What to do as a trailing spouse in Norway?

For the first time in what seems like forever, I have roughly 6 hours per day five days a week where I am not working or taking care of my kids. I could look for a job but since we are only here for a year, it seems like that could be a fruitless search (I just found out today from another expat that 90% of trailing spouses have a job before they become expats but once they move to a new country only 30% find work. I am guessing this is because without a built in social or job network or the ability to speak the local language it is really hard for a trailing spouse to find a new job. ) Anyway, having this much free time without a job is both thrilling and terrifying. What will I do with myself in Norway? I haven’t completely figured it out but here are a few things I’m currently exploring:

Volunteer:

With so many challenges in the world and the gift of free time, I feel obligated to use some of it volunteering. Last fall I had the honor of meeting Annie Leonard, the Executive Director of Greenpeace in the US, at a St. Andrew’s parent’s home. She told us all about the amazing things Greenpeace has accomplished. To my surprise Greenpeace is not always engaging in extreme non-violent environmental activism but also does robust science and successfully pressures huge companies to do the right thing (e.g., not to overfish, log old growth forests for paper, etc.) through respectful conversations or by placing pressure on them from one step above the supply chain.  Here is a pic of whiteboarding in the Oslo office about how they want to communicate Greenpeace’s successful campaign to prevent the overfishing of Krill in the Antarctic (and Greenpeace’s press release about it is linked here):

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In any case, I was excited to find out there is an active Greenpeace group in Norway with 20-25 staff members. I got a tour of their offices last Tuesday from another volunteer (a Syrian refugee who works as a computer programmer) and took a picture of their storage room below which has lots of climbing gear which is pretty neat:

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Greenpeace Norway by the way is part of a larger Nordic Greenpeace non-profit that has offices in Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Evidently the Denmark chapter is the largest. The Norway group has been trying to put pressure on the Norwegian government not to lease new oil fields in the Atlantic which have opened up because of the thawing sea ice (one of the most ironic things about climate change- yeah! the ice is melting in the arctic because we burned too much oil and coal- which will in the future doom our civilization but now we can drill for even more oil!) They are also trying to stop the Norwegian government from expanding the airport and instead add a new bullet train to allow for high speed but sustainable travel.  I just talked to their volunteer coordinator on the phone today and he’s on the lookout for ways I can help during the day (most volunteers help out after work hours but I’d like to be home with my family then).

Other than Greenpeace I’m also thinking about volunteering with refugees or other humanitarian cause through the Red Cross or finding an opportunity through frivvilig.no (a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities in Norway) that doesn’t require me to speak Norwegian.

Learn:

Because of the support of St. Andrew’s School, I’ll be able to become LEED Certified for Operations and Maintenance of Existing Buildings and a Certified Energy Manager. I’ve been interested in taking these trainings/certifications for a while but just never had time. Now I do!  I’ve just paid the course fee and started the online training for the LEED course. Both trainings require me to take a certification test in Stockholm Sweden- a 6 hour train ride away which I hope will be a fun trip. After both courses, I’m hoping to know a lot more about how to make energy improvements to buildings and how to operate them efficiently and sustainably. Hopefully I can use this knowledge back at St. Andrew’s to teach students how to make our school more sustainable.

I’m also trying to learn Norwegian. Fortunately most people in Norway speak English but it seems life would be easier here if I learned some of the local language. Norway pays for many immigrants to take Norwegian classes for free (which I think is pretty neat). Unfortunately, since we are only here for a year, I am pretty sure I don’t qualify for those free classes. So, I’m making do by taking a free University of Oslo MOOC course on Norwegian, using Duolingo, and attending “Sprakaffe” to practice speaking Norwegian with natives. Here is a pic of the first sprakaffe I attended on Wednesday at our local library. It was so neat to see so many volunteers helping immigrants practice Norwegian:

Make Friends:

It turns out there is this really amazing International Woman’s Club of Oslo which I have decided to join which is full of trailing spouses who speak English and get together during the day. The Women’s club has organized meetings with specific topics like books, walking, hiking, exploring Oslo, playing Majong, knitting and just drinking coffee or eating lunch together. I don’t know how to play Majong or knit well (though my mom has tried to teach me many times) but I think it would be neat to learn while making friends from woman all over the world. On Friday I am already planning on joining the explore Oslo club to visit the home of Roald Amundsen, a famous arctic explorer, who was the first person to reach both the North and South Poles. 

Other:

Of course, once a week John won’t work and we can explore Oslo together. I also want to keep up a good exercise routine by running (or eventually skiing) every day and then there are the more mundane tasks of doing laundry, cleaning the house, going grocery shopping and planning meals. The vast majority of Norwegians eat out only once or twice a year I guess because food here is so expensive. So, John or I have been cooking every evening. Finally, John and I will have to do some work to plan trips during their school breaks. 

Right now, I’m feeling like my 6 hours everyday goes by quickly which is good (because I’m already so busy) but also already frustrating (because I have so many things I want to do)!

An Ode to Julie

Tuesday was my sister’s birthday and I just wanted to post how grateful I am that she is my sister. This past summer, I spent about 27 days in the hospital while my mother battled complications from acute pancreatitis. My sister who who works full time as a Nurse Practitioner in Pediatrics in Decatur spent twice that amount of time. For the past two months, Julie spent at least 7 hours a day (including weekends) in the Hospital with mom. Her time there was critical to my mother’s recovery. One of the downsides of my mother’s medical care at Northside Hospital was the lack of “continuity of care.”  Both nurses and doctors are shifted around from patient to patient in an ICU unit. So, my mother after spending a few months in the hospital had only a few repeat nurses and repeat doctors who had to read through my mother’s huge chart to understand her history. By being there everyday Julie was able to educate each nurse and doctor about my mother’s medical history and help steer her care in the right direction. She texted medical updates to our family so she could gain the expertise of the medical experts in our family, and she provided care that the hospital staff didn’t have time for. (After a full month of the use of only dry shampoo, my sister figured out how we could wash my mother’s hair in a basin with water while she was in bed and she was able to gave her a pedicure.) Here is a pic of us washing my mother’s hair with an orange camping shower and a white blow up basin that my sister purchased on Amazon:

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And here is a pic of my sister giving my mother a pedicure while my mother reviewed our tax returns on John’s iPad (we applied for an extension and were able to file them later this year):

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My sister did all of this while caring for her twin boys (now 17 months old), her four year old daughter, and while supporting her husband who just got a new job. She is one amazing woman. When we left for Norway 3 weeks ago, I still had mixed feelings about leaving while my mother was still on the road to recovery. However, knowing Julie was there to help take care of her, certainly gave me more piece of mind. So, our family owes Julie a debt of gratitude for allowing us to be in Norway this year. By the way, my mother is headed home tomorrow after two weeks of lots of physical and occupational therapy. A celebration of her progress and for my sister’s role in her progress is certainly in order!

Swimming, swimming, in the swimming pool

It turns out that right next door to Maddie and Ada’s school (and a 10 minute walk from our apartment) is a local public indoor swimming pool that is closed during the summer but opens up during the school year. John and I decided to pay to become members at the beginning of the school year and the girls (and I) are loving it. Here is the front of the building:

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I’m pretty sure Nadderud is just a name in Norwegian for the general area and hallen just means hall. When you get in you have to use an electronic rubber wrist band to let you into the changing rooms (where they have lockers that lock using the same wrist bands for your clothes). Everyone is then required to take a shower before you get in the pool.

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Ada, who at first refused to get in the shower now enjoys it so much that when we leave the pool (and go through the same shower area) she and Maddie insist on keeping warm by taking an endless shower.  Next stop- the Svommehall..

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The pool has three main areas. Below is the diving/swimming area for lap swimmers. In the top right of the picture you can see a circular ladder leading up to a yellow half circle. That is the entrance to a very tame (but also surprisingly long) water slide.

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Below is the pool where Maddie and Ada and I have spent most of our time. The water is comfortably warm and lots of kids play here because the water level allows them to easily stand (the water level in the deepest part goes up to Ada’s chin which means she has been happy not wearing her floaty so she can hold her nose and look under water with her goggles).

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and here is the baby pool which Ada occasionally climbs into to go down the slide and play with the water features:

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From the pool you can actually see the side of Ada and Maddie’s school (along with a field where lots of kids play soccer):

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Because Maddie and Ada’s school is so close, they both will get to take swimming lessons here during their school day at some point during the year. The swimming pool has a fish tank as well which we enjoy looking at before we leave:

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and here is how Ada has been getting home from the pool- sitting in the stroller on top of the pool bag with snack in hand.

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