What's New at the Pålssons'


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

October 17, 2007: Max sells hotdog buns

Max (and I) had a good filming experience yesterday. This time it was well planned, so it was a fun and interesting experience for Max. His scene was out in the woods, which was much more his element than the shopping mall and fake grocery store where "his" other two commercials were filmed. There were fewer people involved, and everyone was really nice to Max (who was the youngest extra). The director gave clear, patient instructions, which Max dutifully performed over and over again for each take.

Max said he enjoyed the director's instructions and didn't mind repeating the scenes. He got lots of praise, and after Christmas he will get to see himself over and over again in this TV commercial that we'll all get sick of. He also earned the equivalent of $200, which I'd say is pretty good for an almost-eight-year-old. It took less than four hours, all in all.

In the picture below you can see the general setup. The camera was mounted on a track in the woods. Lights were set up all around. There was a guy lying on the ground the whole time, holding up a pine branch in a precise position, because they needed more greenery in one corner of the shot or whatever. Good grief!

The guy in the foreground here was monitoring everything on his monitor—on which you can see Max's "mom" and "dad" sitting there about to indulge in hotdogs after having collected a big basket of mushrooms. In the background you can see Max (I circled him in yellow) getting ready for a new "take", where he dashes over to the mom and dad and asks them where his hotdog is or whatever. It was kind of neat, really, as a one-time thing. Interesting to see how commercials are made. This 8-second sequence took 4 hours of a lot of people's time.

Afterwards I took Max to McDonald's (a rare treat).

October 14

Both Max and that 12-year-old actor got parts in that TV ad I wrote about last time. I was really surprised. I think it will be neat. I think the filming will take all day on Tuesday, and possibly into the evening. I hope Max finds it interesting and I hope he likes seeing himself on TV. (Of the other two ads he's done, one wasn't for company-to-company sales and the other, which was supposed to be on TV for months, was withdrawn because the game it was advertising didn't work out and was withdrawn.)

And some other casting woman called, wanting Max to try out for a TV/DVD documentary series where kids discuss various issues. We declined that, though. If he got the part, it would involve about 6 days of filming, very little money (not enough to make it worth my while to take of work, for example), and it doesn't seem like Max's "thing" to sit around talking for hours. I thought he'd get bored with it really quickly, and Max agreed.

I don't know why casting companies are calling all of a sudden. It was quiet for months. Someone called for me the other day, too. I said I was saving myself for a speaking part where English (or Swedish with an English accent) is required. Something well paid, to make it worth my time missing my real work. :-) I have no acting ambitions, otherwise.

I spent 7 hours making applesauce yesterday. UGH. It took so long because I made so darn much of it. I don't know how many pounds or bushels I had, but I had two big boxes of apples and made lots applesauce—enough for our family for a year (and we like our applesauce).

Usually I peel & core the applies (using a little gadget my dad gave us), then cook 'em, then run 'em in a food processor briefly to get rid of any big chunks. This time I washed & trimmed, quartered, baked, and then ran them through a borrowed machine that removes skin & seeds and stuff. It took just as long and was no less messy!! ARGH!

As much as I appreciate having applesauce with no added sugar (all the applesauce I've found here contains either sugar or aspartame), it's not worth it. I'm not doing that again.

October 10

Last week Bengt and I saw a big fox out behind our house! That was exciting. It ran away when it saw us moving around inside the house.

Max had a minor fearful period this summer (fearful of being left alone, etc.), but now he's becoming brave. Last week he stayed home alone for 15 minutes while I went to pick up a pizza. A couple days later he rode the bus by himself from his school to the station over by where I work. That was a bit scary, but he did it and I was proud of him! (And I was happy because it saved me 40 minutes going to get him by bus when we were taking the commuter train into the city anyway.) Now he wants to go directly home after English (which is at a different school very close to our house) one day each week, instead of going back to his regular school. That would get him home just over an hour before I get home. I think he can handle that.

Cell phones (both Max's and mine) provide a lot of security at times like this. We both know he could reach me (or Bengt or one of his friends' parents) any time he gets a little scared or has a problem. So we gave Max a "new" hand-me-down cell phone after his old one went through the wash (see below).

We need to help him learn when not to call, though. Today he called me on the way to English to tell me he was petting a cat. On the way home he called me to tell me about a woodpecker he'd seen. "Argh! I'm working!"

I took Max to Stockholm last Friday to try out for a speaking part in a commercial for hotdog buns. It would be widely viewed and he'd get good money for it, so that's kind of cool. I doubt he'll get it, though. There was a 12-year-old boy there who was only slightly bigger than Max (!), and he had four years of acting classes under his belt. The two did a few scenes side by side, and Max said he was really good. But I suppose there's a chance if they prefer Max's "look" for this commercial, or if they take both boys (they needed two).

Afterwards we went to Mongolian Barbecue for dinner. Max ate so much that he nearly threw up. (In other words, he loved it.) He hasn't done that in awhile, thank heavens. I should have stopped him. But I get so tired of reminding him not to eat so much.

October 2 – cell phone mishap

This is the sight that greeted me when I went to empty our front-loading washer the other day. Max had forgotten to empty his jeans pockets before putting them in the laundry, and I don't usually have to check.

Did I get all pissed off? Did I swear? Nope. "Oh, geez," I said. :-/

Just for the heck of it, we let the phone dry and tried it out. No dice. We salvaged the SIM card, though!

(What's Max doing with a cell phone? He takes it with him when he's out running around with his friends. He can call and let us know they're switching playgrounds or whatever. And it's nice to be able to reach him and his friends. In addition, he uses it as a safety net each Wednesday when he walks to a different school for his English lesson. He doesn't like going by himself, but with the cell phone he knows he can reach me or his teacher if necessary.)

On a more serious note, something horrible happened yesterday: The 21-year-old son of a close colleague was killed riding a four-wheeler. Apparently he hit a tree. His father (my colleague) found him, still alive, and called an ambulance. The kid didn't make it, though. What a nightmare for my colleague and for the entire family. My heart goes out to them, truly.

This is about the most awful thing I can imagine. Bengt and I talked about it this evening. It's scary knowing that an accident can take a loved one at any time. How do we live with it? Most people don't go around worrying about it constantly (though unfortunately I worry about it a fair amount). But when it happens to someone you know, that brings it closer to home. It feels like a near miss. Max rode a four-wheeler in Ohio this summer....

Saturday, September 29

It was a cold, rainy day, so I took Max and two of his friends to Nicki's (one of those indoor play places). We stayed 2 1/2 hours and the three of them ran around like maniacs the whole time. They were dripping with sweat and drank lots of water. Afterwards Max was like a zombie. He ate a huge portion of the lentil soup I made for dinner and then watched Home Alone (which he loved) with Bengt.

On the way home from Nicki's, one of the boys was half-joking around about someone's arm getting cut off, and how they'd have to glue it back on. Max interrupted the silliness with an advanced (for his age) description of how an arm would have to be sewn back on, with its veins and nerves minutely stitched back together. I was proud. He really is interested in this stuff.

Bengt helped Max finish his school project this week: a model of bacteria. Max had a cardboard box that they made into a person's head with a bloody cut on it (a slit with red magic marker around the edges). They made cardboard bacteria (modeled after actual bacteria from a picture in a book he had) that could be inserted through the cut, showing how bacteria got in and infected the cut. They drew drops of sweat on the head, showing that a fever had developed. Then they made cardboard white blood cells that came from inside the body and attacked the bacteria. And they made a couple of round pills (antibiotics) that could be inserted through the mouth. It was clever! 

Max has been talking about fudge ever since we got back from the U.S. I don't think he's ever tried it, and he wants to. So I got a couple of recipes from the Internet. We can't buy chocolate chips, evaporated milk, or sweetened condensed milk over here, so that narrowed down my choices a bit. Still, I found several good candidates, including one that calls for pinto beans instead of all the usual fat!

Max's school (all 17 kids) recently had a field trip to the water tower. The other day I asked him, "How many liters of water does that water tower hold?"

"Do you want to know for sure, or is it ok to guess? Because I don't know for sure."

"That's the correct answer! I was just checking to see whether you would admit to not knowing, or guess without checking how accurate an answer I wanted. Good job!"

We are still trying to find someone to build our front steps, after the guy we had lined up for September bailed out on us at the last minute. I'm about to lose hope of getting it done before the snow flies—again! Just like last year. Argh! Those rotting railroad tie steps are a death trap in the winter—not for the three of us, who have run up and down them thousands of times, but for those who don't know what's under the snow and ice. Even when we scrape or brush them off, you can't really see what you're walking on. Especially since it's so dark here, and the lighting is insufficient. (Additional lighting and a hand rail are part of that project.) I think I'll put a warning sign down there when we get our first snow.

Max and I have both had runny noses. It's not clear whether it's a cold or an allergy. But we're ok.

Bengt's brother Anders turned 50 today. Woo-hoo! Wow. We're next.

Saturday, September 22

Max started school on August 20. It's okay so far. Max doesn't enjoy going to school, but he doesn't complain a lot, either.

They did some testing early on, which showed that Max is way ahead in reading and a little below average in math. It's obvious from math questions that Max asks here at home that he just doesn't "get" numbers yet. He will claim that 999 is more than 1000, for example. This evening it took him about 30 seconds to figure out that if Aunt Lin was 5 years old when I was 7, then she must be 43 if I'm 45. I got the impression that the other two second-graders at Max's school are at about the same level. Needless to say, the teacher is going to work with them on basic math skills. Fortunately Max seems interested. He often asks math questions and thinks about numbers—which makes it even more puzzling that he doesn't get it yet. He says himself that he wants to improve his math skills this year.

At school they have just started up a project about the human body. This is right up Max's alley. He wrote in his planning book that he intends to learn more about bacteria. Hey, this could be fun!

Piano has started up, as well. This is his third year, and this year's pieces are difficult enough that I can no longer sight-read them perfectly. (I'd have to work at them for 10 minutes or so to learn them well.) Max walks over to the piano often (at least on weekends) to run through his lesson. (It's nice that the piano in the living room is a constant reminder.) He thinks that the pieces are really hard at first, but then after a week or so they already start shaping up and he feels proud. I'm glad for him.

And finally, Max started weekly lessons at a nearby dance school. It's a boy's only street dance class, and he seems to really enjoy it so far. He admires the instructor (a cool guy around 18 or 20 years old). I'm waiting for him to realize he doesn't have the sinewy body of a dancer, though. He eventually got fed up after 1 1/2 years of gymnastics when he realized he had a lot harder time than the other kids. It affected his self-esteem briefly. I guess the same thing will happen with dance at some point. But at least he's learning some cool moves and getting some extra exercise every Thursday evening.

Our summer weather disappeared way back in mid August, so we had an early fall. I think we've even had frost.

Our friend Bernhard was here from Germany at the end of August. I took two days off work and we had a really good time. It is always a pleasure to spend time with Bernhard. We spent one day walking around part of Stockholm and visiting the Museum of Modern Art, and another day we went to a couple of flea markets. On Saturday afternoon we took a two-hour Segway tour of another part of Stockholm. It was a blast! Here you can see us on our Segways. It was easier than I expected, but Bernhard was more at ease on his machine than I was. I have a couple of movies of Bernhard tooling around. He said it was a lot like skiing, but I wouldn't know since I don't ski. He certainly looked like he was skiing when he swayed around obstacles. At least I didn't fall off. (Two other people in our group fell off.)

On September 7 Max got his first haircut at a salon in years. I usually just buzz him with the trimmer at home, and I think it looks fine (if I say so myself). But now he wants to grow his hair out (inspired by his cousin Elliot, no doubt), and I don't know how to cut it accordingly. So I guess our years of cheap, easy haircuts are over. By my calculations, his salon haircuts will cost $220 per year. Oh well, it was good while it lasted! I have to admit, his hair looks a bit nicer now than it does when I trim it. Except we have to get him in the habit of wet-combing it in the mornings. He gets terrible bed head and looks like a ragamuffin.

Max had been begging to move to a new house, which had Bengt and me scratching our heads. But after some gentle probing I realized that Max simply needs more adventure. (You know, when we came home from four weeks of vacation, he walked into the house and said with obvious disappointment, "Well, here we are, back in the same old house." Although he was glad to see Bengt, he wasn't at all comforted or relieved or glad to be back in his familiar environment. He was bracing himself for boredom!)

So I have a new resolution to take Max on some interesting outing or adventure or different activity at least one evening or weekend day a week. At first I was going to sign him up for rock climbing, which he suggested, but then I realized that climbing would get old after a few weeks, when it became repetitive. It's got to be something new (or rare) each time: A visit to a museum, dinner at an ethnic restaurant, an hour of bowling, a play date with a friend he doesn't see very often—anything, really, as long as it's out of the ordinary.

Actually I think he leads a relatively interesting life, but he's one of those people who would do well with very little routine. When he's an adult, he'll probably want a job where he can expect the unexpected. Like if he's a doctor, he should be an ER doctor rather than having a practice. Or he could be a fireman or paramedic or something. (He's very interested in the human body, and likes helping and dealing with people.) Personally, I'd hate that kind of job, but Max is like that (always has been, even as a baby).

It's pretty exhausting to provide that stimulation for a kid (especially a 7-year-old boy who doesn't necessarily have the same interests I do). It has been a challenge he was 4 months old (when he began detesting riding his baby carriage, preferring to be out where the action is). But we find common ground. I think it's important that he not be under stimulated. He turns to video games in that case, and though we are ok with a certain amount of that, there's so much more.....

As of September I increased my work hours to 90%. I'd been working about 80% since 2005, in order to be able to pick Max up earlier from after-school activities and do stuff with him myself. But now he's perfectly happy playing with his buddies, so I go in early (Bengt drops him off) and pick him up a half hour later than last year. I think it'll work well, and I'll be glad to be more productive at work while still having time to spend with Max. I have felt like a bit of a slacker at work, though to be honest I think I've been getting a lot accomplished in spite of my part-time status. I never heard a single complaint about my part-time working part-time, either. Here many parents work 50-75%.

Hmm. Here I'm saying I'm going to provide more stimulation for Max, and on the other hand I'm prioritizing work. Crap.

This evening Max and I finished a 300-page (!) book of Bible stories for kids. After our visit to the U.S., Max was asking about his relatives' religion and beliefs. Now he knows lots of Bible stories and has become familiar with biblical characters and stories such as Adam & Eve, Cain & Abel, Jacob & Esau, Joseph (of the beautiful cloak that his father gave him), Moses, Samson, David & Saul, Noah and the ark, Jonah and the whale, Daniel in the lions' den, etc., not to mention Jesus' life according to the Bible, and all the New Testament stories. Woa! This book even included what Revelations says will happen to non-believers, but fortunately in a toned-down way.

That was heavy stuff—not our usual bedtime fare. Reading and discussing those stories put me in an uncomfortable position. I had to be honest about what I believe, while conveying respect for others' beliefs. Yet a part of me felt tempted to discourage him from going down that road. The Bible (and this book) describes all sorts of dubious miracles, and of course he takes them literally (as indeed many Christians do). I told him that no one can know for sure what really happened. Every person has to decide for himself what to believe, and it's important to respect others' beliefs. Anyway, that was a worthwhile and interesting undertaking.

Well, I haven't reported everything, but I'm bushed. Hope you are all having a good weekend.

August 19 – Vacation's over

Max and I had a nice visit in Perstorp in July. We spent one afternoon with Anders, Li and Björn, which is always fun. It was good to see them. Another highlight was a trip to Denmark's Aquarium. Although we were disappointed they had very little information in any other language but Danish, it was still worthwhile.

On the way home, Max and I visited Skara sommarland, an amusement park. We stayed two days and had a great time, just like last year, though it rained a lot the first day.

But I didn't have time to post pictures of any of that, because Max and I left for the US about 32 hours later. I had a lot of packing and preparation to do. Pictures are up now.

The trip to the US

We flew to Detroit on July 12 and spent the first two days with Lin & Mark, and Ben & Elliot, at their beautiful new house. They had just moved in two weeks before, so it was all pretty new to them, as well. It was great to see the new house that we had heard about so long. And I can attest to the guest quarters being very comfortable. :-)

On the 14th we (Lin and I and the three boys) drove over to Palisades Park, just south of South Haven, Michigan, where we had rented a house on the beach for a week. Bobbie joined us there, as did (later, for a couple of days each) Marlin, Mark and Nancy.

Some memorable things for me from that week:

  • The large, gorgeous beach.
  • Dinners out on the porch, just steps from the beach. Max and I especially enjoyed corn on the cob, which was much fresher and tastier what we get in Sweden.
  • We had one day of very strong wind. We could barely stay on the beach because of stinging airborne sand, but I smile when I recall Max's hearty laughter at the sight of birds trying to walk forwards but actually being pushed backwards due to the wind. "Look at the birds!! Look at the birds!!" he shrieked.
  • The dune buggy ride that Marlin treated us to (plus lunch).
  • Ben, Elliot and Max climbing the rock-climbing wall and bungee bouncing on a trampoline in Saugatuck.
  • Max kayaking for the first time alone, after a lesson from Aunt Lin.
  • Max and Elliot's tireless swimming and digging in the sand. The two of them were incredible, playing for an hour or more in the waves, and then coming in—not to rest but to work on their hole. They'd dig side by side for quite awhile, then go out and play in the water again. This went on all day. I still don't "get" why they were so keen on digging. Sure, it was rewarding to end up with a big hole at the end of the day (though it was washed away over night). But I think the real pleasure for them was in the digging itself. Sometimes it was almost trance-like, this repetitive motion of digging.
  • Eating Sherman's ice cream, both at the Palisades soda bar and at Sherman's ice cream parlor in South Haven.
  • The very friendly and hospitable Palisades Park—with homes right on the beach and roads like a maze.
  • At one point there was some sort of electrical problem at the house we rented. The owner and an electrician were there for a few hours checking it out. At one point Max was fooling around with our camera, and he took a picture of them as they were working on some wires. The flash caused them to leap back in alarm, since of course they thought it was an electrical flash. Everyone got a good laugh out of that (after the "shock").
  • Swimming in big waves after a storm—and the accident Max had with the inner tube: He was playing on it when a big wave flipped it over. (It was pretty spectacular—or, in Elliot's words, awesome.) From my vantage point on the beach, I saw Max get flung face-first into the sand. Elliot, from behind, saw the flip and then Max's legs sticking up. Max came up crying, with blood seeping out of his nose and covering his front teeth. Fortunately, the drama was quickly over, as the nosebleed stopped promptly and there were no loose teeth.
  • I was a bit disappointed in the stones offered up by the beach. Normally, collecting nice little stones is an important aspect of any visit to Lake Michigan. This year I didn't find a single Petoskey stone. But I did find some beach glass and some interesting little pieces of driftwood.

After we reluctantly left the beach house, we spent about a week in Saline and Ann Arbor. We had a lot of fun getting together with friends that we don't get to see very often. (Alas, we didn't get to see everyone.) Our friends are so generous with their time and their homes, taking us in for a day or an evening every time we blow into town.

After that we went to visit relatives in Ohio. We stayed with my grandma (94 years old) and saw my aunt, uncle, two cousins and their families. We had a really fun afternoon and evening at Sam & Jenni's house, where there was good food, a pool, a four-wheeler that Max got to drive (supposedly for age 16 and over...), squirt guns galore, and a same-age second cousin for Max to play with. What could be better?

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about letting Max get to know all these great people, only to whisk him away a few hours later and say that we won't be able to see them again for at least a year. Sometimes he cries after these visits. It's one thing for adults, who generally have a long-term perspective, but another for kids, who I doubt can appreciate the value of attachments to people who live so far away. Because Max doesn't just have fun; he feels affection for his new-found friends and relatives, and then he longs to see them again. No matter how many people he has in his life, it seems he always has room for more. It makes me wonder about the long-term consequences of these visits to the US: The comfort of roots and benefits of knowing family and friends in the States vs. a lifelong feeling of rootlessness and fragmentation?


After a few days more in Saline, we spent some time in Kalamazoo. We felt very welcome at Marlin's house, and a bunch of us spent a fun day at Jackie's house on West Lake, among other things. One highlight for me was shopping at Kazoo Books. Together Max and I got about $140 of books (partly early birthday presents for me from Marlin and Nancy).

Then we went back to Saline to wind up our visit. Max had a blast jumping on Ben & Elliot's trampoline and playing with them for countless hours. They got to play laser tag, visit Rolling Hills Water Park and Independence Lake County Park, and eat a tasty dinner at Prickly Pear (thank you, Lin), among other things.

Max got to go fishing with Grandpa Marlin, swim in the pool at our friend Sam's apartment complex, buy toys for himself at Toys "R" Us (using dollars that his Swedish grandpa had given him), and try out Nintendo Wii (which not many Swedes have). I could go on, but I think the pictures speak for themselves. We had a great trip!

I posted only a few pictures on our website. If you are interested in seeing more pictures or having print-quality files, email me and I will send files or a link to a website where I have posted most of our pictures.

After our return: Legoland

Max and I returned from the US on August 7. We were met by a cheerful and grateful Bengt and a nice, clean house. I unpacked for hours but then napped for three hours. However Max, who had slept for 2-3 hours on the plane, stayed up all day and then went to bed at a normal time. Then he slept 15 hours, until almost noon, and couldn't get to sleep the next evening. He ended up staying up until 2 or 3 a.m. that second day. (I'm not sure how late it was, because I went to bed at midnight.) Note to self: Force Max out of bed at a normal time the day after returning.

I worked Wednesday through Friday. Going to work helps me get over jet lag.

A week later (Tuesday through Friday this week), Bengt took Max to Legoland in Denmark. They (especially Max) had a blast. But more about that later.

Yesterday Max kept coming to me with questions and comments. Finally he said, "Mama.... I don't really have anything to say. I just like talking to you." :-)

Max starts back at school tomorrow, and Bengt and I go to work.

July 3, 2007

I've had a very relaxing few days of solitude, with Bengt and Max down in Perstorp. The weather is warm and beautiful, so I've spent many hours reading outside in our backyard. The wild strawberries and blueberries are in season (early this year), so I've been picking those to have with breakfast. The birds are singing so prettily day and night—have they always done that, or are they especially cheerful this year? I can't remember them singing like this before.

A neighborhood cat came to visit me today when I was outside. It was so charming. She followed me into the house and had a snack with me, then got a cuddle.

Vacation fun begins on Thursday, when I take the train down to Perstorp myself. We will spend some time with our family there. Then Max and I will go to Skara sommarland (amusement park) for two days on the way home, as we did last year (and it was such a blast). This year we'll be prepared with everything we need, since I consulted a few notes I jotted down after last year's visit. We'll have aqua socks, hard plastic plates and tongs for the grilled hotdogs, change for the vending machines, and extra buns to feed the fish.

Max had his 7½-year birthday party this past weekend. LOTS of boys and a few girls came. I thought it went pretty well. It rained, but we knew that in advance and didn't plan outdoor activities. Bengt had got a magician this year, and we all enjoyed the show. (See pictures.)

Happy Fourth of July to our American friends and family!




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