Apr 26, 2015

The community of a house phone/the art of conversation

10131. My family phone number at our house in Nordmaling, the small town where I grew up. It actually used to be 131 before Nordmaling needed more numbers. 10168. My best friend Ulrika’s number. 090-117884, my grandma’s numbers. She lived in Umeå, so that’s why the area code. 0934-10795, my cousins in Robertsfors. And their best friend family 0934-10793.
I have a replica of an old telephone in my kitchen. It’s in wood, big, with a little space tu put things in, underneath. It was the phone in the house most frequented when Trouble & Trouble grew up, as there is a comfy armchair next to it, and that phone is still working.
Opening the top of that little space underneath is a time machine. There is a note. Trouble 2 wrote it in 2nd grade. 147423, Henke and Hanna. 147010, Lars. 147554 Erik. 147231, Rickard. 147470, Johan. 147293, Jenny. 147274, Martin. 178241, Grandma. And there was a similar note in a notepad next to the phone in our Boyer Avenue home in Seattle.
I wonder how many of those numbers still existing, the families round the lake in our area. Are they all buried and replaced by individual cell phone numbers? Most of them I should think. Times are changing. And nothing wrong with that. But when it comes to land lines and house phones I am a bit philosophical.
Where would I start? That wood phone in our kitchen was the family communication center. Liaison center. Operations coordination. That’s where all the family decisions regarding socializing took place. We could all hear what was going on, at what time and with whom. Everything was out in the open. Stops and gos was something everyone were involved in. Conversations were overheard by nature which made the dynamics of the family more…dynamic.
My sons are still answering their (cell) phones with “hi, it’s Trouble 1” Well, of course not, but their real name, and for a very long time their full name. Something they learned at the family phone. Phone manners. They also learned how to chitchat with their friends parents and siblings. And their parents friends. Small talk. They learned the art of conversation. Because back at the time, the phone ringing was an adventure, you had no idea who would be at the other end, imagine!
I am absolutely positive being forced (or given the chance) talking to someone who isn’t the target for your call is a good thing. You exchange a few words, get to know something you didn’t know or listen to a familiar song. You connect briefly with someone who might not be your first choice and in that way socialize with someone outside your closest group. And you get to work on your conversations skills.
It’s weird. Public spaces have gone polluted with loud private conversations. The home though, has gone silent. Not only do members of a household only talk to their chosen people on private phones or other devices, but the talks are mostly written and mute to anyone else. And therefore secretive. And what happens to conversation skills when you are expressing yourself in brief on-the-target texts?
Some of the women in my choir got together Friday evening, and we came to talk about this subject. One told us she very rarely talked to her parents in law, because they only called her husbands phone. One was concerned about children who might need help from outside the family but couldn’t call for it since there were only the parents phone to call from. And then of course, we have the issue with bad connections and dead batteries if you would be in an emergency.
Not a lot of people are calling me on my house phone. Trouble 1 does, my aunts and some people from the village. I would never give it up though. A landline is a landline. Safe. And I want a phone number connected to my house. The identity of it. That’s the number I want my future grandkids to call me on. The grandma number in the grandma house.
My friend Agneta, who is one of the women in the choir, had read somewhere that a home nowadays is a transit hall. A lot of times families don’t even have dinner together, and the house is a place to drop off and pick up things on our way to whatever is on our schedule. So, what is keeping us together? 
I have mentioned to my sons that I wish they will have a house phone when they start their families. I actually think a mutual phone number can create a community. They are not reluctant. Maybe it has something to do with that big phone in wood next to that comfy arm chair in their childhood kitchen. And the note in the space underneath.

Apr 19, 2015

Top of my bucket list/family pottering

It was actually work, a day planned back in January. But Trouble 1 felt it was more pottering. I am thinking quality family time.
It was in 2002 I had my separate photo exhibit at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle, commissioned by them. It was a big show, 44 B&W selenium toned pictures and 8 large in color. In 2007 the region museum in Umeå (Länsmuséet) put them on display too.
The reason the exhibit works in both cities is that it’s about both cities. Or actually, one city and one village. When I first came to Seattle I started shooting what I perceived as the soul of Seattle. Not the typical postcards, but odd parking meters, dressed up sculptures, crummy house boats, the rain. This was easy in those early years, as I was shooting with my outside eye, looking in. The assignment picturing Umeå in the same way was impossible though. Umeå is too close to me, I can’t see it.
Arriving here 1997 after a year in Seattle brought me unexpected help though. I was so miserable coming back. I didn’t want to leave Seattle. Although it was Midsummers, wonderfully light and green, I couldn’t see it. It was black around me. Until I picked up my Rolleiflex and looked through the lens. That’s when I started to notice. The tall shadows in the evening light. The reflections. The details. And that’s when I knew what the Swedish part of the exhibit would be. The micro cosmos here in my village. My front yard.
Trouble & Trouble grew up with their mom constantly around and about with her camera. Always attentive of the light. Hey, I need someone sitting on the dock, the light is falling! My friends and family were haunted by me for years while this epic project was going on, poor guys. 
But the efforts were worth it (at least for me!), because in the end Away is Home, Home is Away (Borta är hemma, hemma är borta) was a really nice show. The title tells the story about having two homes, being enriched and divided by the constant longing for the place where you are not.
Anyway, since 2007 the show has been stored in boxes. I have this plan though. At the top of my life bucket list is making a book out of that show. I have the pictures, the titles and the texts which accompanied the photos. It’s just doing it!
Well, it’s not just just… as I can’t do it myself. I assembled every single photo, mat and fram myself in 2002, disassembled to clean the glass and assembled again for the show 2007. But today… I can’t do any of that. And it’s hard for me to even understand that I once could. The only way getting it done is asking my sons for help. And I know it’s not something they would be over the moon for. But they agreed on helping out.
Trouble & Trouble were here a little after noon last Sunday. The first hour we spent on trying out which scanner to use and the technicalities to get an as good image as possible - my analog prints are (as my printing teacher at Pacific Photo Center Northwest put it - outstanding (yes, really!), and to make digital copies at the same quality is pretty much impossible. The next hour I taught my sons how to dissemble and assemble the frame kits, and then it took us some more hour to get industrious about the whole thing. Work stations, flow. I was lying in my office on my portable sun bed doing the delicate job taking out and putting back the photos in the mat package.
Late afternoon Audrey and Fay joined and we took a break for dinner and some birthday celebration - spring is the family birthday season and everyone except Fay changes numbers at age. Then back to business again. Trouble 2 and Audrey were the last to leave. At 00.10. It took us pretty much 12 hours to digitalize Away is Home, Home is Away - Borta är hemma, hemma är borta, but now it’s done. It’s really done.
Which is nothing but incredible. And I am so grateful. But I am even more grateful for all those hours together with my sons. It was something about knowing and being ready for the assignment. Everyone mentally there and in a good mood. Hours floating away meanwhile we got to hang out together, being industrious. Planning for summer work days around the house. Chitchatting. Pottering. It was something in the dynamics. 
Usually when we get together it’s for an hour or two and for a dedicated subject that isn’t leaving any room for chitchatting. Most of the time the girlfriends are there too, which I love, but I am realizing it was a very long time since it was only me and my sons. I can’t even remember when it last happened. And it just gave me the feeling of family. Family as it once was, minus one, but still, family. Sad, in a way, bitter sweet. But nice. Warm and nice.
The book, at the top of my bucket list, I want to do for myself, but also for my sons. The years for that project is a big chunk of their childhood. And Seattle and our village are their two homes as well as mine. And I am hoping that book, when it’s done (and it will be) is something they will cherish and take pride in. 

Apr 12, 2015

Is there someone else living here too?/part 3

So who am I kidding?! Of course there isn’t a gnome in my cabinet putting plastic bowls to my leaking dish washer saving me from water damage! Of course I have water damage under my kitchen floor! Of course a plumber who checked twice and the insurance inspector are wrong and I am right! Of course!
No, I couldn’t let it go. The insurance inspector was here with his instruments and didn’t hunt down any findings for water damage, the mystery leak filling up plastic bowls in a cabinet at the beginning of February. And if an insurance inspector tells you everything is okay, you really should let it go, right? But I couldn’t. I called him the week after and it turned out he hadn’t let it go either, the amount of water I had described had to be somewhere. So he sent some guys over with more fine tuned instruments.
I was sitting at a kitchen chair. Trying to be very steady. Absolutely focused on the guy struggling to fit in to the cabinet. Listened to his instrument beeping. Thinking those beeps probably weren’t good news. But it could also be the other way around. Hands together on my lap. Sending positive thoughts to down inunder my kitchen floor. Visualizing dry insulation. Feeling everything was fine. It didn’t help.
- Yeah, it’s wet down here. You have to take out the floor.
There it was. The doom. My worst fears (when it comes to this). Of course. So much for positive thinking. And, there is no way in hell visualizing dry insulation will help on something that’s already happened! I mean come on, my good spirits can’t make a water leak undone, right?!
One of the things I really feared in this whole thing was that I would have to be the project manager. I would have to find the right contractor and craftspeople and oversee everything. I can do it. I can do most anything because I have to and there is no other way, but it’s just so hard and so much work and such a drag when you have to dig in to something you have no idea of. And a water damage under the floor, that’s serious business.
Imagine my relief when the insurance inspector, at our next phone call, told me he would send someone. Really? In a weak voice: really? Yes, his name is Bengt So-and-so. And I just started laughing. Bengt?! The inspector isn’t just sending me someone, he is sending me Bengt who built me my carport three years ago! Is that okay? Still laughing, that’s more than okay!
My confidence in Bengt is solid. He is also a lot of fun.
So, Bengt showed up, crawled into the cabinet singing (I am lucky to be slender!), told me it was soaking wet under it. Bad news. He took out the floor at that spot and started digging out insulation, wood shavings and dead mice. The good news was that it wasn’t wet inunder the bathroom floor next to the kitchen. And it hadn’t spread inunder the kitchen island at the center of the room. But he couldn’t tell how far it was spread to the right and the left of the cabinet. He put a heating fan to the spot to work over Easter and whistled away.
Back he was this week. The fan had done a good job. And now he could tell it was dry to the right, where the oven is, so that was good news. To the left though wet as far as his under arm and some instruments long as his whole arm could reach. Which means well beyond the dish washer. The second round of digging out drowned mice, wood shavings and insulation started. 
I was of course upstairs on my couch but I could here him singing and coughing his way through the mess down there. Then he told me (in the most natural way) he had put in the CTR 150 XT to work for some week or so. The CTR 150 XT (if anyone by chance is unfamiliar with that model) is the big gun when it comes to construction fan. It’s a dark orange box and there is a tube attached to it which ends up in my fireplace where the humid air from inunder my floor comes out for further transportation out my chimney.
So, it’s a big water damage, and I still don’t know how big. What makes it more complicated is the fact that I have under floor heating in my house. There are plastic tubes running under my floors, even so where the damage is, just not under that cabinet though. So the last thing you want to do is break up the floor and the pipes. 
Bengt tells me he is going to avoid that. I don’t know how he is going to do it, but he tells me he will. So, even though the CTR 150 XT is making quite a lot of noise down there and I know it might be soaking wet all to the far left inunder the fridge and freezer, I feel unexpectedly relaxed.  Bengt will take care of it.

Apr 5, 2015

Checking out from Oncology

- Ok, so let's agree on never meeting hear again!

It’s Easter Sunday. The forecast predicted grey skies and snow at times for the whole weekend, but it’s actually nice outside. Some sun and practically no wind. I wish I could be out there. Take a little walk. Facebook is flooded with people skiing in the mountains, ice fishing, sitting in the lee soaking the sun. Traveling. One friend just coming back from New Orleans, another arriving at the Tokyo airport. Happy people having Easter dinners with family and friends. It all seems so fun. Lively and vivid. I wonder if they are grateful. I am lying on my couch. And I will soon be grateful for having my balcony door opened, letting some spring air in.
The thing is, I should be really really grateful. I should be out of this world grateful. On Thursday I was checked out from the Oncology unit at the Umeå university hospital. I made it through the last check up, and six years after breast cancer I am finally released from tests and examinations and I am in every sense we know of cancer free. But all I can feel right now is envy of everyone out there who have the possibility enjoying Easter in a context. Embarrassing.
Of course I am grateful, of course I am. I found the tumor in my left breast November 2008, had surgery, chemo and radiation 2009. Took hormones for the decease for five years, ended the treatment September 2014. The check up program was every 3rd month first year, second year every 6th month, then once a year for four years. 
It is not like I have been thinking about the cancer on a daily bases during these years, but every check up is yet terrifying. And as for these yearly controls they have been in the spring. In January the subconscious me starts preparing for the envelopes from the hospital showing up in my mail. Wanting me for the labs. The mammogram. The skeleton scint. And finally the results from my oncologist. I have also hated this procedure ruining March and April for me, months which I love, and the family Birthday Season.
I had been looking forward like crazy quitting the hormones in September. One of the possible side effects from them is being swollen, and I was. I had gained 26 pounds since I weighed in before the surgery. 9 pounds during the treatments and then little by little over there years. I have felt a lot like being pregnant/post pregnant, but knowing it was probably mostly from the hormones I just had to accept it and wait it out. They told me the kilos would start falling off in a month or so. Nothing happened. Nada. Niente. Nichts. Not a single uns or gram. And the feeling of being swollen is as evident as before. My face looks like a moon and my hands and feet firm and “full” from something that has to be fluid.
This is a mystery though, they can’t find the reason for it. I hate it, it makes me very uncomfortable and I want my old body back. But I am beginning to think this is one of the things the cancer left me with. Some women has to live with a “lymph arm” after evacuating the axilla, that didn’t happen to me, for which I am endlessly grateful. Some experience sensory loss and shootings in hands and feet, I was spared from that too. For me it is 26 pounds up, learning to dress for that, and my back problems escalating to constant severe pain and a very restricted life. I am more and more thinking that my crashed being on a couch has to do with the cancer, chemo and radiation taking it’s toll on my already troubled body. And it actually gives me a little more understanding for myself.
- No, let’s not see each other in this room again!
My oncologist Birgitta and I went to junior high together, and it’s a coincidence that she is my cancer doctor. She has been such a safety to me during these six years and I am forever grateful to her for that. Thursday, when I met with her for the last time in her office, the patient before me didn’t show and she wasn’t stressed out and late. She showed me the scint and I could see for myself that there was nothing there. My skeleton was all white, not a single dark spot anywhere. We had plenty of time to go through the years and make a good closure. And she remind me that I had been fighting. I had been fighting cancer and won. That I was a fighter and a survivor.
I don’t think though that I will realize that I actually am a checked out for real until a year from now, when the spring will be uninterrupted when it comes to these matters. I know Birgitta would have let me continue with the check ups if I wanted to. Spread breast cancer usually first shows up in the skeleton, and the patients normally discovers it through pain. As I am constantly in pain, that’s not an indicator for me. Yet, I feel it’s time for me to let go. I am at a 15-20% risk for the cancer to come back. Which, I think, is about the same figure as anyone to be hit by this horrible decease.
My balcony door is open now. Fresh spring air visiting. A yellow Great Tit at the railing singing hello. And I am grateful.