Sunday, December 30, 2007

More home improvements

After Christmas we got a little energy boost to continue our home improvements in our condo. The dining room is our next project, so Friday night was spent sanding all the wood trim and putting primer on it. Albie painted two coats of pure white semi-gloss on top of that on Saturday, and today I added another two coats.

Perhaps the most important thing is that we got to cover up the ugly stenciled flowers with some white primer. The yellow paint (perhaps the one shown as a dot on the wall between the door and the window) will cover it up nicely, we hope.

Ugly brown spindles separating the dining room from the living room were removed one by one today, much to the liking of our kittens. Pip, our black panther, decided it was best he checked out what was going on and climbed up in our tree to be on level with the spindles.

The first three times, I dragged him out of the tree and plopped him back onto the floor. The fourth time I let him sit there on the branches while I ran upstairs to get my camera.
To be continued...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Lucia at IKEA

As usual, our singing groups (Apollo and the Scandinavian Women's Chorus of Connecticut) held two annual Lucia celebrations this year. One was held at IKEA in New Haven and the other at Christ Lutheran Church in Hamden - our home base.

Little children from the area, with some connection to Scandinavians or those of Scandinavian descent, gathered to dress up in white gowns, star boy suits and glitter to celebrate this typical Swedish holiday. The girl selected to be Lucia never showed up, which meant that the only real Swede on the team - ME! - had to put on the crown of battery-operated lights and take on the role of a 4th century saint.

Let me tell you, it doesn't give you the same warm, fuzzy feeling as when you are 12 years old and get the honor of being Lucia - but it is still pretty cool!

Below, for those of you unfamiliar with this tradition, is the description of this holiday and its history, i.e., my speech from the church celebration two weeks ago:

"Lucia is a Swedish holiday celebrated every year on Dec. 13 to spread joy and light in the dark winter night.

In every community, every city and every school, people select a girl to be the Lucia of the year. Other girls become attendants of the Lucia. Male participants are star boys, little elves or gingerbread men.

All dress up in white gowns. Lucia wears a crown of lights on her head, and the attendants wear glitter in their hair and carry candles. Star boys carry a star on a stick and wear a cone-like hat.

Together, the Lucia party visits schools, hospitals or homes for the elderly to mark the beginning of the Christmas season. The group sings songs about overcoming darkness and hands out ginger snaps and saffron buns to all around them.

This tradition to celebrate Lucia goes back to the 4th Century. An Italian saint – St. Lucia, or as American’s know her, St. Lucy of Syracuse – was killed because of her faith on Dec. 13 in 304 AD.

St. Lucy was known to be brave, generous and radiant. She was also a Christian, and the Roman emperor was not.

The emperor sentenced her to death by burning. But miraculously, St. Lucy could not be burned. The guards of Syracuse finally had to stab her in the chest to kill her.

The Swedish Lucia today wears a red ribbon around her waist. This ribbon represents the blood from when St. Lucy was killed so many years ago.

The candles symbolize the fire that refused to take St. Lucy’s life.
The Lucia events held today come from a 16th century German tradition. As you can see, the spirit of St. Lucy is alive – in Scandinavia, and right here in this church."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Kittens and Christmas trees don't match

Every day I find Christmas ornaments in different places throughout our house. The red ones end up in corners in our living room; the blue ones end up in our basement.

Albie and I patiently put them back on the tree and tell our kitties "Don't touch!"

We've even learned to recognize the sound of the ornament makes against the tree so we know when an attempted theft is in progress.

Yesterday I was cooking and heard the ornaments shake against the fake tree branches. I stormed into the living room yelling "GET OFF THE TREE!!!" A quick stop by the table and I had the spray bottle in hand, looking eagerly at the base of the tree to see whom I should direct it at.

Pip is sitting a foot or two away from the tree looking up, not close enough to touch anything. I look in the back corner, I look under the tree. "Where's Sophie?" I ask Pip and he just keeps looking up.

I finally look up. There, on the top branches, is a little kitten - neatly tucked in behind a string of lights. She was rescued immediately, but didn't seem too thrilled about it. This morning, I found her perched up on the same branch - purring, and almost asleep.

The whole incident reminded me of a few years ago at the farm. Some of you may have seen this:

Albie had to rescue Sprout from the tree after she climbed too high - behind lights and strings of popcorn - to reach the candy canes. I thought it mean we must avoid candy canes. Apparently, it means we must avoid Christmas altogether when we have cats.

Snowed in

Today I had an ambitious plan. I was going to the gym early - well, at 2 p.m. Wal-Mart was next, then home for a shower and later Bed, Bath & Beyond and Old Navy in Hamden. If I had time, I also intended to stop by the local DP Mart to pick up lottery tickets and tobacco for my dad.

It has been snowing a lot in this area. Thursday afternoon and night we got about a foot of snow in Torrington, and about 6-8 inches here in our town. Roads were cleared off Thursday night, and I only encountered some minor problems with our condo parking lot, where it took me 15 minutes to shovel out a spot before I could settle in for the night.

Saturday night into Sunday we got another 2 inches or so, the rest was sleet and freezing rain. I was out Sunday night, and the roads were OK. I came home and pulled into a parking spot that had been sort of cleared off.

All ready to go in sweat pants, sneakers and my ski coat, I assess the snow around my car this morning. Doesn't look too bad. A couple of inches around the tires and behind my car from what the snow plow pushed off the road. I grab the shovel - just in case.

I crawl into my front seat and start the car. I put it in reverse. It doesn't move. I try to go forward, the tires are just spinning and making whooshing sounds.

When I stick the shovel in the ground, I am met by solid ice. I try to kick it, hit it, scrape it and push it. I then try to move my car again. Nothing. Well, that's not entirely true. My car managed to slip about an inch to the left - sideways - and into more ice. Then nothing.

Since it was freezing out with a windchill that made it feel like -15 degrees Celsius and I had no hat on, I gave up. I picked up the last of the Christmas cards I had to mail and walked them over to the mailbox at the end of our road, then I went back inside and turned up the heat.

The rest of the day was spent under a warm blanket on the couch reading "Nobels testamente." I was snowed in - rather, iced in - and enjoying every minute of it.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Condo upgrades

So, my boyfriend and I moved into our new condo a week before we left for Sweden. When we got back from our trip, we started our first project: Painting the second bedroom.

For some reason, the previous owners thought it was a good idea to paint the room bright green. It was so bright that Albie's father would put his sunglasses on each time he entered. After a week of sanding and painting the trim and priming and painting the walls, the room is a more pleasant light blue.



We are still hoping to replace the beige carpet with a wood floor, or a laminate wood-lookalike, as we want to do in the entire condo.

In the kitchen, the following progress has been made...



Our plan is to upgrade all our appliances to stainless steel when they break. Right now it doesn't make the kitchen look any brighter, but we will work on that! The new stove sure makes it fun to cook again!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

New addition to the family

Our little babies: Sophie and Pepper ("Pip")

Monday, October 22, 2007

Back from Sweden

So, Sweden was good. It was a bit busy, though, visiting all the relatives I could think of in a very short amount of time. Plus, I had to reserve a day for Stockholm to get a new visa. But my dad was nice enough to drive us there, to entertain Albie at Kaknästornet (the tallest point in Stockholm), and to take us to Max (a hamburger restaurant) for lunch.

Both my grandmothers were thrilled to meet Albie. Although neither speaks a lot of English, they both made themselves understood with him, and he with them.

To the left is my maternal grandmother, Lisa, and to the right is my paternal grandmother, Frances, and her friend Franz. (The two photos were taken the same day. I was NOT wearing the same clothes every day of the trip).

Cleaning out my storage room was a big part of the trip. I've had stuff stored for nine years, and one of my friends has had to pay for it. Now she and I decided to combine our storage materials and downsize our needs. It was sentimental, and it took an entire day. Here's some stuff that I got rid of:

And here's some stuff there's no way I can part from:

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Live from Sweden

I'm sitting here in a little yellow house on the countryside in Sweden after four very stressful days of visiting relatives and shopping at Kopparbergsmarken - a local annual fair and market in the tiny town where I grew up.

Sleeping has been a bit of a problem since getting here. I'm not really sure why, but I seem to do it every other night, and the nights in between I only sleep three hours or so.

I had my interview at the U.S. Embassy in Stockholm yesterday, while my dad took Albie to Kaknästornet, one of the highest buildings in Stockholm that is also a communications tower. The interview, which I had been very nervous about, went something like this:

"Please put your left hand on the fingerprint machine."
"Please put your right hand on the fingerprint machine."
"Please put your thumbs on the fingerprint machine."
"Please do it again, they did not show up."
"Here are your papers back. We will mail your passport to you, probably send it out tomorrow. You will have it in less than five days."
"Can I stay and wait for it?"
"No. Have a nice trip."

So the goal is to do some more shopping and clean out my storage room I have here in Örebro before we leave on Friday. Then it's back to our new condo to start getting organized!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Heading home

We are all moved into our new condo and are heading to Sweden on Thursday (in less than 40 hours!!!). More info will follow when we get back, and pictures too!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A purse snatcher's adventure

Hmmmm... there's gotta be something interesting in here for sure.
I better take a closer look!
Perhaps I can get those shiny keys out if I stick my paw in there...
Or maybe I just need to stick my head in deeper...
That wasn't working. Perhaps if I tip the purse over...
Oh, it just tastes soooo good I don't care about what's inside anymore!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Blast from the past

I used to do collages all the time when I was younger. They turned into posters or covers of ringbinders, and they always featured things I liked like kittens or hot guys. All photos used were from magazines, and I cut them out neatly and saved them in little plastic folder until the time came to use them for the perfect project.

With the pending move, it was time to start cleaning out some of my stuff. The piles within my piles needed to be organized, and a few days ago I dug into them. I came across several plastic folders with photos of attractive actors and puppies. Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston had their own folder, as did others from the sitcom "Friends."

I decided it was time to let them all go. There would be no more cut-out projects, and there was no reason to hold onto all these little pieces of glossy paper. However, I quickly threw together one final piece of pictures that I just couldn't bear to throw out.

McGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) was one of my heroes when I was growing up. We did not have more than 2 TV channels when I grew up, but this was one of the shows I tried to never miss. Derek Jeter (top left) must be fairly recent (around 1998 or so), because I had never heard of the New York Yankees before I came to the United States. Oh wait! That's not true. There was a few mentions on "Seinfeld," but I wasn't really sure what the team was or who was on it or even how people played that weird game of baseball.

Ben Afleck, Matt Damon, Jude Law and Heath Ledger are still on my Top 5 list. I have also added Michael Vartan from "Never Been Kissed" and "Alias" (which I have never seen).

But with this final collage I will say goodbye to the unreachable hotties of the past and spend more energy on the hottie of my future.


Monday, August 13, 2007

The condo search

My boyfriend Albie and I have been looking for condos in central Connecticut for a couple of months now. We took a little break, then we started up full force this past week with 11 condos... the last one was the one we chose. Our offer was accepted late Sunday night. If all goes well, we are moving in the middle of September, right before our trip to Sweden!

This is the one we chose:

But we also had fun looking. Below you will see Albie's mom and aunt pretending to pour drinks at a bar in the basement of one of the condos we looked at. We were considering this one just because of the bar, but the rest of it was just ok.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Married man sues florist

A Texas man is suing an internet flower company after he cheated on his wife, sent his girlfriend flowers, and then the wife found a thank you note from the flower company. They are divorcing, and the wife wants $300,000 plus child support. The man claims the flower company should pay that money, since it was all their fault.

Read the full story here.

What is the world coming to??? When are people going to take responsibility for their own actions?

Monday, August 6, 2007

Passing The Ultimate Test

I have this test that I put all men through, whether or not I'm going out with them or anything serious is going on. The test is something everyone I am slightly interested in have to pass, and to be honest, most men fail (especially Americans).

Now, the test takes place only in my head, and it goes something like this:

1) Is this a person I can have fun with?
(Most people pass this one. If they don't, there's no need for the rest of the test.

2) Is this a person I would like to bring with me to Sweden?
(A lot of people have failed this one, and nothing serious could happen if I can't imagine the person meeting my family and friends)

3) Is this a person I would introduce to my former host father?
(Now this is tricky, because I shouldn't care what he thinks, but for some reason I do. And let me tell you, this is not an easy step to pass!)

4) Could I see this person as the father of my children?
(I know, I always say I'll never have kids and I'll never be ready for a family, but this step is the ultimate test. If a person passes this step, he is REALLY good.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

I wrote the above part back in August 2002, but it still rings true today. I wanted to include it here and to add an update, because I have actually found someone who passed the test. His name is Albie, and most of you have probably heard of him already.

Albie and I have a lot of fun together (when we finally get some time away from work), and we are going to Sweden together in September. He met and was approved by my ex-host father for Easter, and one day, perhaps, there will be children in our future. There, I've said it. But I don't want any reminders. If it is meant to be, it'll happen.

Back in '02, I wrote the test down in a letter for a guy I had a crush on. The letter was never meant to be read by anyone, but I recently came across it and several others when I was cleaning my room.

I decided to do the typical American thing, what I've seen people do on "Friends" and on other sitcoms and in movies: burn the letters. A few minutes ago, I watched all the ripped up pieces of paper go into flames outside by the firepit. It was a great night for doing it, not too hot.

As I watched the flames, I could see one ghost from my past finally floating away up into the air. It was a great feeling. Perhaps there will be more bonfires to come.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

An American rommate

Having an American roommate sucks. First of all, it’s annoying to have to share an apartment (or in my case, a house) with someone because you can’t afford the place by yourself at age 28. Then it’s annoying because American roommates don’t follow the standard common-sense rules of living.

A few years ago I had a roommate who didn’t eat anything with melted cheese and hated marshmallows. She didn’t know where anything was in our kitchen – after three years of living together – and when she emptied the dishwasher, she always put everything in the same cabinet. She used to heat up two table spoons of pasta sauce in a big pot on the stove, and she used to keep big piles of things in her room that she never had time to go through. But she was away most weekends to see her boyfriends, and she always took out the trash in the bathroom. We ended up being great friends, despite our differences.

Now, I come home to a disaster most of the time. Laundry everywhere, socks and underwear strewn around the living room (which also doubles as my roommate’s closet) and bras, gym clothes or ballet outfits hanging over doors, chairs or on every doorknob.

My new roommate is always on the way to somewhere else. She never slows down to actually finish anything she starts. She starts a load of laundry and then she leaves. She takes a shower, leaves her dirty clothes on the bathroom floor, and then leaves. She even makes her lunch and dinner to take with her before she leaves.

One day I sat down on the couch to watch TV. A big pile of clean, dry clothes (sort of like the one above) took up most of the couch, so I went to shove the items over to one side. A half-eaten apple was wedged in between a sock and a tank top, just like that.

While my first roommate liked to put everything in the same cabinet, this roommate seems to have a towel problem. I constantly find bathroom towels mixed with kitchen towels or cleaning rags in our kitchen drawer – if they make it that far. Sometimes they just end up in a pile on the living room table, and I have to put them away.

Some of the towels are ripped into two or four pieces, because my roommate apparently need rags for something. Perhaps she couldn’t find the rags that we keep with the cleaning stuff under the sink?

After a weekend away, I couldn’t for the life of me find my electric mixer to make whipped cream. I looked in every cabinet imaginable, high and low – nothing. A few days later, I went to grab a pot holder from our little drawer next to the stove, but it was stuck on something. Then I realized that the mixer had been squeezed into this tiny little space.

One concept that seems to be foreign to Americans is to keep track of their stuff. All roommates I’ve had constantly ask “Is this mine?” or “Is this yours?” How can you not know? I mean, I understand if you don’t know if a tomato is the one you picked up at the store, but don’t you know where the frying pan came from? If you didn’t buy it or get it as a gift, it’s not yours! I got into an argument the other day about a frying pan, where my roommate kept insisting the pan I’ve had since I first moved from my host father’s house in 1999 was hers. Boy, will she be surprised when I move out and take it with me.

While she believes some of my stuff to be hers, she doesn’t seem to know how much stuff she actually owns. Whenever I clear off a table or a shelf – especially in the bathroom – she just fills it with more stuff. It’s like she can’t stop spreading out. If I let her, she would take over the entire house. She has already taken over the kitchen table, and when I clean, I have to pack everything up and put it in her room. Her excuse, of course, is that her room is too small.

I finally bought her a shoe-pocket-thingy that you hang over the door because I was sick of constantly tripping over sneakers and flip flops in the kitchen and living room. The thing fits 24 pairs. My roommate was surprised and said “I don’t even own 24 pairs of shoes!” After she left, I picked up all of her shoes I could find around the house and started filling it up. When it was full, I kept counting. There weren’t 24 pairs of shoes, there were 37!!! And then some odd shoes all by themselves, in addition to that. How can anyone live like this?

But soon, there will be no more peanut butter mixed into my strawberry jelly (I HATE peanut butter!). There will be no more nights when I think I have the house to myself and my roommate strolls in with her boyfriend at midnight and they start ju-jitsuing each other all over the couch, making socks, underwear and sofa cushions fly all over the place…

Soon, I’ll have a place with my boyfriend, and he will be the only roommate I’ll ever need. I can’t wait. When that day comes, I will finally feel like a grownup.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Getting my hands on Harry Potter

My plan was to head over to Wal-Mart in Naugatuck, about 5 minutes from my house, on Saturday morning at 8 a.m. to pick up "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

The last book in the Harry Potter series was being released on the East Coast at 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, but lines for bookstores are usually really long on the first night of the release, and you usually have to pre-order the book in order to even stand in the line.

I also knew from previous experience that I could get the book for about half the price at Wal-Mart, only $18, as opposed to the $35 retail price in the real bookstores. Briefly, I had considered ordering it online ahead of time, but even with a 30% discount, it would come to almost $35 with shipping - somewhat unreasonable, no matter how good this book is.

Friday morning I called the Naugatuck Wal-Mart to make sure they weren't going to have a midnight event. They were not. However, they were opening at 7 a.m. on Saturday - an hour earlier than I had first thought. If I wanted to get it a midnight, they said, I would have to go to the 24-hour Wal-Mart in Wallingford.

I decided that I would either stay up until 7 a.m. (I get home from work about 2 a.m. and usually don't go to sleep until 4 a.m.) or get three hours of sleep and then go get the book.

As I was driving home from work around midnight Friday, I began to see flaws in my plan. Would I REALLY drag myself out of bed at 7 a.m.? And would I REALLY be going to go back to sleep after I had the final chapters in my hand, or would I stay up all day reading, and then not being able to function for work the next day?
No, it would be much better to get the book now, I thought, at midnight, when I was wide awake and would have several hours available for reading before I passed out.
I called a co-worker and asked her to look up the address for Wallingford's Wal-Mart. It was on Route 5, she said, and I was vaguely familiar with the area.
Forty minutes later, I was driving north on Route 5, having passed through the center of Wallingford and going several miles north of town. There was no Wal-Mart in sight. I was doubting my direction skills, thinking that perhaps I should just turn around and go south on Route 5 instead. But I didn't want to give up so easily, so I called my boyfriend and asked him to look up the exact location. Perhaps he could tell me if I had gone too far.
While he was looking it up, I pulled over into a parking lot on my right, think I would just wait it out. I didn't want to go in either direction, in case it was the wrong one.
A few minutes later, my boyfriend said "it looks like it's north of Wallingford." I got back out on Route 5, and the first thing I see on my right is the big blue sign for Wal-Mart. "Good thing I didn't turn around!" I said and hung up the phone.
I quickly parked and walked inside the double doors. The store was huge, much bigger than any other Wal-Mart I have ever seen. I started wandering around, trying to figure out where they kept the books. It was almost 1 a.m. by then, and I was hoping they still had books left. My roommate needed a copy too, and I had promised to get her one if I could.
Finally giving up, I stopped a young attendant and asked him where to find books, THE book.
"See that line when you came in?" he said.
"Nope," I said, thinking "oh, shit. They will definitely be out of books before I get there."
The young man walked me past the registers and back to the entrance. He stopped and looked confused.
"Oh," he said. "Well, there WAS a line."
He then pointed toward Customer Service and I ran up to the first available cashier. There were stacks of books along the side, and about 15 cashiers working on just selling Harry Potter.
I got my two copies and rushed home. It's been hard to get anything else done since. The new book is fantastic. Although I've only read about 200 pages so far about the 749-page masterpiece (work got in the way), I am sure I will be done with it before the week is over.
My roommate has been plowing throught it at every waking moment, and she only has about 200 pages left. Luckily, we both have tomorrow off. Wanna guess what we'll be doing?

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Reading Bill Bryson

One of my favorite authors is Bill Bryson, an American travel writer who lived in Great Britain for many years before he moved back to the U.S. with his wife.

I enjoy reading about Bryson’s adventures and mishaps. But the books are sometimes very frustrating. One book in particular: “I’m a Stranger Here Myself.”

In this book, Bryson writes about his return to America after 20 years abroad. Not only does he use every single one of my column ideas, but he does it so extremely well. He encounters 24-hour dental-floss hotlines and microwave pancakes, in addition to many other new, strange "improvements." (Unfortunately, I cannot quote directly from the book because I have misplaced my copy).

Perhaps the worst thing about it is that Bryson is allowed to complain. He is talking about his own country, and what he says is funny. When I try to comment on strange things or point things out, I am just a foreigner being rude.

However, as soon as I gather some more ideas there will be plenty of complaining here. Those who think I am being rude will just have to visit someone else’s blog.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Meeting celebrities

One really good thing about being in the United States is the chance to meet celebrities. Of course, I probably wouldn't know what most of them look like, but it's cool to know that I have to option to run into someone really famous.

Most recently, I met 'Jungle' Jack Hanna, who appears frequently on David Letterman and other TV shows with his animals. He used to work at a zoo but now travels most of the year to host lectures or make documentaries. This is me and Jack when he came to Torrington in February:

I had him auograph the front cover of the weekend section of our newspaper that I had designed. I had his picture on it!

I've also gotten the chance to talk to author Frank McCourt. He lives in the Northwest Corner of Connecticut - our coverage area at the newspaper - and he frequently makes appearances to talk about his books. I have three of his books. My boyfriend gave me "Teacher Man" for my birthday, which I am very eager to read.

Of course, I hadn't read any of his books - still haven't! - when I met McCourt in 2006, and I didn't know what to ask him. I had waited in line for quite some time to get my books autographed, and I just said "How do you like the food?" when I finally got up to him. A bit taken back, he looked up from signing my book and said "Oh, I don't have time for such trivialities."

Leonardo DiCaprio was recently filming in Thomaston, Connecticut, which is right in between where I live and where I work. Security was very tight, though, and I wasn't even going to attempt a glimpse. Harrison Ford was in New Haven, I read in the paper, to shoot the fourth installment of "Indiana Jones." Now that would have been something to see. Several hundred people lined up to apply as extras in the film. Perhaps I would have too if I had had the day off.

When I lived in New York, I sometimes tried to sneak into places in the city where they were filming movies. Sometimes the security was tight, sometimes you could walk right by the set.

I was rushing to my train once and ran right by Adam Sandler as he was filming "Little Nicky" at Grand Central Station. And once I stood in line for an hour at a music store to see Alice Cooper. I've also seen Philip Seymour Hoffman and Natalie Portman live in a play in Central Park, but it's not really the same thing as meeting celebrities on the street.

While it seems really exciting at first, it really isn't that big of a deal. I mean, what do you do if you do meet a celebrity? You just say something stupid and walk away, and that's that. They will never remember you - you were just one in the crowd. But you get to remember that embarrassing moment forever.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Finally getting the jokes

When I was in school at Virginska - post-high school but pre-university - we often got to do fun things in our English class. I was in a group of four people; it was me and my three best friends.

One time we put on a 15-minute skit made up of jokes or phrases from popular English, Australian or American sitcoms or movies. We worked on it for weeks. Back then, I was not watching a lot of television because I grew up without cable TV or a VCR, and I remember feeling a bit left out at times.

While I could laugh at the "I'll be back" reference from "The Terminator," I didn't quite get the "cereal killer" joke we included. It left me feeling embarrased - to embarrased to say anything.
(In case anyone else isn't getting it, "serial killer" is the real spelling, and "cereal" is what you eat for breakfast with milk)

I don't know exactly what made me think of this now - 11 years later. But spending nine years in the United States has definitely helped me catch up on the American English language and slang. I still don't watch a lot of TV, but at least I understand the jokes now when I do.

Protecting the stupid

I recently had a discussion with a co-worker about stupid laws and people filing law suits for no reason (just to make money). She said: "If people are stupid enough to get killed by a TV dinner, shouldn't we just let them die?"

She has a point. For example, requiring seat belts for drivers and helmets for bike riders is good for minors who are not yet ready or able to make their own decisions. But why should the state try to protect grownups who do not even want to protect themselves?

And if people do not understand that they shouldn't put scorching hot coffee in a plastic cup between their legs or put a poodle in a microwave, should they really have the right to sue McDonald's or General Electric?

I'd be interested to hear if anyone has any anecdotes related to this topic or any other comments.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Colorado takes a step in the right direction

Many new state laws take effect on July 1 in the U.S., also the first day of the new budget year.

Colorado on Sunday banned abstinence-only sexual education programs in all public schools (with the exception of one school, and it is unclear why). Now, all sex ed has to be taught based on scientific research and the schools MUST provide contraception information. Well, it's about time! I just wish all states could see the logic with this and follow suit.

For too long now, states have been trying to tell kids that you don't have sex until you're married. Sex leads to babies and sexually transmitted diseases, and the only way to avoid this is to avoid having sex.

Hello!!! Kids will be kids, and teenagers will always be teenagers. They will experiment with alcohol and they will have sex, whether you know about it or not. It is so much better to give them the education and the facts they need to know to protect themselves, instead of turning a blind eye and hope that their natural urges will just disappear. They will have sex. Sex is a natural part of life. Perhaps the conservative legislators have forgotten what it's like?

Sometimes this stupid, conservative country makes me want to puke.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

'No record of your reservation'

I had a little scare yesterday when I called Northwest Airlines to confirm that our names had been corrected. They said they have no record of our reservation.

My boyfriend Albie and I are flying to Sweden for one week in September. My former host father in New York was nice enough to find us great, cheap tickets through his American Express account with some frequent flyer miles added on. When I got the confirmation a month ago, however, I noticed that both our names were misspelled. My host father promised to take care of it.

"There are no remaining flights in this reservation," it said on the web site when I finally manged to log into our reservation.
"I'm sorry, that reservation has been cancelled," the nice lady on the phone explained.

"Oh crap! No Sweden for us!" I thought.

Well, after 45 minutes on the phone with American Express, it turned out that it was all their fault. When the names were being changed, they had to cancel one reservation and make an entirely new one. The new one was never made.

We're all set now, though. Sweden, here we come!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Getting away with a warning

On my way to IKEA on Saturday I was pulled over by a Connecticut State Police officer. I had just gotten off the highway and I could see the Swedish store about 50 feet further up the road.

The trooper claimed there was a sign at the stop light that said “No Turn on Red” (In America you can turn right when there is a red light after you stop, unless you’re in New York City or unless there is a sign directing you not to). The state must have just put the sign up, because it’s never been there before, and nobody I talked to afterward remembered seeing this alleged sign.

The police have pulled me over four times before in the nine years that I’ve been here. It always makes me panic inside, but so far, I’ve never gotten a ticket. I credit it to being blonde and being Swedish.

I was pulled over in Bronxville, N.Y., during my first few months in this country. I was driving my host father’s big white Chevy Suburban and I had just turned left before a red light (it was unclear whether that particular light was for my intersection or just the intersection a little further ahead). A group of us were heading to Yonkers to volunteer at a Thanksgiving dinner. I had lost the person I was supposed to follow – the woman with the directions – and also the person who was supposed to follow me.

As I struggled to pull out my Swedish driver’s license from my bag and find some type of registration papers, the Bronxville officer knocked on my window.

“I’m supposed to give you these,” he said and handed me a sheet of paper with scribbles on it.

“Huh?” I said.

“They’re directions. From Valerie,” he clarified. “She told me to look for your big white truck with Vermont license plates.”

“Oh,” I said. “I thought you pulled me over because I turned left when it was a red light.”

He said I kind of did, but it didn’t really matter. He then preceded to explain the directions, making sure I knew where to go. In the meantime, the person who was following me had time to catch up. She just didn’t expect me to be chatting with the police.

About a year later, I pulled up in front of my friend’s house in Scarsdale in my blue pick-up truck with Vermont plates and noticed a police car pulling up behind me. When I got out, he explained that my tax sticker on my license plate could not be seen and therefore he thought the plate was expired.

“We get a lot of people living here who use expired out-of-state plates and think they can get away with it,” he said.

I assured him that wasn’t me, and that I would take care of the problem immediately. Of course, I never did. A few years later, however, I had a new car and it didn’t matter anymore.

Going to school one day on the Sprain Brook Parkway I passed a New York state trooper with a radar gun while doing 70 miles per hour. I quickly slowed down, but he had already jumped in his car and was chasing after me.

“What is the speed limit and the only speed limit in New York state?” he asked brusquely.

“55?” I replied, hesitantly.

“And exactly how fast were you going, miss?”


“Ha! Try 71!”

I looked surprised. He glanced over to the passenger seat at my friend Almut from Germany who was visiting. I believe I said something about school, and I may have shown him my license. Then he gave me a warning, and let me drive off.

When I started working in Torrington, Conn., I was pulled over again. It was a bad day at work, I was already crying, and I was dying to get home and just get the hell out of there. I almost made it to the highway entrance when I saw the blinking lights in my mirror and had to pull over.

The Torrington officer was appalled at my driving. He had been following me almost since the newspaper office and said he’d had a hard time keeping up with me. I had no idea.

My Swedish and international licenses and Vermont registration confused him.

“I’m a student,” I said, because if you are a student you do not have to change your registration and plates to the state where you are living “temporarily.”

He asked me about school and then he realized that I was crying. His voice grew worried.

“What’s the matter?” he wanted to know.

“I had a really bad day at work,” I sniffled.

I told him about my “internship” at the newspaper (you can’t both be a student and a temporary H1-B worker when it comes to license plates). He asked me where I was going, then he was quiet for a few seconds.

“Well, take it easy now,” he finally said. “And slow down, ok?”

I promised and drove off.

So from these experiences I’ve learned some stuff that I applied to Saturday’s incident:

1) Have all your papers in order (insurance, registration, license, international license)
2) Wear your seat belt so they have no other reason to ticket you
3) Be polite, but only offer what is asked
4) Cry if you must

Do I need to add that there was no ticket on Saturday, just a warning? The Connecticut trooper ran my registration on his laptop and it came back clear. I told him the student story and that I am from Sweden. After that, I was free to go.

Midsummer at IKEA

The sun was blazing and the sky was clear as 15 Scandinavian singers gathered in the parking lot of IKEA in New Haven to spread some summer joy. A good 30 people in the audience gladly sang along to traditional Swedish songs like “Sköna maj” (Beautiful May) and “Hälsa dem därhemma” (Great My Dear Old Mother).

But it must have been a sight for the American onlookers (including some IKEA employees) when all those familiar with Swedish traditions eagerly got out of the lawn chairs to dance around a maypole. The pole was, of course, decorated with leaves and colorful flowers and stood about six feet tall.

Vivan Sundman, a Swede living in the Fairfield area, led the group on her accordion through “Vi äro musikanter” (We are Musicians) and the singers guided other participants through the gestures of playing the violin, the bass and the flute. To top it all off, Vivan played “Små grodorna,” a song about frogs that have no ears or tails.

I, of course, sang out loud and clear for this one, gesturing wildly with my hands by my ears (to show that frogs have no ears) and wiggling my hands over my butt behind my back (because frogs have no tails). All 50 people in a circle around the pole – the majority of them over 50 years old – gladly imitated me and jumped as I jumped while we were singing ‘kow-ack-ack-ack.’ That must have been some sight.

In Sweden, children are the ones dancing around the maypole. One chorus member from Karlstad, Sweden, had specifically said prior to the performance that he would participate in no such thing. But when the celebration started, he was jumping around with everyone else, a big grin on his face.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Singing at IKEA

My chorus, the Scandinavian Women's Chorus of Connecticut, and our guy friends in Apollo have been asked to sing at IKEA in New Haven on Saturday.

This is exciting for many reasons. First, I get to sing Swedish music for people who care about Swedish furniture and Swedish stuff. Second, I get to shop at IKEA when we are done. I really need to replenish my supply of Kalles Kaviar, Dajm and Ahlgren's Bilar.

The only problem... we have to meet at 10 a.m. for an 11 a.m. performance!!! Since I work nights, I am usually not awake before noon. But I guess I can make an exception for this very special occasion...

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

'Just another year'

When I came to the United States, it was only supposed to be for a year.

It was August 1998, and I stepped off my KLM flight from Amsterdam and walked through two sliding doors into a disgustingly humid summer night at JFK airport. The hotel room I was sharing with three other au pairs-to-be had air conditioning, but neither of us knew how to turn it on.

I complained to my host father that night on the phone. I said “I don’t know if I can take this heat!” Laughing, he told me I wouldn’t have to worry about being hot in his home. I soon learned that he keeps the entire house at a comfortable 70 degrees Fahrenheit year round. “You’re gonna like it here,” he said.

It wasn’t long before he predicted I was here to stay. “I’ll make a bet with you,” he said, “that you’ll still be here in five years.”

“No way,” I told him. “This is only for a year. Then I’m going back to Sweden.”
He smiled, nodded, and said, “We’ll see.”

Around Christmastime, I was thinking that perhaps a year wasn’t sufficient for all I wanted to do. Being placed near New York, I hadn’t had a chance to see the West Coast yet. The Grand Canyon, of course, was a must, and I should really try to visit Texas, Florida and Alaska as well. Then again, there were enough things in New York City to keep me busy. I just couldn’t get enough of this fast-paced area that’s never asleep.

I approached my host father about this problem. He was ready with a solution. “You should go to school,” he said. “Take some college classes, and get a student visa to stay for another year.”

So, in the summer of 1999, I took two weeks off to go home to Sweden, get a new passport and get a new visa. My grandmother asked me why I was going away again, and I assured her, “It’s just one more year.” Then I was off again.

Community college was exciting. I took classes during the day and was home at 3 p.m. when Little Mike got out of school. We did our homework, played some Nintendo, had some dinner.

Of course, you don’t get a degree at a community college unless you go full-time for two years – 64 credits. Since the first year was so easy, I decided I should really just stay and get an associate’s degree. The visa was already approved for another year, so why not? It was just another year.

But living with a family that’s not your own, no matter how close you are, can get bothersome. I realized that to really be able to focus on school, I should move into my own place. I got some student loans from Sweden, and I found myself a roommate. And my third year was on its way.

Now, an associate’s degree doesn’t really count for much in Sweden. You need a bachelor’s degree, at least, for the school board to consider it. That takes two more years. Again, I had to make some decisions. I could go back to Sweden, or I could stay and finish my degree. I chose to stay.

Money was, of course, always the issue. With guidance from my host father, I sent out six college applications. All of them were accepted. Three schools offered me scholarships. Quinnipiac University offered me two scholarships, so it was obvious I was headed for Connecticut.

With student loans and the two scholarships, I was still about $5,000 short of a year’s tuition. I therefore decided to work in wealthy Greenwich for a summer with a nice family that had four children, a dog, a cat, a bird, fish and a lizard. In the fall, I went to Quinnipiac and my fourth year in this country was on its way.

It was pretty obvious that I should stay and finish my degree, so the fifth year there was never an option of going back. And once you have a degree, you are allowed work in the United States for one year to do what is called “Optical Practical Training.” At this point, in 2003, I had stopped saying “just another year.”

It’s now 2007, and I will reluctantly admit that my host father was right. Perhaps, after nine years, I can say that I am here to stay, after all. But it was never my intention. It was just what life had in store for me. Sometimes, I guess others can predict your future better than you can.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Winter in Southern Vermont

Another travel writing piece from 2002:

I had spent many winters in this little ski town in southern Vermont. So many, in fact, that it started to feel like a home to me. I knew the house at the end of High Hopes Road as well as I knew my own, and I knew my way around the woods surrounding the house; I had followed the little stream up to the tiny waterfall and back down again during falls, winters, summers and springs.

This time, however, I was here with a friend, a friend who wanted to see Vermont for what it really is. I was self appointed as her enthusiastic tour guide, and I swore I would give her an authentic experience.

West Dover, Vermont, is located about 40 minutes off of Exit 2 on I-91. Because of its convenient location, it has become a popular tourist town during all seasons, except for spring, maybe, when half of the roads are closed due to thawing of the frozen ground. During the summer, people from New York and Connecticut drive the three hours up here to play golf, to go fishing or to bike and hike the mountains.

During the fall, the same tourists come up here to stay at a Bed & Breakfast and enjoy the magnificent change of colors on the trees. There aren’t many things to do, but just driving around to take in all the beauty is enough for most people.

During the winter, West Dover is flourishing. With its five ski shops just in the center of town it serves the tourists with all the newest equipment necessary to hit the slopes. Mount Snow is located not even five minutes from the center of town, and while the price of a lift ticket is on the steep side, it is nothing compared to the tickets at classy Stratton Mountain, located only fifteen minutes away.

This time there was no snow on the ground, but since it was winter, my friend decided she should try skiing at Mount Snow. After spending three days relaxing at the house – eating, watching movies, and sleeping – we dragged ourselves out of the heavenly comfortable beds at 7:30 in the morning to go rent skis. We were the first to enter World Class Ski Shop that morning, and as I started filling out the release form for rentals, Mirek, the Czech store owner, came running into the store from his back office.

“It’s been a while since you were here,” he remarked. “We changed some things around.”
Being that I own my own equipment, as do most people who spend at least five weekends a year in Vermont, I had never actually rented skis for my own benefit. I had, however, brought Mirek many other customers, and I was well-known among the staff. Since it was a Wednesday at the end of the season, Mirek didn’t expect nor did he have many customers, so he gave us all his time and attention.

The first ski boot was tried on, and my friend started complaining. “It hurts. Is it supposed to feel like this? I think it is too small.” Mirek and I glanced at each other over the counter.
“Push your knee forward,” I instructed. “Are your toes hitting the front of the boot?” My friend said they weren’t, but that the boots hurt around her ankle.

Mirek looked at my friend with sympathy and asked if she had ever skied before. She told him the truth and he said, “I’ve got just what you need, then” and he picked up the shortest pair of skis I had ever seen given to an adult.
“These are shaped skis and they will help you turn,” he said.

Except for the fact that I had told her many times how easy it was to ski, my friend’s upcoming disappointment really wasn’t my fault. I walked over to the tiny ticket-window to purchase the lift tickets while my friend was stumbling along in her boots, and the equipment pointing in all sorts of directions. She started complaining that her feet hurt. I told her she would be fine.

We did a ten-minute lesson in how to put the skis on – toes first and then push the heel of the boot down. Take the skis off and try again. My friend was very nervous about the lift, but I tried to calm her down by saying that it was easy; she didn’t have to do anything except to sit down, and then stand up again.

When the lift chair finally approached us my friend fell, and the South African seasonal worker had to press the emergency stopper. Getting off the lift was easier, and then we started with the turning. Rather, I turned – my friend didn’t.

To me, the slope we were on seemed flat enough for a beginner – a beginner who had refused to sign up for ski-lessons. As I skied across the trail I instructed, “Put your weight on the left side of your skis and lean towards the mountain.”

I stopped and turned around. My friend was going straight down. “Turn, turn, turn!” I yelled, but it was too late. She was already sitting down, poles sticking out of the snow a little bit above her.

Lessons in snow plowing, getting up without going straight down, and bending your knees followed, and after an hour we were finally at the bottom of the bunny slope. “I’m not doing this anymore,” my friend said. “You go on without me.”

After returning my friend’s skis to a smirking Mirek at the ski-shop, my friend wanted to stop at a souvenir store she had seen on the way. I hesitated for a moment. That shop was no place for me. What if someone I knew saw me go in there? On the other hand, I thought, what is wrong with being a tourist every now and then? Plus, it was for my friend’s sake we were going into the store, not for me.

My friend looked around at all the moose shirts and Mount Snow hats, and I stayed uncomfortably in one corner of the store. “Look at this one!” she suddenly yelled to me from across the store. “Wouldn’t this be great for my mom? Come and look at it!”

Forty dollars later I managed to sneak out of the gift shop and crawl back into my car. What made it even worse was that I had Vermont plates on my car. Vermont cars do not park outside gift shops.

We drove past Barry’s house and continued down to the General Store, where I pulled up with my pick up truck in front of the sign saying “Parallel parkers will be shot.” “I’m just going in to get some milk and cheese,” I said. “Do you wanna come?”

I always had to get cheese when I went to the General Store. This store is the only place I know where they actually sell real Vermont cheddar cheese, not the kind you get at Stop and Shop. The cheese is displayed in the store on a big, round pillar, and Lissa cuts pieces out of it like you would cut a piece of cake.

As we are watching the cheese being cut, a man walks past us into the narrow isle of pasta. “That’s Dan Hescock,” I whisper. “He is the guy that always inspects my car.”

This car inspector is widely known, not only up here in Vermont. Hescock is the reason why my car is still out on the roads, even though I have no horn, no parking break and no back-up lights. Every year when I go to inspect my car, he says to me, “It looks like your back-up lights aren’t working,” and I give him a surprised look and say, “Oh, really?” Sometimes he asks if I want him to take a look at it, and sometimes he just says I should consider getting it fixed. I really should consider getting it fixed. On the other hand, I don’t even know if the car will last until next year’s inspection, so what’s the point?

The only reason the car was purchased in the first place, by the man who owns the house at the end of High Hopes Road, was to drive garbage to the dump. Oh, the Dump! I realize this is the only thing I have forgotten to show my friend.

The Dump, where everything is now sorted into household garbage on the left, colored glass and white glass a little further over, and metal, scraps and anything else you can’t dispose of on the right. The Dump is usually muddy, but the man who works there is nice. When I tell my friend about it she isn’t excited at all about going to see it.

“But the man who works there gives you lollipops when you drop off all your bottles and cans,” I say enthusiastically.

My friend just shakes her head at me. Maybe another time.

Visiting New York on a tight budget

This is actually a story I wrote for my travel writing class at Quinnipiac University a few years ago, but I think it works well here, too:

When I was in New York this weekend, I realized that no matter how much money I have with me, I always manage to spend it all. There’s no city that can make me go as crazy as New York can. I always need money for the train, some food, and then some shopping, those $5 coffees from Starbucks and then some more food… and it can go on like that until I am up to over $100 for a day.

Then I thought about all those other times when I have actually gone to Manhattan without bringing hardly any money, and I’ve had just as much fun. Without spending any money, you can still experience the fresh green, slightly wet grass in Central Park, the smell of fresh fish off the ship at the South Street Seaport or the sounds of angrily honking taxicabs trying to cross over Seventh Avenue at Times Square.

There are several ways you can go to New York on a tight budget. First of all, don’t waste $25 on taking the Metro North into the city from New Haven (or wherever you are coming from). Instead, if you have a car, drive down to the Bronx and take the subway to Manhattan for $1.50. Of course, you have to know your way around the Bronx a little, because you don’t want to park in the back streets of South Bronx and come back from a day in the city to find out your windows, your stereo, and your seats are gone. Nor would you want to come back from the city to find out that you have a $25 parking ticket because you parked on the wrong side of South Broadway.

The best places to park are right around subway 5 (green) or the 1 and 9 (red). You can get to number 5 by taking exit 7 off the Merritt Pkwy (of course it will change to Hutchinson River Pkwy as you enter Westchester County), and you can get to number 1 and 9 by taking the New York State Thruway 87 down to the 238 street exit.

If you are going to New York with a group of friends, it really isn’t a bad idea to drive in and just park at a municipal parking garage for the day. To park for a day is about $18 (including tax and tip), which I usually split with my friends, and I have personally never had any trouble driving in the city or gotten anything stolen from my car while parked.

If you do decide to take the subway into the city, and you plan to move around a lot between downtown, midtown and uptown, you should definitely consider getting a Funpass. Funpasses are $4 and you get unlimited rides on the subway until midnight. That way, if you get tired throughout the day from walking the miles-long avenues, you can still hop on the train even if all your money is gone.

Walking around the city taking photos is, of course, something that doesn’t have to cost you a cent, until you get home and want to develop your film. If you want to take good photos of the now chopped down city skyline seen from the south, you can take the Staten Island Ferry for free. It will give you an opportunity to get good photos of the city without the World Trade Center, both when you are sailing away and coming back. The trip takes about 20 minutes one way.

For a taste of the nature in the middle of the greatest city on earth, you can visit Central Park, also free. You can either step into the park and leave the city behind, or stay along the paved sides of it, like I did when I was trying to get a glimpse of Harrison Ford. Ford is supposedly renting an apartment at 101 Central Park West, really close to the Dakota Building outside of which John Lennon was shot. If you get tired from waiting, there are nice wooden benches along Central Park West, and also throughout the park. Be sure to bring some leftover bread, however, if you plan to sit down around the Baruch Chess and Checkers house since it is filled with hungry and overly friendly squirrels.

If you go to the city on a weekend, there are always fun things going on and fun people to talk to in Washington Square Park. You can take the 1 or 9 to Christopher Street or the green, yellow or gray line to Union Square. From here it’s also a close walk to Greenwich Village where you will find second hand CD’s, funky stores, and semi-cheap coffee houses.

If you walk around in Greenwich Village, you should definitely pass by Grove Street where the Friends building is located. It took me several years of walking up and down the street until I actually found the brown brick building. The trick is to walk onto Grove Street from Hudson street towards Seventh Avenue until you see the Friends building appear on your right. If you are a fan of this number one rated show on television, as I am, it is definitely worth the while looking for the famous façade.

Eating in the city can be quite expensive if you go to the wrong places. So, don’t. You don’t need to go to the Rainbow Room or even the Hard Rock Café to get a good meal. Those places are best seen from a distance, where the luxurious view of the city or the loud music won’t bother you or your wallet. I’ve actually had friends who found buffets in Chinatown and Greenwich Village for $1 per person. My best meal in the city, however, was a juicy gyro in soft pita bread with plenty of fresh salad for $3.50 at the deli on the corner of Third Avenue and 43rd street.

Personally, I value food above everything else, so I’d rather save my money and make sure I eat well instead of buying souvenirs or clothes. However, if food is not a priority, you can either bring a sandwich and some water in your backpack and have lunch on a park bench or in the grass in Central Park, or go to McDonald’s, which is only slightly more expensive in the city.

There are many events going on for free in the city, especially during the summer. Keep your eyes open and check in newspapers and magazines to be sure to spot some of them. Famous people appear randomly at bookstores and in music stores for promotional events and you might be able to catch a glimpse of them. I once saw Alice Cooper when he was in Coconuts on Sixth Avenue signing CD’s. One warm, sticky summer night in Central Park I also managed to catch a free play starring Meryl Streep, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Natalie Portman, thanks to my dear friend who found a small ad in the newspaper. Of course, we had to stand in line outside the Delacorte Theater for two hours with our clothes sticking to our bodies because of the intense heat and wait for returned tickets, but we had more or less been guaranteed spots by the employees, so it was worth the wait.

Ground Zero is of course the newest tourist attraction that is so far free to visit. If you really want to stretch your legs, you can walk from Times Square all the way down on Broadway, a walk I accomplished in a little less than three hours. Otherwise, take the subway.

Last time I was down there, Ground Zero covered an area from Chambers Street in the north to Cedar Street in the south and from Trinity Place/Church Street in the east all the way to the Hudson River in the west, but I would imagine they’ve cleaned up some more of the ashes and rubble by now.

While you are downtown anyway, I recommend walking over to the East side of Manhattan to experience the South Street Seaport. As I was there on a Saturday with beautiful weather, I was a bit overwhelmed by the number of visitors and the smell of fish, but in general I believe it can be a really nice place to visit.

When the sun decides to come out, as it often does in the city, the Seaport is a nice place to just sit down and relax, look at people and pretend that you are sitting at a beach in Maine. Try to stay away from the actual shopping area on Pier 17 if you don’t want to spend money, but definitely look to the north for a view of the Brooklyn Bridge.

As the sun sets, you should definitely make your way over to the Hudson River, and watch all the roller-bladers fly by in their helmets and kneepads. And before you head back to your car, just stop for a moment and think about the amount of money you spent. If you follow my advice, you can have a great day in New York City for less than $10.

All things Swedish

I always bump into Americans who want to know what it's like to be Swedish in a foreign country. Isn't the U.S. so different, with excitement and more freedom than anywhere else in the world? they ask.

My answer, usually, is "no."

We have McDonald's, Seinfeld, Friends and David Letterman in Sweden. There are Volvos, Saabs, H&M and IKEAs here. The United State is less different than one might think.

When I first came to this country nine years ago, I looked around critically, judging things. There are so many things we do better in Sweden, I thought. But despite the differences that stem from too many religious conservatives in power, it is easy to find a little bit of Sweden in the United States.

Not counting California and Minnesota, where there are more people claiming to be Swedes than in Sweden, there is plenty of Sweden here to make me feel at home.

The first college I went to - Westchester Community College - was located in a little town called Valhalla, N.Y. Now, those of you who know your Nordic mythology know that Valhalla is a place where slain vikings go to party. I was therefore not surprised to see the name of the school newspaper: The Viking News. It took a while before people realized the irony of it all when I became the editor, but it later became a great topic of conversation during job interviews.

One summer I walked into the giant bookseller Barnes & Noble to pick up a book or two. When I passed the rows of new books in paperback, Liza Marklund's "The Bomber" (Sprängaren) caught my eye. It had a hand-written label next to it, and I walked closer to the shelf to see what the note said. "Our staff strongly recommends this book." Since it is one of my favorites, I quickly grabbed it and decided it would make a great gift for someone.

A Thursday afternoon in 2003 I sat down on the couch to skim through the local newspaper and came across a brief that said "Swedish spring concert this Saturday." Not only were three Scandinavian choruses set to perform; the performance was in Hamden, where I was living at the time, less than five minutes from my apartment. Two days later I went to the concert and realized none of the singers knew Swedish. But I got to hear "Sköna maj" and "Studentsången."

After that, I signed up to join them for the next year. I have now been singing with the Scandinavian Women's Chorus of Connecticut for four years, and I am one of two people who speak Swedish.

A few years ago, IKEA opened a store in New Haven, about half an hour from where I live. I addition to furniture and accessories, all foreign IKEA stores have a Swedish food shop where you can buy Kalles Kaviar, Dajm and knäckebröd. Of course, you can buy Wasa knäckebröd and Ballerina cookies in the regular supermarket now. And what Swede could live without them?

Another famous thing here is Swedish Fish. It's made by Swedish candy company Malaco, I think, but in Sweden we actually have several different flavors and colors. Here, the fish is just red.

Often, you can hear Robyn, Ace of Base, ABBA or Roxette on the radio. Another hit, if you listen to the right station, is Björn Skifs' "Hooked on a Feeling." At some New York Yankee games, they play the country-Eurodance hit "Cotton-Eye Joe" by Rednex.

Sometimes the Swedish things are temporary, and sometimes they are here to stay. One this is for certain: It is nice to be a Swede in a country where Annika Sörenstam has made history. At one point, she was compared to Jackie Robinson.

If Annika can, I can. Or at least, I can try.

Friday, June 1, 2007


I came to the United States in August 1998 as an au pair. It was only meant to be for a year. Then I started going to college. When I graduated with an associate's degree from a community college, I decided I might as well go for a bachelor's degree. It was easy and fun.

Nine years later, I am still here - with a full-time job, an American boyfriend and a master's degree.

This will be my blog about all the strange things I've encountered over the years. It will be about living in a foreign country, learning a new language, and trying to start a new life. It will also be about what is left behind, and how to maintain a Swedish identity in a crazy new world.