Monday, January 31, 2011

Northern Light

Whenever I told people I was moving to Sweden in December, I'd hear, "Be prepared for the dark!" Before we moved, I'd only been here in summer or late spring, so I didn't know what to expect.

We live in the very south of Sweden, where, in the dark of winter, the sun comes up around 8:30 a.m., and sets around 4:00 p.m. In the north of Sweden (above the Arctic Circle) it's more extreme, as they may only see an hour or so of light in a winter's day.

So many people warned me of the dark, that I wasn't prepared for the beautiful LIGHT. The snow helps, of course, but the sun's light is intense, blue-hued, and magical. I love it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Dreaming in Swedish

I've had the book Dreaming in Hindi on my to-be-read list for a while.

I was reminded of it a few weeks ago when I was upstairs working, and I heard Lucas talking in his sleep. Usually I can't understand anything he says, it's more a jumble of words. But this night, what he said was very clear: "Titta här!" (Look here!)

I stood looking at him, and lay my hand on his head. He's dreaming in Swedish! I thought.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Swedish Christmas - Dec. 24

For the past 13 years, Mats has celebrated Christmas with my family in California. We always talked about going to Sweden for Christmas, or having his family out to us, but it's a hard time to travel, and it never happened.

This year was the first time his family was all together for Christmas since he moved to the U.S., and the first time they got to celebrate with the kids.

We even hosted, for the first time ever. I always had romantic thoughts of cooking the turkey for the first time, but 1) I'm not much of a cook, and 2) we'd just moved in a few weeks before and I didn't want to hunt down a turkey in snowy Sweden. So instead, we had halibut. I think I'm happy to have that as a new tradition.

God Jul to all. And to all, a good night!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Gingerbread Story (Late Dec.)

Nothing says a Swedish Christmas like a gingerbread house. And a warm mug of glögg, a sweet spiced drink.

Lucas and Mats engineered this year's creation. When I asked what the squiggly one was, Mats said it was the Christmas snake, of course. The boys loved this, and we've since had many discussions about the Christmas snake.

On Christmas Eve, we watched the traditional Kalle Anka (Donald Duck) program while viewing our nice gingerbread house. The Christmas snake, which broke into two, peeks out from the chimney. (As an aside, click here for a funny essay on Slate about the Swedish Kalle Anka tradition.)

After dinner, destruction and dessert.

We'll revisit this tradition next year.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Homesick (Dec. 20 - 23)

First, I couldn’t figure out how to open our front door. Mats had rung the doorbell upon returning from an errand. Lucas and I tried unsuccessfully to open the door to let him in - turns out the lock must be turned right, the handle pushed down, and the door swings out, not in, like in our old house. Lucas and I laughed at ourselves, but I was feeling a little dumb.

Then I tried opening a window upstairs. Once open, it locked and I had to ask Mats for help closing it. I was starting to feel frustrated. And helpless.

It took us a few nights and referencing the manual to figure out how to run the dishwasher. And the washer and dryer. Then the dryer stopped working.

But the final banana peel that broke the camel's back was the garbage. Wanting to execute a simple domestic task independently, I donned three layers of clothing, gathered up the three bags, and headed to the little garbage shed which houses the bins for our complex. At first I couldn't open the door, but finally managed to clear the excess ice and get it open. Once inside I couldn’t understand the writing on the cans, or which ones were for what type of garbage (household trash, food scraps, etc.) One said something about toothbrushes, diapers and shoes. I didn’t understand.

I figured it out by opening each bin, but at this point, I lost it and went home to cry. I wanted to tap my shoes and head home - back where I could read the signs. And where I knew how to dispose our trash. And all our recycling went in the same bin.

It lasted a few days: feeling blue, missing friends and my old home. The day before Christmas Eve, Mats suggested I go to town. "I think it will be good for you," he said. I looked doubtful. "What about the snow storm?" I asked. He said it wasn't a storm, just snow. So off I trudged to the bus stop and rode 15 minutes into town, solo for the first time.

I browsed stores with glowing candles and gingerbread hearts hanging in the windows. Everyone was doing final holiday shopping, the excitement contagious. I bought halibut from the fish market for our Christmas dinner. I visited the Lund cathedral, one of my favorite places on earth, and watched the prayer candles burn in the globe-shaped candelabra.

Tired, but satisfied from my little adventure downtown, I was making my way to the bus station when I realized I’d forgotten lemons and limes. Looking for a store, I saw a 7-11 on the corner. I don’t know which was more surprising – the fact that they have corner 7-11s here, or its decent produce section.

I joked with the cashier that I was speaking Swenglish as I said, "tre lemons" and "fyra limes." He laughed, and switched effortlessly to English, just as all the other cashiers had done that day. I said God Jul and turned to leave, but an old woman in line blocked my path, grinning so I could see a missing front tooth. "Merry Christmas!" she gushed with a heavy accent, "Happy New Year!" She smiled at me, a foreigner in her country.

We never know how much something we say, or do, can affect another person. This woman, an angel for the day, made me feel welcomed. And glad to be here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Week One in Sweden Dec 12 - 18

After arriving and getting over jet lag, we enjoyed the snow that fell all week. The amount of snow is unbelievable, even to the Swedes who keep saying this isn't normal for the south of Sweden. The "worst winter in 100 years or more" is what we're hearing. Seeing as my boys have never lived in snow, they might argue it's the best winter in 100 years. Especially since they got to help Mats build this snow fort.

One morning after a snowy night, Henrik announced at the breakfast table that we wouldn't be able to leave the house because our door would be stuck. Mats and I smiled at each other, thinking, Where did he get that idea from? We assured him we'd be able to open the door.

Later, Mats tried to leave to go to the post office. The door wouldn't budge. Henrik was right- we were snowed in. Mats pushed the door enough to squeeze through and shovel us out. Mental note- listen to my boys when they come up with these random-seeming announcements!

Lucas and Henrik have enjoyed trying to make snow balls (the experts here say the snow is a bit too dry for this - who knew snow could be dry?)

We explained that snow angels can also be made with your face up.

And finally, good old-fashioned snow shoveling with hot chocolate afterward.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

December 14 - Day 3, Still Jet-Lagged

Lucas and Henrik's grandmother (Farmor) gave them a pocket advent calendar that was hanging in our house when we arrived. Each day, they open a new pocket to find a little gift. This is of course very exciting, but the problem is that Henrik has, for two days, woken me up in the middle of the night asking to open the calendar by saying "Number 13!" or "Number 14!" The first night, I let it slide because we were all jet lagged. This morning, I told him that the numbers don't get opened until morning time.

Today's prize - a mini pinball game.

Another prize - Mats had a second interview with a company here in Lund. Fingers crossed!

Saturday, January 1, 2011

December 13 - Day 2 and St. Lucia

St. Lucia is celebrated in Sweden, as well as many other countries. She is the patron saint of light, and Sweden celebrates by having processions with a girl that has been crowned as "Lucia." She has a wreath with candles on her head, and is followed by singing boys and girls. I loved this tradition so much, that for the last 4 years I've talked about it in my boys' U.S. preschool in December. I would dress up like Lucia, have the kids dress up too, and we would walk down a darkened hall so the other classes could see us. Since I was one of the few that knew the song, and my singing voice is not my best attribute, I would have an iPod with a speaker hanging around my neck, so it sounded like a beautiful choir was singing. This year was extra-special, knowing it would be my last time at the preschool.

But now, having just arrived here in Sweden, we'd been up since 2 a.m. with the boys, whose jet-lagged bodies were telling them it was time to eat, play, and roam. At 7 a.m., we turned on the TV and watched the Lucia procession. It was so wonderful to be here for this - our first Lucia day in Sweden.

Afterward, Henrik celebrated by taking a nap on the floor.

Next year, maybe we'll venture out to a concert performance. But this time, our first full day in Sweden, it was nice to stay in our warm house and look out at the snow.