Showing blog posts tagged with: merrymaking

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.

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.


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


Weekend outings

by Hilla Duka - View comments

all my boys by the water

A few weeks ago, following one of Ilir's "I've lived in this country for years and I've still not {insert random experience}" rants, we packed the kids into the car, and headed out to Sigtuna, to go touristing. Being able to just go places as we wanted was one of the main reasons for buying the car, but we haven't really been around that much. Never mind all the romantic ideas I had of going to remote places at our leisure, enjoying hidden gems away from the city, the car is mainly used for transporting kids and groceries. So when Ilir and the kids wanted to go somewhere, I was easily persuaded. Plus, I figured, I could take the camera and get some nice pics of the kids!

Little boathouse in Sigtuna

As we drove there, I realised I hadn't been there before either. We'd planned on going there before Christmas, to see their Christmas market, but time just ran away. We came to a little cafe by the water, which Ilir had looked up and were supposed to serve great waffles. Only the kids didn't want waffles, they wanted ice cream. And I didn't want waffles, I wanted a glass of wine. So Ilir grudgingly ordered one waffle, three ice creams and a glass of wine, all the while mumbling about what a difficult family we made up.

Milo eating ice cream by the water in Sigtuna

 

Jonathan having ice cream by the water in Sigtuna

And for the first time in his life, Jonathan actually couldn't finish his ice cream. He left it on the table where it was soon consumed by this fearless buggers:

fearless birds at the cafe

 

Jacob enjoying an ice cream in the sun

 

After our little fika we went exploring, me with camera in hand, of course. The kids found a tree, and were uncharacteristically happy climbing in it.

 

Jacob and Milo climbing in a tree

Milo posing on a tree branch

All three boys climbing a tree

They were not thrilled as we tried to coax them to leave their tree and go exploring the little town, but eventually let us persuade them as we started mentioning an old ruin, quite possibly haunted and very old.

Milo with a map to the ruin in Sigtuna

Milo found a map, and the kids started finding their way to the ruin. As none of us really knew where to go, it was quite fun to task the youngest member of our family with the important job of finding our way. He took it most seriously too.

The kids following the map to find the ruin in Sigtuna

No, this wasn't it. It was however a spot where the kids read "Jaguar" on one of the cars, and decided to consult the map to see if there was a zoo nearby.

Exploring quaint little houses in Sigtuna

Both the kids and Ilir fell a bit in love with the cute houses on the way, and eventually forgot about finding old ruins.

 

By the time we found the ruin, I was too tired to go exploring, and the kids had kind of lost their interest and wanted to go play football instead.

views of Sigtuna in the spring

After playing with the ball for a while we decided on a second fika. Partly because I was tired and the kids needed something to eat and partly because, well - why not?

Jacob having fika

Jonathan enjoying a homemade strawberry drink

And then, the kids high on sugary drinks and sweets and us equally pumped full of caffeine, we headed back to the car, happy and tired.

Ilir happy in the sun


Birthday celebrations

by Hilla Duka - View comments

jacob birthday morning

Yesterday we celebrated my clever, strong willed, highly opinionated and very charming son Jacob turning eight. As I constantly overestimate the time I have at hand compared to the time it will take me to do anything, I first went into town for a meeting, and a lunch date with two lovely friends from work. 

decorations for jacobs birthday party

When I finally got home I was exhausted, and still had to decorate and clean and make a cake (planning ahead aparently doesn't work for me), thankfully I had lots of help from Jonathan, but by the time the guests arrived I was knackered and lay panting on the sofa - charming...

baloons birthday party

Balloons for my lovely boys.

Jacob opening presents

Still, decorations and preparation matter little to birthday boys - presents and cake are way more important. Ever since Jonathan got a phone for his eighth birthday, Jacob's been impatiently awaiting his own eighth birthday, hoping for a phone of his very own. He was thrilled to unwrap his present and find an iPhone 4.

Aidan our cat watching over the birthday celebrations

One of our more special cats, Aidan (the one who thinks he's a dog and has no tail), helped with the wrapping paper. The rest of us are a bit unsure as to what he was helping with, but he was most happy to do it.

jacobs birthday cake

And then, presents had and dinner gulped down, came time for cake. Dark chocolate with strawberries had been ordered, so I didn't really have to get creative at all.

And then the party was over, the guests leaving and the kids climbing happily into their beds. And despite stressing out and feeling inadequate most of the afternoon, I sat down and looked at the mess around me, and felt so happy and grateful. Another birthday when we're all together. 


Shabbat bliss

by Hilla Duka - View comments

The week has gone by so fast, some time spent at the office, some spent with doctors, and some nights spent with a poorly Jacob. And then came Shabbat, and though Jacob was still coughing we packed ourselves in our little car and headed over to my dad and his wife to be treated to Shabbat dinner!

kids playing with shiba

The kids were thrilled, as that meant getting to see the new family member, Ashi the dog. Or maybe not so new, my dad bought him a few weeks after we found out about the cancer. I figure even Freud and Jung would agree on that one. Anyway, Ashi - a Shiba dog about six months old, is turning out to be a very sweet person, one of my cats has taken a special fancy to him, and tries to meow and communicate with him every time he comes over. And of course the kids love playing and cuddling with him. 

Jonathan making tacos

Jonathan was of course keen on helping out with dinner, making the ever so popular and historically correct Shabbat dish of Tacos. Please observe the heavy satire here, but I don't really know how to make a lot of Israeli dishes, apart from hummus and falafel, and by having tacos, at least we know the kids will eat without complaining. 

basil leaves

There really is no better food than that which has been prepared by someone else! I love how when you cook yourself, you're always using the same herbs and spices, preparing the same dish in the same way. Then when someone else makes you food, they do it differently, and you get all inspired as to how you could change things up.

jacob, jonathan and Ilir in the sofa after dinner

Then of course came the obligatory food coma - collapsing in the sofas and putting on a movie to make the kids sit still for a minute or two...

rear view mirror

And all of a sudden it was way past the kids bedtime, the evening over, and we headed back home again. 

cemetary by Karolinska Sjukhuset

On our way home we drove by the cemetery, which was enough to set me off, and with tears rolling down my cheeks and thoughts of death pounding in my head, I tucked the kids up in bed, sat down in the sofa with a glass of wine, thinking to numb the feeling of doom and gloom that clouded the end of the night with some mindless facebooking. Only to see the first post in my feed, announcing the death of one of the women in my breast cancer group. Tearing up all over again. 

 

When I say that death has joined our lives this year past, I mean that quite literally. 


Married

by Hilla Duka - View comments

Wedded

Yesterday, on a high overlooking the entire city, I married my best friend, the steadfast rock who's always been there for me, the love of my life, and the father of my children. In a simple ceremony marked only by love and respect, with family and beloved, supportive friends around us, we became husband and wife, and I know that this we will remain for all of my days. 

I'm so grateful to everyone who took time to come and celebrate with us, making it exactly as special and still relaxed as I had hoped. It was an amazing day. And to my friend Cattis, without whom all of these ideas about getting married would still just remain ideas. When I found out about the cancer, Ilir asked me to marry him. When we started planning, all we could really come up with was that we would like a small ceremony, in a very relaxed way, having some champagne with our loved ones. Since I can't plan far in advance as I have no way of knowing how I will feel in six or so months, we knew that it would have to be short notice. This meant we couldn't simply book the next available time at the registry office, and as I am a non believing Jew and Ilir is a non believing Muslim, finding someone prepared to marry us seemed more than difficult. Until Cattis came in, found a lovely minister who didn't have a problem marrying such a religiously strange couple as us, and also promised to work around Jonathan's very harsh opinions on mentions of God or Jesus. (I think I've mentioned that before? While I'm somewhat of a religious carnivore - devouring all but believing in nothing, Jonathan has very strong opinions about especially Jesus. I think it stems from going with school to church before Christmas, where the priest told the story of Jesus as if it was fact, and Jonathan stood up, pointing fingers at the priest and calling: You can't know that's what happened, it was over two thousand years ago, YOU weren't there!) Thankfully, this very open minded minister didn't have a problem working around all of this, and Jonathan, whilst initially sceptic, soon warmed to him and played and laughed with him after the ceremony. 

My lovely friends from work read this poem, which brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart (chemo brain is making me mushy and sentimental and emotional...):

När jag står på bergets topp

När jag går i den djupaste dal

Finns det inget på denna jord

Som jag inte kan klara av 

Om du finns hos mig

Om du tror på oss

Ge mig din hand

Med dig vid min sida

Klarar jag allt

Klarar jag allt 

När dom vänder mig ryggen

När människor blir små

När vägen är mörk

Ska jag fortsätta gå

För med dig är jag modig

Jag är den jag vill va'

Och hur det än blir nu

Är allt som det ska

Om du finns hos mig

Om du tror på oss

Ge mig din hand

Med dig vid min sida

Klarar jag allt

Klarar jag allt

And then we were done, and after some champagne we went down to find some grass and some shade and had a picnic. It was exactly the sort of simple, relaxed day I had hoped for, and though I was sad that some of my friends and loved ones couldn't make it, we toasted to absent friends, we laughed, and it was a wonderful day. I hope it will be a day the kids will always remember. I know I will. 

 

And today is my birthday, I'm turning 35. A few years ago I invented IHAD (International Hilla Appreciation Day), so my birthday is usually a day of drop-by visitors having some bubbles and toasting me and telling me how wonderful I am, rather than the cake, gifts and off-key happy birthday songs you'd normally have. Celebrations are so important. At every chance, every birthday, happy turn, achievement, at every piece of good news, we could all do with a bit more celebrating. God knows we grieve enough.