Before You Decide to go Ice Skating on the Ocean…
February, in Sweden, is the month of Semlas—a delicious pastry (filled with whipped cream and almond paste) that can only be bought and enjoyed before Lent (this year on February 13th). At least that was the tradition. Now Semlas are so popular they can be purchased and enjoyed the entire month of February. At the bakery where I bought these tasty treats the young woman working behind the counter couldn’t tell me why they were sold exclusively in February, only that she thought it had something to do with Sweden having been a poor country–that the people needed a special treat to celebrate. (Okay, points for trying.) The fact is many of Sweden’s traditions are tied to religious practices that no one knows about anymore, yet the rituals continue. Here’s what I’m thinking…bring back Lent! These things need to go away. They’re so delicious it’s hard not to eat them knowing they won’t be around for long.
February is also the month for ice-skating. By now the lakes (and Baltic ocean) have a thick coating of ice and theoretically, it’s safe to strap a blade on your shoe and glide your way between islands—does that sound rational? We wanted to give it a go, so we headed to Stadium, an overpriced sporting goods store, to buy our gear. The boys bought traditional ice skates–the kind hockey players wear–but I bought the long blades that strap onto your boots. They’re lower to the ice and longer so you’re much more stable (at least that’s what people told me).
As recommended, we bought ice picks to hang around our necks in case we fell through. The idea is that when you fall in the mind-numbing cold water, you’ll have your wits about you to reach for these plastic do-das with a spike on the end and dig your way back out onto solid ground. We were also given the tip not to stand up right away, keep digging until you reach a safe distance. Can you feel the panic rising up in me as I’m buying ice picks for my children and myself?! And did I mention the rope? Yes, we bought a 25-foot rope. The woman at the store said it was “essential” to have it in order to toss it to whomever fell in.” Umm…just one question, “Who holds the rope??”
We played it safe and waited to go ice-skating until we saw other skaters making their way across the inlet. (Kinda like flies thinking it’s safe to land on flypaper, just because there’s lots of other flies.) But by mid-February I was confident that the weather we’d been enduring could have frozen the Mississippi; it had to be safe. So we walked down our hill to the wooden boat dock, put on our skates, and slowly (not gracefully) pushed out onto the ice. Cooper stood watching from shore, holding Maggie’s hand, shouting “Good Luck!” (I’m certain I detected some sarcasm.)
I stood shakily, looking down. There were cracks everywhere, some wide enough you could see through to the ocean below. Was this normal? A rush of heat prickled the back of my neck. With so many skaters out, it had to be normal, I thought, touching the ice picks hanging around my neck like a good luck charm. Micah and Malachi had been skating with their PE classes at school so they took off racing, laughing, having a good time. Between Jonah and I, it was a toss-up as to who was faring worse. I, at least, had poles to help balance myself upright (poles that I admit, I wouldn’t share). Jonah fell more, but by the end he could skate further and faster than me (which isn’t sayin’ much.) Here he is trying hard to look as if he’s having a good time. (What a trooper!)
What I didn’t count on was the ice being wavy, as if it was frozen mid current, which of course it was because the currents never cease. The longer blades were supposed to help keep me steady, but I’m not sure my Sorrels were cut out to double as ice shoes—they weren’t nearly tight enough around my ankles, which kept leaning toward one another.
Despite the utter terror of it all, seeing as how the sun was out and no one got seriously injured (and the rope stayed in my backpack), I dubbed it a success. Next year I’m even planning to go to the Stockholm Olympic Stadium where they offer free ice-skating lessons at noon. I’ll buy some better boots, work on my footing and who knows, maybe even sign up for the women’s Viking race that some of my friends did this year, skating for 30 kilometers from Sigtuna to Stockholm. Or maybe not.