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Friday, February 28, 2014

Friends Really Are Forever

I've had the distinct pleasure of meeting up with a good friend from high school as well as a good friend from college on this trip.  I last saw my high school friend at our 30 year reunion, 6 years ago.  Prior to that reunion however, it had been at least 20 years since we had seen one another and those years were pre-Facebook so we hadn't been in touch at all.  But at the reunion we re-connected immediately, re-kindled our kindred spirits, and enjoyed a rich level of conversation that made the years vanish, leaving the friendship fresh and intact.  Facebook definitely helped us to keep in touch during throughout the past 6 years and on this trip, we were finally able to arrange to have lunch together. It was amazing how deep and easy the conversation was with topics ranging from faith to family, with a little politics thrown in!  I know our husbands would enjoy one another and we hope that we can get everyone introduced soon, perhaps next time, across the pond in Sweden!  Calene is anxious to visit the country of her heritage and I would be thrilled to welcome her and her husband to our life there.
Then, by chance, a college friend who I have not seen in at least 25 years was in the desert on business and we also were able to arrange a meet up!  Joan and I became friends our freshman year, as we lived on the same floor and found that we shared a love for life and silliness! Joan also ended up marrying one of my friends from California who I knew before Joan did!  Brad and I had become close friends during a week long high school church camp the summer before my senior year of high school.  Joan recalls seeing a photo of Brad in my room long before Brad was ever in proximity to Joan!  We met at a Mexican restaurant which was appropriate because Joan reminded me that I was the one who first introduced her to Mexican cuisine!  When we met she didn't known the difference between a taco, burrito or enchilada!  Brad and Joan have lived in northern California for much of their 31 years of marriage and it was so wonderful to see her again and hear about their life together, their kids, and their faith. Joan also lost her father last February and again, through the Facebook connection, we were able to walk with one another through our parental losses.  It was so good to talk about this season of life, how her mom and my dad are doing at this point and share the journey of our grief face to face.  

Friendships are our life blood and when you move around as much as I have in life, you have to keep making new friends.  But the older you get, it is also true that long-time friendships that share your history and resonate with your past are incredibly valuable.  Our pasts are such a central aspect of who we are in the present that to meet up with these wonderful friends and pick up the sentence mid-stream, even when decades have gone by, is indeed a rare gift and one that I savor and value.
Many thanks to Calene and Joan for making the effort to connect with me while I was in California! Here's to making it happen again and again...perhaps next time on the other side of the pond!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Last Ritual

It's been almost exactly 10 months since my mom died and we knew that on this trip out to California we would find the time to scatter her ashes where she wanted them left.  The night before we were planning this outing I didn't sleep well and woke up quite melancholy. It definitely made her death very real to me all over again and the finality of the act was weighing heavily on my heart.  And I have never handled human ashes before so I just wasn't at all sure what this whole thing would be like.  But Doug, my dad, my cousin, Mike, (my mom's oldest brother's oldest son, who she was very close to), his wife Susan and I knew that this was something we needed to do and wanted to do. So at dusk on Wednesday, the 19th of February we headed out to her favorite golf hole, #12 at Mission Lakes to begin our journey.  
Mom loved this golf course and she always wanted her passing to be somehow marked on this spot. Mike and his brothers, Steve and Kelly, had donated a tree to be planted near the hole and we felt that we should start there. 
From there we headed up the hill to the women's tee.  We then proceeded to each take a tee shot in honor of mom.
I chose a pink golf ball,
pink being a major symbol of the fight against breast cancer and while mom's was ovarian, the symbol of fighting cancer was important to me.
Unfortunately I totally shanked it so had to hit another one!  It was a wonderful gesture of solidarity for us all and we all enjoyed hitting the ball into the now near dark landscape.  It was impossible to see where the balls went so we just left them.  It seemed a fitting tribute in the midst of our ceremony.
Finally, as the daylight faded, we gathered in a circle and each one shared a loving remark of something that is deeply imprinted on their heart regarding who my mom was in their life.  A sense of humor, feeling truly and deeply loved by mom, being made to feel like you were the most special person on earth were sentiments that were deeply expressed through veils of tears.  As we stood on that hillside in the dim light, the sprinklers came on! We didn't mind. Our faces were already wet with tears. Doug shared some beautiful words taken from our tradition when we have a committal or an interment that expresses from God we have come, to God we will go and gave assurances that mom was now rejoicing in her heavenly home, no longer trapped by her earthly body, which was now the ash that we each carried in a small bag in preparation for the sprinkling that would soon ensue.  I then prayed knowing that mom would've wanted that.  It was a sacred and holy moment, laced with tears and emotions but also joy and peace.
From that spot we moved onto the place where she wanted her ashes left.  We each took our time
meandering through the desert landscape, each scattering her ashes as we wandered. It was not as awkward as I had expected, handling the ash.  It was actually a bit cathartic and made me feel at peace that we had honored her wishes and we will always know that her spirit and presence remains in this place where all of us gathered have a special connection.  We re-gathered at the newly planted tree where I emptied my bag of ash at its foot and saved a little more for the tree that is planted in our backyard...
a gift from my book club that they presented to me last spring and which we planted on this trip as well.
Trees give life and beauty, shade and rest, fruit and fragrance: all qualities that reflect my mother's character as well.
It was hard but beautiful.  A fitting end to this difficult journey.  A true blessing to honor her wishes.
We ended the evening with margaritas and the best Mexican food in town!  We shared stories and remembered my mother with such joy and affection.  I miss her, but I'm happy to know that reminders remain here in the desert, through the Mexican palm tree in our backyard and the beautiful tree sitting by the #12 green, and of course through her ashes now spread across this mesmerizing and beautiful desert landscape that we all love so very much.
Peace to your memory mom.  How we loved you and how we miss you.
You have given us much joy and our memories will continue to do so as well.   Amen.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Cultural Contrasts

Ok, I know, I know, whenever I come back to the US, I always put up a blog about the differences I notice, but what can I say...I'm a born and bred American who has lived in Europe for the past 15 years.  I notice stuff!
This time around, there have been some obvious things that have left me a little gobsmacked.  I was in the grocery today and was overwhelmed in the produce section!  Now of course, it's California in the dead of winter so even coming from the midwest would certainly create a bit of culture shock. But the fresh produce was so beautiful. The many varieties of lettuce looked freshly picked from a local garden and a huge bunch of cilantro was a mere 59 cents!  The green serrano chili I bought for my guacamole was much hotter than the red ones I buy in Sweden.  California tomatoes remain the overall disappointment as they hot house all of them and bleed out all of the great flavor.  I'll stick with the tomatoes from Holland we get in Sweden!
I also do not have to buy avocados, grapefruit or lemons.  A friend of my dad's gave him a case of beautiful, huge avocados so I've been eating one a day and have started making guacamole!  We get freshly picked grapefruit from my dad's gorgeous tree and the lemons are free from the beautiful tree in our back yard.  Free citrus fruit!  So awesome.
Television remains annoying and great.  Great because there are a zillion things to watch on TV or online. Annoying because the commercials and repetitions are incessant.  I hate the tape delayed manner in which they cover the Olympics.  Some of the public interest stories are nice, but the overwhelming focus on the American athletes means we miss many other great stories.  Fortunately I can live stream throughout the day so caught the epic finish of the women's cross-country ski race between the Swede and the Norwegian.
One of the most staggering encounters has been with a Cadillac commercial.  View it here.  Basically, the commercial pokes fun at Europe's tradition of taking an entire month off during the summer and promotes consumerism in its most indulgent form.  It's a bad commercial in my mind. Perhaps it's because I'm in the midst of my month off (we take it in Feb. instead of most Swedes who take it in July) and wouldn't trade this privilege and joy for any possession in the world.  One of the reasons we continue to live in Europe is related to the work/life balance that Europe values.  I just don't want to work 50 weeks of the year anymore.  No amount of stuff could entice me to value making more money over less time off anymore.  This is likely the greatest difference between America and Europe.  I'm not trying to make a political statement about which is better or worse...but I think work as a means to an end is ultimately less satisfying than
long vacations that allow you to fully recharge so you are motivated and excited to be at work when you are working.
America and Sweden...the two countries where I hold citizenship.  I guess I just feel really, really lucky to be able to blend the best of both worlds, critique the worst and enjoy the benefits and privileges that these two worlds bring to me.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

My Crazy Golf Game

One day after we arrived in Palm Springs we were on the tee at 12.30.  I enjoy playing golf.  I am not very good.  When people ask us if we are golfers I say, "Doug is a golfer and I play golf."  The difference being about 25 points on the handicap!  Even so, I dream that one day, when I have enough time and space to play a lot, I will be good.  I have moments of brilliance in the midst of many, many terrible shots and fortunately, in golf, it's one sweet shot that will bring you back for another 18 holes the next day.
Of course, it's always sweet to be playing golf in shorts in February so in many ways the score isn't really that important!  Even so, I'd like to get to a place where breaking 100 strokes is a more consistent reality.  I've broken 100 a couple of times and I even had an 89 once!  So you see...I really believe that the ability is buried in the depths of my athleticism, yearning to find its way out!
So here are some highlights of yesterday's round, amusing as they may be.
I managed to hit a decent tee shot off of one, pretty good since there is a lot of rust in the bod.
This is the gorgeous view of Mt. San Jacinto from the first tee.
Sadly, I was in this lake on 2.

The rest of the front nine was pretty uneventful with the usual fits and starts.  On 9 however, which is a long, uphill par 5, I hit the best tee shot I've ever hit on that hole, straight and a good distance. Usually I am buried in a group of trees to the right and let me tell you, that makes the hole a lot harder. On the second shot, an even more remarkable event took place.  I hit my second shot as well as the first!  Now I need a short iron to get on the green.  Short irons and me...we don't often see eye to eye so even though I was now less than 100 yards from the green, the potential for me to take another 3 strokes getting on the green is ever present.  Magically, I hit another good shot!  Now I'm putting for birdie on 9!  Exciting times.  I ended up parring the hole, which I'm really not sure I've ever done before.  It was a good way to end the front 9.
The back nine is a special place.  You may recall this blog that I wrote just after my mom died.  I was excited to see how these holes would unfold.  10 is also a long par 5 requiring accuracy and distance to get to the green.  I played the hole well, having a chance for par if I sank a super long putt.  I settled for bogey which is just fine with me.  11 is the signature hole of Mission Lakes.  You climb a steep hill and then play across the mountain ridge, high above the complex.  It's a great hole, super hard, and very easy to lose golf balls along the way!  Things were backed up when we arrived so we had to wait to tee off.  I gazed out over the valley, thinking about my mom, missing her.  
I played the hole with my usual silliness.  Good shot, bad shot, good shot, bad shot.  I didn't lose any balls however and during the times we had to wait, I managed to find 8 balls in the nearby desert!
Finally we arrived at 12, my mom's favorite hole, the spot where my cousins have now planted a memorial tree in her honor, the hole she just loved to play and truth be told, my favorite as well.  It's a beautiful par three where the tee sits high above the green.  Because of wind, club choice can vary from day to day.  One day you can use 5 iron and other days you need driver.  The wind was being weird and I really couldn't tell if it was behind me, in my face, or just blowing straight sideways.  I was indecisive in my club choice so I went with 3 wood which I knew would be far too much if the wind was up.  I gave it a big whack, pulled it like there was no tomorrow and watched it head for the houses across the street!  I was waiting to hear glass break when I heard the ball hit the street.  I knew it bounced somewhere, but had no idea where that ball ended up!
It didn't take long to discover where the ball ended up!  As we approached the tee on 13, I saw a ball on the ground.  Sure enough, it was my ball!  That ball had hit the street and bounced high enough to sail over the houses that line the 13th hole and land next to the tee!  It was hilarious and perhaps my worst/greatest shot ever!  The only thing that would've made it even more epic is if it had landed on the actual tee!
The only other memorable moment on the back nine came when I birdied 15, a tricky par 3 where I don't often hit the green at all!  I landed my tee shot about 2 feet from the pin and knocked it in for a 2. Since this rarely happens, I had to do a little happy dance and sing a song about it.  Doug was just shaking his head! I chanted, "Tweet, Tweet, I got a birdie!  If I tweeted I could tweet that I got a birdie!" Silly and fun.
By the time we hit 18, the wind was up and the temperature was dropping.  We were happy that we only had one more hole to play.  We were freezing and our rusty bodies were crying out from the swinging and the picking up of the ball out of the cup. I know, very sad when you get aches and pains from playing golf in a cart.  I hit a great tee shot and was actually putting for par again.  But alas, a 3 putt finish landed me a double bogey.
I ended the day with a dip in the piping hot jacuzzi and man did that feel great.  
I'm looking forward to seeing what kind of shenanigans we can get ourselves into this afternoon.