Finding Inspiration

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Writers find inspiration in the most unlikely places. For me, yesterday, I found it when Halloween fell over the sunset in Sweden’s west coast archipelago. Although Halloween isn’t celebrated in Sweden in the way that it is in North America, (no trick or treaters, no witches or ghosts or candy), the orange sky melted its way over the small fishing village of Grundsund as a truly lustrous charm. It was as though all the pumpkins turned Jack-o-lanterns in my childhood had flickered their flames across the water, bringing me home once again. I was grateful. It felt as though the sun had given me alone something special to remember Halloween by.

I’d had a lovely day trip with my family up the coast with lunch at Brygghuset IMG_8785in Fiskebäckskil, where I was once again faced with the dilemma – to reap the rewards of the sillbord or not. In plain old English, herring buffet or no herring buffet before the main meal? That was the question. Please don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for my Swedish family, friends and their Viking ways but “sill” is not one of them. Not for me, not ever. I may have dual citizenship now, but I am Canadian through and through when it comes to keeping some order to my plate of food. Let me present my husband’s appetizer plate: pickled herring (stekt inlagd strömming), boiled eggs, pickled fried herring, pickled red cabbage (rödkål), pickled mustard herring (inlagd senapsill), pickled in a different way herring (matjesill), herring cake (silltårta), herring potato salad (potatissalad med sill).

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Are you inspired?

That’s what I thought.

How about my son’s plate?

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No, didn’t think so. Whereas my very Viking boy was licking his lips when he sat down to eat this feast for the eyes. His eyes, I reiterate. In fairness, I have to add that the food at this restaurant was otherwise absolutely delicious and I would recommend it to anyone. And who knows, I’m sure there is a herring lover somewhere in Canada, too.

Now where is this all going you might be asking yourself? A writer’s inspiration. How can a plate of Swedish food inspire a writer? Well, all I will say is that I am absolutely certain there is a writer somewhere in Sweden who is inspired by this food enough to win a Nobel prize in literature, but not me.

As we sat in Brygghuset mulling over our options for the afternoon, I peered out the window to find inspiration headed straight toward me—a twenty-three meter luxury yacht from Norway. All that oil, you know. Before it made it to the dock, I was already conjuring up my next novel, taking place on a tiny island in the South Pacific and arriving on that.

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A few photo bursts later, we were walking along the newly built dock in Grundsund, the one that wraps around the shoreline hugging yet another of Sweden’s lovely fishing villages. IMG_8812 The orange sunset was the crowning glory to a perfect day. How could it not inspire you? As we drove off, not exactly into the sunset, but rather in the dark to the ferry to Orust, a sea of flickering lights all over the local cemetery, on all the graves of loved-ones, reminded me how Halloween is Allhelgona (All Hallows’ Eve) here in Sweden. It is a “gentle remembrance of the saints and of those loved ones who (have) died.” Once again I felt inspired and know that somehow that sea of candle light will work its way into my writing.

What I love about writing is how those lovely moments of inspiration seem to come when you least expect them. As I sat writing this post, my son shouted across the house for everyone to look at the sky. What had been unusually and completely orange on Halloween, tonight on November 1, the sky was a stunning purple.  No, not just purple, it was amethyst! I’ve never seen anything like it. Click, click went the mobile phone. It was something I simply had to capture—a moment that was gone as quickly as it came. But what a jewel!

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I would love to know where and when and even what inspires you. Please feel free to comment below.

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16 Things That Change When You Live Abroad

1. The hardest part is making the decision to go. — After weeks of teetering, “should we or shouldn’t we?, once you finally say “yes”, you realize it’s just to get on with it and take each hurdle as it comes. Then you wonder why on Earth it took you so long to decide in the first place.

2. Your family of four instantly becomes the four musketeers. — You depend on each other, especially in the beginning. Evenings and weekends once again become real family time with lovely family day trips – discovering your new world together.

3. You learn that home is wherever your family is. — Over time, you come to realize that you can find happiness and make a good life just about anywhere as long as you have each other.

4. You become an expert at hellos and good-byes. — While you make new friends in your new country, you wear an invisible shield of armour – one that you don’t realize is there, because you know that one day soon, you will need to part ways. It’s a form of self-preservation in ways, one that perhaps your new friends cannot understand unless they have lived abroad themselves.

5. Genius becomes defined as juggling annual tax season in two countries simultaneously. — There is only one word for American tax season, “paperwork”, plus “OMG, more paperwork”.

6. Applications and forms take on a whole new meaning. — Same as above, but you can add another OMG to that!

7. You find yourself mixing languages. — Especially when you live in a household with two languages at all times. “Please pass the hallonsylt, snälla?” Or “Do you want gräddfil with that?”

8. Your accent changes depending on who you are talking to. — In the US, I apparently sound somewhat English, though I’m sure a hint of North Carolinian twang is in there somewhere. My English friends in Sweden laugh at that and when I meet my family in Canada, it goes right back to good ol’ Canadian again. I’m just waiting for someone to mistake my accent for real Göteborgska. Stop laughing now – it could happen!

9. Longing for home is never satisfied. — Even when you visit, you know your visit is only temporary. It’s sweet while you are there. You indulge in all the things you’ve missed while abroad; the food, the people, the scenery, but then the itch to get back to your new world comes creeping into your skin again. Then #4 comes calling again.

10. You become more patriotic abroad. – Everything is wonderful about your home country; the food, the people, the landscape, the culture. You nearly have a coronary when you see a packet of Singoalla, or Kalles Kaviar on a store shelf. Not only do you grab every single one but you try to order more.

11. You discover that your very Swedish husband’s Spotify playlist is now dotted with country music. — Yes, I believe it was the Keith Urban concert in NC that was the culprit. I’m sure somewhere hidden in our unpacked boxes there lurks a cowboy hat waiting to be donned!

12. The simplest task becomes a monumental challenge. — Try walking into a shop without being bombarded with “hello, can I help you find something.” Let me at least get through the door… please. Ordering “milk” in a fast food restaurant isn’t something to be taken lightly either – at least not when you ask for it with a Swedish accent. I was the translator on site – I asked for it with my Canadian accent. No problem. Now my husband knows how I feel in Sweden when I ask for something (in Swedish) and they just stare blankly as if I’ve spoken Russian. Hello!

13. Going home doesn’t feel quite the same anymore. — While you’ve been living a harried life with a constant set of new challenges and cultural changes, everything back home feels as though it’s stayed the same. Nothing has changed while you have changed in ways you can’t even define.

14. You discover who your real friends are. While friends come and go, there are those amazing people in your life who don’t take notice of the ocean between you. It is something you will always be grateful for.  And what a lovely surprise when you realize the seed of a friendship that began in your new world continues to blossom once you’ve moved away.

15. Things are just things and people are just people wherever you go — no better, no worse, just different, even though some customs hit the weird list easier than others.

16. You feel like a real Viking — When you return to your home country again, you realize that you could do it all over again, that you want to do it all over again – only somewhere new – that there’s no mountain you can’t conquer. Hear me roar, I am Thor!

/Susan