What's New at the Pålssons'


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

May 31, 2008

Tomorrow I fly to Philadelphia for an STC conference, and then to St. Louis to visit my aunt (actually my mother's aunt) and my old best friend from high school. I'm looking forward to all parts of that trip—even the flights (thanks to a new portable DVD player and a couple of good books).

So today I'm doing laundry, packing, and spending some extra time with my family. Bengt is going to grill some scallops tonight. Yum! We're having beautiful warm weather again, so I offered to take Max to the lake to swim. But he is playing with a neighborhood kid instead.

We got a little bad news last week: Max's teacher Cecilia is being bumped out of his school. Normally the class would stay together and have Cecilia as their teacher next year, as well. (Here in Sweden they don't mix up the classes and teachers every year like they do in the U.S. You stay together with the same kids year after year and typically have the same teacher three years in a row.) But they are moving the 6th graders to another school due to overcrowding, and Cecilia is one of the teachers with the least seniority at Max's school. So a different teacher, one who is now teaching fifth grade, will be taking over Max's class, while Cecilia will be moved to another school. Bummer. Max cried when they told the class. As you know, he just switched schools in January, and he is quite attached to his teacher.

What I don't understand is, assuming there will be just as many or more kids (just younger ones) at this school next year, who is going to be their teacher? I assume they're starting a extra kindergarten class or two??? Bengt will be attending the parents meeting next week to get the scoop. (I'll be in the U.S.)

By the way, new front steps are finally in the works. We have someone lined up to start next Monday.

May 29: Visitors from afar

It's been awhile since I wrote, and that's because we've been busy around here. On May 14 our friends Marina, Tolik and Vova (age 5 1/2) arrived from Russia. (This was preceded of course by frantic scurrying to get the house clean and set up for visitors. :-) The next day Marlin and Jackie arrived from Michigan, and we had a full house!

This is a trip we'd been planning for a long time, with much correspondence with regards to travel arrangements, visas for the Russians, food preferences, sleeping arrangements, sightseeing, items that I got Marlin to bring over for us, etc. But the actual visit was surprisingly easy, largely thanks to everybody pitching in and feeling free to speak up when they wanted something. Especially charming was Tolik mentioning that he likes snacks with his beer. :-D

We all took time off work & busy schedules, and it was great for us all to get together here. One day we went to the old town (Gamla Stan), where we saw the changing of the guard at the palace, toured the Nobel Museum, had lunch, and shopped. (This was minus Max, who was in school, and Bengt, who worked that day.)

Another time we went to Skansen, where we only saw about half the park but had a good day. We really enjoyed the aquarium.

A surprisingly fun thing we did was go to the school playground and throw boomerangs, toss a Frisbee, and kick a soccer ball around. There was an unexpected interruption when Tolik, who didn't know his own strength, threw a boomerang way off the playground and into someone's yard. He and I went looking for it, but the brown wooden boomerang proved difficult to find. It was Max who helped us out by pointing out which tree he saw the boomerang hit.

So we had those outings, but in the evenings we just hung out here at home and ate and (frankly) drank. I don't know when I ever drank so much in just a few days. Especially Saturday night we had such fun, I thought. Max and Vova played together, and they set up a party in Max's bedroom and then in the living room. They used Christmas tree lights and a blue tinsel garland, among other things. I know Vova was hoping for some dancing, and he danced a little (see picture) even though no one else did.

Speaking of Vova, I have to tell you a very funny and clever thing he started doing soon after he arrived: Not being able to speak English like the rest of us, he meowed when he wanted to interact. Others meowed back. I found it ingenious and endearing. You can put a surprising amount of emotion into "meow", and others can respond with other animal sounds, such as barking. (At one point at Skansen, someone started looking around for the cat and was abashed to discover it was a child.) I hear Vova is still meowing now and then at home. We sure miss it around here!

Actually Vova did speak a few words of English. He was able to say a crystal clear "My name is Vova." Other things I heard him say were "thank you", "two squirrels!!!!" and "two balloons!!!"

For those who are interested, there are more pictures here.

Eileen, Max and Vova at Skansen.

May 10: Parent-teacher-student conference, racism, and dead cat

Forgot to write about the parent-teacher conference we had a couple of weeks ago. Nowadays (at least in Sweden) the student is included. Bengt and I had the pleasure of hearing really good things about Max. How he is great at reading and writing, how his math has taken off since he started at his new school and it's now at a good level. How he participates in class and always has lots of questions and comments. How he mixed right into the class and you'd never know he just started there a few months ago.

We heard about the projects they've been working on and what kinds of activities they have planned.

I suggested that we work on Max's penmanship. Cecelia (the teacher) looked surprised and said she thinks his penmanship is pretty good, compared to the other kids. Geez, I thought it was terrible. But I guess I was comparing with my own. Doh! Then I suggested we get some flash cards for the times tables, because I've noticed it's a chore for him to sit and work them out for each math lesson. But she said they learn them by heart in third grade. This year she wants the kids to sit and work them out, so they really "get" what the times tables are. That makes sense to me.

I thought the teacher was very pleasant and noticed that she had a good rapport going with Max. I liked how Max was able to sit with minimal squirming and participate reasonably well in a 30-minute discussion of his performance. He seemed comfortable in a way he never was at his old school. I'm sure part of it is that he's matured. But there's no doubt that Max is much more at ease in this big, stinky, chaotic, friendly elementary school than at the small, clean, careful, private one. As he put it, "It just works better for me. I like the way we work here. And there's more kids."

Most recent challenge: One recent morning Max admitted that he had called some total stranger "Muhammed" (to his face!) because he had dark skin. This is because he heard a "cool" kid in his class do that. However, Max did not feel "cool" when he did this. He wondered if he had hurt the guy's feelings, and in that case why it might hurt the guy's feelings to be called Muhammed. (After all, the father of one of his friends is called Muhammed.) Oh my gosh, what a can of worms. It resulted in a long discussion about racism, foreigners in Sweden (including me!), what's "cool" and what's not, and then (when his genuine regret kicked in) that it's ok to make mistakes in how we treat other people, if we acknowledge them and learn from them. This was all while sitting in the car outside Max's school, where I was trying to drop him off.

Max is suddenly interested in cooking. He says he likes to prepare food. That was news to me. I remember when our friend Aaron was interested in cooking. Wonder if he still is.

Last week I found a very dead cat by the side of the road while I was walking to work. Gorgeous cat, silky fur. No name tag, but I checked the underside of the collar and sure enough, I found two phone numbers written very legibly there. I called and the owner came and got the cat immediately, and thanked me profusely for calling. I know how it feels to be worrying about a missing cat, so there was no question but to try to find the owner...

It was hard not to cry, seeing that beautiful, healthy cat needlessly hit by a car. What a waste. It seemed the person who hit the cat felt bad, too. There was a wad of used Kleenex next to the body.

P.S. For those very few who are interested: See how our living room and dining room look after redecoration.

Wednesday, May 7

Things went well on Monday. All parties showed up on time and cooperated. The sewer pipe inspector immediately fed his camera down again, but this time he didn't see the break. So the digger guy went and put a little weight on the plastic pipe, and sure enough, the crack reappeared. Since it was along the top, nothing had leaked out. And since the rocks and stuff had been dug off of it, the crack wasn't obvious. But as soon as there was some weight on it, you could see the crack.

Not only that, but they discovered another crack further down—one that wasn't apparent until the mass of rock above it had been lifted off.

In addition, the access pipe that is supposed to be accessible from the surface had been paved over. We didn't even know we had this access pipe until we dug up the driveway. (You can see it at the bottom of the below picture, with a cheap yellow lid on it.) So we went ahead and got a new, telescoping access pipe so we can get to the sewer lines from outside the house, even after we repave the driveway.

So that's all taken care of now, and the whole is filled in again (though not repaved). It's a relief to be able to access the house through the garage.

Now for the steps. We're not going to be able to get the stone step construction we'd planned on unless we blast away the granite. We don't want to do that, because it's expensive and a bit risky. So we're gathering new offers ... again. This time for a different construction. It feels like this saga will never end.

Sunday, May 4

Remember that whiff of raw sewage that Bengt thought he detected? Well, he got someone in to inspect our pipes. They fed a camera down through there. (We got a DVD movie of our sewage pipes! How many homeowners can say that?) And they saw a break. (At least, they said they saw a break. Personally, I couldn't see it.) It turned out to be under the foundation of our garage. So we got someone out here to dig it up and repair it. Now our driveway is destroyed and there is a huge hole right in front of our garage and in under our foundation:

And the people who dug up the pipes didn't find any damage! There was a flurry of phonecalls going on last week, with one party saying there is a cracked pipe and the other party saying "nope", and me and Bengt in the middle saying, "What the - ???"

So all parties are getting together here tomorrow at high noon to try to work this out.

Meanwhile, our insurance company has informed us that 30-year-old sewage pipes are write-offs, so we are not covered on this. :-/

AND meanwhile, the building of our outside steps is at a standstill. Remember what that looks like? (If not, see further below.) We can't get to our front door, and now we can't even get in through the garage! Correction: Children still scamper up to the front door. The lack of steps doesn't faze them a bit. I take the long way around the left side of the house.

I was in Germany last week, Thursday through Sunday. I worked in Frankfurt on Friday but then stayed the weekend in Stuttgart with my old friend Bernhard. (I worked out that we've known each other for 24 years!) It was really good to see him.

And you know what? Germans (your average Germans on the street, in shops, or on the train) have become noticeably friendlier since last time I was there several years ago. How is this possible? I don't understand it, but I'm convinced I wasn't imagining it. Coincidentally, Deutsche Bank had a campaign going about how friendly they are. Could there be a connection? Could there be a growing national insight that a little pleasantness or a small, effortless kindness makes everything run more smoothly and so much more pleasantly? It is interesting to theorize about, but I wish I had the low-down.

I brought home a lovely souvenir from Germany, namely a sneaky and virulent cold bug. I came down with it Tuesday night, stayed home on Wednesday, felt a lot better on Thursday (a holiday), but then felt crappy again on Friday (when I had taken the day off anyway to do something with Max—we went to a play). Saturday night I woke up with thick mucus clogging my throat and difficulty breathing. Today I feel more energetic, but my throat still hurts, argh! And I can feel those rat-fink germs having a party in my middle ear. It's hard to predict where this is going.

Bengt started his new job at Strålfors last week. He is working lots of hours, and the commute is longer, but he seems to be enjoying the new challenge so far.

Sunday, April 20

Bengt finished the baseboards in the living room while Max and I were on vacation. So we finally have the furniture back where it belongs, and yesterday I put up all the artwork again. I'd forgotten how much work that can be. Of course I feel that our pictures must be hung in a very precise arrangement that involves hours of measurements, calculations, and experimenting with different layouts on graph paper...

Now all that remains is the windowsills. Bengt convinced me that we needed a power saw and router so that he could make windowsills out of leftover oak floorboards from our 2001 redecorating effort, but it turned out to be a little trickier than he anticipated. No surprise there. ;-)

Today I replanted the four American blueberry bushes that I bought years ago. They haven't been doing very well, so I chose a new spot for them. I dug down pretty deep and got all the stones out of the soil that I reused. It was rockier than anticipated, so I ended up with a huge container full of stone that had to be hauled out back. Phew!! I made about 10 trips with a bucket, and then thank heavens Bengt helped me with the rest. Then I mixed the soil with output from our compost. All the preparations took almost all day. Actually replanting the bushes was a cinch after that.

Now I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for some nice, fat American blueberries, perhaps as early as next summer. Swedish blueberries are tiny and taste different. You can buy American ones in the grocery store sometimes, but they're outrageously expensive.

This is what our front steps—or lack thereof—looks like at the moment:

Notice how a boulder is holding up our front porch (and thus the balcony above it)—this is what the contractor found when he dug it out! Good grief! There were all kinds of little surprises. The most serious one is that the rock face is much closer to the surface than we anticipated, so we're scratching our heads about how to proceed. We might need a cement frame to hold the granite steps we want.

It's fun when people come to our house and don't know how to get in. It's not like we have a back door that you can walk right up to. The kids scoot right up the rock face and ring the doorbell. But I discovered a woman (who had come to pick up her son) scratching her head and looking very hesitant as she walked up the driveway. J Bengt is thinking he might get some type of cordless remote doorbell that people can ring. Then we can come down through the garage and let them in. Or maybe we can just let them squirm. J

Today Bengt thought he got a whiff of raw sewage several times, standing where I was when I took this picture. So he wants to get someone in to check that our sewage pipes are intact. It could just be that something yucky was dug up, but it would be awful (and expensive) to finish the steps and then discover that we have to rip them out again to repair sewage pipes. Home ownership is just a barrel of fun....

And finally, here is the ad that Max posed for a few weeks back. It was printed as a full-page ad in Dagens Industri on April 16. We still haven't seen the TV ad (for hot dog buns), but I guess it'll start airing any day now.

Saturday, April 19: Back from vacation

Max and I took a one-week trip to Gran Canaria recently. The first day was reeeeally long. We had to get up extremely early, and our seating on the six-hour flight was unfortunate, with one very unhappy baby right in front of us and another right behind us. That made it difficult to enjoy the books and games we had brought along. (I felt really sorry for the parents, too.)

We didn't have to wait too long at baggage claim on Gran Canaria, but Max was in a state. He got into some sort of compulsive infinite loop where he asked about twice per minute when our baggage would arrive, and he couldn't seem to stop. His concentration and impulse control were so poor at that point that he literally couldn't stop until my anger snapped him out of it. What was I supposed to say?
"When the airport personnel has taken it off the plane and brought it over here on their trolley."
"I don't know. Maybe ten minutes."
"I really don't know. I don't know what to tell you."
"Eventually. Probably fairly soon."
"It'll come when it comes. Stop asking me that."
And (finally), "How the heck am I supposed to know??! Will you quit asking me that!"
Weird, I've never seen anything like it. He kept apologizing as my irritation grew, but then he'd ask again 30 seconds later. (P.S. Bengt just heard about this and he told me that Max has does the same thing when those two travel. Very weird.)

Anyway, it was a beautiful day, our little apartment was lovely, and we had established ourselves pool-side by 2:30 p.m. Within five minutes Max had scoped out the pool area and set his sights on a small group of British boys to play with. But he didn't go in with guns blazing, I'm happy to say. Instead he tried out a few different pool toys to see what would get the other boys' attention, and he listened to their accent and observed them. (It was entertaining to watch how he went about this semi-covert operation.) Ten minutes later they were all playing happily together, and they had loads of fun for the next two days, until that group of Brits left and another arrived (and he found a new gang to hang out with). There weren't any Swedish boys his age at this place.

Max's back and shoulders got a bit burned on day two, despite lots of SPF 20. On our other trips, SPF 20 has been plenty, but this trip was about a month later than our other trips have been. I guess that made the difference - ? We used 60 the rest of the time. It didn't ruin our fun. Look at this happy guy!

Max was supposed to go to Super Kids, the kids club, 2-3 hours a day, but there were no other Scandinavian kids his age participating, so we got our money back. I was disappointed about not getting that time to myself every day, but it worked out. The resort was fenced in and locked, so kids ran around without supervision. Max usually took off and ran around with his friends for awhile before dinner. At first he kept a walkie-talkie with him (and checked in often), but after the first few days he didn't need it. Of course I did not let him swim without supervision (though this place actually had lifeguards posted at each pool).

On one day we went to Aqua Land, which was a blast for both of us. It was a bit cloudy and cool that day, but it was a great day to go because there were no lines! On the way out we bought a picture of the two of us going down a water slide on a raft. I burst out laughing when I saw it. I put it here, along with other pictures from our trip.

The beach was not within easy walking distance, but we took a taxi, which was cheap. It was a nice beach, but Max had to wear a T-shirt because of his back, and he was greasy with the strong sunscreen we were using, so sand stuck to every exposed body part. He played in the sand for awhile, and we both played in the surf (though current was very strong), but we only stayed a few hours and didn't go back. I was comforted by the thought of spending a week on Lake Michigan this summer.

There was an indoor arcade and outdoor amusement park within walking distance, so we went there twice to play arcade games, ride a rollercoaster and Ferris wheel, drive bumper cars (Max), and so on.

Also within walking distance was a shopping center where someone had connected 10 trampolines together in one enclosed area. It was called Euro Jump. You pay a fee and let your kids jump to their heart's content. Max jumped like a maniac for 45 minutes (see picture)! This was after a full day at Aqua Land, so I couldn't understand where he got all his energy. But he certainly slept well that night. We went back to Euro Jump one other evening, as well.

There were lots of skinny, hungry cats hanging around, and I hesitated to feed them (knowing it would just lead to more hungry cats) but we felt even worse not feeding them. So we sneaked them scraps from the restaurant and even bought a little box of cat food towards the end. Some of the other guests were doing the same, some more openly than us. The personnel didn't seem to object. Strangely, almost all of the cats looked like they had a slightly clipped left ear. I wondered whether it was a genetic thing (in which case most of the cats were related) or whether this had been done to them for some reason.

The food at the resort restaurant was a real disappointment. In addition, the Spanish retirees (there were many of them at this place) wore a lot of perfume and aftershave, so the whole dining room positively reeked. Max and I ate at outside tables even at breakfast and on cool evenings. (Conveniently, this made it easier to feed the cats.)

Another irritation was the activities coordinator, who really got on our nerves. She was overly enthusiastic and overly friendly and didn't seem to have a feel for what people would enjoy. She was unconcerned by the guests' disinterest, and she played this cheesy Spanish pop music loudly at the pool for hours on end. I kept my feelings to myself for awhile, thinking Max would be tempted by some of the activities. But the one time he did participate, he came back saying, "What is wrong with her??" I explained to Max that she was just trying to do her job and get people involved, but we took to calling her "Miss La-La Land" or "Miss La-la." I know that's mean, but we could easily have come up with worse names.... To her credit, she did turn the music down when I asked her to.

That music was everywhere, by the way—in restaurants and stores, at the arcade, at the airport, everywhere. By the time we left, I really had had quite enough unsolicited musical entertainment, thank you very much.

Although for some reason, Max and I kept singing "Listen to Your Heart" (Roxette) the whole time, like whenever we were walking somewhere. It was our theme song for the trip, I guess.

On Tuesday or so I came down with the cold that Bengt had before we left. I didn't feel too bad, so I wasn't laid up, but my nose ran like a faucet. I don't know if I've ever had such a runny nose. Fortunately I had a few Sudafed Nighttime tablets with me, so I slept well.

Max's teacher sent lots of homework with him. I think we spent almost an hour on homework every day. I guess she didn't approve of my taking him out of school to go to Spain. ;-)

See more pictures, if interested.

We had a pretty good trip home—they showed two good movies on the plane, and there were no crying babies. Bengt met us at the airport and it was a happy reunion. When we got home, we had to go through the garage to get into the house, because our new front steps are finally in the works!! Well, almost... at least the old ones are ripped out. We have to have the exposed part of the foundation reinsulated before we continue.

Max and I have been home a week, but it feels like our trip ended a month ago. It was a long week! Every morning I dreaded dragging myself out of bed and going through my morning routine. And I miss the bed at the resort apartment, which (for once) was more comfortable than our own!

Wednesday, April 2

Yesterday I played a couple of April Fool's pranks on Max:

  • I gave him milk colored with green food coloring at breakfast. As usual he was jabbering a mile a minute from the moment he got out of bed, asking questions and such. When he came to the breakfast table, he continued yakking, but then: "Next question: What's with the green milk?" :-) I explained that there is a new kind of genetically enhanced cow that gives green milk, which is healthier for us, and that I thought we would try it. Of course he fell for it.
  • The night before, I had doctored the clothes that I set out for him. I'd sewn one sleeve shut on the shirt and one pant leg on the pants. It was fun to watch him try to get dressed. :-D

I also had a phony birth certificate that I printed out from the Internet and filled in with Max's data, "proving" that he's an alien. I was going to give him that and "break the news" to him that he's an alien, but Bengt thought that would be too brutal. But when I showed the phony birth certificate to Max (without claiming it was real), and he thought it was really neat and said he would have gotten a kick out of being told that he's an alien. Rats, missed that fun opportunity.

The school nurse checked Max's vision, and she confirmed he's gotten more nearsighted, especially in one eye, but apparently he still sees tolerably well with both eyes open. She'll check him again in the fall, and if its any worse I'm pretty sure it'll be time for glasses. Nice if he can have this last summer without glasses, though.

It was a little warmer here for awhile, but now we're back down to around 40 degrees. However, I think it's safe to put the summer tires on the car now.... On Saturday Max and I are off to Gran Canaria. We're really looking forward to relaxing getting some sun! Hope the weather is extra nasty here while we're gone. ;-) Not that I want the rest of Sweden to suffer, but it would feel extra worthwhile leaving the country if the weather were depressing.

Poor Bengt has a terrible cold. Think healing thoughts for him. We hope Max and I don't catch that before our trip.

Tuesday, March 25

This afternoon I took Max into town for a photography session. It was a picture for a newspaper ad with two other people (fake parents). He did a good job and I was proud of the way he got along with everyone and followed instructions. It was an interesting experience for me, too, seeing how they create these shots. I'll post a copy of the ad here when I find it. (They couldn't say exactly when it would appear.)

Max brought this home from school last week day, to the delight of both of his adoring parents. I took it to work. :-)

He has been extremely talkative and inquisitive lately. He wants to ask questions and discuss things constantly. Sometimes it's hard for him to get things done (for example getting dressed or brushing his teeth) because he's so busy conversing. You ask him to brush his teeth, but 15 minutes later he still hasn't been able to tear himself away from a fascinating discussion of cancer treatments or dialects or calories or tire manufacturing or birth defects or whatever. Sheesh, it wears me out sometimes.

We had Friday and Monday off for Easter. We couldn't go to Perstorp because unfortunately Bengt's dad is not well. So we (Bengt and I) stayed home and put in some time on our redecorating project. We how have the ceiling trim in place in the living room and dining room, and we have lamps and display cases back up. But we are still waiting for the baseboards that we ordered from the lumber place several weeks ago (argh). I also did some spring cleaning. Max spent a good portion of the Easter weekend (including one night) with his friend Nils.

We were taking care of some cats, Bimbo and Ali, who have stayed with us twice before. But they were picked up yesterday. Place feels kind of empty!

Ali: "Ahh, this is the warmest spot in the house!"

Bimbo: "I was exploring and somebody petted me, so I fell asleep here."

Sunday, March 16

Bengt and Max and I went to a concert this afternoon and then out to dinner. It was a classical concert given by the Stockholm Philharmonic especially for kids. Two clowns were the hosts! It was short (only an hour) and very appropriate for children. I bought the tickets months ago. Bengt tried to squirm out of it, but I insisted we all go. (For some reason we hardly ever go on outings like this together.) He was a good sport and even paid for dinner and parking. But he didn't say much. He isn't exactly the most talkative family member, that's for sure! But Max chattered enough for a family of six.

I noticed this weekend that Max is even more nearsighted than last time I checked. I emailed his school nurse and asked her to check his vision.

Last week we arranged to pick up a friend from Max's old school, partly so that Max would have an excuse to go visit. I think he just needed to go by and check out how he felt now that he's been away for a couple of months. It felt weird walking over there. He (we) got a friendly welcome, but it was really clear to both of us that we made the right choice by switching in January. Max is really happy at his new school, and Bengt and I are happy with it, too.

The living room still isn't done. It was painted weeks ago, and the curtains and glass display cases are up, but the ceiling trim and baseboards still aren't done, so we haven't put the furniture back in there or put up pictures, etc. It still looks like a construction zone. Bengt worked on ceiling trim last weekend, but his miter saw didn't work out so today he went and bought a new one. Hopefully we can finally finish the trim by next weekend. 

But we had some electrical work done: We got the upstairs grounded (the downstairs was done years ago) and installed a new fuse box with a new and more modern ground fault circuit interrupter. The new fuse box is much smaller than the old one, so I had to do some sanding and painting in the hall there.

Next month we hope to finally get started on the stairs leading up to our house. We have a guy lined up that is supposed to start in the middle of April. He says he should be done by mid May. Now that it's settled, I'm getting excited! It's fun thinking about how we want it to look and picking out the stone we want. I just really hope this goes smoothly. We haven't had the best of luck with people hired in to do work for us. (Although the electrician was great, so maybe our luck has turned.)

Last week Max was sick. He came home from school on Tuesday with a substantial fever. We kept him home Wednesday through Friday. He had a high fever all day Wednesday and Thursday, but Friday he was fever-free all day and feeling a lot better, so we let him go to a party in the evening.

Neither Bengt nor I got that bug. Phew! (Well, Bengt was home sick on Thursday, but he was nowhere near as sick as Max.)

Recently Max had his teeth checked. There was good news and bad news. First the good news: This was his first checkup with no cavities. What a relief! It has been a real concern. He/we brush like crazy but he still gets cavities. But not this time!

Now for the bad news: Max has a crossbite, and our dentist said she was going to consult with an orthodontist about when (she said when, not if) he should be fitted with a Quad-Helix expander (which I understand would be the first step to treating a crossbite). She guessed the orthodontist would probably say to wait 2-4 years, but she wanted to check to be sure. I'm hoping to put it off long enough that he can get Invisalign afterwards, instead of braces. (I don't think Invisalign is appropriate until you get your last molars, which is when—around 12 years old?)

Max was asked by someone from Sveriges Television to try out for a side role in a TV series—a kid with a Skåne accent (like Bengt and his family have). We got some lines to practice before the screening, and Bengt coached him a little, but the result was hilarious and we all agreed Max would not make a convincing skåning. (I was proud of Max for being able to laugh at himself....)

As part of Max's English homework this week, he wrote two lists (I included the misspellings):

  • Smells I like: Candy, fish, food, milk, choclate, flowers, some soap, strawberries.
  • Smells I dislike: Vegetable soup, old fish, old tamato, sweaty socks.

Sunday, February 17

I worked my butt off this weekend on the living room. Bengt and I got the wallpaper up. I think we did a decent job. Then I painted two big patches of different shades of the color I want, so we could get an idea of what it will look like and choose our shade. (For once, all three of us agree on the shade.) Then I taped all around the windows and door frames so that I can paint next weekend while Bengt is in Perstorp.

I also touched up a lot of the paint around the house. It's amazing how beat-up the walls get just from living in a house. Then I put up the pictures and curtains in the hall (I'd taken them down to keep them out of the dust caused by the sanding). I had trashed the old baseboards, so now we have to cut new ones. We have enough left over from when we remodeled downstairs six years ago to take care of the hall, but we don't have an electric miter saw, which we'll need to cut through the thick solid oak. We'll have to check around whether we can borrow or rent one. (Bengt wants to buy one. Sigh.)

After I paint the living room, we'll still have to put in new baseboards and ceiling trim there. Ugh, and I also have to hem the curtains, get new curtain rods, and get it all put up. Phew! So there are still several weekends of work to be done.

I admit it, I'm sore. My one knee is very stiff and painful (but then I often have trouble with that knee), and my back is sore.

My left arm is also very sore, but that's because I slipped on the ice on Friday while walking to the car (arms full of skates and stuff) with Max after skating. I whacked my elbow and have a colorful bruise to show for it. I can't rest my arm on an armrest right now, which is surprisingly bothersome. But of course I'm grateful I can use my arm, with all this work I want to get done here at home (and at work).

Max went to two birthday parties this weekend. He rode his bike to each one and just generally showed more independence than usual. I feel a lot more willing to do things for him when he's willing to do things for himself. It drives me crazy when he interrupts me in whatever I'm doing every two minutes to ask for things that he could easily get/do himself. So this was a good weekend in that respect.

Max seems to be doing really well at his new school. His teacher called Bengt the other day to give him a status report. She said Max seems happy at school and has a very positive attitude, and that his reading and math are both excellent. (Just what parents want to hear!) When I go to pick him up, he is always playing happily with some boys (various ones). It always seems a bit chaotic and pretty grungy, but if Max likes it and is learning what he needs to learn, what do I care!

At home he says that he has the best teacher in the whole school, and he likes his classmates and his classroom. He has no complaints whatsoever (at present). It's like a dream come true.

Today I read in the paper that Stockholm started measuring temperatures in 1756, and this winter looks like it will be the warmest one ever recorded. Our average temperature December through February looks like it will be about 2° C (about 36° F)! Above freezing! It has really been an unusual winter here.

Sunday, February 10: Redecorating the living room and dining room

I ripped out our living room and dining room last weekend, to redecorate. They are now empty (except for the piano) and without baseboards and ceiling trim. On Wednesday some guys came and sanded and varnished the oak floors. (The hall, too.) They look pretty nice! But the entire house is covered in a fine layer of dust. However, since I'm now spackling and sanding walls, I don't plan on cleaning any of it up until the dirty work is done.

After the walls are prepped, we'll cover them with this fiber wallpaper that is meant to be painted over. Then paint, put in new baseboards and ceiling trim, and finally put up the new curtains—yes! I detested the specially designed curtains that we had made when we moved into this house. Finally we'd had them for almost 10 years and I felt like I could finally justify saying, "We've gotten our money's worth out of these curtains—can I please get rid of them now???"

Meanwhile, most of the furniture from the living room and dining room is in the kitchen, guest room, and Max's room. Chaos!

On  Monday I spied on Max through the window while he was having a piano lesson. He was so intent and it was neat watching him interact with the teacher without him being aware of me. I felt such a rush of love for him. He's such a great kid! I guess most people feel that way about their own kid. A few days ago we were watching TV (Star Trek, of course) and there was a little girl on there, about 4 years old. Max said tenderly, "I like Molly. She's so cute." He adores his friend's 2-year-old sister, too. He gushes over her when he comes home from their house. Maybe it's because he doesn't have a little sibling of his own. If he did, maybe he'd think little kids are a nuisance! :-)

By the way, there was a professional photographer at the Stockholm Trophy skating event two weeks ago, so I've replaced our amateur photos with his, below.

Bengt was in Perstorp this weekend. I'll pick him up this evening.

February 1

Max got a bad stomachache and then threw up last night, so I am home with him today. There is a lot of this going around. Fortunately, Max seems fine now, and he never did get a fever. Maybe it was something he ate.

This morning I got a call from the company who made the hotdog bun commercial that Max was in last fall. They wanted permission to use a picture taken from the filmed commercial in printed ads. They would pay Max a fee for that right—the same fee they paid for his part in the filming. Fine, I said!

We were wondering why we hadn't started seeing the TV ad, but I heard that it won't start airing until next month. I can get a link to it once it starts airing.

January 27: Skating competition

We had a skating-intensive weekend. Friday Max had practice after school, and he got a lot of tips and a pep talk from the skating experts in the skating club here. Saturday and today we were at the Stockholm Trophy skating competition, where kids come from all over to compete. The weather was gorgeous (for once). Bengt took him yesterday and I took him today.

Max got some really good times, and he was in third place in his age group. We learned that having a special racing outfit (which he borrowed from the team), as well as newly sharpened skates, shaved many seconds off his time. Possibly the butterflies in his stomach helped a bit, as well.

Today a boy who had been in fifth place advanced to second place, and Max—though he did well—was nudged down to fourth place. He was pretty bummed that he didn't get to climb up on the winner's stand and accept a handshake and a little trophy. I was really bummed because a trophy would have gone a long way to motivating Max to continue skating next winter. I thought he did great for his first winter in speed skating, but Max doesn't see it that way.

I'm pasting in a second picture further below. By the way, he's got long underwear on under the racing outfit. So yes, he was warm enough.

January 24: Allergy tests negative

Max and I had a battery of allergy tests today. All negative! I was really surprised, as we had a strong reaction to pollen last spring. The doctor said you don't have to be downright allergic to have a reaction when there's a pollen explosion in the spring. So I'm glad about that (that we don't have allergies).

She also told me that antihistamines can affect cold symptoms, which contradicts what I learned somewhere else, namely that antihistamines are only effective if you are having an allergic reaction. ?

This doctor is really good with Max. She talks to him like a grown-up and answers all his questions—and he asks so many questions that I feel embarrassed, because I know she's very busy. I'm sure he would hang out with her and ask medical questions for an hour or more (who knows how long) if he weren't stopped. He has a serious interest in the human body.

We spend a lot of time discussing human biology and physiology at home, too. Unfortunately those aren't subjects I know a lot about—though I have read several books about the human brain in the past year. The most recent (and most fascinating) of those was The Brain That Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge, M.D. This science writer is right up there with Oliver Sachs. Better, even!

Yesterday we had our annual parent-teacher-student conference with Max's English teacher. (He has the same English class and teacher even though he has switched schools. He used to come to his new school from his old one just for that class one day per week.) The teacher had only good things to say about Max's class participation, motivation, level of ability, vocabulary, responsibility (getting to English class on time), etc. So that was very gratifying. The only thing that "could use improvement" was his handwriting, which is pretty bad.

The other day we filled out an application for a library card for Max. There was one part for the parent to sign and a separate part for the child to sign. Max's part said, "I promise to take care of the books I borrow from the library and to return them on time." Max refused to sign, saying that he's not yet good at keep track of dates, plus he can't get to the library himself, so he's dependent on us adults. Good point! We inserted some words in the statement: "...and to do my best to return them on time." Then we talked about what steps we would take to ensure that we complied.

I was proud of Max for not signing right away. He understands that it's important to do what you say you'll do. Especially if it's a promise, like it was worded on that form. And he understands the meaning of a signature on a statement—I think we have his previous school to thank for that.

This evening Max had a tantrum because he accidentally used up all his screen time and therefore couldn't watch Star Trek. He sulked and stamped his feet and swore (!) until Bengt grabbed him and said he'd better shape up or he's going to bed right now. Max did shape up—and apologized—but he remained in a fragile mood until bedtime.

I had a crappy day. Frustration at work, etc. I won't bore you with that. It'll improve. Like every job, it has its ups and downs.

January 21

School is still going great. What a relief. Max went to his very first school dance (disco) on Friday. He had a blast and seemed to be completely at ease. Parents were permitted/encouraged to stay, and we had a room to ourselves where we could eat goodies and have a beverage. I enjoyed socializing with the other parents. We stayed almost until the event ended (9 p.m.). Apparently they have these disco evenings four times per year.

We're still trying to adjust to the new routine and acquire new habits. Gym on Tuesdays and Fridays, field trip every other Friday, fruit every day, handheld electronic games allowed on Mondays, homework to bring home on Thursdays and take back on Tuesdays, a little notebook of correspondence between teacher and parents that lives in Max's backpack.... We forgot to send a library card with him today. Doh!

Piano is also going great. Max plays his assigned pieces every day without being prompted. Another relief.

On Saturday I took Max and a friend to Sydpoolen, an indoor pool and water park. It is about an hour away. We stayed for hours and the boys had a blast.

We were last there (one time only) on October 26, 2003, but Max still remembered bits and pieces of it. Seriously, he has an amazing memory for places.

The other boy, D., spent the night and then they played together all day yesterday (Sunday), as well. That is a lot of togetherness, but I didn't hear them argue once.

This coming weekend Max will participate in his first speed skating competition. I don't expect he'll win any of the races, but hopefully it will be a good experience.

I finished up the jigsaw puzzle that we started awhile back. Toward the end all the pieces left to be positioned were about the same color, so I had to go by shape. And you know what was interesting? I found it much less satisfying to find a piece by its shape than by its color(s) or pattern. At first I almost gave up finishing the puzzle, simply because there's no point if I'm not enjoying it. But then I became aware of this discrepancy in satisfaction between fitting the pieces by color vs. by shape. So as an experiment I started consciously looking for the satisfaction in finding them by shape. And I did find some satisfaction.

But what was most interesting about doing a puzzle after about 20 years was being aware of the skills involved; being conscious of the varying levels of satisfaction derived from the different steps; pondering why satisfaction varies so much; experimenting with opening myself up to enjoying the different steps rather than just getting fed up when the most enjoyable part was over; and experiencing Max and Bengt's reactions to the puzzle in progress.

I heard it's cold in Michigan. It's pretty warm here and has been for weeks, which is very unusual in January. We had a lot of rain, but it finally cleared up yesterday. Now it looks like spring—except it's still dark and it doesn't smell like spring. We wouldn't have any ice to skate on if we didn't have artificially cooled ice rinks.

January 16

Max is still enjoying his new school quite a lot. He has more friends and likes his teachers, and he says the work is "not a drag", which is high praise. According to Max, the food is "luxury food" (uh-oh....), though I know for a fact they buy it from an institutional kitchen, whereas at his old school the cook prepared everything right there in their kitchen.

At Max's new school they have gym twice a week (instead of just once, as at his old school). Today he had sore muscles after yesterday's gym class. He told me everything they did, and I commented that it sounded very strenuous. "Yeah, and fun, too!!!!" he replied enthusiastically.

You know, I go to the new school to pick Max up, and the place is gritty and worn and kind of smelly and a little chaotic. But I get a good feeling. The atmosphere is welcoming, the kids get along, and Max is really happy.

Piano finally started back up after the holidays, and Max now has a private lesson instead of a semi-private one with the older Chinese boy who enjoyed working so hard. Max has a new piano book that contains pop hits on his level. He's already more relaxed and once again practices voluntarily. Ok, he won't learn as much or as quickly, but at least he'll continue and have fun. Hopefully we can begin sneaking in some scales and stuff again later on. :-)

Last Friday at skating I tried on a pair of speed skates. I could barely stand on them! My feet didn't feel centered over the blades, which were very thin, and there was no ankle support whatsoever. (The "boot" is similar to a bowling shoe.) I was wobbling all over the place like a Weeble. I switched back to my tour skates PDQ. "Quick! Before I fall on my face!"

We had a good visit from Anders (Bengt's brother) and Li over the weekend. They were here to help Li's daughter move, but they stayed with us so we got to spend some time with them, too. We yacked, ate, drank a fair amount, and started a jigsaw puzzle. Anders and Li and I went to a couple of flea markets on Saturday. Max and Anders played video games, and we all (except Bengt, who knew he would lose) completed with each other in SingStar. Quite fun!

January 10: Fourth day at new school

After school yesterday Max said: "My new school is awesome" and talked about two more new friends he had made. He says it is great meeting all these new kids.

And he mentioned that he saw his old schoolmates when they had gym at his building (they rent the gym a few hours a week). He said he didn't feel any pangs or regrets. They were friendly to him and he was glad to see them, but he doesn't miss the school at all.

Today a new friend came home to play with him—a boy who seems to have taken Max under his wing. Very personable and sharp. Excellent! (Is my sigh of relief audible across the Atlantic?)

January 8: Second day at new school

After school today Max stated, "My new school is the best." He talked about two new friends he had made. One in particular he had arranged to play with after school on Thursday. Cool.

Schoolwork started today, and Max said that was fun. ?!

Max's regular teacher is sick this week. However, the substitute is normally an assistant in Max's class anyway, so I guess he knows what he's doing.

There's another new kid in Max's class, as well—a German girl.

So he is off to a really good start at his new school. Cross your fingers that it continues this way.

January 7: Max's first day at his new school

Max went to his new school for the first time today. He was a bit nervous, but he handled it well. When he walked in, the kids had just gathered for their morning meeting. About five kids who knew him cheerfully called out "Hi, Max!" when they saw him. I'm sure that made him feel good.

I was prepared to stay for an hour or so until he felt comfortable, but after about 10 minutes he said, "Bye, Mom!" And when I went to pick him up, he didn't want to leave.

As we were walking out, Max said, "This school rocks." So I'd say that's a pretty good start! However, today wasn't a regular school day but only fritids (daycare). Actual classroom work starts tomorrow. We'll see how that goes. At his old school he was not excited about schoolwork.

I was really tired at work today. I'm looking forward to bedtime.

The two cats we were taking care of were picked up by their owner yesterday. It feels kind of empty in the house without cats. However, it's nice to get a good night's sleep. (Those two were unfortunately pretty active at night.)

January 4, 2008

Hope all of you had a fun NYE. We did. We had friends over for dinner. Toward the end of the evening we had "champagne" and blow on noisemakers. Then we went out and had fun with some sparklers. Finally, Bengt and Max shot up a bunch of fireworks (see picture) while the rest of us watched. It was a very loud evening!

A cool thing happened the other day: Max was requested to try out for a part in a juice commercial that is to be shown on TV in Germany, Austria, and possibly other countries, as well as on the Internet. The super cool thing was that the commercial is going to be filmed in South Africa the week after next. They are going to fly the kid and a parent down two days before filming, which will take a day or two. Both the parent and kid will be well paid.

I think that sounds like quite an adventure, and I would have jumped to support Max in that if he wanted to try out, but he is starting at his new school on Monday. Bengt and I think it would be really inappropriate to take a week off right when he switches schools. Rats. We're not even going to tell him about this missed opportunity. Why get him all disappointed.

Max has been off of school for two weeks. He has had friends over a lot. The other day he had two over at the same time, and they ran around like maniacs for what seemed like a very long time. I would have sent them outside but the weather was awful. At least they were getting exercise and interacting directly rather than playing computer/video games.

I found tour skating described on Wikipedia! (That's my favorite way of skating.) We do that on Norrviken, where somebody drives an ice resurfacer in an 8+ km circuit around the lake to keep it ideal for skating.

I just love Wikipedia. I visit that site nearly every day for one reason or another, looking something up.

Here's another interesting entry there: Klippel-Trenaunay-Weber Syndrome. This is what I have affecting my left leg. My KTW is pretty mild, though.




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