Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Heaviness in the Air.

Cucurpe, a small town in Sonora Mexico, where I spent a lot of time.

When I left America and came to Sweden to live and experience life here I was filled with confidence and a spirit of an "I can do anything if I try hard enough" sense of being.  It is something that I have cultivated over many years growing up in Mexico and in America.

A little ranch house where I spent some time.  Some years back I took John, our son,  to see where I lived in Mexico.

Since living here for going on 4 years now I feel that it is harder to keep that confidence and spirit alive.  It is difficult to put a finger on it.  Why is this?  I have come up with some possible reasons.  Again, these are my own personal thoughts based on my experience.

The ranch with many memories. 

One reason is living here in another country where I don't speak the language, I don't know the rules, the culture is different, my immediate family and close friends are not here all contribute to this loss of spirit.  Maybe it is not lost, but it is certainly much harder to maintain.  It is akin to working without a "safety net".  This is to be expected in this situation.  Although I was not prepared for it.  Of course, I should have known or thought about it.

My uncles' ranch where I spent many summers.

Another reason is specific to my experience here in Sweden.  There is a sense of "fear and cautiousness" that I sense and feel in many of the people here.  It is like a subtile cloud hanging in the air here over everybody.  It is this heaviness in the air that affects everyone and makes it harder to maintain this sense of confidence and "can do spirit".  It just takes more determination on the part of the individual.  It seems to me.

The main house.

There are many rules and regulations here designed to keep people, animals, the environment, etcetera, safe and to maintain uniformity.  There are also many departments of authority here that insure the rules and regulations are followed.  There are also many organizations and or unions of people.  All of these have an ombudsman to handle complaints and conflicts.   Everyone here is encouraged to have a say in all matters.  Everyone has a voice and it is very easy for people to bring complaints to the authorities.

A nearby canyon we used to go to on horseback and explore.

This has created a fear that people live with and have gotten used to.  For most it is an underlying and subtle fear in their DNA of "following the rules", "can I do that?", "is their a rule I might be breaking?", etc.

The old road we used to take to get to Cucurpe.

Some examples:  When we first moved here our neighbors were fearful that we might not like horses and that we might complain to the authorities.  I have also heard so many stories from people I know about how their neighbors complain about this and that and being reported to the authorities.  And as a result they live in fear of annoying a neighbor, breaking a rule, or doing the wrong thing.  There are classes you must take to be able to do this or that.  Students have a union.  They can report their teachers to the authorities.

Me in the foreground wearing the hat.

Suffice it say that there are many rules and laws that are there for your own good and society.  I have often seen this subtle fear or awareness of breaking a possible rule in conversations with people and or not doing something because there are too many classes to take or too many rules to be aware of.  A swede I spoke with in the park one day told me that there are so many rules here that you have to break some of them some of the time.

The grandkids in grandmas house.  I'm the kid on the couch 2nd from the right.

It is this cloud that hangs in the air here that together with the added obstacles of being in another country makes it harder to have the "can do attitude".  Books can be written and probably have about this.  There is too much to say and to many examples to go into.

My uncle Raul, his wife and 7 kids.  They lived in Cucurpe in house with a dirt floor..

Some local cowboys.

I will continue to struggle and walk the high wire without a net and make it to the other side.  "Don't look down".  What an adventure and what an experience.  It is what life is all about.  It is what makes life worth living.

My uncle stopped in a small town to buy empanadas from a little girl.

We bought all her empanadas.

The reason I decided to put these pictures of my life in Mexico here is because this experience, this life in large part has made me who I am today.  All my cousins and I at a very young age survived this life.
Playing in the dirt, riding horses often bareback, drinking milk straight from the cow, being teased and bullied by the older cousins, and more, all this we lived through.  There were no safety belts, no rules, just life.

This past is what I draw strength from in order to get through tough times or when I am feeling down or beaten.  It is just life.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lagom.....Who decides?

"Not too much...Not too little."  Lagom is:  Just right, in moderation, in balance, "The right amount is best", "be modest and avoid extremes", "not too good, not too rich", these are just a few phrases that try to explain the meaning.

As you can see, depending on your point of view and the angle from which you view it, the meaning can be used negatively or positively.  The word is also used in everyday conversations such as:  "Oh that shirt is very lagom (fits just right) on you", etc.

The word and the concept of "Lagom" is swedish.  This concept is deeply ingrained in the swedish culture and affects many aspects of life.  For many swedes it is a source of national pride.  But, not all swedes like the concept.

I am a foreigner from America who is trying to understand this concept and all of its ramifications in this society.  These are my thoughts, my interpretations, my observations during my life here for close to 4 years now.  Much has been written and said about "Lagom".  So what I have to say is not new but maybe an affirmation of what has been said.  It is my personal experience.

My first experiences of "Lagom" made me feel uneasy.  Here are some things that were said to me, maybe not in a spiteful way, but they were not positive or uplifting remarks:  "Oh that is a big lens on your camera, do you really need that?", "My that is a big printer.  Why do you need that?", "That bright red shirt you are wearing is very obvious.", "That is a nice car you have.", "That is a very nice coat you are wearing.  It looks expensive."  Statements like these were said in everyday conversations.  And I hear these kind of things being said about other people.  And, it continues today.  I try to not be offended by it and I am getting better at it trying to live with the remarks.  It is like many people here can't help themselves from making these kind of remarks.  It seems to be in their DNA.

The concept of Lagom in one sense is to make sure that everyone is equal to everyone else in all things.  So that the gap between those that have and those that don't is not too great.  What this creates is a lot of jealousy and divisiveness as I see it.  And jealousy creates conflict.  This jealousy I hear almost every day here.  I often hear statements like this:  "Those people living in Stockholm are so snooty", "Those people living by the ocean in those fancy houses are so uppity", "people who drive those nice cars are nice on the outside but not so nice on the inside".  Inferences like this in very subtle ways are common in my experience.  I don't think that the people who are saying this realize what they are saying.  The jealousy is thick here.  This creates a sort of "class warfare" between people.  The blue collar worker and the office white collar worker.  And on and on.  Again, I must emphasize that not all swedes are like this.

I have heard many swedes talk about this "Lagom" and jealousy here.  They have the same concerns as I do.  It doesn't make anyone feel good.  It is also a topic of conversation on TV here.  My gut feeling is that 60% like "Lagom" and 40% are not in favor of it.  It affects every aspect of life here.  In school children should all be treated the same.  This does not allow students who learn quicker than others to advance quicker nor does it allow for the extra help needed by some students.  All must be treated equally and no one should be made to feel less than the other.  This carries on into the work place as well.  Praise for a job well done in school or in the work place is hard to come by.  No one person should stand out above the others.

Lagom is not always practiced by those staunch supporters of the idea.  A good example is the mobile/cell phone craze.  The mobil cell phone here is very big.  Almost everyone here must have the latest and greatest cell phone and in the wildest colors available.  Not very "Lagom".

In closing, the concept of Lagom in and of itself can be a good way to live your life.  It is similar to some Buddhist teachings.  It is a personal choice.  The problems, as I see it,  arise when society decides it should be a way of life for all.

"Lagom" ...  Who decides what is enough and what is too much?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Troll Hunting

The eerie winged monsters on our way to the forest was an omen of things to come.

Today we decided to see if we could catch a glimpse of a Troll in a forest known to be inhabited by the elusive beast.

We were getting closer.  

As we entered the area of known Troll sightings the hairs on the back of our necks and on our forearms began to stand up and immediately began to give us the shivers.  I was beginning to wonder if this was a good idea.

We caught a glimpse of something or someone heading away from us as if they were trying to get away.

The mist in the air began to feel heavier and heavier.  It was a good thing we had Ralle with us.  He could sense if there was anyone lurking nearby and could warn us of any danger.  I was beginning to get clammy and I felt as if something was trying to suck the life out of us.  I have heard that the Trolls had special powers and could easily overpower us with their ability to wrap their prey in an envelope of thick heavy mist not unlike the sticky web of a spider.

I sent Neta and Ralle up ahead to scout around first.

I took up the rear where I could warn them of any ambush that they may encounter.  I was also in a vulnerable position.

We walked deeper and deeper into the Trolls realm.

Ralle caught the smell of something.

Then up ahead I noticed that Ralle had caught the scent of something.  I began to run ahead and as I got closer a strong stench overcame me.  A smell so putrid that I almost fainted.  It was, as I was told later, the distinctive odor of Trolls.

I thought that maybe we should abandon the search and come back some other time with reinforcements.  One cannot be too careful.  So I got Neta and Ralle and humped it back out of the deep forest.

The Ghost.

On our way back we could see in the distance what appeared to be a woman.  We were glad to see another human being.  But then as we got closer the woman became more and more transparent.  And as we reached the bend in the road she completely disappeared into the mist like a heavy cloud,  We were so scared that we ran back to the car.

It was an adventure that we would never forget.  We will return again someday after we regained our courage.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas 2011

The dogs get their present first.
We spent the afternoon and Christmas Eve with our neighbors.  The family tradition is that all family members bring their dogs and take them for a walk on Svedberg hill.  It is the dogs time to meet and play together.  What a great tradition.  Ralle had a great time since the majority of the dogs were female.  Everyone got along.  We all had a great time.

The Gang
Christmas gathering

 Everyone brought something to the dinner table.  We decided to bring "carnitas" with all the fixings.  It is a very tasty mexican dish.  We used flower tortillas (the corn tortillas here are not up to par) for the creation of the tacos.  The swedish traditional dishes were great.  We all had a great time at the dinner table eating, talking, drinking, singing, and toasting.  A big tradition here in Sweden is to watch "Kalle Anka" on TV on Xmas eve.  Donald Duck here is called Kalle.  This tradition began in 1959 here when TV was in its infancy.  They show clips of many Walt Disney cartoons.  A great time was had by  all.  We miss being with our family this year but being invited by our neighbors to join their Christmas family gathering makes our hearts warmer.

Ents in the mist.
The following morning, Xmas day, Neta and I took Ralle for his daily walk.  The day was foggy and the leafless trees came alive.  We were humbled by their stature and age.  It was fun walking about when everyone else was either opening presents or spending time in their PJ's slumbering around at home.

We also fed the ducks with our day old bread.
During our walk we also came across giant aliens that have not yet made their intentions known.  It is truly a time of wonder, imagination, and opportunity.

What do they want?

One day we will know.

It is good to be alive.  To our family we send our love and know that our thoughts are always with you.

Merry Christmas to all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Year in Review 2011

First snow of the season came today.
It also happens to be the winter solstice.
The shortest day and the longest night.

What an adventure it has been.  The emotions run from near depression to pure joy and happiness.  I have heard the sayings:   Life is messy.  It is the journey that is important.  Be thankful for what you have.  Family, friends, and health is what is important.  You make your own happiness.  If you build it they will come.  Get busy living or get busy dying.  The list goes on and on.......

What we are left with is the reality of accepting all the good things around us and participating in the joy that comes our way and handling as best we can the problems that we encounter in this life while still moving forward in spite of our fears, doubts, and uncertainty.  Well this must be my addition to the list.

Should have packed breakfast.

The winter of 2010/11 came with much snow starting in November through to about April.  I loved the snow.  For me it was a beautiful winter land to be enjoyed and photographed.  During this time my California license was no longer valid in Sweden and at a routine stop by the police my license was taken away and fined about $200.  Agneta's license was not valid either.  This meant that we had to rely on our neighbors to take us along to the grocery store for about three months.  This was not a great feeling.  Our neighbors were fantastic.  During one of these trips to the grocery store our neighbor with Neta in the car hit an icy patch ran off the road and overturned.  No one one was hurt.

We had some family and friends visit us from America which is always a treat.  We lost our beloved cat "Bosse" during the summer.  And just a few months ago we adopted a new kitten "Miss Kitty".  She has been such a joy.

The first snow.  Ralle is in heaven.

During July and August I took a three week trip to America to visit family and friends.  I visited John and his family in Seattle, Maria and her family in Hollister, and Fredrik in Torrence in southern California.  It was great to see them and spend time with them.

While I was in southern California I also got together with some of my high school buddies:  John and his wife Teresa, Oscar Perez, Joe Yasuhara (who just retired from the Space Shuttle program), and Marcelino and his wife Martha.  Marcy was in the hospital at the time recovering from heart surgery.  He has had some complications but is slowly recovering now.

Neta and Ralle having a conversation about life.

We continue to struggle with cultural differences here.  It is especially difficult when swedish cultural differences are mixed with peoples differences in personality.  There is the cultural influence of the total personality.  How to distinguish between the two during different social situations is difficult at best.  The cultural influence on personality here is the inability to handle problems that come up between people.  The tendency is to "not talk about it", "sweep it under the rug", "not to accept responsibility", and the difficulty of not being able to apologize.  "If I ignore it.  It will go away."  I am making a broad generalization here about people here that I admit may be flawed by not being able to distinguish between individual personality traits and general cultural traits.  We also have our cultural personality differences.  But, it seems to me that being able to talk things out, agreeing on some things, agreeing to disagree on others is the way to resolve issues.  Relationships are a two way street.  We regret losing friends, but sometimes we have to move on and not pretend that nothing has happened and everything has been resolved.

Waiting for David.

This year also marked quitting my job and attending school full time to learn swedish.  My experience in school has been great and exciting.  I am the oldest student in school and the only one from America.  I don't feel like I am treated any different though.  I am just another foreigner trying to learn the language.  Being among young people trying to make a better life for themselves is invigorating and the energy in the air is welcomed.

Linnea, our grand daughter, started school at "Johnson and Wales University" in Providence, Rhode Island.  She is learning to become a chef.  She is loving it there.  We are so proud of her.  She makes us smile every time we see her.  Kellie, our other grand daughter just landed a job with an advertising agency in Seattle, Washington.  Our other grandkids are doing well at their schools.  All our family are doing well with minor ups and downs.  Saga lost her first tooth this year.  Elliot performed with his class at a local bookstore singing "Rudolph the red nose reindeer".

The road taken.

We are meeting new friends and socializing with our neighbors.  Life is good and we look forward to what the New Year will bring.  2012 we welcome you.

Merry Christmas to All.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

More of the same...... WINDS

Seemed like a short night, or perhaps I should say there was not much sleeping going on.  Creaking , whooshing, banging......... up early and out the door we go with Ralle in tow.  Destination Krapperup Castle.  Through the park grounds, continuing through the forest then along the edge of the fields, winds blowing like crazy then out on a favored walking path not far from the waters edge then back to the castle.  Beautiful, wonderful no matter what the wind is doing!  Dressed for the occasion we are fine. 

A quick stop in Lerhamn checking on the surf and the waves,

The tide extremely high.

Along the footpath

a herd of woolly Highland cattle grazing

seemingly not in the least bothered by the wind

coming at us from the west.

Fields recently planted are turning green.

Munch on dear cattle we will be back soon.

Tonight we "snuggle in".  The Nobel Gala is being televised from the city hall in Stockholm tonight,  a fabulous affair with medals given to the winners by King Carl Gustav, speeches galore, people dressed to the hilt, three thousand guests eating fabulous food, entertainment and finally dancing!  Not a bad way to spend an evening..