Wednesday, December 30, 2009

6. Juledag - Sentrum

We've been getting up around dawn this vacation. That's around 10 a.m. It's not as dark as it was at the beginning of December. We've had a moderate amount of snow, and it makes everything light and bright.

We took Kent for lunch at the Tyholt Tower, a short walk from our house. They have a revolving restaurant 74 meters above ground level. This is always a good choice for visitors, the view can't be beat and the food is very Americanized. Kent ordered the rekesmørsbrød (prawn sandwich) as the most Norwegian-looking thing he could find on the menu.

Next we headed downtown for a short walking tour, starting with the Nidaros cathedral. This place always gives me the chills – 'awesome' in the biblical sense of the word. With Anna and Peter in tow, we did a quick round of the pedestrian shopping streets, headed across the bridge into Bakklandet, and warmed up with hot chocolate at Choko Boko.

Home for dinner, games, and a movie, and then we decided to go back to Bakklandet to the pub. We live at the top of a big hill, and Bakklandet is down at the bottom. All Trondheim is covered with snow, which gave Pam an idea for the best way to get there... sledding! Laughing all the way down, we slid ourselves to the bar! And after a few beers, we didn't even mind walking a mile uphill back home. It helped that halfway back there's a playground with exciting rides.

A very fun day.

Yes, they even regulate Gravity in Norway

It started as a conversation with Dolores and Reginald about how tall people are in Norway. Norway is the second tallest country, after the Netherlands. (Sweden is #3). Could it be that there is less gravity in Scandanavia so people grow taller, I wondered tongue-in-cheek. Reginald is a geologist and had lots of ideas about gravity variations. Soon we were looking up gravity maps of earth, such as this one:
Two satellites fly around the earth and they measure each other to see how their orbits change. The variations indicate differences in gravitational pull due to landmasses and densities. Crazy! India has some of the least gravity in the world, about 1% less than average. That's a lot!

Finally, we pulled up a document with this:

It's a chart showing gravitational variations in Norway, labeled at "Concerning national regulations on gravity zones in Norway." Yes, the government regulates many things in Norway, including gravity it would seem! Trondheim has 0.03% more gravity than Oslo (g in Trondheim is 9,8211 m/s2, in Oslo it's 9,8191 m/s2). We wondered if Pam would not have broken her leg two years ago when she slipped on ice had she been in Oslo instead (>0% chance of this!) We are probably entitled to some kind of Norwegian gravity payment for the injury.

In truth, these differences in gravity can have an effect on shipping. Imagine 10 000 metric tons of food being shipped to or from Norway. A difference of 0.1 % makes a difference of 10 000 kg in weight. If the shipment is valued at $1/kg, that's a $10,000 difference in price, just because of gravity. Weird.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

5. Juledag – Kent

5. Juledag I drove to the airport (30 minutes west... hmmm, I seem to be covering all directions pretty well!) to pick up Kent, an old friend from college days. Kent is visiting from Florida for 5 days. Stayed tuned for updates!

Monday, December 28, 2009

4. Juledag - Kransekake

4. Juledag we went for a dessert party at the Sollies out in Heimdal, a 20 minute drive south. We had gone with Kirsten and daughter May Helene to Oslo last month for the Nobel prize festivities.

Yummy desserts, including a traditional kransekake made from increasingly larger rings made from pulverized almonds. Delicious! This was only the second kransekake I'd seen, the first was built by my friend Janet in the U.S. You eat the cake from the bottom up, removing pieces of the ring, sweet and chewy. Mmmmm... Kransekake is made for several occasions. Sometimes it is served at weddings, with the number of rings a blessing for the number of children the couple shall have. Oof da – that's a lot of kids!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

3. Juledag - Flakk

3. Juledag, eager to escape all of the "quality family time", I went into the office for a good part of the day. In the evening we visited Dolores and Reginalds out in Flakk, a 20 minute drive west along the fjord. The cliff walls along the road had transformed into walls of ice – covered with giant icicles. I was dying to stop and take pictures, but with slippery roads and no good place to pull over, it was too hazardous. We enjoyed dinner and good company and the kids played well.

Their yard is next to two viking burial mounds, piles of stones 50 meters diameter and 5 meters high. It was too dark and cold to see, but we'll return in a few days.

 Dolores is from Argentina, and likes to drink Yerba Mate, a relative of tea. It's packed into a bowl, topped off with water, and drunk through a straw. Throughout the morning, water is added to keep the level up. Their cupboards are full of bags of this plant, which they can't find in Norway so they stock up on elsewhere.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

2. Juledag - Krills

2. Juledag (second day of Christmas, the 26th) we had Allan and his family over, including relatives from the U.S. and Denmark. It was a full house, with food and music and games. It's been a while since our families were together. Most of their kids are teenagers and doing interesting things, so it was wonderful to get caught up. Allan likes to bake, and he brought a couple rosemary breads shaped like flower blossoms wherein each petal is a roll. Fun, and supergood!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Forste Juledag

On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me... Blokus Trigon. Not quite the same ring. The kids had strict instructions not to wake us before 7 a.m. Peter set an alarm, just to be sure, and not one minute after 0700 the kids were jumping on our bed. Bleary-eyed we stumbled downstairs to see if Santa was able to find us all the in Norway. He did!

Pam and I went back to bed after the morning festivities, and we spend the afternoon watching movies. We started watching the Lord of the Rings trilogy over the vacation, half a movie per day. Oh so good. Maggie is fascinated and has ordered the books now.

New jammies!

Thursday, December 24, 2009


Here's our little grønn nissen (green elf) Anna heading out for sledding. She's wearing Peter's elf hat that he sewed for the winter concert a few weeks ago. The kids have been hooked on sledding since our first big snowfall. We live at the top of a hill with a nice open park area a stone's throw away, so twice a day they run out laughing and we keep our fingers crossed that they don't come back crying.

Today is Julaften – Christmas Eve. We headed out to a "hytte" near Dragvoll for dinner with two other families: Scott and Teresa and Anna-Lola, and Kim and Mark and Aiden and Kasey. First the men took the kids out sledding on an exciting hill. I was shocked to see Anna racing down the long steep slope. After a dozen or so wipeouts, we headed back to the hytte (actually the house of another family at ThIS who are gone on vacation) to ready ourselves for dinner. And what a dinner! A full complement of tasty Christmas dishes and desserts. Afterwards, a few games and then home for the first round of present opening.

On the road home, we passed only two or three cars on the main roads. Norway has come to a standstill.

Our families had mailed packages of gifts to us which arrived just in time on the 23rd, so we had a good amount of packages to open, not too few and not too many. The kids all went to bed in Maggie's room to await the coming of the Julenissen.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lille Julaften...Renaming the days

Christmas is so important in Norway, that dates are renamed during the season.

It starts with Advent, four Sundays before Christmas. One Advent candle is lighted each Sunday, and weeks are referred to by their Advent week number. It's a little confusing, because the first day of Advent is in November, but Advent calendars that children use have 1 December as the first day.

You know the song "The 12 Days of Christmas." Norwegians actually use and refer to the days of Christmas. The first day of Christmas is Christmas itself, . Juledag. The 26th of December is 2. Juledag, and so on. You'll see store hours and movie showtimes and holiday events labeled like "4.-5. Juledag" and so on.

Christmas Eve is Julaften, and the day before Julaften is lille Julaften, or "little Christmas Eve." Today is lille Julaften. We took a chance with have new friends over tonight – and it was very fun. Looks like we have dinner plans for every day for the next week. Nice!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Decorating the tree

We did this last week. It seemed very late in the season for us to be decorating, but our Norwegian friends were shocked that we have decorated the tree so early! Mostly Norwegians decorate the tree on Christmas Eve (Julaften). Years ago, the parents would decorate the tree after the kids had gone to bed and it would be like magic on Christmas morning. This was especially important, because the kids got very few presents, maybe a sweater and a small toy.

Nowadays, people decorate the tree as a family on Julaften, or more and more, on lille Julaften (little Christmas Eve, Dec. 23).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Støvel Dance

This is, well, I'm not sure what this is. Some elves singing a song that's a mash-up of English and Norwegian. It's catchy in any case! Enjoy, and God Jul. Update: not Norwegian, but Danish. Hard to tell the difference sometimes.


While Anna was at a birthday party, Pam and I went to the downtown Christmas market (Julemarked). Nice! Dozens of booths and tents with Jule crafts, all lit up and decorated, candles and baskets of fire to warm up next to, and a stage with performers playing Julemusikk. Afterwards we wandered downtown... very beautiful and peaceful.

We picked up Anna from her party and ended up staying and socializing for a few hours, making new friends. In the evening we spontaneously visited more friends. It was an exciting day full of unexpected treats!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mouse Song

I heard a Christmas song at the Juleverksted and I liked the sound of the chorus. My colleagues explained that it is a song about mice celebrating Christmas Eve with lots of cute ideas about how they celebrate. I poked around looking for it when I got home...

Musevisa (English: "The Mouse Song") is a Norwegian Christmas song by singer-songwriter Alf Prøysen in 1946. Prøysen wrote the lyrics for the song in 1946, to a traditional tune. Musevisa is a secular song, where a family of anthropomorphic mice are preparing for Christmas. The mouse-mother specifically warns her children against the dangers of the mousetrap. In December 2008 the alleged rediscovery of a missing verse from the song attracted the attention of the Norwegian media. Though an alternative ending was originally written for the song, the discovery in question was eventually revealed to be a hoax. (Wikipedia, 12 Dec 2009)

The story of the hoax is quite interesting, you'll find it here.
Here's the audio track for the song:

Here's the chorus:

Heisan og hopsan og fallerallera!
Om julekvelden da skal allesammen være glad!

(Hi there! and Hop there! and fa-la-la-la-la
It's Christmas Eve and so shall everyone be glad!)

...and here's the lyrics, mostly for my own reference, but if you want to puzzle over them, I think you'll find them cute!

1. Når nettene blir lange og kulda setter inn så sier vesle musemor til ungeflokken sin:
Hvis ingen går i fella, men passer seg for den, skal alle sammen snart få feire jul igjen!

chorus: Heisan og Hopsan og fallerallera! Om julekvelden da skal alle sammen være glad
Heisan og Hopsan og fallerallera! Om julekvelden da skal alle sammen være glad

2. Ja musemor er flittig, hun tar et stykke kull og sverter tak og vegger i sitt lille musehull,
mens barna feier golvet og danser som en vind og soper borti krokene med halen sin.

3. Omsider kommer kvelden som alle venter på og musefar han trekker fram en støvel uten tå,
den pynter de med spindelvev og småspiker og sånn, og så putter de en flaskekork i hempa på'n
4. Og musefaren sier, nå skal vi danne ring, la støvlen stå i midten så går vi rundt omkring.
Vi gir hverandre halen som vi kan leie i, og en og to og tre, og så begynner vi!
5. Og julematen deres, det er ei lita nøtt, og så et stykke dropspapir for dem som liker søtt.
Og musemor har stillet opp en fleskebit på skrå, og den får allesammen lov å lukte på.
6. Ja musebestemora er også kommet inn, nå sitter hun og koser seg i gyngestolen sin.
Det æ'kke orntli gyngestol, d'er no' som alle vet, hun sitter der og gynger på en stor potet.

7. Så hopper de, så danser de, så traller de en stund til musefaren sier: "Det er best vi tar en blund."
Og ungene de legger seg, mens pappa holder vakt, men selv i søvne traller de i hopsatakt:
8. Og bestemora gjesper, og sier slik som så: "D'er morosamt med jula for dessa som er små,
(og) hvis ingen går i fella, men passer seg for den, skal alle sammen snart få feire jul igjen!"

Friday, December 18, 2009

Julekunst (Christmas art) week

It's been a math-art kind of week...

Monday: I met with a colleague and hashed out ideas and sent out plans for some outdoor math playthings we're designing (more on this in January). I also did some artwork for the cover of a math in music-teaching study I did with some colleagues and music professors in Oslo.

Tuesday: I went with Gerd to a kindergarten (barnehage) to do some math art (specifically problem solving, design, and origami activities). I got to do the puppet, Matrune. The puppet was so popular, I worked her for an hour. The kids didn't seem to mind my broken Norwegian. In the afternoon I finished and sent off an article.

Wednesday: Met again with a colleague with the design project, and then headed out across town to Peter Sutton's art studio. We're working on some glass math-art projects, and I came to see the first prototypes of our models. His studio is fantastic, so many beautiful light and shadow creations. After a while, we popped into the local pub/restaurant around the corner, Ramp. Nice little place with great relaxed enviroment and kjempegodt smørbrød (super good sandwiches).

Thursday: I unveiled my Julekort (Christmas card) today at work, a pop up card that says "God Jul" (Merry Christmas) in one direction and "Godt Nyttår" in the other. We had a Julelunsj (Christmas lunch) at work. My friend Janet tells me her favorite part of Jule season is it instantly doubles your vocabulary... just put Jule on the front of any noun! In the evening, we had folks over for Julebord (Christmas dinner party).

Friday: I accompanied Anna's class to the Remida Art Center. This is a big workshop that collects recyclable materials and makes them available for classes to use for art projects. It should have been about a 20 minute walk from school with the 1st graders, but of course it took much longer. The Remida Center is in the hippie-ish alternative lifestyle part of town, close to Peter's studio actually), and the building looks bad from the outside. Inside, it's clean and bright and full of awesomeness. The kids made some nice Juledekorasjoner (Christmas decorations), I talked for a long time with Paul, the director. made another connection in the art world.

Afterwards, I ran back to NTNU for our Julewerksted (Christmas workshop). We made cool cut and weave art projects, drank gløgg and ate pepperkake with blue cheese. Julemusikk (Christmas music) played, and it made me all so very happy. When I went back outside, it was snowing hard and now the ground is all white and fluffy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

UFOs over Norway

Weird stuff in the sky in Northern Norway:

Sunday, December 13, 2009

More Roald Dahl books

Finished Roald Dahl's Heksene (The Witches) today. Surprisingly excellent story. Maggie had highly recommended it! I had never read it before. I became quite a quick reader while reading this!

Tonight I started reading Den Fantastike Mikkel Rev (Fantastic Mr. Fox) to Peter and Anna. Maggie had already read this book a few days ago. She recommends this one highly, also!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Risen som ikke hadde noe hjerte på seg

The past few nights I've read the kids stories in Norwegian. There were some initial grumblings, but those quickly disappeared and the kids (and I) have been entranced. First was a comic storybook, Askeladden og risen som ikke hadde noe hjerte på seg.

Askeladden and the mountain troll (jotun) who didn't have any heart inside himself. The book is well-illustrated graphic "novel", with funny and exciting pictures and characters with a lot of character! We had read many Askeladden stories in a book of Folktales (in English) last spring and summer, and we were happy to recognize elements of the stories in this tale.

Norwegian fairytales end with a snappy: Snip Snap Snute, så er eventyret ute! (thus the adventure is over).

Tonight, I read them Den Kjempestore Krokodillen, a Roald Dahl story about a superbig crocodile who wants very much to eat fat, sweet, soft children. No Snip Snap Snute at the end of this book, just a funny and frightening tale of a nasty crocodile.

They've enjoyed these last two stories in Norwegian... and I think they're figuring out that I'll read to them for nearly an hour since I like the practice.

rise (pronounced "REE-suh"), noun. A mountain troll or jotun. From Old Norse risi, cognate with German Reise ("giant").
synonyms: bergtroll, jotun, kjempe.
rise verb. to spank. (present tense riser; past tense riste; past participle rist; present participle risende; imperative ris)

Friday, December 11, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize Award Cermony in Oslo

On Tuesday, Kirsten emailed us asking if we wanted to go on a last minute trip to Oslo to be part of the Nobel Prize celebrations on Thursday. Fly in the morning, fly back at night. March in a torch parade. The more we thought about it, the better it sounded. Tickets were cheap. Tuesday night, we bought tickets for Pam Maggie and me. Wednesday we made hasty arrangements for Peter and Anna while I planned our itinerary and loaded maps onto my iPod. We would fly to Rygge, take the train to Oslo S station. From there we'd visit the new opera house, the festning (fortress), the exhibits, get lunch, march in the parade, go to a party, then come home in the evening. One day only. Unknown adventure.

 At Thursday at 7 am we were off to the airport, breezed through check-in with only a bagpack of snacks and extra socks. All the flights on SAS to Oslo Gardemoen airport were delayed at least an hour, due in part to Obama's arrival at that airport that morning. We were flying Norwegian Air to Rygge, our flight was on time. The newspapers were full of Obama news, we were full of anticipation. We met Kirsten and daughter May Helene at the gate. May Helene is in Maggie's class, both are taking off school for the event, but it's okay especially since they're traveling with a teacher!

We flew into Rygge, an hour from Oslo. In the airport we helped out a group of Turkish students who brought only euros and couldn't change them for kroner because the airport didn't have a bank. Without kroner, they couldn't pay for  Our kindness caused us to miss the shuttle bus to the trainstation and it wouldn't return for an hour. Instead, we found a bus we could take... and the bus turned out to be cheaper than the train anyways! Ha!

On the bus we pored through the newspapers. Adressavisen carried a detailed map of the city with events listed – perfect! Our route still looked good.

Reading the newspaper on the bus. Håpet, the headline reads – we were hoping we'd have a good day! At the station a giant poster directs us to CHANGE.

We arrived at the central bus station and walked down to the new opera house that just opened a few months ago. Located right on the water, it is made to look like a glacier. Like all things in nature in Norway, one is encouraged to walk on it. Natur er for å bruker, they say. How fun! Afterwards we went inside and explored a little. Certainly a world-class opera house. Well done, Norway! We headed off along the water.

Following along the water, there was much to see for the first stretch, only cruise ships and construction. Around the bend was an unexpected surprise: the famous Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. It was parked next to the king's ship. Smartly uniformed young sailors carried things in and out, apparently preparing the ship for a voyage.

Just up the hill above us was Akerhus Festning, the medieval fortress in downtown Oslo. Usually it is closed during the week, but they had just started their Christmas tours, complete with candlelit decorations. It was a challenge getting to the top and discovering the entrance to the fortress. On the way, we looked down on a field where they had set up a gigantic screen showing TV coverage of Nobel events. Commentators were discussing the prize. We continued to the top, took the tour and it was really very cool, and a good length. As we left, Obama's speech began. We stood on the wall of the fortress and watched. A large crowd gathered below us. On the streets we saw convoys of police vehicles. A group of 30 police officers marched past on foot. To the east stood the towers of the Rådhuset, the city hall where Obama was giving his speech. Awesome.

An interesting stable on the lower festning grounds. Statues of Faith and Charity. Who's missing from this trio?

Banquet hall in Akershus festning. Watching Obama's speech live from the fortress wall.

Looking to the east, the Rådhus where the speech was taking place. President Obama's motorcade leaves city hall.

After his speech, we ran to Rådhuset. We could hear speakers and applause coming from the upstairs windows as the event wound down. We pushed our way through the crowd and found a place where we could see people exiting. Police everywhere, military personell with AK-47s. Crazy! Later I would read that many people found the security measures distastefully unNorwegian. The president's motorcade left city hall to cheers!

 Tight security. The newspapers would called it "svært unnorsk" (very unNorwegian).

We found an 'O'. Maggie was a linselus, sneaking into the background of a TV interview.

By this time, we were quite hungry. I'd thought we'd eat at the Akersbrugge, the waterfront mall/restaurant, but the crowds and the excitement pushed us in different directions. We needed food fast. Last night, I'd indentified several Chinese restaurants throughout the city and I had that data with me. We checked out a series of them: the Lemongrass (Carribean, not Thai), The Fjord (claims to serve Szechsuan with a very bad name for that; turned out to cost a million dollars), and finally Beijing Palace, was just right. We relaxed with cold sushi and warm comfort food. Maggie and May Helene sat at their own table, cracking themselves up. The sushi was good, the chinese was just okay, but the atmosphere was perfect. The waitress barely spoke Norwegian and no English, so it that was interesting ordering, but it great to be chatting with Kirstin. She comes from the U.S. and has a great story of how she met her husband and moved to Norway to be with him after having known him only 2 weeks. We felt recharged and headed back out. There was time for a little shopping, and then we visited the Nobel Prize exhibition.

The Nobel Prize center's exhibit is right on the water next to Akersbrygge, the waterfront mall/restaurant row. We'd planned to check out the mall, but the crowds had pushed us in different directions.A strange light-up tunnel in  honored Obama and MLKJ, as well as all the other Nobel Peace Prize winners. It was very well done, including a freakily lit room of prize winners. The dark room had glowing lights, eerie electronic tones, and a floating video screen showing all the peace prize winners. It was like some kind of futuristic graveyard.

Nobel Peace Prize Center entrance.

The exhibit. Yeah, we hung out with Obama. He's shorter than he looks on TV.

Nobel wallpaper. Order yours today!

Trees with wishes for the world.

Wishes from all over the world. The messages were much the same.

Maggie adds her wish.

From there we had to run clear across town to get to Youngstorget where the torch parade began. The path was complicated by closed streets and thick crowds in central downtown. We made it in time to buy torches (I read later they had expected 5000 and so had 6000 torches available... and they ran out). The air was electric. Performers played over an audio system. We found a large group of Americans. From Texas, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Alaska, California... they had come. There was a fine group of African-American women from Baltimore who were campaign organizers for Obama's election last year, so excited to be Norway!

The excitement in the torg before the parade was electric!

The parade begins!


Finally, the crowd began moving! We lit our torches and marched along the streets of Oslo. As far as the eye could see forward and back was a sea of torches. Small children holding fire low made it a little dangerous at times, but we made it to the center of the city outside Obama's hotel. I put Maggie on my shoulders, and we managed to catch him on video waving to the crowd. It was absolutely crazy!

It was like a river of fire. Obama waved from the window – we barely caught him on video!

Amazing camera zoom!

Afterwards, we made our way to the hotel Rica Victoria, where the group Democrats Abroad had organized a banquet. We sat on a couch, ate pepperkake (gingerbread cookies) and drank gløgg, a traditional Norwegian drink of hot wine mulled in spices and served with raisins and chopped almonds. We met more people here in a festive environment.

Unfortunately, we couldn't stay for the banquet, as we needed to catch the 8:37 train to the airport. All that was left was a walk through the happily illuminated pedestrian streets back to the sentral stasjon, and the train, plane, and car rides back home.

We collapsed in bed right at midnight, feeling very satisfied and very much like we were a part of history.