Monday, December 31, 2007

7 wishes for the New Year

A couple of weeks ago I was challenged by one of my favorite Swedish bloggers, Idépappan, about seven wishes for Christmas. At the time, I was on my intense trip in Sweden and didn't really have time to respond. And since Christmas has already passed and Santa has been here - here are my seven New Year wishes:

For 2008 I hope...

... that my family all stay healthy (and slimmer... that goes for me only...) and happy...

... that someone finally invents the beam machine for easier transport - after all - they've been seen in sci-fi movies for years - and boy would that solve the oil crisis...

... and if that won't come true - that some airline will open a direct flight between San Francisco and Stockholm - after all - these are two of the greatest places in the world to be - it should be easier to travel in between...

...that my dad would get his "ass off the wagon"* and come visit us, after all, we've been here 8 years by now...

... that the sun will shine non stop in Sweden between May 25 and July 7 - the approximate dates I will take the kids to Sweden for their annual Swedish holiday...

... that the cost of sending Swedish magazines from Sweden to California will decrease with at least 70%...

... that the new mall about 500 m from our house will finally open - it's been planned to open "next year" for the past 5 years...

I'm not challenging any specific bloggers - but please fell free to state your seven New Year's wishes!


* Swedish expression directly translated...

Sunday, December 30, 2007

A day in the snow!

One thing I love about living here - is the possibility to go skiing or sledging for a couple of hours and then come back home to a snow and ice free city... Snow only about an hour way! Great way to get some "snow feeling" during the Christmas holidays.

Today we went to Adventure Mountain Lake Tahoe, close to Echo Summit, where you pay a parking fee and get access to groomed sledding runs and restrooms. We had so much fun! Good thing we now have kids to use as an excuse to play in the snow.

And when we're done with snow, we just throw our winter clothes in the trunk and head home.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Cleaning out Christmas

Christmas is over and New Year's Eve is approaching. When I was a kid in Sweden we used to decorate the Christmas tree the day before Christmas Eve and then kept it until after "Trettondagsafton" (January 5). On year I even insisted on keeping the tree until my birthday in mid-January. Not much left of that tiny Swedish Christmas tree by then...

Now, I prefer to decorate the Christmas tree early in December and then clean out Christmas before New Year's, just like they do here.

So today we spent the day cleaning out Christmas, putting the tree on the curb, to be picked up by the boy scouts. And the house smells fresh and clean. One year until we unpack those boxes with Christmas stuff again!

Friday, December 28, 2007

New travel rules...

From January 1, 2008, it's forbidden to pack extra lithium batteries in the checked baggage when flying (the reason; the fire-protection system in fire-protection systems in the cargo hold of passenger planes can't put out fires sparked in lithium batteries).

Thankfully you're still allowed to bring two extra batteries on the plane in your hand luggage. For us long-distance-travelers, extra batteries are part of what makes a trip between Sweden and California bearable....

The best would of course be electrical outlets in all seats (when will that be a standard??), even in the way back of the plane... But until then, I want my extra laptop battery... especially if I'm going to continue being rerouted and delayed for hours and hours...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The lack of lights

We've had a couple of more gray days in my part of California. Overcast and actually some rain. Those are the days you miss the automatic car headlights which is standard in Sweden...

Unless a car is bright yellow or bright red (which usually means the car is a sports car, going way too fast, driven by a young man) you can hardly see the cars approaching. A beige or a dark blue car are almost impossible to spot, they just blur into environment. It's really scary sometimes.

I have my lights turned on. At least the other cars should see me, even though I hardly see them..

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A fun walk

Today, on the "third" and last day of Christmas, I finally took my premier Nordic walk (stavgång), using my new Nordic walking poles. I've had them for awhile, but Thanksgiving, visitors, my trip to Sweden, stomach flu have postponed my first trial.

I had watched the video that came with the poles so I was ready, knowing what to do - in theory at least. It felt a bit silly and weird for the first block - but then I got into pace. And it was really fun! It felt great! The poles makes you walk faster and steadier. I felt i could walk forever.

I got a few looks - might have been because I was just enjoying myself so much... But what the heck - I'm "Nordic" - poles comes with the heritage - right?

For me, who enjoy walking, this is a really great add-on. And with great music in my iPod and no kids around my legs, sun in my face and fresh air - a great work-out!

And I don't care that my Little brother thinks "pole walking" is the end of life, a sign of getting old. After all, I got my iPod a full year before him. It's a well established fact that Big Sisters are the coolest, and sets the trends for the rest of the world to follow.

(Picture of my Leki Speed Pacer Vario poles)

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The second day of Christmas

It's Christmas Day and very quiet. Today is the "real" Christmas Day here (well, for those celebrating Christmas that is). For us who had our "crescendo" yesterday, this being the "day after", it's almost a weird feeling. We took a walk in the morning along deserted roads and ended up in a quiet and empty park. We didn't see any cars or any people. Realizing we while we were "done", our neighbors were in the middle of celebrating. On the other hand people around our neighborhood were on and about yesterday, a "normal" day, while we were spending the day celebrating.

But I, being a big Christmas fan, have just realized, that since we actually do have two Americans in the family, we really should celebrate both days.

I only have to figure out a way to break the news to the Husband...

Monday, December 24, 2007

God Jul!

I've had a fantastic Christmas Eve - the "big" day for Swedes. From "lussebullar" to "Karl Bertil Jonsson" to a visit from Santa. Santa visits all Swedish homes in person - so he came all the way to California. Phew. Too bad my Husband missed him. He had to go get milk.

We've had a day with lot's of laughs, fun, traditional food and candy and silly rhymes on the gifts.

Merry Christmas to everyone reading! I hope you have a fantastic Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas Welcome

I like Christmas wreaths - after years in an apartment in downtown Stockholm, I finally have a real "door" to hang a big wreath.

I order mine from a friend that makes them herself. This year's wreath goes in greenish. It's beautiful and it feels extra nice to welcome guests to the house! And just like most things here - it's pretty big...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

The silly things of Christmas

This paper Santa has been with me since the beginning of times... I always smile when I see it. I used to think it was the most beautiful thing in the Christmas tree... and actually I still do... but now because it remind me of my beautiful childhood Christmases...

I didn't bring that many Christmas things from Sweden to California, after all, most of them more or less look the same. But this one is special and now it goes in the top of the Christmas tree every year!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Fun radio before Christmas

Every year, the last nights before Christmas Eve, you can tune in to different radio station's "rhyming shows" (rimstugor) in Sweden. People call in and tell the show's participants weird Christmas gifts and while waiting they get a "rhyme" back. In our family we have the tradition that each Christmas gift has to come with a rhyme - so this usually is a lot of fun inspiration.

Right now (Friday December 21, 9.42 pm Swedish time) I'm listening to the "rimstuga" on P4 Stockholm and having a blast. In California the time is only 12.42 pm, and I still have half a day of working left before my Christmas holidays. But laughing sure makes it a bit easier do to all these few last things before I can turn of my office e-mail and go on my Christmas holiday!

I have no idea if this is done here in the US... but it's a lot of fun!

(Picture from the Swedish Radio website - one of the greatest radio websites!)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Need wings

Ok, so on January 19 I'm going to Reno. I have colleagues from Sweden there that day and since it's not too far form here, I will make sure I meet up and participate.

Now, January can be a bit tricky month to travel to Reno. You have to go through the Sierras to get there and if there is a snowstorm in the mountains, the I-80 might close, or it might just take hours and hours to drive. And actually I wouldn't look forward to drive alone all that way.

So I decided to check out the airfares. That way I don't have to worry about snow chains.

But, it turns out it's way too close... There are no direct flights... I have to fly to San Francisco and then to Reno. Or to Vegas and then to Reno... And it would cost me about $350. To go 180 kilometers. So, wrong and bad idea.

So my option for not driving is taking the train. There actually is a train there - the California Zephyr. It's a 5 hour ride. Not sure how the train can be that slow, it's about 2-3 hour drive with a car - not speeding. Do the passengers have to push the train uphill? And the ride back is 6 hours...

Oh, bummer. I guess going by car is my only option.

Where are those snowchains?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Only a few days left...

Christmas preparations are in full speed. I really, really like Christmas. I like the smells, the sounds, the lights. Tonight I made "vörtbröd", a special Christmas bread.

It really isn't something I would bother doing myself if I were in Sweden (where you can just buy it at the store), but since you can't get it here - you have to make it. No Christmas "smörgårsbord" without vörtbröd!

I kind of like this...

When working with the TV on in the background this morning I heard this song. It turns out it was Jordin Spark's new single. Spark won the American Idol this spring, only 17 years old. I really didn't watch that season of American Idol, so I actually didn't recognize her. But I really liked the song - it's been stuck in my head all day.

This is not the video (couldn't find a version to embedd - you can find the official video here).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Before Christmas is today!

My urgent Christmas package that I sent Friday to Sweden arrived today! Amazingly fast. And way before Christmas, even the Swedish one. The postal services at their best!

Or was it the Santa helpers that did it?

I just read that 275 million cards and letters were estimated to be mailed yesterday in the US - the busiest day of the year at the post office. That's a lot of cards...

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Christmas cards are on their way!

I like sending Christmas cards. It used to be something I hated, it was just a long, boring administrative process, writing addresses, finding the latest address in a flimsy address book, writing the "sender" information, licking stamps. But now, with all electronic help you can get (I have "sender" labels and all recipients in a file so I can easily print address labels), so the boring part is pretty short. And the stamps here come as "stickers" - no more licking!

I had planned to write little personal notes on the Christmas cards (after all it is kind of nice to get a "real" letter in the mail box these days). But my helper (aka The Husband) had already efficiently closed the envelopes when they got to my "work station" (I was in charge for address labels, he for putting cards in envelopes). Oh, well. You can't have all.

This year we ended up sending 61 Christmas cards all over the world. I have no idea if that is a lot or way too many. I do know that we won't get 61 Christmas cards in our mailbox. So far we've received 3. But it doesn't really matter really - no one is keeping score. Really. Only a bit.

I think (know...) the urge to keep in tough gets stronger when you're an alien. You think about your friends and family in new ways. And you suddenly realize the pure joy of finding something in your mailbox from far away...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Something I always wonder about...

I picked up a bunch of Swedish magazines when in Sweden and try to steal moments here and there to read them. In at least two I've read so far I've read about persons (Swedes) that "decided to move to the US to work for a while" or "I lived on Manhattan for a couple of years to get some inspiration".

Considering the lengthy and complicated immigration processes most of the Swedish aliens I know have been going through, this always amazes me.

How on earth could these people just "go to live in the US"? Is there this completely unknown immigration VIP-line for these "media" people? Did they all win in the green card lottery? Or are they actually coming here on the visa-waiver program and just stay after it has expired or do they keep leaving and then coming back every 90 days and just does this for a couple of years?

No wonder I get so many questions from Swedes, who presumably also read the Swedish magazines, on where you "can pick up a green card".

Or are they all doing like in the movie Green Card? (ie marrying Andie McDowell).

Friday, December 14, 2007

When is "before Christmas"?

I got an assignment to buy and send a (very late) Christmas gift to Sweden yesterday. I hurried off to the post office this late Friday afternoon. I got told that in order for the package to get to Sweden "before Christmas", I had to choose the Express service which takes 6 business days.

When I asked the clerk about what this meant exactly since in Sweden, Christmas means December 24 which is next Monday and no mail is delivered on Saturdays, which means that in order for the package to make it "before Christmas" it has to be delivered by next Friday, December 21... And since December 24, 25 and 26 are holidays in Sweden, 6 business days from today could actually mean delivery on Thursday December 27. Which is sort of way past Christmas in Sweden.

The clerk looked at me confused and looked at her papers. "It says, Express service before December 17, can guarantee delivery before Christmas to Europe".

Oh,well. I guess Sweden is the big exception with it's tradition to celebrate Christmas on the 24th and not the 25th like most of the world.

I choose the Express service. The difference wasn't huge and who knows, maybe the USPS and the Swedish post office have help from Santa's crew this week before Christmas...

"Hold your thumbs"!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Lucia Day

Today is the Lucia Day. In Sweden. Here it's just December 13. So you got to work around things to keep up the traditions. Thanks to jet lag I was up early and could wake up the kids just before it got light outside (not as easy as in Stockholm where the sun isn't up until almost past 8 am on this day). I lit candles, got the Daughter her Lucia gown on, the Son his ginger cookie man outfit, had them wake up dad and then we turned on the Lucia show on Swedish Television's website. Phew. By the time we were half way through the program, the bright Californian sun was shining and all the dark magic was gone.

At night we got some magic when the Daughter and the Son joined in the Lucia procession at our IKEA. The event had been announced in the store and on their website, but let's say there were no huge crowds waiting in line to see this. Mostly proud parents who ran like crazy through displays of Billy book cases and Leksand sofas to try to take pictures of the kids. (yes I was one of them - heck - this was my first opportunity to be a Lucia procession hooligan - couldn't miss that opportunity).

Afterwards IKEA invited all for glögg, ginger snap cookies and lussebullar. Very nice! I must say, despite being week after the last couple of days, it was a very, very, very good Lucia. As good as it get far away from the real thing.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A little low

Stomach flu.

You don't want to know the details. Good thing I got "skorpor" at IKEA three weeks ago.

It's the only thing I can eat.

I was the "last woman standing" in the house. But now I'm down too.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The big dinner

December 10 is the day the Nobel Prizes are handed out in Stockholm. In the evening the festivities starts - a huge gala takes place in the City Hall of Stockholm, one of my favorite buildings in Stockholm. All this is broad casted live on Swedish television.

When I was single in Stockholm I always took this a good reason to turn on the small TV in my kitchen and do all Christmas baking (after all, a dinner party on TV is not the most action filled show... it takes hours and not something you might sit down and watch continuously). Sometimes I invited friends over to help out, sometimes I did it on my own. With the company of the commentators over at the City Hall it was a pretty fun night. And I had "lussebullar" ready for Lucia, December 13!

(The Nobel dinner takes place in Blå Hallen in the Stockholm City hall. Picture from Wikipedia).

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A happy ending

Or at least an ok ending. No snowstorm hit Chicago before my plane's departure (after waiting for six hours) and the plane was half empty. I got a seat in Economy Extra, had a row to myself and could lie down and use my back pack as a pillow and slept more or less the whole 4 something hours between Chicago and California.

So at midnight I finally hit my own pillow after a pretty intense 7 days... Next trip to Sweden won't be until February.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

In Chicago...

When I arrived to Arlanda this morning the flight to Chicago was on time. By the time I had passed through security it was delayed for four hours (But at least there would be a flight which has not been the case in the last four days due to a broken SAS aircraft)... In the end we where 2,5 hours late out from Stockholm which was enough for me to miss my flight. And to make sure I really would not make it I was chosen for extra control in customs (The second time this has ever happened to me of all the times I've passed through O'Hare) . My two heavily packed suitcases was searched causing confusion with all strange stuff I had. Not the normal packing for a one week consulting job. Now I'm last in the long line to the extra check in desk SAS had to open for all delayed passengers. If I'm lucky I'll get on the next flight out at 8 tonight, in 4,5 hours. This trip has turned out to be the trip from hell... Want to bet there is a snow storm here in about four hours?

Friday, December 07, 2007

Going home?

Tomorrow it's time to get on a plane and head home to California. I hope. I'm going back through Chicago and the last week things have not been going well in Chicago. So far, after all my years of traveling through Chicago, I have never had any problems - and I might have been very lucky.

My attempt to fly through Chicago last Saturday didn't succeed. My in-laws attempt to fly back from California to Sweden through Chicago on Wednesday didn't succeed (well, they got TO Chicago, but couldn't get out from there (SAS flight canceled) and finally ended up in Zürich, arriving back to Stockholm 30 hours after they started..

We'll see how thing will go tomorrow... keep your fingers crossed - I really want to get home to the kids as fast as possible.


On my last day going to the office this visit, I forgot my cell phone. I realized it on the subway half way to work. Our cell phones are also our office phones so without it I can't call anyone and no one can call me. Or they can, except no one will answer (my phone is busy working as an alarm clock in the apartment where I'm staying)...

Being without cell phone means being without my contact list, GMT-1 time - and a sense of ease - transportation only a phone call away. I feel naked.

Oh, well. No time to go back to pick it up. So I'm going to call it myself, make sure it's not lonely, changing my message to let callers know I won't be answering today. And be of the mercy of colleagues to make phone calls.

Remember this phone? The "banana" Nokia phone that was the coolest in the mid 90s?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

7.48 am

In December Stockholm has 6 hours of daylight.... This picture, of the traditional Christmas tree in Old Town, was taken at 7.48 am this morning. Not only is it dark due to the season, it's pretty cloudy this week too, making it even darker.

I haven't seen the sun since I left San Francisco on Saturday morning...

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Busy Wednesday

I had a busy Wednesday. I took a quick walk during lunch to pick up something to eat and brought my camera. The rain was the sort of light drizzling rain that hardly is "rain" but is sort of everywhere. I hurried back in side...

There are lots of cute stores on my favorite street in Gamla Stan (Old Town). If you're a tourist - keep way away from the main tourist street, Västerlånggatan, and take instead Österlånggatan (you'll end up almost in the same spot anyway). Lots of designer stores - and a couple of cute toy stores. A must if you're in Stockholm!

I spent the evening at the restaurant Teatergrillen - fantastic food and really a nice place. My friend and I accidentally bumped into a common friend who was already there. Stockholm really is a small big town...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

The traditional Christmas Fair

I managed to visit the Christmas Fair at Stortorget ("The Main Square") in the Old Town today. well, "visit" might be to exaggerate... It was more like "running through". I did have my camera with me and took a few pictures. It was so cold I didn't mind keep on running and putting my gloves on again...

But it was nice to see - can't remember last time I was there. I got "vört" bread. The pictures aren't the best, I didn't have time to focus and was shivering. But you get the general idea.

Monday, December 03, 2007

December weather and Christmas shopping

My lovely home town is not really showing its best side... it's been gray, rainy and cold. If you could raise your head in the wind and rain you would see the advent decorations in the windows, which of course is a nice sight. But mostly you keep your head down...

I passed by Åhléns on my way home. Picked up a couple of Swedish DVDs, Pippi-things on order from my Swedish friends in California, Lucia gowns and crowns, and the cutest "ginger spice cookie outfit" for the Son.

I ended my visit at Hemköp filling the shopping cart (which I had to "rent") with only very Swedish things; (and I have to make this list in Swedish, too tired to translate, sorry English readers) knäckformar, en lilleman, malda pommeransskal, hjortonsalt, vörtkryddor, glöggkryddor, brödkryddor, wettek-disktrasor, smågodis, and ten Swedish magazines. Too bad you can't do tax free when buying food... would save me a lot of money.

I've already packed it all (except the cheeses) in the suitcases, knowing my week is pretty intense. I just hope the weather cold be a bit better... I would like to take a look at those advent decorations...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The worst trip

So, I'm finally in Stockholm after a monstrous trip. .

Once I arrived in Frankfurt from San Francisco, Lufthansa refused to let me and four other poor US passengers board the Stockholm plane, citing bad paperwork from United and did accept our boarding passes...

We had all been up for over 24 hours by then, tired, exhausted. But the Lufthansa staff ordered our bags off the plane and we had to walk back to the main concourse (and Frankfurt is HUGE), exit and go to United's ticket counter, get new paper work, go to Lufthansa's check-in to get new boarding passes, go through security again and then get back to the gate for the next flight to Stockholm...

Now how BAD is that service. They might talk so nicely about "Star Alliance" - but the Lufthansa staff told us right out that they didn't care that we had boarding passes issued by their partner (at the United counters in Dallas, San Francisco and in Huston) - it wasn't their problem, they wanted more paper work and if we couldn't show proof we had tickets (why we would have gotten boarding passes without tickets in the first place were beyond us) - we had to solve it ourselves. End of discussion and one of the gate staffers actually told me, "why are you so upset, of course you have to solve this yourself, it's not our problem".

When I finally had new paperwork and boarded the plane (this one a SAS flight where they actually didn't look at the paperwork at all - only at the boarding passes...) my seat was already taken ... But as the last person, I was seated and FINALLY took off for Stockholm where I arrived 14 hours later than scheduled.

Note to self - if you ever get rerouted and end up having to go through Frankfurt, force United or any other Star Alliance to issue a folder of paper work - or plainly refuse to be re-booked on a a Lufthansa flight...

I missed my shopping afternoon and the "1st Advent" dinner with my brother and his family and is totally, utterly jetlagged. Six days until I have to get on a plane again...

Saturday, December 01, 2007


By now I should have been somewhere over Canada but here I am still in California. The international terminal is boring and I still have two hours to spend. My computer charger was checked in at 6 am this morning before I knew it would take of almost a day to get out of the state. Oh well at least I'm by myself and don't have kids to entertain...

Second attempt

For the second time today I'm at the airport trying to start my trip to Stockholm. It's going to be a long day... First stop San Francisco.

Almost on my way

I got up at 5 am this morning to catch the morning flight to Chicago and then my usual flight to Stockholm, SK945 for my busy week in Stockholm.

When I finally reached the check-in gate at the airport it turned out my flight had been canceled last night due to bad weather. All departures to Denver and Chicago had been canceled. I did think the airport seemed a bit... empty.

Too bad my travel agency had given the Swedish office switch board number as pager number.... or wouldn't have had to get up that early. Now I'm delayed for 12 hours, have to go through Frankfurt, arrive Sunday evening in Stockholm and will miss my scheduled "advents" dinner with my brother and his family....

But at least I didn't get stuck in Chicago... Shouldn't complain too much - I've been flying through Chicago for years and actually never been rescheduled or had a canceled flight. Today was actually the first.