Walking in Norway

One of the things our family is loving about Oslo and Bekkestua (the suburb of Oslo where we live) is that it is incredibly walkable. It is so walkable in fact that we have yet to even rent a car. Instead of driving to school, Maddie and Ada walk to school which is roughly a half mile one way (which means we walk at least 2 miles every weekday to pick them up and drop them off and they walk 1 mile.) John takes the train to the University of Oslo which gives takes him thirty minutes  on the train and then another ¼ mile walk to and from the Physics building. We live within a half mile of four different grocery stores which makes it pretty easy to go grocery shopping once a day to pick up ingredients for dinner that night (which make us walk more but also reduces food waste since we only buy what we know we will eat that day.) On weekends, we’ve taken the bus or train and then walked to festivals, hiking trails, museums, and more. Because of all of this walking our kids are in better shape, we are in better shape, and we are all healthier and happier. 

Norwegians when they visit the United States think it’s a little crazy that Americans drive everywhere. A friend’s Norwegian husband even took pictures of a drive-through ATM in the US in amusement because in Norway, there are no drive-thrus. People get out of their cars to walk to a bank or a shop. Another American was telling me today that she lives about ¾ of a mile from the international school and feels like she has to have a good reason to use the car to take her kids to school whereas in the states, that would be the norm. Of course, I believe most of this culture of regular activity has nothing to do with the internal make-up of Norwegians vs Americans. I think it is mostly because Oslo was designed to be a walkable and transit friendly city. Therefore, most people can and do walk and use transit (just like people do in the few walkable cities in the US like DC, New York, Boston and San Francisco).

One thing I have noticed about walking in Norway is that walking is very safe.  When you cross a road at a crosswalk, pedestrians really do have the right of way. In the US at a crosswalk, you wait until a kind driver stops to let you pass, then you cross the road while thanking them profusely for obeying the law. In Norway, if a driver sees a pedestrian even close to a crosswalk, they automatically stop and the pedestrian just crosses the road without thanking the driver. Drivers in Norway are so reliable that it is tempting not to even look to see if they will stop for you to cross because they always do!  Right now, because the sunrises at 9AM and sets at 3PM (!), the country has a huge campaign to get people to wear reflective clothing so drivers can be sure they can see and stop for pedestrians when it is dark.

Not only do Norwegian’s walk more during the weekdays to run errands and get to work or school but they walk on weekends as well. It turns out because a lot of stores close on Sundays, most Norwegian families have a tradition of going on a Sunday walk together. A few weeks ago, we decided to join the tradition by going on a 3-mile round trip hike to a restaurant in the middle of the Oslo Marka Forest by a lake called Tryvannstua. During our walk Maddie and Ada insisted on making fishing poles out of sticks and long grass:

 

You can see the restaurant peeking out from the woods on the left-hand side and John carrying Ada on his back on the very right hand side:

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Ada did walk most of they way but towards the end on the way to the restaurant, we did end up carrying her because John and I were impatient to eat lunch:

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Here’s a pic of Maddie in front of Tryvannstua cafe. We had hot chocolate, cinnamon buns (kanelbrød), Norwegian waffles (vaffles) and a prawn sandwich when we arrived. 

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It was truly a beautiful walk and makes me want to join that Norwegian tradition more often. 

Of course living in a city designed to be walkable not only makes our family healthier, it helps us have a much lower impact on the environment (30% of our emissions come from transportation in the US and walking has almost no carbon footprint when compared to driving). Designing a walkable city also makes our society more egalitarian. Why? A walkable city not only benefits those individuals who have the money and spare time to exercise on their own but it also benefits those who might not have the money or time to go to the gym. According to a 2017 study published in Nature which used activity data from the smartphones of 700,000 people around the world, walkable cities help reduce what is called a “physical activity inequality” between men, women and children in a society and the overall obesity of a society. It turns out that the number of steps a woman takes in the day is affected more greatly than a man by the design of the city of where she lives. I’m guessing this is because women are the ones with the least time to go to the gym, and have to run the most errands. It also turns out number of obese people in a country is not correlated to the average physical fitness of the people in the country but instead to the average physical fitness of woman (I’m guessing because when woman live in a walkable city and are physically active so is the entire family.) Therefore, not surprisingly, changing our built environment to be more walkable is not only good for the planet but is crucial to making our society as a whole healthier, happier, and more just. This of course is only part of the reason Norway was ranked as the happiest country on Earth in 2017 by the World Happiness Report produced by the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Thanksgiving in Norway

For the first time ever this year, I felt I would have the time to volunteer to help as the class parent representative in my child’s classroom. So far it has been a lot of fun and also a surprising amount of work. Because the preschool had an American class representative this year (me), Lena, the head of the preschool, asked us to organize a Thanksgiving celebration for the preschool. Christina, the other class representative from the UK, and Shannon, another American mom, and I had to figure out how to feed 34 children and their teachers a Thanksgiving lunch on a limited budget. Lena also asked me and Shannon to give a 15-minute presentation to teach 34 preschool children from around the world about our holiday.

Right before I was asked, I started to read “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown which is about the history of Native Americans in the US.

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So, as I was thinking about how to teach Ada’s class about Thanksgiving, I couldn’t help but sympathise with the Native Americans in the story and think about how the arrival of colonists from Europe is a moment of sorrow and not celebration for them. I’ve only made it halfway through the book but in summary white settlers and the US Government sickened Native Americans, stole and then degraded their land by chopping down their trees, and killing their game (almost to the point of extinction). The government then tricked Native Americans into signing treaties by lying to them about their content and/or making promises the government could not keep convincing Native Americans to live on reservations- basically a small area on degraded land the white settlers did not want which made it impossible for native Americans to hunt enough game and grow enough food for their communities. For those native Americans that refused to be confined to a life of starvation on the reservation, the government used our army to murder defenseless woman and children or men who had bows and arrows and who depended on trade for guns and bullets (which were hard to come by when your trading partner was at war with you).  

John at the same time was reading stories and listening to podcasts about how to teach social justice to children by talking about Thanksgiving. In any case, after doing a bit of research about Thanksgiving, I decided that I couldn’t bear to talk about this genocide to my daughter’s class of 3 to 5-year-olds. So, I decided to describe Thanksgiving as follows:

    • A harvest festival through the story of how a potato is grown. We talked about different harvest festivals from around the world (and specifically the countries Ada’s friends are from.)
    • We talked about the story of how Pilgrims came to a new country and were welcomed and taught how to grow native plants (like the three sisters- corn, beans and squash) by the Wampanoag tribe.
    • I talked about how the Pilgrims and Wampanoag’s celebrated a successful first growing season by eating lots of the food that they grew.
    • I discussed how we celebrate Thanksgiving today by eating lots of food native to the US (turkeys, cranberries, pumpkins, green beans, potatoes, etc.) and I talked about how the Wampanoag tribe is still around today.
    • I also told Ada’s preschool class how my favorite part of Thanksgiving was spending time with my family and thinking about what I was grateful for. We then asked the children to discuss what they were grateful for or how they were welcomed into a new country by their friends.

Here is a link to the presentation we put together and a pic of us presenting (note Ada was a very happy co-presenter who liked to interject comments throughout the presentation):

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Of course, I did decide to skim quite a bit of what I learned that I might have discussed if Ada’s class hadn’t been 3 to 5 years old. I might have mentioned how Thanksgiving wasn’t really celebrated until after the Civil War when Abraham Lincoln decided to make it a holiday to bring the country together. How the Wampanoags were decimated by diseases that the Pilgrims brought and the day before Thanksgiving, members of their tribe went to Washington DC to protest the fact the Pilgrims were stealing their land. How, the settlers didn’t have enough food for the Thanksgiving feast and unintentionally invited the native Americans who had to kill enough deer to feed their entire tribe for the three-day feast (there were a lot more Wampanoags than Pilgrims). After searching for images for my presentation, I found that the most famous painting depicting the first Thanksgiving is historically inaccurate (the Pilgrims never wore those hats with buckles in them and the Wampanoag tribe never wore feathered war bonnets) The painting of the first Thanksgiving also seems a bit patronizing to the native Americans as you can see below and was painted after the Native American’s had been mostly wiped out:

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After the presentation, Ada’s class discussed what they were grateful for (Ada said she was grateful for playing with her new friends, and her best friend Kiana said she was grateful she could visit her grandparents in Iran).

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They children did Thanksgiving crafts. Here is a picture of Ada with her Thanksgiving hat:

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They then played outside for an hour and a half, then came inside for lunch at 1:15 (which was good since many were eager to eat any food regardless of whether it was new or not). After a few hours of work at home (thanks to John for making a wonderful mac and cheese), and a full day of work at the preschool with other parents, here is the spread we were able to put together for the children:

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And the happy girl eating her Thanksgiving lunch:

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Unfortunately, after all this work, we decided to not celebrate Thanksgiving at our house. When everyone treats Thanksgiving day like a normal day in the week (John was working until 8pm that evening and Ada and Maddie went to school) it makes it hard to celebrate.  We considered celebrating the following weekend but Maddie had not one but two birthday parties to attend and the other American family we invited over was busy. So, instead, we invited new friends from Denmark over for a regular dinner instead the day after Thanksgiving. I have to say I did miss spending time with family and eating my mom’s delicious pumpkin pie. One thing I found out Norwegians do celebrate—Black Friday. Evidently, my least favorite consumer holiday has migrated to Europe.

A trip to Bergen

Back in the beginning of October, we took a long weekend and traveled to Bergen, Norway.

Bergen is known for being rainy, and it didn’t disappoint. It was our first real chance to put our rain gear to test.

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Maddie and Ada had a great time jumping in the biggest puddles they could find.

and with rain, you always get rainbows (even two at a time!)

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We took the Fløibanen funicular up to the top of Mount Fløyen, where it was rainy and a bit cold, but Maddie and Ada managed still had fun at the playgrounds we discovered at the top.
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Evidently parts of “Frozen” were inspired by the city of Bergen, Norway. The moss covered rocks and trolls at the top of the Mount Fløyen were reminiscent of the film.

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Here’s a picture of the Skomakerdiket, a beautiful lake that the top of Mt. Fløyen that made the perfect lunch spot, until it started to rain heavily again.
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The classic tourist photo of Bryggen, the historic shops and restaurants at the wharf.
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The Bergen Aquarium made for a great visit on a rainy morning. I find I really like museums that are small enough to fully explore in half a day.

We also had some great adventures at the science museum.

We spend an afternoon wandering around the Bergen Art Museum.

One really interesting exhibit we saw was this installation where kids could write their wishes on a star and place them on the wall. This one caught my eye. (“ikke” means not in Norwegian.)
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Becoming artists at the Nasjonalmuseet

This Sunday, we went to the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo, the National Art Museum. It was a rainy day, but we really enjoyed this trip to a reasonably sized art museum that you could comfortably visit in a couple of hours.

This museum is famous for having Edvard Munch’s The Scream, and we had to get one of us to do the tourist pose.

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This was one of my favorite paintings— it also give a good sense of what things look like around the “twilight” hour of 3pm.

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One of the coolest features of the museum was a drawing room, equipped with all the art supplies you needed to make a drawing of a scuplture of a mother and child in the middle of the room. Maddie had other designs on what do draw, choosing to draw Camille, the doll she recently got for her birthday.

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And here’s the finished product:

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One more portrait of a young artist, hard at work:

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And of course, Ada had to join in on the fun.

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And a couple more paintings that we liked from a special exhibition of Harald Sohlberg.

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London and Rebel Girls

Last week the girls had a week long fall break from school (a side benefit of having no Thanksgiving in Norway is that the first fall break is a reasonable distance from the winter holiday break) So, we took the opportunity as a family to visit London. This was the first time I’d been to London and the first time John was able to visit for a long period of time (having had an 8 hour layover in London last March.) We had a wonderful visit which was unexpectedly themed to include quite a few extraordinary girls and women we call “Rebel Girls” because of the incredible “Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls” books by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo.

The first rebel girl we saw was a fictional one- Matilda. Last spring we read Matilda as a family because Maddie’s dance recital in Middletown was choreographed to the song “Sometimes you have to be a little bit naughty” from the Matilda musical. As a belated birthday present to Maddie, my parents bought us tickets to see Matilda the musical in London the day after we arrived. The show was very entertaining, the sets were fantastic and of course we loved the moral of the story. Even Ada enjoyed it (and lately has been playing with a toy lizard and imitating Ms. Trunchbull by shouting- “There’s a newt in my knickers!”)

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This fall Maddie has continued to be obsessed with books like Matilda because her class has been reading books by Roald Dahl (like Esio Trot and Fantastic Mr. Fox) in class. Also, because Maddie’s class is visiting the Freia chocolate factory this winter, Maddie was excited to read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at home. So, at the end of our trip, at Maddie’s request, we visited the Roald Dahl museum in Great Missenden, England (according to a parent at OiS who lives 10 minutes from the town, it is nicknamed “Great Miss”) which is just outside London. There we got to see the chair where Roald Dahl wrote his books, learn about Roald Dahl’s life and where he got inspiration for his books and we got to see the Matilda vs Donald Trump statue which was unveiled in October to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Matilda. Isn’t Trump the perfect modern day enemy of Matilda (at least that’s what 42% of respondent’s to a survey by The Roald Dahl story thought)?

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On Monday the day after Matilda, we toured Cambridge with Elena Sakkalou a friend of mine from Davidson. She is a rebel girl of her own sort, working at the University College of London researching vision and cognition in infants while raising two adorable kids in Cambridge.

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In Cambridge we got to take a break at “The Eagle” pub where Watson and Crick lunched while they were researching DNA and later we got to see Rosalind Franklin’s bio, another rebel girl, at the King’s College London where she did her work on x-ray crystallography which led to the discovery of DNA.

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Tuesday the girls played at Princess Diana’s memorial playground which had this incredible sculpture:

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We also had high tea at the restaurant next to Kensington Palace (where Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Prince William, Kate and their children have their official residence):

and saw a statue of another rebel girl, Queen Victoria.

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Wednesday while seeing Parliament, we saw the new (as of last Spring) statue of Millicent Fawcett who campaigned for women’s right to vote in the early 20th century and was one of the most influential feminists in the past 100 years:

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Of course a few parts of our trip had nothing to do with rebel girls- we saw the changing of the guard’s a the royal palace,

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We went to the Natural History Museum in London where Maddie and Ada had a ton of fun investigating natural specimen’s by measuring them, weighting them, and looking at them under magnifying glasses:


We also got to tour the Science Museum and Museum of Childhood. We also went to Hamley’s, the world’s largest toy store, where Maddie bought a present (a mechanical dog that looks like Bonnie) with birthday money from Grandma and Aunt Susanne. (sorry I was too busy chasing kids to take a good pic!)

We also loved riding the double decker buses and taking the London Underground everywhere. The London Underground has 11 lines which is pretty incredible to me since it is way more than other cities I’ve lived in (DC has 6 lines, Oslo has 5 lines and Atlanta has only 2)! Maddie wants me to mention that the Jubilee line and our first train to Great Missenden were not running when we needed them. Maddie’s favorite line was the Victoria line. 

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And here are a few bonus photos of our trip- At the Roald Dahl museum we found out that Maddie is just as tall as Matilda and Ada loved sitting in Roald Dahl’s writing chair.

A few more pics from the natural history museum. Maddie wanted to show the Turtle shell to Zoey because she and Zoey (with the eco-kids club) are trying to convince others to save sea turtles by skipping the straw.

A few pics from Cambridge- John and I next to the mathematical bridge, the Corpus Clock unveiled in 2008 by Stephen Hawking featuring a beast called the “chronophage” or time eater, and punting down the River Cam.

Maddie and Ada having a blast with Lida and Andrew, Elena’s husband and daughter, at one of Jamie Oliver’s restaurants in Cambridge.

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A pic of an egyptian Pharaoh at our Airbnb which Maddie and Ada made into a shrine- offering him presents such as chocolate, jelly beans, berries and leaves they found around London. Also, a pic of me in the ever present London telephone booths.

Finally, the creative way Maddie and Ada decided to ride to our gate in the London Stansted Airport:

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The Loppemarked

A loppemarked (literally translated to flea market) is exactly that- A huge assortment of items for sale that you would find in any typical home. In the US, most of the flea markets I’ve seen are run out of a fixed location and operated seasonally by people make their living from the flea market as well as those who want to make money off their wares. In Norway, flea markets are quite different. They are basically huge yard sales organized by an organization, usually a school, that gets a lot of volunteers to help over a weekend. The volunteers are usually kids and other adults who are designated by a bright reflective vest. The proceeds usually go to the organization and the items are donated from members of the community. We’ve been told by several people that loppemarkeds in Norway usually happen in either the fall or the spring and they are great places to buy used skiing equipment.

We’ve been to three loppemarkeds so far and the kids and I love them. At them you can find separate areas for toys, clothes for men, women, and children, sports equipment (skis, skates, bikes, you name it), appliances, housewares, and picture. Since everything is donated and run by volunteers, everything tends to be very cheap.

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I come from a family which takes some pride on being frugal or at least finding good deals on purchases which, as John will attest, has manifested itself in my life as being unwilling to spend money on much of anything. (In fact, I remember as a girl being quite pleased with gifts from my grandfather’s brother (who was by no means poor) from his regular dumpster diving trips.)

My work in sustainability has only strengthened this impulse as I see every purchase as having a large amount of negative consequences for both people and our planet both up and down the supply chain as well as the waste of the product being discarded once it is no longer needed. Add to all of that the fact that we are in Norway where everything is at least 50% more expensive than the US and the fact that we literally can not bring home more items than those we brought here, my aversion to buying anything new here has only strengthened. Despite or perhaps because of all of this, I love shopping at loppemarked’s especially because there are quite a few things most Norwegian’s have for the winter that we simply didn’t bring from the states. Since the burden of both the cost and the guilt of the environmental impact of the item has been born (mostly) by someone else I don’t mind buying a low cost item that will not only help our family enjoy the winter here, but also benefits the school where we bought the item, and in April will benefit the international school’s loppemarked (which I’ve already signed up to help with and will happily donate everything we can’t carry with us back to the states). Anyway, here are a few purchases we’ve made so far at the loppemarked’s:

  • Toys (at two loppemarked’s we allowed Maddie and Ada to pick out one toy which cost a total of $2 which totally made their day.) I went to one this past weekend by myself to do a little Christmas shopping and came back with a large bag of toys for $30 which made my day.
  • Skis- we bought cross country skis, boots and poles for all four of us and downhill skis for me all for $200.
  • Ice Skates- So far we have ice skates for me, Maddie and John bought for $40 total.
  • Sled- $6
  • Norwegian Waffle maker (we’ve been making Norwegian waffles every weekend since and they are amazing) and hand blender stick/whisk (for warm winter soups)- $30

 

September happenings

It’s been a while since I’ve posted—I need to write an update of everything that has been happening at the University—things are getting pretty busy. But in the meantime, here’s a bunch of stuff that happened in the last month.

Ada got a scooter, which she’s riding everywhere.
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More silly antics on the bus.
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In early September, we went to a festival in Oslo celebrating food from all over Norway. One of the coolest things was this stockfish, a dried fish that you have to hit with a hammer in order to loosen up edible bits. We all bought Norwegian food for dinner but our favorite was the fiske soup- a creamy fish soup with chive oil on top.
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We’ve gotten some use out of our rain gear, but it hasn’t been a necessity until we went to Bergen for a long weekend (post forthcoming). Here’s a photo of the girls walking to school in the rain.
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Diana and I went on a date to tour the Norwegian Opera house, which was amazing. I’m excited to go back there to see a ballet performance this Saturday.
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This was the stage for the ballet production of Hamlet. Each step of the stage could articulate in or out, while the huge door in the center moved around in a circle. It was some incredible stagecraft.

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Here’s a photo of Ada and her friend Kiana whose parents are from Iran waiting for the start of school.
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I’ve always loved the sunsets in Delaware, but I’ve discovered that beautiful sunsets happen in Norway, too.
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One Friday night we went to the Oslo Teknisk Museum for culture night. The kids got to enjoy liquid nitrogen ice cream and make paper rockets. I definitely want to go back to this museum.
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Here’s the launch of Ada’s rocket.

Here’s a cute picture of Ada and Maddie walking through Sæteren Gård after the OIS family hike.
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Maddie and Ada also made a fun reading nook in our apartment by pushing out the bed from the wall.

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One weekend in September, we took a short trip to Bæerums Verk, a historic town west of us for a small festival.

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Jumping into hay

Listening to some Norwegian folk singers.
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On the fall equinox, we went down to central Oslo for a festival where we listened to a couple of bands perform, and walked along the Akerselva river, which was lit with luminaries, and featured a number of art and music performances along the walk.

Ada loved listening to the marching bands before the walk got started.

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Here’s some art we saw along the way.
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On weekends, it’s pretty common for organizations (mostly schools) to hold Loppemarked—a giant flea market, featuring all all sorts of things for sale, along with Norwegian waffles and polse (hot dogs), all of which you can pay for using your smartphone.
We landed an amazing deal at this market—$100 for cross country skis and boots for the family.

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Later that day we went to Folk Museum. Here’s Maddie with Princess, a toy she found at the Loppemarked, that we tragically lost at a bus stop a few hours later.

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After school on Tuesdays, Maddie has been taking cooking class with a French chef. Here’s one of her creations.
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Diana and I also went on a date to Fornebu, a peninsula into the Oslofjord that was once the main airport, but as you can see, has now been redeveloped into a beautiful park.
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Another weekend adventure took us to the botanical gardens. Here are pictures of Maddie and Ada “posing.” Maddie is wearing a very thick Norwegian sweater we bought at a thrift store.

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