Monday, July 8, 2019

Reaching the Finish Line | I'm a Swedish Citizen!

Ok so I seriously only have 15 minutes to write this before my baby wakes up, but it's now or never.  YOU GUYS! I'm a Swedish citizen!! :D :D :D

So first, I'll get to the basic details:

  • I submitted my application online on April 8, 2019 
    • (I technically could have applied on April 7 2019, as that was exactly 3 years from the date I was folkbokförd in Sweden, but that was a Sunday. Sooo... *shrugs*)
  • I didn't see the part where you were supposed to click some sort of link to be taken to a form to print, sign, and mail in with your passport.  Realizing I messed up, I emailed MV to see if they could send me a copy sooner (the website says they'll send you a copy if one isn't received within 21 days), but nope; they said I would have to wait and they'd mail me one.  It arrived 5 weeks later.  *Sigh*
  • Once I received my copy to sign, I did so and mailed it in with my passport.
  • 6 weeks after mailing in my copy and passport (and 11 weeks total from the day I originally sent in my electronic application), I got my decision.  However, I expected it to take an eternity so I wasn't monitoring my application online.  The paperwork indicating I was granted citizenship showed up at my house a week after the decision was made, on the Monday after Midsommar.
Another couple of notes: 1) I forgot to mention I had done SFI, and I didn't mention any of the SAS classes I had started but never finished.  I wasn't sure if the employment section was meant just for activities that you gained income from, or if it was for anything that occupied your time.  I only listed the class that I finished and received CSN for, plus my job.  But I had also checked off "other source of income" or whatever because I was mammaledig for most of my stay in Sweden, but there was no way to explain that in the sysselsättning portion of the application. 2) I guessed on my annual incomes because it didn't clarify if I should include mammapeng, barnbidrag, etc. And most importantly, 3) I wrote at the end of my application that I would need to request my passport back in a few months if I didn't receive a decision in that time, as I had an appointment with the US embassy to get my infant son his American citizenship and I'd need my passport for that.

Aside from those details, I never contacted MV and truly expected to wait the full 29 months (as was quoted on the website).  

The moment I found out (for nostalgia's sake):

I was coming home from picking up my daughter at förskola and got the very random urge to check the mail.  I have no idea why.  I wasn't expecting a package and normally I never get the mail because it either requires me to leave my kids alone in the house to walk all the way to the roadside or I need to pull over on the road to get to the mail box, which is a bit dangerous as the road is traveled often. I don't know what compelled me to do it, but I simply got the urge to.  I saw some ads and two large envelopes.  I got back into the car and before driving down our driveway to the house, I happened to look at the two envelops.  One was from the BVC, and the other appeared at first to be some sort of survey or junk mail for my husband, it was a large plain white envelop with no logo or identifying text on it. But then I saw it was addressed to me.  So my eyes diverted to the sender's address, and it said Migrationsverket in plain Times New Roman font.  

In that moment, I think my heart either jumped to my throat or fell to the floor; I wasn't quite certain, but I definitely did feel my breath choke up slightly and my blood pressure rise.  Based on the size of the envelop, I assumed it was good news.. although I noted that there was no feeling that my passport was included in it.  Were they going to ask me for more information?

But nope! I opened it up and there it was in all it's glory, the Bevis with one sentence on it, that I had been granted citizenship.  I felt obliged to scream in excitement, but I didn't want to scare my kids.  My daughter could tell something was up and kept asking what it was, so I just told her momma was really happy and that she would get some chokladmjölk to celebrate the good news!

My thoughts later on...

After excitedly texting my husband and posting the obligatory picture on Facebook, the realization struck me that.... well, this wasn't exactly the moment I had dreamed of it being when I was still waiting for my original permit and envisioning this strange time in my life where I would have lived in a foreign country long enough to be welcomed as a citizen.

It might have been a crazy moment worth publicly celebrating, had I not had kids.

But in reality, no moment in this lifetime will ever supersede the awe and wonder of the day my kids were born.  Not just the intensity of labor followed by the relief of delivery, and not even the hormonal high, but that moment of meeting your child for the first time and seeing the face you could only imagine for the past 9 months as you caught glimpses of it on ultrasounds... no moment in my life will ever surpass the magic of those moments.  Everything is pale and gray in comparison.  I was relieved that I had crossed the finish line, so excited that I was done with this journey and could feel, finally, very stable and relaxed with my position in society.  No government decision could place more hoops for me to jump through, no worries about ever being separated from my children due to complexities of not sharing the same citizenship as them.  I was free to just move on and not be in immigration limbo ever again.

I talk occasionally with the friends I made in our original permit waiting process, and we still discuss those PTSD-y feelings we have from back then.  As I reflect on those moments now, however - and as I often feel when I reflect on any difficult moment in my life - I feel a sense of longing and a desire to go back in time and live some of it again.  Because, although they were dark and grueling and difficult times, I find that I never quite feel more alive than when I am in a deep struggle with something in my life.  When you're living each day and you're so present in the challenge, when you eat sleep and breathe the problem so much that you can hardly even sleep.. I dunno; I guess you're just really reminded of how badly you want something, and your heart, brain and soul sync up for a common cause.  It's special.  

So, where does that leave me now?

Well.. I guess it leaves me right back where I already was, haha! Our daughter - who was conceived at the 1-year mark of our wait for my original permit - will be turning 3 years old in just 2 months.  THREE YEARS OLD! And our infant son, who was born on New Year's Day this year, just turned 1/2-year a few days ago.  I'm currently on maternity leave from work, and will return on 1 January 2020.  Hoping they take me on full-time so we can save up some money and travel back to the US for a visit in the fall of 2020.. it will have been 3 years since I last visited home, if we do get to go at that time.  I long so deeply to visit my hometown(s) again.  We just bought a second car and we're developing our land more to make more exploratory space for our kids to play in.  We live really far from any city so our goal is to eventually move closer to a bigger city (although still live on the countryside), but we are committed to our house for the next several years, so we're cozying up to it.

My husband rather desperately wants to move to the US but I am 100% against it.  I said we can discuss it once our children are school-aged, so we agree that, at least for now, we will be living the next 6-10 years of our lives here in Sweden.  And by then, we may just be ready for a new adventure.  I would be up for moving to another country that is not the US, but we'll just have to wait and see.  Ideally, we could afford to buy a summer house in the US and just travel back and forth between the countries for a while, so that's sort of what we are eyeballing.  But, that will be well down the road.  For now, we are just carrying on with living the family life we have right now, and occasionally looking back to that wild time when we were young and free and living that crazy dream of moving abroad for love :)

Thank you all for following along on my adventure! It has been one heck of a ride :)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Time Flies... | An update about my life in Sweden 3 years later! (...with a surprise announcement!!)

I've been wanting to sit down and write this update for a long while, but I just haven't had the time to commit to capturing all the moving parts of my life and how they all blend into the picture of a not-so-new yet not-so-seasoned expat in Sweden :)

But I'm here now, so.... no time like the present! Let's just dive right in :)

What I've been up to since moving to Sweden!

Well, isn't that a loaded question ;)


The first year was MUCH slower than I had anticipated.  I had expected to get a head start, dive right in, and not be one of those people who had lived in Sweden for years and "barely accomplished anything".  Little did I know, the delays and slippage of time was inevitable.  Everything here takes a lot of time.  From getting an appointment to do the biometrics (I've heard stories that some cities have a queue of 6-12 months!?) to getting your residence card, and then filing for your PN, and then eventually getting your ID Kort..... and then queueing for SFI or SAS classes, and so forth.... navigating Arbetsförmedlingen and learning about nystartsjobb and instegsjobb opportunities, praktik positions, or heck! Just learning how to write a resume ("CV") the 'Swedish Way'... all of these things consume that first year.

I spent my first year in Sweden getting all my necessary ID cards, signing up for SFI, waiting 9 months for a seat in a distance class, and attending prenatal appointments.  6 months after I moved, I had my first baby and JESUS CHRIST was that a lot to handle!! Note to future migrants: Moving to a new country is hard enough as it is; try to avoid doing it while pregnant, especially if it's your first kid.  Talk about adding stress onto stress!!!


The second year was actually the hardest year for me.  The first year, while full of a bunch of paperwork, was still super exciting.  I just enjoyed my pregnancy and the break I was getting from quitting my super stressful job back in Los Angeles.  I was thriving on my savings, buying all kinds of baby things and researching baby products, reading books and preparing for labor, working out and cooking good food.  I walked the dogs every day and just really reveled in enjoying being reunited with my Swede <3

But the second year was time for business.  I had my baby and was ushered into the world of new parenthood and all the enormous stresses it put on my life, our finances, and even our relationship.  Anyone who has had a child for the first time, knows what I'm talking about.  But it was made even more difficult by the fact that I was living through my first Swedish winter with a newborn and so far away from my family and support system.  I developed a nasty case of postpartum depression and no counselors spoke English in my kommun, so I just walked that path on my own.  I changed a lot as a person in my second year in Sweden, and all I can say is - thank god my husband is who he is.  I affected him GREATLY in my personal struggles of recovery, but he loved me through the whole thing.  I am so indebted to him, the man he is, and how he stepped up to the plate.  And we are so much stronger for what we've been through.

We also got married in my second year! We traveled to the US half way through the year as well for our daughter's first birthday, and CRAP was that a needed trip.  My parents gave us cash for our wedding gift and we LIVED IT UP ;D ;D Shopping sprees on shopping sprees!

But my bank account was still rapidly dwindling and I hadn't pursued Svenska som andra språk after finishing SFI because I was so overwhelmed with my daughter's first year of life (and my postpartum depression issues) that I couldn't bear to add one more thing to my plate.  And without Swedish, I couldn't get a job. So that was starting to stress me out.  Not to mention, my 1-year driving license exemption had long run out, and I needed to start studying for that ASAP because how could I even get to SAS classes or a job without a license!?  I was already driving locally with an expired foreign license as it was.... (which I DO NOT recommend!!!!!)....

So, the last part of my second year was dedicated to studying for my license.  I spent one of the last 10,000kr in my savings to pay for all the classes and such needed, and treated getting my license as a job.  Our daughter started förskola at 15 months of age just 2 months before my second year was finished, and later that month I took (and passed!!!) both driving tests.  A couple weeks after that, I applied for my permit extension, and was granted PUT 4 weeks later.  HALLELUJAH!!


The third year was when I really got my life back on track, but I didn't mention one major thing from the end of my second year - and I want to use this as a segway to a future couple of blog posts I want to make for those who might find themselves in a similar position as me in the future:

At the very end of my second year in Sweden and the very beginning of my third year, I suffered two back-to-back miscarriages.

We had one in January, and another in March - actually, the loss in March officially began on 1 April 2018; April Fool's Day.  So cruel.

We had decided to start trying for our second baby in January now that our daughter was stable and in förskola, and I had gotten my license and was registered for Svenska som andra språk classes.  Our reasoning was that I was already halfway to age 35 and we didn't want to wait much longer given that fertility issues can arise once a woman reaches that age.  But I had passed some major milestones: I had my PUT, I had my Swedish driver's license, and assuming it would take us 6-12 months to get pregnant, we figured I would be able to make a lot of progress into SAS classes (while collecting CSN - $$) and I could look for work at the same time.  I'd get a job, I'd fall pregnant, and it would all fall into place.  Right!??

Not really.

I will detail my two miscarriage stories later when I get around to beginning my Pregnancy in Sweden series; but for now, I'll leave out the gory details.  But long story short, we tried a third time in April after the two losses, and successfully conceived a healthy baby! <3

But this all went a lot quicker than we had anticipated, nonetheless.  I genuinely thought it would take us the full 6-12 months to even conceive once.  I finished SAS Grund during my first trimester, and at the very end of my course, I got a job!! I work 50% right now doing marketing and communications at a local Med-Tech company, and it is going great.  The woman who hired me is the mom of one of the kids at my daughter's förskola, and we have grown quite close.  So I spent my summer focusing on work (and surviving the rest of my first trimester), and then after summer, I began SAS 1.

I am actually only about halfway through my third year in Sweden at the time of writing this, but life is beautiful and it has FINALLY fallen into place.  My husband and I just enjoyed our first wedding anniversary; our daughter turns 2 years old in just 3 days(!); I am 25 weeks pregnant with our son (IT'S A BOY!!) who is due on New Year's Eve(!); and I am working at 50% and studying SAS 1 at 50%.  The class actually doesn't end until after my son's due date, so I'm going to need to test out early. But my plan is to just keep working and studying up until the bitter end :) I hope to test out of SAS at the beginning of December so I can just focus on work and my pregnancy in that last month, and then we'll see what happens.


Since I didn't folkbokförd myself immediately after moving to Sweden, I am actually not eligible to apply for citizenship until (I believe) April 7, 2019.  By then, our son should be about 3 months old and the weather should be getting better.  So our plan is to spend the first 3 months home together with our kids on parental leave, get our son his Swedish passport in that time, and then conclude it with a trip to Stockholm to register our son as a US citizen after which we will immediately submit my paperwork and passport to Migrationsverket for my citizenship application (assuming they still ask for your passport in the beginning?)  We plan to travel to the US around Christmas 2019, so hopefully I'll have my citizenship by then (doubtful), otherwise I'll need to get my passport back from them ASAP.

We are thinking of having me have a shorter maternity leave - taking 4 months off, then working from home part time for the rest of the year until our boy is old enough for förskola.  It's important for me to get back to work, and since I can mostly work from home, we're hoping it might work out that we alternate weeks where he works Monday-Wednesday and I work Thursday-Friday, and then the next week I work Monday and Thursday-Friday and he only works Tuesday-Wednesday.  My boss is due with her second child just 3 months after me, so it will be important that we coordinate our maternity leave because we can't just leave the company unmanned (it's a small company; we account for 50% of the workforce, LOL!)

But ANYWAY.  That's the scoop on my first 3 years here in Sweden!  I can't believe how quickly the time has flown, and while so much time was spent feeling like I wasn't doing anything to get myself ahead, I am so proud of what I have accomplished.  I have my license, a job, and I'm well on my way to a solid language skill set (I can understand Swedish almost fluently - both written and spoken - but speaking and writing it myself is taking some time.  I make a lot of mistakes still, and my vocabulary when I want to speaking isn't even half as good as my vocabulary when understanding what others are saying to me).

Not to mention, I will soon be a mom to two babies!!! Who would have thought, when I started this blog, that such a short time later I would be a mom of 2.  HA!

If you are pregnant or plan to be in the near future, stay tuned - I hope to launch my "Pregnancy in Sweden" series soon! <3

5 Months Pregnant <3

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Two Years Later: A Life Update!! Plus... tips on preparing to get your Swedish Driving License before you even move!

I have reappeared!! :D :D 

I can't believe how long it's been since I last posted on this blog.  Life has been both fast and slow, in extraordinary ways.  Becoming a mother and raising a now-16 month old has been I N T E N S E, to say the least! But our girl has officially begun förskola as of 4 weeks ago, and my newfound freedom to workout or study or really do whatever I want, has been brilliant! :)

And speaking of freedom, I finally - FINALLY!! - buckled down and got my Swedish driving license!! I have begun a YouTube channel where I plan to teach the driving manual for free, and offer tips and tricks and advice about the whole process.  I also intend to sell flashcards, which I had made during my own study time and found them to be monstrously helpful.  If this is something you think you'd be interested in, feel free to join me at TheoryWhiz Sweden!  


Annnnyway. Today is January 30, 2018 -- which marks a very special day.  I have officially applied for my TUT extension! The website presently says that the waiting time is 2-4 months, and while I have seen some people recently get their extension approved within 24 hours, I also haven't verified if it was a family reunification permit they were extending or some other type of permit.  I am following the cases of a couple friends, they all have very simple and basic cases and it looks like they have passed the 1 month mark with no word.  So, perhaps we'll be looking at a similar 2-4 month wait.  I'll be sure to update this site when it comes through, for preservation of information.

Also, another big update... we are officially on the journey of making a sibling for our daughter! Who knows if it will happen or not; I'm not exactly young, after all.  I turn 35 this year.  And I also have thyroid disease.  But I am super super hopeful, and if we are blessed with  sticky bean at some point, I'm super interested in making a series on this blog documenting what pregnancy and midwifery care is like here in Sweden.  I am sure information on that process could be useful for women immigrating here and hoping to start a family of their own!

Now that I have my license and our daughter has begun school here, our plans for this year are sort of in the air.  I am thinking of signing up to finish Svenska som andra språk, which I had to drop out of around summertime of last year, given that I simply couldn't dedicate my time to it when I had such a small child so heavily dependent upon me.  My Swedish skills have come along brilliantly even without school.  I have taken to listening to Podcasts in Swedish (my favorite is förlossningspodden, for any of you out there who are interested in L&D and birth stories!) and simply reading my favorite novels in Swedish.  The only area I'm really not up to speed in is speaking Swedish, but that's mostly a combination of laziness and insecurity.  So, I think some SAS will go a long way with me in getting over that last hump in my language development.  Classes in my nearby kommun begin in the end of March, so my thoughts are to focus on doing a crash course of self-study until then to make the class as easy as possible on myself, focus on working out and getting my body strong and healthy for (hopefully!) a future pregnancy, and then keeping my eyes open for job opportunities if any arise.  My husband and I both agree that I should only look into working part time for now, so that one of us can be near Macy and able to take care of our animals at home.  He is working long hours, so it isn't feasible for both of us to have full time employment at this time.  

One way or the other, I'll likely be taking out CSN for SAS if I don't find a part time job, because we will need a little income now that my savings are coming to an end after 2 blissful years of not working :) I love the idea of being able to go through another pregnancy while not working a full time desk job, so hopefully the planets align and everything times out well! .... come to think of it though, hopefully I have my extension approved/PUT granted by or before school starts, or else I can kiss CSN goodbye O_o


I think that's about all of an update I have for now! January 16th (2 weeks ago) marked 3 years since we submitted our application originally for my TUT.  And it marked 2 years from the date we got our positive pregnancy test with our now-daughter. It was an insignificant day last year, but this year, on January 16th, I was 6 days away from taking my first attempt at the Theory exam (written portion of testing for your Swedish driver's license) and I remembered thinking to myself, next year in 2019, I will look back on this day and hopefully remember it as a time when my life seemed so uncertain without a driving license, only to become one of the best times of my life once I had passed the test!

Flash cards I made for Swedish Road Signs
A quick note for those of you still waiting for your original residence permit.  *IF* you intend to one day drive in Sweden, I HIGHLY(!!!!) recommend you start the studying process now before you even move.  These exams are notorious for being extremely difficult to pass (well, at least the theory portion), with over half of students failing at least once.  The queues for signing up for a test (and the cost of each test!) are very long/expensive, so if you're going to tackle this beast, start NOW.  

My best tips for those of you who don't have a residence permit, but would like to take this time to get a head start, are below:

  1. Have your partner purchase the Driving License Book and Swedish Road Signs booklet for you now.  Your partner can buy these from a local trafikskola, or from a third party site like Bokus.  They come in various languages, but I believe the exams are only administered in Swedish or English (but I could be wrong!!)
  2. Study your buns off!! I read the driving manual seven times.  And I needed every single read through O_o
  3. Purchase a subscription to online practice tests.  I believe there are apps, although I never downloaded any.  But search around the app store as I know friends have said they used some (some apps might even be free?) Also, has an EXCELLENT (free) break down of each chapter of the Driving License Book that isolates a lot of the really important information, and then you can try one practice exam for free there - or purchase a subscription to a databaseof 1,000 test questions.  Get going on that, and you will be many steps ahead on being prepared for your theory test!
One word of caution: Don't start studying TOO soon, as you may end up forgetting the information, or you may get yourself to a point where you think you know it all and lose your motivation to keep it burning in your brain before you move.  I read the Driving License Book for the first time in September, and then 6 more times between October and January ahead of taking the exam.  I feel like 8-10 weeks of studying is totally sufficient to prepare yourself as long as you can commit daily to the task of like an hour or two of study each day (reading the book, taking practice exams, or memorizing the Swedish road Signs). 


Anyway! That's my update for now, and hopefully I'll have more fum updates soon, whether that's about getting my extension approved, or publishing videos about the driving process, or news of a new little Swedish-American creation of ours :D And hopefully some updates about either getting a job here, or pursuing Svenska som andra språk again.  To be determined!!

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

14 months after moving to Sweden: Reflections (pictures at the end) :)

It has been officially 15 months since I received my decision, and a little more than 14 months since I moved to Sweden.  I have been meaning to do an updated post (I in fact have 6 unpublished entries that I began but couldn't finish!), and I feel like I owe it to myself to start recording some observations of mine since moving here that would be nice to remember, and perhaps might be useful to those still waiting.

As many can probably tell, much of the information I provide on my blog here has gone stale.  Rules have gotten more strict, waiting time calculators have been implemented on MV's website, the waiting times have gotten slightly longer, and I have mostly lost touch with the whole process.  After all that hard work, all the learning and data mining and translating of legal texts.... there comes a point in time where you have to move on in life, and I let go.  It was an extremely difficult decision, but I essentially consigned over the spreadsheet to the next generation of applicants (in particular, a couple whom I very much trust to keep the legacy of that tool alive and well!)

But all of this comes with very good news - and that is, there is an incredible wealth of life on the other side of the migration wait.  I am a very sentimental person and I actually rarely reflect on my wait anymore.  I probably won't really think of it next until the end of this year when I start to prepare to file for my extension, and await January 16th which will be the 3-year anniversary from when Johan and I applied for my original permit.

But there are some random bits that I want to record for anyone who followed my journey and gained any sort of glimpse into the process of enduring the wait.  Some insight, if you will, now that I am well on my way to building a long-term life here in Sweden.  So, here are those random thoughts, tips, and observations.

1.  Despite the absolute hell of the wait, and as much as we would have absolutely never chosen to go through it had we had the choice, we are eternally grateful for those 13.5 months of waiting.

It's the one thing Johan and I talk about rather routinely - how much we owe the wait for what we have today.  

Let me explain.  Having those 13.5 months was an extremely long period of time to "try to stay busy". Since I had nothing better to do, I started to get all my affairs in order.  Everything from updating the beneficiaries on my 401(k)s to rearranging my personal finances and getting top price for various things I owned and didn't want to bring with me to Sweden. Not to mention I moved home 6 months into my wait and between saving $2000/month on rent and still working my normal job for 13.5 months longer than I would have wanted, I saved up enough money to be able to comfortably afford being a stay at home mom to my daughter for a couple years. Those extra finances also helped us to afford to remodel our house and build a special nursery for our baby.  Had I moved right away, we would have never been able to afford any of these things.

It also gave us the first and greatest test of our relationship, and proved the strength of our bond and our resolve to be with one another despite all odds.  That confidence has come in especially handy during the dark times when I had just given birth and was going through all the physical and emotional changes that comes with being a postpartum sleep-deprived mother experiencing her first winter of cold and darkness away from the California sun and all the people I knew and loved (aside from Johan, of course!) I imagine that had I moved right away to Sweden, I would have panicked in those dark moments wondering if I was completely over my head with all the life changes occurring at once.  But knowing our relationship had already endured such a great test and came out unscathed was a brilliant shining light of hope for me and really got me through the tough weeks with a newborn.

2.  For those still waiting: until you are fluent at a university level, you have not studied Swedish at home enough during your wait.

Duolingo is not going to cut it, you guys.  That is a shit app, and while it might be colorful and fun and helps to get the ball rolling, it should not be your goal.  I know everyone praises that app because it's free and catchy, but it doesn't teach you ANYTHING.  Ask me how many times I've needed to use the word "sköldpadda".  I'll give you a hint to the answer: it's less than 1 time.

Your goal should be fluency, and it should be what you spend every waking moment on during your long wait in your home country.  You shouldn't even have time to miss your loved on or be depressed because you are THAT engrossed in your language studies.  "But they have SFI" you say to yourself.  Yes, SFI.  But did you also know SFI is taught exclusively in Swedish? Students from all different lingual backgrounds attend the same classes together.  Arabic speakers, English speakers, Spanish speakers, Russians....  all in the same class, learning Swedish.  So Swedish is the language the classes are taught in, and you don't want to have to waste 6 months of your life trying to catch up with the basics just so you can understand what your teacher is saying.

But aside from that is the general every day life conveniences of being able to speak Swedish.  "But they all speak English anyway!" people say.  NOT TRUE.  Not everyone speaks English - and for those who do, not everyone is fluent and they are just as uncomfortable piecing together English sentences as you are doing it with Swedish.  If you want friends, if you want a less stressful and scary path to employment (many "easy jobs" conduct group interviews where you have to speak in small groups), if you want to sweat fewer bullets giving oral book reports to your whole SVA class, or want to ease the social anxiety of going somewhere alone and not having to rely on themercy of other peoples' English language skills, if you want to have the ability to navigate society to ask for things at the grocery store or ask for help somewhere or pay for gas or receive directions or read street signs or find your way to the right part of the hospital or to be able to speak to your midwives / labor & delivery nurses / intensive care doctors if/when something goes wrong with your child, DO NOT STOP STUDYING SWEDISH AT HOME RIGHT NOW.  Read books - start with young adult and move to full-on novels, even if you don't know what they are saying.  Read aloud to your partner on the phone, and making flash cards of all the new words you learn. Have your partner mail some to books to you if you can't get any at home. Watch SFI videos on YouTube (just search for "SFI", there are hundreds on there!).  Watch SVT shows from your computer with textning på so you can follow along.

One of my greatest regrets was not realizing during my wait what an impact learning Swedish at home IN ERNEST would have made to my first year of transitioning here.  I really wish I had internalized how much easier life would be by coming with more knowledge than I already had.  And let me just tell you, when I finally got into SFI, I was placed in D-nivå (the last step to the SFI program) and was referred to take the national test after only 2.5 weeks of distance study.  Which I passed with an A, and immediately began SVA (Svenska som andraspråk) 2 months later.  Even still, I am shit at Swedish.  I don't have anywhere near the fluency I wish I had come with.  Aim for solid conversational Swedish that you could carry on with someone you meet on the street, at a minimum.  But preferably, don't stop studying until you think you could sit in on a high school class.  That is the best level to aim for!

3.  Do you want to get ahead? Have your sambo mail you the driver's license theory books.

Unless you don't plan on driving (although it would still come in monstrously handy to have a driver's license anyway!), have your partner send you the theory books so you can self study ahead of time.  Sure, your foreign driver's license is good for a year after you receive your permit card, but why put that added studying pressure on your plate for when you move and are trying to settle into your life, take Swedish classes, possibly seek university studies, seek and acquire employment, or just want to generally enjoy life and not spend it cramming for driving tests?

This was another really stupid mistake on my part.  I didn't study for my test at all.  I don't know why... I just kept pushing it off.  And then I said that since I only lived 3km from the train station, that I could live without a license and just use the train... or to use the train until I had time to study formy license. But you know what? Taking the train to the grocery store during freak rain storms BLOWSSSSSSSSSSSSS.  And the trains rarely run on time, so I can't just take the train to my doctor's appointments or my daughter's doctor's appointments or to rural hikes or nature preserves or other cool things that aren't train-accessible.  It would also be great to have the freedom to drive to a friend's house and not impose on them to pick me up at the train station! You may say to yourself, "I live really local and I'm sure I can get by on an expired license until I manage to study for mine." Well, if you're ok with the risk of getting pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, are you also ok with the risk that may come if someone were to hit you? For black ice to cause you to veer off the road? In my 3rd month of living here, a full-grown adult male moose ran out into the street directly in front of me while on my way to SFI.  You can say you'll follow all the driving rules to not get pulled over, but you cannot plan for hit-and-run moose encounters.  And if you get caught driving on an expired license, you're screwed.

So, ya.  If you plan on driving, do your theory studying now.  For the love of god, do it NOW! This migration wait isn't a waste of time; it is the perfect opportunity to save time and get ahead!

4.  Healthcare is covered; dental care is not.  

You can download a menu of prices for all the various dental services that Folktandvård does in the kommun you will be moving to.  Take a look at it and see if it's cheaper than getting dental services done at home.  If you know you need a crown fixed, or have postponed getting that wisdom tooth pulled, or having had a proper teeth cleaning in a while, get that shit sorted before you move.  Dental care is not cheap in Socialist Sweden.

5.  Join expat groups online now.  

The facebook ones are good.  Read - absorb - contribute.  It may seem like a random expat group but when you move, it will be nice to have made some connections.  Those connections usually lead to local meet-up groups which provide you with an opportunity to meet people, if you are into that sort of thing.

6.  Even if you live in a visa-free country, do your biometrics in your home country before you get your decision.  It will save you money.

Yes, you heard me right!  Because it takes time to move to Sweden, make an appointment at MV, do your biometrics there, wait for your card to come, yada yada.  If you do all of that before you get your decision, your card will come that much sooner, which means you can folbokförd yourself in Sweden and apply for your PN sooner, which means less of a wait for your ID Card while you are in the country.  And since most people (especially Americans!) can't open a bank account without their actual, physical ID card, then you're talking about having to pay foreign transaction fees on non-Swedish credit/debit cards, etc.  Plus it's just a bitch to have to do all of those extra steps after relocating your whole life to the other side of the world.  Take care of the card and biometrics at home if you can, so that all you need to do is show up at skatteverket to get your PN going.  With your PN, you can get in the queue for SFI and get that process going much quicker too (among so many other things!)

7.  Accept the fact that the MV wait is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to bureaucratic waits.

I'm not saying this to be pessimistic - I have been very pleased with the level of service and such that I have received here.  Very pleased indeed! But it is worth mentioning that it never ends.  The MV queue is step 1 in an endless array of queues.  Sometimes I feel like it could take years to finally become an established member of society here with all the bells and whistles that seemed to come so easily when I was living in the states.

8.  At least for Americans - who plan to have kids - Order some official college and high school transcripts and hand carry them with you to Sweden.

It will save you the hassle of having to acquire these documents from abroad in order to prove your habitual residency requirements to pass citizenship on to your children.  You can read more about the various scenarios and what is required, here.

9.  Assuming you have a basic case, use your partner's visits to you, or you to them in Sweden, to ferry your personal belongings to Sweden.

If you spend some of the migration wait slowly going through your belongs and isolating things you want to keep but can handle being separated from for upwards to a year, then max out your (or your partner's) baggage allowance on each flight and slowly move your life abroad so that when the day comes, you only have to worry about the basics and can also avoid huge shipping fees (and big, gross, sentimental house-clearing moving parties).

10.  Similar to #9, begin stock piling your favorite things in Sweden

At least coming from America where the likes of DayQuil, NyQuil, Benadryl, and other favorite medicines are featured products around all the stores, Sweden takes a stiff "tough it out" approach to colds.  Legally, you cannot ship medicines to Sweden (ie, you can't have your mom mail you a supply every once and a while), but you are free to hand-carry several months' worth of a supply with you in your checked luggage or carry-ons, for "personal use". Since most medicines like this are still effective after their expiration date, you may wish to start creating a stock pile of your favorites by bring a few boxes over each time you visit.  Lord knows, with the climate change and foreign bugs you will be exposed to on a new continent, you will be thankful you have it! (And so will your Swede, if they are not privvy to the joys of NyQuil) :D

But medicines aren't the only thing.  I stock piled all my favorite Spicely spices from Whole Foods as well as other favorite vitamins, supplements and protein bars.  Sweden has a horrific protein bar scene, you can't really get anything here.  I preferred a green superfood protein bar from Whole Foods, so I bought several boxes of them and ferried them over in carry-on luggage during trips.  Also, if you like Pumpkin Spice flavored things, you might consider stock-piling those things as well, because Sweden doesn't even understand Pumpkin Spice :(


So, I suppose those are the top things that come to mind, but I also want to do one more plug that is absolutely random: For those of you who currently live in countries where it is common to have screens on the windows and doors so that you can have them open for fresh air without the fear of hornets or a swarm of flies overcoming your house, and you move to Sweden and realize this is not a standard thing that comes with houses and apartments, FEAR NOT! We just bought a crap ton of these removable window screens from Bauhaus and it has changed my life - especially living on the countryside.  And they were cheap as all hell, only 79kr-109kr for a whole box depending on the size you buy!


As for a life update: 

I continue to be humbled and grateful for the comments, messages, emails and thank yous I have received over the years, both here and on Gmail and on Facebook, from people who have found my blog helpful.  It was never intended to be a resource to help others; I originally just wanted an exapt blog to log my journey and store memories.  But it spiraled in another direction, and it has been a wonder to be able to connect with people around the world and offer some sort of assistance during such a dark and scary time.

As a new mom now, I simply don't have time to maintain this site, and it makes me sad.  The whole reason I went on a crusade to provide the information I did was because all the blogs available during my wait were just like how my blog has become: stale, outdated, and not abreast on all the latest news and updates.  But, alas, so is life. I have elected to keep the info I have on here as it is, as a keepsake to my own experience.

As for us, though, life has commenced.  That thing I could only dream about during the wait is now my daily reality - both the highs and the lows. Johan and I recently bought the house we lived in after spending 12 months hand-renovating it.  I was literally helping to demolish our bathroom from the foundation to the ceiling while I was in my third trimester of pregnancy last summer ;D  The house is far from done; we need to completely re-pannel the exterior and paint it, tear down our garage and rebuild it from the floor up, completely rebuild the fence around our property (and this time use weather-proof wood pannels as opposed to the sheep-wire we currently use).  We need to build our new greenhouse still, replace all the windows and doors on the exterior, re-do our entire communal living room and put finishing touches on the kitchen, both bedroom and the bathroom.  We need to re-do our entire laundry room (which is the size of a third bedroom, and sometimes we wonder if we should tear down the wall it shares with our baby's nursery and re-size both rooms to create two new bedrooms for a 3-bedroom house layout, but who knows.) And we need to completely re-do the second bathroom.  Suffice it to say, there is a lot of work that needs to be done!

We both know, however, that we will need to buy a new house soon.  Like within the next 5 years.  We want to go more rural than we already are, and we will need more space as we are planning to start trying for a second baby come this September when our daughter has turned 1.  We have our two beautiful dogs now, and we had two cats - however one just had a litter of kittens! And we will be keeping one of them.  We also purchased 2 baby goats and when they come of age, I plan to start milking them to produce our own goat milk and yogurt.  Our end dream is to homestead and be self-sufficient, with even all of our electricity needs being met by solar panels and generators.

We have recently become an entirely vegetarian family and Johan and I are doing a 3-month "detox" right now ahead of a trip back to the states and before we start trying for our second baby.  I have enough savings to be able to stay out of work until next spring, and then if we are successful in becoming pregnant again, I will be liquidating one of my 401(k)s so I can buy a couple more years of staying home with the kids.  Johan is running his own business while also working a full-time day job while I stay home with the baby and study Swedish (I'm currently taking SVA Grund from a distance), and eventually our hope is that once my Swedish becomes solid enough, I can take over the marketing / advertising / bookkeeping for his company.  But in addition to all of this, I would love to go back to school to become a midwife (barnmorska).  I will need to be able to get to university-level fluency so it will take a couple years, but that dream still burns brightly in my mind.  One is never too old to follow a dream :) I think that I am going to start a series called "Pregnancy in Sweden" and take my blog in that direction for the next year.  I'm planning on starting with my birth story, and then following through with pre-conception planning and then hopefully weekly updates when we conceive again, to offer insight and my own experience with pregnancy, delivery, and child-rearing in Sweden.

So, this year is a year of tackling goals.  We are taking a break from house renovations so that Johan can focus on his business, and I can focus on child-rearing, Swedish-learning, blogging, and driver's license acquisition.  We look forward to our trip back to the states (my first time home in nearly 2 years!), and I am am looking forward with great anticipation (and some trepidation!) to growing our family.  It has been my life's most exciting and most difficult time.  One day I know I'll look back and shake my head as I ask myself what I was thinking getting pregnant with my first child, moving to a foreign country, quitting my job for the first time in my life, and renovating a whole house... ALL in the span of 9 months' time. Ha!

Johan and I will be having a civil marriage ceremony here in Sweden, and an unofficial beach event in California during the sunset so that my family and friends can attend, and so that I can wear my dresses (as they are both still in CA). Tomorrow will be June 1, and I find it so hard to believe all of this will be going down in just a matter of 3 months!

^^^^ This, my friends, is why the migration wait is worth it.  This is real life happening; there is no wait, or uncertainty, or stress or anxiety.  This is the end goal.  It is just daily life, in all it's exciting and monotonous glory.  This is why it's worth it to keep fighting every day, to "do your time", and to get to that decision.  Because once it comes, you have a whole new world and a whole new life to dive into, and sooner than you know it, you won't even be thinking or remembering what you went through during the wait.  It may seem like the most colossal storm you've ever sailed through now, but one day you won't even remember what the taste of salt water on your lips was like.  You won't even remember the days you cried.  It will blend and settle to the bottom with all the other memories of your past as you forge onward to brighter days.

KimmieCat, our beloved cat who just had 5 kittens on Swedish Mother's Day last sunday!

Family portrait <3
Our baby in the random field of flowers next to our house.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

UPDATED: The Swedish Sambo Visa in 2015/2016 Part 15: I'm Pregnant - Now What?! (An exhaustive guide to everything you need to know about pregnancy while waiting and moving to Sweden)

Here's a summary of this post (because it is a behemoth!) if you want to skip to a certain section:
  1. General Intro
    • Just me blabbing like I always do.
  2. Pregnancy while waiting for your residence permit: What are your options?
    • Notes about requesting priority
    • Attempting an "Inifrån Ansökan" (doing your wait within Sweden)
    • Giving birth in Sweden without a residence permit
    • Other birth alternatives and options
  3. Pregnancy in Sweden: After you relocate to Sweden
    • How to get set up with proper appointments
  4. The Swedish Pre-Natal process (terminology, Sweden's approach to pregnancy, what to expect, etc.)
    • Terminology, abbreviations, and how the process works
    • Things you need to know about ultrasounds, medical tests, childbirth classes, etc.
    • Maternity leave, parternity leave, and barnbidrag
  5. Tips and Advice: Joining Support Groups
    • Oh god... from one support group to another! No but seriously, baby groups (especially Swedish ones) are a godsend in order to get you connected with people who are going through the process alongside you.
  6. Tips and Advice: The Holy Grail of Buying Everything Baby-Related in Sweden
    • An exhaustive guide of where to buy shit, online retailers (and what they are good or bad for) and my own product reviews of things I bought after obsessive research.  You know how I am.  
  7. Product Reviews
    • This is a list of a few key (mostly big-ticket) items I bought after months of research, and why I chose them over other competitors (which i will also list, along with links to certain product review sites which I found helpful).
  8. Movies Streaming on Youtube (for free!) about the amazingness of fetal development
    • It's random, but I'm a science nerd and I want to save these links somewhere!

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Swedish Sambo Visa in 2015/2016 Part 14: The New "Waiting Times Calculator", the April 2016 Prognosis Report, and a quick update on Maintenance Requirements

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been a bit overwhelmed by life lately.  Settling into a new home that we are in the throes of remodeling by hand, trying to go through all the steps to get my PN and register for SFI, rushing off to pre-natal doctors appointments, trying to keep the spreadsheet in order... it's been insane.

But also, things were rather quiet on the Migrationsverket front; the waiting times were getting *slight longer* (decisions were coming through at around 13.5-14 months, instead of 13-14 months) and interview emails were following the same organized pace, so there wasn't much beyond the Sambo Summary to really publish.

BUT.  Things have now changed.  So, here it goes:

The Swedish Sambo Visa in 2016 Part 13: After the Decision ("Now what!?")

It has been an extremely long time since I last wrote!

I knew that moving would be a busy time, but I could not possibly have foreseen how insane my life would become. Quitting my job, rushing to doctor's appointments, packing/selling/throwing everything away, weighing suitcases to make sure I stay under the weight limit, trying to decide what is worth shipping and what should be donated.... saying goodbye to friends and family.... all while trying to train coworkers to replace me and taking care of the fetus growing inside of me!

I have never felt so desperate in all my life than the day I moved.  Life has never demanded so much of me over the past 14 months, and never have I had to cross over my "breaking point" so many times with no option for crawling into a hole and dying.  There were only 2 alternatives: 1) Keep pushing, or 2) Keep pushing.  I did a mixture of both. ;)

Saturday, March 5, 2016

The moment I waited 13.5 months for: THE DECISION!

It has been a long, and over-joyously overwhelming week this week.  I feel like I have lived a full life just in the past 5 days!!

Monday February 29 2016, at 8:36am....
....a moment I have been waiting 13 months, 1 week and 6 days for finally came: Johan and I received our decision.  !!!  And I want to log every glorious, manic moment of this whole past week so that I can release it from my cluttered mind and revisit it when I am ready.

Earlier that morning...
The day started just like every other day of the previous several weeks: I woke up early (4:30am), picked up my phone, and scanned it for any signs of Johan screaming at me that we received the decision! (We had always assumed he would get an email or phone call at the same time as I would.) But, just like every other morning, there was nothing. Just a couple SnapChats and a few "I love you's".  My heart sank - just as it always would - that we didn't get any news; and I fell into the usual disappointment. I then scanned my phone and checked up on the 33 Facebook notifications I had, taking screenshots of all the decisions and interview email updates from the "I väntan på familjen" Facebook group so I could update the spreadsheet later in the morning when I logged onto work.

I waited for the clock to run down until I knew Johan could talk, and then I called him to say good morning.  I still had hope that maybe he had good news but was waiting to share with me when I woke up.  But - again - he did not.
"Still nothing?" I asked him.
"Well, I have good news and bad news." He said.  "The bad news is that we don't have a decision yet.  The good news is that I called Örebro again today and talked to the team leader.  She said that while she cannot tell us what day, she told us we would definitely be getting our decision this week."

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Surprises, Fatigue, and Updates On Our Case... oh my!


At 8.5 weeks <3
Now that we are close to being out of the "danger zone" I am beyond thrilled to report that I am pregnant!!  Officially 10 weeks and 2 days :) 

This was a planned event; Johan and I have been talking about it for almost a full year. We decided when I was with him for a month over the holidays, that we should give it a try.  Due to a few health factors, I have been told that my chances for natural conception and carrying a pregnancy full term are quite low.  I turn 33 this year and I'll be damned if Migrationsverket takes away our chances of having a child.  My doctors told me it could take years to conceive, so you can imagine our shock when, on my last day before flying home, Johan brought the pregnancy test into the living room with a look of wild shock and shouted, "IT'S POSITIVE!" Ahhhhh what a moment.  He was as pale as a ghost and couldn't stop saying, "What the f*ck? What the f*ck!" in a mixture of shock and excitement and more shock.  I jumped off the couch and grabbed him and starting laughing and crying at the same time and just kept saying, "I knew it! I knew it!!"  We ran all the way in the middle of the night and in a snow storm to the farm next door where Johan's parents live, and declared the happy news.  And then I called my sister while he called his sisters, and it was just... a night I'll never forget.  My sister started to cry instantly, and that whole final night we spent together was magical.  It was exactly our 1-year application anniversary, and now immortalized even more by learning we had created a new human :)

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Swedish Sambo Visa in 2015/2016 Part 12: The Sambo Summary Publications

UPDATE (16 July2016): As I settle into my new life here in Sweden and enter the final months of my pregnancy, my ability to create the Sambo Summary will continue to decrease.  We have so much going on over here, and it's hard to find time to dedicate to producing these pieces.  Also, I have decreased how involved I am in the support groups (also because of time constraints) and, as such, I will eventually get to the point of not being up to date with all the latest news.  The Maintenance Requirements law will soon go into place (latest update on that is that it will take effect on 21 July 2016) and it will be difficult for me to closely monitor how that will affect overall waiting times in the long term.

Nonetheless, I will continue to do my best to produce these reportssporadically.  So far, we don't see much change in the trends other than that interview emails have started to go out at a normalized pace (about every 4-6 months), and average decision waiting times have actually crept down slightly (by about half a month, give or take).  Everything else is seeming to hold steady.

These reports are PDFs uploaded to Google Drive, and can be downloaded and used as necessary. They are based off of the data we collect and track on  the spreadsheet.

Happy Viewing!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Dreaming of a Decision: Life beyond 12 months of waiting

A lot has happened since I last wrote a "thought piece".  I think one thing that has been super helpful in surviving the past 6 months, has been to remain active in the support groups.  There is something very beautiful about being consoled by perfect strangers who understand exactly what you are going through without you even having to explain it. There is also something very gratifying about helping other people.  It makes you feel useful, and like you're able to bring a little bit of good to a super fucked up situation. 

Maintaining the spreadsheet has taken up a good deal of my idle time, but it's self-serving:  I know it is a powerful tool for other people, but it is extremely meaningful to me as well.  I have no problem confessing that I am a control freak, and the chaos of this sambo process has really pushed me to the edge.  Having the spreadsheet has been a gem to me, to be able to see exactly where we are in the process.  I can't even begin to say how many people were told (after waiting 13 months!) that the wait times are "up to 21 months".  If someone told me that and I didn't have the spreadsheet, I would have just jumped off a bridge right there.  But the spreadsheet says 13-14 months to us still; until that picture changes, I will trust the spreadsheet and invest my feelings and sanity into it alone.

Anyway, I have to say: there has yet to be a more beautiful moment to me in this whole process than celebrating our 1-year application anniversary.  I have read a lot of people mourn this time.  They grieve over how long they have had to wait.  For me, it was such an incredible time to celebrate! I just so happened to be in Sweden celebrating the holidays with my love when our 1-year application anniversary came around, so we were popping champagne and reflecting on what a long journey we have been on, and how happy we are to put one whole year behind us.  Maybe it's because I've been working on the spreadsheet for so long and have known and accepted for a very long while that nothing would happen to our case for 13-14 months; but mostly, it was just knowing that we are closing in on the end. 

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Swedish Sambo Visa in 2015/2016 Part 11: Can I visit while my permit is processing?


I am going to share with you now the "real deal" about visiting Sweden while your permit is processing.

It is not "new news" that Migrationsverket can be quite inconsistent with their answers to our questions.  Furthermore, they often times give incorrect information. That has been the single most frustrating part of this experience; it has even been worse than how long the waiting time is.  The constant stress, fear, paranoia, confusion, lack of trust, and inhumanity felt by conflicting and wrong information has made what is already a trying time, unbearably impossible to deal with.

If there is one thing that we can do to help ease the searing pain of separation, it is to be able to visit our loved one. So, let's go through the stages of grief as you research whether you can visit your love while you wait.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Swedish Sambo Visa in 2015/2016 Part 10: The Sambo Manual (FAQs and Resources)

Warning: This is an "Information Overload" post!!

It's been some time since I last posted, because I've spent the past month in Sweden with my love for the holidays.  And we just passed a major milestone: 1 year since we applied for my UT!! WOO-HOO!!

For the past 2 months I have been planning my 1-year anniversary post.  I was going to make it all about our memories, things I had learned about myself and the world, sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. :D But let's be real: we all need information right now, so I have put together the following masterpiece: The Sambo Manual.

I have already provided some extensive guides for the beginning part of the Sambo Visa process. You can find the topics at the following links: 

Those parts give a very detailed (in most cases) run down of each topic.  Now I would like to summarize some key points, questions, and offer resources for those trying to investigate this process for themselves.  The topics are organized in the following sections, color-coded for ease of identification if you want to scroll to a particular section:

Table of Contents
A.  Key Definitions and Acronyms 
B.  Application Process (including Quick Links)
C.  Overview of Processing Times (and your legal rights)
        1.  Processing Times
        2.  Your legal rights to a timely decision
D.  Technicalities, Loopholes, Options, and Applying for "Priority"
E.  Maintenance Requirements
F.  The Queue System
        1.  How it (is supposed to) work
        2.  "E3" and Technical Failures
G.  The Lifetime of a Residence Permit (from UT to Citizenship and the Appeals Process) 
H.  Supplying "additional information" to MV
I.  Other Resources 
J.  FAQs

Friday, January 1, 2016

Current Refugee Crisis Immigration Statistics (Latest update: 15 March 2016)

This post used to be part of my "New Immigration Rules" post, but that post was getting way too long and sloppy.  So, I have moved everything over here.

Here is just some ongoing information and statistics on the refugee crisis, to help you determine where Sweden (and the rest of Europe) is at in terms of being bogged down by immigration.  It is very important to read the definitions of what a Refugee, someone in need of Subsidiary Protection, and those in need of "Other Protection" are, in order to understand what rights are being granted.  All definitions (as well as the new immigration rules for asylum seekers) can be found in my blog post here.

Current Immigration Statistics - Q4 2015
*Red highlights are just to remind me what numbers need to be updated each quarter when new data is released.  Apologies for the annoyance*

For those of you who are statisticians like me, I pulled some EuroStat reports on the refugee crisis felt among the EU28 member states of the European Union.  Note that these stats are only currently available as of Q4 2015 (which would be as of 31 December 2015).  EuroStat has a 3-month lag, which means that this data was published March 3, but the numbers are only as of 31 December. I will update the info graphs as soon as new ones are available. The links to the EuroStat page are all imbedded in the titles of the charts below, in case you want to look into the source data, footnotes, etc. Click on the images to make them larger, or click the chart title link to be redirected to the source data.

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Swedish Sambo Visa Process in 2015 Part 9: Anomalies & Conspiracy Theories

Well, fuck.
^^If it weren't for the fact that I've learned my blog is useful to some people, I would have probably just ended my post there.  ;) 

Since I use my blog as a diary of sorts, here are the two main updates for me.  Maybe one day I'll reminisce over these sketchy times with a bottle of overly-priced Systemet wine as I re-read these old memories :)