Thursday, March 31, 2011

Cuppy Cakes for Greta

Mmm. . . deilig!
There are moments, as a newish mother, that it hits you that you are actually a mom. Making 36 cupcakes for Greta's upcoming 3rd birthday to bring to the barnehage tomorrow was one of those moments.

The cups are pink with balloons, the cake is chocolate, the frosting pink, and sprinkles pink, green, yellow, brown (and applied very carefully by Greta herself).

Tomorrow (is Friday, and her birthday is Sunday) at the barnehage she will be Hurra'd and get to wear a crown and a cape and sit on a thrown cut out of a tree, and kids will dance around her and bow, curtsey, nod, spin, jump and dance. Norway has a very lively birthday song. No wonder they don't mind that we're bringing sugary goodness: they burn off all the calories singing their birthday song!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Birkebeinerrennet: The official Lillestange update

Greta "heia"ing Racer #625, with norsk 
og amerikansk flagger.
My apologies (mostly to my husband) on my delayed-by-a-week entry on the Birkebeinerrennet. I was all fired up about my own ski race, and pounded out a blog entry that very day. The Birkie is a much bigger deal than my measley 15K race attracting 4,000 women. This is a ski marathon, Norway's largest, one of the world's most well known races, 54km long, over a mountain, and attracting 16,000 racers! Yes, you read that right: 16,000 skiers. 

Just beyond the finish line.
Check out the bluebird skies! What a day.
I am not nearly nuts enough nor in shape enough to even dream about completing or competing in a Birkebeiner ski race. But Erik was, and reported that it was "fun". Also quite exhausting. And he's ready to do it again next year. And is dangerously close to becoming competitive about it. 

He woke at 3:20am, drove down the hill to Lillehammer, hopped on a bus at 4am, and was driven 2 hours to the start. Around 7am his wave (the 2nd wave of starters, based on qualifying race finishes) was allowed to place their skis at the start, and at 8:10am his wave started, just 5 minutes after the first wave. 

In the meantime, I was receiving text messages on my phone telling me what his times passed through a few checkpoints along the race. This was rather handy, as I was able to time our arrival at the finish rather well, as well as have a really accurate estimate of when we should be carefully watching for Erik to finish. 

Greta and I positioned ourselves about 400m from the finish line, complete with a small norsk flagg and a somewhat embarrassingly large amerikansk flagg (hey, it was all I had). It attracted some curious looks, which I admit was really kind of the point. We stood along a section of trail where the racers would first cross above us from right to left, then swing down a tight hill and pass in front of us again from left to right. This enabled me to spot Erik coming up a short hill, where we could cheer for him twice, then turn around, and sprint 100m through the snow carrying a 29lb kid + 10lbs of clothing, and cheer for him sprinting towards the finish. 

A slitten Pappa and a stolt Greta.
It was another beautiful day, with bright blue skis, temps hovering just around freezing. The snow and tracks were in excellent condition, according to Erik. And it was a well-timed race, as the next 4 days brought nothing but sunshine and above freezing temperatures. Spring had arrived (and none too soon, if you ask me).

Saturday, March 26, 2011

First spring weekend

Our lunch spot by the riverside
 Spring has arrived in Lillehammer, and the locals were out on the ski trails in droves this past weekend, soaking up the sunshine and basking in the balmy 35F weather. This is a pretty common Norwegian spring custom: pack a matpakke (packed lunch), ski in to a sunny spot, maybe dig out a little bench from a snowpile, kick back and enjoy the sunshine, and ski back out again.

We joined the droves, packing up a lunch and some wood for a little bål (fire) to grill our pølse (hot dogs). We were not alone. A second family picnicked next to us, and we were joined by easily a dozen other ski/lunchers.

Tika licking her lips at lunchtime
As we skied home, we spotted a large group of students gathering at the riverside--all on skis--hanging out for an afternoon in the sunshine.

All in all, not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Students at the riverside 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Inga-Låmi (warning: i get a little babbly)

Today marked my triumphant return to ski racing, which has been mourning my absence for the last 18 years. Hard to believe my last ski race was when I was 5 years old, but it's true. . .

The Inga-Låmi ski race was held in Lillehammer today, and is Norway's largest women-only ski race, with generally around 4,000 women competing. There are two distances, 15km and 30km, both classic style. I opted for the slightly shorter 15km route.

The Inga-Låmi is the female version of the Birkebeiner ski race*, which I wrote about on August 28. Briefly, Inga was the single mother to Norway's infant King Håkon, who gave birth to her son in 1205 after his father, King Håkon Sverresson, had already died. The Birkebeiner ski, running and bike races commemorate the trip that the birkebeiner loyalists skied in 1206, as they rescued the infant King Håkon from the bad guys. Presumably, Inga skied much of the route along with the loyalists, because what mother would trust a bunch of cross-country skiers with her only child? The Inga-Låmi race was started in 1993 in order to celebrate and recognize Inga's role in Norwegian history. Want a not so brief history? Try here.

As I said, I haven't been in a cross country ski race for a number of years, the last time when I was a senior in high school. And since I had just learned to ski that year (joined the team, then learned to ski, in that order), I really only remember participating in one race. I've skied more this season than I've skied in probably the last 5 years combined, what with working full time, pregnancy, young baby, long drives to trails and shitty snow conditions. So, let's see this year: no job, not pregnant, child in nursery school, walk 3 minutes to the trails and best snow conditions EVER. I really have no excuse, other than sheer laziness and sometimes feeling like "I've had my fill of skiing for the year" (a feeling that could get me shot in Norway if I were to utter it out loud in March).

Erik waxing at the start.
So the day before the race, I decided to "race" the Inga-Låmi, if only for the cultural experience of skiing with 2,509 other Norwegian women. Turns out it was really fun.

While my race didn't begin until 11am, Erik had been volunteered (as part of his Lillehammer Ski Club duty) to wax skis at the race starting at 7:30am (the 30km race started at 9am). He reported being so busy that at one point each of the 30 waxers had 15 women in line, prompting Erik's table-mate to ask, "don't any women wax their own skis?" Other women, when asked by Erik what wax they currently had on their skis, would shrug and say, "whatever was on for last year's race," indicating that they hadn't skied since. . . last year's race.

This was, in part, why I felt comfortable deciding to do this race the night before. For many women, for most of the women I dare say, this was not a Race. This was an well-organized, popular ski tur. 

I walked to the race from our house, pushing Greta in her jogging stroller, feeling very norsk walking to a ski race, with my kiddo's own mini-skis sticking out of the stroller pocket. I arrived about 20 minutes before the race, found Erik frantically waxing a few skis, changed into ski boots, stripped off a few layers of clothing as the temps were quickly rising to high-20s (F), and decided to run to the porta-pottys.

Rookie mistake! I missed my 11am wave start (the first of the 15km timed-racers), and unnskyld-ed "sorry" my way towards the front of several hundred women waiting for their 11:10, 11:20, 11:30 start. A little unsure of what I should do, and who or how to even ask, I just told an official at the front, "Jeg er klokka 11!" (I'm 11 o'clock!) and since it was by then 11:05. . . I took off. . . by myself. Probably looking like a complete dork.

I had been getting a little nervous that morning as I gathered things together for the race, but then I thought, "what's the worse that could happen?" Aside from breaking a leg (highly unlikely), it was really just sheer exhaustion, and what's so bad about that? And I didn't think it was really all that possible in just a 15km race. So, my goal was to have fun and not be afraid to get a little tired; and about mid-way through the race I added a goal of "not falling".

Dumb. Shortly after that thought crossed my mind, I headed down a steep hill, gaining speed. I was also gaining on the woman in front of me, yet not able to move to either the left or the right due to other skiers. I attempted to snowplow, not terribly easy with one ski in a set track, and as soon as possible moved to the left-most track once it was clear, but didn't quite make it cleaning into the tracks, and crashed into the snow bank, a clearly American English expletive escaping my lips. I wanted to declare as I hopped back up, "Sorry, but I'm American! I don't know what the hell I'm doing!" Thankfully, I managed to avoid any other skiers, quite unlike another woman I saw 10 minutes later, who took out two women--one on either side of her--as she grabbed them to stabilize herself, heading down a hill.

By 13km I was feeling a little wobbly, hoping I could stay upright on the few short downhills we had left, because I wasn't sure I could correct and catch myself should I start to fall again. I pulled it off, and also managed to sprint to the finish, which I'm sure was a very impressive sight. . . 46 minutes after the race had been won. One hour, 29 minutes. 75th out of 160 in my age group. Not too shabby considering that at the beginning of the ski season I didn't even recognize my classic skis as being my own.

This kid's already so Euro: When told Mamma was going
to be in a ski race today, Greta asked, "On TV?"
Because every kid watches ski-racing on Saturday
mornings with their Pappas, right?
It was one of the more beautiful late winter days we've had--bright blue sunny skies--and Erik announced when I was finished "in all my years of ski racing, 99% of the races did not have weather like this." Next weekend is the Birkebeiner, a race in which Greta announced, "the pappas put the numbers on their legs and ski and the mammas stay home with the kids." We then decided that actually the mammas don't stay home, "they go to the race and hi-ya, hi-ya** the pappas."

So, sign me up for next year. It was great fun. And if I do it for 10 years, I get a cool statue of Inga herself.

* Yes, women are allowed to compete in the Birkebeiner races.

**Hi-ya! Hi-ya! is the most popular of Norwegian race chants, and is actually
used as a verb, as I was once asked--in English--"Did you hi-ya for Norway or USA?"

August 28

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Doggy Worries Part 2

My worrying didn't pay off this time. Tika's got hip dysplasia.

I took her to the vet on Monday for her x-ray, and she was given a sedative and allowed to fall asleep (really just sleep, not put to sleep) on my lap on a couch off the main waiting room. It was really very sweet and cozy, and then the vet came in with an assistant to carry my sleeping 77lb dog into the x-ray room, and Tika's head popped up, eyes wide, ears all perky, and he said, "maybe a little more sedative then. . . "

It's discouraging, and sad, and we are bummed. On the other hand, our vet didn't ban Tika to a life of neighborhood walks and no ball-chasing. He acknowledged that she has been a very active dog, and that she won't be happy if she's not out running around with us in the woods and on the snow. He just encouraged us to back off on her miles--no more 40km weekend skis with Erik. But to be honest, we've been backing off those really long skis already, sensing that she was slowing down a little. We'll just back off even more. 

And, we'll just watch how she does. . . monitor her for signs of increasing pain. I've got a call in to our trusted vet back in New Hampshire (Dr. Kim Jones at Stoneybrook Vets), just to see how she would treat Tika in this situation. That's one thing I'm discovering here: I feel like the medical and now veterinary care we've gotten here is good. . . but I always wonder "is this what we'd do in the US?" It's really hard to let go of what you know, what's familiar. Especially in times of stress.

She's been started on pain medication (a Cox-2 inhibitor, for those of you who are curious--Previcox), and we'll likely start a glucosamine/chondroitin supplement as well. There's a special "joint" food available, but in the past Tika hasn't tolerated a lot of messing with her diet. We're hoping she'll tolerate the food, as it would save us the money for the supplements. As it is, the pain pills are about $2 a day--in Norway and the US. Getting a stash sent to us from the US won't save us any money (already checked). In fact, it seems like it might be one of the few things thus far in Norway that's cheaper here than in the US. My dog's pain pills. Excellent.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Doggy Worries

Tika's left hind leg has been shaking lately, the whole leg has tremors in it, unpredictably and inconsistently. It tremors when her little stubby tail wags, and shakes when she simply stands alert in the kitchen eyeing our table scraps. Other times it's fine. Erik and I skied with her yesterday, with Tika in the ski-joring harness, and I was able to watch her hind legs pretty closely. She doesn't seem to touch down very heavily on her left leg when she's trotting along at an easy gait, but when she's running all out, she seems fine. She doesn't limp when walking or running, and eagerly sprints and springs around the yard.
We took her to the vet on Friday, a nice guy who has an American mother himself, and he kindly speaks English with me. (These things are important when it comes to stuff I really want to understand). He is concerned about hip dysplasia, and we'll have her x-rayed on Monday to check this out. This is weighing heavily on my mind, what this could mean for Tika's future. . . her activity level, namely. She loves to run, loooves to ski with us, and I just can't imagine spending the rest of her days taking her on leisurely walks.

Good news from NOKUT

A little piece of good news arrived in our mailbox on Friday. NOKUT, the Nasjonalt organ for kvalitet i utdanningen (aka Norwegian Agency for Quality Assurance in Education), after nearly five months of deliberation, decided that my American bachelor's degree and master's degree are equivalent to a Norwegian bachelor's and master's. Actually, they ruled that my master's degree is in fact superior to a Norwegian master's degree, by 30 studiepoeng (essentially 30 credits). All in all, my 6 years of education amounts to 5.5 years of Norwegian higher education, as "det første studieåret av en høyere utdanning fra USA kan ikke godkjennes som høyere utdanning i Norge" (the first study year of higher education from the USA can not be approved as higher education in Norway). This is because high school in Norway takes a student through 13 grades, and college (a 3-year process) begins at the age of 19, not 18 as it does in the US.

So yes, this was good news, but in the end probably not terribly important. NOKUT just puts the stamp of approval on my degree, not the actual content of the education (i.e. comparing my nursing degree to a Norwegian nursing degree) or my nursing or midwifery licenses. For that we continue to wait for SAFH (State authority on health personnel), who stated the appeal process might take a month or more.

Incidentally, for anyone who is going through or contemplating going through this process, NOKUTs website stated this evaluation could be a four month process, and in fact it was nearly five months. Considered yourself forewarned. . .

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Frisør for Greta

Crazy morning hair.
Well, if nothing else gets done on this vinter ferie, at least Greta got a cute haircut.  The morning snarls were becoming a bit unbearable, and she has a cowlick in the middle of what would be bangs that make actual bangs a little difficult. She's also not entirely agreeable to pigtails or hairclips every morning, so. . . what's a mamma to do?

Greta got one Norwegian haircut back in October that set us back 320Kr ($57). (Are you kidding me? I hadn't remembered that, but my reconciled Quicken account doesn't lie). Trust me, it was not a $57 haircut, even with the 25% tax. I was considering cutting it myself this time, but. . .
Quite pleased to be sitting on a hest at the frisør.
oh. . . so nervous. . .

Our landlady recommended a little frisør (hairstylist) in Lillehammer who cut her own toddler's hair, a nice bestemor (grandmother) type, who did a nice job. Off we went, and Greta sat quite happily on the antique horse while the bestemor frisør clipped and chatted and layered and worked with those curls. And, I must tell you, I explained to her på norsk (in Norwegian), how we were hoping to grow out the bangs, what a mess her hair is in the back in the morning, maybe cut to here, some layers to bring out the curls and lighten it up. . .

End result? Darling.
And as somber as she looks, she's really quite
pleased with the results (as am I

Cost? Just 190Kr ($34). Well worth it. Actually, when she said to me, "190 Kroner," I thought to myself "Really? Wow. That can't be right. I probably didn't understand her (entirely possible). I'll wait for the receipt to double check. Wow! I was right!"  (I know, still utterly ridiculous for a 2 year-olds haircut, but this is Norway prices I'm dealing with here, and you just have to trust me.)