Friday, January 23, 2015

Winter & Skating

View out the window this morning

This week, we've had some real, great snow. I love the kind that sticks to everything and here, where it's quite dark during the winter (current sunset at 3:30pm), it brightens things up so much, letting the light bounce off it even in the evening, keeping things so much brighter.

Along with the wintery feel, last weekend the majority of our skating club took the train to Gothenburg for the weekend to compete and watch the 2015 Leon Lurje Trophy. It was a blast. Our club's skaters did a great job, had a ton of fun, and made friends with a team from Michigan (USA) which was really fun for us to watch. It's so wonderful when they can be inspired by older skaters that they can look up to. A bunch of them swapped contact information and will hopefully keep in touch.

Warm up before competing
Awards Ceremony
Goodbyes after arriving back in Stockholm

A few of my favorite moments from the weekend:
  • While in the stands, one of the younger girls listened to the American team cheering (the typical, "Give me a U, give me an S, give me an A! What's that spell?!") and while they chanted, "USA! USA!" she leaned over to ask her older sister for a translation, who then pronounced the letters the Swedish way so she could realize what they meant.
  • While eating breakfast, the same younger girl as mentioned above sat with us (the adults/coaches) and at one point, whispered to her sister that she wished we'd speak in Swedish so she could follow along. While that wasn't quite possible for the whole conversation, when things quieted down, I leaned over and asked her a little bit about herself, how old she was, what teams were her favorite, etc. This went well and we had a nice little conversation, but not before she first automatically asked for a translation of what I was saying before she was told, "She's speaking Swedish, ask her to repeat it!"
  • I pulled up the competition's live video feed on the train home so that we could watch what we were missing by having to leave a bit early. When the American team that the girls had met skated, everyone was super excited to crowd around and cheer for them together. When one of the team moms, confused why they wanted to see this specific team so badly, asked why, I overheard one of the girls answer, "Because they're our friends!"

That all said, I am reminded of three things from my group classes last night, which made me laugh as well:
  • I had two new skaters in my first group of the evening, hockey playing brothers, who are taking our classes to further improve their technique (very smart of them!). Throughout the 45 minute class, I talked with each of them, asked what types of things they'd been working on with their previous coach, and gave them some new things to work on. They happily followed along and answered my questions. (All fully in Swedish, it should be noted, so this story makes sense.) Near the end, with only a few minutes left in the class, the younger boy (maybe 6?) suddenly said, as we stood in a circle, as I was giving directions, "Doesn't she speak Swedish?" to which the whole class replied, "She is!" It's been the same every time I start with a new younger kid, because my accent is quite thick still, but their reaction seems to be different every time. After a week or two, they're fine with it and there's generally no further major hassle with their comprehension of my words.
  • Later on, in my synchro team's hour, we didn't quite have everyone available for a real practice,   so I decided to do a a skills session instead. Our big focus was learning how to do a choctaw. They listened well and tried over and over -- it's a complicated move for beginners at first! All was going well and I was checking with each to make sure they were doing okay when one of the girls came over to ask how much longer we'd have with them and said, (translated Swedish in italics), "Can we continue doing more croptops?" It was ridiculously cute. After a few more mispronunciations, she had it down by the end of practice.
  • And last, after all was done last night, I was chatting with a couple of the parents and one of their daughters arrived, ready to leave, said "thank you for today and bye!" to me (in Swedish) and suddenly, I realized that I couldn't remember anything. After a moment's stuttering, I replied, "Hejdå och tack för today!" (Goodbye and thanks for today!) Fail. I don't even understand it, but speaking Swedish in front of all those adults just cleared my head right out. Kids? No problem. Adults? That remains a work-in-progress.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Weekend Trip to Warsaw

Back in early last October, my husband and I took a quick weekend trip to Warsaw, Poland for no real reason other than that we saw some super cheap flights (500kr total for both of us, which is about $60). We then booked a place right downtown on AirBnB for another $100 or so for the long weekend and were off. We didn't really know what to expect, other than cheap prices, but I'm happy to say we were very pleasantly surprised. Most of all, the city was incredibly beautiful. Second to that, we were able to have lots of meals full of delicious food for like 15% of what they'd cost here in Stockholm.

The only warning I would give to tourists interested in going there would be that, even in the center of town and/or at pretty touristy places, don't expect to find a fluent English speaker or an English menu. I wasn't expecting it to be quite as difficult for tourists as it was, but thankfully my few years of studying Russian and Serbian combined made it possible to get by, ask the essential questions, read menus, and translate for my husband.

Now, to the photos! (Full album here)
These waffles with toppings were everywhere -- we went with the whipped cream & fruit combo and it was amazing!
View from the top of the Palace of Culture and Science

The last photo was one of the great restaurants we at at, but the biggest challenge -- the menu was written on the tile wall behind the counter (frustrating that I couldn't study it at the table for a few) and was half Polish, half Italian. It took a while, but we found some delicious things to eat eventually!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

New Apartment

Anyone living in Stockholm or close to me knows that the housing situation here is bad. Really bad. There is a public housing queue system here and essentially no private rental market. Unless you know someone or have been in the queue for many years, finding a place is next to impossible. As foreigners, this is incredibly horrible and frustrating. Last spring, we found out our rent would be raised and this issue became all the most frustrating in that we had a place, and now it was becoming far more expensive, because those we worked with simply knew we had no other options, so why not get more out of us?

While we already wanted to get out of the very small (38sqm / 409sqft), very expensive apartment, it became much more of a priority with the ridiculous rent raise over the summer. In a very, very lucky turn of events late last fall, one of the girls I coach skating with mentioned her parents had a place they were looking to rent out. As quickly as possible, we viewed the apartment (95sqm / 1022sqft) and signed the lease. A couple weeks later, we were moved into our new 3-bedroom place, at a lower price than our previous one, with a nice, long lease and with more space than we could even imagine how to fill. We started off with one couch, a bed, a bureau and a computer desk, as well as a bunch of things a friend offered that she no longer needed (we previously owned zero furniture in Sweden, as we brought nothing with us when we moved, with our previous place being furnished). At long last, last week, after much planning and decision-making, our big furniture purchase was complete. A delivery and too many hours of putting it all together later, we have a real apartment!

My husband returned the next day from a business trip and was psyched to see we no longer had an empty place that felt like a student dorm. I'm especially enjoying having a real dining table after so long without, and so happy I found one that I seriously love. We also managed to furnish the guest room and are looking forward to finally hosting comfortably, rather than suggesting a hotel or offering the couch to all our previous guests. And now, I am enjoying the recent daily snow and just loving the coziness of the new place.

And last, a cat picture bonus of Luna enjoying one of the new couches:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Welcome 2015!

It's been a while! And now, I'm resolving to keep this up a bit better. 2014 was a great year for us and so small things (like writing here) were often pushed aside, in favor of living in the moment. So now, I should take a moment to look back and keep track of how it all went down. I'll start today with the skating stuff, as that's a pretty big part of my life these days.

Over the summer, everything came to a halt in Sweden, as it does in most of Europe, but it turned out this time would be some of my most productive. My trip back to the US in July was wonderful, and then two days later, I coached at a skating camp for the week following. I'm not sure if the head coach planned it (she probably did, she's quite observant), but this was a pretty major sink-or-swim moment for me. Last season, for the most part, I coached older kids or had an assistant with me who could help. For this skating camp, there was none of that. I was assigned to younger kids, without an assistant coach. (Of course, there were other coaches on the ice with their own classes, but unless really needed, I dislike bothering them for help.) So, it was up to me to make the camp for my assigned skaters both understandable and productive. The first day was pretty overwhelming. Since about our one-year mark in Sweden, I had been doing well with understanding and speaking the basics, but I rarely actually had to. I could usually skirt by, understanding the Swedish, but replying in English. 

This wasn't an option at the camp, as only one of the girls spoke a bit of English, and not much at all for the rest. After the first day, I realized the only option to do my best, even though it made me incredibly uncomfortable, was to use a dictionary app on my phone while on the ice. I hated this though because in my mind, all this would look like was that I wasn't doing what I should be -- texting with friends or something. But, it worked. And, that approach, immediately using the words I was looking up, was an awesome way to memorize them. I mentioned this to the head coach after a day or two, worried I'd look like I was totally slacking off if she saw this out of context, and she was happy to hear it, and encouraged it further. By the last day, the dictionary wasn't needed as much anymore, and it felt as though I'd crossed a major hurdle. And most funny of all, at one point that week, exhausted after a long day, I woke up from a nap surprised, realizing the dream I'd had was in Swedish. 

With the start of the fall, the normal season resumed and I've stayed with the younger girls, and I'm really enjoying this group -- especially that the majority of them are also on a beginner synchronized skating team that I am now coaching as well. I'm so amazed with how far they've all come, both impressed with their patience with me and that each and every one of them has worked hard in just the past few months to come so far. The team skated publicly at their first competition in November, and I was so proud, I could have burst. Here's a video of that skate:

Since then, they've continued to improve so much, and I look forward to each practice with them. They love synchro with such a passion already, it's wonderful to watch. I was surprised to find they even made a team Instagram account where they post all kinds of cute things. It is such a privilege to be able to introduce a bunch of girls to the sport I love and watch them come to love it as I do. I'm incredibly thankful to everyone in our skating club for giving me such an opportunity as well as their never-ending patience.

In addition to all this, in December, our older team headed out west to Gothenburg for a competition and while I don't coach them (only helping occasionally), myself and another coach from our club were brought with the team to watch and support them at the competition. To say it was a blast would be an understatement. It was so wonderful to be back at a synchro competition -- they're the same worldwide, and there are few places more fun. Just as the rest of my synchro career, time spent with the team was loud, fun, and full of dancing. The girls skated one of their best programs I've seen them do and landed in the middle of the pack, amidst some pretty tough competition. We were all very proud, and I think they were pretty happy with their performance, as they should have been.

This coming weekend, I'm headed back to Gothenburg with them as they compete at the 2015 Leon Lurje Trophy, and I expect it's going to be a very fun time.