Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z ~ ZZZZs...Time to Catch Some #atozchallenge

All Aboard! "It's Very Swedish..." a train on a cultural journey through Sweden, exploring the differences big and small between American and Swedish culture.

Ok, so it's not very original, but it's for a good reasons: 

* I realized that this series didn't have as many personal pictures as my previous two did.  

*I had promised family photos...

*I am dead tired.  I mean, really, really tired.  

* I'm going to show you just exactly how tired through the legacy of Momarazzi's pictures.

Granted, most of these are DataBoy, but really, it's the toddlers who get to fall asleep wherever they want, not we adults who are trying to write our 26th post in 30 days...

I'm so tired that:

I wouldn't need The Swede to wait until I fell asleep...

or my big, bossy sister...

I could sleep through Lucia celebrations...

I certainly wouldn't have to cry myself to sleep having a tantrum trying to escape my crib...

In fact, I'm so tired I could fall asleep in my high chair. Totally strapped in...

Then someone would bring me pillows, and I'd be so comfy...

I might as well be asleep in my own bed.


P.S It's been a wonderful month, no matter how tiring. I've enjoyed sharing my heritage and thoughts with you, and enjoyed reading your posts, and meeting you.  On May 5th the linky opens for your Reflections Posts. Then on May 6, the linky opens for the 4th Annual Post Challenge Road Trip. Both of these are optional events for those of you not quite ready to let go of April's Awesomeness. Visit the A-Z Challenge Blog for all the details in the coming days.

©2014 All Rights Reserved
Precious photos I'm so happy we have: by Momarazzi!  She took a lot of bathtub photos, too.  Sleeping and bathtubs were two favorites.  The Swede marked some of the bathtub pictures in the album with "don't publish".  No problem, Dad.  I do know where to draw the line...most of the time.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y ~ Yxsjön: Learning to Swim #atozchallenge

All Aboard! "It's Very Swedish..." a train on a cultural journey through Sweden, exploring the differences big and small between American and Swedish culture.

As I recall from my childhood, if you wanted to learn to swim in Sweden, it was going to be in a lake. Pools are rare.  Lakes are everywhere.

The Swede taught me to swim in Yxsjön.  I'm behind DataBoy (censored for American audiences), and Swissie is next to me.  We're getting used to the cold water...slowly...

Swedish kids learn breaststroke, but not with the face in the water on every stroke like you see in competitions here.  The legs also do something different, it's not the kick of "the crawl" but more of a scissor-frog motion.  If I have time, I'll look for a video.

The point is that it's fairly easy to learn, and kids are swimming pretty quickly.  There are lessons of course, and I'd have my private lesson from my dad, while over by the dock, the other kids had to do all kinds of repetitive boring drills.

The Swede, ever the teacher (he didn't work for Volvo until we moved here) did give me a final exam.  I remember I was to swim as far as I could next to the dock where the water was deep enough that I could not stand, but not so deep as to be scary.  When I got tired, I was to grab the dock and be graded.

I remember being paid about the equivalent of $.25 for each meter I swam.  I was about one or two meter from the end of the dock, which was 25 meters long, when I grabbed the edge.  He pulled me out, held my hand, I can see myself in my white and green horizontally striped suit and remember being a little breathless and excited to learn I'd earned about $5. That was a LOT of money! I could swim!

When it came time to teach my own kids how to swim, I did what The Swede did and taught them myself.  We were visiting friends in Texas, the same friends who came up with the phrase for this "It's Very Swedish..." series, the summer they were probably 4 and 7 or close to that.  

They had one of those above ground HUGE swimming pools with plenty of room to actually swim, so I just taught hers too. Wanna know a good trick?  Have them put crocs (the shoes, for those of you who aren't familiar with this invention, born right here in my small Colorado town!) on their hands.  It helps them float a little more, and gives them confidence.

I think if I'd have had crocs to learn with, The Swede would have been out a lot more money ;-)

Do you know how to swim? How did you learn? Did you teach your kids? Feel free to share my croc idea. I didn't have it copyrighted...

~Tina, who now knows more than the breaststroke, but canNOT do the ALL

©2014 All Rights Reserved (the post, not the croc-on-hands-learn-to-swim-idea)
Photo credit: Momarazzi

Monday, April 28, 2014

X ~ eXtapris = Extra Price #atozchallenge

All Aboard! "It's Very Swedish..." a train on a cultural journey through Sweden, exploring the differences big and small between American and Swedish culture.

Yes, I admit that I'm totally cheating. We all know how hard X is, and I will freely admit that I've had the advantage of using either a Swedish or an English word the entire Challenge. However, that does not make X any easier, in either language.

I probably didn't need to translate my title for you, since it looks and sounds about the same in both languages.  (In Swedish, the "price" part is pronounced as in "priest", just forget the "t".)  It does though sound like you'll be paying an extra price.

Not so.  In Sweden, the extrapris is what you are looking for the.  The price was "extra special", as in the sale.  I remember shopping with Farmor in everything from those small, neighborhood grocery stores, to what is similar to a Safeway or King Soopers, (or whatever THE big chain is called in your town), to the mega-store in downtown Göteborg where it was pretty much a day long commitment to finish the major trip.

Those trips to Saga (which literally means "story") were an adventure of epic proportion.  Long lists. Markers to check off items.  Multiple carts and two cars: ours and Farmor and Farfar's.

I looked up extrapris in Swedish on Wiki, and they freely admitted that these are below cost items designed to lure you into the store. Here is America, those of us who are, shall we say, rather, um, organized about our grocery shopping, know that the front and back page items on the "weekly specials" inserts in the newspaper are the "loss leaders."

These are the items to get you in the store, and if you're like most people, you really don't want to go to another store for the rest of the non-sale price items on your list, so you just buy them there.  That's what they count on, and of course some of those prices are raised to make up for the other "loss".

It's all a game.  There's even a website, The Grocery Game, dedicated to helping you outsmart the system.  I don't go the extremes of some, but I do try to be a smart shopper.  It's rare that something on my receipt is full price.  I've had to have the manager come over to override the transaction because the amount I saved was more than my total owed.  Love winning like that.  (It's that insatiable competitive streak in me...)

Are you the grocery shopper in your family? Or do you not cook at all? There are many nights when all I want is a double cheeseburger, STAT, and man, you can get one cheaply at McDonald's, and they hit the spot at the end of a long day of A-Z wrangling ;-)

Two more days!  You CAN do it!

~Tina, totally tired but I AM going to finish this thing...and then finish visiting you all...thanks for all the wonderful comments and new followers.  You are much appreciated!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W ~ Water, Water, Everywhere, Pick Your Country! #atozchallenge

All Aboard! "It's Very Swedish..." a train on a cultural journey through Sweden, exploring the differences big and small between American and Swedish culture.

If you're not into the whole cultural experience, feel free to skip to the embarrassing childhood pictures.

I've been sharing about Sweden's great lakes and the fun we had there, but they are not the only water attractions in Sweden.  Water plays a huge part of life there.  Why do you think so many Swedes gravitated to Minnesota with it's, what is it, 10,000 lakes? Swedes felt at home there.

The lakes I grew up with were of all sizes and conditions.  There were lakes we could swim in, lakes we only boated on, lakes where we fished, and of course lakes where we did all of the above.  One thing they all had in common: the water was quite cold. You do get used to it though.  Really used to it.  

It's kinda of like when my Amazing Aunt Risky asked me today, at a restaurant, if the dish was spicy.  I said no, it's just pesto, it's not spicy.  Then I got her portion, because to her, it was too spicy.  Moral: don't ask me if the water is cold.  My answer will be NO, it's fine, come on in ;-)

One of my favorite lakes was the one where The Swede's best friend had a house.  There were two docks. One where there was foot-high sea weed and you wouldn't dream of swimming there, but that's where the boat was.  The other dock was on the other side of the house, around the corner if you will, and the water was crystal clear and you could see all the way to the bottom even where it was REALLY deep.  

Here's a picture of the "sea-weed" dock.

I found that I have more childhood photos involving non-lake water.  Enjoy.  

This is our backyard in Sweden.  That's DataBoy on the left in the pool with friend I can't remember, and I'm on the left on the "beach blanket" with friend I also can't remember. This picture was only marked "Spring time back yard water play" by Momarazzi.

This is one of our favorite vacation destinations.  We stayed at the campground, but had full use of the wonderful facilities enjoyed by those who stayed at the actual, pricey resort.  It was called Billingehus, for those Swedes reading :-)  That's Farfar with Swissie in his lap.  Me styling in the bikini...thought I was styling.  Year not marked, but I'm thinking this was right before we moved to America, so about 8.

Water sports continued after the move.  This is in the backyard of our first house in America, 1974.  Me, Swissie, and DataBoy. Yes, we dragged DataBoy in, fully clothed. Good thing, or he would have been nude, and then I couldn't have put up the picture...

That's me in the flowered bikini, still thinking I'm all that, at age 12.  There's Swissie, and Farmor, in the background, headless.

Ever the gymnast, I also enjoyed diving.

What are your water experiences?  Did you grow up with access to lakes?  Are you afraid of what you can't see when you're swimming? Come back to "Y" and you'll hear my learning to swim story.  Not that you'd want to miss "X"...seriously.  X is hard enough in English...

~Tina, who happily swims anywhere she can see the bottom, and will sometimes, with enough peer pressure, swim in uncharted waters (it's hard to resist Aunt Risky...)

©2014 All Rights Reserved
All photos most likely by Momarazzi, or another family member.  For example, Momarazzi would not have cut off Farmor's head...

Friday, April 25, 2014

V ~ Vättern: Candy Canes in Gränna #atozchallenge

All Aboard! "It's Very Swedish..." a train on a cultural journey through Sweden, exploring the differences big and small between American and Swedish culture.


Today's post is sort of a continuation of G ~ Göta Kanal in that it tells of another summer vacation favorite, also on one of Sweden's great lakes, this one Vättern, the smaller of the two.

For perspective, here's Sweden:

Göteborg is on the West Coast, and that big lake is Vänern, where I told you about Sjötorp and the canal, and my carefree visits there.  The skinny lake you see in the middle of Sweden, to the east of Vänern, is Vättern, where there's a tiny, historic town of Gränna, on the east side.

It's too small to see unless I give you a really grainy map and you go to that website and then you can navigate it like any google map, but I think for your time and interest, it's enough to know that it's on the lake, right?

As I was writing this, it was fun reading the history of the town, which I didn't give one hoot about when I was a child.  I was interested in it's claim to fame: the homemade, secret recipe, amazingly yummy and chewy, not rock hard candy canes, called polkagrisar in Swedish.  (If you translate that word, you get polka, the dance, and pigs.)

The main website I used for my research admitted that the origin of the name is unknown.  Maybe there was a vodka factory close by and one night...who knows ;-)

It takes years to learn how to make these properly because the proportion of the four ingredients varies daily due to temperature and humidity.  It's all done by hand, and by feel, and even the weight is done without weighing.  It's all still the old-fashioned way.

Nope, not me.  Just a cutie from the website.

So what's the cultural difference?  This isn't about that.  It's about still doing things the old-fashioned way, which I think it's wonderful that we still hold onto in both countries.  

There are lots of places in America where you can see them making taffy the old fashioned way.  I picked that as my example because ironically enough, this polkagris dough is pulled out in much the same manner.

So here's to summer vacations, homemade candy, and sweet memories.  What's your favorite childhood candy?  Is it homemade?

~Tina, who searched and searched for a picture of ME eating a polkagris but it looks like it's the one event of my childhood that Momarazzi missed ;-)

©2014 All Rights Reserved
Photo credit: map of all of Sweden
Rest of photos from (you might want to translate it...)

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U ~ Underbara Kaffee Kalas = Wonderful Coffee Parties #atozchallenge

All Aboard! "It's Very Swedish..." a train on a cultural journey through Sweden, exploring the differences big and small between American and Swedish culture.


Americans, when they want to "have coffee" with you they meet you at a coffee shop and you buy (totally overpriced) coffee, and maybe something to eat.  You fight over who pays.

In Sweden, "having coffee" means going to someone's house and they have a wonderful array of goodies ready to quickly set out for you.  The Swedish hostess needs to be ready for visitors, who may show up at any time.  I remember how Farmor always had several kinds of cookies, buns (see B ~ Buns), and other treats available.

There's sometimes a silly little ritual of , "Oh, please don't bother, I'm fine!" and "Oh, it's no bother at all!" while the hostess makes the coffee and sets out the goodies.

There are more formal, organized coffee parties as well.  My Swissie and I would sometimes have two-a-day when we visited in the summers as Farmor and Farfar wanted to parade us around to all their friends.

I remember vividly the summer she was 14 and I was about to be 17.  We were "forced" by politeness to eat so much that we were never, ever hungry.  Then one day when we had no formal plans, I at some point in the day turned to her and said, "Blessed! I do believe I'm hungry again!"  It's been a saying between us ever since.

At those parties you might start with a fancy sandwich (see D ~ Dill), then a bunch of cookies (you were to try one of each) and of course the aforementioned buns, and then when you thought you'd about burst (and die of thirst as we discussed in I ~ Ice, Ice Baby), out would come THE CAKE.

(yes, I know this is not the inside of the above picture...but I wanted you to see an inside, and variations of the outside, so for those of you who thrive on detail, just know I am aware of this and not trying to fool you)

These cakes were really awesome, but I never had room for them once they arrived. This cake starts with a layer of sponge cake, then some sweet jam is mixed with whipped cream and spread on the bottom layer, then the next layer goes on. After that, the whole cake is covered in the whipped (and of course sweetened, sometimes with vanilla sugar) cream and decorated with fresh fruit.  A sight to behold.

Coffee is a ritual in Sweden.  It's called kaffe (cuff - eh? (as in "I can't hear you!")) and it's served hot, strong, and in smaller cups than we use.

On the left, a Longaberger mug, on the right, one of my treasured heirlooms from Farmor.

Is there coffee in your country?  What are the rituals surrounding it's consumption?  Do you want one of those cakes?

~Tina, who is blessedly hungry and better go make dinner...

©2014 All Rights Reserved
Photo credit: strawberry cake
Photo credit: cake with lots of fruit
Photo credit:: mug comparison: OYT

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T ~ Teeth/Braces = Tandställning #atozchallenge

All Aboard! "It's Very Swedish..." a train on a cultural journey through Sweden, exploring the differences big and small between American and Swedish culture.

I remember my cousin coming to visit from Sweden when I was in junior high.  She remarked (and I'll translate for you) "Wow, a LOT of kids wear braces here."  Totally true. Braces aren't as common in Sweden - not the rite of passage most American kids endure.

I never had braces.  My teeth are, if I may say so myself, well it's my blog you can't really stop me...perfectly aligned.  Neither of my boys will need braces.  The Engineer never had them either.  He has a really great smile...

There are a lot of factors that could account for this difference though, and The Swede told me to get a hold of a Swedish dentist...thanks, very let's explore this ourselves since I don't know any Swedish dentists.

Do fewer Swedish kids have braces because their teeth don't need them?

Is it because fewer Swedes put as much emphasis on having a perfect appearance as American society pushes us to have?

Are there fewer orthodontists?  Is dental care part of the socialized medicine, or is it private and therefore just as ridiculously expensive as here in America?

What do you think?  Did you have braces?
I'd also like to know what the incidence of braces is like in your country.  Yes, I'm demanding...

~Tina, who never had braces but I think the two root canals (and crowns) made up for me not contributing to orthodontia, the oral surgeons got my $$$ instead...

P.S Alex J. Cavanaugh gets the Gold Medal from yesterday's post for remembering the that summer cottage is "stuga".  Way to go Alex!

©2014 All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S ~ Summer Vacations #atozchallenge

All Aboard! "It's Very Swedish..." a train on a cultural journey through Sweden, exploring the differences big and small between American and Swedish culture.

I find it rather ironic that on the day that I've planned to write about how Swedes, and Europeans in general, are much better at just plain taking time off for family and relaxing, I've done everything but that. 

For fact checking this time around, I wanted a more varied Scandinavian perspective.  I turned to to my blogging buddy, CA Heaven, for the Norwegian scoop.   He confirmed what I remembered: The standard vacation time for the Norwegian work force is 5 weeks per year. Many people can spend their vacation when they want to, more or less.  In addition to the vacation, we have the national holidays off, such as Christmas (3 days), New Years day, Easter (3 days), workers day, 1st of May, ascension of Christ, and constitution day (17 May). I think its pretty much the same in Sweden, but the Swedes have one day less in Easter, and their constitution day is in June, as you know, svenska flaggans dag.

What I remember from visiting Sweden so many summers of my childhood, is that life really slows down in the summer.  Many Swedes take their vacations in July, and a lot of them to their summer cottage.  (Quick quiz: if you were around in 2012 learning Swedish, name the word for cottage.) (Or search for matter...there's a gold medal at stake people!)

I think we could take a lesson from Europe. Your life needs to take a time out.  Relax. Take enough time that you really decompress.  Your family needs you. 

What are vacation norms in your country? Do you use all your vacation, or do they make you take it or lose it?

~Tina, who needs a vacation, but when your job is your family and free-lance writing, um how? 

Monday, April 21, 2014

R ~ Rum Bar Cafe #atozchallenge

All Aboard! "It's Very Swedish..." a train on a cultural journey through Sweden, exploring the differences big and small between American and Swedish culture.

As I've been writing this series, I've had a lot of time to contemplate the differences in Swedish and English, as languages. OK, not true.  I haven't HAD time.  I've USED time...Swedish is much more precise, as in there are more words to choose from when trying to express an idea, and therefore one has a better chance of being understood completely.

I'm dividing the "missing in English" words into two categories. One is words we don't need because those "things" don't exist in the US.

Lutefisk is one of those words.  

Well, it's debatable whether lutefisk is really needed anywhere...

There's also filmjölk (a kefir like dairy product that tastes more like buttermilk), smörgåstårta (sandwich cake, you saw one in D ~ Dill), rutkaka:

(a special cake that I've never seen anywhere in the US, it's not a pie at all).

Jantelagen, (don't think more highly of yourself than you ought), allemansrätten, (the right to go anywhere you want in Sweden), are other words which apply to Swedish but not American culture.

Then there are the words in Swedish that can't be translated into English because we don't have a word for that concept -but words that we sure could use, like lagom, which means "just about right". There's also annandags jul, which the Brits call Boxing Day, but Americans don't celebrate it.

Of course there are many more examples, but I've been told my posts are too long...

Then there are the dangerous words.  The "false friends."  I think a story is called for here:

When I was born, lo these many (48) years ago, my Amazing Aunt Risky (see nickname tab above for info about her) traveled to Sweden for the first time to help her big sister with her first baby.  She was 16.

Out for a drive, she noticed a windmill with a sign. "Rum Bar Cafe".  She probably said something along the lines of, "Oh how cool, they have a rum-bar in an old windmill!"  Of course, that's not what it meant.

Rum, pronounced with "um" from photo albUM, instead of "um" from dumb. The word means ROOM, not rum, the alcoholic beverage.  So instead of there being a bar which specialized in rum, it was a bed and breakfast where you could get a room, go to the (completely regular) bar and/or the restaurant. Cafe means casual restaurant just like it does in English, but pronounced slightly differently, however, you only have to endure one pronunciation lesson today.

So my Amazing Aunt Risky didn't get her rum, but she did pick up a few Swedish phrases while she was there that she still uses today.  "Tack för maten" - thanks for the food. "Du är så duktig!" - you're so clever/good at.  Note that it took me three English words to convey the meaning of "duktig".

How is your language structured?  Do you have a lot of specific words?  Are any of your words part of English?

~Tina, the word-nerd

©2014 All Rights Reserved
Photo credit: Lukefisk 
Photo credit: rutkaka

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q ~ Quiet! Slow Down and Relax #atozchallenge

All Aboard! "It's Very Swedish..." a train on a cultural journey through Sweden, exploring the differences big and small between American and Swedish culture.

My plan for today was to write about the quiet pace of life in Sweden, versus the go-go-go over-scheduled, Day-Timer (or iPhone reminder...) needing, each kid has two sports, an instrument, three practices, two games hectic pace of life we have more of here.

However, I've been fighting with myself most of the afternoon about whether I'm going to admit that I probably have the stomach bug that The Transporter has had for five, long days...let's just say for now that I have a killer headache, my stomach feels not so happy, and I probably have a fever.

So unless I start to feel better and update this later this evening, Q will be for Quiet Please, sick blogger.

~Tina, hoping it's just exhaustion, but kinda losing the ability to keep up that charade...

Friday, April 18, 2014

P ~ Public Transportation #atozchallenge

All Aboard! "It's Very Swedish..." a train on a cultural journey through Sweden, exploring the differences big and small between American and Swedish culture.

Is the public transportation in Sweden so convenient and easy to use because it needs to be, since fewer people have cars, or do fewer people have cars because there's really no need, with such a convenient, inexpensive alternative?  That's the chicken/egg question and though The Nutritionist and I discussed this at length, we didn't come to a conclusion.

What I remember most vividly about the convenience of Swedish public transportation was the ease with which I traveled from Farmor's apartment in Göteborg, to a little day-use only island in the archipelago just off the coast.

It was one system of payment, by this time reloadable, magnetic strip cards that you ran through a reader while boarding, whether you were getting on the bus outside the apartment complex, 

then a streetcar to the central bus station, 

then on another bus to the harbor, 

and finally, onto the boat to the island.

Here I am, haven't been to Sweden since the 80s, it's now 1996, and I'm no longer traveling with Farmor as my guide.  No problem.  My friend had told me where to end up, and at what time. Got myself a map the day before, figured out the best route, and off I went.

The bus ride to the harbor and the boat to the island was one fare, so as I got off the bus, I was handed a transfer slip, which I showed when I got on the boat, and there she was, saving me a seat.

Another example of the convenience of it all was the evening I went out on the town at night.  There I was, married, 31, and had never been out at night in Sweden.  Caught a bus to the same friend's house, we had dinner, then we all headed downtown to a bar with outdoor, sidewalk seating, and had one of the most pleasant evenings of my life.

Ironically, the entire conversation consisted of, wait for it, the cultural differences between the US and Sweden!  My friend's boyfriend, and their other friends, a couple, who joined us, were very interested in hearing about US culture, and since I hadn't been to Sweden as an adult, I found it wonderful to be able to talk to peers about my perceptions.

The last bus for Farmor's apartment complex left at 12:45 am, and the stop was across the street from the bar.  I actually saw the sun go down that night, as the pleasant breeze caressed our conversation, the beer flowed freely, and then my designated-driver bus took me safely home.

I would not have been able to accomplish either of those journeys here in America without spending a LOT more money, and going home a LOT earlier from the bar.  Our bus lines are hard to coordinate, there's a lot of wait if you need to transfer, and though the buses run on schedule, they sure don't run as often as the Swedish buses.  Then there's the part that I couldn't have gotten myself to a gorgeous island since Colorado is rather short on those.

If you're an American, do you use our public transportation?  If you're from another country, what's the public transportation like there?  

~Tina, remembering 11:00 pm sunsets, island breezes, and a great visit to my homeland.

©2014 All Rights Reserved
Photo credit: Bus
Photo credit: Street car
Photo credit: boat