Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Östersund



The following morning I made my mom's variation of Swedish pancakes, my entry in the pancake cook-off. Shortly afterwards Anita's son Janne showed up. We spent the morning getting to know each other and listening to his Alaskan fishing boat adventures. Anita informed us that she is thankful she didn't know how dangerous it was at the time. All the while Aaron dreamily watched birds at Anita's bird feeder. After we had finished with pancakes, tea and coffee, we bundled up and headed to the Jamtli Museum where Anita used to volunteer in one of the rustic cabins in the outdoor folk section. There we met Janne's children Eric and Tuva, and his girlfriend Karin and her two young children. We spent the day learning about Östersund's own "Loch Ness monster," the native Sami, Vikings and village life in the 1800's. We shared a lovely lunch learning more about school life in Sweden and telling them about homeschooling. Afterwards we headed outside to see the historic buildings, excited to see the cabin where Anita had volunteered. Unfortunately there was a bitter wind which, combined with our colds, forced us indoors too soon. In the museum store Janne found table place mats with birds on them and bought them for the boys to bring home as a reminder of our stay in Östersund. When we left the museum Janne drove Jason to the train station to help him change our train tickets so we could stay one more day while the rest of us headed back to Anita's cozy apartment.  Anita, Karin and Janne then made a delicious chicken curry for dinner. It was the first day of advent so as we sat down at the table Anita lit a numbered candle and let it burn until it reached the number two, a process we would repeat the following evenings to celebrate advent. After a delicious meal and wonderful conversation, our family and Anita rushed out to watch a modern dance show which her granddaughter Hanna and Beret's daughter Kristina would perform. Janne and Karin graciously stayed behind to clean up before heading home. At the theater we took our seats next to Beret and her husband Torstan and watched girls from eight to twenty dance to American music from hip-hop to country to rap. It was interesting to watch American culture reflected back to us Swedish style. After the show we met another one of Anita's sons Linus, his daughter Hanna and his son Simon. We all walked back to Anita's where we gathered around the table for fika, our new favorite Swedish tradition of eating cake and drinking tea or coffee. We ate a delicious gingerbread cake and saffron buns Anita had made and sipped warm cups of rooibos tea and black-currant saft or lemonade. (A side note here: as our arrival to Östersund approached I warned Anita that we all had colds. I was worried about getting her sick and offered to stay in a hostel. Anita sweetly insisted we stay there and she would make us black-currant lemonade to help us feel better just like she had done for her children when they were sick. She took very, very good care of us.) We were told that gingerbread makes you nicer so we helped ourselves to a couple of slices just to be sure. Warm and content we settled into bed for the night.

The following morning Anita made her version of Swedish pancakes which we ate with lingonberry jam and cloudberries. They were delicious! After we finished our pancakes and tea Anita asked if we'd like coffee as she pulled out the gingerbread cake. We could definitely get used to fika! After breakfast Aaron helped Anita refill her bird feeders as she taught him bird names in Swedish. At noon my cousin Gunnar arrived to bring us to lunch where we met his eighty-five year old mother Ruth who is of the same generation as my grandmother. We shared a delicious lunch on top of Arctura, a 65 meter high hot water storage tank that contains 26 million liters of boiling water, heated by the bio-waste from the forestry industry. The water is used to heat the homes of Östersund. We learned that this is an energy project that Gunnar had worked on. As we looked over Ruth's copy of our family tree we learned that Ruth had been a teacher and the head of the Folk Party in Sweden. She then signed the family tree and gave it to us to keep. After lunch Gunnar drove us through the dark around Östersund giving us a tour. We learned so much about Sweden in that drive. He showed us a bio-gas station where residents could fill up their bio-gas cars for free. The biogas is made of compost from the residents of Östersund! It was absolutely mind-blowing to see this forward-thinking energy program in action in a community of 60,000 people. We learned about the Swedish welfare system and it was so hard to wrap our American minds around the fact that Swedes don't have to worry about saving for retirement or college and that their health care is free. It seemed like a very utopian society. Gunnar also showed us Östersund's two ski hills within city limits as he explained to us why he loves living and raising his family there in spite of a daily commute by air to Stockholm. After an in-depth tour complete with conversations of history, politics and sports he dropped us off at Anita's just in time for us to help make dinner. After another lovely dinner with Anita, Maria dropped by with gifts of wool socks that she had made at Woolpower where she is a seamstress. We had an interesting conversation about American music and healthcare. They were shocked and appalled to hear that our government does not help families out after the birth of a baby. The thought of dropping a newborn baby off at a daycare sounded absolutely barbaric to them and I can't help but agree. It was so interesting to hear their perspective on American ways. After we said farewell to Maria, Anita put on a CD with bird calls followed by their Swedish bird name. She sat with Aaron and helped him learn the Swedish bird names through the entire seventy minute CD. It was so sweet and Aaron loved it so much. When that was through we sat down to fika once again before bedtime.

On our last morning in Östersund Anita treated us to a traditional Swedish breakfast with rye crackers, lingonberry jam, soft-boiled eggs, yogurt and musli followed by our final fika. I reluctantly packed us and Anita called her ex-husband to give us a ride to the train station. We all gave Anita big hugs and said good-bye. I cried. I just couldn't help it. Anita had shown us so much kindness and generosity, everyone had. She made us feel so welcome and at home. I was so touched and it was so hard to say good-bye. I was sad to leave my new-found family behind. On the train, as the events of the past few days sunk in, I felt very overwhelmed by what we had experienced and I couldn't help but cry again. It was so touching to be welcomed with open arms just because we share the same bloodline. I will forever be grateful. Family is really powerful stuff.

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