First of all, I would like to say thank you to each and every one who has read the previous post (whether just the initial words or the whole darn thing). Your encouragement and kind comments mean so much to me. For someone who has always preferred the anonymous life and so far gone the non-sharing route, this is one big challenge that I’ve (we’ve) chosen to take on. Chosen it because I’ve learned how powerful it can be to get an insight into others’ journeys, others’ struggles, others’ heavy hearts. Chosen it because I know how inspirational it can be to be allowed into others’ spheres of happiness, others’ fulfilled dreams, others’ way of life. So as much as I’m completely anti the over-sharing and the seeking of validation that occur throughout social media, I do believe in saying – hey, my heart was heavy too. But it got better. And then it got awesome.
Almost exactly one year ago then, Mike and I arrived in Sweden. Our little apartment had been neatly packed up into 17 boxes, everything carefully bubble wrapped and taped (we bought so many things of packing tape you wouldn’t believe it – I’m apparently an obsessive over-taper?) and shipped by boat across the Atlantic. They were supposed to arrive only a few days after us, but as it turned out, we’d chosen quite the fishy shipping company (there’s always a catch when the price is too low – why is it so hard to remember? Good lord) so the shipment neither took the quickest route to Europe (no but why not cruise around the Caribbean first) nor arrived in Stockholm, but Gothenburg. Long story short – we were sporting some seriously unfashionable stuff in the meantime. Like, my parents’ clothes from the early 90’s that we dug out from the wardrobes. Which reminds me – I should probably share where exactly we had moved. We had taken over my parents’ vacation home (aka my childhood summer paradise) on the island of Yxlan, located about 1 h 30 min northeast of Stockholm, and this is where we finally got to unpack our stuff. The move really settled in when putting our cookbooks on the bookshelf, to be honest. Cooking is – to me – one of the most grounding things, and so where our beloved cookbooks are, home is.
August was a typical – and wonderful – Swedish late summer affair. Days still being warm and sun still standing high in the sky, but dewy mornings and slightly darker evenings quietly whispering something about fall being around the corner. The archipelago slowly emptying out after the vacation month of July, leaving our precious island quieter by the day. I loved every second of finally getting to share ‘my’ island with Mike – for real. There was blueberry picking (not his favorite task) and fun boat trips exploring islets and skerries (much preferred). There was time spent with my family and lots of day dreaming about the year ahead. There was decompression. Reading. Sleeping. Running. Swimming in the ocean. Mike’s skinny dipping premiere. Ice cream. The simple life was truly allowed to settle in. We also went up north for a 24k mountain running race (Vemdalen Fjällmaraton). Race day brought kilometer after kilometer of swamp running (those of you who know, you know), technical trails, a climb up a double diamond (Swedish: svart) ski slope and a new lactic acid record for both of us. It was also our first race of that kind, and there was immediate love on our behalf. We finished well within our goal time, and I got me an 8th place among the females. There was some intense sauna time right after the race, and later a big bag of potato chips (and a cold beer for Mike) while soaking up the sun on the terrace of the house we rented. This day went down as one of our best days ever. It still holds a top-5, and I think it’ll stay there for a good while. It’s funny how falling on your face while trying to run across a swamp full of ice cold water can make you feel so good… but it does.
Then August made way for September, and this is when we took on the task of house ownership for real. Our house has been carefully maintained and well taken care of since it was built in 1988 (thank you mom and dad), so there was no damage control to dive into. Instead, I’d say we had three categories of work ahead of us: renovating the inside of the house (while properly maintained, looks-wise the house still breathed… well, 1988), creating a vegetable garden for the coming year and lastly, some easy catching up on the annual house/property work. So we got to business. Our ‘vacation’ came to an end, and we pulled up our sleeves. The garden project quickly escalated (that is indeed a pattern I acknowledge I have) and what was just going to be a little patch for some tomatoes, kale, herbs and maybe a string bean or two turned into us taking down big trees, clearing a giant piece of wild land, digging up stubborn roots (great way of getting your anger out), flattening said land (oh what a back killer), building a massive fence (in order to keep those all too hungry deer and rabbits out) and finally, designing our own planter boxes… and those also had to be built, of course. That involved endless of measuring, cutting, sanding, assembling and painting, and as a matter of fact, when it was time to assemble, it was quite cold outside so we carried all the wood planks inside and did it on our living room floor. We’re planning a blog post dedicated to the creation of our garden, by the way, where we’ll explain all the steps in detail as well as provide some pointers as far as building your own planter boxes. Need I say September was busy? But boy, did we have a good time. Around this time, I think I realized exactly how similar Mike and I are. We are both unbelievably dedicated to the task at hand, and would often work until the sun had gone down and we could no longer see what we were doing. This was also the time we started getting used to having oatmeal for dinner, since time for cooking had simply disappeared from the surface of the earth.
With the garden complete, October arrived and with that, the rainiest fall Sweden had seen in a long time (although that was happy news, because we had very low groundwater levels after a relatively dry summer – thank you nature for figuring that out). And for us… well, work moved inside. Perfect timing, weather. As enthusiastic as we were about getting the renovation project started, there was also a good dose of anxiety. How the heck do you renovate a house? We didn’t know. So we googled it. A few hundred youtube-videos later, and we felt ready. We mounted dry wall everywhere as step one, which was followed by the task from hell – spackling and sanding. I mean, that stuff gets EVERYWHERE. Living amidst all of it was an… interesting experience. Especially the time we had taped all the kitchen cabinets, the fridge and freezer, the pantry door – literally everything – only to realize it was lunchtime and we couldn’t get in anywhere. This was also the time Mike landed himself some sort of work induced wrist injury (it’s still debated if this was a trick to get out of spackling) and also the time we started getting used to having oatmeal for lunch too.
October also brought with it the worst day of my life. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the awful days of uncertainty that followed the initial diagnosis, those made me want to crawl up into a ball, close my eyes and wake up to a different reality. I love my mom. I love her so much. I think she’s the funniest and the smartest and the kindest woman in the whole world. We have held each other’s hands when the going has gotten rough more times than I can count. We share a lot of the same scars. She’s… my mom. You know? I just couldn’t bear the idea of losing her. I couldn’t stand the thought of ever having children if she wouldn’t be here. And all I could think was that the universe had made Michael and I make the decision to move to Sweden just so that I would get to spend time with mom before it was too late. That was eating me up. The guilt of moving away in the first place, too. After a week or so, we got a better understanding as far as what was going on. The tumor was one ugly, nasty, fast-growing bastard – but it was small. And there had been no metastasizing. That meant two out of three good things, and at that point, I think I allowed myself a tiny sigh of relief. The surgical removal of the tumor went well, but due to the aggressiveness of it, chemotherapy was needed. We all cried. I knew my mom was one tough woman before all of this, but she has outdone herself throughout the past 10 months. She has carried herself (and me) through this with the endless help of her loyal companions Humor, Laughter and Perseverance. This massive smack in the face has taught us all what most of us think we already know, but… we don’t. Life is short. It shouldn’t be taken for granted. Say I love you a thousand times every day. Hug and kiss and laugh and spend time together with those who matter. Don’t waste time on stupid stuff. Do what makes your heart smile. I’ll live the rest of my life grateful that my mom is still here. That she managed to get through this and come out on the other side in one piece. And I feel for those who are less fortunate every day. I love you, mamma.
Where were we? Oh yes, renovation bonanza. November saw a transition from dusty war zone to something a tad more orderly. Things were starting to take shape: there was paint coming up on some of the walls, there was the marriage-challenging event of wallpapering others. Slowly, furniture could be moved back in. The vacuum bag had to be replaced for the one-hundredth time (I mean the dust, everyone!). Come thanksgiving, we had my mom and stepdad over. Our dining room table had been dug out from underneath the pile of dry wall scrap pieces and polished back to former glory, the living room was perfectly clean and cozy with both lit candles and puffy pillows. We were so proud! And felt like such adults!
First half of December meant doing all the little things, such as putting up ceiling trim and floor boards, and mounting frames on the walls. An interior design hack to be shared: don’t waste money on buying expensive posters – instead, find yourself a beautiful book with either photographs or illustrations, preferably printed on slightly thicker paper, and then use an x-acto knife to cut out the pages you like. Then frame and put up. Done! The second half of the month was all family-and-holiday-centered. Mike’s family came to visit and stayed for Christmas Eve and Day, and we hosted the big celebration in our ‘new’ home. My mom had her first chemo treatment a week before, and she was an unbelievable trooper for showing up and enjoying everything as best as she could. It was a holiday season full of emotions. Endless happiness to be in Sweden, to see my family for Christmas for the first time in five years, to have finished the renovation in time. But also endless sadness, thinking about the uncertainty of the future that cancer inevitably forces upon you. We said goodbye to 2018 in the company of friends who flew in from New York. Despite the fact that we all got sick and did more coughing than talking, we had a great time (and cooked up a 7-course New Year’s Eve dinner!).
January, February and March came and went with kilometer after kilometer of cross-country skiing, hours upon hours of downhill skiing, frostbitten cheeks and snow covered landscapes. We spent time in Sälen, Funäsfjällen and Årefjällen (these are all skiing areas of Sweden), decided one day we HAVE to buy our own place up north and concluded, once again, that we’re incurable winter lovers. We experienced our coldest temperatures yet (-34C/-29F) and enjoyed every bit of it, got a little braver (and hopefully a little more accomplished) as far as off piste skiing and… had pizza very often. So good. Also, we went to New York for a family reunion and a bachelor party for Mike. The trip was supposed to last for seven days, but we managed to get hit by no less than three blizzards and was thus delayed a good five-six days before we got back home again. When living in NY, I was often asked how I could endure the weather back home (once people learned I was Swedish). Let me tell everyone, once and for all: the weather is the biggest challenge of living in NEW YORK. Not Sweden. I’ve battled more storms, blizzards, hurricane force winds, heavy rains and freakin’ blistering hot and humid conditions in that city than I can count. There’s a lot to that saying that if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere – well, since you have to develop some advanced survival skills in order to make it through a regular day, I’d say it’s probably very true!
April, you wonderful month! You introduced the never-ending days, the first spring flowers and the almost deafening bird song. The tjäle lifted (Swedish for when the frozen ground thaws in the spring) and we could plant things in our garden, and all of a sudden – we had a million wonderful things to do. The rate at which our beloved little ‘babies’ were growing was astounding, and we almost had a hard time keeping up with the cycles of starting seeds indoors, replanting the plants into bigger cups and pots, getting them used to the outside climate etc. But boy, did it make us feel alive. And what a grounding thing it is, cultivation. At least for me. Carrying all the trays with the baby plants outside in the morning, placing them right where the first sun-rays reach our property, that was (is) nothing but blissful to me. A little plant parade, as Michael called it. April also brought with it heavy training (i.e. running), we did our first set of four back-to-back weeks of 100k… and we ate ridiculous amounts of food, naturally.
May oh May, you arrived with summerlike temperatures and invited us to hop in the ocean day after day (and so we did). Long runs, fast runs, hilly runs – another intense training block to get us ready for Stockholm EcoTrail 45k in the middle of June. Farm work, our first sugar snaps, wild strawberries. May also meant my mom’s last chemo treatment and that, everyone, was a day worth celebrating. Spring seamlessly morphed into summer, and all of a sudden – it was light outside all. the. time. Mike had a little bit of a hard time getting used to it, the crazy daylight hours. He’d be all antsy at 8pm, not feeling relaxed but instead eager to go outside and do stuff. I was surprisingly affected by it to – I guess being away from it for 5 years made me forget a little. But it didn’t take too long for us to adjust, and once it felt natural – oh, it’s awesome.
June and July were as wonderful as they were busy. There was a wonderful wedding in Italy, and another equally awesome one in New York. There was the race in Stockholm that started out according to plan but ended with a blown up stomach (as disappointing as that was, we learned so much from it and I’m really – truly – grateful for that). There was more training than ever before, with a set of four back-to-back weeks of 120k. Thus, there was also lots of sunbathing, swimming and eating ice cream (never forget – it’s during recovery you get stronger!). There was hotter weather than we’re used to here in Sweden, which scares me more than I can put into words. There were forest fires raging, which scares me just the same. Thankfully, we’re now back to ‘normal’ weather, but the desire to live simply did grow even stronger. Minimal impact, minimal ecological foot print – all of that. The realization that we don’t need much to feel happy and satisfied really settled in this summer. We rank free time and no stress infinitely higher than lots of money. It hasn’t always been like that, but it is now. And I think it’ll stay like that. Oh, and July was also the month our own grocery store opened, i.e. our garden started producing pounds and pounds worth of food. We harvested like 30 zucchinis in one week. AMAZING. Good thing we like to eat.
And so the race month arrived. August. For the past year, we have been working towards our biggest challenge yet: Ultravasan 90k. We went into taper mode two-three weeks out, and spent our time working outside, relaxing down by the water and just running a little bit. Of course, you start to doubt your form, your ability to run, the training you have done. Of course, you wonder how on earth you’ll be able to run 90k and you fear how much pain you’ll be in. But nonetheless, we found ourselves at the starting line at 5am in Sälen this past Saturday, cheered on by our crew consisting of my mom and stepdad (yes, we are going to custom make you t-shirts!) and ready to take it on. And we did. We did it! I think the whole experience is still in some sort of processing center of my brain, not fully dissected and definitely not archived yet. It still blows my mind that we pulled it off, and that we managed to do so within our time goal. We’ll write a full race report soon, for those interested in the nitty-gritty stuff. But it was unbelievable. Whatever your challenge is – be it physical or mental – just going out there and doing it… it’s such a high.
And now we’re here, in present time. And this blog can now transition into being… a blog! And not just a recap of the past. As I’m wrapping this up, Mike has gotten out of bed (it’s the morning), only to fall asleep again on the couch in front of me. I guess that race tiredness is still lingering.
Thank you, again, for reading ❤️