Lagom!

‘It’s a kind of Swedish Goldilocks approach, with everything “just right.”’

Evidently, the Scandinavians have really got some things figured out.

And naturally, the rest of us are lining up- and signing up- to become a little more Scandi-savvy!

In today’s post, let’s take a look at Sweden’s ‘best export’; lagom.

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The word lagom seems to have originated with a Viking term ‘laget om‘ (around the team) which referred to the social custom of passing a horn of drink around a circle and making sure everyone took just his fair share, so as to leave enough for the others to do the same. As one author wittily remarked,

“The Vikings wouldn’t usually be first on my list as a moral compass, but they were certainly on to something.”

Modern Swedes have come a long way from their Viking forbears; so how does Lagom translate today?

Contentment, balance, and doing things in ways that make sense for everyone…

Harmony, restraint, and appreciation for simplicity…

Moderation, sustainability, and environmental consciousness…

As I sit typing this morning at my HEMNES desk (thank you IKEA) I’m hoping you’ll enjoy taking a little peek with me into the timeless, yet trendy Scandi-secret of lagom!

For your scrolling pleasure, I’ve read three books (just triangulating data 😉 on this scintillating subject to share with you. Each one was written by someone in the know…

Elisabeth Carlsson grew up Swedish in Sweden, and is now married to an Englishman raising their children in London. Here is her book, the lagom life.

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Linnea Dunne is another Swede who left the land of lagom as a young adult and is now married to an Irishman, with whom she lives in Dublin, where they are raising their young child. She’s the author of this LAGOM book:

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“Consensus is king and everyone mucks in.”

Honestly, my favourite is Niki Brantmark’s Lagom book; she’s an Englishwoman who fell in love with a Swedish man and jumped at the chance to relocate to his homeland (about 15 years ago) where they are happily settled and raising their children Swedish-style!

Somehow her perspective seems more to the purpose… She’s looking at the culture of her adopted homeland through the lens of someone who was newly (and enthusiastically) introduced to it as an adult, which is closer to how the rest of us are seeing it, with fresh eyes and an appreciative embrace…

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“Perhaps the most liberating lesson of all has been feeling satisfied with ‘enough’.”

Whatever their various emotional approaches are to Swedish culture, they are definitely all speaking on the same subject! Here are some common themes I found running steadily through all three books:

  1. Moderation– while this isn’t a terribly exciting approach to life, it’s certainly a healthy one. And it greases the wheels of social life; greed and bragging are frowned upon. No self-respecting Swede would reach for the last treat on the plate once it had gone around at fika (coffee break) time.
  2. Forangkringsprocessenkvallspromenad (evening walk after supper) or bass bastu (sauna with refreshing breaks in cold water or snow)!!
  3. Balance– famously efficient, Swedish employees mean business about quitting time! Making time for family, health (such as Friskis & Svettis; unpretentious open air group exercise in public parks), self care, and creativity. (Incidentally, friskis & svettis sounds a little to my untrained ear like frisking and sweating- nej?
  4. Allemansratten“He who buys what he does not need steals from himself.” -Swedish Proverb

Lagom at home means keeping down clutter. Simply take a kopstopp (purchasing break) if all else fails. To further ensure home comforts, draw in as much natural light as possible, decorate with plants, and choose furniture for functionality. This is all very important, especially when the weekend comes; Fredagsmys is the traditional Friday night  family veg session with convenience food and TV, followed closely by Lordagsgodis (Saturday candy time)!! Very lagom ways to approach lounging on the couch for some screen time, and consuming candy, ja? 

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I have lots to learn about this moderate and balanced approach myself… I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve, and never take coffee breaks (with or without cookies and cake)!

How about you?

Are you Swedish?

Have you been to Sweden, and what do you think of lagom?

Do any of these ideas resonate with you or help you see day-to-day challenges in a new light?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

One Reason I Read.

Reading is a magical experience; the pages of good books pull us in like magnets, and only the stern necessity of sleep can persuade us that it’s time to re-emerge.

As beguiling as it is to wander, and to linger in the other realities created for us by clever authors, do you ever wonder what makes it so?

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World Travel!

~Travel~

Where do I dream of going…?

When would I love to see…?

There’s no place or time I can’t experience by slipping in between the covers of a good book.

I once saw a fancy bathtub ad in a magazine; a woman luxuriating in a glamorous soaker tub silhouetted against a huge window. The caption to this alluring image said,

“Therapy is expensive and vacations are scarce. Choose your tub wisely.”

Being the kind of person to have cold feet from about October until May each year, I am a proponent of relaxing in a hot bath before bed. But I almost never immerse myself in that happy place without a book. It would be akin to arriving at an airport without a passport; an exercise in futility. Naturally, my books become rather wrinkled from the steam but this hardly matters. They’re fulfilling their destiny.

I’m not alone in seeing books as passports for world travel, tickets into steam-filled booths for transporting myself to other places and times.

Consider Lucy Pevensey, C.S.Lewis’ fearless character from The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe…. Millions of readers have turned the pages, stepping with her through the doors of the magic wardrobe into the fantasy land of Narnia.

How about J.R.R.Tolkien’s Hobbit? When we crack the cover of his epic tale, we are passing with this very relatable character through the round door of his cozy abode ‘in a hole in the ground’, and onward to the ends of Middle Earth.

And… that’s about the end of my fantasy repertoire.

On to real places and times…!

Honestly, I find it far more tempting to hop on a train with Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, or to step through the sombre doors of a manor house swathed in mystery and mourning with Agatha Christie’s intrepid Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot.

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I can never resist the appeal of trekking across field and farm with Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet or Fanny Price between country estate dwellings a couple centuries ago.

I don’t even try to avoid following Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit into debtor’s prison, any more than I’d consider failing to accompany Lucie Manette across the English Channel to find her long-lost father in Revolutionary Paris between the leaves of A Tale of Two Cities.

I’ve even endured the hopelessness and terror of having stepped up the gangplank with Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab on a whaling ship after the notorious Moby Dick, borne the seemingly endless struggle to survive after drifting ashore with Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe, and journeyed back and forth between the mansions of aristocratic Russians and the battlefields of Waterloo in Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

(In all honesty, I can’t recommend the last three very highly. I made myself read them because I wanted the education, even if it occurred in a bathtub rather than a lecture hall. But, to each her own.)

I held on tight, (too scared to do otherwise) while scaling the city walls of Paris with Cosette on the broad back of Jean Valjean in Victor Hugo’s incomparable Les Miserables. I even went willingly into the ancient sewers with him, so intent was I on being there to witness the impossibly heroic rescue of her beloved Marius…

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Do tell…! Which of these stories have you read, (and which ones did you actually enjoy? 😉

Also, which other books have provided you with such exhilarating travel opportunities?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

The Care And Management Of Lies

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.” ~C.S. Lewis

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Perusing the library shelves, judging books by their covers; I suspect many of us indulge in this delicious pursuit. But this isn’t always the most reliable method for laying my hands on a book I’ll hardly be able to put down. Still, libraries are one of my favourite places to meander, and it’s always worth a try.

This is exactly how I first discovered this week’s author, Jacqueline Winspear. I was uncommonly lucky that day; I happened to pick up the first book in her well-researched historical mystery series (Maisie Dobbs)! Suffice it to say, I now pounce upon each new instalment with fervent energy and devour it so quickly I only wish it were longer.

This book, however, is her heartrending standalone novel. In this sense, I could almost compare it to Alexander McCall Smith’s  La’s Orchestra Saves The World (https://leahsletters.blog/2019/03/02/las-orchestra-saves-the-world/) except that it’s set during the first, rather than the second World War.

“What is certain, is that war will not leave us as it found us.”                                          ~Woman At Home, February 1915

Dorothea and Kezia are old schoolmates, who (not without some bitterness) become sisters-in-law. While one woman focuses on her career in the city and the fight for women’s rights, the other struggles to learn the trade of being a farmer’s wife.

It still takes my breath away to sense the sickening numbers of loved ones who left for the war and never came back. I can’t comprehend what it would be like to carry on, intimately faced with such widespread grief.

I was immediately drawn into the keenly felt nuances of long-standing women’s friendship, complicated by the upheaval of war. I wonder how many of us today can even relate with the brave and selfless urge to persistently write cheerful lies to the battlefront.

This story really made me think. A lot. And wonder.

Ethical questions are served here, and pushed around like overcooked vegetables on a child’s plate…

 

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Women’s issues are at the forefront of social awareness for a lot of us today. Just over 100 years ago, things were very different, or were they?

Of course the historical perspective is compelling and the farm setting enchanting, but the very different ways these two women face down their enemy- war- is what makes this a book not to be missed.

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What behind-the-scenes ‘battles’ have you read about?

And I’d love to hear what you think of the questions raised in this conundrum of a novel…

Thank you for reading with me!

Leah 🙂

The Colours of All the Cattle

“Life happens, she thought; whatever we do, life just happens.”
― Alexander McCall Smith, The Colours of all the Cattle

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And… he’s done it again! One of my favourite living authors, Alexander McCall Smith has conjured up yet another Precious Ramotswe story. I’m delighted every time a new novel in this series comes out, and I’ve never been even remotely close to disappointment after reading one. How does he do it? I wonder… How does a man in Scotland write so convincingly about a woman in Botswana!? Am I the only one who has to tell myself (time and again) that if I were to take a trip to Gabarone, I would be faced with the cruel reality that no such business exists as the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

This morning I was reading in Carol Shields’ Startle and Illuminate, a book on writing. I came across this comment, which is absolutely true of this series:

“… radical regionalism often produces a universal response.”

I’ve always wanted to travel to Africa, ever since I first saw the sunrise in Disney’s Lion King as an idealistic 16 year-old. Still, I am not the only one for whom McCall Smith has put Botswana on the map. Apart from that, it’s delicious to feel so immersed in a far-off place; the culture is palpable in these lovely books.

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Gabarone, beloved (if fictional) home of beloved (if fictional) Mma Ramotswe

Now consider another piece of Carol Shields’ advice, this one on appropriation of voice; we must be sure to convey others’ experiences with authenticity and respect.

This, I am convinced, is the key to Alexander McCall Smith’s brilliantly successful star character, Precious Ramotswe.

Charming as these novels are, the reason I keep coming back for more is not just for the  light humour, the little mysteries, or the trip to exotic Africa; but because what’s written in them matters. It simply does. The kind of ethics that just make good sense, which are woven like a golden thread throughout, catching the light occasionally, but never detracting attention from the people and their stories. That’s the magnet for me.

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If Precious were a tree, she would be this one.

“But please be careful—and never, never think that you are justified in doing something wrong just because you are trying to do something right.”

Spoken with her unfailing kindness, and accompanied by generous action, who could resist such wise counsel?

Which books do you return to for renewed perspective?

Thank you for reading with me 🙂

 Leah 🙂

 

The Happiness Passport

“Happiness is a mindset for your journey, not the result of your destination.” ~Shawn Achor

I’m obsessed with a few things; happiness naturally being one of them, because… who doesn’t want to be happy? According to the wise and witty Jane Austen, no one;

“I wish, as well as everybody else, to be happy; but, like everybody else, it must be in my own way.”

Handily, I also find that I have an insatiable appetite for learning. And people, and places. So you can imagine the relish with which I devoured this gorgeous book!

Clearly, no one place or culture has a monopoly on happiness. It’s absolutely fascinating to discover elements of contentment and joie-de-vivre tucked away in all parts of the world.

When I started school, my mom was part of a carpool; parents from nearby farms took turns driving each other’s children to school along with their own. Two of the families in our carpool were from India, and our mother wasted no time learning to cook a delicious Indian vegetarian curry and roti from one of these women. This recipe became one of our family favourites, and to this day we love to make it; only a couple weeks ago our adult son asked me for the recipe so he can make it with/for his lovely wife!

I’m grateful to my mom for this introduction to cultural diversity appreciation!

I’m convinced that we can learn something from everyone we meet. And from people we don’t meet, who find other ways to share their experiences and perspectives with us. For example, because of Megan C. Hayes, PhD., we now have at our fingertips such simple and sweet word/concepts as ‘cwtch’ (a Welsh term for a cozy cuddle), ‘ubuntu’ (Nguni Buntu for the common bond of unanimity between all people), ‘melmastia’ (a Pashto expression for unconditional hospitality and profound respect for guests), and one of my personal favourites -surely coined by someone who enjoys babies and little people as much as I do- ‘gigil’ (Tagalog for an overwhelming feeling, often in the context of wanting to pinch a cute or cherished baby)!!!

You might want to check out Megan Hayes’ program for writing oneself happy!

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What happiness tips have you gleaned from other languages, cultures, or places?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

Dear Mrs. Bird

“Never give in, never, never, never–never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”    ~Winston Churchill

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This is the tale of the life-changing and heart-rending experiences of Emmy, a young woman with journalistic ambitions and seemingly endless energy, during the Blitz in WW2 London. It’s written in a light, good-humoured (almost diary-like) tone that invited me to smile along with her; but this voice was contrasted by the unimaginable horrors through which she somehow kept heart enough to Keep Calm and Carry On.

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I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw it featured in a library. (book-lust at first sight;) I’ll chalk that instant attraction up to the vintage-style cover, especially the old-fashioned typewriter keys. I liked it even more once I opened it up and started reading! I am always drawn to stories from this time and place, and the main character’s somewhat disarming flaws drew me right into hers. What she occasionally lacked in ‘honour and good sense’, Emmy made up for in compassion and her brave determination to act on it.

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For anyone who enjoys some witty ‘British-isms’ sprinkled liberally throughout a highly readable novel that takes you into the heart and mind of a likeable young woman, give this book a go; it won’t disappoint!

Also, do tell… what other historical fiction from this era do you recommend?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

p.s. I’m not the only blogger (on WordPress) writing about this one!

Check these posts out, too:

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/44595095/posts/16643

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/77612352/posts/1721

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/84556689/posts/54921

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/44873370/posts/10851

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/30727745/posts/6902

 

 

 

The Golden Rule

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“DO UNTO OTHERS AS YOU WOULD HAVE THEM DO UNTO YOU.”

Like most of us, I’ve been familiar with this ethic of empathy for as long as I can remember. Because I am a Christian, I learned it from my parents as well as in church.

What I didn’t realize before reading this artfully illustrated book is that the golden rule is found in all the world’s religions… According to author Ilene Cooper,

“Christianity says: You should love your neighbour as you love yourself.

Judaism says: What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow humans.

Islam says: Hurt no one that no one may hurt you.

Hinduism says: This is the sum of duty: to do nothing to others which would cause them pain.

Buddhism says: Do not do to others what would hurt you.

The Shawnee Tribe says: Do not kill or injure your neighbour, for it is not he or she that you injure; you injure yourself.”

This book presents a simple tale of a young boy learning about this universal element of humanity in a thought-provoking conversation with his grandfather…

The little lad likes that the Golden Rule is the same for children and adults. I like how his grandpa answers his how-to query;

“You begin by using your imagination.”

Sometimes it’s too easy for me to interact with (especially my family) just a little thoughtlessly. When I take a little moment to consider first, I’m far more likely to treat the people I love the most in the way I would like to be treated; with kindness and respect.

A couple days ago a man stepped aside, holding the door open for me as I was leaving the post office. He was on his way in, and happened to have his hand on the door handle before I did. It was easy and natural for me then to hold it open for him as he took his turn passing through. It was such a simple gesture, but it brightened my day.

How has someone touched your life with gold by following this simple rule?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

La’s Orchestra Saves the World

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one. ~George R. R. Martin

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I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this story; my favourite memory of reading it is the time we were on a long family road trip. I was reading it aloud as we drove past lavender fields, which was an enchanting coincidence; the main character’s full name is Lavender. Also, there is an abundance of this flowering herb growing in a garden which is the scene of some of the most important action in the book.

Alexander McCall Smith is most famous for his warm, wise, and witty No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, featuring my dear imaginary friend, Precious Ramotswe. (I am not ashamed to have an imaginary friend who was invented by a clever author.) He’s also written other series, and several standalone novels. This one is my favourite; so much so, that I wish it was part of another series.

I especially enjoy the setting; a quiet country village in England’s East Anglia region. When we lived in England for about 3 years while our children were young, we lived up on the Suffolk coast, so I have seen the 21st century version. It’s a beautiful area, in a gentle and delightfully rural way. (Ironically, this normally out-of-the-way place was the site of the Battle of Britain in WW2.) In this charming story, La goes about saving the world from the outpost of her sleepy Suffolk village during those very years.

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What books act as your return ticket to places you’ve enjoyed?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

Why do we love to read?

“Some books are so familiar, reading them is like being home again.”

-Louisa May Alcott

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Written words have a magical power to transport us to places and times we could never otherwise go, or can never otherwise go again…

This is a photo of my grandparents’ farm, where I lived as a small child. Generations of us played on these “green and golden” 32 acres, this place imprinting itself on our souls; becoming a part of who we are and the narrative of our lives.

When I was first introduced to Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill in a high school English class, you will easily understand the chord it struck in me. His words, written so many years before my life began, reverberate with me every time I read his immortal poem.

 

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Books, poems, stories; what written words bring you back to your childhood?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂