Mar 30, 2014

The mudslide state

It is compared with the eruption of  Mount St. Helen’s in 1980, the devastating mudslide that happened a week ago. 

Floridas has the hurricanes. Nevada the killing heat waves. California the earth quakes. Indiana the tornados. State of Washington has the mud slides. That’s how the woman I talked to who lost her home back in 1996 at Christmas responded on my question about the danger in living on a bluff that slided.

It is raining in Washington. First the fall rains. Then the winter ones. And now the spring rains. The soil around the state is soaked with water. 18 people are confirmed dead. About 10 bodies are found but not identified. During the week the number of missing people have been 90, but today it dropped to 30. That’s bad enough. Exhausted searchers are wading in an extremely dangerous grey mess of deep clay and debris from homes, trees, cars and trailers. More rain is coming in and the wind is picking up.

It was last Saturday March 22 when the rain-soaked hillside near Oso, Arlington in Snohomish County about an hour north of Seattle slid away and demolished at least 30 homes and buried a milelong stretch of Highway 530 under 20 feet or more of mud. Wreckage is all that remains of neighborhoods along the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River. The situation is horrible.

The day after Christmas day 1996 it started snowing. Sounds nice, right, a white Christmas? The snow is usually wet and heavy in Seattle though, and as I remember it, a foot or more at that time. In the Portage Bay marina outside our living room window the roofs covering the boats collapsed and what was sheltered destroyed. The airport Seatac was closed for about 24 hours, the Metro bus system was down and there was practically no way to get from one place to another.

There were mudslides most everywhere, even in the city of Seattle. On my daily route from Downtown to Portage Bay that winter and spring I passed a couple of houses on an inclined lot with large cracks in their post modern concrete facade. I don’t know if the owners stayed in their homes or not. They felt like haunted houses. In the middle of the city.

What makes my heart still cramp though, is the house on the bluff that slided right into Puget sound. It was the home of a family who went to bed in the evening and were swallowed by the sea before dawn. The two children in the same age as Trouble & Trouble.

It rains in the state of Washington. A lot. And the geology doesn’t help. Layers of different kinds of soil on top of each other works like an avalanche when soaked with water, and the slide is a fact. There are opinions too that extensive clear cutting makes the situation worse. Also, people all over this planet want to live close to water. We are drawn to water like thirsting creatures in a desert and therefor building our homes in risky places.

This wasn’t really the case near Oso though. The neighborhood was on the opposite side of the river from the hillside that slided. Yet it wasn’t safe. And now it’s gone.

The search team of professionals and volunteers have been working with crowbars, shovels, probes and tools from dawn until the dusk turns dark for a week now. There is clay like quick sand up to their thighs. Whenever they find human remains, they stop, mark the spot with GPS, and the remains are eventually removed using helicopters. Sometimes, when finding somebody underneath a pile of logs, they buck everything out of the way, digging it out by hand rather than by machine. The condition of some of the bodies has added to the difficulty of making identifications, the slide hit with such force that often the rescuers are not recovering full, intact victims.
Also, the entire mudslide site is believed to be contaminated with household chemicals, diesel and propane from heating tanks, mineral oil from transformers, and flammable gas tanks. The horrible situation is like a war scene.
At the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s in 1980 57 people died. The state’s deadliest natural disaster occurred on March 1, 1910, when an avalanche swept two passenger trains down a ravine near Stevens Pass, killing 96. It will probably be weeks until we know the death rate of the Oso mudslide. The neighborhoods along the North Fork of the Stillaguamish River were only 180 people. A small community facing a great loss and unbearable difficulties, now and for many years ahead. 
To state that a Facebook page would make a difference in this situation sounds silly. But I actually think it does. Snohomish County set one up 17 hours ago to help coordinate fundraising and relief efforts. There is a concert announced, a silent auction, different fundraisers and simply communication between people from near and far. 1493 people likes the page, increasing by the minute. Around eight times more than the population of the community, now sadly reduced with an unknown number.

Mar 23, 2014

From Painville to Painhell

- Mom, do you think you will ever be able to carry me?

This is Trouble 2 asking, when he was about 12. Because of my back I couldn’t carry him and his brother when they were little boys. At 12 he didn’t really need being carried, but the younger Trouble 2 talked through him, and apparently being carried by me was something he had missed out on. His question made me very sad.

One of the things I am grieving the most in my life is that my sons didn’t know me when I was young. My back problems started when I was first time pregnant. Up until than I switched tires on the car, built walls in the house, put up the wall paper, painted, lifted a corner of the bakers cottage with my dad, moved a stack of big stones, ran, went downhill (big time), and of course did everything a woman is supposed to do around the house. And traveled and had all the fun I wanted.

- Mom, you look like a happy girl!

Trouble 2 again. Watching a TV show where his parents and friends in the vocal group Oktetten Moritz were singing in the early eighties. That remark saddened me too. My sons never got to meet that happy girl.  

Last Sunday I hoped my birthday weekend would be the turning point for the difficult slump I have been in when it comes to my back problems. Rephrasing, hoped is too weak, I thought is would be the turning point. I even trusted it.

I was wrong. I have been living in Painville for close to two months now. But this weekend I am spending in Painhell. Every little move I do cuts the knife into my sacrum. My couch, where I have been nesting most of my hours awake for one year and four months now, is today a prison. I am lying here immobile. As long as I am perfectly still, the pain is tolerable. My home care people are here six times a day to help me out. It’s still not enough. I am scared at all times.

In my life, the life that I have, I am trying not to whine but to be happy and grateful for what I have, and I truly am. I don't want to contaminate the Universe and the people close to me with my dark side. The darkness is powerful, but I am working hard to keep it locked in a hidden closet, to others than myself.

I have two wonderful sons. Through the years when Trouble 2 was traveling, Trouble 1 did take on a huge responsibly for me. Now Trouble 2 is. I have home care with the great local company Civil Care, and Trouble & Trouble are to some extent hired by them, so a part of the care my sons are giving me, they actually get payed for.

It is the city’s social authorities that makes the decision how much help I am entitled to and Civil Care is providing the service. The problem is that I need a lot more care than I am entitled to. Peter and Awara, the wonderful owners of Civil Care have been loosing money on my case since October, even more so this weekend. I feel awful about that, they are telling me not to worry thouugh, they want to make me safe. But right now, because of my couch prison, I am still not safe. My sons know that.

In my darkest darkness I am calling out WHY? I am crying out WHY?? I am screaming out WHY??? For myself, but mostly for my sons. Isn’t it bad enough they weren’t carried by their mom when they were little boys? Isn’t it sad enough they never knew “the happy girl”, the light-hearted woman I once was - was I even, I don’t remember any more? I am pain. I am pain incarnate, that’s the only mother they know.

This is horrible. But what’s even more horrible is that they are the ones carrying me. My sons are in their mid twenties and forgetting their cell phone for a few hours somewhere knowing that I can’t reach them if anything extra bad would happen, makes their stress level rise and the alarm system go on red alert. They are in their mid twenties and they should have their mind on what young men in their mid twenties normally have. They have their mind on mom. I know they are even stalled when it comes to a future grown up life. Who would be the 24-7 emergency rescue (Civil Care is not allowed to take on night shifts) if they had full time job (my sons are starting artist and therefore flexible)? Or would like to move permanently? And, I am adding in my mind, start a family?

Knowing this is unbearable. And I can’t do anything about it. Pay back time to your parents shouldn’t start when you are around twenty. And I can only imagine reliving my sorrow, not being able to pick up and carry my future grandchildren. And seeing my sons watching that. Being given a second chance, unable to take it.

Mar 16, 2014

A birthday weekend!

The sun from outside is caught in an adorable bouquet of pale pink tulips on my sofa table. On the floor next to the balcony swimming in light, more tulips, a darker pink and a red-yellowish, and then the gorgeous vase with ten big white roses. The kitchen downstairs is dressed in more flowers, balloons and silver ribbons. The light is back and the birthday season is here!

I have been extremely week these last few weeks. The pain is taking it’s toll and Monday evening I even fainted and fell over. Fortunately Trouble 2 and Audrey were here and I came back from the fog seeing their concerned faces above me. I was lucky though, I was okay, only a bit shaken and light headed. The morning after I woke up wanting a bloody beef and red wine. Craving it. Like my body needed concentrate of powerful life savors. Well, I didn’t have it for breakfast, but for dinner the very same day!

Since the cancer I have made it a thing celebrating my birthday. I am not wining about getting older any more (well, that’s not entirely true, it’s more about what I still haven’t accomplished at this high age and the meaning of my life though) but instead organizing birthday parties I am not able to contribute to in any other way than the organizing itself.

Friday morning I woke up from Trouble 2 and Audrey singing at my bedside, carrying a tray with tulips and cake. Yes, that’s how we start our birthdays in Sweden, cake for breakfast and in bed. Only, it must have been ten years or so since it happened to me. Trouble 2 and Audrey have been staying with me this week, but I honestly didn’t expect a morning celebration, and it made me very happy. An then I had something really nice to look forward to in the afternoon: my neighbor Jenny and my mother’s cousin Bertil were going to have dinner with us!

Bertil is born the day before me, and Thursday he turned 93. Yes. Bertil is an astonishing man with a sharp intellect, wonderful stories to tell and in the same time contemporary and fully updated. At the table five people at the age of 21,25,33,58 and 93, just the perfect mix! And what made it even more special was the fact that I could actually sit at the dining table for the first time since the Holidays!

So, that’s the first birthday party. The warming up party. My friend Mats’ birthday is only a couple of days apart from mine, and we have made it a tradition to celebrate together. Yesterday the two of us and his wife Agneta got together here at my place with our children and their girlfriends, wife and boyfriend. It was a potluck, and boy were we lucky with the pots! Not I of course, but I payed for the wine, that was my humble contribution.

The evening had an agenda:
1. Attach my new TV on the wall
2. Have dinner
3. Watch Lulin

I bought a new TV set before Christmas. More on that some other time, it’s a topic for it self. Anyway, the TV has been sitting on the floor leaning against the wall for close to two months now. Trouble 1 & Trouble 2, Audrey, Fay and cousin Johannes have tried twice to get it up on the wall and failed. We needed to call in expertise. We needed Mats.

When you ask Mats for help in practical matters he brings a good part of his work shop, to be on the safe side. And he takes on the assignment with great focus and a cheery mind. He is also very thorough and precise with the details. Engaging Mats on a task guarantees a job well and safely done. I will marry Mats in my next life. Agneta knows and I have her blessing.

So, Mats set his mind on the TV job and there were several hands to help. Other hands set the table. Pots, balloons, silver ribbons, flowers and my Portuguese Matteus dining ware. We were twelve at my table, having tasty food, nice wine and low carb cake. Mats and I were celebrated in the loveliest way, and I am so grateful for my dear friends and all our kids putting up with my party organizing, showing up on my calls!

And so the grand finale! Trouble 2 premiered his first short film a couple of weeks ago. I was crying my eyes out when I couldn’t be there, but I was not the only one missing out on the opening. So yesterday, after dinner, on my fabulous new TV set now on the wall, Trouble 2 made a special birthday viewing of his soft horror short Lulin. I won’t spoil it, who knows where and when you will have the chance to watch it, but I can tell you my living room was dense from the experience. Thank you Trouble 2 for making our birthday party complete!

For two days I was able to sit at the table having dinner, I haven’t spent that much time upright in more than six weeks. And I can sense energy streaming in to my body. The sun is finally back melting some darkness away. I hope this weekend is a turning point. I hope I can keep a bit of that energy. It’s very fragile, I know.When the pain hits it is making the calls. When my blood pressure drops I have nothing to say. Loosing power comes so much easier than gaining it. And I don’t have a lot of good strategies when it comes to this I am sorry to say, I would need that.

But tonight I am incredibly happy and grateful about a wonderful birthday weekend, and the best of friends and family. The March light, a fabulous TV set floating on my wall and beautiful flowers spread all over my house.

Mar 9, 2014

Waterfront report

- I have a thing for ferries. 

Says Dr McDreamy to Meredith in Grey’s Anatomy when they first start dating. Well, I have a thing for ferries too. I loved the years when my friends Matt and Elizabeth lived over at Bainbridge Island and I had to be on the ferry most every day while staying with them. An who doesn’t have a thing for ferries? Certainly not the cameras spotting them in every movie or TV series taking place in Seattle, floating land marks.

We don’t have ferries in Umeå any more. There used to be, when I was a kid, ferries taking passengers between Umeå and Wasa in Finland. But the Umeå River isn’t deep enough for modern ferries, the bridges crossing the river too low, and the port moved out to the coast. And left the Umeå waterfront empty and abandoned. 

The Seattle waterfront is nothing but abandoned though, Elliot bay makes it very busy. But it isn’t friendly in a welcoming way. The Alaskan Viaduct Highway 99 and the parking underneath has been cutting it off from Downtown making it an emotional grey zone when it comes to places to visit. Well, that is all going to change now. Exactly like the waterfront in Umeå is changing.

My two cities share the same vision: to turn the cities’ face to the water. To reconnect the city to the water. To build a city front porch where people want to hang out feeling happy and safe.

Seattle has chosen landscape architect James Corner (maybe best known for the Highline in New York,  as the designer of the 26-block transformation which will take place the coming years up to 2020 Umeå is ahead of Seattle, already finished Broparken, one of three parks in the 9-block area called The City Between the Bridges, and the main attraction Väven,  the new building for cultural arts well on it’s way, changing the Umeå skyline in a big way.

Wednesday this week James Corner was in Seattle presenting his work, this far. And even though Greater Seattle inhabits 3,5 million people and Umeå 117 000, the intentions for the new front porches are very similar. Even though the Seattle waterfront is 26 blocks and the one in Umeå only 9, the visions are to transform them into a green and friendly space, attracting people to walk, bike, listen to concerts, play, eat, roller skate, parkouring (Umeå) swim (Seattle, there will be a big pool on a barge at the water in Elliot Bay) and just hang out with an ice cream people spotting.  

Seattleites are asked to dream big and to be involved in the design. The Parkour park and the skate park in Umeå happened in collaboration with skaters and the Umeå association for Parkour, UPKF Interactivity is the new black. Big changes usually causes big worries, so letting ordinary people into the process is not only strategically smart, it is also beneficial for the project.

The original idea was to open Väven, the building for cultural arts, at the inauguration of Umeå the European Capital of Culture 2014 some month ago. Well, the building is there, the spectacular glass exterior inspired by the graphic birch stem is up, but the interior is yet to be finished and the opening scheduled to November.

That’s a minor thing though compared to the stalled situation in Seattle. Bertha (yes, she has a name), the huge drill boring the tunnel through Seattle which will replace the Alaskan Viaduct 2016 making it possible to connect Downtown to the waterfront, is for some unknown reason stuck since weeks, even months back, making the time plan for the waterfront project uncertain.

I love the ideas for both my two waterfronts. I love that the city centers will expand all the way down to the water. I love the wood, different kinds of stone and grass, the materials chosen for feet and paws to walk on. I love the parks and the greenery, and the vision that the waterfronts will change to a social and vibrant welcoming spot all year round. I love how my cities want it’s citizens to be comfortable and thrive at the heart of the town, at the artery that Umeå River and Elliot Bay are.

I love the ferries. I have a thing for ferries. Me and Dr McDreamy. Those are not in the plan for Umeå though. For those I need Seattle.

Mar 2, 2014

My breaking point

It was yesterday when I got to know my cousin Pär is here that I lost it. It tipped me over my breaking point.

My back was doing better in December and over the holidays. I could start looking forward again. Mid January was more problematic and February 1, the day for the opening of the European Capital of Culture 2014, I turned acute.  And then more acute. And even more. And I have absolutely no idea why.

Trouble 2 and Audrey spent the nights here for the first 1,5 weeks. After that my neighbor Josephine who works for the home care company Civil Care has been helping me out in the mornings and evenings. I can’t get out of bed myself. I need help getting dressed. And as before, I need someone making me breakfast and dinner. Sometimes my great neighbors Jenny and Hannes are filling in too, just because they are super nice. I don’t take the stairs downstairs anymore and going to the bathroom is always risky business.

Today my beloved aunt Eva is turning 80. There is a birthday party for her going on right now. I called her yesterday to congratulate and tell her that I couldn’t be there today. Aunt Eva is the sweetest person, and it was when she expressed her concerns for me that I acknowledged the sadness over my situation.

Being acute the way I am now needs my total focus. The pain and fear of knifes in my back rules me 24-7. There is no room for being sad. No room for tears. I can’t loose it, because I need to keep myself together. Surviving, minute by minute. I am brave and I am grateful for the help I am getting. It could be so much worse. This is just pain. Yes, it could be so much worse. But Aunt Evas warm voice tipped me over, and when she told me Pär was sitting at her kitchen table, the tears came.

Pär is my cousin, one year younger than me. We grew up together, practically as siblings. He lives in Miami since more than ten years back and we don’t get to see each other that often, but now he is here, surprising his mom. And today they are all together and I am not there. I can’t be there.

I hang up and just cried. Not only about Pär and Eva but a film opening in the evening that I couldn’t attend to.

Trouble 2 has been working intensely since October with his first short. He has been doing a lot of film cutting before, but this was his debut as a director. He came up with the idea together with a friend, wrote the script, directed it, and spent months cutting it and composing the music. Lulin is a 26 minute soft horror movie, shot here at the end of the road, and yesterday was the opening night.

The odds that I would be able to be there were high. But Josephine and I had a plan. Her dad would babysit her little daughter, and if I had one of my better days, we would drive into town, watch the 26 minutes and then rush back home and put me and her daughter to bed. It might have worked.

Only, Josephine turned sick and our plan failed. And here I was, on my couch, crying my eyes out over this state of affairs.

Lying there, an old memory came over me. We were in Seattle on an ice skating rink up at Aurora. It was Autumn who took us there. Trouble & Trouble were on the ice with their American aunt Autumn and their dad. I couldn’t skate of course, because of my back. But I enjoyed watching my family having fun on the ice. Then Trouble 2, about 10 at the time, came up to me with tears in his eyes. It took him a while to express what was going on. He was sad because I couldn’t skate with them. 

I was very surprised, positive my sons were having the time of their life with dad and Autumn, and now it turned out Trouble 2 missed me out there. He actually wanted his mom. I comforted him the best I could, but of course what happened made me really sad. Not only about here and now at the skating rink, but my sons having a mother who couldn’t fully be a part of their lives. And it also made me see myself and the sadness in my situation.

And that’s what I felt like yesterday. I know Trouble 2 was way too busy (exporting the final version of the film only two hours before the opening!) even thinking about missing his mom attending his big event, but it just wasn’t right me not being there. What’s the point? What’s the meaning of Universe or God or whatever not letting a young man accomplishing something extraordinary having one of his parents in the audience?! I should have been there! I just should have been there!!

And I so wanted to be there for myself too. Being a part of the experience. A big moment shared, a joint memory for the rest of our lives. But I wasn’t. As I wasn’t a couple of weeks ago when Trouble 1 was on stage with his guitar and big screen illustrations, a part of a storytelling performance I had been coaching with Nils, a client. I wasn’t there. I was lying on my couch caught in my pain. Surviving, minute by minute.

I am having happy reports from both events though. Nils' story and Trouble 1’s music and paintings made people laugh and cry. The final export worked (three hours before the show crucial parts of the sound was mysteriously gone!) and the film was running smoothly. 

There are pictures on Facebook of course, and they are a bit overwhelming to me. The short Lulin takes place in the woods, and to make the show even more of an event Trouble 2 wanted to make the theatre a forest. Mom, can we take down some trees for dressing the room? Sure, absolutely, there are plenty between my house and Alida’s! In my mind I was picturing a small grove of some Christmas tree size fur and pine at the entrance of the theatre.

Well, that’s not what the pics are showing. The film crew is surrounded by BIG trees, like really big, how did they even transport those? And do I have a clearcut between me and Alida and Josephine? It looks fantastic though, and I am sure being a part of the whole Lulin experience really was something extra.

March is my favorite month of the year. I am sure the base for that feeling is my childhood birthdays. But it’s also the month when the light is coming back, snow melting dripping from the roofs, birds signing their early spring songs reminding us the summer is coming our way once again. 

February on the other hand is my worst month of the year, because of how damned cold it usually is. This year has been different though, record warm, grey and foggy and only 7 hours of sun. It sure has been awful though, but for other reasons. I am hoping, praying and begging that March will wield it’s magic wand, bringing sun and light into my locked up body, making me dance. Releasing my life.