Thursday, October 1, 2009

Repost of Iceland Part One with Photos

So much of what we know comes in brain bits the size of a few paragraphs in a child’s encyclopedia or fourth grade text book, complete with one to three photographs. I keep running into my dreadfully shallow understanding of people and places as we do this trek back and forth between the U.S. and Sweden. Take, for instance, the fact that where we work and live in Sweden there is rarely any snow. That inevitably surprises many people’s ingrained conceptions of Sweden!

Take Iceland, for instance. What do we know of the place? Isn’t it nearly as foreign to many of us as Antarctica? Who really goes there? Do people survive in such places? Where there is miserable cold and ice “all” the time? Honestly, it has been a secret dream of mine to go where it is snowy year-round. Alaska was close, nine months out of the year, but that wasn’t long enough (we lived there a few years). Maybe Iceland would prove to have a longer season….

Not too long ago, I was introduced to one of Phil’s colleagues at the Malmö Securitas Direct. He said he was from Iceland. He looked like a fairly normal human being and was obviously intelligent enough to work with software and hardware, or whatever else they need at the home security systems business. He did not wear leather mukluks or a beaded leather shirt. His name was difficult for me to say, but it is normal for my thick tongue to struggle with any name not spoken by me in my sheltered youth. I’m even learning that I speak the British names of English Literature incorrectly. But I digress (I love to type that cliché).

About six months ago, in a conversation with my daughter, Natassja, she mentioned the news that SAS (Scandinavian Air) would be discontinuing its direct flight between Seattle and Copenhagen. This sounded ludicrous. We repeatedly flew those convenient flights along with approximately 300 others—rarely an empty seat.

We decided to ask at the check-in counter the next time we flew, and it was verified! If we wanted to continue flying SAS, they told us, we would need to fly through Washington D.C., Amsterdam, or Heathrow airports. The direct flight from Seattle to Copenhagen is a merciful nine to ten hours. A flight through any other city increases flight time up to 15 hours, not including layovers. Furthermore, the three cities listed are notorious for losing your luggage. You can imagine that as frequent fliers to Sweden, we weren’t excited about the limited options

In another conversation with Natassja we were dreaming about what it would be like for her to visit us for an extended time in Sweden. She had looked up fares and liked the Iceland Air fares—she said they were considerably lower than SAS. That story is yet to unfold.

Iceland! The hub had to be Iceland. Oh! The blinking lights in the brain!

When it was time to book our own flight, we chose Iceland Air, deciding to take a few days layover to look around before arriving in Sweden in time for Hunter’s first day of first grade. Thank the Lord my husband is an adventurer, too!

The differences were obvious from the beginning of the flight. It was only a 747 (great for domestic travel. . .); no meals or even peanuts included, no extra comforts, fewer toilets, and a nine hour flight time to Iceland, itself. It was a good thing Phil’s step-mother had made a new batch of oatmeal raisin cookies—we lived off of them since we hadn’t brought sack lunches. (There were meals for purchase, Phil just didn't want to purchase them.)

There were seat back movies, at least, but the options were few. Hunter was glad to find his favorite caveman game, but there were no game controllers. It would be a long flight.

Being August, when the sun is still up nearly 24 hours a day in the far north, it was difficult to sleep on the airplane. They didn’t come along requiring everyone to shut their windows (like they did on SAS) so people could catch an abbreviated night’s sleep. We would not even be able to take a nap in so much light.

No discomfort, no adventure, right? Absolutely!

When we touched down, it was raining (of course). While we waited to deplane, we could see through the windows that our oversized boxes were exposed to the rain.

Keflavik International Airport is small enough to navigate easily, provided you don’t have too many customs concerns (whi

ch we did, but it was worth it). Tired as I was, my heart was bursting to go outside and step foot in Iceland. But we had three huge boxes, five suitcases and three carry-on pieces to maneuver into an economy station wagon rental (an upgrade from something too tiny for words) before we could enjoy the scenery.

It’s amazing what little a person can ascertain outside of an international airport. Think of all those you’ve seen on television or personally experienced. Miles of tarmac, crowds of weary, inconvenienced travelers, vague aspects of plant life, and the natural physical reaction to humidity, cold, rain, wind, heat, etc. There was no such thing as an egg dish for breakfast. The metal sculpture out the front, rotating doors of a fin emerging from a monster-sized egg held some intrigue (not to eat, silly).

Loading the rental car in a steady wet drizzle (threatening to disintegrate the boxes), standing on yet more pavement, we could not sense anything about this place except that it was too warm to wear our raincoats, but too wet to go without.

Warmth? In Iceland? I know. That’s what I thought.

After plugging our hotel address into the rented GPS (our European system didn’t include Iceland—again, foreignness and inaccessibility—adventure!) we left Keflavik

to pass Reykjavik to the suburban area where our hotel was. We passed mile after mile after seemingly unending mile of volcanic desert land. Not the least hint of snow, even in the distant hills and mountains.

In our low station wagon, it was intimidating to be passed on wide, straight, four lane freeways by monstrous SUV’s that make those in red-neck North Idaho look like play toys. Hunter asked, “Was that a MONSTER TRUCK?!” The tires were taller than the Volvo! There were many smaller cars, as well, but many large vehicles. There wasn’t a dog-sled to be seen.

Of course, we were on the western, almost north western, side of Iceland. We were told there were huge glaciers, a third of the country forbidden by our rental car company to traverse, in the central portion of Iceland, but that’s not where we were. We were only hoping it wouldn’t rain all two days of our stopover.

Speaking of rain, I sat on the airplane by a couple from Seattle coming to Iceland for their first time. They planned to take several weeks to BIKE Iceland. They were more than a little disappointed by the rain. As we disembarked, I begged for their blog address so I could follow their route and observations. They didn’t even have an e-mail address, and didn’t expect to have any internet along the way. They told me they had done abs

olutely no training for this event. Whew. What an adventure they must have had!

We checked into our hotel and enjoyed excellent service. It was early Sunday morning, so we asked about English church services. The receptionist was able to list some good area churches, but none in English and they nearly all would start in the next few moments. We weren’t into being late only to be lost in a foreign language. Furthermore, we were too weary to sit through something we didn’t understand without nodding off to sleep.

We decided to take a three hour nap since we’d had no sleep. We didn’t dally; we slid under those traditionally warm duvets and barely woke up when the alarm went off.

When we roused ourselves, showered and dressed, we were ravenous. International travel really messes with the body’s fuel economy and intake expectations. We had no idea where to eat good Icelandic food, so we stepped out of our hotel and walked to the first restaurant we saw: a KFC the size of an American Kmart.

KFC happens to be Phil’s least favorite fast food. He knows this is un-American, but it’s true. We can get him to go to a KFC if it is partnered with A&W so he can enjoy a frosty glass of A&W root beer. Otherwise, he’d rather go elsewhere. So we’re looking at the menu and it’s different. Where are the biscuits? How do you understand the side dishes? The almost miniscule portions bore such prices as 1,266 (ISK) for a chicken thigh and fries?!!! Phil reeled. He’s not quick to part with his money. He had to consult the exchange rate. The little Icelandic girl on the other side of the cash register told us the exchange rate in halting English, but Phil didn’t believe her: 26 ISK (Iceland Kronur) to one American dollar. Could it be?

Phil had me get the very least thing we could buy, was relieved they allowed us to freely fill our glasses with water and Hunter enjoyed climbing the children’s gym (like MacDonald’s) between bites of popcorn chicken and a fry or two. The popcorn chicken container we ordered for all of us was in a box the size of a half pint. A heap of fries came in a paper plate-like box the size of a side of fries you’d get in a diner. Forget the balance of protein to carbohydrates! Phil said, “Well, they make up for their abysmal portions with fries, at least.”

By the time we waddled out of KFC, it was afternoon, much later than we’d hoped to get started on our tour of Iceland. I got my computer out to read the PDF chapters purchased from Lonely Planet and, being as ignorant of the

Icelandic geography as any poorly educated American, I had purchased all but the two chapters we needed to cover the area we were actually in. We had to wait in our car, outside our hotel room, car running, to get wireless enough to download two more chapters. My how guidebooks have changed.

Silly us, we didn’t unpack our jam-packed car (so jammed it was difficult to see out of the windows and mirrors or to adjust our seats), but headed off in the direction of the first ever sulfuric geyser to be so named, “Geyser.” We had to stop and admire the Icelandic horned sheep,

a field of hand-stacked rocks and heather, to climb around and through some interesting volcanic rock formation in a national park, and, of

course, to get fika (tea and goodies) and a sampling of books full of Icelandic

fairytales—or should I call them troll tales? The stops kept us awake and helped the person in the backseat actually see something other than boxes, but stopping so often kept us from getting as far north as Phil had hoped we would.

We drove for hours, actually, past green rolling hills, oceans, glassy lakes and more volcanic rock. As the afternoon progressed, the sky parted into sunshine, warming us to the point that I would lean on one of those huge boxes and doze so frequently, I could barely endure the drive. Good thing Phil was the only driver on the rental agreement. I could not keep my eyes open. In Iceland, a place of my dreams, no less!

A place, perchance to dream? But I di….never mind.

By the time we reached the Geyser, we’d gone down several wrong roads (the GPS kept getting confused and giving us strange directions), and it was growing dusk. Cloud cover and rain darkened the scenery even more. The lighting was terrible for photography. We were, again, hungry, having eaten lunch at noon, fika around two and now it was 6:30 pm. We needed to use the bathroom (Hunter: “I need to go poo"! Now!”) and the bathrooms were closed at the restaurant across from the geysers. We were exceptionally weary. You can see the problems building. This is always part of the adventure and we are rarely prepared.

We ate strange sandwiches. Hunter didn’t like the sauce. Phil, always inhaling his food, took off looking for an alternative restroom (no good hiding places outside) and found one for us, but he had to wait agonizingly longer for us so he could cross the street and hope to catch maybe one geyser eruption.

Geyser (it’s actual name and the first to be named such) is not like Old Faithful. You don’t have to wait long for it to spew. The sulfuric water in the whole bubbles and churns then roils then, bam! There it goes. The longest wait was about five minutes. Boy was I glad to be out of hot water, then--metaphorically speaking, that is.

Some things are not only impossible, they are impossibly impossible. This is when my husband can’t stand having a family on a perfectly good adventure. One of the most beautiful sites touted in the travel literature about this part of Iceland is a huge waterfall (I’m not sure if this one would have been huge in the sense of long and tall or long like Niagara, but there were both within a few hours of each other). When you’re traveling distances like we were, it makes sense to see both Geyser and this waterfall. It really does.

We had a two hour drive back to the hotel already, an hour to the waterfall and adding two more hours to the trip at 7:30 pm was asking for trouble when we normally can’t stay awake on any of our international first days past 8 pm. We were worried Hunter would fall asleep on the drive and not be able to sleep through the night while we needed to sleep. Parents know this can be a BIG problem.

Phil had to wrench himself away from the possibility of seeing that waterfall, even in the darkness. He thought maybe we could travel again the next day, that whole long distance and back, so he could see it, but Hunter and I were not game for that prospect. We wanted to see landscape we hadn’t seen yet. We wanted some sleep. We wanted to see PUFFINS.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Heather Times Two

Sunday after church we picked a friend up in Malmö and drove south toward home for another try at seeing the heather in bloom. This would be a repeat of what we did the first sunny weekend back in Sweden (August 2009), only this time the weather threatened rain, teasing us with tiny patches of sun.

Instead of going first to Ljunghusen (say, Yoong hoozen) beach, I wanted to see the Viking museum’s boat up close. The open air museum was closed, so we stood above the Höllviken (Hullveekin) Harbor, near the obviously unused old wooden sail boat (there for effect), watching the wind blow a nasty black cloud immediately over us. The perspective on the water revealed that the wind blew toward us with the force and target of a thousand arrows. We could also see blue sky on each side of the black cloud.

Back in the car, light rain on the windshield, we drove south to a favorite nature reserve. We hiked across several meters of dead heather—a sad sight, but we don’t know why (unless it is due to a heather beetle I read about)—over a bike/horse/walking path, through the beech trees, over a wooden footbridge (it must get boggy in the wet season) and out into more heather. The effect of the few blossoms we could see was lost on us. We started thinking like Hunter’s protest before we left, “I don’t want to go see more heather!”

But we found the site, immediately the other side of the Höllviken Harbor from the Viking Museum. The cloud had blown over. Fenced in from roaming cows was a wooden wind blind big enough for several people to lay their sleeping bags (one side completely open to the view), a round, cement fire pit and surrounding wooden benches. Hunter noted the ashes were still warm in the pit.

Phil blew the fire to life, Ania added small twigs. I brought out muffins and tea for fika (tea time). Hunter played with the camera. We wore our coats, but the clouds soon passed and the sun grew warm on our backs.

From there we walked south through a nice beech wood path to a shooting range. It was closed for the day, but shot wads and broken clay pigeons lay everywhere among the undergrowth (including heather) right there on the harbor. Phil collected a few unbroken pigeons like the rest of us might collect seashells. He checked out the rest of the complex for a later (open) date.

We didn’t get to see any of the cute cows (as I refer to highland cattle). We headed back north to Ljunghusen.

We turned east toward the Baltic and the Ljunghusen stradband (beach). We expected the heather there to appear as a 20 foot wide pink and purple ribbon between the fancy houses and the sea. But it looked grimmer than two weeks ago. I was hard-pressed to get a decent photo of the purple blooms, let alone get a rooted sampling for my upper window flower bed! The beach was deader than two weeks ago as well.

When we arrived the Saturday before school started. Sunbathers lined the grassy sand berm overlooking the Sea. Naked children built sand castles and played with the clear, non-stinging jellyfish washed ashore. Teenagers (and Phil) splashed into the sea from the end of the dock (it is shallow a long way out, like Lake Erie). My friend and I walked awhile along the sand dune pathways in the tall grass, then along the sea. More people arrived by the minute. Phil was uncomfortable on the shore amidst what another friend calls the “meat market,” so we went home after standing in line to use the toalette.

This time, the toalette doors hung slightly open, as if abandoned. A woman drove up, took four large IKEA bags to her beach hut, unlocked it, filled the bags, locked up and paused long enough to tell us (as I was contemplating pulling up some blooming heather) that she was taking everything away because her grandchildren were now gone for the school year. It was no use to keep towels and other goods at the beach.

Since the heather was so underwhelming, we walked over the dunes to the beach again. A few lovers walked along the shore where sea grass, garbage, and jelly fish had piled up after a two-day wind storm. The sun was warm enough for us to enjoy the beach without jackets. The heat must have been deadly for the hundreds of jelly-fish washed ashore. We each handled a jelly fish, gently tossing them past the sea grass into the sea. Only one swam away; the rest didn’t respond.

I thought we might find a bit of amber when the wind was not so cold as to blur our eyes with tears. But, though the sand was littered with tiny tidbits of shells, seaweed, wood, rocks and ladybugs (!), there seemed no sign of amber.

Once, I was so absorbed looking through the easy surf and water pooling up inside little walls of sea grass, that I startled myself as well as the duck sitting in the sea litter at the shore. She seemed wounded and unable to startle into flight. She sat skewed, somehow, and only blinked away the flies and sand flees flitting around her eyes and body.

When I yelled to Phil, waving my arms for him to come, he couldn’t hear me above the surf, nor did the duck leave. Finally, Hunter came running toward me, like this:

After receiving a tackle kiss, I explained to Hunter what I thought was going on. He started making high, chirping sounds at the duck while I tried quacking (only the duck knew we were fools, the rest of humanity around us only heard the surf and the wind). Hunter’s chirps finally did it. The duck limped into the water and swam away, drinking the water as she swam.

“Now THAT’s how you get a bird back into the water,” Hunter said with a teacher’s authority. He went on to explain, but I was laughing too hard. He soon ran back to his dad.

If you’re like me, you haven’t seen much heather other than the name of a classmate or coworker. Well, the reason I have been so determined to see the heather in bloom is that we visited a Ljunghusen artist’s (whose name I cannot find right now) studio, during the Easter art round, whose prolific watercolor paintings depicted long sea paths lined with purple and pink heather. When I asked her where she saw such beautiful beaches, she waved her arm along a row of windows as if to point that the beach and the heather was simply out there. And it was, but it wasn’t in bloom. She told me I could see it in August and September.

Ah, so that was why I had never seen the heather in bloom along the sea. I’d never been in the Swedish Riviera during August and September. Now you know why I was so interested to see the inspiration of her paintings (the thought has crossed my mind that she may be taking Artist Yarnell’s painterly advise never to paint ONLY what you see).

By the way, ljung means heather, peaceful, or calm. Husen means house. If you ask someone from around here how they are, it is not uncommon for them to reply, "ljung." For a country proud of their Viking roots, it's a startling reply.

Ribbons of heather, or not, we enjoyed a peaceful afternoon in the sun.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Learning the Language (or not)

Before the drenching and our failed attempt at reaching the island. Boat-seclusion from Swedish (though the two behind me speak or are Swedish). Phil took this photo with my camera.

The Swedish romance is gone. I mean, it’s still there, but we’re experiencing a restlessness, a do-or-die, a feeling of belonging here but not quite. It’s like being ill and reaching that point where you’re sick of lying in bed, so you decide to change the furniture, the curtains, the oil in the car—something!—but your head still hurts and now you have a bigger mess on your hands (I use this example because I've been laid up the last two days with a touch of the flu. Don't worry, I have all they symptoms of Swine flu just as every flu does. I've already rearranged the furniture).

The grocery store is the same grocery store, selling the exact items I purchased last spring. I know because I’ve been back to fill the refrigerator twice since we left the U.S. August 8th (only twice because we have done as much leaching as possible…). But I find that I’m having to learn all over again. I mean, it seems to me they want $100 (but it’s really kronor per kilogram—still!) for a cut of beef, but I can’t tell if it’s really beef because they sell it by the cut in Swedish or French, neither of which I understand.

I still get lost in the dairy/non dairy section. I now calculate when I’m finished grocery shopping not by ticking off everything from the grocery list, but by how HEAVY my cart-load is and how difficult it will be to pack it all up at the cash register while my food piles on top of itself, torturing the bread, lettuce and eggs. Last time, I nearly ran out of there in a confused, overwhelmed frenzy (this won’t surprise my children—they know I am easily befuddled while shopping).

Really, should I be made to decide between the weight of milk or of a small bag of potatoes? Either or, not both? Must I really decide to come back tomorrow for what I left behind today? Yet another trip to the foreign grocery store????

Similarly, we went back to our beloved Pentecostal Church. The International Congregation has been fazed out except to enjoy a sermon in English now and then AFTER the shaking of hands at “intermission.” Only, that week’s English speaker was ill. Sunday school was not yet “open” for the year, and the translator--for whom we wear the ridiculous orange sponge covered earphones--accidentally turned off her microphone for a large section of the service. Hunter begged to escape to the upper tier of the theatre-style seats or to be allowed to run up and down the hall outside the sanctuary—that or torture Mom and Dad with every misbehaving antic in the book. All because Swedish is not yet dawning on us and it was again sweeping over our heads like the sheets of water from our failed boating attempt in Alingsas.

Phil’s company conducts all of its internal business in English. Hunter attends an English International School, we speak English at home and with our international friends, even our Swedish friends. But we’ve all had enough. It’s time to tune our ears and forks (er, tongues) for the Swedish language.

True, my adopted brother from Finland tells me, Swedish is understood, even if only loosely, in six countries compared to only one Finnish-speaking country—it would be a good choice if you’re going to hang around much longer. My friend from Poland just got into Swedish classes after a year-long waiting list. For this great privilege, she had to become a temporary citizen, fill out miles of applications, wait in long lines, and nail-bite during waits for rejections, approvals, and permits. And she was already a citizen in the European Union! We’re trying NOT to become ex-patriot's—we just need to speak the language, that’s all!

No matter how often I force myself to listen to Swedish phrases on cd’s, the radio (only to find out it’s really Danish), Swedish television, or listen patiently to native speakers converse easily among themselves, Swedish just isn’t dawning on me. I keep waiting for that Aha! moment when the language has finally soaked into my understanding without my having to take grammar classes and flip through vocabulary index cards in my copious spare time.

Instead, I answer in Spanish, or relax into understanding every 10th word, then have a panic attack when it is my turn to reply. This has even affected my Spanish! One of Hunter’s classmates is enjoying a visit from his Mexican grandmother. She and I tried to converse in her language, but she soon reverted back to English for my sake. Sigh.

When we attended church in Alingsas, I could tell the preacher was telling the truth, grounding his admonishments in the Scriptures. I could decipher between words (this is an achievement for me!), but I could not understand! How I wished the Holy Spirit would help me hear the sermon in my own language as thousands did while Peter spoke at Pentecost.

My Skanian friends have also decided it is time. They’ve begun not only speaking to me in Swedish, but writing e-mails of same, leaving me to my own (inadequate) devices/despair!

Yes, it’s definitely time to learn the language of Sweden. If only I could learn it by eating one Swedish pastry at a time. Then, I think the language would stick—-even if to my bones.

Monday, May 11, 2009

He Prayed for Me

We were at our friends place, Saturday. Their twin sons had a 6 year birthday party.

The food is always worth attending these parties for and so is the fun. Well, the children were chasing around a raised brick bed of hedges—the girls chasing boys with plastic clubs and the boys chasing girls with plastic guns and swords. You can imagine the squealing, screaming and threatening noise accompaniment.

A woman from our church and I had gathered up the plates after the adults had finished eating seafood on a bed of egg noodles as well as a feta cheese salad, pork tenderloin and sliced baked potatoes. The adults were stuffed but looking forward to Jeff’s (the boys’ dad and our chef) grand finale cake. We were chatting as we walked toward the kitchen window and I carried about eight plates. Unable to see past the plates, we turned the corner a little too close to the raised bricks.

I was stopped hard by these monster bricks and went flying forward, though I was trying my level best not to drop the plates (these were real and heavy, not plastic) and to catch myself at the same time. The plates skittered across the paving stones at ground level, not breaking, while all the silverware went on clattering. I got up with only a nice scrape down the front and side of my shin. It seems I’m becoming accident prone.

We were able to enjoy a beautiful three berry-topped white chocolate cake in the sunshine under every kind of blossoming tree and bush. The children were glad to eat the centers of their cakes and leave the berries for their grateful parents.

Later in the day, after we had returned home. I noticed the scrape was weepy and wouldn’t stop, so I decided to read a book with my leg up on the couch. Hunter played on the floor with his Legos, but got up to check on my leg now and then.

“Oh! Ow! Mom, I can’t look at your blood. It’s so gross!” Hunter would cringe, sit down and build awhile, then repeat the whole thing again. He was full of questions about whether or not I still had any skin under there and when the scabs would cover everything up.

Hunter went out of the room awhile, then came back rushing toward me, flopped his long arms over my shoulders and said, “Mommy, I want to pray for you.”

“Okay…” I said.

“Dear Jesus, I want to pray for my mommy. She got hurt at the birthday party and scraped her leg. Now there’s blood. Please take the blood away, because I really love my mommy. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.” He kissed my face all over and hugged me tightly.

I had never heard my son pray such a sincere prayer before. Tears slipped on down my face.

The wound still smarts, but it’s just a scrape. It will soon be fine, But I treasure that heartfelt prayer offered so lovingly to our God!

Now it is my turn to pray. I’ve gotten word that my grandfather, who means the world to me, has had a stroke/seizure in the last 24 hours. He lost use of his left side, but the medicine they have given him has brought use back to his left side. Of course, he is still at the hospital having a myriad of tests done to determine what damage is done. You can imagine how anxious I am to see him and how hard it is to be in Sweden while Gramps is in this state.

I will be back home for a short while starting Monday the 18th. My great hope is that I’ll get to be with him and we can talk as we have my whole life. But I don’t want to wish anything that would leave a 93 year-old man in a state of misery.

In the process of finding all this out, I learned that one of my grandfather’s sisters died within 24 hours of Gramps’ stroke. It’s a little much to handle.

But our God sees and knows. He is in control. Thank you, God, for saving my grandfather this time. You have saved him from many fatal diseases and have chosen to save him now. I pray for him, now, that he’ll have the best care and that, just maybe, I’ll get to be with him several times while I’m home!

Maybe you have a loved one who is suffering and for whom you are fervently praying. I’m sure our Father in heaven is touched to hear His children pray for each other!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Weather Poem

The month of April was unusual, say the Southern Swedish locals. No rain but a five minute mist one day. The Rapeseed flowers bloomed early, with barely the fragrance they usually carry into the breeze.

People were already sunbathing, gardening, having picnics and barbeques--but then I've told you that, already.

April was also poetry month. A friend and I participated in the Writer's Digest Poetic Asides blog challenge to write a poem a day from the prompts given by Robert Lee Brewer. Then we ran out of April.

We ran out of sun in these parts, too! Never mind that, but the wind is trying to come down the chimneys, through the tiny cracks in the window and door frames and stress my tired brain. I'm amazed that the jackdaws, sparrows, golden great tits, pheasants and rabbits are not at all bothered by this wind, going about their daily routines with as much fervor as usual.

Enough of the other observations. Here is a poem, prompted by among the daily prompts my friend and I are using to keep writing something every day.

Culprit Wind

Wind whipping ‘round
without form or boundary
bends reeds, grasses, trees
flings rain dries it out again
flashes on each pond ripple
maligns the tulips one petal
at a time leaving cryptic
petal messages in the garden

Monday, April 27, 2009

Flagged Dung, Nudistbad, Quicksand and Bumper Cars

Saturday, we decided to do some bird watching, since I’d read that avocet breed near where we live.* We decided to get a few hours in before taking Hunter to an afternoon birthday party (he’s been invited to a birthday party every weekend for the rest of his school year). As usual, I was running late, but we picked a friend to go with us and drove toward the beach recommended to us by our landlord.

At the trailhead, Hunter saw a child from his school so that we met the parents, a French couple. We met a Swedish young man and his friendly, well-groomed, long-haired, blonde dog. We observed a new way of avoiding the plastic bag duty of dog-watching: Toothpick Swedish flags staked in piles of dog dung. Wonder if that had been the young man’s idea?

Hunter enjoyed crossing the wooden bridges over the waters of the marsh before we reached the Skanör beach. He lay in the sand gathering tiny muscle and clam shells before we’d reached the Sound. I urged him to stand up and keep from getting too dirty before the birthday party, as we expected to take him there after this little hike.

The lovely, deep blue water faded into emerald green as it approached the shallows. Each of us found tiny inlets, grassy mounds and the edges of the lapping water to let the wind and waves drown out all of our previous concerns. Time bends awhile in this state. It’s difficult to hurry OR worry.

But Phil forged north along the shore to see the end of this tiny finger of sand. He came back, nonchalantly, to report that, our landlord had been correct; there were people, up ahead, sunbathing in the nude. Now, we wore our coats against the wind, hoods up, so we felt our thin skin in more ways than one about such an open idea.

I quickly told Hunter we might find people like this so he wouldn’t ask loud questions upon an encounter. Of course, he asked many loud questions before we approached. He’s seen plenty an eyeful in the swimming pool locker rooms as he, as many other young boys, is required to go with me to change and shower in the open showers before going into the pool.

We tried to act natural and unconcerned as we passed sunning folks. Hunter did a great job holding his curiosity. Our determination to continue, instead of immediately turn back, was the avocet. However much we tried, scanning the horizons (trying to only see nature and not natura’l) with our binoculars for flocks of avocet, all we saw were ducks, seagulls and rooks.

A man and his wife, armed with beach going bags, umbrellas, picnic and a striped, four-post canvas screen stood together as the man pounded the posts into the sand to form a three-sided screen. They were of retirement age, wearing jeans, tennis shoes and wind jackets. I asked the man if he spoke English. Because he did, I asked if he knew where we could find the avocet. He pointed south of where we were headed, quite a ways. He seemed eager to divert our journey north along the shore.

Phil wanted to continue going north to see the end of the spit. When I realized this peaceful sort of humanity continued going about walking, staking and sunning ahead, I urged Phil to turn around so we could pursue these birds in earnest. By the time we passed the colorful three-sided screen, the man and woman had stashed their clothes and lie side-by-side in the sun. Phil was most ready to leave, by then.

We were in this awkward state as we walked back to the car. We approached one of the bridges across the marsh, trying varied ways to walk across the wide, muddy spots. Hunter had already “bathed” his shoes in the sea, covered the wet spots (of his new shoes) with sand and now took his chance across a nice, dark, muddy spot instead of heeding his father’s “follow me.”

He was suddenly squealing and crying, most annoyingly. We turned our attention toward him even as we picked our way across the marsh in time to see that he’d lost a shoe in the mud. Of course, we all thought he over-reacted, urging him to come out of the mud. As he tried to take another step, another shoe was sucked off of his other foot. By this time, Phil had loped over to help his son out, but Hunter sat down (fortunately his rain coat covered his rear), just as he put his hand into his daddy’s.

We could see that Phil was up to his ankles in shoe-sucking mud as he pulled Hunter hard out of the muck and retrieved the shoes. Hunter will probably never see a mud puddle the same way. While I pulled Hunter’s socks off so he could walk barefoot (“But, Mom! There’s mud between my toes, even!”), Phil said, “I’m going to wash off in the sea.”

All three of us adults felt it our solemn duty to help Hunter see the error of his ways, to accept the responsibility of disobeying his dad and the consequences of getting muddy. He met all with great weeping and wailing: “I don’t like having this consequence!” Passersby gave us wide berth.

Back at our car with a child definitely not properly clothed for a birthday party, we drove to the other marsh. Along this short stretch of road, there were several parking lots. I couldn’t decide which to use, since I wanted to be as near as possible to the bird site. The site I was driving into wasn’t close enough, so I put the car in reverse, announced, “I hope there are no cars behind me (but I couldn’t see any), and proceeded to plow backward into another car approaching the same parking lot. It was quite a blow.

Everyone in the car now looked at me. “That didn’t sound good,” I said bleakly, threw it in first and quickly parked so I could get out and work it out with the driver. He parked beside me, getting out as quickly as I had. The only thing we could see was a small scrape on the rubber part of his bumper. The back of the older Company Volvo we drive showed absolutely no damage, whatsoever.

I asked the man, “Do you want my phone number?” while I noticed his wife looking deeply disappointing and shaking her head.

“Never,” he said. “It’s okay,” though I could see his wife clearly disagreed.

We shook hands (because I didn’t know what else to do). Even the disapproving wife wanted to shake hands, though she wouldn’t look me in the eye. The man and I walked toward the back of our cars. He pointed to a gash in his back left bumper and said, “See? It is ruined already,” smiling a sad smile.

Grateful and amazed (and shaking), I thanked the man, asking once more if he were sure he didn’t want my number (where is Dad and his quick-fixing tools, anyway?), got back in the car, thanked the Lord for Volvo (something I never thought I'd do), then chose our parking spot more carefully. Hunter was still whining about not having socks to wear in the boots I should have let him wear the first time. He didn’t want to venture out to see the silly birds.

We were all shaken and not sure any of us really wanted to see any birds, now. But we tried and there were none to see.

It was time for a trip home, quick lunch and the trip to the birthday party. When the three of us adults were alone, we walked slowly along a boat harbor near the party spot, listening to the wind whistle through the ropes of the harbored sailboats and admiring the five mile bridge over the sun-dappled water. The wind picked up so that we decided to have tea and dessert. It was good to relax. It had been quite a day, already.

* My true interest in the word, “Avocet,” comes from a poetry journal by that name which accepted one of my poems a few years back.

Friday, April 17, 2009

What Did You Do for Easter?

Here are two poems and some photos of what I did the Thursday and Friday before Easter 2009.

Easter Break

Nearly all the schools in
Southern Sweden are off
for Easter Break; you can tell:
Long lines at the Vannigan
(Pool); full parking at Vellinge
Blomman, Oh! to have
Gardens for such flowers!
Where so many admire
The Shetland colt that
Coats fill the view finder.
Bulle and cakes, nearly

Gone from the café--hardly
An outdoor Table without
people or their remains.
Lines at the grocery, no room
To stand at the meat counter.
The elderly walk their dogs in the
Streets and on the beach. Youth

Walk their parents through Malls,
Sights and events. Mothers
Push their prams to public places
To watch more than a baby..
Children observe the bustle,
Finding ways to tease, some on
Bikes swerving past bag toting
Walkers, others crowding the
Korv window. Large, printed
Eggs fill gaping boxes, luring
Parents to fill with sweets for

Easter, while some children
Dress as Easter witches, hang
Colored eggs from the trees
And fasten feathers to twigs
For the harvest of good luck.

You know when you’re among
Them, standing in the same lines
Your little one determined to do
What the others are doing before
A return to rigid learning
Or celebrating a resurrection
By eating candy eggs and wearing
The ironed best. Eternity gets
lost in the pleasures of Spring.

Meeting Friday

The meeting would be at five.

Twelve adults, ten children
under nine. We’d celebrate

in remembrance of the ancient,
the past and present, of being
redeemed, forgiven and changed.

We would need chopped apples,
nuts, raisins, grape juice, matzo,
parsley, horseradish, salt water,
egg and lamb. Cooking the lamb

gets me. Chopping apples takes
sweet time when there isn’t
any. There is a knock at the door.
“Want to go flying? Today’s
the perfect day!” We do, but

the apples, the lamb! We grab
coats and cameras. We go
flying. Sun on the sea, a hem
of surf along the sand, brilliant
orange roofs on white stucco
green fields taming the earth.

Swoop, swerve, drop slowly,
bump down over grassy turf,
trade riders, snap photos, wave.
Go back to the kitchen. Stare
blankly at all that needs to be

done. See only the deep blue
sea. Another knock at the door.
Chef Jeff to save the day by
helping prepare a roux for under

the leg of lamb after hiding
cloves of garlic like Easter eggs
in the grist and muscle. Our

children play. That done, they’re
gone to come back later. No

sound of another landing but

now it’s time to go to the Easter
Egg Hunt in the spare lot by the

woods. People are waiting.
Jonagolds, bulging in bags, will
have to wait. Hunting is arduous.

A lot of chocolate is hidden under
leaves and logs and in the branches
of the beeches and pines. “There is
another chocolate bunny still hiding

in the bushes!” Kids tromp through
the brush seeing none of the shiny
foil.Bunny found, korv eaten with ketchup,
a little påskmust to wash it down,
time to go home and finally chop

apples, stir the juice, check the lamb,
prepare the plates, move furniture,
vacuum quickly. Two hours
swallowed and the doorbell
begins to ring. Food for the feast
arrives in mounds. Somehow we

get seated, even the children, light
the candle and the ceremony begins.
It isn’t only children who complain
about eating parsley dipped in salt
water. Adults want to be dismissed

from eating what might taste bad
when we are trying to remember
slavery, tears, mortar, plagues.
We drink to sanctification,

redemption, salvation, and praise.
We want to sing. We do! The
palette changes and celebration

begins with awakened tastebuds.
Amidst the laughter and feasting,

we are humbled, aware, amazed.

Until the children finish eating
and we are soon busy herding,

correcting, cajoling. Coats and
shoes and the wide outdoors for
the little ones while we eat the

Chef’s chocolate cake, learning
about Belgian chocolate, genache.
There are leftovers, dishes,
water everywhere and children

underfoot. When the food is
stashed and bagged, people leave,
family by family, group by group
until it is quiet again. The apple
“mortar” is hardly gone, no trace

of lamb. One more person to take
home, discuss the evening,

Exclaim over the looming full moon.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Lady in Fur

When I opened the back hatch, I immediately heard the smack and tinkle of glass on the pavement. A new glass jar of olives dislodged from the grocery sack and rolled out of the back of the station wagon when I opened the hatch to get a snack for Hunter.

Determined not to throw away some perfectly good olives, I drained the rest of the brine from the broken bottom of the jar until I could hold the jar upside down to keep all but three green olives, which perished on the parking lot asphalt. Holding this narrow jar just so, I gingerly picked up the remaining shards of glass from the ground (gingerly, because of my painful tail bone), and carried them off to a garbage can at the entrance to the shopping mall.

You can be sure I felt cross. Hunter trailed behind me asking a lot of questions about what I would do with the olives and the broken jar. Embarrassing as it was not to have a place to put the olives where they might rest without staining the car so that I had to hold my broken jar all the way into the mall, more embarrassing still was it to have a loudly running commentary beside me the whole way.

The wind blew hard, as usual, so that my hair blew into my eyes and the bag to the garbage can tried to blow up and out of the can while I tried to lift the metal lid with the hand holding the shards, not the hand holding the upside down jar of green olives. This crossed me all the more.

Standing between the garbage can and the electric doors to the mall was a woman in a fine, thick fur coat--fox, I would guess. On her head was a tight black cap much like from the 1920's, including a black sequin flower pinned above her ear, below which her peppered hair barely revealed itself.

"Er hår!" she exclaimed, looking closely at me through the hair plastered to my face.

Feeling like a cross, armless woman trying to open the garbage can (Hunter was unable to help as he was enamored by the woman), I tried to use an olive filled hand to push my hair away.

With the shards safely deposited, I directed a more patient face toward the woman. "I speak English," I said to the woman who proceded in Swedish.

She stood up straight, an unlit cigarette between her fingers and turned her face away from the wind. When she turned her face back to me, as if she had become someone new, she returned in English, "Your hair!"

I responded, almost interrupting the rest of her speech, "It's curly--natural."

"Och. I used to have hair like that. What a pity."

"Aw, you're still beautiful," I say, touching her furry sleeve, thinking it is what she wants to hear.

"Nej, you don't understand," she continues, lighting her cigarette into the wind and into my face. "I am dying."

"Dying?" I ask, alarmed that a casual comment has led to more serious conversation.

"Yes, I have taken those hormones," (I wish you could have heard how she said hormones), "and now I am dying." She takes a long drag on her cigarette and blows it into the wind and my hair.

Hardly knowing how to respond, standing there with my impatient son (who wanted to go to his favorite play area), with my upturned jar of olives, I say, "I'm sorry," with as much empathy as my startled mind can muster.

"It is because of that estrogin," (again, I wish you could hear 'estrogin' pronounced), "that I will now die: The reason I no longer have that kind of hair."

I begin to move toward the door at a complete loss for words and needing to run after my son who has gone into the mall.

The woman leans toward me again, the wind ruffling the long fur on her coat, "In my next life," she says, conspiratorally, "I will remember not to take the hormones. That way I can still have hair like yours."

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March Winds

It looks as if someone is throwing large handfuls of gravel across the pond outside the kitchen window, the wind is so wild today. We're back in Sweden for another three months.

First snow blew horizontally across the fields and blurred the horizon. I caught a photo. Good thing, too, because the wind blew all that away so the sky is wiped to blue with sun and an edge of storm clouds riding the 27 mph winds for later in the day. You thought it was unpredictable in Idaho . . . !

But wait! I haven't told you about February and part of March in the U.S. What a joy it was to be home.

*We were and are grateful that Dad Munts quickly and easily found and fixed the leak in our new/used washing machine so that we didn't have to haul our $250 purchase to the dump.
*We had time to make arrangements with our back neighbors to help us with our garden in the summer as well as finding time for our children to play as we visited.
*We met our old neighbor's new husband, met the new neighbors, and Hunter arranged as many play dates as he could and we enjoyed several days of new snow on top of the old.
*We saw my grandmother, nearly 94, in her new assisted living arrangement, had as many meals and moments as possible with family and friends as well as church family and friends.
*I was able to take my mother and son to visit my oldest daughter for her 24th birthday in Seattle.
*Laughed a lot and chatted over an Outback Steakhouse Bloomin' Onion and other delectables for Mom's birthday.
*We managed to catch a few colds and endure them.
*Phil went on a Work and Witness trip to Guatemala. He seemed to enjoy the tropical heat and fruit then adjust well to coming back to snowy life in North Idaho and eating dried and canned fruit preserved from our summer garden.
*Hunter enjoyed some time with both sets of grandparents while I went to Portland for a photo workshop and a chance to meet up with an old friend.
*I did some thinning of clothes from the closets--got rid of three large bags of clothes and was disappointed to see that the closet did not appear thinned.
*Spent time with my writing buddies on different occasions.
*Enjoyed seeing my new book in print ("How They Die," by Juliene Munts, orderable at and giving a few away.
*Gave a little presentation to Hunter's preschool classmates about our time in Sweden.
*Spent a day thrift shopping with my middle daughter--a favorite past time of ours.
*Enjoyed being able to bother my middle daughter any time of day that she was home in the apartment in our house.
*Went for a horse-drawn sleigh ride at Western Pleasure Guest Ranch.
*Enjoyed an all-nighter at our crazy friends' home in Priest River.
*Had to buy more clothes for Hunter (at a thrift store, of course) for his fast-growing legs.
*Learned how to use a dance pad and a guitar program on the computer.
*Cleaned, cleaned, cleaned.
*Enjoyed driving my own car, cooking in my own kitchen, and making local calls on my own phone (even though it went down on a particularly drippy, melting snow day), sleeping on my own side of the bed and having all my junk to organize and re-organize.
*Enjoyed a tiny jazz concert in the middle of our church service between singing and a great sermon.
*Saw Phil's sister just before we left.
*To boot, the ear, nose and throat doctor urged us to go off of dairy, which has been an interesting journey--especially coming back to Sweden where we usually enjoy local cheeses, a pourable yogurt and milk on our Muesli.

Okay, okay, so it was great. But now we're back in Rang, Sweden, Phil's working diligently, and I'm trying to discipline myself to write.

The first day back, while we were putting clothes on shelves from our suitcases and getting the kitchen set up with food, I managed to fall down half a flight of stairs and seriously injure my already bad (from a fall 25 years ago) tailbone. I will be seeing a physical therapist to have an adjustment and get a better sense of how (hopefully not bad) bad the injury was. Meanwhile, I worry that this may mess up my dreams to ride a horse along the Hollviken Harbor and be able to ride a bike at all along any of Swedens many bike trails. Since it hurts to sit or walk very fast, horse and bicycle riding is out of the question indefinitely.

A funny observation from the dryer: There are six languages represented inside the door of the dryer and in English the message reads, "Clean the fluff filters after each use."

The washer and dryer are the same pair I've used the other two visits, here, only this time, we are living in the farmhouse, so the laundry facilities are right off of the kitchen. Much easier laundry days when they coincide with the wind.

In the first week back, besides falling down the stairs, Hunter and I found fun things to do in the house and around town. One day, we spent about an hour flying a nylon kite from a nearby field. It was all I could do to hold on and not cut my fingers in the whistling string. It sure did fly, though!

We also had an interview with the International school coordinator of Bladins International School. Hunter made it in for the last three months of the school year, which ends the day before we fly home. He has attended one full day, so far, and is there now. He's both frightened and excited about the opportunity. I'm a bit wistful.

Speaking of school. Hunter gets out early today. I've got to go get him! More later, my dear friends and readers!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

My Little Secret

A dear friend of mine has been urging me to put my poems into a book for several years. Whenever I suffer the inability to write, she suggests that it is because my files and brain are somehow clogged with poems that have not been given the freedom to live lives of their own; that if I were to put together a collection of poems, bind it and let it fidget its way into the hands of poetry lovers, I might find my muse again.

This a-medical condition has grown so daunting, that it became one of my goals to self-publish a book of poems by the end of 2008. Sure enough, the goal was written on the white board beside my desk during the summer of 2008. The idea percolated (read: procrastinated) in my mind during my son’s swimming lessons, while he was at pre-school, during a trip to Ecuador and another extended stay in Sweden, even during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays with all of our family.

My husband and I were married on the last day of December, 1995. Though we had plans for a wonderful outing at First Night in Spokane, Washington, December 31, 2008, I was frantically setting up my self-published book. There were, as might be expected by those who don’t procrastinate, glitches and things to wait for, rejections of the manuscript format, etc. etc. When my husband finally urged me away from my computer so he could take me on a wonderful overnight date, I realized my publish date would push past the last day of 2008. Sigh; my fault and all that.

I continued to work on the little book into January. It was finally “uploaded” and ready for the public to order before we left for Sweden, January 10th, 2009. Imagine my excitement--my unreasonable expectations--that people would begin purchasing the book even before I advertised, and other wild notions.

Upon arriving in Sweden, I went to the Print on Demand site where I had set up my manuscript ( to see how easy it would be to simply “bump into” the title of my book.

It was worse than trying to find a piece of amber in the fine white sand of the Swedish Riviera. A needle in a haystack might be considered a quick find in comparison. Counting the number of molecules bumping against ones head at any given moment would even be easier.

Mind you, I can pay a hefty sum for Lulu’s help in marketing my book. I’ve even received an invitation to an international library show of new book titles (for another deeply discounted but hefty sum). But I’m going to start here, with you, after having sat on the secret of my book for a whole month.

Here’s how it works. You start by being curious about what might be written in my book. You look up the title, “How They Die,” on, and, of course, you make mention that you know the author, Juliene Munts, so the information about this book-among-thousands can somehow be brought up for your consideration. You might peruse the first few pages, which will give you the sense of one formal poem and the beginning of a long narrative poem (but the cut-off for the number of pages possible to view for free stops before that poem ends). You might even rub your chin while weighing the cost of a blessed work of poems, for goodness sake, over a riveting novel or compilation of travel articles to exotic places.

May I suggest the following be considered. The book itself, if you order it, will be nicely printed and sent to your mailbox for the price of $18.95 plus shipping and handling. OR you could shun the destruction of so many trees for paper and download the manuscript for a mere $5.00. The delightful aspect is that you help me either way. My poems are read and I get nearly the same cut no matter how you do it.

Now, if you decide to take the plunge and buy some form of this strangely titled little book, you must give me feedback. No more lurking in the shadows. I’ll want to know what you think about it. Was it money well spent? Were you just humoring me? Did any of the poems lift the top of your head, or did they simply put you into a deep sleep? Please leave your feedback at this article in my blog.

Okay, now that all this has been established, I want to sweeten the deal by including, here, one of the poems printed in the book. It will follow this paragraph. So, I will sign off now, thankful that you might, possibly, spread the little secret beyond my ability—and only if you truly desire to let the secret out. Thank you. --Juliene

In Honor of the Rain*

I wore my wrap-around
Mozambique skirt
(leopards peering from
geometric circles)
in honor of the rain--

in honor of the preacher
who fled the "Big Water,"

grabbed his Bible,

hoisted his family and

several others before
climbing up with them

into a chestnut tree,
and preached to those
clinging to the branches
around him, "Repent!"

in honor of the woman
who arrived
at the helicopter, exhausted
and tearful, holding a dead
newborn, her mother holding the
live newborn--twins. When given
a sandwich, she gobbled
the first food she'd eaten
in three days

in honor of those
who rarely slept
for weeks to rescue
people who'd been standing
knee-deep in disease-
infested water

in honor of literally thousands
who ate nothing but thin-grass soup
and stood in kilometer long lines
for drinking water,
though surrounded by flood

in honor of those
who saw their loved
ones floating down
the Limpopo River and wondered
if this was God's judgment

in honor of the governor

of Gaza Province
who gave rescuers
his personal cell phone
so they could
continue calling for help

in honor of the fishermen
who used their boats
to rescue people from trees
and rooftops, helping
to deliver babies where necessary

in honor of the five
or six-year-olds carrying
babies with no parents falling
out of 45-passenger helicopters
due to hunger--mostly children,
very few men

--because it had rained
three days in my town
and one never knows how long
one will walk the dry ground
after a rain.

*First appeared as first place winner in the 2001 Beauty for Ashes Poetry Review poetry contest

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Observations for the Last Day of 2009's January

We’re on our way out of Sweden (by way of Denmark) for a six week short visit home. We arrived two hours early to check in for our flight and now the flight is delayed another hour and 45 minutes. Oh the things I could have done (sleep) had I known the flight would be delayed!

Many of the supplies I packed for this trip were so essential and useful until the last day that early packing was not possible. Then, Phil decided to downsize his luggage and not help me with some of my larger items. The puzzle is successfully solved and now rests in the mysterious chasm for luggage awaiting a flight.

I get pretty stressed by packing and leaving. One reason is that I cannot stand hauling dirty laundry back and forth, so I have to do creative planning (because one load of wash takes an hour and 16 minutes, the dryer almost as long) to keep as many clean clothes in the luggage as possible. The other problem is cleaning my way out the door when my husband is worried we won’t get to the airport on time.

This time, a dear friend helped me so that I did not run circles around packing, photo downloading, battery charging, breakfast dishes and shooing everyone out of the way of the vacuum cleaner and mop. It even allowed me a quick trip to a loppis (junk) sale (didn’t buy anything)! Furthermore, our landlord gave us a ride to the airport, saving us the trouble of getting a taxi, catching the train (and possibly getting stuck in the doors) and walking a ways to check in.

Why is it that when the cabin lights are finally off for sleeping (on a long jet flight), the person wearing the white (reflective) shirt turns his light onto himself and spreads out bright papers to read? Even with my eyes closed, I can tell when a page is turned or, in this case, that a tall man whose shirt seems to have been washed in an otherworldly light leans forward to fuss with his belongings while those around him go suddenly blind.

As I said, in this case it is a very tall man who has to do all kinds of getting up to get things out of the overhead bins for his young family, his chest emanating an angelic light into our obvious darkness. He is sensitive to the cold when he sits down, however, so it is refreshing when he pulls a red blanket up to his neck to read the not-as-bright-as-his shirt Danish newspapers.

He finished two newspapers and rose to put them away, for which I was eternally grateful—until he took ten more out of his bag and let them sit in the baby bassinet, provided by SAS for his three-month-old baby, reflecting that much more light while his chest-shield woke the baby in the next bassinet over (across the isle from me). He seemed not to need the dulling red blanket to read those papers, so, try to sleep as we may…

He must have been sent by the higher powers which were bothered by the banners in the Copenhagen airport: “Welcome to the land of passion and pleasure,” and “Welcome to the land of sin and” whatever else it was.

Having passed through such a dark place, we must have needed some light.

A random paragraph about a a boy and his underwear: The other day we made a special trip to the H & M in Malmo to get underwear for Hunter. Why? Because everything from home “feels funny” and it doesn’t matter if it’s Spider Man, Shrek or Lightning McQueen, either. All week I’ve had the motherly privilege of seeing the newest pair of boy bikinis modeled for me. It was to be my expressed joy to read him which dinosaur was written above the accompanying picture. He would even pose, shirtless, dressed in only his dino’s and socks.

It is now 11 pm Copenhagen time and only 2 pm Seattle time. What darkness we had outside to verify our weariness is now disappearing into a quickly brightening sky. The man will soon fit into his environment!

The flight attendant just handed me a Sami inspired sandwhich. It looks like quilted flatbread bread, used like a tortilla or other wrap, is buttered with a slice of ost (cheese) rolled in it. These are especially good freshly made and with a hot reindeer soup.

This past week was the last week Makleppan (a nature reserve in the Southern Swedish peninsula) was open. I like to call it “seal island” because no Swede, or other human, understands my pronunciation of that place. Anyway, I was like a child at Christmas time about going on an official tour with the wildlife expert on Sunday,

January 25th. But, I was so used to going out there alone or with one other person, that I didn’t know what to make of a tour all in Swedish with nearly a hundred people closing in on the expert.

Some of you know I’m short. Others of you know that my understanding of Swedish is very poor. It was a day without much wind, overcast and cold, so it was great, but what of all these people walking too fast and covering up the scenery?

Three friends came with me, one of whom understood Swedish and was willing to distill the information in English for the rest of us. Sometimes we all gave up and just looked at the sights, letting the sea wash all other foreign language sounds away.

And, yes, we enjoyed watching the seals. I got some great video footage, and my photos were clear, this time, but still not close enough and clear enough to go with a published article. Sigh.

I went out two other times this week—it is at least a four hour walk in the sand and I haven’t made it all the way around the hook of the island (have to wait until November to go again as it is closed after today).. Really, I’m still formulating in my mind what makes me so crazy about that place. Didn’t get any great photos of the seals the other two times, once because I took the wrong route and didn’t have time to go the right way and the other time because the seals were gone! They’d packed up and moved to a different location—my friend said they’d gone shopping.

My fika friends and I didn’t have very many opportunities to see each other this last visit. But we did get together to eat meat (bacon) pancakes with lingonberry jam and whipped cream. Wow! The first piece (it was baked as one big pancake in a large jelly roll pan) was so delicious we wanted a second piece. Part way through the second piece, it was obvious that meat pancakes are extremely filling. When we were offered ice cream, I was already stuffed, but I acquiesced graciously, of course.

I won’t tell you much about the problem I have yo-yo “dieting” during my pendulum travels. It would do me well to be addicted to thrice weekly four hour walks wherever I am!

Hoo ja (oh, yeah, in Swedish), I’m understanding more Swedish. At least now I can distinguish between some words instead of hearing only strings of strange sounds. There were two phrases I heard so often that it bugged me to discover their meaning. One was the word, “ingeting” (spelled differently, I’m sure). When a group of us watched the movie “Luther” (good movie, by the way) in English with Swedish subtitles, I learned it meant “nothing.” Literally. You wouldn’t believe how often that word is used! The other was, “komme backa” and other variations. Come back or coming back. See? I’m not coming back with nothing!

The sun is coming up outside the airplane windows and I haven’t even slept yet! Hunter and Phil are both snoozing, though. Phil is sitting by a woman who was very upset to be sitting in the bulkhead, exit row near babies and five year olds. Believe me, she had reason to be worried. I mean, between Mr. White-Shirt, crying babies and Hunter yelling, “I’m dead” over the noise in his earphones during an Atari game called Invasion, it was no picnic.

To cope, she ignored the strong advisement “to please not sleep on the floor,” and took her nap there, parallel to the threshold of the exit door, her legs up over the seat (almost Mork-style) and her headless earphone blaring jazz and bigband.

It was not easy over a computer and a child sleeping on my leg, but I just looked out the window. There is a vast snowy wasteland below, and a pink horizon into blue sky—no better scene in my mind! The “moving flight map” says we are approaching Edmonton just after the Queen Elizabeth Islands. It is beautiful out there and I knew I’d regret letting Hunter steal my window seat just before falling asleep.

Phil’s needed back in Sweden for a three-month period starting mid-March and ending mid-June. We hope to rent a beautifully refurbished Farm House on the same farm we’ve stayed the last two times. Everything is set up. For now, I’m looking forward to being home a little while—maybe enjoying a little more snow (Don’t shoot, don’t shoot! Remember, it doesn’t snow very often in the Swedish Skane).

This will surprise you. Mr. White-shirt has donned a black leather jacket and fallen asleep with the light off just as the sun is fully bright in our windows. His snoring fills the cabin.

Post Script: We ran to catch our second plane after a delayed flight and made it home early! It is now morning in Sweden, Feb. 1, but we are just settling down for the night in our own beds, this last day and a half of January 31, 2008. Boy, am I glad there is still snow on the ground. See you all soon!