Irish Coffee

Today I had Irish coffee with my Farmor (father’s mother). We talked about all sorts of random things and I felt like I made a lot of progress speaking in Swedish but the best part was what happened on facebook afterwards:

irish coffee


Work Life Balance: Mary Kay Party

Tonight I attend a Mary Kay party that my aunt had. It was fun to hang out with other “girls” and talk about make up, eat some good food, and relax. I also decided to invest in some skin care.

I am a products girl. I have always liked reading girly magazines about make up tips, products you should use, etc. However I use lots of brands and sometimes change  to save money. As a chemist I know that some of these products must be counter productive and recently I have been struggling with some breakouts on my face.

I was never someone who had a lot of achene in high school so I never learned how to deal with it. When about a year, year and a half ago I got a horrible amount of achene all at once that didn’t seem to go away no matter how much I washed my face with gentle cleanser or harsher cleansers, or didn’t wear make up or did wear it, or wore the kind with achene fighting medicine in it, I thought that these breakouts must be stress related. I was trying to finish up my PhD. I wasn’t sleeping well and I was working at least 80-90 hrs a week sometimes up to 120hrs including all the writing and editing I was doing. I tried to mitigate the achene by keeping my face clean and dry and only wearing coverup when needed. It started to clear up a week before my thesis defense and I thought that was the end of it.

Recently it has started coming back. I have been researching (what else should a scientist do when you don’t know the answer to something but look for evidence?) the effect of using different products online and in medical journals. Most of what I found explains that over time certain products buildup on your skin or your skin can become resistant to them and you start using more and more.

Since my best friend and my aunt have both had success with Mary Kay I decided to give it a try. The first thing I noticed is that you use much less (about 1/5 of the face wash that I used to use). While this is not a proper scientific study I hope to have some qualitative results soon.

quick side story: at the party the sales person was letting us try make up primer, which should make foundation and make up go on more smoothly and last longer. Being an annoying proponent of using controls in your experiments I decided to only put primer on one side of my face and see if I could tell the difference…

Chrismas Eve vs. Christmas Day….

In the US we open our presents on Christmas morning after Santa has come on Christmas eve. However in Sweden the big Christmas celebration is Christmas Eve. After eating a Julbord , presents are opened in the evening. I can see how at first glance this seems better that opening them on Christmas morning because you get them earlier. However I think in the end the Christmas Day model is better. First, you get to open your presents first thing in the morning, no waiting. Second, because you open presents in the morning, you get to play with them or use them all day. Some of my favorite Christmas memories were doing legos and puzzles while watching a movie that my brother or I got for Christmas. Third, there is a better defined time to open presents. By having present opening as “Christmas Eve” it is hard to define when that starts…right after dinner? when the sun goes down? what if you eat dinner in the middle of the afternoon?

Thus I think I will stick with my Christmas morning Christmas celebration and leave Christmas Eve for baking cookies (Scottish shortbread was only made on Christmas Eve in my parents house).

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Merry Christmas to all! (no matter when you celebrate)


This year my cousin and her husband gave me a coupon for a day of making pepparkakshusen with them. Below is a bunch of pictures from our day of fun, plus the finished products.

A quick rant to get started is that people say gingerbread and pepparkakor are the same. While Google translate might say these are the same to me they are completely different. If you have ever bought the boxes of pepparkakor at IKEA or ANNAS ginger snaps and thought they are way better than other gingerbread cookies, I agree. While these Americanized versions taste more like American ginger bread than any of the family recipes I have used for pepparkakor they still have a special spiciness to them that I love. The key is the ground cloves. If you look at most American gingerbread recipes they don’t have ground clove and if they do it tends to be less than 1 tsp for a batch of a dozen or so cookies. However, my family swedish recipies and the book we used for making pepparkakshusen ( have as much ground cloves as cinnimon and ginger. So have a few pepparkakor this holiday season and appreciate the special spiciness.

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cutting the dough

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baking and cooling the pieces

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what do you do with all the rest of the dough?

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pepparkakor och pepparkaksgris

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and even a pepparkakscheese cake

Holiday Cards

Happy Holidays!

This year I am sending over 75 holiday cards to family, friends, and colleges. I love holiday cards. I love getting them, and making them. What I don’t love is sending them (or paying for it anyway :). This year since I have a brand new address and wasn’t organized enough to get my cards ready early I sent out an email with a change of address the last week of November to make sure any cards coming my way made it here. This was a great because I got some fun emails with updates from some people but I also got a lot of emails saying that people were looking forward to my holiday card and what ornament I would make this year.

As a kid every year we got a holiday card and Christmas ornament from one of my mom’s old friends. I loved seeing what they made each year. Since the end of college I have been sending a picture card with a small handmade ornament every year. I had been contemplating sending my picture card via email this year, thinking that I would save money on postage and making it easier. I definitely hadn’t planned out an ornament planned. Last year (2011) I made small wreaths out of braided ribbon I bought on sale after the Christmas before. I started to make the ornaments in early November so by December when I made my card I was all done. So what could I make in less than a week.

I decided to go with something very Swedish…a woven heart. Sticking with the “Swedish” theme I bought some blue and yellow paper and got started. Note: I made these quite small to fit in an envelope but you can make them basically any size that you can get a sheet of paper folded in half.

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1st, make a pattern where the height of the heart is about 1.25+% the width and rounded at the top

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2nd, fold colored paper in half,  cut along fold, fold in half again.

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3rd, cut out half hearts using pattern–width of the pattern is the most important dimension to cut correctly. Save any extra strips of paper from the ends of the sheets for handles.

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4th, plan and cut 3 even strips out of the heart, starting at the folded edge. The height of the cut should be the same as the width of the piece. (there are many more complicated patterns with wider and skinnier strips but with ones this small a simple pattern is best)

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5th, weave the strips in and out of each other. Remember there is no right or wrong all the ways of weaving will be the same.

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6th, add a handle from the strips left over after cutting the hearts or cut new thin strips for handles.

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Then I made a quick picture card, one picture from last Christmas in Chicago and another from this Christmas in Denmark, both at Christmas markets. Saying: same Lisa, same Christmas market tradition, different country

Finally I saw a great idea for holiday cards that were a year in review on a few blogs and pinterest and decided to make a sticker to put on the back of the photos with my 2012 in review:

2012-year in review copy

After a fight with the printer to print everyone’s addresses and return address labels, and the year in review labels for the back of the pictures. 4 hrs and remaking the files 3 different ways using the label making software, reinstalling the printers 3 times, and a college accidentally printing on one of my label sheets when the printer choose to use my manual feed paper instead of the normal drawer, I stuffed all the cards, put postage on them, and shipped them off.

Happy Holidays!

Glad Lucia!

Lucia och pojke

Lucia och pojke

These Lucia statues were my farmor’s and are the same model as some she gave my mother many many years ago that we had all of my growing up years. I am excited to be celebrating Lucia in Sweden for the first time ever, thinking both of my family in the US and my family here…Glad Lucia!

Lusse Lelle, Lusse Lelle. Elva nätter före jul.
Lusse Lelle, Lusse Lelle. Elva nätter före jul.
Nu äro vi hitkomna så näst före jul.
Nu äro vi hitkomna så näst före jul.

Godis och Godisskål

When my farmor moved out of the house she and my farfar had lived in since my dad was 2, she gave all of us a lot of their things. When my parents asked what I wanted there wasn’t anything in particular I really wanted. Then when she moved apartments to a new more service elderly house last year, again we were all asked what we wanted. After thinking about it I told my parents I wanted the candy bowl that was on a side table in their living room in the old house. When we came to visit she always had small candy coated liquorish candies (think Good & Plenty) which came in many colors and were both yummy and so pretty in the bowl.

When we were dividing all the inheritance things with my parents earlier this summer we decided that we would leave the candy bowl in Sweden so I could have it in my apartment here. When my aunt saw the bowl she made some comment about that silly, old, broken bowl. I had to confess that I had broken the top of the bowl a long time ago.

My farfar was sitting on the couch in the living room and I was around 10 and trying to “sneak” candy…and I dropped the top of the candy bowl sending the sphere on top of the spire rolling off under the couch. My farfar who was blind but obviously hear the clear sound of the top breaking, made a funny conspirator face and told me that if we didn’t tell farmor she wouldn’t notice. I am pretty sure he may have even told her that he broke it 😉 because of course she did notice.

Candy Bowl

Candy Bowl

Now I can have good liquorish candy in my home to share with visitors too. I couldn’t find the kind of candies (godis) that farmor always had but I found some other good ones.

Making Glögg…an American-Swede Tradition?

In my parents house the holidays smells like glögg. Every year my dad, messes with and putters with making his glögg making the whole house smell fabulous. As my little brother and I have gotten old enough to drink legally, we have also partaken in the glögg. However, I have some very distinct memories of our childhood home and the smell of Christmas tree and glögg on Christmas Eve as we made Scottish Shortbread.

Now what is glögg? It is a Scandinavian spiced & hot wine. Perfect for those long winter days (that look like nights). Go for a long walk? you need glögg. Have a long bus ride? you need glögg. Get rained on the whole time you are at Tivoli? you need glögg.

When I moved away from my parents to Chicago I needed to learn to make glögg for myself…I got my dad to write down what he does and practiced a few times for myself and close friends before making it for things like the work holiday party. Now I have been making glögg often during the holiday season for 5 years. I have a homemade is better and “Fredin’s are good at this” mentality about making glögg (I also feel this way about meat gravies which I also learned to make from my dad). Now that I live in Sweden I assumed that the glögg would be amazing.

It turns out most people (I mean everyone really) buys glögg. Either low alcohol % from the grocery store or svart vin/stronger from the liquor store. While some of the kinds I tried, both at work and with my family were good they weren’t as potent or as spicy as the homemade kind we made in the US. Maybe this is a Amerian-Swede trying to create culture or a connection to history…or maybe it is just my dad but either way I think I am a homemade glögg person for life.

Of course after telling my family in Sweden about our traditional Fredin homemade glögg, my aunt picked a day during the holiday weekend for me to make this homemade glögg for everyone. The problem is that in the US both my dad and I make our glögg “starters” at the end of each holiday season for the next year. I only had about 3 weeks until I needed to use a starter.

So, I went to the liquor store to get vodka and a sweet strong winish liquor (brandy, sherry, or svart vin) and to the grocery store to get all the spices. First, I really don’t understand small bottles of actual liquor. Liquor doesn’t go bad, and it is so much cheaper to buy a handle than a 750ml bottle, plus you don’t have to go back to the store so often. But at Systembolaget (the liquor store, Systemet) the largest bottle of vodka they had was 750ml. In Chicago I used the bottle of a handle of Jose Cuervo because it was large and square, with a good handle giving good mixing when shaking the spices into the liquor. Here I had to buy the only bottle of 750ml vodka which looked pretty cheap and was  a brand I had never heard of.

Back in my apartment I poured out a glass of vodka (an American water sized glass) from the bottle and added all the spices (cardamon, cinnamon, cloves, orange peal) and some svart vin. Then I heated the whole mixture for a few min on the stove keeping it well below boiling but still hot to get some of the spice flavor to extract into the alcohol. Then I re-bottled the starter mix and I was ready to make real glögg.

glögg starter

glögg starter

just add wine and sugar….

The glass of left over vodka I made into cucumber vodka by soaking sliced of cucumber in the glass for a few days before using it up. The extra svart vin I used to make a great wine glaze on a nice piece of chicken.


One of my favorite holiday traditions is my advent calendar. My farmor made this calendar and one for my younger brother. When I was young, farmor would send us small packages to tie on to the different days. Then for a while my grandmother in California sent us packages for the advent calendar and finally when everyone else thought that we kids were quite old enough and didn’t really need advent calendars, my mother started doing the presents. That is right I am almost 30 and still have an advent calendar every year! You wish you were so lucky 🙂

Advent Calendar

Advent Calendar

While in college and graduate school my mom would make a trip to IKEA to buy traditional Swedish candies and wrap them up for each day on the calendar. Every year in Chicago, I got a package before December 1st, with a bag of packages and instructions on how to tie them on to the calendar.  This year’s instructions where Dec 24, Dec 13 (Lucia) gold packages…then alternate ribbon colors randomly for other days.

I have been eagerly awaiting opening my first packages, because as every year when I was a kid, I made an educated guess to what was under the wrapping paper based on shape. This year I didn’t tell my brother that he had gotten a whole box of those stamp markers because look there were so many packages on his calendar of the same shape (I think he was 7 that year), but I was pretty sure that I got mostly fun sized milky way bars.

1st Sunday of advent

1st Sunday of advent

Figuring that my mom is adorable, I was expecting that this year I would be getting traditional American candy since I am in Sweden and we normally do the opposite. The first of December I did get a milky way!

Today is the first official day of advent (which is really only the 4 Sundays before Christmas). It is a perfect winter day, the snow is falling outside and so in anticipation of a milky way I opened my advent present. However I got 2 mini dark chocolate milky ways instead! Tricky mother!

I am looking forward to the rest of advent and spending sometime learning about the Swedish traditions for these holidays. Advent calendars are one of my favorite holiday traditions; what is one of yours?

epic search for a bed…

So once you have a place to live, you need a place to sleep. Disclaimer: in Chicago I lived alone in a large one bedroom apartment. I had a queen sized bed basically to myself for the last 5 years. After living in the dorms and then a 4 bedroom apartment in college and having plenty of roommate drama, I was ready to live alone. I loved my Chicago apartment, it was fun to have all of my things well displayed, and being able to cook how I liked, wear what I liked, and not worry about always having to communicate with someone else. However, when planning to move to Sweden it didn’t make sense to move all of my stuff here or buy everything for an apartment for just being here a few years. So as I have posted before I began a search for a roommate and an apartment. My plan was to find an apartment that was mostly furnished so that at most I would need a bed/bedroom furniture.

Now, buying a bed. In the US I am weird because I like European slat beds. I don’t like box-spring beds and have often struggled to find a bed that I like. IKEA has actually been a great resource for these kinds of beds so I thought buying a bed in Sweden should be easier than in the US. On the day I was moving into my apartment we packed up my uncle’s car with my suitcases, laundry bag, and computer and dropped it all off at my apartment before heading out to buy a bed and maybe a vanity/desk.

I had gone to my new apartment and measured the room a few days before, drawing a map of it showing the widow, door, and wardrobe. Then I had done some research on beds online and learned that standard sizes were 90, 120, 140, 160, and 180 cm (x 200 cm, Wikipedia plus a few other sites even said that these were becoming common through Europe because of IKEA).

I planned to get a 120 or 140 cm bed, so it would fit into my room and not be too small, wooden frame with slats, and a thick US style mattress that I might even sew a fitted sheet for since Swedish bottom bed sheets are flat sheets. Or so I planned…

It is only half true that  120 and 140 cm are standard bed sizes…90, 160, and 180 are very common, in fact all the beds at IKEA come this way. However, to have a wooden frame with slats I would have to go from a queen sized (137 x 191 cm) bed in the US to a 90 cm bed, which seemed impossible or to a 160 cm bed, which would make it impossible for me to open the doors to my wardrobe in my room. I did find some bed frames for 140cm beds, but IKEA only had thin mattresses that were supposed to go on “swedish” beds this size…

What is a Swedish bed? Well it is basically a wooden framed box-springs box that you can attach feet to. Then on top of these box-springs you place a thin mattress (which you wrap in a flat sheet) and then a duvet blanket on top for covers. Now there are thick mattresses to go on top of these spring boxes but they only seemed to come in 90 and then 160…no 120 or 140. So IKEA had a 140cm frame for a slat bed but no mattress thicker than about 4in to go inside this frame…????

After my being blindsided with the bed types and that the choice wasn’t easy, my aunt suggested we try two other stores that are close to IKEA…

So store number 2, no non-Swedish beds…

So store number 3, had a bed frame that was nice and you could get a mattress like I wanted but it was over 9,000 SEK (> $1,300) and finding a 140cm bed was basically impossible…ok so maybe not so much…

So try a specialty bed store…(#4), had no mattresses like I wanted but had a very nice Swedish bed that at least by sitting on it felt more like the kind of bed I wanted. My main problem with box-springs is they are too bouncy…or way to stiff…I feel like Goldilocks not being able to find the right bed. This bed was also over 8,000 SEK and then you had to wait 6 weeks for it to come in…

After driving all over, and with patience running thin, and everyone tired and hungry we headed back to IKEA to eat something and so I could have time to think about what I wanted. Now my last bed cost < $500 including the good mattress that was more expensive that I was planning to spend. Buying a bed that cost so much more for just two years seemed ridiculous. Plus paying so much for a bed that wasn’t even what I really wanted seemed counter productive.

Finally, I settled on getting a Swedish bed…What bed would fit in my room? What bed was large enough for me to not fall out of? What bed could I afford? What bed could I find sheets for? a Swedish bed. So I got a Swedish wooden slat bottom box-springs with a “thick” mattress topper (3 in thick) and 4 oak legs and sheets etc. to go with.

"swedish" bed

“swedish” bed

In the end I think my bed is nice and I have not been too uncomfortable in it but seriously there should be a website on how to buy a bed in a foreign country….that would be useful.