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)

Pepparkakshusen

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 (http://www.adlibris.com/se/product.aspx?isbn=9179881629) 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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PEPPARKAKSHUSEN!!!!

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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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DONE!!!

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!

Work Christmas Parties ? Why?

One of the biggest questions I am seeing answered on other blogs this season is about what to wear or what to take or how to act at a work holiday party. While these are all good questions to get answers to (see end of post for some of my favorite links) here I will just touch on my history with work holiday parties. In an academia sense there are a few types of work holiday parties. First there is a research group party, a department party, a school wide party and then even some smaller groups with in the university also have parties (like our juniors bowling party last week: http://wp.me/p2QzcO-3c).

In undergrad I attended the department holiday party and the 2 years I was in a research group I went to the group holiday party, then some of the clubs I was part of had parties. All of these were pretty fun. The department party was sponsored by the department so the food was pretty good. The club parties tended to be pizza but sometimes had a fun activity. The research group I was in at the end of undergrad was really small the first year and it was just a potluck, hang out type party. The second year when we were larger we went to a fancy bowling place for food and bowling (which our boss completely paid for) but as I am not a huge fan of bowling and this happened right before I needed to take all my finals I didn’t stay long.

When I got to graduate school we were officially accepted into our research groups right around thanksgiving so the holiday party was the first big event to get to know your research group in a social setting. I of course attended both groups’ holiday events, the department holiday party, and the graduate school holiday party each year. Now the department party was food, alcohol, and some kind of drawing or raffle with some music and games some of the years. I always dreaded going but it was a good time to catch up with friends in other groups who I didn’t see often and I always ended up having a pretty good time. The graduate school party was often at a nice location (the alumni club right on the lake downtown for 2 of the years) and the food and drinks were good. Since it was free as long as you signed up on time I often combined this with a shopping trip at some downtown stores, plus good free dinner. Finally the two research groups I was in were large (>25 people at all times, up to about 45 in one of them). This makes planning holiday parties more difficult. One of the groups (the larger one) had the tradition of going to a fancy restaurant for dinner. The first few years we had a prefix menu where everyone paid ahead of time and you got 3 courses. This cost about $30-40 per person but I would just budget this into my holiday expenses. Then the group started picking other restaurants and the method for paying became more and more messy. I don’t mind splitting a bill with people but graduate students are cheap and no one would pay their share with out being forced to. Plus splitting a bill with 40 people is just a pain…even when we split between 6-8 at a table it was a pain depending on who you got sat by. The biggest problem I had with this type of party is that you actually didn’t get to meet anyone in your group. You sat by people you commuted to the restaurant with (i.e., the ones you knew) and then you couldn’t move around to talk to other people so you were stuck with the same people for hours. My other research group had a holiday celebration that I enjoyed much more. This event was a whole weekday in Jan or Feb at our boss’s house. We would show up around 9am, have some bagels and coffee and then have a day full of fun science talks. Sometimes they were project ideas that someone had just tried thinking they would never work, sometimes they were talks on how to use a useful tool (I did an in depth end note talk a few years in a row) and sometimes they were talks from group alumni about what they were up to now. Then after  lunch (Chicago pizza) we would go outside and have  snowball fight, build a snowman, or just fool around for a while. After the rest of the talks we returned to campus around 5pm. This structure was nice because it offered multiple hang out times to talk to people. Of course some people sat in one place or talked to only their friends but I was able to use the food and coffee breaks to talk to people about what they were working on and I started 2 different collaborations at these events. As an added bonus this event being in Jan removed it from the stress of the rest of the holiday season.

As I have explained before I have a go to the holiday party even if you don’t feel like it policy so when the sign up sheet for the holiday party went up in the coffee room, I signed up. Then when I learned from a discussion by others at lunch that we had to bring food…I said I would bring cookies. No one corrected me so when I saw the sign up sheet for the food and the only options were traditional food for the Julbord I was a little miffed. After deciding I could cook meat balls (I make Swedish meatballs often to eat myself) I realized the problem that the party was a Monday after work. How was I going to bring warm meatballs to the office then? Were they going to be able to heat them up? what was the plan? I kept asking these questions of the guys I eat lunch with and never really got any answers so I decided to cook my meat balls at my apartment on Monday afternoon and take them straight to the party. Of course they wouldn’t be hot but at least they should be warm. Turns out they had decided on a way to reheat the food onsite (sorta) and the schedule was much more complicated that I knew.

First there was a talk which I had never seen on the schedule, then everyone went upstairs for dinner. Dinner was a Julbord buffet that was a mix of all the food people had brought. There was a lot of food but also a lot of people so the organization of where the food was, what was hot and when people should get in line wasn’t great. After the dinner started there were signing groups, drinking songs, and a trivia game during and after eating. After all of this they announced a treasure hunt. Since the party had already lasted for 3 hrs and I had planned to do some work before I went to bed, I snuck out to head home.

What I learned is that scheduling a holiday party is always difficult and there is probably no good way but just like with any social event making it cheaper for the planning group just puts the costs off onto the guests, either in actually money, time, or inconvenience. A good party balances these costs and work parties are always a mess.

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Holiday Party Attire Links

Festive Attire (That Won’t Make You Cringe) – Sociology of Style

Things That Make You Sparkle – Sociology of Style

5 Outfits of Christmas – Sociology of Style

Casual Party Attire – Capital Hill Style

Two Ways: Holiday Party Looks – Capital Hill Style

Two Ways: Holiday Red Pants – Capital Hill Style

Some Good Coworker or Friend Gift Links

Holiday Hot Coco – Capital Hill Style

Gifts for Co-Workers – Capital Hill Style

May your work holiday parties be classy and at least not boring 🙂

Give the Gift of a Shared Experience

Today at coffee hour (yes I made it to coffee hour 🙂 we were discussing giving gifts and all the different cultural norms for the amount to spend or what is considered a good gift. This conversation was a parallel to ones I have been having with family and my roommate lately. Personally I love finding special presents for each person on my list and knowing that I can give them something that they might not give them self. However I am one of those weirdos who shops all year round. I often have multiple presents for someone or multiple people wrapped in the back of my closet. When I see something really special for a particular person I tend to buy it and keep it till the next time I would like to give them a present.

This year I decided to make necklaces for the 3 ladies in my life that I give larger Christmas presents to. I made them all similar necklaces using the same methods/techniques but by the time I was done each one had a personality like each of my girls does. It was so obvious to me as I looked at each necklace who it was for. Other than these, and some t-shirts I designed for my dad and brother, I got my aunt and uncle in Sweden each a small gift based on things we talked about when I lived with them to say thank you for everything. However instead of buying people I work with or peripheral friends small tokens that don’t cost much or aren’t very personal I love to give gifts of experience. For each of my Swedish cousin’s I promised a dinner where we can hang out and I can help prepare/cook/make desert/bring the wine.

One of the girls at work was trying to figure out what to get her 11 year old goddaughter who only wants make-up and clothes that she (the godmother) thinks are inappropriate for her age. I suggested a night out at the ballet or shopping in the city or high tea at a nice restaurant. By giving the gift of something you can do together or experiences that are special you not only get a present but a memory. The next time you go to buy a present that is random or not something the person it is for will use/love think about giving the gift of a shared experience.

Lund square tree

Lund square tree

Christmas Concert (yes that is not Holiday)

One of my favorite holiday tradition that I had in Chicago was that my 2 best friends and I would got see Chanticleer (an all male acapella group) for their holiday concert in early December. This year I got to go to my uncle’s men’s choir concert for the holidays. My favorite thing about all male singing groups is the lack of squeaky female voices. After a fabulous concert in an old church that featured some really amazing solos we went to a local farm house for a great dinner. The whole night was a huge success.

At the dinner I got to talking with the couple across from me and we discussed the political correctness of holiday parties. Recently in Sweden there was a discussion in the media about the poltical correctness of some natinoal holiday traditions that are now considered offensive to people of other religious or ethnic backgrounds. For a long time Sweden was a very homogenous society but in recent years the number and veriety of immigrants have increased making some of the older traditions be seen in a new light. Now I think some of these political corectness questions are a little silly since the context of the references came about in a time period where mulitculturism wasn’t a problem but we have similar issues in the US about the holiday season. While our government is supposed to be separate from religion some religious culuture permiates all level of society. This becomes even more evident at the holiday time with the fight about wishing people “Merry Christmas” and how to celebrate holidays at schools, in public settings, at work, in the government, and on TV.

Now I have a few friends (most Jewish) who are highly offended if someone wishes them “Merry Christmas” at a store or in a public place. I feel this is kinda silly. I do send out holiday cards each year, not Christmas cards. I always say “Happy Holidays” on my cards because a few of the people I send cards to are Jewish or simply don’t celebrate Christmas. However as a non-christian who celebrates Christmas and loves the holiday I don’t really understand being offended by any good wishes during this time. I feel like Christmas is a cultural phenomena in the US and thus wishing someone a Merry Christmas is the same as wishing them Happy Holidays or Happy New Year.

so Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year to you all!

Bowling and Christmas Table (Julbord)

Bowling…why is bowling a group activity? I don’t understand why people want to go bowling or skating in groups. I don’t find either of these activities particularly fun but I will suck it up and go when the group is going. The “juniors” in the department announced that it was a holiday tradition to go to a bowling place in the city and then eat at their attached restaurant with a traditional julbord.

So what is Julbord? It is the traditional Swedish Christmas dinner. From listening to the guys at work discussing it and seeing all the adverts for different locations posted all over the city (at bus stops) it seems like it is pretty popular for groups to go out to have a Julbord for holiday parties. Julbord consists of a large buffet with many types of sil (pickled herring), smoked salmon, eggs and then a large selection of cold cuts of ham, and salami, cooked potatoes, and meatballs. Obviously it is easier to go out for this kind of meal to get a larger variety in each type of food than if you are buying them for just your family at home. The place we were headed to for work was supposed to have 40+ types of sil (not that I was excited as I don’t like it but hey).

I am all for doing some traditional Swedish activities but the price for bowling and the Julbord is my weekly budget for food (most often it is what I spend for a week and a half for longer). OK well I have the policy that you do whatever the group culture is for the holiday parties so I sucked it up and went. On the bus ride to the city others in the group were complaining that more girls in the department didn’t come for bowling. I wanted to explain to them how much this cost vs. the benefit was not worth it so that was probably why.

When we got to the bowling we had to pay to check our coats (really?) and after changing our shoes, which is the first thing I hate about bowling…the ugly, uncomfortably flat, smelly shoes, we split up and went to the bowling lanes. I have always thought that group activities like bowling and skating our really divisive since you end up dividing into groups and especially with bowling it is not easy to change groups and mix with different groups of people. Our group was spread out over 3 different lanes and it was hard to talk to anyone at the other lanes as you felt like you weren’t paying attention to your lane or they were always calling you for your turn. We had paid for 1 hr of bowling. I did OK the first game (I am not horrible at bowling…this isn’t why I hate it), then I got bored and stopped paying attention to my turn 🙂

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After we finished bowling we headed up to the Julbord. While the food was fine it definitely wasn’t worth the amount we spent on it. I am not sure why most gradschool guys have decided that buffets are a good value. I wish they would actually figure out how much they pay for the meal vs. how much they eat and that for 90% of people it is a really bad deal. I almost always pay 2x as much for food that is not as good as a plated meal when I go to a buffet. I guess if you eat a lot a lot it could possibly be worth it but seriously you shouldn’t be eating that much of the kind of food that is available in buffet form. We did get free hour of bowling coupons so hey we get to this again in January, score.

Honestly the best part of this whole night was my 25 min walk home to my apartment through the snow covered city. I decided not to wait for the bus and instead wondered home with fun music blasting in my headphones :). I had so much fun wondering home and looking at all the fun old buildings plus I love the sound of a city at night in winter.

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.

Advent!

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?

Tivioli! and the rain…

Every year while living in Chicago, I would go to the the Christkindlmarket with my best friends. We would show up early in the morning as soon as the market opened (11am) and browse the stalls. After getting cold enough we would have a glass of Glühwein and keep shopping. Around 1pm or so as the market got busy we would have finished and would get a bratwurst with sauerkraut to go.

When I got to Sweden just a few weeks ago, I was discussing the holiday schedule with my aunt and uncle. I told them about an article I had read in one of those “plane magazines” on the 5 best Christmas markets in Europe. Number 1 was in Prague (where I totally want to visit) but 3 or 4 was Tivoli in Denmark! So close…my aunt couldn’t remember how long it had been since she had been to Tivoli but years was the answer. We started to looking at calendars (3 adults at the kitchen table with their smart phones ;). Finally we found one of the only days we could go….

I had 3 goals: (1) have fun, (2) find some fun holiday decorations or Christmas presents, (3) get a picture for my holiday card!

So the day was finally here and it was rainy and cold (traditional Skånes winter I am told). We decided to go for it and took the train over the bridge to Denmark to avoid driving and parking in the city.

entering a "winter wonderland"

entering a “winter wonderland”

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