Something Swedish


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Feeling Helpless Abroad: Losing a Loved One

am and me crop 2I know she hasn’t been healthy enough to read my last few posts, but it hurts to write my first post KNOWING she CAN’T read it and comment. My most loyal follower, my most active commenter,  my biggest supporter, my most frequent Skype buddy, my Aunt Maria (Some might recognize her comments signed as “Aunty Ree”). I won’t get too personal, except to say that we were making up for lost time when her time was cut short yesterday. Moving to Sweden brought us closer together, closer than anyone else over the past two years. And I am thankful for that.

Moving to Sweden also means not being there. For any of it. The good or the bad: bridal parties, baby showers, funerals, weddings. I can’t be there to hug a friend who needs comfort, or wildly jump up and down with a friend who just found out she’s pregnant. I can’t be there for my cousins graduation, or my uncles operation. I couldn’t be there to help anyone affected by Hurricane Sandy. I can’t help my besty find the perfect wedding dress, and I can’t meet my brothers new girlfriend (if/when there is one). I can’t say my good byes in person, and I can’t share the still silence of sorrow with my family. I won’t be there to smile, laugh, and share stories after the wake with my family to celebrate her life, as I know that’s what she would want us to do.

Despite which occasion it may be, it’s hard not being there sometimes – whether for good or bad. I’m not really one sensitive to things like homesickness, but being a bit bitter about missing out on time and experiences with people I love and care about is something that hits me now and again. This time harder than others. That’s part of moving around the world though, it’s a package deal – experiencing a new side of life while missing out on experiences in the life you kinda left behind.

It’s not always/only these big occasions and experiences, but the small every day things too – the things you don’t even know or realize you’re missing out on, or the things you would be glad you missed.

In a huge way I’m thankful I moved to Sweden; not only to start my life with someone I love in a beautiful, new, and exciting country with new opportunities,  but because moving here did, in fact, bring me CLOSER to many people – more phone calls, emails, Skype video calls – despite the distance or time difference. Keeping in touch and staying in the loop is a delicate balancing act – here and there, old and new. She was one of my “anchors”  (of which I think I have a solid ten) that made me feel like I was still back home, living in a town not too far away.

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Thank you for keeping me connected and always helping me stay positive. I’ll miss your stories, advice, and you Skyping me first thing when you wake up, while I eat lunch – sometimes for hours. I’m happy we got to spend time with you right before you went away. Thank you for the memories. I wish i hadn’t missed your call last week…I wonder how you were feeling and what you would have said. I’m sorry I can’t be there now, but I know you’ll be here whenever I need you most.

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Someone, Somewhere, Something: A Transcontinental Love Story.

(Written a year and a half ago, never posted, newly updated. Happy 2 year Anniversary!)

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Everyone has a different form of love, success, opportunity, or happiness that they don’t even realize they need or want. Something that completes you. Sometimes that “something” is a “someone,” or even a “somewhere.” Mine turned out to be both, my “Something Swedish” you can say.

Five years ago I met my “someone,” in a somewhat strange way, having only spoken through Skype and video games, proving that the world is truly a small place. It was the first time he stepped foot in a plane when he traveled 3,800 miles across the Atlantic ocean to meet me in New York City, a long way away from Sweden.

I was expecting to meet “someone,” unaware he’d introduce me to two “somewheres” – one of which was in my backyard my whole life, unexplored. The other, on the other side of the world.

I learned that you don’t need to go far to experience something, or someplace. Being a tour guide in my own city opened my eyes to where I live. Known as ‘The Big Apple,’ New York City has something for everyone (who knew?) When growing up in New York it’s easy to overlook all of the sites, attractions, culture, and history around you and at your fingertips, not recognizing why millions of tourists flock to the annoyingly crowded area of Times Square every year. You don’t understand why people want to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge when you can simply take the train. We hatched an “attack” plan of how to see/do as much as possible in just one week. I learned that there are three kinds of tourists: the sight seers, the shoppers, and the museums goers.

It turns out my Swedish guest was very excited to see the museums. I had a “museum goer” on my hands and a museum goer I was not. (Since then we’ve become more of sight seers and shoppers, but still enjoy a good museum from time to time) First I brought him to a childhood classic; The Museum of Natural History, a staple for N.Y.C. school kids to learn about science, history, animals, and geology through impressively gigantic exhibits – the most memorable being the model 94-foot blue whale dangling from the ceiling and being greeted by the fossilized T-Rex in the lobby.

A tourist in my own backyard, I wondered how I’ve lived in New York City my whole life and never even seen the famous white curves of The Guggenheim.

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The Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) greeted us with contemporary exhibitions of photography, film, architecture, typography, and design. The Cloisters showcased a collection of European sculptures, tapestries, paintings, statues, gardens, stained glass, and architecture from the 12th -15th centuries.

We were drawn to the bright lights of Times Square where we instantly regretted not preparing and buying Broadway tickets ahead of time, knowing it is a New York experience that will be cherished for a lifetime. We instead went to an off Broadway rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelve Night, leaving us thirsty for more. (Making sure never to make that mistake again, seeing something every visit: Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Chicago, Sleep No More) Instead we soaked in our surroundings: the huge stores and flashing lights, and the overwhelming amount of people walking, selling, yelling, performing, and painting on the streets.

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Seeing Manhattan together let me see it for the first time, I learned my way around my own city. We taught each other how to navigate the named streets and the subway system. I took him downtown, away from the large crowds into the comfort of Little Italy and China Town where we ate cannolis and Chinese food. We took a tour boat around Manhattan, passing by the iconic Statue of Liberty.

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I showed him the massive buildings in the financial district, whose archways were built for giants, we rubbed the famous balls of the charging bull, explored the oldest church, solemnly soaked in the wreck of the ground zero work site, and then walked through an illumination of blue lights sparkling against the water along the southern tip of Manhattan at Battery Park.

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We reached new heights in New York. We might not have climbed to the crown of the Statue of Liberty, but we did see the famous view from the iconic Empire State building (and the next year finding the even more breathtaking view from Rockefeller Center). A horse and carriage ride through Central Park was the perfect end of the evening.

We even escaped the grasp of Manhattan. Something that most tourists don’t get to do, know to do, or care to do. He taught me how to see Manhattan and I taught him that there was more to New York City than the “city”. We walked across the Brooklyn bridge, bringing us to where the most beautiful Manhattan skyline photos are taken.

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I took him off the beaten tourist path and showed him my version of NYC. We went to the Queens botanical garden and Flushing Meadow Park, were the worlds fair was held in 1939 and 1964. We went to Coney Island, known for its amusement parks (with the oldest wooden roller coaster in the U.S., the Cyclone, and the iconic Wonder Wheel),

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walked along the famous boardwalk, and enjoyed the food vendors, aquarium, beach, and minor league baseball. We ate traditional Coney Island food: Nathan’s hot dogs, sausage and peppers, and Italian ices followed up by his first American baseball game. (Which has since  become a tradition)

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Five months later it was my turn to travel to his world, to be the real tourist instead of the clueless tour guide. Traveling the world never even crossed my mind. Sure, I always wanted to trace back the history of my heritage in Ireland, Scotland, Germany, France, and Italy, but it seemed like nothing more than a childhood dream – “something” other people do. I never thought there would be a “somewhere” other than New York City.

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I took the same 10 hour flight and finally landed in Sweden to experience my first time in another country. I didn’t know much about many other countries, let alone Sweden, where as he knew a lot about New York from school, movies, and television. I didn’t know what to expect or how to act. To my relief most Swedes speak English extremely well.

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My first impression was of how beautiful everything around me was. Flying into Gothenburg, the second largest city in Sweden, felt very comfortable and pleasant. It was a mix of both fast and slow pace, just the right amount of hustle and bustle. When I saw the trolleys chugging along the cobblestone streets I knew I wasn’t in New York anymore. Everything was picturesque – the carefully crafted architecture of each beautiful and impressive building, the churches, the stained glass, the abundance of fountains and statues.

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It felt empowering to be amongst a place so rich in culture, tradition, and history. I fell in love. Not only with him, not only with Sweden, but with traveling and soaking in another country and its culture – with him. It was my “something” – both Someone and Somewhere. I enjoyed Sweden without feeling the need to have a packed site-seeing schedule. In that way, my trip to Sweden was different than his trip to NYC. Just being there was enough. I didn’t know whether to soak it all in and enjoy the moment or take a lot of photos to make the moments last forever.

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We casually strolled the streets, shopped in the stores, and ate Swedish food. When people ask what I did in Sweden I replied “nothing.” Everyone wanted to know about the sites, the museums, what I did and saw, and were disappointed by my lack of being a tourist. They wanted to vicariously travel through me but I didn’t feel the need to rush and experience every historical or cultural crevasse of Sweden. Maybe I sensed that I was the fourth type of tourist; not a sight seer, shopper, or museum goer- but a “stayer.” I was the kind of tourist that wasn’t in a rush because I knew I would be back and would have all the time in the world.

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Since then I have enjoyed a Swedish Midsummer meal highlighted by pickled herring, new potatoes, and fresh strawberries. Then I experienced the festivities as people dance around a maypole to special songs about frogs and summer while wearing traditional clothing and a crown of flowers on their head. I’ve endured through the harsh winters when there’s only 6 hours of daylight, as well as basked in delight during the 18 hour days of summer.

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Together we have conquered the tallest wooden roller coaster in Sweden as well as visited the museum with the most Scandinavian art. I’ve adapted to stores being closed on Sundays and buying Swedish groceries. I’ve learned to eat thin Swedish pizza with a knife and fork. I have grown accustomed to taking my shoes off at the doorway of every home and have gotten used to open faced sandwiches for breakfast. I’ve seen little kids wearing witches hats to celebrate Easter and have eaten the Swedish specialty of Lutefisk for Christmas dinner. I saw that the stereotype that every Swede is a blonde bombshell with blue eyes is not true, it is actually a diverse country.

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We’ve been aboard the world’s largest operational wooden sailing vessel, a replica which originally sank in the 18th century. We learned all about the history of Älvsborg, a fortress castle built to protect Göteborg in the 17th century, then pretended to get shot out of one if its many cannons.

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I now know my way around a town in Sweden, where as six years ago I hardly knew the country existed. I have favorite places to eat and favorite Swedish foods. I’m learning the Swedish language, going to Swedish school, making Swedish friends, and working at Swedish places.542887_10151033620320628_1458500220_n

I have seen the red and white houses sprinkled through out the beautiful country side, such as is classically depicted in any story about Sweden. I’ve celebrated “Fat Tuesday” by eating a decadent creamy pastry with almond paste called “Semla.” We live in a town filled with rich history such as viking naval battles, valiant struggles between Sweden and Denmark, and a fire that destroyed almost everything. I’ve heard the cheerful drinking songs that Swedes sing before taking the first sip of liquor, and I love to say “Skål” in Sweden instead of “Cheers” while drinking snaps at every holiday dinner.

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I loved Sweden the first time I stepped foot there even though I didn’t do anything touristy or exciting. I couldn’t explain that it was the day-to-day life that I enjoyed. Maybe it’s because I was meant to get married in Sweden on a sunny day that lasted 18 hours with perfectly “lagom” weather. It’s because I was meant to move here, meet new people, gain the courage to socialize, and adapt.

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Since his first visit in New York, my “someone” and I traveled back and forth between our two “somewheres” twice a year for three years, experiencing something new each time. We have explored and experienced each place together. Not only do I now feel more comfortable in Sweden, but NYC is now a home away from home for him.  We can compare our experiences and each  country more and more each time we travel back and forth. Each time is like a vacation and visiting home all wrapped in one.

It doesn’t matter if you are looking to see the world, given a job opportunity far from home, if you want to help the less fortunate, fulfill a bucket list, or maybe you are following love. Everyone needs to find their “someone,” “something” and/or “someplace” which sometimes means taking a leap of faith.

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America’s Influence on Sweden – Valentine’s Day

It’s strange for a country with such old history, rich culture, strong traditions, and festive holidays to adapt a “new” holiday. Especially from such a young country. But the heart wants what the heart wants I suppose! There’s nothing new about Saint Valentines Day, the origin dates back to Ancient Rome- however the way we celebrate it now is reasonably new. It has twisted and changed throughout history which has left Sweden only to have recently started to celebrate the holiday as we know it. A day for lovers – when flowers, candies and cards represent the romance and emotion of a relationship. It wasn’t until around the 1980’s that the theme of heart shaped chocolates, roses, and cupids invaded Sweden.

A lot of people despise this holiday because they believe Valentines Day was only invented for consumerism… in Sweden that is actually how it was first introduced. How did Valentines Day start in Sweden? By selling flowers. In the 1960’s it was flower-sellers that tried to push the idea of Valentines Day, mimicking the American pitch in an effort to boost sales. The bait didn’t take for quite some years, as it has only become popular and more regularly celebrated in the 1980’s and is not considered an official holiday. The essence of Valentines Day is the same as in America but on a much smaller scale from what I can tell. Here in Sweden it is called “alla hjärtans dag,” which means “All Hearts Day,” although it is still otherwise known and sometimes advertised as Valentines day.

Despite spreading to Sweden because of a sales pitch, Valentine’s Day is much more than that, historically and culturally. It does not originate from American Greeting card companies, and represents more than consumerism, even if that might be a big part of it. Saint Valentines Day is named after a Christian priest in Rome who was buried on February 14th, it is said that when the law forbid all marriages he secretly performed the ceremonies. It wasn’t until 1382 that Saint Valentine was romanticized in a poem in England by Chaucer:

For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.

“For this was Saint Valentine’s Day
when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”

Since this poem, Valentine’s Day became more common in literature as a symbol for love and a day for romance. Over the next centuries there are a few citations from different poets and authors mentioning “Valentine” in a romantic setting or  to celebrate a marriage. This context lead to dedicated sentimental writings, hand written love notes being exchanged on February 14th. In the early 19th century cards started to become manufactured and mass produced. It wasn’t until the 20th century that cards were joined by chocolates and flowers as a token of affection and even later when jewelery became part of the mix. The original Valentine’s were simply hand written notes, a pure way to express and share emotion.

It’s nice to have learned about the origins of Valentines Day, I no longer feel tainted by everyone’s negative vibes from the over consumerism. We might not need a day to celebrate our love, but it’s nice to have one, at least a day to appreciate someone special. Every day is a celebration, today was just a little more so.

In New York you are aware of Valentines day months in advance. The decorations, advertisements, teddy bears and heart shaped chocolates start appearing as soon as the Christmas decorations are gone in early/mid January. It’s a big deal and expectations are high.  You can’t go into a store without  an overwhelming sea of red and pink clouding your judgement.

While most Swede’s tend to celebrate in some way or form – Valentine’s Day seems to be easily overlooked here. Which is reasonable since it is so “new” and not pushed as hard. I scoured the all the store windows in town looking for sign, displays, and decorations, I was surprised by the small amount I found:

There was a nice display at one of the florists (Photo didn’t come out), and I admittedly didn’t feel like walking to the bakery. However, I think I covered all other bases. A small assortment of cards, some selection of heart shaped candies and cookies, a bunch of small-medium plushies, a few books, and some other items because they were red or pink. There’s a lack of decoration and the signs on the windows were so small I nearly missed them despite being on the hunt for anything red, pink, or in the shape of a heart.

So, despite being a holiday that began with selling flowers, Valentine’s Day sales in Sweden pales in comparison to the amount of products dedicated to it in America where most stores pounce on the opportunity and are loaded with Valentine’s Day themed merchandise, or a sale in name of the festivities. However, I read that sales for cosmetics, perfumes, jewelery, etc for Valentine’s Day is second only to Mothers day. So, it seems Swede’s might not buy as much into the cute stuffed animals, cards, and flowers, but they still know how to shower their loved ones in affection in some way, be it presents, pastries, or a nice dinner.

This was my first Valentine’s Day in Sweden, our first Valentines Day together in person, and our first Valentine’s Day as a married couple!

No pressure, right? I’ve never fallen heavy into the Valentine’s Day hype, but this year was special. And I’m proud to say that hubby exceeded my expectations and managed to surprise me (I love surprises!)

I planned on starting the day by cooking hubby breakfast early in the morning but he woke up earlier and beat me to it! He served me crepes with strawberry jam and yogurt. I guess I’ll have to use my  heart shaped cookie cutters on cookies soon instead of eggs like I had intended (and practiced!)-

Then we had lunch at a restaurant we haven’t gone to before and had a nice meal before he went to work. While he was at work I made him a small card, prepped a few candles, a carafe of red lingon berry juice with special Valentine’s Day heart shaped cookies garnished with cranberries and a bowl of heart shaped snacks we often enjoy.

When hubby came home I was met at the door with flowers he picked out, knowing that I hate roses. (They are supposed to symbolize love but I think they are too widely used, a standard flower with no thought) The flowers he chose were ones we used used at our wedding. He said the florist was packed and finding anything aside from a rose was difficult today. I appreciate the sentiment, effort, and thought more than any rose.

After 10 minutes of not being allowed near the kitchen I was lead with my eyes closed to a dark room only illuminated by three candles and a table filled with cheeses, meat, crackers, fresh veggies, and a marinated artichoke/olive/pepper mix with a bottle of wine.  Dessert was chocolate fondue with cut up strawberries, bananas, and pineapples to dip. Yum!

Best Valentines Day ever. Thank you hunny. Jag älskar dig!

Happy Valentine’s Day Everyone! ~ Glad alla hjärtans dag allihopa!



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What a Love-ly Town!: Vilken härlig stadsdel!

Yesterday I mentioned that the hubby and I ventured to the mall. To get there we had to take a bus, and on the way to that bus I saw something. A different bus. A Bus Called Love.

No, really! The destination read: “Kärleken”

Kärlek means “love” in Swedish so I did a double take and said, “Lovin’“! Which is not what it says, but what it looked like to me. The “en” at the end makes it “The Love” which is a neighborhood in Sweden. I found this cute and amazing and thought of the McDonalds slogan, “I’m Lovin’ it” along with McLovin’ and started asking, “Where is THE LOVE!?” It really wasn’t as funny as I thought in that moment but it made me wonder what other neighborhoods or street names are out there that translates into something funny, weird, inappropriate, or interesting in English? Can anyone think of any?

A photo taken that same day, I did not notice the coincidence until I started writing this post: