Leaving and landscapes

So we’re going, and as with any big decision it seems that the most overwhelming aspect is not the looming of the event itself but the minutiae of preparing.

What do we take, what do we leave, when do we leave, who do I leave my fledgling lemon trees to – these questions keep overwhelming the importance of the move itself. We’ve started sorting what we’ll take and have gone so far as to arrange for the transport of what we’re taking by shipping freight and started to throw out or donate what we don’t need. Casual glances around the house while sipping tea or picking a book to read become considerations of weight and packaging, mentally packing my teapots with the handmade pottery, or browsing through friends to find someone who could adopt one of them.

It’s a strange thought that in 2 months and a day there will be no trace of us having been here, aside from memories and those things of ours that we leave with friends. This more or less sums up my feelings about this at the moment.

image

I have also started to get teary at landscapes. While on the bus home yesterday I looked out of the window at the sudden, sheer granite faces that loom over the road, moss covered and only just shedding the frozen curtains of water and melting snow. On their peaks stood pines and leafless birches, around their feet the bushes and shrubs that in a few months will be carrying berries. Then we pass a lake, a coral pink sunset and a severe line of pines reflected on its surface, rippling from the lines being cast out by a group of old folk getting in some fishing before the sun disappears.

Growing up in the bush I used to love visits to a nearby pine plantation, where I’d pretend I was in the forests from the fairy tales, where wolves, hobbits, dragons, elves and adventurers lived. I do love the Australian bush, wild, rough and with its own beauty, but some part of my heart lives in the secret corners and high reaches of northern forests. And I suppose that’s one thing at least that I’ll leave behind when we go.

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Frozen lake, bright sky

A brief moment of sun

Even though there was a light dusting of snow last night (enough to fill a teacup), the sun is out today and the blue sky makes it feel as though the true winter is almost over. There will be clouds and rain and cold, for sure, but not the drifts of snow and frozen lakes that are a ‘real’ winter. Today then seems a good time to show you all a little bit of the winter that was just passed, the sort of winter that I love.

Snow had been falling off an on for weeks, bending down the trees under the soft, dense weight and freezing the lakes nearby. While snow is in itself beautiful, the moment it comes alive is when the sun comes out. One day we went for a walk on a weekend morning, and more than once I was quite literally stunned into stillness and silence by the beauty of the trees, light and snow.

Snow in the forest

Snow in the forest

Branches sticking up through the snow were coated in a thin, shining layer like crystals, which drifted lightly off when flicked.

Snowcrusted shrubbery

Snowcrusted shrubbery

The forest, where not so many months ago we had picked berries, was muffled and still, though at any moment I expected a breeze to tumble a branch load of snow onto my head.

Sunlit path

Sunlit path

After my fella returned home, I continued on to the nearest lake, wondering if it might be frozen. It was was, very much so.

Kåsjön alive

Kåsjön alive

Not only was it frozen, which a layer of snow covering the thick (so I hoped) ice, but it had been transformed into a park, or to my romantic mind, a winter wonderland. Children scampered about in their fleuro one-piece outfits, adults walked their dogs and people of all ages skated and skied, leaving long, crisscrossing tracks behind them. Nervous at first, I walked over the tracks, listening for the creaking of ice and then walked more and more confidently across to the island that 2 years ago I had swum to. Under wide, bright blue sky and in the centre of the vast openness of the lake, the claustrophobia of winter fell away, down into the freezing, dark water under the ice.

Walkers on the lake

Walkers on the lake

On the shore nearest to the houses, areas of the ice had been cleared and with shoes or picnic baskets for goal posts, ice hockey games were underway. Often it seemed the dads were ahead, but now and then a son or daughter would sneak past and a parent dramatically fall over, equaling the score. In sheltered bays little children were being taught to skate, knees locked in fear and well padded bottoms covered in snow.

Icehockey

Icehockey

In the distance, old couples walked their dogs, disappearing into the further reaches of the lake.
If there was ever a heaven of ice and snow under a low hanging northern sun, this was it.

Then later that week a storm hit the west coast of Sweden, bringing wind and snow. A lot of snow. By the time it had ended, there was 30cms of it in our neighbourhood, and enough in town to stop trams, buses and cars. It was, in the words of frantic sensationalist newspapers, SNÖKAOS, which I think doesn’t need translation. This resulted in many people not getting in to work, including my fella, and one of my all time favourite news bloopers. My lesson for the day had been cancelled, so after a few productive hours of work we set off for the lake, my eagerness to show off the beauty and novelty of walking across it pushing me through drifts up to my knees that hadn’t yet seen a shovel. Though there was no sign of the sun through the thick clouds and the snow-wading was tiring us out, we reached the lake before too long. It was still frozen, also covered in deep snow, but as yet without any tracks or trails over its surface. Coaxing my fella out into the open, we made it to the island and sat to contemplate the wide openness, and quiet. Still beautiful, it seemed a more severe and solitary beauty than I had seen myself on the sunny day so recently.

A brief moment of sun

A brief moment of sun

Since then the temperature rose, rain fell, the snow melted into slush and then washed away, leaving only patches of black ice to tread carefully around. We might still get snow, but the day of minus temperatures and nights of -18 seem behind us now. The question isn’t how much snow do I need for a snow man, but when will the first flowers start to bloom?

No swimming yet

No swimming yet

2015: Travels and moving forward

So 2015 is now in the past, and while like any year it creeps along at walking pace while living it, looking back it seems now to have been very full and sometimes reaching a sprint. It has been a year of travelling (7 different countries!), big steps forward (my own business) and important decisions.

It started, as all years do in Sweden, with fireworks and then a trip to Stockholm. Later in the month I met my mum in Copenhagen and traveled around with her, as we showed each other our lives in the North, both past and present.

As the darkness and cold continued to set in, there was a trip to sunny Malaga, a brief inoculation against the winter that has also left me in love with Spain.
Time passed, fear came to my home town, and then Easter and the turning of the seasons. I continued to work, relief teaching at schools and gathering private students, learning as I went. That fear seemed to grow throughout the year, rising from under the surface and at least right now it doesn’t look as though it’s going to recede any time soon.

More trips around the Nordic regions followed, including a cruise across the Baltic and a short stay in Aarhus, Denmark. Summer arrived, and with the holidays I left a beloved school, experienced my second Midsummer picnic and attempted indoor gardening. Other hobbies included joining a flamenco choir, trying to make it to a language café in between teaching and tasting the brews made by my partner.

As summer passed we flew to Malta, experiencing long sunny days, chaos, sea and incredible history. Back at home work continued to increase, with more and more private students and work through a consultancy. I found less time for writing and reflection, and for the first time since I started this blog, the gaps between posts became 2 weeks or more rather than 1. As my focus shifted, I set about making the most of the change, and formally set up my business, including a website and a business plan.

With the end of the year almost upon us, we visited London, a place I’ve long considered as a home that I’d not yet got around to visiting. It met, surpassed and left my expectations far behind, giving me yet another place that lurks invitingly in the back of my mind whenever I’m feeling restless.

Finally we returned to Australia for family, christmas and a holiday of sorts. It was intense, as any trip home to family, friends and real life is bound to be. As well as the various pressures and commitments, the days of the festive season were for the most part relaxing and enjoyable, filled with food and love. I also got a bit of a tan, though you wouldn’t think so if you asked the repairman who came to fix our dryer. I’m fairly sure I let him down a bit.

Then the year came full circle, with fireworks in the cold, cheering and friends, and a return to the long, dark wait until Spring. 2016 is still new and fresh and full of potential, and no amount of guesswork can tell what might happen. A few things are certain, and will be shared in their time, but mostly the year is unwritten, and we shall we what we shall see.

Keeping an open door

Last week we hosted a couple of friends at our apartment, and had a busy, fun and full-on week. That now seems like a long time ago. The world becomes broader and less understandable the older you get, which seems like the wrong way of going about it. I don’t want to talk about the deaths, war and fear that feels much closer to home than ever before. There’ll be time, when the facts come out and whatever form the aftermath takes, takes form.

Though I’m going to be focusing on our visit from friends in this post, and staying clear of dwelling on recent world events, I can’t help thinking about them in light of the events. We are so lucky, and I’m certain, with more than a touch of shame, that before too long life will continue as before until the next disaster. With that in mind I want to begin by thanking my friends for visiting, all the way over here in chilly Sweden.

Our one day of sunlight

Our one day of sunlight

So what do you do when you have visitors to your home city? You can start by pointing out landmarks, apologising for the weather and prompting them to attempt to pronounce difficult local place names. These are tried and tested methods. Things to avoid include the contamination of the local water supply requiring the boiling of all drinking water for the entirety of their stay. This does not add to the fun atmosphere. Neither does the dryer breaking down and then blowing the fuses. Do not do either of these things.

Little incidents such as these aside, I think we did pretty well, though if we’d had a chance to advise about the dates of the visitor from Australia, we would have suggested more or less any month rather than November. All Summer activities are over, Halloween has just finished and Jul festivities won’t start for another week.

On the other hand, letting guests go grocery shopping and then making you dinner two nights in a row works quite well. Especially if they decide to try local food and make traditional meals and bring along delicious bottles of lavender and strawberry schnaps and ice wine that just needs to be drunk.

Guest-cooked dinner

Guest-cooked dinner

Or keep you up late into the night with laughter, company and stories, and not minding when you have to get up early for the work the next day and drop something in the kitchen. Or give you an excuse to enjoy a rare sunny day in town.

So here is my list of dos and don’ts for when you have visitors:
– Do point out landmarks, and don’t make up lies about them.
– Do get people to try out the local language, but don’t overdo it.
– Don’t allow the water supply to be contaminated. If it is, get lots of water bottles ready and keep bread crumbs away from your big pot.
– Don’t let the dryer break down.
– Do enjoy the sun, as much as possible.
– Do find them local wildlife, and allow them time to photograph them.
– Do let them make dinner, as often as they like.
– Do provide homemade bread and homebrewed beer.
– Do have a good time.
– Do let them sleep in.

Home baked bread

Home baked bread

I think I have also learnt what it’s like to live in a share house, including the bathroom queue. I now know that I could manage in that sort of environment, but there is also something to be said with sharing your space with only one other important person who doesn’t have overlapping shower times.

In conclusion, when someone asks if they can stay, invite them in.

Lessons from the real world

So, sadly again there has been a delay with posts, and I feel that I ought to say that this post will not include travel stories, musings about Swedish culture or the life of an expat. It is instead something of an announcement relating to my life outside of blogging and musing, the stuff that provides the spare change to enjoy this cup of tea steaming away next to my tablet, and incidentally, the tablet itself.

I have my own small business! And … a website!
*cue the standing ovation*

So considering I finally feel as though I’m getting somewhere, I thought it might be a good time to share some of my dicsoveries, in the hopes that someone out there might find it useful. So without further ado,

How to set up your own business

If you are providing a service to at least one person on an on-going basis, you want to continue to do that and perhaps find more people, you have a small business. Even if you don’t call it that or haven’t ventured into the forests of tax related paperwork.

Without knowing it, I’d been running my own small business for months before I realised what it was. What this meant was that by the time I started thinking about business plans and goals, I more or less knew what I wanted to do, because I’d already started my journey. This would not be so easy for someone starting from scratch.

So now that I knew that I had a small business, what was the next step? According to reliable friends, I needed a business plan, and armed with a pad and pencils I soon had the skeleton of one formed before me. I made a list of the steps I would need to take to turn the plan into a functioning reality, including facing up to the unwelcome prospect of paperwork.

Sweden is well known, at least by people who live here, as a nation that has embraced the idea of bureaucracy, like the most pedantic lion tamer who will never run out of hoops for their lions to jump through. My first step came almost by accident, when a potential customer asked if I was registered for tax purposes. Of course, I said, filling out the paperwork. Then I had to set up a business account at the bank, which needed the details for the tax registration, which was soon sorted out. So, F-skatt and bankgiro done. I managed with these for a few months, toying with the idea of going further. I seemed to be bringing in more and more work, through adds on job sites and word of mouth, but was this sustainable? So I got creative.

Out came the pen and paper, and after a few days logos appeared, and multiplied. I winnowed through them, relying on advice and objective opinion, until I reached the last handful, and from these I made my own choice without outside help.
Along with a logo I decided I needed a website which took faaaaar more time planning than actually making. What did I want to stay? How did I want it to look? Which of the thousands of wordpress themes should I use? Should I use that moving across the screen picture thing? (I didn’t) Again with the help of a friend, I got server space and a platform to easily launch into the websire creation. Et voila, I had a website. Which I adore as it’s new and I made it.

So now? Now I continue, building and working and learning. You never stop learning, even when the website’s done and you feel as though you can sit back and wait for the tidal wave of clients to come pouring in. And this is what I have learnt so far:

Ask for help. There will be people you know who know things you don’t, and for the price of company an fika will help you. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, even if it’s something you feel that you should know.

Make up your own mind. You may have an idea that you like, and after some beta-testing you’ve got positive and negatives comments. In the end you need to follow what you think, because in the end the product is yours and whether it succeeds or fails rests on you alone.

Do the paperwork. It may take half a day and what feels like your will to live, but you’ve got to get it done, so you might as well get it done now.

So, from the little table in the corner of the café, I hope all of you out there are enjoying your little part of the world and whoever of you is thinking of embarking on something new, go for it and good luck! And to all those who helped me get to where I am, in particular my bsuiness plan advising, server providing, super reliable friend – thanks again and again and again!

Tangos and tientos

Recently I joined a choir. There are a couple of reasons for this, one of which is that I’ve always liked singing. Even if you know me and have never heard so much as a peep let alone a yodel of song pass my lips, it is true: when I’m sure that there is no one to hear I can belt.

(This is not entirely true. There is one exception, my sister. The reason she can be an audience is due to her own tone deafness and massive volume, and that I’m only ever allowed to sing backing vocals or secondary characters. May Walt protect those who dare to try Gaston, Mulan or Aladdin in her presence.)

Back before I got all self-conscious about singing I took part in the school choir, and first learnt the joy of joining my voice with others. I loved the feeling of being buoyed along by our combined song, and the strange sense of losing my own voice among the others. Is this is true of everyone else, that communal singing deafens the singer to their own voice, even though they can quite clearly hear those of their neighbours?
In addition to a love of choral singing that being in the choir gave me, I am to this day word perfect on Can you feel the love tonight, I believe I can fly and Colours of the wind. Which hasn’t come in handy yet, but you live in hope.
It was in high school that I was found unsuitable for the choir, in a moment that I still remember clearly. My very impressionable and easily deflated teenage self took this as a big blow, and forbore to sing in public again. My bedroom with the volume on high or in the solitude of an empty care were another matter.

Then I moved to Sweden and decided to make a new life, taking advantage of new possibilities and opportunities to do things that I’d long wanted to try. Much of which ended up providing material for this blog, through a chicken/egg cycle of doing things in order to write about them, and writing about the things that I do. In this mood of ‘why not?’ a friend suggested joining a choir that she’d be in for a few terms, to which I answered after a thoughtful pause, ‘why not?’ surprising both her and myself. As with any new undertaking there was a problem: I don’t speak a word of Spanish.

Lyrics

Lyrics

When you’re singing flamenco songs, it turns out that knowing the words isn’t all that vital. As long as you can sing emotion, you’ll make it. As you can well imagine there is a lot of emotion in the tangos, tientos, bulerías and fandangos, mostly longing, despair and the pain of love.

Our teacher can belt, raise her voice to the ceiling and bring it down with a flourish, leading us through songs that seemed impossible and out the other side. Other members of the choir have been part of it since it began and so know a number of the songs by heart, and know at least a smattering of Spanish. As their voices rise and fall I stumble along, trying to work out the pronunciation on the fly and realising how much energy real, proper athletic singing takes. As we pass from song to song I lose my voice among the others, trying to concentrate on the rhythm and tone of the teacher and the others, until all I can think about is the song, in words I don’t understand.

When is Summer not really Summer

There has been a lot said on my blog lately about our holiday in Malta. There is much left to be said, adventures to be relived and ponderings to be considered. For now, for this week, however I’m going to take a break from the holiday and let the blog settle back into daily life.

Freshly baked daily bread

Freshly baked daily bread

Despite us just having recently passed the peak of Summer, the two things that usually sum up that time of year in Sweden do not apply at the moment.
Most of the locals, our workmates and friends have disappeared to sunnier climes, or popped up on sunny beaches on Facebook or sporting a tan from weeks in Spain. Even businesses are taking a break, many stores sporting ‘semester stängt!’ signs on the doors and promising to be back in August. Our own tans fading, we have returned to work and the usual comings and goings of the non-holiday year.

No doubt it was like this last year, during our first full Summer, but the long sun-filled days and fine weather distracted us from the absences. We have not been so lucky this year. Rather than open itself up to endless blue and those tiny, puffy clouds that are so nice to stare at while lying on your back after a picnic, the sky has opened to release rain, and a lot of it. When we returned from Malta we arrived in time to enjoy the third of three properly Summer days, and since then we’ve all had to suffice with mornings and afternoons here and there, scattered and fine enough that we feel grateful whenever we feel the warmth of the sun. It does teach you to enjoy it when it comes, and staring out the window at the blank white sky and drizzle, I don’t think I could ever take fine weather for granted again.

A semi-sunny day at the lake

A semi-sunny day at the lake

So we sit inside, and when we’re not working my partner gets on with his beer and cider brewing while I design labels and help with the bottling.

A few of the bottled brews

A few of the bottled brews

My projects in the meantime have included making elderberry cordial and raspberry syrup from scratch, and tinkering with the idea of prettying up some old clothes. In short we’ve adopted Swedish winter habits, keeping our hands and minds busy while the world outside gets on with its unpleasant business, whatever that may be.

Raspberry syrup waiting to be tasted

Raspberry syrup waiting to be tasted

So, while our tans fade and the days shift inexorably to Autumn, we are occupied with creating and experimenting, taking a morning or afternoon to enjoy moments of sun, and looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labours when the dark seasons properly set in. And vicariously enjoying the sun through those whose holidays still continue.

Elderflower cordial ready for Autumn

Elderflower cordial ready for Autumn

A celebration of the longest day

There are two very important times of year in Sweden. One is the time of longest dark, and the other is the time of longest light. Both are celebrated with eating, drinking (and drinking), good company and the playing out of traditions that have long outlasted explanations. And, generally, joy.
We’ve been marking the lengthening of days for some time now, noticing that when we’re walking home late/early at night that the sun never properly sets, leaving the sky a hazy blue even down here out of sight of the Arctic circle. As of last week the balance tipped, and from now on the darkness with get darker and longer until we won’t be able to imagine relaxing in the sun on our balcony at 10:30pm.
A sad thought indeed. However before we and the rest of Sweden let ourselves dwell on that we all have a celebration. The day of longest light*, in which we eat, drink, enjoy good company, dance and admire a large somewhat phallic pole.

The garlanded Midsummer Pole

The garlanded Midsummer Pole

Midsummer! Or to be more precise, Midsummer’s Eve. Being the good little Swedish residents that we are, we had a picnic planned at Slottskogen, where we had celebrated the day last year. Loaded up with food, drink and a bbq we met our friends at the park and were soon settling in for an afternoon of merriment. There was cider, the lighting and subsequent going out of the bbq, napping in the sun and eating, which are fairly typical of any picnic. Slightly atypically for us, more or less the whole picnic was also in Swedish, which was the lingua franca between us and our Czech friends.
As we chatted and ate, the sun played hide and seek above us and we joked that the Summer had finally arrived during the warm patches of sunlight, and was replaced by Autumn as the clouds covered the sky. By looking to the north we could even see if we might get another moment of Summer and once past watch as it eventually drifted over the horizon. Though it had been nicer last year, we reminded ourselves in true Göteborsk fashion that it could always be worse.

After a few hours had passed, people began to gather around the garlanded pole set in the middle of the grass. Closer up we could see the two loops hanging from the cross piece, yellow and blue flowers tucked among the green foliage. Our attention was soon taken by the movements of the crowd, who began to spin in circles, some with three people and some with as many as 40. On a stage fiddlers, flutists and singers called out instructions and belted out the traditional songs. Among the crowds people in traditional costumes lead the dances, demonstrating the claps and kicks and leading their circles in twisting snake like lines, all while singing along. Many of those not in costume also seemed to know the words, and I can only assume that part of every Swedish child’s education involves learning the song about the drunk shoemaker, the one about the various pigs that you and I are, how to clean the house before going to church and of course the frog song.

Dancing crowds

Dancing crowds

I asked my mum about this, and her response would have been matched by everyone else on the field, which was that of course we sing songs about animals and drunk shoemakers. It’s Midsummer’s Eve, when we forget about the staidness of everyday life and give ourselves over to dancing, laughing and making fish noises. That is tradition after all; something we do as a group, that defines us and keeps us together, despite whatever silliness anyone else may think about it.

The young folk dancers leading the way

The young folk dancers leading the way

After at least an hour the dancing was over and the professionals took to the field. Most looked to be over 60 but were as spry as anything, and definitely knew what they were doing. They twirled, skipped and clapped to the applause of the crowd, with steps that I hope they’ll pass on to the other, younger costumed folk. There were no songs about animals, but rather folk jigs and reels that got your foot tapping and conjured images of an idyllic and possibly imaginary rural past, all green fields, mooing cows, clean kirtles and neatly ordered hedges.
As we had watched, we found a couple of friends in the crowd and spent the rest of the long patch of sunlight chatting and enjoying icecream as the light began to fade.

Before too long it was time to pack up, but before we went home we paid a visit to the animals on the hill. The first that we saw was an elk, lying down by a fence and not looking all that well. We were amazed as usual by its size and strange combination of elegance and ungainliness. We also saw the deer, ducks, swans, geese, goats and ponies, most of whom seemed to be trying to get some sleep despite the light and visitors.
As 9:30 passed and a sunset bloomed overhead we headed to the tram stop, hugging and waving our friends goodbye before stepping on our own tram and making our way home.

Another Midsummer’s Eve done, half the year has past and the lengthening of days has begun, at least until the next tipping of the balance in the dark of winter.

*Technically the celebrations don’t always take place on the solstice, and the dates are adapted each year to make a long weekend. It’s usually within a week of the solstice though.

Blooms and brews

It’s sunny and warm and unseen birds are chirping. Time seems to pass slowly, perhaps because of the long summer days that last through midnight. I usually write the first draft of a post in a notebook, finding a cozy place to sit and wait for the ideas to come. As I write this draft, I can smell the earthy, sour scent of tomato leaves and warm soil. Along the window sill sits a line of pots of all sizes, containing plants of various shades of green sprouting or lolling about. Though I’ve recently been to a night of obscure and worldly music, a speech about cultural appropriation, seen Sweden open up in the summer sun and learnt more about teaching, I’d like this latest post to be closer to home.

Young tomatoes in the sun

Young tomatoes in the sun

Many of the plants to my right are looking less than healthy, the lower leaves stained and wilted beneath newer, greener leaves. These are all tomato plants that I grew from seeds, carefully watering and weathering until I thought them tough enough to brave the outside weather. Unfortunately, they weren’t all quite ready and all but one are now inside again. Little yellow blossoms tell me that this was the right move, though whether I get food out of them is another thing. According to google all I need to do to help with pollination is give them a little shake every day, which for some obscure reason is a bit of a relief.

Tomato flowers

Tomato flowers

In between the tomato plants are covered plastic growing boxes with seeds that I planted two weeks ago. The cress has been growing like a weed, leaning purposefully towards the sun and already tasting sharply peppery. Behind them are the nasturtium sprouts, which are popping up more ponderously and then quickly unfurling. Every day adds about a cm to each sprout, especially when there are blue skies and the sun is pouring in through the window.

New sprouts

New sprouts

Next to this container is a smaller one with only one sprout. They were planted at the same time as the tomatoes but seem somehow reticent. I’m tempted to poke about to see if they’re even trying. The one survivor is growing quickly though, and hopefully will pop out with a flower or two soon, and perhaps even some little, pinky-sized smultrons (wild strawberries).

At the same time, other living forces are underway in the spare room, getting on with a process as old as civilization. Brewing.
Two weeks ago my fella started creating what I’ll call generic beer, with the help of a friend who is much more knowledgeable than me about beer. Which isn’t all that difficult to achieve really. There was mixing, boiling, cooling, stirring, the adding of yeast and pouring, accompanied by the drinking of beer (to collect bottles for the brew) and much serious staring at the malty, hoppy mass. Some of the malt mash was used to make two excellent loaves of bread, thick crusty loaves that go down well with butter. The pre-beer is now bubbling away happily, along with the newest addition to the brew room.

Freshly baked beer bread

Freshly baked beer bread

This last weekend we spent a fair amount of time purchasing a juicer and 10 kilos of apples, and then lugging them home. Sadly I was able to eat none of the apples, as they were all put through the juicer to serve a higher purpose. Their juice is now frothing away, fermenting merrily into what I hope will become cider.

Frothy fermentation

Frothy fermentation

The next step is unclear, but mead, stout, lambic beer, wine and apple beer have been suggested. All I hope for is that when they’re done to our satisfaction we can have a sunny day to enjoy them, perhaps by the lake. If I’m very lucky there may even be a handful of cress, a couple of juicy tomatoes and nasturtium petals to mix into a salad. Or even a tiny, extremely sweet wild strawberry to savour as I sip our homemade cider in the fading summer light.

Easter – a time of witches, feathers and eggs

The first hints I had of Easter were random people carrying sticks. There seemed nothing special about the sticks, other than the fact that people had evidently spent some time gathering them or buying them from florists. I was even tempted to break all social conventions and ask someone, but shyness held me back. What was so important about sticks, I wondered, and should I be getting them myself? I asked other expats who suggested it had something to do with regrowth, and pointed out that if they had buds perhaps they would bloom. I was a little bit skeptical about the enjoyment you could get from watching buds slowly expand, and felt sure there must be another reason, no doubt related to traditions that are mostly forgotten.
When I did some research and found out a possible theory, I wasn’t especially surprised that it had been swept under the carpet. Back in the 1800s people used to collect sticks for their children who would then whip themselves in memory of Jesus’ suffering.
I would much rather watch buds grow.

The next sign was with a flock of witches on a main street in the city. They ranged from adults to children, happily showing off their painted red cheeks and freckles, and adorned in coloured shawls and striped stockings. There were even a few brooms swinging around in the air, though no one seemed to be airborne yet. No one seemed to bat an eye at this open display of witchery and indeed it increased over the next few days. A group of older women were seen drinking in a pub, unmolested by mobs, but a majority of the witches were children skipping about town, asking for lollies. You may well ask why, in this day and age and in a country that though technically secular is nominally Christian, there are so many witches running about before Easter?
You would not be alone in wondering. Other expats shrugged and said it was a ‘Sweden thing’. Even Swedes answered me with a blank look and a variation of ‘Uh, we’ve always done that, I don’t know. It is odd isn’t it?’

Easter witches (Photo: Ulf Lundin/Image Bank Sweden)

Easter witches (Photo: Ulf Lundin/Image Bank Sweden)

So naturally I took to the internet to solve the mystery. Easter hags, or ‘påskkärringar’ have their origins in the 1600s, when it was believed witches flew on their brooms to Blåkulla to make merry and cavort and do all of the things people would expect witches to do. Somehow this has translated over the centuries to a tradition of children dressing up as witches and wandering the neighbourhood asking for treats. It is all a little bit Halloween, except for the old style costumes that seem more like village women of the past crossed with Pippi Longstocking than costume shop items.
There were also witches in shop windows, statues and figurines this time, grinning on their brooms, apparently daring people to take advantage of the Easter sales.

A shoe selling witch

A shoe selling witch

The witches weren’t the only decorations enticing people to enter and spend however. Trees, bushes and sticks across the country that were just minding their own business were festooned with brightly coloured feathers. They were hung outside of shops fluttering in the wind, sitting in front yards and in vases in apartments. All those sticks that had been budding away were now decorated, sometimes also with painted eggs and animal figurines. These eggs were often painted by children, as I remember doing years ago. Though a globe is a hard surface for a young artist, I think I created a few nice examples with water colours, crayons and dyes. We then ate them on Easter day, the pretty bits of shell flaking away to be swept up later.

Feathers in the sun

Feathers in the sun

Finally, did you think that in all this traditional symbolism that the Swedes have forgotten the most memorable part of Easter (for children at least)?
While in Australia we’re nearly submerged in avalanches of Easter eggs, rabbits and bilbies when we enter a supermarket, the people of Sweden have found another use for eggs. The tradition here is to buy an empty egg, in card board or tin, and fill it with candy. This is what my partner and I have done for the last two Easters, reusing the eggs and filling them with piles of candy for the help-yourself shelves at the shops. It’s amazing how much you can fit inside them, and conversely how quickly my partner can empty his.

Our quickly depleting stash

Our quickly depleting stash

So that’s Easter here in Sweden. Of course I missed out the parts about staying at country houses and feasts with families and eating epic amounts of fish (every day ending in g is fish day in Sweden), as that part has passed me by, but this should serve at least as an expats experience of the Easter season. Or rather, Påsk. Interestingly rather than reference the ancient of Spring, this word derives from the ancient name for the Jewish Passover. Which seems to me, with all the pagan traditions, witches, feathers and symbols of rebirth to demonstrate quite neatly how much traditions have intertwined over time, and perhaps how impossible it is to untangle them, even if we wanted to.