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 :)

In addition to all the developments marked and measured at Ania’s yearly checkup, there’s been another significant milestone lately: Ania is getting her own social life. And what I mean is, up till recently, Ania’s universe of friends has largely been created by us – as in, she hangs with the kids of people we hang with. And of course our friends have great kids! So it’s definitely a varied and lovely bunch of little people that Ania has been introduced to, and kids being kids, they all enjoy each other’s company as much as us parents do. So it’s really significant that lately, over the last month or so, she has started to ask us to invite certain dagis friends over to play – and vice versa. In fact, when I arrived to pick Ania up the other day, she and her friend Edelle informed me that they had already made plans to play at each other’s houses, so could we parents please call each other to fix a date?

It’s definitely a new era. Now that the weather is warmer (at least some of the time….), the neighbouring playground outside is filled with classmates in the afternoon, having some post-dagis playtime before going home.  While we used to mostly do our own thing, with only a casual hello to other parents we recognize – these days the kids find each other and congregate, sometimes playing in twos or bigger groups, depending on who is around. In the not-too-distant past, it was not uncommon for Ania to actually just ignore classmates who would approach her – I think probably because of shyness, or perhaps she just found it strange to interact with these kids out of the usual dagis context. So it is really fun to see how she has certainly shed that layer of cautiousness, and now actively seeks out her friends and really embraces the opportunity to play with them outside of school. This part is all fantastic, of course. But I’ll be honest now – from a selfish point of view, I’ve also anticipated this new stage with a certain amount of trepidation and fear. As in, the sometimes never-ending conversations next to the swings with very-nice-but-not-always-interesting-parents….and man, those kids can really stay on the swings FOREVER. Mind you, this is all in Swedish too, so my poor after-work brain is really put to the test some days. But the playground-socializing is only one factor – it’s the inevitable playdates and the potential awkward, strained, fika situations that invoke the real dread!

But alas, what I’ve realized is that in the same way that Ania has had to tag along to all our social gatherings and interact with random kids, now it’s actually our turn to reciprocate. And what I’ve found is that, as with many things, once you’ve crossed the threshold – it’s really not that bad. Sure, I’m not going to be best friends with every mom in Ania’s group, but I don’t have to be. There might be a few awkward conversations now and again, but luckily it’s not too hard for two parents with kids at the same preschool to find something to chat about. And the inevitable daily small-talk about kids and eating habits and vacation plans is actually great practice for my Swedish! I think I have finally crossed the threshold where I am no longer self-conscious about having to be correct, and this is the best case scenario because it’s actually with people I don’t know well whom I am most comfortable speaking my messy dialect. No-one seems to mind, and I seem to be long past the point where people feel the need to switch to english, so I know I’m making progress. And with any luck, it will only get easier…

The other unexpected upside? Some of the parents are great! And since most families are living in our neighbourhood, we may eventually get to the stage where we can help each other out with pickups and babysitting. To nurture the joy in these budding little friendships, I guess a few awkward conversations is a pretty small price to pay :)

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We spontaneously ended up having a really nice dinner with Edelle and her mom and brother one Friday night recently, at our new favourite neighborhood diner.

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Pink tables and strawberry blankets!

Ania and another friend Freja, at the movies

Ania and another friend Freja, at the movies

Holding hands :)

Holding hands :)

Yesterday was “dagis avslutning” – the end of term celebrations before summer holidays. Although Ania will be at dagis for another month still, some families start their vacation from around midsummer, which is next week already! The festivities involved a little song concert at Vitabergsparken followed by a picnic – so luckily we were blessed with a sunny afternoon. As usual, the kids rehearsed for many weeks in preparation. We were pretty impressed with how well they sang and remembered all the lyrics to at least half a dozen songs, ranging from some Swedish summer classics to old-school Eurovision hits, and of course the grand finale was some song from that Disney movie “Frozen”, which seems to be a huge craze among kiddies all over the planet at the moment! We were super happy that Ania actually sang this time too! It’s probably the first time that she (and most of her group) really participated, instead of standing rather confused and silent through the whole thing, slightly overwhelmed by the crowd. But really, there is nothing more adorable than a bunch of kids singing so sweetly and proudly at the top of their lungs! Such a treat :)

It’s also a custom for the kids to make their own crown to wear for the event. Most of the kids were wearing rather simple crowns adorned with a few stickers or glitter. Not Ania, however. Her creation was more of a Carmen Miranda-type headpiece decorated with big paper bows, extravagant mesh accessories, sparkles and pom-poms….definitely the biggest and flashiest accessory in the whole group. We were very amused and happy to see that her creativity and self-expression is so uninhibited, not at all afraid to do her own thing. That’s our little monkey!

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Singing away!

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This photo doesn’t really show the hat in all its glory, but it’s the only photo she let me take…

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With Sahar…

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With Marianne

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WIth Tina

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And Marta. Can we stop taking photos now?

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After the singing, it didn’t take long for the kids to abandon their picnicking parents to scramble up this big rock instead…

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Dandelions and strawberries

 

Earlier this week, Ania had her annual checkup – which I always look forward to! This year it was especially exciting thanks to one of our Richard Scarry books about a bunny that goes to the doctor. That story also happens to be pretty accurate in terms of the things on this year’s agenda: height and weight measure, eye test, and hearing test – which made the whole event all the more satisfactory. Other things she was asked to do were some simple drawing tests (copying some geometric shapes, and drawing a “person”/stick figure), a balance test (walking on a straight line), and a speech/vocabulary test – which was actually more or less just a conversation while looking at a picture book. The only thing that was a bit tricky was the hearing test – Ania had a little trouble with the faintest sounds, but likely it is because she recently had a cold and was still sniffly at the time of the checkup, which can interfere. Most likely no reason for any concern, but it’s always good to double check to be absolutely sure. Otherwise, Ania “passed” the developmental review with flying colours, which is always somewhat of a relief!  Even though I think you instinctively know if your child is doing fine, there’s no denying that it is still comforting to have it validated by an authority.

But what was most interesting and fun for Stefan and I was to witness her interaction with our nurse, Linda. Ania is generally shy and even slightly suspicious of strangers or people she does not know well. A good instinct, I suppose! But in instances like these, you never know if she is going to be responsive or just downright mute  – it could really go either way depending on her mood. But luckily, Linda is such a warm and pleasant lady, obviously well-versed in how to communicate with small kids – so Ania warmed up to her immediately and chatted away in a completely open and easy manner – she was totally herself, and took upon each task like a little game, which made the whole thing pretty entertaining. It was also fascinating for us to see how well she follows instructions, and as always, how well-behaved, obedient and polite she is with authority figures! (Clearly, that’s not us.)

So what are this year’s stats, you ask? Ania now weighs 13.8 kg and is 100.4 cm tall. Just passed the meter mark! And that’s about 8 cm growth from last year. Following her growth curves just fine, so all is well. Getting so big! Here she is, chomping on a burger and fries. At least we know appetite has never been a problem! :)

At our new neighbourhood diner. Finally we have one! Yes!

At our new neighbourhood diner. Finally we have one! Yes!

 

 

 

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