Tuesday, January 31, 2012

LVBK at Örebro

The day began bright (only because the lights were on inside, the sun was still in hiding) and early at 7am. Malin drove Jo, Sofie, and I to Sunnerbohallen. The team loaded up the bus and we were off. We had been informed that we weren’t allowed to sleep past 9:30, and despite my initial intention to do so just to stick it to the man, I was unable to. I slept for about an hour and a half before I joined the waking world to watch Despicable Me. This is one of Jo’s favorite movies (and mine as well). We had to make two stops on the drive, the second at a mall where we spent a little over an hour to eat and hang out. Finally, after me becoming quite the PITA, we had arrived at the gym. We went on a brisk pre-match walk before heading into the locker room. The gym wasn’t anything special, and had really high ceilings with lights from the side angled to the court—perfect for blinding a hitter. I did manage to find a secret treasure in the locker room: a pretty pretty ring!! “Finder’s keepers, loser’s weepers!!!” Hey ohh!!!
The match was going to be tough, as are most of our travel matches. Despite beating them 3-0 at home, this was going to be a battle. We knew that they had a new professional player (their setter) in addition to a solid right side and American outside, so we would have to jump on them early in order to win. The match started out ugly with us losing the first set 20-25. Fortunately we were able to work through this tillsammans (“together” in Swedish). As the match progressed, we were moving better and better, but I think the biggest change was our mental game. We were able to maintain a steady focus and calmness throughout the last 3 sets, which is not usually the case. As Daniel said on our team website, “this gain was incredibly nice because we showed we can win even without playing at our peak”. We won the match 3 sets to 1: 20-25, 25-19, 25-22, 25-17. Jo led the team with points (20) thus earning the Best Player award of Sex and the City perfume and lotion box set. Malin and Jassi were the next two highest scorers with 13 and 12 points, respectively. It was a great match where we were able to secure another 3 points for our overall ranking in the Elite Serien. 

Monday, January 30, 2012

Procrastination: it's what I do.

As I sit here studying for the GRE’s analytical writing task, I am prompted to write a blog. Go figure. The first sample issue task states “as people rely more and more on technology to solve problems, the ability of humans to think for themselves will surely deteriorate.”

First things first, technological advancements have allowed the human race to do the unimaginable. Franklin got struck by lighting and discovered electricity. Alexander Graham Bell made a phone call. The Wright brothers flew a plane. Without these, and the countless number of other inventions, life today would be much more primitive and thus, limited. Instead of taking months or years for Newton to get hit on the head by the apple, we can today obtain information instantly via the world wide web; now even more so thanks to wireless and mobile internet. The Internet merely allows individuals the luxury of doing research immediately rather than looking it up the “old-fashioned” way. In a society that is focused on the idea that time is money efficiency is key. I know that some people prefer to do research through books, newspapers, periodicals; my grandfather is one of these people. I receive handwritten letters from him about once a month (since that’s how long it takes for us to write, send, receive, and reply to one another via snail mail) updating me on his day and upcoming events, which may actually be past events by the time I receive the letter, but that is neither here nor there.
One of my letters; yes, that's $20
I love getting these letters, and will be the first to admit that I value holding something tangible in my hands much more than reading something on my computer screen (hint hint). If you want my mailing address, send me an email and I’ll gladly send it your way 

Next, my sister and I recently implemented a Tuesday night Skype date. This is hopefully going to become a weekly occurrence to better allow us to stay connected to each other’s lives. Skype, or more specifically the Internet, here can be quite temperamental and has caused a bit of stress throughout my stay in Sweden, but at the end of the day, it’s the closet I’ll get to having real quality hang outs with my friends and family back at home, so I can’t hate it. I’ve also been able to FaceTime with a few of my co-Apple lovers out there, which is equally as exciting. My first solo FaceTime experience was with two friends who recently got engaged—CONGRATS AGAIN!!! I was in shock the whole time (about the FaceTime, not the engagement) and kept saying over and over “ohmygosh, ohmygosh, it’s you! Ohmygosh, there you are! It’s you” Once I had finally gained some composure, my friend’s parents walked in the room, and I repeated my previous lines again. After ending the conversation, I realized that we didn’t actually say anything productive. Then again, that’s no different from hanging out with me in person, so I guess it was successful after all.
Skype date with Erica <3
I know that there are many of you who will read this and instantly think “I want a Skype date!!” so if you are one of those people, check my schedule and email me when you’d like a date:
MONDAYS: 4am-9:30am PRACTICE 3pm-6pm
TUESDAYS: 4am-12:30pm PRACTICE 3pm-Kamryn’s skype date-6pm
WEDNESDAYS: 4am-6pm (times may vary as this is our free day from practice)
THURSDAYS: 4am-1pm PRACTICE 4pm-6pm
FRIDAYS: 4am-10am PRACTICE 12pm-6pm (evening times vary)
SATURDAYS: match days, times vary; usually any time after 12pm for home games
SUNDAYS: times vary
*all times are EST (aka Florida time zone)
**only practice/match times are set in stone so if you give me a time I can most likely make it

After reading the GRE prep booklet, I know that there is no “right” answer to these writing prompts, but they grade you instead on how well you can identify and address the issue, present your analysis, and support your point of view. I’m definitely going to fail.

Kids, this is your brain not on Ritalin. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Don't quit your night job...

As most of you know, Sweden has given Jo and I quite the surplus amount of free time. We initially solved this “problem” by agreeing to coach Ljungby Volley’s “B” team; however, they only practice during the evenings, which merely increased the amount of consecutive time we spent in Sunnerbohallen (the volleyball gym). We coach the team Monday and Thursday evenings before our own practices, and attend their matches when possible. Stefan, one of the girl’s fathers, is acting as coach throughout the season so the team always has an adult present. We have only been coaching the team since mid-November, but have already seen quite an improvement (and increase in numbers!). Both my dad and mom were able to come to practices this year and the girls seemed to enjoy having another American around to help out with advice. They are all really eager to learn and it’s been a great coaching experience overall.

After the New Year, we again expressed our interest in finding jobs to help occupy more of our time. The club spoke with a few sponsors and found that one was able to have us come to help in their factory. Thus, Jo and I have recently begun working at a local graphic productions company called JOMA, GP. We like to refer to it as “JoMeg”. Unfortunately, part of our visa/immigration to Sweden limits us legally working to only playing or coaching in the volleyball club, so instead our work for JoMeg must be part of the company’s sponsorship of the team. Either way, we were pretty excited to begin our factory jobs!

We've only worked 3 days so far, but things have been going pretty well. I started as a lamination specialist while Jo was working as a plastic wrap technician; terms coined by Jo and I, of course. I spent the first day and a half as an LS but upon completion of this task, I joined Jo as a PWT. We photo-documented a play-by-play of Jo's daily job as Plastic Wrap Technician. Sort of tutorial-esque fashion, in case any of you ever desire to go into this line of work. Keep in mind we are trained professionals and you should not try this at home.

Step One: grab stack of handouts

Step Two: slide handouts into the plastic wrap

Step Three: carefully slide handouts onto the grill

Step Four: press the green button
**Note: do NOT press the red button

Step Five (a): remove excess plastic wrap
Step Five (b): remove excess plastic wrap 
Step Six: repeat
As you can see, this job is quite tedious and requires a meticulous eye. If done incorrectly, you can face dire consequences such as steam in the eye, burned fingers/arms/clothes, cuts and abrasions, etc. This job cannot be taken lightly. After joining Jo on this task, I was switched to Postmaster on Friday. I labeled, stamped, stuffed, and sealed over 200 envelopes in just under 2.5 hours. Check out my super sweet workstation:

My postmaster's station
We ended all of our assigned tasks about 45-minutes early, so we were sent to the back of the factory (!) to help tape up boxes. We assembled those boxes and taped them like champions, leaving nothing but a box maze as a trail. 

Tape Master
We got boxed in...
 Until next time, JoMeg out!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Rematch: LVBK vs Gislaved

Our first home match of 2012 would be against our biggest Elite Series rival, Gislaved. We had spent the whole week in preparation for this match and were ready for revenge, as they had beaten us in the Elite Series premier match 1-3: 17-25, 18-25, 25-20, 22-25. The Lagan Floorball team came to help support our team for this match, complete with drums and vuvuzelas. We wound up having just shy of 500 fans, which I’m pretty sure is a Sunnerbohallen record. The gym was packed and full of energy as we began warming up. 
In set 1, Gislaved jumped to an early 2-8 lead, but we managed to come back and fight point-for-point with them, finally winning 25-23. Set two had a similar trend, with Gislaved starting out strong, but this time they never allowed us within 3 points, allowing them to take set 2: 19-25. So far in the match, we had been forced to earn many of our own points, while we were able to help Gislaved off the hook with some of our own unforced errors. 
During the 10-minute break, our team recomposed and came back to the court strong, leading throughout the set to win 25-21. The fourth game was ours, as we led at 8-4, 16-11, 21-19, finally having match point with a comfortable 4-point lead. Unfortunately we were unable to close this set, similar to our match against Engleholm, and Gislaved was able to force a 5th and deciding set after winning 25-27. 
The biggest different in the 4th set was that we had to make 21 of our 25 points, while Gislaved only had to make 17 of their 27 points; meaning we gave them 10 “free” points from serving and hitting errors, while they only gave us 4 “free” points. If we were able to minimize our own mistakes, then there is no doubt in my mind that we could have won the match in 4 games. 
The 5th set was back-and-forth, with neither side breaking away until about 10-points, where Gislaved went on a solid run, and finally took the match 11-15. This was a real heartbreaker. Despite the support from our fans, and the huge amounts of energy they brought to the court as our “7th man”, we could not mentally close the match. On the bright side, because the match went to 5-games, we were able to gain one point. It was a great game and a lot of fun, however disappointing the end result was. Hopefully we can learn from this match and turn it around in our favor next time we are in this situation.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

LVBK at Svedala

January 7th was a relatively stressful weekend for me, as my mom was trying to get from Innsbruck, Austria to Munich, Germany, and then up to Copenhagen, Denmark so she could come visit me for a few days here in Sweden. Unfortunately, there was a blizzard in Austria, thus creating a terrible domino effect. She was unable to make her originally scheduled flight, which meant she would miss her train over to me. She called me in a panic and asked me to contact the people at AirBerlin and reschedule her flight for the next day, but since my name wasn’t listed on the ticket, I wasn’t allowed. I called my dad via FaceTime (thank God and Steve Jobs for this amazing technology) while mom was in transit from Innsbruck to Munich to try to figure out the best plan of getting her up to me. 
Oh, did I mention that Thursday and Friday were “holidays”? I say this is quotations strictly because here in Sweden they call January 6th a red day, which means they are free from work, but some places also allow you to leave work early on Thursday; whereas in most of Europe only Epiphany is celebrated (Jan 6). I not only had Mother Nature working against me, but also the three wise men. Note: Epiphany is the Christian holiday that celebrates the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God in human form, as commemorated by the visit from the Biblical Magi to Baby Jesus. 
The girls on my team were so helpful during this time, as my mom was going to need to rebook her flight on AirBerlin (the airline man was NOT helpful at all), rebook a train in Copenhagen (which she would have to do on her own), and then find a way to get to our match on Saturday from Malmö to Svedala (good luck). Luckily, Julle’s parents were driving and offered to pick my mom up from the Malmö train station. My mom had landed in Copenhagen before our team even left Ljungby for the match, so she had quite a bit of time to kill at the train station. Despite her many attempts to call me (AT&T lied about having the fewest dropped calls), we finally were able to piece together a conversation long enough to figure out where and when she could meet Julle’s parents. 
Jo and I cheesing -- photo courtesy of Mom
A few hours later, we were reunited in the Svedala volleyball gym! It was a great match for her to come to, and definitely felt great to have a familiar voice cheering (and sometimes booing) me from the stands. Our team struggled initially, but was able to win 3-0: 25-20, 25-21, 25-21, successfully sweeping Svedala in both matches this season! We were pumped to gain our first road victory of the season. 
Random side note: one of the new professional players on Svedala's team is a Canadian player whom I had played against while in Hungary. She had taken the fall off, but had recently been placed here in Sweden. Talk about a small world! 

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

LVBK's January Match Schedule

Ljungby Volleybollklubb has a full month of matches ahead of us during January. Luckily for me, I will have at least one guaranteed fan from home at our first match as my mom is coming to visit me for a few days after wrapping up the New Year’s Bash tour. She will be able to travel with the team and watch me for the first time as a professional volleyball player! I’m really looking forward to showing her around the town and spending more time with her like I got to with my dad while he was here for Thanksgiving – but back to the team.
Current Elite Series Rankings
Our spring opener, because now we are in 2012 and thus we call it the “spring”, will be January 7th in Svedala. We are currently ranked 8th in the Elite Series, with a record of 2-7, while Svedala is 10th with a record of 0-9. We played Svedala at home on November 5th, defeating them in 3 sets: 25-15, 25-9, 25-15. Svedala is located in the southern part of Sweden, near Malmö, and will take us about 2 hours to get there. We will meet Gislaved (ranked 5th, record of 5-4) on January 14th in our home gym. We lost to Gislaved in our season opener on October 15th: 17-25, 18-25, 25-20, 22-25, and are looking for revenge, as they are our biggest rival. Julle, Malin, and Jassi played for them in the past, and Jocke was once their coach. On January 22nd, we travel to play against Örebro (ranked 9th, record of 1-8), about 4 hours north of Ljungby. We defeated Örebro at our place in 4: 25-19, 19-25, 29-27, 25-19Our final match for the month will be on January 25th against Hylte/Halmstad (ranked 6th with a record of 5-4). We lost to them at their place in 5: 26-28, 25-21, 25-22, 23-25, 17-19. We had many possible match points in both the 4th and 5th sets, however we were unable to close the match. Hopefully playing on our home court will prove to our advantage against both Hylte and Gislaved and we can pull through with two more home victories.
LVBK's Match Schedule and Results
This winter, we had many illnesses and injuries, and the New Year has been no exception. One of our outside hitters, Lisa, had gotten the flu towards the beginning of December, which turned into double pneumonia and then resulted in her popping on of her ribs out of place and a loss of about 7 kilograms (roughly 15 pounds). She has been on medication and seriously limited by her doctor and is just now able to begin walking and light stationary bike riding. Our Polish middle, Asia, has really injured her knee, and was unable to fix a doctor’s appointment before winter break. She is back in Poland and hopefully is getting her knee looked at; however, we have been informed that she will most likely not be ready to play again until the end of January, pending on the doctor’s findings. Another outside, Malin, who is “always cold” - refer to the Borås Cup Tournament blog for that whole ridiculous story - has managed to have almost 4 colds this winter. This last one has hit especially hard, and she was prescribed penicillin and informed to not practice until she was feeling better. A day after getting checked out by her doctor, this same doctor was fired/quit and Malin was told that this prescription was incorrect for her ailment. Now we are hoping she can train by this weekend, but not expecting her to be back full force until next week. As some players miss trainings, others are required to step up and take over their responsibilities and have done so to the best of their abilities. Many players have been playing new positions, which will hopefully prove to be beneficial as those missing from the team come back and add more depth to our positions.
This month has a lot of promise for LVBK to come out with some W’s. I hope everyone at home can keep their fingers crossed (or “hold your thumbs” as they say in Sweden) and send all the good vibes our way.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Ciao Bella!

Tuesday morning, we woke up, finished packing and were ready for transport to Venice. Steve, one of the army guys who had spent the past two days with us, came over to drive us to the airport. I think he seriously underestimated our packing abilities, when he pulled up in his 2-door European car. His stereo system bass took up half of the trunk, which left us seriously limited in where the bags would all fit. Eventually we were folded into position and, with a large suitcase across our laps, Kam and I were shoved in the back seat. The drive was luckily less than 30 minutes, but still just long enough for my butt to completely fall asleep.
We unloaded the car, stretched a little, and headed inside to find Karla (aka Chardonnay) and her daughter Amanda waiting for us. We got our bus tickets and headed into Venice. Karla's husband had been able to reserve us a Hilton hotel on his reward points, so we were on a mission to find the hotel. The airport bus took us to Piazzale Roma, the main bus station where most tourists enter Venice.
Wandering through the streets of Venice
Instead of walking towards the main sights (Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco), we headed through Dorsoduro towards Carmini and then continued on to Zattere, one of the courtesy Hilton water taxi stops. The walk was tiring, as we all were carrying our week's worth of luggage with us over bridges and through these small alleyways. Despite having a map, we still found it necessary to ask the various passerby for directions.
Finally at Zattere!

Finally, we had found our water taxi stop! Amanda and her mom were feeling the impact of the time change, as neither were able to sleep much on the flight across the Atlantic. We knew it was important to try to keep them awake so they could sleep as normally as possible tonight, so we pointed them in the direction of a cafe for some hot coffee. Our hotel rooms were not quite ready, but we were allowed to go to eat and relax in the executive lounge--thanks, Mr. Joe--where we enjoyed free wifi. About an hour after we arrived, Kam was sent back towards the airport to pick up another friend, Derek. She waited on the dock for about an hour, while we were all upstairs in the room admiring the view.

View looking straight out from our hotel room
The tall tower with gold on top is in Piazza San Marco
Kam waiting on the dock to get Derek
While she was away, Amanda, Karla, mom and I wandered around the Guidecca Island on which our hotel is located. It is across the Guidecca Canal from the main island of Venice. Amanda was enthralled with the hanging laundry down practically every street.
Me, Amanda, Karla
Mom and I in Venice

We ventured in to one of the mask shops, which greatly creeped me out, before continuing on our little adventure. We were able to get an awesome view of Piazza San Marco aka St. Mark's Square from across the canal.
Masks in Venice
Piazza San Marco//St Mark's Square
After wandering what felt like the whole island, we stopped in a grocery store to make some wine purchases for under €2!! This is unbelievably cheap for alcohol compared to that in Sweden!
Karla, Amanda, and I in Venice
Amanda and I
Mom and I on one of the bridges in Venice
We wandered back to the hotel so Amanda and Karla could rest a little, while mom and I checked email and Facebook for updates about the tour groups that would be joining us the next day. Kam and Derek finally arrived and were starved, so they joined me for some snacks in the executive lounge before we all reconvened and headed across the canal to Venice for dinner.

Amanda, Karla, mom, and Derek on the water taxi
Karla, Kam, mom, Derek, Amanda and I in St Mark's Square//Piazza San Marco
Me, Mom, and Kam on the Rialto Bridge
The meal was simple, but delicious, and much needed for the three travelers. We enjoyed sightseeing around Venice at night, and Amanda, Karla, and Derek were eager to see the hustle and bustle of the city during the day. We returned to the hotel for a few glasses of wine, complimentary in the executive lounge. Karla and Amanda were able to Skype with their family at home, while the rest of us were Facebooking and checking emails again to check our last minute schedule changes.
That night, mom's phone went off two different times with news from kids on the tour group informing her about flights being delayed and rescheduled. Luckily I would be leaving in the morning around the same time the first group arrived, so we could all go to the airport together. Unfortunately, the next morning, we missed the 10am free water taxi, so I had to say my tearless goodbyes at the hotel and begin walking to the public water taxi to get across the canal so I could begin my journey back to the airport. Over an hour later, I was finally at the Piazzale Roma and on the bus to Aeroporto Marco Polo ready to begin my journey back to the dark side, aka Sweden.

Christmas Day//Boxing Day

The last two days at Piper's house were fairly low key. Both Christmas Day and "Boxing Day" (Dec 26) were spent with all of us playing with our new gifts and relaxing, just enjoying our last few days together. Christmas Day, Piper and Ana spent most of the day cooking, tonight we were having a typical American dinner (ham, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, corn bread) and a delicious Hispanic meal of pork, Spanish rice, and black beans. Did I forget to mention the homemade apple pies?
Kamryn, Felix, and I were outside for a few hours, relishing the warmth and sunshine (I don't quite get enough of either of these things living in Sweden). We played baseball, tossed the hackie sack, and then went for a walk. I loved being out in the bright air, despite my eyes constantly watering any time I tried to steal a glance at the sun.
Hackie Sackin' in the backyard
Once back at home, Rob offered to take Kam and I on base so we could visit the commissary. On base, they have a lot of American food options and grocery stores, so I was eager to get a Gatorade and a few other American luxuries that we don't have in Sweden. He drove us around the base, showing us where he works, the barracks, and other offices. He was able to explain a lot about his division to me, since I am completely ignorant of anything besides the main branches of the US Military. Apparently within the US Army, there are "subdivisions" such as infantry, calvary, armored, mountain, airborne, airborne brigade combat, and armored calvary. There are also special operations units: special forces, rangers, special operations, special operations aviation, military information, etc. Also, I had no idea that the numbering system had been in place, for some units, since WW1. After our relatively quick trip around the base, it was time to head home and get ready for dinner.
Everyone gathered in front of the TV for A Christmas Story
That night, we watched A Christmas Story as one big happy family, plus two of Rob's army friends (Chester and Steve) and two of Steve's Italian friends (I have no clue what their names are).
Me and Kam playing with Photo Booth on the iPad
The next morning, Piper, Rob, Ana, and Felix headed out on a 6-hour drive south to Rome, while mom, Kam and I stayed at their place. We had to be in Venice the next morning to meet up with three of our friends that would be staying in Europe to go on tour with the New Years Bash.
So relaxing
We lounged around, doing laundry, and packing our bags so we could be prepared for our early morning. Luckily, dad and I were able to figure out FaceTime and we were able to talk to him, Grandma, Grandpa Bill, Aunt Debbie, and Uncle Wayde a little bit.
Grandpa Bill and Grandma rubbing in our faces the delicious Cuban breakfast at Tulipan
We watched a few movies before finally settling in for the night. Tomorrow we would be leaving Vicenza behind and heading over to Venice.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Christmas Eve in Verona

Christmas Eve took us to Verona, the home of William Shakespeare's famous love story Romeo and Juliet. Again, we loaded up two cars around 10am and headed over towards this historical town; this time, the cousins were in one car: Piper, Kam, Felix, and myself, while mom joined Rob and Ana in the 2nd car. Verona is known by Italians as piccola Roma - Little Rome.
Kam, mom, and I in front of the Verona Arena
We parked, and headed out into the main center Piazza Bra, literally running right into the Verona Arena. The arena was built in 30 AD and is the 3rd largest in Italy. From here, we wandered down Piazza della Erba, one of the main shopping streets, towards Casa de Giulietta (Juliet's house). Juliet Capulet is a fictional character created for Shakespeare's play Romeo and Juliet, however, the balcony in Verona has turned into a tourist attraction complete with a bronze statue of Juliet. Naturally we visited Juliet's balcony and took many pictures rubbing her right boob, as they claim this will help give you good luck in your future love endeavors.
Kam and I feeling up Juliet
Along the walls entering her house, there are names etched into the stone, as some believe that this will allow their love to be everlasting. It is also traditional to write a letter to Juliet and leave them in her basket with hopes that the Club di Giulietta will write you back, like in that stupid Amanda Seyfried movie Letters to Juliet.
We continued our journey through the city, making our way past a few large churches as we headed towards Romeo's house. Despite the plaque on the side of the building that states this as Casa de Montague, this house is still occupied and thus never open for visitors. Disappointed, Mom, Kam and I decided to stop for some coffee while the rest of our group went in to view one of the churches.
Sign at Romeo's house
Yummy coffee
We continued down the street behind the church to check out the view of the Adige River from the San Giorgio Stone Bridge. Our day was coming to a close, and we were all eager to get home to begin our Christmas festivities that evening.  
Mom, Kam, and I on San Giorgio Stone Bridge
Kam and I taking a rest on the "art" placed around town
Back at home, we were getting into the Christmas spirit. We all ate some eggnog and snacks before we were heading out to Villagio della Pace (Village of Peace), where many of the families that are posted at Caserma Ederle (the army base) live, for a few hours of Christmas caroling. Rob, Ana, Felix, Piper, mom, Kam, and I met up with three of Rob's army friends: Chester, Steve, and Lacy. We printed out about 8 different carols and headed on to the base-housing.
O' Christmas Tree! Kam, Felix and I
Finally, returning home, we showered, ate a little, and then were ready to begin our countdown to midnight when we would be allowed to open presents, as it is officially Christmas Day (December 25th). After opening our la Befana stockings -- la Befana is an old woman, looking similar to a witch, who delivers presents to children around Italy on January 5. Piper had made us each our own stockings and filled them with candy and other small goodies. 
My sister had opened all her presents from mom and dad at home before she flew to Italy, so she was limited to the few gifts from Piper and myself. Aunt Susan, Piper's mom, mailed over a surprise package that the three cousins (Piper, Kam, and I) were to share. It was a photo album containing old family pictures of our grandparents, aunts, uncles, and of course our parents. It was unbelievable to see how much everyone had begun to look like themselves at such a young age; not to mention how eerily similar my sister and some of our other cousins look to the pictures of our younger, now aged, relatives. All in all, this was an awesome Christmas.
Me, Kam, and Piper looking through the family album

Day trip to Marostica and Nove

The second day, we were up by 8:30 and ready to head to the nearby towns of Marostica and Nove. Piper, mom, Kam, and I loaded up one car, while Rob, Felix, and Ana were in the other. After one sneaky roundabout, we managed to get separated, and instead of reconvening, Rob opted to show his mom around the army base and other local sights, while us girls continued on with the day's plans. 
Kam and I in Marostica
In Marostica, there is a huge walled castle area that hosts a biannual medieval festival in September. In every September of each even year, there is a live chess game where people are used as the chess pieces played in the main square. The story tells of two men who were fighting for the king's eldest daughter. Rather than having them duel, resulting in a potential death, the king held a giant chess match between the two suitors. The winner was awarded his oldest daughter's hand, while the loser was given the youngest daughter. This story was written by an Italian comedy writer after the second world war, and thus the town adopted it into part of their culture.
Kam, Piper, and I at the upper castle in Marostica
We walked up to the upper part of the castle to take in a view of the city below. It was absolutely gorgeous, despite the smog and dust in the air. We hiked around and visited a few churches in Marostica before heading down to the city for lunch. I love Italian food!! Mom and I split chicken and rice with veggies and a huge Greek salad. Most Italian shops and stores close between noon and 3:00pm, so we spent a long time in the restaurant eating before finally a few of the stores were reopening.
View looking down to Marostica
We drove over to Nove, a small town that is famous for its ceramic industry. One of the largest store is La Ceramica VBC; apparently this local ceramic shop, along with its partner store Ancora, are the same designers that are used for Tiffany, Lenox, Williams Sonoma and Pottery Barn. Luckily we were at the original manufacturing store, so it's ridiculously cheaper than if we had bought these items in the States.
Some of the ceramics 
After a great afternoon, we headed back home to rest before a delicious family dinner of homemade Hispanic food made by Ana.

Hej Då, Sverige; Benvenuto, Italia!

Jo, Joel, and I left Ljungby around 8:30am to begin our drive to the Copenhagen Airport. The car was ready and waiting for us at Holmgrens, so we had no problems getting on the road. After the almost 2-hour drive to Malmö, we hopped on the train to take us to the airport (it's about 200 kr cheaper than driving across the bridge or taking the ferry). My flight was leaving at 12:25, so I was able to check in, but Jo wouldn't be leaving until around 3, so she wasn't able to. We had a few minutes to spare before I needed to head through security, so we took our first Starbucks fika; thank God for the holiday blends! We bid each other farewell, and I went to security. My first flight was to Amsterdam, and only took about an hour and a half. I had an hour layover, but thankfully the airport had free wifi so I was able to talk to my parents and boyfriend a little bit to help pass the time. Before I knew it, I was finally boarding my next plane and on my way to Venice!
Piper and family (her husband Rob, their son Felix, and mother in law Ana) were sightseeing around Venice for the day, and wound up being a bit behind schedule in picking me up. An hour after I landed, Rob came into the airport, grabbed my stuff and we drove back to their home in Torri Di Quartesolo. Back at her apartment, I was able to relax and unpack before enjoying my first (!) margarita :) The salt here had "margherita" on the label, which naturally meant that tequila is the only thing that this particular salt should be used for. I had been in Italy for less than 2.5 hours and already amazed! Felix (my cousin's son) informed me to not be too excited, because this amazement would last much longer than two hours.
Yummy Margarita!!
Later, I had an interesting conversation with Felix about his current love triangle. You see, he loves Bridget, but unfortunately Bridget is "dating" (whatever that can possibly mean for a 4th grader) Felix's best friend Alex. Felix told me he had protected Alex from bullies a few times, and thus he "had his back". I made a comment about him following guy-code of bros before hoes, but Felix preferred it to be called bros before does, as in female deer. Throughout the conversation, I noticed his eyes wandering which naturally distracted me, as I was wondering what he was looking at. Had I spilled something? Was I sweating? No no, my friends. My ten year old cousin was staring at my boobs. This has NEVER happened to me before and thus, because this is how all things in my life happen, my second cousin was the first to notice. I'm not sure that he truly realized what was happening, or that he was doing it, but either way, I was shocked.
The next morning we headed back into Venice to pick up my mom and my sister. We were running a little behind schedule, again, but this time it was due to a car accident on the autostrada. The Garmin was a bit confused about our arrival time.
Arrival time: 10:33, Actual time on the clock: 10:34
I was sooo excited to see them, even as my mom walked out of the terminal like a diva-complete with brand new shades and oversized purse. I jumped into my sister's arms and latched on like a leech. She loved it. We drove out to Piper's and spent the afternoon around her town, going on walks and relaxing. Our first day together was relatively low key and didn't have us doing too many crazy activities. We walked around the town and enjoyed our first evening together. It was a great start to our family holiday in Italy!
Kam, Piper, mom, and me