Välkommen to the Bamba

When my kids started school a few months ago, I quickly learned the importance of the word ‘bamba’, which is local Gothenburg slang for the school cafeteria.  Intially, this word cracked me up because every time one of them would mention it,  I would eagerly belt out, ‘Para bailar la bamba…etc…’, which completely and utterly embarrassed them.  So now I’ve decided to control my inner popstar diva self and focus my efforts on inquiring about their ‘middag’ (midday) meal.

Traditionally, ‘middag’ has been considered the main meal of the day in Sweden.  Each day around noon, Swedish students eagerly rush to the ‘Bamba’ in order to see what savory dish awaits.  A typical meal will include a full salad bar, main course (protein and carbohydrate), milk, fresh fuit and knäckebröd (a hard Swedish cracker made with whole grains and seeds).  Special dietary needs are always catered for.  Students are expected to serve themselves, while teachers monitor and assist when necessary.  Then teachers and students sit together and enjoying a bountiful, healthy meal and each other’s company.

‘Bamba’ is certainly a far cry from the cafeterias I endured as child.  First of all, pizza, chips, greasy hamburgers, vending machines and soda are no where to be found.  This is Sweden…the land of healthy living!  Secondly, Bamba provides children with another learning opportunity.  Teachers modelling proper table manners while socializing and eating with the children instills in them that mealtimes are not simply about eating, but rather are also times to relax and enjoy each other’s company.  Finally, this ‘middag’ meal is free to all students.  This fact alone demonstrates how valuable the Swedish government thinks it is!   It’s no secret that healthy, well-fed students will have better behavior and more effective learning in the classroom.

Maybe if other countries adopted a similar approach as the Swedish Bamba, then student achievement, behavior and overall health might improve?  After all, you are what you eat!  However, I realize that certain cultural precedents and societal values need to be in place before the vending machines are rolled out the door, along with the the pizza and greasy burgers.

Meanwhile, välkommen to the Bamba…it’s a great place to be!

Sagamama

The ‘appy’ side of Sweden

I’ll admit it.  I’m not exactly the most technologically savvy individual.   I have been known to ask my husband to simply stand by my computer in order for his ‘techie vibes’ to magically repair whatever problem I’m having.  According to him this situation can best be described as a P.I.C.N.I.C. (Problem In Chair, Not In Computer)…I resent that!!  Oh well…the truth hurts sometimes.

So moving to Sweden has proven to be quite the challenge for me because this has got to be the most technologically astute country on the planet!  It’s not that people are simply using technology throughout their day, but rather, to fully function and survive here requires a technological know-how, that frankly, I do not yet possess.

Apps…where do I start?  Well, they are responsible for enabling people to seamlessly go about their day to day life; however, I didn’t realize how much of Swedish daily life is dependent upon them.  For example, when inquiring about a bus ticket, I was told that they don’t sell them on the, bus but rather, I needed to simply find the app and pay.  What…no tickets on the bus?  Another situation involved me stressing because I couldn’t find 10 Krona (about $1.20) to buy my son a cinnamon bun after a soccer match.  At this point, my husband laughed and said that I needed an app for that too!  I think he’s secretly happy that I’m being forced into the ‘techie realm’.  Finally, parking here is completely controlled by apps.  There are machines, but quite a few aren’t functioning.  So, depending upon which kommun you’re in, you need to upload the correct parking app.  It may seem simple to some, but honestly, this is way out of my comfort zone.  I no longer need to have a stash of coins in the car!

It’s not that the countries I’ve lived in before haven’t been technologically advanced, but rather, in Sweden you have to embrace technological advances and know how to use them!  I’m sure with time, I will develop a more ‘appy’ approach to daily life here.  Wish me luck!

Sagamama

 

Playground Gnomes

As a mother of 5 little kids, I’m continuously encouraging them to go outside and PLAY!! My view is the less time they spend inside the house, the less mess they’re making inside that I have to clean up!  They must be sick and tired of me going on about the need for them to run around, get some exercise, breathe fresh air and to keep their dirty shoes outside!!   I often catch them playing in the yard without coats, shoes and sometimes even clothes…how scandalous!  Well, this is Scandinavia and we are trying to fit in!

However, this ‘lack of clothing’ malarkey simply won’t cut it with the upcoming winter weather.  Children in Scandinavia play outdoors regardless of the what the elements have in store.  The only problem is dressing them properly so they stay warm and dry while enjoying the great outdoors.   So the solution to all this my friends is to turn your children into little “Playground Gnomes”.

All children in Scandinavia wear waterproof, fleece-lined, brightly colored, playground suits that are either one piece, or two piece (overalls and jacket) while out and about exploring the playground.  To add to the cuteness of their look, they will also be sporting waterproof boots, hats and gloves.  Basically, they look like little gnomes (especially the preschoolers) hobbling and bobbling about the playground.  While visiting a preschool in Iceland a few years ago, I noticed that even the teachers on playground duty wore similar, adult size, playground suits.  How cool is that!  Literally!

This determination to enjoy the outdoors, despite the harsh climate, demonstrates the lengths that Scandinavians will go to in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  It also shows that learning to enjoy being outdoors is something that is instilled during childhood.  I completely agree with this ideology because if something becomes the ‘norm’ from an early age, then usually it develops in to a habit by the time the child is an adult.  This is probably why I see so many Scandinavians of all ages out cycling, running, walking, hiking etc…despite the weather.  Simply stated…being Scandinavian means being one with nature.

So go, get your kids suited up and turn them into Playground Gnomes this winter!

Sagamama

These are some of my favorite companies that sell playground suits:

Muddy Puddles

Mywear Active at ICA stores

Newport Kidsport

Polarn o Pyret 

66 ° North

Free, just like Pippi!

When moving to Sweden, My husband and I decided to enroll our children in Swedish schools with the hope that they would quickly assimilate by making friends and learning the language.  For most parents, the start to the new school year is always filled with a mixture of emotions; eagerness for a new beginning, a nervousness as to what the new teacher and year might bring, and just simply stated…worry.

While walking my three boys into the schoolyard  at the beginning of the new school year, I have to admit that I was a nervous wreck.  In fact, one parent even asked me if I was alright.  She said I looked stressed.  Darn it…I guess that my ‘lagomness’ (is that even a word?) wasn’t showing through!   I thanked her for the concern and said that I was fine…although I actually felt like bursting into tears because I so desperately wanted to ensure that my boys were going to survive their first day in a new school in a new country.  Thankfully, my boys were much braver and ‘lagom’ about the new school year than me!  With a little coaxing and a kiss, they confidently marched into class with their new, soon-to-be Swedish classmates.  One of their teachers must have seen the worry on my face because she quickly approached me, placed a hand gently on my shoulder and reassured me that everything would be just fine.

On my walk home,  despite this teacher’s comforting comment, the mother in me continued to sow seeds of doubt.   Will they make friends?   What if they don’t know the word for…?  What if they don’t understand anything?  What if..what if…what if…

With these thoughts racing through my head, I tried to pacify myself by sitting down and indulging in my second or third cup of coffee that morning (I lost track because I hadn’t slept too soundly the night before).  I soon came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t making this situation any better and decided that the only option left was to focus on the positive and look forward to seeing my sons’ happy little faces that afternoon.

Ten minutes prior to the end of the day, I raced out of the house towards the school, destined to rescue my sons with open arms.  As I hurried into the schoolyard,  I saw kids running all over the playground, wooded areas and a few, rather calm looking teachers were chatting in the center of the play area.  Then I heard a, “Hey Mom!” from above.  I looked up and saw my 7 year old son in the tree above smiling down at me.

“What are you doing up there?” I asked.

“What does it look like?  I’m climbing a tree…duh!”

“Oh…right…have you had a good day?”

“It’s been awesome!  We get to climb trees and play in the woods.  It’s so much fun!”

After helping my little tarzan leave the jungle, I searched for my other two boys, as they were also running around, freely exploring their new play area.  Despite taking 20 minutes to round-up my troops, they eagerly shared similar stories and raved about the freedom and fun they had experienced in their new school.   My worry and nervousness was soon placated by their exuberance.

My children’s previous school only permitted them to play on certain parts of the playground while on-duty teachers with walkie-talkies watched them like hawks.   I understand the need for such restrictions in US schools, as current circumstances don’t permit the same freedom and safety that most Scandinavian children are able to enjoy.  It’s such a shame, but that’s just the way things are nowadays (I’m starting to sound old!).

Despite this luxury that my children will grow up with, I have to admit that it’s going to take some time for me to fully and confidently accept the freedom my children will experience in Swedish schools.  It’s reminiscent of my childhood in the 80’s, minus the banana seat bicycle and bad hair!!

Sagamama

Hej Då Oregon Pinot

While spending the past four years living in Oregon’s beautiful and bountiful Willamette Valley, I quickly developed a love for Oregon wines, especially pinot noir!  Well, needless to say, this passion led to the accumulation of some pretty amazing bottles.   The following have been some of my favorites;

Dusky Goose 2007 Dundee Hills Pinot Noir

Evening Land 2012 Seven Springs Vineyard ‘La Source’ Pinot Noir

Beaux Freres 2014 Beaux Freres Vineyard Pinot Noir

Domaine Serene 2014 Evenstad Reserve Pinot Noir

Soter Vineyards 2014 Mineral Springs Ranch Pinot Noir

Sadly, only two bottles from my cherished wine collection made it to Sweden, primarily due to the cost of shipping wine internationally.  The remaining bottles were enthusiastically enjoyed during my last few days in Oregon with the help of our friends!  Needless to say, a hangover also accompanied me on my flight back to Sweden!!

So far I have only found a few bottles of Oregon pinot noir in Systembolaget, which is the Swedish chain of stores that is allowed to sell alcohol.  Most of the Oregon wines are considered to be a bit pricey and rare, so they have to be specially ordered.  This poses a problem because patience is not one of the virtues I possess, especially when it involves pinot noir!!  (Cool alliteration…huh?)

So the lack of Oregon pinot noir in my life simply means that I will need to explore and hopefully find a substitute.  I’ve heard that Scandinavia is possibly the next wine frontier due to global warming (yes, it does exists!!).  So maybe I’ll start exploring my wine options locally?  Wish me luck!

Skål!

Sagamama

 

 

 

Marvelous Muesli

One of the things I love most about my day is having breakfast.  I can’t imagine skipping this wondrous meal.  Prior to living in Sweden, my breakfast consisted of a bowl of warm oatmeal with a side of yogurt.  To be honest, I really don’t like oatmeal.  I’ve tried numerous times to ‘dress it up’ by adding dried fruit, applesauce, nuts, fresh fruit, etc…the oatmeal itself is really boring!

So, may I introduce my newfound breakfast favorite…MUESLI!  I simply can’t get enough of it.  For some reason the combination of oats, whole grains, dried fruits and super foods drenched with cold milk tastes a whole lot better than a bowl of warm oatmeal.  While eating muesli, you have to slowly chew and in return you’re able to individually identify and savor each ingredient’s texture and flavor.  It’s a more meaningful, thoughtful eating experience than the process of quickly downing a bowl of warm, squishy, sticky oatmeal where everything is cooked together in one big muddled mess of bland flavors.

I’m not alone in my passion for muesli.  Just walk down the cereal isle in any Swedish grocery store and you will find that the muesli selection far outweighs other crunchy, artificially flavored, sugary breakfast concoctions, disguised as a ‘healthy’ breakfast alternatives .   Additionally, you can quickly select the healthiest muesli by looking for a green keyhole symbol on the label which means that it meets certain health standards according to Livsmedelsverket (Sweden’s National Food Agency).

You’ll probably have to try a few different muesli brands and flavors before you find THE ONE!  It’s like dating!  So once you’ve met your match, try it with milk, milk alternatives, yogurt or just simply plain.  You can also mix your own muesli by selecting a variety of ingredients at the bulk foods section in the store.  So, go wild and go get some marvelous muesli!

Sagamama

Grocery shopping the Sagamama way

While rushing through my local ICA grocery store this morning, I was trying to think of something interesting to write about.  As I looked down to scan my next grocery item, I realized that I was staring at the topic of my next post…the self-scanner!!

Surprisingly, I actually enjoy grocery shopping.  I think there’s something exciting about searching for grocery items.  It’s being a hunter gatherer but without the dirt, weapons, and tiresome effort.  The main part I absolutely, positively loathe is waiting in the check-out line.  It’s a complete waste of my time and normally a frustrating experience!  “Waiting patiently” usually consists of me trying to politely and calmly restrain my preschooler from man-handling all the candy in the display case (recently, I caught him eating a discarded M&M off the floor!!) while also attempting to pacify my screaming toddler who is declaring to the world that he too is totally and utterly sick of waiting in the queue.  No fun!  So, the solution to all this madness is…drum roll please…the Self-Scanner!!!

So, here’s how it works.  Before shopping,  scan your store card at a kiosk that is basically a charging station for all the scanners.  Once your card is read, one of the self-scanners lights up!  Grab it and begin your grocery run.  As you shop, scan either the bar code on the product or weigh the item (eg: apples) at an electronic scale and scan the bar code label that is printed out.  A huge bonus is that my kids love to scan all the groceries while we shop.  This keeps them occupied, if they’re not fighting over whose turn it is.  Next, place your groceries in reusable grocery bags that you brought from home.

When you’re finished shopping, head straight to the self-scanner check-out area and there you will find no queues…yippee!  Only store employees are there ready and waiting to assist you.  To pay for your groceries, place your self-scanner in a charging station next to one of the check-out registers (there are about 6) and then follow the instructions on the screen.  Since you have already scanned and bagged your groceries, you only need to pay.  Finally, grab your receipt, push your cart out of the store and then  jump for joy and click your heels together because you have had a simple, easy and stress-free grocery trip!  Shopping the Sagamama way!!

You may wonder…how do the stores keep people from stealing items?  Well, the first few times you use the self-scanner, it automatically requests for a store employee to randomly check a few of your scanned items.  This ensures that you have properly scanned all of your groceries.  Also, this random ‘security check’ can continue to happen any time you check out in future.  If they discover that you are not scanning items properly, then your random check turns into a regular check, or worse…complete banishment from being able to use the self-scanner…gasp!!

I’ve only ever experienced shopping with self-scanners in Sweden.  However, they’re amazing and I think that parents all over the world should be demanding this technology in their local grocery stores.  The only thing that seems to be remotely similar and more advanced technologically is the new Amazon Go store.   This concept is incredible!  Hopefully, improvements in technology will only help to  improve the shopping experience for everyone but specifically for parents with screaming, demanding, “adorable” little ones.

Sagamama

Have it all…move to Sweden!

This morning on my way to work I had a personal epiphany.

-I’m on my way to work!

-I’m not feeling stressed!

-The kids are happily in school or childcare that my husband and I can afford!

These may seem like silly things to revel in, but not for parents who have tried raising kids in countries that don’t offer adequate support for parents.

Pre-kids, I had a great teaching career with a balanced social life.  While trying to raise kids in England and the USA,  I assumed the role as a full-time mother, mainly because the countries we were living in didn’t provide enough support (financially and socially) to justify and enable me to return to a career that I loved.  How horrible is that?!?!

Now, looking back on my decision to stay home, I have to admit that I was longing for more.  Not more money (although it would have helped), but rather, more of a balanced life; great career, happy family and peace of mind all neatly wrapped together in a pretty box with a beautiful ribbon on top.  Sounds too good to be true…

Well, truth be told, you can “have it all” but you will have to move to Sweden!

After reading the articles raving about Sweden being one of the best places to raise children and be a mother, my husband and I decided to make the move.  We knew that we needed more support than what was on offer in the US and England, so we decided to give it a go!

We’ve only been here 4 months, but we’re already amazed with the support this country offers.  Education (all the way through university) and childcare are either free (funded through taxes) or significantly more affordable than where we’ve lived before.  Even most of the private schools (friskola) are free!     Additionally, the government provides amazing financial support for parents on maternity/paternity leave, as well as a monthly allowance per child.  These are just a few of the benefits, but there are many more!!

But hold on a minute…aren’t taxes crazy?

It depends.  Some taxes are higher, but to be honest, I think the difference is that we’re actually experiencing the benefits of paying our taxes.  It’s not just being filtered through an inefficient system of government waste.

In the end, the real benefit is peace of mind.  Now,  I’m able work part-time and feel happy about it because I’m not feeling financially burdened with extortionate childcare and education costs.   I didn’t realize how stressed I was over these issues until I moved to Sweden and didn’t have to worry about them anymore.

Is Sweden the perfect country…no, but I think the system here promotes a healthier and happier lifestyle, especially if you are trying to raise 5 kids!

Sagamama

 

 

 

In pursuit of the “lagom” lifestyle

I really should recall the exact hour, minute and precise second that the Swedish word ‘lagom’ entered my life.  However, the best I can do is remember that it was an evening this past summer while I was out with my husband and his best friend at a local sushi place in Gothenburg.   As someone who is quite particular with my wine, I explained to the server that I wanted to try a sake that wasn’t too sweet or too dry.  Our server quickly joked that I was after a ‘lagom’ sake.   I replied, “Lagom…what?!?!”

At this point, my husband and his friend laughed and nodded together in complete agreement.  I, on the other hand, sat dumbfounded by my complete and utter ignorance of this word.  Was this a new way of describing the sugar content in wine? Thankfully, the server promptly came to my rescue and explained that in Swedish it means “not too much and not too little” like the Goldilock’s Principle.  She continued to explain that this word is basically at the heart of Swedish culture.  She smiled sweetly and vowed to return with my bottle of ‘lagom’ sake.

Wow…done and dusted…and that was that!  I would never have imagined that ordering sake while eating sushi would lead to a better understanding of Swedish culture.

Ironically, in late August, the BBC published an article about the meaning of the Swedish word ‘lagom’.  The timing of this article couldn’t have been better.  After reading through it,  I was thankful for the insight it provided concerning this fundamental part of Swedish society that no one really openly discusses.   It’s just the way things are here.   The best way to fully understand how to be ‘lagom’ is to fully immerse yourself in Swedish culture…especially for someone like me who is on the complete, opposite end of the ‘lagom’ spectrum.

So the challenge I now face is how in the world do I understand, embrace and embody this lifestyle?

To be completely honest, I don’t think I’ll ever be truly ‘lagom’ in spirit.  After all, I’m an American and we’re known for being a bit loud, overly-opinionated, gregarious and well…simply stated, not very ‘lagom’.   On the other hand, Swedes come across as being a bit reserved, polite, well-mannered, tactful,  not too loud, not too quiet  and…well, ‘lagom’!  I realize that it’s going to take some time for me to achieve any noticeable state of being ‘lagom’.  However, it’s worth a try!

Well,  with this in mind, I better get going.   I’m off…in pursuit of the ‘lagom’ lifestyle!

First step…I’m going to have a relaxing fika (Swedish for “coffee break”) and indulge in only one cinnamon roll!!

Oh dear…I’m failing already!!

Sagamama

Hello! Hallå! Halló!

When thinking of a way to best describe myself and my life’s journey, nothing describes it better than a saga…a long, involved story with a Scandinavian twist.

So rather than sharing my whole life’s saga, here are some quick facts about me;

  • I’m an American currently living in Sweden, but I’ve also lived in England and Iceland.
  • I’m addicted to travel (Iceland is by far my favorite country).
  • I’m married to a Viking and am a mother to 5 amazing children!
  • I enjoy exploring good food and great wine.
  • I love to learn! 

In future posts, I’m hoping to share more about my life, my passions, and the cool things (literally speaking!!) that I get up to.  

Welcome to my saga!  

Sagamama