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!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Banking In Sweden

Part of relocation services is helping clients open bank accounts and I'm about to head off to meet a client to do just that.
Sounds like an easy task right? I mean we have professional people from all around the world coming to Stockholm (in this case) to work, mostly for a very reasonable amount of money. They don't send low-salaried people anywhere....

Yet the banks just don't seem to want their business.... and I say that because it is also important for Swedish residents to have an ID card - after all it shows your personal number and without a personal number you are nothing!! Yet it is only the banks who can provide you, as a resident but not a citizen, with an ID card.

There seems to be just one bank who can do the job! Just one bank who will let you open an account, who will give you an ID card, and who will give you immediate internet access to the account - Handelsbanken. Hats off to them for making their services accessible even to people who have just arrived in the country - people who are willing to pay for a service, who will be putting money in their bank! And all this they offer because I am a customer there and am willing and able to vouch for their identity (once I show my ID card)!

Is there something wrong with this picture or is it just me??

Australian Passport Application vs Swedish Personal Numbers

Makaila's application has been submitted! Finally!Not the easiest of tasks that is for sure.

Apart from the photos having to be exactly the right way (they show all sorts of sample photos that have been rejected and we now have tons of little photos of M), they have to have a copy of my passport, her father's, an extract from the population registry (in English), a copy of her citizenship document, and someone to vouch for her identity. That person must either be an Australian citizen or a teacher, doctor, chemist, accountant and the list goes on. You have to laugh - I mean are these people more reliable that the average citizen??

Now I know that the Swedish personal identity number can be an absolute XXX. Swedes also hand over their number here and there without realising or thinking just how much someone else can do with that number. It is expected in the most ludicrous times and places - try renting a movie or getting an bonus card at one of the chain stores without disclosing it!!

There are however times when it just makes more common sense than anything else, and it is efficient and convenient!! One of those times is for passport applications (or nenewals), done through the police. You show some ID, no need for a print-out from the population registry (the info is in their system) and they even do the photos their on the spot, so they are done right the first time! After all, the police are experienced mug-shot takers, right? It is all very speedy and easy.

What really bugs me (and many others!!) with the personal identity number system is that you don't exist without one, and the locals just don't cope so well without it. Many times I have been asked for my number and said - you don't need it - I can tell you it throws people into a tizz. I've even lied and told people I don't have one. Tell me why the butterfly house needs my number just because I buy a year's membership - I can show my ID card with it if I must - but my number doesn't need to go into their system.

When you buy a TV you have to give your personal number so they can register it and the government can makes sure you are paying your broadcasting tax. What really gets me is you give them your number, they put it into the system and they then tell you your address and phone number!! If you know someone's personal number you know how old they are (protected information in many parts of the world), their birthday and the worst of it - you can ring the tax office and find out how much money they earn!! How's that for privacy??

Another downside is that they generally don't want to know your name. Ring any government office and they won't even ask you - what is your personal number? is their first question. I think it is SO rude! I am a person not a number!!

While it is possible to disappear in this country - (just read about that in a story covering the abduction of the two boys) - it is more difficult to do it. Almost impossible for the average person. Yet if you lose contact with someone in Australia - it can be impossible to ever track them down.

All in all, there are pros and cons with any system. But it would be nice if there could be some sort of meeting in the middle. The Australians could afford a more systematic approach and the Swedes could afford to learn to live with a few less numbers.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Australian-Swedish Abduction Case

Stories like this make my stomach churn (click on the pictures below).

A tragedy, for all concerned. Especially the children.
(thanks Marie).

Monday, 17 November 2008

Australian Embassy In Sweden

Ok, I will admit, it has been years since I went to the Embassy here in Stockholm and today I learned how things have changed.

In the 17 or so years I have a Swedish resident I have seen the Australian government put less and less money into this (and probably all others) embassy. There was a time when it was open to the public, where they had a library, borrowable material and regular pub nights.

Today I learned that I need to make an appointment before I can even step foot in the door!! But does it say that on the website? NO!! It says contact them for more information, a little here and there - but not - DO NOT TURN UP WITHOUT AN APPOINTMENT!

I am at least grateful that they did let me in, not sure if that is because I have a friend in there or because that is just what they do - but I did get to go in and go through Makaila's new passport application and determine all the things that were wrong so I can come back tomorrow - or once I have a new photo of her, a new extract of the population registry and an appointment.The Australian government has always given me the impression that it's focus abroad is on making money - not helping Australians abroad. Promote the country, bring in the dollars and make things as difficult as possible for Aussies - after all, it is a privilage, not a right! Gotta love bureaucracy!!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

The first snowflakes

fell on a grey and dismal Stockholm today.

The kids were thrilled, until it melted.

Saturday, 15 November 2008

The Lantern Festival

Makaila and I ventured out in the wind and the rain on Friday night despite her being at home during the day to stay out of just that - the wind and the rain. She's been coughing for weeks and it has been worse these last few days.

We met at daycare in the complete darkness, at the late hour of 5 pm with her father's protests ringing in our ears (someone has to be the one in every family, right?). It is now dismally dark by 4pm so it felt like it was the middle of the night and the rain beating down on my face made me question, more than once, what I was doing.

Still, we felt the buzz of excitement as we arrived with many of the kids running around in the dark, greeting each new classmate. Makaila had been excited about this yearly tradition for weeks. They were called to the table (outside!) and started with warm saft (cordial/fruit punch) and cinnamon buns. The giggled their way through this peculiar event while the parents watched or socialised with each other. Thankfully the day-long rain had eased up and it was quite pleasant standing around chatting!!

Afterwards they went in and collected their lanterns (which they had painted and designed and we had made at the last parent meeting) and went off for a walk around the area before coming back singing the songs they had been practising in the lead-up to this event.

Finally they gathered in a half circle and finished with the Swedish version of "twinkle, twinkle little star" which I am ashamed to say I do not know...

Neither am I familiar with the true origins or meaning of this tradition, even if it the third year I've been involved(!) I remember my sister and niece talking about it and I have seen a number of Mums In Sweden mums talking about it, particularly the German ones. After googling I found a couple of other family blogs describing the tradition, here and here. I also found a little booklet you can order in English and it was interesting to read Wikipedia and see how widespread the tradition is, or was.

So now I know, for next year. Celebration of the seasons - even the darkness, and in the wind and rain. I love it!