Here we are, in beautiful Chatham! I’ve been quite delinquent with posting – but I am blaming it on having fallen blissfully into holiday-mode. As in, I barely know what day of the week it is, and my fingers have momentarily forgotten all my Photoshop key commands. But now it’s time to share some of the loveliness!

This is a very special summer because it is the first time that all 3 current generations of the Pollard/Van Vleck family are all together, with almost the whole Swedish clan having crossed the Atlantic to gather with the American contingent. And it’s only fitting that this reunion is happening here, in Chatham, where so many summers have been shared for decades – full of memories and traditions in this idyllic place so full of sheer natural beauty. As it’s also the first time that the 4 youngest cousins are meeting, already new memories and traditions are being created everyday, as we speak! Here is a first glimpse of what we’re getting up to – we’ll start with the basics: daily gatherings for meals, play, beach time, snacks, and swims at the Van Vleck home. And repeat…

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Common daily scene: digging and excavating outside the boathouse.

Common daily scene: digging and excavating outside the boathouse.

Ania and Nathaniel building castles in the sand...

Ania and Nathaniel building castles in the sand…

Explorers....

Explorers….

Late afternoon drinks at the boathouse, celebrating Marianne's birthday.

Late afternoon drinks at the boathouse, celebrating Marianne’s birthday.

3 little rascals

3 little rascals

Ania and Sam, the swinging duo

Ania and Sam, the swinging duo

Hello from Småland! We always make sure to come down for a visit during the summertime, because it’s really the time of year when the countryside at its best. The weather hasn’t been the most fantastic ever, but also a bit better than expected. It hasn’t rained in 3 days! It’s above 16 degrees! Therefore we are rather grateful and making the most of it :)

Summertime here means visits to the local farmers’ markets, daytrip excursions, barbecuing and playing in the garden, and some lazy time watching cartoons on TV (a novelty since we don’t have one at home). Usually we manage to go swimming in the nearby lakes – but since it’s really just not warm enough right now, today we opted for a trip to Åsens By, a historical farm and village preserved as it was a hundred (or so?) years ago. We’ve been there once before, actually two summers ago, which is far enough back that it was a whole new experience for Ania again. Rolling hills and green fields, storybook red wooden houses, gentle farm animals to watch and feed – just a really peaceful, idyllic place with no one around except for a few other families wandering about and doing the same. We ate some waffles at the cafe and fed some hungry little rabbits, and talked about how, living in the city, we so rarely experience this kind of pure quietness, void of traffic and noise. Lovely to think this place looked just the same a century ago, as it did 2 years ago, and hopefully 10 years from now and long into the future…

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Don’t leave home without your pinwheel!

 

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Belated double birthday celebrations, 4 and 40. This would also be Ania’s 4th birthday cake this year! It’s all about the number 4 :)

Nothing like running down country lanes...

Nothing like running down country lanes…

 

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Feeding the bunnies at Åsens By

 

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They were SO hungry!

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Picking flowers and dandelion “puffies”

A big puff!

A huge puff!

Run, run, run...

Ania runs while Grandpa rests…

Pointing out some spider webs, I think

Pointing out some spider webs, I think

 

With Farmor and Grandpa

With Farmor and Grandpa

It’s finally that time of year again! The office is shutting down for the summer, likewise for dagis – and we have 4 glorious weeks of freedom and adventure ahead of us! First on the agenda will be a trip to Gränna to visit Marianne and Robert, then back to Stockholm for a visit with my good friend Amie coming from Berlin, and then – off to Boston and Cape Cod. Can’t wait to have a real summer (as opposed to the wishy-washy swedish summer that we’ve had so far) with sun and heat and sand and sea …. and to hang out with the Van Vleck family once again!

Here are some photos from a few weeks ago, when Ania made her fountain-swimming debut. When Ania asked to go for a dip, I immediately said no, because all I could think about were what sorts of nasty microorganisms might be dwelling within. But it was a warm day, the first in a long while, and a few of her playmates from dagis were already in there, splashing and laughing away. Too irresistible and no contest for my boring reasoning! She answered me with a very matter-of-fact and decisive, “Well, I’m going in!!” The clothes came off, she bolted beyond my grasp and before I could even think about protesting, there she was thrashing around in her underpants, grinning from ear to ear and squealing with delight. A clear testament to her growing boldness and determination – and the fact that at times, I really have to throw up my hands and face the fact that I have absolutely no authority over my child! What to do! For a second, I felt that helpless frustration of having been completely sidelined. But as her giggles got louder and she started shouting for me to watch her splash and dance – I could only surrender to the total joy that was unfolding right there. This was childhood at its purest and finest – when you don’t care one bit about things like germs or diseases or the chilly late afternoon wind or the fact that nobody brought a towel. All you know is that the sun is out, a fountain is bubbling in front of you, your friends are playing in there, and you want to be a part of it too. And it’s perfectly ok to strip down to your underpants and do just that. Oh, the joy and freedom of being 4! :)

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Although Gotland is probably most known for the rauks and the seaside and the medieval history – one of the things I love most are the farmlands that stretch all over the island. There’s something about agricultural communities that I find immensely appealing – probably largely because of the food culture that naturally goes hand in hand. Those living in proximity to nature and animals, with a daily appreciation of all that goes into growing and cultivating food seem to really understand what quality of life is all about!

So we spent the weekend at a place called Hotel Stelor, about 30 minutes south of Visby. Just from the website, I instinctively imagined it would be like the Swedish version of Mas Garganta in Spain where we got married. A rural farmhouse converted to a small hotel, run by a couple as a labour of love. And happily, I was right! Stelor is much more newly renovated with all the urban essentials (like excellent wi-fi and iPad minis in every room instead of TVs…) – but still filled with authenticity and charm like our beloved Mas Garganta. On the first night, we shared the house with guests who were all part of one wedding party – but they all checked out quite early the next morning, so for the remainder of the stay, we were actually alone there as if in a private villa, surrounded by green fields and sheep and forests. And because we were visiting before the real tourist season began, the hotel was only sparsely staffed – which it made the whole atmosphere incredibly informal and that much more personal.

Karin, the owner, was so earnest and warm and friendly that you could really immediately feel at home – the kind of woman who can effortlessly drive an industrial lawnmower with one hand, while holding her baby with the other. She also had what we called a real “dagis-teacher-vibe”, meaning Ania took to her immediately, and would have been perfectly happy just following her and her 1-year-old son, Sam, around the farm all day long. Together they’d go off to feed the lambs or play in the fields while Stefan and I finished our morning coffee, or went up to our room to get organized for the day. Free babysitting, what an unexpected bonus!

They also served excellent, fresh food – of course all locally grown or sourced. I love that this is prevalent all over Gotland: eco-focused, farm-to-table concepts that take pride in their local produce. We ate dinner one night at a lovely place called Lilla Bjers, a farm-marketplace-restaurant, where we dined on beautifully prepared seasonal specialities: lamb, asparagus, strawberries, rhubarb –  in a sunny greenhouse-type space filled with olive and lemon trees and flowers. It was the perfect combination of absolutely top-class food in a relaxed and easy environment, where kids were welcome and nobody batted an eye when ours decided she needed to play hide-and-seek under the tables in the middle of the meal :) I think this is what true modern luxury really is: to feel like you’re experiencing the best, while feeling totally at ease.

Our last day was spent in the medieval city of Visby, where we spent a few hours wandering around the numerous church ruins, having a tasty seafood lunch and just generally pottering around in the sunshine. We boarded the ferry home feeling like we’d had a really relaxing, soul-nourishing weekend away…. a good way to start a new decade, I reckon!

Hotel Stelor, rustic beauty

Hotel Stelor, rustic beauty

 

Sheep abound on Gotland! These were very gentle creatures that loved to be petted and played with :)

 

Ania and her new friend, Sam.

Ania and her new friend, Sam.

Getting a real taste for farm living!

Getting a real taste for farm living!

Dinner at the lovely Lilla Bjers

Dinner at the lovely Lilla Bjers

Don't worry, it was just fruit juice :)

Don’t worry, it was just strawberry saft :)

Gotland specialities: lamb and asparagus.

Gotland specialities: lamb and asparagus.

Happiness!

Cosiness

Beautiful and delicious baby beets

Beautiful and delicious baby beets with salted butter

Best way of getting around!

Sunny day in Visby, using the best mode of transport!

In the main square of Visby, Ania found this old water pump extremely fascinating.

In the main square of Visby, Ania found this old water pump extremely fascinating.

Happiness!

Happiness!

Visiting some church ruins

Visiting some church ruins

Overgrown, crumbling buildings are always so fascinating...

Overgrown, crumbling buildings are always so fascinating…

Stunning sunsets. Bye Gotland, we'll be back...

Stunning sunsets. Bye Gotland, we’ll be back…

 

June is the month of birthdays! Not only did TLP turn 4 this year, but a few weeks ago, on the 12th June, her pappa turned the big 4-0! I have to say that I have always loved that Stefan and I are born the same year. Maybe also because it’s nice to have company crossing the 40 threshold…

Anyway, the best way to celebrate any milestone, according to me, is to go somewhere beautiful with people you love. Seeing as we have 2 big trips across the Atlantic coming up this year, reality dictated that any travels would have to stay fairly local. So I gave Stefan 2 options: city vs. country, and with child vs. without. He did not hesitate to choose the “country” option, and since we had a child-free trip to celebrate my birthday in Paris, Stefan thought it’d be nice to take Ania along with us this time round. These paramaters being decided, the next question was, where? Sweden is not within my realm of travel expertise (… yet) – so this proved just about as tricky as planning a trip to the jungles of Borneo. But then I started discussing Gotland with a colleague of mine who holidays there regularly – and I knew it would be perfect. Stunning scenery, a mix of different landscapes, a growing reputation of culinary excellence, and Stefan loves to be by the sea. It’s a Swedish island in the Baltic that you have to either fly to or take 3-hour ferry to reach – so the feeling of going abroad, or more importantly, just getting away – is more than tangible.

The only wild card was the weather. June in Sweden is always a gamble, even in the best of years. And as you’ve heard me consistently complain over the last couple of months – this has not been the best of years. So the gods must have been watching my obsessive weather-watching from about mid-May up until the 12th of June, and decided that we deserved a break. Blessed with sunshine for almost the entire 3 days away felt like a miracle, and we did not take a second of it for granted!

In short – it was a wonderful weekend. The island’s summer season officially begins on Midsummer, and from then till mid-August, Gotland is filled with tourists. So coming one week ahead of this, we enjoyed a completely serene and quiet island, often completely alone. We rented a car so were able to explore freely, roaming around on empty roads at times only meeting herds of sheep crossing here and there. Here are some photos from our first afternoon, when we borrowed bikes from the hotel and rode around the area, and after getting lost more than a few times – finally arrived at a small but perfectly empty little beach. On the second day, we drove all the way to the northern tip of Gotland and crossed over to Fåro, a small but visually dramatic island most known for being the home of a huge sheep population (after which it is named) – and Ingmar Bergman. So starkly beautiful and somewhat melancholic….

Swinging by the sea...

We took a wrong turn with the bikes and ended up at a golf course, where we stopped to have a little swing.

We borrowed the hotel bikes and, after getting rather lost, finally found our way to a little empty beach.

Beach time!

Such a tricky face!

Such a tricky face!

Pebble beach at the northern end of Fårö. Even more stunning under cloudy skies...

Pebble beach at the northern end of Fårö. The overcast skies amplified the ambiance…

We had a little picnic....

We had a little picnic….

Ania loved this place, and spent a long time learning how to skip stones with pappa.

Ania loved this place, and spent a long time learning how to skip stones with pappa.

Playing among the dramatic "rauks" at Langhammars on Fårö

Playing among the dramatic “rauks” at Langhammars on Fårö

These stone columns are formed through natural erosion

These stone columns are formed through natural erosion

The architect and his daughter building their own rauk

The architect and his daughter building their own rauk

So happy!

Very proud of her rauk :)

Growing more fearless everyday, Ania insisted on climbing the stones. Yes, this almost gave us heart attacks.

Growing more fearless everyday, Ania insisted on climbing the stones. Yes, this almost gave me a heart attack.

We’ve been pretty tired after our busy June (pre-holiday work rush, midsummer, birthdays, and trip to Gotland – which I will get around to posting about soon) – and the lack of sunlight hasn’t helped with keeping energy levels high, either. But finally finally finally, a warm and sunny weekend! We didn’t want to plan anything at all except to enjoy the weather. This meant bicycling, picnicking, and the first swim of the season at Eriksdalsbadet, our neighborhood pool (which luckily for us, happens to be the best in the whole city!) Fingers crossed summer has finally arrived!

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Picking flowers at our favourite picnic spot on Reimersholme.

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Ania rode her new bike to the pool today! She loves it!

Ania rode her new bike to the pool today! 

She loves it, and is doing really well! Has mastered braking already.

She loves it, and is doing really well! Has mastered braking already.

Pool premiere!

Pool premiere! We have been waiting and waiting for this…

Post-swim ice cream, of course.

Post-swim ice cream, of course.

I’m about a week late but…. still can’t believe it, 4 years old! And hey, you know what? This is also my 400th blog post here on TLP! :) Ania had not only one birthday celebration, but in keeping with the theme of “4’s”, she in fact was celebrated 4 times. Which is only fitting for a little girl who just about lives for birthdays, really. I kid you not– we play “birthday party” at least 5 times a week, so the fact that it was her actual birthday made it very very special indeed!

Party #1 took place on the morning of the 18th. It’s customary for Swedes to sing “happy birthday” and deliver cake and presents in bed…. but since I have a personal neurosis about crumbs in the bed (as in, “ugghhh, what IS that crunchy thing on my pillow!) – I took the liberty of doing cake at the breakfast table instead. Ania got to open one present with her cake, because the lesson we’ve learned from Christmas is that it seems to work better when the gifts are spaced out a little at a time.

Party #2 was at dagis, where they celebrated her with the Montessori custom of the “birthday walk”, which is a really nice tradition that aims to teach kids about the passing of time and the significance of birthdays – beyond just candy and gifts. (You can read more about in last year’s post!) We sent her to school with strawberries, raspberries and grapes to share with her classmates during their little birthday fika. That evening, we had Party #3 at home, just the 3 of us. Being a Thursday night, we wanted an easy favourite which meant…. hot dog dinner! And of course, more cake, more singing and more presents! Her big thing from us this year was her first bicycle – a pretty, shiny, candy-apple red 2-wheeler, which will deserve its own post later :)

And finally, the weekend brought Party #4, the grand finale. Stefan and I had intended all along that this year’s party would be a simple affair – since we had neither the energy nor time to plan anything really ambitious. The weather being so unseasonably cold and wet also meant we’d definitely have to plan for something indoors. Also being Midsummer weekend, we had assumed that everyone would be busy or out of town – but as it turns out, this was the year that many stayed home like us! So we rather spontaneously ended up having a lovely group of friends join us on a cosy Sunday afternoon – 6 kids and 9 grownups, including us. The kids ranged in age from 1 till 7 years old, but it was so nice (and a little surprising) to see how they all played so nicely together – and except for the youngest ones, almost entirely independently! We were quite lazy and didn’t even really plan any games or activities, but luckily at this age, they are creative and resourceful enough that all they need is a room full of toys and some company, and they’re pretty much all set. I wasn’t sure at first if 6 kids in 75 square meters was going to be disastrous or not – and happily it turned out to be not at all! I think all the kids had a really nice time, and even all the parents were able to relax and chat and drink coffee without any stress at all. Ania was so so happy with her day – friends, family, cake, candy, and packages – as good as it gets!

Cake for breakfast! Actually it was a strawberry rhubarb crumble.

Cake for breakfast! Actually it was a strawberry rhubarb crumble.

Post dinner cake in her Wonder Woman suit.

Evening cake in her Wonder Woman suit.

 

Party cake!

And last but not least, party cake!

With Sammy and Hedvig

With Sammy and Hedvig

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Sam and Ania provided some musical entertainment...

Sam and Ania provided some musical entertainment. Hedvig and Majken listen politely :)

Intense unwrapping session...

Intense unwrapping session…

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A Richard Scarry game!

These butterfly masks from Elliott, Malin & Magnus were a big hit.

These butterfly masks from Elliott, Malin & Magnus were a big hit.

Elliott :)

Elliott :)

Stina and Viggo

Stina and Viggo

There was even some quiet time for reading, thanks to Magnus :)

There was even some quiet time for reading, thanks to Magnus :)

We might have to leave these decorations up all year round :)

We might have to leave these decorations up all year round :)

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