Christmas and Shenanigans With Johan’s Family in Skänninge

Hope you all had a Happy Easter!  Here’s what we did over Christmas! 😛

We arrived in Johan’s previous hometown of Skänninge, where his Dad’s family live, in the very late afternoon. It was dark and raining (not snowing) when we got off our train and Johan showed us the way with our suitcases to the family-run Bed & Breakfast we had booked in town, just about a 10min walk from the station. We knocked at reception. After a moment, the owner answered the door, looking confused at the three of us with our suitcases, and asked if he could help us.  Um yes, we’ve booked and paid 4 nights here. Turns out, because I had been so well prepared with my organising and booked way back in August, he had forgotten to write our booking in the book!  After some frantic worrying and discussing on both sides, we showed him the confirmation email and he finally remembered us, constantly apologising and saying he just had to quickly clean up the cottage we’d be staying in and to come in out of the rain. So we stood there while he hurried off, glad for the luck we had had – can you imagine if he wasn’t home (he was going away over Christmas!) or if he’d double booked the room?  He returned to us quickly saying the room was ready and asking what we’d want for breakfast, that he’d go and get it, still all the while apologising!  The cottages were very simple, clean and nice, with two bedrooms, kitchen and bathroom, just what we needed for our short stay.

Johan and I were hungry, and we said we’d go to his Dad’s after dinner, so we left Mum and went to grab a pizza at a place we’d been to on my first trip to Sweden.  It bought back memories, and this time I was better able to read the Swedish menu!  We had a kebab pizza with kebab sauce (also the one we had on our first trip) and let me tell you that sauce is amazing!

Afterwards, because of the rain and it was already getting a little late, Johan’s Dad offered to pick us up and that was that – we were being welcomed into their home, and everyone was introducing themselves to my Mum, and it was all a bit crazy to begin with, seeing everyone again and I think Johan’s half sisters were a little shy at first, but we hugged and they soon warmed up to me again, almost instantly wanting to plait my hair – something which Johan struggles with!  We sat down on the couch and talked about the holiday we had had so far, and Mum asked questions about everyone’s jobs and the Swedish life, whilst enjoying glögg and gingerbread, yum yum!  It was really nice to see them all again, and pretty weird to see Johan’s old room empty and bare considering I’d lived in that room for 4 weeks last time.

The next day we were greeted with blue skies and… still no snow.  Keeping in mind this is the day before Christmas Eve, which is the day they celebrate Christmas.  Not liking our chances.

Pic 1The cottage we stayed in.

We went for a walk through the town I had come to know so well on my first trip – passed the beautiful, big old church, passed the grocery store, crossed the river and passed the ducks, all the way back to his Dad’s (which is just another 10min walk again, but a little longer when you’re stopping to take photos and explain things!)

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His Dad and step-mother had offered to take us to Mt Omberg, which was a place Johan had been wanting to show me on our first trip but we never had the chance.  So, we packed up two cars and set off, with me singing songs in Swedish with Johan’s little sisters in the backseat (okay, so I had the lyric-captioned videos on my phone).  It was a bit of a drive, passed plenty of green landscapes and red country cottages which I love!  It’s all pretty flat landscape, until you get to the mountain, which is a slow incline.  You park at the bottom then make your way on foot to the top to capture the views of the surrounding Lake Vattern.

Pic 3Views from Mt Omberg

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They also have a little lookout tower we climbed to the top of and Johan pulled out his tripod and we got some lovely photos of the sun shining through the clouds, and family shots.  It was such a great day to be out, a little cloudy and windy, yes, but the rain was holding off.  We climbed back down and had a picnic, complete with coffee and Julmust (a kind of Christmas soft drink), saffron buns (which they eat primarily on St Lucia Day), marshmallow Santas (very soft and chewy!), and Caramello Koalas and TimTams bought from Australia!

We followed this with a trip to Vadstena Castle, by which point it had started to rain and the wind was picking up, so while my mother and Johan were busy taking photos, I rushed inside with the rest of his family to be under the shelter – the wuss I am – and yet still, I want to move here!

Pic 5 Vadstena Castle

The castle is amazing, but you can’t actually go inside without a prebooked tour.  Construction started in 1545 and it was originally used as a fortress to protect Stockholm from its enemies, before becoming home to King Gustav I.  When the royal family lost interest in it, it became a storage barn!  For grain!  Can you imagine? Today it’s a culturally protected listed building though, as well as a tourist attraction.

From here, the rain having cleared off a bit, we went for a walk through Vadstena’s tiny litte shops filled with knicks and knacks, like this old pair of wooden skis.

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We checked out the inside of Vadstena Church and the ruins of the Monastery, and by the time we got ourselves back to the car we were soaked and shivering from the rain!  But still we stayed out, as we hadn’t yet had a proper feed.  We went to an all-you-can-eat place in a neighbouring town, Mjölby, where we met up with Johan’s other sister, Hanna.  They had everything there from pizza and pasta, to pancakes, sausages, deep fried chicken and delicious peanut sauce!  And ice cream and syrup and your drink was included with your meal!  Very good value.  Then it was back to his Dad’s for more conversation, and back to our cottage to sleep!  It’s still weird to say it was the “night before Christmas” when really, it was only the 23rd!

But Christmas Eve greeted us with celebrations and festivities, spent with the same extended family and cousins I had already met, but this time at Johan’s step-mother’s sister’s house.  Still surprised all of the presents fit in the back of the car – it was a tight squeeze!  There were at least 20 of us, including at least half a dozen kids, and it’s all crazy and loud and full of fun and spirit.  It was a really nice family atmosphere.  We will simply not mention the fact that the ground wasn’t white.

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After the traditional Swedish Christmas feast of salmon and fish and salami and meatballs and ham and cheese and sausages and Julmust and glögg, all of which was very yummy, we helped carry empty dishes before sitting down to watch Donald Duck (Kalle Anka) at 3pm, which is also a well-loved Swedish tradition for almost 60 years.  Correction:  all the kids and young adults, with a few others joining in towards the end.  My Mum was in her element, helping in the kitchen as usual.  But still, roughly 40% of the population sit down to watch it – and it always ends up in one of the top rankings for the most watched show of the year.

It is only after Donald Duck that Santa (Tomte… or in this case, a family member dressed up… I can say that the costume this year was an improvement from the one I had seen last time, haha!) arrives and delivers presents to the kids – between 1-3 for each child, I think.  It was my turn to stuff up the video this time – it seemed Mum wasn’t the only one to mistakenly think she had pressed the record button – it wasn’t until after Santa had left that I realised!

Then the rest of the presents from family were handed out to everyone – yes, plenty more for the kids, but some for all the adults as well!  It took 3 people and forever to hand them all out, and Mum and I got some little gifts we weren’t expecting because we had insisted we didn’t want anything, that having us over was enough!  But they’re nice like that 🙂 Johan and I both got landed with chocolates, bath bombs and gift packs of shower gels, etc.  I also got an art book and charcoal, a light up Christmas tree and… snow!  That works in any temperature!  Thanks to Johan’s brother, Pontus.

Pic 9All I Want For Christmas… ♫

It was a wonderful day, so warm and friendly.  I only hope that Johan and I can host it someday in return!  We ended the night back at the cottage, in front of a burning fireplace.

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The actual Christmas day in Sweden, is pretty much like any other day.  Like Boxing Day, but without the stores being open.  A day for the kids to play with their presents.  Today was the only day we could fit in our schedule to meet with our fellow Harry Potter fan and friend, Björn, and it was great to see him again.  We travelled to Old Linköping (yes, in the same way there is an Old Stockholm).  It is like a museum of old buildings that’s open every day of the year… of course, being Christmas day, you could only look around outside.  We were almost the only ones there, having missed the Christmas markets the week before.  But it was still lovely to walk around the cobblestone paths.  It was cold, so we liked to keep moving, but it was nothing compared to the cold we were soon to experience.

Pic 11Gamla Linköping

Pic 12Inside Linköping Cathedral

We got lost finding our way to Linköping Cathedral afterwards, by which point I think it had rained again.  I just remember the wind being so strong and we were battling to get to the doors!  The Cathedral was just as amazing as Vadstena Church, probably more so, and we spent some time here listening to the choir that was practising.  Hunger getting the better of us, we grabbed some more pizza (mostly because half the eating places were closed) then proceeded to fill bags of Swedish candy, 1.2kg worth between all 3 of us.  It was here Mum found a love for Sweden’s liquor chocolates, so much so, by the end of the trip I was carrying home at least 2kg of liquor chocolate in my bag so she could share it with everyone!

I’ve also got to add that it was a full moon, and it looked amazing, so big, beautiful, shiny blue and silver.  The photos didn’t do it justice at all.

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We said goodbye to Björn that night at the station, then continued to make our way to Norrköping as we were already halfway there and it was thee only day we’d have a chance to do it – that is, visit the industrial landscape and waterways of Norrköping.  It was worth waiting the extra 40 mins for a train, despite getting lost on our way there yet again!  They had random balls that floated on the water and changed colour, and a floating, curtained, four-poster bed, which looked a bit bizarre!

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It was a late night and we got back exhausted.  Yet still, our journeys and travels were only just beginning.  We ate a final homemade breakfast in our cottage the next day (yes, that’s an Aussie Vegemite jar, and some of Johan’s fresh fried eggs and the round bread I love!) and tried to fit Christmas presents in our bags.

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We walked through Skänninge one last time, taking a different route to Johan’s Dad’s, to say goodbye to his brother and his girlfriend, who were taking the train back to Stockholm.  We stayed and had lunch with them a final time – salmon and potatoes – which I surprisingly ate and didn’t think it was too bad, coming from someone who is not a fan of fish at all, so that’s got to be a compliment!  We spent all afternoon playing with Johan’s little sisters, playing doctor and hairdresser, Mum braiding their hair and I braved picking up a children’s book in Swedish and struggled reading it aloud to them, and am sure that his youngest 7-year old sister could’ve read it faster than me, but am proud to say I made it to the end… then they wanted me to read another!

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It was heart-wrenching to say goodbye to the family, especially after so little days spent with them, jam-packed days though they were.  But we had an early evening train to catch, back to Stockholm, but just to switch trains, for we were travelling onward and upward, to Luleå, Haparanda, and across the border to Rovaniemi, Finland!


Aside 10

Hello and a Good Friday to you!  It’s been a Good Friday for us!  Just a quick update to let you guys know that Johan submitted his own answers (to the same questions I had) for the Residence Permit application in the early hours of Friday morning, meaning now we just have to wait and hear from them!  I think we’re in for a long wait… #cannotwait #willwait #dontwanttowait

Stockholm. Capital of Sweden!

Stockholm is a beautiful city. Most of the rest of the country has this kind of idea (not entirely unfounded) that Stockholmers are uptight, slightly narcissistic and somewhat rude, and they are often referred to as “nollåttor” (zero-eights, from the landline phone number prefix used to reach Stockholm; 08), and yes, there are a lot of that kind of people, but there are also a lot of amazing people, including my mother and brother and my old school friend, Emma.

But first we need to get on the plane and go there. And boy was that an experience. It was an exercise in keeping calm in stressful situations (but we were totally stressed), because yes, once again we were in danger of not catching our flight!

First of all, we came home late from the Studio Tour, and we had to leave very early the next morning. We grabbed chicken burgers on our way home and after eating, immediately started packing our stuff. Then we double checked our taxi order for the next morning and went to bed at one. Two hours later we had to get up again to catch said taxi to get to the airport at around half past four, where we had our breakfast at a lovely little sandwich place where I had a bacon and egg roll and Kylie and her mum had yoghurt.

After breakfast, we walked around the airport shops a bit. Checked out a toy store and some souvenir stuff but didn’t buy anything. Then we noticed that it was late and of course we had to get to the gate. So we rushed and, with Kylie’s mum in tow behind us,half walked, half ran toward the gate because they were doing a final call for our flight! We still had to wait some time though because the queue was pretty long.

The flight was nice though. I witnessed my first high altitude sunrise, which was spectacular! All the reds and oranges, with the cover of white cloud beneath us. I’d have loved to get good photos of it but it was hard through the dirty window.

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Kylie and I watched an episode of Criminal Minds on her iPad. It’s one of her favourite shows, but I don’t really follow it. I’ve watched occasional episodes, but I’ll probably have to watch it from the start once we live together if I want to keep up with her.

The landing wasn’t as smooth as when I touched down in London, but it wasn’t rough either, but as this was only my second time flying, I don’t have many points of reference. The rest of the experience at the Stockholm airport was pretty uneventful too. We got through passport control, collected our bags and went on our way.

Stockholm: Day One

First stop: the hotel. We got there without too many complications. None actually. We arrived at the front desk, got our keycards and dumped our stuff in our room.

With a few hours to go before we were going to see my mum, we decided to go explore the city. Or specifically, the old town. Kylie especially wanted to visit the Christmas markets at Stortorget, the big square. Getting there though, proved easier said than done. Of course I was a terrible guide, even with the help of Google Maps, and we got lost trying to find both the square and other iconic sights like a small statue and a narrow alley. We even ended up on the completely opposite side of the island the old town is situated on, but it was very beautiful by the water, so there’s that. By the time we got back to the station, it was just in time to catch the subway to my mum’s apartment.

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When we arrived we were all very tired, but it was very nice to see her again. And her fat white cat, Bruce, and new black kitten, Zeldon.

We had a nice dinner of potatoes and meatballs, during the making of which I had fallen asleep on the sofa, and afterwards we were presented with these nice saffron things with gingerbread topping.

After this, things become kind of a blur. We sat down in the living room and shared the photobook we had made from our first visit, then we all sort of took turns to fall asleep on the sofa. I don’t remember the conversation but I do know Kylie’s mum took photos of ordinary objects next to Bruce (the cat) to illustrate how fat he is.

When it came time to leave, and we got to the subway station, there were some complications. Apparently the fire alarm had been set off and police and firefighters were outside. Interestingly enough, we could still see regular people walking in and out from the station. Not many, but a few times. We stayed outside though, not wanting to take any risk. We waited for probably 40 minutes, but the alarm turned out to be fake anyway, or at least, by the time the alarm stopped ringing, the police and firefighters left and we got to go inside, the station looked completely fine. Nothing scorched and no strange smells.

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We waited a few minutes for a train (they leave every 5-10 minutes) and got back to the hotel, where we almost didn’t get in. The lady at the front desk told us that we’d need to use the keypad after hours, but the number wouldn’t work. We found out on our last day that we’d been trying to put in the wrong number! Luckily, a group of other people arrived and they let us in.

Stockholm: Day Two

The next day, we went to the Abba museum, and when I say we, I mean Kylie and I only followed her mum to the museum. We took the tram there from Kungsträdgården (the King’s garden) station, which was fun. We also got to see a really old tram. Wish they still had those in use everywhere. It was a beautiful thing.

When we got to the museum, we helped Kylie’s mum get her ticket, and then left when she’d gone into the exhibition hall to explore the city and went back to the hotel to film a vlog.

Afterwards, we met up with her at Kungsträdgården where they had a Christmas market. They sold all of the traditional Swedish Christmas goods, like gingerbread, glögg (mulled wine) and roasted almonds. It was nice. They also had ice skating, but as we didn’t have skates, we couldn’t get on the ice.

After the market, we went to explore the rest of Stockholm! Kylie had a whole list of places she wanted to go to, and I did my best to help get us there. We started at the old town, where we managed to find the narrowest alleyway. And at less than a meter wide, it truly deserves that title. We also found the big square we had looked for the day before. Unfortunately we made it there just as the markets closed, and we never got a photo of the brick building Kylie liked, just liked we didn’t last time, but you can’t always have good luck, can you?

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After the old town we went to Sergel’s Square, right at the center of modern Stockholm, to look at Christmas lights, which were, in Kylie’s opinion the best in the city.

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Now tired and wanting to sit down more than walk around, we went to ride the subway and experience the subway art, which is a very unique feature of the Stockholm subway system. Every station is it’s own little artwork, with different themes. Hallonbergen (translates to Raspberry Mountain. Children’s drawing themes), Näckrosen (The Pond Lily), Thorhildsplan (Thorhild’s Square. Mosaic pixel art) Fridhemsplan (Peace Home’s Square. Ships and stuff) Solna Centrum (Environmental message) and T-Centralen (The T-Central. Art varies depending on floor). I think my favourite station was the one with mosaic pixel art. That’s really creative!

Pic 6Quite possibly my favourite photo of us so far.

Pic 7Solna Centrum station.

Finally back at the hotel, I was itching to show Kylie another part of Swedish life. The hotel had a sauna, and I was determined that we try it out. So even though it was late and we were tired from our day, the two of us went upstairs to the sauna room. I’m sad to say Kylie was not a fan at all. I can’t tell why. She was of the opinion that it was worse than sweating in the warm Australian summer. I tried to explain that it’s different but she disagreed. Oh well. I’m gonna have to sauna by myself in the future I guess. I’m a little disappointed but what can you do. Not like I can force her to do it.

Stockholm: Day Three

The next day we woke up to a beautiful sunrise over the houses outside our hotel window. Our room was a couple floors above the surrounding buildings and I tried getting some nice photos out the window.

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The agenda for the day: more city exploration! Kylie’s mum had a guided walking tour of the South part of town and all three of us had a walking tour of the old town. But those weren’t until the evening, so we had plenty of time walking around on our own till then.

We started, as expected, in the old town. It’s a beautiful part of the city. It’s not a big area on the map compared to the rest of Stockholm, but it’s packed with sights to see, and cosy shops, cafés, restaurants and old buildings that have a long and important role in shaping the history of the town. Everything in the old town has a unique history, and I’ll get deeper into that later.

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We started at the main Street, which is full of little shops, a lot of which are souvenir shops. We found three of them in the same street corner, all of which sold a lot of the same stuff, and the fact that they haven’t driven each other out of business speaks a lot to how many tourists there are in this area of Stockholm.

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Just around the corner from there, you find the palace courtyard, where you can watch the daily changing of the guards. This time wasn’t as spectacular as other times I’ve seen it. And they called it the changing of the sentries, so maybe it was a different kind of changing, but nevertheless, it’s always fun to experience.

After this, Kylie’s mum had to go to her guided tour of the south of Stockholm, while Kylie and I explored Östermalms Saluhall. It was quite the place, full of luxury food with ridiculous prices attached to them. They had all kinda of things, from marzipan figures and chocolate delights, to whole chickens, with everything still on them, which grossed Kylie out quite a bit, and I admit I was a little too.

Now it was starting to get pretty dark, and it was time to head to head to Sergel’s Square to meet with the tour guide for the old town tour. It was fun, and the guide was engaging us participants. We were a pretty large group, and she did a good job of making everyone feel included. From Sergel’s Square, which is the center of the modern Stockholm, we walked to the Old Town, which is, obviously, the center of the old part of Stockholm. She guided us through the history of Stockholm, pointing out key places and events. It was all very interesting. Of course I cant remember all the places we went, but they include the palace, the statue of St. George and the Dragon, the Big Square, the smallest statue, the narrowest alleyway we had already visited, and many others. Granted, Kylie and I had visited a lot of these last time when we did the Stockholm Ghost Tour, but it was fun to revisit them nonetheless, on a tour with a less morbid theme.

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Next, and the final thing on our schedule for the day was a visit to my old school friend, Emma. She’s living in Stockholm with her boyfriend in a really cosy little apartment with interesting quirky things, like an upside down Christmas tree. They treated us to a couple of hours of nice conversation and raggmunkar (sort of like pancakes with potato in them, served with bacon and lingonberry jam) for dinner. It was very nice to catch up with her, as I don’t see her that often anymore.

Stockholm: Day Three
The last day in Stockholm we didn’t do much. We had a train to catch going to my dad’s in Skänninge, leaving at 12:40. So we spent the morning repacking our suitcases and doing last minute washing before catching that train, where we filmed a vlog and wrote a blog post which can be found here and here!

The Application Process Has Begun!

So today was a crazy day! Kylie was freaking out and not able to push a button, and I tried to calm her down and yeah. But then again, applying for a residence permit to move and live with someone is a pretty big deal, and pressing that finish application button… well, there’s pretty much no going back after that. But it’s not all done yet. I’m now in the process of writing my response application so to speak. We both have to provide basically answers to the same questions about each other, and I guess they compare those answers or something, but yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing today, and because of the Migration Agency’s crappy system for managing these applications, I already lost all my progress once. But I’m getting there. Soon we will be living together and I’m so excited! Well at least if this application goes through. But I have no reason to believe it wouldn’t, so I’m not that worried.

Taking the Leap!

We interrupt our holiday posts to give you this special update.

There comes a point where every long distance couple who want to live together must seriously consider – who will be the one to move?  Not only who, but when?  We have been talking about it for months, years even, the idea of wanting to close the distance within 5 years, which happens to fit in perfectly with when Johan completes his course in June next year.  As anyone who reads this blog will know, I want to be the one to move to Sweden, which was not what I had wanted when we first started dating.  I am ridiculously shy and could never in my wildest dreams imagine moving overseas.  But things happen, we grow up, people change, and dreams change.

Whilst I have glimpsed and read pieces of information here and there in my research about moving to Sweden and applying for different visas, I figured I’d start properly doing in-depth research about a year before we wanted to close the distance.  Sort of like a reward, a one year countdown.  This changed when we had our first reader submit a question to Ask Us Anything – what were our thoughts on the whole visa application process?

We wanted to give a researched, in-depth reply, and this motivated us to look into it sooner, after all, it’s an exciting prospect, moving in with your partner.  And then we found out that the current processing time for a Residence Permit application is 8-14 months, and is only getting longer as refugees in Sweden get their families to apply in order to join them.  We were given advice to apply as soon as possible.

It is also our best interests to do so before May 31, as a proposal is being made to change the rules about applying, but the changes won’t come into affect until after this date.  I’m not sure if a decision has yet been made, but they are changes which would greatly affect our chances of being approved if they do go ahead.  In very basic terms, if we can prove the strength of our relationship, I can get into Sweden on a initial 1-year residence permit simply because Johan is a citizen of Sweden.  If the changes go ahead, not only would he need to show sufficient income, he would also need to show that he has a a home of sufficient size and standard for the both of us (that is with kitchenette, living room and at least one bedroom).  I’m not quite sure his 1-bedroom apartment with combined bedroom and living room would cut it.  And certainly if he is still living there when his course is complete, we would live there only temporarily until we could find a bigger place.  But that’s just the thing … I will have 2-3 years worth of savings by the time that comes around, and it would mean nothing if Johan couldn’t show sufficient income, and he may not get into a job straight away.  So, we must apply before May 31, so my savings can count for something.  So, they say to apply now, and that was already a month ago.

For my birthday in June, I had planned to reward myself by looking at the application forms we have to fill out, and well, filling them out.  But suddenly on this side of my birthday, three months earlier, it seems too soon.  But chances are, we’ll submit an application and then hear nothing for a couple of months.  It may still be a year or more until we receive an outcome.  It is a long wait for something you’re pinning all of your hopes and dreams on.  It’s a huge stress.

However, as of today, we have completed an application.  Well, I have completed an application, because it comes from the person applying.  No one else can do it for you.  The partner living in Sweden gets sent their own questionnaire to fill out, which is very similar.  Also, completed does not mean submitted.  Johan still needs to proofread it for me.  There are still some finishing touches I want to do, abrupt endings to questions I want to fix, and polishing up to make sure it’s all shiny and perfect.  And then it will be done.  In the next day, or two or three, maybe.  But what is so hard about pressing that submit button?  I can tell you this.  Filling out a visa application to apply to live with someone you want to spend the rest of your life with … that’s terrifying.  And crazy.  And exciting and nerve-wracking.  It makes it seem all the more real.  Putting it down on paper (okay, okay, in an online form), noting all of the specifics of your relationship down … from your first date to the names and dates of birth of both you and your partner’s immediate family for a complete stranger to read … it’s madness, but understandably, required.

The application is sitting at 6 and half pages long, and that’s not even filling up the maximum number of characters for each question – not even close, I don’t think we’ve had enough in-person meetings to warrant it.  It almost reads like a documentary because it basically is.  It’s a shortened timeline of your growing up, before you met your partner, and then zooms in on that relationship and all the nitty-gritty details of how the mechanics work to make that relationship function.

So, we are soon to join the queue of long distance couples on the visa application waiting wagon.  For real.  No more dreaming about the day the plans for our future start.  They start now, as soon as the submit button is pressed.  Forms, documents, photo evidence, in-person interviews with a case officer … it’s all happening.  It’s finally happening.  Yay!!!