Saturday, April 23, 2011

It's a Fun Happy Positive Blog Entry!

My father told me "it's time to post something nice on your blog. Your last two entries have been negative." (This was prior to my scathing Påske post). And then he corrected my grammar. TWICE. 

Sigh. . . okay, Dad. I'll write something nice. Like, how about. . . . your visit to Norway! 
The Three G's: Grandma,
Grandpa and Greta

My parents are pensjonister (retirees), and are spending my inheritance* by buying and then driving an RV around Europe for 3 months every summer**. This will be Year #4. They kicked off this year by first flying to Norway to visit us for a few days, and will wrap up the summer by eventually driving the RV to Lillehammer (by way of England) and storing it in Norway for the winter. Year #5 (2012) they will tour Scandinavia.

So, Grandma and Grandpa visited Greta, and provided great laps and cuddle time with lots and lots of story reading. And despite the jetlag, we visited a few must-sees: the ducks up the road in the canal, Greta's barnehage, the view from the top of the ski jumps just up the road from us, and the view from the bottom of the ski jumps just down the road from us, and of course the open air museum Maihaugen. It was a bit chilly, but sunny, with beautiful views of the valley below. But let's face it: they didn't come to Norway to see Norway. . . they came to see Greta.

*It's okay--I can make this joke--they did it first!
**You can read their own crazy adventures on their blog. Yes, my parents have a blog:

Friday, April 22, 2011

Påskeferie (aka Easter holiday)--what? You don't have plans? Norway does. . .

Norway is a Lutheran nation, so on a number of important religious holidays the entire nation essentially shuts down. This couldn't be more true than påskeferie (Easter holiday). I had the entire week before Easter free from school, including the Monday after Easter; Greta's barnehage shut down on Wednesday, and nearly every store--grocery stores included--are closed Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday. A few shops are open for limited hours on Saturday, but I've been warned that it can be a madhouse. And why Monday, you ask? This is the 2nd Easter Day. I heard on Norwegian radio that Norway has the longest Easter break in the world. I'd believe it. 

Exploring Art on Lake Mjøsa
What is interesting about the entire Easter holiday situation is that Norway is not an especially religious nation. I don't get the impression that people are flocking to church on Skjætorsdag, Langfredag, Påskeaften, 1 Påskedag og 2 Påskedag. Traditionally, Easter holiday is when Norwegians flock to. . . the mountains. The final ski hurrah of the season, or for some, perhaps the only ski trip they do all year. But, all of Norway is bemoaning the fact that Easter is so late this year (in fact, the second to latest possible date for Easter), because there is very little snow to be found in the mountains. Many Norwegians have abandoned their traditional Easter vacation plans of escaping to their mountain cabins and have decided instead to go on walks directly past our house. It's a great workout to climb up the road leading to our house, and we have had hundreds of people out for a lovely springtime tur. It certainly helps that we have bright sunshine and temps in the 50-60s. Even for those who are up in the mountains, it seems that Påske is really just an excuse to sit outside and finally enjoy the sunshine after the long, dark winter. In fact, Påske is kind of like Norway's big beach vacation: mystery novels are a big seller this time of year. It's such a common association (Påske/mystery stories), that the national milk company prints a mini-cartoon mystery on the side of the carton!

As for us? No big plans, really. I'm reorganizing Norwegian notes, and, uhh, blogging, obviously. Erik took part of the day off yesterday, and we explored the lakeside walking path for the first time. It was a bit chilly--kind of a refrigerator effect from the ice on the lake--but the sun was shining and we found a nice little playground and picnic spot (at a campground, but that's another story). Today, Greta and I will color some eggs. And we've had enough Peeps sent to us in various Easter care packages to last us until the 4th of July, so I think we'll do okay. . .

Friday, April 15, 2011

I get snarky about House Hunting

This is an office/bedroom. I don't know 
about you, but I don't think I could 
close my eyes in a room like this.


Whoa Nelly! Norwegians have a peculiar sense of curtain-style.
They also loooove their natural wood paneling.  
A really lovely home (and out of our price range).
Take note of the white paneled walls and ceilings, wood floors,
fireplace, and stairs (all very common modern design).

In this blog entry, I may come across as a spoiled American brat. What I hope to really convey is simply cultural differences of expectations and cultural norms of homes and the real estate market. Also, as warning to my father, who used to warn me, "don't be snide, Emily," I get a little snide. Or snarky. Take your pick.

Our lease expires at the end of June, and at that point we will leave our lovely look-out "på toppen av Birkebeinervegen" and rejoin the common folk on the valley floor in Lillehammer. It was nice while it lasted. I take that back. It was simply lovely while it lasted. We have enjoyed a spacious, light-filled, well cared for home, with superb access to the woods and to our barnehage, and space for child and four-footed friend to romp.

So, in the meantime, we've been house hunting. We have decided to buy a home for a number of reasons. First of all, it is nearly impossible to find a house to rent in Lillehammer. And frankly, we need a house. With a large dog, a kid, and a houseful of furniture that we brought from the US, a 2-bedroom apartment isn't going to work. Second of all, we plan on being here for a minimum of five years, and with that length of time, it makes sense to buy a house vs. rent. And thirdly, it's simply a matter of feeling "settled" in the community. We want to give Norway a real chance, to live life like it's for real, not like we're just squatting here for a few years. Having our own place to put down some roots will allow us to feel more committed to our experience here.

But house-hunting in Norway has not been an easy nor a very enjoyable experience. We are just coming from a different culture, with different expectations of design, layouts, use of space, etc, and it takes some adjusting. So, really, this post is not at all intended to offend my Norwegian readers. . .

Norwegians love wood, and most walls are covered in paneling, either natural wood color or more recently painted white. Often times, the paneling extends to the ceiling, and often the floors are wood, too, so some rooms simply scream "WOOD!!!" The product sheetrock does not seem to have hopped the pond, maybe because of the plethora of wood here, so walls are either the wood paneling or this textured fiber-board product, that generally indicates the home has not been updated in the last 30years.

A tasteful living room (in my humble opinion), with the wood
paneling painted white on ceiling and walls.
Bathrooms.  First off, they often lack a bathtub, and have just a standing shower. In my mind, this is not ideal with young kids. I want a tub to bathe my child in. Sometimes, the shower is simply a drain on the floor, with a curtain around it. Most bathrooms are tiled from floor to ceiling, but the cupboards below the sink do not extend to the floor, but instead are anchored to the wall, and lifted off the ground by 6 inches or so, so any accumulated water might dry and drain. On a positive note, many bathrooms have heated floors, to evaporate the water off the floor (and keep your toesies warm on cold Norwegian winter nights). The main bathroom is often larger than American bathrooms, because they also host the laundry facilities.

Living rooms: nearly always have a fireplace in it, and larger homes seem to have two or three "sitting areas", or congregations of chairs/sofas (as our current rental does). Smaller, newer homes have a combined living/dining area, that feels a little tight to us, as our 3-year old begins to take up more physical space.

Kitchens: open floor plans are not very common, and kitchens seem to be closed off from the rest of the house with a door. Often a small table is squeezed in, even in the narrow galley kitchens. Refrigerators are small, sinks don't have disposals.

Bedrooms: often are very narrow, barely wide enough to fit in a single European bed (which are more narrow than American single beds). Rarely do they have built in closets, so many have purchased stand up closets that are cheaply made and semi-permanently installed, often with floor to ceiling mirrors. We’re also finding many homes that have 2 bedrooms on one floor, and a 3rd on another floor. But (presuming we have a second child), who wants to sleep on an entirely different floor than your young children?

Not an uncommon bathroom. Notice the drain on the floor 
for the shower, as well as no shower door or shower curtain, 
and the floor to ceiling storage closet (very common, and 
handy, but definitely not an American aesthetic). 

Not an atypical bathroom, nor an altogether bad bad 
(see, that's punny, because the Norwegian word for 
bathroom is bad). Notice the tiled walls, and raised cupboards. 
This bathroom also hosts the laundry (also not uncommon).

Bedrooms tend to be rather narrow, or in this case, barely wide 
enough to slide in your slippery purple bed.

Did the real estate agent say, "let's cram as much crap into this room 
as possible, to show how really big it is!"
I think not.

PS: I apologize for, and am embarrassed of, the layout of this blog with many pictures. I am not at all satisfied with Blogger and the ability to arrange and add pictures to a blog, and will shortly changing hosts for the blog for this very reason! I'll keep you posted. . . .

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Norway's version of (insert big box store name): Where are you???

Okay Americans. . . play a little game with me.
Let's say your shopping list consists of the following items:
  • tennis balls for the dog
  • toddler underwear
  • picture frame
  • crayons
  • toothpaste
  • contact solution
Where do you go? That's right: Target* (or any large big box store, i.e. KMart, shudder Wal-Mart, etc.).

Where do you go when you live in Norway? First a sports store (making sure it's one that actually sells tennis rackets, and not just skis),  then a children's or family clothing store, then a photo store or maybe a catch-all kind of store (which doesn't catch all, as this is the point of this essay), next a toystore/bookstore, then the grocery store or pharmacy and finally the eyeglasses/contact/optometrist store. 

My point? It's a pain in the ass. 

But the thing is, being new to Norway, you don't know all of these stores right away. You don't know if they exist, you don't know where they are, what their crazy name is, or if they actually carry what you're looking for anyway. It took me five different stores to find ruled 4x6 index cards. And when you find the store, you don't have 20 options of toothpaste, you have 5. You can find 1 can of tennis balls, but it's going to cost you about $20. 

On the other hand (and you know this is true), when you go to Target to buy the above 6 items, you actually leave with those items plus a new chew toy for the dog, a couple cute pairs of tights and t-shirts for the toddler, hand lotion and a new lip gloss, and a seasonal item of some sort. So, on that other hand, I'm actually saving a lot of money by not having Target.

But the other thing is, I really am not a fan of big box stores (except Target). I used to avoid driving down 12A in West Lebanon, past KMart, Pier1, Wal-Mart, iParty, Kohl's, JoAnn Fabrics, Best Buy, Staples, etc. for one because it was such a traffic nightmare, but also because the sheer consumerism of it all made me a little sick. It was part of what we added to the "pro" list of Norway: less focus on consuming.

But all I hear from other transplanted Americans here is. . . oh how they miss Target**. And I am only slightly ashamed to admit I am one of them. It's the "one stop shopping" that I miss. Quaintness can only get you so far when it comes to shopping, and when all you need is a few basic necessities all you really want is to get in and out as quickly as possible.

*I write "Target" even though for the last 7 years I lived an hour away from the nearest Target. I lived in the only state in the nation that did not have a Target: Vermont. Can you believe it? 

**Do you hear that Target Corporation? Norway needs you!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Birthday celebrations

Norsk flag hung in honor of her
birthday at the Barnehage

Barnehage celebration
We had big days at our house this weekend: Erik's birthday on Saturday, and Greta's 3rd birthday on Sunday.

The celebrations began, however, on Friday when Greta and I brought 36 pink frosted cupcakes to the barnehage to share with her friends.

She was feted with the Norwegian birthday song, had an enormous pink crown placed on her head, wore a purple cape, and sat on a throne. The Norwegian flag was even hung up in her honor (Erik and I had discussed loaning the barnehage our American flag for the occasion, but forgot).

On Saturday, Greta felt it was important to make Pappa a crown, too. I thought this was a sweet gesture, especially as I was a little concerned about her understanding that Pappa's birthday must happen first before her birthday. This didn't seem to be an issue, although she was a little concerned that we weren't baking Pappa a cake, too.

Making a crown for Pappa's birthday
Greta and her Pappa on his birthday
For her actual birthday on Sunday, we had invited the 3 other 2-nearly-3 year olds from the barnehage to come for a little party, along with their older siblings (3 more kids) and parents, plus one infant. I was a little worried about how to entertain all of these kids, but letting them run wild through the house, explore new toys and rooms, and top it all off with crown decorating seemed to be enough. We served the kids homemade mac&cheese, the adults got Minnesota wild rice soup, and we wrapped up the afternoon with homemade chocolate cake, Grandma's special recipe.

It was utterly exhausting, and I have since decided that the perfect number of guests at a 3-year olds birthday party should be 3 kids and 3 moms. The additional siblings and parents made for fun socialization, but a little stressful for me and a bit chaotic for Greta. I've since realized that I was probably the only one who perceived it as chaotic, as all of the other parents have more than one child, and have likely been to at least one child's birthday party before. Having just one rather calm child, and never witnessing a birthday party (as an adult), it seemed a bit out of control. Also, having a house full of Norwegian speakers wasn't nearly as disorienting this time around as it was back in December, but it did help that one of the fathers is British, so there was a fair amount of English being spoken as well.

Stress of the day breaks through
Småtroll (2 year olds) at Greta's party
Happy girl on her new tryhjulssykkel

Monday, April 4, 2011

So tempting, I might almost join her

First outdoor spring nap. . .
Spring is sprunging here in Lillehammer. Yesterday the temps hit +9C (uhh 48F), and today Tika deemed spring officially here by taking her first nap on the sun-drenched porch. You can see by the hillside behind her that we still have plenty of snow: a good 2 feet deep on most parts of the yard. But everyday reveals more and more hillside and more and more dog poop, so I, too, know spring has arrived.