Recently, I helped chaperone a field trip to the Music Museum in downtown Stockholm. No…not for one of my boys…for Maggie (she’s 3). Her pre-school adventure began with me (along with 2 teachers) helping to dress 12 (3-5) year-olds, in cold weather gear, then walking to a bus stop, then boarding a bus and getting on another train where we walked another couple of city blocks to finally reach the museum…whew! I kept asking myself, “Would we ever do this in the States?” The liability issues alone would make for a “NO!” But here in Sweden the curriculum, even in preschool, includes these kinds of activities as a way to teach children about everyday life.

What helped to keep the children organized was that each child had a “compass.” That is to say, they were each assigned a buddy. It’s a term the Swedes use for a friend (I promise you I’m spelling it wrong, but that’s exactly how its pronounced). The constant refrain throughout the day was, “Do you have your compass?” When the children heard this they’d scramble to find their partner; if they were already holding hands they’d turn to each other and smile. It was adorable.

Maggie’s compass was a girl named Alva who was at least a head taller than her, yet she was careful not to pull ahead. She stayed by Maggie the entire time, was quiet and listened well to directions. (Don’t we all want this kind of compass for our kids?) The teachers assigned her to me because they knew she wouldn’t give me any trouble.

The kids had so much fun at the museum. There were all different kinds of drums to look at and play. In one room they’d constructed drums out of kitchen pot and pans. Just look at the colors on these African drums!

 

That’s my Maggie rockin’ out.

Before the trip home the kids sat and ate their bananas.

Hearing the word “compass” spoken over and over again throughout the day, I couldn’t help but apply my own English vernacular to the meaning. A compass…a friend…it’s a wonderful description! A friend is a guide, someone to point north when you’re lost, someone who risks telling the truth even when the truth is difficult to hear. I’ve had the good fortune of many life “compasses;” parents, most importantly (thanks mom and dad). And teachers, like Doc Wilkerson, who risked taking a group of teenagers to Europe, (even scarier than preschooler). It was my first exposure to a foreign country and to say it changed my life wouldn’t be an exaggeration. Then there was Mrs. McWilliams, my 10th grade English teacher who taught me to love words, writing and the absolute joy of uncovering yourself in a book. (She didn’t even know I’d grow up to write a blog:) I still remember the cider and donuts she brought to class–thank you!

There are too many others to name, high school friends, college roommates, my soul mate Cooper (inestimable) and my children–they’re the best at pointing out when I’m in the wrong.:) And I can’t forget to mention strangers, so many times people I don’t even know have said something that’s stuck with me…they’re a compass too.

So how does one find a compass when they need it? I’ve learned it helps if your willing to be one first. You can’t stay lonely if you’re helping someone else not to be lonely. You won’t stay down if you’re trying to cheer someone else up. It’s just how life works.

We had a good-sized group this week at our Friday Fika (that means coffee and a treat in Swedish). There were some new faces too. We couldn’t stop talking about the elections, raising kids (always issues), and what we’d each buy if we had an hour at Target…ahhh. Topping the list was Reynolds’s Wrap Foil and Zip-lock baggies (how boring) but true. Consciously connecting takes planning, but it’s good to have a “compass” (and nice to be one too).
William Shakespeare

“A friend is one that knows you as you are, understands where you have been, accepts what you have become, and still, gently allows you to grow.”

― William Shakespeare

Mormons and Sweden

Those might not be two words you’d expect to go together for the 3rd most atheist country in the EU, but the Mormons are here and since I’m one of them, I thought I’d share a bit about the Church in Sweden. First off, you should know that despite the wide held sentiment that God doesn’t exist, the population at large is still considered to be 87% Lutheran…other religions represented are: Protestants, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Jewish, Buddhist and Latter-day Saints.

What may surprise you, is that the Swedes, played a large and important role in the development of the Mormon Church. During the early days of the religious organization, between 1850-1930, approximately 19,147 Swedes joined the Church, and of those, according to statistical records of the LDS Church, (44%) “8,545 immigrated to the United States to join the Saints in the intermountain west.” Those numbers added a tremendous pool of talent, leadership and strength to the members residing in “Zion.”

In 1910, the prophet and president of the Church, Joseph F. Smith, visited Stockholm and encouraged the members to stay in their country to help establish “Zion”. It wasn’t easy to live here and not be in the state religion; you were likely ostracized and still to this day people think you’re a little wacky if you’re, what they term “Free-religious,” meaning any religion outside of the Lutheran, Catholic or Jewish faith.

The members faced more hard times during WWII when all the missionaries were forced to leave the country. The Saints who remained did what they could to help LDS members in other countries, sending food and supplies to Russian-occupied Finland and German-occupied Norway. Quietly, as always, the Church carried on.

By 1946 the LDS Church was again sending missionaries from America to Sweden, 66 of them, and by 1952, when Sweden passed a law granting non-state Churches religions freedom, the Church began purchasing, remodeling and eventually dedicating 22 meetinghouses. The Stockholm Temple was built and dedicated on July 2, 1985. The temple ensured the Saints living in Sweden and the surrounding countries, would have access to all the blessings the temple has to offer, including sacred ordinances sealing families together for the eternities. For more on what a temple is and how it functions, click on the video clip below to take a tour.

Salt Lake City Temple

As an American, attending Church in Swedish, I’ll admit, it has its challenges. For one thing, everything is in Swedish, (other countries we’ve lived in have had International English speaking congregations), so we have to wear translation headsets to hear the English version spoken by the 19-year-old missionaries. Yes, they’re amazing. These guys literally just learned Swedish at the MTC (Mission Training Center) for 9 weeks and in a few short months they’re fluent enough to translate. We love them!

Singing the hymns is another, well…challenge. I hear the familiar tunes and think the English words in my head as I attempt to pronouce the Swedish. What comes out is a mix of both…Swenglish. But no one seems to mind. The Swedes are ever so reserved. Even if they were annoyed, no one, I’m sure, would tell me.

Culturally, Swedes have a tendency to wait to engage in conversation until you start with a “hello”. That means at Church if you want to talk to people, you better not wait—just smile and jump in with your English—they can all speak it anyway. Once you get them talking, they have a lot to say. They are kind, friendly, many of them very fond of America and its politics, wanting to know more about the States.

Having the opportunity to attend Church in almost any foreign country in the world today is a privilege I don’t take for granted. It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the governor of Missouri issued an extermination order, giving legal authority to kill the Mormons, a time when the temple built in Nauvoo Illinois was torched and burned to the ground, a time when LDS Saints had to cross the plains by foot, pulling hand-carts behind them to find a safe haven where they could worship freely in a free country. Many of those pioneer men, women, and children died along the way, but their sacrifice is not forgotten, not by my parents who are converts to the faith, nor by myself, who was raised Mormon and has enjoyed the blessings of worshipping in my religion around the world.

We are Christian; we believe in Christ, we read the Bible, along with the Book of Mormon, which is another testament of Christ during His visit to the America’s following His crucifixion. The Book of Mormon is an ancient record, filled with stories similar to what you’d find in the Bible, about people that lived before and after the time of Christ’s ministry. It’s an incredible book and I’m not just saying that ‘cause I’m a Mormon, or maybe I am, but really, it’s worth reading and if you want a free copy you only have to google “Free copy of Book of Mormon,” and you’ll get the link to Mormon.org.

As Mormons we believe all people are God’s children and that He has provided the earth as a place for us to come in order to grow and learn and progress. I live my faith not because it’s easy, but because I love what it teaches, that we are all sons and daughters of God regardless of our differences. In a world that is always changing and filled with conflicts and problems, my faith is my anchor, it’s who I am (along with 14 million others).

It should come as no surprise that life in Sweden moves at a slower pace. The very elements demand one slows down–given the dark, the cold, the long winter. It makes sense then, that the National Museum in Stockholm should have an exhibition entitled, Slow Art. The objects on display were made slowly, using complicated techniques or at the very least, repetitive ones—like the silver pitcher hammered by hand from a sheet of steel. According to curator Cilla Robach, the art chosen to be on display “advocate[s] a life that is not governed by the constant battle against the clock, by profit-thinking and short-term consumerism.”

Works like this one (below), a tapestry, created by Annika Ekdahl in 1955, titled “Road Movie: Visiting Mom, 2010” takes time, a lot of time, about a month of time for each square meter. I’m not positive how many square meters this was, but I assure you it was gigantic!

Detail of tapestry

Of course there is no turning back once you begin to weave. She had to be absolutely certain from the beginning what her plan was, then have the patience and stamina to execute that plan over months, even years. When tapestries can be made on machines and art works, (think of how many), could have made during the course of a year, the act of making something this monumental was part madness. That makes it, in my estimation, true art.

Loved the sculptures by Eva Hild.

White Sculpture

Before I continue, I will mention that there were some works I didn’t photograph, sorry, the pair of “Cinderella Slippers,” made out of paper and needles sticking out at all angles, (ouch), frankly, gave me the creeps, but then again, maybe it was suppose to. It’s art.

I did photograph for you the beautiful and vibrate prints of pressed flowers. There were more than a few actually, filling an entire wall. The patterns and colors were lovely to see.

Then there was the necklace made out of eggshells and pearls. Fragile and luminescent, it sat under a glass display case, lit from below, making the shells all the more transparent.

Helena Sandstrom, 1999

And this is where the genius (or ridiculousness of art, we could argue) comes into play. Who would have thought to put that together? But isn’t it somehow poetic? For me it was about the adornments we wear being in reality so breakable and “transparent.” What we put on being in truth not so truthful? But then again, it could mean something else entirely.

One of my favorite pieces was the work entitled “Red,” by Cecilia Levy, 1963.

It was made from teeny tiny cut up pieces of old books and meticulously glued into the form of a bowl. The information written next to the display explained: the “process is only partially controllable; what the bowl will look like on the inside emerges only when it is done, and then it is too late to make changes or corrections.”

I got the sense that the artist was making a statement about how we are each like a bowl, forming ourselves over time, a work in progress, not knowing exactly how we’ll turn out but consciously or not, each day adding a little knowledge here and there until what we hold inside becomes the final outcome.

Only, I’d like to believe we’re not so random, that we have control over what form and shape we take, that each of us, in our own way, is an artist too, piecing together (or hammering away) at our lives until, eventually, we’ll arrive at ourselves. Maybe it would be a good idea to slow down, not rush so much, take our time and use each day to progress just a little…not more. Good things take time, maybe even a lifetime.

Ideas for Living Slow:

Make homemade ravioli without a machine. Who does that anymore? (My point exactly.) And why not make some slow cooked beef stroganoff, but not in your “Slow Cooker,” no, no, that would be too fast. See…this is hard.

Instead of doing a cardio workout, try Yoga or Body Balance—lots of stretching is good for the soul too.

Sit down when you kids (or husband) get home from school/work. In a chair that is, not in the car while you’re on the way to somewhere else. Let them tell you about their entire day while you give eye-contact. Don’t make dinner, no folding clothes, just listen. It’s a tough one. Multi-tasking is how I get things done. Maybe try for one afternoon not getting things done.

Read Tolstoy.

Week 40 and Counting

I broke the news late last night to Jonah. Actually, I thought he already knew. There is no Halloween in Sweden; no going door-to-door, stocking up on candy to be eaten for the next six months; no Snicker’s bars, Dum-Dum’s (who cares about those anyway) or Laffy Taffy. He didn’t know how good he had it in Cali, (isn’t that always the case), there we had neighborhood Trick or Treating plus Trunk or Treating at our Church parking lot—double the loot!

Shhh…don’t tell, but I’ll miss digging through the kids candy bags too when they’re not looking:) But what I miss even more, is the simple fact that Halloween has come to be a tangible marker of time in my life, signaling the beginning of an all-star season line-up of great holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, followed by the inevitable Diet Season, then Easter right around the corner.

I feel like I should be walking into TJMaxx right now, seeing the overflowing shelves of kitschy ghosts, goblins and witches, or what about the “kid-friendly” Fall décor—scarecrows with happy faces and wooden pumpkins that spell out “HAPPY AUTUMN.” I love that stuff, until I have to store it, then it’s a trip to Target for a large orange and black bin…yeah, don’t pretend you don’t have one of those.

Here kids won’t have time off school for Halloween or Thanksgiving. Wouldn’t it be so much easier if the entire world just celebrated these holidays? Okay, that’s a wee bit global expansionism narcissistic of me, but who doesn’t love a big Turkey with all the trimmings? I suppose I’m going to have to mark time this calendar year like the Swedes do…counting. According to the Swedes it’s week 40. No really, it’s week 40. They count the weeks and refer to events according to what week it is. Flyers come home from school with things like, “Parent Teacher Conferences on Thursday Week 43.” What??? Just give me the date!

It’s like parents who keep counting how old their children are by the months after they’ve turned 2. After 24 months it’s time to move onto year’s people…it just doesn’t make sense to hear a child is 39 months when you can say 3. Halloween is week 44, Thanksgiving is week 48, naturally, Christmas is week 52. Maybe it’s a good system, but I prefer to count time with candy, celebrations, and delicious food. And as long as we’re counting weeks, let’s just consider for a moment…it’s been 15 weeks since we moved—since I packed those 10 suitcases we’re still making due with. Yeah, um, not sure how layering t-shirts is going to help much in this weather…but I have been shopping, okay, a lot of shopping, but it’s cold. And just for fun I’m crocheting a scarf too. Expect that to be finished around week 57, oh wait, that’s like week 5, or let’s just say January.

We are still looking for a house to rent on the island…or off the island, possibly on other islands…we really don’t care where, we’d just like to be in a house with our stuff that is sitting in storage in Sweden. It sounds absurd, that we haven’t found a house yet, but it’s one of those things you come to learn here in Sweden, (along with counting weeks), that houses are virtually impossible to come by to rent. It’s the bane of the expat existence here in what U.S. News and World Report just named one of the happiest countries on earth. (Trust me, I’m not happy.) We’ve become known in the broker community throughout the island as the “American couple with the big family that wants to rent.” But so far nothing, nada, zippo has worked out. I’m hoping week 41 brings some better news, until then, we’ll keep counting the weeks.

 

Naturhistoriska Riksmuseet

This week we headed to The Natural History Museum in Stockholm. The edifice itself is well worth a visit–built in 1916, it’s situated next to the main campus of Stockholm University–it’s massive. The hotdog stand, (you can see in the picture out front), is pretty awesome too. Ever have a French hotdog…where the bun wraps all the way around? They squirt ketchup and mustard in the middle–it’s not bad.

It was a rainy day. We weren’t sure what to expect, but as long as we stayed entertained and dry we were going to be happy. And lucky for us, the museum didn’t disappoint, it was…it was, how should I say this, um….Taxidermy Heaven? Literally. Almost any animal you can conceive of, moose, bears, all kinds of fish, elk, even reindeer, stuffed, with most in action poses.  I didn’t elaborate on how exactly they were stuffed, or explain that they were alive before they got stuffed. We just kept it that they were cute and furry and fun to see…especially this little red squirrel. 

In addition to all the “stuffed animals”, they had a special exhibition of photographs by Dr. Joe Zammi-Lucia, a scholar, author and world’s leading animal portrait artist.

In his words…

“In creating images of animals, I have little interest in what the animal looks like; in the animal merely as observed object. Rather my interest is in the deeper reality of what this animal might possibly be. ‘How do I feel in relation to this animal?’ ‘What might it be like to be this animal? These are questions that interest me.”

Looking at these larger than life canvases, you could truly feel the spirit and soul of these amazing creatures. Can’t you sense their individual personalities?

This traveling exhibit has been shown at the United Nations in New York and Geneva and  is touring in museums worldwide. Here’s a few more of our favorite shots, including the “Angry Monkey” Maggie told me I shouldn’t show anyone

And because the photo of the Lion was so cool, I had to experiment with my new App, FilterMania 2. You can get some really cool effects with your photos in just a few quick clicks. Check out some variations of the museum photo using the Lion. (I call this first one the Narnia effect.)

Here’s an idea for a fall day…

Get a dirt-proof bag, like a Target bag, (or the one pictured here, a goodie bag from a recent birthday party made out of waxed cotton) and head to the woods.

Here’s what you’ll need

This could involve some driving first, but it’s worth it. Wear shoes that can get dirty.Here’s some ideas for what you can do:

Collect leaves and compare their shapes and sizes, if you don’t know their names, make up some that sound good.

Our Family of leaves

Collect pinecones or rocks to take home to display around a candle, or fill a dish and add a few drops of essential oils to fragrance a room. It will be a nice reminder of your fun day.

If permitted, cut some wild flowers for a vase (a canning jar will do).

Be sure to tell a story along your walk and make your child the hero or heroine. Only one rule about storytelling: It must have a monster! And don’t worry about being original, Snow White was in the woods, so was Little Red and Goldilocks, make something up from there. My story involved a certain “Princess Maggie” that was out picking wild roses when along came a wicked witch that demanded the roses belonged to her and no one else. (Does any part of this sound familiar?). As punishment, Princess Maggie was kept in the enchanted forest behind a wall of towering trees, cared for by the Woodland Fairies. (If you look hard you can find fairies on your walk too:). The ending involves Princess Maggie being very clever and of course a Prince. Everyone should live happily ever after.

Search for a Magic Fairy Wand, (or Wizard Wand). Cast some spells!

Older kids can get in on the action too, collecting things to make a “land sculpture.”

It started with just a head, then got more elaborate…

It was a windy day so before our leaf man blew away, we took this picture.

My walks in the woods aren’t just about kid fun. I look at nature for inspiration for design. My interior design professor at BYU held that nature was the best place to find a palette of colors to decorate a room. Take for instance this photo, combining lush green moss, cool pastel blue and warm browns and greys…what a fantastic color scheme…or

Nature’s Palette

what about a vibrant green paired with scarlet? Are you feeling Christmas?

Just being in nature is the goal. Nothing complicated. Nothing stressful. Then home for warm cocoa. You’re kids will thank you.

It wasn’t my most brilliant idea, drive to IKEA using a GPS that can’t speak Swedish. Oh my! Once I started onto the freeway system, there was no turning back—three freeways, two interchanges, tons of construction; I felt it a tender mercy from God I only made three wrong turns.

I swore when I left Europe the last time, I’d never go back to IKEA (Like ever!). During our 9 years of living overseas I’d put together one too many closets, beds and desks with that thingamajig that comes in every box. You know what I’m talking about, that metal bar that ruins your fingertips, and you can only hope and pray that after you turn and turn and turn the screw actually fits?

On my way there, I was having flashbacks of the time Cooper and I put together an entire closet from IKEA, to discover later it wouldn’t fit past our bedroom door. Duh? To be fair, we were functioning on very little sleep and it was late at night. But honestly, does anyone’s brain work like a Swedes? I mean, they can make a table that turns into a couch that turns into a toothbrush holder, (that might be stretching it.) But you have to agree, IKEA is some astounding design—functional and at the same time (usually) attractive.

This wasn’t around last time I was in Europe. IKEA is moving on up.

Colorful and Functional.

And most of the time you find what you’re looking for, including things you don’t even know you need…like the cool metal cart I bought that sits by my kitchen stove to organize my utensils and spices. I figure it can double as a trivet, and should I need to pass a heavy dish of meatballs, no need to lift, just give the dish a shove and let it roll. (On second thought, that could end in disaster). But it is kinda fantastic, don’t you think?

So as long as I’m taking pictures in my kitchen, why don’t I show you our garbage can built into the stainless steel counter top? Pretty awesome, ah?

Right by the sink, no bending for the trash under the counter.

I also bought some things at IKEA I actually needed, hangers for instance, I couldn’t find them anywhere, but of course they were there. And so were towels and a carrot peeler and plants to make my “temporary house” feel like a home. I bought candles, a box of 30 white tapers, (the smallest amount they sell them in). Swedes burn a lot of candles (a lot), especially in the winter, so I’m certain we’ll use them up, plus with our new candle holders to display cool stuff, no reason not to have candlelight every night for dinner.

Check out our collection of pinecones displayed in the holders from our nature walk. (More on our nature walk later.)

No matter what you’re shopping for, a trip to IKEA wouldn’t be complete without a lunch of Swedish meatballs, mash potatoes with gravy and their signature ligonberry jam. Yum! (Here’s what else you could eat.)

Swedes love their shrimp. Shrimp on rolls, on lettuce, on avocado…

Maggie saved room for dessert so I bought her an ice cream cone, not just any ice cream cone; this was the work of a Swedish mad scientist genius. You place the cone in a machine, along with a token, that activates the dispenser to swirl the ice cream on top…how fun is that? The arcade-like experience kept Maggie in slack jawed wonder. (Now if it only tasted like Dairy Queen life would be perfect.)

Happiness

I’m glad I gave IKEA a second chance. We had a lovely time and I made it home, which was all the better. And just ‘cause I didn’t want to be selfish, I brought home frozen meatballs, gravy and jam for my family too. (Never mind I didn’t have to cook dinner:).

P.S. One last inside tidbit, you know all those IKEA names of furniture none of us can pronounce: Hogsatra, Lidingo, Skarsby, Malmo…they’re all towns in Sweden. Who could have guessed?

It feels different now, in the year 2012, to be an American living overseas than it did back in 1999 when we first embarked on our tour to Greece. That was before the Euro Zone, before 9-11, before I even knew Al-Qaeda existed. You only have to glance up at the barbed wire fence surrounding the Stockholm Embassy to know the United States faces security risks. Naturally, I don’t like to think of our country as having enemies, but we have to see things for what they are, not for what we wish they would be.

This weekend I was downtown shopping and happened to see a demonstration in Stockholm, Muslims holding their flags aloft, forming a circle, chanting in Arabic. I have no idea what they were saying, but it sounded like a call to action, or at the very least an angry protest. Crowds similar to this have been forming across the globe, denouncing the anti-Islam film in the streets of Sydney, Pakistan, Beirut (many more) and of course Libya where terrorists carried out an attack on the Ambassador and killed 3 other Americans—a reprehensible tragedy.

It seems the film has tapped into a much deeper anti-American sentiment or that Muslims were waiting for something to channel their anger and then…along came this D-rate low budget movie on Muhammad, with dubbed voices and bad acting, (I’m told), and rioting erupts. But no matter how inane the movie is, or how insulting, no one should be targeted and killed for it and our government doesn’t need to apologize for stupid citizens doing stupid things. It’s our right as Americans to express our opinions, even if no one likes them, even if their ignorant viewpoints are designed to be inflammatory.

We can’t on one hand uphold democracy, as a standard, and on the other apologize for the results of that very democracy—a freedom that brings with it free speech. As Americans we have the right to do dumb stuff. It doesn’t say that exactly in the Bill of Rights, but it’s implicit. If you haven’t seen it yet, there is a great piece by Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal, comparing the Mormons’ reaction to satirical and crude references of their religion, (i.e. The Book of Mormon Musical, which Hilary Clinton attended last year) and that of Muslims. No one is apologizing to Mormons, as Stephens points out, but they’re not going to kill you either.

LDS Living – W.S. Journal: Muslims, Mormons and liberals.

Birthday Week

It’s been a busy week with two birthdays, Jonah’s and Cooper’s. I bought a traditional Swedish cake to celebrate. These cakes are everywhere in Stockholm and on the island; it’s like déjà vu each time I walk into a bakery. Inside it’s layered with white cake, and whipped cream, and always (always) topped with green marzipan. It’s rich and filling, but surprisingly mild in flavor—frankly, it tastes like a Twinkie (only not as good). Pretty though…don’t you think?

Maggie started pre-school and I spent the first three days helping her “transition” (hanging out in class). I think I had more fun than she did; painting, going out to play and eating the fabulous school lunch–food made from scratch. No joke, the food was restaurant quality. And what’s more, the kids get to help themselves to as much as they want. Baked salmon, quinoa and steamed vegetables, falafel and rice. Here’s a picture of Maggie and Emily cleaning up the table with their tin bucket. (Actually I think Maggie’s telling Emily to stop eating Wasa crackers and get out of the way.)

It’s getting colder and that means more school shopping. We took the train into the city this weekend then taxied home with our packages (it’s way too crazy to drive and find parking). Below is a preview of the Scandinavian looks for fall.

Men of all ages wear scarves and skinny pants. I wish I had a picture to show you the red pants typical of Swedish fashion. Red pants are worn like a neutral color, paired with almost anything and rumored to be popular because it used to be you had to either have been a millionaire to wear them, or have circumnavigated the Atlantic Ocean. I can’t say for certain if that’s true, but one thing’s for sure, red pants are the height of fashion in Stockholm.

Micah’s sporting some Swedish style

Remember me telling you about the woman’s group starting to form on the island…myself and a few other expats meeting for tea here on Lindingo? Well, our group of 6 has grown to over 20 now; we no longer fit in the teashop so we’ve moved to a farmhouse restaurant north of the island—Elfvick’s Gard.Typical Bread Table with hard breads and disks of Wasa

Selection of Desserts

Traditional Swedish Cinnamon Buns with Sugar on top

It was a rainy day, but toasty warm inside with a lovely fire going. (See there are good things about cold weather!) I took an umbrella but as you can see from the picture below, it did me little good.

Maggie stayed warm with her friend Kendall, both wearing their colorful slickers and rain boots. My rain boots arrived this week too! So I’ll be able to jump in puddles now and trust me, there’s plenty of them.

How did this happen two years in a row? We didn’t know it was school picture day, again, and Jonah wore the exact same Captain America T-shirt he wore last year! It was a size larger; his brother’s hand-me-down, but still. And his hair, oh my goodness…we were rushing this morning and he didn’t get it combed with gel. He ran out the door looking like an overgrown Chia pet! Sorry grandparents, no school picture to put on the fridge (again). But those static, blue background sky shots are a little overrated, right? They do, unfortunately, make it into the yearbook, and that is a memory for a lifetime. (I won’t post a picture of Jonah today, but here’s one of Maggie.)

Picture snafu aside, today was Maggie’s first day of pre-school! She was so excited. I stayed with her the entire morning, as I will for the next three days during her transition period. It’s a Swedish thing, sort of easing children into new situations and structure in general. Most children start school when they are 2 or 3 but they don’t begin formal education–learning to read and write–until they are 7. That pushes the graduation ages up to 20 years old in some cases, but it’s not considered unusual. Kids here are allowed to be kids and in school they play a lot (I mean A LOT).

Maggie spent most of the morning playing in the “pretend room” with atomically correct dolls she insisted were all girls (I didn’t debate) and making tea for me with the set of tin china. Her teacher, a well-traveled girl from England, paid close attention to Maggie, talking with her as she played. For the remainder of the week Maggie will have the same teacher, speaking to her in English, then next week the teachers alternate and Maggie will be taught entirely in Swedish. The teachers alternate throughout the year, one week English, the next Swedish. Most of the children seem to understand both. There was one little Swedish girl, with startling blue eyes, who every time I spoke to her immediately counted from one to four. I suppose that was all she could say in English, but she was proud of it.

My favorite part of the day was lunch. We walked to the dining hall in single file, hands held behind our backs. I followed the rules too and sat in our assigned table, the teachers alongside the kids. We dined family style, passing the salad, pasta, beans and Wasa crackers with butter. When the meal was over, each child cleared their plate into a waste bucket situated low to the floor then put their dinnerware onto a cart. One child got to carry the small metal bucket to the table filled with soapy water and everyone got a tiny yellow rag to wipe up the crumbs. It was amazing. I’ve decided I’m buying a tiny cleaning bucket for my house too! Everyone will get a rag after dinner and wala! Done! Clean!

After lunch it was outdoor time. Children here spend amazing amounts of time outdoors, sometimes 4-5 hours during the school day, playing, painting, doing circle time if the weather is good—barring pouring rain and thunder the weather is always good. If it is raining, the children wear waterproof suits called Welly’s and go outside anyway, having the time of their life sitting in puddles, splashing around as much as they want; paradise for a kid:)

When the weather gets really cold, the kids still go outdoors…in ski suits. I had trouble believing it, but there is a preschool on Lidingo that is entirely outdoors—the children eat outside, sleep outside under a canopy overhang and of course play outside. (It’s like Viking training.) “Fresh air is very important for growing,” they say, and it must be true because Swedes are about the tallest people I’ve ever met.

Frankly, I’m fascinated by all their outdoor time. I lived in California with all that sunshine and I didn’t see Californians spend half as much time outdoors, certainly not the school children. Jonah had all of 15-minutes of recess some days. Spending an entire day outside, no matter the weather, is not something that would have ever occurred to me as a possibility really. But I’m starting to enjoy it more and more. It’s like my friend who lived in Moscow used to say, “There’s no bad weather, just bad gear.” It does make a difference, being warm, staying dry and there’s something empowering too about braving the elements, not letting the weather dictate your destiny. I think there’s a metaphor somewhere in there—the storm, life, facing challenges—but my brain is too tired after my busy day at school. It’s definitely nap-time for me.