Tuesday, November 26, 2013

our adjunct swedish pantry

cooking anyplace new is a challenge; cooking in a new place in a foriegn country can lead to some serious weight loss in the family...just don't let them develop a vitamin deficiency.  so, to avoid that, do what you'd do back home: keep lots of healthy food on the shelves, maintain reasonable snack-type dry goods for the kids to grab whenever, and keep plenty of ingredients for baking on hand.

but what do you do if your apartment lacks such a place?

this is our lilliputian kitchen

inexplicably it includes two refrigerators and two freezers, but no pantry

SO...i go out the front door (on the right) to the elevator (on the left)...

wave to the mirror in the elevator...

out the front door...

past the dry cleaners to the green awning...

up a little set of stairs...

and less than 60 seconds later i'm inside our adjunct swedish pantry, the coop!  we've never eaten this well ever, because every visit i only buy what we need for right then and maybe the next morning. and, with my language barrier, most of what we eat has to be nonpackaged so i can identify it--my ignorance results in an ideal diet of fresh food eating!

they even have a token "american" section--for a price comparison that 12 oz bottle of syrup costs $3.59 at cvs.com, and the kronor is roughly 6 to 1 dollar, so that's a $10 bottle of sweetness ($3.59 seems expensive, too).  that cranberry sauce is clocking in at about $8.25 a can.  i'm rather embarrassed by the "american" section, truth be told.

just by that is something really cool--the way to the coop's downstairs!

in-store specials lining both sides of the aisles, and i've learned that people don't like having their pictures taken on the moving sidewalk...

...or downstairs in the produce department either

as i said, at least with produce i can recognize everything

(seriously, there are entire sections where i can identify absolutely nothing)

but these i recognize!  sadly, my photos had to end rather abruptly right here because just after i shot this i was cornered by coop security for taking pictures inside the store. apparently you're not allowed to do that.  taking pictures is an "american thing," as i was told by the guard, but i still love my adjunct pantry.  aren't the japanese better known for photographing everything?

Monday, November 25, 2013

the astrid train

one of my all-time favorite things about stockholm is that they name their subway cars.  on weekdays, three of them are hooked together so you might be riding on svea-carl magnus-pippi to school and anders-erik-lars home...or fatameh-sven-gustav and sofia-katarina-mats.  whatever combination the SL puts together is the one you get.  on weekends they only use two cars so it is harder to find your favorite, if you have a favorite, and here in the triangle we all have a favorite...:

the astrid train!

like a unicorn in the wild we had heard of the astrid train, imagined what it would be like, and dreamt of actually seeing it.  gus claimed he rode on it once and even produced a loch ness monster type photo of it, but we had our doubts.  then today, finally, on the green line heading towards åkeshov i rode on the near-mythical astrid train...and got a picture!

it's going to be a wonderful day.

***update 11/27***
guess what astrid and i rode today...:

:)  there's also an "august" train, but we like this one better for gus.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

the saga of how C cried, J crashed, M got hurt, and A needed a big drink

i wish i were clever enough to make this up.

a couple of days ago i went with a bunch of friends to a charming event at a swedish slott (castle) about 60 km south of stockholm.  it was a christmas market, chock full of swedish handicrafts and tasty goodies...just a burgeoning winter wonderland waiting to be discovered.  we met at the school and gathered out front to divvy up our riding positions in the three cars available: the first car was an audi SUV--it filled up first (and fast); the second car was missing all its hubcaps, parked at a 30 degree angle off of straight along the curb, and was of a make otherwise unknown in the western world.  two friends, A and C, got in car number two with its driver, a woman who only one of us knew, who was maybe 4 foot 10 and had glasses about two inches thick.  i didn't care what the third car was--there was no way in hell i was getting in car number two so i just walked away from it.  the third actually turned out to be an adorable british-made (steering on the right) BMW station wagon...bonus!

there were four of us in car three, J was driving, and we got to the slott in good time.  we waited outside for the two other cars full of friends from school--one car showed soon thereafter, but the other didn't...guess which one.  10 of us were standing outside in the drizzling, freezing cold waiting for car number two to make its way to the castle; we were all calling/texting A and C to no avail (again, only one of us knew the driver, but no one knew her number).  20 minutes later, i got a hold of A on the phone--i can hear C speaking swedish loudly to someone in the background--and she tells me they've just arrived, they're paying the parking attendant, and they'll be there shortly.  she sounds off...more than off.  she is not herself.

a few minutes later, car number two pulls into the parking lot, hesitantly, picks a spot, hesitantly, straightens in and out and in and out and in and out of the space, then two doors open up and we see two women practically flee the vehicle.  i don't think the engine was even off yet.  it's A and C--they are putting as much distance between them and the car as possible--and we 10 are watching them run to us:  A is sober and possibly praying; C is white as a sheet with tears running down her face.  they're in shock.  the driver may have finally gotten into the space and turned off the engine by now.

A and C proceed to tell us about a car trip from hell in which their driver (who was either not quite able to speak enough english to communicate with them or just didn't care to) ran people off the road by drifting into adjacent lanes, drove literally across a traffic roundabout rather than in a circle around it, ran over rumble strips on the shoulders for miles, almost ran out of gas, and who capped off the horror by driving the wrong way down a highway.  the driver amazingly had a GPS machine but it was positioned sideways on the floor, so A had to hold it flat in one hand up against the windshield while wiping the glass with her other hand...because the car had no defrost button (and no cloth).  basically, it was a hellish ride for 60 kilometers.  while they're telling us this, we're also watching the driver try and figure out how to lock her car doors in the distance.

finally the driver walks over to us and it is obvious that she is utterly oblivious to what she has done to A, C, and countless other swedes on her highway terror jaunt, so everyone clams up and off we go inside the castle.  it was lovely and christmasy and wonderful, but the entire time A and C are really perseverating about the ride back.  most didn't want to hurt the driver's feelings by explaining why it isn't appropriate to drive like mr. magoo in real life...however to be honest i had no such qualms of telling her as i've looked at enough of rich's trauma reconstructions from editing his photos to recognize an avoidable bad situation when i see one.  i offered to explain to the driver why A and C would be riding on peoples' laps to get back to stockholm, but they wouldn't let me.  thus, at closing time, A and C trudged back into the car of certain death with assurances that one driver (J) would be right in front and another right in back of them the whole way home.  we all hoped it would be enough to actually get them all back to town in one piece--it was the sandwich theory of forced safe driving.

for the first 10 kilometers this actually worked--the driver kept up with us (we were in the front) and all was well.  then we got onto the highway, and like a soggy sloppy joe it all fell to pieces.  she wouldn't drive fast enough to maintain the minimum speed on the road, so every time a gap was created another car would jump in between us.  this was problem number one.  then the stubborn people who jumped in would just drive on our tail and not pass us...resulting in several cars between us and them.  this was problem number two.  problem number three came from our sweet and concerned driver, J, staring at the rearview mirror trying to find the car behind us...and failing to see the car that had turned in front of her on a roundabout.  boom.  we hit.

as i was sitting in the front on what would have been the driver's seat in the US (but this was a british model) and the car in front of us was trying to make a quick right-hand turn from the left lane, i got the brunt of the crash.  the two in the backseat were fine; J was fine.  even J's car did pretty well--i happened to be turned at an odd angle when we hit as i was also trying to find madame magoo.  J was too stunned for words, except a lone "fuck."  she totally earned that one.  30 seconds later we see the driver and our terrified friends pass us, realization dawning on their too-pale faces that they've now lost one of their stabilizing pieces of bread.  the back driver was, mercifully, still in place and swooped past them to take the lead.  she ultimately led everyone back to the safety of school.  thank god. 

i've come to think that the driver of car number two was such a force of destruction that she forced J to crash by her mere proximity even though she was not directly involved...and it may be so...but eventually we all made it back to school, but were quite late.  of course our group in car number three was latest of all, getting there 45 minutes after pick up, but i have many kind friends who kept astrid entertained until i arrived.  i am still feeling sore from the crash, but am trying to take enough muscle relaxers to keep me from remembering much of anything.  what i will remember is A's picture that night of her well-deserved, giant glass of gin with lemon that she posted on facebook after she finally got out of the deathtrap.  i need to go to system bolaget.

and thus ends the saga of how C cried, J crashed, M got hurt and A needed a big drink...!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

i think i was looking for "dolphins: the mild side"

little does she know that this national geographic dvd was ghost produced by "girls gone wild" creator, joe francis

who doesn't love dolphins--happy little critters frolicking about in the sea!  so excited to find this disc for sophie bunny at the myrorna!  so, so happy to educate my daughter about the wonders of life in the ocean!  so, so, so surprised to find out while watching it with my 7-year old that its content just barely made it legal for adults to view.  yes, you're looking at the stupid woman who apparently bought dolphin porn for her daughter.

the disc is 55 minutes long, yet at 23 minutes we were still watching footage of mating rituals of wild dolphins.  mmm, yeah--that was enough.  not to put too fine a point on it but sophie and i have seen enough dolphin wang (yes, they have them) for a lifetime, thank you.  somehow i couldn't read between the lines of the DVD title, but my mind-in-the-gutter 13-year old could:  before i even told him of its content gus took one look at the box and said, "what'd you do, buy dolphin porn?  huh huh huh...that's funny." then he pointed out that "cunning" was spelled with three n's in a row on the back. nice.

i think i was warned about this type of movie when i told people we were moving to sweden (somehow i thought they'd be more obvious).

Monday, November 18, 2013

reflections from the halfway mark

we're just about halfway through our swedish adventures, which seems like a good time to examine what we like about living in sweden, what we miss from the US, what we wish we would have done differently...things like that.  and by "we" i mean "i," as in the royal "we," commoners.

for the kids the answers were easy--gus likes the language, dislikes the dark, would have brought a bike.  the end.  for astrid she likes the zoo at skansen, dislikes the cold, would have brought more "magic tree house" books.  boom!  easy.  rich is in new orleans right now so i'm just going to answer for him...

what we like about stockholm:
-the public transportation
the transportation system is remarkable--not only does everything run on time but there is almost always enough space for everyone wanting to ride whatever at any given time.  you truly do not need to own a car in stockholm; you can rent one quite easily if you find you need one temporarily.  no matter where you need to go, a combination of train/bus/metro/walking will get you there readily.  this kind of convenience doesn't come for free: you do have to pay a healthy fee for your transport, unlike other european cities (ahem, *rome*), and the transport police are out in force every day checking to make sure that you have.  you've been warned.

-the attitude towards the weather
i love the swedish attitude towards the weather:  yes it's dark and yes it's crappy, but we're going outside anyway so you might as well just get on with it and enjoy it.  on sophie's first day of school i was told, "there is no bad weather, only bad clothes.  we are going outside EVERY DAY so your children must be prepared."  okay then!  and, if you stayed in and waited for it to be nice outside, you'd become a shut-in.  thank god i brought a decent coat for everyone, except rich who did have to buy his here...ouch.

-the water
oh. my. god.  the water straight out of the tap is the best-tasting water i've ever had from any source.  i don't know what they're putting in it to make it taste so good, but never has getting 8 glasses a day been so easy.

-second-hand shopping
fortunately for me, resale shopping is most definitely smiled-upon here.  you see people from every walk of life at the stadsmission, myrorna, emmaus...although admittedly there really aren't wide swings in the socio-economic status of the stockholmare.  in any event, it is super easy to get what you need used, which is a double blessing for us as i completely believe in buying used whenever possible in order to preserve our limited resources and we can barely afford to live here as it is.  vintage christmas is making an appearance in the shops right now...can't wait!

-the cleanliness!  and...
-the tidiness!  and...
-the organization!
this is the cleanest city i've ever visited in my life.  i like how the general public is willing to play by the rules and recycle/not litter for the communal good.  it seems like everything just...works, too.  stockholm could use a good anti-graffiti policy, though (as could many cities).

what we miss about the US:
-the prices...of everything!
i never realized how incredibly cheap it is to live in the united states until i moved here.  when i lived in italy it wasn't expensive as much as it was inconvenient--you never really knew when or if the stores would be open in the neighborhood, or whether you'd be able to obtain whatever product you were looking for, and the like.  here i know they'll have what i'm looking for, i just have to be prepared to spend around $80-90 a day for all four of us to eat three meals and a fika (snack).  i don't think i'll ever complain about the price of food again.

-variety of food (sorry, sweden) 

-very minor moral lability
there is a greater willingness within the US to choose to attend to or ignore relatively minor rules/laws (such as walking across the street against the light when it is obvious there isn't a car for like a mile).  i'm having a hard time following so many rules/laws that i don't even know exist...but i have this complaint to some extent about iowa, too.  maybe this is a texan thing?  it feels a bit over-legislated for my comfort--i'd like to believe that common sense steps in at a point before rules/laws need to.

i do miss being able to communicate with strangers without prefacing every remark with "i'm sorry, i don't speak swedish."  i will not miss the ensuing i-feel-like-an-ass-for-moving-here-without-learning-your-language feeling, either.


what we would do differently:
we would NEVER have moved here without a personnummer knowing what we now know about how life functions in sweden.  we would have demanded one, each, before coming.  while i have truly loved my time here, the only serious challenges we've experienced have all been because we do not have a personnummer--and at times it has been an absolute nightmare without one--which'll be a post in the future (when we're closer to leaving).

-we might live elsewhere in the city
even though where we are is safe and convenient i would have opted to live in södermalm rather than kungsholmen--preferably around mariatorget, off of bellmansgatan near monteliusvägen, or up by södra theatre...or strandvägen on östermalm if we hit the lottery.  next time.

i would have packed a damn swiffer so i would not have had to spend $43 buying one from england and then another $12 buying 20-sheet refills for it!  seriously, this is the cleanest place on earth--how have they not discovered the swiffer yet?

i would have packed some toll house morsels so we could bake some chocolate chip cookies.  we're all missing them but i believe we'll soon have some baking in the oven...(thank you, jennie k. for getting some for us!)

i would have packed some bleach.  if i were into it i'm sure i'd find it easier to buy drugs in stockholm than bleach, but so it is.  i think this could be why the water tastes so good (but why our washer smells so funky).

other ex-pats--feel free to add your own remarks in the comments!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

rome, 2013 (ostia antica)

sophie spent much of her time there trying to catch lizards amidst the ruins

this is the last of the rome pictures, for now at least. these are of the ancient port city of ostia, now called ostia antica, which is about 15-20 miles southwest of rome's city center. ostia was originally situated at the mouth of the tiber, hence it was a critical site for the roman empire, but around the first century AD/CE the river began to silt up and ostia's future was sealed. by around 900 AD/CE, the city was completely abandoned, but 500 years before that its importance had already diminished. today the silting has stopped but the new mouth of the tiber is more than three miles away from where it was located during ostia's heyday.

ostia antica is an amazing site in that you can actually go inside and walk around the houses, baths, latrines, public areas, granaries, theatre--everything--unlike most ancient sites. i'm not sure that this is a good thing for preservation, but it is a great thing for education. it is much smaller than pompeii and much less crowded, and as you can explore freely one is able to imagine what life *might* have been like there. i definitely prefer ostia to the roman forum--my advice would be to skip the forum altogether and spend the day at ostia antica with a good guide book...you'll learn more and be far less frustrated! do take in the view of the forum from behind the campidoglio--that is extraordinary, and free.

we've thrown our coins in the fountain...hopefully we'll be back soon!

art history time: this is a great example of opus reticulatum, a roman brickwork construction method used from about 100 BC/BCE to 100 AD/CE

i like this one--technically, this would be opus mixtum (combined brickwork techniques), but i love how the opus reticulatum part is decorative with the black and white stones

again, opus mixtum--the laterally placed stones are opus latericium, a brickwork technique that was used more exclusively after 100 AD/CE

gus playing hide-n-seek with sophie in a former public area made of opus mixtum

pigeon roosting in a wall of opus latericium

(fyi: this is the view of the forum from the campidoglio)

we're ready to return to rome!  thank you for looking at our pictures.  :)

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

rome, 2013 (confusion in the eternal city)

more rome pictures! i've given up trying to categorize them into anything coherent (or caption them properly); hopefully they'll speak for themselves--if not, at least let me say thank you for joining me in the confusion that is my mind. only one more rome post to come, then i'll return to chronicling our swede-a-rific life!