Friday The 13th In Sweden

It has been a (wonderfully) mad few weeks! I’ve started writing for the brilliant website BabyGaga , have been leaving the house at the crack of dawn for SFI five days a week and I’ve taken up cross stitch. (Addicted and can’t stop. Send help. Not really. I love it.)

My Friday the 13th started off particularly unlucky. I’m especially superstitious…most of us English are, so I didn’t expect much else. I don’t think the Swedes take today particularly seriously though. They’re far too progressive and level headed. In England we still have something a bit Middle Ages with our thinking.

I managed to get about an hours sleep last night because one of the cats is in heat, and the other one has sickness and diarrhea. Then my rucksack opened itself up on my way to school and I nearly lost everything to the slush. I also ended up being fifteen minutes late to class, then did spectacularly bad with my work, ballsing up things which I knew, and repeatedly asking my lovely and especially patient teacher questions in English instead of in Swedish…like I’m supposed to do.

However! Today did have its positives. Here they are.

During my SFI class I learned the word ‘skrock’ which means ‘superstition’ in Swedish.Immediately I thought to myself ‘cross stitching that when I get home!’ Learning this new word improved my mood ten fold, and I found myself scouring the English/Swedish Ordbook during the break for other weird words that I could stitch.

When I got home I sat down and did my cross stitch. I should have been working solidly on articles due in this weekend, but I needed some me time after the monumental stress of the morning. So I spent an hour or so crafting and then, very gently, getting the sleeping cat’s tail to lay artfully across my finished piece. Instagram demands this artiness. She wasn’t particularly happy about this however, even in her sleep.

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I added an Algiz rune to my cross stitch, which, when inverted means ‘hidden danger, taboo, warning…’ Quite suitable I think for today. Friday the 13th also held significance for the vikings. 12 gods were feasting in Valhalla when in walked a 13th, uninvited guest…the mischievous Loki who arranged for Hodor to kill Balder the Beautiful with a mistletoe tipped arrow.

This evening I heard a bird calling from the forest. No idea what I was hearing (okay, my first thought was EAGLE! Which was silly. I’ve seen National Geographic. I know an eagle doesn’t sound like that.) I hurled the door open and recorded the sound with my phone and promptly uploaded it onto Facebook and Instagram.

Coming from the forest…does anyone know what sort of bird this is?

A post shared by Katie Metcalfe (@katiemariemetcalfe) on

Within about five minutes, the web and its people had gifted me with an answer…what I was hearing was a tawny owl (even better than an eagle!), specifically a territorial female owl. Apparently they get like that in winter. It is the males which make the ho-hoo calls and the females make the ke-wick noises I was hearing. I’m thanking the universe for letting me off ‘lightly’ this Friday 13th and for giving me some light relief at the end of bloody long day.

 

Start As I Mean To Go On : Breakfast With Havregryn

We all do it…we all say to ourselves, be it in a quiet whisper or a proud announcement on social media, that ‘this is the year we’re going to eat better.’ I’m managing this, in little ways, like by eating havregryn (rolled oats) for breakfast instead of a bowl of sugary, processed cereal.

Now, I’m not sure exactly why Swedish rolled oats taste different to the Scottish rolled oats that I’m used to, though it’s probably something to do with the crop. They taste healthier, more rustic. Havregryn is what I imagine porridge to have tasted like when the Vikings ate it three times a day.

We make it with water here and cook it on the stove, just as I did in England The Swedes like to add a bit of salt too. Instead of topping it with treacle though, we add a spoon of apple sauce, lots of cinnamon and sometimes a splash of milk.

Thankfully, it’s just as filling as the porridge of home, and though its taking me a little while to get used to the taste, I’m looking forward to adding some of the blueberries we gathered in the forests during summer to my next bowl.

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The Best From 2016

Hej hej! I hope you all had a magical Jul and New Year and that 2017 is being kind to you.

I’m so relieved to be waking up in a fresh New Year, and am using every second to live as fully and as happily as I can.

This year I will be getting to know Sweden on a much deeper level…but more about this in one of my next posts!

For now I want to share my favourite posts from 2016! I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed living them.

My Initiation Into The Swedish Tradition Of Semlor

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I Could Smell Spring

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My Week In Photographs

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Photographing My Viking

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An Interview With Bronte Aurell Of Scandinavian Kitchen

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To My Dear Swede

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Roadtrip To Hagfors In Värmland

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Sebastian’s Family Home In Hagfors

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Rimfrost Live In Trollhättan

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Rimfrost Live In Göteborg

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Fishing In Värmland

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Thrift Haul

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My First Swedish Midsummer

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ATrip Out To Borås Djurpark

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Meeting My Friend After Six Years

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Turning 30 In Sweden

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Re-Shaping Fika : Mandelkubb & The Skogstroll

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Re-shaping Fika : My Man Made Blåbärspaj

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Bride Of The Birds

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I Couldn’t Stay Out Of The Forest

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Jul I Sverige : Making Orange Clove Pomanders

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Our Holiday In The Motherland : Climbing Roseberry Topping

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On The Shortest Day

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My First Jul In Sweden

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From Sebastian, With Love

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I had no inkling as to what Sebastian had bought me for Jul…but my limbs went all weak at the sight of this Moomin Winter Mug by Arabia. The mug features Moomintroll, Hemulen, Sorry-oo and the Snowhorse from Tove Jansson’s book Moominland Midwinter.

In the story, Moomintroll wakes from hibernation and goes onto meet – and initially be afraid of – the snow horse which stands outside the snowed under Moomin House…

(The book laying next to my mug is The Arctic : An Anthology edited by Elizabeth Kolbert.)

My First Jul In Sweden

‘We celebrate on the 24th, watch Donald Duck and eat ham with mustard,’ Sebastian told me months ago when the subject of Jul first surfaced. As my first Jul in Sweden approached (at an unfathomable speed), the all encompassing magical festive spirit – which had been laying dormant ever since I still believed that he existed – awoke.

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Sweden and England share some similarities when it comes to celebrating Jul. One being the mammoth decision of ‘whose house this year?’ I was quietly ecstatic when I learned we would be heading North to Hagfors to spend Jul with Sebastian’s family.

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The sky was crowded with stars when we started our four hour car journey, and I watched the road side in the hope of seeing at least one of the 400,000 moose that roam Sweden. But the giant beasts were wise and stayed in the shadows. Only mice, deer and fox made themselves known to our headlights.

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When we arrived in Hagfors, Pia and Peter had illuminated the dark garden. I could feel the spell of a new experience taking hold. Inside in every room white candles burned, lit paper stars hung from window frames and straight legged straw Jul Goats stood to attention.

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Pia had gone for a minimal colour palate with her decorations – red, white and grey with accents of green here and there.

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A petite Christmas tree was guarded by Father Christmas and two Jul Goats. I could see some of the presents stacked underneath were tagged with my name…

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On the morning of the 24th (Swedes celebrate Jul the day before we do in England) I woke up to a breakfast of Risgrynsgröt, a semi-sweet rice porridge served hot with milk and dusted with cinnamon and sugar. It was delicious in its sweet spiciness, and I found enough comfort in one bowl to see me through into the new year.

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We made a brief but memorable visit to the home of Sebastian’s Grandmother’s  where I found myself amidst dozens of merry, polite Swedes. I was introduced to members of the Svedlund clan, including Riccardo who originally came from El Salvador and married into the Svedlund family, and Julia, a biologist with a burning desire to have a career as a novelist. We ate handmade pepperkakor while talking about the Swedes obsession with coffee and the sad reality of the job situation in Sweden.

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Sebastian was always animated when her talked of the Swedish julboard, and I knew a little of what to expect, but the quantity and variety was staggering. Alongside three different types of herring, I found myself plating up halved eggs topped with shrimp and caviar (it was my first time eating caviar and it went down like a dream), salmon, prinskorv (prince sausauge), köttbullar (Swedish meatballs, every family has their own recipe), beetroot salad, pork ribs, Janssons Frestelse (Jansson’s Temptation) and julskinka (Christmas ham). Pork is something of a sacred tradition with the julboard. A few pigs always made it past the fall slaughter, and would instead be slaughtered on the shortest day of the year – the 13th of December (Lucia Day).

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Come 3pm we had all congregated around the TV in the living room for the annual viewing of the 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special, ‘From All of Us to All of You.’ It dawned on me that the entire day had been arranged as so not a minute of the show would be missed. Jiminy Cricket had the role of presenting fragments from Disney cartoons including Robin Hood, Lady And The Tramp and The Jungle Book. It’s the same format year in year out, that is except for the ending when they present something new that Disney have in the works.

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After Donald Duck, Sebastian’s step-father disappeared and returned in his guise as Tomten. He moved slowly across the garden, a lantern swaying from one hand. Little Tyra wasn’t in the least bit afraid. She welcomed Tomten in, and as the sky darkened, he handed out our gifts one by one. When it was time for him to pick up his lantern and leave, Little Tyra presented him with an orange and a clementine for the ‘long’ journey home. I rediscovered Jultide magic this Jul in the far north, and I intend on holding it close and never letting go.

Winter Has Always Been My Season

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Winter has always been my season. It’s when I feel most myself. I am at my most creative during these dark months. The darkness has forever been more of a friend than a foe. I thrive in the dark, and also find comfort in its unfathomable depths.

Today I spent my first winter solstice in Sweden. I celebrated by surrounding myself with words, art and music and eating vörtbröd, a wheat/rye bread that’s been sweetened and flavoured with malt and spices. All Swedes eat it around Jul.

Despite the troubles of the past few months, when one agonizing day blurred into another, when I tried to sleep away the depression and anxiety, I’m relieved that I’m no longer always a prisoner to my mind. I’m having more days where there are moments hazy with joy. Where I make things I’m proud of, and people reach out to me, and let me know they’re there for me and always will be.

I’ve made the decision that this will be a winter of true renewal. I envisage myself growing stronger with the cold.

Warmth and love to you this winter solstice.

Things I Brought Back From England : My Lopapeysa

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I moved to Sweden in February of this year with one suitcase of belongings. For a (then) 29 year old with a book addiction, a passion for Nordic knits and an obsession with Northerly knick knacks (Replica dragon heads from the Viking era, that kind of thing…) one suitcase didn’t really cut it, and I’ve been pining to be surrounded by my ‘stuff’ for months now.

It was okay at first. Everything in Sweden was gloriously new, and I didn’t really have the time to think stuff I’d left behind. But gradually I started to long to be surrounded by the precious things I’d collected during my three decades. I wanted Sebastian’s apartment to feel like our apartment.

One of the items which immediately found a place in my suitcase was my lopapeysa (a traditional Icelandic sweater.) It was 2011 when I found it in a thrift store in Reykjavik for 300 krona. I was coming to the end of my three month stay in Iceland, and was dead set on getting myself one of the unmistakable knits.

Brand new they were above and unfathomably far from my budget limit, so I needed to utilize my thrifting skills. I knew this was the one from the moment it caught my eye from across the store. Despite my devotion to the dark side of fashion, it (surprisingly) didn’t bother me (too much) the fact that it was white and varying shades of brown. Sebastian tried it on and said he looked like a 70’s Dad…which made me wonder, for the colours are quite attuned with that era…

Wearing it for the first time, I felt proud and more connected to the country than I’d felt at any other moment during my travels. In Iceland everyone in the city and out in the wilds wears a lopapaysa all year round. Interesting fact: the decorative yoke around the neck thought to have been based on Greenlandic women’s costume.

It’s strange that, just a short time ago, my sweater was in another country, folded in a cardboard box in the loft space above my parents kitchen. It’s a comforting feeling to have it here within arms reach.

Jul Thrifting & My Winter Berry Crown

Every time I step over the threshold of a thrift store, my senses spark like flint on steel, and I’m ready to burrow through intriguing odds and ends on the hunt for something extraordinary that I can give a new home.

I thrift throughout the year, but in winter, and especially around this festive time, thrifting feels like a special kind of magic. This blog is called The Girl With Cold Hands for good reason – winter is my season! My mood sits well with the cold, snow and early nights.

Which is why, when I see baskets stuffed with knitted scarves crafted from the thickest wool, Tomtes hiding under enormous pointed hats and fluffy bears and Jul goats made from straw and red ribbons standing stocky and noble, my hands can’t help but tremble, my lips can’t help but shape themselves into a half-moon.

Living in Sweden, I had imagined that come Jul, I would be surrounded by legions of Nordic sweaters when I went thrifting. Sadly, I haven’t found this to be the case. Every now and then I’ll encounter a Lusekofte which has found its way across the border from Norway. It was an entirely different situation in Iceland. When I visited Reykjavik the thrift stores were waist deep in Lopapeysa sweaters. I suppose the Swedes hold their traditional Scandinavian knits close.

The other day I went thrifting with a purpose – to find things that I could use as props in my winter photoshoots. (I’ve recently started releasing a weekly photo series, so I can keep continuously pushing myself as a photographer.) I found this beautiful wreath snuggled away and quickly whisked it away to the changing rooms to see if it fit on my head. I suppose I was the only person who actually tried on a Jul decoration in Emmaus that day! I couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect fit. I took it home with me for 20 krona, then, later, out into the forest where, with the work of the great John Bauer in my mind, I captured this self-portrait.

P.S. The white shawl was also thrifted. 25 krona from Myrorna.

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On The Shortest Day

Yesterday the sun didn’t show itself and the fog never lifted. Unsurprisingly I had a difficult time staying within our four four walls. The forest was calling me.

After following a path I’d only walked once before, I found myself in a part of the forest that appeared far more ancient than any of the other places I’ve wandered in this part of Sweden.

Most of the trees had branches formed like witches fingers, and were enveloped in linchen that hung like old skin.  I felt as though I was wandering from one John Bauer painting into another. I didn’t want to leave my new wandering grounds, but the dark was quick in coming. I’m going to be sad to see the days lengthening, I treasure the early dark.

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