Archive for the ‘Travels’ Category

When my son was baptised in Sweden, the chapel was full of friends.

So if you’re Mormon and have ever surfed on the net, you’ve no doubt come across Mormon sites with lively discussions about Mormonism and lots of whining about Mormon culture. Usually those discussions annoy me because of lot of the complaining is petty and mean-spirited.

Sure, the LDS church isn’t perfect (that 3-hour meeting block on Sunday is killing me), but when I think where I would be without the church, I shudder.

I believe in the doctrines of the LDS faith with my whole heart. But this isn’t the post where I discuss that. I want to talk about community and belonging.

We moved to Sweden 9 years ago. We were poor students with two small children. My husband had been a missionary there, but I was a bit lost. I couldn’t speak more than three words of Swedish. My travels were limited to the Intermountain West and one jaunt to Cancun, Mexico. But I have an adventurous mindset and was prepared to jump in with enthusiasm.

When we arrived in Sweden we were greeted by people from our ward. Groceries filled our refrigerator and the offers to help were geniune and frequent. In time, our lovely Swedish friends-fellow ward members-became like family. Leaving Sweden 5 1/2 years later was like leaving my own family. I still feel intense homesickness even though we’ve lived in the U.S. for 3 1/2 years.

We experienced a similar outpouring of friendship when we lived in Israel for a short time. We made friends and enjoyed outings together. The kindness of the branch members in Tel Aviv eased the foreigness of Israel. It took the sting of isolation away and allowed us to truly enjoy our stay.

I’ve since learned that my experience was unique. Ex-pat women talk of loneliness and isolation, especially if they can’t find a community where they are accepted and welcomed. I had my community from the beginning.

Moving to New York felt like moving to another country. But once again, the unfailing generosity and kindness of ward members made us feel welcome and part of a community. Leaving our friends, even for a short period, is going to be hard.

But I have the promise of new friendships and the community of new ward members to look forward to. Already I’ve been contacted by members in Saudi Arabia, offering advice and extending friendship. There are a number of things I wonder and worry about moving to Saudi Arabia, but making friends is not even on the list.

Say what you like about the LDS church, but the community that can be found within the church is wonderful. It has made the difference for us in our moves and travels.


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The only holiday I ever truly missed living in Sweden was Indepence Day. And now that I live in New York, I still don’t feel that I’ve celebrated it properly unless I am in Wyoming.

What is so special about my hometown’s Independence Day Celebration? Let me share. . .

1. A fabulous parade that runs on the 3rd and 4th. As a kid, I loved to attend both parades. Back then, the candy was plentiful and you could be assured a serious sugar rush from the candy haul. Today the candy isn’t as plentiful, but still comes at decent intervals. There are usually almost 200 entries with lots of horses, marching bands, dancing girls, old cars, military vehicles, etc. As a teenager, I marched in my share of parades in the band. To this day, I still get excited about a good drum section. (I played clarinet very badly and then spent a few years playing various instruments in the pit.) The parade had all my favorite components. It wasn’t blazing hot, a breezy 60 degrees kept the perspiration at bay. And all were happy.

2. Rodeo: I didn’t attend the big rodeo this year. Tickets are expensive, but I did enjoy an awesome show at the Slack. The Slack is a pre- or post- show for any contestants that run over the alloted number for the performances. Usually some of the best names run in the slack so they can hit another rodeo. They hit the rodeos hard so they can qualify for the NPR finals. Rodeo is the toughest sport I have ever witnessed. It requires tremendous skill, athleticism, intelligence, and sheer grit. I am so happy to see that this sport is thriving. I saw some great performances with team roping and other events.

3. Fireworks: I’m not talking about fireworks displays that are professionally organized. I’m talking about buying your own fireworks and shooting them off. Wyoming has extremely liberal laws when it comes to fireworks so the breadth of what is available to the public is astonishing. My husband is a bit of a pyromaniac and had so much fun lighting off some pretty serious stuff. The kids enjoyed the sparklers, bottle rockets, and snakes. I’m a sparkler girl and enjoyed a nice evening writing my name and drawing flowers in the night air.

4. Family makes the event even better. We really enjoyed the excitement and chaos from seeing siblings and their children from both my family and my husband’s family. And it was chaotic, but really fun!

I just love the feeling I get when I’m home, enjoying the festivities.

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new-year-2009-019new-year-2009-046This year, for President’s Day, we took a 3-hour trip to Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. The area is a National Park and had a plethora of events planned for President’s Day. We really had a great time.

We watched an introductory film about the importance of Valley Forge as it was the training grounds during the winter for the Continental Army. The soldiers had to make do with very little supplies and clothing because most of the colonists were unwilling to accept the continental script as payment preferring instead stable British coin. It really disappointed me that the colonists weren’t more generous and lacked faith in the cause of the continental army. I know they were afraid and wanted to ensure the survival of their families, but it still is a shame that so many had to suffer because of it.

The boys tried their hands at weaving simple bracelets, making cards for General George Washington and discovered common colonial toys. Then we went to the visitor’s center where the boys donned continental army costumes and met George and Martha Washington (re-enactors). We sang Happy Birthday to the general in Swedish. We tasted Martha’s birthday cake, which was pretty good.

The highlight of the day was when the boys signed up for service with the Continental Army, were issued wooden muskets and learned a couple of drills. General Washington reviewed the troops and took them through a stirring and scary bayonet charge.

The kids were pretty tired after all the activities leaving Brent and I free to enjoy our drive through the park as we stopped at cabins, learning how the soldiers lived and watched a musket drill.

The park is beautiful and rather peaceful. It’s hard to imagine that over 200 years ago, our country wasn’t even a country. And while it was fun to watch  my boys pretend to be soldiers, I can’t forget that many young men, some barely in their teens risked their lives for the creation of our nation.

If you are interested in learning more about the Revolutionary War, I would highly recommend David McCullough’s book, 1776. It is a superb book and will really give you a better understanding of what the colonists faced when they chose to fight against the British.

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      I don’t know why, but whenever I visit New York City, I feel like the most provincial country mouse from a tiny podunk town in Wyoming. I’ve puzzled over this feeling because it baffles me. After all, I’ve traveled more than some, can speak another language, and lived in Europe for 5 years. But there is something about that city that makes me feel provincial and insecure. When I went to London, I felt as I finally found my literary home. Jerusalem intriqued me with the feelings of the ancient history, religious conflicts, and interesting mix of people. Paris was a delight to explore. Copenhagen charmed with its architecture and proximity to the sea. Stockholm was so clean, beautiful and accessible, despite being Swedish.  Amsterdam shocked me with its dirty streets and earthy feel. Any cowboy who rides the rodeo circuit would have been at home in Amsterdam. But New York makes me nervous. I feel as if Stacey and Clinton (of TLC’s What Not to Wear) are lurking around the corner ready to pounce on my practical choice of athletic shoes, jeans, sweatshirt and practical warm hat. (I do wish they would choose me though. I really could use $5000 to purchase a new wardrobe.)  Perhaps it’s the pulse of the city, business executives briskly moving to make a new global deal that will change the economy, models ready for the next big shoot, reporters ready to write the stories that shape public opinion or sophisticated urbanites planning their next intellectual gathering in their expensive apartments. Somehow in that pulse, I, an insignficant housewife, herding my brood of four children, seem out of place. But I digress. Regardless of my feelings of inadequacy, we had a great trip to the Big Apple.

   Brent had a hankering to see the big Christmas tree at Rockerfeller Center. I thought we could combine our sightseeing with a trip to one of New York’s many museums. We weren’t able to manage the trip before Christmas, but the next week seemed ideal. We decided to drive and park in the city. I have to interject a comment about trains, subways and buses. We actually prefer public transportation to driving as it is much more efficient and easier to get around a big city that way. But taking the train with our whole family to the city is still more expensive than driving and parking in a garage. So we braved the taxi jungle and crowds people to drive through the city.

    I have no idea if there was a special event around the Rockerfeller Center or not, but traffic was insane. There were policemen at the corners, managing the crowds of pedestrians. We soon realized that actually getting out to see the Christmas tree might be impossible. We had to drive at q slow crawl by the center and got a pretty good look at the tree and some of the decorations.

     Then we pressed onward to the American Museum of Natural History. Apparently, several other thousands of people had the same idea to visit the museum. It was packed. We didn’t dare let the kids run ahead or explore at their own pace for fear they would get lost. It was a lot of fun to explore the museum, despite the crowds. We enjoyed the spiral walk through time after the Big Bang, the exhibits on the geology of the earth, the dinosaur section, african mammal exhibit and the origins of human life. I was awed by the dinosaur skeletons. When I visit museums like this, I feel so impressed with the complexity of the earth and the life that inhabits it. We stayed at the museum until closing time.

    We decided to drive by Rockerfeller Center Christmas tree again. The drive through the city at night during the holiday season was magical. I loved the lights, the decorations and wonderful holiday store-front displays. I must confess I found the city much more charming during the night with all the holiday decorations.

   All in all, I consider it a successful trip. I will conquer my feelings of being a provincial country girl when going to NYC, or die trying.

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Autumn in New York

Just one of many delicious apples!

Just one of many delicious apples!

I saw this charming flower and pumpkin stand north of our home.

I saw this charming flower and pumpkin stand north of our home.

I hope that song is playing in your head now. If not, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqPNHGkQl5M should get you in the mood. The video is about 6 minutes long, so feel free to listen to the first part and then skip to the end.

Apple picking is a big activity in Westchester county. I’ve heard about it a number of times throughout the year and had marked it as a must-do activity.

We went to the Wilkins farm, rented a long pole to reach the upper branches, and took our green reusable grocery bag to a lovely orchard. The kids enjoyed the tractor ride to the orchard.

Apple picking is really very simple. You pick low-hanging apples off the branches. You use the pole for the higher apples.  There is something so lovely and delightful about being outside, among the trees and grass as you pick the delicious apples. We picked a half-bushel and then rode back to stand to return our pole. The apples were so sweet and delicious. In the evening, dh tried his hand at making apple cider by hand. He managed it. We had a lovely apple crisp. For breakfast this morning, I made a Swedish oven pancake and dh made a delicious warm apple sauce as a topping. If anyone is interested in the recipe let me know.

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Isn't this a pretty picture? I would love to have it for my wall.


Swedish meatballs, mmmmm, yummy!
Swedish meatballs, mmmmm, yummy!
Look at those prices! I saved 40 cents a gallon today.

Look at those prices! I saved 40 cents a gallon today.

My kids have a holiday from school and so we decided to visit Ikea. When I told my boys, the youngest started shouting, “we’re going back to Sweden!!!!!!” I felt so bad when I had to explain that we are actually going to New Jersey, another state, to go to Ikea. Still we managed to have a great trip, even if we weren’t flying across the country to our beloved Sweden.

Everyone, including myself, was really excited to go inside the store. After dropping off two of the kids, we ran over to peruse the Swedish food market to see what we wanted to get. There was an entire crate of ballerina cookies and singoalla cookies. They blackberry saft, meatballs, lingonsylt, bilar, läkerol, pepperkakor (gingersnaps), etc. I forgot to mention the knäckebröd, the Swedish crispbread that we love so much. The most delightful snack in the world is a knäckebröd with butter, cheese and sliced cucumber. The selection was much better than we had anticipated so I mentally marked the items I wanted and we got around to the business of shopping.

I discovered that Sweden really has become a part of us, because we all felt homesick after seeing favorite items that we used or loved playing with in Sweden. The bright colors of the Swedish flag, Swedish words written on the products, and familar layout of the store made us feel at home, as if we had actually flown back to Sweden.

A visit to Ikea is never complete without a stop at the Ikea restaurant. (I’m actually struggling to write this in English because my brain keeps throwing in Swedish words to describe the experience.) We had the quintessential Swedish meatballs. I was a bit dissapointed with the mashed potatoes as we are used to eating boiled potatoes in Sweden at Ikea. But the gravy was just as good as I remembered and the tart bite of lignonberry really livened up the meatballs. Ah. . . good times.

After eating, we all had to use the restroom and I was again reminded of another favorite of mine at Ikea: family restrooms. It was so nice to actually stay together and not worry about the boys in a different restroom. I also saw this beautiful picture of the woman and child. It was beautiful. I sure wish I could buy it, but I can wait.

So my first reason to move to New Jersey may be the close proximity to Ikea. When I’m feeling homesick, it might just cure those Swedish blues. The second reason to move to New Jersey came as we needed to fill up our gas tank. The gas was 40 cents cheaper in New Jersey. In New York, gas is running around $3.69/gallon or higher. We paid $3.29 a gallon in New Jersey Hence the picture.

Gas prices and Ikea. . . could we have any stronger reasons to move?

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Living in New York

I’ve received a few emails and questions about our new life in New York. I’ve been unsure of what to post. For one thing, as I have blogged about before, since moving to New York, we’ve spent a lot of time visiting the doctor. Our frequent bouts of illness have confirmed my theory that when you move abroad, you spend the first year getting used to the bugs and viruses of the area. And since we lived in Sweden for 5 years, we have really moved to a new country. My kids’ immune systems are used to the Swedish brand of bugs.

Anyhow, back to our current experience. I’ve spent a lot of time getting used to the American bureaucracy. I guess I was unprepared for the hoops we would have to jump through to enroll our kids in school. The boys had to get physicals and shots. We had to provide a lot of documentation that we were actually living in the school district. Documentation was difficult to procure as we waited for utility accounts to open and bills to be sent. . . Anyhow, it took a lot longer than I wished, but I did get the two oldest boys enrolled in school. Once that was done, I had to get started on kindergarten registration for my third son. This meant physicals, more shots, a kindergarten screening and a lot of calling and driving.

Now that’s done. The boxes are mostly unpacked. Spring has come and gone and it feels like summer is already here. But here are some impressions of our new place.

First, there are a lot of people around. After living in the Rocky Mountains and then moving to Sweden, I am just not used to so many people. We live north of New York City and I am having a hard time distinguishing where the villages, towns, cities, etc. begin and end. The town I live in, doesn’t seem to have a recognisable city center. Although it is possible I just haven’t discovered it yet.

While we do live near a lot of people, the area and its surroundings give the impression of privacy and seem to camouflage the population. The Appalachian trail crosses the area in which we live and trees abound for miles. Blue signs dot the highways sharing tidbits of the past. Various battles and skirmishes took place in this area during the Revolutionary War.

I promise to write more as we become more acclimated.


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