Larisa in Norway

August 2010 – Larisa, Johanna, Erin

In August our daughter Larisa had the opportunity to travel to Norway with her cousin, Erin, to visit Erin’s friend, Johanna. Larisa gave me permission to post some of her pictures!! One of my passionate dreams, when circumstances allow, is to visit Norway, the land of some of our sea-faring ancestors. Although Johanna didn’t live by the sea, the mountains offered more than enough beauty and scenic vistas to satisfy my curiosity for now… Larisa brought me a treasure: one of the flowers she picked in the field (below).

Larisa – Norway.2010 – “The hills are alive…”
Larisa, Erin, Johanna – Norway 2010 … Amazing how blue the water is!
Norway 2010 …nature…

According to Wikipedia: “A stave church is a medieval wooden church with a post and beam construction related to timber framing. The wall frames are filled with vertical planks. The load-bearing posts (stafr in Old Norse, stav in Norwegian) have lent their name to the building technique.” There is a replica of one at the Norway Pavilion at EPCOT in Disney World, which I have visited four times.

One of Norway’s stave churches – 2010
…Erin in the graveyard of a stave church…

Raised by a genealogist, Larisa knows that pictures of cemeteries are essential souvenirs to bring back from any country visited.

Show me your cemeteries, and I will tell you what kind of people you have.
~ Benjamin Franklin

Norway 2010 …feels like home…

The first time Larisa showed me the picture above, I got butterflies in my stomach because it seemed so very familiar. I saw that same reaction portrayed once in the movie The Motorcycle DiariesWhen Ernesto “Ché” Guevara took in the spirit of the ruins of Machu Picchu, he wondered, “How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?” I knew exactly what he meant. It is the same feeling I also had when I walked into the stave church replica at EPCOT.

And of course it also made me think of Sigrid Undset and her books Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken. And the Kristin Lavransdatter movie directed by Liv Ullmann.

Thank you, Larisa! You have given your mother a most wonderful gift!

swirl and swing of words

6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut
We like to go in the back door! ~ 6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut

When we have house guests, more often than not we wind up taking them on a little trip to one of our very favorite places, the Book Barn, a huge used bookstore, with two satellite stores, in Niantic, Connecticut. Most of our guests are eager bookworms and they come away impressed and smiling with arms full of books. Even more often we go, just the two of us. Today we made it there early, ahead of the rain, so now we’re back home and happily tucked in for a rainy afternoon.

Lately I’ve felt like a dormant bookworm waking up from a long nap, like Rip Van Winkle, discovering that a lot has changed while I was dozing. I can’t believe how many books I’ve read the past couple of months and what sorts of things related to reading can be found on the Internet.

Clicking around from blog to blog this past week I was amazed to find that there are more than a few blogs about books, just books, and there is a social network named GoodReads, and site called the Historical Fiction Network. Not to mention many websites devoted to some of my favorite authors. There will probably be a lot about books in the future of this blog, but I’m not going to limit myself to this subject. But for now, to celebrate my reading revival it seemed like a trip to the Book Barn was in order…

6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut
“New Arrival Mysteries Only” ~ 6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut

When we go to the Book Barn we usually go our separate ways, Tim favoring science fiction and I love exploring historical fiction, among other things, like genealogy and consciousness. Greedy thing that I am, when we meet up my pile of books is usually higher than his, no matter how much I set out to come away with fewer books than he does…

6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut
this cat followed us around ~ 6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut

The store is actually a huge three-story barn and several smaller buildings and makeshift nooks and crannies surrounding it. Cats roam freely inside and outside. One can snuggle up in a chair with a cat if one so desires… Gardens filled with ornaments and baubles line the paths between the buildings. Two goats have an enclosure to themselves. The business even expanded to two “downtown”  and “midtown” branches, ¾ and 1 mile away.

6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut
“The Underworld” ~ 6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut

When I was in ninth grade, many moons ago, I had a few “defining moments” about reading and writing that left an impression on me.

My English teacher said that we would be spending a good part of the school year reading the Bible as literature. That kind of excited me because my father was an atheist so I knew nothing about the Bible, except that my maternal grandparents loved reading the same passages of it every night while they were separated and attending different colleges. Seemed very romantic to me! So in class we studied the Hebrew scriptures pretty thoroughly. When it came time to start on the Greek scriptures, to my shock and disbelief, the instructor announced that this part of the Bible was obviously written by delusional people so it wasn’t worth covering. Excuse me?? Our last weeks were spent studying science fiction, at which I turned up my nose. The teacher – don’t even remember her name – told me in no uncertain terms that science fiction was written by very intelligent people and enjoyed by very intelligent people. I was not convinced at that time, equating it with the trashy stuff it seemed my then boyfriend liked to read. Still can’t get into it much, although husband and sons and even daughter have tried to warm me up to it. And yes, they are all very intelligent!  🙂

6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut
word wagons and garden ~ 6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut

I also took Creative Writing in ninth grade. Turned in a short story assignment and the teacher – can’t remember his name either – asked me to see him after class. He told me my short story was very well written and that I should consider becoming a writer! Couldn’t believe my ears! He also told me I should read a John Updike novel, because I had a similar writing style. Don’t remember which one I tried to read, but I disliked it. I couldn’t see the similarity in any way, shape, or form!

Adults are so hard for confused ninth graders to figure out!

6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut
one cannot get lost, confused, but not lost ~ 6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut

When I was in tenth grade, we were living in Greece and I attended an international high school. When we were asked to write a short story, out of laziness, or maybe I really did want a second opinion, I turned in the same short story I wrote in ninth grade. Again it was praised, and this teacher wrote some very helpful comments about why she thought it was good, for which I am grateful, even if I still feel a little guilty about my deception.

6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut
contentment ~ 6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut

And the memory losses of middle age are sometimes hard to fathom. When my children were very small I read a James A. Michener novel, and I’ve been trying desperately all day to remember which one it was. None of them ring a bell of recognition. But I did read one and remember being very impressed when I learned how much meticulous research he used to do before writing each book. It was that book that made me realize how much I love the historical fiction genre and how much respect I have for the authors who do the research so thoroughly. Sigrid Undset comes to mind, and a book I couldn’t put down this past week, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, by Lisa See. Surely there are many others.

I love writing.  I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.
~  James A. Michener

6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut
“Haunted Book Shop” ~ 6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut

My darling husband startled me when, out of the blue, he explained to the owner of the Book Barn that I was taking these pictures for my blog. I wanted to crawl under a rock  But the owner said, “That’s wonderful!  We welcome the exposure!” So if you are ever close enough to make a trip, be sure to stop in!

6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut
lobby in the main barn ~ 6.12.10 ~ Niantic, Connecticut

For more pictures, a slide show can be found on the Book Barn website.

more waiting

Mid-May I started re-reading The Master of Hestviken tetralogy and this morning I finished the last volume, The Son Avenger. (see Changing Perceptions) My reason to begin reading it again was that I remembered loving the descriptions of the natural surroundings and the inner thoughts of the characters living in medieval Norway. Or so I thought. What stood out quickly to me in the first volume, this time around, was all the waiting Olav & Ingunn had to do to get matters settled so that they could finally be together.

In my “Eternally Terminal” post I commented on the waiting again, and connected it to the waiting theme in my current life situation. Little did I realize that the theme would keep coming around again and again in the four volumes. Waiting. Some things cannot be rushed.

Like many of the other characters, Olav was not to have a quick or easy death. He had a stroke and could no longer speak or use one side of his body. His son and daughter-in-law did their best to care for him as he lingered on for a few years. When Olav felt his death was near he struggled, inch by inch, to drag himself outdoors near dawn one morning without his family hearing him. He wanted to see the fiord once more. He finally climbed high enough to find a spot where he could see the water and the sky and be with nature. The next two paragraphs took my breath away:

The immense bright vault above him and the fiord far below and the woods of the shore began to warm as the day breathed forth its colours. Birds were awake in woods and groves. From where he lay he saw a bird sitting on a young spruce on the ridge, a black dot against the yellow dawn; he could see it swelling and contracting like the beats of a little heart; the clear flute-like notes welled out of it like a living source above all the little sleepy twitterings round about, but it was answered from the darkness of the wood. The troops of clouds up in the sky were flushing, and he began to grow impatient of his waiting.

He saw that all about him waited with him. The sea that splashed against the rocks, rowan and birch that had found foothold in the crevices and stood there with leaves still half curled up – now and again they quivered impatiently, but then they grew calm. The stone to which his face was turned waited, gazing at the light from sky and sea.

What a profound moment of intense awareness… It reminded me how when playing in the woods as a child I never felt alone, sensing and delighting in the energy of the trees, my friends. I now feel I was led to read this book again so I could pick up on this message about waiting. Patient waiting is definitely not one of my strong points! I’m impatient for my father’s suffering to end.

I’m also impatient for menopause to arrive, because I’ve been assured, by older women who have been through this and by my neurologist, that my hormonally triggered migraines – and they are the worst of them – will disappear. Every time I go several months without a period my hopes climb a little higher, only to be dashed as they were yet again last night.

Both these things I wait so impatiently for are part of nature. Maybe like Olav I can learn to become more aware of all of nature waiting with me. To let nature calm me down and soothe my frustrations.

Poor Olav. When his family discovered him missing they came looking for him and when they found him unconscious they carried him back to his dark little bedroom and there he died a couple of days later. They meant well…

eternally terminal

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
wheelchair ramp built by my son and my brother-in-law ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Whenever I make the hour drive north to sit with my father, I use the time to listen to my iPod play list, set on shuffle. It’s kind of like drawing cards, I listen for messages in the string of songs it “selects” for the day. Since I have 1,328 songs on my “car” play list, there is always something “new” to contemplate. Or, if Dave Matthews’ The Best of What’s Around comes on (I have fourteen versions of it, including studio demos and live performances), I might hit the repeat button again and again to energize myself with the sentiments expressed for dealing with an often discouraging situation.

Yesterday I started connecting some dots… Last week I wrote about changing perceptions and mentioned the tetralogy by Sigrid Undset, The Master of Hestviken, a story about the lives of Ingunn and Olav, set in medieval Norway. I mentioned all the waiting the characters had to do. This week I started and finished the second book, The Snake Pit, and started the third, In the Wilderness.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
woodland garden ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

I’ve noticed that most of the blogs I like to read have a theme or a focus, like art, history, nature, photography, places, poetry, quotes, writing, etc. And at times I feel left out because I can’t seem to find a theme for my blog. Others seem to have more time to pursue their interests, careers and dreams. But at this point in time my energy is focused on waiting!

Last month, when writing about the volcano in Iceland I observed that years ago people used to respect the power of Mother Nature and they did their best to live in harmony with it. It seems like today we are determined to carry on with our plans with no regard whatsoever for the weather, the seasons, the climate, or natural disasters.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
dianthus ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Well. Isn’t dying a part of nature? Doesn’t it sometimes take a very long time to die? Am I doing my best to live in harmony with this reality? In The Master of Hestviken, when a character became incapacitated or gravely ill, his or her family would take turns “watching with” the one who was bedridden. Sitting by the bedside of a dying loved one was an honor and not considered a waste of time. Surely other pursuits were neglected and other plans put aside, but that was the way it was done. Even if a person lingered near death for years, like Ingunn did at the end of her life.

So I think this will be my focus, what I think about and what I observe around me as I “watch with” my father. Emotionally refreshed, I arrived at the house my parents built themselves when I was a preschooler, and went inside.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
captain’s bell ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After greeting everyone, I went to use the bathroom. I couldn’t help noticing next to the toilet what appeared to be a plunger made out of a silver-toned metal. Huh?? Could not comprehend what I was looking at… So I picked it up to move it out of the way and it started ringing very loudly! It was a huge bell!! It struck me so funny – what on earth was a bell doing next to the toilet? The more I laughed the more it clanged and I heard my sister asking, “What is she doing?” and then my brother-in-law teasingly inquired, “Do you need some help in there?” Haven’t laughed so hard in ages!

Turns out it is Dad’s new bell to ring when he’s alone and needs someone. The little bell he had previously just wasn’t loud enough to wake anyone up and it was getting to be too hard for him to pick up and grasp. Beverly found this “Captain’s Bell” somewhere and now he’s back in business.

Now that I had arrived my brother-in-law took off for parts unknown and the grocery store. As he is the primary care-giver, a trip to do errands and go food shopping is a real break for him that he enjoys. My sister had been up much of the night with Dad, so she went upstairs to take a nap. And I brought Dad’s bell back to him and began “watching with” him. We talked for a little, he’d ask about the book I was reading and I’d tell him a bit about it and then he’d fall asleep. Twenty minutes later he’d wake and ask another question and then he’d fall asleep again.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
Bernie ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

After a while, the cat, Bernie, started yowling to go outside. Dad suggested I take him for a walk in the woods, so I did, knowing that monstrous bell would wake my sister if he needed anything. Bernie and I had a splendid walk! I had hoped to encounter Harriet, a wild turkey hen who has been hanging around lately. I think we heard her, but I couldn’t see her.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
spruced up space to store canned foods ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

Something else was new in the house. My parents had always used space between the studs in the wall of the stairway going down to the basement for storing canned goods. I did a double take as I walked past the opened basement door. My brother-in-law had dry walled and painted the stairway and added shelf paper under the cans! I thought of Kathy’s ‘playing with your food’ blog and snapped a picture of it.  🙂

In the evening we were all amused by the antics of two adorable baby red squirrels who couldn’t figure out how the adult red squirrels made the jump from the tree to the bird feeder. No good pictures – they’re fast little things!

The joke in our family is that Dad is eternally terminal. (Fear not, he finds this very amusing coming from a family with a delightfully dark sense of humor.) His “little” sister, who is 80, came to visit him from Maryland last week. She says he’s like a potted plant. Every time it seems to be almost dead it revives with a little watering and/or plant food. Maybe he’s a succulent. There’s no way of knowing when the end will come, but I feel a little more settled now about making the best of whatever time there is remaining, the best of what is now. “Watching with” Dad.

5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut
potted succulents on stone wall built by my dad ~ 5.28.10 ~ Storrs, Connecticut

changing perceptions

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book when you were young and felt one way about it, and then watched or read it again 20-30 years later and felt a much different way about it?

Henry Fonda & Katharine Hepburn ~ On Golden Pond

One particularly striking time I noticed this it had to do with the movie, On Golden Pond. I must have been about 24 the first time I saw it and I identified completely with the daughter, Chelsea, and her many complaints about her difficult childhood. But when I saw it again, in my 50s now, it amazed me how petty she seemed to me now, and how much empathy I now had for her aging parents, Norman and Ethel.

This came to mind earlier this week when we went without power for 24 hours due to an electrical updating project at our home. I remember loving the tetralogy by Sigrid Undset, The Master of Hestviken, a story about the lives of Ingunn and Olav, set in medieval Norway. Again, I identified with Ingunn and her chronic health problems and the descriptions of her inner world. So I decided to start reading it again during those 24 hours off the computer.

I’m three-quarters of the way through the first book, The Axe. What surprises me is that I do not remember all the trouble this orphaned couple had coming together or how long it was taking for their marriage to come about. There was a lot of legal uncertainty, a clash between the age-old laws of the land and the new laws the new church was trying to set up. A lot of waiting. The author is skillful drawing the reader into the agony of the waiting. I had forgotten how tangled and frustrating the situation was!

The other surprise is that there are so many characters in the story that I’ve got an almost unbearable urge to write a genealogical outline for the main families, just to keep the relationships straight in my mind! No doubt these details didn’t interest me in the past… But I have discovered that I am not the only one interested in the cast of characters, there is a list of the characters and their relationships at Wikipedia! I’m amazed…

It feels wonderful to be immersed in a very good book again.

Eyjafjallajökull

photo by David Karnå
Eyjafjallajökull – Image: David Karnå

Watching the news last night, about all the flights grounded because it is too dangerous to fly through volcanic ash clouds, got me thinking… Years ago people used to respect the power of Mother Nature and they did their best to live in harmony with it. It seems like today we are determined to carry on with our plans with no regard whatsoever for the weather, the seasons, the climate, or natural disasters.

One of the things I loved about reading Kristin Lavransdatter and The Master of Hestviken was how Sigrid Undset portrayed the characters waking up in the middle of the night and knowing what time of night it was by the subtle sounds they heard outside and the feeling they got from the depth of darkness around them. Imagine being that in tune with the earth!

In Jane Smiley’s book, The Greenlanders, a mother poignantly explains to her son why his grandfather doesn’t have to do any chores:

After a long day, folk rest at night. After a long summer, folk play games and sit about in the winter. After a long life folk sit about the fire and stay warm, for the chill of death is upon them, and even the thickest bearskin can’t keep off the shivering.
~ Jane Smiley
(The Greenlanders)

Life is a mixture of positive and negative things, a delicate balance. On a walk in the woods we see the process of death and decay right along new growth and mature life. It’s more natural than a garden, where unwelcome plants are weeded out, and dead ones discarded as soon as possible. Once we went to a butterfly conservatory where my young friend asked a curator how long the butterflies lived. Usually a day or so was the answer. What happens to the ones that die? They’re swept up every morning. So all we see is the beauty, the dying part is hidden from our awareness.

I’ve been hesitant to blog the past couple of weeks because so many “negative” things are disrupting the rhythm of my life, and it seems a shame to whine about it. But perhaps negative things can be discussed without whining? More as part of the ebb and flow of life? Sometimes I think we pay a price for trying to carry on as if nothing has happened. Maybe we need to go to bed when it gets dark early, maybe we were meant to sleep more in the winter. Maybe we need to accept the universe and stay home when Mother Earth says we should not be flying…

Our little spaceship creates some very big dark clouds sometimes. So why should we expect to sail through our lives without limits on our plans and our share of disappointments and grief to endure? Yes, it would seem I’ve got a rather large dark cloud following me lately, but in the words of my favorite songwriter…

Isn’t it strange how we move our lives for another day
Like skipping a beat
What if a great wave should wash us all away?
Just thinking out loud
Don’t mean to dwell on this dying thing, but looking at blood –
it’s alive right now, deep and sweet within, pouring through our veins
Don’t beat your head, dry your eyes
Let the love in there
There are bad times, but that’s okay
Just look for love in it

~ Dave Matthews
♫ (Pig) ♫