Tuesday, December 30, 2008

To Fred, Limhamn, Sweden

There are many things I could write, today.

But I'd like to propose a moment of silence in honor of the man who originally found Phil and offered the contract in Sweden. He died two days after Christmas, 2008. Phil just got word yesterday.

We are thinking of Fred's family and feeling like there was so much left unsaid and done.

We owe the joys of discovering Sweden to Fred.

(He's the man in the orange shirt, sitting next to his wife. One of his daughters wears a striped red and black dress, the other holds the dog. This photo was taken on the day we celebrated an American Thanksgiving together at Fred and Kathryn's home November 2007).

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An old Christmas Letter (2007) I neglected to send out

It's the time of year to send Christmas cheer to friends and family. For the last few years, I've been including a newsletter tucked into the cards (or just an envelope, depending on the stress level). I was re-reading some of my letters to determine how to start this year's letter when I found this which actually went out to only one person (who doesn't read this blog). The letter is full of comments on events that some of you may enjoy reading.

Please bear with me as I work on THIS year's letter while posting one from last year (written before the Easter letter post in Feb/Mar 2008):

January 2008

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13 N.I.V.)

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:1-2 N.I.V.)

Dear Friends,

Here’s to your health, your search for meaning and for the New Year! We hope this wordy note finds you feeling better than we were at Christmastime. We were lying around coughing, blowing and shivering. It was supposed to be some kind of fulfillment of every man’s dream that we make a temporary move to Sweden. And it is, except when it doesn’t feel dream-like, like when we’re sick for a week and more, the money keeps running out, the weather is bleak and we haven’t made many friends. (We do attend an International Church in Malmo, and we enjoy our neighbors).

From our U.S. Pacific Northwest perspective, it feels like we have spent the year seeking the One Who lives and reigns at the right hand of God and in the hearts of those who seek Him. We’ve even tried traveling “far and wide” on such a search, but we had no idea how far those travels would take us and how many ways we would find Him.

The only travels we had in mind would be a Work and Witness trip to La Esperanza-Chilatz, Guatemala, to help build a large church. We had no idea what we would do, since we are not great builders and Hunter is such an independent little one. Phil brought some computer gear and I brought Hunter and a camera. Phil proved himself indispensable. I proved to be a near nuisance with my camera, and enjoyed hitching rides in the back of small pickup trucks into Cobán to find an internet cafe. Hunter played with other children, chased chickens and ate heartily of the delicious meals. His blond, curly hair, blue eyes, and fair skin were such a curiosity that he learned to endure being touched, petted and pinched by many hands at once. We look up to the lovely people of that community, as they sacrificially worked for our comfort and care and for the Lord. They did this on top of carrying bags of dirt and sand on the men’s backs and buckets-full on the women’s heads up a steep hill, back and forth, for the leveling of the new church floor, water jugs on their backs for the cement along with carrying on their daily lives. Miracle upon miracle resulted from the prayers and work and we are grateful to have some small part and to have made many more friends.

After that trip, Phil realized he had saved up enough frequent flier miles for us to keep our promise that we would someday visit Marília and her family in Sao Paulo, Brazil (our exchange student 2005/06). He promptly saved seats for the whole family to go in the summer (Natassja ended up backing out because of the time commitment). We went about our days as they came.

Some highlights: I got to be a featured poet at an advertised local reading, Ana got a job at MacDonald’s and Phil had to put Seth, the family dog, down due to a tumor in his chest. Phil received a promotion to the management level at F5 networks, something he had dreaded ever doing, but accepted for the sake of helping his supervisor and the company. In May, Ana turned eighteen and graduated from high school (Hooray!) and I decided to put in my resignation as a substitute teacher to pursue travel writing and photography and spend more time with Hunter.

Phil was increasingly restless about his management duties so that I asked him if he hated them. “I really do,” he said. I asked what he really wanted to do. “I want to go back to Consulting.” That night we told the Lord about Phil’s desire and asked for guidance. The very next day, Phil received an e-mail from an old consulting client. We continued to pray, but Phil accepted the proposal that he fly to Sweden to look over the project. He visited Sweden the week before our trip to Brazil. Meanwhile, I was happily painting a big mural of Mica Bay in a basement room of one of my friend’s housekeeping clients—my first mural for pay. Ana moved out in July.

At the end of July, we flew to Dallas, Texas, for an overnight layover on our way to Sao Paulo. We enjoyed our time in the city, slept well and blissfully arrived at the airport in time to check in and wait for boarding to Sao Paulo. However, we were stopped at check-in because we did not have the necessary visas for entry in Brazil. The travel agent threatened to put us back on a plane to Idaho. Our hearts sank. Ana cried. Phil set his mind and face, saying, “book us on the next flight to Sao Paulo” (two and a half days away) “and we’ll go to the nearest Brazilian consulate to set things straight.” The travel agent shook her head with pity and doubt, but did as Phil asked. We called Marília, who had already waited at the Sao Paulo airport for six early morning hours, that day, to tell her the bad news. She said, “Call me if you end up really coming,” and hung up to go back to sleep. I prayed under my breath, “Please, Lord, go before us.” We were in Houston that night and, miraculously, returned two and a half days later for our flight with visas in hand—normally a nine to thirty day process. When the travel agent saw us come in, she dropped everything to exclaim her surprise that we were back and quickly asked to see the passports. As she processed our boarding passes and luggage, she continued to squeal about the miracle of our success. Our time with Marília and her family was incredible. They spoiled us with great food, loving hospitality and whatever we could possibly want to do (while shamelessly spoiling Hunter)! We are thankful for our beloved friends in Brazil! And we are thankful to the Lord for making it possible for us to be with them.

Phil decided that it was difficult to work full-time and moon-light, so he quit his job at F5 at the end of September to begin consulting full-time. No sooner had that happened, than the Swedish company asked that Phil temporarily MOVE to Sweden for ready availability during the approximately six month project. I surprised Phil when I told him, “Let’s go!” but asked to leave no earlier than November. That was two months ago. Our home is still North Idaho, but Securitas is renting a lovely home for us in southwestern Sweden in the village of Höllviken, approx. 30 minutes south of Malmö, where Phil commutes each day.

We’re still shaking our heads. What a year! With Natassja living and working in Seattle, Ana out on her own in the Coeur d’Alene area, and quitting my subbing job, the timing could not have been better. It even seemed beneficial to my new start at travel writing. Starting a new business is always a bit of a struggle, especially financially, but we are surviving and learning to be resourceful (because Sweden is surprisingly expensive). Hunter and I are bonding more than ever.

As if that were not enough, Phil recently attended meetings in Israel and took us along. With the help of the Regional Coordinator, Lindell Browning, we were able to go into Bethlehem and see the cave in the basement of the Church of the Nativity, where Christ is thought to have been born. This, weeks before Christmas. Hunter said it was his favorite place (besides playing in the Mediterranean Sea). But the Christ child was not there. Nor was Jesus in the believed burial places—because he is alive and can be found wherever we bow our hearts to seek Him. He has taken us on such adventures (of the heart and in travels) that we enjoy seeking Him each day.

May your search for a loving, living God be equally exciting and fulfilling in its own special way!

Love, Phil, Juliene and Hunter

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Sweden the Second Time Around

A delicious Swedish apple.**** Hunter waving from the window (he wasn't standing in an open window when I was in the air, though (story below).****Hunter blowing on a very tiny flower from one of our country walks.

Sunrise on a morning after I drove Phil to the bus stop.

We're back in Sweden, accompanying Phil on one of his work trips. We come with him to be a family, catch up with our friends and to find more adventures.

What follows is a list of some of my adventures, so far:

Finding and staying in an apartment at the Three Lily Buds looking out over the beautiful Swedish countryside.

Playing soccer with a blow-up soccer ball in a very windy area doesn't work too well; Hunter making faces from one of the twin beds in the apartment.

I decided to have fika with my old fika friends before going to the afternoon International Church Fellowship. This was a great way to fend off jet-lag not even 24 hours after landing. Besides, Hunter and I were elated to be with our friends again—both for fika and for church!

Wandering around the Räng church cemetery, taking photos and hearing my name. We had been spotted by Hunter’s Swedish teacher on our first day back! We ended up attending the Swedish service that night to hear her sing in the choir. We were invited to celebrate the Swedish thanksgiving by drinking tea and eating a variety of apple cakes (apelkaka). The person I sat by told me that the house we lived in last winter and spring was built by his grandfather.

Watching a kite-bird flutter over its prey.

Watching a whole flock of sheep run in the other direction for no apparent reason. Watching that same flock of sheep nearly overtaken by a rookery of rooks. The birds landed on and around the sheep, landing where the sheep could not fend them off, sometimes running up the sheep spines and pecking them between their ears on top of their heads. Witnessing a sheep’s problem with “the grass is always greener on the other side.” A few of them jump between the electric wires nearly every day. It is great fun to chase them back through the fence and hear the fence ddddzzzztttt for several minutes, especially on a rainy day. I have no pictures of chasing them because I’m busy running beside Hunter!

Sheep out of the pen; Cute twin sheep

What sheep which don't know my voice look like when I talk to them.

Watching a huge sugar beet harvester all day, then picking up an abandoned beet to take home for later eating. Sliced and set in a little bit of South African olive oil with a little bit sprinkled over the top, then broiled until almost crisp, tastes like candy! It was a bear to clean all of the good Swedish black soil off of it beforehand, though, so I just sliced whole chunks off as if peeling the beet with a large knife.

photo of tractor pulling a load of sugar beets like many tractors did all day for three or four days. The dirt road is still messed up from it.

What to do with myself for two days when Hunter wakes up with a fever? (I made him smile for this photo.)

Being the spontaneous photographer for a wedding—and the photos were terrific! Mind you, I got lost three times in Malmo before arriving 2 minutes before the beginning of the wedding. Getting lost in the car was one thing, the other was finding the wedding itself because the bride had not given me the exact address, only “at the end of the street within spitting distance of a school.” As it turned out, probably 100 people lived with the same directions on that street, one of whom had a first initial and similar last name in a different apartment building. Sigh. I didn’t stop sweating until I was finally home.

Getting lost in Malmo was one of my first
unpleasant experiences, and I’m not talking about being unable to find the wedding. Phil had agreed to meet us at the Malmo library one evening after work, the Tuesday after we arrived. Hunter and I had met Phil there several times during our last stay in Sweden, so this was a piece of cake, right? WRONG. This time I didn’t have the benefit of a GPS and boy, did we see parts of Malmo we’d never seen before. Whole sections of gardens and a canal separated us from an easy street to the library. Of course, it would feel that much worse when my cell phone rang to Phil on the other end asking if I would eventually arrive. We made it, though, because I knew enough landmarks to keep myself turning in the right direction. I sang, “It is good to be simple, it is good to be free, it is good to come round where we are to be. We will find ourselves in a place just right when by turning and turning we come round right;” driving Hunter crazy with the song and our lostness.

photos: Hunter in the children's section of the Malmo Library--you can see why we like it. There's a huge children's play area outside, too; The Malmo library on a moonlit night.

The parking garage near Phil’s work remains a place of driving terror for me. It doesn’t help that they have added new one-way doors at the entrance and exit so that I feel I’m going to get the car stuck in the wrong direction.

We had the opportunity to eat at some friends’ apartment in Lund. I decided we’d take the bus to meet Phil at the train station where we’d meet our friend. Phil’s bus was late, so we were a half hour late to the apartment (because the next train arrived in a half hour after Phil’s arrival). It was fun to try a common commuting route instead of tension of driving. Fredrik walked us to his home from the train station though a huge deciduous wood in all the splendor of autumn. Hunter and I often fell behind to kick and crunch through the big, colorful leaves on the ground while Phil and Fredrik continued to talk..

I learned to eat rice or a sticky corn substance with my hands, like they do in Ghana. The meat in the delicious sauce was exceptionally tender (if full of grissle). There were several of us Americans around this Ghanan’s table and he chided us all for using BOTH hands. Oops. Off with our left hands! It wasn’t long before Phil was cheating and using a utensil—Hunter, too—so I joined them.

We have had the absolute joy of spending Sunday afternoons until evening in fellowship with other believers from around the world and not having to go home to a quiet, boring house after church. I even hate the quiet boring part in Idaho! There are instruments all around the apartment we visit, some African, some conventional. We have taken them up to sing together, spontaneously. Great fun! Phil can even play the finger bells.

One Sunday, after not playing the piano in public for many years, I rose my hand to help play the sing-along offertory. It was fun for me and the song leader was grateful. I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever really need to be a musician, for anyone other than myself, again. “It Is Well With My Soul.” A definite favorite.

I waited patiently for the perfect day to go flying. That low-wind-mostly-clear day came and our landlord indicated it was so by parking his airplane outside my kitchen window to pick me up. Insurance didn’t allow him to take Hunter, so Hunter stayed by himself (Hunter’s request) for the 20 minutes we were in the air. He waved at me as we took off of the grass strip. I was able to see my favorite peninsula (because I’ve never lived on another) on a wonderful day! My shutter finger was busy on the camera the whole time!

U.S. Election day, 2008, was my birthday. Phil and I had already cast absentee ballots, and we are so far ahead of U.S. time that we got to go through my whole birthday without “worrying” about the election. That was nice. Hunter gave me a piece of Belgian lace he’d purchased in Brussels and told me he wanted to stay with me all day on my birthday. I cleaned house, did laundry, vacuumed and went to the store for cakes and tea. We had a fairly quiet party of 8 (two rambunctious, due to tiredness, children) for cake and conversation. It was very nice. For gifts, Phil paid for renting the room we met in and the cakes, Annika and Håkan gave me a nice writing notebook and a novel and our new friends Steve and Anya gave me some home-made glass cherry liqueur from their home in Poland.

It wasn’t until this morning we learned who won the election—because we had to sleep during the time we would normally have spent in front of the television, we were able to stay relaxed. I’m not sure what state Phil will come home from work in, though, since he was waiting to find out after he got to work. I’m hoping Americans of all beliefs and political viewpoints will work harder at uniting than they did the previous eight years.

Monday, November 3, 2008


Sure enough, I'm out snooping for adventure. Some of you might have wondered if such was the case after such a long time between entries. (Do I wax poetical if I say, "such a long silence?")

Today's adventure was getting to mow a portion of the lawn at Fridhems Gard in Rang, Sweden, where we are renting a small flat from a business called, "Three Lily Buds" (after a painting by one of the partners). The air was fall-cool, the sky alive with the honking and quacking of migrating birds, and the landloard out on a smallish tractor grating the driveway gravel (into nice, Japanese gardenesque rows) and beginning to mow the lawn. When he saw me in the window, he stopped mowing to come and ring the doorbell because I had requested he look at a few things in our flat. By the end of our figuring out why certain heaters and lights didn't work, I found myself offering to mow and his answering with a pleased, "why not?"

Just as he said, the steering was hard--like driving an old rig with no power steering--and the tractor, heavy. But I was having so much fun that I eventually quit mowing long enough to drag my son from a favorite morning cartoon on the television. He was crying and complaining, but once he was seated with me on the tractor, he was soon complaining that he was not also driving.

That did the trick. We were able to spend a glorious hour enjoying a beautiful fall day under a not-too-cool streaked sky, first on the mower, then on our bicycles. From there, the day only got better, though we did the usual things like going to barntimna at the Stora Hammar Kyrkahus for child-play, singing and fika as well as getting a few groceries for dinner.

We also spent some time writing letters and reading them. I told Phil that I get mommy-points for this.

We watched the landlord take off in his piper cub, just outside our window, fly overhead and eventually come back. He parked his airplane next to our car, just for effect, and we loved it.

But that is a normal day. Few of our days back in Sweden have been normal or even all in Sweden!

The next few posts, which I find difficult to compose with so many wonderful distractions outside the house window, will be about more adventures--great and small.

Tell me about yours! Write me a note. Something outside your window may have called you out of the house and doing what you didn't expect to do in a day.

And, may your voting (U.S.A., Nov. 4, 2008) be heartfelt and the results be something we all choose to live with graciously!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ecuador Part II

Photos taken from the 7th floor restaurant and bar of Hotel Quito are limited sight compared to how much the city sparkles in the night. It is the best possible scenario with the equipment available especially since we didn’t get our cameras down from the airplane’s overhead bin. Eyes and mouth wide open are the best ways to experience a panoramic moment. After that, tell the story!

It had been recommended to accept a “free drink” receipt from the front desk as we checked in. When we asked for chamomile tea at the bar, they looked at us curiously. Nevertheless, it was a good way to ease into the next event on the day’s calendar. Sleep. We slept the sleep of those who have been in traveling mode for more than 36 hours. Hard, heavy and twitchy. It was nice to unfold and be free of other people’s elbows.

Breakfast was in the restaurant, as well. The misty mountain view beyond the massive windows nearly stunned me out of an appetite. Don’t worry, I ate from the fruit buffet, enjoyed scrambled eggs and bacon, and tried the much touted Guanabana juice.

My head throbbed with every effort, whether walking, climbing stairs or getting up from a chair, from the altitude difference of about 9,000 feet (where I live the altitude is approx. 200 ft above sea level). The man who sat beside me in the airplane the night before advised me to do everything slowly on this trip. I let the throb in my head remind me to take his advice.

At breakfast, we met up with a tour put together by American Writers and Artists International (AWAI). Sure enough, Photography instructor, Rich Wagner, sat at one of the breakfast tables handing out our luggage name tags. We were to meet him and the rest of the group in the hotel foyer in 20 minutes. So much for slow.

It seems I’m always the one staying at a nice hotel when there is no time to enjoy its amenities. From the foyer, we admired a full-sized pool, gardens and roads worth exploring. The gift shop was not open late at night or early in the morning. Brightly woven bags, carved wood and leather goods taunted us from within the shop windows. A bouquet of roses, bigger than I had ever seen, graced the center of the reception area. The price tag for the night was under $50.

To use the restroom after checkout and before boarding the bus, one had to take a spiral staircase down one level. I don’t recommend trying to run down or up a spiral staircase at a high altitude if you’re not used to it. Talk about hot-flashes!

A man sold scarves near the bus and a snazzy person from the group had already purchased a few for her bus-day travel outfit. She looked great. “Two for five,” she said, moving to the back of the bus as people admired her scarves. “It’s a good price.” We had been advised to wait until we visited the smaller villages to buy, so we absorbed our jealousy. Come to find out, she had been pretty savvy to get them in the city.

Just after the last of the group laboriously climbed the bus steps, a man with a London accent leapt onto the bus in his “outback” hat and khakis. He had finished a conversation on his cell phone with, “Yeah, Steve, and take off that slinky lingerie,” turned to Phil and I and said, “Steve and I are friends.” It was going to be an interesting trip, especially after we learned John would be our interpreter on the trip.

In only a few moments, John, the interpreter, broke the ice with silly jokes, spoke instructions to the bus driver in Spanish and began preparing us for what we would see on the bus ride to Cotacachi, our destination and spring-board city for learning “suitcase Spanish,” better photography, and some of the culture of Ecuador. For the questions on the way, he either had a clever answer or a twinkle in his eye. We were all pleased to note that he had lived in Ecuador a dozen years or so and was a family man, married to a local Ecuadorian artist with two young children soon to start school. We kept him busy answering our questions and urging the driver to stop for toilet stops. The “Steve” he had been talking to would be our, also British, Spanish teacher and rather mellow fellow with a bad cold.

We stopped at the equator, which, of course Ecuador is named for. We stopped again for biscochos, a dryish bread (a little less crusty than biscotti) that when dipped in caramel sauce turns into a delicious treat, and coffee. Two potty and candy stops, and all the time between we were surrounded by the layered greens of the Andes and their snow-covered volcanoes dotted with the bright houses of small farms.

At the equator, Phil retrieved the G.P.S. he brought for just this occasion, and, sure enough, it registered all zeros in every degree. Even the local Ecuadorians got a kick out of seeing that.

Surprise, surprise (an inside joke for my W and W friends) our bus couldn’t take us straight to the hotel because the streets were closed for a parade! Horse men and women strutted their [foaming at the mouth] horses, mariachi bands danced and sang with their guitar playing clowns. There was plenty of fresh watermelon, carameled apples and cotton candy for sale. The parade took place outside of our hotel and principally in front of the great cathedral at the town square. It was a lively way to advertise the upcoming rodeo at the edge of town to commence in an hour.

No sooner had we arrived (late, according to Lori, our coordinator and the program’s brain child), than we were already in a hurry to go to something else. We were urged to take our cameras as this was an event the group before us didn’t get to see. We would be required to bring photos for review to the first class. Our group of 19 stuck out like white camera trigger fingers among beautiful coffee-colored others. We found each other in the crowd by our monstrous lenses. The locals were tolerant if not downright welcoming and gracious to us.

Have you ever seen a rodeo? A bull fight? This was the wildest and craziest rodeo I’ve ever seen. If only I could share the sound of the oohs and aahs and frequent laughter above the pen. We were delighted by the matador and his tiny legion of little boy matadors-in-training, the abandoned capes, the baby bull, the bull-with-the-broken-horn, the running and wall climbing to get away from the bull, the women and the baby pig against the bull…it was wild!

You wouldn’t believe how many gigabytes each of the group had absorbed before we had even started our classes. Reliving the rodeo at the next morning’s photo review was a hoot.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Missing Photographs: Ecuador Part 1

The most common questions I hear, these days, are, “Why were you in Ecuador (of all places)?” “Was it a Work and Witness Trip?” “Did Phil have business in Ecuador?” For those of you who know us, it will come as a surprise that we went to Ecuador not for Phil’s computer skills, nor to be of very much help to those building houses or churches. We were in Ecuador on one of those pleasurable vacations to get an education.

Come to think of it, Phil’s computer skills did come in handy and part of what we learned will help Phil on his next Work and Witness trip. More about that in a moment. First, I want to tell you about the photographs we didn’t take on a trip with a heavy photographic component (photography would be one of the class subjects and tour emphases).

My parents drove us to the Spokane International Airport on the evening of August 29th, dropped us off and left with our son. They promised to pick us up ten days later.

After the normal time-sink of checking in baggage and nearly disrobing and redressing for security, we decided to order dinner while we waited for our connecting flight from Spokane to Seattle. It was imperative that we caught this flight on time, as we had three other flights to catch throughout the night to arrive at Quito International (Ecuador) on the day we were to connect with our tour group. While we ate, and just after Phil caught up with an old colleague, our flight began to delay, first by ten minutes, and eventually by an hour and a half.

A light bulb was out in the baggage area of our Alaska Airlines jet. Changing the bulb and “filling out the paperwork” took that long.

During the delay, the travel agents worked furiously to connect people on alternative flights. Our situation took four flight attendants and the last half hour of our wait. One flight attendant even had to personally and physically change the tags on our luggage so it would remain with us throughout the trip. The cumbersome schedule re-vamp would most likely cost us an additional $500. We originally booked on frequent flier miles. Phil’s stress level had risen noticeably on his reddening face.

At one point, in Spokane, I thought Phil would declare that we were canceling the trip. Such a declaration was on my dread-list. I preferred to lean on “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” and “a marriage that prays together, stays together.” We had been advised to get traveler’s insurance and hadn’t, which we soon regretted.

The photo I didn’t take in the Geiger Field (Spokane) International Airport, was of two adorable Asian boys busying themselves during the delay. They both took turns rushing to the windows to watch for landing and taking off airplanes, as well as sidling up to their mother on those vinyl chairs, teasing each other over her while she visited on the telephone intermittently between two languages.

By the time we were in the air toward Seattle, we had already missed our flight from Seattle to Miami.

We had time to visit Seattle International Airport’s talking water fountain and facilities before boarding our rerouted flight to Orlando instead of Miami. We would have to hope for a miracle to get us from Orlando to Miami on an American Airlines jetliner instead of Alaska Airlines.

Click to the next missed photo: Phil tucked into a window seat, me in the middle, and the isle seat filled to overflowing with a short, stalky Sikh. Picture the Sikh’s elbow jabbed into my side (while I’m scooted as close to Phil’s side as possible) for a six hour flight. He wears all blue, even his silky turban, and his head hangs over his chest to protect the turban from crushing against the seat back.

In Orlando, (breathe!) we check e-mail on our computers with bleary eyes while we wait for a travel agent to appear at our supposed gate. The only language we hear floating around us is Spanish. The Spanish language will be one of our class subjects when we are in Ecuador, if we get there. We don’t know any better than that the travel agent will see that our place has been held on their flight and we’ll need to cough up $200.

When travel agents begin opening up the gate for check-in, one woman travel agent can barely walk without holding on to the counter to go from computer to door, and the other, a man, looks and acts more like a bouncer than a flight attendant. The airport looks like it needs a bouncer, especially after probably one hundred 17 and 18 year old girls, all speaking Portuguese, line up in front of the counter, then sit in smaller groups on the floor in that line. We approach the man, who quickly informs us that the very helpful Alaska Airlines travel agents have committed a faux pas, but that we can go ahead and fly from Orlando to Miami (a one hour flight) for $950! You should have seen Phil’s face, then!

The bouncer, I mean, travel agent, uses a firm but confidential tone to inform us that Alaska Airlines has “screwed us over” financially and we have no recourse unless the delay was due to an airplane dysfunction, as in a “burnt out light bulb or other dysfunctionality.” Aha! He points to our loophole. When he realizes we had been wronged in this way, he takes it upon himself to call Alaska Airlines, explain our demise, and insist that Alaska do something to make things right.

We wait and watch the 17 and 18 year old girls who all look a little too terrific at 6:30 in the morning, Eastern Standard Time. Incoming passengers needing to check in don’t really know what to do with a gaggle of girls lined up, seated Indian style (is that phrase allowed anymore?), at the counter. It is amusing to watch. Another missed set of photos. When it appears that the lame woman is about to call out the first to be seated on the plane, we have not yet received tickets, but we have been assured by the man that Alaska is hand-writing Alaska-paid tickets for us and will have their representative personally walk them to the American Airlines counter in time for departure.

We see a woman half run, half walk the tickets to the counter just as the woman travel agent has to whistle and shout like a gym teacher to get the attention of 100 girls and those around them to announce seat row numbers to enter the jetway. We catch the eye of the bouncer-like attendant and he nods us to the counter.

“You’re $950 richer,” he says, handing the tickets to Phil.

We are thankful to the point of tears, both to Alaska and to American. I had already written a “thank you” compliment on a comment card to the Alaska Airlines folks who helped get us to Florida the night before. But American Airlines personnel have consistently gone out of their way on our behalf for International excursions. (I’ll have to write about the instance in Dallas Fort Worth International Airport on our way to Brazil summer of 2007 another time.) Believe me, that kind of service is not common in the rest of the world. We no sooner get the tickets in our hands and our section of rows is called. So we walk on.

Will, way and pray. They still work, but it’s a God-miracle, as far as I’m concerned. And I feel humbled because I know that Alaska Airlines, as well as so many other airlines, are suffering great economic losses. That day, they suffered more because of a light bulb--and some on our behalf.

As our plane lands, the flight attendant announced the gate numbers for passengers flying out of Miami. It seemed as if she named every country on the planet. The Miami International Airport is huge and swarming with Internationals. While Spanish seems the most common language and it seems as if we have already entered another country than the U.S., we also recognize languages from our travels in and around Scandinavia. No wonder a common place Swedes told us they had visited in the U.S. was Miami, Florida (where the Scandinavian population is in the millions)!

Our layover in Miami is long. We have missed our flights to Panama and then Quito by only a few minutes, but we knew that would happen before we left Spokane. We are extremely tired from delays, difficulty sleeping under the circumstances, and we have many more hours to go. We have not had the opportunity to inform our tour group of our delay, so I leave messages at any number given as a reference—it is still too early in the morning for offices to be open. I am relieved to get voice messages because I cannot hear out of my multiple flight plugged ears. Add to my temporary hearing loss, the English announcements over the intercom come from such thick accents that I can barely understand what is going on, if at all.

We check e-mail, charge our computer batteries and wander the terminal halls. We find out that our son is doing well with his grandparents, so far. We wait. We are letting ourselves believe that we really are headed to Ecuador for the first time. We hope it will be a wonderful adventure, beginning with a few wearying setbacks which will soon turn into fond memories.

No sooner do we embark, stow, blanket, pillow and sit, than we are asleep. We did take time to observe the same clouds we saw flying into Miami. I had heard the news the day before describe the weather on the Florida coast as clouds gathering into a hurricane. It was true, the clouds looked like ghostly figures standing on soundless, cloud platforms gathering for as far as the eye could see in the direction of the Florida coast. Somehow, we didn’t feel the force of these individual clouds enmasse, except on the rare occasion over Cuba or something, and even then it was only a momentary, unfrightening undercurrent.

Panama looked lush and intriguing as I awoke from a refreshing nap, nudged by the decreasing altitude felt in my tortured ears. What houses I saw looked like trailers under metal-roofed frames. It didn’t seem like a form of construction for enduring hurricanes, but there was no evidence of wind destruction. The air felt warm and humid as we set down.

We had no time to explore Panama, or even the airport, as we got to our gate just in time to board another plane. We seated ourselves next to an Ecuadorian from Quito who was kind enough to attempt to understand my broken Spanish and to help, when necessary, with his limited English, especially when it came to filling out our immigration papers. By the time we reached Quito, it was night and the city sparkled like a million crystals hidden among the hillsides in the sun—but that is a photo I took from the 7th floor of Hotel Quito after we finally made it through customs and waited an extra hour from another party from our tour group.

More on this trip in the next entry.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Recipe and Motherly Musing

First, Juliene's stream of consciousness

Phil left for another week in Sweden. I thought this would be a great week to get caught up; to pull everything out of cupboards and closets for thinning and reorganizing without tripping him up. It would also be a good time to write on my weird schedule without interruptions from his regimented contracting schedule (he eats breakfast and lunch on time, I want to write until the muse leaves, then eat).

I planned on cleaning out the odd bits of leftovers from the refrigerator and freezer since I would only be cooking for Hunter and myself. Well, the first day Phil was gone, we ate leftovers. The second day Hunter spent with his grandmother while I visited the eye doctor. We enjoyed dinner out, Monday night. The next day, WHAM! Hunter was down with the stomach flu and my plans were on hold.

My growing boy, who eats more than I do, suddenly ate nothing. Sometimes fluids didn’t even stay down. I tried to put things away, do laundry and freeze more huckleberries. It was silly to try to do so much when my lethargic and feverish son caused so many emergency laundry runs, er, I mean, loads. I washed my hands until they felt like sandpaper. Meals consisted of taking quiet moments eating a bit of toast or fruit over the one sterilized sink.

We did what we could to pass the time: Watched endless children’s shows on TV and movies, constructed Knex creations with the intent to power them with a small, battery operated motor (successfully, I might add), and shooed prospective visitor’s away for their own sakes. Sleep was hit and miss for both of us (more miss for me).

It was especially eerie the night his temperature continued rising as we watched a PBS special on chimpanzees. The show was a nice diversion, but I was fussing about, trying to avoid the use of acetomenaphin or the tepid bath (something about as fun to administer as giving the cat a bath). Before I put Hunter to bed, I opted to use the fever reducer and a cold cloth dabbed over his back, chest and face. Weary, I put Hunter to bed, worrying a little that he might overheat after a 101 degree F. day and sleeping under a down comforter. I didn’t worry enough to keep me from falling into bed and sleeping hard! I vowed to check his temperature (and breathing) several times in the night (Hunter insisted I check his temperature every five minutes after the fever reducer), but only managed to check it at 2:30 am—it was down, but not yet normal.

The fever was gone mid-morning the next day, but the stomach was still touchy. This is confusing to a young boy because he wants to run and play and needs nourishment, but his body does not respond well to either. We had to cancel his second and third days of swimming lessons, much to Hunter’s dismay. He drank Powerade all day, and only ate applesauce and chicken noodle soup for dinner.

Chicken noodle soup became the staple for the next few meals. Whatever we didn’t eat the meal before, became my leftovers when Hunter would say he couldn’t eat. I was relieved when we ran out. I decided to have something a bit heftier while Hunter begged off eating.


Here’s where the recipe comes in (recommended for one-person at-home meal): I found a Banquet (microwavable) Turkey Pot pie, from a recent sale, out of the freezer. I scored the crust, per the instructions on the box, and put it in the microwave for half or less of the recommended cooking time. During 2 ½ minutes of cooking, I checked my kitchen freezer and garage freezer for frozen peas (the peas are the hidden treasure in these pies, but you only get one to three in each pie) and grabbed a small, fresh crook neck squash from the garden.

By the time the bell rang, I had cut ¼ cup of quartered slices of crook neck. I peeled a bit of the crust back (since then, I’ve found it works better if you score the crust in an X, then lay back each triangle for this part), poured in about 1/8 cup of peas (or just eyeball it) and the slices of squash, gently stirred the veggies into the sadly meat-poor gravy, then put the crust in place. Back in the microwave, I set the timer to cook again on HIGH and for 3 ½ more minutes. (For the second cooking time, it may be best to cover with a microwave cover to keep more of the moisture in—it can get a little dry, otherwise.)

When that was done, I let it sit the recommended three more minutes (I figured the steam would help finish steaming the frozen peas, especially).

Only after I had devoured this scrumptious variation on a childhood memory, and felt smug about my use of veggies, did I read the back label to find that I had eaten 320 calories, plus those from the veggies, 190 calories of which were from fat. For someone who is edging closer to being more serious about weight watching and pounding a daily hour of pavement, the caloric content of this dish was a bit daunting. Nevertheless, I did it again when I didn’t feel like cooking something more fresh and time-consuming. Only, the second time, I ended the meal with a fresh, juicy peach.

Enough about food (one of my favorite subjects, especially when I’m not having to cook it).


I’m reading a book: Raising Unselfish Children in a Self-Absorbed World, by Jill Rigby. It’s got me thinking about my parenting style and what I unconsciously teach Hunter even when I would like to teach him to make the world a better place. In fact, my brain didn’t stop at the last four and a half years of mothering, but twenty three and a half years!

What has been my parenting style? The “Deflector” who “ ‘deflects’ their role as parents onto their children by asking their kids to make decisions they are not yet capable of making.” The “Depriver,” who “deprives children of what they need either by doing too little or doing too much?” or the “Developer,” who develops “children by giving them what they need, when they need it” (pp. 54 and 55)?

Clearly, I have done a little of all three but tend to resort to the depriver by either neglecting my children (by being busy doing my own thing, getting a degree, writing, working around the house instead of sitting down with them during teaching moments, etc.). I find myself dealing with Hunter much the same as I did my oldest daughter. They both play nicely on their own or like to spend hours with friends, so I let them do this while I work at other things. This is not bad, but I can sometimes rely on it too many hours a day, oftentimes stretching those times by resorting to the television babysitter. When we do sit down together, sometimes we are both at a loss about what to do after Hunter, like Natassja did, begs for me to “play with him.”

The big lesson, yesterday, was that the little neighborhood children wouldn’t play with Hunter when he asked them to play. They were busy (two of them) playing together and had been all week. Every time Hunter sought them out, they would either duck into one or the other’s garage out of sight, or yell across the street that they didn’t want to play with him. This, of course, broke Hunter’s sensitive little heart. But he couldn’t stop wishing to play with them.

Finally, after too many rounds of rejection and Hunter’s asking again if he could play, I said, “No!”

He cried as if I had pierced his already broken heart, crying, “Why, Mommy?”

I asked, in return, “What would you rather hear, ‘We don’t want to play with you!’ or “No, you can’t play with your friends.”

Still crying, he wailed, “I would rather hear, ‘Yes!’ and ‘We want to play with you, Hunter.”

I told him a story:

“Pretend a dog visited our yard every day. You liked the dog and ran out to pet it. But whenever you pet the dog, he bit you, even to the point of making you bleed. After awhile, your mommy would say, ‘Don’t go out and pet the dog anymore, he keeps hurting you.’ That’s what your friends are doing. They are hurting you. You need to play with someone else.”

“But,” sniffed Hunter, “it’s not a dog. They’re my friends! WAAAAAAAA.”

We called the back neighbor and spent an hour or so visiting, trading the baby back and forth, and letting the boys wrestle, chase and tease. That helped. I work at being a developer and help Hunter find even more positive experiences with other children. This is time-consuming and I feel like I’ve done it before (because I have) with my older children, but I need to take the time to do it again.

After all of this, we had only a half an hour before bedtime. I invited Hunter to try out every stringed instrument in the house: a ukulele, an auto harp, a citara from Brazil, and the piano. He enjoyed trying the differences and discovering each new instrument and where it was in the house. The half hour passed quickly and we had both enjoyed each other and the strings. It felt better “developing” instead of sighing over not having the time to do my own things.

I know I can’t be my son’s only friend, but I can use what time we do have together to be more purposeful. It takes energy I don’t often feel I have, but the sense of accomplishment and togetherness outweighs the difficulty.

We enjoyed a meal of hamburgers, carrots and pear instead of soup or pot pies. We met a new little boy at Hunter’s swim lesson. And Hunter showed a positive attitude about trying what the swim instructor assigned in the water—even jumping off the deeper side of the pool into the instructor’s arms! It was a difficult but good day.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

On Visiting My Great Aunt

While I was in Sweden, my Great Uncle died. Though my Great Aunt has had many close encounters with death, she is still alive and as well as can be expected.

My dear Aunt Leone wrote an e-mail that she was feeling a bit better since her husband died. Could she, please, use one of my outdated (no more than two years) Writer's Market books? Could I bring it the next time I visited?

Hint, hint.

I hadn't visited since sometime last summer (2007) and it was, indeed, high time I visited. Sure enough, I had an outdated WM and decided I would take one of my writing days to go see her--a one hour drive each way. It seemed a good use of a writing day to learn from a pro, since she has published some incredible number of times.

When I arrived, she met me on her porch, leaning on the rail. There was quite a bit of catching up to do, so we were already catching up as we walked in the front door. Aunt Leone took to her electric wheelchair explaining that she could still walk but grew awfully tired. She took me beyond her writing desk into a back room to show me the memorial of Uncle Earl she had set up on a bookcase. There were photos of key times in his life, including the first photo he ever sent her when he would soon propose by letter, writing, "Say yes or forever hold your peace." His teaching days, preaching days, a family photo that survived a house fire, a watch, his "not to be misplaced" nail clippers, his Bible, etc.

Everything has a story. Even how the beds had been rearranged since Uncle Earl's passing. I realized it was going to be awhile before we got started writing.

Soon, my cousin and his son came downstairs from their upstairs apartment and we said quick hellos. I thought both would be going off to work, so I didn't worry too much about the interruption to our already late start.

One went to work and the young one hung around.

Aunt Leone was pleased to get her hands on a newer Writer's Market. She was also pleased to visit with her great-grandson. Between questions and comments, she looked up her normal publications to verify editor's names and whether or not the publication was still publishing. I got into my on-line version to show her how to use it to get up-to-the-minute information. She listened half-heartedly, still flipping through the book, and finally said, "I just don't think I'm up to learning how to do all that. I'm barely using e-mail, you know."

I read a manuscript she had started on the back of some bank statements while she waited at a doctor's office. It was comforting to note that she also crossed out whole phrases and sentences, editing as she went. The story wasn't finished, yet, and wasn't at the point that I could get a feel for where it was going. I was certain, however, that whatever she wrote would find its way into the published world.

My work, however, is nowhere but here in this blog. I've published all of two poems and two small stories. Another story is at the Coeur d'Alene library as a winner in a past contest. It feels great, and all, but I'm definitely not bringing in the $150 reprinted piece checks my aunt is!

We ate the sandwiches my aunt had prepared for us before I arrived. We chatted over lunch. We still hadn't written. Time kept ticking away. Aunt Leone told me she'd sent off four reprints in the last two days. I had barely gotten a new piece up on this blog. Somehow, she had time to chat with her great-grandson, enjoy visitors, be a story-teller at church and still get a few things sent off and all I was doing was housework, blog research and writing and being a mom. Nothing really "sent out."

It was beginning to feel like my time with her was as fruitless as my own time at home. Additionally, I was learning nothing more than what her grieving process and coming back into life in the community was like (worthy things to learn, of course).

I had her read a story of mine. The whole time she held that piece in her hands, her head on a pillow and her feet at the other end of the couch, she was either conversing with her great-grandson, or telling me she must have slept a little because she kept having to catch the pages when they slipped. Mind you, she is in her late 80's.

As I waited for her to finish the piece, I finally opened my laptop to begin working on a new blog (which is not finished, yet) while I waited. The clock face told me I had less than a half an hour before I had to drive the hour back to pick my son up from the sitter's (his grandmother).

She got up from the couch, asked me questions about my story which indicated she hadn't really read it, then took up the Writer's Market again. When I started packing up my computer and announcing I had to go, I finally learned the key to her success.

Here I will digress. I've been going through my 2007 Poet's Market. On page 220 is an "Insider Report" titled, "A Moment of Intensity: Short form called 'the minute'." There were poems, so I stopped to read the article and the poems. The minute form interested me. It is a "12-line poem consisting of 60 syllables, with a syllabic line count of 8,4,4,4,8,4,4,4,8,4,4,4, with rhyming couplets. The creator of this form is Verna Lee Hinegardner, "whose official definition of the minute form included . . .'a strict iambic meter . . .capitalized and punctuated like prose and capturing a slice of life.'"

Sounded fun. So, to finish this longish story about a shortish visit, I will introduce a new poem by me (without the rhyme):

Key to Writerly Success

(a loose Minute)

“So you’ve come to write. What do you

do on the days

you write?” asks my


well-published Aunt as she flips through

Writer’s Market.

“Write,” I say, while

we do not write.

I open my laptop and start

typing something.

“Oh,” she mutters

“I spend more time

searching markets.”

Now you know why I'm back to flipping through my own market listings and more diligently researching than writing. Don't be surprised if these blog entries appear less and less often!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Ringing the Bells

Today, I’m thinking about churches. It is natural for me to think about these special places, spaces, bodies of people; I am the daughter of an evangelical pastor.

Sure, there are many criticisms out there about the travesties and tragedies associated with the Christian Church as a whole throughout history and today. Those conversations go on forever without many workable solutions. Sure, I regret terrible historical (and not so distant) events as well as contemplate what went wrong, why and how sad I am that those events have colored the rest of the good done through and by the church. Likewise, when I am aware of lives lost in huge natural disasters or airplane crashes, I don’t stop putting my feet in the sea, feeling the wind in my face or flying on airplanes.

Of things manmade--God inspired--on the face of the earth, nothing is more beautiful to me than a cross and spire rising above a town nestled between fields, hills or mountains. For me, huge cities are made more beautiful by their churches. Give me spires in the snow, amid pastures, rising out of a dilapidated downtown, spires of all heights, shapes and sizes. Let them ring, sing, or stand in silence. If the architecture is less inspiring, built of quick steel, cement block or appearing more like a rambling convention center, take me inside. Show me what art the people choose to display their faith and their love for God.

Let me hear their musicians, singers, preachers, congregational voices and liturgy. Whether I understand the language doesn’t matter. Let me sense the personality of the whole place. Let them light candles, max out their sound systems, sing slow hymns to the beat of an elderly organist, choke the parishioners with incense, stand and clap, solemnly kneel and sit or let their youth strum a few chords on a guitar. Let me feel among them the presence of the Lord God.

When the worship has finished and the last of the worshippers has gone home, let me wander the aisles and smell the dusty dark wood furniture, the distinguished flames, the plastic plants, the fading lilies from Sunday morning’s service. Let the place feel huge, lonely and foreign amidst icons or none. Let the silence of the church envelop me and press me to my knees. Take me to the back rooms where musicians and priests/pastors prepare/hide for the next funeral, baptism, wedding, and prayer. Don’t just give me a tour, let me participate or attend in some way, even if only for a few moments.

* * * *

Before we left for Sweden, Phil had found an International church in Malmö for us to try. We were there the day after we arrived. The church looked more like a sprawling mall with too little parking than a church, but the people were gentle and kind and we enjoyed the music and sermon (see “First Days in Sweden, Part 1, Day 2” a January post). But on our virgin drive from the airport, across that massive bridge between Denmark and Sweden (Öresund Bridge), and onto the E6 toward Höllviken, I spotted a church I wanted to photograph and one day visit.

Time went by. We kept attending Pingskyrken (Pentecostal) on Sundays. I was told about the Swedish Lutheran Church in Höllviken, Stora Hammars, where they had a small pre-school. There was a space open for our son, so he attended two half-days weekly and we participated in the parent-child social hours twice weekly. In this way, we made some dear friends and found our way into a loving community in a place where it would have been easy to get lost in the culture as a foreigner.

Come to find out, one of those parents to become my friend had worked at Stora Hammars Kyrka and a few other churches in the area, but was now working at a church in Malmö. Oh, okay. Hmmm. That’s interesting, and all that--until she described where it was. It was the very church I admired every time we passed it on the E6: The Tygelsjö Kyrka. What’s more, she told me she sometimes rang the church bell (“It’s not that big a deal,” she laughed, “I push a button.”). My brain started scheming about how I could go see the church and, just maybe, push that button! There were no church bells at any of the churches I had previously attended.

As our relationship had grew and we visited more often, I finally gathered up the courage to ask if I could shadow her at work one day and maybe even be useful. “Yeeessss.” She said in her easy sing-song-y way, as if to say what else should you expect. Of course she would have to get permission from her boss (gregarious and International in his own right, Pastor Jim) and work me into a day with few to no meetings.

“Could I ring the bell?” I asked, hopefully.

She laughed at me. Then she asked, “Do you know why we usually ring the bell?”

I guessed to announce services or the time of the day. What did I know?

“Yes. But often, it is to announce someone’s passing, the earliest weekday after they die, and usually at eleven o’clock.”

Ominous thought. “Oh,” I said.

She would have to find a good day for me to drive out there, so I left it at that.

* * * *

While we were in Jerusalem, we saw the inside of the Church of the Transfiguration (Mt. Tabor), the Church of the Nativity (Bethlehem), the Church of the Beatitudes (Keneseret or Galilee), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the chapels dedicated to the stations of the cross. I saw the spacious courtyard and outside of the golden dome mosque, the outside of the Church of All Nations and Christ Church (Jerusalem) and attended the King of Kings Community Church of Jerusalem (Messianic).

There were ancient stones, stained glass windows, arches, chandeliers, statues of the saints, urns, banners, tombs, candles enough to choke, theater-like seats and presentation, A cappella chorales, groups taking communion, etc. Inspiring, overwhelming, mystifying, unfathomable, disgusting.

I became frustrated with the commercialization of the story of Christ. A regional Nazarene pastor in Israel reminded me, “If it were not for these churches, many of those places we read about in the Bible would have been lost to development.” So it is, was and is to come.

It also struck me that Israel is in a religious war zone. Try to stay neutral and it still costs. It doesn’t matter what your background, humans are hard-wired for faith and religion—but not necessarily the same belief systems.

* * * *

One day the phone rang (a rare occurrence for me in Sweden). It was Annika.

“You were asking about going with me to work one day,” she began.

“Yes,” I said, trying to stay calm, but anxious to hear what she had to say.

“How about Tuesday? The boss says it is okay for you to come. And you could ring the bell.” She said this as if to dangle a carrot in front of my nose, but I was already biting!

* * * *

While in Sweden, we saw so many churches it is difficult to name them all. Most of them we only saw from the outside because they were closed to tourists during the winter. There is a chance you might know the names of them from your own experience, but there is no way I could list them all, here. Lund’s Gothic Cathedral is a famous one, but I was fond of the tiny countryside churches. We saw the 2008 Ice Hotel chapel. We saw churches in Germany, Denmark and Finland. Go anywhere in Europe and there are churches. What’s more, you may find an International (English-speaking) congregation meeting in the side room of a cathedral, a coffee shop, or a shopping center (searching the internet ahead of time is a good idea—meeting times vary).

* * * *

The day to visit my favorite church in the Malmö area changed around a little. No matter. When that day arrived, I got ready for “work” as if it were my first day on the job—complete with butterflies in my stomach. The slow, but less frustrating drive through agricultural fields and tiny villages did well to calm my nerves and help me take in the beauty so evident here in the growing green fields, the freshly plowed earth, grazing horses, and the glint of the sea in the distance. Slowing to a near crawl through tiny, narrow, cobbled streets worried my timeliness (I’m time challenged, anyway). I didn’t want to be too late to ring the bell! Such a crawl kept me from missing the tiny intersection and street opening to the Tygelsjö Church and offices.

I parked my car in the nearest parking area. For a moment, I simply took in the site of this beautiful building from front to back (facing its Southern side), the sky and the flowers blooming around the grounds and cemetery, and the horses frolicking in their corrals. I was also trying to take a few deep breaths and not get too anxious.

Not knowing where to enter, I cell-phoned my friend. Beautiful Annika was soon leaning out the door of one of the white office buildings, phone to her ear, waving for me to come on in. The butterflies in my stomach stirred.

* * * *

Three years ago we went on a cross country road trip through the northern states of the U.S. Many of the churches, built as community gathering places for each small town (I’m now convinced many of them were built by Swedes), were boarded up, abandoned, transformed into ELK’s lodges, galleries or coffee shops. My heart leapt whenever I saw a folding sign board out front: an announcement of a church potluck, AA meeting or Bible Study. The church would continue as they have for years to help those in need of fellowship or help, even if barely holding on and standing up—not all of them are corrupt!

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I’m in need of fellowship, help and the ability to help others. I need God in Christ Jesus. I need an evangelical church—anywhere I am. Call me weak, but it would only be true.

* * * *

Once in the building, the copy machine in a room beyond the entrance and the stuff of offices made me feel at home. I have worked in church offices before, so the casual atmosphere and camaraderie, both of which were immediately evident, didn’t come as a surprise.

Annika was gracious to give me time to take in the surroundings, look out the windows at the beautiful view, and set my purse and lunch down before taking me around for introductions and a quick tour of the old Parsons home made into offices.

She showed me the record closet. It was narrow as any closet, but deeper and wall to wall with tall, thick old books and thick plastic binders. She slid one of the old books off of the shelf and opened it for me to see. There, in beautiful hand-script were dates from the late 1800’s and names--lines and lines of names—mother and father names, leading to the names of their begotten. She showed me another book listing the physical and mental ailments of past parishioners. My mind couldn’t hold it all and I neglected—in a kind of awe and respect (as well as a bit of horror)—to take any photos of these pages.

Afterward, I was led to the common kitchen/dining area where Annika, Pastor Jim and I shared tea and buns (I call them rolls) and compared the American church to the Swedish church, the historical church to the present. We ran out of tea before we ran out of subject matter.

“You see,” said the dapper but tall, dark-haired gentleman, Pastor Jim, “the Swedish church has a lot of history to deal with. While Sweden is a Christian nation, it was made so by force, not by choice.” Not too long ago, the Swedish Church was the police, Big Brother, the watchdog, the jailor. “The main duty of the Parson was to record births, deaths, illness, relocations, make sure everyone lived within these confines and paid their taxes. A person was not allowed to choose his or her church. A person attended the church within the kommun (county) he lived.”

I was all ears. These ideas were strange to me, though I am well aware that some people expect the same to be true about more free churches around the world.

“A Pastor in Sweden has quite an image to overcome. The way of Jesus Christ is what comes to the mind of Swedes when they think of the church.” (Comments are not necessarily exact quotes, okay, Jim?)

Pastor Jim had lived in the Eastern United States for several years, so he loved talking about the U.S. and his time there. We enjoyed comparing notes on what the people are like in the U.S. versus Sweden. “I have a pastor friend in Ohio (was it Iowa?) who is Swedish. He has told me that the people are so friendly in the mid-western United States that he sometimes says, ‘it’s getting on my nerves!’”

It was time for Pastor Jim and Annika to return to their desks. I was assigned a copy and stick labels job—not unlike what I would have done in my last office job. Also, as in my old job, the labels had already gone through the rollers for printing before we realized they were the wrong size for the master. No big deal, I was good at seeing what could be salvaged and it kept me busy while my mind reeled from our conversations and the presence of those old books.

Meanwhile, assistant pastors arrived in jeans, but played “quick-change” and came out of various corners wearing black suits and taking a quick lunch around the long white table in the kitchen. The whole “house” smelled like a gourmet restaurant. I was still full from fika, so waited to have my lunch later. While I was being introduced around the table, (I was even introduced to the Organist of the Tygelsjö pipe organ!) Pastor Jim came out of his office wearing a long, black ministerial coat and adjusting his collar. The time was growing near for the funeral and nearer still for the ringing of the bells. This was all in a day at the office for the people buzzing around the kitchen.

Though both Swedish and English mingled with the odors of bleu cheese dressing, lasagna and other lunches, I tried to stay alert to when I would be needed to ring the bell. If I fussed that I should get back to my labels, everyone would tell me to take it easy, there would be time for that later. There was both a rush and a calm about the way these church men and women handled the upcoming event in the church.

The black suits had already disappeared out the back door of the kitchen before Annika calmly asked if I wanted to go on over to the church. I was a nervous wreck of anticipation and worry about the time because I had been told we would need to press the button at an exact time.

Annika showed me where the bell buttons were (inside the stairwell to the bells just off of the foyer), took me up another set of stairs to see the organ at the back of the church and told me it was soon to be replaced at the tune of several million kronor. She took me down the aisles and onto the platform where a pedestal baptistery from the 1500’s stood among other beautiful platform furniture.

She urged me to follow her into side rooms off of the platform to see the ministerial robes and choir robes neatly hung in the old closets or folded in large but narrow drawers. A few of these robes were over 100 years old.

She let me look at the story dolls (I’d seen see-through boxes of them on a conference table at the offices), set up to tell Bible on draped tables to the side of the front right pew. She showed me the large quilt that her mother-in-law, a seamstress, had sewn a new border. (This quilt was for the lower grade coffins. One could cover the coffin with a quilt to beautify the presentation.) The quilt matched the details in other areas of the carpets, walls and linens.

When the casket was being carried down the aisle, before anyone had yet arrived for the funeral, I followed Annika to the foyer to get my instructions from the associate pastor on how and when to ring the bells. (“Push ‘lilla’ first, for the little bell, then ‘gran’ next for the large bell, then reverse the order when I give you the signal.”)

Women held small bouquets of fresh wild flowers and flowers from the garden as they entered the building. When I asked about this, I was told that most often only the women bring fresh flowers in honor of the deceased-- an old but charming custom.

I was still gawking at the women and their flowers when I was hurriedly urged in hushed tones to “press the first button NOW!” These were simply large plastic buttons like one would find behind a stage. There was a delay before bell-peal, but I was urged to press the next button barely before hearing the first. Because I stood in the bell tower stairway, the bells were quite loud. Those in the sanctuary were insulated from the loudness as the double doors between the foyer and the sanctuary were closed.

Annika and I fumbled with my camera to try to get a sound recording of the bells—we ended up getting a funny video. All you see are the plain wooden stairs while you hear the ringing of the bells. Before I could stop fumbling, I was urged to press the button for the large bell, then the button for the smaller bell again. I loved hearing the tongues slow from loud to silence. Before there was silence in the tower, the organist was playing the prelude.

I ran up the stairs, the area Annika calls the fly cemetery, to get a glimpse of the bells from inside the tower. Though I saw piles of dead and dusty flies, mounds of pigeon turds and walked through several spider webs (the spiders in Sweden can rebuild swept away webs within a few hours)*, I was disappointed that I had only reached the old chain and frame. A ladder led another floor up into the actual bell area, but there was a rough wooden hatch over the opening. I had worn a white jacket and didn’t feel like getting dirty moving the hatch. Out of breath and perspiring, I tiptoed back down the circular steps.

It was difficult to settle down (from panting) when we slipped into the back of the sanctuary while the people sang a hymn. Though I couldn’t understand many of the words the retired woman minister delivered in her opening statements and invocation, I could feel the compassion and solemnity in her words.

Annika had told me earlier that the deceased had visited the office the week before. She had been a spry eighty-something year old, very active in the church and community and surprised her family and everyone else by dying peacefully while watching television and taking her morning tea.

When the people stood to sing again, Annika and I tiptoed to a massive side door, difficult to close quietly, to go back to the office. No doubt, my special tour of the church was keeping her from her normal day.

We ate our lunch and got back to work only a short while before we both had to head home to retrieve our children from daycare and the nanny.

It’s funny how one can have such a wonderful opportunity, realize how short it is (four hours) and to regret the photos and notes not taken. Nonetheless, the experience endeared me all the more to my favorite church in Sweden!

* Annika told me that Kalle, the janitor in the church who helped me with the bells, has to clean that awful stairway. She said it had been cleaned only a few days before my visit. I was glad they didn’t let it go more than a few days at a time!