Friday, February 18, 2022

2021 December: Final Hejdå to Sweden

We have been home from Sweden now for two months and are getting acclimatized to the dry, windy, Alberta climate.  We left Stockholm on 2021 December 20 with its no snow and 0 C weather and came home to -35 C and lots of snow.  That was a shock!  Since then the weather has alternated between snow and no snow, between minus temperatures and plus temperatures.  There is no guessing what Alberta weather will do next.  But we are glad to be in our own home, with sons and and some of our grandkids living close by.  Good to have served.  Good to be home.

We served in Sweden for 16 months and worked from home for one month, for a total of 17 months spanning two years.  It was a great experience, as was our first 18 1/2-month mission to Kenya from 2016 to 2017; they were different missions but enjoyable in their unique ways.

Now speaking to senior members of our church:  If you have the health and the finances to serve a mission, DO IT!!  It will bless your lives as well as the lives of those you serve.

What do we miss about Sweden?  Here are some things in no particular order:

1.  The courteous drivers.  We have driven in many countries throughout the world and have never experienced such polite drivers.  If you want to change lanes on the freeway, you signal, and soon cars move to let you in.  We never heard horns honking in anger or anyone giving us the fist or finger.  "Live and let live and I'll help you do it" seems to be their philosophy.

2.  The lo-ong summer days with their very short grey (not black) nights.

3.  The very old and beautiful churches and the architecturally pleasing homes and colorful buildings with their unique and interesting roofs.  (Note the buildings that are the background to this blog.  These buildings are in the main square of Gamla Stan and are representative of buildings you see all over Stockholm).

4.  The delicious bread, cheeses, and potatoes.  Yes, potatoes.  Their potatoes are so tasty that you don't need gravy or even butter.  Just cook with a little salt and eat.  Delicious!

5.  The Marabou chocolate bars.  Since Sweden doesn't have chocolate chips, all you need to do to turn a regular banana bread into a delicious banana bread is to chop up some Marabou bars to add to the batter.  Scrumptious!  AND to make easy delicious fudge, I invented a recipe.  Just chop up 500 grams of Marabou chocolate bars (any flavor but I prefer the milk chocolate), melt with 1/4 cup butter, then stir in 1 can sweetened condensed milk.  Do not boil; stir just until well-mixed.  Pour into buttered pan and refrigerate until firm.  Yummy!  They stay firm out of the fridge (after they've been refrigerated) and freeze well too.  On another note . . . the home of the founder of Marabou chocolate bars is now our Sweden Stockholm mission home where President & Syster Davis live.

6.  Fresh flowers are a steal in Stockholm!  Small bouquets are just a few kronor.  And they last up to two weeks.  Stockholm is a short flight from Amsterdam, where fresh flowers from all over Europe are auctioned and shipped daily.  (Google for Aalsmeer Flower Auction to learn about this fascinating place that we have visited and highly recommend).

7.  Love the round-abouts.  They are everywhere and keep traffic flowing.  Just remember that as you enter the round-about, you yield to those already in it; as you exit, you have the right-of-way.  But you still need to watch in case others don't follow the rules.  But generally speaking, Swedes follow the rules.  That's just what they do.

8.  The teeny-tiny cars that 15-year olds can drive before they get regular licenses.  Very expensive little things but parents prefer their kids in a covered car rather than on an open motorcycle, especially in winter weather.  But we will NOT miss driving behind these teeny-tiny cars because they are governed at 40 km/hr.

9.  So many young fathers pushing baby buggies in all kinds of weather.  Parents are each entitled to 240 days of paid leave when they have a baby.  Fathers take their roles seriously.  So nice to see families with several children.  Many Swedes do not marry but they tend to keep the same partner for life and children are important to them.

10. Walking in our neighborhood in the dark and seeing into houses.  Swedes do not close their curtains, and house lights stream into the darkness and give us a peek into their homes.  (Swedes are used to the lighted windows with no curtains and don't even glance at the houses as they walk by; we, on the other hand, being curious foreigners, like to take a peek.)  Even when no one is home, lighted lamps shine in the windows.  It's a welcome sight on a dark night (or on a dark afternoon!)

11. The fun of the old city of Gamla Stan.  Cobblestone streets.  Touristy shops and un-touristy shops.  Old homes and tiny streets.  History everywhere.

12. Our walks in the nearby forest were like hiking in Waterton National Park, except the evergreens in Stockholm have no piney smell and there are no mountains.  But it was nice to be in the city and yet out of the city.

13. And who can forget the people?  The shopkeepers in Gamla Stan, especially Omar, Vahagn, and Gabil.  The Swedes we've befriended, such as our friend, Per Rydberg and his wife Elsa, and Meseret, an immigrant from Ethiopia.  Members in our Stockholm Ward, such as Bishop Peter and his American wife Heather, Viktoria & Uwe, Jennifer who plays the organ, Mara, an American who now lives in Sweden and speaks Swedish fluently (and who has connections to the Haslam family in southern Alberta).  Friends we've adopted as our own such as Helene, and Tamara and Marko.  So many people that we have come to love.

14. Then there are the missionaries.  About 175 or more of them, not counting the senior couples.  We knew them all and became close to many of them, particularly those that worked in the office.  They became our grandchildren.  

15. Singing with the missionaries in the mission home and at zone conferences.  How we will miss that!  Whenever I hear LeRon play these songs, I am transported back to Sweden:  Gud finns här i Sverige (the mission song). Blott en Dag.  Swedish Christmas carols.  Hymns.  Primary songs.  Folk songs.  O Canada (which we introduced the missionaries to).  Star Spangled Banner (for the Americans).  See my youtube channel for many (and I mean many!) videos of missionaries singing:

16. Our Sunday evening sing-alongs and treats.  Every Sunday about 9:15 p.m., we would hear missionaries running down the stairs to our apartment.  We knew we were in for another great evening of singing, visiting, and eating that would keep us up well past our bedtime.  But it also left us feeling uplifted and loved.  The missionaries loved my chocolate sauce recipe:  Melt together and stir: 1/4 cup butter and 1/4 cup cocoa.  Then stir in 1 can sweetened condensed milk.  Serve warm (do not boil.)  Delicious with Swedish ice cream.

17. Then there are the senior couples, and President & Syster Davis, our mission president and his wife, who have become dear friends.  Really, it's people that you remember most and that have such a huge impact on our lives.  When we left Kenya, I thought we could never love others as much as we loved the missionaries there, and President & Sister Msane.  But we've learned that there's room enough in our hearts for love for many, many people.  If we want to be more like our Saviour, Jesus Christ, then we need to (and can) love all people.

Last photo of Elder & Syster Torrie in the mission office saying "Hejdå to Sweden."  
(Pronounced hay-doh, and meaning, of course, goodbye.)

2021 December: Celebrating Santa Lucia Day

The last week in Sweden was very hectic.  We took in a Santa Lucia concert at Storkyrka, the huge cathedral in Gamla Stan.  In Sweden, Santa Lucia is almost as big as Christmas, with every church, every school, and most homes doing their own version of Santa Lucia.

Santa Lucia Day is actually December 13, but it's celebrated for several days.  Lucia was a 4th century Christian martyr in Italy.  I'm not sure how she came to be celebrated in Scandinavian countries.  She is accompanied by girls dressed in white with red sashes (to represent her martyrdom) and boys dressed in white or with dunce-like caps and carrying stars.  Lucia has lighted candles on her head and every girl wants to be Lucia in her youth.

On our way to the Santa Lucia concert, we happened on a group of our missionaries singing Christmas carols on the steps of the Nobel Museum.

Now we're in the Storkyrka with Marko and Tamara.  I almost wasn't allowed in as there was a problem with my covid vaccine certificate.  It was a blessing in disguise because I hadn't noticed the problem and would definitely need to fix it before I could go home to Canada.  Thankfully the man let me in.  I hadn't remembered that I had other vaccine cards in my wallet that I could have shown him but he let me in anyway.

We're  waiting for the concert to begin.  Beautiful church!

We were only allowed photos and video during the final number, which was, of course, Santa Lucia.  The concert was amazing.  It was all a capella and the sweet voices filled the church with beautiful sounds.  The harmony was lovely.

Above: I recorded a bit of the final song, Santa Lucia.  You may be familiar with it.  LeRon learned it in his high school choir. 

Concert is over and people are heading out.  You had to have proof of a double vaccination to attend.

A senior missionary, Syster Johnson, with this year's Santa Lucia.  The candles have been blown out.  Many girls tell us that even though they cover their hair with a damp cloth before putting on the crown, the wax often drips down into their hair and it's a mess to clean up.

We're with Tamara and Marko and Santa Lucia.  Marko said this concert was very different from others they have attended other years.  This one excelled with gorgeous music.  He said that sometimes it's simply a play.  We all really enjoyed this concert.

Missionaries in our livingroom, singing the mission song so Elder Torrie could record it for the mission's future use.  Farewell to our wonderful grandsons: Elder Christenson, Elder Jensen, Elder Gilbert, Elder Hancock, Elder LaRose, Elder Densley, Elder Lewandoski, Elder Brown.

Our mission had a zoom devotional every Sunday evening from the last Sunday in November (the First Advent) to the 3rd Sunday in December just before Christmas (the 4th Advent).  Each Sunday, they lighted one of the Advent Candles.  On this 2nd Advent, the Assistants to the President -- Elders Hancock and LaRose, and Elder Densley who will take Elder Hancock's place when he goes home, and the Syster Training Leaders, Syster Capener and Syster Johnson -- surprised President & Syster Davis with a Christmas present from all the missionaries.

They knew that President & Syster Davis like to hike and bike so they gave them backpacks filled with fun items necessary for a hike.  Great idea!  Click on the picture so you can see some of the Santa Lucia costumes that the Elders are wearing.

At 7:30 a.m. on December 13, our doorbell rang and there was the Siebke family serenading us with a Santa Lucia song and treats.  Click to see the great Lucia costumes!

The Siebke family are dear friends.

President & Syster Davis became grandparents for the first time in October.  Now their whole family has come to be with them in Sweden for Christmas.  Cute baby!!

President Davis is my 3rd cousin, and his dad, Bob, is my 2nd cousin once removed.  We were so excited to meet.

2021 December 20.  Our last day in the mission was spent at President Davis's home with his family.

They gave us an Advent candle holder as a going away gift.  Here I am sitting between my new-found cousin, Bob, and my missionary companion, Elder Torrie.

Dinner with the Davis's.  What a treat.  And all of these people are my cousins!!  Who knew I would discover so many cousins by going to Sweden on a mission?

Here I am with my new found cousins, the Davis family.  See the bridge candles in the windows.  Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

2021 December: Museum of Medieval Stockholm

Our friends, Tamara and Marko, introduced us to the Museum of Medieval Stockholm.  I wish we could have spent more time there.  It's a free museum that most tourists miss because they are busy seeing the big name, expensive ones -- like Skansen (the outdoor museum) or the Vasa Museum, or the Royal Palace.  Next time we'll spend more time here.  Pictures below are of our last week in Sweden. 

A last stop at the nearby Taby Mall.  Sweden really knows how to do Christmas lights.

And a goodbye to our little crying boy statue.  People put scarves or toques on this little boy from time to time to keep him warm.

And a visit to the Stockholm Temple.  The missionaries recently planted these winter flowers.  I love the red, pink, and white heather that grows so well in cold weather.

We visited the temple with other senior missionaries and then went for dinner at the nearby stake center.

Syster Moleff is one of our dear senior sisters.  She and her husband are serving their 3rd mission; the first two were in Siberia and Thailand.  On the table are very cute decorations made by another senior sister, Syster Johnson.  So creative.  She made little tomte people and Christmas trees from magazine pages.

A Swedish lady cooked all the food for this Julbord (Christmas table).  She said that normally people have about 55 different dishes.  Not so many here but beautifully displayed and very tasty too.

The bridge candles are an essential part of the Christmas celebration.

Dessert was a Swedish rice pudding (on the far right), not very sweet, but with a strawberry topping.  An almond (or two or three) is put in the pudding and whoever gets the almond will get married in the next year.  I got an almond this year but I don't plan to be married anytime soon since I already am.  We are coming up to 47 years on March 6, 2022.

Above:  President & Syster Davis became Santa & Mrs. Claus and handed out gifts.  Ho ho ho!!  Not a good video, but a fun memory.  They did the same for each of the Christmas zone conferences.

Elder Torrie loved the cow bells.  Or are they reindeer bells?  President Davis picked them up at an antique store here in Sweden.  He and Syster Davis are really into antiques.

Everyone got a Sweden Stockholm Mission T-shirt.

We stopped in to the Taby Kyrka to say goodbye to our friend, Veronika.  She works full-time as a caretaker at the church.  Not that she cleans it, but that she is there every day to greet any who come.  She's a lovely young woman.

We're waiting to meet Tamara and Marko, who live and work close to this part of town.  They know it well, so they are going to give us a tour of the Christmas lights.

This outdoor market is not a tourist market.  Swedes shop here every day.

Here's where Marko works when he is not working from home.  He recruits IT people and is very good at what he does.

Now we're wandering the streets looking at the Christmas lights.  It's about 3 p.m.  Notice the "buss" lane.  It is illegal for cars to drive in a bus lane.  This one is well-marked but others are not.  You just have to always be on the lookout.

A whole street of hearts.

Businesses go all out at Christmas time.

City sidewalks . . . busy sidewalks . . . dressed in holiday style.  In the air there's a feeling of Christmas . . . La la la.

The hearts have red balls inside.  So cool.

LeRon and Colleen with Marko.

Silver bells . . . Silver bells . . . It's Christmas time in the city . . . 

The windows in this high-end store remind me of the Macy's store windows in Chicago that we saw with our daughter Heather a few years ago.  This window has fun scenes from Skansen, the open-air museum that is so popular with tourists.  We liked Skansen too.

Legoland display.

Children loved this window!

The skaters were skating.  So fun!  Kids loved it and so did we.

Just as in America, children talk with Santa Claus at Christmas time, Swedish children talk with Father Christmas.  He looks a little different in Sweden.

Heroic size reindeer.  Actual reindeer are very small.

The city makes or collects snow so that children can have fun sledding even when there is no snow.

Notice the lighted bridge candles in every window.  Bridge candles are a must at Christmas time.  We first saw bridge candles in Ireland but I think they are everywhere in Europe.  They are definitely here in Sweden!

Christmas lights light the way next to the Royal Palace.  And under the bridge is a treasure that Tamara and Marko showed us . . . Stockholms Medeltidsmuseet (or Museum of Medieval Stockholm).

The museum is wonderfully free so we took a few minutes to race through it because we only had a few minutes.  You can see part of the original 16th century city wall.
You can wander the streets of old Stockholm, enjoying the brick houses and buildings.

The museum is built around archaeological excavations that took place in the 1970's.  

Stockholm medieval history from the 1250's to the 1520's is depicted.

Interesting to see what life was like back then.

We have it very easy compared to the people in medieval times.

Click on this picture to enlarge and tell me what you think the woman in the window may be doing or saying.

And baking bread was an all-day occupation.  We really do have it easy.

Love the expressive mannikins!

Remains of a very old ship.  I wish I could remember the story.  I really do want to see this museum again if we are ever back in Stockholm.

Our neighbors, Meseret and her two children, stopped by so we could give them a small goodbye present.  They were so sad that we are leaving.  We pray every day for this little family.  Meseret's husband is stuck in Ethiopia, waiting and hoping to join them in Sweden.  Things are not so good in Ethiopia right now.  In fact, most, if not all, of our missionaries have been pulled out of Ethiopia.  So sad.

And the next day they dropped by to give us gifts -- me an Ethiopian dress and LeRon a scarf in the Ethiopian flag colors.  So sweet of them.  We will miss them.  My dress has all the complicated characters of the Ethiopian alphabet on them.

Elder & Syster Johnson live not far from us.  We often drop by to visit them when we go for our evening walks.

Now on to Gamla Stan for more goodbyes.  This is the Dala Horse Shop with its interesting and colorful tourist souvenirs.

A goodbye to our friend, Vahagn.  He is from Armenia originally.  He carves Dala horses in his shop to display to tourists.  We have enjoyed getting to know him and he says that he appreciates being treated well by us and other of our missionaries.  Not all tourists treat shopkeepers very well.  They are always looking for a bargain and are often very impolite.  But these shopkeepers are trying to earn a living, and it has been hard during the covid pandemic.

Couldn't resist buying two more small paintings from our favorite Swedish artist, Gabil.

A last goodbye to our friend, Per Rydberg, the gigantic snowy owl creator.  See my February 2021 posts for more about him.  We have loved getting to know Per and his wife Elsa and their children.  Goodbye!  We hope to see you again someday!