We’re still around, still thinking about blogging and yes, we arrived safe and sound in our new house in Sweden about two weeks ago. We’ve been too busy with other things (i.e. life) to blog. But we are slowly arriving in our new home in mind as well as in body, plus it’s raining like mad on this quiet Sunday morning, so THE perfect occasion for catching up on the blogging front.

Our move from France has been very stressful due to poor planning and support on behalf of the removal company, but luckily all our belongings arrived on time in Sweden and we have now unpacked about 130 boxes and see the light at the end of the tunnel with only about 10 or 15 left.

The first couple of weeks here have been wonderful – we arrived to an incredibly sweet Swedish summer with lush, long and sunny days. What a perfect start to life in a new country!

We have been incredibly busy with making the house a home and occupied with our forest clearing (I prefer that to calling it wasteland…) that is to become our permaculture inspired garden in due course:

Image

At present, we are still a far cry away from having a thriving garden, as the land is full of stones, big and small, waste from building works, etc. While the weather has been so good, we started cleaning up rubbish and to remove some stones. Amongst the rubbish we found treasure such as some gloves, parts of ancient shoes, a pretty door knob and some explosive that is still sitting in a borehole in the rock… (we’re still trying to sort that latter one out and have instructed the children not to connect the wires that are sticking out to a battery).

I am also learning about our land by watching the animals that visit, the light, the wind, and by taking note of which plants grow in which places. Since yesterday, we have had a lot of rain, so it is interesting to see how the water flows, where it gathers, etc.

Conditions so far appear promising in our spot. We get plenty of sunlight, but will need to create areas sheltered from the sometimes very strong winds.  I am hopeful that we can turn the soil that is at present hard, rocky, and very depleted into a beautiful lush garden in good time.

We have already made a start at enriching the soil with natural fertilizer by adopting this cute little creature :

ImageThis is “Crazy Harry”. We visited him at the local animal shelter a week ago, instantly fell for his charms, and got everything ready to provide a new home for him last weekend. I found a second-hand hatch on the internet and building a spacious run for him turned into a fun family project. Since we picked him up from the shelter, he has been busy helping us in the garden by munching dandelions and leaving nutritious droppings on the ground. He is also a lovely character, friendly, inquisitive, and very sociable. Lucy is so happy to be having a pet at long last… and me too – I find his company rather therapeutic.

We will also have chickens to help us fertilize the garden – this is my own “pet project”, but I have decided to wait until next spring before taking on a bunch of feathered ladies to provide us with fresh eggs: The summer in Sweden will end soon and as I am planning to raise chicks, I felt it’s better if they can grow up during the warm season. I have already decided on the breed: It will be “Swedish Flowers Hens”, an old traditional breed that is adapted to the climate and hardy enough to survive the cold winters.

But apart from working on the house and the garden, we also made some time for fun. We have been swimming several times – we are surrounded by lakes big and small and we have been going for swims in the local lake which is just a few minutes away by bike. It’s marvellous, the long evenings mean that we can go for a quick dip after the day’s work has been done. It feels like an utter luxury at the moment and in fact a bit like a holiday – it’s like perfect camping – while the good weather lasted, we spent almost all our time outside, but still we got to sleep in our own beds and have a fully equipped kitchen including dishwasher at our disposal…  At present, it feels like we can be happy here for a long time. People are friendly, our neighbours are helpful and kind, and I think that we won’t get lonely, but will have visitors frequently.

In fact, there was a knock at the door yesterday and, lo and behold, a friend of Lucy’s from her old school in Lyon and her mum had come for a surprise visit en route to their holiday destination in the northwest of Sweden. Though they don’t live in France themselves anymore, they had got our new address through the international grapevine and had decided to come and see us. We all really enjoyed seeing them, so that was a GOOD day. I am now hoping for many more good days … but I’ll have to watch this space. We are very pleased so far, but everything is still so new and everyday brings new surprises, so life will remain exciting, challenging and sometimes frustrating – like the other the day when I cycled into Gothenburg through the woods. I was ok on the way there, because I was with my hero who knows the area, but got utterly lost on my own on the way back. Let me assure you, the woods are expansive here and you don’t want to lose your way completely. Luckily some kind people helped me out so I found the way home eventually. I am still grateful I did not get eaten by a bear or chased by the mighty moose…

Blimey, it’s almost three months since I last posted anything. I just checked whether this blog still has visitors and, lo and behold, we have readers out there. Thank you for dropping by! I much appreciate it and it certainly motivates me to post again.

Life has been so busy for our family. We are about to embark on our Sweden adventure with only a good 12 weeks left in Lyon and we have been preparing this big step for the last few months: We’ve visited Sweden to look at schools and explore our new hometown, I had an informal interview (which I am pleased to say went well, so even for me, the trailing wife, the job situation is somewhat promising!)

Very importantly, we also looked into housing and now we are currently in the process of buying a place way up in Northern Europe. This is all very exciting and a new experience for us — the process only bears some similarity to our previous jump onto the property ladder in the UK. But all seems to be going well so far and hopefully we will be able to finalize the purchase of the house in the near future.

But I was not really going to talk about all this, which is just external, preparatory stuff for our life  in Sweden. I find it so much more important to share with you how wonderful it is that we have the opportunity to start a brand new life:

We will be moving from our beautifully quirky, shabby-chic Lyon town centre apartment into a house just outside Gothenburg. A huge nature reserve boasting beautiful lakes will separate us from the city. We are in fact swapping city-life for something akin to countryside living. This was, at least for me, not an easy decision to take, because I love living in town, I love people watching, hanging out in the cafés, enjoying the sunshine (yes, we skipped spring and went straight into summer just this week!) and being able to go out any time to see a movie or benefit from some retail therapy, all without having to use a car.

Gothenburg will be different. Although we will be very well connected to the town by public transport, we are going to live in an oasis of nature, peace and quiet (or so I think, we’ll yet have to wait and see ).

I became so acutely aware of how much I will miss the city life just yesterday, when I went to the market. Lyon was teeming with people enjoying a sunny, warm and lazy Sunday morning. This is so typical: As soon as the sun’s out, people seem to be out on the town and that’s what I like so much.

This is will be different in Sweden: From what I could gather, people in Sweden live very much in tune with the seasons, their short, bright summers and the long, cold winters.  They seem to go out in the summer and get cozy indoors in the winter. We decided to go along with this and  looked for a spot that offers us comfy hibernation accommodation. We think we have found just the place. It is great that with this house also comes a decent sized garden that has already inspired me to no end. Lucy and I are planning on fostering our countryside-tendencies by keeping chickens and growing vegetables in a permaculture. I have been reading about both and universe after universe of fascinating knowledge keeps popping up.

I am so excited about having the opportunity to try country life and I can’t wait to put all my farming plans into practice. (Although I have the option of escaping to Gothenburg town centre by bus within 20 minutes, or even by bike 😉  )

So once we have successfully managed our move, transferred those belongings that survive the clear out from France to Sweden and unpacked at least the essentials, I will start gardening and I will have loads to write about. Bear with us until then, we are all inspired about getting creative with gardening and I have a feeling that this blog will move into a new direction over the next year or so.

Have a great day and I hope, wherever you are, the sun is also shining on you!

Ch- ch- ch- changes…

8 January 2013

So here it is, 2013. We welcomed it amongst friends, delicious food and drink here in Lyon. And now, as always this early in January, I wonder what this year will bring. It’s still so new, crisp, and shiny! Something to marvel at.

If anything I think, it will be change, change and more change. And not just for us. We have a number of friends who consider, or already have concrete plans, to leave Lyon, Europe, or the Northern Hemisphere altogether, who want to change jobs or are just starting new jobs, who have big changes looming in their family lives… it seems to me that  we are currently floating around in a ‘cloud of mobile people’ whose lives are in constant flux. (I don’t want to call it  “expat community”, as this “cloud” is most certainly not made up of well-to-do, company sponsored employees or diplomats that may be associated with the term). Despite all the work and logistical challenges associated with big changes (uarghh moving!!! I am so over it…), these people, just like us, realize and enjoy the positive aspect of a fresh start. When changing countries, there is hardly anything as invigorating (and at the same time exhausting 🙂 ) as experiencing a new culture, seeing your own culture from a different perspective and letting this change who you are along the way.

Recently, I realized that this “cloud of mobile people”  is a most incredible resource to facilitate our impending move. One very distinct feature of the “cloud” is the ease with which people, who may be mere acquaintances, network, help, and support each other. So we’re preparing to leave Lyon for  that cold, but apparently friendly, country way up North knowing that we’re by no means on our own with this. The other day, for example, I met a mum with whom I had run the primary school library a couple of years ago. When I told her about our planned move to Sweden, she immediately offered to put me in touch with a lovely family that recently moved from Lyon to Gothenburg. Their children used to go to our local school in Lyon and are apparently now happily settled at  the school in Gothenburg that we have (tentatively) picked for Lucy. Another acquaintance of mine actually spent 30 years in Gothenburg, so has in-depth local knowledge that she is happy to share with me. I have thus already recommendations for an excellent family doctor, massage therapist, swimming pool, food hall… I think there is more information to come my way over coffees and lunches in the next few months :). She also managed to put my worries about Swedish food to rest: Apparently there is more to eat than fish and rye bread up North. Thank goodness! Just to be on the safe side I have still booked myself in for a special “fish cooking class” here in Lyon. One has to prepare …

I am starting this year curious as to the challenges, opportunities, and experiences it will bring, knowing that it is not going to be plain sailing all the way. There is so much more happening in our lives than just our move and, as usual, fate may serve you a big, fat plateful of worry and pain when you least need it. But still: We hope and wish for all of you dears out there that life will be exciting and full of goodness and health in the next 12 months! Enjoy!

I have told the last post’s story (the one where I was advised to commit tax fraud)  to people of different nationalities. The reactions have been interesting. Indeed, this story has developed into a means to conduct a (very much amateurish) qualitative study into cultural variations of tax code morals.

All the Germans had some sort of capital-lettered

  1. “WOW” and 
  2. “this is incredible” reaction. 
  3. Then: shaking heads in disbelief and laughter to release the tension.

Conclusion: The story is perfect for entertaining Germans. They will get VERY excited about it.

… Unless they are German politicians.

 

A French person’s reaction was more like…

  1. … spontaneous, uninhibited, mad  laughter along with the following
  2.  comment: “Yes, I can explain to you why you got this advice and it’s perfectly normal by French standards, but the person who suggested this should have been aware that you NEVER say anything like that to a GERMAN.”

I am grateful to my friend for bridging this cultural gap for me 🙂 . 

Conclusion: Don’t bother telling this story to French people – they’ll think you’re daft or at least not too clued-up on how to screw the system efficiently.

A Malaysian-Indian friend (married to a French man):

  1. LAUGHTER! 
  2. More laughter. Then:
  3. Comment: You’re cute and so funny, this person meant well and was just trying advise you with your best interest in mind.

Conclusion: You get a lot of laughter from foreigners who are well acquainted with the French culture. Mind you, they will be laughing about YOU, not the incident.

 

But do you know what? … I don’t really care becoming the laughingstock in this exploration of cultural differences, this is much too interesting not to be pursued further. As soon as possible (this will be early January) I will tell my story to a total random sample of  Swiss, Italians, Japanese, North-Americans, South-Americans …, just to see their reaction. Maybe I can affirm some cultural prejudices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

“No thank you, I’ve got one already”.
This is kind of a lame joke, I know. We happen to have more than one book between us in our family. We also like to buy a new book or borrow one from the library every now and then. (Well, I have to qualify that last remark. Borrowing books from the library is not something I do regularly here in France. Good stories are still wasted on me if written in French.)

Recently, I watched a film version of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book on TV and I thought, “I have read the book, but cannot remember what it was all about, this is new to me”.
So I went through our bookshelves and came across a Gabriel Garcia Marquez book. To my relief, it was a different book, so no wonder the film plot was all new. But as deep as I dig into my memory, I can’t remember the story in ‘A hundred years of solitude’ anyway… I haven’t yet started reading it again, but I picked up another book that was sitting right next to it.

Do you also find that certain books, if put away for ten years, can be an immensely pleasurable read again if you just let them stew for a decade? The book I picked up was so meaningful to me in the last millenium that I had underlined certain passages.
It is

... Graham Greene's 'The heart of the matter'

When I looked at it last weekend, I could not at all recall why on earth it had been so important, but the blurb sounded good. So I read it again. Over the course of two days. And I was hooked again. The themes that Greene writes about really resonate with me. Why? I guess by the time you’ve lived on this planet for a few decades, you have encountered people and experiences that make you wonder about the human disposition.

[Spoiler ahead] If you haven’t read the book, Greene’s main character (Major Scobie) develops from an upright regular police officer into this contradictory, tragic man. His weird (catholic) pride of wanting to do ‘the right thing’ for everybody but himself lands him in a downward spiral of lies, murder and, eventually, suicide.

Greene’s insight into the human mind is so very compelling as you watch the tragedy unfold. I found it hard to read the book to the end, because I wanted to intervene…. and shout at Scobie
“For f**** sake, come clean, if you are honest with yourself and the people around you, there will be less bloodshed. People around you can survive honesty, but it’s the intricate cobwebs of lies, cover-ups and deceit that lead to disaster”.
To me, the book illustrates above all that you can never fully understand another person, be it your child, your friend, your spouse. Admittedly, this is not a revolutionary discovery, but it’s so easy to forget that every person lives in his or her own little universe. (There’s a thought – 7 billion parallel universes on the planet. And that’s not counting the cats, dogs, budgies and wild beasts!) I find it liberating nevertheless: We are all individuals doing their own (mostly) irrational weird and wonderful thing and I guess that’s what makes life exciting, exhilarating and painful at times. If people were predictable and straightforward, the world would be a pretty boring place to live in.

It may not be enough to have just one book on your bookshelf, but it’s a wise idea to keep the ones that have been meaningful to you and re-read them after a while. So please get me a book anytime! But make it a treasure, because there are the books that are plain brain candy. I have a few of those as well. In fact I have got a whole pile of them. But that’s a different story. A lot of these will go away soon, to be released into the wild to maybe, just maybe become someone else’s treasure and inspiration.

I thought I’d start this post with a pretty picture. My kids go crazy for these and they are pleased that they are in season again. You might think “Pah, clementines, what’s the big deal?”

The deal is that these delicious beauties are not ordinary clementines (at least not in our book), no, these grow in Corsica. They always come with their pretty dark leaves attached and they are the most wonderful tasting clementines you can buy in France. They started popping up on the markets about a couple of weeks ago and we have already been munching our way through more than 3 kilos. We discovered them during our first winter in Lyon. Since then, their appearance has become some sort of pre-Xmas landmark. When they go out of season, it’ll be the oranges from Italy that keep us happy right until March. But talking about pre-Xmas landmarks… This weekend will be the first Advent weekend. Shock. Another landmark on the way to Xmas and so much to do until then: Making the wreath, buying clementines, making mince meat and -pies, buying clementines, organizing the advent calendars, buying and crafting gifts, eating fresh walnuts, ensuring that Nikolaus will visit our children and leave sweets in the shoes, writing cards (maybe?)… it’s always the same lovely-crazy routine landslide that dashes you with a bang straight into Christmas eve in December. I hope we’ll have many parties along the way…

On a different note, people who know me a bit are aware of my particular genetic disposition to part with stuff that does not need to live in our house. I inherited this trait from my mum. And I have no idea where she got it from, certainly not my wonderful grandma :). Recently we have been tidying up like there was no tomorrow. This becomes necessary every decade or so, when you live in a flat without attic or cellar (i.e. loads of space for junk).
Due to the way our life has unfolded and our habit of moving every now and then, we don’t have the luxury of living in a house we bought years ago and that we can fill up with stuff to our heart’s content. No, we have to organize our possessions sometimes, according to the circumstances. So recently, in another mad stint of chucking stuff out, I decided to part with our kids’ cloth nappies and a lot of baby outfits. I just kept a few that are special to me.
While I normally happily chuck stuff, this was hard. It made me all sentimental. Isn’t it weird that you can get so attached something that used to catch your baby’s poo? Let me tell you, strange as it may sound, it’s a very emotional thing.
But I got a grip of myself and looked at the whole thing with a more analytic mind and came up with the following equation:

a: There is no point in shipping boxes with cloth nappies from one country to another if you have kids at school age.
b: My kids will never wear these nappies again
c: My kids might not produce offspring themselves and if they should do, would they want to use those nappies???
d: Someone else might be really pleased to use these for their babe.

So, adding a+b+c+d = Charity Shop.
(This equation might not look very mathematically accurate, but it’s still kind of convincing, at least in my universe.)

And that’s where the nappies and baby clothes ended up today. It felt good to leave the bags there, but at the same time I got sucked into the depths of the shop by the old “charity shop magic”. I can never say no, I have to browse. And to buy and re-home something if it really catches my attention.
Today, for example, I am wearing one of my favourite tank tops: A woolly knitted grey and white jacquard-patterned tank-top that I bought about 12 years ago in London. This thing is vintage, it’s a Marks and Spencer tank top from 1979 and has a certain ‘Sesame Street’ feel about it. I love it nevertheless. Just like the vintage handbag

I recently bought for a song and which looks like I stole it from an elderly lady on her way to church. I think it’s super chic. And different.
Today’s catch was a neat pair of 3/4 length checkered trousers that look great with boots. I bought them for €4.50. I can’t wait to wear them tomorrow! I would post a photo, but they are currently out on the line to dry.
I think things that you really appreciate are wonderful. Just like this old but dearly loved tank top I keep wearing winter after winter and that makes me look nerdy or a bit off the mark one year, but (apparently) fashionable this year (I don’t really keep up with trends). It’s these things that are worth keeping, not the nappies that make me all sentimental but are really just cluttering up valuable space in our flat.
I have one more bag with baby stuff to take to the charity shop. Yippeehh! I might find another piece of clothing that I can rescue and treasure for years to come.