Only in Norway, part 2

Here are a couple more Only in Norway sightings:

This one isn’t really a mystery—I just thought it was pretty awesome. Who wouldn’t want a climate-controlled dog kennel just outside the food hall so you can leave your dog in comfort while you go in to purchase some fisksuppe.

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This one is a complete mystery to me. I’ve seen a number of these things at my daughters’ school, and on the campus of UiO. At first I thought they were some sort of pavement warmer, but there aren’t nearly enough of them around.

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If you’ve got any idea what this is, please share your thoughts in the comments.

A tribute to the the public transportation system of my dreams

When I was a kid, one of my favorite toys was my Brio train set. I could play with those trains for hours, and always dreamed of having the the giant set—the subway, and the ferry, and the tram and the train.

Now that I’ve moved to Oslo, I think I’ve found the Brio set of my dreams here in the Ruter transportation network for metropolitan Oslo and beyond. Since Brio is based in Sweden, I honestly think maybe they’ve just been taking some ideas for the next elements of their train sets from their Norwegian Neighbors.

Let me try to explain just how amazing the Oslo Transportation system is.

First, the Ruter network consists of the T-bane, a subway network of 100 stations with 5 lines covering more than 80 km. It also includes a similarly large network of tram lines in central Oslo and the suburbs, a network of Ferries that reach out islands in the Oslo Fjord, a massive bus network, and the regional train network, NSB.

The entire network is divided into zones, and your price varies depending on which zones you are traveling in. This map is massive—we live about 10 km outside Oslo and are still well within zone 1, which includes all of the subway and tram networks. The airport is about an hour away from central Oslo and near the beginning of zone 4N.

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There are no turnstiles in this subway network, and the only people that use paper tickets are tourists. Once you get a Norwegian ID, you can buy all your tickets electronically on an app on your phone. For about $900, you can buy a year pass, that gives you unlimited rides within zone 1. If you want to ride outside of zone 1, you can buy an extension ticket for a few bucks, again on your phone. Kids under 4 are free, and all children are free on the weekends. The entire system works wonderfully on the honor system. You simply walk onto the train. The only time you ever need to show your ticket is when you get on the bus, and the honor system is enforced by occasional “ticket inspections” and if you are caught without a ticket, you have to pay a $120 fine. This system works beautifully.

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All of the forms of transportation adhere to precise schedules available in the app and on Google maps, and making the most complicated train-tram—bus connections quite simple. If there is ever a delay that causes you to be more than 20 minutes late, Ruter even promises to cover your taxi fare.

Truly, it’s wonderful, and it’s made me realize I don’t miss having a car at all, which is a good thing, since getting a drivers license in Norway is an ordeal I think I’m going to avoid putting myself and my wallet through.

It’s wonderful to know that even though we don’t have a car, virtually all of Oslo and its surroundings are open to us. That, and the wonders of subway cars designed by Porsche, would be enough to make public transportation one of the best things about Norway, but then the thing that really put it over top was this recent ad campaign by Ruter:

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These advertisements feature portraits of immigrants new to Oslo from all over the world, and almost put a knot in my throat—maybe because I’m realizing how easy it would be to feel excluded in a foreign country when you don’t know the language, and how grateful I am every day that I rarely have that feeling here. Or maybe it’s because every day my home country seems to be finding another way to make live even more difficult for immigrants. Either way, I’m grateful for the transportation network that does more than just gets you from point A to B with a awesome app, it makes everyone feel welcome in the process.

Hiking to Kolsås

This past Monday, Diana and I went on another date where hiked to the wetop of Kolsåstoppen, a beautiful mountain about 15 minutes away from our house by bus, which gave us beautiful views of all of Bærum (our commune/county), and Oslo.

Here are some photos from our trip:

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We thought it was neat that this hike (or at least the sign) is sponsored by Kvikk Lunch, the Norwegian Kit Kat.
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This was also our first chance to test our the hiking poles I got for a Christmas present—they make such a difference, but I also felt deeply inadequate as 70 year old Norwegians in tennis shoes just seemed to dance by us in the steeper sections of the hike.
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Our apartment is generally in this direction. You can see the Oslofjord in the background, too.
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Here’s a beautiful mountain lake we came to on the hike. It’s hard to tell from the photos, but the water was crystal clear.
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Another view of the lake, with Nodre Kolsas in the background.
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Closer to the top of of Søndre Kolsas.
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Our view for lunch.
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A Hytta along on the trip back. This one serves waffles on Sundays. Too bad we were climbing on a Monday.
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A really cool mushroom we saw along the trail.
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There were a number of electric fence crossings near the end of the trail, but at each point, with these little step ladders to help facilitate the crossing.

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And today, our DNT cabin key arrived. I’m still pretty amazed that if you pay about 100 kroner, the DNT will send you a key that will open any of the hundreds of cabins all across Norway, and trust you to just leave money for any food you eat (in the cabins that are stocked with food) or to pay when you spend the night.

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Dressing for Barnehage

On the first day of school, John and I got to sit through a presentation from her teachers about Ada’s preschool and how Ada should dress. In Norway, young children attend  “barnehage” which translates to children’s garden just like kindergarten. Barnehage is basically equivalent to preschool/day care for children from 0 to 5 years old. Barnehege is heavily subsidized by the state and children who attend are required to spend at least one to two hours outside every day unless it is below 14F. That means even if it rains cats and dogs outside all day like it did on Tuesday of last week or if it’s freezing cold or sleeting, they spend time outside.

Norwegians have a saying (though I’ve heard this in the US too) “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” To that end, here is what Ada’s preschool teachers told us Ada would need to be able to participate comfortably outside at preschool.

For rain or wet weather, Ada and her friends have rain pants and rain coats. The pants are more like trousers and have an elastic that goes around the shoe. So, they are pretty impenetrable. They also put these over their snow suits in the winter if it’s especially wet snow outside:

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As a side note, I think it’s pretty neat that Ada’s friends back in Delaware get to wear full body rain suits as St. Anne’s Episcopal preschool trials a nature preschool!

For colder weather, the kids dress in layers. First they put on wool (“ull” in Norwegian) long underwear:

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A one piece fleece suit:

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A one piece heavy winter suit (again note the elastic to go underneath the boot):

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Wool socks and good snowshoes (Viking and Ecco are good Norwegian brands that make warm shoes with Goretex on the outside for water resistance/breathability):IMG_2428

And another pair of snow boots for wet snows (basically wool lined rain boots):

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Finally, a hat and fleece scarf or a balaclava (shown below) and really nice mittens that can go over the sleeves of a coat:

IMG_2429Unfortunately because we are new to Norway, I don’t have the awesome network of friends and family giving us hand-me-downs for all of this necessary clothing. These clothes also can be quite expensive. A good set of new winter boots can put you back $100 and a good pair of mittens can cost up to $50! However, I have been able to find almost everything we need used through other parents at Ada’s school, facebook groups or the local craigslist (finn.no) at extremely reasonable prices. Although it takes more time to obtain clothes this way, it has saved us a lot of money, and of course I hope it has also helped the environment through reuse. (Plus, it was fun to go to random parts of the city to meet up with the sellers.)

I almost forgot to mention that Ada will also occasionally need “wind and cold cream” that parents put on their kids faces to protect their skin from getting too dry in the winter. Evidently they sell it at most “Apoteks” aka pharmacies. Yikes!

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This fall, Ada gets to go to a “nature school” every Friday where they get on a bus and go to a place where they learn about nature by spending all day outside regardless of the weather. I’m sure Ada will be putting some of this clothing to good use there as well. As you can see below, Ada will pick blueberries, learn how to whittle and operate a bow and arrow (!), build a hut with sticks, set up a trap, pitch a Norwegian tipi tent, grill around a bonfire, and do an obstacle course. How awesome is that? (At several places in Norway, I’ve actually seen small children put these skills to use by whittling sticks quite proficiently to roast a hot dog over a fire.)

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Because Ada will be outside all day at nature school, we’ve had to buy her an insulated sitting mat which is quite common in Norway to protect your bottom from the wet/cold ground. Below is a pic of Ada sitting on her mat when her class chose to picnic outside near the local pool:

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Below is a pic of Ada picking up trash to celebrate international clean up day (All the kids in barnehage wear yellow or orange vests on field trips and they seem to take field trips a lot).

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And below are a few good pics of Ada and her friends playing outside this fall in preschool:

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Finally, how does the school manage all of this clothing. Each kid not only gets their own cubby which holds their indoor shoes/extra set of clothes and backpack. But each class has their own special portable closet with hooks that can hold boots and rain coats so they can dry for the next day!

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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!