An Arctic Road Trip

Back in February, Momma S and I packed the prius with as much winter clothing and snack food that would fit strapped the boys into their car seats, and hit the road heading north.  Destination…the Arctic Circle.

Day 1-2:  A quick 6hr drive to Stockholm.  Meet with a good friend, celebrate Momma S’s birthday, and take in a ferry ride to a toy museum.

Day 3: Visit the US Embassy to apply for a new passport for K, then a long haul up E4 till we reach Umea.  Recently featured in the NY Times 52 places to go in 2014, Umea was a great place to stop.  Good college town vibe, snow castles build in the center of downtown for sledding purposes, and a pretty good art & music scene.

Day 4:  The Arctic!!

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Day 5:  Dog Sledding.

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Day 6: The Arctic Road.

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Day 7-8:  A long haul home, made possible only with the magic of Harry Potter.  By this point, K & M were done with being in the car.  From Almhult to Porjus, where we stayed in the Arctic, alone was over 1500 kilometers, not counting all of the extra driving we did to go dog sledding, to drive up a mountain in the middle of the night to get above the clouds so we could see the Northern Lights, and just to see the Arctic.  So, the long road home was proving to be very long with two cranky boys in the back.  Luckily, we picked up an audio CD of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and introduce K & M to the world of wizards and witches and broomsticks and magic.  That CD lasted a good day and half, which allowed us to arrive home all in one piece.

Looking back on this trip, I have to say that a road trip to the Arctic, in the dead of winter, was the perfect adventure for this familynomadic.

Art, Nature, History…Wanås!

Three kilometers outside of the rural village of Knislinge (20 minutes east of Hässleholm ) you find the old manor/art galleries of Wanås.  The Wanås estate is dedicated to uniting the areas of art, nature, and history and proves to be a wonderful day excursion if you happen to find yourself in southern Sweden.

With Spring in full bloom, now would be a wonderful time to explore the estate, to amble along the paths, never knowing what beauty or mystery awaits around the corner.  Momma S, the boys and I visited Wanås in the Autumn, and even then we were transfixed by the installations that they had.  We have been told that many of the art pieces themselves seem to change with the seasons, continually creating new impressions and sights.  What made the visit so fun is that many of the installations are there for you to interact with.  The boys had so much fun exploring the giant cinder block type cube in the middle of the forest, or climbing over the multicolored Tetris like formation, or listening to the eerie cries of a little boy echo through the trees of a piece designed for your audio pleasure…and mystery.

With cafes for the taste buds, an upside down house, tree swings, and words of wisdom etched in rock walls (if you take the time to search them out), Wanås offers a bit of joy for everyone in the family.

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The Long Silence

Blogging is a hobby that becomes an expectation.  I began this blog to help me cope with the adjustment to stay-at-home fatherhood as I relocated to Sweden with my family.  It was a way to connect to the greater world, to remain active while staying home.  From there, I developed a relationship with a few other bloggers, I would read their posts and they would read mine.  Connections were made, regardless of how fleeting.  Soon, I found myself looking at everything I did through a blogging lens where everything was treated as a blog post.  How could I share what M just did in a way that could really capture the humor of what he did?  More to the point, how can I tell a version of what he just did that would be funny to others?  As I don’t show pictures of my family where their faces can be seen, suddenly there was a prolification of photos in my iPhoto’s album with the back of my boys heads.  And over the first year I tried to capture all that I could and share it with you.  I worked hard to meet your, and my own, expectation that I would actually tell these stories.

Then, it stopped.  The connection ended and the attempt to cast everything in a humorous manner became a burden of time I could no longer afford.  For those of you that regularly visited this blog to read about these misadventures of parenting abroad I apologize.  But, life happened, which it tends to do to most of us.  I went through another transition, one from being a hemmapappa to being employed full-time in a new and challenging career field.  On top of the new job, I also enrolled into an on-line program to acquire a more complete education in this new field; and with all of that, and working to remain a caring father and a loving husband, I stopped updating this blog. 

The funny thing about stopping the blog is that I never stopped using my newly acquired blogging lens.  Every trip or experience I have had with my family, I have mentally examined how I could write that up for this blog.  The number of photos with just the back of M or K’s head has remained at the same level.  Even my wife has commented now and then that I should really write up a particular experience for this site.  So now, I have a huge backlog of experience to document for you…or perhaps just for me.  Cause it is hard to say how these virtual connections work and whose expectation I am meeting.  Is this a blog for a regular readership, just the occasional visitor, or just myself?  Who is my audience?  As I look back at my posts, I see that infused throughout these stories of parenting abroad is a focus on what to do when in Sweden, and more specifically Almhult.  That really limits my audience; but a few weeks ago, I received a notice from a reader who found this site and told me that they found it very useful for them as they were preparing to make the move to IKEA land.  And it is for those readers, who are looking for some help in adjusting to this part of our small world, especially with children, that I need to update this site with all of the funny little antics that this nomadic family has experienced over the past year.  So, with out committing to anything and setting up no expectations, I hope to return to this venue of story-telling and share more of what has happened to family nomadic over the past year.

Do not Smile or say ‘Hej’

 

One of the first impressions a stranger to Sweden might get is that the average Swede is very aloof and reserved.  This is often seen on the streets where nobody smiles at each other, makes eye contact, or in any way acknowledges the existence of the other…unless of course they are really good friends.  This is often perceived by outsiders to be rude.  (At least outsiders from the North American continent and other friendly places.)

 

Today, at precisely 6:13pm I realized why this is the norm of behavior in Sweden.  It actually has nothing to do with being rude, but instead it is a collective cultural norm to help everyone save face.  Essentially, this practice is a form of social evolution to allow individuals in this society to suffer less embarrassments and awkward moments.

 

Now, last year I did not realize this and I was quite frustrated with the “unfriendly” Swede and went out of my way to make eye contact, smile, and say ‘Hej’ to anyone I passed on the street.  This is a typical adjustment strategy I use when first moving to a new country.  And this strategy got me nowhere in Sweden…except for that one time when I basically pinned another hemmapoppa in the corner of the Systembolagat.  Anyways, last year I was new here, I did not know anybody and I thought this would be a good way to show I am friendly and approachable.  (Hint Hint Swedes…I am looking to make some friends.)

 

It was not until just today that I figured this all out.  Though I just had a conversation with some new colleagues who explained that they get quite confused and startled if anyone they don’t know says ‘Hej’ to them, I still didn’t get why they did not greet acknowledge others on the street, until this happened:

 

I was walking out of the Chinese restaurant, taking some yummy Asian noodles home for K (who insists that Asian egg noodles are the best possible food in Almhult), and was about to cross the street where I almost cut off a bicyclist.  We both stopped, made brief eye contact…as we were about to collide I think it was appropriate to have that sort of communication, but then it happened!  I think I knew that person…but I couldn’t quite be sure.  So I said nothing.  I ignored her, waited very tensely for the crossing light to turn green, and hoped that I really did not know the person and was being quite rude.  And that is when I realized why Swedes don’t make eye contact or greet people on the streets…you never quite know who you are talking to.

 

Remember, this is Sweden.  The sun has set at 3:30 and it has been dark for over two hours and it is only 6pm.  So it’s dark, not a big deal until you then realize it’s December in Sweden.  This woman had a big wool hat pulled down half over her face, a matching white fluffy wool scarf covering the other half of her face, so the only distinguishing feature visible to make a positive ID on this person were two blue eyes and blond hair down past the shoulders.  Hmmm…blond hair and blue eyes pretty much describes ¾ of the population here.

 

So here I am, having nearly knocked over this woman on her bicycle, at night, in the cold, impatiently waiting to cross the road hoping that I actually didn’t know this person cause I could not be certain of who she was to begin with, because I couldn’t see her bloody face through the wool and night sky!!  And I couldn’t rightly say ‘Hej’, cause if I really didn’t know her then I would be that rude foreigner going around saying Hej’ to everyone like we were best mates or something!!

 

Yes, I see it now; it is much safer to go about your business in town and not acknowledge anyone and if everyone rightly follows this practice, then no one ever will be considered rude…unless of course they decide to look at you, smile, and say ‘Hej.”

 

Vako: Another walk in Smalands

Leaving Burma for Sweden there was one main thing I was looking forward to…Fall.  Today was a day that made my soul sing. The colors are just past peak, but vibrant yellow and burnt orange colors surrounded my family and I as we continued our new tradition of finding a different nature reserve to hike in every Saturday morning.  Vako Myr is a 13km square protected bog/mire surrounded by pine and birch trees.  A vast fire tore through the bog in 1992, be the growth since then twisting up the scarred husks of burnt out trees was a great contrast to the other reserves we have visited.  Just outside of Almhult, Vako Myr is easy to get to and absolutely beautiful, especially on such a fall day as today.  The trail is relatively short, but the majority of it is two planks of wood set down to keep you from sinking into the mire.  The planks lead you to two islands, the first which was last inhabited in 1903 and the second which provides a striking panoramic view of the mire as it stretched into Skane.  For those that wonder why we decided to move to Almhult, Sweden…here are a few pics from today’s hike that sums up the reason pretty well:

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Höö: Another walk in Smalands

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Our second autumn walk took us to Höö Naturreservant.  This is a very lovely place with multiple well marked trails, a B&B, and an assortment of animals and terrain.  This area, on the north end of Mocklen Lake, has been … Continue reading