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Friday, January 28, 2011

Eating in New York Part I: Carnegie Deli

Our hotel is located across the street from Carnegie Hall and we knew the famed deli has to be close.  It was about a 3 minute walk!  Once we shook off the initial shocks of our awful travel day, we wanted something to eat but didn't have the strength to venture to a restaurant.  We had heard about this deli, and over and over again, were told: Only order 1 sandwich.  They are huge.  As we asked our doorman for directions, he echoed the sentiment...split one or you will be eating it until Thanksgiving! 
The snow here is amazing.  It's actually hard to walk on the sidewalks and to get across the street is a real adventure.  It's kind of fun in its own right, but I'm very happy I have my snow boots with me!
We arrived at the Deli and saw a totally different place than we expected. It's just kind of a small, unassuming place with loads of photos of celebrities dotting the wall and an amazing array of sandwiches from which to choose.  We decided to go with pastrami on rye...this is New York after all!  We were wondering what to order with it when the most beautiful bowl of onion rings came passing under our noses.  Doug looked at the guy and said, "Uh, we'll take one of those too!"  Within 5 minutes we had successfully gotten our first take out order in New York and were happily heading back to our hotel to sate our hungry bodies.  It was fun watching American TV noting with amazement how many commercials are laced throughout the shows. 
As we prepared our indoor picnic we were amazed at the amount of food that we had acquired.  The sandwich must've weighed 10 pounds!  The onion rings were sweet and tender and some of the best I've never had.  Of course, the giant dill pickle and a side of cold slaw completed our first New York Food Experience!
 Bed beckoned at it was about 3.00 a.m. on our body clocks when we finally fell into bed.  Doug says a maintenance guy came by to adjust the heat.  He claims I spoke with him.  I have zero recollection of that encounter!  Here's hoping that today will be a magical day in the big Apple.

Traveling Troubles

I woke up at 4.00 a.m. on Thursday morning because I'm not a great sleeper the night before we travel anyway and I was tossing and turning thinking about everything I needed to do before we walked out the door at 6.30.  I checked our flight as I knew that New York City was experiencing another great storm and sure enough, things delayed.  Then you face a dilemma...do you trust the information on the internet and go to the airport later or do you get to the airport on time, understanding that you may have a long wait ahead of you.  After waiting on hold for an hour with Continental I finally reached someone.  They said the flight hadn't even left New York yet so ours would definitely be delayed.  We planned to get a cab around 10.00 a.m. as the earliest the flight would go would be 13.00 and I began to watch for when the flight would leave New York.  At 6.00 a.m. our time, midnight in New York, the flight was canceled!  PANIC then set in.  I got back on the phone with the Continental and after a shorter wait, got through to someone and started re-booking.  For some reason they couldn't book us on the SAS direct flight that was leaving at 11.30.  The best he could do was get us to Frankfurt and then onto New York after a 5 hour layover in Frankfurt.  We took it knowing that getting out would be difficult.  At this point it was 7.30 and we were trying to catch a 10.00 flight and we were not ready.  We started dashing around, got the dog out (someone was coming later to stay with him in our apartment), finished packing and were in the cab by 8.15.  Very stressful.  I hoped I hadn't forgotten anything but more importantly we were hoping to be on a plane that day!
Once at the airport the real circus began.  Doug got in the never-ended serpentine line that led to checking in for Frankfurt and I went to Continental to see what was unfolding.  We quickly learned that Continental was putting people on the SAS direct flight at 11.30 so we jumped on that option.  They used a very inefficient system of rebooking people by writing tickets by hand and making 5 people travel on the same ticket.  Since our names were on the masthead of the ticket, we became the the new best friends of the 3 young people that were put on our ticket: A young Swedish woman traveling to Costa Rica to learn to surf, who was a nervous wreck and a young Jewish couple who were in Stockholm teaching at the Jewish Institute until April.  They live in Israel.  Once we got our confirmation from Continental we went back to the SAS lines.  It was about 10.00 by now.  We stood in line until 11.00. Naturally, SAS was having major computer issues so getting people processed was going at a snail's pace. Once we got to the front of the line, the SAS agent said, you are not rebooked.  This ticket is not valid.  WHAT?!  Major communication breakdown between the airlines. The only thing we had going for us was the mass of other Continental passengers all needing to get on that SAS plan.  They finally opened up 2, then 3 desks just to process the rebookings.  Time was of the essence.  At 11.20 we discovered that SAS had made the final call and thus the gate was closed.  You can only imagine he moans and the groans that went up from the assorted crowd.  Finally, the ticket agents were able to get them to lift the final call and guaranteed us that they would hold the plane!  We finally got on the plane at 11.30 and it lifted off at 12.30 so happy that we were going to make it to New York today!  I was very proud of myself, I didn't lose my cool once!
The flight was fine, but time did not go quickly.  Doug's cold is still really profound and I feel terrible for him.  The service was good, the food was even good.  But time slogged on this time around.  I had been up for hours and Doug didn't feel good.
We finally landed in Neward at 3.30 and the final descent was bumpy and after no sleep, changing temperatures on the jet, my body being in the wrong time zone, and dehydration, I developed a cracking headache.  I was very happy to get off the jet.  We cleared customs and got to our shuttle.  From there it took 2 more hours to get to hotel.  The van was filled with air freshener that only served to promote my nausea, my headache increased to epic proportions, the traffic was typical New York and I was ready to die.  It was very exciting seeing the skyline, catching a glimpse of Time's Square and knowing that we were here, but I needed to get some water, go to the bathroom, and try and alleviate my headache.  In the meantime, Doug is burning through Kleenex as if we held stock in the company and let's just say that by the time we arrived at The Manhattan Club, we were exhausted and undone.
The hotel staff could not have been more lovely.  We had told them that we were celebrating my 50th birthday so just after we settled in, a man arrived with a bottle of wine, a box of chocolates and a Birthday Card!  So lovely.
It's now 6.30 am in New York.  I've been up about an hour and am feeling quite human again.  Poor Doug is still struggling but we're hoping that this cold will leave him alone soon!
A tough day of travel has resulted in a dream come true for me. I can finally say, "Oh New York, yeah, I've been there!"  And the only thing I forgot was my belt.  Gee, I wonder if there's a shop in New York where I can get a new one?!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Enjoying the Benefits of Higher Taxation

I know that many people in the US are scared out of their wits that the US is "going the way of Sweden" and turning into a socialist society.  I almost laugh out loud every time I hear that.  For starters...the US is so FAAAAARRRR from being a socialist nation it's not even possible.  Secondly, going the way of Sweden wouldn't really be so bad if you consider some of the facts.
We have finalized Doug's hospital bills from when he broke his leg.  He had to be picked up from the street by ambulance and rushed to the emergency room for x-rays and treatment.  This part of his medical journey cost us $53.00.  Then we found out that he was going to be admitted and have emergency surgery the next morning.  He was given a temporary cast, drugs for pain and a shared room with 3 other guys and no TV.  So, not the luxury and amenities of a private US hospital but he received good care and ended up staying two nights in the hospital.  This part of his medical journey cost us $27.00.  Then he came home and two days later he got his cast wet and so we had to go back and have it re-cast.  The cost for that was $0.00.  Three weeks later, he went in and got the plaster cast off, took x-rays, saw a Dr., got the boot.  This part of the journey cost $38.00.  Three weeks later, he went in, got the boot off, stitches taken out, saw the Dr. and the physical therapist.  This cost $48.00.  Finally, he had the last surgery to take out the pin and get a final clearance.  He also saw the physical therapist.  This cost $27.00.  Total cost of Doug's emergency broken leg: $193.00 plus the cost of the pain medication, which was actually a bit high...about $100.00, but included morphine so I guess it was OK.  The crutches were free.  We returned them.  But now, Doug has paid the maximum a person can pay out of pocket for a certain time period so he has totally free health care until September.  I'm pushing him to get the torn cartilage fixed in his knee before then!  Yes, he still has a torn cartilage.  Poor guy.  But the point is this:  His injury did not put us in peril.  We are not going to pay medical bills for the next several years because of an emergency.  Yes, we've done our bit by paying our taxes, but the great thing about paying taxes as we do is that you are automatically forced to "save for an emergency" which most people do not.  So when something catastrophic happens, it often really sets people back.
Now, I'm not saying that we can compare the US to Sweden because the issues are complex and complicated, but I am saying that people really need to quit saying that countries like Sweden are really messed up.  This is not messed up. It is a way of providing for your population and making sure that people don't become destitute when an emergency medical situation presents itself.  We have been quite happy with the care that Doug has received and we feel very lucky that we have gotten through this whole ordeal without having to worry about paying for it.
Additionally, we are now about to embark on our annual winter hiatus.  We will leave on Thursday, take a long weekend in New York, attend a pastors' conference in Chicago next week and then take a 4 week (paid) holiday.  This is totally normal for Swedes, except most of them do it in the month of July.  We are odd in that we prefer a winter holiday since we have the chance to attend the conference and see family all at once, and an added bonus is that my parents are in a warm, resorty place: Palm Springs, California. Yes, it's sickening that we don't even have to cash out all of our days.  Once you turn 50, you get 35 days plus the public holidays.  Starting to understand how our 3 year contract turned into 12.5?  Of course, these aren't the only reasons, but the long holidays certainly make living here much easier as we have the privilege of getting back to the US to visit family regularly and still have time to refresh ourselves with some other kinds of travel.
So, when the conversation about universal health care or ensuring that all are covered comes up, instead of totally panicking that you will be forced into that "Swedish way of doing things" just stop for a minute and consider that higher taxes, put to use in the right way, could be a life saver for you or your neighbor when you slip on an icy street and break your leg in two places.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The Thin Line Between Solitude and Loneliness

It's been 10 weeks since Doug broke his leg.  He has been cleared from all medical limitations and now just needs to work at getting his leg strength back. His calf is rather sad looking and the pain and swelling where the break occurred continues to be challenging.  He will not be able to walk Tanner until we are back from our vacation which begins on Thursday and ends the first weekend of March.  He has missed being able to be out and about with Tanner and me and we've missed him too.
I have never had the primary responsibility to make sure that Tanner's exercise needs are met.  He needs an hour out a day and then 3 other outings to, well, take care of business, as we like to say.  My usual responsibilities included the morning outing for sure.  On Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays we would try to take him for a long walk together, enjoying being out, exploring the weather or the city with our trusty companion by our side.  Tuesday-Friday Doug usually gave him the long midday walk.  I tried to take him on at least one of those days.  For the past 10 weeks however, I have had full responsibility for getting our canine out the door.  It has been a good albeit difficult discipline.  He is a great dog and a wonderful companion but he is huge and strong and at times I've wondered if we were both going to survive this arrangement!  At times throughout these weeks I've felt the burden of having to walk Tanner by myself and Doug has felt the sorrow of not being able to.  Life is often that way, isn't it...one person's burden can sometimes be another person's longing.
Sundays have been the hardest as our habit for Sundays was, after all of our responsibilities had ended, our time to unwind from the week's events, review the worship service, talk about the week ahead and just reconnect without the pressure of the week bearing down on us.  And we did this while walking the dog!  We would often wander the waterfront, taking in the beauty of our amazing city, being able to enjoy the splendor of nature in the heart of our city.  But walking the dog alone on Sundays has been a lonely time for me, a time when the acuteness of Doug's injury has come into focus.  I was alone with my thoughts during a time when I wanted to share them with Doug.  For some reason, being out with Tanner often opened up doors for us to communicate and discuss issues that were sometimes hard to talk about in other places.  It allowed us the opportunity to unwind together, to take pleasure in our surroundings, to laugh at the antics of our silly pet.  I still was able to do those things, but doing them alone was often not as satisfying.
I was always amazed at the gorgeous sunset and light that emerged around 2.30 pm.
The flip side to all this is that the discipline of taking Tanner on a daily basis, knowing that I needed to clear space in my schedule for him, yielded great benefits for me as well. I was forced to get out and thus also able to enjoy one of the most beautiful Decembers we've had in years.  I took in the scarce daylight and was dazzled over and over again by the sunsets, the light on the snow, the beauty of landscape and found this to be refreshing in its own right.  I would've missed seeing this amazing icicle in our back garden if I wasn't the one taking Tanner out all the time!
And truth be told, Tanner is a lovely companion and certainly keeps things interesting.  There have been times when he's been a prince, obeying my every command, walking nicely and restoring me to balanced mental health.  There have been other times when I have wanted to leave him in the park and just walk away from the stupid beast whose only purpose in life it seemed was to drive me crazy!  All told, I have enjoyed being out and being with him.  I have used the time to think, pray, listen to music, reflect, unwind, ponder, etc.  Even so, there were times when the outing was laced with loneliness and I just missed having Doug by my side as well.
Yesterday, Doug took his first outing with me!  We walked through the park nearest to our house.  He still cannot hold the leash as Tanner is too unpredictable and his leg is not strong enough to make quick turns.  But as we strolled through HumlegĂ„rden, I noticed how nice it was to be out walking and talking with Doug again.  Near the end of our walk, I slipped my hand into his and felt a genuine sense of contentment.  Solitude is a good and necessary aspect of our life.  But we all need safeguards and companions to ward off the loneliness that can come when the solitude gets to be too much.

Food, Fun and Fellowship

Saturday night we had a potluck/game night at Immanuel Church.  With over 50 different nations represented in our fellowship, this ain't no ordinary church basement hot dish potluck!  We're talking world cuisine, of restaurant quality...enough to delight your tastebuds for a long time!  Spicy reigns and I am still enjoying the bounty of our table that night!
After dinner, people were invited to partake in a variety of games...everything from Wii sports,         Wii Dance party, Sing Star, indoor floor hockey (innebandy),           round robin ping pong,                                          indoor tennis, a quiz show and other fun and games!  The saunas and pool (ICE COLD) were open and many children took advantage of an opportunity to swim!  What a joy it was to walk around church and see so many different groups of people gathered to enjoy one another's company, laugh a little, and get a little exercise in!
We have such a beautiful facility at Immanuel.  Two gyms, the saunas, the small pool, and great equipment like the Wii's to help people enjoy one another.  The winter season in Sweden is cold and dark and after Christmas it's very easy for the blues and the blahs to set in.  So we thought it would be a great idea to bring people together, enjoy a wonderful feast and then have some fun. 
We've been trying a new concept in leadership development.  Every other month we've been bringing together anyone who is involved in our ministry in any way...serving coffee, teaching Sunday School, working with youth, serving on boards and doing some teaching and worship and then breaking into work groups to do some planning.  It's gone well.  We decided to do this January event instead of a leadership day as a way of helping people see the importance of building strong relationships with one another as a cornerstone of our ministry.  Eating and playing together break down walls and help people to enter into a deeper relationship with one another.  A wonderful spirit permeated this event and it was a real delight to see people come together in this way.
We ended the evening by doing some singing, watching a slide show featuring some of the big events of 2010 and praying for 2011.  The spontaneous prayers from members of our congregation were truly a blessing.  One woman broke out into song, and soon we were all singing along about God's steadfast love.  We spoke of how we plan for the year ahead but don't really know what the year will bring.  We affirmed God's promises from Jeremiah 29:11 that God knows the plans he has for us, plans not to harm us but to give us a future that is filled with hope.  We make our plans but we must stay open to the ways in which God's plans will intersect and sometimes change our plans.
We set the tone for the year ahead by gathering together for an evening of rich fellowship, great food and an enormous amount of fun together!  This is Kingdom work and I love it.  (thanks to Ping Li and Yasin Farhat for the photographs.)

Color and Cut

As you may recall, I got a brand new "do" in October when I was in California.  I have not cut my hair since and finally today I ventured to a new salon for cut and color courtesy of a Groupon coupon.  In case you don't know what Groupon is, it's a group coupon available on the internet for the city you live in.  If enough people buy the daily deal, you get it for a really great price.  I took a chance on a hair deal because haircuts and color are quite expensive here and overall, I was pleasantly pleased.
The shop was near my house: devita  They double as a clinic where you can do other kinds of "beauty" repair.  I was happy to stay with the cut and color.  Putting dye on my hair is one thing.  Shooting botox into my lips is an entirely unnecessary and unwanted "beauty upgrade."  Upon arrival, the hairdresser met and welcomed me.  I removed my boots, put on some slippers that were provided and entered a warm environment with lit candles and nice music.  She offered me a coffee or a tea and then we talked hair.  I showed her photos of the October cut, explained the color I like, and off she went to mix the magical potions that would cover my gray hair!
The hairdresser was a young woman named Emma who surprisingly, didn't speak much English.  I feel confident about my Swedish but when it comes to haircuts I don't like to take chances.  "Not too short" can easily come out "cut it all off".  But then again, I am sporting short hair now and I had the photographs so it was good practice.  Emma had gone to a special high school to learn how to do hair and then had worked at a vocational hair salon.  She grew up in Dalarna, a bit north of here so living in the big city of Stockholm was a new experience.  She asked what I did for a living, I explained about Immanuel Church and then we proceeded to talk a bit the fact that she doesn't go to church or even really think about.  When I said that about 400 people came on Sundays she could hardly believe.  I told her it was just down the street.  I doubt I'll see her, but you never know.
She was dressed in a white lab coat and her hair was a distinctive two tones:  Black and platinum.  It was long and she had it fixed in a nice way.  Midway through the foiling I noticed that her black and white scarf had skull and crossbones on it as a motif.  Then I saw that her giant dangling earrings were also skulls.  I kind of chuckled because when I see these things in a shop, I think to myself, now who would ever buy or wear that?  Well, I guess my young, hip hairdresser would. I guess she works with skulls all day so maybe it fit better than I originally thought.  The thing about it was that it didn't even look that strange!  The scarf was tied in a cute knot and the earrings somehow fit her!  I also noticed a giant rose tattoo that covered most of her right arm.  She was a bit of an icon of how many young folks are choosing to accessorize themselves these days.
She did a good job even if the cut is a bit on the short side.  Peter Pan is not far from my mind.  The color is really nice and considering the blue and orange coloring she was putting it on it, I'm happy I don't look like Lucille Ball!
     I walked out feeling refreshed, a bit pampered.  Getting your skull massaged is a really nice experience.  The fact that the woman massaging my skull was also wearing skulls on her ears just made me smile.  She was as sweet as the day is long which just goes to show you that skulls and crossbones are not always symbols of gloom and doom.  I wonder why she chose that motif today.  It doesn't really matter.  I enjoyed my Groupon salon experience and am happy that the gray is gone...at least for a couple more months!  An extra bonus was how light I noticed it was at 3.15 pm.  The days are truly getting longer every day.  Now, I hope the my hair follows suit.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blog Blues

I am having a hard time getting motivated to write.  I have many ideas and thoughts but am lacking the incentive/structure to get it written down.  I thought that if I perhaps got this out on the table, it might help my bloggers block!  Don't give up on me readers!  I hope to get a move on soon.  We're in the mucky part of winter and the only thing that is keeping me sane is knowing that we leaving it all in a week! 
Check back soon.  I promise to have a new post up by the end of the week that will much more interesting that this one!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Putting Christmas Away

The boxes are full and the shelves are empty. 
All the decorations gathered on the dining room table waiting to be boxed up.
I just have to drag everything to our storage unit in the basement and put it to bed for another year. It's so strange...I love the decorating and the beauty of our home when all the Christmas stuff is up and around.  And then, shortly after the New Year, I begin to long for it to be put away again and return my home to its more normal state of decoration.  It's such an odd thing, to transform your home seasonally, love it, and then want to transform it back!  As I was taking things down this week, I laughed at how much dirt was lurking underneath the beautiful exterior!  Candles have been burned so there are used matches, and candle wax and sooty remains all over the place.  Company has come and gone so I've found cookie and cracker crumbs, potato chip droppings, candy wrappers and other various and sundry items in every corner of the house.  Some of the Poinsettias have seen better days, others are still thriving.  One Amaryllis has gone to flower heaven but the other one is tall and beautiful.  I marvel each time I walk past it.  The Hyacinth is long gone.  Likely a good thing because while I love the smell and appearance, it doesn't like me much and so I sneeze and sneeze while taking in the scent.  The only thing I haven't put away yet are the advent lights in the windows.  I cannot bear to take them down yet. 
Santa and Carolers put away...lights remain for a few more weeks!
The house is so dark once these are put away and so I'm stretching their presence until I see no other windows in town with them still lit!  But the Santas and the Nativities have been packed away and now my empty shelves await the "normal" decor.I'm not sure what I'm going to do this year.  I may not put up as many things this time around.  I may opt for a cleaner less cluttered look on our shelves and window sills.  I desperately need new photographs for our picture frames so maybe I'll get around to getting some photographs printed and framed!  For now, I'm happy for how clean our house is and am reveling in that.
I'm wondering how this decorating and undecorating and deep pondering about what to put up next is like my life.  Do I take enough time to take certain things out of my life for a season, enjoy something new, and then consider what things I'd like keep out of my life and what other new things I'd like to add?  I so enjoy the process of transforming our home each Christmas.  And I equally enjoy transforming it back but it never looks exactly the same as it did before.  And I'm glad for those small changes.  Can this task translate to life?  I feel like my life has been a bit transformed this Christmas.  I've been reading Bonhoeffer and Nouwen.  I've loved the Advent and Christmas journey we shared with our church.  I've enjoyed the rhythms of this season.  I feel like a different person today than I was a month ago.  But now that my daily Advent readings are finished, what will replace that?  How will I seek to decorate my house, that is my life, that will most beautifully reflect God's work in my life?  What changes, however small they may be, can I make to the decor of my life to more beautifully display the love of God in Christ?
As I put the decorations away for another year, these are the things are thinking about.

The 12th Day of Christmas, Trettondag or Epiphany?

Well, it's all 3!  Today is either the 12th day of Christmas or as the Swedes say, Trettondag, the 13th day.  Depends on whether you count Christmas Day as the first day of Christmas or the 26th.  Most traditions start on the 26th but Christmas Eve is the big day of Christmas celebrations here that the Swedes go with Christmas day as the First day of Christmas.  In Christian circles it is known as Epiphany.  Many cultures celebrate the visitation of the Magi on this day. No matter what you call it, it's a public holiday here in Sweden so I'm reveling in this post New Year gift of a free day.  Doug has the sermon Sunday so I really am free to do as I please!  The Christian term Epiphany means to show, or to make known, to reveal.  The Wise Men's visits revealed that Christ was born that all in our world could have access to him.  His birth as an infant child showed his vulnerability in inviting all who desire to come to know him to draw him.  Epiphany also marks the end of the Advent and Christmas seasons in the church.
Now the Advent and Christ Candles will be put away
Our focus shifts now to journey through the period between Christ's birth and his journey to the cross known as the season of Lent in the church.  I suppose for many, when the season of Christmas ends, it feels sad and lonely.  Nothing to really look forward to in the immediate future.  Winter is stretching out long, cold and dark.  Spring feels a bit far away. 
On New Year's Eve we shared a lovely, quiet dinner together sharing hopes and dreams for 2011.  We can do this again sometime, even when it's not New Year's Eve!
And yet, for me, there's a good feeling to also end the Christmas season with a deep sense of satisfaction and joy and somehow return to the art of living my daily life for most of life is not comprised of high, holy celebrations, but the task of every day happenings.  The gift of Epiphany is that Jesus reveals to us that he's coming with us now.  He doesn't remain a baby in the manger.  No, the incarnation announced that he dwelt among us but that reality remains...he still dwells among us. 
The Light keeps shining in the darkness of even cold and dark January
So our challenge now is to figure out how to live more closely to Jesus in the daily stuff, when the special moments have gone by and we're left with cleaning and working and getting along with friends and family.  There's something very sacred and comforting about routine and so if your spirits are low because the high time is behind you, I encourage you to rest in the comfort that God will appear to you in the ordinary, boring, tiresome tasks that most of 2011 will be comprised of!  But when those high, holy moments occur in the next year, don't forget to praise God by saying, "Glory to God in the Highest" even if it is July.My prayers go with you for a great year.  I'm at peace, relaxed and expectant for the year ahead.  Praise God.