Sunday, October 24, 2010


It’s hard to believe it’s already been three weeks since Amanda’s dad had to put down his young Doberman, Zorro.

Zorro was barely five years old but had long suffered from a rare disease multiple veterinarians couldn’t diagnose. His toenails split and infection reached the pulp and bone. They never healed and he was eventually in so much pain he almost couldn’t walk.

It’s been a tough month for all of us without Zorro. He’s already very missed.

Pets are of utmost importance in Swedish society. Most people I know here practically make the average American pet owner look negligent.

People don’t go anywhere without their animals. If they must temporarily leave them behind at home, it’s never for more than a few hours.

Amanda watched this dog’s owner wrap it in a sweater in Göteborg while she went inside for minute to buy a pastry.

Pets in Sweden provide much more than just companionship and protection. In many ways, they’re treated more like human children than animals.

I’m surrounded by animals here. Since virtually all Amanda’s extended family on both mom’s and dad’s side live within what feels like a 20-kilometer radius, we usually see their pets at least a few times a week.

I’ve become more of a cat person over the last couple months. On her mom’s farm, they’ve got 12-year-old siblings Timon (named after the meerkat in the Lion King) and K.K., who both live in a barn. K.K.’s real name is Katten Katten (Cat Cat) from a Swedish television show on which all the animals were called by their double animal name.

The cats share a barn with a few sheep, while the rest of the sheep on the farm are pasture grazers.

Amanda’s dad has brothers Oscar, left, and Diesel. Oscar resembles K.K. a lot.

Also on dad’s side, Amanda’s aunt Pema has a pretty cool pug, Julius, left, and another dog, Chewy.

Pema often takes care of Grandma’s pug, Sara.

My favorite pet is Wilma, Amanda’s mom’s flatcoated retriever. I’ve never known an animal with so much personality. She’s 8, but acts eight months.

Wilma loved playing with Zorro. The big dogs chased Amanda’s sister’s Chihuahua, Sixten, on a regular basis.

Wilma does it all.

She hunts for mice.

She swims.

She’s an expert tracking dog, so hide and seek is a favorite game.

She loves her blankets.

And she’ll stop at nothing to get them back.

Even if it means leaping a meter off the ground to pull them out of a tree.

Wilma is also the only member of the family who loves snow more than me, day and night.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Winter's Almost Here

If there’s one thing about weather native Swedes learn at an early age, it’s how quickly fall can become winter.

I took this picture on Amanda’s mom’s farm last Thursday, Oct. 14.

Here’s the exact same part of the yard last night — one week later — when we received our first notable snowfall.

We had a dusting one night last weekend and I thought this early afternoon video I shot would be the extent of Thursday’s snow.

I was wrong, and it definitely won’t be the last time I underestimate the Swedish weather. As I finished doing the dishes around 9 p.m., I saw this out the window.

The snow gradually intensified and was still coming down at midnight. By morning, we had a nice blanket of about five centimeters (two inches). Not much, but pretty impressive for mid-October and only 228 meters (750 feet) above sea level.

Most of it had melted by midday today, and temperatures are expected to rise the next few nights while this precipitation hovers over the country.

But I know the snow and cold temperatures will soon return, and maybe even surpass the record-setting winter in Sweden last winter. Polish scientists are predicting Europe’s coldest winter in 1,000 years. I’m juiced, even if 99.99 percent of the people here dread the thought.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Christmas in October

After dealing with a serious dearth of shirts, pants and hoodies during my first two months in Sweden, I was reunited Wednesday with the rest of my threads and other important personal effects shipped by sea.

The whole process further supported my stereotype that shipping is one of the scummiest business operations on the planet. From my limited experiences, the receiving offices are usually in the sketchiest industrial parks, like the one in Göteborg, below, which Amanda also used to transport items when she first moved back home after three years in California.

The agents operating them are usually sleazy and unhelpful. Once they have your money, they stop responding to emails. Your shipment often gets to the port many days after its scheduled arrival and the agents are still slow to go pick it up. There are multiple customs and residency forms to fill out, some of which you’re told about only after repeatedly calling to check on the status of your shipment.

Seven weeks to the day, I’m just happy to see my clothes, snowboard and snow gear and digital SLR camera again. Opening the boxes felt remarkably like Christmas, since I even forgot about a few things I packed. I could have shipped much more volume for the approximately $400 USD minimum (half to the company in Oakland where I dropped it off and half to the company in Göteborg where I picked it up) but this was really all I needed since I packed very smart and took advantage of the rate being based on volume rather than weight, unlike most other companies out there.

It doesn’t look like much all boxed up, but the shipment weighed a combined 49 kilograms (108 pounds).

I’m singing the praises of vacuum bags, which enabled me to ship most of my wardrobe in only 4.5 cubic feet. These things hold about four times more clothing than it looks like.

Here’s what those two boxes look like unpacked. I was even more impressed after removing the clothes from each vacuum bag.

I hope to avoid dealings with any shipping companies for a long time. At least I’m ready to hit the slopes as soon as the snow starts falling and I’ll be making fewer trips to the laundry room from now on.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Autumn, or fall as it’s called in the United States, officially arrived about a week ago. Surprisingly, temperatures have remained mild — pleasant enough to bike the surrounding farmland without a jacket on a recent afternoon.

We had a few nights last week that dipped into the high 30s Fahrenheit but since then temperatures have hovered between 58 and 62 during the day and 45 and 49 overnight. Admittedly I’m in the minority, but I’m hoping Sweden sees its second straight record-setting winter with below-zero temperatures and meters of snowfall. Unfortunately, it feels like we’ve got a long way to go before everything is white again.

While we can’t wait to move into town — the current tenants will vacate the apartment we signed a lease for last week by November 15 — one perk of living out in the country is the evening sky. The sun will soon disappear for many weeks, so we’re savoring some pretty spectacular “late-summer” sunsets while they last.