November 10, 2017

That Woman Right There (aka the one about aging)

In the past week, I've noticed something. Twice. Ok, it's not like it was some kind of revelation. No, on the contrary, I've seen it before, bemoaned it before. Maybe it's because the women in question are virtually my age. Maybe it's because I've found them both insanely attractive in the past. Maybe it's because I watched the movie and TV show they were featured in specifically because they were in the cast only to be disappointed. Not by anything even remotely related to their performances; they've always been good at what they do and still are. Sadly, I heard myself sigh as I shook my head ruefully. Man, that was totally unexpected. Though, in reality, that part is my fault. I probably should have seen it coming.

What? Age? Come on, Stacee, you can't be that shallow. Hold on. I may be shallow but I'm not that shallow. There is nothing wrong with aging. Hell, I see it every time I look in the mirror. And, if I do say so myself, I'm better looking now than I was in my twenties. And truly, there is something absolutely scintillating about a woman who ages gracefully. Who accepts her age and all that comes with it. Sure, that means graying hair, lines, wrinkles, and sagginess in places that never sagged before. But it also means strength, wisdom, and a certain serenity that only the passing of years can bring.

Yeah, Alicia Vikander is beautiful, sexy, and talented now. Give her twenty years, she'll be all that and more. Once a woman has settled into herself, when she fully understands what she brings to the world, when she finally stops giving two shits about what that world thinks of her - that is when she is truly beautiful.

You see, beauty isn't about a smooth, unlined face or a tight sculpted body. It isn't about perky breasts or an absence of stretch marks. It's about confidence. And not an I'm-prettier-thinner-more famous-than-she-is kind of narcissistic, boastful cockiness. I'm talking about a confidence born of trials, miles, successes, and failures.  A confidence of survival. If that comes with lines, wrinkles, and the aforementioned sagginess, bring it on. All of it. Because nothing is (emotionally, spiritually or physically) sexier than confidence. Nothing. A woman who wears her years like a badge of honor? Yes, ma'am. Yes, ma'am.

Back to Kate Beckinsale and Maria Bello... What was wrong with them if not the coming of age, the passing of years? That's just the thing. They haven't let the years pass. They're held in suspended animation. Admittedly, I'm out of my depth - thankfully - here. I don't know if it's plastic surgery or a few too many injections of some kind. When I see a woman with permanent duck lips and cheeks that smile even when her mouth isn't smiling, I assume she's had some "work" done in an effort to retain the beauty of her younger days.

These women have missed the boat. And the point. Part of what makes them unattractive, outside of the Frankenstein-like facial tinkering, is their lack of acceptance. Age is ok. When accepted and dealt with at face-value. It comes for all of us, it does. Some of us may be able to hold it off awhile, but eventually everyone ages. And it's ok. Better than ok. I like being almost fifty. I have an understanding of the world and my place in it that I never dreamed of when I was in my twenties or even my forties.

Granted, I'm not an actress fighting younger and younger women for prime roles. I have no idea what that must be like or feel like. To see your former career fade away. To have to reinvent yourself. When the years mean you're playing character roles rather than the femme fatale. I'd probably fuck the badge of honor and put a plastic surgeon on retainer also.

Or would I? I like to think I'd be Dianne Keaton. Or Meryl Streep. Or Jamie Lee Curtis. Those women still bring it. I might even argue better than they did in their youth.

We live in a superficial world. A world that judges aging women much differently than their male counterparts. Who did Kate and Maria star opposite? Pierce Brosnan and Mark Harmon, respectively. No one talks about them aging. No one talks about them missing out on good roles. Nope. In the meantime, women their age are scrambling to plastic surgeons in an effort to appear youthful or risk being put out to pasture.

So, yeah, waving around that badge of honor isn't easy for women. I get it. I don't blame Kate Beckinsale or Maria Bello or any of the others for trying to extend their youth. I simply wish they didn't feel like they had to.  I wish the world would let them embrace their lines, wrinkles, and sagginess; let them be their age and all that comes with it. Both the good and the bad. Because, there is nothing sexier than a confident woman past her well-defined "prime" with shoulders back, head held high, and middle finger (figuratively) extended suggesting to the world that it just might want to screw itself.

Or not. In truth, that woman? She doesn't care. The world can do what the world does. And she will damn well do what she wants regardless of anyone's opinion.

She is who I aspire to be. That. Woman. Right. There.


November 3, 2017

Sometimes I Run for Tacos

I thought of a zillion cool things to write about on my run this morning. Now, sitting here waiting for new brakes to be installed on my Ford Fiesta, I'm at a near loss. Near loss because words are actually getting written. Small victory.

Bigger victory? That morning run. It's November in Austin, Texas. When I planned the run - my weekly long run - earlier in the week (It is half marathon season and long runs, at least for me, don't just happen.), the advanced forecast said it would be in the upper sixties around sunrise. I can deal with upper sixties. Sort of. Far from my favorite (Trivia - below 50F is my fave), but it wasn't a deal breaker. Mid eighties later in the day? Yeah, screw that. So, anywho, I scheduled the run (with myself) and went on with my week. I woke up early this morning, ate breakfast, watched last night's "Grey's Anatomy", and then checked my weather app. It was 74F with 92% humidity. Did I fail to mention my absolute abhorrence of humidity? Look, to most people mid seventies and humid isn't that bad. And they're right - it isn't THAT bad. It could be worse. And it is. In the summer. Which is why I don't run in Austin in the summer. But it's fall. Like mid fall. It should be cooler. And less humid.

This is why I wait until November to start half marathon training. This is why my "long" run is only at six miles. Nonetheless, today was long run day. I thought about putting it off until tomorrow (I'm off tomorrow also), but the weather didn't look precipitously better (no massive cold front looming over west Texas). Moreover, Torchy's. As in tacos. Today is pay day. I honestly can't recall a more needed pay day and because of that I haven't eaten out since I got home from vacation early last week. Oh, I'm still broke, but I told myself if I held myself back, watched my spending - both caloric and financial - that I could treat myself to Torchy's Tacos. The other part of that? I had to run long. I had to burn a shit storm of calories. I'm cool with spending twenty bucks on tacos and queso, but I'm not cool with destroying my diet with tacos and queso. You can take the anorexia out of the girl, but...

So that's why I was out on the Lady Bird Lake Hike and Bike trail thirty minutes before sunrise. Sweating. Before sunrise. In fall. And people wonder why I love Scandinavia so much. Let me tell you. It takes a lot of effort to sweat thirty minutes before sunrise running in Stockholm in fall. How do I know? I did it two weeks ago. 37F and what seemed like negative humidity. I wore gloves and a beanie, kicked up multi-colored leaves, and jumped over the occasional mud puddle. That's fall running. And optimum half marathon season long run running weather.

Regardless, for the time being, I live in Austin, Texas, and, for better or worse, I like to run half marathons. In the winter. I'll run the 3M Half in January, the Austin Marathon Half Marathon in February, and then finish off the season on my birthday in Copenhagen with Lena at Go Running Copenhagen. Once I return from Scandinavia (I'll also be running in Gothenburg, Oslo, and Bergen where the weather will probably be next to perfect for me), it'll be practically summer and I'll quit running until this time next year. Right now, though, it's supposed to be fall and half marathon season in my world.

I'm sure the question in every readers' mind is why? Why would I put myself through this? Warm humid runs in November, an ever expanding long run, and the crap shoot that my body will hold up until race day, much less actually surviving that day? Easy answer? Because goals rock. Expanded answer? Because I have no idea what to do with myself if I'm not trying to achieve something. The let's-get-really-real answer? Five months of burning shit storms of calories is pretty cool after seven months of abject caloric caution.

If you don't often set goals, you won't have any idea why there were tears in my eyes for a brief moment this morning. I'm forty-eight years old and still have a body that can run. For that, I am exceedingly thankful. And, really, I could have not gone this morning. I drive right past my gym on the way to the trail. There wouldn't be (much) shame in skipping the run. Conditions were going to be shit (to me anyway). Instead of quitting, though, there I was - in the warmth and humidity - and I was running.

I told myself I didn't care about pace today (shitty conditions + concerns about pace = mind fuck) and shockingly I stuck to my word (The darkness for the first half of the run - I couldn't see my Garmin - helped A LOT). I stopped for water at the halfway mark. My pace had been ok, slower than I'll like come January, but I'd felt pretty good (that was another goal - feel good through 3 miles). As I set off for the second half, I reminded myself the goal was to finish, not blaze the trail. Conditions did not improve as the sun rose. I focused on my breathing. And Torchy's. And kept going. When I crossed the finish line, I checked my Garmin and discovered that I'd run a negative split! Amazingly, my fastest miles had been 4 and 5. I still wasn't as fast as I hope to be come race day, but I weathered the warmth (It was 77F when I finished) and humidity (well above 90%). Overall, it was a good morning.

And I earned Torchy's Tacos. Next long run, it might be chicken and waffles at The Grove, my favorite frozen pizza from Randall's, or a turkey burger and sweet potato fries at Hat Creek Burger Company. Remember the really real reason why I run. It burns calories and that means next to guilt-free eating. On long run days for the next five months.

Still, though, regardless of the calorie burn, goals rock. They do. Set. Adapt. Overcome. Succeed. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. Rock.



October 28, 2017

Day 1: Expecting Chaos

I wrote this a couple weeks back, on a Friday evening, as I prepared for the second of three legs on my journey to Stockholm, Sweden. I love to travel and I love going new places. Sort of. There is always a moment of uncertainty, just a moment, before I realize that it's going to be ok, That I'm going to be ok. What lies below IS that moment...in writing.

~

The chaos is coming. It always does. I’ll get used to it. Sort of. As best I can. I simultaneously like it and hate it. It unsettles me, makes my stomach churn, my head throb, my heart beat quicken. But it’s only a test. A test that I can pass. A test that inevitably brings out the best in me and makes me stronger. Perhaps one day it will make me more confident. Better able to deal, less likely to worry. I have to acknowledge it, though. Where I am with it. I can feel it creeping in. Houston is still the US, yet its newness to me is off-putting. I try to call it just another airport – I’ve been to quite a few over the years – and they’re all set up more or less the same. Still… There is chaos. It’s oddly lit, people meander to and fro. I am alone. My plane waits at the gate. I am nervous. Not to fly, not for any reason in particular. It’s the newness. It’s hard to organize, categorize, deal with. It’s chaos. Not as much as I may face later, but right now sitting here, I’m mired in it. That changes with each passing moment. The light becomes more familiar, different yet the same people walk past. My plane still awaits. As I make the chaos part of me – less chaotic – I feel stronger, capable. I can do this. I am doing this. 

I've conquered the chaos.

Well, not quite yet. Let’s not be rash. I did find my gate and I did find a women’s restroom (which was harder than one might think possible in a huge airport). Little by little. Bit by bit. I keep thinking I want ice cream. Random. Though if the bar right in front of me – where you can order on iPads – has hard cider… They do. Order placed. I seldom drink when I fly. Ok, I never drink when I fly. But I need to sleep. Sleep tonight will help me handle the chaos tomorrow.

And there will be chaos tomorrow. Bags to keep track of, jackets to hold onto. Heathrow. A gate to find, a plane to catch. Then Stockholm. Scurrying people. Catching trains. I’ll need to be one of them. Then Google Maps. Directions to follow. A hotel to find. I’m up against it for the next good while.

Soon though – I’m there nine days – I’ll sort it all out. Find a routine. And a McDonald’s or maybe a Burger King. Eat a Big Mac or a Whopper. Feel better. I’ll breathe. Rediscover the city I fell in love with last Spring.

I did it before. In four separate Scandinavian cities. I survived; organized the chaos. I can and will do it again. It’s the unknown really at this point that’s the most troubling. Houston is already normalizing. The Angry Orchard helps; writing helps. Looking up and seeing my gate, feeling my bag next to my leg. Three devices connected to various charging ports. Many things may happen but I WILL BE charged and ready.

One step at a time. Settle into seat on plane. Find movie to watch. Relax. Nine hours until I really have to start worrying. So why worry now? Why stress about the unknown?


I made it to Stockholm. Found my hotel. Then immediately Google Mapped a McDonald's and set off to find it. I had a Chicken Big Mac (it's apparently a regular on the menu in Sweden) and  a strolled back through Sodermalm to my hotel WITHOUT using a map. In that moment I knew that I was ok. Better than, really. The chaos I'd so feared, I'd conquered. Just like that.

October 19, 2017

A Room Without a View

I'm not your typical travel blogger. Travel bloggers, in my experience, fall into two distinct categories - Luxuristas and Hostel Surfers. Luxuristas seek out high-end places, eat extravagantly, order bottles of wine that exceed the cost of my car payment. Think Michelin Stars, Conde Nast Traveler, spa treatments and you've got 'em pegged. They take a lot of pictures of food and write about the difficulty of obtaining a good Prosecco in while sailing around Corsica. Hostel Surfers are young, wealthy enough to not need jobs to pay back student loans but not pretentious enough (yet) to be a Luxurista (yet). Imagine a Patagonia or North Face backpack, ripped jeans (or cargo shorts depending upon location and season), a scraggly beard (on the dudes), and braided hair (on the gals). Got the picture? They take selfies with locals and write about the social implications of discarded plastic water bottles in developing countries.

I am (C) none of the above. I'm middle aged and too poor to really be able to afford to travel. This means that I'm too old to stay with a bunch of rowdy twenty-somethings in a youth hostel (Truthfully, I've always been too old and introverted to endure that), but broke enough that I need to. Thankfully, I'm not a foodie or a drinkie nor am I much enamored of the high-life. I grew up on Travel Lodge (I thought the little bar soaps were the bomb-diggity and I kept a bunch in my dresser drawers pretty much through college) and McDonald's (ok, ok, it's still my go-to at home as well as abroad), so fancy-schmancy isn't welcome or required. If it was, I'd be at home in Austin instead of sitting at a Starbucks on Gotgatan in Stockholm.

I came to Stockholm for the first time last Spring on what those around  me alternately called "my trip of a lifetime" (meaning one-and-done) or "my mid-life crisis" (meaning like the guy who gets buyers remorse after picking up the keys to his new Ferrari, I'd get homesick and return after two weeks with my tail between my legs content to never leave the U.S.again). Projection and wishful thinking, all of it. My suitcase hadn't been unpacked a month when I booked my next trip - nine days in Stockholm in October.

How can I afford such extravagances? I mean, TWO trips to Europe in ONE year?!?! Those who know me know that I've worked for the World's Largest Home Improvement Retailer for more than a decade and people who know the World's Largest Home Improvement Retailer know they don't pay a whole helluva lot. Back in college, my tennis teammates' parents used to ask my parents how I played tennis, worked, and still managed keep a B+ average (apparently their kids weren't doing the same).. The answer? Sacrifice. In college, I gave up my social life. I played tennis, worked, and did school. Period. How to I afford to go to Europe twice in one year? The same. Sacrifice. How so?

Arguably, I got in early at the WLHIR before wages really tanked in the early 20-teens. That said, I'm far luckier than most of my co-workers when it comes to pay and bonuses. However, I still have rent (in Austin, Texas), utilities, a car payment, and student loans. All the adult usuals, the basics, but that's where my monthly expenses stop. Because travel is my priority, I sacrifice the rest. Such as -
  • I have a second job. I dog sit. A lot. 
  • I have zero credit card debt.
  • I cut WAY back on the amount of money I spend eating out.
  • I play tennis on city park courts where there aren't court fees.
  • I switched my "office" from Lola Savannah Coffee Lounge where I have to pay for coffee to the public library where coffee costs a nominal donation.
AND...
  • I'm cool with window-less hotel rooms. 
Americans probably aren't as familiar (I think it's illegal or violates a zillion fire codes in the US) as Europeans with the window-less hotel room. For the uninitiated, it's a hotel room with no window. For real. My room has a twin bed, a super small desk, a bathroom that's not much bigger than the desk, and a TV from the late '90s. That's it. Period.

Cringe, right? Wrong. Ok, when I first walked in the door, I was taken aback a bit. The room is tiny and narrow, there is barely enough room for anything. I had to move the wastepaper basket to underneath the desk (which the cleaning crew keeps putting back) to create space for my suitcase. I looked behind the curtain where the window should be (if there was one, I mean) and was greeted by a wall. I immediately became a tad claustrophobic. I stood back with hands on hips and wondered about the necessity of the curtain. There's no window so a curtain, really? Really. The illusion that there's a window there goes a long way. Think about it this way - Once you're in the room, you shut the curtain anyway. Regardless of floor, you don't want anyone peeking in. You're left with... a window-less hotel room.

There are benefits. Seriously. Other than the cost, I mean.

  • You can't forget to shut the curtain and walk out the bathroom naked.
  • It can be any time of day you want it to be. Two in the morning and two in the afternoon look exactly the same. This is especially nice if you want to go to bed before the sun goes down or if you want to sleep past the sunrise. 
What about negatives?
  • It can be anytime of day you want it to be. Try getting out of bed every morning in a pitch black room. It might be morning. Or it might be the middle of the night. Trust me. It always feels a lot like the middle of the night. 
  • You can't tell the weather just by looking out the window. Is it sunny? Cloudy? Rainy? Gotta check a weather app for all that. 
But seriously, I didn't come to Stockholm to look out a window anyway. I came here to enjoy the city, be in the city, not chill in my hotel room. If anything the window-less room has pushed me out into the city more. Like right now, if I had a window, I might be tempted to write in my room rather than in a busy coffee place on an equally busy street in Sodermalm. Here I can drink more than instant coffee and see, hear, and feel Stockholm around me. If that means I have to pry myself out of bed in the dark every morning and check the Weather Channel for wardrobe decisions, I gladly will. When I walk out the door, I'm in Stockholm. Stockholm!

Thanks to Expedia.com and a "bundle deal", I was able to book a plane ticket and nine days in a hotel (albeit a window-less room) for cheap. How cheap? Cheaper than most airfare websites were offering airfare alone. Really. I guess the question you - middle aged, broke traveler - need to ask it this - Have I dreamed of going to Europe to look out a window? If the answer is "no" (which it damn well should be), consider going window-less. You'll get there and that's ultimately what matters. 

All things being equal, I'd choose a room with a window and a view. I've been lucky in that regard several times. But this trip... I'm just happy to be here. Window-less is fine because this is Stockholm and everywhere besides my hotel room has an absolutely perfect view. 

September 15, 2017

Winners, Cinnamon Rolls, and Bacardi

"Lagom är bäst." ~ "Just enough is best" or "Enough is as good as a feast"


Lagom is a Swedish term that means "just enough" or "just the right amount". If you've been to IKEA, you might doubt lagom exists in Sweden, but it's actually an important part of the country's socio-cultural philosophy. Lagom is about eschewing flashiness and extravagance in favor of moderation. It's about stopping short, maintaining harmony, and staying away from extremes.

Let's be honest. We can't say that ALL Swedes practice lagom. That would be like saying ALL Americans are assholes. It's a cultural stereotype to some extent, but from my experience in Sweden there's a helluva lot of lagom going on. People are reserved, not keen on idle chit-chat, and drive the speed limit. Alcohol is only sold at government run liquor stores (Systembolaget) that are only open prescribed hours (The rum section at the Systembolaget is an exercise in moderation in and of itself. Dear Sweden, there's more to rum than Bacardi). A small soda is actually small, i.e. not 32 ounces like in America. With the exception of the chocolate kanelbullar I had at one particular konditori (It was almost literally the size of my head...which could be argued was in fact "just enough"), restaurant portions are big enough for a good meal but not so big as to require a doggie bag.

That might be why I like it so well in Sweden, why I feel so at home. I've long said that just enough is enough. I try to do everything in moderation - work, run, play tennis, go to the gym, eat, write, watch TV. It's all about creating balance. The craven desire for excess that permeates American society runs contrary to my personal philosophy. Here, we are playing a perpetual dog-eat-dog game of winner take all. In Sweden, they go home early to spend time with family. Here, we constantly compete with the Joneses. New car? Check. More Christmas lights? Check. In Sweden, the Sundstoms get to rest easy.  I'm as stereotypically untypical in America as I am stereotypically typical in Sweden.

Except when it comes to my tennis game. I grew up idolizing Stefan Edberg, but I played a lot more like Jimmy Connors. I was flash and attitude. I wanted the big shot, the extreme winner. I played hot - threw rackets and dropped enough f-bombs to earn myself several code violations. As I matured as an adult and tennis player, I learned to temper my temper. Somewhat. These days I try not to swear ("Poopy-potty" is one of my favorites) and keep the racket throwing to a minimum (Those things aren't cheap), but I still love the Big Shot. A winner isn't enough. It has to clip the line or land right in the corner.

Truthfully, a winner doesn't have to land anywhere except out of reach. If the balls bounces twice before your opponent gets to it, it's a winner. In fact, it can be hit with a middling amount of pace and land in the middle of the court (Shocker...). About a year ago, one of my doubles partners, who also had issues with moderation, introduced the concept of "Just Enough" to our partnership. Rather than trying to knock the shit out the ball when we had an easy set up, we began placing the ball. We stopped going for WINNERS! and simply hit winners. Interestingly, we hit fewer losers, i.e. unforced errors, and we won more. Wow, right?

Our partnership broke up last spring at the end of league season and, in all honesty, I've allowed myself backslide into my old ways. A WINNER! is much more addictive than a winner. Recently, after watching a lot of the U.S. Open, I realized that most of the top players do just enough to win the point. I don't mean that negatively. They aren't slacking or taking it easy. They simply hit the ball hard enough and in the right place enough to win the point. If they've set the point up properly, they don't have to do more than "just enough". It's brilliant.

And it's Lagom. Ok, ok... The Swedes haven't had a top player in a couple decades, but you can't argue with their philosophy. Just enough works. Going for too much and over hitting lead to errors, egregious, cuss word inducing, I-should-have-won-the-point errors. I say it often on court, "Lagom, Stacee, lagom". Sometimes it's a reminder. Sometimes it's a pat on the back. I haven't yelled it at myself  yet - "FUCKING LAGOM, STACEE ANN!!!!" - though I'm certain it's coming.

Truly, we shouldn't be too anything, not Swedish and certainly not American. It's all about finding the right balance, the right amount of just enough. Occasionally, we have to go for the WINNER! Or eat a cinnamon roll the size of our head. Of course, other times we have to settle for Bacardi at the Systembolaget.

Remember - All things in moderation. Including lagom.

September 12, 2017

That Voodoo That You Do

My girlfriend went to New Orleans for her birthday [It's probably best if you get over the fact that we travel separately and alone. I've said it many times before - It works for us. It doesn't have to work for you]. By all measures, she had a great time - did the aquarium, listened to music in Jackson Square, got a free drink or two on her birthday, watched NCIS New Orleans being filmed. She came home with an assortment of stories.  And a set of voodoo dolls for me.

It wasn't a random gift. I'd hinted that it would be "cool" to have a voodoo doll, especially if it looked like my boss. Who I love. Seriously. My apologies to all the other bosses I've had over the years, but this one's the bomb. Then I added that maybe it would be "fun" to have a set of four - one for each of the big bosses at my big box retail employer. The bosses are all great. I truly enjoy working with them and for them. Still, I thought of voodoo dolls.

I've lived in the South going on fifteen years, but my northern sensibility remains. When I think of New Orleans, I think of voodoo shops and black magic. Yes, the French Quarter, beads (which I also got a bunch of), Mardi Gras, and drunken revelry, too. However, by and large, in my imagination, NOLA is a place where black magic lives and flourishes. Clearly, I've never been there.

I don't believe in God and I don't do religion. Given that Louisiana Voodoo is a mixture of African spiritual beliefs and practices that the slaves brought with them to America and European Catholicism, I scoffed and plopped it down on the pile. Not that spirituality and religion aren't powerful to believers or that believers are necessarily wrong for believing. Holding tight to spirituality can lend strength in difficult times. However, personally, I can't cotton to "Hocus-Pocus Jesus" - son of  God and a virgin mother who rose from the dead to save the sinners of Earth - and figured that accoutrement of voodoo - amulets, funky herbs, dolls, etc - weren't much different. The power of religion is in the belief. Period.

And since I didn't believe, I asked for voodoo dolls. I never had any intention of using them for any nefarious purpose. Because, seriously, they're just dolls, no matter how snazzy or expensive, and black magic doesn't exist. Pins Schmins. Certainly stabbing one in the head with a pin wasn't going to cause someone to get a headache or have an aneurysm.

Then four resplendently decked out voodoo dolls (They look like a tiny royal family dressed in dazzling silk gowns) gazed at me unblinkingly from my kitchen table. Almost from the jump, I was scared to touch them. They looked so... I dunno... real. I read the instruction manual (Yes, they came with one) and took notice of the pins, plural. Each has two pins - one black (for diabolical machinations) and one white (for magnanimous gestures of good will). I'm not sure if the inclusion of the white pin is intended to keep tourists from freaking out about Black Magic or if white pins, and thus White Magic, are really a part of Voodoo.

For the record, I left the pins, both black and white, right where I found them. They say once you open the door to Black Magic, you never get it closed. And White Magic, well, it just might let it's cousin in the back door when you're not looking. It's not like I suddenly started believing or anything, but why chance it?

Then I started dropping stuff. Nothing important, really, but I'm pretty sure handed and I seldom drop anything. Then my knee began to hurt. And my ankle. I cut my hand on a can of cat food. The battery on my phone started dying quicker than normal. Every time I walked though the kitchen, there they were. The Voodoo dolls. Still on my kitchen table. Still staring at me. It was almost like their eyes followed me everywhere I went. I debated chucking them , but how does one get rid of a Voodoo Doll? And I had four. Four! Surely, you can't throw them in the household trash. Wouldn't ending up in a landfill piss them off? Maybe burning? Like a coven of witches?

I was still contemplating how to dump them without angering the Voodoo gods and my girlfriend when I accidentally knocked one over. Purple was on its side leaning on one arm. I gasped. The others - Blue, Green, and Yellow - didn't flinch, but I thought I saw Purple glance at its black pin. What to do? Stacee, it's a fucking doll. A doll! I welled up my disbelief and reached out my hand to stand it up. And that's when I saw it. A small gold and black oval. A sticker. "Made in China" it said. Ha! I googled to be sure, but they don't do Voodoo in China. I smirked at Purple and the rest. "You're just souvenirs! Fakes!" I said to myself.

And quickly stood up Purple and apologized for knocking him over. I might not believe and they might be from China, but what if? What if? No sense opening a door that doesn't need to be opened.


September 8, 2017

How Do You Say Duvet in Swedish?


Täcke: Duvet, quilt, or cover. A soft quilt filled with down, feathers, or a synthetic fiber, used instead of an uppersheet and blankets.


I feel like I'll be fluent in Swedish long before I'm able to efficiently change a duvet cover. Why is that even an issue? Well, recent proposed changes to Swedish citizenship qualifications include things intended to ensure that newly minted citizens are fully integrated into Swedish society, like being able to speak Swedish fluently and more stringent residency requirements. Fine by me. I love Sweden and I'm all for integration. I've already started learning the language and, while I'd prefer to be a citizen sooner than later, I will definitely do what it takes. I think I'll be fine as long as eating fermented herring (surströmming) and efficiently changing duvet covers don't become qualifications. I might be able to hold my nose and swallow a bite of herring if my (Swedish) life depended on it, but duvet covers... I've had them on and off for nearly a decade. And I can't even. 

Like many Americans, I though duvet covers were just an IKEA thing. Market white fluffy down-filled inserts in a variety of warmth ratings (most of which the majority of Americans will never need), pair them with a zillion cover options in wide range of colors and patterns, and BOOM! They may be reasonably popular here in the States, but let me tell you , duvet covers are Sweden in a nutshell. I didn't sleep on one bed in Sweden (or Denmark for that matter) that didn't have a duvet cover. In America, chances are, all would have had a bedspread or comforter. Not so in Scandinavia. Duvet cover. Period. This means that if I ever want to be fully integrated into Swedish society (which I would very much like to be), I'll need to improve my duvet cover changing efficiency.

I recently deleted a picture from Facebook of me demonstrating the "Butts Up Method" (Note: I deleted the picture, not due to the shame of sucky duvet cover changing, but because I'm deleting all "tags" related to a certain ex-girlfriend). Even with the risk of potential suffocation, I used this method for years. It goes like this - Layout duvet cover on bed. Grab one corner of duvet and stuff it into the cover. When you can no longer reach, crawl inside duvet cover with duvet still in hand. If your butt is up in the air at this point, you're doing it "right". Push corner of duvet into corresponding corner of the cover. Crawl back out. Repeat process with opposite corner of duvet. Crawl back out. Pull duvet cover over duvet. Stuff corners of duvet into the corners of the duvet cover nearest the opening. Repeat with opposite side. Grab two opposite corners (be sure you're holding both duvet and cover) and shake, shake, shake, until duvet is fully covered corner to corner to corner to corner. You may need to shake multiple opposite corners. 

I can't imagine why, but shortly after that picture was taken, I bought a comforter and tossed my duvet covers. Then a year or so ago, my (current) girlfriend and I switched back. We have dogs. That shed. And occasionally barf. On the bed. Given the super small washing machine we have at our house and the inconvenience of going to a laundry mat, we decided (during a trip to IKEA) that it would be far easier to wash and change a duvet cover when it got to hairy or dirty. Turns out it was a "great" idea. We bought two light weight duvets (Central Texas weather never requires anything heavy duty) and a couple inexpensive covers that fit nicely in our laundry machines. Now we can "easily" change out one or both when required or needed.

I use the terms "great" and "easily" in the loosest way possible. In the division of labor at our house, my girlfriend handles the outdoor tasks - weed eating, mowing, and snake removal. I change duvet covers. I don't know who got the better end of that bargain. In my defense, I have gotten better at it. For one, I no longer use the "Butts Up Method". Now, it'smore "Grab, Pull, Shake". GPS is similar to Butts Up but no crawling into the cover is needed (or recommended). Grab a corner of the duvet, pull it into the corresponding corner of the cover. Repeat with opposite corner. Shake or pull cover over the duvet. Grab remaining corners of duvet and stuff them into remaining corresponding cover corners. Grab two opposite corners (Again, be sure you're holding both duvet and cover) then shake, shake, shake until the duvet is fully covered from all four corners.

I have no idea how I gave up on Butts Up in favor of the GPS Method. Assuredly, there are You Tube videos on the subject, but I've never looked. I'm a kinesthetic learner (I gotta touch it, taste it, feel it) so a video would only confuse me and wouldn't enhance my skills. Maybe I'm using an approved method, maybe not. I should probably check because even though I'm making progress, I still feel like I suck. Sure, I've cut my time in half and I no longer expose my butt to inopportune photo ops, but I feel far from efficient by Swedish standards.

With Swedish citizenship residency requirements potentially increasing from five to seven years, I have plenty of time to improve my skills before putting them to the test in Scandinavia. Meanwhile, here in America, my dogs shed and barf with shocking regularity so the learning opportunities are seemingly endless. Soon enough, with the proper diligence, I'll be fluent in both Swedish and duvet cover changing. And with all that in hand, I'll be well on my way to integration and Swedish citizenship!

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