Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Spring Depression affects many

I looked at the clock tonight at 7pm and thought Wow, things change quickly! Its not just because we changed to summer time, or daylight savings a few days ago but because the days are now quickly becoming longer and longer - we're gaining 5 minutes a day, that is 35 minutes a week! You sure do notice that from one week to the next.

While you would think that we would be thrilled to have the light back after a looooonnnnngggg winter (winter in Sweden is always long) it seems the light sets off winter depression in something like 3-5% of the population. As many as one in five feel mild symptoms of spring depression or at least spring tiredness.

Depression is a word that gets thrown around a lot in this country and I'm not sure if it is because there is good reason for it, or if the whole things becomes a bit exaggerated and self-fulfilling. A friend of mine has always talked about her spring depression and it is only as I write this I begin to think about my own reaction. Most years I have managed to escape to Australia during the winter but I have noticed that the years I don't go, I have run out of energy come February. I have felt flat, tired and well, worn out. Spring depression perhaps?

A recent article in SvD suggests that the best way to cure, or at least ward off spring depression, is not through medication but through light. While daily exercise is generally considered the best cure for mild depression, daily light is best in the spring and I know a combination of the two has cured my friend. Once upon a time we would have withdrawn in the darker part of the year and not been our or performed as much. While that is no longer the case we still need to allow our body clocks some time to make the change, and accept that feeling a little flat or down is all part of our cyclical rhythms.

So if you too are feeling like your battery has completely run out of juice the advice is - eat well, sleep well, exercise and spend 30 minutes a day outside in the light.
How about you? Are you suffering as the days get longer or loving every minute of it?

Monday, 30 March 2009

Processing the Geek Girl Meet-Up

Fantastic to see how much Swedish publicity there has been since this event, with coverage from SvD both before and after (here, here and here), Aftonbladet, MedieVärlden and VeckoRevyn.

As I posted earlier, the day started with registration at 9.30am and as usual when I attend meetings, seminars and the likes I did not know a soul - the GGM was no different either. I have to confess I was a little star struck throughout the day, to think that I was mixing with girls that had attended the very exclusive (in my books) 24-hour-business-camp and I recognised some of the names and the projects discussed throughout the day.

The meet-up was opened by the three instigators Andie Nordgren, Heidi Harman och Mengmeng Du with Beata Wickbom as moderator.

Beata is by far the best moderator I have seen here in Sweden - her style was sharp, to the point and extremely productive. She encouraged networking to the max and gave the girls every chance to put themselves in the spot light, speeding up a process that can otherwise take eons. It kind of reminded me of the American style of the BNI meetings and each time someone in the audience made a comment or asked a question she had them up on their feet, concluding with what challenges they were facing in their work and what they were looking for.

In the lead-up to lunch she did the same thing, singling people out, asking their challenges and want they wanted, then turning to the rest of the group to ask if anyone could help with that. In minutes she had strangers making contact and then eating lunch together to discuss something of mutual interest.

It was potentially a horrifying moment for many - the sort of necessary pill that needs to be swallowed, but one that you feel all the better for having taken it. No jante law allowed here!

In the short term nothing sprang to mind, at least no immediate challenges that I thought this group could help me with, but had I had more time to think about it I could have used the moment more constructively - I will know for next time! I ended up joining others to talk to a venture capitalist - would love to have a little cash injection into my project..... or find someone to work with.

Even though it was very goal focused and we were asked even when we registered online how we would contribute, there was no doubt that the atmosphere was a friendly, relaxed one - everyone was there because they wanted to support women in the industry and be with other women from the industry. Many expressed their frustration of being in male-dominated world and were clearly thrilled at being a part of this gathering. And everyone was welcome - from students to experts. The range of women seemed to be wide, with the web being the common interest and surprisingly I didn't feel out of my league the entire day - I even got to contribute some information/tips during a couple of my conversations and send a link off to someone with something I had found (!) It seems I have gathered some knowledge in the last couple of years.

The presentations were only 30 minutes each, including question time, so things went pretty quickly. I made notes and with my laptop on my knee it was great to be able to get straight out onto the net and check out the things they were referring too. I got lots of ideas and inspiration but I think the most valuable presentation I listened to was Anna Oscarsson's use of Bambuser and how she covered the recent Pirate Bay trials. I was highly impressed by her and Bambuser and will be having a close look at it soon - as is often the case - I knew it existed but just have not had reason nor chance to find out what it is really all about. It opens up a whole lot of interesting opportunities. Watch her summary of the Geek Girl Meet-up here:

There were plenty of other presentations that I thought were great, interesting and would like to listen to again, so as to be able to better absorb them. There were also plenty of presentations that I missed and would like to have seen. Annika Linde made a live broadcast from each of the presentations although the connection was not the best so unfortunately they are not the best recordings. They are all in Swedish but you can check them out under Recent Activity on her Bambuser page. I plan to listen to what I missed! From what I understand it was a spontaneous action that was appreciated by all and I have no doubt that preparation will be made for filming at the next meet-up.

If anything was missing from this action-packed day it was time - it went so fast and there was little time to get your teeth stuck into anything and limited time to chat to the other participants. It was one of the few occasions here in Sweden where I have found it very easy to talk to people, everyone was open and approachable in a way I have not seen elsewhere. In fact I think I can safely say that the quality of this day was far superior to any of the other entrepreneur events I have attended here in Stockholm.

Most of the girls continued on and went to an afterparty in Gamla Stan - as far as I know everything from the day/evening was covered by an impressive list of sponsors. These girls have got talent - they pulled off a very informative and inspiring day, attracted all the right people and managed to get sponsors to foot the bill. That's quite an achievement. I will be much faster to sign up next time!

You can read more here: Twingly Blog Search, Flickr, Twitter (didn't manage to get my Tweets to register on there), Swedish Bloggy and Jaiku.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Summer Time or Daylight Savings Starts Tonight in Sweden

So make sure you put your clocks forward one hour - yes that's right, tonight is the night we lose one hour of sleep.
Ty and I were talking about it and whether or not tonight was actually the night. A quick look at the main news sites - DN & SvD revealled absolutely nothing and I couldn't help shake my head - is it just my imagination or is the majority or reporting done after the event??

Anyway I found this site and confirmed that indeed tonight was the night - and was pleased to see that at least SydSvenskan warned their readers.

Earth Hour Sweden is Upon Us

As I sit here by the light of candles I am looking at photos and reports from around Stockholm. I chose not to turn off the computer after all, but have no desire to turn the lights back on in about 15 minutes. It is kind of nice sitting here in the semi-dark even if we often light candles and turn off the lights in winter.

Most of the places around us share the darkness, but then that could be because its Saturday night and they are out. We'll see in a few minutes if everyone turns their lights back on. It would have been cool to be in town or at a restaurant and see the lights go out - a lot of places had "candle-light dinner" on the menu tonight.

As I look around the web I see a number of people, organisations and companies have publicly declared their vote for the environment (check out this link for the buildings around Stockholm that are in the dark). Publicity and political correctness some might say, hopefully in most cases it is an honest declaration of love and concern for our earth. DN have the list too.

I turned the lights out earlier tonight when we were eating dinner, so the kids could get a feel for what it was like and we talked about earth hour and the need to care about our earth. Meanwhile the man of the house made his comments about the ridiculousness of such a campaign, that it doesn't do anything and that we need to take more concrete steps.

And true enough - it does have a gimmicky kind of feel to it - alternatively you might say it is a great concept, uniting people and it is easy to activate - on the night - but then go back to the old way of living. But the point is it is a statement and a consciousness - and anything that brings the environment to the table and starts discussions is a good thing in my books!

Let's not discuss whether or not Earth Hour is a gimmick or a worthy cause - let's discuss what we, as individuals can do to make a difference in our daily lives.

So tell me, did you turn out the lights? And are you conscious of your daily activities and their affect on the environment?

Friday, 27 March 2009

Earth Hour Saturday March 29th 8.30-9.30pm where ever you live!

Make sure you turn out the lights, turn off the TV, the computer and anything else for Earth Hour tomorrow between 8.30-9.30 pm, your time, where ever you live.

From the Earth Hour website

This year, Earth Hour has been transformed into the world’s first global election, between Earth and global warming.

For the first time in history, people of all ages, nationalities, race and background have the opportunity to use their light switch as their vote – Switching off your lights is a vote for Earth, or leaving them on is a vote for global warming. WWF are urging the world to VOTE EARTH and reach the target of 1 billion votes, which will be presented to world leaders at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen 2009.

This meeting will determine official government policies to take action against global warming, which will replace the Kyoto Protocol. It is the chance for the people of the world to make their voice heard.

Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007, when 2.2 million homes and businesses switched off their lights for one hour. In 2008 the message had grown into a global sustainability movement, with 50 million people switching off their lights. Global landmarks such as the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square all stood in darkness.

In 2009, Earth Hour is being taken to the next level, with the goal of 1 billion people switching off their lights as part of a global vote. Unlike any election in history, it is not about what country you’re from, but instead, what planet you’re from. VOTE EARTH is a global call to action for every individual, every business, and every community. A call to stand up and take control over the future of our planet. Over 74 countries and territories have pledged their support to VOTE EARTH during Earth Hour 2009, and this number is growing everyday.

We all have a vote, and every single vote counts. Together we can take control of the future of our planet, for future generations.

VOTE EARTH by simply switching off your lights for one hour, and join the world for Earth Hour.

Saturday, March 28, 8:30-9:30pm.

The Royal Castles on Gamla Stan and Drottningholm, Globen, Ullevi, Skaninavium and The Avenue in Götebory, Svampen in Örebro and buildings in over 150 municipalities will be voting for the environment.

327 organisations, 132 churches, 629 schools and 1099 business as well as 21 549 individuals have all announced their vote for the environment!

Stockholm City - named Europe's Green Capital in 2010 are however not supportive.
"Turn off the lights and save the world" is not a good message, and it just frightens people, says enviromental spokesperson Ulla Hamilton (M) till Stockholm City.

You too can sign up here.

SvD, Aftonbladet, DN,

Swedish Prince Carl Philip's own silverware on show at Svensk Tenn

Svenskt Tenn open a new exhibition tomorrow and it will include silverware designed by our very own Swedish Prince:
Setting the table The exhibition elaborates on the table-setting theme using classic, modern and other styles, with a large selection of our most beautiful products. It also shows how table settings can signal new thinking, harmony, extending the boundaries - and also awakening curiosity and bringing pleasure.

It seems that our Prince has been studying design the last couple of years, initially at Forsbergs Design School here in Stockholm, and then at the Rhode Island School of Design in the US where he apparently won a competition to develop the logo for Martha's Vineyard Museum, under a pseudonym.

The Prince has now followed in his great uncle Sigvard Bernadotte's footsteps as a designer working in silver and the silverware is the first to be launched under his own brand CPB. The production is in cooperation with MEMA/GAB, one of Europe's leading producers of handmade silverware.
The only photo I have seen of the silverware is in SvD but they do not have the article online. Good for you Carl Philip I say, but unfortunately there seems to be a lack of overall publicity for the event - in true Swedish style we will undoubtedly find out more after the opening of the exhibition. I found an article in Swedish Elle and a couple of local papers and this blog (Swedish) for those who can't get enough of royalty. Not even any info on the royal website nor a CPB website - is this another example of jante law??? Anywhere else it would be shouted from the highest rooftops!

The exhibition will be on until May 7th and the silverware will be available in store from the middle of April.

Edited to say I found this photo - click on it to see where it came from:
At the end of the blog post you will find a link to another post about the competition in the US.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Geek Girl Meet-Up March 28th

Heading to an all-day conference on Saturday, which was brought to my attention by fellow blogger & Twitterer Kiwi Raiha.

I feel a bit like a fake as I have never considered myself a Geek Girl and programming friends immediately spring to mind before any vision of myself does.....

Saying that I am very interested in social media and the development of the internet, and almost all the topics on the agenda are extremely interesting.

The Web First on Internetworld
The change to thinking web before paper & how newspapers communicate through social media.
Miriam Olsson, Internetworld

Flash och 3D
Emma Nwaugo, talks about audio visualisation and Papervision as well as about her latest flash project, a quick game application in a whole lot of things I don't understand.....

From Idea TO Site With Wordpress And A Little Determination
Andie Nordgren shows how Wordpress can transform your idea to a site. With the right plugins and the right thinking Wordpress is a great system for much more than blogging. Build your own site on site, if you want, or just listen and learn.

Opportunity Capital
Venture capital industry rom the inside and what you need to know to get ahead.
Katja Lepola, Grädde Invest

From Idea To Mobile Service
Build your own service with tools from Mobilstart. Start immediately with a ready-made service or investigate your own solutions using Mobilstarts API.
Katrin Calderon, Telenor Mobilstart

10 Rules for Development of Services on the Internet
Paula Marttila

How I did a life report from the Pirate Bay-trials
Anna Oscarsson

Sociala media in large organisations - the culture is more important that the tool
Helena Lindh, IBM

The Apes' invasion of office life - technical and social toys
Paulina Söderlund Modlitba talks about her projects from MIT Media Lab. Monkey Business is about soft robots that can give a sense of what your colleagues are doing. GlobeToddler is a way form parents to communicate with their children through a soft toy that also lives in a virtual world.

Ada Lovelace and other stars from the IT heaven
Karin Adelsköld

Me and my beloved mobile!
I love mobile phones. Since 1994 I have had about 40 of them and tested over 100. I always have about 8 mobile phones with me which I change depending on what I am going to do. Get a peek into mobile passion taken to new heights!
Suzanne Fors

API and webhooks - what you need to know to understand the next level of the web
Andie Nordgren

The Future is Soon Here - media trends in the coming years.
Paulina Söderlund Modlitba talks about her work at Bonnier and the media trends they have identified for the coming years, as well as the challenges facing the media industry.

How do you create mobile content for girls?
I work as a project leader at Telia where girls are an important target group and one that we have started focusing on. We have created a mobile site for girls: http://m.tete.nu which is just the beginning of something I think is very interesting. I will speak a little abou how Tête evolved and what our intentions are for the future. I will talk and show material as well as ask questions and create a discussion if anyone wants to partake. If there are any applications, sites that you have created yourself that should be on Tête. If you want to see a Tête sms send one to 71160 :)
Suzanne Fors

New Media - old organisations. A discussion about motivation and the spread of knowledge around social media.
A discussion about motivation and the spread of knowledge of social media.In my work I try to encourage colleagues and motivate why it is so important to keep an eye on microblogs and blogs as a part of the usual business intelligence, but often find opposition. What do you do to not lose heart and still have constructive and good arguments as to why it is important?
Sandra Jakob

Library 2.0 - lessons from an educational program about webservices for librarians.
Ingela Wahlgren talks about how the library world is taking on new web services through the use of course model 23 Things.

OPK 1998 – pre Geek Girls
Gitta Wilén and Lotta Holmström

Women + Computer games = True
Lina Eklund from Stockholm's University talks about her research of girls in the World of Warcraft and how girls react to games and the game world. Are you a gamer? Discuss the world of games and meet the rest of the game nerds at the Geek Girl Meetup in a discussion after the seminar.

Curious? If you can read Swedish you can follow the Meet-Up on the web.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Victoria's Wedding Date Announced - Book Your Hotel Rooms Now

With the Royal date of June 19 2010 being announced just a couple of days ago, hotel rooms are already starting to be booked.

It seems that many hotels have daily prices - so the price on the day the hotel is booked is the price you pay - even if the booking is for June 19th 2010.

The announcement has been made on the Royal Website, sadly the translation has not yet been made into English - you would think it would be done at the same time, considering the international value of such news.

Victoria and her Daniel will follow a long line of Bernadotte weddings on June 19 with Victoria's own parents being married on that day in 1976.

It has been interesting to follow the coverage of the Royal Family ever since the news of the engagement. The wedding has sparked debate about the relevance of royalty, who will pay for the wedding with a facebook group calling for it to come from the royal budget (not the taxpayers'), whether or not it is time for the King to abdicate and hand down the reins, whether or not she should be marrying a commoner and what public opinion's response is, the commercial value of a wedding and a royal family in terms of tourism, the effects of the wedding on public opinion and the 200th anniversary of the Bernadotte family in Sweden, discussion about his title and the equality issue - why does he become a prince but a queen becomes a queen, how the royals handle the press and the feedback on YouTube, what will his role be, as well as how he waves and how hard it will be for him to learn the ropes.

Read a comment in the media yesterday that this royal wedding does not have that much international interest and that few Europeans would probably even know we had a Crown Princess!! Classic example of Jante Lagen - and amazing that it exists even on this level. The statistics on my blog of visitors from around the world prove otherwise!

If nothing else hundreds, thousands of news articles have been produced on Victoria, Daniel and the royal family - both here in Sweden and abroad.

SvD, SvD2, DN,

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Astrid Lindgren Prize to the Tamer Institute

Children deserve the best (from the website).

This award in Astrid Lindgren's name aims to give children’s and youth literature the place it deserves in the world. The prize can attract new, gifted story-tellers, authors and illustrators and encourage them to create good literature.
The prize is also a signal to institutions and organisations around the world that good children’s and youth literature is worth millions. And our children are worth more than millions.
Good children’s literature gives the child a place in the world, and the world a place in the child.
"With perseverance, audacity and resourcefulness, the Tamer Institute has, for two decades, stimulated Palestinian children’s and young adult’s love of reading and their creativity. Under difficult circumstances, the Institute carries out reading promotion of an unusual breadth and versatility. In the spirit of Astrid Lindgren, the Tamer Institute acknowledges the power of words and the strength of books, stories and imagination as important keys to self-esteem, tolerance and the courage to face life."

Monday, 23 March 2009

New Astrid Lindgren Website

was launched on the weekend, just a few days before the announcement of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (tomorrow).

The official website provides layers and layers of information, stories, characters, photos, reports and more - including a virtual opportunity to explore her home. It is rich in its portrayal of this famous children's author and her work.

So far it is only in Swedish but it looks like it is only a matter of time before it is also available in other languages too.

So Much For Spring!

Again - even if you never looked outside the window you would be able to tell from all the blog/Twitter/facebook updates that we have snow, again.The kids were thrilled. Makaila was up, dressed and ready to go by 6.40am!!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Welcome Spring!

And so we have the Equinox, the days are getting longer than the nights and our little part of the earth is warming up, ever so slowly.

Welcome spring! Your presence is cherished.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

The Victorian Bushfires & The Strengthening Of The Community Spirit

Anyone following this blog will know I have been following the Victorian Bushfires - I can't help it - knowing the towns and communities that were hit, having family and friends that were directly affected, as well as some who have been directly involved in the aftermath, the clean-up, the re-building of lives.

One of the people I was initially worried about when I heard the news was Marg. I knew the bushfires were in Taggerty, where she and her husband lived. A short email was answered a couple of days later - they were ok, miraculously so were the neighbours closest to them. The fires did ravage around them but their personal losses were minimal - unlike so many others in the neigboring districts.

Marg started sending out a group email a few days later, letting us know how things were going, and eventually how the recovery work was progressing. She talked about the people she met and the strories she heard. Those emails have now turned into a blog and she continues to write while experimenting with this new format. If you are interested in news, personal stories & inspiration from the Victorian Bushfires I thoroughly recommend you have a look at Marg's Bushfire Recovery Diary.

Another project I have been following closely is the Lost Photo Project and my dear friend Michelle, who was quick off the mark with the idea of helping bushfire victims recover lost photos. A common answer to the question of "What would you grab if you had 5 minutes to get your most valuable possessions out of your home?" is undoubtedly - the photo albums. Yet many of the victims of the fires did not even get 5 minutes - they were lucky enough to get out with their lives intact.

The Lost Photo Project is asking friends, family and the wider community to be forthcoming with photos that might be of value to the bushfire victims. The photos are then being used to put together albums which are then presented to the victims, giving them back something that initially was thought to be irreplaceable.

The team from the project went on national television in Australia this week - to make an appeal to the wider public for help with the project.

Saving memories
Saving memories

So if you happen to have been in any of these areas holidaying - have a look back through your photos - you just never know if you have some locals, or local landmarks in the background that might be appreciated by these communities.

Other blogs/sites about the Victorian Bushfires:
Victorian Bushfire Network
Disaster Help Site
Help Flowerdale Now
ABC Bushfire Blog
Bushfire Housing
The Tree Project
Bushfire Help - Services
Wildlife Victoria
Pan Da Koala on Facebook (worth looking at!!!)
Help For Wildlife
Bushfire Appeal for the Wildlife
Animal Rescue Blog
Thank You Firies

Out of all of this there is one thing that becomes very, very clear. The concept of mateship is alive and well and the community spirit, already so strong in Australia, goes from strength to strength. Just don't forget the wildlife - they need our help too - now and in the years to come.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Daylight & Sunshine In Sweden

Well officially we still have 2 days left until the Equinox, or Vårdagsjämning as it is called in Swedish but as of today we officially have 12 hours of sunlight!!

And to celebrate the sun is shining brightly here in Stockholm.

If you were a computer nerd that sat in a dark room and never looked out the window you would still be able to tell the sun is shining based on everyone's facebook and twitter updates!!
Are we happy to see the sun shining and the days so long or what??

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Corporate Bonuses & The Power Of Public Opinion

AMF Pension, Volvo, AIG, Investor, Saab, Electrolux, Ericsson, ABB, Carnegie and who knows how many other companies, have all been the subject of media attention in recent weeks with both the government and the general public openly verbalising their criticism.

In the midst of bankrupties, tumbling share prices, lay-offs, staff salary cuts, plumeting profit margins, government backing, cancelled dividends and pension devaluation top management in these companies has continued to receive staggering increases in their salaries and bonuses.

The greatest criticism in the last week has been of Annika Falkengren, CEO of Swedish bank SEB who was in line to get a massive payrise from sek 7 million to sek 9 million per annum. With SvD reporting that something like 89% of their readers were ready to change banks, on Saturday she apologized to both the bank's employees and customers and backed down on the salary increase.

As always I think it is fantastic to see public opinion can have a positive effect and let's hope it brings some of these people down to earth - where the rest of us live.

What was also interesting to see today was the media having a field day with her recent apology and her rhetorical approach. A direct comparison was done in Metro and E24 of her exclusive attire during the quarterly report vs her girl-next-door attire during her apology on the weekend.

Initially I thought Metro's comparison of her expensive black business suit, exclusive scarf, fancy earings, pearls, rings and bracelet to her simple pink top, discrete earings and general lack of jewellry was a little harsh - but as I looked around in the media I saw they were not alone in this analysis and use of the term poodle. I can't help but find this very obvious change very interesting.

I have also learnt a new word, or phrase. To do a poodle is to backdown from a hopeless standpoint or statement and try and put a stop to the damaging discussion that results from the original standpoint or statement.

If you read Swedish then you can read all about Annika Falkengren's poodle-ing. E24 1, E24 Recently poodle-ing
Otherwise you will have to settle for reading more about her blunder and apology on The Local.

At least Skandia Liv were smart enough to renounce their bonuses SvD & DN, even if AMF Pension are again in deep water SvD, DN & The Local.

Is there no end to their greed or lack of morals?

St Patrick's Day in Stockholm

As many of us know, or have been reminded of, today is St Pat's day, the day when suddenly everyone is Irish. A national holiday that is probably celebrated by more people, of more nationalities and in more countries than any other national holiday.

So what else do you do on St Pat's day other than go to the pub and drink beer? I'm sure the Irish would have a thing or two to say about that - but if you are in Stockholm and looking for somewhere to head out to tonight for a pint or two of the black stuff, check out these pub lists.

or the Stockholm Pub Guide.

One that is not mentioned on either of these lists is O'Connell's.

If you are looking for a little more family entertainment then unfortunately you missed your chance. The Swedish-Irish Society held their annual St Pat's Day Parade on Sunday and the photos are available here.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Sound Of Spring

is without any doubt the sound of the koltrast, or the blackbird.
As the days get lighter and lighter and the weather warms (oh so gradually), they sing and remind us that they too have survived the winter. Perhaps they sing to let the other birds know it is time to return to the north.

While the blackbird might be native to Europe it was introduced to Australia, where it is less than popular and considered a pest by fruit-growers.

But whether I am at home in Melbourne (where the majority of the Australian blackbird population is) or at home in Sweden, the song of the blackbird reminds me that warmer weather is on its way. It is a lovely reminder.

Have a look at these great photos taken by Swedish photographer on the Imagine blog.

Victorian Bushfires Tree Project

On Saturday 7 February 2009, the State of Victoria, Australia experienced the worst natural disaster in the country’s history— a raging fire so fast and so severe that many people were unable to get out of its path. Over 200 people have perished, 7000 are homeless, townships are destroyed and the grief in the affected communities is overwhelming.

To remember the people lost to the fires and our brave CFA men and women who battled the elements to protect our towns, the Australian Blacksmiths Association (Victoria) Inc. is inviting blacksmiths from across the country and around the world to contribute to The Tree Project. We are asking you, our fellow ‘smiths to contribute, not monetarily, but to help us to grow a tree from our forges and fires. We ask that you forge a gum leaf from stainless steel or copper to be added to a forged gumtree. This gumtree is to be erected in one of the affected townships as a memorial of these events, for the loss suffered and for the spirit of renewal.

I wish I was a blacksmith, what a beautiful project.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Swedish Melody Festival 2009

Well it doesn't happen too often (it has been years!) but last night I actually watched a bit of the Melody Festival, saw the voting and the final outcome.

It is amazing at this time of year to see Swedes plan their schedules around this competition and if they are at someone's place (like mine) and it is not on - there is always someone who will suffer serious withdrawal symptoms. Many a Melody Festival Party is held around the country in the late winter months each year.

Last night, being the grand finale, was a particularly big Melody Festival night as a winner was chosen to represent Sweden in the Eurovision Song Competition, to be held in Moscow on May 12. Malena Ernman was a wildcard with her pop opera number and it was an extremely refreshing performance in contrast to the regurgitated numbers performed by many of the other competitors.

Read more about this world famous opera singer on The Local.

Friday, 13 March 2009

Being Homeless & Finding An Apartment In Stockholm 2

I wrote a couple of days ago about my friend Lynessa. She was interviewed again this week - this time by DN (one of Sweden's 2 national morning papers).

Part of her dilemma came from not passing the income requirements for the apartment she applied for, despite the fact that she saves each month. Her her number in the queue finally came up a couple of weeks ago (after years of waiting) and she was called to look at an apartment, but was number 60 something. This particular apartment was an expensive one so everyone ahead of her said no. She was so thrilled at the opportunity to get a first hand contract and not have to move every year so she said yes. The problem is she didn't pass the income test because she was not permitted to include her child allowance money - yet there is nothing more guaranteed than child allowance in this country. We get it until our kids turn 16 - no matter what! Had she been able to include it she would have been accepted and she would now have her very own rental contract!

It turns out that the huge property company that owns half of the apartments here have changed the regulations and now allow you to calculate in the child allowance - but that doesn't help her. All the same it is amazing, and fantastic that she managed to bring about change!! It might help some other family struggling to find a place to lay their hat for a while.

Here's hoping that soon, very soon her living situation will improve and she too will get the stability in life that so many of us take for granted. I know how relieved she will be to no longer have to look for a new place to live each year.

DN1 and DN2.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Culture Shock & Cultural Differences

After 15 years in Sweden you would think I would have a pretty good notion of how things work in this country. Yet every time I find myself in a new situation it hits me that I spent the first 25 years of my life somewhere else and that these years still fundamentally form who I am and how I think.

Still, as time goes on it becomes more and more difficult to know exactly where the cultural differences lie. Is it just because it is a new situation? Is it a generational difference? Is it some other reason or is it because my frames-of-reference, my learnings, my experience - my culture, is of a different origin?

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Schools, Students, Parents & Teachers. Curling in Sweden

Curling is a term that seems to have evolved here, and for good reason. It comes from an analogy with the sport of curling, people rushing ahead of children, frantically sweeping the path clean of even the most minor obstructions.

I've wanted to write about this subject many times but I get so frustrated and angry that I end up putting it on the back-burner and leaving it for another time. I'm not so sure I'm going to be any more successful this time either - but here goes.

This is a bit of an education household - it is our past and our present. My other interest in education comes from my research. We have had many a discussion about methods, attitudes and the education systems in the four countries we have worked in.

Anyway, the stories that I hear  Uuggghhh!!!! I don't even know where to start......... And all the time Skolverket (education department) put the blame on everyone but themselves - the teachers, the students, the parents, the independent schools - yet some of the stuff that they come up with makes me think they need their heads read!!!!

I've written before about how the need to attract students has a major effect on the running of schools. But sadly that is not the end of it - the stories I hear of parents ever so eager to have their child succeed are very worrying - in their desire to protect their children they really screw things up - for themselves and for others.

There are a lot of really healthy attitudes towards bringing up children in this country - and there are a lot of really healthy attitudes towards education - in many ways they are much healthier than what I know and see in both our countries. But I have to say that on the whole the approach is pretty soft. Boundaries are neither set nor adhered to - I see it and I feel it all around me and it scares me. And sometimes it makes me really, really angry.

But I will leave it here for now, perhaps another time I will dare to delve through all the issues that have come to light in the last few years, all the points of frustration, contemplation and sheer wonder - and I don't mean that in a positive way. And I know systems are changing around the world as many countries struggle to get a grip of how to run education - but in discussions with teaching friends around the world they are usually left with a gaping mouth.....

Typically when the pendulum swings from one way of thinking it goes to the other extreme until it comes back to the middle, to a position of balance. The Swedish education system is going through a crisis - I just hope the time comes when we have balance in Sweden, otherwise how will these kids ever cope in the real world? Or will we just continue to see a growth in the numbers of people who are burnt out and more of the lost generation - a term used to describe those born in the 80s?

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Our world just now

is very white - let's hope it doesn't turn to slush anytime soon.
But I'm guessing it will. The sandpit at daycare has been a swimming pool this last week and the kids just love splashing around in all the melted snow - even if their teachers are less than thrilled.They come home each day with their clothes soaked - despite being decked out in waterproof jackets and pants. But no amount of waterproofing will help when the kids lie in the water!! It is a good thing we have radiators to hang wet clothes, hats, scarves, gloves, boots etc etc on.

The joys of spring.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Being Homeless & Finding An Apartment In Stockholm

Being homeless is not just about being a drunk or druggie, about being jobless and without a network - in fact it is pretty easy to end up homeless in Stockholm. That is because there are so few places available to rent, because they are rented for generations, because queues determine who can rent them and because rental contracts are valuable possessions that can be swapped, passed on and even bought and sold on the black market.

A friend of mine says that the annual fee of SEK 250 to be in Stockholm's Apartment Queue is good insurance - especially for any foreigner who might one day find themselves out on the street. Without a network, without family to turn to and contacts it is tough to find anything other than a sub-lease in Stockholm and even that can be extremely difficult. That makes life pretty tough if your relationship ends and/or living circumstances need to change - it is bad enough for the locals - even tougher for those from abroad who often have no idea where to turn.

Saying that, even if your number does come up in the queue there is no guarantee they will offer you the place - you often have to have a minimum income and they want references from previous first-hand contracts, not from sub-leases (???).

What makes the situation so much more difficult is that sub-leased contracts can only be rented out one year at a time, are often only rented to companies who vouch to pay the rent and the company who own the building or the housing association (if they are owner-occupied apartments) need to agree to the apartment being rented out. There is also the legal risk of the lessee claiming rights to the apartment once they have lived there two years which makes people hesitant. And if you own a building - don't think you can rent it out as you please - you have to conform to the housing associations regulations. Such is socialistic Sweden.

But change is in place and as I wrote in an earlier post, the law now allows for true ownership - which means people can invest in property and rent it out - making more places available for rent. While the law only encompasses new property I'm hoping the government will have the good sense to extend it to allow existing buildings to change their legal ownership.

Still, none of this helps my friend, who despite paying her apartment insurance is going to once again be homeless. In 4-5 years she has moved 4-5 times with her young children, spent countless hours trying to find a sub-lease, thousands in lost deposits (skummy landlords) and who knows how many days, weeks and months of stress at the thought of having to move again, or worse still, not be able to find a place. And now, when her number in the queue has come up (after years of being on it!) and she finally is offered a rental contract of her own, she doesn't qualify according to the income requirements, despite saving each month in the hope of one day being able to buy a place.

Today Metro published her story - hopefully someone out there will read it and offer both her and her children more stability, and peace of mind.

International Women's Day & Equality in Sweden

While Sweden might be deemed to be one of the most equal places in the world, there is still a lot of work to be done - according to The Local and Statistics Sweden.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Black Saturday, one month on

They tell me about the family funerals - a couple and their unborn child, another couple and their two young children; about unreleased bodies still waiting to be identified to the coroner's satisfaction; about angry, dislocated families still waiting to go home, to at least scrounge through the rubble for anything that might not have been burnt beyond recognition; they tell me about emergency housing set up; about donations and overwhelming generosity; about text message warnings being sent to all mobile phones on hot days; about how those remaining have removed their most valuable possessions from their home; about how they are tired of evacuating; about the forgotten victims; about the tragic wildlife losses; about new building regulations for fire-risk areas; about the high anxiety levels and kids sleeping on mattresses in their parents- bedrooms; about the re-building of shattered lives and the massive clean-up; and now finally, about the cooler temperatures and the rain that has soaked the burnt-out land.

Victoria is a very different place to what it was just three months ago when we left.

ABC - The Human Side of the Bushfire Disaster
Bushfire help

Wildlife Victoria - they need our help more than ever
Foundation for National Parks & Wildlife - just AUD 15,000 donated compared to the millions donated to families.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Teenage suicide - how can it be?

A friend rang today, the bearer of bad news. Another friend's brother ended his life - he was just 12 years old. Having lost my own father to suicide almost 30 years ago I can't tell you what an affect this news had on me, words just don't describe how I feel. Except to say that I'M ANGRY!!!!!

How is it possible that a 12 year old reaches a point where they decide life is no longer for them? How can it be? Can anyone explain that for me? What must they go through to reach that point?

It is one thing for an adult to take matters into his own hands - but a child? Suicide should not be happening at any age, yet the numbers grow each year.

It is a tragedy, for all concerned.

So very sorry to hear the news.

Suicide Prevention - WHO

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Twitter, Tweets & Swedish Bloggy

I joined Bloggy months ago but haven't really used it, nor understood what the point was. It is a Swedish version of Twitter, created by Jonas Lejon - a Swedish web entrepreneur who seems to have his fingers in a whole lot of pies and is behind a bunch of web-based services.

So I opened an account but left it to its own devices, I really didn't have a feel for it, what to write or who would even see it. That was until a couple of days ago.

In recent weeks I have noticed more and more bloggers are joining the micro-blogging trend, Twitter is being mentioned all around me and it has become more evident how people are using this service to communicate with their audience. AND, I have decided that I am going to add a Twitter feed to the www.liveinsweden.se website - it is a great way to update people on what is going on around me without having to write a full blog post about it. I also like the way they can all be linked together and update each other - blogs and microblogs.

So what is Twitter, Bloggy or micro-blogging? What this for an explanation.

I know what you are thinking - really I thought the same thing - at first it is a little hard to understand what the point is and how it can be used. And do we really need to have the small details of each others' lives? Do they matter? Are we becoming all the more egocentric?? Yes. Quite possibly.

But the reality is - it doesn't matter what we think - it is growing in popularity so we might as well understand it, even if we don't embrace it. After-all, what facebook user will deny that fb helps us keep in touch with people we otherwise struggle to communicate with?

And articles like this one in today's Metro (Swedish) that talk about the business use of micro-blogging make it all the more interesting - after all if Kevin Rudd and Barack Obama can do it - so can you! If you still need convincing read this interesting blog post - 50 ideas on using Twitter for business.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Spårvägsmuseet - Stockholm Transport Museum

Kieran's birthday falls in the Winter Sports Holidays (which is always week 9 or the last week of Feb) so we headed off this year to the Transport Museum - being the lover of all things on wheels or tracks that he is.

I have heard both good and bad about this place and you definitely get the impression that is was formerly a storage house for a bunch of old state-owned vehicles. It is however without doubt a fabulous place for kids and train enthusiasts.

For a measly 30kr (free for kids) you could spend hours there letting the kids explore the old trains, trams and buses. Many of them can be boarded, some have simulators so you can see what it is like to drive the train through the subway stations of Stockholm. There is also a beautiful range of antique trains, trams and buses set in the scenes of their heyday.

A relatively well equipped cafe means you can have a light lunch or coffee/tea/hot choc/juice with something sweet. It is self-service and you pay at the desk on your way out (only in Sweden!!). Swedes are very honest people.

They have tried to make it as interactive a possible with, for example, conductor/driver clothes to dress up in.

Tickets please!
Free admission into the adjoining Toy Museum is also included (not sure you would want to pay for this one) which is someone's, or several people's, collection of old toys. Undoubtedly it brings back memories for many visitors and the kids enjoy the electric train sets and making up a wish list as they go along looking at the collections.

The highlight was, without doubt, the little train ride that went through the museum which cost an extra 10kr each.
After all the activities and exploring we went into the workshop and participated in the school holiday program. For 10kr each child they could use wooden blocks to build their own engine and there was plenty of material to then paint and decorate the masterpieces.

We finished just in time as they were closing and headed home taking the ferry across to Hammarby Sjöstad and then on to Tvärbanan. I think we went on almost every mode of transport possible getting there and back - almost. But then the day was about trains, trams and buses so what else could you expect?

Going across on the ferry was the last thing Kieran remembered before falling asleep. The day wore him out so much he slept through dinner and we had to save his birthday cake for the next day - but at least we know he enjoyed himself!

Vår Ruset - Spring Rush

Let it be known that I am entering into Vår Ruset - thanks to a friend who I am very grateful to. It is just the challenge I need.

Vår Ruset translates, according to anything I can find, into Spring Intoxication or Spring Rush/Surge. It is the latter, I assure you - and to be more specific it is a 5km run around Djurgården. You can even walk it - which I am not going to do(!)

We are putting together a team and are not yet sure if we will participate on May 26 or 27th. The run starts at 7pm - by May the sun won't be setting until after 9.30pm.

Time to dust off the running shoes and get busy! I just wish it wasn't so damn cold outside!
Me? Having a mid-life crisis now that I've turned 40?? No, never......

Monday, 2 March 2009

Rink Skating in Sweden - Hockey, Figure Skating or just fooling around?

With the weather often being unreliable it can be tough to know if the lakes are ok for skating. Even if they are frozen the ice can be choppy, the snow might be difficult to plow through and if it is melting it can be a slushy affair.

There are times when it is nice to go to a rink and skate and there are plenty of them around the country. I found this great Ice Rink Guide where you can plug in your town, city or region and the database will give you a list of the rinks in the area along with contact details. Dare I say all the rinks have time set aside for public skating.

It is not quite like the days when we used to skate around the rink in Oakleigh, listening to the latest top 40 on a Saturday afternoon while checking out the guys (I was never allowed to stay for the evening session). There is no music here and it is hardly the local teens' idea of hanging out - or even picking up. This is a more serious stuff - people go to the rinks to skate and you see a real range of people. We were there a couple of days last week along with other families, dads with their kids, groups of young friends and hockey enthusiasts practising their shots. Times are divided during the week to allow for sessions with and without hockey sticks. So far it hasn't been a problem to be there while half the skaters have sticks and pucks, but you do need to keep your wits about you - especially if you have little ones - and there tend to be plenty of them wizzing about the place!

You can also do a search on this database for a hockey club or go through the list of clubs around the country - there are plenty to choose from.

If you love skating (or your kids do) and it is not hockey that is your cup of tea then there are also figure skating clubs that practise at the rinks. Take a look around on the noticeboards for information or check out the figure skating association's site or better still, this list of clubs.

Now that I have tempted you to get out on the ice I'm sorry to say this last weekend was the last of the open-to-the-public sessions. It is such a shame considering the spring we were in Canada we skated right through - whereas the Swedes seem to think March=spring=no more skating.

So we took the chance and took the kids to the rink during last week's school holidays - lots of fun! They love it and so do we. This was just their third skating session for the season - I'm kicking myself that we didn't get out earlier!! But the season starts again in October and before we know it October will be upon us again - here is how the kids did this weekend: