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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Quick West Coast Vacation

It's hard to believe that September is next week! This summer has been such a whirlwind that started off with a serious calm before the storm and then got crazy from July to last week. This week, I'm back to my usual schedule with work, and this past weekend, back to our fall skating season.

But before we get far into all that, I wanted to write up a quick post about a wonderful little trip I got to take a few weeks back, to the west coast of Sweden. The family I nanny for has a place on the ocean and encouraged me to come stay in its guest house sometime while they were out there for the summer. Being only an hour flight from Stockholm, I managed to fit it in midweek, just after our skating camp wrapped up.

While thinking of fun summery things I could bring with me to contribute to the time, s'mores popped into my head as the obvious answer. I mean really, who wouldn't love them?! It always surprises me how rarely known they are outside of the US. While marshmallows were easy to find, as well as bars of chocolate, graham crackers were not. After some Googling, I found some other Americans who had a similar problem and went with these as a solution. They weren't exactly the same, but they were exceptionally close. So, I boarded the flight to Halmstad with an extra bag than allowed, with the plan to plead my case for spreading s'mores to the masses if stopped -- I just couldn't fit all the stuff in with my luggage! (Thankfully, I wasn't stopped, as expected for a domestic flight within Sweden.) To say they were a hit would be an understatement. They all loved them -- even the parents!

On the first day I arrived, we also went for a quick swim (I couldn't believe how warm the water was!) and went grocery shopping. The kids' dad suggested I pick out something I liked for breakfast, but noticing it was a huge grocery store we were going into (ICA Maxi, for those familiar, so it would be likely to have an international section), I opted not for something I'd want for myself for breakfast, but for something I've been wanting the kids to try after our many silly arguments about Swedish pancakes versus American pancakes. Having never had American-style ones, I thought it was about time that they try. I wouldn't normally enjoy pancakes much, but it seems that from abroad, any silly American food tastes slightly better, so I was happy to join them. I made the pancakes the next morning, topped them with some maple syrup, and served them to everyone. Not surprisingly, the parents found them a bit too sweet/unhealthy, but the kids gobbled them up and asked for more of course.

Later in the afternoon, we went for a walk to a local farmer's market, had ice creams, and stumbled across this guy and his other 50 friends all over the place. While cute, I am not a fan of them at all because the idea of stepping on one grosses me out beyond belief.

After our walk, it was time to go out and pick mushrooms for dinner. This was probably one of the most comically Swedish things I've ever done. Don't get me wrong, I completely respect it and think it's wonderful, but my cynical American side couldn't help but balk at the idea of spending hours foraging in the forest for mushrooms and then spending even more time painstakingly brushing each one clean with a paintbrush-like tool because washing them would remove some of the flavor, it was explained. I thought that perhaps they were difficult to buy or overly expensive but a quick Google search later on showed that we saved maybe 50kr ($7). However, the search was fun, the woods were beautiful, and I can certainly see the appeal in finding and cooking them yourself.

During dinner preparations, I downloaded a cribbage board app to my iPad and started teaching members of the family how to play -- this is a family must-have on my paternal side with full tournaments going on each summer vacation. After some initial bumps in the road 9 year old caught on fast (it's a hard game with lots of odd rules!) and played well enough to avoid getting skunked.

After that, dinner! The appetizers of our freshly-picked mushrooms on toast, some champaign and other snacks were delicious. (I couldn't believe how good the mushroom topping was and have made it at home successfully since so that my husband could try it as well.) Dinner was homemade pizza and was wonderful as well. The evening wrapped up with some planning of our upcoming schedules as well as political talk that I really enjoyed, as the parents both have similar interests as myself.

The next morning, American style pancakes were back by request and then myself, the kids' mom, and the two youngest kids (7 & 5) were off to the Svedinos Bil och Flygmuseum to check out some relics. It was full of so, so many old American cars that were super cool to see in person. I don't think I've seen that amount or in such good quality before, even in the US. We also had some Swedish desserts at the museum's cafe on the way out, where I finally tried a dammsugare which was surprisingly gross compared to how awesome I've always thought they'd taste. However, the other desserts we had were completely delicious.

After that, it was time to head home. The most eventful aspect of the flight back was how comically small the Halmstad airport was and that even just being there 45 minutes before the flight was too early to check in. It's this aspect of flights around Europe (and especially domestic ones within Sweden) that I really, really love.

Ok, I know I've missed bits of this trip, but I've definitely covered the major aspects and am now off to get ready for work. Happy Wednesday everyone!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Summer So Far

Hard to believe we're nearly halfway through August! It's been an awesome summer. I've been here, there and everywhere, and I do apologize for the lack of updates, but for the most part, I've seen so many family and friends that the majority of people who want to, know what I'm up to anyhow! So here's how it's gone:

June

Last days of work, first days of summer, lots of barbecuing, and a love/hate relationship with the abundance of sun (23 hours a day, basically). Not a whole lot of interesting things in this month, mostly planning for July/August and attempting to save money for the dead period of no work during the summer.

July

Here's where it really picked up. Early in the month, a barbecue with some friends that was incredibly fun, but still scarred by a passing helpful Swede's comments of, "You're American, shouldn't you know how to barbecue?!" Okay, it wasn't really bad, but we're still laughing at it (again just last night, in fact).


The second weekend of July, my husband and I boarded the boat that docks nearby our place and traveled to Tallinn for weekend. (I know, I'm sure everyone is completely shocked at this vacation destination.) It was a blast. Taking the boat overnight is a world of difference with another person. Rather than my previous boring experience, it was wonderful and really, for the way we booked the trip at the last minute, it was a very good price by comparison to any other option. We took the boat Thursday night, arrived at 10am on Friday morning in Tallinn, stayed in a hotel downtown Friday night, and then left on the boat Saturday evening, arriving back in Stockholm at 10am Sunday. The cost of the boat trips plus hotel for two people total was 2500kr (or $360).

Tallinn was, of course, as beautiful as always.


It was, at long last, my husband's first trip to Estonia. He really enjoyed it and, it seems, saw exactly the reason why it has so much appeal and is always such a blast for me. While it is beautiful and full of great sites all the time, it's the people that really make it, and it was so nice that he could experience the dinners, lunches and in-betweens spent with my wonderful group of friends there.

Not a lot of pictures were taken this time around, but during our lunch on our last day with the whole group of friends, plus parents, one of the group hopped up with my camera and just like previous trips, took all kinds of great video footage that I later strung together here:



After that trip, I had only a few days to prepare (aka: do tons of laundry) for my trip to the US. Only July 16th, I headed to Arlanda and was off to Iceland for a quick layover and then to Boston. Both flights, as has always been the case in my experience with Icelandair, were great. They really just can't be beat.

My time in the US was excellent. It was so incredibly busy, that a lot of it is a blur, but when I think of the individual days, it was so incredibly wonderful. Lots of time spent with family, catching up with friends, relaxing on the beach, and really just soaking up as much time as possible with those who I miss most. Coming home was a bit sad, not wanting to leave the fun, vacation-life of no work and family/friends all the time there, but I had to remind myself that that's not real life, and if we lived there, I wouldn't live like that on a daily basis anyhow.

Two of our nieces that are incredibly missed -- I was able to spend a whole afternoon, just me and them!

The major reason for the timing of my trip back to the US though was for my grandmother's 90th birthday. A big bash was planned, with a 35-strong family trip to Maine for the week following. The party was excellent, and my grandmother was quite surprised. The trip to Maine was awesome as always (it happens every year, though not always quite so big) and I think is best depicted by this photo of the entrance of house where everyone stayed -- happy chaos!

Some photos from the birthday party and beach trip:

Happy Birthday Grammy!
Grammy with her five children
The whole family!
Cribbage was a constant -- a championship bracket was even made
Cousins' kooky kids
Books and magazines abound
Family karaoke night out was quite the hit
My sister, as we headed home from an evening walk on the beach

It was a blast. I'm definitely leaving out lots about the US trip, but it would be impossible to cover it all, as much as I'd like to. When I arrived home on Friday, August 1, I had two days to sort my internal clock out, as the following Monday, I'd be coaching at our skating camp each day for the week, starting at 9:30am each day. More about that to come!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Weekend in Norway

So in the midst of the stress of last week, not only did I have to figure out exactly how sick I was, but also if I was going to be able to attend a weekend trip to Bergen, Norway. My friend, Anita, and I bought the tickets a LONG time ago when we saw there was a great deal on Norwegian Air's website -- roundtrip for 600kr ($90). I booked the hotel sometime after and had until the end of the business day before to cancel if I wanted, which landed me at Thursday afternoon. After arriving home from the hospital on Thursday afternoon, I went down the street to meet some friends for the Laleh concert at Gröna Lund and made it through with only minor pain, so I hoped that after sleeping in as much as possible Friday, I'd be all set for the weekend away. While it wasn't a pain free weekend, it was manageable, and I'm so thankful I went because Bergen (which is all I've seen of Norway so far) is ridiculously beautiful.

After a flight just over an hour Friday evening, we arrived in Bergen and hopped on the bus from the airport to the city. Even the flight in was gorgeous and the view from the bus was equally so. It's never occurred to me that Sweden has a relatively flat landscape (similar to what I grew up with in north eastern Massachusetts), and suddenly being surrounded by huge hills and some mountains was a big change. The little houses scattered down the sides of the hills were so beautiful, though I couldn't help but wonder if the beauty would be worth the impracticality of living way up there.


As we entered town, the sun was just starting to go down (sometime after 9pm). We quickly checked in at our hotel, dropped off our stuff, and headed out, walking as quickly as we could towards where we hoped to find the water. We passed some gorgeous little neighborhoods along the way, observing that the buildings were a lot more similar to what I'd expect to see in Tallinn than Stockholm -- many more wood homes and cute little streets. Soon after, we found the sea and the sunset!


We got a bunch of photos of the sunset just before a light rain started. We walked around a bit more and got back to our hotel sometime before midnight. The next morning, able to sleep in knowing that sunset wouldn't be until after 10pm that night and we had plenty of time during the day, we headed out around 11am.


Downtown Bergen is gorgeous. The sun was so bright and the weather couldn't have been more perfect. We laid out in the sun at Lille Lungegårdsvannet for a few hours in the later afternoon and ended up getting sunburns, of which I was not expecting after seeing the forecasted 15-17º temperature for our time there. For the most part though, we spent the day exploring streets that looked interesting, seeing the sights and getting a feel for the town.


The two above and below photos are of market areas selling all kinds of things -- especially seafood. Notable things sold were whale meat and from my calculation, king crab legs at just over $50 per pound (690kr/kg). Yikes!


Walking around the harbor, we walked through the carnival (playing all kinds of bad American country music), along the docks, and then back up through a beautiful neighborhood full of houses on the hills.


Later that evening, we had unexpected dinner plans. Upon arriving in Bergen, I discovered an internet acquaintance of mine lived there as well when she commented one of my photos posted online. Loving the idea of seeing the city through the eyes of a local, Anita and I arranged to meet up with our new friend, Amanda, for dinner at one of her favorite places Saturday night. It was awesome. Amanda is super cool and was a blast. We discovered a whole lot of unexpected common interests. After dinner, we headed to her favorite bar for a few drinks and then later, she came along with us up the closest mountain on the Fløibanen. I figured the view from the top would be wonderful, but I had no idea just how much. It was spectacular and we timed it to arrive shortly before sunset.

The fountain we hung out by earlier in the day

After braving the freezing (ok, well not quite) temperatures after the sunset, we parted ways with our new friend and headed back to our hotel, grabbing some snacks for the next morning's breakfast along the way as well as a bag of these strange chocolate things that, when I first saw them thought, "Those look like Bugles..." and then after buying and trying it realized they are precisely that -- chocolate covered ones! They were pretty delicious and though I haven't seen them in Sweden, given that some of the writing on the bag was in Swedish, I think I'll just have to keep a better eye out.

Sunday, our last day, was a pretty lazy one. The weather wasn't quite as good and it felt a lot colder out. We slept in, checked out of the hotel at noon, walked around a bit, grumbled about our sunburns, laid (under a tree) in a park for a bit, got cold, went back to the hotel, got our things, and headed to the airport to enjoy the warmth, electrical outlets and free wifi (though we were annoyed to find that the Bergen airport runs its wifi off what we can only assume is a dial-up connection).

See here for all my photos from the trip!

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Stay in the Hospital

The past few days have been quite the roller coaster. So, in writing this post, I hope to both tell the tale for those who've been wanting to know how I was and hopefully, so that if someone Googles related terms in the future, they can find a walkthrough of the system as I experienced it. That said, this is going to be a long one, but I want to write it all down before I forget, so let's start at the beginning...

Tuesday

On Tuesday afternoon, I went to a school concert for the middle child I nanny for, which was incredibly cute. It was animal-themed and they sang a whole bunch of songs in Swedish (some alternate versions of English ones I know and then in true Scandinavian style, danced to "What does the fox say?" to close out the show.)  

When it was over, the kids, their parents and I joined the rest of the families outside in the park for a picnic. I had normal picnic foods (this becomes important later) -- bread, cheese, deli meat, pasta salad, hard boiled egg and pear juice. Nothing too crazy. Later that night, I had a salad for dinner (vegetarian kebab "meat," lettuce, black beans, cheese, red pepper, black olives and honey mustard dressing). Also that day I had knäckebröd with cream cheese and cucumber as well as some M&Ms.

Tuesday night, around midnight, I had a terrible stomach ache just as I was going to sleep. I had no idea what brought it on and figured I might as well try to just go to sleep and hope it would be gone by the next morning. After failing to fall asleep because of the pain, I moved from the bed to the couch and called my mom in the US. Thankfully by 2am here, someone's always available to talk in the US. She said she'd have me call back soon, but while waiting in the meanwhile, I fell asleep on the couch, moving myself to the bed soon after.

Wednesday

On Wednesday morning, I woke up when my husband started getting ready for work and couldn't believe the amount of pain I was in (or how I'd been managing to sleep without realizing it moments before). Once I got out of bed, I realized it was far worse than I thought and standing made me shake with dizziness. As I laid back down in bed, I thought about how ridiculous this was and tried to figure out how I could make it go away by the time I needed to get to work later that day.

Realizing that this wasn't like pain I'd had previously, I started to Google what going to the doctor here in Sweden would even entail. Having never done it, I had no idea what the protocol was. The only relief I had was that no matter what, I would not be charged more than 1000kr ($150), as that's the yearly maximum an adult legally residing in Sweden can be asked to pay for healthcare. (The rest is covered by the government through our taxes.) So I started to find information. The most important thing was this, highlighted for anyone who may come looking for this info (as I did in the articles for expats that I scoured):

Anyone in Sweden can call the national medical hotline (Vårdguiden) for 24/7 help from professionals. The number is 08 320 100 (number soon to be changed to 1177). Press 1 for general info, 2 for children's advice or 3 for adult medical advice.


The wait was about 5 minutes, and the automated system tells you the number you are in the queue. Once up, I spoke with a very nice nurse who took down my symptoms, put me on hold as she did some research, and came back with a suggestion. She told me that I shouldn't be anxious but that I needed to go see a doctor that morning, just in case. In typical Swedish style, she repeatedly apologized for her English, which was perfectly adequate. After living here for almost a year, I'm used to this and it's not a problem at all to have the occasional Swedish word or sentence slipped in instead. She told me that the best thing to do would be to go to a local ER to be seen the fastest.

After taking down the name and address of the hospital she suggested for me, I took a fast but very painful shower, knowing I'd feel gross all day and regret it if I didn't at least try. As I got ready to leave, I thought back to what a Canadian friend had told me about their healthcare system (the only thing I could imagine was comparable to what I was about to walk into) and attempted to pack my purse full of what I'd be needing. From what she said, due to the universal care, the hospitals have very, very long wait times. For that, I packed both a book and my backup phone battery charger. While throwing all this together, I also realized that there was a small chance that I might not be going home that night if the problem was bad enough, so I tossed a few of my favorite things in a pile on the kitchen table, in case my husband had to bring them later that night.

Once ready, I hobbled down the stairs from our building, across the street and onto a bus, which thankfully had the suggested hospital directly on its route. This felt like the longest bus ride of my life, actually only lasting at about 25 minutes. After finding the emergency entrance (important word here for those who may be doing the same, look for "akuten" or "akutmottagning").

Once inside the ER, I was not surprised to find that I should grab a number and take a seat. However, as soon as I took the number, I was called (there were about four people in the waiting room). I walked up to the window and started to tell the clerk what was going on. She was very kind, took down my information, asked for my phone number [She first said, "What's your mobile number? Oh no, I'm sorry, what's your cell phone number as you Americans call it!" It was very cute she clearly made an effort to cheer me up.], she then verified my residency status (a constant surprise to everyone I met throughout this experience) and told me the fee for an emergency room visit: 400kr ($60). I paid with my debit card, took the papers she gave me and sat to wait to be seen. A pretty short time later, I was called in.

Next, a nurse took all my stats and sent my blood and urine off for tests. After waiting a few more minutes after that, a doctor saw me. He was very kind, asked me a few questions about where I was from as well as the more necessary ones about what I'd eaten, how the pain was, etc. After he checked me out and the test results came back, he said I was very borderline problematic and said he recommended I stay the night for observation. The result seemed to show that I was having an issue with my gallbladder, though further exams would be needed to know for sure. I think the look on my face of "PLEASE, NO." said it all. He said he'd check with his supervisor for a second opinion, and I thanked him for that. I sat watching a documentary via Netflix on my phone for a while and when he returned, he explained that his superior said I should be admitted as well, though he also reminded me that legally, I was permitted to leave. I said I'd stay, and so then I resumed my Netflix while awaiting the person who'd bring me to the part of the hospital I'd be staying in.

Ultimately, the most annoying thing of the whole experience was the waiting in between each event. It was typically 30 minutes to an hour between each thing, and not fully understanding what was being said some of the time, I was never quite sure if I should keep waiting or speak up (and risk seeming like an impatient jerk). So to anyone looking at a similar situation, just be prepared to keep yourself occupied. The only time I really spoke up was when I realized I was clearly forgotten after having waited a long time to be taken back to my room, falling asleep while sitting in the chair waiting.

A photo snapped while awaiting test results in the ER examination room


Once up to the room I'd be staying in, I was given clothes, socks and a towel. While the hospital onesie (a bit different than the typical American hospital gown) was an option, I said I was all set, as I planned to put on the yoga pants and t-shirt my husband would be bringing soon enough and I didn't really understand why the nurses were surprised I didn't want to wear that ridiculous thing. So then I was hooked up to an IV, reminded not to eat ANYTHING AT ALL, and sat down to wait. There wasn't a TV, only the book and my iPhone that I'd brought, so it was pretty boring. At the least, the view was pretty awesome from my bed:



After some time, my husband arrived with all my things. I was immensely thankful for it all, but more so for the company. The visiting hours were set to end in just an hour, but I convinced him to stay until they threw him out, or until it got uncomfortably past the deadline enough that we couldn't stand it any longer. When he left, it was disappointing, but at least then I had my computer to distract me. Chatting with friends and watching videos occupied me for the most part. Nurses were in and out, checking things, adding a new bag of stuff to my IV, and my main doctor came as well. She was a very British sounding woman (so much so, I'd assume she wasn't natively Swedish, but she clearly was) and very to the point. She examined me and was very straightforward. She left and the nurses resumed with my incremental care.

Freedom!
Throughout the experience, I really can't say enough good about the nurses. While one or two wasn't that comfortable with English, the majority happily chatted away with me, asking questions about my life, telling me about theirs, laughing that neither of us knew the English words for most of the medical terms, and generally just being awesome. The evening nurse joked with me that she used to love Grey's Anatomy until she began her medical studies and can't stand it now that she sees how fictional it is. The night nurse talked with me a bit longer than the others, asking me what I thought of all of this, checking if I had any concerns or unanswered questions, making sure I was all set to sleep, and allowing me to disconnect the IV for the night, with the understanding it'd have to be reconnected in the morning -- better than nothing, it was driving me crazy, dragging that pole around! Soon after, I fell asleep watching Maya Rudolph's variety hour from Monday (quite funny, but I need to watch it again to actually remember it).

Thursday

In the morning, I woke up around 5:30am to the last nurse from the night before reconnecting me (just as she promised) and most kind of all, whispering that everything was all set, I didn't need to move and should try to go back to sleep. In my half-asleep state, it was just so comforting.

While I tried, I wasn't able to fall back asleep, though thankfully the pain had decreased a lot. Instead, I watched some Friends reruns and looked at my list of friends on Facebook to see if anyone was awake to chat with. Around 8:30am, I was disconnected once more so that I could take a shower. This was not enjoyable with the IV needle still in my arm (wrapped up), but I knew I'd feel gross all day if I didn't just do it.

Soon after that, I was taken for transport down to have more tests. This transport was probably my favorite. (To save on time and because the hospital is quite large, they employ a company that does the patient transport services -- I'm not sure if this is common in the US and elsewhere, since this was my first time experiencing such a thing anywhere.) This transport was done by a guy who could have easily been my grandfather. He approached me, asked my name, and if I spoke any Swedish. I replied to everything in Swedish, but told him my spoken skills were pretty bad (and especially so when exhausted and in pain). He apologized for his bad English, but then when on to chat with me the whole trip, missing words here and there, but it was no problem. He told me how he wasn't taught English in school and instead had to learn through evening classes when he was older. Later, he asked me where I was from in the US and when I replied "Boston," his eyes lit up and he said, "Bruins!" I laughed and then he started to tell me how he has a "Bruins dress" at his summer house that he uses while grilling... It took me a moment, and then I realized he was describing a cooking apron, so I told him the word and he was very excited to tell me, "Yes! I always, always wear my Bruins apron while grilling!" It was very cute and really, was quite emblematic with the general way I was treated during my stay.

Another while later, the doctor from the previous day returned and said she'd viewed all my test results from today and that the issue seemed to have decreased on its own. She said she could refer me for further exams if I preferred, but also agreed that given how things were going, it would also be okay if I went home, to return if anything got worse again. I was very relieved to hear this and couldn't wait to get packing. Before I could though, she said I needed to prove I could eat a normal lunch. Having not eaten in well over a day at that point, I was both ready to eat anything and slightly afraid of overdoing it. To be safe, I went with something guaranteed to be delicious -- meatballs and mashed potatoes with a sauce that I have no idea how to translate, but was ridiculously delicious.


At long last, after having no issues with lunch for about an hour, my IV was removed, I was tested for MRSA, and set free! The last thing I was told was to expect a bill for the overnight stay, which is an extra fee on top of the emergency room fee. I was a bit concerned by this at first, and then the nurse let me know it would be 80kr ($12). I couldn't help but laugh at that, and then talked with the nurse briefly about what a relief the prices were every time I encountered anything during this whole fiasco. We were lucky growing up, we always had decent (if not superb) health insurance, but we still had the possibility for hefty copays at times.

This whole experience was just so incredibly reassuring in almost every way. I'm also very impressed with how well they catalogue everything -- that is, rather than hordes of paperwork everywhere, they use each patient's personnummer to keep track each dosage, test, and just about everything else that can happen, asking the patient to recite it back to them for confirmation before each step. They also were incredibly willing to do as little or as much as I wanted. I tended to say, "I trust your judgement" rather than choosing the easy options out at times. If I'd asked for a billion tests, I know they'd have obliged as well (crazily enough, at no extra cost). They really just wanted to make sure I was on the best possible track for me.

So there it all is. I know there must be pieces I've forgotten, so I'll add them if I think of them. For anyone reading through websites and blogs frantically trying to decide if they should go get checked out, pack some things to keep you busy and get going. With a system like this, there's little excuse not to. Additionally, if you happen to be a Swedish resident (like me or a standard citizen) abroad, you should also have the European Health Insurance Card, permitting you access to emergency health care at Swedish prices while abroad in 32 countries as well.