25 November, 2010

Gotta Go!

It's that time. Time for farewell. Time for goodbye, my friends. It's been an incredible ride - one that I will never forget.

I hope you enjoyed our journey to Gothenburg together.


It's Thanksgiving in the US today. I can't think of a better day to finish my blog. There are so many people to thank for helping this project go.

First, I have to thank every one of you who has been reading this blog. You're the reason I wanted to undertake this unusual project to begin with. I hope I have brought back a little feeling from the city, the concerts, and the country. Not everything went as planned, but that can wait until next time...

Or maybe you'll be the next to travel. In that case, I can give you a few planning tips for your own Gothenburg blog. I highly recommend writing a blog during your trip. It's not only fun for the people reading, it's just as much fun for the writer! And it makes a two week trip turn into a two month trip. What more can you ask for?

These two weeks in Sweden have been some of the best and most memorable in my life. Much of that is due to the comments and positive feedback I've received along the way. Sharing these two intense weeks with you has made the memories even that much sweeter. There was even an unforeseen, but logical benefit. All my memories are now well documented. Not only can I think back, I can also look, hear, listen, and remember back. That's thanks to you!

Second, I must thank Anna for her knowledge and hospitality both before, during and after the Lindome concert. I don't know if I could have made that concert without your help and guidance. And your humor. I definitely couldn't have written as much on this blog without your help in getting the mobile broadband for my laptop. I think I would've lost the first five days of posts without it! A big thank you for the good conversation and good company in Kungälv!

Third, Jessi and Anja have really allowed this blog to breathe and flourish. You gave me access where I wouldn't have had it before. You allowed me to tag along with you on their awesome adventures throughout the country. You even linked this blog to your site with its own button. That link has brought more readers than anything else. The content wouldn't have been half as exciting without your expertise, connections, and willingness to share resources. Thank you so much ladies!

A thank you goes out to all the people who spoke with me and welcomed me into their inner world during the interviews. I could never have described the essence of Sweden or the atmosphere of each concert without your insight and opinions. Tack!

A huge thank you goes out to the entire My Story team for being so hospitible. Thank you to Jenny Berggren for sharing your talent, your time, your wisdom, your humor, and your kindness with us. To Jakob Petrén for the hilarious play, for the sneak listens, and for your awesome piano skills. To Simon Petrén for your incredible piano skills, your 50 hour production marathon, and your album contributions. To Terese Fredenwall for your amazing songwriting chops, your work on the album, and your cheerfulness and positivity. To Staffan Birgersson for your musical skills, your great song choices, and your album contributions. To David Råsmark the nice lighting work at Mimers Hus and your work on track three.

I'm not going to be fancy or formal. And I'm just going to say it like it is. Thank you for all these blessings, Lord! I have so much to be thankful for. I'm thankful for so many wonderful people. For all the amazing memories. For the incredible opportunities. For the chance to share the trip with others. For it all. In my language, Tusen Thank Yous.

What an unforgettable two weeks it has been! Thank you to all for traveling along with me and making this ride even better. Maybe I can join you online in your own travels one day. My bags are packed and ready.

Video Recap of the Trip

A video recap of the blog with a few extra clips and pics thrown in:

So Many Memories

This post is currently a placeholder. I've asked Jessi, Anja, and Anna to write about their memories of the trip and the concerts. When those arrive, they will be placed in this space right here.

Concert Setlists

A quick recap of the concerts and setlists, along with some of my thoughts...

I thoroughly enjoyed each concert and each for different reasons. Each concert and each audience had a different feel. The atmosphere ranged from thoughtful, to introspective, to festive. The setlist changed with each concert and we never knew what to expect, which was nice. Give Me the Faith, Välsignelsen and Ravine were picked several times by people I interviewed as their most memorable performances. The biggest audience participation came with the rendition of Go Down Moses in Kungälv. And clearly, the fan fave is surely the Kungälv performance. It was jam packed with songs and it included a live version of Gotta Go.

To hear these songs on film doesn't do them justice. You can only fully appreciate the depth, feeling and range of a performance by being there in person. There's just no way to capture the exact essence with audio or video, which means you have the perfect reason to go see a concert. There's only so much reporting and filming can convey. Being there in person is clearly the best of all options. Do keep that in mind when you're planning your next vacation.

My personal highlights were Bridge Over Troubled Water in Lindome, Du är Aldrig Ensam in Tranås, Give Me the Faith in Karlstad, and No More Nights in Kungälv.

Lindome - Lindome church 2 Oct 2010

Set list:

  • Jag Lyfter Ögat mot Himmelen

  • I Turn to You

  • Moonshadow

  • Ravine

  • Give Me the Faith

  • Välsignelsen

  • Kalle Johansson by Jakob

  • Bridge Over Troubled Water

Tranås - Löfstad church 3 Oct 2010

Set list:

  • Du är Aldrig Ensam

  • I Turn to You

  • Moonshadow

  • Håll Mitt Hjärta

  • No More Nights

  • Piano solo by Simon (after the concert in the café)

Karlstad - Karlstad Pentecostal church 9 Oct 2010

Set list:

  • Du är Aldrig Ensam

  • Jag Lyfter Ögat mot Himmelen

  • I Turn to You

  • Moonshadow

  • Hjälp mig Jesus

  • Give Me the Faith

  • Välsignelsen

Kungälv - Mimers Hus 15 Oct 2010

Set list:

  • Jesus Take the Wheel

  • I Turn to You

  • Lucky Love

  • The Sky Proclaims Your Glory

  • Moonshadow

  • Go Down Moses

  • Ravine

  • Håll Mitt Hjärta

  • Bless this Broken Road

  • Gotta Go

  • Give Me the Faith

  • Säg Bara Mor by Terese

  • No More Nights

Jönköping - Alliance church 16 Oct 2010

This was a lecture but there were two acappella songs included:

  • Jag Lyfter Ögat mot Himmelen

  • Phillipans 4:7

24 November, 2010

Seriously Fun Lessons

Now that I've presented you with a few serious lessons, it's time to recall some seriously fun lessons:

  • Take pictures of everything. EVERY-THING! Including parrots.

  • Expect surprises. You never know where you'll be the next day.

  • Don't plan ahead. Ever. Because there could be surprises.

  • A firm foundation for a tripod works wonders. It also makes concert video much easier to film and more fun to watch.

  • There are more flavors of Ahlgren's bilar available with every passing year. Chocolate bilar, and sour bilar, and lakrits bilar, and mega-size bilar, and road sign bilar, and breast cancer awareness bilar...

  • It's a little too easy to get into Expressen's newsroom - "You must be in the choir. Just go through that door."

  • Bring a camera and a back-up camera with you. You never know when you'll drop the first one on the cobblestones or nearly drop it out a window while trying to film firetrucks.

  • A play about old folks rocking out in a nursing home is hilarious and deep at the same time. And mumbling is quite effective dialogue, as long as you play the piano in the meantime.

  • People are very willing to talk - once they get over the shock of a stranger asking for an interview.

  • It's always a good idea to hit record on your audio device before you begin an interview.

  • Live concerts are so much fun and No More Nights sounds even more incredible live.

  • Jenny is a lot sillier and funnier than I ever realized.

  • Anna's sense of humor rivals Jenny's humor.

  • Jessi leads such a busy life, she barely has time to breathe. Somehow, she fits it all into one day. She's a mega multi-tasker.

  • Anja comes up with the best one-liners, always full of intelligence and wit.

  • Natural superstars are everywhere. I met several of them in Lindome, Gothenburg, Tranås, Karlstad, Stockholm, Kungälv, and Jönköping.

  • My Swedish isn't as rusty as I thought it was. It's only highly rusty instead of terribly rusty. But better is better.

  • My Story is awesome!

I could go on and on with these fun little lessons. But I think you get the idea...

23 November, 2010

Serious Lessons

When you attend any lecture, you'll hear interesting bits of info. You'll also capture moments that go deeper. Thoughts that ignite something inside you the moment you hear them. Things that stick with you days after the lecture is over. I would like to share a few of those moments with you from the October lectures.

Lesson #1: Speak your own language with God.

It's hard to admit that I never fully realized this until this year, but I didn't.

"Be honest. Say things as they are. Say what you long for."

How simple and how true. How did I never realize this before? Maybe it's because I always thought prayer was a very formal thing growing up. Or maybe I thought that prayer had to be formulated elegantly or it has to be done in a certain way to be defined as prayer. But what a burden. And what freedom to see otherwise. I'm speaking my own language these days and it's a beautiful thing.

Lesson #2: Two cultures can be blended.

Jenny talked about growing up with one foot in the everyday world and one in the church. You might say she lives with two cultures blended into one person. And I feel a bit like that when it comes to the US and Sweden. I've lived in both places and picked up habits from both for more than fifteen years. For the past few years, I've felt like I had to pick one or the other. I had to either be American Sara or Swedish Sara. No in-between. It was a choice that had to be made and I decided it was finally going to be made on this trip. I had to either pick Sweden and forget the US or throw away my love for Sweden and stay in the US for good. Either way, one had to go.

But you know what? Listening to Jenny talk about a similar dilemma she had made me realize I didn't have to choose one or the other. Not only did I not have to choose, I couldn't choose. I needed them both because I am both. I can't throw away a part of myself. That realization was another light-bulb moment. The two could peacefully co-exist within me for the first time ever. I'm rooted in both and I'm going to bloom right in the middle. Where that is and what that looks like, I don't know, but I'm sure I'll find out.

Lesson #3: If you have a desire to do something, go for it!

For the first time, I feel like I could pursue a certain goal I've always had. I've always wanted to write but never had the drive or the self-esteem, honestly. Working on this blog took me a long way towards thinking I could actually do something with my words. I've kept up with this blog almost everyday for two months. I was lacking that consistency and discipline in all my other writing projects, but this one worked! I enjoyed writing it and have heard many of you enjoyed reading it. Success!

During the lectures, Jenny talked about how she always wanted to sing, but she kept hitting roadblocks along the way. Instead of stopping, she kept at it because it's what she loves to do. She had a desire for it, so she went for it! And look! She's been singing professionally for more than twenty years!

Again, I'm not sure where it's headed, but I've carved out a spot in my house for writing. Just writing. I don't know what I will write but I will begin the journey. I'm willing to work on my writing and do everything possible to improve it because I know it could use it! And in time, I will be able to write about all those ideas that pop up in my head. And maybe, one day, my words can capture a thought or an idea that will move someone in the same way others have moved me.

I was thinking about this lesson all morning at work. We sat down for our weekly meeting at noon today and a co-worker sat down directly across from me with her usual cup of coffee. This is what I saw written on the sleeve:

I asked her if I could have the sleeve when she was finished and she happily obliged. The sleeve is now hanging up in my brand new writing space.

And finally, there was one lesson I knew, but just needed to be reminded of: God is with us through it all.

I've always had difficulty being around people. It's absolutely true. I love people and I love their stories, but I get entirely too nervous being around them. It's like living in a blender. So in Kungälv, when Jenny asked us to close our eyes and think about something that's been broken, that's what flashed through my mind. She started singing "Håll Mitt Hjärta" and the song mirrored all those times I've been afraid and needed a greater solace. Something gave way inside of me and my tears started. Before she sang "Bless this Broken Road", she talked about God being with her throughout her life. It was an instant reminder that God has been with me through everything too. Even through all my fears and all those uncertain paths. That's when the big tears really started falling. The good kind.

Those two songs and her words summed up that one thing I just needed to hear: God has been there through it all.

As I sat there in Kungälv listening to all those incredible musicians on stage, a spontaneous moment of thanks burst forth: "Thank you Lord for all the incredible role models you've placed in my life!"

From family, friends and co-workers to superstars on stage, I've had an abundance of amazing teachers in my life. I'm thankful for all of them and admire their willingness to share the lessons they've learned in life with people like me who could use a little guidance along the way.

There is a secret in listening.

Odds and Ends

You know when you have so many things to talk about, you can't possibly fit it all in? This is the post that captures all those things I wasn't able to post anywhere, due to forgetfulness or lack of time or not being able to fit them into a specific topic. Here goes!

This picture is the result of my first attempt at documenting for the blog. This blurry building is Lindome church. It was taken after the concert was over. I didn't take any pictures of the building before the concert. I didn't take any pictures during the concert. I didn't take any after the concert. I recorded film clips and got this one grainy shot. That's it! Compare that to the last concert in Jönköping and my reporting from Lindome looks positively pathetic.

Not exactly easy to see in the small version, but this guy is hanging up Christmas lights in Tranås on October 4. I took this picture from the hotel room early early in the morning. No procrastination in this city. Those lights go up early.

Vinna Hela Världen in its natural environment - a bookstore in Gothenburg. They've blended the biographies and history books together in this store, which is the way it is in the Dewey Decimal System. Makes for an interesting photo. WWII, a Swedish King, and Jenny Berggren. Why not?

Being silly in Karlstad. Take a look at the grandeur of the two tripods to the right. So cool. So sleek. So not mine. See the sad little tripod on the left? That's mine. One day I'll have one as cool as Jessi and Anja. I'm sure they will have upgraded to professional TV cameras by that point. Don't laugh. I saw them eyeing the ones in Stockholm. I think they were considering a purchase.

At least I didn't bring just one camera like Anna did. Poor Anna. This is her little studio. It's sitting on my leg and it's seriously small. If I sneezed, it would have blown away. I don't even know if she used it during the Kungälv concert. Anna, we need to sit down and have a chat about concert documentation.

Anja and Jessi on October 13 in Stockholm with their copies of My Story and Here I Am. They look quite pleased. I would upload some pictures and videos of them dancing around, but I'm afraid I might get in trouble for that one. So, I'll leave you with this picture instead. Happy fans!

Further evidence of this country's candy craziness. This is a Marabou poster campaign I found in Nordstan. Granted, I've never seen anyone walking around with a huge candy bar in their bag or pocket, but I could easily imagine it being a possibility. Carry-around candy now available in Sweden. Get it today!

A pic straight out of fandom. I think this was taken somewhere over the East coast of the US. I like to import my CDs by hand. One side effect of listening to the album before you land? You end up singing straight through customs and security. And they didn't even stop me for an extra search this time. I must've seemed too cheery to look like a threat.

Wait? You mean to tell me I'm not in Europe anymore? What gave you that idea? Oh. The giant fiberglass cow in a spacesuit holding a Texas flag. Yeah, that's a good clue.

This is why I love Texas. So kitschy and loveable. It feels like home. I found a "Welcome to Houston" banner situated just to the right of this cow. Who was the sponsor of the banner? None other than ABB, a Swedish company. The best of two places together.

My busted suitcase handle. A casualty of fun. Those Gothenburg cobblestones aren't kind to your luggage. Sometimes you hit that odd stone and it catches your suitcase wheel. No matter how much of a grip you have on your luggage, you still lose it on the pavement. When that happens one too many times, this is the result. It's all good though. The suitcase works fine and I'll always remember this trip whenever I use it.

And finally, my biggest regret of the trip: I failed to take a picture at one crucial moment.

After Förkväll was over, we were chatting with Jenny outside the Central Station. Jenny was speaking when, suddenly, she changed the topic in the middle of her sentence. "A parrot.", she said, "He has a parrot." I thought to myself, "Did she just say parrot?" That's when I turned around to see what she was seeing.


A gentleman was walking by us and behind him he was pulling a little wagon. In this wagon, there was a parrot in a cage. No joke.

A green parrot. In a cage. In the middle of Stockholm. It was so awesomely random, we all had to stop what we were doing and stare as the man made his way into the station.

How I wish I had that picture.

22 November, 2010

City Interview

After the October 9th performance in Karlstad, Jenny mentioned an interview she gave for a Stockholm paper named City. The newspaper published the interview on October 14th in their daily paper. You can download the original here. The interview is on page 31.

And a translation follows:

Life according to Jenny

I have my feet on the ground

Fame - Jenny Berggren's biggest achievement is to be the mother of small children. In the book "Vinna Hela Världen", she writes about those crazy years with the internationally acclaimed group Ace of Base - and the price she paid.

1. What is true happiness?
Joy, that is to say the happiness that lasts when unhappiness is a fact.

2. What is your biggest fear?
To never be able to laugh again.

3. What side of yourself do you like the least?
That I dont realize everything I am. A lot of people want you to believe that you're worth very little, when in reality it's just the opposite.

4. What side of others do you like the least?

5. Which living person do you admire the most?

[Insight: Jenny told us she thought about the question for a long while before answering. Reading the interview, it seems like she came up with her answer in a second.]

6. How do you feel right now?
Full of expectation. Nothing else.

7. When do you lie?
In my head, a million times a day, at least.

8. What qualities do you appreciate most in men?
Strength and leadership. Wisdom to know that they have a need for qualities women possess.

9. What qualities do you appreciate most in women?
Love and the ability to understand the whole picture. The realization that they are best when it comes to just these qualities.

10. Which words or phrases do you use too often?
Thank you, sorry and like.

11. Who or what is the love of your life?
My family and the silver spoon given to me at my baptism.

12. What talent would you like to have?
To be restful and to be good at walking on a tightrope.

13. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
To be free of tics, maybe? I would like to be able to [???]

[Umm...Would anyone like to take a swing at translating that line? I clearly don't get it.]

14. What is your biggest achievement?
Giving birth. Being a Mom of small kids. Without question! I'm also proud that I was part of the whole circus with Ace of Base and still have both feet on the ground.

15. If you died and came back as a person or thing, what would you choose to come back as?
I would never want to come back. I believe that the day I die will be my best day.

16. Which of your posessions do you prize the most?
My wedding ring and... my car. With my job as a speaker, I need it as much as an on-call doctor. Without it, I can't work. I live in the wrong city...

17. What is the worst thing a person can experience?
To lose someone they love or believe in.

18. What is your favorite way to spend your time?
To let people know that God never leaves them and never stops loving them no matter what they do.

19. What is your most obvious feature?
My remarkably characteristic nose.

20. Who are the biggest heroes in your life?
Children. And Desmond Tutu.

21. How do you want to die?
Without leaving anyone alone.

22. What is your motto?
Smile big and walk fast.

Photo caption: Peas in a pod. Einstein is the historical person that Jenny Berggren identifies with the most: "...in the sense that he had low grades in math and became... quite the best. That means there's hope for me! Also because I look like him in the morning."

21 November, 2010

Travel in Sweden

If you ever go to Sweden, be prepared to travel on every mode of transportation you can imagine.

There are a myriad of ways to get around the country: Bus, car, taxi, tram, subway, plane, boat, ferry, moped, train, bike, horse...

If you rent a car, it simplifies things, but it's not a requirement. A good thing about Sweden is, you can get almost anywhere without a car. It might not be as convenient, but you'll get to where you want to be.

Travel is rather efficient and mostly on time. It's pretty easy to navigate through the timetable and route if you speak Swedish. And if you don't, there are help desks along the way.

The only difficulty I have is understanding the pay systems on local transportation. All the bus and train companies seem to have changed over to a card system in the past few years, so you can't pay with cash any longer. You have to buy a card, a specific card for that specific area. It's easy to see how this can become a problem for tourists.

Add to that the fact that Västtrafik in Gothenburg has instituted some type of Draconian torture puzzle when it comes to figuring out how much your trip will cost you when you travel on a bus or tram. You almost need a degree in higher math to understand the pay plan. The new brochure is fifteen pages long.

The old system was pretty simple: Put your card in the machine, press a number for central Gothenburg (or another for the outer zones), and out pops your card. No longer. Now you have to take into account the check in/check out procedure, where you'll be riding, how many zones you'll be crossing into, if you're riding with more than one person, and so on.

Thankfully, Anna taught me the basics of the new system before I had the opportunity to venture out into the wild blue yonder that is Gothenburg. "Remember to check out before you leave the tram or it will keep taking money off your card. If you don't, the next time you get on the tram, you won't have any money left in your account," she explained. Good to know.

Other than the various local travel authorities wanting to institute these reloadable cards, traveling is fairly straightforward. Prices are reasonable. Timetables are easily available and understandable. There are big electronic notice boards posted with train and bus updates. You can easily see when your bus or train is leaving and where it will leave from. And your transportation is almost always on time.

Being on time is good if you're an on time type of person. If you're not, it can be real trouble. If the bus schedule says the bus leaves at 6:23 PM, it leaves precisely at 6:23 PM. Everyone will be on the bus and ready to go at that time. You don't start loading up your luggage and getting on the bus at that time. You're on the bus and ready to head out. If you're not on the bus, they will leave you behind. Most stations are in the center of town, or quite near the center, which makes it even more convenient.

The trade off for traveling with collective traffic is that you won't always get the most convenient schedule, of course. You don't have as many options when it comes to the travel times. The scheduled departure and arrival times may also be a bit unusual. It helps if you're a night person. Many long haul buses leave late at night. And sometimes, you have a pretty long wait if you need to change buses in another city. So remember to bring something to make the wait time fly by. Maybe a CD or a book. I can recommend two very good ones...

Driving a car is also straightforward. The road signs are clearly marked and plentiful. There are rest stops along the way. The highways are in excellent condition. If you get into the countryside, all bets are off on the roads. You could be cruising down a gravel road or a dirt path in the middle of a forest. But that's only in smaller places. If you stick with the bigger cities, you won't really see that. But you might see a traffic jam or two. If you do choose to drive, watch out for those parking meters and parking signs. It can get costly if you're unaware or forgetful.

Airports are quite small, which makes the process a breeze. You're able to get through security, to the gate and on the plane in a flash. The only drawback is the higher cost of flights in comparison to ground travel. But it's a fast way to get around if that's what you need.

Another perk about travel in Sweden is, once you get to your destination city, you can almost always get anywhere by walking or riding a bike. The cities are small enough to do this, if you're not in much of a hurry at least. Just grab a map from the local tourist office and off you go. It's even possible to do this in Gothenburg and Stockholm if you stick with the downtown areas. You'll find a lot of walkways and bike paths in nearly every city as well.

Overall, the transportation system in Sweden is a a reflection of the country itself: practical, efficient, environmentally friendly, and on time.