Thursday, October 14, 2010


I love the city of Melbourne!

I’ve just driven Daughter Number 2 to the Melbourne Exhibition Centre to sit her penultimate exam and I have a few hours to kill before she’ll emerge with that glad-it’s-over-but-not-really-sure-how-it-went feeling.  I’m sitting beside the Yarra sipping a perfectly chilled sauvignon blanc on a perfectly warm evening. There are suited business people all around, winding down after a hard day at the office and t-shirted casual types just out enjoying the view. The architecture is interesting, the river is languid and the atmosphere is relaxed.

Helemeted, lycra-clad, back-pack toting cyclists weave seamelessly in and out of family groups, meandering couples, tourists with maps and people just wandering and wondering what wonderful Melbourne-food they should choose for dinner.  As I watch the passing parade, I can’t help but wonder what Swedish cyclists would think of the casual and flowing, “lane-free” approach to cycling on this promenade and I’m also wondering if cyclist behaviour is learned thing or a temperament thing. Are Swedes organised and linear and do Aussies go with the flow?

Bicycle lanes in Stockholm are clearly defined and heaven help the unsuspecting tourist who should step into the path of a determined, destination-oriented cyclist! I have been the target of the occasional expletive and the aggressive ringing of bicycle bells when I have inadvertently violated the Swedish cyclists' sanctioned space. My husband and I have often joked that if we’re to meet our demise in Stockholm, we’re more likely to be taken out by a bike than a car! Here the pace is slightly slower but the bicycle and pedestrian blend lends some pleasing grace and artistry to the otherwise pragmatic endeavour of two-wheeled commuting. There’s no bell-ringing and it all just seems to work.

Note: My grainy iPhone picture does no justice to this most photogenic city.  For some excellent local shots see

Monday, October 11, 2010


Raucous [raw-kuhs]
1. harsh; strident; grating: raucous voices, raucous laughter
2. rowdy; disorderly: a raucous party.

I’m onto my second gin and tonic but (surprisingly) it’s not me who’s raucous, it’s the birds! It’s blissfully mild out in the backyard because Spring has finally settled in. Dinner is in the oven...yes, it’s still cool enough to cook...and I’m taking half an hour with an escapist novel under the lemon-scentd gum thanks to author Donna Leon who transports me to exotic foreign places even when I have heaven in my own backyard.

Swedish birds tweet in tones I can only describe as decorous. I am always amused by their dignified restraint. Even the skata don’t swoop and screech like the lorikeets and wattle birds currently decimating the delicate gum blossoms above my head.  Australian birds are loud, unruly and raucous. One local website categorises our backyard birds as hooters, cacklers, carollers, criers and screechers!

We took some Swedish friends camping in one of Victoria’s famous National Parks a few years ago and the dawn cacophony had them laughing in their tent along with the kookaburras. A dawn chorus it was Not! A chorus implies something melodic and Aussie birds know only decibels and disorderly! We all emerged from the warmth of our winter sleeping bags to walk down to Tidal River to enjoy the particularly unSwedish performance of wattle birds, yellow-tailed black cockatoos, magpies, kookaburras, sulphur-crested cockatoos and assorted other local avian types!

So as I sit and enjoy the sunset squawking and watch the burnished gold fade from the sensuous limbs of the gum tree I’m lucky enough to have in my own backyard, I’m thinking of the Swedish birds just waking and shaking their wings…and twittering their way into another northern hemisphere morning.


Saturday, October 2, 2010


Without you I am blue.

Not the deep drowning blue of a thousand fathoms
But quiet and still like the soft blue haze of morning
With only the hum of my heartbeat to keep me company.

And there’s a midday blue as well
Brilliant, bright and so sharp it takes my breath away
Clear and sapphire-hard as your absence.

At day’s end, wrapped in the indigo blue of evening
Sprinkled with stars, yet empty
A melancholy blue that makes my heart ache.


Saturday, September 11, 2010

Bigger than Spain

You don’t need me to tell you there’s been a drought in Southern Australia for the last 10 years. It’s devastated many rural communities and destroyed many livelihoods, but over the past few weeks the drought has broken. You’d think this news would be welcome and we’d all be celebrating the sound of the steady, soaking rain.

But no, much of this rain hasn’t brought respite or restoration, it’s a deluge. Rivers are flooding, levee banks are straining, sandbags are in short supply and people all over the state have been evacuated and inundated. This week, a woman who lives in a town which was in the centre of one of the most fire-ravaged areas on Black Saturday in 2009 said the floodwaters at the back of her property looked like a sea.

We live in a land of extremes. After the fires came the floods and now, as the floodwaters are receding, it’s pestilence. The Australian Plague Locust Commission …yes, it’s a real organisation…reports that locust egg beds up to 20 kilometres long have been exposed by heavy rains removing top soil and these eggs are expected to begin hatching as the weather warms up. Locust swarms are incredibly destructive and they have a particular penchant for green, lush growth. Read crops and gardens.  Experts are speculating that this could be one of the worst plagues in 75 years and that the area of farmland under threat is bigger than Spain! The Victorian Government alone has announced a $43.5 million package (291,842,000 SEK) to support farmers and regional communities to prepare and respond to the locust threat.

So against a backdrop like that, who’s game to sign up for the next season of “The Farmer Wants a Wife”?! For those of you who don’t know, this is an Australian reality TV show where farmers from remote areas get to meet and woo a bunch of city-girls looking for love and a change of scenery. It’s a romantic notion, but I think the producers should be doing some pretty rigorous psychological testing on these starry-eyed hopefuls because it’s tough out there. Really tough. As a city-slicker, I’ll be “hit” by price increases in the fruit and vegie section of the supermarket. Better that than a wall of flame, a wall of water or a suffocating cloud of voracious locusts I say. 


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sea Change

After more than a year of dreaming, planning, designing, redesigning and jumping through a million regulatory hoops, our builder and his team swung into action this week. Our block has been sculpted ready for building. I just want to go down there and sit in the sun and breathe deeply.

The photo-project has begun with about one hundred photos of bob-cats and other machines that can effortlessly rip out trees and stumps! My husband has never really outgrown the Tonka trucks phase so he had a ball documenting the transformation of a bush block to a building site.

In the absence of the tea-tree canopy, we have a better picture of the view we’ll have out over the farmland to the far horizon. I’m even loving the galvanized tin shed which borders the rear of our property! Initially I thought it was an eyesore, but its patchwork of rusted panels is so quintessentially Australian, I see it now as a work of art in our own backyard!  I’m excited about getting to know our new equine neighbours, by the fact that our solar panels will soon be converting the sun into electricity for our home and I’ve already worked out where to plant the elegant and fragrant eucalyptus citriodora sapling that took root conveniently, in a pot plant in our city backyard last summer.

So for a while this blog will lose its Swedish flavour and take on the salty taste of the Australian coast because I’ll be here, not there…choosing tiles and paint colours instead of meatballs and vodka.

Thursday, July 29, 2010


It’s cold in Melbourne but I confessed to a slightly incredulous friend today that I wished it was colder. Snowing in fact.

I was so enamored of Stockholm’s crisp, white winter this year that I wouldn’t mind donning a scarf, hat and gloves and turning up my collar against some drifting crystal flakes. Instead it’s a mild 9 degrees and there’s no snow in sight.

To brighten things up, I’ve been to the big blue and yellow store and stocked up on some Glimma for my Iittala votives. Whilst we don’t do winter darkness here with the same depth and duration as Sweden, the flickering of candles on my dining room table lifts my spirits. It wasn’t until my first visit to Sweden that I really understood the importance of candles in the winter-time. They provide light and movement and something indefinable that warms the psyche to inoculate against winter blues.

In Stockholm in midwinter, the sun rises and sets within about 6 hours. It hugs the horizon as if it doesn’t have the energy to push itself up any higher in the sky and it sinks leaving darkness to settle around 3.30 pm. Today we had 10 hours of daylight and patchy blue skies so we really can’t complain.

Even though it would be nice to have some snow.


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Life at Sea

The Otello has just departed Port of Fremantle in Western Australia. I watched as the morning sun lit up the docks and the giraffe-like gantry cranes and this green and white monster slipped out to sea. She has a car carrying capacity of 6,700 and some happy Australians will probably be taking delivery of a new BMW soon. She has sailed off into an approaching storm and as I sit watching this massive vessel disappear over the horizon whilst the swell rolls in at Cottlesloe beach and ominous clouds darken the skies, I’m trying to imagine life at sea.

Daughter Number 2 lives in Fremantle and met our friend the sea captain who lives in Sweden and works for Wallenius Wilhelmsen when she visited Stockholm a few years ago.  She is chuffed to be able to tell her Aussie mates that she knows someone who has sailed these big ships into the port she can see from her window.  The sea captain is never short of a fascinating maritime story and opens a window of a different kind onto another world with his tales. I love listening to him talk about ports and people and about shipping technicalities and navigating the world’s oceans. It fires my curiosity and fills my head with images of rolling blue-green horizons and far-away destinations; visions and fantasies that have undoubtedly lured travellers to sea for millennia.

The Otello is a long way from home. The Wallenius Wilhelmsen online schedule says she left the German port of Bremherhaven on June 1st and arrived in Fremantle on July 7th. Vessels like the Otello count time in days and months whereas flight schedules count time in mere hours. We left Stockholm on June 19th and arrived in Melbourne on June 20th. Thirty hours door to door. The Otello’s voyage has taken thirty-seven days so far. And she’s not even on her way home yet.

So as my mind follows the Otello and her crew over the horizon and across the Great Australian Bite on their way to Melbourne, I’m thinking that sailors are made of stoic stuff. Despite my romantic imaginings, long periods of time at sea must be incredibly tedious and boring and loved ones must feel a very long way away.

Bon Voyage!


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Shame Julia, shame.

Down here in Oz we have just made history. We have a woman Prime Minister.

She was installed last week following internal Labor Party wrangling and political intrigue. Given the coup, I had mixed feelings on day one, followed by increasing optimism on days two, three and four. Today is day seven and for me the honeymoon is official over and I’m not sure if I’ll even stay faithful.

Julia Gillard announced today that she will not support legalising same sex marriages in Australia.

So the bar just got higher. I’m no longer happy with a woman as PM. I won’t be happy until we have a gay, married PM. Male or female, it doesn’t really matter. We need a leader who is willing to stand against discrimination and for a just, fair, respectful and equal society.

Maybe for Bob Brown…It’s Time!


Friday, June 11, 2010

What to Wear?

Who would’ve thought we’d be cocktail-partying this weekend? It’s a 10th wedding anniversary bash and all I have is in the wardrobe is daywear. The attendees will be young and svelte and Swedishly gorgeous. The hosts are gorgeous too, and they’re genuinely unpretentious so I know they won’t give a damn what I show up wearing.

I was going to pack a little black dress, just in case. It would have been perfect. (I’m worried I’m starting to sound a bit too Sex in the City…). I didn’t pack it because it was in a box in our Melbourne garage somewhere, awaiting a move to the seaside and I couldn’t be bothered searching for it.

Will I need a little black dress when we move? Who knows! It might be all caftans and rainbow head-bands and bonfires on the beach. Meanwhile, tonight I’ll wear jeans and a string of pearls. I never leave home without those!


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Backyard

It’s the place where we Aussies cook on the barbie, play cricket, kick the footy, hang a tyre-swing, install a swimming pool, build a sand-pit, sunbake, plant perennials, curse possums, rake leaves, throw a tennis ball for the dog and hang out the washing on the ubiquitous Hills Hoist.

Inevitably, we make it our own. Depending on our background, interests and other proclivities, we build ferneries, install sprinkler systems that save water by dripping not spraying, create retaining walls with retired red-gum railway sleepers, string up hammocks, plant extensive vegie gardens or design yukka lined-perfectly paved courtyards and populate them with expensive outdoor furniture.

The backyard is where we do our own thing, our private, suburban kingdom.

By contrast, in central Stockholm a balcony is gold! It’s a much-coveted piece of outdoor space. There’s never enough room for a vegie garden or a ball game, but it’s still a treasured space. Minimalist clothing is common in the summer and beers go there to chill out in the winter. Hanging out the washing, it seems by unwritten decree, is strictly forbidden. But for any activity more expansive than intimate dining or tending to a flower pot or two, the park is the place to go.

The recent summer weather has drawn legions of Stockholmers out into the green spaces. By simple necessity, city-living Swedes do in public what we do in private. It’s one big backyard community with smoking barbeques, Frisbees, eskies, picnic rugs, dogs, kids on bikes and naked flesh. It creates a vibrant, colourful, festival atmosphere. So, whether you’re sunning in Södermalm or grilling in Djurgården, next time you’re out there, raise a toast to Stockholm’s big backyard and enjoy the fact that you don't have to mow the lawn!


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Smiling at Strangers II

I’m incorrigible. I’m still grinning madly at strangers.

I’m conducting my own little anthropological study about the influence of the weather on the interactive tendencies of Swedes. My hypothesis is that more Swedes will crack a smile in the summer. So far, the evidence to support my hypothesis is mostly absent. There are a few statistical outliers, but they’re not generally factored into any serious analysis. My research shows that Swedish people out walking are no more inclined to smile at a stranger in the summer than they are in the winter.

But today I think I saw my man! The one who kissed me on the bridge in the winter! (See this blog - "Smiling at Strangers", 24th February 2010) This is how it went. I was fartleking through the park and I was in the cool-down phase of my Podrunner Podcast so I was happy. Smiling! Well I think I was smiling, but I might have been grimacing. Slightly. An old man walking towards me started smiling and applauding, mock serious, my clumsy, sweaty efforts. He was old and he wore glasses, just like the man in the winter who proved that not all Swedish people are introverted and grumpy in the winter! I broke my stride and was about to stop, but I'm a runner now and the imperative is to keep moving, so instead I did a grateful Namaste gesture, smiled again and waved as I went on my way.


Sunday, May 23, 2010

Lessons from trees

I’m impressed by Swedish trees. I think I have a lot to learn from them.

In two short weeks, the view into the neighbouring apartment building has been obscured by a verdant curtain. The new leaves are an incredibly intense shade of green. Perhaps the chlorophyll is all enthusiastic and keen to do its thing after being redundant through the winter.

The thing I’m impressed by however, is the sheer tenacity of the trees. Well, they’re generous too, unstinting and munificent. And did I mention beautiful?

The average temperature in Stockholm in April, a mere month ago, was 5 degrees. The mean minimum temperature was 1 degree. On April 22 it snowed. Now if I was a tree, I’d still be in shut-down mode. No rising sap and the promise of Spring for me. Any burgeoning buds would be disowned. I’d be braced against the wind chill, silently watching scarf-toting Stockholmers wade through the remnants of one of the coldest winters on record.

But here’s the thing. Trees don’t think like that! They don’t complain, they don’t whinge about expectations, about being ignored or neglected and having to do the same old thing year after year. Reliably, unquestioningly, bountifully, patiently they push out millions of lush new leaves for the enjoyment of whoever happens to nearby and they rarely even get hugged for it.

So next time I’m feeling a little bored by routine, a little jaded, or when I next feel like spitting the dummy or throwing in the towel…I’ll look humbly and respectfully to a Swedish tree.


Thursday, May 20, 2010


Fart.lek - noun
a training technique developed by Swede Gösta Holmér in 1937, used especially among runners, consisting of bursts of intense effort alternating with less strenuous activity.

Many months ago a client of mine suggested I should check out the Couch to 5k website. She was not implying I was fat, nor was she seeing me to deal with her obsession with exercise. She was simply sharing a resource she had found useful in her own journey to mental health and physical fitness.

I looked it up. It was interesting, logical. It didn’t appear to involve suffering, well, not too much anyway. But I didn’t do anything. I didn’t start running.

Why on earth would I? I’m seriously old and I’ve never been a runner. I get all beetroot-faced and I can’t breathe and my legs hurt and my insides feel as if they’re falling out and I get a headache and afterwards my muscles ache and I groan a lot. You get the picture.

Nevertheless, here I am in the home of fartlek not to mention the fact that it’s summer and everyone is out running. The “…it’s too dark and cold after work…” excuses don’t cut it at this time of year because it’s still light enough to see the pavement you’re pounding at 10:00 pm and sunrise today was a 4:04 am.

The challenge was inescapable.

Googled the website. Read the blurb. Downloaded the podrunner interval-training podcasts. Bought new earplugs, the sort that won’t fall out. Took a deep breath.

Yes folks, I’m out there! The doof-doof of my iPod keeps me moving and the interval-concept of alternating fast and slow makes this new endeavour possible. For some reason I’ve always known about fartlek, even though I’ve never tried it. I think fondly of the time when Daughter Number 2 learned about fartlek when she was 11 years-old and training for the Zone cross-country. As you can imagine, Aussie Primary School kids think the term is hysterical. Fart-leg…are you serious???

I think it’s funny too, but for a different reason. Fartlek translated from the Swedish means Speed-Play. This amuses me because I am neither speedy nor playful. I shuffle and I puff. I am not poetry in motion. But I am out there!


Monday, May 17, 2010

Off Two Bed!

In our last apartment, the bed was all of 140cm wide. It was cosy to say the least. Spooning was essential and turning over had to be synchronised to avoid knees in unwelcome places and elbows to unsuspecting heads.

Our current apartment is bigger. Yes, we’re luxuriating in all 66 square metres of space and our water views are expansive. The bed is also bigger, but therein lies another dilemma. It’s the Swedish two-beds-in-one problem. It’s quite literally, two beds side by side. There’s a fault-line right down the middle. There are two mattresses and two duvets. It’s complicated.

Also, we don’t really know the protocol regarding who invites whom over to play, so we’re trying to be fair and equal and hopefully, suitably Swedish. The fact is, we’re used to the one bed concept so despite the bountiful space, the enforced lack of proximity (no one likes sleeping on the join) and the sheer independence of the sleeping experience is unfamiliar and frankly, unacceptable.

Perhaps the Swedes think sharing a mattress, duvet and skin flakes is altogether too disgusting. I don’t know. Can anyone please explain?


Thursday, May 13, 2010


In Stockholm the free blue and yellow bus departs Regeringsgatan 17 on the hour. I had decided I needed a “Dave” so that when I tire of working at the kitchen table, I can easily relocate to the rooms at the front of the apartment looking out over the water.

For those of you who don’t know (and that would be the Aussies, not the Swedes) Mr. Ingvar Kamprad named the company using his initials and the first letters of the name of the farm where he grew up, Elmtaryd, and his home parish Agunnaryd, in southern Sweden.

My shopping experience was testament to the fact that IKEA stores are the same the world over, but the key difference between IKEA Kungens Kurva, Stockholm and IKEA Richmond, Melbourne is the number of Swedish pensioners enjoying a cheap, traditional Swedish lunch! I dare say there are a few nostalgic Nordic pilgrims who, pining for lax and köttbullar, dine in the Melbourne store. Sadly, they won’t find a prinsesstårta for dessert in the land downunder.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Almost Summer

Stockholm has thawed. Bicycles, tulips, daffodils and tiny grape hyacinths are back. Park benches are home to rows of sun-oriented faces and all the bus-stop billboards are emblazoned with bikini-clad nymphs.

In the space of a few short months, the snow has disappeared and somewhere between frozen and fecund, a veil of tentative greenness is covering the city. It is sunny today and Stockholmers are out in force. Never mind that the fact that it’s only a cool 13 degrees and you still need your scarf. This is it folk, it’s almost summer!

By contrast, the Age newspaper in Australia announced today that Melbourne has been hit by a cold snap, with overnight temperatures plummeting from 17 degrees at midnight to 7.6 degrees, making this the coldest day so far for 2010! Newsworthy stuff! Only a few months ago in Stockholm, my intrepid husband set off for work around 7.30am and it was minus 23 degrees. The bus didn’t come. I think it refused to leave the depot. For weeks the mercury didn’t get over zero.

Melbournians, it’s time to toughen up. It’s colder here today than you had it at midnight last night for goodness sake and the general mood here is that summer’s arrived. We’re going for an after-work drink at a bar on the water and whilst you huddle over your heaters, we'll drink mojitos or rosé because that’s what you do in the summer.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


We all know the word, but I've not met anyone who can pronounce it*.  I do know someone whose travel plans were thrown into chaos because of it and happily, I've had my lovely husband home with me for a bonus week! 

We move through life thinking we're so organised and in control, but an unknown Icelandic volcano has reminded us this week that the truth is otherwise.  The illusion of control is so beguiling, but it's only an illusion, that's for sure.  Had Eyjafjallajökull chosen to continue to spew out ash and debris from the bowels of the earth for another few weeks, imagine the consequences!  Workers stranded on vacation would be denied the opportunity to contribute their labour. Should they then, expect to be paid? Airlines dependent on flight schedules filled with paying passengers would rapidly go broke.  People with anxiety disorders would suffer with heightened existential angst.  Icelandic children with asthma and respiratory disorders would have to stay indoors.  Loved ones worldwide would not be able to attend weddings and funerals.  Fruit and vegetables in Scandinavia would be in extremely short supply.  And as for the Stock Exchange...the mind simply boggles!

As we mused about our circumstances earlier this week my husband said, "...and maybe the earth will tilt on its axis 90 degrees tomorrow!"  Maybe it will, but then again, it's far morely likely that it won't!   In the meanwhile however, I'm enjoying my bonus week and thinking more often of Thich Nhat Hahn's wonderful poem:

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is the only moment.

_____  _____  _____  _____

*For those of you familiar with international phonetics, here's the pronunciation (good luck with the Icelandic accent!) eiːjafjatlajœːkʏtl

Photo free from Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Things to do in Autumn (and more about water)

There seems to be a theme in my blogs.  Water.  Frozen, melting, scarce, packaged and recently, over the Easter holiday, it showed up the form of beautiful waves on a beach not far from Melbourne.

This water-theme-thing hasn't been intentional, but it says a lot about Stockholm (heaps of the stuff, be it liquid or frozen) and Melbourne (not much of it unless you're at the beach).  For me, water is not only life sustaining but it's soul-sustaining too.  Diving through the glassy face of a wave helps me to feel grounded and to breathe a little easier.  Contemplating a frozen droplet that refracts the sunlight into intense rainbow colours reminds me that beauty is all around me.

We went camping for a few days over Easter. I love being cocooned in a tent and getting up (to pee!) in the middle of the night to a brilliant, moonlit landscape.  I love the cool, crisp mornings and the warm, sunny days.  I love the fact that the ocean currents in Bass Strait are still warm.

Tomorrow we're going to the Yarra Valley in search of good wine and tasty food.  I know we will not be disappointed.  We should probably be going for a week, not just a day.  It's autumn and the vines will be turning from green to burnished red, gold and orange.  We're going with special friends and we're going to take turns in the newly restored, red MGA. We'll drive down winding country roads and we'll talk about things both serious and frivilous.  I hope we'll make time to lie on a rug somewhere and find objects in the cumulous clouds. 

Between tastings, we'll be sure to drink plenty of water.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Water Bottles

It’s good to drink plenty of water. We all know this but in the drinking stakes, some of us do better than others. The hue of that stuff that tinkles into the bowl and the frequency of the said tinkling, will give you a good indication of your hydration habits and how hard your kidneys are working! Now, outputs are important and should not be overlooked, but currently, I’m interested in the input end of things…
In Sweden and in Australia we are privileged to have some of the best drinking water available at the mere turn of a tap. It’s clean, fresh and pretty much endless, despite water storage levels in Victoria being at an all time low because of our protracted drought.

With such good quality water available for free, I find myself wondering why we buy the stuff. We buy it in such prodigious quantities that bottled water sales in the USA have outstripped sales of beer. We drink it from PET bottles made from fossil fuels – mostly petroleum and natural gas. We quaff it at greatly inflated prices compared to the stuff you can get at your local kitchen sink. We recklessly quench our thirst with water that uses 2-3 times more than the amount we've imbibed just to produce it! The energy cost of manufacturing, bottling, sealing, labeling, refrigerating and transportating it, makes the environmental impact of our bottled water nothing short of horrendous.

And then there’s Bisphenol A (BPA), a key ingredient of your plastic bottle. Studies suggest a raft of possible health issues related to BPA consumption. Whilst causal links are tenuous at best, there’s enough written about BPA to throw the anxiety-switch in your brain, leaving you obsessing about worst-case health scenarios and untimely death! So with environmental destruction and life-threatening side effects, your good-ole bottled water isn’t looking so good any more.

Ok, ok, I know you’re a good citizen and you recycle. I’m sure this mediates some of the guilt you feel for your rampant aqueous consumerism. In Stockholm you’ll be traipsing down the to local recycling station with your overladen ICA or COOP bags full of glass and cardboard and plastic, to feed the big green bin-monsters in the street with their preferred substances. In Australia, you’ll be turfing your PET bottles into your own personal recycling bin in your driveway at home.

Good for you. Keep it up, but think twice.

If you have your own refillable water bottle, you will be making a difference. It’s also fun! Your local gym will undoubtedly have their own branded version as will your cycle store, your football team and your favourite holiday destination. You can choose from a range of retro and designer styles if you go for the big Swiss band. You can choose screw top or pop top…the options for creative self-expression are endless.

In Sweden the contents of our water bottles froze one day when we were skating on Edsviken. I was absolutely amazed by this incredibly cold and unAustralian phenomenon. Here in the antipodes, we have innocuous looking white water bottles that turn shocking shades of purple according to the level of UV to which they’re exposed. For those of you who know the jingle, the purpose of these chameleon bottles is to remind us to “slip on a shirt, slop on some sunscreen or slap on a hat!”

So whatever your style, impress your colleagues at work, save the planet, be kinder to your kidneys, feel quietly virtuous, save money…and make a re-usable bottle your friend today.

Note: For those of you interested in a more scholarly exposé on the energy required to produce bottled water, see the Institute of Physics.

Monday, March 15, 2010


It’s 9:15pm and it’s still warm. Not hot, just pleasantly warm. The pile of paperwork clamoring for my attention on my return to Melbourne was topped by a letter requiring that we meet the specifications pertaining to the “Wildfire Management Overlay”(WMO) which covers our beachside property. This means that we must calculate a “Bushfire Attack Level” rating for our property and provide adequate information outlining building infrastructure and property management strategies to ensure that, in the case of a bushfire, we can guarantee:
  • Water supply
  •  Appropriate access to emergency vehicles and
  • An ongoing approach vegetation management that reduces risk.
And all this before the local planning department will issue us with a building permit.

It’s a far cry from the cold and wet of Stockholm, where water is everywhere and it's ok to luxuriate under the shower for more than our regulation four minutes.

My first, somewhat negative thoughts, were that this is was product of a risk averse “Bureaucratic Management Overlay”, but then the terrors of Black Saturday February 7th 2009 were triggered in my memory. Preparation and planning cannot always contain the rage of mother nature, but early warning systems and timely evacuations may have saved lives on that hot and wildly windy day last year.

We hope that we will never have cause to call on:
  • “A minimum of 10,000 litres on-site static water storage maintained solely for fire fighting,”
but if it’s ever a tank we need to tap, I won’t be sticking around to find out whether it’s enough.

So as I pore over my “Applicant’s Kit” I’m trying to be respectful of the origins of this legislation, philosophical about the paperwork, not cynical about other adjacent and unprepared properties that were built before the introduction of the WMO and optimistic about the building of a dream.

The optimistic bit isn’t hard. I’m imagining a barbeque on the deck whilst the cacophony of native bird-calls fades and the setting sun colours the sky a riot of beautiful fire-palette golds and reds.

But in order to realise the dream, I really need to get back to demonstrating my compliance with Permit Conditions for Option One.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Adult Children

March and April bring a veritable frenzy of birthdays in our family. We haven’t even recovered from Christmas and the next round of presents and celebrations are upon us. For my 1980s babies, their 2010 birthdays land them all squarely in their twenties; low, mid, high. This makes me officially old and them, inescapably adult.

But they were not always so. I was reminded of this today when I received an email from a friend. She always writes with acerbic wit and opened “God, it’s hard to be you!” and continued,“I’m stuck in suburbia with grunting adolescents and a bad haircut”.

The fact is, I have survived the grunting adolescents and bad haircuts will come and go. The odds are better for me now. I am free to come and go as I please and mercifully, grunting is no longer a preferred form of communication. Nevertheless, my adult children remain my children and still tug at the heart-strings and the purse-stings. But they’re adults. Separate. Autonomous, mostly.

I am truly grateful that they are not being sent off to fight in wars like generations of young people before them. I am perplexed by the complexity of their lives and hope they can find joy in simple pleasures. I am proud of their endurance and persistence. They are all good people. Amongst other things, I love to hear one sing, one laugh and the other to tell me about the weather.

And yes, I’ll always feel protective. I’ll worry and I’ll hope for the best for them. I can’t change the biological fact that I’m their mother and they’re my offspring and for me, a vested interest comes with the territory. But I can recalibrate my involvement and my proximity. I guess Sweden is about as far away from Australia as you can get! I love not knowing everything they’re up to. And I’m sure they love that too.

Thursday, March 4, 2010


Snow doesn't always fall down.  Today it's swirling all around in every direction, a soft and silent dance outside my window.

I could watch it all day.


Learning by Heart

Over the Christmas holiday of 2008, I read Norman Doige’s wonderful book “The Brain that Changes Itself” (2007). It was exciting, challenging and inspiring. I told all my friends to read it and my mum at 80 years of age was one of the first to do so. Another enthusiastic friend took the core message about neuroplasticity to heart in her typically creative fashion. She emailed her friends inviting us all to learn poetry and to recite to one another. I believe her personal mission has contributed to the collective forestalling of neurological decay amongst my peers! Through the sharing of stanzas and couplets, we have also shared ideas, images and experiences heart-felt.

Thus, what we now know affectionately as the Poetry Project, was born. Norman Doige MD, psychiatrist, psychotherapist and himself a poet, though I’ve only just discovered this, would be proud! After my first Shakespearean sonnet, my mother bequeathed me some of my father’s old poetry anthologies, complete with annotations in his own hand. It has been quite an emotional experience to read the words he once read and to establish a lyrical connection untrammeled by time and his untimely death.

Recitations have taken place at some wonderful dinner parties, mostly between main course and dessert. Just enough wine to soothe the nerves but not too much to interfere with rhythm and memory. Once the friend who had inaugurated the Poetry Project recited her poem with her jumper over her head! She was frozen by the presence of an audience, yet able to recall perfectly each phrase when she was ensconced in her own woollen world. On account of this peculiarity, we critically examined and debated the mechanisms of memory and recall. We have laughed a great deal and we have been clumsy, eloquent and at times, completely blank. We have been moved by Auden, Donne, Shakespeare, Wordsworth and some of our own wonderful Australian poets.

Which brings me to the reason for this blog. As mother nature assiduously touches up her white Stockholm canvas with little flurries of snow every now then, I often think of home. Our colours are so different. Stark, bright, bold. Australian Dorothea Mackellar wrote “My Country” when she was homesick in England in 1907. This well-known second stanza of her poem tells of a vastly different place…

I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons
I love her jewel sea
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me

Dorothea Mackellar 1907

...and yes, I do know the other verses!
Storm photo from Reader Photo Gallery Melbourne Herald Sun 6 March 2010

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


It's hot in Australia right now.  Especially on the west coast where daughter number one is living.  She says the wind is like having a hairdyer blowing into your face. On the "hot" setting.  It's been in the mid to high 30s for weeks and over 40 degrees some days. 

The Fremantle Doctor isn't making anyone feel any better either.  The Freo Doctor, or commonly just The Doctor, is the name for the ocean breeze that starts up in the afternoon bringing relief from the relentless summer heat.  The Doctor blows during the summer months and usually takes a break during winter. 

Heat like that saps your energy.  You don't sleep as well at night and you move more slowly during the day. Grass is dry and prickly underfoot.  Plants wilt. Sweat trickles.  Just as Stockholmers in winter walk on the sunny side of the street, Australians are busy seeking out the shade.

So as I turn on my heater to bump up the temperature in our apartment (our windows are old and the cold leaks in at night), I'm thinking of her sleeping on the loungeroom floor because that's where the air-conditioner is.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Melting and Refreezing

Stockholm is turning to mush. It's one degree and it's warm. Seriously. Warm is definitely a relative concept. On account of this mild weather, we're melting. Puddles abound and every roof, overhanging balcony and tree branch is dripping. I'm worried that a huge drift of snow and ice will slide from five stories up and land on my head. This happens and is sadly, sometimes fatal.

Trying to look nonchalant, I walk on the outer edge of the footpath. Whilst this may be a life-preserving strategy, it means that I'm in the splash zone of passing cars and buses. You can imagine.

By Tuesday, we'll be back to a chilly daily maximum of minus six degrees. The dripping will stop. The water will freeze. All those wet surfaces and puddles will become treacherous, glassy patches of ice. Just when I was getting good at walking AND looking up occasionally, I'll be doing the cartoon-style-legs-spinning routine and grabbing at passers-by!

The subject of ice brings me to another dilemma. To my foreign mind, it would make a great deal of sense to avert a falling over embarrassement or injury by wearing spikes on your shoes. Stockholmers almost without exception disagree. It's not that you can't buy spikes for your shoes. They're in every Apoteket and shoe repair store. It's just that the only people who wear them are really really old. Octogenerian. I've seen about eight people in my entire time here, clicketty clicking through the entrance to the Tunnelbanna.

Q:     Do I try to act cool and try to look like a local?
A:     No spikes.

Q:     Do I set aside all pretence, any illusions I might have about my age and publicly declare my ice-walking ineptitude?
A:     Spikes.

Decision: There will be no limping through the doors of a Swedish sjukhus for me.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Smiling at Strangers

At home I walk whenever I can. For fun, fitness and all that stuff. I walk a five-kilometre loop along a creek and the area is populated with kookaburras, magpies, the occasional yellow-tailed black cockatoo and a million screeching rainbow lorikeets.

At risk of generalising again, when people go for a walk in Australia, well in my little piece of it anyway, they acknowledge one another when they walk by. Sometimes it's a quiet nod and other times it's a generous "Hello! Lovely morning!" said with the requisite sing-song intonation. Sometimes it's just a "hi," "morning," or "hello". Joggers are excused, but mostly they make eye contact and I return their look with one of avid admiration and respect. They run on with a little more of a spring in their step, feeling self-satisfied and slightly superior. I am always glad to have contributed to a moment of enhanced self-esteem.

Here in Sweden smiling at strangers is not the done thing. I confess to being something of a non-conformist however, so when I walk here I often set out to see how many smiles I can elicit. Please don't think that I think Swedish people are unfriendly. Mostly they're watching the ice and snow under their feet in order to avoid the undignified flailing of limbs or a fall. Yesterday I was failing miserably in the smiles-elicited stakes. I had launched many genuine smiles into the sub-zero landscape but to no avail. And then it happened. Something that has never happened in Australia!

An elderly gentleman looked up and smiled. He paused as I approached and reached out to touch my arm. I smiled again and made some redundant comment about the cold. He said, “You are beautiful, very beautiful,” and then he kissed me on the cheek! I was touched. Perhaps I had reminded him of someone loved and special. Perhaps people don’t smile at him often enough.

So I kissed him on the other cheek and told him that he was too kind. And I went on my way, intrigued, gratified...and smiling.

Monday, February 22, 2010


I could be going to Italy, but I'm not. I could be going to a conference in the UK, but I'm not. I'm staying put in snowy Stockholm to write.

I did not write anything today. Facebook status-updates and shopping lists don't count. Maybe I'll finish this blog, maybe not.

When I was working full-time and did not have the time to write, I was enthusiatic and inspired. Now I have the time, I am distracted, avoidant and unsure.

I am not a writer. Never have been. I like to write things and I think I'm ok at putting words together but writers write! So I'm not one...yet.

I think that maybe the flip side of creativity is discipline. And that more than a string of two-line paragraphs would be good. Do two lines really make a paragraph?

I'm not going to Italy.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010


We have an apartment. It’s cosy. Read small. Everything about it other than the flat-screen television is small. I know this and I expect this, but cannot get used to living it.

In Australia, large open spaces are something we have and somehow feel entitled to. Our kitchen benches are long and wide. Our living rooms are bigger than many Swedish apartments. We live expansively on our verandahs and decks and in our back-yards we can kick a footy, hang a hammock, keep chooks, plant a vegie garden and install an impromptu cricket pitch using the rubbish bins for wickets!

Ok, ok…some Australians live in apartments but new data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics indicates that we’re building bigger homes than ever before, with an average floor space of 214.6 square metres. Free-standing homes are even bigger on average, at 245 square metres! So are we Aussies being poor custodians of our planet’s limited resources? Are we recklessly heating, cooling and vacuuming our homes using up precious electricity, gas and water when we should be learning a lesson from our down-sized Swedish friends?

I’d like to think there is some middle ground. A bathroom with a window would be nice. I would like to have a cupboard in the bedroom. I would like to be able to make a coffee in my Swedish kitchen without having my husband have to squeeze past me to put the orange juice back in the fridge. I really don’t mind the proximity that early in the morning, it’s just that we’re under each other’s feet!

So as I learn to navigate in a more contained and circumspect way around my 35 square meters, I will contemplate what I want, what I need and what I’m simply used to. I will be glad that it only takes five minutes to tidy up and I will dream of a table that seats ten. I will renew my respect for Ikea storage solutions and I will put things away when I have finished with them.

And when I want big, I’ll turn on the telly.

Friday, February 12, 2010


After hearing of the terrible loss of life this week on the Salang Pass in Afghanistan, I am finding it easier to put our frustrating and fruitless search for an apartment in perspective.

We arrived in Stockholm almost a week ago and following days of internet searching, phone calls, emails, negotations and dead-ends, I was feeling quite despondent about our housing options. My lovely husband encouraged me to leave our hotel room and to get out and enjoy the sunshine.

It was a beautiful day. Crisp and glittering Stockholm was at its winter best. As I walked and wondered at the blueness of the sky, I recalled reading The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion (2005). In this moving personal narrative, she describes how grief left her in an altered mental state at best, deranged at worst. She reflects, “Life changes in the instant. The ordinary instant.”

For me yesterday, blue skies and bright snow brought joy and a sense of awe. For one hundred and seventy people in Afghanistan, blue skies and too much snow brought life to an untimely end. Rather than making me feel maudlin and depressed, this reverie heightened my senses, awakened gratitude and put my accommodation problem firmly in its place.

For now, I will enjoy each instant. Each ordinary instant.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


I’m not sure that I can speak for all Australians, but for me, snow is about fun. It’s a novelty! Yes, we do have snow in Australia, in fact we Victorians can boast of a number of very respectable ski resorts within three to five hours drive from Melbourne. We don’t guarantee good snow seasons as our winters are fickle and often warm. An extended El Niño weather pattern hasn’t recently been kind to the snowfields of Victoria either.

So we ski and snow board and party with friends in ski lodges. The hardy, traverse the white wilderness and camp out or stay in huts built by stockmen who grazed cattle in the high country years ago. But only those who work in the ski resorts actually live with the white stuff on a daily basis.  Snow here in Sweden, well this winter at least, is ubiquitous. It creates beautiful, surreal landscapes, stark contrasts, soft contours and transforms ugly traffic roundabouts into perfect, crystalline UFOs. Despite the fact that snow here is just so normal, I cannot help myself! I want to throw myself into those pristine drifts and throw handfuls of it at other people. I want to sit on all those snow laden seats and leave a body print. I want to stick my tongue out when it’s falling and have it melt on my lips.

Seasoned locals would probably think I was crazy should I do any of these things, and whilst I have skipped from the path on occasion (yes I did get snow in my boots and no I didn’t care), I have not indulged the full desire to play. My inner child is restless however and cannot be constrained for much longer. So Stockholmers, if you see a woman making snow angels somewhere or sitting on a snow covered park bench with a silly smile on her face, you’ll know she’s not mad, just Australian.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dagens Lunch

Following a visit to a nearby accomodation broker, lunch was calling.

A legion of people who do not suffer from a fear of heights, work tirelessly through the winter clearing dangerous icicles and snow from the rooftops. Sections of the footpath (pavement/sidewalk?) are cordoned off and drifts of snow and ice hit the ground as they are dislodged from on high.

After lunch in a nearby cafe, I was stepping out the door only to be grabbed by a Swedish gentleman and blasted by a workman with a whistle. The gentleman offered a comprehensive but incomprehensible explanation for interrupting my exit and the man with the whistle and accompanying gestures, a perfectly eloquent one...the snow and ice clearers were working right above the cafe door!

The gentleman, realising he was dealing with an ignorant non-Swede, explained in English that it was not a good idea to have ice and snow in your head. We parted laughing, after I had thanked him for saving my life!