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Friday, February 27, 2009

Distractions and Gratitude: They Go Together

I'm up early on this Saturday a.m. 5.30 to be exact. Just can't sleep anymore. It was dark outside when I first rose. I am sitting at my kitchen table looking out the window to our backyard. The tree branches are bare, patches of snow cover the ground. It is still and quiet and I love it. I'm kind of, sort of working on my sermon for tomorrow. I hate not being done by Friday but I allowed too many distractions to take precedence over writing this week. (And apparently I still am allowing that since I'm blogging and not sermonating!) But I got some wildly unexpected good news yesterday and it has made it hard to concentrate. My mom is in remission, which we didn't think was even possible and it's all a bit much to take in. So I wrote an email to all my friends announcing the good news which caused a flurry of responses and I just couldn't stay off my email long enough to actually put together two paragraphs about the Samaritan woman's encounter with Jesus. It's an appropriate text for the week's about healing and second chances and drinking the water of life which is really Christ himself. I am tasting a little bit of all of that as I revel in the news of my mom's health. The news prompted me to consider a trip to California. I feel a deep need to be with my folks right now, to enjoy time with them when they are healthy and happy not just making room in my life for the crisis periods. So I was also wildly distracted by the incredibly cheap airfares that are on offer right now into Los Angeles airport. LAX is a total pain in the butt to get to from Palm Springs, but if it's my ticket to some family face time, I may have to jump on it. It's moments like these that I really wish the US wasn't so far away from Sweden. To be able to plan for a long week-end "home" without all of the drama of schedule, time, money, flights, jet leg, etc. would be so great. But I can't really complain. I have the ability, money, time, and means to actually consider going again, just a mere 6 weeks after arriving back. I think it would do me good...we'll see if we make it work, dog, schedule, etc.
So, I woke up at 5.30 and thought, good, I'll get up and finish my sermon. I have been sitting here for a little over an hour now and while I have written a bit more on my sermon, I'm still mired in distractions. Facebook is the great timesuck and chief distractor. I love seeing a little glimpse of what's happening in the lives of people scattered far and wide. I chatted with a good friend who was up late with her newborn. I'm playing Lexulous with my father and Scrabble with my husband and a good friend...gotta see where I can make a high scoring word. I'd be better off making words that will score well with my parishoners, but I can't seem to focus. I am attention deficit child this week...but at least my reasons are good. And I know I'll finish. In fact, as soon as I finish this blog, I'll make my final points and be ready to preach the word on Sunday.
What I am noticing, now that I've been sitting at my kitchen table which looks out the window, is that it is now light Light before 7.00 a.m. We have officially punched through the dark season and are now entering the season of light! Another reason to rejoice in the gift of life. Another distraction on the way to finishing my sermon...but I am inspired by the blue sky that is coming into view. I'm grateful. Life is good. I'm happy to be distracted by thoughts of my mom feeling better and my dad getting a little break from being a full time care giver and that perhaps I'll get to touch the California soil sooner than I had thought and that I'm not living in the dark anymore. My sermon is all about letting Jesus reveal to us our greatest longings, our deepest needs so that he can quench those longings with the living water that only he can give.
I'm tasting it...and enjoying it. I guess I'll enjoy it even more when I'm done with my sermon. Better get to it. Sunday is coming.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the 40 days (excluding Sundays) that precede Easter. 40 days is an excellent period in which to prepare for the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Jesus took 40 days in the wilderness to fast, to fight the devil and to prepare for his ministry. And the journey begins with ash, or dust, if you will. We contemplate death, Christ's and our own. We remember that we are but dust and to the dust we shall one day return. Death is a hard topic and yet if we don't ponder death, we can't then appreciate life, especially the resurrected life that comes to us on Easter. But let's not get ahead of ourselves. The season of Lent is intended to settle us down on the pathway of contemplation, conviction, and confession. Here we meet our dark selves which is hard to do, but made possible by the light of Christ that redeems us. However, there is no redemption without conviction. No freedom from sin without confession of sin.
Lent is a good time to do something different, something challenging, something that requires discipline. Many traditions call for people to give up something, a favorite food or an enjoyable hobby as a reminder of all that Christ has given up for us. The season of Lent is also known as a season of fasting. In fact, Lent in Swedish is called fastnings tid: Fasting time. So people give up something, or they fast from something in order to more intentionally walk through the season.
I read something quite interesting on this topic the other day. It was a challenge to give up some thing more significant than candy or coffee. It spoke of giving up anger or impatience. It challenged believers to think about giving up un-Christlike behavior, yelling at one's kids, or treating one's spouse with disrespect. It was a fresh way of looking at the discipline of fasting throughout the Lenten season.
As for me, well...I am doing a few different things. As I have considered how I'd like to shape my Lenten journey this year, I was reminded of how poorly I am doing at my New Year's Resolution. In fact, I'm flat out failing at it. So, for one thing, I'm renewing my New Year's Resolution for Lent and hoping that the season itself will give me energy and confidence to accomplish the goal I set out to achieve in 2009. There are two books that I will enjoy throughout the season. One is a daily reader entitled Reliving the Passion by Walter Wangerin Jr. Compelling and challenging, it fleshes out the Passion of Christ in remarkable and surprising ways. His companion texts are Mark 14 and 15. He recommends reading those two chapters in one sitting beginning the journey through his book. The second book is written by an author I heard at a conference a few years back, a young woman named Lauren Winter. I was so taken by her speaking style that I actually felt like I developed a little crush on her while listening to her speak and then proceeded to go out and buy all of her books. All 3 of them. One is entitled Mudhouse Sabbath and it relates how she took the practices of her Orthodox Jewish background and began to graft them into her new Christian way of life. It is enriching and nourishing and I look forward to digging into that again. Finally, I am giving up something that I truly enjoy because I think the discipline is good and I think it's good to self-deprive sometimes. I rarely have to make super hard choices about doing something I love, or eating something I enjoy, or going somewhere wonderful, so I think during Lent it's good for me to self-impose some limits on myself. This year I am going to allow Sundays to be a day of rest for me so will allow for a Sabbath indulgence if appropriate.
At the end of the day, however, Lent is not at all about what we do. It's totally about what God is doing. Anything that you practice during Lent should be done with an eye toward becoming more aware of God. I love building some disciplines and practices into my life during Lent because I want this time of year to be different from all other times of year. I want to be consciously aware of the road that we are on as we journey toward the death and resurrection of Christ. I don't want Easter to sneak up on me, but rather, I want to be fully aware of how long we have until Good Friday. I want to feel a little pain during Lent and be intentional about what's happening to me spiritually during this season as well. My little rituals help me do that. They don't make me a better person but they do make me aware of the ways in which, perhaps, God wants to make me a better person. And so I wish you well on your Lenten journey even as I embark upon mine.
I close today with a prayer for Lent from Henri Nouwen, another one of my favorite authors.
"How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death?
Yes, Lord, I have to die—with you, through you, and in you—and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess.... I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it. O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Oscars

The 81st Academy Awards air Sunday night in the United States. Doug and I will continue our European tradition of having breakfast with Oscar on Monday morning. I love the Oscars. We even hosted an Oscar event one year and everyone who came had to dress as if they were attending the awards show in Hollywood. Let's just say the outfits were not all red carpet ready! Doug and I have maintained the tradition of filling out ballots before the event begins and enjoying a friendly rivalry throughout the broadcast for who has been the most adept at choosing the winners. I read ahead of time what the buzz is about who is going to win, even in the most obscure categories so often have a little edge on best animated short or live documentary. Even so, his random guesses have also been known to be more accurate than my educated guesses and that is why in the end it's predictions and not sure things.
This year I am lucky because I have seen many of the nominated films and I have liked all of them. The films that I have not seen that I am very interested in seeing are The Dark Knight, Doubt, Revolutionary Road and The Reader. I have seen the other 4 films nominated for Best Picture and my very favorite film of the year is easily Slumdog Millionaire. I think it is a film that I could see many, many times and I hope it wins every possible award.
So, without further ado, here are my Oscar predictions for 2009.
Picture: Slumdog Millionaire
Director: Danny Boyle
Actor: Sean Penn in Milk. Spoiler: Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler. I want Penn so I'm sticking to my guns on this one.
Actress: Kate Winslet in The Reader
Supporting Actor: Heath Ledger in Dark Knight
Supporting Actress: Penelope Cruz for Vicky, Christina, Barcelona. Viola Davis in Doubt is the obvious spoiler. (hard choice and I might change it before Monday morning. I already changed it once before posting this blog.)
Animated Feature: Wall-E
Documentary Feature: Man on Wire
Foreign Film: Waltz over Bashir
Editing: Slumdog Millionaire
Make-up: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Score: Slumdog Millionaire
Song: Jai Ho from Slumdog Millionaire
Art Direction: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (I am hemming and hawing between this and Dark Knight.)
Cinematography: Slumdog Millionarie (hard to choose)
Costume Design: The Duchess
Documentary Short: The Witness
Short Film animated:Presto
Short Film live action: Spielzeugland (Toyland)
Sound Editing: Dark Knight. (I think Dark Knight will win these sound categories because I doubt Slumdog will win everything.)
Sound Mixing: Dark Knight
Visual Effects: The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Adapted Screenplay: Slumdog Millionaire
Original Screenplay: Milk

OK...I may change my mind again before the broadcast. Check back for updates. Good luck!

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Thoughts Provoked by Frost/Nixon

My reaction to the Swedes was not the only thing I took away from this film experience. As I mentioned in my previous post, I did end up feeling more empathy for Nixon than I had previously felt. I was able to see how flawed Nixon was in his own interpretation of reality. He was a deeply troubled man, never comfortable in his own skin, always wanting something that was desperately out his reach, willing to go to any length to grab it, which ultimately caused the failure of his greatest prize, the American presidency. That he believed he was always acting with America's best interest in mind is interesting. The fact that he was so skewed in the way in which he should achieve that goal is equally as fascinating. As an outsider looking in, one has to ask, how can someone believe that executing a completely illegal move would be in the country's best interest?
My actual memory of the events of Watergate, Nixon's resignation and subsequent pardon are fuzzy as I was in junior high when these things unfolded. I remember being at summer camp when Nixon resigned. They announced it at dinner and I didn't really understand what a big deal it was. My parents were Nixon supporters so I didn't have the vilified view of him that I'm sure most Democrats at the time did. When Ford pardoned Nixon I probably thought it was a nice thing to do. Now, as I reflect upon my own political ideology, I realize that I likely would've been furious about what was happening. I had to wonder how Nixon could allow his "men" to go to jail while he himself accepted the pardon. I know that some say it would've devastated our country to put the President on trial. I disagree. I think the inability to tell the truth is what devastates our country. Clinton's abuse of power and his subsequent inability to tell the truth turned his little sexual tryst into a national crisis. Bush's deception created great mistrust in the public eye and lost him all credibility in the end. I hope and pray that Obama will at least continue to speak with the candor that has so far marked his public speech. His ability to admit that appointing Daschle for a cabinet level post was a mistake was rather refreshing. I don't want Obama to make mistakes, but at least for one brief moment he was willing to face the music.
Of course, throughout the film my thoughts did wander to the George W. Bush administration. I do feel that this administration willfully deceived the public in order to execute certain actions. They misled the public on the weapons of mass destruction, they wrongly tied 9/11 to Iraq, and they consistently used torture and other unconstitutional action on prisoners. I believe that in his heart, Bush felt that he was acting in the interest of America. And yet, by the time his presidency ended, America was reeling from financial crisis, our standing around the world was shot, and he had the lowest approval rating of any sitting President. At least in the last months of his Presidency he showed a modicum of humility by admitting to some mistakes and by helping Obama transition into the White House with grace. Even so, I feel like Bush's administration left a lot of shadiness in its wake. And sadly, Bush made it clear that while he was President, if you questioned his actions, you were unpatriotic. He governed with fear as tool to keep the people trusting in his leadership. I believe the Bush presidency ultimately failed. Others disagree and say it's too soon to tell. Many supporters comment that at least he kept America safe. I just don't see it that way. I felt more unsafe while Bush was president. His arrogance and rogue spirit cultivated a disdain for America around the world that did not serve us well. That so much of the world was dancing in the streets when Obama got elected reveals what a relief much of the world felt when Bush was finally finished setting the course for American politics. It's no secret that I did not enjoy Bush's presidency. It will be interesting to see what the legacy turns out to be.
The parallels between the Nixon administration and the Bush administration are curious. I do feel that Bush was every bit as dishonest as Nixon was even if he never executed a criminal offense. And I do feel that Bush, like Nixon, had love for country in the forefront of his mind, however misguided the notion may have been.
So what do we do when our leaders think they are acting in our best interest when many of us felt that in the case of Bush, his actions were pure disaster? It proves to me that we need more than "yes men" around us. The notion of surrounding ourselves with folks who can fully and freely reveal our blindspots is absolutely key. It's very hard to do because no one likes to be told that they are short-sighted or worse, wrong. And yet perhaps so much trauma and peril could be avoided if we could learn to share our perspectives with one another, not so much with a mind to be right, but to discern the best course for the bigger picture.

While Sitting in A Movie Theater with Swedes...

We went to see the fine film Frost/Nixon on Monday evening with a good friend of ours who happens to be British. It was fun to see the film with someone who grew up in the UK. She is decidedly younger than we are so her memory of said events was not so clear. But we like her anyway!
I had a bizarre and unexpected reaction to the Swedes who were sitting in the audience. Their reaction to certain events in the film disturbed me greatly. They laughed in places where it felt like mockery. The disdain that seemed to exude from their collective responses created a visceral reaction in my gut. I wanted to stand up in the theater and scream, "You just don't fully understand how complicated the American political landscape can be. You live in a country that has, well, zero impact on the global scene so why don't you all get down off your self-righteous high horses?" I think it's good that I resisted that urge. But it was weird. I mean, me, a patriot of the highest order? Feeling like I wanted to defend Nixon to the folks who live in the nation that I now call home?
Well, it wasn't really wanting to defend Nixon as much as it was a desire to ask them to have a little more understanding of the perils of power. One of my complaints about the Swedes is that they can be rather self-righteous, especially when it comes to their critique of others, especially Americans. And I think they lack the depth of understanding it takes to really do an honest and fair critique. Sweden has largely been a homogeneous society, where variance of points of view are quite slight. They have a natural tendency to head for consensus rather than valuing a hotly debated difference of opinion. Sweden is a country of 9 million people, the equivalent of the Chicago metro area. Problems are fairly easily solved here due to the smallness of the population. And let's face it, when was the last time you saw the Swedish Prime Minister involved in a International crisis? (Bonus points to someone who can post the Prime Minister's name without googling it!) Sweden is not the go to country when it comes to global issues. This isn't a put down of Sweden. It's a reality check. I found their disdain for Nixon's weaknesses almost hurtful and as I've reflected upon it, I can only deduce that my gut reaction, which surprised no one more than it surprised me, is rooted in a desire for a little empathy from the Swedes as to how complex American politics and society are. I guess their reactions felt to me as if they themselves would never find their leaders in such an ethical dilemma. And it is there that they are wrong. All governments have blind spots. The only real issue is how deeply do they affect their nations and how widely known are they?
Nixon was a flawed leader with numerous blind spots. You'd be a fool to think otherwise. The film, however, moved me to a deeper level of empathy rather than critique. That his presidency, resignation, and eventual pardon represent a troubled and sad time in American history is indisputable, but coming to a greater understanding of why Nixon did the things he did was a valuable experience for me. I obviously think he was wrong, but I didn't sit in that theater believing that myself or any other person with that kind of power would be exempt from the temptations of the office. I guess I just felt like the Swedish people who were sitting around me watched the film while looking down their noses. I didn't like it and I'm trying to more fully understand why I had the reaction that I did. But it also felt good to feel a bit patriotic and have a small desire to defend my America, flaws and all.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Wondering Who Reads This

After having been at this for a few months, my curiosity has gotten the best of me. I have a blog site meter now that gives me some statistics as to how many readers there have been in a given period, where these readers live, etc. Incidentally, 60% of my readers are in the US, 39% in Europe, and 1% in Australia. Pretty cool, actually. The countries in Europe include Sweden, France, Great Britain, Finland, Poland, and Switzerland. Only a few readers have posted comments and I would love to hear more comments and I would actually love to know who is reading. I am honored that you would spend even 5 minutes of your day listening to what I think about everything from presidents to poop. (see previous post on poop.) So, if you get a minute, sometime let me know who you are gentle reader. And please, feel free to post a comment. The first time you try to post, you'll have to fill out a little security area and then the post comes to me before it is published. This is so I can avoid having any weird posts on my site that I may not think are the best for public consumption! But barring anything lewd or inappropriate, I will post your comments! You can even be critical or contrary, but just be nice!
So happy reading. And thanks again for checking in.

Pet Peeve, Literally

Time for a Monday morning rant. I hate it when pet owners don't pick up their dog poop. I don't understand why in the world someone would feel that it is unnecessary to clean up after their dog. I mean, seriously, would anyone change their child's diaper and then just chuck it into the park or onto the sidewalk? Do people leave dirty diapers lying around bathrooms? No, we civilly dispose of diapers in a manner that creates a pleasant environment for all. And herein lies the heart of my peeve...not picking up one's own pet's poop creates a nightmare for enjoying the great outdoors. And here in Sweden, we love to enjoy the great outdoors as often as we can.
For some reason, people think that when it snows, and the poop drops silently and deeply into the freshly fallen snow that somehow because they can't see it on the ground surface, it is totally acceptable to just leave it. The problem is, the poop doesn't melt with the snow and when a little warm up occurs, every surface of park, sidewalk and street is littered with dog crap.
The reason that this has become an acute peeve of mine is because of late, the park where Tanner does his morning business is totally covered in dog poop of all shapes and sizes. I feel like I'm walking through a mine field during our morning outing and it disgusts me. I've stepped in a pile on more than one occasion, with my waffle bottom shoes, and believe me, getting those soles clean adds at least 15 minutes to my already packed morning routine, easily foiling my plans to get into work on time. Additionally, some insensitive idiot allowed, (by the size of the package), his/her rather large dog to relieve itself at the base of the steps that lead out of our apartment. How in the world you could feel that leaving a big 'ol pile of dog crap on someone's entry is a socially acceptable move is beyond me.
Here in Sweden, they even make these wonderful bags, called poop bags, bajs (poop in Swedish) pasar (bags) that are the perfect size and shape for making a quick swoop scoop of your pet's excrement and being done with whole nasty business in less than 10 seconds, creating hours of enjoyment for the rest of society.
Now, I will grant you that even the most responsible dog owner, (present company included) forgets to carry enough bajs pasar. There are the rare occasions when Tanner will take a double dump walk and it sometimes catches us off guard. But even then, I scrounge around in the trash, look for something acceptable on the street that I could use to pick it up, or at the very least, return to the scene of my transgression later in the day, with bag in hand, to pluck up the offending pile. It's not that hard to do your part to keep your city clean and acceptable for the public.
I honestly do not mind for a minute picking up Tanner's business, especially because it takes less than a minute. But I absolutely do not want to see or touch or for sure step in another dog's. It's like the kid'll clean up anything your own kid does, but anyone else's...well, they are on their own!
Some final thoughts on public excrement while I'm in rant mode. If you don't want to pick up your dog's poop, don't have a dog. Dogs have to poop and while they can be trained to poop outside, they cannot figure out how to dispose of it. We as their loving and caring owners must help them with this step. If you don't want to do this, get a horse. For some reason, when a horse lets loose of its bowels, we're fine with it staying on the path or the street. Which is unfortunate because Tanner loves to eat and roll in horse crap, but that's a story for another day.
Finally, as much as it disturbs me to see our fine city and parks littered with dog crap, even more distressing is the human element, mainly male urine. I don't know what it is. Maybe it's from watching all the dogs lift their legs on trees, lamp posts, anything erect, but why, oh why, do men feel that if they pee against something...a wall, a tree, a corner, then it makes it OK to do so in public? It's not. It stinks, it's unsanitary and perhaps by some weird twist of events, it encourages dog owners to leave their dog's crap all over the city. So let's just agree, men, quit peeing in public. Dog owners. Pick it up. The combination of these two commitments will restore our public areas to the beauty and joy our tax kroner help create.

Friday, February 13, 2009

One Fine Day in Chicago, Illinois

Chicago is one of those cities that you just love! We lived here before we moved to Sweden and have enjoyed a bit of a love affair with it ever since. We went to college in Chicago. We went to seminary in Chicago. We met in Chicago. We married in Chicago. I love the Chicago Cubs. We love our new president and he is from Chicago. Chicago has the best hot dogs in the world not to mention the pizza. It is a wonderful place and we are so lucky that we get to step back into the wonderful world of Chicago now and again. On our last day in the US we had a day to kill as our flight didn't leave until 10.00 pm. We have dear friends who live downtown so we arranged to meet up with them in the evening for a nice dinner before we headed to O'hare airport. Our friends were working during the day so we we wandered through Millennium Park which is one of the greatest city park constructions of all time. The famous bean that reflects the city and yourself is quite mesmerizing. Hard to pull yourself away. And of course, the famous architecture and the pulse of the grinding, working city that envelopes you is stimulating. From there, we ventured off in search of the perfect hot dog. We found it in this great hot dog restaurant. You gotta love a place that sells only hot dogs! I hate the hot dogs in Sweden and one bite of my Chicago dog reminded me why. Next on our list was the Art Institute. The dark under belly of Chicago isn't hard to spot. On our way to the museum, many, many homeless folks were begging for money, scrounging in the trash, and looking for a way to survive the biting cold of the windy city. It's always been a wonder to me that west of the el (the elevated train and subway system) is a city that struggles with poverty and crime and dirt. East of the el it glitters with the magnificent mile, cultural institutions like Orchestra Hall and the Art Institute and the beauty of the lakefront architecture. I think part of what has always drawn me to Chicago is that all things exist. It would be good to close the gap between east and west, but perhaps that's a topic for another day.
So with a Chicago dog burning in our belly, we headed east and entered the Art Institute of Chicago. We had not been there in years and most of our art experiences in the past 10 years have not included much American art. To our great disappointment, American Gothic was on loan to a place in Iowa. Crazy. Still, the portraits of the great American landscape and some of the city scenes were a wonder to behold. We've been to many art museums throughout Europe over the past 10 years, but it was great fun to wander through this amazing collection in one of the towns we call home. As we enjoyed the Impressionists and considered how lucky we are to have been to Monet's gardens in France and to have visited the great Van Gogh museum in Amesterdam, we felt truly blessed. A great painting still takes your breath away and we were culturally quite satisfied. Much to our pleasant surprise as we were walking back to our friends' apartment on the river, in front of the Tribune building, towering over us, was a statue replica guessed it, American Gothic! What a riot. Loved it. Loved the suitcase detail and the shoes and thought...hmmm, I never noticed those in the painting. That's because they are not's only waist up in the portrait!
We ended our fine day with a wonderful dinner in a little place around the corner from where our friends live. Delightful conversation and wonderful food after a satisfying day in one of my favorite cities served as a great bon voyage.


It's been ages since I've posted. I think about it a lot and have many thoughts about what to post, etc. but time and energy upon returning to Sweden after being in the US are both enemies of blogging. Thanks for reading anyway in spite of my sporadic musings.
So, once again we made the trip back across the pond from America to Sweden. Coming back this way also contains its share of weirdnesses and emotions for me. I am always tense when we are getting ready to return. For one thing, we carry LOADS of luggage. We each get two bags that can weigh up to 50 pounds each and seriously, all 4 of our bags were like 49.5 pounds. It is a colossal hassle and I stew internally until the very moment that they are tagged and taken away. At least I can forget about them for the entirety of the flight. What, you may be asking, do we bring back to Sweden that weighs so much? Everything. It's all cheaper on the other side of the pond, with the exception of potatoes which would be a sick thing to carry in our luggage anyway. So it's amazing how much brownie mix, cornbread mix, over the counter cold medicine, razors, and make-up can weigh. Throw in a few pairs of new shoes, some new clothes, and books, books, books galore, it's quite easy to see those 200 pounds get taken care of.
We had a bit of drama this time around because one of my dad's friends, and someone who has subsequently become our friend, painted us the most amazing portrait of our dog, Tanner. (Note the photo above!) My father had sent him a cool photo of our good looking guy and well, Dennis is really talented and so we were gifted to receive this stunningly gorgeous portrait of Tanner. Beautifully framed and really, just so lovely to look at. I cried when he gave it to us and then cried some more when I considered how we were going to get it home with our other 200 pounds of baggage. Fortunately we lucked out with nice ticket agents. One let us carry it on and even though we had to open the perfectly packaged box and pollute security with Styrofoam peanuts, we skipped the $100.00 bag charge from Palm Springs to Chicago. The kindness of a friend who works at the Scandinavian Airlines counter in Chicago helped us bypass the $200.00 charge it would've been from Chicago to Stockholm. We all made it, with the exception of one bag that got separated from us in Copenhagen. That pile of goods arrived a bit later than we did but it arrived in tact. Now we just have to decide where to hang the painting and how to light it. It is so lovely. Thank you Dennis.
Making the transition from the US to the Sweden seriously reminds you why traveling light in this world is a good idea. You buy all this stuff. You stuff the stuff in a suitcase. You haul it over the ocean. You finally get the stuff home and then you have to unpack it all and stuff it in your closets. It is seriously a full time job unpacking and getting everything put away. I have learned to clean out cupboards before we go because once back the jet lag just robs you of any energy you thought you might have after being on vacation for almost a month. You may be asking yourself, if it is such a hassle, why do you do it? Because once we accomplish the task, I love having my little American goodies around me when I need them. These weird things are small comforts when you are feeling out of sorts in your foreign country.
It is always weird for me to re-enter Swedish society. I usually have a huge breakdown within the first week. I know Doug just waits for it, pondering when within the first 4 days I will have a complete and total meltdown. It took until Tuesday this time around. Even though we've lived here for 10.5 years and even though I am very happy here, and even though I think moving back to the US now would be even more colossally weird than living here, I struggle. I don't know what it is...the coldness of the society, the way things run at church sometimes, the lack of creativity when I grocery shop...these things just get under my skin and rub me raw. I've learned to expect the breakdown and not put any stock in my emotions. Doug knows that I need to come unglued during our transition back and that I will land on my feet and be happy again reasonably soon. I suppose wrapped up in all of it is the reality that we live quite far from our homeland. No matter how long we live here, the USA will always be our home country. And I know that I want to live there again one day. I know that part of the stress of transitioning back is the sadness I feel in being separated from my parents especially now as we walk the precarious and uncertain road of my mom's cancer. And I'm just tired when we get back. So tired. Jet lag is a drag. There's just no other way to put it. And while I'm not worn out tired like I was before we went, I am sleep deprived and don't feel quite myself. I've even landed myself with a little bit of illness on this first Friday back. Good thing I have Nyquil in my cupboard.
I suppose I will always live between two worlds in some ways. When I'm in Sweden and we're going to the US, I speak of going home. When we're in the US and heading back to Sweden, I speak of going home. Both are right. And while I struggle during the early days of our transition, I also recall a week ago feeling very glad that we were going home to Sweden. I missed my dog. I missed our beautiful home. I missed our loving congregation. I missed my dear friends here. Hard as it, I'm happy to know both worlds.