What's New at the Pålssons'


What's New at the Pålssons'
Self-absorbed rambling, useless trivia and shameless bragging

Sunday, December 25, 2006 – Merry Christmas!

We hope everyone is having a nice Christmas. Yesterday was the big day for us, and today we're just relaxing. Max is playing with a friend. I finished up our Christmas/New Years letters and have a pile of them ready to send. Bengt has been watching a lot of TV. Max is enjoying his Playstation, but not exclusively; we have also been working on the Lego city that he and I agreed to build together, and he is enjoying some other games and stuff that he got. Tonight I'm looking forward to reading with Max, one or two of the great books that Dick & Donna Rose sent.

Bengt and Sven & Anna-Brita got me a goLITE P1 for Christmas. I'm hoping this will give me more energy during the long, dark Swedish winter, and a colleague told me that this particular lamp works great for her. It is supposed to have positive effects basically immediately. I used it yesterday for the first time. Today I woke up feeling rested at 7 a.m. Of course it was too soon to know if that was a result of using the goLITE, but it was nice to feel more energy as I got out of bed.

Here on the right you can see our Christmas tree, sporting the note from Santa explaining why he couldn't make a personal appearance this year. Santa had to get an early start because his sled doesn't go so fast when there's no snow. Max was disappointed, though on the other hand he got his presents early. (Normally Santa comes around 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve.)

Every once in awhile I like to watch a show called Maternity Ward, where they show births at different hospitals in the U.S. I realized after I'd watched this show a few times that almost all of the women they show have received epidurals. Because they make a big deal out of it when the woman hasn't had one.

I was watching this show last night and there was one woman who, like me when Max was born, couldn't have an epidural because of a medical condition. She was screaming her head off. Bengt came in and watched it with me. He said the screaming and yelling sounded familiar. ;-)

On this same episode they showed one birth where the woman's hours of pushing weren't having much effect. Two helpers got in there and were applying suprapubic pressure during the contractions, the way they did on me. They were pushing with all their might, and their hands were sinking deep into the woman's abdomen. It looked brutal, and again, the woman was yelling her head off.

Bengt said that's what they did to me, plus they had a special belt wrapped around me that they tightened every time they managed to gain an inch or so (I guess to prevent Max from moving back up). No wonder I couldn't walk upright or take a deep breath for a week or two afterwards! God!

Of course it was all worth it, but even now, seven years after Max's birth, I still feel shaky when I think of the pain and desperation I experienced. My labor was uncomplicated, but it was very long and without much pain relief. I've never experienced anything as excruciating in my life, and it just went on and on. To every mother-to-be that I meet, I say, "Get the epidural!"

There are those lucky few who are natural baby-bearing machines, but the rest of us.... I shudder when I think about it. Watching Maternity Ward is therapeutic for me, in a weird way.

Anyway, then there was this other woman who struggled for hours to push the baby out. Finally the kid was born, and the doctor burst out, "This baby is enormous!!" "He's huge!" exclaimed someone else. "Oh my God!" said the doctor again. That was a funny one. You don't expect the doctors or nurses to be shocked or amazed.

All this was shown on one episode, which was filmed at Riverside Methodist Hospital in Columbus, where Lin and I were born. (Right, Mom?) Interesting!

And then—I have to tell you about just one more—there was this other episode where the doctor was telling the woman that he wasn't sure whether she could give birth vaginally because her pelvis was cone shaped. But the woman was determined not to have a C-section, and she persevered. After hours of pushing, the woman finally managed to squeeze the baby out – and its head was completely cone shaped! I laughed so hard. Good thing a newborn's head is so pliable!

Well, on that odd note, here's to a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 19 – a successful piano recital, and some snow

Max had his first piano recital yesterday. (Well, he had one last year, but I was the only member of the audience.) Nineteen children played short pieces for the piano, guitar and flute. I think Max was the youngest kid there, but he did just great. "My name is Max Pålsson, and I'm going to play Boating Lake," he said (in Swedish, of course). Then he nailed it.

Bengt and I were proud. And I have to say I'm proud of myself for sticking it out with him that first term when it was difficult to get him to practice. It took awhile to get a routine going and figure out what type of assistance I should offer, how much (or little) to praise him, and when I should simply keep my mouth shut. Now he practices voluntarily but still usually wants me by his side to help. But he will practice with Bengt if I'm out.

I took a digital video of the recital, but the file size is 15 MB, so I'm not making it available here.

Max is over at Nils' house and Bengt is out. It is nice to be home alone for awhile. Strangely, it feels like a Friday. I can't imagine why I have to go to work tomorrow.

We've had months of unseasonably warm weather. I just wore my winter coat for the first time yesterday, and I still haven't worn my boots. Max has yet to try on last year's snowsuit. But yesterday the temp finally fell below freezing, and it's sunny (during those few hours of the day when the sun is up, that is) and clear.

And today we got our first snow since November 1. Max is pleased. He has been longing for snow and ice. For obvious reasons, he hasn't used his skates once yet this season.

Last night Max and I were reading a book that I swiped from the back bedroom at Marlin's house last summer, Moonwalk, The First Trip to the Moon. As we started reading, Max said, "Mama, that book smells like Grandpa's basement." I was flabbergasted. He certainly has a nose on him and can immediately identify what he smells!

Remember the story about the sweatshirt we found in the back seat of the car a few years ago? Max didn't know whose it was, so he offered to smell it. One whiff and he identified it as Nils' sweatshirt.

"It smells like Nils."

"What does Nils smell like?"

"Dirt." (Dirt in the sense of soil/earth.)

December 17 – a crazy week (the storm before the calm)

This week was nuts. The Christmas activities were in full swing. Here are some pictures from the Lucia performance at Max's school. I guess the Lucia thing is the equivalent of a Christmas pageant at an American school.

Like the other older boys, Max was dressed as a stjärngosse, which my Swedish-English dictionary defines as "a boy attendant on Lucia [dressed in a long white shirt and pointed cap who carries a star on a stick]".

The literal translation is "star boy", and you can see why. I had to go out last week and buy the floor-length "shirt" at a clothing store. You buy the cone hat and cardboard star and stick in a separate package—at the grocery store, of all places. Did I ever mention what a strange country this is?

The students also put on a play – in English. Max was one of the narrators, and he did great. He spoke loudly and clearly. Bengt and I were so proud of him.  The second picture here is from the play. (The narrators kept their pageant clothes on.)

The weekend has gone much too fast. What the heck did I do yesterday? Oh yeah, I slept in, stopped off at the dump, went to a flea market, wrapped presents (for about three hours!), made dinner, watched a little TV, helped Max practice piano, read to him, played a little backgammon online, and that was it! Cripes!

Today I slept late again (by which I mean 8:30), did some housecleaning, picked up my colleague at the station because he was bringing his cat to us to take care of while he's in the US, visited with him and then took him back to the station, picked up Max from tennis, went to the recycling center with some more of our junk, did the grocery shopping, did three loads of laundry, helped Max practice, did three months' worth of filing (bills and stuff), ordered a few last-minute gifts online, and geez, the day is over again!

What I definitely wanted to get done was hem three pairs of pants (I've now decided to take two of them to a tailor tomorrow), and write our Christmas letter. That Christmas letter isn't going out until after Christmas, I can tell you that right now.

I'm glad I got the other stuff done, though. And the flea market was fun. :-) I got Bengt six paperbacks by his favorite author, for about $1 apiece, and he was very pleased. I got Max four CDs, two books, and some Lego figures, all very cheap, and he was equally pleased. And for myself I got one CD (oboe concertos) and some very nifty ice cream dishes (made in France) to replace the cheap Ikea ones we've been using for the past ten years (and anyway three broke, so we only had five left).

Tomorrow Max has a piano recital. I'm sure it will go fine. He has done great this term. I'm looking forward to the recital.

After that, our calendar is completely open for the rest of the year! WHEW! It's crazy how we run around like maniacs until December 18, and then BAM, nothing.

We've been taking care of two cats, Bimbo and Ali, for a week so far. I think it is going well. They are friendly and seem relatively at ease. We get to pet them as much as we want. They don't complain much or demand a lot of attention. They go outside sometimes and stay out for a few hours at a time.

However, they like to sleep on me. I am like some kind of cat magnet. We haven't been able to get the cats to stay off the bed, and we don't like to close the door. I don't mind if they sleep by my feet, but they like to be right on top of me, or at least up close, which I find confining. In addition, they get up once or twice a night to eat or pee or something, and when they come back they wake us up by walking around the bed. It's a bit aggravating. But they're cute and it's only temporary. :-)

Anyway, as I mentioned, my colleague brought over a third cat today, Harper. The large cat that's been here a week, Bimbo, who I feared would beat the s**t out of a newcomer, has been neutral towards Harper so far. They sniffed each other and then went about their business. No problem.

The more timid cat, Ali, on the other hand, obviously feels threatened and has been hissing at Harper. Harper doesn't hiss back, nor does he cower or run away. He just backs off. But both are obviously uneasy. And now Harper has been hiding under the guest bed for hours. I reached under and pet him, and I put some dry food and some water under there with him, but I guess he'll just have to come out in his own time. Maybe he'll come out while it's quiet tonight.

We decorated our Christmas tree last weekend, but we weren't quite finished until yesterday. Max asked me, "When are we going to put the frosting on the tree?" (He meant tinsel!)

We had a bit of a rough time with Max. I was going to write about that at length today, but it seems to be over already. (Knock on wood.) Phew! It only lasted about 7-10 days, but it was intense. He kept taking forever to do things we asked him to do. Sometimes it seemed like he didn't hear us. We'd ask him to get dressed for school, and he'd start discussing something or asking a bunch of questions or something. Or he'd try to negotiate. Or he'd drag it out excessively. When we raised our voices and insisted, he'd talk back and then sulk when we got irritated. Arrr!

The other day I said, "We're going through a tough time together right now, aren't we."

"Yes," said Max. "Why is that?"

"I don't know exactly. But you don't seem to like how I act, and I don't care for the way you've been acting. [I elaborated.] Probably we both need to make some adjustments. Feel free to let me know if you have any suggestions."

He said he would think about it, but I didn't hear anything more about it. But yesterday we asked him to take a bath, and he did it all by himself, from start to finish. I mean he went into the bathroom by himself, and when we next saw him, he had his pajamas on. His hair was washed and he smelled good. That was a first for him, and my feeling was that it was his gesture of apology. Since then he has been much more agreeable. I'm not sure what happened.

Last weekend Max was playing at his same-age friend Adrian's house, and the dad left the kids at home by themselves for awhile while he went to the grocery store. I was pretty surprised, but I agree the two boys could handle it. They are calm and reasonable boys. They don't misbehave or do dangerous things, and I think they know what to do in just about any emergency that could come up in that half hour. Max felt proud that they were trusted to be on their own.

Max's errant tooth looks even stranger now than when I wrote on November 28. It's sticking out at a bizarre angle but is no looser than it was a month ago. In addition, it's pushing the left front tooth off to the far side. I'm going to call the dentist tomorrow, because I think it probably needs to be pulled. Max is worried, but I think he is also tired of dealing with that tooth. (He can't eat things like apples, and people keep commenting on how strange it looks, and I keep bugging him to wiggle it.) I think he's ready for me to take charge here, and I've assured him I'll stick by him while it's taken care of.

December 7

Someone at work sent me an email that has been circulating on the Internet (which I usually don't appreciate), and at the very bottom there was this gem. What a great picture! Max would have done something like this if given the chance.

This reminds me of when Max was a toddler and could spend an hour unwinding a roll of toilet paper, stringing it all over the upstairs, dragging it around and playing with it. He had so much fun doing that! Bengt would ask me, "Why do you let him do that?" He didn't understand what a godsend it was when Max entertained himself for an hour. :-)

I had that sore throat for 13 days. Really annoying. I'm all better now, though.

We are going to take care of three cats for about three weeks over the holidays. Max and I are looking forward to it. Two cats are from one family and one belongs to a colleague. Originally we were only "borrowing" the two cats. But my colleague was going to leave his cat alone in the apartment for over two weeks, and I felt sorry for it so I offered to take that cat, too. Someone was going to feed it, but that seems like a long time to leave a cat basically on its own.

If the three cats absolutely don't get along, I know another family who would probably be interested in taking the colleague's cat.

The first two cats arrive this Sunday.

As is often the case before Christmas, Max has been wondering about Santa. The other day he told Bengt, "Papa, I think that Santa is just some old guy dressed in red clothes."

"You think so?" asked Bengt.

"No!" cried Max. :-)

A couple of days later, right before bed, Max asked me, "Mama, do you think Santa is real?"

"What do you think?" I asked. (Funny how he doesn't notice that I always give the same reply to that question.)

"I think Santa is part old guy dressed up, and part Christmas spirit." I think that's the best explanation I've heard!

Max found his main Christmas present the other day by accident. (It's Playstation 2. Playstation 3 isn't being released here until March, and it will be much more expensive than the PS2.) I wasn't home, but Bengt told me about it later. At first Max looked pretty disappointed. Then he brightened up and suggested to Bengt, "You could hide it someplace else!"

Another recent quote (out of the blue): "It's easier to dance when you're moving."

November 28

I got sick right after Max. I don't know whether it's what he had or some other virus, but today is day 9 of my sore throat. Among other lovely symptoms, I've had a cough, low-grade fever, chest pain, diarrhea, nausea, headache, lethargy, and assorted body aches. ARGH! I hate being sick! I've missed three days of work (last Tuesday and then Monday-Tuesday this week), but tomorrow I'm going back.

One day last week Max was clowning around, pretending to be Crazy Frog on his motorcycle. Only, he was naked and it looked hilarious. Without giving it any thought, I offered to pay Max 100 kronor if he'd let me film him doing that. "A hundred kronor?! Okay!" (That was too easy!) So I got out the camera and recorded it, and he got his 100 kronor.

I consider this one of the best investments I ever made, because this is going to be absolutely priceless when I show it at his 18th birthday party or wedding party or something. Or I can use it as blackmail. ("I will show this to your girlfriend if you don't do your homework.") I spent the rest of the evening snickering to myself at the thought of it. Also, watching that snippet will cheer me up any time I feel down in the dumps. Oh, I'm a terrible mom!

Speaking of money (sort of), I got low on cash right before payday and asked Max if I could borrow the contents of his piggy bank. He said sure – but he charged me interest! That kid's gonna go far.

Max's teeth have shifted so much and so fast that people have been commenting on it to me. Like, "Look at this – are you on this?" He has such a big hole on one side that you'd think he'd lost an upper tooth (which he hasn't). The tooth that has moved over so much is jutting out at an alarming angle. I kept feeling around for another tooth coming in, but there was no sign of one. Finally the other day Max felt the new tooth.

Like his other baby teeth, that jutting tooth is going to be pushed forward out of his mouth instead of down. It takes a long time and leaves a gross-looking (but fast-healing) hole in front of the new permanent tooth.

Max's teeth, six months ago and two weeks ago.

A couple of weeks ago two young women were substituting at Max's school. When I went to pick Max up, they hugged him and showered him with kisses and said how much they love Max. Max pretended to scrape the kisses off in disgust, but I could see he was pleased. Then as we were leaving, they told him to look in his back pocket. There they had somehow managed to stick in a love note. Max cruelly tore up the note in front of their eyes and they pretended to be heartbroken. Uhhhhh.... interesting! I guess they gave him a lesson in how to flirt and play hard to get.

I inserted a picture of me in my new glasses further below.

November 18

Max recovered after two days of high fever. We kept him home an extra day to recuperate. He still has these translucent bags under his eyes, but he is his usual, chipper, talkative self and is eating well. And so far, no lice.

On one of the evenings when he was sick, he went off to bed at about 7 p.m. About an hour later he woke up and came downstairs looking extremely miserable, about an 11 on the Pitiful scale. I gave him a Tylenol suppository (which he takes willingly when he feels awful) and a few sips of cold water. He got back into bed, and I put a cold washcloth on his forehead and held his hand.

I stayed with him and swabbed his face, and we talked quietly off and on. About ten minutes later he said with relief, "I feel MUCH better."

That has to be one of the most rewarding parts of being a parent – being able to help your kid when he's feeling awful. It makes me feel so thankful that I have access to Tylenol, to fresh water, to shelter and a nice soft bed for Max (and for myself). I feel sick when I think of all the parents today who can't offer those basic things to their kids.

To anyone who is inclined to send me a Christmas present, feel free to give to a charity, instead – for example Water For People. I would appreciate that just as much. (I found Water For People on Charity Navigator, a great place to find a charity that speaks to your concerns.) Even Max appreciates money given to charity with him in mind. Thanks!

The other day I heard Max call for help from another room. "Help, I'm stuck!" He had managed to handcuff himself with his wrists behind his back, and he couldn't get the handcuffs off. I was tempted to leave him like that. :-)

Max has been in very good spirits for quite awhile, and he is increasingly independent. For example, he'll stay in the car for a few minutes while I pump gas or run into a restaurant to pick up our take-out order. Until now, that was out of the question.

I pointed this out to Max, and he said he didn't know what he was afraid of before. He was not afraid that I wouldn't come back. I suggested that now he feels confident that he can handle whatever could come up in those few minutes. He agreed.

School seems to be going well, too. Since he started school in the fall, Max's reading and writing have improved. He reads both Swedish and English pretty smoothly now, and I think his comprehension is greatly improved. (Now that he doesn't have to work so hard to read the words, he can pay more attention to their meaning.) When it's time to add something to the grocery list, he wants to write it himself. He has also been drawing and coloring a bit. That's never been a big interest, but now for some reason he enjoys it.

Max borrowed a CD from school the other day. I didn't take a close look at it until he started playing it on the stereo and I heard all this terrible profanity – it was an Eminem CD! Geez!

Well, we turned that off, and the next day I talked to his teacher. I was all worked up to state my case against exposing little kids to that kind of language (even if it is English, which most of them don't understand yet), but Anna understood immediately and agreed there was no excuse for having an Eminem CD at school. She couldn't explain how it got in their collection, but she said they would get rid of it immediately. I'm going to look through their stack at the next opportunity, just to make sure.

My new glasses

I got new glasses with progressive lenses about two weeks ago. I'm enjoying their benefits. For example, I can go to a meeting and take notes without my reading glasses. It's easier to put toothpaste on my toothbrush, glance at my watch, read ingredients in a grocery store, or wipe ketchup from Max's face.

But reading small print for more than a minute is out of the question. The window of clear vision for reading is miniscule. I feel like I'm looking through two little tunnels to read, and I have to have my face pointed exactly at the text. If I'm searching for data on a letter-sized brochure, my head bobs around as I move that little window of clear vision around the page. Frustrating.

And I knew the sides would be blurry, but this is worse than I expected. I can drive with my new glasses, but I would switch to my old glasses for a lengthier car trip. I mourn my big, clear distance vision.

I keep my old glasses in the TV room. Our screen is so big that I can't get it all within the clear part of my vision if I relax on the couch.

So I'm finding the progressive lenses hard to get used to. I'm willing to keep trying – there's no doubt about the benefits. The optometrist said I should try them for at least a month before giving up and trying something else. Fair enough. I'm still at the stage where I initially look over the top of the glasses before I remember that I can use the bottom part of the glass to see close up. (And even after I remember, I still take them off to read small print, thread a needle, etc.) I guess I waited a little too long to take this step....

November 15

Piano lessons are going well. Although the teacher keeps giving him harder pieces than I would have, and he gets frustrated sometimes, Max still practices willingly, often without prompting. I recorded him playing "Boating Lake" the other day. It's still slow and ponderous, but it's coming along. (Listen.)

Max has caught some sort of bug. He had a very high fever the night before last and woke up several times for "service". The second time, at about 12:30 a.m., he came and joined me in my bed. The fourth time, at 4:30 a.m., he was terribly feverish and nauseous. I gave him Tylenol, got him to drink some water, stroked his forehead with my (by now) cold hand, and rubbed his back, but he continued moaning miserably.

"Can you think of anything else I can do to help you?" I asked. "Well," replied Max weakly, "You could buy me some games? That would make me happy, but I guess that wouldn't help me right now...."

Never miss an opportunity to obtain more toys or games. :-)

Last night was no fun, either. His fever is lower, but now he's congested.

In a few days we may be dealing with head lice, as well. The father of one of Max's friends called last night to tell us that they found lice on their son, so we need to keep our eye on Max. Yuck. But I'm glad he called!

November 11

I've been wanting to update our website for awhile, but there was a problem with our web hotel and I wasn't able to access the source files. Argh!

One last Halloween party

Today we had our last Halloween party of the year. Swedes aren't so particular about when they celebrate Halloween. It's more like Christmas in that you can have parties for weeks before Christmas (although not after, now that I think about it). I dressed up as a surgeon. Are surgeons scary? Well, they are if they have a big knife and threaten to take off your arm! (At a Swedish Halloween party, you have to be something spooky or scary. There were no princesses or superheroes!) 

Anyway, the party was ok, but I worked my behind off. It took us 5 moms 3 hours to set up and 1 1/2 hours to clean up afterwards. (We had it at the school, and they have strict rules for cleanliness there, especially in the kitchen, which is reassuring.) Not to mention the 2 hours during the party. I'm exhausted!

Our first snow on November 1

We had our first snow on November 1. It caused complete chaos because first warm rain fell on cold streets. It froze to a perfectly smooth layer of ice, and traffic came to a complete standstill. Then it snowed. It took Bengt 2 hours to get from work out to Sollentuna, and when he got to Sollentuna Station, all the busses had been canceled and there were no taxis to be had. So he had to walk the rest of the way. He said the streets were all lined with cars and trucks that weren't moving at all.

But he was lucky to have gotten home at all. All the hotels in Stockholm were booked up because the city was paralyzed shortly after Bengt left, and people had no way of getting home and had to stay where they were—in hotels, at the office, with friends, or whatever.

I read in the paper the next day that the streets weren't cleared until the early morning hours, and then the sanding trucks got to work, so by Thursday morning the streets were passable.

Max's latest bizarre reflection

Mom, wouldn't it be weird if you got caught inside a giant burrito? You'd have to eat your way out! But then if a tiger started chasing you, you'd have to go back in. Hmm.

He baffles me, honestly. What drugs have they been giving him at school?

Heat pump

Bengt and I are in the process of buying a heat pump. They are very, very popular here in Sweden, where you have to heat your house most of the year. Electricity and other fuels have become outrageously expensive. We have electric heating, and our electric bills have been as high as $480 per month when it's cold. Now our fixed-price contract with a local electric company is expiring, so we will have to pay about twice as much (!) for electricity after December 31.

With a heat pump, we can save up to 55% on our heating bill. (Of course, we use electricity for other things besides heating, but heat is a big part of our bill – say 75%.) We are thinking of getting a Daikin Ururu Sarara. On that site, they emphasize the air conditioning effect. But you can reverse the function, so you can choose either A/C or heat. Of course, we don't care about the A/C since it rarely gets hot enough here for that. One of these units, placed in our stairway, will heat most of our house.

One thing we like about that Daikin model is that it can humidify the air. We usually run a humidifier in our living room all winter. Our piano likes it, and so does our skin, but the humidifier is a pain in the butt. If we get this Daikin unit, we could ditch the humidifier.


We've been playing Monopoly Junior. It's fun! It reminds me of snow days when I was a kid, when we sometimes played Monopoly for hours.

Last night at bedtime Max picked out a DK book about oceans to read, and for the first time I saw him look in a book's table of contents to find what part he'd be most interested in (in this case jellyfish and octopuses). That was a little thrill, me being a technical writer, and part of my job being to set up good tables of contents and indexes.

I got new glasses. I'll have to tell you about them next time.

October 22

I took Max to a Halloween party yesterday. There were about 100 young children there (or maybe it just seemed like it) – chaos. I saw at least six boys dressed as Spiderman, so I was glad I hadn't pressured Max to wear his expensive Spiderman costume. Max (in the middle here) was the only Star Fleet captain. Of course I am very proud to have a son in Star Fleet. ;-)

Afterwards we had dinner with the people we met on Lanzarote last March. That was fun. I don't know why I was so tired. But I know why Max was tired: He spent the night with some friends Friday night. The kids stayed up late. Then their alarm went off at 6:30 a.m. (doh!) and Max couldn't get back to sleep.

This morning we went swimming. I swam laps for the first time in years. It felt great. Max swam with his friend Nils, while Nils' father kept an eye on the boys. Max jumped off the high dive for the first time. He also did some very nice, smooth dives from the lower diving board.

Then Max had tennis. Now he has a friend over. After the friend's mom picks him up, we'll have dinner, practice piano, and then watch a movie together.

Tomorrow is Monday already. Geez!

October 17

Today some clothes arrived that I ordered from Lands End. The long underwear I got for Max (size 8) must be made for stick people! It's so tight that I'm afraid it might cut off his circulation! ARGH! But the swim trunks (see picture) that I got him were a huge hit. "Mama! Are those for me?! They're great! You're the best!" Bonus! I got them on clearance, for next season.

When I dropped Max off at scout this evening, I enjoyed watching him greet his friends. One boy raced up to him and looked like he wanted to throw his arms around Max. A girl was also obviously excited to see him. It's gratifying to see your kid well liked by the other kids, especially when you yourself weren't popular. I try to help Max be kind to all kids (and adults, of course), and not just his favorites. I think he does a pretty good job, and he doesn't discriminate based on age, gender, handicap, etc.

October 14

Hope this finds everyone well. Max got a cold a couple of weeks ago. Bengt and I caught it and have been fighting it off it ever since. We're not sick enough to stay home from work, but we've each had a couple of borderline days. Seems like a lot of people are struggling with various types of colds.

Recently we took care of someone else's dog, a 12-year-old bearded collie, at our house for five days. It was an experience. Max loved having a dog and was usually happy to go out with her. He really liked the social aspect of it, reporting happily to me, "Everyone talks to you when you're out walking a dog!"

He was very good with her. For example, she was a bit unruly and sometimes tried to take off after other dogs and even vehicles. Max kept the leash wrapped around his wrist and if the dog tried to take off, Max would sit down on the ground rather than let her pull him off balance or drag him after her.

After a few days he sobbed at the very thought of "Tessan" being picked up by her owner. He has talked about her since she left, but he's not traumatized or anything.

I didn't mind the dog too much, but I knew it was only for a few days. I definitely would not want us to get a dog of our own. Tessan followed me around everywhere and wanted a lot of attention, which I wasn't always happy to give. I had to come home during my lunch hour and walk her. But I can definitely understand dog lovers. I guess dogs are extremely social and love being around their owners, and many people thrive on that. I would go nuts.

We're going to post more notes on neighborhood bulletin boards and see if we get some different animals to take care of. We would be interested in experiencing rabbits, hamsters, rats, lizards, snakes, etc.—not all at the same time, of course. :-)

I don't know if you can tell here, but I think Max is having a growth spurt. He seems really tall all of a sudden, and the sleeves of many of his shirts are getting too short. I think he looks so cute in his spaceship pajamas.

The other day we were in a clothing store briefly. I pulled a nice big-boy shirt off the rack and asked Max if he liked it. "Not really," he said. Then I held up a very bright blue shirt with an emblem of Snoopy playing soccer. "I really like that one," he said. I like having a kid who will still wear a Snoopy shirt. No doubt those days are coming to an end. Lately he's developed this hip-hop pop star act that I have to work hard not to react to. He thinks it's Very Cool. Interesting that he doesn't see any conflict between the hip-hop routine and Snoopy clothing.

Max has developed a large gap between one top front tooth and the adjacent eye tooth. The front tooth is loose and moving forward. The eye tooth is pushed back and is also loose. No doubt there's a tooth coming in right between them. So far he has only lost two teeth. I know a girl his age who had lost eight teeth months ago.

Max has three friends over to play today. After a few hours I offered them a snack, and they all jumped all over that. Max asked if they could have the cinnamon rolls that we had in a bag on the counter. I pointed out that there were only three rolls, but there were four kids. Max immediately offered to go without so that the other three could each have one. I was so proud of him for his generous offer. (Of course he got something else, instead.)

I think his initiative might have been prompted by one of the other kids' generosity. Francesca is only 8 but socially conscious beyond her years. She usually knows just the right way to respond if one of her younger brothers is unhappy for any reason. And when the kids sat down to their snack, she didn't take a cinnamon roll until she was specifically invited to and told that the remaining one was hers and not Max's.

To me she seems genuinely generous. I hope I'm right and she's not sacrificing herself.

Bengt let me cut his hair for the first time last weekend, after I gave Max a trim. It took awhile, because I cut it in increments to make sure I didn't get it too short, but it turned out pretty good! I used the trimmer and the Flowbee on him. :-)

I'm grateful it's Saturday. Besides attending to the kids when they need it, I've been puttering around doing odds and ends that have been on my mind for weeks. Lubricating the zipper on the winter coat that Max inherited from Elliot. Organizing the recipes I've cut out of magazines and gotten from others into a binder. (They've been driving me crazy, lying in the kitchen in an unruly pile.) Sorting outgrown clothes out of Max's dresser. Reading a couple of newsletters that I've been meaning to look at. Paying bills. Stuff like that.

On Thursday my department at work had a party. It was a successful party. As the evening wore on we fired up a PlayStation and had karaoke duels. To my surprise, I found I was good at it. I don't have a nice voice, but I stay on key, and I guess that's what gives you lots of points. So it was fun!

I think Max would enjoy karaoke, too. And it would probably help him with his pitch, which isn't great but is improving.

Bengt and I watched the movie "Trans America" last night. We both thought it was very interesting and that the acting was excellent. Felicity Huffman was very convincing as a man acting like a woman. Bengt didn't believe the actress was a woman when I told him after the movie – he had to see the credits.

September 26 – Scouts

Max has been going to scouts for a few weeks now, Monday evenings from 6:00 to 7:30. He really likes it, and two friends from his school are in his troop. They spend a lot of time outside in the woods. This evening they had a hearty campfire going. They had been roasting hot dogs, singing, and learning to tie knots and stuff. Doesn't that sound like stuff every six-year-old should be doing? I'm really happy that Max got interested in this.

Before bed this evening I read Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst, to Max. Remember that book? It's so funny. Alexander is having such a bad day that he keeps threatening to move to Australia. At one point Alexander goes to the dentist with his siblings, and Alexander is the only one who has a cavity. The dentist says to come back next week to get the cavity filled. Alexander says that next week he's going to Australia. Max says matter-of-factly, "He's still going to have to get that cavity filled."

September 22

Max was home sick yesterday. He seemed a bit "off" in the morning, and he wanted to go back to bed after going to the bathroom, so we kept him home just in case. I felt a little foolish talking telling his teacher that I thought he could be getting sick, but at about 11 a.m. he got a high fever, and during the day he took two 2-hour naps. I was right!

This morning, however, he was full of beans. I kept him home for safety's sake, but by lunchtime it was obvious he was 100% back to normal and itching to see his friends, so I took him to school.

One thing he did while playing by himself this morning was request his Star Trek uniform. Unfortunately the uniform doesn't have loops or other places to attach equipment to, so Max put on a belt that he could clip the stuff on to. I don't think the handcuffs are Star Fleet standard issue, but Lt. Pålsson thought they might come in handy.

September 17

Today was election day here, and I cast my first votes as a Swedish citizen. It was a drop in the ocean, but I had my two cents. Bengt is glued to the TV as the votes are tallied. The party he supported seems to be winning. He just came and poured himself a glass of scotch.

Max had four friends over all afternoon. They all stayed for dinner. Bengt refused to eat at the table with us. :-) Actually I thought they were pretty well behaved. Maybe the one girl kept the others in line a bit. She's a really nice girl – though during dinner she started laughing so hard at something Max said that milk squirted out her nose. Lovely.

Because Max is an intelligent boy who knows who pays for his toys, he goes out and gets the paper for me every weekend morning. He wears his pajamas down to the mailbox, which he is embarrassed about – though not embarrassed enough to get dressed first. This morning he spotted someone walking down the street while he was on his way to the mailbox, so he hid behind our car. But the person saw him and smiled. Busted! He said, "Oh, maaan!" and continued down to the mailbox.

Things are ticking right along here. Max has been practicing piano almost every day. He goes to tennis on Sundays and scouts on Tuesdays. And he last another tooth (his second) last week, on the 11th. One reason he's losing them so late is that his permanent teeth keep growing halfway in behind the baby teeth and then pushing the baby teeth out the front, rather than up from below. It looks kind of gross for awhile, then, though thankfully the root of the new tooth isn't exposed.

Speaking of teeth, the other day I was in a huge hurry to get to an early meeting at work, and I was waiting for Max to finish his morning routine. It seemed like everything was taking so long. I said he should skip brushing his teeth because I was late. "That's unacceptable, Mama. I brush my teeth every morning." Right he was. Let's see, who's keeping whom in line around here?

We have been having a real Indian summer, by Swedish standards. Yesterday was surprisingly warm, about 75 degrees. Amazing!

I have to tell you about our neighbors. To one side we have a family with three children under five and a penchant (some would call it an obsession) for working on their house and yard. This summer (the summer their third child was born) the father built a playhouse for his kids. Below is a picture of it, taken from our lower balcony.

The couple painted every board by hand, to match their house. Note the flag mounted on the roof (typical Swedish) and the hanging flowers hanging off  the corner of the roof. Note in particular the massive deck on this playhouse! He built a professional deck for the kids' playhouse!!! Complete with railing!

I don't understand where he gets the energy and the motivation. This guy has a regular job, too. I wonder what the inside of the house looks like. It's probably like a showcase home. (Because what else would they do all winter but work on the inside of the house?) I bet they don't own a television.

Our neighbor across the street, Gillis, is a retiree who crafts doll houses and furniture, among other things, out of wood. He and his wife breed dogs. They are good people. Max has struck up a friendship with this neighbor. If he sees Gillis outside, Max always goes over and chats with him. I've seen them standing around for an hour or more, shooting the breeze.

Now that they've gotten to know each other better, Max even goes over there and rings the doorbell if he feels like visiting with Gillis. Sometimes Max is politely turned away, and sometimes he is over there for ages. They go in the back yard and play with and talk about the dogs, or whatever it is they do. I have the impression they share an interest in woodworking tools, as well. Which is good, 'cause that's not something Max gets a lot of opportunity to explore here at home. :-) I should get a picture of the two of them sometime.

A third neighbor is a single woman with three grown children and a passion for everything Japanese. She was in Japan for two months this summer, and her grown daughters lived in and took care of her house. She has an old striped tabby cat, Murray, who used to be friendly with Maja. Murray used to come into our house now and then, and Maja occasionally went into the neighbor's house, too. After Maja died, I noticed Murray hanging around here more than usual – no doubt looking for his friend. I think he came in here one evening this summer, too. Some cat or other came in, and I don't think any other cat would have dared.

A strange fact: The other day Bengt noticed that this neighbor (I don't want to name names) was out cutting her lawn with a weed whacker. I called over to her from our balcony and asked whether she wanted to borrow our lawn mower. But no, she said her lawn mower was working, but it was easier with the weed whacker. Whatever! (The loud whining noise was a little irritating, though.)

I think I mentioned our outside stairs project before. In this picture you can see what the stairs look like today. We have to rip out and replace these stairs, install a railing, fix up the flower beds with better dividing walls, and add more lighting. We also want a smaller staircase going up the rest of the hill to the side yard.

We got a couple of different offers, with totally different constructions, and felt unsure whether the guys even knew what they were talking about or what it would look like afterwards if they were hired to do the job. Finally I got an experienced guy over here the other day (one who has done a lot of work for satisfied homeowners in our neighborhood), and he informed me that yes, those were all perfectly reasonable ways to rebuild our stairs. It just depends on what look you want, how permanent you want the stairs to be, and how much you are willing to spend.

Then he (Niklas) suggested yet another alternative, one that I very much liked the sound of. In addition, this guy works with 2 or 3 other guys and would be able to do the job in a week (which he thought was a long time). The others worked alone and would have been on the job for a month or more.

As an added bonus, Niklas can easily and cheaply repave our driveway for us after his heavy equipment ruins it. (It has already buckled in a few places.)

Niklas is going to give us an offer, but he can't do the job until spring. So whether we go with him or not, Bengt and I are resigned to waiting until spring. We'll have to use the garage entrance this winter, because the front steps are a real hazard when icy. But this will give us more time to save up for the project, so we won't have to dig into savings for it. (All of the offers have been astoundingly expensive. I guess it really is a big job.) There will be no spring vacation for us in 2007, though. :-(

If we were like our neighbors with the three kids, we'd have rebuilt the stairs by ourselves several years ago!

Our apple tree produced a lot of apples this year. Bengt and Max and I harvested them last weekend. Bengt juiced about 1/3 of them, and I made two huge vats of applesauce. Strangely, when cooked down, it only came out to about 10 small freezer containers. I guess I'd forgotten that apples do that.

I noticed that the rest of the apples weren't keeping well in the garage (due to the heat), so this weekend I cooked up the rest of them—6 more containers. That should last us well into the winter.

Max and I eat unsweetened applesauce with our whole wheat toast and unsweetened peanut butter most mornings. The unsweetened & ecological peanut butter & applesauce cost a fortune at the health food store, so now at least I won't have to buy applesauce for awhile.

I wonder how to make peanut butter. I guess I need some sort of grinder. I remember one time I just chopped peanuts in the food processor, and the stuff was dry and crumbly. Must ask Nancy – that's the kind of thing she might know.

September 7

I pointed out some neat-looking clouds to Max yesterday:

"Max, check out those clouds. I think they look nifty."

"Yeah! They look like sand washed smooth by waves. Or muscles on someone's body."

I really liked the comparisons he came up with. He's such a neat kid.

September 2, 2006

I realized that I haven't wanted to write anything here because I'm too far behind. The task of writing down what we did all summer is too daunting. If I'm ever to write here again, I guess I'm just going to have to start with recent news.

At least there are pictures from the summer, if no written account of it.

Bengt and I have been back at work for about a month and are well into our usual routines again. We feel like we had a nice summer, though as always a bit short. The weather has become cool in the evenings, but we haven't yet worn jackets in the daytime. (That's not far off, though.)

This picture is of Max and his friend Albert on their first day of school, August 16.

Things are organized a little differently at the school this year – there is a large group of five-year-olds from the daycare who spend a lot of time with the school kids. I feel very skeptical about the new arrangement, but so far nothing concretely negative has come up that I need to object to.

And Max doesn't object to going to school. On the contrary, he seems cheerful both in the mornings when Bengt drops him off and at 4 p.m. when I pick him up. He enjoys playing with kids of various ages, and I think it's great that at this school kids play well with each other in spite of age differences. Max seems proud of his school and shows no interest in switching to the other neighborhood school that most of the neighbor kids go to.

This coming Tuesday Max gets his first hemspråksundervisning, which is lessons provided in another language for kids who speak that other language in the home. All school-age kids have a right to this extra attention intended to support and strengthen a second language spoken by one or both parents. A teacher will come to the school once a week (during play time, not class time) and work with Max in/on English. I have no idea what it's going to be like, as it varies by the teacher you happen to get. I've heard some parents say its great and others say it's worthless. We shall see.

A number of other kids in Max's class will have hemspråksundervisning, as well, since there are German, Spanish and Farsi speakers in the class – and probably others that I don't know about. (The kids speak perfect Swedish, so you don't know by talking to them that they speak another language at home.) 

Max had his annual checkup by the school nurse the other day.

  • He is growing exactly on his curve (quite tall for his age).
  • His weight has leveled out a bit (we've been working on that).
  • His vision is still pretty good – he's a little bit nearsighted, but not enough to need glasses yet.
  • He has a slight curvature of the spine (first detected last fall) that we are keeping an eye on.

Piano lessons started this past Monday. Last year Max had his lessons with a Chinese boy and an Iranian girl, both about a year older than him. The Iranian girl fell behind and I don't think she's studying piano anymore. Max was supposed to continue with the Chinese boy, David, this year, but at the first lesson the mother and instructor told us that David and the parents requested more rigorous and goal-oriented lessons than last year. The instructor offers training for tests administered by the Associated Board of the Royal School of Music (ABRSM), so she is going to prepare David for the "Prep Test".

Max was offered his own, separate, laid-back lessons, but he decided he would like to keep taking lessons with David and also do the Prep Test. I felt very hesitant at first, since I want to keep music fun for Max. I don't want it to be a chore. Bengt and I don't have any ambitions of making a fine musician out of him (though of course we'll support him if he gets serious about music).

On the other hand, I know Max enjoys taking lessons with another kid (it probably doesn't matter which kid), and he does enjoy playing more and more, the better he gets. I feel like he learned a lot last year, considering he only practiced about 5 minutes per day (which was enough to nail down the assigned pieces). If we just add 5 minutes of practice time, no doubt he could make really good progress. And the more he progresses, the more he'll enjoy playing....

Anyway, we're going to go along with that program and see how it goes. There are other options, if it doesn't work out.

Tennis has started up again, as well. Max loves going to his group tennis lesson every Sunday.

And Max is getting ready to try scouting. There are no "girl scouts" or "boy scouts" in Sweden, as far as I know – they put them together. This is the first year Max is old enough. The first-year scouts are called beaver scouts, which I find hilarious. I keep saying, "Beaver scouts, beaver scouts" under my breath and chuckling. Max the beaver scout! TOO FUNNY!

Max had two friends over today. They played great together in Max's room. At one point they asked for paper and some tape. Next time I looked, they had put up a sign on the closed door to his room:



The sign was in Swedish and they used very creative spelling. (Privat rum. Om du vill oss not då kani kåma in.) I was intrigued by the message, in essence "KEEP OUT – except if you want to come in." Do we detect a little ambivalence about setting up personal boundaries???

I wanted some earrings to go with a beautiful bracelet that Lin give me for my 40th birthday. I made a pair myself a few years ago, but I lost one of the earrings. So I ordered some nice new beads from a craft place, and when I got them I went crazy making earrings. (See picture. The ones on the bottom left are the ones that go with the bracelet. The ones on the bottom left I gave to a friend last weekend.) I really enjoy making earrings. I guess I have enough now, though. :-)

Well, it's Saturday night, and Bengt and I are going to watch a movie now that Max is asleep: The War of the Worlds.




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