I miss hearing the call to prayer before sunrise every morning, the sunshine and the small winding roads in the old city. But I don't miss the olives for breakfast. See my blog entry
The cruise from Stockholm was the highlight. Breathtaking, really. We found Helsinki to be down-to-earth, friendly and a just-right size. See my blog entry
Why on Earth did it take me so long to visit London?! Rivals Paris for best city in Europe. Avoid Oxford Street and Covent Garden, and head to Chelsea and Holborn. See my blog entry
It was my third trip to Paris, but our first while living in Sweden. And, more significantly, our first with a baby in tow. Metro ≠ baby friendly. Centre Pompidou = 10x more fun with a little one. See my blog entry.
bergen and oslo, norway
Think Colorado. Flooded. Oslo is a refreshing little city and the fjords offered beautiful views in all directions. Not love, love. But definitely like, like. See my blog entry.
prague, czech republic
Yes, it has beautiful architecture. But no soul. Skip it and go to Budapest instead.
We only spent a night here, but I could tell immediately that this was a city I could live in. Hope we can get back there sometime soon. Loved the new architecture, friendly people and the gigantic, wooded park.
A great place to relax, see endless fields of daisies, drink sangria and be surrounded by the smell of orange blossoms. See my blog entry.
amsterdam and delft
Amsterdam was one of our favorite European cities and Delft is a little gem you wish you could fit in your pocket and take home. Loved the individual style and easy-going nature of the people. See my blog entry.
Hurry, it's already been discovered. Wonderful cheap food and an outdoorsy mentality. See my blog entry.
Reminds us of home. Really relaxing and laid back. See my blog entry.
hong kong and tai pei
Super friendly people and so romantic. See my blog entry.
Loved Villefranche and the whole area east of Nice. See my blog entry.
Loved the tapas and eating paella on the beach. See my blog entry.
In November 2005, my husband and I moved to Älmhult, Sweden, for my dream job. Five years later, our little family of three moved back. Except, back turned out to be a brand new place called Portland.
After months of not knowing how much longer we'd be calling Portland home, I'm absolutely ecstatic to say that we're staying. And we plan to be here for a while. Lewis started a new job on Monday, so I've registered Sophie for kindergarten, and I'm getting my Oregon driver's license. No more risk of jinxing anything.
It's been an absolutely beautiful spring here, starting with Easter. We've made trips to the coast, watched the cherry blossoms bloom out front, opened up the patio for dinner, watched Sophie's neighborhood "coronation ceremony" (Allie and Ripley crowned her a princess, complete with invites, a homemade dress and Tang), played A LOT of golf and helped Sophie rake in the dough at her first lemonade stand.
It's not easy making friends when you're a grown-up.
But a couple of months ago, we had a garage sale. And I chatted for a while with a woman who lives down the street. After failing to ask for her email address or phone number like a normal person, I instead tracked her down by searching her first name and occupation on the Internet. I found her. We had coffee. And then she and her husband invited us over for Thanksgiving.
She's the first friend that I have made completely on my own since moving to Portland — no parent of Sophie's classmates or wife of Lewis' coworkers. The first friend in two years!
The afternoon/evening was great. Mostly because of Beverly and Joe, and their hospitality. But also because the food was delicious and our children made us proud. I really enjoy watching Sophie at gatherings like this. She's a little ham. A charming little ham.
In between Saturday's trip to the farmer's market and Sunday's trip to a different farmer's market ... hanging the tree swing for Sophie ... pretending to eat Sophie's mud soup ... watching Mathis reach past the edge of the picnic blanket to grab handfuls of grass ... before sipping a glass of wine on the front stoop tonight, Lewis asked, "Can you imagine if the weather was like this all the time?"
2011 feels like a blur to me. I actually had to go back and read my first post of the year to remember what was going on. With me and with life. And, wow, things started off awesome!
I'm surprised because, in many ways, I felt like a deer in headlights most of the year. At least the first half. I was in a constant state of "freaking out." How would I handle two kids, how would I find a good mommy/freelance balance, and how would I love another child as much as I love Sophie?
On July 24, I realized that I was a complete buffoon for wasting so much energy worrying about any of this.
Life with two is better/easier/happier than I thought it would be (and boy is this kid loved).
That's the first big aha from this year. The big phew.
So why have I felt so stressed out?
2011 was our first full year back in the U.S., and Lewis and I have recently been talking a lot about our stress level here. Despite the fact that we live in one of the most desirable neighborhoods in Portland, where we can walk everywhere and have an awesome park at the end of the block, both of us feel pretty stressed out.
We miss our life in Älmhult in many ways. The simplicity of life was kind of the best thing and the worst thing about living there. At least, it became the worst thing after 5 years. A town of just pizza and hairdressers did start to become old, and we were excited to dial life up a bit. But I miss our weekend walks in the forest, and how satisfied we felt afterwards.
I remember Lewis once remarked that I never yelled while we were living there (when Sophie was around 2). My reply to him was, "Why would I yell? What would I have to yell about?"
Now, here, I find myself at the end of my rope more than I would like. I'm short with Sophie sometimes, and it kills me.
The other night, just as I was hanging on to that rope by its last thread, instead of letting my frustration get the best of me, I started singing my response to Sophie ... and dancing ... and laughing. And then Sophie started laughing.
And so I guess my resolution for this year is to laugh more. To goof off more. So Sophie and Mathis know me as "silly mommy" instead of stressed-out mommy. (This seems like a real duh, but it was like an epiphany to me.)
I also want to try to not feel like we have to have huge plans for a day to be well-spent. Walking around the block while Sophie rides her bike, like we did today, is OK too.
And, if neither of those work out, there's always the third thing on my list of "resolutions" for 2012: A Hawaiian vacation.
It's always sad saying goodbye to summer. But the crisp fresh air, low amber light, crackle of leaves underfoot and steaming bowls of soup are helping lessen the blow.
This is also the season for finding chestnuts, which my sister and I collected on our almost-daily walks with our grandma growing up. I wish she could have been there today when Sophie discovered them for the first time. And, oh my gosh, guess what I just realized? She would have been 101 today. That's interesting that I had the last-minute idea to go a different way home, and we stumbled on a chestnut tree. On her birthday.
This is where Sunday ends and Monday begins. One of those long holiday weekends where I would have been perfectly content staying at home doing yard work or home decorating. One of those weekends where having a kid forces you to get out, because gosh darnit, the state fair is in town.
So, as you can see, we drove an hour south to Salem to get our cowtown on. $57 dollars later we had bellies full of fair food and a spiderman balloon toy. And we saw LOADS of cows, sheep, ducks, bunnies, chickens, pigs, goats, horses and llamas. Not worth it, and so worth it at the same time. I'm sure in Sophie's mind, we totally got our money's worth.
And, I would agree, because I realized this weekend that being closer as a family is getting out and doing stuff as a family.
Which leads me to yesterday, when Lewis spent most of the morning trimming tree branches and installing storm windows. It was too late for any big labor day event. So, instead we drove into Willamette Valley wine country to have lunch in the small cutesy town of McMinnville. My meal was mediocre and most of the shops were closed. But the company and the new surroundings made up for that.
Bottom line: It's so good to get away, even if away is just a tricycle ride around the block.
That's my amazingly awesome sister teaching us how to rock the Wii Just Dance moves on her recent visit to PDX. It took me a while to download these pictures. They make me smile and miss her so much at the same time. I freaking love it here in Portland. But after a week of hanging with Liz at the house, the coast, the forest and the food carts, I realize it is missing something pretty important: her.
There's no place like Sweden in the summer. And even though we are only a couple of weeks into summer here, I can tell that the same is very true for Portland. No rain in days, and so much fun stuff going on around the city.
We had no real plans for the weekend but managed to pack it with spontaneous awesomeness. Which might be the best way to spend a weekend. (No H.E.A.D. -- High Expectations Anxiety Disorder -- as my friend Amy so appropriately named it). Just full-on Sunday night satisfaction of a weekend well spent.
Then, today, after a bout of bizarre pregnancy hormones tried to sabotage things, we drove 20 minutes or so over the bridge to Sauvie Island to do some berry picking. And, wow, did we ever. We passed a few small farms until we found the motherlode at Columbia Farms. Blueberries, then raspberries, then strawberries. We were so tuckered out, we skipped the blackberries this time. Oh, yes, there WILL be a next time.
Sophie did great picking only the bluest blueberries. And then proceeded to eat them before they made it into our bucket. She had always turned her nose to blueberries until today. So we let her sneak all the blueberries she wanted. When they saw her strawberry-stained lips upon checkout, I told them to round up our total. :)
Thank you berry much for a sensational summer so far, Portland.
A year ago this weekend, Lewis rolled bags of luggage down to the Älmhult train station to catch a flight to our new home in Portland. I stayed behind in Sweden with Sophie to finish out work and sell the house. That life seems so far away right now.
Upon arriving home from our road trip to Astoria on Sunday, we found a bag of hand-me-downs from the neighbor who has twin 5-year-old girls two houses to our left. Attached was a note inviting us to their annual 4th of July barbeque. Then, as I was sitting out front while my lemon bars baked for said barbeque, an across-the-street neighbor invited us to the annual street BBQ at the house three doors to our right. The photo above was taken at BBQ #2, where we met many more of our awesome neighbors.
They rolled the grill down to the sidewalk, and blocked off the street for firecrackers. And as I sat there laughing and chatting with these great people, I felt really blessed. America is far from perfect. But our life here in Portland feels as close as you can get to it.
I remember the first time we learned how to buy a parking ticket in Växjö. It opened up a whole new world of weekend outings to our closest biggest city.
The equivalent of that just happened here in Portland.
Friday was a gorgeous day here, and I had little in the way of freelance work or errands that needed running. Lewis also had a lighter-than-normal day. Date lunch! I thought about biking in again, but I'm starting to get pretty big, and the uphill ride home is tough with my one-speed cruiser. Instead I decided to try the light rail. When we were living on the other side of town in the apartment, I remember that Lewis mentioned once that you can park at the Lloyd Center mall and ride Max free into downtown. I had toddler sneaks to buy at Nordstrom anyway, so I decided to give it a try. It was so easy and convenient I can't believe it took me this long to do it. More importantly, I learned that the green line skirts up toward the Pearl District and ends at Portland State University (this tidbit of info will become relevant in a few minutes). The red and blue lines stay closer to the waterfront, and the red line goes to the airport. All three stop near our house (not in the free zone, but still) — near being a 10- to 15-minute walk.
Fast-forward to yesterday morning when we were making our plans for the day. The aforementioned shoes needed to be returned to Nordstrom, and I told Lewis that I saw a farmers market spot there. But a quick Internet search revealed it is only open on Tuesdays. Darn. Then Lewis said that there is a big farmers market on Saturdays at Portland State University that everyone at work talks about. Ding, ding, ding ... the green line goes right to PSU! And riding the train will be a huge part of the fun for Sophie.
When the light rail ended at the PSU stop, we followed the crowds until we saw a slew of white tents. As we walked closer, we discovered that we live a short Max ride away from the best farmers market we have ever been to! It had all the fresh fruit and vegetable stands one would expect. What we didn't expect was how huge it was and how you could spend hours there listening to music and eating great food (crepes!). At one point Lewis turned to me as said, "Are we lucky or what?"
It was one of those awesome moments where we discovered something pretty special about the city we now live in. We also discovered what we will be doing every Saturday from now until October.
It really is the little things. Like when the neighbor started playing guitar on the front stoop yesterday. Which caused my little dancing queen to get her groove on Grateful Dead-groupie style. I sat in the driveway watching her with a smile until daddy rode up on his bicycle ... with a smile.
A used Radio Flyer scooter found on Craigslist for $10...
And now I'm selling stuff on Craigslist to feel less guilty about forking over $129 for the ultimate sidewalk fun-maker: The Raleigh Lil' Push balance bike, which she fell in love with at REI.
Seriously, this is the one area where "keeping up with the Joneses" seems to get to me. It has nothing to do with outdoing the neighbors — all the kids around here have loads of sidewalk toys, and I feel like Sophie is definitely deprived in the outdoor play department. I've found that recently I can't resist wanting to get her everything. Part of it is seeing her face light up when she's tried the neighbors' scooters, trikes and bikes. And part of it is just loving that we are already enjoying 60-degree, sunny weather (in between the rainy days) and wanting to be out in it.
Is this tendency to spoil an American thing? Nah, I don't think so. I think it's purely parental. It's just a hell of a lot easier to indulge her here.
When my friend Alisa told me she had booked a flight to Portland and asked what she could bring from colorful Colorado, I replied, "Just colorful you."
And, although she arrived with the Pacific Northwest rain, for four days things were definitely a lot sunnier around here. I'm not sure what I enjoyed more: having my best friend here to do all the things girlfriends do (have I mentioned how much I needed that?!) or seeing how close she and Sophie became.
We're all looking forward to the next colorful front to make its way over from the Rockies.
(Editor's note: Portland's top restaurant, Metrovino, lived up to the hype. Wow. And, move over French martini, there's a new cocktail in town: The Parachute. Double wow.)
As a contrast to my last post, I thought I would show you the less-glamorous side of our life in Portland: our apartment. Since we will only be living here for 6 months, we're keeping the walls boring and hole-free. And since we have a full house of furniture coming from Sweden, we didn't want to buy anything we already have.
So, instead of a dining table, we have a plastic folding banquet table ("We can always use that," says my frugal husband) and folding chairs from Target...
I'm using a coffee bean container to hold our utensils...
I'm making toys out of cereal boxes. (Thanks for the ideas and free templates, Joel.)
We're all sleeping on the floor...
And we're eating off of 4 melamine plates.
Now, we did buy a few nice things: a red IKEA EKTORP chaise lounge sofa and a dark brown IKEA HEMNES TV bench. We figured the TV bench could take on a new life as a shoe bench once we moved into a house. But I actually really like it for the TV, which is also new. And big. Oh, and we bought a Blu-ray player that connects to the Internet and plays YouTube videos (hello, free Charlie and Lola videos!) and streams Netflix.
Sometimes I wish we had one more pot, and a proper mixing bowl. Until that day comes, I will continue to live the high life vicariously through my Netflix-supplied Mad Men episodes.