Monday, August 29, 2011

Oscar's First Day of School

Today was Oscar's big first day at barnehagen (the word Norwegians use for preschool; literally, "childrengarden").  As with Jonah, I was asked to stay with Oscar on his first day, so Sergio got to come, too.  Norwegian kindergartens don't focus on academic learning, emphasizing instead social interaction and play (especially outdoor play--at school, the kids play outside in rain, sleet, and snow).  Official national policy is enormously respectful of children and places a huge priority on the right of children to express themselves.

Oscar and Sergio both had a blast:



Oscar with his teacher, Erika
They serve lunch (and breakfast, too) at school, but I told Sergio that I'd give him lunch afterward because the school lunch is just for the school kids, so when they invited him to sit and eat at a table of other kids his age, he spent the whole meal saying, "This is my school.  I'm a school kid.  I'm eating lunch here.  Go home, Mom, I'm at school."

 And lunch was really cute.  Each kid got his or her own plate and a "knife" for spreading, then they helped themselves to different spreads (butter, cream cheese, caviar in a tube, liver paste), meats (ham, salami), cheeses (white or brown [a Norwegian specialty]), and cucumbers.  Each kid was also given a cup of milk, which Sergio normally refuses to drink; but since he was being a "school kid," he drank it and loved it.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Weekend in Germany

I went to my friend Tina's wedding in Cologne, Germany.  We were volunteers together in Honduras at Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos in 2001.  She and Helene, my roommate in Honduras (also from Germany), had traveled to the US in 2002 when I got married, and I hadn't seen them (or any other former N.P.H. volunteers) since.  Now, for Tina's wedding, seven of us (from Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and the US) were all together again on the other side of the planet:

Former N.P.H. Volunteers - Daniela, Frauke, Monika, Helene, Gabriela, and Me (Tina is not in the Photo)
Helene has a cousin who lives in Cologne, so we had planned to stay at her place, but the cousin and her husband were out of town, so Helene was supposed to bring the key to the apartment.  Unfortunately, she forgot it.  Fortunately, this meant we ended up staying with Tina, Stefan (her husband-to-be), and Pepe (their 8-month-old son).  It was good to spend time with them and fun to watch Stefan on the morning of his wedding day--while Tina was out getting her hair done, etc., he was having a totally calm, relaxing morning.  I tried to convince him to start panicking and rushing around, but he wasn't interested.

The wedding was really beautiful, and it was interesting to compare it to American weddings.  One major difference is that, in Germany, there is always a signing ceremony at the Courthouse, even when a religious ceremony in a Church is also planned.  Going to the Courthouse was big fun because there were about a dozen other wedding parties there and it was nice to see all the different brides and grooms--some in elaborate white wedding gowns and tuxes, some in traditional German costume, and some (like Tina and Stefan) just wearing nice dresses and suits.  It's apparently not common for German weddings to include bridesmaids and groomsmen.

Family or friends often arrange for and decorate a special car for the wedding couple.  After the signing ceremony, there was a little celebration in the Courthouse parking lot.  There was champagne (and orange juice for non-drinkers) set up on the hood of the car, and everyone made a toast with the bride and groom.

The wedding itself was really nice.  One of the readings was from The Little Prince, Tina's favorite book--it was the part where the fox asks the prince to tame him so they will belong to one another.  It was very sweet, but I was surprised because the ceremony was at a Catholic Church.  I asked about it later and learned that it's not at all unusual for German weddings (even Catholic ones) to use readings from non-Biblical sources.

Tina and Stefan processed out with Pepe, who, by the end of the ceremony, had had enough of being without his mom:

In the evening, there was a big party with dancing and tons of good food.  I drank some rhubarb juice--it was amazing...Try some if you ever get the chance.  The wedding cake was made by Stefan's brother and his wife.  It was chocolate, and super rich and delicious.  It was decorated with a (frosting) map of the world, with a flag stuck in for every country Tina and Stefan have visited.  I wish I had taken a picture of it--it was really impressive and there had to be about 100 flags.  Tina, especially, has traveled all over, and has lived and worked as a nurse in Africa, India, and Central America.

Tina's sister (who served, I guess, as her maid of honor) gave each adult at the party a postcard with a month written on it.  She asked us to write a message and send it to the newly married couple during the month on the card.  Everyone (with the exception of us out-of-towners) also drew one task they needed to complete with or for Tina and her family, along with the month they needed to do it (ex: August - go swimming with them, or, November - fly a kite with them, etc.).  I thought they were really cute ideas, and good ways to keep family and friends celebrating with them throughout the whole year. 

Helene's cousin got back from her trip, so we were able to spend the night of the party at her apartment (though we didn't get in until 3am).  In the morning, she pointed out a flock of parrots (wild descendants of pets) living in her neighborhood.  She also set up her computer so I could Skype with Davin and the kids.  It was really great to talk to them.  I've never spent a weekend away from the kids before and, although it was wonderful to have a couple days off, I also missed them like crazy.

I had a really nice breakfast at a cafe with Tina, Monika, Helene, and Daniela.  Later, I went to Mass at the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom).  It was incredible being there.  After years in college studying the great European Cathedrals and the art they contain, it was quite an experience to actually be in one of them and to see it and the artwork in person. 

Construction of the Cologne Cathedral began in 1248 and, when it was completed in 1880, the Cathedral was the tallest structure in the world.  It houses a huge gilded sarcophagus containing bones and clothes traditionally believed to belong to the Three Kings:

Click here to read more about the Cologne Cathedral and to see more images.  It really is astounding.

I met some great people while I was traveling.  By an unbelievable coincidence, I was assigned a seat on the train from Cologne to Frankfort next to the very same woman I'd sat and chatted with on the train from Frankfort to Cologne two days earlier.  We had a great time talking about our weekend.  And, on the plane from Frankfurt to Bergen, I made friends with a young guy in the Norwegian Navy.  He works on a submarine.  He told me that sometimes the sub surfaces in the harbor near the City Center and people are allowed to board it and take a look inside.  He said he'd call us next time that happens and give the boys a tour.  I really hope he does, because just last week Jonah was asking me how much submarines cost and expressing a keen interest in buying one.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Initial Thoughts on the Move to Bergen

Now that we have made it past the hassle of packing up our things, squeezing a year's worth of stuff into five suitcases and five carry-on bags, traveled for days, dealt with all the paperwork, slept through our jetlag, made some friends, and taught some classes, I feel like I am in a position to form some initial thoughts on my experiences in Norway.  We've been here for about three weeks, so I have had an opportunity to adjust a bit to public transit, exchange rates, the cost of groceries, and a lot of little differences.  I won't say I am "settled in," but I will say that I am quickly growing comfortable in Norway and have already learned to like some things quite a bit.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

School Days

Yesterday was Jonah's first day of school.  The school (Nygård Skole) is primarily for immigrants to Norway, so the focus is on teaching Norwegian as a non-native language.  Parents were encouraged to stay in the classroom with their children on the first day, so Oscar and Sergio and I had an opportunity to observe the class.  It seems like an excellent program.  Jonah will spend most of his school day with the larger Second Grade class learning all of his subjects in Norwegian, but he will also receive 5 hours of instruction in English each week.  The English lessons will review what he's been learning in his regular class, checking for understanding and reinforcing what he's learned.

The Second Grade class has 15 children.  They come from countries all over the world, including Somalia, Romania, Italy, Poland, and Iran.  The teacher does a really impressive job making the class exercises understandable even when the words are not.  Even though she taught only in Norwegian, the children had no trouble following along and participating.  And Jonah's really enjoying school so far--they do lots of art activities (his favorite) and he's already making friends.

Jonah with Sergio in front of a really cool mural at his new school.

Answering the question, "Hvor kommer du fra?" ("Where do you come from?")

Oscar will also go to school.  This is a big surprise.  Soon after we learned that we were moving to Norway we started looking into our options for schools.  Although it was only May we were told by multiple sources that it was probably already too late to get a place for Oscar in a Kindergarten.  That was fine with Oscar because he wanted to be homeschooled in the worst way anyway.  So that's what I settled on doing.  But when people here learned that I was planning to homeschool, they seemed really shocked:  "But he doesn't even speak Norwegian.  How will he understand what's going on around him?  How will he make friends?  You at least have to try to get him into a school!"

So I tried.  It was kind of a process.  There's a Kindergarten right across the street (and Oscar, out of the blue, decided he'd really like to go there)  so I walked over and asked the principal if there was any space.  He said I needed to call the central Bergen office to get Oscar on a waiting list to be placed in the Kindergarten of our choice.  I contacted them, and they said that it's usually possible to register online, but that since Oscar didn't have a "person number" (we'd already applied for one for him, but it hadn't arrived in the mail yet), I'd have to travel to their office and apply in person.  When I did that, they recommended that I check back with the Kindergarten the next week to make sure that Oscar did, in fact, end up on the waiting list.  When I tried to call them, I couldn't get through.  So I walked over with all the kids.  They loved the place--it looks like a lot of fun.  I talked to the principal again and he said that Oscar was last on the waiting list, but then he looked it over and said that all the children ahead of him had been recently placed and that there was an opening for Oscar.  It seems we were really lucky.

So now Oscar will go to the school across the street (Litlafjell Barnehage) and he's superexcited about it.  We met his teacher and she's really, really nice and speaks perfect English.  That makes me happy because, although it's very important to me that he learn Norwegian, I also want to be confident that he won't be spending all his time feeling lost and uncomfortable.  I think this will be really good for him.

Today was Davin's first day teaching classes at University of Bergen (though he has already done a few informal presentations).  He taught in a futuristic classroom suspended in the Student Union.  It contains a huge auditorium, and even things like a sink and a piano.  It's known as "The Egg":

All the students applauded at the end of his first class.  For all we know this is just customary in Norway, but it still made him feel awfully happy.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Mountain Climbing

We climbed a mountain today!  Davin and Sergio didn't make it all the way up--Sergie got tired and Davin turned around with him.  He fell asleep in Davin's arms halfway down the mountain.  But Oscar and Jonah and I climbed all the way to the top and the boys were thrilled.

Atle, Hilde, and the dogs led the way...


A View of "The Cottage" from above

Jonah and Oscar on the Mountain Top

Later, we drove to a beautiful spot nearby and had a picnic lunch.  It was right near a "tourist hut."  Norwegians and visitors to Norway do a lot of long-distance hiking and skiing, and there are over 400 tourist huts scattered all over the country where these travelers can stay.  There was also a huge statue of the head of Aasmund Olavsson Vinje, a famous Norwegian poet and journalist.  Here's Oscar sitting on top of him:

Before having a wonderful trout dinner in Hilde and Atle's flat, Sergio and I went berry picking on the mountain.  We found lots of wild blueberries and a single ripe cloudberry.  Cloudberries are special berries that grow only in cold climates, mainly in mountainous areas.

A Cloudberry

Sergio gathering wild blueberries

Friday, August 19, 2011

A Weekend in the Mountains

Davin's colleague, Hilde, invited us for a weekend at her "cottage" in the mountains (which turned out to be a luxurious flat in a big building full of luxurious flats).  It's right on a lake called Tyin, about 4 hours northeast of Bergen.  We rode there in an enormous van (Hilde's husband's company's car) along with Hilde, her husband, Atle, and their two dogs.  I'm sure it was the most beautiful drive of my life.  We passed lots of fjords and waterfalls and cute little houses with grass growing on the roof.  We drove a very famous stretch of road called Stahlheimskleiva:

We went through dozens of tunnels under mountains, including the Lærdal Tunnel.  At over 15 miles long, it is the longest road tunnel in the world:

The view from the cottage was breathtaking.  Hilde had arranged for us to have our own flat (we used one that belongs to some friends of hers).  Below is a photo that was taken from the balcony.  A huge glacier is visible in the center of the picture--I'd never seen one before.

Here's a picture of Oscar and Davin that was taken inside the flat:

After we unpacked and got situated, we went up to Hilde and Atle's flat, where Hilde made an unbelievably delicious mushroom and sausage soup for dinner.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Thanks, Landlords!

The family we're renting the house from left behind some bikes and something called a "Burley Piccolo" that they said we could feel free to use.  It attaches to the back of a bike and transforms it into a bicycle for two.  We tried it out today for the first time.  The kids really loved it!

They also left huge pots of all kinds of wonderful herbs growing out on the balcony.  Davin's been using them to make delicious pizzas like this one:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Baby Milestones

The kids and I got memberships to the Bergen Aquarium today (Akvariet i Bergen).

There's a tradition here that when children are ready to give up their pacifiers, they bring them to the aquarium and give them to the carp.  The carp get pacifiers that have been filled with krill, and the children get diplomas.  <>

Tonight I think I felt the baby kicking for the first time (I'm about 18 weeks pregnant).  Jonah and Oscar were with me and they said they could feel the baby moving, too.  I suspect they were just humoring me, though--I think it's too early for the movements to be felt from the outside.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Sunny Saturday in the City

More Fun with Science

We went to Vilvite again.  This time Davin came, too.  On our way there, Oscar told him, "This place is gonna blow your mind."  And it did.

We each chose a favorite thing to do at the museum and got a photo of it:

Sergio watching "The Little Prince" in Norwegian in 3D
Oscar drilling for oil

Jonah making a stop-motion movie

Me playing a giant game of Tetris

Davin on the "Sentrifugal-skapen"

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Vilvite...and Dinner with the US Ambassador to Norway

We got memberships today to an incredible children's science center called Vilvite:  <>.  All the installations have information in both Norwegian and English (lucky for us, because despite my best intentions, we still don't understand Norwegian).

Feeding a Friendly Robot
Pedaling with a Skeleton

Davin flew to Oslo (the capitol) yesterday for Fulbright orientation.  He got back late tonight and told me that he had had dinner at the U.S. Ambassador's Residence.  At the time of its purchase by the US Government in 1924 for $125,000, it was the most expensive American residence abroad.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Last Day with the Cousins

We said Goodbye to Sergio, Mary, Cecilia, and Monica tonight.  We took the bus to the train station with them, and since their train didn't leave until very late at night, we had time for a few last adventures.
At the bus stop just outside the house 
The cousins played blissfully for ages in this small wooded area located right in the City Center.

The kids really empathized with the poor naked boy behind them.  He's upset about being constantly spat on by by fish.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

At the Lake

We planned to take a walk around a nearby lake.  It's really beautiful and there are hiking trails leading through the wooded hills surrounding the lake.  But we only "hiked" as far as the lake.  There's a great swimming area and the kids were very excited about it, so I told them they could take off their shoes and socks and dip their feet in.  Of course, this meant the boys all got soaking wet and filthy with sand and we had to go straight home afterward.  It made a good picture anyway...

Saturday, August 6, 2011


Davin's brother Sergio and his family are  traveling around Europe before he begins a year teaching in Spain.  They arrived last night.  The cousins were super happy to see each other and the adults had a very nice time sitting and talking.  It's wonderful to have them here.

Oscar, Cecilia, Monica, Jonah, and Sergio
Sergio, Mary, and Davin
Today we all went into the city to explore.  There was a games festival going on and live music.  I was really surprised and excited to meet some Spanish-speaking vendors selling jewelry and souvenirs in the square, but they told me there are tons of Spanish-speakers in Bergen.  More than 12% of the population of Bergen are immigrants, and they come from all over.   Currently, the greatest number of immigrants to the city are from Poland, followed by Iraq, Vietnam, and Chile.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bergen City Center

We all got bus passes, so when Jonah and Oscar finally woke up (around 2:00pm!) we caught a bus and went to explore the City Center.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Writing from Norway!

The flight from Chicago to Frankfurt went really well--it was with Lufthansa (which, apparently, is a really great airline because they were super nice and helpful instead of rude) and the kids were perfect angels.  Then we took a short (and pretty easy) flight from Frankfurt to Bergen.  By chance, we met the family we're renting a house from at the Bergen Airport.  They'll be on sabbatical in the US at the same time we're in Bergen.  They had planned to pick us up from the airport, but since we were two days late, it couldn't work out.  I was disappointed I wasn't going to meet them (Davin had dinner with them in June when he was here for a conference; he said they were a really wonderful family).  But they happened to be at the airport for their flight to the US at the same moment we were arriving.  They were really nice.  They have two sons (ages 12 and 7), and they left behind lots of toys for our kids to play with at the house.  And the house is unbelievably beautiful.  When we got here, we all napped, then went to the little park just outside our house and took a short walk to the nearby grocery store.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Not Writing from Norway

We traveled all day yesterday and now we're in...Chicago.  We were supposed to fly from Michigan to Chicago, then over Michigan again (and over Norway as well) to Helsinki, Finland, and finally back to Bergen, Norway.  We took our flight from Detroit to Chicago without problems, then we boarded our flight from Chicago to Finland.  We flew for a couple hours, then, just after they served the meal, they announced there was a "non-emergency problem with the plane" and they turned the plane around and whisked the meals away before people could finish them.  They pretended it was all very routine.

Then Davin waited in line for hours and hours to book another flight while I tried to keep the kids from feeling miserable, wandering off, or wrestling.

Jonah, Sergio, and Oscar very much enjoying watching
the animated transitions between ads on an airport ad screen
Finally the airline found us a flight to Bergen with a connection in Frankfurt, Germany.  They put us up in a hotel right at the airport (Hilton) and gave us meal vouchers.  It was after 10pm by this time, so we went straight to the room thinking that since they gave us plenty in dinner vouchers ($60--$12 for each of us), we'd just order room service.  Our $60 bought us one cheese pizza, one salad, and two glasses of juice.

Right now the kids are lying in bed watching cartoons ("Dinosaur Train") and we're all feeling much better than we were last night.  Davin's in the terminal checking on something about our new tickets.  Hopefully, we'll leave this afternoon for Frankfort and, hopefully, we'll arrive in Bergen tomorrow.

Wish us luck!