Monday, January 21, 2008

Part 3: Israel, Day 2-- --Photos and short captions only

***The Church of the Transfiguration*** Inside,the minister has just finished communion. The group responds by singing in perfect harmony. Accoustics and harmony give me
happy chills.

The Sea of Galilee
or The Kenneret, as the Hebrews prefer.
It was an overcast, even misty/foggy day.

I figured that if Jesus could be seen walking
on the water, emerging from a fog, I souldn't
be picky about the color of the sky!

The Jordan River at a Kibbutz
which has decided to make its
aim to provide a place for
those who want to be baptized
in the Jordan River. There are
few other places with access for the thousands of people who come for this purpose every year. I took one serene photo without all the baptizing paraphernalia.Note the swooping white birds (Seagulls)! Hunter with our guide, feeding bread to the non-kosher catfish in the water.
Here is a photo of the area where thousands of people don white robes to be baptized en mass. Phil said he was there when hundreds of others were there; he would have
preferred the serene scene Hunter and I saw. But it was winter and though much warmer than Sweden or Idaho in the US, it was still a bit brisk for a dip in the Jordan! The truth is that the water was brown, FULL of catfish and I preferred remembering my baptism in the clear, clean waters of the Columbia River!

The escorted tour was a gift completely paid for by the President of Crow, Inc. (the place manufacturing what Phil is helping design), to whom I am forever grateful. Also provided was a meal of true "Oriental" food--including "St. Peter's fish."

Mt. of the Beatitudes. One of the places I most wanted to see. Also the most difficult to get a sense of sitting on the mountainside listening to Jesus tell his parables. Above the sign, you can see the rolling hills--how easy it would be to sit there. According to our tour guide, the acoustics on the hills are such that a person may speak plainly in normal voice and be easily heard from a distance in the open air.

Tabgah--where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish. The rock under this marble table is aged--as is the mosaic. It was in this church that I saw a woman use the holy water to pat her hair down. She just smiled when she realized I saw her, I nearly burst out laughing.

An attempted night shot overlooking Haifa from Mt. Carmel (a very ritzy neighborhood).

Friday, January 18, 2008

Part 3: Israel, Day 1--A Controversial Place in Any History

Lifted from an e-mail to a friend:

Most amazing of all was a trip to Israel. Phil had meetings in Tel Aviv, so he decided to spring for two more tickets (at great expense) for Hunter and me. Wow. Tel Aviv is a tropical paradise, if you stay on the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean.

Believe it or not, this is from another e-mail, but says it all:

November 28, 2007---
We arrived in Tel Aviv at 12:15 a.m. But we didn't get to the hotel until after 1 a.m. I looked out the window and saw a balcony over what looked like a major street of cars cruising toward and under the hotel. "Blah," I thought. It's just another big city.

Believe it or not, Israel is only 1 hour later (Eastern European time) than Sweden (Central European time), so we didn't have as much of an adjustment to make as if we'd come here from Idaho (a ten hour difference). I was glad, because going to bed after 1 a.m. is already harder on me than ever.

At 4:30 a.m. Hunter began vomiting in his sleep from an on his back position. I couldn't believe it. Hadn't we just gone through this a few days after arriving in Sweden? In all the time he vomited and I cleaned up around him, he never woke up. Neither did Phil. I had to completely change the sheets, make up something else for him to sleep on and on, etc. When I got back to bed, I was terribly disappointed that Hunter was sick again (my children have such sensitive stomaches!).

Phil was up before 8:30 a.m. to shower, get some New Israeli Shekels, and eat breakfast before he caught his ride to the first meetings of the week. While he was in the shower, I thought about sleeping longer, but couldn't. Cars had started honking outside. I was hungry. The room smelled like vomit. You know, stuff. But I waited until Phil was getting cash to get up and look, again, out the balcony window.

Who could have guessed that Israel, the land where Jesus walked, could be a desirable tropical getaway? I sure hadn't known about it, and I'm trying to read more travel articles! There, within a few steps of the hotel door was the sun rising above the Mediterranean Sea. Umbrellas and lounges had already been set up for the day by hotel staff (this is hotel row, so I mean a lot of umbrellas and lounges). People were stretching, running, walking, walking their dogs, cycling, doing yoga and chatting with friends in two's and three's or just chatting on cell phones. Later in the day, I even saw a man walk his horse along the water's edge. Yes, between 8:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. it was already shirt-sleeve warm. I saw a few heads bobbing above the water—a morning swim, even!

My next thought: Great. One of the most amazing beaches I've ever seen and I may have a sick child for another day. Well, at least I have a good view.

Sure enough, Hunter was sick. He reluctantly looked out the window when he woke up, but immediately laid back down (his bed was near the window) saying, "I don't think I should get up today," and soon after, proving why.

Phil was gone for who-knew-how-long (his day of meetings ended up being 13 hours long), I needed to get to the provided breakfast before it closed and I had a sick child. Life is never easy, is it? (Some of you may be rolling your eyes because I'm on a tropical beach talking about life not being easy). I plopped Hunter in front of a cartoon that made Hunter laugh his head off and hurried downstairs to grab a quick breakfast.

But, no! Quick is not how one does things in Israel, apparently, especially not at a five star hotel. I had to wait to be seated, wait to have permission to go to through the brunch lines, etc. When I asked if I could take my breakfast to the room because I had a sick child up there, the hostess and I had a communication breakdown that involved her restating her question/statement rather forcefully as if to secure her position as a kindly hostess, but making me feel like it just might not be worth it to do breakfast. As I watched this beautiful young woman talk to me as a school marm to an errant student, I thought, these Israeli’s are not easily dealt with! Peace talks, HA! I swallowed my sensitivity, went through the hoops, got breakfast and left.

Only, I was stopped by little miss beautiful hostess as I left. I couldn't possibly carry a tray of breakfast to my own room. No, the waiter had to carry it. Never mind that he was already on the elevator, with a clipboard in his hand, headed toward his next assignment. Then HE was miffed at me for the inconvenience, which I apologized for. Elevators are uncomforable arrangements, anyway. Add being in a multi-cultural situation with miffedness! The waiter reluctantly accepted my apology at the room door (because he was supposed to be glad to do his job for the spoiled customers). Was I supposed to tip him now?

Hunter refused everything I offered him. This was a good thing. He has learned that eating when sick is not the best idea. "Maybe," I thought, "he'll be over this quickly and we can go play on the beach." No quickly's in Israel, remember?

But, he did want to play on the beach and he would have nothing to eat or drink. He had a BLAST.
And I did, too. ("Mom, why does the sea go so far? Help me build a sandcastle!" That sand was the best castle sand I'd ever tried)
It seemed a wonderful providence to be stuck HERE in this beauty, so close to the hotel and in enough space that I could feel like Hunter wasn't contaminating the community.

Military helicopters and fighter planes (along with domestic air travel) flew over fairly often while we played. But when I looked around, no one appeared alarmed.

We had lunch at 3 pm, when Hunter felt finally able to eat (after I sprayed him down from the sand). From our lunch table, we watched about 10 people try their hands and feet at windsurfing.

I asked Hunter if he would take me to lunch when he was a man. He said, "Of course. But we'll live in our house in Idaho."

I asked, "Won't you want a house of your own when you are grown?"

"Yes, maybe," he said. "But it won't have an upstairs." End of discussion.

He napped the rest of the afternoon away so that I could watch the beach, the sailboats, and the sun going down on it all. It felt a bit like heaven. I didn't even write like I should have during such a perfect situation.

Phil finally called to let me know he wouldn't be home until nine o'clock, or so. He said Hunter and I were invited to attend the meeting dinner with the group, but I didn't feel like I could take Hunter with a fever.

Hunter's fever was rising so I woke him up to get him out from under the covers. Not his favorite idea. We watched Fox News (That is an experience I've not had before.) until we decided we were sick of the room and Hunter was feeling up to his annoying self. We went to dinner and he ate like his usual hungry self.

After dinner, we grabbed our coats and went for a long night walk along the sea and behind many dark hotels and parking garages. Everyone I asked assured me it would be safe to do this with my son, even though it was dark. What an amazing thing.

Phil tells me the President of Crow Electronics spent an hour of his own time working out getting a tour to the Sea of Galilee for Hunter and me. He said we would be picked up at 9:30 a.m. It's such a bummer having to wait around for Phil each day : )

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

From the Gutter

Words are funny things, especially when the bank of words in your head are not the same bank of words used in other places. This may seem obvious. Nevertheless, ignorance can lead to some amusing observations. Humor me, if you will.

It took us a few driving experiences to figure out a word, usually set beside an arrow, that we encountered while driving: Utfart. We ascertained that it meant exit when we also saw infart at an entrance, with similar arrows (it was easier to verify this at a McDonalds because of the usual entrance and exit signs). Still, you can imagine that the words, whenever we saw them, reminded us of flatulations—in and out. Imagine how we laughed when we saw “hinderfart!” It is the word for speed bump.

It all makes sense when you put it into context, of course.

Similarly, when in public, I felt (and still feel) a certain shyness about the fact that I cannot understand what is being spoken around me, especially when the conversation is directed at me. But when I heard the word “s*x” used rather frequently, I felt quite a bit shyer. You world travelers will know what I was hearing, but I was beginning to think these people much bolder than I had first imagined. It was on children’s programming that I learned the word meant the number six.

If you’ve read my other posts, you might remember my difficulty understanding the word torkning on the dishwasher and dryer. Since it means “to dry,” I’ve been frustrated that the dishes never really dry until I open the door awhile. I decided to take this under investigation and observe the dishwasher knobs more carefully, in case I might be missing a setting which washes and dries in one episode. What was this? There was a "slut" at the end of the wash cycle!

When I consulted my Finnish friend about this word, he was eating a plate of meatballs. I asked, “Does ‘*slut’ mean finish or end?”

Without even looking up, and still chewing a bit, he said, “Mhmmm.” Swallowing, he said, “Yes.” You can ask an innocent question, around here, and these Scandinavian/Europeans don't blink an eye.

I waited. He knows English well and works with enlisted military men from all over the world. He looked up, suddenly, his face alight with what dawned on him, “Oh, I see what you mean. It doesn't mean what you'd think in English, it means finished.” He hardly cracked a smile.

Okay, so my mind is in the gutter, I admit.

*(I don’t want my ad crawlers to start advertising something terrible, thus the weird notation)

Monday, January 14, 2008

This is What You Do--Part 2, Mostly Copenhagen

This is what you do, isn't it? You go to a new area of the globe and promise your children you will do what would be impossible (ride the bus
from Hollviken to the train station, then ride the train into Copenhagen) if you were not out of your element. You find yourself in an old, big, crowded city and go see the castle and the library and you're out of there, right? Well that was what we did the first time.

We also saw the castle at Malmo. A very well preserved place, complete with a windmill and moat.
I won't say much about it but to include photos (I'm having trouble uploading them today, will try again), here. I'm so far behind on these posts that I have to condense somewhere!

This was my journal of our second trip to Copenhagen:

November 28, 2007

There was really no reason to enjoy another trip to Copenhagen. We had been there parts of three weekends in a row. There was a non-stop blowing rain. The still busy streets were wet. So many people squinted against this miserable weather that one grew more wet from the coats of those who passed.

Where would we dry our soaked raincoats, gloves, hats and shoes? Our out-of-the-way hotel rented a tiny, cold room. The hangers were attached to the closet rod, so it was not possible to hang clothes around the room and there was nowhere to hang them if we could. The closet rod was less than one foot long inside of a nice IKEA cubby cupboard which also housed the refrigerator and microwave—cleverly made to fit in so tiny a room.

We grumbled, we managed, we tried to make the best of it.

One major problem was that we had decided to wait until after our “Thanksgiving dinner” with Phil’s coworker and family to cross the Oresund Bridge from Malmö, Sweden to Copenhagen, Denmark. We arrived in Denmark around seven p.m. and I realized that I didn’t remember the name of the hotel I had booked because we had been preparing too many trips at one time. This meant getting lost, using another hotel’s internet to look for my reservations online, then having the GPS take us completely around the airport along the seashore (dark, rainy night—not much to see) until we could check in and put our things in the room. When we drove into the heart of Copenhagen, it was nearly nine p.m.

Tivoli was alight in all of its splendor. The line was not as long as the one Phil didn’t want to manage at five p.m. on a clear night the weekend before. We paid a high entry price because we had not remembered to purchase the “Copenhagen card” (a discount activity card that practically pays for itself) before the tourist office closed. I had intended to get a few tickets for Hunter to ride some rides, but Phil had not understood that, so we were limited to finding free activities for Hunter and trying to steer him away from the children’s lit canal boats, and other such pleasures. We were already completely wet and found the whole maze confusing.

Centered in Copenhagen, Tivoli is believed to have been part of the nearby castle moat which has been turned into an amusement park, souvenir shopping, theater, concert and fine dining area. Between late November and late December, Tivoli turns into a lighted fairy-land and opens its gates to theater goers, fine diners and those who would purchase jewelry, Christmas ornaments, candies, and expensive impractical gifts. I saw a fast-food cook wearing a blue Santa’s hat complete with blinking blue light in the tassel. Photos with Santa on an six-person sleigh, pulled by reindeer-coated fake reindeer were available, but Santa couldn’t stand the blowing rain, I guess, because he was gone when we were there, so we took our own picture (lucky for us because Phil was reluctant to spend any money at all once we entered).

Hunter especially liked a huge room decorated in much the same way as Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World” ride, only we were on foot and everything was Styrofoam snow and moving elves doing any number of snowy activities: sledding, skating, skiing, cutting and baking cookies in a house or shop, building an igloo, throwing snowballs, cutting wood, finding a Christmas tree, mining, falling at any of the above activites, etc. I was relieved to be in such a room to get out of the rain and feel like there was something wonderful in Tivoli that we could do with Hunter. The crowds inside were dense enough that if I blinked, I couldn’t find my overly independent, burrowing, Hunter. This happened too many times. People were not interested in giving way even a fraction of an inch to let a mother pass to find her child (Phil was getting some cash at an ATM in case we would need it, so he couldn’t help me).

The weekend before, we had walked past one side of Tivoli and saw children playing on jungle gyms and other such things. So, it was my intent to find these free delights for Hunter. All of this was done into the blowing wind and in coats that began to feel more like wet saran wrap than protection. Hunter was, indeed, delighted by the play areas, but the areas were not lit and the toys were so damp that his pants and shoes grew wet (no snow pants on…). He couldn’t enjoy the slides because they were more like waterslides in the dark. There was a huge red mattress-looking thing the size of a living room for jumping on like a trampoline. Phil and Hunter enjoyed jumping on that thing, but every indentation was a puddle and their socks were soon wet, too.

We decided to leave the dark play area and enjoy the beautiful lights over the water. They had strung lights on every strand of each weeping willow over the water and lit up large decorations floating on rafts as well as a small sail ship turned restaurant. Enchanting.

By now, it was rare to see anyone on the trails. Everyone seemed exquisitely dressed and dining over candles under huge chandeliers in the many-windowed restaurants. The smell of waffles, skivvors, and other fried pastries led one on and on in search of such warmth at the little stands. But we were walking around “doing Tivoli” as if dutifully, and not dressed up or prepared to spend the big bucks on dinner in a fine restaurant, feeling wet and frumpy (if not left out and grumpy).

On our search to find Santa’s sleigh, Hunter finally cried out that he was too cold. He had resisted wearing his stocking cap under his hood or his good winter mittens, both of which I had been holding in the rain. I felt his hands and face and was a bit worried that he might be on his way to hypothermia! I told him he needed to trust me when I outfitted him for the weather—that what he wore might help him. Nevertheless, I stuck his cold, wet hands into his winter mittens and put his damp cap on. Both seemed to help enough for him to be in the mood to explore, again, and to wait willingly for a fried noodle-looking thing sprinkled with cinnamon (kanel, here) and sugar (sukkar). We also ordered some glögg, just to experience the favorite “jul” drink (drikk) in the area.

The pasteries were great! But the VERY HOT glögg warmed us in a way we weren’t sure we were supposed to be warmed (we asked for it to have no rum, but forgot to request that it not be alcoholic) and made us want to spit it out. I worked my way through some of it because I was very cold and glad to have something hot to drink. But with every sip I shivered like my brother does when he takes Robitussen—come to think of it, it tasted like hot Robitussin! At the bottom of the plastic cup (all of which we kept as souvenirs of the place) was a mess of raisins and nuts--two things I don’t care to have floating in my drink. We furtively poured most of the rest of our hot drinks into the many fragrant woodchips surrounding lit Christmas trees. Phil said, “it’s expensive, but I can’t think of another way.”

We were finally ready to call it a night after looking in at some ornaments for the tree. Phil would tell me the exchange in dollars and things were so alarmingly expensive in our currency that I passed on everything. After all, we had our plastic Tivoli cups…

Outside the walls of Tivoli, Copenhagen’s night life ramped up. Ambulances blared. Live music, piped outside from inside the pubs, caused us to look around for the amplified vocals. Night time laughter echoed off of the many 14th century buildings.

The man in the parking booth, who had our car keys, was not there when we arrived. All we wanted to do was take off our wet coats and get back to the hotel.

By the time we hit the road, it was difficult to see through the rain on the windshield, even with the wipers flapping their fasted. Furthermore, the streets are confusing enough that even with the GPS instructions, I had to take a few u-turns. (“As soon as possible,” the computerized voice would say, “turn around.”)

The Dragör Hotel, charmingly lit with candles throughout the entrance and sitting room, felt overly economized. Everything was dark in the hallways except for the inviting entrance. Along the hall walls and the long staircases were intervals of switches which temporarily turned dim lights on, but they often turned off before you reached the top of the stairway or the end of the hall (where our room was). The room contained only three lamps, each to be lit separately. The bathroom light was motion sensored.

The bathroom was so small one could practically use the toilet, sink and shower at once. In fact, they were the same tiled area, the shower simply a head on the tiled wall in the corner. The soap provided, in a liquid dispenser to the left of the sink, was graciously intended to function as hand soap, shower gel and shampoo, but one had to go completely out from under the barely warm and running water to reach it. There was no heat of any kind in the bathroom.

The room felt so cold that we didn’t have to tell Hunter to get in bed, he was under the initially cold comforter as soon as he could kick his shoes and clothing off. Out the windows, we could see the Øsrund Bridge and lights we couldn’t understand. Though we had a balcony, it was simply too windy-cold to step out to get a better view (one of my favorite things to do anywhere, if you know me well). We hadn’t brought any books to read to Hunter, so Phil told him a wonderful story. I was jealous that he could make up such a wonderful story when I’m the writer in the family.He confessed it was a story he remembered reading from the library in Hayden. It was probably midnight before we turned off the lights.

The Next Day
The sun shone brightly in the windows, waking Hunter, who in turn pounced to wake us up, too. In the morning light, we could see that we were not far off shore. There stood Dragör Fort and a marina lined, several rows thick, with winterized fishing and sailboats. Ships and barges on the sea silhouetted against the sunrise and the Øsrund Bridge. International jets droned overhead.

I made Hunter hop in the shower with Phil, much to Hunter’s chilly dismay, so we’d be ready for the whole day in Copenhagen.

In the dining room, lovely papered tables graced with live maroon mums in thin vases and candles flickering beside a view of the sea invited one to linger over breakfast. A mural of three eight foot poppies on long stems looked fetching against the white wall at one end. We enjoyed a typical European breakfast with choices like tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, apples, oranges, grapes, melon, cheese, sliced meat, French bread and Danish rolls, sliced pastry, marmalade, honey, yogurt and several types of muesli-like toppings. Of course there was coffee, tea, milk and juice. Hunter ate ravenously and didn’t seem to mind the variety.

We took time to visit the fort and take photos of what we could, since the Experimentarium did not open until 11 am and the English speaking church services we could find on the internet did not start until late afternoon. The process of catching up with each other (because I am always slow, my camera memory cards are always full at the wrong times, etc) took too much time, but we eventually caught up with each other on top of the fort after a barrage of wind and pelting snow (didn’t stick--hard on the camera, though). When I turned around at the top of the fort, a beautiful rainbow arched over the quaint town of Dragor.

As usual, I was not anxious to leave the sea, the hotel or Dragor, though it was time to check out and get on with our plans. It always takes me too long to digest a place. We were headed the wrong way on a one way street from the hotel when I asked Phil if he had actually checked out. He hadn’t. Another delay, this time not MY fault : )

Once back into the city, we thought the GPS led us to a parking place alongside a little river under an old windmill. We piled out into the rain and walked around the corner toward what we thought would be the Experimentarium. Strong, wonderful food smells met our noses, though we could only see apartment buildings and an old church. No Experimentarium. Walking further, we started meeting folks drinking glogg, eating meatballs on sticks and sundry other delectables. We realized we were hungry and let our noses lead us to food at a Swedish Lutheran church holding a bizarre on Sunday!

We squeezed into the doorway and the office along with streams of others. At the office, we asked if we were anywhere near the Experimentarium. But when we mentioned the street we were looking for, we were still several blocks around the bay from our destination. We asked if the bizarre was open to the public and the man behind the counter said, “It is!” I asked if they could change some money for us. “We can! And we hope you spend several Krona, here, for a good cause!” They exchanged our SK into DK and we pressed in with the crowd past Swedish traditional homespun and home cooked items. All the booth attendants wore traditional clothing. We ate a strange combination of traditional Christmas cheesecake with berries and cream, open faced meat sandwiches, Kanel buns, and soda. I bought a few Christmas ornaments and we spent a long time waiting for each other at the bathrooms.

Two hours later we were pushed and shoved back onto the rainy sidewalk, having spent too much money on too little. We walked back to our car in search of our original destination. By the time we parked our car in the correct parking lot—not easily found in a maze of construction and industrial buildings—it was dusk. We realized we would have to miss any afternoon or evening church service, since we were now committed for up to four hours.

The Experimentarium was everything and more that we had heard or read about. Hunter was in a world of delight before he could complain about anything. It was like one big science lab broken down into various child-friendly experiments. Hunter easily spent a half an hour each on interlocking pieces, a wheel-barrow and hand-cranked crane construction site, the water wheel/lock/pump site and the sand/water display. He flitted between other experiments, too, but we found him at the crane the most. Near closing, we lost Hunter amidst all the fun and spent awhile looking for him. I would see him through one archway only to lose him as he darted off to another place. He was still discovering human-sized bubbles and gyroscopes and telescopes and more when we dragged him out of the place. Phil and I enjoyed trying the experiments, too.

When we found our way in the dark around several construction pothole puddles to the car, we were all thoroughly overwhelmed and exhausted. We decided we wanted nothing more than to be home eating peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. The thought of such warmth and comfort took us more excitedly over the bridge to home than our original excitement to do something fun for the weekend in Copenhagen!

Friday, January 11, 2008

First Days in Sweden Part 1, Day 6

~Friday, Day 6~

Being stuck in the house with Hunter’s illness and again waiting for the repairman, during the first week of the trip, helped me realize something very real and human: If I kept hiding behind my overwhelm and ignorance, I would spend many more days in a deepening isolation. It is one thing, completely, to choose silent hours and days alone for the sake of prayer, contemplation, writing, reading or exploration, but it is quite another to hole up because of ignorance. And ignorance is often a state we call comfort. It is also true that I felt as if I were an intruder in this wonderful little village and that the folks here might not consider knowing me as much of an adventure as I felt knowing them might be. But how was I to know if this feeling was true without using the best advice I have ever received: ask, seek and knock?

Certainly, Kent’s personal help from across the lawn the day before was an encouragement: we were not lost or isolated. We had a neighbor with a name and a phone number who had invited us to call anytime. This was intensely fortifying.

After a quick breakfast and only one cartoon, Hunter and I donned our coats, hats and gloves to walk another direction out of town to visit the tourist center. We passed a line of two-by-two walking young people around Hunter’s age, all wearing safety vests and walking a long way in the same direction as ourselves. Seeing the children walking as if this were normal—no whining—helped Hunter do the same, if not try to out-walk them all.

Soon enough we were in the tourist office, gaping at all the beautiful things they had for sale, enjoying the chance to be out of the house and now even out of the wind. The woman behind the counter gave me her full attention and plenty of maps, calendars and other information about the area for our touring fancy. This AFTER she got off of her cell phone. Just before she was completely finished with me, the telephone rang again. Another woman at a desk seemed proficiently capable of doing anything but answering the telephone.

Another human encounter in our own language. This was going to be a beautiful day!

We dallied a bit around the tourist office on the surrounding deck overlooking the sea and a little marina. The rank seaweed deposits in murky mud, pounded by waves enough to stir up the stink all the more, kept us from hanging about all day. Hunter had a good run from one end of the deck to the other and back several times, and I was able to find a toalett (WC, restroom, etc) to ease my discomfort from walking.

We walked back toward town, proud to have walked all the way to the tourist bureau and across the scary highway. We decided that a trip to the little grocery store and another to the bakery would be another fun part of our walk and for a more tasty lunch.

When we entered the bakery, I fessed up that we were in Hollviken for a prolonged stay. That my name was Juliene and this was Hunter to whom the bakery has become a favorite place in town. Maria, on the other side of the counter, told us about her son in California and the sorry lot of breads in the U.S. compared to Sweden. She recommended some breads on the shelf and enjoyed Hunter’s questions and comments.

Another woman entered the room during this exchange. She was probably in her later 60’s and wore bright orange lipstick on her large, sagging pink lips. Otherwise her clothes were classy and she seemed interested in us since she’d seen us also at the grocery store (which the locals call the Konsum). She asked how old Hunter was and said she had a grandson his age. Both she and Maria mentioned how important it would be to play with other children.

I agreed wholeheartedly. For some strange reason we decided not to exchange phone numbers because we figured we’d meet up again, since we’d just followed each other from the Konsum to the Bakery. I’ve never seen that woman again.

Furthermore, I called the church in Hollviken to get an appointment regarding the church pre-school. Christina and I had an appointment the following Monday, and, yes, there was room for Hunter.

Hunter asked a million questions about the possibility of school and kept begging me to find friends. He asked if it was Sunday, yet, so he could play with David. He would ask if it was time to go back to Idaho, yet; that he missed Laura, Malachi, Alex, Abigail and Crystal. “You’ll find friends, soon, Hunter,” I would say, hoping it would be sooner than later. Phil’s brother-in-law had expressed concern for Hunter with regard to this time in Sweden (because his father had moved the family so much), so I felt Hunter’s pangs all the more.

The thought of riding a real train the next day soon diverted his attention away from his friends and his grandparents.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Book Review--The Lost Continent by Bill Bryson

My daughter gave me Bill Bryson's book, "The Lost Continent: travels in small-town America," for my birthday. She knew I admired his writing and, boy, was I looking forward to reading the book.

Published in 1989, the format is in two parts, East and West. By the end of part 1 and the beginning of part 2, the reader is made to understand that two separate trips were made within several months; one in the East part of the U.S. and the other the West, starting and ending each loop in Iowa.

Bryson begins with his peculiar brand of generalizations, like "Every once in a while you come across a farm or some dead little town where the liveliest thing is the flies," (p. 5) or "Iowa women are almost always sensationally overweight..." (p. 6) and doesn't quit throughout the book. The reader gets a look inside Bryson's head and out his eye sockets. Within the pages is autobiographical information about himself as a child, his interest in living elsewhere (than the U.S.), his mother, family vacations with his father at the helm, and most importantly, how his father's passing prompted a journey around the U.S.

It is a journey of memory and discovery with a limited perspective. Sometimes the content is brilliant and most other times crude

As one would expect, Bryson uses his humorous observations to describe a place and expertly weaves statistics and facts throughout. This way it is not terribly painful to read about geography of the landscape or the mind. However, this time I felt put off by many of his observations and, more so, comparisons/metaphors.

His recollections of his father-directed family vacations and his mother's unflinching support (or purposeful neutrality) are Baby-Boomer relatable!

Monday, January 7, 2008

First Days in Sweden Part 1, Day 5

~Wednesday~Day 5~

Wednesday, I woke up expectantly. Phil would take the bus, leaving Hunter and I to explore in the car. And that we did. He was the perfect angel (you all know this is unusual) just because we were seeing new things, going somewhere and not sick! The Landlady had told me about a grocery store with better prices , called “Toppen,” which means “Great!” I thought it must surely be in a larger town South of here, so I tucked my newly formed list in with the camera, scarves and gloves and we were off.

At the mouth of the driveway, I decided to drive the opposite direction that we’d let the GPS take us. The houses were fine—obviously set up for summer days because of the many outdoor “rooms” with varying outdoor furniture themes, glass atriums, screened rooms, special landscaping and lighting options—very fine. We saw a sign with a head bobbing above waves and interpreted that to mean a swimming area, so we followed the sign. Saw people giving and taking horse riding lessons and found a parking lot full of directions we couldn’t read. I parked and we thought of getting out, but we were surrounded by stucco buildings with orange roofs and I saw a sign reading something like biljettmatiserat (I am spelling this terribly wrong), which I knew to mean the need for tickets, but I wasn’t sure for what—parking? entering? swimming? Ignorant, again, we left toward a more familiar part of the sea.

We parked across from the sea and crossed the big highway (there was a crosswalk). I wanted to get photos of the huge white swans. The wind was tremendous enough to keep us from lingering and the water so choppy that no swans actually floated there, as they usually do. Instead, we saw a flock of large black and gray birds (they may have been large seagulls, but I’m not sure) bobbing on the waves. Somehow that picture did not meet my sense of aesthetic, so we let the wind sweep us back to the car. Hunter and I were practically giddy with our freedom.

We headed south, past our little piece of the sound, past a little marina, past more farming fields, a campground, a nature reserve (a brown, muddy field surrounded by nut and birch trees), until we reached the little town of Falsterbo. This town was so small the Volvo felt like a wide-load on its narrow streets. A few people crossed streets and walked their exotic dogs (there are a lot of exotic dogs, here—like Afgans, tall poodles, and those black tongued shaggy dogs.) Bicycles seemed to have the upper hand. No big grocery store, no Toppen. I kept running into streets-turned-walkways so the only thing I could do was turn around and head back (unless, of course, I had gotten out of the car, which would have let Hunter loose, and I wasn’t prepared for that). We headed back to the highway where we could drive freely in the spaciousness. What I have since discovered is that Falsterbo is a tiny finger jutting into the sea. We’ll be going back, that’s for sure—Phil needs to see it, too!

Back in Hollviken, we simply drove through the main street until we reached the other side. There, standing in all of its glory, was Toppen. The parking lot looked like what you would see at Burger King (in fact, there was a Burger King, there), not like what you might see at a small to medium-sized mall. There was a tiny play area between the Burger King entrance and the mall entrance, so Hunter had to try it out—frightening the mother and grandmother of a two-year old who played happily nearby. Hunter is much more aggressive than the Swedish children we’ve met. They think he is wonderful—some kind of free they are not. If he runs, twirls with his arms out, they try it too--the matrons and mothers’ faces look filled with Swedish consternation.

I urged Hunter to come in with me so we could look around the mall and get groceries. We started our exploration with a Burger King burger and fries.

Both Hunter and I entered the bigger grocery store with a sense of gleeful anticipation. This would be fun. Hunter wanted to play with the automatic entry arms, to grab the hand basket or a rolling hand basket, but I already had a cart.

It was easy enough to grab a loaf of bread, crackers and a bag of coffee, but I needed some staples. There was a baking aisle just inside the entrance and this is where it got interesting. It is not difficult to purchase recognizable things like a piece of fruit or a loaf of bread, but what do you do with an aisle of white bags, all resembling flour or sugar, when you can’t understand what they are? Even spices. They had changed the names of the spices on me so that I was dumbfounded to figure them out. I had to go into slow motion, to read everything just to see if anything looked or sounded familiar.

Hunter, not slowed by Swedish illiteracy, ran circles around me, around the baking island within the aisle, further down the aisles, in front of carts practically causing cart accidents. He was not responding to gentle urgings to come back to me. I found the word Vete and decided that would work well enough for Wheat flour (because the back felt like that kind of heft and not of the actual grains) in a smallish bag and Sokker in another bag just like it. Go down the aisle and grab Hunter. I found baking powder alright, by the shape of the can, but no sign of baking soda.

We moved on to another section. Soaps, cleaners and cleaning items. Recognizable items—even to Hunter. An artistically dressed elderly woman with a green walker turned toward me and asked something in Swedish. I expressed my inability to understand and she switched easily into English, “Can you tell me where the soap is? I’m looking for something for my granddaughter.” At first I was nervous, because this was my first time in the store. I took a deep breath and looked around. From my vantage point, I could see that she stood very near what she was looking for and mentioned she might find it behind her. Sure enough. She was satisfied.

This event gave me a little more courage—until I realized Hunter was nowhere around me. Like a terrible mother, I gathered what I needed from that section before I went in search of him again. He was running the aisles like a maze. I found him near the spices. So I told him to stay with me or I’d never be able to take him with me to the store again. He sulked beside me, kicking the wheels on the cart.

I began the nerve wracking process of trying to find the spices I needed. For some reason, it had never occurred to me that I might not understand the names of spices. Even their colors were illusive. How, exactly, do you tell the difference between cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom if the lids are twice sealed? How do you tell the difference between the green spices? One thing was for sure, these people liked their pepper because there were dozens of papperkorewhatever on the shelves. I found Basilika, Kardemmuma and citronpeppar. Hunter whined and tried to sneak a foot in another direction, but I kept him near me. It occurred to me that if I could just find the whole form of cinnamon and cloves, I would be closer to finding what I needed. Sure enough, I found the word Kanel for cinnamon and nejlikor for cloves and was on my way to finding other necessary spices by the same method. But by then I was literally sweating with the sense of how long this was taking with a three-year old.

I had to grab an employee to help me find baking soda. It was in a tiny zip-lock bag with a picture of cooked fish and some white stuff sprinkled on it. Bikarbonat. Of course, that makes sense. But in a row of tiny ziplocks, it doesn’t jump out at a housewife like it would a chemist, that’s for sure.

We moved onto the meat section. Hunter gladly skipped beside me, ready for more adventure. I found two packages of meat before he announced, “I have to go poo.” My cart was full of hard-earned treasure and Hunter urged, “really bad!” I asked the college aged woman at the deli counter if there was a restroom in the store. She said the only one was at Burger King.

Before I could panic about what to do with my cart, the young woman said, “I’ll keep your cart behind the counter with me.”

Just getting out of the store for a moment was insanely liberating. I dreaded going back, but wanted to accomplish what I had wandered the countryside for. In the restroom I realized one reason I was sweating so much was that I still had my scarf, coats and hat on. Hunter went reluctantly and I, resolutely, back into the store, with an armful of winter gear and retrieved our cart. The young woman offered Hunter a piece of sausage, saying, “These are usually for if you buy something from our counter, but I wanted to say, ‘Welcome to Sweden.’”

Hunter was forever impressed.

I will not go into what it was like to see thousands of neat little milk-like cartons and wonder which really was milk or why some read “yoghurt,” or how hard it was for me to understand the difference between the words for orange and apple (aplesiner and apple). We did finally get out of the store, but not before I was completely out of my mind with language frustration not to mention contemplating murder.

Believe it or not, it was a relief to go home, put groceries away and put dinner in the oven, knowing that it would be finished just about the time Phil got home.

I told Phil about my difficulty understanding the road signs and the ingredients at the grocery store. About Hunter staring at cartoons in Swedish and how we were surrounded with reminders that we seemingly didn’t belong here. He said, “Wow, you guys really are getting a different experience than I am. At work, everyone speaks English and the place is completely quiet, otherwise, all day.” Quiet! How nice.

During the clean-up after dinner, I was nodding off over the sink. It had been an overstimulating day.

First Days in Sweden Part 1, Day 4

~Tuesday~Day 4~

Hunter had slipped between us in the night, kicking and tossing enough to make sure none of us slept deeply. After awhile I put him back in his own bed, where he slept long enough for Phil and me to fumble through the morning quietly.

Phil took the car to work because he had some heavy things to bring home from the city. I was secretly disappointed to have no car because I wanted to visit the swans and fishing boats at the seaside with Hunter. But when Hunter awoke, he was vomiting.

Of course the landlady called to give me the church phone number during one of these repeated episodes and wanted to talk awhile. Sigh. When she finally understood that Hunter was ill, she was worried about her family and the rest of the village because “these things can be very dangerous for families.” I figured she meant contagious and reassured her we wouldn’t try to get Oscar and Hunter together until Hunter was well.

He continued this way for a good half of the day, crying that he was hungry and tired of being sick. I was tired of it, too, but we endured by watching cartoons in Swedish voiced-over English. Miraculously, Hunter was well by 12:30 pm. He wanted to go for a walk to the bakery, and I wanted to get out of the house. I figured the fresh air wouldn’t hurt and we took off.

The walk from our house to the village is so close, that we may not be able to justify driving for very many reasons. The road is narrow, however, and the walkway so close that I sometimes worry that my running child could fall into the road. We’re working on manageable solutions.

At the bakery, Hunter discovered a cake that he hopes we will buy for his birthday. He also enjoyed buying bread with the thought of actually eating it! It was good to see him back to his normal self and wonderful to be walking around in a quaint little village instead of being cooped up in the house.

When we got home, the meal in the oven smelled great and it was almost time for Phil to be home. Everything was as if we were back home in Hayden: Eat dinner, clean up while Phil putters around in his office and Hunter alternates his time between us (only without the long walk across the yard).

We could count on Phil to bring good news in with him after work (I don’t know why that is, but it is often true). This time it was that he would be heading for Tel Aviv, Israel to check out a product, that he had been urged to stay over that weekend and that he intended to take us with him. Honestly, I’ll believe I’m going to Israel when I see the paid itinerary. How does one “walk where Jesus walked” in only a weekend? Phil says, “by seeing Jerusalem only.” Oh.

The whole thing—Sweden and its language, Hunter’s illness, trying to find a routine and thinking about possibly taking another international leap—is exhausting. Sleep usually calls.

First Days in Sweden Part 1, Day 3

~Monday~Day 3~

Monday morning Phil informed me that we would be driving him to work. We hustled around to be ready. Hunter, still waking us up in the wee hours, bounced off the walls. I was bleary-eyed and a bit nervous about dropping Phil off and being on my own in the city (it feels a lot like Seattle with a dark side). We endured car-creeping through construction on the highway, the impatient traffic (much more aggressive than the weekend traffic we had encountered thus far—a semi snaked back and forth in both lanes to keep cars from passing him to get ahead in the merger), and the difficulty of the GPS saying “turn right, turn right” ad. infinitum, while we waited for pedestrians and bicyclists at every quarter block interval in the city.

Inside Securitas, it was another sheltered environment like the church. Everyone spoke English in the business setting (though they spoke multiple other languages into their “mobiles”). Phil introduced me to his team of coworkers, among whom was Häkum, who had met us at the airport. They didn’t have a place for Phil to set up his equipment or sit, yet, so during this strange time, he would sit in one desk for a few moments until the occupant arrived, then he would take the next empty chair. It happened so rapidly that Phil finally mentioned the musical chair game from the US!

Lars, a man in another office, called our Landlord for us so we could inquire about paying rent and other details. He made an appointment for the Landlord to meet us at the house on Tuesday.

Hunter and I left Phil and bothered Ashley, the American receptionist, about directions to the nearest thrift store to look at better coats, a scarf, a hat and gloves for Hunter. She urged us to leave the car in the parking garage and take a bus, printed off a map for us, then accompanied us to our car (which she informed us we were borrowing from her father, Fred, to whom Phil reports). She gave me the number to call her in case we were lost and accompanied us to the bus stop. I was grateful for this because my sense of direction was seriously challenged. On the way to the bus stop, I wondered aloud if I had actually locked the car doors and realized that I had not paid for another hour for parking. Ashley, being familiar with the car and the method of paying, was kind enough to go back and take care of both for me on the way back to the office. What a kindness! I am eternally grateful to her for such gifts that day.

Hunter looked forward to the bus ride and strode confidently to the back where the seats were raised enough for him to peer out of the windows. I didn’t realize how purposeful this was when I followed him until we rode the bus back and I chose a lower seat. He complained about being unable to see what was going on out the windows. When we got off of the bus, we headed the wrong way down the block, circled around into some dense apartment or dormitory areas. I was nervous about what Phil had told me that if I was not careful to stay out of certain parts of town, I might be met with Muslims who thought me a “woman of ill repute” with no headdress.

The only person we encountered was of Middle Eastern descent, but head dress-less, carrying bags of groceries. We were able to ask where the thrift store was and there it was in plain sight! It was somehow comforting for me to find a thrift store, since I frequent them so often in the U.S. Unfortunately, the items were fairly expensive (unless I was overreacting to the high krona numbers, so we found an orange hat for Hunter (the tassles of which he has since removed) and a few little Christmassy things to make the house homey for Christmas.

It may seem silly to purchase Christmas decorations. Monday, after less than 48 hours in Sweden, Christmas seemed the only familiar event in the world. Which it is!

I did not feel comfortable enough in that section of town to wander down the streets to see other things, especially with a very active boy who felt no fear at all, so we got on the next bus. The driver had to nod to me when we had reached our destination, which was a broad square, surrounded by gardens and canals and filled with little tents of goods. I could not find my bearings, immediately and Hunter said he was hungry right now! so we slowed down to get a snack of spring rolls from a Vietnamese man who mentioned that most of his family live in California.

If I’ve heard one thing most often from the friendly folk here in Southern Sweden, it is that they have family in California. And it doesn’t matter their nationality, either.

We sat on the outside table under little umbrellas and watched the world go by while we dipped the spring rolls in sauce and ate. During this relaxing moment, when my brain could relax enough to figure things out, I noticed a fruit and vegetable stand where I eventually bought greens and fruit for the week. I felt a sense of possibly being “taken” in an open market like that, but the grocer was gracious and helpful telling me what things were especially expensive for this time of year and what things were more fresh and closer to season (much like farm fresh goods at home, actually). He did not, however, apologize for the lettuce having a few black and slimy leaves because that was all we could expect for this time of year. Since I was still figuring out the Swedish coins and paper money, I accidentally gave him an inordinate amount of cash to change so that he had to get more change from a nearby tent, but it was the correct change.

I took photos of some of the square and called Ashley, admitting that I wasn’t sure where to go from the square. That Hunter was running around a rock sculpture. She knew exactly where we were and directed me back to the parking garage in no time. I decided my brain was fried enough for one day, asked Phil to catch the bus home so I wouldn’t have to spend another round trip of gas. He agreed to do so and we headed out past calming farms and fields, back to our new home.

Hunter was asleep before we were out of the city limits. I put Hunter in his bed, did some laundry, checked e-mail, arranged a few more things, then succumbed to a short nap, myself.

It is exhausting to be immersed into a language one cannot even use much common Latin to decipher. I must have puzzled over the washer and dryer settings for a half and hour and revisited them often to make sure the machine was doing what I wanted even if I didn’t know how to tell it. There are so many buttons and knobs with various icons and words that one cannot just turn and pull the knob to start. What is torkening? And what is the difference between one squiggly water symbol over another with the same intervals of degrees Celsius? The oven and dishwasher were no different and the manuals in the laundry room drawer were no help (because they were only in Swedish).

By the time Phil arrived home from work, my brain was a frustrated jumble. He did inform me that we had an invitation to an American Thanksgiving. It was something I understood, at least, but then I realized I had nothing to bring and not nearly the ingredients one would need to put something together. Being one to process things like invitations with connecting ideas and the need to implement them, this strange helplessness felt like a short circuit.

Short circuit or no, we had to eat quickly because the Landlord and lady arrived to discuss everything. I had already tidied the house and swept the floors in anticipation of their coming. But our unfinished dinner sat on the table during their visit.

Tove and Eva P. seemed personable enough. Tove is a very tall man and obviously industrious. He bustled around the house setting things up that hadn’t yet been finished before we arrived (that we didn’t know were unfinished). Phil followed him around and showed him what changes we had made for putting the office upstairs.

Eva, whose English was not as versatile as Tove’s, followed me around the house to help me understand the knobs and buttons on the appliances. She was pleased to tell me that she had washed every window in the house, herself, and that it should be easy enough for me to vacuum, sweep, mop and clean with the things she had left me in the broom closet.

“What is Torkening?” I asked her.

“Torkening. Yes! That’s right. Torkening!” she said as if saying the word repeatedly would help its meaning suddenly dawn on me. Whatever its meaning (I admit, I’ve not looked it up, yet, because I’m enjoying the first week of my ignorance), she showed me what settings she used and I’ve used them, since.

The stovetop? No problem. This sixty-something, brunette-bobbed woman in a plaid suit and overcoat (like a Babushka with style) whooshed into the kitchen and took up one of my new kitchen towels. “Your fingers have something on them, see?” She takes the towel and presses the places painted on the glass and the red lights come on for her, no problem, indeed. That’s right, we are unable to use the stovetop without a towel.

The most wonderful thing Eva told me was that I could call the church (there is only one?) in Höllviken to make arrangements for school or childcare for Hunter. She would call me with the church number in the morning.

All that done, we talk about their four-year old grandson and how we can get him together with Hunter. They tell us their daughter is marrying a man from New York at their home this weekend and that they are very busy. That after the wedding, they will have more bedding to share for any company we might have. We learn that Tove is a grain farmer. We feel endeared to them by the time they leave, even if we finish our meal an hour later.

Not long after the dinner dishes are finished, I join the boys in the upstairs den where they are happy building their domains. I plop on a couch to simply be near them. But I can’t keep my eyes open long enough to hear a question or even answer one. It is a relief to realize I can start the bedtime routine for Hunter and soon be off to sleep, myself!

First Days in Sweden Part 1, Day 2

~Sunday~Day 2~

Though we were completely messed up when it came to time, waking up was easy. We were already awake. Hunter had woken me up at one a.m. and none of us slept well after that. We bounded out of bed with serious headaches, hunger (and one stomach ache) at six or seven in the morning. Phil got the address to the International Church he had found on the internet before leaving the states. The service began at 10:30 a.m., so we had plenty of time. We ate buttered bread toasted to nearly burnt under the broiler, yogurt and bananas. We couldn’t make the stovetop work to fry eggs. We were discouraged that we might not be able to use a stovetop. How would we cook our meals?

If finding the entrance to the parking lot of IKEA was difficult, it was even worse when it came to the church. According to the GPS, the huge, block-sized, mall-like building we were driving around was our destination. There were no friendly signs with sermon topics or a cross. What signs were available didn’t seem helpful at all (a trend?): A restaurant, a vacant laundry, etc. People were, indeed, streaming in as if it were time for something to start, but every last one seemed elderly. The cross-walk was busy with stylishly dressed elderly women in long coats pushing their little green-wheeled walkers (in fact, these green walkers with hand-brakes are used by masses of the walking elderly—who seem to be many compared to those on foot in the US). We had already driven around the exterior once the wrong way, so we decided to park across the street.

We entered into what still looked very much like a mall. Organ music played over an overhead speaker. An elderly woman in a camel skirt-suit was handing out bulletins and chatting with another woman. We waited our turn, but Phil checked his watch often. Hunter thought the wide open space meant that he should take off running everywhere.

We were finally greeted in Swedish, but the woman quickly changed to broken English to say, “English service? Open door,” pointing away from where I thought the service would be.

There must have been yet another congregation meeting down that way, because I started to hang my coat on the wrong rack—so I was told by people gathered around there, and Phil admonished me with, “didn’t you see the open door?” Which, I guess, I had not. But there it was, an open door—a side door, mind you, in a place this huge.

We entered the open door and were greeted by a short, youngish, Swedish man accompanied by a little black boy. I hung my coat on the correct rack and we entered a tiny sanctuary no larger than the whole main level of my house back home and ceilings only twice as high, but at a 45 degree angle. It was obvious that this room was next to a staircase on the other side of the wall. A jazzy sort of music played at the front with four black women singing in high nasally unison into their microphones. The few people seated were mostly various tones of black with the exception of a lighter-skinned woman with jet black hair and a woman in a big coat and scarf with brownish hair (come to find out, the first woman is Iranian, the second from Lithuania). We were heartily greeted by various English accents. When we sat down, Hunter looked a bit terrified. Phil was his typical expressionless self on yet another adventure and I felt exhaustion pulling at my eyes and brain.

The music stopped and the four women singers sat down amongst us. More people started arriving by twos and threes and the musicians stood to discuss the morning music so that I observed the pianist who looked like a New York gentleman from the era of Lawrence Welk. Behind him a white, bald, pierced man with sunglasses, who looked like a bouncer, played a mean tenor saxophone. A black man jostled a set of congo drums as he arranged transparencies for the overhead (which he managed between and during songs while playing the drums). Together, these men made the most wonderful, jazzy church music I’ve ever heard—it was tasteful and beautiful. Hunter couldn’t resist moving his foot to the music, but he also had trouble sitting or standing still. He’s only had church service experience in the nursery at our church back home (sad, isn’t it?).

By the time the service had begun and we had sung two very familiar songs, the place had filled up with a greater mix of nationalities. I got the greatest understanding of this when it was time for children’s Sunday School and Hunter urged me to go with him. We wound around and downstairs to a place where a few dozen pairs of shoes littered the entrance as a mysterious clue that we should take off our shoes before turning the corner and beholding a most wonderful children’s place—a little like Mr. Roger’s studio. Hunter and I were ushered into a room where a Swedish teacher knelt before a circle of multinational children who were as beautiful as can be. They were fascinated to have an American boy among them, so the teacher had each child tell where their parents had come from: Ghana, The Congo, Vietnam, China, Sweden and the U.S.

The Sunday School lesson was delivered in Swedish and the group of children were gathered from all the congregations meeting in the building. Richard, the teacher, was such a great actor that, even on our first full day in Sweden, hearing and watching the telling of the Good Samaritan in Swedish was nearly as clear as if we had watched a mime.

After that, I could only imagine how many nationalities represented sat upstairs listening to the sermon delivered by a man from Ghana. Apparently, the current pastor is only present two weeks on and two weeks off. He lives in Belgium. They tell me his specialty is International churches. We were amazed what a Holiness message was preached!

Hunter made fast friends with the first black boy we had seen when we entered the service: five year old David. After church they ran and shrieked around that massive space as if it were not church and no one seemed to care. None of the other parishioners flinched.

After the service, the congregation meets for coffee, tea and bread in a little café atmosphere off of the larger foyer. There we were better able to meet people and hear their stories.

I was promised more stories next time I came to church, which I look forward to hearing from the other people. It is not difficult to imagine that these people from all over the world, living in Sweden and gathering together under the Name of the Lord, have stories—some very intense and violent.

Friedrick mentioned that since so many were university students, the turnover of the International congregation (under a larger Swedish Penticostal Church) is very rapid. He said there is a core of some 10-15 people, from there the population fluctuates a great deal.

There is a cafeteria next to the little tea area which serves an inexpensive lunch after church on Sundays. When we heard it was inexpensive, we determined to lunch there rather than wander around town looking for something to eat. We learned that it was necessary to pay cash, yet we had not yet made any cash exchanges, so Phil walked across the street to get cash while I heard Terbarn’s story and Hunter ran around with David. By the time Phil returned, they were closing the cafeteria.

LeAnne, an American who has lived in Malmo a long time, told me to expect such things in Sweden. Time is immaterial. If a business decided to close, it was closed! She then told us it was such an unusually beautiful day that we might enjoy walking around the Lilletorg (pronounced Lillatory--meaning small town).

With that, we dismissed ourselves from the friendly folks. I told Phil about the recommendation and he was delighted because it was the very area Securitas was located, so he’d be able to show us a beautiful area as well as where he would be working each day. In went the word “Lilletorg” on the GPS and we were driving under blue skies past beautiful ancient brick buildings, a castle, several churches with stunning steeples, a canal and parks, hoards of people riding bikes and walking along stone bridges and cobblestone streets.

The women wear black leggings or blue jeans, knee-high black boots and various lengths of mostly black coats with huge collars for pulling up around a colorfully scarved neck with hats of many shapes and colors. Men wear blue jeans and some form of overcoat or shorter double breasted coats in mostly darker colors. The men are less likely to wear hats, though they do wear scarves. I’m thinking about trying some of the style, myself… : )

The wind was bitterly cold, especially when we turned down the narrow cobbled streets in the shadow of the tall buildings. Phil took us to a restaurant mentioned in the guidebooks but it was full, so we went to an Italian restaurant. Phil ordered a pizza to prove what we’d been told by the church people that a pizza is only enough for one, in Sweden. However, this pizza would have fed all of us. I had tortellini with ham and peas and Hunter had spaghetti; adventurous for foreigners, huh?

We walked across a huge canal to the train station for Hunter’s sake, so he could see where the fast electric trains come and go as well as get the feel for the whole place. They are remodeling the station to accommodate more regional travel rather than simply local travel—the demands of the city are growing so fast.

I began to feel ill, so we saw Phil’s office (in a scary part of town on the weekends) and headed back “home.”

The rest of the day was unremarkable for the too-long nap, the unpacking, the getting ready for the work week, including setting up for DSL, networking, etc. We stayed up later that night due to the long nap . . .

First Days in Sweden Part 1, Day 1

~Saturday~Day 1~

We arrived safely in Copenhagen, Denmark on Saturday afternoon, 1:30 pm (4 am PST), November 10, 2007 on 2 ½ hours of sleep, two meals (dinner and breakfast) and some Swedish movies for fuel. We had the greatest number of suitcases and carry-on baggage allowed so that, when Phil wandered around the ground floor of the airport to get his Swedish cell phone to work, I felt profoundly vulnerable guarding two luggage carts and a very independent child. After a good half hour, Phil finally reached our ride by way of the pay phone and good ol’ Visa.

The gray sky day greeted us with a cutting wind amidst a sprinkling of rain. One tiny sleet fell in front of me. We hadn’t put our coats on, yet, but were quick to do so even as we pushed our carts to follow Hölkam, a co-worker of Phil’s at Securitas Direct. Hölkam directed us to a dark green Volvo station wagon and proceeded to pay for parking while we loaded and reloaded the car. Two pieces of luggage wouldn’t fit, but Hölkam assured us we could put them in the backseat since he would be taking the train home and leaving us with the car.

“But, we don’t know the way to the house,” I tried not to whine.

“That’s okay. You have a GPS! Good luck and have a good rest. I’ve even put a little gas in the car for you.” Then, he was gone.

We felt a rush of gratitude, relief and a slight panic. Fortunately Phil had been here before. He’d not driven around, yet, and the car had a manual transmission—not Phil’s expertise, but experience is experience. It took us awhile to get the house address in the GPS (after fumbling around to get it off of a piece of paper from one of the bags under other bags), then it took Phil awhile to get the car out of the parking place, let alone the parking “house.” I urged him to let me drive stick while he helped me navigate an area I’d never driven.

This worked out great. I took a few exits too early as I learned to understand GPS instructions (“exit ahead” does not mean take the nearest exit—it means “get ready.”). One early exit was a God-send because it was a rest area. I hadn’t been able to do the usual thing one does after a ten-hour flight—use the restroom. The highway was exhilarating. Never mind the fact that we were all a bit shaky with flight and lack of sleep.

By the time we started crossing the now-famous Oresund Bridge between Copenhagen, Denmark, and Malmö, Sweden, the clouds were beginning to turn a bit pink with the first signs of sunset. A ship proceeded under the bridge as we crossed. Sailboats and fishing boats dotted the surrounding sea. Needless to say, I was going crazy with delight. “Phil, get my little camera! Get a shot of this suspension part of the bridge . . . and the clouds. . . and the ship. . . and . . . and . . .!

“Look, Juliene, if you don’t just drive, I’m going to make you pull over and let me drive,” Phil said after obliging me with a few snapshots.

After the bridge, we turned off onto the highway along the sound, south of Malmö. We passed freshly plowed fields adjoined by tight groupings of farm houses and outbuildings thus surrounded by leafless trees and a sky wide and wonderful. Everything picturesque, nowhere to turnoff and no strength to linger.

The entrance to our soon-to-be home village, Höllviken, was punctuated by at least three round-abouts and no buildings higher than the church steeple. The houses were large, but so close together that our little white with black trim house seems to be situated in someone’s backyard. And it must be over 2000 square feet!

We parked before a tiny garage on cobblestone paving and unloaded our suitcases in the slight rain over a slippery, moss-covered and uneven slate sidewalk.
The house was a bit cold, but much more wonderful than I had imagined. The first exclamation out of Phil’s mouth was, “The moose is gone!” They had removed the mounted moose-head from the living room which Phil saw when he viewed the house in mid-October. My first exclamation was, “it has a claw-foot tub!”

It also has a cool spiral staircase leading to a perfect room for a combination den and playroom where Phil and Hunter have already made their mark. At both ends of this upstairs room are two bedrooms. One is full of storage and the other is nicely set up with twin beds for the guests we hope to entertain.

There is a king-sized bed (since I first wrote this, I have discovered that they are twin beds simply tied together with plastic hay twine) in the room we sleep in, and a twin bed in an all blue room for Hunter. The main bathroom flaunts the claw foot tub and another ½ bath sits beside the front entrance. A sweet little office with an extra bed sits between the main entrance and the spiral staircase, where I am now typing this document. A big-overstuffed orange couch and twin overstuffed chairs guard the living room and are complimented by a large round glass coffee table and a set of Victorian couch, two chairs and an angular free-standing fireplace.
A tear-shaped chandelier circled by candles hangs over the oval dining table and the kitchen is efficient (more than mine!) with an island, a huge refrigerator and matching freezer and Bosch stovetop, oven, overhead fan and dishwasher.

The laundry room looks like an inviting place to sort, fold and iron clothing and is handy as a little workshop. Off of this room is the new furnace, in its own room. Across from the furnace room, next to the back door is an all tile shower with warming towel rack (a cold place to shower in the winter).

We weren’t able to set everything up at once because we needed food and bedding before we could settle in for the night. We headed to the grocery store and understood things like bananas, oranges, pears and potatoes, but had trouble knowing what the cheeses were (none were orange) or how to decipher the differences in meats and certain other sacks, bags and boxes of things. So we grabbed what we could understand: yogurt, milk, oranges, bananas, peppers, potatoes, milk, a pre-cooked chicken, a loaf of bread, cans of “tun” (tuna), peanut butter, jam, margarine (Lätt), eggs, and some chips.

Phil and Hunter wandered over to the bakery to get a few tasty things there. Hunter is now an avid fan of the place, wishing to go there every day.

By the time we were back at the house, it was four in the afternoon and we were beyond hunger and tiredness. We unceremoniously devoured cold chicken, sliced pepper, buttered bread and chips.

It is Phil’s method of operation to acclimate to a new time zone by keeping busy until the earliest time the locals would turn in. Four o’clock does not count as the earliest time, plus, our beds were still unadorned with sheets and warm blankets. We piled back into the car and punched in the address of IKEA—a 27 minute drive back to Malmö (roughly pronounced Malmeur). It was already pitch dark.

When the GPS says, “You have reached your destination,” it does not mean you have found the correct side of the block or the entrance to the parking lot. It means you’re really close but have to nose your way around, even if that means finding back allies surrounded by barbed wire or strange, wordless, signs which either mean “wrong way” or “no parking” or some other forboding thing. We’ve just GOT to get a driving manual.

We eventually found our way into the large IKEA parking lot and felt a kind of warmth about being surrounded again by human beings and the bright lights and grand promises of such a place. Everything had a Christmas theme—another welcoming feature.

There was a children’s play area outside and a place to check your child in at the entrance. Though Hunter hung like a bag of potatoes over Phil’s shoulder in semi-slumber, he was suddenly awakened by the possibility of playing with toys and other children. Alas, we were turned away because they were closing in the next five minutes. We should have taken that as a sign.

We discovered that a cart cost 5 krona (we didn't have any Swedish Krona, yet), so we opted to drape huge plastic-fiber yellow bags from our arms and search for kitchen towels, bath towels, hand towels, sheets, comforters and pillows. This we expected to do with utmost efficiency and speed because we were tired and wanted to go home. We made our way through the maze of the cement floor warehouse past Christmas lights, bulbs, hardware and other seemingly unnecessary supplies with our shoot-it-and-bag-it mentality.

We found towels, first. Great, grab towels. But wait. There is the matter of knowing how much we are spending. Pull up the calculator on the cell phone. Figure for each item. Expensive. Are there other towels? But those are ugly/the wrong color/too thick/too thin, etc. Where are kitchen wash rags? Next were duvet covers, duvets, pillows and sheets. Phil and Hunter are off looking for something else and my bag is getting too full and too heavy. Everything remotely acceptable (that isn’t designed for the bold design and color enthusiast) is expensive. The brain could pop looking at all the designs and trying to figure the exchange rate for every cost. Phil arrives, hears the quandary and seems very unhelpful except to exhort me to do my best and keep the costs down. Yeah, right. Here. Put these heavy things in your ugly yellow bag and . . .

We are thus preoccupied when the lights are turning off above us. We had not understood the closing announcement overhead and we still hadn’t found kitchen towels. We raced through the maze grabbing things with our new ability to discern the cost of things in a hurry. Phil grabbed power strips and converters and we wound our way back to where we had entered. Lights are going off quickly and it’s getting quite dark in the store. Where we came in is not the place to check out. We can’t read any of the signs and can’t find the check stands we had seen coming in. We find a man with a manual fork lift who brokenly directs us to “follow arrows,” which were things we now understood to be helpful to us, though we couldn’t understand the words. The whole place is dark, now, except for what lights are above the checkout stands and exits. We are not allowed to take the big yellow bags out of the store with our purchased goods so I nab an abandoned cart, throw everything in as a jumble (there are no handy plastic shopping bags provided unless purchased on the spot) and we are nearly the last people to leave. We throw the whole pile of goods in the back of the station wagon. When Phil returns the cart, he learns that you get your money back when you return the cart. I smiled as we pulled out of the parking lot. It seemed appropriate, to me, that my first time in an IKEA should be in Sweden.

Just before we pulled into the now sleeping village, Phil wanted to fill the car with more gas. He plopped down into the passenger seat with one of his signature groans after filling and paying. “That cost nearly a hundred dollars!” he squeaked. What do you say in response? I pulled out and headed home to the instructions of the GPS, “turn right, then cross the rotary; first exit.” We were on our way home and it was close enough to nine o’clock p.m., that we were under those new duvets in no time!