02 December, 2011

Welcome, Soren!

A few hours old.
Välkommen, Sören! Our little Swedish meatball!

Born at 23:39, just minutes before Thanksgiving. And he is certainly a little butterball, weighing in at a whopping 8lbs. 11 oz. (nearly 4 kilos!) How did I carry such a big baby?!? 

Super Soren!

Momma's Little Turkey.

He's healthy and so far happy, and Stu & I are totally in love with him. Even when he wakes us up at midnight howling, and again at 2am, and again at 4am...if my stomach were the size of a walnut, I'd be hungry too!

Getting his zen on with dad.

My awesome hospital bed...Soren and I spent 5 days on that thing!

First trip to the pediatrician.

First family portrait with his eyes actually open.

Because I really liked reading birth stories while I was expecting this little gubbe, I thought I'd write about ours. It has the word "emergency" in it, but it wasn't particularly dramatic. 
I started work at the Smithsonian at the beginning of November (finally! and the job is great!) Because it's a brand new job, meaning I had no leave saved up, my plan was to work until I went into labor, and I essentially did just that. 

The baby was only 4 days past his due date, and I had gotten to work at 8:30 Wednesday morning, when my OB office called to tell me that they were waiting for me in Labor & Delivery at the hospital to start the induction process. I guess they had a spot open up and I was next on the list. So I turned right back around (after telling all my new co-workers "Surprise! I'm having a baby today!") and met Stu at home, grabbed all of our pre-packed hospital gear, and headed to the hospital.

Checked in and hooked up to the IV, they determined that I was nowhere near ready to start induction drugs, so they administered a topical cervical dilation hormone, and Stu and I waited about 9 hours for something to happen. I did a crossword puzzle, read a magazine, watched some HGTV. It was really slooooow. Even slower when all you can ingest is clear liquids and jello. I ate at least 5 cups of jello in that period.

But around 7:30pm, I went into active labor on my own. My water broke, which started the most painful breath-stopping contractions I could imagine, and I lasted ONE entire hour before calling for an epidural.

That thing was worth it. Oh man. And I was truly scared of the whole needles and drugs thing before. I was wrong to fear pain relief.

At that point, the doctor (never my own doctor, just whoever was on call. Thankfully, they were all awesome) said I was 100% effaced and 8cm dilated, and we just needed to wait a bit to start the pushing process. I was kinda blissed out on the epidural drugs, though I could still feel contractions and could still wiggle my legs. 
Through this whole process, the staff was monitoring my vitals and the baby's. The fetal heart monitor showed that many times, his heart rate dropped after I had a labor contraction (it should do the opposite.) They thought maybe he was sitting on or squeezing his umbilical cord in the uterus whenever the walls shrunk in, meaning he was not getting enough oxygen during those contractions. By 10:30pm, the doctor pronounced that if it were to keep happening, we should prepare ourselves for a Caesarean. At 11:00, after a particularly big contraction and low heart rate read-out, we were told that we needed to get the baby out.

So at 11:22pm, they wheeled me into the OR (thank goodness I got that epidural...they would have had to knock me out completely had I not!) I was awake, but I didn't feel a thing. Stu was nervous, but so supportive. And at 11:39, baby Soren was born, purple, slimy and screaming his perfectly round little head off. 

I know our case (fetal heart decelerations) is one of the more common reasons for emergency c-sections and maybe could have been prevented, but though it certainly wasn't the ideal delivery scenario for Stu or me, it was absolutely the ideal outcome: a healthy baby.
We stayed a total of 5 days in the hospital, and those 4 after he was born were priceless. The nursing and doctor staff were excellent and we felt so well taken care of. 

Soren is just over a week old now. I'll be home with him until early February (nothing like Sweden's maternity leave policies, that is for sure!)  Stu is on paternity leave for a short time, doing nearly everything except the breastfeeding. I am healing, but it is slow-going. I can't get out of bed very easily by myself. I am still on pain meds and anti-inflammatory drugs. The baby is the heaviest thing I can pick up (and with the way he is packing on the pounds, he may exceed my max weightload pretty soon!)

Soren's first Swedish cultural event will take place tomorrow, when we attempt to take him to the House of Sweden's Julmarknad in DC. I'm sure it will be a short visit as they tend to get crowded...everybody and their mother comes out for free lussekatter and lätt glögg, apparently. I love seeing the Lucia procession (they use real candles!) but I doubt if we'll last that long. You have to worry about things like germs, loud noises, and where to discreetly breastfeed as parents! So many new things with a baby!
And maybe more to come. Stu and I have had some comical new parenting moments...the not-so-clean first bath, the trauma of my milk coming in, learning how to swaddle...and we've thought about starting a new blog. One to keep track of the memories we make with this little guy. We'll keep you posted.

30 October, 2011

Three month update. And snow?

It has been a full 3 months since my last post on this blog, meaning THREE months since we moved back to the US from Stockholm. So much has changed! And is changing!

But before any real update, happy halloween. We spent our Halloween Saturday night (when most people shoulda been dressed up and drunk) watching movies under piles of quilts, since the heat in our new building hasn't turned on yet. And we had a frickin' BLIZZARD on the East Coast in October, making it way too cold to do anything but make things in the oven and then leave it on and open for extended stretches. We checked: it was 15c degrees in Stockholm; 6c in Washington D.C.

Anyway, Stu & I spent the first nearly two months of our return in Virginia, living with family, catching up with friends, applying to jobs, eating awesome and cheap American food, and watching a whole lotta crappy morning news shows (pathetic, I know, but I didn't realize how much I missed the Today show and Good Morning America.)  There was nasty DC August heat, a hurricane or two, an earthquake, a tornado, and now, a snow storm in October.

We moved back in my 7th month of pregnancy, so the slow pace of transition was a really, really good one for me. Finally got our shipment of stuff from Sweden almost a month later than planned, but all intact and with few major problems. But by late September, we still didn't want to *unpack* our Sweden boxes without knowing where at least one job would be. We'd both had a few job interviews but no real bites, and my belly kept getting bigger, which made life a little more stressful since we didn't quite feel settled yet and the range of possible scenarios when Baby arrived was sooooooo wide. Oh, and diapers are expensive.

But within literally 12 hours of each other, Stu and I both got AWESOME job offers in DC, which we both accepted embarrassingly quickly ("Really? You want to employ me? Ohmygodyesyesyes!" It was seriously like a marriage proposal for me. At 8 months pregnant, a shotgun wedding?) Within a week, we bought a car and rented and moved up to an apartment in Arlington, and basically did a complete 180 from the "back-up" plans we had put in place.
Dressed up and gigantic!
Stu has been at his new job at a big consulting firm here in DC for the last few weeks, and so far likes it a lot. I am incredibly excited to start my new position as an art reference librarian with the Smithsonian (the job I have been working towards for years now.)  However, I don't know *when* that start date will be, since I have been sitting around waiting for my federal background check to process for the last month, and I have exactly 3 weeks until my due date. Best case scenario: I start November 7, work for 2 weeks, then pop out a healthy baby boy in a quick and pain-free delivery, just in time for Thanksgiving. Buuuut, I am full-term and could literally go into labor at any time, and the government is frickin' slow. So I won't be surprised if I have this baby the day I get told I can start work, then immediately take maternity leave until late January (and the quick & pain-free delivery was probably never in the cards.)

So here we are, in our last few weeks (or days?!?) of being a family of two, still figuring out the day-to-day grind. I had to find a new doctor near our new place, which is really tough when you are on Medicaid and 34 weeks pregnant and in the DC area. And the doctor aside, finding day care in this area is damn near impossible: 10-12 month waiting lists for centers that charge $1900/month tuition for an infant. Almost a year? "Tuition" for a 3-month old?! $1900?!?  Needless to say, we were completely ruined by the prospect of Sweden's system of health and child care.

The nursery in process.
And we miss a lot of aspects of our life in Stockholm, the city, our friends there, our awesome apartment. It isn't completely gone, though. I will probably never wear shoes in my house again. We still speak in Swenglish to each other, though I'd say the most oft used phrase is "Vad fan gör du?" by Stu to me, and rightly so, since pregnant women do a lot of strange things ;). We made kardemummakaka last night in an attempt to warm up our frigid apartment. We've gone to an event or two at the House of Sweden. And I have spent more money than I would like to admit at Ikea recently.

But we definitely think, especially with a little clarity from these last 3 months, that moving back to the US was the absolute best possible choice for us. And also that our time in Stockholm was so, so, so worth it. The travels and the experiences, and even the education (though I complained a whole lot about mine!), were life-changing, and I can honestly say we are in a better place in our lives than we would have been without those two years in Sweden.

So that is a little of what we have been up to since leaving Sverige. Aside from a picture or two to announce our new little Swedish meatball when he comes, I probably won't post much more here, and would rather keep it as a kind of time capsule of our lagom life in Stockholm. 

30 July, 2011

Farewell, Stockholm

I cried on the way to the airport leaving Stockholm.

I hadn't gotten too upset about moving away those last few days. I recognized this before we left...don't pregnant women have crazy hormones, so shouldn't I be a total mess by default? I guess there were too many details to deal with to get too nostalgic.

But while Stu brought our insane number of bags down to the super shuttle on Wednesday morning, I did a quick sweep of our empty apartment and turned off the lights, locked up, pulled our little name tag off the front door, and slid the keys through the mail slot. And it just felt so sad. So *final.* And I started to get upset in the elevator on the way down. It felt like a big moment to close up all by myself. It didn't feel so final moving to Stockholm two years ago. Our shuttle driver probably thought I was nuts.

It is nice to be back in Virginia. It is hot (103f yesterday!!) but we're getting used to it and the time zone shift. Slowly seeing friends. And yesterday, we ran into a Walmart for some soap, and walked out with a cart overflowing, we were so blindsided by the ocean of shiny choices and cheap prices. Just a little culture shock, oh, America.

We'll be back to Stockholm for sure...we fell in love with the city and made too many friends not to visit. And maybe by some strange twist, we might live there again one day.

26 July, 2011

Swedish cheese slicers

We packed up our apartment for moving, the boxes have been shipped, our luggage is overflowing, and we fly back to the States tomorrow. Could this be the last blog post on Swedish soil? And I titled it "Swedish cheese slicers"?!?

Yesterday consisted of hauling the remains of remains to the second-hand shop...those random purchases we made while here, stuff that was useful but we had no space for in the luggage, stuff that wasn't very useful (yup, this guy was brought back to his original home!) And after we lugged our stuff to the donation room, out of habit, I poked around the kitchen section of the second-hand shop, on the look out for a cheese slicer.

I don't know if these are typical in the States or not, since we had one at our house growing up (but my mom is Swedish). But they are the best tool! The family I nannyed for had a dozen in their kitchen drawers alone. I wanted to bring a few back, just in case they are tough to find, so for the last several weeks, I have been looking for a few cheap ones to slide into the checked baggage.

No luck. I can NEVER find these at second-hand shops, which must mean Swedes never donate cheese slicers. Often, you will find whole, beautiful sets of Rörstrand dishes, entire sets of silverware, or lovely Kosta Boda glassware in the city mission store, but I have never seen a simple plastic-handled cheese slicer, much less the nice wood-handled ones! Relatives pass on, and their heirs go through the household, deciding what to keep and what to donate: 'The Höganäs pottery goes to Myrorna, but let's hang on to Mormor's cheese slicers.' ?!?

Stu has coveted the Viking cheese slicer since we saw them in the tourist shops in Gamla Stan, but we never managed to buy one. Not to mention they cost more like $30. His little horns would probably bend trying to get through a hunk of Vermont White Cheddar anyway.

So you have to buy them new. No biggie. I picked up a generic one up for a few dollars at a Öob. Nothing special. But it is the strangest phenomenon that with all the other kitchen crap you can find there, I have never spotted the elusive Swedish cheese slicer in a second-hand shop. Let's hope US Ikea has a source!


Oslo - Author: Mats Ottdal / Jeksel

24 July, 2011

Ack! 3 days left!

Wow, how the time flies. How do we really only have 3 whole days left as Swedish residents?!?  I would like to note that on July 19th or thereabouts, we received notification from the immigration office that we could legally stay in the country until August 31st. Thanks, Migrationsverke, a whole week and a half before we ship off for good. Couldn't have told us in June, when our other visas expired and we HAD to make exit plans?!?

Not that we could have really afforded to stay much longer than we are. We haven't secured jobs in the States (not for lack of trying...Stu is throwing CVs out there like candy on a parade float!)  And we've been in "Goodbye" mode here, which means lots of lunches, fikas, dinners and drinks out to spend a last few hours with the lovely friends we've met here.

Our apartment is pretty bare. We had to pre-pack this weekend to figure out the last of it...we had roughly 6 suitcases worth of stuff and only 4 worth of capacity. Thankfully my giant, pregnant belly is a weeding device of it's own: can't pull it up or down over the bump? In the pile to Myrorna!

We have a few other things to donate, but we just got news in the last few days that our landlady wants to rent our awesome apartment out for at least 6 months (she had told us she would sell, and we should get rid of everything extra we have purchased.) Her renting is good news for us IF she can get someone in on August 1st, so that we don't have to pay rent on an empty apartment. And at 10.000kr (~$1,600) a month, we would very much appreciate someone having that kind of flexibility. So much so, we would leave them those extra plates and cups and lamps and all that useful stuff we accumulated while living here the last 2 years. Trust me, it is worth it!

The weather is sunny and 70-something, and we are enjoying the last of our time here. But we are also pretty excited to leave. Three days!?!?!

19 July, 2011

Girl with the Dragon tattoo trailer & Harvard

The Hollywood version of the first Millenium series book looks shiny and racy:

I liked the Swedish version just fine, but I will definitely go see this one in theaters. (Which happens in December, and we will be living back in the States!)

And apparently, Harvard will have a class dedicated to Swedish crime fiction that will have several lectures dedicated to Stieg Larsson's work next school year!

17 July, 2011


Oh my god, we have 10 days left living in Stockholm. TEN DAYS!!!!

We spent this past weekend out of Stockholm, bittersweetly trying to squeeze in friends and a little Swedish summer before we leave for good. Our excellent friends AnnaSara & Andy invited us and Melissa & Kevin to their family "estate" near Furudal, in the middle of Sweden in the region of Dalarna. I say "estate" because there are a gazillion houses and buildings on their property, and the family seem to be related in some way to all of the neighbors.
What's great is that these houses are the cute little 'Faluröd' red & white cottages that you see in all pictures of idyllic Sweden, and they were all in view of a big lake.
And it is Dalarna, which means the furniture in their house and in every other establishment we went into is *awesome*...I have always, always loved the traditional folk designs of the region, and just learned this weekend that it is called Kurbits.

The weather didn't exactly cooperate, but despite the rain, we still managed to pick blueberries in the forest and eat smultrön (teeny, tiny, super sweet Swedish wild strawberries), make flower wreaths, we fika'd (and fika'd and fika'd) swam in the lake (well, not me. I'm a wuss.) we climbed through the pastures and forest, visited Dala horse factories, AND, to boot, I drove a Volvo through Swedish wilderness. Seriously, it doesn't really get much more Swedish than that...we just needed snaps/aquavit and more singing. It was such a great weekend.

Our camera is in and out of commission so I don't have pictures of the cute little fäbod we visited or the lakes or blueberries, but I got some great pictures at the Dala Häst factories at Färnus and Näsnus, where we watched them turn chunks of Swedish wood into cute little orange horses. I bought a green one:


14 July, 2011

25 boxes, gone!

25 boxes, gone!

The guy came 2 hours earlier than we were told he would, and two of our wardrobe boxes wouldn't fit in the elevator down from our 5th floor apartment (whoops!) but they all fit on two pallets, and hopefully make it to Gothenburg today. They'll be put on a boat sometime in the next week, and we hope will make it to the DC area in early August. We hope.

Now our apartment feels empty. Well, not totally...we rented it furnished, so we still have our bed, desk, dresser, dinner table, dishes, etc. We have someone coming to look at our couch this afternoon (Finally! cross your fingers! That couch was a bitch to carry in, and we don't want to be the ones to carry it out!)

And tomorrow, we head out for a weekend in the country with friends. Two weeks left in Sweden!!! Wow, I don't even know how to spend the last 14 days. What do you do with two weeks of vacation in Stockholm?

11 July, 2011

Unisex babies/baby clothes

Did you hear about the family in Toronto that decided they wanted to raise their kids gender-neutral? I like the idea. We have a friend who has a ton of extra baby clothes that her little boy grew out of before she could even take the tags off, and she offered them all to us only "if we have a little boy." Both Stu & I thought the parameters strange, since we have no qualms with dressing a little girl up in onesies patterned with trains! Because really, at a few months old, our kid wouldn't know the difference...

Though we knew we wanted to find out the sex of our little nugget before he was born, Stu & I actually thought about not telling anyone, to avoid the inevitable gendered gifts in blues-for-boys or pinks-for-girls (I like both colors, personally.) Of course our next thought was "Then we'll get all yellow and green stuff" and I don't think I could handle a wardrobe and playroom of all yellow and green. And we are excited to share our news, so we couldn't keep it to ourselves anyway.

I know gender and sex are two different things, one being socially constructed and one being biological fact, and I don't have anything deep or earth-shattering to add to the debate on kids and gender. But despite the good intentions of what the Toronto couple is working toward, I think our society makes it hard on kids not to 'fit in' to some kind of box...it is human nature to try to figure something/someone out by associating them with what is already known. Still, I like the idea of letting a kid's personality grow more naturally, and without the shaping of gender-specific toys or outfits. Like Angelina & Brad's daughter, who somehow has gotten labeled as a lesbian at age 4 for liking "boy" things.

If I had unlimited money, I would dress our kids in all Polarn O. Pyret.

I'm a convert, having spent a year as a nanny for three squirmy Swedish kids with their own very distinct personalities and a penchant for getting dirty. ALL Swedish kids wear this brand (okay, SO much for my big "let kids be individuals" thing...Swedes are notoriously conformist.) But I still like their good quality and the relaxed approach to patterns and styles. They do make pink dresses in flower prints, but there are far more uni-sex kid clothes in their line-up than most brands can offer.


Their stuff isn't budget-priced. I bought my first pair of mamma jeans from PO.P last month and felt like I should be eating cheap falukorv for the next week to make up for the cost. But the jeans look good, and will last me the entire pregnancy (Well, I hope. Because if they don't, it means I gained too much weight and I can't pull them over my butt!) But I'd still buy them for my kids. Come to think of it, maybe I should be scoping out Swedish second-hand shops for used PO.P stuff before we leave! Of course, I haven't bought a thing for this kid yet, aside from the father's day gift for Stu (that I purchased before we knew we were having a boy, thinking a little girl would be just as subjected to her pappa's Eagles fever as a little boy would.)

Oh, we do think we decided on a name! We reserve the right to change it up until the day he is born (and maybe even after!) so we probably won't be sharing it anytime soon. Don't want anyone to get too attached. It is pretty darn Scandinavian, though. Poor kid...let's hope he likes his heritage later in life!

10 July, 2011

Moving progress - part 1

We fly one way from Stockholm to the DC area on July 27, so still nearly 3 weeks until the big move. 

BUT our stuff leaves us on Wednesday. The cheapest option for overseas moving is to pack-it-yourself and send it on a boat, which we did on the way over here in 2009. We could have forked over nearly $4K to have a company pack us up and handle all the details, but I guess like pain. To be honest, in paying that labor, we would  have been paying for someone else's time, and Stu and I have lots of time right now. And, bottom line, it costs almost FOUR GRAND! Our DIY option will be closer to $1500. Not quite the $700 it cost to come over, but what can you do? Thanks, crappy US dollar exchange rate!

Regardless who packs, the boat option generally takes a month for your stuff to find its way to your door on the other side, so we're sending it off a little earlier than we are sending ourselves off. We managed to get a ton of it done in the week after graduation and before our big trip to France & Italy. But these last few days have been our final take-it-or-leave-it decisions on what gets put on the boat, what gets crammed in our 4 checked bags & 2 carry-ons, and what just gets tossed/donated.

Hooray, moving! So far, we have 26 large boxes filled. We came to Stockholm with 15. And granted, Stu doesn't let me *do* any heavy lifting, but I still acutely feel the stress of moving and heaving boxes, what with the fact that they are TAKING OVER our apartment. 

But after Wednesday, they'll be gone. I've sold a large chunk of our other stuff on Blocket (ahem, we still need someone to buy our lovely red pull-out couch...it sleeps real comfy! Promise!) 

Stu, taking apart our 3 large wardrobes for a Blocket buyer. Now our bedroom is so empty. 
So Thursday, we'll have a pretty empty apartment to enjoy for a last 2 weeks. So sad. 

09 July, 2011

France, briefly

We spent just over one week in France, starting in Paris with Stu's competition to "green" a major international manufacturing industry. His team didn't win, but man, they really did a great job! They were competing against teams from India, China, and Malaysia among others, and blew the presentation to the panel of judges out of the water. And it was a great idea, one that needs to be implemented eventually and his team plans to protect, so hopefully, there will be life-after-competition!
The Q&A session in front of the judges

My very corporate-looking husband. Somebody give this guy a job!
We even spent a day at the Paris Air Show, the grand daddy of international air fairs. It was fun (sort of).
The SSE Team, which I was made an honorary member of.

Our hotel was just blocks from the Eiffel Tower, and though he had a jam-packed schedule, I got a little sight-seeing free time in and hung out with friends.
Notre Dame, check!

Stu got ONE day of actual non-competition Paris time, and said his trip would be complete with A) seeing Notre Dame  B) Going to the Louvre and  C) eat a crepe. We got two out of the three, since we generally kept ourselves stuffed to the gills with heavy French food, we didn't have any late-nite crepe callings. BUT my friend Alex is a tour guide at the Louvre, and she gave us our own awesome tour of the museum on Friday evening, so I think B) outweighed the crepe thing altogether.
Anabelle and I

The heaven that was Ble Sucré, which I had heard of the *last* time I was in town. Seriously, when in Paris, go to there. 

The only picture I got with Alexandra

The Louvre pyramid, from the inside
After Paris, we took the train with Anabelle down to Saintes (outside of Bordeaux) where our friends Pierre & My got married. We stayed in a nun's cell in an abbey built in 1046. 

It started off so proper and Catholic, but after many bottles of lovely French wines and champagnes and all the gazillions of toasts that Swedes seem to do at weddings, by the end of the night (or should I say early, early morning?) it was basically utter debauchery.
The groom, the best man, some unidentified Frenchy, and Stu. Dancing?
It was 3am. I was asleep.
Then we rented a car and road-tripped our way from the Languedoc through Provence to the French Riviera--from Bordeaux to Nice--over the next several days.

French chocolate milk. It really makes you feel healthy, drinking something called "Candy 'Up"
We stopped the first night in Carcassonne, the fortress city with walls built up by Celts, Romans, Goths, Franks, Visigoths, and Ostragoths over time. They call the towers 'witches hats,' done in an 1800s renovation. It is a COOL little city, and we stayed in a super charming B&B.

The view of the cathedral from our bedroom window

Then we drove through Provence, stopping in Nimes, where they have some of the most intact Roman ruins in the world. We *would* have gone into their amphitheater (a smaller, better version of Rome's Colloseum) but Bobby McFerrin was playing later that evening, so we skipped it. But how cool to see a concert in a 1st century Roman ruin!? Portishead and Ben Harper are making stops later this summer...

 Then we drove through the Cote D'Azure, staying one night in Antibes, in a lovely little hotel with a pool and a short walk from one of the few sandy beaches. It was super relaxing. That is, *after* we finally found the place (thanks to the wrong Google maps directions in a roadwork zone and rush-hour traffic in the blinding sun!) Starving, we ate at the closest restaurant, which also happened to display every snooty French restaurant stereotype you can think of, and our 2 small plates of pasta and one glass of wine for Stu cost a whopping $74. Antibes is beautiful, but also not cheap.

Antibes, at sunset

Our tiny stretch of sandy beach

The rocks of most of Antibes coast line, and a little friend
 We spent our last night in Nice, which is really, really nice! The old town is adorable, there are some lovely museums (like the awesome contemporary MAMAC, below) and we used our guide book reference for dinner at a vegetarian restaurant right on the water. They didn't speak a word of English, so after a few "Oui, oui, oui"s and not getting a menu, we proceeded to receive FIVE courses of divine all-veggie food. If you go to Nice, go to La Zucca Magica.

 And then super early, we took the train from Nice to Florence, which started the Italy leg of our final European tour...