A journey with boxes

Just last weekend my partner and I went on a journey. There was at least a week of preparations, involving packing, bookings, packing books and measuring things. Things were sorted, some things were chucked out and things we had forgotten about were discovered under other things. It was… not exciting but it kept us busy. Finally the big day arrived, and with the help of a very helpful friend we picked up the vehicle we’d booked and began our journey.
We started with the bed and the couch, as they were the biggest.

Yes, we moved house. I was hoping to drag it out and make it seem like an adventure, but for all those who have moved (which I assume is pretty much everyone..?), I surmise that adventure is not the word that comes to mind when you remember moving. Maybe ‘argh’ or ‘never again’ or possibly ‘no, not the boxes, anything but the boxes’. At the moment, I’m somewhere between the last two phrases. And we still need to go to IKEA to get shelves for extra books and generally putting things on and lights and everything else. Wee!

Ok, sarcasm and drama aside, all the sorting, packing, carrying, cleaning, carrying, unpacking and sorting has been worth it. Our new place is new, clean and spacious and during the wonderful and brief few hours of sunlight we have a view of a birch and pine forest out of the kitchen window. And a large kitchen. And a dishwasher. It’s the nicest place we’ve stayed in so far in Sweden, and actually the nicest place we’ve rented together at all, including that one place in Perth. If I had my family over here for dinner, no one would have to sit on the couch arm to eat dinner ever again.
As it’s a first-hand contract we can also do pretty much what we like with it, including putting up pictures on the walls, which I can’t wait to do. We can also stay for as long as we want, which feels like quite a luxury. It will give us time to settle in and make ourselves comfortable. And did I mention there’s a spare room, with space for a spare bed? Yes, that is a hint to all of you who have considered visiting Scandinavia at some point. On that note I make great porridge.

Leaves on a cold day

Leaves on a cold day

So while we’ve been planning our move and settling in, the coldward turn of the weather has become more and more noticeable. Leaves are frosted over and sparkling in the occasional sunlight, footpaths are slick with ice and the regular rain is really starting to get miserable. All of which means that when there is sunlight, it is glorious. As my previous post demonstrated, a day of sun is something to be treasured and basked in. Not only is it a lovely and slightly warmer break from the dark and cold, but the effect of the sun sliding low along the horizon makes the light even more defined and beautiful. Even big brown office buildings take on a welcoming glow. The birch and pine stands near our new home have been quite beautiful.

Trees in the morning light

Trees in the morning light

The darkness has also lead to a certain social pressure that mounts whenever I look out of the window or walk down the street. In every window (I’m not even exaggerating…) there is a triangle of candles, most often electric, and at least one lit up star. We have our own advent candle holder, though I’m not sure how long I can justify not having an electric one. Perhaps this is an even crueler way to troll Swedes than sitting next to them on an empty tram: not putting up advent lights. Soon, very soon.

A walk in the sun

A walk in the sun

Soon will also bring Lucia, Jul and New Years, and vising friends and family and birthdays. I think with all these things to look forward to, the darkness won’t seem quite so cold.

Advertisements

The hallowed weekend

Growing up in Australia, Halloween wasn’t a big thing in my life. It seems often to have been associated with sniffs and ‘oh, that’s all a bit Americanised, isn’t it?’ which usually leads straight into a rant about how every year Christmas decorations are out earlier and earlier.
There was neither trick nor treat on my street, pumpkins were left unscathed and costumes were something you got for themed birthday parties.

An uncommon sight in Perth

An uncommon sight in Perth

Here in Sweden there’s a similar sense of not taking it too far, but in addition there’s another tradition underlying the new, and as with Jul it concerns light.

Halloween at our apartment started with a frenzy of baking, in which I decided that festivals are basically about food and on a cold rainy day, fiddling about with an oven and sweet food isn’t a bad way to go.
I started with a basic spiced cake, which didn’t turn out exactly right, and will have to be the subject of another go in future. The less said about it the better really.

Next was an ancient Roman delicacy, the awkwardly named Placenta cake, that originated as a religious offering. I found a great blog with heaps of recipes and did the modernised version and it worked well. As with Carthaginian porridge, there’s something about baked cheese and honey that I really like, and that the Romans apparently enjoyed as well.

An offering to the gods

An offering to the gods

Thirdly Soul cakes, which was what I found when I searched for traditional Halloween cakes. They were originally made to honour the dead, and were handed out door to door, and might possibly relate to the origin of trick or treat. There are certainly tasty and easy to make, and my partner amazed even myself with his ability to make them magically disappear. My lesson from this cake though was not to put the raisins on while baking. Cooked raisins aren’t especially raisiny.

Soul cakes

Soul cakes

Finally I made a pile of rolls for dinner, using a miraculous recipe that only requires 30 minutes from start to finish. All delicious and fluffy and perfect with a homemade burger.

Homemade burgers

Homemade burgers

Before you begin wondering where the normal blog went and why a kitchen-fancier has taken over, let’s leave the kitchen and discover another Halloween tradition. As I mentioned earlier, pumpkins were quite safe from the carving knife while I was growing up, but as part of our new life here in Sweden my partner and I decided to give the tradition a go.
Fortunately there were 3 pumpkins left from the wagon loads earlier in the week when we wandered down to the supermarket on the 31st, and 2 of those looked decent enough for our purposes. Some googling and pondering gave us designs and steps, and so after dinner we sat down with a few episodes of Buffy and began to carve. It was surprisingly easy and we were both pleased with our attempts. There will be more carving next year I am sure.

Our pumpkins

Our pumpkins

The next day was partly spent preparing for the Halloween party that night, during which time we realised how under-prepared we were. In order to use one of my favourite dresses I decided to be a witch, complete with a pouch of rune stones, a bunch of herbs, Freya and other suitable jewelry and my candle-lit pumpkin. My partner chose to become a ghoul, and was quite convincing, especially once he put on the cloak. We both did pretty well, considering it was our first time getting dressed up for Halloween.
The party was a lot of fun, with spooky food, friends, new friends, music and a very wide range of costumes.

Herbs and runes

Herbs and runes

And during all these adventures in and out of traditions, the cemetery below our window filled with flickering candles and wreaths of pine and flowers. All Hallows Eve is celebrated over a series of days here in Sweden, so everyday the candles would spread just a little bit more, and we could see family and friends tending the graves and standing vigil. These lights in the darkness, and the remembrance of the dead are a nice counterpoint to the fun and silliness of Halloween. I can imagine people up and down Sweden dressing up as ghosts, monsters or beasts, and then the next day, with the face paint perhaps lingering behind their ears, they head to the cemetery to light a candle for their grandmother and think about those who have passed, and the thin barrier between life and death.

Lights in the cemetery

Lights in the cemetery