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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Luxembourg

     It was a true honor to be invited to the All Nations Church of Luxembourg's autumn retreat as their speaker. The pastor and his wife have become good friends of mine through the International church association Immanuel belongs to so it was also a real bonus to get to spend time with them. They are a warm, gracious, hospitable couple and it was really great to meet so many wonderful people in their church.
     Luxembourg is an interesting city. As one of the seats of the European Union, EU employees make up a huge percentage of people living there. The church reflects this reality. Because Luxembourg is small yet very expensive, people often choose to live in Belgium, France or Germany and commute into town. After living in Stockholm for 16.5 years, where the nearest border is at least 8 hours away, this represented a new and fascinating concept for me. In fact, the retreat itself was in a small town called Kyllburg, Germany, a mere 1 hour and 15 minute drive from Lux City.
The retreat center was very lovely. The rooms were very comfortable each equipped with private bathrooms. The food was basic German fare...heavy breads, lots of meat, simple salads. All good. Beer and wine were available all weekend long at a very low cost. This was different than most church retreats I have been a part of and it was refreshing to not have such a taboo attitude toward alcohol. There was no over-drinking at all and it simply reflected how beer and wine are really just a couple of beverage choices in central Europe. I had a bit of free time before the retreat began so took a little wander through the village. I came upon this war memorial and cemetery. I realized that every village in Germany has felt the devastating impact of WWI and WWII. Innocents along with the rest of the world, simply doing what their government expected of them. The listed names represented the young men of the village and the percentage of men lost in relationship to the overall population of the village was likely quite high. Upon awakening Saturday, this amazing view with sunrise colors mingling with fog greeted me.
     Over the course of the weekend, I spoke 4 times and enjoyed a variety of conversations with a broad array of people. Highlights included a quiz night and a bonfire under a wonderful canopy of stars. We were blessed with a near summer like day on Saturday where the temperature hovered around 21°C or 72°F. A bbq lunch had been planned and it turned out even better than we ever expected due to the warmth and sunshine. After lunch, I enjoyed a beautiful walk in the woods with several folks and took in the autumn color against a sapphire sky. Sunday was my birthday and the congregation greeted me with a rousing round of the birthday song and even baked a cake to serve after lunch. Very nice indeed. Sunday night we returned to Lux city, happy, content and tired.
     Monday was an extra day I'd given myself considering the fact that I won't likely be returning to Luxembourg any time soon! After a very relaxing morning, Paul took me to La Table au Pain...a bakery that two people who used to live in Lux highly recommended for their lemon tarts. Feeling in the mood for a sandwich on a crusty baguette, I trusted Paul's French to lead me to a beef sandwich smothered in parmesan. I was a bit surprised when it turned up as steak tartare. For future reference, if you see (cru) next to the beef, it means raw.   I have never had steak tartare and thought, well, when in Rome...so I bit into the hamburger and found it, well, interesting. The bread was heavenly so I simply decided to enjoy it as a new item in my taste palette. Frankly, I didn't find it so very good or so very bad. Needed more seasoning and there are other textures that I would enjoy more. Anyway, that was just something to munch on before dessert. Since we were taking an entire lemon tart home for dessert that night, I tried the cherry tart instead and was not disappointed.
     A walk through gorgeous, quaint Luxembourg city awaited us. There were beautiful overlooks to take in, fascinating architecture, and lovely squares dotting the city. The Protestant church in town was very beautiful. Paul shared with me that during WWII, families sent their boys into the woods to shield them from serving under the Nazi occupation. But the Nazis took hold of the baptismal records and discovered that there were many more boys available than families had stated. They imprisoned and tortured family members in order to find out where these boys were. To this day, many Luxembourgers do not want their information written down, a residual of this betrayal. It was fun to just wander the streets taking it all in. Luxembourg has an interesting motto that deeply reflects their fight to retain who they are even though small in size:
In LuxembourgishMir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn" which means, "We want to remain what we are."
     As an added treat, my friends had arranged for me to have a rejuvenating afternoon at the hands of a dear woman from their church who is a masseuse. I cannot quite explain the delight I took in this very relaxing and restorative afternoon. That evening, Paul and Beth hosted a dinner with our good friends from the International Church in Brussels. It was a delight to connect with these dear friends, talk a little church life and share broadly and warmly from our current contexts. The lemon tart did not disappoint and I went to bed clearly grateful for a day of total indulgence.

I am writing this from a Swiss Air flight from Zurich to Stockholm. The flight attendant has just delivered a small piece of Swiss chocolate so I think it's time to close and savor yet one more gift from an incredible weekend.   

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Bedtime for Boat

The boating season has come to a close once again. We had one last ride with good friends on Monday. It was freezing cold but still fun to enjoy driving through the city and taking in the wide open sea. But alas, the chill is coming on strong and the daylight is diminishing quickly so we must bid farewell to this favored hobby once again.
After a crazy rain storm, yesterday broke into a beautifully warm evening. I decided to make my way out to the marina and give the boat a good scrub down. I'm glad I did. It was so lovely and cleaning provides a good stress reliever for me and actually ended up being a pretty good workout! The warm evening with a gorgeous setting sun was a real bonus.
Too bad the boat was never this clean while we were actually using it! But there is an element of satisfaction in watching something really dirty emerge into something really clean. I think this is especially satisfying for those of us who work in professions where a clear beginning and a clear ending of tasks is sometimes ambiguous. Cleaning is very therapeutic for me and I think it's because the end point is visibly different than the start point. Cleaning provides a satisfying sense of accomplishment! But enough about my mild OCD.
What always amazes me is how much dog hair lingers on the boat! Doug and I both enjoy the boat very much but Tanner LOVES it! And there is no lack of evidence of his presence on our boat! But I think I successfully removed most of the dog hair from the surfaces, the wells, and the cushions! Good thing he doesn't have longer hair!
When I arrived home, Doug had found this collection of Tanner jackets! It's quite a size evolution, don't you think? Tanner was most interested in the vests as I'm sure he could tell that they smelled like him! When we first tried to put the puppy jacket on him, he wasn't so sure. Eventually he allowed me to slip it over his head but there was no fastening it! He has always loved the boat. When he was a little puppy, he was the most calm on the boat. I loved being with him on the boat because he just cuddled up and settled down. 
As I stood admire my handy work, the moon was rising up over the clubhouse. It took my breath away with its size and light. All day long friends on other sides of the world were posting about the eclipse and now I was finally seeing that same moon. It was almost as if God was giving me one last precious gift as the boating season comes to a close once again. I left the marina filled with the beauty of our surroundings.
We had a great summer with the Finnmaster this year and those memories will sustain us until it is time to clean it once again...after a cold and dark winter.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Time Moves On

Six months ago, I was in the middle of watching my dear dad die. April 3-4, 2014 ended up being one of the longest nights of my life and finally, at 6.30 a.m. on April 4, he left us. Can't quite grasp that it was 6 months ago. Still feels like yesterday and I miss him every bit as much today as I did then. The raw grief has subsided of course, but my longing to have his company in my life has only increased.
There are catalysts for feeling this way. Our favorite baseball team the Los Angeles Angels (who in my heart will ALWAYS be called the California Angels) won the western division and are now in the play-offs. My parents were die hard fans from almost the beginning. I grew up 3 miles from Angel Stadium and so we spent a lot of time at the ball park. The stadium was nicknamed the Big A because of the fantastic scoreboard that was shaped like an A and topped with a halo! When the Angels won, the halo blinked.
This was a fun signal in the days before you could access information from your mobile phone! After my folks quit going to games so often, they watched endlessly on TV. Baseball was our constant companion during the months that my mom was really sick because it was something we could all do together without much stress. Except for the yelling at the TV! Finally in 2002 they won their first world series. I got up at 4.00 am and got on the phone with my folks so could "see" the win together. (Pre Skype). So, with the team doing well again this year, it has made me nostalgic for sharing this aspect of life together. I'm cheering hard for the halos and with any luck will be able to add Tanner to this gem of our sweet dog Lucy, celebrating with me after the last World Series!
Another unexpected grief prompter has been the start of the American Football season in the US. I have always loved football season given that it was part of my DNA as I was growing up. And in the years when I lived in another part of the US than my parents, there were frequent phone calls to dispute calls, yell at the ref, ridicule the play calling and cheer! Once in Sweden, the time change made it hard to do live check-ins but there was a part of every week that included talk of football. Now it's actually a little hard for me to watch the game because it rouses such a longing to talk with my father. I'm super disinterested in the NFL but will continue with college but it's just amazing to me what pangs of sadness emerge when I see something that I know he'd love. He would be very sad about what's going on in the NFL and the hard hitting and head injuries have long been a concern for him. He often said that the US's thirst for violence will never allow the NFL to back off. Well, maybe now they will have to or the entire game is going to implode. Anyway...I got the greatest note from the daughter of my dad's defensive coordinator who had passed on 4 years ago. Sadly, our moms both died of ovarian cancer. Our fathers were characters together and created a stunningly winning atmosphere for their players. She shared many of my feelings and it was such a great comfort to feel like there was someone in my "football" past who knew what I was talking about. I must say too, so many of the former players have been just lovely, sending a note, commenting on Facebook...classy boys those former champions are. Incidentally, he won his first championship at... The Big A!
The big news today is that I just sold my parent's house! It feels good and weird. It ends yet another place of memory for me. I will look forward to meeting the new owner when we're back in Palm Springs next and hopefully she'll let me pick some grapefruit from my dad's, um, her tree. That was a lovely dwelling for my folks in their final years and I hope whoever moves in enjoys it and keep it looking good.
Finally, in about 2 weeks I will have a birthday. The first birthday without either parent present on this earth to remember the day I was born. These are all milestones along the journey of life that we must embrace. But I'm not sure I will be able to cheer for the Angels, watch football, drive through the south end of Palm Springs or celebrate turning a year older without feeling the deep ache, both joy and sorrow, of no longer sharing these beautiful things with my folks. Peace to their memory which lives on in every corner of my heart and mind.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Autumn Splendor

Britt Sommar, Indian Summer, warm September days...whatever you call them, they are a glorious. We had a wonderful window to get out on the Finnmaster for a drive through town with some good friends who have never had the pleasure of seeing Stockholm from the water. So we packed up a picnic and headed out to enjoy the changing colors surrounding Stockholm.
I never tire of the view as we head into the Djurgården canal. The sun was shining brightly lighting up a near cloudless sapphire sky and creating a dazzling effect on the leaves. The temperature was a bit chilly in the wind but the sun was warm and we were all happy to be taking in the beauty.
After admiring what is for sure one of the most beautiful cities in the world, we headed back out the canal and stopped at Fjäderholmarna, the closest of the islands in the archipelago. On a hot summer day this island teems with tourists, but at the end of September, when the restaurants and shops are buttoned up for the winter, we had it all to ourselves. Tanner was the king of the island, and enjoyed running freely up, down, and all around! He

went swimming but the look on his face seemed to indicate that it's even getting a bit on the cold side for him!
After a enjoying a wonderful picnic lunch, we relaxed in the sunshine. Eventually we felt motivated to explore the deserted island on foot. These fish heads welcomed us!   One of the posh restaurants where a reservation is hard to come by in the summer, was, of course, closed, but their terrace was simply beckoning us to come and sit down. The ivy was turning its fiery red, the flower pots were still blooming with lovely arrangements and the sun was shining in the just the right way. Incredible that we could simply enjoy the terrace of this nice restaurant. Next time, if we get a next time within the next couple of weeks, we'll probably just take our picnic to these lovely tables!
Soon it was time to head in. The sun sets quite quickly these days even though we still have daylight until about 6.00 p.m. 
We all agreed that we were quite tired, but in a relaxed, soothing sort of way. Winter, spring, summer or fall, Stockholm is beautiful through it all. But for sure, I'm happy to soak up the sunshine while it is still warmish and rising high in the sky. 

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

On Being A Kid Again

This past summer, our good friends, Jim and Cathy along with their adorable daughter Kajsa came to Stockholm. We were very happy to get to spend lots of different kinds of time with them including a day on our boat and an evening in our home. The night they were with us in our home, Kajsa found my stash of children's books that I've kept with me since childhood. Even though we never had kids, these books are a part of me, a part of my life. I am so thankful that my parents instilled me a joy of reading that endures today. The books that I have with me are reminders of this time. Kajsa was drawn to a book that reminded me of a very special event in my own childhood.
That book was a riddle book that I've had as long as I can remember. I'm sure it comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me well that I loved telling jokes as a kid! In fact, it was a joke from this book that eventually led to my television debut in 1967. I was one of the kids who appeared on Art Linkletter's segment of his House Party called Kids Say the Darndest Things! 
It was standard practice for CBS to send scouts out to the greater Los Angeles schools looking for kids who might do well on the show. As luck would have it, they wanted second graders so I was sent to the principal's office with two of my best friends. I NEVER got sent to the principal's office so was utterly unsure what this could be about. We walked in to find a group of men in black suits just sitting in the office. They didn't say a word, just had us sit down among them. Well, the silence was killing me so I decided to start telling jokes! And the jokes that I knew best were out of this riddle book! So I started in: What kind of bird is like a car? A goose because they both honk! I suppose I showed enough precocious cuteness that the producers decided I would come up with silly enough answers to delight the audience. Too bad this was pre-VCR...only a reel to reel audio tape remains...and a few photographs that a friend took off the TV.
Incidentally, one of my prizes was set of children's books that I still have to this day.
Well, anyway...back to Kajsa. She was absolutely enthralled with this book and couldn't wait to read through every joke with us!
Note the presence of Pippi Longstockings and her horse by her side!
I actually did chime in with my goose joke but she had already read it and knew the answer! Anyway...her delight in this book was so special to me that I decided that she would enjoy that book in her possession much more than I would enjoy it on my shelf, so on their last day in Stockholm, I walked over to their hotel and gave her the book. Truth be told, giving her the book is what brought me the most joy...
I suppose somewhere in her silly demeanor and her joy in telling these jokes I saw a bit of myself at 7 years of age. It was really special to enjoy this resonance with a child. And her folks said that she carried the book with her on the rest of their trip, reading it to all who would listen.
I hope she memorizes the jokes and tells them for a good long while. And who knows, maybe she'll be in the right place at the right time and that honking goose joke will catapult her into a television career. At any rate...it's a special connection with a very special little girl.