Settling in at Svanholm

For those of you who know me well, you know I am a very linear person.  That is, I prefer to finish one thing before starting another.  That’s why after a month in Denmark I still haven’t posted anything about my life here.  My last posting was mid-way through my pre-Europe travels with Bryn and typically I would finish up that travel log before launching into something new.

However I am also feeling guilty that my non-Facebook friends haven’t gotten to see any of the photos I’ve been posting online (and those of you who know me well, also know I can really go on a guilt trip).  The guilt has overpowered my linear tendencies and I’ll get back to my travels with Bryn another time.

I’ve been living in Denmark for five weeks now.  The community members at Svanholm have been very welcoming and have provided me with a cozy room in the beautiful old manor house and a bike to use while I’m here.  Svanholm used to be a Baron’s estate and is made up of 1000 acres of both farm- and forest-land. In this photo, my room is on the first floor: the middle window to the right of the passageway, and this is my loaner bike.

And here’s the view from my window.

Svanholm has cows, sheep, pigs and goats.

The cows provide us with milk and meat for our own consumption (we eat about three cows a month). Since we only use a very small percentage of the volume of milk produced, the rest of it is sold to Hansen’s Flødeis, a nearby ice cream manufacturer.

Hansen’s was founded in 1922 and takes pride in using organic ingredients.

The sheep provide more meat, for our consumption and for sale to others. The wool is also sold for cash.  Sadly we do not milk the sheep.

The pigs are new this year. There are eight of them and they are extremely cute and friendly. I’ve fed them a few times when the two women who typically tend them have been away. The pigs enjoy getting our table scraps and get excited when they see anyone carrying the slop buckets. It will be sad when they are slaughtered in the fall to provide our year’s supply of pork.

I caught the goats napping. They have a fairly large area in which to roam and like to nibble on everything, including one’s clothes! We don’t milk the goats and, as with the other animals, they are raised for meat, both our own consumption and for sale.

The surrounding landscape is beautiful, with gently rolling hills. Denmark is quite flat, which makes for excellent bike riding.  Many roads have adjacent bike trails, even out in the country, and I love seeing people of all ages out riding bikes.

Many of the guests that come to Svanholm spend their days here weeding in fields such as this one.

An organic farm relies on human labor instead of chemicals to allow the plants to flourish.

Here’s a view of more of Svanholm’s vegetable fields. There are, of course, other fields that are dedicated to livestock and growing hay.

Svanholm has two windmills that not only provide all the electricity we need, but also serve as a revenue generator for the community. The farm also has its own water treatment system on site.

Svanholm was purchased and organized as a cooperative in 1978.  Members have come and gone over the years, purchasing or selling their shares, respectively. There are currently approximately 80 adult members and 40 children in the community. About half of the adults work off of the farm and contribute 80% of their salaries to the common economy. While 80% sounds high, keep in mind that Denmark’s tax rate tops out at about 50% and these individuals are exempt (the cooperative pays taxes, not the members), plus they receive room and board. The other half of the adults work on the farm in some capacity and receive a small, tax-free salary plus room and board.

There are three working groups on the farm that accept guests: agriculture/farming, building/facilities, and kitchen. Other community members are employed in the office, tending the livestock, at the day care center, in the packing plant, etc.    Guests work 30 hours a week and receive their room and board in return.  Guests that stay three months or longer also receive a small monthly stipend after the first month (1000 kr ~ $200).  It’s not much, but one doesn’t need much when living here.  There is even a storeroom with shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent, etc. of which anyone may avail themselves.

I am a member of the kitchen group, working 30 hours between Monday – Friday.  The kitchen group has overall responsibility for feeding everyone, which includes meal preparation and keeping the food supplies stocked for people to take home, if they choose.  Lunch is served at noon Monday – Friday in the main dining hall/”big kitchen” and dinner is served every night except Wednesdays.  Breakfasts, weekend lunch and Wednesday dinner one has in one’s “small kitchen” where one lives.

My typical responsibilities include brewing tea for lunch, making humus, skimming the fresh milk for whipping cream and coffee cream, skimming the fresh yogurt for crème frais, making cream cheese by draining yogurt, preparing vegetables and salads, doing laundry, dishes and assorted cleaning jobs. I still aspire to make cheese while I’m here and the kitchen group is supportive. I’m on the hunt for a local source of cheese cultures and rennet, as well as figuring out if they still have cheese molds and presses here from days gone by. Here’s a photo of fish caught in the morning and delivered for the evening’s meal.

Here’s a photo of a batch of freshly made humus, some for the lunch table and some for the lunch refrigerator (I know the label says mayo — the new label went on after I took the photo).

I have to admit I’ve been struggling with the humus, to get the right consistency (it’s either too dry or too soupy) and the right seasoning (I’m not aggressive enough with the spices). I’ll be making humus once or twice a week, though, so hopefully practice will make perfect!

Well, I hope that’s enough to give a sense of the place. As my Facebook friends know, I’ve been off on various adventures in the surrounding area and to Copenhagen to visit Bryn. They also have seen photos from my Wednesday night feasts with the other international guests. I’m having a very good time here and, if you have any inclination to see things for yourself, let me know; I’d love to get visitors over the course of this next year!

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Travels with Bryn, Part 2

We’d had a day of driving and a day of hiking.  It was Wednesday morning and time for us to start driving again.  We loaded our car, said good-bye to our cozy cabin in Ontonagon, and started driving east, destination: Mackinac Island.

Many of our driving hours were filled with conversation: Bryn asking me questions or me spontaneously sharing some personal history I thought might interest her.  We covered my growing up on Mob Hill (the name my mother gave to our 9-acre homestead in Columbia, Missouri, as a counterpoint to snooty Nob Hill in San Francisco), travels across country to visit grandparents located far away in California and Oregon, boyfriends from my teenage years, and the beginnings of my relationship with Mark.  Her curiosity extended beyond my memory and knowledge at some points and I had to reply that I simply didn’t know, but that one of my siblings, whom we would be reunited with on Friday, might.

Here I want to insert thank-you’s to Marv B. and Vicki K. for the chicken pasta salad and pate’s that they brought to my bon voyage party.  These goodies were the highlights of three days of picnic lunches, supplemented by veggies and crackers, as we drove across Wisconsin and Michigan.

We drove over the graceful Mackinac Bridge, leaving Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and found the ferry terminal in Mackinaw City just in time to catch the 4pm ferry to Mackinac Island.  The hydrofoil sped over the waves and the Grand Hotel came into view, its magnificent facade and mustard-yellow awnings unmistakable on the horizon.

Once ashore, a dock-hand loaded our luggage into a pushcart and led the way to the charming Metivier Inn, located just a block off of Main Street.  While we didn’t feel we could afford a room at the Grand Hotel ($300+), we had a vision of enjoying a drink on that magnificent porch, so we called to double check about the dress code (casual attire is permitted until 6pm) and headed over.

I’ll go on a tangent here for the benefit of those unacquainted with Mackinac Island.  Motorized vehicles are not allowed, nor needed, on this small atoll (2 miles wide and 3 miles long).  People travel principally by foot, by bicycle, or by horse-drawn carriage.  Year-round inhabitants number under 500, but in the summer the population swells into the thousands when seasonal workers and tourists arrive.  Mackinac Island can easily claim the most fudge shops per capita and while the downtown might be viewed as kitchy, the beauty of the rest of the island makes up for it.

Bryn’s and my Mackinac visit couldn’t have been timed more perfectly.  Since we arrived during the week before Memorial Day, the flood of tourists had not yet begun.  The local hosts and merchants, however, were already in full gear for the heavy season ahead.  And the island was abloom — the Grand Hotel had just planted their annuals and this year’s unusually early spring meant that the lilacs and flowering trees were in their full glory.

Having ascertained that we didn’t need to change clothes, Bryn and I strolled up to the Grand Hotel.  On our family visit to the island years ago, Mark and I had decided that paying for the privilege of wandering around an old hotel with two young children in tow didn’t make sense, so we had instead explored the island on our bikes.  This time, Bryn and I gladly paid our $10 and entered the historic landmark in search of ghosts from days gone by.

We made our way to the veranda, pulled up a couple of Adirondack chairs and enjoyed the view.

As six o’clock approached, the hotel staff began tidying up the porch, rearranging tables and chairs into neat groupings.  We made our way inside and encountered a lobby with elegantly dressed patrons waiting to enter the main dining hall.  There was also a woman dressed in period costume, feigning to be Jane Seymour’s character from the 1980 movie “Somewhere in Time” which was filmed largely at the hotel.

We climbed several flights of stairs up to the Cupola Bar, enjoying another fine view, along with well mixed drinks.

Thursday morning we donned our running clothes and headed out for some exercise before breakfast.  The ring “road” around the island is 8 miles, so we had in mind running part way around and then taking a short cut back through the interior of the island.  We set out going counter-clockwise and kept our eyes open for paths on our left.  The trail to Arch Rock was closed for repair so our first opportunity to venture inland was just past the three mile point.  South Shore Road sounded right, so we took it, not really knowing where we were going, but confident we couldn’t get too lost on so small an island.  The trail took us uphill and past the airport and a golf course.  I have to admit, however, that we were a bit dismayed when, after running inland for a good 30 minutes or so, we came back down to the shore and found that we were only at the five mile mark.  Still three miles to go and only a half an hour before the B&B stopped serving breakfast!

I was already running as fast as I was comfortable, so Bryn volunteered to speed off ahead and procure us our meal.  No gentle cool down that morning, but fortunately for the other guests there were seats available out on the porch.

Bryn and I visited a couple of galleries, “channeling” Mark by engaging the owners in spacious conversations about life on the island and art.  We learned that even the horses are a summer labor force that come over from the mainland to spend the summer carting tourists.  Eventually it was time to leave the island and be on our way.

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Travels with Bryn, part 1

I’ve heard from friends and relatives that they are anxious for me to continue my blog.  There is so much to tell about my new lifestyle and environs, as well as the unique community in which I now live,  it’s good I’ve got a year to do so.  For now, I’ll give an update on my travels with my daughter to Michigan for my sister’s 60th birthday bash and to Iceland on our way over to Denmark.

Bryn and I left on a girls’ road trip Monday morning after my June 20th So Long Saint Paul party.  That gave us five days to get to where Barb lives in Haslett, Michigan. Our vision for the trip was to revisit a few places that we had enjoyed years ago on a family camping vacation with Mark and Dane.  This time we wouldn’t be camping, however, so I made reservations in Ontonagon, Mackinac Island, and Glen Arbor, Michigan.

Our first two nights were spent at Petersons’ Cottages in Ontonagon, near the Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park.  I was anxious to revisit Lake of the Clouds, which we had experienced with Mark and Dane previously via an hours-long hike and harrowing bike ride.  On that earlier occasion, we had cleverly dropped our bikes off at the Lake of the Clouds overlook and driven back to a trail head so that we could complete a circle, rather than a more boring out and back route.

As Bryn and I drove up the steep road that we had bicycled down years earlier, I wondered what kind of parents Mark and I must have been to allow our young children (were they 7 and 9, perhaps?) to undertake something so dangerous.  Have I gotten wiser or just more timid with age?

Lake of the Clouds was just as beautiful as I remembered it.

Our weather in the “Porkies” was a little iffy.  It seemed like every time we got into the car, the sun would come out and every time we got out for a hike, the drizzle would start.  We didn’t let the weather stop us or dampen our spirits, however.  We hiked several trails to revisit waterfalls and get some exercise after having spent the entire previous day in the car.

A warning to unwary hikers:And now some photos to show you the beauty of the Porkies.  I had hoped to insert a slide show, but I haven’t figured out that part of this blog site yet.

And now before I publish this post, I’ll insert one more photo — this one of happy hikers:

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A New Adventure

Adventure is my theme as I prepare to leave my cozy home in Saint Paul, Minnesota to spend a year in Denmark on a communal, organic farm.  There are many reasons behind this move, which I’ll explore on this blog, as well as document my journey with photographs, tales, and reflections.

I am a novice blogger, so the reader will need to bear with me as I learn how to navigate this world of word and images.  It’s a new form of communication for me, at once both intimate and public.  One of my many goals for the year is to improve my writing style so that others will find my words entertaining, or at least interesting.

Other goals include learning Danish, seeing a lot of my daughter (the major reason for my move), traveling, processing my thoughts and emotions over the death of my husband three years ago, and figuring out what I want to do in this next stage of my life.  A young retiree at age 56, I’m ready to do some exploring, both internally and externally.  Welcome along on my adventure.

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