan) with us and I tolerated the heat.

I made the Birthday Girl’s favorite breakfast and after hearing about a bunch of cancelled trains due to an accident, we decided on the bus option. The bus stop is out on the highway entrance, which seems odd, but is really quite practical and safe for pedestrians due to thoughtful planning. There are speed bumps, sheltered pedestrian lanes and crosswalks. And of course the round-about keeps traffic flowing but at low speed. Even with all train traffic being diverted to bus, it was on time with plenty of space. Our new place is close to all bus routes and the train so I plan to start using the bus options more often. I think they might be more practical for certain trips.

We strolled though Malmö, stopping at the Saluhall (food court) for picnic lunch and continued on to the King’s Park where the kids played a new card game after our picnic while I took a quick spin through the botanic gardens and castle grounds. This time I noticed a new AnonyMouse installation and some pigeons nesting inside one of the arrow loops in the barbican (Barbican: an exterior defense or small castle defending a gate or approach to a castle).

Then back to Lund for sushi and beloved Dark Chocolate Raspberry Ganache Cake. The Birthday Girl played a new video game all evening and has already made plans to celebrate her day with a school friend next weekend by doing some “tree walking” at an obstacle course near Lund. Fingers crossed for a continuation of this gorgeous summer weather!

Sunshine Island

Rønne harbor and the church where our 2nd great-grandparents were married.

The Danish island of Bornholm, called the sunshine island because it has, on average, more sunny days than the rest of Denmark, lies in the Baltic Sea near Sweden’s southern coast. We’ve been planning a visit since we first arrived since it’s an easy ferry ride away, but somehow it didn’t happen. With our first visitors, my brother CJ and his husband David, in town for Easter break, we decided to book our tickets for Bornholmslinjen, the ferry from Ystad.

I’ve been working on a family tree for ages and wanted to find out more about our Bornholmer past, so I contacted the tourism board and found a local tour guide and historian who enjoys genealogy. He was quite enthusiastic about the project and discovered a booklet in the local library documenting the story of our 3rd great-grandfather. This treasure included names and addresses of the families descending from said grandfather and led me to meet one of our 4th cousins, who happens to live in Lund! Anne and I met for fika a few weeks ago and arranged to see each other again when more of her family, including her father, the one who authored Åke Andersson’s history, would be gathering for Easter in Bornholm. Such an amazing series of events! So we spent a couple of fantastic days in Bornholm exploring our Danish Bornholmer (and Scanian) roots.

After several hours of lively conversation, getting to know each other and trying to fill in some of the blanks from the years since our branch of the Åkessons left Bornholm, we explored the beautiful town of Svaneke. Per and Hanne showed us some of their favorite places and shared Danish candies even sending some of these delectable treats home with the girls. What a generous, warm welcome to Bornholm!

Per’s grandfather and my mom’s great-grandfather were brothers. They both grew up in Sweden but married women from Bornholm after emigrating to the island for better work opportunities. Several of Åke’s children left Bornholm for the US while some stayed, Per’s grandfather being one who remained in Bornholm. Åke remarried and remained there until his death in 1897.

Next, Hans, the genealogist, was able to assist us with the research he did on our 2nd great-grandmother and her family since obviously Per did not know about that part of our history. Hans was able to find many locations where family members had lived and some of the places were still much the same! The first location was a tiny row house which was once right on the harbor, with the wind mill on the street behind it. Coincidentally, the hotel we booked was directly in front of the house. Our 2nd great-grandmother, Anna, lived at #26 Møllegade/ Millstreet, the blue one, with the front of the house facing the windmill. There it was, right outside our hotel window! She was 3 years old when she lived here in 1860 with 2 sisters and 2 brothers.

Anna married Peter Augeson in 1878 at the Skt. Nicolai Church.

Photo from Per’s research of Åkesson/ Andersson families

Below is Nyker or new church, one of the distinctive round churches of Bornholm which retained many pagan elements and served also as a fortress. They were built as a community space that could be defended. Great acoustics, too! Photo- hourglass timer so folks would know how long the sermon would be. Easily barricaded doors. Women’s entrance over the bronze age fertility stone. Anna’s parents, Klaus Peder Pedersen and Kirstine Margrethe Busch, were married at the “new” round church in 1848.

We also visited more of Anna’s relatives homes in the area around Rønne, including a farm which is now a pottery studio.

Anna’s mother moved around quite a bit and showed up in other Parish records late in her life. The interesting thing about it is that from here, modern Bornholmers and Scanian Swedes just a few miles away can see one another’s lights. In a show of solidarity they flash headlights at each other on a designated night every Autumn. They say they have always had a love/ hate relationship.

Back to Åke Andersson for a bit. He lived in this yellow house, built 1875 near Aarsballe, with his second wife, a widow he married in 1877, along with the two youngest of his children. His first wife was our 3rd great-grandmother, Else, who had died back in Sweden in 1872.

Some photos from the area in and around Rønne and some prints from the museum.

Andra Julen i Sverige

Our second Christmas in Sweden. How time flies! We had more concerts, parties and events this year before new Omicron restrictions kicked in. On Monday I went to a concert at Lunds Domkyrka with traditional music of the season, including Lucia songs, ambient Celtic style vocals performed in the dark, acapella, candle light processional with chanting, and then more traditional music accompanied at times by harp, flute, organ, and other instruments. It was especially enchanting/ spooky in the dark with only the light from 4 advent candles and those carried by the singers. Later in the week we gathered with the group from Minnesota at one of the Malmo locations. The MN meets Sweden theme for drinks and appetizers was very clever and tasty.

The weather certainly has been colder and snowier than last year which made for some pretty snow covered scenery and lighter night skies …and slippery sidewalks. These have been some of the shortest days of the year at only 7 hours (most of which are cloudy) and we are looking forward to more light. But the dark doesn’t stop most people from enjoying the season. Kids play at the park, folks are out shopping, skating etc, in the dark, and the VinterLund programs in the center are still crowded most of the time.

We did our annual X-mas Eve bookstore visit in Lund just before closing, and it was pleasantly empty, with just a few customers and no lines.

Then home for duck confit, sweet potatoes, green beans and mushrooms, with Passionfruit Pavlova for dessert. Santa was very generous and everyone had some nice surprises, including JenJill who enjoyed her new sled. We haven’t found a snowy hill of the correct scale yet but here she is in the courtyard testing out her sled.

the younger one was done

Tonight we journeyed to Malmo to get our pre-flight covid tests. We enjoyed dinner out at a fabulous Lebanese restaurant, Occo, and then finished our packing. Hopefully travel to Rome will be smooth. It might be hard adjusting to full time N95 masks, even outdoors, but at least we are able to go. I feel like there is so much more to document about this week, but now it’s quite late so I must get to bed. Wishing you all a lovely, healthy holiday!


Julbord, Jul Dance Show

Last week we enjoyed a hike around the castle grounds followed by a Julbord (christmas buffet) with friends from MN. Check out Melissa’s blog for more about this fun afternoon!

After the Julbord, we drove in search of a Cut Your Own Tree Farm per request of the younger Noiceling. The older one was home recovering from a cough. Unfortunately it was rather difficult to find, and by the time we arrived it was pretty dark. So after looking around a bit we settled on a pre-cut tree. Now we know how to find the farm next year.

The youngest had a Jul NY Dance Show at Lunds Stadsteater. We were all surprised by how big and elaborate the show/venue was, so it was quite impressive that she was able to get past some significant stage fright and lead her small group in their two dances. She didn’t want pictures posted and we weren’t sure about the dance school photography policy, but a Swedish band provided some musical entertainment and made it clear that we should post about their music. So I only have a few pictures of the two hour extravaganza. The band was called PARi and they have some songs on Spotify. Some of the dance school students were their backup dancers. I’m guessing they are Melodifestivalen hopefuls!

We’re so proud that our kid pushed through the fear and supported her team. And the performance was fantastic. She got a big confidence boost out of the whole stressful event and intends to enroll again. I hope she doesn’t choose the pole dancing class. I’m not kidding. Those kids were amazingly strong and graceful, but I’m not ready to be the mom-in-the-audience for that part of the show, lol.

Before the 2 hour Show

Everything Jul except the weather! More photos from our walking and hiking. Open house in the neighborhood allotment colony, and the strand near Bjärred. The cloudy-meets-clear sky made for some interesting views. Lower left is the same apple tree from before.

After a nice hike out to see the swans…the immature mute swans being pushed around by some adults. They would bop them on the behind with their beaks and shove them! …Bry and I stopped for lunch at the former train station (1901-1938) with original floors and beams, beautifully refinished. Very good food. I had cod in mustard sauce, one of those Swedish things that I have grown to love. Also the Christmas rice pudding, which I have at every opportunity. I think Golden Grove Goods citrus marmalade would work well as a short cut to this dessert!


Since we recently returned from Athens where we maxed out our children’s travel energy and goodwill, I knew that my 51st birthday wishes should be modest when it came to their involvement.

My own celebrations started early in the week with a trip to Malmo to see Melissa and try out the Chocolate “Tea” menu at Peter Beier Chokolade. By the time I arrived after missing my intended train, it wasn’t really Fika time so we went to lunch instead, at my favorite Vietnamese place. Then we returned to PB where she treated me to chocolates and coffee for my birthday. And we managed a full afternoon of walking and shopping!

The IKEA cabinet that I’ve been wanting for years, is now back in stock! The stars aligned, and Bryant and the kids got it all set up for me to display my future knitting and craft projects. Now my yarn stash is elevated to art, and I can enjoy it without any feelings of guilt (for buying more yarns). What could be better for my birthday! Passionfruit is in season (I love it in yogurt, or salad dressing, or any dessert, but especially with chocolate) and I have been indulging in more ambient lighting with timers. And for the ones that do not have timers, IKEA has a new Smart System that Bryant will install for me to enable lights go on and off automatically and with dimming options!

My birthday weekend continued with a short visit to the history museum and fika with friends, and then dinner out at a nice restaurant in Lund. And Bryant willingly DROVE so that I could wear fancy shoes and not have to walk home in the dark chill of November. That means he couldn’t enjoy more than a few sips of alcohol and had to deal with city parking (we actually discovered a great place to park for cheap on the north side!) so this was a special treat. Then the big finale on Sunday, High Tea at the Grand Hotel! Though my British friends did not recommend it for the tea menu, I was satisfied with the novelty and tradition of the event. True, the scones were not the best, but good company and the Grand Hotel vibe made it a beautiful afternoon. It happened to be Father’s Day as well, so we didn’t get the private tea room I had reserved due to staffing issues, which in the end didn’t make much difference. There was a nice selection of sweet and savory tea goodies, and we had a lovely time.

Arctic Spring

We decided the risk of traveling within Sweden was minor and booked a trip to Kiruna, the northern most city in Swedish Lapland. It’s north of the Arctic Circle in Sàpmi (Sami cultural region) taiga forestland with long winters.

Traditional Sami foods, cooked over the fire in a làvvu reindeer, moose, lingon and cloudberries prepared in different ways, as well as many gourmet dishes awaited us at the resort hotel, which caters to foodies. So we enjoyed lots of caviar, smoked fish, meats (and even eggs) artichoke whiskey soup with cauliflower chips and freeze dried beets, pickled squash and shiitake risotto, and wonderful desserts and breads. Birch burl “kuksa” of coffee or lingonberry juice were a nice authentic touch.

Reindeer stew!

The weather was good, melting a bit during the day and freezing when not in direct sun, making for very slick surfaces. I couldn’t do much walking, but it made for some fast moving dog and reindeer sleds! This guy’s name means Power and he was running so fast that I missed a shot of him pulling Lily and Bry on the sport sled.

The sled dogs were extremely fast and on icy spring snow pack; they had to use a smaller team of dogs to prevent them from going too fast.

For me this trip was a lot of Type 2 fun, appreciated more after it’s over than while it is happening. I tried to embrace the opportunity to try some new things, including the outdoor spa, which I genuinely enjoyed and would do again! Usually hot tubs and saunas are too warm for me but the outdoor versions kept me from over heating.

Lily discovered an interest in snow mobiles and Hilary took to nighttime photography, more on those adventures later.