Nationaldagen 2018: Citizenship Ceremony!

Nationaldagen in Sweden is much more low-key than the American equivalent. It mostly just seems like an excuse to have a red day when the weather’s nice.


For immigrants it means that you get invited to Blå hallen at Stadshuset for speeches and music.

The music at the American version would be a bunch of old standards: some Sousa, maybe “God Bless America” or “America the Beautiful” or something similar, and of course the national anthem. Sweden opts for a selection from a musical written by half of ABBA and a schlager hit from 1979’s Melodifestivalen (in addition, of course, to “Du gamla du fria”). This is a kind of patriotism I can get behind!

Fika (one (1) kanelbulle and one (1) tiny cup of coffee or lingonberry juice) came after the speeches and the music, up in the “Golden Hall,” so called because every single inch of wall and ceiling space is covered in gold (gold-colored anyway) Medieval-style mosaics. I couldn’t get many good pictures, but this is the best one:

As in, the best picture I got and but also as in, features one of my favorite figures from Swedish history, Drottning Kristina. She was a bug-eyed weirdo super-smart lesbian (?) with wild hair who spoke eight languages, never married and after a couple years of ruling as queen regent, converted to Catholicism and peaced out to Vatican city, abdicating the throne to her cousin. A royal fit for pride month!

Here’s some from Wikipedia that are much better:

They had organ music for the post-ceremony fika. I didn’t pay too much attention to it until we were on our way out, when something about the tune struck me as familiar. It hit me and my boyfriend at the same moment and we looked at each other. He was the first to say it:

“Isn’t this…’I Will Survive’?”

Yes, the renowned Swedish diva Gloria Gaynor!

On the way out I got an envelope with free tickets to Skansen and a gift bag from the economics and law student union that had some brochures and a basil plant. There’s no way I’ll ever be a member of the economics and law student union, but the fresh basil was lovely in the salad I made for dinner later that week.

Part of me was anxious the whole time; it’s an election year here in Sweden and everyone’s real upset about immigration, so it would have been a whole room full of sitting ducks for some kind of giant terrorist THING to make some kind of point or other, and security was essentially non-existent. But a bunch of cops and metal detectors would have ruined the atmosphere. Dålig stämning. That would be very un-Swedish. I guess it’s very un-Swedish (and very American) of me to think that way. Sigh.

Some things take a little getting used to.

Happy 2018! New Year, New Word

Happy New Year, readers and friends! Whether you’re tackling a new language, writing a new book, or pursuing continuing education, I hope 2018 is a year that brings you closer to your personal goals.

There are two things that I do instead of New Year’s resolutions. One of them is a longer-term project: the 101 Things in 1001 Days project. (I’m due to be wrapping up a current list in May, so more about that later.) The other is an annual project, but rather than one of those hyper-focused, driven-for-success SMART goals that life coaches and trainers like to talk about, it’s just a word.

I started doing this in 2016 and I’ve found it to be low-stakes enough to be not stressful, and focused enough that it’s brought pretty substantial improvements in my day-to-day life that have persisted long after the new year.

In 2016 I chose the word “focus,” since everything in my life felt very scattered and, well, unfocused. This is to be expected when you’re a freelancer trying to pull from all streams (and even running an Etsy shop to boot), but it’s not really a productive feeling. Keeping that one little word in mind helped me to stay on task with what I needed to do, and reminded me to keep my digital and physical workspaces clear except for the tasks I needed to work on right now. It’s amazing how less stressed you feel when you go from a browser window with twelve or fifteen tabs open down to just four!

Last year my word was “courage,” a necessary trait after what was for me (and for the rest of the world) an overwhelming and discouraging 2016. I didn’t succeed as much as I would have liked with that word, but I still took risks and jumped on opportunities I would have normally let pass me by. I don’t know if I’m now any more courageous than I was at the beginning of the year, but we’ll see how this year plays out.

This year, I would love for things to quiet down a little so I can do some housekeeping and organizing. It’s also gearing up to be a big year for me for other reasons: it’s mid-term elections back in the US and my first chance to vote as a Swedish citizen. With any luck, I’ll also be starting Stockholm University’s Kompletterande Pedagogisk Utbildning program, but I don’t want to jinx it. Regardless, 2018 will be a year with a lot going on, and in anticipation of that, the word and concept I chose to steer my life towards in 2018 is:

A peaceful grove of redwood trees in the afternoon sun, with "calm" in yellow calligraphy in the bottom right corner
Original photograph courtesy Sebastian Engler

Of course, just because I’m shooting for a calmer, more serene 2018 doesn’t mean I won’t be taking on any new work! It’s more a word about my daily habits and deciding which ones enrich my life and which ones just send me into an unnecessary spiral of nerves and worries. Even in Sweden, a country built for introverts, interacting with the world as an introverted freelancer can really take it out of you.

Are you going to choose a word for 2018? I’d love for you to tell me about it in the comments or on Twitter.

Spring 2017: The Return of the Sun


I didn’t realize until I moved to Stockholm just how much my mood is affected by daylight hours. Sure, it’s easy to look at a globe and see where Sweden is and know that the winters will be dark, as an abstract point of fact—it’s not as easy to really understand what that means on a daily basis from around Halloween to around, well, today. It’s been a grim 2017 so far, but not entirely without hope. Hold on to that hope, and let it warm you like the summer sun that we’ll be seeing in no time.

Friday 5: Yule Never Be Alone


About how many family Christmas photo-cards did you receive this year*?

I get why people do the annual “family photo holiday card,” and I’m happy to have photographs of my friends on hand, but it’s a tradition that will never appeal to me as a sender.

This year I got at least three photo-cards. I may have gotten one or two more than that, but that’s it.
About how many family Christmas newsletters did you receive this year?

This is a holiday tradition I like a little better. Not surprising, I guess, considering my penchant for words and language! I don’t ever write one, though. Different people hear from me at differing intervals, so I tend to address holiday cards personally, based on how often I talk to the recipient and how much they know about what’s going on in my life.

I didn’t receive many “state of the friend” letters in cards this year. I know I got at least two, but there might be one or two I’m forgetting.
What do you do with the Christmas photo-cards and newsletters you get each year?

The newsletters get filed under “correspondence,” along with notes from friends or family that get slipped in with care packages and the odd snail mail letter.

The photo-cards get tacked up on the wall next to my desk. This is actually the first year I’ve received photo-cards (in the past it’s been just regular cards). I’m not sure if I’ll keep them up, or if I’ll file them away somewhere. The nicest cards (according to my arbitrary rules of taste) stay up on the wall. The others I hoard because one day I will make a garland or bunting with the ones that aren’t quite as pretty.

I have a couple of artist friends and I love when they send doodles or drawings in the cards. I will always sacrifice a greeting card for the sake of displaying their original art!
What’s a good solution for singles who want to participate in this tradition without coming across as a loser?

Just do it, because there’s nothing loser-y about sending out photo-cards or newsletters as a single person?
About how many old-school, hand-addressed Christmas cards did you receive this year?

Oh man, maybe about two dozen? I participate in an online holiday card exchange so I got a lot from strangers and near-strangers, in addition to the ones from my friends.

* Yeah, yeah. It was last year, but you know what I mean

Heart Idioms for Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day, if you’re celebrating it! Or are you suffering from heartache and a broken heart? Maybe you’re stone-hearted, or your heart just isn’t in it.  Maybe you’re lucky enough to be spending it with someone who makes your heart skip a beat, or has a heart of gold. No matter your situation, know that I’m wishing you a happy Valentine’s Day from the bottom of my heart!

In no particular order, here are some of my other favorite heart-related expressions.

1. Sing/cry/dance/[verb] one’s heart out.

Simple enough: [verb] as much as you like! See also: “[verb] as much as your little heart desires” and “[verb] to your heart’s content.” For example: Suzie sang her heart out at karaoke last night. I’ve never seen her have so much fun!

2. “Eat your heart out.”

“Eat” is one of the few verbs that doesn’t quite fit in the “[verb] your heart out” pattern. It’s a way to boast or brag: “I got the lead role in the play, Jimmy. Eat your heart out!” John taunted his rival.

Generally speaking, we only use it to directly address and command someone.

3. Wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve.

Someone who is expressive and honest with their feelings (sometimes without intending to be), though they can also be a little too sensitive. I always know when Robin’s upset. She wears her heart on her sleeve.

4. Have a heart-to-heart.

To have a serious and important conversation with someone. Joe and Sam were angry at each other, but after a long heart-to-heart they became friendly again.

5. “My heart bleeds for you.”

Like “Eat your heart out,” this idiom is also a fixed expression in English. It’s usually a sarcastic way to tell someone that you don’t care, or that you think their problem is silly and trivial. Oh, you have to drive your Mercedes because your Jaguar is in the shop? My heart bleeds for you!

Sometimes people will use it to mean that they are genuinely upset or distraught over someone else’s situation, but there are a lot of other phrases in English to express condolences that aren’t used sarcastically, so it might be better to choose one of those instead.

6. A man/woman after one’s own heart.

To express that you approve of something that someone does, implying that you do (or would do) the same thing. You like spending Sundays in your pajamas and watching movies? A woman after my own heart!

7. Not have the heart to [verb]

When you really, really don’t want to do something, usually because it might upset someone else or because you’re upset about it. I don’t have the heart to tell Erica her cat ran away. Can you do it?

8. Find it in one’s heart to [verb]

To be emotionally/psychologically able to do something. Usually this is finished with the verb phrase “to forgive someone.” I’m sorry I lied to you. Can you find it in your heart to forgive me?

9. “Cross my heart . . . “

This is mostly used by children in its full length form: “Cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye if I lie.” (And there are a bunch of variations on it, if you feel like Googling!) It’s a promise that the speaker isn’t lying. Once in a while you run into an adult who will just use “cross my heart” as a shorthand, similarly to “Swear to God!” I didn’t steal your wallet. Cross my heart!

Easter Idioms for Kristi himmelsfärdsdag (Ascension)

Yesterday, Christians across the world celebrated Ascension, known here in Sweden as Kristi himmelsfärsdsdag: the date of Christ’s ascension into heaven on the fortieth day after Easter. Unlike in the United States, Ascension is observed as a national holiday. The religious nature of yesterday (well, not here; Swedes just love an excuse for a long weekend in spring!) got me thinking about all of the expressions we use in English courtesy of Christianity and the Bible, particularly related to the story of Easter.

You’ll find plenty of lists online of “Christian idioms” or “Biblical idioms,” but many of them are more like explanations of outdated language often encountered in the Bible rather than references or turns of phrase still used today. Here are a few, all related to the Easter story, that are still in contemporary use.

A cross to bear 

The image of Christ carrying his cross to Golgotha has remained in English as a metaphor for an unpleasant duty to fulfill, or a burden one has to carry. Most commonly misheard, in “kiss this guy” style, as “cross-eyed bear” in Alanis Morisette’s You Oughta Know.

And I’m here to remind you
of the mess you left when you went away.
It’s not fair to deny me
Of the cross I bear that you gave to me.
You, you, you oughta know.

(“It’s not to fair to deny me of the cross I bear…” is a little awkward; it should be “It’s not fair to deny me the cross I bear…” but the extra “of” helps the rhythm so there it is.)

If we want to emphasize that the issue at hand is especially difficult, we might talk about a heavy or difficult cross to bear. Either way, it’s not a bear with eye problems.

Misheard Alanis Morisette lyric: cross I bear and cross-eyed bear.
Original bear courtesy Yathin sk.

When something is a cross to bear, the suggestion is that it’s a life-long issue, or at least for an extended period of time. Managing an addiction, dealing with trauma, getting over a past relationship (as is the case in You Oughta Know), or living with a chronic illness is someone’s cross to bear. A trip to the grocery store when it’s full of people is not a cross to bear. Nor are the heavy groceries you have to carry back home or to the car.



Speaking of crosses, we often use the verb crucify (to be hung from a cross in the Roman style) to describe being the object of public outrage and derision, or of persecution. Generally speaking, crucify is often used to describe the public’s desire to see a figure suffer.

Christ, you know it ain’t easy.
You know how hard it can be.
The way things are going
they’re going to crucify me.
“The Ballad of John and Yoko,” John Lennon

Why do we crucify ourselves
every day?
I crucify myself;
nothing I do is good enough for you.
Crucify myself
every day,
and my heart is sick of being in chains.

“Crucify,” Tori Amos


A doubting Thomas

This is another expression from the story of Easter. Anyone who is skeptical or suspicious can be a doubting Thomas (even a woman!). Here is the story, from the gospel of John:

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus[a]), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

Thomas’s skepticism earned him the eternal nickname (in English) of “doubting Thomas.” More specifically, a doubting Thomas is someone who requires physical evidence of a belief or assertion rather than just taking it on faith. To call someone a doubting Thomas isn’t necessarily rude, but it’s usually intended in a mildly disparaging manner—like the doubting Thomas is someone who has overly stringent standards, or someone who should learn to trust other people.

“Don’t be such a doubting Thomas! I tried this recipe before and it’s delicious, I promise.”

No, not that Thomas. // courtesy HiT Entertainment
No, not that Thomas. // courtesy HiT Entertainment



Now if being a doubting Thomas isn’t an entirely awful thing, being a Judas definitely is. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Easter, Judas was the disciple who betrayed Christ for 30 silver coins. He’s also anyone who betrays you.

Just like Julius Caesar
was betrayed by Brutus.
Who’d think an accountant
would turn out to be my Judas?

“Betrayed,” from The Producers (Mel Brooks)


To wash your hands of something

This is an image that came to English via the story of Pontius Pilate condemning Christ and has later been reinforced through Shakespeare’s Macbeth. In the Easter story, Pontius Pilate offers the crowd a chance to spare Christ, but they refuse and insist he release Barabbas instead.

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished. And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” For he knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.

They said, “Barabbas!”

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”

Then the governor said, “Why, what evil has He done?”

But they cried out all the more, saying, “Let Him be crucified!”

When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it.”

And over a thousand years later, Lady Macbeth attempts to wash her hands as a means of assuaging her guilt over the murder of Duncan.

Out, damned spot! Out, I say! … What, will these hands ne’er be clean?

If you wash your hands of something, it means that you no longer wish to be associated with it in any way, and that you no longer wish to have responsibility for it.

This typically happens when you’re completely and totally frustrated with something, or possibly tinged with guilt over it. Since we opened with a lyric from Alanis Morisette, let’s bookend things and close with one, too: Hands Clean.

We’ll fast forward to a few years later
and no one knows except the both of us.
And I have honored your request for silence
And you’ve washed your hands clean of this.

And there you have it! Enjoy your long weekend!