Re-entering America.

We got back to the States on Monday and although in many ways I wish I could have stayed in Finland longer, I’m also incredibly thrilled to be back. Look: I’m wearing a t-shirt! That’s a welcome change. We missed a big chunk of fall so in a way it’s nice to be able to experience it after all.

My teammate Lauren was kind enough to let me join her at her brother’s house in Marblehead, Massachusetts on Monday night. He has three adorable kids and we enjoyed hanging out with them. Their house was right on the water, so I fell asleep in a big bed, with a room all to myself for the first time in weeks, listening to the waves outside. It was an amazing place to wake up on Tuesday morning, too. I snapped this shot of the morning sun off their front porch.

After the kids left for school and Skip and his wife left for work, we took a walk down to the beach. It was covered in beautiful smooth round stones, and chips of seashells. I even found a nice piece of seaglass. The tide was coming in and as we searched for our favorite rocks and shells, we would get splashed by the waves advancing ever-farther up the shore. Every time I go to the ocean, I realize that I love it. I just don’t get to spend much time on the water, but at some point in my life, I’m going to.

Then we went in to Boston to the Museum of Fine Art. We figured that we had been in the middle of nowhere and a little bit of culture would do us good. They had just opened the Art of the Americas wing, which was amazing. It was huge! We didn’t even make it through half the exhibit. Among the things we saw were a great collection of early American furniture; a gallery called “Arts of the New Nation” which included two huuuuuuuge George Washington paintings including “The Passage of the Delaware”; several recreated rooms from old houses, so that you felt like you were right there; some amazing pieces from New Spain, including intriguing objects from the Catholic churches; and the one that I think was me personal favorite, “Salon: Americans on the Grand Tour.” This gallery was literally crammed with paintings, placed like puzzle pieces on the walls. I could have spent so long in there looking at them, particularly the landscapes. I wish we could have stayed longer because there were so many things to see.

Now I’m in Virginia, visiting my father’s family. But that’s another story. My first 24 hours back in the States in Marblehead and Boston were absolutely amazing and I’m really grateful to Lauren and her family for putting me up.

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A Finnish Feast, Finally!

I was hoping that after sipping on this “country wine”, all of our boys would grow comparable moustaches to this jolly fellow. Unfortunately, the wine doesn’t appear to have any impact on their ability to grow facial hair.

Anyway! Last night we had a more delicious meal than usual, thanks to Dick and Judy’s generosity. Our benefactors had considered taking us out to dinner here in Rovaniemi to sample Lappish cuisine, but in the end it seemed like the cheaper, and more fun, option was to buy the ingredients ourselves and cook up our own feast. So that’s what we did.

Grocery shopping was a lot of fun. Dick and Judy took us girls with them and we spent at least an hour, it felt like, browsing every aisle of the “Citymarket” and finding all sorts of treats. Then, we came home and started cooking them up.

We started with appetizers. Three kinds of Finnish flatbread: a soft, white one; tougher, dark brown bread; and hard crackers. Three kinds of pickled herring: mustard, dill, and something with carrots in it that was nonetheless kind of purple in appearance. The mustard (sinapi) was my favorite, and the herring was overall much more delicious than the cheap canned variety we had tried earlier in the trip. Then, three kinds of cheese, including a soft, herbed one, something hard with a brown rind, and a huge, flat round of “squeaky” cheese which we heated up in a frying pan. It didn’t exactly taste like much, but when warm, it was completely delicious on the soft white flatbread. We had lingonberry jam as well as plain, unsweetened lingonberries, both of which were delicious. To top it off, we had an entire smoked salmon.

Why get a fillet when you can buy the whole fish? The outside was leathery and looked really cool. We had Dick carve it up for us, and the meat inside was incredibly delicious – much better than most vacuum-sealed fillets you can pick up. There was a lot of it, too. What a treat.

We wouldn’t have guessed this at the outset, but we had eaten so many appetizers that we barely had room for dinner. Dinner was delicious, too, though, so we just continued stuffing ourselves silly. Hannah had made nice rye bread, and we had mashed potatoes and roasted root vegetables: golden beets, parsnips, turnips, celeriac, carrots, onions, and garlic. The real show-stopper, though, was reindeer! We got some very thin fillets, and cut them into even smaller strips, then pan-cooked them with onions and wild mushrooms. It was beyond delicious. I think in a way I had almost been hoping that reindeer wouldn’t be that good, because then I wouldn’t have to live with the disappointment of not eating it more often. Well, at least if it’s cooked how Judy did it… I am sad not to eat that every day! But that’s what treats are, something you get to enjoy only on special occasions.

By the time we were done with dinner, we were complete stuffed and exhausted. We’d also been sipping a couple of local “wines” which turned out to be more like fruit liqueurs, or, frankly, Smirnoff Ice. They tasted like fruit juice and vodka, I’m not even kidding. With a ton of sugar and 15% alcohol, even a small glass gave us that sleepy feeling in combination with the ridiculous amount of food we had just consumed.

But we couldn’t stop. I had made cheesecake, using some frozen cloudberries, which are a bit like orange raspberries but taste completely different and unusual. I was nervous about the cheesecake because I’d made exactly one in my entire life and was all of a sudden throwing this together with no recipe, no measuring cups, and generally no idea what I was doing, but it turned out fine. I made the crust out of toasted hazelnuts and ground up digestive biscuits, and the cake out of a mixture of quark and mascarpone, with eggs, sugar, lemon juice, and cloudberries. I also made one of the cakes with only quark, which Ollie can kind of eat, unlike mascarpone, which wreaks havoc on his lactose-intolerant system. I also made a cloudberry sauce to go on top, but I liked the cloudberries much better in the cake than on their own.

Well. That about did it. We were useless and falling asleep for the rest of the night, content in our food comas.

Thanks, Dick and Judy, for allowing us to have an incredible feast!

Leaving Muonio.

This morning, after a cold, easy classic ski, we said goodbye to Muonio. We packed our skibags, packed our duffels, swept the floors with the funny little angled broom, and put the dishes to dry in the cupboard rack above the sink for the last time. Finally, we got in the car and drove away from Lomamaja Pekonen.

We had no idea what our living situation was going to be in Rovaniemi, but I knew I would miss the perfectly-designed little cabin, which really made the most of its tiny space. I’d miss the heated floor in the mudroom, the mini-sauna to dry your clothes in, and the cute little cup-size shelves over the stove.

Okay, so I wouldn’t miss the stove. It was a terrible electric two-burner system which took forever to cool off and burnt almost everything. I won’t miss that.

But almost everything about Muonio I already miss. I certainly miss the skiing. We were just beginning to explore the possibilities in Muonio – they were starting to groom the long trails to other hotels and ski areas, and Lauren and I had explored a new trail this morning. I had seen my fifth reindeer on the trail (the first four were all together), and I wish I could ski the high loop around the windmills one more time.

I even miss the racing. Yesterday I felt like I began to figure things out. It definitely wasn’t one of my best races ever, but it was just a normal race. I went out there and I skied, and I went pretty hard, and that was that.

I have never been an excellent early-season racer, but I think with a few races under my belt I might have the early-season blues out of my system (hopefully). Luckily, there are races here in Rovaniemi, but I wish I could keep racing against the better field from Muonio now that I’m feeling more confident.

Here in Rovaniemi, we’re back in a city. We’re definitely outside the city, but you can no longer walk out of your driveway and be anywhere in town three minutes later. That was nice.

As ski racers, we travel around the country and the world, rarely spending more than a week or ten days in each new place. It was a treat to get to enjoy Muonio for that long. But you learn that you can’t be too sad when you leave somewhere and head to the next race; you have to think of what was great about it, file it away in your memory, and then look forward to what’s next. If you really love it, you’ll make it back someday.

Will I make it back to Muonio? I’m not sure. Maybe I’ll come back to race here next year, and maybe I won’t. It’s not something I’ve decided yet. But my first experience above the Arctic Circle was a great and interesting one, and I want to come back to this circumpolar region in the future for sure. I’d like to explore more in the winter, and I’d like to see it in the summer, too, when it’s the land of the midnight sun.

Suomi love.

The consensus here is that Finland isn’t the most exciting place in the world. Which isn’t to deny that there might be much more exciting parts of Finland than Muonio, being in the middle of nowhere as we are, or that we aren’t actually excited to be here. We are!

But, well, things can be a little drab (just check the lighting in the photo above).

Nevertheless, there are things I love in Finland. First of all, the skiing. We were on great snow at the end of October, how cool is that?

Here’s a list of seven other things I love.

1) Sparks. Referred to in English as kicksleds, these things are sweet. They are the little red wagons of Scandinavia, only better. Every day we see old people kicking their sparks home from the grocery store, laden down with the night’s dinner ingredients. We also saw some very cool camoflage-bedecked high school students sparking home from school, which was awesome.

Photo: Nordqvist.fi

2) Nordqvist Tea. Our first black tea selection at the grocery store was “The Emperor’s Bride”, which despite its funny name turned out to be excellent. Excitedly, we finished the box so we could try more tea. Other varieties have names such as Faithful Friend, Tiger’s Daydream, Carribean Sun, and non-sequiturs like The Wisdom of Stay and Cheery Rainy Day. Carribean Sun is my current favorite; on the Nordqvist website, its picture is captioned with “Memories are like sand in swimwear.” Very profound.

3) Lingonberry Jam. On our first grocery outing, we bought a tub of Dronningham lingonberry jam, and it’s been one of the best things to happen to us so far. It goes on toast, in oatmeal, and even into the homemade applesauce I cooked to disguise some rather rubbery pork. You can find lingonberry products in the United States, but they are expensive. Here, they are commonplace, and that is a very good thing.

4) Sunsets (and sunrises). I think I mentioned this before, but because the sun hangs so low in the sky all the time, sunsets and sunrises last forever. They are beautiful. In fact, unless it is cloudy, the light is generally beautiful here. So maybe I should change this one to “The Light.”

5) Reindeer. On the drive to Olos, the ski area, we have seen reindeer crossing the road several times. Reindeer are pretty cool. They come in different colors! And the best thing about this was that the first time we spotted the reindeer, Hannah became completely frantic trying to catch a glimpse of them from her less-than-ideal seat in the van. Luckily, she managed to see them. If not, there would have been tears, I’m sure of it.

6) The Info Board at Olos. I didn’t realize I loved this until today, when it no longer displayed just the date and time, but some other messages as well. The information cycles through, with several messages in Finnish, several in English, and universally understood schedule for racing. My favorite message is posted below.

7) Life. Finally, as part of my new job for FasterSkier, I have had the opportunity to interview some really incredible athletes. The first of these interviews, with Swedish biathlete Bjorn Ferry, was posted today. Check it out. I have the best job in the world – or two of them, actually!

That’s all for now. I promise I’ll try to write more frequently.