Thursday, November 29, 2012

November conference

It was a busy two days with the November Confernce, the Math Center's annual national math teach conference. The conference opened with a performance from Pirum, a student singing group. They dress in britches and suspenders, jackets and caps and personalized buttons and ties and other tilbehør. The sing fun songs with lots of acting bits during the singing. They are very funny and a joy to watch. Here's their website:

A highlight of the conference was the talk by Thomas Nordahl from the Center for Praksis Research at the University of Hedmark, especially the factors that have proven effect on learning and those that have no effect. You can find the presentation at Math Center's website. It's in Norwegian.

A great quote from his talk:
Ikke spør om du leder. Det gjør du. Ikke spør om du vil gjøre en forskjell. Det vil du. Spørsmålet er: Hvilken type leder vil du være og hvilke forskjell vil du gjøre?
 Don't ask if you lead. You do. Don't ask if you make a difference. You will. The question is: What kind of leader will you be and what difference will you make?
It was a terrific two days. I met a lot of old friends and made many new friends. There was a lot of work leading up to the conference, and it feels great that we've pulled it off.

Friday, November 23, 2012


Maggie has been visiting different videragående skoler (high schools) this week. After 10th grade, pupils in Norway apply to high schools, each with a different focus, perhaps science, art, music, dance, aquaculture, video, farming, etc. The programs are competitive and run for 3 years, 11th-13th grade. Some 95% of children in Norway attend VGS, and about 2/3 of those graduate.

She is most interested in the International Baccalaureate program at Katedral Skole in downtown Trondheim. It is the most academically intensive program and the only program offered in English. A diploma from this school would pretty much guarantee her a place in any university in Europe. She is also interested in the forestry or the large animal programs, but those schools are outside of town and she would live in a dormitory.

The past two days she's spent shadowing a class at Katedral Skole and really likes the environment there. The pupils call the school "Hogwarts". She'll need to get straight A's this year if she wants in, though she thinks she'd be just as happy though out in nature. I think she's really a Norwegian at heart.

Thursday, November 22, 2012


We began cooking Wednesday night. On Thursday, Pam and I both came home at lunch from work to finish preparations. Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie, cream cheese jello, salad, mmmm... We had 3 families over to celebrate with us.

Thanksgiving, I explained to our guests, has its roots in the idea that newcomers to America would have died without help from the natives, and so this feast was to celebrate how thankful they were for their help. Likewise, we would have died coming to Norway without the help of the natives, and so now we celebrate how thankful we are for our friendships. (Peter wanted to add that the newcomers later killed off many of the natives.)

After dinner, what else? American football! Since we couldn't get a live game, we watched the 2000 game between the Jets and Dolphins, which was rated one of the top 5 most exciting NFL games. With the Jets way way behind at halftime it looked like not a very interesting game. Somehow, we sensed a comeback on its way. It was hilarious explaining the rules to our Norwegian friends, and trying to explain what constitutes a fair catch and what it means when a knee is touching the ground etc etc etc. They were quite insistent that our game of "football" involved almost no "feet" and certainly no "ball"!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

How long is 10 feet?

Anna (9) asked me last night, "How long is 10 feet?"

"3 meters," I answered.

"Oh. OK!"

I found that entire exchange shocking and delightful! My daughter doesn't know what a 'foot' is, but once related to meters she understands. We're definitely becoming European!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Insect class at Remida

Anna and Peter are taking a free course at Remida, the recycled material art center in Svartlamoen. It's being taught by our friend Dolores, and the kids are making a variety of insects. Tonight I came with them to help out and Dolores told me I should make my own insect ... I was so happy!

Peter paints his cheetah-scorpion
Anna works on her bug

Remida is filled with buckets of exciting waste materials
My creation

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Losing words

Norwegian is creeping into my English, more and more. For a long time I've been saying, "I'll ring you later" which is technically good English, but not a phrase I would have ever used before. It would have been "I'll call you later." A few days ago I said "I need to hent the kids" instead of "fetch the kids" and just now, looking for some lost papers, I suggested "we should seek in the paper recycling." I reported to Pam that "there were 15 pieces there" instead of "15 people" (you might say "15 stykker" in Norwegian which translates directly as "15 pieces" but refers to people). I don't know how many times I've told people I'm "opptatt" instead of "busy". Yep, I'm slowly getting better and better at Norwegian, and verre and verre at English.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Saturday, November 10, 2012

Lego League, and perceptions of "cold"

The local championship competetion for the Scandanavia Lego League was held today on NTNU campus. Dozens of groups of school children came to build and program robots to complete various tasks and accumulate points according to their performance. The Math Center hosts a stand during this event. Along with other organizations we provide activities for the kids to do during their down time, of which there is plenty.

Anna joined me in setting up an area where kids could build things with the sticks we made for Forskningsdagene last month. For four hours we built structures and played. It was loud and busy but fun.

I had lamented to a colleague that the forecast today called for 7°C weather and I would thus be missing one of the few warm days left in the year. I checked the forecast for Sunday and it was to be 5°C. That's okay, I commented, Sunday will be warm too. She smiled and shook her head and told me that my idea of what a warm day is has certainly changed over the past few years. I guess it has. 7°? That's practically summer!

"Bare bygg!" ("Just build!") was my only rule for the day
The competition arena

Friday, November 9, 2012

Math of Vegetables on TV

I was on TV last night, talking about the mathematics of vegetables on a popular science show called Schrödingers Katt. It airs on NRK, the national broadcasting service. We filmed in September and they had a pretty quick turnaround on production.

Here's the link if you'd like to see, it links directly to my segment. They also show me juggling throughout the closing credits, so watch the ending too!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Remida bugs – last class

The kids and I finished up our bugs, ready for the showing on Saturday.

House sold in USA

We've had our house in Washington on the market for 15 months. The housing market has been very bad this last year and the economy has been down, down, down. In all that time we had only 3 offers.  If you've visited us in Washington you know it's a very cool property: a 2100 sq.ft. house on 1.16 acres with a detached 2-car garage, art studio, guest house, chicken coop, hot tub, outdoor fireplace, pond with artificial waterfall, as well as plum, pear, apple and cherry trees. It was the winner of a newspaper garden make-over contest, it's across the street from a river, surrounded by farms, and yet just one mile from downtown Ferndale and the riverwalk. We bought it for relatively little nine years ago and I was certain that in 20 years it would be worth half a million dollars. Last year it had a healthy value which plummeted in the bad market. We ended up selling it for $50,000 less than what we could had gotten had we sold it in early 2011. Ouch.

Selling the house while living in Norway wasn't an easy thing. It started with a good team of real estate agents, Bob and Linda Stull from RE-Max in Bellingham. They took care of all of the details, arranging lawn care, cleaning, fixing things that went wrong over such a long time. I was glad to have competent and reliable folks taking care of business for me. There was a constant maintenance cost I was paying along with the monthly mortgage payments (we'd had renters before but had a very bad experience with our last renters, so decided not to rent it while it was on the market). Bob and Linda's services, though, were all part of the commission they would receive – they got no extra pay for all their extra hours. I bet they didn't expect it would be this much work, but they never once complained!

We could handle most of the transactions over email. It was easy to set up my credit union account in Washington to mail checks to various people for various things. The craziest part was during the final offer when we was receiving offer and counter-offer documents while our family was in a cabin in the woods for fall break, up in northern Norway. I had to tether my laptop to my cell phone to download the documents, and then use Photoshop to digitally insert our signatures into the pdf files and email them back it again. It worked.

The final paperwork to the title company had to be original signed documents. We received them last week Wednesday via email and printed them out. They asked if we could overnight them. Ummm... you can't really overnight a letter from Norway to the US (well, I imagine you find a courier to fly overseas and hand deliver them). One company offers two-day delivery for $230. The post office has an express service that would get the envelope there in 4 working days for $100. Or their regular service would deliver in 4-7 working days for $13. I mailed it using regular service, crossing my fingers that it didn't get lost. It mailed Thursday morning and it got there on Tuesday (4 working days), the record time we've ever sent or received a package from Norway, and at the same cost as the express service.

The sale was completed today. We have many mixed feelings about this. Of course it a relief – the house was a constant financial drain and we were quickly running out of money. It was also a constant worry: things broke, it got broken into and someone broke a door and stole the washing machine, a light fixture disappeared at some point, the garage was broken into and that door damaged, etc. But it was a property we loved, and it was a strong tie to the United States, to the place where our friends live, our place we could always come back to. So there is sadness and a sense of loss as well. Still, Bellingham is one of our top choices if we decide to move back to the U.S., and I'm sure we could find a place we would love just as much.

It was a long wait, but we did it. Hats-off to our real estate agents, Bob and Linda! They were great agents and wonderful people as well. Need a real estate agent in Whatcom county? Find them at

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Anna injured

Anna fell off of Peter's bed Monday and banged her heel pretty hard on the wood floor. She's been on crutches ever since. Pam took her to get an xray because she was hurting so much. Result is no cracked bone, but a deep bruise. She may be on crutches for several weeks. She's enjoying the attention and hating the pain.

Stakkars Anna!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election day, USA

Lots of friends have been asking us about the election. Who are we voting for? Did we vote yet? Are we having an election party? It's funny how the world (Norway at least) is paying very close attention to this election – it affects everyone.

We sent our votes in a month ago. Democrats Abroad is one organization that helps US citizens living abroad figure out how to register and submit their votes. A friend sent our name to the newspaper as a family that might be holding an election party, but we had to tell them 'no'. It's 11 pm in Norway now and the first polls don't start closing for an hour yet in the U.S., and then it will take time to get the results. I'm going to miss watching the big map on TV as the score rings up for each candidate.

Instead, we'll just have to check the winner when we get up tomorrow. Not quite as exciting.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Mosquitos på Rampa

Pam and I went with a group to see one of our friends play with his band. The venue was at Café Rampa in Hommelvik. We arrived about 9:30 pm, paid the 150 kr cover and settled in at a reserved table and ordered our drinks and a pizza.

We loved the atmosphere of this cafe. We ordered a pizza which was exceptionally good. Apparently this place was visited by Norway's version of Gordon Ramsay and he organized their kitchen and menus, and now the food is great.

The band came on 10:00. They were very good and very fun! I knew Robert was a good guitarist, but I'd never heard him solo on electric before, and he was sublime. He also sang lead on several songs. The band played a big variety, from rock to country, Beatles, Eagles and Beach Boys, floor stomping high-energy and soft slow dance songs. We danced and danced and danced with a progressively wilder crowd. They ended with The Final Countdown, a welcome blast from the 80s.

It was a late night and a great experience. A good day today.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Musings on a car fixit day

Lørdag! That's the Norwegian word for Saturday and it literally means "cleaning day" in Norwegian. We started the day with a whole-family cleaning session and it felt great. This is a Norwegian tradition I could easily get hooked on.

After cleaning it was time to get to work on the car. On the first day of icy roads last week, our red car had a very long slide and a very slow-speed collision with a signpost. It's amazing the damage from such a light impact. It broke the headlight and dinged the bumper and readjusted the hood, grill and fender 1-2 cm each, enough to put everything out of whack.

Trondheim Bil Demontering
So, the headlight from the dealer would cost 2600 kr., or about $500. If they made it anymore. Our car is 25 years old, so no go. Instead I went online and searched junkyard databases. I am quite impressed with the part inventories available, many with pictures. They had the part at Trondheim Bil Demontering (Trondheim Car Dismantling), which isn't actually in Trondheim but south in Melhus. It lies in an industrial area with a breathtaking sheer cliff backdrop. A really lovely view.

The drive out took me through a construction zone. There are construction zones everywhere. Two years ago Trondheim received a ton of money in what was called an "Environment Pack" to pay highway, tunnel and bicycle routes within and around Trondheim. They've been digging a tunnel under our house, they've been widening the freeway, they've set in bike lanes and bridges, and it's generally looked like an awful mess everywhere. However progress is going very quickly and when it's all done in 2014, it's going to be very nice and very easy to get places. So, there is hope.

Tempe Dekkservice
I got the part for about $85 and they threw in a plastic knob I needed for the back seat. I left feeling happy that I had learned a new process – car part hunting in Norway. On the way back I stopped by the tire dealership, Tempe Dekkservice. Yesterday I dropped off two rims with summer tires so they can swap my studded tires on the rims. It feels good to be getting ready for winter. With the recent warm weather, the snow is melting but it will back soon enough I'm sure. I like the waiting room at Tempe Dekk, they have a coffee machine and two massaging recliners. The prices there are quite reasonable too.

At home I banged away at the car, happy to be working outside on this gorgeous afternoon. I had some trouble getting the old light out and the new light in – the shape of the opening changed in the impact and nothing fits right. But with a hammer and a hacksaw, a little creativity and a lot of perseverance, the light is fixed and the car is legal again... if a little bit wonky.

Headlight removed, new light going in

Friday, November 2, 2012

Warm again

The temperature went up to 6°C yesterday, the snow melted, and positive temps are forecast all through the next week. Mini-winter is over!