Kreativ Blogger? Wow, thanks!

I want to say a big thanks to Montessori Mama, who has given me the Kreativ Blogger award!!

kreativeblogger

You know, it feels kinda good.  I needed the boost — thanks again, MM.  Coming from one of the most creative of all bloggers I know, this award means a lot!

Now, on to the rules:
– List six things that inspire my creativity
– Pass the award on to 6 more kreativ bloggers
– Link back to the person who gave you the award
– Link to the people you are passing it on to and leave them a comment to let them know.

so…

SIX things that inspire my creativity:

  1. family night — We decided to rotate the responsibility to each family member each week  to choose an activity for Friday night that the whole family would enjoy.  Last time that it was my turn, I chose painting, and we had a marvelous time just hanging out and painting together. Never done such a  thing together ALL three of us at the same time.  Cool!
  2. Christmas — Something about that holiday brings out my creative side.  I relish the chance to make things beautiful, to use my hands to create something new out of something old (ornaments, table decorations, handmade cards….)
  3. teaching a text that students seem to find boring — Ah, I love that challenge! That’s when I revert to drawing crazy pictures on the board, jumping on top of furniture to act out a concept, bringing in wigs and hats for students to stage an impromptu dramatization of that boring 18th century poem, etc.
  4. dinner parties — I know you aren’t really “supposed” to make up new recipes when you have company coming, but I love to get creative in the kitchen for my friends.  Almost always there’s enough delicious food (if I do say so myself) in the meal to make up for anything borderline.  Even the flops are food for funny stories later on. 🙂
  5. scrapbooking — Okay, I admit it.  I actually like doing this activity.  I haven’t been able to work on anything for years, but I love how it is both a creative (making something new) and retro- and intro-spective activity.  I need to find a way to do this craft again, as it gives me much pleasure both in the doing and in the viewing later.
  6. Grandma’a life — I find my beloved grandma to be incredibly inspiring.  Writing her book is one of the most meaningful things I have undertaken in my life and one of the hardest.

Now, on to listing SIX more kreativ bloggers:

The Sruggling Writer is a wonderfully creative guy — I like how he just keeps on writing despite being busy with work and his young family. I’ve seen a noticable change in the quality of his writing, too, clearly proving that practice makes perfect. Paul, you’re awesome!

I read Kitty’s delightful blog  The Show Must Go On almost every day.  She is witty and hilarious and kind.  Check her out!  But bonus…she is also a gifted photographer and has another blog The Cuckoo’s Nest filled with interesting pixs.  This gal can do anything.  She even turned me on to cooking cabbage (yup, Kitty, I finally bit the bullet and cooked that thing in the bottom of my fridge — delicious!  Who knew?)

Ginny over at Praying to Darwin is a crack up.  Always makes me LOL when I read of her and her family’s escapades in the great white north of Canada.  I’ve actually snorted with laughter when reading her before.  Thanks, Ginny, for cheering my day!

I love handmade paper products (books, cards, etc.), and I really admire Diane Aldred’s work, often showcased on her blog Much of a Muchness.  She has a real knack for choosing just the right design.  She’s also a good writer, and despite my jealousy over her exciting travels, I’m nominating her as well.

I don’t recall exactly how I first found Katie Hoffman’s blog Paint Fumes, but I have enjoyed visiting it and viewing her paintings for a long time now.  I always find something worthwhile to contemplate there, and I’ve enjoyed learning more about the art wold from her interesting written posts, as well.

When I first began blogging a year and a half ago, I was searching the blogosphere using the keyword “grief”  and came across Linda’s mysteroriley, a “blog I never wanted to write.”  What strikes me so much about this blog is Linda’s courage and the strength of her creative energy in the face of the painful loss of her 20-year-old son.  Linda, I admire you both as a writer and as a human being.  You inspire me!

So, there you have it folks!  And I want to encourage everyone to visit Montessori Mama‘s site, too.  She is a gifted artist, teacher, and a great gal. Thanks!

Dear Grandma…

Dear Grandma,

I miss you.  Lately these flashes of memories keep intruding on my day.

Your laugh.  You looked so regal, so classy.  But your laugh was down home, real folk, spilling out of you whenever the smallest opportunity for mirth arose.  How much we laughed, working on your book, our book.  Every Sunday night when I called you on the phone, we inevitably found our way into a laughing fit.  Such simple things, too. Silly, really.  But you and I, fifty years apart, found so much to chuckle over.  No cynicism in you.  Honest and kind good humor.

I miss you.

Your reassurance.  When I sometimes had not had a chance to work on the book that week and we spoke on Sunday, I knew you were disappointed, but you always said such kind words. You knew I had other responsibilities. You never pressured.  You had faith in me to carry on after you were gone.  And I feel so bad that sabbatical is over and the book is still not finished.  I’m sorry, Grandma.  I’m still working on it. I thought I’d get farther.  Of course, I traveled a lot to research the book settings and stories.  And that was a jolly good thing I did since I found so much usable information that the book is being transformed into a much fuller account.  You’d hardly recognize chapter one anymore, Grandma.  Did you know that Grandpa Skaug’s mom was illegitimate?  Did you know your Dad’s relatives were soldiers back in Sweden?  Did you ever hear about the shipwreck at Kløkstad, Norway?  Did you know our famiiy church was built in 1240 and is still standing?  Did you know that the sea off the coast of Bodø can be as still as a pond and turn savage within minutes? Did you know in Sweden they had a big stick in church to poke people with when they fell asleep during the sermon?  No, you never knew these things.

I miss you. Lately all I want, suddenly, is write your story.

But timing is everything.  I know you’d say now that I ought not to be too hard on myself.  That I have to work and take care of my family.  You’d never begrudge me that.  I was thinking only the other day about the story you told me of when my mother was a baby and Grandpa wanted to go to a movie (always go go going, that Grandpa).  So you swooped up the baby in a blanket and got your coat.  In the theater, you wondered what was poking you, only to find the coat hanger still inside the coat you were wearing.  I understand such exhaustion. I know it’s okay with you that this project is taking a while longer than anticipated.  After all, we moved at a snail’s pace, and I asked you if you wanted me to speed up.  You said, “Do it right!  It’s more important for it to be good and to be read than for me to see it finished.” So you died without seeing it.  And here I am pluggin along over two years later. Still.  I’m sorry, Grandma.

I miss you.

Anniversary Gift

This week my husband and I marked our 18th wedding anniversary. The hubbster gave me a thoughtful and well-written card (he’s a fabulous writer), and I gave him my annual poem written for the occasion and enclosed in a less thoughtful and well-written card. But, hey, he got a poem, so I’m off the hook for the card, right?

My poem this year, no surprise, arose out of my research on the ancestors. Turns out that in Swedish, the word for married is GIFT! (Not at all pronounced as it is in English, but when reading the word on my geneology, it tripped me up each time.) Anyway, the poem is about the ancestors who were gift in the past and the choices they made to be with one another, to make a life together, and in some cases to leave their life in search of a better future in a new land. Thank God they were so brave and strong!

So yesterday I gave my partner his poem even though Tuesday was actually our anniversary. But he is taking classes (in addition to working full time) and had to finish up final exams and all that this week, so we postponed our official anniversary card exchange, etc., until Saturday. On Tuesday, though, we did manage to watch some of our wedding video with our ten-year-old son, who had never seen it.

Wow! First of all, we were SOOOO young! I mean, compared to now. We got married when we had both just turned 26, which is young, sort of, though not really that young to get married, I think. But looking at us! Oh, my, we were so goofy.

Then my attention was grabbed by grandma and grandpa, who were all over that video. My heart skipped a beat when I first saw them. I had no idea that I had them on tape. What a joy to see them once more! Grandpa was so funny. He just didn’t understand what the video camera was. Every time my step-sister pointed it at him, he’d say, “Take it. Take it, Michelle!!” He was waiting for the flash of a still camera. They just couldn’t get across to him that they were filming moving pictures. 🙂 All the while there was Grandma, serene as ever, gracious and loving, never once cracking a smile at her husband’s expense. They were married over fifty years.

And last night, after all of this thinking about the anniversary, the wedding, my grandmother, I dreamt one of those beautiful and rare dreams when Grandma came to visit me in my sleep. She and I were walking around together before my wedding. I was marveling how well she was managing to walk. Of course, she used to walk all the time (duh!), but she had many years with a walker and then was bed-ridden in the final years of her very long life. Those later years had taken over, it seemed, in my memory of her. But here she was walking with me, arm in arm, around the hall where I was married. We were laughing and talking, and I was so happy. As happy as I was that day.

And I was very happy that day. I recall with crystal clarity that I felt complete assurance that I was doing exactly the right thing in marrying this man. I KNEW that it was right. I still think that today. Not that everything is always rosy. But I knew going in that life (and marriage) aren’t like that. No, I knew, though, that here was a guy to be tied to for life. A guy I could trust and enjoy and who would work beside me to build a good life together.

A lovely gift.

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

Lefse That Is Not Lefse, Rommegrot That Is Not Rommegrot, and

Lefse That Is Not Lefse, Rommegrot That Is Not Rommegrot, and
Grandma’s Stinky Cheese

Today I learned a lot about Norwegan food, mostly how everything I
thought I knew about it was wrong. Or at least not quite right. We
had a chance to visit again with my oldest relative in Norway,
Kristianna, and I asked her a lot of questions about many topics,
including Norwegian food from the old days.

Lefse, as some of my readers have pointed out, is not made with
potatoes in Nowegian cuisine, as a matter of course. Most lefse seems
to be made of flour not potatoes. One can find potato lefse here in
the Old Country, but it tastes a little sour. In fact, I am told that
sour milk is an ingredient in both kinds of lefse. Hmmm. I had an
opportunity to buy some at the local grocery store tonight. Okay but
not as good as my Grandma made.

Rommegrot. That is what I always make with lefse at Christmas, or so
I thought that was what I was making. Turns out I was making what is
called flotegrot! The difference is one makes flotegrot from cream,
and rommegrot is actually made from sour cream (one part sour cream to
two parts milk). Still cooked using the same method, but different
end product. Also, I discovered that rommegrot and flotegrot are
summer/fall dishes not Christmas time because in the winter the cows
stopped producing milk. Rommegrot, in fact, was the star dish of the
autumn harvest festival. Go figure.

I also heard a little about gammelost, what my grandma always called
stinky cheese. Her grandma from Norway always brought this
foul-smelling homemade cheese with her when she came to visit.
Grandma talks in her book about how that cheese reeked. We cannot get
it in the US (I have tried), but I was able to buy some in that same
grocery store tonight. Oh my goodness. Talk about disgustingly
foul!!! Not only does it smell bad (though not as bad as I had
imagined), but the taste is utterly unpalatable. How anyone can like,
let alone ingest such a substance is beyond me.

All kinds of myths shattered, folks!

And while I’m at it, turns out also that those beautifully
embroidered, traditional native costumes (called bunads) that they
“wear in Norway” are an early twentieth-century invention from
Southern Norway. My forebearers never wore such clothes. They wore
black wool maybe with a white colar to spice things up a bit, never
danced or drank, and spent long winter nights reading sermons and
other religious texts aloud to the family as they knitted or mended
fishing nets.

In some ways, my grandma had more in common with this lovely elderly
relative, Kristianna, that I met with today than I had in common with
grandma myself, despite the language barrier (K. does not speak
English) and different nationalities. Life when they were young was
similar in Norway and Minnesota — both on farms in rural and somewhat
isolated areas. I just kept thinking today how alike they were, how
much seeing K. reminded me of my wonderful grandma. It was a good day
today, but like so much on this trip, bitter sweet.

With internet problems continuing, I am not sure when I can post
again. Until we meet again, takk and ha det!

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.’

Visiting the Birthplaces and Lost and Found Relatives

I stood on a small hill this afternoon surrounded by the ruins of a crumbling stone foundation, crying like a baby. A blue sky, puffy clouds, light breeze, mild temperature, and daisies waving in the wind.  A tree growing up crooked out of the stones. Oscar’s birthplace. 

My Swedish cousins had brought me to the place where Grandma’s father, Oscar, was born in 1878. You know the way a little half-surge of emotion wells up, a signal that comes just before the tidal wave, warning you to take cover?  That little catch in the throat gave me just enough time to step over the rope fence and turn my back to my relatives, who had brought a little picnic of coffee and sweets to eat after a long day of visiting various family sites. As they passed tupperware boxes full of cake and little buns and poured coffee and juice for one another, I sobbed in Oscar’s little ‘house.’

It’s hard to explain what happened to me. Partly I am just still so hurt by Grandma’s death.  The two year anniversary of her death is fresh, and I kept thinking how sad that she had missed this, that it would have meant so much to her to be here.  But more than the grief and pain of her loss, I also felt a strange sadness, an overwhelming ache.  How could Oscar’s parents leave here and get on that ship to go to America?  Such sacrifice.  So brave.  Being in that exact spot in person somehow made the enormity of what they did hit me full on. This place is beautiful and today especially so with such perfect weather.  How could they turn their back on this place and turn their face to a new land?  How could they say goodbye and then never see their family again?

I mean, my geneology, handed to me on the first day, goes back NINE generations!  And that is just the names and dates.  Of course, they had lived here forever, my family. Maybe my having lived in over twenty different places in my life makes it hard for me to imagine ever feeling so rooted in one place.  For me, then, coming here is like finding something lost. A sense of ‘home.’

So, I cried.  And my friend who is traveling with me later told me that my cousin’s wife was standing behind me down on the path holding a box of cake.  She kept inching forward and backward, undecided about whether to approach me.  In the end, she left me to my tears.  They all did. And I’m glad that I spent that powerful moment alone.  I don’t know what it all means, but when the wave subsided, I turned and saw my living realtives, the lost and found relatives, laughing, eating, talking happily.  I stooped to pick four daisies, one for each of the family that lived and left there: Johan Agust, Eva Charlotta, Oskar, and Gerda. 

Stepping back over the fence, I was received by our hostess with a big bear hug and immediately handed a bun. Eat! she said. Another woman handed me a tissue.  I blew my nose and took a big bite of my pastry. It was good.  She was right.  Sometimes a bit of cake makes it all better.

Three hours later, we sat at the house again and more relatives kept coming and coming. We ate and laughed and talked and looked at pictures and played with the little children and discussed recipes, and I became family — for real — by the end of the night.  I kept wondering how people could be so welcoming and so hospitable and so incredibly generous with a person who is virtually a stranger to them.  But then it hit me that while I had felt a sense of a lost home, they had felt the loss of the people who sailed away. We were lost to each other and now we are found. It was a joyous reunion.