Sunday, May 2, 2021

Cherry Blossom Time in Sweden

You don't have to go to Japan to see cherry trees blossoming; they're here in Sweden too.  Spring is definitely here, though we still need a warm jacket, and often we still need our toques and gloves too.  

The days are getting longer.  We're used to long days in southern Alberta, but these days are even longer.  Today, Sunday May 2, dawn came at 3:51 with the sun rising at 4:43.  The sun will set at 8:46 p.m. tonight, with the sky staying light until 9:37.  Sweden is on daylight saving time, and we used to wonder why they would need to save daylight.  But it's very helpful that it doesn't get light at 2:51, which is what it would do if we weren't on daylight saving.  We can sleep a bit longer!  And the sun will rise earlier and earlier until we reach midsummer in June.  It makes up for the long, dark, winter nights.

Life in the mission is busy as always.  Our missionaries are working very hard to share the joy of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  But they also have time for some fun things too.  Friday, April 30, was Walpurgis Night.  It's a night to build huge bonfires to ward off evil.  Saint Walpurga was a missionary in the 700's who was later honored for fighting against pests, rabies, whooping cough, and witches.  Now the evening is simply a day to socialize, light bonfires, and have fireworks.  But due to the pandemic, the government cancelled the celebrations, so we didn't get to see the bonfires nor the fireworks.

Our missionaries here in the office invited us to celebrate Walpurgis by having an evening barbecue on the lawn by the mission office.  They barbecued hot dogs and roasted marshmallows.  The police stopped by because it looked to them that we were having a "gathering," which is illegal right now.  But the missionaries assured them that we all live in the house, and the police were impressed by the nice manners of the young men.  We played a lawn game with sticks and blocks of wood.  Can't remember what it's called but it was fun.  I didn't take any pictures because we were too busy eating and visiting, and then it got too dark for pictures anyway.

Following are some fun pictures of the cherry blossoms, a Jewish synagogue, missionary pictures, a castle house, the huge Storkyrkan cathedral, and a short video of the missionaries singing the mission song, in Swedish of course.

Yesterday we drove to the middle of Stockholm, hoping to find the cherry trees.  Parking is very hard to find, but we managed and then had a half hour walk to get to the park.  Love the architecture here in Sweden.  Very European and yet different.  Love the red and white of this building.  But we don't like the concrete modern apartment buildings that have sprung up everywhere.  So many people have immigrated to Sweden that it's been hard to keep up with the housing.  So they build huge, blocky, and very ugly apartment buildings.  So glad I don't live there.

We were surprised at the "park" that we were trying to find.  It was just a narrow place between streets with two rows of cherry trees, but it was still pretty.  LeRon has seen Japan in the spring, and he says it is magnificent with thousands of cherry trees blossoming and girls in their bright kimonos by the Buddhist temples.  He served a mission in Japan in his youth from 1972 to 1974.

This is Kungsträdgården, or "The King's Garden," in downtown Stockholm.  In non-pandemic times it is a popular hangout place with cafes and open-air concerts. In the 1400's, it was the king's "kitchen garden."  There is still a king and queen of Sweden.  In fact, the day before, April 30, was the king's birthday.  We visited his palace in Gamla Stan a few months ago.  He and the queen are "working royals" and work each day in the palace and then go home to their living residence called Drottningholm Palace, which we haven't seen yet.

Gorgeous cherry blossoms!

I love this picture, which turned out more beautiful than I thought it would.  My new phone has an excellent camera.  As I was taking the picture, I felt that the sky was too light and the blossoms wouldn't show, but they did and it's beautiful.  Click to enlarge.

This picture reminds me of the gorgeous yellow laburnum arch in Bodnant Gardens in northern Wales that we saw in May 2019.  Google for "laburnum arch bodnant images" and you'll see what I mean.

I have a double flowering almond (also called a double flowering plum) at home in Alberta with flowers similar to this, but with double blossoms.  But the buds need to be protected from our harsh winters in order to bloom.  In Alberta, the temperature can go from -40 F to +40 F in a matter of hours.  Things freeze, then thaw, then freeze again.  My dad says that Alberta trees have to have multiple sets of buds so that as one set gets frozen, another is there to open.  

A last look at the cherry trees with the dome of St. Jacob's Kyrka touching the sky. We need to see inside this church someday. But not today since it's closed during May.

The Great Synagogue of Stockholm is very close to the Kungsträgården and is a beautiful building.  Decorative inscriptions in Hebrew are etched and painted into the stonework of the Great Synagogue. On the front facade is written, ועשו לי מקדש ושכנתי בתוכם, from Exodus 25:8-9, "And make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them."

A monument to the victims of the Holocaust, with 8000 names of Swedish Jews was dedicated by King Carl Gustav in 1998.  The Holocaust was such a horrible thing.  We have seen the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem, and the ghetto in Warsaw, Poland, where up to 460,000 Jews were walled into a 1.3 sq. mile area.  So sad what human beings do to other human beings.  When will we learn that we are all children of God?

The menorah, or candlestick, or lampstand, which is so symbolic of the Jewish faith, was actually described in Exodus 25:31-47.  These verses are God’s instructions to Moses for creating the menorah, specifying the ornate flowers, bulbs, and goblets that should be used. The menorah was built in the desert so the high priest Aaron could light it daily in the Tabernacle and later, in the Temple.  The 7-branch menorah is the one most commonly used, with the 9-branch menorah being used in the celebration of Hannukah.

On the rear facade is a beautiful rose window and two inscriptions; בית הכנסת הגדול של שטוקהולם, the building's formal name ("The Great Synagogue of Stockholm"), under which is written Isaiah 57:19, בורא ניב שפתים שלום שלום לרחוק ולקרוב אמר יי ורפאתיו, "Peace, peace, to him that is far off and to him that is near, saith the LORD that createth the fruit of the lips; and I will heal him."

More signs of spring!

Lots of waterways in Stockholm.  In fact the Stockholm Archipelago has 30,000 islands.  When you're driving, you don't notice all the water because the bridges have high sides that you can't see over.  We drive across a lot of bridges and through many tunnels as we travel around Stockholm.

We stopped for a few minutes at Junibacken, a really fun place for kids and adults alike.  I wanted to check out the bookstore here.  Fun to see the tree with huge bananas hanging from its branches.  They weren't there when we visited a few months ago.  But then, that makes sense, since bananas don't grow in the winter!

Warm enough that our 6 missionaries took their studies outside onto the lawn!  Hmn. . . not sure that Äldste Austin and Äldste Scott are studying.  Looks like they're enjoying a nap!  But the others appear to be studying.  Missionaries spend a few hours daily studying the scriptures as well as the Swedish language.  The rest of their time is spent interacting with people, either physically or virtually, as they share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

But Sunday nights at 9 p.m. are the highlights of our weeks, when the missionaries come to our tiny apartment for singing, visiting, and eating.  Äldste Stinson (who used to work in the office with us) in the white shirt, sitting on the couch, is here for an overnight visit.  His companion, is Äldste Gilbert (our French Canadian/Swedish missionary) in the pink sweater on the couch.  Äldste Stinson and Äldste Gilbert are the Toes (the Traveling Office Elders) who travel around Sweden recording members' testimonies and uplifting stories.

We get goose bumps when we hear these missionaries sing the mission song; the spirit is so strong.  Äldster Ronndahl, Wrangell, Gilbert, Nordgren, Stinson, Austin, Scott, Longman.

Äldste Stinson turned 20 today!  Happy Birthday!  We stuck some candles in the ice cream and sang in English and in Swedish.

Happy Birthday to our New Zealand Elder, Äldste Stinson!  Recently, we discovered some Torrie relatives who left Scotland and went to New Zealand.  Fun to know we have relatives there too.


Storkyrkan (or The Great Church) is also called Stockholms Domkyrka (or cathedral).  It is Stockholm's oldest church and was started in the 12th century.  It's been the home of coronations and weddings.  Love the ceiling! 

This statue of St. George fighting the dragon was made of wood and was carved in the 1400's.

There's a carving of the crucified Christ on a nearby column, and St. George appears to be looking right at him from his perch on his horse.  Apparently this sculpture has both religious and political overtones.

Painted ceilings in a side aisle of the church are impressive.  Hopefully this coming December 13, we will be able to watch a Santa Lucia concert in this church.  It was cancelled last year due to the pandemic.

I couldn't resist putting these pictures here of us in Wales at the Bodnant Gardens with the beautiful laburnum!  It's more stunning than the cherry blossoms, but they are beautiful too.

LeRon and his sister, Colleen Smith are enjoying the gorgeous laburnum.  LeRon and I traveled with Colleen & Craig Smith on a very intense 3 weeks of travel in 2019 to England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland.  We packed in more than we even wanted to!!  It was great but we were definitely exhausted at the end!!  Nice to see some Torrie and Smellie birthplaces too.


How would you like to live in this castle house?  We discovered this home on one of our walks, not too far from our place.  It's kind of hidden amidst a forested area and it is totally abandoned.  Junk everywhere.  Broken glass.  One of our sons always wanted a tower as part of his home.  Here you go, Eric!

We've learned that the castle house belonged to a famous Swedish journalist, Stig Dagerman, and his wife, actress Anita Bjork.  This sign is on the street near their house.  Sadly, Stig suffered from severe depression, partly due to his dyslexia, and he took his own life in the car in the garage of this house.  Depression is nothing to fool with.  If you have severe depression, you need to get professional help, just like you would if you had a serious disease.

We will miss Äldste Longman in our mission office and in our Sunday night sing-alongs.  He's been a wonderful help to us in the office, but he is now being transferred to another area in Sweden.  Missions are full of hellos and goodbyes.  

Fun at our last office meeting in the mission home before Äldste Longman moves on.  President Davis, Äldste Austin, Äldste Wrangell, Äldste Scott, Äldste Longman, Äldste Rönndahl, Äldste Nordgren.
Not to be outdone by the elders, here are the sisters, Syster Johnson, Syster Torrie, Syster Hall (who is also being transferred), Syster Westman, and Syster Davis.


On our way to the vaccine place to get vaccines for TBE (Tick-borne Encephalitis), we stopped by this cute statue of a crying boy.  Just for fun, people regularly change his hats and scarves according to the season.  Cute!  They say ticks will be a real problem this year, so we were glad to get our vaccines.  We walk in the forest almost every day.

More signs of spring . . . blooming forsythia everywhere.

Here's LeRon relaxing after our walk in the forest.  You can see it's still light out at about 8:45.  And you can also see the beautiful painting on the wall above him.  This was LeRon's choice of paintings when we were shopping in Gamla Stan for some original artwork.  Gabil paints lovely scenes of Sweden.

Once in a while I video the missionaries singing.  Here they are singing the mission song in Swedish, with LeRon accompanying them.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Fun Fantasy for Fantasy Fans

Hej All. Just wanted to point you to a brand-new author -- our cousin's daughter, who is like a niece to us -- Shannon Monson. Her mother, (our cousin), Ellen Redd Eldredge, grew up in Grassy Lake, Alberta, right across the road from where we live now.  Some of you Grassy Lake people may have known Ellen, or her parents, Smellie & Laurel Redd.

If you like clean fantasy, this young adult novel (ages 10-18) may be just the thing!  I have pre-ordered Badgerblood: Awakening on Kindle and will be getting it on April 23.  I'm excited to read this novel in my limited spare time!  It's also available in paperback.

You can check out Shannon's website at scmonson.com. She and her husband have made a fun website. I love the picture of Shannon with her cute little dimple that you can see if you click on "About Us."

You can also read about her new book here:  https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B093149HV8?ref_=dbs_dp_rwt_sb_tkin&binding=kindle_edition

When you get to that page, you can click on Read More. The book is also available at amazon.ca.

Here's a bit from the author: Badgerblood: Awakening is the first book in a new YA fantasy series. It is a tale of adventure, peril, and perseverance with plenty of humor and intrigue and a sprinkle of magic and romance. The world is full of strange creatures and unique vegetation, and brimming with a wide assortment of characters ranging from tyrannical to quietly heroic.

And here's some praise from early readers:

“Badgerblood is full of intrigue, magic, and adventure. I found it difficult to put down and could hardly wait to see what new pursuits befell Kor. If you enjoyed reading books like John Flanagan's Ranger's Apprentice or Brandon Mull's Fablehaven you'll enjoy Badgerblood. S.C. Monson's writing style captivates the reader from the beginning, leaving the reader wanting more. I look forward to reading future Badgerblood books.”
—Coreen H.

“Badgerblood was a fun read from start to finish. S.C. Monson has done a great job crafting an original fantasy novel with rich descriptions and a gripping plot. With Badgerblood’s plot woven around an original fairytale, S.C. Monson's writing style reminds me of Megan Whalen Turner. Shannon's writing flows well and is full of witty dialogue.”
—Michelle R.

“There are many fantastic ideas in this book, from innovative details in world design to interesting plot twists. Written for young adults but entertaining for all, Badgerblood…created an effortless movie in my head. Filled with intrigue, it kept me engaged all the way to the end—and beyond! I can't wait for the next book!”
—Michelle E.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Out of the City on Saturdays

We are very busy in the mission office from Monday to Friday, and then on Saturdays, we take our Pday (Preparation Day), which is a day to relax and see some cultural sites. We're still on call though, with missionaries often calling LeRon for various things. Not so many car accidents now that it is spring. It's amazing there aren't more accidents when you consider that these young missionaries have only been driving for a couple of years, and many of them have never driven in winter conditions. And then, add to that, driving in a foreign country, and you know that God is protecting our young missionaries!

We love our Saturday excursions out of the city. Due to the pandemic, things are closed, but you can still visit many churches and wander around castles and cemeteries. Covid is pretty bad here in Sweden so we don't go many places where lots of people gather. In fact in Uppsala, a city close to Stockholm, they have restricted people to their homes except for short grocery shopping trips. LeRon and I were lucky to get our first dose of the vaccine yesterday. We were so grateful! Now for pictures from several Saturdays.

Sweden is well-connected with buses. Bus stops are everywhere, even out in the sticks. You can catch up on your reading while you wait for the local bus at this cool bus stop!

And here is the Salems Kyrka, much of it from the 12th century and originally part of a defense system. So interesting to see buildings so old and still in use. Interesting too that all of the churches we've seen have had a heating system. So unlike the cold, cold churches in most of Europe. I remember attending an evensong in a church in Salzburg, Austria. We bundled up in our winter coats, with toques, and gloves, and we were still cold!

It would be so romantic to be buried in a churchyard, don't you think?  Next best thing anyway to being buried on our farm (which we of course, can't do).

An old church and an old tree. I've taken sketching classes in which they say that trees always have branches extending 45 degrees from the trunk.  Not so! They go every which way.

The church yard is on the very edge of a lake. Take a few steps backward and you'll be in the drink!

We visited Salems Kyrka the Saturday before Palm Sunday and the women priests had prepared the church with "palm" branches for the worship service the next day. Click to enlarge and you can see the palm branches behind LeRon. Ever since being in Jerusalem (many times), I've appreciated Palm Sunday more and more.

The wooden benches in Salems Kyrka are painted to look like marble.

The baptismal font in Salems Kyrka is from the 12th century and is made of stone. In our church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or, in Swedish, Jesu Kristi Kyrka av Sista Dagars Heliga), we are baptized by immersion, as was Jesus in the New Testament. I don't think this font would be big enough!

This church is close to Salems Kyrke but I wouldn't want to be buried here! The noise from the freeway and other city noise is not very conducive to resting peacefully. 

The old tree is very dead inside.

Back to the mission office. The missionaries are in "the war room," the room where they edit videos and make advertisements for social media. Elder Scott, Elder Ronndahl, Elder Stinson, Elder Wrangell, Elder Gilbert, Elder Longman, Elder Longman, Elder Austin.

We discovered that Elder Scott and I are 3rd cousins!! He descends from a brother of my Grandma Ida (Muhlestein) Conrad. Elder Scott is now working in the office with us. So fun!

And we were so happy to see our New Zealand "grandson," Elder Stinson. He worked with us in the office for several months and is now in another area of Sweden. In fact, he and his companion, Elder Gilbert, are what we call the "Toes" meaning the "traveling office elders." So we have the Smoes (the Social Media office elders), the Poes (the proselying office elders), and the Toes!  The Toes travel throughout Sweden videoing members' uplifting stories for our social media posts.

Now we're in the city just a few blocks from where we live. We took this picture to show how the trees grow straight and very tall, yet their roots are very shallow, given the amount of bedrock here in Sweden.

The roots are just barely in the soil. Not sure how they survive, and how they grow to such heights.

Another tree barely in the ground!

But this tree has fallen over. Must have been a terrific wind. It's left a small cave in the bedrock.

Here's another view of the newly fallen tree. We're surprised that any tree can root down enough to grow.

Springtime! The trees are flowering!!

Hmn . . . not sure why this picture is here.  I took it to show cool advertising on a milk carton. Every week there's a new activity. I'm sure kids (and adults) love to do the activities as they drink their milk. It reminds me of the advertising on cereal cartons when I was a kid. If you just saved 3 boxtops, for $1.50, you could get some random toy. We loved it! And we begged Mom to buy certain cereals so we could get the almost free toy!

Love this mailbox a few blocks down the street. The cat reminds me of our beloved cat, Blackie. Blackie was almost human. We let him in the house sometimes and told him that he couldn't go in the livingroom. So even if all of us were in the livingroom, he would sit in the doorway and just look at us. He wouldn't step a foot into the room. He was definitely an outdoor cat and would go with me on my long daily walks between the fields of crop. He and our dog, Honey, were great companions.
 
Now we're on another Saturday adventure. We are at Gripsholms Slott (slott meaning castle). Viking rune stones everywhere.  Seems that the Vikings were always carving tributes to their mother, or their father, or someone else. The rune stones have been translated.

Gripsholm Slott is in the village of Mariefred, not too far from Stockholm. The castle was built by Sweden's King Gustav Vasa in 1537 and was used as a royal residence for many years. It's now an art museum, but of course, is closed due to the pandemic.

It was still fun to walk around the castle and see all the architectural details.

This tree doesn't look like much now, but soon it will be absolutely covered with white blossoms.

Gripsholm Castle is definitely picturesque!

Now we're at Mariefred Kyrka near Gripsholm Slott, built in 1682 over the ruins of a monastery.

Classy interior. And no, the priest would not let LeRon play the organ!

Nearby, we saw a sign saying "Ruin." So we climbed up to the "ruin" and found that it was called "The Swine Church." The church was abandoned when they built the new Mariefred Kyrka and farmers herded their pigs here, hence the name.  These stones are all that is left but the people of Mariefred are maintaining it.

A rune stone was built into the wall of the church.

This ruined church reminded us of the ruined abbeys in England. When King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church, he took over all the monasteries and abbeys, dissolving them, and taking all their wealth for himself. It was called the Dissolution of the Monasteries.  LeRon and I have really enjoyed visiting many of these English ruined abbeys and monasteries. There's a spirit there that broods over them, making us feel that they were once holy places. People worshipped God in the best way they knew how. 
 
This is the first working tractor we've seen!  LeRon was pretty excited!

The tractor was rolling these fields of winter wheat. There's so much rock here, that the fields have to be rolled, pushing the rocks into the soil so the harvest equipment won't break on the rocks. You can also see places where the wild boars have dug up the crop.

The Taxinge Church was closed. Not so old of a church. Built in 1863.

Fun playhouse for the kids!

The Taxinge Castle is a manor house built in the early 1800's. It now houses a Cake Castle, with 60 or more different flavors of homemade cakes. We didn't buy any because there were too many people around and . . . after all . . . we are in a pandemic! The grounds were beautiful and extensive. Like an English country garden.

Aha . . . here is the tractor that was working in the field. LeRon gets homesick for the farm!

Now we're at the Turinge Kyrka. Lovely white interior. These churches have class!

The organist let LeRon play, not on the pipe organ, but on this smaller Allen organ. Beautiful sound in this small church.

Love this headstone! A 3-D of the man himself! And this man died in 1904 so it has lasted a good while in good condition.

His nose looks Jewish, don't you think? I remember when our sons, Michael, Craig, and Eric were at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. They were wearing kipas (the Jewish skullcap) and people thought they were Jewish! I think it's the bump on their "Conrad" noses (taking after my dad).

Thought Craig would enjoy this headstone. He and I both like pillars.  This is an idea for a headstone!