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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Memorial Day

We haven't been in the United States for Memorial Day since 1998, 17 years ago! And because Sweden doesn't commemorate a Memorial Day, we have often lost track of this holiday weekend in the US. In many ways, it's the weekend that kicks off the summer season. Unfortunately the weather here in MN is not very summery...rain, rain, rain. But even more to the point, it is the day when Americans pause to remember those who have lost their lives in service to their country. Not to be confused with Veterans Day, November 11, Memorial Day commemorates those who died while serving in the military while Veterans Day honors all who have served in the military at one time or another.
Memorial Day is tomorrow. Tonight on television, an annual concert is broadcast from Washington D.C. that commemorates some of the stories of those who have lost their lives and to take a look at the US history as it relates to our war history. We had no idea about this concert but it is an annual event for Doug's parents. It's beautiful and sorrowful. It's never easy to be confronted with the carnage and death that the wars have wrought on people's lives, but it's good to give pause around this holiday and recognize that sacrifice has been a big part of the life that I enjoy today.
While the show was good, the very best part of the night was when Doug's dad snuck away for a minute and returned with his naval hat from the time he served in the Navy from 1951-1955! It was a great moment for us all! He was singing along with the naval hymn and clearly felt a sense of honor as we watched the concert,
These are the moments when being back in the United States is a real blessing. It's good to connect with our culture, our holidays, the remembrances and special events that shape our nation. I'm very glad that we are here in MN for this holiday so Doug's parents could introduce us to the Memorial Day concert from Washington D.C. And so that we could enjoy a lovely, fun memory of Paul's service to our country.



Monday, May 18, 2015

Old Friends

It's been good to be back in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. It had been about 15 months since we'd seen Doug's family and of course, with his sister Jan being so sick, it's great to have the time to hang out here awhile. We've been able to see Jan and her family quite a bit.
A favorite photo of Doug and Jan, taken in Palm Springs a few years ago
She weakens quickly and needs to rest and they need time in the house for just them as a family. They have two dogs, smaller by a lot than Tanner, and one of the days we brought Tanner with us. It was quite the canine romp. Good thing everyone is this mix likes dogs! Our hearts are heavy with the road that Jan is on right now. Please continue to keep her and her family in your prayers. These are fragile and precious moments that are also not easy.
Saturday evening we, along with Doug's folks, his sister and her husband, met up with a dear friend from college, her husband and daughter to attend a play their son was in here in town. The play was a based on the old Swedish American vaudeville circuit that was popular when new immigrants were pouring into the US. It was pretty funny with their exaggerated Swedish accents and silly Swedish jokes. The best was connecting with my dear buddy who I have known since 1978. Our friendship was sealed as we studied genetics together in our freshman year Life Science class.
Another bright spot for me is that several people from my days of being chaplain at North Park University live here. Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a church where a former student is the pastor.
Couldn't find a wedding photo so here's the whole family!
I also had the privilege of marrying him and his wife almost 20 years ago. It was a joy to see their sweet family and see how Ryan had matured in the pulpit. It happened to be their last service in that church. They are moving west to a new church this summer so it was especially sweet to enter into this time with them. I sat with another couple who I married, also, 20 years ago, and they were lifted up in Ryan's message as true servants to the church.

It made my heart sing to see how these young people had grown into the church leaders of today. Another woman, there with her two kids, was in high school when I was the intern in her church. We were close when I was her youth pastor and it's also neat to see her active in the church, caring for her children. The service was wonderful and I felt almost at home! I was able to go to lunch with another friend who has visited us in Stockholm and with whom no subject is seen as taboo. We went to an awesome burger joint and I enjoyed one of the best burgers I've ever had. Good 'ol American burgers. Can't beat 'em!


There's a couple from our church in Stockholm...another pair who we married a few years ago, who now have a newborn. Can't wait to see them and hold their little guy. Pictures reveal a very cute baby! And when I think of it, there's yet another couple whose wedding was the last I did before we moved to Stockholm! I guess the Twins Cities have been a bit of a magnet for the couples I've hitched! I hope to see them later this week. They are the parents of 4 kids now! It's amazing how the years have gone by. I feel humbled and honored that we've kept in touch all these years and still enjoy catching up.
Old friends...there is something about sharing a history together that lends itself to an immediate sense of closeness even when years have gone by and geography separates. To see how these young people have matured into family folks, good parents, church leaders, civil contributors brings such joy to my heart. I'm very thankful that my path is allowing me to cross theirs every now and again.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

America the Beautiful: Part 3

Today was a drive across America's Grassland! Huge farms dotted the landscape of South Dakota. We crossed the big and beautiful Missouri river and enjoyed watching the acres go by. 
Our first stop was the famed Wall Drug. Who knew that such a ridiculous and wonderful place could be put on America's map simply by offering free ice water from billboards strategically placed a good 20 miles outside of its location? I had not been there since I was child and I was every bit enchanted by it as any kid would be! It's the wild west as you envision it! Kitsch abounded in every imaginable manner! And I even got a cup of coffee for 5 cents! I did like the travelers chapel. If all else fails, maybe we have a career there!
Tanner and I tried our hand at driving a stagecoach. Doug recreated his Dusty Dan part and decided to ride the giant Jack-a-lope...a legendary range animal that is a mix of jack rabbit and antelope!
I loved the horse tie ups in front of the parking spots. Well, we could've stayed there for a long time, but we still had miles to travel.
The next stop was another bizarre and wonderful place: The Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota! This is a civic center that is entirely covered in corn cobs! The inside is a big arena where sporting events, public events and even the upcoming High School graduation will take place. The woman in charge took great pride in her job as she told visitors about the place. They were working on the exterior so it wasn't really displayed in all of its usual glory, but it was still very fun to see this! Tanner had to stay in the car for this one. When we returned he had finagled his way into the front seat!
Eastward we continued. More farm land. But with the added bonus of a few of the 10,000 lakes that Minnesota boasts! Soon we crossed over into Minnesota...more farmland! But then it was time for our first ice cream treat of the trip. Tanner even got a cone and boy was he happy with that! He enjoyed looking out the window and poking his head between the seats, checking in with us now and again.
So we have finally arrived at our destination! It's great to be home with Doug's parents. Tanner is quickly making himself at home and testing Doug's parents to see if they will slip him some food!
We're glad to be here. There are some challenging days ahead as we get the lay of the land with Doug's sister. We are so thankful that we can be here. And we really enjoyed these days of driving across our beautiful and diverse country.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

America the Beautiful: Part 2

We woke up at 5.30 and were pretty much ready to start the day so after a quick breakfast, we jumped in the car and headed east towards Wyoming and South Dakota, the two additional states we added today. It was a gorgeous day. Beauty surrounded us once again. We'd be driving along, and then, bam, a snow-capped mountain range would appear in the distance. Once we entered Wyoming, the vast expanse of wide open spaces and very few people caught our attention. We clearly encountered fewer people than livestock! A big winter storm had hit this region on Sunday and evidence of the recent snow fall abounded. We were surprised by how much snow the mountains had and how patchy the left over snow was along the highway.
We stopped in Caspar, WY to buy some gas. Across the street from the station was Independence Rock. It was a nice tribute to the history of the area. 
Tanner continued to do well, sleeping peacefully in the back seat, only occasionally becoming a back seat driver! He's such a good boy.
When we hit the South Dakota border we still had a lot of daylight left so we decided to drive through the Black Hills and perhaps take a look at the four presidents that grace Mt. Rushmore. I had not been to Rushmore since I was about 10 or 11 and it had also been years for Doug. The Black Hills are so beautiful. It was so much fun to experience such beauty in the US. We've seen so many neat things through our years of living in Europe, but I must admit, just experiencing the vast and changing landscape of the US has been a real treat. I was inspired to read Dances with Wolves again.
On the way to Rushmore, the turn off for the Crazy Horse Memorial beckoned. (Click the link to read more about this amazing project.) I had never seen this monument and again, for Doug, it had been since childhood. This is an amazing work of art that was started in 1948 and continues today.
The copy in front of the mountain where the read deal is emerging.
 We're thinking it's at least 20 more years from being completed so we figured we'd better take a look at what it looks like in 2015. It was very cool to see the work emerging from the mountain. It's hard to understand the sheer size and scale of this work. You cannot get close to the monument itself but some good exhibits explain many things about the culture of Native Americans as well as the sculptors vision. Tanner could walk the grounds but not go into the museum so we made it a quick visit. Still, it was great to experience this neat piece of Americana.
I tried to create my own rendering called Crazy Dog. It was harder than I thought!
From there it was a short drive to Mt. Rushmore. The area surrounding the famed faces has changed quite a bit with some nice exhibitions of the state flags flying over a column that states when it became part of the union. The viewing platform is really lovely and we were lucky...it wasn't very crowded on a Tuesday afternoon in May!
Again, there's not loads to do there...just take a peak at the guys on the hillside. Even so, it's an impressive sight and I was blown away once again by the exact likeness that the stones create of these 4 key men in US history. Tanner had to wait in the car for this one.
From there, we drove about 30 more minutes to our hotel that sits right on I-90, the highway we'll be chugging along for most of tomorrow.
We are looking forward to pulling into Doug's parents' house sometime tomorrow evening. But it's been great to be able to enjoy the ride and journey along the way.

Monday, May 11, 2015

America the Beautiful: Part 1

We drove about 650 miles today entering 4 different states! It was a beautiful drive, stunning really, and we are enjoying our very comfortable digs outside of Park City, Utah. For a pet friendly hotel, this place is really nice. Our room is huge, the grounds have plenty of areas to walk Tanner and the price was great! There is even a swimming pool and hot tub but I think we'll be skipping those amenities. We get a full breakfast in the morning, which isn't a given in US hotels so all in all, we're pleased with our first day of travel.
This morning as we readied ourselves to go, Tanner was decisively going with us. He was in the car for a half hour before we left! He's a pretty good traveler, except for his incessant flatulence, which I guess is the cost of having a 10 year old lab!
Having not driven any appreciable miles in the US for a very long time, both of us were truly blown away by how lovely the drive was today. Driving by Las Vegas, Nevada was sort of surreal. It's really an odd place! As soon as we entered Arizona, the landscape got dramatic. Towering rock formations and multi-colored ridges dotted the landscape. Having just come from the desert lands of Israel/Palestine/Jordan, we were surprised by some of the similarities in the landscape. In fact, we even chuckled a bit when we saw signs for Mt. Nebo and the Jordan River! Having been to the "real" ones of both of those places, we were amused that those who gave these places their names co-opted those holy places.Upon entering Utah, our 4th and final state for today, the magnificent canyon formations surrounded us. Soon, snow-capped mountains came into view as well. Parts of the US got lots of snow yesterday so we were happy to have clear, blue skies the entire way. We were also surprised that it stayed light until well after 8.30 p.m. It made the driving much easier and more pleasant to be able to take in the views.
We hope to do a similar amount of driving tomorrow, hoping to land in Rapid City, SD. We're expecting a fairly beautiful drive once again.
It's truly fun for us to experience the US via road trip. The wild west feeling that we had a few times today is a bit unique to the US. And just seeing the various landscapes, the small towns, the different communities that are scattered about our route reminds us of how diverse our nation is.
This trip has also been made easier by the thoughts and prayers that so many of you have shared with us. We are so thankful that we have the flexibility we need right now to take this trip. Let me just say another thank-you for all of the support we feel during this trip.
I'm happy to be traveling in our nice Honda CRV. I think Doug has a dream that one day, we'll travel like this couple on a big motorcycle. Except that he would want to add a sidecar for Tanner, of course.