Sunday, January 9, 2011

Christmas Letter, blog-style

As promised, here is a blog-style Christmas letter. I was a little too late, and a little too cheap to send out the usual Christmas cards. But after both my mother and my brother referred their Christmas-letter recipients to my blog, I figured I better get some sort of summary letter posted. My dear friends and regular blog readers may find this rather boring. Any newcomers just might learn a thing or two.

So. . . . 

"It is hard to believe 2010 has already come to an end. What an exciting and eventful year it has been for the Stange Family!"

Only kidding. . . Well, it was actually pretty eventful, just a little more on the stressful side than the cheesy side. 

In January, once we had an official job offer for Erik with the Norwegian Institute of Nature Research (NINA) in Lillehammer, Norway, the planning got into full swing. We felt that we were very fortunate in that so much of the moving process, as stressful as it was, went exactly according to plan: we successfully sold our home in Vermont three days after listing it with a realtor (let’s not talk about the months we tried to FSBO), sold two cars—one just a week before we left Vermont, and the second just a day before I left the country, shipped all our treasured life possessions into a large shipping container, and crossed our fingers as we wished it Bon Voyage to Oslo. It was estimated it would take 4-6 weeks for the container to arrive in Lillehammer. Seeing that we didn’t have an apartment or house rented until the day after our belongings were loaded up, the estimate was in the 6-week range.

So, in mid-June, the four of us—Erik, myself, Greta and Tika (the dog)—headed to Minnesota for 6 weeks. We had a lovely summer with attentive grandparents all around and reconnected with many Minnesota-based friends—things that short Christmas visits just don’t allow us to do. I even squeezed in a trip to San Antonio to visit a bosom buddy (yes, it was July, and I was nuts), and to DC to visit my brother and his girlfriend (again, July, nuts). At that same time, Erik flew to Norway to get our bank accounts, transportation, and housing in order, and hopefully oversee the arrival of our container before Greta, Tika and I were due to arrive 2 weeks later. Everything again worked according to plan. The container arrived just a day behind schedule, not a wine glass was broken, and not a single gun was confiscated at the border (oh my. . . I am so so kidding). 

Getting myself onto an overnight, overseas flight with a toddler and high-strung, anxious and not entirely well-sedated dog was not what I would call a highlight of my summer, nor something I ever wish to repeat. However, the three of us arrived safely, although not entirely well-rested, in Oslo, where Erik was anxiously awaiting our arrival. Tika was unexpectedly detained in customs/quarantine for the weekend, as the customs veterinarian was unable to find or read her microchip, but the issue was resolved within a few days. We were happy just to have her on our side of the ocean: temperatures in Minnesota the week we left were forecasted to be too hot for animals to fly (above 85 degrees), but our 7pm flight coincided with the coolest day in Minneapolis that week (exactly 85 degrees).

We are renting a lovely, spacious home that sits on a hillside overlooking the town of Lillehammer. We are about 3km from the center of town, but it’s a steep 1000ft climb in those 3km. On the drive up the hillside we pass a hotel, the Olympic ski jumps, Norway’s “top athletic high school”, 1 home and a small sheep farm, so we are quite isolated in the sense that we really have no neighbors. Our house is a 5 minute walk to groomed, lit ski trails that connect with the Olympic cross-country and biathlon ski trails. We feel very fortunate to have found such housing for our first year here (our lease expires in June). Living in comfortable, cozy quarters has made the transition very easy.

And how are we doing?

Greta has made the transition easily and beautifully. She is now 2.5 years old, and now a seasoned traveler. Her favorite game this summer was playing “airplane”, packing up one bag after another with play food and blankets. Hmmm. Where did she get that idea? The past year we delighted in her rapid language development—in two languages. Once we arrived in Norway, we enrolled her in a local barnehage, essentially a government funded nursery school/daycare, where she has thrived. Within 3 weeks she spoke her first full Norwegian sentence (“I want to play a little more”), and 4 months later she chatters to her dollies and animals in Norwegian, talks in her sleep in Norwegian, and has told me, when I struggled with reading her a Norwegian children's story, "Det er vanskelig, Mamma. Jeg skal hjelpe deg." (It is difficult, Mamma. I will help you). It has been a fascinating process to watch. She is a cheery, happy little girl who is definitely developing her own personality. Right now she is quite insistent upon wearing “tights and a dress”, or the same filmy pink dance skirt day and night, day after day after day. Pink is a sure-fire hit. Pants are a sure-fire temper tantrum. We tried our darndest to keep the word “princess” (and the color pink) out of the house, but somehow they both snuck in. One evening she was wrapped up in a cow bath towel following her bath, and she spotted herself in the mirror and announced, “I’m a cow princess!” We have learned to pick our battles. 

As for me, the language classes I had planned on starting immediately upon arriving in the country were full, much to my disappointment. But, having my days relatively free, I tried to settle into a pattern of studying Norwegian for several hours a day. My efforts seem to have paid off. I just started a level-3 (whatever that means) Norwegian class on January 3rd. All of my classmates--from Lithuania, Latvia, Chechnya, Ethiopia, Somalia, and Afghanistan--have been in Norway for over 2 years, and their language skills are quite good. It is very challenging, which I'm afraid is exactly what I was hoping for. 

I’ve also had promising contact with the midwives at the local hospital. Unlike in the US, where midwives only attend approximately 10% of all births, it is nearly the opposite in Norway. The head midwife at the hospital has encouraged me to keep her updated on my language classes, because in her words: “we need midwives!” In preparation for that I have three very thick, thorough applications submitted with Norway’s licensing organizations and their education accreditation.

Erik is thrilled with the 18+ inches of snow we recently received, as the 100+km of Olympic ski trails out our back door have finally been groomed. He's also pretty pleased that he survived the 6 month "trial period" at work, during which time he could have been let go without questions. (That would have been an interesting predicament, to say the least). He's enjoying his work as a professional ecologist, and works with friendly, supportive colleagues. His job is nearly entirely in Norwegian, which is a challenge he is enjoying, in part because his colleagues still shake their heads upon hearing an American speak Norwegian so well. Or forget he's actually American. 

So how are we really doing? 

All in all, I’d say quite well. I think we had very realistic expectations about this move. We knew that friendships take time to develop and wouldn’t happen immediately. We also knew the language barrier and learning process would be challenging and frustrating for me, and it certainly has been, but not unbearably so or really any worse than I expected. 

Having a child in Norway has really paved the way to several friendships (there are reasons why Norway has been named the #1 place to be a mother). For one, the barnehage is much more than simply a daycare. The parents council really works to promote a sense of community among the children and parents. There have been several family social events outside of normal “daycare” hours, and even a parents-only social, complete with games, delicious food and BYO wine! We have met several families there who have welcomed us with warmth and friendliness (and they even speak English when I stare blankly at them). One of the other mothers has in a sense taken me under her wing, and invited me to her 40th birthday party and later to join her in a weekly woman's workout group. These events are terrifying and exciting, frustrating and encouraging. Life is a rollercoaster.  

My mantra this year: "One day at a time". Although, in the middle of a 2 year-old's temper tantrum, it's more like "This too shall pass." 

And with that, God Jul and Godt Nytt År. We hope to hear from many of you soon. 

And please, take us seriously when we say "We'd love to have visitors!"

Love, Emily, Erik, Greta, and Tika

PS: Skype is free, and cool. Get an account, and call us up.

Christmas Eve

Christmas morning
(with skirt over the jammies)

New poufy skirt, new tights,
and a new doll house. What more
could a 2 year old ask for?

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Bless Greta! Maybe she can come to Oslo and help me!
    Really nice to read all about your year (we have been going through so many of the same things!)