Pedaling past traffic jams without even knowing it

I live near the traffic jam on the front of our local weekly.  The mess is because they’re putting in a tram line, which is very cool, but apparently a nightmare for drivers.

The beautiful thing?  I had no idea.  I ride my bike to work now, and if I didn’t ride, I would take the subway.  So the traffic patterns of my car-centric (for Sweden) Solna are a mystery to me.  We are talking about getting me a driver’s license but never for the day to day.

Here is something from a passage I wrote on why I still hate to drive:

But it took New York and New Jersey to finally take me from fast to angry, as I completed the crazy car trifecta of the Southland (LA), the Balkans and now the Tri-State area. I took a newspaper job that meant hours of driving up and down a 8-lane stop-and-go boulevard of dusty exurban strip malls. On weekends I suffered the potholes and chaos of New Jersey highways, the hell of the Brooklyn Bridge on a Friday night, and the gridlock of the West Side Highway on a Monday morning. I got buzzed time after time after time, almost always by young guys taking their rage out on me, never with the fastest car, now in a hand-me-down four-cylinder 2002 Dodge Neon.

Mine is not an aggressive rage. It is defensive, built on honor and a sense of outrage. I will not get in your face. But do not dare get in mine. Even then my anger does not ignite into a big ball of flame. I fume, sulk, hold a mean grudge. This withdrawn, quiet anger is just as male as the raving lunatic beating his chest, mirrored in how I cried easily as a child, and then learned not to cry.

Instead I learned to seethe.

The only problem with the bike riding is the dark.  I had to go buy a fluorescent vest today, to go with my bright yellow helmet.  It’s safe.  It’s necessary.  But I shudder to think what my 12-year-old self would say about me now.

Ahhh, to ride free in the California sun.

But I’ll take dorky over dead.  And I’ll take dorky over the traffic jam …


The poetry of a Swedish autumn (and a Chinese one)

We spent the weekend in the country in our drafty peasant cottage, and while the forest has settled into a dull mass of gray and brown and green, save for the rotting row boats tied up along the river and now suddenly visible, our yard was full of texture, of fallen crunchy yellow mottled leaves, of a towering sunflower still blossoming, of a crunch to the high grass already bowed low by the autumn.

The house was cold too, though it warmed well with radiators and a fire. We’ve had a mild fall here in Sweden, which is not good, really, because it means lots of days in the 40s (5-10 degrees celsius) with no sun. I happened to read a book of poetry this weekend, and lo and behold, the Chinese poet in the eighth century had a country cottage outside of the city.

This is Wang Wei, translated by Vikram Seth:

Autumn Nightfall at my Place in the Hills

In the empty mountains, after recent rain,
A sense of Fall comes with the evening air.
The moon is bright and shines between the pines.
Over the stones the spring-fed stream runs clear.
Bamboos rustle: washerwomen go home.
Lotuses stir: fishing boats make their way.
At its own will, the scent of Spring has gone.
But you, ‘O prince of friends,’ of course may stay.

a safe life in sweden makes parenting dangers more clear

The New York Times ran a story on Sunday on the huge gap between what actually keeps our kids safe, and what we think keeps them safe.  It turns out the five biggest things likely to injure a child are car accidents, murder, suicide, child abuse and drowning.  What are parents afraid of, though? Kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers and drugs.

The driving seems the most relevant and common – and it means the most to me as an American who has chosen to go without a car in Sweden.  From the story:

“The least safe thing you can do with your child, statistically, is drive them somewhere,” said Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids,” a manifesto preaching a return to the day when children were allowed to roam on their own. “Yet every time we put them in the car we don’t think, ‘Oh God, maybe I should take public transportation instead, because if something happened to my kid on the way to the orthodontist I could never forgive myself.’ ”

The article is a good examination of how we are bad at risk assessment – how kidnapping looms over every decision while kids get fat (and sick) because they get no exercise because they are never let outside or forced to ride their bikes anywhere.

The beautiful thing about Sweden is the lack of fear.  I’m not sure Stockholm is any safer than your average American suburb.  And I’m sure Swedish parents fret and worry.  But, still, there is not that overarching fear of violent, horror-movie death hanging over children here.

And it clears the head.  So every time I get annoyed that we are taking the train to our summer cottage, I do actually think that we are safer on the train.  Every time we get in a car now, I am terrified that my kids will die.  This may seem like an overreaction to an American, but it is the more logical fear.  My children are much more likely to get hurt in a car than anywhere else.  So I keep them out of cars.

And I hope that it holds over if we ever live in the US again.  I hope that I will just tell my daughter to ride her bike to soccer practice, even if it means taking quiet streets at dusk.  I’ll make sure she has a helmet and a light and a cell phone, if need be.

Better than getting her in a car at rush hour …

choosing a summer in the country over a car in the city

Summer is over in Sweden.  You can no longer walk barefoot in the grass; the earth numbs your feet in 15 minutes.  The geese are in full flight south and the blueberries are overripe and falling to the mossy ground.  The weather is like eastern Croatia in early October, or New York in late October, or maybe Northern California in December.

With two sniffling kids in tow, we took two commuter trains north on Saturday morning for one last weekend in our summer cottage.  Every time I write those words – summer cottage –  I have to explain:  summer cottages are cheap and common in Sweden, we have no water in the cottage and we live near a big road, a train line, a power line and a Swedish army firing range.

Yes, I doth protest too much.  The cottage is glorious.  But it comes at a price – which is a car.  We had to make a choice last year.  Do we buy the cottage and stay in the tiny apartment in the city with two kids?  Or do we buy a car and maybe move to a town house in the suburbs?

We chose the cottage and the cramped space.  This is an easy choice in a mild Swedish summer.  I gushed about it here on the blog  in July.  But it is a choice we start to pay for now.  Getting the family to the train is a pain.  The cottage is chilled, and we can’t light fires because of the out of control toddler.  The kids will get sick.  We will have to turn off the water.  The momentum is gone, the cottage is no good until next spring, and we will be left with 500 overflowing square feet and a long, dark Swedish winter.

But now that the summer has faded, we still like that we passed on the car and big space.  We still like that we have stepped off the pre-set life path of bigger jobs and bigger houses, of cars and long hours of daycare.

It still makes me feel like an adult, making all these seemingly un-adult choices.

A long time ago, in eastern Croatia, my future wife invited me over for dinner.  At that dinner, I went on and on about what is still good about America, about how you can find your way on the edges still, that some sort of freedom still flows there.

That’s how I feel about our life now.  We just made it happen in Sweden.

Growing Restless With Real Estate In Sweden

Here is my latest post from

My wife is addicted to porn—real estate porn.

See, we live in less than 500 square feet. With a toddler and a baby, both of whom are growing rapidly, alongside their also-growing piles of stuff. In addition, we have a north-facing balcony that gets no sun until late afternoon, if at all. Plus, we live on the first floor, and have to deal with crowds from the Swedish national soccer stadium down the street (meaning that there are sometimes dudes peeing right outside our window, and occasional hooligan brawls).

So she dreams a bit. Fantasizes. And the big newspaper here in Sweden gives her all the real estate porn she needs.

Every week, they produce this huge tabloid special section, with a big cover spread on some family that just converted their island into an eco-paradise, or maybe bought out four apartments in one building and knocked down all the walls to make one giant room all in white. Still, my wife’s fantasies are shockingly moderate. No McMansion for her. No big penthouse.

All she wants is 700 square feet. And a patio.

To read the rest of the post, just click here.

losing weight on paternity leave in the Swedish slush

I lose weight in Daddyland.  Really, it is automatic.

I was going to write this faux-infomercial about working out the toddler way, about how dancing and baby carrying and crawling and the like was guaranteed to take the pounds off.

Then out came a study that showed that most American stay at home moms with children under 6 do not get even 30 minutes of exercise a day (you can read some good comments at the WSJ blog on the topic).

So no informercial, which is OK, as I am tired and need to have my teeth whitened and the Botox injected to really do it right.

So why do I lose weight then? (Besides my new adherence to a low carb, GI-ish diet which I call the “eating less crap and reasonable portions of pasta diet” and that has taken me almost down to my junior year in high school weight).

With paternity leave, I have the perfect control test, as I am back and forth between the sandbox and the office, so to speak.

And in the office, I gain.  In the sandbox, I lose.

Well, there is one huge difference between me and most American stay at home moms.

I do not drive.  We actively choose to live in a tiny apartment in the middle of the city.  We do not own a car.  I do not even have a drivers license here.

I walk, and I walk, and I walk.  I do not even have time to workout, I am walking so much.

I also do rad, extreme feats of strength … see here.

One day last week, with a heavy backpack on my shoulders, I pushed a stroller – with one to two children in it, probably 50 to 100 pounds – through the slush to daycare, home, the bus stop, the Stockholm library, a restaurant, the bus stop, a second hand children’s clothing store, daycare, the library and home.

It came to more than two hours of exhausting, calorie-burning trudging, all while negotiating the moods of two kids and myself.

And that was the far more difficult feat, making it home with everyone smiling …

a new york real estate nightmare avoided but still afraid in Sweden

When fear overtakes me, whether in the darkest night or suddenly in a ray of sunshine, when fear enters our safe corner of the Swedish welfare state, it brings images of a white house in Port Jervis, New York.

Our house.  The house where our daughter spent her first year.  The house with the giant red couch and the new porch with the view of the swaying tall trees.  The house with the original woodwork and the attic that could be an art studio and the old barber shop in the cellar.

The house with the bats and the bugs.   The house with one amazing set of neighbors and nothing else for miles.  The house far from all our family and friends.

In my nightmares, we do not sell and do not move to Daddyland.  We get stuck.  And I stop, because I cannot go any further.

Well, now our wonderful Victorian in the cute little river town is back on the market – and has been for more than eight months!

This is your chance to get out of the big city, enjoy the forest, the rivers, the cool breezes (just do not have your first child in town with a doctor you do not like and with no network and only one car and with lead paint on the ceiling of your porch).

I guess it didn’t work out for our buyers … who were good, hardworking people moving up from the Bronx.

I would feel worse for them – talk about bad timing, buying a house in the country two hours from your job just when the housing market blows up and gas prices skyrocket – if they had not ripped out our garden, dug up the Japanese maple we planted when NK was born and put up drywall in every room and then painted everything white.


At least no one has called me, telling me that we still own it, that we have to go back.

Still, however, I won’t be able to sleep tonight … too scared.   (this is our picture, not a current one)