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Friday, November 28, 2014

A Very Happy Thanksgiving

I kept up my tradition of creating my own holiday in Stockholm by taking Thursday off and spending the day focused on Thanksgiving. This is the one day of the year when being in sync with what's happening in the US means a lot to me. So while it's a normal work day and we can't eat until evening, it's well worth the effort to have Thanksgiving dinner on the actual Thanksgiving day! That this will be our last celebrated in Stockholm perhaps made the whole occasion that much special. While I will miss the memorable gatherings we have shared around our dining room table, I won't miss worrying about finding all of the ingredients to make the meal in the way I like it! Fortunately a friend went to the US in October so brought back a cache of goodies including corn bread mix from Trader Joe's, canned cranberry sauce, stuffing mix, and pumpkin pie filling. I farmed out the pies but supplied the pumpkin! I also won't miss paying a staggering $4.00 a pound for my turkey! I did dig through the very small freezer compartment at my local grocery store to find the biggest one...4.6 kilos or just tipping in at 10 pounds! Small as it was, it was tasty in the end!
I had a blast decorating the table this year. A friend and one of the guests invited for dinner had receive the center cloth from her mom and it provided the base inspiration for all that followed. I was very happy how it all turned out and it proved to be a beautiful setting for a memorable meal.
Around our table this year we had a family from India (joke was that we had real Indians at our Thanksgiving!) who had never experienced the American Thanksgiving tradition or food before, a woman from Ghana, a Swiss/American couple and one of their kids, and one other American along with me and Doug. The gathered group are all quite close to one another having shared in each other's lives in significant and heartfelt ways through the years.
The food was delicious, if I say so myself! My roasted sweet potatoes in a maple/cayenne glaze were a big hit. In the end, we had plenty of food and even a lot of leftovers!
In keeping with the Thankfulness theme, as people came in, each drew a name. Later in the evening, we had the Thanksgiving round where we each shared one thing that we were thankful for about the person whose name we had drawn. It was a special time, filled with laughter and tears. There was an abiding sense of family around our table that night. We finished off the evening while watching an incredible video of Ed Dobson, a pastor in the US whose journey is now laced with his struggle with ALS. See his story here.  At last, over pies, we enjoyed our annual Thanksgiving day quiz.
I was tired when my Thanksgiving day ended but full, content and overflowing with joy. I missed my folks throughout the day. I missed talking to my mom about the food and showing her the table. The gravy always gave me angst and I must say, my mom would be proud of how I've now mastered it! I I missed talking to my dad about the food and football. But there was certain comfort in knowing that my dad wasn't having to struggle through another holiday season without my mom.
Our church family has been just The heartfelt sentiment expressed around that table that night was one of deep connection and appreciation for all who shared in our tradition together.
I will miss my family at Immanuel International as we transition back to the US in January. But the depth of thanks I feel for having shared these years with them will never fade. I guess that makes me the most thankful of all. 

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Bright Evening in Gray November

Yesterday we had the pleasure of being treated to an extraordinarily enjoyable Sunday evening. Dear friends invited us to attend a Swedish film titled En duva satt på en gren och funderade på tillvaron or in English, A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence. You can read about this award winning film here. It was a quirky, funny, serious, ironic reflection on life. Even though it was in Swedish, it was quite easy to keep up. The visuals were amazing and while it was a non-linear film in many respects, it was not hard to see what the director was trying to do. It was especially fun to see it with a Swede, who laughed a lot throughout the film. Listening to him laugh was half the fun!
After the film, they took us their favorite restaurant in town,  PA & Co. It's a tiny little neighborhood spot that serves great food and can be hard to get into it. Our friend knows the owner so he manages to get in at any time! On Sunday night it was quiet so we could relax and talk over great food. I ordered my favorite Swedish dish of all time, Beef Rydberg. Cubes of tender beef on a bed of onions, served with fried potatoes, horseradish, and sweet mustard. There's a raw egg yolk on the plate as well but admittedly, I leave it alone. It was the best Beef Rydberg I've ever had. I was so eager to dig in, that I skipped taking a photo!
For dessert, we all had the obligatory Gino, a dessert that this restaurant has made famous. A bed of strawberries, bananas, kiwi is covered with white chocolate shavings, broiled, then topped with a scoop of ice cream. WOW, is it good. I could've had 3 more!
While the food was great, the conversation was even better. We reflected on the film, church life, life in Sweden and began to grieve a little our ensuing separation. Our friend had also just been in California and he and his son stayed in our house so we talked about the desert and hope to welcome them out there before too long. Truly, it was a delightful evening.
Then we walked home and were treated to newly lit Christmas decorations that have been popping up all around town! What joy to see many new things added this year...It will be such fun now to wander through the city and enjoy all the decor and be warmed up by the extra light. I'm tempted to put my own lights up in my windows before Sunday, which is the first of Advent. We'll see if I can make it to the weekend!
Good film, good food, good friends. The perfect trifecta for a Sunday evening in November. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Big News & Big Changes For Us

Back in the spring of 1998, Doug and I signed a contract with Immanuel International to come and be their pastors for three years.
We were excited about the possibility of moving to Sweden, ministering to a multi-cultural community and dipping our toe in the European lifestyle for a few years while we were still young! But then the years started to fly by and all of the sudden, we'd been here a decade, and now 16+ years. At one point we finally decided that we were definitely staying in Stockholm, indefinitely.
And yet, I suppose in our hearts and in our minds we knew that at some point in time, another door would open and we would feel led to step through it into a new reality.
That time has come. After 16.5 years Doug and I are leaving Stockholm and Immanuel International. Tanner is going to become an American hund! So on the 28th of December we will share in our final worship service and on the 29th of January, we will board a plane, with Tanner loaded in the cargo hold, for one last hop across the pond. We plan to land in our home in Desert Hot Springs, CA and see where the winds of change will lead.
Why now? Lots of different things started aligning for us to consider that the timing might be right. Our move has absolutely nothing to do with our dear congregation. They have asked us to reconsider and stay which is lovely but of course, we did not make this decision lightly and feel that God has genuinely led us to make this move now. Of course, telling our congregation that we are indeed leaving has been one of the hardest things we've ever had to do but I've often said that every good decision usually involves a fair amount of pain. This decision is no exception to that reality and yet, while we will miss this congregation tremendously, we feel great peace in making this transition at this time.
We will take a short time of sabbatical to ponder what these years in Sweden and with the International church have meant to us. I have a deep need to continue to sort through everything that my parents' passing has meant in my life and we are both feeling that landing back in the US for a season will be good for us. I'm sure the reverse culture shock will be profound but we are also excited to see what it will be like to actually live in the United States of America once again. While there are many things we will miss, I will not miss the dark winters! Knowing that there will be many impressions and emotions with re-patriating, (a term I loathe by the way), I will continue to blog under a new blog title: Back Across the Pond. I'll keep ya posted on that.
For now, we are savoring every moment with people we love and places we enjoy. We are thrilled to have a final Advent and Christmas season with our congregation and thankful to have the month of January to pack up and sort through our home here.
Tanner has been to the vet to get his first ever rabies shot and obtain his pet passport! I am very excited to see how he adjusts to being a desert dog!
 We appreciate your prayers for us and our church as this significant event unfolds in our life. We remain humbled that God has given us the privilege of being the pastors at Immanuel International for all these years and look forward to what He has in store for us as this new season unfolds.

Soon enough we'll be back across the pond. For now, I'm savoring all that has kept us on this side of that pond for as long as it has.  

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Lovely Lunch

Yesterday I was treated to a delightful lunch with a young woman from church whose adorable baby we baptized a couple of weeks ago. The weather in Stockholm has been the typically dreadful November blah with loads of gray sky, no sunshine, and wet, icky conditions. It has not been particularly cold and we've nary seen a snowflake, which would actually brighten things up a bit. So when she suggested we head to Ulriksdal Slott Tradgård café, I was thrilled. I had only been here one other time and was eager to try it again. In order to get to the café, you have to walk through their nursery and greenhouse, which is loaded with gorgeous plants and lit with bright, sunlight simulating light! My senses were awakened in this garden of Eden-like place!
The lunch buffet itself is gorgeous. All vegetarian, all organic, you can eat to your heart's delight with minimal guilt! Deliciously prepared salads, veggie dishes, pasta rolls, thick and creamy carrot soup, and homemade breads were all on offer and I enjoyed every last taste!
The company was delightful as well. Little Henrik slept most of the time until near the end of our time when he woke up, curious to take in all that happening around him!
It was indeed a lovely lunch and a great way to brighten the dreary landscape that surrounds us right now. Thank you Julie! I would totally recommend a visit to Ulriksdal Slott Café if for no other reason than to simply bask in the beauty of the floral displays. But it would be a shame to miss the café so take time to eat something as well!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Casa Batlló and Barceloneta

Just when you think you've seen it all, you decide to go to Casa Batlló on your last day and are blown away one more time. Gaudí designed this gorgeous city apartment for this prominent family and I want to live there! You are automatically given the audio guide with your entrance and it's well worth it. Gaudí's amazing design sense and vision for something completely different really comes through. One room after another dazzles the senses with his use of curve, color and imagination. Gaudí managed to combine functionality with beauty and whimsy along every passageway! The tour takes you up to the rooftop where, of course, incredible views await you! 
The outer facade is also filled with great imagination with the balconies looking like the masks of carnival! This was a fabulous way to start our last day in Barcelona.
The other interesting public art was this giant cat that stood across from our hotel. I found it especially wonderful as it a work of a famous Colombian artist, Fernando Botero, whose work I have enjoyed since I lived in Colombia many, many years ago.
From there, we headed to the beach to soak up what would surely be the last warmth of the year for us. We walked down to the beach area from our hotel. This towering statue of Christopher Columbus pointing to the new world welcomed us to the beach area. It was hot and sunny! The sandy shores were a welcome respite from city sightseeing. Elaborate sand sculptures dotted the shoreline and many locals thought that the beach would be a good way to spend this last Sunday in October! The water was still warm enough to swim in so we both took a plunge. It was a super way to enjoy our last afternoon in this spectacular town. 
And then the day was done and our holiday was over. But I'm quite certain this won't be the last time I visit this enchanting, wonderful city.

Barcelona's Olympic Park

High above the city on a hill called Montjuïc, opposite Park Guell sits the Olympic Park from the 1992 Olympics. Remember the opening ceremonies, when the archer shot the arrow into the caldron to start the games?  Yes, very impressive indeed. The only drawback was that the day we chose to go up there was also the day of a huge children's event so every family in Barcelona was up on the hill that day! Fortunately the stadium was still open and free but it made for kind of a crowded, zooey atmosphere so wandering around wasn't all that easy. We missed the swimming pool...the one with the diving platforms that showed the divers with a backdrop of all of Barcelona, including the Sagrada Familia. 
(not my photo)
I would've enjoyed seeing the pool. One always needs a reason to return, right? I am a sucker for anything Olympic so with all the people crowding into the stadium, Doug and I tucked into the Sports Museum which was empty. It was more a history of sport than an Olympic recounting but several things were most interesting. I enjoyed seeing these tennis shoes. From left to right: Monica Seles, Pete Sampras, Martina Navratilova, Arantxa Sanchez. The display with Sweden's and the world's greatest ping pong player was cool too. All in all, a good way to start our trek through the Olympic park. The stadium itself was, of course, impressive and it was fun to see it filled with people. Remember Derek Redmond, the runner who tore his hamstring in the middle of the race and whose father ran down to the track to help him finish? That was Barcelona. These Olympic moments are what we live for every 4 years!
The walk down was spectacular with incredible views and beautiful architecture along the way. Montjuïc is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon...even if every other person in Barcelona had the same idea.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Barcelona Trifecta: Architecture, Food and Views

After the stunning visit to La Sagrada Familia, we headed to Park Güell for some fantastic views and a taste of Gaudí in the great outdoors. We were thankful for the escalators that took us up to the park as this gorgeous place sits high above the city. The Park itself is free and a welcome respite from the urban environs of Barcelona, and Gaudí's creative spirit in the landscaping was a joy to witness. The views of the city that sprawled from every vantage point were a total bonus. We entered on the upper side of the park and wandered down to the main entrance point and were glad we did. The climb up would've been very challenging. It was much more fun wandering down!
After a day of soaking in these amazing sites we spent the later afternoon on our rooftop terrace, enjoying a glass of wine and watching the sun come down. The warmth of this late October afternoon was such a bonus. We were ready for some adventurous eating so we headed to a neighborhood recommended by a friend where you could find Pintxos, a variety of small appetizers creatively put together to dazzle the palette! The street is Carrer de Blai and every restaurant in this neighborhood had lots on offer. We found our favorite to be Pintxos J. Loved the staff and the variety of pintxos on offer were delicious. 
A perfect combo: Sangria or beer and pintxos!
It's a great way to eat in Barcelona!
By this time I was truly describing Barcelona as a feast in every possible way...sight, sounds, is truly a city that has it all.