Jan 28 2011


“You shouldn’t feel guilty for not being there to help her. You shouldn’t feel guilty that she is ill and elderly and alone, without family near her or many friends nearby. She made her choices and you do what you are able to do, when you can do it, to help her as much as you can. She’s where she is because of the choices she made.” This is what a friend told me recently.

But what kind of choices do we make in our lives? How much thought do we give them? How free to choose are we? And how responsible are we for our own choices and the choices of those near and dear? And even those far away?

I go into the supermarket to buy food for dinner. If I’m just coming home from working hard all day at my job and its getting late and I’m tired, Ill be looking for something quick and easy to make. Perhaps I buy a package of Bratwurst, enough for all of us and a box of instant mashed rutabaga. The bratwurst just goes in under the broiler for 10/20 minutes and the powered rutabaga only needs to be poured into boiling water and stirred and allowed to sit for 5 minutes. Voila! A tasty meal in under a half hour. Add some sliced raw carrots and you are all done.

But if I know that Ill be home most of the day and can spend some time and energy on making dinner then I will buy a different sort of ingredients. Perhaps I want to spend the time making a stew or even a roast. Maybe with a creamy potato casserole to go alongside the roast. For those kinds of meals I buy different ingredients. For the stew, I need to get enough stewing meat, a lot of nice potatoes, a bag of carrots, some onions, preferably the red kind, and maybe even mushrooms. For the roast and casserole I need to find a nice chunk of beef, a bag of potatoes, onions, cream, and a nice cheese to grate into the casserole. Ill also pick up veggies to include in a good salad and maybe even stop off at the local bakery to pick up a nice crusty fresh baked bread.

But for all three of these meals, the fast food and the slow food, I’m required to make choices. For the slow food dinners I might use a cookbook to guide me. It will tell me how long the roast should be in the oven and what temperature for it to come out good. For the fast food, I might read the ingredients on the package of the bratwurst and decide which brand of bratwurst based on what it says on the package. The box of rutabaga will give me instructions on the side of the box and might even give me ideas how to improve it.

But where’s the instructions for life? Where’s the cookbook that tells us what to do, in what order so that when we’ve cooked our life we haven’t burned the meal and ended up hungry?

When I moved to Sweden 23 years ago, both my parents were still alive, still living in the house I grew up in and still working. I admit I didn’t give them much thought when I decided to move so far away. I was more concerned about leaving my friends behind. Now things are different. My dad is gone since 1997 and my mom has moved twice since I moved to Sweden. The 10 years she and my dad had at the 55+ place called Homestead were good years for them and the 10 years there after my dad died were also pretty good. She had lots of friends and activities to keep her busy and I would come to visit once a year, usually dragging my family with me. Two years or so ago, she graduated from Homestead’s 55+ to Independent Living at Monroe Village. There she started off her stay by editing the Resident’s Newsletter, following a life-long love of writing, and she met Marty. Life was good and still independent was a key idea. But last week she ended up in the hospital because she had trouble walking. Now she is spending some time in Monroe Village’s health care center where they can keep a close eye on her and give her physical therapy to get her legs working again. I try to call her everyday. But life in the health care center is pretty boring. While she still sounds cheerful when I talk to her, she also sounds tired. Like life is getting too complicated, with all the medicines, and doctors and feeling in pain and not being able to walk or be in her own apartment. And I feel guilty that I’m not there to be of help to her. And here we come back to the choices we make in life.

I don’t mean only my choice to move to Sweden but also my mother’s choice to live where she lives. She chose long ago to live in Budd Lake NJ. That was pretty far from much of her family which were centered closer to New York. But it wasn’t really her own choice. It was made more by her parents who had bought a summer cottage there and eventually both my parents and grandparents decided to permanently move there – away from the rest of the family. Then when my grandmother died, my folks found Homestead and moved there, even further away from New York. But they loved living there so it was a good choice and an independent choice. Now she lives where she lives. Still independent.

And I feel guilty that I am so far away.

Oct 18 2010

The Good Wife = Perfect Television



I just finished watching The Good Wife on TV tonight. Its the only story-arc series I’m bothering to keep track of at the moment. Television series that have a story-arc are more difficult to get attached to. It means you have to allocate the time to make sure you watch it every week. If you miss an episode its like skipping a whole chapter occasionally while reading a book. I like this show enough to make the effort. I’m not really a detective/murder/police/lawyer genre person. I usually read Sci Fi for my escapist entertainment. My problem with crime/lawyer etc stories is that even after they tell me who did it I still don’t understand how it got done. Or if its in book form I frequently want to read the ending after the first few chapters. It helps me to figure out if I want to spend the time finishing the book. But it doesn’t really give away the plot. Even if you read the ending you still don’t know HOW A got to Z. But, it peaks my curiosity to read the end.

Anyway, back to The Good Wife. I like the main character, the wife. I remember the actress from ER. Boy does she look different now! She has really curly hair like me but now its so sleek, I’m jealous. Alicia, the wife is perfect. Smart and rarely a hair out of place. Perfect eyebrows. Perfect clothes, classic, always matching, sober colors, that fit her perfectly and look great. She is always collected and in control all the time. Knows what to say and even if she is taken by surprise rarely ever gives away anything she is thinking. Of course its easy for her – she has a crew of hairdressers and stylists at hand to make sure she stays looking that way and a script to tell her what to say. But I’ve run across women like that in my life. I can’t say that I ever became good friends with one though. Mainly because they intimidate the shit out of me. They are the kind of person I used to wish I could be but know that I never will be.

BK (before kid) I used to Dress. I liked clothes. They were my mask. I used to sew my clothes and I did it well. My costume fit me perfectly. I wore makeup (still do that) and spent a lot of time on trying to force my hair into doing what I wanted it to do. (gave up on that) But even though I easily admit to being a control freak, I was never an over-achiever. Even in school. If I got an A easily, I was happy with that. If I got a B and would have had to work hard to make it into an A, well I was happy enough with the B.

Actually there are two kinds of perfect. The first type is the kind of perfect that an over-achiever has had to work really hard to achieve and which somehow, nevertheless, always seems a bit forced and false. Then there’s the second kind – the perfect kind of perfect. That kind of perfect never seems false or even over-worked; it just seems perfectly natural. It has to do with Style, with a capital S. Grace Kelly had that. So did Katherine Hepburn. And so does Alicia.

Actually, I like Alicia, the good wife, because she is everything I am not. Even when I used to DRESS there was always something that kept it from being perfect. I definitely wasn’t classic style to begin with. I once had an outfit of black slacks with big yellow polka-dots, paired together with a yellow blouse with tiny black polka dots. I wore them with a black belt and a pair of black earrings that had small yellow and white polka-dots on them. So what wasn’t perfect, one might ask? Well in my mind, the yellow blouse wasn’t exactly the same shade of yellow as the yellow polka-dots on the pants. Close but not perfect. For a control-freak that’s important. But not being an over-achiever, it was good enough for me. I realized that I was never going to be the second kind of perfect. The kind that just comes naturally.

Good enough

Good enough

Because its not just about the clothes. Its the good wife’s whole manner. She’s so serious, on the outside at least. But not me. I’m serious on the inside, but not on the outside. Making a joke and being silly is more my style. I don’t mull over every word before I say it. I just blurt it out. I’m not so sure if that’s good or bad but I don’t really care any more. The only thing I want to be taken seriously for is the work I do. That’s important. And that the people that I care about know that I care about them. That’s also important. But I’ve pretty much given up trying to be any kind of perfect. Good enough is good enough for me. I can enjoy watching perfect people on TV and that’s just perfect.

Jul 25 2010


You can pick your nose.
And you can pick your friends.
But you can’t pick your friends’ nose.
That rhyme has rattled around in my head ever since I was a little kid. I don’t know why. So much other stuff doesn’t seem to be able to stay in there but that little ditty does. I always thought it was funny for some reason. The idea of picking one’s friends. It’s not the same with family. You can’t pick your family. They become attached to you the moment you are born. And they follow you for the rest of their lives. When I was much, much younger I used to wish that we could also pick family. One goes through a certain period of one’s life when FAMILY is either embarrassing, annoying or just plain irritating. It isn’t until you move far away from them that you realize just how important FAMILY really is.
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Dec 29 2009

Julbord (or smorgasbord to you on the other side of the duckpond)

Before the new year arrives and the Christmas holiday becomes a memory, I thought I would talk a little bit about the Swedish custom of the Julbord. To my friends here in Sweden, Ok, you dont have to read this. You already know what Im talking about. But to those of you still back in my mother country, you might find this interesting.

The Swedish word smörgåsbord is a combination of the word smörgås which means sandwich (or literally “buttered”) and bord, which means table; so a smörgåsbord is literally a sandwich table, which is a bit of an understatement since there is a lot more than sandwiches on it. The classic Swedish Julbord is a large smörgåsbord traditionally eaten with family and friends on Christmas Eve. From the beginning of December, most restaurants offer, for a fixed price, a Julbord dinner several times a day until just before Christmas. While they vary in size and price, these Julbords offer an astonishing selection of Swedish dishes. And if you go to eat Julbord with Swedish friends and family, it’s a good idea to know how to do it.
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