Disclaimer:  If you do not approve of eating animals, become uneasy at the mention of blood, or wish not to see a reindeer being processed *read only to the asterisk*!

“We are not working in Porjus tomorrow. I have to pick up a few of my reindeer,” Olof Thomas, my boss, phoned to tell me.  Porjus is the town about 40 km north of where we live, the location of Utsi Ren and my current place of employment.  Olof Thomas (OT) has dark hair, a slight frame, is just over 30 years old with two kids, and in typical Sami fashion (and in contrast to most Swedes) is not very tall.  He often appears quite serious, but more often he is keeping a straight face to enhance some joke or jest.  A focused worker, he is most happy when doing something and does not like to sit still. Luckily he almost never finds himself with that particular problem.  He grew up in Jokkmokk and trained as a nurse in Uppsala before returning home to herd reindeer and take over his family’s reindeer meat business.

OT received a call from another Sami reindeer herder, telling him that a few of his family’s reindeer were in a neighboring herder’s corral about 100 km away.  The herder, not wishing to care for another person’s reindeer, requested that OT come separate his reindeer from the couple hundred reindeer that were ready to be transported to their winter grazing areas along Sweden’s Bothnian Coast.

OT asked if I would like to accompany him. I excitedly said yes and also secured a car seat for Amanda. Her studies inevitably overlap with reindeer (note the word reindeer doesn’t have an “S” in the plural form, a common mistake).  OT said he would pick us up when it was light, which on December 4th was about 8:30 am, even though the sun doesn’t officially rise until almost 10 am.  He arrived in his old 940 Volvo wagon with a trailer hitch and the first thing we did was retrieve a trailer made to haul reindeer.  The trailer is basically a wooden box, about 5 ½ feet tall by 6 ½ feet wide by however long. This one was about 20 feet.  These djur transport (animal transport) vehicles have a space in the wall near the top so the reindeer can breathe. When the trailer is full of reindeer on a cold day, one thinks smoke is pouring out from the trailer.

The reindeer trailer empty

The reindeer trailer empty

We drove east on the snow covered highway heading towards the coast’s large city of Luleå, following the Little Lule River, one of the traditional autumn migration routes of the reindeer.  We turned off the highway onto a small road where we eventually came across a small herd of reindeer, perhaps 12, digging calmly through the foot deep blanket of snow, looking for edible plants and lichens.  Even though some of the reindeer were on the road and in our path, they moved unconcernedly and deliberately, steam escaping from their noses and antlers nodding in the crisp air.  OT spotted a few of his own reindeer in the herd, discernible by notches cut into the ears which serve as a “brand” of sorts. One must have a trained eye to identify the different marks, knowledge often only gained by growing up as a herder. Another Sami reindeer herder recounted that someone once asked him how they can tell their reindeer apart from the hundreds and sometimes thousands of others. He responded, “We look at their ears and we can tell who the reindeer belongs to.”

The observer’s follow-up question was:

“Where are their ears?”

So it certainly takes a bit of practice and training.

We arrived at the corral, but before we could get out of the car first we had to turn the car and trailer around so it was facing the correct direction.  We drove nearly 2 miles down the road, which like most winter roads in northern Sweden is flanked with high snow banks and just enough space for two cars to pass.   Finding no turn around, we ended up getting out of the car, unhooking the trailer, turning it by hand, then turning the car around and hooking everything back together again.  We arrived at the corral to find about a dozen or so men and one woman standing around a fire, sipping coffee from thermoses and slicing hunks of meat in their hands for lunch.  In a wooden fenced corral, reindeer circled counterclockwise—they mysteriously always move counterclockwise—and their antlers made a light clinking sound.  They are beautiful animals, more stocky than a white-tail deer, with heavy fur and beautiful coloring, shades of browns and white.  Some of them have antlers the size of a hockey goal.

The herders ended their lunch and the reindeer loading began. Trailers were backed right up to the corral, and the reindeer were funneled through the gate using a long, light 5 ft. plastic tarp held by three men. The men used it as a temporary wall to gently encourage the reindeer to move in the desired direction.  The reindeer could easily break through the tarp, but it gives the illusion of being impassible and they usually do not test it. If a deer didn’t manage the jump into the trailer or refused to follow the rest, herders would simply grab it by the antlers and hoist it into the trailer.  I was amazed at how the reindeer could be handled without going into a conniption fit. The loaded trailers rocked and bucked as the reindeer jostled for space.  Once one trailer was loaded the next backed in. The feeling was similar to an airport with planes picking up passengers.

You might wonder why a migrating animal such as the reindeer must be moved to winter grounds by a carbon-eating truck. The reasons are complex but during the last century, these northern landscapes have been crisscrossed by  hydroelectric dams, railroads, open-pit mines, highways, logging areas, and tourists, which have all made driving reindeer overland very difficult.

Powerlines make reindeer herding very difficult, these ones actually "sing" with electricity

Powerlines make reindeer herding very difficult, these ones actually “sing” with electricity

*I saw OT slog through the deep snow for about 10 meters in order to increase the moisture content of the snow, and on the short trip back he detoured to break a small dead, straight branch off of a spruce tree and stuck it in the snow close to the corral. OT joined the others in funneling and loading the reindeer until it was his turn.  In addition to loading a few of his reindeer he was also planning on harvesting a reindeer to sell to a friend.  With the help of another herder named Magnus (who towers over OT and me), he separated his five reindeer and forced them into the chute and then into his trailer.  He and Magnus caught a medium sized reindeer by the antlers, and before we knew what was happening he had quickly stuck a large antler handled knife that hung from his belt into the back of the reindeer’s head, severing the spinal cord.  The reindeer collapsed to the ground and OT and Magnus quickly pulled him out of the corral and off to the side.  OT handed me a plastic container that had a former life holding ice cream and told me to catch the blood.  He removed another knife from his belt and cut a tuft of hair from the reindeer’s chest, exposing the skin beneath.  The knife plunged into the chest, and a few seconds later found the heart, releasing a stream of blood that I caught with the plastic container, holding it until it began to overflow.

The author stirring the reindeer blood

The author stirring reindeer blood

“Here Aaron, this is your job. Take this stick and stir the blood until it cools off, otherwise it will coagulate,” OT instructed me, picking up the stick he had broken off earlier.

I crouched in the snow, stirring the blood and watching it coagulate around the stick into a gelatinous dark blob and marveling how the low temperatures (it was about 12°F) had prevented any of the spilled reindeer blood from soaking into my gloves.  OT and Magnus dragged the reindeer over to a set of trees with a long metal pole fastened between them. They propped the deer up on its back. Pulling yet another knife from his belt OT began skinning the reindeer while Magnus helped.  The men knelt in the snow and chatted as they worked, steam rising off the reindeer in the cold.  Though my fingers were buried in thick gloves, they were still cold.   OT and Magnus worked bare handed with their sleeves rolled up.  This was obviously not the first time they had processed a reindeer, they moved quickly and surely, delicately freeing the hide around tight spots using their knives but mostly tugging and pulling it off.  They scored around the elbow of the reindeer and broke the bone off.

Olaf-Thomas (left) and Magnus removing the reindeer hide

Olaf-Thomas (left) and Magnus removing the reindeer hide

They called me over to help lift the reindeer up, so that it could hang by its back feet from the pole tied between the two trees.  It was heavy and three of us strained to lift well above our heads and slip its back tendons around the protruding pole.  OT used his knife to open the body cavity, carefully covering the tip so as not to puncture the stomach contents.   He removed the offal and then threw snow in the carcass to cool it off. He turned to us and explained,

“You can make many things from the blood.  Yes you can make blood sausages but you can also make blood pancakes and blood dumplings” said OT earnestly.

I myself have a strong affinity for boudin noir, French blood sausages made with cream and usually served with apples. While these are made with pig’s blood, I found reindeer blood to taste very similar.  When I worked at a French butcher shop I used to prepare 30 or 40 pounds of these boudin noir each week.  Their texture is soft and luxurious and the taste is wonderful, though many people like blood sausage much more before they know what it is. “All parts of the reindeer can be eaten or used for something.  Nowadays the slaughter companies throw these parts away and fewer and fewer people know how to prepare all parts of the reindeer. But my father still eats reindeer hooves and head for example” said OT.  I learned that often the trick to prepare these lesser known “cuts” are to simmer them for 5-8 hours.

Amanda and I had been stationary for the last couple of hours and the lack of aerobic activity was causing us to become cold, so we were happy when Magnus carried the now cold reindeer like a bride across the threshold and into the back of OT’s Volvo wagon.  Magnus invited us to his house to warm up and eat our packed lunch, which he supplemented with the usual black coffee so strong one abandons all hope of even trying to mellow it with milk, as well as saffron sweet rolls in the shape of an “8.” OT and Magnus shared information and exchanged drawings of family members’ ear marks in case future reindeer were mixed up, while we played with Magnus’s cute reindeer herding puppy, who was very pretty and well behaved until we started egging her on and Magnus scolded her, further proving we should never own a dog.  Before we left, Magnus showed us an enormous black bear skin and head in his attic. He was forced to keep it there for the sake of the puppy who, he told us, would otherwise spend hours barking at the snarling bear head.

From Magnus’s, we stopped to let out the reindeer in Lakaträsk, the winter grazing grounds for OT’s family.  Amanda and I created a wall to divert them from the road and towards the woods. OT released them from the trailer, and following a bit of panicked confusion, the reindeer trotted off down the powerline in the deep snow.

The trailer was now empty, which was fortunate because OT had to pick up a new snowmobile in Vuollerim, snowmobiles now being a crucial tool for reindeer herding.  Even though the town was dark and quiet, there were quite a few people shopping for snowmobiles, or snowmobile parts.  We helped OT load the new snowmobile, which involved lifting the front skis onto the back of the trailer and then running the tread which caught the lip of the trailer and pulled the snowmobile in.

“Are you excited about your new purchase?” asked Amanda as we drove home. “I am not excited like a kid at Christmas. This is a tool and I am forced to buy it because, now with two kids, I no longer have time to tinker with my old snowmobile.  I would rather ski than use the snowmobile.  Being a reindeer herder can become expensive,” replied OT.

Jokkmokk is a Sami word meaning "bend in the river" which is just visible

Jokkmokk is a Sami word meaning “bend in the river” which is just visible

In New England where I grew up, dairy farmers were forced to take out loans and had to invest tens of thousands of dollars on new equipment and machinery in order to continue to be competitive in a changing food system.   The Sami people have already faced myriad challenges and obstacles, from loss of herding land to the threat of radioactive fallout in reindeer meat from the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.  It is becoming increasingly difficult to make a living from reindeer herding, despite the technological advances, good reindeer meat prices, and labor saving devices, a plight not so different from small scale farmers in the US.

The trip back to Jokmmokk was hurried as OT was responsible for picking up his children from school.  As we extricated ourselves from the car OT asked if he could have some of the blood to make blood pancakes for his family.  We poured some blood into a jar and he drove off.  His children might view blood pancakes the way an American child views a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Reindeer herding is variable work and a herder finds him/herself doing different things nearly every day.  Despite the fact that OT had driven about 200 km, slaughtered a reindeer, loaded reindeer, unloaded reindeer, built a relationship with another herder, bought a snowmobile, picked up his kids, and made them blood pancakes, he considered such a day “easy.”  A few days later we would get a taste of what we considered “hard” work, separating thousands of reindeer in -20°F weather….

Step one:  Marry someone who will go to Sweden as a visiting researcher and therefore be entitled to a work permit.  This is not actually why I married Amanda but is just one of the many perks gained through marriage to her, among which include dealing with her constantly cold feet, especially important now in the minus 30C weather.

Unlike France where bureaucracy can slow things down for months or even years, I was able to obtain my work permit and residence card in about 20 minutes.  We also were eligible for a personnummer (basically a Swedish Social Security number) that not only allows access to their socialized healthcare, but also is necessary to do almost anything, such as buying car insurance, mailing a package internationally, owning a car, or renting an apartment.  In Sweden they make no effort to conceal the fact that people are in fact numbers. Just as we also joke about the US healthcare system, Swedes often say that even if you arrive at the hospital, dying of blood loss and making sounds akin to an espresso machine milk steamer, the hospital personnel will first calmly ask you for your personummer.  Though belittling, one seems to receive all kinds of benefits from being a number.

Step two:  Move to a really small town. The town of Jokkmokk has a population of about 3000, but the district of Jokkmokk has a population of 5000 and it is about the size of New Jersey. Start asking around for work in your field, in my case cooking, farming, construction, teaching, outdoor leadership, delivery driver, and anything else I can get away with.

Main street Jokkmokk around 3pm

Main street Jokkmokk around 3pm

Step the third:  Take free Swedish classes (if you have a personnummer) at SFI (Svenska för Invandrare or Swedish for Immigrants) to improve language skills and meet people from Bulgaria, Iran, Spain, England, and Somalia.  I love learning new languages and meeting people from other countries.  One person of note is middle-aged veterinarian who is either from Bulgaria or Serbia depending upon the day and the whimsical political impulses of the two neighboring countries.  His name is Vladin and he has a great sense of humor, helped by the fact that he is continually mixing up “she” and “he” in Swedish and that he is very adept at forming rhymes in a language that he has not yet mastered.

Step four:  Go to the Arbetsförmedlingen (unemployment office) where they will help you look for work and even pay you to do internships.  I almost took an internship with a local restaurant that serves wild foods (reindeer and arctic char for example) and I would have been paid by the Swedish government, not the restaurant.  There is also an option to get hired part time by an employer who will pay 20% of your salary and the Swedish government will pay 80% as long as you are enrolled in a Swedish language class specific to your job (as long as you can present your personnummer).

Step five:  On Saturday, invite the guy who sold you used touring skis over to your house for “fika” (both a noun and a verb meaning “improved coffee break”) along with his wife and two kids.  Network.

Step 6:  Answer a call at 9pm on Sunday evening from someone whose first name is “Olof Thomas” who says he has a business selling reindeer meat and needs help cutting up reindeer and making reindeer charcuterie.  Can I come for a try-out the next day, leaving at 6am to ride 40km north to an even smaller town where the business is located?

Step 7:  Yes.

So now I have a job for a few months at least while the reindeer harvest is in full swing.  My first day I got to eat reindeer for lunch (it is incredibly delicious, dark red, lean, tender, full of taste but not gamey) and the people I work with are wonderful.  My Swedish may not improve as quickly as I thought though. Their English ranges from very good to flawless, but also they speak Sami (North Sami) between themselves.  I have tried to pick up some words, but the language is extremely complicated (Sami is part of the Finnish-Ugric branch of languages) and I can’t even get an answer for something as simple as “goodbye,” which has many variations, accounting for expected duration, who is leaving, how many they are, etc.   In the first three days I made cured, smoked, and dried sausages, Suovas (smoked reindeer meat meant to be cooked), Torkat Renkött (dried and smoked reindeer meat), Renskav (basically philly cheesesteak meat that cooks very quickly and is very tender “Sami fast-food,”) as well as many other things.

Smoking boneless reindeer shoulders

Smoking boneless reindeer shoulders

I work with two guys in their early to mid thirties (Olof Thomas and Nila), and their cousin (Sofia) who is in her mid twenties.  Uncles and fathers and other cousins are constantly stopping by and lending a hand, tending to the smokehouse, or sharing a cup of coffee.  You can check out the company at www.utsiren.se.  Olof Thomas and Nila buy choice reindeer from other herders (often their relatives and friends) but each of them also has their own herd of reindeer, which they must tend to in addition to running their business.

Sofia making a birch fire to smoke reindeer meat

Sofia making a birch fire to smoke reindeer meat

So now I have a job where I get to continue my education with meat cutting, curing, and smoking, but also I get to experience Sami culture and food traditions (I am beginning to sounds like an anthropologist).  While we drink super strong black coffee and nibble on sweet saffron bread with raisins and pearl sugar we discuss topics such as winter grazing grounds, blood pancakes, the taste of moose, how to cook reindeer feet, and tanning reindeer hides.  Utsi Ren’s market it for mostly Swedish customers, as most Sami have other, less expensive, ways of acquiring reindeer meat, so Olof Thomas and Nila are interested in any suggestions and feedback I might have to improve their products.   I am very excited to be a part of what they are doing, and in addition to our freezer filling up with reindeer meat, I am collecting lots of stories as well!

A few thousand reindeer in a corral in the foothills

A few thousand reindeer in a corral in the foothills

A business based on reindeer can be a bit tricky because the reindeer are not always where you expect or want them to be, which can make it difficult to fill orders.  This year they are behind on processing reindeer so it looks we will be processing a load of 75 reindeer right before Christmas.  I can’t help but wonder if these were the reindeer that didn’t get a callback for pulling the sleigh!

We have been in Sweden for more than two months now.  The first month was spent in Stockholm taking intensive language classes at the Folkuniversitet.  Amanda took an advanced class as her Swedish skills are quite good, owing to the fact that her mother is Swedish, her dad speaks Swedish, and she spent summers in Sweden as a child.  I opted to take a second level beginner class, as I feel when learning languages it is better to be overwhelmed (which I was) than to understand everything (which I certainly didn’t).  The classes went well for both of us and I was able to meet some interesting people, including a Canadian diplomat, a Swiss woman who is from the same town where my grandmother was born, a woman from South Africa with an Italian passport, and a French journalist who writes for a ski magazine.

The author studying Swedish in Stockholm in October

The author studying Swedish in Stockholm in October

We were able to buy a 1987 Volvo 240 sedan (pros: built like a brick, cons: looks like brick) from one of Amanda’s classmates and we loaded it down with all the bags and skis that we had brought from Oregon, as well some gifts from Amanda’s mormor to help outfit our new living quarters above the arctic circle.  We also equipped the car with some very lightly used studded snow tires that are very grippy and bristle with studs, a must for northern Sweden. It is in fact a rule that cars must have snow tires after November 1 in Sweden.  The car has a manual choke which you have to pull out while starting the car, and then slowly push back in as the car warms up. It may seem like a simple task but it seems to cause Amanda the same amount of anguish as one would expect from performing a tracheotomy for the first time (she is not going to be that kind of doctor).

Our "new" car, its almost as old as us!

Our “new” car, it’s almost as old as us!

We tied our skis to the roof racks, and eased our 113 horsepower cream colored chariot onto the highway and off towards Östersund, a town located right in the middle of Sweden on the north-south axis, and also where Amanda’s aunt and uncle live.  Stockholm to Östersund is about 600km, or roughly 380 miles and we drove mostly on two lane highways.  While there is still some daylight to be seen, it is becoming rarer and rarer, so after a stop in Uppsala (a beautiful old university town just north of Stockholm) for a meeting with a prominent anthropologist who works with the Sami people, we drove on to Östersund in the dark and rain.

Swedes have made many adjustments to deal with their particular climate such as saunas, aquavit, engine block warmers, studded snow tires, orienting streets, buildings, and towns for maximum sun exposure, and of course, rally lights.  Rally lights are an extra set of headlights that are often mounted on the front of the car and provide extra lumens when the high beams are turned on.  Extra lumens doesn’t really capture the feeling of looking into these lights on a dark night before they have been dimmed.  The light is strong enough to make it feel like it is boring into your head, and the logging trucks often have six or so of these high powered lights mounted high on the cab, a truly blinding sight.  Amanda, known for her sometimes confusing analogies, likened them to the gaze of a snake.  I am not sure how those two are related, but I think she was speaking more about the terror than the light?  Fortunately Swedes are usually quite conscientious and respectful and they dim their rally lights as soon as they see approaching headlights.  Anyway our car does not have rally lights, but we quickly wished we had a set to light up the dark northern forests.

We arrived in Östersund around 9:30 pm, which meant we drove in the dark for five and half hours.  We even passed through a small snow squall just before arriving, the first snow of the year for us (November 1st).  It was noticeably colder in Östersund than in Södertälje and the next morning we would awaken to icy roads and large snowflakes filling the sky and covering the ground.  We were given a warm welcome by Amanda’s aunt Linda and her husband Leif and their two dogs Saga (a border collie, English setter mix that loves to jump in your face; her and Amanda did a tooth cheers on accident) and Ants (pronounced Auntz, a huge bristly hunting hound of some sort that sits regally on the couch, chest thrown forward, as if waiting to be knighted).  Linda and Leif are a singing duet, trained in the national anthems of countless countries, often breaking spontaneously into some unheard of song.  Linda is tall and blond, quick witted and speaks English extremely well, enunciating each word and often ending sentences with a rising, questioning tone, and accompanying raised eyebrows.  Leif is kind and pensive and often uses his hands in “comme ci-comme ça” gestures to emphasize his points or to supplement his low growls of disagreement.

Linda, Leif, and Ants the dog in Östersund

Linda, Leif, and Ants the dog in Östersund

We had a wonderful time in Östersund, taking cold walks on the many miles of trails that include impressive public art sculptures, cooking spicy Thai green curry, going fishing with Leif and his son Frej, and visiting an interesting museum that included a Sami art display as well a sort of a natural history section on Sweden.  Linda and Leif cooked us “plätta” small Swedish pancakes cooked in a special cast iron pan with round indentations for the plätta.  We ate them with whipped cream and blueberry-raspberry jam.  I think I ate about 40 or so of the little cakes.  Leif’s son Frej is a professional freestyle skier who finished first in Sweden’s freestyle competition, pulling off a never before seen trick that is both unpronounceable and incomprehensible, just think lots of spinning, flipping and a graceful backwards landing after being 30 feet in the air (you can check him out at: http://vimeo.com/40189116).  Frej, at 20 years old, is quiet and thoughtful and has decided to possibly forgo competitions because of the stress and expectations, and rather to focus on being in ski videos.  Amanda and I are both hoping that he will come visit us and join us for some backcountry ski tours in Lapland.

Leif and Frej fishing, we ate fish from the grocery that night...

Leif and Frej fishing, we ate fish from the grocery that night…

“There are rules in Sweden!”

This is a phrase we have begun to say quite often.  I believe it was coined in 2009 by Amanda’s stepfather, the Swedish Björn Söderberg, a notable figure in chemistry, wine drinking, good humor, and a savage but gracious ping-pong player.  Sweden, perhaps owing to long periods of cold and darkness, devised many rules to guide their social lives and generally make things more complicated to pass the time.  Some rules are as simple as couples may not sit next to each other at the dinner table, or one may not drink before the host has raised his or her glass first.  Some are much more complicated and require a deep working knowledge of mathematics, phrenology, astrology, and divining to comprehend and execute.  No matter what your level of cultural perceptiveness and sensitivity is, you will most likely be judged by someone as being obnoxiously inconsiderate and uninitiated in the myriad rules of Sweden.  It is important to note that many Swedes feel many of these rules are truly idiotic and a waste of time.  However, even those who rebel against them still occasionally find themselves unconsciously implementing them, while others relish the opportunity to draw from the depths of some convoluted past an obscure rule that others ignored or forgot.  Amanda’s grandmother slips into this category, and perhaps not without a smile.

SwedenFall2013 002

The rules-guru Märit and Amanda stroll alongside the channel in Södertälje.

Märit is a well educated, kind, and patient woman who worked as a pharmacist and ran the local chapter of the Red Cross.  She has crush on Colin Firth, likes whiskey, dislikes all birds, and has a full working knowledge of Swedish rules.  Märit is nearly 85 years old, she knows rules that virtually no one knows or follows.  Her world is one where old is constantly battling new, and she holds firmly to the old way of doing things, at least when it comes to rules.  I have learned many obscure rules from her, such as one may not begin a letter with “I” even though most of the letters in my Swedish textbook do so (“hmmrmmph, that is NOT correct”).

Also I learned that one must never put their keys on the table, and when I moved my keys to the counter I miraculously imbued it with the same table taboo.  Recently I made the mistake of not immediately taking my hat off after coming home to Märit’s apartment.  The hat I like to wear is a wool English style cap. It’s very popular right now and very effective at concealing the lack of vigorous hair growth on my head.  In the US I wear this hat all the time, and this seems to be a totally acceptable thing.  This is not the case with Märit.  A few short minutes after I had entered the apartment and she had decided that I had purposely not removed my hat the first questions came.

Aaron in lifevest

The author and his hat. It’s called a PFD, not a life-jacket.

“Aaron…”

“Yes”

“Are you cold?”

“No” I replied

“Then why are you wearing a hat?” she asked, the lines between her eyebrows wrinkling in displeasure.

“Oh because I like this hat and I usually wear it all the time” I said.

“In Sweden you must NEVER wear a hat inside” she triumphantly responded.

“Ah ha, but even a nice cap like this?”

“You may NOT wear a hat inside, it is a RULE” said Märit, her shoulders rising.

“But I see many people wearing hats inside, even my Swedish teacher”

“hnnmgghh, these young people…”

“My teacher is not that young, he is probably 40” I said

“Well it is not right!” she said with a quick jerk of her chin sideways.

Not willing to give in to old rules I replied:

“Well I like to wear a cap like this because I am losing my hair, and the cap makes me look much better.”

“You may not wear a hat; you should get one of these things (motioning around her head with her hands)”

“A wig?” I said.

“Yes that’s right, a wig, why don’t you get a wig?” she asked matter-of- factly.

“You want Aaron to wear a wig?” laughed Amanda.

“A wig?  I don’t want to wear a wig!” I said also laughing at the ridiculousness of this plan.

“Should I get a long white wig like judges and politicians used to wear?” I jabbed.

“No!  You must get a real wig.  A wig is good and you can wear a wig inside.  I used to have a wig, it had curly brown hair and was very warm,”  said Märit authoritatively.

“I prefer to wear my cap.”

“Well it is not right to wear a cap.”  She insisted.

I wore my cap for another hour or so and then took it off.  With as seasoned a rules-warrior as Märit, one cannot hope to change her mind or convince her otherwise.  Perhaps I should start looking for a nice warm wig.