Sunday, March 30, 2008

The toaster oven

A toaster oven is a commonly used item in American households. It is bigger than a regular toaster, but smaller than an oven. Pieces of bread or bagels are placed horizontally (like in an oven), which means you can cook things with toppings on them.

I’ve never really understood the beauty of a toaster over, however. If the bread fits in a toaster, put it in a toaster. Otherwise, use the oven.

Perhaps I’m just not cooking enough frozen pizza or pre-made “bagel bites,” where the toaster oven may come in handy for quickly heating up a small quantity of food. The few times I have used a toaster oven, however, I find that it cooks things very unevenly.

I might also be spoiled with a good-quality gas stove and oven, which heats up within a few minutes and doesn’t waste much energy doing so.

To me, a toaster oven just takes up space on your kitchen counter. A tiny toaster can be tucked away, if you don’t have enough space. And the real oven is already there, built into your kitchen. Why bring another item into the household that you don’t need?

Perhaps you have to be American to understand the toaster oven. My American readers are welcome to post enlightening comments explaining this phenomenon.

Name That Svensk intro

This will be the introduction to our game show at work...

Friday, March 28, 2008

The Pennysaver ad

“PREGNANT? Consider adoption. YOU choose your baby’s family!” an ad screamed at me from a Pennysaver I was browsing today.

Someone recently handed me the cheap brochure of area classifieds hoping I would read a local column tucked in somewhere between listings of lost pets and hernia repairs. I could read about the National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month (March, apparently) and “How To Get The Job Done!” with a GC2310 Tractor/Loader/Backhoe for only $299 per month, if you use a certain type of financing and ask the dealer for details.

Lots of weird items jumped out at me, but the pregnant ad takes the cake.

Who would respond to such an ad? In the Pennysaver? And what does it say about the American society that ads like these exist? Is it possible that this is the only way out for some people, who don’t know anything about birth control and “accidentally” have a baby without really knowing how it happened or what to do?

The ad makes it seem like this is such a wonderful option, an easy one. This is what it should have said: “Don’t want to dump your baby in the wastebasket after it’s born? Now you don’t have to. You can pass it over to someone who might care! And you get a picture sent home from their birthday party, without having to worry about making the cake or addressing the invitations. Piece of cake, really.”

Scary, really scary.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The mysterious key (UPDATED w. photos)

Last week, a key mysteriously appeared in our mailbox. I figured it had something to do with our mail carrier, since he is the only one with access to the mailboxes at the end of the road of our condo complex.

The key looked old and weathered. It looked similar, in fact, to some other keys I had seen by the mailboxes. The bottom row of boxes are very large and all seem unused; they all have keys dangling in the locks.

I figured it was a mistake, perhaps someone thought this was our extra key? I then forgot about it.

My friend in Germany alerted me a while back that I should be expecting a package from her from I waited. She e-mailed me and asked why I hadn't said anything yet; I wrote her back that it hadn't arrived.

This morning she sent me an e-mail with the tracking number. The U.S. Post Office site clearly showed the package had already been delivered. In fact, it was delivered last Tuesday at 11:36 a.m.

I flipped through my calendar... Tuesday? What did I do Tuesday? Oh, yeah. Albie and I were both at home - sleeping. If someone had delivered a package to our door, they would clearly have alerted us by ringing the doorbell. We would have woken up. Nobody had woken us up that day.

"It must have been delivered to the wrong house," I wrote my friend. "I will investigate."

I called the USPS helpline and got an automated female voice on the line. "What would you like to do?" she asked. "Help!" I said. "OK," she replied softly. "Here is some help for you. If you want to find a zip code, please press 3. If you want to..."

I tried pressing 0, then said "customer service." "I'm sorry," the voice replied. "Was that a yes or a no?"

I gave up and called the local post office. A woman told me that "if it says the package has been delivered, our hands are tied."

"Well, what can I do?" I said in a resigned voice. "I know it wasn't delivered. At least not to my house."

She paused for a second, then she asked what my address was. "You're mail carrier is Tom Vincent," she said. "He is out on delivery. You can call back tomorrow at 8 a.m. and ask for him. Maybe he remembers the package."

Hm... out on delivery? I threw my clothes on and ran outside. No mail truck. I figured I'd check the mail to see if he had been to our street yet - he had. And there was another key in our mailbox.

I looked at the key tag - it said 1P. I looked at the big boxes at the bottom - two of them said 1P, two of them said 2P. The 1Ps both had a key in them already. I opened them - they were empty. One of the 2P boxes was locked. What if...?

I ran back home to find the key we got in the mail last week. It said 2P on it in faded writing. When I got back to the mailboxes, I quickly opened the only locked box. Inside was my package from

Mystery solved.

What did I get? Carmen had sent me a First Aid kit. Now I don't have to worry the next time I try to cut my finger off...

This is taken a few steps off my driveway. See the bushes really far away? Our mailboxes are behind those bushes.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Easter lambs

Albie and I took a 2-minute trip today to the farm where I used to live. There were day-old border collie puppies and several new lambs (in my old backyard). Kathleen, my former landlord, is holding a lamb that is only a few hours old in the first photo. At bottom right is Brandon, who is a couple of weeks old, trying to drink some water.

Today is the day for Ralph Nader

I can't remember the last time I walked out to the press to grab a fresh copy of our newspaper before heading home. Today I did. My Ralph Nader story was in it.

Of course, I had already spent three days nagging my boss to read it. I also spent the evening tonight laying out the page (with some long-distance help from Albie at home), so I knew what everything would look like. But there's just something cool about having "tomorrow's" paper with you when you walk out the door in the early morning hours.

Ralph Nader story.

Matt Gonzalez story.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

My first Final Cut Pro project

I went to work early Friday for quick training in Final Cut Pro. I may or may not be working with it in some way or another. This is my first photo slideshow (with a voiceover that I wrote in 2 minutes).

For my Swedish readers...

Jag förundras ibland över det amerikanska samhället...

En kompis på jobbet (som jag inte kan nämna vid namn för hon läser tyvärr min blogg regelbundet, så jag kallar henne X) är den lataste och mest omotiverade människa jag någonsin träffat.

Idag åkte jag till jobbet fyra timmar tidigare än jag brukar så att jag kunde vara med på träning till videofilmning, redigering och Final Cut Pro - lite informellt bara, för att jag vill lära mig det och hade chansen. Det är ju där framtiden ligger... just i att hänga med i utvecklingen med vad man kan göra inom multimedia. Sen tycker jag också att det är KUL att lära mig saker. Man måste ju utvecklas, komma vidare. Är det inte det som allt går ut på?

Jobbarkompisen har annan åsikt. Jag var på bra humör när X strosade in vid halv femtiden och sa glatt att "jag vet hur man gör en film nu!"

"Jaha," sa hon. "Varför vill du veta det? Det är väl ingen ide att kunna för då kanske du måste använda dom kunskaperna för att göra mer jobb."

Allt handlar alltid om att göra så lite som möjligt för henne, och sen ständigt klaga över hur lite vi får betalt. X tror också att folk är skyldiga henne något - hon ska minsann inte behöva jobba för att komma någonvart, allt ska serveras henne för att hon vill ha det så. Hon har rätt till ett jobb, en bil, ett hus... osv. (Just nu bor hon hemma hos sina föräldrar och har precis blivit dumpad av sin fästmö som hon träffat via internet).

X har kommenterat om hus nu när jag och Albie köpt nytt och håller på och pysslar. Först sa hon när vi målade "Men hur vet ni hur man gör det?" Sen har hon sagt att hon vill bo på ett jättefint ställe, men det ska vara som hon vill ha det när hon flyttar in, för hon tänker minsann inte göra något för att få det fint.

"Det ska man inte behöva," sa hon.

Jag kan fortsätta i evigheter. Men det börjar nog se misstänksamt ut för de som inte kan svenska...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Name That Svensk - UPDATED

Today I had all my co-workers take the quiz "Name That Svensk." The quiz was created by someone named Henrik Goli, and I came across it through Facebook.

A co-worker already of Facebook (the one who loves his cell phone) has been making fun of the quiz since the day he took it and scored 29 percent (2 out of 7). My boyfriend, who doesn't have Facebook, took my printed-out version today and scored 71 percent (5 out of 7). A sports reporter with no Swedish heritage surprised everyone with a perfect score.

If you are interested in taking the quiz too, you can take it by clicking here.

UPDATE: I wrote the script for our new gameshow - "Name That Svensk" - including characters from our office. We have a new videocamera and editing software at the paper, and after I take the training Friday morning, I am hoping to get some reporters involved in filming it so I can post it here on this blog. Not sure how to do it yet, so wish me luck.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Reading The Onion

The Onion is a Web site I frequent to keep up with world events and to get perspective on things. Here's what it has to say about some presidential candidates:

John McCain (R)
Where he would be if he wasn't running for president: "Dead."

Hillary Clinton (D)
Reason for running: "Left some stuff at the White House."

Barack Obama (D)
Issues: "Pro-hopes, also supports dreams."

Former Democratic candidate John Edwards:
Greatest strenght: "Notable 'ding' sound when smiling."

The Onion also makes fun of the voting process and Americans' lack of participation here.

How much for that kitty in the window?


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Interviewing Ralph Nader

Once in a while, I get to do something cool at work. Today, I interviewed U.S. presidential hopeful Ralph Nader.

This is Nader's fifth run for president. He is 74 years old. He is not affiliated with Republicans or Democrats, which makes his hopes to reach the White House almost impossible.

But Nader differs from those random odd-jobs who decide to run one year, get their 15 minutes of fame, and then drop off the face of the earth. Nader actually has a reputation. He is known as a "consumer advocate," a "social critic" and a "public defender."

His chances of actually becoming president are slim, and he knows it. What he is trying to do is raise awareness of what he says is a flawed electorate system, to stir a debate, bring some change about and open up the presidential race for other people.

One of the towns The Register Citizen covers is Winsted, CT. This also happens to be Ralph Nader's hometown. Nader is still registered to vote in Winsted and still has very strong ties to the area, even though he rarely participates in local events unless it is held to promote one of his many books. However, it isn't often a local resident decides to run for president.
I've written about him before, a couple of brief articles and one editorial.

Since my work with the weekend section is now minimal, my boss and I have discussed other things I can do. All I want to do is write; it's all I've ever wanted to do, although I kept getting into editing because people told me I would be so good at it. My boss now told me I can write an enterprise story a week for our Saturday or Sunday paper.
I can't explain how good it feels to have that exciting feeling in the pit of my stomach again. "My name will be in the paper!" Talking to people on the phone, prying information from people's twisted minds, understanding complicated statistics, getting to the bottom of things... this is what life is all about.
An in-depth feature article on Ralph Nader is in the planning stages. I will post a link when it is published.

Friday, March 14, 2008

'The Bistro' - Work Force Differences Part I

A friend from Sweden visited my workplace last year. I showed her our lunch room and said, "nobody really eats in here."

"I can see why," she said, and we moved on to another part of the building.

Why am I posting this now?

A previous post about vending machines deserves a balance, an in-depth explanation. Based on that post, non-Americans may become prejudiced and think all Americans are lazy. Most Americans are not.

Work is not considered a place where one should get too comfortable. Eating at your desk is common because you get more work done that way (although the official policy is of course that employees should spend their half-hour lunch break in a relaxed atmosphere).

Buying lunch is the norm rather than the exception. To me, however, it just makes more sense that with the (small) amount of money we make working for this big corporation, we should cook our own meals and save the hard-earned money for something we really want.

It is also a matter of status. Americans are very proud. People who cannot afford gas to get to work still buy lunch every day to show that they can. They can eat as a member of a group. They can belong.

'The Bistro'

Our lunch room (we call it "The Bistro") consists of an old refrigerator, a water cooler with hot and cold water (but no drain), a microwave and three tables. Leftover office chairs from various departments are scattered throughout. Florescent lighting brightens the room. The walls are white. Old newspapers are often spread out on the tables.

Teachers' lounge

Before I came to the U.S., I worked at a school in Sweden. The teachers' lounge consisted of a kitchen area, private bathrooms and two dinner tables (one of these could also be used as a conference table). Tiffany lamps with a mild glow charmed workers into staying longer than originally intended and gave a relaxing break from the all-too-common florescent lights. Walls were painted in a soothing color, and the kitchen counter space was bigger than the one in our condo. There was a stove for cooking meals, kitchen cabinets for plates, cups and glasses and drawers for knives and forks. You could have lived there, if you had to.

The view of what makes employees happy is entirely different in different countries. The workers are just adapting to what society has given them.

This is Part I in my series of differences in the work force...

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Batter Blaster

While doing the food page today for our newspaper, I came across an Associated Press story that epitomizes American society.

"You want pancakes, but the idea of adding water to powder and stirring it around just seems like too much effort. Enter Batter Blaster, the pancake you just point and spray."
Are you for real??? was my first reaction. Using a mix and just adding water is too much for some people??? My second one was this: "This will become a HUGE success."
The pancake can get promoted from its role in the ideal Sunday breakfast to the ideal breakfast any day of the week. Kids can make their own pancakes before heading off to school. Parents can make a pancake on the go and eat it in a napkin in their car on their way to somewhere important. Want a cup of coffee? Here, have a pancake with that.
I think what bothers me the most is that I will eventually have to try it, just to see what it is like. I'll let you know when I do.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Grandmother selling her house

I grew up with my grandparents in an old-fashioned house. From what my aunt tells me, the house was old-fashioned 35 years ago when my grandparents bought it.

In 1986, they built a bathroom and added a hot water heater. They also “modernized” the wallpaper in one of the bedrooms. (Well, they came across some orange and brown wallpaper that nobody else wanted and put it up.) Everything else is pretty much the same as when they bought it. No central heating, just wood-burning stoves in the kitchen, living room and bedroom.

After my grandfather died in 1991 and then again when I moved out in 1995, my grandmother was talking about selling the house to move to an apartment. I always thought it wasn’t going to happen. When I moved to the United States in 1998, she put the house on the market for a little while, but got no offers.

A few years later, my grandmother realized seriously she wasn’t getting any younger. Carrying in wood every day to start a fire was wearing her down. She decided to get serious and put the house on the market again.

None of the people who came to look at the house were really interested. It just wasn’t modern enough for them, my grandmother said. So she asked my aunt for help putting an ad out on the Internet.

Shortly thereafter, a man in his late 40s contacted my grandmother about buying the house. After spending numerous hours on the phone with my grandmother, he offered her $28,000 in cash for the house. But my grandmother was suspicious.

“I think he’s more interested in me than the house,” she said. When I asked her, “How so?” she told me that the man proposed to her, just a couple of days earlier.

My grandmother turned down his offer, and he eventually bought another house in the south of Sweden. Then he started calling her again asking her to come visit him. He called her almost every day for a while, and my grandmother, being the nice person she is, just patiently explained to him that she is old enough to be his mother.

“That doesn’t matter,” he told her. “I like mature women.”
She did not, however, mention that she has a boyfriend. Nor did she tell the boyfriend about the proposal. All she told me was, “I’m selling the house because I want to get rid of all the inconveniences, not because I want more of them.”

She did finally get her house sold. A Stockholm couple bought it as their summer home, fixed it up, then sold it to a Dutch family. And my grandmother lived happily ever after…

Monday, March 10, 2008

Productive day

I used our borrowed miter saw today to fix the last two blinds. It was a disaster, but at least now they are up and the living room is officially finished. Well, minus the hardwood floor and some molding, of course...

Hallway and crown moldings

Albie painted the hallway, and I didn't have to climb the ladder at all! He also made the lamp black instead of brass. I painted the door. The trim and window-part next to the door will eventually be white as well, but we are currently out of sandpaper and I am out of energy.

We also have a corner spot in our hallway that we can't figure out how to reach. The ladder is too big, but the small ladder we have is too short... Perhaps I'll have to take my crazy choir friend's suggestion to tape a paint brush to a hockey stick...

We decided to continue the green into the corner. Now we just have to pick a color for the upstairs hallway, which will start in the corner.

I got a spur of energy today and finally got around to painting the crown molding. I shut the cats out of the garage while painting, which drove them absolutely crazy. When I was done they had to come in to inspect my work.

The vending machine mystery

We don’t have much at our newspaper office, but we do have four vending machines. One sells coca-cola and water, another sells questionable coffee. The third sells juice and ready-made inedible sandwiches, and the fourth sells chips and candy.

Once in a while, I will get a diet coke. I just need that extra kick of caffeine. In the three years I’ve worked at the newspaper, I think I have gotten candy five or six times. Also because I needed a kick of energy. I stay away from the machine-made coffee, and I wouldn’t touch the sandwiches with gloves on.

Some reporters spend their days filling up on sodas; others fill their bellies with chips two or three times a day. The mailroom people who work at night always gather around the snacks when they get their 15-minute breaks. I don’t have the habits down of people in advertising or circulation since I don’t work during the day, but I imagine they make it worthwhile for the vending-machine company to keep coming back.

This fascination with vending machines is a mystery to me. Why do people pay $1 for a bag of chips that would cost half the price if they dragged their lazy asses down to the store, three minutes away? Can people not plan far enough ahead to buy snacks for work in bulk, or instant coffee to keep in their desks that will last through the week?

No wonder people complain that they don’t get paid enough. If this is what they spend their money on while they are at work, I can only imagine the amounts of money they spend during their time off.

The condo ghost

A few times this past month, Albie and I have come home from work to find the light in our upstairs bedroom turned on.
“Did you forget to turn it off?” I asked Albie, and he always said “no.”

When our alarm went off this morning, I woke up to find the overhead light on again. I know it was off when we both went to sleep, and neither of us had been up during the night. It was a bit creepy.

One of our two lights in the basement has been out for a few days. Albie replaced the bulb, but the new one wouldn’t work. As I was painting in the basement today, I figured I should try the light just to make sure. I took the energy bulb out of the socket and shook it – it made a rattling sound.

After replacing it, I flipped the switch in the hallway. The light down in the basement remained off. I opened the door to the garage, stretched my hand out into the dark, and tried that switch, and voila! The basement filled with light.

I started painting some pieces of trim, now drenched in light. First, though, I had shut the cats out and closed the doors both to the upstairs and to the garage. All of a sudden, the light goes off. My heart starts beating faster.

Since both doors are closed, I cannot see either light switch. Is someone standing on the other side? Did someone just come into our house?

Heart pounding, I slowly open the door to the hallway. Nobody there. Armed with a paint brush, I open the door to the garage. Empty. I leave the doors open and decide to finish painting. A few minutes later, the light comes on again.

I guess Albie was telling the truth after all.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Werewolf ringtone

While briefly looking through my previous posts, I came across an ad at the bottom of the page that said "werewolf ringtones."

Funny thing, this Google Adsense stuff. It goes through your blog and finds words and phrases it recognizes, then ads related to those topics are posted on your site.

So, for those of you who weren't scared by my werewolf story below, perhaps you would like to try a werewolf sound on your cell phone?

I don't even know what that would sound like. All I know is that it would probably scare the crap out of my co-worker who loves his cell phone a little too much (see previous blog entry).

Come to think of it, it would probably scare me too, especially if it woke me up in the middle of the night.

The bully

In first and second grade, the “cool kids” often teased me and my best friend H. We stuck together and tried to stay strong, but we were never really as “cool” as the “cool kids.”

E. was the leader, the center of attention. S.K. would follow every step she took, and sometimes S.R. and P.K. were allowed in the group.

One day they were extra mean to H. It was in second grade; we were 8 years old. I cannot remember exactly what happened, but I believe someone said something mean about something H. was wearing in the locker rooms after gym class. It might have made H. cry.

I always told my grandmother everything E. did, and she encouraged and finally almost forced me to confront E. and “put an end to the misery.”

After school one day I waited at the end of our street, knowing E. would have to pass me to get to her house. I was furious.

When E. came, alone for once, I told her she should stop being mean and stop bossing people around. Then I kicked her, right in the shin.

E. started to cry. I said “If you don’t stop bullying people I will tell your mom what you are up to.” She was bawling, screaming that she would tell her mom what I had done and that I better watch out.

Later that day, E.’s mom called my grandmother, who simply said, “Well, E. deserved it.”

Nobody was ever mean to us again.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Nudity is dirty in America

I recently read a “Dear Abby” column about nudity.

A woman had written a letter to “Abby” (advice columnist Abigail VanBuren) about how offensive her neighbor’s 16-year-old son was, walking around naked in his room. The woman, who could describe exactly what time of day the young man would appear in his kitchen every morning to eat breakfast (naked), complained that he was being rude and inconsiderate to his neighbors.

Abby advised the woman to put curtains on her window and call before dropping over for a visit.

A few weeks later, several responses were published from readers. Most said the woman was nosy and should keep her eyes to herself. One reader, however, pointed out the underlying problem:

“Americans tend to view nudity as an invitation to sex. It need not be.”

While nudity is considered natural on other continents, Americans see nakedness as something ugly, something to be ashamed of. It is associated with pornography, something young children need to be protected from. God forbid anyone under the age of 18 would ever see a naked breast of a woman on national television. God forbid a 9-year-old boy should see his parents naked. That just doesn’t happen here.

The whole society is affected by this. Boys grow up thinking there is something magic about naked bodies. They grow up worshiping porno magazines and adult movies. They also grow up thinking that any non-fictional woman who takes her clothes off is a slut.

Girls grow up thinking there is something wrong with their bodies. While some like to show off skin in tank tops and short skirts, they are constantly reminded by school administrators and strict public policies that bare skin is ugly, forbidden territory.

Combine that with the conservative laws that demand “abstinence only” classes as a substitute for education about sex (and god forbid they should talk about those gay people!), and you get a sex-crazy people with lots of guilt and no touch of reality in their system.

How did it get to this point? Why are Americans and Europeans so different?

Comments welcome.


Every time I travel somewhere, something goes wrong. I am usually an organized control freak, yet I cannot seem to control myself during my travels.

Once I forgot my overnight bag filled with everything I would need for a weekend in New York. Luckily, the trip was only for two days. It wasn’t nearly as bad as when I left for a small village in Maine one summer without any extra underwear. The coastal town of Castine did not have a single store that sold panties, not even ugly ones.

Of course, having to do laundry every single day is not as bad dropping your cell phone in the toilet, which I managed to do on my first trip to Quinnipiac University.

Losing plane tickets, however, is my specialty. I have actually managed to do it twice.

The first time was at Arlanda airport in Sweden, and I had a good excuse: It was very early in the morning.

I had just been to McDonald’s with my friends, and I was walking back through a shopping area, passing crowds at the international check-in counters. At the passport control, a guard stopped me and very nicely asked to see my ticket. I had slipped the boarding pass into my brand new passport, which I had been carrying around in my hand for the last half hour. Turns out, it was so new the hard plastic pages couldn’t hold the ticket tight between its folds like passports should do.

There was no ticket in my hand. In fact, there was no ticket anywhere, at least not with my name on it.

I stumbled out on the floor in the middle of the departure hall. My ticket was gone. I wouldn’t be able to go back to the United States. I wouldn’t be able to start college classes that I had already paid for. I wouldn’t be able to see my friends again.

Tears started rolling down my face. Then I saw two men in dark green uniforms with serious looks on their faces standing in the middle of the entrance hall, engaged in a discussion. I walked up to them in despair, crying “I lost my tickets.” They pointed me in the direction of Icelandair’s information booth, then one of them put his hand on my shoulder and said “I am sure everything will be okay.”

Just as I was asking for help and a brusque, middle-aged travel agent told me I wasn’t going anywhere unless I had a ticket, a man came up to the help desk waving a white piece of paper in his hand. He was speaking in a language I only vaguely understood, but I screamed of joy when I saw my name on the ticket he held in his hand.

The second time I lost my ticket I wasn’t as lucky. It was two weeks after 9/11 and I was flying home to Bradley Airport from a newspaper conference in New Orleans. I searched my bags in the hotel room, I searched them in the lobby, on the shuttle bus and again at the airport, but my ticket home was nowhere to be found.

After spending an hour in the check-in line, I was told there was now way I would be allowed onto the plane without buying another ticket – a ticket for the seat I was already in. But the airline would give me a discount, the smiling man behind the counter said.

Since I bought my ticket late, security requested an extra search of my bag. It was opened and emptied in front of a long line of people waiting to check in. In an attempt to lighten the mood, I asked the guard to let me know if she found my ticket during her search. She did not find it amusing.

We had to change planes in Nashville, and I decided to use the ladies’ room. I hung my laptop on the door of the bathroom stall. It swung around and showed me narrow pocket on the back I didn’t even know it had.

That’s where my ticket was.

I slipped the ticket back into the pocket, walked out of the bathroom and got back on the plane. My fellow travelers were better off not knowing about the discovery in the women’s bathroom.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Nightmares and werewolves

A werewolf lived under my bed until I was about 12 years old. He was always there; it didn’t matter if the light was on or not.

If I was reading in bed and then had to go to the bathroom, I had to stand up and jump out into the middle of the room, so the werewolf’s arms (yes, arms) wouldn’t grab my legs. When I came back from the bathroom, always running, I had to leap back onto my bed as quickly as I could.

While afraid, I was also fascinated with scary creatures. We lived on a hill, and in the winter all the kids from the neighborhood used to come sledding in our driveway.

I used to tell stories about the roebuck (a male roe deer). I described the buck as a monstrous creature with large horns. It ate children, at times, and it would chase after you when hungry. One of my friends told me many years later that she had been terrified of going up the hill alone for fear of running into the roebuck.

Despite never having seen one, I very much enjoyed scaring others. I never told anyone that the monster visited my nightmares.

People and animals also turned to stone in my dreams, forever getting stuck in a place between life and death. I realized in my early teens that this stemmed from an episode of “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” from BBC that I had been subjected to at a friend’s house when I was 5.

When I turned 15, I got a new bed with a frame that went all the way down to the floor. I knew there would never be another werewolf (or other monster) hiding in my room. I finally felt safe.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Growing up in Sweden

Some of you keep asking me to write more about Sweden and what it was like, so here goes...

I was never sick when I was a kid. However, I often convinced my grandmother that I didn’t feel well so I could stay home from school and sit in her kitchen with my old typewriter and work on my short stories.

I “published” two books before I turned 15. Of course, they were both photocopied at my friend’s father’s office and distributed in person or by mail to friends and relatives. I also made a collection of my best poems and novels, distributed the booklet to my five best friends in school, and more or less forced them to read it.

I grew up with my grandparents in a small village in Sweden, population 6,000. We watched government-owned Channel 1 and Channel 2 on TV, with our favorite "Cosby Show" shown Sunday nights at 8 o'clock. Since I am an only child, I loved watching and laughing at the Huxtable mad house and I often dreamt about what it would be like to have brothers and sisters filling up the house.

When I was 11, we got a new TV that could also receive Channel 4. It didn't come in very clearly, and occasionally it was only available in black and white. It was clear enough, however, that I could watch "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Dr. Quinn – Medical Woman."

Channel 4 also had commercials, something very exciting for an 11-year-old. Every week I was glued to the TV to see whether Dylan would end up with Kelly or Brenda, and to see if David was ever going to get a record deal.

With a limited selection of television shows, I was often went to the movies at our local community hall. It wasn’t very expensive, but they only showed movies twice a week (and it was the same movie both Wednesday and Sunday).

My friends and I went every Sunday evening, to keep up with the latest discussion in school. We spent many Sunday nights outside the theater arguing about whether "Swing Kids" or "A Perfect World" was the best movie. My friends were always waiting for their parents to pick them up, and I wouldn't walk home until they were all gone.

My family did not have a VCR until I turned 14, so I remember going to my best friend’s house to watch movies. It started out with "Scooby-doo" and "Ducktales," which her aunt had recorded from cable TV, and it evolved to "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." There was something comforting about watching the same movie over and over again, and even today when I watch "Indiana Jones" I picture us fighting over the good seat on the sofa.

Occasionally, I visited my aunt who lived in the city and had cable TV. While my grandmother and aunt were busy in the kitchen, I sat in front of the TV for hours just watching music videos on MTV. The first video I ever saw was Michael Jackson’s "Black or White." The faces were flashing by, changing from black to white, and then back again. Then I saw Madonna, Roxette and Aerosmith. Alicia Silverstone was jumping off a bridge, saved by a thin wire attached to her belly button piercing.

I got my first stereo for my 13th birthday. I also got my first CD - Bryan Adams’ "Waking Up the Neighbors." I listened to it day in and day out until Christmas finally came two weeks later and I got two more CDs. By then, I knew every word of every song. I didn't know what it all meant, but I knew the sound, the beat and everything printed in the booklet about the man behind the hoarse and sexy voice.

I never really got over the fact that I totally missed out on New Kids On The Block, so my friend gave me her old tapes, which I listened to long after everyone else had given up on them.

My family was not into books. The only thing my grandmother read was a glossy tabloid magazine with crossword puzzles and health-related articles. My grandmother got the magazines monthly from a friend who subscribed, and I got them when my grandmother was done with them. I didn’t care that they were several months old, since I was mostly just looking at the celebrity pictures.

I was 11 when I got my first book. It was a Nancy Drew book, and within a year I was reading book No. 52 in the series. I followed Nancy through all her mysteries, trying my best to figure them out before she did. I went with her scuba diving, driving in her Mustang GT convertible, and swimming in an underground river, wishing that my life could be just as exciting.

Pretty soon, I also discovered the school library and the books by Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis. These books got me through many cold and rainy summers. The idea that there was a land out there somewhere with talking animals and big giants intrigued me. I wanted to go to England so badly, to find the wardrobe that would take me to this magical place. I also wanted to take long vacations by the coast and find a mystery, after having a marvelous picknick by a bubbling brook.

Over the years, my life gradually changed, like most people’s lives normally do. I moved to the city. I expanded my CD-collection, and I got cable. I got hooked on "Friends" and "Seinfeld," and every day I tried to catch the 5 p.m. reruns of "McGyver." I related to Monica and Rachel, I felt sorry for George and Elaine, and I was amazed by McGyver, who wasn’t only cute, but had a solution to every problem (usually this involved salt or duct tape).

Then I started studying and working with media. I read tons of books. I moved to the United States. I discovered channels that I had never heard of, and spent more time in front of the TV than I had done in my entire life.

Politically correct words

Americans are obsessed with being politically correct so they won't offend anyone in any way when speaking on the radio or writing in a newspaper (They are also terrified of getting sued, which is a whole other chapter).

While taking a communications class a few years ago, we watched a video with comedian George Carlin that I still remember because it was extremely funny and right on. Carlin was naming some euphemisms for well-known terms:

bathroom tissue – toilet paper
directory assistance – operator/phone book
involuntary personal protein spill – throwing up
previously owned vehicle – used car
differently abled – handicapped
cerebrally challenged – stupid (minimally exceptional)
negative patient care outcome – death
hair disadvantaged – bald
sobriety deprived – drunk
involuntarily leisured OR temporarily outplaced – unemployed
possessing an alternative body image – fat
severe appearance deficits OR cosmetically different – ugly
economically disadvantaged occupying substandard housing – poor/homeless

Many of these euphemisms are commonly used in advertisements on TV. I also frequently see "an unknown person entered the residence subsequent to exiting his vehicle" in stories written from police reports insted of "a man left his car and went inside his house."

It my jobs as a journalist to translate what people are saying into plain English.

So while things that are too wordy are funny, they mostly just waste valuable time and space. Just say it the way it is, people! No cerebrally challenged man possessing an alternative body image will receive a negative patient outcome if you do.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Dentist and a Garfield Band-Aid

After bragging about tile removal and marvelous cake baking in my last blog post, I feel I have to post an update about my condition.

I returned to the kitchen for some more work last night, putting on a new pair of rubber gloves so my fingers wouldn't stick together from all the glue on the back of the tiles. Some had mountains of glue, others had just a few drops. Whoever did our kitchen "upgrades" can't have been very handy, I thought.

The tiles behind the stove were calling out to me, and after one was pulled off with a bit of a struggle, I went straight for the second one. A flat-head screwdriver held tightly in my left hand, my right was flailing about somewhere near the tile trying to get a good grip of a corner. Before I knew it, my left hand slipped on the tile and stabbed my right hand with the screwdriver.

Pain was shooting from the top of my right index finger, right below the nail. I could see something red through a large hole I had just cut in the white glove. Quickly, I ripped the glove off, ran over to the sink and started rinsing my hand in cold water. I clenched my gloved left hand around my bleeding finger so I wouldn't have to look at it. It was just too scary. What if I had cut a deep, stitch-worthy gash?

I took a quick peek, and it was bleeding a lot. Still holding my finger, I grabbed the phone on the counter and tried dialing Albie's number with my left pinky. I pressed the speaker phone button and waited.

"Who's this?" my boyfriend answered in his usual tone.

"I stabbed myself with a screwdriver and I'm BLEEDING!" I said, a little too loudly. "Do we have any Band-Aids? A first-aid kit?"

"Eh, that's a good question," he said. "I don't think so."

Albie suggested using a paper towel, which I did. After rinsing my finger yet again, I rolled half a paper towel tightly around my aching finger and then put a piece of blue painter's tape on it to hold it in place. Then I had to lie down, because I started feeling sick to my stomach. With my right hand high above my head, I rested for a few minutes.

After I felt better, I raided our bathroom for bandages. I found an old but unopened package of antibiotic ointment that I spread on my wound, which had now stopped bleeding. It really didn't look too bad. There was one deep part and then a long stretch of a scratch, deep enough to penetrate the first few layers of skin. The homemade bandage would have to do.

The next morning I got up early to go to the dentist. Not wanting to get laughed at, I took my homemade bandage off before I left. It was freezing outside, however, so by the time I arrived in the waiting room, my finger was pounding again. I walked straight up to the front desk and said in a tiny voice, "Do you happen to have a Band-Aid?" A children's bandage was supplied to me.

Then I had the nicest dentist visit I've ever had, despite two fillings. After an hour and ten minutes of talking about "Seinfeld," "American Idol" and University of Connecticut basketball, I walked out of there with a left cheek numb from three shots of Novacaine and a right index finger covered with a Garfield Band-Aid.

And the best thing... I'm off tile-removing duty for a while.