Today was our first rainy day in Stockholm. We were all ready this morning to visit Skansen, (the world’s first open-air museum, a 74-acre wonder in downtown Stockholm), when it started to drizzle then suddenly poured. From the living room window we watched the rain propel itself sideways onto the patio with such force it bounced. (There must be a Swedish word for rain that bounces.) It was something to behold.

Living in California the last couple of years has made us blissfully oblivious to the weather. Naturally we have no umbrellas and silly me, I packed Maggie’s raincoat in our air shipment, which hasn’t arrived yet and probably won’t any time soon. The rest of us have brand new Marmot jackets we bought before leaving the US, but even those, I fear, are no match for this weather—our pants and shoes would have gotten soaked.

So the kids popped popcorn and watched Pocahontas (much to the boys chagrin but it kept Maggie happy) while I spent an hour researching boots on the Internet. Frankly I was clueless as to how many options existed for simple hiking boot: ankle, mid-size, Gortex, hydrophobic mesh, molded footbeds with microbe shields, fancy treads and steel toes. They even have videos of shoes on! Click on a shoe and people named April and Jennifer, looking like they just woke up and threw on a t-shirt, will tell you about their footwear. It actually was quite helpful. I placed an order with the realization, of course, that it won’t do me any good now. I’ll have to cope with whatever elements come what may, until our boots arrive at the DPO. At least I know this fall our toesies will be warm and dry.

After a bit the rain let up so we drove to Lidingo’s city center to the only theatre on the island—The Grand. It has two theatres that each seat 21 (yes you read that right, 21 people). Madagascar 3 and Ice Age is playing and although there were plenty of seats the show was dubbed into Swedish—I should’ve guessed. We walked around the nearby city shops, a little despondent, reminiscing about Irvine when we decided to get lunch at a café. The ham and cheese sandwiches we ordered were generously sized, accompanied with a large salad, however, one bite into the sandwich and we all detected something was off. Ham and cheese with sun-dried tomatoes? Don’t get me wrong, I love sun-dried tomatoes, but these large oily chunks were anything but working in this combination.

We ate what we could feeling, at this point, the day was awash, literally, when a friend called, my only friend—my sponsor from the Embassy. She’s obligated to be nice to me but she’s gone way above and beyond the call of duty to assist me from everything from getting fans for our temporary house to enrolling my kids in school. She’s an absolute angel. And since she had a free moment, she wanted to drive us to the local Thrift shop just over the bridge on the edge of the city in a town called Ropsten.

She recommended we check out Myrorna since it is a good place to find lots of odds and ends. She was right! I found the Nordic walking poles I’ve always needed…(ok wanted, but they all use them here when they’re out walking around the trails and it looks cool) and the kids each got a pair of soccer cleats. The trip was educational too since the kids saw a typewriter!

Typewriter at Myrorna

We had to be careful with Maggie in the extensive glassware section (she has a penchant for breaking things) but once we got our loot to our car the day felt like a success! Maggie even got in a nap on the way home while I was lost in the city making wrong turns. (Even better, she wasn’t awake to hear all those things I said while I was driving:) In fact the day turned out so good I’m almost looking forward to the next rainy day…just please, not until my boots get here.

Inside of Cellar Room

It’s 5 am and the sun’s so bright I’m wide-awake writing, still thinking about Den Glydene Freden. Last night Cooper and I celebrated our 18-year Anniversary there. It’s fitting, I think, after all these years we chose the oldest restaurant in the world to dine at…yes the world! It’s been in business since 1722 serving up Swedish fare like Fried Lemon Sole with Brown Butter and Roasted Lamb neck with Beets, Artichoke and Garlic Sauce. The restaurant is situated on the island of Gamla Stan—one of 13 islands that comprise the city of Stockholm. Gamla Stan is the oldest part of the city, a footbridge walk south from the city center or if you want to test your mental acuity you can drive.

Cooper and I drove (a true testament to the strength of our marriage) using the help of an antiquated GPS and a street map. I assure you it was the craziest path you can imagine, circling around city blocks on one-way streets then on cobblestone walk ways that looked like pedestrian paths (maybe they were) until we crossed a bridge and found parking in narrow alleyway.

We walked the equivalent of a few city blocks up twisting paths on the worst cobblestones I’ve ever encountered. I had worn sensible shoes, but even that didn’t help. The spaces between the rectangular stones were so deep I kept catching my toes and plenty of other people were too, even wearing hiking boots. For safety’s sake, I kept my eyes glued to the ground, but I had to keep stopping to look up at the amazing shops we were passing: art galleries, clog shops (adorable), clothing stores (Swedes have a thing for stripes), bookstores, including an English bookstore (what a find!)

Eventually we made it to Den Glydene Freden. The outdoor seating was lovely, including thick wool blankets laid over the backs of chairs for use by the outdoor patrons. However, we booked our table in the basement—the most famous part of the restaurant. The maitre d’ took us down two sets of medieval looking stone staircases that spiraled into what appeared to be a cave painted with white plaster. The tables, as in any European restaurant, were situated close together. We could hear different languages being spoken, mostly English (aren’t we the loudest?) There were candles on the table and great care was taken to assure we had a full glass of water or in the case of the Russian couple sitting next to us, Vodka.

The waiter explained that the cellar room we were in hadn’t been discovered until 1920 when a man named Zorn bought the dying establishment and began renovating. The cellar, come to discover, had been a storage facility for sailors who went to sea to leave their goods; over the course of 200 years it had been forgotten. But with the added space, Zorn was able to achieve his dream of creating a Swedish icon, an establishment that would forever remain a cherished “haunt” for his patrons. Unfortunately he died before he saw the work completely finished, but the décor is his vision, as are the classic Swedish dishes he insisted remain on the menu.

We had the set menu, in Swedish I have no idea what it said, but what I ate was a green salad with delicious creamy herb dressing followed by something that tasted like the best Sunday pot roast you’ve ever had with steamed carrots the size of gumballs and for dessert Rhubarb pie with a dollop of vanilla cream that can only be described as fluffy white heaven. We toasted to 18 great years with a bottle of Pepsi Max and felt like we’d never had it so good. Afterward I thought while holding hands walking back to our car, how nice it was to be in a place so old, so enduring as to stand the test of time, to know that with a little renovation now and again, new things can be discovered, even a cellar full of treasure you didn’t know was there.

The sunlight along the trail

The Lake through the Trees

Camper Along the Trail

A Restaurant in the Forest

Fallen Birch in the Forest

I’m still pinching myself. Did I just walk onto the set of Lord of the Rings? Is Frodo behind that gigantic fern? Pictures from my iphone will never do justice to this expanse of flora and fauna along the Stockby Trail. Next to our temporary house, just 10 feet or so, the trail begins as a long gravel path cutting through fields and forests then branching into dozens of smaller trails that wind their way around the island past horse farms and lakes until eventually, no matter where you start, you’ll find the ocean.

For someone like myself, who is prone to getting lost, it is something of a comfort to realize you can never be truly lost on an island; there are limits as to how far a field you can go:) And there are plenty of landmarks too—the pasture filled with horses, the lake of geese and swans, the hilly rock with fat sheep soaking in the morning sun and the Nordic gym. What the heck…a gym? Yes, in the middle of all this outdoor beauty is a gym in the forest, somewhat crude and made out of wood; I’m certain you have to be part Viking to use it. The wood planks for sit-ups are set at 90 degree angles, there is a row of pull-up bars and a sequence of hurdles to jump followed by logs stationed at varying heights to leap across—I assume to test your balance.

As for myself, I keep to the trail, trying to maintain my anaerobic heart rate, but it’s impossible not to stop and stare at the butterflies on the wild flowers or the noisy woodpeckers in the pines or the pop-up yellow camping tent plopped in the middle of nowhere with a Swedish flag stuck in the ground. Seriously? This is no Occupy Wall-Streeter; this is a Swede exercising his national right to camp anywhere, Allmansrätten, or “Every Man’s Right,” so long as he/she is not within view of a residence. Camping anywhere on public grounds is permitted and for the past three days I’ve seen this tent along the trail, heard the person inside coughing so I know someone is in there. Whoever it is, they’ve got a great spot, some cover of trees, flat ground with a gorgeous carpeting of grass. Swedes are experts at this stuff and with 30,000 islands (according to statistics) to camp on they have a lot of places to choose from, not to mention 2-3 weeks vacation a year in which to camp. And if this camper gets hungry, along the trail there’s a restaurant too, in what looks like a remodeled barn. It’s straight out of a fairytale, Middle-Earth; makes me think I just might need a “second breakfast.”

Laundry the Swedish Way

We finally got hot water! The boys were so excited they all took steaming hot showers and set off the smoke alarm. We didn’t actually know it was the smoke alarm at first, but the high-pitched buzzer was a big clue—some things are universal.

We also got the yellow jacket’s nest fumigated in the attic today. Oh YES, that was fun. A small swarm had set up residence in the eves. I’d noticed a few hovering about, but things didn’t get crazy until two nights ago while I was cooking one flew in the window (there are no screens on the windows and no A/C) and it made it’s way inside my shirt!  Can you picture it…me cooking chicken with the spatula trying to find the yellow jacket only to discover it was inside my yellow t-shirt? I shrieked and flicked it out with my thumb, but not before it gave me a nasty sting. I grabbed my lavender oil and put some of that on while the boys killed two more. Needless to say, we sweated the rest of the night with the windows shut!

I’ve been to the grocery store everyday since we moved here and I’ll probably go again tomorrow. For one thing, it’s incredibly hard finding things, especially if you want something specific, for example chicken granules to put in some simple mushroom risotto. I ended up buying a seasoning packet of chicken mushroom soup instead and it worked beautifully. I might try some other dry soup mix flavors next time—cheddar broccoli could be good?

But the whole cooking thing is…well, a test of my agility and creativity. I have 3 Ikea stainless steel cooking pots, 2 with lids that came in the Welcome Kit, along with 1 fry pan, 3 flimsy plastic spoons, a peeler, 3 dull knives, 3 nesting mixing bowls and enough service plates, bowls and utensils for 6. That means when I cook a meal of let’s say chicken, rice and salad, if I’m using a plate to serve the chicken on then someone eats out of a bowl or if I’m storing leftovers in the mixing bowls in the fridge then I can’t make salad in a bowl…you get my drift. It feels like camping and will end as soon as my shipment of household goods arrives and I give back the Welcome kit, but in the meantime it’s some mental gymnastics planning breakfast, lunch and dinner. It doesn’t help either that I’m down one pot because I burnt the bottom. It’s soaking, for now, but the truth is it might never make it back into the rotation. I miss my non-stick!!!

When I’m not cooking I’m usually downstairs doing laundry. For one thing the basement is cooler and for another I can’t ignore the dryer because it beeps with an annoying alarm until you turn it off. I’m sure there’s a way to stop the noise but I can’t for the life of me figure it out. The washer and dryer are both front loaders, typical European models, with a bunch of buttons and dials and Swedish words and diagrams. Here the Swedes have a word for the laundry room that in English means, “Laundry Cottage.” I have a nice cottage, as large as a small bedroom, with a sink and two long counters for folding—one high enough to store a ironing board underneath. All I’d need to do to iron something is pull it out; the only thing is I don’t iron.

My “laundry cottage” also includes an appliance that looks like an American fridge with dials across the top. Inside it’s filled with white metal rods, small in diameter, their ends facing outward. It is designed to hang damp clothing, either from the washer or more commonly from clothing being outside in the wet. A dryer blows hot air, and you can adjust it to the temperature and time you want. Pure genius!

Opposite my fridge dryer, as I call it, is a Mangle appliance. It doesn’t sound like what it is; a mangle is an ironing device but way more awesome. There’s a large roller inside with tan cotton fabric surrounding it. When you start the machine the fabric rolls toward you in a long swath on a table you pull into place from the side and hook in front of the device. With the table in place, the fabric lays on top and the idea is that you can put your linen napkins (well…that’s what it’s for) or bed sheets (we all have those) and with a touch of a button the Mangle rolls everything inside and squeezes out the water and presses everything to perfection. Amazing!

I confess, so far my Mangle is more of a novelty than useful. I can’t promise I’ll be pressing all my sheets, but I did find it interesting to learn that Mangles date way back to centuries ago when they were constructed of wood planks and decorated with carvings. The women at that time would use their Mangles to roll their fine weaved cloth over a hot roller to get out the wrinkles. In fact it was tradition that upon becoming engaged, a man would give his betrothed a Mangle. Imagine that happening now…a guy giving his fiancé an iron along with her diamond ring??? I’m not so sure she’d stick around for the alter.

But even if women don’t get Mangles or iron for that matter, I can appreciate a culture that elevates the task of laundry to an almost art form. And I like that the Swedes devote an entire “cottage” to the tools that make everyone in the family feel warm and dry. It is a wonderful thing, clean clothes—the smell of a shirt out of the dryer. I might be camping for now, but I never had laundry this good.

I hadn’t watched the news for more than a week when a Swedish gentleman, who heard me say I was from State College, couldn’t keep himself from telling me the news. He was following the Paterno debacle quite closely and come to find out, other Swedes are too. You would think with everything going on in the world this wouldn’t be a leading story, but it is. I suppose, in part, because it never ends…first the victims and the court case, now the sanctions and the taking down of an icon, not to mention the emails and reports…it goes on and on.

But I have to wonder, if the Swedes are so tuned into this story, does that indicate this tragedy runs deeper in the collective conscious of us all? And why is it that this tragedy is so different from all the other terrible things we hear of happening? My guess is that it’s because the way the events unfolded—the time span, the hiding of the truth by people who were thought to be truthful, the fact that so many victim’s were violated and their families and friends hurt. This case didn’t just indict Sandusky; in a very real way, it indicted an entire university who enabled him. What a frightening reality!

But here’s the thing…I grew up in State College, I went to High School and graduated with Kara Sandusky—a lovely person who is still one of the nicest people you’d ever want to meet—so I can understand why this is so confusing for people, why it’s hard to believe that things weren’t the way we thought they were in Happy Valley. The folks in Centre County are understandably having a hard time coming to grips with the reality of Joe Paterno’s statue being removed from the pedestal where his bronze (and he) stood on for so many years.

While none of these sanctions can change what happened, (or unfortunately prevent people from hurting people again), I am glad to see that measures have been taken and a warning, not just in words but in action, has been sounded to every other university and institute of learning—protect the victim. The downside to these sanctions is that they will likely create new victims; the people who live in the community and depend on the university for their business.

It’s a lot to make sense of…a town to lose their hometown hero Paterno along with the “idea” of who we were, and what we stood for. It’s hard to imagine that we could ever recover…and yet, I believe Penn State can come back even stronger if they show what it means to own their mistakes, change and make things better—that means more transparency, truthfulness and honesty. My hope is that someday my hometown will be remembered for more than just this devastating event. That they will be remembered for the way they transformed through this tragedy, changing our generation and maybe…who knows…even people around the world.

Bathing in a Pasta Pot

Okay, so I don’t actually fit in a pasta pot, but I did heat water from the stove and carry it into the shower where I took a nice hot sponge bath. It’s day 3 (or is it 4…I can’t keep track) in Lindingo Sweden and we’ve yet to get the hot water working. Apparently everyone in Sweden goes on vacation in July, so it’s considered an “Emergency Call” to get a technician to come to the house to fix things and even then it will take some time:)

We did manage to buy train tickets today and ride the train to the largest grocery store on the island, Willy’s, similar to “Giant.” It involved some hiking, and carrying Maggie part of the way, but we made it. The selection of fresh fruit and vegetables was nice but expensive, although I’ve yet to figure out the exchange rate so I just pay what they tell me, “6 fuji apples for 22,30 SE…sure, why not.” For a while we stood staring at the selection of hot chocolate, trying to figure out which one to buy. Being that it was a 60 degree windy day with some rain, we felt like we needed hot chocolate, that and some Haribo gummies. There was an entire aisle full of gummies, not just Coke gummies and gummy bears, but gummies in the shape of fried eggs, peaches and frogs too! We each got a pack and hopefully they’re going to last because I don’t know how soon we’ll be taking the train to the store again.

The temporary house we’re in is lovely, shaped like a box with windows everywhere–long rectangular ones, some large that slide open, others high on the wall and in the stairwell that offer lots of natural lighting. Since it’s summer and stays light till almost midnight we don’t need much else to light the house. We are still living out of our 12 suitcases filled with summer clothes from California that so far haven’t had much use, and a few toys and books. I sat on the couch today to lounge after lunch and Maggie asked me, “Mommy, what are you doing?” I told her “relaxing,” and realized it was a new verb for her vocabulary. Until now I haven’t taught her the art of truly relaxing, the kind where you read a magazine as you sip a hot chocolate and afterward fall asleep for good 20-30 minute nap. It was strange sitting down not having anything pressing, nowhere to go, no cellphone to check, no TV or even internet. But it was lovely, just sitting, watching the birch trees bend in the wind, reading about recipes I’ll never make and good advice about cleaning I’ll never use. Mindful and lovely. I ask you…when was the last time you really relaxed?