Posts Tagged ‘swedish’

No Christmas Snow


A handful of snowflakes came down on Christmas Eve Day, but not enough for me to shoot a snowy picture. Although I was mighty tired of snow last March, I would have liked to see some this week.

A fresh snowfall is pretty, but I guess I’m glad the roads are dry. Our plan for Christmas is to watch John’s children open presents early, then come home and get ready for our Christmas dinner, which shouldn’t be hard as two of the world’s best cooks are bringing more than half the meal.

Suzanne, meanwhile, is in the Caribbean with the Swedish side of the family. Note the photo of her kids learning a traditional song from their Swedish-Danish cousins while dancing around the tree (actually, it’s a lamp this year) on an island that probably never sees snow.

In other December photos: John’s children getting creative with an erector set (who needs to know what the Ukrainian directions say?), an Amaryllis on Erik’s piano as well as his Santa Lucia and Swedish creche, early Christmas gift-opening before the trip to the Caribbean, and family members enjoying 80-degree weather. Finally, the Swedish tomtens that my husband and I received in time for Christmas.

I hope that those who celebrate this holiday have a merry one, and I send warm wishes to everyone. See you tomorrow.








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Photo: Henrik Montgomery / TT
The history of the Christmas market at Gamla Stan in Stockholm is described in a newspaper’s Swedish Advent calendar series.

This year I started following on twitter a newspaper called The Local. It covers Sweden, which is nice for me because my son-in-law is Swedish. Today’s post is on a series the paper has featured this month.

“Every day until Christmas Eve, The Local explains the unique history behind Swedish Christmas traditions in our own Advent calendar. …

“For centuries, Swedish Christmas markets have brought warmth and light to the darkest time of the year. Visiting a Swedish Christmas market (julmarknad) isn’t just a great way of becoming truly immersed in Sweden’s Christmas traditions, it may also be one of the best ways, short of a time machine, to experience what life was like in the past.

“The history of the festive markets goes back to 14th century Germany, and Sweden appears to have adopted the Christmas market not long afterward. Much like today, the earliest Christmas markets were typically held in town squares throughout the month of December, and featured small stalls where merchants and craftspeople could sell their wares.

“At Stortorget, Stockholm’s oldest square located in what is now known as Gamla Stan, markets were held at different times throughout the year as early as the 1300s, and there is evidence that one of these was held in connection with the feast day of St. Thomas the Apostle on December 21st.

“In 1523, during the first year of his reign, King Gustav Vasa established a permanent Christmas market at Stortorget. Though there have been periods over the centuries when the Stortorget julmarknad has not operated, it is still the oldest such market in Sweden and one of the oldest in Europe.

“When the Stortorget julmarknad was established, the king took care to stipulate that only Swedish goods were sold, a tradition carried on today by Stockholms-Gillet, which has organized the market since 1915. …

“Scents from traditional Swedish favourites like warm glögg, brända mandlar (candied almonds), and julgodis like knäck permeate the air just as they have in the past.

“The traditional foods and handicrafts offered for sale give a glimpse of life in the past, as well as the opportunity to incorporate them into modern life. The sense of stepping back in time is enhanced when attending a julmarknad at a historic location, or at one of Sweden’s fantastic open-air museums, such as Skansen in Stockholm. …

“Each day until Christmas Eve, we’re looking at the story behind one Swedish festive tradition. Find the rest of our #SwedishChristmas series here.”

Other topics covered: How one Swedish woman influenced the candy cane, Sweden’s favourite Christmas film, how a folklore tomte became Sweden’s Santa, and how glögg sends Swedish wine consumption through the roof.

Erik has been known to warm our insides with glögg at Christmas. But not this year: the Swedish side of the family is celebrating in Guadalupe and keeping warm by the swimming pool.

Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT
The gingersnap: A humble cookie’s journey from holy medicine to Swedish Christmas favourite.


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Art: Hilma af Klint

While in New York for Thanksgiving we went to the Guggenheim to see an exhibit of art by the pathbreaking Swedish painter Hilma af Klint.

Wikipedia has a good entry on her. It reads in part, “Hilma af Klint (October 26, 1862 – October 21, 1944) was a Swedish artist and mystic whose paintings were amongst the first abstract art. A considerable body of her abstract work predates the first purely abstract compositions by Kandinsky. She belonged to a group called ‘The Five,’ a circle of women who shared her belief in the importance of trying to make contact with the so-called ‘High Masters’ – often by way of séances. Her paintings, which sometimes resemble diagrams, were a visual representation of complex spiritual ideas. …

“Through her work with the group The Five Hilma af Klint created experimental automatic drawing as early as 1896, leading her towards an inventive geometric visual language capable of conceptualizing invisible forces both of the inner and outer worlds. As she got more familiar with this form of expression, Hilma af Klint was assigned by the High Masters to create the paintings for the ‘Temple’ – however she never understood what this ‘Temple’ referred to. Hilma af Klint felt she was being directed by a force that would literally guide her hand. …

“In 1906, after 20 years of artistic works, and at the age of 44, Hilma af Klint painted her first series of abstract paintings. …

“Quite apart from their diagrammatic purpose the paintings have a freshness and a modern aesthetic of tentative line and hastily captured image: a segmented circle, a helix bisected and divided into a spectrum of lightly painted colors. … The paintings often depict symmetrical dualities: … up and down, in and out, earthly and esoteric, male and female, good and evil. …

“Hilma af Klint never dared to show her abstract work to her contemporaries. Her major work, the one dedicated to the Temple, had been questioned and rejected by Rudolf Steiner. Hilma af Klint drew the conclusion that her time was not yet ready to understand them. More than 1200 paintings and drawings were carefully stored away in her atelier, waiting for the future.” More at Wikipedia and also at the Guggenheim. You have until April 23 to see the show.

I include pictures of the unusual museum and of its famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.










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Photos: UNHCR/Anders Aalbux
Kerstin and Åke are Swedish senior citizens who say they have learned a lot from the young refugees who are
their IT guides and are recommending the service to their friends.

Although I generally bristle when assumptions are made about older people not knowing how to use a smartphone or computer, I have to admit that technology ignorance does characterize many seniors. So I’m not going to get on my high horse about young immigrants to Sweden sharing IT knowledge with the elderly and using the experience to improve their Swedish. I think it’s an important win-win — especially as Erik’s mother has explained to me that there needs to be more effort to help refugees learn Swedish.

Anders Aalbu writes for UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, “It is a Saturday in Karlskoga, in the middle of Sweden. Kerstin and her husband, Åke, have each brought their smartphones, a tablet and a laptop. They’ve got a slew of questions, and they admit they might have already asked some of them. But Setrag and his colleague Sara don’t mind. A repeated question is just another opportunity for them to practice Swedish.

“While working as an IT guide, Setrag speaks slowly. But so do the seniors who come to the public library every Saturday to learn how to use their computers and smartphones. They don’t mind that their teachers are refugees, as speaking slowly makes it easier for them to understand each other.

“Wearing his blue IT guide shirt, Setrag patiently explains to Kerstin: “But now you want to travel by bus, so you have to open another app, because this one is for buying train tickets,’ Setrag says. As the app loads, Setrag explains to Kerstin that the initial message that shows up is a one-off. ‘You’ll only see this the first time. It’s supposed to give you an idea about how to use the app,’ he explains as he points to the spot saying ‘Next.’

“Setrag Godoshian, 20, came to Sweden from Syria in 2014. He has spent three years in the introductory programme learning Swedish. A certain level of Swedish speaking skills was needed for him to become an IT guide. Now Setrag gets to speak lots of Swedish, has his first important job in Sweden, and he’s more integrated in the local community. In return, numerous seniors are improving their IT skills.

“Sara Alaydi, 20, is also a Syrian refugee, who arrived in Sweden in 2015. Becoming an IT guide has led to major changes in her integration into the Swedish society. ‘It has helped me so much. I’ve become more social, for instance, also at school. My experience from the job as an IT guide helps with all the group work we have in class,’ she explains. ‘Elderly people tend to speak a little bit slower, which makes it easier for us. And it also makes it less nerve-racking to talk to them, so we constantly get a chance to practice,’ Sara says. ‘And we’re more confident speaking with them, even though we make mistakes,’ Setrag adds. …

“IT Guide Sweden started in 2010. Its founder, Gunilla Lundberg, was approached by two teenagers, both having just arrived in Sweden, and in need of a summer job. Gunilla asked what they were good at, and the answer was ‘we’re good with computers.’ Today, IT Guide is present in more than 20 Swedish municipalities and employs about 200 young IT Guides. …

“IT Guide Sweden was nominated for the Swedish Door-Opener Award for 2018, an award recognizing Sweden’s best integration initiatives.”

Read here about how working as an IT guide often provides young immigrants with good references as they move into the job world.

Marketing and spreading the word about IT Guide to elderly Swedes is one part of the job for these young refugees.


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No sooner had I seen this Science article describing female DNA at a Viking burial site, than I learned there was a controversy about it. Was this a Viking with weapons and war horses — or not? (Turtle Bunbury tweeted the tip.)

Michael Price believes the researchers who analyzed the bones. “A 10th century Viking unearthed in the 1880s was like a figure from Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries: an elite warrior buried with a sword, an ax, a spear, arrows, a knife, two shields, and a pair of warhorses. And like a mythical valkyrie.”

A study published in “the American Journal of Physical Anthropology finds that the warrior was a woman — the first high-status female Viking warrior to be identified.

“Excavators first uncovered the battle-ready body among several thousand Viking graves near the Swedish town of Birka, but for 130 years, most assumed it was a man — known only by the grave identifier, Bj 581. A few female Viking soldiers have been unearthed over the years, but none had the trappings of high rank found in the Birka burial — not just weapons and armor, but also game pieces and a board used for planning tactics.

“In recent years, reanalysis of skeletal characteristics had hinted that the corpse might be female. Now, the warrior’s DNA proves her sex.” And you can see the study at Wiley Online Library, here.

Skepticism may be read here, at Ars Technica, where Annalee Newitz makes the point that 19th C. excavation was often careless and this one may have mixed up bones.


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Time to share a few more pictures. The sunlit chestnut grows in Rhode Island. (I didn’t know chestnuts were around anymore.) The colorful dahlias are in John’s front yard.

The brick wall with shadows is in the Fort Point area of Boston. The decorated pillar is one of several opposite the Greenway. It’s called “Harbor Stripes” and is by Karen Korellis Reuther. The work on all the pillars was sponsored by the Design Museum, which, among other enterprises, promotes public art.

The colorful shield is at the Swedish consulate in Fort Point, where I went to pick up my granddaughter’s Swedish passport. She has dual citizenship. I had to show a letter from Erik and also his Swedish driver’s license. I collected a lot of brochures about Sweden and about upcoming Swedish  activities in the Boston area.

Wrapping up the photo presentation with more shadows.



































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I thought I would like to learn some Swedish because my grandson is bilingual, and I’m sure his sister will be, too. I figured I could try reading their storybooks, and they could help me.

A co-worker told me about a free online language site called Duolingo. The first time I checked, it didn’t have Swedish, but it keeps adding languages. Now whenever I have little bits of time, I try to do an exercise.

My grandson thinks my pronunciation is pretty hilarious, but I do believe Duolingo is slowly moving me forward. The short lessons are lots of fun. They often include funny explanations of why Swedish has certain forms, and they always lob a few easy questions my way (especially after a series of mistakes) so I feel like I’m getting somewhere. You can click one button to have a voice say the words at a normal speed and another button to have her say it slo-ow. When a lesson is complete, trumpets sound.

John explained the company’s unusual business model to me. I get lessons for free because I am supplying Duolingo with data about the kinds of mistakes people make with language. Duolingo can sell the data to a search engine that wants to refine its guesses about what bad spellers and the like are really looking for.

Here’s a Tedx talk in which a charming 12-year-old boy says learned English in eight months just using his computer. He tells Matt Dalio, CEO and Chief of Product at Endless Mobile that he loves technology, especially creating animations.

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Although my husband and I are not in any design field, we’ve enjoyed watching videos like Gary Hustwit’s Helvetica (the history of a typeface) and his Objectified (on industrial design). It’s  interesting to see how designers think about things like a new font or machine.

Recently at National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition, Ari Shapiro talked about a new typeface meant to represent Sweden.

He reports, “Nearly every country has a national flag, a national anthem, a national bird. Not many countries have a national typeface. Sweden recently commissioned a team of designers to come up with a font to represent the country on its websites, press releases, tourism brochures and more. …

“The typeface that [Soderhavet] designers created looks pretty much the way you would expect a Scandinavian typeface to look, too.

” ‘The Scandinavian tradition is pretty humble, easygoing and clean,’ says Stefan Hattenbach, one of the designers of the new Sweden Sans. Less is more, you could say.’

“He started by collecting images of old Swedish street signs and company logos. He pulled images of Swedish wallpaper, cars and furniture, and looked for what he calls the red thread running through it all.

” ‘There’s an expression in Sweden, too,’ Hattenbach says. ‘We say lagom, which is not too much and not too little.’ ”

The ancient Greeks had a similar expression: “Nothing in excess.” The only letter with a flourish is q. Says Hattenback, “Q is not used that much, so you can often be a little more playful with that.”

See what you think of Swedish Sans, below, and read the rest of the NPR story here.

Swedish Sans, by Soderhavet
A typeface to represent official Sweden

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It’s hard to read about the deprivations of refugees, especially the children and especially in winter. That’s why I appreciate hearing about any kindness extended to them. National Public Radio recently had a story on the kindness of Clowns without Borders.

Laura Secorun-Palet writes, “On a cold November morning, 300 children gather in a soccer field in Zaatari, a Jordanian village next to the country’s largest refugee camp. …

“Today the children are not lining up to collect food coupons or clothes from NGOs: They are here to watch the clowns.

“On the ‘stage’ — a space in front of a velvet curtain covering the goal — a tall, blond woman performs a handstand while doing the splits, while two other performers run around clapping and making funny faces. As the upside-down woman pretends to fall, the children burst into laughter.

“The performers are circus artists from Sweden …

“Clowns Without Borders is a global network of nonprofit organizations that, for the past 20 years, has been spreading laughter in the world’s saddest places. The group’s most recent annual report says more than 385 artists performed 1,164 shows for its chapters in 2012 in 38 countries, both in the developing world and for refugees and other disadvantaged children in Western countries.

” ‘It’s very important to give kids a chance to be kids again,’ explains Lilja Fredriksson, one of the Swedish performers.” More here.

Another way to help refugees is through the wonderful Minneapolis-based nonprofit American Refugee Committee.

Photo: Bilal Hussein/AP
Lebanese clown Sabine Choucair, a member of “Clowns Without Borders,” performs for children in June at a Syrian refugee camp in the eastern town of Chtoura, Lebanon.

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In John’s house, I am Grandma. In Suzanne’s house, I am Mormor. Mormor means mother’s mother in Swedish. My husband is Morfar (mother’s father). Erik’s mother is Farmor (father’s mother), but when she is with her daughter’s children, she is Mormor. Got it? There will be a quiz.

Mormor and Morfar have been hanging out with the new baby’s big brother, who has his own life to live. Yesterday we picked him up at his morning-only school. Here he is offering his monkey a snack. The monkey’s name is Kompis. It means friend.

Back at the house, I cut cardboard pieces in the shape of Christmas ornaments and punched holes in the tops for hooks. We had fun gluing seasonal cutouts from magazines on the ornament shapes. (Well, to be honest, the purple glue stick was what was fun. We lost interest by the time it came to hanging our creations on the tree.)

Today we ran errands with Papa. Here you see Elder Brother checking out bathroom fixtures with the level of intensity he brings to serious activities.












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Weather like this is a reminder that simple pleasures are often the best.

A great blue heron flying over Thoreau Street. Buying three Vietnamese fresh rolls and chai tea after tai chi class. Listening to the smart Hillbilly at Harvard program in the car. Sitting on the porch dipping crackers into the famous guacamole from the shop around the corner. Reading in the bath the first Martin Beck mystery by the Swedish partners Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö.

The pictures show flowers from the yard in a pitcher made by our engineer/potter friend, a bird painted on a utility box, and the garden maintained by the tai chi teacher and his youth classes. He says the care taken with the flowers is the kind of care the school devotes to students.





















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Photo of John Bauer: Wikimedia Commons

When I was poking around the web for art to illustrate my post Iceland Has Elves, I found a lovely picture by John Bauer.

I didn’t know anything about him. But Stuga40 wrote in the comments that he was Swedish. She knew where he had lived before his untimely death in 1918 and said she grew up on his fairy stories.

I decided I wanted to know more.

Wikipedia says John Bauer is “best known for his illustrations of Bland tomtar och troll (Among Gnomes and Trolls). Princess Tuvstarr and the Fishpond  [is] perhaps Bauer’s most notable work. …

“Bauer’s early work was influenced to a large extent by Albert Engström and Carl Larsson, two contemporaries and influential painters. Bauer’s first major work was commissioned in 1904, when he was asked to illustrate a book on Lappland. It was not until 1907 that he would become known for his illustrations of Bland tomtar och troll, the yearly fairy tale book.”

A contemporary story collection called Swedish Folk Tales uses Bauer’s illustrations and is available here. Also, someone posted a bunch of his illustrations on Pinterest, including a sweet Santa Lucia.

John Bauer art showing a boy and a troll: Wikimedia Commons

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Siavosh Derakhti, the 22-year-old son of Iranian immigrants. is the founder of Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia. He hails from Malmö, “a dynamic and diverse city of some 300,000 in southern Sweden.”

Gary G. Yerkey interviewed him for a story in the Christian Science Monitor.

” ‘Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia are huge problems in Malmö,’ Derakhti says. ‘I can’t accept that Jews are leaving my hometown [because of anti-Semitism]. I told the [US] president [who was in Sweden on an official visit] that I would never give up the fight for equal rights for all people.’ …

“Derakhti says he focuses on educating young people about the evils and dangers of anti-Semitism, racism, and xenophobia. He has done that by speaking to students and teachers at schools around the country, holding workshops for educators and others, and pressing the authorities to work toward ‘increasing awareness and understanding between different groups,’ he says. …

“For his work, Derakhti earlier this year was presented with the Swedish government’s Raoul Wallenberg Award – named after the late Swedish diplomat who is credited with saving thousands of Hungarian Jews in 1944.” More at the Monitor.

I’m impressed that a young person would understand so clearly that tolerance for his own family and religion is so closely tied to tolerance for all.

Photo: Karin Nylund/Utrikesdepartementet/Swedish MFA Siavosh Derakhti founded Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia in his native Sweden.

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In Sweden, mangata is the word for the roadlike reflection the moon casts on the water. In Finland there’s a word for the distance reindeer can travel comfortably before taking a break: poronkusema. A terrific German word that people familiar with Concord, Massachusetts, will appreciate is Waldeinsamkeit. What do you think it means? Yep. “A feeling of solitude, being alone in the woods and a connectedness to nature.”

National Public Radio staff say:  “Just as good writing demands brevity, so, too, does spoken language. Sentences and phrases get whittled down over time. One result: single words that are packed with meaning, words that are so succinct and detailed in what they connote in one language that they may have no corresponding word in another language.

“Such words aroused the curiosity of the folks at a website called Maptia, which aims to encourage people to tell stories about places.

” ‘We wanted to know how they used their language to tell their stories,’ Maptia co-founder and CEO Dorothy Sanders tells All Things Considered host Robert Siegel.

“So they asked people across the globe to give them examples of words that didn’t translate easily to English.”

I loved this report. You will, too.  Read more at NPR, here.

Art: National Public Radio, “All Things Considered”

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Richard Thaler, a behavioral economist at the Booth School of Business in Chicago, wrote an interesting op-ed in the NY Times recently.

“Governments,” he says, “typically use two tools to encourage citizens to engage in civic behavior like paying their taxes, driving safely or recycling their garbage: exhortation and fines. These efforts are often ineffective. …

“As every successful parent learns, one way to encourage good behavior, from room-cleaning to tooth-brushing, is to make it fun. Not surprisingly, the same principle applies to adults. Adults like to have fun, too.

“In this spirit, the Swedish division of Volkswagen has sponsored an initiative they call The Fun Theory. Their first project is documented in a highly popular (and fun) YouTube video. The idea was to get people to use a set of stairs rather than the escalator that ran alongside it. By transforming the stairs into a piano-style keyboard such that walking on the steps produced notes, they made using the stairs fun, and they found that stair use increased by 66 percent.

“The musical stairs idea is more amusing than practical, so The Fun Theory sponsored a contest to generate other ideas. The winning entry suggested offering both positive and negative reinforcement to encourage safe driving. Specifically, a camera would measure the speed of passing cars. Speeders would be issued fines but some of the fine revenues would be distributed via lottery to drivers who were observed obeying the speed limit.” Read more.
Similarly, Michigan lets financial institutions offer “prize-linked savings.” The “game” appeals to people in the same way a lottery does except that they put money in a savings account to become eligible to win a jackpot. They don’t lose money as they would when buying a lottery ticket.
In Michigan, the effort is already helping people save money and paying out prizes.

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