Family Moab

Family Moab
In Arches National Park

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

How Swede it Is

We emerged from the T (tunelbana) into bright sunlight and bracing clear air. After an early morning flight from Copenhagen to Stockholm we were befuzzled and starving, so after stashing our luggage with the Frantz Hotel (a building from 1647 that provided excellent lodging and breakfasts) we walked to Gamla Stan, the old town, on one of Stockholm's fourteen islands. We happily took in the pastel-colored fronts of the buildings as we ate burgers on gluten free buns and toasted to William's 20th birthday. 

After lunch we wondered into the parade for the daily changing of the guard at Sweden's National Palace, admiring the shiny, helmeted brass band and the beautiful matched horses as the soldiers clopped over the cobblestones to exchange duties in front of the huge palace building. Then on to the Nobel Museum, William's choice, a fascinating look at the history of Alfred Nobel and the 120+ years of prize-winners.

The temperatures warmed as the day went on, and (after we rested) we walked down the Monteliusvagen, a scenic walkway that looks out on Lake Malaren and several of Stockholm's main islands. On our way back to the hotel we encountered a music video in the making which used a Bugati Chiron, according to William a 3-million-dollar car that he never expected to see "in the wild." He snapped a few pictures from the top of a nearby staircase and sent it to a few friends proclaiming his "birthday present."

We took in a panoramic view of the city on an nearby hotel's rooftop bar, thronged with Swedes in sunglasses enjoying the first nice stretch of summer weather. Stockholm and its waterways spread out around and below us and the sun - still high at 7:30pm - twinkled off spires and windows. An unbeatable day.

Friday we jaunted via commuter ferry to Djurgarden, an island full of museums, to enjoy another spectacular day. Hordes of blond Swedes accompanied us on the ferry and Aden overheard a local explaining the crowd to her visiting friend: "it's not a holiday but it's the first nice Friday of the year and people took the day off." Our early start helped us beat the crush to the Vasa Museum which enshrines an entire 17th-century gunship that sank in the harbor on its first outing.

Then to the open-air museum of all things Swedish, Skansen, where we had ice cream and realized we had once again found the center of children, strollers and baby carriages. We walked by the Abba Museum but it was sold out until the next day, much to Daniel's dismay. Rob's knee was bothering him, so we cut the walking a bit short and tried to absorb the celebratory feel of the city and its residents.

Our last day was taken up by a boat tour on Lake Malaren and the Baltic Sea, observing the rest of Stockholm and its many preserved green spaces, as well as historical sites and rapidly evolving waterfront spaces. The boys did a little more shopping downtown, finding the H&M and Lululemon storefronts looking much the same as they do near our home Park Meadows Mall.

As luck would have it, the weather - combined with the joy of nearly everyone we saw - lifted Stockholm to great heights as one of our favorite cities. The trees and tulips bloomed away, boat horns honked happily, and our visit fell into place. Next stop would be a night in Copenhagen followed by the long journey home through Reykjavik (where my suitcase would get an extra night), but that's a tale for another day.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Copenhagen and the Bubble

Copenhagen brings to mind bicycles and babies. From the minute we departed the airport to the time we left the city, our eyes were bedazzled by the number of cyclists on the city streets. Cyclists have their own raised and separated lanes and move confidently through the most crowded parts of Copenhagen on their minimalist cycles, some helmeted and some not, almost all wearing ear pods. Rush hour pedestrians studiously obeying the walk signs - an incursion at the wrong time means dodging both cars and bikes.

Also, babies. According to an article I read shortly before our trip, Copenhagen is one of the ten best places to live in the world and families there seemed to be making up for the declining birth rate (falling in Scandinavia as it is in the rest of the developed world). We saw every version of baby carriage on the streets and babies attached to the front and back of bikes in carts or on special seats. It was a special attraction to just stand near a popular intersection and observe children in their element, elbows out and jostling through tourists as easily as their parents.

What else about Denmark? Design of course, on which they pride themselves. We ran into a friendly Dane outside of our rented apartment, name of John, who proudly informed us that both his sister and his brother-in-law had designs in the DesignMuseum. Had we seen them? We had, the day prior. How many other museums were we going to see? We didn't have the heart to tell him that we would be leaving the next morning with no new museums on the horizon. Just look at the street lamps, he said, and gestured overhead to the brown lamps strung over the bike lanes. We nodded dutifully and expressed our appreciation.

John went on to tell us about the "Danish bubble" he lived in (his words), and their conservative-liberal politics. He explained that the country's homogeneity makes political agreement easy, and he expressed sympathy with the lack of such accord in the States. His wife is American, and he lives part of the year in Florida. He exclaimed over the 12 years it took her to get Danish citizenship and pointed out that they didn't let many people in. Hence the free medical care and university. "But it's a small country," he noted, "so we can do that. We don't have anything like your state governments and your range of diverse opinions."

True. I listened to him defend the U.S. to us and mused over the contradictions he presented, i.e. that one could be socialist only if one drew the line sharply at who would be cared for. He noted that the Danish pride themselves on appearances, which we observed in the fashionable apparel on the streets and would have seen in the home of every Dane (said John), had we been admitted.

We enjoyed the glimpse into Denmark's history, populated with old monarchs, Viking conquest, and ancient spats with the Baltic Sea neighbors. Kronberg Castle, the inspiration for Shakespeare's castle in Hamlet, was a rare treat. When we entered the enormous ballroom, a chamber music group sang old chorales that echoed against the tapestries and arched roofs. The signs explaining each room were the best-written attraction insights we had ever seen, and Sweden was so close across the strait that our cell phones welcomed us to that country before we ever set foot in it. Daniel proclaimed Hamlet's famous monologue, "to be, or not to be..." in the courtyard.

After paying homage to the graves of Kierkegaard, Hans Christian Andersen, and Niels Bohr and stocking up on a few fashion pieces we were ready to head to Stockholm, Denmark not quite grabbing our imaginations in the same way that Iceland had just a few days prior. But it left an imprint nonetheless and sparked many a good conversation with the kids on politics, design and literature at the long table in our rented kitchen. 

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Iceland Impressions

 Day 4

A volcanic landscape with few trees, a fresh layer of snow in the nearby mountains, a driving and rainy wind.  Smacked upside the head by radically different surroundings and going on 24 hours without sleep, we ventured in to the Blue Lagoon spa, with geo-thermal power and water over 100 degrees F - heated by steam coming from 2000 meters below. My family can stay in the water for a LONG time despite 45 degree temps if soothed by warm water, a fresh drink, and a facial mask.

What we learned: Icelandic contains six additional letters and is remarkably difficult to read or understand. While Icelanders tend to know a few words of English, our language is not ubiquitous and Google translate was pressed into service on more than one occasion. (By contrast, the Danish language only has 3 additional letters, one added as recently as 1948, in the Danish Spelling Reform). 

Iceland feeds its population largely with produce grown in greenhouses as they do not have topsoil to spare; only grass can grow on the volcanic rock and no tilling is possible. Farm animals do graze the patches of grass that intersperse bright green moss. The landscape is easily the most impressive and overwhelming I've ever seen, and standing in the (growing) rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates amazed all of us. 

After exploring the rift we had a delectable lunch at a farm-to-table restaurant owned by the farmers and I actually had to choke back tears as I picked fabulous french fries off my children's plates. It was the best Mother's Day lunch ever, and the kids had ice cream afterward, with the donating cows chewing their cud placidly in the room next door, looking on through their windows.

Icelandic (beef) stew tastes delicious, the rain is cold and omnipresent, fish jerky I do not recommend. Reykjavik sits on a bay surrounded by mountains that can't even be seen when the clouds and rain descend. If the weather hadn't broken late on our second day we would never have noticed the mountainous arms that encircle its harbor. Traveling Iceland's Golden Circle by car felt like venturing into the fields of Rohan from Lord of the Rings, or country north of the Wall in Game of Thrones (which was filmed in Iceland from season 2). 

Traveling from Reykjavik to Copenhagen on an early flight - in combination with jet lag - threatened to wreck us all, but arriving to a bright spring day and a park dotted with sunbathers lifted our spirits, as did a surprise encounter with one of William's high school classmates. More about Copenhagen in a few days...

Monday, May 15, 2023

Aden Graduates from CU Boulder

 The sounds of laughter echoed from the game table all last week, as Rob and I scrambled to finish projects for work ahead of Aden's graduation and ensuing grad trip. As Connie mentored my mom in Rummikub and Racko, and Bill assisted by flinging her cards at our not-so-neat stacks of family Solitaire, the hilarity of all gathered lifted my spirits and reminded me of our luck in assembling all of the grandparents for the oldest (on both sides!) grandchild's graduation from college.

Aden worked hard at school and - like all 2023 graduates - overcame the traumatic early end of classes her freshman year due to covid, and the and disruption of remote schooling. She fought against the situational depression served up by pandemic isolation and continued to work hard from home. When classes - and college life - returned, she served as the women's captain of the CU club swim team, helping to revive the team after pandemic disruption. Her senior honors thesis studied green spaces in Denver and predicted how these might be affected by climate change -  and how they might ameliorate its affects - in future. When she received a summa cum laude as a result of her work, I cried.

Graduation day blew in cold and rainy, so we watched the abbreviated graduation ceremony for all graduates on live stream. Aden and her Environmental Design classmates were in the front of the stadium and we delighted in seeing several shots of their happy faces as we all gathered around the TV. Fortunately, Aden wore a raincoat under her graduation gown, though her sandaled feet got soaked. Our crew made it to Boulder for the afternoon ceremony of her ENVD group, happily held inside. It never rains in Boulder, said many a dignitary, and yet the rain continued unabated throughout the evening. 

Nothing dampened our family's spirits; we gleefully consumed chicken wings and pizza after the ceremony and toasted our girl with kombucha and selzer. My boys, who bellowed in support of their sister when her name was called, pondered the high bar set by Aden and wondered where we might eat at their future grad nights. Mom watched the Celtics pull out a playoff game on the TV and I reflected on our good luck in having parents and grandparents who set examples of hard work and who came to celebrate and share in the success of the next generation.

Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Full Circle at USMS Nationals 2023

The crowd roared when I surfaced from dolphin kicks in the last length of my 100-yard backstroke. I knew what this meant; four-time Olympian and former World Record-holder Jenny Thompson had already finished her race in the lane next to me, most likely setting a new National record for the 50-54 age group. My spirits and my tempo dipped - it wasn't a great race for me and I still had quite a ways to go. But when I finally touched (Jenny had time to get a pedicure while waiting) she smiled at me and came over the lane line to shake my hand. I congratulated her on her record and heaved myself out of the pool, relieved to be done and to have been awarded an Olympian handshake.

Day 3 of the US Masters spring national championships in Irvine was a let-down after my first two days, when I hit two best times in Masters and two best in the last five years. This is how we assess our progress now, as the age groups tick on by, we look back only a few years to compare times and splits, carefully trimming the assessment period to include more recent (re: old ladyish) swims. The first day was especially poignant as I raced the 100 free in Lane 1 - 39 years after I raced my first 100 free ever at the same pool and in the same lane. I had to shake tears out of my eyes before placing my goggles on my face and tell myself to get a grip - thankfully I am still faster than I was as a newbie swimmer of 13.

Twenty-four hundred people competed at the meet, with 1100 women sharing a small locker room suited for 50. Bodies of all shapes and sizes filled the tiny space, athletes from age 18 to 101, 22 Olympians and far more of us regular Joes and Josies. Heat sheets and timelines were posted with a magnifying glass attached to the side of the board, so old eyes could find heat and lane numbers without glasses. I met new friends, reunited with old ones, kept my eyes peeled for Olympian performances, and just generally fought nerves as best I could.

Despite competing from the perspective of adulthood, when race performances matter far less than they did in my youth, I couldn't escape the anxiety of performance. Neither could anyone else, it seemed, as we chatted before our races while shaking out arms, legs and jumping up and down to stay warm and get our heart rate up. One fellow competitor kept me company before the 50 back and admitted, "I normally take a fiber pill each day, but I don't need one here!"  Morning meals went right through us and upset stomachs couldn't put much down during the days of racing.`

My sister came down from LA County to hang out and watch on Saturday and she chatted easily with my teammates and random spectators as I went back and forth from race to race. She had someone ask what age group she was in, and had the vagaries of putting on a tech suit explained in graphic detail. Karen was a great sport and took excellent video footage - and then took me out to dinner afterward.

Racing was exciting and uplifting at times while a bit discouraging at others. Friends at home congratulated me for "putting myself out there" which I will take credit for, and I congratulated myself for accumulating a few good stories. The Colorado swimming community - and especially my teammates - made for a warm and inspiring support group and our regional team won the competition. As always, I am glad I went and glad that I don't need to compete again until next year.