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I’m not sure when the saying “Dream Big,” became a thing…when we started printing it in chalkboard font on sentiment signs to hang on our bedroom, bathroom and living room walls. It was after the gold rush and sometime before the Selfie Stick, but within the last half century. It’s the idea that we need more; that we should be reaching for the stars (so we can at least land on the moon). But the quest for living large is just that, a quest, a never-ending pursuit of bigger and better and larger and larger living and here’s the kicker—it won’t make you happy. You might as well put up a kitty poster, because at least that will make you laugh.

People who put up signs to remind them to go for the good life, probably already have the good life, they just don’t know it.

On our recent trip to Norway I had a life altering, game changing experience that drove home this point home quite clearly to my slow-on-the-up-take-sub-conscious, that is to say, to live small is to dream big. If it sounds contradictory it’s only because we’ve been conditioned to believe otherwise. I assure you, nothing could be more in harmony than to embrace the fullness of the life you already have, to savor the thousands of moments time is gifting you already. We all like gifts and since your life is a present; each moment you get to unwrap a part of it. Meaning-full experiences are well within your reach right NOW. To live small is to encompass all that you are in the present most fullest sense of the word without trying to be artificially BIGGER and better. Let me explain…

In Norway I met a woman who lives on the island of Skjerjehamn. Population: 6. That’s right. Six people total, two preschoolers and a few adults. Her main job is to greet the tour boat twice a day (in spring and summer), to welcome a handful of tourists ashore that want to see what life is like on an island. Included in the package tour, written in the brochures we’re all holding, is the assurance we will be feed waffles and coffee—and believe you me, we wanted those waffles. She counted us up, all 15 of us, and told us to relax in the garden while she prepared our food.

Some sat, others strolled, taking in the 360-degree ocean views, wondering to ourselves…how do people actually live like this? The experience was surreal, probably because most of us never dreamed of living on a relatively obscure island miles away from the nearest town. And yet, being there, seeing this incredible sight, ranks up with the most incredible places I’ve ever been, Sistine Chapel included. IMG_6260I’m walking along the island breathing in the ocean air, soaking up the sunshine while my kids rush up and down mossy rocks playing chase in the grass. They discover jellyfish and algae in the water and Maggie finds a swing that entertains her as much as a new app. We eat waffles and I’m thinking they must serve these in heaven because they’re so amazing with a touch of cardamom. I glance at my watch, time is ticking. We’re in the most idealic setting we’ve ever seen and we have forty-five minutes to enjoy it.IMG_6251

IMG_6259IMG_6255IMG_6252The boat doesn’t wait for anyone, we were warned, so we head back to the dock. Before leaving, I thank the woman for hosting us. In her sky blue eyes I search for a way to ask her the question that I can’t stop thinking…how do you live here, how do you exist in this place without freeways and fast tracks and worries about getting ahead and having more, don’t you want more? But I don’t ask her that, instead I say, “How do people around here grocery shop?”

She laughs. She doesn’t have a “Dream Big” sign in her home, but she meets people all the time who do, people who must ask her the same thing everyday. “Well,” she says, “people have large refrigerators and when they shop they get what they need for a long time.”

I nod my head, as if I understand completely. And I think on those words for the next several days and I realize she’s given me the answer to my real question. You get what you need when you need it and otherwise you occupy your life, you don’t want for more, you enjoy what you have—the good life. As she leads us back to the dock, she tells us they’re hosting a party that night. Several boats will be coming in from around the “fjord community” to celebrate with dinner and dancing till 1 o’clock in the morning as part of National Day. Can you imagine…dinner on an island, dancing under the stars?

One more question, I ask, “How did you come to live on this island?”

Her blue eyes are sparkling now as she tucks a strand of strawberry blond hair behind her ear and says, “My boyfriend is a cook at the restaurant. There’s a small bed and breakfast,” she points to the nearby distance, “and that is where he works.”

“Oh,” I say, smiling now. Love doesn’t need more of an explanation.

As our boat pulls away I looked back and marvel at how small and yet vast the island seems. As we ferry along, we encounter a hundred or more homes just like hers, tucked away in the mountainous fjords, built on impossible cliffs and isolated stretches only accessible by boat. I wonder how life is lived between waterfalls…nestled in fervent green hills, the ocean occupying your front yard. I don’t imagine anyone living there has a sentiment sign on their wall that reads “Dream Big.” They must know they’re already living a dream.IMG_6246

Women, like the one I met on the island, are courageous. They’re not front and center of social media. They don’t need endless “likes” to feel good about their choices. They simply live and like who they are. There’s nothing wrong with promoting yourself or getting a million views on utube, but it’s equally as valid to live quieter, off the grid, in a way that is both authentic and freeing.

It’s okay to want more, so long as you know you’re enough already.

The good life isn’t about reaching for the stars; it’s grasping the glory that they shine for you.

It’s knowing that this entire world, all of it, is created for you as you are right now. You can choose more or less. But it takes courage to choose less because so often we think we need more. It takes a strong identity and a keen inner voice to let go of what others think and be yourself.

“Do you really want to be happy? You can begin by being appreciative of who you are and what you’ve got.”   –The Tao of Pooh

Don’t worry if your dream is unconventional, if no one else is doing it, or “liking it,” cause it’s your dream. It doesn’t have to be any bigger, it just has to be yours.IMG_6268

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Six weeks. That’s how much time we have left until we move. I know the drill. I know.

I’ve been here before, but it still doesn’t seem real. And it won’t. I know.

Not until I get on the plane and look down over Stockholm, to where I lived for the last three years, and listen to the flight attendant instruct us on where to find the exits and how to put on the oxygen masks in case of an emergency. Everything will look calm, but my heart will be in a state of emergency. If someone could just please put on my oxygen mask, I’ll be looking out my window, hands pressed to the plexiglass, wondering how it all happened, how three years came and went so fast.

Deep breath. I knew it would go fast. I knew.

The moment I said “Hello” for the first time and told them where I was from and asked if they spoke English (they all spoke English), I knew one day I’d say good-bye. I knew it way back then, that all those hellos would turn into good-byes. But I let my heart take hold anyway, because friendship is what sustains us.

Even if that friendship lasts three years or three days or three minutes, I’m grateful because every person that walks with me on my journey has something to teach me. (To the friend that sat with me on the plane and told me about the layout of Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, thank you, thank YOU, I made my connection.)

C.S. Lewis said, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”

When we leave Sweden there will be five of us, and ten suitcases. One family member short of when we arrived. Malachi left for his mission to Indiana in November. He already said his good-byes. He writes home every week. Stories that make me so proud I could burst and stories that cause my hand to occasionally fly up over my mouth…robbed on Easter Sunday, bike stolen, camera taken, apartment ransacked, a man tried to run us over with his car, an episode that ended with police arresting the man at gunpoint…a crazy world, a crazy world. That is where I’ve sent my son, into a crazy world.

But he has friends. “Mom,” he writes, “I love being here. I love helping people. This is so much fun. God is great. God loves everyone. I meet so many good people” He’s going to be fine, I remind myself, he has friends.

Woodrow T. Wilson said, “Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together.” The ONLY cement. And he meant it. As the 28th President of the United States Wilson won the Nobel Peace Price for his sponsorship of the League of Nations following WWI. It was intended to build friendships, prevent war and make sure everyone played nice in the sandbox. But it didn’t last. It was a nice start though.

We’re still working at it, this friend thing. The United Nations is trying to ensure we share and take turns and don’t point nuclear weapons at each another. That’s good. I sat next to an Iranian woman on my flight from Amsterdam to New York a couple weeks ago. She grew up in The Netherlands but most of her family still lives in Iran. We shared the exit row and discussed how we would go about working things out in the event of an emergency. I would pull open the door and she would usher people out. Thankfully there were no emergencies, except for the overcooked tortellini, and we both had a restful flight. When we reached New York I gave her some tips for navigating the city and she thanked me. “If only,” we joked, “our countries could get along so well.”

Despite countries being at odds, people aren’t so different.

Confucius said, “All people are the same; only their habits differ.”

Living outside of America I’ve come to recognize my American “habits.” We wear sneakers and jeans, act friendly and smile a lot, generally speaking. We say hello to strangers. We don’t crowd into elevators. And we do open doors for other people—a dead giveaway.

My American self has loved meeting the more reserved, thoughtful, unassuming, beautiful, nature loving, green-living Swedish people. Three years immersed in this culture and my habits are changing.

My American fit-bit-wearing-on-the-go self has s l o w e d down. I spend more time in nature. I go for long walks through the forest and don’t count my steps (anymore). What I am counting is how lucky I’ve been to be where I’m at, in Sweden.

Sweden has taught me to do less and experience more. It’s a state of flow I would not have found, if not for this country. Shops close at 6:00, the shopping mall closes at 4:00 on Saturdays. The Swedes have six weeks of vacation in the summer and work-a-day life comes to an abrupt halt. Need a plumber in July? Ain’t going to happen (we’ve tried). The Swedes have the “live to work” thing all backward—and it’s pretty amazing.

Swedes have taught me the habit of ritual. They light candles in winter. They celebrate holidays with same traditional foods. They only sell olive cheesy bread on Fridays—because. They like things a certain way and that’s how they like them. There’s comfort in predictability and routine, knowing that whatever bakery you walk in, whatever grocery store you shop in, they’re all going to have the same kanelbullar (cinnamon roll). That’s not the American way. We like different and if something’s popular, we’ll sell it 7 days a week. Here, tradition trumps capitalism and that’s well…frankly unbelievable!

Swedes have taught me a more minimalistic approach to life. Admittedly, I was frustrated at first, wishing I had more closet space (or even a closet), but now I love the feeling of having what I need and using what I have. It’s simple. And living simple means more time for those walks in nature. No wonder everyone’s in the forest.

As much as I love Sweden, I have this other habit, one I can’t seem to break, of moving every couple of years. It’s what we do. But Sweden will always be home and so will Vienna and so will Greece and so will all the other places we’ve lived. Because home is where the people I love reside. It’s memory and experience. It’s a place that can survive any natural disaster if built on strong relationships and love, mostly love. My next home will be in St. George Utah. I’ll put out the “Welcome,” mat. Friends you know you have a home. And Swedes, if you come to America, we’ll eat cheesy olive bread on Tuesdays and shop at Target after midnight…just for kicks.

When It Hurts To Be Nice

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I have a realtor, or I should say I had a realtor, because as of today she’s no longer my realtor. I’m sure she’s plenty nice, but she wasn’t getting the job done, a.k.a. not working to find me a home to buy. That’s what realtors do, right?

I don’t have time to mess around. I fly out next week. I have four days to see homes, make my decision and hand over our life savings.

My realtor, whom I met over the phone and via email, has taken all of five minutes to set up an automated MLS listing service that spits out available homes to my inbox every morning, (so it looks like she’s working). Cool trick.

On three occasions I’ve asked her to show my sister-in-law, who lives in St. George, a home I might want to buy. She does manage to show up with the key and watch as my sister-in-law Facetime’s me with all the details, but that’s it. No follow-up email. No, what did you think? No love.

All I want is a little bit of, “This neighborhood will be perfect for you, there’s a park around the corner and the kids can walk to school!” Or “I know the carpet looks dingy but with some new flooring and paint and this place is gonna sing like a soprano.” Okay, I’m not asking for a color commentator, I don’t need metaphors, but I do need more information than what a guy at the local McDonald’s could supply. Communicate pleeease!

Pros and cons. Give me an opinion of the property. Let me know if the yard is maintained or if it has good resale value. Anything!

I’d actually found myself feeling depressed about finding a home, as if the situation were dire. That’s when I stopped and asked myself, why do I feel this way? And my subconscious provided…

Because you have a non-energetic, no-pulse realtor.

Ugh! I needed to end the relationship.

But how?

How did I let her down easy? I didn’t want this person who wasn’t helping me to feel like she wasn’t helping me. Hmm… I thought of different things I could say…Yeah we’re just not in the market anymore, or, we’ve decided to move to Alaska. (‘cause that’s always a good one).

I went online to see how other people dismissed their realtors. My short little google search turned up loads of complaints, ranging from, “I didn’t get the home of my dreams because my realtor never put in the offer” or “I can’t get my realtor to return calls.” Most people, turns out, go through 3-4 realtors before they find the one they like. That makes sense, given that buying a home is a highly personal decision and you need someone who has your vision.

What struck me as really odd, though, was the amount of time I was spending trying so hard to be nice to this person who wasn’t helping me. We had no contract, no written or unwritten agreement about anything. Yet I was having real angst about saying, “Look, it’s over, I just can’t go on like this,” as if we’d had seven great years together and tragically it was ending.

Where does that feeling of having to be nice all the time come from?

And it’s not just to realtors. Now that I’m on the subject, I try to be nice to everyone. It’s the right thing to do. Show kindness. But if you’re hiring someone to do a job, be that a doctor, dentist, landscaper, contractor, then there’s a point where niceness can hurt you if you’re not getting what you need.

Of course we don’t want to be rude. We want to feel like a good person who treats people fairly. It’s part of what we as humans get to do with our advanced cerebral cortex—understand the nuanced social graces of politeness. (Gorillas aren’t concerned with social graces.) We like to hear please and thank you. And phrases like, “Don’t you look nice today!” or “Have you lost weight?”

But women of my generation, raised to be nice girls, get a little tripped up over the word “nice.” And double whammy if you’re Christian because not only are you trying to be nice, you’re trying to do what Jesus would do.

What would Jesus do?

He would hug lepers.

I’m 100% in favor of good manners and helping the helpless. But when I’m paying someone to do a job, then the niceness needs to flow both ways. I think Jesus would agree. Jesus also taught honesty, standing up for the truth and being direct.

Al Pacino said, “The hardest thing about being famous is that people are always nice to you. You’re in a conversation and everybody’s agreeing with what you’re saying—even if you say something totally crazy. You need people who can tell you what you don’t want to hear.”

My parents, God love them, are the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. But I saw them get taken advantage of because of their niceness. They’d hire people who didn’t have a clue about building, but needed work, to remodel their home; then a year later, hire a professional to fix what was built. Thank goodness the day some out-of-work folks called them up (who knew about their legendary niceness), and asked them to buy them an ice cream truck so they could start a business (in the middle of winter in PA) my parents said “No.” But in a really really nice way. After that the people never spoke to them again. Hmm…nice, huh?

Not everyone has read “The Four Agreements,” by Miguel Ruiz. Not everyone is impeccable with his or her word nor does his or her best. But the great thing about following both of these axioms is that you can have integrity in everything you do. You can speak the truth and avoid regret and judgment—that’s being nice.

“Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama.” ~Miguel Ruiz

Do you have a lot of drama in your life? Are you frustrated? Do you keep people in your life even though they’re not keeping up their end of the bargain? Maybe your real problem is that you’re being too nice.

Be nice to yourself. Be honest. Be direct.

Be clear about what you want and let go of the drama mama!

 

Mamma Mia

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Mamma Mia, we went to the ABBA museum in Stockholm, the “Walk In, Dance Out,” experience that was, in the words of my son, “more fun than I thought it’d be.” I’ve still got “Waterloo,” stuck in my head. It was a Super-Trouper day and brought back tons of 80’s memories.

The ABBA museum has loads of memorabilia: album covers, legendary costumes, thousands of photographs, even a reproduction of their actual Polar studio.IMG_5376

There are interactive stations, helpful for those under 40 who weren’t so lucky to grow up in the ABBA-era. My six-year-old daughter happened to study ABBA in Kindergarten. She even dressed up and performed an ABBA tribute show with her class. So she loved getting to sing back-up on stage at the museum. She and her friend danced with a virtual Agnetha and sung along with the rest of the band. Hilarious!IMG_5361

We also belted out Money, Money, Money in a recording booth, (and was it ever funny). That’s the thing about ABBA lyrics, they’re so darn catchy.

ABBA is one of the most popular bands in the history of Musicdom. As the second best-selling music group of ALL time (Wiki don’t lie), they sold over 380 million albums. That would be like if everyone in Canada, UK, Australia, Belgium, Sweden, Japan, France, California and New York bought an album!! They probably did.IMG_5347

But here’s the thing, when you go behind the hype, behind the flash and the larger than life figures (they have some really cool larger than life wax figures), you see the real people. They were four very talented individuals that worked very hard and played hard to get where they got. They took their losses as challenges, and kept on evolving. From 1975-1982, ABBA never stopped putting out songs that topped charts worldwide.

SOS*I HAVE A DREAM*MAMMA MIA*TAKE A CHANCE ON ME*HONEY HONEY*DANCING QUEEN*WATERLOO*RING RING*ONE OF US*

The ABBA name came from the first letters of the four band member’s names:

Agnetha Fältskog

Björn Ulvaeus

Benny Andersson

Anni-Frid Lyngstad

2 Fun Facts:

During a promotional photo shoot they were given the letters of their names to hold. Benny held his letter backwards and later the “mistake” resulted in the ingenious iconic symbol of ABBA–the first B mirroring the next B.

Their costumes, known for being flashy, had less to do with fashion inspiration and more to do with money. Sweden’s tax law stipulated that clothing could only be tax deductible if it was worn soley for the purpose of the performance. If they were “stage clothes,” then cha-ching, deductible, Money, Money, Money.

It was their Eurovision win in 1974 (this is a big BIG deal in Europe), with the song “Waterloo,” that launched their careers. Before that they each had some success in bands and solo acts, but this lead to their start of becoming super-stars.

With one chart topping hit after another, so came the pressures of success. Agnetha was married to Björn and Anni-Frid to Benny, but both marriages dissolved around the same time the band agreed to take a “break” in 1982. “As naturally as we came together, we came to the end,” said Agnetha. ABBA’s hit song, “The Winner Takes it All,” was written by Björn, as an anthem of their failing marriage. “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” was another revelation of their private struggles.

ABBA didn’t stay together, but their music lived on and continues to inspire new generations. If anything, a visit to the ABBA museum gave me an appreciation for what it took to be ABBA. Yes talent and some luck, maybe, but most of all effort and doing what “greats” do, turn their challenges into genius. When they weren’t on tour or performing, they were practicing, honing their skills, often working in isolation at their summer cottage on the island of Viggsö. It was no Hollywood style retreat; it was more like a garden shed. But it had the famous “white piano,” (you can see at the museum), and that was really all they needed to create unforgettable sounds. Like their song, “I Have A Dream.”

“I have a dream, a song to sing

To help me cope with anything

If you see the wonder of a fairy tale

You can take the future even if you fail

I believe in angels”

 

Photo of summer cottage taken from icethesite. Here it is “fixed up” for sale.

ABBA put their love into the songs and crafted their melodies with gratitude. “Thank you for the Music,” written and sung in 1977, gave insight into who they felt they were and how grateful they felt for the songs…

“I’m nothing special, in fact I’m a bit of a bore.

If I tell a joke, you’ve probably heard it before.

But I have a talent, a wonderful thing

Cause everyone listens when I start to sing…

Thank you for the music, the songs I’m singing

Thanks for all the joy they’re bringing

Who can live without it, I ask in all honesty

What would life be:

Without a song or a dance what are we?

So I say thank you for the music

For giving it to me”

You can’t help but listen to an ABBA song and sing or dance along. It has an energy and vibe that connects with people. I recently saw a quote, “My life is as good as an ABBA song. It’s as good as Dancing Queen.” I figure that’s probably about as good as life gets. Keep on dancing. Keep dreaming. And thank you for the music ABBA.

 

 

 

 

We Are Not Retreating

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If you’ve been following my random posting then you know I’ve been on a tidying rampage, pretty much cleaning out and giving away and hauling stuff to the dump in massive proportions. After living in Sweden for three years I’ve changed. I’m addicted to  s p a c e . I love clean, sparse, unadorned environments. Yes Swedes, you’ve changed me. You’ve gotten into my heart and soul and I’m all the better for it. I LOVE uncluttered rooms that are tidy and don’t have piles of paper that beacon to be sorted. Seeing things that “need done” make me feel like I can’t relax because my tasks are never finished. It’s a drag.

I’ve been reading and following the advice of Marie Kondo in her book, “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up.” As of now, I’ve cleaned out all the visible areas of my home and this week I tackled the storage room. Kondo recommends saving personal items to go through last because it’s harder to dispose of these. Tossing out an ugly sweater from Aunt Mae is one thing; disposing of a poem you wrote in sixth grade is another.

But I approached my task with confidence. I’d already given away over 200 books and a third of my wardrobe. I knew what “sparked joy,” and this was my final mission.

Upon entering the storage room, the first thing I put in the-give-away-pile was a 220-voltage heater, (we can’t even use that voltage in America). Next, I said bon-voyage to two humidifiers, a broken remote control car, and a wad of cords as big and wide as a basketball—amazing how those things replicate. I was just getting started when suddenly I came upon three plastic filing containers. I hadn’t opened any of them in the last three years. They were like time capsules. Truth be told, if I weren’t on a cleaning binge, they would have moved with us and spent another decade in hyper-sleep.

Luckily for me, I was confronting my clutter and my past. I’d taken Kondo’s words to heart, “keep only what sparks joy.” This was the moment of truth. I pulled open the lid of a box and gazed upon rows of crisp red file folders. Each was neatly labeled with plastic tabs running on a diagonal so that everything could be seen at once, (imagine the time that took me!).

I rifled through the folders. There were our 2004 tax returns, a file labeled “Quotes” with pages ripped out of the Reader’s Digest tucked inside with other tidbits. A file crammed with an inch wide ream of computer paper–I’d printed out email communications I’d received from friends thinking in those early days of the Internet, emails would disappear. Nothing disappears on the Internet, unless your name is Clinton. There were Christmas cards and scribble drawings from my kids, thank you notes and folder after folder of “book ideas,” novels I was planning to write…someday. I found a warranty for an old Nordic Track we’d long since given away and instructions for how to use my sewing machine—in Española.

I went through all three file containers and here’s what I learned…

If you want to do something, do it now. If you’re not going to do it now, then you probably don’t want to do it, so move on.

Use your good ideas today! Don’t file them away. Don’t store information that you’ve experienced either, because the moment to use that information is in the moment. You’re not going to go back and reread lecture notes or seminar pamphlets or brochures. You already took what you needed from your experience so there’s no need to file it away.

The reason we file is because it feels good. Oh it feels gooooood to print labels and pretend that life is organized and everything fits in a row. If we put our ideas, memories, and sentiments in a box it feels like we’ll keep them forever and that nothing can be lost. It also takes the pressure off doing, because we can do it later. We don’t need to write our book today, we can start tomorrow; today we just have to make the file. That will make it happen, won’t it?

Seven years ago I was in a master’s program in California. I was getting my degree in secondary education. I was going to be an English teacher. I was going to be engaged with my students. I was going to be one of those teachers who spend extra time after class and on weekends helping her pupils succeed. But life happened. Cooper got posted to Pakistan, I found out I was pregnant and we moved to Pennsylvania. My master’s program documents, (all of my lecture notes and hours of observation) were put into a filing box.

I was going to get right back to it, but settling in and caring for a new baby took time. A year later we moved again, to Virginia. Less than a year after that we moved back to California, to Irvine. Two years after that we moved to Sweden. And now, here I was, staring at my box. My BIG life plan…my master’s program…the person I was going to be when I grew up.

I’d kept it all tucked neatly away supposing I’d get back to it, but while I wanted to be a teacher, my soul needed to grow in other ways. The path I ultimately chose gave me an education, a much deeper and more profound understanding of life, only it didn’t come with a degree. And I’m okay with that; I’m okay with not finishing what I started, because my endeavor taught me. Holding onto the box was symbolic of holding onto an idea of what “should” have been.

I gave my file box a moment of silence. I thanked my younger self for her enthusiasm, ambition and hard work. She did what she needed to do and when life changed, she changed with it, embracing a whole new path. Thank you younger self. And then I let it go, along with lots of other things I started and never finished. Wow. And I thought using a label maker to organize was the fun part, this was sooooo much better.

Whatever you’re storing, hear me when I say this, it’s your brains really tricky way of saying, I’m scared of losing something, I’m scared of moving on. Your soul knows it’s time to make a shift, but your ego needs a place to keep the status quo. And believe me, nothing says status quo like tax returns from 2004.

People let’s have compassion, thank ourselves and move on.

“We are not retreating—we are advancing in a different direction.” –Douglas MacArthur

I reduced my three heavy file boxes into one and it’s only partially filled. I have my important documents, a few treasured memories that “spark joy,” and my family history, pedigree charts and genealogy records. Everything inside has a purpose and will be looked at with some regularity.

If something is important to you, don’t keep it in your storage unit or basement, display it or keep it where you can have access. The nature of a filing system is to tuck things away for safe keeping, but out of sight is out of mind. Keep what you love close to your heart, not your attic.

My husband is in our living room making a lovely fire. I’m about to go sit by him and enjoy my cup of tea. Thanks to our basement clean out, he’s got a whole box full of papers to help him ignite the logs. I guess keeping those file folders did come in handy after all.

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Have you ever been frustrated? Hands high up in the air, higher, so I can see them…OK. That’s a lot of hands. So when were you last frustrated? Last week, yesterday, five minutes ago, just now when you couldn’t get the kitty riding the vacuum clip to load and clicked on this instead? I get it, but hear me out, just for a minute. I’ve got a remedy and it’s a sure-fire way to make frustration disappear. Want to know how I discovered it? I got frustrated…

I flew to the US this month to purchase a home I found online. It was pretty near to perfect; nestled in a lovely cul-de-sac with nearby schools and parks and easy access to shopping, yet close to nature. I was certain it was “the one” I should buy for our upcoming move to State College. My realtor previewed the place and let me know it was in great condition so I booked my ticket, boarded a flight the next morning and flew from Stockholm to Newark. I then rented a car, drove four hours, got a few hours of rest and woke up the next morning early to go see the place.

Sure enough it was exactly what I wanted. It had character, good flow, a studio art space, a well-lit kitchen with stainless steel appliances. Hours later I was pre-qualified for a loan and had made my offer. The house had only been on the market three days. I knew everything was going to work out according to plan.

But as I sat down to lunch with my realtor, eating Mongolian BBQ, her phone rang. It was the owner’s realtor, someone else had made an offer just before me and they were friends of the owners. The owners were going to take the other offer.

What?? Friends?

I offered more money but still no deal. I was stunned. The jet lag and lack of sleep were settling in fast and my head felt numb. I couldn’t believe it. How could this possibly happen when I knew this was “The Place?” I’d flown all the way from Sweden to get this house and it was sold.

My realtor sympathized with me, for a split second, but as soon as our shrimp was finished she got me back out on the road to resume the hunt. There were other homes to see and she was hopeful I’d find just the right one—she’s awesome. But inside I was feeling off track and out of sync. MY house had sold, and not only that, another house I’d kept in mind as a second option, had sold too! That made for two homes I wanted sold in less than a week. State College isn’t LA. Homes don’t fly off the market like hotcakes. What was happening? Talk about frustration!

Earlier in the month I’d sat down to dinner with my “life planning” friends, the friends I’ve mentioned in a previous post where we discuss our life goals at the beginning of each month (they’re awesome too). This month, the word I’d chosen to guide me through any impending disaster was “EXPLORE.” Explore encompassed a virtue that I knew I’d need if I was to make choices and figure out my future. And it was in this moment that the word came flashing to my mind…explore, explore, explore.

My frustration turned into exploration.

I thought about what I wasn’t thinking about…OPTIONS. I did have options. But what were they? I got quiet with myself and really thought about what I wanted. Where did I want to live? Where did I want to wake up each morning? Asking questions was the start of my exploration.

In art class we have a philosophy, when we’re stuck or blocked we experiment. Experimentation/exploration is huge. It’s the key on which the art world turns. Without it art wouldn’t happen. Van Gogh wouldn’t be a thing. ‘Starry Night,’ would have nary a star. We must experiment to evolve. Every artist gets stuck and they all know to get unstuck they have to be willing to make a shift, even if it’s incorrect, because changing the lines can get you to where you need to go. When one small part of a drawing changes, everything around it looks different. Until you make a change you can’t tell if the drawing is working or not working. You must draw then erase, redraw, or change an angle. But first, you have to be willing to put down that line, even if it’s the wrong line because until you try you won’t know.

With this principle in mind, I decided to keep looking and expand my search. Start shifting lines. I needed to see all possible angles of my dilemma. In the process, I realized I’d never thought to consult my parents about my decision to move. When my mom was diagnosed with cancer last fall, I’d made the decision to move to State College when Cooper went to Iraq. But a lot had changed within the year. Her tumor counts had miraculously gone from almost 5,000 to 16 and frankly she had more energy than I did (granted I was jet lagged), but still! When I sat down and asked my parents how they felt about me moving to a warmer climate, somewhere that I could still visit them and they could visit me in the winter, they didn’t hesitate to say, “Do it!”

Though I was led to Pennsylvania because of the house, it turns out what I really got was clarity about my future. Frustration gave me the opportunity to explore other options.

With every frustration in life, if we keep the mindset of “What else can I do?” we will find there’s a lot more available to us than we think. What we assume to be the “right path,” might only be a stepping-stone to the right direction.

Helen Keller said, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”

No one needs to stare at closed doors, staying frustrated.

If your plan didn’t go as planned then it wasn’t the best plan.

Look around. Make a shift. See what else is in front of you or behind you. Is there anything you’ve overlooked? Is there a conversation you need to have?

My best advice to guide you on your path is this, “Stay close to anything that makes you glad you’re alive.” –Author Unknown.

Don’t get frustrated because you worked hard or spent time or your hard-earned money doing the “wrong” thing. Be grateful for whatever experience you gain. See each stepping-stone as a place of grace to take you to your ultimate journey—and hey, it’s all a journey. Experiment. Ask yourself: What feels good way down deep in my soul? Change frustration to exploration and there’s no doubt you’ll find your answers.

Featured Artwork by Lana Wimmer, “Born to Explore.”

P.S. I will be moving to sunny St. George in the desert of Utah by Zion’s canyon. Hello sunshine, hello happiness.

Of Mice and Life

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A couple of weeks ago I helped teach a Sunday school lesson to six-year olds–some of the wisest people around. On the table we had pictures for them to chose from; they were to pick something they were grateful for and share it with the class. One beautiful little Swedish girl with blonde curly hair and big blue eyes held up a picture of a frown. She said that she was grateful for sadness because when you cry it lets out all the tears and you feel good again.

Oh, to be that self-aware at the tender age of 6! To know that pain, disappointment, frustration, and sadness, are not only necessary parts of life, but parts we can be grateful for and appreciate.

Is there anything awful that has happened to you that you can now appreciate?

About three weeks ago, on the heels of our week long get-a-way to Dubai, we came home to mouse poop in my art room. On the floor of the room, in the corner, was a box I was getting ready to send to my son on his mission. It was filled with his favorite Marabou chocolates. I picked it up and saw the cardboard had been nibbled away and inside the truffles had been eaten—at least the mice had good taste.

I did more digging and found mouse poop behind my bookshelf, on top of art sketchbooks and even in my vertical file folders where I keep inspirational photos and other notes. Oh the grossness of it all!! Ewwww! I cleaned and cleaned, tossing previously cherished notebooks and art supplies into garbage bags until I had three bags filled. I vacuumed and wiped everything down with bleach water then stepped back and took notice of what suddenly looked so much better. My studio space was finally cleaned. My easel looked more inviting and the light coming in the room felt crisper. I no longer had sketchbooks crammed into the shelf and unused scrapbook paper stuffed between spaces. My things had breathing room…and so did I.

But my cleaning adventure wasn’t over. The mice kept up the invasion. During the following week I discovered mice had been in two storage rooms downstairs, an upstairs closet and our pantry. It was war. We set up traps everywhere. I went into full psycho cleaning mode. We caught four of them plus two tails. Ewwww! We’re not sure where the tailless ones went, but we filled any holes we could find in the walls or baseboards with silicon. Even a hole the size of a pen is small enough for a mouse to fit through.

I ignored whatever else I’d had on the calendar to do (which was a lot) that week and focused on the battle. If you’ve ever seen the movie Mousetrap, you know what I’m talking about. Week two of my Catch-the-Mice campaign they went into a full retreat, but not before I had to vacuum one up with my Miele after it jumped out of the pantry I was cleaning. Eeeek!

All totaled, I threw away 15 garbage bags of stuff and took 15 more to Goodwill and the beggar lady that lives by the grocery store where I shop, including a sack filled with hotel soaps, shampoos, lotions and toothbrushes, enough for years supply—what was I saving it for?

And here’s the thing…I’m STILL cleaning. When this happened, a friend of mine shared a book with me, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up—the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing,” by Marie Kondo. I read it and it transformed my life. What I actually mean to say is, I DID what the book said and it transformed my life. Because of those awful mice, I found the motivation I needed to let go and get rid of things I’d been holding onto for way too long.

Believe me, when mouse poop gets on your stuff, you get real clear about priorities. What you think is so important takes on a whole new perspective. You realize almost anything can be tossed.

And why was I living with so much stuff? You know how much energy it takes to move stuff? Even an excess of hangers or tea mugs or socks, whatever it is, takes your energy. And it takes your space. Not just your physical space, but also your mental space. You have to see it and the brain has to process the information of what’s in your visual line of sight. If you have a lot of stuff your brain is constantly in commotion. Clean your space and your thoughts clear too. It’s magic, it really is true.

If you’re having trouble getting rid of things, Kondo has a method and it works. Start with clothing, shoes, books, then gradually work up to personal items, letters, papers, and finally mementos and photographs. I grew up thinking photographs were sacred. Back then we had little canisters in our cameras. We’d take photos then remove the canister and drive to the local camera store and put the case in an envelope for drop off. We’d wait an entire week for our photos to be developed and it wasn’t until we picked them back up and opened the envelope that we knew if they turned out or not. Not all of them turned out, of course, but we usually kept them anyway because they were expensive and we paid to see them. Most of us have photos like that stuck in a box. What good are they doing there? It’s time to get in those boxes. Don’t wait until old age seeps in and your eyes are as blurry as the photos. Get them out now and toss the ones where everyone has their eyes shut and keep the others. Not every photo is necessary to tell the story of your memory. It’s the memory you want to cherish, not the photographs.

As for papers and paperwork, Kondo advocates eliminating almost all it—the stuff jammed into file folders that you NEVER look at or need. Warranties, instructions for how to use your DVR, letters from way back in grade school. You don’t need all that stuff and unless you live to be 200, you’re probably not going to have time to pour through all those old letters. I’ve got plans for when I’m old and it doesn’t include sitting in rocker staring at Christmas cards from 1992.

The measure of anything, when you’re asking yourself, “should I keep this or toss it?” is this…DOES IT SPARK JOY?

“Keep only those things that speak to your heart. Then take the plunge and discard all the rest.” –Kondo, page 42

I’m not good at math, but this is an equation I can understand. If you love it=keep it. If you don’t=give it away, get rid of it. Don’t turn it into another process. Just do it. That shirt or book or stack of unused stationary will be happier with someone who uses it and enjoys it. FYI, you don’t need 20 packs of Post-it notes. SHARE.

The other point Kondo makes that I LOVE and has helped transform my living space more than any other, is folding and storing everything vertically. Rather than placing clothes in a drawer one on top of the other like a display at the mall, place everything side by side vertically so it lines up horizontally across your drawer. Then when you open the drawer you can view everything at once. It saves space and your clothes look better when folded into a rectangle. It’s amazing!

When everything has a space in your home, you feel like you belong too. When you’re surrounded ONLY by what you love, it’s as if the universe is speaking to you, reflecting back what you value and your life comes into true focus. It’s a great feeling. Walking into a room, seeing what you love organized; it does something for your brain. I’m pretty sure it’s the same effect as eating a box full of expensive chocolates. It feels delicious. Your stuff—the things you love—look better too. And you’re able to focus on what’s actually important, not stuff, but people and relationships, your goals and pursuits. You can go for that walk or get on your treadmill (when the clothes are taken off). The more stuff you have, the more time you spend managing it.

Yes, it’s hard to let things go, but what you get in exchange is a richer fuller existence. In 90 days we’ll be packing up and leaving Sweden. I’ll be going back to the US a lot lighter—my household goods will be lean and mean. And with less to pack there will be less to unpack. I’ll have more time to enjoy the people I meet and my new neighborhood.

So thank you mice and thank you frustration and thank you back-breaking pain after hours and hours of cleaning, because you helped me reevaluate my stuff, my life and gave me greater focus for the coming year. Tidying really is magic!

 

(Featured artwork from Waffle Love in Provo, Utah.)

Dare To Finish Last

Distant Shore, oil painting, Lana Wimmer

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.”
― André Gide

Recently I had dinner with two talented and very dynamic friends, expats that live in Stockholm. We met at my friend’s house with the intention of discussing our life goals—BIG big stuff people. We dubbed it our “Life Planning Party,” and chuckled to ourselves because it was also just plain FUN.

With a notebook and pen in hand, and an honesty that’s rare among women, we each shared our current biggest “conundrum.” We opened up about what was challenging us the most and what was causing us to struggle and stall in reaching our desired destinations. Between forkfuls of quiche Lorraine, we shared our frustrations and when the quiche was gone and our conundrums out on the table; my discussion leader and friend posed this important question, “What is it that you most want to feel?”

Sigh and deep breathe. Hmmmm….

Okay, notice she didn’t ask…what can you DO about it, or what do you THINK should happen…she went right to the source of our souls answers—our feelings. Our gut is an oft-overlooked source of information and truth, but it will never steer us wrong.

So what did I want to feel? Besides happy, everybody wants to be happy. We tossed around ideas until we each honed in on one simple word that captured exactly how we wanted to feel. And let me tell you, when my word surfaced, it was like finding my fairy godmother’s wand–magic.

FULFILLED

This was my word, “fulfilled.” It’s exactly how I wanted to feel. No matter the situation, if I was writing, painting, mothering, cooking, spending time with friends, I wanted it to be fulfilling.

With the word fulfillment in hand, wouldn’t you know, my conundrum unraveled itself. Moments before I’d been confused and anxious, but now all that melted away under the illuminating rays of truth–my truth. I wanted fulfillment.

So the question became…what is fulfilling to me? And what isn’t. And how do I structure my day to get what I want?

Armed with my core intention, I set three goals and objectives to accomplish in the coming month. We each did, then took turns sharing. Stating out loud what I was going to do made me accountable, but more importantly, with friends to listen, I wasn’t setting impossible goals—goals that would make me crash and burn in despair when I wasn’t able to accomplish the equivalent of hiking Mount Kilimanjaro in a day.

Bare in mind, these are friends, they’re not going to tell me I’m a big loser if I don’t do what I say I’m going to do. Because the point of this exercise was to set an intention in life and to leave space for life to happen–leave room for the unexpected. Which face it, as moms, as friends, as busy women, we encounter the unexpected every day of our lives. We need to be flexible enough to recognize when another direction is better or when we need to press pause.

As my friend would say, “There are many versions of you.” It’s about finding the one that fits with your life and circumstances. In five months I won’t be living in Sweden anymore, I’ll be back in the US and my life will have changed (yet) again. With each move we’ve made, from Greece to Austria to The Netherlands and Sweden and back and forth from the US, I have lived one of those versions of myself, adapting and figuring out who I am in each place and time. It’s helped me realize a person can be happy almost anywhere doing all different sorts of things. It’s about discovering what you really want to feel and shaping your life to fit your core intention. (Go ahead and read that sentence again and let it sink in.)

My “runner” friend has participated in some incredible competitions. She’s raced 100K in terrain I wouldn’t even hike through. But nonetheless, she’s finding her Swedish Running Club a bit of a challenge. She shared their mantra:

“Dare to finish last.”

I love this because it means you’re trying and that’s what counts. The pressure is off but the goal is on. It’s about doing something and being happy in the process, no matter the outcome. If the idea of not finishing or finishing last has prevented you from starting on something you want to do, then DARE to finish last. Give up the fear in exchange for what you really want. For me it’s being fulfilled.

“Strength doesn’t come from winning. Your struggles develop your strength. When you go through hardship and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” (Unknown)

Have a conundrum?

What do you want to feel?

Remedy: Dare to finish last.

(Above painting by Lana Wimmer, title: Distant Shore.)

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I hope you’ll take a moment to read and listen to the amazing voice and words of my friend and Finnish singer Jonna. She has an incredible story and message to share. That is why I’m posting her blog here today, for you to get inspired, listen to her music and if you want to, pre-order her album. We all need a SOUND MIND. Thanks Jonna!

Have you ever thought how powerful music can be? How it can bring a smile on your face or give you something to think about?

I am a fairly young woman still (32 years old) but I have had my fair share of challenges and struggles in life…an alcoholic mother with bipolar, parents divorce, my own divorce, my mother’s death and a challenge to keep my depression-prone mind healthy.

We don’t often talk about our mental challenges with other people, but I know that having a sound mind is something that many people struggle with. I wanted to write music that could bring mental health awareness by openly talking about those negative feelings and thoughts that can cloud our happiness.

My first single release “Still Breathing” from the album “Sound Mind” is about depression. How one can feel so helpless with those negative thoughts and emotions. I personally think that being aware of those thoughts is the first step to recovery.

Once I had realized that those negative thoughts were not the same as me, I could either choose to listen to them or throw them out of my mind. I decided to do the latter and wrote the song “Out of My Head” about it.

I noticed that I felt happier when I tried to find things to be grateful for in my everyday life. While sitting in my car in traffic I would stop and try to hear the beautiful silence underneath the traffic hour. Or while walking to the bus, I would keep my eyes open for the beauty around me, such as sun beams shining like diamonds in the snow. Those moments put a smile on my face and I wanted to share them with others in my song “Smile”.

Even if one doesn’t have depression or some other mental illness, having a sound mind is not something we can take for granted. Just like having a healthy body, in order to have a healthy mind, we need to nourish it and exercise our “muscles.” Learning to forgive easily is one of those muscles that help us have a sound mind. Or if we feel like we’re entitled to judge others, we clearly have something to work on in ourselves. Also not being too hard on ourselves is something that can help us acheive greater happiness.

Three songs “Art of Forgiveness”, “In My Shoes” and “Proud of me” all help me think healthy thoughts and have a sound mind.

This album has been my journey through my struggles and I truly believe that it can touch other peoples lives as well. If you want to help me in this cause, you can get your own copy of the album today. You can pre-order it through my crowdfunding campaign.

I started an indiegogo campaign so that I could cover the final costs of the album and release it this spring. The campaign will end on the 21st of February 2015.

Here’s a link to my campaign page:  http://igg.me/at/jonna/x/8814822

And you can watch my 2 min video about the campaign here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tfMUepy3E4k

 

Thank you so much for reading. Hope these thoughts were helpful and wish you a very happy new year 2015! Remember, luck is an attitude!! Keep thinking healthy thoughts! :)

Love, Jonna

 

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If you haven’t thrown out your Christmas Tree yet, then you still have time to enact one of Sweden’s oldest and most well-known Christmas traditions, Plundering the Tree, Julgransplundring. Think of it as a Viking raid on your Christmas Tree, only with candy. Yeah okay, I’ll explain. Just so you know, it’s about the most fun you can have in a night, aside from Christmas, (which is tough to beat).

Here’s what you do…gather up some fun folks. Families, neighbors, anyone Swedish you happen to know. Invite them to dinner; ask everyone to bring a handful of individually wrapped candy. Easy right? Here’s some of the crew that got together at my friend’s house.IMG_4244To make it easy, serve hotdogs Swedish style with shrimp and mayo on top. Not a fan? Have it your way, beans and cheese or ketchup and relish. The point is to eat pig products. I’m not sure why, but Christmas time is when you eat ham or “korv,” as they call hotdogs and this is more about serving something simple.

When everyone has eaten, throw away the paper plates, (if you’re Swedish you’ll recycle). Then get to the good stuff. Everyone lays their candy on a table so each person can select a handful of their favorites and stuff an empty toilet paper roll. Stay with me here…you’re going to make a candy ornament, a smällkaramell. You do this by wrapping the roll in tissue paper and adding colorful stickers and ribbons. Here’s what the tissue paper looks like before you add the roll.IMG_4216Even the teenagers were happy to get in on this craft project.IMG_4214

Here’s a finished one around Maggie’s neck. IMG_4233 Now undecorate your tree. Everyone can help. This is handy. Christmas will get put away in a jiffy. Be ready with a basket to collect your decorations, lights too, then pull the tree away from the walls or windows and center it in the middle of the room so you have space to dance around the tree. Here’s our helpful bunch. IMG_4221IMG_4217Everyone puts their candy ornaments on the tree, then forms a circle holding hands. Someone starts the music (that will probably be you), and you all begin dancing! A simple Google search will turn up the traditional songs. Here are two links you can clink on for the most popular ones.

Små grodorna-little frogs (A song about a small green frog and how funny he looks.)

Mormors lilla kråka-Grandmas old crow (A song about a crow that can’t drive.)

Keep in mind the songs are silly kid tales, (the same ones sung at Mid-summer). You won’t achieve enlightenment, but you will have fun. Just sing and dance around and enjoy the occasion. This part of the evening can last for a while…in olden times Swedes not only danced around the tree, they danced through every room of the house and into the neighbor’s house, but unless you’ve forewarned your neighbors, I’d stick to your own rooms, if you know what I mean. Don’t think this is just for kids either, adults have fun too.IMG_4228

After about 20-30 minutes, most everyone is ready to collapse or eat candy. So stop the music and do THE ROCKET! Oh my goodness this is loud. This is fun. This is crazy!! This is even crazier if you drink Schnapps (good thing we didn’t, we were all Mormon in this group so it’s apple cider for us). Now stomp your feet and clap your hands, fast, faster, even FASTER, and FASTER, then shout like you’ve just been shot off on a rocket to the moon or you’re on the scariest thrill ride of your life. “Ahhhhhhhhhh!” If the walls aren’t shaking it’s not loud enough. LOUDER!!!

Whew! Okay, it’s over. Time to raid the tree! No more rules, (unless you made some up). Get the candy and join the brouhaha or step aside. Dig in and enjoy!

With the tree empty, it’s ready to toss, so ask some helpers to finish the job. Unless of course, it’s fake, then don’t. For the grand finale, throw down a blanket on the floor and put your gingerbread house on top (every Swede has one). It’s time to smash the house. Someone with a heavy fist can take a whack. When bits go flying, grab a piece.

The wonderful thing about Julgransplundring is that each part of the evening is significant, each activity or decoration has meaning. In olden times, the Swedish people were poor. They didn’t have money to decorate a tree so they used the most beautiful things they had, shiny red apples. The children waited all Christmas long to toss out the tree and get their “treat.”

They made ornaments out of straw as a way to celebrate and give thanks to the harvest. Using the straw to make something beautiful, like a star, paid homage to the great worth of the crop. The other common decorations Swedes make out of straw are goats. Before Santa Claus, it was a goat who brought the presents.

In olden times, during the long and restless winters, kids and adults played jokes on one other. For fun, they would attach an insulting note to a rock and throw it in through the neighbor’s open door. Literally, “hurling” an insult.

Tomtar are another iconic symbol of a Swedish Christmas. They are short little elfin creatures that bring good or bad fortune to a family. It used to be, if a family’s pig died, or some other misfortune happened around Christmastime, that people would say the family didn’t take care of their tomtar and make him good warm porridge. It was important to feed your tomtar porridge and even today, Swedes eat this rice pudding dish for breakfast on Christmas and all through the season.  You can see some of our Swedish (and German nutcrackers) on display. Our tomtar is sitting on the left and he ate plenty of candy and cookies for Christmas, in fact I’m blaming him for most of what was eaten.IMG_4296

What I love most about these yearly rituals is that they bring people together, both culturally and socially. Traditions are fun, but more importantly, they provide a link for our children to the past and the future. It doesn’t matter what tradition you establish, silly or serious, chose something to create lasting memories with your family and friends. Our traditions often change, depending on which country we live in, but my hope is that one day my kids will look back on Christmas and New Year’s as a time that brought us closer together and gave us a better appreciation for the culture of Christmas all over the world.

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