Wednesday, January 18, 2017

My Family Is Simply Great!

I know, Christmas is over and shall we move on please. But I just have to share the lovely Christmas we had. Because it makes me so so so happy. And after telling you the sad story about me not being able to continue our holiday journey to the US yesterday, I strongly felt I needed some happy moments back up in my corner of Cyber World.

We got up at 4.30 am on Christmas Eve morning to fly to a Swedish Christmas. We arrived just in time for lunch at my brother's summer house, which was lovely decorated with tree, candles and ornaments. The kitchen was steaming hot and running in full gear while the 8 cousins gathered together in laughter, pillow fights and crazy rumbles. I'm always amazed at how the kids connects within a tenth of a second. How they just know they belong and that their friendship is stronger than anything else.

While my brothers prepared and filled up the Christmas Buffé table, we ate candy, nuts and saffron buns with glögg (hot spiced wine) while watching The Donald Duck Show at 3pm. This is the thing. You see, for as long as I have lived we always watch The Donald Duck Show at 3pm on Christmas Eve. Its an essential part of the tradition. Even if I have seen every cartoon, heard every melody about 40+ times now (!!!), I wouldn't skip it for the world.

When The Donald Duck Show was over, the kids went outside to play "Catch In The Dark", the new big game of the year. It gets pitch dark around 3pm already in Sweden, and what the kids do is they go outside in the dark to hide in the garden, a grown up or two  has to catch all the the kids... in the dark. When someone was caught he or she could be saved on the veranda through a hug from a cousin, brother or sister saying "Merry Christmas"... Well, it might sound a bit dangerous, and maybe it was a bit dangerous. But what is life without some danger. Playful danger... In the end we had to stop the saving part because it was impossible to catch them all. Those little legged people are really quick, slipping by in the speed of the light, I'm telling you.

And so Christmas dinner was up and we all dug in with rosy cheeks and cold noses. After about an hour of indulging in all the wonderful Christmas food, the kids got antsy pants and the gifting procedure took place. After a while (oh my there were lots of presents and a pause was very much needed half way through...) we took a break to clean up dinner all together. Because when you do it together, it isn't chore. Someone brought all the dirty dishes, I washed it all by hand, another one dried the dishes and a third one wrapped up left overs and a fourth one collected all the Christmas wrapping paper from the floor... A Grandma watched and helped the kids while they explored their new toys. It was all done during chatter and laughter and after, we all sat down with a hot cuppa to open the last gifts under the tree. It was a perfect Christmas. Everyone were so happy, full of delicious food and delighted to be together.

There is nothing better than being with family during the holidays. Family has become more and more important to me the older I get. And as we live abroad, far away from close family in both Sweden and the US, it is a real treat when we can all get together. I will treasure the memories of this Christmas for the rest of my life... The Catch In The Dark game will probably be something the kids will remember more than anything else. It was really, really special.

PS Thank you my lovelies for your sweet words, comfort and sympathy on yesterday's post. For your advice and tips. I am going to the bottom with this and hopefully I will be able to resolve my situation with the US immigration. I will keep you posted and let you know how it all goes. Warm heartfelt wishes to you all.


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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Being Refused Entry To The USA

Over a week has past since everything has gone back to normal. Kids are back in school, everyone is getting over the jet lag, dirty clothes are now clean, bills are paid, house is getting everyday messy... I told myself to deal with my situation regarding the denial to entry the US when I got back home, but I still feel so offended and hurt by the whole situation that I have done my best to avoid it... I'm still in shock over what happened I think. Here is the story.

When me and my kids came to Stockholm airport on the 29th of December to check in on our flight to Miami via Zurich, we bumped into problems. I thought I had all my documents in order, had double checked over and over again, but once there I was informed there was one document missing. An ESTA document, an Electronic Travel Authorization who allows you to travel on the Visa Waiver Program to the USA. I had no idea... I was told I could apply online on the airports public computer. We had lots of time as we arrived a good 2 and a half hours before the flight departed and I took a deep breath and thought "Ok - we can do this."

It wasn't easy. The computer kept on shutting down half way through the process and in the end I had to do it all over the phone with my brother's wife on her lap top at home. It took a good hour and half to fill out all the forms. And then we had to wait for approval... When there was 40 minutes left before departure I started to realize that this is not going to end well... I asked to cut the line and went up to talk to the lady at check-in, explained my situation and begged her to call the gate to hold the plane for us. I mean we were just waiting for that confirmation to come in with a "Ping!". She called the gate, but it was to late. We had missed the flight. It was devastating... I fell apart, seriously...

What next? Book a new flight? Will we have time to catch the connection flight in Zurich now? Soon after, the "Ping!" that we were waiting for came in. Everyone approved. Part from me who was denied entry to the US. No reason. Just a big fat NOT APPROVED! I couldn't go. Now the situation really turned bad. I fell apart, again...

Jay was sleeping in Miami with his phone turned off, unaware of the situation. I started to make phone calls to try and resolve the situation. Talked to the Embassy, US Immigration, where we had bought the tickets... No luck. No one could say why this happened. No one could help. What could I do?

I decided to send the kids on their own, I mean this was THE TRIP we've been waiting for so long. Saved up for. The kids were overly excited to meet uncles and aunts, cousins and grand parents. Family. On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Their roots. Their blood. I could care less about the Bahamas cruise or the shopping in Miami. But to not be able to take part of the celebration of Grandma Flora turning 100 really felt unfair. And to be taken away the opportunity of watching my husband laughing together with his brothers and sister going down memory lane... that still makes my heart ache. When will I ever get the chance to experience that if not now??? When will we ever be all in one place, together and feeling the joy of belonging to the same family tree? Ever? There were family members flying in from near and far, finding space in their chuck full agendas, taking time off work, saving up money for endless months, if not years, to do this... But I was told that we had lost all the tickets as we had booked them all at once on the same booking number... the devastation just continued. All tickets? We can't even use the return tickets?

Once Jay woke up in Miami and heard the story, he got into action mode. He managed  to change the tickets for the kids and with the documented proof of why we had missed the flight we could re-book all lost tickets with just a small additional fee to pay. Now the kids could go. Tickets were held for me and I had 48 hours to get my entry docs in order. I called my brother, who arrived to the airport like Superman with his big arms holding me tight while I cried myself out for a minute or two. He had just thrown his boys in the car, half dressed still in their pj's, to go and get me. He made yellow pea soup and pancakes for everyone and made sure we all had something to eat. After all, we had been up since 5am... I spent the afternoon on the phone trying to get some answers and arrange my documents... No luck.

The next morning I waved off the kids at the airport with a flight assistant taking over the holding hands through security and off to the gate. I had to stay at the airport until they had taken off, and found a café with panorama windows towards the boarding ramps where I could watch the airplane tax out. The kids pulled the window shutter up an down so I could see where they were sitting, 7 seats behind the wing. Nelly sent me a text asking me to wave so they could see me at the window. I waved my arms so big you would think I was waving for rescue. But they did see me. People around me probably stared at this middle age woman waving her arms like crazy with tears streaming down her face. I don't know, I didn't notice my surroundings... I remember thinking that IF something bad happens now, I will loose all three... I will never be able to live with that...

Well, my kids did get to Miami safe and sound. Jay picked them up at the airport. They had a WONDERFUL time. They went on the cruise to Bahamas and sang Happy Birthday to 100 year old Grandma Flora. They met their cousins, uncles and aunts... They did it all, everything we had planned for. I hung out with friends and family, trying to make the best out of my unplanned solitude in Sweden, feeling a bit lost in the situation but I had a good time considering the circumstances. Now we are all reunited and many great stories has been shared. Photos. Laughter. Hugs and cuddles. It all turned out pretty well in the end. But...

The problem remains. I'm still banned to cross the US border and I still don't know why. I've already spoken to half a dozen different instances, but all I hear is that if I ever want to enter the US I will have to apply for a Tourist Visa. On the websites it says that if you've been denied entry through your ESTA application, they can NOT tell you why because of confidential reasons. Every person I've spoken to directs me to someone else, a new phone number, a new department. No one is taking responsibility to help. I want to resolve this, but I feel helpless against the system where no help is to be found. I'm married to an American since 16 years, we have 3 children. I have lived in the US, worked there with all paper work in order, I have visited the US many times after we moved to Europe and NEVER did I have any problems with the US immigration or special documents. I'm just a totally normal Swedish woman, living a normal life... Why is this happening to me? Why can't I get any answers? What did I do wrong? If I only knew...

I feel like a criminal. I feel mistreated, helpless and very very hurt. I feel violated. I don't know how else to describe it. It just kind of hurts inside, in solar plexus when I think of it all... I'm probably the biggest victim here in this story, but this has been a traumatic experience for my kids as well. It is just not fair to put people through this type of distress and treatment without a reason. It is not correct to deny someone entry to the US without explaining why, without giving this person a chance to understand and be able to fix what needs to be fixed. Could it be an error made while filling out the form??? Maybe I mistakenly crossed the wrong box...??? Could it be an unpaid parking ticket or bill maybe that I'm unaware of??? Could it have something to do with me leaving the US and my Green Card behind when returning to Europe. Maybe I needed to unregister or something... I don't know, and I think that is the worst part. Not knowing why I'm being treated like this.

I'm sure I will get over it eventually, but it is still so fresh in my mind. Time will heal.  Hopefully I will find some clarity in this one day and just maybe I will find a way to be cleared from this injustice label of "having unresolved issues with the US immigration",  like I would be a person of a criminal act, a threat to the USA.

Thank you for listening, I needed to unload this. Process it. The drama is over and all my loved ones are here with me. That is after all the only thing that matters.


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Sunday, January 15, 2017

I Want To Get Organized

Baskets full of everything. Drawers full of just "stuff". Cupboards where you have to dig yourself in to get what you're looking for. Cluttered benches and shelves... I have a basket in the kitchen full to the brim with everything from blinking drum sticks to precious Lego pieces, hair pins, pens, cat toys, flute cleaners, lost jig saw pieces, chap sticks, key rings, hooks to put up somewhere, measuring tape, gym shoes, purses, odd socks, brochures and just "stuff". I see that basket every day when I enter the kitchen and I think to myself "I need to sort that basket...". But I never do.

I think that basket has been there for almost 2 years now. Filling up only more and more. I can't even remember last time I actually looked for something in there. I'm pretty sure that if I just tossed it all, I wouldn't miss a thing of what's in there... When we occasionally have friends over for dinner I just simply move the basket into another room out of sight. And then it stands there for a few months, until we move it back into the kitchen again...

I can handle a morning when the alarm didn't go off or being alone juggling it all when Jay is working abroad. I can handle sickness, school work, birthdays, the family agenda and endless house chores. I can handle most things. But the clutter hidden behind doors, lids, in baskets and boxes... It really gets to me. This is the worst stress I live with, because it is constant. I would say my home has a clutter level of 8 or 9 on a scale from 1 to 10 right now. Still I do NOTHING about it. It is overwhelming. I don't know where to start...

I dream of a decluttered and well organized home. A home where there is a place for everything. A functional home that is easy to navigate, clean and store things in... Where there are no clutter and no digging around to find tape... I could swear I saw the tape in here somewhere or maybe it was up in someone's room, or in that other drawer... it should be in the office of course, or the kitchen maybe... ohhh... it's at the toilet behind the tooth paste and floss... Of course!

So to feel better, to be less stressed, I want to get organized. I need to tackle this. If I can take my home clutter level below 5 in 2017, oh what a dream come true that would be. I feel motivated. I think I've reached the bottom... I am ready to do this. Yes I am. I just have to figure out how I'm going to get there. Maybe I'll start with a list for ONE room and then take 15 minutes every day to tackle ONE thing on that list... That should help me move forward right? And if I tell myself I have the whole year of 2017 to deal with this, I should be able to succeed, right? Any advice, encouragement and well needed kind push in the right direction is welcome. Lets do this!


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