Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Competitive after school programs

Earlier this fall we signed up the 5-year old Daughter for her first real after school program. We had thought about it a lot and excluded soccer (we want those weekends for family time) and gymnastics (being of total Scandinavian descent, she is already a tall girl and will be the most clumsy girl in glass).

We both liked the idea of martial arts (body control, self confidence) - and after discussing with lots of my friends all over the world we settled on taekwondo and signed her up through our city's park and recreation program at one of the major institutes. It was a once a week class, divied in three sessions during fall. The Daughter liked it, the teacher was great - it was a success.

But after the first session, the city cancelled the class due to low enrollment. The teacher said that our Daughter was ready to start a regular class at the institute, a "white belt class" - but that is was a comittment to three times a week. Three times a week!? Is it just me - or do three times a week sound a bit too much when you're just five? The teacher commented that "well, you really have to go into to it"... Why should a five year old comit so much time on something we don't even know will be her interest in a few years time? And does that mean that after 5 there really isn't much of a point to switch after school program since all the other kids have already been devoted to the activity for years and are being way ahead? And what about doing other things than just one - there wouldn't be any time left (unless you would fill up every single day of the week).

I just can't have her go three times a week... we just have to start from scratch - and hope that she won't be hopelessly behind in whatever we choose - after all - she is getting old... almost five and a half...

Monday, October 27, 2008

"Fall back, spring foward"

Europe ended daylight savings time yesterday - but the US will use "summer time" for yet another week. This means, besides the confusion, that I will have one more hour in the morning when talking to Europe.

But things sure would be easier if the world could do this switch at the same time...

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Swedish waffles

Today we used the new waffle maker I brought all the way from Sweden. It worked great - and getting a "double" was a real hit - both kids got crispy heart shaped waffles at the exact same time...

With sunny weather and +27C outside, we had the perfect Sunday lunch.

Friday, October 24, 2008

California from the air

After getting up at 4 am in Sigtuna and after an 11 hour flight from Frankfurt (yes, I made my connection, but only barely... the last person to be seated) - I finally approached California.

Lufthansa flies jumbos to San Francisco - but since they are older there are no inflight entertainment system like in the newer Airbus and Boeing aircrafts - only a few TV screens in the ceiling (I could see 75% of one from my seat) - and they showed two movies. In 11 hours...

But the reward is flying in over California... knowing it is +25C... and sunny...

And after being on the go for 26 hours, with a four hour stop over at SFO before catching my commuter flight east, I finally turned off the lights in my own bedroom, very happy to be back home with my family.

Click on the images if you want to see larger versions.

Napa Valley from the air.

The red Golden Gate Bridge.

San Francisco from the west.

San Francisco from the south.

San Francisco from the commuter flight going east.

San Francisco from the east, Bay Bridge in the front
and the Golden Gate in the back of the image.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The oldest town in Sweden

I spent my last day in Sweden in Sigtuna, the oldest town in Sweden (according to themselves - and they define it as the "oldest still active town that was not founded by Danes"). It sure is a pretty little town, you can feel Swedish history everywhere you go. For some reason I've only been here in fall - now in October, and a few years ago in December.

During a break of our full day conference, we got a guided tour of the town by a very enthusiastic Sigtuna native, dressed in viking clothes and she just mesmerized us all (aren't those guides the best!).

I really have to come back here in summer - it should be even more prettier then... maybe I should send the kids to attend the Humanistiska Läroverket, Sweden's largest boarding school, when they come of age...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

If Swedes got to vote

If Swedes got to vote in the US election, Obama would be the new president on November 4, to answer a comment on my last post.

Not that web polls are very accurate - more than to say something about the readers who choose to comment - but this web poll on the major Swedish daily morning paper says a lot...

Out of 11527 readers on DN.se, 84% stated that they wanted Barack Obama to
win the presidential election, and 10% wanted John McCain to win.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The US election coverage in Sweden

I'm almost overwhelmed by the media coverage of the US election here in Sweden. Every day the papers are packed with graphs, articles, comments, analysis of the upcoming election - in the US. Almost more than back "home"... In case I was worried I would miss out on information during my week here, being half a world of way - I really didn't have too. I'm more than informed...

One of the major Swedish's morning papers today - US election story
(about young voters voting for Obama) is the major first page story...

Monday, October 20, 2008

Observations from Sweden #6

1. I have forgotten how hot and sweaty you get when you go shopping in your winter coat. Going from the cold outside into a warm shop – you really need to take off your coat immediately not to immediately soak away... No wonder Swedes are gruffly in the stores - they're way to hot!

2. My hands are sore from carrying stuff. One aspect of not driving to places is that you have to carry the stuff you get longer distances... so you really have to think before you make purchases just how long you're planning to walk... Something I should have thought about before I got a double waffle maker, a couple of books, DVDs and Bamse clothes on Friday night when I also was carrying my computer bag and handbag (under those circumstances I should be excused for forgetting my handbag in the "Bed and bath" department at Åhléns, getting called for over the speaker system...).

3. Since I was here for a full weekend I had the chance to actually spend a little time outside the office and browse through some stores (and not crazily run through them just before closing time after work) and it hit me just how much I love Scandinavian designs. The stores are just filled with beautiful things – from linens to candle holders and I have to stop my self from buying – there just isn't enough space in my suitcase (it's filled with a double waffle maker, a couple of books, DVDs and Bamse clothes...).

Picture of hand painted décor bone mugs from Design House Stockholm.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A bit homesick...

I don't like fall – never have done, no matter where in the world I am – and coming here meant being thrown straight into full blown fall. Leaves are colorful (I prefer them green) and starting to fall off, winter is approaching. When you live here it comes gradually, maybe making it a bit easier. I just feel sad. Fall sad. And being away from my family also doesn't make it easier. I feel every inch of the distance from them and the time difference making it impossible to call and check in, makes things worse.

I have to focus on hönökaka, leverpastej, smågodis and hallonkräm...

Outside the Skogskyrkogården.

Greta Garbo's grave.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

View from a boat

My Brother owns a archipelago boat and I spent Saturday afternoon on it with my nephew, docked in the middle of Stockholm with a great view. You can hardly find a better place to hang out on a rugged fall day...

Friday, October 17, 2008

To Stockholm...

It's time for another cross Atlantic flight again. The cords are packed. It will be yet another crazy week in Stockholm, but this time I'm staying over a weekend – and hopefully will have some time to actually walk around – and not just too and from work or other appointments.

I really hope my fall coat is in my parent's apartment – or I might be cold next week. I can't recall if I left it in Stockholm last February, the last time I was there during "cold season". Probably. Oh, well – I guess I have to borrow one of my mom's otherwise until I can get a new one. The back side with having one foot in two different climates and time zones...

On my shopping list this time: a waffle iron! The Husband says he can rebuild a Swedish one to work in our US kitchen. So now I'm picking up a traditional heart shaped waffle iron!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Presidental debates in the wrong time zone

In case someone missed it – there is an election going on over here.... With only two more weeks to go, things are heating up. I missed the live broadcast of the last presidential debate last night – like I did with the vice presidential debate. This darn (to use a frequent word used by Sarah Palin) time difference makes it trick to follow. The debates are always synced in time with bedtime routines on the west coast and somehow the kids don't really care for McCain or Obama instead of Dora or Kipper.

We've been trying to record the debates, but somehow, looking at a recorded debate, after the house is finally quiet, somehow is just too tiring. I have been trying to tune in to the after comments – and then you get bit and pieces of what they actually said with the comments on how good or bad they were. I don't like the turn things have taken – why is it that it always have to be so negative when the election approaches... is that the only thing that works to get your name across – to attack the other party? Everyone says they dislike negative campaigns – but obviously they're still doing the trick – or we wouldn't see them.

So far, in my city, I haven't seen too many political car bumpers - only a few here and there - equally distributed - and most of the garden signs are for candidates for the city council or school board.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Getting clearance to volunteer....

In order to volunteer in the Daughter's kindergarten class (they have a volunteer parent for about 2 hours every day), we need to have a cleared TB test.

This is easier said than done, coming from Sweden and having had the vaccination – meaning that every time you get tested for TB - you might get a positive test result since you have the antibodies in your body.

This was a major issue during our green card application process. If you don't pass the skin test – the policy of our health organization, Kaiser, is to treat it, no matter what the reason for the positive result might be (and no, lung x-rays are not enough). This means that you'll be put on a cocktail of antibiotics for 6-9 months, no drinking of alcohol during that time – and regular liver tests since your liver might develop problems due to the heavy medication. Now, this is really crazy – especially in our case. We haven't been traveling in areas with TB and we have the vaccination and the chances that we actually have TB are slim to zero. So getting the treatment is trying to treat something that isn't there. And since the Husband has tested positive for the TB skin test before (I have managed to barely get passed) – the only way to get clearance to enter a Californian kindergarten classroom is to get clearance from your family doctor – which is the Husband's case means the above mention treatment. No thank you... If we can't find away around this in any way – it means that my Daughter Kindergarten class will miss out on a male volunteer and they (male volunteers) are unfortunately few. But there is no way we're going to treat something that isn't there.

It sure makes me wonder how other Swedes (or other vaccinated Europeans for that matter) pass these TB-tests (all input welcome)? Or maybe they don't just have Kaiser and their family doctors will be happy with the more usual lung x-ray as an extra proof..

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Yummy Sunday

My mother-in-law is visiting and on request from the Daughter (and the rest of the family - but with the Daughter as the very articulate spokesperson) was "Grandmom's pancakes". And to our big surprise and great happiness, grandmom brought a real, Swedish "plättlagg", a pan for small pancakes ("plättar"). All the way from Sweden! (and they are heavy!).

A very excited family waited for lunch today and then literally ate tons of "plättar". The greatest Sunday lunch in months!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

"It's Jonathan, mom, Jonathan"

My bilingual daughter has started correcting me when I pronounce some words in English. Especially when I talk about her little Kindergartner love, young mister Jonathan. Pronouncing "j" correctly is very important to her, her name starts with a "j" too. And the sound of "j", actually is more different between English and Swedish than you would initially think when not having really paid attention (more like "[dj]"?).

When I ask her if she played with Jonathan in school, pronouncing it more Swedish than English, she annoyingly answers me "It's Jonathan, mom, J-J-J-onathan" (she of course has never heard the named said in Swedish so she is assuming I'm saying it wrong).

I'm realizing I might have to start taking "advanced English pronunciations classes" unless the Daughter will claim me as useless. That she can do when she is 15, not 5...

Friday, October 10, 2008

How to get good credit? Get credit!

So - if you don't have credit history in this country - your a "nobody" in the financial world. You don't exist according to the banks and there are limits on what you can do, financial wise. If you play it safe, meaning you don't have credit cards, don't have any loans, rent instead of buying a house etc - you have no "credit score" - which is almost as bad as having bad credit...

I'm thinking this might be a big conspiracy of the bank system... Because to get a good credit score - you need to have had credit, literally. For example - if you actually have a credit card and kept a balance and then paid it off - this is good for your credit score. If you have a credit card and never kept a balance but paid it off monthly - this is bad for your credit score. Alas - banks makes money out of the interest rates on credit card, loans and mortgages as people are building their credit score.

I was over at the bank today - I really, really need a credit card for my business. I don't need the credit balance per se - but I don't like to use my business checking card for major business expenses or online (such as buying airfares to Europe with Expedia). But - I'm a nobody in terms of credit history. I own half of the house, but are not part of the mortgage (because I didn't have any credit history when we bought it), a good income, I have private and business accounts, all in good shapes, no overdrafts or irregularities, I pay my taxes and bills on time.

But all that means nothing. If you don't have credit- you can't get credit.

The advice from the bank's financial advisor, after the system once again declined me for their business credit card (despite the fact that we've been with the bank for almost 8 years, and I've had my business accounts there for almost two years)? Get a secured credit card - where you deposit your credit limit in a closed savings account, use the card, but don't pay it off every month, keep a balance (aha - bank gets interest rates...despite the fact that I'm securing my own balance witt my deposit), do this for about a year and your credit history will grow...

"So I have to be bad to be considered good", I asked. "Yes", was the answer...

Oh, well. Now I have a secured "credit card" that I can use and have to remember NOT to pay off every month.

And maybe next year I have paid enough interest rate to be considered good or so I can get a "real" credit card and start paying off the balance again like I normally do...

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Ticket prices and European airports

So, I'm off to Sweden again, leaving next Thursday for another intense, crazy 8 day stay. I' tried to use the Swedish travel agency to get the tickets (making it a lot easier with expense reports etc), but when they came up with a price of 16533 SEK, flying into San Francisco instead of Sacramento that I have asked for (with the statement that it "looked close enough on the map"...) I turned to my friend Expedia.com and got the tickets for about 8500 SEK...

Flight SK 945 from Stockholm to Chicago was totally booked for my return (what's going on in Chicago on October 24??), that both Expedia and the Swedish travel agency were sure of, so I'm returning through my favorite (not) European airport Frankfurt. I rather go through Amsterdam (like Schiphol a lot!) or Paris (because Paris is always Paris after all). Oh, well. If things work out, I'm spending only 45 minutes in Frankfurt. Which really is what is worrying me... stop overs with less than an hour usually means looooong stop overs. Cross your fingers for me on October 24.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Channel confusion

So I've been here for a pretty long time now - always in the same part of California - meaning the local TV-channel listings have been the same, regardless of where I've been living (they are different in different part of a state and across the US). But I still just hate the confusion on how to find a specific TV-channel. Not that I watch that much TV (in another life when the kids are older...) and maybe that's part of the problem - I forget the channels abbreviations and channel numbers. Every channel has a 3- to 6 letter abbreviation, and a number, and then every channel might be sent in different version (normal or HD). And a local channel might be actually be a national network such as Fox, NBC, ABC or CBS.

So if I turn on my SAGE-TV (which I can watch on any of my computers, or on any of the TVs in the house (yes, I'm married to a geek)), this is what it looks like.

3 KCRA means in reality "the local NBC" channel. 13 KVOR means the "local ABC channel". The picture only shows 4 channels (7 rows, but three of the channels are HD-versions). I have 117 more to choose from...

It doesn't matter if you know you want to watch something on the TV-channel "Animal Planet" - you have know the number (282) and abbreviation (APL) to find it... You need guides like these to find something (the picture below shows about 2/3 of the channels we have).

Sometimes when I sit down and think I'm going to "watch some TV" it just gets too overwhelming... and I just grab a book instead.

Sunday, October 05, 2008


We might have fallen asleep to the sound of rain last night - but we woke to sun, clear skies and +23C. No excuses such as "it's way too hot" or "it's raining" could no longer applied to doing garden work, so after breakfast we headed outside. After a day the green waste garbage can was overfull and our backs were aching - but the garden seemed to have cheered up a bit. I actually pruned roses! (those who know me know that this is pretty big... my thumbs are not even close to be green in any shade...).

In our Northern Californian backyard about half of our plants and trees will loose their leaves during fall, and half will stay green (that includes all the palm trees - which is our favorites...). I don't like fall, and don't like the leaves turning colorful - not here or in when I lived in Sweden - so all new plants we put in, are "all year green"...

But I do like this time of year here- it's like the perfect Swedish summer...

Saturday, October 04, 2008


We woke up to cloudy skies and rain. Rain!! The first rain in months. Actually it started yesterday afternoon, startling the Daughter on her way back from school. She got a bit afraid, our California girl... Well, if you haven't felt rain in your hair in months, and months is an eternity for kids, I guess it can be a bit of a weird feeling.

The whole family was all excited and dressed in long pants and socks. Because rain means it's colder. Right? Or - old habits are hard to break...

Well, actually it was cooler today - and pretty nice actually. We could keep the windows open all day! This is however the first time in 5 years it has become cooler and actually rained before the Daughter's birthday celebrations are over.W Usually it's been +25-30C and sunny and we've always been outdoors. Today we actually had to hold the birthday party indoors. Not that it still was raining in the afternoon - those rain clouds were long gone - but everything outside was sort of mushy and wet. There is a first time for everything!

Warm weather is returning on Monday - with a high around +30C. So we still have to keep those shorts available in the closets...

Friday, October 03, 2008

Bag or paper?

Speaking of gifts - here is a phenomena I've been thinking about: the different ways to wrap gifts. In Sweden you always wrap your gifts in paper and with ribbon around them. Here you (usually) put your gifts in a bag and "hide" it with tissue paper on top. Meaning that even small gifts can look pretty big.

Aha - wait a minute!

Can that be it? It's a way to make even small gift look big! Or maybe it's because it's way quicker to prepare a gift by using a bag? Or because it's easier? It sure is easier to "wrap" a ball as a gift using a bag (but maybe not as challenging...). It's also way easier to carry your gift in a bag - especially if you have several gifts.

I haven't decided really which way I prefer - the old me prefers a perfectly wrapped package with a nicely tied ribbon. The new me likes throwing tissue around, when trying to find a gift hidden in a bag...

American vs Swedish gift wrapping: 1-1.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


I've been busy celebrating the Daughter's birthday - and myself. Because her birthday is also my day. There are few days in your life so big as the day you give birth, that's for sure. So in between blowing candles, cleaning up wrapping paper, singing birthday songs, assembling Playmobil houses (when it says on the Playmobil package that it will take 3 hours to assemble something - they're not lying...), I've been trying to celebrate myself and remember that day, five years ago. Trying to recall the feeling, the swirling thoughts and the miracle of it all.

And I can't help to wonder how things have been differently had I been in Sweden - what would have been different, what would that day have been like. Not in terms of "better" or "worse" - just what the experience would have been like. The Daughter was an "unplanned planned c-section" since she was discovered to breech on her due date. In the US you (normally) don't go through labor with breech babies , whereas in Sweden they might.

And what would it have been to get that traditional "sandwich and pommac"-tray...