PSA: Holiday Heave-Ho

Before your closet overflows with new items in this season of shopping and gifting, take time to sift through your closet and find clothes to donate. I outlined what I recommend donating in my post Closet Detox, but here's a seasonally appropriate addendum the list.

With chilly winter temperatures, clothing banks and homeless shelters are especially in need of coats, sweaters, gloves and boots. If you have any of these items lying around, consider those who might need them more. While you're at it, take a look under your sink. Any unused toiletries (read: hotel "souvenirs" or goody bags from long-haul flights) can also go to your local shelter. 

Some places to consider near you: 


New York - The Bowery Mission

Boston - Rosie's Place

San Francisco - St. Anthony's


Sweden - Stadsmissionen


Just a friendly reminder to give a little extra this holiday season. #giveresponsibly


On (not) Learning Swedish

I shall call this one "Picture is Unrelated: Stockholm at Christmas."

I shall call this one "Picture is Unrelated: Stockholm at Christmas."

Last month Education First ranked Swedes at the top for English Proficiency and I can second that assessment. Perhaps it's because Swedish isn't too useful outside of Sweden or perhaps it's because Swedish and English share a Germanic root language. But if you ask them, Swedes will attribute their awesome English to television. English programming has subtitles rather than dubbing, so Swedes - especially the younger generations - have grown up hearing English on T.V. and in films. And it shows. Whether it's a wide, nuanced vocabulary or a native-like understanding of idioms and slang, I am continually impressed by the English I hear. Sometimes I'll even hear Swedes apologize for their "terrible" English which is a) so far from the truth and b) ridiculous. I'm the one in their country asking them to speaking my language. I'm the imposition here. But still, the apologies come.

I am fluent in Swedish pastries. 

I am fluent in Swedish pastries. 

All of this excellence has an interesting consequence: It's really hard to learn Swedish here. Sure, having lived in Sweden for the better part of a year means I can understand and read it alright.  But speaking? No chance. My patient friends have heard mostly "Hallå!" or "Jag förstår!" and still they tolerate me. #Thankful for them. I've tried Duolingo, but it lacks a speaking component for Swedish. I've added Rosetta Stone to my morning coffee ritual, but I'm not sold. I mean, there's only so many opportunities to slip "Varför luktar hunden illa?" or "Sköldpaddan är liten" into conversation.  ("Why does the dog smell bad?" and "The turtle is small" for those who are following.) And then there's SFI, Swedish for Immigrants. The government offers a language course for immigrant adults, but reviews from friends and colleagues have been largely critical.  SFI groups students by their education level rather than their experience with Swedish. So even though I have spent several months here, I could be placed with students who don't know the difference between "hej" and "hejdå". And often times, groups of varying levels all share the same teacher at the same time. It's tough enough to differentiate instruction for my fourth graders; I can't even imagine juggling masters level students in the same room as students who aren't literate in their native language. And the kicker? You need a personnummer to register for the course. Which I don't have. I guess it's pretty futile to complain about a service I can't use. So I'll keep muddling on with Rosetta Stone and hope for plenty of opportunities to talk about smelly dogs and small turtles.


More on my adventures learning Swedish later :)



Giving Thanks

Holidays away from home can be difficult and social media doesn’t make it easier. The barrage of snaps, Instagrams and status updates made last week challenging at times. I so wanted to be home with family like everyone else seemed to be. I wanted to hug my ninety-year-old grandma and congratulate my brother and his fiancée. I wanted to squeeze into Nanna’s house with countless cousins and bake pies without visiting the American Food store. I wanted to quote SNL’s “Back Home Ballers” and watch football with my dad. I wanted all of the familiar joy and gratitude of the holiday. How foolish I was to think I could only have that at home. 


Last week I celebrated no less than FOUR thanksgivings here in Uppsala. I celebrated with friends, roommates, colleagues and students and I ate more sweet potato than I am comfortable admitting. I laughed around a table with so many amazing people. I prepared my first turkey and didn’t give anyone food poisoning. I botched a pecan pie and then made a killer one. I shared in traditions new and old and broke bread with this family I have made for myself. And I regretted my poor, pitiful me routine.

In three weeks time, I will be celebrating Christmas at home with family and my petty homesickness will feel even more selfish than it does now. Truth is, our world is in a tough spot. There are families without a place to go home to, or families whose gatherings this holiday season will be a much more somber affair. There are many reasons to feel saddened or angered, many reasons to feel hateful or hopeless, but I am choosing gratitude. I have to.