Author Archives: Sheila Lammers

January 28, 2009

friluftsliv – scandinavian spirit for outdoor life

It has been an especially cold winter here in the Midwestern United States. Weeks have passed without the temperature rising above 20 degrees, electricity has failed for hours or days at a time, some schools have surpassed their allotted number of snow days… and we’d best wait three more months before we send our parkas to the drycleaners! Adding to the chill are our worries about the economy and outbreaks of violence around the globe.

It takes great character and fortitude to carry on in the face of challenges and to establish new patterns of behavior or thought. Tackling whatever special challenges you face-solo parenting, job loss, diminishing investments, getting a grip on your personal health-takes a positive attitude and the courage to name and pursue your goals every day.

One of the first places where we in climates of such extreme weather can build these characteristics of strength is right outside our doors, where we can learn to experience and enjoy outdoor life no matter what the weather. Sunshine, fresh air, and exercise are imperative for good health, and the benefits of nature do not wane in winter. Outdoor enthusiasts will tell us that there’s no such thing as bad weather-just bad clothing.

For inspiration, we can look to the Scandinavians-no strangers to the adversity inherent in a part of the world that sees such harsh cold and little light during its long winters. Their term Friluftsliv, defined as “free time outdoor life” and the spirit for partaking of such in all weather, is especially celebrated in Scandinavian countries and is credited with being the source of the well-being enjoyed by much of the region’s citizens, young and old.

In fact, Denmark, Finland, and Sweden ranked among the top five countries of the world’s twenty-one richest countries for children’s well-being, according to UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Center. Aspects considered included material wellbeing, health and safety, education, peer and family relationships, behaviors and risks, and young people’s own subjective sense of well-being (see unicef.org).

Julie Catterson Lindahl, author of the 2005 book On My Swedish Island: Discovering the Secrets of Scandinavian Well-being and the mother of school-age twins, provides great inspiration for living a healthy lifestyle through her book and her continued writing at Nordicwellbeing.com and JulieLindahl.com. She encourages us to seek the outdoors as a new life habit (to promote our own health and that of the environment), as a setting for social activities, as a way to be a good role model for our children, and as a wellspring for creativity and productivity.

Just as travel sends us to distant lands and shakes up the thought patterns we’ve settled into, Friluftsliv also takes us “out of our everyday lives [and] gives us the space and perspective to develop our identities,” according to Swedish historians that Lindahl references. The curiosity and sense of wonder that both travel and the experience of nature stir in us can be found at any time in life, nurtured, and grown.

In this rough economy that we’re experiencing, when plans for travel may be placed on a back burner, nature and its gifts can be both a balm for the soul and new terrain (literally!) for us and our children to explore.

I encourage you to read On My Swedish Island for further inspiration, bundle up, and venture out! Your kids are just waiting to be invited to go sledding, build a snowman, skate on a frozen pond, or simply snap some pictures of the winter scenery. Cups of cocoa all around afterward… Cheers!

December 19, 2008

cozy at home

With two young children before me, dreaming aloud of gifts Santa Claus may bring in a couple of weeks, practicing carols in music class at school, and plotting how many nights they may be able to unroll their sleeping bags by our Christmas tree, we have the holiday fever, certainly. But with my husband in Afghanistan on a long-term military assignment, my heart is also a few beats behind pace, knowing that our family’s celebration won’t be quite complete without him.

My first instinct was to plan on spending Christmas Eve and Day at my grandparents’ and parents’ houses, respectively, as I did when growing up. Extra company, distractions, good food… Isn’t it natural to want our elders to look after us when we’re feeling vulnerable?

But my little ones have let me know they’re pretty sure that our own home (where they’ve always spent this special time) is the right place to be. “How would Santa Claus know where to find us if we aren’t here?” “What if Santa stops here and there aren’t any cookies for him or treats for his reindeer? Will he come back again?” They’re looking at me to be the one to keep things steady for them, I realize. No surprises, except the ones we might find under the tree, are very welcome right now.

So, I think we’ll make ourselves cozy at home. Maybe the kids and I will make fondue on Christmas Eve (also our 10th wedding anniversary) after we bake cookies for Santa. I’ll plan a special brunch for Christmas morn. The big leather chair my husband favors will be empty then, the kids’ smiles and present-opening fervor captured on video for him to savor later, but we will make the most of our celebration, anyway, and hope that we get the chance to bridge the distance between us with a long phone call.

“Let there be peace on earth,” a prayer commonly made at this time of year, seems perhaps further out of reach than it ever has before. But this family is committed to working toward that lofty goal, and we dedicate the separation that our family is enduring to the world in an effort to create peace. While we enjoy our own traditions in these holiday festivities, we will remember those in the world that need to feel the warmth that is fostered in our home and hearts.

November 19, 2008

seeing the world with a traveling dad

A dedicated, long-term Army National Guard soldier, my husband loves the adventure and the challenges he’s found in the experience of serving his country. As his wife and the mother of two young children, I have been relegated to our home for much of this time as a single parent, accepting the vicarious window to the world he provides… but sometimes toting a baby and a backpack for a distant rendezvous with our soldier!
National Guard families do not live on military bases and, as a result, we don’t necessarily live in an environment where there is support or understanding of a lifestyle that regularly pulls families apart and throws them back together.

My main task in raising our little citizens of the world is to create this sense of community for them in the Midwestern college town in which we reside. At the same time, I try to extend this sense of community to the world and explain how, while their dad is not always able to be with us, he is representing us as Americans wherever he goes. His role as a soldier requires that he work closely with soldiers and civilians of other nations, that he is good at both teaching them what he knows and listening to their needs, in order to build a more peaceful world for all of us.

Our kids’ first impressions of the world come from us, their parents. And even when their own feet aren’t touching far-away soil, the impressions their dad shares with them help them understand both the similarities and the differences between people everywhere. Every time we find ourselves “left behind,” we are simultaneously given the opportunity to learn about another corner of the world to which our soldier is flung. Germany, England, Poland, Afghanistan… the list continues to grow.

The trinkets Daddy brings home, the photos, the stories of unique experiences (marching 100 miles with Polish soldiers on an annual pilgrimage, sharing a field breakfast with British soldiers, shopping at a bazaar, and even throwing sandbags along the banks of the Mississippi River in the USA) keeps our children’s eyes wide open. We are reminded constantly that while we all need food, shelter, and clothing, those things come in a huge variety of forms. And being reminded that so many of our counterparts around the world live with far less than we do begets gratitude for our home and simple, but comfortable, life.

At home, I find that there is nothing quite like being a single parent to force one’s wings to stretch. Leisure time may take a backseat for a while, but the qualities of independence, strength, and resourcefulness only grow. Staying close as a separated family takes extraordinary effort, but that pays off in resilience. I have a basket, manila envelope, or box on hand nearly all the time, in which artwork from the kids, mementos of their accomplishments, newspaper clippings, cards, and letters are deposited for Papa; in return, we receive email, phone calls, and occasional packages from him, through which we remember who he is, how much he loves us, and learn about what he’s encountering. We visit the library and attend diverse cultural events on our local university’s campus to learn more about the people and customs of places where Daddy is working. When we have the opportunity to meet somewhere as a family in the middle of a lengthy training or deployment, we are willing and ready to pack a few bags and snacks and print the driving directions or make the plane reservations to make memories for all involved.

When our daughter was nine months old, she and I met her dad in Frankfurt, Germany for a week spent traveling the Romantic Road. The first breads she nibbled were hearty European rolls, given to her at every restaurant (along with the German proclamation “Sie ist laut!”—“She is loud!”—in response to her happy squeals) and she woke with us under eider-downs to the tolling of church bells in small villages. We held her on our shoulders to walk cobbled streets, stopping to let her dip her hands in centuries-old fountains, and I nursed her on a hidden bench in a leafy public garden. The time changes were difficult, but reviving myself with strong, smooth German coffee was a pleasure. Best of all, I found my previous assumptions of Germany as a cold, industrial nation to be unfounded in the warm reception we received as a family vacationing in a place of Old World beauty and impressive efficiency and service.

That spirit of curiosity, openness, acceptance, and grace wherever it may be found provides a foundation for my husband, and for me with our children, to continue our travels, whether independently or together. Perhaps whatever place we find ourselves in will look especially bright when our company is found in its midst.