Tuesday, December 15, 2009

In These Frozen and Silent Nights


It has been snowing for days. Days and days and days. It lights up the city. That seems to be the canned response. I am not sure what that means but everyone says it. So, yeah, it lights up the, now cloaked in dark, city. In my humble and ever so ready to give unsolicited opinion, it's just an unneeded layer of complication.

Well, it would be. Except my day planner is deliciously free. Therefore, I don't really care. If I had places to go and people to see in a timely manner it would be more menacing. Though, really, I don't know who signs up for this. We do have planes now. And cargo ships. There is always FedEx.

Wearing all these clothes is in a word laborious. I went out today I had tights on, socks, jeans, turtle neck, puffy down coat, ridiculous looking boots I bought two years ago to go sleigh riding, scarf, gloves, hat I stole from one of my kids. Just moving was cumbersome. I looked like a cross between a bag lady and the Michelin Man.

I dream of my flip flops, all 40 pairs. I long to drive barefoot in the blow dryer hot heat of Arizona through the Taco Bell drive through. Oh yes, one baja gordita, por favor. Chicken or that grey stuff that passes for it anyway. Mucho gracias amigo. In Phoenix, it is shorts, tank top and flip flops. In the winter, jeans and flip flops. Ease of simplicity. Why make life harder than it has to be?

I walked down to the gym where I was covered in white by the time I got there. I had to remove all the gear to work out and then put it all back on. I am fixing to go put it all back on again to venture back out for, like, the fourth time today. For real? People do this and lots of them? Why? I guess if I were going to live to be 1000, I might entertain the notion.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Lucia Day



Today marks the beginning of the Lucia weekend with culminates with Lucia Day on December 13th. In Sweden, the Lucia Day is celebrated in all parts of the country. It commemorates the life of Santa Lucia.

St. Lucia was born in Syracuse, Sicily around 283 and died in 303 AD. The myth is that her parents wanted her to marry a man against her will. She wanted to lead a more pious life, something along the lines of Mother Theresa. In protest against the marriage, she poked out her eyes, put them on a platter and gave them to the man. The legend is that her eyes were miraculously restored by God. I don't know if that part still holds. Perhaps, it was her carbon credits that restored her sight in the modern Swedish version.

It’s said that Saint Lucia blinded herself on the shortest, darkest day of the year, which is the Winter Solstice. Under the old Julian calendar, that day was December 13th. In Sweden, and other Scandinavian countries, Santa Lucia Day is seen as being the beginning of the Christmas season. It starts the countdown to Christmas-twelve days.

The tradition on this day is for the oldest girl in the family to dress in a white robe with a red sash and wear a crown of candles and lingonberry leaves (lingonberries are small red berries popular in Sweden). The other girls dress in white with silver crowns. The boys wear pointed white hats and carry candles. They’re called stjärngossar (star boys). Some kids dress up as tomtar, similar to gnomes. Traditionally, the procession will walk through the dark room and form a semi-circle with Lucia in the middle. They sing songs with a message of Lucia as a source of light and Christmas. The Lucia procession is often followed glug (mulled wine) , saffron buns and pepperkakor (gingerbread cookies, which I have eaten no less than 275,000 of) The city streets are adorned with small one's with wreaths of candles on their heads and young girls with tinsel in their hair as evidence that they have been part of a Lucia procession.

Observing the end to the shortening of the days is a very old tradition and has it's roots in pagan rituals. As do many Christmas time traditions, well predating Christianity. It is really a beautiful and simple tradition, albeit a little creepy. I am glad to have been able to partake of it for this one Christmas season.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pod Person Shows Up in Oslo

Claims to be Barack Obama and gives, for the first time, a damn good speech rooted in reality. And whoever this guy is, he actually seems to like us. I think we will keep him. Oslo, if you have the real Obama , please by all means, keep him. We'll take this guy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gloomiest November on Record

Well, one of them anyway according to the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute (SMHI). Sunlight was limited to 35 minutes a day for the entire month, giving Stockholm only 17.5 hours of sunlight for the entire month. Considerably lower than the than the average for the month at 54 hours.

Nobody seems to like it. When you go anywhere, it seems to be all people want to discuss. People are noticeably more cranky. Horns are beeping much more, fuses seem shorter and characteristically mellow Swedes are bit more on edge. I saw a runner out yesterday at about 4 pm with a headlight on his head. Chalk one up for the innovative. Flights to Thailand are astronomical and I do think the Swedes have single handedly driven up the prices.

Some Swedes use light therapy to try to ward off SAD, others use the bottle. Supposedly, as a whole Swedes consume copious amounts of alcohol during these bleaker months. Which would seem counterintuitive to me. Drunk and in the dark would only lead to be hung over and dark. Or in my case, doing stupid things you only remember half of and dark.

Living in Phoenix, I had forgotten what winter, in general, does to the skin tones of those around you. You typically do not notice that everyone has a vampire like bluish tinge to their skin until you return from vacation in a warm climate. You tend to get off the plane in your new South Florida tan and look around like you have walked into a scene of Night of the Living Dead.

My kids who normally have healthy tanned glows to their olive skin tone have taken on a greenish, greyish hue and I am sure I am sporting the translucently sallow tone I long ago left behind with New York winters. My son's blonde hair has turned an ashey brown. Thanks to the Twilight movies, looking dead is fashionable.

Unfashionable though is Vitamin D deficiency. Somehow, I manage to pick the year to go sunless when Vitamin D is the cure all health regimen. I couldn't have picked the oat bran craze year or the year for Alpha Lipoic Acid. I timed that one wrong it seems. Still and all, the dark does not really bother me. It is already cold, what does it matter if it's dark too?

Friday, November 27, 2009

One Smelly Cannoli in the Gym

I am in the gym, doing my thing. The gym is small. These are old buildings so they have been converted into many things that they were never intended for. The gym has several rooms that kind of meander around in a jig saw puzzle kind of way. There is a particular section that is probably the size of a large bedroom that people use to stretch, do sit-ups, etc.

I head into this room to finish up my work out. I grab one of the giant exercise balls to do some crunches. There is a kid in there. I have seen him in the gym before. I have mildy amused myself thinking that 15 years ago I would thought him possibly worthy of working into my web, at least for a week or two. Not really being into the whole cougar thing, the thoughts quickly leave my mind and my brain moves back to the au courant place of the populist anger filtering out of my iPod.

As I enter into the small room, he is acting unusual. Nervous, maybe. Whatever, I think to myself. I chalk it up to the stereotypical Swedish, almost to the point of neurosis, reservation. Even stranger, he abruptly leaves.

Then it hits me. The stench. A green fog of putrid odor ordered up from some hell-like depths of his bowels. Gee, thanks for the parting gift, I think. Not so cute anymore, more smelly.

Now I am alone in the stretching area. In comes unsuspecting stretcher number three. And it hits me. Oh. My. God. He thinks I did that. That I am responsible for that, what is now just a lingering chartreuse mist, permeating the air. I wanted to explain, "No really, it wasn't me, it was the blonde kid. You saw him, right? He was in here, not two minutes ago, I swear." But, being somewhat neurotically reserved at times myself, I lived with the incrimination of the cannoli.

This was a few days ago but today I saw the kid again. Of course, now when I see him, I think of the cannoli. Probably it's all the other unsuspecting stretcher can think when he sees me next too.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

American Taliban

But isn't it a wonderful world Carolina
Look at the birds in the sky
Jehovah made this whole joint for you, Carolina
and isn't it so wonderful to be alive


It all started so innocently. An American acquaintance on mine, fed up with ordering $5 cups of hot cocoa and then getting it handed back to her three quarters full, looked to the rest of the women at the table and said "Someone explain this to me". To which this answer was only an accepting shrug and a "Welcome to Europe".

Now, I didn't start this. Honest. But somehow the conversation got geared towards WHY? and the for WHAT reasons? and the ARE you all CRAZIES? with a little of LIFE doesn't have to be like this! thrown in for good measure. Honestly, I politely sat through it and didn't say too terribly much. What I did say was weighted. I long ago stopped trying to convert the lemmings. Banging my head against the wall would be a more fruitful endeavor.

As it was, I didn't have to do much but observe. What makes this especially interesting is my friend, who is not bashful or short on opinion, is a Mormon, a follower of the Church of Latter Day Saints. To be quite honest, in my view, Mormonism is really out there. However, I know quite a many LDS folks and truly they are made of some of the best stuff there is. Also, as a side note, you rarely meet a poor Mormon. And that makes me like them all the more.

The answer slowly unfolded like a five day old burrito and it held quite a stench. The Europeans, representing four different countries, at the table told us, that because America is such a religious society, we look to God for answers and because Europe is so secular they choose to look to the government. All four of them agreed. There we had it, America is but one religious leader away from being a big, giant Taliban with nukes.

And we are insular? I don't even think I can blame on insularity. Misinformed? Creating delusions that fit your world view that has been shaped by a lifetime of controlled media? True, America is more religious than Europe. Or maybe I should say America is more Christian than Europe. That vacuum is currently being filled.

To hear these people talk, a good 90 percent of us spend our weekends down at the Baptist hall practicing speaking in tongues while waiting for the rapture.

I am not religious at all. Just could never get there. I do not fear people who are. In fact, many of the people I call my friends are and always have been. They never preach to me or try to convert me. Of course, I know they think I am going to hell for not believing. That doesn't bother me either. Why? I probably do not believe it. In many ways I envy people of faith. I always say I'd rather have had faith and be wrong than believe in nothing and be right.

Does that mean there are not close minded, bigoted, fanatical zealots? Ofcourse not. But then, those people are more than alive and well in the circles travelled by the secularists. They are very healthfully represented in the new church of the environment. And, yeah, those people DO scare me. A lot. There is also no shortage of self-righteous liberal seculars and humanist religionists who belong to the cult of perpetual grievances and pathological social movements. I'll take a pass on them also.

If I had to make a choice between putting my faith in a God or putting my faith in the men of government, I'd go with some supreme supernatural being or nothing at all. Every time. Many people have suffered in the name of God but far more have suffered at the hands of their own government and countrymen.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Flash Mobs in the City Center

I miss all the good stuff. There were a series of flash mobs in the city center this week. The first one posted took place at T-Centralen which I see, at least, ten times a week. The second in the famous NK Department Store located close by. Unfortunately, I missed it all. Though from what I read, flash mobs are a rather common occurrence here in Stockholm.

A flash mob is defined as a large group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual action for a brief time, then quickly disperse.






Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Twilight

It is nearly twilight time here in Northern Europe. That would be the time of year when day light is limited to a few brief hours. At the tale end, it will barely get light beyond twilight at all during the day. The days shrink until December 21st or so and then gradually get longer.

For some odd reason, I love it. There is something so relaxing about perpetual night time. A less guilt ridden excuse to give in to laziness and winter retreatism. In a word, it is snuggly. A few months long, perpetual putting your head back under the covers and hitting the snooze button. On those crazy race track American lifestyle days it is the slowness of these days that I long for but can never be replicated on American soil.

It is not anything I would want year in and year out as I need the sun to function. But to indulge in it a few years out of an entire lifetime is a guilty pleasure indeed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Flick Your Bic

Round two at the orthodontist's office. It went well and did not cost even half as much as the last visit. No goodie bag emblazoned with his logo filled with fun little flosses, brushes and new products to try out. Nothing particularly notable. Oh yeah, I have to admit astonishment when instead of pulling out a the high-tech precision soldering tool that I am used to seeing, to get the thermoplastic material to a softened state, he pulled out a "high-tech" Bic lighter. Budget cuts, I guess.

Aye, yi, yi....carumba.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How the Sheep are Shorn

Or Taxation: How it Shrinks Economies and Initiative

At a dinner the other evening I got into a conversation with a woman who owned a company. She explained her company to me and it was in the same line of work as what I do. Later, the conversation turned to her asking if I would like to do some work for her. Initially, I thought it sounded great.

Then I thought about it further. If I were to work for this person, any income I make would be taxed at the highest income tax rate in Sweden. That would be 59 point something percent. Mind you, this is after a reduction. It was somewhere around 62 percent. For every dollar, I made, I would have to give the government 60 cents. At this point, I am working hard to see the up side. Jees, you must make a boatload of money then to be in this tax rate. Maybe, maybe not. This rate applies to around 300,000 Swedes with the very highest incomes, starting at 75,000 dollars a year. I don't know what is worse that only 300k Swedes make more than 75k a year or that they start this draconian rate at 75k. Who'd want to make more than 75k, you'd only be punished for your success.

For fun, I will also factor in the fact that Swedish employers match the employee’s withholding with a separate employer’s tax of 40 something percent. Let's also recognize that corporations do not pay taxes. They either pass them on to the consumer and they simply keep wages lower to compensate. Hence, the insane consumer prices.

Now, I go out shopping with my wage deflated forty cents on every dollar. Nearly every purchase is met with the 25% national sales tax or VAT tax! Factoring in my payroll tax, my employers contribution and my VAT taxes, I am now in the negative. In the red, over 20 percent. Wow, what a deal, where do I sign up?

Friday, November 6, 2009

These Shoes Are Made For...Fixing?

















Here in Stockholm, nestled in between the Turkish pizza joints, the endless hair salons, the golden key makers, the dry cleaners and the coffee shops you will find a plethora of choices for shoe repair. It is safe to say I could walk two blocks in any direction and find a few. I didn't know people still repaired shoes but apparently they do. Enough to support several high rent Vastastan locations to boot. (no pun intended). Sometimes, the shoe repair place doubles as the key making place and triples as the dry cleaner. Not really any weirder than when the Taco Bell doubles as the Pizza Hut when you stop to think about it. Incidentally, I hate when they do that.

When I peek in the shops, business appears to be brisk. Shoes line the shelves, two by two in little black pairs. Typically, they do not appear to be shoes worth salvaging but there they sit waiting for new heels or zippers. The place down the road usually has two guys working diligently. Peering in through the window, one younger man looking to be of immigrant status, arduously cobbles away at a heel of a boot or diligently inspects the sole of an Italian leather.

Who even repairs shoes anymore? I can not even think of but one shoe repair place that I know of. It's a little ramshackle building on Main Avenue in Durango, Colorado. The business is actually second generation and run by the son of an Italian immigrant and cobbler. Naturally, he was taught the trade by his father growing up in the apartment upstairs from the shop. Durango is known for outdoor sports so I would think he sees many hiking and skiing boots, too pricey and used too little to just discard. I'd also imagine using his services is a bit of a sentimental act for locals in Durango.

I shudder imagining what it would even cost to have a shoe repair here in Stockholm. I used the key makers and that was frightening enough. I have used the dry cleaners and I think it may have just been more cost effective to buy new clothes, certainly it would have been more satisfying. Looking back, it was close to $35 for a suit jacket and a pair of dress trousers. The place by my house in the US is less than $5 for the same two articles of clothing.

Thinking about it, I used a shoe repair guy once. I had these shoes I loved, a funky pair of Doc Martin knockoff type things. They were really unique. Ah man, I loved those shoes. You could wear them with anything: shorts, jeans, dresses. The buckle broke off. I thought I couldn't part with them. Even though I had bought them for seven dollars on clearance, I brought them to the shoe repair guy to get a new buckle put on. My attention span and wherewithal being what it is, I never went back to get them. Which really wasn't very nice now that I stop to think about it.

I wonder whatever happened to those little beauties? Some lucky girl, somewhere, benefited from my inaction. I do my part.

If we really get back to a place where repairing our shoes is commonplace, I don't know if that is a world I really want to live in. Yeah, I said it. Just the thought of it is depressing. Unless ofcourse, we start wearing some sort of high technology Jetson like shoes that double as something else like, maybe, some sort of space age travel apparatus.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Don't Know My Rodneys From My Stanleys



















Nor do I know my Kappas from my Reeboks. Actually I have zero desire. I am talking about soccer. It is difficult to articulate my utter distain for soccer. It is deeper than just not liking a sport, it goes against the grain of something elemental in all good Americans. It is just wrong. Embracing soccer would be like adding a jar of Nutella to the pantry and putting it right next to the peanut butter.

I got into it once with a soccer coach. He was talking about David Beckham and explained to me that people do not understand that soccer is different. A player can be one of the best in the world and hardly ever score a goal. Ofcourse, I found that amusing. It put it all into perspective for me. Made sense. That is why the areas of the world that take it seriously as a sport embrace it. That about sums up their entire world view right there.

I do not have a problem with rugby. Americans, as a rule, don't play rugby. A Brit once explained the class structure of sports to me. I was told in Britain, it's a class thing. Blue collar plays soccer, white collar plays rugby. I do not know that we have class distinctions in sports. I guess raising thoroughbreds is a rich man's sport. Golf used to be an upper class sport but now it seems everyone golfs. Not so much because golf has gotten cheaper either, we have all just gotten a lot richer as much as most people like to believe otherwise.

I am glad the rest of the world has soccer. World soccer fans should be happy it doesn't catch on with anyone over the age of ten in the United States. Imagine if it was a popular as basketball or football. All of the best players in the world would come to the United States. Every soccer club in the world would become a farm team for US soccer as the best players would go for the highest dollar payday in the US, not at home. Hopefully for the good of all, Americans will never warm to it.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wasa this?














Add Wasa bread for breakfast to things I was always adverse to but suddenly developed a liking for. I remember buying a package of it, once, a long time ago in Germany. I tasted it, concluded it tasted like cardboard and it sat in the pantry until I finally threw it away.

But, now, I like it. I have been eating it every morning for breakfast. You can load it up with some cream cheese and whatever fresh veggies you might have available and viola! A quintessential European breakfast. Not the stuff of bacon and eggs but, nonetheless, I am finally getting it.

What is funny is most Europeans, Swedes included, do not eat sandwiches for lunch but they eat the stuff of sandwiches for breakfast. The main meal is lunch. Often times, the sandwich routine is repeated again at dinner time. My husband, like many Americans, typically has sandwiches for lunch to much bewilderment of the Swedes. They insist he is not eating enough for lunch. Lunch should be a proper full out meal.

Moving on, it is not a far leap to turn the conversation as why it is that Americans tend to be so fat, because we eat our main meal at dinner hour. Um, no. Americans are so fat because we eat our main meal at every hour and because food is relatively cheap and plentiful. Oh, and because we don't move a lot. And because we recreate with food. And because we drive every where. Americans are fat for a whole host of reasons but eating dinner at dinner hour probably is not high on the list.

Sometimes the more cantankerous will push the issue further. How can your kids learn anything eating like this at lunch? If they only knew of the peanut butter and jellies, fruit snacks, Chips Ahoys and other crap our kids pile on at lunch. Some schools even patrol the kid's lunch plates looking for offenders who have not completed their entire lunches.

I do not know why sandwiches for lunch brings about such a reaction. I really don't worry myself with why they eat sandwich stuff for breakfast. Hell, I am even partaking in the Wasa.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Kill a Fireman, Enter Paradise



This video was made earlier this month. It is so easy to forget the precarious place Sweden is in. When you live in the city center, it is very easy to dismiss these kinds of reports as scare mongering. However, the clash of civilizations is here and very real.

This report is actually in Gothenburg which is Sweden's second largest city located on the west coast of the country. It could easily have been written about the, now, infamous Mälmo. Or many of the suburban ghetto areas of Stockholm.

A testament to the failures of the misguided, purple unicorns and rainbows leftist notion of multiculturalism. Your strength is never in your diversity, EU, but in your unity. It will be a bloody lesson your sons and daughters will have to learn. A hefty price tag you have left them to pay.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Meter Maids

There was a story this past week that meter maids in Mälmo, Sweden's third largest city, will get spy cams to help increase their safety and reduce the incidents of physical threat and violence toward them. I do not know if this problem is isolated to Mälmo or if it is is repeated throughout the country. Mälmo, to put it politely, is a city in transition. Transitioning from the twenty first century to about the fourteenth.

I watch these meter maids with a lot of perplexity. Actually, the term is traffic warden. Warden is much more fitting for the mentality it must take to perform this activity day in and day out. There is no shortage of them and they are constantly on the prowl looking for offenders and writing tickets. Very costly tickets I might add. Tickets like this are, after all, a revenue stream for the state. Lord knows, the Swedish state needs all the revenue it can get. If it can't collect it in punitive taxes and fees, fines are a good alternative.

I do not drive here and everyone tells me that is a good thing because you would invariably receive boat-loads of parking tickets. The parking rules, they say, are so confusing and fluid that even seasoned Stockholmers find themselves getting ticketed. Probably by design. Driving should be discouraged in the new green world. Except for the elites ofcourse. They can drive and when they get tickets they can just get them fixed. Funny how that works.

Yesterday, I saw two parking wardens examining a car. They were in their blue uniforms walking repeatedly around the vehicle. One of them crouched down and seemed to be inspecting the location of the tire of this nice, new blue Audi cross over. They exchanged a few words and parking warden #1 took out his pad and began the process of ticket writing. A smug look of satisfaction peeked out from under his cap. That will teach him for having that nice, new shiny Audi. I know that was what they were thinking.

For sure, it takes a certain, special kind of person to perform this task with cold efficiency. In another era perhaps they would have been asked to be drivers of cars previously used to haul cattle. I would undoubtedly get fired because I would rarely hand them out. Thinking about it further, perhaps I could become some sort of vigilante ticket writer. A sort of Charles Bronson of the parking world, studying and staking out my victims. And I know just who I would target.

Friday, October 23, 2009

UN Day

It's United Nations Day at my kid's school. Apparently, it is a real bona fide day acknowledged by the rest of the world. I had half a mind to keep them home in protest. Really, though, my kid's already know more accurate information about the UN than most adults. I can only imagine them raising their hands and saying, "My mom says the UN is a corrupt and vile institution and that it has never met a dictator or murderous regime it does not defend".

Actually I am glad to see displays of national pride. I am surprised that kind of thing is still allowed. So, for that reason alone I could support it. A one day celebration of people coming together. I can get behind that notion. You can try to erase borders, language and culture but we will forever be a planet of star and unstar bellied Sneetches. A timeless truth.

The kid's broke up into their countries and marched through the surrounding park area. Surprisingly, the Americans were the second largest group behind Sweden. They were encouraged to dress in their country colors and traditional costume if they had it. Many did. As always, the Asian countries were the best with beautifully patterned and colored kimonos and traditional garb. The Indians were not far behind with some pretty impressive duds.

There were lone flags, flags I did not recognize and kids who have been expats so long and in so many locations they did not know whose flag to march under. Surprisingly, the biggest show of nationalism came from the Brits. I tried to get the American kids to let out one big giant, heart felt "Boooyah" but the closest I got was four of them chanting "USA, USA". And no they weren't my kids, some other future jingos. Bless their little hearts.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Burning the Bunnies
















They are burning bunnies for biofuel here in Sweden. Well, they cull them from the parks to prevent damage to the greenery. And then they are burning them. Making use of the cadavers. They freeze the bunnies until they are ready to use them. I would be curious to know the energy in-energy-out equation for this endeavor.

They theorize that it is irresponsible pet owners who are responsible for the over population of bunnies. I do not know if I buy that. There is an expression, "breeding like rabbits"...Plus, I'd wager buying a bunny in Sweden is akin to buying anything else in Sweden. A fairly large investment. Let's see...a new coat this month or buy a bunny and let loose in park?

I would think, perhaps, if killing the bunnies is the best option there could be better uses for them. People eat them, their furs can be used for clothing. I have even read the recommendation of using them, at least, as a food source for zoo animals. Ah, but ecomania is all the rage and burning food stuff for energy is the left's newest passion. They've single handedly influenced enough corn burning to triple the cost of tortillas in Mexico. As if the average Mexican peasant is concerned with going green.

Culling in the parks may not be a bad idea. Maybe, though, let's leave the bunnies alone and stick to the junkies and other sordid characters that inhabit so many of them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Snow Already?

It snowed today for about twenty minutes. That was several hours ago. Now it is blue skies again. It's that ever shifting, schizophrenic Stockholm weather for you. Still and all, it seems rather early for snow.

The high today is a balmy 41. Contrast that with the 98 degrees forecast for Phoenix this Friday. Overall the cold is not really getting to me yet, though. The only time it seems a little daunting is when I remind myself that it is only mid October and it's slated to be cold for, at least, ummmm, seven more months.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Hotbox Cactus

















I purchased a cactus today and it brightened my mood. It is a little slice of Arizona. I was in Lidl and they had a fresh shipment of them just in. It was odd to me that they would have a random shipment of cacti, even stranger since in another month we will be very short on daylight. They were set up by the registers as a sort of impulse buy. For 29 sek, I just couldn't pass it up. Especially since, they were adorned with a little Mexican guy in a sombrero. I was sold.

I miss my dessert plants. I saw a large agave for sale down the street for about $300. It was the kind of agave I can get at home for about $20 and in six months have propagated into 20 more agaves. Understandably, agaves are not as easy to come by in Scandinavia.

Truth be told, I think this may actually be a succulent and not a cactus. Close enough though.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Hej då

I have not written this past week as my niece was here visiting from the US. She came with her boyfriend who she met in the states and who resides in Norway. They took the train over from Oslo, after spending an inseparable month together. He returns to Norway; she, the states.

My heart is heavy for them both today. Not so much because I miss their presence, though I do. But I know the sadness they must feel not knowing when they will be reunited. It is a quintessential love story, one I hope she does not mind me sharing with the thirty or so regular readers of this blog. She, the free spirited, independent and sensitive young American woman, he the mild mannered intellectual European who meet by happenstance. Now only the vastness of the ocean separates them, at least temporarily.

Only five words come to mind: Love will find a way.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Again With the Sweatpants

Standing in the line at the German grocers, Lidl, today in my sweats and running clothes I was again reminded of an episode of Seinfeld. The one where Jerry chastizes George for wearing sweats in public. He says to him, "You know the message you're sending out to the world with these sweatpants? You're telling the world, 'I give up. I can't compete in normal society. I'm miserable, so I might as well be comfortable."

I knew it was a fashion faux paux here in Stockholm. But I had just finished running and they just feel so good. So comfy. It just seemed like so much effort to go upstairs and change into something more presentable. After all, it was only Lidl.

The truth is, you never see women here out in their sweats. Stockholm women go to some lengths to look nice and they most often do. Young and old alike, they are a well dressed lot. Freshly coiffed hair, made up and I've noticed they often smell really good; like freshly applied potions and lotions. Rarely are they overweight no matter their age. I have learned by observation that middle age spread is certainly not inevitable. I see 50 year old women as fit as 25 year old women.

Additionally, some of the best looking women reside in this city. If I were a single young man, this would be where I come. So much natural blonde beauty in one place, it seems almost unfair that they've been keeping this perfect DNA hidden away up here. I think of all the time and money I could have saved on peroxide over the years if I'd just had a few strands.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pimp My Green Ride














































































































I have returned from Copenhagen with, yet another, cold. I hate being sick. Another perfectly valid reason for me to abhor public transportation. It's making me sick. The four white blood cells I have are in constant overdrive. I must be making up for last year when I did not get sick all year, unheard of for me.

My first impression of Copenhagen was the cleanliness of the city. It was remarkably clean. It was very green and had a lot of wide open space. I liked that. It also had a great mix of old and new, which I also like. So, I was digging it. It was almost like some European style Phoenix replete with old buildings and sterility.

The streets were calm and aside from the city center pretty quiet. Almost a little unsettling. Stockholm on valium and by default much cleaner. My daughter thought the city had a creepy vibe and I somewhat agree. It had the sense of extreme orderliness common to many German cities. Similarly too, it was much lighter on the commerce, advertising and trade.

That is something I think Americans THINK they would like but when faced with a life without it find out they do not. They miss the constant jockeying for the dollars in their pockets. I know I did. Thankfully Stockholm is not like that. Despite the punitive taxes, the city is always working.

As usual, I couldn't leave well enough alone, I had to dig a little deeper. Well, in this case I didn't have too dig too hard or too far. I really just had to purchase something. Ha!! Holy shit! Someone please, put me on the train back to Stockholm where things are cheap. Yeah, that is what I said. Everything was two times as costly. No joke.

It is all a little unnerving. There really is no end to the levels of taxation these people are 1. capable of and 2. capable of convincing others to pay. Personally, I do not care if Danes want to pay 110% taxes to the state. If it works for you Denmark; great, have at it. My fear is--we actually have idiots who, through, I don't know, fear of getting a passport and relocating, feel the need to try and inflict this type of society on us.

When I got home, I had to research a little. I had to know just what the median income was in a place where a can of coke is $3 at the 7/11 and a casual dinner for a family of four is 5x that of the same dinner in the United States. According to my favorite source of unbiased information, the New York Times, Denmark has a 63 percent marginal tax rate paid by top income earners in Denmark. (anyone making more than 360,000 Danish kroner, or about $70,000). The good or bad news, depending on how you look at it, was the median income was relatively high, about $65,000 a year. Jeez, must be a lot of "rich" Danes paying that 63% tax rate.

The New York Times was also quick to tell me that such effective income redistribution has made Denmark the most egalitarian society on the planet ---that wealth is more evenly spread than anywhere else. Yeah, everyone is equal alright. The productive are equally getting the hell out. One thousand skilled workers flee Denmark each year for greener pastures.

Maybe not truly greener. Copenhagen is something of the mecca to the "green" (watermelon) movement. Green propaganda is throughout the city. Cars are outnumbered by bikes. So, greener may be hard to find.

Bike stands abound and giant hordes of bikers ride purposely through the streets. It must be hard to date when the bicycle is your main mode of transportation. Do you meet out by the bike stand? I don't particularly have anything against bikes. I like bikes. I really do not care for lemmings though. Lemmings I have a problem with. For some strange reason I just couldn't shake the visual of the bikers all following each other off a cliff.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Off to Copenhagen

will return Tuesday...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Of Mice and Boys and Men

"Swedish dads are tragic with all their nappy-changing and equality"

That is a direct quote taken from an interview given by Anna Anka, Paul Anka's Swedish born wife.

Swedish men do live with the stereotype of being what I would call lacking in the testosterone department. It is said that the women certainly "wear the pants" in the family. I can not really attest to it first hand but by just observing it does seem to be the case.

Sweden likes to reverse the order just for the sake of reversing the order. In the early mornings, you will see 98% dads taking the wee one's to nursery school or primary school. There's dad, in his work clothes and lap top rushing off to get little Lars to school. He generally looks rushed and as Anka said, rather tragic.

I do not know where the moms are. My guess would be working too as most women here do work. It's good to see father's involved, do not get me wrong. But, when it's 98% the dad doing the school run that tells me something else. It makes me think, this is just another example of turning the traditional order on it's head just for the sake of turning the traditional order on it's head.

And that is funny to me. Apart from whether it is realistic or sustainable, I have to wonder, in fifty years will tomorrows liberals reverse things back just to turn the new established order on it's head? Probably.

Another thing that perplexes me is that boys here are boys! Fully loaded with testosterone, beating the living shit out of each other, jumping on each other, smelly, unwashed, frog catching and exuding hormones and boyishness at every turn. They travel independently and in packs freely roaming and exploring the city. None of that mom-doting over protectiveness I am used to witnessing (and surely guilty of myself) in suburban United States.

So, I ask myself---what the hell happens to these boys between these ages and adulthood? At what point do they transition and start crossing their legs and carrying man bags?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I Should Have Been a Bear

It is starting to get cold in Stockholm. I can see my breath in the morning. The days are still mostly warm but the nights and the mornings are getting cool. Yep, it is for real. I am really looking down the barrel of...winter.

Just the word summons dread. I despise winter. I try to embrace some poetic version of the seasons changing and all the imagery that goes with it. Having spent 24 hellish, bitterly cold and grey winters in upstate New York I have engineered my life around, not only rain, but winter. Real winter. Coats. Boots. Hats. All of it. And I have to say, I don't miss it at all. Not one iota.

And even if I do have small lapses in judgment (which I am prone to having) and think I am starting to miss it, I have a house in Colorado. I can drive seven hours to winter. Put on the hats, the gloves, the coats, drink the hot cocoa, do a little sleigh riding and then hop in my car and put winter away. In it's rightful place. The recesses of my memory.

Ocourse, I am telling myself this winter will be different. I will dress for it. I will enjoy it. It is after all, only one winter. I can do this. I can wear boots. I like boots. I never get the chance to wear boots in Arizona. My kids can ski, play ice hockey, ice skate and whatever other activities people engage in cold weather. All activities, lord knows, they will never have the opportunity to do with me around. I can do this...


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

I have overdosed on Swedish meatballs. I started to really get into them. It was after one of those touristy boat rides. They served lunch and I had the meatballs. It was that or fish. I have never really been a big fan of them. It was not that I did not like them. There were always so many other, better, choices. However, here, my options have narrowed. Gone are my beloved enchiladas, frijoles and papitas.

On the boat, they served lunch. A very nice lunch, I might add. I ordered the meatballs. It was the perfect combination. Little Swedish meatballs, gravy, lingonberry sauce, pureed potatoes and razor thin sliced cucumber salad marinated in a sweet vinegar sauce. I was sold. My new meal. I replicated it at home to near perfection. When I was not eating it, I was looking forward our next encounter when I would again savor the perfect balance of tastes. I was barely thinking of enchiladas. Hard to imagine.

Then I moved and the trips to IKEA began. I have been to IKEA a handful of times in the past few weeks. Sheepishly, I must admit, each trip consisted of, yes, meatballs. It was Saturday's meal that finally pushed me to the brink. I can't even think about the meal anymore. I've ruined it. My all or nothing personality has once again taken me from all to nothing.

The Swedish meatball love affair was good while it lasted. But like all torrid love affairs, it has fizzled out. Perhaps we, the meatball and I, with a little absence can get the magic back. Perhaps...

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Student of LIfe

I attract interesting people over the age of 70, let's put it that way. Tonight, I had an hour long conversation with a former opera pianist who had some sort of an oracle who would tell her things were going to happen. The Oracle, she said, told her Barack Obama wouldn't be elected. Apparently it was one of the only times it was wrong.

She was also a student of Native American shamanism (again, are we detecting a theme here?) and needed me to write the names of my entire family so she could visualize stuff. She never got into much detail about the stuff but she was still holding the paper as I made my escape out into the night. Perhaps, next meeting.

Before this, she read my palm. She said, I had different gifts in special ways. She was tipped off by my apparent unique finger nails. Each one is different than the next. A very special trait. She had only seen a few like them in her 84 years. Then she told me she also exaggerated a lot.

Her name was Ann Marie and she seems to have lived a full life. Her English was impeccable and she had travelled the world with her craft. As farfetched as some of her ideas, she had a sharp mind at 84 and moved in and out of Swedish to English with ease.

Vanity, if she ever suffered from it, was a distant memory. She was attired in a mix matched ensemble of various colors and styles topped off with a black fedora. Long wispy grey strands hung down as she hung her head and smiled when she couldn't quite bring the English word she was looking for to her mind. Many times she would get stuck on an English word I would use and ask me to explain it's meaning. It was always the simple words--very, much. The larger, more complicated words she seemed to have no problem with.

She spoke 5 languages and had hoped to learn a sixth, Gaelic. However, the instructor had to cancel that class for a lack of interest. She was the only enrollment. At 84, it seems, she is still a student of life.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Koh Phangan


It is hard to say whether it is genuinely the best Thai food in the city but it must must be the as close to a genuine Thai experience as you are going to find just about anywhere outside of Thailand. Koh Phangan, located on the island of Sodermalm, serves up delicious Thai food in a jungle-like, eclectic Thai setting. This is an atmosphere chain restaurants try to emulate but never quite hit the mark.

It will take an hour or longer to be seated but it is every minute worth the wait. Tables consist of individual beach style huts, fishing shacks and private tables made from old tuk tuks. If the unique interior of bamboo and grass walls lit by only colorful strands of lights are not enough to make you feel like you could walk out into a steamy Thai beachfront evening then perhaps the piped in sounds of rainstorms and tropical fauna will.

When visiting make sure to pay attention to the details. Waterfalls, bridges and even a koi pond can be found inside. Thai trinkets, pictures of royalty and other kitschy items adorn the walls. Even the toilets add something of interest.

Stockholm is not short on choices for Thai eating. In fact you probably can not walk ten feet in any direction without hitting either a Thai restaurant or food stall of some variation. However, if you are limited to just one, let Koh Phangan be it.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Trash Talking

Initiative is doing the right thing without being told.
Victor Hugo

There was a steaming pile of dog shit sitting at the entrance of my building for, what, five days? Not really steaming after five days, I admit. Do you think anyone would stop and clean it up? People have come and gone all week, walked around it and carried on their way in and out of the building. Then a plastic bag was added to the mix, then some sort of wrapper. Soon a stroller ran through the poop and tracked it into the building.

OK, so no one touched the dog poop. Cleaned the hallway. But, the trash? Nah. There is an advertising agency downstairs, they couldn't be bothered despite the fact that it is their place of business. Then there was an open house for a flat upstairs. The agent came, hung up some flyers and taped open the doors.

Ya think he might have cleaned some of it up? He did clean up the hall, it appeared but the now growing pile of trash stood at the entrance. Finally, my husband came in, oblivious to my growing annoyance with it, and said, "They are having some kind of open house upstairs, I had to move that pile of crap that was in front of the door". That put an end to my experiment.

It leaves me wondering is it a city thing, a collectivist mindset thing or just that there happen to be a whole lot of lazy people living and working in this building. Probably a combination of all three.

Why didn't I, you probably ask. I wanted to but then I was amused and perplexed watching people walk in and out of the building and each time walking around the mess. Then I just got curious how long it would stay there.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Keys Please

Do you remember the last time you had some keys made? Remember what it cost you? Three bucks? I had to get some keys for my kids last year and they put them on some special little cartoon character keys. I think those cost me about $4 a piece.

Well, any brave soul wanna take a wager what two new keys will set you back in Stockholm? How about about $22. Yeah, not kidding. I almost had a coronary when he said it. 180 crowns.

No, no, old chap, you see -- I wanted ordinary house keys not the 22k gold keys. Not keys to the universe. Just ordinary keys.

Well, you say--perhaps he is the only game in town. Perhaps he has a monopoly on this key making business and he can set his price. Ha! Nice try. Every third store front, after the Turkish pizza places and after the hair cutting places is a key making place.

Then to further boggle my mind, I went down to get some coat hangers. You know, the plastic variety we buy 12 for a dollar sometimes 10 for a dollar. Try about $2.50 for three! Three!? I need, like, 300 hundred. So, I am looking at spending $200 on $20 worth of hangers. Are you frikking kidding me right now?

Thankfully, of the 16 boxes we shipped over here, one was a box of hangers. I knew from experience.

Americans really need to think loooonnng and hard about taxpayer funded *free* healthcare and cap and trade taxes. Long and hard.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Moving Day

Moving Day has finally come. We are no longer in the Flea Market and in a better setting. If not an emptier setting. Empty is OK with me though, I'll take it.

Sunday, we met the owner at noon and she was to give us the keys and tell us what information she had to give us. She had warned us that the cleaning people were going to be there all weekend and we would not be able to move in until after they were through. In Sweden they are very big on using "professional" cleaners and you can never move in until they are through. It seems to take a really long time from what I have noticed.

We get upstairs to the door and when she sees it is locked she is in disbelief that the cleaners have not been there. Great. All in all, it is a big fluster cluck and she finally gets the cleaners over at about 1:30. He shows up with a team of ladies and they are done by about 5:30. In the meantime we move all of our stuff, about 20 boxes and five or six suitcases, using a dolley cart because it is only about a block's distance. It is a first. Though we have moved numerous times, we have never moved via foot before.

We come in and out with our stuff and it completely has the cleaning ladies disorientated because we are not supposed to be there. We are not supposed to be there until after they leave. It is the way it is always done. Except, the guy who runs the show had to cut us some slack because they neglected to show up on time because of some sort of miscommunication. His name is Michel and he is from Turkey as so many of the entrepreneurs we meet are. The more we come across them the more I like them. They are always friendly, down to earth and extremely hard working. (generalizing again, Lex! LOL, I am always going to think that)

I am without internet for the next few days. Actually I have this broad band card that is only getting three bars. The owners accidentally packed the cable modem in with their stuff with them to the UK. They are supposed to ship it back. We can not figure out the TV. They have a magnet induction stove top that it took me about an hour to figure out. Apparently, it has to sense that there is a pan on the surface to switch on. And they have some sort of condensor dryer, that I have not a clue what to do with.

All in all, it's been a crazy three days. I sent my daughter off for a week long camping trip with her class to the archipelago and almost missed getting her to the bus. Forgot to get a cake for a fika and had to run out this morning at seven am to get one.

Good times.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

I went to the PTA meeting for my son's class today. As a general rule, I try to avoid any place where large groups of women congregate unless shoes or purses for purchase are involved. However, I went in today armed with an open mind and low expectations.

Actually, this was the second PTA meeting I have gone to. The first was the "business" meeting, this was more of a get to know each other coffee. It was pleasant, as these things always are in the beginning. It isn't until later that you realize it is still very much like the social constructs you left behind in high school.

During the meeting the nurse came in to talk about the swine flu and immunizations. Then an American woman took the stage and went into a 20 minute lesson about head lice. It was a full demonstration. She had some special small comb and a homeopathic tincture she bought from the health food store. She was showing us how she combed her kids' hair each morning as a preventative measure. I nodded off about three minutes into the presentation, as I generally do so I really could not tell you what other tips of the trade she was sharing.

She was clearly spending a lot of time, effort, thought and resources into combatting these little head squatting creatures. As I looked around the questions were coming at her rapid fire and everyone had the same look of abject fear I must have.

Initially, before slipping under, I was horrified. Lice? "Is this a common thing?" I asked the two Swedish women I was sitting with. One woman who looked extremely irritated answered, "No, this is crazy".

Another American woman in the room, maybe her assistant in all this, was as animated and as concerned about the impending lice epidemic. And it hit me. Aaaaaaah, good old American neuroticism. So, I laughed and said to the Swedish woman, "Oh, it's an American thing". We kind of laughed a bit about the hand sanitizer and the antibacterial soaps. A little self deprecating humor is always a good thing and a little disarming. She then said "Yes, anytime there is anyone on the room asking 100 questions it's always the Americans"

Hey now... they may be neurotics but they are MY neurotics.

Anyhow, I figure the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. True--American's tend to over worry and try to control their environments to a huge extent. Also though, Swedes tend to gloss over negative attributes about their society, avoid unpleasantries or to even be in denial about many things.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Red Light, Green Light

When they say pedestrians have the right-of-way, they really mean it in Sweden.

There are two different types of crosswalks in Stockholm. The first is with a light system allowing you to cross when it shows a green little man walking. The second is a cross walk with no light. In these crosswalks, pedestrian trumps driver and here a pedestrian can cross at any time.

If a car sees a pedestrian it must stop on a dime to let them go. The crazy part is--they actually do. I have seen many cars come to screeching halts to let the cross walkers cross. It seems backwards to me because I think it's much easier to stop your legs than to stop a 3,000-4,000 pound car.

Even more mystifying is the unwavering faith that the crossers seem to have that the cars will always stop. They obliviously cross even as a car is speeding toward them. Half the time they do not even give a glance as though maybe they have some apprehension. That maybe this vehicle could be the one that was going to keep going.

It think maybe it has something to do with an almost child-like naivety many Swedes seem to have. A microcosmic sized example of self preservation taking a backseat to the belief in the system.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

European Grooming

I can not really say this is an expose on Swedish grooming because, over all the Swedes seem better than most Europeans. However, I do see a bit of it here also. By "it" I mean just an overall lack of grooming. What got me thinking about this was the "Back to School" meeting at my children's school last week. I had noticed that all the men looked to be about a good month out form a haircut. I found it strange that one wouldn't have themselves spruced up for the event. Lasting first impressions and all that.

It is a common sight. Eloquently dressed in a nice suit, nice tie, good shoes and a complete wreck from the shoulders up. Sometimes, I think it is purposeful. They are going for that Sven look. You know what I mean, the windswept blonde almost surfer look. And do not get me wrong, it can be a good look, if you are 22. At 42 and in a business suit, it's just plain puzzling. There is something about age that lends itself to good grooming anyway. Lack of grooming just doesn't work for you the way it used to.

Many times though, it is not intentional. The hair creeping onto the neck, the nose hairs, the hairy moles, over grown mustaches that cover the teeth...all of it not planned. All of it unpleasant for those around the offender.

It is true that most American's have a compulsion for overall cleanliness. It is to the point where some experts claim our environments are so sterile it could actually be harming our children's immune systems. Hand sanitizers, antibacterial everything..I have friends who would need biological warfare suits to get on the subways I ride everyday. I like trying to spot the Americans. They typically don't blend.

What is even more of a mystery to me is the fact that salons/frisors are every third storefront here in the city. So, clearly, there is a lot of haircutting and grooming going on. I've never seen so many beauty salons. I am not sure who is keeping these guys in business. Maybe it is all the Svens getting their highlight regrowth done.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Singing Sverigiachis

There is a commercial here for Bredbands bolaget that features a group of mariachis coming out of a suitcase singing in Swedish. Click here for link You can file that one under, things I would have never seen ten years ago. Happily, I can report that Mexicana has reached Scandinavia. Coming from an border state in the United States, Arizona, I have grown to appreciate our hybrid mix of all things American with a little salsa flair.

Every burger place in Stockholm seems to be running a special on the Tex Mex or Mexican version of their burger. Max Burger is even getting in on the game and offering up a Crunchy Nacho Burger. The Mexican food section of any grocery store is rather impressive. While you won't yet find refried beans or New Mexican style green chile, you can get some decent jarred salsas, flour tortillas and seasonings. Enough to cobble together a fix for any south of the border cravings.

Sometimes, though, they get it wrong. I ordered a chicken club sandwich last night with a "tex mex" sauce. Really, I should know better than this. I have had enough odd concoctions that have been labeled as Tex Mex or Mexican to know the outcome is less than certain. When the sandwich came out it had the undeniable yellow color only found in the one spice I have zero fondness for-- curry. No, no, no--you will never find curry in anything Mexican, except maybe outside of North America.

This penchant for Mexican food makes me wonder if thinking outside the bun™ or perhaps a run for the border™ is not in Scandinavia's future? I could really use a gordita right about now.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Using the ATM

I finally got my bank card a few weeks ago. There are a few things I really do not have the patience to stop and take the time to do. Stopping to buy gas, going to the bathroom and using the ATM are among the top three. Little annoying pieces of time banditry that take away from more productive past times like being on the internet.

Well, getting gas is no longer an issue. Using the ATM is, although, now it is using the ATM while everything on the screen is in Swedish. I have it down to a basic routine as long as the screens do not change. Well, yesterday they did. A little stress inducing to say the least.

Usually, I make my husband come with me. I am not really sure why as he knows less Swedish than I or the kids do. Yesterday I was feeling brave, so I went it alone. I put in my card, the usual screens came up. I typed in my pin, typed in my amount and, yikes, a completely foreign message popped on the screen. Ofcourse, at this point the line behind me was four deep.

I could not make out what the screen was saying. I just wanted my card back. It was the longest 30 seconds of my life and I was certain I was never going to see my card again as I bargained with God about being a better person and never using the ATM again if I could just see my card one more time. I tried my luck and pressed the button that said something about a receipt and presto, my card was back. My ATM card never looked so good.

I stepped back and let the queue file through and what do you think I did? I tried it again. Like some sick masochist, I went back for a second round. Only this time I knew to press the kvitto button. I was convinced that, maybe, I did something wrong. I think it was telling me it was out of 100 kronor notes and I had to take out a minimum of 500 kronor. I am pretty sure that was what it was reading.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

This Place is Falling Apart

Nine days and counting until I am outta the Flea Market. But I am here to tell you, this place is falling apart and it's nothing we are doing. Just because I can not stand the place doesn't mean I am deliberately treating things badly. It is just a case of bum luck, bad timing, whatever you call it.

Two weeks ago the washer stopped working. Last night the freezer stopped working. Thankfully, I have successfully cracked myself into the laundry room but it takes me three hours to do the laundry every four days! Thank God for Mark Levin podcasts.

I pulled down a shade, it refuses to go back up. The ironing board, which had some jimmy rig repair, fell apart. I am truly afraid of what else can self destruct in the next nine days. I keep having bad visuals of us on some Swedish version of Judge Judy.

No freezer means no ice...for nine long days. I feel like I am camping.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Raggare
































Raggare, as far as I understand, is a sub-culture in Sweden that is hooked on vintage American cars. It seems like one Saturday a month the Raggare spend the evening cruising Sveavagan, the largest street and basically the entering street into Stockholm from the north. Living close to Sveavagan we get to watch the Raggare Parade from the window to the delight of my kids who find hours of entertainment watching this.

Vintage car clubs are not unusual, we have them in the United States also. The Reggare take it to a whole other level. In addition to parading their cars they usually dress up as 50's greasers, red necks, punkers, etc. The cars are not limited to old style American vintage, though that is mostly what you will see. There are more vintage American cars in Sweden than in the entire US. You will also see just strange contraptions welded together. This weekend we saw a Smart car with a race car grill and bumber and all sorts of unusual pairings welded together.

With this traffic comes to a halt on Sveavagen and it is pretty much mayhem for several hours. Music blaring, people hanging out off car windows, riding on roofs, openly drinking while driving, horns beeping, singing in unison (a European tradition that I'll never understand) and sheer craziness rule the street. For some reason, American Confederate flags adorn the landscape. The way I understand it, Ragarre has it's roots in the rural towns and the followers were viewed upon as sort of rednecks. In fact, there is a Swedish saying - "if you don't like CCR, you are not a raggare

A celebration of red-neck-iness. In Europe. Yep, even Europe has rednecks.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

School's Back

Yesterday marks the beginning of the new school year which is bittersweet in many ways. Sweet because my kids are going to a wonderful school , in an excellent environment and learning so much about the world around them. Already, my daughter is in her element. I think I will have a hard time ever getting her back into a public school. My son, who is normally, apprehensive about any change is also doing remarkably well.

Bitter because I am losing my summer accomplices. My son has been largely my compass. At eight, he knows pretty much where all the buses go and how to get everywhere for the all too common instances when I am absolutely clueless. My daughter, as always, is the adult in the trio. She keeps us on task. They have both been my extra arms and legs with the, now bane of my existence, trips to the grocery store.

I have selfishly had them all to myself for the entire long summer with no intrusions and not having to share them with the outside world. It was a memorable summer, one I am sure we will always carry with us and I am thankful to give them this opportunity that so few children get to experience. They have put up with my complaining, my constant philosophizing, my soap box styled rants, this terrible apartment and a giant upheaval in their lives with hardly a complaint.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

That 70s Ortho Office

Friday I took my daughter to her first orthodontist appointment. She has braces so I need someone to continue her treatment while we are here. Overall, it was a non-eventful appointment, the dentist seemed to know what he was doing; he was professional and pleasant. All good things.

What struck me was the vast difference between our orthodontist offices in the states and this orthodontist office. This office reminded me of the doctors offices I remember from my childhood in the 1970s. Not that the equipment or furnishings were antiquated. They were not. Just the feel, the look and the general vibe of the place.

Our orthodontist office in the states...a whole other level. First off, it is called Aspen Orthodontics. The entire office is snow board themed. Snow boards and winter sports equipment hang from the ceilings. The waiting room is a plush, interior designed space with a big screen TV and kid's nook complete with a Play Station. Everything is state of the art and antiseptically modern. All this competes with the any one of the fifteen orthodontists in the five mile radius including the guy we didn't choose with the Slush Puppy machine.

Oh, and have I forgotten to add his display case where he displays the gifts for his token system? Tokens are given to his patients for "good" standing. Things like showing up for appointments, wearing your Aspen Orthodontics t-shirt to your appointments and not breaking brackets are rewarded with various incentive gifts. The more tokens you collect the bigger the prize; movie tickets, Ipods and even a Wi make up the selection.

These are the things, the comforts, the luxuries we live with, as Americans, everyday and we never think twice about them. They are small material things and it wouldn't kill you to not have them. But how lucky are we to have such options available to us?

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Yasuragi Hasseludden


















































Today we spent the entire day at the Yasuragi Hasseludden Japanese spa which is located in Saltsjö-Boo, just outside of Nacka. Nacka is my favorite suburb in the Stockholm area and where we will live if we stay a second year. I love being there. It is clean, green and serene with very pretty Swedish style country houses and not a commiebloc in sight.

Water is the theme for Yasuragi. There are indoor and outdoor hot tubs, saunas, pools and steam rooms. The outdoor hot tubs while built into the surrounding forest and hillside also over look the inner Baltic archipelago. They also offer yoga, tai chi, karate and meditation classes. Yasuragi is one of the few spas that also allows entire families as a result they offer classes and activities for children as well. Laughing yoga, martial arts, origami are some of the activities offered today.

The entire spa is Japanese themed. Yasuragi means inner peace and harmony and the entire spa is designed to promote those principles. The minute you enter the building you are given a complimentary kimono and swimsuit. That is your attire for the entire day. You are given an introduction to the Japanese bathing ritual. The bath is an ancient ritual that requires quite a bit of patience and time. Before entering the tubs you are expected to perform the ritual scrubbing and rinsing in the scrub-section. This gives both body and mind the time to relax and wind down.

Lunch of sushi and miso soup, fresh fruits and herbal teas are available through out the day. I should add that Yasuragi is also a hotel and longer stays are available. Probably the recommended course for Americans as it takes us a good half a day to begin to even start to relax.

Unfortunately I did not get any pictures because my camera is giving me some strange error. But I am nabbing a few off the internet to give a visual.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Tala svenska

I am slowly finding myself understanding words here and there when someone speaks to me in Swedish. This is a good thing. I know quite a few words and can, myself, put basic sentences together. When I see it written, I can generally make out enough of what has been written to get the gist. I do always have a hard time understanding what is being said. It probably has more to do with poor listening skills than much else. I probably should work on that.

Today while shopping the clerk told me the price and I could make out the numbers well enough to know she had given me the 25% discount that was advertised. I was quite pleased. Then for some reason, out of the deep recesses of my brain, when she handed me the receipt I responded with "Danke". She looked at me quite confused as she had already heard me speaking English with my children. Why I would be thanking her in German was a complete mystery. To her and to myself as well. More than once all the words have come to me...in German.

I like the challenge of learning other languages. Swedish and German are very similar and many of the words are nearly identical. The sentence structure is pretty similar. I am slowly getting used to the strange U sounds that in the beginning really irritated me. A lot of ewwwws and ulllll sounds. In Swedish, there is a strong emphasis on stress of certain syllables which is not as common in English. There are a few more vowels, ä and ü and strange letter combinations such as sj or tj.

The Swedes are more than willing to speak English and most have an excellent command of the language. A few have even acted surprised that I would bother learning Swedish as so few in the world do. I can not see why you would not try to learn the language of your host country, just as a sign of respect for their culture and way of life.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lagom

Lagom is a Swedish word that has no real equivalent in English. Roughly translated it means not too much and not too little. The Swedish way.

To completely understand Sweden you must understand the concept of lagom. The ideal amount. A perfect compromise. As it carries over, not only in terms of material things but in terms of work/home life and show of emotions. It is a concept Swedes are very proud of.

It is a way of thinking completely at odds with the American psyche of excess and limitless bounty. Americans, in general, would see the concept of lagom as a limit put on them. It would be in direct conflict with our "the sky is the limit" mindset. Though, in reality, I think most Americans could probably use a little more lagom and most Swedes a little more reaching for the sky.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ten Magic Digits

We have finally received our personal numbers. Well, I shouldn't say finally because there is always a chance it couldn't have happened at all and when it did it was supposed to take 6-8 weeks--we have gotten ours in a record three.

So, we are now residents. Supposedly I can now operate with ease. I can now open bank accounts, get library cards, movie store memberships, go to the doctor and whatever else requiring the number. Actually, we've already done the above without too much hassle. Except getting the movie store membership. That was a little dicey.

The first movie rental store turned us down. We asked if they could keep our credit card on file. Nope, gotta have the personnumber. Maybe my thinking is a little off base but doesn't a personal number really just tell you I'd have a really large chance of really only being a liability and a credit card, at least, give you something to bill against if I never show back up to return the merchandise? But, hey, why let logic interfere with policy?

So, we shuffled off to the next video store where they gave us a membership, no problem. The bank wasn't too much of an issue either. Sweden is big on having people physically go places and give their assurances that you are who you claim to be and are an all around OK guy. Basically, that was what we had to do in that instance.

The library was a piece of cake. The librarian was extremely helpful. Again another instance of Swedish graciousness to annoying foreigners. The German's would never have given me a library card. Then again the German's would never have personnummers for reasons that are obvious.

I am very interested in actually using the medical system so I can give a first hand assessment. I have found out, though, that contrary to popular opinion doctor's visits are not free. What? All this time I have been told, it is free, free, free. Turns out there is a co-pay of anywhere from about $15-$25. Turns out too, a lot of stuff isn't covered and a lot of stuff is billed to the employer rather than the state. Gets more interesting, the more I find out.

I did use the German medical system and I was quite pleased with it but I was a private payer. My son was born there. What was nice was that my doctor had an ultrasound in his office and for the first four months he gave me an ultrasound included in my $50 co-pay. I think an ultrasound on the states would cost you at least $1500. I had about six of them.

In the hospital, when my son was born, because I was private pay, I had a huge double room all to myself. I almost felt bad that the German women were cramped 3 to a room while I had a this huge double room. Almost. But, that's what private paying will buy you and what the state will buy you. My Russian nurse kept telling me 'Erste klasse", meaning I had first class accommodations.

I got the distinct impression she didn't like me because of the room. Leftover baggage from the Soviet era was my guess. It didn't help our relationship along when she asked me if I liked Germany or the United States better and I promptly, without the slightest bit of hesitation, answered the United States. She cooled considerably after that.

Let's face it after six long days, we were working on a relationship of sorts. I do not know when, if ever, they planned to discharge me. I finally had to had to call in my husband and have him demand to have me be let out of there.

Back to my personnummer, if I only had a real, paying job, I could break a nail and collect some sort of worker's compensation for 12 weeks at 100% pay and another 27 weeks at 80% pay. Ok, those are not the real numbers but I'd bet they are close.

Actually, the excuse du jour is stress. Writing this blog does carry with it a fair amount of stress. The deadlines are tough.

There is some sort of starving artist state subsidy I could qualify for. (for a moment I ask you to dismiss the fact that the 80s are way over) Recently a heavy metal band member claimed that his heavy metal lifestyle was causing him to miss work to go to his gigs. He argued this was causing him to lose jobs and he HAD to rely on welfare handouts.

He won some sort of income supplement. I am thinking, writing this blog could possibly be construed a creating art. I am so entrenched in the internet/blog lifestyle it is causing me problems actually finding work? Yeah?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Yes, it is a Garbage Chute
































And that's a picture of my kids stuffing our American sized garbage into the European sized garbage chute.

I think it's pretty strange looking. All the apartments that we looked at had the same sort of set up. To take the trash out, we have to go down two flights of stairs and back up another flight of stairs and with the use of an electronic scan key get out to what is, essentially, the roof of part of the second story. I think it may be the roof of a parking garage.

This roof is something of a courtyard. It's quite nice actually. It's where the laundry room resides in a separate little building. There are some other little shed type things for storage that actually have soil and spaces for gardens on their roofs. Grills, patio sets, bike racks, a sand box and play areas for children...it is actually rather pleasant out there. You would be surprised.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Come to Jamaica, Mon


Tonight we set off to Stockholm's southern island of Sodermalm to try our hat at caribbean food Stockholm style. Who would think you would find excellent, authentic Jamaican food in Stockholm, Sweden? Who would also guess that Stockholm has a thriving and alive reggae scene? True on both accounts.

For anyone reading in the Stockholm area, Back A Yard, is located in Sodermalm at Folkungagatan 128. Once there you will be met with a uniquely Jamaican interior. The restaurant is small and fills up quickly so reservations are recommended.

The traditional favorites, for caribbean foodies, can be found. Jerk chicken, fish stews, saltfish fritters, steamed fish with mountains of vegetables and rice. Fried johnny cakes compliment each dish. To quench your thirst, a decent assortment of beer including Red Stripe and, a novelty for an Americans, Cuban beer. For dessert we opted for a sweet potato pudding with rum ice cream and fresh passion fruit. It was more of a cake than a pudding. The portions were huge and by this time I was in physical pain not wanting to waste a bite.

I don't think I'll make a habit of writing about food but this was a meal truly worth sharing. If you are reading this from or heading to Stockholm and would like a little island flare, Back A Yard is worth the train ride to SoFo.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Let It Rain























I've finally found a reason to just maybe, kinda sorta, like rainy days. Hunter Wellington mud boots. I have wanted a pair of these bad boys since I saw fashion queen Kate Moss stomping around the Glastonbury Festival mud. Alas, I have never have had a need for a pair living in the desert. Until now.

I've started my collection today. I am downright giddy at the prospect of owning many, many pairs.

It's the little things I tell ya. The little things.