Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Looking Back

After a few months back in the US, I am finally sitting down to conclude my reflections on our year in Norway. From where I am sitting now, it seems almost like a dream. Sending in my application for the Fulbright. Being surprised by the award notification. Juggling the excitement of the opportunity with the responsibilities of family. Coping with morning sickness. Packing our home into boxes. Culling years of accumulation from our closets. Finding a place to live. Squeezing everything into one bag per person. Saying goodbye to everyone. And then taking that step into uncertainty...

I learned a lot in a year. Not just about Norway. Not just about digital culture and electronic literature. I learned about my family, my children, my spouse, myself. Some of it I always knew, but really came to me in a deep way. There are many things in life that seem important--Jobs, bills, paperwork, appointments, deadlines, desires, ambitions, etc. Being separated from my daily routines and habits and patterns of thinking, and feeling a keen responsibility for my children, who are at the continual mercy of adult decisions, gave me a new appreciation for their courage and character. For Carrie and me, the chance to live in another country for any amount of time is a luxury and privilege. But for Jonah, Oscar, and Sergio, the move was a bit more radical.  To a child, a year seems like an eternity. A neighborhood full of children who do not speak your language can be a frustration. A new diet. New social norms. Even different bedrooms. These upheavals can seem so big. Nevertheless, I got to see each of them adapt with wonder and courage to the tectonic shift I had introduced to their world. In spite of their dynamism, I came home each day to find my arrival anticipated, my presence needed, my attention required. We have always lived closely as a family, but somehow, I found myself being drawn even closer.

I was happy to discover that this is something very valuable to Norwegians. Parents are expected to take leave of their professional obligations to be with young children. Workdays are shorter. Vacations more frequent. Time, it seems, is more precious there. Back home, I feel like time is a commodity. If I were less fortunate than I am, I might have to choose each day between bread on the table and a seat at the table. Carrie would have to do this, also. In Bergen, I felt as if time were priceless. Maybe it's the romance of living in an old city and a coherent culture.

Already, I feel myself slipping back into many of my old habits. Long days. Frenetic pacing. Measurement and output. But I am not so complacent in this as I once was.  The claims that my career have placed on my heart have been weakened, and the claims of family, friendship, and community have grown stronger. Furthermore, I feel committed to bringing what I learned from Norway back home, to my community. To engage, not through an abstract sense of justice or a
sense of anger, but through a sense of hope and the realization that our arrival is always anticipated, our presence always needed, and our attention always required.  Our world can change, and change can be met with anxiety and curiosity, but it can always be made better if we only take the time to draw the world ever closer, to hold each other more, and to choose to behave as though our days matter.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Leaving Norway & Other Mis/Adventures

Davin, at the Keflavik Airport (Iceland), with all our luggage...

...and an exhausted little travel companion.

My last two weeks in Norway were mostly spent packing and cleaning.  Packing was tricky because we needed to fit everything we had plus everything we'd accumulated in one suitcase and one carry-on apiece.  We ended up leaving a lot behind.  And cleaning was difficult, too, because the house we'd been staying in was super beautiful, and was nearly spotless when we moved in.  We wanted to show our gratitude by cleaning the house perfectly before leaving, but we knew that wouldn't be easy since the six of us would be living in it until the moment we left for the airport.

We did take one day off from packing to see the ocean, though.  Even though Bergen is near the West Coast of Norway and we saw the sea nearly every day while we lived there, there are so many islands, inlets, bays, etc. along the coast that it just isn't possible to stand anywhere in Greater Bergen and see the wide open ocean, stretching as far as the eye can see.  I really wanted my kids to experience that.  Oscar and Jonah did go to Santa Monica Beach in 2009 (Davin is from Los Angeles, and his parents still live there), but Oscar was just a baby and Jonah was only 2 years old.

So we found an island not too far from Bergen that we could reach by bus where we'd have a nice view of the sea, but the bus ride was really long and all the kids got motion sickness.  Oscar had it so bad that I moved with him next to the door so he could step out and take a little breath of fresh air each time the bus stopped.  At one stop, he stood on the step and puked all over the street, turned around with a huge grin on his face, raised his eyebrows and shrugged, and sat back in his seat, apparently feeling much, much better.

Jonah and Sergie were also feeling miserable, so we got off the bus early, in a place called Sotra.  At first I was disappointed that we didn't make it all the way to the the open sea, but it ended up being wonderful.  There were tide pools full of sea anemones, crabs, algae, and lots of different kinds of sea snails and shellfish.  Davin and I felt very fortunate that the kids had the chance to explore it all up close.  We had a picnic lunch at the seaside.  It was an unbelievably beautiful day.

Then it was back to cleaning.  I washed windows and walls and dusted like mad.  I scrubbed floors with an actual scrub brush for the first time in my life, and I found it really satisfying--by the time I was done with them it looked like I'd installed new floors.  But then disaster struck!  I started barfing my brains out.  Davin, who'd been at Leo's Lekeland with the kids, got home and HE started barfing HIS brains out.  It was awful.  We couldn't pack or clean at all.  We could barely move or take care of the kids or ourselves.  This was Friday night, and our flight was Sunday afternoon.

A Pre-Disaster Photo of Sergio on the Volcano Slide at Leo's Lekeland
Jonah also started vomiting in the middle of the night.  Davin and I finally started feeling better on Saturday evening.  We stayed up most of the night getting things ready for the move.  By then, Jonah was feeling fine, too.  On Sunday morning, by some miracle, we had nearly everything together in time (though not as clean as we would have liked).  Unfortunately, I still had to do a few last-minute things when the cab showed up to bring us to the airport.  It waited for us for 20 minutes with the meter running, and charged us like a quakajillion dollars.

Finally, though, we arrived at the Bergen Airport, then took a short flight to Iceland.  Davin had discovered that he could save thousands of dollars on our plane tickets by booking two seperate flights--one from Norway to Iceland and a second the following day from Iceland to Minneapolis/St. Paul--rather than just one flight from Norway to the US.

Since we were only there overnight, we didn't see much of Iceland.  But what we did see was astounding.  Our hotel (Northern Light Inn) was located in a lava field.  It looked totally other-worldly, like a science fiction landscape:

There was mile after mile of moss-covered lava rock.

The Kids Playing in a Lava Field

A View from our Hotel of a Geothermal Power Station

The hotel shuttle picked us up from the airport and brought us to the hotel, and then to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa.  The lagoon holds six million liters of geothermal seawater, which is renewed every 40 hours.  The water originates deep underground, where it's heated by the earth to a temperature of 464°F.  As this seawater rises, passing through porous lava, it cools and becomes very mineral-rich.  The water at the lagoon is warm year-round (98-102°F) and is thought to be extremely healthful.  Being there was an incredible experience.

Davin and the boys on the path to the lagoon

Jonah and Oscar before entering the lagoon - the water's mineral composition gives it the pale blue color you see here.

Here I am in the lagoon with the kids--it felt wonderful!

Because of the steam, it looks like the air temperature was really cold, but it wasn't bad--around 55°F.  
The water temp was much nicer, though--about 100°F.

Here Izzy's splashing around in a little cave.  It was his first time "swimming" and he loved it.

The next day, Monday, was when we kicked off the Heckman Family Biohazard World Tour.  It all started at the hotel in Iceland, where Sergie wandered away during breakfast and I discovered him in the lobby bathroom, with both tennis shoes firmly planted in a huge, steaming pile of diarrhea.  It took me about 40 minutes to clean up the mess.  The hardest part was salvaging the tennis shoes--I had to get them totally clean, but I couldn't get them totally wet, since those were the only shoes we had access to for the trip home. 

After that, the kids had diarrhea in 3 different countries as well as 30,000 feet in the air.  And Jonah threw up all over the food court at the Toronto airport.  Davin thinks they may have gotten sick from unintentionally swallowing the mineral-heavy water at the Blue Lagoon.  I don't know--I'm just glad it's over with.

Our next challenge was that we had booked a connecting flight in Canada, but the time of the flight from Toronto to MN was changed and we wouldn't be able to make the connection.  So a few days before our trip we learned that we'd have to pick up all our luggage, lug it all to a hotel where we'd have to spend the night, and lug it all back to the airport where we'd need to re-check it the next morning.  After landing in Toronto and picking up our suitcases--one of which had split open in transit, and many of which fell repeatedly off the carts as we walked through the airport--we got to the hotel at 8:30pm (2:30am Bergen time), totally exhausted.  Sergio had napped in the airport (see photo), but Jonah and Oscar still hadn't slept.

Because of the number of people in our family, the airline gave us two hotel rooms.  We put Jonah and Sergio (the early risers) in a room with me and Izzy, and Davin and Oscar (who sleep in when they have a chance) used the other room.  The early risers woke up a little after 4:00am and, because we didn't have a tub in our house in Norway, begged me to let them take a bath:

Izzy's First Bath (Four Points Toronto Airport Hotel, 4:30am)

That day, Tuesday, the boys swam in the pool, then we all had a nice breakfast at the hotel, and a short, pleasant, and relatively uneventful flight from Toronto to Minnesota.  

Now we're here in MN having a fantastic time.  My parents live here, and I have seven brothers and sisters who also live here, along with their spouses and kids.  The boys have adjusted to the time change and are having tons of summer fun with their cousins, including picnics at the park, catching frogs and turtles, sleeping at my mom's cabin, knee-boarding, swimming, biking, etc.

At a Nature Center with my Sister, Chris, and her sons, Zach and Miles

Climbing Trees

Sergio Bouncing with Cousin Ava

Eating Spidey-Pops

Pinball with Cousins Luke and Caroline

Roasting Hotdogs and Making S'mores (and Falling out of Chairs) at Granny's Cabin

Little Izzy was baptized on Sunday, July 8.  It was really nice.

Isidore with his Godmother, my Oldest Sister, Sue.
Nearly my whole family was able to be there.  But my sister, Michelle, and her family were in Turkey (where her husband is from).  Her kids, Mina, Alara, and Kaya, are usually my kids' constant companions when we're in MN, and we haven't seen them in over a year.  But they'll be back in town tomorrow--we can't wait!  Once they arrive, we'll spend a couple more days in MN, then my mom will drive us all home to Michigan.  If that's where YOU are, we'll see you soon...

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Nikolai Astrup, Midsummer Eve Bonfire, undated, oil on canvas, 60 x 66 cm. Courtesy of the Bergen Art Museum.
If you are familiar with the work of Nikolai Astrup, chances are you have seen a painting of a Norwegian Midsummer celebration.  A holdover from pre-Christian times, Midsummer coincides with the solstice, making it the longest day of the year.  While Midsummer has been historically celebrated throughout Europe, in the Northern countries where the longest day can be very long, the experience of this day strikes a sharp contrast to the darkest day of the year, which explains why even in our caffeine fueled, electrically illuminated world, it is still widely celebrated.  In Bergen, the sun was above the horizon for 19 hours, with twilight in between, as compared to the darkest day which was a dim and cloudy 4 hours of the most meager light.  In Christian times, Midusmmer survived in Norway as Sankthans or Jonsok (June 24th), named for St. John the Baptist, and is celebrated with a bonfire on the evening of June 23rd.

Growing up in Los Angeles, with bright sun and warm weather year round, I took the sunlight for granted and never really grasped the concept of seasons.  The long days in Norway make everything grow really fast and the light and heat bring everyone out into the streets, late into the evening, making it a wonderful time of year.  

Firefighters ascending the tower of barrels to ignite the top.
On the 23rd, we walked down the hill to Laksevåg to witness a giant tower of barrels go up in flames.  It is actually the largest barrel bonfire in the world (around 18 meters tall).  The boys were pretty nervous to watch the firefighters climbing the tower to set it on fire, but it took a while for the blaze to really take off.  
Jonah and Oscar admire the inferno.
It was about 10pm when things got started and, as the tower burned, the mood slid into a sort of delirium...  and we went home with daylight to spare.

The fire spread quickly...

And soon it was coming out of our mouths.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Last Hurrah

Our friend, Chris Matthias, was visiting from the US last week (June 9-17).  It was fantastic seeing him, and it was also a perfect opportunity for us to go to many of our favorite places in Norway one last time before focusing on packing and getting the house ready for our move back home (we leave Norway on July 1).  Here are some photos of what Chris saw and did with us during his visit:

Day 1:  Oscar's Fort, Bergen City Center

As soon as Chris arrived, Oscar invited him to check out his fort up on a mountain near our house.  Then he brought him to the nearby ruins of some German military installations from WWII for a little jumping...
...And a snack.  He'd packed a little bag with rice cakes and a thermos of saft (a drink made from fruit juice concentrate).

Later, Izzy and I took Chris Downtown to have a look around.  He snapped this picture of us while we waited for the bus home.  We've spent many, many hours at this bus stop over the past year.  I'll miss it when we're gone.  

Day 2:  Corpus Christi Mass and Procession

The Corpus Christi procession celebrates Christ's Body and Blood and is a very significant event for Catholics in Norway.  Banned during the Protestant Reformation, the procession has only very recently been reintroduced here.  Thousands of people showed up for the celebration--an impressive turnout, considering Greater Bergen has a Catholic population of only around 12,000.  Davin and Chris had an important role during part of the procession, helping to carry the canopy above the monstrance.

The procession traveled from altar to altar throughout the city.  Prior to the celebration, we saw an altar being erected near the lake Lille Lungegårdsvannet, a well-known landmark in Downtown Bergen.  This particular altar, prominently featuring Pope John Paul II, was set up by members of Bergen's Polish-Catholic community. 

Day 3:  Fish Market, Bryggen, Bergenhus Fortress

Two Big, Ugly Angler Fish on Ice at the Fish Market

Oscar and Izzy and I showed Chris around Bryggen.  We explored the wharf, looked at some really funny dollhouses in a gallery, spent time in a gem and mineral shop, and had a picnic lunch on the grounds of the castle.  Then I left Chris and Oscar at Bryggens archeological museum and went to get Jonah from school.  Oscar may have been a little bored by this display...

...But it seems he really enjoyed the skulls.

We met up again so Jonah, Oscar, and Chris could explore the castle together.

Young Harry Potter prepares to travel by Floo Network.


Day 4:  University Museum of Bergen, Vilvite Science Center, Art Museums of Bergen, Fantoft Stave Church

While the boys were at school, Davin took Chris to see the Museum of Cultural History at the University of Bergen.  Among other fascinating exhibits, they have a very impressive collection of church art from the Middle Ages.  It's my understanding that theirs is the largest collection of pre-Reformation religious art in the world outside of Rome.

Once the kids got out of school, we all went to the science center, where Chris realized his dream of riding the upside-down bike.  Here he is with Davin and the boys programming a robot.

Jonah and Sergio Rockin' Out

Hidden somewhere in this picture are Sergio, Chris, and Oscar--if you look very carefully, you may spot them despite their cunning disguises.

After the science museum, Chris checked out some art museums on his own.  And once the older boys were in bed, he and Izzy and I went to Fantoft to see the Stave Church.  Without meaning to, we hiked around the area until nearly midnight--with so little darkness, it's easy to lose track of time.  The picture above was probably taken close to 10pm, but look how blue the sky is!

Day 5:  Norway in a Nutshell Fjord Tour

Chris, Davin, and Sergio went on a "Norway in a Nutshell" tour (the same one I'd taken with my parents in October).  It included a fjord cruise as well as travel by bus and on two different scenic railway lines.  Meanwhile, Jonah, Oscar, Isidore and I took a boat ride as well (though a much shorter and less spectacular one) to the Bergen Aquarium.

A Stunning View of the Fjord

Sergio met lots of women on his journey.  Here he is with his new friend, Maria, from Spain.

Chris in front of Kjosfossen Waterfall, a stop along the Flåm Railway line

Sergio helps out at Ægir Brewery and Pub in Flåm.

Day 6:  Vannkanten Indoor Water Park

After reading my post about Jonah's birthday back in January, Chris sent me an email saying, "I want that exact birthday for my birthday."  I told him if he came to Norway we'd try to make it happen, so here he is at the water park with a chocolate Mario cake.

Sergio put in a full day of feeling THIS happy.

Day 7:  Cable Car - Mount Ulriken

Mount Ulriken is the highest of the 7 mountains surrounding Bergen.  On June 3 there was a huge hiking event where participants walked from mountain to mountain, climbing all 7 in a single day.  It's an annual event and tons of people--normal people, even little kids--participate.  It's amazing.  Davin and Chris rode a cable car up Ulriken (they didn't take this photo, though--I found it online) and hiked around a bit, enjoying spectacular views.  Coincidentally, Jonah had also taken the cable car to the top of Mount Ulriken that day on a field trip with his class.

Chris outside a cottage near one of the lakes on Ulriken

Day 8:  Fløibanen Funicular - Mount Fløyen

The Fløibanen Funicular

Family Photo with a Mountain Troll

Day 9:  Father's Day/Goodbye Breakfast at Rica Hotel Bergen

Before seeing Chris off, we all had a fancy breakfast with him at a hotel Downtown.  Here he is in the lobby with the kids.

Davin with his Boys on Father's Day