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Archive for August, 2007

Midsummer in Sweden

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Midsummer. Our last in Sweden. Midsummer highlights all the best and beautiful of Sweden in one glorious tribute to the longest day of the year.

And, as usual, it was raining. I’ve never attended a sunny midsummer in all the five years I’ve lived in Sweden.

But somehow, because it was my last Midsummer in Sweden, it was still a glorious day.

A few hours after our 24 hour drive through Europe, we crawled out of our beds, put on clean clothes and drove to a small town on the East coast of Sweden. Our friends welcomed us to a smörgåsbord of pickled herring (sill), meatballs (köttbullar), potatoes (potatis), hot dogs (korv), crisp bread (knäckebröd)  and other Swedish specialties. I piled my plate with the mustard pickled herring, knäckebröd, potatoes and poured a glass of saft. The traditional Midsummer drink is schnapps, but we’re Mormon, so there were no schnapps to be had.

Then we walked across the street by the old church and to a small square where the Midsummer pole was put up. People joined hands as the music began to play and we danced around the pole singing old Swedish songs about little frogs, washing the laundry, etc.

Dh made me a wreath of flowers to wear on my head. I felt Swedish. It was a day to celebrate the past. Swedes love the summer and this is the ultimate summer celebration.

We took a tractor ride around the village, kids yelling and laughing, music playing in the background, and the Midsummer pole, rising high up in the air.

After more singing and dancing we went back to our friend’s home and grilled. One of the boys began strumming a guitar and we sang old songs.

A perfect day.

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Do you remember my amazing friend who let us stay with her in London? Well, she volunteered to watch my boys, along with her three boys for our last day in London. Walter went to school with Parker. Then later that day, my friend bicycled all 5 boys in her Christiana bike (I would love to have one) through the London streets to Parker’s swimming exhibition. Amazing. Then she prepared a fabulous picnic dinner for us and we played croquet. It was wonderful.

Since my friend took care of the boys, MIL, Dh and I went to the British Museum. Of and the baby tagged along. I love the British Musuem. I love walking around the artifacts and seeing all the information available. I love the way the museum is designed. And I love that it is free. Of course, you do have to pay for some special exhibits, but I’m perfectly content with the free exhibits.

We had a fantastic time admiring the Egyptian, Assyrian, and Greek artifacts. I was really interested with an Assyrian artifact which showed the tributes received from various countries within the Assyrian empire. The Bible mentions the Assyrians and Israel was a part of the empire at one point and time.

I’ll post a few pictures so you can see some of what we enjoyed.

We had a great, traditional English lunch at a pub. I had roast beef and yorkshire pudding. We took the tube over to the London Tower. Close to the tube stop is a fantastic sundial which has a timeline of the history of London from 43 a.d. It was fascinating to walk around the sundial through 2000 years of history.

We walked around one side of the Tower of London and then returned home for our picnic.

The next morning, we drove to Harwich, took a ferry to the Hook of Amsterdam and then drove home. The journey took 24 hours. Fortunately, we booked a room on the ferry and DH and MIL took a nap while I watched the boys. The trip on the ferry was 6 hours. Then we drove home through rain, traffic jams and the like.

One last funny thing, while in Germany taking a rest stop, we had to use the bathrooms. We paid money to use the toilets and to my astonishment when I flushed the toilet, the entire seat turned around and cleaned and sanitized itself! It was so funny. I just sat and stared at the toilet. (Yes, I was tired.) When I told a friend of mine about it, she told me that she had a similar experience and filmed it because it was so crazy!

We had a lovely time on our European Vacation. Now I have to write about our summer adventures in Sweden. It never ends.

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I’m a HUGE Jane Austen fan. And when my friend told me that Stonehenge and Bath would be a manageable day trip, I promptly insisted that we would make the trip to Bath. DH was happy because he’d get to Stonehenge and I was happy to visit a town that I had read so much about.

And it totally lived up to all my fantasies and expectations. The town has totally retained its Georgian flavor. With period buildings all over, signs indicating famous personages’ residencies and the Roman bath ruins, I felt like I had stepped into a weird time warp where people were dressed in 21st century style but the late 18th early and 19th centuries were clearly alive. It was obvious that we were dressed incorrectly and that I really needed to change into a nice bonnet and a empire-waist dress. Sometimes, 21st century clothing really takes the romance out of life.

But first, I have to tell you that the drive from Stonehenge to Bath was amazing. We had requested a scenic route from our GPS and scenic was what we got. Lush green fields, flowers bursting in bloom, old villages with ancient stone houses. I almost fainted from ecstacy like a heroine from a gothic novel. (Ha! Ha!) 

 When we arrived in Bath we drove through the narrowest streets I had seen. I was afraid that the GWB would not make it and that we would be stuck in the street, like a cork in a bottle. But alas, we escaped the tight streets and parked our car.

We walked to the Roman baths where I got a great view of the Pump Room–the place where ladies and gents would go to drink the healing waters and gossip about each other. The Pump Room overlooks the Roman baths which are supposed to be among the best preserved baths in England. We balked at the entrance fees and instead peeked around and looked through a fascinating book on the subject. (Brilliant pictures–and the ruins look magnificent) and then went on our merry way to the Bath Abbey. But once you’ve seen one or ten cathedrals, you’ve seen them all. My kids were happy with the pencils and rulers they got (Jesus loves me!) and then we walked along, enjoying the thrills of the architecture. I was having a lovely time pretending to be an heiress in the early 1800’s and imagining scenarios from Jane Austen’s novels. Okay, but I guess heiress isn’t quite right, unless you think of Emma–who was clearly and heiress. But the rest of Austen’s heroines are rather loved on their physical and intellectual merits. Anyhow, I’ll post some pictures in a bit.

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Superheroes revisited

Superheroes are a hot topic in our house as we have 3 boys. One of my sons and I had the following conversation yesterday.

 Son: “Mom, is Macgyver a superhero?”

Me: “I don’t know, what do you think?”

Son:”Yeah. He saves people and stuff.”

Me: “I think so too. Are you a Superhero?”

Son: thinks a minute before answering “No. I don’t build smoke bombs to save people.”

Me: “Um, okay.”

Son: “Mom! You’re a superhero!”

Me: “Me, why?”

Son: “Because you don’t kill people.”

You heard it folks. I am a superhero because I don’t kill people. I feel like I deserve that label this week.

Now to figure out my superhero name. . .

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When contemplating this entry, I  realized that I had nothing interesting to write.   We drove to Stonehenge, joined the tourist herds, felt sufficiently awed by the stones, listened to the audio tour (Josef listened to his in German–poor kid, he’s so used to hearing different languages, he never complained that he didn’t understand it.), and had a picnic while gazing at the huge stones.

Yeah, it was cool. But I’m not going to torture you with the speculations of anthropologists or archealogists.

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It was bound to happen after all the celebrity news I’ve been reading or maybe it was the fact that Grouchy and Crabby have been both my first and middle names but I got out my exercise dvd’s.

I feel stretched, a tiny bit sore but satisfied. My secret? Yes, my friends, I can tell you are dying to try this one out: Pilates with 4 kids hanging on you.

I lay on the mat. The baby laid her head on my chest. I strained to see what the toned and lithe instructor was doing. My oldest son was saying, “here Mom, you put your leg up like this–” and he pulls up my leg like that. Oh yes, feel the stretch. The other two boys crowd around me, trying to give helpful hints.  It was supposed to be a relaxing routine designed to release tension and stress and lead into a peaceful evening. But a posture named “the corkscrew” doesn’t feel or look stress relieving.

But I do feel more relaxed. I spent so much time laughing at the kids as they attempted to help me and at my own pathetic attempts to breathe, stretch, pump the arms, etc. that I am sure I released some endorphins.

I’m sure I have an award-winning exercise tape if anyone ever wants to fly to Sweden to record it. Anyone???

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After our extremely intense day in Paris, we decided to take it easy in London. We stayed with my good friend, whose hospitality is FABULOUS! She was great at giving us tips and loaned us the oyster cards to use on the tube.

This is only my second time in London (although I hope not the last) and once again, I felt the same sense of familarity when I entered the city. It comes from the thousands of books I have read, both fiction and non-fiction, set in London. So, in a sense, it is definitely my literary home.

Last time we visited London we visited a lot of museums. But this time we decided to do more touristy things. We took the tube so that we could walk through Green Park and then see the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Our tube stop took us to Trafalgar Square where we snapped photos of the kids cuddling in giant lion statue paws. It was a typical scene on the street–the usual busy traffic, with lots of black taxi cabs and red double-decker busses and lots of tourists taking pictures and pointing at the sights.

From Trafalgar Square, we walked to Green Park. It was on this trip to London that I realized that Londoners take their parks very seriously. Beautifully landscaped, charming ponds, fowls, squirrels, and everywhere people taking a stroll, some read newspapers while sitting on the numerous benches. There were even rows and rows of lounge chairs that you could rent and enjoy the sun. Actually, the whole park reminded me of the movie Finding Neverland where J.M.  Barrie meets the widow and her boys for the first time. In this park, I could easily imagine Victorian families coming to the park for a picnic or a game of croquet. And I could picture starchly dressed nannies pushing prams around and leading stiffly dressed children around on a walk.

We enjoyed our stroll through Green Park. Trent and Walter tried to feed the squirrels nuts. Then we heard some band music. We hurried through the park to Buckingham Palace where we watched the band march away led by a mounted leader. We had missed the changing of the guard. I did feel gratified at the stately discipline the marchers had as they held their instruments at rest. Each member had a dagger in the bag–even the band members have to be expected to fight.

We fought the crowds at the Palace to walk towards Westminster Cathedral.  I hadn’t done my research very well and couldn’t remember if Westminster Abbey or the Cathedral was the place we wanted to go. The kids got hungry so we stopped at Pizza Hut. Yes, I know, it is a terrible thing to go to an American restaurant when you are abroad. But I have to say that we have lived in Sweden for 5 years and I feel entitled to visit American restaurants if I want. I’ve eaten my share of ethnic food and the kids definitely don’t appreciate it. We knew that we would all appreciate the buffet and we did.

After our filling lunch we went to the Cathedral and discovered that it wasn’t the place we wanted to visit. But we did peak around the late 19th century building. It was a nice church. My kids really liked it and donated a few coins to the church without any prompting from us.

We then went to Westminster abbey and were appalled to find that the entrance fee was £ 10. That is roughly about $20.00 per person. We debated what to do since it was such a high price to pay, but finally my MIL said that we should go. They had a great kids trail that I used to take the boys around. DH and MIL went around at their own pace.

Westminster Abbey reminded me of a very full attic–except that this place wasn’t full of antique junk but rather lots of and lots of graves and memorials. Most of the kings and Queens of England were buried here. Just a couple of tidbits about Westminster Abbey:

1. The Stone of the Scone is missing from the coronation chair which has been used since 1308. Schoolboys from the past have actually carved their initials on the coronation chair.

2. Queen Elisabeth 1 is buried beside her sister, Mary.

3. King Henry III was responsibile for building Westminster Abbey.

4. The Westminster Abbey has a school attached to it–apparently a very good boarding school. And they have an amazing boys choir. We watched them rehearse. There were boys as young as 7 who had amazing pitch. The director would stop the boys and they listened perfectly attentively and then begin at a different part of the song–without a pitch pipe.

5. Trent and Josef got to dress up as little novice monks at the small museum. They looked adorable.

6. My favorite part was the writer and poets’ corner. I got a huge lump in my throat when I read the memorial stone for all the young poets who died during WWI.

Even though we were hesitant to pay the enormous entrance fee, it was well-worth it. I highly recommend the children’s trail. After completing their worksheets, they redeemed them for chocolate medallions. It was very motivating for them.

We ended our day by admiring other famous London sights: The London Eye and Big Ben.

It was a perfect day.

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