Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

Today was very likely the last day of my Norwegian-teaching career, for two reasons. Number one: upon reaching lesson 5 I realized that we were moving from a teacher-student dynamic to a learning-together dynamic. This is only natural, seeing as my Norwegian skills are surpassed by the tiny children all around me, aka are crap. Number two, as of next week there probably won’t be anyone left to teach. So on this last day, with 10 students instead of the normal 20, 30, 40, we had kind of an open lesson. Kind of an ‘ask what you want to know’ lesson. I was tired because I’m always tired, and worried I was teaching the wrong thing. Worried the grammar was wrong, worried about these faces in front of me, worried about their worry. So I drew faces on the board and wrote the corresponding emotions (how do you draw hungry?), we reviewed Norwegian greetings and replies. How to say “I love you,” and which version to use when. The women practice across the aisles.

“Teacher, I love you.”

 I did it on purpose, you know? Brought up emotions. In Norway if someone asks you how you are, you say you are fine. That everything is great.

Things are not great for the people sitting in the room with me. The hotell-turned refugee camp was always just temporary. Temporary in this case was 4 months, and co-residents became family. This week the family breaks up. In my mind’s eye they are ice floe fragments, jagged edged islands being slowly swept away.

“I cried when they left, Teacher. They are like my brothers.”

Maybe the good times are reminiscent of summer camp: strangers sharing late nights, bad food, gathering outside to smoke. A camp with the shadow of fear of being deported back to death and destruction hanging over you. I started coming one hour a week — just one hour — to teach beginner Norwegian. Stumbling over vowels I can’t pronounce myself, pretend confidence covering a multitude of errors. The first lesson we learned, “My name is…, I am from… , I speak ….”

In our last lesson, days after learning they were all going to have to leave Steinkjer for a new holding arena, they asked me how to say “lie” in Norwegian.  I looked it up because I didn’t want to be wrong. How do you say “hate” in Norwegian? a young woman asks. She puts together the words: “I hate snow” from her corner of the room, looking out the window with disdain.

What do you hate, Teacher?

I can’t answer. I shouldn’t answer. It’s not about me.

From the another corner, using vocabulary learned minutes earlier:

”I hate lies.”


We decide class is over when attention starts to fade. “Teacher, how do you say ‘go away‘ and ‘wait‘ in Norwegian? How do you say ‘I don’t want to leave?‘ ” asks a young man who hasn’t joined us before today, pen and paper in hand. He is clearly gathering ammunition. Getting ready for parting cries in the native tongue.

I tell them what they want to know. Grown ups are allowed to express their emotions. I don’t know how to tell them that if they stay in Norway, if they stay in Oslo where they’re headed now, it might be for the best. It might be easier than trying to make a life in this cold town in the middle of Norway in the long run. If they are sent out of the country, with husbands and children and fading futures, I can not help them with the words they’ll need then.

I can’t tell them that seeing the bravery of the Iranian and Syrian and Pakistani Christians filling in pews of the local congregation helped me to be brave there, too. That seeing people who wanted to be seen was soul-balm for me. That that one hour a week with those mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, who sat diligently writing and repeating words, struggling to verbalize their identities in a completely foreign language — it recharged me. It gave me enough energy to get through the rest of the day, maybe the next two, alert and strong and grateful.

I want to tell them that I love them, too, and that I’m sorry. I hope they know. I wish I had power or influence or even just more money. Sometimes love isn’t quite enough.

for nadia, rasha, hannah, mary, og mai



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(Catie Michaelson, this is for you! I DID remember to do part two 🙂 

(Also, for everyone else, this is waay too long and not interesting so just skip it)

Where did we leave off? April? Which brings us to

May: Oi oi oi. May was a big one. I was just cruising through the ”draft” folder and found this:

I am so tired.

I am so tired that even before typing those words — just thinking them — i had to get up and refill my coffee. The coffee pot that I almost filled up yesterday morning, before I remembered that I’d be the only one drinking it. These guys have been living with and helping me manage our day-to-day chaos for the past 2 weeks, and just left yesterday morning. They arrived the day after we got back from a taste of summer and a 60th birthday festival in the south with these guys, and this guy has been travelling for basically the past two weeks.

And life goes on in the meantime. Swimming lessons, track practice, library books, school meetings. Finding lost papers, paying forgotten bills. Putting up the ladder for the chimney sweep who just had to come now.

I think I was meaning to insert pictures of Mom, Dad and Chris, Ivar and Lil Torunn; and Bjørn, respectively, after each mention of ”guys.”

It’s all coming back to me — We flew to Kristiansand and drove to Arendal for Ivar’s 60th birthday celebration, which was to be a mega party of several days. I don’t think we’d flown anywhere since the previous fall, when Emil Birk hitch-hiked back from the zoo. So, please, imagine our surprise when ALL OF THE TRAVEL WENT INCREDIBLY SMOOTHLY.  Not a single horror story to relate. And we ate and drank and celebrated 60 years of Ivar in the warmth of the southern coast.

We drove home from the airport after Arendal, and then drove back the next day to pick up our American grandparents and Uncle. They fit right in to our routine like they live next door. Bjørn was gone for 8 of the days they were here, and I was extremely grateful for the back up. It’s not fair to travel all the way to Norway just to babysit, though, so we took one long weekend and drove our Wisconsinites, who had just survived a winter of polar vortexes, back into the snow through the mountains to Røros. One UNESCO World Heritage Site and one Eurovision Song Contest in one weekend? Pretty sure that checked ”Cultural Experiences” off the to-do list.

It can’t be said enough how grateful the five of us are to have family that is willing to travel to come see us. A very belated thank you for a very lovely visit.

June: June, june, what happened in June? YES — the first showing of our house. Can I just say how weird it is to have your house be so clean and empty that it echoes? Part of me was proud, and part of me rolled my eyes. I’d spent seriously years trying to banish the echoiness of that house. Anyway, we took Karel to track practice, ate pizza in the park afterwards, and kept waiting to hear from the realtor. No one came, friends. No one came to witness the beauty and echoiness of Solvangvegen 17. Anyway, that’s all I really remeber about June.

Wait! My little brother asked his beautiful girlfriend to marry him in June! Hearing the words ”and I asked her to marry me” come out of his mouth caused my heart and gut to react in exactly the same way they did watching our last baby take his first steps. Thank you, thank you, thank you to Jessie for saying ”yes” to Jon and all of us.

July: Another snippet of forsaken blogpost:

Summer 2014: It was hot. We develop a routine — one day at the beach, one day at home. We counted that we visited seven (or was it eight) different beaches, most more than once. Cai Ruben learned to walk at the beach — on the sand, on the rocks, in the water. He discovered splashing and sitting and throwing rocks in the water. He used the inflatable swimming ring as  walker and cruised along the waterline.

We really did spend July in the water. As in, I actually went into the water. We hoped we’d be moving in July, so we didn’t make any travel plans. And we couldn’t have found better summer weather anywhere else. The boys were naked all. the time. I’d get them dressed, send them out to play, look out the window and their pants would be gone. But can you believe there are so many beaches around here? Long sandy, shallow beaches where you can wade fifty meters out and have water still be below your knees. PERFECT for children of a slightly water-phobic mom.

AND we had guests! My highschool classmate Katie and her husband Tim just happened to be in Sweden, and decided that it wasn’t too far out of the way to come and see us! It was a real blessing to reconnect after so many years. Katie and Tim’s visit had a lasting effect — Emil Birk, who until that point had refused to speak English to anyone (despite his perfect comprehension), suddenly just started explaining things to our guests. In English. We were quietly elated.

Oh! AND after three more showings, our house sold! Cue simultaneous feelings of freedom and slight anxiety. Now we can move! But where??

August: Right, so, since we needed to find someplace to move TO, the primary activity of August was househunting, and getting ready for Karel to start school at the end of the month. By the grace of God, both objectives were met with more success than we had hoped for. We found a house that we thought was out of our league — twice as big, good condition, stunning view, walking distance from school, apples trees in the back yard! — and put in our best offer. Turns out it was the only offer, which meant our best was good enough. Even now, 6 months later, we’re still in a little big of shock. Our bid was accepted the week before school started, and transferring Karel’s information from one school district to the new one could not have been easier.

So then there was that — our first born starting first grade. He was excited, and nervous, and brave and started in his new school without a second glance back. But just how he got big enough to start school I still do not understand.

Upping the tempo a bit here now, because this is NOT going to go to a part 3.

September: Bank meetings, paper signing, walkthroughs, PACKING PACKING PACKING, calling on friends shamelessly to move heavy objects from one side of town to the other on repeated days. Moving in the middle of the week for reasons that we questioned in the midst of the process. We started to paint and plaster at the new place with the dream of finishing before we moved in. Bjørn travelled to Italy, I got sick, Bjørn travelled somewhere else, I became a bit of mess… but one way or another we got all of our stuff in and were waking up to the view of the fjord by the end of the month.

September brought some bumps in the road for Karel during school, as we set down that path of learning some of life’s hard lessons. September also brought us a 4 year old, and saw a one year old who could barely walk start to hop. With both feet. Off the ground.

Heaven help me.

October: As of October 1st, we turned over the keys (and consequently the mortgage) of Sølvangvegen 17. Super great to be back down to having only one house to clean. We spent October getting organized, I think. Or at least settled. We made applesauce and apple pie from apples from our very own apple trees. We discovered that there is a small woods adjacent to our lot, so while we no longer run through the woods to get to barnehage, we can at least play in one when we’re home.

November: I think November was pretty calm, too. We worked on getting into our new routines with school. Bjørn was travelling a bit more again, and things were a bit tense at times with trying to help a first grader with way too much homework while willing the two smaller ones to not harm each other. But we made it. I started looking into what it would take to be a doula in Norway, and had a lovely and informative meeting with one of the two doulas in our section of Norway. We celebrated Thanksgiving with the local North American crew, which had everything it should have: turkey, stuffing, potatoes, pies, wine, friends, family, running kids, and as if that wasn’t enough, for one reason or another we all started singing from ”The Sound of Music” … and the day was perfect.

December: December brought us to our first Christmas in our own house, and all that came with it. Gingerbread, decorating, meal planning. Bjørn had arranged for Ann Inger to take ALL THREE BOYS for a night in the beginning of December (honestly, I had nothing to do with it) so we were able to start out the holiday season with clear heads and child-free shopping. This year felt much more relaxed than other years, and I wonder if that early night out had something to do with it. On that little trip I also bought a new dress. It is wool. A wool dress. And it is the most comfortable and warmest thing I have ever had on ever so I think — I think — I have jumped up another step on the assimilation ladder.

December isn’t december without a little bit of drama — ours came in the form of urgent care visits for a cat bite (Cai Ruben); a sudden overwhelming sulfer-y smell in the house on the afternoon of Christmas Eve (I was desperately forming evacuation plans in my head); and a little conversion mix-up which led me to accidentally buy a 20 pound turkey (instead of say, 8) to feed 5 adults and 3 children on Christmas Day. Needless to say, everything ended up juuuuust fine.

So there we have it. Seven — no, eight months recounting the random blessedness of our little lives. The Lord continues to shine His face upon us… and keep us warm.


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I’m tired, my back hurts, the baby is so low I can’t bend over (which is annoying as 87% of my life is picking things up off the floor or dressing people shorter than me)…

… so it seems reasonable (if boring) that I’m becoming well acquainted with the evening t.v. schedule. What is possibly less than reasonable is the acute (over-?) reactions I’m finding I have to commercials.


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Oh, friends.

Do you know what I’d be thankful for this year?

Some consistency in maintaining perspective.

Because then I’d maybe really be able to write a ”What I’m Thankful For” post like I have the last couple of years and feel it was actually truthful.

As it stands now, I haven’t been very thankful in 2012. Probably because I have too much time on my hands to think about the things I wish I could be doing or the people I wish I could be helping but not quite enought time/energy/gumption to DO anything. Or because I like to blame people/things for that lack of time/energy/gumption. Things like cultures and inconsistent hours of daylight. People like those who make up said cultures, and occasionally my innocent husband. (I really do try to steer away from that one, albeit with varying degrees of success.)

But let’s give it a go anyway.

1) I am thankful for my (usually innocent) husband. I just composed a paragraph in my head as follow-up to that statement, but for the sake of maintaining some  sense privacy on the world wide web, just trust me when I say I’m right to be thankful for this.

2) I am thankful for my children, who can make me laugh and cry, turn me into my best possible self and my worst possible self, all within the span of a day…or a few minutes. I am thankful for the ages they are at — that Emilian is in that early 2-year stage where he takes pride in putting things in their place and following instructions, and that Karel is in that 4-year stage that makes me close my eyes and pray for patience more than ever.

3) I am thankful for books on parenting/kids, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics ”The Complete and Authoritative Guide: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child.” One day not long ago I was so thankful for this passage: ”Before you know it, the somewhat clam child of three becomes a dynamo of energy, drive, bossiness, belligerence, and generally out-of-bounds behavior. ….chasing off in all directions…difficult age to handle…emotional highs and lows,” (pp. 356-57)  that I wanted to find someone from the American Academy of Pediatrics and knock him/her over with a gigantic bear hug, just for letting me know that if I were to be experiencing any of those behaviors with my 4 year old, it would be normal and would not (necessarily) mean I failed in some crucial step of parenting somewhere along the line.

4) I am thankful for my small kitchen. This is only because I did a thorough cleaning of it the other day.

5) I am thankful the kids eat carrots.

6) I am thankful that we see family/friends from the U.S. at least once a year. A couple of my friends here will be seeing their families in or near their home countries for the first time in three years. Doesn’t make being far any easier for me, but at least keeps some perspective.

I am thankful we see family here in Norway frequently, and that we LIKE to see them. Believe me, this is not something I take for granted. God be praised for the blessing of a loving family, both near and far.

7) I will be thankful when this year is over. Because it’s been another one of those skin-shifting, expectation-wrangling, comfort-zone-stretching, growing-while-feeling-like-failing years. But the end is in sight, and I’m hoping to enter the next year standing a little taller and looking a little less confused.

8) I am thankful for the kindness of people. I am thankful that in appreciating their non-judgementalness I am reminded to not be judgemental. I am thankful to be reminded by an act of kindness shown to me,  the importance of showing acts of kindness to others.

9) Don’t feel neglected, little growing one ”in mama’s tummy.” I’m very thankful for you. You’re the one I know how to take care of. Those pictures of you last week have kept us on a high ever since. As long as you come out knowing how to hold on, we’ll be just fine.

Okay. That wasn’t so bad. It’s just one of those falls where instead of gushing we give high-fives and keep on keeping on.

A blessed Thanksgiving to you all, as you sit together in the peace that passes all understanding, hearts and minds kept in our Lord Christ Jesus.
Now go eat some pie!


*** Oh, for pete’s sake. That was kind of a depressing Thanksgiving post, wasn’t it?? Those holiday twinges of homesickness must have made it to the overflow point yesterday. Please forgive the lack of holiday cheer at that particular moment in time, and thank you for being vent-ees. 🙂 The midwife today mentioned the emotional ups-and-downs that occur in pregnancy…and I just laughed.  ***

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…but, trust me, the pictures don’t do him justice. This was the cutest Halloween turtle ever.

Our friends and neighbors invited us to their annual Halloween party last weekend.

I have a little bit of guilt about Halloween. It’s an up-and-coming holiday around here, with more and more kids out trick-or-treating etc. One American friend of ours hosts a very cool, all-out Halloween party for her kids’ classmates, complete with a haunted house and games and imported candy.

This year I didn’t even manage to get a pumpkin carved. My guys are a bit too young to care, and I’m a bit too un-energetic lately to single-handedly make it happen. So anyway, to me, Halloween = work, and we all know how I feel about more work.

ANYWAY, we were invited to the neighbors for pumpkin soup and trick-or-treating, an invitation we very gladly accepted. However, despite all my best intentions, as of the morning of the party no constumes had been decided on. Which was maybe for the best — four-year-olds can be fickle. So at breakfast I asked Karel what he wanted to dress up as for the Halloween party (and then held my breath and did not make eye contact because the night before when I asked him he’d said ”a camel.”). ”A turtle. Are turtles the slowest animal in the wuh-ruhld?”

Insert sigh of relief. From two humps down to one. A turtle I could handle.

Incidentally, while Emil really is into drawing (or having us draw things — lately he wants us to draw people he knows, which, um challenges our artistic abilities), Karel has very limited interest in all things crafty. Every once in a while I’ll try to be a good mom and initiate a craft project, just to be the only one who finishes it. So while I had a vision of us working on this costume together, I was very well aware that that was more of a delusion than anything.

Anyway, we cut, colored, and pasted and magically had a turtle shell. He was so excited about green face paint that he was giggling while I put it on.

As it turned out, dressing up as a turtle was a pretty good choice for our first-born. He wasn’t well acquainted with some of the other kids at the party, so played the part and crouched under his shell, observing. While out trick-or-treating, he occasionally lagged behind which just looked really appropriate — Pokemon, princess, and witch, with a contemplative tortoise following ten steps behind.

Anyway, the kids were excited to be out and Karel was over the moon about all his candy. (”Mama, I am super-duper happy about all my candy!”) I was explaining to the other moms about how it is in the States — how the candy has to be individually wrapped, etc., etc. One man didn’t have any candy so he distributed bananas. We can’t give out fruit any more, can we?

The banana-man didn’t feel good about it either, apparently; 15 minutes later as the kids were standing on another doorstep on the same street, we see a car pull up. ”That’s the banana-man!!” I whispered to the mom next to me, who had no idea what I was talking about. Turns out he’d driven down to the store as soon as we left to pick up some candy, and was now delivering it. 🙂 ”But make sure to brush your teeth — I’m a dentist, so I’m a bit concerned about that!”

He can rest assured that the bananas were eaten, and the remaining candy is in a bowl on top of the fridge, where it could possible remain for eternity.

Emil wore the dinosaur costume we inherited from the Ramseys, and it seemed to suit him well. He didn’t join in trick-or-treating, but I think being around the big kids and playing with balloons pretty much made his night.  I accepted the oohs and ahs of ”you made that turtle shell yourself?? This morning? Using a berry-sorter?” WITHOUT bringing to attention the fact that that was the ONLY costume I had made, as Bjørn and I were the only adults not in costume, and Emil’s was pulled from a hanger in the closet. There are some weeks you just don’t look gift-praise in the mouth.


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