Chilly day/Warm neighborhood

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-       Can we sit outside?
Now that?s probably the most common phrase in Northern Sweden during the summer. Combined with glances at the sky, looking for a crack in the clouds for the sun or worries about rain showers. And since we are directed indoors by the climate at least seven months of the year, the optimistic and brave answer for that question is often: we?ll give it a try! And then we put the fleece jackets on and wrap ourselves in blankets and shiver in the wind for a couple of hours while having our fika (coffee/tea with a little something), but hey, we are sitting outside!
I just had one of those moments this afternoon. My village is basically three parallel roads running north-south. I live on the upper road, at the foot of Dry Mountain. On a about a quarter of a mile (500 m) stretch there are seven houses, and I am at the south end. Next to me are Alida and her family who have been there since 1939, and of course all my life. Change of ownership of the homes on my road are very rare, but during this winter two new families have moved in, last time we had that kind of circulation was twenty years ago!
So, new neighbors are a big thing. Big thing! Will they be someone who I feel comfortable asking for a breakfast egg if I am out of it? Someone who merrily assists me when the car battery is dead? Someone to once in a while have a fika with? Or, will they even be someone to enjoy and have fun with?!
And I have to say, this time around, my road has scored! Next to Alida now, there is Ondina and her late teenage kids, and next to them Jenny and Hannes in their early thirties. They are all very much into gardening and nursing, so Ondina will take care of my hops babies growing like weed around my front porch and she is offered rhubarb from Alida?s prosperous beds.
Jenny and Hannes on the other hand are committed to trying out alternative farming and are interested in the overabundance of rocks around my place and the piles of sticks in my groves! Ondina?s son turned out being a gem washing and waxing my cars all shiny (I am paying him of course), and the other week when a splinter in my foot made me limp, Jenny was my nurse taking it out with a tweezers! As a neighborly service in return I was able to provide her oatmeal and cacao the other day when she was in need. Love it!
Today everyone at the road was invited to Jenny and Hannes for a getting-to-know-each-other fika. The regular Swedish very windy summer has arrived with temperatures at maximum 59° (15°C), overcast and rain. So, the question was, could we sit outside? Yes we could. It was pretty chilly, but the burgeoning warmth between people who not yet know each other but in good spirits are making an effort to start building something together made us stay a lot longer than the weather was telling us to. And we had so much fun!
Our new neighbors have dreamy plans of keeping chickens and beehives. What about Alida?s old chicken coop, would it be possible to move? And did anyone know if there were ever livestock in Jenny and Hannes? old barn?
Alida knew, of course. Alida turned 96 this Wednesday. This last winter has been hard on her. She has lost more of her sight and her hearing is failing her. She enjoys company on-one, but groups are difficult. Last night her family of four generations and I celebrated her birthday and she was very reluctant to joining the neighborhood fika today. She told us she felt uncomfortable and old, outside and a burden. We tried to make her understand that she had a very important role though. That her job as the senior of seniors was to bid her welcome to the young newcomers.
And so she took her walker to her new neighbors. She sat at the table in her lovely red woolen sweater, tanned from all the hours in the sun this early summer. Her eyes a bit dim from glaucoma. Her mind wandering. So what about the barn, were there ever livestock in there?
Of course! Alida?s eyes are full of life again. The old lady Wahlqvist kept one cow and a pig in this barn, probably built 1927. There, we got our answer! And it seems very appropriate to put some kind of life into that barn again.
So, will my new neighbors be someone to once in a while have a fika with? Of course! Or, will they even be someone to enjoy and have fun with?! Absolutely!! We are already planning on our next occasion; a summer potluck, probably at my place where the sun lingers until it sets in the late evening. I am so happy. I can?t believe how lucky I am. I actually think this will change my life. And I am looking forward to a long summer, rain or shine, with my newfound friends building our little community at the foot of Dry Mountain.

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The Light Box

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I can picture it perfectly. It?s a rectangular box with sharp edges, even the top. It?s transparent and shiny and mirroring the surroundings. The longer sides and the back are convertible so that there is no inside and outside on a sunny and warm day. I am not sure how big it is, maybe 500-700 people, but with the sides and the back open allowing everyone who wants to join whatever happens in the front, it?s unlimited. I am talking about The Light Box!
We all know what a Black Box is. A dark room for theater and concerts. In Umeå there is also a White Box, a kind of gallery. The Black Box is of course perfect for it?s purposes. Total control of the light on stage and in the room. And during the dark parts of the year it?s nice and cozy to slip in to a warm and dim place to be entertained for an hour or two. This time of year, on the other hand, the Black Boxes feel like a gloomy sack, and you have to be really motivated to trade the precious early summer light outside for hours in the dark.
I am talking about living on the 64th latitude. Right now the day gets 40 minutes longer every week! Well, that is true for two more weeks, then it starts going the other direction and we are all panicking. Tonight the sun is setting 10.47 PM, rests for a little while beneath the horizon and rises again at 2.29 AM. No one in their right mind spends one minute more of the day inside than they have to! Trying to get people to pay money for being inside, no matter how interesting it might be, is like thinking you could get anyone to purchase time outside in January? good luck with that!
So, I frankly think my idea is brilliant! No more no less than a stage in a glass room! Letting us be inside and still not missing out of the rare and short-lived light that allures and haunts us.
To be honest, usually this time of year is only about the light. May and June can be disappointingly chilly, even cold, and a lot of times rainy and windy. So no matter how lovely it sounds, outdoor concerts and theatre is a very risky business for everyone involved. Now, imagine having the advantages of the light and the safety of a closed room! And when the light is combined with warm weather: an open room! Isn?t this just the perfect example of eating the cake and having it too?!

OK, so: a rectangular glass box with sharp edges. Transparent and shiny reflecting the surroundings. Walls convertible, erasing the lines between inside and outside. I was initially thinking the waterfront as the location for it. I still would like that, the closeness to the blue river and the new building for cultural arts, Väven, is attractive. But it?s filling up down there. And the whole idea of making the Light Box accessible to a lot more people than the 5-700 who can be seated inside requires a pretty big area. I am not done with the exact planes here as you can tell, but give me some time and I will!
Now, you might be thinking, what about the winter? Fair question. But not to worry. Glass nowadays is a very durable material and can be energy sufficient too. The box will get a winter coat on the roof though, an extra layer on top of the glass. 
And I can picture it perfectly. A lit up glass room surrounded by white snow, frost and alight torches. Winter and summer a diamond cut for eye and ear, adding a missing piece to the scenery and the scene: The Light Box!

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A setting for dear memories

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I am not sure if they are some kind of cherry trees, paradise apples maybe. Those in front of the church in the small town of Nordmaling south of Umeå, where my sister and I grew up. My childhood memory is those trees being absolutely covered in white at Midsummers, our celebration of summer solstice. I have been thinking time has made them more shimmering then they were, as our Midsummers are an unsullied sunny rare memory without dark edges or shadows.
But they are actually for real, those trees, we are noting in amazement at our arrival. It is still only May, but an unreal 80° (27°C) summers day on Friday when the family on my father?s side was gathered for yet another funeral. My dear uncle Lennart passed away some weeks ago only a few months after being diagnosed with cancer. Lennart was a tall, strong, handsome, elegant, well dressed, vital man who loved his senior life at the family beach house, and although he should have turned 82 just a few days ago, his passage was unexpected and much too early. And as Lennart was the last male in my parent?s generation we had to say goodbye to, it was a milestone to reflect and remain on.
He was an in-law, married to my father?s baby sister Barbro. They had 60 happy years together, and up until the end they still looked at each other with the glittering eyes of a couple who just fell in love. On Midsummer Eve 1956 they married in the white medieval church in Nordmaling, and now it was time for Barbro to say farewell to her husband, friend and life companion at the altar where they promised each other a life together in sickness and health.
I am thinking, the setting for the days of the wedding and the funeral might have been identical. This year?s spring was cold and at least three weeks late. Then the warm weather came over night about two weeks ago and has stayed with us making the nature explode and now we are three weeks early! Apple trees, cherries, lilacs, red campion, buttercup, cranesbills, cow parsley, globeflower and forget-me-not, meadows and groves becoming clouds of those precious early summer colors that are Midsummer to us. So my dear aunt Barbro had Midsummer in the white Nordmaling stone church once again, and the circle is closed.
During the ceremony I found myself thinking, living as a single person has an unexpected advantage; you don?t have to be the one left by yourself at the end of your life. If my ex husband and I had stayed together and lived until the now average of 80-90, we would have shared life for 60-70 years. Now we said our goodbye half way. It was painful. And the grief and emptiness from a divorce has its similarities with being separated by life?s ending. It?s an odd feeling appreciating a bittersweet gratefulness that my farewell has already happened. But deeper down also an embarrassing reaction that there will be no one missing me the way you are missing the one always carried in your heart, until the end of time walking beside you.
I am sitting outside my childhood church looking at the characteristic red bell tower. Note to Americans: Swedes in general don?t have a ?childhood church? as we are one of the more secularized countries in the world. But I do. My mother used to sing in the church choir and so that?s where my musical life started too. Spending uncountable boring hours listening to sermons in this beautiful building constructed in the 15th century, I know every corner of it. Every painting has its fantasy story, the sculptures have been imaginary touched by my girl hand and the light from the colorful church window has played on my skin.
Being surrounded by this part of my childhood I feel like I am looking at myself. Every little bit of this picture I am sitting in, is so familiar it?s incorporated deep down in my body and soul. This is the core of myself. This is where I come from. This is me.
Afterwards in the late afternoon my sister and I are picking a bouquet of meadow flowers behind the old vicarage, just as we did every Midsummer with friends and family throughout our childhood. And we are giving this early summer symbol to our parents, visiting their grave at the creek, telling them that Lennart is no longer in the world where we all used to be. And we are walking in under the blossoming apple trees, letting them make a white roof above our heads.
Usually our early memories fail us in a reality check. Leaving us disappointed and in question of ourselves. Discovering the scenery and the childhood paradise apple trees being even more amazing than we remembered was overwhelming and truly wonderful. And I hope and trust that my aunt Barbro will have one more beautiful memory from the church where she married the love of her life.

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Go with your choice

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Exhausted. Happy. Anxious. Grateful. In pain. Proud. Remorseful. Relieved.
I am back on my couch after a 1,5 hour concert with my choir Kammarkören Sångkraft (Sångkraft Chamber Choir). Our first production for this year I was unable participating because of the flue and that horrible faint-and-fall on my bathroom floor. I have been able attending most of the rehearsals for our second production, but since my day-to-day body condition is as unpredictable as mountain weather, there was no guarantee that I could actually do my job as a singer when it was time for the show. On top of that, I had promised to MC the thing? So May 26 in my calendar has been as haunting as alluring.
Friday I was in so much pain a concert was out of the question. Yesterday, a bit more stable, and goddamnit, I am going to do it, at least the MC part! And today I did it, I was actually on my feet singing and talking for 1,5 hour! Will power is an amazing force?
So of course I?m happy. And grateful. Relieved. And quite proud of myself. So what about the anxiety and remorsefulness?
Well, a concert program can sometimes be only scattered songs until they are put together to something that makes sense. And in this production that was my job. Which I like. I like it a lot. So, that?s all good.
Now, I have this tendency of waking up really early in the morning with, what is seems like at that point, bright ideas. I am talking ideas so bright they are luminous. Here is an example:
I am waking up with the most perfect ever commercial-web film idea about Seattle, this is some years ago. I will come up with the concept and direct it. My DP friends Theo or Lulu or David will shoot it. Matt, my super funny actor-improve friend will write the narration. He kind of new the former mayor, so he would get him to by the idea. And then we will have Bill Gates do the narration. See?
Anyway, so I woke up this morning some weeks ago with this image for today?s concert, a kind of intermission supposed to be entertaining, I won?t bore you with the details. Entertainment is a tricky business though. You have no idea if it?s going to work or not until you are there. And sometimes you don?t know even then.
And that?s where I am right now. I am thinking I was wearing a too short dress and making a too long show. (The reason for the too short dress was that it was the only one that could cover my back support.) And what was supposed to be entertaining might have been nothing but embarrassing. Being trusted with the microphone by a community of 40 people is a huge responsibility. Failing that trust is something you don?t want to do. And maybe I did. That?s why the anxiety and remorse.
But. Only because I was able to do my assignment and actually could stand on my two feet singing an entire concert, I am celebrating. And my idea of celebrating is eating a big bowl of cheese doodles watching a movie, in this case Woody Allen?s Whatever Works. The door to my balcony is open for the 11th night in a row. I was wrong last week about having to put on a wool sweater again within a couple of days. It hasn?t happened. I love being barefoot, and I am, day after day, in May! The Song Thrush is singing all through the bright night and the greenery is magical.
Long ago I had this separate photo show at The Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle. Framing the pictures for the show I chose an unusual color for the frames, kind of a champagne tint that worked with the reddish selenium tone of the photos. Having it all done, more then 40 pictures, I had second thoughts. Then a friend said: ?Maria, go with your choice. You make a choice and then you believe in it, stay confident and go with it.?
So. I will finish up my snacks. I will watch another movie. And I will try to not pay too much attention to the anxiety and remorse. I will stay with my choice and enjoy the Song Thrush. And be just a little bit more careful when it comes to my early bird ideas in the future.
Yeah, we?ll see about that?

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A city and season changing clothes

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?Relax!? What a nice call! I am having a ride through downtown Umeå noticing those small wooden beach chairs in Rådhusparken (The City Hall Park). I like to think it was my airy blue and white-striped dressed bedroom that evoked the strike of summer Umeå is enjoying right now. And Rådhusparken facing the river packed with people on blankets is the very symbol for Summer Umeå. Those chairs were new to me and I like them, there is something Seattleish about them, something generous and playful. It turned out it is the fashion and accessory store Åhléns across the street who is being playful, and why not!
Driving from my village into Umeå you pass the river. All of this winter, riding over the bridges going to my treatments, I have been watching the building cranes reaching the sky making Umeå grow and change. Big things are in the works, and it?s just so exciting!
The Forsete block, right in the city center has been a mall for 30 years, and is now going through a complete redesign, inside out. A functional style building had to go down to make the plans for the new block come true, something the preservers were upset about, of course. What?s being built is something very different and I do like it a lot!
Some years ago I was writing a series of articles for the main local newspaper Västerbottens Kuriren, VK. The topic was the exterior of the city and how I would like it to change. The colors of Umeå is red brick, some painted wood, green birches and the blue river. It?s cohesive, but it?s not interesting or exciting. It looks like a lot of fairly young Swedish towns (in Swedish measurements); it?s hard to tell them from each other. It?s flat and kind of stocky, the red brick makes it heavy. The birches in Umeå though, giving the city a lift.
I had the picture of something different, something standing out, adding a new element, light and reflections. I was inspired by Seattle of course. The colors of downtown Seattle are different shades of blue and glass, reflecting the water from Elliot Bay and the sky. Seattle downtown is becoming quite dense, but the skyline still feels light and bright, lifting towards the sky. It?s nothing but beautiful.
So, watching the tall part (a hotel) of the Forsete block mall climbing over the Umeå red brick and roof tops, exterior covered in white and blue glass, I am like? that?s what I asked for, that?s what I pictured! It?s quite amazing I have to say. Trouble 1 is driving me a lot and we are both so excited! And when I am riding with home care Peter I am telling him, look at this, this is what Seattle looks like, don?t you just love it!
I appreciate that this new element might feel strange and odd for some Umebor (inhabitants of Umeå), but give it some time. And in a couple of weeks as the exterior of Väven, the new building for cultural arts at the waterfront will be coming up, the façade of those two buildings will start communicate and I think we will understand every word. I can?t wait!
So, Seattle had an early heat wave a couple of weeks ago with Santa Fe temperatures. I was very envious. Here, two days ago, there was still a tiny rest of snow at the end of the road in my village. Today, the lawn needs to be mowed. Two days ago I was wearing my wool sweater. Today I am soaking the sun in my bikini. That?s how summer happens here, on the 64th latitude. It hits you! Boom! It?s not Santa Fe temperatures but it?s 77° F (25 C) and that?s very warm for this time of year. The birch leaves are coming out and Umeå is covered in a magic light green sky. Umeborna is also coming out of their winter hibernation, swarming the outdoor cafés and restaurants; it?s probably really hard to find a seat somewhere.
This I know from experience and Facebook. I follow my friends having a lovely city weekend. I can?t join, of course. But I am really happy that I?ve been able to sit outside too! Trouble 1 and friend Erik took out all my garden furniture the other day and dressed my front yard in summer clothes. And yesterday there was this big Koja (Tree house) day, with lots of beautiful young adults working on keeping their childhood, and I had a wonderful afternoon in the sun sharing what?s important in life with lovely Ida and Josefin, We talked for hours!
And this afternoon Peter helped me with the most important sign of summer: rolling my Le Baron convertible out of my grandfather?s snug old coach house! I haven?t been driving for half a year. Not even sitting behind a steering wheel. I took a deep breath. Not because I was worried about my ability of driving. But because it still feels like light years until my physics would allow me to. It was really important to me though to back the car out of it?s winter garage in person, Peter got to be my eyes in the back. And then I drove the twenty meters for parking it in my carport. Oh, what a feeling! The feeling of empowerment! I am sitting in my beautiful summer car, and I am driving! If only for twenty meters?
I can tell rain is coming up in Seattle. And I?m sure my wool sweater will be back on in a few days. But I hope the new gorgeous Umeå glass facades will last for a very long time. And maybe I can drive by by myself with the top down before the summer is up?

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You are really very sick. She said.

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-       I didn?t know what to expect, but you are really very sick.
I was at this meeting with my administrator at the Social Insurance Agency this week. My doctor has declared me ¾ sick, so I am on a ¾ sick leave. Which makes me connected to the Social Insurance Agency, and that?s why I was called in for this meeting.
Now, the Swedish right wing government doesn?t like sick people. They don?t like people who for different reasons can?t work or are out of work. And so the Swedish official social networks aren?t what they used to be. And the staff working with those agencies has to take on armor to protect themselves from being emotional about all these people they have to face, being in very difficult situations. So, they say their approach is, being professional. I say they are (forced to?) lacking empathy and staring strictly at their protocol.
So, I was expecting a not too pleasant appointment. And was met with a smile, a warm handshake and this really friendly woman. Who listened to my story. My 27 years of pain and suffering. My struggles to create myself a professional life outside the regular system and within my physical boundaries. My life situation today. And she looked at me and she said:
-       I didn?t know what to expect, but you are really very sick.
I interrupted her and told her I didn?t consider myself sick. I had cancer a few years back, that?s being sick. This is more of a condition. It?s painful, it drains all my energy, it?s limiting, it?s handicapping, and it makes me exposed and lonely, but sick, no. Then again, if she wants to use the word sick, be my guest.
-       Yes. I didn?t know what to expect when I read your diagnosis, which I don?t, by the way, understand, but you are really very sick.
It was a strange moment. I had armed myself for fighting for that ¾ sick leave and she was puzzled why I wasn?t on full time. And here she was, not an administrator but a human being seeing my situation clearer than I do myself. I told her that I wanted to keep those 25% of work because that?s my connection to the real world. The world where most people have their lives and their purpose. The busy world going on out there while I?m lying on my couch. A lot of days I can?t even do 25%, but taking on the little that I can do is still a skinny lifeline of energy.
We said goodbye. I left relieved. For now, I won?t have to fight the Social Insurance Agency. But there was also something else. Which I think I am still digesting.
She told me I was sick. She told me I was really very sick.
I have accepted the alarm on the wrist. I have accepted (and being very grateful for) the home care that I get. For years I was faking having a non-limited full professional life, and I don?t do that any more. That?s a relief.
But I still do more than I am coping with. I am struggling with the choir rehearsals although I can barely sit, and sometimes I have to give in and half lay half sing from some strange sofa down at the end of the room. And I get myself to downtown meetings with clients too important and prestigious for asking them to my couch office in the village. And every week I am expecting myself to walk the few meters to my neighbor Alida and sit with her for a couple of hours drinking our tea, talking. It?s going to happen this week. This week is when I can do it. How hard can it be?
Because I want to. Because I really want to. And if I stop trying for these things I feel like I will end up Facebook scrolling all day long. And that would be very very sad.
Bu now, a Social Insurance Agency administrator who spends her days convincing people that they, no matter how bad their health is, have the capacity of working (because that?s what our right wing government has assigned her to do), is telling me that I am sick. Really very sick.
And I quite don?t know what to do with that.
Four impressive red deer are grazing gracefully in the evening on the field next to my house. Two regular deer are having fun next to them. It?s mid May and the light is back telling us to expect summer.
I have this thing. I am dressing my bedroom in summer or winter clothes. It?s a stupid thing and a lot of work, but I really like marking the seasons in colors and textures. Of course I can?t do it myself anymore. In November, the day before my back crashed, my sister helped me make the winter room, latte colored and purple, kind of Seattleish. Today my friends Mats and Agneta dressed it in blue striped and white cotton, very Swedish. Half a year has passed, the part of year that I find heavy and dark no matter what, and this year, very long.
My white and blue bedroom makes my heart lighter. The deer leaving the safe and shady forest lured by the fresh grass on an open field makes me warm. A friendly Social Insurance Agency administrator tells me I am really very sick. But I want to feel like my summer dressed bedroom. And I want to be as courageous and foolish as the deer. I want to go outside. And reach for life.

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You always have a choice. They say/part 2

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One morning some years ago I woke up with this sentence in my head. Or, it was more like a banner. You know, those banners up in the air behind a chopper or a small airplane or glider. More common in Seattle than in Umeå. This morning was an Umeå morning, but maybe it was a Lake Union based airplane gliding through my head with this banner. Saying:
?Pain is the only thing tying me down.?
I was lying in my bed seeing, feeling this banner, and it was like a revelation. It was true! The pain is the only thing that ties me down! If I only could find the cure, the solution, the answer, the core to why my musculoskeletal system is so dysfunctional and causing all these problems and physical pain, nothing would tie me down!
And I was asking myself: ?What would you do?? And the first picture that came to my mind was me in a summery dress throwing a very light luggage into the trunk, pushing the top down button on my Chrysler Le Baron convertible and driving all the way through Sweden smiling with the sun on my body and the wind in my hair and visit all my friends who I haven?t seen in years, scattered round the country. I might even had those little car gloves on. And definitely shades. The second image was taking off to Seattle without the slightest fear of anything bad happening, nothing going wrong, confident that this will be so much fun. So much fun!
And it?s still true. The pain is the only thing that ties me down. Well there might be a few other things, like lack of self-confidence and self esteem. On the other hand, I have that extreme will power and determination compensating. The bottom line is: if my musculoskeletal system was working like it was supposed to I could work more and make more money. Rephrasing: I am always working, but if I didn?t need to consider what my body allows me or doesn?t allow me to do, I could hunt for and take on different and more assignments.
Now, are all my dreams about what I could do based on money? No, certainly not. Most of them are simply about being able to move without pain. Simply? And then there are those who aren?t dreams, they are utopias if it wasn?t for heaven suddenly opening up for a downpour of obnoxious wealth right above my front yard.
So, just to let you know that my dreams haven?t drowned in my bitterness I will simply make a list. And these are dreams for myself. Of course wishing a healthy, happy and safe life for my children and then peace on earth and global warming and all that solved is above this. These listed wishes, dreams and utopias are only for my own pleasure, contentment and happiness. And they come in no specific order, very randomly nailed down. So, here we go!
·      Sit on the stairs of my front porch having breakfast.
·      Learn how to tango.
·      Make a beautiful pond with a curved wooden deck inside the stone base from the long gone barn on my front yard.
·      Open up a place: restaurant/stage/ library/coffee shop/gallery/ bar/ cultural scene (working title The Place) in Umeå bringing here the spirit and playfulness of Seattle.
·      Walk to Brunnsjön (an one hour walk) with my Nordic walking bungee poles, or around Green Lake (which used to be to short for my needs).
·      Scan my black & white photo exhibit of 42 selenium toned pictures about Seattle and my Swedish village, Away is Home, Home is Away, and make it a beautiful book.
·      Take a downtown stroll and look at everything being built (in Umeå and Seattle) while lying here on my couch.
·      Go to a concert.
·      Open up my great room upstairs to the south, building a small glass porch/add-on on top of the entry front porch.
·      Drive
·      Buy the Smith Tower and invite filmmakers, musicians, writers, artists, crafts people and all kinds of creative entrepreneurs to create the coolest work place in the world.
·      Do three heavy workouts at the gym a week.
·      Open up for a door and a balcony in my bedroom facing the precious morning sun.
·      Go to the movies.
·      Realize my plans for a downtown Umeå boutique selling my own line of quality souvenirs U.M.E.Å! during The European Capital of Culture 2014.
·      Stand on a chair (to reach things).
·      Take an impromptu trip with a friend, just like that!
·      Open up a downtown Seattle Studio Stolterman Storytelling office in the former Washington Mutual Tower, facing the Sound and the Olympics.
·      Move around without back support.
·      Sit for hours and hours with my beloved neighbor Alida, drinking our tea and talking about life and death.
·      Tell the Nordstrom story on film.
·      Hand-wash my cars.
·      Find my favorite place in Italy where I would bring my new video camera which is still to purchase and stay for three months, establish the Italian I am learning with reading the newspaper every day, and document people?s life stories giving to them as presents. And then I would go back there, again and again and again.
·      Pick something up from the floor.
·      Add on a room with beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows facing west, big enough for my great aunt?s beautiful furniture now somewhere else, a grand piano and the Christmas tree, a room letting the summer evening sun in. On top of that a patio outside the second floor great room.
·      Go downhill again. Black slopes. Yayy, yayy, yayy.
·      Have a (Seattle and Umeå) downtown shop till you drop afternoon with a friend.
·      Buy the little white wooden church in my village and together with all my children make it a unique and very special concert hall.
·      Curl up in a sofa chair with my legs underneath.
·      Put together my texts and mini short stories illustrated by Trouble 1 in a book.
·      Pick summer flowers from the ground.
·      Hunt for and take on now impossible assignments for work.
·      Make the fields west of the baker?s cottage a tucked in sweet little lake.
·      Clean my house.
·      Buy a city view penthouse in Seattle. Or a houseboat. Or both.
·      Climb a ladder (to get to The Treehouse/Kojan)
·      Travel, travel, travel!
·      Keep a Great Dane (Grand Danois).
·      Dry my clothes and linen outside on a clothesline.
·      Build a big porch outside the ?window room?, facing west and the sweet little lake.
·      Stand up and sit down without the fear of being stabbed by a knife in my back.
·      Keep a sailboat. Or a Chris Craft. In Seattle.
·      Sing my songs so that people can hear them.
·      Do yoga, Pilates or any of those things that would make me feel and look good.
·      Lye on a beach.
·      Spend hours and hours in my darkroom.
·      Winterize and renovate the baker?s cottage, making it the cutest guesthouse.
·      Change linen in my bed.
·      Move to Seattle. Have a life in Seattle. Have a love in Seattle. Buy my Friday flowers at The Market. Be a Seattleite.
·      Clean up my cat?s litter box.
·      Cook. Although my home care angels Peter and Award?s dinners are so much nicer then mine, so that would actually be a loss.
·      Keep strawberry beds.
·      Dance, dance, dance!
·      Shoot my film work myself.
·      Making my grandfather?s dream of damming up the big creek to make a good size lake in the middle of the village come true.
·      Have my meals at the kitchen table.
·      Shovel snow. Or spend winters in Seattle
·      Wear high heels.
·      Make a romantic gate to my white picket fence.
·      Put together my songs ? sheet music and lyrics ? in a book illustrated by Trouble 1.
·      Take off the safety alarm from my wrist.
·      Lift the front of the wood shed/coach house that?s slowly sinking into the ground.
·      Mow the lawn. Or live in a penthouse or houseboat.
·      Repaint my kitchen and entry. Myself. I used to do all kinds of painting.
·      Go to a restaurant with a friend.
·      Sit down on the grass and get myself up from there.
·      Drive a white Mercedes SL convertible 450 1978 in Seattle.
·      Build a bay window with French doors facing east in my kitchen.
·      Record my songs
·      Make my place a gorgeous rose garden.

·      Light a fire in my ceramic stove.
·      Make a little happy creek running down the grove to the field east of my house ? where there will be a lake when I realized my grandfather?s dream.
·      Return the walker to my friend Eva and say thank you!
·      Tell the redesign project of the Seattle Waterfront on film.
·      Commercialize my white stained pine furniture line ? Stolterman of Sweden.
·      Take Trouble 1?s, Lisa?s, Mats? and my show Life in a Tiny Purse on the road and make it a contemplative success!
Many years ago I was doing the laundry down in the basement of our Boyer Avenue house. And I noticed I wasn?t in pain! I could do the laundry without a problem, I hummed on a tune and I wasn?t in pain! And I found myself thinking: ?if I wasn?t in pain I could have another child!? This condition and state of mind lasted for a couple of hours and then it was gone. I was back to normal again. Jailed in to my locked body where dreams have very little chance surviving.
I didn?t even know I wanted another child. And listing all my dreams above has been an interesting experience. As my body has been extremely restricted for close to half my life now I have to dig deep to even find what I am needing, wishing and longing for. It?s to a large extent blocked out of my consciousness. And it?s the little dreams that are most hard to dig up, those everyday things.
When I grew up my dad taught me all those things that come in handy having on your repertoire: saw, nail, paint, chop wood, change tires. And I loved it. I loved feeling the power in my body and seeing the results of it. I even helped lifting the northwest corner of the baker?s cottage, and every time I am walking down the field noticing that the southwest corner now needs a lift, I am thinking about that Herculean moment with my dad and uncle.
You always have a choice. They say. Yes, there are a few things on my very long list (just to reassure you; this is not my bucket list!) that could come true, with some help from children and friends. But most are dreams. Or even utopias. Because, frankly, right now the idea of bending down, picking something up from the floor is as impossible as moving to Seattle or digging my grandfather?s dream of a village lake. ?Pain is the only thing tying me down.? I like that it sounds so simple. One little thing. Only one damned little thing.

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You always have a choice. They say.

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You can actually watch it melting. The snow. Winter has been long and cold again so there is still lot?s of snow here, at the end of the road. But the patches on my front yard are literary disappearing in front of my eyes. I took the first spring walk yesterday up the field in the late April sun, as far as the snow allowed me to. My darling cat Sorella and I did our premiere stroll for the year around our place and I threw away the old Christmas tree brusquely tossed from the second floor balcony when the holidays were over. Lovely. We are let out from the jail of frozen winter, and it?s lovely. It?s a big deep breath of life.
Exactly three months ago I could walk all the way to the creek, half a mile (800 meter) back and forth. I was so happy! I could do that already! Well, it was only that one time. Since then my walks have been very short, if at all. I am so sad that my beloved neighbor Alida, 96 soon to be, and I have been hibernating in our houses all winter long, and not one single time have I been able to sit at her kitchen table, drinking our tea, talking about all her lost and gone friends. My parents and grandparents. Alida providing me all those loose ends telling how everything is related in our village.
This spring she is letting me know that she wants to move in to an olds people?s home this fall if she I still alive. Her lonely days here in the house are way too long. So this was probably our last winter together at the end of the road. A few steps from each other during our long days, and yet we couldn?t be together. And it just breaks my heart. For the both of us. And though I can?t even imagine Alida not being here, the pain of thinking here gone is so strong it?s making me cry. I feel like a wall in my house will be gone leaving me exposed to unlimited dark and cold. I frankly don?t know how I will survive.
When I was cleared from cancer I decided to live life at it?s fullest, like most people facing death given a second chance do. I cleaned out a lot of closets determined to not any more suffer from blisters caused by anything chafing or scuffing. And before any choice, big or small, ask myself: is this what I want? Is this good for me? Is this helping me?
Because that?s what they say now, right? You always have a choice.
Make a wish. Follow your heart. Reach for the stars. Recognize your dreams. Set goals and make them happen. Choose your life. That?s what they say.
After the cancer and chemo my back problems increased for the worst. I was cancer free and couldn?t wait to live live live, but my body did limit that life strictly. The pain and the physical restrictions battled down the power and feeling of being invincible that is often gained by being a survivor. But hey, I don?t have cancer, I am basically healthy, this is just pain. It?s a drag but you won?t die from it. You need to be grateful.
You always have a choice. And when you feel like you don?t, you always have the choice how to relate to your situation. That?s what they say.
So, I am choosing not to complain. I am setting the goal to walk to the creek and as month after month pass and I can?t do it I am trying to be grateful that I can stroll through the grocery store. The choir rehearsals are like running a marathon and 95 % of my focus is controlling the pain, but I am truly happy that I can be there. I can?t make me dinner but I am enjoying that I some days am able to join my home care angel Peter giving him some little assistance in the kitchen. I can?t have my dinner sitting at the kitchen table, but I am looking forward to the late afternoons Grey?s Anatomy reruns keeping me company on my couch. And I am smiling and being nice and never whining. It could be worse. It truly could be so much worse. I know that for a fact.
So I don?t cry. I am accepting. And with that acceptance erasing the goals. I am a woman with a lot of will power. Most people would call me really stubborn when it comes to what I want to reach and accomplish. I used to be at the gym three times a week. I took one-hour power walks with dumbbells the days I wasn?t at the gym. I know how to do this. I want to do this. My body and soul knows the happiness and contentment of being in power, feeling strong and healthy, even looking a little bit good. And I love to dance! God how I long to dance!
So, did I choose this? No, I didn?t. The idea that we are in control of our lives is part illusion part bullshit. There is very little we can control. And for everyone less fortunate it?s an unbearable burden stacked upon whatever our trials are.
So, I am controlling myself, isn?t that what choosing how to handle your situation is about? I am smiling instead of crying. I am looking at the bright side instead of complaining. I am deciding that watching TV is an entertainment to be grateful about and blocking out my needs for seeing friends, going to a beautiful concert or watching an interesting exhibit. And I am happy about my nice home, as that?s the only place I can wish for. Erasing the goals. As they only lead to disappointment.
It?s not until I am realizing this is probably mine and Alida?s last winter together and I missed it that it breaks through. The anger, the despair, the rage, the grief, the loneliness, the incomprehensibility, the WHY WHY WHY???!!! Why did we have to miss it just because I can?t walk and sit?
This morning I felt really good. I could move better than I have in months. I had energy. I felt happy for no particular reason. I think I even hummed on a little tune. I planned on running some errands that would need a little bit of walking in between treatments tomorrow. During the afternoon a slight shooting pinched me across the sacrum. I was sitting at a chair. Just sitting straight up. And there it was. The needle. Not a knife, but still, a needle. I haven?t had that kind of pain since November. Since this lying down life started. And now I?m there again.
Am I choosing this? This completely unpredictable life where nothing is certain and there is zero to trust? Where I need to be prepared for anything at anytime. Where my situation can change on a split of a second? Where unexpected hope on a good morning is a dangerous enemy that strikes back on you for seeing a window where the light finds you? Where most things are chafing and scuffing? Do I sound bitter? Yes, I am. Deep down under my choice of smiles and no complaints and looking at the bright side I am tonight finding bitterness. Deep down under controlling myself to fit in to what?s expected of me in this day and age 2013. And it doesn?t make me look good, I am aware.
I don?t know how to end this posting. I don?t have anything encouraging closing up with. I am not choosing this. That?s all I know. I am not choosing this.

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Kojan/The Treehouse

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Bang bang! Those familiar sounds of spring!
It started in middle school. Trouble & Trouble and their friends from the villages around here picked up some left over planks and nails and built a platform way up in the trees. Then walls came up of course, a roof, and hey, Kojan ? the Tree House was born! Koja means hideaway, kind of, and it really was the perfect hide away for boys in their early teens. It?s located in a grove not too far from the house, but enough tucked away for privacy. The parents kept in the house or the front yard leaving them to their adventures, but also made them feel safe.
My sons have a wonderful talent. They make friends with the sweetest, most adventurous and craziest people. And they stay friends. Through thick and thin. So the original group of about ten loud boys is still around. And as they moved on and new friends entered their lives they?ve been added in the Koja project. As they have added trees! What to start with was a studio connecting four-five trees is today more of a complex compound 15 feet above ground involving about thirty firs and pine trees!
You might be asking: how old are they now? Well, that?s a legitimate question. Trouble & Trouble just turned 27 and 25. The next question might be: aren?t they too old for building on a tree house? The answer is no.
My sons have this ability that earlier on to a mother could be pretty annoying, but has turned quite charming the older they get. They are carrying their child contained within themselves. They still love playing the way children do, and there hasn?t even been a period over time when they in embarrassment did hide that away. I am not sure if the reason for this is that they didn?t have an enough playful childhood, are clinging to a lost childhood or simply had a childhood so safe and happy-go-luck that they are still enjoying it!
Either way, Kojan still is an adventure. All year around. Even when it?s five feet of snow (1,5 meter) and -15°F  (-26°C) cold outside. Some years ago they installed an army stove in the center of the tree house so they are keeping themselves warm even in the middle of the winter. And I don?t know if hot dogs ever taste better than up in the Koja!
The tree house is now more of an open source project. The Facebook group has 77 members, and they are seriously thinking about crowd funding to improve the economy, a thirty some tree compound is a pretty costly business, especially keeping it winter proof. And of course, Kojan is a story around here. Little kids want to sneak up there (but are not allowed except supervised by the senior Koja members!) and sometimes families come by to watch a legend still in progress.
Bang bang! Yes, it?s spring! I hear the cars parking outside my house, doors opening and closing, happy grown up kids laughing their way to the grove. And then the sound of the work starting. Bang bang! Last summer they extended the center room for grandma Gerd?s big left over leather couch to fit in and inserted a panorama window. I was actually asked to be the interior designer, very honored! This spring they already improved one of the suspension bridges between the platforms and added a new one connecting the Dance platform with the roof of the center room, which will be added on with a second floor. The plans are endless, creative, and for parents less tolerant than me when it comes to heights, slightly dangerous.
I am the mother of two sons, but I am blessed with so many more children. Growing up, our place was the hang out for all the boys in the villages around here. There were times when I felt I was running some kind of bed and breakfast and I must admit, most of the time it was pretty exhausting and I just wanted to throw them all out. Oh how I enjoyed the few moments all alone in a quite house! Oh how I wished for more of that! Little did I know that I would come to a point in life when my house would be all empty except for me day after day, month after month lying on the couch listening to the seldom interrupted silence. Be careful what you wish for?
So, when I hear those springtime sounds of hammers and nails I smile. And I love when they include me in their visit, coming running up my slate path giving me those big bear hugs. And of course, now there are girls in the project too, so finally I also have a bunch of lovely daughters!
Friday Trouble 1 turned 27. The birthday party happened in Kojan of course. And as for a present they built a long time planned and much looked forward to cableway from the center of the compound up in the trees all the way down to the field! It?s about a 160 feet (50 meter) ride for anyone who has the gut to do it! Take a look here:
I very rarely get to see Kojan other than from the ground; it?s most of the time impossible for me to get myself up there. Last summer though I had two good days when I could and it was so great after a lot of years sitting in the center room with my kids, all warm from the stove reading the guestbook. I don?t have a lot of hopes for an encore this summer but I am dreaming of course. And I am so happy and grateful to be allowed being a part of all my children?s playfulness, unlimited creativity and determination. Adam, Ludvig, Erik, Martin, Lars, Ingrid, Vilma, AnnSofie, Ida, Sarah, Andreas, Fredrik and everyone else who shows up here off and on; I love you guys, I think this is the pay off for my bed and breakfast days, and being your landlord is pure and simple joy!

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Kitchen secrets

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It was a very special kitchen. The heart of the place, of course, as kitchens often are. But the heart in this case had a name and it was Agneta. Agneta was the much-loved cook in the preschool/day care where I was a preschool teacher. It wasn?t just the kitchen that was special; the preschool in itself was too. It was located in an apartment, the staff was four people including Agneta, taking care of only ten children. As a lot of those children were siblings, the total amount of households involved was often only five or six. We really were like one big family, and we liked parent-teacher conferences so much that we scheduled them once a month! Then we all got together for a fika (a sit down coffee with a little something), talked about the children and their activities and enjoyed each other! Sounds like paradise? Yes, it truly was and I am carrying those children and their parents close to my heart.
As the kitchen wasn?t away in the back somewhere but right in the middle of everything, it was a hang out. The children loved being close to Agneta preparing the meals, and the emergencies and daily big decisions, which are continuously happening at a preschool, were all taken care of in the kitchen. And it would be very interesting knowing how many hours during those ten years Agneta and I worked together we chatted away between breakfast porridge, lunch meat loafs and afternoon snacks.
I have been keeping a journal since I was thirteen, writing every single day. I remember telling Agneta that if I died, I wanted my journals to stay with her. That?s how much I trusted her. And, of course, she already knew what was in those journals. All my special secrets told to a very special friend.
We shared everything, Agneta and I. What those walls in that kitchen didn?t hear in those ten years didn?t happen. Then I moved on. Trouble & Trouble were born and I became an overworked journalist and we kind of lost track of each other. A couple of years ago we reunited on Facebook, and in November last year we finally had a date planned. Then my back crashed, that damn Sunday morning. Lying in my bed not being able to move I started calling around for someone to help me, and the one that in an hour showed up like an angel fixing me breakfast was Agneta. We hadn?t seen each other in about twenty years, and there she was, in my kitchen!
It really was a moment. Boy, did we have some catching up to do, and yet it felt like we had never been apart! But what a waste of those twenty years of missed life together. I know this happens all the time, people?s lives take different routes and sometimes they are so jam-packed it seems like we don?t have time for even those who we love and enjoy.
Then again, our lives can bring us to places we didn?t know existed. We might be dropped off at stops we didn?t choose ourselves. They can be dark, scary and extremely lonely. It might be that we don?t have a lot of numbers to call when in need. And it might be that none of those numbers can make it to you. Or are even picking up. But that dark scary November Sunday morning Agneta?s familiar comforting voice answered my call. And came rescued me. She really did.
Now, I?m not a cook. I really suck and I don?t like it. I admire and envy anyone who can fix just anything in a kitchen. I have this special granola I?m making though. It?s stuffed with nuts, seeds, ginger, cardamom, coconut flakes and goji berries and I am roasting it in the oven. I am making three batches at a time to secure my breakfast for more than a month, it?s a lot of work and it takes like an afternoon to get it all done. And now of course, in my condition; impossible. I needed help. Today again, Agneta was my rescuer.
Here we were again, together in a kitchen. No children around this time though. Agneta actually had a limp from some temporarily knee problem making us feel a bit like little old ladies which is kind of funny as we both are unusually tall women. Together we got the granola done though, as the homely smell from the cardamom filled the room. Although being a cook, it turns out Agneta has never been mastering the granola, and I was very happy and proud that I could actually treat her with a recipe of my own! Ha!
One afternoon was enough for three granola batches but of course not for everything that was on our mind. It?s something very special reliving forgotten memories, laughing about now and then and just clicking into each others lives as natural as rain. More than twenty years later I was given the gift once again sharing what?s closest to my heart with Agneta. Who I trust completely. My journals could still stay with her. And of course, after today she already knows what?s in there. All the special secrets told to a very special friend.

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