Which Swede Do You Want Him to Be?

Which Swede Do You Want Him to Be?

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Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt, renowned for playing strong, silent types.

A few weeks ago, I overheard some newly arrived English speakers lamenting the state of Swedish manners. One of the women had only been here six months and was dealing with not only a new culture and a new language but also a newborn baby and a new husband. She swore her husband was no longer the social, happy-go-lucky Swede she’d met and fell in love with in Los Angeles. Now that they were in Sweden, he didn’t laugh nearly as much as he did before. He was too quiet now. Her friends all bobbed their heads up and down, agreeing that their husbands/boyfriends/guys of the moment were also suffering from this weird affliction. Said one young woman, “It’s like he fell asleep as sweet, funny Calle and woke up as a pod person from Invasion of the Body Snatchers!” Again, all of them nodded and wondered something had changed in their relationships, what were they doing wrong? Or if it was something in the air or the water that had changed their guys. I wanted to reassure them that they’d done nothing wrong. That the moment they went on vacation and left Sweden again, the old version of their boyfriends/hubbies/hot guys would return.

It’s what happens.

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Many Swedes become like Jekyll and Hyde–minus the murderous tendencies. 😉

It’s the Swedish version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde–minus any murderous tendencies. It seems to happen to them all–their personalities change when they leave Sweden and go back to “normal” once they are back in the structured order of everyday Swedish life. Take the Swede out of Sweden and his mood lightens, he’s uninhibited and suddenly does not feel like he must do everything just so, he can be spontaneous, he can be messy, he can be like everyone else.

I confess. I went through it. I moved here in 1995 thinking that my gorgeous Swede would be as social and talkative and up for anything as the version of him I knew in the US or when I came to Sweden for quick visits. There were still traces of that devil-may-care guy–he still liked having sex at the drop of a hat, he still liked doing goofy things (as long as too many people weren’t watching), but he didn’t like going out as much and suddenly deciding we could go to the movies was out of the question since Swedish movie theatres insist that tickets be booked in advance (and Swedish movie tickets were and still are rather expensive). Inviting friends over? Why did we have to do that? I spent the first year of living here trying to figure out what had happened to my social butterfly of a hottie. I asked him, he shrugged. I asked other people, they seemed clueless too. Of course, they were all Swedes. They didn’t realise they were going through the change too.

Swedish-American actor, Joel Kinnaman--does he suffer from the same malady or does his American side cancel it out?

Swedish-American actor, Joel Kinnaman–does he suffer from the same malady or does his American side cancel it out?

And then one of my colleagues explained it to me–how her Swedish husband had transformed and how she felt as though she was now married to two men–the fun out-of-Sweden Swede and the Stockholm version of her hubby. She advised me to embrace this duality. “You get two husbands in one,” she said with a laugh. “Just roll with it.”

So, I followed her advice. It made things easier in the long run, but I also tried to figure out just why it was this way. Some people say it has to do with how isolated we are in Sweden–we are not really part of the  European continent, separated as we are by the Baltic Sea and Öresunds Strait from the rest of northern Europe. We don’t have the same joie de vivre that they say southern Europeans have. Maybe it’s the lack of sunlight during the winter? Or maybe it’s because Sweden was a pretty poor country until some time after World War II? Or maybe Swedes are naturally quieter than everyone else (until alcohol is involved)?

I still don’t have the answers, but I kind of like having two husbands in one. And he’s pretty good-looking to boot, so that is always a nice bonus. I like both sides of him–his silent side that can be so serious you wonder if you are in a Bergman film–and his more laid-back side that comes out whenever we’re on vacation or at home on our own at the weekend. So if you ever meet a gorgeous Swede while you’re on vacation and he charms you enough to make you consider moving back to Sweden with him, just remember that you are getting two husbands in one…and make the most of it. 😉
Alexander Skarsgård in Zoolander

 

My Signature for the Blog

Today I am Mindful…

Today I am Mindful…

The female heroines in the books I write face struggles that we all are probably familiar with, identity, searching for love or meaning, defining themselves and their close relationships. One quality I consider very important to my work, that allows me to tap into the conflicts and challenges I explore, is compassion. I feel it towards my characters and I hope that my books inspire the same among my readers as well. Love after all isn’t a quantifiable constant, it changes shape and form depending on the people who share it in any particular instance. The emotion and connection you felt towards your first love and your current one (assuming they aren’t one and the same) as equally deep and meaningful as they may have been, are different from each other. These emotional blurred lines, filling our hearts and thoughts with passion, joy, memory, they are the spaces I attempt to fill with my writing. When a reader relates to a story I’m telling, we embark on a journey that ultimately will transform us both.

 

Compassion allows me to open my heart and mind and peer into worlds that otherwise may be closed off to me. Compassion also lights the way for me to see the bigger picture, that as human beings we can have vastly different experiences but we are all deeply connected. We may love in different ways but we are still all seeking the same things at the end of the day. Therefore, awareness of the need to act with kindness and tenderness is a driving force for me. It’s at once wonderful and slightly painful to be in that position, and from that seat I observe very keenly the ways that love and compassion fails in certain situations and allows for innocence to be stolen or violated. In the past few months, we have witnessed several difficult events that, especially compounded, have taken an emotional toll. At their core is the inability of an individual to see humanity in someone beyond themselves, to see another person or people as valuable and each life to be cared for and cherished. We can’t take away what’s been done, and every ounce of grief and anger, every tear that we’ve shed is justified, but I believe the next logical step is to move forward, with compassion and mindfulness. What we have to do now is our very best to thwart events such as these in the future. I’d like to take a cue from some extraordinary people already taking such action. You may have seen this story on social media, where a teacher in the UK illustrated the effects of bullying to children with the help of apples as effective visual aids. We can also see life-affirming responses to the events in Orlando, like when we see a gathering of like-minded people striving to overcome hate and fear with a message of hope.

 

Cultivating kindness is important to me as an individual, a mother, friend and as a writer. My belief that it’s worthwhile taking care with words and actions inspires me in my work and in my daily life. I think it’s particularly crucial to protect those in our communities and the world at large who are more at risk of experiencing cruelty and injustice. Some may feel that kindness is synonymous with weakness. I don’t think this could be further from the truth. It takes a lot of courage to speak on behalf of others, who are facing circumstances that appear more difficult than our own personal experience. I believe it’s our duty to shield children, in particular those who have unique challenges, from those who might harm or intimidate them; We preserve our own dignity by standing beside anyone who has been a victim of unfair or unjust practices; As women we must unite to push back against the ways the world tries to separate us from our own bodies and individual identities.

 

We can’t control the actions of others, but we can acknowledge the power in ourselves. We can have faith that what we do and say can have a positive impact on the world and on future generations. I would ask that we try to seek inspiration in those who are bravely working towards acceptance and understanding and know that we are all on a very similar journey – we can choose to take it in stride, together, and we may be rewarded in exciting, unprecedented ways.

sarahsig

It’s National Best Friends’ Day!

It’s National Best Friends’ Day!

Best friends enjoying time together outdoors at ferris wheel - Concept of freedom and happiness with two girlfriends having fun - Vintage filtered look

Post by Carrie Elks

Today is National Best Friend’s day in the UK, so what better thing to write than about all those fantastic people who have supported me in my life, and who I try to support in return?

The concept of ‘Best Friends’ is a strange one, really. It starts at grade school, when at the age of 5 or 6 you change best friends as often as you change your clothes. For girls, at least, it’s a rite of passage to have a best friend.

Then, as we grow older, our friendships develop and change. Some of my most intense (and emotional) relationships were during the years of 13 – 16. Of course some of this may be down to the fact I went to an all-girls’ school, so there were no gorgeously emo boys to moon about. Still, hearing the words, “you’re not my best friend anymore” were as painful as any breakup I was to have in later life. At that age, my best friends were my world. I saw them every day at school, I talked to them every night on the phone. I count myself lucky that there was no social media back then, because the group chats would probably have been brutal!

Nowadays I have a lot of very close friends. They range from my family (who seriously rock my world) to old school friends, plus those fantastic women who I bonded with when I had children and we cried and laughed together daily. There’s also a new category that’s only come along recently – my online writing world friends. Some of them I chat to constantly, not only about books and writing but also about our lives and the ups and downs. I may not have met all of them, but they know the real me and haven’t run away screaming, which I count as a major win.

Friends. I couldn’t live without them. I wouldn’t want to. So even though it’s only morning here, I’m raising a glass to each and every one of you. Thanks for being there for me, you guys are the best.

 

Seventeen Years — How the Heck Did We Get Here?

Seventeen Years — How the Heck Did We Get Here?

Today my husband and I are celebrating seventeen years of marriage. Which feels weird. It doesn’t feel like we’ve been married that long, but then again it also feels feel like I’ve known him all of my life. Yesterday someone commented that marriage longevity was almost unheard of these days. We both laughed it off and counted off celebrity marriages that didn’t last more than five years. So it got me thinking about how the Swede and I have managed to keep our marriage strong, even when dealing with the wacky cultural differences and my general grumpiness–yes, I think I am pretty similar in temperament to a Border Terrier. I am cute and cuddly and grumpy. But I digress! I think I’ve come up with 5 reasons that–after over twenty years of being a couple and seventeen of them being married–the Swede and I work so well together.
1. We don’t live in each other’s pocket
Even when we first met and we were sometimes attached at the hip (and the lip), we gave each other space. I have my moments when all I want to do is read or write. Or when I am moody and just want to be alone. The Swede is the same. He needs his personal space, and I give it to him. Just because we’re married doesn’t mean that we can’t have separate interests. And I think this is a mistake a lot of couples make. They don’t give each other personal space. And just as every relationship needs quality time together, it also needs quality time apart. Sometimes I go on vacation by myself, he does the same. When we’re together again, we feel recharged.
2. Mutual respect
We respect one another. Even when we’re driving each other crazy, we always respect one another. Even when we’re angry at one another, we don’t intentionally say or do anything to hurt one another. I admire his intelligence and his integrity. I love that he stands up for what he believes in and that he always makes me feel like I am the most important person in his life. Whenever I am about to make an important decision, I always think about the impact it will have on both of us–and not simply on myself. And though we may both joke about our celebrity “free cards”, we both know we only want each other.

Our free cards
3. We talk it out
There are those moments when we misunderstand one another or we get into huge arguments. I won’t even pretend that we never fight. We do, just like everyone else. It took us a few years to figure out a good way to come back from those horrible moments. And now we talk it out. Sometimes I rant and he just waits patiently (he is a very patient man). Sometimes I have to wait a long time for him to verbalize what is bothering him–he’s Swedish, they don’t like confrontations or arguments, so this is kind of new for him. But we try to talk everything out and we NEVER go to bed angry at one another.

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4. We make each other laugh
The Swede is a consummate goofball and I absolutely adore that about him. Though he may look stern and serious (Swedes have mastered this look–just watch any Swedish film: Max von Sydow, Stellan Skarsgård…even Alexander Skarsgård–they’ve all mastered that stern look), he will say and do things just to catch my off guard and set me off into a fit of giggles. And I do the same for him. We spend a lot of time laughing. Lately, we keep making each other laugh with our impression of the now iconic Peter Dinklage SNL skit, Space Pants. Yup, we never get enough of Space Pants.

5. Love above all else
At the end of the day, it’s all about love. I know that I love him, and he loves me. And I can’t imagine sharing my life with anyone else.

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The Best Medicine

The Best Medicine

Lifeis better
In honor of National Humor Month, we’re talking laughter.
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So. True. 
And it really is the best medicine:
 
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Laughter releases bunches of feel-good hormones. Research finds that humor can help you cope better with pain, enhance your immune system, reduce stress, even help you live longer. So you should, you know, do it a lot. 😀 
 
And how’s this for an “aww” moment:
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I’m lucky that I’m married to a man with a wonderful sense of humor who makes me laugh every single day. But the best feeling is when I make him laugh. 
In books, movies, and real life, I always fall for the funny guy. And in friendships, I’m lucky to have several shades of humor in several different people.
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Which leads me to one more quote:
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So there you have it. Celebrate the folks who bring laughter into your life. 
 
And if you need more laughs, check out National Humor Month’s official website: http://www.humormonth.com/
 
 
Wishing you a day filled with belly laughs and giggles,
Susan-Sig
I have a little friend who’s full of hot air.

I have a little friend who’s full of hot air.

Well, helium really.

I’d like to introduce you to Norm.

Norm21

Now Norm was originally purchased as a birthday balloon for my son’s 35th birthday. He floated around the party, joining in the festivities, then stayed on after, living in my home. He wasn’t named Norm back then, he was just that birthday balloon we couldn’t get rid of because it was fun watching it float into the room following the drafts around our house.

 

Eventually, my wife and I had to name him something, as he just became part of the family. Much like Norm on the old sit-com Cheers, he had a tendency to just drift in whenever he felt like it.

So we named him Norm.

Every time he’d float into the room, we’d both yell, “Norm!” then continue on with our conversation.

Then one day, Norm tried to escape.

 

Well, just try telling a headstrong young Mylar balloon it can’t do something.

After that he just kind of took over.

He started up his own Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/Norm-1717208545175903/

Norm tends to post balloon related things, cuddly animal pictures, and other fun and interesting items he finds on the internet while distracted from his main purpose (plotting world domination).

To keep him busy I’ve made him head of publicity for my books. (He’s not very good at it.)

Norm Says Reading

Well, anyway, recently Norm was dragging around, feeling a bit deflated, so we bought him a little present.

Helium

Now he’s flying high once again, and I’m sure back plotting world domination.

Watch out world. Here comes Norm.

Steve

Respect The Cave

Respect The Cave

I’m a responsible adult.  I swear I am.  I pay my bills on time, my kids are clothed, fed, and do well in school.  I hold down a full time job and pay my taxes. But I have a confession…

I’m a news hermit.

Yes, I know you can interpret that about a gazillion kinds of ways, so let me make it clearer… I live under a rock.  A great big fat one thick enough to withstand a nuclear attack that that shields me from anything remotely tied to world or local events.

You think I’m kidding? I couldn’t list all the candidates in the election race if you put a gun to my head. The only reason I know Trump or Hillary are in it is because…well, I can’t escape them, no matter how hard I try. When it comes to national news, I rely on my co-workers to clue me in on catastrophic events or impacts to the stock market.  Other than that, I’m outsville.

It’s not that I don’t want to know.  It’s more a case of me not having time to watch the news or scan the local/national internet.  And when I DO find the time to watch, it stresses me the hell out. You see, I’m kinda like a human Swiffer–crap just clings to me.  That includes negativity.  And come on, let’s be honest.  The news is about ninety percent depressing and ten percent sensationalism.  (Ok.  Maybe it’s more like fifty-fifty.)

I remember when I was doing real estate.  (Yes, my resume reflects my short attention span.)  I used to drive around and listen to Fox News in an effort to improve my knowledge of world, financial and local events.  All I got from the experience was a nervous tick and too many near-miss auto collisions to count.

Nowadays, the bulk of my TV watching is during fly-bys from my office to the kitchen.  About the only time I actually sit down and actively watch what’s on is severe weather is about one mile away from the house and the sirens are going off, or when we carve out a family movie night.

That’s it.

I realize this isn’t responsible adult behavior.  But you know what?  I’m relatively happy.  The only drama I have to contend with is what’s created by work, my family or myself–which is plenty, I assure you.  I not only like my rock, I’ve turned it into a stylish bunker complete with neon curtains, door beads, and a vast array of lava lamps.

What about you?  Are you “in the know” on all things political and social?  Or do you struggle to catch the weather forecast and your horoscope?  Wanna come hang out at my place?

Dear God, another year older

Dear God, another year older

I’ll let you into a little secret. Today is my birthday, and being a January baby, we are quite accustomed to getting lost in the Christmas/New Year bustle. Everyone say “ahhhhh”. My husband, bless his little cotton socks, has the dubious distinction of having ‘misremembered’ my birthday 7 years in a row. Even my brother in law gave up on reminding him. Fortunately, he seems to have made a recovery and got it right over the last 9 years. But every year is a lottery with him.

 

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But that’s not what’s on my mind this birthday. 2015 was a mixed year for me, I saw a lot of highs and a lot of lows, and crawled into the end of the year in desperate need of some downtime to reflect.

I’m going into 2016 with a helluva positive feeling. A kind of ‘this is who I am, hear me roar’ type of thing. Because here’s how I see it. Those times that are the most difficult are the ones in which we learn the most. Unfortunately, as a species we haven’t yet mastered the ability to 1) learn from the mistakes of others, we have to go out there and make them ourselves 2) grow through happy times, we more like wallow in the blissful feed trough until it runs dry.

What have I learned?  That I need to stay true to my path and who I am, and secondly that I need to surrender and let good things come my way. So many times in the past year, I’ve let negativity bog me down and trigger my control reflex to wrestle life into submission and force it to go my way— instead of just letting myself be in the moment, good or bad, and take it one breath at a time.

Best foot forward and all that. I’m going to let Buddha give you my mantra for 2016.

 

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So, here’s to everyone that reads this. Wishing you all the best for the year ahead, and hoping you will stay mindful that our thoughts become our actions, and our actions shape our lives. Fill this year with the best thoughts you can.

SarahSig

Small Change That Changes Lives

Small Change That Changes Lives

by Xio Axelrod

‘Tis the season of giving, but also the season of big spending. And we’re spending more every year. Black Friday, once an American phenomenon, has spread around the globe prompting sales and discounts on everything from 4K televisions to stuffed toys to luxury cars. This year, an estimated $1 billion dollars was spent online on Thanksgiving Day. Thanksgiving! We seem to be in a rush to spend more, faster.

Mr. X and I enjoy our gadgets. We both enjoy wine and Scotch. Both love books (naturally) and our Kindles are always full. But come the holiday season, we’ve often found ourselves in competition with one another to spend more. Get the biggest gift. The biggest “oh, babe, you shouldn’t have” response. It was cute, for a time. And then it became…embarrassing. Big gifts sat in the basement, unused, until we either sold them or gave them away.

It really bothered me, the excess. And it bothered him too, so we stopped. We still exchange gifts – great gifts! – but we make sure they’re actually things we want and/or need. A new teapot, tickets to a sold out show, Russian candy. Things that mean something.

Around the time we made the decision to shop smart for the holidays, we redirected that energy into helping others.

[Read more…]

Dark days in Sweden…and trying to be thankful

Dark days in Sweden…and trying to be thankful

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Sweden’s deputy prime minister and prime minister announcing Sweden can no longer handle the stream of asylum seekers.

Yesterday was a sad day in Sweden. Our prime minister, Stefan Löfven, announced that we could no longer handle the number of refugees who’ve come seeking asylum. As the announcement was made, our deputy prime minister was in tears. On the other side of the political spectrum, the far-right party, Sveriges Demokraterna (who are not very democratic, considering its connection with neo-Nazis) celebrated the news as though they were celebrating New Year’s Eve.

I shouldn’t be surprised. They have no love for anyone who is not Swedish–and by Swedish, they don’t simply mean Swedish citizenship. If you are not white, if you cannot prove you are an über-Swede, then they have no use for you. They claim they don’t hate immigrants, but all they do is demonise immigrants and claim we are the root of all Sweden’s evils.

Today is a day when I should be thankful. And, in many ways, I am. I have a roof over my head. I have a job. I am loved. I don’t have to worry about where I will sleep at night. Everyday when I am on my way to work, I pass by homeless people selling Situation Stockholm, EU migrants from Romania who are trying to find work or get money to send home… Stockholm keeps rolling. People keep streaming into department stores buying things they don’t really need, stressing over Christmas presents or whether their smart phone is the smartest of them all. Some give their time and energy to help charities. Others devote their spare time to how they look or who they know. And me? I write. It gets me through the dark winter months.

But right now, I find myself thinking about the people who need help and wonder why I am so lucky.

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Refugees arriving in Sweden at Hyllie station. Photo credit: www.telegraph.co.uk

The stream of people fleeing war, searching for a safe haven, are not the enemy. People like the men and women in Sveriges Demokraterna or the people who cheer on Donald Trump would have us think that the asylum seekers are terrorists or that they want to take everything from us. I refuse to believe they want to take anything from us. I am sure there are people who think I am naive.

The Donald Trumps of the world would say I am part of the problem because I empathize.

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My colleague, Åsa, who is one of the selfless volunteers helping refugees arriving in Europe.

But I know that–if I were in the same shoes as the asylum seekers, if I were fleeing war, I would want to come to a country like Sweden or Denmark or Germany or…*anywhere* where I could feel safe and hope that I could find shelter.

So I keep telling myself that–in spite of what the politicians say–there are still good people in this world who will keep doing everything they can to help–people like my friend and colleague Åsa Swee who volunteers her time at Stockholms Stadsmission and who’s gone to Greece and helped refugees arriving on European shores. I am thankful that people like her are shining a light even on these dark days. I am glad there are people like her who never give up hope and who keep doing what they can to help others–even when the darkness of far-right anti-immigrant rhetoric threatens all the places that should be safe havens.

I know we cannot help everyone, but we can at least try.

 

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