Saturday, May 31, 2008

Rare Lego Error

Peter got some Lego Technics from Grandma Ann and Grandpa Ike. Lego sets are never missing pieces, because each bag is weighed to 1/100 of a gram. Or so I've been told. I was excited when Peter found 3 of one piece and 1 reflection of the piece, when there should have 2 and 2. Peter was less excited, but thought it was cool that the swapped pieces weigh exactly the same. We thought Legos were packed by robots... maybe some of the robots are turning evil.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


This was our second hospital experience in Norway. Our first experience was a few months ago when Pam fell on ice and broke her thigh. Some of friends congratulated us on milking the socialized medicine system. (In truth, they are billing our insurance companies.)

We had two very different experiences. The first time, we were in the main hospital building, a very old and depresing place. Yesterday a nurse told me the building reminds her of second-world hospitals, maybe in a war zone. At the time I had been in Norway for a month and spoke almost no Norwegian. Consequently, everyone was quite crabby and exasperated with me. Most hospital staff either don't speak English or not so well, or maybe they are tired of foreigners who don't speak the language. Whatever the reason, I was made to feel like a nuisance whenever I needed something. Also, we felt like we got no information the first time. Nurses would tell us only to wait to talk to the doctor, and the doctor did not visit for four days. When he did, he grumbled that Pam had not been moving her leg enough. All in all, apart from the expert surgery, our first experience was quite negative.

This time, we are in the children's building which is ultra-modern and very happy. There's a food room down the hall stocked with things to eat and three or four play rooms on the floor. The staff is friendly and check on us all the time. They're younger too, and speak English quite well, although this time I can speak Norwegian (and was quite pleased that I talked to a lot of people in Norwegian only). We met lots of doctors, more than we needed to I think, but we had plenty of information. The surgery was delayed for a very long time (22 hours), but apart from that we are very pleased with this hospital visit.

Advice for going to the hospital in Norway: (1) speak Norwegian, and (2) be a kid.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Peter in Sykehuset

Peter had surgery this morning, 22 hours after arriving at the hospital. Ugh. He did very well, no damage to the muscle, nerves, or vascular system... it's only a flesh wound. An hour after the operation he wanted to walk around but we made him stay in bed. Two hours after the operation he went out walking, and Pam had a hard time keeping him from running and climbing. Yep, he'll be fine if we can get him to take it easy.

They'll let him leave in the morning, but in typical Norwegian style they'd prefer he stay four more days. In the U.S., they try to hurry you out the door from the hospital. Here they want you to stay and stay. We'll stay one more night.

Here's some pics:

1. Peter being loaded into the ambulance at school. It was big news at school. Many classes made 'god bedring' (good recovery, or good 'bettering') cards for him. Most were addressed "Dear Petter". Petter is the Norwegian version of Peter.

2. The rooms have a TV/video game console built in. Peter had his choice of a stack of Playstation 2 games. He was pretty happy!

3. 4. & 5. Off to the surgical theater. I got to go in to help him get settled. He was pretty excited!

6. & 7. He recovered pretty darn quickly. Here he is eating cornflakes with whipped cream on top, and down in the lobby checking out the candy selection.

8. Wicked! The wound is about 8 cm across and shaped like a Mercedes symbol. That's going to be a very cool scar... Peter is pretty pleased with it.

Peter Falls From Tall Tree, Lands in Hospital

There's always debate at the international school about tree-climbing at recess. The Norwegian way is "let them play... if they get hurt, that's part of learning." The American way is "don't risk anything or we'll get sued!" (How did America go from the land of taking risks to the land of playing it safe?) The international school is a mix of native Norwegians and foreigners, and some parents think kids should be kids and other parents freak out at potential dangers. We're the kind of parents who think kids should climb trees. And as fate would have it, it's our kid that falls.

Peter fell from the top of a tree this morning and landed on a fence, piercing his thigh rather deeply and rather dramatically. The wound is large and rather hideous looking. We're in the hospital right now, he's doing quite well and sleeping soundly, but he hasn't had surgery yet. Surgery was scheduled for 5 pm, but then there was a car accident. They had him ready to go again at 9 pm, but then a chainsaw accident came in. So surgery will wait until morning. He seems to have no problem moving his leg, so it looks like the muscle may not be damaged bady. We'll know the extent of the damage tomorrow. I'm sleeping with him tonight.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Frøy's Hytta

Sunday morning after a lazy start, we headed off to Hommelvik to spend an afternoon at the hytta of Maggie's friend Frøy. Again we took the back roads, avoiding the tolls. I love this drive.

I don't know Elisabeth and Martin very well at all, despite the fact that we've been sharing our daughters with each other's families for the whole year. This was a nice opportunity to get to know them.

Below is Elisabeth and Martin, a picture of Elizabeth from a Norwegian tourist magazine that she appeared in many years ago. Yes, today we were hanging out with a magazine model!

The hytta is small and lovely. It runs on 12V solar electricity, it collects rainwater and filters it for washing, pressure provided by an electric pump. Add in a compost toilet and they have a very nice eco-friendly getaway, perfect for end-of-the-world scenarios. The cottage looks over both the fjord and a smaller building that the girls use for their sleepover.

We walked down to the fjord and explored the rocky shore. Today the sun is shining warmly but the wind blows cool and steady. The surf is loud and the waves break dramatically at our feet. The stone is fascinating, striated layers, slashed with thin ribbons of white quartz. Vikings once roamed these shores, 1000 years ago.

Coming back we wait for the train. The rails sing to us 30 seconds before the two-car train thunders past us.

Back at the hytta, Elisabeth serves us sod, a traditional soup made with meatballs and carrots, served with a boiled potato and flatbread. Absolutely delicious!

This was our busiest weekend yet, and certainly one of the best.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Bakklandet Music Festival

Saturday evening after the party we walked downtown to hear friends of a friend playing in a band. A makeshift stage was set up in an empty lot right across the street from Bakklandet Stajson, a restaurant we visited some weeks ago. Wedged between buildings overlooking the river below, we danced and danced and danced to world beat music

Above: our friend Lisa. Her wife is in the band. Below, after the show we walk up the only bicycle lift in the entire world. As downtown dwindles beneath us, we hear the sounds of Def Leppard rocking downtown Trondheim. I saw Def Leppard in Seattle last year, it is funny to hear them a second time.

Daniels Bursdag

Our friend Daniel from Switzerland and his wife Evelina from Italy had a party for Daniel's birthday. 12 grown-ups and 8 kids were at the party. We met a lot of new friends and enjoyed wonderful food and wine. A beautiful evening!

I made friends with a very cute baby named Lily. She became quite possessive of me and wouldn't let other people hold her. It was nice to soak up some good baby love again.

Dandelion Morning

Saturday morning Maggie went to Frøy's hytta and I took Anna and Peter down to the Traffikgård. We walked past the soccer fields, busy with games this sunny morning, and stopped by the BMX tracks. Several kids were biking down the hill and over the jumps. Peter tried a couple of times, wiping out beautifully until I helped steady him and talk him through it. I cheered for the other kids as they completed runs... very un-Norwegian of me. The kids were surprised and pleased and took to smiling at us.

At the Traffikgård, or Traffic Garden, the kids were not interested in using the comprehensive sets of practice streets for bicycles, but rather in picking dandelions. We made crowns, bundled weeds, collected grass seeds, and climbed trees. On the way home we stopped at the playground at Eberg Skole. They were totally wiped out when we got home and took long naps, reviving themselves for our evening adventure.

The dandelions are a different variety than in the United States. The yellow flowers look the same as in the states, but when they seed, the white fluffy stuff is much finer and fluffier. Huh.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Settlers Fra Catan

We talked Mark into having a cook-out after school on Friday. We met another Mark who works for Stadt Oil. (A lot of people we meet work for the oil companies, perhaps especially in Trondheim which is home to the science and technology university). Mark tells out the between the piers and Munkholmen (the sole island in the fjord) lies the most technologically advanced sea floor in the world. His team of geophysicists is conducting research scanning sea floors looking for oil that is left behind from drill sites, and the floor is crawling with sensors and robots. Coooooool.

We played The Settlers Fra Catan, our favorite game. Mark has the game in Norwegian. We've started getting a regular crowd of folks who are hooked on the game now... this is a very good thing. We had some disagreement about the name, though. fra = from, so they're calling it the Settlers from Catan whereas we call it the Settlers of Catan, a subtle but important difference. Are they settling Catan, or did they come from Catan and are now settling some unnamed land. Mysteries.

The kids were up to midnight tonight. It is very difficult for anyone to want to go to sleep when it's still light out!

Protest over gas prices

Here's an article in Aftenposten about the record setting gas prices. We just blew past the $10.00/gallon mark (13.30 kr/l), and gas in Norway is now the most expensive in the world.

When we arrived in August, gas was $6.77/gallon. Gas prices are expected to rise to $13.60/gallon by this summer, doubling in one year.

Sweden, part 4. Storlien and Home.

We needed gas, and it was 14.40 sek in Åre. How much was that compared to kroner? We weren't exactly sure, but it looked like a lot. Turns out that the exchange rate is a bit better than we expected and the gas here is slightly cheaper than what we paid in Norway this morning. On returning to Norway, we found that while we were gone those few hours, the price of fuel rose from 12.85 to 13.65, nearly a whole crown! We leave the country for a few hours and everything goes to hell.

Back through the black zone, the rain drizzling. On a dry day, this road would be fun to drive. Our last stop is the strip mall at Storlien. It's kind of a weird place. Trolls and Frog Princes were being held as prisoners behind chicken wire. Look at how cute they are. Don't be fooled! These "cute" trolls will chew off your arms and legs if they get mad.

We asked the checkout guy where we could buy alcohol. "Åre is the closest place, but you can buy it here if you call and order it one day ahead. I'm afraid it's Sweden, and we're weird in Sweden," he explained with a maniacal grin. He then shut down his register, the only one open, and took us across the store to the special orders window where he gave us a catalog and chatted with us. It didn't seem to matter that there were four people waiting in line for him back at the register.

We leave Sweden and the rain stops at once. Meråker is still beautiful -- what a contrast! -- and we see two moose standing by the side of the road. Moose! Moose are exciting.

When we get home, Pam cooks bacon right away, doesn't even take her coat off. We have yummy food for a lot of days. And some really big crackers.

Sweden was just as were told: a very nice drive through Norway but terribly dull from the border until Åre, and although you can save a little on groceries (and quite a lot on meat), it will cost you in gas. We're glad we went!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sweden, part 3. Descent into Darkness.

The road from Hegra passes through Meråker, a huge region of pleasant scenery. Parts of it were like Stevens Pass in Washington. But as we neared the border, the scenery changed. Storlien is a weird tiny speck of a town, home only to a strip mall containing a grocery store, a touristy gift shop, and a cafe. The shopping bus was parked outside as we approached. We didn't stop.

The landscape flattened. Dark evergreen trees flanked us, interspersed with blood red foliage. The sky darkened and it began to rain. Mile after mile after mile, the same depressing scene. This was the 'black zone' we were told about, the part of the world that no one wants, the tracts of uninspired land clinging to the edge of Sweden.

above: endless nothing, and finally arriving in Åre.

Åre is a very small town, home of a big ski lift and a giant warehouse-like building called the Holiday Club, which has indoor minigolf and a swimming pool. Families can take the train from Norway to Åre, and step off the train into either the Holiday Club or a mini-mall.

Åre was deserted today. Aparently, this is two week period between winter and summer season when they everyone leaves except for maintenance crews. The mini-mall was open, and we parked in the garage underneath.

$5 to use the bathroom at the mall in Åre. Your admission comes complete with a shower. If you hop the turnstile, the bathrooms are free. Or you can use the baby-changing bathroom for free. I figure I've changed enough babies in my life to earn entrance to that room!

Inside the grocery store a stuffed reindeer is standing watch over the dried goods. There's exotic groceries: flavors we've never seen before, unknown products labeled in a weird language with umlauts, so many varieties of spreads in tubes (fishy things and unknown vegetables and varieties of mystery meats and other "things". How brave are you?) It was some interest we noticed that we could understand most of the signs, about 3/4 of the words are similar to their Norwegian counterparts. I immediately shifted in a language mode, sorting words and trying to discern roots and meanings, but I quickly managed to stop myself.

We found bacon by the cartload. Our holy grail. You can't find bacon easily in Norway. (tangent: I bought a pack once at a specialty shop in Trondheim, it was 10 dollars for 10 razor thin slices. Oh, it was very good, but was it one-dollar-a-slice good? Of course it was, it's bacon.)

Bacon at this store was on sale, 10 packs for 8.90 sek... $1.50 per pack. Mmmmmm.... bacon.

Frozen chicken was 1/4 the price, and meats were half the price. The meat looked so fresh and lean. Hamburger in Norway is often turning brown when you buy it (maybe Norwegians like it brown?), but this meat is beautiful. We pick out some marinated steaks and babyback ribs, and enough hamburger and chicken to last us until the end of time.

Milk and yogurt, also 1/2 price, but most other items, cereal, bread, cheese, chips... all are about the same price as in Norway, maybe a little cheaper but not by much. We loaded up the trunk and headed off into the rain.

Sweden, part 2. Hegra Festning.

Past the airport we hit some gorgeous countryside in Hegra. We knew we should start watching for the Leirfall stone carvings, and as we rounded the corner south into Hegra, we entered another world. The lush beauty of the countryside and wooded mountains drew us off the E14 and we found ourselves following a sign pointing us to the Hegra festning, an unscheduled side trip. Up, up, up, we drove on a one-lane paved road through the forest, reaching the woods on the top of a small mountain. We couldn't see a fortress... and as it turns out, that's part of what makes it a good fortress. This surprise trip was the highlight of our strange voyage.

The festning was built 100 years ago during WWI and was in operation from 1910 to 1940. Tunnels, trenches, bunkers, secret passages, bridges... the passageways went on and on and on. There were still seemingly endless places to explore. I was in the fort of my childhood dreams.
We were in a ruin on Halo, or maybe Yavin IV, or perhaps a moon of Endor. This would be the perfect setting for capture the flag or paintball.

The view through the trees over the wooded valleys was spectacular. . . and no one else was there. No cars in the lot, no signs of life at the museum or infomation centers, not a single person, vehicle, or sound save for the roar of the river far below, hidden in the trees of the steep green valley.

We stayed so long, we decided to forego the runes. We shall see the carvings another day.

Here's some tiny pictures, click on them to see bigger ones.

The final picture shows some graffiti on the wall by Norwegian royalty.