Friday, September 30, 2011

Good news: Work visa update

Based on the recommendations of up-rooted, another American-in-Norway blogger, we finally got our asses in gear and checked with UDI (Utlendingsdirektoratet--the Norwegian Immigration Directorate) about what kind of visa I actually have. 

Let me clarify: up-rooted did not suggest we get our asses in gear. Up-rooted simply suggested that I might already have a work visa, even though I did not apply for one, as this was her situation as well. What I meant is that we have intended to make this phone call for a number of months--I actually dug out the necessary documents before we moved in June. I must also clarify that we* did not actually need to check with UDI about my visa, because right there on the second line under "Tillatelsens innhold" it reads, "Søkeren kan ta arbeid eller drive erversvirksomhet i Norge", and we all know what that means!


It means "The applicant can work or engage in business in Norway". On a document dated June 11, 2010. 

This is a relief, to be sure. Norway does have a law that people outside of the European Union must have a job offer before you can get a work visa. And they have family visas, for those people joining the working family member. I promise you: I have read this website hundreds of times! I was certain that I was going to have to change my visa from a residential to a work visa--but only after I had a job offer in hand--and a job as a skilled laborer, too, as that is all a non-EU job seeker can get--and this too would take months and months. We even talked with a Norwegian consulate person when we applied for these visas, and this is what they told us!!!

Yes, it would have been nice to have known this months or even a year ago. Nice to know I could get a job if I wanted to. But, honestly, I don't think it would have changed much. I still can't get a job as a nurse or midwife. That waiting process is still on-going. Until now, I didn't feel like I had the language skills to work. I am only now beginning to feel confident enough in speaking Norwegian that I can appreciate how a job would really help cement my language skills and take them to the next level.

We'll see where this information takes us. I don't think I'll actively look for a job at this moment. I'm considering making contact again with the midwives at the local hospital, and hope that I can spend time with them on the labor and delivery floor, soaking up the midwifery lingo and birth culture. That would probably be a better use of my time in terms of "long term goals to work as a midwife" in comparison with working at a grocery store to make a little money and converse a little with colleagues. I'm also busy with the house on a daily basis, and will continue to be so for the next few months. 

But again. . . nice to know. 

Thanks for the kick in the butt, up-rooted!

*I must also clarify that "we" means "Erik" or "me asking Erik to do this for me".

Foundation poured. Does paint dry faster?

 The digging and excavating for the addition began last week. It's amazing what a mess a few big digging machines made of our yard. I'm also a bit surprised at how slow this part of the process feels. It's been over a week, but there's only a 3-foot high foundation sitting there. Granted, there is this huge hole as well. . . And did I mention the mess?

Inside it feels like we've made more progress. The kitchen is completely sheetrocked. Our front hall and downstairs bath tile has been delivered. And today, Erik and our carpenter removed the stairs (from the first to second floor). We have ordered stairs--as a complete finished package--that will arrive sometime next week. Erik had seriously considered building them himself, but in the end decided he already had enough
on his plate. Wise decision, my friend.

Check out the door on on the back side of the house: if you look closely, you can see that on the inside there is a smaller window framed in, and yellow insulation surrounding it and completely covering the door. That will be our kitchen window over the sink. There will be no door. But Tika doesn't quite understand this. She's been running through the house--in front door, out back door--in back door, out front door--for the last 4 months. Despite the fact that from the inside there is no door visible anymore--covered with plastic, insulation and now sheetrock--she still goes and sits in front of the "door" and looks at us expectantly. . . can you, please please please, open the door and let me out of this dangerous and noisy hell hole? I just want to go sit in my bed in the back of the car and take another nap. . . 

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


When one is learning a foreign language, it is very common to swap words between the languages, or fill in the blanks in one's memory with a word from the other language. Sometimes I just "norwegian-ize" an English word, and surprise! It works!

Greta is particularly good at throwing Norwegian words into her English sentences. One of the steadfast switcheroos is using the verb å bruke (to use) instead of "use". For example: "Can I bruk this spoon for breakfast?" or "I don't want to bruk that color!" I have tried to break this habit, playing a "game" in the car of "What to we use when we have cold hands?  We use mittens!" She thought it was really fun, and played along well, only to fall back on her use of bruke almost instantaneously. Often they are more amusing substitutions, such as this gem from yesterday: "I don't know which pappa I'm going to gifte meg (marry myself) to when I'm a mamma!" We completely understand her patched together sentences; it's our English speaking relatives who have trouble.

I admit I do the same thing--using Norwegian words in my English sentences. My use of the word barnehage is probably the best example. It does literally translate to kindergarten, but in the British sense of the word (preschool/daycare), not the American sense (first year of school at the age of 5). One of Greta's barnehage teachers, who is married to an American and speaks excellent English, would translate barnehage to kindegarten when she was speaking to us in English, as well as translating pappa to daddy. That one amused me--and confused Greta--more than anything: Erik is Pappa to Greta, and has been since Day 1 of Life, not Day 1 in Norway. He has never been "daddy", so it seemed particularly bizarre to hear that translated for our benefit.

With the number of new words we are immersed in, we sometimes find ourselves searching for the English word. This seems to be happening to Erik most often with the whole building process. He's been doing so much reading and research on home-building, products and supplies in Norwegian that he sometimes doesn't even know the English word. Our carpenter is Irish, but has lived in Norway for over 20 years, so we generally all speak with one another in English. But from time to time, the two of them stumble onto a construction word or phrase that they can't remember, and briefly switch to Norwegian just to get the point across.

Erik and I were at a tile store a few days ago, and were discussing the options with each other and a sales clerk. We both stumbled to find the word "grout" in English. It was as if my lips couldn't make the vowels come out correctly. It sounded too much like "gråte" (grow-tah), which means to cry or shout. Certainly we couldn't keep our tiles together with crying?? What is that word?  Ow, ow, grout!

Other times a Norwegian word sounds similar enough to an English word that my mind makes a leap of faith that they mean essentially the same thing. Take this story for example:

You might recall that Greta had "camp week" at the barnehage, and they spent the week learning about fall, hunting, animals, and exploring the woods. One days activities included a "skatt jakt". I knew that jakt meant hunt, and my Nor-glish brain took a leap of faith that "skatt" meant--well? What does it sound like to you? Scat! You know, animal poop!

This made sense to me. It fit perfectly into the week. The kids were learning about hunting. They were identifying animals that live in the forest. They were going out on hikes every day studying nature. Of course they were going to find animal poop and learn what was rabbit poop, what was moose poop, what was fox poop, etc. . . Maybe some die-hard teacher would even "plant" it out in the woods so they would have a great variety of poop to discover on their jakt.

Side note: Tika often accompanied us to the laavo (tent) to pick up Greta that week. She loves running through the woods, sniffing around, finding leftover grilled food, and the kids love seeing her. I noticed her making her own deposit of, you know, poop on the perimeter of the camp area one day (and seeing that I did not have a poop-bag with me, it was left to nature).

The afternoon of the skatt jakt I picked up Greta from the "camp" and chatted with Greta and her teacher about her day--what did she find on the jakt? "Did you find any rev bæsj? (fox poop) Any ku bæsj? (cow poop) Did you find any Tika bæsj? Because I think Tika left some the other day!" Greta is all giggles. . . "Noooo Mamma!" and the teacher just smiles and says something unintelligible in Norwegian, as she has a northern dialect that I can't always understand.

A week later, Erik and Greta come inside from a little walk they had done around the neighborhood. Greta collects stones, leaves, flowers, sticks, feathers, and we are often assigned to carry them all. Erik came in, displayed the fine array of flowers and leaves, and said "Look at Greta's skatt!" 


Erik said, "Skatt. . . her treasures! We were on a skatt jakt looking for treasures. And look at them all!"

Oh boy. . . that explains a lot. I did think it was a little weird to go out looking for animal poop, but I just thought it was all part of the Norwegian experience. So, maybe the barnehage kids didn't think that finding my dog's pile of poop to be such a great skatt after all. . .

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Then and Now

Looking into the bathroom on August 2
Just a quick update on the house. . .
We hope to break ground on the addition on Monday! 
Bob the Builder has been working with us the last two days, and having 3 people working full time really allowed us to fly through some of the paneling work. Greta's room is looking very finished with ceiling and wall paneling up; the guest room's ceiling is finished, and I cut over 60 boards for wall paneling today; the front entry has a reinforced floor with freshly poured concrete over warming cables--our bathroom and front hall (and the rest of the house for that matter) will be heated with warm water cables running beneath the wood floor or tile. So toasty! 

We have 6 weeks left on our lease, and I'm beginning to get a little nervous! 
Warming cables in the front hall, looking 
into the bathroom

The bathroom, with reinforced floor, fresh concrete floors
over the warming cables

and new walls all ready for tile on September 14
Greta's room on August 2nd
September 14th in Greta's room. Fuse box gone, walls up,
ceiling panels in place, wall paneling in place, all electrical work done.
Time to build a bed!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Camp week for 3-year-olds

Greta attends a private friluftsbarnehage, which essentially is a daycare that focuses on outdoor life and activities. (To tell you the truth, I had no idea it was a private barnehage until we were about 3/4 of the way through the year! I honestly don't know what difference it makes. . . perhaps I'll learn that this year.)
There are dozens of barnehages in Lillehammer, and most families choose to have their child go to the barnehage that is in their neighborhood. We registered for barnehage before we even moved to Lillehammer and had no idea where we would be living, and were randomly assigned to the Birkebeiner Friluftsbarnehage. It just so happened to be the barnehage that was closest to the house we rented all of last year. Despite moving about 15 minutes away from the barnehage (instead of a 10 minute walk), we've decided to keep Greta at her barnehage instead of moving her to one in our new neighborhood. One might say we've grown a little attached.

Greta attends the barnehage 5 days a week, and for that we pay approximately $400. This is amazing for a couple of different reasons. First of all, the exchange rate between the US dollar and the Norwegian Krone is generally in the range of $1 =  5.5-6 Kroner. Everything in Norway feels like it is about 2-3 times the cost of what it would cost in the US, so if that were the case, we should be spending about $2000 a month, or 13000 Kroner. We paid more for a month of part-time daycare in the US than we do for full-time barnehage in Norway, and our US daycare was relatively cheap ($45 a day)! Norwegian barnehages are heavily subsidized by the government and most of them are run by the local municipality. They are the one thing in Norway that is cheaper than in the US!

But what is additionally amazing about the cost of childcare is also the the quality of care that she is receiving. The child-to-teacher ratio seems about the same as it was in the US, but there are a number of teachers at her barnehage who have master's degrees in child pedagogy. Even the assistants have had specialized training to work at barnehages.

Because of their focus on friluftsliv, literally translated as "free air life", the teachers at the barnehage decided this year to have a "camp week" for the 3, 4 and 5 year old kids to focus on fall (it's fall here now) and outdoor fall activities. The barnehage has a lavvoen, or tee-pee kind of tent, that is located about a half kilometer away from the barnehage in the woods. They have an outhouse, a campfire pit, rope swings, lots of trails and rock to explore, and a playground of log see-saws and fortresses--all rather roughly made. Parents delivered and picked up the kids directly to and from the lavvo, meaning that they kids would be essentially outdoors from 8am until 4pm. Backpacks were packed with several pairs of extra wool socks, layers of fleece, extra wool long underwear, and waterproof rainpants, mittens, jackets, boots and hats. It literally was like packing for camp. It was rainy the first two days, but it didn't seem to dampen anyone's spirits, no pun intended. . .

They filled the week with fall-themed activities, songs and food. On day one, they built and learned how to shoot a bow and arrow. On day two, one of the two male teachers brought his hunting dog and demonstrated how she can track birds. Along with this dog--as if a dog at the barnehage wasn't exciting enough!--he brought  a bird that he had hunted, and they proceeded to dress the bird, identifying parts like its heart (yikes!) and then cook and eat its meat! That afternoon Greta declared to me, mixing together her Norwegian and English:  "Mamma, you know what's inside fugl?  Fugl kjøtt!" (translation: You know what's inside a bird? Bird meat!"). It obviously had made a big impression.

The rest of the week included glorious sunny, warm days, so to be perfectly honest, they probably didn't have to plan anything for those days, everyone was so happy to be out in the warm sunshine. But, they also went on a jakt (hunt) and tracked and "shot" wooded cutouts of a fox, deer, and moose, learned about different kinds of animal droppings, picked berries in the woods, sang fall songs, made vegetable soup for the parents, and seemed to eat and drink a fair amount of "camp" related food.

Greta seemed thrilled by the whole week, and it definitely struck her as being different from day-to-day barnehage. We would off-handedly say to her, "at barnehage tomorrow. . . " she would adamently correct us and say, "Not barnehage! We're going to the lavvo!" Erik and I have been really happy with her barnehage before this whole experience, but this week really impressed us. The amount of energy that went into planning--and pulling off-- a week like this for fourteen 3, 4 and 5 year old kids demonstrates the level of commitment they have in making the barnehage an enriching experience. A fellow Minnesotan-in-Norway blogger recently wrote (and I paraphrase), "Barnehage is Norway at its best. It is a combination of preschool, daycare, and summer camp all rolled into one." I couldn't have said it better myself.

The staff has already planned for a "winter camp" week, in which the kids will spend the whole day at the barnehage's small cabin located off the ski trails in the Birkebeiner ski stadium. They are planning this for the third week in March, when the days are sunnier and warmer, but there is still plenty of snow for skiing, sledding and playing. Here's crossing our fingers that it's as much of a hit as the fall camp week.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Why I have gray hairs

People here can't stop asking me if I've found a job yet. They have no idea what a hot-button topic they have pushed. I continue to tell them, "No. . . I'm still waiting for permission from the Norwegian authorities for my nursing license. It has now taken 11 months."

The bureaucratic red tape on the Norwegian side of the border is only one side of the story, however. I can't imagine you care to remember the details of this, but back in June, SAFH (nursing authorities in Norway) requested further information about two internships I had in the Summer of 1996. Both places of employment had destroyed all records prior to 2000, so I had to scramble to find people who could vouch for my responsibilities and verify my employment.

It is incompetencies like this that explains why, in part, 11 months later I still don't have a nursing license:

On June 29: I was corresponding with an employment specialist at the hospital where I worked in St. Paul, Minnesota. She forwarded my issue on to a colleague.

On July 14: the colleague returns from a 2 week vacation to read my email. I basically request that she sign a letter that I have written, stating my job responsibilities and hours worked. She agrees. Simple enough.

On July 15: she sends me a letter via email. I request (as I had already done) that she send me a hard copy on hospital letterhead, as it looks more official and is pleasing to the Norwegian eyes reading it and making important decisions about my future.

On July 24: she responds and says, "I don't have a copy of the letter anymore". Not sure why she this took her two weeks to figure out. I forward her the letter within minutes.

On August 3: she writes again, "I've had email problems. I know you wanted a hardcopy. Can you send it to me again?"  Again, minutes later, an email with the letter attached, is sent off.

On August 22: I write, asking so so politely, if they had managed to send out the letter. She responds: Yes, over 2 weeks ago. Should definitely have arrived in Norway by now. I request, so so politely, if she could send me yet another copy of the damn letter. She says (c'mon, all in unison now) "I don't have a copy of the letter. Can you send me another one?"

On August 25: she writes that she believes the letter was sent to a different address than I most recently specified. I have no idea how this is possible. . . . I very clearly spell out to her our home address.

Today, September 7, nearly two weeks after I assumed the second letter was to be sent off: she writes to me to tell me the letter is in the mail. WHAT? It takes you two weeks to print off a letter from email onto hospital letterhead and stick a stamp on it???

I immediately email her back--we are essentially texting each other via email--and request that my parents drive to her office to pick up the letter themselves. They will then stick the letter in an envelope that is both properly addressed and sufficiently stamped and zip it over the Atlantic Ocean in a matter of days. NOT TWO EFFIN' MONTHS!!

So this, my dear Norwegian friends and neighbors, is (in part) why I still do not have a nursing license after 11 months of waiting.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


I feel like I am "behind" in my blogging, like there is a quota I'm supposed to fill or something. But as events pass me by, or as I experience and live through life more accurately, I feel like I should be noting them somehow. But, life is busy, and I've got some engaging knitting projects goin' on.

My brother and his samboer (long-term girlfriend) came to visit us for the last two weeks, escaping late-summer mugginess in Washington DC and arriving to cool early-fall (mostly) sunshine in Lillehammer. How they lucked out on the weather, I don't know. We had a fantastic time with them here, and Greta basked in the attention of her uncle and aunt. Despite not opening a guide book for Norway until about 3 weeks before their trip, we still managed to assemble a nice sampling of Norway: Lillehammer, hike to a mountain hotel, a small taste of Oslo, a Norway in a Nutshell trip, 3 days in Bergen, and back to Lillehammer. Fjords, high alpine mountains, glacier, reindeer meat, Aquavit, barnehage visit, a dozen bouquets of dandelions and daisies, and approximately 3,000 pictures of one adorable 3-year old. More on their visit later. . .

I restarted my Norwegian classes last week, this class being a "study group" for the Bergen's test (the test required for non-native speakers who want to study at the university level). I have no plans or desires to study at the university level here, but it is the next level of class available here. I could definitely use the practice and exposure to more instruction in Norwegian. 3 days into the class (we meet Tuesdays and Thursdays) I'm much more optimistic and encouraged than I was last spring, and it's a little strange to feel so positive about class. The students are motivated, the teacher is invested and energetic, the class is small. All good things. More on this titillating subject later. . .

A few weeks ago, I took a mommy-day and escaped to Oslo for the day. It's just a little too time consuming to do just a day trip for, I've decided. It's a 2.5 hour train/bus ride (depending on if the train tracks are flooded or not), so 5 hours of the day is simply transportation. Then add on the 20 minute bus ride at the end of the trip to get me to Øyer, and the 10 minute walk up the road. . . it's a long day. The particular day I chose was one of three days of an arts and crafts festival in downtown Oslo. Going to art fairs is part of what makes summer summer to me, so although it was a bit smaller than I had hoped, it was still really enjoyable. The weather was gorgeous, and I basically spent the day wandering around the downtown. Will touch on the highlights of this little getaway soon, too. . .

The house is coming along. The søknad (application to the city) has been submitted, after weeks of waiting for our architect to come back from his relaxing 3+ week vacation and finalize our plans! The 3-week countdown for the city to consider the plans is underway, and we hope to begin major work around September 15th. In the meantime, the plumber has been in and essentially finished plumbing for the basement laundry room, first floor bathroom, and kitchen. Our electrician broke his foot, and after minimal scrambling, we we found another. He has wired nearly everything in the current home, and after he finishes a bit more work this week, we should be able to put up some walls. In fact, our carpenter was working with Erik on Friday, and they had already begun to put up the paneling on Greta's walls and ceiling. More news, with pictures, coming soon. . . .

On a side note, I want to mention how truly saddened we are to watch and read the news reports of the flooding in Vermont. Hurricane Irene dumped 6-12 inches of rain across the state, and the flooding has devastated so much of that beautiful state. Vermont is so near and dear to our hearts, and we have many friends still there (although everyone we know seems to be safe and unharmed). It is just heartbreaking to see the destruction.

So that, dear readers, should keep you on the edge of your seat until I can find a little spare time between knitting projects, building projects, essay writing, verb memorizing, mothering and entertaining guests and finally write full updates on the above sneak previews.