An Expat’s Life In Sweden : My Relationship With Winter

I think about winter all. the. time. There’s never a time when the cold isn’t on my mind. As soon as the year ticks over into November, I turn my face to the sky for that first snowfall.

But snow has been scarce this year. Extremely scarce. Scarily scarce. I want to move further north, where it’s colder, and darker and the snow has been falling steadily for weeks. I dream of having a house where the forests meet the mountains and people are few and far between.

I’m grateful for the ice that we have though, even if the temperatures are fluctuating wildly, leaving it to weep then crackle and freeze…weep then crackles and freeze.

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There’s a wall of rock near home, one that has captivated ever since I moved to Sweden. I pass it almost everyday, but it’s in winter time when I can’t stay away from it, for those months when it grows ice.

These photos were taken today, at around 2.30. I’d just come back from the store and ran inside to grab my camera. The rock wall with become covered with more ice over the coming months, and while today, many of the icicles were breakable, they will become thicker and more steadfast, glistening and shimmering in the short hours of daylight, and gathering strength in the cold hours of night.

 

 

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An Expat’s Life In Sweden : Lördagsgodis

Before moving to Sweden, I was blissfully unaware of the country’s obsession with godis (candy), or more specifically Lördagsgodis (Saturday candy). And now, three years on, I can still find it overwhelming when hordes of people, predominately adults, swarm the Pick ‘n’ Mix wall in our local ICA on a Saturday to bag up kilos (this isn’t an exaggeration) of the stuff.

I’ve tried to blend in, to become ‘one of the Swedes.’ But, after gorging on one too many bags, I’ve lost the will to have Lördagsgodis every single week. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that, in some kind of creepy trance, I’ve picked up a paper bag and a little plastic shovel and have half filled my bag, before shaking my head and abandoning my loot like it was on fire. In my opinion, less is more, and a binge every other month or so does me just fine.

The tradition of Lördagsgodis stems back from the 50’s when the Swedish Medical board advised parents to limit their children’s sweet eating to one day a week. But even though most Swedes do eat their candy on a Saturday, they still manage to beat every other country in the world in terms of consumption.

Down below you’ll find some godis I picked up the other day (once I’d managed to shoulder my way through the gaggle of grownups desperate for their Saturday candy fix). It’s mostly chocolate A: because I’m a chocolate fiend and B: I was in a rush as I was verging on having a full-blown panic attack.

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1. Plopp

While it has one of the most unfortunate names for a chocolate bar, Plopp is a huge hit in Sweden. Why? I’m not sure. Even though it’s made up of a perfect combo – milk chocolate and soft caramel – it’s mediocre. Try it though, just to say you have.

2. Gräddkola

This Swedish toffee is uber rich, and, while it’s delicious, it’s also a bit weird tasting. (You’ll find ‘weird’ is a word that often comes up when people are describing Swedish food stuffs.)  A must try.

3. Gräddkola Choklad

Same as the above but chocolate flavoured. Decent, not as good as the original. They do it in licorice flavour too, surprise, surprise.

4. Delizie

Probably one of the most substantial praline chocolates you’ll find in Pick ‘n’ Mix. More than one and you’ll feel queasy.

5. Marabou Mjölk Choklad

The most famous chocolate in Sweden. We always have a bar of this in the house, and if we don’t, there’s mass hysteria. You’ll see stacks of the stuff is every supermarket. It comes in a mind-boggling amount of varieties  including licorice, strawberry and Oreo, though my favourite is the regular you see here, or the dark variety.

6. Geisha

This is actually a Finnish creation, but it’s a Swedish favourite. Milk chocolate with a crunchy hazelnut filling. Nothing mind-blowing but worth a gobble.

7. Werther’s Original

These German caramel candies are exceptionally popular in Sweden (as they are in England and pretty much everywhere else in Europe.) They’re always at the Pick ‘n’ Mix wall. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that they’re a good, solid, decent candy.

8. Hem-Kola

This is another toffee, albeit with hazelnuts. Really tasty. Don’t expect to be doing much talking for a while after eating it – you’ll be picking your teeth for a good half hour.

9. Sweet Drop

You could easily miss this itty bitty candy while scouring the vast Pick ‘n’ Mix wall, but it’s one of my favourites. With a crunchy shell and a milky filling it tastes like childhood.

10. Juleskum

This marshmellowy Tomte (Santa) is eaten by everyone in Sweden at Christmas. Vanilla or strawberry flavoured (or a mix of both) they’re dangerously moreish.

11. Sockerbitar

These might look boring, but they’re one of the best things about Swedish Pick ‘n’ Mix. They’re like marshmallows, but are much denser and not quite as sweet as their cousins from the US.

12. BUBS Banana And Caramel

Nothing worth writing home about.

13. Polkargris

Basically a hard boiled sweet with a peppermint flavour. Great to take on car journeys or suck on after a meal. Not really what you want to be filling your Pick ‘n’ Mix bag with, though.

14. Can’t Remember

Tastes like Messmör, a sweet/salty/caramely whey spread that reminds me of Norwegian brown cheese. Like with Messmör, I’m not entirely sure if I enjoy it or not.

15. PimPim

Kinda fruity and…tough? Gets stuck in your teeth. No idea why it’s so popular.

16. Smultronmatta

Tastes of the little wild strawberries you find in the Swedish forest in the summer time, which have something of a purfumey taste and taste nothing like actual strawberries. Claggy and a bit weird.

17. ZOO

These little monkeys are not good for eating. Everyone loves them for reasons I can’t understand.

18. Lakris Twist

I guess these are a universal thing. I’m not a big fan of licorice, but I can handle one of these.

19. Lakris Salt

AVOID. Unless salty licorice makes you happy, in which case, get loads.

20. Punschpraline

These little things have quite the kick to them. They taste like Damsugare, a little Swedish cake treat that’s covered in marzipan, dipped in chocolate and flavoured with punsch liqueur.

21. Center

A firm favourite with Pick ‘n’ Mix regulars, you’ll often find these are one of the candies constantly running low. Milk chocolate with a caramel interior. They’re delicious enough.

22. Can’t Remember

Sadly I can’t remember the name for this, but it’s impossible to miss. Whatever-this-is-called is like the holy grail of the chocolate section (the Swedes section up their Pick ‘n’ Mix). Once you’re passed the chocolate layer, you’ll find marshmallow and caramel and something almost biscuity. A must pick.

23. Can’t Remember

While I can’t remember the name, I DO remember that this tastes exactly like the Swedish Fika treat chokladboll, which main ingredients are oats, coffee and cocoa. A must try.

24. BUBS LAKRIS

This is a salty, horrible beast. I didn’t get past one bite, and even that I spat out. Only get this if you adore salty liquorice and/or want the FULL Swedish Pick ‘n’ Mix experience.

25. PimPim Lakris

This is the gets-stuck-in-your-teeth one, just flavoured with salty licorice. NOT GOOD.

26-27 Can’t Remember

Milk chocolate buttons that I can just eat and eat and eat. Everyone puts some of these in their bag.

 

Some Tips To Make The Most Of Swedish Pick ‘n’ Mix

If you’re visiting Sweden, or are new here and are wanting to have a great Pick ‘n’ Mix experience, here are some tips to make the most of your sugar trip.

  • ICA City has one of the best Pick ‘n’ Mix selections that you’ll find, and for a not too bad price either. If I remember right it’s about 59kr per kilo.
  • Unless you’re fine with crowds and don’t mind scraping the barrels for the best candies, I recommend going for Pick ‘n’ Mix on any day BUT Saturday.
  • For the full Swedish experience, bypass the Skittles and Mini Lion Bars and opt for the candy that looks unfamiliar.
  • The chocolates tend to be the heaviest of the candies, so if you’re looking to save some krona, go light on the chocolate and heavier on the gummy and skum candies.

 

If you can help me out with the names I can’t remember, I’d really appreciate it! Please do let me know if you’ve enjoyed this post, and if there’s anything else you’d like to learn about my life in Sweden.

 

 

An Expat’s Life In Sweden : Advent, Hunting For Ice & A Teething Baby

Advent

On the first of December in Sweden, pretty much everyone (except us, I’ll show you when we do) puts up their Jul (Christmas) decorations. People’s windows tend to look the same; a large lit-up paper or metal star hung inverted (I don’t think many think of the Satanic association, so I always have a childish giggle at this) and advent candles.

Most people opt for a wreath of greenery on the front door, fairy lights in the garden, tomtar and nissar figurines dotted all over the place, and half a dozen straw Jul Goats of various sizes, both inside the house and out. The colour scheme is predominately white, maybe some will have an off-cream coloured lights and if people are really daring, and it’s rare, they’ll opt for coloured lights, but nothing too garish.

While it looks cozy, it’s all quite uniform. Because the winters are so long (yay!) and dark (also yay!) Swedes jump at the opportunity to light up their homes all festive like, and a lot actually get into the spirit before December has even arrived.  When I look out of the window now, my view is awash with twinkling stars in windows. It’s nice, but I’m more in favour of the forest dark.

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Hunting For Ice

If you would have said to me a couple of years ago, ‘when you’re 32 you’ll live in Sweden and have a baby, who’s driving you a bit mad with their teething woes,’ I would have scoffed at you and said ‘yeah, not likely!’ But here I am. And my baby is teething. And it’s really, really hard to maintain a calm composure.

Walking in the forest helps Saga relax 9 times out of 10 so I bundled her up and out we went. It was cold last night, about -4 and it was wonderfully crisp when we emerged from the cellar. (In our apartment block, all the prams and bikes and what have you are stores in a vast, creepy cellar.)

The cold air knocked Saga out within ten minutes or so, and I was able to hunt for ice. I was feeling shitty right up until the moment we got outside and my nose was filled with the scent of the forest. The cold has a strengthening effect on me. I could quite happily have one autumn season and three winters. I’m hoping in 2019 we might be able to spend the summer months in Greenland or Svalbard so I can avoid the Swedish summer (which was horrendous this year) completely.

As soon as I found the first icicle, my mood elevated even more, and I found myself able to breathe and start to enjoy the day. Most Swedes long for summer. I’m the exact opposite. Give me winter, give me cold and I’m happy, I can smile. I’m hoping to have an ice bath this weekend in the lake near our home. (It’s the one you see in the photos above. The first photo was its surface today.) The water is starting to re-freeze after the past warmish days and I’m craving to submerge myself in it, give myself to winter fully and completely.

*I’m sorry there’s no videos today. My phone is playing up something fierce and died on me moments after we got outside.

An Expat’s Life In Sweden : The Stress Of Being An Expat Parent

What’s happened to those videos I said I would be uploading, huh? Well, as you will have heard if you saw the one story I uploaded yesterday on Instagram, you’ll know that Saga has had a bad stomach the past few days, which has led to me spending most of my days changing nappies and most of my nights singing Blinka lilla stjärna (Twinkle little star) to a restless baby.

A friend of mine recently said to me that motherhood is like having two and a half jobs. I think motherhood as an introverted expat with bi-polar is like having four full-time jobs and half a dozen part-time ones on the side. The past few days have seen me wanting to burst into tears and swim back to England.

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Life can be difficult when you’re a sea away from family, a sea away from what was home for nearly 30 years and you don’t have a baby. It can feel almost impossible when you have a baby and a mental health illness. I’m not one for giving up, but I’ve said, well, whispered several times over the last 72 hours, ‘I just want to go home.’

I always took having my family close by for granted when I was living in England: ‘Hey mum, can I get a lift there? Hey mum, would you mind grabbing this, that or the other when you’re at Tesco? Hey mum, do you have time to dye my hair? Yeah, I know you said you’d never do it again after it stained the bathroom sink last time, but please!’

Then I came to Sweden and I didn’t have that anymore. There was no family nearby to ask for help, or to lean on when I needed support. It was tough before Saga was born, but I coped, most of the time. After she arrived, I often found myself, head in hands wondering ‘how the hell am I going to do this…’

Being a stay-at-home mum without my own mum around to watch her grow up and chip in with advice/hugs/offers to take Saga for a few hours is extremely fucking hard. I’m not going to sugar coat it. But there are moments in the chaos and the difficulties where I can think to myself ‘I’m doing ok, I got this,’ and Saga will smile, and I’ll grab my phone and try and capture the smile, so my mum and I can share the moment, even though we’re a sea apart.

 

 

An Expat’s Life In Sweden : Porridge, Moomin Mugs & Other Stuff

I haven’t talked much about life in Sweden on MostNorthern, but that’s going to change! All through December I’m going to be showing you what my life is like as an expat here in the cold north. (Well, it isn’t actually so cold right now UNFORTUNATELY. I thought winter had come to stay the other day, but then the temperatures climbed up and the rain set in.)

I made little videos all day long today, and you can find them on my stories over at the MostNorthern Instagram. (They’re also in Highlights under Life In Sweden.) I didn’t take a lot of photos today, but I will over the next month, and I plan to collect the daily stories at the end of each day and put them into one video to upload here.

Gröt For Breakfast

So for breakfast today, Saga and I took gröt (porridge.) Saga has her baby stuff and I have havregryn (rolled oats) made up with water.  Porridge is an excellent breakfast choice for the not-well-off in Sweden. A big bag is less than 20 kroner (about £2) and lasts a couple of weeks.

I’ve read that Swedish oats are a healthier type of oat, and they do have a much more ‘rustic’ taste. Apparently the Nordic climate is perfect for oats which means they’re of exceptional quality.

We Didn’t Leave The House

When I had the idea of doing this daily blogging/Instagraming I had visions of having a snowy wonderland to show you. Tragically, winter hasn’t arrived properly yet, and it’s all gloom in this neck of the woods, but because it’s raining all the time, it sadly isn’t that gorgeously atmospheric gloom that’s perfect for wandering in, as you’ll see in my Instagram stories.

Ska vi ta en Fika?

For those of you who haven’t been introduced to the concept of Fika, pull up a chair. Fika is like a teabreak (in England you tend to have one at about 11am and one at about 3pm) but you can have it whenever and wherever you want. There’s no time constraints on Fika and if you fancy one, you say ‘Ska vi ta en Fika?’ I suppose the English equivalent would be ‘Shall I put the kettle on?’ The Swedes normally have a cup of coffee (I take tea) and a kanelbullar (cinnamon bun) or something to that ilk, and talk about whatever’s on their mind.

With it being almost Jul though, pepperkakor (gingerbread) is eaten in vast quantities, and that’s what I munched through today. In England gingerbread tends to be quite dense, but in Sweden it’s extremely thin and snaps easily. It’s really good though and deliciously spicy.

The Moomin Mugs

If you were following along on my Instagram stories, you would have seen me use two Moomin mugs today (and Sebastian use one too, his is The Groke.) They’re made by Arabia and can be found here.

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UTBURD – An Illustrated Short Story

It has been a while since I was posting here last, but MostNorthern has been on my mind every. single. day. I have something big coming up here on the blog, which I’ll tell you about in more detail once I’m done talking about UTBURD.

You may remember a while ago I interviewed Italian artist Alessia Brusco AKA Skogens Rymd. Well, shortly after that interview, I had an idea that we should collaborate on a book together.

So, I sent Alessia a short story about a mother in olden times Scandinavia who abandons her newborn in the forest, as was often done in the cold north when families were destitute. And hardly any time passes, before she returns to me these most extraordinary paintings that work so in harmony with the tone of the tale. You can see a few here…

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So, if you’re partial to some Scandinavian folk horror, you may enjoy our little book. It’s available on Amazon as a paperback for £8 and for those of you who like to go paperless, it’s on Etsy as a PDF version for £2.

As I mentioned before, there’s something big going to happen on the blog, and by that I mean for the whole of December, I will be documenting about what it’s really like as an expat living in Sweden.

You can expect to see what we have in the fridge, what it’s like hiking with a baby in the winter forest and, of course, what happens at Jul time. I hope you’ll come by and see for yourself!

 

Eyes On The Arctic : Need To Read Things

In this weekly post, I collect all the need-to-read arctic related things that I’ve found over the past several days, and put them here in a handy bundle of links for you to pick, click and read.

12526-snowflakeWarmer Water Has Reached Deep Into The Arctic Interior

12526-snowflakeCold Comforts: Annie Pootoogook In Liverpool

12526-snowflakeArctic Ground Squirrels go to Bed Early

12526-snowflakeArctic wildfires will likely become more common and more intense

12526-snowflakeCountry diary: Arctic terns swirl around a grey stretch of rock

12526-snowflakeArctic fox found in Shanghai park

Is That You Autumn? Scenes From The Swedish Forest

Summer in Sweden ground to a sudden halt the other day and Autumn took it’s chance and snuck in. The past few years, it’s been more of a gradual transition, but this time around it was Summer when I woke up one day, and Autumn before lunchtime.

Oh, and have you noticed the thing with fungi? Like, one moment you can’t find even the smallest little cap, and then BOOM! They’re everywhere you look, thrusting skywards.

While it’s nice having summery days (not the relentless scorchers we’ve been having though) summer isn’t a season that I find myself feeling comfortable in. If I had a choice, the season would run like this: Winter, Winter, Autumn, Winter.

The days are getting colder, and much of nature is winding down for its season of rest. But with the coming cold, I find myself getting stronger, more joyful and full of life, love and optimism here in the North.

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Eyes On The Arctic : Need To Read Things

In this weekly post, I collect all the need-to-read arctic related things that I’ve found over the past several days, and put them here in a handy bundle of links for you to pick, click and read.

12526-snowflakeWatch: Arctic’s thickest ice breaks for the first time

12526-snowflakeFast-Melting Lakes Could Increase Permafrost Emissions 118 Percent

12526-snowflakeGirl, 15, comes ‘back from the dead’ after two weeks lost in Arctic wild

12526-snowflakeReindeer Herders Ask For Emergency Funding To Save Animals From Starvation

12526-snowflakeAs the Arctic Heats Up, Summer Weather Is Lingering in Place

12526-snowflakePermafrost’s temperature on Arctic peninsula 2-3 degrees up

#climatechangeartchallenge : To Go On Indefinitely

I thought it would be best for the #climatechangeartchallenge to go on indefinitely…if you want to take part, just make art whenever you have a free moment and share, share, share using #climatechangeartchallenge

This piece – along with nearly all the other art pieces – going up for sale as a print, tote bag, phone case, etc, in the MostNorthern shop.

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Now, just in case you’re interested, on Patreon I have shared the text from my first children’s picture book which I was inspired to write following the catastrophic wildfires that have been burning in and around the Arctic Circle this summer.

If you’d like to read the story before anyone else, and follow the behind the scenes of the creation, hop over to Patreon where you can become a supporter of my work for just $1 a month.

One of the benefits of being a Patreon is that I will send you a copy of everything I publish. This week I’ll be sending out copies of my newest collection of poems My Father The Wendigo. You will also have a code to use in my shops to get money off any art piece you want to buy.