What happens in your house when the clock strikes twelve on Halloween?
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Culture shock hit us hard. My husband struggled to navigate the intricacies of his workplace in a second language.
As for me, not only did I have to adjust to a new country, I suddenly was a stay-at-home wife with no friends. I spent the days à la Carrie Bradshaw, wandering the streets and looking longingly into cafes full of people gabbing over coffee. Trips to the supermarket turned into cross-cultural minefields, once bringing me to tears as the cashier upbraided me for not having weighed my vegetables.
We adjusted. Slowly. We had a baby and enthusiastically entered him into the French childcare system. We had a mixture of expat and French friends. Eventually, we became a little bit more French than American.
Six years later, it was time to move back home. We had outstayed our welcome in France, at least according to the labyrinth-like France-US tax treaties, and it was time to cut and run.
But hey! We’re going back home to New York City! That can’t be so different, right!? NBD!
The first few weeks were easy: We caught up with old friends and rejoiced in the hyper-convenience of living in America. (Target! 24-hour drug stores! Grocery delivery!) We ate our way through the city and reveled in being able to understand everything around us.
Even though he had two American parents, he was essentially a French kid.
But our 3-year-old son was struggling. While we were reacclimating to a familiar culture, he was experiencing straight-up culture shock. Even though he had two American parents, he was essentially a French kid.
His formative years were spent happily immersed in a loving creche and his French vocabulary was stronger than his English. He was in love with Trotro but had never heard of Doc McStuffins. But he looked and sounded American, so this huge cultural difference wasn’t apparent to anyone, including his well-intentioned parents.
Culture shock is characterized by disorientation and disconnect, anxiety and frustration. For adults who can rationalize what’s going on, it’s awful. If you’ve ever been through it, then you know.
Now imagine what it feels like to a tiny person who has been uprooted from a safe, secure place filled with loving friends and caretakers—only to be deposited into a scary new place where even the fire engines and police cars make different sounds.
As I think back to the first few months of my son’s life here, I cringe at how confused he must have felt. Navigating preschool on a daily basis must have been so difficult for him: The sheer quantity of little things that he just didn’t know (like how to sit cross-legged at circle time) must have been staggering.
I imagine he felt like he was constantly in the wrong for not following rules he didn’t know existed in the first place. To top it all off, half of his vocabulary had effectively been taken away from him during school hours.
And just like the day at the grocery store where I broke down in tears at the cash register, one day my son’s feelings came to the surface. He started to act out at school, to the point that we worried he’d be kicked out.
At home, he refused to speak French and got agitated if I took him to French-language playgroups. Our sweet, fun-loving boy had been transformed into a bundle of rage, ready to ignite at the slightest aggravation. My husband and I panicked: We had broken our son.
Our first reaction was to call the director of our son’s French creche: Had he been acting like this all along and no one told us!? She assured us that this was all completely out of character, which meant that it was a reaction to the move and therefore would pass.
She also gently reminded us that this was a massive—and likely painful–transition for him. Somehow this fact had escaped my attention, and I felt like an utter failure as a mom.
Around the same time, we started to work with a wonderful child psychologist who helped us find tools to help our son through the adjustment period. For example, when he was upset, our go-to phrase had been, “Use your words.”
Turns out, to a bilingual kid who has just lost the ability to use half his vocabulary, that’s supremely unhelpful. (Damn you, Daniel Tiger!) Instead we began to narrate his feelings for him, “I bet you’re feeling really mad right now because it’s time to turn off the TV.” It’s the little things.
Five months in and it’s still an adjustment period, both for him and for us as parents. But we’re getting there.
My takeaway from this nightmare period is this: Kids are adaptable, they absolutely are. They’re sponges and soak up everything around them.
But if you’re facing a similar move, don’t make our mistake and cavalierly think that everything will fall into place by itself. It might, it might not.
Our adaptable kids need our help, especially when they’re navigating a culture that’s ours—not theirs.
Continue to live vicariously through our journey to various Christmas Markets in our Swedish town and beyond.
Länsmansgården is an old mid-18th century property featuring a manor and two-story cottage built in 1743.
The historic buildings now house antiques and the main manor serves as a local art gallery, and the barn is now a cafe that serves up dynamite fika desserts and coffee with a cozy atmosphere to boot.
Our kids love playing in the garden, which also houses school children’s class projects as part of an “outdoor classroom.” Different classes plant crops and see how they fare during the season.
We love visiting Länsmansgården on a regular day and they always host cultural festivities during midsummer and Christmas.
Address: Kantarellvägen 12 in Åkersberga
Parking: Free but very limited. We had to park down the street.
Dogs are allowed but not in the historic buildings
The cafe is on site is excellent and is usually packed, but there is usually a hot dog vendor grilling outside.
Bathrooms are available in the building attached to the Konsthall
Check website for more details: http://osterakerskonsthall.se/
It’s a small Christmas market but will do the trick if you’re looking for some nice arts and crafts from local artists. The antiques and the local handicrafts are available year-round, so there’s no rush to buy those at Christmas if you want to avoid the crowds.
A new addition was that there was beer available to purchase from two local brewers. The alcohol was 2.5%, so they were able to sell it on Sundays (nice!). If you go, dress in warm layers, and be sure to check out the beehive in the back before you leave. The kids always love looking at the bees.
Wira Bruk is an old iron works village that was active back in the heyday of Sweden’s superpower era when they were cranking out weaponry as fast as they could.
It’s the site where the King’s weapons (read: swords) and townspeople received tax credits for supplying Sweden with iron goods.
Visiting Wira Bruk is like taking a stroll back in time and it is well worth a gander.
But let’s talk about their Christmas market, shall we?
Wira Bruk has hosted a julmarknad (Christmas market) for the past three years during the first advent weekend.
Be ready to be shocked by sights not usually seen at other Christmas markets.
Have you ever seen a dragon’s skull (that’s surprisingly small)?
A fairy skeleton (that’s surprisingly big)?
Or how about a 7″ tall stone troll (that’s surprisingly realistic)?
No? Then get yourself over to Roslagen’s Wira Bruk because they have them all on display.
Part of me wondered if these installations were left up from Halloween but the other part of me didn’t care because they were shocking.
This shock led to delightful squeals of discovery from my kids and they raced around the town looking for the next “hidden treasure.”
To boot, there were tons of local vendors selling cured meats, fried herring, warm glögg, and warm nuts. I finally got my warm nuts in a paper sack!
I don’t ask for much from Christmas markets but man, did Wira Bruk deliver on all fronts.
You really can’t beat the atmosphere of an 18th century village. It has charm built into its bones already but somehow, they made it even more Christmasy with wood burning fires, and live music from three accordion players playing Christmas carols.
There were plenty of places to sit and sip on hot cocoa as you warmed your hands by the fire and sat on animal skin (sorry animals) covered hay bales. There were horse-drawn wagon rides, and pony rides throughout the village.
Sure, the river monster was a bit creepy and the fairy skeleton a bit unorthodox, but there were surprises around every corner and the kids loved running from sight to sight.
Wowee was this Tomten authentic, right down to his Swedish boots. If you’re looking for a Swedish Santa, then Wira Bruk has your guy.
Tomten sits on sheep skin covered tree stump chairs (I know!) in a little cabin and is surrounded by an old toboggan, wrapped presents, and a straw-covered floor.
This Tomten was a bit clueless when it came to modern day presents so he asked the kids a lot of questions about what exactly they wanted for Christmas which means that each kid received 8-excrutiatingly long minutes with Tomten. Great for the kids but a bit tiresome for the other kids waiting in line out in the cold.
Hopefully, in the future, Tomten will employ a helper Elf or Troll to move the line along a bit faster but our kids loved the experience and felt that they met the real Tomten.
Dress in multiple layers. All of the buildings are from the 1700s and the experience can be very cold depending on the weather and if your kids want to ride any ponies.
Enjoy your day in Roslagen and be sure to sample our local beers.
Top notch Christmas market with a beautiful atmosphere that will get you in the mood for Christmas. Not only were the bizarre demons, trolls, and fairies a fun addition to the market but Tomten (Santa) was patient and spoke at length with each child.
The clothing on the vendors were appropriate for the time period and everyone was in the holiday spirit.
This is one Christmas market that I recommend everyone make the special trip to see at least once.
For more Christmas season activities in Sweden, check out the full list of Christmas markets that we are going to visit this year.
There are only so many we can possibly visit in a short period of time, so be sure to comment with your favorites.
I sat down with my son, Calvin, to ask him a few questions about his new school and find out what he likes most and least about living in Sweden. His answers surprised me a bit!
After we finished the Q&A, we did a fun storytelling exercise where he provided a few details like the main character’s name and a setting and I took it from there, pausing at random intervals to let him fill in the blanks.
Allowing for 100% pure improvisation can take you and your child down some fun paths and I encourage you to try it out tonight.
Our kid-lib story starts at minute 6:00 above if you want to skip over the Q&A.
I did this same exercise with my four-year-old daughter yesterday and her story was very different from her brother’s.
Sibling tip: I found it easiest to do when you are in a 1:1 situation and your kid can offer up ideas without feeling pressured by their sibling or without their sibling jumping in with new ideas. In order to challenge their creativity and to foster their voice, it really needs to be done 1:1.
**Music provided by bensound.com**
Easily create beautiful watercolor designs with this simple and fast sugar water technique.
My kids absolutely loved painting with this sugar water technique. They each raved about how beautiful their creations were and couldn’t wait to try it again. This is a great rainy day activity for kids and adults of any age. Watch as the colors explode and bloom into new shapes as you continue to drop new colors of paint.
You can add a black piece of construction paper to the back to create a faux border.
Why does the watercolor paint spread out on the sugar water base?
When you boiled the water, the water molecules inserted themselves between the weak sucrose molecules and completely dissolved the sugar. However, the thin layer of sugar-water mix on the paper prior to painting allows the watercolor paint to adhere to the dissolved crystals that are now dispersed randomly onto the piece of paper. Pretty cool, right?
If you have extra sugar water leftover, you can paint random sugar-water designs onto a piece of black construction paper. Ask your kid to guess what the paper will look like when the mix dries.
The picture will be revealed once the water evaporates and leaves the sugar crystals behind in the shape painted. Why did that happen?
These are fun and creative experiments that allow you to sneak in a bit of science without your child knowing it.
Keep exploring and trying new creations with your sugar water.
For more design ideas, check out this video:
Have you done sugar water painting before?
I don’t normally do crafts but these folks do
In European countries, it is common for the entire country to shut down in August as people head off to various resorts and tourist destinations. In Sweden, that “shut down” month is July—typically the warmest weather month of the year with maximum hours of sunlight. With four weeks of vacation, what is a family to do? Fortunately, for Swedes, there are plenty of stugor (rustic cabins) to rent, and plenty of islands to visit.
One island, in particular, Öland, is located off the southeast coast of Sweden in the Kalmar region. Öland translates to “island land,” which is fairly nonsensical but essentially, it’s a long, narrow island.
There is a bus that runs between Stockholm and Öland if you want to put someone else in charge of the driving.
You can enter the island either by ferry (2.5 hours long), which deposits you on the northern side or by car across the Kalmar-Öland bridge, which is closer to the southern part of the island.
If you want to ride on the ferry, be sure to call ahead and book as soon as possible because space is limited and it sells out quickly. Payment is in cash on the dock before you load so if you change your mind and want to drive to Kalmar to visit their beautiful castle, you’re absolutely free to do so.
We rented a stuga/cabin in Löttorp (northern Öland), which was really nice, from Stug Knuten’s website. There are tons of camping sites that are mostly for RVs and not tents, but you should be able to find accommodations that fit your needs.
Drive 5 km in any direction and chances are, you’ll find yourself passing a Go-kart place. There are tons of go-kart tracks for various ages of children and adults. The most popular go-kart amusement park for kids ages 2-9 years is Lådbilslandet but there are tons of go-kart places throughout the island suitable for both small kids and adults. Check out my full guide to Lådbilslandet which is quite possibly the happiest place in Sweden.
Borgholm Castle is pretty neat because it’s the inspiration for the “looped square” shape that appears on Scandinavian road signs for cultural places of interest.
Did you know that that same symbol is also on every Apple computer keyboard? Why? Back in the 1980’s, Steve Jobs didn’t want to put the Macintosh symbol everywhere so he tasked Susan Kare with finding a new symbol. As a symbol of places of interest in Scandinavia, Susan thought it was the right fit for the company. The symbol itself resembles the shape of square Borgholm Castle with the round corner towers as seen from a bird’s eye view.
Not only do you get to freely explore the castle ruins but Borgholm Castle has a courtyard full of medieval games for kids. Hop on a wooden horse and try your hand at jousting or try to hit the bullseye with an old bow and arrow.
The adults in our party had more fun with the archery than the kids did. Believe it or not but bows and arrows back in the 13th century weren’t all that easy to shoot.
Don’t forget to head upstairs and check out the seasonal art installations that rotate to feature different artists from around the world. There’s also a great heart sculpture that is perfect for family portraits and the inner courtyard often holds music concerts.
For the most part, head to your nearest grocery store (here’s a link of all of the local ICA stores) and picnic wherever you go. You’ll save money and not every attraction has the best options for food.
These people don’t mess around with their ice cream portions. Serving sizes are fit for giants and/or people with an endless tolerance for lactose and sugar. If you aren’t either one of those, I’d strongly suggest sharing desserts.
My kids are six and three years old, and they happily shared a kid’s ice cream bowl because it was plenty large enough. My husband and I shared an adult serving, and it came with six scoops. Six scoops! We needed more people to help us finish it, honestly.
There is a playground with an inflatable bounce house for the kids to work off all of that sugar while you figure out how you’re going to eat all of that ice cream before it melts.
This restaurant is an institution (an institution, I tell ya!) on Öland. If you are a meat eater, then this is the place for you to go. Entrance price is a bit high, but that’s because you’ll leave so stuffed to the brim with all of the lamb and pork you can eat.
Ask the meat carvers to give you a little slice of everything, and you’ll probably have a hard time picking your favorite part of the meal.
The fees for kids are based on their age, and there are some kid-friendly food options available (hot dogs, pasta, etc.) Most likely, you will lose your kids to the Wii/movie room at the back of the restaurant for at least an hour. (This is a blessing because you still have a lot of food to eat!)
Once you’re done eating (your table reservation is for 2.5 hours), you can head upstairs to the rooftop deck with coffee and dessert ordered separately at the bar.
My recommendation: Book a table reservation for 5 pm before the restaurant gets busy and the lines become insanely long.
There’s no shortage of beaches on Öland. Want a rocky beach? They have that. Want a sandy beach? They have those too. Want a beach where you can rent a paddle boat? Check. You name it, they have it. Drive down the coast and look for the swimming person sign and go swimming.
But will the water be warm enough to go swimming? Absolutely!
Despite being in Sweden, the water on the east coast side of Öland is shallow enough that it warms up quite nicely and is pleasant for swimming. We went in early July, and the water was still a bit chilly, but in late July/August, the water will be warm enough for your kids to spend a lot of time playing in the sea.
The only consideration is to figure out the parking situation. Some beaches have free parking, but some require payment via SMS. We did not have the right app on our phone to pay for parking, and our iTunes account was US-based, not Swedish, so it couldn’t even find the app to download. We offered to pay another Swedish beach goer the 30 SEK in cash for them to pay for our car via the app but they turned us down.
When in doubt, ask someone for assistance but it’s always good to have a bit of extra cash lying around in case you need to make a deal.
When you think of Sweden, you don’t normally think of alpacas, ostriches, and camels, but Öland has them all. A few forward thinking exotic animal breeders brought these animals from similar climates to this tiny island. Be sure to thank them for providing your family another interesting thing to do while on Öland.
Ride on a Camel
If nothing else, people will wonder where you went on vacation when they see your holiday card with your entire family riding on a camel. Feel free to bring a picnic to the camel ranch.
Why are there alpacas in Sweden? I couldn’t tell you but the man who runs the alpaca farm(?) is very nice and loves his animals. They are prize winning alpacas (I bet you’re impressed) and his little family shop has beautiful alpaca wool sweaters and goods.
Tours are on the modest side but you may get to snuggle an alpaca or two. It turns out that alpacas are not social animals at all. However, this man has raised a few to approach visitors in a friendly way.
There are also chickens running around the premises and now there are few beehives in his animal collection. Fun for the whole family.
Whether you want to sleep on an ostrich ranch or just visit to enjoy their delicious food in the cafe, swing by the Marsjö Ostrich Cultural Center in Borgholm, Sweden.
Not going to lie, the ostriches were somewhat underwhelming. They are behind a fence and you can’t interact with them and it was a bit ho-hum.
You will see signs with the word “Loppis” on them and possibly hours, although, most loppis are open every day. Grab a bike and start “loppising” around. Get to know the locals and ask them how their day is going. They’ll appreciate the conversation. I bought a fun pair of handmade earrings made from Lego bricks that I thought was such an ingenious upcycle. You never know what treasures you may find at a loppis.
If you haven’t noticed by now, vacationing on Öland is a pretty simple affair. You’ll enjoy lots of picnics, camping, and taking pictures with exotic wildlife. The people of Öland are very nice and they graciously tolerate the thousands of outsiders on their tiny island every summer.
I can’t predict the Swedish weather (nobody can), so I suggest being flexible with whatever Thor (the Norse god of thunder, weather, and crops) sends your way.
An Öland vacation will undoubtedly involve berry picking, exotic animals, go-kart lands, and relaxing beaches for every type of traveler.
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The 1980s are alive and well at Lådbilslandet—or Soap Box Car Land—an amusement park in Sweden with soap box cars, “motorcycles” (they have three wheels so they are more like tricycles with engines), tractors, and river rafts.
Lådbilslandet is a place where your kids can feel like grown ups.
It’s a “kids only” type of place and adults aren’t allowed on any of the rides. Not one. If your kid doesn’t want to ride alone then you’ll need to find a willing child (or sibling) to ride along with them. Honestly, that shouldn’t be hard at all to find since every kid I saw was dying for extra rides.
The kids are really in charge at this amusement park and parents have no choice but to relinquish all pretenses of being in control of the situation. The kids quickly figure out that the grownups are stuck on the sidelines and they discover the awesome power of driving on the open road without any adult behind the wheel.
Included in the admission fee at the Lådbilslandet are six tickets to ride the go-kart rides and unlimited access to the “circus”—an area with bouncy inflatable houses, tea cup rides, an automated train ride through the woods, and a more traditional Swedish wooden obstacle course in the forest. The rides in the circus area are definitely lagom speed (not too fast, not too slow) and are better suited for the younger crowd.
Perhaps it was because we visited the park in Öland before the high season began (we were there July 4-July 12) but the park attendees were very relaxed in their duties. If the ride was already moving and another child showed up behind the chain, the 19-year-old ride attendant would stop the teacups and let the extra rider hop on.
If the kids wanted to ride again, they didn’t have to hop off and file through the line again; they were allowed to stay on and ride as many times as they wanted.
“Anyone want to ride again?”
And the ride would start up again for another few minutes.
In short, it was heaven for the kids.
For the adults, maybe it was a bit more stressful version of heaven.
I consider myself to be a fairly laid-back parent when it comes to allowing my kids to do daring things. I give them some instructions before they jump from heights like, “Be sure you’re going to land in a soft spot and remember to bend your knees,” but this was on an entirely different level. “Parental bravery required” should’ve been posted on their entrance sign.
For most of the rides, the go-karts/soap box cars were slow enough that even a head-to-head collision wouldn’t cause any damage or injury. For five of the six rides, I was totally chill. I was a cool mom, not like those other moms.
But for Traffikskola (Traffic School), the biggest experience in Lådbilslandet, I was not a chill mom. I was a nail biting, repress-my-squealing, watch-through-my-hand-over-my-eyes mom.
I thought they would teach my kids how to drive. You know. Like, how they do in Traffic School. Nope. They didn’t teach those kids any rules of the road and the results spoke for themselves.
Traffikskola is THE ride. Kids get to choose what type of soap box car they want to drive and they aren’t just cars. They get to drive grocery trucks, ice cream trucks, fire trucks, police cars, city buses, etc. The options were really awesome.
Traffikskola was essentially a small city created to scale for the kids to drive through. There were bridges, roundabouts, a church, gas station, grocery store, school, and mechanic shop—everything that an actual town would have. Really really cool stuff.
However, since the lagom 19-year-olds manning the park were entirely cool with the kids doing whatever, there was zero “skola” in the Traffikskola. I asked my six-year-old if he had received any instructions and he said, “the guy asked me if I had ever driven before and I just said yes.”
And that was it.
What is super fun about Traffikskola is not just that the kids get to drive on “real roads” in real “traffic” but also that they get to do it for such a long time. I don’t know how the park attendants were timing the kids, but they didn’t wave them in for what felt like an eternity.
Or maybe that’s just how it felt from the parent’s perspective.
Meanwhile, you can see parents on the side of the road coaching their kids in vain attempts to avoid constant collisions. Naturally, none of these kids knew how to drive, so they were driving on the “wrong” side of the road, driving two abreast, and making spontaneous U-turns in the middle of an intersection.
One girl was stuck in a roundabout for a few rotations before she figured out which road she wanted to drive down. This type of chaos was challenging the resolve of even the most laid back, hands-off parents among us.
Despite some really close disasters, we didn’t see any major accidents. A few times, a car would break down, and an attendant would run out to restart the engine, but all in all, the kids did best when the parents didn’t intervene.
What a huge lesson for me as a parent.
And nobody was even mildly hurt and they had a blast!
If your kid wasn’t feeling bold enough after driving themselves around all day avoiding the police car go-kart, they can hop on a raft and pull themselves across a nice pond. This was my daughter’s favorite part of the entire park and it looked like a surprising amount of fun. I always forget that sometimes the simplest attractions are the best received with kids.
So, if you’re in the Stockholm or Kalmar area of Sweden, head to Lådbilslandet and remember to leave your helicopter parenting hat at the admissions booth.
Admission fee: 350 kr/child; Adults are free because you’re not riding any of the rides.
No dogs allowed but you can go in/out of the park as many times as you want.
Food is available on the premises but you are welcome to pack your own picnic. There are plenty of picnic tables and there’s always soft serve ice cream.
Toilets are easily accessible and plentiful—this is a park for kids after all.
Best recommended age: Their website recommends kids between 2-9 years but my three-year-old was a bit nervous. I’d say a precocious three-year-old will be okay or kids in the 4-8 year range are really in the sweet spot for this park.
All kids receive a Lådbilslandet driver’s license when they leave so they feel really grown up and may offer to drive everyone home. Gotta watch out for all of those new drivers on the road.
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“Where’s the chamber pot?” I asked my husband at 2 am.
“You’re kidding me,” he mumbled. Wish I was, my dear, wish that I was.
If you ever wanted to know what life was like before modern conveniences, then look no further than your nearest Swedish stuga. Stuga is Swedish for “cabin or cottage, ” and they are generally pretty rustic—mostly because they were constructed sometime in the 1800s and electricity and running water were later additions.
Your classic Swedish stuga has low ceilings—people were shorter 100+ years ago—a wood burning stove in one or all of the corners, and if you have a fancy stuga, you’ll have more than one room with big heavy wooden doors. For whatever reason, my daughter thinks opening and closing stuga doors is the funnest thing ever and it keeps her busy for at least an hour.
Many of our Swedish friends have mentioned spending their Easter holidays and summer vacations “at the stuga,” and we always thought it was a second summer home. Many of them have inherited them from their parents and stugor (the plural form) are rich sources of childhood memories.
If you’re from the US, you’ve probably never experienced this blend of cabin/camping. Swedish stugor are a step above camping but not quite like the modern cabins you’ll find in the Maine or Wisconsin wilderness.
Spending time in a Swedish stuga is like stepping back into time. Once the iron key turns the lock, you are opening a time capsule. It’s easy to imagine life as a maid when there is not hot water on the tap, and you need to boil water for every round of dishes you need to wash.
1. Unpack your items and load up a dorm-sized refrigerator with as many groceries as possible
2. Start preparing coffee
3. Start preparing your next meal
4. Eat your meal
5. Boil water to clean up after the meal you just ate
6. Make more coffee
7. Dry and put the dishes away
8. Sweep the floor
(Unlike every other abode in Sweden, you are not expected to remove your shoes when entering a Swedish stuga. As a result, dirt and leaves are constantly tracked into the kitchen area.)
9. Leave the house for vacation-related activities like boating, swimming, fishing, etc.
10. Start preparing your next meal
11. Repeat steps 4-9 for 1-3 weeks
As you can see, most of your time is spent around preparing and cleaning up after meals. All of those modern conveniences like microwaves, dishwashers, and washing machines that save time are back in your modern house. You know, the one you joyfully left behind in search of a new adventure. Without all of those devices, you’re essentially taking on the role of an 1800s maid. In fact, that’s why Swedish families had maids. All of those tasks take up a lot of your day! But now we do it and call it a vacation.
Despite the moderate-to-hard labor, it’s easy to see why families love stuga life so much.
Stugor are located in one of four places:
1. On a lake
2. On the sea/ocean which may or may not be on an island
3. On a farmstead
4. In the woods
In all instances, the scenery is quiet, serene, and picturesque.
One thing that nobody really tells you about stuga life is the bathroom situation. Remember, this is 1800s living and they didn’t have bathrooms back then. So, where do you poop?
This is when stuga living is closer to camping than staying in a rustic cabin. I grew up camping in Maine, USA where we needed a flashlight to walk through the woods to trek to the building with toilets and showers. No biggie—I’ve used an outhouse before. Or so I thought…
We have had the pleasure of being invited to our Swedish friends’ stugor and have experienced the full gamut of outhouses. We’ve stayed in outhouses with electricity (really fancy and quite nice in the cold winter months), double hole outhouses—for when you need to poop but want to take a friend along for conversation, and the nonexistent-outhouse—a full bathroom located in another building.
Usually, the indication that the outhouse is in use is when the exterior lock is unlocked (pay attention to that signal) or if the door is left open.
Pro tip: Ask your Swedish hosts what the signal is and save yourself a potential embarrassing walk-in later on.
For the stuga we rented for our family vacation, we had the nonexistent-outhouse situation. We rented a two-room stuga with “access to a full bathroom in the house 30 meters away.” Fortunately, the sun doesn’t set until late at night during Swedish summers, so we didn’t need any flashlights to find our way. The bathroom was a full bathroom with a really hot shower, so the short walk across the grass wasn’t as much of an imposition as I had feared.
The downside of having a toilet in a separate building is that if you’re sleeping in a cot in the attic, as I was—accessible only by steep and shallow steps suitable for a submarine—you might not want to navigate down those death-stairs, out creaky doors, and walk the 30 m across the grass in the middle of the night just to pee out the little bit of water you should not have drunk at 10 pm. Now I understood why chamber pots were so popular before indoor plumbing became a thing. Where is a chamber pot when you really need one?!?
Stugor are small and you really don’t want multiple people (and potentially whiny kids) to be cramped in tight quarters with no WiFi, TV, or indoor plumbing, so you end up eating a lot of your meals outside. This is really great if the weather cooperates but we didn’t let a bit of snow slow us down when we stayed at our friends’ stuga in late February. Slap on another pair of snow pants because we’re eating lunch outside. (See pictures above and below.)
Not only is eating outside fun and different from what you normally do, but it also means that you eat differently. We ate a lot more grilled foods than we normally would because of our cooking and eating situation. Grilling also results in fewer dishes so, let’s grill every night!
Our summer stuga vacation was sunny skies and beautiful sunsets. After dinner, we took evening walks on dirt roads into the woods and peeked into old barns and farmhouses. We saw large beetles and it seemed like there was always a deer or wild rabbit in the fields behind the house. We even lucked out and saw a double rainbow over the meadow after a light rain shower.
After staying in Swedish friends’ stugor and renting one for our family, I understand why stuga life is so attractive for so many families.
Stuga life is remarkably different from what you experience on a daily basis. Everyone unplugs because WiFi is a bit of a ridiculous luxury when you don’t even have access to a flushing toilet.
When you stay at a hotel, you often have all of the modern amenities that make a vacation truly relaxing but you are also still very much plugged in. There’s WiFi everywhere, TVs in every room, and it’s harder to get your kids to run around without their shoes on.
After a few days of stuga living, my kids didn’t want to put on their shoes again. We rode bikes, saw the local pigs, cows, and alpaca. (Maybe not what you’d expect in Sweden, but there ya go.) We spent more time outside, because the stuga was a bit small and the outside was so nice.
Families head off to their stugor to get away from the hustle, bustle, and the pull of modern life. So what if you spend an inordinate amount of time boiling water to wash dishes? Instead, we had a lot of time for talking, laughing, telling stories, playing games, and relaxing.
In reality, stuga life is pretty great.
If you’re not comfortable camping, then I can’t recommend a vacation at a Swedish stuga. Just like camping, I ignored my own advice and overpacked. But, if you’re feeling adventurous and can “rough it” for a short time, then you’ll love the family memories you make living a simpler, slower lifestyle.
You’ll also return to your house with a much greater appreciation than you’ve ever felt before. The first trip you’ll make when you walk through your front door will probably be to your warm, clean, and cozy bathroom. Taking a hot shower has never felt so good. Flushing toilets! OMG, I’m in heaven!
A stuga vacation will be one that you’ll remember and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s how we end up spending many of our future family vacations.
Until then, you can borrow some Swedish stuga living without ever hopping on a plane simply by eating your next meal outside and turning off your phone. I’ll probably skip the chamber pot as long as I have a functioning toilet, though, thanks.
Read more about Swedish summers here.
My approach to parenting involves a lot of shrugged shoulders and raised eyebrows to indicate that, “I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m hoping for the best.” Based on my conversations with other parents, we’re all in the same boat.
A few months ago, I was asking a fellow American-in-Sweden parent at what age is it culturally acceptable for kids to bike by themselves to school and to friends’ houses? The answer was a bit vague—well, depending on the distance, your kid’s ability, comfort level, etc., etc., you know how it is. Basically, the advice was to launch the bike riding kid in steps. You slowly remove yourself from the equation and increase the distance and time they have on their own.
For this American dad, he drops his seven-year-old daughter on the pedestrian/bike path, and off she bikes solo from school to home. He then follows along on that same route a few minutes behind her in case she runs into trouble or needs help. That seemed like a reasonable approach to me.
Our neighborhood has a lot of cars since we are further out from the city center, but we also have very wide designated footpaths for pedestrians and bikes. There is a wide grassy margin between the path and the road so even an out of control bike should find a safe, soft landing.
Summertime is here, the weather is sunny, and I’m looking to strike a parenting balance between laissez-faire and complete neglect so that I can relax as well as let the kids have free reign outside. What can I do that won’t get me a side-eye from the neighbors? Hmm…
My six-year-old son had a playdate this morning with his friend who lives down one street, up a hill, and down another street. We biked it yesterday, and it took us around 10 minutes door-to-door. This morning, he announces that he’s old enough (he’s six) to bike there on his own.
He is cautious and pulls off to the side of the road to wait whenever he sees or hears a car. If anything, he’s too cautious, if there is such a thing. His insistence that he could do it on his own coupled with my summertime lax attitude (and previous cultural research that this wouldn’t lead to the cops knocking on my door) led to a “Sure, honey!” and a text to the other mom.
Me: Hey, we are trying something new, and he’ll be biking over by himself. Can you text me when he arrives?
Other mom: Of course! How fun!
Before he left, we went through a few more hypothetical scenarios and what ifs and off he went, waving goodbye while his sister shouted at him to be careful. I watched him bike down our street and then peeked out my back window until I saw his little helmet at the bottom of the hill. From there, I knew he’d be all set.
Other mom: He arrived safe and sound! See you at 2!
In total, it took him nine minutes door-to-door, and I’m sure he felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. This was a big step toward childhood independence for all of us. We are always treading on virgin ground with our first child. They are the first to push our boundaries and comfort zones.
Was I nervous? A little. Nothing is without risk, but I was less nervous after he reassured me before he left, “I can do it because I believe in myself and when you believe in something, you make it happen.” His pep talk was all the convincing I needed to let him try.
I know that not everyone’s neighborhood is conducive to allowing kids to bike freely on their own but maybe some are. Having a parent on the receiving end who doesn’t think you’re insane is a good start, wide sidewalks or low-traffic roads are also a big help.
When was the first time your kid biked without you and how did it go?
Read more about parenting in foreign countries with the Knocked Up Abroad series.
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