Candy Caldwell: Blog en-us (C) Candy Caldwell (Candy Caldwell) Wed, 23 Jun 2021 19:50:00 GMT Wed, 23 Jun 2021 19:50:00 GMT Candy Caldwell: Blog 117 120 the end of the holiday  

Christmas was a whirlwind of family and delicious meals and frozen walks in the snow. On the 24th, we had traditional Swedish julbord, with ham, meatballs, potatoes, salads, sausages, pickles, breads and an incredible selection of home baked fika by the Viking's aunt Vuokko. Family came in from all over, and I cooked dinner on the 25th. No one was poisoned: success! I'm most proud of my cinnamon brioche bread, which I've made before, but it's so tricky with metric conversions and fancy Swedish yeast. 

cinnamon brioche win!

In between cooking and having meals, we made some trips to the local store, which meant getting bundled in all the layers and trudging out into the snow. It was bitter cold the whole visit, as low as -25C, which is about -13F. Cold! But with air that cold and a little snow, everything looked magically frosted. I found this gorgeous tree on a walk to the grocery at dusk, about 2 pm.

grocery store tree

Spotted in the parking lot. In Sweden, people ride their bicycles in all weather, even in the deep of winter.

Winter transportation

Every year I try to come up with a fun photo project. This year I had an elaborate idea involving cups of colored water we froze and fancy gingerbread and small trolls...but I could not execute.  It happens! It was bitterly cold and I just couldn't make it work. But we did have sparklers and an extra person, Robert's niece Petra, to help out. At least I got some fun long exposures. Running with sparklers is good for keeping warm. That's what I said to Petra, and I hope she's forgiven me for keeping her out so long!

sparkler fun in the Haparanda woods


sparkler fun in the Haparanda woods

After thawing out, we took a walk across town to a family member's house for yet another incredible meal. Uncle Lasse and Aunt Vuokkko put on a spread--we had three kinds of moose! Plus nice cocktails and exotic dessert with Swedish cheese and cloudberries. I had my first cloudberry. It was all so special.

one of these is moose!

On the walk back home, I took a few shots of the town. It wasn't as cold after wine and a sip of Lasse's good whiskey. 

We packed our things last night and got up early to head to the airport. As always, it was so hard to say goodbye to the family. As always, everyone was so welcoming and warm and we can't wait to come back. Once a year is not often enough! I keep promising to visit in the summertime, but I hear that the mosquito infestation in the northern summer is biblical. It's a tossup, mosquito vs. weather, as this was the sky today when I first woke up. Snow and dense fog: not such a great prospect for a 90 minute drive.

whiteout in Haparanda

We piled in the car and headed south to the airport. I had Robert take a pic and some video of the road. Grateful for studded tires and plow trucks. We made it with no problems.

frozen highway from Haparanda fun times behind the wheel in Sweden

We arrived in Stockholm this afternoon for our final night here. The viking booked us at a boutique hotel in old town, in a building from the 1760s. We took a short walk, had a nice meal to close down the trip and took a few last photos of Gamla Stan.

Gamla Stan Gamla Stan

Thank you so much for coming along with me again. It's been another spectacular visit. I hope you've had a fabulous holiday wherever you are! 




"long exposure" "Gamla Stan" Christmas fika forest Haparanda holidays julbord snow Stockholm Sweden travel travelogue winter Fri, 28 Dec 2018 01:27:55 GMT
Frost and fika We spent today running errands and preparing for tomorrow. Here in Sweden Christmas is celebrated on the 24th, right after a special Donald Duck/Disney cartoon is aired in the afternoon. We needed to get the last minute supplies for both Swedish Christmas and for when I cook for the family on American Christmas on the 25th. Plus special stuff for a fun photo project we're hoping to do in the woods this year: stay tuned for that.

As I had no time to take any photos or eat anything adorable or photoworthy, here are some greatest hits of frosty snowscapes and delicious fika from all my Sweden Christmases!


Kaknåstornet fika

Airport fika. When you're desperate!


Never enough Taavolagården fika:

Taavolagården fika Taavolagården fika

These were from a cafe on the way to the Arctic circle:  Arctic circle...waffles count!

Nya Konditoriet Haparanda:  FIKA! Haparanda fika FIKA!

Uncle Lasse & Aunt Wuokko's home fika:

Uncle Lasse's fikaFIKA!

Oh look, it's Taavolagården fika AGAIN!

Taavolagården fika

Uppsala fika:  FIKA!

Sundyberg fika:

Sundyberg fika

And the snow. Magical, beautiful blankets of the stuff, crispy crystalline chunks frosting up on everything. *sings let it goooo*

Frosty fingers growing from the porch railing at my sister-in-law Jessica's house:


Early afternoon sunset, Haparanda: SNOW

Frozen road to the IceHotel, Arctic Circle, noon, winter solstice:  SNOW

Heading home from the Arctic Circle: SNOW

Beautifully blanketed sauna and kitchen houses at Uncle Lasse's cabin:


Haparanda woods after a big Christmas storm:  SNOW

The gingerbread house we made with my niece Sydney, nestled in the woods; a fairytale come to life:  SNOW

The rail bridge to Finland over the Tornio river:  SNOW

Haparanda giants in their heavy winter coats:  SNOW

Trees at Kukkolaforsen, frosted perfectly:  SNOW




Kukkolaforsen trees showing off their snow furs in the sunrise:  SNOW SNOW

Sun setting over the Swedish side of the rail bridge:


Looking forward to Christmas dinners with the family. Wishing everyone a wonderful holiday, wherever you are!



Arctic Circle cake Christmas coffee fika Haparanda hygge Kukkolaforsen snow sunrise sunset Sweden Taavolagården Sun, 23 Dec 2018 23:13:02 GMT
Haparanda favorites After a quick visit by some relatives, the only thing I wanted to do today was get out to Taavolagården and have fika for breakfast. I've been waiting two whole years to get back to my favorite cafe in the world! 


The Vikings had a coconut slice and a gingerbread slice and I had this chocolate beauty. With the frosty windows and hot coffee, Christmas lights and the snow outside, it was all as cozy and magical as I remembered. 

Fika for breakfast!


We had a quick tour of the Loppis, or flea market. Those windows are always perfectly etched with ice as if Elsa herself just came through.

Taavolagården Taavolagården

In case you're wondering, yes. Yes we are very, very cold. 

Viking, Me <3

We had to run a few errands, including a trip to Finland for the Christmas ham. It's only a two minute drive across the border to the big mall with the right kind of hams, so, not as tall an order as it sounds. The Swedish grocery was good too: the Viking made a friend in the bread section.

*heart eyes emoji*

We drove into bustling downtown Haparanda to check out this antique shop, H.M. Hermanson. It's never been open when we've visited before and we were so excited to see inside. It was a traditional general store, and it's been frozen in time. Else Maj explains that three bachelor brothers ran it together their entire lives. It was purchased some years ago and the new owners restored the building. The interior has been preserved and is as it was in 1905. 

H.M. Hermanson H.M. Hermanson H.M. Hermanson H.M. Hermanson

By the time we got to the city center it was already going dark, at about 2 pm. But the lights everywhere keep it bright and welcoming. I always take a photo of the giant town Christmas tree and the Stadshotellet each visit; it's so lovely. We may try to go inside the hotel tomorrow and see what it's like. 


A quick stop by Gudruns Blommor & Blad to pick up some flowers for Viking mamma. I wanted to get all of them! 

Christmas flowers for Else-Maj

Just outside the shop: even though the sun goes down early, the streets are all decorated and the electric blue dusk goes on for hours. 


I have to add this adorable Santa the nextdoor neighbor has on their porch. He's the cutest!

Aww Santa

I'm not even ashamed to share this parking lot photo of the absolutely insane moon we had out there tonight. It was breathtaking and ginormous when it came up, and stayed huge for a very long time.

That's what she said.

Cold moon

As we came in and shed our boots and coats, Robert pointed out this hanger. It's basically an antique, from a time when the business's phone number was only two digits. Can you imagine? Call me later! My number is 61. Viking mamma tells me her phone number used to be 27. 


Last but not least, I'd like to politely suggest that we adopt a Swedish tradition: the box of chocolates. Here in Sweden the family always has a nice box of chocolates out for everyone to share. Maybe people do this in the states, but not in my family or any of my friends' families. This year we got a couple and this new one to try. It's very pretty, but not too pretty to eat.

Hello, chocolate

As always, thanks for coming along with me! We're watching aurora and weather forecasts closely and have some really fun ideas for this year's sparklers in the forest. Stay tuned!




chocolate Christmas fika H.M. Hermanson ham Haparanda hygge moon reindeer Sweden Taavolagården winter Sat, 22 Dec 2018 21:35:12 GMT
FINALLY, WAFFLES We said goodbye to the posh Hotel Diplomat early this morning, and I just want to share that the Swedish word for elevator is hiss. This is the most elaborate, sexy hiss, and I am here for it. 

ornate elevator

The rest of today was a blur of travel. Roland met up with us at the airport and we all flew north, then trudged through the dark early afternoon snow to our rental car. I am grateful to my brain for remembering how to drive stick shift. Arriving at Viking mamma Else-Maj's cozy home, she made us her now-famous waffles, which is another way to say "I love you" in any language. 


We waffled, had a little late snack and some of that fancy Christmas soda, Julmust, and roasted ourselves in the sauna. Just outside the sauna, a crafty neighbor has created a snowball candle holder sculpture. Yes, it's dark, but there is warm, welcoming light everywhere you look. This is Sweden. 

Coca cola + Christmas = Julmust

snowball brazier

More tomorrow from some of my favorite places with some of my favorite people! 

Christmas family Haparanda Sweden waffles Fri, 21 Dec 2018 22:17:43 GMT
Family time! Slept like a baby last night and was treated to a gorgeous cinnamon pastry first thing this morning!


...well, not first thing. First, I had one of those post-travel post-sleep life changing showers. Was drying my hair using my very fancy converter. Then this.

who turned off the lights?

Apparently I'm working my way through Sweden, busting fuses with my extreme American hair dryer, one by one. This was embarrassing, but hey, the Viking had to be the one to call the front desk while I just nibbled my cinnamon roll. 

We headed to the mall to pick up a Swedish hair dryer. The windows at the big department store, NK, are adorable this year, with elves making gingerbread and shipping presents! It was like it was made for me.



We stopped for lunch, and while I was eating this beautiful pasta at a French restaurant in Sweden, Feliz Navidad was playing on the stereo. I'm so international, bro. It's still stuck in my head.



By the time we had lunch and finished shopping, it was dark out already. But the city is absolutely sparkling. Here is the outside of the NK department store. 

NK dressed for Christmas

And around the corner is this extremely tall red spire. I dunno what it is, but it's neato. A few years ago, there was a gigantic moose here. 

big red tower

We freshened up and met the family at a little pub for dinner. I'm starting to feel like there are no bad restaurants in Stockholm. It was wonderful to see Roland, Jessica and Jimmy.

Jessica <3

We had a great dinner, then ended up at another bar that suddenly filled with people in costumes. We finally asked what the deal was--so many people were in their pajamas, there were penguins, Peter Pan, the Pink Panther...but it was a "P" themed party. Our favorite was the popcorn.

Sad to leave Jessica, but tomorrow we head up to Haparanda to visit my mother-in-law. Jimmy and Roland will be there and we have some interesting plans brewing for our gingerbread project this year. Stay tuned! 


]]> Fri, 21 Dec 2018 00:39:17 GMT
Stockholm! I'm back in Stockholm with the Viking for another magical Swedish Christmas! This year we have just a couple days in the city before we fly north to Luleå, then drive up to the far, far north to Haparanda. We got on a plane about twenty hours ago in sunny LA, and for the first time in my life, I got upgraded on a flight. It was probably because the plane was half empty, but whatever--we had free booze, way more leg room than necessary and it was GLORIOUS.

mostly empty plane SO MUCH ROOM

This time the Viking booked us a cozy room at the Hotel Diplomat, right on the water. I opened the window and this view is undeniably Europe.

View from the Hotel Diplomat

We slept on and off on the 11 hour flight, and have forced ourselves to stay awake by wandering. Right next door to our hotel is the gorgeous Royal Dramatic Theatre.

Royal Dramatic Theatre

We had to stop and see the big lit up reindeer and moose around the skating rink. America needs more moose and reindeer. 

Then we headed to my favorite part of the city, the Gamla Stan, or old town section of Stockholm. I've only ever seen it at Christmastime, but the golden buildings and narrow cobblestone streets are lit with white lights, every window in the city has white star lights and/or electric candles called adventsljusstakens (these have seven lights representing each day of the week), and all the shop windows have whimsical little scenes of elves.

Gamla Stan Gamla Stan Gamla Stan


One even had these two drunken crawfish playing (cheating at?) cards. 

we say crawfish you say crayfish

We stopped at the Gamla Stan Christmas Market, set up in the center of old town, following the scent of vanilla toasted almonds. We sipped hot glögg and even snagged a killer piece of jewelry from one of the artist stalls.

We wrapped up with a quick drink at the Bishop's Arms, a favorite British pub. We aimed to stay up til 7 pm and did it. I'm going to fall asleep and hope not to wake up at 3 am, starving.

Tomorrow we get to see the family and enjoy the city in a non-zombie way. I can't wait! 

Gamla stan




christmas gamla gamla stan stockholm sweden travel travelogue Wed, 19 Dec 2018 22:15:47 GMT
Grand Canyon Grand Canyon from Eagle Point

Green Christmas in LA didn't quite measure up after the massive holiday in Sweden last year, so we threw our things in the car and sped off to Vegas. In the early morning hours one day, we drove to the Grand Canyon in the dark to catch sunrise. At the western edge closest to Las Vegas is Grand Canyon West. It's run by the Hualapai Tribe, on their land, offering an awesome alternative to just viewing on the edge. At Skywalk you can walk out on a glass walkway hanging 70 feet out and 4,000 feet above the canyon. They don't let you take any phones or cameras out with you, lest you drop one and crack the floor and, presumably, fall to your death. We arrived so early there weren't any other tourists there yet. The sun had just crested the canyon and so the light was a bit tricky, but except for the helicopter tours, it was totally silent. This is the sun cresting a rock formation called Eagle Point, which you could see if the sun was on the other side. Use your imagination!

Sunrise over the Eagle Point rock formation

From Eagle Point, the tour takes you on to Guano Point, an old bat guano mine hanging up on a cliff over the river. 

Guano Point

The mine was closed in 1959, and shortly after, a fighter jet blew through and tore the cable wires. But the structure still stands, and you can hike all around the rock formation for 360 degree views of the canyon. 

Guano Point mine

the moon? the top of Guano Point mine cable gear, Guano Point Guano Point, Grand Canyon West view from the top of Guano Point Guano Point, Grand Canyon West

There are no guard rails or fences to stop you from tumbling down the cliffs. Makes it feel like a real adventure.  no guardrails to protect you from these gorgeous views at Guano Point Colorado River from Guano Point Gorgeous morning. Helicopter for scale! view from Guano Point, helicopter for scale

It was a great little side trip. Next time I'd go at sunset, just to see the sun hit the other side of the mountains. Maybe bring along some dramamine so I could take one of those crazy helicopter rides. 

As ever, thanks for the visit!



arizona colorado river eagle point grand canyon grand canyon west guano point mountains road trip sunrise Sun, 31 Dec 2017 01:20:59 GMT
Leigh Jones Leigh Jones

This is Leigh Jones, and she's drop-dead gorgeous. Leigh reached out to me after liking a shoot I did with a mutual friend, hoping to get in a shoot before the end of the year. She was such a marvelous surprise. Leigh was game for an idea I've been wanting to try for months. It's been a long time since I did a shoot with a complete stranger, and I can't say enough about her: she was totally into this, gave 1000% and helped bring my concept to life with her boundless energy and humor and creativity. I can't wait to shoot with her again. Today, mostly I just want to brag about her and show off a few of these amazing images we made together. I can't wait to see what she does next.

Leigh Jones

Leigh Jones Leigh Jones

Leigh Jones Leigh Jones Leigh Jones Leigh Jones

If Leigh ever records an album, we've got the cover ready to go.

Leigh Jones

I hope you liked these! As always, thank you for stopping by!



actress black girl magic leigh jones long exposure model neon tutu Wed, 20 Dec 2017 19:30:11 GMT
Gingerbreads go to the beach  


The first thing the Gingerbreads wanted to do was to get their little gingery feet in the sand. They brought their Baywatch red suits and played lifeguard while Snowy chilled in the shade below. 


They are so happy to be where it's sunny and warm, they don't mind a green Christmas at all. Mmm, smells like someone is baking gingerbread! 

Gingerbread baking

We don't know where Snowy got off to.

Mr. Snowy loves the beach I'm sure we'll find him snuggled safely in the cooler.

Snowy goes swimming



baywatch beach christmas cookies gingerbread la ocean sand snowman sun waves Sun, 17 Dec 2017 02:21:44 GMT
December Muse: Gingerbread Injured bread menInjured bread men

Over the last ten years or so I've done an annual gingerbread photo project around Christmas. It started with this sad batch of burnt and broken cookies I decided to decorate anyway. These were the original injuredbreadmen.

Injured bread menInjured bread men Ouch!Ouch!injured bread men

The next year I got a package of Christmas cookie cutters from IKEA in Iceland that had odd shapes, including snails and porcupines, and I repurposed them to make some fun scenes with my b-movie victims.

Feel lucky, punk? Feel lucky, punk? Feel lucky, punk? I've had them precariously posed, about to be devoured.

One year we got a Christmas village and baked crazed gingerbread men to pillage the little town. I always know I'm onto something good if I'm cracking up when I'm decorating and shooting them.

Pillaging the Village 2013Pillaging the Village 2013 Christmas PillageChristmas Pillage SURPRISE!SURPRISE! March of the gingerbread menMarch of the gingerbread menPillaging the village Oops!Oops! Last year we were in Sweden, and instead of making gingerbread men we made a house, as my niece Sydney had never made one before. While it looked great in the kitchen, it really needed to be out in the snow. We took it out and left it for the wild Swedish gingerpeople.

We're having our first Christmas in LA and this year, the Gingerbreads have come to visit us! They showed up with their bags and even brought a snow friend from the forest. I'll have to find some room in the freezer for him. 

The Gingerbreads have arrived!

Stay tuned for the Gingerbreads' Christmas vacation adventures in LA! 



christmas christmas village cookies crazy gingerbread gingerbread men injuredbread snow snowman Fri, 15 Dec 2017 20:41:26 GMT
Home again Oooh it's a double entendre, I'm so clever!  I've been back in LA from my hometown for nearly a week now, spent mostly in bed with the world's worst souvenir: strep throat (it can't have helped to go from 19 degrees to 90 overnight). Thanks for the germs y'all! While it's lovely to be where it's warm again I do miss everyone back in Chicago.

The last leg of my trip was a random frozen whirlwind. I got to spend time with my great friend Veronica, the very best bit of the worst job I've ever had, back in another life. We'd planned to Ferris Bueller our way around the city like we did when I lived there, but the weather had other plans, namely, freezing rain. So we decided on the spur of the moment to drive up to Milwaukee for the night. Before we left, we grabbed the most perfect breakfast of my life at Nellie's Restaurant in Humboldt Park. If you have never had proper Puerto Rican breakfast, I weep for you. Get to Nellie's and have the avena de coco. Trust Candy. I have no pics of this: we ate it. On the way back to the car I stopped in the freezing rain to snap this fantastic mural. 

We endured a sideways sleet/snowstorm on the way, but by the time we got to the Mars Cheese Castle, it was smooth (if cold) sailing. We snagged a tub of pimiento cheese and some curds and blew on up the road.  

Mars Cheese Castle

Total surprise: Milwaukee is way hipstery! I had no idea. I'd only been once for a comedy show and unfairly judged the city on the sea of neckbeards in plaid flannel at the venue. Sorry I had you all wrong, mate. Veronica's only wish was for comfort food, specifically meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I googled up what looked like the spot and we took an uber (that was almost certainly a litterbox in its off time) to the Comet Cafe. I have never before been in any restaurant where I felt so strongly that I was in an indie film. If you're in Milwaukee, get there. I rarely order cocktails off a drink menu, but their Key to Happiness is so close to what I drink at home, I had one. Ok I had two. I can't remember all that's in theirs, but for the curious, my drink is a nice bourbon on ice, couple dashes of spiced cherry bitters, fancy Italian Luxardo cherries, a little cherry syrup and a splash of ginger ale (I call it an Old Cherry). Veronica got her meatloaf and the most decadent cheesy mashed potatoes in America. There was also coconut cream pie. Then a coma.

Meatloaf and cocktails at the Comet Cafe

The next morning was bright and brutally cold. We took a quick driving tour and stopped to grab a few photos of the Milwaukee Art Museum, starting with this orange star, The Calling, by Mark di Suvero.

The Calling The Calling Ahead is the stunning winged sculpture Burke Brise Soleil by Santiago Calatrava. When we arrived it was open.

Burke Brise Soleil

It closes its wings twice a day and we caught them folding in on the way out.

Burke Brise Soleil The inside of the Quadracci Pavilion is as beautiful as the outside. At the entrance ceiling hangs an Alexander Calder: Red, Black, Blue

Red, Black, Blue Something about this view reminded me of Iceland, that combination of water and cold and so much glass.

Milwaukee Art Museum Milwaukee Art Museum We had clear skies on the ride back to the city, and my last stop before saying goodbye was this incredible mural. Most people stopped to get the Greetings From Chicago, and I did, too, but we were there for the woman in the hard hat. Love her. Veronica wants a print for her new apartment, and I may print one for myself, too.

I said as fast a goodbye as I could manage, with my trademark "see you tomorrow," which always helps me feel less sad, no matter how untrue it may be. I love this woman.

From the city i headed out to the burbs for dinner with my high school bestie, Allen. We had a fancy tapas dinner at Mesón Sabika in Naperville, a mansion that's been converted into a beautiful restaurant. The food was fantastic. The manager thought we were a couple and sent over free champagne. I blame the hangover on that champagne.

Mess of tapas

I was so happy to have a few hours afterward to catch up with one of my favorite friends, Taylor, who I met at a wedding a few years back. He's the nephew I never had, and so much fun. We took a tour of the local bars and I realized: I cannot hang with the under-40s. I overslept and missed my window to get to House on the Rock, but there's always next year. The last few days of my trip were spent back at mom's, getting glared at by her cats and learning to crochet.

Suspicious Spice

I feel like crochet is my birthright; I spent my childhood watching my grandmother crochet and my mom has made me the most beautiful blankets throughout my life. I always knew how to make a chain but after that, I was lost. Mom was a patient teacher and I've come home and bought my own hooks and yarn and a how-to book, and I'm hoping to whip up some better things than this first effort to throw into my holiday care packages this Christmas. 

I am a professional crocheting person

The flight back to LA was an hour fast, and I arrived home to summer heat in low winter afternoon light: as surreal as being back in my hometown. The Viking and I put together a late Thanksgiving feast and put up our Christmas tree. Early, like everyone else, it seems. I'd had serious FOMO seeing my friends' and family's posts on facebook of their gorgeous dinners and fairy lights. I've never had a tree up so early, but this is my first Christmas in California and I am happy to have it be a long holiday season. The Swedes do it right: as soon as it the days get short, the lights go up.

As ever, thanks for visiting, and if you hosted me or hung out with me in Chicago, thank you so much! The only real gift we have to give is our time, and I'm so grateful you shared yours with me. 

Before the creeping crud sent me to the doctor, I started plotting my December muse. Watch this space for upcoming holiday madness.



chicago comet cafe graffiti humboldt park meson sabika midwest milwaukee milwaukee art museum mural nellie's restaurant puerto rico street art travel travelogue Thu, 30 Nov 2017 15:49:55 GMT
Hometown tourist It's been sort of surreal to be back in Chicago after three years in Los Angeles. There was a blizzard raging when I left. After about a thousand days of reliably gorgeous California weather, my heart has hardened against my hometown. Of course, it's cold and raining as I write this, which isn't helping. What has softened me a bit has been spending time with people who mean so much to me. The first few days here were for family and old friends. Mom drove me out to the Morton Arboretum to try and see a few changing leaves, but like the song, all the leaves were brown and the sky was grey. Still, it was lovely to be out in the trees. I love the smell of fallen leaves in crisp air, and there was the very last of the fall color to be found. 


I drove briefly around my childhood home in Park Forest (co-ops G-2 for my PF peeps), and paid a visit to the Nathan Manilow sculpture park at Governor's State University. When I was a kid, I went to YMCA day camp here in the summer (which I mostly liked except we used to play something called "Death Ball" out in the woods behind the university in the afternoons: a mix of flag football and Hunger Games). At that time there weren't so many sculptures but I remembered this yellow one. I always called it giant french fries.

Illinois Landscape No. 5 by John Henry

It's actually called Illinois Landscape No. 5, by artist John Henry. I was happily surprised with a park full of great art. The Viking laughed when I sent him a link to the collection; he ran through the site's pics and it is something like this: abstract metal sculpture, abstract rubber sculpture, abstract metal sculpture, huge lumberjack, abstract metal sculpture. And though the weather was trash and the ground was mucky and wet, I trudged around to see a few and to get up close with that lumberjack.

Phoenix by Edvins Strautmanis:

Frame by Richard Rezac:

Flying Saucer by Jene Highstein:

Sisyphus' Aviary by Dan Yarbrough:

If you're a Stephen King fan like me, Tony Tasset's Paul will forever be the one you imagine tormenting Richie Tozier in Bassey Park. Though from behind, he's kind of sad.

From the sculpture park I headed downtown and caught up with both my lovely friend Tania and a very old buddy, Chicago deep dish pizza. After our dinner I can now definitively declare: I prefer thin crust to deep dish pizza. Add it to my List of Unpopular Opinions, with love of lemon Starburst and pickles on my peanut butter and jelly. Still, it's pretty. This one is from Lou Malnati's. Likely, my final deep dish. Au revoir, le pizza.

After pizza we headed up to the Signature Lounge on the 95th floor of the Hancock Tower. It's free to ride up to the lounge, you just have to grab a drink. Tip for tourists: the ladies' room has unobstructed views. You can press your face and phone right up against the glass and get great pics (no such view in the men's).

I'm spending the rest of the weekend with my bestie Veronica, and I'm SO excited that her son is working at this amazing Cuban fusion place, Nini's Deli. Check their Instagram for droolworthy pics. We went for lunch and I'll be dreaming of the chicken empanadas until I get another one. It's a family run business, and I have never felt more warmly welcomed or more like family. We ordered as much as we could! The cafe con leche had an impossible tower of cinnamon dusted whipped cream. The plantains were dreamy. The elote. Was crusted. In hot cheetos! Just let that sink in for a second. We had four kinds of empanadas. I suspect I'll have to visit again before I leave. Go if you can! 

Nini's Deli Nini's Deli Nini's Deli It rained badly this afternoon and instead of sightseeing, we went cocktail-seeing at Water Tower Place (hot tip: there is a random, lonely, surly Santa in the back by the Harry Caray's). Here's to this being rain and not snow!

rainy traffic jam






autumn chicago city elote empanadas gsu hancock tower leaves lou malnati's morton arboretum nathan manilow sculpture park nini's deli paul bunyan pizza travelogue Sat, 18 Nov 2017 13:47:18 GMT
November muse: Alex Hensley Alexandra Hensley Nov 17

Making friends with people is super hard. I meet people but sometimes feel I don't know how to, like, human properly. This January will mark my third year of living in Los Angeles, and I'm proud to say I've made a few true friends in LA. The very first friend I made here is Alex, my muse this month (next month's muse might be a chocolate glazed from Bob's Donuts, so enjoy this beautiful person-centric post). We just did an incredible shoot in an historic Hollywood building. Alex rocks a suit like nobody's business.

Alexandra Hensley, 2017

Back in 2015, the Viking and I decided to go out and try something new: leave the house, talk to strangers, maybe make some friends. We went to a daytime wine tasting in Santa Monica and (not on purpose) sat at a table with--straight up--the weirdest people I've ever met. Not fun weird, just weird (and we are the kind of people who surreptitiously googled the weirdest guy after he gave me his business card...disbarred lawyer! disco!). But the server was funny and charismatic, and she seemed instantly familiar to me in a way that made me hope we'd be friends (could've also been the wine). The Viking and I got stupid, purple-toothed daytime drunk, and chatted with her after the tasting. I gave her my card and we talked about maybe doing a photo shoot. I guess this is a thing that happens all the time in LA, though I've found people rarely mean it when they talk about making plans. It's like asking strangers "how are you?" in that it's just a thing people say when they're really thinking about themselves.

For Alex and me, this was different, though, and in the weeks that followed we got together, conceptualized a crazy fun shoot, shopped for wardrobe at the consignment shop, and took our partners out to the desert to shoot. In many ways it was the oddest photo shoot I've ever done: four strangers stuck in a car together for hours on the way to the desert, then me bossing them all around for the rest of the day. It turned into an all-time favorite shoot, as we collaborated completely and had a wonderful time and launched a fantastic friendship. Also I love to be bossy. I am a boss.

Alexandra Hensley, 2015

Alexandra Hensley, 2015

Alexandra Hensley, 2015

Alexandra Hensley, 2015 In the years since the desert shoot, my own life has been all over the place, both figuratively and literally. For a minute we were moving to Finland. The Viking switched jobs and we've moved...thrice. Through all that I've managed to hang on to Alex, who I've seen not only in real life but on my television all the damn time. In the months between seeing each other, she pops up on my TV and it's a little freaky for me; I've never had a friend who was a working actor. I can't help screaming HEY THAT'S ALEX!!! And then feeling kinda stupid and also like maybe I want some cottage cheese or whatever. I have absolutely nothing to do with her continuing success but have pride in knowing the second that I met her that she is truly something special. It's wonderful to see her getting work in this crazy town. 

A very bizarre aside: I saw with shock that Alex is Facebook friends with someone I knew from another life. I called to ask how she knows him, and they used to work together in North Carolina. It's my ex-fiance. Small world, y'all. Tiny.

I can't always make it to all my friends' shows, but Alex is the Executive Producer and Artistic Director of a comedy group called the Fun Police, and I shot their hilarious Halloween show. In one sketch Alex played Samara the drowned horror girl from The Ring and her partner played an agent trying to sign her. I caught the giggles so bad I had to pinch myself to stop or I was gonna make a scene in the small theater. 

The Fun Police, 2017 Halloween

The Fun Police sketch, 2017 Halloween

After Halloween we decided to do a different kind of shoot than I'd done before, and as ever, her openness to my ideas, generosity with her own, and her willingness to collaborate made these photos some of the best I've ever taken. I am so proud of the images we made together. I love watching her success: just last week she was on American Horror Story: Cult (grateful to have been spared watching her get murdered, but as ever, she lit up the screen). I'm so thankful for her kindness in my life and that we get to make this gorgeous art together. 

Alexandra Hensley, 2017

Alexandra Hensley, 2017 Alexandra Hensley, 2017 Alexandra Hensley, 2017

As always, thanks for visiting! 



actor actress alex hensley alexandra hensley androgyny california desert hollywood model photoshoot Tue, 14 Nov 2017 15:36:56 GMT
Bright lights, big city Spent the afternoon wandering some amazing furniture and art shops and exercising profound self-control in purchasing almost nothing. It was another stunning fall day in Los Angeles: huge puffy clouds, low sun, the slightest chill in the air, with a sky so clear that the mountains loomed in the distance looking so crisp and close enough to touch. On a whim, I packed up the camera and drove up to Mulholland Drive to get some nice shots of the city from above. 

The first stop was at the Universal City Overlook. There seems to be a storm over the mountains, but more importantly, if you look closely, there's Hogwarts down there!

Universal City Overlook

I wanted to see the city, so just another five minutes up the twisty mountain road is the Jerome C. Daniel Overlook. The sun had just slipped behind the mountain when I arrived.

Sunset over Mulholland Drive

Bonus points that I didn't have to drive on the freeways to get home. 

Mulholland Drive city views

Mulholland Drive city views Mulholland Drive city views

Good night, Los Angeles!



cityscape dtla fall la long exposure los angeles mulholland drive sunset traffic Sun, 05 Nov 2017 05:46:35 GMT
Creepy fun for Halloween: House on the Rock

I've been meaning to put this post together since American Gods was on TV this year, but Halloween is the perfect time to share. If you haven't read Neil Gaiman's American Gods, the iconic House on the Rock is in a pivotal scene. I'm a massive fan of the novel and after I settled back in the states in Chicago, I made many trips to Spring Green, Wisconsin to visit. It's much more than just a house, and if you haven't been it's tough to explain. Very small part house, very large part extreme oddity museum, it takes about four hours to walk through the sprawling complex of buildings and exhibits. The man that built it was an eccentric collector of...everything. He just kept adding on to the house to accommodate his collections. The tour starts in the "house" section of the property with Asian art and artifacts and a ton of Tiffany stained glass. Before you know it, you're going past room after room of musical automatons: rooms full of instruments that play themselves. There's a room full of airplanes. A room with cars--including one completely covered in tiles. Halls of armor and weapons, cobblestone Streets of Yesterday. And then it gets weird. Here is a small selection of some of my favorite creepy things from my visits to get us in the Halloween mood.

The owner built the house on a rock cliff, and you can get a view of the canyon below from the Infinity Room, which hangs out over the cliff and has a section with a glass floor, and beyond it an optical illusion that the hallway goes on forever. If you don't like heights, it's not great. Wobbly knees. 

Infinity Room

Enter a huge exhibit and a propos nothing, find yourself in a cavernous nautical themed room with wooden ships on the walls and memorabilia from famous ships in history. In the center is a massive sculpture of a 200 foot whale wrestling with a giant squid. Team squid!

SQUID V WHALE SQUID V WHALE Around the corner, there's a miniature circus. You're welcomed by this gigantic clown automaton. The circus isn't spooky, it's neat--these figurines are teeny tiny--but the clown is the star of the exhibit, and he IS a creep. Put in a token and he'll tell you how funny you aren't.

Welcome to the Circus Nightmare machine says I'm a card.

Miniature circus in the dark Miniature circus in the dark Miniature circus in the dark Miniature circus in the dark Miniature circus in the dark Miniature circus in the dark The hallways between exhibits throughout he house are dotted with displays of macabre masks and puppets. A palate cleanser, cheerful and ordered.

Humpty pronounced with an umpty Pretty sure this guy was in a Tool video in the 90s Hello, scary pineappleface nope

In the Streets of Yesterday section, there is a (horror) doll shop. Some are nailed to the walls. I assume that's for your protection. You're hours from the entrance now; there's no going back. 

Totally wholesome dolls. yeah, this one just hangs there she's scary AND goofy where. are. her. eyes. Down a hall and into another building, you finally find what you came to see: the world's largest indoor carousel! This famous carousel featured in American Gods has 269 fantastical creatures--no horses!--and the room's ceiling is covered in hundreds and hundreds of winged mannequins. Grotesque and spectacular.

The Carousel The Carousel The Carousel

The Carousel

hundreds of these mannequin angels cover the ceiling in the carousel room

Bonus! House on the Rock has two carousels. The next one is a smaller double-decker, with dolls riding all the mythical creatures. I think this is the creepiest part of the whole place. In the very best way.

zombie merman having existential crisis af

The Doll Carousel. Definitely no nightmare fuel here. The Doll Carousel. Definitely no nightmare fuel here. The Doll Carousel. Definitely no nightmare fuel here. above the carousel, dolls are set into the rotating platform in their own red velvet chambers The Doll Carousel. Definitely no nightmare fuel here. chamber doll set into the carousel, watching The Doll Carousel. Definitely no nightmare fuel here. The Doll Carousel. Definitely no nightmare fuel here. The Doll Carousel. Definitely no nightmare fuel here. After a twisting dark room of huge steampunk pipes and endless red chandeliers, you make it to the exit. Four friends are hanging from the ceiling to wish you farewell.

thousands of these red lamps throughout the attraction  

the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

I'm going back in November to see it decked out for the holidays, but for now: happy Halloween!

As always, thanks for visiting!



american gods clown clowns creepy creepy dolls dolls halloween horror house on the rock macabre mask puppet scary Mon, 30 Oct 2017 15:25:37 GMT
Ateneum art Spent my last day of this visit at the Ateneum art museum. There was a huge Modigliani exhibit on, and it was a great escape from the winter weather. This museum is filled with work by extraordinary Finnish artists I've never heard of. The first rooms in the museum were the modern rooms, and I fell in love. Here are some of the paintings and rooms that delighted me today. Enjoy!

I need a print of this for my home. Crunch by Paul Osipow

Crunch by Paul Osipow This one is a little dizzying in person. Polydimensional space by Sam Vanni

Polydimensional space by Sam Vanni

Rannanjärvi and Isoo-Antti by Unto Pusa

Rannanjärvi and Isoo-Antti by Unto Pusa

This room is just one long wall of self-portraits by famous Finnish artists!

Finnish artist self-portraits Finnish artist self-portraits

View from the Lallukka artist home by Birger Carlstedt

View from the Lallukka artist home by Birger Carlstedt

LOL WEINERS! The middle one is Bathers by Edvard Munch. 


Seated woman with child by Modigliani. This was the only Modigliani I photographed; the place was mauled as it's the end of the exhibit's run.

Seated woman with child, Modigliani

There was a room full of French posters as well. This one is a public health poster about tuberculosis.

Tuberculosis poster

King Hobgoblin Sleeping by Hugo Simberg

King Hobgoblin Sleeping by Hugo Simberg That's it for me from this visit to Helsinki. I tried all week to get a good photo of the train station, but the weather isn't cooperating. Here it is, anyway. Thanks as ever for visiting; see you when I'm back in LA!

Train station Train station




Art art museum Ateneum Carlstedt Finland Helsinki Modigliani Munch Osipow Pusa Simberg Vanni Fri, 03 Feb 2017 21:49:03 GMT
Kiasma & the art of Mona Hatoum This is Kiasma, the contemporary art museum, part of the Finnish National Gallery. 

Kiasma Designed by Steven Holl, it was opened in 1998, housing five floors of exhibitions, events, and a theater. Its unique architecture is breathtaking, both inside and out. From the website

Kiasma is Finnish for chiasma, a term that describes the crossing of nerves or tendons or the intertwining of two chromatids, the thread-like strands of a chromosome. The name is a fitting symbol for a museum of contemporary art: Kiasma is a place of encounters. It is an arena for the exchange of opinions and the redefinition of art and culture.

There are two main exhibitions on now. The first is After the Turmoil, by Meeri Koutaniemi and Arman Alizad. The exhibit was very personal and some was disturbing, so I didn't take any photos, but their work is worth looking into and I hope this exhibit makes its way to the states. From the website:

After the Turmoil is an exhibition about survival. It is about people who have endured great suffering yet who refuse to play the role of the victim. Instead, they have become proactive change-makers in their community.

The photographs and installations by Meeri Koutaniemi displayed in three rooms on this floor portray violence targeted at women in India and Kenya and refugees in Thailand and other parts of the world. They spotlight individuals who have risen up and defied physical and structural violence and discrimination.

The second exhibit, spanning two floors, is an overview of the various works of an artist that is new to me, Mona Hatoum. Hatoum was born in Beirut in 1952 to Palestinian parents. While on a trip to London in 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon and she could not go home. She stayed in London, attended art schools, and is now a British citizen. The exhibit has photography, art installation, sculpture, works on paper, and video of her performance art. Again from Kiasma:

Hatoum creates poetic and often political works that comment on the state of the world at large. Her works are characterised by an unusual choice of materials and the use of elements such as light, electricity and magnetism.

From the outside of Kiasma, you can see the red globe on the top floor. It is Hatoum's Hot Spot, a play on the term "hot spot" referring to an area of civil or military unrest showing the entire world as a danger zone. Timely. 

Hot Spot, Mona Hatoum Hot Spot, Mona Hatoum

In the same room is Over My Dead Body: a photo of Hatoum with a toy soldier on her nose. According to the text accompanying this, in her words, she is "reducing the symbol of masculinity to a small creature, like a fly, that one can flick off." In addition to being awesome, she looks like my friend Veronica. 

Mona Hatoum's Over My Dead Body

Cellules is an eight-piece installation with cages holding melting/oozing red melted glass shapes, a play on the word "cell." The cages are all a little crooked as well. The whole thing both draws me in and makes me uncomfortable. In a good way. 

Cellules, Mona Hatoum Cellules, Mona Hatoum Cellules, Mona Hatoum Undercurrent is a sprawling piece, a woven mat with cables extending out, each ending in a light bulb. What you can't see in the photo is that the lights slowly fade from bright to dim then bright again at about the pace of breathing in and out, making it seem like a living organism. 

Undercurrent, Mona Hatoum Natura morta is a medicine cabinet filled with beautiful glass hand grenades. The title "natura morta" literally translates to still life. This woman plays on words like a baus, and these grenades look deadly gorgeous. 

Natura Morta, Mona Hatoum

Lastly, Map is another huge installation, covering an entire room with glass marbles to form a map of the world. The marbles aren't fixed to the floor, so vibrations from footsteps can shift the shape, and at the same time they make the room unsafe to walk through (not that you are allowed to). Per the text with the work, "they portray a world with unstable boundaries, shifting borders and a shaky geography." I love this.

Map, Mona Hatoum

I've got one day left and time for one more museum tomorrow. There is a Modigliani exhibit just around the corner that has my name all over it. The weather has been complete shit, so I'm thrilled that the art, the city, the food and the company have been so phenomenal. 

architecture Arman Alizad contemporary art Finland Helsinki Kiasma Meeri Koutaniemi modern art Mona Hatoum Steven Holl Thu, 02 Feb 2017 19:00:17 GMT
small adventures The clouds cooperated this morning and I explored a few cathedrals and a little of the city. First up: Helsinki Cathedral. Nothing feels so quintessentially European to me as a gigantic cathedral, and this fits the bill nicely. This was designed by Carl Ludvik Engel and erected between 1830-1852. 

Helsinki Cathedral Helsinki Cathedral Helsinki Cathedral

The organ is undergoing minor repairs, but it's stunning. 

Helsinki Cathedral organ

I'd like one of these for my house, please.

This gilded angel statue took my breath away. Sculpted by Gustav Bläser. 

Helsinki Cathedral angel

I am not a religious person, but I lit a candle for my country today, sending light and love home in this scary, trying, awful time.

It's only a short walk down the hill from the Helsinki Cathedral to Katajanokka island. I was surprised by this bridge of love, Rakkauden silta, covered in locks. 

love bridge locks love bridge locks The water was a bit frozen here and there, locking in the buoys and making for some nice reflections. Winter grey brings out every little pop of color, showing off things that get lost in vibrant spring and summer.

Katajanokka island views Katajanokka island views Katajanokka island views

Up a steep hill and around a corner, I came to the Uspenski Cathedral. It's the Russian orthodox church, hulking overhead and rocking a serious Hogwarts vibe. This one went up in 1868, designed by Aleksey Gornostayev. I wasn't able to go inside today but I may go back. It's spectacular.

Uspenski Cathedral As I was shooting, the sun peeked out and set the golden domes ablaze. 

UIspenski Cathedral spires and domes

Uspenski Cathedral domes & spires

I spied the top of the skywheel from the hill and made my way down just in time to catch today's 35 seconds of miraculous sunshine. Look closely: you'll see that one cabin on the wheel is different from the others. OF COURSE it's a sauna cabin. On the skywheel. Finland is amazing: sauna in the sky.

Skywheel Skywheel Skywheel Skywheel

Passed this happy fellow on my way back to the hotel. He's part of the Havis Amanda fountain in the center of town. Sculpted by Parisian Valle Valgren and erected in 1908, there is also a lovely nude, but I was way more into the sea lions.

Sea lion I am hoping to catch up with an old friend in town this week, and still mean to make my way to the modern art museum. I'm working my way down the lists of things to see and do here. Yes, it's cold, but I am so lucky to be able to travel and see new places. And as ever, I'm thrilled to share them with you. Thanks for visiting!

angel cathedral Finland Havis Amanda Helsinki Helsinki Cathedral ice Katajanokka locks love bridge Rakkauden Silta sky sauna skywheel Uspenski Cathedral winter Tue, 31 Jan 2017 19:14:00 GMT
First days in Helsinki It's been cold and raining/snowing since we arrived in Helsinki, so I haven't seen much of the city yet. The hotel where I'm staying is smack in the middle of everything, though, so with a better forecast for tomorrow, I've got plenty on my list to see. In the meantime, here's a short recap of my first couple days.

Saturday was a blur of jet lag nursed by a long nap, followed by beer and great pizza. We stopped at a spot around the corner from the hotel and found a midnight supper of kebab pizza--different from Sweden's, but still delicious with surprisingly hot jalapenos. 

Finnish kebab pizza

After, we headed to a fantastic little bar Robert had been to once before called Liberty or Death. (A friend commented that the name is a little on the nose, given the current state of affairs back home. Having been glued to the news in the wee hours from anxiety and jet lag-fueled sleeplessness, I have to agree.) The bar was perfect: dark and cozy with exceptional service. I had a Bulleit cocktail with Luxardo, Vermouth, lemon, ginger and pineapple and it was delightful. Also, just the trick to get me back to sleep.

Liberty or Death cocktail bar

Sunday was rainy and cold but we ventured out anyway, starving and with a general craving for cheese and wine. A quick walk downtown took us to a cute chain pasta place where they make pasta to order. It's a bit cumbersome to order but was absolutely delicious. 


The first thing I noticed on the ten minute walk to lunch is the architecture here. These buildings are SO gorgeous and interesting, and I await a sunny (will settle for not raining) day to get some nice photos. For now, here is the Helsinki University Library building. So cool.
Helsinki University Library

We hopped in a taxi over to the Temppeliaukio Church, aka the Rock Church, so called because it was carved into a rock. Inside are copper details with stunning rainbow patina, a pipe organ, and so much light--even on a cloudy day--from the ring of vertical windows in the massive domed roof.

The Rock Church The Rock Church The Rock Church The Rock Church

We knew we'd fall asleep if we went back to the hotel, so we walked a few blocks to the National Museum. On the way we passed a park with these huge trees growing the brightest moss I've seen since living in Iceland. The North does snow and the North does green. Hulk tree smash!

Hulk Tree
We weren't sure what to expect from the National Museum but it was full of artifacts and treasures dating back through Finland's complicated history, having been part of Russia and Sweden before gaining independence 100 years ago. 

The dome in the main entrance.

National Museum dome

Coming from a place with a comparatively short history, it was staggering to research Finland's history and find that it started in 9,000 BC. The most interesting parts of the museum, for me, were about the indigenous people, the Sami, whose ancestors were those Mesolithic Era people.

I only snapped a few photos here, as I spent most of the time finding the English versions of the text for everything. I did grab this: a photo of a perpetual motion machine. Of course, it didn't work, but the creator, Mikko Mikonpoika Minkkinen, spent his life making it. 

Perpetual motion machine There were a few rooms decorated like some of the richest homes would have been, and in them the walls and ceilings were painted beautifully and decorated with these amazing clocks.

In another room was the best clock I've ever seen. This clock is me.

If I was a clock

This lovely stained glass in the halls made even the cloudy day seem cheerful.

Stained glass at the National Museum After the museum, we walked out into full-on face-freezing rain. We braved it, and passed a lovely post office on the way home. 

In a strange shop near the hotel, I saw a thing in the window that might have to come home with me.

Dubious baby candle holder

Tomorrow, I'm planning to check out a few more cathedrals, the market, and maybe even the modern art museum. As ever, thanks for looking; I love having you along with me.




architecture cityscape clocks cocktails Finland Helsinki Helsinki University Library kebab pizza Liberty or Death National Museum of Finland pasta Rock Church stained glass Temppeliaukio Temppeliaukio Church Mon, 30 Jan 2017 22:21:32 GMT
LA Time I had so much fun sharing my trip to Sweden, I wanted to keep it going here in LA. Here are some of my favorite ways to spend a day in downtown LA. If you've ever visited me, we did this together. If you haven't, make it happen! We love living here so much, and I have a blast showing the city off to friends and family. 

Downtown Wandering, aka the Mostly Free Tour

A day downtown for me starts at the Disney Concert Hall. Designed by Frank Gehry, it reminds me of his outdoor amphitheater in Millennium Park back in Chicago. 

Walt Disney Concert Hall

You can walk up and down and all around outside the building. On a clear day, the views are lovely.

Disney Concert HallDisney Concert Hall Disney Concert Hall looking downtown

Inside is also gorgeous, and there is always a cool art installation. For the last couple of months, it's been NIMBUS, by Yuval Sharon. It's these huge clouds hanging low overhead down the escalators to the garage. Motion sensors in them activate different lights and sounds provided by LA Philharmonic musicians. Volume up for rainstorm.

lobby, Disney concert halllobby, Disney concert hall

From there, cross the street to the Broad, the new contemporary art museum, pronounced like "road" for some reason. It's a supremely cool building, inside and out.

The Broad The Broad The Broad Tulips, Jeff Koons, the Broad I...I'm Sorry! Lichtenstein, the Broad

Across from the Broad is MOCA, where I always stop and pick up some Noah Lyon buttons, and sometimes find cool flip books.


Just through a business park from MOCA is the Angel's Flight train that used to take folks up and down the steep hill between Olive and Hill streets. It's been in a ton of books and movies. I never start the tour at the bottom of the hill because this train isn't running anymore and that hill sucks.

Angel's Flight train, DTLA

At the bottom of the hill, around the block, is my favorite mural: this gigantic dancing Anthony Quinn on the old Victor Clothing building. 

Anthony Quinn, Victor Clothing Co

I took that photo of the Anthony Quinn mural from the doorway to the Bradbury Building, just across the street. It's been in Blade Runner and Inception (and those stupid Twix commercials) and is so beautiful inside.

The Bradbury Buliding Once through the Bradbury, just on the other side is the Grand Central Market. There are too damn many choices of what to eat (and drink!) here for someone with just one stomach (and just one liver).

Grand Central Market, DTLA Grand Central Market, DTLA BBQ at the Horse Thief BBQ, Grand Central Market Pulled pork with Thai basil and candied jalapeno at Belcampo Meats, Grand Central Market

Affogato at G&B Coffee, Grand Central Market

To walk off lunch, I head down to City Hall. It's open during the week to ride up to the top floor observation deck, with 360 degree views.

LA City Hall LA City Hall LA City Hall

It's a short walk from City Hall to Olvera Street, the historic downtown district dating back to 1781. A pedestrian-only marketplace, it's lined with shops and stalls selling traditional Mexican food, treats and handicrafts. I don't have any photos of it, but the America Tropical Interpretive Center is a must-see museum dedicated to a controversial mural done by David Alfaro Siqueiros in 1932. 

Around the corner from Olvera Street is the end of the tour, Union Station, with its gorgeous main hall and beautiful ceilings, and, if traffic is too bad to uber, a train back to the Westside. 

Ceiling, Grand Central Station Grand Central Station Next post will be from Helsinki! Thanks as always for visiting! 




city Disney Concert Hall downtown downtown LA DTLA Grand Central Market LA Los Angeles MOCA Noah Lyon Olvera Street The Broad Union Station Thu, 26 Jan 2017 16:31:13 GMT
Goodbyes and Mai Tais The final few days in Sweden were an exhausted happy blur. As always, I had to swallow my tears saying goodbye to my mother-in-law Else-Maj, who I quite simply adore. I blamed the cold for my watery eyes and tried to just focus on the road. The trees were still dressed in their snowy coats along the highway and it was a gorgeous distraction. E4, the main highway from Haparanda to Luleå is lined with huge trees and in a few of the small fields we passed, we saw reindeer grazing. 

Fairytale forest along the E4 from Haparanda

From Luleå we flew back to Stockholm. As we boarded our plane south, Sydney and I agreed to give Robert the window seat, so he could feel his feels about leaving his home. We were feeling very magnanimous and a little sad for him, too. But then when we got to our seats, this was his. We laughed half the way to Stockholm.  

no window

As ever, that laughter is the best medicine and was good for our sore hearts after saying goodbye. We didn't have much time to be sad after we arrived in Stockholm; we had to jump into a taxi and ride to Uppsala to meet Sven Erick, Robert's PhD professor. He offered to host us for one night and we were thrilled to see him again. He's visited us in the states and in Iceland and he's another of my friends around the world who hold a tiny piece of my heart. He immediately served us warm glögg, then put on a wonderful Christmas dinner for us--we were profoundly spoiled by Swedish hospitality--and afterwards, we drank most of his beer and Sydney tasted most of his collection of whiskeys. 

Sven Erick had the best glögg of the trip!

delicious glögg

Sven Erick's Christmas dinner. Sydney and I both ate herring and smoked eel like brave people who eat things.

Sven Erick's Christmas spread

Instant hangover: just add people.

Sven Erick's fancy whiskeys

In the morning we explored a little bit of Uppsala: I wanted Sydney to see the old cathedral, and of course there were pastries to be had. We started with fika at Ofvandahls, a cafe that's been around since 1878. 

Uppsala fika

There was a harried, scruffy old professory-looking guy sitting next to us and I remain 75% sure he was a ghost. After our coffee, we walked up to the cathedral, Uppsala domkyrka. It was built starting in the late 1200s and visiting, to me, is one of the quintessential experiences of being in Europe. 

Uppsala domkyrka

There are many famous people interred in the cathedral, including Gustav Vasa, the king in the 16th century. He's buried with his three wives, though only two are on the sarcophagus. 

Next door to the cathedral is the Museum Gustavianum, which used to be the main part of Uppsala University, and has since been turned into a science and history museum. Here is the table of the Animal Kingdom from the Systema Naturae, part of the huge Carl Linnaeus exhibit. 

It also houses the second oldest medical theater in the world, from 1663.  

After a quick lunch in the town center, we had to go say farewell to Sven Erick and head back to Stockholm. I loved introducing my niece to Sven Erick; he's one of these people that knows so damn much about everything. I love to ask him questions because he always has a fantastic answer that usually leads to even more fantastic conversation. As always I hated saying goodbye. 

Tired, but ready for the last leg of the trip.

Sleepy kids boarding the train to Stockholm

We met up with Roland, Jimmy, and Robert's niece Petra at a British pub, then we all had drinks, dinner, and a walk through town.

Syd, ridiculously cool at the Bishop's Arms pub. I would like that statue please.

The next day, we got up and headed downtown again. We took the train from Roland's neighborhood, and I absolutely love this train station. It's carved out to look like a cave. 

Once downtown, we headed for lunch: Sydney's first kebab pizza. One hundred percent of the people on this trip agree that we need kebab pizza in America. 

Syd's first kebab pizza

After lunch we stopped by one of Roland's favorite spots for beer, Omnipollos hatt. This was the Omnipollo Noa Pecan Mud Stout. Good gravy it was dangerously delicious.

From there, we walked a bit to show Sydney the city.

cool stuff around Stockholm cool stuff around Stockholm

We wound up at Roland's other favorite place, Brewdog. Viking Sister Jessica met us, with her family--including my tour guide Jimmy--for drinks and dinner. We ended up at a very crazy Thai restaurant that was decorated in about a million fairy lights, neon paint and black lights. It's possible that I had too much to drink. I blame the decor. And the amazing company.

Syd & Roland at Brewdog

The dog in this Brewdog, Alfred.

Alfred with the fat paws

The craziest Thai place ever, Koh Phangan.

how many mai tais? Syd, me, Jimmy

We had initially planned to visit Jessica's house early on New Year's Eve, but we had all come down with the wine flu and instead rested and packed for our morning flights home. (If I'm being honest, I was grateful to have been spared saying goodbye.) We did leave the house very briefly to have one last fika and to pick up something to cook for dinner. 

Fika at a small place in Sundyberg. That Napoleon FTW Fika at a small place in Sundyberg. That Napoleon FTW

Roland was prepared with a couple fantastic champagnes (and wines and beers). We all cooked a gorgeous dinner together, and relieved Roland of several bottles of wine. 

Fresh lemon risotto and lemon chicken for our last meal of 2016 I always forget how, in Europe, it's all fireworks on the 31st. This went on for maybe half an hour. Impossible not to smile and cheer and get caught up in the excitement.

Sydney and I agreed to my standard "see you tomorrow" goodbye at the airport. If I had let the tears start, there would have been no stopping them. Some friends and family around the world do have a little piece of my heart with them, but Sydney is my heart. We haven't spent this much time together since she was a baby and I was her nanny, and I was devastated to leave her (our flight to LA left hours before hers to Chicago).  

I am so proud to have been able to introduce Syd to my husband's family, and so proud of the family (and friends) that I married into, who each welcomed her with so much love. We've been home for a day now, but my mind and heart are still back in Sweden with Sydney and Robert, Roland, Else-Maj, Solveig, Christer, Petra, Anton, Jessica, Robin, Sven Erick, and especially Jimmy. I'm grateful most of all to my husband for making this trip possible, for making this life that we live possible. Developments from Robert's week in Finland have led to us looking into moving to Helsinki in the coming year. We never turn down opportunities when they present themselves, and I would love to be closer to his family and to see more of the world. Plus, if there is any chance at all that I can get Sydney back into the Finnish sauna, I'm taking it. 

If you've read all this and have been following along on the trip, thank you so much! I wrote it as a way to better record what I knew was going to be a meaningful, once in a lifetime holiday. Now that we're back in LA I think I'm going to keep it up, because I found that the mere act of recording these experiences as they've happened has given them deeper meaning for me. There is certainly no shortage of interesting places to write about here in Los Angeles, and if we do move to Finland, I'll be grateful for the memories here. Hopefully you'll come along for that ride, too.


]]> Tue, 03 Jan 2017 00:12:37 GMT
Last day in the North This was our last full day in Haparanda, and we were lucky that the snow finally stopped and the skies cleared for us this morning. We got ready early and made a last visit to Taavolagården for coffee and cakes. 


It's so homey inside, they have this large cupboard filled with different cups for your coffee or tea. 


Today's cakes. Carrot cake for breakfast was just the thing. Robert had butter cake and Sydney had a spice cake. Taavolagården

It was cold enough to frost over the windows today.

Frosted Taavolagården windows

Robert said this looks like a Wes Anderson cafe.

Our usual table at Taavolagården

The sun was finally up. Until next year!

Sunrise at Taavolagården

Up the road from my favorite cafe in the world is a place called Kukkolaforsen. It's an old fishing village on the rapids of the Tornio river. With no winds and very light powdery snow, the trees were stunning in their fur coats as the sun came up and turned everything pink and gold. 

Kukkolaforsen Kukkolaforsen Kukkolaforsen Kukkolaforsen Kukkolaforsen Kukkolaforsen Kukkolaforsen Kukkolaforsen

Robert took a few shots of the trees in the light as we drove back into Haparanda towards the Finnish border for sunset and some lunch. With the sun so low it's blinding to drive west.

View from the passenger seat, taken by Robert View from the passenger seat, taken by Robert View from the passenger seat, taken by Robert

From the banks of the river, just at the Finnish border, we watched the sun set over the rail bridge. The trees kept their fur coats on until just after we got home, when the wind picked up and the snow came blowing down.

Sunset from the banks of the Tornio river Sunset from the banks of the Tornio river Sunset from the banks of the Tornio river Sunset from the banks of the Tornio river Sunset from the banks of the Tornio river Sunset from the banks of the Tornio river Sunset from the banks of the Tornio river Sunset from the banks of the Tornio river Sunset from the banks of the Tornio river Sunset from the banks of the Tornio river Sunset from the banks of the Tornio river

The only Haparanda treat Sydney had left to try was a burger. Robert has a deep affection for "hamburger sauce" and after eating at the local place, I understand why. 

Haparanda burger, extra sauce Tonight we'll try and get one more sauna in, have a nice dinner with the family then get ready to head back south for the final leg of our trip. I'm already thinking about when we'll be back.

forest Haparanda Kukkolaforsen rapids snow sunrise sunset Sweden Taavolagården Tornio trees Tue, 27 Dec 2016 15:31:11 GMT
sparklers It snowed again today and absolutely everything is white. It's breathtaking, if not the most fun to drive around or trudge through. We still took a quick trip to the forest to have some fun with the sparklers we bought earlier this week. We all took turns doing ridiculous dances among the snow-covered trees, until we nearly ran out of matches and my boots became packed with snow. I think we need to re-do this experiment when we get back to Stockholm, with many more sparklers and many more people. 


forest long exposure night photography riekkola snow sparklers sweden Mon, 26 Dec 2016 18:49:56 GMT
Haparanda Time ​The last thing we did on Christmas was go to the cemetery to light candles for Robert's family members who have passed. After we lit candles at the graves, we went on to the memory garden. They have a beautiful tradition here at cemeteries, a special place to light candles for people who were cremated and don't have a headstone, or if you are in another town from your loved ones, you may light a candle for them. I think it's the most touching and lovely thing and I always get a little emotional when we go there.

memory garden memory garden

This morning we woke up to -9 C and thick fog as well as maybe half a foot of snow. The ground was so bright and I could see only as far as the store across the street; it was as if a huge cloud settled upon Haparanda. I'd been fiddling with the photos I'd taken of Sydney's gingerbread house but felt unsatisfied. We kept joking about how much it looked like the witch's house in Hansel and Gretel, and it seemed to me that it'd look fantastic out in all that snow. We headed out to the forest to find a place for it. Some squirrels and foxes and birds will have had their holiday treats today.

Gingerbread house in the forest

The forest area, Riekkola, just outside the main part of town, was blanketed in snow and the townspeople came to ski and sled on the hills. We just took a short walk through the trees.

Riekkola Riekkola Riekkola Riekkola Riekkola Riekkola Riekkola

It was so cold today that your breath would turn your hair to frost.

frosty frozen hair

Robert and Roland told us about when they were small and first learned Orienteering in these woods. They would be given a map with waypoints, and the goal is to get through the waypoints in the designated route as quickly as possible. This marker on the tree is one spot along along a designated route. Sydney and I agree that this should be a thing back home!

orienteering tree

We also stopped at the Haparanda train station, which is actually huge for the size of Haparanda. Roland explained that it was built during the first world war and there was a lot of train traffic then as Sweden was neutral.

Haparanda train station

We saw this fantastic Ministry of Silly Walks pedestrian crossing sign in the park. A local artist made a lot of different ones and the town gave the OK to post them, but the police decided they weren't a good idea and most have been taken down.

We heard this morning that the Christmas tree in the center of Haparanda was chosen the most beautiful in Norbotten, which is kind of a big deal because Norbotten is HUGE. 

Haparanda's tree: the nicest in Norbotten
The downtown hotel looked good in snow today, too, and it looks like Santa got stuck on his way up, or got drunk on his way down. Either way, I hope he made his way to everyone's house today!

Poor Santa



Christmas forest gingerbread Haparanda jul Norbotten Riekkola Santa snow Sweden winter Sun, 25 Dec 2016 19:49:00 GMT
White Christmas We had planned on relaxing at home today. Instead, we got an offer we couldn't refuse. Robert and Roland's uncle Lasse has a wonderful cabin on the river just northeast of Haparanda, in the woods in Finland. We were invited to come and sauna, which is most definitely a verb in Finland.  The weather report initially said "a bit of snow" but when I woke up this morning it was blowing sideways, drifting into small snow hillocks everywhere.

a bit of snow

I woke up to the smell of meatballs cooking: another way to tell it's Christmas. Roland was working hard in the kitchen. 

Roland making the Christmas meatballs

​We had a late breakfast, then, just as we were about to start icing our gingerbread house, we got the call to go to Finland. I had never been in a wood-fire sauna before, and we were all really excited to go now that the weather had turned snowy. GPS got us a bit lost on the way, and we found ourselves on some very snowy and deserted back roads in the middle of nowhere, Finland. A quick call to Lasse, some doubling back, and he met us to guide us to his cabin. I don't know what I expected, but it was more beautiful than I could imagine. It's their summer house, set on the river, with the sauna house, a small kitchen house, their old summer house and a new one. Of course everything is that lovely red and with the sun gone and the snow, it was absolutely glowing.

Uncle Lasse's summer cabin and sauna Uncle Lasse's summer cabin and sauna Uncle Lasse's summer cabin and sauna  I have long suspected that Lasse and Vuokko (pronounced roughly "whoahh-ka") are actually Santa and Mrs. Claus. This visit to their cabin did nothing to dispel that suspicion; rather, it confirmed it. They had a small fika ready for us in the kitchen house. Sydney's face says it all.

Robert has explained to me many times the proper sauna: go in, splash hot water on the coals to heat the room even more.

The wood fire sauna

Then there is a birch branch with leaves on it sitting in a pot of water.

Inside the sauna: the bench, the pot of water, the bucket with birch branches.

You take this big wet branch and sort of, well, flog yourself with it all over. The idea behind this was explained to me quite vaguely as "it makes you feel good" and also that it gets rid of toxins. Then, when you cannot stand the heat any longer, you go out into the snow and roll around (or jump into the cold river if it's summer). Then you go back into the sauna some more. The boys went first and looked to have had a wonderful time. I can confirm that there was rolling in the snow.

Not feeling the cold one bit

This was Sydney and me before the sauna. Kind of tired, kind of nervous, kind of cold. 


When it was our turn, we joined Vuokko up on the top bench and she splashed water into the heater and showed us how to use the birch branch. It smelled wonderful--like some forest-scented tea, infused through everything by the steam--and I was encouraged that it wouldn't hurt too much by how hard Vuokko hit herself with it. Sydney and I took turns hitting ourselves with the branch; it did not hurt. After the cold last night, it felt amazing to be warm all the way down to our bones. Finally, when we couldn't take it anymore we fled out into the snow and rolled around in it as instructed. I can confirm that it was absolutely refreshing and not cold at all on my bare skin. It was a singular experience, and going back into the sauna after the first round, I felt about 25% more alive. This time I let Sydney sit next to Vuokko so she could get closer to the birch branch bucket. We were already laughing when we came in from the snow, and when Vuokko saw Sydney not hitting herself hard enough, she took the branch into her own hands. I nearly wet myself laughing watching this tiny naked Finnish woman beat the shit out of my niece in the sauna. I love Vuokko. This is us after sauna. Very happy. Beaten half to death. standing outside in the cold barefoot.

After sauna beatings

We stayed in the snow barefoot for awhile, cooling down. I let the snow fall on me for a good five minutes before I went to get dressed. Vuokko came strolling up ten minutes or more later, still barefoot. When I pointed at her feet, she just laughed, "it feels good!" This is the Scandinavian version of walking on coals. We headed into the main house for a quick nip of some schnapps before heading back home for Christmas dinner. 

The roads were very, very bad on the way home, and Lasse had to dig the car out with a shovel when we got stuck in the driveway. Maybe next time, we get a four-wheel-drive.

white Christmas indeed

Back home, everyone put together julbord, Christmas dinner. I was too hungry to take pics of everything (hitting yourself with a wet branch works up a hella appetite) but here is my plate, with ham (julskinka), prinskorv (little sausages), gravad (like lox), meatballs, beets, tomato and cucumber, Janssons frestelse (potato and anchovy casserole), mimosa salad (fruit/mayo salad) potatoes, and my favorite soft round Swedish bread called Rågkaka, with my favorite Swedish gouda. 


Over dinner, Robert asked Sydney what her favorite part of the vacation has been so far. She answered that while seeing the aurora was overwhelming and everything has been wonderful, that just being around his family and everyone being so kind and warm and welcoming has been the best part. I love this girl! It was a great answer, and I let the happy silence fall for a moment before I announced that my favorite part, hands down, was watching Sydney get beaten by a tiny naked Finnish woman in the sauna. Merry Christmas!

christmas family finland julbord meatballs sauna snow sweden white christmas Sat, 24 Dec 2016 19:05:51 GMT
Green Christmas With only one day to go before Christmas (in Sweden it's celebrated the 24th), we had a bit of shopping to do, so took the opportunity to also wander around Haparanda. Not a large town, it's only a few minutes' walk anywhere we need to go. While parts of town are quite modern, the city center has lovely old buildings and traditional houses. In the center square is a beautiful old hotel.  Haparanda hotel
We walked to a restaurant called Leilani, where you can order Asian food or pizza or other more standard Swedish food. I love that you can get anything here. Roland and I had Thai, and Sydney and Robert had pizzas. Sydney was suitably impressed.

Across the street from Leilani is the old Haparanda water tower. Roland says they're turning it into apartments. That's going to be awesome.

Old Haparanda Water Tower

After lunch, we walked through some of the small shops in town and made our way to Konditoriet, a little bakery cafe. That's right, team, it was pastry time. Fika! Here's what they had in the case:

And here is what we had. Sydney said that was both the biggest and the best cream puff she'd ever had. I had my usual danish, what they call wienerbröd here. Robert had a completely delicious almond cake I've never had before. (Roland had that weird cheesecake topped with jello...I get it, but, no.)


I was surprised in the bathroom by this scary little Santa hanging on the wall. He's not only creepy but he looks like someone. If you know who, please tell me.

Heading home after fika it was getting a bit dark; the lights were on, though, and it looked like a little fairy tale town.

Haparanda twilight

Sydney confessed today that she's never made a gingerbread house. We shopped around and got what we needed, then decided that for the candy decorations, we'd skip the grocery store offerings and shop at Candy World instead. Candy World is not only a great name for any shop but it's also a warehouse sized candy store. We have an amazing selection of sweet decor for our house. 

Once home, engineer Roland designed a house template and Sydney and I rolled and cut and baked. We had a fun idea to cut holes out into the cookies and melt candies in them for windows. Sydney monitored our experiments.

sugar experiments

The houses I've made were always held together by icing, but these geniuses over here straight up melt sugar in a frying pan and dip the pieces in hot caramel and stick the house together. 

hot caramel glue

As we were assembling, we kept seeing northern lights photos being posted online and checking the aurora forecast and realized we had to get out there. Once the house was together, we set it aside until tomorrow. With our toastiest layers on, we grabbed the cameras and drove out into the woods north of Haparanda. It was bitterly cold tonight, -10 C (that's about 15 F), but once we got out of the car it was awhile before we remembered our numb fingers. 

I picked up some sparklers at the grocery store, thinking we'd do some fun long exposure pics with them, and threw them in with our stuff at the last second tonight. It was a bit much, but then so am I, I suppose.

You can see the ghost of Robert's face to the left of the sparkler lights here.

Beyond magical. I can't believe our luck this year with every bit of this trip. After a stressful few months I feel completely refreshed and after being around people I love so much, my heart is filled to bursting with happiness and gratitude. 

I am looking forward to a very relaxing holiday tomorrow with my wonderful Swedish family. For everyone who's been following this adventure with me, I'm so happy to have you along. Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I hope your holiday is filled with love and light, goodies and magic.  


Tomorrow: Swedish Christmas dinner and the finished gingerbread house. God jul!


aurora candy christmas fika gingerbread god jul haparanda long exposure love merry christmas northern lights pastry sweden Sat, 24 Dec 2016 01:17:49 GMT
Northern lights, reindeer games ​I wrapped up my post of ice hotel photos about 2:30 this morning. Restless from a post-dinner espresso, I kept checking the sky out our cabin window for aurora. I checked twice, gave up, lay down. Checked one more time. Saw the green ​come shimmering across the sky over the snow wall and ran to get Sydney and the camera. Robert joined us and we spent about 40 minutes watching one huge wave of green swirl and dance across the river, overhead, beyond the horizon and rising moon. These are not the greatest pics but I want to share regardless, as it's something I know we'll never forget. The sled dogs were howling in the mountains across the river and it is obnoxious to keep saying "magical" all the damn time, I know, but. Yeah. Magical. I had hoped beyond hope for Sydney to see the lights during this trip. She was gobsmacked.

This morning we said farewell to our little Olaf outside our cabin.

Do you want to build a snowman?

We headed across the street to a fine example of a Swedish hotel breakfast: a little bit of everything. 

Proper Swedish breakfast

The sky started lightening by 9 am and even though the sun never comes up this time of year, we still had a stunning light show all morning long. As we went to leave the hotel, we heard the cacophony of sled dogs. Here they are, raring to go. I thought they'd be huge, fluffy dogs, but they are small and strong and eager and LOUD.

sled dogs!


My mother-in-law spent a year in the nearby town of Kiruna when she was young and told us about a beautiful old church in Jukkasjärvi. The sky was on fire when we came up to the church and I took a few shots and a short video of the sky and the howling sled dogs in the distance.

The church is 400 years old, and has a stunning mural inside. 

This area was the land of the Sami people, the indigenous people of northern Scandinavia. Next to the old church is the Reindeer Lodge at Nutti Sámi Siida. There is an outdoor museum with examples of Sami architecture and information about their cultural traditions and the sad history with other cultures on their land. The Sami are also known for their reindeer herding. We were able to buy a sack of lichen and go into the pen with several reindeer to feed them. They were totally friendly and even let us pet them, at least until the lichen was gone. 


Shy cutie

With daylight fading fast, we headed back south, towards our holiday in Haparanda. The sky was glorious for hours. We put on the Frozen soundtrack and sang along, still grinning stupid grins at our unbelievable luck with our one night in the Arctic Circle. 

the road home

Aurora aurora borealis Jukkasjärvi northern lights reindeer Sami sunset Sweden Thu, 22 Dec 2016 22:24:03 GMT
ICEHOTEL We put up Christmas last night and went to bed early so we could head north to Jukkasjärvi first thing this morning. It's about a four hour drive north from Haparanda and we were lucky with clear weather and roads the whole way. I could not stop smiling today, even more than most days. Our first stop was at the Arctic Circle, for a cup of coffee and some fresh waffles.

Not as good as my mother-in-law's!


it was much colder than it looks

The Ice Hotel was about another two hours north, and as we drove further it got darker and darker, even though it was only just past noon. We realized this morning that we chose to do this trip on the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. Still, with the snow the road wasn't too dark. 

Sydney took this one, it's about half an hour from the Ice Hotel, so this is midday at the arctic circle

The Ice Hotel itself is a sprawling complex of cabins (we have a heated cabin, not an ice room), restaurants, gift shop, and then the two ice buildings. We took a guided tour first then were able to explore all the rooms on our own. The hotel is right on the bank of the river Torne, and just like in Frozen, they carve out gigantic ice blocks from the frozen river. They start building in October. This is the 27th year of the hotel and their new building houses a permanent ice bar that will stay open all year. The walls and beds are made of ice blocks, then the walls and ceilings are insulated with "snice," a mix of snow and ice that keeps the indoors at a constant -5 degrees Celsius. There are some standard ice rooms (still amazing) and then artist rooms, where artists from around the world come and create their own unique designs. I didn't drag the tripod with me and the rooms are quite dark, but I think you can get a decent idea of just how breathtaking this place is. I most definitely sang "Let it Go" at the top of my lungs all day. No more words, just pictures!

we realized after we ordered that our cocktails match our suitcases. nerds!

intricate snow carving on the ceiling and walls of one artist room this was a cat-themed room! it was too dark, but there was a mouse grave also. light set into the hole in the ceiling mimics daylight. the entire room was textured in the same carving. this filled the entry to one room, floor to ceiling, maybe 10 ft! ice chandeliers everywhere the creepiest room, 'audience', thanks! ice chandelier from below

holiday greetings from Sydney


christmas icehotel jukkasjarvi kiruna sweden Thu, 22 Dec 2016 00:58:48 GMT
Stockholm to Luleå to Haparanda My niece Sydney had to take a train through the ice storm in St. Louis up to central IL, then another train up to Chicago, then a taxi to the airport, then her flight was delayed two hours, then she flew for ten hours to Stockholm. I was so nervous and anxious waiting for her, I swear she was the last person from her flight to come out of customs. I was very un-Swedish in sweeping her into a huge hug and carrying her off into the airport. 

Sydney & Me  

We checked into our next flight very early and I loved how our luggage was a neon rainbow.

Rainbow luggage Arlanda airport is so modern and bright, and we found a place to sip beers and have snacks while we waited for our flight to Luleå. 

Arlanda afternoon

Once the sun finally started to go down, the real show was out the windows.

Arlanda sunset We picked up our rental car in Luleå and headed to Viking Sister Solveig's house. We were so lucky to have Solveig and her partner, Christer and his son visit us last year in LA. Just like the rest of the family, they are fantastic people to be around and were so warm and welcoming to Sydney. Solveig surprised us with a lovely dinner and Sydney got to try Julmust, which is a holiday spiced cola drink here in Sweden sold only at Christmas. (There is an Easter version called Påskmust). It tastes like Christmas and Coca-cola had a baby.


Solveig is also a prolific and extremely talented watercolor artist. She was so generous to let Sydney and me choose a few to take home with us. This bad collage doesn't do her work justice! Check out her instagram!  

Solveig's paintings

We left Luleå in a hurry after dinner as the weather was turning nasty, with rain and temps just at freezing. That same weather that made Sydney take a train back home. But we have snow tires! And we plodded northward to Haparanda where Robert's mom was waiting for us. Twice while driving, the radio suddenly blasted horns and off-key guitars, then someone started talking in Swedish. This is their emergency road information system! The warnings were about moose that had made their way onto the highway much further north. It scared the shit out of me.

First thing this morning we headed out into the sun to show Sydney a little of Haparanda. This is the bank of the Tornio river on the Haparanda side. Across the water there is Finland, with the rail bridge silhouetted. 

Haparanda strand

I was excited to go to Taavolagården, a gorgeous cafe and antique shop we visited last year. The buildings are all painted that bright iconic red.


Inside one outbuilding is the Loppis, or flea market.

Taavolagården Loppis

Inside the Loppis

Sydney found the perfect lil Santa in the Loppis and he came home with us. 

'sup Santa In the main building is the gift shop on one side...

Taavolagården gift shop

...and the cafe on the other. We had fika! Sydney, Roland and I had gingerbread. Robbie had a special cream puff.

Fika table These are saffransemlor, which are cream puffs spiced with saffron. Normally they are made without saffron but these are a Christmas version. 


The light is golden and glorious as ever up here, as is my sweet Sydney. 

Sydney <3

I got her to make a shadow T-Rex. I love T-Rex. Is the plural of T-Rex "T-Rex?"

Sydney T-Rex shadow dino

The sunset goes on and on. 

Sunset from Taavolagården We drove over to Finland to pick up a julskinka, Christmas ham. The ham in Finland is better. While we were there, Sydney fell in love with some tomtar (Santas). The security guard was laughing at us. 

Finnish Santas


Here is a final pic of the sunset today, and I'm not even ashamed to have taken it from the grocery store parking lot. While you do get a shorter day up here, it's a short, stunning, technicolor day. 

sunset from the Ica Maxi grocery store parking lot


Christmas family Haparanda jul julskinka love Luleå sunset Sweden Tue, 20 Dec 2016 15:23:05 GMT
Swedish Hospitality Jessica's kitchen

Jessica's kitchen window looks like it belongs in a magazine. She's got the whole house decorated so perfectly. Even on a cloudy morning, the view from the kitchen is charming and cozy: the perfect spot to sip your coffee and think your thinks while you wait for the toast. This is a typical breakfast I have whenever I'm in Sweden: toast with butter, gouda cheese and julskinka, which is Swedish style Christmas ham. We sometimes have nice pickles on it, too. This morning I got my first taste of julskinka of the year, but it won't be the last. 

julskinka breakfast toast Jessica has these cute candles on her kitchen table, and I had no idea why they were numbered. Anyone who knows about advent will know they're advent candles (I didn't), and you light them throughout December leading up to Christmas, adding another each Sunday. 

advent candles

These electric advent candles were in my room, and the view was so nice of the red garage and the snowy yard.

the view from my room Saturday afternoon we picked Robert up from the Stockholm Central Station, which was decorated beautifully for the holiday. There was also a big Christmas market in the center of the station. If you're not getting this: Sweden does Christmas allllll the way.

Stockholm Central Station

Robert's brother Roland met us and the lot of us went to have a quick dinner. We ended up at a cool 50's-retro style burger place called Lily's Burger that's owned by actor Joel Kinnaman. The burger was a lot like an In-N-Out and the decor was adorable.

Lily's Burger

Last night was our last staying with Jessica. We'll see them again at the end of our stay, yet I had such a wonderful time and was treated so kindly and warmly by her family that I was really sad to say goodbye today. I don't do goodbyes very well. If I'm really sad I just say, "I'll see you tomorrow," and that's what I said to her today. The bright bit is that we're now staying with Roland in his chic apartment in an area called Sundyberg. It's a cool neighborhood, and in a few short blocks we had our choice of international food for lunch today. We settled on Japanese and none of us was sorry. 

Japanese lunch in Sweden

Because we love it there, we headed back to the Gamla Stan (old town) for more treats and views. It's an island labyrinth of cobblestone alleyways jam-packed with shops, art, cafes, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. We arrived right at sunset and the light was stunning. Here is another green copper clock tower.

Gamla Stan clock tower (again)

The alleyways just glow as the sky goes pink.

Gamla Stan

We did finally stop and get a pastry today, though we chose a strange little cafe. The owner seemed surprised to have any business and gave us extra cocoa and a plate of chocolates. Maybe he liked Robert's smile.

pastries from the weird cafe

On the way to the British pub after, peeking into the shops I saw a ton of Santas and elves in the windows. These naughty little Santas are totes up to something. 

dodgy santas

Santa party

Tomorrow morning, Roland, Robert and I will head to the airport to meet my niece, Sydney, who has braved planes, trains and automobiles over the last 24 hours to make her way through the Midwest ice storm from St. Louis to Chicago to get to her flight. We will all take another plane up north to Luleå, grab our rental car and then drive another 80 miles to Haparanda to stay with Robert's mother. We have one night there before we head up to the Ice Hotel in Jukkasjärvi. It's a big week coming up; I'm hoping very hard to get some northern lights photos, but mostly excited to share this holiday with Sydney in this special place. 

]]> Sun, 18 Dec 2016 21:04:27 GMT
Hooked on a Feeling The week before we left for Sweden I came down with a righteous sinus plague. The Saturday before our flight I went to the doctor to get loaded up with medicines to take along with me. I have been ignoring the cold and living my life, but today it caught up with me a little and so we took it kind of easy. I still have a lot of time left here and it's only going to get colder as we go further north. I'm committed to 16 hours of rest, starting tonight. This post will be more words than pics, but I'll make it up to you.

Today was very grey and a little ominous; the sky felt low and heavy like it would snow at any minute, but it never did. I had precipitation anticipation. Jimmy told me yesterday about some crazy historical stuff within minutes of the house, so today we got to go see some of it up close. It didn't make for great photos but it is always moving to see and touch things that were made more than a thousand years ago. A few minutes up the road from the house is a small hill. We got out of the car and scrambled up (I scrambled, Jimmy is 19 and jumped up) to see a large runestone and a small plaque. The runestone dates back to the Viking age, circa 1020-1050. According to some translation on the Wikipedia page, there are two snakes whose heads and tails are locked together, and runes on the stone say that it was erected by two sisters to honor their brother. 

Viking Age runestone

Further up the road we came across this. There should be more of these. 

The hillsides in this area are dotted with many neat little country houses and horse farms. Every house is painted the same shade of red with white trim, and I made it my job to find out why all the red. It's a special paint they call "Falu red" that came from minerals in the copper mines. Most of Sweden's homes are wood and the color makes the wood look like brick. Up north a lot of homes are also yellow, and I always call them ketchup and mustard houses because I'm an ugly American.  It looks wonderful in the snow and I would love to see it someday in the summer. Here is a nice example of the red.

Just a few minutes more up the road from the unicorn crossing is a big church, Österhaninge Kyrka. Jimmy told me over a beer in the pub yesterday about this church with a huge crooked spire. The legend is that the man who built it was so upset that it came out crooked that he hung himself in the tower. Even though it is crooked, it's still a very beautiful church. Today, though, it looked particularly spooky with the grey sky looming. 

In the little churchyard cemetery there are some lovely gravestones, and one in particular that Jimmy wanted me to know about, Fredrika Bremer. She was a prolific writer, but more than that she was a feminist who won the right to her independence from the king. She's worth a google and I'm so glad I got to learn about her today. 

Headed back towards Stockholm from the church, we passed the house of the guy who sang the ooga-chaka song "Hooked on a Feeling." So I had that stuck in my head the rest of the day. Swedes sure know how to craft a hook.

We made a quick trip to an area in Stockholm with more small wooden (red!) houses on a big hill overlooking the city, with this gorgeous church at the top, Sofia Kyrka. We were quickly losing the light and my cold started getting nasty, so we called it a day, after one quick stop to see the city across the water. 

Sofia kyrka

In the interest of science and to be able to better replicate this treat when I get home, Jessica blessed me with the best kebab pizza yet. I don't quite understand how it is so good, but it's incredible. A simple thin crust, a little bit of tomato sauce, some cheese but not anything like what we'd do in the states, that shaved kebab meat, tomatoes, pepperoncini, garlic sauce, and the best bit: a pile of salad on top. There will be more pizza salad in the weeks to come. For now, this was the perfect way to end the day early. Robert arrives from Helsinki tomorrow and we'll see more of the family, too. Still bubbling with excitement for my niece's arrival on Monday. The time is flying but I'm doing my best to enjoy every little moment. 

Kebab pizza, round deux



kebab pizza rune runestone sofia kyrka stockholm winter Fri, 16 Dec 2016 19:08:19 GMT
The best kind of day The house where I'm staying is so profoundly quiet, and the blankets are so perfectly toasty, it's easy to just keep sleeping in the morning. When I finally made it to the kitchen for a coffee, the light coming through the window was just too lovely. I grabbed the camera and stuffed my sleepy feet into my boots and out into the sunshine. The air is so humid and so cold that everything has grown a coat of feathery frost. 

frosty morning light

Even the snow is growing frost fingers, a teeny-tiny Fortress of Solitude popping out of the porch rail, just waiting for a teeny-tiny Superman.

Fortress of Solitude

Jessica and Jimmy, her son (who has very quickly become of my favorite people on the planet), took me out to get a bird's eye view of Stockholm from Kaknästornet, a big communications tower. Jessica doesn't love heights, so she must love me to have braved the top of the tower. 


Photographers in other latitudes have to schedule outdoor photo shoots around the "golden hour," that hour right around sunrise and sunset where the sun is low, making the light soft and warm, which makes everything more beautiful. The golden hour is nature's best photo filter. In Stockholm's winter, every day is a golden day, from start to finish. This is the view today from the top of the tower.

golden afternoon

Inside the top of Kaknästornet is one of the small cafes which are everywhere in this city. Jimmy explained that it's all about "fika," which is Sweden's version of afternoon tea. It's actually a coffee (not tea) and cake break. All over town are cafes whose tables are laden with buttery, sweet-smelling pastries and cakes. Confession: the very first thing I eat when I arrive in any Nordic country is a pastry, even if it's just at the airport. This was the spread at the tower cafe.  

fika spread

We skipped it today, and I'm no psychic, but I see one of these things in my very near future.

pastries pastries everywhere

Jessica treated us to lunch at a Thai place. The food was good and spicy, and I marveled for a second at how weird it was to be eating Thai food in Sweden with Elvis playing on the stereo. After lunch Jimmy and I wandered the city for a few hours with no particular place to go, and I felt so lucky and grateful to have the chance to do that, to wander in and out of little shops and just enjoy being somewhere different and beautiful. 

In a little pop up thrift store, I saw this and should have tried to buy it.

Viking Women

I am a sucker for the twinkly lights of a lamp shop.

lamp shop love

This T-Rex doesn't let his tiny arms stop him from loving the holidays. This is one of those times where I didn't know I was missing something in my life until I saw it. I'll be on the lookout for a T-Rex lamp in the states for the foreseeable future.

I will always love you, T-Rex lamp

Jimmy found this fantastic view for us up a flight of stairs that led to a pedestrian walkway between the tops of two tall buildings. The sunset here just goes on forever. 

sunset view

Today was my favorite kind of vacation day: surprise trips to places I've never heard of, amazing views, delicious food, and most of all, wonderful company. I felt lucky, lucky, lucky, all day long. 





Christmas city fika Gamla Stan pastry Stockholm sunset Sweden T-Rex Thu, 15 Dec 2016 23:18:03 GMT
Christmas in Sweden The Viking and I left LAX at 2:15 pm on Monday. We flew for about 11 hours and landed in Stockholm late Tuesday morning. I stayed awake as long as possible then slept normally, and somehow even though it's only one day later, it's Wednesday. International travel = Time Travel.

This flight was the very best of my life! I suffer terrible motion sickness, and spent most of my (many) hours in the air nauseous. A few times I've even had panic attacks on a flight that culminated in me fainting. I guess it's the anxiety of being suddenly very sick on a plane. Right before you faint, you get crazy sweaty. Every time I've come to after passing out on a plane, I feared that not only did I faint, I wet my pants as well. I've wondered if the flight attendants have extra pants laying around for this type of thing but never asked. (For the record, it was always only ever faint sweat.) I have come to dread the getting-there part of traveling. This time around I finally went to the doctor and got the happy drugs for the flight. I was not a bit sick, and enjoyed flying for the first time. On top of feeling great, the Swedish flight attendants did a surprise Santa Lucia procession through the plane, singing and wearing candle crowns. The magic begins!

Viking Sister (Jessica) picked me up from the airport and we said goodbye to Robert, who's gone on to Helsinki for work for the week. Jessica's house is amazing, nestled in the snow-covered woods it's bright and cozy and warm, and so, so quiet. It's her 25th anniversary with her husband today, and they let me cook for them. I didn't poison the family. The magic continues.

So far today I've accidentally: unplugged the internet, nearly pulled an electrical socket out of the wall, and tripped the breaker with my stupid American hair dryer. I'm looking forward to doing nothing else untoward for the remainder of my visit. I don't want to break Sweden before my niece gets here. 

Jessica and I spent the sunny afternoon wandering the streets of Stockholm. I love this city! There are white star lights in every window; the entire city is decorated with tiny white lights. There's an ice skating rink in the park outside, and a little coffee shop on every corner.

Ice skating in the park

Even in winter there are open air farmer's markets with anything you could want.

farmer's market

We stopped for lunch and I ate that Swedish delicacy, kebab pizza. We need kebab pizza in the states.  


We worked our way through the modern part of downtown with its fairy tale department store windows to the Gamla Stan, the old town.

Chrismoose Swedes love their candy. This place appears to have my name on it. Christmas mushroomfrom the big department store windows

It always feels so magical to walk those narrow cobblestone streets, with soft golden painted buildings draped in more white lights, topped with green copper spires and clock towers above. In the center of the old town is a little Christmas market and while we never buy anything, it's absolutely worth the walk to smell the air: thick with sweet toasted almonds and Swedish pastries.

Gamla Stan, twilight


Carolo XII Castle"nice castle"


I was so lucky to add an extra week to my stay this year and spend it with Jessica and her family. They are wonderful people. I hope we'll get up to the dickens tomorrow, and if everyone survived the night they may let me cook again. 

Jessica. THE BEST!!

christmas gamla stan kebab pizza stockholm sweden Thu, 15 Dec 2016 02:13:12 GMT