Day 139 — Storm aftermath

Last night’s storm was a little worse, it turns out, than I conveyed in the last post. Turns out that a lot of folks lost power, a restaurant at the sea got destroyed and winds were gusting at hurricane strength. By this morning, things had settled down considerably and we took a walk to see what was what. Prins Bertils Path was a royal mess. The sea had washed rocks and debris past it and made is impassable in sections. The local newspaper was telling people yesterday not to go outdoors, which we pooh-poohed but by last night their suggestion made a lot of sense, particularly near the forests. A lot of trees and branches came down.

The little local fish market got pretty well trashed though the building itself appeared fine.

This boat and the canoe below were wrecked.

This is what remains of the benches at our bathing area.

Bianca loved to play on the benches and still does.

This restaurant at Tylösand got destroyed pretty much.

I have posted this angle of the beach at Tylösand several times. This morning the sea had covered the beach.

This paved stretch of the path was impassable.

Lots of trees down but we awoke to the sound of chainsaws and clean up work was going full blast.

Lots and lots of new timber.  By late this afternoon when I came back from town the roads and bike paths had been cleared.

I should have taken a shot of our yard because there was not a leaf anywhere. I would have thought that if our leaves blew away that a neighbor’s would have blown into our yard. But, nope, our lawn was pristine.

It appears that the only real tragedy is that they took away the Christmas tree from the big square in town and we are not sure if they are going to erect another one. Mariette thinks they are a bunch of skinflints and that we will not get another one. We shall see. Anyhow, yesterday was quite dramatic for the first day of Advent.


Day 138 — “Black Friday” in Sweden

The wind has picked up in the last couple days, which is good news for the local surfers.

While Americans were being pepper sprayed in malls, Swedes were out in their wetsuits and Bianca and I were out walking.

But, enough of nature. It was time to get into town and kick off the Christmas Season with some serious shopping.

Crass commercialism has hit Sweden. Stores were open from 2 until 7 this afternoon! Ordinarily, everything is closed on Sundays but not here in chase-the-kronor Halmstad. Store windows were decorated, some of them anyway.

For some reason, these girls set themselves up in a wind tunnel to sell their cookies. More on the wind in a bit.

Lights are hung around town.

One hot dog stand was open.

The town Christmas tree was barriered off and there were supposed to be all kinds of events this afternoon: pony rides, Santa Claus, dancing around the tree and the crowning of this year’s Lucia. Due to a serious storm, everything but the last was cancelled and the Lucia procession was moved indoors to the Halmstad Theater. The wind picked up as the afternoon wore on and tonight there are sustained winds of 22 meters/second and gusts of up to 35 m/s. I don’t know how that translates to miles per hour, but the wind was really blowing and continues to blow as I write this. The news folks were saying to stay inside but there seemed to be plenty of people out and about in the stores. No pepper spray was noticed but that’s probably because of the winds. Maybe shoppers had their tasers.

A crowd gathered in the lobby of the theater and first, some kids came down the stairs and sang some songs.

Then came the sounds of the song Santa Lucia, which was originally an Italian boatman’s song but in Scandinavia now pertains to the myth of St. Lucia. Story has it that Lucia was quite the looker in her day but also somewhat of an iconoclast. Back in the day, turning down a marriage proposal was not done but Lucia did just that to a suitor. The scorned man complained to the king who had Lucia thrown in jail for her impertinence. In a Hall of Fame demonstration of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, Lucia then tore out her eyeballs and sent them to her suitor. Not quite sure of the point there. Her dream of becoming the castle librarian now over (this was before Braille), Lucia took to serving food to the prisoners in the deepest and darkest dungeons in the king’s supermax. In order to be seen in the deep darkness, Lucia took to putting candles on her head. For her good works once all the romantic drama was behind her, Lucia became the symbol of the Light out of the Darkness. The lyrics for Scandinavia have been rewritten from the Italian original to convey the message of light coming out of the darkness.

You can understand why this story would play here in Scandinavia. The sun is rising after 8 and setting before 4. Further north, the schedule is even worse. In earlier times, they thought that December 13th was the darkest day of the year and that traditionally became Santa Lucia’s Day.

Her crowning, though, occurs on the first day of Advent, which was today. Four Sundays before Christmas begins Advent, which kicks off the Christmas season here in earnest.

Here she comes down the stairs followed by her retinue. The red ribbon symbolizes the sword slash a prison guard gave her while jailed. None of this would have happened to poor Lucia today in egalitarian Sweden.

Seven must be the lucky number of the season. Lucia has seven candles on her head. She has six in her posse, making seven in all. There are seven pointed stars in many windows this time of year as well as seven candleholders in many others. Here is ours:

Very pretty ceremony. After the girls made their exit we hightailed it across the river to the big church for the Advent concert. On our way, we saw that the wind had worked its evil magic on the tree in the square and it was lying flat.

The storm is slated to blow itself out and they will stand it upright tomorrow. We really had to lean into the wind to get across the square to the church.

The town has an excellent choir and we enjoyed the Advent concert.  Christmas is the one time during the year when Swedes go to church.

On our way home from the bus after dinner, we came across a huge honking tree lying right across the road. Fir trees tend to blow over in these storms more than the birch trees because the firs still have all their “sail” and blow over easier. In Jan. 2005 Sweden had an actual hurricane that knocked down enough trees to form a pile of logs 10 feet by 10 feet all the way to Australia.

Anyway, once home it was time to light the Advent candles. You light one on each of the four Sundays before Xmas. Here is Mariette doing the honors.

The little straw goat to the left is the julbock or Christmas goat. Before he became the victim of the Santa Claus lobby, the julbock was the one who delivered the presents on Christmas Day. The little guy to the right is a tomten. These were little elves who helped out around the farm looking after the animals and so on. If you didn’t appease them with porridge they could cause a lot of mischief.

It is still blowing like crazy outside and I am glad to have made it through this long post without losing the electricity. The news is saying that winds are approaching hurricane strength. Hopefully, the trampoline will still be on our property in the morning.

Välkommen till svensk Jul!

Day 137 – Established and ready for action!

Mariette here. I thought I would write some of the post today. It just hit me today that Dan and I have basically completed a 1.5 year long project of getting re-located and established here in Sweden. It started over in the US in August 2010. We got all of Dan´s permits, got married, “evacuated” our old apartment and sold off everything and I ended my 7 year long job (through lots of tears). Since we arrived here in July we have been doing the work to get into the Swedish system, set up our house, Dan´s studio, office, dental & medical and I finally got permanent employment this week!! That was pretty much the last step. It feels like we are in place now and that the stage is set for a fabulous 2012.

The job-hunting has been something else. I had concluded that it would be logical for me to work in preschools, since there aren´t many nanny positions in Sweden.  There are about 75 government run preschools in Halmstad and approximately 20 private schools (including Montessori). The government run schools are run by one unit. They hire trained preschool teachers only. The private schools can make exceptions based on experience and simply showing that you can do good job. Therefore I wrote a letter in 2010 to all the private schools with a photo, my recommendations and CV. Once we arrived here in Sweden I visited the schools and introduced myself. This resulted in a bunch of hourly substitute work that I did all of August, September and October. I had more work than I could handle and got good insight into the different schools.

However, I was really disappointed in most preschools. They had a lack of teachers resulting in neglect of the little ones. There was only one school that I really liked. Great location (right at the beach and a 10 minute bike ride from us), nice staff and wonderful kids. However, they had told me from the start that they needed no staff, only someone to step in now and then when people got sick.

So I decided that I did not want to work in the preschools after all. I then put up an ad for myself as a nanny and got 2 jobs right away. (I work for two different families part time). This has been working well but I soon realized that I need the benefits of permanent employment here in Sweden (paid vacation, paid sick-days, pension, etc). So last week I was at my wits end on what to do to find a happy job situation. It was virtually the last thing missing to complete our little establishment program here. And then — out of the blue — the woman who owns the private Montessori School that I really like called me and offered me employment at the start of next year. Just like that! The school is getting an influx of new kids and need me to work with the small ones. I guess the lesson learned is that doing an honest, high quality job really does pay off. It has been a happy week for me indeed! So now I am going to focus on getting Dan introduced to a REAL Swedish Xmas with all its events, food and festivities! More to come on that.  Mariette






Days 135 and 136 — Occupy Halmstad?

Not all is well here in the Workers Paradise. Right now the center-right party is in control of the country. Center right is a relative term here in Sweden. Most everyone in Sweden is far to the left of Obama. In other words, there is not a lot of popularity for taking away Swedes’ social safety net programs. However, there is a privatization movement going on and it impacted close to home yesterday.

Swedish for Immigrants (SFI) is run out of the adult education center in Halmstad. Yesterday the head of all education in the Halland region (the general equivalent to a county in, say, California) came in with a couple of other members of the Moderaterna Party (Moderates, meaning right of center) and they summarily fired the rector of the school. This set off shock waves among the teachers because this woman was extremely popular with the staff, really took an interest in the students, etc. Our class was cut short because the faculty held an emergency meeting to determine what to do.

There was an article in today’s paper about the firing. This rector was someone who stood up to the plan to privatize adult education in Halmstad and her firing appears to be a push by the right to get her out of the way and install someone who is more friendly to their agenda. I found out today that earlier the SFI program was separate from the adult education system here and there is talk about separating it out again. Earlier, tuition was charged to learn Swedish and perhaps there is a plan in the works to institute tuition fees again. I smell something rotten in all of this. It must also be said that there are sentiments in the right wing here in Sweden who are upset about the number of immigrants coming into the country. There is a neo-Nazi political party called the Sweden Democrats that values Nordic purity and all these dark-haired, dark-skinned mongrels coming into the country scares them. Obviously, the firing of a person who was standing up to their privatization plans opens the door to implementing some major changes, exactly what we do not know. The teachers are holding another meeting on Monday (nothing interrupts the Swedish weekend, especially this one, which kicks off the Christmas season) and we will see what transpires. One option would be to occupy the school and close it down. A classmate said that protests as such do not gain much traction in Sweden, but writing letters and petitions and whatnot are the preferred way of responding. Stay tuned.

With that out of the way, here are some recent photos. Surfers were still out in the water. We are due for a storm this weekend with winds up to 20 meters/second, which is stiffer than we have experienced here yet. Two guys were out on their boards in the morning hours, though they are pretty hard to see in these photos, but trust me, they are there.

Those two dark dots in the center are they. Easier to see is the gorgeous sunset this afternoon (around 3:45!). We had rain yesterday and this afternoon for the first time in a month but it cleared at just the right time.

The building on the left is the school.

Sunday begins Advent and there will be a lot of doings here in the square. They crown this year’s Lucia pageant winner, Santa gives out goodies to the kids, people dance around the tree and there is a concert in the church seen in the photos above. All this will be done despite the approaching storm, which hits Saturday night. Should be very interesting on many levels: it is my first Swedish Christmas, Swedes will tend to ignore their 50 foot high fir tree blowing across the square and go on with the festivities as planned, and I am guessing that spirits will remain cheerful. I will get photos for sure.

Some other decorations in town:

These photos may not seem so sharp, either because it was getting dark or because I stayed up last night to watch the 49ers-Ravens game on TV. It started at 2:30 a.m. and ended around 5:30. Watching a defensive struggle (code for “boring”) is tough to do in the middle of the night and I snoozed through the third quarter. But there is no way I could miss the Harbaugh Bowl. Still, I am glad it is over even though the 49ers lost. Stay tuned for Sunday’s post. Things will start getting interesting again.



Days 132, 133, 134 — Happy Thanksgiving!

Tomorrow most of you will be watching football and eating turkey. Swedes do not celebrate Thanksgiving, though if there is a country that has things to be thankful for, it is Sweden (also Norway). Not part of the Euro zone, low unemployment, healthcare, etc., etc., as I have pointed out in the past. Of course, the language is a nightmare (so far), but they even solved that by everyone learning English in school. Halloween did not used to be a thing here but is creeping in more and more. Possibly, Thanksgiving will not take hold here because the Christmas season kicks off this weekend with the crowning of the Lucia pageant winner for 2011. More details coming.

Among the things Mariette and I have to be thankful for, just today, is a new (used) TV that I picked up this evening for the grand price of 100 kronor, or $14.45. Our current one was getting really funky with oddball color. This one’s picture is crystal clear. I biked back into town to the guy’s house and we loaded it into the little trailer in back of my bike and I pedaled home. Talk about a small life! The weather out tonight was a surprisingly pleasant 40 something degrees. The Norse gods are obviously breaking me in gradually.

I was not worried about being blindsided in the dark by a moose because of an item Mariette saw in today’s paper. There is a website called “1177” here that was just voted the best website in Sweden. Here it is in its simplicity: you can call 1177 on your phone and you will reach a registered nurse any time of day or night who you can talk to about any health issue you may have questions about or need help with. You can talk as long as you need to to get the advice you need to help you. If you are out of the country and, say, ate some bad pizza in New York, you can dial Sweden’s country code and the number and get help just the same. On the website itself there is a lot of information about health matters, but this phone line to a real human with the experience to help you with any issue is really something. All free, of course. Isn’t socialism amazing? I am coming to understand that the word fundamentally means that the society is people based, as opposed to, say, capitalism which is money based.

Now, if only I can get the 49er – Ravens game tomorrow . . .

Have a great holiday, everyone!

Days 130 and 131 — Mariette’s mom

We had a celebration for Mariette’s mom’s birthday on Saturday. She turned 81 but is more limber than most 25 year olds. She is like the Energizer Bunny and keeps going and going and going. Except when she is laying in the sun during summer, which is most of the time. We had a couple sunny days last week with temperatures around 50 and she was catching some rays then, too. Her idea of a birthday party was: she cooks the meal, she bakes the cake, no one brings presents and we all have a great time. Bianca did not get the message about no presents and presented two framed photos of herself as a gift along with a large chocolate bar. These were extremely well received and Ella spent the rest of the afternoon spoiling her new BFF with meatballs and cookies. The meal and cake were both fabulous.

Sunday is spent watching the college games from the day before (remember, we are 9 hours ahead of the West Coast, so Oregon-USC was replayed in the morning and Cal-Stanford tonight. Games are much faster with no commercials and no halftime. One sports oriented comment, which will probably only be understood by one person (Mike) but I have to say it: a huge difference between Andrew Luck and Matt Barkley was very apparent if one watched both the Stanford-Oregon game and the USC-Oregon game. Near the end of the Stanford game, Luck threw an interception that was the receiver’s fault; the ball skipped off the guy’s hands and was picked off. On the sidelines, Luck patted the guy (a freshman) on the shoulder and say something on the order of “No sweat.” In the USC game, Barkely and his tailback mixed up a play which resulted in a fumble recovered by Oregon which led to a late score. Coming off the field, Barkley was chewing out the running back, though the mix up was as much Barkley’s fault as the other guy’s. The announcers were the same pair that did both games and they commented on both incidents. I am sure this was not lost on any of the NFL scouts who are interested in both players.

Anyway, if there is anyone left reading this blog after that, the sun poked its head out late in the afternoon, like about 3:30, and we had a very nice sunset and here is some proof:

Next weekend the Christmas season begins with Advent. Mariette is going to immerse me in all the Swedish Christmas traditions. Stay tuned.

Day 129 — Thinning the herd

Sweden has a lot of trees. One source says that about 65% of the country is forest so there is no shortage of trees. Here in our neighborhood they have instituted a program to thin the number of trees in the area. This is the second autumn this has been done. A month or so ago we noticed a couple guys knocking down the brush and saplings in the area. Then we started seeing some trees taken out. This is continuing, though I was told by a neighbor this morning that the money for the project has run out. I also learned that there are two camps here in Görvik, those who want the trees left alone and those who want them taken away so the view to the see is more open. The Sea People and the Tree People argue about this and those who scream the loudest get their way. We have not been here during autumn so never saw this thinning operation. But there have been quite a few trees taken down judging from the piles along the road.

Hmmmm. Reviewing this post makes me think I have hit a new low on this blog.

Well, tomorrow is Mariette’s mom’s birthday so I am sure we will have photos of her spoiling Bianca rotten with meatballs and cookies.

One bit of news relating to yesterday’s post, one of the 17 men going to stand trial for seeing Halmstad’s only prostitute was an official in the regional government. He has made the front page of the paper twice in the last week. Public opprobrium seems to be the punishment of choice here in Sweden.