Aug 25, 2013

Moving in a good circle

-       You are looking a lot better Maria. Really, a lot!

This is Michael talking. Michael is my chiropractor here in Umeå. He started his practice pretty much when I started my now 27-year career as a back patient. He is the one who has, by far, treated me the most.

I am a tough case. Usually, when I see a new practitioner they are all optimistic and positive, convinced that they will be the one finding the core of my problem, fixing me. At the 5th-6th treatment I am sitting there comforting them though. Telling them that nobody in this whole wide world has been able to help me. So, please don’t be sad. And then I smile and move on to someone else for a while, to give the poor person some space. Careful not to let them know what it feels like inside of me.

I don’t know how many have been treating me over the years. In Seattle, at least six different people, my dear friend Randi being the most patient and loving of them all. In Umeå I would say 15-20 chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists, massage therapists, acupuncturist and naturopaths. And then one in Northern Ireland. And I am sure somewhere else. And it’s been hundreds and hundreds of thousands kronor out of my wallet.

- You really do look a lot better.

Michael was on call around New Years. I hadn’t seen him for about four years, letting him rest. But here we were again, like so many times before, only: I was worse than ever.

Michael is looking at me with new eyes though, not intimidated or depressed about my sad condition. He has studied, now working with a different technique then he used to. And he tells me that he thinks my main problems are at the bottom of my pelvis and in my neck. And that everything in between is secondary to that. And in good spirits he takes on the assignment helping me out.

I have seen Michael pretty much two times a week since January. A month later I got his first “Maria, you are looking better”. In March he told me about his measuring points, which told him I wasn’t as twisted as when I first came in. I didn’t feel that much difference myself, but clinging hopefully to Michaels testimonials, “Trust me Maria, you are getting better.”

I have never before experienced the power in someone believing in me. I showed up in Michael’s office many times lost in discourage and pain, frustrated about my condition and situation, feeling like I did no progress at all. And I left with his words ringing in my ears:

-       I have to say, this looks fantastic.

At the very end of May, the day for the funeral of my dear uncle Lennart, I found myself forgetting my back support at the house, being up and about for a whole day without it! This was the first sign of a turning point. It took my brain and body that long to understand what Michael had been saying for 3-4 months: that I was doing a lot better.

Since then I have been more stable and I am slowly getting stronger. I have been able starting working out with my upper body and can now do 4,5 kilo (about 10 pounds) with my biceps and triceps (8 kilos = 17-18 pounds in my hay days)! I am so happy: I never thought I would get my arms back again!! I still have to be very careful about my lower back though, but hopefully, some day…

And I am driving! Well, rephrasing: on a good day I am driving my summer car, the Le Baron which doesn’t have a stick shift and is therefore more gentle on my pelvis. It also has a power seat so that I can adjust the angles while driving, if necessary. Also, I am only driving with a co driver, not ready to be alone in the car yet.

What is still tricky is walking, since my pelvis is still unstable and often a bit twisted. I am not doing more than 400 meter (0,25 mile) at a time, but 2, 3, or even 4 times a day, which makes me end up at a mile on a really good day, and that’s pretty darn good!

And, in August, at the time when most Swedes are returning to their desks at the office, I was able to move my 9 months couch corner office down to it’s regular place at the bottom floor! Oh the joy sitting up straight in my beautiful office with my computer on my desk in front of me!! I can’t of course do 9-5, but 2-3 hours at a time, and I just love it!

On May 5th under the title You always have a choice. They say / Part 2, I was listing 77 more or less impossible dreams that I wanted to do. I am happy to announce that 9 of those dreams have this summer been achieved!

·      Go to a concert (Sting!)
·      Drive        (at least semi driving)
·      Move around without back support
·      Sit for hours with my beloved neighbor Alida drinking tea and talking about life and death
·      Climb a ladder (to get to The Treehouse / Kojan)
·      Stand up and sit sown without the fear of being stabbed by a knife in the back
·      Change linen in my bed
·      Cook       (at least semi cooking)
·      Have a shop till you drop afternoon with a friend (although I dropped in about an hour, but thank you Agneta and Agnes!)

Within reach are Going to the movies and Going to a restaurant. And I am having my breakfasts at the kitchen table or outside, and even doing a little bit of happy dancing on a good day! Curios for the rest of the 77- item list? Look here of what to expect:

It’s 9.30 PM and it’s already dark outside. The day was beautiful. 70°F, perfectly blue sky and a light breeze. I didn’t make it to the beach this summer (one of the dreams), but I’ve spent many afternoons on my sun-bed on the grass behind the bakers’ cottage, and that’s good enough. Today might have been the last one. Late August is usually early fall here on the 64th latitude, and so having a tanning day August 25 is rare and wonderful, a late summer memory to cherish when temperatures are dropping.

-       You are looking a lot better Maria. You really do.

Yes, I am beginning to believe that I do. And I can feel it too. It’s a bit magical that it might be Michael, who has seen me for 27 years, possibly finding the roots for my dysfunctional body. I feel like I have been moving in a big circle. And I think Michael is as happy as I am about that circle.

Aug 18, 2013

Headlines for billionaires

So, it echoed all the way over here. Every newscast reported. The big news that Jeff Bezos was buying the Washington Post. The Millennium innovator meeting the legendary 136-year old newspaper. And once again a successful Seattle billionaire is making headlines.

In 1993, when I first came to Seattle, Microsoft was still a company, a young adult at age. People working at Microsoft were young too. You were (and to a large extend still is) expected to work around the clock, and important meetings were scheduled in the evenings. That took care of the problem with employees starting families. If you had to go home to your children in the evening, you were out of the loop at the office, a self-regulating lay off system to keep the company young.

Bill Gates was accused for being greedy. Donations from his burgeoning wealth seemed to be in his own interest: computers and software only. His 6100 square meter mansion took seven years (1988-95) to complete. I remember the building cranes south of the 520 Bridge bridgehead at Lake Washington in Medina. Year after year. Although Seattle is populated with a large amount of wealthy people and the city is sprinkled with spectacular homes, the Gates’ building site was kind of obnoxious and the talk of the town for about ten years.

At about the time when Bill Gates and his wife Melinda moved in to their Pacific Lodge-style, super high tech earth-sheltered (cut into the mountain) home, Jeff Bezos came driving across the country from New York, writing up the business plan on the way.

The reason for him to choose Seattle for his fresh internet-based business, was a then new US Supreme Court rule that online retailers would not have to collect sales taxes in states where they lack a physical presence"; he headed to Washington because of it’s small population and presumptive customers mostly being out of state. That was his plan.

And the plan worked. Amazon started out as an Internet bookstore. Then added music, film and today you can bay most anything from A to Z from the company, even food! Amazon is now the world’s largest online retailer. As Microsoft is the largest company in software developing.

While Bill Gates and his company have matured and found their places in Seattle and the world, Jeff Bezos and Amazon are still young. Back in 1993 it wasn’t on the map that Bill Gates would turn into the most generous and powerful philanthropist in the world. The home of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation was until they moved in to their new headquarters across from Seattle Center in 2011, a humble Eastlake building which you had to look for to find.

Amazon, on the other hand, is now the teenager who is taking up far more space than some of Seattle is comfortable with. And interesting it is, that there is a link between the two biggest-in-the-world companies.

Paul Allen founded Microsoft with his Lakeside high school pal Bill Gates. He left the company in 2000 to focus on philanthropy and developing within his company Vulcan Inc. 1992 already, he started investing in South Lake Union, a run down industrial area in the middle of Seattle, neighboring the southern tip of pretty Lake Union. Today Vulcan owns a large part of it. The South Lake Union redevelopment represents one of the largest urban revitalization projects in the US. New residential areas, office, retail and biotech research space are replacing one-story garages, paint shops and boat supplies.

Amazon started out pretty much as an underground thing where sales people were picked from the street (this was in 1994 and everybody was hiring) answering phones on desks made out of old doors placed on home made hammer-and-nailed wooden frames. Today, the Amazon headquarters campus at South Lake Union is totaling 11 buildings, built by Vulcan and later purchased by Amazon. The Amazon presence in Downtown Seattle is in total 6 million square feet with a workforce of 91 000 employees, pretty much the exact same numbers as Microsoft which is located in Redmond, Eastside Seattle.

That said, Amazon has kept a low profile. You won’t find any logos on those buildings. That’s why their new three block development in progress at South Lake Union is racing eyebrows: three giant glass-and-steel spheres capable of accommodating mature trees, accompanied by high-rise office towers. Built by Vulcan.

So, the basement flannel company is coming out in the daylight, needing air and taking up a lot of Seattle space. And the founder, Jeff Bezos, is investing in the more eastern Washington, buying the Washington Post.

When I first came to Seattle twenty years ago, Microsoft was about 20 years old, an annoying young adult. Bill Gates, at that age, made the impression still fighting acne, needing a lot of deodorant. Amazon started the year after and is today the same age: a baby cuckoo needing a bigger nest. Jeff Bezos has been a much more reticent public figure than Bill Gates. His private Washington Post purchase is therefore raising eyebrows the same way the giant glass spheres do.

But who knows what Jeff Bezos legacy will be in another twenty years? Bill Gates certainly surprised everyone. Only time will tell.

Aug 11, 2013

The treasure hunt

-       I want that one!
-       Me too!

It is eight years now since my sister and I cleaned out the house where we grew up and put it up for sale. Our parents had both passed away that winter, dad right before Christmas, mom when the birches turned green in May.

Our father was a strong tall life-affirming man who suddenly was diagnosed with lung cancer and was gone within six months. Our mother had hurried through life sad and in anxiousness, at the end crippled by several physical diagnoses. It wasn’t in our fantasy that we would loose our dad before mom, but we did. And five months later she gave up her life.

My sister and I are mothers of altogether five sons. They were all teenagers when their grandparents died. Going through their things they kept some treasures, little things that were grandpa and grandma to them, boy’s memories that fitted into a teenage room.

Me and my sister had a feeling though that they might appreciate different things when they grew older. And so we boxed up dinnerware and kitchen utensils, the Christmas crib and the church playing Silent Night, and of course the crystal chandelier that neither of us desired. The boxes have been sitting at the attic of my baker’s cottage all these years, waiting for the right time to come. And the right time was now.

More exactly this week. Trouble 2 back from Paris. Cousin 1 back from Canada. But Trouble 1 leaving for US on Monday. And Cousin 3 for Barcelona in a couple of weeks. So, on to it!

-       That used to be my favorite!
-       It was mine too!

We all gathered Wednesday afternoon starting out with take out pizza under my apple tree. I don’t think there have ever been pizza under that tree, but there is a first time for everything. And we sure needed a great deal of energy before opening up those dust covered boxes.

Cousin 1 married a year ago and has a new home. Trouble 2 and Audrey did just move into their first apartment, and Trouble 1 and Fay are planning for a future together. Cousin 2 and 3 have brutally been kicked out of their home since my sister and husband recently scaled down. So the timing for all five sons to dig in to those boxes was perfect!

It was a beautiful evening so the event happened outside in my front yard. My sister and I comfortable in chairs while our sons and girlfriends spread cutlery, tablecloths and teacups on the grass, hunting for treasures.

It was fun. It was emotional. It was overwhelming. And it was a bit magic.

I am often thinking how my parents would have loved their grandsons’s choice of girlfriends. And how sad it is that they didn’t get to meet. But that evening, watching Audrey and Fay’s happiness over the crystal chandelier and the Christmas crib, I felt like they met. Like they really did. Dinnerware and cutlery that used to pass Grandpa and Grandma’s hands every day, now tenderly received by the hands of two young women who love their grandsons and want to share their lives.

-       Oh, I had forgot about that one!
-       How could you, it’s unforgettable!

The evening was turning chilly as the boxes and treasures found their new owners. But the most spectacular sky kept us outside yet a while. None of us had ever seen anything like it: blue, violet, turquoise, purple, red, orange, yellow, pearl, a rainbow of colors playing above us as the sun was setting. Playing above the roof of the baker’s cottage where Grandpa and Grandma spent so many summers. Above the fields which Grandma’s father once farmed.

At my kitchen table later, warm, their daughters and families having tea together. Passing around Grandpa’s golden watch and Grandma’s golden bracelet. Their wedding rings. What to do with those? We agreed on not making any decisions there and then. It had been a long evening.

I had a hard time sleeping that night. That’s okay, I know the routine: a tossing and turning night, empty of rest, follow a day packed with impressions and emotions. It’s been eight years since I boxed up my mom and dad. Years packed with challenges and life turning changes.  The sight now of my mom’s omelet pan makes me take a deep breath. My dad’s blue apron designed as a dressed up west makes me smile and miss him like crazy. Looking at their everyday things from my childhood home is looking at myself.

The day after I was exhausted. Body and soul. Happy though. Happy because we were all there meeting Grandpa and Grandma once again, together. And because the two of them will live on in the homes of Trouble & Trouble and Cousin 1,2 and 3. What used to be everyday things to them, my sister and me, are treasures to the next generation. Happily received and cherished. A Grandpa and Grandma forever remembered.

Aug 4, 2013

Taking pride in little dreams fulfilled

I have all these dreams. For myself. And for my place here at the end of the road. In May, under the title “You always have a choice. They say/part 2”, I was listing 77 of them. Yes 77. Everything from “pick something up from the floor - buy the Smith Tower. To “go to the movies - dig a lake or two”.

I don’t have a problem finding 77 dreams, big and small, utopias and maybe-a-possibility-at-some-point. It’s very easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged about everything I want and want to do that can’t happen. And hard to see that I, in spite of everything, circumstances and challenges, have managed to accomplish and fulfill some small things that used to be on my long list before it was narrowed down to only 77.

In the seventies my mother planted a couple of lupines in front of the cute outhouse, where the barn used to be. Over the years they have spread to a June-beautiful sea of white, pink, scarlet and different shades of blue. The place has felt kind of flat though. I wanted to add something to give it some height. Also, I felt like it needed some centerpiece.

I had spotted a big rock in the grove between my place and Alida’s. Dark grey, like a stranded baby elephant. Everyone told me it was too big to move. Well, if you say so… I laid my eyes on a smaller one for a different location and asked Sören to bring his tractor. He did. But even though it was way too small for my needs it was quite enough for Sören’s tractor, and it took a while to get it into his bucket and put it in the right place, just in front of the lupines. Nice!

Should I give up on the baby elephant?  That’s what everyone told me to. But, what about Jonas? Jonas and Sören are the two farmers in my village. It turned out that Jonas was more heavily equipped than Sören, and yes, he could probably do it! Watching him wake the elephant up and let if fall asleep again in the middle of mother’s sea of lupines was a spectacle! And my feeling had been right, that was exactly what was needed and the hidden elephant of the woods was given a new life. And ha, it could be done! Don’t ever tell me what’s possible and not! I literary felt like I could move mountains!

I love the traditional American Aaron Deck Chair. Summer -07 while in Seattle, I saw a picture of four chairs in four shades of yellow, green, blue and red, one color per chair. So Seattle! So fun! I love how playful art and crafts are in Seattle! And the idea of doing something similar back home was firmly planted in me.

Summer -09, the chemo summer, I bought a deck chair at one of those low cost Home Depot kind-of places (Jula) in Sweden. It was plain natural pine, about 30 dollars – I was lucky to even find one, they weren’t as common here back then. And then I got myself the colors I wanted. Four shades of blue and violet. Just some paint, not a big deal. Well, as the chair was going to be on the grass in front of the lupines under the birch tree and the open sky I needed out door paint. Only 90 bucks… Did anyone have opinions about this? What do you think?

Then I dismounted the whole chair. And it wasn’t a four-part back. It was a seven. And then on to the paint job.

It was a sad summer. Not only because of the chemo but the weather. A no-good summer for painting. It was raining a lot. And very windy, as it always is. I can truly say that it took me the whole summer and a good part of the fall to make this Seattle fun thing become reality in Sweden. Every single part of the chair needed three coats of paint. Most of it I had to do inside because of the weather. And, of course, I was very week. I could only do so much at a time. But, finally it was done.

It’s now the forth summer I am enjoying this Seattle inspired jewelry in front of my mothers lupine sea and the two impossible-to-move rocks. I’m so glad I put all that money into that paint, because the finish is still as beautiful as when it was first done.

The very same summer Trouble & Trouble and I planted for baby apple trees in the lupine sea. The winters to come should be really hard on those babies, but they have all survived snow, deer and field mice and are looking good, spreading above the lupines and framing those impossible rocks.

Now, a forth dream for this spot is a water lily in a zinc bucket under the birch tree with the deck chair. Shouldn’t be that hard? Well, the zinc bucket is a substitute for a good size pond, so it’ really just a tiny dream. But water lilies need some depth so it took me many years to find a deep enough bucket. Which I did last summer.

My cousin Pär helped me plant the water lily in some special clay at the bottom of the bucket. Pär lives in Miami and knows his way around water plants. I am sure he did everything right, but somehow the poor lily didn’t seem to enjoy her life deep down in the bucket, she just stayed down there and the water and clay turned to a dark green mess. At my return from Seattle in the beginning of October there was a crust of ice slicing the poor thing and I gave her back to nature. I had to give in for the moment.

But I am not giving up! This summer I haven’t had a chance to make it a new try, but hopefully next year. Because I am looking at my mothers lupines, which were just a couple to start with and I know her dream was a sea of them. And then I added my dreams: the rocks, the colorful deck chair and the four baby apple trees. I will just keep on trying for my water lily.

So, there is this list of 77 more or less impossible dreams. Add three that I actually accomplished and fulfilled. In spite of everything, circumstances and challenges. Check, check, check. And help me remember that I did. It was possible. It’s not big dreams. They are small and very down to earth. They are dreams I can look at every day though, thinking; I did it. Goddamn, I actually did it.