Friday, May 30, 2008

Albie's first slideshow

For those of you who have never met Albie, this is what he sounds like!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Swedish wood

On my way home from my extra job today, I stopped by Home Depot to pick up some wood for a shelf I'm building.

Pine seems to be the cheapest non-crappy wood, so I picked up five 6-foot pieces that are 8 inches wide.

When I got home, I was getting ready to measure one piece to see where it should get cut. I flipped it over, and there was an annoying price tag on the back side.

The tag had a picture of a tiny little man sawing away. I pulled the wood closer to see what the label said. Next to the little man, in capital letters, it said "Made in Sweden."

Campbell - like the soup!

A local woman stopped by the newspaper office last week to drop off a press release. I was going to just pass it off to one of the reporters, but I figured it would be best to take the woman's name and number, just in case.

"It's Carole Campbell," she said. "Campbell - like the soup!"

While writing down her number, my mind wandered. I tried to recall why it sounded so familiar. Then it hit me.

"Dave Campbell," I said, under my breath.

"What?" the woman wanted to know.

"Oh, nothing," I said, smiling at her and sending her on her way out the door.

Dave Campbell was a good friend of my host father's. I only met him once, during a weekend in Vermont about eight years ago, but he was one of the nicest guys you'll ever see.

Tall and blonde, Dave had a great sense of humor. He and his wife, kids and two well-behaved golden retrievers came to spend the weekend with us in nature's paradise. I don't even think it was ski season, but there were always plenty of things to do in the family's "cabin."

We were standing right in front of the grey stone fireplace when we first met. Dave took a few long, bouncy strides towards me, stretched out his right hand and said, "I'm Dave. Dave Campbell - like the soup!"

A few days after Sept. 11, 2001, I found out Dave had his office in one of the two towers of the World Trade Center. As far as I know, they never found his body.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Back to old me

Looking through old photos, I realized that the time I was happiest and felt the best about myself was when I had short hair. So today it was off to the "Cost Cutters" salon to chop off some inches.

As you can tell in the pictures above, I still need to add some highlights and perhaps fix it up in the back a bit - you can't expect too much from a $15 haircut.

For some reason, I always let myself believe it is a good idea to let my hair grow long. Prior to eighth grade, I had really long hair and everyone would always comment on how pretty it was. Then one day I just cut it all off, and I kept it short - really short - for five years.

At times, people thought I was a boy. In fact, during my late teens I was dating a guy who had hair down to his waist. Looking at us from behind, people who didn't know us often thought I was the guy and he was the girl.

When I came to the U.S., I often heard "but you should let your hair grow." I tried, and then chopped it off again to shoulder length.

I've grown my hair for at least three years now for various reasons... Albie likes it, I want to see what it looks like, it's nice to be able to put it all up in a pony tail... but enough is enough!

Now I finally feel like I'm back to normal.

Fixing my mirror - finally!

Today was the day for a new mirror on my car. I needed one because of the hit-and-run crash a few months ago.

I found one on the internet for less than $40. It's been sitting in a box in my hallway for a couple of weeks now.

Sunday night - my only free night this week - I said to myself "This is as good a night as any to put that new mirror on."

Since our automatic garage door opener does not work, getting into the garage can be a complicated process. It involves luring kitties upstairs and quickly closing doors as well as unlocking several garage-door mechanisms and jumping out of the way.

After I drove my car into the garage, I encountered a huge problem. Our garage was so crammed with stuff that I had to pull my car so close to the left that I could barely get my driver's side door open.

I started pushing some boxes in one direction, the miter saw in the other. If only I could get that big dining room table further into the corner or up against the wall, I thought. And the treadmill really should be over here in the corner...

One thing led to another, and three hours later, our garage was de-cluttered. Albie's fascination with empty boxes has been minimized to a broken-down stack against the back wall and my obsession with neatness can rest for another day.

The best part? We can now pull one of our cars into the garage without hitting anything. And there was room to work on my mirror. Of course, once I got in the car and looked at the bolts, I realized I didn't have the right tools to get started...

Eventually, though, the new mirror found its home, thanks to a socket wrench borrowed from a guy at work. It only took about 15 minutes - not even a quarter of the time it took to organize the garage. Oh well, at least those projects are both out of the way now.

Monday, May 26, 2008

More kitchen stuff

I actually took the day off from painting today and had dinner with a friend who - ironically - is in the middle of painting her new condo. These are from a few days ago.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Overcoming stage fright

Speaking in public used to make me nauseous and give me panic attacks. When we had presentations to do in school, I often called in sick.

If working on a group project, I chose to do the research so I could pass the presentation off to someone else. Smart teachers, of course, always made sure everyone had their few minutes of fame and I had to battle my stage fright and stutter through a few lines of nonsense.

It’s really strange, though, because deep down I know I’m a performer.

In eighth grade, I played the lead role in two or three of our school plays. The idea of getting up on stage in front of our entire school of 200 people scared the crap out of me at first, but as soon as the curtain was drawn I became someone other than myself. Playing a role, everything was easy. It was being myself that was hard.

Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and I’ve performed with choruses and smaller groups since I was 8 years old. That, too, is easy. It’s getting up on stage alone that’s hard.

I finally had a breakthrough during my first year at Westchester Community College when I took a (required) public speaking class. I realized that the key to my comfort lies in actually knowing what to say. If I am well-prepared and speak about something I know a lot about, nobody is going to laugh or tell me I’m wrong. And after one good speech, you gain the confidence required to do another.

Of course, speaking is just the first step. Every new area creates a different road block.

I panicked again during piano class, where we were required to perform for our fellow classmates each Thursday. Oh, how I dreaded Thursdays. Once, I even had a couple of shots of vodka before class to ease my nerves. Then I realized the problem: I wasn’t any good at playing and I stopped.

My current project is overcoming stage fright when singing. I am told the butterflies in my stomach and the urgent need to pee will never fully go away, but at least I want to be able to get through a song without my voice shaking and creating an unwritten vibrato.

I took singing lessons for a year and then decided it was time for me to start auditioning. This was a few years ago. Albie and I drove up to the Mohegan Sun casino and I sang the (American) national anthem in front of three judges and some 50 other hopeful singers. The judges laughed when I said I was from Sweden and told me to get a grip because, well, “you’re in America now.”

For Valentine’s Day this year, a bar in Torrington held a local karaoke “Idol” contest. I paid the $10 entry fee and spent two weeks picking my three songs (in case I made it to the final round). Halfway through my first song, one of the judges hid his face in his hands. While I finished the song, it wasn’t with much confidence.

I am not letting these incidents stop me, though. In fact, I just performed a solo during our spring concert in April and again during our Hartford concert a week ago. The song was in Swedish, which makes it a lot easier because it feels like nobody will really know if I make a mistake. It might be “cheating,” but it’s a step in the right direction.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

A date with Indiana Jones

I saw the new Indiana Jones movie tonight. It was great, except for some alien references... won't say anymore now, don't want to spoil it for other fans.

Albie thought it was a bit corny and said it was "OK at best."

Friday, May 23, 2008

Painting cabinets

Before.... During....

Despite the fact that my shoulder still hurts from a night of painting on Monday, I couldn't help but start the kitchen cabinets when I got home from work today. One cabinet hangs by itself to the right of the sink, and this seemed like a good place to start.

I forced my still-sore arm muscles into action by screwing off the cabinet door hinges. But since we just bought a cordless drill, it was probably harder for me to write that sentence than to take the door off. I'm looking forward to future projects where the drill will come in handy!

I've hated the way our kitchen looks since we moved in. The kitchen is small and dark. Painting the cabinets white (and replacing the hardware) will hopefully make the room feel bigger, brighter and happier.

Strange salads

I've often wondered about American salads.

To me, anything named "salad" had to have some sort of lettuce in it. Here, mayo seems to be key in order to call something a salad.

Sure, there are salad bars and menu options that offer "the regular:" lettuce, tomato, cucumber, peppers... perhaps some mushrooms... But, if you go to a restaurant and order "tuna salad" or "chicken salad," it means the tuna or chicken is mixed with mayo, celery and some spices and eaten on toast. Chicken salad as I know it doesn't exist.

It's a mystery to me.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

American driving habits

We don't get long weekends where I work. Well, the editors don't.

The reporters sometimes get lucky when a holiday falls on a Monday (which it often does, but only 6 holidays count), but normally everyone just gets two short days off from work each week.

On a recent Saturday evening, our reporter David told me he was going to see a friend in Virginia as soon as he was done with his last story. I froze and looked at him, eyebrows raised.

"Isn't that, like, really far away?" I said, then realized how blonde (and foreign) I sounded.

"Yeah," he replied. "It's 360 miles."

His plan was to drive all night Saturday into Sunday morning, spend Sunday with his friend when he got there, perhaps take a nap, and then stay until Monday evening when he had to turn back to get to work again by Tuesday at lunchtime.

"You're crazy," I said.

But David isn't crazy at all. He doesn't drink, doesn't do drugs, doesn't bungy jump, walk on hot coals or party real hard. He doesn't really do anything... unexpected.

After thinking about it for a while, I realized that driving 360 miles for a weekend is completely normal to an American.
My host family used to drive to Vermont from New York several weekends a month to go skiing. The drive took about 4 hours, one way. So you have a day and a half at the ski lodge, then you turn around and go back home.

I once drove my friend Nina to Canada during a rare 3-day weekend off from work. I was supposed to make the round-trip in 2 days, but we encountered some trouble at the border (perhaps I'll tell you all about it in another blog entry). The trip from Bethany, Connecticut, to Fredericton, New Brunswick, took 9 hours one way.

Sometimes it's better not to judge who's crazy and who's not. It's better to just keep driving...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The railing is done

I got home one night and Albie had (again) finished my recent project: The railing.

I felt like I was sanding it for weeks, and the paint just didn't seem to take. Now it's done, and we only have 3 more railings to go...

Before... After...

Painting the kitchen

As most of our other rooms, the kitchen had a stenciled border around the top of the wall. It screamed 80s, and I couldn't wait to get rid of it.

I covered the border with two coats of primer Sunday night, then Albie and I went to Home Depot for more supplies on Monday. When we got home, I ripped the paint can open and started painting. I couldn't really stop until I was finished, so it was 1 a.m. before I had the paint roller cleaned and finally put the brush down.

We still have to paint the cabinets and get some new hardware. But at least we're on our way!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I'm no red-blooded American

A friend sent me a link to a quiz today where you find out whether you are a red-blooded American that can pass a citizenship test. It's called The Independence Day Quiz (although we are a couple of months away from July 4).

I scored 20 out of 30 points. I won't be getting my citizenship anytime soon, but I dare you all you take the quiz and post your results as a comment to this blog entry!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Home improvement slideshow - second bedroom

I've created 7 slideshows of our home in progress. This is the first one. The others can be watched in any order. They should all be shorter than a minute with no commercial interruptions. Enjoy!

Home improvement slideshows - Master bedroom

Home improvement slideshows - dining room

Home improvement slideshow - living room

Home improvement slideshow - the hallway

Home improvement slideshow - the kitchen

Home improvement slideshow - gardening

What's wrong with today's parents?

Albie and I went to the 10:45 p.m. showing of "Prince Caspian" after my concert last night.

We walked in just in time for the previews. As we sat down, a young mother comes in with a little boy in her arms. I didn't see her at first., but Albie did.

"Who brings their 6-year-old to a movie this late?" Albie asked, and I turned around to look at the two of them walking up the stairs to some seats two rows behind us.

"He's not 6," I replied, turning back to Albie. "He looks more like 4."

The mother and son (we assume) placed themselves next to a little girl.

"Now, she looks more like 6," I said.

The first preview started showing and the mother got up and walked out the door. The boy was screaming "Moooooooooom!" but she just kept going. She got back 6 or 7 minutes later, just as the movie was about to start.

I had just started thinking she was going to leave the kids there by themselves while she went to see a "grown-up" film.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Swedish meatball song

My friend John and I have long joked about writing a song about Swedish meatballs. It should go something like this, he says: "Flugen flagen, flugen flagen."

Of course, that's his idea of speaking Swedish.

I was in Hartford last night, performing at Emanuel Lutheran Church. After my solo, Ken and Ellen Svengalis got up to perform their duets. In addition to a song about a Scandinavian wedding with Sven Svensson, Jan Jansson and Anders Andersson, they also performed a song about Swedish meatballs. I never knew this song by Stan Boreson existed, but was able to find an exerpt of it online when I got home:

Hulda's Good Swedish Metballs

It includes some hopping, so don't try it at home unless you're an experienced Swede.

The answer is 'no'

The question is, "Do I think I can blog?"

I didn't even make it to the second round in the contest. :-(

I fear that the English language may have been discriminated against in this all-Swede contest.

Or it could be that the 6-hour time difference messed me up. People could only vote for a 24-hour period, and since we are behind here, perhaps hundreds of people logged on to vote and it was too late...

It is also possible that I forgot to explain to some of my friends that they needed to enter their e-mail address when voting or it wouldn't be counted. I may have been the one to piss off my judge after he got too many "invalid" comments...

I'll never know.

All I know is that the judge has been posting mad entries about how people don't understand directions and why does he even bother... Which doesn't make me feel any better.

But thanks to all who voted for me. For now, I'll just keep blogging as usual.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Bad day at the paper

Today you were supposed to see a really fun, wonderfully written post here.

I get home early Thursday nights. I had big plans last night to spend hours plotting my next entry. Instead, I spent eight hours extra at the newspaper office trying to put the paper to bed.

You see, the way our system is set up, all the daily newspapers in Connecticut owned by our no-longer-New-York-Stock-Exchange-listed company are connected to one central server in New Haven. InCopy and InDesign, the programs we write our stories and lay out our pages in, only exist on said server, and we log into these servers through the internet from all over the state.

It's cheap for the company - it only has to buy a small set of licenses. It's also convenient, because everyone is on the same system and can share articles, photos and pages.

When a transformer blows somewhere near New Haven, however, it isn't convenient for anyone.

Production stopped at five of our daily newspapers around 11 p.m. - 15 minutes before deadline for the Bristol paper and barely two hours before deadline for us.

In Torrington, six pages of news and four pages of sports had been in progress when all programs shut down. Editors went into panic mode. Reporters stood helpless at their desks looking at dark monitors. Grunts could be heard from the sports department.

Our city editor started calling our computer tech guy, who turned out to be on vacation and had no clue what was going on. A couple of calls later, we were told everyone was down for an undetermined amount of time. "We're working on it," we were told.

The publisher came rushing into the office (I swear, this guy never sleeps). Who's got Quark XPress on their computer? Where are there stories we can use? How can we get back on the internet? What's going on with sports?

Within a few minutes, we scrapped up two laptops with wireless connections. Three reporters were rewriting their stories and pages were being designed from scratch in old templates in a program we haven't looked at in over a year.

After all that, the first printed copy came off the press only 45 minutes late. We even managed to help the Bristol crew get the last of its pages done.

So, dear blog readers, I hope you understand if I now choose to get some sleep instead of writing long, interesting posts about life, the universe and everything...

Vote for me!

Friday is my day in front of the jury during the Swedish contest "So you think you can blog."

Vote for me here before the end of the day. All you do is post a comment under the post that mentions "Cool Swede" and say "I vote for Cool Swede" ("Jag röstar på Cool Swede," om du är svensk).

I'll keep you all posted...

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Stealing European ideas

On my way to work one day, I heard a radio announcer talk about a new reality TV show.

"Farmer Seeks a Wife," I think it was called. It's supposed to be about 25 city girls going to live with a farmer somewhere in the Midwest. The farmer will chose a wife among them.

"What the heck?" I thought. "That's just like that stupid show that's been on TV in Sweden for a few years now!"

I've never actually seen the show since I've been out of the country, but all the contestants have been appearing frequently on the tabloid Aftonbladet's web site.

"Do they have to steal all the good TV shows from Sweden?" I thought to my self, thinking of the show "Survivor," which is based on the Swedish concept of "Expedition Robinson."

As soon as I got to a computer, I googled this new farmer show. As it turns out, it isn't a Swedish concept at all. The show started in England several years before Sweden, and it has apparently been very popular in Holland and Germany as well.

Oh well. At least I can complain that American steal all their shows from England. And Sweden was still first with "Survivor."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ramen noodles for the rich and famous

Anyone who has ever lived on a tight budget knows the value of Ramen noodles.

They come in portion-sized packages, they are easy to make and most importantly – they are ridiculously cheap.

Whether you get the shrimp, chicken or beef flavor, the packages never cost you more than 50 cents. If you go to a supermarket, you can get 24 packs for a couple of dollars.

I worked in Greenwich, Connecticut, one summer as a nanny to raise money for my upcoming school year at Quinnipiac University (I had to scrap up like $5,000 to be able to go to school!) Greenwich is known as the richest town in the Northeast, perhaps in the entire United States.

Although they lived in an enormous house, the family I worked for was very friendly and very down to earth. I got along great with everyone, especially the four wonderful kids.

The funniest thing about this family was that there were always packages of Ramen Noodles in the kitchen pantry.

One day, I couldn’t decide what to eat for dinner and said “Oh, I’ll just have some noodles” before throwing some Ramen into a pot. The mother, who was on her way out the door, looked at me disapprovingly.

“This is actually soup,” she said, taken aback.

What could I say to that? I had no idea it was considered such a fancy meal in the rich world.

A slideshow about Sophie

A slideshow about Pip

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Yelling at telemarketers

I got some of my anger and frustration out today by yelling at a poor telemarketer.

Our home number is on a do-not-call list, which means random sales people are not allowed to call us. We do, however, get occasional calls from our bank representatives, credit card companies or our cell phone companies with “special offers.”

The woman who called today was clearly reading from a script.

“Hi mam, is Miss Sandvist available, please?”

“Yes, it’s me.” (Sometimes I say “nope, wrong number!” and hang up)



“My name is Murshanda (or was it Shaniva?), and I am calling on behalf of Verizon Wireless.”

Pause (I usually hang up by the second pause, but I was willing to humor her today).

“We are offering a new nationwide plan. We offer extra minutes and new plans at a very good price that you might want to consider.”

“Aha,” I said, very disinterested.

“I see in your account that your wireless plan might be up for renewal soon.”

“You’re right,” I said, suddenly awake. “And I am planning on switching to AT&T because I want to go on a family plan with my boyfriend!”

“Ok, then,” Murshanda/Shaniva said, trying to end the call.

“Unless, of course, you guys can offer me a good family plan,” I countered. “Then I might be willing to stay.”

“Well, you would have to take that up with our accounts department,” she said. “I don’t offer that kind of stuff.”

“What do you offer?” I said, now almost angry.

“I can offer you additional minutes on your monthly plan.”

“Well, since you have access to my account, I am sure you can tell that I barely use the minutes that I already have, so why would I want to add more minutes?”

“Ma’m, I am just pulling up your account now” (pause) “and I can see that you are not eligible for this offer.”

“Alright then, please do not ever call me again!”

I felt pretty good when I got off the phone. I left for choir practice. When I got home, I checked our caller ID. Verizon Wireless had called again.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Morbid journalists

Working in journalism, you can get a warped view of the world. It is even morbid, at times.

I sent our photographer out on an assignment last week to photograph former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger as he spoke at a local library.
“It’s good to have some file art of Kissinger,” the photographer said. “He’s getting up there in age, and you never know when we’ll need the photos.”

Every night around 9, someone from the Associated Press in Hartford calls our office to see what stories we have for the next day. We tell them about accidents, fires and important court cases.

“Did anyone die?” is the first thing they ask. If the answer is no, the standard reply is, “Eh, I think I’ll pass on that today.”

We frequently get letters to the editor about why assaults and deaths are always on the front page. Why can’t we write about cute bunnies that hop across the road or their kids making the honor roll? Sometimes we do, but it really isn’t news.

An update on my 'Bachelor' situation

Those of you who think I should have stayed home to watch the season finale of "The Bachelor" instead of going to see Bryan Adams can relax.

As it turns out, last week was not the season finale. ABC threw in a special episode of "The Women of The Bachelor Tell It All." The season finale will air tonight.

Explaining the shoe rack

It has come to my attention that some of my American readers do not know what a shoe rack is or what it is used for (see Going out in New Haven).

Shoe racks can be found in most Scandinavian homes right inside the front door. This is where you kick your shoes off when you come home after a long day at work or drop your winter boots when they are covered with mud (preferably on the lower level so they don't drip on the clean shoes underneath).

The rack serves as a gathering point for the shoes you use that season. Leaving your shoes at the door helps your feet recover from a hard day, prevents foot fungus (Athlete's foot) and keeps the rest of the house clean.
When you get ready to leave the next day, your shoes are right there at the door, waiting for you.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

It wasn't me

When I got home from work the other day, Albie had put up the rest of the door frame in the dining room. He had also managed to get the last piece of the chair rail cut and nailed to the wall and he had spackled up all the nail holes.

The following night when I got home, he had finished my special project: A shelf for the entranceway (which is also part of the living room). This is where my nice vases will go. We are hoping the shelf will be kittie proof so the vases will stay safe.

Above, Albie is helping me figure out what order the vases will go in.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

The music of the night

Music has amazing powers.

A few measures of the Swedish pop group Kent's lyrics streaming from my speakers, and I am a teenager again. "Nobody can get this close," they sing (in Swedish). It is 1995, and I'm walking the streets of my hometown on a warm summer night. My friends are there, chatting and laughing; we are on our way to the bus stop after a long evening of partying.

"Stairway to Heaven" brings me right to the party. Guitar afficionado H.B. is playing, and everyone else is humming along. Someone is getting drunk off of homemade rhubarb wine and two other teens are making out in a corner of H.B.'s mom's living room.

Bryan Adams' raspy voice sings "Thought I died and gone to heaven," and I am laying on the couch in my childhood bedroom staring up at the ceiling, wondering why nobody loves me. My feet are hanging off the end of the yellow and brown piece of furniture, because it is just a little bit too short for my 165 teen centimeters. Papers are spread out all over my desk and floor, and a black travel typewriter sits in the middle of the orange rug with a blank staring back at me.

When the famous A minor chord of the "House of the Rising Sun" starts to play, my mind takes me to the radio studio at Virginska Skolan, my high school. Nina and I are recording our first demo tape. Running between the small half-moon shaped studio and the control room, we manage to record ourselves without outside involvement. From children's songs to drunkards at a New Orleans brothel, our selection ends up being quite interesting.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Slideshows are ready

We've had some major problems at work trying to get our slideshows/videos up on the web. The way our company works, they want us to do a lot of work keeping up with the internet age for no money and without training.

So they finally bought us a computer, a video camera and some really expensive software. Then they sent a few people to our flagship newspaper to get minimum training. A few days later, they said "why are there no videos posted on your web site?"

Turns out the contracts between the company and the video site were never signed, nobody got any login names and our equipment was not set up to handle the uploading.

A few of us started producing material anyway, and today I was finally able to get them posted on our site. If you have a few minutes, you should check them out. Just be aware that you have to sit through an ad before watching each video.

Bush protest

Touring Brownfields

Easter in Litchfield

Opening day of fishing season

Our newspaper can now live in the present instead of the past...

Another 'nudity' debate

The above pictures of Miley Cyrus, aka Hannah Montana, has caused another outburst in the U.S.

After Annie Leibovitz' artistic pieces were published in Vanity Fair, Cyrus publicly proclaimed she was "embarrased" and critics said the teen idol shows too much skin. The Disney Channel, who sponsors the Hannah Montana act, was not pleased. Cyrus declined a movie premiere, I think it was, and apologized to her fans if she gave the wrong image.

Granted Cyrus looks like an abused child in the photo on the right, but what skin is she showing that wouldn't otherwise be seen when wearing a bathing suit?

Again, this brings up the nudity issue that I've touched on before. Shoulders, apparently, are now dirty as well. As are bare backs.

In order to view skin, you must be 18. In order to show it, you must be over 21. Otherwise you are "exposing" yourself or the media is taking advantage of you to sell papers.

Perhaps the Academy Awards ceremony need to be X-rated from now on? Just think about all those low-cut gowns...

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Do I think I can blog?

Thanks to my friend, Hopp i form Maria, I'm about to find out.

A Swedish Metro blog is hosting a blog contest to find the best Swedish blogger of 2008 (you can find the contest here, but it's in Swedish). Deadline for entry is May 9 (today). I'll let you know what the results are...

On another self-promoting note, my record of blog visits for one day is 26. Yay! It might not sound like a lot, but I know I have about 10 regular readers and some random ones who stop by from time to time. I probably click on my blog, too, every once in a while... When I get up to 100 visits in a day, I'll throw a party and you guys are all invited.

Let's do a test right now. If you read my blog, please leave a comment to this post and introduce yourself to the other readers. Thanks!

Bumper stickers

I'm trying to recall if I've seen a bumper sticker on a car in Europe. If I have to think about this hard, I guess they aren't that common.

In the states, you see them everywhere.

"My son is an honor student" is a common one, especially on a minivan or SUV belonging to a so-called soccer mom. "My daughter made the dean's list at (insert school)."

Lately, I've been seeing these:

"My bulldog/pitbull/German shepherd is smarter than your honor student."

I'm thinking of getting one that says "My cat is smarter than all your kids combined," but I'm afraid I'll get hit by an angry parent when I stop at the next traffic light.

My au-pair host dad and I used to joke about the bumber stickers when I first arrived. The stickers are common in Westchester County, where every parent wants to flaunt his or her child's progress and ability. My host dad wanted to have a bumper sticker made that said "My au-pair made the president's list."

It was innocent at the time (president's list = better than dean's list at the community college), but looking at it today I can see how it could have been misinterpreted. I don't really want to be on any president's list.

For a while, I had a sticker on my car that I got from some European airline's promotional package that said "Take a liking to a viking." It received rave reviews from my friends, until heavy rain peeled the sticker off one night. Oh well, it wasn't made to stick to a car anyway.

For now, I'll keep my bumper clear. I promise to let you all know when the next brilliant sticker crosses my path. Perhaps this one:

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Going out in New Haven

I miss going out in New Haven.

Besides standing two feet away from Bryan Adams when he is reaching out to give his friend a hug, there's something so quaint about hanging out in the hometown of Yale University.

While I was at Quinnipiac, my friends and I frequently went to Bar, The Playwright or Van Dome on a Friday or Saturday night. We debated who should pay the $6 for parking and at what hot spot we should end the night.

On Monday, I drove down early to shop at IKEA before the concert. Even though New Haven really isn't that far away, I wanted to kill two birds with one stone. I actually ended up killing three, or maybe four.

I had meatballs and French fries at IKEA as a late breakfast/early dinner. Then I walked around the furniture store for two hours deciding how to best spend the "summer money" my grandmother had surprised me with.

Besides a neck-friendly pillow and a new comforter (Albie melted the old ones in the dryer by mistake), I came a cross some cat-friendly plants that might brighten up our home.

I also bought a new "Portis" shoe rack (that will probably get moved to the opposite side of the hallway). I've been dragging around the cheap wooden "Babord" for six years now, and it's falling into pieces.

My friend and former roommate Bo, now a New Haven resident and the sole keeper of our three farm cats (Charlotte, Sprout and Zassemo), met up with me outside the Yale bookstore so we could grab a drink before the Bryan Adams concert. Her boyfriend showed up as well, and we ended up having an evening coffee ("bubble tea" for them - a weird and disgusting combination of a smoothie and tapioca bubbles).

Bo kept me company at Toad's until Bryan Adams started singing his first song. "Bryan who?" she said, finished her red wine and headed home to go to bed. You see, Bo gets up during the hours I like to call "bed time," and I get started with my day just when she is ready to go to bed. When we lived together, we never saw each other. Which had its ups and downs.

I already wrote about the concert in a previous post, so I'm just going to add this: It was amazing. It was personal, it was funny... it was brilliant.

To top the evening off, I had $7 left in my pocket after bailing my car out from the Broadway parking lot. It was just enough to get two falafels at Mahmoun's - a Middleastern restaurant on Howe Street. No eventful evening in New Haven is complete without a stop at Mahmoun's.

Driving home, I just wish I knew what 13-year-old Viktoria would have thought about the evening if she knew this would happen one day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Two feet from Bryan Adams

Dressed in a black T-shirt, dark jeans and black boots, Bryan Adams took the stage at Toad’s Place in New Haven Monday night.

“This will be a little bit like watching me in my living room,” he said, armed only with a guitar and a harmonica, “except, a lot stinkier.”

The famous venue didn’t smell familiar when he walked in, he said, even though someone had told him he may have played there before.

“I think I’d remember a place called ‘Toad,’” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd of 96.5 WTIC radio listeners and select members of the press.

Adams made a stop in New Haven as part of his intimate “11 days in 11 cities” tour promoting his new CD “11,” coming out in stores May 14.

“We love you, Brian!” a group of women shouted between two songs.
“What was that?” he asked, while tuning his second guitar.
“We love you, Brian!”

Perhaps the yellow lights made Adams hot, or else he was blushing. He definitely seemed to enjoy the intimacy of Toad’s Place.

From “Can’t Stop This Thing We Started” to “Cuts Like a Knife,” the crowd was eagerly singing along to each tune. Adams ran through “Heaven,” “Oxygen,” “Run To You” and “Walk On By.” Requests were shouted out, and he tried to please the crowd as best he could.

“It’s not the right time yet,” he said when a group in the center of the dance floor requested “Summer of ’69.” But they got what they wanted 20 minutes later when the famous chords of the ’80s tune filled the room and got the masses moving.

Adams declined to play other suggestions, saying they were “band songs” and that he wouldn’t be able to pull them off by himself.

“I can try it,” he said about “Kids Wanna Rock” from his “Reckless” album, and then began strumming on his guitar. After completing it successfully, he added, “I made up some new words in that version. It’s the 2008 version. You’ll find the new words on my web site tomorrow.”

Adams didn’t have to do it all alone, however. Halfway through the 90-minute set, his old friend and drummer Mickey Curry stepped up to join him. Curry, a New Haven native who now lives in Guilford, said he used to play Toad’s “a bunch of times” in the 1970s with Scratch Band. Curry has also played with Hall & Oates, Cher, Tina Turner, Alice Cooper, David Bowie and Elvis Costello.

Between two songs, Adams pulled a digital camera from his back pocket and started snapping photos of Curry on the drums.

“I’ve been around for a long time,” he said. “You may think I look young, but underneath this façade is an old fart.”

After Curry left the stage, Adams ended the set with “Please Forgive Me,” a slow rock ballad from 1993.

He made a brief stop on the floor to hug his friend Curry good-bye. He then headed out to his tour bus, where two pies of New Haven pizza were waiting for him.

Monday, May 5, 2008

What's in a name?

When people hear that my name is Viktoria, they say “What’s your secret?”

At first, I tried to think of funny answers. Then I started saying, “Well, if I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore.”

If I get mad, I tell them “It’s Viktoria with a K,” so I won’t be associated with the fancy lingerie store.

It’s getting old fast. But I guess it’s just something you have to deal with when you are named after a Swedish crown princess.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

When people you know get into trouble

Every reporter – at some point or other – ends up writing about someone they know.

It doesn’t matter if you cover a small town or a big city, if you work in the town where you grew up or in a town thousands of miles away from home... Sooner or later, someone you know will be the subject of a story, and you will be the only one around to write it.

E.J. was an eager man in his early 30s who came to the paper a few months after I had started working there. He used to be involved with the weekend section many years ago, he said, when it was big and colorful and when reporters and photographers actually covered rock concerts and area shows on a regular basis.

Our editor let E.J. come back to help out once a week with club listings and a column about local bands and upcoming entertainment-related events.

It was great help for me, and E.J. was fun to be around. He came in for a few hours, did his thing and then left.

A few months later, E.J. fell off the face of the earth. He had an accident at a construction site where he was working, and he never came back to us after that. Rumors said E.J. was using drugs to relieve his pain. I called his cell phone; his number had been disconnected.

Every so often, we would hear brief updates from our court reporter, T.
“E.J. was in court today,” she would say, or “E.J. is in trouble again.”
E.J.’s mom supposedly filed complaints against him after he allegedly stole thousands of dollars from her to support his habit.

Last night, I called reporter D. while he was at the local police station to ask him to look something up.

“Eh… Viktoria?” he said, cautiously. “There was a big drug bust Friday night.”

“Great!” I said. “Give me some information so I can throw it up on our web site.”

He gave me the name, age and charges. It was E.J.

Extreme weather

Hearing about recent tornados and cyclones in the world, I started thinking about extreme weather.

Last year, we had a huge hail storm here in Connecticut (see Albie's mom's photo above). We also had about a week's worth of rain in a couple of days, which caused severe flooding for a few hours (see my crappy photo from a local gas station located next to a hill).

Then everything dried up and went back to normal.

The funny thing is, the East Coast of the United States isn't even that extreme. The weather here is considered "normal" - we have four seasons with sun, rain, wind and snow. It's when you live in the South or the Midwest you have to worry about storms that will blow the roof off your house.

A few years ago, the people in Florida were hit with three tornados within a few months. Many went back to their homes after the first one and started cleaning up the mess, just to have to evacuate again a few weeks later.

Well, that was all before Hurricane Katrina. Now storms are taken a bit more seriously.

But when will we ever learn to listen to nature? I am sure the increase in severe weather has to do with man's activities on Earth. Until we learn to live in peace with nature, she will always punish us for what we have done.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Black people and skin cancer

“Do black people get skin cancer?”

The question wasn’t at all meant to be racist; it was asked out of curiosity. Still, it created an awkward silence as three pale Caucasians stared at three black people across the dinner table.

Almost 20 seconds went by.

“Eh, no, I don’t think it’s very common,” a tall, well-built black man finally answered. “Some people, you know, just react differently to the sun, I guess.”

Up until that point, I hadn’t even focused on the fact that three of my fellow workers were black. I was the only girl, and I suddenly felt very white.

It is a strange thing with race, really. In the U.S., you see people with a variety of skin color, hair color, height and weight. It is probably the most diverse nation in the world. Yet it wasn’t until the late 1960s that African-Americans were allowed “privileges” like voting and going to the same university as the white man down the street.

When I first applied to Westchester Community College, I was shocked to find out that I was asked to enter my race on the application form.

After dismissing Native American, Asian, Hispanic and African-American as options, I was finally left with “Caucasian,” and thought for a while about checking that box. Then I saw the small disclaimer about this being a voluntary step of the process and left the whole section blank.

“It’s for diversity purposes,” I was told.

Which means that schools now have to keep track of the students it accepts to say “20 percent of our student body is Hispanic” or “More than half of our students are female!” It also means that those in a “minority group” sometimes get accepted to college based on their race or gender, because it makes the school look better.

“But that’s illegal!” someone says. “That’s discrimination!”

It is and that’s true, but how will anyone ever prove it? As so many things in this country, this issue has been taken from one extreme to the other.

The ultimate movie experience

A few hours into my work day, my boyfriend called and said "is this going to be an early or late night?"

"Pretty late," I said. "Why?"

"I want to go to the movies," he said. " 'Iron Man' is playing at 12:30 (a.m.)."

I had no idea what he was talking about, but we haven't been to the movies in forever, so I was all for it.

Throughout the evening, Albie helped me from home by writing an editorial and looking over a story so I would get done on time. I then rushed out and drove to the mall closest to our house - about 20 minutes from work.

Of course, he wasn't there when I got there. So I had fun looking over the edge of a railing to three floors below be. The mall - situated on two separate floors below the multi-plex theater -was closed, but someone was in the glass elevator and a man was cleaning the floor on the lowest level.

Albie got the tickets and said "let's get some snacks" before I had a chance to pull out the fruit snacks I had brought with me from the office vending machine.

Popcorn is a must, of course, when you are watching a movie.
"I want nachos," I said, determined to add some melted cheese to my day.

Being the good boyfriend he is, Albie of course supplied me with nachos as well as a large bottle of water.

"What exactly is 'Iron Man'?" I asked as we stood in line, waiting to pay for our snacks.
Albie told me the movie is based on a comic book.
"Oh, great," I said and sighed. "One of those."

He convinced me the movie is "supposed to be good" and we entered the theater just in time to see the last preview before our featured presenation.

The movie actually wasn't bad. It had Gwyneth Paltrow in it, and I like her. There were some war scenes and bombs and explosions to please the guys in the audience. Despite that, the movie felt like a better and more realistic version of "Spider-Man."

Here are some other movies coming out soon here, that I am eagerly awaiting:
The new Indiana Jones movie was filmed in part in Connecticut. Somewhere in New Haven, actually. I assume because of Yale University, but I haven't read up on my Indy trivia.
I didn't see the last movie based on M. Night Shyamalan's book "Lady in the Water," but I heard it was pretty awful. "The Happening" seems a lot better, and one that I will consider.
Now, after a long evening of page design, stories from Costa Rica, nachos with melted cheese and a trip to Stark Industries, it is time to say goodnight.

Friday, May 2, 2008

I'm not the only one...

Our management company has apparently been inspired by spring as well... These were just planted the other day. I saw them one afternoon when driving to work.

Ideas for my garden

Thank you to those who have e-mailed me or commented here about gardening ideas. I've looked at some pictures and descriptions of plants, and these are some that I would really like to get (eventually).