May 5, 2019

What if there will be enough pages in the end?

Parallel to remodeling my home entrance this spring I have been putting together photo albums for my sons. We are talking old school analog pieces with glued pictures and hand written text. The real deal.

As I have been a devoted photographer I did shoot tons of pictures when Trouble & Trouble grew up. I didn’t have the time to make albums for them at that time though, but for Trouble 1’s 30th birthday I sat down and put together the first one for him. Two actually. Black covers. Covering the time from him growing in my belly until he was 5. The third black album was delivered on his 31st. 

Consequently Trouble 2 was presented his first two albums on his 30th too. White covers. As the brothers are two years apart, the first three albums for Trouble 1 and the first two for Trouble 2 ended them up on the same page so to speak, are you with me? 

Spring is the birthday season for the Stolterman family, we are all born in March and April, the best time for the start of life we tend to think. And a good time for making photo albums as well. Light is back, life is back! And this time around the work was so much easier.

Because, as I said, my sons were now on the same page when it comes to documentation. Summer 1994. So what I did was simply going through the pictures making one stack for each son - and actually a small one for myself. Then I placed the albums next to each other and put the pictures in them, parallel. So smooth! Different pictures (I didn’t have copies) but pretty much the same text. So the albums are unique but the journey the same. Summer 1994 traveling around Sweden and hanging out at our place at the end of the road with friends, as well as spending time at grandpa and grandma’s cabin with cousins by the sea. And summer 1995, our second Seattle stay this time with Madrona as our home, getting to know the city. 

So, all was well at my desk where I attended to this task. Except for one thing. In Trouble 2’s first album I remembered to put a couple of important B&W pictures right at the end of it. One was his parents wedding photo. The other a picture of our vocal group Moritz. Eight young people singing together for many years. Four couple actually. We were best friends and we all have kids at the same time, and for the longest time those nine children thought they were cousins. The Moritz cousins. So, these two pictures are in a way the origin of my sons’ life. 

For this new album I had promised Trouble 1 to add those pictures for him. And this was the problem. As there wouldn't be space for them in my parallel gluing procedure. So, as I was tagging along in my work I was haunted by how I could solve this problem. I couldn’t figure it out. And I couldn’t relax and enjoy. Because as every parent to more than one child knows, it has to be fair.

As I couldn’t figure it out, I just kept on going. Thinking I will find a way at the end. 

And a miracle happened.

It turned out that Trouble 1’s album had extra pages! When gluing the last Madrona pictures in both albums (from Valley School which was the key to why we one year later came back to spend a year), it was the end of Trouble2’s album, but not Trouble 1’s! Because there where two extra pages, exactly the right amount for adding those two B&W pictures I had promised him! Can you believe it?!

I was sitting at my desk. Astonished. It all worked out in the end. Just like that. And I was thinking, oh how I wish life was the same. That there would be enough money all the way through, just covering the funeral. A good place to live when it’s time to leave the end of the road. Those things I worry about. That it would all add up in the end.

And maybe it will? But as I can’t figure the future out, I will just keep on going, isn’t that what we do? Like with the photo albums. Worrying along the line. But maybe there will be exactly as many pages as I need in the end. Maybe it all adds up in a perfect way. 

Apr 7, 2019

Realizing a dream!

You know that old saying To Aim for the Stars and Reach the Tree Tops. Or something like that. Well, I’ve done my share of aiming for the stars with no tree tops in sight. I would say with every grand plan I’ve had, I have fallen badly and ended up crawling in shame among the weeds. But for one exception.  

My house. My home. My place here at the end of the road.

Many years ago I watched a movie. I want to think it was the beautiful I am Sam, but I am not sure. Anyway, in this movie there is a hallway with a staircase. The walls in that hallway are painted in a wonderful lavender color.  That color just opened my heart and I said out loud: one day I want a hallway in that color! Years later I reviewed the film (or if it was a different one) with the same reaction. That’s my hallway color!

At the beginning of 2019 I wrote a post about how I wanted things for this year.
And my number one wish was to remodel my hallway. 

It was 21 years since I picked the terracotta tiles and the broadly striped light beige Designer’s Guild wallpaper. The colors have been feeling like a life time ago and the wallpaper certainly looked that way. Worn out and soiled. The entrance to my home was simply depressing. At least to me. And I am the one living here. So.

Per is my age and, as I, his family is rooted in this village since centuries back. He is also quite a handy-man. He did my kitchen a year ago and I learned that he was thorough on the job and very patient with me.

You remember the woman in Sleepless in Seattle who had her home done? The one who wanted a Subzero fridge for her catering plates and therefor needed to tear a bearing wall down? Well, that’s me. Not the catering, and I wouldn't take down a bearing wall, but it’s got to be right. The result has to make me happy. Euphoric. Which demands a lot of the crafts people I am hiring. I’ve noticed though that often times they appreciate performing on a high standard. It’s challenging in a good way. Showing off their skills.

So, as Per now knows my preferences and seems okay with it I asked him if he wanted to help me out with my entrance/hallway/mud room. Could he do it this spring? And he could!

Now, the crucial task for me was to find that lavender color which has been in/on my mind for 10-15 years. Paint shops have those sun color schemes with 2000 colors, you know? Like sun fans. I picked one nuance close to my memory. Friday afternoon two weeks ago Per painted parts of the main wall, for a try. His quite comment: well this is an intriguing color.

It was. But was it the right one? It was dashing. But it led me to a 14 year-old girls room. A little too much.

Back at the paint shop I checked out the closest nuances to the one a bought, one darker and one lighter. I could tell none of theme would work. No, you would probably need the one just in between, Björn - the guy who helped med out - said. But there is no such color on the chart. 

Of course not. Out of 2000 colors I want one which isn’t there. A nuance in between. Like taking out a bearing wall but the other way around kind of.

Björn took on the challenge though. I could of course try to make a mix of my own. A little less pigment. Add a pinch of black. From the top of my head. But I can’t guaranty the result, the mix can be whatever. He said. Yesss, that’s my guy!

I got back to the house with three colors. The darker, the lighter and Björn’s Mix, as we called it. I don’t know if Björn is one hell of a paint mixer or if I was unbelievably lucky, but his special mix is perfect! Just perfect! Exactly the color I’ve been carrying in my dream factory for years!

To make the room more exciting and dynamic I’ve actually used all three colors, on different walls. If you don’t know, you think it’s the light changing. But I know. And I love it.

So what about the floor then? You can’t have a terracotta floor to lavender walls, of course not. But it turns out you can actually paint tiles! This was the part Per and I were dreading a bit since it was new to both of us. But it worked! Thursday morning he put the primer on and in the evening the first coat of dark grey color, drying overnight. Friday evening the same procedure. Yesterday morning I walked down the stairs from the upper floor, amazed by the sight. I took my first steps on the new dark grey surface. It's so beautiful! Like a new tile floor!

Can you picture the there nuances lavender walls and the perfect dark grey floor? Tomorrow Per will be here and finish up. Put the moldings back and a last hand on details. Adjust lightings. Then it’s my job to in some way get my grandparents sofa out of wood and a drawer from the seventies painted in white.

Why is it so important to me to get it just right? Whatever I create? I can’t describe it in any other way than when it is, my heart rate slows down. My breathing goes deeper. My body relaxes. My mind finds peace. And my soul is filled with joy. Dissonances resolves. The chord is tuned. There is perfect harmony.

You might think to remodel your home entrance isn’t a big thing. Not much of a grand plan. And I agree, it isn’t. It’s more of a small plan. But to me who don’t have much power to change things on a larger scale, it is. I am realizing an old dream that’s been with me since I first saw that lavender film hallway - by the way I must find it one more time. Once again I have proven that here at the end of the road I am able to succeed. And that’s a good thing. I am grateful and happy.

Mar 10, 2019

Will you be in contact with your contacts?

So how am I doing without my long time Sunday routine? I am doing surprisingly and wonderful well, thank you!

It snowing through a sun hazy sky this afternoon. Kind of magically beautiful. After a couple of weeks with life threatening ice slippery roads heaven opened a couple of days ago and let go of 25 centimeter (0,8 foot) white stuff and we are back to real winter again after having had somewhat of a spring-wintry feeling for a while. That’s how it goes this time of year on the 64th latitude.

So, how did I spend my first unscheduled Sunday for 7 years and 4 months?  Well, I was lying here on my couch after my morning routine, thinking, What would you enjoy today Maria? I noticed my hands and them being in a terrible need for manicure. So I did that. With lots of time letting the different layers of nail polish dry, for a satisfying result. Nice.

Then I did something I’d been thinking about all winter through heavy snow falls and storms. Something very practical and even more satisfying than doing my nails. 

When weather is really bad (you could say dangerous) and I go to bed I bring my torch into my bedroom. In case of power outings. That’s the only thing I do, but it’s something. I try to remember having my cell phone charged. I also have landlines, two actually. One of them is connected to a phone which needs power though, so that one is out when the power is out. And if my cell should die, well, that’s that.

Only, I actually have two old school phones in the house connected to the world out there with sturdy reliable telephone sockets. One in the kitchen and one in my bedroom. Amazing, right? So I am safe!

Then again, if my other phones die… I don’t have access to any phone numbers… Do you have your contacts written down on a paper somewhere nowadays? I don’t. Or at least, I didn’t. Because that’s what I did my first unscheduled Sunday in 7 years and  months!

I chose my analog calendar to be the safe place. I wrote down the numbers to family and friends I could call in case of emergency. And the most important numbers to my home care company. In addition, I also added the electrician, plumber, heating pump service technician and the guy who administrates my village broadband fiber net.

There you go! I have taken a step for security if the crises should happen. I am also planning on a list to keep in my bed stand. That might happen some other Sunday.

Only. Again. Every single contact on my proud calendar list is a cell number. So, if the mobile network goes down…there is no-one to call. Because who has a land line these days? Except me.

In many places and regions in Sweden the old reliable copper wires are cut. Some more years, and there won’t be any left. Too expensive to maintain. And we have the mobile network, right?

Last summer every household in Sweden received this information folder from the Swedish Civil Contingencies: If Crises or War Comes. It tells you how to prepare, what to do and where to go if there should be a real crises.

One of the very important things to think about should that happen, is to be careful about using your cell phone. To not overload the mobile network. 

I agree. That’s a crucial advice. But excuse me, how are we supposed to communicate? Power out - no broadband. Copper lines cut - no land lines. Message in a bottle? Pigeons? Runners?

I am doing a bit of mockery here. But this is serious business. I don’t know about other countries, but this is Sweden. Where we are so eager to be on the forefront when it comes to technology that we literary are cutting proven safety nets because they feel outdated. Like we would never need a Plan B.

It is all so vulnerable. We are all so vulnerable. How do you feel when the mobile network is down? In this time and age when everything can be hacked. What’s you gut feeling about The Cloud as the hand to hold in case of emergency? No, I didn’t think so…

So. I am going to write a contact list for my bed stand. Next to my parents analog telephone with a wire in to the telephone socket. And if the mobile network is down, at least I can call 112 (911).

And the question for that first free Sunday of mine? Did I enjoy writing that list? I most certainly did.

Feb 17, 2019

2019: I want things!/So thank you for now

Do you remember this one?

It’s been percolating in me for a while: do I really want spending every Sunday writing my blog?

The main reason for this question is the fact that my body has been doing better for a good while. Jinx jinx, that could change any minute, so knock knock knock knock on every piece of wood within reach. But as a result of this improvement my days are a bit changed. 

Right now the afternoon sun is for the first time this winter reaching my west window finding my eyes here on the couch at the end of the road. It might not have happened before because it’s been cloudy. It could also be though that I haven’t been on the couch at this time. Because I am more moveable. Not every day. But some.

This is good news. This is really good news. This is wonderful news.

Thus, I am moving around a bit. Sometimes sitting a little while at my desk in my office. Sometimes at my dining table in my yellow kitchen. Spending time at other locations in my house than my couch gives me opportunities for other activities. Different activities. I am exploring long buried memories of creativity from ancient times. Times when I could go 24-7 on tasks like being in the dark room, sew a suit or sit at the piano crafting a song.

OK, hold your horses! Or hold my horses I should say. I am not DOING these things! I am only thinking about them. But finding these memories makes my mind reach further than my couch. Beyond my computer, a lit up screen and a dark keyboard. What could I do? And what do I want to do? What is my mind, heart and soul missing and longing for? 

I have answers to these questions. I won’t share them with you though, not at this point. I would love to when I have realised one or two of them, so wait for it!

But to make room for other aspects of my creativity I need to make a change for myself. I need to clear my Sundays. Maybe not all of them, but some. 

This is truly a big change. For 7 years and 4 months I have been writing my blog every week. Home is Away, Away is Home. I have been sharing stories about my two cities Umeå and Seattle. I have been reporting about politics. And I have been letting you in to my personal life. A life which has gone through hardships and joy, changes and stagnation. You might have experienced me open and transparent, and that’s correct. Still, what’s most important to me I can’t share. Out of consideration to other people, and maybe also to myself.

In this moment I am struck by anxiety. Can I do this? I love writing, and even though my English is far from perfect and pretty plain, publishing a text every week is great practise. Also, I have had a chancel for formulating and sharing stories, for expressing myself in words, something that is essential to me. Can I be without that?

I don’t have any followers. Yet I know some people are reading my postings. The Blogger statistics is impossible to figure out so I don’t know how many. That doesn’t really matter though. I am merely writing for myself. And you and you and you and you. And I am encouraged and grateful to anyone and everyone who has taken time and focus for my stories over the years.

As I am suffering from grave separation anxiety in general this is not a farewell and goodbye. I will not shut down Home is Away, Away is Home. I still want the possibility to write if I have an important subject or just feel like it or miss it too much. I know I am taking a chance though. Continuity has been one of my strengths and probably the most important factor to why people find me.

Three deer are crossing my field at the base of Dry Mountain in the bright afternoon sun. Spring-winter is saying hello. And I would like to thank you, each end everyone for your attention this far. Who knows, I might very well be back next Sunday!

PS. I am wiggly and out of balance. This is scary. Can I get back to you on this?

Feb 10, 2019

Umeå and Seattle on the same snowy page

A Seattle Facebook friend is posting a question: Do you remember the 1996 snowstorm?

I sure do. It was when we stayed for a year and the snow hit the day after Christmas and literally put a 1,5 feet wet white blanket over the city causing all kinds of damage including casualties. A whole family died as their house slided out in the Puget Sound. It was all horrible.

I hope this week’s snow adventure isn’t that bad. It’s funny because right now the weather maps for Seattle and Umeå looks the same. 

Last weekend we had about 30 cm (1 foot) of snow in a storm which made authorities advice to not go outside or at least not take the car. Well, when you live on the countryside you have to anyway, there is no other way to get around. But as Trouble 2 was driving me back home from a downtown choir rehearsal I was glad our car has 4 wheal drive, I don’t think we had made it all the way here to the end of the road otherwise. it looked like the Oregon Dunes. Did I mention it was -14C/7°F…?

This weekend the heaven has blessed us with 20 cm more (0,7 foot). Last weekend was powder, but as the temperatures now are around freezing point, it’s a heavy load. I am sure the snow in Seattle is about the same quality.

Because, as it happens, heaven has emptied it’s snow storage in Seattle at the same time as over here. And I can see from friends pictures and Seattle Times it is a lot!

I am grateful though I am here and not in Seattle. For one thing, Umeå is flat. Seattle hilly. That helps. We are equipped, educated and experienced when it comes to driving in snow. Seattleites not so much, for obvious reasons. And plow trucks are working round the clock to not get the city all clogged up.

This is the second winter in a row with lots of snow here on the 64th latitude. It’s beautiful, but difficult when you can’t take care of the snow yourself. On a personal note I am saved by a kind neighbour. Roger comes by every morning and afternoon while walking his dog. He shovels the snow up to my house and he sweeps the front porch. This week he has even been here three times a day. Crafting a perfect path from my gate to the porch. I am so grateful.

I have a measuring point. The poles supporting my cherry trees. Last winter the snow at it’s most covered the shortest of them. 3 feet. As for today, the snow has just reached that point. It isn’t even mid February yet so I am looking forward to a new record. As long as Roger still comes by and lets me out of the house I can allow myself to enjoy the white landscape and the blue February shadows.

Feb 3, 2019

My most important story ever

I am very relieved, grateful and happy this weekend. After months in limbo, me and everyone else in Umeå in need of home care can finally relax. We are allowed to keep the companies best suiting us to help us out in our daily lives.

It was in November the news came that the majority in the City Council wanted to change the system for home care. Since 2005 people in need of help in their homes have had a free choice for whom would execute the care, Public City Care or private companies. The cost for the client is the same. 

My experience from the Public City Care was dreadful. Every day new faces. After a month I was totally exhausted and I didn’t feel safe although frequently looked after. I know very many people tell the same stories, which is truly sad. It really shouldn’t be that way.

I switched to a local start up I knew of, Civil Care, owned by to young men, Peter Andersson and Awara Gulani. I was their 6th client, it was more like a family. Today Civil Care has around a hundred employees, nevertheless the heart and love is still there. And they have taken care of me in the best way possible for more than six years now.

So, in November the majority of the Council bursted the bomb that they would cancel the free choice system. Instead the City would decide for the clients. That’s a brief summery of the whole thing.

People in need of care in their home are most often elderly. Men and women who rarely speak up. Or even have the ability to do so. This is a vulnerable group in society. We are a vulnerable group. A quiet and unseen group. Hidden in the shadows.

I was devastated by the news. Civil Care is absolutely essential to my life. They are giving me a life within my limitations! And I new this was scary news to many many more.

In desperation I wrote a long text for publishing on Facebook. Since it was lengthy I didn't expect many in that medium would have the focus span reeding it. I was totally wrong though. Within a couple of days the text was shared around 90 times. It reached people way beyond my network, including politicians. I was stunned.

An intense debate in local media followed. Individuals, politicians and the local private home care companies. Everybody got involved and spoke up. We weren’t in the shadows any more.

The intensity of the debate made things shift. For a while the balance in the Council was even. Until suddenly the party to the left of the Left Party chocked everyone with being in favour of the free choice! 

This Monday the case was up for decision in the City Council. The ultimate shift came already in December, but as anything can happen in politics, the Holidays were nervous to everybody involved. The debate in the Council on Monday was long. But eventually the free choice won the vote. The numbers were 34-30.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying this all happened because of my text, absolutely not! Everybody in favour of the free choice system has done an incredible job here and would have regardless. But for me, I think my story of a vulnerable life depending on help from society is the most important piece I have ever published in any medium. It feels good.

Jan 27, 2019

My aunt Inga-Märta/part 2

It’s funny and absolutely a coincidence, but I am actually doing my nails while writing this text. I wonder how she had liked this color.

On Friday, my extended family bid our last farewell to the family matriarch. My aunt Inga-Märta passed away on January 29, a few weeks shy of 91 years old.

Inga-Märta was the youngest of the three children born here at the end of the road during the nineteen twenties. She was also the one, although burdened with ailments, given the longest life. And in February a year ago we celebrated her 90th birthday.

Family parties have always been an important part of my families social life, and on this day three generations were gathered for coffee, lots of pastry, stories and some singing. It was warm and fun, and even a bit sad. We suspected it might be the last big festivity on Inga-Märta’s behalf, and we were right. 

Two days later, she gave in for the dementia and moved away from home in early summer. Inch by inch she deteriorated. There was nothing left of her the night she peacefully passed away with her beloved son and grandson by her side. It was the best of endings. And for all of us, as the family Christmas party was the day after and we all got to be together. I am sure she was aware.

On Friday, again, three generations were gathered for the funeral, as well as many friends. Nearly 91 years old, to have that many wanting to be there, says a lot about how Inga-Märta lived her life.

The ceremony was beautiful and warm. I was happy and grateful to hold both my sons’ hands. To hear my sister sing Handel’s Lascia ch'io pianga (Dagen är nära). And my nephew’s wife play the organ. It was difficult though watching our beloved Bertil, soon 98 years to be, at the casket. The only one left of the five cousins who ran the fields here in the village as children and who kept being close through their lives. 

We have a family tradition for funerals. As we are all musical and many of us choral singers, we end the ceremony standing together in the front singing. My father passed away at Christmas time and we all said our farewell with one of the most loved Swedish Christmas songs, Jul jul strålande jul, in harmonies. Both my mother and my uncle’s lives ended in the summertime and so consequently we wanted our goodbye to be the summer hymn they both had been singing in choirs for all their lives, En vänlig grönskas rika dräkt. 

For Inga-Märta, pretty much everyone in the little church formed a big circle around the casket, it was even hard to squeeze all of us in. And we sang to her,and to us a favorite evening hymn, Bred dina vida vingar. Surrounded by all her loved ones, that’s how she was received by the God she so firmly believed in. And entered the Heaven where she was to meet everyone passing before her. 

I hope this beautiful tradition is now well founded in my children and their cousins, so that when the time for me and my five cousins is up, we will as well be sung off in this glorious, powerful and loving way.

Oh, and what about the nails? Well, all through Inga-Märta’s life as long as I can remember, she was particular about her nails. She took good care of them, they were long and colourfully shiny. At the end it was my sister who held her hands and painted her nails. Two layers of mother-of-pearl. I am thinking she might have found my color of the day, a dark purple leaning towards black, somewhat morose.