What I learned from our last vacation

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Have you ever come back from a vacation saying to yourself “I need a vacation from this vacation!” – In a way that’s what happened to us when we got back from our trip to Germany & Sweden over the Christmas holidays. We have always loved traveling and have been to Europe with our oldest child before. But now we have 2 and they’re both under 5. We sort of knew what we were getting ourselves into, so we didn’t plan too many activities, but it was still exhausting. But this is not a post about what went wrong or how to travel better with kids. I rather wanted to share the good things we took from this trip – not so much lessons, but rather reminders and emotions. Reminders to plan less and live more, reminders to be open to the opinions of others, reminders to see the greater good and not just focus on one’s own happiness. But also reminders to notice the little things, relish what you have and how amazing our life really is.

We went to see my family for Christmas and then on to Sweden for a few days to just relax and recharge. I had not been home in 3 years so of course everyone was super excited to have us there and we tried to cram as many visits in those 6 days as we could (jetlag didn’t help though, so we always had a late start in the day…).

The minute I stepped out of the car at my mom’s house my heart jumped, seeing the amount of detail she had put into getting her house ready for the holidays. There were decorations everywhere! Not all of them suited for little toddler hands, but others were made just for that:

xmas decor

xmas decor stairs

I finally got to see my nephew and loved watching my kids interact with him. We live so far apart and they won’t see each other often, so we all had a chance to charge our batteries with new family memories. My little one is only 2 so he won’t remember, but my oldest does: she still asks to please invite Aunt Annika to her birthday party next month.

One of our good friends, Elizabeth, is a photographer so of course we had to take advantage of everyone being there and took some pictures. Everyone had different ideas of where we should sit or if we should keep our shoes on or off, but you know, in the end I didn’t care. Because this was just us. And the picture was just for us. This is not a shoot for People Magazine. We’re not royals. This is just who we are, and if everyone was perfectly dressed and coiffed, and smiling directly in the camera – then it would feel a little fake. Because in real life, that never happens either. And I wanted a memory that showed our family how I know it. Captured in a moment that I remember being in! Shoes or no shoes, here we are:

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At first I was mad that my 4-yr old had one of her moments and refused to sit up, but now I love it. Because that’s how it was! I need to stop trying to have everything perfect – and this was a good reminder. Perfect is not reality and we need to accept that sometimes, and just be content with how some things turned out in our life. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t strive for improvement anywhere, but some things are more beautiful in their natural ways.

We had a wonderful time in Germany – not enough (as always with vacations), but enough to reinforce the bonds that make a family. Seeing one of my sisters as a new mom, meeting my nephew, and finally meeting my brother’s fiancé – those were all moments I was longing for.  It felt good to be a part of that crazy gang and actually be there and not thousands of miles away. I wished my dad was still around to experience it too but sometimes life has other plans.

The last few days of our trip were spent in Sweden at my godfather’s house. My planning self had imagined us playing in the snow and taking long walks in the woods, exploring Sweden’s food world and even a day in Stockholm. But plans don’t always work out, so the little snow they had melted away by day 2, my husband got the flu and was on bed rest half the time, so our trip to Stockholm got cancelled. We still took some walks in the forest and it was just what we needed: fresh, crisp air, quietness, and a little exercise (walking slow while carrying a 35 lb toddler IS exercise!).

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It was disappointing for a while, but one afternoon I sat there, tired and worn out from our kids’ tantrums and acts of defiance, and I realized that I was still so happy to be there. It was still vacation, and I got to take in one more day of this beautiful scenery:

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No, we didn’t get out as much as we had planned, but I finally got to sleep in for several days (mostly due to jetlag), and I didn’t have to cook a single meal, or clean up, or rush the kids to school. And on top of that, we got to spend time with our kids and my family. And we got to experience a tiny bit of Sweden, with my godparents as our personal guides, chauffeurs, translators, cooks, entertainers, and sick care providers.

I learned just how good it feels to have family around you, even if they don’t always do what you want them to do.

I absolutely loved Sweden. Not just from its beautiful scenery and adorable houses, but also from what my godfather told me about their culture: did you know that the Swedes will make a point not to overdress when going to an event, so not to embarrass anyone who may arrive underdressed, or can’t afford fancy clothes? Did you know that it’s custom not to extend your visit past 2 hours (maybe 3 if you’re at their house for dinner)? Nobody will consider it rude to leave after 2 hours – it’s just normal for both the guest and the host. Did you know that no matter how wealthy, most Swedes really get a lot of their furniture and household items at IKEA? So it’s inexpensive, durable and won’t break your heart if it gets damaged. They’re not flashy people, they’re just happy and content with what they have and they believe in making the world a little better for others too.

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During the long nights of Sweden’s winter, people often leave little lights on in their windows. It looks absolutely charming, but it’s actually a means to extend the hours of light a little longer. We were in southern Sweden and even there the sun started to set around 3pm. By 4:30pm it was dark!

SO what better way to spend your afternoon sunset than with some hot tea, delicious fruit cake (no, really – it was not like any fruit cake you’ve ever had!) and homemade cookies.

When was the last time you enjoyed a steaming cup of tea with friends or family?

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Food shopping in Sweden:

The Swedes have an abundance of dairy and you can see that instantly when you get into a supermarket. Think of the dairy aisle in your supermarket with all the milk, yogurt, butter, sour cream, cheese, etc. Now take the length of that aisle and fill it just with yogurts. Yogurt drinks, yogurt in cups, with fruit, without fruit, small packs, family packs, and an 8-ft section just of lactose free products!

swedish yogurts

They even had a wall of brochures with allergy guides for all their non-packaged products. Lists of ingredients for everything in the bakery case.

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Cheeses in all shapes, sizes and flavors. They love cheese! This is a normal size to buy
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Every child can take a FREE banana

Exotic fruit is expensive and has little flavor, even in season. It just ships from too far away. But with so much forest covering the country, they have an abundance of berries! So much that you can even buy frozen berries in bulk (the price is about $5 a pound):

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What I loved most though was this in the produce section:

wheel of produce A wheel of produce guide for what’s in season. They encourage their customers to buy seasonal produce not just by saying “buy seasonal” but by showing them what’s in season. I bet if you asked the average shopper in Publix today to name 3 vegetables that are in season now, they would just point to whatever they see on the shelves. I think it’s so important to teach about food: where it comes from, when it grows, how to prepare it, and how to store it, too!

Alcohol in Sweden is very expensive. The beer in the supermarket was pretty much all light beer. That’s not to say that the Swedes don’t drink ( they can actually party pretty hard), but it shows that the country’s government has its people’s health in best interest.

Cigarettes were not visible in the store at all. I saw a big grey machine on the way out and asked my godmother what that was. “Cigarettes. They have to pay for them in the store at a special counter and then they get them here from the machine.” They’re not in plain sight, but hidden in a non-descript machine.

I think Sweden’s motto should be “People over Profit” –

Have you ever been to Sweden or any other country that left a lasting positive impression on you? Share in the comments, so we can plan our next trip J

 

 

 

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