30 August, 2010

Sweet potatoes

Back in Stockholm, but a great time was had in Paris. I got a kick out of this tabloid headline in a French tobac:

Le Scandale! Is Victoria pregnant?

Unrelated, I have had the weirdest craving for sweet potatoes since getting back. Last night, I cooked four as part of dinner, then ate 3 of them. Three whole sweet potatoes. Tonight, I stopped by the store to replenish stock and they were out, so I bought butternut squash. It did the trick...I ate 2 helpings. What's wrong with me?!?

26 August, 2010

Bonjour! Check your dates.

I generally consider myself a smart traveler. I am not a huge planner.  I do make sure I know how to get from the airport to whereever I'm staying. But I prefer to choose one or two must-dos in a new city, and leave the rest up to whim and fate.  Stu is the same kind of traveler, which is why he is my favorite traveling companion.

In coming to Paris to visit with my friend Faye on Tuesday, I flew into CDG, got EXACT directions on which RER to which metro to the address of the friend of Faye's apartment we are staying in the 11e, writing down every landmark and doorcode he gave us. Faye flew in from Chicago and was supposed to either meet me at his apartment or leave the key in a pre-designated spot. I got in a little earlier than anticipated, and no Faye in sight. No key in the hiding spot, either.

I hadn't eaten lunch (here I thought SAS would feed me, but no! I even had to pay for my CocaCola light.) so I thought I'd run to the marche for a sandwich and come back to wait. I ate my sandwich, rang the doorbell a few more times, pulled out my book, and texted Stu that I had made it to Paris, but was waiting in a stairwell for Faye. Half an hour had gone by, so I asked Stu if he could email her my number, just in case she was out and didn't have it. He did, but the text I got back was "In her email to you, Faye said she arrives the 25th." I was sitting in this stairwell on the 24th. Holy crap! There was no key because we weren't expected until THE NEXT DAY. Faye was still in Chicago. I came to Paris a day early without even realizing it.

I guess when I booked the ticket in May, Faye said she'd fly out of Chicago on the 24th, so to maximize both Faye and Paris time, I arranged to fly out the same day. Of course, hers was a transcontinental flight, meaning overnight, meaning arrival the next date. We had even exchanged travel itineraries, but neither of us caught it.  You know, it's not so bad that it happened. But I am embarrassed that I didn't even realize it until on some stranger's doorstep in a foreign city and it was my husband who had to clue me in via SMS.

Stu, by the way, found a great, inexpensive hotel around the corner while he was online, and I got an upgrade to a top-floor suite with a balcony overlooking the city, so it was not a sad story after all. I got the whole bed ot myself. And I only lost about 2 hours of Paris-time to figuring out that A) I am an idiot and B) I needed to sleep somewhere other than the street. And Faye arrived the 25th, the apartment we are staying at is fantastic, the friends of Faye are super.

The only two things on my list to see are the Centre Pompidou and a walk down the Champs Elysees. And some serious eating of French pastries. Anything else is just icing. Yesterday, we went to both the Palais de Tokyo, the Museum d'art Moderne and managed some fantastic Moroccan food and French wine.

Not my actual view because I didn't bring my camera cord to Paris.

23 August, 2010

Last week of vacation!

Stu aced* a re-take Macroeconomics exam this morning, and has a busy week of back-to-school events.


I am leaving early in the morning to spend the rest of the week in Paris. 

*actually ace-ing unknown until grading is complete.

21 August, 2010

Art in Stockholm next week

I am leaving for nearly a week in Paris on Tuesday, so I'll be missing most of the openings and happenings as the tiny-but-busy Stockholm art scene wakes up for the fall. I don't know how many people who read our blog live in Stockholm, but if you'll be here next week, there are lots of opportunities to see new shows (and maybe score some free wine?)

Most openings seem to happen on Thursdays at 5pm in this city. On the 26th, Bonniers Konsthall is opening Ida Ickblad: Digging. The opening is from 5-8, but they get crowded its usually good to get there early. They get so crowded at their openings, Bonniers is even doing the Moderna thing with asking for RSVPs! Just send an email saying you want to go to opening@bonnierskonsthall.se

Also the 26th, an opening at Galleri Magnus Karlsson (same address as the bar F12? I haven't been to this gallery yet!)  And I'm disappointed to miss an opening at Galleri Charlotte Lund...it's not far from my apartment and I keep meaning to pop in.
And the Hudiksvallsgatan galleries should be opening several shows. Christian Larsen, Nordenhake and Crystal all have shows that night, and the Andrehn-Schiptjenko's group show looks interesting (let me know what "Swedish art life" abroad means if you go!?)  

On Saturday the 28th, there is an afternoon opening at Milliken Gallery--German artist Felix Gmelin's "the anti-father."  I don't know anything about this artist, but I hope the show is better than the last one at this gallery before their sommarlov.

There are several more in the coming weeks...Magasin 3, Gallery Steinsland Berliner, Fotografiska, Färgfabriken, among others. And of course, Moderna Museet's Modernautställningen opens in October, and yours truly will be working with the exhibition registrars, helping put those works up!

18 August, 2010

Don't get too big for your britches

So, I have been really happy to learn that Sweden's grid is a very clean one. Most of Sweden's energy is sustainable, and very little is from fossil fuels. We've been reading the Omnivore's Dilemma and watching Food, Inc. In general I've just been thinking more about where my food comes from and trying to be healthy. For example, it's been nice living without a car for two years, although I know we'll offset all the good our public transportation is doing by flying all over the place. When I do get a car, I might try for something like a Nissan Leaf for the all electric option. However, I know that in the US about half of our power comes from coal. So an all electric car is a half-coal car. I'd like to see us move to a more sustainable energy policy... But well, I'm not holding my breath. Anyway, a big plus to life in Sweden is that it just feels cleaner. Heck, coming from D.C. I love how clean the water is.

So then I thought it was ironic to find out, some (probably not most, but some) of our biofuel energy comes from bunnies. Can't be too proud about that. Just saying, the "killing bunnies" position is a hard one to defend. I understand the practical reasoning; D.C. had poisoned pigeons to take care of a pest problem and the pigeons weren't even going to a good use, just being discarded. But this reminds me of what Thich Nhat Hanh says that ideals are like traveling towards the North Star, it's enough to give it a good try. But it's important not to get too big for one's britches.

Nobody's perfect. Just lagom.

17 August, 2010

That's right, I said third best

Newsweek ranked Sweden third on its list of "Best Countries," behind only Finland and Switzerland in terms of health, education, economy, politics, and quality of life. Take that, Norway!


16 August, 2010

Picture Post

Last week, we took a boat out to Drottningholm Palace.

Drottningholm: where the Swedish royals live
We arrived by boat!
It was built at the same time as Versailles, complete with ridiculously complicated landscaping.
Kina slottet, which was robbed a few weeks ago!
A fairy circle of mushrooms?
We met some sheep.
Patrick tortured swans (no, he didn't have any food in that hand!)
Saturday, we took the Saltsjöbanen (salt lake train) to the lovely area at Saltsjöbaden ("salt lake baths")

I would love a summer house out here. I would love a house, period. And an extra here would be a dream.
The weather was perfect. Too warm for Stockholm, but by the water, it was ideal.

13 August, 2010

Fit for a princess?

Our friend Patrick asked this week while visiting whether Stockholm also did the street-side toilet stalls, since he had seen so many in Amsterdam. I think it's a European thing, and Stockholm has plenty. They cost 5 kronor and they smell like death. But he seemed unimpressed with a few that I pointed out (for the record, we obviously know how to show our guests a good time in this city!) He's gone off to spend a week in Edinburgh before heading back to DC, and I was disappointed that he missed THIS fantastic specimen of a stand-up urine stall:

Yup, it's a pink castle turret, complete with decorative finial atop. Right next to the tax office in the middle of downtown Stockholm. How can you not love this?!? I did not dare open the door to peek in (not to mention I was wearing flip-flops,) but I could hear water and it smelled, uh, bad. I assume it's only for men with that half-open door. But why is it a pretty pink castle? Those progressive Swedes! For the women, maybe they should offer these Go Girls or those crazy plastic pitchers they sell in Design Torget (as seen on Anthony Bourdain's Swedish No Reservations)?

In the second picture, I'd like to point out my husband to the far right, attempting to separate himself from the obviously insane woman taking pictures of castley pink porta-potties.

12 August, 2010

I started a business in Sweden!

Well, I dropped the paperwork off at Skatteverket (the tax office) anyway. They say it'll take a week or two until I am officially registered in Sweden.  Sounds a bit spammy, doesn't it? Like, "I started a business and you can, too!"

There are so many ways that Sweden differs legally and socially/culturally from the U.S. I guess it's part of the benefit of having this blog...to work through and vent some of the culture shock we have experienced.
A big difference that has not affected me in the least until last week was how Sweden allows one to get paid for doing contract work. In the U.S., you do the work, the business/individual cuts you a check for your agreed amount, you put it in your own bank account and you are responsible at the end of the tax year for social welfare deductions and paying local/federal taxes. Turbotax makes this easy if you do simple contract work on the side (like Stu did when he taught yoga classes at several DC yoga studios,) but can likely get much more complicated if it's your only form of income.

I was offered a job last week doing something interesting, meaningful (to my CV) and best of all, lucrative...writing scholarly texts on a range of artists represented in the collection at a small museum here in Stockholm. I was really excited at what they were offering for this task (granted any amount in kronor sounds astounding.) It's simple contract work: a few texts per week/month and a very low annual income from them, just pocket change. But in Sweden, even the smallest amount shouldn't escape the tax man's clutches, and one can't just have checks made out to them (Sweden *doesn't do* checks.) One has to start their own business to get a payment.

So that's what I did. Thankfully, they make it pretty easy. Weeeelllll, the paperwork so far was easy. Ask me again at tax time. I could have paid a little to register my business with a trademark-able name, but I decided to stick with my own name. It's free that way. The customer service rep at Skatteverket told me to plan for about 60% of my pay to go to taxes and social welfare, which was rather disheartening. But I will have an employee! Because these texts need to be submitted in English AND Swedish, and my Swedish language skills have not progressed beyond the level of a 5-year-old native, and Google Translate would make me sound like I suffered head trauma, I'll pay one of my friends to do it for me. I wish I could put Stu on the payroll...I'd love to be his boss.

But hmmmm, should I put entrepreneur on my CV? ;)

11 August, 2010


I counted myself a little teensy bit more Swedish Monday night, after having successfully made homemade Swedish meatballs (köttbullar.) 

 Stu and I eat them fairly often, but I always buy the pre-made, pop-in-a-frying-pan kind. But Patrick was visiting from the States and we had invited new friends Carrie & Brendan over for dinner, so it seemed proper to make them from scratch (and Patrick insisted.) 

(Patrick mincing onions)

And they weren't just edible, they were really good! In my humble opinion, anyway. We conflated 3 different recipes, but Swedish meatballs are so idiot-proof, you don't even need a recipe. The basic idea is to mush ground meat (any animal you like, we even added chopped bacon,) bread crumbs, garlic/onion, salt/pepper, maybe an egg. Roll them into little balls and fry the suckers in butter, then serve with creamy gravy. With lingonberry sauce and potatoes, of course. 
(Why yes, I do serve my homemade meatballs in a dish shaped like Sweden!)
(An opportunity to use the wine-chilling thingamabob is an opportunity for Stu to take artsy pictures.)
  Why don't we do this more often? I think I should start a Sunday Night Köttbullar!

08 August, 2010

Sunday is bronchitis, yeast and numb arms

The blog post title makes it sound like a party, huh?  

Nope, not a lot of partying going on here. Stu has come down with what I have been battling for nearly a month (a month!) The diagnosis for me when we went to the doctor in Germany was bronchitis and I was sent home with an antibiotics prescription.  I must have had a virus and not a bacterial infection, because the pills did nothing. So I've just had to let it take its sweet time and run its course. And now Stu has gotten it! 

Yesterday it poured torrentially and we didn't leave the house. I have a feeling today is looking the same. 

Thank god, however, because I spent 9 hours with the kids I nanny for on Thursday (yes, that's right, 4 days ago) and my arms, my shoulders, my back and my neck *still* ache from all the pushing I did of heavy little children on the swings. The smallest fell asleep while I was carrying him the 8 block walk home from the park. Man, that kid felt like I was hoisting a ton of bricks. Seriously, who needs to work out when you have children to entertain?!?

(I thought it was cute while I could still feel my arms...)

But the other part of the blog post title is "yeast." I bought a bunch of fresh yeast the other day because it cost the equivalent of 7 cents and I felt like that was reason enough to bake something with it. But I never use fresh yeast, just the dry packets of insta-poof that you mix with sugar and warm water, so I didn't even know how much to use for anything. As you know, I have bad luck getting baked goods to rise in this country.  Do they even have fresh yeast in the States?  Seems like a dumb question...I'm sure it is available, but much like pre-made frozen piecrusts, there is always something faster & easier than the real thing.  
A little seems to go a long way. Ambitiously, I made a loaf of bread, pizza dough, and a batch of kanelbullar. All from one little block of pasty, nasty-smelling yeast. Stu and I instantly ate 2 cinnamon buns a piece, so they passed the test. We'll see about the bread and pizza dough. Our friend Patrick is staying with us for a few days, and he is a baking genius, so if it pleases *his* discerning tastes, then maybe I'll switch to fresh yeast?

04 August, 2010

Okay, actually a year now.

Kind of hard to believe it's been a year!

We moved here for Stu to attend graduate school at the Stockholm School of Economics. I hadn't even gotten accepted to my program yet at Stockholm University. I didn't have a job, just a lead on a babysitting gig making a measly 100kr an hour. And the U.S. dollar to Swedish krone exchange rate was crap. We didn't know anyone. We didn't have our "permanent" apartment yet, so we were in a teeny, tiny, temporary studio the first month. We lived out of suitcases for more than 6 weeks between shipping our stuff in July from DC and it arriving in Stockholm in September. We spoke less Swedish than your average Swedish 3-year-old.

A year later, today, we've both completed the first year of master's programs, with the rest seeming an easy downhill coast from here (it probably won't be the case, but it *feels* that way now.)  I don't nanny for the kiddos regularly anymore, but I am having a playdate with them tomorrow! Still making 100kr an hour. And the U.S. dollar is still crap. But Stu has had several short-term jobs while juggling school. We have made some great friends. We have a lovely apartment, and we didn't have to move half a dozen times during the year like most students in this city. Embarrassingly, we have more clothes than I care to admit, and I have probably not worn a third of my wardrobe we shipped in the last year. Even more embarrassing is that I have probably only progressed to understanding Swedish on the level of a 5-year-old, and I'm still a 3-year-old when it comes to constructing a sentence.

And we have gotten to travel! In the past year, we've made it to Oslo, Venice, Milan, London, Berlin, Riga, Amsterdam & Utrecht, Edinburgh and various towns in southern Germany. I have a Paris trip planned for the end of August, and we just booked a trip to Egypt for December. On the travel wish-list for the next year is Prague, Salzburg/Vienna, Ghent & Brussels, more London, maybe some various Poland, and hopefully a Spain and/or Portugal trip?

Even though I have days when I can't wait to head home to the U.S. (okay, sometimes it's hour-to-hour that I change my mind as to whether to stay in Stockholm) we feel so lucky to have gotten this time here. Two years living and traveling in Europe and a few extra master's degrees? Not bad at all.

Fingers crossed that Year Two is a great as Year One has been...

03 August, 2010

Stockholm residents for one whole year

We flew over one year ago, today

Technically, we arrived August 4th, but I don't care...it's a milestone regardless.
We're half done! 

01 August, 2010

Stockholm Pride 2010

We got a pretty good spot in front of Berns to see the Stockholm Pride parade yesterday. Stu & I both had a great time (to attest, we stood in that spot for well over an hour watching!) The paraders consisted of all kinds: young, old, male, female and in-between, white, black, purple, teachers, cops, vegans, bears, twinks, moms, dads, kids, government officials, political parties, public transportation offices, religious institutions, even a few horses and dogs, all singing, dancing and many wearing absolutely ridiculous outfits. It was inspiring to see everyone so supportive, and heartbreaking to think of the discrimination and torment some of the paraders had encountered in their lives. And it made me wish I had a better camera, but I did catch a few shots: