Last days in Norway

Our last days in Norway were a whirlwind of activity and sentimental emotion. Here are a few highlights from the last weeks. I volunteered at Greenpeace for the last time (towards the end of the year, I got to keep the volunteer community informed of activities by putting together a monthly newsletter). I didn’t get a picture of the people I volunteered with but here is a pic of the volunteer office that I helped decorate:

Ada and Maddie got to participate in a field day the last full week of school which they both enjoyed. Here are some pics from Ada’s field day: 

And Maddie’s field day (Maddie is seen here with her best friend Berrett who moved to Norway from Virginia Beach this fall):

Ada then participated in a preschool graduation ceremony and party (which I helped organize with the other class representative setting up decorations and spending a day buying presents for 36 children and 9 teachers and teaching assistants.) The ceremony was super cute, but for some reason, Ada refused to participate normally (possibly because she hates getting her picture taken or because she was simply in a bad mood). For example, Ada sat there glaring at me while all her classmates sang a song about flowers and bees.

When her friends were showing off their yoga moves, Ada simply sat on the ground and when it was time for her to walk to get her graduation certificate and rose, and she did not stand up and walk to her teacher; instead, she remained on her bottom and scooted to her teacher. It was pretty hilarious.

She did fully participate in the ice cream party on the playground after the graduation ceremony. 

Because international students move so frequently, every year the school has a “leavers assembly” where students watched a slide show about the year (which made me cry for some reason). Here is a link to the slide show:

Students then stood up when their name was called to indicate they weren’t coming back. Here is when Maddie stood up:

John, who has really enjoyed working with the University of Oslo this year, was grateful when his colleagues put together a small goodbye party for him at the University: 

Below are pics from the last time we walked to school and dropped off the kids at the playground:

The afternoon of the last day of school, Maddie’s friend Saya and her mom, a very kind woman from Japan who I’ve befriended, invited us over for a playdate followed with an impromptu invitation to dinner- sushi, miso soup, and japanese pancakes. Here are a few pics of the afternoon/evening:

The day after the last day of school, we immediately left for Sweden as described in this post. We then headed back home to finish up packing. We decided to “Project Zero” our leave-taking by selling, donating to organizations or giving away to friends every reusable thing we couldn’t take home with us. I was so grateful that we were able to donate four large grocery bags of opened and unopened food to Fattighuset, an organization that helps refugees in Oslo, our unsold skis and skates to BUA so others can borrow them for free in the future, and many toys to our local loppemarked.  Miraculously, we were able to fit everything we wanted back to the US in 12 suitcases and 4 carry-on items (including all our ski helmets and a used mini-scooter we picked up for $5 that Ada fell in love with this year!)

Aside from packing we did have enough time our last weekend in Norway to return to Sandvika, the beach where John took the girls last July on their first fun outing in Norway.

On our last day, we visited Eckerberg park where Evard Munch painted the scream,

and celebrated our anniversary while watching the sunset over Oslo for the last time.

We really have had an unforgettable year in Norway.

Spring into Summer

Here’s a menagerie of highlights and activities from April, May and June that didn’t make it into our other posts:

In early April, the water returned to the fountain outside our local shopping center, which made for the perfect wading pool.

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On May 1st, we took the ferry from Oslo to Hovedøya, a beautiful island in the middle of the Oslo fjord where the kids played on the beach and tried to swim in the freezing cold water.
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We participated in the national beach cleanup day in Sandvika, and Maddie and Ada were awesome at spotting some crazy trash in the water, including one old tire caked in mud.

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In late May, the flowers were really in bloom.
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Random market day in Bekkestua where the kids got their face painted for free


and rode on some robot animals


Doing an experiment with gummie bears (courtesy of Ana Gabela):


One of the great things about this year was spending one day each week on a “date day”, and for our 2nd to last date day, we chose to walk the Akerhus river, through the center of Oslo.

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It’s a beautiful 8km walk, that includes some spectacular rapids.

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For our last date day, we toured the Oscarshall, the royal summer palace—That’s Oslo in the background.

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Maddie’s spring concert school

Maddie’s piano recital

In June, John’s boss had us over for a traditional Norwegian waffle brunch, and the girls loved playing on their trampoline, which you’ll find in just about every Norwegian backyard. IMG 6662


The next day, we explored the Oslo waterfront one last time, taking a short boat ride from one side to the other, which gave Ada the chance to make many faces. Also notice the blanket in June—temperatures were in the low 50s. 


Joh and Ada on the boat:


A few days before the end of school, we got to see the local professional soccer team, the Stabæk football club, play at the stadium right behind the girls’ school. Unfortunately, Stabæk lost, but we had a good time cheering them on. 

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A mother in Ada’s preschool who is from Finland but had been living in Singapore offered a thump boxing class for school parents. Diana was able to attend the thump boxing class once a week throughout the year and had a great time getting to know other moms and learning how to box (though she was sore after almost every class!)

Diana also ran up the steps of the famous Oslo Holmenkollen ski jump with a few other moms from the school on a spring day (and was again very sore afterward!)

Ada was so glad that it was warm enough to ride her scooter again:

Sweden…and back again

Back in April, when Diana went to Iceland for the weekend with her friend Mimi, I decided to be adventurous and take Maddie and Ada on a weekend trip to Stockholm.

We left right after school for a six hour train ride to Stockholm. Here are Ada and Maddie about 4 hours into the train ride, somewhere around their usual bedtime.

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And here they are around 11 at night on a Friday when we finally arrived at our AirBnB

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We stayed in an apartment in a beautiful 400 year old building right in the middle of Gamla Stan, the historic heart of Stockholm.

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Of course, the first thing we did was go and see the Nobel Prize Museum.
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We spent most of our time searching for artifacts from Marie Curie, but the girls did complete a cute “Road to My Own Nobel Prize” activity…
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Which did lead to a (chocolate) Nobel Prize

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For lunch, we had the traditional Swedish meatballs,

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followed by ice cream (blueberry lavender flavor).

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We took a ferry over to Junibacken, a great kids play area themed around Swedish children’s stories, and the girls played on a sledding simulator that let you pretend you were going down a long and winding sled run.

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Shortly after our adventure at Junibaken, Ada started to complain that her tummy hurt, and Maddie was weary from all of the walking. We made it back to our AirBnB, and I thought we’d try for dinner nearby after a short rest. Unfortunately, just as we got to the restaurant around the corner, with me carrying Ada, she began to tap on my shoulder as I inquired about a table. When I looked at Ada, I saw her hand was over her mouth, and so we quickly ran from the restaurant, getting out the front door just in time for her to throw up over me and her just outside the front steps of the restaurant.

And so we trudged back to our AirBnB to got cleaned up, ordered some Chinese food on delivery, and capped the evening with some videos.

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On Sunday, we went to the National Museum of Science and Technology in Stockholm, before catching a 3 hour train followed by a 3 hour bus ride back.

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All in all it was a great trip, and reminded me that Maddie and Ada are becoming very good traveling companions, and that I should stay open to last minute adventures.

For much of this spring, we’ve been thinking about what to do for a final trip after the girls completed school. At first, we wanted to visit Lofoten, a beautiful part of northern Norway, but all our research seemed to indicate that it would be pretty hard to see all that we wanted to see without a car. And, in order to drive in Norway, we would need to complete the very expensive and difficult driving test, which didn’t seem worth it.

So, we decided to make a return to Sweden, this time to revisit Stockholm with Diana, but also to see Midsomer, the Swedish celebration of the summer solstice.

After Maddie and Ada finished school on June 20, we took a bus to Karlstad, Sweden, and rented a car—a tiny Volkswagen Golf with a manual transmission. Even though I’ve loved not driving for the past year, it was nice to get behind the wheel of a car again. It was way less nice when filling up a little more than half a tank of gas. Roughly 25 liters of gas (about 6 gallons) cost us nearly 50 dollars! It made me very glad we had abandoned our original idea of renting a campervan and driving around Sweden.

Our first destination was just outside the town of Leksand, in the Dalarna region, which is home to “real Sweden” everyone told us, and the place everyone goes to celebrate Midsomer. And they were right—Dalarna is beautiful. Everywhere along the roads you see beautiful pink, and purple wildflowers, and this was the view outside our hotel window.

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The big celebration of Midsomer takes place in the afternoon on the Solstice, and centers around decorating a maypole, and then heaving it up into standing position in an intricate process using several pairs of long wooden sticks and lots of people.

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Once the pole is lifted, everyone dances around it to Swedish folk music.

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This process takes a while, and it involves a lot of instructions in Swedish, so Maddie and Ada weren’t so thrilled that we saw 3 maypoles being hoisted on Midsomer weekend, including one children sized one that Ada helped to decorate.

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Adults and children (boys and girls) also wear crowns out of wildflowers, and here is Ada, somewhat reluctantly modeling the crown Diana made for her.

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At our last May pole hoisting, Maddie and Ada really just wanted to run around and play.

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Dalarna is also famous for the Dela Horse, a red wooden horse hand painted in folk designs that has become a national symbol of Sweden. We spent an afternoon visiting a factory for these horses and painting our own versions.

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We also visited Sommarland, a small amusement park near Lekesand. Like the amusement park in Lillihammer we visited, Sommarland was more low key, and seems to operate under the principle of providing fairly unstructured opportunities for kids to have fun. In this case, there was a small 1.5 foot deep lake in the middle of the park, and boats of all types—canoes, kayaks, paddleboat for kids to just take out. There was also a BMX bike course set up, and kids (or adults) could just borrow a bike and take it out on the course. There are also plenty of water slides. The 60°F temperatures didn’t seem to bother most kids, but after about 20 minutes of splashing around in the kiddie pool, Maddie and Ada decided they were cold, and so we spend most of the rest of our day doing activities on land, like jumping on a giant inflatable air bag.

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And driving small electric vehicles around a kid-sized city. The awesome thing here was that kids were basically free to use these vehicles for as long as they liked, taking turns when another child comes around wanting to drive—no queues or timers necessary.

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And here’s Ada on the bungee trampoline, which she loved

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Followed by a dive into a big air bag

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Following these adventures in the heart of Sweden, we drove to Stockholm, and one of the first things I noticed was how compact the city is. When we were half an hour from our hotel in the center of Stockholm, we were still on a four lane highway, passing farms on both sides of the road. I’ve noticed the same thing in Oslo, too, and am told that the forest line is almost sacred in Oslo, and there are many regulations to combat city sprawl.

One of our first stops was a playground in a local park in central Stockholm. They had these amazing tricycles that kids could add trailers to in all sorts of configurations. They also had people working at the playground who were constantly organizing toys and games for the kids.

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We also visited Skansen, an incredible open air cultural museum, zoo and amusement park, all in one. You can tour complete historic Swedish farmhouses and villages from different time periods. When we arrived, a flock of sheep were being herded down one of the roads, and Ada followed them all the way back to her pen.

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Here is Ada in the zoo part, looking through a plastic bubble at a rabbit exhibit.

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We also visited the Royal Armory, which presented a good history of the Swedish monarchy, and some very beautiful carriages.

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On the way to the Armory, we also made a visit back to where Ada threw up on our last trip to Stockholm.

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Stockholm has a small butterfly museum/shark exhibit that we visited one morning. Here are Maddie and Ada admiring the emerging butterflies.

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On our last day in Stockholm, we boarded a ferry with the intent to spend the day visiting the island of Grinda, but the the Ferry announcements were so hard to understand and the port stops were so brief, that we missed the stop for Grinda, and decided to get off at the next stop, Karklö, which turned out to be a nearly unpopulated island that only got ferry service twice a day.

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Karklö was beautiful, and made for a great day hike.

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We also found a bunch of fresh blueberries along the trail.

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And a very pretty coastline.

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Luckily, we made the last ferry back to Stockholm which was good because were scheduled to head back to Oslo for our final few days in Norway the following morning.

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During the kids’ last long weekend break from school, we decided to take one last trip in Norway to Lillehammer which is just a 2.5-hour train ride north of Oslo. Lillehammer hosts this famous 54km cross country skiing race called the Birkebeiner which commemorates the heroics displayed by men who escorted the 1-year-old King Hakon Hakonson to safety in 1200. (There is an American version which takes place in Wisconsin and is the biggest cross country ski race in the US.) Evidently, the racers have to carry a 7.7 lb backpack to simulate the weight of the king. Here is a statue commemorating the Birkebeiners in Lillehammer:

Our first day in Lillehammer, we took the children to a Norwegian themed amusement park called “Hunderfossen Fairytale Park.” The park felt like a much lower key Disney theme park based on Norwegian folk tales. There was a huge troll in the center of the park,

fairy tale themed rides, a science center that taught you about hydroelectricity (95% of the electricity in Norway is made from hydro) as you might guess when you pass rivers like this near Lillehammer:

The park also has Norwegian fairy tales rides and shows, carousels, swimming pools, and cars (Maddie and Ada’s favorite).

The girls had a blast and unlike most theme parks I’ve been to in the states, there was absolutely no line for any of the rides. 

The next day we spent visiting Maihaugen, a very neat open-air museum which showcased both rural and urban life in Norway through history through the reconstruction of Norwegian homes and buildings. Maihaugen had a small pond where children could borrow bamboo fishing rods with real hooks. Beside the rods was a bucket of dirt where you could dig for worms to for fish bait. The girls dug for worms but despite Ada’s plea, Maddie decided to save it from the fish hook which was probably a good idea because John and I wouldn’t know what to do with a fish if we caught it. Fortunately, another family used the poles right after us and caught a few fish almost immediately.

A lot of Norwegian homes have green rooms which seems to be a practice in building construction that is hundreds of years ago. Below is a picture of an old mill cabin with a green roof and a demonstration of how they used to make them using wood, birch bark, and soil. The green roofs are quite pretty (many of them had flowers on them when we visited) and as I was reminded in my LEED AP training insulate the home well, help reduce stormwater runoff, the heat island effect and are lower maintenance than other roofs.

Our last morning we spent touring the home of Sigrid Undset who won the Nobel Prize in literature for her book trio called “Kristin Lavrandsdatter” about the life a Norwegian woman in the 14th century. Here is Maddie beside her Nobel Prize medal and Ada beside a picture of Sigrid:

After getting a nice individualized tour of her home (which not surprisingly also had a green roof) and learning more about her,

I decided to read all three books (which I borrowed from the Delaware electronic library.) They were very well written (the newest translation is supposedly much better than the first one) and were historically accurate so you learn about life in Norway in the medieval ages. According to our guide, Sigrid’s father was an archeologist and she worked closely with the person who founded Maihaugen to learn more about life in the 14th century. Evidently, her novel is (still) historically accurate. The trio of books Kristin Lavrandsdatter which starts when she is a young girl and ends when she dies reminded me of Anna Karenina or Ellena Ferrante’s Neopolitan novels. I highly recommend the trio.

Top 10 differences between life in Europe vs the US

This year our family has gotten used to the European way of life which has been pretty similar to life in the US apart from a few differences. Here is my top 10 list of the small and large differences between life in Europe and the US.

1. No dryers and tiny washers- Our apartment as well as every airbnb we’ve stayed in this year has been devoid of a dryer. So, we’ve been hang drying all our clothes this year. Because of a smaller size washer (and a relatively small drying rack), we end up doing our laundry twice a week instead of once a week and we have to plan about 2 days in advance if we want clean clothes because it can take that long for our clothes to line dry. Line drying our clothes has probably lengthened the life of our clothes, as well as saved us a lot of energy (if we switched to line drying our clothes in the US, according to this article, we’d save 3.3% of our total residential carbon emissions.) However, despite the obvious environmental benefits, I have to admit, I am looking forward to being able to wash and dry my clothes in one day when we get back to the states. On the left is our drying rack in Norway and on the right, someone line drying clothes in Venice.

2. Supermarkets- The average grocery store in Europe seems to be half to one third of the size of a regular US grocery store and the items in that store are similarly half to a third of the size of US items (and there are fewer choices for each item). For example, it seems most people buy milk by the pint, and eggs by the half dozen. If you want a bag of tortilla chips, it will be about one third of the size of a bag of tortilla chips in the US. Even the paper towels are smaller. Because portion sizes are smaller (and because we live above on grocery store and within a 5 minute walk of 4 other grocery stores), John and I have taken to grocery shopping about once a day. So, this year we have wasted a lot less food than we usually do because we don’t buy food we don’t need and the food doesn’t go bad before we can eat it. Also, you always bag your own groceries in Europe and they always ask if you want a plastic bag before providing it because you usually have to pay a small fee for them. I love this because I always find it awkward in the US when you have to preemptively tell someone that you brought your own bag before they waste one on us. Below John with the tiny bag of chips that is the practically the only option at our local grocery store:

3. EU Regulations- Because the EU has stricter regulations than those in the states. I generally feel much safer here. I know my food has fewer chemicals in them, my medicine is better regulated, my children are in safer car seats and I have no fear of an active shooter. (I just looked it up- in the US there are 120 civilian owned guns for every 100 people but in most of Europe, there are only 30 civilian owned guns for every 100 people- a 75% reduction). I am also jealous of the European Union’s ability to protect the environment. For example, major single use plastics, like plastic cutlery, straws, and plates will be banned in Europe by 2021. I wonder when the US will be able to do that? 

4. The Metric System- As a scientist and engineer, I have always been envious of the metric system (kilometers, celsius, grams, etc.) because conversions are so easy within it. However, having grown up in the US, my intuitive sense of measurement is still firmly in the Imperial system (miles, Fahrenheit, pounds, etc.) which makes me sad. Whenever anybody talks about the weather in Norway (which is often), I find myself doing mental gymnastics, converting Celsius to Fahrenheit, and back again. The same goes for units of weight and volume. When I find a European recipe, I often have to convert from grams or deciliters to cups and ounces (since we do not have a small kitchen scale like most Europeans). Fortunately, because of track and cross country, I do have a firmer sense of a kilometer. If only the other metric units would be so intuitive! (As an aside, everyone in Europe uses military time which also makes more sense than using AM/PM for everything but because I’m not used to it, I find myself subtracting 12 from all afternoon/evening times.) Below is the weather forecast according to, the most accurate weather organization in Norway. Is 14C warm or cold? Why do I still have to convert!

5. Public Transit- Living in and visiting cities with good useable public transit systems has been a blessing. Living without a car and relying only on public transit has been so easy in Norway and almost all the cities we’ve seen in Europe, it will honestly will be the thing I will miss most about Europe. I have loved the trains, metro systems, street cars and buses in Europe and living in walkable cities has been good for our health too as I mentioned in this post. Below Ada plays with her best friend Kiana on the train on the way back from their ballet recital:

6. Free/Reduced University and Free/Reduced Healthcare- Unlike the United States, Europeans don’t come out of college with huge student loans. That is because in most countries, going to University is mostly free in your home country! That is pretty incredible and if you think about it, makes so much sense. Also, healthcare is single payer and people are never bankrupted or have to stick to a certain job to ensure they are covered. See our post on the healthcare system in Norway here.

7. Worker Rights- Close to 80% of workers in Norway are represented by a Union. Because of these strong unions, Norwegians get 8 weeks of paid vacation a year, a livable wage, and work only 37 hours a week. This is not uncommon throughout Europe and I think is one of the reasons why Norwegians are so happy. Norwegians have more time to develop hobbies, exercise, travel and spend time with their families. This is the thing John, who is used to a 60 hour work week in the US, will miss most about living in Europe. (One of the interesting results of this history is that in Norway, to protect workers rights, almost everything, including almost all grocery stores over 100 square meters are closed on Sunday in Norway which is something we still haven’t gotten used to.) Below are John and his colleague at the University of Oslo. Both were contacted by the union at the University to see if they wanted to join.

8. The Kitchen- Ovens, Ice and Voltage- Ice is not common in Europe- It is not often served with water at a restaurant and an ice maker is virtually unheard of as part of your home freezer. Ovens are standardized in Europe to include slots on the side where you can slide in a sheet pan or even a sheet cake pan. Also, most appliances in Europe work on 230V instead of the US’s 120V.  230V is actually great because it means our vacuum is more powerful and water comes to a boil faster than in the US. 

9. Language. It seems like most people in Europe speak at least two languages if not more. One of Maddie’s friends from preschool already is fluent in 3 languages (Norwegian, Spanish, and English) and is learning Mandarin from her Nanny. Switzerland has four recognized national languages- German, French, Italian and Romansh. Maddie’s best friend at school who is also from the United States noticed early in the school year that she was one of the few people in her class who spoke only one language. 

10. Privacy in the Bathroom or WC. The public bathrooms (mostly known as WC in Europe) are not like the ones in the US. Instead of stalls loosely connected with small gaps in between most of the connection including one large gap at the bottom, bathroom stalls in Europe are built like doors in a home. They have no gaps and offer complete privacy. Also, a red notice shows when you lock a stall so there is no need to check to see if you see feet underneath to try to open it. That red notice makes so much sense! (Also, there are lots of dual flush toilets and far fewer sensors that automatically flush which I like because it saves water and doesn’t scare my children when it flushes while they are still on the toilet!)

Of course, these are just a few of the differences between the US and Europe and there are many similarities. There are also a ton of differences between countries in Europe and even more differences if you compare the US to non western industrialized educated democracies. If you have time, feel free to post in the comments any other differences (or even similarities) you noticed when you compare life in the US with life in Europe!

Norway is tempting us to stay

If there’s one thing that we’ve struggled with in Norway, it’s that shops are closed on Sundays. For us, this means every Saturday, we have to think about what we are going to have for all of our Sunday meals, and what we will pack for Maddie and Ada’s lunch, which usually entails going to the grocery store late on a Saturday night after the girls are asleep. It’s also meant that we have to plan our travel to come back on Saturday, as the one time we came back on a Sunday to an empty pantry, we struggled with finding something to eat.

Really, I’ve come to think the perfect country is Norway, with reasonable shopping hours.

But then today, I saw this on the grocery store under our apartment. First cool thing to note is that every store posts their hours in big letters on their sign. The new part is that Søn 9-21, which I’m certain was put up this morning.

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It turns out that it is legal for stores to be open on Sundays, so long as they are less than 100 square meters in size—our local Narvesen (something like a 7-11) is open for a few hours on Sunday.

Now here’s the amazing part—our full service grocery store beneath our apartment is way bigger than 100 square meters (though nothing like an American grocery store), but all this spring, they’ve been doing a massive renovation—removing the post office, replacing most of the cashiers with automatic checkouts, and I’ve been wondering why they’ve been housing stuff in a closet off to the side of the store. It turns out—that’s no closet, it’s the Sunday store—complete with it’s on freezer case, vegetable stand, pant machine(recycling station) and candy bins.

This is what the store normally looks like during the week:

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But on Sunday, the store now closes off the main store with garage doors,
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And leads you to a small, three-aisle store that has an even smaller selection than the already small selection of the main store, just for Sundays.

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And there you have it—the first grocery store open in our town on weekends! I can’t imagine the logistical hassle of running a store just for Sundays within a store—moving fruit back and milk back to the regular store on Monday mornings so that it doesn’t go bad. But I’m glad that I got to experience Sunday shopping in Norway, if only for one day. If we don’t happen to make it back, it’s a pretty good assumption that the availability of Grandosia frozen pizza, one of the most popular foods in Norway, in our basement was just too tempting to leave. Truly, I’m embarrassed to admit just how much this commercial for frozen pizza is hitting me in the feels right now.

A Mystery Solved

A long time ago, I wrote about a mystery, wondering what these things were that I saw embedded in the ground at Maddie and Ada’s school and around the UiO campus:

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I’m pleased to say that thanks to the wonderful people in the New to Oslo Facebook group, I have an answer and a few funny replies. It’s a snow sensor—when snow falls on the two interlaced coils, it completes a circuit and activates the heating elements embedded in the sidewalk.

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I must also say that Facebook groups like New to Oslo have been invaluable in helping adapt to life in Norway—from navigating the ins and outs of the Norwegian banking system to giving us ideas for fun things to do around Oslo, and making us feel like part of a smaller community in a foreign land.