Friday, 26 December 2008

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

talk to you again in 2009 when I actually have a regular internet connection!
Until then, Happy Holidays!!

Thursday, 18 December 2008

A Few Quiet Days At Queenscliff

We have been in the lovely town of Queenscliff this week, staying with my sister and her family in a beach house. Despite the rain, the wind and the cold mornings we still managed to get red rosy cheeks and noses. The kids still managed to swim in the sea, build sandcastles and eat fish and chips. We still managed to take the ferry over to Sorrento (one of my favorite places), spend some time with my older sister and two of her kids, and play, play play with their cousin closest in age. It was a precious few days, despite me being sick with a tummy bug.....

Nothing beats the beach.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Great Australian Dream

It is again 5am and I am sitting in bed watching the sun come up, the view across the new suburbs and listening to the magpies warble. My early mornings give me some time before the little ones wake for the day. It is my time to do some work, some writing and some quiet contemplation.

Like most western cities Melbourne is plagued by disease, one that is slowly and quietly sprawling across the country – a disease called urbanisation. The land that lies before me was once farmland, forest before that. Today it is the home of countless Australians in their quest to live a good life.

Owning your own home is the great Australian dream, almost a right rather than a privilege. While we have a reputation of being a country of convicts, those who have emigrated to Australia have mostly been those in search of a better life. The definition of a better life may have changed over the last couple of hundred years, but in essence it is the same. One of the original attractions was the promised land – many of those who arrived in the early days were granted a plot of land, emancipated convicts were granted land, squatters were granted the land after 10 years – people who would never had the opportunity to own land in their home country. 200 years later land is still an important part of the culture, and is still being granted by the government- all first home-buyers are eligible for a government grant – to help them obtain that Great Australian Dream. And it is not just about buying a home, Australians also want to own their own home, and many work hard to pay off their mortgage, enabling them to retire debt-free.

Compare that with Swedes, 50% of whom live in apartments, 30% of Swedes rent and comparatively few aspire to pay off their mortgages the way people do here. The hot topic in Sweden is the slowly diminishing right to live in rental property with occupants taking over ownership and reducing the supply of rental property (more about this another time).

The Australians I meet struggle to understand the concept of bostadsrätt – or owning a share of the building rather than the walls they reside within. They struggle with our lack of right to invest in property and rent it out as we choose, with communal laundries and gardening days. They struggle to understand why people live in apartments, why they make that life-long choice.

Values, goals and life choices are different – it is in the history, it is in the culture, it is in the lifestyle, it is in the climate.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Aussie Expat Returns Home

But not without much contemplation and it seems I am never to be freed from it. Our trips to Canada just don’t get me thinking the way coming back home does.

I’ve been gone since 1995, plus the 15 months I spent away before that, and right from when I check In at Arlanda thoughts about my homeland start. I see another Swedish-Australian family lined up to check-in beside us, they remind me of so many others I have met over the years…..
I guess my first thoughts go to categories – and fighting the ones that people box us into. I don’t want to be like anyone one else, I never have and I can chuckle and think of many who would laugh and say – don’t worry – you never will be! But I am glad I don’t live in the U.K. – like so many Aussies do. And I’m not just another expat who has spent a few years abroad – I’m kind of more lost than that – am I one of those that has been lost to another nation, another life. Was Australia never good enough for me? Never the way I wanted it to be? Or did it just happen this way.

Entering the airport and going through the motions – customs etc brings me tface to face with my contemplation of my own national identity – who am I? Where do I belong?

As we drive from the airport my mother asks if it feels good to be at the end of our journey, yet sitting in the car that last hour is probably the hardest bit. And as the city and the suburbs whirl past me I am struck by what I like least about this place – the sheer vastness of this city, its urban sprawl and the roads. They are adding another lane she informs me – that’s great but what are they doing about the infrastructure – public transport?

And the overwhelming feeling of coming home to my city – to a city I no longer know. Staring at her face and seeing so much that is familiar, but so much that is not. It fuels my irritation over the building that is going on, developing, exploiting – business is big in this part of the world – money will buy you anything you want. Or am I just overcome by the strange and empty feeling of not feeling at home in the very place where I am supposed to feel at home?

It’s now 4am in the morning, I have slept a few hours but the awoke and my mind started spinning, my thoughts racing. My children sleep peacefully beside me, their stimulation is of a different kind to mine. I’m grateful they are sleeping and not disturbed by that now.

It is funny, moreover, interesting to read the thoughts of other bloggers that reflect my own. The Hairy Swede wonders if you ever stop translating prices into your own currency. I stopped a long time ago, and in my head Australian prices are still where they were over 15 years ago – when I left.

I know I am not the first to contemplate my own national identity, and I will not be the last. My own children probably have it ahead of them. Belonging is central to our needs as human beings – what an alienating feeling it is to come home and yet not belong here…..

Yet I smell the eucalyptus as I come out of the airport and I lie here listening to the birds and their first early morning calls, and I know I am at home. And it feels good!

Monday, 8 December 2008

And the long journey is over...

Well, 33 hours later we have arrived. 33 hours door to door!! It is a painful trip and I asked myself countless times both before and during it why I was doing it on my own. I watched those with babies and thought – ahhh they were the days – it was so much easier then.

But we survived. K slept quite a bit, M about 2 hours and me – none! Thank goodness for the on-demand movies in the back of the seats!!

Friday, 5 December 2008

Bags are packed & we're ready to go

Alarms are set, taxi ordered, the most essential things have been done. I've stocked up on cough medicine, cough drops, panadol/alvedon, and nasal spray. Hopefully we won't drive those around us crazy with our coughing and sniffing.

They carry-ons have cars, books and a possum (stuffed toy) in them. I've got candy stashed for when I have to wake them at 4am to get them onto another flight and extra food in case they get hungry or won't eat the aeroplane food - because it is the wrong time of day or because they don't like it.

Got the passports, ticket info, Kieran's visa (poor thing is not yet an Aussie citizen) and extracts from the population register in case I need to show he does not have a double surname even though the Swedish passport makes it look like he does.

And we have glögg and pepparkakor.We take off here at 7am Saturday and we touch-down at 11.30 Sunday morning. Australia here we come!!

Bye bye to all those I didn't get a chance to speak to - will be back online in a few days.
Take care!!

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Tired, sick, but almost ready to go home

The boy has had a temperature for the last 24 or so hours, a cough all week and a bit of an earache today - none of these are a good recipe for 30 something hours of travel. We'll see how he sleeps and how he is in the morning - might be a trip to the doc's tomorrow.

I feel a kind of burning in my chest - as soon as I slow down it will pounce on me too.

Last day of work tomorrow, then to finalise a few things before we prepare for a 5am taxi ride on Saturday morning.

We're almost there.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Försäkringskassan, SGI & Swedish Sickness Benefits

Well it is not too often that I get a full week of work with the one company, but this week I managed to land some work, only to be at home with a sick boy today.

His dad took him to work with him yesterday, and said that he could tomorrow and the rest of the week, which left today. We had thought he'd be ok, but that razor sharp cough woke me each time during the night, compounding my stress and contemplation of what to do. When I woke this morning, a few minutes after 6am, just before my alarm, I listened to the rain knowing I could not push him. He could not spend the greater part of the day outside in the dampness. Today was going to be a home-day.

So I kept both of them at home and we had a quite day, watching tv, building train tracks and embroidering. And I got the packing done - finalised! Complete! That takes a load off my mind. While my attitude to packing is fairly casual I still have to do it for 3 people, 2 of whom have grown out of some of their clothes, and account for temperature variation between 16 - 40 oC.

Kids are sleeping soundly and I have had a couple of glasses of wine since dinner, hoping to drug myself into a state of sleep. After all - I have nothing left to write on my list e at 1am tonight - there is nothing more I need to remember - it has all been done. Here's hoping I get more than the 5 hours of anxious restlessness I have had the last couple of nights.

Anyway, as ruthless as it sounds it is tough to give up a day's work to care for a child, and I understand there are often heated discussions in families to determine who will stay at home - whose job is the most important? Who will lose the most financially? As in so many places in the world the husband usually earns more, so it is most often the wife who stays at home to care for the sick child.This is despite the fact that Sweden has a very generous system where the parent who stays home and thus loses a day's pay, receives 80%of their salary back from the government. Now this might sound like a fair system that encourages highly paid parents to stay at home, but there is a ceiling on the payment which in turn discourages highly paid parents from attending to their little ones. Still, I can't help but think we are lucky. While I have no idea what the system is in Australia, I still can't believe my Canadian in-laws do not get paid to stay at home with sick children. What a lot of pressure that must put on a family, not to mention a child who may be unwillingly pushed out of bed and off to school if there is any doubt. Or if finances are tight.While my personal sickness benefits mean that I do not get paid for the first day I am at home sick (hence who only takes 1 day off??) caring for a child gives me coverage from the first day. And even as newly launched business owner I am still entitled to benefits. I have a right to send in a budget for 2009 (with 2008 being the start-up year) and a calculation is done based on that. That calculation is called my SGI and is the basis for my sickness benefits for the first two years of my business - whether it be for myself or for my children. Försäkringskassan is the government body that handles these payments and they not only require a budget but also a information about what salary someone doing the same job would receive, what background you have in the industry and what your calculations are based on - and you don't compile all this information in 10 minutes.

Once upon a time a new business owner's salary or SGI was calculated based on the salary of a person in a similar role, but that is no longer the case. It is almost entirely based on your budget, so be aware of that when you submit it - it will hold for up to two years if you don't provide evidence that you are doing better than you budgeted for.

All these things are worth knowing - friends of mine running their own business have been going without for years - every time a child was sick and they had to employ someone to work they took it as a loss in the business - and all this time they could have been claiming - just as every other employed Swede does. After all, that is what we pay tax for, even those of us who run our own business!

Time for me to get to bed, and hopefully sleep more than five hours!

Monday, 1 December 2008

A busy week

Not sure how much I'm going to be around this week - wish I could say I was just hanging about like this bear but that is not quite the case. The countdown is on - we fly 7am Saturday morning and I have a full week of work until then - plus a number of lose ends to tie up and offers to do some extra work. I'm just crossing my fingers and holding my thumbs that the kids stay well this week and are fit and healthy to go Saturday - 30 something hours of travel along with 2 kids is not something I look forward to.....

Sunday, 30 November 2008

First Advent Is An Important Tradition

in Sweden and a timely one too. It is dark, grey and bleak outside. The snow has melted and the days continue to get darker. It is a long way until summer.

We need First Advent, it gives us something else to think about, it brightens up our life.
The first of the advent candles are lit, marking the countdown until Christmas, or the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

Advent Candles are put on the window sills around the country.
Stars are hung in windows and doorways.

When we leave for work and school in the mornings in the darkness, they light up our way.
When we come home in the afternoon or evening in the darkness, they light up our way. The combination creates a special, magical feeling that I strongly associate with my first weeks in Sweden, many years ago.

The first Sunday in Advent is also the first day of the church year, and a day when people who are not normally church-goers might attend an advent service, often to see young children singing.

It also means we can officially start drinking glögg and eating pepparkakor.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

A Christmasy Saturday in Stockholm

After a big sleep-in we headed into town to say hello to Tobias and Klara who were holding a vernissage at LOD today.

Every year we buy the kids an ornament to put on the Christmas tree, the idea is that they will have a collection for their own tree in years to come. We try and get something different each Christmas and we try and get something with the year on it. Usually we don't manage to find something this early in the season, but today we picked up this year's ornament.

Klara and Tobias share their gallery with four others and the six of them have each interpreted the Christmas star and made a tree ornament. Makaila chose the star Klara designed, Kieran chose the star Tobias designed - with the words to "Twinkle, twinkle little star around it". In the above photo you can see both Tobias's Twinkle, twinkle, little star, and Klara's which is also featured below.Ty & I both loved the snowflakes. They are lovely pieces with both the designers name and the year on them.We bought the collection, that way we won't have an empty tree when the kids leave home in years to come.

After LOD we headed in to NK to see the Christmas windows. There seemed to be stars everywhere.
The NK Christmas windows were pretty cool, each one was a huge box filled with presents made from a specific material. This one was china and glassPlastic.
M was very cute, pointing things out to her little bro.

Then we headed across the road to the little Christmas market in Kungsträgården.
And finally, we sat and watched the ice-skating for a few minutes before heading home.
I love Swedish Christmas markets. If you want to check some out this festive season have a look at AlltomStockholm, or StockholmTown. Alternatively google julmarknad Stockholm and you'll find a ton of them around the place - in squares, in castles, on islands and in galleries. Lots of fun and you might even pick up some nice things along the way.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Thanksgiving Meal For Homeless In Stockholm

Read this great story on The Local tonight about a bunch from the American Club Of Sweden who cooked a meal for one of the shelters on Stockholm.

Just thought I'd share a nice story.
Belated Happy Thanksgiving to all my American friends (Nov 27th).The history of Thanksgiving.

P.S. If you are looking for networking opportunities in Stockholm The American Club of Sweden have a great mingle on the third Thursday of each month. It is open to Swedes, Americans and other ex-pats and the location varies each month. It is a great way to meet new people - you just never know who you might meet!

Australian Day In Stockholm Nov 29th

If you are jealous because I'm heading Down Under in a week then you can get your own taste of Australia tomorrow at the Australian-New Zealand Friendship Society's Australia Day event.

It is being held at BaraVi Bistro Bar,
Skånegatan 59 in Stockholm from 1.30-4pm.

Here is the program for the day:
  • Information about the Society "Travel Society for enthusiasts" by President Erwin Apitzsch.
  • Concert with Australian-inspired folk music by Lars Wallin and The TribeLars (highly recommended).
Have a go on a didjerido with Lars Wallin.Opportunity to become a member in the Society for 150:-/year.

I was active in this board and the Scandinavian board for about 5 years - so what can I say - it is a great organisation with lots of great Aussie-Kiwi enthusiasts and Lars Wallin is a fantastic didj player!!
Bookings are to be made to but if you are in the area on Saturday it would be well worth your while popping in to say G'day!

Thursday, 27 November 2008

The Snow Has Melted

What started off as something very, very beautiful, gradually turned into something very ugly, until it completely melted away throughout the day. Not a single flake left.

Here today, gone tomorrow.
Quite symbolic really. A reminder that we should appreciate what we have, while we have it. Because who knows what tomorrow will bring. It is beautiful while it lasts.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

So many things to write

but just so busy getting stuff done....

  • passports
  • visas
  • web company quotes
  • site specifications, layout, design, structure...
  • picking up suitcases
  • preparing for a week of teaching
  • invoicing
  • relocation clients
  • Christmas plans
  • birthday parties and presents
  • preparing for first advent
  • winter supplies - gloves, boots, hats
  • försäkringskassan & SGI (more about that later)
  • collecting cash for a pressie
and the list goes on....

The socialising, networking and information gathering opportunities are being ignored, for now.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Ploughing, Gravel & Salt On The Roads

The roads and paths have been ploughed, which takes away half the fun - unless you are an oldie hobbling along, you have a stroller with dinky little wheels or you have nice shoes that get wrecked walking in snow.

Tractors and other heavy vehicles with ploughs attached drive around clearing the streets and cute little machines clear off the footpaths, both leave a trail of gravel behind them to increase traction. The ploughs leave great piles of snow where ever they can - creating at times huge snow mountains that are there to be climbed by little people! And it is funny to see the hedges of snow lining the footpaths.

Vägverket has a policy dictating how quickly the roads are to be cleared.

Black roads - When 1cm of snow has fallen the ploughs have 2 hours to clear the roads. Once it has stopped snowing they have 2 hours to completely clear them of ice and snow. Ice is treated with salt.
Yellow roads - as above but within 3 hours.
Green roads - 2cm and 4 hours apply.
Blue roads - when they have 2cm of snow on them the ploughs have 5 hours to clear them. Five hours after the last snowfall the roads are to have no more than 2cm of snow on them. Ice is treated with sand/gravel (not salt).
Grey roads - when they have 3cm of snow on them the ploughs have 6 hours to clear them. Six hours after the last snowfall the roads are to have no more than 3cm of snow on them. Ice is treated with sand/gravel (not salt).

This policy applies to the entire country - you can look to see what colour the roads are in your region on Vägverket's website.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow

Like everyone else in Stockholm, I seem to be writing about nothing but the snow.

This are the steps on my way to daycare
(covered but you could tell they were there).

These are the steps by the time I got back (what steps?).
Very happy children.

Snow is wonderful.
I think the lack of it last year helps us appreciate it this year. Bring it on!

The Darkness Of Winter In Sweden

takes us by surprise every year. Who would think this is just after 4pm? At least there was plenty of snow to brighten up our path home.

We're down to 7 hours of daylight, still another hour to lose. Easy to see why reflectors are so important, for young and old - and all those in-between.

A birthday party in the snow

Snow was probably the best present Makaila got this birthday - especially just 2 weeks before we head off to the sun in Oz.

While we were inside preparing on Saturday the kids were out playing - having a great time tobogganing down the stairs (the slope got boring!). And I thought I had timid, undaring children!!
They were dumped out at the bottom of the stairs each time, laughing hysterically.

8 kids arrived in the afternoon and we headed down the hill to our little park to play hide-and-seek and a few other games. The kids had a great time while the adults tried to hover around the bbq, getting any heat they could. The final game was Ty hiding and who ever found him had to hide with him until they were all hiding in one spot. Problem is he hid so well and the parents were all busy chatting so when one of the kids came back and asked if they could at least have a clue, no-one knew where he was!! Luca (one of the littlest) eventually found him.

There was no way we could have had that many kids in our little place for long and the games and snow meant that although few of them knew each other they all ended up playing and having a great time together.

While we cooked hotdogs they tabogganed down the hills, the ice was well and truly broken. We all had saft (cordial/punch) and a hotdog before heading inside for warmth and cake.

I'm kind of really tickled pink to have had a party outside like we did - it is one thing to do it on a sunny afternoon in a park, something quite different in November. We were truley blessed with all the white fluffy stuff as the kids wanted to be outside in it anyway.

By the time they came in they were somewhat more settled and played nicely before having birthday cake.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

A Waldorf Birthday

Birthdays are celebrated in a special way according to Waldorf tradition and as the dropping-off parent I was privilaged to be able to partake in a celebration that predates the sugary, glitzy traditions we have today.

M's teacher gathered 10 children and myself into a circle on the mat, holding hands to form a ring. Each child was quiet and observant, filled with anticipation. Makaila chose a colour for her head shawl and a knitted crown was placed on top, keeping it in position.

Ater the morning songs we sat on the mat and listened to the story of the little angel who asked her big angel what that was below them. It was earth, and upon closer inspection they could see a couple longing for the birth of their child. The longing to go to earth and that couple grew so strong in the little angel that the big angel knew there was nothing left for her to do but to accompany the little one to earth and to the couple.

They made the long journey and the little angel had to give up her wings and her heavenly outfit before crossing over the rainbow bridge and falling into a deep sleep. But not before the big angel promised to always be at her side and if ever she felt lonely she would know her angel was there to protect her.

Her teacher then went on to describe what a very special day it was the day she was born, one that those who experienced it will never forget. And about what a special child she is and how much love she has brought to her family.

Meanwhile I'm watching both my wide-eyed daughter soak it all up, and all the other wide-eyed children, while I fought to keep back the tears. Words of truth that go right to the heart.

After that Makaila sat in the teacher's chair while we each went up, shook her hand and wished something for her - being mostly boys there were a whole lot of wishes for cars, trucks, buses etc. Her teacher wished her a good final year at daycare (also hard not to let the tears flow - knowing she will start school next August.) We started and ended with some singing and the kids were all watching me to see if I knew the words to these special songs - which of course I didn't - but I could fake it!

Then we sat at the table, a candle was lit in front of M and she had a little package to open. Each child receives a hand-made gift from their teacher - it is the loveliest of gestures!

We drank saft (cordial/punch) and ate from a sweet bread wreath baked the day before in their group. Each person received a piece of M's birthday wreath and the rest was sent home with me to share with the remainder of the family. M then got to chose what songs she would like us to sing before finishing up the celebrations. Finally she blew out the candle and we all sat back on the floor so one of her friends could present her with a gift - a drawing of M and her brother. Only the very simplest of gifts are allowed - nothing bought.

The celebration was over and I left them to enjoy the rest of the day.
Memories for a lifetime.

For the critics of Waldorf education reading and quoting my blog:
In terms of the religious implications/traditions/teachings I have to say that I am aware of them and feel ok about them, obviously you need to as a Waldorf parent. But it is something we as Waldorf parents discuss. We are not blind.

While I'm not entirely clear in my own beliefs - other than there being some sort of higher being, I do think it is important to have beliefs - and to understand that they may change throughout life. My partner and I educate our children to believe in life beyond the here and now, but also to teach them that there are many different beliefs about what that entails. The concepts of Mary, Joseph and Christianity are the believes of many, but they are not the only ones.

I grew up with an athiest father, was taught nothing about religion and was embarressed as a young adult about my lack of knowledge and understanding. Religion is such a huge part of our lives and our history, our children should be taught it.

As for the angel story - it could just as well be New Age as Christianity.
Ultimately we as parents are responsible for educating our children on the finer points of life - beliefs, morals, priorities, behaviour - and with any education there will be things we need to contemplate, supplement and discuss as a family.

Makaila turns 6!!!

My mum told me she would never come to Sweden in the winter - well so much for that!! All I had to do was tell her I was pregnant and she started planning her trip. November 2002 she arrived in Stockholm for the birth of my first child, who today turned 6!

The Swedish birthday tradition is to go into the birthday child and wake them - carrying a birthday cake with the candles lit, as well as presents and singing Ja mår hon leva as you go. While there is no chance of her getting a cake in the morning (not that organised) and we forget that we are supposed to wake her up, we did sing for her, at least in English. The Swedish flag on the table is also a tradition - one that I picked many years ago as I was given that flag when I first arrived, and that we follow - the kids seem to like it. We just need to get an Aussie and a Canadian one to match.

As the years go by I can't help but notice that we often get our first snow fall around her birthday. Just as we did the year she was born - my mother remembers it well!!

Happy Birthday my sweet girl!