counting down the hours.

looking back over this year, i realize that it has been truly, truly amazing! i have completed my first full year as a resident of sweden, traveled around the world some, learned a new language, experienced new traditions, enjoyed every single moment with my love, missed my family so much i felt like my heart would break, gotten a job, learned the true art of fika, and oh my gosh what an adventure it has been!

here, take a peek.


in january i finally finished reading this awesome book about the hippie, peace-lovin’, one of my idols beatle. it inspired me at the start of a new year to begin writing my story, and it of course inspired me to follow the road less traveled, to just be true to myself in every way. from the time i had moved to sweden (in august 2010) until january, i spent most of my time at home. reading, writing, having fika with friends. it was a weird time in my life, but very cozy. kind of a sabbatical. with the new year, though, life began to pick up speed, so it was good to begin it feeling inspired by one of my idols!


 in february i was in the middle of my swedish for immigrants class. check all of us immigrants out! we’re representing the states, the phillipines, poland, & iraq in this picture. these girls were amazing friends during the first half of this year, but we’ve lost touch since summer. i definitely have to figure out a way to reconnect in 2012!


 yep. it’s march and the snow is still hanging around. i think the first snow was in november, so i lived for the first time in my life, with snow on the ground for about 4 and a half months! i loooved it! though, i must admit, i started to wonder if spring would ever come…


at the end of april, the snow was gone and flowers slowly began to peek out. the days seemed to be a bit warmer, but the nights were still chilly. on the last day of april all of sweden celebrates the coming of light, warmth, and spring with a giant bonfire. i went to a celebration with my love’s parents, while my love worked the whole night. it was a really fun tradition of grilling out (the first one of the season), singing traditional spring songs (swedes have traditional songs for everything), and enjoying a cracking, warm, beautiful bonfire out in the woods. looking forward to next year!


 the days were now longer, the sun was shining almost every day, and we were longing to be outside. it was also the month of my love’s birthday, so time to celebrate her & everything that she means to me. she is my everything… my inspiration, my best friend, my joy, & my love. ♥


time to celebrate in june! sweden’s national day was the perfect celebration for the month where i graduated from my swedish course after only 5 months (yes. i am proud since it usually takes about 2 years). i made a day trip to stockholm with my swedish class, our youngest niece was born, and i began a paid internship at lina’s work place. whew! life got busy real quick.

summer trip to the states

 atlantic beach, nc with my family! the best!

 my love & i in our “hometown”, asheville. oh, how we love this eclectic, nature-loving, diverse, alive city in north carolina!

 nyc, baby!!!


 back in sweden in late july, and back to work. but not without some relaxing, fun times with friends. july is a great month to enjoy the “midnight sun”… the days are so long and sweden is so beautiful.


 we worked together at lina’s job, which was quite slow actually. from mid-july to mid-august all of sweden is on vacation. except us, this year. but we spent some quality time together at cozy outdoor cafes, with some youth that lina works with, with friends at a birthday reunion in stockholm, and celebrating/working during the huge outdoor august festival in the city. beautiful days, beautiful weather.


 my birthday month!!! well, fall was on it’s way in september & it was back to the grind for all of us… including me! I GOT A JOB!! yes, that’s right. a real job! working at a church, albeit only 10 hours a week (yeah right.), but a chance to get back to doing what i do best: working with theology & young people. at the same time, i kept doing my internship at lina’s work, so life was really busy. the crappiest thing was that all this working now meant that lina & i had completely different schedules, and not that much free time together. meh. for example, i celebrated my birthday evening alone (well, we had a wonderful fika the week before) since lina was working. it was the culture night in norrkoping, and that equals a night that hippie, artsy people are all over the place. it felt like asheville! i spent some hours wandering the streets, going into local independent stores, listening to music, drawing on a cathedral floor, hearing poetry, and visiting my favorite little music shop which smells like incense & has cool, funky music. oh yes, it was a good day to turn 37!

october: traveling again!

 lina’s parents celebrated their 60th birthdays by taking the family to greece for a week. seriously? a trip to warm, sunny greece in the middle of fall?! nothing could be better! and it was a fantastic, amazing time with all 6 adults & 4 kids!

 for halloween & the end of october, we were off to ireland to visit some friends for a long weekend! we spent 3 days in dublin doing all things irish, from visiting the guinness storehouse/brewery to eating in cafes to shopping in the best places to walking in parks to touring cathedrals to hanging out at pubs, eating amazing food, watching irish dancing, and visiting the coastal areas north of dublin. i wanna go back!!!! (and we will next september! our friends are getting married!)


 we celebrated our second thanksgiving in sweden in november. we invited family that had never experience thanksgiving before and ate traditional american thanksgiving food (yes. i cooked it… with help from lina!). then, after a big, long dinner, we cleaned up the dishes and got right to the decorating of our apartment for christmas. the holiday season had arrived!


yes. a truly amazing year. i am overwhelmed, humbled, excited, and in awe of the journey so far… who know’s what 2012 holds in store for me, my love, little zola, & our crazy, beautiful life together. whatever it brings, i’m ready!

welcome, 2012!!! i’m waiting!

happy new year’s eve, dear readers!  celebrate big – wherever you are & whoever you’re with! peace.

i’m in love with moleskine.

first let me say that i really like calendars! and since i love calendars, and all things office-y (yes. that does make me a nerd in one way), then i looove when the new year rolls around and it’s time to break out a fresh, new calendar. i’ve gone digital for most things calendar – wise, so i haven’t really used a calendar to write in for the past 5ish months, but i still need something small to carry with me everywhere so i can jot down tidbits of information.

and it just so happens that i have the perfect thing! last summer, when lina and i were in new york city for some days, we did a little shopping. duh. we walked into some random office supply store. something local, not like office depot or staples, on a little street off of 5th avenue. lina called me over & showed me the coolest little calendar for 2012. well, it’s actually a calendar set. in rainbow colors! each month is it’s own little calendar book, and all 12 of them stand in a little, black calendar book holder. i fell in love. so, we made the purchase and i began the long 6 month wait for 2012 to begin so i could get ’em down off my shelf & crack ’em open. and now… it’s only one day left and i get to pull down the red january calendar to begin the new year!

another reason i am so stoked about the rainbow calendar set is because they are moleskine. luxury. lucky, lucky me. moleskine makes sleek, simple, fantastic journals, sketchbooks, & calendars designed after notebooks used by legendary artists & thinkers over the past two centuries. think van gogh carrying around a little leather sketchbook while walking the streets of paris, ready to draw at any given minute he feels inspired. that’s me now. well, not the sketching part. but the little leather notebook & calendar part. for the first time, i’ve got a set of moleskine calendars & a moleskine notebook (that i got for christmas!), so i’m all set for the new year! new pages to write the stories & dreams of 2012, and blank calendar pages to fill with work, fun, trips, meetings, pub nights, fikas, and whatever else comes my way in 2012. yipee!

peace, peeps!

welcome to the middle days.

hey, my dear readers and welcome to the middle days. the ones in-between christmas & new year’s day. and you know what, i’m determined to use these middle days for myself… to take it easy. call it a little self-initiated break. i’m not officially working this week, but i am doing a few little things to prepare for my work in the new year; so i’m not being totally useless. and lemme tell you, working in your pj’s while drinking coffee & being wrapped up in a blanket makes doing work oh so sweet. however, my main focus during these middle days is to just be. it’s almost as if this week in-between the holiday celebrations gives us permission to rest and relax (if you have the luxury of not having to go to work these days).

so, i’m taking it easy. i’m doing my obligatory reflection over the past year & planning/dreaming/wondering/pondering about the upcoming year. yep. i’m just hanging out. perhaps doing some shopping *wink wink*. even letting myself be a little bored. the point is that i’m taking advantage of the opportunity to soak in the present moments and enjoy a bunch of nothingness. life is generally so busy, but right now, this week, it feels like it’s moving in slow motion – and that’s just fine with me.

lina & i went to the theater one evening as part of our anniversary celebration. joseph & the amazing technicolor dreamcoat. super fun!  there’s nothing like watching a musical.

 we shared a wonderful, home-cooked anniversary dinner together. (photo by lina).

girls game night with some friends/family with plenty of laughs, chocolate, julmust, chips, popcorn, & candy. perfect. (photo by lina).

 yep. just gonna hang around.

 maybe take some naps, like zola.

i hope that you are able to find some rest & relaxation as this year comes to a close. i hope that you are able to feel rejuvenated & inspired. and i’m wishing you a wonderful in-between week. enjoy your middle days!

peace & rest.

the 26th of december!

when i first met lina, something clicked. we laughed, we talked, we shared. what followed was a year-long friendship over skype, msn, facebook, & a few visits back & forth to each other’s countries. who knew that after 4 years, which included 4 months of living in denmark together, 6 months of living in asheville together, summers in sweden, summers in north carolina, adopting a little cat into our family,  moving to sweden, and many other trips, cozy nights, friends, & adventures later it would grow into the love that exists today? it’s a story worth telling, an unexpected story of love found at the most unexpected time, in the most unexpected way, and a story that i hope to get down on paper in the form of a memoir one day sooner than later. but, i’ll let you read a tiny little bit of our history here…

on this day, two years ago here in sweden, lina and i got married. ♥ it was a simple wedding in the city hall, which just happens to be 1 block down from where we live now. i remember the excitement of that day, and the knowledge that the marriage was so right, and that my life was changing in ways i couldn’t even imagine. i still feel that way, yet even stronger, now. i feel complete with lina. we balance each other out. we have the same values & dreams, yet in our own special ways. we’re just enough alike & just enough different to keep life interesting and peaceful.

as i look back over the last two years and think of all that has happened, i am humbled, amazed, & so thankful. when i think about the future, i can’t even imagine the joys, adventures, and moments that are waiting! but, that’s the beautiful past and the amazing future…

today, we have enjoyed each other, had some fun, taken care of each other, laughed a little, and celebrated our love!

 on our wedding day.

two years later & still oh so in love.

happy anniversary, my everything! i love you with all that i am!

peace & love.

annandagen. another christmas day!

good morning! it’s annandagen here in sweden… which literally means “the other day of christmas”! yep. we have christmas eve, christmas day, and an extra day too here! it’s kinda like having an official day to bring yourself back down from all the holiday bustle, without just crashing as soon as christmas day is over. it’s the swedish version of boxing day (which is celebrated in many countries, but not the states).

what do we do on annandagen? i’d dare say that all of the countries celebrate in the same way now… shopping like crazy people! the secular holiday is mixed up with the forgotten religious observance of today (the remembrance of the stoning of st. stephan, another story for another time. but a good story of courage & martyrdom) and what that all equals in this consumerist, western society of europe, canada, & the states (even though we don’t celebrate boxing day/annadagen) is the beginning of the big after christmas shopping season. deal! deals! deals! here in sweden there is even a name for the days between christmas & new years… mellandagarna (the middle/in-between days) with mellandagsrea (middle days sales). if you’re lucky, you don’t have to go back to work during these days &, in-between shopping trips, you can take it easy & spend some quiet, cozy time with family & friends.

so, i’ve begun my day just like that. cozy with coffee. still stuffed & worn out from the weekends celebrations, hanging out under the covers in bed while a crazy storm blows intensely outside the windows. no. it’s not snow. still, it’s cozy weather. perfect for just being.

but, before i get too far ahead of myself, i wanna back up & share a little of our christmas celebrations!

christmas eve morning, we opened our stockings! tomten (sweden’s santa) had visited & left us with one gift each that we could use during the day! i got some perfume & lina got a necklace. perfect!

 i’m ready!!! we headed to lina’s parents’ early with our bags of food, drink, & gifts… ready for a long, busy, cozy julafton (christmas eve)!

after a quiet breakfast of porridge & sandwiches, we met up with some other family at lina’s grandparents’ apartment for a christmas eve afternoon fika of ham sandwiches (cheese for lina & me!), chocolate muffins, cookies, meatballs, fruit salad, coffee, & julmust (christmas soda). we also gathered to hear the christmas story read from the gospel of luke. lina’s granddad was a methodist minister when he worked, so it was amazing to sit & watch him listen as the story was read aloud.  i’ve celebrated christmas with this family for 3 years now, & it was the first time that i experienced this tradition with them. i must say, my heart was warmed & touched.

then it was a race to lina’s sister’s home for the continuation of the festivities with 14 other people! we raced because at 3:00 every christmas eve afternoon, all swedes gather ’round the tv to watch donald duck (and other disney) cartoons. don’t ask. i have no idea how, when, or why this started. but, i like it!!! i heart disney.

after donald duck…. dinner! julbord (christmas table)! a meal filled with traditional swedish favorites, much of which lina & i don’t eat, being vegetarians. still, it was yummy & good! and the table was beautiful.

the christmas eve madness continued after dinner, & a pause for all adults to catch their breath, with the arrival of tomten! there was a knock on the door, all 7 children went running down the stairs, i followed with my youngest niece, who was experiencing her first christmas, in my left arm & my camera in my right hand, to capture this exciting moment on christmas eve! tomten joined us all upstairs & gave out a massive pile of presents to all 16 of us!

i believe little e (our youngest niece) was the nicest, as she had a stack of gifts at my feet! ♥

we retired back downstairs at the table for fika (more food & coffee), and then to the living room to watch “national lampoon’s christmas vacation” which just happened to come on tv! this meant so much to me, since, my family in the states would always watch this together on christmas eve. yes. that’s my family’s civilized level: raunchy, stupid humor. but, we love it! anyway, my lovely swedish family indulged me & we had a cozy time laughing & enjoying one of my american traditions in the midst of all the swedish traditions. tack allihop!

lina & i arrived home late, i believe it was actually already christmas day, & went straight to bed, satisfied & excited from our swedish christmas eve activities…

** i’ve just been informed (reminded) that we did not, in fact, go straight to bed. we stayed up, had a christmas movie on tv, played around on our computers, & finally lay down about 2-ish. hmpf. i blame my lack of remembering on the christmas food coma & sheer exhaustion. thanks, lina, for setting me straight. =)

a few hours later, we woke up on christmas morning!!! we lit the white christ candle (our advent wreath now complete), made a pot of coffee, turned on christmas music, & jumped right into the present-opening craziness!

santa came!!!!

my christmas morning girls!

gifts! gifts! gifts! thanks to my love & my parents!!

 merry christmas from us… in our early christmas morning finest!

happy day-after-christmas! keep the spirit alive! peace.


it’s the night before christmas eve, and there are only a few hours left before the  holiday craziness is in full swing. i must admit, though, that tonight i’m feeling a bit like a child about the burst from excitement! as i may have said before, the big celebration in sweden happens on christmas eve, so tomorrow feels like christmas day for me… and that makes tonight christmas eve!! in the morning, we’ll open our stocking gifts & then we’ll begin a long day filled with swedish traditions, candles everywhere, family visits, and stuffing our faces. can’t wait! and then, tomorrow night it’s christmas eve all over again because (well it IS actually christmas eve) we will celebrate the american way, with gifts from santa in the morning, on the traditional celebration day in the states… christmas day (sunday). it is absolutely amazing to be able to celebrate christmas in 2 ways! but, before all the busy fun begins, tonight, my love & i are taking it easy, just enjoying ourselves. i’m calling it christmas coziness…

 wishing you a very merry christmas full of joy & peace!

christmas-time. i absolutely ♥ this day.

it finally arrived. my first of 5 days off in a row. weeeee! and, oh what a day it has been! full of christmas-y things to get me into the spirit. i carried my phone with me throughout the day (as usual), and ended up clicking pictures everywhere i went. so, here’s a little peek into some christmas-time magic from norrköping, sweden. enjoy!

 the christmas tree peeking out from behind the bedroom door this morning.

 hello from me on this day before the day before christmas eve!

i took a walk to the main post office to pick up a package from the states!!! it was very, very lightly snowy and beautiful with the sunshine glowing through the clouds.

this year’s winter in norrkoping. just a little bit of snow. hope it lasts until christmas…
 christmas gifts & fun stuff from the states. thanks, mom & dad!!

the christmas spirit all around downtown.

 see the tall smokestacks in the distance? they are lit up all december for the 4 sundays in advent. like giant advent candles. i love them!

 a closer look of the “candles” from the cozy, old-fashioned knappingsborg section of downtown. there are great stores, cafes, & restaurants here. but, it’s kind of expensive.

 christmas trees for sale in knappingsborg. it’s sooo cozy here.

 santa’s clothes hanging in knappingsborg?!

 i really, really love this tree by the river!

 and these trees too! they line the way from our favorite pub (which we visited tonight to begin our holiday weekend celebration!) to our apartment.

so, there ya go. in between the errands, picture-taking, & pub visit, i did a little more christmas shopping, present wrapping, & christmas movie watching. now, i’m just hanging out with my love – who by the way made the most beautiful toast to us, to this weekend, & to some very much needed quality time together over the next few days – oh, how i looooove her! anyway, we’re watching a movie & relaxing before we jump back into the holiday spirit in the morning. have a fabulous friday!

peace out.

a kiss is just a kiss.

in the united states navy, whenever a ship comes back into its home port, there is always a lottery on board among the sailors & their loved ones back home. what are they betting on? the first kiss, of course! the winner of the lottery, one lucky sailor, gets to disembark from the ship first, walk on the dock, & greet his or her loved one with a kiss… the official first kiss, which is always a public event.

when the uss oak hill (that’s the ship’s name) docked, petty officer marissa gaeta, dressed in her navy uniform & the winner of the ship’s lottery, walked off of the ship, down the dock and over to her partner, citlalic snell (weird name, i know), and they shared the coveted first kiss. but this kiss was a first of another kind too. it was the first same-sex kiss after the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” which basically states  that all military personnel are allowed to be who they are. in other words,  now there is no more discrimination in the military based on sexual orientation = who you love. all are now considered equal, with the same rights to live & love whomever they choose to live with and love. yay for repealing the old, stupid, unjust “don’t ask, don’t tell” law in 2011! so, just as any couple would do after being separated for 8 months, marissa & citlalic greeted each other with a hug & and kiss. a big yay for equal rights and for moving forward in the states!

what’s next?! same-sex marriage?! a girl can hope.

so, here it is. the first same-sex kiss from two military women!

peace & the right to kiss! yeah.

surrounded by darkness.

it’s here. the longest night of the year. today is the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere of the world. the shortest day of the year, which means that there is more darkness today than any other. feels like the darkness is trying to take over and that the light is being suffocated like a candle being snuffed out. up here in sweden, the light did not begin to creep into the day until 9 in the morning. and then it’ll be on it’s way out again by 2 in the afternoon. all of the other times of the day are surrounded and covered in darkness. black. cold. mysterious. dangerous. depressing. darkness.

it’s the hardest time of year for many people. the darkness outside only heightens the darkness, sadness, grief, anger, anxiety, & pain that people feel on the inside. i spoke with someone yesterday who was very upset at something that i thought was not that big of a deal. but, she was feeling sick, and you know that when you are sick your tolerance level is less than normal. i tried to calm her, put things in perspective, and offer some tips on how to deal with feeling irritated, but i don’t think it helped. later on in the day, i kept thinking of the little conversation we had, and her reaction. and then i thought about her life, and christmas. i am pretty sure that she feels alone. and in many ways she is.

this conversation reminded me of all of the people that i know that are struggling right now. some have lost someone close to them this past year & will be celebrating christmas with an empty chair at the table. some people are putting on a good show for everyone else, while their marriages or their lives are falling apart. some feel enormous amounts of stress. some have old ghosts that haunt them, reminding them of difficult times in years past. some can’t enjoy the moments because they are crippled by the fear of the unknown in the next year. some just feel exhausted. some are uninspired & barely going through the motions. some are afraid to be honest with themselves. some literally have no place to live. some fight for their lives & their safety on a daily basis. some have no job, feel lost, & worthless. some feel that they have no voice…

i dare say that each one of us feels something dark inside of us. why don’t we just admit it? and today, of all days, why don’t we just claim that dark part and acknowledge it. i don’t mean that we go out and treat people like crap just because we feel like crap, but that we open our eyes & listen to the groans from within us… those noises that come from deep within. the crying. the sobs. the pain. the hurt. it’s not fun, but what would happen if we listened to it?

they say (yes. i said “they”) that one must hit bottom in order to move back up. instead of hitting bottom, why don’t we just look, for today, at the dark places inside of us. why don’t we intervene a little, wherever we feel that we are on the way down in our lives? it’s scary, i know… admitting the pain, the dysfunction, the disappointments, the failures, the fear, the reality.

however, when we admit & claim & acknowledge the reality, then we begin to take control back. when we stare into the eyes of the darkness, we become stronger. in a sense, we being to fight the darkness & begin to see that there is a light that flickers in the distance. it may be oh so small, but it is there. and only one little flicker is needed to penetrate the darkness.

can you see it? it’s there. see the darkness with your imagination. feel the pain & disappointment. everything is black. and then, see there? in the upper right hand corner, far off, there is a tiny, faint flicker. as we admit that the darkness is all around us, as we reach out and talk with someone, as we meditate, pray, or seek things that feed our soul, then that flicker grows into a flame, and the flame lights up the room. and soon the darkness has vanished.

at least for a while.

the darkness may creep back in, it may seem to suffocate us again. but ultimately, it never overtakes. it never wins. light always pierces through the darkness.

yes, today is the longest night of the year, with the most darkness all around us. today, if we dare, we take the time to reflect & acknowledge the darkness that seems to be suffocating us in our own lives. but, hear this: tomorrow the light begins to return! tomorrow the days begin to get longer! tomorrow there is hope! you see, everything in this world, in our lives, reflects the truth that light is greater than darkness. the natural world, the seasons, even reflect this year after year. out of death comes life. out of darkness rises light. in the bleak mid-winter, there is a spring that waits. after today, we begin our journey towards the light again.

hold my hand, and walk with me.

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

~ Natalie A. Sleeth

light, hope, & peace.

in keeping with yesterday’s theme…

say yes. keep walking. never give up. listen to your soul talking to you. and if you’re scared, take a breath & then jump! it’s all worth it, i promise.

embrace life and know that you are never truly alone.

peace & joy.