C13: So now what? Some post-Easter ponderings

It's April 15th- mid-April. A few updates/ponderings on the personal side.

On Easter Saturday, we had a good time searching for easter eggs up on the nearby hillside (surrounded by the mountain biking flow course). Pretty area up in the woods for easter egg hunting and hot chocolate by a fire (fairly common to see people out picnicking in the woods with a small fire like this).


A somewhat subdued outing for Easter egg hunting as earlier that day, Chris and the kids had been tussling a bit on the nearby playground equipment. Stephen hit the ground- landing on his wrist. Seems better now after 5 days but we were worried for a bit that he might have a slight fracture. Good news is we have a wrist guard Chris purchased for his skateboard, so he's been protecting it.


Also good news in that Chris rented a nice mountain bike on Saturday and did some gentle but fun rides- as did I after he finished. I don't have pictures but it was nice to get out and ride. Hill slopes are carpeted in small white flowers. Beautiful in the woods right now with the birds actively calling out, woodpeckers busy. We've contemplated buying a nice mountain bike but $7k is a bit rich-- we'll have to settle for periodic rentals. 

As of yesterday, our kids are back in school after their Easter holiday- a 10 day stretch of being home. Monday was part of the holiday, so yesterday was their first day back. Stephen was relieved- "I have something to do." Elizabeth less so- we all struggled yesterday through her homework assignments. She turned in an essay (after a break for dinner) close to 9 PM last night.

People keep asking- how are we doing? We keep asking each other- how are we doing? What do we next? These are actually hard questions to answer.

Honestly, we all struggled during the break. The kids didn't want to walk or ride their bikes anywhere-- which is somewhat limiting, as these are our options for getting around. We lost an option for Stephen with his hurt wrist, but we're glad it seems to be improving.

Hard not to see a level of ennui and depression creeping in- for us all. We're at a good 4-5 weeks of being largely stuck with just each other in what now feels like a small enough apartment. We're all for boredom- get off your screen and be bored-- think about what else you can do. I've been cleaning windows, drawers. Chris' mandolin skills are pretty good. Turns out that being bored is harder for Stephen than Elizabeth. Elizabeth has been into finger knitting- so she created a combination of purple & green strands, then sewed them together into a rug. That, and whittling is her new passion.

We did manage hikes or bikes or wandering about in the woods- and had fun doing it once we were out the door. If you have to climb walls or fences as you go, so be it! I'm appreciating our friend Annie's workout of 10 movements 30 times. Push ups. dips. sit ups. Air squats. All good exercises to do while wandering around.
I'm surprisingly sad by the loss of Elizabeth's jump rope and sunglasses- we must have left them at some stop or another. Small on the scale of things, but hard to replace right now. I'm also missing my garden something fierce. Chris would love to be in his woodshop. I had planned for a pandemic- at home. Didn't expect to be abroad during the apocalypse. C'est la vie.

In between being "on vacation," Chris and I struggled to work through the midst of figuring out what the hell to do last week. We dealt with small things like tracking 100 kg of stuff to the US- 1 bag at a time. The last two bags arrived yesterday at our friends' house in State College, a week late. Customs wants more information- but why then deliver the bags? A mystery.

We dealt with big things- reviewing papers, interviewing students for jobs, analyzing data on how one could think about better voter representation in the US. A book on the Food/Energy/Water Nexus I wrote a chapter for was published yesterday after 3.5 years of work. Chris learned a paper he had accepted in late 2018 was published in "print" form this week. Nice to see some projects come to fruition, albeit slowly.

In between, the situation in Sweden continues to be, well, interesting. A major fight erupted yesterday in the newspaper: 22 Swedish epidemiologists wrote an op-ed in Dagens Nyheter (one of the two big papers) attacking Anders Tegnell, Sweden's chief epidemiologist and the one leading Sweden's approach. The 22 epidemiologists basically said that the rate of impact to Swedes was too high not to switch course- more than 1033 people have died in Sweden since the covid-19 outbreak began. A large number of people are in nursing/care facilities and in immigrant communities- particularly Somali/Swedes. Tegnell hit back, saying that the epidemiologists had used the wrong data and their work should be discredited. The daily news briefings/updates at 2 PM have become the most watched part of the day.

As a mediator, I spend a lot of time thinking about the difference between positions (I've decided that Sweden is different enough to take this course) vs. interests (what is the data that indicates we should proceed one way or another; we want to keep people alive). The concept of saving face is also important- Tegnell seems to be saying "trust me, we have this" even as plenty of people don't trust where he's coming from. If trust is a key part of handling a pandemic, this seems to be getting polarized fast: I trust you, or I don't. How does one help someone like Tegnell save face and engage with others who may have different perspectives without getting into personal attacks? A thought piece released today notes the difference in starting assumptions-- critical to be talking about, but lost in the vitriol.

In the meantime, it continues to feel weird to be here. The big museums (the Vasa, Tekniska (the science museum)) are finally closed as the number of people who could be in one place was reduced from 500 to 50. Restaurants remain open, as do pre- and primary schools. We bought take out last week from the sushi restaurant- no longer any seating, plastic sheeting between the food production and pick up counter, etc. Most other restaurants look normal and seem to be serving as normal. I finally saw someone wearing a mask as they walked down the sidewalk the other day.

After the Easter break, our neighborhood is quiet again as kids have gone back to school. We received an email Monday forwarded from the CEO of the kids' school, noting the following:

While our neighbours in Norway and Denmark embark on a process of opening their school systems next week we too are transitioning back into a more familiar set of established routines. Though many of our schools had an 80-90% student attendance rate in the weeks before the Spring Break we appreciate that some of our schools cater to more international communities and many of you may have had family or health considerations that made sending your students to school a more difficult decision than some of us. Please know we respect your perspective and honour your decision, and if there are ways that we as an organization can better support your family please reach out to your students mentor, Principal or a member of your schools Student Care Team. Futuraskolan is eager to lend support where we can.

I'm glad that they have created an option for the kids to be schooled remotely (as we are doing with ours), and somewhat appreciate the sentiment in this- but it also feels like a dig of some sort- most of our kids are in school but if you don't trust the authorities and keep your kids out....  maybe I'm reading too much into this. Elizabeth in particular wants to go to school to see her friends- this becomes a daily discussion. As Chris noted, the kids in school are now selected for families that are likely not quarantining themselves- a higher potential for infection?

Chris continues to do better. His enthusiasm for running about 10 days ago- 2 nice runs 2 days in a row-- knocked his progress backwards for a while. He's slowly recovering again. He doesn't want to get any more exposure to covid than he has to- still not tested, nor anyway to know if he has antibodies. It's hard not to feel like a hypochondriac- I have a headache- is it just a headache, or something more?

We've both needed time out of the apartment. Chris has been loving his electric skateboard: lots of freedom (though limited in range to about 10 km) and fun swooping about, but no pressure on his lungs. I needed out of the house too, so on Sunday, I went for a roller ski. Found some nice bike trails on the nearby island of Lidingö (pronounced "leading-er") and ended up roller skiing for 25 km. It's easy to keep your distance from people when armed with long poles with sharp tips. A bit sore afterwards, but a good mental health break too. The picture below is one view from the pathway looking back at the bridge to the island.

View from the far side of the island- into the Baltic archipelago

As we sort out what to do, the direct flight connections between Sweden and the US are dwindling- United announced yesterday that they are canceling their direct flights between Stockholm & Newark for their summer season (May- September). Iceland Air has had flights from Boston, Reykjavik & Stockholm- but only through April. Oh, and the volcanic activity on Iceland is waking up in an area not active for 800 years- last time an Icelandic volcano blew up ten years ago, all flight travel through Europe ceased for a bit. 

We continue to work with an assumption that there will be at least some way to get back to the US sometime in June- the New York area has the United Nations, so there must continue to be some flights from Europe. There continue to be flights from Stockholm to Paris, Amsterdam, etc. Once in the US, it's about 4 hours from NYC to State College. The TSA has seen daily flight #s drop from 2.2 million down to about 90,000, so we're much less likely to end up in awful situations in customs. Chris didn't like my suggestion of sailing back to the US.

We have checked with the Spanish family renting our house in State College-- they seem to be quite focused on staying put, despite the fact that all schooling in Pennsylvania has gone online for the remainder of the school year. I think we were hoping that as things became less bad in Spain, they might opt for going home early and we could go home-- get our house set up again and make the shift. There are house rentals in State College- might be an option, but home schooling kids with their classes in Sweden (6 hour time difference again) would be challenging, as would switching them to the local school district. We continue to have offers of places in Maine, New Hampshire and Oregon-- but are trying to simplify how often we need to move and how to preserve some semblance of "normal" in what are very strange times.

So for now, we stay put, watching, waiting, trying to eke out some work. We do feel lucky- we both have jobs, our families seem to be doing okay, our kids may be a bit bored but are doing fine. Nothing like parenting a teenager during a pandemic- we get to learn some new life skills for sure. I discovered that whacking a balloon at Stephen was a cathartic thing to do. And I have no idea what the Swedish custom is for the tooth fairy- Elizabeth has lost 3 molars in the last 2 weeks, with 3 more loose. It makes eating a challenge. So far, the tooth fairy is delivering Swedish kronor (crowns) much in the American tradition (a bit forgetful but the tooth fairy finally managed the job after there were two teeth to be found under the pillow). But maybe there is more to the Swedish tradition than money under a pillow. As with many things, who knows and stay tuned.