Monday, June 06, 2016

Bye Bye Thyroid: One Year Later

I know, I know. You patiently wait for a blog post (or at least my dad does. Hi Dad!), and I finally post something and it's not even about an awesome oversea adventure. I will write one about my first year of grad school in the next week, but today we detour into non-adventure land. Well...not fun adventure land.

One year ago today, I got my thyroid removed.

It was my first major surgery, my first night in the hospital, and my first removal of an organ. So the anniversary is worth noting. Also, when I knew I was having surgery I wanted to see what the scars were like, and all I came across were horrible, horrible pictures. Like this poor woman:

Googling your upcoming surgery is like going to
WebMD for medical advice. It will be horrible.
And you've probably got cancer.

So, I figure I'd post mine for friends and family that might be interested, as well as poor scared people who might stumble upon these and be reassured that not all the scars are that big.

Plus, it's my blog and I do what I want. ;)

Roll the picture montage! (Also, this is officially the most selfies I've ever taken in my life.)

That's a face that says, "I'm scared shitless about surgery tomorrow. Let's take last pictures before I look like I had a botched decapitation." 

And that's a face that says, "Getting a tumor peeled off your trachea is not my idea of a good time."
Having friends come over and play Pandemic with you in the hospital, on the other hand, is a good time.

I'm still drugged enough I can muster a semi-smile for this picture before I go sleep another 18 hours.

The "Jesus, what the hell is wrong with your neck?!?" Stage. This would be why I wasn't allowed to lay back beyond a 45° angle for 2 weeks. That large lump o' swelling actually strangled me when I laid down. Fun times, fun times!

The "Not being able to leave my apartment when I don't have cable is lame" Stage. Also, some random bleeding.

Was still having dizziness problems, but otherwise out and about and back at work. Still got some funny stares.

Look at that cheeky grin! After patiently waiting for the bandage to decide to fall off like a good Anica, I was happy to see my scar. Looks like the more expensive surgeon was worth it. ;)

Swelling's almost gone (kinda), and the scar is looking good. Why do I look so miserable then? This is two weeks without any thyroid pills and one week into my low-iodine diet...aka Hell. 

Me today! Notice the slight change in wardrobe between Vegas June and Sweden June. :)
I usually think my scar is pretty obvious, but looking at the pictures, I think you can barely tell it's even there.

So, there you have it.

One thing I noticed: I've aged a LOT in the last year. I thought I had, but actually sitting here and looking through the pictures (including the less complimentary ones you aren't seeing)'s kind of depressing. I shouldn't be surprised - there was the cancer thing, with surgery and radiation, and then the moving to a foreign country just two weeks after, starting grad school, and the whole not having a normal thyroid level until just two months ago. Nothing stressful really that would age a person. ;)

At least I've always looked really young for my age, so I think I'm still under the 34 I'm supposed to be. My advice? Don't get cancer. It's just all sorts of a pain in the ass.

Alright, next post will include pictures of foreign lands, I promise. :)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

It’s an Anica-thing

In my six months in Sweden, I’ve noticed there’s two things I say rather frequently here, whether I’m talking to Swedes or other international students:

     1. “Well, it depends on the state…” when replying to some question about how something works in the US  
       (Most recent usage: Talking about age of consent)

     2. “That’s not an American thing, it’s an Anica-thing” when explaining something I do that is weird
       (Most recent usage: Me cooking bacon in water, which totally blew my corridor-mate’s mind)

Today we had an unexpected free day off from school – no lectures, no pressing projects or papers to write – just a day I could do whatever. As much as I am a nerd and love school, I do miss being able to just enjoy evenings and weekends without having to do any kind of work. (Or if I couldn’t, at least being paid, typically 1.5 times more, to have to do so. Much better than this homework racket.)

So what did I do, as a college student with a surprise day of freedom? I spent the entire day in the kitchen cooking things from scratch, of course! (It’s not really an American thing, it’s just an Anica-thing.) ;)

Does this have anything to do with Sweden? Nope, outside of that’s my location at the moment. I just love to cook and this seemed a good excuse to sneak in a picture of the beautiful lasagna I made I figured I’d share some pictures of just a normal day off here, lest you think I’m just sitting in Sweden all sad and depressed after my last post. 

Not the best pictures, since I wasn't planing on doing this and took them with my phone, but I'm just a food porn amateur. ;)


I actually started off cooking a bit on Monday, which was a day I needed to work on a presentation and read some papers, but didn't have any scheduled at school time, so I was free to cook too.

I made some marinara sauce, the recipe of which is one of the only good things from being on that low-iodine diet hell over the summer. It's just tomatoes, onions, garlic, fresh basil, salt, pepper, thyme, and oregano, pureed as much as humanly possible and simmered for 2+ hours to make it less itchy. (Mild tomato allergy - less cooked and chunks gives me a rash.)

The internet tells me that the air added in the pureeing
is why my sauce is always orange instead of red.
At least you can tell it's homemade then, right?

That batch gave me eleven 1½ cup servings, which is the perfect to make dinner and have leftovers for lunch.

Today though, I started off making some breakfast burritos. This is my third time making these, and they are amazing. I do a big batch and freeze them, and then have a delicious and nutritious breakfast that microwaves in 3 minutes. 

Oven roasted potatoes, eggs, bacon pieces, onion,
bell pepper, and a little cheese = deliciousness

As I've never been much of a morning person to begin with, and now I have to take my thyroid pill on an empty stomach and wait an hour to eat, breakfast was becoming a major problem before this. 97% of the time I end up eating one while walking to the bus stop.

My beauts ready for the freezer. Freeze on a cookie sheet first,
then when frozen you can dump in a giant ziploc without having
to worry that they'll freeze together.

After those went in the freezer, I also made some Italian sausage (not pictured), then took a lunch break and made a bacon cheeseburger with some of the bacon left over from the burritos. :)

Then the pièce de résistance: lasagna.

This was my first time making a real lasagna, and it is quite an undertaking, but the goal was to be able to have a bunch in the freezer for those I'm-too-tired/lazy-to-cook days. (I walk past a kebob place, McDonald's, and grocery store on my way home from the bus stop, and honestly most of the time I cave is because it's been a long day and I don't have anything easy to eat at home.) 

They do have TV dinners and frozen pizza here, but that's not much healthier. Besides, I had a piece of lasagna when I first moved here, and they make it very wrong (which one of the Swedes I live with concurred as he saw I was making it right, so there). Instead of ricotta they use a béchamel sauce. No.

Ready for the oven. Also, Swedish lasagna noodles don't have ridges.
It makes it easier to layer in the pan, but I kind of miss the
festiveness of the wavy sides.

I went all out for my first foray into lasagna: homemade marinara sauce with homemade Italian sausage, spinach, ricotta, parmesan, fresh basil, and fresh mozzarella I grated myself. And yes, I enjoyed myself immensely, especially when it came out of the oven...

Isn't she pretty?!?

Don't worry, not quitting my day job to become a food stylist.

Verdict: Thumbs up. Next time more sauce, and I'll mix the spinach in with the ricotta instead of a separate layer like the recipe called for. It should also let me get more spinach in there without really affecting the taste. It's still pretty good though, and earned the approval of the meat-eating population of my corridor.

After dinner tonight and lunch tomorrow, I've got 13 little healthy instant meals in my freezer. Funny thing is this sounds like a diet tips blog post - Just prep ahead and easily eat easy all week! - but it did take up pretty much the whole day and would not interest most people. Me, on the other hand? I had a ball. 

In case you don't believe that spending 8 hours in
a kitchen makes me happy. That's a proud,
dorky lasagna mama right there.

I may have missed my calling at being a housewife on a homestead.


The day ended with a special surprise from the grocery store that completed the evening. 

When I was a kid, there was this commercial for this fancy ice cream thing that I longed to try, but we never did. (It was probably too expensive.) For years, I've dreamed of this dessert: 


I didn't have the Fancy Feast glass goblets to eat it out of, but otherwise it did not disappoint. Kind of like a lasagna made with ice cream and thin chocolate layers. It's like part of my childhood is now complete. 

So there you have it, my random day off, from your weirdo friend. (See, life in a foreign land isn't all walking on cobblestone streets past 1,000 year old buildings and stuff. Sometimes you stay inside, after all.) 


Thursday, February 18, 2016

You can’t go home again

They always say you can’t go home again, that what you hold as memories and nostalgia for your past places of being is something that can never be returned to. It will only ever live in your memory, will never be a manifestation of reality again. You can try to go back, but you will just end up disappointed in the long run, because that home you yearn for no longer exists.

It’s a depressing thought, but one I’ve experienced before, with summer camp. It was the happiest times of my childhood, but no matter how much I miss camp, what it was for me is something that will never again be. I’ve revisited my old camp and felt wronged by the changes they made, felt saddened that the girls going there today were never going to know the experience I had. I’m sure the counselors that left the camp when I was young had the same feelings though. I spent twelve summers at a place that will be entering its 67th summer this year; the fact I have emotional investment is almost as guaranteed as the fact things will not be the same. That’s another thing they say though, right? The only constant is change.

I’ve been quite sad the last twenty-four hours, and it seemed to come from nowhere. I’ve spent all of today at home, in my pajamas. I slept over twelve hours, skipped Swedish class, and didn’t work on a paper that’s due sooner than I want to think about. I’ve cried at least four times today, one of which I kept asking myself, “What’s wrong with me?” It’s as if I was thrown heavily into deep PMS (only I’m on medication to prevent such atrocities), and it’s taken me all day to figure out what is wrong:

I’m homesick.

The worst part though, is I’m homesick for a home I can’t return to.

It’s multi-faceted, really. Part of me is homesick for my life in Vegas, your standard variety homesickness. Not for the city per se, because you know I have a love/hate relationship with my hometown, but for the comfort. I miss being able to buy ice cream at 2am or know where to get great Chinese food. I miss knowing what hikes I could go on to get away from it all to rejuvenate my soul. I miss driving away stress with the windows down, singing at the top of my lungs on a large stretch of deserted highway. I miss knowing a town so well.

More so I miss the friends I had there. With yet another friend getting an amazing job out of state (congrats Amanda, well deserved), it means there’s one less reason for me to ever go back. When I think of the friends I miss the most, the ones I keep in contact with regularly and would want to visit…there’s soon only going to be maybe three left in Vegas. Lots of old friends, coworkers, and places to see, but my base of closest friends now requires a cross-country road trip. Having those friends in one place is a home that doesn’t exist anymore, and won’t ever again.

Another thing not waiting for me in Vegas is my mom. Even though I’m going on 3½ years since she passed, there are still a lot of times when I really wish I could talk to her. When I was in Korea, especially towards the end when I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of my job and back home, we talked 2-3 hours several nights a week. Her practically nocturnal sleep schedule worked perfect for me living abroad, and I think I severely underestimated how important being able to call a friendly voice from back home is. With the 9-hour time difference, I’m stuck with weekend evenings for anyone not local.

As I’m making summer plans to go volunteer on organic farms, I think of how my mom and I talked about having a small farm someday. A cabin in the middle of the woods, with a cow named Bessie and two pigs named Bacon and Pork Chop. (I didn’t say we weren’t twisted individuals…) With her disability payments and Section 8 it was something that we might have been able to financially pull off. Now it’s just another dream that will never be realized. I guess you can also be homesick for a home that never was as much as one that has disappeared.

I’ll never be able to go back home to my mom, and that hurts. I used to call her when I was upset, and now writing has sprung up as a mediocre substitute. It’s a way for me to get it out to make me feel better though, so it’s become a habit.   

I know this is probably not what you want to read about. I only end up posting these, when I do, because sometimes I think you should know where my mind is. Fun adventures with amazing pictures that make you jealous I’m here and you’re stuck back home seem to be the norm. This certainly wasn’t what I was expecting to post on my 6 month anniversary of being in Sweden.

It’s life though, and my lack of posting is not all negative; as living here has become normalcy instead of a novelty, there’s less to share and less pictures to take. Contrary to what this break in several months of silence might suggest, I’ve been really quite happy the last few weeks.

But an adventurous life overseas is still a life. There’s ups, downs, happy accidents, disappointment, joy, the whole host of human experiences. They just come with a Swedish accent now.

I’ll post pictures again – there’s the visit to Iceland before I got here, events during orientation week, and Christmas in Prague to share, and spring break is just around the corner.

Today though, I really miss all of you, and I just wanted you to know.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Fall in Lund

According to the international student newsletter I get, today is considered the first day of winter and the traditional start of ski season up north. (I would say I agree, given the temperatures. Brr.) Before fall is officially over here in the southern part of Sweden, I thought I'd share with you what the season looks like here.

This is only my second time living in a deciduous forest, and when I worked in Vermont my job ended just before leaf-peeping season, so this is my first fall among leaves changing colors. I have to admit, I do like it - since traditional seasons have always been something characters experience in books but not what (my) real life was like, I feel like I'm living in my favorite novels from growing up. :) (I might even have my first white Christmas!)

Best part? You know all those nice, old buildings with the ivy crawling up them? Those change color too! :) 

I don't seem to be the best at taking fall color pictures, since I think everything looked prettier in person, but this will give you an idea. Enjoy!

(Yes, that building on the left looks like a castle. Just another day in Sweden, ho hum.)

This is the entrance to the Ecology building, where my classes are.

I don't know why, I just really liked this gate and the little tree.

This one was the most disappointing picture. The leaves were golden yellow and there 
were these bright red, contrasting berries that made it look really cool. Oh well. :)

These were my favorite, and I walked by them every day to get to class. The picture is a little better this time, 
but they're these amazing different shades of red that almost seemed to glow. Not sure what this plant is, 
but I want it in my yard when I finally get a house just so I get to see it in the fall.

The main school library, which is awesome enough in the summer.

But look at how pretty it gets in the fall!

Different angle, summer shot

Two weeks after the other fall shot. The ones that turned red first have fallen off (near the top), but now there's oranges in the mix too.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Tour of My Dorm obviously I'm still not good at this blogging on a regular basis thing. On the plus side I've been doing all my homework and getting good grades in school? :)

I've gotten your (not so) subtle hints that you want to hear/see more, so I'm going to try to make a concentrated effort to post at least once every two weeks. I don't know if I'll have enough interesting things to keep up that schedule; there was a massive amount of blog-worthy moments the first week or two, but now it's just becoming normal life. (That's right, the cobblestone streets and century old buildings barely earn my notice now. Such a terrible life I live.) I'll slowly go through and post pictures and details of some of the early stuff though, so I should have blog fodder for a while at least.

Anyway, enough apologizing - onto talking about my living quarters ala Sweden. :)

I chose to live in a dorm, or corridor as they call it here. Unlike the US, you don't have a roommate, which is a vast improvement on the dorm situation, and the rent is pretty cheap - I pay ~$350 a month total, and that includes internet and free laundry. I thought about a studio apartment, but decided against it because then I would just be in my fully contained room and never meet my neighbors, whereas a corridor I could mingle and get some culture and all. (Plus, it was cheaper.)

I opted for corridors that were a mix of Swedes and international students (why come to Sweden if you're not going to mix with the locals?), and had at least their own toilet, since I've decided that having to be decently dressed and walk down a long hallway to pee at 3am is not really something I wanted to do for two years.

I got placed in Parentesen, so named because our two buildings form a parentheses around a courtyard. It's got a really great central location, and I do really like the 19 other people that live on my floor. Most of them are Swedish, so I'm getting some of that culture I wanted, regular language immersion, and have people nice enough to explain what I can and can't recycle or translate the instructions on food packages. (Googling msk will not tell you it's the Swedish abbreviation of the metric equivalent of tbsp.)

That being said, there are definitely some things I really don't like about living here. First and foremost, I ended up in the party dorm...again. Which being the only non-drinker in the party dorm at 18 was fun enough; now I'm 33 and even less into the party scene. Lucky for me I have probably the quietest room location and sleep like the dead anyway, so it's really the fact that most Friday and Saturday nights I can barely access the kitchen that bugs me the most.

Which would be the thing I hate the most about living here, and probably something I should have thought about more - I miss having my own kitchen. A lot. The one here was downright disgusting when I moved in, but that's at least getting better and no longer induces rage every time I cook. (Which, if you've ever witnessed the constant dish-monster in my sink at home, is hilarious and somewhat hypocritical, but there's a big difference between my mess in my own space and other people's mess in a shared space. I'll have you know the longest one of my dishes have sat here was an hour.) :p Anyway, I think it bugs me a lot because I love to do big cooking on the weekend (I made pot stickers from scratch yesterday!) and the kitchen is at its worst weekend mornings after late-night shenanigans.

It's really not that bad though and I'm getting used to it. I'd say I'm happy living here 83% of the time, which is pretty good. I have been a bit of a hermit (my easy default), but I'm trying to spend more time in the common room. I think it'll be better once I start learning Swedish and can maybe understand some of the conversations. :)

So, what does this place actually look like? Well, let me take you on a tour!

Here's what my view looks like without the sun glare:

That about covers it, I think. Let me know if you have any questions, and I'll post again soon(ish). :)