Sunday, May 30, 2010

Hytte tour: Selbu

I've been assessing bachelor's theses all week long. They're 20-40 page research project papers written by mathematics education students, and they're in Norwegian. I'm a bit shocked to find I can read them, and I've been enjoying the task very much.

We took a break today to look at a couple of cabins. The first was about 45 minutes away. The cabin is located in a secluded spot along a long one-lane dirt road. There is barely a trail through the woods down to the cottage. Thank goodness for GPS! The cottage has no water or electricity, but wow! What an amazing area. Curvy cove full of islands, trees, huge areas of quartz on the beach, outcropping of shale that flake off in your fingers. A stream bubbling along the property's edge. We could be very happy in a place like this. In winter though the road would be treacherous and the last 3 km would be impassable, requiring a long walk through the snow to reach the place, so we reluctantly cross it off our list.

We visited another hytte further down the road, in Selbu. Though it was near the water, there was no view, and the walk to the lake was a winding hike through the forest to reach a narrow stony beach. Though we are crossing this off the list as well, we were glad we came here. It was a lovely quiet walk through the mossy forest, and I saw some brain-like mushrooms, an old building with a small forest of trees growing out of the roof, and a giant troll in the parking lot of a Spar shop.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Any news article on Eurovision usually begins with saying how it's totally famous all over Europe and no one knows about it in the US. I for one can say that I hadn't heard about it before coming to Europe. It's a competition, each country sends one songwriter with a new song. It's been criticized as cheesy and campy, but it's fun and occasionally there's some really good songs that come from it.

Last year, Alexander Rybak from Norway won. Here's a picture from an article on him in the nytimes. link. Because Norway won last year, Norway got to host the event this year.

So tonight we joined the rest of Europe in sitting down and watching a wonderful competition taking place in Oslo. 24 finalists gave an entertaining 90 minute concert, and then we saw highlights as the judges made their decisions and we phoned in our votes. For 5 kr. you could phone in a vote for any country except your own. Pam voted for Russia. I voted for Spain. We both loved Belgium. A panel of jurists in each country decided 50% of the countries votes, and the phone-in pay votes determined the other 50%. At the end, each country in turn awards points to the other countries – very exciting to watch the votes come in. Maggie and I sat with a map, learning about.... Azerbaijain? Moldova? Belarus? Where are these places? Now we know.

At the end of the day, a spunky teenager from Germany won. And we had a lot of fun. Thanks, Eurovision!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Big TV weekend

Eurovision is on this week! We haven't caught any of the elimination concerts, but we're going to watch the finals tomorrow night.

Instead, we have a big TV event happening tonight, and Anna is beside herself. The timer has been ticking down for a Disney Channel original movie, "Star Struck". For the past 14 days the timer has ticked, and during the last week it has been onscreen constantly. We've been treated to a music video, trailers, interviews, and secret behind-the-scenes glimpses into this spectacular TV event. Oh my god! I have never seen a TV show hyped as much as this.

Here's a screenshot with only about 3 minutes left.

Kids and TV, what do you do? Well, if you and your kids are learning Norwegian, it's a great tool. We especially like the Disney Channel. In Norway, there's a lot of American TV shows. Grown-up shows, like Mythbusters or Legend of the Seeker, are subtitled in Norwegian. Shows for kids are usually voiced over with Norwegian. Disney Channel does their programs both ways, even the songs. Then they play the same episodes over and over and over, which instead of driving crazy actually helps -- repetition is key to language learning! We can get to know the episodes and listen for phrases and hear colloquialisms and get the jokes.

With Anna, I'll sit and watch an episode of "Sonny with a Chance" or "Wizards of Waverly Place" with her. Or maybe we'll jam out to a rerun of Camp Rock or High School musical. Disney must have a lot of money to do voiceovers for most of their programs – Norway has only the population of metro Detroit.

Maggie and I love watching Phineas and Ferb together. She knows a lot of the phrases, and I find myself surprised that she has learned so much. We crack up together and practice funny lines. I think she's knows a lot Norwegian more than she's letting on.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Peter's Studio

Made a trip to Peter Sutton's studio today. I had a math-art glass project I was keen to work on, and Peter graciously agreed to help me out. What a splendid afternoon it was cutting and arranging pieces of glass and chatting with Peter about his projects and current ambitions. I like the art world very much. It's always nice to spend time with professional artists, but the time goes much too quickly. I'll need to visit him again next week to finish.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Confirmations Skalkfest

 We were invited to our first skalkfest! "Skalk" means literally the heel of a loaf of bread, you know, the leftover piece at the end of the good slices. A skalkfest is a party to eat up the leftover cake from an earlier party. Seeing how this is a week for church confirmations, there is a lot of leftover cake and a lot of skalkfests.

Confirmation is big deal here in Norway. Nearly everyone gets confirmed, whether religious or not. Yes, traditionally confirmation means that you confirm your faith in the church and pledge to follow church teachings (a tall order for a teenager), however confirmations are open to all here in Norway. If you don't belong to a church, you can take confirmation courses through community groups where you have classes about morality and explore these issues, then there is a ceremony and parties and getting dressed up in your bunads and eating lots of cake.

So, today we when to our friends Kirsten and Roger's place. We feasted on fabulous ribs, played the obligatory round or two of Settlers of Catan, and ate a lot of very good cake. Mmmmm. They have a lot of costumes at their house, and while we played, the kids dressed up in different outfits and terrorized us. Here's Peter, Anna, and Anne-Catherine.

96% word recognition gets you 20% of the meaning (check translation)

I'm reaching the point where I understand most of the words I hear or read, but still little of the meaning. I'm a bit surprised actually. Here's an example -- on the back of a pamphlet at an insurance company was the following quote:

<< En kløvet, solfylt tomat
med salt, persille og hakket løk
midt på vinteren-
Ah! Uhm!
Så må det allikevel bære
Den riktige kolde jeg havnet på! >>
Benny Andersen

There are 26 words in this quote and I understand 24 of them. That's better than 96%. And yet, I don't get the main point of the quote.

<< A sliced, sun-ripened tomato
with salt, parsely and chopped onion
in the middle of winter
Ah! Yum!
It must surely be the right ??? I ??? on/to. >>

The missing words are 'planet' and 'landed on', and they make all the difference.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Spontaneous cookout

Peter found that a boy from another class in school lived nearby and wanted to ride his bike down to visit. I went with him to make sure everything was okay, and there in the yard was the boy's dad, a guy I met at the pub a few weeks back. He offered me a beer, and soon we were enjoying one of the rare warm and sunny evenings we've had far too few of this year. I rang up Pam to call her down, and soon the yard with filled with people for a barbeque. It was a fun and spontaneous evening, and Peter has made a new friend in the neighborhood.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Stop-motion animation studio

Okay, this is fun. I helped Peter set up an animation studio, and he and Maggie have been going bananas with it. Camera on tripod, tripod legs taped to table. Set camera to lowest resolution setting (320 x 240) and fire off 200 frames. Import into iMovie, set a frame rate of 3 frames per second, and then record audio tracks. Not too difficult. Peter has made 4 movies already, Maggie has made her first. I'll post one when they're happy with the results.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Getting cuter

The kittens are now out and about, exploring beyond the closet.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The 17th of May

Peter and I were filling in dates on a calendar. In the box for the 17th of May, I wrote "17th of May", then as an afterthought, scribbled "(Duh)." We've been laughing about it ever since, the absurdity of writing such a self-referential thing on the calendar. I suppose the proper thing to write on your calendar on May 17th is "Constitution Day". The day is Norway's national day much like the United States' Independence Day (July 4th). It is a day of bunads, speeches, parades, hot dogs, ice cream, cannons, and hordes of school children filling the streets downtown.

It marks the day that during an unwelcome takeover following years of fighting, Norway succeeded in securing it's national identity by signing their constitution on the 17th of May, 1814. Norway would still be partly under Swedish rule, but people started celebrating their identity in part by having parades on the 17th of May. By 1870 the 17th of May had become a widespread holiday, and was no doubt part of the reason that Norway was able to free itself from Sweden and become its own country in 1905. And today, the 17th of May, is a day to join in the tradition.

Here's some history in this next paragraph. Or you can just skip below to hear about me and Peter and Anna in the parades.
Three nations of Sweden, Denmark, and Norway form the Kalamar union in the 1300s. Together they are a strong Scandanavia, like brothers. 100 years later, the strongest brother, Sweden breaks from the union and begins expanding territory. By the 1600s, Sweden has the best military in the world. They are well-trained and well-equipped under the rule of Karl XI, but then he dies in 1697 giving control of the military to his 15-year old son Karl XII. Old enemies of Sweden, each with new leaders, see opportunity at the idea that a young inexperienced general is in command, and form a pact to take Swedish land. Turns out to be a big mistake – the best army is in the hands of a teenage boy after all, and what would you do if you were a teenager with a really cool toy like that? Yeah, me too! He used that army and won battle after battle in all directions, winning and taking land from or forcing peace with Denmark, Finland, Poland, Russia, Saxony and some other places that don't exist anymore.
Finally Karl XII decides to take part of Norway as a bargaining chip in upcoming peace negotiations with Denmark. In 1716 Trøndelag, our region of Norway, is attacked. In 1718 Trondheim, our city, is attacked. The fortress in Trondheim holds off the attack, and Sweden is forced to retreat over the mountains in a harsh winter. Most of the Swedish army is killed. Sweden goes back to battles with Germany and Russia.
Norway and Denmark merge into Denmark-Norway, enter into an alliance with Napolean which ends up going badly. In 1814, Denmark is forced to give Norway to Sweden as part of a peace deal, which Norway doesn't like at all. They do manage to negotiate their own constitution as part of the deal, which kicks off a period of national pride which blooms as Norwegians try to keep their national identity. Celebrating the 17th of May becomes a big part of that, and Norway's identity survives and they become their own country 91 years later in 1905. Norwegians are survivors. (They would also survive a German takeover in wwii.)
So anyways, back to us getting ready for the big day. Pam and Maggie are still in Rome, Grandma and Bill are back in Wisconsin, and so it's just me and the youngest two in town. We're up early to get fed and dressed and packed. The morning was so sunny and promising that I packed sunglasses in my jacket pocket. Peter and I wear matching suits, and Anna is excited to be in her festival dress. We pack snacks, lunch, and water bottles.

We meet their classmates at the international school, located right outside the fortress. This is the fortress that held off the Swedes in 1718. This is part of the story. Cool. The school has a new climbing structure and there's a lot of excitement building outside of the school. The kids run and play, looking great in their traditional costumes, or bunads. We'll see a lot of beautiful dresses and suits today.  The sun disappears and the temperature drops. Good thing bunads are wool. The bunads are amazing. Most are handmade with exquisite stitching, and the designs reflect the communities where people come from. Everyone, young and old, look great in their outfits. Here's our friends Martin and Elisabeth. I want Martin's bunad, but he won't give it to me.

Before heading downtown to our assigned start position, we have a small ceremony. A middle schooler reads a speech, Peter's class performs a poem, the principal says some words, and we all sing "Ja vi elsker dette landet". The kids organize by class and head down the hill to downtown. I run ahead like an idiot to get these pictures. It was a great walking route that took us through Bakklandet and across the bridge to the cathedral where our school waited outside the Archbishop's Palace. The 500 year old building has been used as a military depot to protect the church, and looking out at all the groups assembling the celebrate Norway's nationality we could feel history resonating through these streets.

The kids were all still very excited and active as they gather with their friends waiting for the big parade. Apart from a few chaperones, parents weren't allowed to walk with the kids, so I went with friends for coffee. The day was growing colder and colder, and by the time the parade ended 1.5 hours later, my kids were unhappy. "This is the worst 17th of May ever!" they complained. I bought them each a hot dog and two ice creams and you know what? That's right, they start talking about how this is the "best 17th of May ever!" It's a very short distance from the stomach to the brain.

At the fortress they would be having a military band, cannons firing off, candy cannons firing off, and other kids programs, but we are cold and tired. We go home to warm up and rest up before the school picnic in the afternoon. We are in high spirits coming back to the school for food, cake, and games.

It was a bit of a shame that it was so cold, part of Norway's historic "crappy winter of 2010", but it was fun and exciting nonetheless!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

In between weekend

It's been a strange weekend. Saturday morning early Mom and Bill were off to the airport to begin their long trip back to Wisconsin. After 3 weeks of travel, I imagine they will sleep for about 48 hours. They were very gracious to share their room with the kittens. We tried to move them, but they are too young still. Here a picture of the kittens: getting cuter every day.

The weather, which had been cool and rainy this past week, turned to summery weather right after grandma and grandpa left. It made for some very nice family fun outside on Sunday. We are missing having Pam and Maggie here, but it's fun to be trying a different schedule.

Tomorrow is the 17th of May – a very big day. We have to gather together our costumes and figure out how to get to where we need to be. It will be fun. Here's the poem Anna wrote about the 17th of May:

It's titled: "Suten of mie" ("Syttende mai", it should be, = 17th of May)
"I think that on the 17th of May there will be music.
I think that on the 17th of May there will be balloons.
I think that on the 17th of May there will be red, blue, and white.
I think that on the 17th of May there will be snow!"

Friday, May 14, 2010


Today is our day to show off a few interesting sights in the area, so we head east to Nord-Trøndelag.

I like this day trip – we've done several variations on it. It's fun and flexible. We drive out to the Hegra festning (taking country roads for the last 10 km) and then we have some options: see ancient stone carvings and/or play in ancient fortress on an island and/or a drive up to the top of a mountain to get view without having to actually hike somewhere, and with a 2-hour extension we could drive around the fjord to an ancient monastary on Tautra or go a little farther to take the "Golden Detour" around Inderøy.

We opted for the festning and the island. The fortress was beautiful. Up here at this elevation, the snow had recently melted and so it was cool and damp. The mixed colors of green and brown in the splotchy glowing sun made it feel a little surreal, like it was autumn again.

Steinvikholmen is a great little medieval fortress on a tiny island you can walk to across a bridge. We had a cookout there, outside this ancient fortress, and it was great fun even though we got rained on. We never got to play Kubb, a Scandanavia wood block throwing game. You can just never count on the weather!

On the way back, we stopped at this roadside self-serve egg basket. I bought a dozen. Mmmmm...

Thursday, May 13, 2010


Yesterday Mom and Bill took a taxi downtown while I was at work. They were pleased with the taxi service, very prompt clean and modern. They toured the cathedral and explored a bit of downtown. The cathedral offers three tours a day, one in Norwegian and two in English. I'm envious, I've never had the tour!

Today is a holiday, Ascension Day. Pam and Maggie left for Rome today. The remaining grown-ups walked down the street to the Kvilhaugen Grill. Kvilhaugen (resting hill) is an old farm on the crest of Blussovol hill, overlooking all of Trondheim and the fjord below. It is only 3 blocks from our house, but this was our first visit. It is an expensive restaurant but very nice, with superb atmosphere. We tried all of the appetizers, including the cured moose strips. Delicious! I also had to try the entrecote of urfe, an indiginous breed of cow that is very hardy and lives outside during the winter. It's good to have a nice steak now and then, and even better when the meal is local.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Around the neighborhood

We have a traditional lunch, bread and crackers with a variety of topping, like shrimp, smoked trout, yellow cheese, and the unique Norwegian specialty: brunost, or brown cheese. They loved the shrimp, they weren't too sure about the brunost. I can't blame them, it takes a little while to learn to love brunost.

Yesterday we took a little driving tour of the city. It was sunny but cold and windy today. We stopped by the cathedral to get tour information, drove through downtown and piers and out by Lade. In the evening we explored the neighborhood. Here's a spacey school near our house. They have a sundial, a glowing alien, a solar system model you can balance on, and mysterious tower watching over in the distance. Kids at this school must be seriously freaked out.

Today they accompanied me to see me teach a class at HiST and then they took us all to dinner.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Gearing up for the 17th of May

Anna has a new bonad. A bonad is a traditional Norwegian costume, worn for the 17th of May or for important events like confirmations and marriages. We saw several men and women in bonads this past weekend, and we'll see more as the country gears up for their independence day next week.

Also at this time we're seeing plenty of russe, high school senior students dressed in red overalls celebrating the last 2 weeks of youth. They'll be doing all kinds of crazy things this week. Like putting a hat on the statue in the middle of the Torg.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mom and Bill arrive just in time for THE BIG SHOW

This morning, I dropped Peter off at school for the big show and then headed to the airport to pick up my mom and stepdad. They'll be visiting for a week. They'd just spent the past 2 weeks in England. They were nervous about their flight given all the cancellations due to volcanic activity, but the skies cleared up just for them.

We didn't have much time once we got back home, we had to rush back to school for the big performance! "The Emperor's New Clothes". What a hit! The kids were great. Peter was the tailor and he had the biggest part in the play, 120 lines. He had some troubles with the final act at rehearsal, so we practiced this act at home 3 times the night before and again in the morning, and he nailed all of his lines. We are very proud.

Afterward, we all went to the Tyholt Tårn to eat at the revolving restaurant on top of the tower. It's the perfect place to bring visitors the first day. It will be a full week!

Below: Cast photo, Scene from the play where the looms arrive... from Ikea!, and Mom and Bill at the Leiv Erikson statue.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Peter is 10

Peter's Birthday. Much was spent at the dress rehearsal for the big play tomorrow. I picked him up and took him and his big sister downtown to see Iron Man 2. Two years ago we were in Trondheim for Peter's birthday and took him to see the newly released Iron Man, so it was a nice piece of dæjå vø. We had a great time.

Here's so interesting art pieces you can walk on. These are found outside of the Nova kino (cinema) in Sentrum.

Peter got to pick the restaurant for dinner. He chose McDonalds. We haven't eaten at a McDonalds in 10 months. I bought a big mac meal for about $12, and it was good. Really good actually. If food were cheap we'd eat out a lot, as it is, like most Norwegians we seldom eat at restaurants. Maggie and I were doing some math with french fries. She wanted to understand sigma notation. Here's a weird way to write 30:

Peter's Birthday

Peter spent most of his birthday at rehearsal for the play. Afterwards, I picked him up and took he and Maggie to see Iron Man 2. It's funny, but last time we were in Norway, I took him to see the first Iron Man movie for his birthday. Does two times make it a tradition? They better be on time with the next Iron Man film (which I believe is going to feature superhero Thor, named for the Norse god).

The tradition in our family is that the birthday person gets to pick a restaurant for dinner. Peter picked McDonalds. It was the first time we'd had McDonalds in a year. It was okay, but awfully heavy. I found it hard to believe I used to eat it so often!

All in all, a great 10th birthday for Peter. I think he was very happy, despite his dour look in the last picture here.

Below: Peter at dress rehearsal, leaving the movie theater (cool spirally bench), and birthday middag på McDonalds.