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Indelible Marks

Three years have past since moving back to the States after living in Sweden for 5 1/2 years.

Some things about my experience in Sweden have left indelible marks on me.

I still think words in Swedish and have to translate them back to English. It’s funny when I do it as it doesn’t really have a discernible pattern.

I still debate endlessly with myself whether or not I should call a doctor. So my child could have a fever of 102 plus a rash and I hestitate. Should I call? If I do, will they get me in? If they give me an appointment, it will probably be just a virus. And then they’ll make me feel stupid for bringing in my child to the doctor for a virus. Never mind that the pediatrician is always happy to see us and never makes me feel stupid for bringing in a child with a virus. I just can’t get the picture of Swedish health care out of my head.

I still apologise to the doctor for bringing my sick child into the office–as if I’m wasting their time. Perhaps I endured some psychological trauma as a result of medical experiences in Sweden???

American chocolate has been ruined forever for me. I can’t eat it. I find myself dreaming about Swedish chocolate.

I now know that a fresh, ripe pear is one of the best fruits on earth. Until living in Sweden, I had never tasted a ripe pear–just canned ones. I still search for that  elusive perfect pear in the U.S.

I have developed a taste for good cheese. Sadly, my budget limits my cheese buying.

I miss riding my beautiful pink bike.

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October 2009 036October 2009 034It is unfortunate that the art of housewifery, once so revered in medieval times, is so despised now. I don’t see why we can’t celebrate the achievements of women, whether they be in the corporate world or in the more intimate setting of the home.

As my due date rapidly approaches, I have hunkered down in my home, working dilligently on a variety of household tasks. I’ve baked, prepared extra meals, organized clothes, wrestled with my budget and finished a crib set. Truthfully, it has been very fulfilling.

The project I am most proud of is completing the crib set. Ten years ago, while pregnant with my first baby, I started a crib set. I completed the bumper pad, pieced the quilt and even quilted quite a bit of it. However, since procrastination is one of my major weaknesses, I never completed the quilt. I put it away in a box and forgot about it while we lived in Sweden. A few months ago, I uncovered the box, pulled out the quilt and felt inspired to finish it. Working on it, little by little, I hand-quilted the border panels, machine-quilted the middle and Brent bound it for me. It turned out lovely. It may have taken me ten years to finish my project, but I did do it!

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new-year-2009-019new-year-2009-046This year, for President’s Day, we took a 3-hour trip to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. The area is a National Park and had a plethora of events planned for President’s Day. We really had a great time.

We watched an introductory film about the importance of Valley Forge as it was the training grounds during the winter for the Continental Army. The soldiers had to make do with very little supplies and clothing because most of the colonists were unwilling to accept the continental script as payment preferring instead stable British coin. It really disappointed me that the colonists weren’t more generous and lacked faith in the cause of the continental army. I know they were afraid and wanted to ensure the survival of their families, but it still is a shame that so many had to suffer because of it.

The boys tried their hands at weaving simple bracelets, making cards for General George Washington and discovered common colonial toys. Then we went to the visitor’s center where the boys donned continental army costumes and met George and Martha Washington (re-enactors). We sang Happy Birthday to the general in Swedish. We tasted Martha’s birthday cake, which was pretty good.

The highlight of the day was when the boys signed up for service with the Continental Army, were issued wooden muskets and learned a couple of drills. General Washington reviewed the troops and took them through a stirring and scary bayonet charge.

The kids were pretty tired after all the activities leaving Brent and I free to enjoy our drive through the park as we stopped at cabins, learning how the soldiers lived and watched a musket drill.

The park is beautiful and rather peaceful. It’s hard to imagine that over 200 years ago, our country wasn’t even a country. And while it was fun to watch  my boys pretend to be soldiers, I can’t forget that many young men, some barely in their teens risked their lives for the creation of our nation.

If you are interested in learning more about the Revolutionary War, I would highly recommend David McCullough’s book, 1776. It is a superb book and will really give you a better understanding of what the colonists faced when they chose to fight against the British.

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As a civically-minded and short-budgeted individual, I signed up to be an election inspector. I had the pleasure of being trained on the top-secret Image Cast voting machine. It had to have been top-secret, because the machine was so badly executed no one wanted to use it. In an effort to relieve the minds of faithful voters everywhere, I will now divulge what really goes on at the polls.

At 5:30, I arrived at my polling location at an small old schoolhouse. I walked in on a very intense catfight between poll workers as they vigorously debated the proper procedure for voting protocols. The nails went out and hair went flying until the argument fizzled. The other election inspectors had worked the polls together for years and enjoyed the argument as a refreshing wake-up call. I was a bit late so I set about trying to get the machine ready for the 6:00 a.m. starting time. Things were pretty chaotic as we couldn’t locate the red bag, key to all things official and absolutely vital to starting the machine. I made some frantic phone calls to the county election officials and then took out the papers I had from my training class. A careful read-through led me to discover the infamous bag and we got down to business. Soon we had the machine humming and beeping. The other workers scurried around taping signs, pinning flags, and moving tables while two early voters waited for the polls to open.

At 6 a.m., the polls opened and the day began. Meanwhile, an enterprising inspector turned on the heat. The old boiler, not properly maintained, spewed forth quantities of oil fumes leaving us dizzy and light-headed. We opened the windows and turned on the fans in a countermove leaving me feeling like a popsicle on laughing gas. When my head stopped spinning and my fingers started to thaw a bit, I waited for potential voters to use the machine.

While I waited, I put together some beautiful cards from a kit I received in the mail. After stretching a bit, I moved on to Christmas albums I am putting together for my in-laws. Around 8:30, I left to go vote in my own election district.

When I returned, I took out my project again and worked happily while snacking, chatting and watching the people drift in to vote. We had a good turn-out with about 85% people voting. People trickled in, asked for directions and then cast their votes. We had a lively discussion about the cost of the image cast machine and all its faults. Two poll workers voted on the machine which confirmed our doubts about the machine. The machine is difficult to use, slow, and complicated. It was designed for the handicapped, but seems remarkably unsuited to their needs. The consensus was that it was a huge waste of money. I heard new conspiracy theories about voting and ballots and was given great websites to confirm the conspiracies.

After this diverting discussion, I finished my projects. I then moved onto reading a novel, which I finished. I moved onto my second novel and finished it. Then we packed up the polls and went home.

Riveting, wasn’t it? I had the best day of my life scrapbooking and reading. I didn’t have to wash dishes, make beds, clean bathrooms, change diapers, wash marker off walls, help with homework, or cook. It was, in short, the best vacation I’ve had in a LONG time and I was paid to do it. As for the other poll workers, they were envious that they didn’t bring projects to work on.

Now doesn’t that make you want to work at the polls?

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Autumn in New York

Just one of many delicious apples!

Just one of many delicious apples!

I saw this charming flower and pumpkin stand north of our home.

I saw this charming flower and pumpkin stand north of our home.

I hope that song is playing in your head now. If not, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqPNHGkQl5M should get you in the mood. The video is about 6 minutes long, so feel free to listen to the first part and then skip to the end.

Apple picking is a big activity in Westchester county. I’ve heard about it a number of times throughout the year and had marked it as a must-do activity.

We went to the Wilkins farm, rented a long pole to reach the upper branches, and took our green reusable grocery bag to a lovely orchard. The kids enjoyed the tractor ride to the orchard.

Apple picking is really very simple. You pick low-hanging apples off the branches. You use the pole for the higher apples.  There is something so lovely and delightful about being outside, among the trees and grass as you pick the delicious apples. We picked a half-bushel and then rode back to stand to return our pole. The apples were so sweet and delicious. In the evening, dh tried his hand at making apple cider by hand. He managed it. We had a lovely apple crisp. For breakfast this morning, I made a Swedish oven pancake and dh made a delicious warm apple sauce as a topping. If anyone is interested in the recipe let me know.

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Isn't this a pretty picture? I would love to have it for my wall.

Isn

Swedish meatballs, mmmmm, yummy!
Swedish meatballs, mmmmm, yummy!
Look at those prices! I saved 40 cents a gallon today.

Look at those prices! I saved 40 cents a gallon today.

My kids have a holiday from school and so we decided to visit Ikea. When I told my boys, the youngest started shouting, “we’re going back to Sweden!!!!!!” I felt so bad when I had to explain that we are actually going to New Jersey, another state, to go to Ikea. Still we managed to have a great trip, even if we weren’t flying across the country to our beloved Sweden.

Everyone, including myself, was really excited to go inside the store. After dropping off two of the kids, we ran over to peruse the Swedish food market to see what we wanted to get. There was an entire crate of ballerina cookies and singoalla cookies. They blackberry saft, meatballs, lingonsylt, bilar, läkerol, pepperkakor (gingersnaps), etc. I forgot to mention the knäckebröd, the Swedish crispbread that we love so much. The most delightful snack in the world is a knäckebröd with butter, cheese and sliced cucumber. The selection was much better than we had anticipated so I mentally marked the items I wanted and we got around to the business of shopping.

I discovered that Sweden really has become a part of us, because we all felt homesick after seeing favorite items that we used or loved playing with in Sweden. The bright colors of the Swedish flag, Swedish words written on the products, and familar layout of the store made us feel at home, as if we had actually flown back to Sweden.

A visit to Ikea is never complete without a stop at the Ikea restaurant. (I’m actually struggling to write this in English because my brain keeps throwing in Swedish words to describe the experience.) We had the quintessential Swedish meatballs. I was a bit dissapointed with the mashed potatoes as we are used to eating boiled potatoes in Sweden at Ikea. But the gravy was just as good as I remembered and the tart bite of lignonberry really livened up the meatballs. Ah. . . good times.

After eating, we all had to use the restroom and I was again reminded of another favorite of mine at Ikea: family restrooms. It was so nice to actually stay together and not worry about the boys in a different restroom. I also saw this beautiful picture of the woman and child. It was beautiful. I sure wish I could buy it, but I can wait.

So my first reason to move to New Jersey may be the close proximity to Ikea. When I’m feeling homesick, it might just cure those Swedish blues. The second reason to move to New Jersey came as we needed to fill up our gas tank. The gas was 40 cents cheaper in New Jersey. In New York, gas is running around $3.69/gallon or higher. We paid $3.29 a gallon in New Jersey Hence the picture.

Gas prices and Ikea. . . could we have any stronger reasons to move?

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Optimism

Sorry I haven’t posted anything exciting. I still need to do a write-up about a driving tour we took of our town. I have some great pictures from it with a lovely church that George Washington read morning prayers in during the Revolutionary War. I also need to write about our amazing trip to Boston over the Fourth of July. Our family camping trip on the Appalachian trail had some nice moments that I would like to chronicle. All this piles up on my to-do list, as does the laundry, clothes that need to be put away and the piles of paper sitting on my desk. And so what do I do? I write a post about current events.

So a few thoughts about the current economic conditions and my feelings about said conditions.

Gas: I’m so grateful that it is below $4.00 a gallon. I think it got to about $4.64 a gallon here in Westchester county. It was alarming to fill up my tank and have the pump stop at $75.00 and still needing to add to the tank. Although I breathe a sigh of relief that it isn’t as expensive, I still feel very concerned over the current prices. It has been a positive drive toward hybrid vehicles. My husband drives a used Honda hybrid. It’s a cute little two-seater that gets 50 mpg. My husband drives about 30 miles a day to and from work total. I use it whenever I have more than two people to cart around.  I recently drove it to a training meeting because I’m going to be an elections inspector this year in November. Which brings me to my next topic:

Elections: I’m excited that I get to a part of the election process. I’m going to be manning a special machine that will allow the severely disabled to vote. Anyone is allowed to use the machine, but its design and purpose are geared toward the disabled. I am happy to avoid all the tedious details of finding names in books and dealing with potential disputes over being allowed to vote.

I’m intensely interested in the election. Neither candidate thrills me in the slightest. While Obama is certainly intelligent, an amazing orator, and skilled, I disagree with his intent to bring our country more into socialism. I’ve lived with socialism and I’ve several complaints against it. I’m not greatly impressed with McCain either and his age certainly concerns me. But I really, really like Sarah Palin. I feel like there is actually someone on the ballot who can relate to me as a mother, woman, and small-town citizen. She’s tough and smart. I’ve been disappointed with the bashing that has been directed against her on both sides. The criticism from conservative women that she is a working mother and will harm her family is hypocritical because the same standards aren’t applied to any of the male candidates. It’s sexist and completely ignores the contribution and support of her husband. I also disagree with the stance of liberal feminists in claiming that Palin’s support on some issues marks her as anti-woman. As a stay-at-home mother to four children, I have yet to see Palin’s stance as anti-woman. I realize we all have different opinions about these issues. Whatever the outcome, this is a very historic election. I hope you are all registered to vote and exercise your right accordingly.

Economic turbulence: My husband called me this afternoon and said “I wanted to call and tell you that I love you.” His tone was especially fervent as went on, “I’m so glad you convinced me not to try and buy a house when we moved to New York. The house rejected the bail-out bill.” It is ironic that we didn’t try to purchase a house. We discussed it extensively and even qualified for a loan. But I felt such a nagging sense of worry about it, then we decided against it. Six months later, we are both profoundly grateful that we didn’t buy a house. We don’t know what the future holds for us, but it is very relieving that we don’t have the burden of a huge mortgage hanging over our heads.

Sometimes we are tempted to think that markets have never been this bad or that circumstances have never been this threatening, but just looking back a hundred years in our history reveals a very different picture. In the 30’s, my own great-grandfather lost every penny he had in a bank failure. Somehow, his family survived and lived happily. The 80’s was a rotten decade for my father’s business and he still remembers that time with a shudder. And yet my parents still manage to hang on to their business and feed and clothe my sisters and I. They even managed to help put us through college.  So even though things are tough right now and may even get worse, I still feel hope for our future.

And finally, in the spirit of optimism, I made the most beautiful beef pot pie for our dinner tonight. And my living room is clean. I even managed to tackle the disgusting bathroom the boys use. I’ve locked it so it will stay clean for a little longer.

Here’s hoping I can catch up!

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