Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween

We started Halloween with a party at one of our friends who have a big party every year. Fantastic food, crafts, games, and contest. Oh so fun! About 50 people attended. Here's a picture of all the kids in attendance.

We left at 6:00 to hastily prepare for trick-or-treating. Our neighborhood is apparently is one of the most popular neighborhoods for trick-or-treating. Maybe it's the proximity to the international school, maybe it's just that we have A LOT of kids in the area. We lined candle lights up our walkway with plenty of decorations. Maggie, Peter, and Anna each went out with different groups of friends while Pam and I manned the homefront. This is the first year I haven't accompanied the kids on their Halloween outings... some other parents went with them and  I feel very confident with that. I would have actually felt okay this year if they went out on their own – Norway is a very safe country for kids. Maggie was a vampire, Peter a knight, and Anna a witch.

We had about 30 visitors that night, When they rang, I killed the lights on the porch and greeting them with a skull in hand and a spooky "Hvem der?" Later when the kids returned with other grown-ups that had accompanied their groups, we had a small party to warm everyone up again. It was a cosy evening and a big Halloween success!


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lillestrøm conference

I was an invited speaker for a high school teacher meeting in Lillestrøm, near Oslo. I came the day before to spend time with Ingvill, my friend and former boss who is now a TV star. We had a wonderful evening together and then headed to the conference the next day.

Andre Wahl "opened" for my act. He's a TV star himself, a physicist who now makes a living doing science shows. He gave a great performance and we talked for a while afterwards. Shows... I love doing shows, and it's nice to see someone else being successful doing something I enjoy myself.

During the trip I navigated buses, planes, and trains, and spoke Norwegian nearly the whole time. It's become very easy for me now to function in both in Norwegian language and society. What a treat!



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Monday, October 25, 2010

Halloween Prep

We carved pumpkins for halloween. I miss not visiting a pumpkin patch and I miss the excitement around Halloween that there is in the U.S., but Halloween is a developing holiday here in Norway, popular only for about the last 5 years. There is hope.

Anna made a traditional scary face, Peter's pumpkin was looking very worried with 3 arrow stuck through it's head, and Maggie carved out a scene of a witch on a broom with a cat. All three were amazing!
Later, we made caramel apples. Mmmmmm... so good. Here's my new invention: a caramel apple wrapped in bacon. You would not believe how totally delicious it is. This must be what angels taste like!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Bus!

We bought a minibus tonight. A 1996 Mercedes Sprinter, 9-seats installed with an extra 5 seats if we want 'em. It's got an electric side door with steps up inside just like a real bus. t runs and handles beautifully, and we got it at a very low price. We're quite happy! And we're still cracking up! Our friends are all buying houses, we've bought a bus.

Road trip, anyone?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Tax reports

The tax office has just released 2009 tax return information. You can go online and look up anyone you like and find out how much money they made last year. It's been described as Norway's favorite voyeurism event of the year. But trust me, it's not nearly as exciting as you'd think. Salaries are pretty flat across the land.

The newspapers have jumped on it immediately, analyzing the data for trends. The big news is that men make more than 3 times the amount of money as women -- not for the same jobs mind you, Norway is one of the most gender-equal countries in the world (#2 behind Iceland, I believe). Rather this statistic comes from the fact that most of the very wealthiest people in Norway are men, and the difference between the very wealthy and the rest of us is huge. Regardless, equality groups are bemoaning this fact, but I'm not really sure what can be done.

The good news is that Norway is very transparent like this, which makes it easy to find out what's happening with the money. Norway has a strong traditional of putting the money where their values are, and letting culture follow suit. A good example is requiring men to take paternity leave. Norway felt that it was best for families if men were involved with raising children (crazy idea, I know), and so 20 years ago the state began to pay for paternity leave. Men still wouldn't take the leave because it was seen as unmanly ("velvet daddies" they were called), and so the government made a one-month paternity leave manditory. Culture did indeed follow suit, and now men are more involved in families than nearly anywhere on the planet and families are stronger for it. (Interesting connection: in the U.S. some people are bemoaning health care reform. In a generation, people will be thinking "How can you NOT have health insurance!?" Culture follows policy.)

It will be interesting to see what else the data miners find in the tax returns. You can be certain public outcry will follow!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Cowboy Game

The kids learned an awesome new game akin to Rock, Scissors, Paper. Players face each other and slap hands against their thighs 3 times in unison. On the 4th beat, players perform one of three actions:

Reload - both fisted hands up to shoulders with thumbs pointing backward over the shoulders.
Block - arms crossed across chest
Shoot - both index fingers point at other player.

Here's the rules:

The first move for both players is "Reload". Afterwards, players choose whichever move they want. A player can only do one shoot per reload, though a player may accumulate several reloads and thus be able to shoot multiple times before needing to reload.

If player 1 shoots while player 2 is reloading, player 1 wins.
If player 1 shoots while player 2 is blocking, nothing happens and play continues (although player 1 has used up a shot).
If both players shoot, both players lose.

We've been hooked on the game – it has a lot more depth than the classic Rock Scissors Paper, and it helps to know how your opponent plays. This past weekend we had some friends over for and played a tournament. Maggie won... here's my winning cowgirl, and her surly opponent:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Matematikkhuset

Tonight we celebrated the start of my new company with my business partner and her husband. I'm working half-time this year at the university, and with my other half I'm working with a colleague making products, courses, and equipment for math teaching. We've already done quite a bit of preparation and are nearly ready to launch Matematikkhuset. We declared our opening at 20:10 on 20/10/2010. (Cool numbers, ja?)

To kick off the evening's celebration, we all met on a hill next to the festning. Snow was on the ground, and our friends had built a fire. From our vantage point on top of the hill, we could see the cathedral, the bridge into downtown, the university, the Tyholt tårn, and the festning of course. A full moon hung in the sky. It was an amazing view in all directions.

We popped champagne and immediately the fireworks began. Unbeknownst to Pam, a bank is opening a new building and was celebrating with a fireworks display launching from the festning at 20:10. It felt like our own personal fireworks. The show went on and on, launching about 100 meters away, the firebursts exploding right overhead. It was amazing. I read in the paper the next day that it was largest and most expensive fireworks display ever put on in Trondheim.

Here's a few minutes of the display:



Feeling like we were in a fairytale, we walked down the hill into Bakklandet, where the celebration continued at a restaurant in Bakklandet. Afterwards, we took a taxi home and were in bed very late.

Tonight was one of the best evenings we've had in Norway. Tomorrow, the hard work goes on.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Snow

It snowed last night and we had a cold white morning. It's hard to believe that yesterday we had beautiful fall weather and now it's suddenly winter. Walking to work was strange, passing the trees with their red and orange and yellow leaves, with a white crusty pålegg (topping) on everything.

There are still two months of autumn left, supposedly. Hrm. I'm not too happy about this. The apples are still on the trees in my yard.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Gutt

My friend Janet recommended reading "The Boy" by Roald Dahl, her favorite Dahl book. I couldn't find it in our local library branch, but this weekend while Pam and I were helping organize the new school library, I came across a copy.

I brought it with me to Oslo, where I'm speaking at a conference. This morning, I awoke very early and couldn't get to sleep again, so I began reading and now I can't put it down. It's a collection of stories Roald Dahl has written about his childhood, and it's as good as any of his other works. Parts of the stories gives glimpses at events that may have influenced his other books. I'm finding the reading is going very quickly, with no need to translate in my head - another sign that even though it feels like I'm learning Norwegian so very slowly, I am making steady progress.

Thanks Janet!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Another funny translation

Google translate is an endless source of amusement. It's an invaluable tool for me, but it's suggestions must always be scrutinized. Here's a funny one... the main airport in Oslo is Gardermoen airport. Here's how translate.google handles it:
Gardermoen = "jfk"?! I suppose there is some logic there, but be careful booking your airline tickets that way!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

"99 bottles of beer on the wall" = "Fishballs"

The Norwegians have an equivalent version of the classic school bus trip song "99 bottles of beer on the wall". It's called "Fiskeboller", or "Fishballs" (or Fishbuns or Fishnuggets, or something like that). Fiskeboller is a popular Norwegian dish. Here's the first two verses:

Fiskeboller long for the ocean
The ocean is the fishballs' home
This is the 1st verse
Now there are only 99 left...

Fiskeboller long for the ocean
The ocean is the fishballs' home
This is the 2nd verse
Now there are only 98 left...

You can guess how it goes from there.

På norsk:

Fiskeboller lengter etter havet
Havet er fiskebollers hjem
Dette er det 1. verset
Nå er det bare 99 igjen.

Fiskeboller lengter etter havet
Havet er fiskebollers hjem
Dette er det 2. verset
Nå er det bare 98 igjen.

If you need more help with the verses, someone has kindly written out all 100 verses here: http://folk.ntnu.no/amundste/sang.jsp

Enjoy!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Cat adventures

We took care of a young cat this week while the owners were in Germany. The cat is one of Sjokolade's kittens, so it was fun to have him back for a week. The day before they returned, he got out and disappeared. What a nightmare.

We covered the neighborhood with signs and I placed 3 online ads. Norway has a very nice site for lost and found animals, www.dyrebar.no. After entering the info and uploading a picture, you can even print out signs with tear-off tabs. And then the site gives you a hopeful message wishing that all will be well and so on. Very nice.

Still no cat when the family returns. To compound their troubles, they had a second cat they gave to another family to watch, and that cat also escaped and disappeared. At this point, we're feeling pretty low. But three painful days later, we get a call from a family we know in the neighborhood... and the cat is found. What a relief! Their kids were so happy, and we feel a little less as failures.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Teacher is NOT killed

A teacher at the kids' school was involved in an accident yesterday. Coming down a hill on his bicycle, he collided with a car that was coming out of a side street.

Rumors around the school were rampant yesterday, ranging from "He was up and walking around and didn't even want to get in the ambulance" to "Maybe he broke his ankle" to "He got run over dead!" Turns out he suffered a fractured hip and fractured face (ouch!) but will make a full recovery.

I found the article on adressa.no. The headline "Syklist påkjørt på Rosenborg" means "Cyclist hit at Rosenborg". We got a bit of a shock when I hit the "translate" button and let Google-translate do its work - check it out!


BAD TRANSLATION:

No he did not killed. But he probably won't be returning to work for a month. Poor guy!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Orthodontist

At long last, Maggie had her orthodontist appointment today. At the recommendation of her dentist, I put her on the waiting list back in the spring. It took several tries to find an orthodontist that was taking new clients, and then the wait was many months. Unlike dentistry, orthodontic work is not free in Norway. Still, the cost is much less than in the United States, and the fee is based on the family's income.

Maggie was greatly relieved to find out that she won't need a full set of braces. Instead, they will attach rubber bands to her back teeth and attempt to correct her cross-bite in a simple manner.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Those King Haralds... and an math engraving joke

In the Simpson episode where they lampooned Norwegian culture, the bartender Moe was serving up aquavit, "the Norwegian caraway scented liqueur". When the locals complain that they can't get a beer, Moe says he only cares about those "King Haralds"...



Here's a nice edition of one of those "King Haralds": the 2002 edition commemorated Niels Henrik Abel's 200th birthday. The back of the coin features mathematical drawings: a lemniscate figure on the left, and a picture from Abel's notebook.
The engraving copies a row of ink droplets from Abel's fountain pen, which you can see splattered down the center line. Want an inside joke? The engraver modified the second from the bottom ink spot to resemble the island of Finnøy, the place where Abel spent his youth (and 'coincidentally' also home of the governer of the central bank of Norway). Those engravers -- what pranksters! Here's a map so you compare for yourself.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

2 curiosities

From our trip to Sweden. First, this sign outside of our room. Skum? Who you callin' Skum?

And then at the train station shopping center, these buttons on the elevator. If you want to press the button to hold the doors open... which is it? Obviously this is some kind of Swedish brain-twister!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Holiday Club - Åre

The newspaper reported that the 1.oktober was the warmest on record in 78 years. Might we get some payback for the horrible winter last year? We loaded up the Passat and headed east from Trondheim, through amazing fall colors through Meråker, and across the border into Sweden. This western area of Sweden I've heard referred to as the 'black lands', and it's usually appeared to me as a bleak stretch of haunted hollow forest. Today, however, in the sun and the warm fall colors, this landscape is happy and inviting.

We check in early to the Holiday Club, one of my family's favorite destinations. They have a really fun swimming and sauna area that the kids really love. (Okay, I like it too!) Anna is a good swimmer now, so this is the first time we can let all the kids loose, freeing me to sit poolside with a beer and a crossword puzzle.

We eat pizza in town for dinner, do some shopping, swim some more and then play a game and watch TV after the pool closes. The Simpsons was on TV, in English (with Swedish subtitles), and we were surprised to see a Norwegian theme on the episode tonight. A large population of Norwegians moved into Springfield, and all was well at first but...


In the morning we ate the breakfast buffet, swam some more, did some more shopping, and made a visit to the Åre chocolate factory before we came home. The room, swimming, and breakfast buffet cost about 2000 nok ($350), but we saved more than more that on groceries and wine. With gas costs, it probably came out about even, meaning we can do our shopping in Sweden and enjoy a free vacation, as long as we don't mind a 3-hour drive to get there.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Good morning

The sky was a treat this morning. I was late for work watching this from my living room. It was worth it.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Potet ferie, Hytte visning

It's the first day off "potato picking vacation", or "potet ferie". Traditionally, schools would close this week so that kids could help pick potatoes. Nowadays, folks use the week for visiting their hyttes (cabins) during what is probably the final good weather of the year.

We don't have our own hytte, but we went to a showing today for a hytte that is for sale. This one is fairly close, but the final 2 km of road require a 4-wheel drive vehicle (or legs). What a lovely dream cabin this one is, in the forest on a small lake, with a boat house and children's outbuilding. It's nice to dream...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Art Show

My friend Peter Sutton opened an art show today. We drove down to Ranheim in the rain for a very nice and busy opening. Peter is a glass artist, and we have collaborated on a couple projects and have plans to collaborate more. It was wonderful to see four rooms of his works, which mainly feature glass mounted normal to the plane (standing up on edge). The works cast colored shadows and change as you walk past, giving some very special effects.

We saw several other friends and acquaintances, and that made it extra fun. I look forward to being drawn deeper into the art world...



Saturday, October 2, 2010

Downtown Concert

Tonight there was a big family concert downtown. Not only was the concert free, buses tonight were also free. So we joined friends Martin, Elisabeth, and Frøy and bused down to the Torg. The evening was cool but the square was hopping, with 6 or 7 bands playing for 4 hours. One of the events was the first public performance of a tribute to the oil industry, written by many well-known Norwegian composers. The piece featured orchestra, vocalists, and a troup of dancers that were all very good.


To close the show was Kaizer's Orchestra, a very cool band from Stavanger. Afterwards, there was a short fireworks show overhead. Fantastic!

Here's a video of one of Kaizer's Orchestra's most popular songs, "Ompa til du dør", or "Oompa till you die".

Road Trip part 2: Tautra

A very long single-lane bridge connects Frosta to the island of Tautra. There is an automatic gate on the bridge, it's purpose unclear. It would make sense if it were to prevent traffic incidents on the kilometer-long one-lane bridge, but there is no matching gate at the other end. Perhaps it is for security?

This island is a gem. On one end of the island is a bird-watching tower and an active monastery (no tours), and on the other end are 800-year old ruins of a monastery with a restaurant, B&B, and gift shop. We explore the ruins, then hunt around for a trail to take us out to the tip of the peninsula.

It takes us a little time to find a trail, and then we are treated to a magnificent hike with beautiful views of the fjord. Finally, we reach the lighthouse. It is the smallest lighthouse I've ever seen, not much taller than me. From the lighthouse, we climb down the rocks to shore below. The geology is very strange, looking like rocks on the surface of another planet.






We enjoy a picnic lunch and some lightsaber duels in the high winds, and then hike back to the gift shop where we buy some fresh vegetables and some unusual carrot jam. The island is very charming – an overnight stay at the bed and breakfast would make for a marvelous experience. A most excellent day!


Road Trip part 1: Frosta

It's a beautiful fall day so we decide to go for a drive. Many times we've headed east to visit Hegra and Steinvikholmen, and we've always had an option to drive further to Tautra but we've always been too tired to continue the voyage. So today we will drive directly to Tautra, about a 1:20 trip.

First stop on the road trip is a visit to the stone carvings on Frosta, called Helleristninger. The carvings are behind a kindergarten, and we actually have to go through a gate and pass through the playground to reach them. The collection here is much smaller than the carvings at Leirfall, but it's a fine collection featuring many whales.

 


Our favorite carving was the one we called "the monkey". You can see it in the middle of the tracing below (along with whales, elk and lots of boats). The monkey was hard to see in the carvings themselves, having eroded quite a bit. After laughing and having fun with the monkey carving, we read the description on the sign. Rather than being a big-eared monkey, the sign told us it was a man with his arms and legs cut off and an arrow through his neck. Hmm. I like "the monkey" better.