Living life to its fullest in her adopted country, Myra Lehmann shares her interesting background and the path that took Myra, her husband and daughter to Sweden many years ago. What was intended to be a one-year stay has turned into almost a 50 years residency. Myra explains her volunteer activities as well as her devotion to Sew Powerful. She even greets us in Swedish to start our talk.
Myra Lehmann Reporting From Sweden
IN THIS EPISODE
Sweden, University of Arizona at Tucson, hybrid barley, American girl doll, Ikea closet system, Qigong, Tai Chi, Vasa Order of America, growing pumpkins and strawberries, Bisquick muffin recipe, Louis’ pumpkin patch
We are Sew Powerful, How a Global Community of Seamstresses Is Changing Zambia One Girl at A Time, 2nd edition. By Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, © 2016 & 2020 Jason G. Miles and Cinnamon, all rights reserved.
University of Arizona, https://www.arizona.edu/
Ikea closet system, https://www.ikea.com/us/en/
Vasa Order of America, https://www.vasaorder.com/
Betty Crocker/Bisquick muffin recipe, https://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/sweet-muffins/34491828-ab4a-4880-9984-f77c182c414c
ABOUT THE SEW POWERFUL PODCAST
The Sew Powerful Podcast shines a light on the people behind the mission to keep girls in school and create purposeful products in Zambia. Join us every week for a new 30-minute episode to meet new people, hear inspiring stories, and learn how you can join us in this global movement. Whether you sew or not, make purses or not, you will find something to enjoy in every episode. Listen today.
Host: Jan Cancila
Guest: Myra Lehmann
Jan Cancila, Host 00:04
Welcome to the Sew Powerful podcast. This is your host, Jan Cancila. You know the sound of my sewing machine means it's time for another episode. So, let's get started.
Hello. Today we are going to be speaking with a purse maker who lives in Europe and she's going to tell us exactly where in just a moment. You are going to meet Myra Lehmann who is very active in her adopted home country, and she practices Tai Chi. She's a baker. She's a purse maker, and she is just a wealth of knowledge. So, let's get right to it. Hello, Myra. How are you?
Myra Lehmann, Guest 00:48
Hi, Jan. I'm just fine.
Well, end the suspense. Where are you speaking to us from today?
From Sweden. The city we live in now is Skovde. By train takes us two hours to get to Stockholm.
Well okay, since you're in Sweden, say hello to everyone in Swedish if you don't mind.
Sure. Hej all val Komna till Sverige. I said Hello, everyone. Welcome to Sweden.
Oh, that's lovely. So where are you from originally?
I'm a Hoosier. I was born in Indianapolis, Indiana.
So, the area that you live in, in Sweden, how would you describe the topography? What is it like? What is the weather like?
Strangely enough if I talk about the climate, it often mirrors what is in Indiana, except that our summers do not get as hot.
Interesting. Now Myra, you live in an apartment in Sweden? I can see, and I know our listeners can't, but I can see your very cozy sewing alcove right there. Can you describe what you have and how you set that up?
Yes. Well, I call it my sewing nook.
And it's an Ikea closet that you can put either shelves or you can hang things in. And it's double doors, and then they have something called a pullout drawer. And when I close the doors, then it's a mirror. I have a wall of mirrors here. I can sit here day or night. And so, and if somebody comes and I want to put things away. All I do is close the doors.
Well, that's very clever. I see a bunch of red notebooks up there. Tell us what those are for.
Yes, they are filled with patterns from Pixie Faire. Like many other people I discovered Pixie faire years ago, started sewing as many others start started sewing American Girl doll clothes for our two granddaughters. For the first Christmas after they got their dolls, I had all of these original American Girl doll patterns, and they each got to choose one of the girls. And our oldest granddaughter chose Kiersten which is a Swedish girl. So, she has the whole Kiersten wardrobe and the other one has Samantha's and then I got to looking for patterns and the rest is history.
Well, absolutely. Okay. Well, we're gonna get into a lot more about sewing here in just a minute. But I want you to talk a little bit about how did you end up in Sweden? Why Sweden and when?
Well, we have been here since 1972. I met my husband at the University of Arizona in Tucson. And I was right out of high school and got a job there and as a secretary in the College of Agriculture. And he was a grad student at the time working on his master's, and and we got married. And further down the line, there had been someone visiting from Sweden, in Tucson, and when he came back to Sweden, he was supposed to start a research project working on of all things, hybrid barley. And then as soon as he got back here, he was promoted to head of the department. So, they were looking for someone to take over this program. And he knew that he had worked with Louis at the time. And he heard through the grapevine that Louis was working for a job and so Louis was offered to come to Sweden for a year and start up this research project, get it going. After a year, if it was going good, we it would either be extended or either part could say goodbye. So, we said, okay, we can do that for a year. And our daughter, we have one daughter, she was not quite two at the time. So, we said, Yeah, well, we can stay a maximum of five years because we want to get back to the states before she started school. Well, famous last words. We're still living here. Well, she lives here. That's why we live here.
We can walk to her house in about 20 minutes.
Oh, very nice. Well, okay. So, besides your family, you keep busy with quite a few other activities. Yeah. Explain to us what Qigong is.
Well, I lead groups in both Qigong and Tai Chi, and Qigong is slow exercise. If you think of Tai Chi as being slow, Qigong is also slow. The difference is that in Tai Chi, you're moving, and you do things in a certain sequence. Whereas in Qigong, you just do one thing several times, and then you'll do another thing.
How many people think it's easier to do Qigong, but Tai Chi, I teach for fall prevention.
Oh, nice. Very nice. Okay. And you also belong to another group. And I might not be pronouncing this correctly. But is it Vasa Order of America?
Yes. And that is a friendship organization between Sweden and the United States. If we go back to the beginning of the 20th century, in the late 1900s, there were actually more Swedes living in New York City than in Stockholm. There was a huge migration from Sweden. And it's much the same reason as why people went from Ireland. They were having difficulty growing enough food for everyone. And someone went to the states, sent back these terrific letters about how great it was. And a lot of them went up to Minnesota and found areas that reminded them of Sweden, and hey, at that time, free land, they could become farmers and own their land.
Well and now speaking of farm, I've seen something on your Facebook page called Louis’ Pumpkin Patch. Explain who is Louis and what is his pumpkin patch?
Well, Louis is my husband. And he has been growing pumpkins since he was 10 years old in California. And ever since then that's been his hobby. So, he started growing pumpkins when we lived down in southern Sweden, and there he had quite a large area. And we had difficulty getting rid of all of them because this was his hobby. It wasn't his day job. And he didn't grow just pumpkins for Halloween. He would have over 200 different varieties
Oh, my goodness.
at one time, and he's grown probably 300 altogether. But today, it has gone down. After we moved here, we've been along on a harvest festival at the end of every September. And it has been the place to go for people who wanted pumpkins or winter squash. In Sweden, everything that we would call winter squash they call pumpkins. So that's all.
Why don't we take a quick break and listeners have a paper and pencil ready because when we get back, Myra is going to share her recipe for strawberry muffins, and she posted a picture. They look so delicious. You're going to be surprised with the main ingredient is so let's take a break. Listen, listen to our message here but get your paper and pencil ready. So, we'll be back in just one minute.
Have you gotten the second edition of the We Are Sew Powerful book? This updated version of the original bestseller, 4.9 out of five stars by the way, is again authored by Sew Powerful co-founders, Jason and Cinnamon Miles. It is available on Amazon in paperback or for your Kindle reader. This latest edition is packed full of moving stories about how Sew Powerful came to be, the volunteers who make it happen, and the way this small movement has grown into a global mission to break the cycle of poverty through education and the dignity of work. And don't forget when you place your order if you use smile.amazon.com and designate Sew Powerful as your preferred charity. Amazon will donate a portion of your purchase right back to Sew Powerful. And now back to our podcast.
Welcome back. We have been speaking with Myra Lehmann, and she is in Sweden, and she has been sharing her very busy life with us. And she's very active on Facebook and posted a lot of really delicious looking baked goods. And so, I'm pressing her for the recipe for her strawberry muffins. So, Myra, tell us about these muffins.
Well, I use Bisquick, that's my big secret. And so, you can go on Betty Crocker's homepage and look up Bisquick recipes. And that's it. They have a recipe for berry muffins. And I think that's the one I use. And the reason that I've been making strawberry muffins is that I showed you what our balcony looks like. And there's a large planter, the whole width of that. And most of ours is taken up by strawberry plants. So, the strawberries I've been using now are from last year's crop. So, I'm trying to empty my freezer before the new ones start coming. Because last year, Louis would go out about every other day and pick about a half a gallon of wonderful, wonderful strawberries, nice and sweet and big. So a lot of them ended up in the freezer, because no way could we eat that many every other day.
Oh, my goodness. Well, okay, now, how has COVID affected life in Sweden, and how has it impacted your ability to travel to the United States?
Well, as far as traveling to the United States, we were headed there when COVID hit and when the boundaries were closed to the United States, we were supposed to fly to Texas just a couple of weeks after that. We consider ourselves lucky. Lucky that we fastened on this side of the Atlantic so that we could be at home. But we would have spent time there. And then we were going to take a cruise back. And that cruise was also cancelled.
As far as affecting, yes, it has had an impact. But we haven't had any complete shutdowns as a lot of places have had. The only thing that's been completely shut down have been the elderly care homes, because some of them were hit very hard in the very beginning. But we haven't been wearing masks. It's only been more recently that they asked us to have masks on if we're on public transportation. A lot of people will will wear masks to the grocery store. And we have found a time to go shopping when no one else is there or very few people. And the only others we see are other retirees. And we're all usually wearing masks. There has been no law. I know we spent some time in Spain now over Christmas to New Year. And there it was the law. As soon as you went out the door you had a mask on. And here it's more if there's a crowd, if there's more people. Where we live, we're close to very nice walking paths and nature. So, you see people out walking, and we meet our neighbors outside and say hi and everything.
I saw before a tub of purses that you had intended to bring to the United States that you've been making. So, tell us a little bit about your involvement with Sew Powerful. How did you hear about it to begin with?
Well, the same as I know other people have heard. It was somehow through Pixie Faire. If it was in one of their emails, I can't remember. But I saw something about it. And I started looking at it. So I decided to make some purses and take with me to the states. So those were the first ones I took. And I thought it was a great ministry. And the thing that caught my eye was the fact that you're helping them to help themselves. You're not just giving them money; you're just giving them things. They produce their own things. And as you know, it's a viable enterprise.
Sure. And so, you were taking the purses back to the United States because it was more economical to ship them within country. Is that right?
Yes, that's part of it. And right now, I've been considering shipping. But the past year, the mail between Sweden and the United States, it's taken a month for just a regular letter to get back and forth. So, put them in the in the bottom of my suitcase, whatever suitcases we have. And then I bring new supplies back.
Well, that's very cool. Well, and I do want to say that we do have in some countries, a purse collector, so that you can mail within country and then the purse collector consolidates and ships them all to the United States, usually in the fall of the year, or when she gets a good quantity. So, I don't know if it's better for you to ship to Sandy Simm in the UK, or Elaine Swords in Scotland. But we do have, you know, those couple of options. Do you have any advice or suggestions for listeners who are international? What rewards and what challenges might they face by being a part of Sew Powerful? What have you experienced?
Well, I think my reward is I enjoy sewing as everyone else does. I don't need any clothes anymore. And of course, I sew a lot of doll clothes still. But it's something that I feel that I'm helping someone, and if I can help keep even one girl in school, that's a win. And I've been rereading the Sew Powerful book. I bought it when it very first came out, I was one of the first ones to download the Kindle version. And so I've been rereading that now. And I just agree with everything that's in that book. My one, if you want to call it a problem. The Swedes are very good at English. If you meet anyone, I would say 50 or under, their English is going to be extremely good. But people who are 65 and older here didn't start learning English until they were older. Here they start learning English in school, and I think it's a third grade. And of course, they hear English all the time. So that's part of life. But like I say, when you get the older ones and the ones that I would be talking to about sewing, I would have to tell them in Swedish. I actually sent the pattern to one of my Tai Chi participants. And I know that she has done one purse.
And I think she'll continue but right now she's at a at her summer cottage. So, I'm anxious to see how she followed the instructions. And she got the size right and all that. Because here we use centimeters. And of course, if you cut out the pattern, you have that. But if you're using a rotary cutter, you're going more by measurements.
And I'm anxious to see if she got the strap the right length. I told her what it was in centimeters. And so I would have to explain all of these things. If I go somewhere, I very seldom use a purse. But if I'm going to use a purse, I grab one of the Sew Powerful purses and take it with me. And if I get a chance, I tell about it. And so, I've had several people here, give me fabrics to use to make purses.
Oh how nice. Very nice. Well, Myra, I want to thank you so much for your time and sharing your fascinating life and background. Oh, my goodness, and you know, I often say since I've retired, I've never been busier in my life, and that probably applies to you as well.
I worked 20 years in a bank here in Sweden. And it seemed like, you know, I come home from work, and I would sew in the evening I sewed all my daughter's clothes. I sewed shirts for Louis. And you see big tears on his face today because I haven't sewn him a shirt in, I don't know when, and he's wondering when too.
Keep making purses.
Yes, yes. And it just seems like I honestly don't know how I ever had time to work, because I do have a lot to keep me busy. And I have not been bored one single day since the pandemic started.
Well, that's right. Well, Myra, again, thank you so much. It's been a joy to speak with you. We look forward to seeing your posts in Facebook.
All right, bye-bye.
Thank you, bye-bye.
If what you've heard today inspires you to want to make a difference, I urge you to explore the Sew Powerful website at www.sewpowerful.org. That's SEWPOWERFUL dot ORG. The website has great information about the organization. It's where you can download the free purse patterns or even make a donation. We hope you will join us again next week when we bring you another Sew Powerful story. Thanks for listening. Now, go out and have a Sew Powerful day.
ABOUT THE HOST
Jan Cancila has been making purses for Sew Powerful since 2014. She serves the organization as Director, Global Volunteerism, the Area Manager for Shows and Events-Mid/South USA and as the Houston Regional Coordinator. She was a public speaking major at Hanover College and holds an MBA from Our Lady of the Lake University. Jan had a 25-year career with The Coca-Cola Company before owning and operating a linen and party rental business in Houston. She is married with two grown sons, a lovely daughter-in-law and two remarkable granddaughters. Jan’s published work includes more than 100 online articles for Examiner.com. Reach Jan with comments or suggestions at email@example.com.