Showing blog posts tagged with: holidays

A happy Christmas, again

by Hilla Duka - View comments

Christmas tree all decorated and pretty

And so another Christmas has come, and though it didn’t come easy, a small bit of Christmas spirit came too, mainly thanks to the images from crazy talented Underbara Clara (who lives in the north of Sweden and so is blessed with snow this time of the year). Here in Stockholm snow around Christmas is a rare thing these days, but we try not to talk about it too much, since my kids get very worried about global warming, and though it is tremendously important, now is not a time for them to fret over that.


They’ve had to take in a lot lately, my kids. First it was me, and the bloody cancer. They see me in pain, they know there are so many things I can’t do, they just adjust to it, but it’s there, under the surface, pops up in their nightmares or plays a constant undertone in their anxieties. I hate it, but I force myself to see it. Then there’s been the situation in the world around them, the flood of immigrants running from horrors too awful to try to understand. And though we don’t try to understand, we talk about it, and discuss what we can do. A while back was the terror attack in Paris, and since they've recently been made very aware of Paris, first as Ilir and I went for a weekend getaway, and then as they recently met their Parisian cousin, it hit very close to home. I talk about how the terrorists want to create division and hate, so that people will divide, some will become outsiders, and join the terrorists. I talk about how the only cure is love, compassion, understanding. They nod; it makes sense to them. But they still worry.


I worry too. I feel skinless these days. I worry about the same things as they do, really. The environment, how our government is handling the flood of human beings in need of safety, my health… There’s just this massive sadness inside of me, for myself and my family, for the world and what we’re doing to it. Maybe that’s why it’s been hard to get any kind of Christmas feeling going. Christmas is also the time when I feel the strongest that I really am a minority in Sweden. Born and raised here, I don’t recognise these traditions, I don’t know the songs, they just don’t belong to me. It’s only since the kids wanted it that we’ve been celebrating Christmas, and very much making up our own traditions as we go along.  


Thankfully, a few days before Christmas my sweet friend Li came over with her dog Buddha and together we made gingerbread cookies and had mulled wine and it started to feel a bit like Christmas.

Li and her pug Buddha in front of the christmas tree


The kids baking gingerbread cookies for christmas
And by the 24th, we managed to make Christmas, with a slightly smaller tree than last years enormous one, and less fretting about food and stuff. The kids made and bought presents both for us and for each other, and my dad and his wife came, as well as my mum and my brother and his lovely puppy, and we all joined in some sort of well meaning but slightly awkward togetherness. 
Cheese and bubbles for christmas
Why go all in on Christmas food when there's hardly an item there that we eat? We opted for cheese and biscuits instead, and some bubbles to go with it. Along with dates, pears, and organic grapes, it might be the best Christmas food ever!
Christmas eve together
And by the time the presents were opened, the wine drunk and the mess made, we started to relax and enjoy ourselves. No toys for the kids, as we had decided, but instead instruments, since they’re really into music right now. So with a brand new keyboard and two guitars for the Xbox, they get to play around with making music even though their parents are clueless and can't play any instruments.

Not so peachy

by Hilla Duka - View comments

Deep thoughts and heavy curls (portrait)

You know, when it’s just not so fucking great? What do you do then?


I decided to keep writing this blog after I got the cancer blow, in order to document… the rest, I suppose. No one wants to go unnoticed, or at least to go without leaving your own individual mark. I don’t want someone else to sum up my life with their own words, I don’t want to be subjected to a rewritten history, relegated to the past. So I kept writing, and through writing have been able to keep some sort of sanity throughout the madness that has become my life. I feel as though I’ve been able to regain a lot that the initial cancer blow took from me. Compared to those early days (ok weeks. Fine, months) when I pretty much just felt as if I’d already died I have more than I thought possible.


But then from time to time, it’s just not fucking fine anymore. I deal with chronic pain, less energy than normal people, my own thoughts about death and those that my kids and people around me have, and then I work 50% again, go to the physiotherapist and my regular therapist, and some days I literally cannot get out of bed, and I think that it may be that it is in my nature, indeed in the human nature to strive for more, for better, to improve, but that I just need a break from it all. When meditating is one of the things that stress you out, you know you’re in trouble. My day doesn’t have enough hours, my calendar is full, and the chance I will ever get to see retirement is so slim it’ll be a miracle.


But what do you do when the person you love asks you what you’re thinking and the truth is, you’re trying to picture him finding a new partner after you’re gone? Because here’s the deal, you’re either honest about it, and then you’re the biggest Scrooge ever, or you’re a liar, and then you’re dishonest and all of a sudden, you feel like the loneliest person in the world.


I have no answers to anything. Today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year, and I think about poor children washing up on the shores, I think about cancer and its horrors, I think about the last in a long row of lovely women I’ve come to know a little bit who passed away today, because there still isn’t a cure out there.


Tomorrow I will put myself back together, I’ll try to be a great mom and a good co worker and a nice wife and all of that. But right now I feel naked and miserable about the state of the world, the state of my own life, the mess to which I've brought three lovely children. I’ll go to bed and pray for a new year filled with more love, and less horrors, and maybe, maybe, some more justice and forgiveness. 


Gotland part 1

by Hilla Duka - View comments

dreamy gotland landscape

So upon the good news of No New Growth, we packed our bags and together with my dad, his wife, their dog and my brother headed to Gotland, where we had rented a house for the week. Eight people and a dog did mean some challenges, but now that I'm safely back in my comfy sofa editing photos, I will claim we had a great trip. The weather wasn't great, but that only meant we got to drive around and see some stuff rather than simply drive from beach to beach.

Jacob by the coast of east Gotland

Gotland is of course famous for its Raukar (I don't honestly know if there is an English word for them, but they are sort of formation made of chalk stone) so we made a point to go and see them whenever we could. And as I found out, my kids are very prone to climbing things (especially rocks) and throwing things (rocks, though smaller), which seemed a very suitable activity while amongst the raukar. Here Jacob is exploring the raukar in Ljugarn, the eastern part of Gotland.

Klintehamn harbour by sunset


Sunset at Klintehamn, Gotland

The house we rented, though not the little cottage in the woods I had envisioned was situated in Klintehamn, a small town not far from Visby (say maybe 30 minutes by car), with a cute harbor we could walk to at night and watch the sunset from. And it did have a trampoline, and that outdoors/ indoors indifference that is always so typical for houses and impossible to achieve in flats, so kids and dog were happy.

Milo in the backyard of our rented house in Klintehamn, Gotland

As we came in the middle of the so called Stockholm week (when brats from Stockholm invade even more heavily than the rest of the summer, partying pretty much 24/7 and generally just being load and unappologetic) we tried to stay clear of Visby. We went twice though, to pick up some groceries (wine. In the rest of the world wine is a grocery and something you can buy in the supermarket. In Sweden, you have to go to a specific, state controlled shop, and thre are like two of those in Gotland. One is in Visby.) I tried to sneak some pics of how beautiful the little city is (whilst avoiding capturing vomiting Stockholmers on camera). It really is insanely pretty, the soil in Gotland must be so good, wine and roses grow like crazy.

Milo and the roses of Visby, Gotland

Alley in Visby with lots of roses growing on the walls


How lovely? Though I feel bad for the people who live in these gorgeous little houses and have crazy tourists misbehaving in their gardens...


poppy growing by the side of the road


Then in our at this point rather desperate attempt to get away from drunk teenagers and my kids picking up new and inappropriate words from them, we packed up and headed to northern Gotland and Fårö - in my mind, the most stunning, breathtaking part of Gotland.


the kids in front of the raukar of east Gotland


Raukar there as well, and crystal clear water with fish swimming in it, even by the shore. 


swimming in Fårö, Gotland


Sudersand, with this amazing sand and long, shallow beach. Even though not warm, the kids were ecstatic.


Milo by the beach in Fårö, Gotland


And this little man, who's generally quite fearful in the water, could bathe and enjoy himself without worrying as even twenty metres in the water still only came to his waste.


Lauters, ruin and restaurant, Fårö Gotland


In Fårö we stopped (on our way to see the Fårö raukar, of course) at this little laid back ruin/ restaurant/ chillax place playing reggae music and offering hammocks for resting under the trees. This happened to be my Holiday Goal - lying in a hammock under the trees and feeling salty wind in my face, so naturally I made the most of this, regardless of the fact that the others were quite eager to continue. 

View from the hammock in Fårö, Gotland


In our cottage (that we're still very much hoping to buy at the end of the summer) we will have hammocks. Lots and lots of hammocks.


And now we're back home, making plans for the rest of the summer. We have almost another month off, which feels amazing and so very luxurious. Maybe we'll rent a little house in the woods last minute, just to really get the feeling? The whole family is quite set on buying a little summer home for ourselves now, but for financial reasons that might have to wait until after the summer, when the prices drop. Right now, the kids are happy enough back with their books, toys, and a stable wifi. I kind of feel the same.

It's half full. It's bloody well always half full, it's just hard to see sometimes.

by Hilla Duka - View comments

Jonathan splashing around in the water

As spring was approaching we were asked how and when the kids would have annual leave from school, and were informed that Jonathan would not have any kind of day care all summer(up until now the kids have always had as much day care as I would need, but apparently a ten year old is perfectly capable of taking care of himself all day long...). At first I started to freak out and wonder what I was going to do with him all summer - How in gods name was this going to work??? And when I was good and properly stressed out and literally couldn't think straight I took a step back, and surrendered. This sounds quite insane, but I've learned to do this more and more (and I get better at it the more I meditate) - I simply give up trying to make something work out the way I on some level want it to, and just surrender it. I let things fall into place, and they might not arrange themselves the way I want them to, but things generally just work out, which is more than I can say for when I try to bend the world to my will.

All three kids playing in the water

Ok, slight side track there. The point was, I surrendered the nightmare of trying to puzzle together Jonathan's ten weeks off school with my annual leave and what we as a family wanted from the summer. And as soon as I did, I realised that of course I would take the ten weeks off work, because spending the summer with my kids was more important than anything. And it would work out, somehow, because it was the right thing to do. And as it happened, it did work out (partly because it was the right thing to do, and partly because I have an amazing boss and workplace). So now I'm rocking ten weeks of summer with my kids. Absolutely amazing.

Jonathan and Jacob playing in the water

Of course it takes me a while to get into holiday mode, but a few trips to the beach later I am now practically almost not thinking about work, and I don't check my work email more than once a day. Ok, I'm still working on accomplishing holiday mode, but I'm working on it from under a tree, where I'm watching the kids splash around in the water, which is a really good place to work on stuff. Or not work on stuff I mean.

Ilir and the kids roasting marshmallows

And what do I plan to do with this obscene amount of family time? Well, thank you for asking, I intend to take my not-so-little family around Sweden. Because we haven't had a car before, the kids haven't seen much of Sweden apart from where we live, and Ilir hasn't really been anywhere, so now we're going exploring. We're spending a week in Gotland, (which is where the majority of Stockholm goes during the summer so the boys should all feel perfectly at home), and are planning some shorter trips to the Stockholm archipelago, Dalarna and hopefully a day or two in Gothenburg (although we'll probably have to go by train since I doubt the boys will last that long in the car). I'm kind of showing them all how great Sweden can be during the summer, like some sort of Swedish guide. Also, I haven't given up on the idea of getting a summer house somewhere, so that might have something to do with why I've opted for renting cottages all over Sweden this year - I'm sneakily trying to win the rest of the family over to buying a house. Then once summer is over, and we all start reminiscing, it's autumn and the prices on summer houses drops, and bam! - the whole family is on board and we're buying a 150 year old cottage. Did I plan this in way too much detail? 

Milo by the seaside


Well, that's how it's going to go down, just as soon as I've had my next checkup (the result comes in in nine days, not that I'm counting or nervous or anything) and the doctor tells me it's all good. "All good, no sign of growth" is what I'm trying to envision her saying. Pleasepleaseplease, let that be what she'll say.


The way you worry about checkups as a cancer patient is insane. You worry up until them, you worry during all the tests, and you worry in the space between the tests and your visit with your oncologist, when they'll tell you the result. And then when they say it looks good, you only stop worrying for a little while, then you start all over again. You constantly try to judge how you feel. Are you more tired than normally? Do the metastasis hurt more than other days? Does it hurt in some new place? Is that ache in your back just from sitting in a meeting or is it a different kind of ache? And then you try to not become some hypochondriac... I haven't slept naturally since I found out about the cancer over a year ago - I take a sleeping pill and knock myself out so I don't dream, but if I did - I'd be having nightmares about the checkups.

summer flowers in a field

Anyway, the jury's kind of out on this checkup, I have no clue. On the one hand, I feel ok. That's partly because I recently took some cortisone which is like speed to my body, so for the past week or so I haven't had so much pain in my joints and I don't really walk like a ninety year old lady, but the effects are wearing off and slowly the stiffness returns. Partly, I hope, it's because I'm doing my physiotherapy religiously, and am slowly getting stronger again. On the other hand, I've really been under a lot of stress work wise lately, and haven't really felt like I had a good work / family / me balance. When you don't really know what makes one person stay in remission and another relapse, you start taking anything and everything into consideration. Have I taken my vitamins? Am I in a mindful state of mind? Exercising? I can so completely understand people who start believing in weird stuff going through this. Magic stones? Oh well thank you, why not. Anything that suggests answers, because the fact is that medicine offers no answers and that sucks. 

Weekend in Paris

by Hilla Duka - View comments


Ilir in Montmartre by sunset

As Ilir's birthday approached, I wracked my brain to come up with the perfect way to celebrate him. In the past I've tended to forget his birthday (it's June first, which honestly just sneaks up on you when you're busy with May, so really it's not my fault at all), but this year was different, for many reasons. Ilir turned forty, for one thing. I've never celebrated a fortieth birthday before, but I had a feeling it should be a big deal. So for the day, I kidnapped Ilir and took him for an afternoon off work and musts, while my mum and brother picked the kids up and let the caterers in (ordinarily Ilir does all the cooking for birthday dinners, and I wanted him to do no work for the day, hence the luxury of catering).

Catering buffet all set up on the kitchen table

As we toasted to him, the kids told him of our present: "You... And... Mum... Will... Go... To... PARIS!" And so we did. We took 48 hours just for our selves, and went to Paris. For me it was a sweet reunion with a city I love and haven't seen in years, for Ilir it was his first trip there. Paris is an amazing place, but you need to stay away from the touristy places, and at the same time, when you go for the first time you do want to see the sites, at least some. We settled for the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe together with a walk down Champs Elysee and the Jardin du Luxenbourg. Oh, and a walk to Sacre Coeur, to see the view of Paris from the top. We tried to not eat close to any of the sites, but had no choice but to sit down for a drink or two as it was really hot and I got tired. 


Monmortre by twilight


This was our first trip together, just the two of us, and it was amazing to have time together, to realise how much fun we have together.


bottle of red wine


Ilir normally doesn't drink much, and normally I don't mind, but it was actually so lovely to share a bottle of wine and just sit and chat for hours. Holiday mode accomplished.


flowers on a market place in Paris


Food market in Paris

We walked past this little impromptu food market, where Ilir got feeling and started raving about fresh ingredients and how you wouldn't find this in Sweden... I suppose he's right in a sense, but at the same time there must be outdoor food markets in Stockholm too, right? Let me know if you've got any tips for me!

Peak of Sacre Coer


Sacre Coer


Sacre Coeur is so impossibly beautiful, inside out, and the view from the top is breathtaking - I challenged myself to climb to the top, and we got there just as the sun was going down, lending soft, long rays of warm light to the scene. So beautiful.


Flower shop in Paris


Gorgeous little flower shops - like little pieces of heaven. Magical!


sunlight on a Paris street


Chasing the light down the picturesque but cute cobblestone streets in Montmartre.


The bridges of Paris


The next day we went walking by the Seine. We started by Pont Neuf, with no real plan whatsoever, except maybe get to the Jardin du Luxembourg - one of the prettiest parks in Paris.


Ilir looking at an olive tree by the Seine


Lovely flower shops with old olive trees and sweet smelling lavender filled the streets, neighbouring cold, boring pet shops sadly selling Chihuahua puppies...


furniture shop by the Seine in Paris


Past little interior decorating shops overlooking the river. I would seriously buy everything in this shop and never redecorate again!


Levender flowers by the Seine


The kids really wanted some pictures from the Eiffel Tower, and Ilir wanted to see it too, so we steered our steps towards the giant construction, making sure to stop by Jardin du Luxembourg first.


Ilir in Jardin du Luxembourgh


Palm trees, pools where children sail miniature boats and ordered rows of square shaped trees. Lovely and serene in the middle of the busiest part of Paris, even though it's filled with tourists.


The Eiffel Tower from afar


And then we continued on to the Eiffel Tower. It was a lovely, warm day, the sun shining and birds chirping, and we settled down on the grass before the giant construction.


Ilir in front of the Eiffel tower


Goofing around by the Eiffel Tower


The obligatory Eiffel Tower photos for the kids...


Me by a rose buch in Paris


Ilir tried his hand at photography, even though he decided my camera has too many settings...


roses by the Eiffel Tower


And after a final dinner (consisting of sadly boring food - France is great for ingredients, and if you settle for wine and cheese you eat little pieces of heaven, but the cooking is bland...) we went to prepare for an early start back, at this point missing the kids and thinking two nights away was probably the exact right amount! Two magic days in Paris - I'm so happy and thankful for it!


art deco restaurant in Paris

The year in review

by Hilla Duka - View comments


Did you do something 2014 that you’ve never done before?

Oh yes! I found out about the cancer, I learned about death and living with death. I’ve gone through nine more rounds of chemo than I ever expected to. In retrospect, 2014 was the year it all fell apart for me, physically. And somehow, ironically, the year everything fitted into place, emotionally. 


Did you make any major changes?

I stopped smoking and using snus. That’s something I’m extremely pleased with, even though I’m not really proud. Mostly I’m just really ashamed I kept at it for so long. Smoking or using snus gave me nothing, it only took something away. Quitting was so easy, once I saw through the lies and deception. I’m extremely grateful to my work, for giving me the option to do a quit-smoking course.


What date from 2014 will you always remember?

June 4th, the day I found out I have cancer. August 3rd when we got married.


Did anyone close to you die?

No, but death joined our lives in a very real and tangible way this year.


What countries/ cities did you visit?

Berlin, in January with work. Then London in early March, also work related. Then no trips at all until we all went on holiday to Gran Canaria in September.


What was your biggest success in 2014?

Surviving knowing that I’m going to die. Surviving nine rounds of chemo. Actually, not just surviving, but being able to live, love, laugh through it all. I never knew that was possible. 


Best purchase?

I’ve invested quite a lot in our home this year, and that’s something I’m pleased with. Especially since I’ve tried to invest in quality items that will last a long time, preferring old and used to IKEA.


Did anything make you really happy?

Marrying Ilir made me really happy. And small, everyday life things that made me so much happier than ever before - like cuddling up with the kids reading a book. I always knew it was nice, but now it's as if my heart will explode sometimes. 


Did anything make you really sad?

Finding out.


What song will always remind you of 2014?

Frank Sinatra singing My way. I’ve listened so much to that song this year. Crying my heart out to it. 


Were you happier or sadder this year compared to other years?

I think I’ve been both happier and sadder than ever before this year. Maybe the sadness has also enhanced the happiness, but somehow I feel everything so much stronger. It's been a year of opposites, of extreme happiness and sorrow like never before. Most of the time, I manage to squeeze every bit of that spectrum into one day. 


What do you wish you had done more of?

Spent more time outside, in forests or by lakes. I spend most of my time indoors now, and when I go outside I’m usually always in the city, and I find I really miss the woods. 


What do you wish you’d done less?

I wish I’d spent less time with stupid people who only take energy and give nothing back. I wish I’d not focused so much on negative comments or on what other people thought.


Did you fall in love this year?

I fell in love, though it’s with someone I’ve loved for years. I guess that’s the best kind of falling in love. And I fell in love with life. As if only when someone threatens to take something away from you can you truly appreciate what you have, and realise how much you love it.


Best book you read this year?

One book I read that really had an impact on me was Anticancer - A new way of life. Not because there was really that much new ideas in it, but because it relieved the feeling of complete helplessness I’d been having since I found out. Suddenly, I felt as if there was something I could do - to live a bit longer, a bit better.


What were you doing on your birthday 2014?

Resting after our wedding, which was the day before. I usually host IHAD, International Hilla Appreciation Day on my birthday, with everyone coming over, toasting me and telling me how wonderful I am. This year, it was a more quiet affair. But it was a happy day. 


Is there anything that would have made 2014 even better?

Well, I’ll not beat around the bush with it, but not getting cancer would have been great. Or at least, getting slightly better odds than this would have been an improvement.


What was your biggest mistake?

I don’t really believe in mistakes. I believe in learning from what has happened to you and how you’ve responded to it, and improving yourself. And I believe in apologising to the people you’ve accidentally hurt along the way.


What made you feel good?

My family. My kids and Ilir and my brother. Friendships that deepened. Learning how to meditate has practically saved my life, or at least my sanity. Meditation has given me a place where I can go whenever I want, to connect with something bigger than me. A place where I can borrow energy to get through. Whenever it's all too much for me, I close my eyes, focus, and reach out to touch vastness. 


What are you most proud of?

Living through the nine rounds of chemo I’ve done so far. When I found out about the cancer and the fact that it was inoperable and the only course of treatment was chemo, no one knew if my body would be able to take so much toxins. Even though it’s literally cost me an arm and a leg, I’m still standing, or at least sitting. My heart is still functioning. Very grateful for that bit.


Something you’ve missed 2014 and want 2015?

My health back, please. Please, please, please, may I have some of my health back?


Who did you miss?

My grandmother. I’ve thought so much about her since I found out, wanting her help in how to deal with this, wondering how she coped when she found out. 


Best new people you’ve met?

The nurses working on the oncology department at the hospital. Hands down the best people I met this year. They’re just all of them amazing - nice and sweet, and they get things done no matter what. When doctors mess up they’re there to clean it up, smiling.


Dearest wish right now?

To be well. Tomorrow is my last chemo session and I so hope that I may get some time, a lot of time, to be well, to be with my family. Some time when no new cancer cells are growing, when I don't have to have more rounds of chemo. Years and years, actually. That's my dearest wish right now. 

Happy Christmas

by Hilla Duka - View comments


The tree was huge, the food delicious and never ending, the company large and merry and the presents plentiful. I think it's safe to say we've learned how to do Christmas. 

Two whole days have been spent cooking, not exactly a traditional christmas meal, but all the food that was ordered by the kids, and then some that we thought would be nice. Never before have we prepared this much food! 

glazed salmon for christmas

Yes, this is a glazed salmon. Glazed, I tell you. I may be a vegetarian, but I'll not pass up the chance to glaze anything. Champagne (actually sparkling wine, but champagne sounds better, don't you think?), balsamic, rosemary, honey and dijon mustard. Have no idea how it tasted but it was fun to make!

banana bread for chistmas

Banana bread for sweets, they look unimportant, but the kids love them, which usually means that if I make them for the kids, I can do something more fun for the adults. Unfortunately I didn't get a shot of my carrot cake with icing before we gulfed it down... Just take my word for it, it was delicious.

My body's aching, my arm's all swollen, and I can't really walk proper, but as I climb into my comfiest spot in the sofa, the kids tucked up in their new beds, the candles burning low, I'm filled with pleasure at the day. Another Christmas for me and my family, thank you. The first one in about fifteen years with both my parents present, thank you cancer for that. 

And for one day, one precious day, I was so busy trying to make sure everyone was having a good time, I didn't think about the cancer, about being ill, about what's ahead. Another thing to be grateful for.