Category Archives: Photography

The Cathedral of Mother Nature. My Recent Adventures in the West, Part II

I was sipping my plain coffee. It was early and still completely dark outside. I sliced some strawberries into my oatmeal. I had slept well after all the hiking the day before and it was difficult to wake up. The dream world of the vast landscapes at Grand Canyon was still with me. 早上好! Good morning! I almost dropped my knife. Mr. Li was standing right behind me in the doorway to the restaurant where many of us were still working on our breakfast. Fifteen minutes and we should be at the bus…A-HA…if we wanted to come along on today’s adventures.

The first stop of the day was at Lake Powell soon after sunrise. This spectacular lake has over 2,000 miles of shoreline, it’s 400 feet deep and 186 miles long. We would take a boat ride and see a couple of miles of that shoreline. And needless to say it was dramatic.

The high rock walls were perfectly reflected in the water and a new waterscape revealed itself after every turn. I enjoyed this early morning boat ride, but was getting very excited about the nest stop. I covered my camera and lens in a plastic bag to protect it from dust and sealed it with duck tape. I got some curious glances, but knew that the Antelope Canyon was waiting and this slightly humorous improvised cover would serve my camera well .

We arrived at the Navajo Nation’s parking lot, about four miles from the Upper Antelope Canyon and were loaded up on small trucks to take us to the canyon the Navajos consider a spiritual place, a cathedral of Mother Nature. My Navajo guide was Abraham. He would take me through the canyon and back.

This sandstone slot canyon is about 660 feet (200m) long and 120 feet (37m) deep. It is amazing! The sandstone formations come to life like beautiful art work when the light hits the walls from the small openings at the top.

Some of the views of the formations have given names. The view above is called “the Heart” and the view below is known as “the Eye”. I am sure it sees some mysterious truths amid a continuous stream of visitors like me.

I was truly grateful for the opportunity to be able to access the whole canyon. No rain meant no flooding, just bright sunshine providing one glorious view after another.

Needless to say this amazing experience left me breathless. So before walking back through the canyon, I sat down on a rock to take in some fresh air. And my guide Abraham snapped a picture with my phone. I realized that my improvised camera cover looked like a soda can…but it was safe from the fine dust in the air that found its way everywhere.

Walking back through the canyon did not include any photo stops, but I could not resist the temptation to snap a few more pictures on my way back.

This canyon certainly made an impression on me. It was like walking in a huge gallery full of live art created over time by Mother Nature. And it felt, indeed, like a cathedral.

My journey continued to yet another creation of nature, the Bryce Canyon in Utah. It is also called the ‘red canyon’ and you can see why. Even here the views were breathtakingly beautiful.

It was cold and lots of snow still covered the ground. We left the red canyon when the sun was already low and started our long journey back to Las Vegas. What an adventure!

Part 3 of my adventure in the west will include some flashes of my whirlwind trip to a couple of cities in Nevada and California and of my impromptu work trip to San Francisco last week. Thanks so much for coming along. I hope you enjoyed the art of the nature as much as I did.

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A flash report on the Osprey Family here at home: It looks to me that there are at least two chicks in the nest. I have not yet been able to spot them properly from the ground, but here’s one picture where I was able to capture the whole family about a week ago. The second picture is from this morning taken from my terrace. It is obvious the chicks are growing and I am just hoping both of them will survive.

Positively Grand! My Recent Adventures in the West, Part I

I laughed. A-HA! He spoke in Mandarin and I didn’t understand a word. Then he spoke in Cantonese and I still didn’t understand a word. Apart from the now familiar A-HA. It indicates a pause, and doesn’t translate to much else than a simple “so”.

Mr. Li was a captivating guide, he made me laugh at jokes told in two dialects of a language I did not speak. And when he finally spoke in English he made me laugh again. The sky outside the tour bus window started to turn red. It was almost 6:30 a.m. and we were traveling through the Nevada desert. Las Vegas was far behind us.

I was on my way to the canyons in Arizona and Utah. After almost five hours, countless A-HAs, more laughter and a couple of convenience breaks in small towns along the way, I could finally step out of the bus and walk out to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

The canyon is truly Grand. And it is impressive: 227 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and 6000 feet (1800 meters) deep. It is breathtaking when you admire it from one of the lookout points. And no pictures can do it justice.

I decided to hike along the rim from the Mather Point to the Yavapai Point and back.

I enjoyed every minute of it and took pictures of the majestic canyon and the wide landscapes opening right in front of my eyes. I observed that many other visitors took selfies. The famous last Instagram picture at the edge of the ledge is no joke. Or the video of the cartwheels on the narrow ledge (see below) to be posted on social media.

Mr. Li had warned us not to go too far out on the ledges. A-HA … safety first. And we didn’t lose anyone. Unfortunately three people fell from the rims during the week I was there.The focus on self in the midst of the most magnificent nature is a mystery to me. I just don’t get it.

I loved it there. I felt one with nature. And I heard the wing beats of times gone by.

Later in the afternoon we reached a third lookout point, near the Desert Watch Tower. The current structure is a replica of an ancient native watch tower.

Needless to say the views from there are magnificent. This became my favorite spot to observe the canyon. And I hiked again along the rim enjoying being a really tiny human in the vast embrace of Mother Nature.

After returning to the watch tower late in the afternoon, I rewarded myself with a generous scoop of ice cream. I enjoyed it sitting on a big boulder looking out over the canyon. And no, my feet were not dangling over the ledge.

That ice cream proved to be a good investment because dinner would be very little and very late that night. We said goodbye to Grand Canyon and started an hour and a half journey towards the Horseshoe Bend, a horseshoe-shaped incised meander of the Colorado River located in Arizona, not far from Utah border. We arrived at the parking lot just before sunset.

After climbing up the first steep hill in deep sand (phew!), the view downhill towards the river (darker area in the middle of the picture)was great. But I also realized it was a long sandy trail. Many people decided that the climb back up from the river would be too much and sat down on the benches at the top of the hill to watch the sunset. Not this girl.

I made the journey all the way down to the river and was rewarded with a glorious sight. I walked around the ledges and lookout points and managed to capture a view of the river bending like a horseshoe around the rock formation. Beautiful. Looking down to the river basin I noticed some people had kayaked there and now sat around a fire enjoying the peace. They would camp there overnight.

But this girl would need to climb up the long hill. Think hiking on the beach but uphill. Luckily it was not very steep and the sand was not too deep. At the end of a day that listed over 20,000 steps, it felt like a workout. But the experience was well worth it. I was secretly grateful to my personal trainer, Mr. Dylan, for keeping me somewhat in shape. I stopped only once to catch my breath – with the excuse of taking pictures of some stones that people had collected on the side of the trail.

We arrived to the little town of Page late in the evening and I was happy to get my key card… a hot shower and a nice bed were calling. This ‘night owl’ had an apple for dinner and slept early that evening. She would need to be up before sunrise the next morning. Mr. Li had promised more adventures. A-HA!

To be continued shortly. Thanks for coming along.

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For those of you who wonder how the Osprey Family here at home is doing, I can tell you that it is now obvious that they have at least one hatchling in the nest. I have been hanging out on my terrace ever since I returned from my trip and finally spotted a tiny head yesterday afternoon. My typical grainy first picture of the hatchling from almost 300 yards is below.

Now this paparazza has her work cut out for her… better baby pictures. Wish me luck.

With Love from Dylan

I have to start on a positive note so mom understands my observations are made in a loving spirit. We don’t want any misinterpretations of my intentions, do we? All the tummy rubs and ear massages could go down the tube. We don’t want that.

Uh, were was I? Just a minute, have to look at my notes.

So how have you been? I hope life’s treating you well. As to myself, I can’t complain. I still take mom on long walks in the morning and in the evening. Or perhaps I should say walk-run-walks. And they are more pleasant now. You see, mom is much faster and smaller than last year. She didn’t shrink much vertically as far as I can see, maybe half an inch tops, but she’s shrunk a lot horizontally. It’s no longer like pulling a close to 200 pound sac behind me, and now we can actually compete. I’m still faster, but she’s making some progress.

Let’s go!

Oh, I almost forgot! I have finally graduated from the Bird Photographer’s Assistant class. My final exam was a week ago. And that was a difficult one: I had to walk past two mottled ducks on a loose leash without scaring them away. And then sit quietly while mom took pictures of them. That was the hardest test. You see, ducks are in my DNA. They must be hunted. But against all odds I did it!

Is that you, Dylan?

The female looked at me from the corner of her eye but the male pretended I wasn’t even there. Can you believe it? I passed with flying colors! And expected immediate rewards. But mom had none. No treats in her pocket. She made up a poor explanation about going to the dog park and how it was not suitable to carry treats. That doesn’t hold water. She knows, as do I, that I could have eaten them all before we entered the park! I suspect she didn’t believe I would pass my exam because I had failed a couple of times before. I got some treats when we got home. Oh well, better late than never.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. We went to the dog park. This time I was lucky. There were no 75 pound dogs in the small dog park! But all my best friends were there and even a new friend, a brown dachshund named Olli. I have to admit that he is as nice as he’s handsome.

Hi there! I’m Olli.

I love the attention we get at the park, but sometimes we have to stand in the back rub line and wait for our turn. But it’s all worth it.

The line’s long, but finally it’s my turn!

And I love running the fence. Barking at bicycles and other strange vehicles with Saki and Eli. And suspicious people walking too close to the fence. We have the responsibility to protect our parents. It doesn’t stop even when we’re off leash and off duty. And since I’m not allowed to bark at home this is the only opportunity to exercise my vocal cords. But Bentley takes his recreation seriously. No running the fence, just calm exploration of the park…and posing for photographers.

Those fence runners!

My friend Snickers doesn’t run the fence either. He loves to dig. And as you can see, it’s serious business.

Digging requires focus and persistence, my friends.

Sometimes we all pose for mom. She’s very persuasive. Saki and Eli love to impress her by flashing their best smiles.

I’m the most beautiful Shiba Inu girl, right?
Okay, I’ll smile but please be fast!

It’s easy for them to smile. They are young. No missing teeth. But I’m very self-conscious and hardly ever smile for the camera. I can turn and look at mom when her tone gets desperate. But she should understand that I like to stay behind the camera and assist.

Now again, mom?

That brings me to the traumatic event of last Saturday. Mom woke up early. We went onto the terrace and she snapped pictures of the sunrise.

I think this was around 7 a.m. and I had no idea what was in store…

She had breakfast, but I didn’t get any. What did I do? And we didn’t go for a walk. What was wrong with this picture? She allowed me to go to the bathroom at the garage corner and then right into her car. I thought we were heading to the Taylor Park to chase the alligators. Exciting! But mom missed the turn. Where were we going? She was tightlipped. I thought she looked a bit guilty. This was not good. Finally we stopped and I saw it! The vet’s office. I wanted to run. To beg. To vanish into thin air. But the only thing I could do was to pretend not to see or hear her.

I don’t see you mom. And I’m not coming!

Mom carried me in, the girls met me…and then I don’t remember anything until I woke up in the afternoon. My mouth was hurting. My gums were sore. I hadn’t eaten anything the whole day and I was hungry. But couldn’t even think of putting anything in my mouth. I was miserable the whole evening. I definitely do not recommend teeth cleaning to anyone. Even the everyday chores are more fun. Like cleaning the kitchen floor from all scraps that mom drops when she’s cooking. Chicken and cheese are my favorites. Anyway, I felt a bit better already the next day. And the following day I forgave her. That’s what love does.

This is a bad day. Can’t we just go to sleep already?

Oh, before I go I need to tell you that I really like my new Photo Assistant job. I get to walk a lot and sniff around in all kinds of interesting places. Last week on Tuesday I didn’t even expect to go on a walk. The weather was iffy and mom said it could rain any minute. But out we went to see the ospreys. When we got to the nest, mom said the mama bird was laying another egg. Ssshhh. I had to sit quietly while mom was watching and clicking.

Mama Osprey lays another egg…
…and then inspects the eggs

And then we went looking for the daddy bird. I thought I’d seen him when we passed the Sailing Center, but I kept quiet. I’d get a long walk around the marsh. Many new smells. Finally mom looked beyond the park and spotted the daddy… at the Sailing Center on the other side of the road. Ha!

Daddy Osprey was…all along…at the Sailing Center

I look forward to seeing the osprey chicks. I hope there are many. Ten or even a hundred. I’d like to draw many names from the hat later in the spring, just like I’ve done for the past three years. And get many treats.

That’s all from me folks. Be good now. With love, Dylan.

A Bird in the Hand. And an Egg in the Nest.

My iPhone’s alarm goes off. It’s pitch black. I open one eye and see the lit face of my phone and hit Snooze. A thought crawls into my consciousness. This is not my bed and there’s no Dylan next to me. OMG! This is the day I’ve been waiting for. It’s 5:30 a.m. and I’m in Cape Coral. To attend the annual Burrowing Owl Festival. The photographers’ tour starts in 90 minutes. The night owl will meet the owls. Up you go girl!

I open the curtains, go out onto the balcony to confirm my location, put on the Keurig and hit the shower. Yay! At sunrise I’m on my way. Why don’t you come with me on this little adventure?

The small bus is full of photographers. And huge lenses. The knowledgeable guides are Listers. One of them currently tops the North America list of bird sightings in so far this year. They explain what we can expect to find today. And soon we are at our first stop, a field of burrows next to a football field, all marked with little T-shaped wooden lookout posts. The owls are still sleeping. But wait, someone’s out already. Daddy Burrowing Owl has fallen asleep on his guard.

After a while his beautiful wifey comes out too. Oh, so many long lenses pointing at her … at a respectable distance. She turns her tiny head around in swift movements to check on everybody.

And finally her hubby wakes up too, moves closer to his wifey and inspects the crowd.

These expressive tiny owls reach about 9 inches from top to toe. They are too cute, but we need to let them go on with their Saturday morning chores. We move on.

Our next stop is about ten minutes away, at the nest of the Great-horned Owl. And we are not disappointed. Two Owlets huddle next to each other high up in the nest. Aww.

They are curious little fur balls. The older one inspects me thoroughly, but there are no adults in the nest. Where are mommy and daddy? We look around and finally spot an adult a few trees away. And another adult yet a bit further in the woods, but so well camouflaged by branches I don’t get a good picture. It’s comforting to know both parents are around.

What a treat to see the owlets. We move on, drive quite a while and come to a large meadow known to be the home of some of the few remaining Florida Scrub Jays. Last year, we spotted six of them there and being very curious birds, a few got close up and personal with us.

But we heard that this year, unfortunately, only two individuals had been seen there. These birds are endemic to Florida and their numbers are going down fast despite their protected status. We are lucky. The couple comes and finds us. They settle at the top of a bush not too far from us.

They fly around and we enjoy their presence. Finally one of them lands on the hand of a fellow photographer. For one second tops.

Then they fly away together to the far end of the meadow. And we hear the melancholic song of the Eastern Meadowlark.

She moves around in the grass, her tiny head sticking up at times, but finally she flies on the top of a cable box in the middle of the meadow and offers a somewhat clearer view. She is a strikingly beautiful bird.

We spot a few other birds in the distance, like this Loggerhead Shrike on a wire, and then we move on.

Our next stop is a Bald Eagle nest. We don’t see any activity at the nest. We hear that, unfortunately, this eagle couple have been unsuccessful in their breeding efforts the last two years. And now it seems there are no eggs or nestlings in the nest. So sad. Finally we spot an adult flying towards us.

It circles around and then lands in the tree where the nest is.

Then it sits in the nest and observes us. It seems to be getting slightly nervous about our presence and we promptly leave the vicinity of the nest. This majestic bird needs its peace and quiet.

By now it is almost midday. The heat is up and we head to our last stop of the day. It’s another burrow very close to a small road of white sand. An adult sits on the observation post.

And we spot a juvenile’s head sticking out among all the flowers near the opening of her childhood home. As this is the farewell picture of our tour, I’ll make it to a post card from these precious tiny owls. Until next year, be well!

Back home on Sunday Dylan reminds me there’s something we need to do. Right now. And it’s not just going out to bathroom. We need to check whether or not Mama Osprey has laid any eggs while we were gone. We approach the nest and find Papa Stanley sitting on the perch and Mama Sandy standing in the nest.

She’s not sitting on the egg(s), but it certainly looks like she’s in the process of laying her first egg.

Stanley is holding guard and warns everybody flying too close to the nest. Usually he only sounds an alarm when another raptor, mostly another osprey, flies by but today he’s vocal even when a gull flies by. And he’s keeping an eye on us too. Something’s definitely up.

We go back late at night on Monday, on our way to the dog park, and there she is. Incubating her first egg when the sun has just gone down.

And I can tell you she’s still there. Today it’s been raining all day, but whenever Dylan and I check on the nest from inside our dry and comfy home we see a head in the nest. It’s not always Sandy. Stanley is a modern dad, he settles on the egg(s) many times a day to give her a break to eat, exercise and take a bath. I hope there are already two eggs in the nest. But right now there’s no way to tell. Incubating osprey eggs is a long journey of 34 to 40 days.

Thank you for coming along. Mr. D and I hope you’ll have a great rest of the week.

Ps. Dylan tells me he’s itching to blog soon. I’m not sure whether to take him up on his offer. He tends to spill out things that I’ve kept quiet about.

Flying in and out of the Nest. With the Osprey Couple.

In the past few weeks I’ve been flying in and out of my nest on this barrier island I call home. Several work trips to big cities. Lot’s of ‘osprey time’. And bird’s eye views.

Or views from my temporary nest high up in the air in the Big Apple late in the day…and night.

So after all this flying, I have enjoyed being earth bound this past week. Watching others fly. Like Papa Stanley, who recently flew in for some Valentine’s Day romancing with Mama Sandy. Dylan and I backed off to allow them some privacy.

I think Sandy is pregnant. Her belly is growing and Stanley is already feeding her. And she’s spending lots of time at the nest every day. Yesterday she was watching intently over the bay…

…I turned around and saw Stanley flying far over the bay with a big fish.

Sandy would get it, eventually. But first the head had to be eaten. Sandy was working on rearranging the furniture in the nest, but kept an eye from time to time on Stanley and the fish on a nearby lamp-post.

This morning my assistant and I visited the Taylor Park and spotted many familiar birds. It’s funny how the birds favor the same spot, like this Anhinga who always dries her feathers at almost the same place.

She always faces the lake looking for any signs of approaching gators, but turned to look at my assistant. She didn’t move. Dylan is already trusted by these birds. Next to the kayak launch pad we usually find the Ring-billed Gull. So also this morning.

And the blackbirds are chilling out there too. The dad Boat-tailed Blackbird was reading the sign warning about the presence of gators and warned his wifey who was wading in the water nearby. Wading is a no-no according to the sign.

At the north end of the lake the resident Osprey dad was trying to spot some fish and at the south end two Great Egrets were chasing each other amid a loud argument.

We walked around the lake and spotted our usual suspects, the Little Blue Heron and the Tri-Colored Heron.

A Double-crested Cormorant with bright blue eyes was windsurfing on the lake, watching the waters carefully for any signs of gators.

And he was right in being careful. According to my latest intelligence, there are at least five gators in the lake. So far we had not spotted any of them. But we saw a large flock of American Coots in the middle of the lake and a few brave individuals were cruising solo closer to the shore.

That’s when we saw him…sunbathing on the shore.

I tightened my grip on Dylan’s leash, but since the gator posed calmly I went for a portrait too.

He was quite impressive. We walked back to the other side of the park and before going back to my car, we spotted a little head coming up for air in the middle of the green slime in a small pond. That was our tiny friend, the Pied-billed Grebe.

Today being an outdoors day for us, we also visited the Osprey couple this afternoon. They were napping together in the nest. Stanley seems to have grown a short beard. Perhaps to mark that he’ll soon be a dad once again.

While Sandy was truly sleeping, Stanley was just nodding off. He opened his eyes and told us “I see you.”

The salt marsh was fairly quiet in the middle of the afternoon, which is not unusual. The Mayor was walking around and checking his territory…

…and Mama Moorhen was gliding quietly right below the osprey nest.

I thought that was it…until we found someone hiding deep in the shadows. I had to smile. It was the younger Great Blue Heron. He didn’t want to be seen either by the Mayor or Mama Sandy. His has some unfortunate history with both of them.

I’m hoping for evidence of eggs in the Osprey Family within the next two weeks. And this coming weekend I’m off for another little nature adventure in South Florida. Stay tuned and thank you so much for visiting.

Move Faster! And a Romantic Date Night.

I feel like a turtle. I just want to continue the leisurely stroll of the holidays. Soak in the sun and contemplate life in peace and quiet. But I feel the push to start moving faster. We are almost three weeks into the new year. Can you believe it?

I hope to make this fresh year more balanced than the past. Alternating work and play, just like in the high intensity interval exercise I’ve become to like lately. I’m envisioning myself at times flying fast like Mama Osprey…

… and then just enjoying life like a turtle. With all time in the world.

So far so good. Dylan and I were exploring the Taylor Park again last week. The Anhinga and the Moorhen were present in big numbers as usual.

And we spotted many feathered friends looking for a tasty breakfast, like this Wood Stork, Tri-colored Heron and Little Blue Heron.

We were trying hard to find at least one gator, but they seemed to be lying low(er than usual) due to the cooler winter temperatures we’re having right now. So instead we enjoyed spotting more birds, like this Ring-billed Gull and a Great Egret.

Then we heard a loud group of Boat-tailed Blackbirds. The males were fighting in the reeds and refused to be photographed. But this female, who is actually brown and may have been the reason of the fight, stepped out to hunt for food. Click.

There are always several Pied-billed Grebes on the lake and I love photographing them.

But this cutie stretched my patience – and even Mr. Dylan’s who had to sit and wait for me. This little one was diving non-stop and staying up on the surface less than a second at the time. It was a comical exercise. There he is. Gone. Repeat. I got numerous pictures of bubbles and rings on the water and some tail feathers at times. But finally my patience was rewarded and I managed to snap a picture. Oops!

That’s when I saw something in the water further out in the shady part of the lake. It was, indeed, a very quiet gator.

After that discovery we ran our last stretch before leaving the park happy with our intermittent “osprey-turtle” exercise.

But what about the salt marsh, you may wonder. We have been there too. After returning from my holiday trip to Sweden, I hadn’t seen much of the Osprey couple. They usually start their nesting season in early January by refurbishing their home, but it had been quiet at the nest. We walked past the nest on our way to the dog park and I thought I could see some signs of remodeling, but nobody was there. And I started to get worried.

The perivious week I had seen Mama Sandy fly by my office window…

… and Papa Stanley eating on a lamp-post close to the nest, but hadn’t seen them together or working on the nest. Knowing that ospreys don’t opt for a divorce at the first sign of disagreement, I concluded there has to be some valid reason for their wait.

Finally last week on Saturday night I saw a beautiful sight from my terrace. Sandy and Stanley were having a date night at the Sailing Center

I grabbed my camera and out we went, my assistant and I. I was hoping the happy couple would still be there and the light would be enough to capture the evidence of this romance. And we were in luck. Both Sandy and Stanley greeted us with a friendly nod.

They were enjoying the last light on the bay side as much as we were…

…and we also spotted a a Snowy Egret and a Great Egret down at the water’s edge.

So finally, and quite late this year, mama and papa osprey had come together to start their nesting season. The sixth one I look forward to observing.

Earlier this week, Dylan and I visited the dog park on a cool, partly loudy day. And discovered the little salt marsh village was lively indeed. The Mayor was in the office and surveyed the marsh in his typical, calm manner.

Further out, in a difficult spot to ‘shoot’, several residents were huddling to seek shelter from the cold wind coming from the north. Even the Clown, aka Reddish Egret was calm, with no intention to perform. Maybe his enthusiasm was dampened by the presence of the Wood Stork, who had only recently given him a lesson.

But he couldn’t help himself, he had to follow the bigger bird into the water and keep him under surveillance.

Closer to the Osprey nest, at the east end of the marsh, Several residents had sought shelter in the bushes. I was happy to see the Snowy Egret had already developed a breeding plumage and to spot both a Black- and Yellow-crowned Night Heron for the first time in quite a while. Most residents seemed to be back from their holiday travels.

To my delight, both Sandy and Stanley were at the nest, which now clearly was under renovation. Sandy was happily munching on a fish, likely provided by Stanley. And he seemed to be musing on the fact that he would be dad again…

…and watched us with great interest. Or maybe it was bride. In any case, I promised myself to make time to follow their, hopefully successful, nesting season in my “turtle time” between travels. Thank you for being here. Be good and keep warm.

Walking Stockholm. With Gifts and Christmas Snow.

She smiled and greeted me when I stepped into the British Airways lounge area close to my departure gate at Chicago O’Hare airport. I greeted her and handed over my two remaining boarding passes on this “points trip” to celebrate Christmas in Sweden. She lifted her head and with a big smile she asked if I would like to sit in the first class on my trip to London. I said I would love to but didn’t have enough points to do the upgrade. She smiled even wider and handed me my first class boarding pass. “You’re worth it”, she said.

It was an early Christmas gift I was grateful for and thoroughly enjoyed. After a delicious dinner and some champagne, I changed into my provided pajamas, received my pillows and a comforter, and slept practically until touchdown at Heathrow. For the first time ever, I slept through the breakfast service! But there was one more ribbon on my gift yet to be opened, a wonderful sit-down breakfast in the 1st class arrival lounge.

I felt rested and well fed for the rest of my journey to Stockholm. When we approached the Arlanda airport I glanced out of the window – and saw snow! I would experience my first white Christmas in over 20 years. Another unexpected gift.

I thoroughly enjoyed the long walks that Beppe, the poodle, took us on every day along Stockholm’s snow covered sidewalks and paths through the many parks. As you can see this Florida girl was properly attired for the winter weather with a hooded buffer jacket, snow boots and borrowed warm gloves.

I made some interesting discoveries on our walks, like this Santa climbing up the side of a tall condo building in my sister’s neighborhood. And the sentinel cats guarding a shop door.

The blue hour was always beautiful…the snow adding a magical hue.

And the late night walks allowed me to immerse in the feeling of warmth of the Swedish Christmas – despite the below freezing temperatures. Most windows in the city were lit with chandeliers or Christmas stars, like this one at my sister’s…

… and many courtyards of these over a century old buildings were decorated with lit trees.

Very festive and beautiful indeed.

On the Saturday before Christmas I visited my aunt in Gothenburg. A convenient MTR Express speed train now provides a three-hour connection between the two cities. It was great to see her after 13 years! And I couldn’t complain about the all natural Christmas decorations at the Central Station in Gothenburg.

On the Sunday before Christmas, as is customary in Sweden, we visited the grave site of a recently departed loved one. The cemetery was beautiful in its all white outfit. And light snow was still falling.

After some silent moments of remembering our loved one, we felt it was time for an afternoon ‘fika’. And the nearby café offered coffee and lots of goodies to choose from.

Warmed up by a good fika I decided it was time for an afternoon solo walk. I wanted to see some of my favorite places again.
The old town was charming with snow-covered sidewalks and lots of lights outside and inside the shops.

I walked the narrow streets and slippery cobble stone alleys to the Royal Palace, which rises at the north end of the Old Town.

The Old Town is sometimes called “the city between bridges” as there are seven bridges connecting this island, first inhabited in mid to late 1100s, to other islands that form the city of Stockholm. I walked out from the Old Town via the Riksbron bridge.

From that bridge I admired the City Hall and the Centralbron bridge on one side and the Royal Opera House and the Strömbron bridge on the other.

I loved the beautiful Christmas lights on and around these bridges.

By now I was really cold and needed something warming. I stepped into a busy bistro and Santa kindly offered me a tasty Irish coffee.

I lingered inside long enough to feel my toes again. Then stepped back outside on the busy Queen’s Street full of shoppers making last minute gift purchases.

I walked to the Central Square and took the metro for a couple of stops back to my sister’s. My walking quote for the day was full.

Now it was the time to carry home and decorate the live tree… and bake the Christmas tarts. While my sister decorated the tree, I baked the tarts. To be enjoyed with a cup of warm glögg, of course.

In Sweden the Christmas Eve is the time for a sumptuous Christmas dinner, glam and gift giving, while the Christmas Day is more for quiet contemplation and celebration of the real gift of Christmas.

Our dinner was delicious with all the traditional Christmas dishes, from two kinds of hams, all the vegetable casseroles and Janson’s Temptation to small sausages, meat balls, beet salads, red cabbage etc. etc. Poor Beppe was left guarding the presents under the tree while we lingered at the table enjoying all that food. Finally Santa came and Beppe could open his presents, among them a toy squirrel from Florida. He thoroughly enjoyed chasing it.

Needless to say my Christmas was warm and wonderful. Full of love…

… and good food 🙂 Luckily Beppe took us out several times a day, and on Boxing Day we did a long walk around the Karlberg Kanal in the bleak winter sun.

At a marina out there, I spotted an interesting weather forecasting device. A hanging stone.

Since many of my readers don’t speak Swedish, I will provide the translation of the forecasting guidance here:

CONDITION OF THE STONE FORECAST
The stone is wet Rain
The stone is dry No rain
The stone casts a shadow on the ground Sunny
The stone is white on the top Snow
The stone is not visible Fog
The stone swings Strong winds
The stone jumps up and down Earthquake
The stone is missing Tornado

That made me smile. And I saw a faint shadow of the stone on the snow, a treat during a long walk in nature.

Time flies when you’re having fun, and soon it was time to travel back home. But the good memories last. I am still musing on the wonderful time I had.

I wish you all ‘happy continuation on the new year’ or ‘god fortsättning’ as we say in Sweden. May this year bring you many blessings.