Am I a Puffin or a Walrus?

Am I a Puffin or a Walrus?

Back in December, BuzzFeed Quiz posted a quiz on Facebook that felt so right: Which  Animal Are You РArctic Animal Edition. As soon as I saw the picture I could relate. I felt like all of the animals, depending on the day of the week.

Some days I feel like a polar bear, especially when I am in Philly during the summer. I’ve been living in Sweden so long that my body is no longer used to Philly summer temperatures–so years, I feel like I am sweaty all the time when I am there.

Or, I could easily be a musk ox. I sometimes have good hair days. I can be very grumpy and anti-social. And I try really hard.

Of course, when I am at work, I tend to feel like a puffin. Especially when people who are not writers or native speakers of English try to tell me that I am using the wrong word or decide they’re going to define a word for me (and they are wrong).

Lately, I feel like a walrus–but that’s because I am on a pre-operation diet (have lost 12 pounds, yay me!) and am always hungry (nay me!) since I am surviving on basically boiled eggs, diet shakes and soup, and lots of coffee. I’m also feeling very clumsy due to low energy levels since I am only allowed to consume 900 calories/day until the operation. Thank God it’s on Tuesday.

Now, I love penguins, and I have to say we are pretty similar: I have big dreams (I want to write full-time and sell lots of books), I fall in love too fast (luckily this time with the right guy, whom I have been married to since 1999) and I have my moments when I am a good dancer. The rest of the time I am tripping over my own feet and dancing to music only I can hear. ūüėČ

And then there’s the arctic fox–yeah, I am a fast learner (except for when it comes to the database system we use at work) and I can get anxious as hell in some situations. And I overthink things when I feel insecure.

Oh hell, I think I am all of these animals. Or maybe I am not an arctic animal at all? I mean, sure I live in Sweden and it’s pretty cold here right now, but often I feel like a tree sloth and they don’t live anywhere near the arctic.

And before you ask me (because people ask me this fairly often): no, there are no polar bears walking the streets of Stockholm, Sweden. There are no polar bears in Sweden. Plenty of moose, reindeer, badgers and hare in this country. But polar bears? Nope. That postcard you saw was a lie. ūüôā

Now what about you?

Which arctic animal are you?





Ghosts of Christmas Past — or Why I Love and Hate Christmas

Ghosts of Christmas Past — or Why I Love and Hate Christmas

A typical “Peanuts” Countdown to Christmas image

When I was a kid, I both loved and hated the arrival of Christmas. My dad and I had a lot of Christmas traditions: Christmas movie bonanzas, listening to Christmas carols nonstop from Thanksgiving until New Year’s Eve, counting down Christmas together with the special holiday-edition Snoopy countdown they used to feature in the now-defunct Philadelphia Bulletin and then later in the Philadelphia Inquirer. ¬†I loved when my dad and I would go out for drives and check out the brightly coloured Christmas lights and decorations in different neighbourhoods. Often we’d stop at a diner for hot chocolate and some cake along the way. In the car, my dad would sing along with Christmas carols on the radio. It didn’t matter which song the DJs played, he knew all of the lyrics (or he was good enough at faking them that I believed they really were the right words to the songs). I still have fond memories of those car rides.

Yup, I know the feeling…

What I don’t have fond memories is the black hole my dad would fall into either on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. My dad also suffered from depression, which he thought he was hiding from us. I suspect that he was bipolar though I do not know if he was ever formally diagnosed. His Christmas high was so all-encompassing that you would forget what always followed–the inevitable fall. He wouldn’t get out of bed to eat the special Christmas breakfast my mother prepared or he would disappear for hours and reappear without explaining the long absence. Most times, his mood was even worse than when he left the house. My mother would try to make up for it with forced joviality but the tension was always there. We’d all pretend it wasn’t going on. Friends and family members would come by and we’d keep the facade going. And then by the 26th or the 27th, my dad would be back to normal, though still somewhat subdued. We still walked on eggshells because we didn’t know if anything we said or did would send him back into that black hole.


Yum! Stollen–a yummy Christmas treat

Maybe this is why I find myself feeling a little sad sometimes around Christmas. I love the lights and the spirit of generosity. I hate the frenzy to buy the biggest, best Christmas presents and how people forget that Christmas should be about more than just spending money. I remember what that frenzy did to my dad and how it affected us.

I am glad my husband and I have started our own Christmas traditions. We usually go off on our own to have a quiet Christmas together. Most years, we go to Austria to visit the Christmas markets and eat lots of stollen, drink far too much gl√ľhwein and j√§gertee and then eat far too much goose (for me) and carp (for Tord) before retiring to our hotel room where we read our books we’ve given one another as Christmas presents and laugh at the annual Helene Fischer Christmas show (which is apparently a German/Austrian tradition not to be missed because it’s on every Christmas Day).

This year, we’re staying in Sweden for Christmas. I don’t know how Tord and I will survive this year without Helene Fischer and her celebrity guests making us giggle as they dance and sing their way through old standards. But one thing is certain: Christmas will be relaxing. We will enjoy one another’s company (and probably eat too much and then have to walk it off). And when we spend Christmas our way–instead of with the frenzy that for most people starts on Black Friday and ends on Christmas Day with a present coma–I don’t feel the sadness that Christmas brings for me when I spend it in the US or when I get caught up in the same mania that used to affect my dad.

What about you? Do you get the holiday blues?

Confessions Of An Over-Decorator

Confessions Of An Over-Decorator

Oh my gosh! It’s fall. Finally!

Every year I desperately wait for the season of my favorite colors to arrive. I have to be physically restrained on Labor Day to keep from hauling out my season decor. I go crazy, even when my life is out of control busy, and there aren’t enough hours to sleep, write, work, read, play, exercise … you get the idea. But I always make time to deck my halls.

It all starts by moving my fall mugs to the front of the cabinet. This is today’s designer cup. I bought this beauty 13 years ago at Hobby Lobby (or as I like to call it, the mother ship). One year, I confess, I left it out all year.

Next comes the mantel. I use orange lights and a pricey piece of garland, because it holds up so well. I put the lights on a timer so they come on without me even thinking about them. I scatter vases, candles and gourds in among the leaves for a fuller effect. It’s so pretty when the sun goes down.

This year tragedy struck when I was pulling out my pumpkin stack. When I first saw the idea in a Martha Stewart’s magazine for carving and stacking pumpkins and lighting it, I was entranced. But I decided to make mine with poly-resin pumpkins so it would last a really long time. And it has. For 10 years I’ve been pulling the protective plastic bag off this and dragging it out of storage. This year, it was just too wobbly for me. It needed redoing anyway. ¬†Eventually, it will look like this:

And even though I miss carving a real pumpkin, it is still beautiful.

So there you have it. Fall is my jam. And I’m not ashamed to admit it. Well, at least until Christmas comes. Happy leaf peeping!


What Was I Thinking

What Was I Thinking

I recently went back to work after being a stay at home writer for two years. I love writing, but ¬†I worried about doing nothing but pounding away on my keyboard¬†day after day. Some days I didn’t¬†leave the house. I felt¬†I never had anything interesting (or not writing related) to say to my husband.
I didn’t want to become one-dimensional (Flat Stanley might have gotten a new girlfriend in Flat Gemma). So I asked for my old job at the health club back. My boss said yes immediately, and that part-time would be perfect. 15-20 hours a week, I thought. Perfect.

Except …

The company was sold, and thanks to my steal-trap mind, I know a lot more about the old system than most of my co-workers¬†(I know all the secrets, and all the best hiding spots). I am unable to get my behind out of the office once I hit the 4-hour threshold. It’s my goal every day, but if you multiply my¬†4 hours by 2, that’s how much I’m working. Each and every day.

So I try to sneak in writing time when I can. Up at 5 AM to write, writing at night after dinner. Doing my social media stuff when I can. Grocery shopping at night (a task I hate worst than cleaning the toilets, but we won’t be discussing my lack of time for cleaning the house).

I know there is a thing called work/life balance, but my teeter-totter is definitely stuck on the work side of things. But, with my usual Pollyanna attitude, I’m just going to leave a working song that always gives me happy feet.

An age-old debate: Mayonnaisse or Miracle Whip?

An age-old debate: Mayonnaisse or Miracle Whip?

It’s an argument that has divided families and caused endless marital strife.

[Read more…]

I am living in a world of…dust

I am living in a world of…dust

A few years ago, I was diagnosed as having a dust allergy, which I thought was kind of funny since I nearly always forget to dust off furniture, etc until I actually see the dust before me. I also thought it was amusing that I live in a country where people freak out about a speck of dust anywhere and keep their homes so spotless you feel like you’re in a furniture showroom or a design museum and yet nearly everyone here has some weird allergy.

Most of the time, I can keep my little allergy under control by simply remembering to dust and vacuum (though I suffer for hours afterwards with a stuffy nose and sneezing). I try to be tidier, but I leave books and papers everywhere. It’s what writers do. I should add that I really hate cleaning and I wish I could hire a cleaning person to come twice a month, but my Swedish hubby objects to this, even though he does not like vacuuming or dusting. So…I suffer through the dusting and the vacuuming and dreaming I could have someone take care of this so that I too could come home from work to a spotless apartment.

At least my desk at work was free of dust and was tidy…until now.

Now the dust has followed to the office.

No, I didn’t bring it with me.

They’re renovating our office, so there is construction dust everywhere. It’s also pretty noisy, which is to be expected when they are tearing down walls and putting up new ones, resurfacing hardwood floors, etc. I put my headphones on and try to drown out the noise with anything from Hole to Led Zeppelin to Parliament Funkadelic, but it doesn’t always help.

And the dust…

It gets in your hair, in your eyes, in your nose, in your mouth…. Even though they’ve tried to seal off the areas being renovated, the dust still gets everywhere. ¬†I keep telling myself this will all be over in a month, but having to wipe down my desk 3-4 times a day to get rid of the dust so that I don’t have a sneezing fit does get a bit annoying.

Maybe I need a vacation. If only I could take my laptop and work from Italy…. or the south of France…or Bali. ūüėČ

A girl can dream, right?

For now, I just have to keep wiping down my desk, vacuuming and dusting at home, and dreaming of the day when I can arrange a cleaning service to miraculously take care of all dusting. I’ll blow my nose a zillion times a day, rinse¬†my face off to get rid of the grit I feel on it…wash my hands to keep said grit out of my eyes….

One day my dust hell will be over. ūüėČ



Calgon, take me away.

Calgon, take me away.


So, I’m working on this big project, breaking it down into smaller jobs to make it easier. I’m not really a physical kind of guy. But I was close to finishing one part and pushed myself a little too hard yesterday. It felt great . . . and boy did it hurt.

Wine . . . helped. A little.

But not enough.

So I headed for my default relaxation machine. The bath tub.

Now, I’m usually a shower kind of guy, but when I hurt, I can’t wait to submerge myself in the steamy goodness of hot water. I add a little lavender essential oil to the water and just soak my blues away.

No, that’s not me above. (Well, maybe in my dreams.) He’s just a stock photo I found. And what the heck is he drinking? I want some.

So, how do you relax after a painfully physical day?

Let me know in the comments down below.

And thanks for visiting The Spice Aisle.

Resolution Reality

Resolution Reality



The final strains of Auld Lang Syne are fading and a fresh, new year is upon us.

For many people, when the calendar rolls over, it’s time to take stock, have an honest look at your life, and see if you want to or need to make changes.

Studies say that less than 15% of people who make resolutions actually end up sticking with them.

So…how do you have a better chance?

I think enthusiasm counts for a lot. You have to be motivated enough to follow through. If some area of your life makes you miserable, then that discomfort is begging for a change, and you owe it to yourself to make it. If you don’t care enough to make a change, then you probably won’t make it/stick with it. The saying is true: If you want to, you will find a way. If not, you will find an excuse. Just know that IF you want to make a change, any change, you CAN make it happen.


It takes just as much time to wish as it does to plan. Write out step-by-step plan of action. Seriously, a detailed step-by-step of how the resolution will fit into your daily life.

Accountability works. Share your goals with supportive friends and family. (The key word is supportive. You want a helpful cheering squad. No negativity allowed.)

If you’re making several changes, it may be better to tackle one at a time. Don’t get overwhelmed.

Have patience. If, for example, your goal was to lose twenty pounds, that’s not going to happen just because you went to the gym two times last week. But if you track your progress, say, noticing your strength increasing or that you’re losing a pound a week, you’ll be more likely to stick with it.

Know that you might slip up, and if you do, that’s okay. Start fresh the next day. In all things, be kind to yourself.

I took a poll and here are some common resolutions that people will be making for 2017: break a bad habit, take a trip, stand up for yourself more, spend more time with loved ones, de-clutter, be present, learn something new, take up a new hobby, help others, eat healthy, exercise more, get enough sleep, find a new job, face a fear, relax more and stop stressing out so much, and do more of what makes you happy.

Whatever you do, I hope that 2017 is your most amazing year ever!

Toasting you with a glass of champagne,


National WHAT??? Day

National WHAT??? Day


I love that every day has a holiday. Just last week, we celebrated National Pumpkin Day. While some people may think it’s silly, I think it’s fun.

And today, November 1st, has several for you to enjoy.

Up first РNational Calzone Day 

Confession: I’ve only had one once. A long, long time ago. At the Philadelphia¬†Art Museum’s cafeteria, believe it or not. And yes, it was artistic.



It’s also National Authors’ Day.

YAY! *jumps up and down* How did this one start?

In 1928, Nellie Verne Burt McPherson, president of the Bement, Illinois Women’s Club had an idea of setting aside a day to celebrate American authors. She wrote a fan letter to fiction writer Irving Bacheller. Upon receiving her letter, Bacheller sent her an autographed copy of a book. McPerson decided to show her appreciation by submitting an idea for a National Author’s Day to the General Federation of Women’s Clubs.


So, what can you do? Send your favorite author a note to brighten their day.


Fitting in nicely with celebrating authors, it’s also¬†National¬†Family Literacy Day.

If you have kids – read to ’em. My mom read to us every night when I was little, and she loved books. She passed along that love to me.



And because pets are members of the family, you can celebrate with National Cook For Your Pets Day.

I don’t have a pet, but if I did, I might try this one, even though I avoid spending hours in the kitchen at all costs. Per the experts, consult your vet first.They’ll know your pet’s nutrition¬†needs and can also tell you foods to avoid.



Now, this is an interesting one. It’s also¬†National Vinegar Day.

This household product can be used for SO MANY THINGS, from cooking to cleaning to gardening. Yay for multi-purpose items!



Hungry? It’s also¬†National Deep Fried Clams Day.

According to research, fried clams have been on restaurant menus since 1865. And the modern deep fried version since 1916. 



And after eating those clams, you can celebrate National Brush Your Teeth Day.

This holiday is designed to remind and encourage parents to get their kids brushing their teeth for just two minutes, twice a day.



So there you have it. All of today’s holidays.¬†Now, which one are you going to celebrate?¬†

I really love that there’s something to celebrate every day because every day should be a celebration anyway. (Let’s hear it for the optimists!)


p.s. According to National Calendar Day, there are over 1200 national holidays. Want to know what to celebrate next? Check them out:

Five Reasons to Love Autumn

Five Reasons to Love Autumn

By Carrie Elks

There’s no denying it, here in the UK the temperatures have definitely dipped. My summer dresses are still hanging in the closet, but every time I open the door they stare at me forlornly, knowing that they’ll be passed over for their warmer, cosier cousins. But rather than be sad at the change in seasons, I have to admit it’s put a smile on my face. I love autumn (or fall as you guys call it). It’s one of my ¬†favorite seasons. And in case you need some persuasion, here’s a few reasons why Autumn rocks…

1. Sweater Weather

Portrait of pure beautiful woman wearing winter warm clothing over white

I love sweaters. I love the way the wool feels against your skin, I love the way that as soon as you pull it over your head it’s like carrying around your own personal body warmer, and I love the way I can eat a few more things *ahem* without having to worry about the extra poundage showing. You can dress them up with a skirt or a pair of smart pants, or down with your favourite jeans. I have a closet full of them and they make me very happy!

2. Hot Chocolate and Log Fires

Feet warming at fireplace with hands holding coffee

There’s nothing better than a warm cup of melting chocolate in front of a blazing log fire. Sadly, in 80 degree heat, that thought isn’t so enticing, but as soon as the the air gets cooler, the fire goes on and the chocolate gets hot. It’s like a warm, sweet hug in a mug, and I can’t think of anything better. It beats cold lemonade and strawberries hands down!

3. The Fall TV Schedules

Close up of a hand holding a remote control with a television concept.

Let’s face it, TV in the summer is rubbish. Old re runs, terrible reality shows, and nothing that is even worth turning the TiVo on for (do people still have TiVo? I’ve no idea!). All we watched this summer was Netflix (and if you haven’t watched Stranger Things yet, here’s why you should). But as soon as the children are back at school, it’s as though the TV schedules wake up, and the new season programmes are fabulous. Here in the UK I’m watching The Fall (Super scary psychopath drama with Gillian Anderson and a very frightening Jamie Dornan), Victoria (a sexed-up drama showing how a very beautiful Queen Victoria rose to glory) and The Great British Bake Off (a cooking competition – as British as it sounds, but lovely too!). How about you? What’s your favourite new programme?

4. Fall Colors


If you missed Susan Scott Shelley’s post on why Fall Colors rock, hop on over there now. ¬†The tree colors in the US are amazing (our UK ones are great, just not quite as spectacular). It’s as though nature is putting on a free show to make up for the end of Summer. My favourite place to see the fall colors when I was in the US was Great Falls National Park in Great Falls, Virginia (we lived up the road from there). And the above was a picture of our road in Autumn 2007.

5. Halloween


Candy, scary movies, cute costumes and more candy. What’s not to love about Halloween? As soon as the summer’s over, it’s the next thing to look forward to. I can remember when my children were little, we’d spend hours choosing costumes and watching classic films, trying to wait for the day that they could go out and get their buckets filled with sweet goodies. For me, Autumn IS Halloween and Halloween is Autumn. It’s as simple as that.

So there you go, a few reasons why we shouldn’t be sad that summer is finally over. How about you, do you love Autumn or are you gritting your teeth until Spring finally arrives?

Carrie Pink