Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New light fixture

Albie installed a new light fixture for the hallway last night when we got home from shopping. We were tired of seeing the white standard rental-apartment globe...

Sunday, December 28, 2008

After-holiday shopping

Shopping AFTER Christmas is the best thing ever! I just love walking around looking at all the 50 percent off signs, thinking "I'm so glad I didn't buy that for $10 last week!"

I got all my giftwrapping paper, labels, ribbons and seven late Christmas presents bought today for less than $35! Can't beat that.

Of course, it's not like in Sweden, where Dec. 26 is equal to America's Black Friday - the day after Thanksgiving. You can get clothes, electronics... anything for a really good deal.

Tomorrow (or later today for some of you), Albie and I will go to Sports Authority so he can get himself socks and my Christmas present - a pair of new winter boots.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Furry fur friends

I got a special gift bag from a friend at work... It had a blonde girl on the side, wearing a Santa hat. On the hat, there was a strip of white fur. All along the upper edges of the bag, it was lined with fur as well.

That same night when I got home, I noticed Pip tossing around something white. A sock? No, it was the strip of fur from the gift bag. He carried it around in his mouth, then he tossed it into the air and caught it. This continued for several hours.

Today as I was wrapping some gifts for a January party, Pip somehow managed to get into my gift supply stash, dig out "his" bag, and rip off the rest of the fur. I was in the kitchen, and Pip came walking down the stairs with a long strip of fur in his mouth, dragging behind him on the ground. He then walked around the house with the fur for an hour.

Every time I took it away from him, he would hunt it down and take it back.

I finally put the fur around his neck to see what it would look like and how he would react, and he doesn't look too upset, right? (I guess I can expect another call from PETA soon...)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Inside the presents

As requested...

This isn't nearly everything I got, but it's a snapshot of some of the stuff that cheered me up on my birthday when I was really sick and had to stay in bed all day.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The engagement

On Christmas Eve, I was very sleepy. I knew I didn't have to get up for hours, so there was no reason to get out of bed.

Albie kept checking in on me, waking me up and then apologizing for it. I fell back asleep.

Around 1 p.m., he finally came in and sat down next to my side of the bed and said, "the kitties want to ask you something."
"Yeah sure," I mumbled, while pulling my comforter and two blankets up to my chin and rolling over.

I was sure it had to do with breakfast, since Pip and Sophie usually don't get fed until I get out of bed in the "morning."
"Hold on," Albie said. "I'll go get them."

I fell back asleep again, then I woke up when Albie, carrying both cats, came up to the bed and kneeled down by my side. I noticed Sophie was wearing a pink bow - it was nice to see her "dressed up for Christmas."

"The kitties would like to know..." Albie started, while both kitties stared me straight in the face, "...they would like to know if you want to make our family arrangement more official."

"Yes," I said immediately, still not really understanding what was happening. We had already talked about this. He knew I wasn't going to say no if he proposed.

I reached out my left hand to scratch Pip behind the ears, and I noticed he was also wearing something around his neck. It was black yarn. Then I felt the ring attached to the yarn. I touched Sophie again, and she was also wearing a ring tied onto her bow - my grandmother and step-grandfather's engagement rings.

"Oh," I said, then I started laughing. "I get it now."

As we kissed, Albie put the kitties down. It wasn't until a few seconds later we realized we still had to retrieve the rings, now being carried around the house by four-legged critters not too eager to slow down...

SWEDISH CHRISTMAS: Hooray for the goat!

For three years in a row now, a Swedish Christmas symbol has been safely planted on the town square in Gävle, a big city in east central Sweden.

It is surprising, you see, because the Chrismas Goat Gävlebocken – is mostly famous for burning to the ground each year since it was first erected in 1966. Made out of straw and decorated with holiday ribbons and lights, the goat weighs 3 tons and measures 13 by 7 yards.

In 1966, the goat burned down on New Year’s Eve. In 1976, a rare car drove into it, destroying it. In 1983, someone broke the legs off the goat.

In 1988, Englishmen would gamble on what day the goat would go up in flames, but it never did. In 1990, a group of volunteers offered to guard the goat day and night, and they successfully kept it “alive” through the holiday season.

Since 1996, two web cameras have been mounted for continuous surveillance of the straw figure. Anyone who wishes can follow the goat’s destiny on the web. But that didn’t stop vandals from attacking it again.

In 1997, fireworks damaged the goat and in 1998, 1999 and 2000, it was again damaged by fire. In 2001, a 51-year-old American tourist torched the goat on Dec. 23.

2002 was a magnificent year for Gävlebocken, as it was the first in six years it made it through an entire season untouched. But all was back to normal in 2003, when it burned down two nights before Lucia on Dec. 11. A new goat was in place a week later.

More attacks came in 2004, 2005 and 2006, although during the last one only the goat’s leg was hurt.

In 2007, someone finally came to their senses and sprayed the entire goat with flame retardant. One must assume similar measures were taken this year, since they were successful.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas/God Jul

God Jul and Merry Christmas to everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Baking in American/updated

Yes, I am now on vacation, so I have time to complain a bit again.

I attempted to make chocolate chip muffins. I've never made muffins before - not the American kind that is supposed to fluff up and be big and tasty. Albie got me a muffin pan for my birthday, so I figured what the heck, I'm home by myself and the house is clean, let's give those muffins a shot!

First of all, it annoys me that all American recipes are written in "2 1/4 cups" and such, not because I'd rather like it in deciliters (I really would), but because all measuring cups I own say 1 cup, 1/2 cup, or 1/3 and 2/3. There are no quarters, yet all recipes call for quarters. I guess you just have to guess by splitting the halfs in half! However, it's not very exact.

I finally got past the stupid numbers and had mixed all my ingredients when I realized everything was as thick as cookie dough. Is this normal? I checked the recipe. It said "divide the batter evenly between the 12 muffin cups." Hm. That didn't tell me much. Divide it how?

Now it would have been helpful if the recipe said "divide with a spoon" or "pour batter into cups" so I would know if it was supposed to be closer to dough or closer to pancake batter. I had to resort to another muffin recipe to see if, perhaps, the first one had a mistake in it.

Nope, about the same amount of liquids vs. dry stuff in that one too. When I couldn't even stir the batter because it was so thick, I figured something must be wrong. I poured in a bunch more heavy cream, then I melted some more butter. I mixed until the consistency became what I deemed appropriate. I still had to spoon the "batter" into the cups though, and I still have no idea if this is normal...

Muffins - or whatever they turn out to be - are in the oven now. Update will follow on the results. That is, if the kitchen is still there when I get back downstairs.

UPDATE: I am eating one of the muffins right now. It tastes alright, althought it is slightly greasy and buttery. Perhaps next time I'll try to actually follow the recipe and won't assume anything is wrong with it. It just seemed way to odd to call something that thick and heavy "batter."

Monday, December 22, 2008


First published in Nordstjernan on Dec. 9, 2004:

For the fourth Sunday of Advent (which was Dec. 20 this year), it's time to take that last bit of energy you stored up and begin making holiday candy and some julpyssel to hang in the Christmas tree.

Candies that are a must have during the last days before Christmas are knäck - a type of toffee - and ischoklad - ice chocolate made with lots of butter. Both should be kept cool until ready to eat. The toffee will be very hard, though, so be careful not to bite into it before it softens up or you might lose a tooth!

When the ice chocolate is made just right, it will melt in your mouth. Both candies are sure to please children and grandchildren.

Many other delicate candies also adorn the Swedish Christmas table. Brandy balls, Dajm squares, chocolate caramels, mint kisses and chocolate balls with coconut are among the favorites.

For the tree, one or more smällkarameller - Christmas crackers - are a must. They are made with tissue paper and an empty toilet roll, with riboons tied at the end. Usually these can be kept from year to year, but it is always fun to have a couple of fresh ones. They are also fun for children to make.

If you have pets, however, the Christmas crackers often fall into the fun-to-play-with category, and you may need to make new ones each year. Otherwise, keep them high up on the tree - out of reach for naughty cats or dogs.

Two-colored Christmas hearts and bookmark angels are also frequent home-made decorations that can be seen on Swedish trees. Trees are in abundance in Sweden, and are often cut from someone's property with the homeowner's permission.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter storms

So I was going to start complaining about the huge winter storm we had on Friday, but there wasn't enough time to get all my work done and blog about it. Before I knew it, it was Saturday, and I had to get up early to get the paper done before our company's Christmas party at 7 p.m.

Four times, we had to scrape the windshield of my car on Saturday, because there was just enough snow coming down to leave a light layer of freezing stuff on the glass. We also realized Saturday that nobody had cleaned the AP satellite dish on the roof, so I had to spend half an hour doing that with an old brush in order for us to have any stories to put in the paper. With an inch or more of snow, the satellite feed goes dead immediately.

The snow kept falling in my face, and little chunks of it made it in between my gloves and jacket sleeves to make my arms wet and cold. Not to mention the snow on top of the roof, which was almost knee-deep and made the legs of my pants wet for hours.

Driving home last night, I called Albie and asked him to move his car from our driveway so I could put mine in the garage. Another storm was expected for Sunday morning.

"It won't be that bad," he said. "There's just going to be an inch or so."
I told him he was wrong, but he wouldn't listen.
"I just don't feel like it," he said.

"That's fine," I replied sweetly, "but you are cleaning off both cars tomorrow after the storm."

Today, after he realized I had been right about the snow, he wasn't happy. But at least neither of us had to go anywhere. Plans to meet up with a friend got cancelled since she is snowed in as well, and I am just happy to celebrate the first day of my vacation at home with a cup of tea and a good book.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Press checks

I used to like going out to the press room and grab a newspaper "hot of the presses" with wet ink sticking to my fingers as I looked through the pages. That was before our boss made it a requirement.

We now have to do so-called press checks, where someone sticks around each night until the first few copies of the paper come off the press to check it for mistakes. Usually, that person is me. The only fun part is that I get to say "Stop the presses!" if I find something wrong.

What's not fun is that we print several other newspapers, wraps and shoppers at our location, and the newsroom is required to check each one. Wednesday night I was in the press room more than in the newsroom, which makes it kind of hard to get any real work done.

The goal, I guess, is to make sure all ads are kosher so we won't loose any more revenue. Secondary, to make sure our headlines and stories make sense so we won't lose any more subscribers.

It's tough times out there for newspapers, and I guess we have to do what we can to survive.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A weekend in the kitchen

This entire weekend was spent cooking and baking. First, I made myself a birthday cake - prinsesstårta. Then I spent hours cooking up the best pot of chili I've ever made. For dessert - I figured we should have a backup in case the cake didn't come out well - I made a banana split pie.

I made up the recipe based on a free recipe I had picked up at Big Y. Graham cracker crust, layer of ice cream (recipe called for cream cheese, which I didn't have), layer of bananas, topped with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles (recipe called for pineapple, which I don't like, and Cool Whip, which is pretty artificial).

I threw together some scones with buttermilk, something I never knew existed until about a month ago when a fellow baker in Sweden enlightened me. Still not great - I have to work on my recipe a bit and find out what I'm doing wrong. So this morning I decided to make some "food bread" instead, which are the rolls you see in the picture above.

And since this weekend was Lucia and third of Advent, I figured I had to make lussebullar, so I made a big batch of them as well. Seriously, I spent the entire weekend in the kitchen! But now the house smells really nice...

Sunday, December 14, 2008


First published in Nordstjernan on Dec. 2, 2004:

The Swedish holiday of St. Lucia usually coincides with the third of Advent. As you light the third candle in your adventsljusstake, get ready for the blonde saint dressed in white to appear on your doorstep with light and holiday goodies.

A special treat around this time of year is the Lucia Bun, lussebulle. Saffron gives this special bun a nice, golden glow, and raisins assist in the creation of imaginary shapes. Some prefer the traditional S-shaped buns. In my family, we have always baked a double S, which gives the appearance of a kringla, or a large saffron man covered in raisins from head to toe.

By the third Sunday of Advent, all your holiday cards should be written, addressed, signed and sent. Some people begin early, but the post office deadline sneaks up on you quickly and Christmas is closer than you think.
No matter what preparations you decide to partake in prior to Christmas, it is important to enjoy the process of baking, cooking, cutting and designing. If your creations turn out to be less than perfect, remember that it's not the end result that matters - it's the fact that you carry on a (Swedish) tradition and enjoy the holiday season with your loved ones.

Guess who?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Present report

I've gotten a request for photos of what was actually INSIDE my birthday presents... perhaps later this weekend... A lot of packages contained candy, which has, of course, already been eaten. But I will do my best when I get home from work tonight to put something together for Sunday for those of you who are curious.

For Christmas, I bought myself a memory card for my phone and a USB adapter so I can now transfer my pictures without having to e-mailing them to myself. I am slowly starting to like the new phone, mainly because of the camera feature. Of course, while at the Verizon Wireless store, a salesperson sweet-talked me into getting a Blue Tooth headset as well. I will not be able to talk on the phone while driving - legally! As long as I can get that darn thing charged and made compatible with my phone...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

The Ghost Cat.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First snow of the year

It started snowing on the eve of my birthday. This is the first snow of the year that has actually stuck to the ground. Some of it melted today, but when I took a walk to the mailbox to see if there were any last-minute birthday cards, I realized there was still plenty of snow left.

There was also a birthday package for me from Sweden, so the tiring walk to get the mail was all worth it.


First published in Nordstjernan on Nov. 25, 2004 (slightly modified):

When you light your candle for the second Sunday in Advent (which is today), you will know it is time to really get the holiday preparations started.

If you have leftover pepparkaksdeg (yes, the dough lasts for up to a week in the fridge), now is the time to bake your pepparkakshus - a gingerbread house. You can create your own model or use a pre-designed house - whichever you choose, it's important to decorate with lots of icing and M&Ms, or if possible, the Swedish Nonstop candy.

Depending on the effiency of your local post office, the second of Advent is also a good time to start writing and sending your Christmas cards. In Sweden, favorite motifs are old-fashioned cards consisting of hand-drawn paintings from famous artists depicting snow, Santa, Santa's little elves and a lot of candlelight.

On Dec. 9, it's Anna's day in the calendar (each calendar day has its own name, sometimes more than one). This is when you start preparing the lutfisk by soaking it in water. Nowadays, most stores offer pre-soaked fish, but if you choose to do it the old-fashioned way, now is the time to start.

Of course, you need to start shopping for gifts as well. The time left until Christmas is quickly disappearing, and there is still a lot to do - especially with Lucia coming up next weekend. The most important rule to remember, however, is this: No munching on the gingerbread house until after Christmas!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Turning 30...

... isn't all that great. I've been wicked sick all day and spent most of the day in bed. But I have to share a present one of my friends gave me that is probably the nicest things I've ever gotten:

30 Reasons Why Viktoria Is a FANTASTIC FRIEND
(in no particular order)

1.) She will laugh with you during the good times and be there during the difficult times.
2.) She will be there to help you stay awake at night on long drives home.
3.) She will let you talk her ear off and then talk things through with you if you want until you’re satisfied with the conversation.
4.) She always know the exact right thing to say in a way that makes you understand (even if you already thought you knew it or didn’t know it).
5.) She will eat ice cream with you any time.
6.) She will also eat a bowl of cantaloupe with you. =)
7.) She will sing songs and play the guitar.
8.) She understands your late night rambling and can actually make sense of it.
9.) Don’t have to give advance notice to crash on her couch for a night or two.
10.) She understands how important CHOCOLATE is and she always has enough of it in the house (and more importantly knows you’ll replace it for her if you eat it all).
11.) She can remain completely wordless and just laugh because she understands exactly what you’re thinking when a FRIENDS reference has come up.
12.) She knows how to bend the rules just enough.
13.) She respects your space.
14.) She knows when you just need things to be quiet.
15.) She will travel whatever distance she’s able to in order to visit.
16.) She throws a great party.
17.) She celebrates with you when happy things occur and stays by your side in the not so happy times.
18.) She gives good advice.
19.) She makes great food.
20.) She makes great Rice Krispie Treats just when you need them!
21.) She is a great decorator.
22.) She puts up with any visitors (and sometimes obnoxious ones).
23.) She likes to go hiking/walking with you.
24.) She is also a great organizer!
25.) She is a good wing-man.
26.) She likes things clean.
27.) She is fun!
28.) She can help you make sense of things.
29.) She’ll go skiing with you!
30.) She knows what the word friend means.

It definitely made me feel a lot better! Plus, of course, all the great books, CDs and more that I received from friends all over the world! In a few days - when I am back to normal - I'll probably be able to enjoy them all. Thank you.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bedroom progress

Albie painted the first coat in the bedroom over the weekend. He said I wasn't allowed to paint the bedroom, because the color is called "Chocolate" and I would eat it. Instead, I spent my day off on the couch watching "CSI." Which was fine by me!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

I'm a good girl

See? Here's the evidence: I've got a whole bunch of birthday presents - unopened - in the closet!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

First cat in the tree this year. It only took her 2 days after the tree was assembled...

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shopping is exhausting

We went Christmas shopping today, Albie and I, at a big mall 20 minutes from our house. I got a new cell phone - for free - and I can now take pictures any time I want.

This dress I wanted to wear to my birthday party on Saturday, but when I realized it was $120, I changed my mind! At least I got a picture of it to take home - for free.

We walked for almost five hours, tried on clothes, picked up presents and used up gift cards from previous Christmases. And I'm still not sure I like my new phone... Although it's fancy and takes pictures and records video, it is clunkier than my old one and I have a difficult time figuring out where everything is. My old phone also had a built-in flashlight. It will take me a long time to get used to being without one during dark, cold nights in scary parking lots...

The good news is that I have 60 days to change my mind, no questions asked. I could just walk right back into that Verizon store and say "nope, I want THAT ONE insted." There was a really cute Blackberry, but I really have no need for getting e-mails on my phone every second of the day. A cute, tiny blue phone also yelled out to me, but since it was only $39 and I was eligible for a $100 phone, I wanted to take advantage of that offer... Ah!!! Difficult decisions!

And I'm rambling on and on here. See, this is what a whole day of shopping does to you. My brain isn't working, my eyelids want to fall down and I want to lay may head on a nice, soft pillow and never get up again...

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Old names vs. new

When I first heard of the floods in Myanmar, I said... "WHERE?"

Then I read on Aftonbladet's Web site that the floods happened in Burma. "Aha!" I thought. "I know where THAT is!"

Our newspaper wrote about local reactions to the shootings in Mumbai, and I overheard editor Jordan ask someone about "Bombay." Wait a minute! That's the same town! Again, Aftonbladet wrote about Bombay.

Turns out, the city changed its name to Mumbai in 1995, but the name Bombay is "still popularly used in the West." Not in the United States, apparently.

While Myanmar has not officially been adopted as a country name by the U.S. government, according the CIA fact book, the United Nations approve of it since a country can be called whatever it wants to where they are concerned. The name is somewhat of a derivative of the full official name of the country, but because the military authorities are trying to promote it, most other countries deny its use. The U.S. media only uses the new name - Myanmar.

What does that say about the United States? What does it say about the media?

We should all use the name that is accurate, but at the same time, isn't it better to use the name that people know? People are caring less and less about the rest of the world, and if they constantly have to learn new names of countries and cities, they might just give up altogether. Especially when that country goes back to being called what it was called 10 years ago because a new ruler took over.

Gender roles

After a previous blog post, comments went back and forth about American women not knowing how to change a tire in a little black dress or fix things in their homes.

There are many American men as well who do not know how to change a tire, or even a lightbulb. This isn't just a gender issue.

Although gender roles here seem extremely defined - you rarely find a man who helps with cooking or cleaning, putting the children to bed or going to soccer games that do not matter - the issue is much bigger than that.

Sometimes it is laziness... why do it if I can pay someone else to do it for me? Other times I think nobody knows how to do anything. People here are raised to be dependent on other people or things - hire a maid, hire a babysitter, get your dad to come over and fix this or that, ask your mom to do your laundry. Europeans, for the most part, are raised to make it on their own.

To me it doesn't matter if you are a man or woman. As you grow up, you should be able to become a completely independent person who can live a life full of possibilities and solve any problem that crosses your path. If you've got help, that's great. But you should be able to do it on your own too, just in case.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


(First published in Nordstjernan on Nov. 18, 2004. This version slightly modified.)

As we near the end of November, the first Sunday of Advent is soon upon us.

On Nov. 30, it is time to light the first candle of your adventsljusstake (candle holder for Advent). Advent, which means waiting, is the beginning of the Christmas season in Sweden and it is celebrated for four consecutive Sundays leading up to Christmas.

The lighting of the first candle is the signal to bring out all the holiday decorations – including Christmas curtains, the julbock and tomte candles. It is also time to buy this year’s adventskalender for the children.

An official calendar from Sveriges Television or Sveriges Radio, or the chocolate-filled adventskalender imported from Germany - it doesn’t really matter, as long as the children have something to open starting Dec. 1.

Baking pepparkakor – gingerbread cookies – is another activity that should start around this holiday. The first batch of cookies should be finished early in the month so you can enjoy them through December. Depending on the size of the batch, you may have to make another one before Christmas.

(The cookies do not freeze – instead, keep them in Ziplock bags with a paper towel in each bag to absorb possible moisture)

Since my grandfather was a baker, my family would always make a super-sized batch. We would then invite all the children in my neighborhood to come do the cutout shapes with us. The most popular shapes were the heart, the pig and the gingerbread man and woman.

When the cookies were complete, we would decorate them with colored icing. As a reward, each child would take home a bag of pepparkakor.

Once children are asleep, adults may enjoy some glögg with their cookies. While there are alcohol-free versions, spiced-up glögg is most rewarding during cold winter nights. It is made with cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom seeds and some red wine.

The first of advent is also an important time of year in Sweden for local shops as store owners get their windows ready for julskyltning – the Christmas window display. Small towns and big cities alike keep stores open late one night for great shopping opportunities, mingling and staying warm. It gets you in the mood for what’s about to come a few weeks down the road.

Far superior to the Christmas displays of Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorff’s and Lord & Taylor, each little store in Sweden provides and old-fashioned small-town atmosphere with its frosted windows, tomtar and candles. Many stores also provide pepparkakor and glögg to keep their customers warm.

First of advent is here. Let the season of lights begin!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's a day late, I know. But I spent most of the Turkey Day at work, and the rest of it stuffing my face with turkey!

Sometimes it's fun to be at work, though. I got to edit this video about cats having Thanksgiving dinner.

COMING SOON: Swedish holiday series

Starting with the First of Advent on Sunday, I will publish a series about Swedish holiday traditions.

Please ask questions, comment on stories, and tell me about your family's traditions as well.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Domestic violence series

Our newspaper has printed a three-part series on Domestic Violence.

Part I was about how things have changed Connecticut, and in Litchfield County, regarding domestic violence since the Tracey Thurman case 25 years ago.

Part II was about the support services around our community, and how they are giving power back to the victims.

Part III was called "A batterer's confession," which is an interview with a man serving prison time for abuse. Our reporter, Tracy, did a great job on these and you should check them out if you get a chance.

But the most interesting part is to read the comments under each article. Everyone has something to say about domestic violence, but not everyone knows enough about it to speak. It seems we are still living in the past when people say things like "so what, the police were called there multiple times and each time she dropped the charges. Why does she have to cry wolf?"

This is exactly WHY people need to learn more about domestic violence. Another interesting thing is how abuse is handled in different countries. We didn't touch on that in any of these articles, but I know for a fact that Sweden is much more lenient on abusers than, say, the United States. One more reason to stay in this country...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

What book? I don't see any books!

Monday, November 24, 2008

New blinds in my room

"Let's paint something today when you get back from the gym!" Albie said enthusiastically.
There are still plenty of things that need to get painted. But I didn't feel like painting any of them.

"Why don't we get the ladder in and try to get into that troublesome corner in the hallway?" I suggested.
Of course, the ladder was too big, too tall and too heavy. So while I touched up some of the hallway paint around doorframes and corners, Albie decided to install the new blinds in our guest room/my office.

We are going with IKEA blinds throughout the house - one room at a time. Although the blue room was the first one we painted (it used to be BRIGHT green), it is the second to last to get new blinds.

We're leaving them pulled up a bit so the kitties can look outside...

And this is what it looked like when we moved in:

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Coincidence from Örebro

Today we held our annual fall concert in Hamden. We've done Christmas concerts in the past, but we decided a fall concert would be nicer. Since it wasn't so close to the holidays, we actually pulled in a great crowd.

As a bonus, we had a soloist from Sweden. Her name is Birgitta (didn't catch her last name), and she is from Örebro - my hometown. Kind of a coincidence that we would both end up in Connecticut. Apparently, she has lived here for 40 years and is married to an American man.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Why Obama is a great guy

The reasons for liking Barack Obama seem to be piling up. In an interview on "60 Minutes" Sunday night, Obama said he plans to shut down Guantanamo prison and wants the U.S. to stop holding prisoners for no reason.

(He claims to have said it before, but it was the first I've heard of it. Perhaps it got lost during his many other campaign points).

The way America has treated foreign prisoners in the years since George W. Bush took office is one reason the world has turned a cold shoulder to this great nation. People have been held but never charged, hidden from the public's eye, away from lawyers and court systems. And American leaders have defended this because it's "the only way to fight terror" in the world.

Obama will prove them wrong. He will show that by treating other countries with respect, he can gain the world's trust back. Then nations can join together and be strong.

United, we will fight terrorism. And together, we will win.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

That can't possibly be comfortable!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Vaccuming the cat

Most cats are afraid of the vaccum - Pip is not. He is fascinated by it, and he tries to take a swipe at it as often as possible. Today Albie decided to test his limits. I ran downstairs with the camera when I - from the third floor - heard him chuckle. Albie was literally vacuuming the cat. And Pip really seemed to enjoy it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Organizing like crazy

When I don't feel like cleaning the kitchen or the bathroom - either because it's extremely late or I just run out of steam - I usually find something to organize. This can take a few hours, a day or a week. But it prevents me from having to actually clean.

Last night I organized the closet in my "office," which contains my knitting and sewing stuff as well as empty boxes and bags for Christmas gifts, photo albums, newspaper clippings and old shoes I wore as a toddler.

It began with me looking for a scarf I'm expected to wear next Sunday during our fall concert. It ended with me sitting at my desk at 5 a.m. sorting tiny little buttons into separate mini ziplock bags. You know, those little buttons that come attached to your shirts, pants and jackets when you buy them - in case one falls off.

I realized my buttons were scattered all over the place - in desk drawers and among threads and needles - and figured the most logical place to keep them would be among my sewing stuff. I then, of course, needed to upgrade my little sewing kit to a bigger box to accommodate all the materials.

Of course, this seemed like an immensely important task at 5 a.m.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Wood Trick

Since it's starting to get colder, and the prospect of snow is just around the corner, I figured I'll tell a winter story.

It was in March of 1999, and we had 12 feet of snow at my host family's house in Vermont. One person had already gotten stuck in the steep slope of the driveway; a second car was stuck in the parking lot near the house.

My host father was out for 15 minutes trying to get the little red Toyota out. Bundled up in my winter coat, scarf, hat and gloves, I watched him and asked questions.

Was it a standard car? Yes, it was. Had he tried to start it in the second or third gear? Yes, he had.

Finally, he left to go inside to get something, and I walked over to the garage and picked up two pieces of flat wood, which I put under the back tires. When my host father came back out, I was just starting the car again.

“Ah," he said and smiled. "The Wood Trick.”

He poured some ashes under the tires as well, and with our teamwork we finally got the car moving. Then he looked at me with his eyebrows raised - a little suspiciously, but also a little impressed.

“You’re the only girl I’ve ever met who knew about The Wood Trick,” he said.

Friday, November 14, 2008

No regrets

If I could go back in time and change things that I have done, that I am not happy with, I don’t think I would.

All those things shaped me, made me what I am today, and that I have to say I am pretty happy with what I have become. Of course there were stupid things, situation where I wish now that I had acted differently. But if I had acted another way, I probably wouldn’t be where I am today.

Say, for example, that my grandmother had let me play the piano, which was my wish when I was seven. Or that she would have let me go horseback riding with some of the girls in my class.

Perhaps I would have become really good at playing the piano, and I would have never left Sweden. Or perhaps I would have ended up struggling so much it would have turned me away from music altogether. Instead, I played the violin up until the day my grandfather died. And I sang in the chorus, which I still enjoy doing.

I also ended up taking piano lessons – from a real pro. They didn’t last for long, but at least I can say I tried.

Perhaps I would have enjoyed horseback riding so much I eventually got my own horse. Then I would have never been able to leave him behind to come to the United States. Or I could have been thrown off a horse as a girl, gotten really hurt and never been able to walk again. You never know.

And because of my grandmother’s fear of horses, I was always fascinated by them and all other animals. That’s what led me to live on a horse farm in Bethany. It’s what led me to my overwhelming love for animals.them and all other animals. me away from music altogether.

So by telling me I couldn’t play the piano or ride a horse, my grandmother changed the course of my life. Of course, she probably regrets it today when she doesn’t get to see me as often anymore. But I don’t regret a thing.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Watching American football

Let's get this straight - American football isn't really a sport.

First of all, the so-called players never do anything except stand there on the field in strange positions, and sometimes slapping each other on the butt.

Tonight there was a very important game on TV - Patriots vs. Jets. Not important because of any playoff or because either of the teams is Albie's favorite. Oh no, it was important because Albie plays in an online fantasy league and might win money at the end of the season if "his" players do well in real life.

In between commercial breaks at "Ace of Cakes," we had to switch to the NFL Network to see updates in the game. Then we had to watch the rest of the game, when my cake show was over.

"Why are they doing that?" I asked Albie as one player was taking a swipe at another player, and the other player punched the first guy in the back. After all, the two guys were on the same team, so it didn't make any sense.
"They are congratulating each other for a good play," he explained.
"Oh," I said.

Between plays, before one guy was ready to hike the ball between his legs to a teammate, both teams were lined up on the field, opposite each other.
"Could he kick the ball?" I asked.
"Yeah," Albie said. "But that wouldn't make any sense. That's only one point, and they need a touchdown."
"No, I don't mean now, I mean in general," I explained. "When they are standing in that position, would he be allowed to kick the ball? I mean, the guy from the other team is leaning forward over the ball, so if the first guy kicks it, that guy would get it right in the face."

Albie just shook his head at me.
"No," he said.
"No what?"
"He can't kick the ball now."

And like this we watched until the Patriots tied the game and it went to overtime.
"What??? They have to play another 15 minutes???" I complained.
"It'll be quick," Albie said. "It's sudden death. Whoever scores the first point wins, and the game is over."
"Yes, I understand what sudden death is," I said. "They have that in real sports, too."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Testing the cake

I brought it to work today, figuring my co-workers were the best people to test the cake on. I was right, since 75 percent of the cake was gone within an hour. Turns out it was also somebody's birthday, so I made sure she had a slice as well.

Overall, I think it was successful. It was certainly edible (or "eatable" as I like to say). Too sugary for me, and for some others, but most people liked it.

So for next time I have to work on the inside of the cake, and also trying something other than fondant for the top layer, I think. It is, after all, pure sugar.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

My first attempt at acing a cake

My grandfather was a baker, so I grew up knowing all sorts of weird things. I learned how to get nice, flat breakfast bread, how to put raisins in lucia buns and I learned that you should always use an old sheet underneath the cutouts for gingerbread cookies.

Lately, I've been fascinated by cakes. It stems from watching two episodes each Thursday of "Ace of Cakes" on the Food Network (right after "CSI" is over on CBS). The show follows a team of cake designers i Baltimore, Maryland, who make these fantasticly beautiful showpieces in a short amount of time. As they interview each person on the show, colorful cakes present the backdrop.

I decided I need to make a cake like that.

First of all, cakes are ridiculously expensive here. People probably pay about $1,000 for their wedding cake just to make it look right. If I can do a nice cake, perhaps I can one day help a friend out, I thought. Perhaps even make a nice cake for myself.

Today I rushed to Wal-Mart to buy two cake pans (bought 2 from the kitchen section for $3/pair instead of $6 each in the cake-making section!), and some cake-making necessities.

I refused to buy the buttercream frosting mix, since I my intent was to make a real cake - marzipan, heavy cream, light pound cake batter and some strawberry jam. Well, I ran out of inspiration quickly. I ended up getting "fondant" - pure sugar mixed together to be workable. This is eventually what I covered the cake with - following the instructions on the box, I also managed to make a ribbon.

Whipped cream was replaced with Coolwhip - a nondairy product that's creamy. I also picked up some gum paste, because the bag promised I could make elegant flowers with it. Well, the bag was wrong. I couldn't make squat with it, and I will never use that gooey sticky stuff again.

I wasn't able to find any potatomeal, so I ended up getting some corn starch instead, having read somewhere that they might be similar. I was wrong. My grandmother told me I should have just substituted regular flour instead of the potatomeal. Oh well.

Another thing I learned is that seasoned bread crumbs might not make the best cake crust. After the cake pieces were baked, I had to cut off some layers of Italian herbs, but I still can't guarantee the cake with have a slight herby flavor...

Oh, well. The result is what you see above. I'll try something nicer next time!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Another accident

To celebrate that Albie and I both had the day off together, we figured we'd take the air conditioners out of our windows and get ready for winter.

Well, I forgot the bedroom window is broken. I remembered when it slammed down on my hand, sort of crushing it against the A/C unit.

I couldn't feel a thing, but a few minutes later I noticed blood gushing from my right index finger. Thank goodness my friend Carmen sent me a first aid kit after I stabbed the same finger with a screwdriver earlier this year!

I'm all bandaged up now, antibiotic ointment and all!

Friday, November 7, 2008

About food and what to eat

Most of my friends blog about food. In fact, many of my friends have specific food blogs. It was only a matter of time before I touched on the subject as well.

You shouldn't expect to find any fancy recipes here, though. I mainly make things up as I go along, or I stick to a few tried-and-true recipes I brought with me from Sweden.

As I was watching a new episode of CSI tonight, I realized the small salad I had earlier in the day wasn't going to hold me over for the rest of the night. During a commercial break, I rushed into the kitchen and realized I had NOTHING. Fridge - close to empty. Freezer - close to empty. Cabinets - well, except for the basics, pretty empty. I finally threw together a small pizza using tortilla bread, pasta sauce and some shredded cheddar cheese (there is ALWAYS cheese at my house).

An couple of hours later - remember, I am up until all hours of the night - I was hungry again. Albie just got home from work, so I told him "I'm making deviled eggs." While I waited for the eggs to boil and cool down, I made some scones. We like them with I Can't Believe It's Not Butter Light (very similar to Swedish bordsmargarin), and some cheese.

(What you see above was barely on the plate long enough to be photographed).

Funny thing about deviled eggs - or eggs in general. I had never heard of so many different ways of eating eggs until I came to the United States. I knew of hard- or softboiled eggs, and eggs fried on one side or on both.

In the past 10 years, I've learned about "sunny side up," "over easy," "poached," "scrambled" and - a personal favorite - Eggs Benedict, a poached egg on an English muffin with a piece of Canadian bacon (kassler) and Hollandaise sauce. Then, of course, there's the deviled eggs.

I first learned about deviled eggs while planning for a Christmas party at my first job.

"What should I bring?" I asked my co-workers. "Please, please, please... bring some deviled eggs!" someone begged. "Some WHAT eggs?" I said. Then I went home and googled it.

It's fairly easy - you boil 12 eggs, then cut them in half and take out the yolk and mix that with some mayo, honeymustard and spices, put it all back in the egg and sprinkle paprika powder on top.

Something about that creamy, salty combination had me sold from the start. And I have to say, I now make pretty good deviled eggs. So good, in fact, that I'm going to sneak back downstairs and have a couple more...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Happy times!

I am celebrating both that election day is over, and that the Democrats finally took back the White House.

How will I celebrate? By getting a good night's sleep!

(I just finished my final column for Nerikes Allehanda - look for it in Thursday's paper)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election night begins

And so I sit here in the newsroom, waiting for results to start dropping in from our local and national races.

I am trying to get most of my other pages out of the way so that, come 8 p.m., I can focus solely on election coverage.

In Torrington, we've already had once incident of racistic comments - one boy was heard screaming that he would assassinate Barack Obama if Obama won the election. That is, in fact, something people are starting to fear.

"If those kind of comments are said here in Torrington, what is the climate like in, say, Alabama?" my publisher said.

So right now, in addition to hoping Obama won't lose the election, I am hoping he won't get assassinated in his first month in office. I am also hoping McCain will stay alive long enough to see Obama take office - I guess.

Preview of article

It seems my reader AnneSofie was right - the Web site of Nerikes Allehanda is nowhere as inclusive as it should be. You will therefore not be able to read any of my articles unless you live in the local distribution area, or unless you have a friend who does...

The best I can do is offer you a preview of the second column, published last Wednesday.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or treat!

Despite being at work all night, I got to see some trick-or-treaters -- or small monsters, which is what they really are. A scary zombie, a lady of death and a bee stopped by my desk this evening.

Happy Halloween!

Some of my past outfits. I'm not dressing up at all this year.

New web site

We launched our new web site at work this week, www.registercitizen.com. Doesn't mean much for me, except that I had to stay up late Monday night to make sure some of our recent content was moved over.

All in all, it's pretty exciting. I can now share stories very easily here on the blog, and the site looks cleaner and more organized.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

First snow

As I drove to work today, I noticed some flurries brushing up against my windshield. It was the first snow of the year.

When I walked out to the parking lot later in the evening, the top of my car had a thin dusting of white flakes on it.

Winter is almost here....

Which also explains why I am carrying gloves in the pockets of my coat. As I pulled one of the gloves out today, an item fell to the ground. Figuring it was probably just a crumbled up receipt, I poked it lightly with my foot. It was somewhat hard, and it looked blue.

I bent down to pick it up - it was a toy mouse. Apparently the kitties thought my coat a safe place to hide it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The non-pregnancy

So my dad read my post about going to the doctor and sent me an e-mail asking if we are expecting another family member soon.

"No!" I wrote back. "Just a routine visit!"

Funny thing is... and this might gross some of you out, so you might want to stop reading... that I have a fibroid in my uterus - a benign growth - "the size of a three-month pregnancy," my doctor said.

I've had it for several years, and it keeps growing. We are just checking how fast it's growing, to see it it might cause a problem.

Today, I had to have an ultrasound again (I've had two before). The nurse told me the fibroid is "the size of a baby's head." So yes, it really does feel like I am pregnant. Ultrasounds, measurements.... all that's missing is a heartbeat, I guess.

Of course, having watched too many sci-fi movies, I'm thinking it could be an undeveloped identical twin or something else creepy...

"You poor thing," the nurse said. "You must be so uncomfortable!"

The truth is, I haven't felt a thing. I just hope a real pregnancy is this easy. :-)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Exciting times

Last night, after I got home from work around 2 a.m., I finished my fifth column for Nerikes Allehanda about Americans and the election.

I got to write about my favorite candidate, Ralph Nader, since several people I spoke to have said they consider voting for him.
This morning I got up and found another e-mail from the Swedish newspaper asking me questions for a "hello there" feature they plan to run before they start my columns on Tuesday. I got to tell them - in less than 200 words - who I am, where I am, what I do and what I like about my hometown.

Writing about yourself is difficult enough - when you put a word limit on it, it gets even harder. But I'm excited to see the results. And I'm excited to see what they do with my portrait photos I had to send... that was a debacle in itself.

Most columnists in Swedish newspapers look serious and stand with their arms at their sides or crossed over their chest. The background must be neutral so the person in the photo can be cut out and put against any background. Since we don't have a photo studio at work anymore, my photographer friend and I rolled out some big paper in the lunch room and improvised. It came out better than we expected... From what I hear, my figure will be cut out and pasted on top of an American flag. How fun!
Of course, I will have to wait for my most reliable friends to send me the clippings... Unfortunately I cannot buy the paper where I am.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Dinner in New York

Albie and I finally arranged to have a day off together so we could attend a friend's 30th birthday celebration in New York City. We met up with 14 other people at Tony's DiNapoli on Second Avenue and 83rd Street.

After figuring out the train costs, what time we would need to leave to make the train and how much extra money we would have to spend on cab fairs, we decide our best bet was to take the car to the city. I have no problem driving on Manhattan, and we were lucky to find free street parking on 75th Street. From there, we walked to the Central Park zoo to see polar bears and puffins, then up to 83rd to enjoy various pastas and Italian treats.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Male vs. female doctors

I had to go to the doctor on Friday. Yes, THAT doctor.

It isn't a pleasant experience - and I will not share details of the visit, don't worry. It is so unpleasant for most people, in fact, that I procrastinated going at all until I was in my early 20s. Then I decided that it HAD to be a woman doctor.

When I first got health insurance, I searched through pages and pages of doctors to find a woman covered by my health plan. I finally found one in Hamden, and she turned out to be OK - at least for the first visit. When she found out it was my first time, she was friendly and sympathetic. We had a chat before the actual exam, and it was calming and not so scary anymore. The visits after that, however, were not so nice. She seemed to be have an attitude of "well, just get over it!" even though she never really said that out loud. It's like she wanted to say "I'm a woman and I can handle it - so should you!"

The first primary care physician I chose through my health care plan was also a woman. I went to her once for an issue that she checked out in a few minutes, then referred me to a dermatologist (the paperwork I had to fill out took three times as long as the exam). I had some other things I wanted her to check out as well, but she didn't even listen to my request - she just ran out the door and on to the next patient. I think she even said something like "oh well, I'm sure it'll go away" on her way out.

That's when I decided "no more."

It's like the women doctors had to work so hard to get to where they are at now that they forget to be human.

I don't know about you, but when I go to the doctor with any type of problem, or even for a check-up, I'd like someone who listens and acts like they care about my potential problems.

Male doctors do that, I've found. "How ARE you today? Is everything ALRIGHT? Are you SURE?"

The other problem is the staff of the doctor's office. At most places, they act like you are their FINAL problem of the day that they just cannot WAIT to get rid of. And they do not have to treat you like a customer in order to keep your business - if you are locked into a doctor, you are unlikely to switch just because a nurse or a secretary is rude. They've got you for life.

I've got two exceptions, though, that I have to point out. My new dentist is a woman, and she is awesome. She's young, friendly and funny. My chiropractor is also a woman, although I was her husband's patient first. They are both great.

Perhaps in most cases it's best with a male-doctor/female-patient relationship or a female- doctor/male-patient one? I'd like to hear some comments on this! Has anyone else experienced issues with their doctors?

Friday, October 17, 2008


I guess ya'll think I haven't recovered from that long bike ride yet, but that's not really true. I've been busy pondering redesign plans and future projects we are taking on at the paper. I'm also trying to catch up on house work, since Albie mentioned the other day he has no clean underwear left. My response was, "didn't you just buy new ones?"

That's what I do when I run out. I figure I just don't have enough, so I buy more. My goal is to always make it through at least 2 weeks without having to do any laundry. It's more difficult with two people, but hopefully it will all work out.

For those of you in Sweden, those who read Nerikes Allehanda in particular, I should spill the beans on another plan: I will be writing columns about the presidential election starting at the end of October. Actually, I am writing some of them ahead of time, because election week will be crazy at work, but they will appear around Nov. 4. I think we've settled on 9 columns in total, so watch for that! (If someone could save me a copy as well that would be really nice - not sure my grandmother will read them all).

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Bike Ride

After reading about hiking the Appalachian Trail, I keep feeling the need to get outside every time the weather is nice. Into the woods, preferably, but I'd settle for anywhere with a piece of grass.

Today it was beautiful - mid 60s, sunny and with just a slight breeze. I started my day with a panic attack because of all our unfinished projects; I didn't feel like completing any of them, I didn't even know where to start. Albie finally suggested I go ride my bike.

I've been saying I'm going to do it for over a year. Actually, I think I said it since before we moved to our condo. "I'm going to ride my bike to the farm," I clearly remember saying last September. But that never happened.

Today - as if there weren't enough challenges in my life - I decided to get on that rarely used bicycle and rise to the occasion.

What I need to explain at this point is that the trip to the farm is 2.6 miles (4 km), and all of it is uphill. And the only way to go is on the road with all the cars.

I haven't ridden a bike like this since I was 15, when I would ride my bike to the next town over, also uphill all the way, just so I could see what it would be like to zoom back down. See, the downhill part is what makes it all worthwhile.

Today, I pedalled, walked and sometimes dragged that bike behind me up the hill (one woman in an SUV even pulled over to ask me if I was OK). After 45 long minutes, I was finally at the farm where I used to live. I hugged some puppies (and a pig), had a glass of water, got a to-go portion of vegetarian chili, then zoomed back down the hill for 2.6 miles.

And it was all worthwhile. The wind ripping at my T-shirt, the rustling of the leaves and the smell of fall made it seem like this is the only place to be on a sunny Sunday afternoon.