Family, Christmas and History in Denmark

My mom’s first cousin, Margaret Hunter, had the good fortune of marrying Bjarne, a Dane. They have been living in Denmark for almost 30 years and graciously hosted us for Christmas this year. We all had a fabulous time visiting with family and learning about the Christmas traditions and the incredibly rich history of Denmark. After being away from family for more than 6 months, Margaret and her family made us feel like their apartment in Copenhagen and house on Møn was our home too. After picking us up from the airport, Margaret took us to a local playground with built-in trampolines:

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The next day, as Christmas present from my sister, we took the train to see the Nutcracker in Tivoli Gardens, the second oldest theme park in the world (created in 1843). To me, the park was a little like going to Longwood Gardens in Delaware or the Botanical Gardens in Atlanta during the Christmas season with a few older amusement park rides like those found on Rehoboth Beach. Here is a pic of Ada and John waiting for the model train around the Christmas tree:

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And another pic of them riding the Elf train:

The highlight of our trip came the next morning on December 24th when we drove a hour and a half to their house on Møn, where Bjarne grew up.  While Bjarne, his brother, and my cousins, Peter and Peyton helped prepare a delicious Danish Christmas dinner, Margaret took us on a short walk to the beach where Maddie and Ada made stone soup (using a bucket, sand, rocks, kale from the garden, flowers and leaves):

Before dinner Maddie and Ada had an incredibly giggly time playing with Peter and Peyton who they quickly nicknamed Peter Pan and Pey Pan. Here is Ada on top of Peter:

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and Peyton reading to the girls:

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Around 5pm, we sat down for a delicious Danish Christmas dinner (roasted duck, roasted pork, browned potatoes (with butter and sugar), regular peeled potatoes, gravy, prune and apple stuffing, pickled red cabbage) with a few sides added by Margaret which are common in the US like waldorf salad, and baked sweet potatoes with pecans.

After dinner, we then played a really fun Danish Christmas game called “pakkeleg.” Margaret and her sister-in-law purchased and wrapped about 15 small presents and put them on the table. Margaret passed out two cups with a dice each in them. If you rolled a six, you could pick a present from the table or steal a present from another person. The dice passed from person to person pretty fast until all the packages were taken. At this point, Maddie was despondent because she hadn’t rolled a single six. Margaret then timed the game for approximately ten more minutes when we had to roll and pass the dice really quickly. If you got a six in that round, you had to steal a present from someone else at the table. That is when Maddie started getting lucky and by the end Maddie and Ada were both ecstatic because they ended up with 3 presents each (and John and I had only one because they were all stolen!) Here is a picture of Maddie playing with one of the presents Peter got from the game:

After pakkeleg, we sat down to eat dessert: ris à l’amande which is like the Christmas dessert common in Norway but instead of warm rice pudding with sugar and butter, this rice pudding was served cold and had chopped peeled almonds, whipped cream, and vanilla. It is topped by a cherry sauce and is delicious. Hidden in the ris à l’amande was one peeled whole almond. Whoever got the whole almond in their dessert got a present. If you were the lucky winner, you were also supposed to hide the almond in your mouth so that everyone would eat all the ris à l’amande hoping to get the almond. I was the lucky person who got the almond on my first serving! (but also was not very successful at hiding the almond in my mouth as there was a noticeable bulge that John and Peyton quickly pointed out.)

After dessert, we cleared and moved the table so we could move the Christmas tree into the center of the room. Bjarne lit the candles on the tree and then we all danced around the Christmas tree singing Danish and English christmas songs which Margaret kindly printed out for us. (One of the Danish songs was the one we learned in Norway about the barn elf eating the julegrot which we wrote about here.)

The highlight of the night for Maddie and Ada came after dinner. In Denmark, everyone opens presents on Christmas Eve and Maddie and Ada got to see their presents delivered by Santa! 

The next day was a relaxing day on Møn recovering from all the Christmas festivities, playing with cousins and new presents, and eating the abundance of leftovers from the Christmas dinner. We did get to fit in a trip to a Viking burial ground with Margaret. You had to actually crawl through the entrance and once you get in, you can see bones with other artifacts from the Vikings all of which is protected by plexiglass from visitors. The Vikings period started in 800 and went to 1050 which means this burial ground was probably around 1,000 years old.

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On the 27th, as we started to leave Møn to head for Copenhagen, we stopped quickly to see some incredible chalk drawings from the 1300s in the church where Bjarne and his family were baptized and where they plan to be buried. The chalk drawings were covered in plaster in the 18th and 19th century and restored in the 20th century for visitors like us. As you can see, they are beautiful:

Here is a sign listing who has led the church since 1584!

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On the way back from Møn, we got to see quite a few wind farms. Denmark has the highest percentage of power produced from Wind in the world (43% in 2017!) They are quite beautiful. I got this picture of a wind farm in front of a solar array heading back to Copenhagen which is just a beautiful illustration of what future awaits our children if we want to stop climate change:

In Copenhagen, Margaret dropped us off so we could go on a boat tour of Copenhagen. The picture on the left is of Maddie and Ada in front of the palace where the royal family lives. The Monarch in the Denmark is one of the oldest in the world. The current, Queen, Queen Margrethe II can trace the lineage of the royal family back 1,000 years to the Vikings!

Most of our pictures by the way have to be taken surreptitiously because usually when Maddie and Ada notice we’re taking photos, they will either hide or make funny faces like the one below:

The next day Maddie and Ada were ecstatic because Margaret rented us a Christiana bike so we could explore Copenhagen on bike. Copenhagen, by the way, is one of the most bikeable cities I’ve seen. Not only is Copenhagen incredibly flat but there are also protected bike lanes separate from traffic lanes for cars and sidewalks for pedestrians. So, Margaret feels completely comfortable biking 40 minutes to and from work every day and we all felt completely safe on our bike ride through downtown Copenhagen. Below is a pic of me testing out our bike:

Because Maddie and Ada insisted, Peyton biked them instead of me or John and we headed to Peter’s apartment in Copenhagen where we had lunch. Peyton and Margaret then led us on a 2 hour bike ride of Copenhagen where we saw many sites including the castle where the royal family lives:

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Besides the royal palace, we also stopped for photos at the statue of “The Little Mermaid” installed in 1913 because the author of the story, Hans Christian Andersen lived and died in Copenhagen in the 19th century.

The next day was my birthday. John made a delicious olive and rosemary frittata, smoked salmon on toast, and grapefruit for breakfast. We biked to the Rosenberg castle which was built by King Christian IV in the early 17th century. Maddie and Ada’s favorite part of the castle was the basement where you got to see the crown jewels that the Queen of Denmark still wears today:

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John then took me to Souls, a vegan restaurant where he gave me the best birthday surprise- Michelle Obama’s new book and tickets to see her speak in April in Oslo! (while Peyton and Margaret set up a horse obstacle course for Maddie and Ada in their hallway.)

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Margaret then treated us to a wonderful dinner with their friends who are currently pastors at the international church in Denmark and used to be pastors at the the international church in Oslo.

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The next day we visited the Experimentarium in Copenhagen which was listed by TIME Magazine as one of the top 100 greatest places in the world in 2018. This science museum met our expectations and more with a ton of great interactive exhibits including one on bubbles, several on the shipping industry in Denmark, and of course lots of playing with balls.

On our last day before our flight back to Oslo, we squeezed in a trip to the National Museum in Denmark where we learned more about Vikings and life in Denmark. One of my favorite parts of the museum was the “boring button” which children could press in an exhibit meant for adults when they were feeling bored. The boring button in the Viking exhibit taught Ada and I about how the Vikings thought that the sun and moon were carried across the sky on a horse drawn carriage. Maddie and John pressed another boring button where museum staff, dressed in period clothes, told Maddie about what life used to be like in Denmark. In an exhibit on old toys in Denmark, the boring button near the dollhouses played audio of a Danish kid playing with a dollhouse.

Besides the boring buttons, Maddie and Ada also enjoyed the part of the museum exclusively for kids where Ada got to see what an old schoolhouse was like in Denmark and Maddie got to play in a replica of a Viking ship:

Overall, we had an incredible time in Denmark and are so grateful for our incredible family for hosting us and sharing with us places where we could learn about the rich history and traditions in Denmark.

Christmas in Norway

Our family has really been enjoying the Christmas Season while learning a lot about how Norwegians celebrate Christmas. Ada, fortunately, gets to experience a lot of what makes Christmas special in Norway through her school. Let’s start on December 1st- Evidently, Advent calendars are very big here and some parents go to the trouble of buying 24 paper bags and then filling each with a toy for every day leading up to Christmas. The other class representative and I made an advent calendar for Ada’s class (each kid was chosen to receive a bag of goodies during the month of December) which you can see below. Of course, many parents don’t do this for the children and buy a traditional chocolate advent calendar instead (which is what we did- who needs more toys!).

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On December 6th, Ada and her fellow classmates got to climb 1.3 miles up a mountain to Sæten Gård, the farm/DNT cabin we visited earlier this fall. At Sæten Gård, she learned about elves from an old Norwegian woman dressed up in traditional Norwegian clothes who pretended to be the “skognissemor” directly translated as the forest mother elf.

They sang a traditional Norwegian Christmas song about a barn elf who is eating his “julegrot” or traditional sweet rice pudding that Norwegians eat for dessert on Christmas. In the song, the elf has to fend off the rats who want to eat his julegrot. You can see a clip of other people singing this song later in this post.  Ada then got to eat julegrot (which she absolutely loves) with warm black currant juice (another Norwegian winter time treat) inside a barn.

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Ada also played games, saw the animals on the farm and then her class headed 1.3 miles back down the mountain. (By the way, she and the other 34 children in the preschool at OIS did this hike when it was 40 degrees F and rainy so they wore wool long underwear, a one-piece fleece, and a rain suit!) When they got back she said she had the best time though her teacher told me she had to pee twice while hiking which is not easy to deal with when you are wearing so many layers!

Through Ada’s school, we also got to learn about Santa Lucia. Santa Lucia is the Saint of Light who gave food to the poor and hungry. Her sainthood is celebrated in Sweden, Norway and some parts of Finland during the darkest time of the year. Usually, the oldest girl will dress up as Santa Lucia (in a white dress with a red bow and a crown of candles), and younger girls will follow her in a processional while they sing a song about Santa Lucia. There is also a Santa Lucia sweet bread called “luciakatter” which I got to help Ada bake at school a few days before the celebration so they could eat it after their performance. Here is a picture of Ada shaping the luciakatter and a finished piece ready to be baked:

Here is a hilarious video of Ada in the Santa Lucia processional (John took this video and Ada usually hates getting her picture taken):

and a bonus video of Ada performing in her winter concert at school:

Our family has been using our weekends to visit some pretty incredible Christmas markets in town. (Christmas markets or julemarkeds are quite common- they usually are outdoors, involve fires to warm you up, Christmas food, hot drinks, and Christmas handicrafts for sale.) The first we visited was in downtown Oslo called JuliVinterland. Here is a pic of Ada and Maddie warming up by the fire:

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We also went to the Christmas market at the folk museum in Oslo. This was my favorite market because we all got to see the “nisse” or Christmas elves and Santa perform the song about the barn elf defending his rice pudding from rats that Ada learned on her hike to Sætern Gård:

and we saw another Santa Lucia processional:

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and heard the traditional Santa Lucia song again from professionals:

One of the kids’ activities at the Folk Museum was whittling a stick into Santa which Ada loved and almost made me have a heart attack:

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The girls also got to make a simple version of the traditional Norwegian heart basket as an ornament for our Christmas tree. These heart baskets traditionally hold sweets which used to be the only gift the children received for Christmas. I didn’t get a picture of them making it but here is a description of how to make the more complicated version.

Last weekend, we had John’s friend, Danny, over for dinner. Danny connected John to the University of Oslo (which is one of the reasons we decided to spend this sabbatical in Norway). Because we were curious about what Norwegians eat on Christmas, John decided to make a traditional Norwegian Christmas dinner. He made Pinnekjott (salted and dried lamb ribs that you have to soak in water for 30 hours and then steam for 3 hours), rotmos (mashed rutabaga, carrot, and potato), potatoes, and snap beans. As mentioned before, Norwegian’s usually have rice pudding as dessert. On Christmas eve, they hide an almond in the rice pudding and whoever gets the almond gets to eat a marzipan pig. (They then leave the julegrot out for the barn elf so he doesn’t make mischief during the new year.) However, since Maddie and John do not like rice pudding, we had ice cream with pepperkakke (gingerbread) instead. Everything, as you can guess, was delicious.

Pepperkakke, (scandinavian’s gingerbread cookie), by the way, are ubiquitous and inexpensive in Norway this time of year. Most grocery stores also sell pepperkakke deig (gingerbread dough) so you can make gingerbread cookies at home. At one of the Julemarkeds, Ada and Maddie got to decorate gingerbread cookies and we also made some at home (with the premade dough) with cookie cutters loaned to us from a friend.

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We did not celebrate  Christmas Eve or day in Norway (or in Atlanta which we will miss!) but we did celebrate in Denmark with my cousin Margaret Hunter, her husband Bjarne, and their children Peter and Peyton. We’ll post more on that later. In the meantime, Merry Christmas!

Nobel Peace Prize Festivities in Norway

One of the reasons Norway is famous is because a Norwegian committee awards the Nobel Peace Prize every year in December. Because John is incredible, our family got to attend a free Nobel Peace Prize concert as a family a week ago on a Sunday night (December 9th), the day before the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded officially in Oslo. Then John and I got to attend a free Nobel Peace Prize forum on climate change on Tuesday, December 11th. The forum featured a keynote speech by Al Gore (!!) and a panel discussion with several climate experts including Katherine Hayhoe (another climate idol of mine!) who is the Director of Climate Science Center at Texas Tech (and a climate communicator who has connected with many evangelical/conservative communities to get them on board with acting on climate change in the US).

Both were fantastic though I have to say the forum which took place at noon while the kids were at school was my favorite. But let’s start with the concert. In past years, the Nobel Peace Prize committee has hosted a huge concert with famous artists. This year however, because of budget concerns, they hosted a much smaller concert outside Oslo City hall at 6pm and invited anyone interested to come for free (provided they signed up for a ticket in advance.) So, thanks to John we signed up. Whenever Ada goes to any performance, she likes to get as close as she can to the stage so she can see and dance. So, we ended up following her to the gate right next to a person filming the concert for the NRK, Norway’s version of NPR. When the woman filming noticed Ada right behind her before the concert started, she told us she would ask security if we could go through the gates to the VIP area so Ada could see even better. Security said yes (without even talking to us) and we got to watch the concert within 200 feet of the booth where the Nobel Peace Prize winners, Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad were seated. Here is a pic of the winners next to the concert stage:

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That blue booth with spotlights on the right is where they were seated:

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Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad were awarded the peace prize for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. So, interspersed between songs, we got to watch a few short clips explaining more about their work (which made for a sobering experience especially when I had to explain to Maddie why they got the prize!) Here’s a pic of Ada on John’s shoulders still trying to get the best view of one of those clips:

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And here is Ada dancing:

A few days later, John and I go to hear Al Gore speak about climate change during a keynote, see the panel of climate experts, and then watch Al Gore give an interview for NRK.  Here is a picture of Al Gore giving his interview:

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Other panelists included Katherine Hayhoe, the Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, Dr. Thina Margrethe Saltvedt, the Head of the Sustainable Finance Division of Nordea Bank in Norway, and Professor Ricarda Winkelmann of Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Al Gore spoke first explaining the basics of climate change. I took copious notes since climate change is one of my passions (and apologies for the length of this post!)

Right now we are releasing 110 million metric tons heat trapping gases (mostly CO2) every day into our relatively thin atmosphere (Carl Sagan compared the atmosphere’s thickness as a varnish on a desktop globe when you compare the height of our atmosphere to the size of the earth.) Here is a picture of me in front of one metric ton the Nobel Peace Prize committee placed in front of the building where the talk took place.

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Gore explained that the greenhouse gases we have released so far trap as much heat as would be released by 500,000 Hiroshima sized atomic bombs exploding every day. A lot of this heat has been warming up our oceans causing stronger hurricanes and typhoons and has been disrupting the water cycle, causing rain bombs instead of typical rain showers and extreme droughts leading to more wildfires (and increasing California’s wildfire season by 105 days). Of course, all of this is already disrupting agriculture. Right now because of all this heat, a few places in the world like the Middle East and North Africa are already starting to experience heat indices that are close to exceeding the boundaries where humans can live (i.e., be outside for more than 2 hours without dying.)

Al Gore then explained that these weather conditions have caused us to experience more refugees today than immediately after World War II. For example, the crisis in Syria began because Syrians experienced the worst drought in 900 years (caused by climate change) where 80% of their goats died and 60% of their farms failed. Honduras was ranked as the country most vulnerable to climate change because of changes in the water cycle. Because of an extreme drought there caused by climate change, that caravan of migrants is coming to the US because they haven’t had a harvest in more than a year and have to find a way to feed their children.

Gore stated that after three years of stabilized greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, this year saw a 2.7% increase in emissions. This is in part because right now the governments of the world continue to subsidize fossil fuels 38 times more than renewables worldwide. We also continue to cut down forests at a rate of a football field a second contributing to climate change and unfortunately the new President of Brazil views the Amazon as an agricultural resource to be cut down instead of an important way to reduce climate change.

Fortunately, Gore explained that solutions are available and hope is around the corner. In the US today, the two fastest growing jobs are solar installers and wind service technicians. Although the US plans to withdraw from the Paris Treaty in 2020, we have regional leaders like California which plans to be carbon neutral by 2045 and Indiana whose largest utility recently determined that the way to provide the cheapest electricity to their customers was to build wind and solar and shut down their coal power plants.

Al Gore ended his talk by stating that the politics can change quickly (like with gay marriage) and he believes political will is a renewable resource. I certainly hope he’s right especially since my favorite organization, Citizen’s Climate Lobby, is supporting an incredible BIPARTISAN bill recently introduced in the House of Representatives that would put a price on carbon and return ALL the revenue from that price to individuals so we not only stop climate change but people can afford the increase in their gas and utility bills. PLEASE learn more and support this bill by clicking here.

https://citizensclimatelobby.org/energy-innovation-and-carbon-dividend-act/

(I’m also so excited that so many Republicans in the United States are interested in supporting renewables and fighting climate change and that one of the cosponsors of the bill is Delaware’s own Senator Chris Coons and Arizona’s Republican Senator Jeff Flake!)

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Also, here is a great short clip explaining what the bill will do:

After Al Gore spoke, we watched a new documentary by Neil Halloran about climate change called Degrees of Uncertainty. This documentary did an amazing job of explaining how climate scientists can make conclusions about the past climate and predictions about future climate, even though every measurement we make has some uncertainty. It’s not yet available for the public but you can see the trailer here:

We then listened to several panelists talk including my favorite, Katherine Hayhoe who unlike Al Gore appeals more to conservatives. Katherine Hayhoe listed several myths about climate change. Here is a pic of Katherine Hayhone on the left in the pink jacket:

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The first myth is that climate change is distant in both time and space. Today the majority of Americans believe in climate change but they believe that climate change is something that won’t affect them personally. Unfortunately, I whole-heartedly agree with this statement. One of my cousins lives in Florida and had to flee Hurricane Irma, another lives in California and his vineyard was almost scorched by the wildfires there. In Delaware, we were almost hit by Hurricane Sandy and in the spring and early summer, I am paranoid my kids are going to get lyme disease because climate change is causing tick populations to explode.

Myth number two is that people think that only environmentalist’s care about climate change. Katherine connects with Christians by explaining how the first people to suffer from climate change are the poor and women and children which is hardly fair since the wealthy are those that are responsible for this problem. It also turns out that one of the most cost effective ways to address climate change is to invest in women and children since educated girls tend to have less children. This solution is something Al Gore didn’t mention in his talk and I think can get ignored by many in the climate community (which tends to be science/tech focused.)

The most dangerous myth Katherine stated is that climate change won’t affect us personally but actions to address climate change will threaten our way of life by making us return to the stone ages. I was surprised by this statement because honestly every solution to climate change I’ve heard of makes our lives better. Not using fossil fuels create more jobs (there are more jobs in solar and wind per unit of energy produced than any fossil fuel.) Our air and water will be cleaner, we will have more forests, and eat healthier food, we will walk more and drive less and thus have closer knit communities. If we address climate change as proposed in the bill mentioned above, the average family won’t even lose money (e.g., unlike in France, the increase in the price of gas for example, will be returned to them in the form of a monthly dividend check.) The list of benefits to addressing climate change really goes on and on (especially if you address it in a revenue neutral way like the bill described above).

After Katherine Hayhoe spoke, Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN talked about the link between food and climate change. He described how climate change is starting to reduce the gains we’ve made on hunger that have been occurring since the 90’s. In 1990, 1 billion people were malnourished but that number went down to less than 800 million in 2014. Unfortunately, in large part because of climate change, that number has climbed to 821 million in 2018. De Silva then mentioned how any food insecurity is inextricably linked to war and conflict (e.g., Syria). This is perhaps one reason the Noble Peace Prize committee chose to host a keynote on climate change!

Finally, Da Silva mentioned how climate change is is causing our food to be less nutritious but one way to adapt to climate change is to diversify what we eat (beyond corn soy and wheat which is an astounding 80% of what we eat worldwide) which made me hopeful that if we tackle this problem effectively, we will be healthier for it.

There were a few other panelists but I believe this blog post has become more of an essay than a short blog. So, I’ll stop there and ask those of you reading this in the states to call or write your representative and ask them to support this bill!

https://citizensclimatelobby.org/energy-innovation-and-carbon-dividend-act/

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.

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