Saturday, November 13, 2010

Inebriated neighbors

While I'm cozying up our house in Bellingham Peter and Conlon have been dealing with the crazy neighbor. (We have always had one, but I think she takes the cake.) The rental house in Elverum was advertised as a single family home, but has a small apartment that shares a wall with the master bedroom (in the photo above it is on the right- innocuous looking). The owners assured us the renter was a quiet woman who was never at home. We had a different experience. The first night I spent in Norway she had an all night party with loud music and at least one "guest". The following day I asked her in my limited Norwegian if we could agree to quiet hours. She was incensed, yelling in norglish, still drunk... generally telling me to piss off. What has ensued has made that look tame. Peter is seeing people come and go every hour, many drunk/ intoxicated people in our yard and the noise goes on 24 / 7. The only good thing about this situation is we can get out of our lease, as she is neither "quiet" or "rarely home".
Generally this woman is the exception of our experience in Norway. People are honest, polite and conscientious overall. BUT she happens to live a mere inches from us (now Peter and Conlon), so her obnoxious behavior has colored our experience.
We have guessed at her occupation- varying from drug dealer to prostitute. Any other explanation doesn't seem to cover what Peter is now seeing.

Friday, November 12, 2010

rental house

Juliette and I feel settled in our rental house; it has "interesting" decor- a bit of a hodge podge (naked lady painted on a screen hiding the garden tools). I just went to town putting up Christmas lights and our hodge podge of art and furniture. The result is surprising - I feel at home.
Renting is different here in Bellingham, as Peter and I have always owned our own home. I wonder, how picky are the landlords- do they think I will rid their yard of weeds (it hasn't been weeded in a year or so by the looks of it). What if the Koi fish die?? Veterinarian sued over Koi murder screams headline!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sense of Place

Juliette and I have arrived safely in Bellingham and seem to have turned back time. Fall is in the air, whereas in Norway fall was over by mid October.
We were immediately struck by how comfortable we felt in our surroundings. Bellingham has such a strong sense of place for us. Once I wrote that I wondered what is a sense of place? According to Wikipedia "Places said to have a strong "sense of place" have a strong identity and character that is deeply felt by local inhabitants and by many visitors. Such a feeling may be derived from the natural environment, but is more often made up of a mix of natural and cultural features in the landscape, and generally includes the people who occupy the place. " We both have a strong network of friends who immediately helped us feel at home here. (It helped that the weather has been gorgeous with brilliant fall colors.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010


Conlon and Peter journeyed by train to Stockholm, Sweden this weekend and really enjoyed this beautiful capital city. The highlight of Saturday was a trip to the Vasamuseet. It houses the Vasa: the only preserved seventeenth-century ship in the world. The warship sunk on its maiden voyage in 1628, and was salvaged in 1961. Over the next 50 years it was restored to its original glory. The museum was built around the ship and the ship is covered with hundreds of carved sculptures.
They also visited Gamla stan, Stockholms medeival city center where the city was founded in 1252. It is reportedly the largest and most well preserved medieval city centers in Europe. One of the smallest alleys is only 90 cm across at its narrowest point ! I am so jealous!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Traveling light

Juliette and I have just checked 5 enormous pieces of luggage at the KLM desk. We started our journey on Thursday afternoon in Elverum,loading our very heavy luggage onto a bus. The bus took us to Gardemoen airport, where we piled our belongings onto two luggage trolley’s , perching Kiwi on top, and negotiated our way to the hotel pick up. We needed to spend the night near the airport because our flight in the morning left so early (had to be at the airport by 4:45 AM). The next morning we loaded all our (by this time I thought of it as crap)luggage onto the airport shuttle and went back to the airport. There we negotiated several lines , juggling Kiwi and the enormous bags and angry passengers (caffeine deprived perhaps). One bright spot was the desk charged me only for one piece of extra luggage and not the three that I expected. (On transatlantic flights you used to be allocated 2 checked bags of 33 kg, but now the economy flights only allow 1 checked bag of 23 Kg). Of course I brought so much to Norway as I expected to be skiing here, and ski and winter gear is very bulky.

By the time Juliette and I had successfully negotiated through security I was completely sweaty and all traces of my shower and deodorant were long gone. The security worker asked me to raise my arms for the body scanner, and I almost asked him if he was sure he wanted to experience that! I suggest to weary travelers to bring a change of shirt - and burn the one you wear through all the luggage juggling, security hassles. I wish I had.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The good, the bad, and going home.

Well, I am sorry to say, I'm heading home tomorrow. I thought I'd be here for one year, or longer. BUT for the sanity of our child I'm going home tomorrow. The positives about Norway are many: progressive politics, health care for all that is easy to use as newcomer, fabulous scenery, a growing economy are among the few I can think of immediatly. Yes Norway has some downsides- it is fabulously expensive as well (399Kr/Kg for smoked salmon...), rental housing is very difficult to find, a reserved population that can be hard to get to know, and (suprisingly) a mediocre public school system. Norwegian students are in the middle of the pack among the developed nations. Both my kids were at least 2 years ahead of their grade level here in math, and were surprised at how little is required of students at school. The upside is students like school and are not stressed out, but the downside is they don't push students very hard.
Peter and Conlon will stay on longer- I may post some of their travels... they are off to Stockholm this weekend
Har det bra.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Police incident

They were locked in an embrace, at first I thought they were hugging, but as I cycled closer I saw the strain on their faces. A Burmese man was holding onto a tall Norwegian teenager and yelled at me (på norsk) to call the police. We were on the side of a busy road (Strandbygdvegen) but none of the cars stopped to help. In Norway there are three different numbers for emergencies- one for fire, one for police, and I don't know what the third one is for?? I dialed 112 and promptly forgot all my Norwegian. I was suprised how long the phone rang, but finally someone answered. I sputtered in Norglish that there seemed to be a dispute over a stolen bike and two people were fighting. The person on the other end of the phone told me to calm down (!!) and spoke no English ( I know, I know, I'm in Norway and they speak Norwegian here, but I also know all Norwegians under the age of 55 have many years of English in school). The police (politiet) were prompt in arriving and told me the young Norwegian man was under the influence of drugs. I thanked the female police officer for their prompt arrival, and she told me that I was lucky to get such a quick response. Norwegians are known for their understatement, but I wasn't sure if she was joking or just telling me the truth. I have heard from natives that there are not enough police in Norway, so maybe I (or the Burmese man) was lucky.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Translation Errors...

17-year-old with a false leg
This, luckily, is a translation error! The police blog (Østlendingen) is always interesting reading, and this article was about a young women who "borrowed" a friends ID so she could go out drinking. She has both her legs, I presume...

Internasjonal Dag

We celebrated International day at Voksenopplæring yesterday. We had an open house, with maps, food and dance from our native lands. Luckily for all, I did not dance.. However I did make some mean chocolate chip cookies, and supplied a map and some photos from Washington State. Evidently I am the first student from the USA to attend school here in Elverum. Over 32 different countries were represented, and many local elementary students stopped in and enjoyed the food (I especially enjoyed the Thai food....). I felt a bit sheepish representing the USA, as most of the immigrants learning Norwegian are from countries that are poorly understood or even recognized outside of their region (Burma, Turkmenistan..) Norwegians all know about the US (both the good and the bad, mostly they know the US from movies and films). The middle school had the day off from school so they could work and raise money for refugees. Most businesses in Elverum hired them- so they raised quit a bit of money. As homogenous as Norway is, I am impressed by the attempts I see to help newcomers integrate and feel welcome.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tractor Racing

Traktorcross (as it's spelled here- the Norwegians don't use the letter c unless it is a foreign word) is a new sport to me. Juliette and I were driving south of town this weekend and came upon some 300 folks standing in the bitter cold watching tractors speed around a field marked with barrels and flags. In the bottom photo is the winner- one Thomas Hansen!
Norwegians are a hardy bunch... BRRR.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


The kids have høst ferie (Fall Holiday) this week, so we hoofed it to London. The Ryan Air flight was cheap, and no surprises: not very comfortable. But we've paid much more for just about the same level of discomfort on planes. At least the Ryan Air folks are honest about what you are getting- a cattle like experience, no food, small chairs. I do appreciate being short in these settings, Peter's legs were crammed into the back of the chair in front of him.

My sister Caroline and her family live in London, so we have a place to stay. Her daughter Regine (above) has attached herself like a limpet to Conlon and Juliette, she loves having her older cousins come to visit. She and her older brother Clement are not on vacation this week, but we enjoy goofing off in the afternoon with them.

London is a riot of people, a real world melting pot (like a lot of big cities). We have a hard time understanding the hard core English accent- there were a couple sitting behind us on the bus that I could only understand about every 5th word. That's approximately what I understand in Norwegian! Most of the Brits who guess where we are from (by our accents) guess Canada! I imagine that's because they are used to east coast or southern American accents.

Most of the museums in London are free (which helps, because everything else is expensive). We enjoyed the Natural History Museum so much, we will return today to visit the new Darwin Center. The Natural History Museum building is amazing in itself, designed by Alfred Waterhouse, after the first architect (Captain Francis Fowke) died.
Waterhouse altered Fowke’s design from Renaissance to German Romanesque, creating the amazing Waterhouse Building.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Alces alces alces (European moose)

The train we rode to Trondeim last weekend shook violently and I wondered what had happened. The conductor said we hit a moose, cutting it in half (ugh). There are now an estimated 120,000 moose in Norway (known as elg), about 30 times as many as 100 years ago. When you consider how small Norway is relative to the US, it is an astounding number. The estimated population densities 3 moose / km sq, whereas in Alaska and British Columbia the density is 0.3 -1.2 / km sq. In Scandinavia moose numbers have increased dramatically due to conservation efforts and lack of natural predators. However natural predators, wolves and bear, are increasing in number in Norway, causing conflicts with both hunters and sheep ranchers (similar to North America).
We live in Hedmark County, which has the highest moose concentration in Norway, and issued 8,500 hunting permits for moose this year. Wildlife management authorities hope that 8,000 moose are taken in this county alone, as moose are overgrazing their habitat. Hunting is very popular in the area, and many people hunt with Elkhounds (Elk or Elg is the name for moose in all of Europe, but a confused settler called Cervus canadensis an Elk when arriving in N. America- as it was as large (almost) as a moose)

The largest members of the deer family (Cervidae), Moose are found in northern forested areas across Eurasia,
from Norway and Poland to eastern Russia, and across North America from Alaska and British Columbia to Labrador and Nova Scotia. The same species, Alces alces, occurs on both continents. This pattern of distribution
is called circumboreal. Adult stand nearly 2 m tall at the shoulder and weigh between 350 - 700 kg. They have long legs that enable them to easily walk through deep snow and fallen timber. This also makes them very dangerous to motorist, as when hit the large bulk of their body lands directly on the windshield. The Swedes developed a moose test for cars (ability to evade a large object on the road at high speed and not roll over) as well as crash test against moose "dummies". Train collisions are frequent, and Jernbaneverket (Norwegian Rail authority) is spending an estimated 80 million kroner to reduce moose collisions (fencing, clearing vegetation, and feeding stations far from the rail lines during the winter).

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cloudberry Jam

We have heard that the Norwegians prize cloudberries (multebær)above the multitude of different berries that grow wild here. The plant is very finicky and can't be cultivated commercially, making it the most expensive berry in the world by some estimates. They grow in bogs and need a long warm summer to set fruit. Needless to say that only happens occasionally in Norway, so a good crop of berries happens every 5 -7 years or so. They are most plentiful in Sweden and Finland, are listed as an endarged plant in Denmark, and can be found in parts of Canada (there are a few plants as far south as New Hampshire I'm told). I purchased 1 pound of berries (10$) at the Trondheim farmers market and made jam yesterday. Very tasty... I hear that one pound of berries in Canada runs 70$. I think I finally found something less expensive in Norway than back home.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Pulling into the train station Friday afternoon I felt I saw a ghost. No, not of a person but of a city. Trondheim harbor reminded me so much of home. The islands in the bay bared an uncanny resemblance to Lummi and Orcas, the city arrayed picturesquely on the hillside resembling South Hill. I understand how all those Norwegian immigrants came to settle in the PNW as it reminded them of home.

Mike Naylor was kind enough to collect us at the train station and show us some of the city sites. At his home we were treated to a homemade dinner Pam cooked up: a traditional Trondheim soup of lamb, potatoes and carrots. The Naylors’ moved to Trondheim 3 years ago from Bellingham (you can see their blog at They are a warm and open family that made us at ease in there home immediately. We had never met them, but felt an easy familiarity that comes from a shared experience of moving abroad. Their kids (Maggie age 13, Peter age 10, and Anna age 7) attend an international school in Trondheim, where Pam works, and Mike works for NTNU (Norwegian Technical National University , I think). They haven’t decided whether or not they are staying forever, but love Trondheim and living in Norway.

Saturday Mike walked with us to downtown (about 20 minutes), past captivating brightly painted wharfs lining the river Nid (Nidelva). We left him to work at an outdoor research fair (forskningsdagene) organized by the University, and set off for Nidarosdomen (Nidoras Cathedral). The largest medieval building in Scandinavia, it was built in honor of Olav Haraldsson . Born in 995 he was a viking mercenary who fought for the English King Ethelred and converted to Christianity. With the help of his English friends he invaded Norway in 1015, and brought the fervor of a convert back to his native land. He ordered all pagan worship sites desecrated and executions of anyone who would not convert. He was forced into exile in 1028, and tried to regain power two years later only to be killed in battle. The sited of his burial on the river Nid became known for miracles and his body was exhumed and was not decayed !! The bishop declared him a saint, and had his body was placed in a silver casket. (We have to rely on the story of the early church believers who needed a saint to consolidate their power). The cathedral, which took approximately 100 years to complete, was finished in 1152. By the way, the Danes melted down his casket for coinage in the 1537. It is awe inspiring and timeless, with the scent of candles and a deep quiet. The outside is adorned with many fantastic gargoyles posturing absurdly (sometimes obscenely) around the edge of the roof.
From there we walked to a farmers market that had incredible organic food, and spent time sitting lazily in the sun enjoying the unseasonably warm late September sun. Norwegians really know how to take advantage of good weather, people were out walking, swimming (a tad cold for that..) beach combing, and just generally happy because the weather was fantastic.
This city is inviting and relaxed, and we will hopefully be visiting it again, as there is much more to do and explore .

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Strangstadhågån Homestead

After a few misfires we met our distant norwegian relatives yesterday Doris and Anders Hagen. Anders and I are related via our mutual great great grandfather: while my great grandfather left for the US as a small boy in the 1890's, most of his family stayed in Norway. They live on the same piece of property as our great grandparents did, which is located on a hillside above Tretten. Before visiting the old family farm, they fed us a stack of waffles accompanied by delicious homemade cloudberry and strawberry jam and sour cream. Cloudberry is highly prized by the norwegians and can only be collected during years with warm dry summers, which is not what we are experiencing this summer. Their farm has an amazing view of the River Laag and its lovely valley. While they are thoroughly modern (internet, new Subaru, newer house and barn) they are restoring the old homestead (Strangstadhågån)to its original state with help from a Norwegian historical society. Anders is painstakingly fixing the old house and barn, using the same methods used by our ancestors. He uses his grandfathers' tools to cut down trees from his property, then shape them into wood beams, mud as mortar and stones also collected from the property to make a chimney and lichen as insulation. For the roof, he is shaping slate shingles originally hauled up BY HAND over 1000 ft by the original owner in the 1850s. The roof of the cow barn, which has these slates, is the original one, so these slate shingles really last! Anders really knows his stuff and teaches others the building techniques used by their ancestors. He thinks he will be finished restoring the house in a few years, then rent it out for tourists in the summer (as good as lichen is at insulation, its still chilly in - 30 degree temperatures!). Their 27 year old daughter (Ida) and her husband (Knut Erik Fryjordet) now run the farm- they have jersey cows and a flock of amazing ancient special sheep - yes that is the translated name. (Gamle spesielle sauer). This breed of sheep has been around since the age of the vikings and seem like a goat-sheep cross. They have multicolor wool, both sexes have horns and they browse instead of graze- meaning they can eat just about anything. Anders says they better suited to the cold winters and less prone to predation than modern sheep.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Snow forecast

I noticed the doors first. The automatic doors at the grocery store don't open until you wait in front of them for a second. I'm used to walking briskly out the door so I almost walked into the door at first. I realize now they are timed differently to save heat in the winter. Then I noticed the plants. Astilbe blooming in late August, as were Shasta daisies and Solomon Seal. Last week the road crews were placing snow sticks- (that's what I call them, not sure what the official term is) at the side of the road. They need to go into the ground before it freezes. Conceptually I've known that I've moved farther north, but I am seeing all the signs in front of me now. The natives love to tell me how cold it was last winter (-40 degrees Celsius briefly, stayed below -30 for at least a few weeks). I have a hard time with that concept. I don't think it is compatible with life... I hope this winter is milder (lets only go -20 !!).
By the way, snow is forecast for Friday- Brrr!

Sunday, September 12, 2010


This weekend we were suppose to hike in Jotunheimen National Park, but the weather turned nasty, and we chickened out. So off to the western fjords we went. The weather was just as miserable, but we spent most of our time indoors enjoying truly breathtaking scenery. The drive was an adventure. Route 50 travels through a high mountain plateau (Hallingskarvet) very reminiscent of Lord of the Rings, looming granite, dark brooding lakes and small alpine plants that are now in their fall colors. We expected Orcs to start lobbing boulders at us. From there the highway descends about 2000 meters to sea level in a scarily direct and narrow manner. In some places and without warning the road would narrow so only one car or large truck could pass. There were several ancient dark tunnels on the descent, and I started to believe in trolls. The view of the fjord below was fantastic and made it hard to concentrate on driving.
We stayed at Skahjem farm, in a converted sheep barn that sits in a narrow river valley surrounded by steep mountains. The sheep still live on the property, and they greeted us in typical ovine fashion (stares, a few bleets). Kiwi was intimidated by their lack of respect for her size. The accommodations were spotless, but the beds were hard and lumpy...
Saturday we took a state ferry from Flåm to Gudvangen, which took about 2 hours. Mid-September is the tail end of the fjords tourist season, so the boat was not too crowded. We were joined by several tour groups- one from India, another from Japan, and one from Wisconsin. The Japanese tourists were particularly taken with Kiwi, one gentleman took at least a dozen photos of her.
Despite the rain the scenery was breathtaking. Nærøyfjord is the narrowest fjord in the world, at one point only 250 meters across, the mountains above reach 1800 meters. UNESCO has recently granted this fjord and another farther north (Geirangerfjord) World Heritage Status. Nærøyfjord is an arm of the Sognefjord.
Sunday was also damp, and we went out for a short run in the ran alongside the fjords. Juliette noted that running was more enjoyable with such dramatic scenery! On the drive home we stopped in Borgund and briefly admired the stave church that was built in 1180. We can't wait to return to Western Norway.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Map of Norway and Sweden

I thought a map would be helpful for those who wonder why we have traveled twice to Sweden. Geographically we are closer to much of Sweden than many parts of Norway (Similar to Bellingham, where we traveled to Canada frequently). However we do have plans to see more of Norway. This weekend we will travel to Jotunheimen National Park, Norway- not far from Otta on the map. Jotunheimen translates roughly to home of the giants and has Northern Europes two highest peaks: Galdhøppigen (2,649 meters) and Glittertind (2,469 mteters). We park near the entrance of the park and take a boat across Lake Gjende to a hiking lodge. In the States we would use tents, but as all of our hiking gear is on a (slow) boat to Norway we will rough it in a lovely DNT lodge and have our meals cooked for us!

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Well, the novelty has worn off for the kids. They want to go home, or at least not go to school. They are tired of not being able to communicate in either English or Norwegian. The kids at school are very friendly but not able to really communicate in English (no, I'm not criticizing, just noting). I think they feel like bugs under a microscope. Everyone knows who they are, but they don't fit in yet and miss their good friends in Bellingham. Peter and I don't really know what they are going through: my class is made up of foreigners who also don't fit in while Peter's college has people from all over the world. I'm also an adult who doesn't have the same need for social connectivity as they do.
They both enjoy traveling and love the Norwegian and Swedish countryside. The houses are so picturesque that I expect the occupants to come out wearing traditional garb. No walmart, no Costco, no strip malls... just forest, fields, lakes and volvo's. We went to Sälen, Sweden this weekend. It is a small town with a ski area about 2 hours to the east of us. The border on highway 26 is not even noted (no customs agents or border patrol ...). I managed to lose my wallet in a small town - I guess I left it on top of the car after we purchased a map. I would say Alzheimer's is setting in but I have always done things like that. Good thing Peter has patience. I had to cancel all the cards, so we only had the cash in our wallet to get through the weekend. Lucky for us the Norwegian Kroner is worth about 1/3 more than the Swedish Kroner, so we squeeked by. We stayed in a small cabin in Sälen, and Conlon went downhill mountain biking while we hiked. Unfortunately Conlon has downhill biked in Whistler and the terrain here is tame by comparison. But they are developing the sport here, and we heard of another more challenging mountain about 2 hours further north that we will try soon. Whistler is great, but much more expensive and commercial than this area. Kiwi was frantic to catch the lemmings that were everywhere and her inner wolf has been reborn. She is exhausted now and will sleep for the next three days dreaming of little squeaky rodents for dinner.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Adventures in cooking

We have all lost weight in Norway. I can't say its from more exercise, although we do bike and walk more than we did in Bellingham. I have to blame my cooking. Peter is and always has been a wonderful cook. Twenty three years ago when I tired to make bread, to impress Peter. The loaf turned out to be rock hard and inedible. (I called it my "home defense" loaf, as it could be used to defend against home invaders) I haven't progressed much in my cooking skills since. Peter cooked and I cleaned, a happy arrangement except now I'm not working and he is. So I have attempted to cook, here in Norway, with metric units. Several errors have led to unusual results. Purchasing what I thought was tomato sauce, I ended up with baked beans! There was a picture of tomatoes on the can and the word tomatsaus. I failed to note bønner on the label, but even if I had I didn't know this meant beans. I do now. Our spaghetti was saved by another trip to the store. But I have overcooked, undercooked, melted, burnt and otherwise offended palates with my food. My norwegian instructor told me I need to learn to bake before Christmas.. I will let you all know if that happens.
We drove to the outskirts of Oslo today in our "new" 16 year old Volvo, then hopped on a bus to the center of town. Parking is free in the suburbs, as city planners want people to bus into town. Peter and I wanted to see the Nasjonalgalleriet. The kids were bored before even entering the museum; I think they spent a sum total of 20 minutes inside. The Nasjonalgalleriet (free to the public) is a smaller museum, which is ideal for me, as I could enjoy the paintings and not feel overwhelmed. There are a number of landscape paintings, from realistic to impression to modern. There is of course a good number of paintings by Edvard Munch (1863-1944). His life was harsh- his mother and sister both died of tuberculosis, and his father had a nervous breakdown. He seems to have been a tortured soul, and depicted by his most famous painting: The Scream. I wouldn't want that painting in my house; I suppose that is a testament to the awful power of that painting. He made several of The Scream, one of which was stolen from the museum in 2004. All involved have been captured and are serving jail time, and the painting was back on display in 2006. I think the painting took its own revenge...