Monday, December 26, 2011

I'll be home for Christmas

Christmas came and went, this year is going by entirely too fast!! In any case, my Christmas was most memorable and most Swedish. We started the celebrations at my aunt's sister Veronica's house for "Lille Julafton." It's the Christmas eve before Christmas eve. We arrived there in the afternoon in time for typical Swedish fika and lots of family. Like any gathering in this family, we all sat around the table with plenty of conversation and laughter flowing, cup of coffee after cup of coffee poured, Julmust sucked dry, and too many Swedish treats to choose from. Dinner came a little later complete with the essentials for a Julbord and dessert was complete with homemade cookies by none other than myself, Martina, and Emma. Meltaways, which, like their name, completely meltaway in your mouth and are to die for. With a hint of peppermint, they are fresh and light (despite all the butter that is used to make them....details not worth mentioning). Jul games were paired with efterrätt  and the warmth of family scooped you up like the big comforting hugs of a grandpa. Christmas spirit was crescendoing up to Julafton and the magic of the day to come. But you know what? Even though Christmas itself is over, it's really not over. Not yet at least. It's not even New Year's yet! Christmas trees are still up lights are still lit, stars still hang in the windows, and adventsljusstake light up every window in the city. It's Christmas here until Epiphany, yet tomorrow I go home to 76 degrees and sunny, and probably many Christmas trees sadly abandoned on the street corner as a symbol that the season of warmth and love, family and giving, and of course, the coming of Christ has come to a halting stop. But in our house, Christmas lives on, at least until after New Year's, come into our doors and the overwhelming warmth of the season fits you like a cozy, snuggly sweater. Glögg on the stove, candles lit, trees up, tomtar out, and Christmas music still playing. It doesn't have to end so soon.

On a happier note, my Christmas here was more than well spent! Julafton was started with lunch at my aunt's parents house with typical Swedish lutefisk (schnitzel for those of us who don't like lutefisk!), this was followed by a glögg fika with coffee to follow, pepparkakor, swedish cheese cake, and plenty of chocolate (Paradis...typical. The ones Babi brought to us all the time, remember?). During fika, Sweden shut down at 3pm went Kalle Anka Avery said "Sweden shuts down when Kalle Anka comes to town!" Kalle Anka has been on at 3pm on Julafton every year for the past 50 or so years, with cartoon clips of many Disney films or morning cartoons we all love. It's on for an hour, and during that hour, the entire family is snuggled up in front of the TV singing along to the songs, reciting the lines, and announcing their favorite clip is next. Every year, it never fails, at 3pm. After Kalle Anka, by this time it's dark at 4pm, the "tomte" came and delivered our presents in two, heaping, overflowing sacks. When you come to this family, they don't treat you just like a guest, they treat you like family, and I received gifts as if I was one of the grandchildren. I couldn't believe the overflowing love and warmth I was showered with both on Christmas and during my entire time spent here. Yes, I am a blood cousin to the girls, but by no means did I ever expect to receive such acceptance into the family as one of their own. Today I was reminded of this yet again for my last dinner at my aunt's parents house. Three hours of eating, laughing, and conversation around the table. Much was the same around the Christmas table, however, it was also accompanied with schnapps. Lots of schnapps. And songs sung with your schnapps in the air and Christina's dad continually saying to me "this one is bottom's up Linnea." I didn't keep count. But with a julbord, there is so much food, and you sit around the table for so long, that it ends up to be somewhat insignificant. I will post pictures of the Julbord, of course. Miriam works for weeks starting with shopping and then beginning the cooking and somehow, she always manages to get the food out and ready and hot all at the same time. It's some kind of magic she's got, it's accompanied by this radiance that is constantly glowing. She kind and genuine and always happy to see us greeting us with open arms and the warmest of hugs. Although we don't speak much of the same language, somehow we manage to communicate. She always begins the meal with our "ok" to start by saying "så, varsagoda" and of course, she always goes last. She's a mormor.

Anyway, dinner. I mean, I think Sweden is my heaven. Actually, I am sure of it. I told the girls I dislike Sweden because I love it too much. I want to buy everything in the stores for Christmas of course (other things too, like postcards with illustrations from books we had as a kid from Babi or Christina, or striped clothes, or smart Swedish design, smör knivar.....the list goes on) and the food. Oh let's not get started about that. Pepparkakor, ballerina, päron anything (saft, glass, milkshake, marmelad....), knäcke, soooooo much cheese like präst, herregård, svamp ost, ect., kiviks juice, JULMUST, LOKA, chocolate.....I told Martina I just want to pack Sweden into a bag. So therefore we have a love/hate relationship. Back to the julbord. OF COURSE there were meatballs, probably some of the best's I've had I must say (although Mamma's are still tip top), jul skinka ham, cheese, cheese, cheese (with kumin!), bröd, bröd, bröd, Johnsson's frestelse, pork ribs, sil, korv, prins korv, and my favorite....the  kantarell omelet (one of the best things I have ever tasted). Oooooh it was heaven. Julmust was flowing out of my ears with the occassional schnapps and sip of Jul öl. It really doesn't get much better. It was delicious....jätte gott. Great food, a full table of happy family, beaming grandparents, and satisfied, plump stomachs. Laughing by a candlelit klad table in the winter garden and Swedish Christmas music softly singing in the background. I couldn't say I have been much happier. I had to stop myself and make a mental note of the evening as if to come back to it later and say to myself "remember that moment when you were so content?" I did this again tonight. This is why I love Christmas. It's so twinkly and cozy with candles, Christmas tree lights, cold winter air outside, and warm bodies of gathered family members inside. Cozy socks, warm sweater, flannel pajamas, and my favorite....snuggling on the couch with Emma while watching the best of Christmas movies. The Holiday and The Family Stone. Christmas dinner was followed by a generations old Swedish game in which you shoot a small marble with a wooden stick on a board strategically to have the ball land in slot to collect points. It was just a wooden board and marbles, and the entire family was happily playing around the table. Grötris ended the night and we were high on life with full stomachs and bodies filled with that magical feeling on Christmas.

Now I write at the dark table, with the soft glow of the julstjärna in the window, the scent of spiced oranges wafting towards me, and the twinkle of the Christmas tree by my side. It's my last night in Sweden, and I leave tomorrow morning for the states. The semester I dreamt up since I was a child is over for now. I know I will be back, at least by summer 2013 if not before, or perhaps the girls will come to us next summer. We have to make up for all the time we didn't get to see each other as kids. We've made a pact. I'll be back someday for a longer stay in Sweden, this I am sure of. 6 months is no where near enough, perhaps two years of graduate study will feel less hasty, and well, you never know, maybe I'll just end up here with that "Swedish man" everyone was so sure I would find. Or perhaps Sweden itself will get a strong enough hold on me to never let go. We'll see. Tonight, my heart aches with the sadness of leaving not only a place I have learned to call home, but the place where my cousins live, my father grew up, and my mother's family came from. We've got strong roots here. It's more like moving away from home than coming back from my study abroad semester. Tomorrow will be a teary-eyed, heartfelt goodbye in hopes to see each other soon. Goodbyes are not my forté.

And now for the pictures:

Christmas table
Love these girls so much


Lots of schnapps


David and I have a photo competition :)

Glögg warmed by the fire

fika time!

Christmas fika

Kalle Anka time!

concentrated on Kalle Anka

Tomte är här!!

Hej tomte!

lots of presents



Pass the Pigs


Julmust, schnapps, and Christmas dinner

Christmas game

Johnny makes the gröt


David shows of morfars singing tie

Saturday, December 24, 2011

When you wish upon a star your dreams come true...

Here are a few things I have been up to as of late:

Baking peppermint melting moments with Martina

Snuggling up to movies

Large family dinner at my aunt's parents house since my dad was here


Quaint Christmas markets including one in a barn with free glögg!!

Fika. fika. fika. fika.

Christmas present wrapping at Christina's sisters house with only the girls. A cozy night with Christmas music, candlelight dinner, and presents up to your ears to wrap. Swedes have a very Swedish way of wrapping presents!

Afternoon sunset from my room

Everything covered in ice

The following pictures are from the Lucia gasque at our nation (first of three julbords that week! mums!). Avery and I made three new friends that night. Three lively, bubbly Swedish girls who invited us back to their apartment between dinner and dancing. Too bad I left the following Wednesday. I think they might have become some very good friends!

It doesn't get any better when it starts SNOWING!!!!

The peaceful morning bliss after a snow <3

Our goodbye dinner with my CIEE study abroad group at the nicest restaurant in town, Lingon.

Julbord på Lingon med CIEE group

Last photos of my room :(

Uppsala's stora torget

Lights strung across Uppsala streets downtown

Gotta love Swedish Christmas decorations :)

Fika Ofvandahls

Tomtar hus!!!

Last picture of my precious bike

Skating in Stockholm center, on my list of things to do, but didn't get the chance

Seregel's torg

Gamla Stan-Stockholm

Dad's old house in Katrineholm, Babi planted those trees <3

And....we saw a MOOSE

Pappa's stuga outside Katrineholm

Does "The Notebook" ring a bell with this picture? 
Jul bok

Christmas klad table

David (Christina's nephew) is entertained by the fire

Miriam always puts out the best spreads!

Fika hos Miriam och Johnny

advent ljus

Gammaldags Julmarknad

Fika hos Veronica och Lennart

 My aunt lives right on the water making for stunning sunsets every night

View from the balcony

Christina's street :)

View of their building from the lawn
It was entirely too difficult to leave Uppsala. I haven't posted since before I left because it was too painful. I felt as if I literally just got my heart broken...again. I have fallen hopelessly in love with Sweden, as I said in my last post. But it's true. I am trying to imagine my life once I get back to the states, and although I may know exactly how it will go, somehow, I can't place myself there. Because you see, Sweden stole my heart and doesn't plan on giving it up for a long time. Packing was overwhelming on so many levels. On the most practical note, I didn't know how I was going to fit everything into the three suitcases it came in, and let's be real, it didn't all fit. I had so much stuff I didn't even know where to begin. But, on a more emotional level, besides not knowing where to begin with the stuff in front of me, I didn't know where to begin with sifting through my emotions and saying goodbye. The first night I tried to pack, I sat in front of my empty suitcase and cried. I tried, I really did, but I couldn't bring myself to take my clothes out of my closet and place them neatly in my bag. It was more than just packing stuff into bags. It was the sadness that came with knowing that this wonderful chapter in my life was coming to an end. This place where I independently navigated my way through the ups and downs of everyday life, traveling alone, and living on my own. This place where my anxiety that comes with academia turned into an immense hunger for learning and knowledge, but in an environment that allows for time to relax, recharge, and be ready to learn. It is understood that studies are not your entire life, and one needs to have personal time to keep going in a healthy way.  There are not many days at Willamette where I can sit by the river after class with a friend and talk about our life, our goals, and our dreams. There aren't many days when I can walk around downtown and enjoy the scenery, hustle and bustle, and watching people with their loved ones. There are not many days when my friend and I can go apple picking because it seems we are out from last weeks supply. There are not many evenings when I can enjoy the company of friends in a cozy apartment with the aroma of freshly baked rolls filling he house amid the twinkling lights of Christmas stars and candles.  It is rare that I can enjoy a movie night with ice cream and cookies with the smell of snow to come. There are never any evenings when I can enjoy the company of my friend in a basement pub of a building built in the 1600s. There are never any evenings when I can dress up for a fancy dinner at our student run club and enjoy a 3 hour dinner with the company of old and new friends, Swedish traditions, and toasting with schnapps followed by live music afterwards.

I love the city. It's the perfect balance of size between a town and a big city. It's got the charm of a small town but enough business to make it feel a little bigger than a quiet little stad. It's scenery is beautiful and the cafes are never ending along with their bottomless cups of coffee. It's cozy and it's got both lively student life, but also community life. It's a university town with it's own identity as well. It's antique character shines through and never takes a bad picture. A walk through town is enjoyable on so many levels. Especially at Christmastime with the lights in all the windows, and strung across the streets. Even though the sun doesn't bear much natural light at this time of year, Christmas makes up for it. Everyone warned me about the darkness and how much of a toll it can take on your emotions. I found that I embraced the darkness and learned to love it. No longer did you need to feel uneasy about walking around "at night" because nighttime is at 3:30 in the afternoon. And these short winter days make for stunning sunsets. The sky is a deep royal blue with a hint of violet and magenta as the sun begins to creep down around 1:45pm, or likewise, as it begins to creep up around 8:00am. It feels a bit magical, the sun going down so early, the starkness of night at 3:30, it's perfect for this time of year to snuggle up inside with candles and Christmas lights.

Uppsala will always have a special place in my heart. The memories I have made there will last throughout my life and I know I will think back upon my time here in Sweden often. The semester of my dreams since I was a child has now been completed and many of my dreams have come true. I'm trying to continue to suck the marrow out of these last few days as my heart explodes with happiness, yet aches with the sadness that I must leave the place that has provided so many cherished memories, and became the place I called home for the last 5 months. Sweden has always been my other half, but the tension between life here and life at home in the states is much more of a battle now as I know life has so much to offer here and my family ties are much stronger. It would have been different had I studied in a completely foreign country without any personal ties or direct family ties. The tension of life there and life at home would exist, but it absolutely would not feel as a place I could equally call home. Sweden is so much of my life at home already, I know it will lure me back for longer in the years to come, and maybe, just maybe, it will steal my heart to keep. Until then, I know I will be back soon whether it's for a graduation, a wedding, or a graduate program and when I do come back, it will feel less like visiting the place where my father grew up and my relatives live, and more like visiting my second home.

Now it's Julafton, with that said, En riktigt GOD JUL alla!