Friday, February 26, 2010

Oppdal

A one day trip today to Oppdal, a popular ski destination about 1:45 south of Trondheim. Along the way we passed several places with amazing frozen waterfalls in greens and blues. With each one, the kids in the backseat gasped in unison, a very satisfying sound. (photo here by farhad at http://pixdaus.com/single.php?id=90341)

We enjoyed a simple afternoon of coffee, games, dinner, and conversation. Finally we packed up and headed home.

The first hour of the drive in the dark was very stressful. The highway, E6, is a two-lane two-way road in these parts. With no lights and black roads, my eyes grew accustomed to the darkness, and then a line of cars would come speeding in the opposite direction with blinding headlights. The lines were hard to see, the road narrow, and after an hour of this my eyes and my nerves were shot. Thankfully, once we hit Støren the roads were lighted and that made a huge difference.

We were home just in time to see Norway win another gold medal.

 
Wall of slugs at the Oppdal Cultural Center. Maggie, Frøy (and Peter) at the hytte.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Byhytte

We stayed at a friend's apartment for the past two days in Bakklandet. Many of our friends are at their hyttes (cabins) this week because of winter vacation, so we called this our byhytte, or city cabin. Being close to downtown made it easy to walk around to find restaurants and do a bit of shopping. One evening we went to a rather non-Norwegian restaurant, Big Horn Restaurant, and had ribs and steaks. Fantastic! Expensive, but every once in a while it's worth it.

Evenings we did puzzles and enjoyed the fire of a woodburning stove.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Asian restaurant and Olympics

It's winter vacation for Pam and the kids, so we're trying to do a few fun things this week. Last night we took Anna out for sushi at Bryggen, an asian restaurant in Bakklandet upstairs from Den Gode Nabo. The ambience was fanstastic and we liked our waitress, but the food was not very good. They had excellent curry soup, but the miso tasted watery and burnt and the sushi rolls were wholly uninteresting. Maybe their other Asian dishes are good, but for the price, their Japanese food was not worth it.

We watched the Olympics with some friends last night. It's very fine to be an American living in Norway and watching the winter Olympics, as the U.S. and Norway both do very well. It's shocking that Norway is one of the top countries at these games. They have a population of 4.7 million, less than the city of Chicago, and yet are the very best country overall in these games.

A few days ago Norway became the first country to earn 100 gold medals and yesterday it became the first country to earn more than 300 medals overall. Tiny little Norway. Not bad.


Wall Street Journal posted an article today, The Mystery of Norway, which wonders why people are dismissive of Norway's winter sports talents. One need only look at an article from last week's Wall Street Journal to get a taste of that, an article entitled: Not All Countries Rich and Snowbound. This article which seeks to diminish Norway's standing as best country in the Olympics because Norwegians are, among other things, healthy. They factored in such things as nutrition and the number of new cars per capita in order to declare that Italy is really the best country in the winter Olympics. What?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Odd and Even

The weather snapped again. Bone-chilling temps yesterday and again today, down in the -20°s again. And, surprise surprise, more car trouble. Looks like the battery has given out, we'll need to go buy one tonight.

Just spoke to a friend who knows two brothers whose names are 'Odd' and 'Even'. Those are both common Norwegian names! I've met a couple of Odds (and met a few people who are odd themselves) but haven't met an Even yet. He tells me that some people have those as their first two names, Odd Even Andersen, for example. Awesome.

I wonder what you'd do if you wanted to name your boys Odd and Even but had three boys instead? 3k, 3k+1, and 3k+2 are not legal Norwegian names, I think. That would be even odder.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Family doctor

Pam visited the doctor today, our first visit to our fastlege, or family doctor. It was very difficult for her to make an appointment over the phone – they have limited phone hours and didn't answer when called during these times. It was becoming very frustrating, but finally on Monday she got through and made an appointment for Wednesday, a short wait. We later found we should make an appointment through their webpage or by sending an SMS. I guess they don't bother with the telephone very often.

The doctor called her name almost immediately after arrival (we had a similar no-wait experience at the dentist). No nurses, no taking blood pressure and getting weighed, no further waiting once called back to the office. Just the doctor in a room with a fancy desk.

The appointment was quick. He wrote her a referral to an eye doctor and a prescription which is good for life. To renew the prescription she need only send a SMS from her mobile phone. Easy! The fee to visit the doctor was 250 kr., or about $45. The prescription costs $10/month, which is 1/3 the cost back in the U.S. She gets a medical expense card, and once annual fees exceed 1800 kr. (about $300) everything else for the year is free.

We're used to hearing people (not from Norway) complaining about socialized medicine, but we've had good experiences. Fast service, no hassles, quality care.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Too much ice

I walk most places, which is why I'm getting pretty tired of all this ice. We've had a warm few weeks, which is nice, but it's not been warm enough to rid the ice from the sidewalks and backstreets. In fact, it makes it worse because instead of walking on soft snow with traction, I'm walking on thick shiny ice. In Norway, they don't put salt on the streets or walkways because of damage to vehicles and roadways. Instead the sprinkle sharp black gravel on the surface, which works wonderfully and is swept up in the springtime and saved for next year. But they don't get all the sidewalks, so I need to walk slowly and watch my feet which really makes it no fun to walk. And don't even get me started about that big hill I walk up and down every day! Grrrrr...

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Chinese New Year

This morning I took Anna ice skating down the street. We have an ice rink just a couple blocks from our house. Anna loves ice skating. Here's a picture with the cathedral in the background.



In the afternoon, Pam and I had a "date" downtown, just walking around and popping into shops. We visited a few clothing stores, a bakery for snack, a chocolate shop, a middle-Eastern food shop (I finally found Sriracha sauce!) and lots of other places. We stopped to listen to an amateur band playing on the sidewalk – quirky attire and a lot of spirit... fun!



Our wanderings took us to the water's edge, past the statue of the Last Viking, and into the fish market. It was our first visit there, and I wonder why it took us so long to visit this butikk full of awesomeness. They have a fine selection of cheeses which they were happy to let us sample. We bought some kind of french bleu cheese and a 24 month Holland gouda, with a fig marmalade to go with them. The seafood selection is vast and delicious looking, and you can buy something and they'll cook it for you on the spot so you can eat it right there at the market.

In the evening, Tony had a Chinese New Year's party so we welcomed in the new year, yet again! He had decked out his place with Chinese decorations, cooked us spring rolls, and we discovered our true personalities and horoscope for the coming year with our Chinese zodiac signs.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dying fish

Spotted on the back of a Statoil truck. Our product kills trees and fish. In painful ways. Awesome icon!
Picture of dirty sign on dirty truck shot through my dirty windshield on a melty muddy morning.

Oslo

Busy week. Lots of preparation for a two-day conference in Oslo on Thursday and Friday. Wonderful trip!

Transit was very easy. I breezed through taxi, plane, and train to get me from my house to the Thon Opera hotel in downtown Oslo. I even helped someone buy tickets from the machine at the Oslo airport... a year ago that would have been me asking someone else for help. Thursday evening I met the Capellen Damm publisher representatives that were hosting the conference, and we hit it off immediately. The first night was at the publishing office in a cozy space with small round tables and candles, with about 70 teachers there. (I always multiply these numbers by 67 to get a feeling for the impace, because Norway has 1/67 the population of the U.S., so it's the equivalent of a conference with 5000 people in the U.S. Okay, maybe it's not a realistic conversion, but it's fun to think that way!) Afterwards, I went out with a group of authors of a popular high school textbook series, and we stayed out late. It was a lot of fun, and I talked Norwegian the whole night and felt very comfortable with that.

In the morning, I walked across the street to stretch my legs and explore the opera house. Fantastic building! I gave a second talk that afternoon, and left immediately afterwards to rush to the airport. I left the hotel at 3:30 and my flight departed at 4:55, so I was bit nervous. With Oslo Sentral station right across the street from the hotel, however, I was on a train at 3:40 minutes, to the airport at 4:00, and at my gate 10 minutes before boarding. Easy!

I got home in time to take Maggie to a Valentines dance at school and then went to bed early. A wonderful trip, and I made a lot of new friends.

A statue of Kirsten Flagstad, one of the world's greatest opera singers, stands near the entrance to the opera house.

Designed to look like an iceberg, you are allowed to walk all over it. Here I am on the top.

Mysterious patterns on the top of the building. Is it a code? The musical score to an opera perhaps? I hope so.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

3d

Maggie saw Avatar with a friend yesterday; today Peter and I walked downtown to see the afternoon showing. It's been warm the last 2 days, with lots of snow falling in thick clumps. In the evening, the kids built snowpeople in the backyard.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Anna is 7

Gave a couple of talks this week on the mathematics of nature. Interesting projects cooking at work!

Anna celebrated her birthday, first on Friday with the family, and then a big party today. 13 kids from her class came, and there was a lot of screaming. Dance party, Pam's homemade pizza (awesome I must say), ice cream, a singing performance by Anna and her backup dancers, and even an impromptu magic show. Success! No injuries, even.

I had a dream in Norwegian last night.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A night picture

NTNU Gløshaugen. Walking past the original university building at night.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Gave two talks this week. Pam had another handball game. This game was earlier in the evening, so we brought the kids down to the Spektrum sportsplex, where they ran around inside the huge building and happily played tag for an hour and a half.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tannlege - the Dentist

My first experience at the kids' dentist today. Pam took them last time we were in Norway, my turn today. We are automatically enrolled in our neighborhood dentist. Everyone has a neighborhood dentist. Dental care is free for kids, it's fun and local, parents of course get time off work to take kids to the dentist, but the older kids can just check themselves out of school and walk. I get the feeling dental care is something Norwegians feel good about.

We had a very good experience. We showed up at 1:00 on the nose, and they took us in right away, 1:00 sharp. Our dentist's name is Elizabeth, she is young, kind, and happy. The kids responded well to her.

Some weird things happened. Weird in contrast to my usual dentist experience.

1) She reports that our kids have done a really good job brushing. That never happened with our previous dentist back in Washington. In fact, he always made me feel like a bad parent.

2) Anna has a cavity, but rather than fix it they're going to put a flouride cap on it to slow it down until the tooth falls out. Our last dentist wanted every cavity filled, and I even asked about a "waiting option" since the tooth would fall out soon anyways, but he wouldn't have it. Something about a possibility of the cavity spreading to the permanent tooth. Now I wonder if all those fillings were necessary. Well, he did move his office to a prime location with a new beautiful building. Someone's gotta pay for that!

 3) She asked why Maggie has metal fillings - is she allergic to the white filling? I explain that under our insurance plan, the insurance company considers white fillings to be cosmetic and so they pay a smaller percentage of the bill and it makes it too expensive for us to get them. (I think it's a difference between 90 bucks and 300 bucks). "But the white fillings are stronger and last almost twice as long," she wonders. "Isn't that cheaper over the long term?" Yeah, I always wondered that too. But maybe by the time your metal fillings drop out, you'll be on a different insurance plan (or not have insurance at all), so it makes more business sense, from the insurance companies view anyways.

Anyways, I was pleased with our dentist experience here, where it seems to be efficient, cost-effective, and reflective of a system with good common sense. There's some trouble with insurance driven health care for sure. We'll see how the return visits go, but for now here's one customer who's very happy with Norwegian public health system.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Skis

We got skis leaning against the house. Like true Norwegians. And here's another picture of Peter's black eye.