Friday, November 9, 2012

The Hammer Man

Transportstyrelsen, the Swedish DMV, requires all cars to have a yearly check-up at the government-run garage called Bilprovningen, which means “car testing.” But Mats calls it “the hammer man,” because if you have rust under your car, they will test the body strength with a hammer. He had an orange 1988 Saab when I met him and he dreaded the yearly hammer man appointment, uncertain if it would pass inspection.

We recently had our appointment for the Prius. Being the second time, I knew the drill. I registered on the computer in a little closet of a room, then waited outside the grey warehouse building in my car. At exactly 9:50, the scheduled time for my appointment, my license plate number showed on the electronic sign so I knew which numbered door I should drive into when it opened.

I was told I could wait in the room next to the open garage where there are hot drinks, newspapers and magazines. I had tea and peeked in to see how my car was doing.

They checked the angle of the headlights (not too high, not too low), fluids, wheel alignment, that you have a spare tire and warning triangle in trunk, and a bunch of other things that are beyond my mechanical understanding.

Then they took the car for a fast spin around the parking to test the steering, brakes, and horn.

The man returned through the back door, my car now parked outside.

He said in Swedish that the car was approved, but I had a hard time hearing what he’d said. I explained I was learning Swedish and he said it a little slower so I could understand.

“Where do you come from?” he asked, still in Swedish.

U.S.A., Kalifornien,” I answered.

“Near Sacramento?” he asked.

“Well, about an hour away. Have you been there?”

“No,” he answered, “Three years ago I bought a car from there, had it shipped over.”

“We had our car shipped here from California too!” I exclaimed, not sure why this obscure link to home was so exciting.

“Yes,” he said, looking at the computer screen, “I see your car is foreign.”

“Was it an old car?” I asked. For those into classic cars, it’s popular to buy old American cars and have them shipped over.

“A 1950’s Chevrolet, from Sacramento.” He smiled proudly. “Only had two owners, and was barely driven. It’s in almost original condition.”

We talked about the car and then I thanked him as he handed me my keys and a computer printout - approval for one more year of driving here in Sweden. Until our next hammer man appointment.

I got into the car and adjusted the seat forward again for my short legs. The grey rainy day felt brighter with a little California connection. I started the car and the newscaster on the radio reported on American politics. I understood something about the polls showing a tight race between Obama and Romney. The rest of the discussion was lost under the sound of rain and my limited knowledge of political vocabulary in Swedish.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Enter Winter

November was not the best month for me. My sons and I had played passed the virus for a few months, and then I lost a dear uncle. I felt so far from home. The weather was dreary, and my California brain thought that spring must be right around the corner even though in reality, winter hadn't even begun. And I never realized how important a holiday Thanksgiving was, until I was away and there was no mention of it. So I flew home for a quick visit, which was just the warm and fuzzy fill-up I needed before winter here.

When I returned it was December; I'd forgotten how beautiful Lund is when Christmas takes over and there are gingerbread decorations and electric candles everywhere. Walking around town feels like you're living in "It's a Wonderful Life" as the decorations hanging over the cobblestone streets are likely the same as they were 75 years ago.

After last year's snow storms, our boys have been disappointed with just a few "dustings" this year.  The minute it started snowing, Lucas ran to get his sled. He didn't like hearing that he'd have to wait until there was more.

Candles, candles, and more candles. In the dark of December, light is very important. There are electric candles in almost all windows which gives a cozy feel as you walk around all bundled up. Each morning we would light the advent candles, which is just a part of December here. Along with practically every other Swede, my boys would watch the (non-religious) advent program on TV every morning or evening, and then open the accompanying calendar window. The kids would talk about it at school, and the adults would discuss whether or not this year's program is a good one. (It was.)

St. Lucia is celebrated on December 13th, and both boys' schools had celebrations where the kids dress up and sing Lucia and Christmas songs. (And then afterwards we all eat saffron buns, gingerbread cookies, clementine oranges, and drink hot cocoa, coffee and Swedish glögg.) Both boys chose to dress as gingerbread men.

Christmas is celebrated on the 24th, as it is in most of Europe, and Mats and I made our first turkey. Santa even visited, but the boys said, "That was Papa!"

For dessert, it was the traditional devouring of the gingerbread houses. (Hernik's was a home-made gluten-free gingerbread "present" as he'd requested.)

Each day it was important to get outside for some fresh air and to greet the sun (and a funny tree.)

And now it's January. The electric lights start to disappear from the windows, but the sunlight hours are longer. Today was the boys' first day back to school. I usually don't love January, but this year I look forward to my goals for the year, and greet 2012 with optimism.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Fall / Höst

The leaves have started to turn colors and fall, making crunching noises under our tires as we ride to and from school and work. The first few weeks of fall gave us beautiful sunny weather, reminiscent of Northern California autumns, and inspired us to do some exploring.

We took a mini road trip across Southern Sweden to the east coast town of Kivik (pronounced Shee-vik), home of the annual apple festival in the fall, and to many beach-goers in the summer. The weather was beautiful as we snacked at the beach and then made our way to the giant apple mural.  The mural is only up for a few weeks, or as long as the apples last, so I was really glad to be able to see it.

Afterwards we visited the Kiviks Musteri where they make apple juice, cider, jams, etc. At the end of the self-guided tour we were able to taste apple juice in a garden of apple trees. It reminded me of going wine tasting in the wine country, but instead we were juice tasting in the apple country! The Swedish apples are just becoming ripe now, and they're delicious. Fall is officially here.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Balloon Chasers

Recently Lucas had a friend's birthday party on a late Saturday afternoon. Mats left to get a pizza for dinner, which left Henrik and I home alone. We had a mission: to make a gluten-free, yeast-free pizza. But before we could get started, Mats called and told us to look outside- a hot air balloon was going by.

Henrik and I rushed out to our back yard in time to see a rainbow-colored balloon floating peacefully over the tree tops. We could hear the whoosh of the fire as the balloon was refilled. As it continued its journey past our house, Henrik had the idea to follow it to see where it lands. In a few seconds we were on our bikes - we were balloon chasing!

We went to the main bike path and followed it towards the balloon. To our right, a second balloon floated over an open field. It had an "M" on it.

We continued on the path, trying to keep up with the balloons. At times they looked like they were going to land, only to rise up again and continue on.

Finally, we had to bid farewell to the balloons.

We returned home to our pizza project, but Henrik and I had to fuel up on a bit of cereal first, after our big adventure.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Sommarstängt (Closed for Summer)

Well, it appears this blog closed for the summer. Which is fitting since it felt that Sweden (at least Lund) did the same. When almost the entire country has 5-6 weeks of vacation, they need to take it sometime. And that "sometime" seems to be July.

We went to the U.S. during this time for a wonderful visit, and even though we thought we had lots of time, we still didn't get to see everyone we'd hoped to. But we had a great visit, and the boys learned to swim in Nana's pool which was an amazing thing to witness. Henrik went from a floatie ring to jumping independently into the pool and swimming to us.

When we returned it was mid-July, and I thought, where did everyone go? I'd heard that Lund, a University town, was "sleepy" in the summers, but I'd never experienced a town fall asleep before. It felt like the little fairies from Sleeping Beauty had flown through the streets with their magic wands and put everyone to sleep. In general, everything shuts down, even summer camps, soccer, and swim lessons! And since no one is here, no one plans anything, and I think because of that, no one is here. The boys asked for play dates with their school friends, but everyone was on vacation.

There were a few people here and there, mostly tourists who I quickly discern now as they wear back packs and walk in couples or groups. I missed my friends and family from home, and being in an empty town didn't help. I needed to get re-grounded here, so I walked around quiet Lund, and took in her beauty. I noticed doorways I hadn't seen before, as I usually was rushing from one place to another.

And I loved the "Closed for Vacation" signs in the shop windows:

The University building sat quietly, waiting for her students to return:

And now, the students are returning. The bike racks are becoming full and the average age of the town is skewing closer to 19-23 or so. With everyone back I appreciate the quiet summer, but am glad the town is waking again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Biker Mama

One of the cool things about living in Lund is how bike-friendly the town is. It's often easier, and more fun of course, to ride your bike than to drive thanks to all the paths throughout town.

Here's a "parking lot" in downtown across from the Lund train station:

And another in Malmö:

My little legs are getting back in biking shape, just like they were 16 years ago or so, when I attended the University of Colorado at Boulder. Even so, everyone passes me here. A guy in flip-flops on a rusty bike with the chain half-on passes me. Ten year-old girls discussing the day's gossip pass me. Retired men and women with grandkids in the baby seat pass me. But I did have a moment of triumph the other day as I realized was about to pass someone. So what if she was about 80, and didn't seem to be in rush? (And it was down hill.)

Mats took a picture of me on the way back from dinner recently. My sister says I look like I'm in the Sound of Music, which made me laugh because that's what I think about everyone here.

Happy trails!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can't Sleep

I know what you're wondering - what does our backyard look like at 5 a.m.?

Well, wonder no further:

The sun rose a while ago, the birds are singing, and with an open window in the bedroom, it's impossible to sleep. Welcome to (almost) summer time in Southern Sweden!

I wish I could record the sound of the birds, because it's an amazing sound. Kind of like a rainforest, but with smaller birds. (Disclaimer: I've never actually been in a rainforest, but I did visit Rainforest Cafe once if that helps.)

The birds are quite busy here in Sweden, and don't seem to get much rest with all that chirping, flying, and whatever else it is they do in the daylight hours. Today, according to Google, the sun rose at 4:24 but I can attest that it was light earlier than that. The sun plans to set tonight around 10 p.m.

It's one of the best times to be in Sweden - the strawberries are out, the flowers are in full bloom, and the ice cream truck plays its melody through the streets at 8 p.m.

Welcome summer!

Monday, May 2, 2011


Today marks my 14th anniversary of visiting Sweden for the first time. I remember as the plane descended towards Malmö, and I saw the southern coast of Sweden and the rectangular green fields that glowed under an intense sun, complemented by dark grey clouds in the background.

Right now I sit in my garden, and the journey from then until now feels unbelievable. Then, a 23-year-old graduate student searching and waiting for "real life" to begin. Now, a 37-year-old mother and wife, looking forward to cultivating her career, and asking for guidance to do her part in creating a happy, healthy, and peaceful family, community and world.

Although warm sunny days are wonderful and needed, my favorite weather is sunny with rain clouds approaching. Everything is so much more intense- the colors, smells, and light. And I love rain, especially when it comes in the evening and leaves by morning, just like it did last night.

Here Henrik practices his sprints while rain clouds approach.