“writing assignments for bad kids…”

Hmmm.  Well, that’s what showed up on my wordpress dashboard yesterday as the search terms that led someone to my site: “writing assignments for bad kids.”  Nothing like promoting the idea that English is torture. 🙂  Give ’em some grammar exercises, too, why don’t ya?!

I have a student this semester who is so far beyond being a bad student that he is a caricature, a cartoon.  Yet, I’m not sure for all that I’d call him a bad kid.  Compulsive liar?  Sure.  Morally repugnant?  That’s a given.  Passive aggressive?  Duh, of course.

But I hadn’t stopped to think maybe he’s just bad to the bone.  I was more thinking that his lack of any sense of personal responsibility for his own learning has led him to get absolutely nothing out of college.  And his lack of work, any writing really of note, is what led to the F on his midterm that I just passed back.

I tend to find that the worst students are the ones who are NOT writing, not doing their work.  So my answer to the person who queried about “writing assignments for bad kids” is to say the problem is not in the assignment but in the student’s work ethic or attitude or study skills, etc.  “Bad kids” or “good” — they all need to write.  Motivating a kid to write, well, if you figure out the answer to that, I’d like to know!  I already discovered long ago that grades rarely motivate struggling students.

Why my son is sad… :-)

“I’m sad, Mommy.” (Yes, he still calls me mommy though he has now turned eleven.  For a while he wanted to change to mom and I said fine, but it was too hard for him to make the shift, I guess.)

“I’m sad, Mommy. I’m going to have to wear glasses and have braces and… be BALD!”

Sweet little guy.  “Not all at the same time, honey.”  Yeh, like that helped.

Bubby is myopic, it turns out.  We bought his glasses on Tuesday night and will pick them up Friday after school.  It will be an adjustment.  They are nice glasses, dark blue rims with open bottom, Ray Bans, featherweight lenses.  But it will be strange to see him with glasses on all the time.  I suppose we will all get used to it.

The braces, well that’s not until next year, says the orthodontist.  Have to correct an overbite.  No big deal.  He has told me that he wants orange braces.  Hmmm.  That sounds pretty gross.  And it’ll clash with the blue glasses, won’t it?

As for the baldness, we were chatting along one day and me an my big mouth — I mentioned that baldness is actually passed down through the mother’s father.  My dad hasn’t had much hair since he was…hmmm…when did he start losing it, exactly.  Ah, well, bald is beautiful.

My son has the loveliest face and beautiful blue eyes, and he is tall and strong and has a killer smile.  I know he has nothing to worry about.  But he has become a tweener and suddenly these things matter. On the other hand…

Yesterday he told me he was “really excited” about getting his glasses.  He’s sure a trooper!

Remembering why I teach…

Because students like B. come to my office and are confused when they sit down and shakin their heads and looking at the floor. And when they leave, they high-five me. Seriously. High-five.

Because students like M. write an essay about how their mom was just diagnosed with lung cancer and they are terrified of losing a loved one, and I can write back how sorry I am and make them feel as if college is not some impersonal place where nobody cares.

Because when students like C. whose cell phone went off in class for the SECOND time in five weeks now has to bring me chocolate as payment for disrupting class, and I get to come off as the funny professor for at least half a second instead of the mean lady who is always making us work so hard.

Because when students like S. act like idiots I can rise to the challenge of how to reach this immature young person who has no clue about appropriate behavior and maybe I’ll get through to her and one day people will actually begin to like her.

Because students like L have figured out where to put the comma because I showed him how the rule actually makes sense. Yes, punctuation, usually, makes sense!

Because of students like C. who asks me what I’m teaching next semester so she can take another class from me.

YES. That’s why I teach. Well, and it pays the bills, too. 🙂

When I had cancer…

When I had skin cancer, I thought a lot about what would happen to my family if I died. I also thought a lot about what I would change immediately about the way I was living my life. How would my teaching alter? Would I even be able to continue teaching? What would I tell my students or would I even tell them? Would I finish those scrapbooks of my son’s last eight years that I keep meaning to get to…just in case? How would I complete Grandma’s book?

I had gone in for my annual skin check at the dermatologist and asked about a suspicious mole on my back. It was irregularly shaped and was two-tone. Uh oh. So when the doctor asked if I wanted her to take a biopsy, I jumped in with a resounding YES. Then I pretty much forgot about the whole thing. I had other matters to attend to.

A week passed and then I was supposed to call to get the results. But the nurse refused to speak to me about it, and in a grave voice said she would have to have the doctor call me back. So for two hours I panicked, thinking, oh, great, now I have cancer.

The nurse called back, not the doctor, and said the doctor told her, “There’s no cancer, nothing abnormal. The cells were absolutely clear.”

Wow! That night at dinner when my family did our little ritual thing we do every night now where we each share three things for which we are grateful, I kept saying I’m grateful I don’t have cancer. 🙂 Then…

The next day I got a call from my regular doctor’s nurse about my recent mammogram. She said, “Well, the technician said that it was ‘questionable’ but that there appears to be an emerging mass on your left breast.”

Stunned silence. Oh, shit! That’s what I get for gleefully reveling in the no skin cancer diagnosis. Now I have something worse.

“We’ve made your follow-up mammogram appointment for September 11th, and they’ll also do an ultrasound to investigate further.”

“Yeh, okay, 9-11. But you said they said it was ‘questionable,’ right?”

So then I waited for two weeks further before my appointment. Mostly I was able to move on with my life, but the sobering realization that this time there really could be something wrong made it hard to dismiss the whole thing out of hand. Once more I went through all of the questioning and reevaluating, which made the start of this school year just about the most bizarre ever.

My cousin reminded me, “Nothing’s happened yet. Try to remember that.” And mostly I did. Then the day of the mammogram re-do came and with it all the gloom of remembrance for the great tragedy on that day in 2001. I was fine until the technician had to re-do one of the pictures she just did. Then I lost it.

At first I couldn’t speak as the tears flowed. Then I squeeked out, “Usually these things are nothing…right?”

She handed me some Kleenex, ignored my question and instead replied, “Everyone feels this way. Whether they show it or not, everyone feels this way. It’s perfectly normal.” She took the re-do of the re-do and then showed me where the bathroom was so I could calm down privately.

I sat back down in the waiting room, trying to grade some student’s essay. I have to get my mind off of this…. Then the radiologist came out and told me that there was something, indeed, on the mammo and that she was going to take me over to ultrasound right now. “They will determine what it is and you should get the news today. Nine times out of ten, these things turn out to be nothing serious.”

Waiting in the ultrasound area, I was too stunned to cry anymore. I had convinced myself — at least it was my party line — that the original pictures were just flawed and that there was nothing at all to see in my left breast. But now there was confirmation that something WAS there. I felt a sense of dread mounting.

By the time I was stretched out on the ultrasound table in a very dark and very large room, I was crying again. Then the ultrasound technician, whose cheerfulness I will never forget and for which I was immensely grateful (for, who would be so cheerful if the patient in front of them had cancer, right — so it must be good news!), chirped, “Oh, that’s a cist. Don’t worry!” She took a few more pictures and added, “The radiologist will come in and say the same thing in a minute. I’ll go get her.”

When she arrived after a long while (where WAS she that it took that long to come and confirm that I will live to see another day?), she took a quick look and said, “Clear cyst.” But I wanted to know HOW she knew that and how SURE she was. I was not content after all I had been through to sail on blithely through this experience as if nothing had happened. I had cancer, damn it. If I NOW did NOT have cancer, the story had to be as convincing as when I DID have it.

So the stately radiologist lady explained all about ultrasound technology and the way that tumors (solid masses) block the ultrasound waves from penetrating and thus can’t imagine the breast underneath, but how with clear cysts the waves pass through and show the breast tissue on the other side. She showed the cyst on the screen, my cyst. And there was the breast tissue on the other side. Okay. I bought her story.

This little blip on the screen looked huge, by the way, but it was only .83 centimeters. I had not even caught it on a self-exam. But the diligent technicians did. And I am grateful for their caution and care.

I have a big imagination. It’s generally a good thing. Sometimes, though, not so much. Yes, of course, I did not ever really have cancer, thank goodness. But in my mind, I did. I really did. And the experience — just a tiny taste of a much more shattering reality for so many others, I’m sure — did make me stop and think, once more, about what matters, about my priorities.

A sobering reminder not to take any second of this precious life for granted.

…and to get regular mammograms and complete regular breast self-exams.

P.S. I asked for a picture of my cyst from the ultrasound machine so I could put it on my blog! They thought I was NUTS and were ultra concerned about my privacy — really freaked out, actually. But I assured them I would only put the picture itself up without any identifying info. But the printout I did manage to get from them was too dark to scan, so I’ll just have to leave it to your imagination. For the life of me, I can’t think of a good reason not to post about this experience, though the way those two women freaked out gave me pause and delayed my posting by a couple of weeks. Ultimately, though, I decided it was an important story to share. I want to remind women to get those mammograms and do those self-exams. It’s really important. And though it was a scary experience, nine times out of ten everything really is okay!

Back to School: Has it really been twenty years???

Yeh. It has. It’s been 20 years. I first stepped foot in a college classroom as an instructor in 1988, as a first-semester TA at California State University Sacramento, where I was studying for my MA in English. I didn’t actually throw up that day, but I almost did. Made it all the way to the bathroom but ran into a prof. there. Couldn’t let myself throw up in front of her. So I sucked it up and went back into the hall and continued to my room.

That was a crappy semester. (Yeh, I’ll bet you thought I was going to say it all got much better after that first day! Honestly, it was a very painful introduction o the profession. They ate me alive.)

Second semester teaching was a world apart. I was so much more relaxed and confident. Whew!

Here I am now after a year break from teaching, back in the classroom again. First class I felt like throwing up. Surprised myself! But I was feeling much more comfortable by class #2 and fully back in the swing of things by class #3.

So I’m off and running. NOT at all able to follow my proposed schedule yet, but it’s the first week and there are all sorts of “fires” to put out (like the bookstore ordering the wrong book for one of my classes — of course a book the students need to read for Monday’s assignment!) I’m NOT supposed to be blogging right now. Instead, I should be asleep. I’m going to go take care of that right now!

P.S. They put AC in the room where I teach…and a beautiful new AV system with LCD projector. They remodeled the whole floor of the building. I feel like I’ve come back to a different school!

On Gratitude…

I’ve read two unrelated articles in the last day that have really made me stop and think. I’ve been in mega self-improvement mode for the last year, and two weeks from tomorrow my sabbatical ends and I go back to teaching full time, so I’m trying to tie up some loose ends.

Looking back over the last year, I can see that I’ve made a lot of progress in several areas of family and personal life. There have been some lingering issues that are unresolved, of course, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on how far I’ve/we’ve come:

1) My husband and I have a one-on-one meeting each Sunday to discuss any relationship or personal issues and devote some time to maintaining the health of our marriage.

2) On Saturday mornings, the three of us (me, hubster, and son) hold a family meeting to give each of us, and especially our son, a chance to air concerns or make requests. We also use that time to go over our week’s schedule.

3) I lost twenty-five pounds and have kept it off for months now. I have finally recognized that I have a weight problem whether I am currently overweight or not. So I need to be vigilant and keep my physical health front and center. Stress eating is most likely to occur if I do not take time to plan and cook decent food. So I absolutely must make time for planning and preparing. So far, so good. But I continue to go to weight Watchers each month and weigh in and attend a meeting.

4) I started reading again. Not for my job. I read as an English Professor a lot. But I mean reading for pleasure and for enlightenment. I started a book club at my church, killing the proverbial two birds with one stone by forming this club within our “Women’s Group.” There was such a women’s group at our church in the past, but right now our book group is it. The best things about doing the book group this year are getting to read and discuss some terrific books and getting to know these awesome women. I’ve never belonged to a book group before. I highly recommend it!

5) I am exercising more. Okay, not as much as I’d like to or need to, but more than before. And I’m okay with that. It’s improvement. I’ve added regular walking into my fall schedule (along with time to plan, prep food, and read), so I am sure to have the time to exercise if I merely stick to the plan.

6) I have become a writer. Early on in this blog I wondered if I were a “real” writer if I did not write every day. The funny thing is that the more I wrote on this blog, the more I felt like a real writer. The more I wrote, the more I thought of my life in terms of what I would write about it. I love writing now as never before. I’m not sure how I’ll fit blogging into my schedule this fall. But I’m going to try to find a way because it keeps me thinking in terms of words on the page and helps me produce raw material. I have not scheduled time in my week this fall for blogging, but I have, however, scheduled in time for my creative writing. I’ve NEVER done that before. When school started, I used to stop all creative or scholarly writing. I’m not willing to do that anymore.

7) Most recently I’ve also gone a long way toward helping my family to reduce its ecological footprint in terms of food consumption. We had already joined a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm a couple of years ago. We enjoy getting a share of fresh veggies direct from the farm each week of the growing season. Now I’ve also signed us up for a pasture-raised meat CSA and a fruit CSA. I also just discovered that not five miles from us there is a local dairy (with organic cows) that delivers milk in those old-fashioned glass milk bottles! I still haven’t figured out a good source for other food products like grains, but I’m getting there. It feels SO good NOT to feel guilty about contributing to global warming by eating non-local, highly processed and over-packaged food. We’re not yet where I want us to be, but much improvement on this front!

Now, back to some things left unfixed and the two articles I read.

A lot is unfixed. Such is life. But one thing that I have noticed this year and that really bothers me is a certain bitterness I have been feeling about some things that have happened to me and to loved ones in the last few years. I have also, the more I learn about the state of the world, become more anxious about our planet’s future than I ever have been before. I have been working hard this year to try to find a way to let go of the rancor and fear and to embrace a sense of peace. I am naturally optimistic and positive, but I’ve become less so in recent years. This sabbatical year I have been looking for a way to regain my healthier outlook on life, to restore balance.

So, anyway, yesterday I read this article in the Sept. 2008 issue of Body and Soul magazine: “Thank-You Therapy” by Terri Trespicio. The title may sound like it’s a trite essay, but it contained the right info to help me. Here’s what I learned:

(a) A study showed that people who wrote five things for which they were grateful each week in a journal felt better about their lives than people who kept track of their problems or just kept a record of events. The gratitude group also was healthier physically and, get this, spent more time exercising — up to 80 minutes more a week! Further, people who kept a daily gratitude journal for two weeks were more likely to “offer emotional support and help to others” than those keeping the other journals.

(b) A study showed that the earlier truism that people have a set point for happiness (a predetermined level of happiness that pretty much stays the same over the long term regardless of circumstances) is not exactly true. In fact, they found that about half of a person’s happiness comes from genetics (their set point) and 10% from circumstances, but a full 40% comes from “intentional activity,” our habits, essentially. The author makes the point that you can actually “bump up your happiness set point” if you commit to a regular practice of gratitude. Gratitude can be learned. We get better at it if we practice it. Hmmm.

(c) The article gives a lot of examples of how to practice gratitude. Here are some of the ones I most liked: “enjoy a mindful meal,” reflecting with gratitude on the people who helped bring that food to your table; “start a gratitude wall” by writing things for which you’re grateful on stickie notes and putting them on a wall (I’m thinking of doing this on my office window); “pay a thank you visit” to someone you appreciate ; “flip your complaints” (i.e., every time you complain stop and think of something for which you are grateful); “set an alarm” to go off during the day and when it does, stop what you are doing and focus on something for which you are grateful; “count blessings, not sheep” before bed; for five minutes write “a bliss list” of as many things that you can remember for which you are grateful and keep the list in your purse or pocket to look at when you are waiting in lines.

The other article appeared in the UU World in Spring 2007, but I just got around to reading it this morning: “The Heart of Our Faith: Gratitude Should Be the Center of Unitarian Universalist Theology” by Galen Guengerich. This article clinched the whole gratitude thing for me, providing another reason for cultivating gratitude in my own and our family life. Here’s an excerpt that hits at the heart of gratitude as a religious principle:

… A sense of awe and a sense of obligation, religion’s basic impulses, are both experiences of transcendence, of being part of something much larger than ourselves.

The feeling of awe emerges from experiences of the grandeur of life and the mystery of the divine. We happen upon a sense of inexpressible exhilaration at being alive and a sense of utter dependence upon sources of being beyond ourselves. This sense of awe and dependence should engender in us a discipline of gratitude, which constantly acknowledges that our present experience depends upon the sources that make it possible. The feeling of obligation lays claim to us when we sense our duty to the larger life we share. As we glimpse our dependence upon other people and things, we also glimpse our duty to them. This sense of obligation leads to an ethic of gratitude, which takes our experience of transcendence in the present and works for a future in which all relationships—among humans, as well as between humans and the physical world—are fair, constructive, and beautiful.

Gratitude. Yup. That’ll work, I think. When one is filled with gratitude, there is no room for bitterness. When one is deliberately grateful, one turns away from fear. When one feels ones extreme good fortune, one works willingly and gladly for the good of others. When one is thankful, one is FULL of thanks, not rancor or fear. Not that I am FULL of rancor and fear, but I’d rather squeeze out those emotions and make room for thanks.

Now, I’ve got two weeks before school starts to try to get a habit of gratefulness started!

Our Tragedy: On Defending Liberal Values … with One’s Life

No doubt you’ve heard. Another shooting. This one strikes a little closer to home for me. It was a church in my denomination that was hit. What was not immediately in the news, though, is that this crime was apparently motivated by hatred. See this excerpt of a news article I found today:

Two Unitarian Universalists killed in church shooting

By Donald E. Skinner
7.28.08

Two people were killed Sunday, July 27, and seven others injured when a gunman opened fire inside the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church (TVUUC) in Knoxville, Tenn., during the morning performance of a children’s play.

. . . Police arrested Jim D. Adkisson, 58, of Powell, Tenn., minutes after the shooting on a charge of first-degree murder. The Knoxville News Standard reported Monday that Adkisson’s ex-wife, Liza Anderson, had been a member of the church.

. . . Knoxville Police Department Chief Sterling Owen IV said at a press conference Monday morning that a four-page letter written by Adkisson had been found in his car. The letter described his “hatred of the liberal movement,” Owen said. “Liberals in general, as well as gays.” Owen also said that Adkisson blamed the liberal movement for his failure to get a job.

TVUUC is active and well known in the community for its support of equal rights for the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community, women, and people of color. It sponsors the Spectrum Diversi-Tea & Coffee House for LGBTQ teens. In 2006, TVUUC’s youth group joined Spectrum members in organizing a demonstration in a Knoxville park after two same-sex teens were harassed for holding hands.

The morning worship service, attended by about 200 people, was to feature a performance of “Annie, Jr.” by approximately 25 children in the church’s summer musical theater workshop. None of the children were wounded.

. . . the shooter had a large cache of ammunition on him at the time of the shooting but he was unable to use it because members of the congregation quickly subdued him.

______

My heart breaks for these good people. To think of those children in that sanctuary having to see this terrible event. It is inconceivable. And yet, is this truly a surprise? We know there is a deep well of hatred in some people’s hearts against gays and those who support them, against people of color and those who stand with them fighting for true equality, against all manner of folk who do not fit within a narrow definition of what it means to be “good” and “righteous.”

The people of that church are doing something so very, very right, standing up for justice in the face of bigotry, prejudice, and a semiautomatic shotgun. May they find healing. May they continue their good work. May people in their community be drawn to a place ruled by love and tolerance.

Information on how you can help:

“In the first 24 hours of its existence, the newly-established Knoxville
Relief Fund has received more than 300 donations. The Unitarian
Universalist Association of Congregations (UUA) in collaboration with
the Thomas Jefferson District has established the Fund to bring
ministry, spiritual care, and practical financial assistance to those
affected by the tragedy in Knoxville, Tennessee. Your gifts will assist
the Tennessee Valley UU Church and the Westside Unitarian Universalist
Fellowship and their members, and will show them that they are not alone
during this time of shock and grief. To make online donations or obtain
further information, visit…
http://www.uua.org/giving/donatenow/117168.shtml

Trondheim, Bergen, and the Open Sea

Sorry that I’ve been off-line for a while, folks.  Odd that it’s been harder to get internet in Scandinavia than in Peru….  Anyway, here’s a recap on the last part of the Scandinavian portion of my trip.  Tomorrow I’ll post on the UK part.

TRONDHEIM:  Discovered a few key things of use there for my book.

(1) Lovely woman at the folk museum called her father on her cell phone to ask him about Trondheim in 1879, the year my Norwegian relatives left.  Her dad is a historian.  Found out the railroad had come there in the early 1870s but had not gone north to Bodø yet.  So my ancestors’ week in Trondheim would probably be the first time they had seen a train. Also, the city was just starting to industrialize then, with a few machine shops popping up.  They made iron stoves, among other things.

(2)  Lovely tour guides at the cathedral helped me put the pieces together that the ancestors would have been there during the time when they had just started restoring the ruined nave of the church.  I saw drawings of what it looked like then — much diminished from the grandeur of today.  That visit to the cathedral, the holiest sanctuary of Norway, made me start thinking about what my relatives would have done in Trondheim while waiting for that boat…. Ah, pray and attend church, I think.  They were very religious.  The tourguide ladies sent us to another old church that they thought my relatives also might have visited.  Yup.  Looked like their church in Bodø but only bigger and a little more ornate.

(3) Also discovered that they would have stayed at a boarding house down on the canals.  Interesting because there are also canals in Göteborg, where my Swedish relatives started their journey to America.  Canals, I know.  My own town is full of them.  Anyway, got a good view of that area.  Short stay in Trondheim, less than twenty-fours hours.  But fruitful research.

We also visited a decorative arts museum and an old fort that had been taken over when the Germans occupied the city in WWII.  I’ll write more about WWII stuff in a post after I return home.  It was very interesting how this kept cropping up….

BERGEN:  Flew to Bergen as the train would have to go all the way to Oslo and then Bergen. A short, uneventful flight.  I did not expect to discover anything of note in this city.  It was merely a stopping point, or more accurately, an embarkation point for our sea journey.  But, as has happened repeatedly on this trip, I gained in understanding.  Perhaps the most interesting thing was just to see this part of the coast and to realize that the immigrants hugged the coastline all the way south before crossing the North Sea.  Bergen was a major port at that time.  While their ship did not stop there, they were traveling in waters frequented by many ships.

By the way, it rained in Bergen.  Anyone at all familiar with the place will not be surprised.  It is like saying, “It was Bergen in Bergen.”  Charming city but we mucked about with our heavy backpacks in the rain for far too long to say we enjoyed Bergen fully.  Had a terrific meal at an Italian restaurant set off the tourist road one block.  Not a soul in there when we first arrived, but we were starving.  We sat down and had dinner while listening to loud Michael Jackson music. Waiter chose the music: “I LOVE Michael Jackson! He’s a great singer!!”  Surreal.

BOAT:  Boarded the Queen of Scandinavia the next morning at 8 a.m. and found our cabin.  La dee dah!  When I booked, I decided to go for the room with a window because I was worried about being sea sick.  Didn’t realize that Commodore Cabin essentially means first class.  Oh, my, aren’t we special?!  It was a lovely room (for a boat, that is) and I learned to thank my lucky stars for that window once we hit the open sea.  Before that, however, I made an appointment to interview one of the crew about travel from Scandinavia to England.  Kim from Denmark was super helpful (except for his comments that seasickness is purely psychological and HE never gets sick). What I learned from him that is useful:

(1) There is a very dangerous and rough patch of sea between the north coast of Denmark and south coast of Norway.  Our Swedes must have had a rough time traveling through there on their way to England, about a day out of the port of Göteborg.  Also, they sailed at the worst time, in October, after the start of storm season.  This explains why great-great grandma Lotta was so very seasick.  I knew that from my grandma’s story, but I didn’t know they had very good reason to be ill.

(2) Norwegian steamers would have followed the coastline even if they did not go into port.  One can totally see this after traveling by boat there.  A huge difference between the sheltered coastline with its many islands and deep and easily navigated fjords and the open North Sea where the wind sweeps down from the north and huge waves can make sea travel treacherous.

(3) The coast of England just appears out of nowhere, and it is relatively flat with a few hills with churches or ruined castles and a few lighthouses dotting the coast.  A strange contrast to the rugged fjords of the north.

When we hit the North Sea it was almost supper time.  Ugh. Within an hour I decided to take the little motion sickness tablet they give out free at the information center.  I went to bed and let it take effect. My friend had no problem with seasickness at all — thank goodness!  When I awoke from my nap, I felt better.  Decided to go to dinner as planned.  Ah, but I hadn’t counted on how the sight of odd sea-related food sitting out in a buffet would make me feel, plus the difficulty of getting to the buffet and back my seat with a loaded plate.  Oh, and the woman at the table right next to us who vomited on the table, poor dear. I ate a digestive bisquit and a few bites of lovely salmon, with my head turned to look out the window at the horizon.  Finally started feeling clamy and made a run for our lovely cabin where I applied a skin patch for seasickness and went to bed for good.  Awoke in the morning feeling much better.  I kept my equanimity overall.  Bed is sometimes best.  Even ate breakfast that morning.  But was heartily glad to get off the boat soon after that.

Good thing that I took that trip, too.  I discovered soon after boarding that the route is being discontinued in September.  This was my only chance to trace the ancestors.  Whew!  What a lucky duck I am!!

And now to bed. I shall write about the UK tomorrow (more interesting stuff)…unless I can’t get the internet connection to work again.  Took an hour this time before I managed to make it work, and I’m not sure how I did it.  Ah, well, homeward bound soon.  Missing the family. Will be good to be home.

Leaving Herrljunga, Goteborg, and Sweden…Then and Now

They stood on the platform at Herrljunga, laden with their heavy luggage, surrounded by relatives who had come to see them off. A hopeful turn to the conversation at one point: ‘I hope you will find what you are looking for.’  At another moment tears: ‘I hope we will see you again some day.’ Then the train approaches from the east and stops. The travelers look back as they board and wave before entering the train car to find a seat for the journey to Göteborg.

In the big city they disembark amidst bustling natives of the major sea port: men and women, children and the elderly, shopping in the central market area or hustling home, grabbing a quick bite to eat in a sidewalk cafe or walking to work, resting at the foot of the Gustav Adolf statue or strolling in the park along the Stora Hamn canal.  Our travelers continue to the waterfront where they board a crowded ship. As the vessel pulls away from the dock out into the river, the travelers stand at the back of the boat and watch the shoreline recede.  The rocking boat travels west, always west, along the river, and landmarks pop out of the landscape, church steeples, government buildings, the immigrant processing center, riverside docks and piers.  The gentle motion of the boat slightly sickens the woman wiping tears from her stinging eyes.

A swirl of emotions surges through her as she looks back.  Joy for the coming journey.  Gratitude for her good fortune.  Sadness to leave the beloved ones behind. ‘Come to America,’ she said to everyone in the days before she left. ‘Come to America.’  Maybe was the guarded reply.

As the ship approached the entrance to the sea, the travelers saw black clouds and heard the rumblings of distant thunder.  The rain was on a collision course with the boat, so all went below deck, with one last lingering look at Göteborg harbor.

1885…?  2008…?  Yes.  Both.

I left the town of my great-grandfather yesterday. My new-found realtives showed up to see us off, just as no doubt the old ones did in Oscar’s day. We went to Göteborg, where we had heard that we could take a ferry all the way down the river, almost to the sea.  And the storm did come up right at land’s end.

Of course, this is pretty much the end of the similarity since we got off the ferry boat at the little town of Klippan to see the 14th-century Alvsborg Castle and Saint Birgittas’ Chapel, where the massive bell measured out the noon hour fifteen feet from us (yes, we were rather surprised!) Then we returned to the quay and took the boat back to the ferry terminal.  We ate lunch at a lovely little 17th-century inn, bought some chocolate at an artisan chocolate and carmel shop, visited the city museum to do some more research, and finally returned to the station to board a bus that would take us to another town where we could catch the train to Oslo, Norway. (They are repairing rails near Göteborg, so we had to go by bus for the first leg of the journey.)

And so we left Sweden.  Not quite as my forebearers did, but we left nonetheless and felt a bit of what it must have been like.  In Swedish, they have a phrase that means ‘a taste’: smaka   (sounds like smoke-a-pore, or as we mistakenly heard it, smoked pork!) Anyway, we had a smaka på of Sweden and of the immigrant experience. I hope this is not goodbye forever as it was for Oscar and his family, who never returned to their homeland. I hope they shall come to visit me and my family and we shall come Sweden, as well. But one never knows.  That is one reason why this experience is filled with so much emotion for me.  The lost have been found.  I shall try not to lose them again, but a vast ocean rests between us.

I’ll leave you with a quote from Frederick Buechner, written on a slip of paper that I have carried with me since my grandmother died:

‘Memory is more than a looking back to a time that is no longer. It is a looking out into another kind of time altogether where everything that ever was continues not just to be, but to grow and change with the life that is in it still.  The people we loved. The people who loved us. The people who, for good or ill, taught us things.  Dead and gone they may be, as we come to understand them in new ways, it is as though they come to understand us — and through them to understand ourselves — in new ways, too.’

Happy 4th of July

8:45 pm. Working hard on a manuscript due back to the publisher before I leave for Sweden and Norway on Monday. Then it hits me. ARRGH.. It’s the 4th of July and my husband is doing homework upstairs for his IT class, and my kid is sitting in the basement watching tv alone. Oops.

Frantic five minutes of running upstairs to ask, “Honey, does it bother you that it’s the fourth of July and our son is sitting alone in the basement?” Yup. “Maybe we should go down to the river and see the fireworks?” Are you sure they are going to have fireworks this year? Maybe you should check the paper.

Run, run, run to the basement to grab my new laptop with wireless internet. Fireworks to start at 9 p.m. Quick look at the computer clock: 8:59. Run back upstairs and tell hubbie, “YUP, starts at 9. Let’s go.” Hubbie shuts down his computer, and I run to the basement door yelling for my son to come quick. He arrives in the kitchen breathless with a worried look. “Let’s go see the fireworks.” Relief floods his face and then a big grin.

We fly to the car and take a “back road,” which is quickly clogged with cars. Edging out to the main road, we pull over as soon as a space opens up, all the while watching the beginning of the show over our shoulders. Then we scamper across the street, where hardly any cars are moving anyway, so jaywalking is fine.

Kaboom!

Crackle, crackle, crackle.

Swoosh.

BANG!

echo, echo, echo…

Kaboom, twang, whizzzzz

pop, pop, pop, popppppety, pop

BA BOOOOOOM!

Amazing how strong the echoes are when fireworks are set off so close to a river. Tons of people, including two young men who almost got into a fist fight two feet in front of us as we watched the fireworks through the trees.

They set off the pyrotechnics from the grounds of my university, actually. One year a while back we went to see the display from right where they set it off. Our son would have NOTHING to do with that, thank you very much. He does NOT appreciate loud noises, and fireworks have only recently become of interest to him (starting last summer when he got to see his uncle’s fireworks show).

I think he enjoyed the holiday at least a little. Fireworks were good. At least he got to stay up way past bedtime, since it took us thirty minutes to drive the mile home…. Oh, and I found out after the fact that my husband had decided today was a good day to teach our child how to light a match. It’s probably time for him to learn. He’s ten. He’ll be careful. I guess he was pretty psyched about it. He even lit the b-b-q. That kid’s sure growing up.

Happy independence day…