Norway-it really is powered by nature

The Visit Norway slogan is “Powered by Nature”, and it’s both literally true (98% of Norway’s electricity comes from hydropower), and figuratively true, and as we discovered past Sunday, when we participated in Friluftslivets Uke (Outdoor week) by going to a festival at Sognsvann, a beautiful lake just a few km outside Oslo at the end of one of the T-bane lines. The purpose of this week is to get Norwegians out enjoying the outdoors, as mentioned on their website (and poorly translated by Google):

Put the tent in the garden, pull the duvet out on the balcony, hit the camp in a forest hole, by a water or overnight on a mountain top.

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Outdoor week kicks off with this festival at a beautiful lake where 30 various outdoor organizations set up booths and events. It was an absolutely gorgeous day with temperatures in the mid 60’s. Here are a few of the things we did:

Building sandcastles
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Roasting pølse over an open fire. Norwegians have these amazing telescoping roasting sticks that are the pinnacle of campfire technology. It’s also traditional to eat your pulse on a lompen, a potato tortilla that you wrap around the hot dog.

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Roasting dough on a stick
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Canoeing around the lake. Maddie wasn’t a fan.
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Ada loved it.
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Checking out some pretty amazing Norwegian rides:

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The entire festival was filled with free, fun adventures for kids and adults. There was even a super cute cross country ski course for toddlers that I somehow forgot to photograph.

We did decide to join the DNT (the Norwegian Trekking Association) and in a week or so, we will get a key in the mail that will unlock the hundreds of trekking cabins (hyetta) all across Norway. The cabins operate on the honor system—you’re welcome to go into any cabin to rest or warm up, but are asked to pay if you make a fire or stay overnight, and you are expected to leave the cabin even better than you found it before.

Everyone says that Norway is expensive (this is definitely true), but they also say that the best things, the gorgeous hikes and outdoor adventures. are free, and now I see that the country teaches this lesson to even the youngest children.

My first day of work

Today was my first day of work at the University of Oslo. After dropping the girls off at school with Diana, I caught the 3 T-bane into Oslo, and then took the 5 train one stop to the university. It looks like it will take me about half an hour to get to work.

Here are some photos of where I work. First the physics building. IMG 1580

Inside there’s a Foucault Pendulum

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And this interesting mural on three walls:
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Here are some bulleted highlights from the day, and projects and opportunities I might be working on.

  • A new Year 8-13 School has recently opened in nearby Sandvika, and its focus is on math and science. Students in the school are getting additional hours of maths instruction beyond the typical curriculum and some part of this will be in computational work.
  • The entire 1-13 Norwegian Curriculum is being revised this year. One of the major reforms for the maths curriculum is that there will be a focus on including computing in all grades. This is going to probably require the training of a lot of teachers, and the plan is to start teaching the new curriculum in 2020.
  • The physics department is making a major push to train its TAs to be able to better facilitate active learning, and I talked to a postdoc today who is leading that effort.
  • Norwegian students study general science in years 1-11, and then can elect to study physics intensively along with a few other subjects in year 12 and 13.
  • A professor and postdoc are working on incorporating computational essays in an introductory E&M course.
  • A teacher in the Master’s program is working on incorporating computational modeling in his high school class.
  • A grad student I used to work with back in Atlanta is now using machine learning to study massive datasets from the registrar of multiple universities to see if he can develop a model help predict which students will major in physics, and which students are at risk for dropping the major.
  • There’s a class on Data Analysis and Machine Learning in Physics that I’m going to audit this fall. Thankfully, it’s taught in English.
  • I sat in on an introductory E&M course taught in Norwegian. Though Coulomb’s law looks the same everywhere, I’ve still got a lot of work to do before I’m going to be able to be super useful in the typical Norwegian classroom.

Everyone seems friendly and welcoming, and I’m excited to see where all of this will lead in the months ahead—I’ve gotten a great feeling that I both have a lot to contribute, and a lot to learn.

Also, the OiU cafeteria is amazingly affordable and delicious. In a city where a simple ham and cheese baguette will easily set you back $14, I got a delicious plate of fish, salad, and rice for $6. At least something in Oslo is cheap.

Here are a few other photos from around campus:

The gorgeous library (this picture doesn’t do it justice).

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Some pretty fountains near the center of campus.
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And, I was able to get home just as Maddie was trying to get in the front door of our apartment building. All in all, it was a great day.

First Family Hike in Norway: Sæteren Gård

After checking out Stæteren Gård on on Friday, we were excited to share take Maddie and Ada on the same hike. But we were also nervous; though they’ve gotten much better at walking long distances in the past month, hiking isn’t something that I would say is a top five thing they wanted to do on a weekend.

We told them about the giant chest of toys that awaited them at the cabin and the end of the hike, and asked them what it would take to get them up the hill. Their consensus—candy, specifically, lollipops and chocolate.

Ada decided that candy gave her energy, and it made for a pretty entertaining hike. Here she is taking off after a couple of licks of her lolly pop.

Later in the day, Ada discovered that a pretty red rock gave her energy too. So, she put a rock in her mouth and ran up the hill to our cabin.

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But in the end, Ada’s energy ran out, and as was to be expected, we ended up with a toddler on our shoulders.

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Still, the whole hike took just over an hour, and we arrived at Sæteren Gård in plenty of time to get some ice cream sandwiches before the cafe closed, and then took to exploring the cabin.

Here were are opening the giant toy chest:

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And checking out the sleeping loft.
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Right outside the cabin was a wonderful low ropes course, which Ada and Maddie enjoyed tremendously (Ada more than Maddie).

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Soon it was time to start dinner, and so we lit some candles

The name of our cabin is Envetyrhytta, which translates to Adventure Lodge.

The toy box had all the major fairy tales covered. Here are the Billy Goats Gruff, with hand carved goats, and an adorable troll with button eyes.

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Red riding hood and the big bad wolf are deep in conversation.

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If you’re interested, here’s an outtake from the Red Riding Hood puppet show Ada and Maddie put on.

The Princess and the Pea. The pea was a rock Ada found outside the cabin.

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Again, I’m amazed by how much Norway seems to understand the needs of children and accommodates their needs. I’m sure there are nice huts to be found in New Zealand, and even along the Appalacian Trail, but I don’t think any of them would be stocked with half a dozen fairy tales’ worth of dolls and puppets.

Though our cabin didn’t have running water or electricity, it had a ton of charm, one cute troll, and six bird houses on the front, including one very large owl house. Here are a few more photos.

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Maddie swears this owl coat hook was in her classroom in last year.

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This whimsical mural was on the wall.
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Maddie’s entry in the guest book

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The next day, Ada went back to play a bit more on the ropes course.

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And then it was time to make our way back home.

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Here’s to camping out at many more hyttes this year, and seeing what they are like in the winter.

A day without kids—a perfect time for a hike

Friday was the first day that both Maddie and Ada had school all day, and so it was the first day I can really remember that Diana and I had a day completely to ourselves. We decided to make the most of it and go on a hike that is just a few kilometers from our house.

Sætereren Gård is a farm owned by DNT, the Norwegian Trekking association, a gentle 2km uphill hike from a bus stop that is 4 stops away from our apartment.

Here are some photos from the hike—it was a near perfect day for a hike.

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Some scenery on the way to our hike.

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The arboretum at the start of our hike.
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It turns out that there are cabins (Hytter) available for rental all over Norway. Here is a poster of all the DNT cottages available for rental in the area.
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We liked this walk so much that we decided we would bring the girls back here on the following day, so we rented this cabin for Saturday night.

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Lunch!
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A lovely waterfall we saw on the way back.
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A huge slug in the middle of the trail.

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You can see almost all the way to fjord from the trail.
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Maddie’s first homework assignment (and blog post)

This is my first blog post—I wanted to share the first homework assignment I had to do for school.

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My first thing is a picture of Marie Curie. I chose this picture because she is a scientist, and I want to be a scientist. (Parental note: Maddie made a last minute switch this morning, subbing Marie Curie’s photo for a marker, to emphasize how she likes drawing and art)

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My second thing is a book of Heidi Heckelbeck because I like books.

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My third thing is a beaver because I want to protect nature.

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Thanks for reading my blog post!

Love,
Maddie

This is where I run…

Since we went back to Atlanta in mid July, I’ve tried to get back into the exercise habit, and have run daily for a month now. Norway in the summer makes that pretty easy to do. Here’s the park just north of town and across from the girl’s school where I do my daily runs, and I’ve enjoyed running later in the evening once the girls are asleep. Apparently this is also a great place to cross country ski in the winter.

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Føste skoledag!

When we decided we were going to live abroad for our sabbatical, one of the hardest decisions we faced was where to send our children to school. Should we send Maddie and Ada to traditional Norwegian schools? The Norwegian education system is regarded as one of the best in the world, schooling is free and it would just be fun to say I’m dropping my 3-year-old off at “barnhagen.” At the same time, even though it’s “easy” for kids to pick up a foreign language, it still takes time, and the thought of our introverted 7-year-old trying to get by in a Norwegian classroom gave us some pause. Then when were having dinner with our friends, Terence and Hilary, who faced a similar decision on their sabbatical in Israel, Hilary sang the praises of international schools—how well they handle traditions, and how much finding the right school put all the pieces of their sabbatical into place. This turned out to be the best piece of advice we’ve received in thinking about living abroad for a year. We enrolled our girls in the Oslo International School, found an apartment within easy walking distance of the school, and so far, everything has worked out pretty amazingly.

Today was the real payoff—the first day of school. Last week, we met with the heads of the elementary and preschool, and I was impressed by how they had carefully read Maddie’s file, and already knew her well. They also did a great job of talking to Maddie, not us, about what her new school would be like. Her principal talked to her about how she would likely have some classmates that didn’t speak English at all, and how that wouldn’t be a problem, because they’d learn it at school, and from playing with her on the playground. This gave me a moment of appreciation for what it means to run an international school. Sure, I teach at a school where 20% of our students are international, but I’ve never for a moment had to think about what I would to teach a student who didn’t speak English, since all of the students who attend my school are fluent English speakers.

My brief experience with international schools tells me that they need to be prepared to deal with the unexpected at every moment. When we spoke to the director of the preschool last week, she told us how Ada’s class would likely be quite small, since they have have lower than expected enrollment this year, but when we showed up today, Ada’s class was filled to capacity at 18, just like the classroom next door—it seems a bunch of last minute enrollments have come on board in the last week.

We’ve now gone through all the preparations for Norwegian school—we managed to find used versions of the special rain suits that consist of a jacket and rain pants with suspenders that look like they could stand up to a cruise under a waterfall. We’ve got indoor shoes that will stay at school, and we’ve been working with Ada on putting all of this stuff on and taking it off.

I’ve also tried my hand at packing Norwegian lunch. Last year, most of the lunches I would pack for Maddie would go uneaten, and it was the source of constant frustration and back and forth conversation, often starting with her asking for a Lunchable (you can imagine how that request was received at our house).

This year, with an individual apple going for nearly $1, I was keen to work with Maddie to find a solution to the great lunch impasse. I never would have guessed the magic bullet would be Leverposti. Here’s a photo of it:

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It comes in a can similar to a can of tuna, and here are the ingredients.

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I don’t need Google translate to figure out svinlever; this is liver pate, a bright pink paste that Norwegian kids (hence the kid on the can) spread over bread and crackers and find delicious. Amazingly, Maddie does too, and so we now have a solid foundation for lunch. Ada has become a big fan of brown cheese, or brunost, which could be a subject of another post.

Ok, enough babbling. I know what everyone really wants are all those cute first day photos. So here’s what I’ve got.

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When we get to school, we wait in the outdoor playground (just as the girls will in the winter, unless it is below -10°C), and look for a sign listing all of the kids in Maddie’s class. It’s quite a scene, and the teacher is making her way around to meet all of the students, and there is nervousness all around. Pretty quickly, 9 am rolls around and Ms. Willums brought the class in, showed them their cubbies, and invited the parents to join us for the first few minutes. I was deeply impressed by her ability to get the kids started on making a drawing of themselves, and pretty quickly, it was clear we weren’t needed, and so we made our way to Ada’s first day.

The first day of preschool was more of a parent information session where we learned more about the wonders of fleece onesies and the right type of snowsuit to buy, and Ada explored the classroom and playground in back.

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She was deeply disappointed that after about 90 minutes, she had to come back home while Maddie got to stay and work. Over the course of this week, the preschool will work the kids up to full days.

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We went home, gave Ada what is likely to be her last afternoon nap in a long time, and pretty soon it was time to pick Maddie up.

Here was the moment of truth—how would she respond? Would she like her new school, or hate it? If she hated it, it would be all my fault for taking her away from the school she loved back in Delaware. Luckily, she loved it. Since I’m “Dad”, sometimes known as “go away Dad” it’s hard to get a full report, but here are a few of the things I overheard her saying to Diana and Ada.

  • She got her iPad—hooray! She has to carry it to school fully charged each day in a bright blue bag
  • She made TWO new friends during recess.
  • Her teacher is very nice—she like beekeeping (very eco-kiddy) and books.
  • Lunch was good. Leverposti is a hit.

Walking home, I snapped this photo of her telling Ada all about her day, and how she doesn’t get an iPad since she’s only in preschool, but maybe she should put one on her wishlist.

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It was a good day.