Tuesday, December 30, 2008

New light fixture

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

Sunday, December 28, 2008

After-holiday shopping

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Furry fur friends


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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 26, 2008

Inside the presents

As requested...

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

Thursday, December 25, 2008

The engagement


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SWEDISH CHRISTMAS: Hooray for the goat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas/God Jul

God Jul and Merry Christmas to everyone!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Baking in American/updated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 22, 2008

SWEDISH CHRISTMAS: Fourth of Advent

First published in Nordstjernan on Dec. 9, 2004:



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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Winter storms


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Press checks



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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 15, 2008

A weekend in the kitchen



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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 14, 2008

SWEDISH CHRISTMAS: Third of Advent



First published in Nordstjernan on Dec. 2, 2004:


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

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

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

Guess who?


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Present report

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Wordless Wednesday


The Ghost Cat.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

First snow of the year



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

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

SWEDISH CHRISTMAS: Second of Advent


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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Turning 30...

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

HAPPY 30th VIKTORIA!!
30 Reasons Why Viktoria Is a FANTASTIC FRIEND
(in no particular order)

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

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

Friday, December 5, 2008

Bedroom progress




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


Thursday, December 4, 2008

I'm a good girl


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

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shopping is exhausting


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

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

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

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

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