Thursday, December 31, 2015

Winter solstice and christmas time

It has been a weird solstice/christmas period this year.
Apart from crazy warm and windy weather (of course the weather turned these last few days) our personal lives have also been turned upside down once more. We indeed received the gift/support we were nominated for and that helped us right through the december month without a single Swedish kron to spare.
That meant no big presents, but a few small ones and good food on the table.

I planned on doing something for the wintersolstice. We have this spruce treestump in the garden, which is quite ugly and in the way and I planned to drill a hole into it from the top all the way down and from the side, using one of the augers I got during an auction. Turned out the auger's too small, rusted and blunt and the stump too weathered and hard. It would've made a great rocketstove like candle.... Too bad really.

And as I have mentioned I got a job as well! It triggered a mental landslide...
I help refugee teenage boys, who came here all alone, finding their way in Swedish society and try to give them something like a home here, And I must say they keep on amazing me! Their attitude, their drive and their mentality. Most of them have not been here long. They never saw Swedish winter and in fact some of them have only been here for a few weeks.
These are kids.... between 15 and 18.... and I am humbled by them. They travelled 1000's of miles from deserts to the dark forests here with only the clothes they wear. They tell me stories...about sleeping in the desert dust in freezing temperatures. The recordholder so far has travelled through 13 countries and is just a little older than my son. I imagine Sven being forced to undertake such an endeavour and my stomach tightens up ... And yet they are mostly friendly and kind, often smile and laugh, but when you look into their eyes...... They saw things no one should need to see.
They are so driven to learn the language and make a future, but the most amazing feature is the way they take care of each other. They are all complete strangers, but when a new guy comes, he is welcomed and taken in immediately. Yet they also correct each other and address each other's inappropriate behaviour.
I am already getting more personally involved with some of them. It is near to impossible to not like them. I have dinner with them, we clean together and play pool. I accompany them to the dentist and the sportsfacilities. I sit down with them and help them with their lectures and I teach them the Swedish language. The want to know about me and I tell them my story. And their eyes get big.... and yet it is they who just had an ordeal.
One amazing occasion was when I was tasked to decorate a christmastree and see to it that 4 outdoor shoebrushes, similar like the one shown, had to be assembled. I asked some of them if they'd like to help and did they! For a few hours we were busy and I was surrounded by Afghan chatter and laughter. I was surrounded by muslim boys, who had no idea about christmas and christmas trees and they loved it! I tried to explain the meaning behind it all and when we were done, they posed before they tree and took pictures of it and each other. Marvellous!
Last night, after only working there for three weeks, I got the most wonderful compliment I could get. I told them that I had worked my last shift for this year and that I would be back after a week. I was told I would be missed. When I asked why, the answer was that it was so calm and relaxed when I was around.

This job is also quite demanding, since not all is rosy. For instance we also watch movies, preferably Swedish, but last night we, the staff and a large part of the Afghan boys, watched a movie,  called The kite runner. It is set in Afghanistan, focussed on 2 boys from different social classes. Yet I could not bear to watch it all. I could see their faces and feel the emotions raging deep within them.
These boys need us and have to place their trust in us. Some of them find that hard. And it is great when they open up to you, despite their experiences.

I worked quite a lot; about 10% over the hours of a fulltime job, but I really do not mind. It is a very giving job and the paychecks will enable me to purchase material needed for all the projects I had to put on hold. I work long days 12, 14 or 22 hours, but that means a good deal of days off, so if things keep going the way they are 2016 will see our plans being propelled forward at a fast pace.

So once again the holiday season was one of giving and receiving and I have to say it was and still is a grand experience.
I feel that I make a difference, that I matter to others, that I do something meaningful outside my family and house. Above all I feel blessed with what I have and with what I can give and that is the biggest gift of all.

Christmas to many, if not most, is about giving (preferably receiving it often feels like) physical presents. We kept it quite moderate, as I said earlier, yet I'd like to mention the thing I got and that will hopefully be yet another skill or at least a more in depth introduction to it; blacksmithing. Fooled around with that before, but I will be doing a short course with a black smith in april. That was what I got for christmas.....

As for me 2015 has been a good year. We made it, are in good health, well fed, with a larger circle of friends and contacts then at the beginning whilst thriving, with glad, healthy kids and a happy dog.... and by looking at the current state of affairs 2016 promises to be even better.

Bless you all, do not wait with changes or resolutions for the next year. make them now, make them any day and make the best with who you have and with what you have.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The ice is singing again....

The world is white, the sky crystal clear and it is cold. -14C.
Last sunday my oldest daughter, Annalena, and I went out on a sprucehunt. We would like to find a suitable christmas tree and sprucehuntingseason is open. We found one she liked, but during the stalk we found more than we had hoped for. Rex was with us and all of a sudden he dashed off, pulling me with him. Just over the ridge we had gone up, he stopped. I told him to stay and as I caught up with him I could hear the thumping of a moose trotting away through the undergrowth. No less than 25 meters from the place we had been! It was windstill and there was the ridge in between, so I guess that is why we could have come so close.
As we returned to the dirtroad, we happened to meet a couple we only fairly recently had come into contact with; the woman I had met on the hunterscourse and her husband, whom my wife had met, both being boardmembers of the village association. They were also on a sprucehunt or -scout and had their dogs with them. We passed on each side of the road, saying our hellos on a distance and I asked if Rex could get to know their dogs as a socialising training. That went surprisingly well and we chatted a little more. By then my wife, who I had called, had also shown up with the car and I think that if we had had coffee and chairs, we would just have sat there and had a social gathering.....
After a while we broke up and Annalena and I continued on our route walking Rex. My wife had turned the car a little further down the road and when we met her again, she asked if I had seen the skull. What? What skull? Turns out there was a moose skull sitting on a stump directly next to the road. And I had not seen it! Well, I was preoccupied I guess. So the skull went into the car too. It was a moose skull by the way. Could've guessed, right? Just wanted to study it.... and have it.
We came home after dark, which is not that difficult, since it gets pretty dark by 15:15 and we were welcomed by the smell of freshly baked cookies and we enjoyed a large mug of hot cocoa to chase away the chill from our bones and fingers. It was very nice to have spent the afternoon out with just my daughter.
That evening, when we, my wife and I, walked the dog again, we watched the starry sky, amazed at its brilliance, its vastness, its clarity and its beauty.... Awe inspiring, humbling and on the other hand filling the heart with joy.
Along with the cold, moist air came drifting in and the entire world is white and glittering without a single flake of snow having fallen. It is magical, fairytale like. In the dark, everything sparkles as if covered in diamonds and during the day, depending on the light it all looks like silver and gold. Natures true riches.

The camera gets to go out quite a bit these days, figuring out how it works and how to operate it with mittens on. Taking them off does become quite uncomfortable and working a camera with numb and senseless fingers is just as "easy" as with mittens on, so...
Not being entirely content with the previous hunt's results we went out on another one, early in the morning. The camera came along too and both undertakings turned out to be quite successful.
The early morning stillness of a frozen forest.... except that it isn't really still. Still plenty of sounds, but somehow they do not disturb the deep peacefulness. The cracking of a frozen tree, the calls of a black grouse...

And in the afternoon I was at it again, shooting pictures until the battery died. I could have taken a thousand pictures and still find something new and exciting. Rex was far less excited. Constantly tugging on the leash, unable to control his energy or impatience. He has some issues with himself lately. He's keyed up, energetic, talkative, disobedient, hard to keep in check and when we play, almost aggressive. Guess the changing season is triggering his husky-energy. Born to pull through snow and across ice. Except the snow hasn't come yet.

Now tell me this is not a moose's head...

Can you tell we have a "new" camera....?? ;)

The sudden arrival of frost once again causes the lake to freeze up again and the ice thickens quickly.
The building tension in the ice causes it to groan, moan and creak. Amazingly weird sounds echo and boom through the valley.

...... the ice is singing again......

The cold is driving the birds from the forests to the houses, where many feed them. And with them of course come the hunters. As I was watching a group of small birds through the kitchen window, scurrying through the garden, they vanished all of a sudden and a grey shadow swooped in. It perched on a birch branch, right in front of the window! It remained there for a little while, looking around, before lifting off again, turning back and catching the sun's light on its belly, flashing its underside at me; bright grey/creamy with light brown patches at the chest. A young peregrine falcon!
I am always excited to see one, but then again I am excited when I see a moose... or a lynx, like a few weeks ago. Or a snow hare, which I never had seen before, on the evening when I came back from the visit at Wetterlings. Bright white in a dark forest.

The "house" is decorated for the holiday season. I find myself less and less wanting to put up with the whole decorational fuss. I could do without the tree and we used to decorate the entire house with all kinds of stuff. These days it is limited to the livingroom and even that is a lot less elaborate.

But before all that came to pass I harvested the last of our own grown vegetables from the garden; kale. I chopped it up, the frost still attached to its leaves before preparing it in the traditional Dutch way by cooking it together with potatoes and then mash and blend it, when all is cooked. A dash of vinegar, some lumps of butter, a little extra salt and pepper, some chilipowder (how could I do without?) and some nutmeg. Accompanied by grilled sausage and a lot of bacon, this makes for a real, hearty wintermeal!

And the night was quite special too. As usual I went for a late evening walk with Rex and, due to his behaviour, I was more focussed on him than on the surrounding area. Until I reached the road. I looked up and the sky was lit up by green bands and streaks of light. The aurora. So I ran back home, told my wife to get dressed again, as she was getting ready to go to bed, and to take the camera. We rushed out, dog all confused and we watched..... The freezing cold, silence, darkness without artificial light, the sky above the hills pulsating with green light, loads of shooting stars and the lake ice next to us booming and groaning. The experience is hard to describe. We came home just before midnight, hoping the pictures we tried to take worked.
Not really, but that doesn't really matter.

For now we enjoy it all, for in a few days it is forecast to come to an end again; thaw and rain are coming our way and that should be "fun" on a solidly frozen surface.
We might just end up with a Dutch christmas after all; dull, grey, wet and warm....

Our garden this morning

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The least enjoyable period of the year has passed....

I consider november and the first part of december to be the least enjoyable period of the year; grey, wet, windy, dreary, cold and dark and I am always glad to leave it behind me, moving ahead to the warm, cosy and artificial and/or candle light filled days around the end of the year. Hopefully they will be lighter outside too.
Actually we did have a few nice days and a cold snap too. Temperatures dropped to -13C for 2 days and the lakes froze. After that the weather turned this way and that; frost, thaw, rain and wind. It has been quite windy these last few days... The roads have turned into wet, soggy and muddy sponges with a still frozen underground.

Therefore I was glad to have spent a long weekend at Matt's place in Finland. That nicely broke the dreariness. Another thing that is keeping me from hitting the novemberwall is the upstart of bushcraft Sverige, which is taking place right now. I am one of those that are "actively" involved (as far as my limited knowledge of club-structures, -rules and regulations, language and social network allows) in that and it is great fun thinking things out and through and communicating with others. Had my first digital meeting and that was quite labourious. Focussing on speech in another language when you can not see the other ones; 10 in total.
One of the cool things was that a few of those guys were attending a manifestation at the Wetterlings axefactory in order to promote the club. Turns out that that one is really nearby! Only 45km from here and I had no idea!
So I went out to visit the factory and meet the guys. It was great meeting them and equally fun to visit the factory, albeit that I could not help myself but comparing this one to the Gränsfors smithy. That one is a lot larger, fancier and more modern. The Wetterlings smithy is pretty small scale and has a much more cottage industry feel to it.
Of course I got to handle, feel a good number of axes and I'd love to do a comparison between the vildmarks- (which I have) and the äventyrsyxa, even if that horse has been beaten to death by now. Maybe throw in a Hultafors for good measure?

The grinding of the axeheads. They had this really neat contraption they used for that. A beam fastened to a spring with they sat on. The head got clamped and pushed down down, so they can alter the force on the head using their bodyweight and the spring.

 The atmosphere in the little "restaurant" was quite cosy with candlelight and a lot of decorations in the form of old tools.

There were also crafts(wo)men carving paddles. Fun to watch...

real heavy metal!!!
Other than that it is the same old story; all the work from summer has ended and I end up at home, doing household chores. Other (more fun) projects are stalled as usual due to lack of funds or uncooperative weather. Well, that does tend to happen around here in november. It is the month where every outdoorjob grinds to a halt.

Other remarkable similarities are on a much brighter side; we are again looking into giving another pooch a new home and much to our surprise we are nominated for a gift from a beneficiary organisation, the socalled Majblomman. This organisation sells loads of flowershaped pins, stickers and other items with the help of schoolkids in order to financially help children in Sweden that are having a tough time. And someone in our circle of contacts deemed us qualifying for that..... Go figure..
Now you might wonder how those 2 combine: no finances, yet still getting another dog. For us this is quite simple; we mostly skip the christmas presents and other ridiculous christmas expenses. We have all we really need, we do not indulge in excessive food and we feel that giving an animal in need a new home that much more rewarding. Plus it has been turning out more and more that it is a necessity too. Rex simply needs a companion. And 2 dogs of the same kind greatly enhance the possibilities of using them meaningfully.

And right after I wrote all this down a good week ago I got a phonecall; if I cared to come and sign a jobcontract at one of the places I applied! When? The next day? Sure!!
So I went over, went over the jobcontract, making me a employer on hour-basis I was asked if I could take the introduction day next saturday. Ehhh sure. What time? From 09:30 till 22:30. What? Ehhh sure. Within an hour of coming home I got another call. If I'd be willing to work on the following tuesday till wednesday too; a 23-hr shift from 09:30 till 09:00. And so I did. It was fun and something very different from what I had ever done. Taking care of and helping unaccompanied, teenage refugees ( those who left their country without family or parents or don't even have them anymore). Boys without any form of relatives in the ages from 16-18.
So I went there on saturday, working my first day. And I enjoyed it! Apparently so much that on sunday morning I got yet another call. They needed someone to hop in a.s.a.p until monday morning 09:00. So I ended up working 60 hours in 4 days. And after that I still enjoyed it. Looks like I finally managed to find something solid and good here!

As far as the huntingcourse is concerned; I decided not to take the exam. I did about a dozen pretests and I passed none of those. No use in spending an exam fee, cartrips and pasport photos on something I had very little chance of succeeding in. I could blame that on my new job, since I missed the first exam on tuesday night and was too tired on wednesday night. Truth be told; I think I did not have the drive it takes to successfully go through it all.
I guess one of the reasons was the language, rules and regulations. Sometimes I would simple misread or misunderstand a question or a given answer. And to be honest I did not master the theoretical bit either; gun-and weaponcalibers, dogspecies, rules and regulations; these were the main hick-ups. I did this course for all the wrong reasons, like testing myself and my languageskills, obtaining a firearm legally and getting out and meeting people. I was not hellbent on becoming a hunter either.
And it all is just as well. I did learn a huge amount of stuff, not just about animals, nature or hunters, but about myself as well. One of them is that I do not have that drive to be an active hunter. Plus getting all the equipment means handing over a very large amount of money. I also feel I do not fit into the local hunterscommunity, I do not share their ways, ideas and visions, which would inevitably have lead to conflict. Not owning any land, means even more extra expenses and I do like to shoot animals, but rather with a camera.
This way I will be able to focus on things that I do want to and can do; homesteading, keeping and enjoying animals before killing and eating them. Growing crops and keeping bees. Shoot a bow with the family. Maybe even dogsleading or tracking down the road. Not having to spend 1000's (or even a 0 more) of SEK on permits, a gunsafe, guns, sights, ammo and other stuff will mean that that gets to be spend on things I can use year round. Becoming a year round, modern day hunter would require too much of a change in interests and routines and finances, even before I'd have a single ounce of meat in the freezer. And if I fancy a bit of moose, boar or deer meat I can always trade or barter for it with one of the local hunters.
Does that mean I will not hunt? Well, not now and not with a firearm just yet. No..
Not becoming a hunter will also help going back to plan A(griculture) and stay with that.

And speaking of trading/bartering; I finally did manage to obtain a tool that will allow me to make something to barter with; butter.
At long last I found a good, working and above all affordable butterchurn!! And now the set is complete; I have containers, one or 2 good places to get fresh, right off the cow, milk and a churn.
And as it so happened I came across a free downloadable version about a book on making butter. It is a legal download by the way, put online by the author himself and it was enough to whet our appetite for it. A printed copy might just end up here as a christmas gift or birthday present.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Winter's knocking at our door - new camera and bag

Well, not exactly new, but new-ish to us... me.
It is the digital camera my father in law used to use and we are using it now. I took it with me on sunday just to try it out with the "new" bag for it and out in the cold. Because it was cold; -3°C at 13:00.
Today we woke up to an even colder world; -13°C at 07:00.
The camera in question is a Sony DSLR A100 with a 18-200mm and a 100-300mm lens. The bag I "made" for it is a green British army respirator bag retrofitted with the canvas belt of one of my wife's old handbags. The previous owner of the army bag had cut off the ones that were standard. This bag fits the camera and the lenses perfectly! It is sturdy and sheds water, but had a lot of velcro sewn into it. So that all had to go, just to make the bag silent. I tried the bag on a waist belt too, but that was no success. Too heavy and kept banging with one corner into the rear of the upper leg.

So I'll show you the first test results.... I did not alter the images in any way.

I shot these through the not sparkling clean kitchen window. 
I am so glad I did not take all the rosehips!

This one I only cut down to size a bit...

Ice already forming on the lakes. On monday the lake was pretty much closed up with ice.

The star of the photoshoot!!

And my absolute favorite!!

And then some images from this morning;
Cut this one down to size again...

Not all that bad for a first go, I'd say....