Monday, May 10, 2010

The Arduous Adventure Turned Impossible Issue

[Some adventures are for women only . . . Enter at your own risk]

This is what happens when you become an adventurer. Call it being knighted or going through a rite of passage.

You learn to live without; you feel an acute sense of homelessness; you feel like a nobody in a culture you can’t quite grasp; you learn the streets by name and figure out how to wake up, dress, pack, disembark and hop on the next train in a matter of a few minutes; you learn to decrease the weight and number of items carried on an airplane; you learn to be flexible due to flight delays and acts of God; you drag your young child behind you and he becomes better at this game than you are; and in all these ways you find the limits of your mortality.

If you’re me, you aren’t writing much these days because you’re trying to strike a balance between the mundane, the insane and what’s really on your brain, meanwhile bleeding for two months. I know. Too Much Information.

But I’m not finished explaining the life of an adventurer in the medical minefields of Sweden!

Phil and I had been going through a rough time (those times always come). We barely spoke. Being in the same room was a strain. We asked our friends to pray for us.

One day, as Phil and I drove to a friend’s house in Malmö and Hunter was with some other friends, I asked Phil, “Are you going through a mid-life crisis? If you are, I’d like to know.”

“Of course I’m going through a mid-life crisis!” Phil said, “Every man goes through a mid-life crisis when his wife is going through menopause!”

“Menopause!” I exclaimed, “What makes you think I’m going through menopause?!!!” His explanation, something he’ read on-line, was less than convincing.

Nevertheless, our relationship started improving--almost like falling in love all over again (those times can be repeated, you know!). What exactly did our friends pray?

I woke up one morning, after having to visit the bathroom about four times in the night and something seemed different. In this case, I suspected I was pregnant. “This,” I thought to myself, “is what happens when you become an adventurer.”

I didn’t say anything to Phil for several days, but I thought of all the people I knew who wanted a child more than anything in the world. I wondered if Phil would go for adopting the child out. I couldn't tell anyone in the family this crazy idea because they would all try to talk me out of it. Even so, I decided to do things differently this time and tell the child it was welcome in this world. A few days later, when I was pretty sure, I told Phil (HE, of all people, was delighted).

We didn’t tell anyone about the pregnancy because it was too early, but we were pretty sure. For reference, this was February 2010 and the harshest, snowiest, blowingest winter in the region of Skåne, Sweden since the 1980’s. Strangely, I’d brought a test from The States, just in case. After waiting longer than necessary, I decided to take the test and it was positive. Though we had already started discussing the what-ifs and the irony against Phil’s suspecting menopause, it was still a shock. Not only did our minds reel, but we had to rethink the whole process of going back and forth to Sweden. This could change everything.

My second daughter is getting married in September. I imagined her threatening to kill me when she found out we’d be finding a suitable maternity dress for me to wear as mother of the bride. She wanted to kill me six years ago when Hunter displaced her as baby of the family.

Should we still go on the ski trip? Should we plan to go back to the States sooner for longer than we thought? Should I try the Batsu (sauna) on the Sound where you bake at 90 degrees Celsius before dunking three times in the frozen sea? How would I continue my chauffer duties with a growing belly when I already drive with the seat pushed against the steering wheel? What about the spontaneous trip to Morocco? Would that be too much?

I went to the local doctor's clinic for a confirmation test. My landlord’s mother also entered the clinic and sat down beside me. She chatted in Swedish, telling me why she was there, producing a glass black pepper spice jar full of her own urine, telling me she thought she had an infection. She wanted to know why I was there. While I searched for simple Swedish words to tell her not too much, she said, “Du vet inte (You know not),” and in that awkwardness, we fell silent in those close waiting room chairs.

The nurse called me in before my friend. The nurses’ office is right off of the waiting room and they don’t close the door when they ask personal questions at full voice. But I lowered my voice to state that I thought I was pregnant. “Oh, we don’t deal with that, here! You must go to a midwife. But you can only call once per day between 9 and 10 am. Here’s the number. Congratulations!” And I walked out the door, waving meekly at my landlord’s mother on my way out.

I managed to call the midwife a week or so later. My number on the call waiting line was 3. I listened to the repeated Swedish announcement that my number was still 3, then 2, still 2, still 2, etc, until I was still 1 and a real person picked up the phone. Several times during the wait, I wanted to hang up and forget about it. I have a prepaid phone card. Waiting costs.

Though I am learning Swedish, the midwife couldn’t understand me and was forced to help me in English, a language she felt uncomfortable speaking, but spoke well enough for me. The fact that I didn’t have a Swedish number caused a problem. I’m an untraceable foreigner. This didn’t make things any easier and it is taking too much of her one hour call-in time. So, what is my name, how do I spell it (saying letters is not easy in another language) and we went through this process three times to get it right.

The most important question a Swede asks anyone else, because this is the question of number one importance in life: “What is your birthdate?” After I answered, there was silence. I figured she was writing it all down. “We would worry about your age,” she finally said. “Do you want to keep it?” Ah, the other question known by many around the world to be so easily answered “nej” by Swedes.

“I keep and love all my accidents,” I said, feeling emotional and sentimental, suddenly. It was, of course, impossible to get an appointment for three weeks.

I told her I would be going to Morocco for a week and would like to have the pregnancy verified before the trip. She realized this was taking entirely too long and was too complicated. She offered to call me back with a possible appointment in another city. There I was, again in the maze of socialized medicine. I was warned that I would have to pay three times the usual amount because I didn’t have a Swedish number.

Out the window, I could see the Oresund Bridge, the longest in Europe, the salty Sound mirroring the blue sky, ships and ferries inching past, the tall turning torso, people walking their dogs and jogging through the beach/park, and airplanes approaching for landings at the Copenhagen airport. I was in a fourth story apartment--the home of a new friend from Russia, who didn’t understand why I was taking so long on the phone when the tea was ready. When I hung up, I wondered if I should tell her. I did because the phone rang again with two appointment times—one before the trip and one after. She was the first to know besides the three nurses. I hardly knew this woman I told.

Everything slows down when you find out you are pregnant. At least it does for me. I’m aware of an intense hunger that needs to be monitored and faithfully fed. All my bad eating habits suddenly go out the window. I must be disciplined because there is a new life inside me and I’m much older than when I first started motherhood. I get shaky between meals and can no longer open jar lids for lack of physical strength. My problem with inattention and absent-mindedness goes away. My mind is clear and deliberate; my actions are more efficient.

When I arrived for the appointment, it was difficult to find the building. Thankfully, there is usually a map in every parking lot. The buildings on the map are numbered. An enlarged number appears on every building corresponding to the numbers on the map. This was good, because I couldn’t understand the word used for maternity clinic. Finding the entrance was a nearly impossible maze through a garden.

The posters on the walls were aimed at very young people who might be in tentative relationships or new at this. I felt new but not because of my age. There was no sign pointing to the reception desk and no one at the desk when I found it. There were adorable photographs of tiny babies in artsy studio poses that made me feel like a grandmother. Someone finally told me where the midwife was and told me she was behind one of the doors off of the waiting room. A very pregnant, obviously Swedish blond, still slender everywhere else, sat on the couch beside me watching a video about the birthing process. She looked alone and nervous. Even this mental snapshot made me realize how “on your own” a person is in Sweden.

I pretended to read one of my writing magazines.

When the door opened, I asked after the midwife and found it to be her. She was surprised to see me because she had called to cancel “if I wanted” due to the fact that this first appointment would be so basic, practically unnecessary. I persisted because I knew no other way to get into the system.

This midwife in a white coat, surrounded by models of growing fetuses and removable uteruses, slumped toward me on her side of a 50’s style office desk and ran through the questions about age and keeping babies. She spoke as if she were an unconcerned human speaking to the lost and stupid. I dutifully acted the expected part.

In answer to her question, I stated that I was not interested in the worry that amniocentesis causes and that I keep all my accidents. She was glad I had thought about it. She told me again that this appointment was really unnecessary, because all she does on the first prenatal appointment is tell me not to smoke and drink and that there won’t be anymore appointments before the 12th week. You're only 8 weeks along, by everyone’s calculations, so I should be on my way to Morocco (or the edge of a cliff for that matter). Do I have any questions?

“Yes. I’d like to make sure I’m really pregnant.” I said. The hunger, the clarity, the shakiness—it had all stopped between Tuesday and the Friday I’m sitting across from a sterile-faced woman. But I forgot to tell her that I felt all those things once. I reached in my purse, copying my landlord’s mother’s example, and produce a sample in a peanut butter jar. She goes to another room. There is the sound of a dropped glass jar. I jump as if the firing squad shot me. She comes back with my sample in a Styrofoam cup, a flat stick resting on the rim.

“It’s negative,” she said, disgusted, as if I have now proven how much of a waste of time this appointment was.

“You’ve been through this before. You have three children already. Do you feel anything?”

In my discomfort and unfamiliarity, and then, shock, I said, feebly, as if I’ve been caught doing wrong, “No.”

“We won’t be charging you for this appointment,” she said. I thanked her and retraced my steps to the car and went home.

Two days later I was on a plane to Morocco and absolutely nothing happened to my body except that a Swedish

midwife proved there was nothing there and believed there never was.

The trip to Morocco was an on-site photographic class and tour. We walked all day from morning to night and ate too much because we didn’t know what to order. We were having a blast. Underneath it all, I grieved. No pregnancy of mine had ever ended before I beheld the wonder of the child in my arms. This thought would grip me while other members of the group laughed from their dinner wine or when I saw a baby hammocked on a mother’s back. Mothers in Morocco were not always young.

My husband and I talked about what happened at the midwife’s office and I had expressed relief mixed with a great sadness. He was sad, too, but we were both so caught up in the trip, we weren’t really worrying about it right then. After all, maybe we had simply imagined the whole thing.

Midway through the trip, I started bleeding. It was intermittently light and heavy one day and the next. The only pain I had was in my lower back. I figured it was due to walking so much and carrying camera equipment.

We picked Hunter up from our friends’ place on Friday night. We enjoyed a restful weekend, going over photos and building Legos with Hunter. It was mid-March.

I had another mid-wife appointment scheduled for that Monday after I picked Hunter up from school. It was tricky telling him I needed to go to the Doctor’s office without letting him in on what was going on, especially since this office was not the one we usually visit in Höllviken, but one in Vellinge. He wondered why there were so many photos of babies on the walls. In the last few weeks, he had been expressing the wish to have a baby sibling in the family and becoming rather clingy, as if he knew something was up.

The mid-wife I had spoken to was not in, I was told by another one. “You are the one who went to Morocco?” I was asked with a smile of interest. Great. My new title.

Answering in the affirmative, I was then told, “Oh, yes, we cancelled your appointment after talking with the mid-wife from Trelleborg. The test was negative, right?” I nodded. “Yes, we talked about it and decided to cancel your appointment.”

There was nothing more to do than turn around and leave. I made no fuss. I did not plead my case. But bleeding had started in earnest, more than I’d ever bled before, and I had slept much of the day while Hunter was in school. There was no one to guide me through the miscarriage.

Except the internet. On the internet, you can find people asking questions for which there seem to be no answers because they post their queries after multiple doctor visits, lab tests and sonograms, and being told there is nothing to be done, that these things are normal. And there are those who are simply wanting to know how long to wait before trying again. There is such a thing as a natural miscarriage to be simply waited out at home. People have logged the gory details of their progress. I figured I could wait this out on my own, since I could find no medical professional to believe me.

After a month of waiting it out on my own, I finally called the midwife during call-in times. She was aghast. She thought the test was negative! She thought . . .! Pulling herself together she said she would call in to the women’s clinic in Malmö to give them my fake-temporary Swedish number so I could be seen as an emergency. Again, I would have to call in my own emergency, but she did call in the silly number.

Obtaining an emergency appointment felt like a form of dying on the other end of the line before a decision was reached. I had to explain my symptoms to the receptionist from the beginning. She needed to find my fake number then grill me on why the number didn’t fit my birth year. I was to be accountable for why the midwives did not respond better to my case. I was to answer for myself if this was truly an emergency or could it wait two months out. Throughout the conversation, I became more aware of my responsibility and more decisive.

After seeing the same sob stories on internet news threads, and feeling misrepresented by the medical field in Sweden, I started confiding in a few women friends. I still didn’t want to tell my mother or my daughters. What drives a person to slink away from the very people who can provide useful stories from their own experiences, I have no idea. My friends grew worried for me, asking if I’d had an appointment yet and what did I expect to DO?

Phil left on a business trip to Israel. I wondered what I would do if something happened to him on that trip. I was feeling less and less sure of myself and of being able to carry out my set of responsibilities, let alone those things he takes care of on a regular basis when we’re together in Sweden (Phil makes breakfast and takes Hunter to school on the city bus, for starters. The first day Phil was gone, Hunter said, “Oh no! What are we going to do without Daddy? Like, what will happen if my computer gets a black screen?!!!”)

To check in to the emergency Kvinnakliniken (The women’s clinic), I needed my passport and the exact amount of money to be paid. These were facts drilled into me more than any given expectation for the appointment. My fake number still didn’t match my birth year, so the process took longer until they could give me a new number and delete the other as well as maintain my file. Furthermore, my first credit card didn’t work, for some reason. Three attempts and a second card finally worked. The trouble was the last two cards I had on hand took money directly out of certain accounts and Phil had not told me which accounts he preferred I use. A call to Israel during business hours while dealing with the check-in receptionist is a double no-no. Sweat, bother and worry.

How soon can I use a bathroom, for goodness sake?! I had already walked a half mile from my parking space to the clinic. Now this half hour hassle.

The receptionist stapled my receipts and pointed toward an ominous set of double doors where I was expected to take a number and sit in a cramped, grey waiting room where women in varying conditions flipped through mangled magazines and breathed in the stale, oxygen-deprived air. It was obvious that the group of us were multi-lingual internationals with a myriad of human symptoms generated from the same organs in our bodies--that it didn’t take much to fall through the cracks of the system. That the one who faints first gets the most attention.

A slender nurse called me into her laboratory. While she took my temperature and checked my blood pressure, I noted the hard lines in her face and the years of cigarette smoke gravelling her vocal chords. When she asked to see my passport, she looked at it and in awe, said in her deep, alto voice, “The United States of America . . . .”

That phrase gripped me for a moment, as if I should put my hand on my heart and recite the pledge of allegiance. It gripped me to realize people still idealized my country of origin and that I knew why. It gripped me because I felt worried that the country I love may not be the country I return to.

She took blood from my finger and from a vein in my arm. Though I said I didn’t need a band-aid, she insisted I use it anyway. “What, you don’t want me bleeding all over the place?” I teased.

“This is your responsibility,” she said, reminding me of what every person in this process had said up to this point, “I don’t have the time [to worry about it].”

I was sent back to the stifling room. A young mother limped in with her tiny newborn. Her own mother fussed about her, positioning the baby pram, arranging blankets, moving magazines out of the way and answering the nurse’s questions. I wondered if I would attend to my daughters the same way someday.

The doctor herself called the name on my chart the way most Swedes say my name, “Yulyen Moonts?” She introduced herself and asked if it would be okay that an intern be present. Since this is the story of my life and I wanted to get on with the appointment, I acquiesced.

The process of seeing the doctor is fairly different from the U.S., as you might imagine. For instance, I was directed to disrobe in a tiny corner of a large room behind a curtain that does not fully close. The doctor, nurse and intern remained in the room, speaking Swedish. They called out directions to me while I dressed. I was expected to emerge without a paper gown or covering, to embark the dreaded table contraption, and to maneuver into position as three people watched.

I was examined and given an ultrasound in the same space of time. The doctor pointed aspects of my body out to me on the screen. I was directed back to my changing quarters where I dressed while the nurse, doctor and intern discussed my case in the same room. It seemed strangely natural, efficient and third world. I was seated next to the desk by the doctor who spoke kindly to me, asking me about the past few months, and looking at the calendar I had kept. I was told that, indeed, I had been pregnant and my body was trying to get back to normal.

Someone believed me.

The doctor told me, as she ushered me out to the hall, I should be able to go home and be fine. I shouldn’t need to do any drastic procedures, but that I should call back if I had any more trouble. The nurse took more blood, and then sent me away with my band aids. This was the most positive Swedish medical experience I’d had in a long time. I was almost giddy.

One week later, after Phil was stranded along with thousands of other European travelers due to the Icelandic volcano eruption (he inched his way my plane and train,—standing room only--increasing his five day business trip by five more days), I started bleeding again, worse than before. I started pleading with the Lord to be able to touch the hem of his garment. I felt a greater level of empathy for the woman (and those women on the internet) who dealt with an “issue of blood” for over 12 years.

My heart broke for the many around me who have had nothing but trouble trying to conceive even a first child. I wasn’t even trying to conceive!

My friends were starting to get mad. They couldn’t believe that medical professionals would turn me out without finding and fixing the problem. They thought I should get another appointment, be persistent, even bothersome, if need be. So I went back in to be questioned by a nurse (another intern in tow), tested in all the same ways again, told my hemoglobin were better than good, and sent off to buy some over-the-counter-blood-stopping pills at the pharmacy.

The pills were as sugar pills, having no effect.

After weeks of the same and a few close call explosions in public places, I left Hunter with a friend and went to emergency after hours (this means after four pm). Even the waiting room was empty. I was given the battery of blood tests and told to return in the morning to a scheduled appointment with a doctor for another exam. Phil wanted to know if I was hemorrhaging.

The next morning it was the same place, same scenario, different female doctor, MALE intern shadow. Sigh. I was examined by both the doctor and the intern because the intern would be receiving his own patients the next day. Double sigh. Double the pain.

“There are a lot of parts left,” the short, dark-haired doctor told me after I was dressed and sitting beside the desk. The nurse came back in with a foil strip of tiny red pills. “It appears your body has not been able to flush the parts out. It will continue this way if we don’t try something else. It is always a difficult decision deciding to wait awhile longer before using a surgical procedure,” (the same procedure used to perform abortions).

“Take these pills, (I don’t know what they are called in English), three times daily,” she continued, “and I’ll set up an appointment two weeks from now for another examination to make sure there are no more parts and no infection.”

As I left with a new diagnosis and the strip of red pills, she warned me, “The pills will hurt. Take pain killers.”

Parts, pain and a busy schedule. Joy. My faith was running thin. I took some ibuprofen and Tylenol along with the little red pill (used mainly for hemorrhaging women after childbirth) and cancelled all my appointments for the next day. I felt better on all those pain meds than I had for awhile. My body felt stressed, but there was no pain.

By the next evening, the bleeding had stopped.

So, I’m at the end of a four month process. Spring has arrived in Sweden, but the temperature is not warming very quickly. I’m looking forward to feeling the warmth of spring outside and the lift of spring in my body so I can enjoy a bit more of Sweden before we leave again. I’m hoping the next appointment will be my last over these issues for a long time. But I’ll have to keep watch. I’m still a bit of a spring chicken.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Ode to My Daughter, Twenty-Five This Day, February 15, 2010

A quarter century ago, a beautiful woman with a dimpled, cameo face was born, her skin still creamy from the inner world. To her amazed parents, she was so uncommonly alive, so full of breath and determination, that disbelief and wonder vacillated between them. She was their treasure, as money they had not.

Refusing to be treated as a china doll, the woman watched the oooo’s and aaaaa’s formed by her parents’ mouths, but let out her own wild yell when enough was enough. Holding her required rough treatment, or she’d yell all day. Alone in a rocking wooden cradle was her preference, or bounced over the shoulder, arm cradling, not.

Her life started the day after St. Valentine’s Day. The separation between her first day of life and that seemingly fabled day of love mattered, though the taste of frosted cut-out cookies and conversation hearts reached her umbilically. This may have begun the sensitivity of her stubborn stomach easily turned into knots.

The days and years since proved difficult enough that her determination and beauty served her well. She smote those within her icy, dreamy, alluring stare and rose to conquer those things her passions desired or not.

What comforts she may have sought from her distracted parents proved stark, if at all. She learned to read what floated in the air—words, thoughts, impending conflict, promises of ice cream or trips to the park—so wears she a chain mailed heart where the wind is full of torture and arrows seek her not.

She won’t be left behind or forgotten, though you’ll find her quieted in a spot where the walls endure her morning stare and listen to her cares. Give her a mountain to climb, an ocean to cross, a tree to perceive, a flower to prove, an idea to believe or stretch into lines of long prose, and she is up for the challenge—except when she’s not.

Like her mother, like her father, (she resembles them both), she’s remarkably endeared to that curly-haired girl whose demeanor surprises between good and horrid. The predictability of which remains a mysterious combinat

ion of constellations, colic, and tragicomedy. Expect concealed sentiment. Tease out her winning smile, but trust it not.

Though infinitely loved and sought by many, she’ll count her friends and loves with two hands. If you tell her you love her, she rarely believes, she watches your actions, the things left unsaid, seeing, instead, the day you will leave. Beware the one seeking to tie up loose strings, those things dismissed as meaningless in the procurement of love, into what the world’s elders call the truelove knot.

Know your buttons, your wares, books and words bird by bird; know pastries, gardens, vegetables all; know waters, tonics, teas and coffees; know bands and their alternatives, the art on the wall. If with this century-old woman you wonder what ought? Forget all you know since with her you’ll know naught!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Swedish Wildlife

There are two reasons I’m typing this note by the kitchen sink. First, the countertop is at the right height for standing and typing. Second, the floor is warm underfoot.

Other fine reasons are that the hot water for tea is here and there is a window looking out over the vecker (beautiful) vinter (winter) underländet (wonderland). (At least that’s how I’d like to write my Swedish. Alas, it’s probably wrong. We were still eating when Phil took his dishes to the sink.

“Warning!” Phil said. “There is a spider in the sink. I thought you should know.”

“Thanks!” I said, “Why didn’t you take it out?”

Silence (a typical response).

I figured it was a Daddy Long-Legs (I don’t know the scientific name) like most of the spiders around here in the winter. Hunter tuned my mind in even closer by asking, “Why do they only have Daddy Long-Legs in Sweden?”

We explained that there were more spiders around here, but that they were generally not harmful.

When I finished eating, I took my dishes to the sink.

“Oh!” I said, surprised to see a Tegenaria atrica female (for you scientific types since I don’t know the common name) holding her ground of about two by two inches. “Why DIDN’T you take the spider out?” I asked Phil a little bit more insistently, as he cleaned up the table and I got the flyswatter.

“It wouldn’t have fit down the sink,” was his reply.

“Hmmm. I think it was something else,” I said, letting the spider climb onto the swatter, opening the back door and flinging him out onto the snow.

The spider ran across the top of the snow as if he were headed somewhere, then stopped.

“Ever seen a spider run along the top of the snow?” I asked, closing the door and watching.

“No!” he said, turning around quickly to look out the window (made you look, made you look!). We watched the spider stand still in the cold morning.

“I figure the birds will like it,” I said, turning away to get ready for work and school. Under my breath I said, “What a wuss.”

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Picture this, as there are no photos included

Like the forgotten white paint in a dimly lit hallway is the overcast sky in January. If I look hard, I can see pale pink shading etched here and there across the texture less clouds.

The snow on the ground lightens the view of dark, bare trees and old brick buildings, but my spirit longs to blow a spark to flame, to turn the tone from cool to warm. This longing is only for my heart as my eyes settle happily on high contrast with low punch. Winter is so brief.

Last Saturday it was too cold to go for a walk on the beach or hike a new path. Something about the temperature sucked us inward, toward home with no want to see new sights or try new things. We gathered the trash and recycling, sorted it all in turn, sought out a few things for the pantry and found the flea market closed against finding a lamp and a shelf.

When the call came from my fika friends that we should meet in the afternoon for tea and conversation while the children played, I leapt at the opportunity. We met last October when my daughter was here.

The children played loudly, seeming to purposefully make our visit more difficult. My friends were both on diets, as I should be (and have planned to be), so they munched on one thin, hard tunebrod with butter, while I enjoyed leftover Lucia buns and pepparkakkor (gingerbread) with my tea. It was so good to talk, again. Both of them are working part to full time and going to school. All of our children are in day care or school. We are busy, so time together was precious. Our conversation flowed easily from simple to complex, shallow to deep and back again. I treasure their friendship!

Meanwhile, Phil took a long, cold walk.

We had a family of six over for ham and scalloped potatoes. I made streusel pumpkin muffins to use up the rest of the cooked pumpkin. The children ate their muffins upside down, preferring not to eat the sweet, streusel topping. It was chaotic fun to have them over!

Now the week is nearly finished—where did it go?

I go through dry spells when I don’t read anything but the Bible (nothing dry about that, though). Lately, however, I find my finger in at least five books. One on back pain, another on postmodern Christianity and the rest poetry. An old book of poetry by Ted Kooser is full of things I need to learn.

We’ve been enjoying a deep, immense silence out here in the country. It is quieter by far than Malmö or even the town of Höllviken, but the snow has silenced everything that much further. It is healing, somehow. Then, the chapter in Habakkuk I read last night ended with the words, “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him" (Hab. 2:20). It’s difficult to imagine a silence of the whole world.

I had another thought. Yesterday Hunter had a “study day” from school. He kept calling it his day off. At one point I felt a smidge of hunger. “Smidge” is the operating word here, even if it’s not a word. I went to the refrigerator where the contents are dwindling fast. Then I looked into a packed pantry, full of options. I thought about the Haitians, stuck in the streets, hungry and thirsty, and I couldn’t fully grasp their plight. If the place we are living right now were to be crushed and there be no place to go, we’d also die of exposure in the below freezing temperatures. They are dying of wounds, thirst, hunger and exposure to the heat, to their own wild fear.

Lord, help them! Lord, help me to be content!

Two dinners ago we had homemade chicken and vegetable soup. Last night I turned it into pork/chicken pot pie (homemade biscuits on top instead of crust). The boys didn’t mind their leftovers this time! I love watching Hunter gobble up his food without whining. The Haitians hunger is bad—frightening. But while we have plenty, we will enjoy it. We never know the day we will be in the place the Haitians are. And, yes, we send some of our plenty their way!

Time for Swedish lessons, a half hour drive away. I hope my memory and tongue work for me. I’ve only been assigned the “alfabetet” to start. Wish me well as I wish you well on your endeavors!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Iceland Part Two with photos

[Note: I know you have nearly given up on my posting this portion on Iceland. So have I. It has been written, but I was determined that you should see photos of Puffin. Boy, has the photo part been menacing. I apologize for the delay, but I have probably spent a total of 30 hours or more on this portion, alone. Hopefully you can click to make the images larger.]

When we lived in Alaska, the mascot of my daughter’s school was the puffin. We’d never seen a puffin other than stuffed in a wildlife museum, mind you, but we lived somewhere near their habitat. Believe it or not, this has to do with Iceland.

Hunter wonders why he can’t remember Alaska or ever wanting to know about puffin before, but the first morning he woke up in Iceland saying, “Mom, I don’t have jet lag: I slept the whole night,” he desperately wanted to take the Puffin Tour on a boat in the sea. Other than breakfast, nothing else mattered. He made sure to pick up a Puffin Tour brochure on the way to breakfast (adding to those Phil and I picked up individually) so we wouldn’t forget.

We could have done an art tour, gone fishing in the sea, taken a whale-watching tour or, as mentioned earlier, driven a few hours to some famous waterfalls. We could have been typical tourists and only wandered around (shopped) in Reykjavik, but, two against one, we wanted a puffin tour.

wanted to take the tour, as well, but he’d hoped we would be out the door early enough for the first tour so we could drive the better part of the day. As it (always) happened, we had to take the midday tour because we weren’t finished with breakfast and fussing early enough. He was already in waiting and antsy, mode. Traveling was much easier for Phil when he was single—but that was a good long time ago. That was before the need to charge camera batteries, computer batteries, download photos, verify photos and run into memory problems. That was before little boys who can’t stand to leave the hotel room before seeing at least one whole morning cartoon, or have a turn at using the computer—American in Iceland.

We dragged ourselves out the door, had the great idea to remove the large boxes from the back and backseat of the car and leave them in the hotel room, which took more time. As we were leaving, I opened my laptop to read a downloaded chapter of a guidebook on Iceland, only to realize I’d downloaded every region of Iceland except the one we were in.

Car idling, boy in the backseat wondering why we haven’t left yet, the electronic whir of a slowly fuming husband, the slow connection to free unsecured wireless and the equally slow payment and download of the last available chapter on Iceland (could have purchased the book more quickly!), so we could figure out what to do in Reykjavik while we waited for our ship to come in.

Sometimes we can be so technologically savvy, that we are time and adventure stupid. Phil and I have acknowledged this and sworn to go back to our more simple roots—where our parents studied fold-out maps and headed somewhere with only a vague idea of what the family might see. It was so much easier than trying to scroll up and down, up and down, to view a map on a tiny screen. But there we were with everything one could need in a PDF on a tiny screen and no map. Even the GPS we rented seemed stupid, making us drive several miles only to require a u-turn back to where we’d started.

Thus armed, we drove to the Capitol city of Iceland as fog and rain clouds disappeared into the warming clear blue sky. Hunter was already getting hungry. I thought we’d park near the tour and walk around the city a bit, see an architecturally interesting church built of cement, but Phil wanted to know exactly where we’d walk so he could estimate the amount of time it would take so we didn’t miss the tour.

We bounced all these ideas around while standing on Hamburgergatan which lead toward the tour and started at an intersection where the whole tiny corner houses a hip little hamburger joint, complete with posters of Elvis, the Beatles, gnarly looking rock n’ roll angry fashion statements and cute children’s drawings of themselves eating at their favorite hamburger place. Hunter wanted to eat there. He didn’t even mind watching the tiny television hanging from the ceiling from a barstool though the language was even more foreign to him than Swedish.

Oh yeah. You wanted to read about the puffin tour. It’s coming. The most roaming around we did was to see a house decorated in the most kitschy garden art, better seen from across the street than up close due to the high surrounding wall. We decided we’d get burgers and fries to take with us on the two hour tour after we’d walked up and down the harbor a bit. (This may have happened after the souvenir shop.) We let a souvenir shop lure us all the way inside such that we entertained plunking down some money for odds and ends (some of which have proved useful—like a pair of underwear, a rain hat and a baseball cap. Not telling which was for whom). We tasted things. We asked a lot of questions about the area. Then an ordinary looking man walked in with a painting and I asked if he was an artist.

He was.

The painting in his hand wasn’t his. It was a sepia toned painting with black outlines. He painted in oil somewhere very north of here, but could I come and see his gallery? It would take four hours by car, but not so long by boat. This was to be my waterfall. (Oh! Look at the time!) We’d have to leave seeing such paintings behind.

They were the kind of paintings sought out by “Chicago. Don’t know why they’d want my paintings so much. They are of fields, boats and the sea, of farmhouses and ordinary things.”

He was a farmer and a fisherman, too. His boat bobbed at the harbor, along with the Puffin Tour boat, near the place we stood talking, lost in the wonderful world of shared interests with humans from around the world.

“Do you have a website?” I asked, getting pen and paper ready.

“No, but my daughter is working on it.” I hand him the paper and pen and ask for an autograph because you never know who you’re really talking to: Gunnar I. Gudjön,” he wrote, taking care to include his art signature, his telephone number and the date (10/8/2009, mdy).

I keep the piece of paper in plastic so it doesn’t get ruined. Will I ever see his paintings? Guess we’ll have to go back to Iceland….

My husband was kind enough to let me enjoy this moment, but gently reminded me, after the artist excused himself, that we still hadn’t made our purchases and we hadn’t grabbed lunch to take onto the boat.

Purchases and lunch in hand, we finally went to the tour boat. We were directed onto a medium-sized boat-made-restaurant where we bought our tickets at the bar, then sent below deck where there were water closets (toilets) and a tiny side deck from which we would access the smaller tour boat. We admired the heavy wooden staircase and walls, highly varnished by marine varnish and time.

The tour boat arrived, was tied up with heavy rope and its human contents spilled quietly out, onto the tiny deck and through the narrow door near where we stood. Soon, we were allowed on the boat, pleased as ever.

Especially Phil. We were finally doing something.

We wove our way up tiny stairways to the top of the boat for a great view of the harbor. There were picnic tables, exhaust pipes, the captain’s windowed area and a walking deck surrounded by rails, but the space was barely large enough for ten people to enjoy at once. Since we were there first, and Phil was tired of holding the food bags and drinks, Hunter and I sat at the table and set up our picnic. Others joined us, but without food. Phil barely sat down before he was up taking photos.

We waited for the boat to “set sail” before we started eating. I watched Hunter dive into his hamburger with great enthusiasm, but the smell of yet another fast food meal swirling around our heads with the exhaust and the inevitable swaying motion of the boat spoiled my appetite. Soon, Hunter set down his not quite half eaten sandwich and laid his head on the table. “I can’t eat this, mommy,” he said, apathetically. “I don’t feel well.”

Phil had already crumpled his food papers into balls and come to see if he could clean up after either of us. He was surprised to find us not eating much. Hunter sipped some of his orange soda.

The water was smooth as glass. The weather had cleared into a clear blue sky. The only reason our boat swayed at all was the passing of other boats, even a huge private cruise ship. There was really no reason to feel queasy.

I decided to lean over the front rail, overlooking the bow. We were headed in the direction of a mountain I had been using as a point of reference. It reminded me of Steam Boat Rock in Electric City, Washington. They call theirs Mount Esja (the j makes a y sound). Leaning over the rail, this way, I could get a little farther away from the exhaust.

Just then, one of the shipmates walked out onto the bow below me. She enjoyed a long, peaceful smoke. I kept hoping she would finish and move on, but she continued long enough that I couldn’t take either kind of exhaust, so moved below deck. There were no windows, only a small kitchen beyond some

booth/table lined walls. There was a large photo of some Puffin to look at, but that was all. How was I to see amazing birds down there?

So, I went to the back deck to look out over the side. I had read, in Lonely Planet’s chapter on the history of Iceland, that one of the first to settle in Iceland (after monks seeking silence) did what any well-bred intending settler would do. “He heaved his high-seat pillars into the sea as they approached land.” These pagan paraphernalia, symbols of authority for Norse chieftains, and “the gods” supposedly led Ingólfur Arnarson to his settling place (which he called ReykjavikSmokey Bay—after the sulfur steam of the area).

We were passing an island not far from Reykjavik. A few posts jabbed the air. I wondered if these were the land-finding pillars. I must have said it aloud because a resident who was also on the boat pishawed the idea, saying they were nothing other than a mess left over by some long-gone industry. So much for my trying to get my mind around the history of the place (or letting my imagination run loose).

We were called below deck for a few minutes of instruction. Wewere told that the North Atlantic Puffin is quite small compared to those in Alaska. That the female lays a single egg and both mates incubate the egg. They also take turns feeding the little guy once he’s hatched. They can both fly in the air and underwater. They fish for herring and other small fish. Though their beaks look small, they can carry quite a few fish.

Of course, I didn’t remember much of this, so had to look it up at

They are fascinating creatures.

“These puffins gather and lay their eggs on craggy rocks, oh, and look! We’re almost there,” we were told and rushed up to the front of the boat. I was shutter-snapping happy, but my lens was too short and too slow for these critters zipping overhead. The boat captain was a photographer with the same camera but an impressive lens. When he found out I was interestedboth in photography and birds, he stood nearby as snap-happy as myself, but giving mepointers. I was in

bird heaven!

My photos are nothing like those the captain could take. His photos were on the brochure and in some other magazines. But I’ll show you a few here.

Just because you like the little critters, doesn’t mean you can’t eat them. I didn’t get to try (wasn’t aware of the possibility at the time), but I guess the locals do.

All too soon it was time to turn back.

Beautiful as the water and landscape was, it was nothing after being so near puffin. As if to keep my mind off of wanting to go back, some of the captain’s old coast guard buddies waved from a passing coast guard boat, then another group of them buzzed overhead, close-range, by helicopter--smiling and waving.

When we reached land, the dock was covered with school children laying over the sides stick fishing. They were all colorfully dressed enough for a photo.

Before the helicopter, I had asked the captain if he recommended The Blue Lagoon for tourists. “Sure!” he said, “I used to go there. It’s a great place!”

But when I told Phil what the captain said, he just grumbled. He’d seen a photo of one of the lagoons and wasn’t impressed with how touristy and crowded it looked.

After we had disembarked the boat and were trying to figure out what to do next, we were invited to get back on the boat for a free whale watching boat-ride which would take four hours. We knew we wanted to see more on land so we passed up the deal (that tour was more expensive than the puffin tour). Now, I kind of kick myself for that.

As usual, it took us awhile to agree on where to go and I have to admit that I was pretty insistent about going to the thermal springs instead of trying to drive around the rest of our last day. We ended up driving awhile, anyway, because Blue Lagoon was farther south, even, than the airport. And it seems we had to go back to the hotel for a swimsuit.

I also asked to see a lighthouse on the way. Everyone is getting tired of lighthouses in my family, because I like them so much. But how often does a person get to see a lighthouse in Iceland, may I ask? The closer we walked to the lighthouse, but more beautiful and astounding the shells were. Shades of purple, pink, black, pearl, white, green, blue and more that look like the streets of heaven. I tell you, Iceland is a rather heavenly place—if it weren’t for its quirky pagan mixed with Catholic roots.

We were all getting that jet-lag kind of tired; the kind that messes up touring. Hunter fell asleep in the backseat.

Reluctantly, Phil drove us to The Blue Lagoon. It was a fairly long drive (not as long as it would have been to the waterfalls). Did I mention mile upon mile of volcanic rock? The view seemed to spread as far as the Grand Canyon. Not as high, of course, but it seemed as wide. But then, I’m an impatient traveler. The quicker it is between two points, the better as far as I’m concerned, especially when the landscape doesn’t seem to vary much.

Several times, Phil wanted to give up, even after we started seeing signs pointing to the place. These were small road signs, not billboards like for Wall Drug, or something. We’d put in our time (driving), I wasn’t about to let him give up.

Even when we parked in the parking lot, we couldn’t tell why so many brochures mentioned this place. The only thing we saw was black rock, busses, cars and a tiny spout of steam or two. People were leaving--from where, we couldn’t tell—with wet hair and towels under their arms. What crazies, we thought. Even us. Phil still wanted to get back into the car and drive away. His skepticism was affecting Hunter. Or was it the fact that Hunter had been rudely awakened from his jet-laggy nap?

“Mom, why do we have to go here? What is it anyway? I don’t want to go swimming!”

Mean mom and bull-headed wife that I am, I grabbed our bathing things and walked the same way people were leaving. The sidewalk led us down into the rock. Before we reached the entrance, there was a little pathway around several bright blue pools of sulfur. Phil was definitely interested in this. I almost couldn’t get him through the entrance. He thought he’d found what he was interested in.

But we forged our way in. Inside was a spa like none I’d seen before—not that I’d seen many. Needing coffee and a snack for Hunter, we walked toward the café in the center to get some snacks. There, beside us, were floor to ceiling windows looking out over the hot springs. Somehow we had woven our way to a place featured by Conde Nast—we the dweebs of Northern Idaho.

Photos exist, but not many as we quickly realized it was time to get out there and experience it for ourselves (after paying through the nose). Ah, warmth, sometimes, ouch! Hot! You should have seen Phil under the hot sulfur water waterfall. He kept returning to it, letting it pound him in the back and neck. If I couldn’t find him, he was under the massaging waterfall--there, or in the hotter part of the pools where Hunter and I feared tread.

Speaking of tread, though they had carefully painted the lava rock with lime to soften the volcanic rock under foot and against the walls, it was fairly common to be among those frequently stubbing their toes.

Since we had been able to see people so well from the cafeteria, we made sure not to go near those tall windows. You know, it’s one thing to be dweebs, another thing altogether to display how much. We kept a low profile, trying to keep all but our heads under water. Hunter enjoyed the whole bit, and we were glad, because it was a romantic place.

Showering afterward was interesting. There must have been 25 or more showers in the women’s locker room alone. It was necessary to wait for a shower, especially one with a curtain. But the wait wasn’t too bad. Each shower came with special shampoo and conditioner to get the salt off of body and hair.

Did I look back? I’m not sure. My shower was one of the only booths with a curtain but the special conditioner was empty. There was just enough shampoo. So I thought. It took awhile for my hair to dry, but when it did, my hair was a pillar of salt! I couldn’t run my fingers through it or even wear it on my head without feeling like something just wasn’t right. (When we were back at the hotel, I asked the receptionist if she had anything for sulfuric/salty hair. She understood right away, telling me about the time she visited the place at the age of 10 with hair "down to my butt." She took me up a few flights of stairs to a linen closet and found a box of things left by former customers. There was a shampoo conditioner mix as well as some very good conditioner. She advised me to use both and to do it twice. She was right. It worked. )

We drove away from that place happy. Even Phil. It had been a good choice. We had soaked away our jet-lag, the stress of moving again, and the stress of trying to travel together with different perspectives.

Furthermore, the sun began to set. In many ways, it was as brilliant as sunset on the Painted Desert in Arizona. The colors of the setting rays refracted off every facet of those black volcanic rocks. I even found a cave for Hunter and Phil to climb around in while I reveled in the rays. Glorious. Perfectly glorious. What a reminder of our Glorious Creator!

The rest of our time was spent trying to find cheap food, repacking a few of our bags, making room for souvenirs, sleeping, eating a sound breakfast and heading for the airport. As we did so, we stopped at the Perlan and Saga Museum for a look out over the Reykjavik. This was something Phil liked, too. (It was from the Perlan building that the first photo on this post is from.)

What do I know about Iceland? I know I want to go back. There is so much to see and do in the quiet natural world. I haven’t seen it in winter, haven’t seen its glaciers and fjords and Phil has to see those waterfalls. Two days touches the tiniest tip of such a volcanic iceburg…

[post script: We flew Iceland home to Idaho and back for Christmas. There was no snow at Keflevik when we landed December 19 and only a skiff January 4. The man next to me admitted to being Icelandic and said the Icelanders get used to it being rainy, dreary and dark--that there isn't usually much snow in those parts. He said, as people in most parts of the world say, "You have to go toward the mountains."

He also told me that while Blue Lagoon must be a nice place, he'd never been there. He said it is one of the places in Iceland that doesn't use the local currency. So the locals don't even go there. (Sigh, we were such tourists!) He said most every town has it's own hot springs, anyway, so that's where he goes. (What? There was a cheaper way of soaking in the springs?) So when the boat captain said he "used to go there," he meant before it was all fixed up for the Conde Nast types. And we're not even of that type. Boy, were we suckered!]