Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sisters Make Us Happy

Found this little tidbit online today and couldn't resist:

"People with at least one female sibling report better social support, more optimism, and better coping abilities, according to a study presented at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference. Sisters appear to encourage communication and cohesion in families."

With four girls in the family, we must be shoring up lots of social support, optimism, and coping abilities for our kids! (Well, when they aren't busy bickering about whose turn it is in the bathroom, who needs to help with the dishes tonight, and on, and on, and on. Where do you think those coping skills come from in the first place??)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Miscellaneous Quirky Things

Here are a few "quirky" things we've loved so far:

It's called "rapid salat" which means, "quick salad." I bought it because it was the freshest-looking lettuce in the produce section, but then I discovered that it is actually lettuce with the roots still attached and sold in this little plastic pot. We pulled off leaves to eat and then watered it and kept it in the window sill for almost 3 weeks, growing a few more leaves along the way!

These photos are from the Akershus Fortress in Oslo. After the Reformation, many of the catholic churches were torn down. Not wanting to waste the rubble (very Norwegian), the bits and pieces were used in new construction. If you look carefully, you can see decorative bits embedded in this quite utilitarian stone wall that is part of the fortress complex.

A colorful floral planting in a public garden in Oslo. Look closer and you will see that the centerpiece is actually different colors of chard (Swiss chard is what we know it as). Chard is an edible plant we have grown in our own garden, though not to this lovely effect! It tastes like a mild form of spinach. No one was brave enough to pick and eat this harvest, though.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Finding our Way part 2, The Library

Today we were able to make our way to the main branch of our local library. The Professor now has a national ID number in Norway, so he signed up for a library card and we all were able to check out some books in English. They have a couple of aisles of English books--not a ton, but since we've read most of what we brought so far, this was a refreshing change for us!! We were also able to find some audio books in English.

The local handicrafts group had a fascinating display, all done in felted wool. It was set up as a table setting with food and all. Everything you see in the following photos is felted wool.

Addendum: I've since found out that the national association of local handicrafts groups (Husflidslags) are celebrating their 100th anniversary. This display at the library was the local group's entry for a national display of handicrafts in Oslo commemorating the anniversary celebration. This one display was quite impressive, I'm sorry to have missed the anniversary celebration earlier in the summer!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Viking Ship Museum

Today we spent a couple of hours at the Viking Ship museum. This was quite amazing, both for how old the artifacts were and for the incredible culture they represent. Imagine one of these boats, filled with 32 (big!) guys, sailing and rowing off along the coast of Norway and down to Ireland to raid the monasteries and villages. Eventually the Vikings went to Iceland and even made it as far as what we now call Newfoundland in Canada, all in vessels similar to these (which, sturdy as they are, seem woefully inadequate for a trans-Atlantic voyage).

The three boats in this museum (these two plus a partial one) are preserved because they were buried in clay and lay undisturbed for the most part until the 19th and 20th centuries. It was typical for Viking chieftains to be buried in their boats, along with household items (their bed, cooking equipment), carts, weapons, their horses (both of these boats contained 12 horse skeletons), and even a slave or two who were killed for the funeral. Interestingly, the Oseberg Ship (second one below) was actually used to bury a powerful Viking woman and her maidservant.
The Gokstad Ship, built around 890 AD
The Oseberg Ship, built around 820 AD
Ceremonial Cart, found in one of the ships, buried with the chieftain

Thursday, September 9, 2010

What Things Cost

Before we even came, we discovered in our reading that Norway is the most expensive European country to live in. Once you get over the sticker shock and stop trying to convert everything to US dollars, it's not so bad. But, to give you a feel for the prices, here are some of the things we have bought in our time here.

I should note that food is taxed at 14%, but the tax is included in the list price. Non-food items are taxed at 25%, and again the tax is included in the prices you see. Kr is the Norwegian Kroner. Norway is not a full member of the European Union and does not use the Euro. The current exchange rate is arount 6 Kr per US Dollar.

Train ticket (one way) to nearest city (one stop from our station): 40 Kr adult, 20 Kr child under 15. This is equal to around $6.50 adult, or $3.33 child. Paul rides every day, so he bought a 30 day pass, which is cheaper if you ride often [**update: turns out I was looking at the tickets that included a bus transfer. The plain, one-way train ticket is 30 Kr adult, 15 Kr child]

Milk: 1.5 liter is 20 Kr, equals $3.33 for about 1 1/2 quart (Skim milk is even more expensive, so we have been drinking 1.5 %, much less of it!)

Apples: 10 Kr per Kg, about $0.83 per pound

Bananas: 14 Kr per Kg, about $1.17 per pound

Bread: 5-30 Kr per loaf (very big variety of bread!), which is from less than a dollar (US) to around $5 per loaf

Eggs: 39 Kr per dozen, about $6.50 US

Peanut Butter: 350g for 22 Kr (a smallish, but not tiny jar--about 12 oz), about $3.66 US

Chicken breasts: (boneless, skinless--it's hard to find anything else) 98.9/Kg, about $8.24 per pound

We bought a couple of books from the bookstore at the mall last weekend. A typical “pocket” paperback (not the larger trade paperback) was 99 Kr, or $16.50 US

Large pizza at the local pizzeria averages 240 Kr, or $40 US (we don’t eat out much, but then neither do the Norwegians)

Yummy buns with chocolate chips bought at the 7-11: 3 for 15 Kr, about $2.50 (or 83 cents each)

So, some things are much more, some about the same. The McDonald’s here doesn’t have a “Dollar Menu,” they have a special menu with items at 10 Kr, 20 Kr and 30 Kr, I’ll let you do the math!

Our Norwegian neighbors talk about how expensive things are as well, particularly food and electricity. One neighbor told me that every couple of months she goes to Sweden (about 1 1/2 hours away) to a shopping area just over the border. She can get meat and packaged items (like drink boxes, for example), for much cheaper there.

I have to admit, the quality of the food seems pretty good. However, we have found that much of the meat has salt added (even the ground beef has salt added). Also, it is difficult to find packaging in larger quantities for larger families. We are an anomaly here with our five children. Still, we are learning to be frugal and to enjoy the simpler things (like picnic lunches when we are out sightseeing). It's all an 'investment' in our cultural education as a family!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Out and About in Oslo

Another rainy day in Oslo

Despite a few weeks of on-again/off-again rain (it felt a lot like the Pacific Northwest for a while), we did spend a couple of weekend days playing tourist in Oslo. Here are some of the highlights:

The Framm Museum features the ship, the Framm, which took Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nansen to the North and South poles in the late-19th and early 20th century. The ship was actually trapped in the ice for 3 years during one expedition. The museum centers on the ship itself, and they allow you to actually board it and explore many of the areas above and below deck. The kids particularly liked the on-board part!
On-board the Framm
On-board the Framm
Oslo harbor view
 We also spent an afternoon checking out the Akershus Fortress. This is one of the oldest parts of Oslo, and parts of it are still in use as a military facility today. Lots of cobblestones, fortress walls and a castle from around 1300.
Akershus Fortress--park/square

The Police Pig
Akershus Fortress-- old barracks/prison
The kids' favorite part? The "police pig" we saw out for a walk with his trainers. They didn't tell us, but we assumed maybe he was used to sniff out narcotics or something. He was a small pot-bellied pig.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

What it looks like

Here are a few photos so you can get a sense of what our area is like. We are outside of Oslo, and near a larger town, but our neighborhood is in the countryside with small farms around.
The Stadium--soccer fields and meeting space

Horse farm the kids walk by on the way to school
Looking downhill from near the school. Our house is in the valley
Typical neighborhood (houses close together)

Friday, September 3, 2010


We had planned to have our kids attend the local public school for at least part of the time in order to meet other kids and learn more about the culture and language. We had a good meeting with the school administrators in our first week, and the oldest three were able to start attending some of the classes. After the first day or two, we decided it was actually simpler for them just to attend full time, even though the instruction is primarily in Norwegian. They bring along a book to read, or something to work on when the teacher is lecturing in Norwegian. The teachers have been very helpful, and several of the students have enough English to help our kids along as well. All three are making friends.
The school day starts at 8:30 am and ends at 2:30 pm on M-W, on Thursday they are done at 1:30, and on Friday I think they are done around 12:30. So, we should have plenty of time to do some work at home on their US studies, once the textbooks arrive with our ocean freight shipment.
The school is small, just one class per grade, but that is helpful to us as it is easier to meet people. The Norwegian love of the outdoors is evident here as well. The younger classes (grades 1-4) spend time outside each day, and once a week Middle Girl’s class spends most of the day (10 am to 2 pm) outdoors on an outing. The school has use of a forested area about a kilometer away, where there is a shelter, campfire ring, and lots of trails. The first week her class went up to pick mushrooms (there seem to be several edible varieties. They were looking for two different ones in particular and collected quite a few). The next week they were up gathering blueberries, which were also plentiful. We were invited to go along on the first outing, because it was the same day we were all up at the school to meet the administrators. It was certainly a contrast to the more structured approached in most US schools. Two classes went together, and there were three teachers along. Once up at the shelter, the kids ate their lunches, the teachers gave them some instructions about the mushrooms, and they were off to explore--most in self-formed small groups. Apparently there are very strict rules about not going near the road, but otherwise they had quite a bit of freedom. And for the most part they behaved themselves and were fully engaged in exploring the woods. Everything felt a little more relaxed and informal that I would expect back home. I talked with the teacher a bit, and he commented that he likes the outings, because it gives the kids a chance to learn by exploring and doing. I think they try to relate what they do to what they learn in the classroom, but in a very informal way. Middle Girl, of course, just eats this up and thinks Norway is the best place to go to school ever!
Walking to School
In the forest to pick mushrooms and blueberries

Listening to Norwegian

We have satellite TV in the house, so we have been watching a combination of Norwegian programs (in Norwegian, of course), UK and US programs dubbed in Norwegian (the kids’ shows in particular are dubbed), and UK and US programs in English with Norwegian subtitles. It has been very good for our language learning to watch the programs in English with Norwegian subtitles. We are getting better at picking out words, particularly written words. Many words look somewhat similar to their English equivalents (or, in some cases, a German equivalent). I like the programs for children, too, because the language is simplified and they speak a little slower.
Still, it makes for some interesting TV watching situations. The other night the Professor and I were watching a program about a Norwegian football (soccer) star who goes down to South America (I think Brazil) to coach teams of adolescent boys, many of whom live in poor conditions. We actually were quite engaged in the program, but we were also laughing at ourselves, because much of the program featured people speaking in Portuguese, with Norwegian subtitles! It’s surprising what you can catch from the pictures and context, along with the few words we recognize.
This week, we attended a parent meeting at the local school for the parents of children grades 1-4. There was about an hour-long presentation during which they introduced the teachers (I believe they told their names, what they taught, and how long they had been teaching), the principal spoke (there was a long discussion having to do, I think, with traffic and parking patterns around the school, which are complicated this year by a big construction project going on), and we heard from the assistant principal. We didn’t understand much, but you could tell by the dynamics of the group a little bit of what was going on. We were impressed by the number of parents who attended, in many if not most cases both parents attended. After the large group meeting, we met in the classrooms with the teachers according to which grade our child was in. Again, we didn’t catch a lot of words, but we could tell they were going over the school schedule, the curriculum and academic standards set up by the government, classroom rules, etc. It was fascinating to observe the dynamics. The group of parents seemed very friendly and good-natured. At one point there seemed to be a more intense discussion about something (we would have loved to know what!), but all was handled in a very congenial atmosphere. The teacher did spend a little time with us afterwards to make sure we had some idea of what had been covered. After a couple of hours, though, I amazed myself by coming away with an overall sense of what had been going on, even though I knew few details.

Finding our Way: Food

Our home is a short walk to the local train station, but it is a small station, so the trains stop here only once an hour. It is also rather expensive to take the train. But, until we are able to get a used car, it is our main mode of transportation. The Professor also can take a bus to get to work, but they run even less frequently near our house, so it depends on the timing.
Grocery shopping was our first outing. There are no shops in our small village, so until we get a car, we take the train to the nearby town to get groceries. Many days the Professor stops for a few things on his way home to save on train fare. We have learned to shop with a different mentality since we have to carry everything that we buy. On weekends, the kids all ride the train free with an adult, so we bring along extra hands then. We are beginning to find our way around the stores and to be able to interpret what we are buying. Thankfully, most grocery items have some kind of picture or drawing on them. 
Some favorite things at the grocery store:
Cheese---in a tube!
Norwegian brown cheese (yes, it's cheese)
  1. The little shopping carts just for kids (we used to have these at home, but our youngest two don’t remember them and look forward each time to pushing their own carts)
  2. The automatic bread cutting machine: bread is sold in whole loaves, you take it out of the paper package and put it through the slicing machine. Great fun!
  3. Cheese in a tube: this is something I remember from our trip to Sweden many years ago. It’s probably the equivalent of Cheez-Whiz, only tastes much better. A soft white cheese with flavorings (shrimp, bacon, ham) that comes in a tube like a toothpaste tube. Very handy for picnics and take-along snacks
  4. Many different kinds of whole-grain crackers (Norwegians eat a lot of lunch meat and cheese on bread or crackers for both breakfast and lunch)
  5. Middle Girl likes the small tubs of Leverpostei (liver paste, like liverwurst or Braunschweiger). It also comes in small individual tubs that she says the kids bring to school to spread on their bread for lunch.
  6. Only Boy has surprised us by becoming fond of the special Norwegian brown cheese. It is very different tasting, almost having a peanut butter flavor to my mind (a similar color, too). It is made from goat’s milk or a combination of goat and cow’s milk. We have sampled the mild version so far, but it comes in different “strengths.”
  7. Ice Cream bars: We don’t buy ice cream in a tub much (I know, that surprises many of you!!), because it is expensive and also hard to get home on the train. However, it is easy to find individual ice cream bars for sale around town at pretty reasonable prices. And they are indeed a step above the typical US ice cream bar. Imagine good quality ice cream dipped in a really delicious chocolate coating (not that waxy stuff that passes for chocolate in the cheaper US brands). This is a favorite treat when we are out and about. We even had a visit from the ice cream truck in our neighborhood one evening our first week here.
  8. Nøttepålegg (Hazelnut chocolate spread). Many of you might know Nutella in the US. I never bought it at home, but the Norwegian equivalent is quite inexpensive in the store brand, so I introduced it to the kids. Spread on toast it’s a yummy afternoon snack.
  9. Norwegian salmon (need I say more?). We bought it frozen at the grocery store, and it was still delicious.
Some things have surprised us. Peanut butter is readily available in small jars, and not particularly expensive here (which, admittedly, is not saying much). We have found popcorn, Cheerios, US brands of taco shells and other items that make us feel like home. But here are a few things that were harder to find:
  1. Yeast and baking powder: this was not a question of availability (of course they have them), it was a matter of finding the little packages with Norwegian labels. After 2 or 3 trips, I managed to pick up some tørrgjær and some bakepulver. A minor victory!
  2. Mayonnaise: I’m not sure whether this is something not widely available, or just something we haven’t come across yet. We are enjoying some very good mustard on our sandwiches, however, so we don’t miss it too much. We have had packaged, prepared potato salad that is quite good but tastes like it might be made from sour cream instead of mayo. This bears further investigation . . . [update note: after talking with one of our neighbors, I have discovered that mayonnaise is sold in the refrigerated section, and sometimes comes in the tubes like the squeeze cheese. Another case of just not knowing where to look. It’s amazing how much context comes into play as we look for things in the stores. What items are usually grouped together, which are refrigerated and which are not, and so on).
  3. Cheddar cheese: We have a good, all-purpose white cheese that has a little more flavor than mozzarella, we have the infamous brown cheese, we also have parmesan, mozzarella, some cream cheese (Philadelphia brand no less), but I have yet to see cheddar or other yellow/orange cheese. Perhaps our local store is somewhat limited. There is an Asian/Indian type grocery store in town as well with more imported items, so we will have to spend some time there to see what else we find.
I packed a couple of cookbooks in our boxes (along with some US measuring cups and spoons), but it will be a few weeks yet before they arrive. Without internet as well, I’m basically cooking off the top of my head. We have managed to make approximations of some of our staple dishes. I’ve also experimented with some packaged foods. Yesterday I made brownies from a mix, using the measuring cups that were left here to get 5 deciliters of water, and doing my best to interpret the basic cooking instructions based on what I already know about how to make brownies. (By the way, the package described them as an “Americansk” treat!)


luggage in the back of the taxi

We landed with all 5 kids, all our carry-on luggage, and all 10 checked items. A small miracle!! We made quite a spectacle as we loaded everything on 3 airport carts and found the taxi stand. We hired a large taxi (more like a small shuttle bus). Now, I have no idea what a “Karaoketaxi” is in Norwegian, but let me tell you, there was no karaoke as we know it in the US going on! More than one were dozing during the 20 minute drive to the house.
Our rental house is in a small neighborhood clustered roughly in a circle. The street is narrow, so we blocked traffic as we unloaded all our stuff. Our Norwegian relocation assistant was there to meet us with keys to the house. We made an improvised meal from some cans and packages the owners had left. Next to our house is a space used as a play area for the neighborhood kids. Our five were quickly out the door to try the trampoline and swings. As you can imagine, this was a great way to meet the neighbors. Several people came out to meet us, and we were introduced around. Most adults our age here are quite proficient in English. Some are more confident in speaking than others, but we are humbled by how well they do at our language as we struggle to make sense of theirs. The schools here teach English starting right away in 1st grade, although the other instruction is in Norwegian until you get to 11th grade, I think.
For as much as we had heard about Norwegians as somewhat reserved and stoic, we have been overwhelmed by the friendliness and hospitality of our neighbors. One neighbor stopped by the first night to see if she could get us some groceries while she was at the store. Another neighbor has been our source of all kinds of borrowed items. She has loaned us sleeping pads for the kids to take on overnight outings with the school, hiking boots for Young Teen, and has been my source of information on the details of daily life here. The play area is a great gathering spot, and almost every day I’m out there with something that has come in the mail or from the school that I need help translating!
After supper and some playtime our first night, we sorted out sheets for all the beds and got everyone settled. No one was awake for more than a moment when the head hit the pillow! The Professor and I were awake for a bit in the early morning hours because of the jet lag, but the kids all seemed to sleep right through. It was good to be here at last.
photos: taxi, luggage


I’m so sorry that it has taken me so long to get back to this blog. We have had many delays in getting internet set up at our house. I have not spent too much time in internet cafes with computers, because I always have my “entourage” with me needing attention. So, I will try to catch up with our activity so far. Be patient, there will be many posts in a row here as I upload things I’ve been writing along the way.
Just the checked luggage
We flew out of our local regional airport in the early afternoon, and thank heaven for a small airport in this case. We were able to go in during the late morning between flights when they are not busy to weigh and check-in our checked baggage. Basically it was just us and the airport staff, so there we were with suitcases laid out as we shuffled items and took out a few things to bring everything under weight. They thanked us several times for coming in early, and we were equally grateful that they were willing to be patient with us as we repacked. The Professor was in charge of getting suitcases weighed, and I was in charge of redistributing weight. Despite having spent most of a day with our own bathroom scale, we still played a few rounds of “this one is too heavy, this one is a little light.” Eventually we got everything in. In a couple cases we were only half a pound off, but as I told the woman at the desk, by that point I was taking it as a personal challenge to get them all under 50 lbs! I was also concerned that though they were willing to let us off with a little extra weight at the local airport, we might get charged along the way. We only sent a few things home again with the grandparents who were there to see us off. In all, we checked 9 bags and a trombone. 
Making our way through airports near and far
[A trombone, you may ask?? Only Son is missing out on his first year in band in the states, so we gave him the opportunity to choose an instrument and said we would help him get started while we are gone. The local band director invited him to come in and try a few different instruments. We own a trumpet and a trombone, so we brought those, and he tried a few other things as well. Of course, he chose the largest instrument of the ones we looked at! The band director wasn’t much help, she told him he had nice full lips as well as long arms and big hands, just right for the trombone!! I’m afraid we must have resembled the VonTrapp Family Singers at one point, with a trombone and two violins among all our luggage. When we were in line for passport checks in Dublin, one woman did ask whether the girls, who had their violins as carry-on luggage, were in Ireland to learn Irish fiddling.]
boarding our last flight
Overall the flights went smoothly and so did the airport waits. The iPods did get quite a workout, and we all began to reconsider how many things we had packed in our carry-ons as we worked our way through the European airports. In Europe we always deplaned and boarded on the tarmac, so that meant a flight of stairs. We also felt that there was just more walking to be done in those airports (but maybe that was partly subjective, since we were at the end of our journey and more tired).
Just the carry-ons!

Most entertaining things we did on the flights and in the airports:
  1. Read the safety brochure (that laminated tri-fold card was worth a good 30-40 minutes for the two youngest on the first flight. Lots of pictures I guess)
  2. Play on the iPods and watch movies. We uploaded a couple of feature movies and some short films, as well as a few new games. I don’t think the older three slept much at all, they were so busy with the new content. They also enjoyed the on-flight movie, “How to Train a Dragon,” but we weren’t lucky enough to get one of the planes where the entertainment is right in your seat.
  3. Visit the toilets (usually with Mom). I should have kept track of how many different bathrooms I saw in the 18 or so hours we were traveling. We didn’t have any accidents along the way, though. It is quite entertaining to try to fit both a mom and a young twin in an airplane bathroom, however!