Thursday, October 27, 2011

Biking in Uppsala

I've been thinking this week a lot about biking in Uppsala. Some of these thoughts started when I read on Facebook that a friend back home got door'd when biking in Boston. She was luckily wearing her helmet, and it sounds like besides a few stitches and bruises, she'll be ok. At home I never biked for commuting purposes. The only biking I did were the occasional bike rides with Dad around the suburbs. Here, I find myself biking almost every day, either to get to the grocery store, IKEA, club trainings, or other errands. I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I don't wear a helmet. At home, I would never even consider biking without a helmet. In student populated Uppsala, it seems like more people bike than drive each day and only the older and wiser population wears helmets.

Uppsala is made for bike commuting. First of all, it's flat. Sure there's a rise from the river to where we live (and I often grumble about it on the way home), but it's hardly a hill. Due to the lack of hills, many people have single speed bikes. Those who really want to relax while biking have 3 speeds. I splurged, it seems, and have 4 gears on my bike. It means I can bike up hills faster than Ross :)

In addition to it being completely flat, there are bike paths everywhere. I don't fear getting door'd when biking because I almost never bike in the street alongside traffic or parked cars. When I am forced to bike in the street, it's either on a small side street with no traffic or in a painted off bike lane. Most of the time the bike lane is painted on the sidewalk, so there is a curb between you and the large moving vehicles. Where there is no sidewalk along the road there is a paved bike path a bit off the side where you can take the scenic route through the trees.

I think that bike commuting changes the culture and feel of Uppsala when compared to Newton, or Boston. First of all, everyone owns good raincoats and rainpants, and bike fenders are a must. As much of this city's population is students, they don't have a car to use when it's cold or rainy. When you arrive at your destination you just change and look all cute and fashionable again, like Swedes always do!

The following is from an article that I read thanks to Beth, via Facebook. It's about Denmark, but it  certainly applies to Sweden as well. The article is titled Looking for the American Dream? Try Denmark. It's an interview with Danish chef and climate change activist Trine Hahnemann, whose latest book is The Nordic Diet. Thanks, Beth for sharing! :)

KT: So, is it socially acceptable in Denmark to arrive at one's destination looking like a sweaty, disheveled mess?
TH: We don't have an obsession with hair like you have over here, we don't have that hair that sits in one place; that's never been in fashion. But if you bicycle ten miles to work on a racing bike, let's say, you'll have your regular clothes in a bag and most work places in Denmark provide a shower and a changing room.
KT: And what about the time that it takes to get changed into your work clothes, are you on the clock? Is it like taking a lunch break?
TH: Yeah, but Danes are like the Swiss, we're always on time. Danes are not late -- being on time is a big part of the culture.
KT: So, it's acceptable to show up with messy hair, but not to be late?
TH: Yes.

I should add, fashionably messy hair. :)

This is my bike:
I bought it from a guy through blocket , which is Sweden's Craigslist. I really wanted to spend less than 1000kr on a bike, but that was a challenge. The only bikes I was looking at were used single or 3 speed bikes.... and I couldn't find one for less than $150. In the States, you could find millions of cast aside single speeds in the junkyard. I bought Ross a nice road bike at home for that price. In the end, I only paid 500kr for this remarkable bike. In retrospect, paying twice as much would have saved me a few headaches. Luckily, Ross is a champ and is capable of fixing more than I am on a bike. My gears were skipping and he fixed that perfectly. Then my rear wheel inexplicably started wobbling, so we had to tru it at home. It still wobbles a bit, but Ross pushed the brakes out so that it won't rub :) The old seat was very uncomfortable, and Dad sent me a new one via Boris. This one is more comfortable, but I can't tighten it all the way. When I go over bumps it falls back a notch, as you can see in the picture. It's still too small for even me, but the seat is permanently rusted at that height (although I'm still oiling in hopes that it will loosen up). I look a bit silly biking, but I can reach the ground while sitting on the seat - which is useful when my rear tire skids out because it's bald and has no traction. Many people here often change over to their medal studded tires for the winter :) But, my bike isn't the worst looking bike in the rack:

Having a nice bike just means it's more likely to be stolen. I was told not to park my bike by the river during the spring celebrations as it's a game to thrown them into the water. Good to know.

Isn't this more than you ever wanted to know about my biking experiences? :) But, it's just another way life here is a bit different than home. The other day I was biking and smelled a burning car like smell. My first thought was, "Oh, no, is that me?" That was immediately followed by relief that I didn't have to worry about my car breaking down. Bike are cheaper and easier to fix than cars.

Fianlly, a big THANK YOU to Lisa and Tom Carr who mailed us a fantastic fall package:

I look forward to my pumpkin spiced coffee everyday :) Plus, I got a milk frother at IKEA. Just like home :)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Birthday Week!

Hugo and I discussing how green it was. He thought it was just fine.
I quit because I couldn't take the stinging nettles anymore.

As Ross wrote last week, I was in Switzerland visiting Sandra and Marc for about 10 days. I joined them on their club junior training camp that Sandra organized. I had a great time running different trainings, setting and picking up controls, and watching the juniors avoid going to bed at night. I started off the week strong, but grew more tired as the camp went on. I cut back a bit on my trainings towards the end, as I also ran the the Swiss Long Distance Championships on Sunday.

Chasing down the juniors at the sprint cup final.
Monika and Baptiste even made numbers for everyone!
During the first trainings I discovered how green the terrain in the area really is. The green is the painful kind of green - thorns, vines and stinging nettles. Yuck.

During the camp there was a sprint cup. Each training day there was a short (800m) sprint race with SI. At the end of the camp there was a chase start to determine the ultimate winner. I missed one of the sprints, so I started the chase start last. Julien tried to start without a map, which explains the amused smile on my face :)

All the juniors at the ANCO camp.

Ma and Sandra pointing to the WOC 2012 terrain.
See you in Lausanne!
During this week I also had the chance to train on some WOC relevant maps. Conveniently, one of the maps is located right behind Sandra and Marc's house! For my birthday Sandra bought us matching WOC t-shirts. We're getting ready to rock next year!

My birthday was also this week, and I'm feeling a bit old. It doesn't help that many of the Linné members are years younger than me. I was able to celebrate my birthday twice. Once with Sandra and Marc (Marc came home for lunch and we made grilled cheese! Yum!) and once with friends from the club. I've met some fantastic people here, and last night we had a special visitor at the door:

It's a donkey!

And the donkey brought me a present!
Mari, the master of all trades, made this donkey suit for the DX Deluxe in 2008. The other Blodsten crew came over for dinner and dessert. They are all fantastic chefs - Mari made cookies, Johan and Elisa made apple pie and Lisa and Sebastian made a cake.

Lisa and Sebastian's cake. As usual, beautifully decorated!
Apple crumble is perfect fall food, my favorite for this time of year. My favorite cookies were the dying sheep.
And, as this was a very special occasion, we even bought wine. Which you can only do in about 5 stores in all of Uppsala.

And, to cap off a great evening, they sang happy birthday in Swedish. It was great, but we all look a little awkward. When they all stood up at the same time I thought it was a mass exodus. And what does one do when everyone is singing happy birthday to them? I apparently wave the cake knife around like I'm conducting. Maybe the awkwardness is just part of the fun :)

It continues to be a beautiful fall. Yesterday morning I went out for a run at 9:30 and it was a balmy 0°C. Still it was beautiful:

Lisa and I went on a long line-o in the woods and we were breaking through a thin layer of ice in the swamps. We were smart (not weak) and avoided some of the swamps that looked extra deep. Somehow wading up to our knees in ice cold water wasn't appealing. This morning, fortunately, it was 10°C and it felt like spring. Winter isn't here yet!

As this is now getting long, so I will end, but I wanted to mention a few other highlights from this week:

1. Boris bought us Ticket to Ride Europe and a new game Agricola. We're played Ticket to Ride for three days in a row and I horribly lost all 3 games. Strangely, I almost always win Ticket to Ride USA.

2. Thursday was intervals this week and I think Kristina and I were the only ones to do all 5 intervals (ok, we did drag Boris and Ross out on the last one after they had finished). That makes us super hardcore. Consequently, all my muscles from my stomach down are sore. No pain, no gain.

3. Mari gave me the best book ever - Swedish Cakes and Cookies. All about baking Swedish desserts and it's written in English.

4. I've discovered that the Minuteman Library network has books you can borrow for your Kindle. I've read a lot of mediocre books lately, but they have all been free!

5. It seems that people are having trouble posting comments to the blog, but I have no idea how to fix that. I'll email Blogspot and see what I can do.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Two Roads Diverged

And two long roads they were, as this weekend Sam and I signed up for two separate and equally daunting orienteering courses.  I ran the Blodslitet in Norway and Sam ran the Swiss Long Distance Championships in Switzerland. Both of these courses were quite long but I'll have to keep this blog post quite short and get to bed on time, since another orienteering weekend is coming to a close and work beckons in the morning.

Going on a recovery run the next day. Taking photos is a good excuse for a break.

Samantha has spent this last week training in Switzerland. She arrived in Neuchâtel on Monday evening, and spent the week visiting Marc and Sandra Lauenstein and training with their orienteering club, ANCO. Their training camp was remote enough that Sam hasn't been able to spend any time on the internet or write any blog posts, so she left that duty to me. Naturally I shirked my responsibilities until the last possible moment.

With Sam out of the country this weekend, roommate Boris and I needed to think of some fun activity for the weekend. A plan was hatched to convince a couple of friends to join us and to have a road trip to Olso where we would visit our friends Cristina and Melissa and run a 23.5 kilometer mass start orienteering race.

So on Friday afternoon we headed off to Norway, fueled by some severely undercooked Snickerdoodles and raw cookie dough (I ran out of time to finish baking before we had to leave to catch the bus). We arrived late on Friday night and then realized that no one had written down which apartment Cristina and Melissa lived in. We guessed right though and the door we knocked on was opened to reveal friendly faces.

The next morning we pulled ourselves out of bed and had a hearty breakfast and I even ate two bowls of oatmeal, though I normally skip eating before races, because I knew I was going to be running for over 3 hours. The rough translation of Blodslitet is blood hard-work, and the hard-work part of the title really does seem to capture the essence of the event. The men's race was set up so that each runner had three short loops of about 4 kilometers, passing through the arena each time, before heading off on a long 11.5 kilometer journey into the wilderness. I made lots of little mistakes throughout the course, and finished in just over 4 hours. I don't think I lost any blood on the course, but I did work hard; running fast and climbing up lots of hill. I did find it remarkably hard to stay on my feet during this course and I fell down cliffs, into marshes and over tree stumps over and over again. 4 hours of that treatment, and my body felt pretty ravaged.

I fell face first into one of these marshes more than once. (They don't taste very good)
Sam hopefully was able to spend more time upright on her course. I hope that she will be back soon to write more about her race, but from afar her 8th place finish is a solid performance. She's continuing to post good results and though it really only counts for bragging rights, she was the fastest woman in the finish chute today as well. She has earned a rest day following a great race like that, and the timing couldn't be better as today is her birthday as well. October 17th, and Sam turns 29. She's still in Switzerland for a couple more days, but you should write her some happy birthday messages here as a comment, or on her AP log, or on her facebook page, or all three.

An appropriate format for a birthday message might be something like this.

Dearest Samantha,
                          I was reading your fantastic and well written blog and saw that it was your birthday. I wanted to sing you a song to help you celebrate this special day, but I think these guys on YouTube will do a better job. Hope that they have plenty of birthday cake in Switzerland!

Friday, October 7, 2011

More orienteering... and more kanelbullar

Ross playing on the playground equipment the night before.
Last weekend Ross and I raced at the Swedish Ultra Long Championships. We stayed at a ski resort the night before and had a view of a beautiful sunset. In the morning we drove to the event site and jogged around a bit to stay warm. We were both really excited going into it and had a lot of fun running. Ross ran a good race, making only about 5 minutes of mistakes during his 2hr54min in the woods. I also had a good race, despite missing the first control and losing the lead pack immediately. Luckily my fears of coming in last were not realized and I finished 15th out of 34.

Beautiful sunset up in Dalarna.
It was a beautiful day - the temperatures near 70 and the sun shining brightly. It was a fantastic way to spend a Saturday. We drove home Saturday evening and spend Sunday hanging about. It was our one year engagement anniversary... with no wedding plans yet on the horizon. We celebrated with an elegant meal of kebab and kebab pizza while watching West Wing. Yum :)

Ross and I after our races.
Early morning sunshine at the Ultra Long finish arena.

Appreciating the beautiful fall weather.
It continues to be a beautiful fall here. I went on a bike ride along the river last week (before my bike broke... again) and took some pictures along the way. My favorite part was the boardwalk. You could walk about 1km along the boardwalk through the swampy bay. Unfortunately, I didn't trust myself to stay upright if I tried to ride my bike along it. I also biked by Uppsala's very own downhill ski slopes... It looks more like it should be a skateboarding hill, but they're trying :)
Long boardwalk through the swamp
Tuesday was official Kanelbullar Day here in Sweden. In honor of this most important holiday I baked lots and lots of kanelbullar. My plan was to pass them around at training that evening, but I got shy and so we came home with lots of extras. Many are now in the freezer waiting for me to get my next craving.
This weekend we are competing in a 25 person relay in Stockholm. Linné is fielding 4 teams, which is impressive. I'm running anchor leg on team 2 and Ross is running 5th leg on team 3. This relay is different than your tradition relay. Normally, orienteering relays work just like running relays. A person goes out, runs their course, comes in and hands off to the next person, who heads out. But if we had 25 people starting one after another we would be there well into the night. Therefore, the first two legs are traditional- one person starts, runs their course, and then hands off to another person. This person runs their course, but then they come in and tag off to 4 people. These 4 people all start at once and run their courses (different from one another). The next 4 legs all have 4 people running them at more or less the same time. The first person that comes in from leg 3 hands off to one person in leg 4. The next person from leg 3 hands off to the next person in leg 4 and so on. It it sort of like your team now has 4 teams out running for it at the same time. This happens for 5 legs and goes through 20 more runners. When all of those runners have come in the 23rd person starts on their own, and we're back to single legs. They tag off to 24, 24 tags off to 25 and then 25 finishes - and you're done!
Start of 25manna (try not to get run over!)
I'm not sure I explained that in a helpful manner for those of you who didn't know what 25manna was, but hopefully you get the general idea. To top all the confusion off, there are guidelines for who can run what leg, so that the whole club gets involved. Some legs can only be run by a woman. Another can only be run by women who are not 19-39yrs old and men who are not 15-54yrs old. It's all very complicated and I'm glad I was just told to run where they think I will be the most helpful. Linné's first team came in second last year, so I'm looking forward to cheering them into first place this year :) We've already established that no one in Sweden cheers louder than Ross, so I have hope that our cheering presence will make a difference. Results can probably be found here.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Work Time

Okay, I know this is going to be a break from the scheduled programming, as this channel is mostly orienteering trips and snack breaks, but I'm going to take a moment to describe what I do between meals and running.

At the end of August, I started working at the Rubeck Laboratory where I found a job with Lena Claesson-Welsh. She's kind of a big deal in the field of vascular biology and she has quite a large research group here. Well at least it seems large coming from my old lab at the Joslin where HuiJuan, Lizbeth and I were the only ones in the lab. The group that I'm working with now has about 25 people associated with the projects, which means lots of new friends!

That first day in the lab I got right to work and was busy learning to dissect retinas under the stereomicroscope for our studies in blood vessel growth and development. Microscope dissection is challenging, and my first few attempts came out looking like a I had put the tissues through a paper shredder. But my most recent attempt came out nicely and Chiara has been staining the samples and hopefully I can get some pictures to post from her confocal work.

A neat lab bench. That's how you can tell it's a posed photograph
My job at the Rudbeck has many similarities with my position in Myra's lab back in Boston. For example, I still spend a lot of time doing genotyping of mice, and we have to jury-rig the gel apparatus for pouring the gels. One big change is that I'm doing my best not to sing out-loud while in the lab here, as I've been warned that it might be distracting to my co-workers. I don't even notice when I'm singing half the time, so I hope that I'm not bugging anyone.

The cool cats ( my chair is the empty one)
I have a spot in what I'm calling "the cool office" 'cause that's where all the cool lab members have desks. Here you can see Jimmy (who likes to go running) and Elisabet (who invites me to go to her modern dance classes). Our groups do a lot of work on tumor development, so I am spending a lot of time learning about cancer and different theories about how best to fight the tumors.

I can tell that I'm really a part of the lab now because my photo is up on the lab members board and I have my own mailbox... though I have not gotten anything delivered yet.

Feel free to mail me edible things

And now I will end this post on a more typical theme, as I return to help Sam in the kitchen. She's making succotash and kanelbullar, and I expect that the kitchen will soon devolve into this kind of crazy scene: The Muppets present: Pöpcørn. Enjoy.