Thursday, June 26, 2008
My cycle starts out with me thinking I've got a pretty good handle on my life. I'm like one of those jugglers with six or seven balls that I'm juggling--work, church, friends, family, home, personal. When I think things are going well then the balls are going around nicely and at a pace that feels doable and sustainable.
Then the pressure starts to build and either more balls get thrown in the rotation or I have to increase the speed that I throw the balls in order to get everything done. Then it starts to get ugly. I start dropping balls everywhere, throwing them wildly, and looking like a crazy person as I try to keep things under control until eventually I can't track any of the balls or the direction they are flying and I put my hands down in defeat and drop everything.
Then I curl up in a corner and wish I could die.
Somehow, some way after lying in the fetal position for a time and sucking my thumb, something shifts. A stillness will settle in. My head will clear. And I will uncurl myself, sit up, and look around me. Balls (they all look like yellow, fuzzy tennis balls to me) will be scattered everywhere amid broken glass, scattered bits of paper, and general ruin.
I will sigh at the disaster in front of me. Then a ball will roll right up to me and bump me gently. I get up just enough nerve to reach out and touch it. I like its fuzzy yellow exterior. It feels soft and pliable to me and easy to handle. It isn't threatening or overwhelming. It's just a little fuzzy ball. So, I pick it up. I stand up, brush myself off, take a shower and get some clean clothes on, and sweep up the mess. Then I start tossing that ball.
Within hours, I've made some crucial decisions. Some of the balls must go. Some of the balls must stay in the rotation. Which ones stay and which ones go may change each day, but the crucial lesson always is: there is only so much of me and only so many things I can handle. Choose what to let in and what to let go. The hard part is remembering that.
So, excuse me while I go and curl up in my favorite corner and wish I could die. I've got some decisions to make and they ain't easy.
And those fuzzy, yellow balls? They will be here tomorrow. And some of them will have to go.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I know what I like. Or at least what I like at the moment: Nonfiction. Memoir. A bit gritty. A lot of heart. And something for me to really chew on.
Fortunately, last week, I happened across this book by David Giffels, a journalist in Ohio, about a journey he undertook 10 years ago with his wife when they purchased a decrepit, condemned, old mansion and spent the next several years turning it into a home while raising a family.
I liked the book so much, I now want to buy my own falling-down mansion and rebuild it.
Giffels and his wife bought the house for 1/3 of its original value and then had to evict racoons, spiders, termites, squirrels and birds from its rafters. In the first thirty days that he owned the home, he had to install a new roof, new plumbing, new electricity and a new heater so that they could live in the house. He then spends the next few years fixing every entrance, every floor and every wall. Not one surface in the home has not been damaged by years and years of neglect.
The tension comes as we watch this young father with limitless energy and workaholic attributes try to build a nest for his growing family while spending less and less time with them. He spends so much time away from them and absorbed in this project of rebuilding that his family begins to suffer. He thought he was going to shape a home for his family but the house actually begins to shape him. He is so obsessed that one night his pregnant wife pleads with him to just sit with her for a little while and leave the house alone for one night. He can't bring himself to do it. As she drifts off to sleep he tiptoes out their bedroom door and downstairs to work on the house for several more hours. Eventually he has to decide which means more to him: the house or his family?
It's a good read. It wasn't deeply intellectual or highly spiritual or even particularly emotional, but I just loved it. The high drama for me was watching someone work and work and work to make a dream a reality and doing it for all the right reasons.
I could use some of that kind of drama in my life.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
- The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan, [go organic, locally-sourced food and sustainable farming! I want to live just like this.]
- Desperate Marriages by Gary Chapman, [Can any marriage truly be saved? This book seems to give that hope. Bless his heart, I hope so.]
- All the Way Home: Building a Family in a Falling Down House by David Giffels [Can I buy a broken-down mansion too?]
- The Business of Being Born
I wrote about wanting to see this movie a few months ago. I'm completely inspired by the power and vulnerability of a woman giving birth. So, I finally got to see the movie and loved it in some ways and took issue with it in other ways. I really loved how it ended too. The documentary deals with a lot of ideals in birthing and then ended with a not-so-perfect birth situation and that was heartwarming to me too. Likely because it reminds me that I can have ideals too but sometimes life doesn't always play out according to my ideals.
At times the movie felt a bit too much like a girlfriends' klatch with "girl power" reigning supreme. But then that is exactly the feeling I think needs to be inserted more into our birthing views. More welcoming of women's keen intuitive powers and emotional support systems. Science is very good and well in its proper place, but in our too-strong reliance on science's narrow focus, we sometimes forget words like: magical, powerful, warmth, unity. The spirituality and emotion that can accompany the miracle of birth seems marginalized and anesthetized away at times. There is a rare glimpse of true beauty that comes from holding and helping a woman who is bearing down as blood, water, pain and joy erupt into new life. It isn't the kind of experience that can be neatly packaged and produced before the 5 o'clock news or after a good night's sleep.
I like what this movie makes me think about: greater respect and greater attention to this oh-so-powerful and oh-so-daily miracle of life.
Monday, June 16, 2008
How I ached for a curved window, a more elegant line anywhere and somewhere. Most of this town seems a lot like the private university nearby. A few pretty buildings, but most are brick brown and dull as dirt. Uninspiring. The grounds are the bright spot at this temple of higher learning--manicured and well-ordered and at least colorful.
The native landscape here can be strong and vibrant with rich browns, bold oranges, and startling shots of green. But today it seems parched and withering after the green softness of coastal Denmark.
Today I'm seeing with new eyes an old place that I love. And that place isn't winning.
So, I'm going for a drive up the canyon, past a lovely waterfall, and up a windy, windy road on the side of a mountain to a place amid aspen and pine trees that is one of my favorite places. Just so I can drink in the sharp tang of the trees, the rushing cold water of a mountain stream, and the cool mossiness of a forest hanging sharply to the side of steep cliff.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
If you haven't guessed by now, one of my all-time favorite locations on this trip was the Kong Arthur Hotel. It just felt crisp and lovely in a way that I imagine beautiful places feel in my dreams. Of particular beauty was the sunny atrium where we ate breakfast each morning. It looked out on the hotel courtyard and garden and with its pressed white linens, fresh flowers and warm wicker furniture it felt like it was straight out of a favorite novel.
This is a bunch of us luxuriating in our fabulous breakfast. The menu included: scrambled eggs, hard-boiled eggs, sausages, bacon, several kinds of pastries, several types of breads as well as cheeses, vegetables and jams to spread on the bread. It didn't end there either. There was fresh fruit, hot chocolate, juices and yogurt and cereal to top things off. We thought we were served this type of meal because of where we were staying, but found later (to our collective delight) that this is the kind of breakfast is served EVERYWHERE! Danish breakfast is now on my list of "favorite things."
Jenny and Rus looking so polite and proper at their table. Doesn't Jenny just look like she belongs in this kind of room, in this kind of hotel in Europe? I always think she has the classic beauty to carry off a fantastic role in a Merchant Ivory film like Room with a View.
Meanwhile out in the courtyard, Cassie had her "Hollywood" look going on.
Spencer and Megan enjoying the courtyard garden. I don't know who captured this photo but you can see it in Megan's face. "What are you doing? Don't take a picture of me! I'm the photographer."
The bakery just down the block from our hotel. Lovely, lovely Danish bakery. You make my heart sing with desire to just look in your window! Yummy, yummy food within its sensory-filled walls.
Cissy partaking of one of these pastries. I think I fell in love with nearly every pastry I ate on our trip. What happened to corner bakeries in America? You never see a gaggle of people staring in the windows of a shop like this in the USA.
After being fortified by our morning snack--and our big breakfast--we begin the activity du jour: walking. It was Saturday morning around 8:30AM and the streets were shockingly quiet. And still. The sun was spilling into the near-empty streets and the city seemed to be resting after a long night of frivolity. I loved walking through that quiet.
This was a good thing because somehow we got turned around and instead of turning right at the Gammel Strand we turned left and walked a few blocks before the error was realized and we had to retrace our steps. It turned our morning jaunt into a bit more of a hike, but at least we got to see more of the city on foot.
In truth, I may have put more of a poetic spin on that than necessary. What was really happening for me was I was nursing along the mother-of-all blisters on the arches of my feet and that retracing of steps along the Gammel Strand only happened for me through a teeth-gritting force of will.
We reached Radhus Pladsen a few minutes later though and we were early for our bus tour so we took a break and waited.
Cassie, Megan and Julie represent some of the excitement and enthusiasm that seemed to be filling our group on OUR. FIRST. FULL. DAY. IN. DENMARK.
Ric and Rus looking up something on Rus's iPhone. Rus spoiled us all with that thing. In the middle of the trip as we were obsessing about updates on our luggage, I would borrow his iPhone and check my email and the lost luggage website to see if anything new had come up. You know, no big deal. Check my email as we are driving, or in a little harbor town, or in the middle of a field of flowers. What I really came away with was a wish to have an iPhone. A burning, burning wish. They are addictive like chocolate.
Actually, Ric seemed the entire trip to be buried in maps or the navigation system. Bless his heart, I dubbed him "The Navigator." Whenever we seemed at sixes and unsure of our next step Ric would right us by consulting a map or the navigation system and get us back on course quickly. I loved it.
And the bus tour begins! We load up on a double decker bus for our drive through the city. Really this tour and the subsequent harbor tour made our list of highlights on the trip. It was so fun to see the great sights of Copenhagen like this. You gotta love the little red earphones we got to wear too.
A great shot of the New Haven area of Copenhagen. Can't you just smell the salt air and hear the busy bustle of this town?
At one point of the tour we could get off to examine a wooden ship at harbor. Matt is smiling in front of this ship.
A gorgeous lilac bush/tree that enraptured everyone. We must have 20 shots alone of this tree it was so pretty.
Some street artist must have particularly wanted Cassie to feel welcome to the city and scrawled her nickname on a brick wall.
Adam and Michelle on the bus tour. It was Michelle's birthday this day and she was a great sport about traveling on this day. I must say that I wouldn't mind being in Europe on each of my next birthdays myself.
Our last stop on the bus tour was one of the most famous sites in Copenhagen--the Little Mermaid statue. She is from the Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name and Disney made her famous in their own scrubbed-down and sanitized version of the story.
And then it is off to the harbor tour. We are relaxing here and just chatting waiting for the action to begin.
We had a rather phenomenal tour guide for this part and she gave the tour in three languages--Danish, English and German. That gobsmacked me because I would have been nervous to give such a tour in two languages and she seemed to effortlessly do it in three languages.
I've never spent a lot of time on the sea but just looking at all of these sailboats makes me wish I knew how to sail.
The royal pier. These buildings are for the royal family to sit in as they wait for their boat to arrive. You know, to protect them from any weather like sun or wind or rain pouring down on their royal heads.
As the end of the tour approaches we witness the cataclysmic effects of a big breakfast, a gentle, sunny boat ride and roaring jet lag. Or was Spencer just bored?
The boat we were in was wide and flat and was built just to handle the small bridges and narrow canals of Copenhagen. The last bridge we crossed under was by far the narrowest though. The boat had to be skillfully maneuvered through the opening with mere inches on each side. Then as this long boat exited the opening of the bridge, the canal made a hard right turn. It was a very tight squeeze for our very long boat. Adam has his arm around the driver who made the turn with dexterity and skill. I think Adam wished he was driving that boat just to take on the challenge of that frightful turn. If I was driving that boat we would still be stuck at that particular corner with miles and miles of other harbor tour boats locked up behind us.
The sign at the pier on Gammel Strand where we exited our harbor tour. You see the last four letters on that sign? Well, that one tiny little word in Danish means "speed" or "momentum" or "rate" or "velocity" and is on many, many signs throughout the country. (And yes, the Danish meaning only added emphasis to the English meaning.) Let's just say that one little word inspired hours and hours and hours of hilarity on this trip. Especially when Rus would do things like mispronounce the sign below to say something the equivalent of "Have you a fun f**t?"
After we got off the boat and our tour was concluded, I was surprised to find my feet still really hurt. They had started hurting the night before and continued into that morning, but I expected after a few hours off my feet on the tour that they would be fine. That proved not to be the case. It hurt just to walk. I knew my shoes were a bit new (okay, brand-new, but I'm not going into what drove that obviously witless decision at this moment) but they were comfortable and I couldn't understand why my arches hurt the most.
So, surprise, surprise when I pulled off my sock to find this oh-so-stunning blister in attendance on my foot. It was huge and fat and nearly bursting and it suddenly occurred to me why the only thought I could think about on our morning hike was "just one more step, just one more step, just one more step." That went over and over and over in my head as I walked. I was so focused on just the next step that I couldn't be bothered with tiny things like enjoying the scenery or engaging in conversation. In fact, when someone did try to talk to me my answers were monosyllabic and I would think, "Can't this person see I'm trying to focus? What are they doing talking to me?" I believe it was at this point that I realized the level of pain I was enduring might be a bit abnormal.
Fortunately, we had a general surgeon in the group and Jenny too with her abracadabra, Mary-Poppins-like, miracle bag. She whipped out a needle, some antibiotic wipes, bandaids, scissors, and even Advil and water. Right there on the Strand, Ric performed minor surgery by popping the blister and draining it (look away, look away) and then bandaging the area well. Then I pulled off my other sock and shoe and found a matching twin blister on my right foot. Another small surgery and a few drugs for me and I began to realize that this walking thing is really quite a hit when you don't have two rock-sized blisters in tow.
With surgery concluded, we headed across the canal to the Thorvaldsen Museum to see the process Thorvaldsen went through to cast his famous statues of Christ and the Twelve Apostles. It was an amazing process and made me appreciate even more the beauty of his statues.
Another highlight of this tour was Adam discovering the rather magnificent echoing abilities of a marble room with marble statues.
We are outside the museum now and it is after 1:00PM. We are all starving and trying to decide what to do next. Food was a priority so we headed back to the center of town and the pedestrian shopping center to fill our gullets. Several of us had shwarmas, some hot dogs and some McDonalds . The shwarmas would prove only so-so after we tasted more later in the trip, but at the moment they were good, fast and filling.
As we walked the shopping district after lunch, Rus posed with some mannequins. I think he fit right in.
Then some of us sat on park benches waited while others shopped and shopped.
By 3:00PM several cut out for the hotel to take an afternoon snooze, while a group of us headed over to Rosenberg Castle and the crown jewels. The castle was smaller and less imposing than other castles we would encounter and there were no lines to get in--you gotta love that.
But as would prove typical of the Danish timetable, the fun would all shut down at 4:00PM. So, we hustled through the crown jewels display and raced up several flights of stairs to see the throne room and other public rooms in the castle. It was a breathless experience in more ways than one. The grounds were particularly beautiful and, we found out later, rather famous for the semi-nude sunbathing that takes place within their gates throughout the summer.
The sparkling throne room in Rosenberg Castle.
One of the royal guard outside the castle. I didn't know if the Danish royal guard was like the English one where the guards won't talk to you and maintain poker faces despite your best attempts to dissuade them.
They were not. This one was particularly animated when Julie approached him and asked if she could take a picture with him. He told her yes, as long as she stayed a meter away from him. The great looming question on Julie's mind: "What's a meter?"
She opted for a rather safe distance away from him and when he laughed at her football-length distance she scooted closer in and then leaned his way hoping that she hadn't crossed the mandatory, fateful boundary of one meter.
We rested up for the walk back to the hotel and sat outside the castle for several minutes as Rus entertained us with story after story after story. The laughter echoed off the brick walls surrounding us as we just enjoyed the chance to be together. With the crucial 4:00PM deadline passed, it seemed we had time on our hands.
We meandered back to the hotel trying out the free bikes a long the way. You deposit a certain denomination of coin into a free bike and it will unlock from the free bike stands. Then you ride the bike around the city as much as you want and deposit it back at any of the free bike stands. When you lock the bike and it is secured to the bike stand again, it will drop your coin back into your hand. Very nice.
Cassie showing off her skills.
Megan riding the bike in front of the hotel.
Back at the hotel, we hung out in the lobby. The decision was what to do next on the agenda. We had picked up some pink flowers at a flower stand on our way back from the castle and we wanted to get a treat to accompany them and then surprise Michelle for her birthday that day. So, a group was sent out to the corner bakery to find just the right treat while a bunch of us stayed back at the hotel.
Brock at the bakery attempted to pick out a treat for his wife too. He purchased this green frog which was cute and funny, but unfortunately not the one Julie wanted. She helped him out by showing him which ones she would have chosen. (Hint: just say "green frog pastry" around Julie and watch her reaction)
When we reunited several minutes later, we sat around together cracking jokes and telling stories as Rus pulled out some of his best material and entertained us. It was Rus really in his element. Everything he said seemed explosively funny to us and we lingered and laughed for quite a while together.
With the bakery shopping over and the comedy routine concluded, we tiptoed upstairs to Michelle's room to surprise her and sing "Happy Birthday." The only trouble was we were so loopy with laughter that I'm afraid it sounded like a herd of elephants approaching her room with a gaggle of hyenas.
But surprise her we did. In fact, we woke up her up from a quiet and sweet afternoon nap. She was a good sport though and all 16 of us piled in her room and accosted her in song. That is a candle we "borrowed" from the lobby on top of her cake.
And the pretty flowers she received. She filled up one of the vases on her windowsill with water and enjoyed the flowers until we left the next day.
After all the merry-making we retired to our rooms for a collective rest and then met up shortly afterwards for dinner. This time we walked across the river in front of our hotel and ended up at Sebastopol's, a French restaurant that specialized in hamburgers. (Does that sound a bit weird to anyone else but me?). The food was excellent and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and ate heartily.
I think even the birthday girl had a good time.
On the way back, Adam had to try his hand with one of the bikes. It looks like from this photo that he tried to perform some fancy moves on it too.
We got ice cream and walked back to the hotel, stopping at the bridge to soak up the last rays of the evening. The sun didn't typically set in Denmark in May until about 10:30 pm so it had been quite a day for us. For a little fun, Brock and Julie are posing like the statues below. Julie says this is typical body language for the two of them when they are "communicating."
You can see the sun disappearing behind our small crowd but the laughter and fun just wouldn't quit. We seemed giddy these first few days with excitement and disbelief that here we were in actual Copenhagen, Denmark with all the siblings and spouses around us.
And we were having the time of our lives.
What a way to wrap up the day. Our hotel in the background is beckoning us after the adventures of Copenhagen.
Day 4 takes us on a little journey through Dad's time as a missionary in Denmark and we get to meet some of the saints in Copenhagen. And there is the lunch adventure that will leave us all a bit flabbergasted at other's generosity.
Read the rest of the journey:
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Our very serene room in the hotel. It was lovely and cool and seemed so crisp and clean.
Of course, with any large group you tend to spend some time waiting for others.
Dad is waiting very patiently with the rest of us. I loved the lobby of this hotel. It felt very Scandinavian to me--check out the shields hanging on the wall.
Matt knows how to sleep anywhere. This is just a little catnap so he is ready to party.
We're walking, we're walking.
Just a few more blocks and we arrive.
A common sight throughout Denmark were bikes leaning against the side of a building. Everyone seemed to be riding bikes in Copenhagen.
Which way do we go now?
We walked to Vor Frue Kirke but it had just closed. We will find this throughout Denmark--most sites at this time of year close around 4:00PM.
Fortunately, there will be a night service later on so we will still get to see the Christus statue on this day.
Megan and Spencer waiting at the corner as we are walking to Tivoli Gardens.
The very important bike lane is typical of every road in Denmark.
The crew marches on. This was a great shopping street in downtown Denmark that we spend some significant time in the next day. For now, we are looking for dinner and amusement.
Some street entertainment for you to enjoy.
We've just gotten cash and are ready to cross the main square.
As we cross Radhus Pladsen, Meg captures the flowers and the birds gathered on the building's steps.
I have no idea what building this is but it was on the corner of the square and so full of company names, it was amazing.
I notice Brock taking a picture of Julie in front of that building and I'm wondering why she wanted a close-up of it. What I realize later is she was trying to get a shot of this cute, chubby baby and his funny little hat. He seems to have caught on that we think his hat is a crack up.
We reach Tivoli Gardens. Everyone is hungry now and we go in search of food for the entire crew.
Ric and Tami in front of the main entrance. Tivoli Gardens was a prototype for Disneyland. Really, it is a great amusement park with very short lines. We had a great night here.
It took some walking around to find a restaurant that wasn't busy or closing. Megan seems to be asking, "What are we going to do now?"
At last, the food. Most got hamburgers, Danish hot dogs, and some rye sandwiches. What you can't see is the roller coaster directly overhead that provided a certain ambience you can only enjoy at an amusement park.
Cissy with a great shot of Tivoli Gardens behind her. That is the roller coaster we ate underneath.
After a few roller coasters, this was the next ride. It's so tall!
Rus is gauging the heighth of the ride. His motion sickness eliminated him from most rides. He would have been miserable afterwards so he wisely abstained.
Megan and Cassie are both really excited for the tall ride.
Just chowing on some cotton candy in preparation. (Hey! I don't remember eating any cotton candy!)
Okay, ready. . . set . . . and in just a minute they go. I love that Michelle takes her shoes off for the ride. That's right. Just go ahead and get comfortable. I would be wetting my pants about now.
I think even Adam was a little nervous for this one. Ric, Tami, Brock and Julie are on the other side of the ride too.
And they did it!! Everyone survived. In fact, I think it might have been the favorite ride of the night.
The next ride though is a real doozy. It not only goes around and around like a merry-go-round, but each individual pod on the ride can then be rotated 360 degrees additionally. So the rider is being rotated horizontally and vertically. Yuck! You see the only candidates for this ride out of our entire group are not blood relatives. Tami, Julie and Michelle are all made of sturdier stock than the children of Jamie. Everyone of us looked at that ride and said, "Blech! My dinner would not survive such an ordeal." But these three conquered and jumped off the ride like it was nothing.
The next roller coaster made some a little woozy and then disaster struck at the very end. A few of them get hit by bird doo-doo. Thanks to Jenny and her amazing bag of miracles, there was plenty of anti-bacterial wipes to assist in the clean up.
Fortunately, everyone handled the little misstep with aplomb and were ready to ride the next roller coaster.
We exhaust ourselves thoroughly--me included. I went on the last roller coaster and screamed my lungs out. Too much fun. Mom and Dad are waiting patiently for us back at the gate, so we wrap up the party and start the walk back home. Look at Mom's face. She's on the wrong side of tired at this point, poor thing.
Ric and Tami get a great shot of Radhus Pladsen that we cross on our way back.
Mom, Adam and Michelle and Rus on Radhus Pladsen. That is the courthouse or central government building behind them.
And on the way back to the hotel, we just have to stop for our first real Danish ice cream. This begins a tradition we continue throughout the trip.
Brock is so excited about the ice cream he can barely contain himself.
The chocolate sprinkles are to die for. They are crunchy and great--nothing like the waxy kind we have here.
On the way back to the hotel we are stop in at the night service at Vor Frue Kirke (The Church of Our Lady) and see the Christus statue.
It was a lovely, peaceful way to end the first day. It was also thrilling to see these great statues.
The next day is more Copenhagen, shopping and shwarmas so stay tuned.
Read the rest of the journey: