Thursday, 27 December 2012

Did I mention everything works?

It's about time the Swedish tourist board started recognising my efforts to spread the word about how great Sweden is.  Whilst I wait for my key to the city to be delivered I thought I'd post about the amazing snow clearing operation that happens every day like clockwork outside the apartment block where we are ta the moment.

Twice a day a plethora of snow moving vehicles arrive to make sure that there is no reason that people can't get to work.

Here's the evening shift arriving to scrape the snow and sand from the road.  Sand is put down on these residential roads rather than salt which I found strange but clearly it works.
 The snow ploughs scrape the snow into huge piles that line the streets.
And of course the boys are more than happy to just watch this going on all day.
Then just as the piles get a bit big a lorry magically arrives to take away the snow.  It all happens like with military precision.  Apparently all this snow used to just be tipped into the sea but it's considered not environmentally sound any more so it's just taken somewhere on land where it can melt.  These piles of snow can last well into the spring and children sometimes hollow them out to make little dens (which is a bit dangerous if they are at the side of the road).

Snow is also cleared regularly from the roofs so that it doesn't fall onto pedestrians.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Apartments have attics in Sweden

I'm aware that I'm in danger of turning this blog into a travel blog rather than about my family but I just find so many things about Sweden that it seam appropriate to share them.

Like this for example:  Farfar said he had to look for the Christmas tree foot in the attic (bearing in mind that he lives in an apartment and not the top floor either).  I was thinking that he surely had to be loosing his marbles but no, it seams that in the land where everything works and nothing is just just to maximise profits or minimise costs it is not uncommon for flats to have attic space allocated in the building.
The boys were very excited to leave the apartment without all their snow gear on.  These blue all in ones that you see them wearing often are the fleece under layer for their snow suits and they pretty much live in them rather than 'normal' clothes.
It gave Henry (15 months) an opportunity to practice his stair climbing.
Farfar showed us the way to the top floor where the attics space is. 
If this were England the attic space would be considered potential habitable space and 6 or 7 flats would be squeezed into the area.

Another example of this is that Farmor and Farfar's utility cupboard in the flat is bigger than the 3rd bedroom of our old house in England.  It's funny what we end up accepting as ok when we don't know any better.

Handmade Christmas

Remember last year when I had loads of time on my hands?  Me neither but somehow I manged to make most of my gifts and I thought I would give you a little reminder of them!

Salt dough gift tags
I use a simple recipe of 1 cup salt, 1 cup warm water and 2 cups flour.  Letter stamps are used to write on them before baking.

Homemade Marmalade
This was a staple gift for neighbours last year.
I used glass storage jars from IKEA and made salt dough gift tags which say 'mar-mal-ade'  on them.  If you cook salt dough for a short time at a high temperature that turn a lovely brown colour (yes that's right - brown not burnt).
The jar is then finished off with an orange sparkly ribbon.

Rainbow Scarf
If something stays in one place for a long time in my house there is a real risk that I will crochet a cover for it such is the extent of my love for this craft.  It's so easy to learn and great if you are impatient and need to be able to produce things in hours rather than weeks (or years in the case of my yellow knitted jumper).
This beautiful rainbow scarf is took me two evening to make and I chose lovely bright colours in a soft organic yarn.

Natural teething rings
When you have a toddler and a baby you inevitably get to know a lot of other toddlers and babies so I have been making a lot of different gifts.  Here is my favourite gift to give a baby.....a yarn covered teething ring.  You can buy them here!
These rings make wonderful 'first toys' for babies as they are learning to grasp at around 3 months and then can be used as teething rings when needed.  I made these with high quality 100% cotton yarn and natural untreated wood.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


After my post about Swedish schools I received an email from Sarah in Maine asking if I could post a picture of a Skumtomten.

Here you go Sarah!

And if you feel the need you can also visit the manufacturers website for these little foamy Tomtens where you will discover an interactive advent calender counting down to Christmas day.  You can click on each day and see the Tomten in a different place like on a train or in a bowl of crayfish.   I particularly like these ones.....

Pea soup and pancakes

'Pea soup and pancakes' is a meal eaten across Sweden, and other Nordic countries, every Thursday evening.   Allegedly the tradition arose from a Swedish Prime Minister in the 1880's who served pea soup and pancakes each week to a group of friends who came round to play bridge.  A King also died in the 1570's from eating a bowl of poisoned pea soup.

The soup is made from yellow peas, onions, pork pieces and stock and is cooked for a few hours until it becomes really mushy.  It is usually served with the mustard and worlds strongest vinegar [antifreeze].
The dessert is almost always pancakes served with lingon sylt (that's the same jam stuff they give you at IKEA when you buy the meatball meal) but it''s not really dessert but rather part of the meal.

We are currently going through a phase of trying to eat only homemade food without any refined sugars so we knocked up the jam by mixing boiled lingon berries with honey.  It worked really well!
For those of you thinking that pancakes should only be eaten with sugar and lemon; I know, I know but it tastes really good this way too :).

Henry certainly loved the pancakes!

Friday, 21 December 2012

Farmor's snow angel

One of the best thing about the boy's grandparents is that they are not afraid to enjoy themselves in burst on spontaneity!

Exhibit A: Farmor's snow angel...

Freddy didn't want to be left out so Farfar helped him do his very first snow angel too.  Poor little thing didn't have any gloves on but Farfar insisted that the angel wings should extend to the end of his fingertips; you're a stickler for tradition Farfar!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Fine motor skills

Henry is 15 months old now and my little man has no qualms about telling me what he likes and what he doesn't.  His favourite things at the moment are kitchen utensils and anything that involves testing his dexterity. 
Freddy wanted to run and jump at this age but Henry is more happy finding little holes anywhere he can so that he can poke his fingers in - that's what made this money box and coins so appealing to him.

These last 6 weeks I've watched him grow from a baby into a babbling toddler and I've loved every minute of it, and of course being back in Sweden makes it even more enjoyable too.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Swedish school tour

My sister in law was lovely enough to invite me to her school for a visit the other day!

She is one of a group of teachers that got together and formed their own 'free school' in Stockholm.   The idea of free schools is that s group of parents (or teachers) can set up a school however they like and wherever they like (although they must teach the Swedish curriculum).   They receive money from the government for each child enrolled or about £5000 ($7700 US) each year  In 2008, more than 10% of Swedish pupils were enrolled in 'free schools'.

At this time of year the days are really short - just a few hours of light really.  This is the school at mid day - you can see it's starting to get dark already.
If this were an English school I have no doubt that it would be closed because of the snow but here as always everything continues in all weather; the buses run on time, the trains continue and the roads are cleared regularly.

Mia explained to me that throwing snowballs is banned at the school so I refrained but it soon became clear that if a student is caught making a snowball they just say that they are starting a snowman.

I arrived at the school just in time for lunch and on the menu was Tomtegröt which translates roughly as Elf Porridge.  Basically it's rice pudding with a sprinkling of cinnamon on top (yes this was for lunch).  Although it is a savoury dish any leftovers can just have fruit and sugar added to make a dessert.

According to folklore, a plate of Tomtegröt is placed in a bowl in the garden on Christmas Eve to keep the Elf that looks after your house (Tomte) in a good mood for the coming year.

It's considered extremely bad manners in Sweden to wear any ind of outside shoes inside, which makes sense when you see the snow of course.  This is the sight that greats you when you go into one of the many school buildings here.
Here's Mia doing a face palm as one of her students struggles to find the right day on a skumtomte filled advent calender.  Skumtomtes are festive foam type Father Christmas shaped sweets and during a visit to the teacher's office I discovered that Mia has a secret addiction to them that has resulted in her filling up the advent calender several times over. 
My job was to talk to the students about the differences between English, French and Swedish schools. They were most interested in asking about what the school uniform and make up rules were in England.

I found it hard to come up with things that are better in England than Sweden in terms of education not least because after 5 minutes in the school you can just feel how happy everyone is and how the students actually want to be in school.  There was such a feeling of freedom as the students are allowed to come up with their own study plans and are given lots of free time for self directed study.

There are even student offices like this one where each child has a desk and cupboard so that they can do their homework at school (although they hardly ever get homework at all).  It is not uncommon for them to hang around here together well after the end of the school day - can you imagine that in England or France?
Class sizes seemed really small and I couldn't help but notice how quiet and spacious the school was.  Here are the art, textiles and woodwork shop - pretty good resources for a school with 400 pupils.

Can you see the traditional Swedish loom that came from the house in the countryside to be lent to the school?  We'll have to get that back to the barn so I can have a play on it one day.
I I also discovered a building with animals in and it looks like they have won a few awards of some kind.
Classes finished at 3.30pm and look how dark it was by then!
 Thanks Mia (and all the students) for a lovely day! 

Monday, 17 December 2012

Back to Sweden!

We are all really excited to be back in Sweden for Christmas!

Freddy has now turned 3 and Henry is 15 months - perfect ages to start to play together.  It's funny that often Freddy will copy Henry rather than the other way round and has even started mimicking some of the sounds of words that Henry uses.

I've noticed that if we give them a toy to play with together they cannot share and a scuffle usually breaks out.  However, if they 'discover' something together like a bag half filled with our clothes for Sweden they are able to play together nicely for a long time.  Why is that so I wonder?
A suitcase is just as much fun too.
Our journey to Sweden was just perfect - even travelling with the children has become much easier.  Any new environment brings out the wildness of the boys and they rolled around on the floor of the departure lounge together for more than an hour.
And of course they discovered all kinds of interesting things to do like crawling through the arm rests of the chairs. 
There was not a hint of boredom from them and they hardly even noticed the planes taking off and landing just outside until it was time to go. 
I hope they find fun like this together for many years to come.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Farfar's package contained snow!

Well it looks like the parcel that farfar sent was filled with lovely Swedish snow because when it arrived at our home on the outskirts of Paris we had an overnight flurry of snow that lasted 24 hours. 
It came, we built a snowman and then it went.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Looks like it will be a white Christmas!

Winter has well and truly arrived in Sweden now! Here is the local play park in Stockholm close to Farmor and Farfar's apartment.
At the moment we are still in Paris (without snow) but very excited about returning to Sweden for a white Christmas.

And here is Farfar heading to the post office to send a special package to Freddy for his 3rd birthday in a few days!
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