Tuesday, December 20, 2011

life is a bit nuts!

I had every intention of getting a "Christmas letter" up on the blog, for those who are doing a season check-in. I can't believe nearly a month has gone by since a real update--butter shortage post not withstanding.

But, we have been a little busy. We successfully moved out of our apartment on the 10th of December and into the yet unfinished house. The whole family is sleeping on mattresses in the downstairs office/guest room, and our kitchen consists of a refrigerator and microwave. There are no doors in the house yet, and I find myself turning OFF lights to go the bathroom, because if you're on the toilet, and lean a leeeeeeetle to the right. . . I have a great view of our neighbor's front door. 

But, it's coming along. The upstairs is nearly completely painted, lighting is nearly completely done and I think we have move into our bedrooms upstairs after Christmas. Erik is working steadily on the kitchen cabinets, and we should have our counter in place today. Now that we are all in the same house, my nights are much more house-focused than they have been for the past, oh, 7 months. For the first time in 7 months, once Greta is asleep, I get right to work on house projects (namely painting). My Norwegian homework is suffering, my blog is ignored, and Greta's doll's Christmas dress is not getting knitted. 

May 20th:
Peering into the kitchen
On top of it all, there's this whole Christmas season approaching us. Greta is enjoying a chocolate advent calendar, and getting very excited about the Nisse Far visiting on Christmas. We're kind of having a hard time keeping our stories straight, or rather, combining them together. She seems to "understand" that Santa brings presents, as does the Nisse Far, so they really are the same people. But while Santa lives in the North Pole, the Nisse Far really doesn't. Santa comes down the chimney, but the Nisse Far doesn't seem to need to do that. The combination of English and Norwegian books and movies, stories and theater performances she's seen is confusing. It's probably best to just let her lead the story, and put together whatever combination she prefers. 

Dec 20th:
Peering into the kitchen
There is so much more like I'd to write about: the house progress, progress on the nursing/midwife license, the Christmas letter, Norway's butter shortage, my Norwegian class, a email correspondence with a American midwife in France, and things I referred to many posts back and promised to write about but never did. Alas. . . only 24 hours in the day.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"The Emily-Case"

"Sorry, Emily"
On Wednesday, the day following my front page news headline and the immediate email response from SAFH (telling me, essentially, "we've only slightly changed our opinion on your mediocre education and work experience. You need more basic nursing student experiences), I was in the paper again. Twice. 

The first mention was a mini-editorial on page 2. It read:
GD brought yesterday the story of American Emily Stange struggling to obtain approval for her education from home. Years of work as a nurse and midwife is clearly not sufficient to resume training and practice in Norwegian working life. This is not a training example of how modern Norwegian society should take care of new citizens.

The Government has announced a parliamentary statement about integration. The notified measures for rapid recognition of immigrants' skills. Until the new decision is made it must nevertheless be allowed to use reason. The Emily-case is a good example of this.

So, that was nice. I've got the editors of the paper on my side. The "Emily-case". Makes me sound like a Law and Order episode.  Also got a few words of encouragement from the lady behind the counter at the new coffee shop, who recognized me from the paper! 

The second mention was a follow up article, written by the same journalist as the first. There are a few quotes from the communication director at SAFH, which I found interesting to learn that there was more than one person weighing in on this "case". I wasn't, however, entirely satisfied with the conclusion. Several people who read it were left to believe that everything was approved and all is A-OK. Not so.

Here's the article, again, according to the Gospel of Google Translate (with a few of my own editorialized comments for good measure):

We're sorry, Emily! (that makes it sound more apologetic than I think they really are)

The responsibility lies flat and regret that it has taken an unreasonably long time for Emily Stange to approve their education. Yesterday, she got an answer. (although not the one I was hoping for)

GD wrote Tuesday about the nurse and midwife Emily Stange from the United States. She has been waiting over a year to obtain approval for their education so that she can work in Norway.

"SAFH acknowledges that the appeal proceedings have beenunreasonably prolonged. This is not how it should be, and we regret this," says communications director, Magnus Karlsrud Dahlen.

He says that the authorization of health professionals trained outside the EU is a challenging task, more complicated than for applicants educated in European countries. (Here's an idea: TELL THE PEOPLE FROM OUTSIDE THE EU THAT IT TAKES MORE TIME FOR THEM).

"Documents must be verified and training be reviewed to ensurethat the applicant has an equivalent education with an similar Norwegian education," he says. (does equivalent mean identical?)

They pointed out that the procedure for Stange in the first halfwas completed within the specified three to four months. (yes, but taking 4 months to not even read the application correctly the first time, when it clearly was documented in multiple places that I had a 4-year degree, and not a 2-year degree as you stated, doesn't seem like a good use of your 4 months). It is for the processing of the complaint office lie flat and acknowledges that the waiting time has been unreasonably long. (it should also be noted that my second application was not actually sent to the "complaint" office, or so we were told, since they had f*#@ed it up so much the first time).

AFH has initiated a review of procedures and organization.(No idea what AFH is). The goal is that all matters, including complaints, should be treatedmore efficiently and with better quality.

"We want to offer health care personnel who are seeking authorization and license in Norway, a thorough and predictable procedure," said Karlsrud Dahlen.

For Emily Stange some extra practice is required before her education can be approved. (and before they will even consider her application to be a midwife, which is really what she wants to do for employment).

What's next?
Stay tuned. . . I'm trying not to think too much about this right now, and am actually doing a good job at it--until I sit down and blog. 

(Although those of you from Norway who are reading this blog and not commenting. . . if you have any opinions, thoughts, have heard of similar situations, know of someone who dealt with something like this:  Please let me know! I'd really appreciate it).

Friday, November 25, 2011

Newspaper, day two

So, what happened after my appearance on the front page of our local paper, criticizing a Norwegian governmental agency?

By 12:48pm that same afternoon I had an email in my inbox from the section leader of the nursing-license agency. It was a brief email, and basically said: "I regret that the processing of your complaint has taken a long timeSAFH has considered your complaint and added your comments and new information as a basis for review of your application for certification as a nurse. Our original decision to reject is now changedI refer to an unsigned copy of the new decision that is attached."

Our original decision to reject is now changed! I wasn't floating on clouds, but I must admit--I was feeling pretty smug. It wasn't until about 5 minutes later than I realized there was an attached PDF and I opened the 4-page document, written in Norwegian. of course Having seen one of these letters before, I flipped to the final page, where they summarize their requirements. And there it was:

"In order to document that you have the necessary skills as a nurse in the Norwegian health care system, you must go through and pass the following courses and practice."

1. 3-week class in national subject for nurses (this was not a surprise, this is required for all foreign-educated nurses)
2. Minimum 6 weeks supervised clinicals in psychiatric healthcare (Still....???)
3. Minimum 5 weeks supervised clinical in medicine or surgery nursing  (Whaaa . . .???)

How is this different from their decision, after wrongly interpreting my four-year bachelor + master's degrees in nursing to be a two year degree, that they made in January 2011? What did they require me to do then?

4. 8 weeks of eldery care nursing (this is now removed)
5. National licensing exam for new nurses (thank God. . . this was a huge one).

BUT. . . 
After providing them with 12 weeks of full-time student employment on a med-surg floor, plus the documentation about my master's degree training, (not to mention our referring them to a Norwegian woman with a St. Olaf nursing degree just 3 years younger than I, who was approved for a license without all the bullshit extra clinicals). . . they did not change their requirements on psych clinicals at all, and they only reduced their requirements for med/surg clinicals from 8 weeks to 5 weeks! 

Don't read any further Mom, 'cause I'm about to use some profanity. . . 


Me. . . in the news

This past spring, the Norwegian Parliament passed a recommendation on integration of foreigners/immigrants into the Norwegian workplace. Among other things, they strongly encouraged "improving measures for rapidly recognizing immigrants' education and skills". A reporter at our local Lillehammer newspaper, "Gudbrandsdølen Dagningen", known as "GD" (and pronounced: Gay-Day, because that's how you say "G" and "D" in Norwegian), anyway. . . the reporter was writing a series of stories about foreigners and their challenges of finding work in Norway. Last week she wrote a nice article about a local boutique that hired an Afghani woman to work, and what a great situation it's been for employee and employer. My former landlady, fellow barnehage mother, and now friend, is an editor of the paper, and told her colleague that she should talk to me, as I am a rather qualified nurse and midwife who can't get permission to work in this fine country.

I met the reporter on Monday morning. I told her my story, 95% in Norwegian. The latest update on my nursing license application is that in September I turned in paperwork clarifying student work experiences I had in 1996. We were told at the time that my application was at the top of the pile. Then two months passed. We called and called, never getting ahold of anyone. Finally, 3 weeks ago they say we should have a letter in 10 days. I was interviewed for this article on Day 19.

Here's the front page from Tuesday: front page!!!
Yes, that's ME, upper left corner!
The title reads: Over one year has gone
without approval. Nurse and midwife
education and over 12 years experience
in the USA is maybe not good enough
in Norway? It has been over one year
since Emily Stange sought approval from
Statens autorisajonskontor for helsepersonell.

And then, here's the article, translated with much help from GoogleTranslate:

Yes, this picture is about 8x10 inches tall. 
Emily Stange is educated as a nurse and midwife from the USA and has more than 12 years of experience. But to get approved competence in Norway has proved to be a tough process.

Lillehammer: All immigrants should get credit for their competence, according to NOU 2011-14. The study is part of the basis for this spring's Parliament Paper on better integration of foreigners.

Emily Stange could not agree more. She longs to use her midwife education in this country, but has so far waited for over one year for approval.


In August last year Emily came to Lillehammer together with her husband and daughter. Her husband who is also American, is long in the job as a research scientist at NINA.

Emily also believed it would be a cinch to get the paperwork in order.

"On the website of SAFH we were promised a waiting period of three to four months. Now it's been one year, and neither the midwife nor the nursing license has been approved. We have called and asked many times about how long I have to wait and have received various answers. It's almost an all-day job just to get in touch with the right person", says Emily.

Last she and her husband contacted SAFH,  they were told that she should receive a reply within ten days.  Now, three weeks have passed. . . 


The treatment of Emily's application was lopsided from the start. In January, she received a letter that she only had two years of nursing education and that her education, therefore, was not approved.

"They obviously had not read the application, where it is clear that my nursing education is four years. The whole process was set back five months at that point", says the 36-year-old.

She has a bachelor's degree as a nurse from St. Olaf College and a master's degree as a midwife from the University of Utah. For six years she has worked as a midwife at a large hospital in New Hampshire. Before that, she worked over six years as a nurse in a newborn intensive unit with a children's hospital in Salt Lake City. 

"I think I had a good education and great work experience from a pretty large and well-known country. Therefore I thought it should be totally fine to be able to use my education in Norway. Perhaps this was a bit naive?" asked Emily.

She has experienced the waiting time as frustrating; an emotional roller-coaster. She has passed the time by learning better Norwegian and doing home improvements on a house in Søre Ål. 

"I've spoken with the midwives at the hospital in Lillehammer. They have been very encouraging. I think the Norwegian system seems square and not very flexible. It is as if the people at SAFH are sitting with a microscope to find anything that doesn't pass exactly, instead of focusing on the whole picture. In the first place, I have to wait for my nursing education to be approved. They haven't even begun on my midwifery application. This should be possible to coordinate", according to the health care worker, who is just waiting to get to work. "My husband has a good job in Lillehammer and we intend to stay here. But it can only happen if I, too, may use my education."

So, in the end. . . what happened? 
Stay tuned til tomorrow. I can only translate so much in one day. . . 

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I attend, and trying to understand, Norwegian family theatre

On Saturday night, Greta and I immersed ourselves in Norwegian culture by attending a local amateur theatre production of "Folk og Røvere i Kardemomme By" (the people and the robbers in Cardamom Town). The story is a very popular Norwegian children's book, and if you're to believe Wikipedia, it's one of Norway's most important children's books. The author, Thorbjørn Egner, wrote about a gazillion catchy Norwegian children's songs in the 1950s, and they have both endeared themselves in Norwegian's hearts and endured in Norwegian culture. 

A friend loaned us the 5-disc CD set of Thorbjørn Enger's songs, which we listened to ad nauseum on the drive to and from Lillehammer for about 3 days. I then had to ban them from the car, as I couldn't get their tinkly little tunes out of my head. I think Greta had memorized them all by then, anyway. One of the five CDs was the tale and tunes of Folk og Røvere, while another told the story of Karius and Bactus. For the scoop on Karius and Bactus, you will just have to wait for another exciting installment of Norwegian children's cultural lessons!

Cover of Egner's book
(I'm just now seeing that there are palm trees.
Where is this place?)
The storyline of Folk og Røvere goes something like this:  Karedmomme By is a quintesentially happy village, whose only law is (according to Wikipedia) "simple and liberal": 
You should not bother others,
you should be nice and kind,
otherwise you can do as you please.

Nice, right?

However, there are 3 mean robbers who rob the towns-people, but only when they actually need something. After a few celebrations are held in town, staged only to highlight ear-wormy Egner songs and get the audience to sing along, the robbers finally rob something--1 hour and 30 minutes into the play. No, no. . . I take that back. They actually did rob something earlier: a hammock, with the sleeping aunt in it. Who then woke, and treated them kindly. Anyway. . . the robbers are caught and then killed with kindness by the kindly and rather incompetent policeman. A fire breaks out in the revered old man's tower, nearly killing his puppy dog and his new parrot from Amerika (no, not kidding), but. . . the three robbers save them and are now reformed robbers and HEROS! They are each given a new job: a fireman, a baker and a circus director (did I mention the three robbers had a lion in their house? No? And a camel in town? Yeah. . . I'm not sure how that fit into the story, either). 

Kardemomme By has such prominence in Norwegian culture that it has its very own theme park in Kristiansand, associated with the zoo there. What is particularly funny about this is last October--just 6 weeks after we moved to Norway--Greta, Erik and I were in Kristiansand. Erik was working and Greta and I spent a very full afternoon at the zoo. However, I have no recollection of nor had I any idea that Kardemomme By existed as part of the zoo. My cultural blinders were ON. 

I've been trying to come up with an American equivalent that would reflects the quaintness and longevity of this story. I think I'm also trying to find an equivalent to perhaps reassure myself that there's an element of the Kardemomme phenomenon that I just don't get, simply because I didn't grow up with it. What I mean is, I was mildly entertained. But I don't know that I'd call it a great work of literature and build a theme park around it. The best example I can think of is perhaps the 1964 animated Christmas special Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. For many of us parents now in our 30s and 40s, the pre-Christmas television season wasn't complete without a viewing of Rudolph.  However now, one realizes just how primitive the animation was, how annoying some of the characters were, and--like Egner's songs--you just can't get the damn Rudolph song out of your head! Despite all of those marks against it, it has endured.

And there's gotta be a Rudolph theme park somewhere.  

And now. . . waiting til December 10th

December 10th. Final. Moving. Date. Period.

Our moving dates have been moved at least three separate times, in part due to the (unfinished) state of the house, but also due to impending sharp increases in our rent at our apartment. We're staying in a ski resort apartment, and were under the impression that as soon as winter/Christmas season kicked in, the rent could as much as double to quadruple. So we were anxious to be out of here before that happened.

Fortunately for us, winter has not yet arrived in Lillehammer/Hafjell! We've had heavy frosts, -0 C temperatures, but no snow. It has also been an incredibly dry September, October and November, and for this we feel incredibly lucky. Any other year Erik would be moaning about the lack of snow. Not this year. It's nice to have him on my side for once. Our carpenter and his son have been outdoors on the roof for the past few weeks, and we're so grateful it hasn't been sleeting on them for the past 3 weeks. I'm not sure how much that would have slowed things down. We've also had piles and piles of crap in our driveway--the wood from the old porch and tearing down the walls, windows, a mountain of old, nasty insulation, pipes and metal and a refridgerator. . . thank goodness it didn't snow on all that. We (well, Erik) took no fewer than  six trips to the dump today with a trailer. (To my credit, I was along for two of those. And only one dump employee teased me about my face mask, worn to prevent me from gagging over the stench).

Siding and windows in place. Patio door arrives tomorrow. . .
(House will be painted red in the spring).

Living room is sheet-rocked! 

Sunday night with sheetrock and a cordless drill. 
Progress is being made. As shown above, we have windows in place and our patio door arrives tomorrow. The roof is intact. House is nearly completely insulated. Living room and our bedroom are 95% sheetrocked. Greta's room has its first coat of actual paint (pink. That's another story). The downstairs bath is tiled and the miscolored tile replaced. The mudroom/entryway/vindfang (windbreak) has its tiles in place. We have lights installed in the mudroom and "piano nook". The plumber is working on the furnace and soon to lay the warming cables in the floors. That's right folks: it's 0C and we're working without heat. I wear--and I'm not kidding here--5-6 layers on my torso. Usually something like this: wool, wool, polypro, polypro, fleece, fleece. 

So. . . December 10th. . . here we come. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Norwegian barn-raising

In the Amish culture in the US, when a farmer needs a new barn, all the neighbors come over and build the barn together as a community. (I think it happens in one day, but I'm not sure if that's possible). The women prepare a meal, and the entire community sits down together inside the barn and celebrates. 

Erik and Steinar discuss something about the roof, I guess.
Two weekends ago, three of Erik's colleagues and our uber-friendly neighbor, descended up our house for a dugnad (volunteer) project. In the space of about 3 hours, the five of them nearly completely tiled our new roof. In fact, when I arrived around 12:30 (as the Amish wife in this story, supplying food for the laborers) with two hot pizzas, they were all back on the ground, majority of the tiling complete. I had imagined great pictures of men balancing precariously on the roof, but I was too late. 

It's kind of hard to take a picture
of a roof from the ground, so Erik
snapped this one with his cell phone.
Two of the guys stayed until nearly 6pm, cutting and laying the angled pieces where the two rooflines meet. We were so grateful for their help, and were really touched by the warmth and enthusiasm that Erik's colleagues and our new neighbor showed us. It is gestures like this that make us "foreigners" feel very welcome in both the community and our new neighborhood. 

Post-Halloween letter to the editor

A letter on the back page of the local paper (kind of letter to the general public) today read:

Can we not cut out all of Halloween? Is there anything positive about it? My children have never had permission and it hasn't been a problem! 

Signed "Anti-Halloween mom".

Now, I'm not a huge crazy-Halloween fan, but c'mon Boring Lady! Dressing up in a crazy costume? Visiting your neighbors and having them giggle and comment on your get-up? Walking around the neighborhood on a dark, chilly night, running into your friends and classmates disguised in their crazy costumes? That alone is fun for a kid. I don't even have to mention the candy. . .

I feel sorry for the kids of that mom. Not that they didn't ever go Trick or Treating, but if that's her attitude about kids and fun, I hate to imagine what her idea of fun is. . .

Monday, November 7, 2011

Halloween in Norway: Knep eller Knask?

Living on top of a quiet, steep hill last Halloween, we didn't have a good idea of exactly how Halloween was celebrated in Norway. We've had a number of folks tell us that the holiday didn't come to Norway until about 10 years ago, and it seems a bit slow to catch on.

Halloween in Norway is a holiday that celebrates the scary, ghoulish, and gruesome. It also seems to be a holiday aimed at the school aged kids, but not so much the pre-school or high school kids. So no adorable pea-pod costumes for the babies, no Curious George costumes for the toddlers, no princess costumes for the 3 1/2 year olds. . .

. . . that is, until Greta came to town.

Seeing that our life these days can best be described as chaotic, I hadn't given Halloween too much thought, until a local American-married-to-Norwegian friend invited us to come to their home and neighborhood for Trick or Treating. I felt guilty for about, oh--two seconds, over the fact that Greta didn't have a darling new Halloween costume. Then I realized that she's 3, and has no clue what Halloween is about. For that matter, we have no clue what Halloween is about in Norway, so I quickly got over that initial mamma-guilt.

I dug Greta's fairy wings and fairy crown out of storage, and she lit up with excitement when I did the big costume reveal on Halloween night. Voila! Your regular dress-up purple princess/fairy dress and fairy wings that you haven't seen in 4 months! She was all for it. We layered up on wool long underwear and fleece, and we were set. That is, until she spotted a single square inch of pink satin sticking out of a bag.

"What's that?" she asked, curiously.
"Just. . . uh. . . a pink hat." It was, in fact, an entire pink satin princess ensemble lent to me by my friend Kim the American as a possible costume for Greta. In the spirit of "keeping life simple" and "what does she know about not wearing everyday dress-up clothes for Halloween anyway?", and in a hope to avoid any post-Halloween breakdowns when we had to give the costume back, I had kept the pink costume in a bag to return to its owner.

"What hat?" she asks, eyes wide.
"Oh. . this one? Do you want to wear it?" I ask, acting surprised. I manage to do a fancy, magic mamma move and keep the dress in the bag while only pulling out the hat--one of those pointy, cone shaped princess-in-a-tower kind of hats, with the streaming, glittery tulle off the top.

Greta has already removed her fairy crown, but her little mind is too sharp. "What else is in there?" she wonders, and she reaches for the bag.

"Oh. . . this pink dress?" I'm doomed. Greta is tearing off the fairy wings and yanking the purple princess/fairy dress off her shoulders. She couldn't get that pink dress on fast enough.

We went trick or treating with Kim and her 8 year old daughter and niece--all 3 witches of some sort, as well as two dads of American/Norwegian families and their two respective 5 year-old sons, who were a skeleton and a dragon. The dragon costume was totally awesome. And totally American. Kim escorted us around the neighborhood, which seems to have a high proportion of Americans, Brits and Norwegians-who-have-lived-abroad-and-understand-the-concept-of-Halloween living there. The neighborhood was certainly not mobbed with Trick or Treaters, asking "Knep eller Knask?", not even half the homes were participating, and most of them didn't have jack o' lanterns out. But it was a wonderful crisp fall evening and Greta was thrilled to pieces.

As for the princess costume, it was a big hit, with kid, neighbors and parents alike. The neighbors were delighted to see a charming pink princess instead of a bloody, bludgeoned head on their doorstep. And Greta practically floated around the neighborhood. I think we have some time before she embraces the gory, Norwegian Halloween, which is fine with me. On our walk around the neighborhood, she announced, "I don't like the scary costumes, I just like the pretty ones."

Perhaps we'll start a campaign for Cute or Clever Costumes for Kids for Halloween.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Countdown. . .

Oct 27
 Back in July, when we moved into our "transitional apartment" in Hafjell--a ski resort about 15 minutes north of Lillehammer--we told the landlord we'd move out on October 24th. 

October 24th has come and gone. Now we're aiming for November 24th. (We actually made that decision waaay back in August). 

But now. . . gulp. . . we have a month to go. And so much to do. 

Getting there. . . right???
The addition is nearly entirely closed in, and after this weekend, the roof should be finished. We can then begin insulating the addition, taking down the wall between Old and New on the first floor, and moving onto some of the more final steps. These include finishing ceiling paneling, installation of lights, tiling, installation of the warming cables and the wood floors. Oh, new windows through the whole house. Kitchen cabinets built. By Erik. 

We sat down a few days ago and wrote down our priorities. More specifically, we reevaluated and adjusted our priorities. For example, a few months ago we said, "Greta's room will be finished. Her Big Girl Bed built into the wall like a little captain's bed) will be finished; curtains handmade and hung; walls painted. It will be a safe, clean retreat, welcoming her to her new home. La-la-laaaa." About a month ago I said, "Greta doesn't need her Big Girl Bed finished. She can sleep on a mattress or in her crib a bit longer. " This week I said, "The upstairs can remain a workzone. All 3 of us can sleep downstairs in the guest room on mattresses on the floor. Just GET ME THE HELL OUT OF THIS APARTMENT!!!"

Other priorities, or non-priorities?

Erik: "Well. . . doors."

Me: "We don't need doors."

Erik: "I can see us keeping the living room as a workspace for painting stuff like trim."

Me: "The trim can go up a year from now. We're using that living room before we have trim up."

Us, in agreement: need washer and dryer (some Norwegians consider a dryer an indulgence), refrigerator, stove, oven, hood. Off to the store we go, on a shopping trip we will probably never again repeat.

Our kitchen "cabinets" will be boxes (not literally cardboard packing boxes)--more accurately deep cavernous spaces to stack stuff inside. Drawers, shelves, fronts will come with time. One of our three bedroom windows was misordered and will be installed in the spring. Walls will be primed, not painted. 

One month to go. Can we do it?