Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Hooray for sunshine today! It's almost insane how much the weather affects my mood. Yesterday was terribly rainy and dreary and I just felt unhappy all day about it! I've come to the decision that I must have one of those sun lamps this winter. I think it'll definitely help with all the dark dreariness that is going to descend upon us.

I sit here pondering how the Riskutbildning 1 will go today. I understand Swedish pretty well, but today I will be interacting with absolute strangers! I'm used to either speaking with my teachers or people that I know. But when I think about it, I do interact with strangers here and there and I can understand their Swedish perfectly fine. It's only when someone speaks ridiculously fast, or with heavy amounts of dialect that I have no clue what they are saying. I hope the upcoming 3.5 hours of "driver's ed" will be quick and painless! I'll be sure to keep you posted on how events turn out.

Cheers to the last day of August. It most definitely feels as if autumn already has its chilly fingers latched onto the weather here. I'm pretty bummed about summer being over pretty much already. I need to embrace autumn! Maybe once tomorrow comes around and I realize it's September I'll be more okay with the chilly weather. At least I have my sunshine today!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Högskolan, Körkort & Stockholm

Things have been picking up these past couple of weeks. Last week I went to an all day meeting on Tuesday at Högskolan i Skövde here in town. In American English that would equate to Skövde College. There is a program there called Korta Vägen for immigrants who have had at least 3 years of higher education, aka university/college studies. It's basically to utilize this immigrant population and get them as capable and efficient in Swedish so they can go into the work force in their chosen fields. I'm still waiting on a letter this week from Arbetsförmedlingen saying that I've got a green light to go ahead and study in the program. They said that most people are allowed to do so. I would be so happy and excited to start a new school program other than SFI. I think Korta Vägen is a much better way to reach where I'm wanting to go here. Besides, I already plan to take the final D test for SFI on September 15th anyway, and hopefully I'll be able to get my SFI bonus. Would be nice to make some money and move on to a better course for my needs/goals!

Tomorrow I take the plunge into acquiring my Swedish driver's license (or körkort). J scheduled me to take Riskutbildning 1, the first part of a two part course. Whenever anyone sits for the theory and practical driving test in Sweden, both parts of Riskutbildning must have been taken/completed. Riskutbildning 1 is like a lecture or seminar for 3 hours where they inform you of the risks of driving while tired, taking drugs, drinking alcohol, etc. I have a large fear I'll flash back to 8 years ago, at exactly this time of year when I was in driver's education when I was almost 16. I really hope it doesn't feel like a waste of my time (although I'm almost positive that is exactly how I'll feel). I just find it silly that they allow Americans to drive for an entire year on their American license once they arrive in Sweden, but suddenly after a year *poof* your driving capabilities are apparently unacceptable and you must do the entire Swedish driver's license process. I understand learning certain things here, like the different right of way laws and most definitely the different signs, I just wish there was a more efficient way than completely redoing everything over again. Hopefully I'll only need to take a couple of actual driving lessons to get tips on what they look for during the actual practical driving test. I believe I'm going to buy the driving theory book in English just to brush up on everything. You may think I'm going a bit overboard, but many Swedes and most Americans seem to fail at least once when it comes to the practical driving test. Swedes are (by American standards) ridiculously strict when it comes to the theory and driving tests. People have failed in the past from "not driving ecologically enough."

Riskutbildning 2 is something we never did in driver's education - they take you out on a track that is purposefully slippery, filled with water, etc. The teacher makes you drive and forces you into slides and different things to make you aware of what poor driving conditions can cause your car to do, and they teach you how to handle them. I believe that part will be much more interesting and useful (maybe even fun) because we never did anything like that in the U.S. (although I've had enough of my fair share of scary driving incidents).

The weather has been chilly and mostly cloudy and rainy lately. I think that combined with the sun setting much earlier than before has caused a bit of a wave of sadness in me. August in Ohio is the hottest month of the year, and decidedly sunny from what I recall. This year in Sweden it's been around 15C on average (which is 59F) and very cloudy and rainy throughout most of August. It's also dark already around 8:30 or 9 at the latest if it's sunny, and it's just so noticeable after the sun setting at 11!

The other weekend we went to Stockholm and it was a bunch of fun, although far too short. We left early Saturday morning and came back Sunday afternoon. It's tiring when you decide to take the car all that way instead of the train. I drove all the way to Stockholm, and we had to make a detour in Jönköping since we were picking up a friend there on the way. So those were five hours of rainy and foggy driving, not to mention the last hurrah of driving within Stockholm itself. I understand everyone's complaint now about Stockholm drivers. The visit was more of a social visit than going there to see Stockholm, so I actually didn't snap any pictures. We pretty much visited our friends at their apartment in the Midsommarkransen/Hagersten area and then went and enjoyed a pub or two later in the evening. On Sunday we trekked down into Gamla Stan so I could purchase a couple of books at a bookstore there. We did have some delicious Indian food while in Gamla Stan, though. It was my first time ever having Indian food. I don't know if I could eat it often, but I really enjoyed it.

So that's basically what my goings and doings have consisted of lately! Nothing too exciting or special, but I felt I was beginning to slack again so I had to toss you some sort of bone to hopefully keep you interested. ;-)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Great Mushroom Hunt

This past Sunday I woke up to rainy dreariness. But for some reason an idea took hold of my thoughts and I couldn't shake it - I wanted to go mushroom picking! Right now it's the season to pick mushrooms, specifically kantareller. I knew J wouldn't be up for it, although I asked him anyway. He just doesn't revel in tramping around in the lovely Swedish woods searching for the elusive kantarell mushroom. So, I texted my good friend M and asked if she was up for it. I believe her response was something along "Hell yes I want to go!" So with that, within the next hour or two we were off, two Americans tramping through the Swedish forest searching continually for a certain kind of mushroom. We were rather proud of ourselves, as neither of us grew up being in the middle of nature very often. If I ever wanted to go into the woods, I had to find a metro park in Ohio!

If you clicked on my link up there, it doesn't look like a particularly tasty mushroom. Many might contend that any mushroom doesn't really look very appetizing. I am one of those who absolutely loves the delectable fungi. But why were we looking for these specific, deceivingly toxic looking mushrooms? Well for one, I think it's simply fun to look for something in the forest when they're supposed to be only wild grown. It felt like such triumph whenever we found some. These special mushrooms also happen to be quite expensive at the store, I think especially since they are only wild grown (or this is what I have heard, anyway). While at the store yesterday I decided to check and see the price of kantareller, and it was 249:- per kilo. If I equate that to American measurements, they are roughly $19 per pound. Talk about expensive mushrooms!

I ended up taking M's mushrooms too because she discovered a slug on one of her mushrooms and therefore felt she could never eat any of them. I guess she got pretty grossed out. I was a happy camper! I ended up making a mushroom soup out of them, they have so much flavor! It was quite tasty. (That's not actually a picture I took, but that's pretty much how my soup turned out/looked.)

We had so much fun in the rainy Swedish woods on Sunday, we are in fact returning to the woods tomorrow (a different wood this time) to take up the hunt again! I will probably end up with all the mushrooms again, but at least M enjoys the hunt just as much as I do!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A close to summer break

Today marks the last day that I have summer break. It's been a long one, I've technically been on break for nearly 2 months now. I flew to the States back on June 17th, which is when I mark that my summer began. Now it's August 7th, and tomorrow is the first day back at SFI. I think I am actually looking forward to going back and feeling like I'm doing something with my days. I just can't sit around without having a purpose!

The past two weeks J has been back at work and I've been filling my days with various odds and ends. The main thing I have been doing (like a good little Swedish student) is study every day. I've been moving through the first two chapters in my course D textbook, but also I've begun and completed the book I mentioned previously, Mio min Mio. I got really hooked there at the end of this past week! I really enjoyed the fact that I was reading a story (albeit not too difficult, but I learned many words!) in Swedish and understood it and could just cruise along. The other important fact: it kept me interested. I think this is a strategy I'll begin to use in the future. I'm sure we'll be seeing more simple Swedish books on our shelves in the future! It's a fantastic way to learn a language and get a feel for it.

This last Tuesday my friend M and I decided that it was just too beautiful outside for a co-study session, so we suited up and headed for the beach! Of course we visited two beaches here in town first, both of which were packed with people (especially noisy children) and decided we wanted something more peaceful. So we headed out to the shores of Vättern to a tiny little town by the name of Brevik. There's a secret little beach there that you have to walk through a long field and through a little bunch of trees to get to it. It's well worth it! There were people there, but not even close to the amount at the other two lakes. And there was sand to lay on (although not much at all). Vättern's water was so beautiful and clear. It is the deepest lake in Sweden, which probably lends itself to the clarity of the water. Although I didn't take any pictures that day, here is a shot of the beach we went to.

Today it's raining and completely cloudy. You know, that overbearing grayness. But today it seems to fit. And the rain is so peaceful. I believe I'm enjoying it. The temperature reminds me of autumn though, it being slightly chilly and rainy. It makes me somewhat dread winter, as I feel like I've just begun to even be able to enjoy summertime here. Alas, I live in the North now. I'm sure I'll enjoy it when it comes anyway. Last winter I was so enchanted with all the snow. Let's hope this time around I am just as enchanted.

In a couple of weeks I believe we'll be traveling to Stockholm to visit some friends who live there. I've been there once before, and we visited Gamla Stan, Vasa museum, and Skansen. The typical touristy place. Does anyone have any suggestions of other things that are "must sees" that I may not have come across yet? Or any good food/restaurant suggestions? Gotta take advantage of being in a city with a multitude of culinary delights! ;-)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Summer happenings

I apologize for being lazy lately. I suppose that's what easy going summertime does to you. When arriving back in Skövde in early/mid July showed me that almost no one was in town, it was a shock. Now that it is the first day of August, people are returning home from long vacations and it's another shock to see the streets filling up. Today I walked to meet J for lunch at a local Thai restaurant and was shocked at how many cars were on the road during the lunch rush hour.

This is my last week of summer break. School begins again next Monday (SFI, that is). My goal this week is to study as much as possible. Because I wasn't feeling the textbook so far today, instead I have chosen to delve into Mio, min Mio. J's sister's family gave it to me for a birthday present when I arrived back in Sweden. It's a book by the famous Astrid Lindgren, who many of you might know (without knowing). She wrote all of the Pippi Longstocking books. Her writing is similar to Roald Dahl's, I would say. It's great practice for the likes of me who is currently learning Swedish. It's not too simple, yet not too difficult. I've been looking up words all morning, yet I still get the flow of the storytelling and can enjoy it. Another good point about it is it's not a boring news article or some such. Stories are a great way to learn a language.

To catch you all up a bit, J had two weeks off from work. The first week we basically stuck around the area of Skaraborg (now morphed into the giant län of Västra Götaland, but Skaraborg is still used for this particular area). In my last entry I posted several shots from the lovely little Vättern-shore town of Karlsborg. The second week of J's vacation we decided to make a road trip down onto the continent to Hamburg, Germany. I hadn't seen any of the rest of Europe (I know, I know) and so we decided to make a short 3 day trip to Hamburg. Why Hamburg? Well Denmark is right next door to Sweden so it's much easier to make, say, a weekend trip down to Copenhagen or some such place there. But since J had some more time than a weekend off, I wanted to see more of Europe if possible, and we also needed it to be a shorter distance. The closest, biggest city in Germany to drive to? Hamburg! Here are just a few shots to give you an idea of the city in case some of you haven't been:

This is Öresundsbron, the bridge that connects Sweden and Denmark. It runs between Malmö and Köpenhamn (or Copenhagen). You can drive all the way to Germany by land, which is what we did, or you can take an option of several ferries instead of bridges.

This is one of the main squares, you could say, in Hamburg.

Although Hamburg is not a port city, it's situated right on the large river Elbe, right where two smaller rivers flow into it named Alster and Bille. It has many of these pretty canals running through the city.

One of the last rows of old houses still standing built pre World War II.

One of the many soaring churches gracing the city's skyline. This one, the church of Saint Nikolai (or Nicholas) is a monument left standing from the firebombs during WWII. It was quite eerie in that it was such a large, blackened, crumbling building amongst all the hubbub and newness of the rest of the city.

The town hall right in the middle of downtown. The architecture in this city just amazed me. Quite beautiful, with all the detail.

I enjoyed the vibe of Hamburg. Compared to the small town of 50,000 in which I currently reside, Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany. Overall it had a few million residents to boat about. I loved being elsewhere and experiencing a new culture. Germany reminded me much more of the U.S. than Sweden does. Although Sweden is quite influenced by U.S. culture and is a perfectly Western, modern society, Germany just seemed closer to the mark if I had to compare similarities with my home country. The Germans we encountered were outspoken and almost always the first to strike up a conversation with us. Everyone there seemed to smoke, or at least it is a very smoker friendly society (it reminded me of the States ca. 15 years ago). There also happened to be some litter on the ground and a few homeless people here and there. I'm not saying Germany is better than Sweden with all of these things, it just seemed much more like the country I hail from. And I just can't fail to mention the heavy food - meat and potatoes. Absolutely delicious meat and potatoes. It's a good thing we walked just about everywhere on that mini vacation, otherwise I probably would have noticeably gained some weight! All in all, it was great to finally delve into another part of Europe.

Needless to say, it felt wonderful coming home to Sweden. It truly does feel like home, now. Which is another plus of all my travels recently. Not only did I come back home to Sweden after our brief visit to Germany (and all through Denmark), but I reiterate my homecoming back in July from three weeks in the U.S. as well. Both times it felt good to come home to Sweden. Within the past month, I've traveled within 5 countries! As I lovingly make fun of my heritage: not bad for an American!

Alas, I should probably get back to my studying. Probably with the textbook this time. I thought I would come out of my silence and update you all a bit on happenings! Enjoy summer while it is here. It's noticeably dwindling here in Sweden. On a bright note: maybe we'll have a crayfish party sometime soon!