Art Is A Battle

The 30-hour ankle is done. Actually, it’s never done. To get it perfect, I could have spent another several hours making tiny, minute changes that would still not have produced an exact match to the original Charles Bargue copy. But in the end, that wasn’t the point–to make a perfect match. The point was to get it as close to the original as possible while achieving something in the learning process. The point was to train the eye.

What I learned: Slow Down. Drawing requires the mind and the body to work together. The visual sense must first register what it sees so the hand can listen and the pencil can respond. It’s all very step 1, step 2, step 3. You can’t rush it or you’ll miss things. Patiently layering the HB graphite, I could achieve the necessary depth to transform the lead into the smooth soft stone of the cast.

The lesson of slowing down is essential and one I hope to remember. The other take-away: Art, as in life, will never be complete. When Sammy Davis Jr. was asked which of his songs was his favorite, he responded, “the next one.” There’s always more. It’s what we call self-mastery and it’s what makes life worth striving for: We don’t live to create, we create to live.

Creativity is an ongoing evolutionary process. It is a birthright. All children are born with the innate gift to create. They’ll do ANYTHING. Paint macaroni and string it on necklaces, run their hands through finger paint, glue glitter to paper hearts. We don’t need special permission to pick up a pen and write, or a pencil to draw. Everyone has a story. Everyone has something to contribute.

If you think time is the enemy, your wrong, resistance is. Slow down. What do you want to create? The process of making anything, if done slowly, can be art. Art transcends time itself.

Vincent Van Gogh said, “If you hear a voice within yourself say ‘you cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.”

As I move onto my next project, the words of Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, come to mind…

“I say let me never be complete, I say may I never be content, I say deliver me from Swedish furniture, I say deliver me from clever arts, I say deliver me from clear skin and perfect teeth, I say you have to give up! I say evolve, and let the chips fall where they may!”

Because at the end of the day, it’s all a fight and a struggle…but the battle is worth waging. IMG_3297

Respect Your Mistakes

The process of learning means you do something before you actually know how to do it. In other words, it’s just fine to make a mess. And messes I’ve been making. In my drawing course, I’ve been drawing an ankle for over 15 hours. Not all in one go, but during intense intervals of concentration. An ANKLE people! Which at one point looked like a cankle, but okay…and it seemed so simple at first. But now that I’ve spent ALL this time seeking total perfection, on an ankle, my view of drawing has changed everything; I mean everything. I’ve learned something, and it’s not just about drawing an ankle. I’ve learned I’ve got to respect my mistakes.

Mistakes are the starting point. They’re necessary–not figuratively, but in reality. When drawing, the artist has to make some initial marks on the paper in order to find the point of measurement to affix the plump line. The plumb line is the line that runs through the middle of the drawing and never, ever, EVER, changes. All the other points and marks originally made…they change. Those original marks are erased and adjusted hundreds of times. By definition they’re mistakes, but they’re not because you needed them. You get what I’m saying? In order to begin, you had to begin. The artist doesn’t just start the sketch at the perfect point, not usually, no way, it’s guess work and after years of training the eye, it goes faster, but it still starts with guess work.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” –Scott Adams

The drawing technique I’m referring to is the genius of Charles Bargue, a French artist who introduced his Cours de dessin (drawing course) in the late 1800’s. Since that time, his method for learning how to draw has been the standard used by countless artists, including Van Gogh.

The process is a very slow one. You can’t rush things. Seeing takes time. The artist’s eye must notice every curve, contour, slope, angle, turn and trajectory, while keeping in mind that anything can be changed. Every mark is a chess piece. Make a move and it sets off another. Draw and redraw. Match after match.

During the final stages of my sketch, I realized something about my ankle wasn’t right. The angle of the bone protruding from the tendon was a millimeter too narrow. How had I missed it? In a fit of frustration, I erased a long portion of my line just before my instructor came to critic my work. The first thing he asked when he sat at my easel was, “What happened to your line?”

I explained. It was “off” so I’d erased it. His response was a moment of clarity for me: “Always redraw the new line before you erase the old. Use the former as a guide. You must have respect for the lines you put down. That is what you chose to create, so respect it.”

Without the form of the bone, it was difficult to judge what else was going on in the picture. I needed the line as a reference point for the other distances and relationships. As I began to fix it, I considered my rush toward perfection, my frustration, and the word “respect.” Had I ever thought to respect the lines, the ones I’d been erasing? Had I seen the process for what it was—the objective—helping me become the artist I want to be?

That question led me to other questions. What else in my life had I drawn and what parts had I erased? Did I have respect for my choices, the ones I made using the skill set I had and the judgment I was capable of at the time?

And what about the lines I was drawing now with my actions–the path I was creating. Where was my plumb line?

The answers have come slowly over the past few days. What I’ve concluded is that living in an imperfect world doesn’t diminish my faith, it strengthens it. I can believe in a God who trusts in the process, a God who allows imperfections to exist so we can master the art of living. God never changes so we can. His love is constant. We aren’t. God doesn’t hold the measuring stick; He is the measuring stick…we chose where to plot the points.

My guess is that too often we view our mistakes as weaknesses, as something that is wrong. We think if we were better, more talented, gifted, intellectual then mistakes wouldn’t happen to us. Instead of respect, we regret the decisions which have shaped our learning process. But in the big picture of who we are, the mistakes are part of the final product—they’re beautiful.

“Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it,” said Salvador Dalí.

Perfection takes time, if it’s even possible. I don’t know. Maybe it is achievable in some aspects of life, but if it is to be achieved, then it can only be reached by making mistakes. One of my favorite artists Monet, once remarked, “My life has been nothing but a failure.” If that is true, then your greatest triumphs might just be your biggest mistakes. Respect where you’ve been. Use it as a guide for where you want to go. Erase and adjust. And so on…

 

 

 

 

The Things You Fear

“What are you willing to give up? How teachable are you?” Hans, my instructor asked, before we even put pencil to paper. Last week I began my art course at SARA, The Stockholm Academy of Realistic Art, a preliminary course intended for artists who want to apply to their three-year intensive program. I’d determined I was ready to take my art to the next level, but I’d been afraid too. Making this step took not only courage, but a lot of juggling with our family’s schedule. I was making a sacrifice and so were they. I’d made an investment in myself. I was here to learn, but I was also feeling the fear.

“The most difficult obstacle,” Hans continued, “is your own mind. Your mind will tell you it can’t be done, voices will urge you to give up…you’re too old, you’re too inexperienced, you’re not a quick learner, this is too impossible, the standards are too high.” I could feel my head nodding. I’d heard similar voices.

Steven Pressfield, in his book “The War of Art,” calls this “resistance.” Resistance kicks in whenever we try to do something better, different, innovative, or “or evolve to a high[er] station morally, ethically, or spiritually.” If you’ve ever met with negative voices in your head, you know what I’m talking about. Pressfield’s rule of thumb: “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the [more] Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

“He who fears to suffer, suffers from fear.” –Proverb

Success depends on getting out of your own way. Sometimes you just have to keep your head out of it. Put the ego in the back seat and let your soul drive. As we went around the room introducing ourselves, we were told to say our name and why we were in the course. Most said they were there to improve their “hobby.” One young blond Swede with hunched shoulders said he was going to “give it a try,” see how he liked it. The instructor said: “I don’t like the word try. You’re going to do it.” Gulp.

Another guy said he was scared to death to be there, but that he wanted to be an artist. His voice shook a little. I could feel his fear because it mirrored some of my own self-doubts. I admired his courage.

But fear isn’t all bad. Fear is the starting to point to great things. It’s what we feel when we risk change. If we stop at the point of fear, resistance wins. But if we know what we’re up against, know what fear is—the gateway—then we can perceive fear as a message. Fear is pointing the way to exactly where we need to go.

If you feel a lot of fear, then take it in degrees. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Dream BIG, but start small. In my drawing course we don’t begin with rendering the full human figure, we begin by copying a two-dimensional illustration of a hand. We spend enormous amounts of time training our eyes, breaking down the complex into the abstract. We look at the shapes of things, notice where they are in relationship to each other. It’s the way the Old Masters studied their craft, a technique that has been passed down through the ages. The standards are extremely high, but no one is expected to attain the skills overnight.

And what is the benefit of doing what we’re afraid of? The benefit is that you live. You LIVE and live more fully!

“If you deliberately plan on being less than you are capable of being, then I warn you that you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life.”  –Abraham H Maslow

Remaining stuck in fear will cause all kinds of problems. They’ll take on different names, different forms, you’ll assign different reasons for the chaos in your life, blame others, anything that will make you forget what you wanted to do in the first place. Resistance will tell whatever lie you will believe… until you stop listening.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” –Anais Nin

NOW, is a fantastic word. It’s the word we need to combat resistance. Because NOW, is now. Not yesterday or tomorrow and you can start now, to do whatever it is that you want to do. You don’t have to wait for anything. You don’t have to wait for problems to end, or children to grow up, or for the sun to come out, or for the holidays to be over… to begin. You just start now. Start small. Dream big. Take a risk. What is fear telling you not to do? Go do it.

Yeah, okay…I’m going to go draw now.

 

Trust Walk

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A mist has settled over the Baltic outside my window. The boats, and not so distant trees, are shrouded in a gauzy grey. On the far end of the inlet the land has disappeared altogether. There’s only sky and water.

Were I a sailor, new to these parts, I’d embark on my journey supposing nothing existed beyond my shore. I’d be wrong. I’ve seen what’s there on a sunny day, but right now it’s unclear…much like life…I don’t know what’s ahead, I just have to trust.

Here are a few things that I’m trusting:

I’m trusting God has a plan for my son. He leaves on his mission in a little over two months. His assignment: Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. I don’t know a single soul in that state. I’ve never been there, well…driven through, but I don’t recall stopping. Still, I have faith there’s a reason, there’s something there, a person, an experience, a life lesson for him to glean. I don’t see it yet, but I’m trusting God will lead the way.

I’m trusting that the human spirit is stronger than cancer. I learned this week my mom has cancer. I was broken hearted for her, for myself, for our family. Suddenly I felt unmoored–a ship during a winter’s squall, tossing in waves of fear and doubt. And then I prayed. I squinted hard into the distance and saw the faintest outlines of hope. That hope began with gratitude, seeing all there was to be thankful for: friends, family, prayers, doctors, medicines, nurses, kind words, and thoughtful gestures.

They say to beat cancer you need a positive outlook and a reason to fight. My mom has both. She was born during the onset of The Great Depression, lived during times of war. For over 20 years she moved around the world supporting my dad’s career in the military. In the early 70’s she got her detective’s license and to this day, at the age of 82, she does the bookwork for the investigative company my dad built and retired from a decade ago. In the fight against cancer, we don’t know what’s ahead, but I’m trusting my mom will do battle, and she’ll have the love and support she needs.

I’m trusting that love is a language. For those of you unfamiliar with my faith, in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we have no paid ministry. The congregation takes turns “preaching” on Sundays, we call it giving talks. We accept “callings,” volunteer positions to teach, organize or lead within the congregation. For example, you might be asked to lead music, teach 5-year-old’s Sunday school or work with teenaged youth. Recently, I was called to be the Relief Society President. My job is to help organize, teach and otherwise tend to the needs of 140 Swedish women. Did I mention I don’t speak Swedish? But where our language doesn’t meet, our hearts do. I have some amazing and talented woman I work with and together we discuss and figure out what we need to do.

The thing about volunteering at church, or anywhere for that matter, is that it takes you out of your own problems. You get more than you give. You experience life through another’s eyes and glimpse the miracle we all are—how we’re all connected, no matter what our differences. It makes me think of the Ray Bradbury quote,

“We are the miracle of force and matter making itself over into imagination and will. Incredible. The Life Force experimenting with forms. You for one. Me for another. The Universe has shouted itself alive. We are one of the shouts.”

Hallelujah!

I’m trusting a move back to America will be good for our family, while Cooper serves in Iraq. We got our next assignment; rather, Cooper was given the assignment he asked for, Iraq. We’ve been through a year apart before when he was in Pakistan, (the year Maggie was born in Pennsylvania). It was the year I found out what I was made of, (and cried a lot), a defining year, but one I vowed never to repeat. So of course we’re doing it again, only this time the kids are older and come to think of it, I’m older too. Maybe it’s also because I’m angry, because I’ve watched too many innocent people die, but this time I’m okay with him leaving. I’m proud of him for getting involved and making a difference. I trust Cooper. And that’s another reason I love him.

I’m trusting I don’t need to worry about what’s ahead. When life feels overwhelming, it’s usually because I’m thinking about the past or obsessing about the future. I’ll worry about things that I have no control over or decisions that I won’t need to make until next year or years after that. Anthony de Mello, a Jesuit priest, said,

“The present moment is never intolerable. What’s intolerable is what’s going to happen in the next four hours. To have your body here at 8 pm and your mind at 10:30 pm, that’s what causes us suffering.”

It takes conscious practice to live in the moment, to remember, as Winston Churchill said, “The chain of destiny can only be grasped one link at a time.” If I’m reaching for the next link, I can’t hold onto what I have right now, and what I have now is pretty darn amazing. I have my family and the people I love, so I’m going to love them as much as I can right now. That’s what I can do.

Life is a trust walk. In 1974, Philippe Petit, a French high-wire artist, illegally crossed a cable between the two World Trade Center Towers in NYC. His feat was 6 years in the making and stunned audiences below. For 45 minutes he traipsed back and forth holding a 55-pound balancing pole a quarter of a mile above the ground knowing that every step could potentially be his last. The danger, the risk, how much trust it took to walk back and forth across that wire is what astounds us and the reason why years later, a documentary was made about his life.

Life is a trust walk. We put one foot in front of the other, while holding the weight of something heavy—be that what it may. If you’re feeling wobbly, trying to stay steady, keep Petit’s advice in mind:

“You must not force yourself to stay steady. You must move forward.” That is the secret.

Moving forward. Staying in motion. “The essential thing is to etch movements in the sky, movements so still they leave no trace. The essential thing is simplicity. That is why the long path to perfection is horizontal.”

Trusting is making those tiny movements, so subtle sometimes only our heart can feel them. But one tiny shift can change the way we think, the way we approach life, the way we live. We don’t need to see what’s ahead, we can just be grateful it’s there. Gratitude brings hope—we can trust in that. Start with gratitude.

 

Handicrafts

With the change of seasons, I’m pulling out my winter craft projects. Everyone needs one. “Yeah, sorry, I can’t get up now, I’m MAKING something.” Currently, it’s crocheting baskets. I begin with ripping up fabric like the Hulk tearing off his clothes…it’s extremely rewarding. Arrrrrrrrrraaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Then I take all those little scraps, roll them into balls and (in theory) crochet the strips into a circle. Once you get the circle base, you can crochet up the sides until you have a basket, or a potholder if you really screwed things up. (Isn’t it great that most mistakes in life can be turned into potholders?).

Here’s one my friend made (mine still looks like a potholder.)IMG_2560

I think the balls could be decoration enough in a bowl or basket, don’t you?

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And here’s the thing…this might look like no big deal, right? Sheesh, basket making… but you’d be wrong. It is a very big deal and I’ll tell you why. It’s not just the object itself—the colors, the form, the utility of the thing–it’s the act of creating, slowing down, focusing on something that requires more hands and more heart.

A Swedish friend told me yesterday about a new study recommending people engage in some type of hands-on project daily. According to the study, the human brain is getting too much use, overloaded with technology and information. Too much thinking!!! Here I thought some people weren’t using their brains enough, but apparently, that’s a different problem.

So, tell me…when is the last time you made something? I mean built something, carved something, whittled, sewed, took apart a lawn mower and rebuilt it again. If your answer is Jr. High Home Econ., then you probably lived in the 80’s. And thank goodness you did, because back then handicrafts were “handy” and tax funds were actually allocated for me to destroy a lawn mower in “Shop Class.” Those were the days…woodshop, sewing, cooking, metal shop! Your mom probably still has your potholder.

It’s time to pull out those skills and make something. Because…two reasons.

1. Your brain needs a rest

2. The world is freaking crazy!!!

That’s why. Like what is going on? Wars and people jihading and killing Christians and Ferguson and scandals and Ebola and earthquakes and immigrants sending their kids on boats to America and good people, funny people, nice people committing suicide?

If you can sit down, take your mind off your problems for thirty minutes, who am I kidding, thirty seconds, then do it! String together a couple of torn up pieces of fabric that were headed to the trash bin anyway and make something, a potholder! Call it a good day because you’re alive, because you’re still breathing and you’ve got one more day to tell the people in your life you love them, one more day to witness miracles. Because even though we live in a crazy mixed up world—there are still miracles.

Babies are born, people get married, maybe not the people you want to get married, but fine, can we at least be happy there ARE people willing to say “till death do us part” and stick it out through “sickness and health.” There are lesser miracles too—strawberries, for instance, violins—the sound of horsehairs (of all things) on strings, the fact that you can pull a Kleenex out of a box and another one appears—how great is that? And gravity. Let’s not forget gravity.

Using our brains too much, focusing entirely on the problems of the world, or your own problems, will drive you insane.

You can go insane or rip fabric. Those are your choices.

That’s all I’m saying. Yes, be an advocate, get involved, serve your country, but do some handicrafts too. Carve walking sticks. I’m convinced that is why my father-in-law is so calm and healthy. When you carve you create something that lasts. Give it as a gift and you also create a smile.

Here in Sweden, carving is a tradition. The Dala Horse, famous as the national symbol of Sweden, came about as a result of soldiers keeping their hands busy during wintertime, sitting by the fire, carving horses for children. To this day you can visit the town of Dalarna and buy these hand-carved horses.DSC_0791DSC_0804

Another hugely popular craft in Sweden is “pixel art” with Perler beads. Design anything you can imagine. They sell kits at IKEA.IMG_2011

Knit, water color, tool leather. If at the end of a bad day you can put your hands to a task and your mind to rest, slow your heart rate, give your brain a rest (science says you need to), then by all means do it. Everyone needs a potholder.

 

A Sunday Night in Stockholm

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Last Sunday evening, Cooper and I decided to go for a walk in Stockholm. One of those last minute things…

You want to go? Yeah, sure. OK. Let’s go.

On a Sunday, the city is only a 10-minute drive from home. No traffic. We put on our Nike’s and we’re literally there, minutes later, looking at I’m not even sure what…amazing buildings. That’s what they are, amazing, overlooking the waterways that take you directly to the Baltic Sea.DSC_0003

The weather is perfect. People are gathering at outdoor restaurants, sitting in parks, eating ice cream. I look at Cooper and say, “We live in Stockholm.” I forget sometimes, when I’m busy being a mom, that I actually have access to all of THIS, all of this culture and beauty.DSC_0009

I’m glad I brought my camera. I’m glad I decided to venture out. I’m glad I’m with Cooper and that we have four kids and that we move every couple of years. Suddenly, I’m glad about everything, including this modern structure. I have no idea what it is, but I like it, the vertical steel folding out and in on itself like a roll of wrapping paper come undone.DSC_0021

Stockholm is mix of modern and old, eclectic and dynamic, one moment steel and glass, the next, a turn back in history to Romanticism and Baroque. It’s like one huge museum.

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We walk along the bridge to Gamla Stan “the town between bridges,” and take in the views of the Royal Palace. This is the oldest part of the city, dating back to the 13th century. History abounds. From here we can see the harbors of Skeppsbron and Sodermalm. DSC_0031

I love all the bridges. They’re romantic…something about hovering above the water, the endless deep, catching shadows of your reflection. It’s dreamy. It’s become the trend for couples to celebrate their love by putting padlocks on bridges. And this bridge has its share, locks in various sizes and shapes, some with lovers initials, some with the traditional plus sign, “Axel + Anna,” the equivalent of carving names into a tree surrounded by a big heart. Love in the 21st century.DSC_0065

We move on, walking under the freeway, the E18. I’m not sure why this fascinates me so much. I pause, staring at the concrete pylons, the light reflected off the water, the magic that’s holding up the bridge. How is this holding up the bridge? I think this “underground” has a cool vibe, like it should be in a music video, and the name of a band should be, Under the Bridge. Urban grunge. But then I smell urine (another scent of the city), so we don’t linger for long. DSC_0020

On the other side we emerge and behold…ta, da, da…a massive turreted building, Stockholm City Hall, also known as Nobel Hall, (this is where the Nobel Prize banquet happens). DSC_0033

Built between 1911-1923, it took twelve years and nearly eight million red bricks to put this thing together. I’m in awe. I can’t stop looking up at the golden starlet at the top. I almost trip over myself. I look down to see where I’m stepping and notice the surrounding gardens are magnificent too, a maze of hedges. People are sitting, relaxing, enjoying the views. There’s a man taking pictures of his girlfriend, couples with strollers and kids darting about. It’s a big hit with the tourists, I think, smiling, feeling local (wink).

The sun is going down. I want to get back across the bridge, take a few more pictures, before daylight is gone. We exit the courtyard and as we make our way back, we hear music. Two American folk singers. Their harmony is pitch perfect. Cooper and I hold hands, listen for a while. I feel like I’m back in college. But then the song ends, I remember I have kids and think, they’re probably hungry, they’re probably fixing PB&J’s by now, someone has probably found the ice cream sandwiches I’ve hidden in the freezer, and I don’t even care. I’m having way too much fun to worry about nutrition.DSC_0066

We cross another bridge and it’s dusk. We pass a coral red church. The sky is luminescent. The flowers are in late summer’s full bloom, a pulsing scent of sweet musky fragrance is carried on a light breeze. I breathe deeply.DSC_0071

We’re getting closer to where we parked, but before we do, I spot TGI Fridays. I see the blazing “American” sign and feel proud. Because there are Swedes in there eating plates of American ribs and molten lava chocolate cakes, washing it down with Coke-a-Cola and getting a little taste of home, my home. DSC_0081

We find our car, with our California plates, and I suddenly think…it’s our last year in Sweden. I have to make the most of it, take nothing for granted. I hope that’s possible. This isn’t a typical Sunday. I usually don’t bask in all Stockholm has to offer. I forget. But this is a start, right? A pretty good start.DSC_0085

IMG_1662I’m back in Sweden, making the most of the remaining weeks of summer, trying not to complain about the sweltering 85-degree temperatures when we have no air conditioning. In America I’d be wearing sweaters this time of year, pulling on a cardigan before entering the arctic blasts of restaurants or the grocery section of Super Target. Gosh I need a Slurpee.

I’m down to my thinnest cotton t-shirt and capris. If I take any more clothes off people will think I’m German. My makeup is melting off my face in this heat. I’m getting perilously close to getting a tattoo. On my eyes, that is. Not some big heart on my arm with Cooper’s name on it, thanks but no, (poor Melanie Griffith). I’m talkin’ “permanent eyeliner,” it stays on all day (and night), so I won’t have to look like Russell Brand.

Sitting here with the fan blowing hot air on my back, I’m really thinking I shoulda bought that cooling fan squirt bottle at the dollar store and the hat with drinking straws. God bless America. I’m positively languid, trying to look productive on the outside, while the inner me wants to lounge. To do anything that requires sitting–preferably on the beach. Reading, yes. Closing my eyes, yes please. Sipping something cool, that would be heaven.

School starts in three weeks. I’m not sure I’ll be up to making breakfast for anyone. These summer nights—up till 1 am, sleeping in till 9—are pretty much my new thing. I like stumbling out of the bedroom to find that everyone’s eaten already. Hot pockets, leftover chicken, a chunk of baguette with Nutella. Everything passes inspection in August.

The kids still have to make their beds, mind you. And do chores. I like to keep things somewhat scheduled (for them that is). One day vacuuming out the car, the next refolding everything in their drawers–the right way…NO stuffing, nothing inside out. This is all part of my “Success to Launch Plan.” Chores lead to independence. No one wants to listen to their mom rant forever, right? They will move out, right? Promise me they will. And when they do I will visit them at their house, all the time, in fact, and leave soda cans on their coffee table and my wet towel on their bathroom floor. I’m going to visit them A LOT.

Being that this is our last year in Sweden, I have a list of things I still have to do. I’ll be happy if I do most of them. My kids will be happy if they don’t include them. But again, the before mentioned “Success to Launch Plan” includes museums visits, otherwise known as “culturizing.” If I plan it right, they will grow up, leave home, have children of their own and want to do the same thing to their kids. ABBA museum, yes you will go. And I will make you put your heads through the cut out cardboard faces of the ABBA band members and pose for a picture. I can hear it now. “Do NOT put this on Facebook mom!”

Forced fun. That’s what I’m all about. Three weeks. It’s going to be great. It’s going to be a lot of fun before school starts. Now if someone could just please bring me a Slurpee, I might go tell the kids to clean something.

No Man Is An Island

“No Man Is An Island” is the title of John Donne’s famous poem and inspiration for the exhibition at one of Stockholm’s premiere museums, Artipelag.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

IMG_1032Artipelag opened two years ago, designed by Johan Nyren, and is fast becoming a “must see” attraction. It’s aim: a vision of art, music, furniture and sculpture inspired by the archipelago. The creators behind it…Bjorn and Lilemor Jakobson, the couple famous for creating the company BabyBjorn–(baby carriers and other innovative baby gear…are we surprised?)

Remarkably, they took on this project while in their seventies! Their mission: to bring the extraordinary beauty of Sweden’s countryside to the public’s attention. Its location is in Halludden, just 20 minutes outside of Stockholm, and I can tell you, (because I went there this week), it’s a little piece of wilderness heaven. I still can’t decide what the coolest thing about it is, the architectural structure itself or the gigantic open windows giving you a view to nature outside (with the artwork), or the combination of acoustical inspired jazz and artwork…or maybe the lunch buffet (seriously), everything is prepared from scratch (oven baked turbot with prawns and butter fired sourdough bread!?!?).

The buffet getting set up…

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This stone, worn smooth by inland ice, was preserved in the building–a special request from Bjorn.

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Nature and art together…IMG_1057

Here’s what Bjorn had to say about his vision: “I want people to come here and experience the nature. There are so many beautiful trees, ant-hills and moss-covered stones to look at–and rocks to sit on with views of Baggensfjarden bay. I think I could talk about this place until the cows come home.”

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A sculpture of swimmers jumping into the water

I agree. I don’t even know where to begin (or stop), the archipelago in Sweden consists of 30,000 large and small islands wrapping around the country, some rocky, some lush, some relatively abandoned, some teeming with tourists. Take your pick. Ferry there, fly, canoe, make a raft–like the youth group at my church did out of recycled bottles–and row from island to island, (I’ll pass, but okay, it’s possible).

Pictured below: the large artwork by Evert Lundquist and the smaller pieces by Ebba Reutercrona (husband and wife). Notice how much care goes into the hanging of each piece to create the right visual effect and feeling.IMG_1052

 

Here is a closer view…notice the movement in the brushstrokes…IMG_1037IMG_1039IMG_1038

Another artist included in the collection is Prince Eugen (1861-1947). Born to a Duke who later became King Oscar II, he was fourth in line to the throne, however, he was much more interested in landscape painting than reigning and devoted his life to art. IMG_1041

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These next two paintings are by Bruno Lilejefors (1860-1939), one of the most influential Swedish wildlife painters of the late 19th century.

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The sculpture below is outside, near the entry. Vegetal elements and bones in a kind of bronzed collage make up this unique piece. We viewed it while listening to the jazz improvisation of Madeline Jensen–a sometimes melodic, sometimes hiccupping scream of a caterwaul interpretation (to put it nicely). Her archipelago is obviously one of extremes.

IMG_1033 But that’s just it, that’s what Donne is trying to say, what this exhibit is trying to show…it’s everyone’s archipelago. Nature is a mirror in which to see ourselves, our connections, our relationships. While we may feel like an island, no person ever is, because no matter how small we feel, our life ripples outward, creating the currents that move all of us along. It’s kind of remarkable to think about. And why on the back steps of the museum, leading out to the promenade, the Milky Way is depicted on the steps–not only are we not an island, we’re not even a universe, we’re a multiverse, 1 of 10 to the 500th!! (That’s a 1 with 500 zeros). It’s hard to grasp. That’s why it’s a good idea, every now and then, to turn off the lights, drive out of the city and stare up at the heavens. It’s all there, we just sometimes forget we’re a part of it. But no man is an island.

Walking Tour Starts Here

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I realize it’s been a little quiet over here at Spare Change…not because I don’t have a lot to say, but because I’m just saying it in another place–working on a project (that with a little luck and a bit more work), will be finished by next year. The gist of it is “unpacking the expat life,” a bit of light-hearted practical advice for the global “hauler,” (it’s hauling, not traveling, when you’re bringing along everything plus your suitcase).

Meanwhile, I’ve been busy with the end of year school stuff, the usual suspects: dance recital, rugby and basketball tournaments, choir concerts, a 6th grade camp to Åland (an island off the Finnish coast)—okay, so not the usual 6th grade experience, but yes, Jonah is enjoying the perks of growing up where insurance companies don’t limit the fun you can have in school. I’ve yet to see a “waiver,” I mean for anything, not at my gym not at the doctor…I don’t think they have waivers in Sweden because everything is covered by state health care…you don’t need to be concerned about personal injury or whose going to pay. That’s pretty darn nice.

But I’m not going to debate the merits of healthcare, not yet anyway, because today is a holiday, Ascension Day. Swedes may not be all that religious, but they do observe religious holidays that give time off work. And today I’m going on my (almost) daily walk with Cooper and Maggie and bringing you along for the show–Sweden puts on a spectacular performance each spring, nature strutting all her best stuff. Grab a jacket, it’s still a bit windy…let’s go.

It begins here, by the water just down from our house. Sometimes I forget how marvelous it really is, but not today, today I feel it…it’s glorious.

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A little further down you’ll see this sign pointing the way to a bridge to Bockholmen island…it’s a small mound, really, without roads, just a trail that wraps around to wonderful Swedish restaurant. It’s a nice little stop off if you want to linger by the water.

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This road leads you through a neighborhood and as you can see, the bushes are heavy with lilacs all along the way…the scent is euphoric.

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Here’s one of my favorite traditional Swedish homes. Whoever lives there keeps a lovely garden. What you don’t see from this angle, are the potted plants in front.

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Once you enter the forest, there’s any number of trails you can take. I’m always mesmerized by the shapes of shadows cast by the leaves.

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Once through the forest, you emerge by the university housing for students. For some reason these buildings are quite famous. There’s a lot of these tenement “blocks.”

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Around the bend you’ll discover this little village of summer cottages in quintessential Swedish red.

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Through a tunnel and here’s where you come out–right by the lake.

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I never get tired of walking by this incredible view.

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Maggie stops to admire the wild flowers and make mischief (of one kind or another).

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It’s sunny and we’ve walked for about an hour, so we deserve to stop at our favorite Kafe Sjostugan for a slice of rhubarb pie–it’s open everyday now until fall. Don’t you love how they decorate? Hang a stick and some paper cut-outs and voila!, you’ve got style…there’s always something creative draped from the ceiling.

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We sit outside. Because we can.

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Maggie said it was her lucky day when this little feller landed on her jacket. We now have a caterpillar in residence.

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This orchard used to be filled with sheep. Come late summer the apples are going to be amazing.

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The Swedes have a great tradition, dating back to WWII, (when people moved out of the city to grow their own vegetables because produce was scarce), of living in these summer cottages. I keep thinking I’m going to spot the Seven dwarfs.

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And now we’re home…let’s do it again tomorrow!IMG_0937

 

The poppy is a symbol forever bound to WWI because of a poem, In Flanders Fields, written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae—a Canadian medic and soldier. McCrae witnessed the horrors of the front line while battling in Flanders, Belgium—seventeen days and seventeen nights his battalion held their position against the German attack.

Later, when burying a friend, he noticed how the poppies flourish on barren fields around the soldier’s graves, the seeds having been disturbed in the soil and watered by the blood of those laid to rest. He penned the poem the very next day while riding in the back of an ambulance. Unsatisfied with the words, he’s said to have discarded the poem. However, thanks to fellow soldiers, the poem was retrieved and eventually published in a London-based magazine

Today the British International School in Sweden, along with the British Embassy and schools throughout the UK, and around the world, commemorated the 100 Year Anniversary of the First World War. In honor of the soldiers who gave their lives, the children planted poppy seeds–hoping that come August 4th, the day in 1914 when Great Britain declared war on Germany, the flowers will bloom.

The children also wrote poems for the occasion and my 11-year old son Jonah was selected to read his poem entitled, Fallen Soldiers, during the ceremony. It expresses more feeling and understanding of the events of that day than a book report could have captured (that’s why I love poetry for children) and is a stirring account of how a young man in battle might have felt that fateful day. (You could say I’m pretty darn proud of him.)

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Fallen Hero by Jonah Wimmer

I shivered as the wind whipped my face,

I wrinkled my nose at the smell,

I wished I could pluck out mine eyes.

I saw thousands of young men sprinkled across the battlefield.

 

There was no time for mourning

Our enemies didn’t wait,

The bombardments kept us sharp as knives.

I was weary and scared–my heart pumping out of my chest,

I was dreading the moment I would be sent over the top.

 

I was proud of the soldiers, who bravely conquered their fear,

But I was no soldier.

How could I perform such a heroic deed?

I couldn’t take it anymore; the pressure was just too much.

 

But I thought of my fallen brothers, the tunnelers who suffocated,

The men who had been so brutally murdered,

Then I thought to myself,

I’d rather die fighting than betraying my country and living.

 

I sat up and got ready,

I cried as I prayed for my family’s safety.

I walked over to the captain who was a gatekeeper to hell,

I stood at the gate waiting for him to say one dreadful word…

Go!

 

I sprinted into no man’s land

Embracing my inevitable death.

 

I was a bird with no wings lying on the forest floor.

There was no cover, no crack nor crevice to hide in,

I watched the men fall one by one.

 

The blue sky came out and the wind died down.

The stench didn’t bother me.

As I lay on the mutilated field, I saw my friends and family carved into the mountainous clouds,

The dead soldiers who died fighting this war would be remembered as heroes…

And so will I.

Time must not diminish our history, our mistakes, our sacrifices, nor our humanity. Remembering is a conscious act to hold in the present the events and people who have shaped our past. Our world wouldn’t be the same without them. We can each choose how we want to remember…a moment of silence, reading a poem or watching a documentary or some other meaningful ritual to honor those who make freedom ring. This Memorial day, as you make it a point to do something to remember, you’ll feel just how much we have to be grateful for today.

 

 

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