Thursday, October 31, 2013

Advice from U2 and happy Halloween!

I heard the best advice today on my run from the one and only U2. It's funny when you listen to an old song that you used to know all of the words to, but years later the song feels new, because you have experienced so much since then. It was just me, the dark periwinkle clouds, the deep golden fire of the sun peeking through the clouds, but covered just enough to provide the perfect balance of light and dark where the clouds are backlit by the sun, almost like the candle in a jack-o-lantern, and the wet, rain soacked country road. Oh, and the occasional horse, and sheep. It was spectacular. I sat stretching in the middle of the road while "Stuck in a Moment You Can't Get Out of" was playing. Bono's voice was blasting though my ears, then first déjà vu and a flashback to high school, then a strong, almost heart wrenching pang of homesickness, and then that moment....the one where you hear the words, but you don't just hear them being sung by the artist, no. You really hear the words, and they mean something more now than ever. It was like the moment when I snap the shutter at that absolute perfect second, and I know it wasn't really me who snapped the shutter, it was a "God sighting." Gerald used to call it that, when Lydia and I would bring in loads of fantastic pictures from one day. Then it was just me and the silence in the middle of the road with the sheep staring at me while I sang as loud as I could "you've got to stand up straight and carry your own've got to get yourself together. You've got stuck in a moment and you can't get out of it" My run today was the best I have felt in a long time.
You can lisen to the song here:

School was cancelled today, but I studied anyway since I was there. I learned some Chinese from my friend, and met a Colombian woman in my class whose son lives in Miami, small world. After my run I decided to make banana chocolate chip bread and pumpkin and cranberry muffins for Anna Carin's parents to enjoy, especially the pumpkin on such an American holiday. Kjell, Anna Carin's dad made the most mouth watering, traditional Swedish "panbiff" with potatoes from the garden, steamed carrots, and cucumber salad vinager....all topped with hand picked, homemade lingonberry jam from Gunilla, my mom's friend in Stockholm. The jam provided the perfect sour zing to the savory, full, and satisfying flavor of the meat, which was from the local butcher down the road. I haven't had meat in a while, and boy was it good. So to end a traditional Swedish dinner, we had traditional American dessert for fall and Halloween! We didn't carve a pumpkin today (but hopefully this weekend! And I have my pumpkin candle lit right now as I write!) but we DID get trick-or-treaters! Here, in our small little town! We didn't have candy, but the kids were so cute yelling "busa eller godis!!" Anna Carin's parents loved the cakes, especially the pumpkin, they said it was a flavor they hadn't had before and we enjoyed them with tea (pumpkin rooibos from good old trader joes) and watched "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" which was one of the better films I have seen I a while. Finally, and most exciting, I booked my tickets to Cologne, Germany today to see this girl....and guess how much they cost? $50 round rip. yup, $50.
(That's us on warmer days, in the tropics, on the beach in Hawaii...we're dreaming now)

 Oh, and my room smells like spicy fall, I'm wrapped in a wool blanket, and the flickering candle provides just enough light to finish off a cozy, Halloween night. Happy Halloween! 

For pictures, I don't have many, but here are a few. My pictures of dinner and today are on my camera and on account of computer problems, I can't upload them yet! But I dug around and found some photos for you to enjoy anyway. The scenery photos are from my run a few days ago.

Halloween church carnival circa 1995 with Hannah Lipman.....cuties.

Fall flickering candles

The following are from my iphone:
What the sky looks like at 3:15 now

Wednesday, October 30, 2013 New York?

Journey has been my running accompaniment as of late, makes me miss summer youth trips toSan  Francisco, but some of the songs have a new meaning to me now as I have grown and experienced more. I went for a run this morning first thing after I woke up to energize my day after a night of valter screaming. It's cloudy and 40 degrees it so I bundled up, sucked it up, and went despite the voice in my head telling me that my warm, cozy bed was a much better option. Since the time change, it's light now if you get up at 7 so it's actually possible to run that early in the morning. Soon we won't be so lucky as the darkness rolls in for the winter. It's already getting dark at 4:30 now, and the sun feels as though it is just barely made it over the horizon. This means no more afternoon walks with Valter as I don't think his idea of a great afternoon is walking in the dark. Instead, we go home and read books and play trains, planes, and cars. We try to avoid the TV and iPad at all costs, I'm not going to be responsible for fostering more TV addictions. He ran to the TV the other day and pointed and I just said no, but he knows when his parents come home, he can watch then. We let him watch for about an hour a day. I read to him in Swedish and English,, mostly because he thinks his Swedish books are more interesting. But he is really starting to understand English now! He responds to what I say in English and he can almost count to three! Right now it's a mix of swenglish and sounds more like "ooon, taaaa, teeee" we're getting somewhere. We count the trucks parked every day at the truck wash. I have to say being with a little boy all the time is much different, as I'm obviously used to girl stuff, and am much better at playing dolls and watching Disney movies than playing cars, running around, and crashing cars or toppling over blocks. But Valter is still so small, so he still feels somewhat like a baby.....however the terrible twos are well on their way. I love watching him learn every day, he is so good at repeating what we say after just saying it once now. It's so exciting when he says something new, or understands more and more English. I love looking into his little eyes, while he is watching something, or trying to figure something out, there's so much wonder there, too bad it fades as we get older. He gets so excited when I ask him where the tractor or the train is and he points and screams "där!!" You can almost see the excitement vibrating through his little body. Anyway, I'm starting to sound like a mom with her first child, don't worry, that's not coming for a long long long time. This is hard work! I'm not ready for screaming nights and mornings as its been here for the past few days. I'm tired and I don't even get up with him!

My host parents are off to New York tomorrow for the marathon. It's strange, all of their family I have met here in Sweden has been to New York multiple times, and here I have never been. It's on my list and hopefully I will be able to go someday. They took my phone, so a part of me will be there! Here I am writing and my spotify station just played "New York, New York." I'd like to go before I am 30, preferrably at Christmas....but who doesn't want to go at Christmas? Oh and see The Phantom of the Opera, I've always wanted to see that on stage. I was obsessed with the music when I was younger, I played it on my flute and the piano. And now "All I ask of you" just came onto my Michael Bublé spotify station. The songs are so beautiful I always get the goosebumps when I hear them. I've got 8 years to go . But oh, I've caught the travel bug. I want to go every where, I want to travel until I am too old to walk. I want to see places both with hustle and bustle and places so remote and beautiful you feel like a small gem buried among all of the other pebbles. I want to see as much of the world as I can before I die. Oh and of course try just as much food! What's traveling without food?

Anyway, it's a cool, cloudy day, perfect for some red lentil and chickpea curry soup tonight, but now I'm off to meet the other au pairs in town for a Fika, we'll be missing Sara, our friend who was sent home to Spain. Anna Carin's parents are coming tonight to he with Valter until they are back from NY and they will only be speaking Swedish with me! Hopefully in just s few days I will learn a lot. No pictures today, but I will be putting up a lot this weekend, so be sure to check back then!!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Home away from Home

Last weekend I finally got to meet one of my mom's friends who lives in Stockholm. She's been getting at us to keep in touch and I stupidly didn't see her while I lived in Uppsala, but she arranged to come and pick me up from Linköping last weekend since her daugther also lives here. I was nervous, like always, to meet new people, but her middle daughter and I talked the entire way to Stockholm non-stop mostly about biology since she is doing her master's in etology. Gunilla said at times it felt like having my mom in the car, and she teared up just hearing my voice. My mom lived with her and her family for a summer while she was in high school to learn some Swedish, and then Gunilla lived with my mom's family for a summer while she was an exchange student in the states in high school. Gunilla had so many stories my mom didn't remember, and my favorite were those about my grandpa who I never got to meet. She loved my grandparents, since they treated her like a daughter while she was living with them, and she thinks of my mom as a sister. It was so sweet to see her talk about my family from a perspective I would otherwise never get.

Her family is almost exactly the same as ours, as her kids, two older girls, and one younger boy are the same birth order and almost the same ages as the three of us. Even weirder, Gunilla is a lot like my mom, and her kids are all very similar to the three of us. For the first time felt like being at home here in Sweden because her family was such a reminder of mine. Her husband is even an old, funny, Swedish man like my dad! We got to their house late friday evening, but her husband had dinner ready on the table and it was so nice to share a family meal. It really felt like visiting home while I was at school, because her son and daughter were both home for the weekend. We had a delicious spaghetti dinner with a glass of red wine around a candle lit table. At times I had to pinch myself because I felt so much at home, it was like a dream. After dinner, we drank tea by the fire and continued our non-stop conversation late into the night. The next day, we lazily woke up and had homemade granola, lingon jam, and apple sauce with yoghurt, bread, cheese, and coffee. Typical Swedish, but also typical home minus the homemade apple sauce and lingon. We sat around the table for a while enjoying each other's company,  and listening to Gunilla reminiscing and showing me almost unrecognizable pictures of my mom, uncle, and grandparents! After breakfast we went on a walk around their island (one of the thousands in the Stockholm archipelago) and took pictures by the lake. The sun was low and gold, and the fall colors glistened across the lake. It was brisk, but sunny, and 37 degree temperature meant we were bundled up in our mittens and hats. We had typical Swedish heart waffles with whipped cream, lingon, apple sauce, banana, and fresh blueberries for lunch. Then the kids went to her  oldest daughter, Maria's apartment and we spent time with her, ordered pizzas for dinner, and Caroline and I took the train and bus back home where we had homemade blueberry pie and tea again around the candle lit table. Did I mention how much it felt like home? The next day we again had a lazy sunday morning breakfast exploding with conversation, memories, and showing pictures. After breakfast we ventured out to go to a castle for fika, but got lost, which was no problem for Caroline and I since we just kept chattering away hardly noticing that we were no where near the city and had been in the car for close to two hours. We finally found another place for lunch, a famous park where the princess now lives, Haga, and had warm goulasch to fill our cold stomachs. Caroline and I then took the bus home, and chattered away for the entirety of the bus ride....another two hours. There is no doubt that I will be going back soon, Gunilla even invited Emilie and I for Christmas! But I think we will come up to Stockholm and stay with her for a few days after Christmas and show Emilie the best of Stockholm!

Since I am such a shy person by nature, I was almost dizzy with anxiety about going to someone's house for a weekend without having ever met them before, but those feelings quickly dissolved after the first five minutes. I get scared about holding a conversation and what to do in those moments of downtime, but I'm starting to learn to open up a bit more, and become more used to meeting new people. It's still scary for me, and makes me incredibly nervous, but imagine if I had cancelled and stayed home, which is what I always feel like doing as it comes closer and closer to going beyond my comfort zone and forcing myself to talk and socialize with new people. It takes a lot of energy, being an introvert, but I have to keep reminding myself that it's only going to turn out better than I think, because without pushing myself, I'd be one lonely, isolated soul. I have lived through many experiences, especially in the past year, that unexpectedly forced me to do many things I didn't want to do and be out of my comfort zone in a place I didn't want to face with myself, but I know if I can live through those things, these small bouts of homesickness and nervousness of meeting new people and being in a new place are nothing compared to what I have already done, so why not go out and try something new?

Speaking of which, I'm going to visit Em and her au pair family in Germany for the famous Christmas market the second weekend of December. Oh Christmas is coming up, the most wonderful time of the year, and I'm looking forward to celebrating here in the same way we celebrate at home, except I'm hoping for my snow to complete my first white Christmas! I love being in Sweden for Christmas because for once, the way we celebrate isn't foreign, and we have all the ingredients and decorations here that we have to hunt for at home. There is Christmas, but let's not forget Lucia day which is celebrated everywhere here from the pre-schools, to the cathedrals. I'll hear the Lucia songs I grew up with and eat the saffron buns we always made at home. Lucia is especially Swedish. But first I can't possibly forget about Thanksgiving! I'm going back to Karlskrona to cook with my cousins and show them what a traditional, homemade, American Thanksgiving is like. No doubt I will be extra homesick that day, but at least I will be home with them. Thanksgiving is the hardest holiday to be away for since it isn't even celebrated in Sweden, and it's tied as my favorite holiday with Christmas. The weekend after Thanksgiving we are celebrating the first of advent in Göteborg again, then Germany with Em, Lucia weekend, Christmas weekend in Karlskrona, Stockholm right after, and Em and I will finish our Christmas vacation either in Prague visiting my dad's friend, or in Barcelona visiting one of my au pair friends who was sadly sent home by her host mother. The end of the year will be filled with excitement, travel, lots of good food, and cozy holiday evenings. I'm excited to see Em, it will be my first time seeing someone from home, and I think she is equally as excited. We've got big travel plans for next year also...Morocco? Italy? France? Portugal? Prague...again? Spain? The possibilities are endless, but Morocco is an almost definite yes.

Soups, chili, and month later

It's been too long since I've posted, I know. Since the last time, I've started Swedish school which is much more work than I was expecting, in a good way of course. I go to school full days from 8-2:30 three days a week, and take one half day from 8-12:30 and Friday off. It's an "open" course, so we can choose the schedule that best fits us. It's been really getting dark as of late (although we just pushed our clocks back, so for those of you in the states, we are only on an 8 hour time difference now until you guys do the same) so up until today, it was dark until 8:00 am and started getting dark again around 5:30. It made it really hard to wake up and get ready in the morning being so dark. Not to mention, when I have to catch the bus to make it to class on time at 7am, I have to leave the house at 6:45. Since we live outside of the city, I get home after my long days at 3:30 and pick Valter up at 4. I've still been cooking as much as I can, but haven't been baking to save my health. It's most definitely soup season, I think I made three different kinds of soups or stews just this past week. Daylight savings ended my daily afternoon walks with Valter as now it will begin getting dark when I pick him up. That was my favorite part of the day, him and I watching the trains go by, pointing at the tractors, saying hello to the horses, and watching him learn more and more every day as we walk along the country roads lined with the train track, now bare trees, and classic Swedish red wooden houses with white trim. Now the sun stays low during the day, and shadows are long. It feels as if it is late afternoon all day. Anyhow, here is the post I wrote almost a month ago the day before my birthday! Yikes! Sorry folks!

Two weeks, the weather turned into full fall force. I mean really, within a day we went from late summer temperatures in the 70's to early fall temperatures with some scattered rain in the low 50's and even 40's. The nights have that classic fall crisp in the air dropping into the low 40's and 30's. This is my absolute favorite time. The sun pokes in and out of the low clouds that are flat on the bottom, and puffy on top. When the sun shines, the colors burst like zesty lemon with clean, fresh, bright color. The roads are sprinkled with yellow birch leaves, and the backyard has a new fall carpet complete with crunchy yellow, orange, and brown leaves perfect for running through, jumping in, and throwing in the air. It's really the epitome of fall, and the best part is, it only gets better from here. I'm only missing the pumpkin and squash flavors of the US to complete my backyard apple and pear with lots of cinnamon kick. I've been roasting, grilling, and mashing apples and pears for all sorts of uses such as a topping to my cereal, oatmeal, and toast, the leading star of a dessert, and the simple, yet perhaps best of all, apple or pear sauce. I successfully completed my first attempt at making challah bread (perfect for my "grilled" french toast the next morning), and have been on a cooking and baking spree....let me describe. I've almost been addicted to making the best and the tastiest and hunting for even better, reading recipes like they are novels. In September, Anna-Carin's parents came from Götbeborg and brought the most delicious warm smoked salmon and fresh shrimp. I was in heaven, it was the most delicious salmon I have had in my was almost creamy it was so tender. The following evening, with our well-loved autumn crisp in the air, I made sweet potato and quinoa chili topped with creme fraiche and served with locally made knäckebrö was just what our rosy cheeks and cold bodies needed. I've also made a scrumptious coconut curry carrot soup, one I loved back in Salem at my favorite restaurant The Wild Pear, and decided to bring it to Sweden. Everyone loved it, as they did the chili. My breakfasts have been consisting of my daily soft boiled egg, and a different rendition of oatmeal or cereal topped with fresh fruit, mainly apple from the yard. I just want to make everything apple and pear to make the taste of fall last as long as I can. Speaking of which, I found pumpkin in the city the other day at a little fruit and vegetable outdoor market! I was so excited, but haven't bought it yet since I'll be gone.....speaking of weekends away, here is the abridged version of my weekend in Skåne.
Filip, Valter, and I traveled to Filip's parents house by the sea for the weekend, the last of the summer weather. It sure felt like it too, the days had that feeling that you get when your vacation is about to end, so carpe diem. We went horseback riding and visited Filip's parents on the most beautiful typical Swedish farm where they were staying and housesitting. Pictures to follow of course. The eggs were fresh, we had fika in the greenhouse surrounded by tomatoes, figs, and grapes and outside there was an over abundance of the sweetest sunkissed raspberries I have ever tasted. It was our last weekend of "summer" as the temperatures were warm and we were able to fika outside atop a hill overlooking the coast on the cafe's last day of being open. Filip's parents took me to some of the most famous summer vacation spots as well as some beautiful coastal landmarks.

The following weekend I went to Karlskrona to celebrate my birthday with my aunt and my cousins. It was so nice to see them again and have some family to celebrate with. I took the train early Friday morning and instead of going for the fast route, I opted for the slow scenic route and it was well worth it. Train rides are my favorite I think, they are so relaxing when you can sit alone and watch the scenery go by as you think about the things currently going on in your life, or reflect on things of the past. I guess most people aren't always by themselves on the train, but I've only gone by train a handful of times with a someone I know. I'm really getting used to being a lone, and traveling alone. It has some romantic aspect to it, it's good to learn to be lonely I think. However, I'm really excited that Emilie will be here because I will have someone to travel with! This is also an open invitation for any of you from the states to please come and visit me! I am missing people from home, and it would be so wonderful to show you a slice of Sweden :) Anyhow, my birthday was really fun as we had a big feast, like always, at my aunt's parents house complete with a full table of fika goodies and my favorite cake, prinsesstårta. It's a white cake with layers of bavarian cream and raspberry preserves covered in a layer of thin marzipan on the outside. Luckily we have a Danish bakery close to home in the US where we can also buy the cake to fill our swedish cravings. When I came home on Monday the 30th, my actual birthday, my host family took me out to dinner at a pub serving traditional Swedish food and you will not believe what they got me! A complete Linnea tea set! I found it as a second hand store with Anna-Carin and was drooling over it, but didn't buy it because I had no idea how to get it all home! (another reason why you should all come visit me! after being in Sweden for close to a year, you KNOW I'll have loads of things to bring home!). I also got two heaping packages in the mail, one from my mom, and one from my dad, both chalk full of my favorite missed Trader Joe's goodies. It's not even funny how much I miss Trader Joe's packages are always welcome ;) Both boxes were full of everything pumpkin and can you believe that they didn't buy the same things? Mom got me pumpkin tea, Dad got me pumpkin coffee. Mumsie also added in some fall candles I was missing as well. So we won't be pumpkin pie-less this thanksgiving, nor am I pumpkin flavored-less this fall!

The weekend after my birthday we traveled to Göteborg on the west coast of Sweden (and now my favorite city in Sweden by far) to visit Anna-Carin's parents. The city is gorgeous, there are tons of cafes, the architecture is beautiful, they have a science place like the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park (except it's no where near as good!), and the environment provides the hustle and bustle of a big city, but it doesn't feel overwhelming like Stockholm. I would definitely live there. They have a beautiful park in the center of the city where we walked around after walking through the city, and we also visited the Universareum (the science center) where they had an indoor rainforest, and even at 22, I was in heaven. Göteborg is definitlely on my list of places to go back to, and bring any visitors to. They have a spectacular restaurant scene and the sweetest looking cafes for a perfect afternoon coffee. We visited one of them, Anna-Carin's father and I, for our afternoon fika to celebrate kanelbullar's dag (cinnamon bun day) on Oct. 4th. There is a cafe in old town that has buns the size of a plate, but we didn't go there, sometime to try next time! The cafe we went to was in a little alley across from a beautiful flower shop with drooping vines growing along terrace. There is also an amazing, mouth watering specialty food indoor market. There were displays of cheeses, fine meats, salami, ethnic foods, breads, and of course sweets and buns. I wanted to try it all and spend the entire day there! I didn't end up trying anything although I found Turkish delight!! (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe anyone?) and I just had to get it! I wanted to buy one, but the guy wouldn't let me, so Anna-Carin's dad bought me one of each kind.....naturally the rose was the best! :) *eating one right now* They also have a spectacular fish market full of fresh caught fish where you can find Swedish lobster....a delicacy so much so that they cost well over $100/kilo. This website has a description of them, as well as many delicious, traditional, Swedish recipes.
There was an entire Nordic Food Festival in NY starting the day after my birthday and you could go to cooking classes with some of the top nordic chefs....I was a little bit bitter. Maybe someday I'll be able to go! Check it out! Doesn't it look mind boggling and amazing?! It's on my list of things to do before I die, definitely in the top ten!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Be good to yourself

Fall is really in the air now....the breeze is crisp later and later in the morning and earlier and earlier in the evening. The days are still beautiful, leaving us soaking up the last bits of summer until there are no more sweet, sunny, and warm days left. The skies have been deep blue with warm breezes. They say it's the best summer in 19 years, I suppose I couldn't have picked a better time to come. The popping summer green in the leaves is slowly fading to hues of yellow, gold, and red. The pears, apples, and plums are in full season, a natural sign that the brink of summer and fall is tetering closer and closer to full-fledged autumn. Leave it to the fruit to tell us what time of year it is. Speaking of, we've got pears, apples, and plums coming out of our ears! It was so windy yesterday the ripest pears fell to the ground, perfect for Valter and I to collect together, instead of having him reach too high for his small stature and pick unripe fruit followed by the celebratory "mmmmmmmm" with a winning smile every time whether sour or sweet. Although, I peak and see his face wince when it's sour, although he still wants me to believe otherwise. We went through this routine while picking plums, tomatoes, and blackberries this weekend. Green plums, tomatoes, and plums were still followed by "mmmmmMMMMM" and a large, proud smile, even if he spit it out after. The color of the plums is beautiful, you could design a room around the mix of maroons, pinks, and gold. Pictures of our produce to follow.

Since I've posted last, most of my pictures I have realized are centered around food. Last week, Anna-Carin and I prepared a Lebanese dinner and a traditional Swedish apple cake for a dinner party. We spent two days cooking and preparing the food, and I was in cooking heaven. I think my favorite past time is cooking with someone, it makes the flavors more intense, the food more delicious, and the aromas more enticing. It's just not as satisfying alone. That's not to say that I don't enjoy baking alone, because I spent close to my entire day today baking three loaves of bread, and making loads of fresh apple and pear sauce. Scrumptious! Not to mention that the house smells amazing! I was elbow deep in pears and apples, and wrist deep in bread dough! Tomorrow I'm making challah and Czech plum dumplings! The girls (my au pair friends) are venturing out into the country here for a picnic to celebrate the last of the warm days wearing dresses and short sleeves and enjoying the scenery of the backyard, not to mention the lake down the road, and the canal as well. I'm excited to "host" a small gathering! We are a total of 6 au pairs from US, Germany, Austria, and Spain.

I've begun running close to every other day either down the road past the stables and to the lake, or along the trail that paralells the canal. Sometimes I stop mid-stride and stand there alone taking it all in, and recognizing that I really am blessed to be living in such a beautiful place, and to have been given a job that is not a 9-5 with a grumbling boss in an office building. I may not be making money out of my ears, but then again, who does straight out of undergrad these days? Every knrona I make is worth the life I have been given for the next 9 months. This is not to say that some days I don't struggle with the loneliness of isolation, or homesickness, or feeling as though I'm not doing a job that is necessarily "building my resume." But I will never have this opportunity again to live in Sweden the way I am now, with a laid back lifestyle under the care of a loving and caring family who treats me like a family member rather than an employee, free Swedish classes, free university classes (in the spring), and a student study stipend (also in the spring). I recognize that I am extremely lucky to be a Swedish citizen in which case I haven't had to worry about visas, work permits, or not being qualified for Swedish class or bank accounts. Right now, I am trying to relish in every moment, happy or sad, rewarding or lonely, because collectively, they will all give me an experience that has challenged me and caused me to grow and learn about myself. It's much like a sabbath year....I guess I'm taking a sort of sabbatical. A time to do research about myself, a time to enjoy myself, and learn to love myself again, because school and learning is great, and I miss academia, but I can rip you apart in ways you couldn't have expected. Not to mention, that our society doesn't foster relaxation and taking time for self, rather it's a fast paced, go go go, be the best, and do everything you can to build your resume lifestyle.

Speaking of relaxation, spending a long weekend on the beach in Skåne walking along the beach, going to lighthouses, and maybe horseback riding. Swedish starts next week!