Friday, December 31, 2010

Fireworks and lutefisk

What could be a better end to an amazing holiday season? Two fireworks shows at the start and at the end of a lutefisk dinner. Oh yes!

At 7:00 we watched the children's fireworks show from our window, then we joined friends for Martin and Elisabeth's lutefisk party. Lutefisk, or "lye fish", has been treated by soaking it in lye for 6 days until it becomes a bit jelly-like. It is served with a variety of tilbehør (accompaniments), and our friends had 'em all! Bacon, mustard sauce, lefse, potatoes, mushy peas, brunost, and molasses.

We were excited to try this, as we've heard every foreigner tell us how horrible lutefisk is, and every Norwegian tell us how wonderful lutefisk is. We agree with the Norwegians – it was so very good. Pam and I both had full second servings. I would have eaten a third plateful if my stomach would have allowed, but I've eaten so much this week that I won't need to eat anything the first week of January.

After dinner Elisabeth led us in an interactive story and we all waited up for the midnight fireworks. With the temps just above freezing, we enjoyed standing outside on the porch with a broad view out over the city. Fireworks burst in all directions and we had prime viewing of the main show downtown.

A great end to a great holiday season and a great year! Thank you Martin and Elisabeth! Thank you friends!

7 kinds of cookies


Lutefisk with all kinds of tilbehør

New Year's Play

There is a 15 year tradition in our neighborhood. A family performs a play on New Year's eve, a musical with live band, staging, costumes, lights, special effects. They invite the neighborhood, and we were invited this year as well. The venue was packed -- we recognized and greeted many friends there as we waited for the performance. We were not disappointed! The show was amazing -- funny, exciting and ridiculous. Once again we feel lucky! Thank you neighbors!


 Today will be a big day. Tonight will be altogether special -- we're invited to Martin and Elisabeth's for a big lutefisk feast. I have had only one bit of lutefisk before, and so our friends have volunteered to treat us to the quintessential traditional Norwegian meal tonight. I'm so excited! Report comes soon!

Here's a few excepts gleaned from Wikipedia:

  •  Quote from Garrison Keillor's book Lake Wobegon Days:
Every Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark. I always felt the cold creeps as Advent approached, knowing that this dread delicacy would be put before me and I'd be told, "Just have a little." Eating a little was like vomiting a little, just as bad as a lot.
  • Quote from Garrison Keillor's book Pontoon:
Lutefisk is cod that has been dried in a lye solution. It looks like the desiccated cadavers of squirrels run over by trucks, but after it is soaked and reconstituted and the lye is washed out and it's cooked, it looks more fish-related, though with lutefisk, the window of success is small. It can be tasty, but the statistics aren’t on your side. It is the hereditary delicacy of Swedes and Norwegians who serve it around the holidays, in memory of their ancestors, who ate it because they were poor. Most lutefisk is not edible by normal people. It is reminiscent of the afterbirth of a dog or the world's largest chunk of phlegm.
  • Interview with Jeffrey Steingarten, author of The Man Who Ate Everything (translated quote from a 1999 article in Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet):
Lutefisk is not food, it is a weapon of mass destruction. It is currently the only exception for the man who ate everything. Otherwise, I am fairly liberal, I gladly eat worms and insects, but I draw the line on lutefisk. What is special with lutefisk?
Lutefisk is the Norwegians' attempt at conquering the world. When they discovered that Viking raids didn't give world supremacy, they invented a meal so terrifying, so cruel, that they could scare people to become one's subordinates. And if I'm not terribly wrong, you will be able to do it as well.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Still good

The snow has been coming down, big fluffy flakes. The forecast calls for 5 days of heavy snow, or possibly rain. It's been getting warmer and warmer -- perfect weather for the kids to play outside and build lots of snowpeople. Here's Anna and Maggie with their creations. Maggie made a "Snow-da", a strange jedi master.

In the evening, we had Synnøve and Stig over for dinner and games as we continue to share the holiday good cheer.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


The Jule-trance continues. Hilde and Egil, also in the neighborhood, invited us over for traditional Christmas ribs. In America, we usually eat turkey at Christamas but in Norway the meal is ribs, cooked carefully so that the top layer is crispy. They were so good! Accompanied of course by akvavit (literally "water of life"), the powerful Norwegian liqueur. Another fine evening of food, games, and good company. Thank you Hilde and Egil!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Dancing around the tree

Today's invitation, coming via SMS, had a brief description: Join us for food and dancing around the Christmas tree. I'd expected snacks and socializing, but Peter and Maren had a houseful of guests and a full table of turkey and all kinds of tilbehør. And after eating, we did indeed gather around the Christmas tree for a series of old fashioned songs and dances. It was incredibly fun, and I felt very lucky to be included into these rich Norwegian cultural traditions. Thank you Peter and Maren!

I made many new friends today, and have surely entered what one of them referred to as a "Jule-trance". The unending series of days of good food, good company, and good family time have floated me into a state of blissful fogginess.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Cookie party

Yesterday, Elisabeth and Martin finally coaxed us out of the house. We made the short walk up the hill to their house for coffee and cookies. Norwegian tradition holds that you should have 7 kinds of cookies at Christmas, and Elisabeth kept the tradition. We played games until late, a fun evening. Thank you Elisabeth and Martin!

Today, Kirsten and Roger's invited us for a cookie party, drawing us far out of the house. We enjoyed a lamb stew and dozens of deserts -- yet another fantastic meal. They also had a kransekake, a stack of rings made from powdered almonds. You break pieces off the bottom ring and it slowly gets lowers. The rings are chewy and good. MMmm...

Thanks Kirsten and Roger!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas turkey dinner

The kids let us sleep in until 7:00. Santa was good to us. It was a fun morning playing with our new toys.

Friends Daniel and Evelina have relatives visiting. Evelina prepared a full Christmas dinner and because we have a big dining room, she brought it over to our house and we enjoyed yet another big wonderful meal. Fantastic! Thank you Evelina and Daniel!

For two days I've been inside except for one trip out to the garage. I am beginning to feel very relaxed.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve

We began the day sleeping in. For breakfast, we made a huge pot of risgrøt, a rice porridge made with a lot of milk. Weird stuff, twice as much milk as grain, cooked for a long time until it's thick and yummy. Good with sugar or with salt.

We mixed in an almond. Tradition holds that whoever gets the almond gets a holiday wish. I got the almond. Dinner was a smoked boneless Christmas ham. We opened presents then set out cookies and milk for Santa and broccoli for the reindeer. In the morning, Julenissen comes!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Solstice Walk

In Norwegian, they call today solverv, or "sun turning". A good name.

Today was special, starting with a rare lunar eclipse.

Then my department and our sister departments had a jul lunch with beautiful foods and entertainment.

Afterwards I hurried home to catch the last glimmers of light for our annual family solstice walk. We walked up to the top of the cliff we live next to where a small park lies. The view was fantastic, looking down on low clouds over the fjord and the full moon hanging huge and golden, low in the dark afternoon sky.

Back home, we lit a fire in the fireplace and ate a beautiful meal. The holiday begins.

Lunar eclipse, winter solstice

We had a front-row seat to the lunar eclipse this morning. It happened at around 8:00 am this morning here in Norway (sunrise isn't until 10:00) and we had a fine view from our living room as the moon dwindled away to nothing. Magical! The next time there will be a lunar eclipse on the winter solstice isn't until 2094.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

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 Danish. It's catchy in any case! Enjoy, and God Jul.

Mysterious lights

The newspaper lit up with stories of mysterious fireballs seen at Friday at 9:00 in the morning, floating slowly through the dark morning sky across the fjord. UFOs or other mysterious "light phenomena", the newspaper got a lot of phone calls, pictures, and video that people sent in.

The mystery was later solved. It was part of a Thai festival of lanterns being celebrated at the international school.

Here's a video on the newspaper site. You'll see Maggie is right in the middle of it! (It looks like night, but it's mid-morning).

Friday, December 17, 2010

Sledding train

Seen on a hill at the international school. They got going fast, crashing and laughing at the bottom.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Something horrible

Good random pic. Peter with the 3d pin art board. Ekkelt (yucky)!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pam get's her license

Pam passed her driver's test today. Arranging it was much more difficult than it should have been. The mistake was using a not very good traffikskole that will remain nameless here (Byens Traffikskole. In Lade.) The people were nice, but they didn't have it together.

After about 14 months in Norway, you must get your driver's license switched. If you don't do so during that time period, then you must enroll in a complete course, which is very expensive. So, we were working against a deadline, and we needed to arrange things through a driving school. They arrange with the state for an official test.

First the school arranged a testing date and never contacted us. A couple weeks later when I inquired, they said they had tried to call many times and finally gave the time away to someone else. There were of course no messages on my phone or any indication they had tried. Next they found a date that Pam was out of town. I told them thank you but it couldn't be during the period from x to y. A week later they arranged a new date, during the same period. I had to cancel that at well. Then I called the next week. No date yet. And the next week. No date yet. I waited 2 weeks then called again. "Oh! Did you want us to keep trying? It's very unlikely we can get a testing time before your deadline." I wrote a long and not very happy letter to them. This seemed to work. A few days later, they had miraculously found a time after all.

So today, Pam got her Norwegian driver's license. It is valid until she is 100 years old. I'm also told that Norway is the second most difficult country in the world in which to get a driver's license, after Sweden.

Yay Pam!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Jule Tree

Massive amounts of snow, big fluffy snow. It's been quite wonderful. Tonight we headed out to get our Christmas tree, or Juletre as they say here. We went to a local garden/nursery, and they were ready for us with an outdoor fire, lots of festive lights, and a smultring (donut) stand selling donuts fresh out of the grease. Mmmmm...

We found ourselves a funny little tree and brought it home for decorating. I won't be able to tell my Norwegian friends what we've done – bringing your tree inside before 23.December is a serious violation of Norwegian Christmas customs.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Snow dream

The snow has been coming down down down, big fluffy flakes, all night and all day. With little wind and the temperature just at freezing, it's been a kids' dream. Yesterday, we had about 10 kids over playing in the yard, the boys were building forts and emergency escape luge tracks while the girls played some complicated game involving whispering secret plans and then hurling their bodies down the hill. I went outside to get a couple of pictures and ended up joining them for a couple of hours. It's been a while since I built a good snow fort.

Today, the snow continues and the kids are peering outside with anticipation.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


We were watching TV the other night and the characters were talking about pig latin (Ouyay ememberray igpay atinlay, esyay?). One of them used the code language and then explained the rules to another. What was curious was that the characters were speaking English and the Norwegian subtitles underneath were something entirely different... a description of a system called "Røverspråk" ("robber language"). We paused the show to read the rules. Poking around the web, we found several variants. Here's what seems to be the most popular version:

Røverspråket (Rorøvoverorsospoproråkoketot) er et kodespråk som fremfor alt brukes av barn. Regelen for røverspråket er at man etter hver konsonant legger til bokstaven «o» og den samme konsonanten igjen. En setning som «Jeg heter Eivind» blir dermed «Joj-e-gog hoh-e-tot-e-ror Ei-vov-i-non-dod». Språket er enkelt å snakke, men vanskeligere å forstå. Astrid Lindgrens romaner om mesterdetektiven Kalle Blomkvist gjorde røverspråket populært.

In English: after every consonant sound, add an "o" and repeat the consonant sound. "Beware the Jabberwock, my son" becomes "Bobwowarore thothe Jojaboberorwowokok, momy sosonon"  (or possibly "Bobesosarore tothohe Jojabobboberorsosocockok, momy sonon" if you're working with written letters and not consonant sounds).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Oslo Scenes: Nobel Prize and Vigeland Park

Here's a cool neon mural outside of Oslo S train station.

The Nobel Peace Prize celebrations begin tomorrow, so the city is gearing up. Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese dissident who won the prize this year, won't be here. He's busy in prison. So is his wife just for being married to him, and lots of other people too. The prize is bringing lots of attention to the Chinese government this year, and that can only be good, even if China has retaliated against the prize by refusing to sell fish food to Norway. (They want to starve Norway's fish – how mean!) The hotels are full (my hotel even called me to see if I was still planning to come), I saw a demonstration, and this interesting display outside of the Nobel Peace Center. The 'S' in 'SLAUGHTER' flickers on an off, causing a strange dissonance.

After my meeting on Wednesday on the University of Oslo campus, I walked to Vigeland park, home of jillions of naked statues. The walk was a lot longer than it looked on the map, and the temperatures were very low in Olso, much colder than Trondheim right now. It was fun to see the statues covered with snow. They looked so cold. Next time I'll bring an extra sweater to share. Here's pictures of (1) my favorite statue: angry man being attacked by babies, (2) the central monolith, a column of bodies, (3) some other chilly statues.


Meeting Knut Nærum

Tuesday was the office's Christmas workshop, with gløgg, pepperkake, and a very cool project making an electronic blinking Christmas tree ornament. I have time for gløgg and cookies, but I need to race to the airport to get to Oslo. I have two meetings in two days, and get there just in time for dinner.

I meet a group of friends and colleagues at Plah restaurant for an amazing 8-course Thai dinner. Wow!

At the next table is sitting Knut Nærum, a famous tv comedian and host of Nytt på nytt – he's Norway's version of Jay Leno if you will. Near the end of dinner I approach him with my camera and say 'excuse me.' He looks up at me with a tired look, anticipating that I will ask to take his picture. Instead I ask "Would you mind taking a picture of me and my friends?" He was happy to oblige.

So here's the photo, taken by photographer Knut Nærum. Sorry I didn't get a picture of him. I imagine it's easy to find one on the internet if you like.

Like summer

Temperature climbed to –5°C today. It feels like summer!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Boys' weekend

After a very busy week, it was nice to hop on a train and join a group of friends in Oppdal for the weekend. I joined the group a day late, but it was a very good overnight visit to a hytte in a beautiful part of Norway. We ate a fantastic meal, went for a hike, and played cards and guitar until well into the night. And there were no girls allowed.

Then, back home on Saturday, where soon (not quite yet) things will be back to normal.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Math conference day 3

Drønning Maud College has a very beautiful main building. Norwegians have a special talent for building glass atria in spaces between buildings, making indoor spaces with an outdoor feel. It's refreshing to walk into this building, and on this morning I was feeling extra-refreshed because I knew I could finally relax on this day and enjoy learning from others. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh!

First we learned about the making of Kosinus, a children's math television program. I've been working a little bit reviewing their programs and making suggestions, and last night at dinner I spent quite a bit of time with the producer and also with Solveig, the star of the show.

Then Tessa Livingston, producer of the BBC program "Child of Our Time", presented clips from the program. It is following the lives of 23 children from pre-birth to age 20, and it is now in its tenth year. The clips were fascinating. Tessa herself is a wonderful person and I've enjoyed getting to know her as well over these last few days.

My friend Janet did an exceptional job with her plenary session and later with a workshop. Here we are making "shadow trolls" on light-sensitive paper, one of the many activities we did in her shadow workshop. It's been a real treat having Janet here this week, and everyone was very pleased with her sessions.

Afterwards it was time to say goodbye to my friends, old and new, as they headed back to the airport. This has been an amazing week!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Math conference day 2

The math conference was a big success. I gave a workshop on day 1 and the closing plenary session on day 2. After the session, I had only one hour to get from NTNU to another college for the start of another conference.

Our center worked with Drønning Mauds Minne høgskole (Queen Maud's Memorial College) to host our first kindergarten math conference. In attendance were 90 barnehage (kindergarten) teachers, a large number. Remember that Norway has 1/67th the population of the U.S., so this is the equivalent of about 6000 teachers, proportionally.

We began with a workshop where we combined song, drama, and themed lessons with simple equipment. I took the role of a clown for my part of the drama section, and later explored many activities using balloons. The 3-hour workshop was incredibly fun, and we did some very solid pedagogy as well.

In the evening, we attended a dinner at Tregården restaurant, where I did a bit of entertaining, including some juggling and a mathematical magic "skit".

This week I've been in a play, given two workshops and a plenary session, performed for dinner entertainment, and enjoyed my role as host for several important guests. I headed home that evening finding it hard to believe that my responsibilities for the week were at an end.


I had a bad surprise leaving the conference yesterday. My license plates were missing, replaced with a letter informing me the car was de-registered and I must contact the vehicle office. I could not imagine worse timing for this, with international guests to pick up from the hotel in the morning and the next two days full with conference activities. It necessitated making alternate travel plans for my guests and missing the first session of the conference to straighten things out at the vehicle office.

It turns out that my insurance company sent the wrong person-number to the registry last year when I bought the car, so the government thought I'd been driving without insurance for a year. They sent me a letter last year, but the folk-registry had the wrong address (a street number of 1 instead of 21) and so we never got the notice. Two separate typographical errors combined to cause trouble.

It didn't take long to straighten out, but it was a bad surprise at the very worst time. Sometimes even when you do everything right, things still go wrong!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Math conference day 1

Wednesday was the start of our national math conference. 300 math teachers from across Norway (plus a few from Sweden and Denmark) converged on Trondheim for the 2-day event. Also in attendance were my friends Janet from back in the U.S. and John Mason from England.

Highlights of the conference included a math/music session called "Heavy Med Tall" (heavy with number) with is pronounced in Norwegian "Heavy Me-tal". Cool name. Even cooler music. The duo Truls Lorentzen og Vigdis Sjelmo draws inspiration from mathematical themes, and working with Nils Kr. Røssing, a colleague of mine, they put together a 45 stage show that wowwed us all!

Another highlight for me was the play that the staff of the Mathematics Center put together. It was the first play I've been in that is in Norwegian. I was a know-it-all sounding electrician with some very verbose lines to remember. I was pleased to have remembered them all.

Here's a couple of pictures from one of John Mason's talks. John is a very well-known math educator and philosopher, author of some 40 books. He showed us "diamond multiplication", a 400-year old method of multiplying. I invite you to study the picture to see if you can figure out how it works, then try it yourself! It's very satisfying.