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Megsie tagged me a book meme on Facebook, which is kinda the only meme that I can't resist. It's posting 7 books you love for seven days. When you read as much as I do, it's REALLY hard to only pick 7 books. Do you pick your FAVORITES? (Impossible to stick to 7, in that case). Do you stick to one genre? Do you play to your audience? Do you choose only newer books or only older ones? What if you like really quirky books or complicated books or Harlequin romances or you feel children's literature is underrated and not hyped nearly enough...HOW DO YOU CHOOSE? Haha! The terrible trials of a bibliophile.

I posted book 5 today (though I cheated by posting two books yesterday) and now I only have 2 more days. Or rather, NOW I ONLY HAVE TWO MORE BOOKS. The pressure is on! I'm trying to avoid obvious crowd-pleasers or books that everyone has probably already read. I'm trying to mix things up so I'm not only posting fiction, and non only posting non-fiction. But honestly, if I was going to post all the books I really loved, we'd be here forever. I feel that I'm not being fair to some books/authors that I won't have time to include. I'm not being fair to real favorites like To Kill a Mockingbird, or Winnie-the-Pooh since it seems like it should be obvious that I love those book (among so many, many others)...I shouldn't have to post those, right? You should already have read them; you should KNOW how good they are.

Every last day of every year I post a list of the best books I read that year, so I have a wealth of titles to draw from. But I've only been doing that since I started blogging, so even though that's a long time, there are still lots of books I love that aren't on those lists.

I find that I can't justify buying actual physical books as much anymore. Though I LOVE books, and I love the way they look on the shelves, and I love the weight and smell and feel of them, it's hard to buy more THINGS when I'm kind of thinking it's time to stop buying THINGS. I buy books on Kindle, but they are not nearly as satisfying (except for the instant gratification part)...they don't have a pretty color cover, for example. Maps and illustrations and photos are all black-and-white (on the model I have) and they are hard to zoom in on and see details of.

After I got my Kindle, I thought I'd mostly use it for traveling but that hasn't turned out to be the case. And even though I would normally want to have the actual physical books on my bookshelf, once I've bought them on Kindle, I don't want to pay for them again. So, I have to remember that I have purchased them, since I remove them from my device once I've read them. So far, for the meme, I've posted two three non-fiction books, two young adult fantasy books (together) and one fiction novel.


In other news, Karin has her last week of full-time work at my company this week, then she will start a project management course at Malmö University that goes through January. She's mentioned another course that she might take in the spring and then the possibility of starting a 3-year marketing communications program at Linné University in Växjö. It's only 2 hours away but the campus looks really lovely and she's heard good things about the university and student life there. Until then, she's still working hourly at my company and at a local venue in Lund that hosts concerts, movies and a nightclub.

Martin is in the process of moving into his first real apartment in downtown Detroit. It sounds like it's perfectly placed and in a nice area, and close to lots of possibilities for job-hunting which is his next mission. It's a 4-bedroom and there are 5 kids renting rooms (Martin is sharing a room, which will help to keep costs down). It's quite close to Wayne State University and 3 of the roommates are students there. I'm hopeful that Martin might consider taking classes there in a year or so to finish up his degree, but in the meantime, he's going to get lots of experience in living on his own! I'm a little bummed that I can't just pop over to his place to see it, help him get things he needs, stop by to take him out for fika, etc. We haven't made any future plans for going to the States, but he's got a year's lease, so maybe I'll get to see it before the lease is up, at least.

We had an after-work (meaning after the work-week since it was yesterday, on a Saturday, Go-Kart event yesterday with 28 people from the Marketing Department. It was 27C/80F (we're back to full-on summer temps) and it was REALLY hot since there were no clouds and no shade by the track except inside where you couldn't see anything. We were divided into two groups for a 5-lap training run, then had 2 5-lap heats each to determine the fastest drivers, then we had a final 8-lap race for the 10 fastest drivers and the 10 slowest drivers...except that everyone who was slower than me bailed on the finals, so I came in dead last. :D Guess who won the whole thing?



It was really fun and most of the group went out for a lovely dinner afterward, though Karin didn't come to the dinner since she had a previous engagement, which was just as well since she would probably have spent the entire time lording it over the others :D neck and back and arms are super sore today, though.
mood: cheerful
music: The Darling Buds—Fall

zird is the word [userpic]
I love the Netherlands so much. Although, I call it Holland more often than not, because it's my favorite place and Holland just sounds a little more cozy. On one of the last days, Karin asked me why I was so fascinated by it as a country, and I stopped and thought hard before I answered. I have loved a lot of different places. I love the drama and the beauty of Switzerland and Norway and Scotland. They give me a mountain fix. I love the smell of the air and the taste of the water in Michigan. I love the pulse and electricity and style and sweetness of Chicago.

We moved to Belgium the year that I turned 13. We lived off-base, in a tiny village called Overpelt. My dad was stationed at the equally tiny airbase of Kleine-Brogel, but for the three years we lived in Belgium, I went to school over the border in the Netherlands. I've written about this before, so anyone feeling up to it can find more info in my archives. Where? I don't know. Read them all! hahahaha! Anyway, I suspect the year you turn 13 is pretty formative and where you are makes a huge impact on you.

What I love about the Netherlands: it's NEAT, it's TIDY, it's SMALL and symmetrical and compact and cozy. The people are friendly and talkative and engaging. The buildings are tiny with huge windows and thatched roofs (far fewer nowadays, though). The roofs are gabled. The streets and yards and houses are CLEAN. It's flat and you can see for miles. There are windmills everywhere, both the old-fashioned sailed kind and the towering 3-bladed monsters. It's a land of water and fields and sheep and cows. It's PEACEFUL.

For this trip, we drove about 12 hours to the edge of Friesland, at the tip of the Ijsselmeer, which used to be an inlet of the ocean called the Zuiderzee. It was dammed in 1932 and by 1969 was a freshwater lake. Even more of the land has since been reclaimed to become a completely new province of the Netherlands (Flevoland). There's not as much tourism of the usual kind in Friesland...most of its attractions center around water and nature.

We were 7 people with different needs, including 2 small, very active boys. We stayed at a lovely campground in Warns (which once upon a time was a coastal town), in a huge house with beds for 10. It was freshly renovated and super comfy. We took turns cooking dinner, and most of the time we ate lunch out or brought it with us, as we were out exploring the countryside every day. Simone made a killer Chicken Stroganoff one night and then used up a bunch of our zucchinis and squash with a delicious sauce over our own potatoes that we brought with us on another. We managed to pack in enough frites and frikandels to satisfy even my craving for those Dutch sausages for a good long time to come. Yum :D

Some of the places we went and things we did: walking around the seaside and inland villages of Stavoren, Hindeloopen, Bolsward and Maakum. Driving out along the Afsluitsdijk and stopping at the Wadden Center that highlights the dam and the history of the Ijsselmeer. A day trip to Giethoorn that included boating around the canals and lakes. Walking along the tops of dikes, being blown by the wind (SO MUCH WIND). Petting sheep. Watching the waves and the millions of kite surfers. A morning at the beach where we found a sheltered cove and Simone hid gemstones in the sand and the boys thought they'd found buried treasure. Playing games every night including Gravitrax, Crazy Eights, and several other fun board games that I never learned the names of. Walking and mountain biking through the woodland trails of Rijs. Taking the kids to Sybrandy's Play park where all the amusement rides and attractions were self-automated. A day trip for Anders and Karin and I to Amsterdam where we had sushi and shopped and people-watched and took a canal boat tour, which we disembarked from and got to our Uber JUST as the heavens opened and apocalyptic rain poured down. An evening in the darling town of Sloten where we watched a bride and groom* light the fuse and fire a real-life medieval cannon under a windmill, with guys dressed up in old-fashioned soldier gear leading the charge. And lots and lots of quality time with my brother, his wonderful wife, their two boisterous boys, and Anders and Karin. I wish Martin and my mom and my sister's family had been there, that would have made it just perfect.

You can see more photos on my Instagram.

*Random strangers
mood: grateful
music: Sam Tsui & Kina Grannis—Chains

zird is the word [userpic]
I seem to be on a Tuesday posting streak. I just looked at my calendar and saw that, with this post, I will have posted for 5 Tuesdays in a row. But the streak stops here, because I won't be home next Tuesday, and I probably won't be thinking about posting, because as of 4 pm this afternoon, I'm FINALLY on vacation!

Only for 1.5 weeks, but whatever, I'll take it. I didn't mind working all summer, and I got a lot done, especially on projects I had no time to prioritize during the first half of this year, but I am really ready for this time off. I'm ready for a lot of things. I'm ready to make some changes and get motivated.

A few days ago, I signed up for a new choir. It's in Lund, and it's on Wednesday nights, when I rarely have other commitments. I haven't been singing for over a year now, since my last choir had issues with finding choir leaders after the first ones we had left for other challenges, and it was on Thursdays, when I often have other things booked on the calendar, like book group. And it was in Eslöv...I work in Lund, so I'm already there on Wednesdays and I can choose whether to run home and return or just stay a little late, eat something and then go to practice. And the choir is for everyone, and is a pop choir, which is what I like. I'm excited about it. It starts mid-September and goes until the beginning of December. If I like it, I'll continue in the spring. Yay for singing again!

It's kind of silly, but I've been watching Queer Eye and taking some of the things they have to say to heart. I've never seen the show before, never watched the original version that ran in the mid-2000s at all, not a single episode. It just wasn't on my radar, though I had heard about it, and we didn't have Netflix back then. It's fun and motivating, and I love the Fab 5 (especially Tan) and think what they are doing is really cool, even though it's a reality TV show, and I've never been much of a fan of the genre.

We dug up all of our potatoes a couple of days ago, because the plants were wilting and it was time. We got an excellent haul of 3 full bags, about 9 or 10 kilos. There are several yellow squash still on the way and some zucchini as well. And the carrots are about ready to come out of the ground.

My sister has been at my mom's house all summer, for 2 months in total. Her daughter was there for a bit, her son was there for a bit, and now MY son is there. And you know what? I wish I was there, too. I wish I'd been able to go spend time there this summer. I saw my mom for a week in Seattle, and I'll see my brother next week, but I haven't seen my sister in way too long. She's moving to North Carolina this summer (think good vibes for getting their house in Connecticut sold, please!) and it will be a new place that I have no visual of. I've never been to the Carolinas. She's moved a lot, and I've been lucky enough to make it to some of her homes. I think it really makes a difference to be able to visit someone and SEE their home, their space and see them in it when you live far apart. It gives you a surrounding to place them in, in your head, when you think about them.

Today, 2 of my friends and Karin took me out for an early birthday lunch. It's weird to think I have a birthday coming up in a few days. I haven't thought about it at all, really. Birthdays seem to matter less and less, especially when I don't really want gifts of THINGS. I'm trying to declutter and purge stuff we no longer need or use, so getting more seems stupid. I'd rather have to shows, things like that, things that feed the heart and soul. They gave me a gift certificate to a clothing store that I DO like and shop at, when I bother to shop, so that will come in useful at some point when I need something to new to give me a lift.

It's bizarre to think we're already 6 days into August. This summer sure went fast. I guess working most of it will do that for you. Kids are going to be going back to school here in another week or so. All of Sweden is coming back to work...our lunchroom was full again this week and will be even more crowded next week, I'm sure. When I get back to work on the 19th, I think pretty much everyone will be back, and we have new people starting on our team, to boot, plus a double office move looming (we have to move somewhere temporary for at least a month, because our new building isn't quite ready and new tenants are taking over our current one), so there are lots of things to anticipate and look forward to.

I guess change is inevitable and constant and one way to handle it is to roll with it so it doesn't just bulldoze you flat. Or you can choose to grab it by the hands and swing it into a dance instead. And sing while you're doing it.
mood: hopeful
music: Taylor Swift—You Need to Calm Down

zird is the word [userpic]
It's been borderline unbearably hot and humid here, for me, anyway. Anything over 25C and I'm wanting to move further north...though, according to one friend who lives VERY far north, it was just as hot and humid there, so maybe there is no escaping it. Today, however, though it was hot and humid throughout the first part of the day, cooled off considerably and it's now a lovely chill temperature. Especially since I opened the front door to create a draft and now the house is under 20C for the first time in ages. It's quite cloudy out and I went and watered outside, which should make it a sure thing for rain.

Actually, rain is on the forecast with these cooler temps for at least the next two days, which I am happy about, but Anders is not, since he is leaving tomorrow for a 2-day motorcycle & museums trip with a friend. They are going to the IKEA museum in Älmhult, and a motor museum and some other ones that sound quite dull if you're me and cracking good fun if you are a motorcycle geek. :) Karin is moving home tomorrow night after her stint at subletting an apartment in Lund for 2 months.

Our vegetable garden is yielding quite nicely, for two backyard gardeners who had no idea what they were doing. I've already been able to harvest several handfuls of baby plum tomatoes, and we've had new potatoes at least three times, with lots more still to dig up. I've had 3.5 yellow squashes and I pulled another one off tonight, and could see there were at least 3 more plumping up. They get big really fast. Surprisingly fast. I had no idea.

We had planted two yellow squashes and two zucchinis and I pulled off two medium-small zucchinis tonight as well; my first ever homegrown zucchinis. Yum! We love them, and grill them often. I could only see one more coming, but there might be some more babies hidden under the gigantic leaves that umbrella over everything. We planted six kohlrabis as well but only one came up and it's split down the middle and doesn't look like it will be edible, so that was a bust. We'll have to try again next year. There is a full row of carrots that ought to be ready soon and a bunch of new ones that we just planted after starting them on the porch because the second row didn't take.

And a row of nine baby soybeans that we also restarted on the porch since NONE of the ones we originally planted came up at all. I'm pretty pleased with our efforts all told. I'm glad that we planted things we knew we would actually eat. Next year, I'm going to try artichokes! Ambitious!

Last weekend, I spent some time going through old scrapbooks and notebooks and throwing piles of stuff away: most of it pages carefully cut out of magazines, from all the way back when I was a preteen: advertisements that I thought were clever, fashion spreads, games, riddles, quotes, photographs that I thought were pretty or interesting, poems, illustrations that caught my eye for some reason, short stories, comic strips, postcards and greeting cards. SO. MUCH. PAPER. I emptied FOUR notebooks and filled an entire paper grocery bag with the refuse for recycling. I DID keep one notebook with the things that I still thought were too beautiful or cool or interesting to throw away. I figure I'll look at them at least a few more times during the downhill side of my life, and since they still bring me pleasure, why not?

There were lots of other things as well, some of which I saved and some of which I tossed: programs from plays and shows I attended, handwritten lists of my favorite things from several different points in my life, stickers, photos, letters. Things given to me by people I care about. Things I saved to remind me of something or somewhere or someone. Not all of them mattered to me anymore, but some of them do. With all the sorting and tossing I am doing, I wonder if I'll purge my way to a state where I don't have anything left to go through. HA. As if. I think I need to KEEP ON going through things, sometimes over and over, and continue to whittle down the piles of keepsakes to those that are really essential to me. It's time, you know?

I saved all the blank postcards and greeting cards, though most of them didn't have envelopes with them, because I thought, maybe, I should write in them and mail them to people. I could send a card a week or a letter a week for YEARS and barely dent my stationery stash. Who wants a card with a note from me? :)
mood: accomplished
music: Erin McCarley—Lovesick Mistake

zird is the word [userpic]
Yesterday, I got an official-looking envelope in the mail. The return address was the IRS. "Uh oh," I thought, as I opened it, and I was right. I've been filing my US tax returns the exact same way for 20 years and for 2018 they changed everything. All the forms (bar one) were completely different, what they asked for was different, how they asked for it was different, and I struggled really hard to figure things out. I read all the instructions. I read them several times, but most of the time I couldn't figure out what exactly I was supposed to be doing.

And my taxes are EASY. I don't own any US property. I don't have a business. I don't have any income other than my Swedish salary, which is already taxed here, so for the past 20 years I've pretty much cut and pasted and sent things in with a whistle. Several years ago I paid an expat tax company to check what I was doing just to make sure I was doing things correctly and they gave me a gold star and a pat on the back and said carry on.

So, this year, when I couldn't carry on, I was flummoxed. (Isn't that a good word?) I was discombobulated. I was at A LOSS. I even tried to file online, but I was stymied there as well. Finally, I did my best to figure it out, and I put the numbers where I though the numbers should go, and I filled out the forms that I could figure out I needed, and I sent everything in. And then Karin and I did HER US taxes the exact same way. After we mailed hers, a few days later, I had one of those lightning bolt "oh shit" moments where I realized that on the form that asks how many days you spent of the year in the US, I had included ALL the days of our Christmas vacation, even though 4 of them were in 2019, so those numbers were actually off.

But not by much, and it didn't affect the outcome of the fact that my taxes are paid in Sweden and I don't have to pay any in the US and my income is excluded, etc.

When I opened the letter from the IRS yesterday, I didn't really know what to expect. I can't recall ever having gotten a letter from the IRS, though I understand such a letter is not something you want to get, since it usually means you did something wrong or they're auditing you, or you owe them something. In this case, they stated they were unable to finalize processing my return because one of the amounts I had entered on one of the lines required further documentation to explain it.

They asked for a list of documentation to be sent within 30 days of the date of the letter. The letter was dated June 20. Yesterday was July 22. So I was ALREADY late before I even started. I read the list of forms they wanted and started to wig out. They wanted a W2. I don't HAVE a W2. We don't GET those here. They wanted SIX other forms that I had never heard of, and have never provided before and upon reading their descriptions, realized that they didn't even apply to me.

AUGH, I cried internally, and then out loud. "Shit." I went out to the garage and told Anders that I might have to use up all our savings trying to fix this problem. Then I fired off an email to the expat tax agency I had used years before asking if they helped with this sort of things and what their fee might be, if so. Then I tried to call the number provided in the letter for international tax assistance. I got a busy signal.

I got repeated busy signals. No helpful menu. No hold queue. No "You are number 42 in line. Please hold; someone will be with you shortly." Just one busy signal after the other. On an international call that is not toll-free. GAH! I was sure that even if I did get through, that I would live on hold for the rest of my life and if I ever managed to talk to someone, they wouldn't be able to help me or wouldn't be able to figure out my issue because why would they? Americans abroad are used to their issues being dismissed or misunderstood.

I dialed and redialed a couple of dozen times and then LO! I got through to the hold queue. Where I was told the wait time was anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. It was 24. Then I heard, instead of the rather jaunty, yet soothing muzak, "Please wait." And then the phone line went to static. "Hello?" I said. "Hello!?" I cried into the void. Static. cristle cristle shrrrz. I hung up and went and made dinner.

A response came from the expat tax company that sure! no problem! they could gladly help with my problem. They'd even be happy to call the IRS for me and get things straightened out. Their consultancy fee for such services is $250 per HALF hour. *boggle* I remembered that when I had written them asking for a quote on handling Martin's taxes, which I couldn't figure out either (what with student loans and Swedish government subsidies and working both here and in the US), they had quoted me $475 to do his federal return.

WTactualF? If you go to H&R Block or some other tax preparation company in the US for help with your taxes, how much do you pay?? For someone like me, it costs approximately $50 (which is not all that much more than I paid when I LIVED in the US). If I was working abroad on an expat contract and had a company that could help out with paying for tax preparation, perhaps that kind of money would be peanuts but for someone like me, who lives and works abroad, it's a shitload of money. So I thanked them for the reply and continued to freak out.

After dinner, I tried dialing the number again, figuring that talking to someone at the IRS about what was actually wrong would be my best bet. I dialed and redialed that number another dozen times and HURRAH got through to the hold queue again. After another 20-ish minutes, a woman's voice came on the line, giving her name and a very long ID number and asked me what she could help me with. By this time, I was nearly in tears. I explained the letter and the problem and she said, "Hang on, honey, it sounds like you need to talk to an international tax attorney. I'll put you right through." And she did.

And then a man's voice came on the line, giving his name (Mr. Hargrove) and a very long ID number and asked me what he could help me with. I started over, and told him. He had me read him the letter. He asked me what I had put on the line in question, and when I told him, he asked me why I had put that number. Not being able to figure out what they wanted on a line asking for what taxes had been withheld, I had written in the amount my Swedish employer had withheld HERE, after dutifully translating it to US dollars using the exchange rate provided on the IRS website.

And then he proceeded to walk me through the entire tax return and told me exactly what to do. What forms I needed, that I had been missing. What I should put on the lines in question. How I should check to make sure what info I was providing was what they were asking for. And when I got confused, he backed up and took me with him over it again. He didn't laugh at my obviously painful math issues or get frustrated by my confusion or questions (some of which I asked more than once). He just patiently repeated things and clearly and carefully told me what to do. I wrote frantic notes while he was talking and I printed out the forms I should have included that I hadn't realized I needed, and when I asked him if he could just move over here because he could make a LOT of money helping people like me, he just chuckled. I could have reached through the phone and kissed him, honestly. He made me feel so much better.

I spent the rest of the evening re-doing my tax return, correctly this time (including removing those four 2019 days from my US vacation) and writing a cover letter to explain the amendments and what I was sending them in explanation of the error. When I got to the office this morning, I had to go to the reception to FAX them (because the US still works in the early 1700s, apparently and I suspect if Pony Express were still an option, they'd be using fact, that might be how they sent my letter in the first place), since I couldn't email them or upload them anywhere. The letter said not to mail a copy in the post as it would just confuse things, and also stated that they would not send any kind of confirmation of receipt of the fax either. So, now I guess I just wait and hope for the best.

And help Karin re-do her tax return too, while I'm at it.
mood: calm
music: The Kinks—Come Dancing

zird is the word [userpic]
How many friends do you have? How do you count them?

Do you count the ones you went to school with?

The ones you work with? Or the ones you used to work with?

The ones you live near?

The ones that are related to you?

The ones that you used to hang out with but haven't seen in years?

The ones that have friended you on Facebook...or the ones you have friended?

What about friends at the gym, or in the club, or at church, or at the pub?

And if you've never actually met them in real life...but you're friends online, does that count? Blog friends, Insta-friends, Twitter-friends (if that's a thing)?

What about the friends of friends? Or the husbands of friends? Are they friends, too? For that matter, what about the PARENTS of friends?

And your imaginary friends? Where do they fit in? Does that include the characters in books or film or television that you are pretty sure you'd hang out with if they were real (or you were not)?

And how do you define them, anyway? What makes a person rate as a friend, instead of "just" a relation or a classmate or a colleague? Is it the things you do together or the things you have in common or the opinions you share? Is it the fact that you can talk to them about anything or that you like how they write or something else? Maybe they're always up for whatever crazy idea you have. Maybe they're the one who talks you down. Maybe they're the one you know you can always count on. Maybe they're just there. Maybe you just like them. Maybe...they just like you.

According to Facebook, I have 708 "friends". If I have friends who aren't on Facebook, how will I know? :D They consist of people who went to my junior high school in The Netherlands. People who went to my high school in Germany. People who went to Michigan State with me. People who are related to me by blood or marriage, to one degree or another. People who are current or former members of the AWC. People who work with me now or have worked with me in the past, at various companies. People I have met in Sweden, who are long-time friends of my husband's (and who are now mine as well), who were in a choir I sang in. People who are neighbors. People who blog and have friended me on LiveJournal or who currently or formerly read/read my posts, or who I read that have graciously allowed me to friend them, despite never having met me in person. That's a lot of friends.

I estimate that I haven't seen at least half the people on that list in 5 or more years. Maybe they lived here once, but they've since moved away. Maybe they were members of the AWC but dropped out or are no longer active. Maybe I went to school with them or worked with them long ago. We had something in common once. Facebook keeps it in common, despite the thinness of the current connection.

And there are a good dozen that I have never met: bloggers mostly, but some others as well who friended me on Facebook for various reasons. Some who worked or work for my company but in a different country.

It's a weird feeling to meet someone in person that you consider a friend because you "met" online. Someone whose words you have read, whose life you know something about, whose family you've seen pictures of, whose kids you've seen grow. But who you don't really KNOW. You don't know the faces they make when they laugh or how they accent the funny parts of a joke or the shapes of their hands or whether they're a good driver or anything really, beyond what they have chosen to share online. There's always an element of suspense when you meet someone in person that you only know from an online connection. Will they live up to your expectations and assumptions based on what they've revealed about themselves? Will the real person MATCH your perception of them? Are they a reliable narrator?

We all censor ourselves, whether in real life or online. Some of us are better at it than others. Some of us care more, I suspect, about what we do and do not say about ourselves and those around us; what we do and do not reveal about our innermost thoughts, opinions and lives. Maybe it's just a matter of only posting pictures that show us in a flattering light. Maybe it's just a matter of only writing about the pleasant things instead of the painful ones.

I actually have lots of friends who aren't on Facebook, and they still count as friends, right? My husband, for one. And just because my kids are on Facebook, which means they are in my Friends List, they aren't active there, hardly at all, so do they count as friends? They're my KIDS. Are we supposed to be friends? And does it really matter what label we put on each other, anyway?

There are many of my Facebook friends that I sometimes wonder about: why are they Facebook friends with me at all? Do they like me...really like me? If we never see each other, never comment on each other's posts, never even "like" them, why do we stay connected? Out of politeness? Out of some sort of weird, delicately balanced, unspoken social media etiquette that says once you are "friends" with someone, you have to stay that way forever? Maybe you can only unfriend them if you find out who they voted for and it wasn't who you think they should have. Maybe you can only unfriend them if they die. Although, that doesn't actually seem to be the case. It feels like a betrayal of the friendship you once shared, if you do.

Anyway, all this musing and where's my point?

I've met several blog friends in the past and without fail, they have all been lovely people, who nearly exactly mirror the image they project online of themselves in words and photos and ideas.I'm proud to call these people friends even though mostly they live in my computer (and often very far away), and sadly, not on my street: Elizabeth, Christina, Chuck, Marie, Breana, Laini, and a whole pile of Livejournalers.

I've gotten to meet TWO blog friends face-to-face this year: I saw Chuck in Seattle (AND his wife, finally!) and even though it wasn't the first time I got to meet him in person, it was still extraordinary because of the physical distance and rarity in being able to make such a get-together happen. And Seattle was even more special, because not only did I get to have dinner with Chuck and Julie Kae, but I got to spend time with my mom (whom I also consider a friend!) and my best and longest-time friend, too.**

Photo Credit: Julie Kay Sigars

Yesterday, I got to meet another long-time online friend. Bethany used to be a blogger and she used to write wonderful stuff. She doesn't have time anymore, as her life is quite full at the moment. She doesn't read blogs anymore either, from what she said, but she's still a presence in my life. I see her posts on Instagram and Facebook and I comment there, and she comments on mine. She lives in Italy with her husband and 2 girls and though we tried once before, years ago, we have never managed to get together in person. But lately, she and her husband have been traveling to Sweden a lot for their business. Mostly to Gothenburg which is still several hours away, but this time it worked, because instead of flying straight there, they packed their kids in the car and drove north: partly for vacation and partly for work. And on the way back down, they stopped in Flyinge and had dinner and spent the night with us.

And now I can add Bethany to my list of blog friends who have crossed the line from virtual to real. I know she won't be the last. Now if I can just figure out how to get to Colorado Springs, Minneapolis and Brandon, Mississippi.

Photo credit: Karin Ek

*J.M. Laurence
**She doesn't like it when I call her my oldest friend :D
mood: thoughtful
music: All Angels—Nothing Compares 2 U

zird is the word [userpic]
When I get a little miffed that reading through my friends list and RSS feed takes me about 10 minutes these days, I have to stop and remember that I am part of the problem. It's July 12 and I've posted only twice this month so far. This post, if it makes it up, will be third. Granted, it's summer and and the weekend now, and everything slows down when it gets hot out, but really, that's no excuse. If you want to read what's out there, maybe you should be setting an example and encouraging others by writing something yourself! I'm not yelling at you; I'm talking to myself (as evidenced by the minimal amount of comments my blog posts receive, but that's another topic for another day, eh?) Heh.

Nobody said what you write has to be good.

Nobody said you have to write every day without fail.

Nobody even said that you have to write at all.

But if you do, you will be honing a worthwhile talent, exercising your brain, encouraging others to do the same (maybe) and promoting your point of view, as well as sharing your memories and anecdotes and stories. What other things do you do to exercise your brain?

I mostly read, and I play word games. Writing here is far more valuable for me, even when what I write about is banal, or subjective, or repetitive, though I try to avoid being all those things.

Like many of my fellow bloggers, I miss the heyday of blogging, when it seemed like everyone and their dog had a blog. But even if many people have hung up their keyboards, there is still a lot of writing going on out just have to look a little harder. And sometimes, be a little patient (not easy for me, who was born sans patience altogether). To me, it seems that most blogs nowadays are topical...they're 1-subject silos. There aren't so many general-purpose personal blogs anymore. I think, for most people, it was a hobby that they took up when it was trendy, just like you take up knitting or kayaking or do it for awhile, then you tire of it, and you move on to something new.

Humans are notorious for trying things, hyping them like crazy, then tiring of them and looking for the next new thing. It's why marketing works so well. It's why we're all hearing about jackfruit and maple water these days and are secretly wondering what happened to acai and kale. Heck, I think the tendency explains a great deal about why America currently has the President it does.

See? It works! I had no plans to write a post today at all. And here it is! #3 for July 2019! Woo hoo, go me!

Actually, it's all part of my master plan to force myself to stay awake until it's actually bedtime. Other strategies include not sitting down when I get home, putting laundry in immediately, watering outside as soon as the sofa starts to look inviting, writing to-do lists for the weekend. We have a lot going on this weekend and next week:
  • Tomorrow, a certain daughter turns TWENTY
  • Lots of house cleaning and yardwork
  • Anders family for dinner on Sunday to celebrate Karin
  • Overnight guests on Monday: I am finally getting to meet another Internet psycho friend in person: Bethany from the now defunct blog Coffee-stained Clarity, and her family are stopping by on their way home to Italy after their Norwegian vacation
  • On Wednesday, Karin and I are going to the premiere of The Lion King
  • Next Friday, I'm taking the afternoon off and spending it at Wanås Sculpture Park and Gardens with Debbie and Camilla
The weather is absolutely PERFECT: 74 and sunny. It couldn't, literally COULDN'T, be better. Happy weekend to you!

*Title cribbed in entirety from the great Flannery O'Connor
mood: happy
music: Katerine Duska—Better Love

zird is the word [userpic]
This morning, when I got into work, one of my colleagues commented, "Another day, eh?" and I responded, "Yeah. Sleeping, eating, showering, that all there is?"

"Pooping," he responded.

HA. True.

Work's been nicely slow the last couple of weeks, giving us some time to catch up and work on some of the projects we never have time to do. July is the month when most Swedes go on vacation, but almost my entire team is working right now, which is a little weird.

I've been doing some of what is essentially döstädning lately. Just a little bit...a drawer here, a couple of notebooks there, a cabinet one week, a shelf the next. Have you heard about döstädning? I can't remember if I've written about it before and I'm too lazy to go look. It's a Swedish thing, though it's certainly not specific to Swedes. Just that the word literally means "death-cleaning" and it's the practice of clearing out your shit yourself before you die so that your children and loved ones don't have to do it after you're gone. There are several books, even.

I've always been good at both collecting things AND purging them, but lately I find myself thinking more and more about letting go of stuff that I've been holding on to for years (sadly, not yet what I'm carrying around my waist). A couple of weekends ago, I went through some drawers and a box of old clothes in the closet and filled two bags for the next AWC clothing swap. Whatever doesn't get taken is going to charity. Some of them were clothes I've had since before I was married, none of which fit and none of which I've been able to wear for over 20 years, so that felt nice. Everytime I open that box, I'm able to let another garment go. Eventually, it will be empty or I will be dead, whichever comes first. Haaa.

Last weekend, I pulled four notebooks from the bottom shelf of the bookcase in our bedroom and threw out piles of old sheet music copies from choirs I've been in, including two from high school. I kept a dozen or so songs that I really loved and threw the rest away. It's just paper. The songs are still in my head. That led me to a box of keepsakes and mementos that was overflowing. It included ripped out notebook pages with the rules of various card games on them, a piece of paper with the translation of "Give me a kiss" in a dozen languages, slides (!) of furniture a former boyfriend made, and several other miscellaneous things that had me thinking, "Why? Why did I keep this?"

Well, because throwing things away is often akin to throwing parts of your former self away, and sometimes that is too painful to do. And sometimes, it's no problem at all. It's weird how the things that mean so much at one point of your life can finally become meaningless after enough time has passed. And everyone's passing point is different. In the box were a couple of letters and poems from Becky, my oldest and dearest friend. After I finished cleaning it out, I pulled out another box of letters that was in the bottom of a cabinet that rarely gets opened. What's in that cabinet?

Stationery. Boxes and boxes of blank cards and letter-writing paper. A box of sticker sheets from when I was a teenager. 3 small boxes of paper bookplates for pasting into the flyleaf of books you own and marking them as yours. A pile of British comic serials someone gave me when I was 14 or so, that I loved. A Hummel music box from Germany that used to hang in my room when we lived in Europe. This one, in fact. It's selling for about $30. There are a lot of them for sale on eBay and Etsy, but I wonder how many of them are actually selling?

And a box of letters, which was what I went in that cabinet for in the first place. It was an unassuming white box, shoe-box-sized, but not a shoebox. There was nothing drawn or written on it, which is unusual for things I've had so long. It was stuffed full of letters. A pile of letters from my high school Senior year boyfriend which, once I read them, made me laugh with genuine amusement: WHY had I kept them?? There was absolutely NOTHING in them worth keeping. :D But also in the box?

Pretty much every letter that Becky ever wrote me, including the one she wrote to me immediately after she left school the day before she moved away. We met at the beginning of 7th grade at AFCent junior high school in The Netherlands (she lived near the school; I lived in Belgium and I was bussed an hour each way there and back for 2 years, then I got to live in a dorm for my 9th grade year and only go home on weekends). She and I were best friends. The kind that call each other BFFs, before such a term existed. She moved away in November of our 9th grade year, back home to the New Mexico, and I didn't see her again for something like 7 years. I can't remember exactly.

Anyway, we wrote letters by the dozens to each other, detailing our lives and loves and friends and interests and sending each other drawings and poems and photos and stories. And I saved all of hers. I had letters for every address I lived at between 9th grade and my first apartment in Chicago after I graduated from college. We wrote about our secrets and our families and silly things and sad things and the good things that happened to us.

So, I opened every letter, in order, and read them all again. And I took photos of the best bits and the funniest things and sent them to her, because nowadays I don't have to write a letter to her, I can just message her instantly on my phone and know she'll see it about a day later (since we STILL have a 9-hour time difference between us). And I set aside some of the best bits to put into the keepsakes box, and I chucked the rest. Because I don't need them anymore, you see.

It's been 40 years since she moved away in 9th grade. FORTY years. That's mind-boggling. And I kept all those letters and moved them from house to house, from Europe back to the States in 1982 and then, in 1997, I moved them BACK to Europe with me. We've seen each other many times since that first long gap, at least a dozen by my count. She came to be with me in Chicago during a weekend when I really needed her. I went with her to a family reunion with her birth mother's family and she joined one of my Michigan canoeing trips that I organized after college. I went to visit her in New Mexico after the birth of her daughter. I went to Oregon several times after she moved there, including once with a relatively new Swedish boyfriend who I later married. :) She was my maid of honor. I spent my 40th birthday weekend with her and most of the rest of our gang of girlfriends from junior high. We met up again at AFCent in 2009 with some of those friends for another reunion. Last year, after another long gap of several years, she made it to Sweden, and this year, she came up to see me for a few days in Seattle, while I was there for the CreativePro Week conference.

We don't talk all the time, but we keep up online and we write once in awhile, and we call once in awhile. For two friends that have lived so far apart for so long, I think we've done an amazing job at staying connected and managing to get together whenever we can possibly do it. So, I don't need ALL the letters. It was time to laugh over them one more time and let them go. But I've still got the keepers, and the stories and the drawings and the poems.

I've still got the friendship and the love.

mood: nostalgic
music: Christine & the Queens—Girlfriend

zird is the word [userpic]
Two people, both complete strangers, that I've talked to recently on the phone, have referred to me with what I thought were rather strangely inappropriate endearments. One called me "honey" and the other repeatedly called me both "momma" and "baby girl" during our conversation.

These are women who I am betting are younger than me, and even if they are American, doing this kind of thing strikes me as weirdly off. The only people I would refer to as "honey", first of all, are my husband or my children. The only other time I would call someone "honey" is if I was being sarcastic, and using it like some people use "bitch" nowadays. Which I would never do because, honey, that's just rude.

And to refer to someone whom you have never met, have only talked to briefly on the phone, and know nothing about, as "momma" OR "baby girl" is just downright bizarre. Is this a thing? A thing that I'm too old and too out of it to get?


I had to run to the grocery store after work today to pick up a few things that were on our list, and while I was there, I thought I'd just be nice and get some hotdogs for dinner for Anders and I. Anders loves hotdogs. Like, LOVES them. They're his go-to comfort food and he has them at least once a week.

I'm not a huge fan of hotdogs*, though I'll eat them if that's what's offered, but once in a while I'll get them for dinner, because I know it makes my husband happy. I like cheese dogs if I'm going to eat hotdogs and our local deli makes good ones. Anders like spicy dogs, like chorizo or cabanossy. I picked up a combo pack for him that had 2 each of 3 different kinds of spicy sausages, a package of durum hotdog buns, and a pack of cheese dogs for myself.

Then I grabbed milk, which I figured we must be about out of (though I don't drink it myself) and the rest of the items on my list and headed home. About 10 minutes after I got home, Anders pulled up. He came into the house, carrying a grocery bag.

"Oh!" I said. "I went to the grocery store, too! What did you get?"

He got the EXACT SAME THING. Down to the exact same combo pack, the same cheese dogs, the same buns and...milk. :D

So, we had hotdogs today on the Fourth of July, even though a) it is raining, cold and overcast and b) I am not wearing red, white or blue and c) the AWC Independence Day BBQ isn't until Saturday, since it's not a holiday here...and it might get cancelled because of the bad weather which is forecasted for the weekend.


To be honest, I am feeling less and less patriotic as the years go by. I don't see how to reconcile being proud of my country with what its government is doing right now. Even if I have been proud to be an American, the pride I have felt is so tempered by the awfulness of my country's current administration that I honestly don't know if I WANT to be an American right now. I don't understand how things have gotten this bad, how the behavior that I read about every day seems to be shrugged off as normal, and how people seem to blithely ignore it and carry on with their daily lives. I know that there are lots of Americans who are NOT sitting still and who ARE protesting and doing what they can to turn things around, but it's so hard from over here to feel connected to the good things when so much of the news is overshadowed by the insanity in charge. I miss being proud of being American. I miss being glad that I am. I love so many things about America that it makes me sad to feel this way. And honestly, I think it's time to stop thinking so much about our countries and start thinking more about our EARTH. Although, I guess we have to think about the first in order to get to the point where we can think about the latter. GAH.


Our summer has completely disappeared. We've gone from extreme heat and humidity to ...well, regular Swedish weather. Cold, drizzly, windy, overcast. I hope that wasn't the end of it, though I'm not exactly complaining...the heat was murder, and I'm always much happier when it's cool...but I WOULD like some more sun, please. Also too, I talked Anders into FINALLY buying blinds for our living room where the afternoon sun beams in like a furnace on sunny hot days, making it impossible to sit on the sofa or indeed, in the living room at all, and he's currently putting the third one up (they have to be cut to size) and of course, the day after he got them was the day the weather went south. We've lived in this house for how long? Took us long enough.

And WHY do flies feel the need to divebomb your head with a suddenly loud buzzing noise when they are otherwise quiet? Is it some kind of fly sonar warning signal? They only do it by your head. Fuckers. I hate flies.

Hope your Fourth of July is full of fun, funnel cakes, family, friends and fireworks with no flies and no grumpy existential expat angst.

*Though when I'm in the States, at my mom's, I regularly eat Oscar Mayer cheese dogs, because yum.
mood: blah
music: Katherine McPhee—Lifetime

zird is the word [userpic]
Today is cool and overcast with a pillowy, layered duvet of clouds above us but it's still summer. It's still warm enough for Capri pants and short sleeves but maybe not for sandals. Yesterday and the day before that, and the day before that, were HOT. Over 30C which is close to 90 in Monopoly temps. And humid, too, which made Barky completely flip out.

Last year in Sweden it was hot early and May set records for sunshine and high temps. It was also a record year for forest fires, unfortunately, since there were so many days without rain. In July the entire country was 3-5 degrees hotter than normal and in some places the highest temperatures ever were recorded. Someone told me today that last summer there was a total of 30 days that were classified as "tropical" (in SWEDEN) when normally? There are 2.

It's not (yet) that hot this year, here, but the rest of Europe is certainly suffering. I spoke with colleagues in Munich today (37C) and in Paris (38C with humidity heat index helping it to feel like 48C). Most private homes and apartments in many parts of Europe don't have air conditioning, so as you can imagine, it's pretty grim when the heat drags on.

I have a fan or two going nearly all the time, and I open windows as soon as I get home, hoping to encourage stray breezes to help the house come down a few degrees. If we didn't have a ceiling fan in our room, I'd be sleeping on the porch, I suspect. Or not sleeping at all, since between the stultifying humidity inside the house when it's really warm and sunny, and the addition of hot flashes (which, GAH), I don't sleep at all well this time of year.

Honestly, I don't know how my friends and family who live in warmer climes can stand it. I know most of them have AC, but still. It's one thing about working in the summer that make it okay: the office is air much so that I sometimes have to put a sweater on.

The nice thing about the heat is the reaction of my rosebushes. They pretty much explode as soon as they've had about a week's worth of summer and they are going gangbusters right now. Our potato plants are nearly knee high and we've got some little tomatoes greening on the vine. Sadly, the rest of our vegetable garden doesn't seem to be doing as well...there are 2 zucchinis and a yellow squash, and a row of carrots coming up but we're not seeing any kohlrabi or soybeans at all. Not sure if we just can't tell the weeds from the veggies or if they are all just later/slower than the others or what. I'll keep watering, though, and hoping for the best!

Yesterday, when I came home it was really hot and humid, but there was a good breeze so I opened all the windows and the door for good measure and about 15 minutes later I was really regretting it: THE FLIES INVADED. GAH!! I hate flies. I must have killed over 40 of them, and Anders swatted another legion of them after he got home, but they still keep coming. Seems like a bumper crop of them this year for some reason. They weren't this bad even last year, and it was much hotter and drier then.

I'm not one to sit out in the sun or sunbathe, since my skin doesn't react kindly to it, and since I dislike the heat, I'm perfectly happy to hole up inside and admire the sunshine from the porch. Karin loves it and soaks it up and lays out on the sun lounger in the backyard every time she's home. I have a friend who loves the sun so much she insists on tanning even though she's allergic to it and suffers from severe sun poisoning. Karin's favorite thing to do in the summer is compare her skin to mine. I'm always bleached-whale white so even in the winter she's browner than I am.

Are you a hot potato or a chill pill? I'm definitely the latter, no apologies. You can always add another layer if you get too cold, but there's a limit (if you're me, at least) to how much you can take off if you're too hot, and if it's really hot, even taking it all off doesn't make a difference! I guess part of it has to do with your skin type, and part of it has to do with your median body temperature, and part with your own perception of how tan you need to be. Some people like to sweat, as far as I can tell, though they are weird and not my people. :D

I'm just hoping that this summer is nice but not as brutally hot as last year's. Hot enough to make the roses and the vegetables happy, but not hot enough to restrict grilling or start forest fires. A happy medium, that's what I want. LAGOM.

So Swedish.
mood: mellow
music: Toto—Rosanna

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lizardek's obiter photos
lizardek's obiter photos

Feeling generous? Be my guest!

I can complain because rose bushes have thorns or rejoice because thorn bushes have roses.

Abraham Lincoln

obiter snippets

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Findus the cat as used in my user icon and header is the creation of Sven Nordqvist.