As usual I don’t know much about or celebrate the Swedish holidays, other than gladly taking the days off they afford – especially now that I am paying attention (I started the year off with a bang – or should I say an alarm – by setting my company’s alarm off just after the new year – had no idea it was a holiday, so I have been careful to take note now).
This weekend we celebrate Valborg (“Walpurgis Night“). For me that means very little except maybe “hello, spring!” and time off. It’s welcome time off really… feel a need for recovery, kickstarting certain endeavors in earnest.
I am usually so dedicated to writing here every day, but if I go off track and don’t for a few days … this is why. Trying to adjust to new endeavors and routines.
I have previously written about the Souk Market in Charlottenberg in Sweden – a tiny town with a whole lot of very large supermarkets, mostly catering to Norwegians who cross the border to buy stuff in bulk. I had not been there in a while, but I planned to make a recipe that required pomegranate molasses (Persian pomegranate and lamb meatball soup).
Considering that I can’t find normal molasses most of the time, the idea that pomegranate molasses could be had (with multiple brand and container-sizer options) in the smallest of towns in rural Sweden seemed laughable. But having been to – and been overwhelmed by – the Souk Market before, I knew it represented my best chance. Imagine my delight when I found an entire section of the store filled with different kinds of molasses, including pomegranate as well as carob and grape, among others. Amazing.
pomegranate molasses from the Souk Market
Check out John Oliver‘s new gig on HBO – in the inaugural episode, he goes on a pomegranate-related tirade.
“Love is not a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” – Fred Rogers
Mr Fred Rogers on love
It’s no secret that I am a hater. Or at least a surface hater. That is, I am impatient, don’t like crowds, don’t like slow drivers, don’t like the people at the store who block the entire aisle or wait until their huge cartload of groceries is fully checked before getting out their debit card, or people who treat motorway onramps like that is the best possible place for viewing the scenery (i.e., going slow and not accelerating to the speed at which they need to go to merge). I don’t know why I am in such a hurry – but I just can’t fathom why other people are so myopic and inconsiderate – they go slowly (fine) but do so it seems largely because they think they are the only people in the store, on the road, in the world. Thus, I go through life a wee bit irritated, and I cope with this by making my little hate lists, or ranting briefly but not very seriously, about my annoyance. And then it’s done.
(I have never really met anyone who understood this – but when I did, I knew I met my match.)
Apart from this, I tried very hard today to keep things off the hate list. It was the most gorgeous day – warm, sunny, really indicative of why I live here. I had to go out to do a lot of errands, and I am not the biggest fan of Sunday driving in the country, particularly when the weather turns nice, Norwegians come to Sweden in droves – and worse yet, Germans and Dutch will soon arrive. But I kept my cool for the most part. I almost got mad in the grocery store because an old man kept getting in my way. But, despite not interacting with him, I tried to view him in a different light. He seemed to have gone to the store just to get out for a while – and in the end selected carefully and bought himself a bag of loose candy (which all Scandinavians seem to live for). Then he drove himself away at a snail’s pace in an old, original VW Bug. I had passed by the car in the parking lot wondering to whom it belonged (I was parked across the parking lot and had to put my groceries in the car and return my cart and somehow still ended up finishing before this old man got to the car). Once I saw him drive away – slower than slow – it was impossible for me to hate him. He probably owned that car since it was brand new (or at least that is how I like to imagine it). Imagining that he fired up the old car just to go get candy on a Sunday!
This shift in perspective was quite conscious – and although we did not, as I said, interact, acknowledging his humanity made a difference. When I got home, I stumbled on an article that reinforced the same underlying themes. We all follow unspoken social rules and don’t generally make eye contact or strike up conversations with strangers – and I must say unequivocally that this is almost an absolute in Sweden. This article, however, examines some evidence gathered by behavioral scientists who contend that interactions with strangers improve our mood – maybe first by forcing us into a “pretend friendly” mode – but usually by the end of the encounter, the pleasantries and positive interaction has created genuine positive feelings.
“One of the perks of being a behavioral scientist is that when your partner does something annoying, you can bring dozens of couples into the laboratory and get to the bottom of it. When Liz tested her hypothesis in a lab experiment, she discovered that most people showed the “Benjamin Effect”: They acted more cheerful around someone they had just met than around their own romantic partner, leaving them happier than they expected.
Many of us assume, however, that our well-being depends on our closest ties, and not on the minor characters in our daily lives. To investigate the validity of this assumption, our student Gillian M. Sandstrom asked people to keep a running tally of their social interactions.”
“Simply acknowledging strangers on the street may alleviate their existential angst; and being acknowledged by others might do the same for us.”
When I lived in the US, it was common courtesy to acknowledge someone passing you on the street while walking past. Maybe not in a big city but certainly in small to mid-sized towns. I never liked it much, but I made eye contact, said hello. It was so ingrained despite my dislike for it that I continued to do it after I moved to Iceland – but quickly learned to stop because I was looked at as though I had said something deeply offensive or threatened the other person. I have comfortably filed right into the sheep herd here in non-confrontational Scandinavia – sometimes it’s sad but it’s how I have always been (as a shy person). I have always relied on other people (and you could always rely on Americans – or even other members of my family, who fall far afield of anything resembling shyness) to make the first move.
Whatever the case, the casual can be difficult to deal with but I am actually a pretty sensitive, shy and loving person somewhere underneath. And when I do love I really love – whether that is a love for my friends, a partner or a cause. I become fiercely protective of those people and things. And, like the Mr Rogers quote above explains, I love actively – it is a constant state of accepting – I may not accept or like everything someone does, but that does not change that the love I feel is unconditional. I also love myself unconditionally, and sometimes that means that even if I do love someone, it is healthiest to move them out of my life – but even that won’t put conditions on how I feel about them. Their role just shifts.
It is all very complex but at the same time strikes me as very simple – whether it is accepting and even embracing the idiosyncracies of strangers in public places and seeing them as more human or loving and accepting those closest unconditionally.
I was trying to figure out what to do with a container of ricotta that was expiring. I almost feel a little bit spoiled by having easy access to ricotta, thinking back to the years in Iceland when it was a rarity. Or to when my Italian friend came to visit me from Iceland and thought about taking several containers of it back with her because it’s just not something you can count on finding in Iceland (and if you do, it’s probably already expired).
I also had a bunch of meat. I found a “suggestion” on a website – ricotta-filled meatballs. The site did not really provide a recipe – just suggestions, so I went my own way with it. Unfortunately, upon cooking, the ricotta oozed out – but since I like the word “ooze”, I will pretend I don’t mind.
I also don’t have exact quantities here, but my method (as much as madness):
One container ricotta
Some grated Romano cheese
Chopped fresh basil
Make small balls of the mixture and put them on a parchment-lined baking sheet – pop the sheet in the freezer for an hour.
frozen ricotta balls
1 or 2 eggs
One chopped onion
Chopped fresh parsley
Mix the meatball stuff together.
When the ricotta balls are ready/frozen, roll them into meatballs (small or large, your choice).
Ricotta-stuffed meatballs in the oven – pre-ooze
Put the meatballs in a parchment-lined baking dish and bake at 200-220C (about eight minutes on each side). If you’re lucky the ricotta will not explode right out the side.
I am going to cool these and freeze them for use at a later time.
The idea of volunteering may exist to some degree everywhere but, in the US, volunteering seems to be in the blood. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics even publishes an annual report on the state of volunteerism in the US. It reports that more than 25 percent of Americans actively volunteer in one capacity or another. A 2013 Gallup poll puts the numbers even higher, with 65 percent of Americans claiming to volunteer and more than 80 percent practicing some form of charitable giving. The tendency to think that voluntary organizations/charities will take care of everything seems to be a uniquely American (and sort of puritanical/conservative) way of looking at things. I suppose it comes down to the American obsession with doing things for oneself and the desire to pay the least amount of tax possible as well as the tendency for Americans to be quite active in church/religious activities, which are often charitable in nature.
Volunteer organizations and efforts spring up as a result, and there is a value placed on volunteer experience. Not just internships that are often required when a person goes to university – but just volunteering as a separate endeavor from one’s work or personal life. The volunteer mindset and philosophy is ingrained. When I was in school and later when I was just living and working, the idea of volunteering time at organizations that needed unpaid help somehow appealed to the part of me that obsesses over continuous learning.
I had this discussion many times in particular with French people. My ex-boyfriend (a Frenchie) could not comprehend why I was volunteering spare time – my own free time – to basically donate labor to organizations that should be supported, in his mind, by public funding. While I might have agreed with him about what functions governments should provide, in the absence, I saw nothing amiss or “wasteful” about giving my time to further some cause or help someone else. Granted, some volunteering is not necessarily a tangible “help”. Being a volunteer art-museum docent does not have the hands-on, immediate value that cooking in a soup kitchen or building housing for low-income families does. But it’s not always about that kind of obvious help. It’s also about education, culture and getting something from what you give. When I volunteered at an art museum, for example, I gained experience, knowledge and skills that I would never get elsewhere. In those situations, the volunteer is not just giving – aside from the general sense of “doing something good”, there is always some kind of payoff.
Volunteering for Americans encompasses a kind of pride and mutual promise of giving and getting. A nation that has major federal programs, entirely based on volunteering, such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and Senior Corps, must be at least somewhat driven by the idea put forth by John F Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
It’s not only in America that volunteering exists – it’s just not woven into the fabric of everyday life everywhere else. Recently I applied to be a volunteer board member for a few public entities in Glasgow, Scotland. This is yet another kind of volunteering – I thought the experience would be quite valuable and I knew I would provide a very different perspective to the boards to which I applied (I was invited to interview for one of them but then my situation changed, and regrettably I could not attend). This was not a lowly “scrub-the-floor” kind of volunteer experience but instead one in which experienced professionals were expected to bring expertise and ideas to the table – and still voluntary (with some travel costs reimbursed). I regret not being able to do it because I actually thought it, like most of my past volunteer experiences, would be enriching.
On a similar note, in a relatively recent Forbes article, Baby Boomers were in focus as not volunteering as much as they should or could – or as much as other parts of the American population. Volunteer organizations, apparently, are finally starting to catch on that they need to target the retired and retiring Baby Boomers to capture their experience and skills. The contention is that Boomers want to do something meaningful and results-oriented with their volunteer time rather than something like stuffing envelopes or making phone calls.
“According to the Volunteering in the United States survey, “providing professional or management assistance, including serving on a board or committee” is the second most popular form of volunteering for Americans over 55, after “collecting, preparing, distributing or serving food.”
I suppose, aside from that stubborn “we can do it ourselves” kind of attitude, there is also a “we’re in this together” attitude that leads to volunteering and the types of people who put themselves out there as volunteers. We don’t have to wait for some official entity to qualify our idea as worthwhile – we can start our own initiative (or join one we believe in and want to give our time to).
Over the years I have become better at glossing over details – realizing that people don’t need to know all the details of everything. I have always been private about some things, but at some level and in some situations, it always feels like I need to go into detail when in fact, it would be just as well to gloss over details.
Speaking of gloss, I have been looking into different pink lip glosses recently. I did some research and was nearly ensnared at an airport duty-free store (as I always am by lip treatments). I chose nothing but as it turns out a friend in France chose a variety and sent them to me. Now all the experimentation can begin!
Pile of pink lipgloss to try
And what would any discussion of lipgloss be without a song of the same name?
I have written about ANZAC Day and ANZAC biscuits before. And more than that, I have baked ANZAC biscuits almost more than I have baked any other kind of cookie. You can find my recipe in the link above and make some for yourself. They are easy, probably healthier than a lot of other kinds of cookies (full of yummy oats!), quite flavorful and they keep well for longer periods of time than most other cookies. Make some now – you won’t regret it! And I won’t be bringing you any ANZACs since baking just has not happened for me much this year. So instead I can just acknowledge that it’s ANZAC Day and post a picture.
Part of this is just a lack of motivation for it. Part of it is also the occasional freelance project that pops up now and again. I have a normal full-time job that is relatively stimulating and busy – and I learn a lot. But having owned a small business for a very long time and having lived solely on freelance work alone, I find it is impossible to say no to freelance work. Not just because I always feel that old pull of “feast or famine”/you never know when your next job will come but also because it’s a challenge – it keeps the brain agile, putting together new things, learning new industries and jargon (never quite becoming a specialist). And the bottom line – I am never saying yes to things I don’t ultimately really enjoy. That often means working through weekends and nights – stuff that “normal” people are not that keen to do. The Salon article cited above captured all the feelings and experiences of being a freelancer – and never off the clock, and how that is both a blessing and a curse.
“If I love doing something, spending more time on it isn’t a chore. I’m not oppressed because I work all the time. I’m fortunate. What more could I wish for? I get paid to do everything I do. My actualization is monetized. I’ve won capitalism.
Nice as winning capitalism is, though, it’s also somewhat unsettling. In an economy more and more focused on cultural production, the line between producer and consumer and marketer just about disappears. Writers throughout history have often simultaneously exulted and despaired at the way that their lives turn into their art, but having your life turn into a content mill seems like a new, unpleasantly banal twist. Even happy cogs are still cogs — working all the better because they’re happy, and willing to turn all the time.”
“Culture jamming is an intriguing form of political communication that has emerged in response to the commercial isolation of public life. Practitioners of culture jamming argue that culture, politics, and social values have been bent by saturated commercial environments, from corporate logos on sports facilities, to television content designed solely to deliver targeted audiences to producers and sponsors. Many public issues and social voices are pushed to the margins of society by market values and commercial communication, making it difficult to get the attention of those living in the “walled gardens” of consumerism. Culture jamming presents a variety of interesting communication strategies that play with the branded images and icons of consumer culture to make consumers aware of surrounding problems and diverse cultural experiences that warrant their attention.
Many culture jams are simply aimed at exposing questionable political assumptions behind commercial culture so that people can momentarily consider the branded environment in which they live. Culture jams refigure logos, fashion statements, and product images to challenge the idea of “what’s cool,” along with assumptions about the personal freedoms of consumption. Some of these communiqués create a sense of transparency about a product or company by revealing environmental damages or the social experiences of workers that are left out of the advertising fantasies. The logic of culture jamming is to convert easily identifiable images into larger questions about such matters as corporate responsibility, the “true” environmental and human costs of consumption, or the private corporate uses of the “public” airwaves.”
This sort of “jam” rather than “yam” is pretty cool although I am not particularly creative enough to go down this road. I just thought it would be fun to revisit the blog my group created over a year ago. My post naturally went way over the word limits but did get to incorporate the Yes Men – love them!
And rather randomly connected with one of the guys from culture jamming musical pioneers, Negativland, thanks to knowing something about culture jamming.