Sunday, 24 May 2009

Barnvagnsrullet - a terrible long weekend saved by a sunny cycling Sunday

After being stuck at home with a sick child all week, and another who had to be home because of logistical issues (1+1= 2 bickering kids), I was oh so grateful to get out today, head into town and get some exercise.

Kieran has strep throat - a first for us although an apparently common childhood sickness. It also meant that we were in quarantine once we got the diagnosis - two days of antibiotics to kill off the bacteria that had infested this throat and ears - and that was after he had been at home on the couch for 3 days! Mum wondered what that was called in Aussieland and I'm still not sure - perhaps we just never got it as kids. Still, she was glad that the doc didn't give antibiotics for a virus - little does she know that docs NEVER give antibiotics here unless they have to, and NEVER for a virus - only for bacterial infections!! Many complain about how hard it is to get the GPs to write prescriptions, and even then they are pretty mild doses - not a bad thing if you ask me.

So, 5 days later, a little boy who is revived and full of energy - sick of lying around and ready to have fun. And a big sister who had also been home because of logistical issues who was absolutely bored. Add to that a man who is in the busy period of his year and who is even less keen than usual to leave the cave and go on adventures.

Just to spice things up a bit none of our friends wanted to come out and play this weekend, they were all busy with their lives - lives that didn't include us(!) - hear the indignation in my voice? ;-)

AND if that wasn't bad enough one of my closest friends broke the news to me of her inevitable departure......

Luckily we got out on the bikes today and saved the weekend. Feeling ridiculous I put on suncream this morning and packed our raincoats along with our picnic and off we went. With Kieran on the back of Ty's bike and Makaila in the chariot towed by me we headed through town and over to Gärdet to Barnvagnsrullet.

Barnvagnsrullet is a family day organised in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö and sponsored by Metro. The sponsoring was so good in fact that the little gocarts, the facepainting, and the novelty balloons were all free if you could endure the long queue. There were also a few sponsors giving out free stuff and a quiz walk (tipspromenad) with prizes being lotted out to those with correct answers. It was a fun, festive kind of atmosphere and the kids enjoyed watching the facepainting, paddling in the water and hanging out at the TomTits stand. Makaila had a turn at the gocarts and we ate our lunch listening to the music and watching all the activities.

The kids swapped spots for the journey home which meant Kieran could nap in the chariot while Makaila got a faster ride. And she wants to know why I get upset when her father rides his bike without any hands!! Sure its fun but not with my daughter on the back!

I do love riding the bikes into town - there is a lot happening, a lot to see as we rode along the waterfront the kids saw boats & ferries, ducks, dogs, people walking, kids playing, trains, trams, buses and all the other things that interest little kids. There is always a chance a crazy person will step out in front of you so being in the driver's seat you need to stay focused. Saying that we almost only rode on bike paths in and back and any pedestrian crossings are clearly marked so you can be ready to brake, just in case. You see so much more on a bike, you smell it, you feel a part of it. Bicycles and Stockholm are a fantastic combination.

We only did a 20km round trip but there are several hills and a big bridge to be encountered along the way, so my legs are feeling it tonight - that best kind of tiredness. And I am so glad I put on the sunscreen, Ty is looking very red here beside me....

Friday, 22 May 2009

Make friends with the locals, not the other foreigners

I have 4 friends that I have known for longer than 10 years, not great statistics considering I have been here over 15.... My longest running friendship is with a Swede. We've known each other almost 20 years now. Another is with an American, married to a Dutchman. Then there are a couple of Australians, one married to a Swede, the other is here to be with his son.

The news came a month or so ago that my Aussie friend and her family are moving to England in August. I knew it would come sooner or later. They had already moved back to Australia and come back again, and I knew they would not be here forever. But knowing that does not make it any easier. I will be sad to see her go and will miss her.

Yesterday my American friend broke the news that they are probably moving to New Zealand later in the year. We were kind of tied together, neither having family here and both knowing what an impact it would have on the other if either of us ever left. This is my friend who I can call on in times of need, who picks us up when we are feeling the absence of family, who drove us to the hospital when I went into labour in the middle of the night, whose house I have a key to. My one friend who I can ring at any time and say "help" and know that she will be there for me. My friend who dotes on my children, who has her own special relationship with them, my friend who my children ask after and get so very excited every time she comes by. My friend is leaving...

And all our friends with a Swedish connection are busy this weekend with family stuff. Because blood is thicker than water.

Suddenly Sweden doesn't feel much like home any longer.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Apologies for my quietness..... is my focus and I am trying to fill it with content just as fast as I can, so I can open it to the public by the end of the month, or so....

Juggling that and my work that actually brings in the pennies leaves me with nothing but thoughts of what I could be writing about.

My writing will be very sporadic, so until my next post, enjoy the blossom, the lime green of the new leaves and all the other joys of spring.

On the weekend my darling children did just that - they played in this forest under our balcony for a couple of hours until the rain finally brought them in. They sat on a big bolder talking and fishing into an imaginary lake, with a roof of blossom and new growth over their heads.

Hope you too are enjoying all the simple pleasures in life, the seasons, the long days, the sun and the rain. It is spring - a time of beginnings.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

10100 Unique Visitors and I almost missed it!

Thanks to my friend Michelle in Australia I realised that I have reached a new blogging milestone - 10 000 unique visitors and another 100 too.I used to get excited about every 100 new visitors and here I am I forgot to keep my eye on it. I've also seen what other bloggers have achieved so 10 000 doesn't seem like such a big deal anymore (!) I'm sitting here chuckling at myself over my ambivalence - shame blogspot does not do smiley faces.

The truth of the matter is that I just want to transfer this damn blog over to but I still have far too much work to do on the site before I am ready to do that.
What started off as a way of updating the family, my mum in particular, has turned into so much more. I love writing a blog and now realise I should have studied journalism instead of economics - oh well, such is life.

It is also fascinating to watch the stats and see how people behave on the net - seeing what people search for and how that leads to me, or who else out there is linking to me, is nothing short of totally fascinating. It is also interesting to see what links people click on and to see those who come back regularly and never click on any of the links I put up.And it has caught me off guard a couple of times too. I found out last night my sister-in-law must pop in here from time to time, and here I was thinking it wouldn't be of interest now I am not writing as many personal posts about the family. It has also had me in trouble with my mother when the occasional post has led to phone-calls to her. I've often wondered if I should have a "don't quote me and don't ring my mother saying you read it on my blog" disclaimer, just to keep me out of trouble. After all - a blog is personal, it is my way of experiencing the world around me. But a blog also teaches you about accountability, about being conscious of what you communicate and how it can be perceived.

One of the things I really like about blogging is how it has led to other things. It is a great way to develop your writing skills - practise, practise, practise. I have also put thought into the profile we create, who are target audience is, how we attract people and keep them, the balance between personal and general information, privacy issues and what our goals are with a blog. I say WE because I have had many interesting discussions with other bloggers and I find this whole area of modern media so very fascinating. I get to apply all the theories of marketing, and relationship marketing from studies in the years gone by and yet apply them in a different way, in a new world, to a new media. Love it!

Blogging also opens up your world to a range of new people and I can't help but explore blogs in areas that interest me. I have a couple of favorites and like to read the "life in Sweden" blogs, as well as those using their blog as a professional tool.
I encourage anyone who wants to build a profile for professional reasons, or has something they want to say to the world to start blogging and to keep blogging. You will work the rest out as you go along. You can even do a blog writing course! Click on the picture above to have a look at one.

If you don't have it in you to blog - then start a Twitter account - it takes a while to get a feel for what the point is but it is a whole new world and it is here to stay. It is a whole new way of communicating with people, both privately and professionally.

Both my blog and Twitter have, without any doubt, brought me closer to my nearest and dearest. That's the best bit.

Thanks Michelle!

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Tax day in Sweden - where is the festival of yesteryear?

I used to chuckle over the long lines of people handing in their tax declarations at the last moment - the streets would thick with traffic, people driving by the mighty taxation building Skatteskrapan, the only skyskraper on Söder and handing their declaration to staff standing on the street.
There would be music, stands selling hotdogs and who knows what else - you could almost be mistaken for thinking it was a festival. Are the Swedes so happy to pay tax?

Nowdays the Swedish National Tax Board is located in newer, more modern offices a block or so away from the skyskraper. Nowdays this highrise is the home of 600 or so students with the best view of Stockholm, shops, bars and restaurants.

The Tax Board have not only more modern offices but their ways of working have modernised over the years too. Lars Epstein remembers when tax day was February 15th, when the streets were covered in snow and the queues miles long as the majority of Stockholmers not only left it to the last day by hundreds handed it in at the last minute. With the deadline being midnight there were a lot of people on Götgatan all night long. He remembers the orchestra playing, the magicians and their tricks, all the hotdog carts and the alcohol free glögg.

Since the good ol' days we have seen the introduction of pre-printed declarations that require little more than a signature, and then the introduction of the telephone, the internet and the sms declarations!! Each year it gets easier. I can't help but wonder if there is anywhere else in the world where you can do your tax declaration with an SMS? Is there anywhere else in the world where the government knows your every move to the extent that no other information is needed? Big brother is indeed watching....

Having laughed in the past at people leaving it to last minute it was my turn this year, and I was still working on my declaration during the day! Somehow I thought I had another few days - kind of nasty to make it the day after a nice long weekend don't you think? It was my first business declaration in many years - so this time it was not just a case of signing on the dotted line.

I had expected to have to fill it all out on paper as I had a whole series of extra forms that had to be filled in and changes that had to be made on the main declaration, but was pleasantly surprised to be able to do it on the internet. Anyone is able to submit their declaration online - all you need is your national identity number and the code printed on your tax declaration, enabling you to make a few basic changes to the form.

E-legitimation (or e-ID) on the other hand opens up a whole range of opportunities. E-ID is a certificate downloaded off the net onto your computer and in conjunciton with your password it enables you to identify yourself when dealing with many of the government institutions. I'm sure it sends shivers down the spines of all the internet-security-skeptics but it requires the user to have both the downloaded certificate and the password.

So with my e-ID I was not only able to go in and fill out all the forms electronically but I could save them and go back and make changes. What's more I can still go back and make changes up until June something - but then there is no guarantee of getting your return back before Midsummer. It takes away the panic - as long as you get it in by May 4th you can procrastinate a little longer.....

I found it fairly easy to navigate my way through the documents and fill in all the required information - not bad for someone who used to have a phobia!! And was able to ask a very accommodating friend for help with the bits I didn't quite understand. All in all I have to say it is a whole lot easier than it was when I ran a business 10 years ago - which confirms the promises over the years of simplifying things for small business have been fulfilled - at least to some extent.

According to Internet World 3.6 million people had submitted their declaration electronically as of Sunday night. As I sat there Monday without any problems accessing my documentation I couldn't help but wonder what sort of capacity Skatteverket had and would love to know how many others were online at the same time as I was. Despite this record number of internet users only some 857 000 had used their e-ID so far and the overall figures were 5% under the anticipated 60% and much lower that the long term goal of 80%. I wonder how long it will be before they stop sending out the paper declarations?

As Lars Epstein says: The party on Söder on tax day is over. Click on this photo to see his photos of the deserted streets. The party it well and truly over!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Our Walpurgis Night

For those not familiar with our long weekend it was Walpurgis Night on Thursday night - as always on the 30th of April. As with most festivities in this country it is a pre-Christian tradition celebrated by many around the country and beyond. Walpurgis night is bonfire night!For Swedes of today it signals spring in all its glory. And you only know what that really means after having been here all winter and truely experiencing spring in all its glory. Valborg as we affectionately refer to it is practical almost as much as it is symbolic, as it offers a chance to burn the garden waste after the spring clean-up and pruning of the bushes and trees. It is also a opportunity to bring people together, for local organisations to sell lotto tickets and raise some money and to celebrate the approaching good weather - approaching I say because it is rarely good weather on Valborg. This year was an exception and although it was typically colder on Thursday night it was much milder and clearer than I have ever known it.

Unfortunately Valborg is also a big drinking night for teens and there are usually many incidences of alcohol related problems thanks to others buying alcohol for the under-aged youth.

We had a lovely evening with friends, eating dinner outside(!) with 3 other families before walking to the local fire. As you can see it was a big one and there were a lot of people there. Countless were streaming out and heading home as we approached. Music was playing courtesy of a 3-man band on the stage, people were selling lottery tickets as well as tea, coffee & cake in the little booths. Kids were running about, there were prams, bikes and dogs everywhere.
We hung back for a while before we ventured closer to take a look at the mighty bonfire - each family separating in groups to get as close as possible. After warming up we headed back to find the others and then everything changed. It only took a few seconds. I turned back to say something to Ty and in the meantime Kieran took off and headed back to the fire with the sticks he wanted to throw into it. I was standing at the yellow booths when he disappeared into the crowd. I didn't see him go, I didn't see which direction he went. He just disappeared.

We ran around like mad things looking for him. He was nowhere to be seen. Makaila was beside herself and told me she just wanted to stop and cry - but we had to keep looking. I saw one of the dads we were with and alerted him to get the others to help look and then headed straight for the stage - everything you can imagine flashed before my eyes - it makes me ill to think too much about it even now. They made an announcement and Makaila and I stood and waited, and waited. It seemed like an eternity. It was an entire song. I was just about to tell them to announce again when I saw my friend coming towards me with my son in her arms. Such relief. Makaila grabbed her brother, hugged him and burst into tears. We found Ty who was running about all over the place. We were all so relieved - except Kieran who didn't really understand what all the fuss was about!!

Neither of my kids have been the types to take off so we had never experienced losing them - now we have. It is a dreadful, dreadful feeling and I think it is all these terrible stories in the media that made it as bad as it was...... You automatically go off the deep end and think worse case scenario.We recovered and took Kieran back to the fire, to where he had been mesmerized standing with his dad, and where my friend found him. And he threw his sticks in to burn with all the others. A little later there were fireworks followed by a cold walk back to the house, warm drinks and apple crumble. All is well that ends well.

My advice after this little adventure? Apart from the obvious - don't take your eyes off your kids in a crowd, warm clothes (always advisable in this country) - and bright hats - just in case you do take your eyes off them, even for a split second. Yellow is a great colour for a hat don't you think?