Give up the Holidays Fraught with Tension

Are you dreading the thanksgiving dinner with all the family dynamics?


It’s just food and family. There’s nothing more wonderful.

If there’s too much tension going on, dial it back. Dial back your expectations of the meal, dial back everyone’s contributions.

Are you prone to the “if i don’t have this side-dish, it’s not Thanksgiving” syndrome? Remember that you can make side dishes another day. You can visit other families another weekend. Don’t consign thanksgiving/Thanksgiving to a single date. Eat and be happy with the people you love. And if you can’t be there, set up the camera and skype. Let your families be together, wherever they are!

Tip: consider making Thanksgiving a celebration for which you are grateful. Beautiful table settings, family recipes, family time — these are not things we have too much of in our lives. So instead of thinking about the possible horrors, move into pollyanna mode (anyone remember who she was?) and start being grateful. Have a blessed day, my friends! (and here’s a NY Times article about what you can learn from Turkey Day at home.)

Old Friends, Old Habits and Old Customs

Since last Monday, I have been mostly in Kristinehamn, Sweden, which lies at the northern end of the Vänern Lake. Kristinehamn was originally one of the most important iron towns in the world, because it was from this harbor that so much of this high-quality Swedish iron was sent out into the world. Oddly, this sleepy little town controlled the price of iron for over 400 years. Here’s my friend Lorraine and me as we sit in front of the Picasso sculpture which he drafted and someone else erected so that K-hamn could say it was famous for having a Picasso sculpture!


It has held a large part of my heart for the 40 years since I arrived here as an exchange student. I discovered a lot in this town about who I was, how I communicated and how I made friends and family. The year has stood me in good stead my entire life.

Mostly this week I visited my dear friend Lorraine and her partner Kjell. Their two boys (young men, I should say: Niklas is 25 and Åke is 22) came to visit at the end of the week. Although we actually had to drive to Oslo on Wednesday to fetch Åke and all his stuff. He’s moving from Oslo to Stockholm. Sunday Lorraine and Kjell drove to Stockholm to dump him and his stuff at his new home. We’re all waiting on tenterhooks to see if his new job as a hotel bellhop materializes! Hold your thumbs, as they say here.

sunnystugaOn Tuesday, we drove out and took a fika (a little picnic with coffee/tea/sandwiches and sweet bread. um yum) to their little cabin. We sat right on that porch. Kjell and Lorraine are great at taking their fika along wherever they go. Sweden is filled w/ lakes. Here’s Kjell sitting by one.fikakjellBut it’s not all picnics. Sometimes they go out and pick mushrooms so visitors from far away can have mushroom soup when they get there. Here are the 4 kilo (8.8#) chanterelles they picked for soup and freezer.kantarellaThis means it’s the end of summer. The picture below: Lorraine, Ann, Bean Soup and Pancakes means it’s Thursday in Sweden!pankakatorsdagAnd that’s plenty of picnics for one post! Pretty fun over here!

Here’s One Swedish Family

This crowd looked a little different when we all met 40 years ago. Two of them I hadn’t seen for almost 20 years. Almost impossible to think that time flies by so quickly.


I managed or will manage quiet time with everyone but my youngest sister Ulrika… we’ll have to figure that out. This is everyone (Cecelia, Louise, Per, Ulrika, Margita) outside the church. Did I ‘fess up it was built in 1748 and that only one wall was from the 1200s?

Last night I visited the church for a vespers service. Maria Ottensten, the priest at Barbro’s mass, was preaching. It was interesting to listen to a sermon (how does she keep them so short?) and to watch the rhythm of things as they unfolded. It was a lovely service in the same beautiful church that Mamma was buried from.

Then today I took a long train ride through the countryside to get to my friend lorraine’s. It’s a wonderful trip along rivers and bonds and lakes. The woods are gorgeous and so are the swedish summer houses that the train rumbles by. Pretty wonderful!

Memorials in Sweden are exactly the same and completely differen

Yesterday was Barbro’s memorial. I had been incredibly nervous. It’s been so long since I’ve spoken Swedish. And my Swedish is not a very grown up language. But my friends Gunilla and Erik had helped me with language for the eulogy. so by the time i had read/rewritten/read the eulogy about 10,000 times, my Swedish was getting better. The one thing I didn’t want was for my pronunciation and phrasing to get in the way of the meaning of what I had to say. (oh, and of course there’s that little grief problem!)

I’ll have pictures tomorrow of the siblings and the coffin. Odd you think to have pictures of a coffin? It’s just so different. Very simple wooden box. And then a blanket (maybe 8 inches deep) of beautiful summer flowers in pink and blue and purple. A few people had sent flowers, but they were so simple, not the big displays we have. One of her friends sent an armful of flowers and this sweetly personal note to Barbro about what a good friend she’d been, using Barbro’s pet name, which I hadn’t heard for years. It seemed so right that the note be to barbro.

I’ve been wrong about the church (or rather and, isn’t this a surprise, wikipedia has been wrong). There’s a wall from the 1200s and most of the church was built in 1748. Very simple cross shaped small church. It was only family, but that still was 30+ people and the way the seats are laid out, it felt just right. (Just FYI, there WAS a bathroom and it WAS accessible!)

The churchyard was gorgeous. The graves were mostly family graves, so they were large. many of them had dirt or gravel on top which had been raked into simple patterns. The very old graves list not just birth and death dates but also professions. So you see not only who they are, but how people in this area earned a living. (lots of boat makers and attendant industries!)

The priest was very friendly and warm. There were lots of songs. 3 solos and 2 hymns. (Somewhat unfortunate that they weren’t hymns anyone knew and music wasn’t provided. No one sang. When we talked about it later, one of the sisters said that swedes don’t really sing in church even people who go!) Little Mozart, little Handel.

It went so well. Mamma would have been glad I think. And the family seemed glad and surprised to remember Mamma as a woman who forged her own life. It’s sometimes hard with an older person who has suffered as much as Barbro did during this last year, to remember that before, there was so much more. I got to do my work for a woman I loved deeply. It feels like such an honor. I’m grateful for the gift, for Barbro and for my Swedish Siblings who have knitted me into the family.

Let me recommend sending a child abroad to be an exchange student to every parent out there. You never know how it will change your life to have family everywhere in the world! (Oh, and Steve, honey bunny, I invited Cecelia’s daughter home to study with you before she goes off to music school. Thought I’d tell you here where you can’t protest!)

Playing Meet the Priest and Reconnecting with Family


Well, after 12 hours of sleep I’m a much happier camper, although still a little concerned how my swedish speechifying will go over. My friend Gunilla helped me with the translation and now i need to figure out how those words fit in my mouth and make sure that they reeeealy mean what i want to say… Erik has done another pass, so i can mix things up a bit. Have to sound like Ann whichever language I speak in! Bring on the swedish/english/swedish dictionary!

Barbro will be celebrated in a small family gathering in a chapel from the 1200s. Lots more to say tomorrow. Then after the ceremony we’ll go back to Barbro’s apartment for dinner. That will be painful. I have so many memories in that place. She was such a kind woman and there was so much sitting in the kitchen over tea and talking, or sitting on the sofa side by side each doing one’s own thing. My Swedish brother Per said it best perhaps: She was a good mamma… to them and to me. What a lucky woman I am!

Coming to the Gothenburg airport was a kick. I sat on the plane beside a young woman from Afghanistan. Neither her English or her Swedish were fabulous, so we had to do a lot of smiling and nodding! But Sweden which was always such a mono-culture is now teaming with people from all over the world. It’s so incredibly diverse. I’m not here enough, so I’m always startled when Africans/Chinese/Iranian children go dashing by chattering in Swedish.

Had a wonderful meeting with the priest yesterday. Who seemed very pleased to have me participate (and equally pleased that I’d only wanted to do the eulogy!). It’s always a question. Things are often done just so in the State Church, so it was nice to get an easy priest. She’d been in Chicago to study Homiletics at the Lutheran School of Theology and is currently writing a book on Homiletics. It’ll be interesting to read. We’re exchanging books!

Staying with Margita, who was the next sister down from me (in the 5 sibs, she’s the middle). We’ve been laughing a lot. Her two daughters are home, one from Paris, where she’s about to look for a job as a graphic designer, the other who’s going to school in a subject my swedish hasn’t yet exactly grasped but has to do with clothing design/manufacturing/marketing. Her son will be back from the army where he’s part of the last year of obligatory service. Family, wherever they are are wonderful to have.

It’s so wonderful that Margita and Cecelia were at the wedding and met many of the players in my life. They stayed with Deb when I married, so they feel close and interested with her as well. Margita and Ihave been listening to a cd that Steve’s group recorded of Greg’s songs. We’ve been talking about Mamma and making preparations for the dinner.

I need to take advantage of the time and play with the dictionary a bit. and have another coup of tea. i’m in sweden after all! maybe there should be another cheese sammich. what do you think?

I’ll work on the picture thing!

Puss och Kram… (swedish for xoxo!)


Hannah, Her Mother & The Quilt of Quilts!

Dear Readers,

Some of you may know that I’m off to Sweden for two weeks. 40 years ago this month, I flew to Sweden (my very first flight ever) to become an exchange student for my senior year of High School. Today, I’m flying back to perform a memorial for my Swedish “Mamma.” I am so privileged to do my work!

I’ll be providing color commentary from the trip, right here. If you’re interested, check in! Probably some wedding tips as well! And yes, pastry descriptions!

Before I left for Sweden, however, I went to NYC with my cousin Nancy to deliver a quilt that my Nancy had made. It was supposed to be me… but I’m not all that crafty. Nancy had agreed to help and took pity on my woeful skills. Now instead of a wavy, wandering quilt, Hannah has a fabulous quilt. Each square is a piece of her mom’s clothing. Disclosure: there is more quilting to be done.

(Back story, Hannah’s mom died two years ago. A neighbor of Hannah and her dad Steve’s is in charge of the chaplains at NYC Hospice program and suggested this. Steve called Aunt Ann. I picked up a bunch of Maggie’s clothes this spring. Steve airlifted a bunch more. I enlisted Nancy’s help — I had no idea what i was asking her to do. Nancy’s side of the family got the crafty gene!)

So many people have had their hands on the quilt. They have moved squares around at my sister Deb’s 4th of July Party. They have checked on Nancy’s progress in the neighborhood and at the Y. People have seen, have wept and celebrated. It was blessed by hands and hearts at a UU church service. It’s gorgeous. It’s all Maggie and Hannah didn’t take it off her lap until we left for dinner! Here are three pics to give you an idea what it looks like, what it felt like when she received it and what that no-longer-little girl looks like in Aunt Ann’s arms.


This is what it looked like as she was unfolding it.


this is what it looks like and how it will be on her bed at school. There were notes in pockets and you could unbutton buttons and find little things that made it tug even harder on heartstrings! (Chocka dej själv idag is, interestingly, swedish. Steve got the Tshirt the summer before he met Maggie, and soon enough, it was one of her favorite running shirts. It means “Surprise yourself today!” Given my Swedish connection and the fact that she’s going off to school and this is a great motto, it seemed particularly wonderful to have it there)

thebestThis is how it feels when a whole world of friends and strangers creates a labor of love for you. I’m not sure who was crying harder. OK, me. It’s gorgeous! There’s more quilting to do, but that will be a visit or two to Middlebury in the years ahead! Couldn’t be sweeter!

You may not know everyone in your village, but if you’re doing something fun and sweet and transformative, everyone wants to play a role. We all got to touch the sky with this. If you had a part, even patting it in blessing, thanks so much. My girl will be safe and warm at college and for the rest of her life thanks to your sweet hearts! It’s nice to think of a village stitched together in love, isn’t it?

Doonesbury Examines Senatorial Adultery

And you’ll laugh. And cringe. And you’ll look for the social commentary.

I read it in Washington Post. You’ll read it where you do. But here.

What happens when you turn willful choices into sin? Does “the devil made me do it” free you up to not having to take responsibility for cheating on your spouse? Why make God responsible for correcting your laziness? (when did WP get so incensed about this? I think that it’s not the infidelity that bothers me, it’s the lack of responsibility.)

I don’t know. What do you think? About personal responsibility? About sin? About Doonesbury. Write and let me know, will you?

Not Buying Into Divorce

Laura Munson wrote an incredible piece in the NY Times on August 1st. It’s a precursor to the book she’s written on the same subject. (Oh, yeah someone’s going to buy the book and publish, the Times has closed comments on the article because it’s been overwhelmed, Go, Laura, Go, Laura! Hooray for writers writing books we need!)

When her husband came and told her he wanted a divorce because the relationship & the family were all wrong for him, she took a hard look at their history and said, “you know what, I’m not buying it.”

She gave him space, she held herself and the family together and available, but didn’t enter into the emotional fray he needed to sort through. He did, he came back and they began the very hard work of sorting things out. (The book is going to be part of that at his urging.) She knew the him, she knew their dreams and she knew the value of what they had.

Marriage matters. Family matters. It’s not something to just throw away. This is a brilliant solution to her problem. It might not be everyone’s solution, but it’s plenty instructional for all of us.

Tip: I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Write wedding vows that you can live into and then do it. Try the template at the top of the page. Get the Wedding Vow Workbook. Do some work before you get married so you know how to do the work afterwards. Most marriages are worth every piece of work put into them. I’m sure yours is.