Thursday, July 31, 2008


Last fall I started a subscription of the weekly magazine Entertainment Weekly. It's a weekly magazine about what's going on on TV, the big screen, in music and the latest books. I was thinking this might get me a bit more... entertained... and updated... and maybe make me see at least of the movies that will be Oscar nominated...

Should I take a hint by the piles of unread Entertainment Weekly that maybe I shouldn't renew the subscription this fall? And that maybe the entertainment in this house will increase with older kids in the house?

Sorry - got to go - Dora the Entertainer is on NickJr!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Getting Things Done

Phew. For the last few days I've been cleaning up my office (those of you who follow my status feed might have noticed that). I work from home and have done for the past 7 years. Last year we moved the office downstairs and I haven't really had the time to organize it in the most efficient way or cleaning out the old stuff. Meaning that after about a week, things start piling up and something really had to be done.

So instead of using my computer, I've organized paper. Tons of it it feels like. I've gone to Staples and Target to get organizing stuff, I've printed labels, and hung hanging folders by the dozen. I've been inspired by David Allen and his Getting Things Done. I sure need a system to get all my projects flowing better and when you work at home, it's easy to tangle up private stuff with work stuff. Will I have "stress free productivity" as the book claims? Haha - we'll see about that...

Now I'm done. I'm ready for work. Bring it on! I have the hanging folders ready.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A great loss

This weekend the world learned that Randy Pausch, a professor at the university Carnegie-Mellon, passed away from pancreatic cancer. I have blogged about Professor Pausch before, after I had seen his amazing speech online, just like millions now have. The speech is now known as "The Last Lecture". I really hope you have seen it (if not - you can see it here). He also visited Oprah (see video below) which is a quick summary of his more lengthy last lecture.

Pausch has some very, very, very wise words and thoughts that we can all be inspired by. I'm am so sad that he has passed away - it sure is a great loss for the world - but foremost for his family.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A rare bird for a Swede

I guess the average Swede has only seen vultures (gamar) in cartoons. I happen to have seen them a couple of times during visits to Africa - so I know for sure that they are better looking as cartoons than in real life. They are HUGE. Especially if you compare to the average birds you can see in Sweden.

You can see encounter them here in California too. Especially on the lake beach, early in the morning before they have collected the trash... They walk just like they do in the cartoons...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Buying a new car...

So, after months of research, test driving, more research, we have the new car parked in the garage.

It's been an interesting process. Not only do we seem to know more about the particular car we got than any of the car dealers we met. They seem totally lost when it comes to internet and communicating in other ways than live on the lot. We got automated e-mails from huge car dealers using or addresses...They also really seem to think that they can try to offer prices way higher than the sticker prices they even have on their own inventory pages online... Why would you pay a price higher than sticker price?? One dealer offered a price $8000 higher than invoice and almost $4000 higher than sticker price, when we could just print the sticker with the price of the actual car from their website.... amazing... Don't they even know what they show online??

All in all - if you do your research online, make sure you know the invoice prices of the car you want, the exact "packages" and their specific value, study the sticker information of each car close - you really can get a good deal. We never negotiated on site - just by e-mail and phone after asking for a quote online on a very specific car to a very specific price. Once we got to the dealer - we were there only to sign papers.

We actually ended up buying the car that the dealer first priced at $8000 higher.... but then it took him 3 minutes to call back with a price at invoice level when we said we had an offer from another dealer for a totally different price... In the end we got a price lower than what we had said was our upper limit and we know from all research we did that we did a good deal.


Now I'm done with going through the process of buying a car for another ten years or so. And this blog will hopefully not mention the word car for a very long time...

Chrysler Town&Country in "Clearwater Pearl Blue" - don't you just love the names
of the color they invent... "light blue" could also be a description... (from

Me in the car outside the dealer (oh, I'm in there, behind the wheel, trying to take off...),
ready to drive the car home! (from the Husband's Blackberry...)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

American car ads...

Looking back at the hundreds of web pages we've browsed during our car research - this little YouTube movie is the one that stands out... that actually made us laugh (and believe me - there is nothing fun about reading sticker information sheets...). Not that it's actually meant to be funny... it's just so... silly...

Oh, and we saw this after we decided that this is the car we want and started taking in quotes...

It's Chrysler's own little "feature" short film (a 3.27 m long "ad promotional") about how great it is to own and drive a Town&Country 2008...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A day at the mall

For the first time in years I actually spent a day at the mall today - nice! Browsing around the stores in the cool indoor air, eating lunch at the food market, looking at all the people in line outside the Apple Store to get their iPhones to work...

There are tons of sales - but I actually managed to leave with only one small bag. How about that! I just enjoyed a day on my own, and browsing around. Shopping came in secondary.

Monday, July 21, 2008

A day at the automall

Today we took the "bull by the horn" as we would say in Swedish and took off for the huge automall to test drive minivans. Phew.

It's surprising how little some of the cars sales people really know. WE knew more than most of them. Or are we just too well researched? Sigh. Some of them were frustratingly uninformed - and took wild guesses on things we actually knew were not true. Are they so uninterested to sell minivans? I bet if we would have come in for a sports car in yellow, they would have been able to answer all of our questions.

Oh, well. Now we have climbed in and out of third row seats, folded second row seats, flattening the cargo space and checked all our questions marks. We got most of our questions answered done when the sales person left us to ourselves and we could climb around in peace.

Next time we visit a car dealership is hopefully when we are going there to pick up the actual car. From now on we'll do everything over the internet. Prices have dropped since we started researching in April and we printed tons of papers from different websites. Sure interesting to compare... the manufacture's rebates are higher - and hopefully the car dealers are a little more desperate to unload some of their inventory.

The talk of the day in the US is the high gas prices - we still have the Swedish prices in our memory - and it's still half price almost...

One of the remaining questions are how important the color of the car is... the Husband seems to care less... but I really don't want a red or a blue car... which seems to be the most common minivan colors... Oh, well. I guess I will be inside the car for the most of the time and then I won't see the color.

An aerial picture of the automall we went to today. Everything you see withing the
triangle of the major road (with the smaller circle road in the middle) is car dealers...
Every little car dot you see is a car for sale (click on the picture for a larger version).

(Oh, and thanks Rachel for you comment the other day - that made us include the Odyssey on our list and it sure had some interesting features!!)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A garden shed

We built a garden shed over the weekend. It feels really grown-up to have a garden shed... We need the extra storage for garden stuff that we now store in the garage, and the new car will take up more space.

I never thought I would say this... but it would be really convenient with a house with a "3 car garage"...

From this...

... to this in 1,5 hours!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Swedish summer

Every night before bedtime, we let the kids watch an episode of Saltkråkan*. We have ended up watching too - it brings back memories and now you really appreciate it differently - it's kind of fun to see Swedish nature and hear Swedish. I'm so glad that the kids have spent summers in the Stockholm archipelago so they - sort of - can relate to what they are seeing.

Unfortunately it seems Skrållan has given a lot of inspiration to the son (also 2 years...). Maybe we have to skip the dvds about Emil...

*Saltkråkan is one of the famous Swedish authors, Astrid Lindgren's books, about the archipelago island Saltkråkan and the families that live there.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A long way from Folktandvården

When I was a kid we went to the dentist in the school building. It was part of the public dental care and run by two very old, evil looking women. Well, the evil looking might not have been true I realize now, but in the world of 7-year olds, it probably was. I can't remember how often you went, but probably yearly. I was lucky, I have great teeth, and didn't have any cavities as a child. My brother was another story - and being a boy meant loosing a tooth now and then too. The old, evil looking dentist, who, despite working inside a elementary school, had no sense of treating children, literally scared the heck out my brother (he still almost refuses to see a dentist, I think his wife now has to make the appointment in secret and then drag him there).

Well, anyway. With this as a very vidid memory from my childhood, my brother's total fear of the dentist (not that I really enjoyed it, I thought they were scary looking too - and the huge drill that hung from the ceiling was enought to almost make you wet your pants), I have always thought that when it was time for my kids to do their first visit, it should be something that lead them on a totally different dentist path...

The dentist that my Daughter went to the other day fullfilled all my dreams. It's a clinic that focuses on pediatric (meaning kids' only) dentistry. The waiting room was full of small furniture. The staff was dressed in colorful, jungle patterned clothes. Ceramic turtles and fish were tiled into the floor. The walls were colorful and had TV screens in the ceiling with children's programing. The staff was totally fantasic in speaking to the kids, directly to the kids. The kids got to choose from a variety of toothpaste to clean their teeth (the Daughter choose "chocolate"...) and she got to choose a balloon to float in the air next to the (yellow) dentist chair and a little later they brought in an inflatable monkey that hung from the big lamp. The Daughter was so taken in I don't think she even noticed that she had her mouth open...

Too bad they only do kids. I wouldn't mind watching Madagascar and getting a chocolate toothpaste cleaning...

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Alien thoughts on the radio

Every summer the public Swedish radio presents a daily 1,5 hour long "talk program" with a different host each day. The program is called "Sommar" (as in "summer") and has a very distinct theme song that every Swede (at least used to) knows (not sure about this younger generation that breeds on MySpace and iPods).

I love these programs.

I hate that they don't include the host's music in the podcasts or website versions (due to rights agreements), but at least I get to hear them, despite being far out of reach from regular broadcasting.

I download the podcast versions to my iPod and and try to listen to as many as I can. It can take me up to six months...

When I was shoveling a huge pile of stones in the back yard yesterday (the reality of a Wife with a Husband with disc problems), I let Fredrik Härén keep me company.

Fredrik Härén is an author and speaker on creativity that has lived abroad (from Sweden) the last couple of years, and for an alien it was very interesting in hearing some of his thoughts of coming back to Sweden. Especially the last 15 minutes of his program.

He said (freely translated):

"To move from Sweden and look back at your old country, it's like being the only sober person in a bar full of drunk people, you sort of see things with a clarity that sometimes is painful. Things you've never seen before."

Right on spot.

(you can listen to Fredrik Härén's program here) (if you understand Swedish that is).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Endless car research

So, we're getting a new car. We started our research in May, before my summer stay in Sweden, but decided to postpone the purchase until I came back. So now I'm continuing spending evenings reading reviews, checking YouTube videos and getting frustrated.

Since we're in for a minvan - which is a family car - with the purpose of transporting grown-ups and kids in different ages you would think that the reviews would be focused on the end user in mind.

Why do all reviews (made by the same men that also reviews over sized pick up trucks and yellow convertible sports car) begin with horse power, acceleration speed and wheel size? Most of the online video reviews start with pictures of the grill for crying out loud!

Why aren't there any pictures of cars with actual people in them? What does the second row actually look like with two grown ups in them - how much space is left (heck, the airlines are better in talking about legroom for a domestic flight than minivan producers are...). How "easy" would it be for a angry 5-year old with a tantrum to actually break loose the built in entertainment screen - and does the warranty covers that? Why is it only men that is seen lifting out removable seats and not shorter women? Why isn't anyone reviewing how easy/hard it was to load up the car with a cranky 5-year old, a wiggly 2-year old on a +40C day or - for that matter - on a cold snowy day. Why aren't reviews writing about how complicated it is to get into the third row seats - can a grandmother actually climb back in there? Or where are the pictures of actual car seats (with kids in them) in the second and thrid row seats? After all - if these are family cars - there would be car seats (at least if you follow the law...)? How hard is it to attach a car seat to the LATCH? And how do you get into the third row if you have two car seats installed on the second row seats?


Do I actually have to spend days going around to the different car dealers, bringing two car seats and five grown-ups (I think I opt out of actually bringing live kids, even if that would be the real test) and try them out to compare? Any volunteers?

Happy birthday France and Victoria

July 14 is not only France's national day - but the Swedish crown princess Victoria's birthday (she turned 31). She is always celebrating on the Swedish island Öland, in the castle Solliden, with lots of visitors, and artists performing. I think you can see the whole thing on Swedish television too if you're not on Öland yourself.

Happy birthday Victoria! I hope you get to marry and be happy soon!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Tooth fairy

Out of the blue my Daughter had a loose tooth. I almost panicked and rushed to Google, trying to figure out what strange disease makes you loose your teeth at such a young age (she is turning 5 this fall). Only to realize after research that she is probably just loosing her first "milktooth", if not a bit earlier than most kids. Thank god for Google!!

So we quickly had to get the story straight... the tooth fairy will come... at night? and leave something... what?...

And since we still want her tooth the be checked, we spent a couple of hours going through all our insurance papers to figure out where to take her for a quick dental check up. You don't call "Folktandvården" (Public Dental Care) and problem is solved - here is a few more steps - even if the end result is the same. When you're an alien there are so many words and expressions when it comes to health care that you have to learn (PPO, HMO, deductibles, co-pay) - almost like parallel language.

But - now we're all set to go. Pediatric dental appointment is booked. And the tooth fairy is on her way (when the tooth eventually falls out).

Saturday, July 12, 2008

We can breath again!

The "Delta-breeze" came blowing in yesterday and pushed the smoke up, taking it off ground level. The breeze brought down the temperatures too - so suddenly we had almost 15F degrees less than the day before - and could open the windows since the air was breathable again. Not great. But not even close to what it has been the last couple of days. What a relief!!

We opened up all windows and kicked out the kids and started feeling like normal again and not like cage animals.

Unfortunately the breeze isn't too good for the fires - and I'm feeling for those thousands that are in areas that have been or might be evacuated... Forest fires are really, really scary.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Blueberry season

I love blueberries. Here you can get them all year around - but they're kind of pricey in low season (winter). Right now it's high season - and you can get them in pretty big container for a reasonable price - so every morning I get a handful with my cereal.

They are much bigger than the Swedish ones - but taste the same.

I think.

Hm. I haven't had Swedish blueberries for years...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The sun at 6.54 pm

Seems we're in one of the worst areas when it comes to the smoke layer in Northern California - and we're even pretty far from any actual fires. We can't even imagine what it is like for those that are closer... Seems it's a bit better to the west from us now, so maybe we're taking the car and fleeing the worst smoke this weekend. The heat is the same - but the heat we can deal with...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A pretty bad day

We're under a severe weather watch. Not only is the temperature record high, the smoke is really, really bad, and the heat isn't making it better. The air is clogged with a soupy mix of ozone and smoke from all the wildfires burning around California. When you check the smoke map, you realize that there are hardly any places to go for a relief, even though we happens to be in one of the worst areas (and we're FAR from actual fires). Almost all of California is covered in some smoke.

So we stay indoors and drink tons of water and our poor air condition has managed to get the indoor temperature down to +28C. Which really feels cool and nice when you come from outdoors...

What a great vacation week.





Our supermarket.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A safe city

Despite the stereotyped view of the US of being pretty dangerous, fueled by numerous TV series, we really happened to live in a very, very safe city.

During the week the Husband joined us in Sweden we had good friends staying in our empty house for a couple of days. Our neighbors knew we were away, but obviously some of them hadn't heard the part of friends staying in the house. So at 11 pm on a Sunday night, our friends, who had gone to sleep, got a knock on the door from the police. They wanted to check in and see what was up since a neighbor had made a call that there were unknown cars in the driveway... Not sure what thieves would leave their cars openly on the drive way, and obviously go to bed in the house they're robbing - but we were happily surprised to hear about this (there really must have been nothing else going on in the city that night).

And next time we have house sitters, we'll make sure to inform the neighbors properly, not to take up valuable time of the police department.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Hot and smokey...

We're trapped indoors.

Today we're expected to reach 104F (+40C) in temperature and 210 on the air quality index - which means we're exceeding the highest of the index's four levels. An index of 150-200 is considered unhealthy...

I'm wondering if someone could beam some milk and if filling the plastic pool on the kitchen floor is a really bad idea.

Stay away from Northern California.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

A day by the lake

We spent the day by on of the lakes close to the Sierras, trying to cool off in the lukewarm water. We came early before the real heat - and the wind. When the sun got hotter and the wind came on, blowing in smoke from the numerous fires around Northern California, we packed up our "base" camp and headed home for cleaner, cooler indoor AC-air.

At this lake, which is part of the California National Park system, you can drive your car all the way down to the water, which is sort of practical with all the coolers, umbrellas, inflatable things, and chairs that every normal American family bring to the beach (and so do we, we have learned how to do a real day by the lake). Every now and then the rangers, in cars or by horse, come by to check on the activities, making sure the cars are not too close to the water edge, that no alcohol is being consumed and that people behave according to the rules.

Our base camp by the lake right before we started packing up.
The haze across the lake is smoke from the numerous fires.

The rangers are checking up by horse. No, it's not our car in the picture.
We don't drive a pick-up. We haven't become
that americanized yet.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day

As an "alien" with a slight interest for space travel (at least with a Saturn V to the moon) you are always curious on this day, July 4th, Independence Day, if any real aliens will show up.

But no - not aliens in sight today either.

We spent the day relaxing, eating home made hamburgers, barbecued marshmallows, drank coke and beer, made brownies, were dressed in blue, red and white and hung out in the back yard with a couple of flags.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Cowboys and cows

Yesterday we checked out a "cattle drive". It's the start of a yearly 3-day rodeo with it's peak on July 4th. We've seen the cattle drive before, but this time was the first with the kids in tow. When they started shouting that no kids should be in their strollers "in the event of cows breaking loose", I was starting to wonder if this was a great idea. That and the heat in combination...

Oh, well. No cows broke lose, the cowboys kept them securely moving forward and it didn't last too long - not even the cows could stand the heat probably. The parade had it's usual ingredients - motorcycle police men, huge American flags, old vehicles - and the cows of course.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A little list

Two days after coming back to California from my five week summer stay in Sweden - here is a little list ...

I'm happy for...
... drinking huge glasses of California milk from a gallon bottle
... the readily available ice cold, filtered water from the freezer door
... dark nights when sleeping*

I miss...
... view of water - both the places where I have been staying have had great views of water
... the broad variety of yummy bread and hard cheeses
... big toilets bowls...

*I really do like the dark nights... and I'm so surprised I even feel that, being Swedish. Maybe, when you live in Sweden and you've spent winter in almost total darkness and the bright nights sort of grow on you, it makes them easier to adjust to, than when you suddenly arrive in a few weeks before the summer solstice. I mean, it's a fantastic phenomena - but oh, how I enjoy the darkness of night...

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The new cell phone law

From today you can no longer drive and talk on your cell phone in California. Unless you use a head set. I already use a head set when driving, in Sweden or in California, so the new law isn't too much of a difference to me.

I will be interesting to see if the accident statistics change - if it's holding the phone or talking that is the major cause for accidents.

I saw an interesting Myth Buster show about a year ago (Myth Buster is my Husbands favorite show, two crazy guys are trying to confirm or bust different myths by making major experiments - kind of fun actually, read more about it here) about driving and talking on the phone at the same time. Turns out it's actually more dangerous to be on the phone than to be drunk when driving... which is a pretty scary result, considering a lot more people are on the phone than driving drunk...