Sunday, December 31, 2006

Mellandagarna continue...

Back to what we've been up to over the "mellandagarna" (the middle days - the days between Christmas and New Year's)...

Friday, we had a "Gröt lunch" (porridge lunch) here at the house for select relatives. Not really select - just the ones who felt like getting out in the dreary cold and travel either by train or car to see me and the family. It ended up being a lot of my favorite (not that I have any) relatives such as Lisa with family, Rebecka with boyfriend Anders, Tomas & Ulrika with family, Anders & Runa with sons, and of course aunt Kina (she always brings presents).

It was nice to see their smiling faces and catch up since last time. The gröt was obviously fantastic and my mother pulled off another perfect get-together - as always.

Saturday, we went to visit David, Emily, Ester and Levi in their home in Bagarmossen. We ate a lovely lunch, played hide-and-seek and enjoyed good conversation.

Like father, like son...

Then it was time to get dressed and head down toward the subway station to catch a ride into "Gamla Stan" (Old Town). There we wandered around in drizzling rain, popping into a little nick-knack store here, taking a little coffee break there, and just having a grand time. I found several little treasures, including a little red, wooden pig candle holder that greatly resembled a candle holder that we grew up with each Christmas. I just *had* to buy it!

We eventually made our way back to the subway and started walking back to the apartment. Ester was a little tired and cranky, so we ended up singing songs as per her wishes all the way home to stop the crying. I never realized how hard it is to sing and push a stroller up hills at the same time... I am all the more impressed with Madonna and the way she can sing and dance around on the stage like she does.

Later that evening, I went with my brother Tobias to see "The Holiday" - it is sooooo cute! Definitely will buy the DVD when it comes out. Highly recommend it. It was a nice time.

Whew - I feel like that is a lot of activity and I'm not even done yet...

This morning I sang again at my parents' church with Miriam and Rebecka. It was a lot of fun. Rebecka and I both have the performance gene and have a certain craving to be on "stage". Not that the church podium should be compared with a stage, but it is still a beautiful feeling of singing and playing for the enjoyment/happiness of other people that is just breath-taking. I love every second of it.

Additional New Year's resolutions: Sing and play more, take voice lessons, buy a guitar (whew - my list is getting so massive!)...

Less than 24 hours left here now... We're having a small, intimate New Year's party at home tonight. Need to go shopping for that. Need to pack. Need to get a New Year's letter out to friends and family. Need to stop blogging.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Another Tabita!

Fredrik (potential bro-in-law) came back from a personal retreat at a monastery yesterday. The biggest news from his time there (for me) is that there was a monastery dog (Jack Russel Terrier) named Tabita. Apparently, it had a little jacket that had T-A-B-I-T-A written in big letters. He found it rather amusing...

I always thought that my name was a little weird and kind of annoying. Annoying in the sense that I always have to spell it out for any new person that has to write it down for some reason. I will never forget my week in high school:

We had recently moved to Värnamo and I had applied to the Economics program. The first day of school, all first year students were supposed to gather in the large auditorium to hear their class assignment. They called the name of each class and the names of all the students that were supposed to be in that class. They called the two economics classes, but not me. In fact, they called all the classes, but not me. At the end of the ordeal, I was sitting alone in the middle of the auditorium with only the principal and a couple of administrative people left on the stage. At this time, I was extremely shy with new people and mostly felt like running out the back doors and never coming back... but I wobbled down the stairs (the big kind, where you almost have to take two steps on each stair, but not quite) and reported the error. It seems all the class lists had been printed before my application processed completely. They eventually figured out in which class I was supposed to belong (E1B) and a nice lady escorted me to my homeroom.

When I entered the classroom, 30 curious 16-year-olds switched their attention away from the teacher and turned to stare at me. Uncomfortable! I quickly slid into an empty seat toward the front and waited for the next steps. The teacher asked for my name and instead of waiting for the "How do you spell that?" question, I decided to spell out my name immediately, so I replied with a rather loud and exasperated voice:

"Tabita, T-A-B-I-T-A."

Whew - did I hear about that one for at least a year from my classmates. Great first impression... That's me!

These days I have learned to appreciate the uniqueness of my name, the beautiful story that goes along with it (see Bible - Letter of Acts), and the fact that the only other creature I know of with this name is a Jack Russel Terrier at a Swedish Monastery.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Sophie News

We're missing Sophie.

She is spending Christmas with a very nice family in Nashville. They occasionally send us little notes to tell us how she's doing. Here is an excerpt:

"She loves our back yard and standing like she's king of the world on top of the picnic table. It's kinda funny to see her up there! We've got lots of dogs around us and she doesn't even bark at them any more. So I know that means shes settled."

Rebecka also received news that Sophie has crossed the state line! Yes - the other day, she ventured all the way into Kentucky with her temporary foster family.

Last night, Todd and I were speculating what Sophie might be thinking at this point. She probably thinks that she simply has a new, cool family. We're not even sure she'll want to come back to our house... There are five people to love on her in the current home - at our house there are just three - and one of them (me) is gone half the time.

Well, hopefully she'll still remember us and jump for joy when she sees us, just as we're secretly hoping and imagining.

Sophie is so cool...

Thursday, December 28, 2006

A Swedish Runner!

On our run today, Todd and I saw another runner! We have been wondering during our runs why we are not bumping into Swedish people who share our affinity for the sport. Perhaps because it's too cold (!?!?!), or maybe they all have treadmills in their houses, or maybe they only run when they're late for the bus/train?

We have received curious stares (very discrete stares - we are in Sweden after all) as we run along "Storgatan" (Big Street), the main shopping street of the town. I think we stick out just a bit with our fancy shoes and running gear - but maybe just because we are running for recreation, not to serve a purpose (other than feeling great!)...

Anyway, I gave the man a runner's wave and for a second he had a mixture of confusion and pleasure on his face. Then he returned the gesture and went on his merry way. Todd and I looked at each other and I did a little jump of joy. Another Swedish runner!

They really do exist!

PS - Rebecka and I have been in our PJs for over 24 hours (except for above-mentioned run).


I am dreaming so much while here in Sweden on vacation. Or at least I am remembering my dreams. Before I came here, I can't remember the last dream I had and now they're vivid and occurring every night.

Maybe it's as simple as that my modified sleeping schedule here (never waking up before 8:30 or 9 AM) is allowing me to wake up right after REM sleep? Most days I am able to continue with the dream - if it is intriguing - in a half-awake state. I am sleeping more than I have in a long, long time, so I guess it makes sense that I would get the opportunity for more dreaming.

We have a dream group at church. I'm not sure what they do - it always sounded a little fishy to me. Maybe I should check it out - now that I actually remember some of my dreams. Or not - I'd rather spend valuable free-time singing in some choir. Anyway, it's actually quite interesting that many Christians (including myself) are so skeptical to dream interpretations and the like. It seems too "mystical," I suppose. The thing is that dreams have a fairly prominent role in the Bible:

Think about Joseph - he saved a whole nation (or two - in a way) with his dream about the skinny and fat cows. Although, he did get into a lot of trouble with this brothers with the dream about the bowing sheafs... And remember when God warned Joseph and Mary in a dream that they had to leave Bethlehem to avoid the slaughter? Good thing they paid attention to their dreams.

Perhaps it's time that I listen more to my dreams - when I do have the luxury of remembering them...

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Password Grumbles

Why in the world do financial institutions come up with stupid password rules like: "Can contain only numbers and letters from a-z"???

Do they not understand that passwords can be come so much more difficult to crack if you open up the spectrum of characters that are allowed? And financial institutions of all... It would be one thing if it was my neopets password (yes - I have one - a green elephant named Ganesh Green - not sure if it is still alive) or something like that, but my bank account!?!?!?

Anyway, just had to vent.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

God Fortsättning...

As I met my brother David today at Skansen, I struggled to find the correct Swedish greeting for the days following Christmas. He corrected me and said: "God Fortsättning." That's right - "Merry Continuation".

We are continuing to squeeze every bit of enjoyment out of this holiday season. Yesterday, 4/5 of the Åhlén siblings took the "stage" at the 11 AM Christmas Day service in Södertälje Baptist Church for a singing reunion. We sang several of our favorite Christmas songs, but the one that I want to linger on for just a second is "När Juldagsmorgon Glimmar" (When Christmas Morning Glistens). It is a beautiful traditional Swedish Christmas song that is best sung by young children with tender voices. I don't know how many times we have sung this song together, but I know the first time: Christmas morning in San Francisco, 1978. We were 4, 3, and 2 years old at the time and made plenty of old Swedes in the church cry that day.

Today, as previously mentioned, we met up with David's family to go to Skansen. This was their Christmas present to the extended family. We had a grand time listening to "Stjärngossar" (star boys) singing in a small cottage, watching Nordic animals like wolverines, wolves, and bobcats get their daily piece of meat, and feeling the warmth of the fires that were lit along our path. We also made a mandatory stop for a photo shoot at the very large "dalahästar":

These wooden horses are one of the trademarks of Sweden. Made in the province of "Dalarna," they are now sold everywhere in their traditional form (wooden, hand painted horses) as well as printed on shirts, aprons, and towels, in key chain form, napkin holders, and pretty much "you name it"...

We finished off our pleasant Skansen visit with a "fika" in a cozy cafe. A random man came and sat down at our table, since all other tables were full. It was strange and cool at the same time. I feel bad that we didn't really include him in our conversation - it isn't a very Swedish thing to talk to strangers. However, this is one of the "not-so-cool" Swedish traits that I wish I could shake. You can learn so many interesting things by talking to total strangers. Maybe I should include this in my very large list of New Year's resolutions: Make more conversation with total strangers. Anyway, we all had a fabulous time... especially Priscilla and Miriam:

Now we're back at home and it's time to watch one of the movies that Rebecka received for Christmas. It is an Astrid Lindgren book called "Bröderna Lejonhjärta" adopted for the screen. I haven't seen it in years and have a bad feeling that it will not seem quite as good as it did 15 years ago. We're so spoiled with the LOTR and Harry Potter movies. Maybe it will be refreshing...

Monday, December 25, 2006

God Jul!

Well, Christmas has come and gone. In a way. Like my sister Scilla expressed last night, it is a little bit of a letdown when all the gifts are given and received, the Christmas porridge eaten, and family members who live nearby have taken off to their homes. Then it's just a matter of starting the building up of the anticipation for next year.

Letdown or not, yesterday (Julafton) was a wonderful day filled with joy, love, harmony, and very good food. It will be a day to remember.

The morning was spent preparing for the big Christmas lunch. We were all put in charge of a dish. Todd peeled and cut potatoes for potatisgratäng, I was in charge of the fruit salad, my mom was in charge of most everything else, except for the red cabbage salad, which Fredrik lovingly prepared:

And the outcome was marvelous! Todd and I were quite pleased with ourselves that we managed not to cave in and get seconds. We'll eat the leftovers today instead. :)

Well, after partaking in the meal, those of us with kids (and those who are still kids at heart) went downstairs to the TV room to watch the traditional 3 PM Donald Duck Christmas. This is a tradition that has been with the Swedish people for over 40 years and has more viewers than any other Swedish television show. It aired in the US the first time in 1958 under the name From All of Us to All of You and consists of snippets from various Walt Disney movies. The best part about it this year was watching my little niece Ester watch it for the first time. She was ecstatic! They don't have a TV at home, so this was especially exciting.

After that little piece of tradition, it was time for afternoon treats (candy, gingerbread, glögg). All of a sudden, we realized we had visitors who had snuck into the house (well, they were spotted by Rebecka, but she kept their secret). It was my aunt and uncle from Linköping on their way up to their second home in the north. They stayed for some goodies, but moved on when we got yet another couple of visitors: It was Mr and Mrs Clause!

And thus began the handing out and opening of the Christmas gifts. It was a rowdy time with lots of happy yelps and big thank-you hugs. Imagine 13 fairly loud people opening presents all at once... But nobody was more excited than Rebecka. She got everything on her list...

...including the present of the year: the iPod nano. We gave some to my brothers and sisters and I got a special edition red with my name engraved on the back (Todd is a rockin' gift giver). I think everybody was pleased and very tired. When all the gifts had been unwrapped and we had collected all the paper from the floor and stuffed it into large plastic bags, it was time for the traditional Christmas porridge (risgryns gröt). There's nothing like it - especially when accompanied by some homemade bread and leftover ham from the lunch table.

I love Christmas in Sweden. Hopefully it won't be another 9 years before we make it over here in December again.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Getting ready...

People get ready
There's a train a-coming
You don't need no baggage
You just get on board
All you need is faith
To hear the diesels humming
Don't need no ticket
You just thank the lord

My last children's choir sang this one fine MLK weekend at our church. Somehow, that was one of my most favorite performances with that group - and in general.

It seemed an appropriate intro to this post about getting ready. Getting ready for Christmas, that is. It's really been pretty calm, because there are so many of us to share the work. A little cleaning yesterday, a little "marsipan" baking today - Rebecka's creations below:

Rebecka and her aunts made a doll house out of cardboard for little cousin Ester - it is an amazing work of art. The interior design spans several decades and there is even an accompanying outhouse (there was no room for a bathroom inside the house). They are also making a special gift for Scilla's boyfriend, Fredrick. I am discovering with age that homemade gifts are the sweetest.

Mormor wraps the last presents:

It is julafton (Christmas Eve) tomorrow after all. In our tradition, we distribute and open the presents on Christmas Eve. Rebecka was not quite sure about that to begin with, but now she seems to have embraced a tradition that allows her to open her presents 24 hours earlier than her friends.

Speaking of Christmas presents, I had a Christmas present nightmare last night. I am really excited about the presents I'm giving to my family this year and in the dream, I hid them in an easy-to-forget place and forgot to hand them out on Christmas Eve. I did not remember until we had already left my parents' house and it was not feasible to go back and get them. I was so disappointed!!! I really wanted to see the look on everyone's faces when they unwrapped the treasures. When I woke up, I was so relieved and happy that it was just a dream.

Todd and I are getting ready for the traditional "julbord" (Christmas lunch) by going for wintry long runs every day. Yesterday, we kind of lost track of the time and ended up being out there for almost 1 1/2 hours! It felt so good. As I told Todd: "So this is what it feels like to run when fully rested..." What a difference sleep makes.

Stockholm sunrise and sunset:
Sunrise: 8:45 AM
Sunset: 2:49 PM

Plenty of opportunity for sleep... Now that we're all ready for "dopparedan".

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Out on the Town

Todd and I went to Stockholm today. It rocked. First we took a bus out to Ersta Diakoni to check out Todd's place of research. It was really cozy (except apparently for the archives in the basement that I didn't get to see). We also got a nice view of Stockholm across the water.

Next, after a sprint to catch the bus back to "Slussen," we went to a very sophisticated used book store so that Todd could see if they had any new books of interest. I spent my time perusing a photography book about a Jewish getto during WWII. Not the most uplifting of reads, but a good reminder of the evil that occurred and how important it is that we as humans do not forget.

Lunch time!! Kebab Palace was the winner of the "Where do we eat?" game. It served up traditional kebabs (gyros) and Swedish-style pizza. Good times.

Ok - then came the fun part (no offense Todd) - shopping! I have been on a mission since Thanksgiving to find a cool pair of boots. We looked at a lot of different stores, but finally came back to the first one we visited, Mixage (see above). This store was awesome. It had shoes that actually fit my deformed feet - and more than one pair. There I found my new boots:

After a lot of shopping excitement and crowded stores, we eventually made it to Gamla Stan, which is a wonderful old part of Stockholm from the Middle Ages. There we browsed the Christmas market on the town square and enjoyed of some "fika" (Chai Tea and Cinnamon bun for me) at possibly the coziest cafe in town, "Kaffe Koppen."

We were welcomed home by a house the smelled of gingerbread baking and joy. Luckily, we made it back just in time to put the finishing touches on these traditional Swedish cookies, at which Rebecka and Miriam had already been hard at work:

It was a good day.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sibling QT

I'm spending quality time with my brothers and sisters... The other day, I went shopping a good portion of the day with David. Our main objective with the shopping trip was to find a new teddy bear "with a soul" for his daughter, Ester. Apparently, they had been searching near and far for the perfect bear. It took me approximately 3 1/2 minutes in the toy store, "Bra Lek". I'm so good! We also had standard Swedish pizza. Mmmmm.

Last night, I sang for a long time with my bro Tobias at the piano. At midnight we sand a traditional Swedish Christmas song called "Midnatt Råder" (Midnight Rules) and decided we should probably stop because everybody else had gone to bed. Then we chatted into the wee hours of the morning.

Today, I assisted my sister Miriam with her Christmas shopping. We were very efficient and found some time at the end to go to a traditional Swedish "konditori" for sweet delicacies. At first she suggested "Wayne's Coffee," which is like the Swedish Starbucks and I was like: "No way! It has to be an independent, cozy cafe without English words in the title." It was swell.

Now, there's just Priscilla left. And she's not here yet, so it's hard to have QT. But there's plenty of time. We should be OK.

Vacation is cool.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

feeling better...

After two days of sleep, Alka Seltzer, and Nyquil (I love US drugs), I actually feel much better. Still a little hung-over from the last dose of Nyquil (took it just a little too late last night), but good.

Need to jump in the shower so that I can get ready to leave with my mom, dad, and Becka to go see my grandma (farmor). She is 96. I can't wait to see her. She loves to cook and play Yatzee. We definitely have the Yatzee part in common.

Vacation has been great fun so far, despite the pesky cold. Have yet to see my sis Scilla and her love, Fredrick tho. They will join us on Friday. We'll have 13 people here for "julafton" (Christmas Eve). Good times (as my friend Katie would say).

Saturday, December 16, 2006

i'm sick...

Yep - that's what happens when you go on vacation.

I guess.

It's not cool.

I look like Rudolph.

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, that is.

At least they have Kleenex in Sweden now. The real thing.

My mom got me some nature medicine called "Esberitox". Hopefully it will help ease the drip.

Todd and Rebecka arrive tomorrow. Fun!

I just had a meal of salmon and pasta and vegetables and apple pie. It's good to be home.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Home Sweet Home

Yes - I made it back to the motherland (Sweden). Took a little detour to London for a quick business trip and now I'm in my bedroom in my parents' house in Järna.

It's late. I need to go to bed. But I just *have* to check my email first...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

chocolate mousse

I love chocolate mousse. It is so decadent and at the same time not that bad for you. I'm having some right now. Life is good.

Earlier, I engaged in two different relaxation activities: Singing and the piano and snuggling with Sophie. It was relaxing. I need all the relaxation I can get right now.

I'm in Nashville. That is kind of weird. You become kind of popular when you're never around. It's a bit overwhelming, in fact.
So, I came back on Thursday night and my regular house had turned into a beautiful house decorated for Christmas. It was clean and had two Christmas trees. My husband rocks. As does my daughter. As does my dog. In fact, Todd just said to Sophie that she has more personality than all the other people in this house. I think he's right...

Alright, time to get back to work.