Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas in Sweden

Well, I guess I really took a real vacation this time. Even from blogging! Here is the synopsis of our fabulous Christmas:

12/22: I was sick as a dog and stayed in bed all day. Rebecka, Katie, Todd, Ester, and Scilla went to Stockholm and visited Junibacken and Gamla Stan. From what I can tell, they had a swell time.

12/23: I mustered up enough energy to make a day trip into Stockholm with Todd and Katie. We shopped, visited Gamla Stan (a must!), and had "fika" with my brother David and his familiy. Levi (just turned three) entertained everybody by singing in the streets.

12/24: Christmas Eve is the big day in Sweden. We spent most of the morning preparing for the traditional "julbord" (Christmas table). It includes meatballs and potato casserole, ribs, sausage, bread, cheese, and of course the Christmas ham. We ate together (all twelve of us!) and enjoyed. 3 PM is Disney time. This is the most sacred Christmas tradition in Sweden. We watch a one-hour special that has been on for decades. Later on, we delivered and received presents in a slightly chaotic manner. It was all good fun. The day ended with Christmas porridge ("risgrynsgröt") and some singing.

12/25: Relax... + Tour of Järna with my dad. We saw the areas which are inhabited mostly by "antroposofer." This is a group of people who are followers of Rudolf Steiner's teachings. He is the founder of the Waldorf method of teaching, for example. The have their Swedish headquarters in Järna and run a very successful mill called Saltåkvarn. They have very interesting architecture as well with smooth, round shapes.

12/26: Drop Katie at the airport (sad...) and then mostly relaxing. I've made quite a dent in Hot, Flat, and Crowded during vacation. I hope to finish it on the plane tomorrow.

12/27: Cleaning Day! After a week of lots and lots of people at the house, it was time for some thorough scrubbing. Todd and I went to down downstairs, while my parents took care of upstairs. We also had the insentive that we had lots of relatives coming the following day. I also went for a slightly chilly run outside. It was super refreshing. I can't remember the last time I didn't work out for more than a week. I guess that's what my body needed.

12/28: Sang in church in the morning. In the afternoon, relatives slowly trickled in until we reached 20+ people. It was nice to see aunts, uncles, cousins, and others. We ate good food and chatted into the evening.

12/29: All-day date with Todd in Stockholm. We took the commuter train into town and then the subway for our first errand. We dropped some used books at Proklama, which is a bookstore run by my aunt Margareta. I also found a book I had been looking for, so I bought it from her. We then proceeded to try to return a pair of boots I had bought the previous week. Unfortunately, there were no returns on sale items, so I had to pick out a different pair. Fortunately, I found a really awesome pair of sheepskin boots. (Yes!) Throughout our date, we fervently searched each store we passed for a special nut and chocolate snack mix we had discovered two years ago. Either nobody else realizes the beauty of this treat or it is so popular it is always out of stock. We also spent a good bit of time in a large bookstore, Akademibokhandeln. I found lots of interesting titles such as Complex Theory for a Sustainable Future, The ISIS Agreement, and The Final Energy Crisis. Todd found some Swedish books as well. We didn't buy any. Books are expensive in Sweden. We also enjoyed a very, very cozy fika at Kaffekoppen in Gamla Stan. This coffee shop is located on the edge of the main square of Gamla Stan and has the best atmosphere ever. We finished with some mandatory shopping at Åhléns before heading back on the train. Good day.

12/30: Rebecka and I took one of my parents' cars and drove west to Örebro to visit my sister Priscilla and her husband Fredrik. After getting a little lost, we finally reached their home. We enjoyed delicious soup a la Fredrik, downtown Örebro, fika, bowling, and picture sharing time with them. It was nice to get a glimpse into their life.

12/31: New Years Eve included an even colder (and longer) run - this time with Todd. He was dressed in only shorts and a sweatshirt. People looked at him kind of funny. It was an energizing run! The rest of the day was spent in preparation for the New Years Eve feast. We had an interesting mix of Mexican and Medeterranean. Something for everybody, to be sure. We enjoyed a new game called "När & Fjärran," which really exposed my lack of general knowledge, for example, aparently I don't know which president is on the one dollar bill :P (I'm OK with that). Todd and I won (thanks to Todd). We ended with a vigil led by sister Miriam and rocket watching from the balcony (documented by Rebecka on YouTube).

1/1: Wow, it's a new year! For some reason, this year I was really ready for the old year to be over and to get started on a fresh, new year. I think it has to do with all of the new ideas and thooughts I have been reading about and practicing, as well. Here are a few of my hopes/goals for 2009 and beyond:
  • I am not going to eat meat until the majority of US meat is produced in a ethical and sustainable manner.

  • I will focus on using what we already have and buy new things only when absolutely necessary.

  • We have established a giving goal and decided where most of the money is going to go month by month. (More on that in a separate post...)

  • Go for a daily walk with Rebecka and Sophie when I get home from work.

  • Learn more about sustainable business and especially the energy/efficiency business.

  • Continue to practice productivity techniques to free up time for music, reading, writing, and socializing.

There's much more, but that is a good sample. We spent most of the first day of 2009 with my brother David & fam in Bagarmossen. I recorded several tracks for the last song of my upcoming Swedish album with David on guitar and Miriam, Rebecka, and Todd on vocals. It's going to be great! It was nice to get to spend some quality time with them. We enjoyed spinage soup, reading, singing, washing dishes, and acting crazy.

1/2: Hey, that's today! And my entire family is waiting for me to finish this post so we can play one last game of När & Fjärran. We leave for the US tomorrow morning. See you then...

Happy New 2009!

Monday, December 22, 2008

We Made It!

This is the good news of the week. Despite all imaginable hurdles, we made it all the way to Sweden. We miraculously made our connection in Chicago (our luggage didn't, but that's OK) and almost missed our connection in Frankfurt due to sheer stupidity (or lack of knowledge, as Todd put it). For your reference, it takes an hour to get from one gate to another in Frankfurt.

What we learned (and already knew) is that we should never do another trip with two connections. Bad idea. Next time, we'll drive down to Chicago and catch a direct flight to Stockholm. I don't care if it is a bit more expensive.

Anyway, now I am down with a bad cold (typical vacation fare) and will be in bed for most of the day, while the rest of the gang take the commuter train into Stockholm for a day on the town. My goal is to recover fully today and be ready to go tomorrow.

Tomorrow is a new day.

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Are The Odds?

We're supposed to leave for Sweden today. Our county has gotten 10 inches of snow - and counting. It was fun walking through the snow to the club house gym this morning though...

The good news is we're going by Hummer to the airport. The bad news is I have to drop Sophie off for her sleepover first (in my Echo). The really bad news is that my dear friend Katie may have to spend a day alone with my family... Well, I guess that's not too bad.

Guh - this sux...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Stream of Consciousness...

It is 5 degrees here... That is freakin' cold! Good thing I haven't had to leave the house yet... But, I will have to soon. I have to hit nine different stores today in order to complete my final pre-Sweden shopping circuit. Highlights to look forward to: World Market (for glögg), Joanne (to pick up some thinner string for Christmas present jewelry making), and Barnes & Noble (I could spend a whole day there...).

I fell asleep at 2 AM this morning. Sophie started barking ferociously around 4 AM (probably at those pesky bunnies in the back yard). I'm glad she attempts to protect us. The point is, I got two solid hours of sleep. Awesome. Today is going to be fun.

I learned how to clean UGGs today. (Yep, earlier this fall, I broke down and got my child ridiculously expensive sheepskin boots.) What I learned: Buying UGG cleaning stuff is expensive, but works well (I'm not really into the whole do-it-yourself concoction thing...), a little cleaning solution goes a looooong way, and the process requires a butt load of paper towels (sorry trees!). What I don't know yet is how long it will take for them to dry and is it going to be in time for our trip tomorrow (if not, I will be in serious trouble)?

I am a laundry machine! Well, not literally. What I mean is, I can do an awful lot of laundry in one day. It's 8:23 AM right now, and I'm already on the second load. Laundry is one of my more favorite household chores. It's way better than dusting and vacuuming (that's a really hard word to spell...). However, not as fun as washing the dishes. I haven't used our dishwasher here in months. It left these suspect white traces of something on everything. Not cool. Dish washing is pretty therapeutic, if you ask me.

Speaking of therapeutic, deep breathing totally works. I felt some severe nausea attacking me a few minutes ago and I started breathing deeply and deliberately and soon I was back to normal. It also works when you feel like yelling at your tween or when things get stressful at work.

Btw, the whole eating less sugar thing combined with regular exercise is working out. Today, I hit my "what I need to weigh before I go to Sweden" weight. Pretty exciting. This is preemptive weight loss to offset the very probably weight gain caused by my mom's fantastic cooking. We'll see how it goes.

Seems the weather in Sweden will be mild enough for running outside. It's 37 degrees there today. Nice. This will be the first time I go to Sweden for warmer weather. Weird.

Well, my guess is Target is open by now, so I should probably start my shopping round, since Sophie needs to be at her grooming appointment at noon and I need to be at mine shortly thereafter.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Grattis Pappa!

My dad turns 69 today. He is one of the coolest people I know. He can do anything from fix a car to bake a wedding cake to deliver a sermon. When we were little, he was generally just as excited as we were (or more) about building lego castles or going cross-country skiing. In fact, he even participated in the worlds larges cross-country skiing race, Vasa Loppet, once.

However, the thing that I like most about my dad is his generosity. He loves giving. It doesn't matter if it is time, money, or knowledge. If he had more, he would give more. He gives freely.

I got a lot of traits from my dad (taking care of the family finances, making lists, a love of running, etc, etc). However, the trait I most wish to foster is that of generosity. I have received so much and my desire is to give back and make the world a better place. I believe I can make a difference.

Happy Birthday Daddy!

Junk Mail and Beyond

I am actively continuing my quest to receive zero (or close to it) junk mail. Since last time, I have gotten rid of the following:
  • LL Bean
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond
  • Kay Jewelers
  • JCPenney
  • Eddie Bauer
  • Victoria's Secret

I've had a few mailings with no instructions on how to get off the junk mail list. For these, I just go on the website and email customer service. So far, it seems to be working as I'm getting email replies indicating I have been taken off the list. (Yes!)

On a separate, but related note, we had our dear Apple David and Care Bear visiting us for the weekend. We spent most of the weekend celebrating the season with good food and drink including glögg and pepparkakor. On Saturday evening, we exchanged gifts. Apple D and CB must have been reading my blog (hi guys!), because they decided to go shopping at Ten Thousand Villages for a lot of our "familiy presents." We received several cookie mixes and the like from an organization called Women's Bean Project. This organization is focused on helping women out of poverty by teaching job readiness and life skills. Very cool!

However, my favorite present was a necklace from Junk Mail Gems made out of recycled junk mail! Their motto is "Starve a landfill...Buy Junk Mail Gems!" It makes me so happy when people find a way to use at least some of the waste that we create every day. The necklace itself is fun and versatile. In fact, I'm wearing it today!

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Woe Is Me...

This is going to be a complainy post (mostly)...
  • I have a headache... I don't get headaches, so getting one goes against my very being. It is so bad in fact, that I had to take medicine. And it's not getting any better.
  • I'm so tired, I can't really function. I have been lying on the couch since I got home from work. The upside of this is that I'm getting good practice at doing nothing (which I am generally really bad at).
  • Because of the aforementioned complaints, I didn't have the strength to go Christmas shopping for David and Caroline tonight. Todd is going to have to pick up the slack while I'm at work tomorrow.

Actually, those are really the only complaints I have... In fact, I think I have more happy points than bad ones:

  • Rebecka is sitting next to me doing her math homework and every now and then, I get to help.
  • Todd surprised us by coming home early this week.
  • Sophie is very snugly.
  • I'm leaving for Sweden in a week.
  • Todd just brought me some hot chocolate.
  • David and Caroline are coming into town tomorrow.
  • I'm watching the movie "The Holiday" tonight.
  • I'm going to bed early.
  • I get to work out in the morning.

Life is good.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Christmas at Luther

This weekend, Rebecka, Sophie, and I drove to Decorah, IA to see Todd. In fact, in one day, I flew from Nashville to Milwaukee and turned around and drove to Iowa. This was not planned, but cancelled flights happen.

Anyway, the reason we decided to come this weekend was so that we could attend the acclaimed Christmas at Luther concert. As PBS describes it:

"Celebrate the joy, faith and traditions of Christmas as the renowned music ensembles of Luther College bring you Christmas at Luther, marking 27 years of sharing the seasonal gift of music with an annual concert. More than 600 musicians, including six choirs, Christmas Brass and Percussion, Symphony Orchestra, and Luther's handbell choir, present traditional holiday carols and sacred Christmas anthems."

It was a well choreographed production with choirs moving around between songs and alternation of instrumental pieces, choral pieces, and sing-along Christmas carols. I was expecting at least one "Nordic" song and was not disappointed when close to the end, one of the choirs did the song Wonderful Peace (Jul, Jul, Strålande Jul). You can hear the Swedish version of it here (although it's much better with harmony).

After the event, we exited the concert hall and stepped into a small blizzard. I felt like I was in one of the Little House on the Prairie books. The Ingalls familiy actually lived in this part of the country. I can now understand why the cattle froze to death... Thankfully, we made it home OK.

Today, we spent a significant part of the day trying to fix a broken lint filter (yes, I broke it...) for the Decorah dryer. I now have super glue on five fingers. But that's a different story...

Stay warm!

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Getting Rid of Junk Mail - Part 2

I discovered something cool today... Most direct mail actually has (in very fine print) a telephone number or (better yet!) a website for getting oneself removed from their mailing list!

Tonight, I took care of the following:
  • Money Mailer
  • ValPak
  • Dell
  • Guitar Center
  • Pier1 Imports
  • REI

This is fun!

Monday, December 01, 2008

Getting Rid of Junk Mail

The contents of my mailbox today: Six pieces of direct mail. Guh!

Just yesterday, I found a good article on regarding slowing down the steady stream of junk mail that magically finds you whether you want it or not. It pointed out two sites which help you take the first steps toward junk mail freedom:

DMA Choice: This site allows you to take care of several categories of junk mail such as catalogs and magazine subscriptions. This site helps you get off the lists used by credit card and insurance companies (yes!).

It really didn't take much time at all to register for these services. Now, I will probably have to notify some companies specifically to get off their lists (think companies from which I've bought stuff). This will start tomorrow with the six that were in my mailbox today.

Btw, I love the label on the "Valpak Savings" mailing: "TO THE CONSUMER AT..." I am now "The Consumer." Lovely.

The good news is that I received the following communication from our apartment association: "Go Green with Our Email Option!" I can now get all their communications via email. I'm signing up...