Tuesday, December 20, 2011

We're coming home!

Our circus tent was ugly, but made with love
This will be the last blog entry from Sweden for the next three weeks, but hopefully I'll write some from home. I don't know about what, exactly, but I'm sure we'll do something fun. This past weekend was very Christmasy, with a Linné Julbak on Saturday and the Stockholm Christmas shopping on Sunday.

The Julbak was quite fun, although my group lost motivation after awhile and our final product wasn't quite what we were hoping for. Everyone there was divided into four teams and each team received a ball of gingerbread. My team had a hard time deciding what to create, but eventually decided on a circus tent. Ross's team built Big Ben being attacked by a giant monkey.
Ross's group - with the Swiss orienteering boys breaking the 24 hour world record live on the screen behind them.

Ross concentrating on getting the candy to stick to the sides.
Elisa peering into the oven, making sure the gingerbread doesn't burn

Henrik waiting patiently - Two ovens would have sped up the process
A gingerbread porta potty!
The Uppsala Cathedral. They even filed down their gingerbread pieces so everything would fit exactly.

All of the final creations

On Sunday Ross and I headed into Stockholm for some Christmas shopping! We were quite successful, even though the weather wasn't super cooperative. We never did find the ice cream shop that Ross remembers from Gamla Stan, but we did finally find kabab after asking a local, so Ross was happy with the food. We also bought warm candied nuts, kanelbullar, yummy non-licorice flavored licorice and then had Thai food for dinner. We visited the many Christmas markets - in the shopping center, in Gamla Stan and in Skansen. Overall it was cold and wet enough that lingering outside would become quickly unpleasant, so we were constantly going in and out of shops.

Posing with Tomte
Can we bring him home?
Christmas market in Gamla Stan

Ross gambling. You pay 5kr for a chance to win a prize from the stand.

He was trying to win from the Cheese lottery. Unfortunately, he didn't win.
We leave in 3 hours for the airport and then connect through Heathrow, which in retrospect wasn't my brightest idea. It was only the cheapest ticket home because they're going to lose our luggage. As an awesome side note, I just saw a mother pulling her child in a sled as they commuted to the preschool on the corner. We have snow in Uppsala! It looks like they will have a white Christmas here after all, but we probably won't back in the States. Also, Ross and I are still taking requests for things to bring back from the States - so Swedish friends, let us know if you need anything (like shoes!).

Will I write again before Christmas.... probably not. So Merry Christmas, God Jul and safe holiday travels!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Continuing the Swedish Christmas Reviews

I think my last post was too boring, so this one is going to be about some of my other favorite things - julöl, glögg och godis. I stopped in at Systembolaget yesterday and picked up two new beers. I had recently found these julöl reviews in The Local and wanted to try some of their recommendations. I found two of the recommended beers - Anchor Christmas Ale and Nils Oscar Julöl. I decided that the Anchor Christmas Ale was too American, and so bought the Nils Oscar and Jämtlands Julöl. Although, now that I'm looking, I actually bought Nils Oscar Kalasjulöl.

Julöl and Swedish Advent candles
This evening I had the Kalasjulöl, and it was wonderful. Lighter than some of the heavier Christmas porters that I enjoy so much, but not overly hoppy. We've been on a role with successful Christmas tastings lately, as we have also enjoyed all three grocery store (aka low alcohol) glögg that we've tried.
How many kinds of glögg can one household have?
The boxed glögg contains no alcohol and tastes like hot cider, which is fantastic. It's also sold quite cheaply, which makes it a win in my book. I feel Blossa Glögg is your classic glögg, which means it's also fantastic. The Chili Chocolate might be our favorite though. The chocolate flavor made it sweet, without being overpowering.

Last but not least, we tried Julskum. We found two different flavors to sample, the traditional and Polka 2011. I thought they were shaped like Santa Claus, but apparently they are Tomte. Tomte features prominently on all Christmas merchandise.

Mostly pink is original, mostly white is Polka.
I really love Julskum. I have a weakness for gummies and chewy candy and these Tomte have the right consistency. They feel a bit like marshmallow, but they are not so sticky. They have a similar consistency to somewhat stale Peeps - which is, of course, the only way Peeps should be eaten. Anyway, that's a bad description, but take it from me that their consistency is perfect. The original ones are fake strawberry flavored and the Polka are spearmint(?). They taste just like those pastel mint nonpareils or after dinner mint pillows. (I'm surprised that a google search for after dinner mint pillows actually gave me what I wanted). I'm really not doing them justice, so I'll have to bring home a few bags for people to try. Needless to say, Ross doesn't like them - although he kept on eating them.

Saturday is the Linné Julbak where we divide into teams and compete to make the best gingerbread house. Then on Sunday Ross and I are traveling to Stockholm to visit the Christmas markets, drink glögg and eat ice cream. The forecast for Sunday says snow showers, which would make the trip a perfect Christmas outing! So far we still have rain and warm evenings (4°C on Tuesday). Just a small snowstorm would make it feel all Christmasy.

Monday, December 12, 2011

I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas

We've had a few snow flurries here, but then it rains and washes it all away. I'm playing Christmas music as much as I can, in hopes of inspiring the weather, but it doesn't seem to be working. Ross, though, has already had enough of Christmas music so I have to switch to Tiesto when he comes home. Does Tiesto do Christmas remixes?

Our blog post about becoming residents was by far the most viewed blog post ever. Either one of you sat at home and repeatedly clicked it open, or everyone loves us and is excited for us :) I'm going with the latter. Personal numbers are on their way and then we can actually get a bank account and pay our own rent and club fees, instead of making Boris do it for us (thanks, Boris!).

This week was full of awesome orienteering (when isn't it?). I used the word epic way too many times in my attackpoint entries this week, which cheapens the word. I'll have to find a thesaurus. Tuesday was Vintertränings Premiären. Everyone starts together and attempts to follow the corridor drawn on the map. We started on the small prolog map and ran through the fields on a trail lined with candles. Then we headed out into the woods and had a drink stop. Then through another field lined with candles and fireworks. After that we climbed into the woods to navigate the route through the woods, like a typical Tuesday night. Looking back across the field and seeing the candles, headlights and fireworks was a fantastic view.

As usual, we got a bit lost out in the woods and I had trouble following along. Ironically, we got the most lost in the section labeled "dagis" - kindergarten. On the way back out of the woods we stopped for warm saft and pizza. At this point, the people who did the 15k loop (we did the 13k) caught back up to us. We did the ultra sprint line-o and then had a quiz section. There was a question with 3 multiple choice answers. You had to answer the question correctly, and then run to the corresponding control on the map snipbit posted there. So if you think the answer is (a) then you run to the control labeled (a). At this point there were about 30 of us, so I couldn't even get close enough to read the question - plus, it was in Swedish! I mostly ran wherever the majority of the pack was going :) We finished with a mini sprint around the clubhouse with candles. A fun way to kick off the winter training season! There's a video of the 97 headlamps running by here.

This past weekend was Uppsala Training Weekend, put together almost (entirely?) single-handedly by Albin. On Friday we biked down to Lunsen for middle distance training. During it I discovered the secret to enjoying orienteering - don't get lost! I managed this quite well until the very end and had a great time sinking into the ice cold marshes of Lunsen.

Saturday morning we procured a ride to Lunsen for long distance training. This time I ran with Lisa and Elin and we traded off controls. We were again orienteering really well and it was lots of fun. Contour only section was tricky, but when you have someone else with you, it doesn't seem so bad! Ross was planning on running all 17k, so we left before him and put his backpack on another car that was still there. He returned before that car's owners, so he ran home. He scarfed down a bowl of cereal and went into work for 2 hours. Then he raced home just in time for the night-o training. What a long day!

Saturday evening was night-o intervals and I was worried I would be the only girl. Luckily, Lisa R. also showed up, so we ran together. The highlight of this training was when I helped save a dog's life! I was running to one control when I noticed a light on the trail ahead of me. It was another orienteer. As I ran up he said hello and pointed at the ground. It was a small dog! The poor thing was shivering, even in his warm doggie coat. Obviously, we had to bring him back to the clubhouse and find his owners. At the same time, I had to get to the finish of that interval so that Lisa wouldn't be waiting for me. The orienteer, Emil, said he would be able to carry the dog back to the clubhouse, but it was hard to carry the dog and read the map at the same time. We decided that I would navigate us to the big trail, he would head back to the clubhouse and I would find Lisa and finish my intervals. Turns out he doesn't like dogs, so I don't think he was thrilled to carry it - he held it out in front of himself with two hands under the dog's stomach. On his way back he actually bumped into the owners, who were heading back out into the woods to look again with two other dogs. What perfect timing!

Ok, as this is turning into a long, boring post I'll stop here and finish the rest of the weekend fun later. I don't even have any good pictures to go with this, so I'll leave you a random one from the day when Ross and I got engaged.
Taken by Ben Roberts.

Monday, December 5, 2011

We're residents!

Blurred Mountain Man Ross

Our resident permit cards came in the mail today! We both look super goofy, but, hey now we can stay and work and they won't kick us out until the end of August!

Yesterday we had a training day with Linné up near Hofors, where the relay and long SM will be next year. Although chilly, it could have been far worse. The morning exercise required a lot of standing around as you waited for your partner to return, and it did start to get cold while waiting. Luckily we went indoors for lunch and even had hot showers before heading home. You can read my short account about it on the Linné website.

Sunset after training

The red glow created awesome light in the woods

OK Linné 4 eva! :)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Thanksgiving and Visas

The midday sun was high in the sky.
Last weekend Ross and I flew to Oslo to see good friends and to get our work visas. We met up with Cristina, Melissa and Caroline at the train station and spent the weekend at Cristina and Melissa's apartment. Saturday morning started off slowly, but we eventually got out of the house and headed to downtown Olso. I had actually never visited the city before, so everything was new and exciting. We wandered through the Christmas market and bought some Spanish Waffles (actually churros). Then we went and explored the fort on the waterfront.

Ross trying to hold the wall up with his head.
 It was nice to look out over the ocean and Cristina pointed out buildings along the coast. We could even see the ski jump, way up high on the hillside. After wandering for a bit we headed towards campus for a campus/town "sprint." It was 7.1k, but all on the campus and surrounding streets. There were a lot of long running legs across the river bridges or railroad tracks. Unfortunately, my time off from running hadn't quite prepared me for this experience. I could barely walk for the next 2 days, mostly due to bad shin pain. Note to self: After time off, don't start with a 40 minute pavement sprint.

Part of the fort.

I would attack by sea, with many boats.
Saturday evening we started cooking and baking some of our Thanksgiving feast. Ross prepared the apple and pumpkin pie, Melissa was making the apple-cranberry sauce and Caroline was chopping almonds for the green beans. I was photodocumenting and directing... what were you doing, Cristina? ;) I suppose I can't pick on her too much, as the next morning, after Ross woke up at 5am to take the turkey out of the fridge, she and Melissa prepped the turkey and put it into the oven at 6am.

Hard at work chopping almonds.

Let's see what the can says - pour into bowl?
Does he ever wear a shirt?

Ross put all his love and thankfulness into the pumpkin pie.
The following morning, after the turkey was done, we headed out to go ice skating. Unfortunately, it took about 75 minutes to get there, since there was an animal on the tracks. It seemed we were always on the wrong mode of transportation. First the T wasn't moving, so eventually we went a few stops and tried to take a bus. But it didn't come, and it may not have been going where we wanted anyway. So we walked for a ways, and then decided to take the trolley. And then we got on the same T line that we had previous gotten off. But we made it! Ross, Caroline and I had to rent skates, but Cristina and Melissa were pros. I haven't been in iceskates in a very long time, and I was surprised by how wobbly I felt at first. After about a half hour, though, I was skating with confidence, if not much skill. The rink was outdoors and huge - lots of space for everyone to do their own thing.

Melissa teaching Ross how to skate backward.
2:30 setting sun behind the rink.
The group, minus Melissa, who was taking the photo.
After skating it was back to the kitchen! Ross carved the turkey and the many side dishes were made. It was all delicious. The evening was concluded with pie and Ticket to Ride: Europe. I'm so happy that we got to spend Thanksgiving with such awesome friends.

The next morning Ross and I went for a run in the woods and then started to walk to the Swedish Embassy. I was a bit grumpy about it, I will admit, because my shins hurt going downhill and I was worried we would be late. The embassy is only open for work visas between 1:30 and 3:00 on Mondays and Thursdays. Would there be a long line? As usual, there was no need to worry. Despite getting a bit lost on our way there, the place was fairly empty. I got a bit worried when they asked for our case number and we didn't have it, but they found our records anyway. I made the woman laugh when she asked how tall I was and I responded with 5'3". I then had to ask Ross how tall I was. The whole process took about 5 minutes. All they had to do was take our photographs and fingerprints. They are mailing us our visas! If we didn't have friends in Oslo, this would have been quite a wasted trip. But there is some policy about not being able to get a Swedish work permit inside Sweden. Now I'm only worrying about whether they will arrive before we leave for the States. I won't stop worrying until I have the paperwork in my hands. And then I'll probably just worry about something else... I leave you with some pictures we took in Frogner Park while waiting for our flight.

P.S. You can ask Ross about losing his wallet in the train station...

The famous statue of the angry baby.

Yes, this man is kicking babies off himself.
Did Ross know this was the picture in the Wikipedia article when he took it?

The whole park was filled with sculptures from Gustav Vigeland.

The Clouds Attack

Pole of humans.

Oslo streets at night

Ross with the giant Norwegian Tiger outside the train station.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jul Cider and Beer

There were doubts expressed at the Linné Gala that Jul Cider existed. But I found some at Systembolaget and I figured Ross could get in on the Jul flavored alcohol testing. The cider was Rekorderlig Julecider, and says it has an apple cinnamon flavor. 4.5% alcohol, 50cl and 15kr (~$2).

The beer was Sigtuna Vinterlager and I bought it because it was from Sweden and had a cute fox on the label. 5.2%, 33cl and 20kr ($2.90).

I'll start with the good news. The beer was much better than either of the beers I bought at the grocery store. It's now been over a week since I finished it, but I remember enjoying it :) Not too heavy, but still rich with flavor. I don't think Ross even tried it. It definitely makes my list of Yummy Things to Drink Around Christmas (YTDAR), although it obviously wasn't super memorable.

Ross tried the cider and made a weird face. I tried the cider and thought it tasted like cider. I guess I don't have a sensitive enough palate, because Ross thinks it tastes like an apple cinnamon candle. I'm assuming he meant that it tastes like an apple cinnamon candles smells, unless he's been going around eating candles. He couldn't drink the rest of it and I was forced to finish it a night later. Tough life. Unfortunately, since I don't really like cider and Ross couldn't even drink it, the cider does not make our YTDAR list.

Next week is the Advent and Swedes are really gearing up in style. The tree in our courtyard is lit with lights and freshly baked lussekatter is sold in every store. Lussekatter aka Saffron Buns aka St. Lucia Buns are eaten in the weeks leading up to Christmas, and especially on St. Lucia Day, which is December 13th. This is the day you picture when you think of Sweden - young blond girls dress up in white dresses with a crown of leaves and candles in their hair. And boys wear dunce caps.

I decided to join in on the fun and baked my own lussekatter last night. I had a hard time finding saffron. It couldn't see it anywhere on the shelves, but I knew that they must be selling it this time of year. Eventually I asked someone, and you have to buy it at the register. It's about 12kr ($2) for .5g. I don't know if they are selling it at the register so that people don't steal the expensive spice, or if they are trying to ration it - afraid people will buy too much if they can just grab it off the selves. Maybe Norway should start selling butter from the register as well? Ross and I are going to Oslo, Norway this weekend to get our visas and to celebrate Thanksgiving with Cristina Luis, Caroline Luis and Melissa Trout. When asked what we could bring, they asked for butter, because all of the stores are out of it. I'm freezing 1kg of butter and I hope they let me carry it onto the plane. And I hope it's not too warm.

The lussekattor recipe came from my new favorite cookbook, Sju Sorters Kakor:
Click on image to enlarge
I also made my own eggnog this week, using this recipe. It's really good, but then what does one expect when they mix together, milk, cream, cinnamon, cloves, and sugar? I halved the recipe and added a few pinches of pumpkin pie spice.

I'll leave you with two fun links. One is an article about the different types of cakes in Sweden and the other explains Swedes perfectly ;) Some of my favorites are 14, 54, 81, and 139.

Next time, I'm reviewing Juleskum- now, doesn't that sound tasty? ;)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A break from our Christmas programming

Last weekend was so much fun, it deserves its own blog entry before we move on to more reviews of Swedish Christmas foods. Saturday night was the Linné Gala and Sunday was Vinterrejset. Before the Gala, Ross played paintball for the first time with some of the boys.
Linné boys in camo
He came home covered in welts from head to toe. It's a good thing he didn't have to wear a short dress to the party. He said that it was fun, but the pain of being shot (and he was shot a lot) slightly outweighed the fun. He's glad he did it this time, but he'll probably pass next time.

Later in the evening we donned our fancy clothes - I packed one dress from the States and he packed his suit. I picked up some used shoes downtown, which have to be my best purchase here yet. The evening was very entertaining. We all got map pieces that we had to match to maps on the tables for our seating. I was at the same table as Ross, so only one group had to speak English with us :) I am unbelievably grateful at everyone's willingness to switch to English, but I always feel a bit guilty. I need to study my Swedishes more. Really, I should take a class. But classes cost money...
The cool table
Everyone was dressed up and we drank, ate, danced and played musical chairs. Yes, musical chairs. I was skeptical when it began, but it was quite fun. I am very proud of my third place finish, although I did lose an earring in the process.

Oskar and Elisa
Hanna and Mandus
Lisa, Elin, Sofia, Johanna
Karna was nice enough to share her chocolates
A mysterious man dressed all in black. Well, not so mysterious, as you can recognize a person by how he walks.
Of course, since Ross had the camera, we didn't get any pictures of the two of us dressed up together. Maybe next time :)

Sunday morning, much too early, our alarms went off and we rolled out of bed to get ready to bike to Vinterrejset. This is a fun mass start race with a twist - or many twists. Lisa had agreed the night before to run with me, as there are often clues written on the map that I would have trouble reading. I was grateful to have company for what is often a 3-4 hour race. You can see all my maps with my routes:
Map 1
Map 2
Map 3
Map 4

We arrived a bit later than planned and everyone was heading to the start. Luckily, Albin agreed to take us the VIP route, and we cut through the woods and arrived in time.
The start
When we started, Lisa started reading and translating the sayings on the map. The only thing that sounded helpful was the advice to go right to #7. We started with many of the other girls, but we split up a bit in the mini-score section. Unfortunately, we forgot the advice written on the map going into #7 and went around to the left. There was a control in about the right spot, but it had a sign asking if it really was the right control... something was off. The map matched, but not perfectly. People were running around in all directions or standing and conferring with those around them. We went with the foolproof method of watching where other people were going. "There are people coming from over there!" So over there we went :) Then the second foolproof method - Kristina saying, "I see a control!" and all of us running to it. It was our control, but it was on the wrong side of the housing complex. Turns out they mirror-flipped that section of the map.
The section that was flipped. If you look closely, you can see the oval shape that they cut and flipped. So, the control was actually on the right(eastern) hill and green patch.
From then on, Lisa, Kristina and I were a team. We finished the first loop, with another little mistake at the end. The second map started with a contour only map, with contour interval being .5m. With my help, we overran the first control and met up with our fourth teammate, Jacob. We ran the rest of this map pretty well, although not perfectly. We really made up time on the mini simplified map section.

This is a quickroute, for all you nonorienteers. It's the route that I took according to my GPS watch and the colors refer to how fast I was going. Red is slow, yellow middle, green fast. You can see the red bump right before 21, which is where we met the other group of girls walking toward us. They had been searching for the control for awhile with other people. I was convinced it was further though, and I dropped a bit on the hill and found the boulder. I called over my group, but only Lisa and Jacob appeared. Where was Kristina? I called out for her, but we were eager to move on before everyone else also found the control. A few more half whispered shouts and Kristina came running to us with others hot on her heels. Suddenly, the competitive nature in all of us (ok, maybe just Lisa;) ) kicked in and we flew, straight and true to the next 3 controls. My GPS track doesn't want to go to 24, so either it got messed up or the control was in slightly the wrong spot.

At 25, the lead group caught us, already on their 3rd map. I realized after we punched 25 that something was wrong with 26 and 27. I thought that a whole box of the map had been rotated, but we were having trouble rotating it so that it matched. Someone finally realized that there were two strips of the map that had been cut out and switched. 26 was therefore still in the correct spot, and we would head to the field for 27.

See the pieces that we cut and switched?
We finished the second map and took a quick stop for some food and water. 
Jacob, Lisa and I studying the map.
Kristina and I heading out.
Before we started map three, we had to stop at the puzzle table and assemble part of the map. Lisa cut out the pieces and we glued them onto my map. Unfortunately, between both stops, I had cooled down a bit too much. My fingers were so numb I had a hard time getting the map back into the map case.

Assembling the map. (Vinterrejset pictures)
The first control on this map was in an area where they took off the contours. After that I had to lead the group around the puzzle section since I was the only one with that part on my map. My favorite moment was when Lisa looked at her map and thought we were going the wrong way :) She only had a blank section :) Luckily, my navigation proved steady and true and led us to all the controls with no mistakes. The next section was an area where the map between the two controls was blocked out. This was where we made probably our biggest mistake. We drifted a bit left without knowing it and hit houses. We thought they were the houses on the east side, when they were really the houses to the north. We wandered around a bit until I recognized two boulders and relocated. Then it was onto the quiz section.

At the beginning we were given a paragraph about mushrooms. On the map there were questions and each question had 3 possible answers, coded 1, X and 2. Answer the question correctly and run to matching control.
You can click on it to enlarge it. The questions are in the bottom right.
I helped not at all in this section, and we did it perfectly. Finally, on to the forth and final map! This map of a scale of 1:2000 and .5m contours. We were pretty clean, but I was getting quite tired. My knee had been aching a bit the whole way, but now my legs were just tired of running. As enjoyable as the whole experience was, I was quite happy to finish! Now to bike back home... :) You can read about Ross's experience on his attackpoint log.

Me, Kristina, Jacob and Lisa
I was so exhausted that I made dinner and climbed into bed at about 5pm with a book. Ross, on the other hand, didn't eat dinner but instead went to gympa and then watched part of Olle's bandy game. What a weekend!