Sunday, October 27, 2013

Snails, studying and setting back the clocks

Along with the importance of fika, is the importance of knowing your neighbors.  I live in a big apartment building in a fairly lively neighborhood (for Southern Sweden that is). One of my neighbors, who is also a classmate, decided to host a potluck.  She put invitations on every door in our building.  We brought little foods to share and talked the night away.  I even got to try something I'd never had before. Snails! They weren't so bad.  Kind of like firmer muscles.

Learning to dig the snail out of its shelf
Eating snails!
I finished my latest course last week.  Now it's reading week in preparation for the cumulative exam.  A giant storm is supposed to be hitting the UK soon and the leftover rains and wind will come here for the next several days.  It's perfect timing if you ask me.  I will have no beautiful days to distract me.  I must stay in and study.  Today, I went to the library and buried myself in Grounded Theory and Phenomenology.  (I also got a walk in the park in.)

Beautiful Fall in the park
I studied in the top upper right study area

In other news, we set the clocks back today.  I'm not sure why Europe does it a week ahead of the States but this morning I woke up to light!  I was so happy.  But then, I went into the grocery story at 4 pm and when I came out at 4:45 it was dark out.  I had to turn my lights on my bike to go home.  The darkness is going to be rough.

And, it's time to get back to studying.  I have a study group coming over tonight.  I made banana bread and we'll drink tea.  But it won't be fika because we'll be studying.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013


Fika is both a noun and a verb in Sweden.  It's the act of having coffee (or tea) and, usually, cake.  Fika is paramount to Swedish culture and one I fully support.  Swedes take time out of their day, everyday, to have fika.  But you can't have fika alone, then it won't be fika.  You must break with others to enjoy your coffee and cake and talk.  We may have a 3 hour lecture but there will always be at least a 15 minute fika break built in. You are not supposed to talk about your job or your school work during fika.  This time is to get to know each other more.  It's how Swedes build friendships.

I like this part of the culture.  I think it is important to take a break from the grind of our days and spend time with others.  Relationships and time spent with others is the real meaning of life, right?  Some of my most meaningful conversations since being in Sweden have been over fika.   

Solde Kaffeebar, my newest favorite coffee shop -
reminds me of one I'd find in my old neighborhood in The Mission
Part of the fun of fika is also finding the perfect fika place.  Malmö is not short on coffee shops so its just a matter of finding the one that meets the occasion or personality of those going for fika.  Also, as most (maybe all) of my friends and myself are on a student budget, sometimes the best fika place is my own or my friends' apartments.

 So, take a little Swedish with you and go have some fika and live a great life.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Fashion and other happenings

An update on the weather: today it is a bit gray but the temperatures remain in the 50's and later this week we are suppose to see 60 again!  Meanwhile, in Northern Sweden, "The coldest temperatures of the season was recorded on Thursday night in Karesuando, in far northern Sweden near the Finnish boarder, where the mercury dropped to -12.5C," (The Local).  I've never been happier to live in Southern Sweden!

I am trying to take advantage of these nice warm days (who would have thought I'd be saying 'nice warm days' in reference to 50 degrees!) while they last but also balance my commitments as a student.  I am nearing the end of a rather intense course and have a lot of philosophical reading to comprehend.  Today, I decided to chance some time at the public library.  My Romanian friend and I enjoyed the bike ride over and then found the quietest place in the library and hunkered down to read as much as we could take in.  It was a much more productive time than I had expected.  

It's a tights kind of day while reading at the public library and enjoying the scenery
 We had packed our lunches and went across the way to Kungsparken to get some fresh air, eat, then walk around the park. It was a beautiful time to walk over the fallen leaves and cross the canal.  This necessary break gave us the umph to go back into the library and do some more concentrated reading.

My Uniqlo jacket is the best purchase I made in SF! It has been perfect for the fall weather in Sweden.
I look rather bundled up for 50 degree weather but this is because my skin is not as thick
as the crazy Swedes who are just wearing their over-sized sweaters.
Beautiful changing leaves in Kungsparken

View of the library from the park
 One thing I love about fall (besides the changing colors) is the opportunity to wear tights.  I love tights. They are warm, make me feel feminine and eliminate the stress of having to decide what socks to wear.  My Romanian friend has the most amazing tights that are lined with fleece.  How ingenious are those?!  I covet these tights.  Ever since I saw them on her I have wanted a pair for myself.  The problem is that she got them in Romania.  So, today, after reading for an acceptable amount of time, I convinced my friend to go searching for these tights with me.  The shopping street was on our way home anyway so it only made sense.

Sadly, we didn't find the tights.  We didn't really find much of anything.  I was commenting to a friend a few weeks ago how uninspired I am by the fashion here.  Everyone wears muted/neutral colors and oversized sweaters.  I call it the sloppy look.  In a way, this is a positive for me because I don't feel the need to shop so that I can look like the people I see on the street.  I remember when my friend Jenelle moved to Oakland and it started to get cold (50 degrees), she pulled out her bulky warm sweaters and big winter coat.  Her friends told her they could tell she was from "The North" because she dressed for warmth, not fashion.  At the time, we laughed at their vanity and thought ourselves above that.  Practical was more important.  As time went on, Jenelle living in Oakland and me living in San Francisco, we gradually added new outfits to our wardrobes that may have been a little more fashionable than practical.  But it never really got that cold so it seemed ok.

I like putting thought into the outfit I wear, but I also like not being so heavily influenced by the people around me.  I feel less pressure to look a certain way here and less angst at myself for caring.  California was a really great place for me to live but being here in Sweden has shown me how much effort I put into admiring people's outfits on the street and wishing I could buy the perfectly styled clothes in the window displays.  I evaluate what people are/were wearing and I don't want to be like that.  I'm going to learn a lot while in Sweden and maybe one of the things I need to relearn is to not care about my clothes or anyone else's.  If Swedes want to wear muted/neutral colors and over-sized sweaters, that's their prerogative.

Jenelle and I are both living in cold climates once again and I think we will learn to cling to those bulky warm sweaters and big winter coats with pride. Perhaps out of necessity, but hopefully also out of humility.

And yes, those tights are a practical wardrobe need. If only I could find them...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Holding on to hope

Like a good Swede, and Minnesotan, I'm going to talk about the weather.

This week is the first week where when I wake up in the morning it is still completely dark.  I get up, drink coffee, get dressed, eat breakfast and read through the morning news before the sun makes an appearance.  And we haven't even turned the clocks back yet!  What is even more troublesome for me was this morning's head line, "Season's first snow set to smother Stockholm." Smother?  Really?  Are the newspaper writers intentionally trying to instill trepidation in reader's hearts?  Because it's working.

There was a moment when my heart did a jump and then slowed its pace all within one sentence: "The snow is arriving about a month earlier than normal (WHAT? WHY?! IS THIS A BAD SIGN?) but weather experts said there is no correlation between an early snowfall and a particularly harsh winter."  Well, I certainly hope not!  I have been pleasantly surprised (along with everyone else in Southern Sweden) at the warm sunny weather.  It has not been the cloudy rainy fall I was promised for which I am eternally thankful.  I may be a bit dilutional, but I think I may be the charm that has brought such a mild and spectacular fall to Sweden.  With this logic, how can we possibly have a particularly harsh winter?  Every time I make this suggestion when people begin to talk of the horror of winter, they give me a little indulgent smile while shaking their heads and telling me there is no way winter won't be harsh.  That is the definition of winter in Sweden.

But I'm going to maintain some hope.  Just as at the very end of the article great news was made, "The weather is better down south with Malmö enjoying temperatures of 20C (55 degrees)." No smothering snow for us.

Sun and changing colors

Saturday, October 12, 2013

A little break in the woods

The trees are changing in the countryside!
I started a new class this past week and it has been very intense.  We've had full days of class plus hundreds of pages of reading to do every night.  I haven't had much time to breathe.  To give our brains a little oxygen, not waste the beautiful weather, and explore a new place some friends and I decided to go mushroom picking today before we locked ourselves in the library.

We drove out into the countryside, arbitrarily picked dirt roads to go through the woods and parked in a clearing.  We scavenged the forest floor collecting mushrooms and checking a mushroom guide app on our phones to make sure they were not poisonous.  Surprisingly, we ran across many people out with their mushroom baskets collecting as many mushrooms as they could carry.  Mushroom picking in Southern Sweden is a popular activity for all ages.

Sometimes the mushrooms were hiding under the brush.
The colorful ones are the most poisonous, and the most beautiful.

We found a ton of mushrooms!
It was great to be in the woods soaking in minerals from the dirt as we cut and collected mushrooms.  Sometimes, as a student, I can only take in so much information before I need to just clear my head.  Going out exploring helps me do this.  Unfortunately, I hate mushrooms.  It was fun to have a quest in the woods and I enjoyed the activity.  But when I got home I only kept one mushroom (to say I ate what I foraged for) and gave the rest to my neighbor who was overjoyed to get a big bag of fresh mushrooms.

On our way back from the forest, we took time to explore the country side and came across an old mansion.  We talked of how much it must cost to heat the place, imagined ourselves as wealthy land owners back in the day, and appreciated the changing colors around the estate.

I had a lovely time clearing my head and seeing new sites.  Fall is really here and I am soaking it up as much as I can while being a student.  Now, it's time to get back to my reading.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Söderåsen National Park

Swans swimming idyllically in Söderåsen National Park
Hoping to catch the changing season's tree transformation and to breath in some fresh air during our reading week, some friends and I headed north a bit to Söderåsen National Park.  Our only wildlife encounter was with some vicious swans.  How did swans ever get a reputation for being beautiful mythical creatures?  I guess my understanding of swans comes from Swan Lake where ballerinas are suppose to be fluid, soft and gorgeous.  The swans we happened upon where not like the swans from Swan Lake.  Well, maybe they were beautiful.

Of course, Kjell didn't try too hard to stay out of their way either...
The trees haven't really changed color yet and I'm not sure they will ever be as bright and colorful as the trees in New England.  There isn't a better place in the world to experience the brilliance of fall than New England.  But it was nice to get my head out of qualitative research articles and let my lungs breath in the crisp fall air as I stretched my legs over fallen trees.  It was also nice to spend time with some of my classmates outside of school.  My Swedish friend brought up the rear in our hike singing along the way.  He thought since I was in the lead and American, I should be singing/shouting, "I don't know what you've been told...sound off."  I declined so he sang his songs.  All in all, it was a good day outside.

An Indonesian, Romanian and American walk through the woods...
Slight coloring though more brown than bright orange or red
Parts of the forest were very dark and beautiful

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Number The Stars

Øresund Bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark
One of my favorite books when I was in 4th grade was Number the Stars by Lois Lowry.  It's a story about a family in Copenhagen who help a Jewish family escape to safety in Sweden during WWII.  I now live in the destination setting, the city across the water in Sweden.

Yesterday, October 1st, marked 70 years since Danish Jews fled across the Øresund Sound to Malmö, Sweden.  Danes learned of Hitler's orders to round up Danish Jews on Rosh Hashanah and send them to concentration camps. The resistance fighters and Swedish fishermen helped ferry jews to safety in neutral Sweden.  So last night, Denmark and Sweden commemorated this event by lighting over 700 lanterns on the Øresund Bridge to symbolize that, "October 1943 was a light in the darkness" (The Local).

Maybe it's the residual influence of my history-obsessed family or my childhood dream to be part of a story that inspired me to go out into the chilly night to see this commemoration.  I convinced my Korean and German friend to go with me and we briskly walked through dark trails to an overview along the water where we could see a clear view of the bridge and the lights of Copenhagen in the distance.  To the surprise of my Korean and German friend there were several people there with their long-lensed cameras and revered spirits.  The distance was still great and we were not able to see the lanterns hanging half way between the two countries, but the bridge was beautiful nonetheless and I was happy to be part of this moment in history in a small way.