tilfeldig utvalg for August

Here’s a tilefelding utvaly (random assortment) of photos from August that I didn’t get to blog about in detail.

Another awesome playground we found at Ekbergparken
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This park was recently made famous in the NYT, when the 52 Places Traveler (Keep Oslo Weird) went to the same sculpture park and mentioned this sculpture, Fideicommissium, of a woman squatting and peeing off in the woods.
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We saw the Viking shop museum. Ada was not impressed.
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A pretty decent photo of all of us and the Gilheanys on the roof deck of our apartment, minus Ada hiding off camera.
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Some of the seats in the buses have 4 point harnesses for little kids and the bottom of the seat folds down so that a little kid can sit there. Ada loved it, and wants every seat on the bus to be like this.

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Hanging out at the Royal Palace. I found the tour to be super interesting. The modern Norwegian Monarchy is only about 100 years old, and the people voted to create a constitutional monarchy. It is the official residence of the king and queen, and he meets with the leaders of the government every Friday in an amazing conference room. IMG 0972

A pretty cool culture festival we went to at the harbor.
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A couple of extra outtakes from Maddie’s first day of school:
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Maddie’s classroom. That’s her teacher, Ms. Willums on the far left.
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Ada at her school playground.

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The fountain just outside our apartment that the girls stop to play in on the way to and from school.
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Ada all dressed up in her rain suit.
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Looking back, all of these photos seem like they were taken so long ago. Time is flying by, and I need to learn more Norwegian.

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!

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.

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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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.