Friday, December 30, 2011

The Works

JenniferRural Sweden has its surprises, and one of them is a fantastic art gallery in the small town of Avesta. Verket ("The Works") is a 100+ year old iron smelting factory, a remnant of Sweden's heavily industrialized late 19th century. The metal-working industry became so large and important that it outgrew these old structures, and the factory was abandoned around the middle of the last century, with buildings left intact and large equipment left in place. What do you do with an old smelting factory? You turn it into an art gallery, of course.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Language notes part 6: procrastination

Jennifer"De satt och jämförde sina händer: hans var större men hennes var vackrare."

The object of the lesson was the use of comparative words. T., the eldest of my teachers, read this sentence out loud from a textbook, surely for the umpteenth time in her life. T. is very Swedish (despite, or perhaps because of, the fact that she's part Finnish). T. likes to use the chalkboard and thinks grammar is neat-o. T. gives the impression that she has worked at the University all her life. T. is not above cracking a simple joke now and then for us poor foreigners, but usually she plays it pretty straight.

This time, though, this time she almost snapped. She read the sentence again out loud: "De satt och jämförde sina händer: hans var större men hennes var vackrare" (which translates to 'They sat and compared their hands; his were bigger but hers were more beautiful').

There were a few seconds of silence, during which T. pursed her lips and she appeared to be thinking. And then she said, out loud to the whole class, slowly, her voice dripping with sarcasm (in translation now):
Yes. So. How interesting Sweden is. How nice. "They sat, and compared their hands." Oh, yes, how very interesting. "His hands were bigger but her hands were more beautiful." Oh, can it be true? Well, you know it is winter now, in Sweden, and we have nothing at all to do but to sit inside and compare our hands.
She sighed. "But the author of the book is from Gothenburg, so what can you expect?"

Right, so I had Part 1 of 3 of my final exam today. Part 1 was reading comprehension; Part 2, which I take tomorrow, is writing. Thus, I am reviewing notes about words used for making comparisons. I guess I had better get back. It's been years since I've procrastinated like this for a test. Thanks for your enabling! (that's not a word in English, is it?)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

At least he went quickly

Branns på födelsedagen!
Joe …and we woke Friday morning to the news that the goat burned down. On the night of his 45th birthday, no less.

Christmas is officially cancelled. At least that should make the cat happy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Midwinter Sacrifice

Clockwise, from top:
(a) Santa beard;
(b) head with one eye, single leg dangling;
(c) other leg; (d) assorted innards.
Joe Sunday was Första Advent, marking the opening of the official Swedish Christmas season. How has it been going so far? The advent fireworks planned for Sunday afternoon were cancelled due to wind. Norwegian weather reports that November, 2011 was the warmest November in 111 years (only because they've only been keeping track for 111 years, mind you). I'm nursing a sprained wrist, because I fell off my bicycle on the single icy morning in November. Oh yes, and the cat hates Christmas.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Trick-or-treaters unclear on the concept

JenniferLast week was our fourth Halloween in Sweden, if you can believe it. As discussed previously, Halloween is not really a holiday here, but it is making small inroads. And every previous year, we have had candy on hand 'just in case.' (Translation: it's a good excuse to eat candy.) This year, however, I forgot to have some out on the actual evening of Halloween. Guess what happened?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Language notes part 5: a little more detail

JenniferJust to give you a feel for it, I'll describe my class a little more. On the first meeting there were only twelve students, so it looked to be quite cozy. Since it's a class in Swedish, we are all international students of course, and our citizenship/ethnic breakdown went like this: one Japanese, one Chinese, one Somali, one Turk, one Iraqi Kurd, one Colombian, two Palestinians, two Iranians (brother and sister), and two Americans. A Swedish language class that's at least half Middle Easterners is something that seems entirely normal by now.

For the last two years (on and off), I've been taking SFI classes, which met in the evening so that we immigrants with full-time jobs could attend, and to be honest, these classes were sometimes a little trying. It seemed sometimes as though most students in any given SFI class fell into one of two types: 1. People who would rather have been elsewhere, and 2. Germans.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Language notes part 4: Back to school

JenniferSo Autumn is here. Autumn has always been my favorite season: even though I mourn the end of summer's warmth and laziness, I always like autumn's cooler temperatures, and I also (at least as an adult) have liked Back To School time, with its promise of New and Exciting Learning Opportunities.

So far in this Autumn, however, I feel more like hunkering down and hoping that I haven't bitten off more than I can chew.

Gentle readers, I introduce you to one of Uppsala University's students entering in Autumn 2011: myself. Yes, that's right, I am now a Student, with all the responsibilities and privileges pertaining thereto. I am taking a single class, and it's a real mouthful: "Förberedande utbildning i svenska för studerande med utländsk förutbildning," or in other words, "Preparatory education in Swedish for students with foreign education." The class is full time, meets four times a week for three hours a day, and includes plenty of homework and time in the language lab. I pay no money, but receive no official credits that would count toward a degree, as this class really only serves as the groundwork for the next class to be offered in the Winter term, "Behörighetsgivande utbildning i svenska," or "Competency education in Swedish." The intended audience for these two classes is students who have already been admitted to some graduate program at the University, and who, upon completion of these classes, should be able to pass any University class given in Swedish. Or at least, not fail a class based only on language difficulties.

It's been a while now—several years, in fact—since I've been a student like this. I am excited. I am worried. I am already, only one week into class, extremely busy. Should you think to yourself, any time in the next few months, Hey, I wonder what Jennifer is up to these days, the answer is almost certainly She's studying Swedish.

Nu kör vi!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Life in a small northern town

JenniferSo it's true that in a town like Uppsala a car is not really needed (although it would come in handy for those weekend Ikea binges), and many people do not own cars. On the other hand, having a driver's license is not at all unusual, and renting a car or RV for summer camping is a common way to vacation. There is a lot of Scandinavia to see that is not readily accessible by train or bus. Besides, we are used to having a car, and being able to just up and go somewhere for a day or a weekend. Sounds good, right? But... how? The first step was to spend an afternoon in small-town Sweden for a test drive.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A bucolic nature walk

JenniferIt's true that the 'summer feeling' has gone from the air now, but even so the weather can still be quite nice, so yesterday we went for a little walk in Hågadal, the nature reserve near our apartment. Hågadal is not really pristine wilderness, as it includes several more-or-less ancient human monuments, such bronze age burial mounds and a runestone. The valley is the bottom of what used to be an inland sea, which is not too hard to imagine, as you stand on the rocks at eastern edge and look down and out onto the cultivated fields and pastures and forest fragments. It is a very pleasant place to walk on a sunny day. And on this walk, we were treated to an unusual amount of animal life as well.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Akut Situation

Joe I know that the meteorologists of SMHI would frown at the suggestion, but it certainly feels like autumn has arrived. Daytime highs have fallen below 20°, rain storms are blowing through every other day or so, and the sheep have gone home for the season. Autumn means students, and students in Uppsala means housing trouble, as evidenced by this translation of the e-mail I received yesterday from the University rektor:

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Rainy Afternoon with the Stasi

Joe We had a beautiful week here—clear and sunny, with highs in the mid 20s—but nothing lasts forever, and today has been gray, wet, and 19°. In response, we decided to have a movie afternoon, so in honor of our recent stay in the former East Berlin we re-watched the excellent Das Leben der Anderen. And since the weather has suddenly become autumnal, I decided to make us an extremely traditional autumn fika treat: Swedish äppelkaka. It's a very simple recipe, one that everyone in Sweden should have learned from their mormor. It's too simple, in fact, to show up in any of our cookbooks, so I was forced to googlar it. I eventually settled on a combination of two recipes, mainly a very traditional one from Dorie Greenspan. The other was a recipe that Jennifer found, which suggested sautéing the apples in butter and cinnamon beforehand. Here's what I did:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I mentioned the war once…

(but I think I got away with it.)
Abbey in the Oakwood (1808), Caspar David Freidrich
Joe Berlin was the end of our (by this time conjoined) trip. I'd never been before—Jennifer had, of course, but that was before the wall came down, and things have changed a bit in the meanwhile. On second thought, let's give that present perfect a progressive aspect: things have been changing, for by Friday afternoon it was clear that the reconstruction isn't done yet. But that's getting ahead of the story.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


JenniferJuly 7, 2011: Wolfsburg was, as predicted, not especially tourist-y, although there are some nice things there in addition to soccer. For instance, there is a castle, and what American doesn't love a castle? Schloß Wolfsburg includes a relatively tiny but obsessively well-clipped Baroque garden, plenty of decorative animal-themed flourishes (dragons for downspouts, wolves for weathervanes, and eagles just for pretty), a sizable garden of mirrors. There was also a Teahouse at the end of the garden, which had a bit of Art in it. The best thing, though, was that the castle housed a family of kestrel falcons ('Turmfalke' in German and 'tornfalk' in Swedish; 'tower falcon' in both languages). One young kestrel had left its nest, high up on the castle wall; the young 'un was now hopping about on a lower windowsill, while the other chicks peered out from the nest, and occasionally peeped at their precocious sibling.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


JenniferJuly 4-6, 2011: The Women's World Cup of Football was in Germany this year. Don't worry, Gentle Readers, I shan't bore you with endless details of the sport I'm passionate about (not yet, anyway); this post will only be about non-sport-related tourist activities. The games were in Wolfsburg, a small town nearly devoid of tourist stuff, so my friend S., who was also going to a few games, thought it would be fun for us to spend some time in nearby(-ish) Hannover, a larger city with a much better reputation for touristic sights and activities. So off we went, in search of gardens and good beer...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Those must be some mighty fine neighbors*

* That was supposed to be a Frost reference, but with walls instead of fences…
Yes, fine, I'll admit that it didn't really work. But I'm leaving it anyway.
JoeFor my last day in Istanbul, I still wasn't feeling the whole "crowd" vibe, so I opted to do something a little off the beaten track, namely to walk the land walls. The Theodosian Walls, to be more precise: 6.5 km of double wall, completed in the early 5th century AD, and so ridiculously successful at protecting the city that they helped to keep Constantinople inviolate long after the power of the eastern empire had waned. Indeed, the city was taken only twice in the thousand years that followed the completion of these walls (first when the Fourth Crusade sacked the city by breaking through the medieval replacement wall at the northern end by Blachernae Palace; second when Mehmed won the 15th century arms race by punching a great big hole in the middle of the wall with a cannon).

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Peaceful Moment

JoeWhile the splendors of Istanbul are obvious, its charm has proved to be more elusive, buried beneath a thick veneer of overly friendly carpet touts and pushy restauranteurs. But today — sitting in the cool evening breeze outside one of the dozens of fish places under Galata bridge, sipping wickedly strong tea from a tulip-bulb glass, and watching dolphins cavort around the ferry boats that madly ply the waters of the Golden Horn — today I see it.

My new found sense of harmony with the place is partly a reaction to the peace and quiet of being the restaurant's only patron at the moment, as the dinner rush won't start for another couple of hours. The solitude, while welcome, was not my intent; I'm here early because I unintentionally skipped lunch today. I was quite ravenous by the time I got here—but that's getting ahead of myself.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Just like Byzantium, but with more carpet (sellers)

JoeI've been fascinated by Istanbul, née Constantinople, née Byzantium, for years, so it seemed foolish to come all this way and not drop by to say, "Howdy!" Thus, my weekend in Istanbul. I've been doing my best to make it a weekend in Constantinople, actually—nothing against Istanbul or the Ottomans mind you, I just wanted to start with the place that was, and work my way up to the place that is, if you see what I mean.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

School, the Turkish way

ITAP, Turunç
JoeI am in Turunç, Turkey this week, attending a constraint programming summer school. I've never been to Turkey before, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. Of course, I still haven't been to most of Turkey, but I can say that the Mediterranean coast is really nice. Turunç is tiny (pop. 2400), and I'm actually not in the village so much as above it—the school is at ITAP, a sort of retreat for Turkish physicists, where they can stare at the sea and think deep thoughts at the state's expense. How did a bunch of constraint programmers wind up here for the week? Couldn't tell you, but I'm not complaining.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Beer and brats and Brits

JenniferBack in spring of 2008, a fika conversation at work had turned to Sweden's princess Viktoria and her betrothal to a fellow named Daniel Westling, who had been her personal trainer at the gym. The Swedes didn't seem to like him too much, and I remembered that they said he "looks like a brat" (brat, with a short 'a', as in spoiled child, not brat with a longer 'a' as in bratwurst). "What's a 'brat', and how can you tell"? I asked, which led to a long discussion of it.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Boston, Rain

JoeI'm attending a summer school in Boston for this coming week, and I just arrived in Boston this evening, after a week spent visiting my family in north Alabama. The past week has been fabulous—great food, visits with family I haven't seen in years, and lots of tennis and golf (a first for me) in 95°F heat—and frankly, Boston is going to have a hard time competing.

Friday, May 27, 2011


* as the locals call Trondheim today, in protest against the forced Nordification of the Dano-Nordic name for the city, Trondhjem.
Joe I've liked every bit of Norway that I've seen, but I have a particular fondness for the western coast. It's not just the beautiful scenery, it's also the towns and small cities, each a charming blend of carefully restored wooden buildings and crisp, modern Scandinavian designs. I suspect that the rustic part of that combination only survived because Norway was such a very poor country until they found oil; certainly the minimalist modern portion was made possible by the oodles of state-controlled oil money that have subsequently made it such a very rich country. But whatever the cause, the effect makes for some very pleasant cities, and Trondheim is a prime example of the type.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


* as Trondheim was called in the Viking age.
As Jennifer mentioned previously, I spent a few days this May attending SCAI 2011. The conference was held at NTNU, in Trondheim, so I got to spend a few days in that very pleasant city. I'd actually been to Trondheim once before, for a few hours: in 2005, when we were in Norway attending one of Jennifer's conferences, we took Hurtigruten down from Bodø, so we were in Trondheim for about 4 hours early one morning along the way. We managed to wander the city a bit that time, just enough to see the cathedral from the outside and to get a cup of coffee at a nice little café, and it seemed like a nice place, and I was excited to get a chance to go back for a bit.

Friday, May 13, 2011

April was the coolest month

JenniferJoe just informed me that, if he read the newspaper correctly, it was actually the warmest April in Uppsala in 200 years. Nevertheless, I will stand by my post title. Here is a list of the celebratory things that happened, in reverse order, so as to save the best for last.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Geek night at the nerd museum

JenniferThe Nobel Museum in Stockholm must surely be, on normal days, one of the very most boring museums in the city. In general, I'm all for old-fashioned Museums—give me endless displays of obscure items accompanied by a page-sized placard of information, written in a far-too-small font, and I'm a happy camper. But at this museum, the relics from Nobel Prize winners are perhaps a little too obscure to be of immediate interest to all except the truly devoted. Take the display on Albert Schweitzer, for instance. It consisted of three children's books in Swedish, about Africa. The placard described Schweitzer's work briefly, mentioning that he had given several lectures in Sweden. At the very end, we learn the relevance of the books in the display case: these books were donated to the Museum by the some relatives of Schweitzer's friends in Sweden. See what I mean about tenuous connections to the artefacts?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

På hästen

... which means, "on the horse."
JenniferWhile Joe's been 'enjoying' skiing (he still has visible bruises), I've doing doing a little physical therapy. As a part of that, I went out to a local(ish) riding school to try out horseback riding. I have sat up on a horse a few times before in my life — when I lived in Stevensville (9 and younger), the people behind us had a pony and a horse, and the neighbor kids and I would just hop up on one sometimes, and ride around the paddock bareback (we weren't supposed to do it, so don't tell my parents...). And I remember taking a long trail ride in Colorado once, probably also before I was 10.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Works in Theory

JoeI think everyone is a little over-anxious for spring now. This morning, Jennifer opted to wear her "spring time in Sweden" shoes—a pair of black leather walking shoes, good for getting rained on, but not for walking on ice—so naturally we got three inches of fresh snow fall this afternoon.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Doktorand Who Tried Skiing

Every Whom
Down in Whom-Vale
Liked Skiing a lot…

But the Doktorand,
Who lived 500 km southwest of Whom-Vale,
Thought down hill was rot!

The Doktorand hated down hill! The whole downward direction!
If you want to know why, it won't take much detection:
It could be that his poles didn't function quite right,
It could be, perhaps, that he was skiing at night;
But I think that the most likely reason of all
May have been that it always led him to fall.

Whatever the reason,
His poles or his skis,
(Or the bruises that covered his hands and knees)
He sat there on Sunday Eve, hating the hills,
Gulping glasses of water with his painkiller pills.
For he knew every Whom around Whom-Vale, you see,
Was busy now, planning their Monday morn ski.

"And the bars are closed!" he snarled with a sneer.
"I've been out skiing! I want a cold beer!"
Then he growled, with his Doktorand fingers rapidly typing,
"The internet isn't even fast enough for skyping!"
But, tomorrow, he knew…

…All the IT department girls and boys
Would wake up bright and early. They'd rush for the slopes!
And then! Oh, the skiing! Oh, the skiing! Skiing! Skiing!

To be continued…

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Hat? What hat? I don't have a hat.

JoeI suppose that the national honor is safe once more, as the Swede who won last year's Vasaloppet has just now managed to win it again, beating a Norwegian (who had steadfastly refused to share the lead all day) by less than a second after a 90 km slog. Update: actually, the rude guy turns out to have been a Czech. The best Norwegian placed fourth.

So how does that leave the modern state of Swedo-Nordic relations? Allow me to give a brief survey of yesterday's Expressen newspaper by way of illustration. The headline was "Nya Skymfen Mot Sverige: Northugs Hån På Mållinjen" beneath a picture of the incident itself, complete with an added speech bubble in which Northug insults the King, Björn Borg, and Ingemar Stenmark (he didn't actually have time for all that at the finish line, of course, so the verbal insults had to wait until he was interviewed on Norwegian tv a few minutes later). The front page of the sports section breaks down the five different ways that Northug insulted Sweden on Friday (including making a quip about the wife of a Swedish sports commentator). The coverage then continues for all of the next 8 pages, with second-by-second stills of "the insult."

Saturday, March 5, 2011

I need a new hat

JoeI told my Swedish teacher my "Fel mossa!" story this week, and without hesitation he said, "Nu är det Ski-VM i Oslo och norrmännen är fienden…"

In the meanwhile, things have gotten much worse. Much, much worse. I assume everyone has been keeping up with the events unfolding in Oslo—how could you not, with the constant television coverage?—but in case you missed it, the end of the men's relay is worth watching. Petter Northug, (the Norwegian) is in red, Marcus Hellner (the Swede) in white; Northug's antics start just after he tops the last hill about 35 seconds in, but the real insult comes just after the 50 second mark.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

At least I looked a little Swedish

JenniferSo today marks a real milestone in my life: my first job interview for a non-academic position, and an interview held in a foreign language at that.

When I was offered to have a job interview with Livsmedelsverket, I had answered the phone and then set up the time in English. The potential boss, who called me, and who would be doing the interview along with three others, said that it would be okay for us to have the interview in English. But somehow, when I got there this morning and said hello and a few other words in Swedish to him, he decided that there was no reason not to do the whole thing in Swedish. "Men du får svara på engelska, det går bra," he said.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Bad Hat!

JoeUpdate: I should have payed a little closer attention to my Swedish. The word for hat is mössa, not mossa as I originally reported. Also, the correct translation would be closer to "Wrong hat!"—which is also pretty funny, actually.

JoeWe've been back from the States for six weeks now, and we're still having fun with all of the little treasures that we brought back with us—clothes we haven't worn in years that suddenly fit and/or seem stylish, trinkets we had been missing, gadgets we had forgotten we owned. We're still in the process of working all of our new/old stuff into our old/new life (March this year will be the month of hanging-things-on-the-walls).

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

What have we been up to??


Being a "woman of leisure" for the time being, I went home in early December for a nice long holiday vacation in lovely St. Joe, Michigan. The weather was cold and snowy, with an unexpected thaw just before the New Year, so... just like home. Joe, who had classes and employment and pesky things like that, joined us a few days before Christmas.

One of the few disappointments with the trip was that we did not manage to visit Ann Arbor. I-94, as many of you know, can be a right nuisance in blizzard season, and this year was no exception. We are very sorry to have missed seeing people, but next time we visit the US, Ann Arbor is a priority. (And we probably won't try it in the winter again.)

Details... will follow. All is well here, and we hope that all is well for you, wherever you are. Happy 2011, and may we all have a safe, healthy, and prosperous Year of the Rabbit.