December Highlights

We’ve already shared a bunch of the photos from December in the Christmas in Norway post, but here are some highlights that didn’t make that post.

One Saturday afternoon, we went to see the Oslo Philharmonic Christmas special, where they created a sountrack for the animated film “the Snowman.” It was a wonderful performance, in a gorgeous hall.

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We got our first major snowfall one school day in December, and Maddie and Ada had a wonderful time walking to school that day.

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Unlike previous places I’ve lived, the snow is now a permanent fixture, and so nearly every walk to school involves Maddie and Ada climbing the large snow mountain in the grocery store parking lot along our walk.

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Maddie and Ada’s school created a similar huge snow mountain, which is a favorite place to play for kids in the morning.

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On weekends, we love to head to some of the nearby school playgrounds, and now that there is lots of snow, Staabek school has a wonderful sledding hill.

Here are Ada and one of her best friends, Kiana riding on a two-person sled that even has brakes.

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And the two of them eating big blocks on snow on the walk home.
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Maddie and her friend, Nika.

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In mid-December, we went back to the folk museum to see their Christmas market, and got to see lots of traditional Norwegian crafts and traditions. Maddie and Ada loved this organ grinder.

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The horse drawn carriage rides were also neat to see.

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And Ada liked the big ornaments on the tree.

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John took a two-day workshop on using web programming in Javascript to create art. The workshop brought together 10 people from around Oslo with a wide range of programming background and professions, and we created these posters that were printed on A2 paper using a Riso printing process similar to screen printing. Two days after the workshop, we got to see all of our work on display at an art gallery appropriately named Low Standards. My poster is the apostrophe on the bottom row, 2nd from the left.

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In a second poster, prints from different artists were merged to create new works of art.

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Here is a video of Ada’s preschool class singing “I’m a little snowflake.”

We went back to Bærums Verk, and it looks very different in December than from how it looked back in September.

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Here’s Maddie in front of a statue of Ingegjerd Løvenskiold Stuart, the Mistress of the Robes, the highest-ranking member of the royal court, who was committed to restoring the industrial village of Bærums Verk.

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At Bærums Verk, we got to see a short performance by the 3 sisters, singing a traditional Norwegian Christmas Carol, På låven sitter nissen, a song about naughty elves on the porch eating porridge that has become quite an earworm in our house.

Finally, we wrapped up the trip to Bærums Verk with a horse and buggy ride.

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Maddie has also become a rather voracious reader in the past months. She’s finished both of the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory books, and is now reading Harry Potter with John. Every now and then, she even reads to her little sister.

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Here’s one more sledding video, this time, from Frogner Park in Oslo. Maddie and Ada love these “Bumboard” sleds, which are super popular in Norway.

Our walks home from school often involve just as much snow play as our walks to school. Here’s Maddie climbing snow mountain just after school lets out with her friends Eleanor and Barrett.

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Here’s Maddie and Ada making a snowman after piano practice one Thursday. IMG_3464

Here’s a photo of our Christmas tree and decorations. Thanks to our friend Paulina for loaning us a tree and many of the ornaments.

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Here are our Letters to Santa (one on left is Ada’s written by Maddie and one on right is Maddie’s second draft in which she added a few more things.) Both were sent to Santa in Drobak, Norway via the postal service.

A few last random tidbits, We found Thai restaurant in Oslo with the same name as the one we frequent in Delaware. Alas, since eating out is a super special treat in Oslo, we didn’t check this place out.
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Here’s a candid photo of Ada waiting for her sister’s piano lesson.
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Finally, here we are with our Nisse-billett, the free Flytoget train tickets we got to the airport for wearing Santa hats on our journey to Copenhagen. Just one more way to get in the Christmas spirit.

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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/

October and November Adventures

Things are getting busier, and I’m falling behind on my monthly photo posts, so I’m going to combine two months into one here.

Hanging out at a small pond in Jar, near our house.
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In early October, Maddie got a copy of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When she first got it, she wanted to read it walking to school. She’s now finished both this book, and the sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

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Maddie is also enjoying taking piano lessons after school on Thursday’s. Her teacher likes it when the parent is in the room during the lesson so we can better help her practice during the week. So, often Ada gets to hang out too sometimes playing and sometimes eating a snack at her sister’s feet.

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Ada keeps getting better and better on her scooter, and it’s now the best way to make sure we get to school on time.
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Date day—Diana and I got to see a member of the Physics Nobel Committee describe the 2018 Physics Nobel Prize.
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This is the view from the back of the physics building, looking to the west—our apartment is way off in the distance.
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Maddie’s class put on a small play sharing the story of Rama and Sita.

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Here’s more of Ada on the scooter. This time, it was 51°F outside, and Ada insisted on wearing short sleeves.
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For my birthday, we celebrated with chocolate cake from our local bakery and took a trip to see the National Norwegian Ballet perform Manon. Thanks to the generous underwriting of the Norwegian government, our tickets were around $15 each, and Maddie and Ada managed to stay focused for the entire 3 hour ballet.

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Afterward, they decided to run around a bit on the Opera House, which is an amazing space right on the water.

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Maddie and Ada’s school celebrated Halloween with Trunk or Treat on October 21st (because their fall week long break fell right over Halloween)—parents decorated their cars and gave out candy and awards for the best costumes.
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Maddie turned 8 this year, and we decided to have a small celebration at home.

We celebrated Maddie’s Birthday with some friends from Iran, and they sang Happy Birthday in Persian to Maddie.

Ada turns herself into a present.

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First snow in Norway—just as we are leaving for London for fall break.
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As we were waiting for our flight, Maddie and Ada found a moment for some silly science experiments with static electricity.

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In early November, we went to a Kulturhus in Oslo for a day learning about different cultures. One of the activities was building new worlds and making bridges between them. Maddie and Ada chose to make homes out of cardboard. Maddie’s house is the one in the back (and not pink).

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Another walk near our house around Dællivannet (vann means water in Norwegian and is a way to name a lake). That’s Kolsas in the background.

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In mid November, we set up a Skype call between Maddie and her class back in Delaware. She had a great time talking to them.

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Ada celebrated a friend’s birthday at Leo’s Lekeland, a play space for kids that is loaded with all sorts of climbing and play structures for kids, and plenty of seating for parents to sit and chat.

Here’s a video of Maddie trying to master a rope swing on a playground near our home. This is one of her final attempts after working on it for twenty minutes.

Norway doesn’t really believe in salting or shoveling sidewalks, so it’s not uncommon for walkways to be quite slippery. Not to worry, the local sporting goods store sells shoes with ice spikes, along with detachable spikes you can add to any shoes, and keeps a block of ice in the store for you to test out the traction of your shoes.

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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.

A trip to Bergen

Back in the beginning of October, we took a long weekend and traveled to Bergen, Norway.

Bergen is known for being rainy, and it didn’t disappoint. It was our first real chance to put our rain gear to test.

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Maddie and Ada had a great time jumping in the biggest puddles they could find.

and with rain, you always get rainbows (even two at a time!)

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We took the Fløibanen funicular up to the top of Mount Fløyen, where it was rainy and a bit cold, but Maddie and Ada managed still had fun at the playgrounds we discovered at the top.
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Evidently parts of “Frozen” were inspired by the city of Bergen, Norway. The moss covered rocks and trolls at the top of the Mount Fløyen were reminiscent of the film.

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Here’s a picture of the Skomakerdiket, a beautiful lake that the top of Mt. Fløyen that made the perfect lunch spot, until it started to rain heavily again.
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The classic tourist photo of Bryggen, the historic shops and restaurants at the wharf.
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The Bergen Aquarium made for a great visit on a rainy morning. I find I really like museums that are small enough to fully explore in half a day.

We also had some great adventures at the science museum.

We spend an afternoon wandering around the Bergen Art Museum.

One really interesting exhibit we saw was this installation where kids could write their wishes on a star and place them on the wall. This one caught my eye. (“ikke” means not in Norwegian.)
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