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

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Arboretum & Botanical Gardens

We met an American family at the Viking Festival last weekend, and had dinner at their house last night.  They live on the grounds of the University of Bergen's Arboretum and Botanical Gardens.  It's an amazing, beautiful place, and they're a super nice family. 

The Arboretum has the largest Rhododendron collection in Scandinavia.

It also has a fantastic park.
As we walked through the grounds, Harmony (the mom) told me about different edible weeds and their health benefits.  My favorite was sour grass.  That may be what I'm chewing on in this photo (I don't remember).

Running to the Beach

Hunting for Crabs in the Lagoon (There were tons of them!)

Jonah with a Crab

Here we are on the balcony, making organic s'mores (I didn't even know that was possible!).  All of us are in the picture except Harmony, who was behind the camera...

...But here she is sharing a happy moment with Izzy.  Check out the view from her balcony!

Davin, Me, & Isidore

Sunday, June 3, 2012

My Journal

We've had a lot of fun the past couple weeks.  When I looked back into my journal to decide what to write about, I realized I wanted to include it all.  So here it is...

Saturday, May 19
Dinner at the house of some American friends from our church--they have two girls, Hannah Grace and Virginia Joy, that my boys get along great with.  Ate mass quantities of ice cream with strawberries and chocolate fondue.  Met another really nice family from church--they have lots of kids, about the ages of our kids (including a baby about a month older than Izzy, but twice his size...Just when I was thinking that he'd gotten so big!)

Sunday, May 20
Isidore and I went to my Norwegian class and Sunday evening Mass (Jonah and Davin had gone to Mass in the morning).

Monday, May 21
Izzy really impressed the nurse at his check up today.  In addition to being very happy and charming, he did a big acrobatics show for her.  She laid him on his back on a mat on the floor and he immediately flipped himself over and started rolling over and over and playing with toys and wriggling all around.  She said that he's very strong and coordinated for his age (I thought he might be!).

sterk! (So strong!)

Tuesday, May 22
Oscar and Sergio went to an ostrich farm with a group from their preschool.  I had my neighbor, Stine, over for breakfast while the kids were at school (we ate blueberry puffy pancakes).  Then we went Downtown together to run errands and pick up Jonah from school.  The weather was really warm and beautiful, so I took the kids to the nearby lake for a swim.

Wednesday, May 23
Sergio hurt his shoulder at school today (he was hit with a swing).  He didn't cry when it first happened, but when he moved his arm it really started hurting.  He cried and cried, so finally his teacher called and said that I should come get him and that I'll probably want to take him to the doctor.  I rushed over with Izzy (it's just across the street) and found Sergio with one of his teachers, whimpering.  He could move his fingers, hand, wrist, and elbow fine; but if he tried to move his shoulder, he howled in pain.  As long as he was resting he was totally fine, so I brought him home and let him watch a little Sesame Street online (he was thrilled--I don't think the poor kid's ever seen it before), and then I gave him a nap.  I figured I'd see how he felt after his nap and decide whether to take him for X-rays then.  We'd been planning to have friends over for dinner and to go swimming with them afterward.  When he woke up, he begged us not to take him to the doctor and to let him go to the lake instead.  I thought it certainly wasn't broken or he wouldn't be interested in going to the beach.  I didn't want to add insult to injury by causing him to miss out on all the fun, just to give him an unnecessary dose of radiation and to hear that nothing is broken.  Anyway, I figured we could always take him tomorrow if his shoulder is still bothering him.  We ended up keeping our dinner plans and all going to the lake, just wrapping Sergio's shoulder in a bandage to keep it from moving around too much and causing him pain.  He ended up having a lot of fun, but he wasn't using his left arm at all.

Thursday, May 24

Sergio with his Broken Collarbone

Sergio's collarbone IS broken!  I feel TERRIBLE that we took him to the lake instead of the emergency room yesterday!  The poor darling!  I had no clue he was so seriously injured...He's really tough!  The doctor said they really can't do anything to treat it, though.  He said we should just leave the arm free and let Sergie use it as much as is comfortable for him which, at first, won't be much at all since a broken collarbone is extremely painful.  He said we can let him play as usual (but stay off trampolines for 4-6 weeks), and give him Tylenol if he seems to need it.  Luckily, broken collarbones tend to heal very quickly.

Brother Ali, Sims, and Plain Ole Bill had a concert in Bergen tonight.  Brother Ali is one of Davin's favorite musicians, so he's been looking forward to going to the show for months.  They played at a small venue, so Davin had a chance to talk with the artists afterward.  Talking to Sims, Davin mentioned that we'd be moving back to the US soon.  The guy said, "Why would you possibly go back?  Everywhere you look it's just beautiful here.  Everybody's happy all the time.  Everybody has money.  Everything's taken care of.  Everybody looks beautiful.  You should stay here."  It's not a bad assessment, really...

Friday, May 25
Sergio wanted to go to school today, so I brought him and Oscar for just a couple hours; then we met up with Jonah and Davin for a performance festival Downtown.  We watched a bunch of performances by kids from a "culture school," including a band (a drummer, two guitarists, and a lead singer) made up of kids about Jonah and Oscar's ages.  They played "Last Dance with Mary Jane" and "Smells Like Teen Spirit."  Oscar couldn't believe it--his mouth fell open and his eyes got huge and he said, stunned, "They're my age and they rock so hard!"

We also went to a free "babykonsert" in Grieghallen, a really beautiful concert hall Downtown.  They had a live performance of classical music especially for babies.  There were dozens of babies about Izzy's age there.  It was adorable.

Saturday, May 26
Went to a children's workshop at the art museum ("Flower Fantasy").  Then we watched an outdoor play in Festplassen (I Feel Good--a slapstick comedy about a plane crash) and went to a children's disco party. 

I Feel Good
The kids were thrilled to discover that a little park (a teeter-totter and some sandboxes) had sprung up overnight near Festplassen:

When we got back home, Sergie napped and Jonah and Oscar went swimming.

It was sunny and beautiful late into the night, so after all the kids were in bed, Davin and I had a lovely "date" playing Gin Rummy on the balcony.

Sunday, May 27
It was another gorgeous day, so Davin and the boys went to the lake for the 6th day in a row.  They'd been sneaking off to swim while Sergio napped, but now his collarbone is feeling much better, so he was able to go along with them.  I couldn't come because I had my Norwegian class, but today I was lucky enough to get a private lesson.

Monday, May 28
The Second Day of Pentecost is a National Holiday here (interestingly enough) so everyone has the day off school and work.  We had planned to hang out at the ocean, but I got a terrible fever (104.3 degrees!) and stayed in bed all day.

Tuesday, May 29
My fever is gone and I'm feeling fine.  Oscar "traveled to Thailand" with the older kids in his section at school.  They had pretend passports and plane tickets, and they tried some Thai foods.  It was really cute.

Wednesday, May 30
Received a package from my very favorite Norwegian author/illustrator, Anna Fiske.  I had written to her last week, telling her how much the kids and I love her books.  The package is full of post cards, stickers, coloring sheets, and buttons featuring her illustrations.  We're all VERY excited about it.

The Cover of Anna Fiske's HALLO PLANETEN!

Spoke with our realtor.  There's someone who may be interested in buying our house in Michigan (I'm not holding my breath, though).

Thursday, May 31
Took all the kids to the science museum for the opening of a new exhibit on dinosaurs.  The performance festival is still going on, so I signed Jonah and Oscar up for "Circus School" (Sergie was underage) and took all four boys to a play called "Gutten og Treet" ("The Boy and the Tree").

We had a great time at the dinosaur exhibit...

...apart from one very unfortunate incident.

Juggling at Circus School

Learning other Important Circus Skills

"Gutten og Treet"

Friday, June 1
Yesterday Jonah asked me, "Can we make a movie?  Like, with costumes and everything?"  I said, "Sure."  He said, "Good, because I've already started selling tickets at school."  Today he wrote the script and we filmed the opening scenes.  It's called VAMPIRE, and I'm guessing it'll earn quite a few Academy Awards.

Saturday, June 2
Went to a huge Viking and Middle Ages Festival.  It was tons of fun.  It was something like the Renaissance Fair, but much more affordable.  There were lots of people in costume, vendors selling "ancient" wares, puppet shows, archery, ax throwing, horse riding, rides on a Viking ship, etc.  We met up with friends there, and made some new friends as well.

Virginia Joy and Hannah Grace with Oscar and Jonah

Looking for Seashells (The Viking Ship is Visible in the Distance)

Oscar with a Tiny Crab

Jonah and Oscar Prepare for Battle