May 21, 2010

"I just needed some AIR to my body..."
This is a long post - you may need a snack to sustain you to the end...

Moving to the farm was an enormous change.

When I was raising my six children our home was the "bus stop" house.  Three times each day ( from the elementary school, middle school, or high school) I would hear the squeal of the air brakes on the school bus, the opening of the back door, and footsteps coming up the stairs to the kitchen. 
 But I never knew whose face might appear. 
It could be one of my own, or one of the neighbor kids, or a friend, or a relative or any combination of the above.
And I loved it.   
 Later, when the kids were raised and having their own families, an unexpected opportunity came and I started a career in teaching.
For the next ten years I was accustomed to spending each day surrounded by students and people at work.  There, I was immersed in  teaching with it's exchanges of ideas and   discussions and social interractions of every kind. 
I had a large extended family with parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, sons, daughters and enough grandchildren for ten people. I saw them every day and visited, and was visited by,  those who were not so near, on a regular basis.  
And if that wasn't enough, as the president of a women's organization comprised of 1100 members, there were friends everywhere...
and they were DEAR friends.
A new life, God-given, exciting, and fulfilling though it promised to be, meant
leaving all that behind.
On the farm, the boys left for school each day between 7:00 and 8:00 A.M. and didn't return until 3:00 P.M. (Gustav in Junsele) and 5:00 P.M. (Manny in Sollefteå) respectively. 
 Hans had contractual obligations signed from almost a year before our marriage that necessitated him being absent for a great deal of the time.
I didn't speak the language.
I didn't know the people. 
It was the dead of winter on a farm in northern Sweden.

Like the little four year old who responded when asked why she had taken off all her clothes:
"I just needed some air to my body".

During those few first months of adjustment, as much as I embraced my new situation, sometimes I needed some "air" emotionally and physically to help me with the transition.

This was my answer.

When I felt hemmed in, at a loose end,  overwhelmed with the unfamiliarity of it all, or isolated and lonely,
I went into the village.

There, there were dear people with kind hearts. 

   Tomas, on the left,  is the butcher in the neighborhood ICA grocery store. Jörgen, on the right is the manager - he came to Junsele with his young family just one month before I did, also starting a new adventure after living for seventeen years in Örnsköldsvik.  Both of these kind men spoke English, but more importantly, they spoke "Friendship" fluently.  
They talked to me about life on the farm.  They talked to me about learning to
cook on the woodstove.  They talked to me about the new chili coated salami that had just come into the ICA butcher shop.  They talked to me about the differences in Swedish culture, and what was the best pickled herring recipe.  When Tomas's beloved mother-in-law passed away, he talked to me about her goodness and patience when she was gravely ill.  When Jörgen came back from visiting his father, he talked to me about his warm and wonderful childhood memories.
When I needed some interractive "air", they pumped it in.
And they weren't alone....

Margita, owner of the local drapery, fabric and sewing supplies store came to my rescue one afternoon when I was trying to make a dent in the huge pile of mending at home.  I needed a smiling face to lift my spirits and a white button to repair a torn duvet cover.   With no ability to speak to her, I unearthed  one of  the existing buttons from my purse and presented it.  She took a look, went straight into a room at the back, got out her own button jar, brought it to the front,  poured it out onto the counter and found a white button that matched.
 I didn't know  until much later that
 Margita didn't even sell buttons! 

I met Laila Jakobsson from Jakobsson's Blommor och Hantverk (Flowers and Handwork) during my first winter when I was on yet another problem-solving quest to find much-needed wild moss.  That fuzzy, fluffy stuff is put between the double windows on the farm to absorb moisture during the cold weather so the view is not obscured by fogging.  What had been gathered from the forest the previous autumn was not enough, so when the time came, we were short by A LOT.  That day, in her cozy boutique, she shared her stash of winter moss with a stranger..

These two angels are as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside. 
Before my home in Utah was sold, the challenge of trying to keep all the financial responsibilities attended to from half way around the world was monumentally frustrating.  It seemed I was perpetually  
 'a day late and a dollar short'.   Mahlin and Annica, at Handelsbanken (the bank) jumped through flaming hoops to help me with currency transfers and every other conceivable banking need.
 No more money frazzles. 

  And how about this scenario: 

 Hans was away, it was -37 degrees outside and blizzarding.  The time came to pick up Manny from the school bus in Junsele.  Bundled up, I trekked to the old machine hall to start the car but when I turned the key, there was a weird noise and within seconds smoke was coming from under the hood.
Truly lovely.
Could anything be normal and easy?
Something in me said all I had to do was try and make it to the Däckservice Garage and "that man" (Ulf)  would work his magic on it, even after closing.  You can see by the picture, not only is he a great mechanic, he also has a great sense of humor and a GREAT heart. He was indeed the "Auto Guru". And he did indeed fix the car (even after hours).
It made me feel safe again and it was starting to feel like 
I could breathe.

 Anya on the right,  had graduated from cosmetology school and at 20 years old wanted to start her own business.  She needed some space to open her "Salong" in Junsele. I hoped she would be able to find it so there would be a place to get my hair cut without travelling all the way to Övik, which proved to be impossible given the circumstances of my everyday life..
Ulf portioned off a part of his auto storage building for her so she could set up shop.

 Look through the slats in the entryway by the door.  Past the beauty poster you can see  some hot blue wheels!. 
Thanks to Ulf, she's up and running just like the cars, and
 She's doing great!

  It didn't take long to figure out that my prior wardrobe was simply not going to cut it on the farm.  Weeding out was a daunting prospect, there were so many memories attached to some of those clothes... but I started.  I remembered seeing a Red Cross sign in the village, so as I bagged things up  I thought I would take them in and see if I could donate them.
(Anyone recognize the cream shoes in the window?) 
 It was freezing cold outside but toasty warm inside and when I opened the door, my arms full of bags, this is what I saw. The volunteers  were celebrating a birthday for one of their friends.   They welcomed me in like they had known me forever.   The lady with the red hair kneeling down at the right had worked in a newsstand and taught herself English by reading the papers each day so I could TALK to her.

And the Birthday Girl was 91 years old!
Can you believe it?

Skog och Trädgård (Forest and Garden) was  the hub for all hardware, paint, winter workwear, rebar, snowmobile repair, 
You name it. 
It's owner Mats (on the left) and his right hand man Marco, ran it all.
When I needed a reliable stool for putting up the milk hoses in the barn,
they had it.
When I wanted a single edge razor blade for slashing my homemade breads,
they had it.
When it was time to  put a knob on the kitchen drawer instead of the temporary screw that was there,
they had it.
It was starting to get easier!

Remember in "Going, Going, Gone - Part I" when we were hustling to get everything done to have Manny ready for his mission?  We went to Micke at Allmontage and he sewed up the back of Manny's Sunday shoes?
Well, here he is.  And he does a little bit of  EVERYTHING as his company name would suggest.
If I:
 needed a new wood bag to carry up the logs for the woodstove, 
needed replacement glass to fix a window,
needed the leather seat on the snowmobile repaired,
needed some fun conversation and jokes and imaginative business ideas,
I went to Allmontage.
(See the light on the underside of the brim of his hat?  I told you he was fun!)

 And speaking of good humor...
Here are the guys at Gomoran Pizza which in a strange semantical twist of fate can be translated to mean:
"Good Morning Pizza"
"Pretty Lady Pizza"
"Mafiosa Pizza"

Take your pick! 

Since eating out for our family is a "next to never" activity, I was astounded when, with a six month interval between visits, these two pizza entrepreneurs not only remembered my name, but what I had ordered half a year before!
Pretty savvy businessmen! 
Are you still with me?

This post would never be complete without the last two entries. 
The first is
Run by Gunnar Edin and his mother, this family owned business has spanned multiple generations,  

There doesn't seem to be a square inch inside that doesn't have something to make your life run more smoothly. 
 From dolly carriages to dustpans, from toys to teapots, from casseroles to clothing.
 Just about anything outside the realm of food or gas could be found at Edin's.
 Gunnar would look at my "Edin's List" and  lead me in and out of the nooks and crannies of the store,  finding every article that was required.
It was always amazing and he was always kind.

And lastly,

The "OK"
("Oh-Koh" in Swedish)

 If there was a contest for such a thing as a  'Mecca' in Junsele, it would be a tie between the ICA and the OK.
At the OK I could buy my gas from the cute owner, Kiki, who REALLY had it snapped together!
I could post off my letters and parcels with the help of Jimmie, who kept me 

                                                                                                 and  the rest of the customers more than a little entertained with his ever-changing hairstyles. This was one of the most conservative offerings, both in color and altitude. 
 I could buy "E-Free" (no preservatives of any kind) ice cream treats for Hans and the boys,  

or a french hotdog dropped from the top into a reamed out tubular bun and often served with shrimp salad on it (of all things),  from smiley Jessica, one half of the team of Peter and Jessica who both worked there.
If I longed to have one part of my life that wasn't covered with snow and ice, if only momentarily,  for a nominal fee I could wash the car inside and out in the "Gör det själv"  (Do it Yourself) heated garage.  Between the physical energy that expended and the bits of village "news" from the staff (who's dating who, who's expecting a baby),
 I felt cheered up!

Even in the short span of three years, there have been some changes...

The  Co-op store with it's housewares and bedding and helpful cashiers has closed.

The big stucco house down by the Junsele Skolan (school) that was originally a family shoe store and then a Loppis for the community has a "Stängt" sign in the window after over forty years. The aging owners, Siv (pictured with a friend below) and her husband, closed up shop and moved into the Gunilla Gården Retirement Center. 
When I met Siv unexpectedly in the parking lot a few days ago she recognized me instantly and threw her arms around me, talking and talking in Swedish.  All I could understand was a repeated word that sounded like "Texas".  I asked Hans what it meant and he said that the locals all call the multi-story retirement center with it's pink exterior and modernistic top-to-bottom glass window column in front "The Texas" because they think it looks like something that would have been built in Dallas. 

I'll miss seeing her.

Perhaps in the broad spectrum of my new life,
has been in me.
I've loved having a strong and supportive husband and was unaware of how far-reaching the impact of that presence would be for me personally.
I have always loved my role as a mother and grandmother to my biological children and grandchildren.  They are dearer to me than life itself. 
 And now I have the opportunity to play a role
  in the lives of the children and grandchildren I have acquired with this marriage. I love them like my own.
 I've learned about the care of the animals, the garden, the food processing, the wood stove, the root cellar and a multitude of  other skills I never imagined would be necessary for me to know. 
Gratefully, my parents taught me the value of work, and I have always felt I understood that,
but in farm life, there is a level of work and discipline that is beyond what I had experienced before.  It has added a new dimension to my understanding.

I don't ever feel hemmed in.  I feel free as a bird.
I can't remember the last time I felt I was at a loose end. There is WAY too much to do.
I seldom feel overwhelmed, and if I do, it passes almost immediately. 
But most of all,  
I NEVER feel isolated or lonely.
I have the love of my family and friends, old and new, each of whom, like the cheery sign below and through their words and actions have said...

I have ALL the air I need!

May 17, 2010


For a good part of the year, this is what it looks like when we leave for church on Sunday morning.  We have to travel about an hour and a half each way so Sundays are probably our most challenging day.
Before we ever put our foot into the car there's a lot to be done.

The food that will be eaten between five and six hours later has to be prepared and put into the oven so it will be ready when we come home.
It's always the same:
A roast of our beef that is browned and laid in the large oval cast iron baker, sprinkled with salt, pepper and herbs (fresh in the summer from our garden, dried in the winter from the storage), then onions, turnips and carrots from the root cellar or garden, on top.
Add a little broth, on with the cover and into the oven it goes to braise slowly while we're away.

Of course, before we leave, all the barn chores have to be done and all the animals have to be fed, and so do the hungry men and boys who are doing that early morning work for upwards of three hours.

Fur or skin, the question is the same -
" it time for the food yet?"

Everyone showers, the Sunday clothes are put on, we eat, the kitchen is cleaned up, and finally we head out.
Along the way are a few historical landmarks that are of special interest to our family and evoke the same response each and every time we make the trip.
All of these may be filed under the heading 
"Driving Too Fast for Existing Conditions."

The site on the left,
 affectionately known as "Oskar's Crossroads" is the location of a failed attempt to negotiate the turn at the "T".  Barely missing the blue signs, he sailed right on through,  fenders kissing the pine trees as he plunged into the forest beyond. This venue does double duty, however, as it also qualifies as "Louise's T" in reference to the magic moment when she rammed the car in front of her through the same intersection from behind, austensibly against its owner's will. 
Then on the right is "Papa's Curve".  The minute it comes into view someone in the car begins the vocal interp:
(simulating Papa's alarmed voice as he felt the black ice beneath the wheels)
followed by various mouth noises in an attempt to recreate the audio portion of a Volvo station wagon skidding off the road and doing a 3/4 flip into the snow-filled ditch.  On that memorable day we were going to a church meeting in Umeå, about three hours north, and had the entire back of the car filled with decorated cakes.  When we flipped, the window shattered and the cakes flew out all over the adjacent hillside.  The car was totalled, but miraculously, no one was hurt and the boys considered it a great adventure to hoist themselves (and Hans and I) up and out of the window of the overturned car. 

Certainly no excursion would be complete without "Sophia's Curve" which in this picture does not appear anywhere near as steep as it is in real life.  According to the family legend, careening down the wintry hill from beyond the farm on the right, Sophia, free spirit that she is, projectiled herself, the car and its four passengers off the icy road and directly into the forest.  Again, miraculously, no one was hurt, and the heartwarming ending of the story always includes the kindness of the farm family who took them all in and gave them hot chocolate and vaniljbullar (vanilla custard buns). 

In three and a half years of driving this route to Church, regardless of the weather,  we have only had one Sunday where we didn't see this little man walking along the road just past a village named Gala, for his morning constitutional.  With his rosy cheeks and short, sturdy build he looks dangerously close to a Tomte (Swedish elf). We stopped one day and asked if we could take his picture but he waved us away brusquely, disgusted at the request AND the interruption of his walk.
(We took that as a "NO" so only got the rear view).
Also,  from September to April we are kept alert while traversing 
"Reindeer Row",
the 12km stretch between Oskar and Louise's "T" intersection and the historic village of Mickelgensjö. The herds have no fear of vehicles and feel no compunction to move when a car is coming.  We have tried honking loudly, slowing down, speeding up, shouting out the window...nothing makes any difference.

In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon)  the congregations are called Branches or Wards.  If you are a small group, you belong to a Branch & District, if larger, you belong to a Ward & Stake.

We belong to the Örnsköldsvik Gren (Branch), Umeå District.
The city of Örnsköldsvik (Urn-sholds-veek) is known for two things:  a populace with an unusually strong interest in religion, especially for the country of Sweden, and the fact that as a city it sends more players to the NHL (National Hockey League)  than any other city in the world.  In fact, statistically, this medium sized community of approximately 70,000 people would normally have to have a population of 12,000,000 people to generate as much talent as it does onto the surface of North America's ice rinks.
Nestled in an inlet of the Baltic Sea, it is our destination point for church services each Sunday.

Hans and I were married in our Branch meeting hall in Övik (Ur-veek), as it is called for short.  I had only been in Sweden five days and the District President at the time, Torbjörn Jälmbrandt, came down from Umeå to perform the ceremony. 
It was Sunday and it was Christmas Eve 2006.
We had a lovely Sacrament meeting with an emphasis on the birth of the Savior and all that surrounds that beautiful event.
Then after the closing prayer, the  congregation was invited to stay and we had a beautiful event of our own.

A sweet friend of Hans' family from the village of Junsele provided the traditional Angermanland Costume for me to wear and our little Branch of Saints were our wedding guests. 
 It was the first time I had been in the building. 

 We met Magnus and Maria, who themselves had only been married a few weeks before.  She had come from Angola via Portugal and he was from Örnsköldsvik.  We had Åke and Kristina Ottosson (bottom left) and their son Jan with his wife Katti and their children, Viktor, Frida and Smilla (bottom right), who had been members of the Church for decades and a sustaining force in our little Branch.
And in just three short years we have come to know and love more and more members, from all over the world. 
We have Carlos from Argentina who is married to Kim Hourt from Cambodia,  we have Judith, a recently baptized convert who is now serving as the secretary to the Women's Presidency,

And we have WEK! from Sudan..
"Mr. Colorful" in EVERY respect.

There are others from Liberia, Congo, the U.S., Iran, Iraq, Great Britain and many parts of Sweden. 
There are French speakers, Khmer speakers, English speakers, and more African dialects than you could count among them.
And 95% of us are currently trying to learn Swedish!
For the most part we only see each other once a week on Sunday,
but we are bonded together as a Branch family by our faith.

That's my Canadian down coat that Gustav is snuggled up in while he 'snores the big one' on the way home after the meetings. It's a challenging day by the time we get everything accomplished and head back. 

This picture was taken six and a half hours later than the one at the beginning of the post as we returned on the same evening.
It was the last week of April.
Like Gustav we were all tired, but it had been a good, good day.

In Isaiah 11:12 it says:
"And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four 'corners' of the earth."
In this scripture the Hebrew word 'kanaph' is translated as 'corner' but a closer meaning could be 'extremity'.

It is safe to say that our group in the Örnsköldsvik Gren comes from the 'extremities' of our earth.  As individuals we have many languages, ethnic origins and personal difficulties that we face.
But our hearts are indeed "gathered together"  as we assemble each Sunday,
We are SO glad.

We love our Branch!