Wednesday, June 29, 2011

On hold

We are spending night #2 in a "vacation house", as we have dubbed our temporary house-sitting gigs, to make it sound "exciting!" and "fun!" and "special!" for Greta. And so far, I think it's working. This particular house has 2 little girls, so Greta has raided their doll supply and is in second heaven. She is also sleeping in a big-girl bed, about my-chest height off the ground. Makes me nervous, but as she announced this morning: "I didn't fall out of bed!"

All of our possessions our out of our rental house, thanks to Erik and his ski-buddy Mike, who spent all of Monday getting our furniture into our new garage. I cleaned and packed, and repeated that process again on Tuesday. Today, I spent nearly 6 hours cleaning our house--our old house, that is, doing some laundry, and finally packing up those horrible odds and ends that never seem to have a proper place to go.

But, we finally have architect news! On Monday we picked up two different plans from Architect #3 (#1 was a no-show and got the boot, and #2 was, hmm, unimpressive, shall we say, and also got the boot). These plans took much longer than we were hoping, but he did apologize for his tardiness, earning a few goodwill points. The first set of plans is essentially what we asked for: a 4x6m addition off the back, living room downstairs, bathroom and bedroom upstairs. But he was more creative with the stairs and downstairs bathroom than we were able to be with our limited imaginations and architectural skills. For that we are very appreciative. His second set of plans was a much more modern take on our request: an angled addition, with floor to ceiling windows and a long sloped roof. Erik and I rather quickly decided we liked option #1, and after mulling it over for 2 days, we still like option #1.

We met with A#3 today, as we are very eager to get some finished plans. Finished plans mean we can order windows, we can start roughing in walls, roughing in windows, and work with the carpenter in getting the new windows in place, putting in the heated floor units, plumbing for new bath and kitchen--all of this before the addition work starts.

Did I mention we were very eager? We have a gutted house. Secure, free housing for three more weeks. A dog. A 3-year old. (Yes, the dog came first in that priority list, as she is more of a problem). 58 boxes in our basement. A garage full of furniture. Warm and cool weather clothes in suitcases, because you never know what you're going to get. A#3 listened patiently as Erik carefully explained just how eager we were to keep moving on the project, and then A#3 reminded (or told us for the first time, perhaps?) that he would be going on summer vacation in two weeks, with the rest of the country of Norway. A 3-week vacation. He said he could hurry with the plans, but there really was no point, as the city housing permit people are also going on the national summer vacation, so no one could process the permit work anyway, so we couldn't really begin any of that work anyway, so why don't you take a little time and decide if you really don't want the modern plan #2, because that's the more interesting of the plans. . .

He didn't really say all that. But if you understand as much (or as little) Norwegian as I do, that was the gist of it. Which leaves us with the looming question of . . . when? When? When? When can we actually get this project off the ground???

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Tranquility in the midst of Chaos

Greta wanted a picture with Tika--how
can I resist?
We are about to launch ourselves into full-blown chaos of home renovation and living like gypsies for the next month, or likely more. We have 50+ boxes of stuff in the basement of the new house, and tomorrow a friend will help Erik move some of the more major pieces of furniture to the house. Our landlord has been generous enough to allow us to keep a few of the bulkier items in the barn for the summer--sofa, mattress--and the piano in the house (thanks Thorstein!).
Damn, she's a good-lookin' dog.
Someone's been working hard.

We'll spend a few night this week in the home of one of Erik's vacationing colleagues, and then 3 weeks in the home of another vacationing colleague. Hopefully this will allow us enough time to get some walls up, maybe some electrical work done, and a bathroom roughed in. It is eerily reminiscent of last summer--1 night in East Thetford, 2 nights in Burlington, 2 nights in Princeton, 4 weeks in Shoreview, 4 nights in Texas, 4 nights in Washington DC, 2 weeks in Minneapolis. . . .

But notice I said his colleagues were "vacationing". This is a strangely Norwegian, or more probably European, phenomenon. Definitely not American. It is summer, thus, workers vacation. They do not seem to stagger their vacations, as all of my previous jobs have urged and demanded that we do (granted, I worked in more life-threatening/dependent workplaces). Instead, everyone seems to go on vacation in July. Regularly scheduled meetings are cancelled; the gym classes at the gym are cut back significantly; the barnehage closes for 3 weeks--sorry parents, you need daycare? you're on your own;  and we've been warned that the staff at city hall are at a bare minimum, so good luck in getting a building permit quickly. 

So if my blog posts are spotty, you'll understand. We're "vacationing", as I keep telling Greta. . . "We're going to stay in vacation houses! Right here in Lillehammer."

Enjoying the tranquility for one last weekend.
The views haven't been half bad

There could be far worse places in the world to be right now.

Friday, June 24, 2011

St. Hans Dag

Summer solstice has come and gone, with the official sunrise at 3:40am and sunset a mere 19 hours and 19 minutes later at 10:59pm, 13 hours and 49 minutes longer than at winter solstice. In other words. . . it's all downhill from here.

We celebrated St. Hans Dag--the (un?)official marking of summer solstice in Norway--by joining the throngs and Erik's colleagues who have children at Maihaugen, drinking champagne to celebrate my kicking ass on my Norwegian test, huddling under an umbrella as a quick summer storm raced through, watching an abbreviated children's version of Peer Gynt (which I didn't understand at all), sneaking a 3-year old into the men's single-stall outdoor bathroom because there was no line and the women's line was ridiculous, eliciting disapproving looks from all the orderly Norwegian women, listening to Norwegian oompah-oompah music, eating a requisite ice cream cone while wearing jeans, wool socks, long sleeves and a fleece jacket, and eventually watching a bonfire burn on a very small island (recently inhabited by a mother duck and her 9 goslings). Whew. Busy night.We all tumbled into bed around 10:30. . . Greta included.

The whole evening had kind of a Fourth of July feel to it: summer celebration, families with picnics, music, games and ice cream, and gathering on a hillside waiting for a fire-inspired extravaganza. I may have sounded a little sarcastic, but it really was a very pleasant, lovely night. I enjoyed recognizing the true start of summer, and acknowledgement of our position in the universe for just that day. Yes, I would have appreciated a little more warmth, but I was Officially Not Cold.

Daisy wreaths were a popular accessory

Some revelers, whooping it up on the hillside

And then there were these two crazy cats,
who wished they had marshmallows (or Peeps)
and a really long stick.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Norsk Prøve (muntlig). . .

drum roll please. . . .

Norskprøve 3 Muntlig (Norwegian level B1, oral test):   PASSED!

Such excitement. Such a relief. I know it's just the beginning. But it's one more big hurdle in the longest hurdle race of my life.
I now anxiously await July 4th, when the results of the written (listening, written, reading) test are expected to arrive.

Sloooooow TV

One of Norway's public television stations, NRK, is broadcasting a strangely mesmerizing show: a live feed of a Hurtigruten ferry boat traveling 134 hours up the western coast of Norway! It's a 5 and a half day  "minute by minute" event with no commercial interruptions, and multiple cameras capturing images of fjords, snowcapped mountains, and flag-waving Norwegians, and essentially no narrative--mostly just scenery. Yes: 134 hours of non-stop television! Of a boat ride! The ship stops at 34 ports from Bergen to Kirkenes, well above the Arctic Circle, and watching some of their port stops reminds me a little of The Love Boat, what with all the well-wishers broadly and wildly waving their hellos.

As I said, it's strangely mesmerizing, as well as extremely boring. We turned on the TV yesterday afternoon around 3pm to show my visiting in-laws this odd Norwegian television phenomenon, and we were still checking in on the ship around 11pm last night. We turned it again today, as the scenery became more and more spectacular along the northern coast. And, 11pm. . . still watching the ship.

The trip up the coast of Norway is not a cheap one, especially at this time of year, in the land of midnight sun. (I tried to get a quote, but the Hurtigruten server froze on me)*. The newspaper reported that something like 2.7 million Norwegians have tuned in at some point along the tour. That's over half the country of Norway watching this boat ride! It has turned out to be NRK's most popular production ever.

*As newspaper Dagsavisen reported on Thursday, it can cost from NOK 21,000 to NOK 102,000 (USD 3,800 to USD 18,000) for two persons to make the same Bergen-Kirkenes trip in the high season of June and July, depending on choice of cabin and meal plans. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

House destruction

Padded closet in downstair hallway,
leading to living room
We've been a little busy lately, taking Norwegian tests, ranting against the bureaucratic red tape of nursing licenses, hosting a few visitors, and tearing down walls. We have found ourselves in a rather traditional division of labor (man do heavy work, woman tend to child), and thus Erik has logged many long hours at the "new" house alone, while I keep the home fires burning. My main contributions have involved ferrying literally tons of wood refuse from inside the house into a giant waste container in our driveway.

The house, as you can see from these pictures, is essentially gutted. Only the kitchen remains untouched. We will be building a new kitchen in an entirely different part of the house (essentially in pictures 4, 5, and 6), and the old kitchen will become office/playroom space. This will allow us to use the old kitchen while the new kitchen is being built.

At least, we think this is the plan.

Week 1: no more closet
When we first bought the house, we called an architect recommended by a friend. He cancelled our first appointment about 45 minutes before we were supposed to meet. Hmmm. . . excusable, perhaps, if it was a family emergency? But when he failed to show up for our second appointment, we decided he wasn't worth the trouble.

Next we met with a architect who is a native English speaker. We hoped this would make the communication process easier, at least for me. We walked through the house together, and explained to him our vision of moving the kitchen, and adding an addition that consisted of a living room downstairs and bathroom and 3rd bedroom upstairs. We gave him computerized floor plans of our ideas, along with a "must have" and "would like" list.

Today: looking through walls (where the closet
once was) into future dining room, and where we
believe the addition will go.
I met with him a few days later, alone, when I dropped off some city plans. He tried to convince me that we needed to build an apartment in the basement to live in while we completed our renovations. He was really, really worried about our time frame (which is completely unrealistic, but that's our problem). I left his house in a panic, nearly in tears, beginning to wonder what the hell we've gotten ourselves into. And I was so confused about the process--who was leading who? It didn't feel right to be questioning the professional in his methods, but I never felt like we were on the same page, let alone speaking the same language! When the three of us met for a second time, he produced drawings (done on the spot, not prepared ahead of time) that were not at all what we had discussed. After over an hour of sketching and tracing, he drew our original plan. "So, this is what you want? Exactly like you wanted before."

Erik on the day we bought the house
"Uhhh. . . yes."

"Ok! I can do that!"

Well. . .  sorry, buddy, but you won't. We had already met with architect #3 the day before. And while #3 was more of a strong, silent, typical nordmann, we got much better vibes from him. We felt like he was actually listening to our ideas and respected the amount of time, energy and knowledge we had invested in this project. And best of all, he didn't seem to think we were totally nuts for taking this on.

A few days after we bought the house.
But, two weeks later, we're still waiting for plans. Concrete plans, anyway. Erik met with him today, and they discussed other possibilities of the addition. We hope that next week we will have something on paper, something we can play around with, and actually begin moving forward.

Because, you see. . . there is kind of a time crunch. We move out of our rental house in 2 weeks. Yes folks, that's right: 2 weeks. We'll be house-sitting for some friends here in Lillehammer the following 3 weeks, but after that we are not sure where we'll be staying. My parents will have ended their British Isle RV tour by ferrying and driving to Lillehammer, so we will have a 24ft. RV in our driveway, at least providing us with sleeping space! That will be fun for about 2 nights!

So, stay tuned. People (and me) keep telling me all these encouraging tidbits: "It's an adventure!" "it's only a few months!" "You'll laugh about this in a few years!" "It'll be so worth it!"

And my favorite: "At least it's not winter!"

Erik and parents, one month later (today)

Greta's room, when we bought it

Today: Greta and Pappa in her room!
How awesome is a bathroom with no walls?
Super awesome!
(This will become part of the front entry).
Remember this lovely sight?
What it looks like today.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Nursing license (SAFH) update. . . finally

Today I received this letter from SAFH (Statens autorisasjonskontor for helsepersonnel), aka "the people who decide if you can work as a nurse and midwife".

"In response to your letter dated the *%#@!-ing 18th of FEBRUARY, in reference to your original application in *&#!@ OCTOBER, we are asking for the following information. .  .

  • percent employed/hours worked
  • level
  • guidance during the period
  • work/study experience
for the following two student nursing experiences in the summer of 1996."

Are.     You.     Kidding.     Me?

Yes, that's right folks. They want to know how many hours I worked, and what kind of supervision I received in two part-time student nursing summer internships fifteen years ago.

There are a few problems with this, and no, I did not make up these jobs. I contacted the hospital of the more, shall we say, legitimate student experience. They have rather sparse information on me, and said, "we probably just destroyed any paper records in the last month or two, because we're not required to keep that forever." Understandable. I have essentially destroyed any records I have of that experience, as well, thinking it would never be important. But with the second job, a utterly hellish home-health-aide position, the situation is even trickier: the company no longer exists. Out of business, taken over by another agency, closed for violating laws. . . I'll never know. I've put out a few feelers to other students who worked there as well, and wondering if perhaps I had a letter of some sort when I applied for my first nursing job in 1997, but those are big stretches. 

I hope to get this information gathered as quickly as possible, although I thought it was very generous that SAFH requested that I have it all submitted by November 1st, 2011. 

Who's in a hurry? Not them, obviously. . . 

Sunday, June 12, 2011

2am and a drunk Norwegian uncle

We spent about 24 hours this weekend up at the Rustad Hotel in Sjusjøen, which is operated by friends of ours. One of Erik's former American ski-racing buddies married a Norwegian woman, and lo and behold, they now live just 20 minutes from us, operating a great mountain hotel on a lake called Sjusjøen. The happy couple was celebrating their wedding (from last September) and about 70 Norwegian, Danish and American guests joined them at the hotel. Besides ourselves, the American guests were limited to Mike's parents, aunt and uncle, and a cousin with her husband. 

I go to these sort of events always with both trepidation and anticipation. How ostracized will I feel? How much Norwegian won't I understand? But also feeling happy to get out of the house and socialize, happy to get out of Lillehammer (even by just 25km) and into some new environs. 

I would call this outing a success*, albeit with that pesky asterisk. Excuse my brief foray into Mommy-Blog, but I feel the need to vent:

Greta's the kind of toddler who thrives on a schedule, and who also really needs her sleep. She's an 11.5 hour at night, 1-2.5 hour napper kind of kid. Bedtime is 7:45pm. So, around 8:30pm last night, after eating loads of cake and charming the bukser off the Norwegians and Americans alike, Greta and I headed to our room for bedtime. She had been so excited about sleeping in her pack and play again. We did the general routine (teeth, books, binky, goodnight songs), into the pack and play. I won't get into the details, but let's just fast forward three hours later,  and this child is still awake! She pulled out every delay tactic I could have imagined (okay, here are the gory details), including pooping in the only diaper we had along with us (c'mon! She's potty trained! She uses one diaper a night! Why do I need extras?), then peeing in the too-small emergency diaper I miraculously located in the car, unlocking and opening the door to the veranda next to her pack and play (calling out "Mamma! The door's open!"), switching to a big-girl bed, climbing out of bed to "check on something in my bag", refusing to close her eyes after professing a desire to "nap", and somehow convincing me that cuddling with her in the big girl bed would actually be helpful. 

Around midnight she was asleep. I was exhausted, frustrated, now in pajamas, and had missed 3 hours of the party. (In Erik's defense, he offered help but I sent him back to the Norwegians, on whom I was blaming this disastrous bedtime). It felt like a really crummy way to end a fun evening, but I was in no mood to return to the winding down party. 

But I rallied, got dressed again, put on some lipstick, and rejoined the party. Around 1am Erik and I were cornered by a somewhat tipsy Norwegian aunt and uncle (educators of some sort). After chastising their new nephew-in-law on his lack of Norwegian skills after living here for over 2 years, told us over and over, in no uncertain terms how impressed they were with our Norwegian skills. Specifically, my Norwegian skills. Over and over. . . "Americans. . . speaking such good Norwegian. . . it is just so impressive, I am so impressed. . . ". To be clear: this was said in Norwegian, not English. 

Now, Erik has impressive Norwegian (for a non-native). Norwegians try to pin him down. . ."where are you from?" "what's that dialect?" Some assume he was raised here as a child, but moved away; others that his parents were Norwegian, and it was spoken at home; some that he grew up in a different region of the country. This particular Norwegian uncle seemed rather impressed by his ability to speak in a Voss dialect (a region where he spent his first year of Norway, from 1993-94), and understand certain quirks of the dialects. And it is impressive: he went to school in two very distinct regions of the country, two distinct dialects, for under two years. And then returned to the United States for 15 years before returning to Norway! 

But for this tipsy uncle to be saying to me, "after just 10 months. . . very impressive, very good Norwegian,". . .  honestly? It made me cry. It could have been the fact that it was 2am, or that I had waged a 3 hour bedtime battle, or that I had way too many glasses of wine, or that my contact lenses should have come out hours ago. But that flood of compliments were too much for me to hold back the tears.

Friday, June 10, 2011

A tour of our "new" 1959 home

This has been a long-time coming kind of blog entry. For one, we've been looking to buy a house since last September, and two, we actually made the offer on this place in April, and took possession on May 18. 

I know, I know! I haven't written a damn thing about it! How could I keep such a secret from you?

Erik and I determined back in December, that to have a house that we could really live and function in, we would have to buy a fixer upper. Housing prices in Norway are outrageous (in my opinion), and we were finding homes that were at the way-high end of our price range, and would find that the kitchen was recently renovated, but cheaply. Or every room would be finished, and Erik wants/needs a woodworking room. In the end, our money would be paying for something we didn't like. Or. . . we could pay significantly less, and put in a ton of work (and money) and get something we were much happier with. 

As we walked through this treasure, to which we now possess the keys, we raised our eyebrows at each other in silence, mouthed the words "whoaaaaa" stoned-surfer-style as we encountered the basement Water Closet, and I said in the home's defense, "It's really clean. I could live in a place like this for 6 months, if I had to, while we fixed it up."

Famous last words. See for yourself. . . 

Welcome to the backside of our new home!
(This picture was taken in February. We don't actually have this much snow in June).

Charming living/dining room space with
completely non-functioning fireplace. By non-functioning
I mean that it's fake. Completely fake.

The long, skinny kitchen is designed to remind
you that if you want to be long and skinny
you need to leave the kitchen. (Note: not real wood floors).

Second bathroom, in the basement. . . next to the furnace
(not pictured is the furnace to the left of that door.
Not beyond the door--in the same room as the "bathroom").
Of note: the "shower" in the corner is the only shower in the house.

Would you believe that the man who
built this house had four children?

This diggy room goes to the daughter.
We get the fancy-schmancy bedroom with a sink!

What's that you say? You've seen this before?
Yes, this room was featured in my "house-searching"
entry a few months back. This room was not long for this earth,
under our ownership. It will eventually be a bathroom.

A huge saving grace: a spacious backyard with fruit trees.
And after the 2 ft. of snow melted, we discovered a
half-hearted attempt at a fountain (which will soon be a sandbox).

You know you want it--this carpet--for your very own hobby room.

Huzzah! Psychedelic WC!
And when we're finished, the house will look something like this.
(note: original floor plan is in black, new floor plan is in red). 

Quick update. . .

Life is getting busy here, and my computer is on the fritz. Seeing that the nearest Apple repair shop is in Oslo, it might be a while before I am fully back "on line".

Quick update, on things I really intended to write entire blog entries about, but can't seem to find the time. . .

1) uhhhh. . . so, this kind of delayed news, but. . . we bought a house! We took possession about a month ago, and immediately tore down walls, ceilings, floors, and 50 years of bad wallpaper choices. Will definitely write more on this later.

2) am beginning to pack for the upcoming move. We must be out of our rented house at the end of June, but our "new" house will in no-way-imagineable be inhabitable. So, we'll spend 3 weeks in a friends house while they are on vacation, and then hopefully move half-way into Our House.

3) it has been exactly one year to the day that the international movers pulled into our driveway and began to pack up our every belonging. It was a much anticipated, exciting, exhausting, nerve-wracking, incredibly stressful, sad, bittersweet day. It truly seems much longer than a year ago.

4) have heard that a letter from SAFH (regarding my nursing license) is on its way! Erik has been calling their office for literally months trying to reach the person handling my case, and was told today (the first time he has spoken to someone since before Easter--yes, two months ago) that a letter is in the mail, and they are requesting. . . verification of the hours that I worked as a nurse. We are crossing our fingers that this is all they need, and that I am now at the top of their "to-do" list.

5) summer seems to have arrived, along with torrential downpours and glorious evenings. Greta is excited about wearing shorts and has new sandals that arrived along with her Great Aunt Martha and Great Uncle Gary from Boston. We had a short, but very sweet visit with our favorite Jewish uncle and Greta's #2 producer of handknit gifts.

6) as of today, the sun sets at 10:51pm and will rise tomorrow at 3:45am. It essentially never gets dark. This makes it very difficult to convince oneself that it is actually time to sleep. Thankfully, Greta has only once asked why she was going to bed when "it's still daylight out". Tika, on the other hand, begins wandering around the house around 4am, wondering why the rest of us aren't stirring yet.

And that's the news from Lillehammer. Where all of the women are blonde, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are even blonder.