Welcome back to my blog!
I'll go straight in with some confessions, to get things started:
1) I have found continuing my blog difficult, after a period of feeling uninspired.
2) Winter was hard for me at times, with a couple of low points.
3) Winter was also one of the most amazing times of my life. Talk about highs and lows!
4) I am trying to continue my blog. Really trying.
Let's pick up where I left off. October 9th, in our apartment at last. Since then I've spent a huge amount of time settling in, making my own space, unpacking, procrastinating and beginning to feel like I really belong here. Getting everything unpacked and put away was very important to me. I always try to maintain order in my living space, and make things as comfortable as possible. However, for the first time ever I was facing a huge obstacle: someone already lives in this apartment! And that someone is my boyfriend. I was really excited about moving in with Henrik (and that excitement hasn't faded!) but I couldn't have predicted how hard it would be to move myself in to his home, and make it 'our home'. In the past I have always had my own space, either in the home I was raised in, or house sharing at Music College. This time, instead of moving in from scratch, I was fitting myself around someone who already lived there. Henrik was also moving back in, after a year in England. We tried to work together, but essentially we were working against each other - Henrik trying to put things back where they belonged before, and me trying to move new things in to an already established home. Henrik was incredibly anxious for me to feel settled and welcome, and worked very hard to help me move everything in and find a space for all my things. Finally, we're about finished! 3 months later, and the flat is starting to truly feel like a home.We still have too much stuff between us, and my parents are STILL storing some of our things for us, but we're moving in the right direction.
The Swedish winter was harsh this year. Rather like in England, the Swedes were subjected to a winter much colder than usual. I live in the South, where the weather is much milder. It normally wouldn't snow too heavily in Skåne, but this year there was so much snow that leaving the house became a very undesirable prospect. Temperatures were averaging minus 6, which is certainly bearable with the right clothing, but not pleasant! I know my Canadian audience will think I'm a wimp, but if you're not used to such cold then it then it can be quite a shock.
Another shock to my system was the daylight hours during the winter. I started to notice it getting dark as early as 2.30pm in the afternoon. It would be fully dark by 4pm- and wasn't getting light in the mornings until 8.30 or 9am. That equals about 7 hours of daylight, which isn't a great deal. This was the first time I really felt any sort of struggle about being in Sweden. I spent a great deal of my time at home, while Henrik was out rehearsing with the Opera Company. His schedule was very busy, while mine was more independent. It was a great opportunity to work on my new website and give a lot of my time to practising and developing myself as a performer. I also had plenty of time to network, complete a lot of admin and really work on furthering myself for employment in Sweden. However, I found myself struggling to do any of those things. Being home alone was becoming difficult, and with the limited daylight hours, which were getting shorter day by day, I was starting to feel really homesick for the first time. But more than anything else, I was ashamed of my inability to motivate myself. In a way I was disappearing into myself. I became my own worst enemy, lacking any desire to leave the house (especially into the cold!) and at the same time longing to get out and just DO something. It was a very strange time, and looking back on it, I'm amazed that I found myself in that position. Henrik was obviously worried about me, and I found it hard at the time to open up to him and tell him how I was feeling. In the end I got through it by finding activities for myself to do, with Henrik's help. I started making things, such as Christmas Tree decorations and other gift ideas. I also got stuck in to my website and found that I had lots of things to be very positive about and proud of. I hope to be online very soon!
Before getting back into this blog, I was considering how open I should be about how hard it was at times in the winter. I want to give a true picture to how it can feel to move abroad. It's not always easy, and sometimes you long for the familiarity of your home country. But I also have no regrets for moving to Sweden, in fact I love it here. Not only that but the positives by far outweigh the negatives!
So, on to the positives! Christmas in Sweden was incredible. I felt so welcomed into Henrik's family, and celebrating Christmas in a different culture was a fantastic experience. The run up to Christmas is full of excitement, much like anywhere else in the world. But there are some celebrations specific to Sweden, that I really loved. December 13th is the festival of St Lucia. Early in the morning, the youngest in the household (or the children collectively, as it tends to be!) will dress up as St Lucia (girl in white, wearing a crown of candles), or her attendants. They make coffee and serve it with saffron buns to the others in the house, waking them up with their singing of the traditional "Santa Lucia" carol. Towns tend to organise a Lucia Tåg (Lucia Train) early in the morning, with a procession of Lucia and her attendants, carring candles and singing carols. I went to such an event at the Malmö Opera, early on the morning of Friday 10th Dec. I was treated to beautiful singing, free coffee and saffron buns, pepparkakor and glögg (mulled wine!). The glögg was the strong variety too...which I was not aware of. You couldn't really tell because the flavour is so strong anyway. But after 3 small rounds of glögg I started to notice!
Sweden puts a lot of emphasis on lighting their cities and towns during the Christmas period. I think because so much of the time is spent in darkness, there is a real need for cosy lights and Christmas spirit, or everyone would suffer from severe depression! The lights in Malmö were stunning this year. I loved walking around town and soaking up the festive feeling. There were lots of opportunities to visit friends and share glögg and pepparkakor. Everyone was getting into the spirit of the season, and people were very friendy and welcoming.
Christmas Dinner in Sweden is different, as you might expect! Instead of Turkey, the Swedes favour ham. Dinner is more like a buffet, only everyone sits together around the table. There is sill (pickled fish), köttbullar (meatballs), potatoes, lots of vegetables, the ham of course, hard bread and preserved salmon. There are also lots of other items to pick from, it can vary depending on different family traditions! I decided to try and cook a Christmas dinner myself, for some friends. Henrik helped of course, and we decided to do it while my sister was visiting us from England, so that she could try it too. In the end Henrik and I made so much food that we were eating it for the rest of the week, much like ay other Christmas dinner! The typical Swedish Christmas dessert is something called Risgrynsgröt, which is basically rice pudding. It is often flavoured with cinammon, and traditionally the chef puts in an almond too. Whoever finds the almond in their dessert is said to get married in the following year. Unfortunately one of our guests has a nut allergy, so rather than forcing him to play russian roulette with his dessert, I used a raisin instead. It wasn't so discreet, but did the job none the less!
I spent the actual Christmas celebration in Stockholm, with Henrik's mother, where we were during the summer. Henrik's brother, sister-in-law and their children were there too. It was so special to be included in their family celebrations, and I loved seeing the differences between our traditions. The Swedish celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, or Julafton, and then spend Christmas Day recovering and enjoying their gifts.
December also meant the end of term show for the school I have been teaching in since arriving in Sweden. It was a huge success, and everyone performed to a very high standard. We have started our new term now, and have got stuck in to some brilliant pieces from the Glee show. I am having so much fun working on the music with my groups, and feel really positive about the term ahead.
I have to sign off now, as I am going in to town, but I will update again soon, with more information on my time in Sweden so far. Stay tuned for: Princess Cake, IKEA and more!