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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Botswana and Alexander McCall Smith

About a month ago, Doug got a call from the Embassy of Botswana asking if Immanuel Church might be able to help provide a venue for the Sedibeng Choir to give a performance of their musical "Made in Botswana."  A few meetings later, the concert was scheduled and Doug had developed some nice relationships with the staff at the Embassy.  As a result of this contact, we were invited to a special evening that the Embassy of Botswana sponsored to celebrate their culture and to promote their fine country.  A special bonus was the presence of Alexander McCall Smith, author of the Ladies' #1 Detective Agency book series set in Botswana.  The book series has done wonders for promoting Botswana and the embassy was honored to have him as their keynote guest.  We were thrilled to get the invitation and it was an evening that did not disappoint. 
The invitation said that the dress was lounge suit or national dress.  With some help of other embassy friends, we discovered that that meant I should wear a nice dress and Doug a suit and tie!  So we got ourselves all dressed up, walked downtown to a beautiful building near the water and enjoyed a fantastic evening.  Upon arrival we were greeted with champagne and explored this beautiful house.  After some time we were escorted into the dining room, yet another gorgeous room and ended up with plum seats right in the front in the company of the choir director and the second in charge at the Embassy of Botswana. 
We met the beautiful and charming ambassador of Botswana and I have hopes to develop a friendship with this engaging woman. Everyone from the Embassy was really wonderful, friendly, and gracious.
The program was wonderful.  I was particularly glad to hear the Sedibeng choir as I have to miss the concert Thursday as I am in California now.  They sang part of the soundtrack to the Ladies #1 Detective Series film and they are truly awesome.  Their energy, their beauty, their talent, their engagement were all just dazzling and we loved being up close by to really hear the rich tones that the 22 different voices were producing. Doug was excited about the concert on Thursday and I was a bit sad that I was going to miss it.  I can't say it enough...if you are in Stockholm on Thursday, 30 September, go to Immanuel at 19.00 for this amazing performance!  It's free...just taking an free will offering to support the choir's travel expenses.
The dinner was prepared by a native of Botswana, a chef now living in Warsaw.  The food was magnificent!  Everything we tasted was just delicious.  Wonderful spices and textures in all kinds of different dishes.  I finished my dinner off with some sweets and a delicious cup of coffee before I realized they were serving the "bush tea" made famous in the books!  Too bad I missed the opportunity to share a cup of bush tea in the company of Mr. Mcall Smith!
Finally, the moment came for the author to speak to us.  He is clearly as whimsical in person as he is in his books.  His love for Botswana and his grand imagination came through in his talk.  When it came time to ask questions, I popped my hand up and inquired, "Why a female heroine and how do you write her so well?!"  He actually gets this question a lot and says that often when women meet him they wonder how a man such as he could write a woman's thoughts so well!  He said it would likely take years of psychotherapy to understand why he chooses women as his central characters but he added that he felt psychotherapy was bad for writers as it stifles the imagination!  Later, I got the chance to meet him and then I asked him how he comes up with the wonderful names of his characters.  He said, "You just listen to what's going on around you and also, reading the newspaper is a good source of names."  A good tip for any writer.
We walked home on a beautiful night full of joy and wonder.  We began to dream of a trip to Botswana for the whole evening made the country so appealing and interesting.  It was a magical night...great entertainment, great food and a great speaker.  I've read 8 of the books in the series.  It seems that my interest in the next several installments has been sparked and I look forward to getting reacquainted with Mma Precious Ramotswe! 

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Serving the Disenfranchised

The last Saturday of every month, Immanuel hosts a lunch for homeless men and women in Stockholm.  This has been a great initiative that has brought together volunteers from each of the 3 language groups that Immanuel has: International (English), Swedish and Korean.  Volunteers plan the food, prepare the food, serve the food, clean up the food and most important of all, offer a warm handshake and kind conversation to those in our society who are struggling a bit. 
Per and Olivier peel 25 kilos of potatoes!
Susanne helped with the truck load of potatoes as well!
Rolling silverware and setting the tables.
Homelessness in Stockholm is not nearly as profound as is it in other cities but often those who find themselves on the edge of society are mentally ill or have had a difficult struggle with drug and alcohol abuse.  I enjoyed my conversations with them and found them to be a lovely, warm, appreciative delightful group of men and women.  Of course, some are a little nutty at times, but then again, aren't we all!  It was really neat to take this day and be a part of this good ministry at Immanuel.
Setting up the bread baskets.
Our efficient serving crew.
We plate the food and serve the folks restaurant style.

I was very proud of our church, of the teenagers who come and serve and this time around, a man from our church had brought his 10 year daughter. She doesn't speak Swedish but she did great serving the folks, hauling plates, cleaning up, pouring apple juice, and being a very bright spot in what is likely a fairly dark existence for some of these folks.  I was struck by how appreciative the entire crowd was.
My husband Doug and our colleague and dear friend Chris provided some good musical entertainment through playing and singing some American classics. They called themselves "The Heavenly Brothers!."   I love hearing them sing.  They really are great!And the volunteers gave an entire Saturday, with joy, and it revealed once again that often our greatest happiness comes through serving. 
Bali and Chris on dish duty!
We have a mentally ill man in our fellowship who has become quite beloved to many of us.  He is very high functioning and comes to everything the church has to offer!  So he arrived yesterday, part volunteer, part participant! (He is not homeless but runs with the homeless crowd sometimes at the various gatherings around town.  He is a very social guy and needs human interaction.  The church has been great towards him.)  He knew many of the guys who came to the lunch and he enjoyed a meal with some of his buddies.  But as soon as he was finished eating, he headed to the back of the kitchen to begin washing all the dishes. Bali loves to come to church and is eager to find ways to serve.  It's a joy to have him serving in our church and I am thankful for the ways in which our fellowship has embraced him, even with his shortcomings.  But then again, even those of us with sound minds have a few shortcomings!
Of course, if you are going to serve lunch in Sweden, you must have fika, coffee and a little something to go with it!
It was a special day.  I'm happy I had the chance to be a part of it and I look forward to other opportunities to come and be a part of this Saturday happening at Immanuel.

Monday, September 20, 2010

End of the Season

I will miss the beauty of our harbor and the calm sense it always gives to me.
Today ended up being an amazing surprise!  We woke up to a gray day but by about 2.00 p.m. the sun was out and we decided to jump on a last opportunity to get out on the boat.  I'm leaving for California a week from today and have a very busy week ahead so I knew that today marked the last chance for me to get out on the water.  What an incredible gift it was to have the weather break into an incredibly beautiful, mild, autumn afternoon!  Hints of fall decorated the waterways and the wonderful, rich green of the Swedish countryside just dazzled our senses.
I suggested that we go to Fjäderholmarna, a small yet charming island just outside of Stockholm.  During the summer months it swarms with people, but on a Monday afternoon in September, we had the place all to ourselves!  Tanner was one happy dog as he was off leash all afternoon, running, jumping, even swimming in the chilling waters of the Baltic sea!  We found a picnic table, perfectly situated in the afternoon sunshine, enjoyed our fika of Camembert cheese, crackers, cookies and of course, freshly brewed coffee!
That's our picnic table down near the water.

It was perfect! After our fika we wandered around the island. It was very special to be there with such great weather and no other people!  We found a spot that we've never been and located this gun that had been there from WWII.  Incredible.  The Solklipporna (The Sun Cliffs) lived up to their name and the view and the warmth beckoned us to sit and take it all in. Tanner ran around, chewed on a stick, jumped back in the water and stopped by for an occasional treat.  As for us...we sat in the warm sunshine and took in the view.  We found the most amazing mushrooms growing wild!  They looked straight out of  Pippi Longstockings  Eventually we realized that we needed to get back to the harbor, spend some time cleaning the boat and hauling all of the minutiae of the summer back home!  Amazing how much dirt, grit and stuff you can accumulate in one summer!
Even so...the ride back in was glorious.  We've never seen the water so calm.  Clearly, the boat traffic has slowed way down because that's what makes the water so choppy at times.  The cloud formations were quite striking and we saw a dog laying on his back in this one!  Not to mention the beautiful cross as well.
For me, knowing it was my last time on the water this season, I was able to just soak in the sunshine and the beauty.  I've been a little freaked out this year about the coming darkness and today was just a gift...a gift of light and beauty, time with my husband that I treasured as we are going to be apart when I go to California and a chance to enjoy the very best of Sweden one last time before the ensuing darkness envelopes us.
I live in an incredibly beautiful place and I'm quite thankful that this summer has given us numerous opportunities to enjoy it. Today was a one last surprise gift to take it all in and enjoy every moment with the man and the dog I love so much.  Thanks Finnmaster for a fine season. I'll see you again on the water next April.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Lacuna and Other Lies That are Told

So I finally got around to reading The Lacuna and was expectant that it would be a good read.  Sadly, it was not.  The first two-thirds of the book just trudged along and it was tough to stay with it.  Luckily, the last third was quite compelling and more up to speed with what I've experienced with Barbara Kingsolver in the past.  What was most compelling to me about the end of the novel was the light Kingsolver shone on the communist witch hunting that occurred in the late 40's and early 50's in the United States.  She revealed through story the insidious manner in which the public and the government went after people who they deemed suspicious of Anti-American activity.  Throughout her story you could see the ways in which those in power spun yarns against those they were accusing and how easily the public was swayed by compelling yet totally false "evidence"  against those accused.  One quote caught my attention.  "Most of them (those hunting out 'communists' and the general public) don't know what communism is, could not pick it out of a lineup.  They only know what anticommunism is.  The two are practically unrelated."  What strikes me about this quote is how relevant is it for the current rhetoric we face in the US particularly as it relates to socialism and Muslims.  With all due respect, my experience has been that most people who stand against socialism really have no real understanding of what socialism is all about.  They just know that they are against it.  Same with Muslims. Certain aspects of the media and other public outlets have drawn a hard line in the sand equating Muslims with terrorists and people seem more than willing to line up behind this ideology.  It's easier to believe what someone is saying rather than studying things for yourself.  But the problem with that is that much of what is being broadcast on the internet and on television isn't truthful.  This concept carries over into all areas of our lives.  I have become so disillusioned with news sources that I really don't know what to believe about much of anything anymore.  And sorry folks, Fox News is not a good source for truthful news.  It carries one of the most heavy biases in all of television.  When it comes to President Obama, I understand that people don't like his politics but what I don't understand is why people are still wondering if he's a Muslim when he has confessed to being to a Christian.  Why are people still wondering if he was born in the US when his birth certificate has been produced?  Critique his politics.  That's the American way.  But can we leave out the vitriolic rhetoric that often has no basis in truth?
The unscrupulous manner in which the novel revealed how the protagonist ended up in a web of accusation for being a communist was really almost painful to read because it felt too close to reality to be only fiction.  They took the words he had written in a fiction novel about a character that he created and attributed the quote to the author, claiming that these were his personal feelings about the government.  And the manner in which he was questioned hardly allowed for him to elaborate for they forced him into yes or no questions, such as, did you write these words?, which of course, he did, but as part of a character development for someone in a book who lived in Mexico many years ago, not as a personal political statement.
Anyway...the book got me thinking about truth, about why we choose to believe what we choose to believe, how one goes about getting accurate information, why personal attack has to be so much a part of our rhetoric these days, why we vilify certain groups instead of seeking to understand more fully where they are coming from, what we fear and how the media feeds that fear.
So, in the end, for a book I really didn't like, I have to say the last third got my juices pumping.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Today was Special

After an early autumn chill that set in about mid-August, today Indian Summer came to Stockholm.  When I walked home at lunch to take Tanner on his midday walk, it was actually warm, dare I say, hot, outside!  So I quickly changed out of my work clothes, jumped into shorts and a tee shirt and took off on a beautiful summer's day walk by the sea!  It was glorious.  I would've sat down by the water for a much longer time, but I had to get back to work for a staff meeting.  But, on the way I did have a brilliant idea.For months now I've been wanting to go to the brand new Fotografiska Museet (Photography Museum) that opened last May.  Their opening exhibit was an exhibition of Annie Leibovitz, whose work I have long enjoyed, and I just felt that I should not miss the opportunity to see a body of her work, likely beautifully displayed in a lovely new museum in Stockholm.  The fact that the museum is located on the water south of town made it extra appealing given how absolutely gorgeous the day was turning out to be.
Then it dawned on me that for months I've been wanting to try a Wednesday deal at one of the seaside restaurants called Patricia.  The Wednesday deal is a whole Maine lobster for 139 sek.  Now that's about 20 US dollars. 
The view from the restaurant
Seriously, a whole Maine lobster!
 One cannot really eat out for that price unless you stick to meatballs or pizza so when I heard that this restaurant offered this deal on Wednesday nights, I thought we should at least check it out.
The dazzling Old Town as we walked to the Museum
This wonderful and weird cloud hovered over Old Town
As the restaurant is right next door to the Fotografiska museet, I decided to invite my husband on a date and we ventured into the city for Lobster and Leibovitz.  Neither disappointed and our glorious city glistened in all its amazing glory with a dazzling display of light and beauty.
We both reveled in the amazing quality of Leibovitz' work. Her photographs of the rich and famous are nothing short of stunning, but it was her family shots and those of a dear friend that she lost to cancer that were especially moving to me.  It made Leibovitz quite human instead of merely an artist displaying her craft.
The setting sun now happening about 8.15 p.m.
We walked out to see the city sky putting on an exhibit of its own.  I'm super happy we went tonight.  The whole package, beautiful city, lovely food, great exhibit, handsome husband...makes my heart sing with joy.
A perfect ending to a perfect day
It was great fun to enjoy our beautiful city on an unusually warm evening in early September.

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Ryder Cup Team 2010

I don't think I've commented on Tiger Woods since the scandal broke last November.  It's not really up to me to make judgments or decisions for him and Elin.  I'm sorry that their life together crashed and burned in such a public and awful manner and I'm really sad that Tiger brought two kids into the world while mired in such a difficult moral failure.  But I hope he gets it together enough to be a good father to those kids.  As for his golf, I'm not a fan.  I never was a huge Tiger fan even though I greatly respected his incredible skill.  But we were at the Masters this year when he made his first public appearance after the scandal and I was not impressed by his manner.  He looked great.  He played great.  The fans were great.  However, his post tournament interview was not great.  He came in 4th place after not playing at all and all he could do was grouse about not winning.  He didn't thank the public for welcoming him in such a warm and gracious manner.  He didn't congratulate Phil Mickelson on a great win in the face of Phil and his wife's incredible struggle against breast cancer.  All in all, he just wasn't very pleasant.  And I think that's the core of who Tiger is.  Fine.  He's alive to play golf.  I get that.  But to me, it's not a great existence.  You just don't get the impression that he's a very nice guy to be around.  I think he's incredibly selfish at his core and well, in the end, being great at something isn't usually enough.  So I cheer against him now and hope that he never touches Jack Nicklaus' record for most majors won.  This opinion has nothing to do with his moral failure.  It's related to the fact that I just don't care for the guy.
So, now that Tiger's blown his chance to make the Ryder Cup team through his own merits a lot of conversation is being held about whether or not captain Corey Pavin should pick Tiger as a wild card.  I say no and here's why.  Tiger is a wild card.  The Ryder Cup is a team event that Tiger has never been good at.  He's not a team guy.  Isn't that obvious?  His record in the Ryder Cup is 7-11-2.  And no one seems to enjoy his company or want to hang out with him.  Being together, playing with random partners and making it work is part of the magic of the Ryder Cup.  So in my opinion, I think Tiger only hurts the US team.  Now, my opinion begs the question, who else should make the team then if not Tiger.  I'm not going to answer that because I haven't paid close enough attention to analyze that.  But based on Tiger's not so great record in past Ryder Cups, coupled with the fact that he's not playing all that well right now, combined with the fact that no one seems to want to be around the guy, I hope Pavin does not pick him.  I think he will though because it would be too bold of a move not to and if he loses without Tiger, that'd be the great speculation for weeks to come.  But for me, the real mystery is this: Can they win with Tiger?  What do you think?  I'd love to know what golfers are thinking on the eve before the team gets finalized.