Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Science Fair

Pam's students had their science fair yesterday. Maggie designed airplane wings based on bird wing designs and tested them by launching an airplane from a catapult I borrowed from my colleague Gerd (whose hytta we visited last weekend). The science fair fell on the same day as International Day at the school, where each class served food and did activities from a different country, so this was a very busy day. Pam's class did Mexico, and after a day of tacos and the Mexican hat dance, we were quite ready for an evening of margaritas at home with our friends Evalina and Daniel. (Did you know that a fifth of tequila in Norways costs $60. Yup, $60! ¡Ay, curumba!)


Today I hosted another barnehage. May came in and out for parts of it, but lost interest because I really didn't need any help. During lunch I followed parts of conversations in the lunch room, in the afternoon I wrote several emails in Norwegian, and after work I talked to several people in the grocery store in norsk. Very weird -- I'm getting better at this. The tricky part is that people now think I can speak Norwegian so they're speaking less and less English to me... and correcting my mistakes less and less because I can get my meaning across okay. The bar just keeps getting higher. Ugh! Even though there are now only two months left before I return home, I'll keep working at this language.

Tomorrow is a holiday so businesses and schools are closed, and Friday is not really a holiday, but since it's pinched off by the Thursday holiday it's called a "squeeze holiday" and most people won't work. We are anticipating a relaxing four-day weekend.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


During a one-way trip from Trondheim to Frøya, one drives through 10 tunnels. Some are a relatively modest 600 meters, others are 10 times that long and take 5 or 10 minutes to traverse. The two longest of these tunnels go underneath fjords. Norwegians have perfected tunneling technology, and can build them for 1/5 the cost of tunnels in the US. Norway has now surpassed Switzerland to become the tunneliest country in the world. (Is "tunneliest" a word? It should be.)

Here's a psychodelic tunnel trip. Enjoy!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gerd's Hytta

Passing Snillfjord (my favorite fjord name, it means "Nice Fjord"), we hooked around Austefjord and took a detour to visit my friend Gerd. She and her husband have a hytta which has been their summer project for almost 30 years. Reaching the hytta requires a short hike from the road, and it's hard to believe that they were able to build the house and grounds carrying supplies by hand.

Gerd's husband is a civil engineer and he has poured his craft mastery into this building. Consturcted largely from salvaged parts, found driftwood, and harvested logs, they have built a beautiful summer palace for their family, full of creative and clever bits of engineering. The view from their boat-like living room is absolutely breathtaking.

We stay for coffee, brownies, and ice cream, then we're invited for a boat ride out in the fjord. Out on the glassy water surrounded by high supple canyon walls, it's hard to imagine a more beautiful place. Reluctantly, we leave this slice of Asgard and head back home, wholly satisfied with our very full weekend. Thank you Allan!

Maggie and Maia became good friends this weekend. Maggie has been telling Maia all about life in America. Maia and her family will be spending next year in Bellingham with us.

Max and Peter found a comic book on the boat. This is far more interesting than looking at some boring old fjord.

The road around the fjord was not built until 1982. Until them, all of the small farms along the fjord were accessible only by boat. Farmers would raise sheep and goats, sending them up into the mountain to graze during the day. Fields of grass, cultivated with manure collected over the winter, would be harvested during the summer and fermented to use as feed during the winter. What a life!

Heading Home

Remarkably, we were on the road soon after 10 am. It had rained all night again, and the day started cloudy but soon brightened up. We made a bathroom stop and the kids walked down to play near the water and made a great find -- thousands of blåskjeller (="blue shells" = "mussels") all along the water's edge. We spend a few minutes filling a bag with them... tonight we will eat this unexpected treat!

We passed a couple of this ugly temporary villages on the fjords. They're called "spikertelter" or "nail tents", and they're RVs that have a small wooden hytta build onto the side. They're for people who can't afford a hytta so they buy a campsite in a designated camping area, then build a "tent" on the side of their motor home. By pushing the definition of the word "tent" to beyond where it should go, they manage to legally have a hytta on the fjord for cheap. Some of these nail tents are quite elaborate, the more expensive ones with solar panel roofs.

There's a city called Orkanger. Full of angry orcs, one would presume. It's in Orkdahl, or "Ork Valley." Hide your hobbits!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Corn on the Cob in a Can

Allan's kids were very excited that the local store had maiskolber on sale. Canned corn on the cob... hmmm. Having grown up in Michigan and now living in Washington, both corn-growing states, I was very suspicious of this abomination.

It tastes just about how you'd imagine it: like mushy canned corn, but on a cob. Once I got over the initial shock of the unholy texture, it really isn't so bad. At least it won't kill you. I promised Maia and Max that when their family comes to the United States later this summer, we'll buy corn from stands on the side of the road and grill 'em in the husk. Mmmmmm....


I'd seen this game in Denmark some years ago, and at the time I sat in a park watching for quite some time trying to discern the rules. This evening I finally got to play, and I must say this is perhaps the most enjoyable lawn game there is.

Two teams attempt to knock over their opponents blocks of wood by hurling lengths of dowel. There is a complicated series of rules for what happens when blocks are knocked down, with the large wooden "king" in the center as the final target.

We played until it started raining, then headed inside for the evening.


While Pam and Anna napped, the rest of us headed down past the neighbor's horses to the boat house and launched Allan's aluminum row boat. We rowed out to sea, six of us in the small boat, and hunted for cod and mackerel. The fishing gear consisted of 6 or 7 lured hooks spread out along a length of heavy fishing line with a weight on the end. The line was wrapped around a spool like you might use for a kite, and lowered deep into the water. By jerking up and down, apparently fish can be snagged, sometimes 6 or 7 at once if the time is right.

We climbed out on a distant shore to explore briefly before heading back. It felt viking-ish out there on the water, but the only fish we managed to snare this weekend came from Bunn Pris.

Frøya Geology

Why Frøya? To a geologist like Allan, it all comes down to rocks. Frøya is covered with lovely pale pink granite boulders that sparkle in the sun, a geology that is unique in Norway. Back when the continents banged together, Frøya was part of North America. It got left behind with Norway when the continents drifted apart again. This island is like a piece of home from overseas!


We spent the afternoon on Mausundvære, an island assessible via a 45 minute ferry ride. We rode our bikes onto the ferry -- the kids were happy to ride their bikes around on the nearly empty car deck while the grown-ups watched dozens of small flat islands float by.

It had rained the night before, but now the sun was shining. We explored the island, up and down hills, trying each road until it ended in some kind of curious farm house. The houses here appear weather-weary, and with the many stones and cool salty air it gives me a feeling that life here demands hard work.

All was well until we lost the boys, then we had to split up to search. We lunched on fruit and boller, then caught the afternoon ferry back.

At first glance, this island's name looks like "Man's Underwear."

Saturday Morning

Despite getting to bed late, the kids are up early. Adults pull themselves up a bit later. Allan bakes us boller, round rolls that are slightly sweet. Allan bakes every day, and we sure do love his boller!

Many Norwegians have two hyttas, one for summer and one for winter, and Allan is no exception. In the winter we stayed at his hytta on the skiing trails; that hytta was quite rustic. This one is not as primitive -- it has water and electricity, but it is heated with a woodburning stove. It's yellow with a red roof, and I'm told it used to live a few hundred meters away and was moved decades ago, rolled on logs to its current location.

First order of business is setting up the trampoline. The kids insisted we put it next to the porch so they can jump down onto it. Anna joins in, soaring like a bird.... she is absolutely fearless.

Friday, April 25, 2008

To Frøya

After various types of weather had spoiled weekend-on-the-island plans, we finally got our chance. Allan picked us up after school Friday in his new used Mercedes microbus (seats 15), and we headed out to his hytta on Frøya. Frøya is an island about a 3-hour drive west of Trondheim. With stops and bathroom breaks, make that about a 4-hour drive. To get to Frøya, we drive under two fjords. These underwater tunnels are each about 6 km long, taking us from the mainland to the island of Hitra and then on to Frøya. (The names Hitra and Frøya come from words meaning "near" and "far".)

We arrived about 9:30 pm, twilight well under way, and hurried to unpack and get the fire going to heat the cabin. What adventures await us?

The new "magic bus"!

The bus seats 15... we had 8 humans and 8 bicycles.

One of the waterfalls on the way.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Barnehage Visit

Wednesday morning at the senteret I hosted my barnehage (literally "child garden", or "kindergarten" in German) -- a visit I was nervously anticipating. The night before I was up late practicing my lines, which included some fairly sophisticated sentences, like "Will you roll the dice so we can see how many passengers the bus will pick up?" and "I don't think she likes it when you bite her ankle." That night I had a dream about the visit, and in the dream I was talking in Norwegian, a sure sign that I'm about to "lose it."

I had tagged a colleague to accompany me if I needed help with translating. She didn't show up however until sometime after the kids arrived, so it was up to me to meet the teachers, greet the class, get them settled, and begin our activities. The kids were a little nervous about the "guy with the funny accent," but after talking about the circus and doing a juggling show I had them on my side. We played a bus game, worked with numbers and counters, had a snack, and then learned all about cubes and prisms. It was an exciting math-filled morning for the kids, and much easier to communicate and connect with the kids than I feared it would be. Success!

(Notice the kid in the Detroit Red Wings jersey?)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


Karmøy is an island on the west coast of Norway, about halfway between Bergen and Stavanger. The final village at the end of the road on Karmøy is Skudeneshavn, a charming fairytale town and our destination.

Sunday evening Ingvill, May, and I checked into Norneshuset (the North Cape House), located right on the water in Gammel Skudeneshavn (Old Skudeneshavn). The house has several bedrooms, a kitchen and a common room. My room has a sink but the bathroom is down the hall. I don't mind one bit -- I got the room on the end of the house looking out at the water. Below is the view from my bedroom.

In the morning we walk about 10 minutes to the school. Truly an exceptional school, they won national recognition for their playground. Basketball, climbing walls, swinging rings, a rhythm section, gazebo, ping pong tables... the building is completely wrapped in a wonderland of kids playthings. The crown jewel is their tire jungle, a huge area made largely of tires for climbing and swinging on. I couldn't resist playing on it myself... I felt like a suburban Tarzan.

I observed demonstration teaching at the school, juggled for a few classes, and did my best to speak and understand Norwegian. I am starting to grasp complete sentences now, rather than just guessing at meaning from the few words I can pick out. After school May and Ingvill went running and I took myself on a walking tour.

I met the owner of Norneshuset outside and he told me of the town and how he came to live here after a lifetime of managing canneries from Bergen to Bodø and teaching food technology courses. He tells me many of the houses are summer homes, and the town will become quite busy next month but for now it is quite calm and quiet with few people in the streets. I took his advice and headed south along the harbor. The houses in this part are all several hundred years old; when remodeled they retain their original design. The narrow streets snake between these white buildings with red terracotta roofs, past coffee shops and art cafes, to a large park and a trail up the hill overlooking all of downtown. I am struck by the charm and beauty of this town, and find myself envious of those who own a summer home in this enchanted village.

When May and Ingvill return, we walk down the Coop Mega and buy groceries. We all work together to cook a lavish meal and enjoy it in the common room watching the sun set over the harbor as the fishermen return with their day's catch.

Leaving Tuesday I felt sad knowing it may be a long time before I see this town again. Some cities, like Barcelona, I've been pleased to have visited and happy to "check off the list" of places I've seen. But Skudeneshavn is special; there is no joy in checking this town off the list.