Thursday, December 29, 2011

Life's a Beach!

Adios Cozumel, Hola Cancun!

After four days on lovely Cozumel, I and my BFF arrived Cancun, our final destination of our trip.

Cozumel gave us a whole bunch of unforgettable memories and we met people we will never forget. If someone forced me to pick my three favorite things about our visit to Cozumel it would be: Diving the Palancar Reef, Diego and Eric's family and fantastic food! If you ask me to rank amongst the three, I will have to refuse!

As you might know, we received our PADI Open Water Diving certificates just last week. Two days ago we did our first dive as certified divers. We booked a two-tank dive with the Deep Blue Dive Shop and we found ourselves missing our beloved Dive Master from Tulum. But brave as only unknowledgable can be, we braced ourselves and made our deepest dive to date, with a new Dive Master and a  new dive group. It was absolutely amazing! Aldo, the Dive Master, was reassuring and calm. Our dive group was made up of the two of us, Mike and Rose from Denver and a Canadian. The Dive Shop receptionist, Ricardo, also joined us and added a big smile to the whole experience. We loved every second of it! We still have a lot to learn, but we are starting to understand why people who love diving, love diving!

We were lucky to have such a great experience when diving, but the great experience of Cozumel would not have been possible without Eric, Diego and their family.

Let me introduce Eric. He is a young adult who is still at school, but during his spare time (read school breaks) he works as a receptionist at the hotel where we stayed from 8am to 3 pm, and later at night he works at his family restaurant from 7 pm to 11 pm. It was such a pleasure to see his big smile every morning and he was ever so helpful with absolutely EVERYTHING. No task was too big och too small.

Eric's father, Diego, ran a family restaurant just a block from the hotel. Calling it a restaurant is a slight exaggeration, it's more like a food cart, some plastic furnitures under a plastic tarp ceiling. Diego and family was just as lovely as their son. And they were also ever so helpful and service minded. They made us feel so welcomed, it was difficult to say good bye after our four day stay.

This brings me to the third thing I mentioned, the food! I love good food! Good food can made any day a better day. And if good food is combined with dirt cheap prices, I am in heaven! Diego's family restaurant served the freshed fish and shrimp tacos I have ever encountered. The cost of three hearty tacos was 45 pesos! If you had the pork or beef taco, it would only cost you 36 pesos! Insane! We ate at Diego's everyday except one. I have missed his food at every meal ever since!

While on the subject, I should mention another fish and seafood restaurant on Cozumel. Pricier, but heavenly good was "La Perlita" restaurant. Our hotel manager sent us there for our Christmas Day dinner and  Oh Boy, was it worth every single pesos! I had the best octopus of my life!

I could go on and on about Cozumel, but it's time to leave that island behind, not only physically, but emotionally. We are now in Cancun and about the celebrate New Year's Eve in a few days. Who knows what new adventures await us. The only thing we do know, is that we will fly back to San Francisco from Cozumel on Jan 2nd and hopefully we will have enough time to swing by Diego's for our final meal in Mexico.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Crowded seas

The ocean is vast. Too vast to comprehend. But now I know it can be crowded, too crowded to explain.

Theres and I did our last dive with our Dive Master yesterday. It was us and a Mexican family made up of a father, a teenaged daughter and a teenaged son. The sea was pretty rough, but calm enough to venture out to the coral reef outside Tulum.

All is well until we are realize there is some logistical problems. First of all, the currents were surprisingly strong, secondly, my eqipment was too big and thirdly, three of us (me included) were VERY interested in swimming right behind the dive master. Theres soon realizes that three of us were fighting for the same spot and decided to take a step back. She's very clever. I, on the other hand, am willing to fight for what I want. If you've read my previous blog posts, this should come as no surprise. However, the teenaged son is more than willing to give me a fight for my money. The result is as expected, we were like two swimming bumper-cars throughout both dives (45 min each).

So, we did a two tank dive. Between dives we change tanks, but also got ourselves to a new location. I started to feel a bit seasick, but stupid as I am, I pretended everything was fine. Everyone else looked fine and I didn't want to create a scen. After a while, Theres asks me how I'm doing and I fess up. Appearently I'm not the only one feeling the force of the ocean. She's not doing too hot either but even worse, the father and the son are turning green.

The dive master realizes we were all about to hurl and hurried us into the water. What a difference it made! Everything felt a 1000 times better and the second dive was great. It was still very crowded and at one point the five of us were like rag-dolls in a tumble dryer. It's a good thing I don't have a issue beeing VERY close to people I don't know.

It happened at least twenty more things I would like to mention, but there is no time and I very much doubt there is any interest. All in all, it was fun, funny and a great experience.

One last note. I can't write about December 23rd without mentioning Theres' birthday. I had the privilage to celebrate my BFF in Mexico with gifts, drinks and awesome food. I hope she had a great birthday, cause her happiness means the world to me.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sun, sand and diving

Greetings from Mexico! And a special shout-out to fellow divers out there!

A few days ago, I and my BFF, Theres, arrived in sunny Mexico. Our flight landed on a sun-drenched Cozumel and one drink, one ferry and one bus ride later, we arrived in Tulum and eventually made our way to Zamas Hotel. As we walked the sandy path leading down to the reception, we found ourselves in our own slice of heaven. After our last trip to Thailand, we were afraid we would find ourselves disappointed if our accomodation in Mexico would be any less than the perfect bunglow we had last year. But there were no reasons to be afraid. Our beach bungalow in Tulum is AMAZING!

But our accomodation is only one aspect to our vacation. Our diving adventure is another. I didn't even know I wanted to dive until Theres suggested it last year. And where better to do it than Mexico? In the company of a couple from Switzerland and our diving instructor, we have learnt all the basic techniques and slowly, but surely, we're starting to feel comfortable and in control of our diving. I will admit that I was a bit overwhelmed after the first dive but maybe I should not have expected to master the art of diving after 2 hours of diving. This afternoon we'll do our written exam and we still have one open water dive to complete, but after that, we'll have our PADI Open Water Certifications!

The only little mishap is that my camera decided the diving was a bad idea. Before you conclude that I must be stupid to expect otherwise, you should know that I have a waterproof sports camera, recommended to use while diving. I'm not sure what happened, but when I opened the battery compartment a small ocean poured out. I'm pretty sure it's not going to recover from it's diving injury, unlike Theres, who is well on her way to full recovery after a very rough encounter with her diving mask.

Enough said, for now. Why blog about amazing Mexico when I can live it?

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Holidays!

A tad too early, some would say. Already too late, according to all retail stores. Just the right time, if you ask me.

I wish you all Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas!

My birthday was a few days ago and now that that's done, I feel ready to climb onboard the Christmas Express to Santaville. Or to be more precise, I'm soon about to board the Christmas Express flight to Cancun. Unlike last year, I will not be shoveling snow, not be freezing and not be drinking hot beverages by the fireplace. This year I will be diving, suntanning and drinking margaritas in Mexico. I'm replacing the reindeer with a pinata. Instead of a parka I will be wearing a bikini.

The holiday season can be a lot of things. Fun, festive or magical. Unfortunately, too many find it stressful, expensive or lonely. Much of it, I believe, is caused by the assumption that Christmas has to be perfect. The food and decorations need to surpass last year's and should ultimately put Martha Stewart to shame. The gifts need to be the latest/newest/biggest/smallest/coolest thing that has happened since sliced bread. The people around you need to be as many as possible, even if your brother-in-law makes everyone uncomfortable, your cousins haven't spoken to each other all year and your uncle's new girlfriend is a wrench (the brother-in-law, the cousins and the wrench are all hypothetical).

Obviously, there are many who love cooking up a feast, love to find the perfect gift for their loved ones and surrounds themselves with only close family and friends.

Ultimately, I think the Holiday season should be about happiness. Your personal happiness and spreading happiness around you. With this in mind, and heart, I wish you all a Happy Holiday.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Whats goin on..

Saw this video today. It made me sad, but more than anything, it made me angry. What kind of a person are you, if the only way to express your own frustration is through bullying others? What personal background justifies hurting a person over and over again? What is wrong with you if take pleasure in making someone break inside?

I've read the comments people wrote after seeing this video. Many were very encouraging and sympathetic. However, many accused him of being a fake. I don't know what's true or not, and frankly I don't care. This story is not fake, this situation is not make-believe and for every story made public there are hundreds of people suffering in the dark.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My thankful everyday

It's the week after Thanksgiving. With so many things in life to be thankful about, it's almost difficult to know where to begin. Over the weekend I have been contemplating what I should write this post about. What is the one stand out thing that I'm extra thankful for? The answer was right before my eyes, but just as with a pair of clean glasses, I looked straight through them, without realizing that even the most beautiful thing in the world would look like a blur without my glasses.

I'm thankful that I just returned from a trip to Camas and Seattle where I spent time with new and old friends I've met throughout the past decade.
I'm thankful that I started my day by driving my husband to a job that he loves.
I'm thankful that I'm healthy and went to the gym for a morning workout.
I'm thankful that I have great health insurance which enables me to get my allergy shots on Tuesdays.
I'm thankful that I could go grocery shopping for a meal with friends tomorrow.
I'm thankful I get to talk to my parents, regardless of our geographical location.
I'm thankful that I'm just about to email my best friend about our upcoming trip to Mexico.
I'm thankful that I get to spend everyday loving who I choose to love and being loved in return.
I'm thankful that the biggest problem in my life is that I gained a few pounds over Thanksgiving.

I'm thankful that I know what really matters. I'm thankful for my everyday.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sauna Etiquette

As you may have figured out, I'm Scandinasian. I have roots in Taiwan and Sweden. With other words, I'm not from Finland. One of the consequences of being from elsewhere than Finland, is that I don't have as much authority to write about the culture surrounding saunas. However, I feel prompted to speak up.

Even though saunas are inherently Finish, as a Swede you are exposed to saunas from an early age. Most public swimming pools have a sauna facility, many people have saunas in their homes and many Scandinavians will at some point have made the run to a sauna after a quick dip in a freezing lake or after rolling around naked in snow.

There are "rules" surrounding saunas. At a public swimming pool, usually there will be a sauna for men and one for women. You are expected to change out of your bathing suit, shower and only bring a towel into the sauna. As for your private sauna at home or by the lake, it's pretty much the same rule. Since it's usually for both men and women, you're as naked as you feel comfortable with and you bring a towel.

I like saunas. They are not as easy to find in the US as they are in Sweden. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that my 24 Hour Fitness have a sauna as well as a steam room. Since they are for both men and women it was obvious that everyone would be wearing their swimming attire. Or so I thought...

First of all, the sauna was packed! Only a minority of people were wearing their bathing suits/trunks. The majority of people came straight from the gym floor. After a work out. All covered in sweat. Still wearing their gym cloths. And still in their sneakers! What?!?

I realize that this might seem totally normal to some people, this might even be the norm in the US. But to me, it was too bizarr. I understand that the whole point of being in a sauna is to sweat and that I shouldn't be bothered by gym sweat, but gym sweat and sauna sweat is not the same thing (don't ask me why). I couldn't even make myself go in.

To my relief, the steam room did live up to my expectations. First of all, it wasn't too packed. Secondly, the dress code was as anticipated. It all made sense and I could finally sit down, lean back and relax.

Until today, when I went back to the steam room. It was packed! And people came straight from the gym floor. After a work out. All covered in sweat. Still wearing their gym cloths. And still in their sneakers! This made no sense at all! I can almost wrap my head around my sauna experience, and that being a cultural difference, but sitting fully clothed in a steam room is not rational. Why would you want to get all of your cloths drenched and why on earth would you want to steam your shoes?

I don't know where I'll go from here. The winter is fast approaching. Maybe I'll just have to do without saunas and steam rooms. But I guess I shouldn't complain. At least I can substitute the sauna with some reliable Californian sun.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Useless activities

An activity can be fun, good, necessary, bad, boring and more. We enjoy an activity or get through an activity because it usually has a purpose. But some activities are just plain useless. Specifically two useless activities have grown beyond being merely useless, they have grown into my pet peeves.

Waiting in line and looking for something lost. I can feel the frustration grow just writing the words!

I understand the purpose of a line. It will eventually get me closer to my goal. But the actual activity of standing in line is useless. It doesn't matter if I have all the time in the world, it is still a source of frustration. My husband tells me that it doesn't matter how frustrated I am, I will not get there any sooner. I find it less frustrating when he's not in line with me...

I might hate the activity, but I never cut in line, in fact, I hate when people do. However, there are some "grey-areas" that allow some wiggle room, if you ask me. One is when they open a new cash register. It is anarchy until a new line has formed. The order in which you joined the other lines has no significance at all. My husband vastly disagrees with me on this. So, I only get away with it when I shop alone or if I'm carrying our merchandise and the wallet.

You can find another "grey-area" at, e.g. amusement parks, where they sometimes have a holding area for the next group of passengers waiting for the ride. What used to be a line is morphed into a group and who knows who's first, second or last? In this situation I'm happy to adjust my position to a more beneficial one. I do have a limit on how big of an advancement I am allowed to make and I try very hard not to take it too far. As I said, I hate when people cut in in line.

The second useless activity is looking for something lost. It's great finding what ever you're looking for, but the time spent leading up to that moment is a total waste of time. This activity is a bit different from waiting in line because it has many layers of frustration.

Firstly, you only realize something is lost when you need it. So there's a time aspect to it. Often when you're looking for something you're in a hurry. Secondly, regardless of if you're in a hurry of not, it prevents you from continuing to do what you set out to do because you can't find the thing you need and until you find it you can't proceed or you need to abandone you initial plan. Thirdly and the most frustrating thing is that you're in the situation because you didn't manage to put the thing where you would easily find it. Unlike waiting in line, this useless activity is self-inflicted. I guess, if you have a family or a pet, you could blame them, but more often than not, it is all your fault.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Who is afraid of whom?

Happy Wedding Anniversary to me and my husband. We've now been married two years. It's been two wonderful years, full of happiness and bliss. This could easily turn into a long, never-ending, tribute to my wonderful husband, but it would just be stating the obvious.

Instead, this will be about delusions and the never-ending journey of self-discovery.

Last year we chose to celebrate our anniversary in Sacramento. It wasn't our first choice, but if you realize too late that your wedding day is the same day as Columbus Day, you'll find that most other places of interest are fully booked.

This year we learnt our lesson. A few months ago we booked a small cabin in Big Sur. We were looking forward to a nice weekend of hiking. What a delusion! We don't hike. The few times we've hiked it's been ok, but not particularly great. We are generally gaming and watching movies kind of people.

Last Friday we arrived at our cabin. It was the sweetest little cabin with a queen bed and a half bath. At least I knew myself well enough to know it wouldn't feel like a vacation if I didn't have at least a half bath in very close proximity.

I had prepared a feast of pork skewers and vegetables and we were both pretty hungry when we arrived. We brought with us a whole bunch of fire wood, but little did we know how long time it would take to turn fire wood into charcoal.

While waiting for the fire to burn out my husband suddenly saw a cat in the dried up river next to our cabin. After a closer look, the cat turned out to be a skunk. And the skunk was well within spraying distance. We slowly back away hoping we wouldn't scare it.

After a loooooong wait for the fire to turn into charcoal, we lost our patience and decided to turn our food into charcoal instead. Surprisingly, cooking pork over open flames turned out to be ok. The food tasted great! I'm not denying that starvation tends to elevate any flavor, but we were full and satisfied.

By this time it was pitch black and we were more than ready to turn in for the night. As we were packing away our food I glanced over into the dried up river, just to make sure there were no animals around. What I saw scared the bejesus out fo me. Four pairs of eyes staring at me. A pack of raccoons! I have never met one before, let alone a pack! I had no idea they were that big! I'll admit I panicked and fled into our cabin. I've heard horror stories about raccoons and I was not prepared to add a story of my own!

Fast forward to the next day. We had breakfast and headed out to Andrew Molera Park. We decided on a 8 mile hike along the coast, up a mountain, through some Redwood forest and back. The sun was shining and the trail was beautiful! However, the climb up the mountain was intensely strenuous at times and I had to question why I thought this was a good idea, when there must be a million other things I rather do.

After finally making it up the mountain I was looking forward to strolling down the mountain, through the beautiful forrest. And it was nice, for about 10 min or so. As we strolled down the trail I suddenly saw a snake crossing our path. Not just any snake, but a rattlesnake. This time I actually didn't panic. I told my husband to stop and back up. I informed him about our situation and we tried to make as much noise as possible and eventually we made our way passed the snake. For the reminder of our hike, I had my eyes pierced on the trail and didn't see much of the view. We saw no more snakes, but we did hear another one further down the trail.

We had planned to hike on Sunday as well, but we were both a bit freaked out by our close encounters with nature. Some people pay good money to enjoy nature and be close to wildlife. We are not those people. I've always thought I can handle most situations and that I'm not particularly squeamish, but I am, I absolutely am.

As we packed our bags on Sunday, we decided to leave Big Sur after breakfast. We were done with hiking. Instead we changed our plans and headed to the Gilroy shopping outlet. In the car we decided, for our next anniversary, we're heading to Napa or Sonoma to drink wine.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Bear with me...

As you might have noticed, I haven't blogged as frequently lately. There are actually plenty of things to write about. Since my last blog post I've been to my first book-club, I've been to a Health and Fitness Expo, I've taken a Segway tour in Golden Gate Park, I've done a Ghost Tour in China Town, I've hiked and I've had my first proper run down a mountain (which turned out to be easy on the lungs, but heavy on the quads and knees). But as of lately, I'm pre-occupied with a much bigger project.

So, I ask you to bear with me. I fully intend to continue blogging as frequently as possible, and if you stick with me, I will soon invite you to join me on one of my life's biggest adventures to date (and no, it does not involve babies).

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 26, 2011

What am I running from?

For those of you who have followed my blog, I just finished another race!! For those of you who don't understand what all the fuss is about, I only need to explain that I'm terrible runner. Some people (like my husband) build stamina like a stroll in the park while others (like me) need several months of running just to be able to finish a 5K (3.1 miles) race.

About 10 months ago I finished my first 5K race. The plan was to register to run 5K races regularly so that I had something holding me accountable. Trusting my self-discipline didn't seem like enough. And boy, was I right! I didn't register for any more races and I stopped running.

Fortunately, I started exercising in general, so when I finally decided to run another race, the uphill battle was not as steep, even though it was still a battle. I finished my first race after 38 minutes and 31 seconds. This race took me 32 minutes and 29 seconds. It would be a huge exaggeration to say I'm a fast runner, but I'm happy with my 6 minutes of improvement.

Have I finally learnt how to enjoy running? No, not really. It's mostly painful and it takes me about 2 minutes before I wish I wasn't running. Do I prefere other forms of cardio exercise. You bet I do! There are many, many other form of endurance training I like more than running.

Have I though about giving up on running all together? No, I can't say I have. I might not enjoy the activity of running but I do enjoy the benefits of it. I've been to the gym regularly since the beginning of the year so I'm used to exercising. However, since I started running I've become better at it. Plus, it's a real calorie-torcher.

Many runners (I still don't consider me being one) claim that running is such a freedom and such a high, it's almost spiritual. I don't know if I'll ever experience that. But, if you want to give running a try, you really should, no matter how big of a hurdle it seems. You know how people say "If I can do it, anyone can". I'm usually not a big fan of clichés, but you have to trust me on this one. If I can do it, anyone can!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Lights out!

My husband is a very creative person and a creative person usually has creative ideas. At any given moment, we usually have at least one project we're working on. A while ago he presented a new idea, a challenge, if you will. How about 48 hours without electricity?

Last weekend we finally made it happen. The whole ordeal required some preparation. We had to agree on the rules, stock up on food and make sure we had enough candles.

From midnight Friday/Saturday to midnight Sunday/Monday
No electric devices, such as computer, tv, phones etc.
No battery powered devices, such as flashlights, radios, toothbrushes etc.
No use of lamps, microwave, stove, dishwasher etc.
No car
No hot water
Cold water ok
Fridge and freezer were not turned off, but couldn't be opened

Bread, Corn Tortillas, Canned Foods (corn, kidney beans, peas, salmon, sardines, spam), Air-dried salami, mushrooms, Laughing cow wedges, salsa, boiled eggs, crackers, beef jerky, protein bars, banans, tomatos, mango, avocado and  Snack Pack Caramel pudding

We stocked up on candles, candle-holders, matches, lighters and we duct taped all the light switches (which turned out to be a necessary on multiple occasions). I also bought a 1000 pieces jigsaw puzzle, as a temporary replacement for our PS3.

Long walks, biking escursion, tennis, running, hiking, picnic, swimming, playing cards, jigsaw puzzle, reading (books, articles and magazines), talking and eating.

In summary, we spent most of the weekend outdoors, we went to bed REALLY early, we slept 11 hours the night between Friday and Saturday and we had spam tortillas wraps. The biggest challenge this weekend was the freezing showers. If we would have done this for a week, I would have missed my computer and if we did it for a whole month, I would really miss hot food.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Swedish Diet Commercial

I friend just sent me this commercial. Apparently it's been running for a while. I'm lost for words. But I am smiling and kinda digging it. When tacky is so tacky it becomes funny, you have to embrace it. I especially love how this commercial made me research the product on Google to make sure it is actually sold at CVS. It is!

We are flooded with commercials everyday and it's rare that an ad is so interesting that multiple bloggers, before me, have written about it. Also, being a Swedish Scandinasian, I love how they went overboard with the stereotype. Are the blonds in the US not blond enough without using blond wigs? ;) I wish they would have thrown in a viking and a moose or two. My only complaint is the turkey. It's not really a thing Swedes do. And if it's going to be authentically blond, it should be authentic all the way!

Btw, this diet is unheard of in Sweden.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Welcomed to the United States

I'm now officially welcomed to the United States. How do I know I am? I got a letter telling me so. Last week something monumental happened. I received my Green Card. And over the past weekend, I realized I live in the United States.

I've been living in the United States for a couple of years now. I've created a home together with my husband and our home feels very much like our home. My visa status has allowed me to stay and live in the United States but prevented me from working. I used to really enjoy working, but I've also really enjoyed my years as an involuntary housewife. I've been looking forward to receiving my Green Card, mostly to regain power to decide over my own choices in life, weather it be working or not.

So, in my mind, the Green Card is a work permit. It allows me to apply for a Social Security Number, it allows me to work and it makes me a fuller member of society, with it's rights and responsibilities. But I came to realize it's much more than that. And it says so, right on the Green Card. In the eyes of the United States, I'm now a permanent resident. A permanent resident.

If I plan to leave the US for more than 12 months I have to apply for a re-entry permit before leaving. Not too long ago, my visa extension was denied and I was asked to leave the country. It's like inviting your self to a party, having the host throw you out but by the end of the night you're asked to move in and never leave.

The journey through immigration bureaucracy is difficult in many countries. Mine has been a real adventure, with ups and downs and a lot of suspense. But all is well that ends well. I imagine I could have grown resentful along the way, but the matter of fact is that I really love my life here and I'm just thrilled that I'm welcomed to stay and that I'm invited to explore even more aspects of life in the US.

I can't wait to go through the US immigrations next time I go abroad. Hopefully I'll be greeted by a officer who will welcome me home. Because the United States is where I live, it's where home is.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

6 month later...

Exactly 6 months ago, today, I bought my gym membership and went to the gym for the first time in ages. Just like everyone else who buys a gym membership in January, I was enthusiastic, full of energy and completely convinced I would be able to start a healthier, leaner and stronger life. So, what has happened since then?
I'm leaner, stronger and I can only assume I'm healthier as well. I still carry some extra padding, but it's more like I'm wearing a windbreaker now, rather than a down anorak. I've lost 20 lb and 8 inches around my waist and this have had some consequences in my life.
It would be much more profound if I could say that it has turned my life around. That I'm finally feeling like the true me and that I've never really felt comfortable in my own skin until now. But none of that is true. The truth is, I've never really had a problem with my weight (I've lost 30 lb since my heaviest). I wasn't miserable before. My self-confidence has always been, and still is, borderline obnoxious. I've kinda always liked being me, with or without the extra insulation.
So, the consequences of my leaner and stronger self is of a much more pragmatic nature. First of all, I no longer have the urgent need to change into my sweatpants as soon as I'm through the front door. Secondly, my new preferred look is wearing jeans and t-shirts. Some people loose weight so they can wear tight and skimpy cloths. I lost weight so that I could wear jeans and t-shirts.
Thirdly, I can wear maxi-dresses! I love maxi-dresses and have for years. Every year I try on a dussin maxi-dresses but it has been as flattering as putting a maxi-dress on a refrigerator (some of us are not blessed with a hourglass figure). But as the refrigerator shrunk, I've been able to find a few maxis that don't look horrendous on me. I'm actually wearing one right now.
I still have some work to do. This journey has been very pleasant this far. I thought it would be much more painful and difficult, but it has been great. I don't feel like I'm sacrificing anything, but I'm gaining a lot (except weight). My goal has been from the get go, to reach a comfortable weight within 12 months from the day I started. So I will report back in another 6 months and I'm certain I will have positive news to report, just as certain as I was when I enthusiastically started this journey.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The World of Chemistry

I wish I saw this when I was still in school. It makes so much sense!

Friday, August 19, 2011

I'm not a marriage counselor, but...

Considering the amount of time I spend at the gym, there is no wonder I encounter funny people at times and hear funny stories. While stretching yesterday, I was entertained by three older gentlemen in their 70s.

Two of the men were already exercising when the third man appeared. For the sake of the story, let's call the third man Bob and his friends Frank and John. Their conversation went something like this:

Bob: Guten Morgen! (Good morning, in German)
Frank: Guten Morgen! Wie geht's? (Good morning! How are you?)

Frank continues saying a few sentences in German.

Bob: I have no idea what you're saying. I don't know why, but I'm having difficulties remembering the words. The lessons are not helping. You're doing great, but Im hopeless.
Frank: You just need to practice.

A few minutes of exercise goes by.

Frank: Isn't your wife's birthday coming up? Do you know what you're getting her?
Bob: Yes, I saw this really expensive and high-tech bathroom scale. It will be perfect!
Frank: Wow, you dare to give your wife a bathroom scale?!? Isn't she going to be upset?
Bob: But she says she wants to loose a few pounds and that we need to buy a scale.
Frank: I'm no marriage counselor, but is it really a good idea to give a woman a bathroom scale? She might want to loose weight, but I'm sure she doesn't want you to want her to loose weight.
Bob: You think? Well, I don't want to upset her.

John joins the conversation

John: My wife loved the gift I got for her birthday. I don't know if you've seen them, but there are fancy aprons that look like dresses nowadays. She's always in the kitchen so it was a perfect gift.
Frank: Bob, don't buy your wife an apron. John, I don't know how to tell you this but your wife didn't like the gift. She was happy you got her a gift, but my wife told me she was upset that you only thought she was good for cooking.
John: But she told me she loved it... Well, Frank, you seem to know it all. What do you think Bob should give his wife?
Frank (turns to Bob): You could take your wife out to the theatre or to a nice restaurant. And don't forget to buy flowers! You must buy flowers, it's the flowers they remember.
Bob: A nice restaurant you say... Have you been to any good ones lately?

The three men walk away discussing restaurants.

There are so many things I love about this conversation. Without knowing, I imagine that they have been married to their wives for a while. Still clueless and still trying to figure them out. Even Frank. The way he mentioned the flowers was not because he understood why his wife loved flowers, but he had learnt throughout the years that when he buys flowers she responds in a positive way.

Also, cudos to anyone who picks up a new hobby, skill or language, especially when you reach a certain age. These men go to the gym, are learning German and go out to new restaurants and shows. I'm sure they will live a long, healthy and rewarding life, for many years to come.

Monday, August 15, 2011


I've been going regularly to the gym for the past 5 months. My overall fitness is better and I feel stronger and exercising is not so much a chore anymore, it's something I almost enjoy.

One very unexpected benefit of the gym that has been very interesting and entertaining is the opportunity I've had to observe other people. In many ways, the gym is like a society, with different groups being represented. Here are some examples:

Pushy, slightly aggressive go-getters
In real life, they are the ones who don't know how to stand in line or wait their turn. They usually come across as being pushy and they have a weird sense of entitlement. In Gymland, (and in life) they can be summed up as the East Asian ladies.

The Clueless people
In real life, they tend not fully grasp the concept of being appropriate. Sometimes it's about table-side manners and sometimes it's about conversation topics. In Gymland, they are represented by the people who exercise in jeans and by those who use weight machines for completely different muscles groups than the machine is build for.

People who just want to fit in
In real life, these would be the people who just want to blend in, be average. In Gymland, these would be the people who just want to be a little stronger and a little fitter. They would typically have been described as scrawny or chubby. They don't aim at being Mr/Ms Fitness, they just want cloths to fit a bit better.

The superficial guy/ The vain girl
In real life, they drive the right car, have the right job, wear the latest fashions and live in fabulous pent houses. It would all be great if they did it for their own benefit. But we all know a few who do and have all that just to impress other people. It's no different in Gymland. The guys with super muscular upper-bodies but with chicken legs. Not naturally slim legs, but no muscles at all legs. I guess it makes sense if you always wear jeans and tight t-shirts. Or the girls who wear full make-up with their hair undone who are more pre-occupied with the movement of their mane than with form and exercise.

The popular crowd
In real life, these are the people who have it all. They seem very content and happy. They are often popular, not because they have all the right things, but because they are nice people. They are the in-crowd that everyone wants to be around, both the superficial people and the people who just want to fit in. In Gymland, they have great bodies and they have worked hard at it. But they can still afford to smile at people and encourage others.

The business men
In real life, they are all about efficiency. Time is money, people! In Gymland, they are always on the phone, talking to their assistants, answering clients or on a conference call.

People going through hardship
In real life, people struggle through personal hardship. It can be the loss of a loved one, a sickness, custody battles etc. Many will conquer their personal issues and come out stronger on the other side. In Gymland, these are the people with physical challenges and they will literally be stronger, sometime through rehabilitation and sometimes through strengthening the physical abilities they are equipped with.

The perfectionist
In real life, they run their life by their calendars. Every aspect of their lives are prepared and executed to perfection. The same amount of effort is put into a business presentation and a dinner with friends. In Gymland, they have perfect bodies, not so they can show off, but because perfect is the only option. They are very focused and sometimes slightly intimidating.

Senior Citizens
In real life, they are recently retired. They suddenly have more time on their hands. They are also becoming aware of their age and that this is the time to do all the things you wanted to do but didn't have time. It's time to get a new hobby. In Gymland, their new hobby is going to the gym. Always with a friend or two.

Gossip Girls
In real life, these ladies (almost always ladies) don't care about time and place, it's all about the gossip. A never-ending chitter-chatter about life's "OMG-moments". In Gymland, they will talk (to another person or on the phone) throughout an hour of Zumba, they gossip on the treadmill and chatter while stretching. They will also limit their physical exertion to a minimum, to enable easier talking.

The Decadents
In real life, they are driven by instant pleasure. They love to eat and drink. If they feel like going shopping, they go shopping. If they feel like gaming, that's what they will do. In Gymland, they are lost. Something in them told them should hit the gym, as they usually carry extra kilos as a result of their decadent lifestyle. However, they don't like to be uncomfortable so they will talk the ears off their personal trainer or they will walk 5 min on the treadmill and be done. But since they have been to the gym, they can indulge ever more when they leave the building.

In Gymland I'm most likely been seen as a pushy Chinese woman, which I am at times, but only when I need to fend off other pushy Chinese women. But in reality, I'm paying the price after many years of decadency. And in the end of the day, I haven't come far from high-school. I'm just trying to fit in and I dream about one day being a part of the popular crowd.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

20 things to know about Swedish culture

I just found this article about Sweden and Swedish culture on a friend's Facebook page. It's a few months old, but it is very accurate and will continue to be very accurate for many years to come. If you plan to visit Sweden, move there or are simply curious about the country, this is a good article to read.

If you can't remember all 20 things mentioned in the article, I, personally, would try hard to remember 1, 2, 10, 12, 14 (especially 14).

20 things to know before moving to Sweden - Follow Sweden - The Local

Another note, if you're moving to Sweden and planning to live in an apartment complex with shared laundry facilities, please make sure to find out everything there is to know about the booking system. Some places you book a time slot, some places you book half days, some places have allocated specific days etc. Just know that an empty machine does NOT mean it is free to use. Swedish people are generally not confrontational, but if there is one thing that can turn the most mellow Swede into the green monster, it's violation of the laundry regulations. If you would fail to comply you can expect angry neighbors, neighbors holding a grudge and angry notes (which is a Swede's preferred way to solving problems).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How do garlic grow?

Gilroy Garlic Festival was this past weekend. After feasting on garlic and parmesan stuffed mushrooms, garlic fries, garlic chocolate and delicious garlic escargots, my tummy was full and my breath was reeking.

On the way back from the festival it dawned on me that I've never seen a fresh garlic plant. I wasn't even sure how it grew. That in turn got me thinking about other fruits and vegetables with mysterious origins. I write this post for people as clueless as me. Let's learn together:


Monday, August 1, 2011

Skilled professionals

I just came home with two pairs of shoes. It might seem a bit excessive but they were both used. Used by me. I've had them repaired and sole protectors were added so they will last longer but more importantly, so that I won't be slipping around in them like I have since I bought them. The cobbler I found did an amazing job. I couldn't be happier. I will definitely be going back!

Last Saturday I went to the tailor to pick up two pairs of jeans that needed altering. I have the body proportions of a giant baby, my legs are surprisingly short. She did an impeccable job and I will be returning to her as well.

Tomorrow I have an appointment to have my eyebrows threaded. I've been going to Natasha for a while now. Right after my first appointment I knew I was hooked.

I don't even need to write about my beloved hairdresser. I've already dedicated a blog post to how awesome her skills are and what a a wonderful person she is. I don't see her often enough, (I'm too cheap to see her more than twice a year), but I can't convince myself to go anywhere else. I've passed on a handful of great Groupons just because I can't "cheat" on her.

I've grown totally dependent on the wonderful and skilled professionals around me and I don't even know when it happened! I used to apply me very limited DIY skills on everything! I've ruined at least two pairs of shoes by super glueing things that are not supposed to be super glued. I have managed to destroy a handful of trousers by failing to shorten the legs the same lengths. I've cut my own bangs once and there is a reason why I never tried it again. As for my eyebrows, it's a good thing I don't have bushy eyebrows and that I wear glasses, otherwise my lazy predisposition would be for everyone to see.

When I come to think of it, why didn't I discover these great services until now? It would have saved me a lot of time, money and some fairly intense pain (it really isn't funny or comfortable to clue your fingers together). Lesson learnt, trust the professionals.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Cutest thing ever!

Oslo Terrorist Attack

One of the most peaceful countries in the world was attacked today. A bomb was detonated in Oslo and the Norwegian people had their first true encounter with evil since the Second World War. While chaos ripped through the center of Oslo, a mad man pointed a gun at children and young adults at a political party's youth camp. The two incidents are believed to be linked. It is most definitely a terrorist attack, but it is unclear if it is an international terrorist organization behind it or if it was a domestic terrorist.

In the end of the day, it makes little difference, especially for those who lost loved ones. To them the challenge is to understand and come to terms with the fact that lives where lost for no reason at all. I feel the deepest sympathy for them and I also count my blessings that I'm not one of them.

Regardless of the motives and people behind this act of madness, I ask you to judge them for the individuals they are and for their actions, and not to judge them for their nationality, color of their skin or their religious beliefs.

I have an unsettling feeling that many hope and wishes for the perpetrator to be a muslim. It would "fit" better. It is always easier to be afraid of someone foreign and unknown than to be afraid of your own. I really don't care. If you take an innocent life I don't need to know your reasons, I just need to know you've taken an innocent life.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Google makes me cry

I bet you think I'm going to write about Google+. I'm not. But if I was I would have written a rave review. Maybe I'll do that later. Instead, I'm letting you now how Google makes me cry.

A few months ago my husband showed me an ad for Google Chrome. I've seen it and showed it countless times since. There is no explanation to why I haven't blogged about it until now. Well, better late than never. Here is how Google makes me cry:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Glorious predictability

It's 4:37 am and I'm wide awake. I wish I was sleeping, not because I'm tired, but because I should be and could be. It's the never ending battle between me and jet-lag.

I came back from Sweden two days ago. I was gone about three weeks. I spent my days doing the usual stuff, chatting and eating with my favorite people. I also managed to squeeze in a weekend in Birmingham, to attend a re-union with my former university flatmates.

Usually I'm all about experiencing and discovering new things. But sometimes nothing beats the tried and tested. This becomes blatantly clear every time I'm back in Sweden. I always stay with my parents, in my childhood room. I enjoy my mum's cooking like there is no tomorrow. At every dinner we sit and talk for hours, just like we've always done.

I've also spent countless of hours with my BFF and I knew we'd do what we do best. Talk. We talk each other's ears off, and it has always been that way. We've been on countless trips together and never found the time to open a book or a magazine. We live continents apart, but she still knows every intricate details about my everyday life, as I know hers. We are so predictable that we literally know the next word out of each other's mouths. Not only can we finish each other's sentences, on multiple occasions we say the exact same sentence at the exact same time.

I also got to catch up with a childhood friend. She became a mother about 6 months ago and I hadn't had the opportunity to meet her since. It was great! But I would've been surprised if it wasn't. We've known each other since we were six and she's one of my closest friends. Since 1994, when I moved to another part of town, we've had, periodically, a very sporadic relationship. We haven't lived in the same country since 2002 and we usually meet up once a year. But I know we'll just pick up where we left off and our friendship is completely effortless.

The trip to England was another fine example of familiarity. The city of Birmingham has barely changed in 6 years. Maybe that's no surprise. However, my old flatmates and I live very different lives today compared to 2005. This had some interesting consequences. The amount to taxis we used this weekend by far exceeded the amount of taxis we used during our three years at uni. One of us owned a house where we stayed. We could't and didn't want to drink like we used to. But despite all these new changes, we were all pretty much the same people. We shared a home for a year and when we prepared dinner together, it felt amazingly familiar.

My theory is that you will appreciate predictability in a whole other way, when you live a fairly unpredictable life. Cause when you do, predictability and familiarity is not just about security and control, it's about having a harbor to return to. So, after three amazing weeks, I returned to the familiar arms of my husband and the feeling of coming home was great, just as predicted.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


I've said it before and I'm saying it again, I LOVE my TOMS shoes! Not only are they the most comfortable shoes I've ever owned, the brand is all about making a difference in the world. For each pair you buy, TOMS gives a pair to a child in need.

The business model is very admirable and the founder of TOMS has said that he hopes more companies will follow in their footsteps.

And some companies have. Some more than others.

Last weekend I was in Birmingham for a university reunion. As I passed by a shoe store, I saw that they sold TOMS. Curious to know how much they are in England, I went in to have a closer look. But to my surprise, they were not TOMS, but BOBS! Not only were they not TOMS, they were more expensive than TOMS!

I was outraged! Did BOBS have the same social conscious as TOMS? Why were people buying a "copy" when the real deal is cheaper to begin with? There had to be an explanation! And of course there was!

Apparently, BOBS are produced by Sketchers. And just like TOMS, Sketchers donates a pair for each pair sold. So far so good. In the end of the day, children in need don't care if they wear TOMS or BOBS. However, the fact that BOBS is an EXACT design copy of TOMS, infuriates me! BOBS copied everything, down to the name, logo and placement of labels. A big company like Sketchers surely can afford to design their own shoe! But instead of creating a design that could add to the "one for one" market, they are trying to steal TOMS customers! Is that really something a company should do if they are trying to position themselves as "socially aware"?

In conclusion, I urge you to buy TOMS. Not only because they did a great job at designing an appealing shoe, but because it's important that they are encouraged to continue their good work. Nowadays, TOMS also sell sunglasses and apparel and everything they sell are matched with equal donations. Sketchers is a huge company, with hundreds of shoe models. But only one shoe model is matched with donations and they still couldn't even be bothered to dedicate time and money to design their own product. Shame on you!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Drawing the line

I'm happy to report back from my Portrait and Figure Drawing class. I've now completed the class and I have about 18 hours of drawing under my belt. It's been fantastic! Not necessarily my drawings, but the experience was great!

Before this class, the last time I drew was in Junior High. And back then it was not so much about the drawing as it was about having a fun class that didn't require homework. But this time around, it was all about the drawing. I still have a lot to learn, but now I know that drawing is something one can learn. And I plan to sign up for the fall classes so that I can continue to learn.

I leave you with a few drawings of mine I've produced over the last few months:

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Gaming is for men!

... And women are missing out!

I was at Fry's Electronics store today. A random stranger stopped me and said: "Wow, you look happy. You must be having a great day!"

He was right! In my hand I was holding "Infamous 2". I've been looking forward to the release of this game like a child waits for Christmas. It's a Playstation 3 (PS3) game and if it's anything like it's predecessor, I know I'm in for many hours of pure joy. I played the last game so much that I ended up collecting 97% of the trophies (if you don't game, ignore my last sentence).

Gaming... I can recall reading multiple articles in different magazines dealing with the problems of gaming. Ignoring the obvious problem of children gaming rather than doing homework, many of the problems around gaming seem to be between women and men, specifically it seems to be women having trouble with men's gaming.

Ladies, if you can't beat them, join them! Do you really think men and women are soooo different that something enjoyed by millions of men can't be fun for women? It's time to get with the program!

I'm here to encourage women to give gaming a try. If you don't know where to start, here is my "how to guide". You don't need to have any previous experience. I surely didn't. Even though I grew up in the "Super Mario" generation, I never played a consol game until 2007.

If you have the possibility, you can do as I did and start off easy with a hand held Nintendo DS. Nintendo Wii is also a good way to start. Most people find the Nintendo Wii less intimidating than the Xbox and the PS3. However, I'm not suggesting you to buy three gaming devices. You can go straight to the Xbox or the PS3.

My consol of choice is the PS3. A good introductory game is "Little Big Planet 1 & 2". It's a platform game, so you might recognize the format from Super Mario. Just the cuteness of the game makes you wanna play and keep playing. Don't get me wrong, the cuteness is just a cover for a great, and sometimes very challenging, game. Sackboy rule!

The next game might be something driven by a good story. "Heavy Rain" would be a great pick. It's best describes as playing, watching and directing a detective's story. It's well made, the plot is interesting and the character's have a real sense of personality. You will wanna know how it all ends!

From there you might want to venture into some of my all time favorite games. Still driven by an interesting story and interesting characters, games like Uncharted, Grand Theft Auto and Infamous are high-action games and if you're anything like me, you'll soon fall in love with the adrenaline kicks of shooting, fighting, running and stealing cars.

When you've come this far, you might be satisfied with staying within one of the genres you have already played. God knows there are plenty of games within each genre to keep you busy for a loooooong time. However, I strongly encourage you to try a First Person Shooter (FPS) game, especially one in the Call of Duty (COD) franchise or one of the Battlefield games. If you've played and enjoyed one of the action games I mentioned earlier, I know you will be loving to shoot stuff, and when it comes to shooting, nothing beats a good FPS. The story and characters are no longer particularly important, it's all about the gameplay. However, if you still like a bit of humour and enjoy characters with a little personality, I would recommend one of the "Battlefield: Bad Company" games.

If you've made your way through these steps, the intimidation of gaming should be completely gone. Hopefully you've found a new hobby along the way. Obviously you don't need to pay any attention to my suggestions, you can go straight to the FPS games if you like. You might not need the "warm up" like I did. Regardless of how you do it, I recommend you to play the games I've mentioned, they are all pretty darn good.

Furthermore, if you have a friend or partner to join up with, there a some great co-op games out there. And also, there are many more genres to discover, such as sports games, racing games, roleplaying games, interactive games (singing, dancing, music), strategy games etc. And if you are really brave, you can go online and get you butt whopped by 13-year olds.

What lies in my gaming future? In December I will be back at Fry's, buying Uncharted 3, which I expect to be the game of the year. Eventually, I also want to beat my husband in any racing game, at least once. I might try some roleplaying games and hopefully I will fine-tune my already acquired skills. I loved playing Black-Ops (COD) on Hard. Next time I get my hands on a good FPS, I might even go Veteran.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Music to my ears

Good music. Sometimes it's about discovering new music. Sometimes it's about discovering old music. Too seldom is it about reevaluating music you already know.

Usually you tend to hear a song and instinctively have an opinion about it. You might like it, dislike it, love it or hate it.

There are a multitude of different artist out there. Some aim at pleasing the masses and some choose to stay alternative. I've always listened to radio and been subjected to lots of radio-hits. My husband, on the other hand, has listened to a very broad spectrum of different genres, radio-hits as well as alternative music. 7 years ago he opened a door to a whole new world of music, and I was reluctant to walk through it. But now, 7 years later, I've somehow (unbeknown to me) made my way to the other side.

This became very apparent when we went on a road-trip recently. My husband has been a huge Björk fan for years. I've always found her music somewhat random. When we started dating he tried to show me the wonder that is Björk. I didn't really buy into it. In summary, he hasn't been playing too much Björk in the recent years.

But, on our road-trip my husband brought a Björk CD. One of her songs I didn't mind too much came on. I instantly recognized the song, but I was chocked to realized how much I liked it. When I came back home I listened to it again, just to make sure I actually liked it as much as I thought. And I did. I even dare to say it's one of the better ballads of all time. It's amazing (especially the chorus).

We grow constantly. We grow older, our lives change, our priorities shift, we grow new interests and preferences. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has seen a rerun of an old childhood favorite movie or series and wondered why I used to like it. Why would our taste in music be stagnant?

I leave you with one of the best ballads ever written and I challenge you to rediscover and reevaluate something, something that deserves a second chance.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Laser and the Botox

Courtesy of Groupon, I've been a customer at "The Laser and Cosmetic Center" in Los Gatos. It's not nearly as juicy as it sounds, just some heavily discounted laser hair removal. I'm lucky to be blessed with limited body hair (as many of my ethnic Chinese people), but I still don't think it's haha-funny to shave. The Groupon gave me three discounted sessions and I've just finished my last one.

I'm not going to write a detailed description about laser hair removal, even though it has been a very good and interesting experience. Maybe I'll write something about it when I've seen the final result, who knows? Instead I would like to focus on what happened at my last appointment.

The beauty technician who was going to do the procedure was not the same lady I saw during my previous visits. We said our hellos and chit chatted for a while. When we were about to get started, she took a look in my file and made a comment about me turning 30 soon (not that soon if you ask me). Then she leaned in and took a close look at my face and asked me if I've been using Botox!

Either she thought I was well preserved for my age or she thought I had an emotionless, windtunnel looking appearance. Obviously I chose to believe I'm well preserved!

A cosmetic center was the last place I thought I would get validation for my looks and a ego-boost, especially without wearing make-up under florescent lighting. If I see a Groupon for Botox, I know I won't be buying it. It's better left for those who need it!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Eurovision, a final note

It's been almost a week since the Eurovision Song contest finale, and there is a reason why I haven't written about it until now. There is nothing to write about. Well, actually there are plenty of things worth mentioning, but in the end of the day, I'm far from excited enough to put in the effort.

Ell & Nikki from Azerbaijan won the song contest. My feeling is that they won because they had an ok song, not great, but good enough to score some points from most of the countries voting. But I doubt there were passionate enthusiasts out there. All in all, I'm going to enjoy listening to the song in my car, but it's a pity they won. They didn't bring anything new to the table, they weren't that special at all. I had them as my 10th favorite song.

Sweden came in 3rd place, which was good news I guess. But since Eric Saade wasn't my favorite in the Swedish qualification competition, I'm happy about his success solely from a patriotic point of view. However, my happiness is also followed by some worry. I already think there are too many mainstream club songs in the Swedish competition and I worry we will see even more of it next year.

Unlike most of the previous years, I liked several of the songs in the finale. Unfortunately, my top 10 songs all did pretty badly. Of my favorite 10 songs only 5 actually made it to the top 10. My top 3 did horribly! I loved France, Germany and Finland, but they ended up 15th, 10th and 23rd. I also happened to really like Switzerland who ended up in last place! So, I'm not happy about the overall result, but I am very much looking forward to the arrival of my Eurovision CD.

The most memorable things I will bring with me from this year's competition was Kseniya Simonova. She competed for Ukraine. Not as a singer, songwriter or musician, but as a sand artist. She won Ukraine's X-factor and no wonder why! She is a true wonder!

As a final remark of this year's Eurovision Song Contest, I leave you with a video of Kseniya Simonova and one of her performances in X-factor.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Eurovision Song Contest 2011

It's Eurovision time!!

One of the cultural highlights of the year is less than a week away. On Saturday, May 14th, all of Europe is invited to Dusseldorf and the Eurovision Song Contest! This year, 43 European countries are competing. Five countries (Germany, France, United Kingdom, Spain and Italy) have a guaranteed spot in the Grand Finale, but for the other 38 countries a fierce semifinal stands between them and their chance to victory. Ten countries from each semifinal, who receives most points, will advance to Saturday. The amount of points are dependent on jury votes as well as public votes.

The first semifinal will take place on Tuesday and the second one on Thursday. Because of the sheer amount of countries and artists, I will not provide you with a detailed introduction to them all. I will however let you know which ones I'd like to see in the finale. I will not present my list in order, since I haven't quite made up my mind yet.
You can see all of the artists and their songs on:

Semifinal One (Country/ Song title/ Artist)
Azerbaijan/Running Scared/ Ell & Nikki
Finland/ Da Da Dam/ Paradise Oskar
Hungary/ What About My Dreams?/ Kati Wolf
Malta/ One Life/ Glen Vella
Norway/ Haba Haba/ Stella Mwangi
Poland/ Jestem/ Magdalena Tul
Russia/ Get You/ Alexej Vorobjov
San Marino/ Stand by/ Senit
Serbia/ Caroban/ Nina
Switzerland/ In Love for a While

Semifinal Two
Bulgaria/ Na Inat/ Poli Genova
Cyprus/ san Aggelos S'Agapisa/ Christos Mylordos
Denmark/ New Tomorrow/ A Friend in London
Estonia/ Rockefeller Street/ Getter Jaani
F.Y.R. Macedonia/ Rusinka/ Vlatko Ilievski
Ireland/ Lipstick/ Jedward
Israel/ Ding Dong/ Dana International
Moldova/ So Lucky/ Zdob si Zdub
Sweden/ Popular/ Eric Saade
The Netherlands/ Never Alone/ 3JS

Disclaimer: This is what I want, not necessarily what I believe will be the result. Also, a lot can change once I've seen their live performance. More often than not, there is a huge discrepancy between a produced music video and a live performance.

Even if I have listed 10 countries/ songs/ artists from each semifinal, it doesn't mean I think all of them are good. Actually I only have a handful of favorites. It's is important to me that Switzerland, Ireland, Hungary, Denmark, Finland and Norway make it to the finale. And Sweden of course, but that's all about patriotism and not necessarily about song quality.

Equally important as which song I want to see in the finale, are the song I never want to see again. This year's worst songs are Portugal, Belarus, Belgium and Romania.

There is nothing wrong about being political, but the Portugese song is feels like a joke, like they are mocking this wonderful song competition by not taking it seriously. The song from Belarus is political as well, and it's packaged in a nice Euro-Techno package, but it's so blatantly political that's it's difficult to see beyond it.

Belgium's problem is of a different kind. They can't sing, not individually or in harmony. They are not unique in that aspect, there are quite a few artists in the competition with questionable skills. However, it poses a bigger problem when you are singing a capella. If their studio produced version sounded as horrible as it did, I don't even want to imagine the live performance.

So, why is Romania on the "worst-songs-list"? The guys are pretty, they can sing and the melody is quite comfortable. But I can't get over the text! There is cheesy and then there is Bruno Mars cheesy. I know I might be the only person on this planet who can't stand "Just the way you are", but there is a thing as too much cheese (never in food, but definitely in music). And if I pick a song as one of the worst, in this specific competition, just because it has cheesy lyrics, it say a lot about how bad it is! Make sure to listen carefully! Yuks!

This is going to be a very exciting Saturday. I have some favorites in each of the semifinals, but there are also some top contenders among the songs already qualified for the grand finale. But more about that later. I hope you'll enjoy a week full of the good, the bad and the ugly that is Eurovision!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

New York, New York

I just came back from New York. I had never been there before. I had VERY high expectations and the city didn't disappoint.

My husband and I took the Thursday red-eye flight to Newark. We arrived 8 am on Friday morning, checked in at The New York Palace on Madison Ave (50th/51st) and off we went. Instead of describing every single thing we did in NY, I'll just list the sights we saw and write very shortly about a few things worth mentioning. Also, you can see our trip in pictures:

The New York Palace
Grand Central Station
Battery Park/Statue of Liberty
Charging Bull
Wall Street
NY Stock Exchange
Federal Reserve
Ground Zero
World Financial Center
City Hall Park
Little Italy
Brooklyn Bridge
Brooklyn Heights
Rockefeller Center
Time Square
New York Pizza
Bryant Park/New York Public Library
United Nations Headquarters
Broadway Show/The Phantom of the Opera
St Patricks Cathedral
Saks Fifth Avenue
Empire State Building
Madison Square Park
Union Square
Washington Square Park
Greenwich Village

There is one obvious point of interest we totally missed. As you can see, we never made it to Central Park. Not because we didn't want to, but my poor husband was struck by a high fever and that in combination with hotel check-out made us have to sacrifice almost an entire day. But now we have even more reasons to return to New York asap.

The New York Palace
It was a great hotel, but more than anything, the location was perfect. If you're looking to stay at a hotel that offers old New York glamour and luxury this is a very good option. This 5-star hotel is located on Madison Ave, between 50th and 51st street, across the street from St. Patrick's Cathedral. It's only a block away from Saks Fifth Avenue and only a 4 min walk to Rockefeller Center. The room was very spacious and they had a great and well equipped complimentary gym. I'm usually not the one to pack gym cloths, but when something is "free" (or included), why not give it a try?

There is some debate about which Chinatown is the largest in USA, the one in San Francisco or the one in New York. After doing some research, it seems like the one in San Francisco is the larger one. Having spend quite significant amount of time in Chinatown in SF I can't help but to compare. Given that I've only been to Chinatown in New York once, the first impression is that the NY Chinatown is less commercialized and less of a tourist attraction. Chinatown in SF draws tons of tourists and one of the main roads (Grant Ave) is aimed solely towards the curious visitors. If you are in SF and want to experience the "real Chinatown" I would urge you to walk Stockton St and it's surrounding streets and make that your main focus.

The NY Chinatown has a more intimate atmosphere with many smaller roads where the SF Chinatown is focused mainly around two large streets (Grant Ave and Stockton St). One other difference is Chinese ethnicity. Just walking around I heard very little mandarin spoken in NY, where in SF it is very common. Else from that the sounds and smells are pretty much the same.

Rockefeller Center & Empire State Building
The city is famous for its city-scape and it's amazing standing on the street and looking up, but it's equally as exciting standing up high and looking down. Empire State Building is a true New York landmark. I believe most people visiting NY have the Empire State Building on their to do list. So did we. But because we lived so very close to Rockefeller Center and because we are fans of 30 Rock, we decided to do both towers. If you only have time to do one tower and you want a good view and be able to say that you have been to the Empire State Building, you should choose the Empire State Building. But if the view is the most important thing and you are in favor or shorter lines and a much more spacious observation deck, you should choose Rockefeller Center. If nothings else, you get a great view of the Empire State Building from Rockefeller Center.

New York Pizza
Where in the US do they serve the best pizza? This seems to be a much debated topic. As a Swede I've stayed away from this particular debate because I'm pretty sure nothing will taste as good as Swedish pizza. And on the few occasions I claim that to be true, I usually get laughed at, but it's only because people aren't familiar with the wonder that is Swedish pizza.

Especially people from New York seems to be particularly patriotic about their pizza, and I couldn't wait to find out what all the fuss is about. One of our New York friends gave us a very specific address and instruction on where, how and what to order. She sent us to Amadeus Pizza on 8th Ave, had us order a plain slice with some sprinkled parmesan cheese and garlic on top. We folded the slice in half and took a bite. Before taking a bite I thought to myself: "How good can this be? It's only marinara sauce and cheese" but I was wrong to doubt the pizza. It was awesome! Who knew a simple plain slice of pizza could pack so much flavor?! Best pizza I've had in US this far! But is it better than Swedish pizza..? Nah, not really.

Broadway show/The Phantom of the Opera
As a HUGE musical fan, I've wanted to see The Phantom of the Opera for ages. And where better to see it than on Broadway (and the West End)? The Phantom of the Opera is the longest running show in Broadway history. It's played at the Majestic, which is one of the largest theaters on Broadway. Even though it has been running since 1988 and performed well over 9500 times, the 1607 seats were pretty much all sold out the night we went.

Was it a good musical? Absolutely! Was is a great musical? No, not really. Was I disappointed? Yes, I was. The music was great, but rather than showing an abundance of different scores, it used the two main melodies over and over again. Maybe one reason to why I was disappointed was because I had high expectations. But then I always have high expectations when I go see a musical. If you are looking to see a big musical production, you are better off choosing one of the following: Miss Saigon, The Lion King or Les Miserable.

Greenwich Village
What a nice neighborhood! If I could afford to live in New York and finding an apartment wasn't a problem, I imagine I would be very happy living in this area. I think I liked it because it reminded me a bit of San Francisco and I do love San Francisco. And I think I love San Francisco because it reminds me of Europe, and I'm European. So much for discovering new things in life, right? This little "bohemian enclave" is a nice contrast to the mighty tall buildings of the financial and commercial Manhattan.

All in all, New York is an amazing and a fascinating city. I had mile high expectations before we sat foot in New York and now I have even higher expectations on our next trip there.

Don't forget to check out the pictures:

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In memory of a dear friend

It's the strangest thing, death. One moment you are here and the next you are gone. It's so simple but so very difficult to get your head around.

I write this in memory of a very dear friend, who lost his battle against cancer today.

He is not a friend I see very often, but I've known him my entire life. Or, actually he has known me my entire life. He's known both my parents before they knew each other. Technically, he would be categorized as friends of my parents, but I've always felt like he was my friend too. I have a feeling it's something I share with a lot of people. His warmth and charisma charmed everyone he came across. But unlike others who have hundreds of friends, he had hundreds of close friends rather than acquaintances. And unlike many who live without thought and passion, he truly lived his life to the fullest and enjoyed everything it had to offer. He who knew how to live, why wasn't he given more time?

Last time I saw him was in September 2009. He and his husband came to visit me and my parents and they took us to see the Gothenburg premier of "The Producers". Because they have many friends in the theatre business, we received the royal treatment. A wonderful performance, great seats followed by a dinner with the entire cast. But the greatest reason to see them again was to celebrate that his cancer was finally in remission. We celebrated the good news and looked forward to many more occasions to meet up. They were planning a trip around the world and he told be that next time we'll meet would most likely be in San Francisco.

When we said good bye I could never have imagined that it would be forever. Maybe it was a good thing. How do you say good bye to someone forever? It's not like saying "good bye, I will probably never see you again". And what would I have said if I knew?

My heart bleeds for his family, loved ones and everybody who has ever known him. Regardless of the who, how and why, he will be missed. And he left the world a much less colorful place.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Pliés, arabesques and an elephant

This week is the Bay Area National Dance Week. For a dance-loving creature like me, it means a week of heaven. Every day this week, dance studios all over the Bay Area give free classes. You can try everything from Bollywood-dancing to Pole-dancing.

I've taken plenty of dance classes in my days. But instead of focusing on one particular dance, I've tried a bunch of different styles. Because I'm a non-advanced dancer, I've mostly taken dance classes at the gym or adult education classes. They have been fun, but sometimes I would like to go to a Bollywood class without it being infused with aerobics or a belly-dancing class that would be more technically challenging.

There are a multitude of dance studios around. But it's always a gamble to take a class at a dedicated dance studio. They all have classes for "beginners", but the ones I've been to, I'm always the "most beginner". I went to one beginner's jazz class last fall. The people and atmosphere was really nice, but the dancers were "proper" dancers. The instructor was very nice and supportive and helped me a lot. But after the class I couldn't walk properly for about a week. Just leaning over my plate to eat was painful!

When I saw the ad for the Bay Area National Dance Week I got so excited. I thought, maybe people who are curious about dancing would go to these classes and try them out. Maybe people would take the opportunity to venture out of their comfort zone and do something they normally don't do. There must be more people out there like me! So I signed up for a 2-hour introductory ballet class. And off I went!

And now I'm back! I had a good time, but oh boy am I glad I have taken a couple of ballet classes before! The instructor told us what to do and we did what we were told. Simple enough. I knew how to point and flex my toes. I knew the five positions and I knew how to do them in plié. I understood what he ment when he instructed us to balance an arabesque. I even kinda understood what to do when I was told to do a chassé third to fourth position. I started to get really confused when I was told to do a set of tendus from fifth followed by a set of glissés and a couple of rond de jambes, finishing with a balace in passé.

Was I the most beginner? Yes I was. Was I the only non-ballerina who took the opportunity to try ballet. Yes I was. There were a few ballet dancers who's never danced at this studio before, but the big majority were regulars. I was neither, which was beyond obvious. The elephant in the room doesn't even begin to describe it!

I still enjoyed it. But I'm not going back. The hunt for the perfect fit continues. I'm still hoping there is a dance studio out there that will not only teach me to do a proper arabesque, but also explain what it is and show me how it's done.