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.

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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My First Lussekatter

The celebration of Lucia has always been ‘around’ in my life as it were, since I was seven years old and started attending a Rudolf Steiner school. I discovered the candle crown through the illustrations of Elsa Beskow and John Bauer.

Now, Lucia is a festival which has quite complicated origins, but it’s dedicated to a Saint Lucia, a Christian martyr from Italy who was executed during the Diocletianic Persecution.  Simply put, it’s a celebration of light, as St Lucia is traditionally thought to ‘wear light in her hair and she occupies the role of bearing light in the dark of the long Swedish winters.

In homes across Sweden, the eldest girl gets up before the sun and bakes lussekatter (saffron buns). She dresses herself in a white robe, ties a red sash around her middle, places a candle crown on her head and delivers coffee, the fresh lussekatter, and pepparkakor (gingerbread) to her parents, accompanied by singing siblings.

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But Lucia has a darker side too, a side which I found myself all too eager to explore. In old Sweden, Lucia night, also known as the longest night of the year, was a dangerous one. In Pagan lore on this night all animals were possessed and developed the ability to talk. Up in the north of Sweden, there was a legend that Lucia was in fact Adam’s first wife and she consorted with the devil.

Now, you may have already made the connection, but lussekatter translates to Lucifer’s cats. These especially vibrant (that’s the saffron), S shaped buns represent a curled up cat, and are traditionally handed out during the Lucia processions which take place across Sweden. Traditionally there’s two raisins – the eyes, Lucia is the patron saint of the blind and was herself blinded before being executed – one at either end of the lussekatter.

I would have loved to have made my own lussekatter, but time wasn’t on my side today, and shelling out for a packet of saffron wasn’t within my means. (Saffron, the most expensive spice in the world, is sold at the cash registers at supermarkets and pharmacies here in Sweden.) So I bought a lussekatter instead.

As advised, I warmed it up gently before eating. I can say now that saffron isn’t a favoured spice of mine. The bun wasn’t unpleasant as such, it was wonderfully soft, buttery and slightly sweet, but the saffron gave it a slightly off taste, a taste that cannot compete with kanelbullar or pepperkakor. I was thankful for the accompanying glögg!

 

Jul I Sverige : Making Orange Clove Pomanders

On arriving in Borås last Sunday after our trip to England, the city had decorated for Jul and was a sea of illuminated paper stars. It was so beautiful I could have spent the whole night drifting through the streets, taking in the gentle light at almost every window. In England we have a bad habit of going horribly overboard with the decorations. The Swedes, on the other hand, keep things simple.

I always look forward to when the sun dips below the horizon at the end of another day, but now it’s another, special kind of anticipation. I’m waiting for the glow from the stars in the windows of the apartment block just across the way from us. They will light up the nights until January.

Our own decorating has been delayed…but today I started in my own little way, by making an orange clove pomander. For as long as I can remember, my Mum has made these most fragrant of decorations around this time, and they’ve always been my favourite winter adornment. I’ve forever been weak for the intense, spicy, warming scent of cloves combined with the sweet, fruity, lush perfume of oranges, and seen as though this is my first Jul away from England, I thought it important I continue the tradition myself.

I’m admiring my pomander now, nestled among some evergreen and pine cones which I collected from the forest earlier today. I’m reflecting on how much I enjoyed the slow crafting process, when I was focused on nothing but carefully pressing one clove after another through the giving skin and flesh of the orange. I hadn’t felt so relaxed in months. As a Pagan, bringing the natural world into the home all year round is important, but especially so in winter when I pay homage to the old traditions that celebrate my most favourite time of year.

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Fika With Anna’s Pepparkakor

Nothing says ‘welcome winter, we’re ready for you’ more than a Fika of pepparkakor and hot, sweet Liptons Tea. Little Tyra was unwell the other day with stomach flu, so when I went to the store to stock up on blåbärssoppa (the Swedes drink lots of blåbärssoppa or blueberry soup when they’re unwell) I also picked up 2016’s first packet of pepparkakor or ginger thins. When I was little and ill, my mother used to always give me ginger – mostly in the form of gingerbread – as it worked to combat nausea.

Fortunately, Little Tyra is bouncing around again like usual, and we have plenty of pepparkakor left over. The brand I picked up was Annas Pepparkakor, a company which started as a home bakery run by two sisters in Stockholm in 1929. Nowadays, Annas Pepparkakor still use their original recipe and are sold worldwide.

These thin, fragile biscuits are so crisp yet smooth to eat, and practically melt in the mouth. The distinct, rich, hugely moreish spice flavour created using ginger, cinnamon and cloves brings all of your senses to Christmas morning. As an English woman I naturally had to see how well they would dunk in my tea. Fortunately I had my wits about me when I dunked, and surveyed that two quick dunks were just about all the pepparkakor were able to take. One quick dunk is more than sufficient.

While slowly nibbling my final pepparkakor – I wanted to make it last – I found myself reading about an interesting Swedish custom where you place the pepparkakor in the palm of your hand, then, using the index finger or thumb of your other hand tap it three times and make a wish. If the pepparkakor breaks into three pieces then your wish will come true. Naturally this meant I had to grab one more and try it for myself. Now, I won’t tell you what I wished for, but I will tell you that my pepparkakor did break into three pieces!

If you’re intrigued by Annas Pepparkakor, and would love to develop your knowledge, I strongly recommend you head to their gorgeous website where you’ll find history galore, as well as plenty of inspirational ways to serve and eat your pepparkakor.

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Library Haul

If there’s one thing that I miss about England other than my family, it’s my books. I have 1% of them here in Sweden, and my soul is aching for the rest. They’re waiting patiently in boxes in my parents attic for the day that we’re reunited. I get twitchy if I’m in a house that doesn’t hold many books. Having books around is as essential to me as having clean air to breathe. They calm me down when I need peace, they fire me up when I need inspiration. They’re my closest friends and my greatest allies.

Seen as though I can’t have all of my books with me right now, it gives me all the more reason to visit Borås library as often as I can. I’m also always scouring the second hand stores for affordable reads, but good English books are few and far between.

My obsessions, as you will know if you’ve been here a while, include the North, winter and the dark. You would think, being in Sweden, that the shelves – even in the English section – would be heaving with northerly related books, as well as a hefty number of darkly inclined reads. Sadly this isn’t the case. I have to search and I have to search hard to find books which are capable of delivering what I need.

At one point I found myself wandering through all the Swedish sections too, to see if some English books had been slipped in between. It was difficult to remain patient and be methodical in my search, but I found some special treats, which made it all worth it.

If you want to find out more about the books I’ve featured, click on the photos!

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This beast of a book is the first of its kind, and presents 35 leading artists creating in the Sápmi region, an area which extends across northern Norway, Sweden, Finland and northwestern Russia. For years I’ve been studying the culture of the Inuit, and have, for a while, been feeling the desire to give some dedicated attention to investigating the culture and lives of the Sami. This book will be the beginning of a new journey. I’m so excited to see how my creativity will evolve as I develop my knowledge and understanding of these people. I’ve had a quick skim through and have already become infatuated with the work of Inger Blix Kvammen, Britta Marakatt – Labba and Carl-Joham Utsi.

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I’m forever working to improve my knowledge about Swedish traditions, so when this peeked out at me from the shelf, I had to have it. The author Jan-Öjvind Swahn was one of Sweden’s most renowned scholars in cultural history studies, so I know that I’m in good hands. This gorgeously illustrated book features art from the likes of the great, late Carl Larsson and covers Lucia, Midsummer, Christmas, Sweden’s National Day, Easter and Waffle Day, along with other Swedish traditions.

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It’s practically impossible for me to leave behind a book with the word North in the title. I put this on my ‘take home’ pile even before I’d read the blurb. True North is Kimberly Kafka’s (yes, she is related to the late Franz Kafka) first novel, and tells the story of Baily Lockheart, a woman who flees a tragic past to settle alone as a bush pilot in Alaska. Here she purchases the only piece of land not owned by the Native American Ingalik tribe…

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The same rule pretty much goes for winter too. Winterwood also went on the pile before I had so much as glanced at the blurb. Redmond Hatch is returning to his home in Ireland’s mountainous interior when he encounters Pappie Strange, a fiddler and teller of tales. This encounter is the first link in a catastrophic chain of events. 

I usually have a couple of books on the go at the same time, and at the moment I’m re-reading Earth Shattering : Eco Poetry (there’s rarely a moment when I’m not re-reading this phenomenal anthology) so will be starting with Contemporary Sami Art And Design and True North today. Have you read any of the books I’ve mentioned and which book is currently getting your attention?

 

 

The Delicious Gifts From Our Pumpkin

We finally got around to carving our pumpkin yesterday, but it’s okay! Halloween in Sweden is a little different. We celebrate until the 6th of November, the day on which Alla Helgans Dag (All Saint’s Day) falls. It’s on this date – also the first day of winter  – that families go to the cemeteries to visit the graves of their deceased. Pass a cemetery in Sweden on Alla Helgans Dag, and you will see it flooded with candlelight.

So, our pumpkin will stay alight until tomorrow. Though knowing us, it’ll be a bit longer. Halloween is the most special celebration of the year in this household, and we hold onto the Halloweeney feeling for as long as possible…even though the snow is quietly blanketing the ground outside.

Once Sebastian had cut a lid out of the pumpkin, I set to work on taking out the seeds, then on removing the seeds from the stringy guts, which took the best part of two hours. All the while I was picking away the pulp, I was thinking to myself ‘hell, I need to thank my mother a thousand times or more for all the hours she spent preparing seeds to roast for my siblings and I when we were growing up.’

Once they were clean, I preheated the oven to 180C and covered the seeds in a few glugs of olive oil and a handful of salt and black pepper. They went into the oven for about twenty minutes until golden and crunchy. This kind of hands on work with foodstuffs, where you really have to be into what you’re doing can make the difference between an average day and an accomplished day, and I felt greatly accomplished as I nibbled on some pumpkin seeds, and breathed in the heady, sweet scent coming from the slowly warming Jack-O’-Lantern.

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How I Spent October

October was an extremely special, productive and, despite the darkening days (which I love anyway), an enlightening month. I’ve always held Autumn close to my heart, but I had no idea quite how strong a spell the changing of the leaves could hold over me. I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve spent simply staring out of the window.

It was a month where I really focused on my photography, and pushed the boundaries of what I thought I could accomplish as, dare I say it, a photographer. With the help of two special ladies and our art project The Divine Weirdos, I’ve been able to explore new darknesses. I’ve never had the courage to call myself a photographer before today, and when I say it it is with a slight waver to my voice. I think it’ll be a while before I write it anywhere other than here. I’ve always felt there were too many ways in which I still have to develop before I can give myself the title.

October also found me being proactive in terms of discovering new Swedish foods and culinary traditions. It’ so easy to get stuck in routines…and I made a determined effort to lay some to rest.

October was all of this, and so much more. I hope you enjoy the following photographs and words and where they lead…

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My talented friend Erzabeth Svedlund and I magicked up Bride Of The Birds, a photoshoot involving a wedding dress, owl like makeup and our beloved forest.

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Photo : Erzabeth Svedlund

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Photo : Margit Angéla-Brigitta Mortrand

October saw me get crafty…especially crafty actually. I’m so proud of how crafty I was. I manifested the creature you see above you (for a Divine Weirdos photoshoot) creating the fingers out of silver foil and black tape.

They celebrated National Poetry Day in Britain on the 6th of October, so I did my part here in Sweden and wrote this poem.

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The first episode of a documentary which I’ve been working on with my man and his band Rimfrost was released…and very well received!

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I tried Swedish blodpudding for the first time (and adored it!) ….

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…and re-shaped how I take my Fika for a week. (Click on the photo you like to go to the post).

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I uploaded new photos for sale in my shop, including images I caught of dewy spider webs in the early morning.

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We enjoyed the Halloween celebrations at Liseberg.

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I went out before breakfast to catch the mist

…and was contacted by Douglas Elliman Real Estate to take part in a Fall Style Board Challenge…which I graciously accepted.

I also helped Rimfrost to take some photographs…which will be revealed soon…and filmed them LIVE shopping! If you want to know what I’m talking about, head to their Facebook page.

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I eagerly anticipated my first Halloween in Sweden, and celebrated in a way much more my style than heading to a loud party…by taking photos in the forest, eating cake and watching Penny Dreadful. The festivities aren’t quite over yet though…the pumpkins will stay alight until the 6th of November!

 

A cold winter is predicted, and snow is already on the way! I’m shivering with excitement over what November will bring.

 

 

Turning 30 In Sweden

When I was fifteen I was extremely unwell. My family weren’t sure if I would make it to sixteen. Back then, thirty seemed an impossible age. But I reached it intact, and opened my eyes on my thirtieth to see the face of the man I call my True North. Never in my wildest dreams could have imagined that I would be living in Sweden, on the edge of a forest with a man who lights up my world with his smile.

We had made plans to go canoeing for my birthday, but the weather here in Borås had other ideas. Instead we spent the morning and most of the afternoon just lounging and enjoying each others company. Sebastian then went out to ‘fix some things’ and came back with a Princess Cake…of which I ate three slices. I’ve always wanted to try Princess Cake (Prinsesstårta), but have never had the opportunity. This traditional Swedish cake is made from airy sponge cake, pastry cream, lots of whipped cream and a green marzipan coating that’s sprinkled with powdered sugar and topped with a pink marzipan rose. It tasted like what I imagine cakes in fairy tales to taste like.

In the evening, after playing air soft, Sebastian unveiled a heap of presents. The first was a silver bracelet from him. The shine of it is unlike any silver I’ve seen before. Then came a lovely gift from my friend Erzabet – some pencils (I’d been talking about needing some!) in a beautiful little paper bag inscribed with some heartfelt words. Then came gifts from my lovely Swedish family – Pia, Peter and Linus – a unique makeup bag, a gorgeous scarf, a spectacular cathedral like candle holder and a most beautiful piece of art made by Pia herself.

My 30th birthday was so perfect in every way that I had to ask Sebastian  more than once, ‘Am I dreaming?’

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Thank you my love. It was the best.

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“I’m not very good at surprises…” Sebastian told me just before my birthday. As a matter of fact, he turned out to be a master at them. The silver of this bracelet is so bright I can see it lighting my way forever.

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For my makeup when we visit Hagfors.

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One of the things I always notice when we visit Hagfors is the gorgeous array of wrapping papers that Pia had in her reading room.

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I intend to Own It!

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Oh goodness…my heart.

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Love the stonewashed grey of this scarf.

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I’m looking forward to when it gets dark later…so we can see how this beauty looks all lit up.

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Pia has a talent for creating the most spectacular pictures using hot wax. The last time we were in Hagfors I told her how much I loved this one. And now it’s in our home.

 

My Favourite Photos From July

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Sebastian and his step-father Peter picking harvesting blueberries in the forests of Hagfors. The contraption they’re using is called a Jonas Berry Picker. You rake it through the bushes – while gently coaxing the berries – and it plucks them for you.

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Sebastian’s hand after blueberry picking.

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I tried smultron berries for the very first time. Another name for them is Hideaways. They have a unique, very purfumey taste.

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The first blueberries we picked this season in a beautiful, hand painted basket I picked up from a second hand store for 30 kroner.

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Sebastian’s mother Pia and his step-father Peter cleaning blueberries. It’s actually an incredibly relaxing and enjoyable activity…believe it or not! And it’s ever so satisfying when you have a big bowl of shining, leaf free berries ready to be bagged up and frozen.

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Deep in the forests of Värmland…it looks like a gnome has come along and taken a slice out of this mushroom.

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My very first kanelbullar! Rough but still beautiful and, not meaning to blow my own trumpet, but they tasted divine.

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Caught while hurrying to a friend’s house…

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Relishing the rare sun that shines in Borås.

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Sebastian and I walking through the woods of his childhood.

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I feel so blessed to have been welcomed into Sebastian’s family. Here we are out walking in the woods of Hagfors.