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.


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”






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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.


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


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.


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:-)


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.


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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The A.F. Leafe Room

Urshult Hotell has a bar*.  In this bar hang many pictures.  These pictures tell a story.

When my Morfar**, Fred Leafe, passed away in 2014, I inherited some of his (and his sister’s) paintings.  My husband and I decided to hang them in the bar as a way of remembering him.  We have named it the “A.F. Leafe Room”. Grandpa played a big part in making it possible for us to buy this hotel, so it feels good to honour him in this way.  See my  Tribute to Grandpa post to find out more about him.

Here is a quick tour of his paintings.  Next time you visit, perhaps you will linger a bit longer in the A.F. Leafe Room and enjoy the unique contribution of this unknown artist!

Palms   Mountains

Ivy LeafePainted by Ivy – Grandpa’s sister

Mountain lake   Different fishermenFishermenChinaAnd finally a photo of the man himself!   Grandpa

*the bar is not yet licensed to sell alcohol but we are working on this!

** Swedish for maternal grandfather (my Mum’s dad)

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What is your favourite season?

Cold, grey, snowy and icy.  Temperatures as low as -18C, sunset by 3:30pm, frozen lakes and waterfalls…the Swedish winter is more hardcore than any of the winters I experienced in the UK.  There are days when it feels like the sun never rises, when just going outside to pick up one’s mail involves the long-winded routine of putting on a thick coat, gloves, hat and scarf.

So, what’s to like about this season?

Put simply, Urshult in the snow is BEAUTIFUL.  As this is my first year here, every season is new to me.  And every season I think, “this one is my favourite”.  In spring the trees in the forest exploded into life, exhibiting an indescribably magnificent green.  Locals wax lyrical about the exact hue of this spring green and it really is something to behold.  ‘Surely this is Urshult at its best?’  I thought.

Urshult spring

Forest on Sirkovagen spring 2015

In summer we had lake swimming, boat trips, barbecues and parties.  It is the season to meet up with friends and family, languish in gardens and pootle about in one’s boat.  Surely this was Urshult at its most fun?

summer Urshult

Launching our new boat onto Lake Asnen in late summer 2015

In autumn the same trees that were a beautiful shade of green became tinged with reds, golds and browns; a symphony of autumnal beauty.  Surely this is Urshult at its most magnificent?

autumn Urshult

Tree turning gold for autumn.  Bjurkarr Nature Reserve autumn 2015.

And in winter, Sweden looks…well…like Narnia – quite magical.  It’s the only way I can think to describe it.  Around Lake Asnen everything is still and quiet.  The lake freezes over, the tree branches are so laden with snow that they barely move.  Everything looks prettier and like a Hollywood film set for a Christmas movie.

winter Urshult

Lake Asnen November 2015

In the run-up to Christmas the streets and houses of Urshult are strung with Christmas lights and there is a feeling of happy expectancy.

So, I guess my favourite season in Urshult is…whichever season I am currently in.  There is something to enjoy about each of them.  What is your favourite season?

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