29 November, 2009

Glad advent!

Can one say 'Happy Advent'?

It may have been all turkeys and football on Thursday, but we also jumped full-force into Christmas this week. We had the first glögg of the season and our first Lussekatter of the year Saturday, and went to umpteen Christmas markets. And this evening, we lit our first candle for advent.

We observed a lot of Swedishy traditions in my house growing up, and we had these pretty candle holders, but lighting the advent candles was never one of our things. Its probably because we weren't a very religious household, come to think of it. But in Sweden, every window has a 4-candle holder, and I had to look it up to find out more why.  While it is definitely a religious tradition, its also a countdown to Christmas, in a way, and on the first Sunday, people light the first candle in the Advent candlestick during the evening meal. Each following Sunday until Christmas, another candle is lit, until all four candles are glowing on the 24th.

Our evening meal was popcorn and leftover pumpkin pie, so it maybe didn't have the magic it was supposed to. But in the dark, it is lovely to see all the other windows on the street with lit candles and glowing stars.

27 November, 2009


aka Thanksgiving!

Because you wanted to see pictures of a turkey (I call him Stu.)

It was our first-ever time being in charge of making a large, gibblety game bird edible. We ordered the thing 2 weeks ago, but it wasn't until Monday that the grocery store told us they *might* not get our bird, so JLP & I spent Monday scouring grocery store freezers and the butcher counters. We got one, conveniently, at the turkey store in Östermalm (who knew they had a store dedicated to turkeys in a country that doesn't seems to eat them!?)  It set us back about $90, but we walked out with a giant frozen 7.3kg (thats over 16 lbs!)

We had 14 in our tiny apartment for dinner.  Someone lent extra chairs and someone brought extra forks. It started an hour and a half late because turkeys take longer to cook than the Butterball website tells you (lesson learned.) Thankfully, it was potluck. But there was all the reminders of home:
turkey, green bean & sweet potato casseroles, stuffing, jelly & fresh cranberry sauces, Coca-cola, rolls & gravy, punkin and apple pies, hooooly, we stuffed ourselves silly.







One of the best on record. We are thankful to have gotten to spend it with some great friends, new & old, in lovely little Stockholm.

25 November, 2009

Ice, ice, Stockholm

JLP is visiting on the tail end of working the past 6 weeks in Europe, and it coincided perfectly with Thanksgiving (more on that in another post.) And it was the perfect excuse to do some touristy stuff that we hadn't gotten around to in our nearly 4 months here.

Planned are a few museums and Christmas markets, seeing the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace, of course the world's biggest Ikea (though we have done that behemoth many, many times. The store just sucks you in.) And Monday we hit up the Absolut Icebar downtown. All year, the thing is -5 c, and is entirely made of ice, imported from a river in the arctic circle. We even drank out of ice glasses.
Its not cheap, at 170:- per person (roughly $25), but you get a cocktail, which were delicious, and to borrow a funky snow cape with a hood that is stamped with the IceHotel's logo. Yeah, why anyone would want to pay to sleep in a -5c hotel is beyond me, the 30 minutes at the IceBar were enough.

JLP got much better pictures than we did, so maybe we'll have more later to share. And thats what you do in the IceBar. You take pictures. To remember (or to prove?) how much fun you had. And how cold you were. We all lost feeling in our toes. And fingers.

21 November, 2009

Picture post

Saturday was the best day we've had in weeks and weeks, not a single cloud in the sky, sunny and almost 50 degrees. I took a ton of pictures when we went out to enjoy it. Here are just a few random:
The Centaur on the Observatory hill...just to illustrate exactly how cloudless it was.

Godnatt, a mattress and bed store entrance in Östermalm. I used to pass this guy all the time, and always thought he was weird and beautiful.

The Christmas market in Gamla Stan. Would have bought glögg if I had gone to an ATM.

Yes, rapids. There were also fly fishermen AND kayakers out in that.

Norrbron with a ton of little tiny people, and the remains of an ice sculpture in Kungsträdgården.
Cutest little kid! I think he was stuck to that trashcan.

A short movie of some musical marching Santas on Västerlänggatan, and the musical santas in color!

Yes, that is Stu's head and my incoherent squeak.

20 November, 2009

How dark is it really?

I know I've mentioned the weather several times, but someone in DC asked the other day to describe it better.  DC is on the same latitude as southern Italy; Stockholm lines up with Alaska, so its understandably hard to picture the weather. In a word, its bearable.

The Stockholm sky looked disturbing like the apocalyptic sky in the 2012 billboard today.

We aren't in San Diego, thats for sure.  But its not actually *that* cold despite that they hosed down the park in front of Astrid Lindgren's apartment to make an ice rink.  It has snowed big once, but didn't stick. On average, the days have been in the mid-40s, and warmer when it rains...you just need a lighter jacket.  But there have been a lot of rainy days lately, which is extremely depressing.

Granted it gets light outside, but there are stretches where you don't see the sun at all. Its just gray clouds. I know that its up there, somewhere, but the cloud cover is so thick, that some days they break up just enough to see some rays, only to thicken back up again in 10 minutes.  Then there are some mornings when the sun is up and shining and gorgeous, like this past Wednesday, when I woke up at 8am and jumped around like it was my birthday because there was actual sun out. Seriously, most productive morning of the week.

And the hours of sun-potential are waning.  It was fine until Halloween, when daylight savings kicked in. The days have gotten progressively shorter, and now at mid-November, on most days, the sun starts to set around 3:15ish or so.  Just after 4pm (so, uh, right now) its night-time-dark outside.  Its weird to walk down the street about 4pm, when its bustling with people and cars, but it could be midnight based on the sky.

So we have almost 5 weeks of shortening days, until the solstice on December 21. The day Stu's mom arrives for the holidays (though I've heard they light this town up with so many Christmas lights, you don't notice the dark as much.) Then about 5 more weeks until we're back to this point, dark by 4.

 A crack of blue sky and sun about 1pm this afternoon. Enjoy it while you can.

I'll survive, but I see why everyone complains. And it makes you appreciate the daylight and sun that much more. We live right next to the Stockholm Observatory, and that hill is the best place to stand on and absorb sun when you get that 10-minute glimpse of it.  In our quest to manufacture some vitamin D, Stu & I manage to look like idiots to people walking by. We both unbutton our coats and lift up our shirts in the cold to expose our bellies to the sun. We figure the it gets more surface area that way...like built-in solar panels.

18 November, 2009

Fly here for cheaper than it'd cost to get to some west coast cities...

I just got an email that said flights from DC to STO are $235 each way on SAS.  Or from NYC. Or from Chicago.
I have never seen them that cheap!  We paid $315 a person one way from Newark to STO (on Malaysia Air, of all airlines.)
Granted its from Jan-Mar, but hello!  Its us!  Come visit!

---Random addendum: I have a week off starting December 2nd, and Stu has to study for exams. Anyone want to meet somewhere random in Europe for a few days?  Maybe some place with suuuuuunnnn?

17 November, 2009

Lamest weekend ever

Well, it started off on the right foot. Stu signed us up for a mjöd tasting on Friday night.  Of course, it wasn't until we got there and paid our 150 kronor that we realized it was all in Swedish.  The guy said he could probably do his thing bi-lingually, but we told him not to bother for our benefit, we'd blunder through it. We had alcohol in front of us, how hard could it be?!? 
And it was fine, because our Swedish isn't that bad, and Swedes are super nice when they are drinking! Well, they are generally nice all the time (as long as you aren't trying to get paperwork slid through faster at migrationsverket. That definitely didn't work.)  But they are especially friendly when you give them fermented honey and fruit beverages. So we had translations offered with every Skål!  Oddly, we mostly sampled California meads, and I think maybe there was a Polish mead thrown in there, but whatever. Still thoroughly enjoyable. It led to us continue the party at a terrible but super cheap bar near our place with a few fun Swedes, including one legally named Jimmy, and randomly, an Estonian heptathlete. She had actually met Andreas Thorkildsen, which we got a kick out of (Google some pictures of the guy...I think he and Stu have the same chin.)

We left by midnightish, because Stu had to catch a Ryanair flight to Frankfurt in the morning, and I hadn't eaten dinner, so I was just, uh, silly.

And that silliness caught up to me Saturday. I didn't even bother to get out of my pajamas. Stu left about 8:30am, and I spent the entire day watching bad movies, feeling bakfull. It was raining, so I didn't want to leave the house. I am not allowed to spend money, so no shopping. I technically have a paper due next week, but I managed to procrastinate the entire day away anyway.  I did bake a kvargcake, then ate too much of it by myself before Stu came home.  (It was delicious! I take back all the mean things I said about kvarg.)

Sunday was basically a carbon copy of Saturday, but I did actually get dressed and go out into the world for a bit.  And I made a homesick-fix lasagna for Stu, though I think going back to Frankfurt made him feel a little homesick for Germany...he spent 12 years growing up there! Though, come to think of it, I'm sure the liters of dark German beer, the schnitzel and the spätzle helped with that.
He brought back presents from the PX on the US Army base there, including SEVEN boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese, thankyouverymuch. Nothing says America like fake orange cheese and noodles! 

So it was a really lame weekend for me. I should have gone to a museum, or called up one of the few friends I have here for fika, or done my homework, but I was too lazy for any of that.

On the plus side, I did manage to watch the entire first season of Glee, and am now a big fan.

12 November, 2009

The Zen of Kvarg?

Another food-related post. Sorry if they are boring...its just such an adventure attempting to navigate the livsmedelsaffär (grocery store) or to make meals that feel like home. American home.

Stu had a rough day or two...he is currently working on a big project to present to the Swedish state-owned pharmacy monopoly Apoteket.  A little background: you can't get most over-the-counter drugs in Sweden without a prescription, and then only at Apoteket (but we arrived prepared...we brought a giant box of Dayquil & Nyquil!) Earlier this year, it was decided that the monopoly should be broken up, and just Monday, it was announced that more than half of the 900 pharmacies were sold off to private companies. And this whole issue served as a live case module for Stu's management class. He can write more if I am leaving big details out, but they have to pitch their strategies for marketing and managing the transition to the big shots at Apoteket very soon.

Anyway, a rough day or two working on this project. We both have been sleeping crappy, watching True Blood too late into the night, and working a lot. And he got a haircut (finally) that was a little shorter than he wanted. In fact, he said he was emphatic to the hairdresser that he wanted "just a trim, keep it long" but it is shooooort. Maybe Army short?  And we hadn't gone to the grocery store, so there was no food in the fridge. So I guess when he stopped by the store for the basics, the lasagna noodles screamed out to him. Like "eat me, I remind you of home!"  So expecting to make a meal, he bought the noodles, and an onion, some parmasan, and some tomato sauce.

But no ricotta or mozzarella. Sweet man, he tries.  I ran out for the cheeses and more veggies, but you can't find ricotta cheese here (or I can't find ricotta cheese here.)  I know you can make it fairly easily at home, but that requires cheesecloth, and I am pretty sure cheesecloth doesn't translate to "ost duk." Stu had that problem when he went to buy shortening (like, the margarine-y stuff, because when you plug "shortening" into Google Translate, you get förkorta which is more like the verb or art term. Swedes would look at you like you were crazy if you were at the store wanting to buy foreshortening.)

So no ricotta. But I have seen cottage cheese, and figured that if I spiced & herbed the crap out of the lasagna, no one would notice...same texture, right? But Lidl (the supremely cheap grocery store around the corner) didn't have anything labeled "cottage cheese." They did have an opaque tub of something called Vähärasvainen Maitorahka Kvarg near the creme fraiches and the grädd.  Don't ask me how to pronounce that first part, I think its Finnish. I zeroed in on the "Kvarg" part.  Sounds disgusting.  But I bought it anyway.  Don't say I'm not adventurous.

Well, turns out kvarg is not ricotta or cottage cheese-like in consistency. Not even close. More like sour cream or greek yogurt.  And after some heavy-duty googling (yeah, it took a while! My research skills are rusty!) I came to the conclusion that what I had bought was Quark (thank you, Wikipedia, for pointing out how different it is from cottage cheese and ricotta). Its fairly common in Eastern Europe. But they don't even sell it in the US because it isn't pasteurized. No wonder.

So, I have no ricotta with which to make Stu a homesick lasagna. Even better, now I have 500 grams of creamy, sour, un-ricotta-like kvarg in our fridge to figure out what to do with. And soon, because I opened the thing, and its not pasteurized!  Not to mention that Stu is spending the weekend in Germany, so I am also on my own as far as eating it, whatever it is.

Anyone ever kvarged before? Should I attempt the kvargcake in the wikipedia picture? God, that just sounds gross.  And more importantly does anyone want to send me some cheesecloth?

10 November, 2009

I probably wouldn't shop here anyway,,,

An unfortunate name for a leather goods store to a native English speaker...

09 November, 2009


I just looked at the difference between Oct 30th's post on H'ween, with the sunny pictures of pumpkins, and today's post with pictures from Nov 8th in Vasaparken. It's like the pictures were taken a season apart, even though it was only a week or so.  The weather really changes so quickly here.

Also in looking over previous posts, I noticed:
a) I seem to post about DC and food a lot. I guess you can tell where my interests are

b) Stu has posted twice in the last month+. I guess you can tell where his interests aren't.

c) We need to put up more pictures.

Its *that* cold.

Its been pretty cloudy here. Not too cold (if you don't count the day last week that it snowed, of course) but really gray. I have had to make an effort to go outside, partly because its so depressingly gray out and partly because I have 3 papers due this week for school.  Not to worry, I am taking multi-vitamins, which supposedly have 100% of my daily Vitamin D needs taken care of.


Anyway, Stu and I decided to walk to Fridhemsplan yesterday to order our Thanksgiving turkey from one of the big grocery stores there. Its about a 20 minute walk or so, through a nice neighborhood and over the bridge to Kungsholmen (because Stockholm is a bunch of little islands, everything is over some bridge.)

We walked up Odengatan, and ended up spending a large chunk of time in Vasaparken, which is what I am posting about. Its a little city park that apparently used to be considered the "outskirts" of town, and in WWI, they used it to grow potatoes for the city. Its better known for being described in many books by Astrid Lindgren, because she lived in an apartment adjacent to the park from the 1940s until she died in 2002.

Even more interesting to us was that someone had hosed down a football field (uhh, I mean soccer) in Vasaparken. And it froze.

There were a dozen or two "ice skaters" without ice skates and a few kids with hockey sticks. We got to watch a bunch wipe out, which was admittedly rather amusing. I, however, did not spend any time on the ice, because I didn't want to be amusement for anyone else...I'm not that coordinated, and probably would have ended up falling on my butt, ripping my jeans and crying.
You can see the white field lines in the ice in these pictures from the grass beneath...Stu might have been "skating" out of bounds, I'm not sure.

The natives have told us you can skate out over the water between some of the islands when it gets really cold (which I will never do, I promise you.) But the impromptu skating rink in the park was really kind of cool. You know, its cold here. But I didn't realize it was *that* cold.

06 November, 2009

Now THAT is how you protest!

The global financial crisis has forced US government offices to make major changes over the past many months. Just yesterday, Congress passed a bill (which Obama will sign into law today) extending unemployment benefits to the nearly 2 million Americans whose benefits will run out by the end of the year (that includes me!)

In another example of how the Feds have had to trim expenses, the US Postal Service is closing about 400 service offices next year to cut costs, including one in the Florida town of Lantana (pop. 10,000.)  Residents there were so upset about having to drive an additional 7 miles to pick up packages, they convinced the city council to let Washington know how they felt.

By mailing more than 1,000 coconuts to Postmaster General John E. Potter in Washington, D.C., hoping to convince him to keep their post office open!  The coconuts arrived individually wrapped and stamped to the offices.

Who knows if it will lead the USPS to change their minds about Lantana, FL's office, but what an awesome way to stick it to the man!  I love it.

The USPS donated all of the coconuts to Bread for the City, a local foodbank and homeless aid center.  They blogged about the donation here. And they are in need of recipes, so if you have a good one, let 'em know.

04 November, 2009

Visiting Sthlm

Its November 4th (where did October go?!?)
I realized that we have been here about 3 months, which still doesn't sound like that long. But it marks 1/8th of our planned time in Sweden...we will definitely be here until Summer 2011, and who knows from there? But 1/8th sounds like such a big amount of time has passed...only 7 more 3-month-chunks until we both have Swedish master's degrees and have to rejoin the real world and get jobs. I am still hoping to win the lottery--I am so getting used to not working. Of course, you have to *play* the lottery to *win* the lottery...

With K & J in Söder

In our short 3 months here, we have had some interesting, random visitors from back home! The first week we were in Stockholm, a friend from the DC art librarian scene (you didn't know there was an actual scene, did you?) happened to be traveling through with her husband while on a short sabbatical. They stayed at Mälardrottningen the boat hotel next to Gamla Stan, which maybe sounded cooler than it was. They said the rooms were tiny, swoony and with bunk beds! Anyway, their visit was the first actual dining-out-with-waiters experience we had in Stockholm. I am not even sure what or where we ate, but I remember the beer being pretty good, and my first taste of Swedish cider not so good. Its like juice. Plus, the exchange rate was better than what it is now...

Stu also had a random yoga friend from DC in Stockholm for a visit, such a small world! And we went to Oslo for a weekend to visit SAK, a good family friend who was working in Norway for a week. And maybe not-so-random, we have gotten to hang out with Stu's Swedish friend Seb, who hasn't lived in Sweden for years and years, but just moved back just south of Sthlm.

And now November. We are actually playing host to a few non-Stockholm friends as well. JP, from Mary Wash, is in Europe for 7 weeks for work, so she is intelligently planning a stop in Vasastan so we can show her a good time. And Stu's former professor when he was in school in Germany is coming from Frankfurt and spending Turkey Day with us! We are planning to have the Americans over for turkey and punkin pie, and maybe football, if we can swing it with the time difference. We don't have enough chairs in our apartment for everyone, so that might be a challenge. Maybe make it a BYOC (bring your own chair) thanksgiving?

AND, Stu's momma is coming for a week over Christmas! Well, I (and SAS) keep screwing up her flights, so we'll see if the trip actually happens. I am so excited to have her...it will feel more like a family holiday. It'll be a heck of a lot darker here than Grand Rapids, MI, but I'm hoping Stockholm will have less snow.

Its only been 3 months (though time is flying!) We made a lot of new friends here, but we are looking forward to more random, interesting friends & family from back home visiting Stockholm.

Uhh, but maybe when it gets lighter and warmer...the sun sets by 4:30 now and it snow-flurried today. It's already long-underwear weather.