Sweden 9

Yesterday, Friday, we went to Gränna, a beautiful town just north and east of Jönköping where they specialize in a candy called polkagris, kind of like peppermint sticks but the flavors will vary. We didn't take any pictures of this candy on this trip because every place we visited the folks who actaully make the candy behind a viewing glass were on break. So on the next visit we'll supply photos. This photo is of Gränna from atop the mountain looking down. Way off in the distance you'll see an island (that we'll visit later in the summer, too, so pictures of it are forthcoming) called Visingsö. I'll also write about its colorful story in a later post once we've actually been on it. To get there, you have to take a färja, or ferry. At the center of the picture above, you see the U-shaped harbor from where the ferry leaves. On the left of the U is a tiny white spec, the light house seen in the following pictures. That's a lot of walking.
From left to right (in case you've forgotten what they look like), Lukas, Mikah, and Anneli in Gränna. Note the height of the lighthouse door for a later picture.
He didn't much care for his Coca Cola popcicle that he'd got originally, so Mikah traded with Tina for this ice cream cone; though he loved the ice cream, he did make a mess (duh!), and it didn't help that he started munching on the cone from the bottom up.
Moments later, he saw a size of cone and scoops that he would've much preferred.
Here's why I asked you to take note of the height of the door earlier, for the sake of perspective. Lukas climbed fairly high, considering that just to his right and left there was water.
And not to be outdone, here's Mikah: that saying to a tee: Monkey see, monkey do. And just so you all won't think they're chicken, the two of them would've climbed all the way to the top except that I was the one clucking.
Here's Lukas with one of his long lost Swedish relatives. Can you see the resemblance?

And not to be outdone, I had to pose with the troll too: Monkey see, monkey do, right? And stop it before you say it, Charles: I do not look more like him than Lukas.
Okay, aside from the polkagris that is made in Gränna, there is also another reason to visit, a restaurang (the spelling for restaurant) at the top of the mountain. Two things make this a very special place to eat. One, the räk och lax smörgås (a variation on the räk smörgås I've written about earlier that is all shrimp)--shrimp and salmon, in this case. Delicious! Two, if you're willing and able or just a knucklehead, you can take the steps up to the restaurant, which I did not on this trip but a previous one (239 of them, count them yourself if you don't believe me) when my father-in-law said he and my mother-in-law were going to park the car and then come up. They took Lukas with them, fortunately for us, because it is a steep and long climb. Again, well worth it, but still, I was living in deep South Texas then, now in Lubbock, both super flat, and here they were, making me climb. Not this time, though. We convinced Anneli to drive the back way instead. And guess what? The food was just as tasty. No need to suffer for the cause.

And to end the trip, we went the back ways home, lots of curves and lots of farm land, and for Mikah, lots of sleeping. So tired was he that he fell asleep with a juice straw in his mouth.


Sweden 8

It was a few days ago this other work on the farm happened, but it's only been today or so that I've begun to get back feeling in my shoulders and arms. I take that back--I had feeling, but most of it had to do with lots and lots and lots of pain. This business of clearing a few fallen trees from the woods isn't easy, but I'd told my father-in-law that I was here to work in whatever work he needed me, and he took me up on it. Who knew that the work would be this hard? I mean, check out what was waiting for us (besides me, Ingemar and my father-in-law were there). A buck looking out for its mate. Can there be a better way to start? Now from here on in you'll notice that I don't have any shots of me actaully working, but you'll have to trust me. And here's something cool, I was allowed to use a chain saw. I got some quick training: on-off button (which I couldn't help switching to the off position (and here I know my brother will say, "René, you sly dog you, shutting that thing off to get what rest you could, you lazy bum, you." But I'll tell you what, I learned early on that I didn't quite have the knack that both my father-in-law and Ingemar had in yanking the cord and cutting the power on in one shot, nope, not me; I had to come up with a way of my own that oftentimes meant yanking that cord some ten times, so I'd only be making myself work more, not less, turning the thing off. Good try, little brother, but you've got to wake up much earlier than that to mess with this bird's early worm, or whatever.)), saw this way and that way, avoid trying to cut into rock or ground, and get at a limb way down close for pulling trees now cut down to logs out of forest that much easier. Oh, and lest we forget, don't mess with the power of the machine--it'll beat you every time. So in we went. It was only five or six downed trees we had to clear out of the woods (if we hadn't by June 1, there is danger of being fined if big brother comes around and sees you've not done the work, and worse, if the government don't get you, the bugs will). And let me tell you something else, these two seasoned woodsmen (one's sixty and the other's seventy), they're work horses, and me, I'm a work mouse. They kept going and going and going. I kept getting slower and slower and slower. Ingemar even tried making the last tree, the biggest of the lot, easier work for my by sending me to the crown of the tree where the limbs are really only branches, but even so I was stumped (excuse the pun). After a few hours of this non-stop business, we got done, and here's the proof. I'm the guy taking the picture. Farmer Lind, Ingemar, is on the phone, my father-in-law is on the right. And just so you won't think I'm talking baby trees here, I wanted you to see the girth on the biggest of the trees we worked on.
You can't tell by the picture but my hand's shaking from all the work. I'm telling you, I sweat on this one. And hurt for several days after. I still do sitting at this machine. But lest you think I am jaded about working, I'll leave you with this shot of a tiny flower that grows on the farm. I took it in spite of being dog-tired.


Sweden 7b

Lukas and I are at Texabo, my mother-in-law's farm from way way way back. We're trying to lift this impossibly heavy stone, called the drängalyft (that is, the farm hand's lift). It was the true test for a man looking for work on a farm. If a man could lift this stone, it was a sign he was strong enough and so he'd be hired on the spot. You can tell easy from this shot that I'd've died of hunger in Sweden if the only job available for a guy was that of farm hand. I'm doing a bit of research into this stone, how common it is across Sweden, the weight of it, etc. More to come.
And though Mikah loves his food, especially the godis (candy), I'm telling you, he is not trying to eat this dandelion. He's blowing on it so that the seeds can spread and next season morfar will have that many more weeds to mow.
We came to Sweden with swing in hand. But there aren't any medium-sized trees to be found. Not at the Barnarp house, anyway. There are the smaller and very colorful apple trees, and these mammoth ones. The ladder is extended to practically twice its original length. And guess who got to climb it and do all the work of putting up the swing? You guessed wrong if you said me. Nope, it was my father-in-law. He's very iffy about letting a PhD in English and Creative Writing touch any of his tools. And this job required power tools, at which I'm not so adept.
A couple of other birthday party shots. Tina looked at the birthday blog and noticed I'd not put up hardly a shot that showed any other kids. She thought that wasn't so nice. I thought, You know, my brother's going to insist that I made up the whole party story and faked the pictures and in reality nobody showed up. But here's the proof. There's two Fredericks (one who spells it Fredrik), Simon, Benjamin, and Björn (I'm assuming that's the 'o' to use on his name).
And the same boys on the bench outside the back door. I'm still shocked they sat long enough for this photo. They were so full of energy.

A couple of other notes: Lukas is trying to make the argument to stay up long into the night to watch a movie because, he says, "It's still morning," even though it's close to 9PM. You see, the sun will not set completely here this time of year, and so though it gets a bit on the darker side, it don't by much. Not to be taken in by a fast-talking kid, we, his parents aren't falling for his line of logic.
Also, I was remiss yesterday to mention Anonymous in my list of folks helping keep the blog going with comments regarding how we Americans are so cool and in control. That's my reading of it, anyway.
And, Michelle, you'll have to keep coming back to the blog because Tina is on the verge of deciding what Avon products she's about to order, and I told her I'd post her list. And so if you don't visit often, you just might miss placing her order. And the more you visit, the higher my counter for the blog goes, and then I don't have to keep visiting and visiting my own site to make it look like my blog gets hit by a ton of folks. If you would, too, let your parents, Leslie, Jenny, the Coopers, and Amber know we're thinking about them and praying for them. And Brad and Terri and the girls, the Bygels, the Reeds (the whole bunch of them out at the homestead), the Carrs, Emmett, Peggy, the Smiths, Miss Dortha, the Ungers, Tyler, Max and Hazel and their bunch, Berverly, the Escudiers, the Southerlands, and the rest. I'm trying to go row by row at church and so if I'm forgetting anyone, I'll blame it on this Swedish air.

Sweden 7a

So, Mikah turned two years old yesterday, and so following are a few shots of the party. You'll also find a few shots (and if I can manage it from Sweden on a strange computer) a video or two and some anthropological stuff.

Here is just one batch of Tina's Cookie Monster-themed cup cakes. Missing still is the mini-cookie that would come a few minutes later, stuck in the mouth.
This is Mikah and his Cookie Monster piñata. Mikah's the one on your left.
This is Cookie Montster pre-hanging, and the Swedish kids most likely have no clue, at this point yet, what violence awaits the poor Sesame Street character. Mikah, being the half-Mexican American kid that he is, having already taken part in the splitting apart of at least two other piñatas in his short life knows what's coming. You can see the confidence in his eyes. Actually, when it was his turn to take a whack at the piñata, he swung once, realized everyone was looking, and like the ostrich, tried burying his head in the ground, literally. But the ground here in Sweden is a bit too hard for him to actually succeed.
Post-Piñata: This is Mikah trying to unwrap a piece of Swedish candy, a peppermint-covered chocolate goody (and the kid's a quick study; godis is the word here for candy, and he's got that down pat). And as a side note, once they realized the desired outcome for the piñata, the Swedish kids took to the act swiftly and energetically. Candies galore. Oh, and though I'm not putting up any pics of this, just before this the kids also experienced another Mexican American and Mexican custom: the cascaron, the decorated egg shell filled with confetti, hidden in a yard, searched after, and when found, meant to be cracked over an unsuspecting and usually unwilling older person in the crowd, usually a parent or grandparent. You can see the remnants of the egg shells and the confetti at Mikah's feet.
The kids couldn't quite bust the Monster up good. Instead, they focused their attention on the jugular. The result was a beheading of Cookie Monster. Seriously, nobody cried, though I thought it was a miserable way to go.
Didn't I tell you Tina outdid herself again with the cake! On second-go-round the multilayered cookie cake decorated ala Cookie Monster holds up. I can't wait for thirds tonight. With some of the world's best coffee.
And though he didn't get super dirty eating up his piece of the cake or the cup cake, Mikah still enjoyed himself. Like a great many others in his family, Neely and Saldaña both, the kid goes straight for the frosting, leaving the rest for the ants, if any exist (which they hardly do here in this cooler climate).
Here's Mikah again. C'mon, it was his birthday--why shouldn't he get all the attention! Plus this is such a cute shot of him.
This is Mikah and Tina. I'm telling you, the kid gets his looks directly from her, not me. Well, except that his hair is brown and so are his eyes, while Tina is blonde and has blue eyes. Otherwise, they're both lookers.
And lastly, this is Mikah relaxing a bit after such a long long long day celebrating his second birthday. In truth, once he caught his second with, and with so many kids still around a few hours into the party, he kept going. As for me, I was dead beat.


Sweden 6

Maybe tomorrow, maybe the following day I'll get to an update. Planning and executing a boy's second birthday party is some kind of work. But there'll be pictures of Mikah and all his Swedish friends galore soon enough. There was a Cookie Monster piñata, a four layer cookie cake with the Cookie Monster's face on it (another Tina original), matching cupcakes, and Sesame Street colored cascarones (confetti-filled for cracking over heads (we're trying to start a new tradition (if you'll allow me the obvious contradiction) into the Swedish bloodstream)). I love parenthetical statements within parenthetical statements. Count the opening and closing parentheses just to check up on this English major.

I'm still waiting for any commentary from the Republic of Texas. Michelle, are you out there? Greetings to all over at Lubbock Baptist. To my brother, who has been leaving messages, you're too funny and I miss IMing with you (I'll blame it on the time difference and not on me not wanting to IM with you). Go Red Raiders!


Sweden Trip 5

More Picsräkmacka (shrimp sandwich): one of many open-faced sandwiches here (amongst my favorites); but I have to wonder why a 'sandwich' is open-faced? Are the Swedes about eating healthy and so leave out one of the slices of bread, or are they just cheap? Ha ha ha.
Here is part of the selection at the cafe in a small town called Öggestorp, my favorite cafe in Sweden. They have the best pan dulce (I've always known Swedes to be Mexican at heart because of the sweet breads), and great coffee.
Lukas and Mikah in front of the selection display.
Here is Mikah in front of his choice for the day, dammsugare (which loosely translates into vacuum cleaner--don't ask me why), but he seemed to enjoy the green treat dipped in chocolate.
Here is the cafe, whose name is too long for anyone of us at home right now to recall, so you'll just have to deal with it, those of you who need details.
This is morfar, Lukas, and Mikah walking toward a field of cows (kossor or kor) at Ingemar's farm; Ingemar is a close family friend who was nice enough to let us join him and morfar over fika this morning and then let the boys hang out with the cows. Fika is kind of like the Brits' afternoon tea, only not relegated to just the afternoon but in between meals, and mostly focusing on the pastries and conversation. I love this about Sweden, that now I've got a name for snacking and a built-in tradition.
This is Ingemar holding Lukas and petting one of his dairy cows. It's funny how the cows know him from anyone else and will approach him like dogs will approach their owners. Only one hopes the cows won't get up on their hind hooves and try and jump up on the owner.The face off: Lukas v. Cow. Who will win?

Sweden Trip 4

One Time I Wish I Had A Camera...For Proof

Yesterday afternoon, I went with my father-in-law over to the farm to help with the mowing. I'll tell you what--when he said the place needed some mowing, he meant it. And I went along and helped. I couldn't let one of my elders do all the work either, that'd mean he was showing me up, right, and so I'd take the machine over every so often and try my hand at the work (and I mean work because the grass in some places was easily 5, 6 inches high). Boy, was I sore after. But I slept good. Real good. But again, no visual proof of the fact. Next time, which might just be today, I'll make sure to take a camera.


Sweden Trip 3

Most likely fortunately for all involved and my blog readers I didn't have access to my camera today. The family (Tina, Lukas, Mikah, morbro Thomas, and I) went to the A-6, the name for the mall here in Jönköping. We took the bus, which Mikah gets all excited by. He wants to sit way in the back. (I recall a couple of other Saldaña boys opting for that position in the back of the school bus, too.) Anyway, we got to the mall easy, and we went to the regular shops, and I want to buy shoes but I'm putting them all through the Les Reed test: I can hear him every time I pick up a pair of men's shoes: "Man, you went all the way to Sweden and found you some girl shoes, huh?" (substitute clown or bowling or tight rope walking for the girl and you get the idea of the selection this year). Anyway, really this time, we got done with the shopping and we're waiting on the bus to Råslätt, where we'll then transfer to one that'll take us to Barnarp, where the family house is, and Lukas is picking dandelions and blowing them into the wind, and the rest of us, we're just talking away, when I turn to check on Lukas (lest he be abducted by some Swedish gang of kidnappers and sold into slavery for his blonde hair--no wait, for his brown eyes--I forgot for a moment I was in the land of blondes) and I see him standing face to face (or more correctly, face to bark) with a tree, pants around his ankles, peeing in public. Of course, we freak out, though inside I'm thinking, Yeah, another knotch on the things a boy must do before he grows into a man belt. It is, I hear, a very Swedish thing to do, though I think I'll pass.

And Tigy, I suggest you check the local customs book for peeing in public before doing anything similar in Paris. Just in case.


Sweden Trip 2

Pictures, As PromisedAfter what must've felt like 1 billion hours in a plane, Tina and the boys finally arrived in Göteborg (pronounced Gothenberg in English). Here, Mikah is sleeping off an over-nighter.
But who needs sleep when you have flowers to pick? Or your nose?
In this shot, Lukas is eating a bulle, a Swedish pastry from morfar's favorite bakery in Öggestorp (also my favorite bakery).
And if big brother's enjoying a bulle, well, Mikah is sure to do the same. Only he just might eat twice as much.
This is a rock. A really big rock. Historically, it's got some kind of significance or another. Something about the land being covered in ice, and when that other global warming era occured, melting all the ice, these rocks were carried along in the rushing water and eventually left behind for boys to climb centuries later.
Not to be outdone, Mikah must also climb, but he prefers morfar's big blue tractor, spelled traktor in Svenska, that's Swedish for those who didn't quite catch that.
And finally, this is a shot of Mikah and his morbro Thomas at one of the local little parks or squares. Really and truly, Mikah was enjoying the ride, which is a sort of merri-go-round and soccer game combined.


Sweden Trip 1

Those of you interested in reading up on our Sweden trip and who have most likely written me off as some kind of nimwitted yahoo who made the promise to update but who has forgotten because I am too busy or have taken on this European-minded attitude and so I can leave it til later, well, you've got my brother to thank for this. I got an email from him earlier--one short sentence: hey, where's the update?

Here's a portion of my trip: I visited El Paso (Ysleta Elementary, specifically) where I got to meet some very enthusiastic and great writers--go sixth graders! Thanks to Mrs. Hernanadez, Mr. Silva, all the other fine teachers there who are very student-focused and about real literacy. Anyway, I've got no pictures of that visit to upload because I seem to have lost my camera on my last hours there. I recall very clearly taking some great shots of J reading his poem about his friends' noses (what a great revision he put together!), A finishing the reading off with another poem, and everybody else in between. Some nice shots of the mountains. But all gone unless Rich Yañez, magic man, does some kind of mumbo-jumbo and it appears as if out of thin air. So, no pics of my part of the trip. I'll tell you, too, that that Heathrow, if you can avoid it, do so at all costs. I thought some US airports were a hassle, but not compared to this one. Oh, easy enough to figure out, but how many twists and turns can there be in one building to get to the place where you need to be? But the people are nice enough. I did get to Gothenberg safely and mostly on time, so thank God for that. I did get to Sweden down one bag, but that was delivered this afternoon. That's my part of it--Tina has't lost her camera, but she has been having a hard time transferring her pics to my brother-in-law's computer (that is a Swedish set up, so the keys are all over the place and all kinds of others that I have no clue what are: ä§ö¨¤). So give me a sec and I'll try to figure it out.

For my friends in India (Tigy and the rest), the folks in Sweden drive on the right side of the read like we do in the States, they don't have as much traffic on the road, elephants don't have the right of way because you just don't see them, and hardly a Swede uses his car horn to warn other drivers that they're about to create a lane where there isn't one, so no driving videos. Sorry.


Traveling Life 6b

De Zavala Middle School/Toscha Reeves, Librarian: this was the first of my stops (05/07/08), and the highlight was talking with an honors reading class, where K and others showed they are so far ahead of the literacy ballgame; we talked sci fi/fantasy, poetry, writing, and Sharon Draper, whose Tears of a Tiger they were reading. We talked about the poetry of J. Patrick Lewis, Pat Mora, Naomi Shihab Nye, and Janet Wong, among others, and the art of Christopher Myers, in particular his Jabberwocky. A great way to start the week.

Houston Middle School/Lori Bierschwale, Librarian: Lori has come over from the dark side; she was a math teacher before taking on the awesome duties of a keeper of books, a pusher of reading. I was very happy to see how a ton of her students were carrying around some cool titles. One class had just finished reading Walter Dean Myers' Scorpions and so I had to mention his upcoming Sunrise Over Fallujah, which I'll be reviewing for MultiCultural Review soon.
Later that evening, I met with a group of parents at Austin Middle School for a talk on the responsiblity of Latino parents when it comes to promoting literacy in the home; this was no regular group of students, either: they were folks working on learning the English language in an after-school program, from which they were graduating the following day. Felicidades, padres!

Union Bower/Diana Stephens, Librarian: With apologies to Diana and her wonderful students (05/08/2008)--since starting up my blog, my intention is to take pictures of every place I visit, but I'm still getting used to it; what excuses can I use? It was too early in the day, I was too out of it, the sun got in my eyes. No excuses, really. I just dropped the ball. But what a group of older students. UB is a sort of alternative school, serving students who need to approach education in ways other than traditional. But readers they are. M, you've got to think of what university you'll be going to; I, E, and L, the same to you. Think forward, think successful, then get it done. Thanks for hanging out.

Crockett Middle School/Lisa Cartwright, Librarian: At Crockett I met some more great readers and some wonderful reading and ESL teachers, each of whom is doing a great job getting these kids excited about reading. I got some really solid questions, especially from a young man to my right, T, who I could tell was well-read and headed in just the right direction. A young man I just know will end up a lawyer, a politician, a teacher.

Austin Middle School/Gayle Benage, Librarian: pictured above is what Lori the day before called the pebbled walkway, or something like that. When we asked Gayle about it, or Lisa (one or the other; again, my memory fails), she said, "Yeah, pebbles if you're a giant." I didn't get a pic of the school sign, knowing this path that leads directly to the library by the backway was the only pic I could take. The path to book haven, right. Hey, S, it was the best answer you gave to my question talking before the presentation: Q: So, S, where are you going to college? A: Either Harvard or Yale. The sky's the limit. Shoot for it.

Java Makes Me Jump! night @ Barnes and Noble: Dr. Bailey prepared me in advance about this event at the Irving Mall: "You never know: you might get 50 people in the audience, you might get seven." My thinking is simple: if I get two, but two who are all about reading, then that's all we need. We got more than two, not quite 50. I monopolized the time, talking non-stop just about. I should've quit, though, because I understand some of the students had booktalks ready. Sorry. But I was just so excited. Later we met at this great restaurant, Via Reál located in Las Colinas Plaza, owned by Fran Lively Mathers. And lively she is. I know this because she visited our table, and she said something so interesting: meaning these librarians, "You all are our future." I'd always heard that said about students, but the way she explained it was that educators are the ones in the classroom today, every day, teaching our kids who then become our future. Though I loved the chicken I had, better even were the vegetables. The grilled baby carrots are to die for!

Travis Middle School/Amy Hankamer, Librarian (05/09/08): Amy runs a tight ship, and she knows her readers so well, down to what areas of the library the students visit more often than others. She plans on informally shifting some books she just knows her readers would pick up from where they're shelved to the section titled "short stories." And her own boy, J, is so awesome! A reader and a gamer both. Cool meeting you, J.

Bowie Middle School (trust me, far as the sign is)/Hope Krum, Librarian: Wow! This group was way mixed--sixth, seventh, and eighth graders all represented, ESL students and ELA both. Kudos to the four eighth grade guys who did a readers' theater of a section of my The Whole Sky Full of Stars. Then the questions came. And it was the best that a girl started us off, some guys and girls added theirs, and a girl ended: the final question I wasn't able to address since we ran out of time: Q: Why don't you write about girls? A: I've tried and I got it all wrong, in my opinion. I don't want to disrespect that particular audience, but I've got some ideas, so you'll get your book. Hey, read the following short stories included in Finding Our Way to read a few female heroes I've written: "The Dive," "SylvieSylvieSylvie," "Andy and Ruthie," and "My Self Myself."

Lamar Junior High School/Cindi Rockett, Librarian: What a way to end the week. First things first, though: I hope your boy's doing well, Cindi. Right before heading over, she got a call that her boy'd got a cut in the head and she left me in the quite capable hands of two of the others: Hope and Amy, who joined me in Cindi's absence. There I talked a good bit to a large group of readers and after met with T, A, and F, who I'd met the night before at JAVA at B&N. Too cool you all are.

All I can say is that these middle school librarians've got it together. I told Dr. Lea Bailey that I'd never seen a group this large of educators all focused on the same goal, reading young folks. They are quite the family, and Irving (TX) ISD is so fortunate to have them all at this time in this place. And from what I understand from speaking to each of them, their administrators are so supportive. I so want this group to adopt me as their writer. It was an awesome time.