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.