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This weekend delivered all the things that make spring in Sweden unbeatable. Pretty near perfect weather, with high blue skies, warm temps, and cooling, leaf-ruffling breezes scented with lilac. The sun shines until nearly ten, sinking slowly down through a pastel rainbow of lavender, blush and blue. The moon’s a silver sliver; the evening sky speckled with stars.

A fat hedgehog trundled past the trellis yesterday evening, while we were watching ice hockey (which we’re doing again tonight, cheering on Sweden in the gold medal game of the World Championships. If they win it will be twice in a row: the score is tied at the end of the second period and both teams are on fire).

My friend Chuck recently described the place I live as a hamlet, populated by bunnies and ruled over by a benevolent king. He was right. But I should add that this weekend it was ALSO shining in the sun.

We netted the cherry tree after Karin and I got home late from raiding a friend’s garage for party stuff for the graduation bash, plus an extra cot for my nephews. It’s quite the operation and frustrating, since the tree is juuuuust too tall for us, even with the 18-meter long net tied to 2 long poles to lift up and over. It catches on every branch and twig and it takes us nearly an hour before we’ve got it in place, wrapped and knotted, and safely protecting the the bulging green bounty of soon-to-be ruby fruit from thieving birds.

Anders washed all the gazillion house windows and I feel like we’re slowly but surely making dents in the 2-page to-do list. We took the kids to see farmor, who was thrilled that Martin is home. I’m reading a second book by a writer whose style I love: it practically crackles on the page. Martin and I caught up with so-far released episodes of Westworld’s second season. I almost didn’t think about work once.

Practically perfect, indeed.
mood: refreshed
music: Hockey game music and commentators

zird is the word [userpic]
My whole brain, my whole life is being eaten alive by work. We've been working at such a speeded-up pace for so long that even if we wanted to, I'm not sure we could decelerate to a more reasonable level. It's go go go all the time. I've worked most of the last weekends including both the ones that were long weekend holidays. It feels more stressful to NOT work than to try and relax over the days off knowing how much work there is and how much more will be waiting for me when I return on the next workday if I DON'T work. It's not relaxing at all to have my brain spinning endlessly about what I have to do, what hasn't been done yet, and what is coming down the pipeline.

This past weekend, we had 4.5 days off. I worked most of it, trying to make a dent in the huge pile of extra projects I had that weren't even included in the usual stack of ticket/job requests that inundate us daily. I had 3 monster presentations to spiff up and 1 to create for a training I held this morning. I had a 12-page brochure to completely redesign after the agency deliverable came in looking terrible. I had a 32-page magazine to layout. And I had a stack of email blasts to build in 17 languages in both HTML and plain text. And that wasn't even including the pile for layout of 16 case studies, 4 brochures and countless web banners and image resize requests.

Every day there are between 25-50 job requests waiting for us. Of those, approximately a third are for the video team so my team doesn't have to worry about them. A few will be for the illustrators so we don't usually have to worry about those either. There are 4 of us working in the graphic design team, one of whom is earmarked for N. America, though we help her as much as we possibly can because there is no way that one poor person can handle all the requests from the entire US, Canada and Mexico, from 8 offices and multiple dozens of regional salespeople.

We have 40 offices, or thereabouts...I've lost track, all of whom need materials and images and stuff daily, plus we handle requests and questions from all of the corporate departments as well. And the job request tickets that come in can be super simple: send me a logo, to super-complicated: we have an event and we need a theme created and then 40-gazillion deliverables designed around it. All by the end of the week, please! HAHAHAHAHAsob

And I KNOW that no matter how much I work it doesn't mean I will be DONE. The work doesn't end. I don't know why my work ethic is so strong and so forceful that I find it difficult to just say NO. I was pretty good at it before, but it feels like the amount of work has increased so much that we're no longer waving; we're drowning. And yes, my boss is aware of the problem. On the plus side, my pinched nerve hasn't been bothering me for over a week. (knocks on wood)

ANYWAY. It wasn't all work this past weekend and week. Anders had a birthday. Karin went with the entire senior student population of Lund to Prague. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. We, by which I mean Anders, ripped out a garden bed and planted vegetables (which I bought): 1 tomato, 2 cherry tomatoes, 1 red pepper, 1 chili pepper, 1 scallion, and 1 potato. We want to plant some more potatoes but we have come up empty trying to find seed potatoes at the nurseries. Flyinge Plantshop has been out of them for over a month.

I read several books. I cleaned the laundry room, the big bathroom and the porch top to bottom. I went to the AWC Mother's Day brunch. We had fika with Anders' mom one afternoon and grilled a scrumptious birthday dinner one night with his family. I made to-do lists for Karin's graduation party that are longer than I am comfortable with, considering there is only a month left. We watched Eurovision (including both semi-finals because we are hip like that). We bought a new sun parasol for the deck that is HUGE and net to put on the cherry tree as soon as Martin gets home because it takes all 4 of us.

And I made Martin's bed and moved the treadmill out of his room because he comes home TOMORROW! Yay! I'm picking him up just before lunchtime (barring any unforeseen delays), bringing him home, running to Löberöd for a doctor's appointment and then returning work. Heh.

Edited to add: Karin called from Munich, flight delayed. Martin messaged from the car on the way to the airport; first flight delayed an hour meaning he will probably miss his connecting flight. AAARGH.

*Mario Andretti
mood: tired
music: Alexander Rybak—Fairytale

zird is the word [userpic]
Last week at work was awful. Too many things that were frustrating, rage-inducing or just plain annoying happened. I am VERY glad of this long weekend, though I am going to have to check into work emails and possibly do some work regardless because there is just so much of it. We were all freaking out over the amount of short weeks in the next two months (the first of which is this one). You'd think that we'd be THRILLED about having all this time off after the long holiday drought since the beginning of January, but 1) there are too many of them all at once, which is just adding stress to an already stressful workload and 2) I have 2 weeks of vacation in the midst of it all, which is adding to MY stress about it. Stupid, I know, but there it is.

Here in Sweden we have off May 1st which is both the European Labor Day and the spring holiday of the First of May, and the company I work for gives us the "pinch" or "bridge" days that fall on Mondays or Fridays if a holiday falls on Tuesday or Thursday. So we have Monday off as well as Tuesday next week.

Monday is the last day of April which is Walpurgis Eve; here in Sweden it's called Valborgs afton, and traditionally people light bonfires to scare away witches. That doesn't actually have anything to do with Saint Walpurga. It's named after her because it's the day she was canonized, although she was a healer and evangelist who apparently also repelled witchcraft. I find it a bit strange that Valborg is so celebrated in Sweden, since St. Walpurga was English. She's big in Germany since she brought Christianity there, but why it migrated northward is a little unclear.

We usually spend the evening with our friends Mats and Annelott, grilling hotdogs (often in the rain) and fending off mosquitoes around the bonfire, and that's the plan this year. I haven't seen them in awhile (Anders saw Mats last weekend for an overnight hike) so it will be fun to get together and catch up. It's also the King of Sweden's birthday, so raise a flag to salute the King!

The next holiday in May happens almost immediately: Epiphany, or Pingst as it's known in Swedish. It falls on a Thursday this year (May 10) and so we get the Friday after off as well as a half-day holiday the day before, since my company is super extra awesome. I could wish that some of the spring holidays in Sweden were a bit more spread out throughout the year. There are 2 more in June: June 6 which is Sweden's National Day, and June 22 which is Midsummer. After that, no public holidays until November.

Anders and I went Thursday with his mom, and my two friends Debbie and Camilla, to see Karin performing in her school's annual theatrical production. She was in the acting group last year, and this year she was in the writing group, the acting group, AND a mentor which, according to her, means that she, along with the other 2 mentors, basically ran the show. They certainly put a lot of work into it, and it showed. There were 167 students (!) involved in the play, doing everything from writing the manuscript, playing in the band, doing PR, soliciting sponsorships, working with props, program, costumes, dancing, music, makeup, photos, scenery, lighting, you name it. The film group produced a separate movie that was shown before the show started, and had a celebrity endorsement from a famous Swedish comedian (Henrik Schyffert) which was also played beforehand.

The production takes place in Lunds City Theater and the professional employees there help out with the logistics. There were some 300+ audience members on opening night and the same for last night. Tonight is the third and final performance, and I expect there will be some major partying going on when the curtain falls. This year the theme was the French Revolution. Karin played Marie-Thérèse Charlotte, the daughter of Marie Antoinette, and her mom was played by one of her best friends, Carlo De Rosa. All the kids did a fantastic job. Karin sang a solo number (new words to the tune of Mary J. Blige's Family Affair, which Anders and I have been hearing her sing in the shower for months. Unfortunately, my video skills were not up to the job and I screwed up the recording I tried to take of her full number. She says the whole play was filmed last night though, so as soon as I have a link I'll share it. In the meantime, you can watch the encore here (Facebook link only, sorry!)

Karin as Marie-Therese

Karin and Carlo

I can't believe it's nearly May already. MEGSIE—CHRISTMAS IS COMING. But with May comes the lilacs, Martin, my mom and my brother and his family, so I welcome it regardless of the work stress!
mood: impressed
music: Anders getting ready to grill dinner

zird is the word [userpic]
Today at work, we were entertained for a while...well, entertained isn't exactly the right word...mesmerized sporadically by the antics of three huge hares that were loping along on the verge outside our office windows. Our building is bounded on the north side by the loop that circles the parking areas and the building itself, a skinny strip of beech hedge, an even skinner strip of grass and then an extremely busy 4-lane road that is the direct access from the highway that goes past Lund.

The hares, which were as big as big small dogs; like, bigger than chihuahuas and bigger than poodles but maybe not corgis, were doing what hares usually do. Skipping, moseying, lolloping about in the undergrowth, nibbling fresh new spring grass and once in a while, making a dart out into traffic. Each time that happened, my teammate Emelie would screech or gasp or inhale loudly and all of us would get up and stand at the windows watching. I like to think we were watching in the hopes that the hares would NOT be made into rabbit pancakes but who knows? There were audible sighs of relief every time the hares darted back again to the safety of the grass.

There are hares and rabbits (of the usual, smaller variety) everywhere, even in the business areas where people are endlessly about. Normally, they don't care at all about you if you walk by, and they ignore you completely as long as they are under some semblance of cover. Driving back from lunch this afternoon, my colleague had to brake abruptly when yet another of them (or maybe one of the same ones, fired by daring to play with traffic all day) loped out in front of the car as we turned into the parking lot. I'm always amazed at how BIG they are. I expect hares to be, I don't know, out in the DESERT somewhere, not in the parking lot of the Ideon Business complex in Lund.

I came home from another busy busy busy day of work and melted into a puddle of slack on the sofa for a good hour, after popping a couple of headache-killers. Anders was out in the garage sanding and came in just after 5 to start supper. He'd taken the afternoon off and stopped at the grocery store on the way home and sent me an email to tell me he'd bought dinner fixings. Yay! Any time he is fixing dinner, I always ask if I can do anything to help and he always says no and I go back to lounging around waiting for food to be served to me.

He outdid himself tonight, even though it was simple. Simple at its best! He marinated salmon fillets in salt, pepper, lemon juice and sliced red chili peppers. Then he grilled them but kept them underdone which is just the way I like 'em. He had already tossed together a salad using 1 mango, 2 avocados, half a red onion and 10-12 cherry tomatoes chopped in half and all drizzled with lemon juice and olive oil. Utterly delicious! Who needs carbs when you can have a salmon and a salad like that?

A small army of house sparrows is combing the lawn for seeds, and congregating busily under the bird feeder. I don't have much bird seed left and our local ICA has probably already stopped selling it, so I am being sparing with filling the feeder, especially since the side that has only sunflower seeds is still basically full. The little sparrows and finches and tits like the other side that has the small stuff better (though it also includes sunflower seeds) but I think mostly the big seeds get tossed to the ground for the fat pheasants to vacuum up. The big birds, which include the black brigade of crows, ravens, rooks and jackdaws, along with their flashier magpie lieutenants, often land on the feeder, and simply shake it to fling as much as possible to the ground for convenience.

It's a simple weekend ahead, with no real plans in it, other than the purchasing of pansies for potting. If Karin doesn't hoover it up tonight, I'll eat the rest of the simple salad for lunch tomorrow. And since the weather is supposed to hold through the weekend, I'll soak up the simple pleasures of sunshine, bee-song, and books, and go out and admire the pre-lilacs several times.
mood: relaxed
music: Eryn Allen Kane—Slipping

zird is the word [userpic]
Suddenly, it's summer. Weeks of winter teasing, will she won't she and now BAM, heat wave! Sha na na na na na—we're surfing on sunshine. Everything has exploded and with it, my head. I went directly from horrible head cold to allergy attack of the ages. Today I thought I'd have to rip my eyes out. Visine and all the other eye drop bottles only hold it temporarily at bay. Nose sprays, allergy meds, COME ON, give me a break. I went from sick misery to allergy misery and honestly I'm not sure which is worse.

But the sky is blue! The sun is bright! The air is warm! Everything is greening, blooming, leafing. I saw a bumblebee. A beach towel is folded up on the porch; evidence that Karin has already been basking like the sun lizard she is. And I just wanted to write a post. I have really been struggling with writing at all, not because I don't want to, but because between being sick and being in pain I've been so house-bound that the breadth of excitement that is my life can't begin to be described. I defrosted the freezer? I purged the pantry? EXCITEMENT ABOUNDS.

My mom, however, has finally gotten tickets to come and see us and I couldn't be more excited about that. She hasn't been here for 4.5 years. YEARS! We've seen her, but that's just ridiculous. I mean, I know there are good reasons why she hasn't felt (and still doesn't feel) like she can travel for the long periods of time that coming over here to see two of her Europe-dwelling wayward children takes, like her own 101-year-old mother, for example, but O! I miss my mom, and I am insanely glad she's coming. She's coming right after Martin arrives, and right before my brother and his family and our house will be a nuthouse for that week, but it will be fun, so who cares! And then she's staying to help me get through the madness of Karin's graduation and not leaving until the week after, when I will have collapsed, presumably muddy and exhausted.

This just feels like a ketchup-post (heh. get it?) but that's all I've got at the moment. I want to go back outside and look at the baby lilac buds, between sneezes. This weekend: potting pansies!

mood: happy
music: bird song, tree ruffles, lawnmowers

zird is the word [userpic]
Sick again. Been sick for a week with a nasty head cold. On the plus side, since I've been home pretty much in bed since Wednesday afternoon, my shoulder/neck doesn't hurt.
mood: sick
music: cough hack wheeze

zird is the word [userpic]
Suddenly, you see it. The brown is giving way. The green is rising. It's so subtle as to be hardly noticeable and yet you notice it. You've been waiting for it. It's hard to tell the difference but the difference is there. It's in the plumping of the grass. It's in the filling out of trees. It's in the way the sun shimmers slant from silver to gold. It's the gradual warming of the earth, the way the spring begins pushing its way into your consciousness before anything can even be seen and suddenly there they are! Sprouts! Stalks! Leaves! Flowers!

There's so much anticipation here as the light grows and the earth tilts. Even though it's tilting toward the sun, WE are tilting even further toward it. Jackets are flung into closets. Boots are piled away to hibernate until next winter. Scarves change from thick to thin and brighten with the sun. Any excuse is enough to go outside and lift your face to the sun. It's nearly here, Spring. I think it's here. I hear it in the breeze and the bees and the tilting lilt in everyone's step. No wonder they call it Spring; that's what we do when it comes.

Never have I ever been so conscious of the seasons, of the weather, of the turning of the year, as I am here in Sweden. I know everyone talks about the weather, and god knows, it's on people's minds generally speaking, since it's so out of whack the world over. Climate, weather, patterns, anomalies. It's top of mind, talk of the town.

I came from a country where I could eat any fruit or vegetable at any time of the year; now I look forward to the arrival of the new potatoes and the first strawberries with all the fervor of my fellow Swedes. I lament the lack of spaghetti squash but sound hurrahs for the coming of the artichokes. Christmas is all about clementines. Summer is cherries and plums. Early asparagus in April gives rise to choirs of angels.

In the traffic circle outside of my old workplace, I saw today the first poky purple spears of baby iris and the yellow snouts of daffodils. Someone planted them in a loving pattern of stripes and circles. In Malmö, along the road that runs from one end of Pildammsparken to the other, there's a thick zigzag of tulips; they're not blooming yet, but I bet the green blades of their leaves are up.

Time to sweep away the residue of winter, remove the detritus of last year's growth. Cut back the roses and the honeysuckle, clear out the rotting remains of last year's hostas; new green shoots are already peeping from the earth beneath them. Time to fill the pots with happy bobbing pansy faces in every color it's possible to find: royal purple, butter yellow, whimsical white, scorchy orange and velvet red. Big ones, little ones, as many as I can cram in a pot, until it's bursting. A plethora of pansies! A surfeit of spring!
mood: chipper
music: Bailey Tzuke—Caution to the Wind

zird is the word [userpic]
It's been absolute AGES since I went to a live sporting event. In fact, I think the last one was a Red Wings game during a Christmas visit to the US probably close to 10 years ago. We've been to one Malmö Redhawks game here, and that was years ago, too. Even when I lived in the US, I only occasionally went to games in Chicago. A baseball game here and there, the Blackhawks, the Bulls, at least once to see the Bears when they were still at Soldier Field. The last time I seriously watched any football on TV was probably when the Bears went to the Superbowl in 1985 and that only because my college roommate was a rabid fan. I'd much rather spend my money on theater or concerts (though I don't do enough of that anymore either).

In Lund, there are 3 big high schools (I mentioned them in my recent post about graduation): Spyken, Katedralskolan and Polhemsskolan, which is where Karin goes. Polhem has around 2500 students and is the largest high school in Sweden. It has a strong sports program with approximately a quarter of the students participating in elite sports such as soccer, handball, riding, wrestling, etc.

In 2008, Polhem started the Lund Super Bowl, a yearly indoor rugby match which takes place now at the Arena in Lund and is held between Polhem's team and a combined team made up of students from both Spyken and "Katte"; the first match was played in 2009. This year's match was the 10th anniversary. It was reported in the Swedish press that there was a 2-hour queue to buy the tshirt "tickets" for it. There were over 3000 spectators, half dressed in blue shirts for the Polhem Pirates and half dressed in red for the "Spyka" Wolves. I'm pretty sure that Anders and I were two of only a dozen or so adults in the audience.

Polhem has won EIGHT times. Spyka has only managed to beat them ONCE, back in 2011. Karin tried out for the team six or so months ago and has been training every week. She has knee braces (since she already has problems with her knees) and a mouth guard. I don't know how it compares to actual rugby but the indoor version seems rough enough to me. Karin managed to dislocate her shoulder during practice some months ago, and though it popped back in, she's had issues with it ever since. She's been so wound up in the past couple of weeks, I was a bit concerned. There's a lot riding on a game that your school has won EIGHT times, and she was really feeling the pressure this week. "OMG what if we LOSE?" she cried, at one point, "I'll DIE!" ...The drama! The responsibility!

You have to understand that in Sweden, there are typically NO sports teams associated with schools. If you want to play sports, you have to do it outside of school, in country, village or city sports clubs. There are no high school football teams, no cheerleaders, none of the sports stuff that is so prevalent in the American school system. Polhem is a major exception to that with the sports programs that they offer, but even those are just programs, where the kids learn tactics, strategy, health, coaching, etc, and get extra practice time. They are not TEAMS in any sense of the word. This is the only school sporting event in southern Sweden that I'm aware of, and it's specific to Lund.

I've only watched rugby once or twice in my life, and even though Anders actually played it back in the day, he wasn't sure how different indoor rugby would be. It was BRUTAL. But so exciting and so fun to watch! The event is divided into two teams for each side, men and women. There are 5 players on offense and 5 on defense, and no goalie. The object is to get the large squashy ball (not a rugby or medicine ball, exactly) onto the mats placed at the ends of the playing field. The kids had their faces painted with colored stripes to represent their schools and the entire crowd was very invested in the whole event; singing, cheering, clapping and surging to their feet every time a team got close to a goal.

Each team had three attempts at a goal, if they didn't lose the ball or get a penalty which lost them a turn. It was hard for me to understand what was going on sometimes, and the referees' decisions often made no sense to me since I didn't always know what they were signaling. Players were given 2 minute penalties for infractions quite often and one bulky brute of a girl on the Spyka team was knocked out early with an injury, much to the Polhem girls' delight (and probable relief). Karin played offense and often had the ball, and though she didn't make any goals, she did a great job of moving the ball forward, and assisting her teammates. They were often piled on in huge tackling scrums and I kept expecting broken limbs to be revealed after the referees cleared a pileup.

The women played for 15 minutes, then the men. After a half hour intermission with performances by dance crews from the 3 schools, each team played another 15 minutes. The scores for both teams were cumulative. The girls didn't score at all in the first 15 minutes but the Polhem women added 2 goals to the score during their second half. The Pirates scored first and were ahead during the whole game, but Spyka kept them on their toes, nearly catching up to even up the score right until the last minute. Polhem won 6-5 and even I was jumping up and down and screaming by the end of it. Whew! :D

Karin is on the far left

More info (photos aren't up yet from today's match) in Swedish:

*Not an easy thing to yell when you attended Michigan State (Go Green!) and your chief rival was blue, haha!
mood: excited
music: Cat Stevens—Don't Be Shy

zird is the word [userpic]
Is there a word for thoughts so random that they defy the category of randomness? I feel like I have butterflies in my head. Not surprising, since my brain is basically full of either work (oh god, work work work) or TwoDots. I can't do much at home most evenings and forcing myself to sit here for 10 minutes or more is an exercise is zoning out about how it starts hurting worse immediately. Onward to randomnicity! Randomopolis (where I live)! Randomalooza.

We had 4.5 days off work for Easter. My daughter had a week off school. We had dinner on Good Friday with Anders' family but that was the extent of our plans. The weekend was nearly pain-free for me as I didn't go near the computer and didn't do much of anything really, except read and some laundry. Karin was pretty much gone all weekend, and Anders disappeared into the garage full-time, working on his kayak. It's like I live alone already.

One day I got fired up and cleaned out several kitchen cabinets, something I've had on my to-do list for a long time. It was very satisfying but hardly the stuff of blog posts. I also worked on the questions for Karin's graduation game and have now come up with 10 of them, which is good enough, I think. How much can I really expect our friends and family to know about my daughter's foibles? LOTS! That's how much! :D

I also did my US tax filing and my FBARs, for which I deserve a huge pat on the back. *pats self on back* I just have to remind the kids to check and see about doing THEIRS. Ugh.

Someone in another American club in Europe sent us a letter they are drafting to publish, addressed to Meghan Markle, on the occasion of her marriage to Prince Harry. It basically welcomes her to the expat club and warns her about all the obligations she will soon face as a US expat, including FATCA, FBARs, tax filing and the costs of renouncing citizenship for ordinary people like the rest of us expats. The letter was sent to our club, asking if we want to "sign" it, but I don't think we will. As one of our board members stated, as soon as she marries royalty, she'll no longer be able to speak about policy or politics, in order to not rock the boat of US-UK relations. A pity on the one hand, but I suspect she wouldn't have been a spokesperson for the ridiculousness and awfulness of the situation everyday American expats face in regards to banking issues, anyway. I would guess, as a royal, she'll have access to resources in regards to these issues that none of us have. Like lawyers and financial advisers and the money to pay them with.

We were asked this week to put in our requests for summer vacation and I have no idea what to put. I am planning to take the last week of May off when my brother and family are here, and 3 days around Karin's graduation, but otherwise...we've talked about going home to my mom's for Christmas this year, so I guess I will save the rest of my weeks for that. Anders had to put in HIS summer vacation plans LAST SEPTEMBER (talk about ridiculous) and ended up taking off the 4 weeks of July just because. We have no plans to travel, so I guess it doesn't matter, and SOMEONE has to work, though if my neck/should continue to act up I might not have a choice...urgh. Maybe I'll take a week or 2 in August or all the Fridays in July or something. I don't know.

I had a massage yesterday and while it felt great afterward, it was actually pretty brutal, and I'm seriously wondering today if I have a cracked rib. Heh. Ouch. Will have to tell her to lay off the lower back and concentrate more on the area that is giving me such problems: neck! shoulders! upper back! FIX ME I AM BROKEN.

I saw that Deerfield, Illinois is banning the sale, possession or manufacture of assault weapons. I applaud this move wholeheartedly. I hope this trend not only continues but picks up speed and sweeps the nation. Of course, only hours later, the Illinois State Rifle Association filed a lawsuit against the city. Sigh.

We have had the most ridiculous (3x word use!) this month so far. Minus degrees and snow every other day sandwiched with 10 degrees and sunny. Or rainy, whichever. March didn't go out like a lamb, it went out like a bipolar waffler. But! Forecasted temps are heading above 10C by the weekend and staying there, so I guess, I think, I hope, spring is actually arriving. Maybe I'll go get pansies this weekend. Or maybe I'll lay on the sofa and pretend my arm belongs to someone else like I've been doing. Whichever.

I was challenged recently to write about a trip that I've taken with a loved one, but I've dithered for too long now, and I'm not sure what to write about anyway. Our honeymoon to Sweden, Athens, Istanbul and the Greek Islands? The trip we took a couple of months after we met where we basically flew/drove around the entire US in one fell swoop? The long weekend I spent with my sister on St. Thomas, courtesy of a sales trip I won in 1992? I don't know...we'll see if the muse strikes (My muse is rather violent).

There, that oughta hold ya.
mood: tired
music: The Sundays—A Certain Someone

zird is the word [userpic]
High school graduation in Sweden is probably a bigger deal than getting married for most Swedes. Many Swedes, in fact, don't bother to get married. They live together (sambo), have kids, and sometimes get around to getting married, and sometimes not. No one seems to care that much about it either way. But studenten (which is what high school graduation is called in Swedish), THAT's a HUGE deal.

Swedes typically go to school with the same set of friends for nearly their entire undergraduate time. In our little village school, as in most, kids stay together for grades 1-6, changing teachers every three years. A great many of them, if they don't switch schools for some reason, stay with the same classmates all the way through 9th grade as well, and reunions for 9th grade classes are a big deal here for adult Swedes.

Picking a gymnasium (or high school) is a lot like choosing a college in the US. They have to apply to programs at schools and be accepted, depending on their grades and test scores. Kids have to have some idea of what program they want to concentrate on, or what they want to be when they grow up, so they can direct the classes they take during high school toward that end and continue the program once they enter university (if they do). Many high schools are vocational here, and teach everything from waiting tables (which is not at all the same as in the US) to hair dressing to plumbing or computer programming. Many kids who leave gymnasium have a practical education which has included internship time and can start work right out of the gate, so to speak.

Others plan their gymnasium time as "university prep" and study what we think of as a more liberal arts curriculum: languages, social studies, economics, math, sciences. They're planning to go on to further education at college level, in most cases.

High school graduation is a huge deal with many traditions surrounding it here. There are specific types of clothing that kids wear: white, summer, formal. And a specific graduation hat that they all must purchase themselves. When I graduated from high school, we rented the hat and robe that was the American uniform for graduation day. The only thing we kept was the tassel on the hat which typically has the colors of the school and a medallion stating the class year of graduation.

Studentmössar (Graduation caps) here are a big deal and quite expensive, starting at around $60 and heading upwards of a couple hundred depending on how much the particular student pimps them, despite the fact that they are typically worn ONLY ONCE and then relegated to the closet. Older Swedes often bring theirs out and dust them off and wear them for a grandchild's or child's graduation, but not always. Our kids were horrified at the idea that their father might do so: how embarrassing! (He didn't). This style of graduation cap has been around since the mid-1800s and was already popular in Denmark and Germany before coming to Sweden. After a brief period of being considered antiquated and bourgeois in the '60s, they seem to be more popular than ever.

The caps have to be ordered several months in advance and while they are all the same basic style, there are subtle differences that can be decided upon and lots of bling that can be added: the student's name, school, and class embroidered around the edge in various colors of thread. Different color ribbons and linings to indicate your program or school, pockets on the inside to hold money or ID, embossing on the top with a meaningful school emblem or design. Different color stones for the medallion on the front. Everything you add or change jacks up the price, so it's easy to spend a lot of money on them.

For boys, a suit or tuxedo is common, with a white shirt. For girls, short white formal dresses or pantsuits are typical. But these are usually additional expenditures because they must be new and cool (and are often the first suit a boy acquires). In addition, about a week or so before graduation, there is also the prom (studentbal) which ALSO requires the purchase of formal evening clothes plus tickets to an exclusive dinner dance. It's a big deal as well, with parents coming to take pictures of the dressed up kids as they get ready to enter the event. At least for boys, they can often get away with wearing the same suit to both events.

I can only speak for the things that my kids have done and are doing for their graduation day and ceremonies, but they are fairly typical, as far as I can tell, all over Sweden. The morning of graduation the kids typically have a champagne breakfast at the school with their class and teachers. They spend the morning and lunch hanging out and participating in various activities at the school.

In Sweden, student week is often a nightmare for the bigger towns as they are soon packed with extra traffic and visitors. The biggest schools stagger their graduation days during the last week of school. In Lund, that means Karin's school graduates on Tuesday, the school Martin went to goes out on Wednesday, and the other big school graduates on Thursday. All the other smaller schools stagger the various days as well, from Monday to Friday.

Between 1 and 4 pm on graduation day, each homeroom class is "let out" at a specific time. They run screaming out of the school onto the steps or a stage or courtyard and dance around screaming and popping champagne for 5-ish minutes while their song of choice plays loudly over the school's loudspeaker system. Proud parents and family members jostle in a huge crowd trying to take videos or photos. We could barely see Martin at his because the area where they came out on stage was so low and so narrow.

After their class is shooed off the stage to make room for the next one, hugging and crying and greeting commences and the kids have to shove their way through the crowds to find their parents who are all holding up a congratulations sign or poster with a childhood photo of their kid and their name and class on it. The more embarrassing/cute the photo, the better. Everyone who is graduating is greeted and decorated with stuffed animals, small bottles of champagne, flowers, etc., hanging from blue & yellow ribbons around their necks. You need to bring a bunch of these for both your own child and his/her friends.

Next on the agenda (and sorry, for you TL;DR people we're just getting started) is an hour-long ride around town in a flak, which is a truck with an open container on the back. These are rented and fitted out with a stereo loudspeaker system, decorated with new spring green tree branches and hung with giant signs painted by the kids with humorous slogans, their names, and class info. Filled with screaming, singing, often drunk, graduates, dozens of these trucks slowly circle the town or village, jamming traffic and annoying or amusing the inhabitants. This is obviously not the safest tradition around, and nearly every year, at least one death is reported from someone falling from a truck.

While the kids are partying on the flaks, the parents have rushed home to get everything finalized for the party. Almost always, graduation parties (or studentfests) are held at home in the garden, typically with a tent. Some people rent a party location or use a common room. But most often, weather usually being decent in June (though not always a guarantee), they're held outside. Tents set up with benches or chairs and tables for the incoming guests. A table for presents. Buckets of water for bouquets of flowers. A table full of welcome drinks. The buffet table: usually consisting of cold cuts like roast beef, chicken, smoked salmon, with salads and potato salads and fruit. For dessert there are often studenttårtor; cakes decorated to look like graduation caps. And of course coolers full of sodas, beer, and wine. All the food and drinks, of course, have to be ordered/catered or prepared ahead of time.

And everything is decorated with blue and yellow flags, flowers, banners, signs, ribbons, balloons, etc. Sweden hej hej! Approximately 115,000 students graduate high school every year in Sweden, so it adds up to a big business for those selling studenten services like caps, poster/invite design & printing, clothing, catering, booze, car and truck rentals, and decorations.

Guest lists typically consist of family and closest friends. For Martin's we ended up with around 45 people. Karin's will be decidedly larger: around 75 most likely. Which is the amount of guests her father and I had at our WEDDING. *rolls eyes* The invitations are sent out a couple of months in advance. I designed and printed the ones we used for both of our kids. There is usually some sort of game for the guests who are typically waiting for some time for the guest of honor to arrive.

If you haven't already arranged a driver, one of the parents will have to return to town to pick up their graduate, and usually that means in some sort of cool ride. Martin came home in a motorcycle sidecar. Karin wants a sports car, so we're checking to see if anyone we know has a really nice or really old cool car we can borrow. Anders' sister's husband has a nice Porsche, so we may hit him up for that.

The graduate arrives just after the party's official start time, and celebrations commence, followed by dinner, dessert, speeches (usually tearful ones by the parents) and gift-opening. Many gifts consist of money twisted into flowers and inserted into bouquets. Most kids these days tend to request money as gifts toward a specific thing like school, travel or a big-ticket item. In Martin's case, it was his trip to Peru. Karin is asking for donations toward a MacBook.

After the guests start leaving, the graduate usually leaves as well, to visit other friends' graduation parties, or to join in the celebrations in town or at a nightclub. We'll be lucky if we see Karin afterward for several days, I'm sure :D

And that's, I feel that we are about half-ready.

Read about and see photos from Martin's graduation in 2016.
mood: busy
music: Sing Me A Lullaby—Ulf Nilson & Linda Varg

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