Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas and God Jul!

Merry Christmas from the Winter Wonderland!
We've had nearly a foot of snow over the last few days, with a picture-postcard-perfect snowfall setting the mood for Christmas. We've been enjoying our first real Christmas in our new house and piecing together Norwegian and American customs and traditions and experiencing Christmas through the eyes of a 4-year old.

I have much I'd love to write about--my month in Oslo, the class experience, the update on the nursing stuff, work-related, Christmas reflections--but it has been a busy and exhausting month.

A Merry Christmas and here is to prosperous and Happy 2013 to you all!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Random Act of Kindness in Oslo

I was walking to class today--my last day of class--which started at noon with an exam review/prep. It's a 20 minute walk from Majorstuen to the Pilestredet campus of the Høyskole i Oslo/Akershus. I stopped in to a bookstore kitty-corner from the nursing building to buy a notebook (yes, on my last day of class) but when I got to the counter to pay, my wallet wasn't in my backpack. I clearly remembered sticking it in the outside pocket when I packed up this morning; I also remembered reaching back to pull out my hat and gloves from the outside pocket 5 minutes into my walk, and noticing that the outside pocket was unbuckled, and thinking nothing of it; but I also remembered flipping through the collection of free coffee cards stored in my wallet as I sat at the kitchen table this morning.

Did the wallet fall out when I pulled out my hat? Was it sitting on the kitchen table in the apartment? Was it sitting on the sidewalk somewhere along my 2km route?

I left the store, unable to pay, and stood on the corner wondering what to do. My class was starting now. It wasn't mandatory that I be there, but since the other four weeks have essentially sucked, and this one was discussing how to prepare for the final exam--the only thing that actually counts towards passing or failing this course--it was probably one of the more important classes to attend. My phone rang; I pushed the ignore button and sent it to voicemail. If I walked all the way back to the apartment--20+ minutes and back again--I'd miss almost the entire review. And if I found the wallet in my apartment--a strong likelihood--I'd be ticked at myself. My phone rang again and I let it go to voice mail again. It was probably work or the midwife's office trying to change an appointment.

I'd go to class and unpack my backpack in a dry, secure environment and listen to the review. My phone rang again. Suddenly I realized: this might be important.


"Er det Emily Stange?"  (maybe this is obvious, but "Is this Emily Stange?")

"Ja, det er det. . . "  (Yes, it is. . .)

"Har du mistet lommaboka di?"  (have you lost your wallet?)

"JA! DET HAR JEG! Har du fant det?"   (YES! I HAVE! Have you found it?)

(We continue in Norwegian, which is not my favorite thing to do on the telephone, especially in conversations that are very important!)

"I'm in Majorstuen," (where I had just walked from), "Where are you? I'll bring it to you."

"I'm on Pilestredet, at the college campus."

"I'm near Bislett stadium, coming down Pilestredet. . . what store is near you?"

"Uhhh. . . Akademika bookstore (there are only about five of these in the vicinity, as they spread out their subjects into different stores). I'm on the corner of (I sprint across the street) somethingsomething veien and Pilestredet."

"I'm at Deli de Luca, I think I'm just around the corner. . . "

"I could meet you at Deli de Luca, " (again, only about a hundred million of these convenience stores in Oslo, so while I knew where the closest one, who knew if it was the one he was driving past at that exact second).

"I'm coming to a light. . . Yes. . . that's me in the Porsche."

That's right: my wallet-rescuing-Oslo-hero/angel was driving a gray convertible Porsche, with the top up. He rolls down the window, a ruggedly bearded guy in his late 30s, and hands my wallet to me.

I gush my thanks to him, and ask him where he found it.

"On suchandsucha-veien. . . " he explains, and I have no idea where he's talking about, but I'm standing in the middle of the street, and the light begins to turn. 

"Tusen tusen takk!" 

"Ingen problem. . . " 

I text Erik a very abbreviated version of the story, and he responds by telling me how very very lucky I am. I text back that it changed my whole perspective of the day.

His response: "Yay Norway!"

Yay Norway, indeed.

***How did he get my cell phone number, you ask? In Norway one just goes to guleside.no and type in a person's name and you get a phone number (including cell phone) and address. Or type in their phone number and get their name and address. Pretty simple.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Introducing. . . maternity care in Norway

Jeg er gravid. . .  Jeg har baby i magen. . .  Vi venter et barn!
All Norwegian expressions meaning:
I am pregnant. . . I have a baby in my belly. . . We’re expecting a child!
All true, my friends. All true.

Although I am now much further along than when I originally wrote the following post, at 10 weeks gestation back in late July. You’ll have to forgive me for keeping the news off the blogosphere for a few months.

I promise this will not morph into a mommy-blog, or a pregnancy-blog, but will try to keep it true to its roots of an American-Woman-Making-Her-Way-Through-Life-in Norway-blog. But as an American midwife, with many friends and colleagues back in the States in the baby business, my experiences and impressions of pregnancy care in Norway are a big part of my ex-pat experiences in general. So here goes a back-dated-July blog:

I had my first svangerskapkontrol (pregnancy appointment) in mid-July at 10 weeks. I should point out that while insurance is "free" in Norway (supported by their hefty taxes), general medical care to adults is not free. Care for children and for pregnant women is, however, 100% covered. Midwives attend approximately 70% of all births in Norway, leaving the complicated pregnancies and births to the physicians. Midwives are, by law, required to be available to a pregnant mother in every community in Norway for her prenatal care as well. Most midwives seem to practice either in the clinic setting providing prenatal care, or in the hospital setting providing care surrounding birth, but not both, as most midwives do in the US. Either you are employed by the kommune (community/city) for prenatal care or by the public hospital for labor/delivery/postpartum care.

Despite this overwhelming presence of midwives, it is normal for a woman to have her first prenatal appointment with her fastlege.  A fastlege is her family doctor, whom she may or may not have had many options in choosing. I had a decent fastlege, but thought he was a bit too male for my liking, and switched to a female fastlege who had helped my own dad with some dental pain. But just four days before my first appointment with her to diagnose and treat a sinus infection, she began her maternity leave. I was then automatically switched to a third fastlege. Another male.

So at 10 weeks gestation, with Erik in tow, we go to meet my fastlege for my first prenatal appointment. This pregnancy was much like my first—virtually undetectable, virtually asymptomatic—of which I dare not complain. That said, there is something very reassuring about symptoms, however unpleasant they are—you realize that something is in fact developing deep within your body.

Last time around, I was well-connected to (ok, employed by) the obstetric department at a major regional medical center and teaching hospital, and started off the pregnancy being reassured by rising serial hCG levels (pregnancy hormones) and two early ultrasounds to help in dating our somewhat surprise pregnancy. All of which were medically justifiable, in my mind. So, despite any symptoms of nausea or fatigue last time around, I knew things were OK. This time around, without any medical reasons for hormone levels or ultrasounds, I just had to trust nature and my body and my training that everything was proceeding as normal. And I was OK with that, too. Honestly, I was! (Ok, I was a little uneasy about it. . . but that's normal, too).

At 10 weeks into a pregnancy, a health care provider could be able to hear a fetal heartbeat (as my midwife was able to do when I was pregnant with Greta), although admittedly this is not always possible. This is really the only reason why I dragged Erik along to this otherwise rather boring and routine appointment. My fastlege, however, had no intention of attempting to hear the heartbeat. “It won’t give us any useful information,” he informed me.
“Uhhh. . . yes it can,” I countered, getting a little testy, and trying to express myself calmly in Norwegian. “For one, it can reassure me that everything is OK! And, it would give you some idea whether my dates are accurate or not.” I wasn’t asking for a ultrasound, for Pete’s sake, just a heartrate check.
“Well. . . we don’t actually have the capability of doing that here at this office anyway,” he responded. Which, it occurred to me later, is probably bullshit. Even though most women see the midwife for their prenatal care, some do choose to see their fastlege and most women go back for at least one or two visits with their fastlege during the course of the pregnancy. And if a pregnant woman is showing up at her fastlege for a routine prenatal visit, would the physician not check the fetal heartbeat? I think not. Somewhere in that damn office was a handheld Doppler ultrasound. I just knew it.

My blood pressure was rising, can you tell? Five minutes into this visit and I was not impressed with maternity care in Norway.

Speaking of blood pressure, he then proceeded to take my blood pressure (surprisingly low, considering) and do the all-so-informative-yet-obligtory listening to a perfectly-healthy-woman-in-her-mid-30’s heart and lungs. ‘Cause that would give him so much useful information. . .

Next on his list was the gathering of Important Information to be entered into a computer database: my job, Erik’s job, my religion, was my first birth a vaginal or c-section delivery, how much she weighed, and what her Apgar* score was (although when I reported them as 8 and 9 (1 and 5 minutes), he said, “. . . and?. . . “ waiting for the 10 minute Apgar score. In the US, once you hit a score of 9 at 5 minutes, we don’t do a 10 minute score. Aside from a brief health history, that was the extent to which he was curious about my previous pregnancy. No questions about use of anesthesia, length of labor, breastfeeding, postpartum depression. . . 

He moved on, namely to the issue of prenatal genetic testing and/or screening, specifically for Trisomies 18 and 21. As I will be (full disclosure here) right around the ripe young age of 38 when this baby is born, I automatically have the right to genetic testing, provided and paid for by the Norwegian health care system. Apparently, if you are under the age of 38, you are not offered these tests (although I’m sure there are some extenuating circumstances). In the US, it’s really available to any woman of any age. . . given that your insurance pays for it, of course! 

In my previous job, the midwives used an increasing amount of time of our 60 minute first prenatal visits counseling our patients on the different options of prenatal testing, so I was quite informed on what the options were, what information they gave us, how accurate they were, etc. So, I was a bit surprised when my fastlege told me we’d have to hurry to get me into the ultrasound to measure the nuchal translucency (neck thickness), because time was getting late. “Odd. . . “ I thought. “That’s usually at 12 weeks. I’m only 10 weeks. Do they do it earlier here? Is this test somehow different? Am I not remember this correctly?”

So, I asked him, and inquired about which hormones they measure along with the ultrasound—is this a first trimester test only, or a combined test with more labs drawn in the second trimester? The tests are becoming more extensive and therefore more accurate in the US—the more hormones you measure, the more information you get, and the more accurate the screening becomes. His response, “You’ll have to talk to the doctor about that when you get your ultrasound at the hospital.”

Huh? This is the doctor that I am sent to when I encounter a “complication” in my pregnancy, unless it’s too complicated, and then I’m sent to the obstetrician? But he can’t adequately counsel me on a screening test done immediately following my first prenatal visit? Assuming I knew nothing about these tests, I would have to base my decision on whether or not to do this screening based on this crappy counseling? And what if I get to the ultrasound/screening visit and decide I don’t want the test after all? What a waste of everybody’s time!

As you might guess, 15 minutes into this visit and I was even less impressed with maternity care in Norway. I was quite furious when I left the office, although I really tried to keep it in perspective. I had high expectations, or probaby more accurately, I had high standards. To add to my frustration with the whole system, I knew that the care, reassurance, and counseling that I provided women during their first prenatal visit was highly superior to what I had just received. If I dare say so myself.

Coming soon: my screening tests (more confusion) and first visit with the midwife (she’s wonderful!). So a mix of annoying and good.

*Apgar score:  a score of 0-10 given to a newborn at 1 , 5 and possibly 10 minutes of life, evaluating their transition to extrauterine life. Their color, tone, respiratory effort, pulse and reflexes are given points of 0, 1 or 2. A low score indicates that the baby needs assistance and possibly resuscitation to transition to life outside the uterus. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

If only I had a guest blogger. . .

I am beginning week four out of four of my bachelorette month in November. The month has gone by relatively quickly, with weekends at home in Lillehammer and weeknights filled with meeting blogging and Oslo Facebook friends. The nasjonale fag kurs (national nursing course) has been about what I expected: a waste of time and money. But more on that later, like when I find out that I've actually passed it and there aren't any repercussions for telling the truth on the matter.

In the meantime, there have been some interesting developments regarding my new found media fame as Lillehammer's out of work American midwife. This is where I wish I had a guest blogger--Erik specifically--as he has had more contact with the journalist and media in the last few weeks, as I've been off drinking cappuccinos in Oslo.

The day after the original report aired, NRK aired a follow-up report, in which they interviewed the leader of the Norwegian Parliament's health committee. He was quoted as saying he found it strange that it was so difficult for me to get authorization, especially since in the "US there is a high level of education", and he kind of laughed in an "that's-an-understatement" kind of way.

A few days after that, a radio report stated that another member of Parliament on the health committee announced that she had sent a formal letter to the Minister of Health Care Services, demanding that my case--and the appeals board process--be investigated. He apparently has six days to respond to this letter. This particular politician (according to what we are told, 'cause I honestly don't follow Norwegian politics too closely), is rather right-wing and her party has also been known to be rather anti-immigrant. She was questioned as to why she is supporting this (my) case, when they typically take a more anti-immigrant stand, and she essentially responded that, "Look, here is someone who came to Norway because they wanted to work and were not looking for handouts. She is highly trained, highly educated, speaks good Norwegian. . . Norway is never going to survive if we turn away people like this."

To say that this is all a bit surreal is the understatement of the year. I feel so detached from the whole process it's like this is all happening to someone else. I am not hoping for major changes in the law, as I feel that would both take too long to help me out at all (selfish reason), but also because I don't know that it's necessary. At this point what needs to happen is finding some way to enforce fairness and consistency in the way American nursing educations are evaluated.

More to come. . . but for now I need to go write a paper on Norwegian health laws. How ironic.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Amerikansk jordmor får ikke jobbe (American midwife doesn't get to work)

The news report on my 2 year long battle with SAFH and Helsepersonnelnemd was finally aired last night, first on the Oppland and Hedmark district news on NRK1 at 18:40 and then later in the evening (or so I'm told) on the national news around 9pm. It was replayed the next morning on NRK2 and also apparently turned into a radio report! To watch my NRK news debut, you may click here!

I will try to write a transcript of the report, but in the meantime here is my translation of the article that is printed below the news report.
The little family came to Lillehammer and Norway and it was the child-friendliness, ski life and nature that brought them here.

Erik got his dream job as a bioloist while Emily, as an American midwife, was not good enough for Norway. Therefore she is working as a health care assistant.

“It’s not a bad job, and I know there are many people who would want it. I’m glad that I have a job, but this is not what I wanted to do. It is a little depressing, “ said Stange to NRK.
Has delivered several hundred babies
Her dream was to work as a midwife. She has a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the Norwegian-American St. Olaf college, and in addition she has a master’s degree as a midwife and 12 years of job experience.
Emily has also taught both nursing and medical students.
In addition to the formal education, which was approved by NOKUT () she has taught nursing and midwife subjects. She is also a member of the international honor society Sigma Theta Tau because she graduated with top grades.
In six of her 12 years of experience as a midwife, she worked in a hospital and delivered several hundred babies. But, that’s not enough to work as a midwife in Norway.
She wishes she had researched even better before her family decided to move to Norway. “I spoke with midwives, nurses, friends and every said that ‘Norway needs midwives!’ They said that a master’s degree from the United States is actualy more education than what Norwegian midwives have,” she said.
Must begin her education from the beginning
In the course of the last two years Emily has been in contact with the Government authorization office for health care personnel to become authorized to work as a midwfe.
She appealed her case to the Government appeals board and a decision finally came before sommer: she must begin her nursing education from the beginning.
What did you think? “I didn’t think anything. I just cried,” she said.
In the decision from the appeals board they say that the American nursing education has too little theory and clinical practical training when compared to the Norwegian nursing education.
The director of the appeals board can’t comment on a specific case, but says they must take into account patient safety and that they handle all the cases the same.
“In this case our decision was completely in accordance with decisions we have made in similar cases. It does not stand out in any way,” says the director for the Government appeals board, Øyvind Bernatek.
According to statistics, Norway will be lacking 28,000 nurses and at least 200 midwives in the next 20 years. Elisabeth Hals, a midwife at the Lillehammer Hostpial, says the ned for temporary midwives is huge.
“Both with vacations and sick leaves. . . the need is big, “ she said to NRK.
Odd that she must do it all from the beginning
Emily Stange from the United States wonders if she should do more education (editors note: actually, I don’t wonder about this. I simply won’t do it.) She has contacted the College in Gjøvik where they educate nurses.
Study and research director Gunn Rognstad has seen the case and doesn’t understand why Emily doesn’t get authorized in Norway.
“The education she has from the US in case of academic level the same as a bachelor’s degree in Europe. It seems a little strange that she must begin everything from the beginning,” she said.
Rognstad has now sent a letter to the Appeals Board, in which she has asked how/what she can arrange for Emily.
For Emily and her family, their lives are put on hold. She has no desire to begin again with an education that she already has.
“If this doesn’t straighten itself out, and I have to begin my education from the beginning. . . we’ll move back to the US. I will not throw away 6 years of education and 12 years of work experience.”
NRK will follow the case further. 

Erik and I are quite pleased with the report and looking forward to the follow-up news report today and whatever else might come from this. Several people have contacted either me directly or the reporter to voice their support and frustration, or to share their own stories. It's lovely to have the support, but what we need now is someone willing to step up and take it one step further.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Breaking News on NRK 1 for Wednesday 6th of November

Finally, after several months of waiting, the news report on my nursing/midwife "case" is being aired on NRK1 Østnytt at 18:40. (this is a regional production of NRK's news, aired in just Hedmark and Oppland fylker in Norway. 

For any of you who are interested, you can go to NRK's Østnytt site tomorrow evening and watch the evenings news. It will be a 5 minute segment. We had originally hoped that the segment would be aired on the much-viewed national Saturday evening news program, but apparently the editors-in-chief kept changing their minds on what the main focus of the segment should be. We are happy at this point to simply have it on the air, and the journalist has said she plans on filming follow-up interviews beginning tomorrow.

I will post more tomorrow, after the segment airs. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012


It's Halloween in Norway, and although I was in Oslo and missed out on the goings-on at home in Lillehammer, I got the report, with pictures to boot. 

Erik bought what may have been the last pumpkin in town on October 30th for about $25. What is particularly amusing about the packaging of the pumpkin--aside from the fact that it actually comes with packaging--is that there are instructions on How To Carve a Pumpkin. Although I can't be so sure, it does sort of appear that #4 instructions the user to put a candle on the top of the pumpkin. . . 

We were struck with an early arrival of winter in Lillehammer, and had nearly 10 inches of snow on the ground for Halloween. This did not seem to damper the spirits of our little witch (whose costume was bought at Joanne Fabrics in the US a few weeks ago for about $5). As I wrote last year, Norway embraces the "gory" side of Halloween--the ghouls, skeletons, blood, creepy stuff--and it seems to attract mainly elementary school age kids. Having a 3-year-old princess walking around the neighborhood last year collecting candy was a bit of an anomaly--both because she was 3 and because she was a princess. This year she decided to be a witch, which sounded good to us, being a little more in line with the local "customs". (As if respecting the local customs of a 100% imported American holiday is important. . .)  Having a 4-year-old witch out trick or treating was strange enough.

Erik stuffed Greta into a snowsuit, stretched the cheap-o witch dress over the snowsuit and pulled her hair back with a black buff and skull cap to fit under the witch's hat. Top it off with some purple mittens (which, along with the purple snowsuit, blended quite nicely with the purple witch's dress) and Greta was set for trick or treatin' Norwegian style. They headed to a slightly more American/British-ized neighborhood where we had success last year, and collected an amusing selection of goodies. Among those were loose, unwrapped pepperkaker cookies (traditional Norwegian Christmas cookies, now being sold in the stores), a candy cane, Christmas chocolates, and a package of single-serving hot chocolate mix!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Bachelorette days in Oslo

I moved into a bachelor's apartment in Oslo on Monday, as I began a four-week long nasjonal fag kurs for sykepleie (a national "subject" course for nurses). This course is required for any nurses seeking authorization in Norway who were educated outside of the European Union, as it addresses the Norwegian health care system, welfare system and spends an inordinate amount of time assuring that we can properly calculate medication administration. For many in the class it is the final step before they are fully authorized. For me, it is actually no longer a requirement, since SAFH and the appeals board decided that rather than doing a few months of clinical experiences like every other person in my class, I should instead begin my nursing education again, or try to get a few measly courses from my pathetic education approved by a nursing program and maybe, just maybe, I can shorten my study period by a few courses. It is no longer a requirement since I would presumably get all of the course information in a real Norwegian nursing educational program. 

So, why am I taking the class, you ask, since it is no longer required? Well, since I have no intention of ever repeating my basic bachelor degree nursing education, I still cling to the hope that I may someday be authorized through other avenues--media pressure, legal attention, etc. I realize, however, that I will still be required to take this class, if I ever by the grace of God, gain authorization in Norway. And this I have no arguments with. Since I have sat on a waiting list for over a year, and the class is only offered twice a year in two locations in Norway, I had to jump on the opportunity to take it now. 

Taking a two hour and 11 minute train ride two times every day was not a viable option for me, so after a bit of desperate last-minute scrambling, we found a barely reasonably priced apartment to rent in the Majorstuen neighborhood of Oslo (costing us about $1200 for the month, if you are curious). It is a 20 minute walk from the Pilestredet campus of the Høyskole i Oslo (Oslo University College) and very conveniently located to the metro, shops and even a local campus of my gym. So, I'm living it up in Oslo for the next month! I've always daydreamed--when walking past the lovely brownstone homes in Boston or New York, or the gracious, wrought-iron decorated apartments in Stockholm, Oslo or any other romantic European city--what it would be like to live there. Now, without my husband and daughter and dog, I get to try out that life. I'm looking forward to it, and dreading it as well. 

I am nervous about so many of the unknowns for the following month: how the class is actually evaluated, if my language skills are up to par, how difficult the written work/reading assignments will be, how much time is demanded of us out of class, how much I will miss my family during the week, how comfortable my living arrangements will be, and not least of all, how lonely I will be. 

Three days into the experience, all is going well. More on the class to follow. . . 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Home Sweet Home

For the first time since we moved to Norway in August 2010, we traveled "home". First that meant one week at home in Minnesota, for a whirlwind visit with four grandparents and a silly aunt and uncle, not to mention a few lucky friends. Then we traveled to New England, namely to the Upper Valley of Hanover, New Hampshire and Hartford, Vermont, which was our home for six years before moving to Norway. There we spent 10 days hopping from one guest room to another, squeezing in as many coffee dates, play dates, dinner get-togethers and two-day trips around the region to visit dear friends as we possibly could. 

The Green at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire
snapped as we drove out of town on our last day in the US.

We have mixed emotions about going and coming "home"--to Minnesota, New England and now back again to Lillehammer. I was worried, and anticipated, that the trip would be much harder, emotionally. That I wouldn't want to leave the United States and that I would dread and curse coming back to Norway. I'll be honest--there was a little of that, but those feelings were not nearly as strong as I had feared. 

We had a little bright spot along on this trip, happily and easily adapting to new beds, new/old friends that she didn't remember, new/old haunts that she didn't remember. All that our four-year old daughter remembers is life in Norway, and for that I am a little sad. She had no problems whatsoever in switching into full-time use of English, and for that I am very happy.

As we drove down Main Street of the quintessentially New Englandy Hanover, New Hampshire, a street which I drove nearly daily for 6+ years, a street where I bought coffee and Christmas presents, ran into friends and patients, braved snowstorms and summer heat alike, Greta asked me from the backseat, oblivious to the emotions spinning ‘round in my head and heart: “Mamma. . .  which land (i.e. country) do you like better: Norway or America?”

I sighed.  Such an innocent, simple question. If only the answer were so simple. “Ohhhh. . . that’s a really difficult question to answer, Greta. . . “

Undaunted, Greta pressed on, “Pappa? Which land do you like better?”

Erik responded, also a little torn, but prepared to give a slightly more diplomatic (and non-binding) answer, “Well, there are parts of both countries that I really like.”

Greta responded, rather decided in her answer, “I like Sweden best.” 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Capital Cities

With grandparents in town for a week in late August, and our 10-year wedding anniversary approaching in late September, Erik and I decided to escape for a brief 4 day trip to Stockholm. The fact that it coincided with a 3 day ecology conference for Erik helped with airfare. Well, at least for one of us.

Erik pointed out that I have been in five European capital cities within the last two years. That seemed rather impossible, but he was right. Granted, we were in Copenhagen for all of 8 hours on a long-layover on our way to Paris. But that enabled us to explore the downtown for a few hours in the days leading up to Christmas.

April 2011
A Royal Wedding

Pre-Christmas 2011
A half-day layover tour

Christmas 2011
Eiffel Tower at night

June 2012
The Royal Palace

August 2012
Drottningholm Royal Palace

As we wandered around the charming streets of Stockholm last month, Erik wondered out loud if having lived in Europe for the past two years has somehow made us a bit more jaded when it comes to fully appreciating the historic richness of these cities and the feeling of "OMG, I am walking down the streets of PARIS. I am in STOCKHOLM of all places!" We agreed that yes, we are perhaps a little jaded. We certainly don't respond to these cities like a Minnesotan who has never traveled further than the borders of the state might upon arriving in Europe for the first time at the age of 40. But, on the other hand, we're not so jaded that we can't admit that Stockholm really impressed us, Paris overwhelmed us, we only skimmed the surface of Copenhagen, and Oslo (while charming in its own right) was obviously the resource-poor capital of a very poor nation while all those other aforementioned cities were booming.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Media darling. We hope.

My pursual of a midwife and nursing license in Norway came to a sort of standstill back in May, when the appeals board upheld SAFH’s decision that I should essentially begin my entire education from the beginning. Back in June, we were in contact with a former head of a nursing department at a local nursing college, but the spark from that initially promising meeting fizzled out over the Norwegian fellesferie (common vacation time in July). Every other Norwegian that we spoke to has been equally disgusted and disappointed in the decision, and their response is almost exactly the same: “You need to take this to the media! That’s how things get done in Norway! Take this to a politician!”

But frankly, I didn’t have the energy to mount another battle. The process of making the right contacts, assembling the papers and presenting our arguments one more time was overwhelming. It was summer. I had just failed two Norwegian exams. I was feeling defeated on several fronts. And I was juggling two new jobs, a bit overwhelmed in this shift from stay-at-home-study-Norwegian/mom/wife/home renovator lifestyle to full-time-job(s)-speaking-Norwegian/mom/wife/home renovator. Not to mention blogger. I hadn’t forgotten my desire to blog about this all, despite what you may think.

Instead, the media come to me. Our neighbor, who owns a fat black lab dog who is Tika’s best doggy friend and invites herself into our home whenever she has the chance, is a TV journalist for the local news office of NRK. NRK is the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, a government-owned public television and radio broadcasting company, and the largest media network in Norway. After chatting with Erik in a neighborly over-the-fence chat about my current job situation, he told a fellow journalist about my plight; a journalist who has some experience investigating the health care system and related matters.

In mid-August, the journalist came to our house. I presented my case, summarizing as best as I could what has transpired over the past two years, trying to highlight our best points and not get caught up in the minor details. Oh, and trying my best to do this in Norwegian, of course. I handed her a stack of papers, offered her the 3-ring binder of documents and correspondence, and gave her a half-dozen names of people who have been “on our side”. Her response included, “Wow. I had initially thought I could get this on the air next week, but now I think I’ll need some extra time to interview people. I’m thinking the nursing and midwife organization, SAFH, NOKUT (the accrediting agency that has approved  both my bachelors and masters degrees), this nursing instructor, the local midwives, politicians. . . “.

Go girl.

A few days later she was back in our home, with a camera and microphone to boot. We sat on my couch, and she peppered me with the sort of “touchy-feely” questions you’d expect them to edit out into 15-second clips to highlight a few points. It was rather overwhelming. I was very cognizant that this could very well end up on not just the local “fylke” (county) news program, but on the national news program, and I did not want to sound like a blubbering, incoherent, grammatically incorrect foreigner who thinks she’s good enough to catch Norsk babies. But, on the other hand, I also wanted to succinctly answer her questions, to give her good soundbites, and adequately express both my frustration and my competence. But, on the third hand. . . sometimes the words just weren’t there. That elusive word or phrase that would capture my thoughts perfectly was not in my active Norwegian vocabulary. It was frustrating, and made me worry more that I had sounded like a simpleton and a thinks-she’s-entitled foreigner. Had my fluent husband been sitting at my side, he could have provided a few nice soundbites. He, however, was sitting at an ecological conference in Sweden.

The filming moved upstairs, where they filmed the typical “at home with family” shots of me reading a story to Greta in her room. The next week, they came to the museum shop, and filmed me doing the typical “underemployed menial tasks” of organizing T-shirts by size; a few days later, they came to the nursing home, and filmed me doing more typical “underemployed menial tasks” like loading the lunch dishes in the dishwasher, all the while asking me loaded questions like, “what is it like to work here, when you have such a high education?” Honestly, what am I going to say? “This job sucks, quite frankly. Somedays I cry after work because I think of all that I gave up to work here.” And piss off my colleagues and boss and get fired the next day? (Because honestly, the jobs don’t suck. They are just a little. . . you know.) But, is saying, “this is a great job, I love working here,” going to support their story—and mine--that Norway is throwing away my competence? It was a delicate balance. A nuanced balance. One that I can only hope was captured with my not-so-nuanced “mastery” of Norwegian.

The news report has yet to be aired. The journalist contacted me last week, and wanted to film me again at home, hopefully with the whole family. Erik is in the middle of a 12-day trip to France, and won’t be home until late this week, so the report is at least delayed until then. The journalist said she has had some “interesting” interviews with the nursing/midwife professional organization and has others still to interview. I feel like she is absolutely on my side, as I called her after one episode of filming and expressed my concern that my response to a question had not come out as I had intended. She immediately reassured me that she would not use that particular quote, as it would “not support our case, the fact that you are qualified and not working at the level that you are educated to”.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, September 9, 2012


Not "AHZZ-low".
Not "AHH-slow".

Repeat after me: "OOOH-shlow" (like you're doing a haunting, ghostly oooooh).

Got it? That is how the locals* (in Lillehammer) pronounce "Oslo".

I've been down to Oslo quite a few times in the past 6 months, for both "business" shall we say, and pleasure. Any any rate, it's enough times that I'm beginning to get a little sick of certain parts of town, and often have a list of things that I can find only in Oslo. Have not yet found that must-go to restaurant for dinner, however.

In May, on one of my solo sojourns to Oslo to fail a Norwegian exam, I saw posters advertising a two-day children's festival in early June. I reported to Erik that we would be attending this festival, in an all out effort to do something relaxing and enjoyable in Norway. We are very lucky to have friends who have a generally empty apartment in Oslo, just mere meters from the Majorstuen T-bane (metro/subway) stop, a major top in Oslo Sentrum, and they generously lent us this apartment for the weekend.

Greta tries the cello, and makes her
mamma tear up. . . 
Norwegians like their summer music festivals, although they tend to showcase a bunch of artists that I've never heard of. A pretty major one is Øyafestivalen, that goes on for several days. The children's version of this was thus aptly named Miniøya, although did not feature as many bands and likely had about 200x the number of strollers as its parent festival. Make that 2000x.

We spent a full day at Miniøya, enjoying life sized giraffe puppets (people on stilts), face-painting, bag decorating, food tasting, story-telling, puppet shows, a violin/cello making/trying/coloring station, and a rather odd performance by Pippi Longstocking (in Swedish) from Sweden's own Pippi Longstocking World.

In our defense, this is not considered
 bad form, or bad parenting, to allow
your child to climb or pose on the
Vigeland statues.
On Sunday, as the weather was gorgeous, we headed over to Frognerpark, the largest park in Oslo, which contains the Vigeland Sculpture Garden. The sculpture garden has hundreds of statues by the artist Gustav Vigeland, depicting the circle of life and life stages. They are amazing statues and it is a park that continues to amaze. It was Greta's first time visiting the park, and even she was quite enthralled by them. If you go anywhere in Oslo, I would recommend Frognerpark. I think Greta would, too.

We had specifically headed off to eat our last breakfast at a cafe I had heard about through the grapevine, Laundromat Cafe. It had just the funky brunchy vibe I was looking for, with comfy chairs, telephones decorating the wall, and a laundromat in back (ok, wasn't really looking for a laundromat). But my cappuccino was poorly made and my apple pancakes drenched in syrup. And not even good syrup. Think Aunt Jemima. Probably was Aunt Jemima. Big disappointment to the start of my morning. . . So we are still looking for a good breakfast joint in Oslo.

Despite the disappointing cappuccino,
we still had a koselig time (and check
out the deco-phones).
Since many of my recent trips to Oslo have revolved around a meeting with SAFH about nursing shit or a Norwegian exam. That usually means we have a meeting in the middle of the day, leaving not enough time to do anything significant before or after, especially if it's a day trip (a train trip from Lillehammer is 2-2.5 hours). But in early August, when my mother-in-law invited me to join her and her friend for a few days in Oslo at the tail end of their visit, I happily agreed. Seeing that they had tourist destinations on their itinerary, and not just wandering, I decided that I would hit some of the big sites in Oslo this time around, too.

The Oslo Rådhuset, or City Hall, is a strange-looking, imposing square brown building on the Oslo Harbor. It is known to many as the brown cheese building (brown cheese is a Norwegian specialty). In fact, it is the home to the Nobel Peace Prize award every December, and the inside is especially impressive. I believe I stuck my head into the building 5 years ago, but remembered very little of it. My parents gushed about the building, so I tagged along on a tour with my mother-in-law and her friend.

Painting inside the Rådhus (City Hall)
where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded

I also put a tour of the Oslo Opera House on my to-do list for this trip, which was truly cool as well. The Opera House was designed by Snøhetta, which is designing parts of the Twin Towers memorial in NYC, and was finished just a few years ago. It has been identified as one of the best pieces of modern architecture in the world. Also worth checking out.

Toss in a tour of the Parliament building, the Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture, and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, and a few tasty cappuccinos, a few somewhat disappointing dinners, and a very rewarding gelato, and I've summed up my time in OOOH-shlow the past few visits, including, as usual, a good deal of wandering.

Oh, and how could I forget. . . On the tail end of my final day in Oslo in August, I joined the locals on their hourly pilgrimage to IKEA (pronounced in Norwegian and Swedish: "eee-KAY-ah". Do you think I'm kidding? There is a bus that leaves central Oslo every hour from 10am-midnight during the week for the 20 minute ride to the nearest IKEA (there are two outside of Oslo). The bus was cram-packed with people, and there were at least a dozen of us with standing the entire ride. And after having spent the day walking around Oslo, sprinting around the train/bus station to find the damn pick-up/drop-off location, and with the anticipation of walking around the store itself for the next two hours. . . I was not exactly pleased.

Free IKEA bus every hour!
They're not kidding!

*If you live in Oslo itself, apparently one would pronounce it with a more refined "Oooh-slow", without the slurring of the "S" and the "L" together into a "SHL" sound.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

A busy Pappa and a Good Dog

Although we've been comfortably living in our "new" house since December (or maybe it didn't become comfortable until February. . . ), we still have a fair amount of work to do. We have an upstairs bathroom that is concrete floors and unfinished walls--plumbing is in, but no fixtures. The kitchen has no shelves, no drawers, no upper wall cupboards. A second bedroom remains unprimed, unpainted. Our closets are still of the makeshift variety. There is a lot of molding/trimwork to be done. And we still make weekly pilgrimages to our basement storage to pull search after one buried treasure or another. Or maybe just a pair of shoes. Or a wisk. Or a pillow for a guest.

But huge progress was made in June when Erik's father came to visit us for a week. He came with the pronouncement that this was a "work week". He had done the sightseeing in Lillehammer on previous trips; this time it was meant to contribute to the project that we've been slaving over for the past year. With some solid prep work from Erik in the days preceeding his father's arrival, we found ourselves with a deck! More time was spent scraping old paint from the side of the house and priming old siding, allowing Erik to take advantage the rare sunny days we've had and paint 75% of the house (the south side remains a bit of an eyesore). It's just the first coat of a likely three, but it is amazing what a difference it makes. Suddenly this addition, which seemed rather conspicuous before, now blends nicely into the rest of the house. And to top it off, our neighbor came over and announced to Erik, "That red is just perfect". Since she's probably going to see the red more often than we will, we were quite pleased by this! 

An excavating machine and dumptruck came one week ago, bringing a few loads of topsoil, and within a few days we had the makings of a lovely lawn. We are beginning to see the fuzzy appearance of itsy bitsy blades of grass. In the meantime, we manage to be keeping both large dog and small child off of our delicate lawn by just a simple rope fence. She's a good dog.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Is something working in my favor???

My motivation to write lately has been sapped. I feel like my blog has become a bitch-about-Norway blog, and that was never my intention. I actually do have moments of complete contentment, peace and a sense of Life is Good. It doesn't happen often, but they do come. And I have inspiring ideas of humorous, entertaining posts to write, but find myself struggling to get the ideas onto the screen.

As I wrote earlier, I started two new jobs in June. One is at Maihaugen, working in the musueum shop. The other is at a local nursing home as an uncertified nursing assistant. I just finished a stint of 8 days in  row between the two jobs, including this unpleasant back and forth and back and forth between evenings shifts (ending at 10/10:30pm) followed by day shifts (starting at 7/7:30am), and then back again. This apparently is the "Norwegian way" of working shifts in the health care field. An evening shift followed by a morning shift. It sucks. 

My two-ring binder of papers, licenses, letters of support, etc. remains in the hands of our well-connected neighbor at the college nursing department. We haven't heard from her since mid-June. Seeing that most Norwegians are wrapping up their 3-week summer vacation, that's not too surprising. I'm very used to playing the waiting game, so I'll just keep on waiting. 

A few weeks back, however, we had a small piece of hopeful news. One of the many hoops for nurses educated outside of Norway is the 4-week long "national nursing course" that brings us outlanders up to speed on the Norwegian health care system. You might remember that I have tried to get into this class for over a year, but was denied for a variety of reasons. You might also remember that mid-way through this whole process they suddenly raised the bar for the language standards to take the class, now requiring the Bergenstest--written and verbal. You might also remember that I then proceed to not pass either Bergenstests this past spring. It was not a complete surprise, but still felt like a huge setback. 

Until a few weeks ago. Because this new language standard is so new, there are not a lot of people who were able to pass the test. On the admission website to the nursing course it is explained that first priority admission is given to those who have passed the Bergenstest, but those who have the lower language standard will be put on a waiting list. I've been on a waiting list for a year.

There are 80 people admitted to the course. 20 people passed the Bergenstest. 60 spots are open. There is not an opportunity to take--and get results--of another Bergenstest before the next nursing class in November, so the chance that 60 people with passing Bergenstest results sign up for the class is essentially 0. 

I am number 4 on the waiting list. 

Finally. Something is working out. Looks like I'll be spending November in Oslo!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

SAD in Summer?

I've been wondering lately if it's possible to have Seasonal Affective Disorder in the summer, and not just the winter. . .

I expected the Winters in Norway to be cold, dark and long, so when they turned out to be cold, dark and long I wasn't at all surprised. However, I expected the summers to be warm, sunny and, well. . . summery. And they aren't. They are cool--60 degrees, rainy, and spring like. Tonight, 10pm, I am wearing jeans, wool socks, long-sleeve cotton T-shirt, and the same green Patagonia fleece hoodie sweatshirt that I've worn for the past 23 months.

I like living in a place with four seasons. I don't think I could ever give up snow in the winter. (Well. . . maybe I could, but since I don't want to live without my husband, I think I need to have snow in the winter). But, I also really like heat. Sun-generated heat. And I'm not asking that much--70, 75. Just enough to feel like I can throw on a pair of shorts of summery skirt first thing in the morning, and not pull on that same damn pair of Levis for day #21. . .

We intentionally delayed a trip back to the States until the Fall, and not for this summer. For one, my parents are in Norway this summer, traveling about in their RV, so it's dumb to go back to the US when  half the parental units are not there. But secondly, Erik argued, "summer in Norway is beautiful. . . we don't want to leave during the best part of the year!"(I might add that thirdly, we have a house that needs to get finished).

You know what Norwegians do during summer? They leave. Denmark. Spain. Italy. Greece. Turkey.

We're half-way through week one of felles ferie (common vacation), the three weeks in Norway (and most of Europe) when every Norwegian goes on vacation. And it's not a matter of "if" they are going. No, no. . . Norwegians do not ask you, "ARE you going on vacation?" It's "WHERE are you going on vacation?" Because it is expected that you WILL take a vacation, and preferably several weeks long. Even as I began two summer-temp jobs, I was asked, "Which week of vacation do you want?"

An article in the local newspaper reported a study done by the University in Oslo. The study found that the body needs a full three weeks of continuous vacation to bring the stress hormone levels back to normal. Older workers might even take longer.

And what are we doing during felles ferie, you ask? Seeing that the barnehage is also closed for felles ferie, someone needs to be around to watch over the little one. I'm taking this first rainy, cold, miserable week off (cue the tiny violins, please. . . ), and on Thursday evening we have been invited to join some friends in their hytta (cabin) for the weekend. The next two weeks we will have visits from Erik's mother and a friend of hers, who will be bouncing in and out, watching Greta on some days and visiting sights near and far on others, while Erik and I juggle the childcare between jobs, day/evening shifts, a sun setting at 10:30pm, and the never-ending house projects.

"Next summer", we say "next summer we'll take 3 weeks off. . . "

And be damn sure to go somewhere warm.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Another Norway blog to check out

For those of you who follow my blog because you're curious about Norway, or for those of you who follow my blog because you know me (somewhat) personally, you may be interested in my parents'  blog, Our Travels with Rover. They have been traveling around Norway since the beginning of June in their American RV (affectionately named Rover), and have been blogging their way through the country.

They have spent the last four summers driving Rover around various regions in Europe, and decided to focus on Scandinavia this year. By their own admission, they are not big "nature people". They far prefer to hit the big European cities, see the museums, famous cathedrals, castles and World War monuments. So, we were all a bit nervous/curious as to how they would like Norway, which is kind of known for, well. . . nature.

According to their Facebook updates, blog posts and Skype calls, they do seem to be managing to enjoy themselves and are having a hard time denying that Norway isn't beautiful. Today they visit Bergen, probably Norway's most beautiful city, so I'm hoping the weather in this notoriously rainy city holds out.

Saturday, June 23, 2012


Mere hours into my new job, I knew I had to quit.

This was mid-April. I had begun tending a patient who required one-on-one staffing in a sort of assisted living facility, and I was hired just a week before the job began. It was described as patient who did not need assistance every minute of the day, so during the quieter periods I could perhaps help the other health care assistants with other clients in the building. This sounded promising. Nice to have a variety of contact and responsibilities. Not due to anyone's fault in particular, it was a very inaccurate statement.

The assignment was much more demanding than anyone had imagined, and this became immediately clear my first day on the job. When I wasn't directly involved with the patient, I could sit in the hallway on a sofa, but must be immediately available for assistance. There was no "nurses station" in the near vicinity, as I had imagined. The staff lounge/work station was 3 floors down, and I couldn't leave the hallway for even a minute. On most shifts I spent hours on that sofa. For the night shift--50% of my job--I would spend nine hours sitting on that sofa, only occasionally rising and attending to the patient. There were other nights when I never needed to enter the apartment.

This was where the job fell short of my expectations. As my brother said, "There was a time in my life where I would have loved having a job where I could just read all day long", and yes. . . there were some perks to it. I got lots of knitting done, wrote lots of emails, read newspapers (in Norwegian), spent waaaaaay too many hours on Facebook, even updated this blog. But getting a paycheck was only one of the reasons I had gotten a job. I needed to speak to people. I needed to communicate with colleagues. I needed to get my language proficiency to a professional level, not a polite chatting level. My patient was essentially non-verbal. I could have more in-depth conversations in Norwegian with Greta. My interactions with colleagues amounted to the 2 minutes every shift when they would come and relieve me so I could sprint to the bathroom and back again.

Money in the bank? check. Language development? nope.

I knew I needed to quit. It was an awful feeling. Sickening, really, to quit a job just days after you've begun. But I couldn't ignore my gut telling me "You. Have. Options." Thankfully, I did have options. As I said, this was mid-April. I had two other job offers at the time--one at the Maihaugen museum, working in their gift shops (which admittedly are really nice gift shops), and the other at a nursing home as, essentially, a uncertified nursing assistant (read: lower pay than a certified nursing assistant). Both of these jobs were summer positions and would start in June.

After running the situation past a few trusted Norwegian friends, with connections to both the healthcare field and the national employment/unemployment office, they confirmed what my gut was telling me: quit the job. This was not to my benefit. I am not responsible to fix the staffing problems of this assignment. After a week or so, I looked up a few key words in my dictionary, summoned up some courage, and told my boss I'd be quitting at the end of May. It was a 5 week notice--pretty darn good, actually.

My boss was incredibly understanding, and said, "I've been thinking that it's really a waste to have you sitting here on this couch. . . " By this point, three other colleagues had already quit, some even before the job had begun. I offered to be available for the occasional shifts, as my schedule allowed (and as my bank account required). And that is where I am tonight: midnight, sitting on a couch in a hallway, trying to stay awake on the shortest night of the year (which unfortunately does not amount to the shortest shift of the year!), and blogging. . .

(Stay tuned for. . . ."Starting Again" the other new job).

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Erik says I owe you this one

When you last saw our heroes, they were crumpled in the middle of the living room floor, weeping over the idiocy of Norwegian bureaucrats. Rest assured, gentle readers, your heroes have risen to battle once again. Because it's either that or. . . well, yeah. Not many other options.

Erik told me I owe you all an update, so you don't think we have been completely beaten down by The Man. We have made some promising connections, and are allowing ourselves to be the slightest bit hopeful. Turns out Erik's boss is a rather well-connected guy. Turns out he kind of values Erik's work and wants to keep him around. Turns out Erik won't be staying around much longer if his wife has to work as an underemployed, underpaid nursing assistant. A few emails were exchanged, and a few days later a nursing researcher and former head of the nursing department from a local college came walking through our front door. Literally. (The door was wide open, because it was such a beautiful evening). Turns out she lives about 200m away.

We gave her a large two-ring binder (yes, they only have 2 rings in Norway, not 3) that chronologically  detailed the application, judgement, appeal, request for information, information supplied, judgement, appeal, summary of appeal, special appeal and final judgement of the past 20 months. She has apparently butted heads with SAFH in the past, and has dealt with other foreign-educated nurses seeking approval of their nursing education. As we sat around our dining room table, giving her a few details of my education and work experience, as well as the final judgment from the appeal board, she kept repeating "Unbelievable. . . Horrifying."

As the final appeal verdict stated, I essentially need to enroll in a nursing school again. But the nursing schools have the flexibility to approve courses from other educational institutions (something that SAFH claims they can do, but never actually do).

So, that's where we stand. A glimmer of hope.