A big bag of heaven just arrived.

rootbeerbarrelsWhen living abroad, you realize that while we fundamentally all eat and drink, there are serious global deficits.  For example, one would think something as delicious as root beer would be revered around the world.  In fact, it is not.  Not only is it not loved and very difficult to find, Europeans and Brits* often actively dislike root beer.  The usual response is “It tastes like mouthwash” or “It tastes like medicine” leaving me to wonder what genius flavors European medicines.  So when our friend visited, he brought me the next best thing: A big bag of root beer barrels to give me that root beer fix when needed.

Other things lacking?  Triscuits, Wheat Thins, Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix**, tortilla chips that don’t taste stale when fresh out of the bag, Mexican food in general, chewy browny mix***, proper chocolate chips, proper marshmallows, Gram Crackers, and proper hamburgers.

Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing things to eat and drink over here.  In Sweden, you’ll find Glögg at the holidays, which is a delicious spiced wine.  And hot smoked salmon.  And Marabou chocolate with Daim.  And not Cheetos brand cheetos which are way better than Cheetos.  The UK had amazing yogurt.  (No, I don’t know what they do different, but I suspect they add extra cream.)  And Percy Pigs, an inexplicably good pig-head-shaped candy from one of their big, upscale grocery chains.  And Tracklements Chilli Jam. And they eat roasted mushrooms for breakfast.

*One of the first things I learned living in the UK is that British people do not consider themselves European.

**I have had to find recipes to replace these things.  Here is the corn muffin recipe.

***Here is the brownie recipe.  I’ve recently started adding crumbled Daim Bars.  Because yum.


Explaining Santa: Logan’s First Christmas

Santa Claus has become so many things to us–magic, mystery, consumerism, a jolly man at malls, a scary man at malls, a myth, a wonder.  Personally, I like him, but perhaps because I know this, his true origin story…

Mr. Claus and his wife Mrs. Claus lived a long time ago in a village far away in the Great North.  It never got very warm there, but in the heart of winter, it was dark all day and the snow was so deep, sometimes you had to dig tunnels to visit your neighbors.

Mr. Claus was a fisherman, and a very fine fisherman at that.  He had a very fine boat, and every year he brought in more fish than any other fisherman in the village.  Because he was such a fine fisherman, he often had plenty of extra fish, some to trade, some to store away for the hard months of winter, and plenty to give to those in need.

Mrs. Claus kept chickens and grew a few hardy vegetables.  She was also a great wood carver, and made some of the most beautiful toys in all the Great North.  She spent her winters carving and painting and sewing clothes for toys, some to trade, but most to give as gifts each year to the children of the village.

Because the snow was so deep, and the nights so dark and so cold, on the darkest night of the year, Mr. and Mrs. Claus would don bright red coats and pants so they could easily be seen, and everyone in the village would light a candle in their window to help guide them, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus would bring a toy to every child in the village.  They made sure, too, to bring along food for those who might be running short in the long winter.

The villagers would share what they could–a treat or a meal or a song, some gossip or a kindly ear, or they might share their woes or joys or tell a story, and it made that dark night just that much brighter.

One year, Mr. Claus left on his fishing boat.  There was a great storm that blew and blew and Mr. Claus never returned.  Mrs. Claus walked the shores every day, watching for her lost husband.  Her little garden lay untended.  Her hens were adopted by neighbors.  She watched and watched and grew sadder and sadder, and when the snows came, she retreated quietly to her home and did not come out.

The villagers worried.  She would run out of food, surely, with Mr. Claus gone and her garden untended.  But she would see no one.  So people began sending their children, because even in her great sadness, Mrs. Claus would never send away a child.  And when the children visited, they brought her little gifts of food, saying always it was extra, it was something they found, that their mothers told them they must eat it but really they didn’t like it.  In this way, the village made sure that Mrs. Claus always had food and company.

So the long winter of the Great North wiled on until the darkest, longest, coldest night of the year.  Mrs. Claus had made no toys that year.  She had no extra food to spare. But this year, groups of children, whole families, came to her home and sung her songs, and gave her food, and told her stories, and shared their woes and their joys.

As the families returned home to bed, some of the children swore they’d seen a man in a bright red suit walking the snowy paths just at the edges of their candlelight.  Their parents hushed them and sent them off to bed.  When the villagers woke the next morning, they were surprised to find a toy for every child, beautifully carved and painted and clothed.

The children cried with delight: It was Mr. Claus! He’d come back!  But the parents knew it wasn’t so . . . or perhaps he had.  Perhaps his spirit rose, the spirit of generosity, given new life by the generosity of the villagers.  As years passed, every act of generosity made that spirit stronger, and as if by magic, every year, on the darkest, longest night, that spirit of generosity would rise and bring toys to children everywhere.  And we call that spirit Santa Claus.

The Story of Dragon MacFlappywing

Another story for one of Logan’s toys.

The Story of Dragon MacFlappywing

Dragon MacFlappywing came to the land of Oob from the land of Boo.

There were many fearsome dragons in the land of Boo, but the land of Oob hardly had any at all.

When dragon MacFlappywing came to the castle he breathed his fiery breath and roared.

“Have you any babies in your empire?” he demanded.


“The King and Queen were afraid. They lied and said, “No, not a one,” though their very own baby lay hidden in the Queen’s robes.

But then their very own baby gave a loud cry and Dragon MacFlappywing knew it was a lie.

Quick as only a dragon can be he swooped down and snatched the baby from the Queen.

“And now I am going to KISS THIS BABY!” Dragon MacFlappywing roared.

The Queen leapt up with a shout. “DRAGON!” she roared. He stopped with his lips only inches from the baby’s nose.

“Yes?” he rumbled.

“You should always ask before kissing someone’s baby.”

Embarrassed, Dragon MacFlappywing asked if he could kiss the Queen’s baby. Graciously, she allowed it.

The King shook his head. “A baby-kissing Dragon. No good will come of this.”

“Now!” Dragon MacFlappywing roared. “Do you have any sheep?”

And so the years went by in Oob, and Dragon MacFlappywing kissed babies and cuddled sheep and ate lots of carrots and broccoli. And the people of Oob grew fond of Dragon MacFlappywing for he kept wild animals from their sheep and cows, and though he ate a lot, his poop made good fertilizer.

But one day, a sorcerer came from the land of Boo. When he saw Dragon MacFlappywing kissing babies and cuddling sheep, he grew very upset.

“Dragons do not kiss babies and cuddle sheep,” he cried. “They eat them! This will not do. It cannot be!” He demanded that the King and Queen put a stop to it, but they would not.

So the Sorcerer cast a spell to make Dragon MacFlappywing eat babies and sheep. But the spell went all wrong! Suddenly, it was all the people that wanted to eat babies!

Dragon MacFlappywing knew this could not be. Quickly, he collected every baby in the empire.

And all the sheep.

Safe in his dragon’s lair, Dragon MacFlappywing watched over the babies, but he knew it could not be this way for ever. Babies needed their moms and dads!

He flew to the sorcerer and breathed his fiery breath and roared and demanded the spell be lifted. But the sorcerer was not actually such a good sorcerer after all, and did not know how.

Dragon MacFlappywing thought furiously. Then he came up with a plan. First, he would have to pick the cutest baby in the empire. But that was harder than it sounded! All the babies were just so cute! So he closed his eyes and reached out and grabbed one at random.

Village to village, house to house, Dragon MacFlappywing flew with the cutest baby in all the empire. He presented the baby to everyone he met. “This is the cutest baby in all the empire, and you will KISS THIS BABY if you wish to be cured!” He backed up his order with a couple fiery puffs.

And everyone who kissed the cutest baby in all the empire was cured!

And so finally, when every person in all of the land of Oob, including the sorcerer, had kissed the cutest baby in the whole empire, Dragon MacFlappywing was able to return all the babies safely to their homes.

And the sheep.

The Magic Gramophone

Now that we have a baby around, we’ve realized how boring our walls are and have started putting up various decorations. I’ve been making up stories for Logan when he finds one particularly interesting. These wall stickers were called “The Magic Gramophone.”  This is their story.


The Magic Gramophone

There was once a lonely old man who loved animals. He had been a veterinarian all his life and loved to help any animal in need. But that was a long time ago. He had long since retired. His wife had died some years ago, and he’d never had children.

But the old man never stopped caring for animals.

He once found a bunny that had been chased and bitten by a dog. He fixed him up and cared for him until he was better, then let him go free.

He once found a mouse living in his house. He couldn’t have her pooping in his towel drawer, but he didn’t have the heart to send her away. So he made her a little home, and she lived the rest of her life on his desk.

He once found a sparrow with a broken wing. He took her in and mended her wing. Then one day when she was all healed, he let her outside to fly away.

He once found a cat hiding under his porch. She had been in a terrible fight. The old man took her in and cared for her and shared his home.

By far his oldest companion though was his best friend, his dog Mobius. They’d been friends for fifteen years. Mobius kept the old man company, took him for walks, and held the loneliness at bay.

But one day, Mobius too died and left the old man alone but for the cat who was by now healed. The old man considered getting another dog, but he was old and knew he would not be able to keep up with a young pup. And what if the old man were to die and leave the dog alone? No, it was best to keep company with the cat.

But then one day, the cat, too, left him. He looked everywhere, checked every warm sun beam, every closet, every cushion, but the cat was not to be found. The old man was truly alone.

A few days after the disappearance of the cat, there was a knock at his door. A delivery woman hefted a large box onto his table for him. She left with a tip of her hat. There was nothing on the box to say who had sent it. When the old man opened it, inside stood a gramophone.

The old man had not seen a gramophone since he was just a little boy. It was an antique even then. Still, when his father put a record on it, it played beautiful music. Packed in with the gramophone was a fat black record. It had no label to say what it was. He placed it on the machine, dropped the stylus, and played the record.

The first sounds to come out were sad. Tears came to his eyes as lonely notes poured forth. Then something changed. The tune grew fast and cheerful, and out of the gramophone hopped a bunny wearing a tuxedo. He dragged a penny-farthing behind him. He straightened his tux, popped a leg over the penny-farthing, and pedaled away across the room. As he rode, he withdrew a conductor’s wand from his pocket and waved it about in the air.

The music changed to the tiny tinkling of bells, the dash of the triangle, the thin notes of a slide whistle. Then, rising out of the gramophone at the end of a pink balloon was a mouse in a tiny pink dress with white polka dots. She drifted through the air until she hovered over the old man’s desk.

The music changed again, suddenly fast, horns and trumpets and the trombone dashing off notes. A sparrow shot out of the gramophone so fast she was all but a blur. She wore the goggles and leather helmet of an old-time pilot and carried in her claws a letter with a bright red seal. After several circuits of the room, she swooped over the old man and dropped the letter into his open hand.

The music then changed to something more stately. Riding a stick horse with great dignity was a grey cat, dressed sharply in tall black riding boots, a fine jacket decorated with epaulettes, and a tidy little hat. She rode his stick horse right up to the old man, tipped her hat, then curled up at his feet and began to purr.

Surprised and delighted by his wonderful new friends, the old man opened the letter carried by the sparrow. Inside he read the words, Thank You.

Mission: US Citizenship for Logan

Your mission, if you choose to accept it: Initiate US Citizenship for Logan Stravaigin Berg Gibbons.


First step, Google. Find the US Embassy nearest you is in Stockholm, a four and a half hour train ride or six and a half hour drive away from your home in Malmö. Resign yourself to a long trip with a newborn. Make the soonest available appointment, which is a couple weeks away.

Next step: Follow every instruction on the US Embassy website. There are three forms: One to declare the birth, one to get a social security number, and one to get the passport. Follow all the instructions on these forms, including the ones that tell you there are other forms you need to fill out, which don’t actually exist and turn out to be other names for the forms you’re currently filling out. Also, do you fill in eye and hair color for a newborn? Can you put “unknown?”

Go through the checklist provided for all the things you need. Some of these items you will understand and will be easy: Proof of US Citizenship (passport), ID, marriage certificate (originals only!), baby’s birth certificate . . . oh, wait, what? Sweden doesn’t do birth certificates! Discover you need a “personbevis” or extract from the Swedish population registry. OK, how do you get that? First, you get something in the mail (in Swedish) telling you “Yay, you had a baby, please send this in with his name! Tack!” Then you send in the form, but make sure you spell his name wrong so that you have to go to the Skatteverket (Swedish tax office) and embarrass yourself by explaining this and having to fill out more forms to get it changed. Then you can request a personbevis, but make sure it says mother and father and not legal guardian or you will be shot! Oh, and make sure you’re in a hurry to get all this done because you have to travel.

What else does the US Embassy site tell you it needs?

Proof of physical presence in the United States.

What? I’m a US Citizen. Does it matter if I lived there? According to the website it does. So how do I prove I lived there: High school transcripts, college transcripts, utility bills . . . because everyone packs those when moving overseas. Actually, luckily, I did have my college transcripts in case they were needed for job hunting. But John didn’t bring anything. Such a lack of forethought! If you hunt around on other Embassy websites though, you find that only one parent needs to prove physical presence. Phew!

But wait, there’s more. Have you been previously married? If so, you must present an original, certified divorce decree. How this in any way influences the citizenship of the child of two US Citizens I cannot even imagine. Also, don’t be shocked, but John did not bring this with him. Well, all you need to do to get one of these is to go over to the vital records office in Madison, Wisconsin and you can have one in two hours. . . wait, don’t live within 4000 miles of Madison? That’s OK, you can order one by mail or fax! Oh, but you need that in a hurry . . . how is two to three weeks for you? Well, maybe someone could go pick it up for you in Madison. Nope. You need an immediate family member. I’m sure John’s 92 year old father would be happy to fly over from California for him. So that leaves a lawyer. Do we even want to know how much that’s going to cost?

Right, is it time to panic? Let’s call the Embassy and find out! There’s this number on the website . . . let’s chill on hold for 30 minutes or so . . . and, oh, not this number. You need to call this number between 1:00 and 2:00 on Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday only. Right, tomorrow is Thursday. The appointment for the US Embassy is Monday (next available about two weeks after that). Set alarm for 1:00 tomorrow. Sit on hold. Talk to someone who says that you absolutely have to have this original divorce decree. No question. Non-negotiable. But, there’s hope yet! It can be mailed after the appointment directly to the Embassy, at which point they’ll process your application. Phew! Just in case though, have a copy emailed by our lawyer to show that you at least have somethingP1630395.

So, after a six hour car ride that was actually nine hours because Newborn Baby (Time to eat! Time to eat again! Hey, I pooped! Pee! I haven’t had a cuddle lately . . . time to eat!) you finally make it to Stockholm, cozy up in your hotel for as good a night’s sleep as you get with a newborn, then show up at the Embassy at 9:15, a solid 15 minutes early for your appointment and . . . wait outside in the rain for security for twenty minutes.

Bonus: Strollers get priority, so we get to cut in line. John misheard this as “stoners get priority” and apparently spent the entire afternoon wondering what the guy actually said, or maybe wondering what his beard says about him.

Also, we both amusingly raised our arms when the security guy told us to turn around so he could check the bottom of our shoes. (John tried not to panic when they took his phone.)

So, while you wait in line inside the Embassy, brace yourself for the arguments. This won’t do. What the woman told you is wrong. You’ll need these six other forms and more proof of this and that, and really you think that photo of your newborn is acceptable? Can you see his ears? Are his eyes open? Mouth closed? No smiling! Is that background white enough? (Just in case, bring two sets of photos.)

So of course, the staff is friendly, impressed with our paperwork, tells us we didn’t even need half of it, and doesn’t bat an eye at the copy of the divorce decree.

So, mission accomplished? Well see if that passport shows up in the mail!

Logan Stravaigin

So, after several days of deliberation in which friends and family were waiting in annoyance for us to announce our boy’s name, we decided to ggileslogano with the “weird” middle name.  I wrote this little note to Logan to let him know what the heck his folks were thinking when they named him.

Dear Logan,

So about your name. Logan, we liked the sound of. And of course, it’s also Wolverine’s name in the X-Men comics. Hopefully you’ll find a love of comics, as your dad did. (I’m still rolling the sound of these things around in my mouth: your dad, you mom. It’s hard to think that that is really what we are now.) We were kind of worried about it being too popular of a name, but in the end we just liked it and couldn’t let other people also liking it ruin it for us.

Logan, by the way, is also the name of our friend Chris’s dog. (Chris was the best man in our wedding.) If you’re naughty, we’re going to tell you that’s who we named you after.

So then we had to decide on your middle name. That was tough as well. We liked the sound of Logan Alexander, but what if you turned out to be a real character? What if you wanted something a wee bit different? And we kind of wanted to nab something from our travels. So we debated on a slightly strange middle name, to the point where everyone was annoyed with us because you were several days old and we hadn’t given you a name yet. In the end we decided what the heck, give him the weird one. You’ll can always keep your middle name secret, and hey, you’ll never end up on the do not fly list (well, unless you do something yourself to end up on the do not fly list). So yeah, your middle name ended up being a Scots word: Stravaigin.

Stravaigin means wandering, wandering aimlessly, roaming about. It’s a lifestyle your dad and I have embraced. We’ve lived in the US, Scotland, England, and Sweden (so far). When you were in the womb, you went to Czechoslovakia, England, Scotland, France, Belgium, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden, so you started life as a bit of a wanderer already. I hope you enjoy travel when you get older (and if you don’t, that’s OK too). If you do travel, I hope you discover the art of roaming, of getting a bit lost: in the place you are, in the moment you are.

Maybe it’s cheeky of us, too much cultural appropriation, but Scotland was the first place we lived that wasn’t the US, and the Scots language is rich with words that express something just a little bit more. And so Stravaigin is a bit more than wandering, a bit more than roaming, it is the idea of it, too. It’s the embracing of it. You’re not just roaming about, you’re stravaigin.

Stravaigin, by the way, is also the name of a restaurant in Glasgow. If you’re naughty, we’re going to tell you we named you after that.


Baby time for real!

So on June 7, I gave birth to Logan Stravaigin.  After nearly 24 hours of labor and vomiting and being made to drink “rosehip soup” (a Swedish thing I guess), an entire human life was shoved out of my vagina.  Supposedly we forget how painful labor is, so this is my reminder.  It hurt.  They told me labor burns as much energy logannewbornas running a marathon, except a marathon is over in a few hours, and you can quit if you want.  Not so labor.  Of course, at the end of labor I got a baby instead of a banana and a snack pack, so I guess there’s a bright side.

So, welcome, välkommen little Logan.  May your life be yours and all you ever wish it to be.


Baby Time in Sweden

It’s intimidating moving to a new country and not speaking the language.  It’s intimidating to have a baby–especially your first!  So of course, we had to do both at once.  Due date is approaching fast so we decided it was time to check out the two hospital options, Lund and Malmö, where we might end up going for the delivery.  (You don’t need to pre-plan it here in Sweden, because of course everything is connected through your personal number.)

So yesterday we did a dry run of the Lund labor ward.  Even in the US hospitals are complicated places, and since we have no idea what we’re doing and everything will be in Swedish, we really wanted to check things out. Good thing, too!  After a bit of driving around, we arrived at the labor ward (förlossning) in Lund yesterday to find a silent waiting room with no officials and three locked doors leading to either gynecology, the neonate ward, or the labor ward.   There was a machine where you could take a number.  We took a number to see what would happen.  We waited.  A woman in labor showed up and stood around for a while, not seeming to know what to do either. We translated all the signs with John’s phone and were helpfully informed that we should wear shoe covers in wet weather. 

Eventually we called the number for Lund’s labor ward and got a somewhat impolite woman who informed us that we “push the button.” (Upon telling the woman that we couldn’t read what was written by the buttons because they were in Swedish, she helpfully let us know “You are in Sweden.”)  There being a couple button options (none of which said “push if you are in labor” when we translated them), we just pushed one and a woman immediately appeared and answered our questions, much to our relief!

Hard part done, right?

The Baby List

After polling my Facebook friends for the essential shopping list (week 35!), this is what I’ve come up with for getting ready for baby Färthämmer. (Färthämmer is his working title until we give up on figuring out a name and let Sweden do it for us.  We apparently get up to three months after the birth.)

So, the list:


  • Carrier (Baby Bjorn, Moby Wrap, Maya Wrap, Ergo)
  • Car seat–obviously may get eventually if we plan to drive, but we don’t drive or have a car here and my midwife has said the taxi service brings a car seat for baby if you tell them you have one. Yay Sweden! But will check out Britax.)
  • Wheeled baby transport/Buggy/Stroller/skate board with dog harness?


  • Nursing pillow (Boppy or Breast Friend)
  • Burping cloths
  • Bibs
  • Boobs (check! in abundance–these babies better make enough milk to solve world hunger)
  • Some kind of nipple loob (o_0)
  • Breast Pump (I’m going back to work at 3 months–got the Medela Swing)
  • Pump accessories, bottles
  • Those pads you stick in your bra (what are they called? Also, like I really need more of anything stuffed in my bra…)
  • Nursing bra (found ONE in my size, sorta, at least it fits well enough…)
  • Nursing chair (check! The Ants (Myrorna) delivered it with our couch. Awesome local charity shop. This chair is pure 1970s, comfy, with foot rest, and cost about $15!)
  • Nightlight (we already picked out a trippy mushroom nightlight)
  • Eating chair/elevated location from which baby may launch food (Tripp Trapp Baby Chair sounds awesome, though obviously won’t need right away given presence of boobs)


  • Blankets/swaddles/sleepsacks
  • Crib (cot for UK folks)–We are actually going to pay the extra for the one that turns into a bed as we’re not sure how long we’ll be in Sweden. It may be that we’ll only be wanting a toddler bed for a short time then have to move, so won’t want to invest in a bed, but obviously we are in a funny place compared to most parents.
  • Pack and play or equivalent
  • 4moms Mamaroo or swing, rocker/bouncer
  • Noise machine/white noise (plan to use our spare fan)
  • Yoga ball (check! already have one! Great idea. Also, apparently you sit on one of these a lot during labor here.)
  • Bassinet or baby hammock or swinging sleeper (e.g. a portable sleeper of some kind)
  • Pacifiers/nook/dummy
  • Happiest baby on the block video on youtube


  • Baby grows (ie. onsies) aplenty
  • Clothes
  • Little hat (The midwife says that after the birth, basically you put the baby in a diaper, a little hat, and a blanket and lie them on your chest.  This sounds adorable.)


  • Diapers! Will discuss cloth (fuzzibunz?) vs disposable with John–he’s taking over at three months so he needs to feel comfortable with the decision.  We want to be good for baby and environment, but I don’t want to overwhelm daddy, either.
  • Baby wipes aplenty
  • Do people still use these things or has butt sanitation been updated since my babysitting days?
    • Baby powder
    • Vitamin D ointment


  • Nosefrida/snot sucker
  • Ear thermometer
  • Bath pad
  • Baby towel (hooded)
  • Baby soaps, steel wool, bleach


  • Patience (do I need Amazon Prime for that or can I get it pretty much anywhere?)
  • Aunties and Uncles (French, check, English, check, Scottish, check, Swedish, check, American, check, Polish, check, Italian, check–really, we’re going to conquer the world with Aunties and Uncles if all goes as planned)
  • Dungeon (check! Our basement is awesome and has so many tiny rooms for locking away small children and house elves or for hiding from said small children.)
  • Motherly instincts (Oh dear, again, Amazon doesn’t seem to carry that! Maybe Giles will have some advice?)
  • Caffeine, rum, tall glass
  • Straight jacket and gag (are these for John, Giles, or Baby Färthämmer?)
  • Do they seriously make special banana cutters???
  • We’re actually getting a shelving system from IKEA that has a baby changing table built in that converts to additional shelving when you’re done with using it as a table.  Again, we’re in a peculiar place as we don’t have much furniture yet, so may as well get a shelving system that doubles as a changing table since we needs shelves/dressers anyway!