What's New at the Pålssons'


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

Monday, December 29

It's so nice to have a break from routine and from work. We had a calm, relaxing Christmas here at home. Bengt fixed up a new computer for me, which was great. Max got a Nintendo Wii, some games and a new sled. Bengt got a two-year magazine subscription, a Ralph Lauren shirt, some dried fruit from the States, and the needlepoint bat that Max made in sewing class. 

We also each got assorted books, games and clothes. Nice!

Bengt made the traditional Swedish Christmas food, which mostly consists of meats and pickled herring. I had shrimp quiche, beet salad, and lots of wine. J

Over the weekend we had the boys, so that was busy.

A few nights ago I couldn't sleep at all and was side awake, weirdly, so I got up and watched Gilmore Girls on DVD until 7 a.m. I finished watching the final season. I liked that series a lot, even though a few times I was so disgusted with the way the writers had the characters acting that I felt like ditching. It always got back on track after an episode or two. Even Max enjoyed Gilmore Girls. He liked Sookie the best. It was interesting discussing the different relationships with Max. And he was astounded by how fast the characters talked.

Anyway, at 7:00 I forced myself to go to bed and sleep for 3 hours. That was the weirdest thing. I was fine the rest of the day but sure slept well the following night.

Tomorrow is Max's birthday. Nine years old. Wow. I love him so much. We'll have dinner and cake with our friends on NYE as usual. Combining it with the NYE celebration makes it feel more like a big party—when his real kids' party (celebrating 9½) will be in the summer. Although I just realized that he'll miss the usual window for his party next summer because we'll be in Alaska. Hmm.

I miss having a cat, I've been realizing. So does Max. Being catless is kind of depressing. Unfortunately we can't get one right now. (And Bengt wouldn't care for one, anyway.)

Sven was released from the hospital today.

Bengt is on his way home with a friend and take-out Thai food, so I think I'll go straighten up a little.

Sunday, December 21

I read in the paper yesterday that Stockholm has had a grand total of 7 hours of sunshine this month. I believe it! It's been the most dreary month I can remember. Ugh!

But today is absolutely gorgeous. And it's also the shortest day of the year, so it can only get better. And the temperature is supposed to dip down below freezing on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. YES! Ok, our heating bill will go up, but it's a fair trade-off if we can enjoy winter sports.

Bengt and Max just got back from practicing soccer. Good for them. I think I'll go out for a walk after lunch.

Max will be nine years old in nine days. Stats:

Height: 143.5 cm (4' 8½")
Weight: 40.4 kg (89 lbs.)

According to different websites I consulted, his predicted adult height is 186-188 cm (6' 1" or 6' 2"). Of course that's just an estimate.

Max really likes sewing. Guess he gets that from both grandmothers. Certainly not from me! Here is the needlepoint bat that Max made in sewing class at school. He is giving it to Bengt for Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17

I haven't written in awhile. We've been swamped. Partly this is from taking care of two extra boys. It takes a lot of our free time and my mental energy. Of course it's worth it. I'm sorry I'm not at liberty to write about it or post pictures here.

Of course, Christmas parties and preparations have also been keeping us busy. Max had his little Lucia concert last Friday (with all of the third-graders). It was very short, compared to the looooong ones they used to have at his old school. But, in contrast, the kids seem to know all the songs! Good deal, if you ask me.

I know this is a bad picture, but the lighting was low and this is the best one I got. Max is third from the right in the back row.

Right after I last wrote, we had a LOT of snow. Max got in some good sledding. (He was out for like five hours one day, and came home utterly exhausted.) Then it melted and since then we've had three weeks of rain and near-freezing temperatures. K If only it were just a tad colder, we would have tons of snow for sledding and a frozen lake to skate on. It's exasperating.

Max was sick for a couple of days with a high fever, but he recovered quickly. Many people around here have been getting this. Bengt and I were supposed to go to a concert together, but the sitter we'd organized (for the first time since Max was like 2 years old) also got sick! (Bengt ended up giving the ticket to a friend, and I stayed home with Max.)

Max had a friend spend the night a couple of weeks back (as he often does). When I went to check on them before I went to sleep, Max was talking in his sleep, reciting numbers. The next morning I told him about it, and he said he'd been thinking about multiplication problems when he went to bed. And his friend had told him the same thing—that he was calling out numbers at night.

Another night I had a dream that I was helping Max practice piano, and he kept hitting this one wrong note. I mean he hit the same wrong note over and over, even though it didn't belong anywhere in the song. I couldn't understand how that could keep happening, and I was getting more and more exasperated. Finally I woke up—because Bengt was snoring that tone!

Speaking of piano, Max learned to play Für Elise pretty well, but he can't play it perfectly. Therefore he declined to play it at yesterday's piano recital. Oh well.

On the up side, Max got his first jujitsu grading. He now has a black stripe on his white belt. Here's a picture of him getting it, and one taken during practice (with his friend Axel).


We got glasses for Max last summer. He didn't wear them much at first, so I was a bit annoyed that we'd gone to the trouble and expense. However, recently he told me that since he was moved to the back of the classroom, he has to wear them. Ah, vindication!

Last week we had our first parent-teacher-student conference of the year. They don't give any kind of grades or ranking in elementary school here, but Max's teacher said that his language skills are outstanding. She said his math is quite good, too, and she was surprised to hear that he was way behind in math a year ago when he switched schools. She feels he has the ability to get very high grades (when they start giving grades), if he is willing to apply himself. Right now he often seems to be in his own little world. (I know that at least one elementary school teacher said exactly the same thing about me.)

Max himself says it's hard to sit still and concentrate. I think it's just a matter of maturity—he's an eight-year-old boy, after all. But also he's also simply not very interested. I know that he can concentrate when the material is both interesting to him and presented at the right pace.

Socially, no problems at all. But he needs to get better at taking responsibility for his own "stuff", so to that end we have started giving him a weekly allowance if he does certain specific things, such as keep track of what his math homework is (and do it), as well as pack his own gym clothes the night before he has gym. He has a checklist on the fridge where he can keep track.

We have also bribed him with a reward for hammering in his multiplication tables better. There's a great Swedish website where you can practice, and he has improved his time but not enough. (By the way, I beat Bengt's time easily, which was quite satisfying after he shamelessly bragged that he'd be fastest. J)

Work is fine. Too much to do, actually, but ok. Despite that, I am taking the day off tomorrow, for some solitude.

Bengt's father Sven is doing very poorly indeed, and the whole family is suffering. He's been in and out of the hospital constantly since summer. We appreciate you keeping him in your thoughts.

Friday, November 21 (trivial stuff) (even more trivial than usual)

Here are our steps with the granite on them. We still have to connect the lamps—we have an electrician in the works for that. We'll have to save the landscaping and repaving of the driveway for spring.

Last night I dreamed that Bengt and I looked at a house a couple of miles from here and, at the spur of the moment, signed a contract to buy it. Later I fell asleep (in my dream) and had a dream that made me realize that I didn't want to leave our current house & neighborhood, primarily because I'm perfectly happy with our house and because Max is very happy with his school. Then I woke up (still in my dream), freaked out that we were moving, and wondered if I'd dreamt it. Talked to Bengt and discovered it wasn't a dream—we were moving. Bummer.

But we went to look at the house again, and there were some things I liked about it, such as a large but cozy glassed-in porch where I could sit most of the year and read, plus a really odd floor plan (with hidden rooms and stuff) that appealed to me. And I learned that Max could still go to his old school, no problem. So I decided, what the heck, we can go ahead and move. I started to prepare for and look forward to the move.

Then I really woke up. And I was very confused: What did I dream and what is real? Are we moving or not? Woa, no more partying for me. (We had our ReadSoft Christmas party last night, and I drank a lot of wine.)

Max sings constantly. The other day I heard him singing in the bathroom. When I starting listening, I heard that he was singing "I'm a doofus-doofus-doofus" to the tune of "She'll be coming 'round the mountain". Then he broke into some sort of opera-style song, "I'm a doooooooooo-fus," he crooned. I was cracking up.

When he came out of the bathroom, I said, "Max, you doofus!"

"Hey!" he exclaimed with false annoyance.

"Hey what?" I said. "You're the one who was singing 'I'm a doofus.'"

"I was???" He genuinely had no idea what he'd been singing.

I found the Hemtex commercial that Max and I were involved in filming in September. We come in about 2 minutes and 40 seconds into it.

Sunday, November 16: Snow!

Today we had our first snowstorm. It snowed like crazy for a few hours, but it didn't "stick".

It's also dark. Very dark. It was pitch black by the time I drive home at 4:30 the other day. Depressing.

Two Thai take-out places have opened right here in Sollentuna, both within two minutes' drive from our house. This was a pleasant surprise, and of course we tried them both and have been enjoying take-out once a week. But it's fairly expensive, and we have no control over the ingredients, so I finally got online and chose a couple of recipes for Pad Thai (rice noodle wok), which is my Max's and my favorite dish. (Bengt likes Satay.) I prepared it for the first time this evening. It could have been better, but I guess I'm on the right track; it got the thumbs up from Max and his friend who was over. Bengt and I found it decent but a bit dry.

We're drinking orange juice like mad around here. I can't buy it fast enough. To make sure I wasn't wasting money by buying the most expensive brand, I organized a blind taste test a few days ago. Max immediately picked out our usual brand by smell. (I swear he has a nose like a bloodhound.) And he picked out another brand that he was familiar with by taste.

Then Bengt came home and assigned all four glasses to the right container. He, too, recognized the two brands we'd had at home, and a third was squeezed from a specific type of orange that he knows the taste of, so of course the fourth fell into place.

The unanimous consensus: Two of the brands were disgusting. A third was ok. Our expensive brand is by far best. Oh well, it was worth a try....

Things have been crazy at work. I was assigned a new project, but three projects are too many, especially when two of them should be full-time projects. Just tracking the details of all three projects put me on the road to a nervous breakdown. We are very short-staffed, but we worked it out so now I'm only responsible for two projects. I'm still involved in the third project, but another colleague will track it and only call me in for specific tasks. That's a relief. I'll still be working like a maniac, but at least I'll be able to keep track of what needs to be done.

I had a lull this weekend, so I got our Christmas cards ready. Anybody want theirs early? J I was afraid that if I didn't do them when I had the chance, it wouldn't happen once December came around. Things always get hectic then.

Sunday, November 2

Max and I had the week off. He had fall break and I took off, too. He went to soccer day camp each morning and I got a lot of little things crossed off my to-do list. In the afternoons Max played with various friends. It really nice to be off work/school for a week without travelling or having any special plans.

One thing I did was pick up 750 liters of topsoil and almost fill up the area just below our front porch. Next spring I'll plant some bushes and flowers there.

Another thing I did was finally get the outdoor lighting for along our driveway and up the steps. I installed the lamps along the driveway this morning, but unfortunately the ground is already frozen so I can't bury the cables. Argh! And we can't dig the holes for the other lamps (which have to go in deeper). I really hope we have another thaw this month, because we need to get the rest of the lighting in before the dark winter months.

I even ordered our Christmas cards and wrote a draft of our Christmas letter. What a luxury to have that done so early.

On Halloween Max went trick-or-treating with his friend Nils. They accumulated nice bags of goodies. Nils' parents and I trailed along behind them for safety's sake. We didn’t go to every house, but only the ones with Halloween decorations or pumpkins or lit candles on the porch to signal the “ok”. Halloween is catching on here in Sweden, but some people object. We only got two groups of trick-or-treaters at our house, probably because in our area the houses aren’t so close together, and we have a long driveway. I think the kids who do go out (and far from all of them do) stick to the townhouses and other spots where the candy-to-distance-covered ratio is much higher.

You know that song "Listen To Your Heart" by Roxette? Lately Max has been singing with slightly different lyrics, and it cracks me up:

Listen to your mama
When she's calling for you
Listen to your mama
There's nothing else you can do
I don't know where you're going
And I don't know why
Listen to your mama
Before you tell her good-bye.

Sunday, October 19: Soccer

Last weekend our favorite photographer came to our house and took a lot of pictures of us. Here is one of my favorites. Now I'm busy going through them to figure out which ones to order prints of. We got all 260 of them on a CD, so it's a big job! There are only about six really good ones of the family, but literally a hundred good ones of Max (in my opinion). He was in good form that day and the photographer called him "a natural." I'll paste one of my favorites in below (by last Sunday's entry).

We had another soccer weekend. It was this season's parents-against-kids match. Bengt and I didn't play, but we watched, and there were many comic moments:

  • One mom got the ball away from a kid and took off down the field. Unfortunately, that kid happened to be the ref! The expression of righteous indignation on that kid's face was priceless.
  • Another mom (who was playing) admitted that she didn't know which way to go with the ball. Doh!
  • One third mom hugged her kid and got a yellow card for "hands."
  • One dad kept encouraging other parents the same way those parents usually encouraged their kids: "Run faster, you can make it!" (when they obviously couldn't) or "Work-work-work, c'mon, let's go!" when the parents were exhausted and gasping for breath. It was really funny!

The parents actually won, but the kids gave them a real run for their money. And guess which team is going to be sore?

Oh, and I learned something: "Woo-hoo!!" is not an appropriate cheer at a soccer game (at least not in Sweden) but will instead get you sideways glances from kids and parents alike. J

Kids (Max in yellow, ref sitting):

Parents (and sibs) on the opposing team:

I have my book group meeting tomorrow, and I still haven't finished the book, so I'd better go. Have a good week, everyone!

Sunday, October 12: Guten Abend

Last Sunday's soccer match was an ordeal. I was planning on just dropping off Max and his friend for their match, but it was cold and windy and then it started raining, and the organizers needed all the help they could get to help keep kids warm and jackets dry (which was impossible). We were out in the wind and rain for almost four hours—ugh! I had an umbrella, but it kept turning inside out in the wind until it broke. Most of the kids had arrived in warm enough clothes, but they had to take off their outerwear every time they were sent out on the field, so the jackets were very quickly soaked on the inside. The sinewy kids were shivering like dogs. The meatier ones like Max were ok. Max told me weeks ago that boys generally like to play soccer in the rain, because it makes them feel tough. But I don't think many of his friends would have agreed with him that day.

I returned from Germany Wednesday evening. It was a good trip—great to see Bernhard and a pleasure to attend his mother's birthday lunch. The food and service at Walter's were extraordinary. I stayed at a wonderful little hotel in Augsburg—clean, modern, friendly, considerate, personal but not intrusive. Comfortable bed! Wish all hotels were like that...

The weather was beautiful and much warmer than here in Sweden. I was outside in short sleeves both Tuesday and Wednesday.

An aside: I concentrated hard on speaking German. A week before the trip I started reading a German novel, but I found I couldn't switch back and forth between German and Swedish. I can't seem to keep the two languages side by side and separated in my head. So I waited until I was on the plane and then crammed German magazines and newspapers the whole way down and the whole evening. By the time I got back home, I had real difficulties switching back. I inadvertently spoke to someone at the Stockholm airport in German, and the next morning I started talking with my colleague in German and had so much trouble that I had to switch to English. But then I got to my desk and read a bunch of Swedish email, and I was back in business.

Thursday evening when Max was practicing Für Elise, he suddenly said, "Mama, if you're still alive when I die, play this song at my funeral." Then he sat and looked straight ahead, and burst into tears. And so did I.

I wouldn't say he said that with any sense of premonition. He's simply moved by the piece. But it's pretty disconcerting to hear your kid say something like that, and Max does seem to have a surprising sense of how short and precious life can be. Or maybe he just articulates it when other kids wouldn't.

Then we cheered up and came downstairs and listened to different versions of Für Elise on iTunes. Some of the versions had us laughing out loud. The new age version was loopy. There was a rock version that made Max gasp and exclaim, "That's terrible!!" The pan flute version was painful to listen to. Then there was some guy singing a song to the tune of Für Elise—OMG, that was hilarious.

Most versions, even by established, legitimate classical performers, seem too fast to us (though no doubt they are played at some officially accepted speed). But we purchased his favorite version, played a bit slower by Balázs Szokolay, a Hungarian pianist whom I'd never heard of before today, but there you go. (I liked that performance best, too.) And we also purchased Alice Cooper's School's Out, which Max has also been wanting. What a combination.

The Spore craze continues. Only now he's getting a bit frustrated. He keeps getting attacked by aliens or something, and his species dies out. I guess you have to start over then.

We had a photographer come over today and take a family portrait. I think we'll like the result. The pictures she took of us three years ago were great.

Sven is back in the hospital again. I think this is the seventh time this year. He and Anna-Brita are constantly in our thoughts.

Saturday, October 4

We drove to Skåne last weekend and visited Bengt's parents. Though the trip wasn't physically tiring, it felt emotionally heavy. Without getting into detail here, Sven has been in and out of the hospital all year and seems to have MDS. It's upsetting to see the toll it's taking on both of them. But it was good to see them.

We stayed with Bengt's brother, Anders, and that worked out well. It was good to spend time with him and Li and Björn.

We spent many hours in the car.

Björn introduced Max to Spore, which (as you probably know) is a new PC game by the makers of The Sims. Max was very enthused, and of course Bengt went out and bought it for him as soon as we got home. Since then our house has been a hub of preadolescent activity, with an assortment of boys coming over to play the new game.

This morning when I sat down to read yesterday's paper, I found that Max's pen had decorated politicians with mustaches; ad models with pimples, boogers and age spots (I loved that); landscapes with parachutists drifting to the ground; and, in one case, a plane about to crash into a skyscraper (I watched a documentary about 9/11 last night, which Max wanted to but wasn't permitted to see). Now I know what he got up to when his screen time ran out last night.

We're having a major soccer weekend. Max has matches both today and tomorrow. He's really enjoying soccer. (Here he is in his team uniform.) And he's sticking with the ju-jitsu, too (so far). In addition, he has gym at school twice a week, and he's joined a once-a-week program for trying out new sports after school. That makes at least seven workouts per week, in addition to his nightly routine of sit-ups and pushups that he has stuck with (for the most part). These days he doesn't have to worry about overeating.

And piano is going well. Max's instructor dug up an easy version of Beethoven's Für Elise after he told her it was his favorite piece, and he's been practicing it diligently for two weeks, much to my surprise.

We got Max's school picture this week, and it's probably the best one ever. (If you like it and want one, email me and tell me what size.)

I had a three-day headache this week, caused by (I realized afterwards) moldy cheese. It was shredded cheese that I dumped into our scrambled eggs without checking. The whole family ate it, but fortunately I'm the only one who reacted. I remember thinking that the cheese tasted odd but didn't realize it was actually moldy until I went to use it again a day or two later. Anyway, I took my migraine painkillers the whole time, which allowed me to function, but I still felt like crap and of course it's not a good idea to take painkillers for days.... Today I finally feel just about normal again.

I'll be in Germany Monday through Wednesday, to see Bernhard and attend his mother's 80th birthday party. Should be fun!

Let's see, what else is new... The granite for our steps arrived, and a guy is supposed to come over today and start cutting it into pieces to attach to our new stairs. (Any bets as to whether he'll actually show up?) We're already starting to think about our next project: the kitchen.

The financial crisis in the U.S. is having a major impact over here. Our interest rates have shot up, and real estate prices are falling. The stock market has taken a real hit, as well. So the effect on the average person is substantial and concrete, and the news coverage is comprehensive. The dollar has shot up over 10% compared to the Swedish krona, which, combined with everything else, means that our days of living high in the U.S. are over.

Also big in the news is the upcoming election. From what I can see, the sentiment here is that Obama is the better choice, for a number of reasons. I happen to agree, and I've marked my absentee ballot accordingly. But this isn't a political blog, so enough said on that topic.

Bought a new camera recently. That was fun, especially since I got it for half price. Love a good deal!

Sunday, September 14

Last Wednesday Max and I were both extras in a TV commercial for Hemtex (which is kind of like Linens 'n Things). We were both paid well for our time. The commercial is for Christmas stuff, so I guess they'll start showing it in the middle of November. I'll try to provide a link when it's available.

I finally found the TV ad that Max was in, on YouTube. He's in the second set of scenes, where a family is in the woods. There's a teenage girl with a cell phone in the foreground, and the boy in the background is Max. You can only see him for a second or two, and you wouldn't recognize him if you didn't know it was him. So, no biggie. But geez, it took hours to film that scene!

On Friday Max went to his first school disco of this school year. He had fun, and afterwards he brought a friend over to spend the night.

Max has a lot of homework this year. I have been doing most of it with him so far, and I can see a huge improvement. I remember the difficulty he had with simple math problems last April (I remember specifically, because we were on vacation together and had to do lots of math homework there), but now he's doing more advanced problems and even multiplication with ease, calculating in his head and using logic. I don't know whether it's a matter of mental maturity, practice, or a different teaching method at his new school, but there's a big difference and I'm proud of him.

Bengt and I did more painting this weekend. The plaster on the outside of our house is finally getting a long-needed new coat of gray paint, and Bengt put some waterproofing stuff on parts of the new woodwork. There's lots more to do, and we need to finish before it gets too cold.

We were thinking of building a deck out back as our next project, but now we agree that we need a new kitchen first. Our kitchen is the original kitchen from when the house was first built. We need new cupboards, flooring, dishwater, oven -- everything. It's going to be a big, expensive project. But first we'll take a break after having fixed up the outside of the house.

There won't be any pictures for while. Our digital camera is broken. Again. I think I dropped it. Again. But I might have dreamt that after the camera stopped working, just because that's what happened last time. Isn't that crazy -- not to know whether something really happened or you dreamed it? Geez. My dreams are too realistic.

Max and I went out to eat this evening. He'd been asking to go to this Vietnamese place again. We used to eat there pretty often but haven't been there for about six months. Finally I thought, what the heck. Bengt didn't feel like going, so it was just the two of us. The food was delicious, and Max was so pleasant and well behaved that it was almost like going with an adult friend.

I'm feeling really sad that summer's over, as well as annoyed with myself. I should have taken a week or two more vacation while the weather was nice. (It got cool about a week after we returned from the U.S.) Now I have a couple of weeks of vacation that I have to take by the end of the year, but what should I do with it? Go someplace warm? ($$$$) Stay home and hang out and get organized? That doesn't sound very appealing.

I talked with Bengt how upset I was about having had such a short summer, and he immediately got online and started looking for trips for me by myself (I'd be perfectly happy going on a trip by myself) or me and Max. I love that about Bengt. (No, he wasn't trying to get rid of us.... :-) They were all really expensive, though. I'd rather save for our new kitchen.

But Max and I discussed it and decided that we would take off the week of October 27. He doesn't have school that week and would have been in daycare, so I'll take off work and we'll try to get a cheap last-minute trip someplace. Egypt, the Canary Islands, Turkey, Crete, Paris, ... we'll see. No doubt it will be slim pickings, since practically every other kid in Sweden is off school, as well. But if we're willing to be spontaneous and leave the next day or even just a few hours after we book our trip, maybe we can get a good deal and a nice little adventure -- hopefully someplace warm. And if we can't find a bargain-priced trip that appeals to us, well, we'll come up with something special to do here at home. I don't know whether Bengt will join us or not.

Sunday, August 31

The rats were collected and taken home today. I was actually sorry to see them go. Cute little things! They really grow on you because they have distinct personalities and each interacts with you in a unique way. I couldn't resist showing one last picture of Goya and Aklija here...

We saw one of the rats swinging from the top bars of her cage, going from one bar to the next, by her front paws only! I had no idea their paws were so strong. (What's that called in English, again, when kids do that on the monkey bars?? I only know the Swedish word for it at the moment: Armgång.)

Another funny thing that happened was that one of the rats jumped up onto a little wastepaper basket with a swinging top. Of course she fell through the top and into the cylinder. It we comical. Max and I went over and pulled the top off. She was standing inside on her hind legs, and the look on her face said, "What the heck was that?!?"

Max had his first soccer match today. Before he went, he was a little nervous and he asked me whether I cared if they win. I said that it's fun for the team to win, but personally I don't care who wins. I just want him and his friends to have fun playing and get good exercise. He was relieved to hear that. Turned out they lost really badly. But Max didn't care -- he had fun.

I spent the weekend painting our new balconies with two coats of oil-based wood treatment. (Bengt was down with a cold the whole weekend.) It was a lot of work, but I'm pretty happy with the result. And I was very mindful and managed to avoid mishaps like spilled paint, falls from ladders, etc. The worst thing that happened was that I got paint in my hair. Bengt got some of it out with turpentine. The rest I had to comb out by force, which damaged a couple of sections of my hair. So I need to go get my hair cut/repaired this week.

After painting, I did the grocery shopping and helped Max with his piano practice. Now I'm going to go watch a little TV all by myself. The rest of the family is asleep, though it's only 9:30.

Saturday, August 23: Oh, rats!

We're taking care of three rats for a woman who is away on vacation. They are pretty tame, but they seem wary of us and are reluctant to want to come out of their comfy cage for their exercise. When we put them on the floor, they quickly scramble up their "ramp," onto the table and back into their cage. It's a shame, because they could have a great time exploring Max's playroom. We thought about taking away their ramp, but we don't want them to feel unsafe. We leave the cage open for hours at a time, but they haven't yet come out on their own.

Still, these rats seem much smarter than hamsters, and they eat just about anything (along with their dry rat food). Another plus: They use a litter box! So you don't have to clean out the whole cage so often. Also they have cute little paws with fine little digits. Really quite cute! (These two are Kina and Goya.)

I asked Bengt what he thought of them, and he said, "They're pretty interesting." (That's high praise, coming from Bengt.)

Bengt and I did yard work most of the day. We kind of let our yard go this summer, and there were weeds everywhere. My back is really sore from all that weeding and hauling. Tomorrow it will feel worse, but the job's not done.

Max has had a friend (Daniel) over all day. They played so well together, it's a delight. They were running around out in the woods behind our house most of the time. After dinner they settled down in front of the TV for a rented movie and some ice cream before bed (Daniel is spending the night). They go to the same school now—Daniel just switched over from Max's old school, but is in fourth grade.

Max had soccer practice Wednesday and today. He just loves it. They have practice twice a week, plus (another parent told me) matches about every other weekend. Yikes! Plus he has Jujutsu (Ju-Jitsu) twice a week, and piano lessons. We'll see how long Max enjoys all these activities.

He has a "routine" of sit-ups and push-ups that he does every morning and every evening since we got back from Michigan. He says it's noticeably easy to do the exercises now than it was at first.

Tuesday, August 19: First day of third grade

Max started third grade today. I regret that I cut his hair and dressed him up; he looked nerdy, didn't he. But it went well. I look forward to smooth sailing this year.

Bengt took Max to his first Jujutsu practice on Monday. Max really liked it. Bengt said it looked like hard work and a lot of discipline, but also fun.

Max has been belting out opera-like warbles around the house lately. When I asked him why he does that, he said, "It releases my happiness!" How wonderful to have a kid who sings for joy.

Wednesday, August 13

I haven't yet had time to write about the past month and our wonderful trip to Michigan. However, I've at least got some pictures ready.

In the meantime, I want to at least get started again writing things as they occur. Otherwise I'll never get back to it.

Last week Max was home with Bengt while I worked. This week Max is going to track & field day camp. We arranged that he would go with a friend. I would drop the boys off in the morning and the other mom would pick them up and keep Max for a couple of hours, since I have to work but she's off. But on the first day Max had a major fight with the friend (ex-friend?) and doesn't want anything more to do with him. K

Fortunately, he is still willing to go to the day camp and has made other friends there. In addition, instead of going over to the other kid's house every day after day camp as was planned, he can walk by himself to ReadSoft to hang out at my office and play DS games. Yesterday he took a bus by himself back to our neighborhood and played with one of his other friends.

I'm happy about all this independence. Max gets nervous about doing new things, but with a little encouragement he goes ahead and does them anyway. A cell phone is his lifeline—he knows he can call me at any time if something goes wrong. I appreciate his effort so much that I feel pretty accommodating towards him.

At other times he is just like a two-year-old. Like I tell him that we're in a hurry and he has 15 minutes to take a bath. But I go in there 20 minutes later and he's playing with plastic dinosaurs and hasn't even gotten his hair wet yet. Or we get out the front door and lock up, and then he announces he has to use the bathroom (number two). Or he disappears in the grocery store with the barcode scanner we're using. I backtrack and find him in a previous aisle, just standing there trying to scan his face, oblivious to the fact that I've moved on. Argh!

Last Sunday Max and I sold stuff at a flea market, together with some friends of ours. It was pretty fun. Even Max thought so. We each made about 1000 kronor ($160). Max decided that he would save/invest 400, spend 400, and give 200 to Red Cross (which we did, and Max said, "That felt good").

We are considering getting a couple of rats. We've seen some at exhibitions and our friend Wendy has one. They seem clever, interesting, and even cute. As a trial run, we're going to be taking care of five rats August 21-31, when the rat owner is on vacation. Should be interesting!

I guess we should keep our back door closed while the rats are visiting. We have a neighbor cat (Molly) who comes in and makes herself at home. I found her sleeping on Max's bed a few days ago. No doubt she would make a quick meal out of those rats, if they were out.

Piano lessons and budo both start up on Monday, and Max goes back to school on Tuesday (third grade). Woa, summer's definitely over for us. Bummer.

Tuesday, July 8

I was sick as a dog over the weekend. It must have been food poisoning or something, though I can't think what I'd eaten that might have been responsible. My appetite is still off. Hope it wasn't a bug that someone else in this household might come down with.

Bengt and Max and I went to see The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian at the local movie theater yesterday evening. I enjoyed it, though there was a lot of fighting (which Max liked). Now Bengt and Max are watching an Indiana Jones movie here at home. (Those two watch movies together.) I have to pack.

Max and I are leaving for the U.S. on Thursday. He's in a very talkative phase, Lord help me. He and Bengt are home together Monday through Wednesday this week, and obviously Bengt doesn't talk a lot, so when I get home Max talks my ear off. I tried very hard to find a friend for Max to play with tomorrow, so that he could get some of that yakking out of his system before we leave, but most people are out of town or have visitors. Max seems content, but I'm afraid to sit next to him on a plane for 10 hours. Very afraid. I shared my concerns with him: "If you yak this much on the plane on Thursday, I'll have to kill you."

In Michigan we're going to check out glasses for Max. The cheapest pair of kids' glasses that my optometrist sells is $165. And those are the discount frames, which we didn't like very much.

Bengt saw our neighborhood fox again very early one recent morning. He heard some crunching/chewing noises right outside our bedroom window, so he looked out, and there he saw the fox chewing on a bird. It ran off (leaving the headless bird) when it saw Bengt. Bengt said it looked like a young fox in good condition. Must have been the same one I saw recently.

Wednesday, July 2

Stockholm's bus drivers are on strike, leaving Bengt no choice but to drive to work. That means I get to walk or ride my bike both to and from work. (I usually walk to work but drive the car—which Bengt parks at ReadSoft—home.) So I've been walking. It takes longer, but I don't get as sweaty. I don't want to be sweaty all day at the office, and I don't want to haul my stuff to work and shower there, either (as some do).

Max and I tried to sleep out in our tent in the yard a couple of weekends ago. We came inside at 11:30 when it started raining unexpectedly. (It is an old, used, leaky tent.) But that's ok; it wasn't that comfortable, even with an air mattress. It was nicer sleeping on the balcony in the open air, with bats swooping around.

Here is my little buddy working on his skateboarding. He's cautious, which I appreciate (no broken bones), although it holds him back.

Max has a friend over this evening and he has been calling on me with questions or favors (mostly things that he could figure out or do himself) every two minutes. Really frustrating when I feel like concentrating on my own stuff right now.

He and I still have a long reading/chatting time right before bed every other evening. We read for awhile, and then comes his chance to ask any question under the sun or discuss any issues he has. I feel like if it weren't for those evening talks that we've been having since before he could even talk properly, I would hardly know my son. Or at least I'd be missing a lot of what's going on in his head while he's growing up. And I'd have a lot less influence on him.

Happy Fourth of July!

Sunday, June 29

It's been awhile since I updated, and this time I have a good excuse: My hard drive pooped out. It simply wouldn't boot. Bengt tried everything (bless him) but there was no remedy. Finally he set up a new hard drive for me and now I've got most of my programs reinstalled and files copied over. It was very time-consuming for both of us. Boy, I hate stuff like that. It seems like such a waste of time, though it's just part of the inevitable maintenance you have to expect with equipment like a PC.

Max's 8½-year birthday party went off without a hitch yesterday, largely thanks to the parents who worked together to get the 26 kids over to Nicki's in Täby, where we had booked the place for ourselves. That was great, because Bengt and I don't yet know all the second-graders (now third-graders) at Max's new school, and this way we didn't have to wonder if such-and-such a kid was part of our group or not.

First the kids played for an hour. When they were good and thirsty and hungry, Nicki's personnel served them hotdogs and juice & water, then ice cream. Then they got to play for another hour, by which time they were visibly worn out and parents began arriving to retrieve them. I think almost all the kids had a lot of fun. One girl was exhausted after a week of sports camp, so she wasn't really up for it but didn't make a fuss. There were no accidents, few spills, no injuries.

It was great fun watching all the kids have fun and not having to do anything myself except keep an eye on them. But to me the best part was when the ice cream was served and the kids enthusiastically sang the Swedish birthday song to Max. They were so loud and cheerful that I figured they must really be enjoying this party. That felt good, and Max lapped up the attention. Unfortunately our camera was in the other room. Argh! I'm bummed that we didn't film that.

Max didn't open his presents at Nicki's because it would have cut into playtime. We hauled them all home and Max opened them that night. Lots of good stuff; he was pleased. This morning he got up early and assembled all his new Lego kits.

Our front steps are finally being worked on. It'll be great to finally have sturdy front steps to our house again. Here you can see their current state. At the moment they're just poured cement, but this fall we'll cover them with nice granite slabs. (First the concrete has to cure, plus there's about a 12-week delivery time after we order the granite.) Next spring we'll have to get the driveway repaved and fix up the landscaping again. What a project. If we'd known it was going to be such a production, we would have just replaced the railroad ties we had as steps all these years with new ones.

This afternoon I was out reading in the backyard when I saw some movement approaching me. I looked up and saw a young fox about 10 feet in front of me. A teenager fox. He stopped and looked at me. Seconds passed. I wondered if foxes can be aggressive. I decided it might be wise to show that I am willing to take the lead and that I am unconcerned. (Sort of like I sometimes do in my role as a parent.) "Hi, fox," I said with calm composure. The fox turned around and trotted off. I trotted in and told Bengt.

We're having pretty nice weather (hence reading in the backyard), and our days are long. The birds start chirping their hearts out at about 3 a.m. When Bengt and I sleep with the window open (which we do in the summer, otherwise it gets stuffy), it wakes us up. If I go to bed at midnight and get woken up at 3 a.m., I can fall back to sleep. But if I go to bed at a more reasonable hour, which I have been lately to make it easier to get up at 6 a.m. for work, then I've already had four or five hours of sleep by 3 a.m. and it's difficult to fall back to sleep again. :-/ Bengt can snooze after that, but he complains about "all the racket outside."

Today I ordered some more stuff at LLBean, my favorite mail order place: Two rain jackets for Max (one lined and one not), two pairs of shoes for him for this fall, and one shirt for me. The stuff will be delivered to Lin so we can pick it up next month. I love LLBean!

I also ordered a new bulb for our projector from a place in the US. $400!! Geez! But it would have cost twice as much here in Sweden. Outrageous.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Wow, I had a great trip to the U.S. recently. First I went to Philadelphia for the annual conference of the STC (Society for Technical Communication). It was a good three-day conference, and I learned a lot of important stuff for my job, which I won't bore you non-tech writers with. In the evenings my colleagues and I had dinner and saw some sights. What a great city Philadelphia is, full of history. And very clean, at least where we were (downtown). I'd love to go back there and see more.

The flight over was the best ever. My neighbor on the flight was really fun and interesting to talk to, and that made the time go fast. We watched a movie on my portable DVD player, too. But I had really bad jet lag after I arrived, compounded by going too long without a meal after my arrival and then a scary fire alarm at the hotel at 11:40 p.m. I had a migraine the whole next day and was able to function and attend conference sessions only thanks to strong painkillers that I always have on hand for such attacks.

After the conference I flew to St. Louis to see my high school friend Laura (see picture of us below), her husband Jim, and my dear Aunt Ella (see left), who is 98 years old and living in a retirement home.

My flight out of Philadelphia was delayed four hours and didn't arrive in St. Louis until midnight—argh! Laura picked me up anyway, and I felt at ease with her (and Jim) and at their beautiful house from the start. It was so great to connect with Laura again, I can't even tell you. It was also good to be able to visit with Aunt Ella again after a number of years. I hadn't seen her since she moved back north from Florida.

Laura and Jim and I had dinner at Uno's Pizzeria on Thursday night. I chose that restaurant because the Uno's in Ann Arbor closed down years ago and I've missed it. On Saturday Laura and I participated in a trivia night. There were ten tables playing ten rounds of trivia in different categories. Our team won! It was surprisingly fun to win. But probably the best night was just having dinner at home, visiting with Laura and Jim. I also enjoyed eating breakfast with them in the mornings. Normally I'm cranky in the mornings, but thanks to jet lag I was usually wide awake by 6 a.m.

I had a rental car (see picture), so I was able to get around St. Louis easily. I visited Aunt Ella twice each day for an hour or two each time (short visits seemed easier for her), and also did a fair amount of shopping. The visit seemed like the right length of time, but I sure was sad to leave Laura and Jim, as well as Aunt Ella. I'm SO glad I went!

My flight from St. Louis to Philadelphia was delayed, so by all rights I should have missed my flight to Stockholm. In fact the airline had already rerouted me via Frankfurt—ugh! I would have arrived home at least six hours later. But I ran like a madwoman for the Stockholm flight, and I got to the gate just before it closed. What luck! My colleague traded seats so we could visit on the way home. (My previous seat-mate was also on the plane, but I didn't even see him until we got to Stockholm.) But it was one of the most uncomfortable trips either of us had ever experienced. (No more USAir.) It was too warm and dry on the plane, and the seats were slippery and uncomfortable so it was impossible to rest properly. The person in front of me gave me the eye when I tried to put my legs up on the back of her seat, and we didn't get enough to drink (and I hadn't filled my water bottle, in my rush to get to the gate). Nevertheless, when our flight arrived the next morning my colleague and I took a taxi straight to the office. But I went home about 1:30 and took a two-hour nap. I was sure glad to see Max when he came home from school (his last day of school) and then Bengt when he got home from work.

I didn't get my bags until the next day, but boy was I glad to be home and comfortable.

Since then I've been sleeping "normal" times. I don't think I ever really got used to Philadelphia or St. Louis time, so it was easy to switch back.

Max was sick (feverish) Friday and Saturday. Today he's just tired. But it was a momentous day: Max and I have now seen every episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine together. We watched the final episode of season seven this evening. We've really enjoyed watching the series together over the last couple of years, and discussing it.

What next? We'll start watching Voyager or The Next Generation. Max has seen a number of episodes of each, but back then I chose episodes for him carefully since he was a lot younger and some episodes can be disturbing to a little kid. Now he can handle it, and I think he "gets" it all.

Fortunately this TV watching is balanced by other activities. Piano lessons are over for the summer, but he'll start up again next fall. He will also start soccer (which almost all the boys at his new school play, so he wants to join in), as well as budō, which he has been on the waiting list for almost three years (!). Each of those sports involves practice twice a week, so that's really too much organized activity for him, but we'll see which one wins out... He doesn't want to miss this chance to try budō.

We are busy planning Max's 8 1/2-year birthday party on June 28. This year we'll have it at an indoor play place, Nicki's. We'll have the whole place to ourselves, so he can invite as many kids as he wants. Tomorrow we'll deliver invitations to 40 (!) kids. However, since summer vacation starts next week, I estimate that only about half will be around. Even so, what a crowd! I think it'll be fun.

This coming week I have a work party and I'm going to Germany over night for work. I'll be ready for a rest by next weekend. School is out so Max has daycare at the school every day. The kids will have fun. Bengt is just plugging away.

P.S. I was just kidding about the rental car. This is my actual rental car, the cheapest in the fleet. It didn't even have power windows or power locks. (But it got me around!) Were you fooled? J




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