Swedish Snapshots

Dear friends,

It’s time for another post! In some ways this has been a tough week: I came down with a random vomiting bug last Friday and felt tired and grotty for several days. This meant I missed out on lunch with my friends on Saturday and was none too energetic for our Afternoon Tea on Sunday. However, despite this bout of ill health there have also been some really special moments this week:

Evening drinks

As the sun set over Urshult last Saturday, hubby and I were spontaneously invited to a neighbour’s home to soak up the last of the day’s sun, drink some G&Ts and chew the fat. Our neighbour’s children were playing inside while us adults sat on the sunny decking and made the most of the beautiful weather. Vad härligt* as they say in Swedish! I love how living in a small village means that socialising last-minute like this is simpler and easier than in London, where things often need to be a bit more planned due to long journeys, tight schedules etc.

Canoeing

On Sunday a large group of friends arrived to stay for a few days. One of the best things about owning a B&B is there is always room for friends and family to stay! Also, it encourages me to break my normal routines and do some fun stuff. So it was that on Monday, 13 of us headed to Urshult Camping, rented canoes and boats and set off for an adventure on Lake Åsnen. First we canoed to a couple of islands and explored those and then we paddled on to a beautiful beach spot called Dunshult. Here we ate our picnics, swam or paddled, built sandcastles, barbecued and generally enjoyed ourselves. It was a marvellous tonic to the previous weeks of hard graft in the hotel (summer is our busiest season) and reminded me of why I moved to Urshult. It is so damn beautiful here!!!

Boys in the garage

On Tuesday my stepchildren arrived back and it wasn’t long before my stepson made his way to the garage to tinker with his new go-kart. 10 minutes later I looked round to see he had been joined by my father-in-law, hubby AND our 17 month old son, Zac. 3 generations of Augustsson males spent that entire morning in their element fixing and cleaning and engineering. It was a heart-warming snapshot of family life.

Meanwhile in the kitchen…

…my step-daughter and her bestie were busy baking cupcakes. Locating all the utensils they needed in our large restaurant kitchen, buying ingredients from the local shop and then baking some delicious cupcakes (that had a very funky pink streak in the middle!) I love hearing my family enjoying themselves!

Friends in the garden

I also love to hear guests enjoying themselves and hubby and I have both commented that, due to the weather not being so good this summer, there have been less guests hanging out in the garden and veranda in the evenings. So this week, it was wonderful to hear my friends’ bubbling conversations, lively laughter and the sound of cutlery on food-filled plates. I forget sometimes how congenial Urshult Hotell can be for large groups, especially in the summer months😎

Mien sandcastles and swimming

Wednesday was a swimming day in the Augustsson home. We finished working as early as we could (around 5pm) and headed to Lake Mien. There is a beautiful sandy beach here called Laxasand so we packed the kids up and headed there in the car. The water was pretty cold but we all swam plus there was more sandcastle building (well, this time it was a very pretty waterfall) and we also had the inflatable boat. Everyone slept well that night thanks to the exercise and fresh air!

New playground

My final Swedish Snapshot comes from today’s visit to Växjö (our local city for those that don’t know!) They recently opened a new playground here inspired by the local legend Carl von Linné (the man who invented the still-used Latin classification system for plants and animals. The local university is also named after him.) I have become a Very Big Fan of playgrounds since having Zac. He is a SUPER active toddler so any excuse to get him out of the house and burning off some of that energy is a win as far as I am concerned! Today’s playground was especially beautifully designed with pictures of plants, a working clock that the children can set themselves, a forest of reeds and a fairy-tale castle theme. We met friends there and played with other toddlers. Zac was happy and tired – job done!

Well that’s it for this week.  Hope you enjoyed my Swedish snapshots!

Kram,

Anna

*how lovely

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Summer in Sweden

Dear friends,

It’s been a while since I last wrote (14 months!!) How are you all?

Here in Urshult Hotell we are in full flow of the busy summer season. A heady mix of  meeting new guests and greeting those returning.  Baking cakes and preparing breakfasts. Managing our new employee and vetting stuck into our own work tasks. Cleaning rooms and making beds. Early starts and late finishes. But in the midst of all this busyness and day-to-day work, I have noticed that life still has its rhythms and no day is quite the same as the one before.

Here in the countryside (or landet, as the Swedes say) one of the major ‘rhythms’ is the changing seasons. I seem to be more aware of these now that I live in nature and work in the seasonal tourist industry (compared to living in London and working as a musician).  At the moment it is summer and today’s post includes some observtaions on summer here in Sweden.

Summer Scents

Pine forests, baking bread, freshly cut grass: these fragrances fill the air during a summer walk or cycle around Urshult. The forest is particularly fragrant after a rain shower and I very much enjoyed a recent cycle ride through Buskaboda – a nearby village (see below). The bread smell comes from Urshult Bakery, which bakes throughout the night so during an evening stroll you might, for exemple, detect the scent of Sverige bullar (my favourite).

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Ceaseless summer

At times B&B life can feel a bit ceaseless, especially in the summer season when we have the highest number of guests. Everyday there are beds to be made, toilets to be cleaned, breakfasts to be made, dishes to be cleaned, floors to be hoovered, food to be bought. It is a bit like managing a very large home with 13 bedrooms rather than the usual 2 or 3. We are learning all the time about how to work more efficiently, how to set and maintain high standards, how to ensure our guests have the best possible experience and how we can stay inspired, motivated and energised through the long days.

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Summer Zac

This is without doubt my favourite bit of the summer! Spending time with my son Zac who is now 17 months old and wants to explore EVERYTHING! I love seeing him in his little shorts and sandals running about our garden or playing in the sandpit. We have a cycle seat for him on my bike now and he loves sitting behind Mummy on a cycle ride. If I am wearing a scarf he will hold the ends like they are horse’s reins! Yesterday we all went for a swim in Lake Mien and Zac was a bit cautious a first but soon got the idea of splashing about in the (admittedly chilly) water.

Sweet summer

Summer is the month of berries in Sweden. Raspberries, strawberries, black currants and red currants can all be found growing wild or in gardens here. A walk in the forest with Zac and our dog Borgust is currently a tasty experience as we stop regularly to nibble on juicy raspberries.

Summer cycling

Summer is when cyclists flock to Urshult from all over Sweden, Germany and beyond. There is a wealth of cycling routes passing through here, including the recently opened Sydostleden, which goes between Växjö and Simresahmn.

Summer swims

Summer is the time to get out onto the lakes and swim! There is quite simply nothing like the feeling of relaxing into the cool, refreshing water at the end of a hot working day at the hotel. Ahhhhhh😀

Summer shop

Summer is also the time we have a new shop opening in our basement! The beautifully decorated Broström Antik opens tomorrow Thursday 3 August at 10am and we shall be serving coffee and cakes in the hotel to celebrate.

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Well, that’s it from me. I wish you and your nearest and dearest a wonderful, relaxing, scent-filled, refreshing summer.

Until next time!

Anna x

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At home

It is time to write my blog again and I have been looking forward to this precious moment.  Writing is a brilliant way for me to process the dynamic flow of changes that are currently coursing through my life.  Our new baby, extensive hotel renovations and the ongoing learning curve of being a step-mum can sometimes make my day-to-day life feel in a constant state of flux.

Peckham!!!

Today’s post is inspired by this postcard that a friend recently sent me from London.  It got me thinking about home and what that word means to me.  Here are 5 very personal definitions of home:

 1)  Home is…where I was born.

I was born in Dulwich Hospital (London) and lived in neighbouring Peckham until I was 13.  To this day I still feel a warm affection for Peckham and enjoy going back.  This small area of South East London is where I first began to learn about the world around me.  I remember streets with funny names like “Oglander” and “Gowlett”, Peckham Rye Park with its ducks and bandstand, the cul-de-sac where I learnt to ride a bike, the swimming pool where I learnt to swim…I remember the journey to primary school – often travelling on the back of Mum or Dad’s bike!

Little details spring to mind, like the pelican crossing where the kind lollipop lady once gave me a toy telephone as a present.  The fish and chip shop where my mum, brother and I would buy dinner every Friday after swimming.  Excitingly, they introduced a new product called Southern fried chicken in the 90s, which quickly became our Friday night staple.  (Incidentally, for anyone that knows my brother’s longstanding affection for fried chicken…perhaps this is where it all began!!)

2)  Home is…where I had the best year of my life.

It was 2004, I was in my early 20s and I was on a plane jetting off to the Cote D’Azur.  Not for a quickie summer holiday – oh no, this was far more exciting – I was going to live there for an entire year!  10 years of classroom French was finally to be put into practice as I began my year abroad.  I was on the cusp of a new adventure – about to live out that year in the city of Nice as a language assistant.

Nice is a beautiful city with a beach.  And pavement cafes.  And delicious French bakeries, enticing French restaurants and real French people who, like, did real French stuff.  No more reading about it all in textbooks…this was France for real!!

And, oh, how I loved that year.  I was working in a tiny village called Villeneuve Loubet.  On my first day my boss apologised to me for the state of the school lunch saying, “today’s smoked salmon starter is not brilliant”.  I stared goggle-eyed at the rows of 4 year old’s sitting at tables, reverentially eating their salmon starter.  (Starter?!)  My experience of UK school meals (pre-Jamie Oliver) was a canteen-style buffet where I generally stuck to the safe option of a jacket potato!  Here in Villeneuve Loubet there was table service and every child enjoyed a 3 course meal.  This was the first of many eye-opening moments that year, which challenged my assumptions about food, teaching, learning and life in general.

And, I suppose, because it was such a formative and intense year full of colourful experiences (not to mention colourful people!) there is a part of me that will always feel at home in Nice.

3)  Home is…my favourite foods

Sometimes, home is a feeling.  That sense of being ‘at home.’  Favourite foods can create this feeling e.g. my mum’s chocolate cake, which I enjoyed at every childhood birthday I can remember, the home-made gnocchi and pesto from my favourite family restaurant in Nice, baked beans, a good English breakfast, a freshly made French croissant, a fluffy scone with jam and clotted cream…  Each of these foods is a little slice of home.

4)  Home is…my nearest and dearest

Family, friends, my pet dog…spending time with the ones I love makes me feel at home.

5)  Home is…where I live now

Home is the familiar routines of preparing breakfast at Urshult Hotell, feeding my baby boy, walking beside Lake Åsnen, singing with Urshult Kyrka choir and Swedish classes at Wasaskolan, Tingsryd.

We have been living in Urshult Hotell now for 1 year, 2 months and 5 days.  I have seen winter, spring, summer and autumn here.  We have experienced the hotel’s busy summer season and quieter winter season.  I have experienced both pregnancy and birth here.

Urshult definitely feels like home.

What about you?  Where do you call home?

 

 

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Life is…

A few thoughts on life:

  1. Life is an adventure

“When I grow up, I want to be an adventurer” I wrote, aged 4.  I drew an accompanying picture of myself thrashing through a wild jungle, displaying equally wild hair.  This masterpiece was pinned to the classroom wall alongside other students’ future dream jobs:  vets, teachers, astronauts etc.

29 years after I wrote that sentence, I may not literally be cutting a path through tropical rainforest but some days it doesn’t feel that different!  There is a lot of uncharted territory to  negotiate at the moment e.g. the jungle of scaffolding and building equipment associated with renovating our facade, learning to do tasks with a baby attached to me most of the time, encountering new and delightful moments such as baby lighting up with a big gummy smile and ‘chatting’ to me about his day.

2.   Life is a sitcom

Picture the scene:  It is lunchtime at Urshult Hotell and, like any good Swedish mum, I am cooking meatballs for my family.  As I put the pan on the stove to gently warm them up, my stepson (who is currently going through a very chatty phase) arrives.  While he is monologuing about his latest computer game, baby begins to cry for a cuddle.  I scoop him up, looking around for the baby sling and realise I have left it in the car.  On my way out to the car my dog seizes the opportunity to run for freedom out of the back door.  I now have a screaming baby, a runaway dog and a stepson insistent on telling me how to get to level 5 on his game.

No sooner am I down the stairs then an early guest arrives to inquire about his room.  I explain that his room has not been cleaned yet but he can still pick up the key and direct him to reception.  At the back of my mind are the meatballs on the stove and I hope a small fire has not yet started.

As I open the door to my car (stepson is now relating the code required for the secret door on level 6 and dog is nowhere to be seen) my mother-in-law appears and I explain to her in broken Swedish and hand signals that we need to prepare room 2.  I finally retrieve the baby sling from my car (baby is crying even louder as his dummy has fallen out and stepson is now onto the hidden weapon in the alien ship on level 5)

As I return to the kitchen, with a slightly placated baby, dog appears again happily chewing on baby’s lost dummy.  Stepson peers into the pan on the stove:  “You’ve burned the meatballs”

Big-Als-Meatballs

 

 

 

 

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Easter in Urshult

It is the week after Easter and Urshult Hotell is a hive of activity.  As with the last few posts, I have baby Zac sleeping in my arms as I type (awwww!)  In front of me the office window is obscured by plastic sheeting because we are having the hotel façade renovated.  There are hammers knocking, builders humming and our dog Borgust barking (he is not too happy about being ‘invaded’ by these noisy strangers!)

When we moved in a year ago, it was clear that the hotel’s façade needed some serious renovating.  Not only was the paint peeling; there were gaps in the plaster and the signage was very faded.  It has taken a year of planning, paperwork, bank visits and research to begin this renovation and I can’t quite believe the builders are finally here!   Once the renovations are complete, the first impressions of this fine 1920s hotel will be vastly improved.   Urshult Hotell is a beautiful building and it feels good to be able to restore some of her former glory!

Here is a ‘before’ picture of the hotel’s façade that featured in SmalandsPosten (local newspaper) last year.

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And here is the façade today with the scaffolding going up.

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In case any guests are wondering, THE HOTEL IS STILL OPEN during these renovations.  The MAIN ENTRANCE IS STILL OPEN and the ENGLISH CAFE THIS SUNDAY IS STILL HAPPENING.  We expect the scaffolding to be up for about a month.

 

 

 

 

 

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Home improvement

It’s Wednesday 23rd March 2016 – 1 year and 6 days since we moved into Urshult Hotell.  I am sitting here with baby Zac contentedly snoozing next to my tummy in the Baby Bjorn.  We have just been to the hotel’s guest annexe to take photos of the recent renovating and cleaning work.  Things are getting prettier at Urshult Hotell!

Below you can see one of the new hotel bathrooms, tiled and painted by husband and father-in-law.  The vintage lamp came from a local auction.

bathroom

And here is a freshly cleaned chandelier in the guest lounge, together with a shiny and clean window.  All the windows in the guest annexe were professionally cleaned today, which has really freshened up the view from the rooms:-)

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So, there you have it!  Changes and improvements are happening all the time here so stay tuned for more photos as we continue to renovate our beautiful 1920s hotel.

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The Attitude Of Gratitude

I am sitting in my office typing this post with one hand – the other is wrapped around my 10 day old baby boy – Zac.

zac

It occurred to me this morning that I have a great many things to be grateful for at the moment.  There is something quite magical and miraculous about the birth of a new baby and I felt I wanted to express that somehow.  I love writing lists; so here is my top 10 “Things To Be Grateful For”.

1 – My baby boy!  He is healthy (albeit still a bit jaundiced), extremely beautiful (not that I am biased!) and is thoroughly adorable to cuddle.

2 – Vaxjo hospital and staff. Arriving at hospital shortly before 8am on Friday 19 February we were ushered into our own private room, offered breakfast and I was able to have a bath to ease contractions.  It was a very relaxing way to start the physical marathon that is giving birth.  The midwives were friendly and professional and the one who was present during the actual birth was a trombone player called Anna!  So she kept reminding me to do my trumpeter breathing.

We stayed in hospital for a total of 1 week due to Zac having treatment for jaundice.  At times it was hard not being at home with him, surrounded by relaxing and familiar sights and sounds.  However, it was really helpful to have the midwives on hand as I got used to the steep (and often painful) learning curve that is breast-feeding.  We also had all our meals provided for us with breakfast, lunch, dinner and 2 fika breaks.  The uplifting view from my room and the day room was of a large park and a lake.  I am grateful that I do not have to pay for the care that I received because it is one of the benefits of living in Sweden.

3 – Like most new mums, I am finding social media super handy for touching base with friends and other mums.  There is so much to get used to and learn at first that I think most of us simply want to be told, “yes, this is entirely normal…no, you don’t need to worry…yes, this is a just a phase that will pass.”  I have also received a great many cards, presents and messages of support from my friends and this really cheered me up whilst in hospital, waiting for Zac’s jaundice to get better.

4 – Another important source of support has been my family.  My husband “the rock” kept me going through the birth process with jokes and encouragement.  My in-laws managed the hotel while we were in hospital.  My brothers, sisters-in-law, uncles and aunts (including one who is a midwife) all sent me encouraging messages.  And my parents have been on hand to help look after Zac and the hotel since we arrived home.  What a team!

5 – I am grateful it is the low season at the hotel and that we only had 1 guest staying the night that Zac was born – a much easier scenario than if he was born in the summer when we can easily have 20+ guests staying the night!

6 – Zac’s timing was impeccable.  Not only was he born exactly on his due date, he also got to see his step-brother and step-sister before they went back to England.  If he had been born any earlier, he could have stolen my step-son’s thunder, whose birthday was just 4 days earlier on 15 February.

7 – I am grateful that my son gets to grow up in Urshult with its beautiful lake, forests, friendly residents and relaxed pace of life.

8 – My husband has been unerringly by my side both throughout my pregnancy, the birth and Zac’s first few days.  I can’t imagine managing without him!

9 – All the gifts we have received:  clothes, toys, baby blankets…I have been really touched by the generosity of my friends and family.

10 – My amazing body!  I have a new respect for my body now and all the changes it has been through over the last 10 months.  From the miracle of growing a new life inside me (an entire human being no less!) to pushing out a 9lb baby last Friday.  In the following days it felt as if every muscle and nerve in my body ached, as if I had used absolutely every cell in the effort of giving birth!  And yet, the body recovers.  10 days on, I am no longer in pain when I walk or sit – although I do still get very tired.  And I am now producing regular supplies of milk for my little one, which is pretty cool!

So, there you have it – 10 reasons for me to feel grateful as I embark on this new chapter in my life.  Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has leant support over the last 10 months or so…you have helped ease me into my new role as a mother and that is totally awesome!!!

 

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