27 Sep 2007

Introducing Guest Blogger Mike (aka my husband)

It should be clear to all that Heidi has been extremely busy while in Norway. She’s been entertaining frequent guests, taking care of the kids, socializing with her family, working, and of course, writing her blog. Some of you might be wondering what I am doing to fill the days. Well, let me assure you that I am extremely busy.

My day often starts bright and early with a trip to the golf course, accompanied by my father-in-law, Kåre.

Kåre is an excellent player, and shows a great amount of patience as we make our way around the course.

When I come home, I get straight to work exploring the enlightening research that is my real raison d’etre. This is my time to focus on scholarly activity.

After a couple of hours ‘hard at it’ I normally take a break to go for a run.

Now, running in Norway is an entirely different experience than running in Toronto. There isn’t a single flat piece of ground for miles around! Nevertheless, I soldier on for at least 7 minutes, and sometimes 10.

After the run, I come home and spend some quality time with the boys. We normally like to sit on the couch and talk to each other about the activities of the day. The boys are particularly forthcoming about their experiences at school.

It is about this time that I entertain the family, Heidi included, with tales of my best holes from the golf round earlier in the day. This never fails to disappoint.

Later on, as night falls, I catch up with the latest news that affects my work, and ponder the larger issues shaping the world.

In short, I spend my time in a productive and efficient manner. If any of you would like to contact me, then I’m sure that I will be able to find the time to reply in a day or two.

Packing Up!

No, we are not returning to Canada just yet.

Next week is fall break for the boys [c'mon altogether now: I LOVE Norwegian school], so we are packing our bags and heading south...

... to Cyprus!!

One final airing out of shorts, tees and swimsuits before we pack away our summer clothes for good.

I've never been to Cyprus, but you can't get much further south in Europe, so we should be guaranteed good weather and warm ocean water. Which is a nice thought now that we are starting to wake up to temperatures in the low single digits here in Norway.

Today I'm doing laundry, counting socks, underwear, swim stuff - the usual when travelling with kids.

And discussing with Mike the pros and cons of bringing just hand luggage. His idea. Of course, I see the benefits of travelling light, especially when we have a very short layover in Vienna, thus increasing the chance of lost luggage. With our luck, that chance is exceptionally high to begin with.

He stole this idea from friends of ours, who managed to travel to Italy for a 10 day holiday with only carry-ons. [You know who you are! Look what you've started!] And he feels very strongly that if they can do it, so can we.

I'm sure we can, but I just hate the idea that I can't bring all the stuff I want to, just because we have to squeeze into four rolling Samsonite carry-ons! And the thought of doing laundry daily on holiday is also not thrilling me to bits.

Because I won't have time to do laundry, as I'm going to be extremely busy lounging next to our villa's private pool. Not to mention catching up with my fabulous in-laws, who are spending this holiday with us.

25 Sep 2007

No Pulitzer Prize In Our Future

"What do you do if you see a kid standing all alone in the schoolyard?"

I asked, wanting to test my boys' social acuity.

"Well," said Christopher, "if he looks like he is lonely and has no one to talk to, I'd walk over and introduce myself and ask if he wants to play."

Music to a mother's ears.

That didn't do it for Benjamin. He needed another scenario:

"If he is sitting on a rock all by himself, and he is writing something, I'll go over and ask if he wants to play."

Can you tell that Benjamin has issues with writing?

23 Sep 2007

The Worst Case Scenario

As I've mentioned before, we are spending the school year in Norway, half way around the world from where we usually live in Canada. Since we are returning to Canada in the spring, we did not sell our house and bring all of our belongings, but simply brought what we needed for the next 10 months, and left everything else behind.

Now...if I were of the pessimistic kind, I might start thinking about "what ifs" and "worst case scenarios". You know, worry about what bad things could possibly happen to our house in Canada while we're gone.

And if I were that type of person, something like this might come to mind:

...which is a shot taken today of the attractive popcorn ceiling in the dining room in our house in Canada. Take special note of the small water stain. That's new.

But what about this:

That's a shot of our downstairs guest bedroom. Notice the ceiling again - a slightly larger stain this time. I might also draw your attention to the drywall that looks like it's coming undone down the wall.

I think we are getting closer to a "bad scenario".

Which means I don't know what category to place this one in:

A fabulous shot of a cabinet door in our kitchen, adjacent to our dining room and above our downstairs guestroom. Apparently, this cabinet is coming apart completely.

Some of you have probably figured it out already, but for those of us with less insight into building-related matters, the answer to the million dollar question is...a leak! Apparently, a pipe burst in the boys' bathroom directly above the kitchen/dining room, and now we have major water damage in three rooms. And that's only what we can see. Who knows what things look like behind the walls.

Those 5000 km separating Norway and Canada feel pretty darn long today. Fortunately for us, we have friends staying in our house, who undoubtedly saved us from more extensive damage.

Even luckier for us, our good friend Keith was able to come over on extremely short notice to take a look at the situation and provide a short-term fix until we can get a plumber in there.

So here I am...in Norway...BUMMED in a major way...


Nominee for Hero of the Day: Keith.
Nominee for Acteur of the Day: Cyril for doing a great pointing job in the pictorial evidence.

You Will Never Guess What I Did This Weekend

...not in a million years...

We went to see the European Championships in Sheep Herding! Did you know that sheep herding is an official sport? It has a website and everything. You need to check it out. The English translation is a joy (excerpt: "Here you will see the best trained sheepdogs in Europe working with sheep").

Regarding the objective of the sport, I have one thing to say:

It's. Really. Exciting.

We lasted all of 20 minutes. Hey - it was cold! Not to mention the fact that the dog runs a long way away from the spectator stands to gather up these sheep, and it takes forever for it to do so. Leaving us to look at a black dot chasing twenty or so dirty-white dots.

Kinda like Pac-Man. Except outside, with winds gusting and the occasional shower.

Don't we look thrilled to be there?

Chalk one up to experiencing life!

In other weekend news...

...I got my baby fix, courtesy of blissfully happy baby Emil (although still trying to figure out a way to keep him)...

...and because I am crazy or have some kind of cleaning fixation, I let B boy and Mathias make their own brownies.

21 Sep 2007

God and the Devil

I don't mean to be turning this into "The Benjamin Show"...but this was too good not to blog about:

Friday mornings always seem a little more pleasant - Mike and I have the 'ah, the last rushed morning before the weekend' feeling, and even the kids are more animated and chatty while eating breakfast. On that note, Benjamin stole the show this morning.

You have to know that our household is non-religious. Mike is a self-proclaimed atheist, and I'm...well...I'm still thinking about it, but tending towards the agnostic side of things. However, we tread gently when it comes to our children. We do not want to push our views onto them, but rather let them have a chance to make up their own minds in due time.

Benjamin, having just turned 7, has been deemed too young to really talk to about this as of yet. So we've kept it at the level of 'some people believe...' and 'other people believe...', and tried to instill in him respect for different beliefs and the idea that this is a really private and personal matter.

Clearly, we need to do better, because unbeknownst to us, Benjamin has already acquired a lot of information on this subject. I almost coughed out my toast when this headliner came out of my lastborn's mouth as he finished his yogurt:

"God was lucky to die first!"

Mike and I looked at each other in stunned silence. 'What?!'

"What do you mean?" I inquired.

Well, that just opened the floodgates - God was lucky to die first because he got to go to Heaven and become God. Everyone else died after him and could not become God, because that job was taken.

Although Jesus was a nice boy who helped God and all the others. Benjamin's enunciation can be a little off sometimes, so 'Jesus' came out as 'cheeses'. Mike didn't get it first, and asked "God was helped by cheeses?". Only a man.

Benjamin also informed us that the Devil is made of fire and stone, and has a spear. He is not very nice, because he uses a weapon.

And when it comes to Heaven, well, it is divided into two. The first half is God's side, which is about 72000 miles. The other half is the Devil's half, and it is only 2000 miles. God's side is larger because Jesus helped him.

I have to admit, for a fleeting second after he said this I was tempted to turn this into a math problem (they are doing fractions at school). You know, 'is it really two halves, if one side of Heaven is bigger than the other?' But I wanted to hear the rest of it - and besides, that would just be such a lame 'mother' thing to do; turn everything into a lesson.

God's side - which is also called Heaven (yes, I see the inconsistency, but this is what you get when your poor son is left to his own devices) - is cloudy with water, and it looks like you are on the clouds, except you don't fall off. The Devil's side is called (lower your voice to a whisper) - Hell - but we are not allowed to say that, because it is a bad word. So we only say the Devil's side. It has red clouds and has fire, and you sleep on spikes.

As I said, we were stunned.

But wait...there's more... Benjamin wants to be the God of Thunder. Apparently that position has not been filled. Because the Norwegian God of Thunder - called Thor - died when he killed a snake, and it killed him back just before it died (this was a bit confusing, but he was adamant they both killed each other). Then a French God took over the thundering! Mike - and his British ancestry - was quick to seize this opportunity, "So we can blame the French for the thunder and lightning?", but Benjamin explained that the French God had died, too.

And there you have it. Any questions?

19 Sep 2007

What are you thinking now?

My Benjamin boy, you are such a funny little guy.

Remember when you were goofing off with Joakim on the side of the soccer field your brother was playing a match on? I noticed your pants kept falling down, and you were holding onto the waist with one hand, hampering you in your valiant attempts to tackle Joakim. I wondered why your pants had suddenly gotten so much bigger on you. I even thought that it would not be good if you lost weight, small as you are! When I went over for a closer look, I saw that your pants were not buttoned. You obviously had not been able to do so, and didn't want to ask for help. Since you dress yourself in the morning, your pants were probably on the verge of falling down all day. In school, in the after school program, on the trampoline...

And what about that day when we came home late from dinner at mormor and bestefar's house on a school night, and you and Christopher were given strict instructions to change, brush your teeth and hit the sack. Right away. I quickly checked my emails, and as I went back to check on the two of you, I saw Christopher was done and in bed. Good job. I went into your room. You were lying on your bed - that's a start - but wearing a new, clean shirt and reading a book. You looked up with that big smile of yours when I came in. Your dirty clothes were strewn all over the floor, a pile of clean clothes that had been placed on the bed was now also on the floor. Your PJs were the only clothes still on your bed, untouched. I asked you what you were doing, and you said you were in bed. I asked you what you were wearing, and you said your PJs. I asked you to double-check, and when you did you looked up in complete surprise "Oh..."

Then there was the time when I came by school to pick you up. You were supposed to be outside playing, but I finally found you in your classroom, alone, where you were looking through a shelf full of drinking glasses to find yours. Except I knew right away that you didn't have a glass there, because you'd never told me you needed to bring one. When I mentioned this, and tried to find out exactly what you thought you were looking for, you became very vague. I guess you were thirsty and just hoped a glass would magically reveal itself to be yours. The very next day you had a very cool looking Bionicles drinking glass with you in your bag. With big letters on it - "BENJAMIN".

I often don't understand how your mind works. In some ways, you seem to be living in your own "Benjamin world". You never tell me anything about your day, and when prompted you do not seem to remember a lot of what you do at school. You could have been on a field trip, but have little recollection of what you saw. You do not recall the names of many of your friends, even though I see you playing with them daily at school. I suppose these details just aren't interesting to you.

On the other hand, you will surprise me with your insight into things that I consider far beyond your 7 years. Things that you really should not even be aware of. Your loyalty to your family and your friends touches me on a daily basis. You show a level of empathy and generosity that is extraordinary, and I'm sure you'd give away your most prized possessions if someone you cared about asked.

And you are a brave boy! You have taken on this task of going to a Norwegian school with gusto, and not once have you cried, protested or in any other way indicated that you found it difficult. Even though I know it must be hard to sit in a classroom with kids you do not know and - at least in the beginning - could not even communicate with. I imagine you having to pretend to listen to your teacher, when you have absolutely no idea what she is talking about. And you still come home every day and tell me that school was great, and that you give it a 9 out of 10.

You are a puzzle to me, my cutie-boy. But a sweet and incredibly happy little puzzle.

15 Sep 2007

Czech it out!

Friday morning, Mike and I hopped on the first flight out of Oslo to Prague. Boyless, courtesy of my parents, who offered to take Christopher and Benjamin to the cottage to stack firewood. Hey, I've already explained the Norwegian need to stack firewood - might as well get them started young!

A mere 2.5 hours later, and we had left the gleaming new airport and were on a local bus heading into town. I love this element of living in Europe, a couple of hours travel in either direction, and you'll find yourself in a totally different country.

We'd booked ourselves into a small boutique hotel in the Old Jewish Town, a short walk from the city centre. It was in a beautifully restored, old building, with a distinctly rosy colour, prompting Mike to refer to it solely as "The Pink Palace". Lucky for me, the hotel was very posh and nothing like the sordid image that name conjures up.

Depositing our things at the hotel, we immediately went out to explore. It was amazing to be able to just walk around with no kiddies complaining of sore feet, thirst, hunger or boredom with old buildings, new buildings, or buildings in general.

After a quick look at the Old Town Square with its famous Astronomical Clock, we had a fabulous lunch at Square, a hip new restaurant in the town centre. I was excited that we were able to enjoy the gorgeous weather and eat outside, while Mike found another reason to be thrilled:

You're looking at a 2 dollar pint of beer, and a 4 dollar bottle of water!

Prague is stunning as it straddles the river Vltava (nope, I have no idea how to pronounce that), with medieval castles, towers and cobblestoned streets everywhere you look. Here's a view from the observation tower on the Petřín hill, a near 1:5 copy of the Parisian Eiffel tower, which was our first destination of the day:

Prague castle can be seen in the background of this picture, and is one of the largest castles in the world, dating back to the 9th century. The castle is situated on a hillside overlooking the city of Prague:

The castle grounds consist of several buildings used by officials today, including the Czech President, as well as a basilica, a cathedral, a convent and several chapels. Most of these are open to the public.

The cathedral in particular is an amazing testament to architects and builders of the past, with dimensions unlike anything I've seen before. As much as one might feel it to be "over the top", I could not help but appreciate the workmanship that went into creating something of this magnitude.

Prague is famous for the mix of architectural styles evident throughout the downtown area, which includes romanesque, gothic and baroque influences.

Certainly, the buildings are impressive, but the Czechs are not without a sense of humour. Just look at this "Fred and Ginger" building we found:

Signs: The Prague Edition

Hold the seasoning. I prefer my pork knee just roasted and smoked. Thanks...

...if hubby's new job does not work out, I found your Plan B...

...everyone knows that the finest palate with which to enjoy the best Chinese cuisine (!) is beer-infused...

...so how much is one 7 year old and one 10 year old?

12 Sep 2007

How do they cut the grass on the roof?

Option A:

Option B:


I have been busy planning all our trips for this year...you know...Prague, Paris, Budapest, Cyprus, the Alps, St. Petersburg, Copenhagen, Salzburg and Mallorca.

Or maybe I'm just dreaming. Anything to avoid tackling Mt. Laundry.

I do it all on TripAdvisor. My favourite site in the world. They have travel guides, discussion forums (with the added bonus that they're often hosted by people living in the destination city), things-to-do-lists such as "3 days in Rome", plus great deals on trips and hotels.

The feature I like and use the most is the Review section. That's where people who have already been to wherever I want to go write about their experiences. I type in the name of the city, hotel or restaurant, and voila, a long list of reviews is at my perusal. Everything from brand new boutique hotels to small obscure restaurants can be found.

The first thing I do is browse through the list to see how many "stars" the place gets on average. If I'm looking at a 4 or 5 star average, I'm pretty sure I've hit the jackpot. But if I see several reviews with only 1 or 2 stars, I do a little more research.

That's really when the fun begins: When I try to figure out whether these reviewers think along the same lines as I do, or if their needs are totally different. Bad reviews have made me rethink places I've been planning to go to, and sometimes they are more enlightening than all the good reviews.

Things that make warning bells go off:
- If you are planning to go somewhere warm in the middle of July, and reviews state that there's no or poor A/C in the hotel you're considering. Vice versa is also bad - no or faulty heating in the middle of a cold winter. Not my first choice.
- Ditto when someone writes that they booked a hotel room with two queens and were given a single queen bedroom. That's a problem if you are a family of four looking to share a single hotel room.
- If you go by their websites, all hotels are located in "the best area of town". Reviews are helpful here.
- If you are planning a holiday with your kids, you might also want to avoid hotels where all the pools are undergoing renovation. I can only imagine the expression on my boys' faces should that even happen...and it's not a pretty picture.

Then there's the people with requirements that are clearly different from mine, and whose reviews I really only read for a laugh:
- People who were disappointed because there was nowhere in the bathroom to put down their toiletries. Gasp of horror.
- I understand that a poor selection of brew in a famed pub can be a disappointment to some, but I'm fine with it.
- The breakfast buffet sausages were mild, and not spicy. Hmmm...I think I might be OK with that one, too.
- Finally there's the reviewer whose primary complaint was that the beautifully renovated hotel room was missing a suitcase stand, or did not have enough drawers.
Heck, those are the places I WANT to go to - if the only thing missing is a suitcase stand, I'm good!

The only reviews I completely ignore are the ones from honeymooners. They just loved, loved, loved it all! And I'm not sure they were outside their hotel room door!

10 Sep 2007

Cottage weekend

...so we had a rough trip up, but the next day sure made up for it!

Waking up to a beautiful, sunny day with fantastic views of the glacier-clad peaks surrounding the cottage helped set the mood right away. Stepping outside after breakfast, the air was crisp, but not so cold as to be uncomfortable, so we decided to take a drive across the mountain to check out the valley on the other side, called Hemsedal.

Mind you - the final decision to go for a drive was made only after a sniff test in the car confirmed that the "open all windows overnight" strategy had worked. The car may no longer smell like new, but it also does not smell of regurgitated chocolate ice cream...sorry, was that too much information?

Hemsedal is the premier downhill ski resort in southern Norway, and is a place I had wanted to see. The spectacular drive over top of the mountain can only be done during the summer months, as the road is closed for the winter, when the sheer volume of snow makes it impossible to keep it open. We decided to seize the opportunity.

You may wonder how poor Benjamin felt about another drive over bumpy, rough terrain after his traumatic experience the day before, but like I said, he is a trooper. The promise of a snowball fight in early September might also have had something to do with it. That and the anti-nausea medication we re-introduced.

And honestly, the drive was well worth it. The landscape was absolutely stunning and the pictures simply cannot do it justice. The lakes were cobalt blue in colour, and the mountains so majestic in their stoic silence.

Here's a shot of the valley of Hemsedal:

You can't see the ski slopes in the picture, but they looked amazing. We are definitely coming back here in the winter.

We found a small patch of snow that was within hiking distance for the promised snowball fight. We soon found out that the snow wasn't very good for snowballs, and the boys speculated that that was probably because it was "at least 100 years old." Instead, C spent quite a bit of time "snowbooting" down the hill, proving once again that his sense of balance did not come from me.

Benjamin got some assistance from Mike, as the incline was pretty steep for a boy in rubber boots with his mother's balancing skills.

The wind was whipping it up a fair bit at the top of the mountain, so we were all fairly chilled by the time we came back to our cottage. The kids ran inside ahead of us, and as I came through the door I couldn't see them at first, which is quite a feat considering the size of the place. Then I heard them giggling in the bathroom, and saw this when I opened the door:

They were warming themselves on the heated floor. Whatever happened to the viking blood in these boys?

Still, they rose to the challenge when we repacked our backpack with hot dogs, hot chocolate and home made dough to make bread with (!), and made our way across the marsh to have what is now a traditional cottage lunch for us: Hot dogs over an open fire.

Christopher and Benjamin absolutely love finding sticks in the woods they can sharpen with their scouts' knives and use to grill their food over the fire. They are getting better at it, too. They used to come back with these pathetic, thin, droopy things that could barely stay upright, but check them out now! While the boys are still not what I would call outdoorsy types (c'mon -- lying on a heated bathroom floor?!), I do see some improvement.

Sometimes I wonder, though, if we are breeding little monster pyromaniacs. After the food has been devoured, the drinks emptied, and we are ready to go, they still are going at the fire with their sticks. Heck, even when it's getting cold and the bathroom floor beckons, there's no response. They are just too fascinated. Check out their expressions here:

...and tell me...should I be worried?

9 Sep 2007

The long way up...

Friday afternoon we decided to take advantage of the boys' early finish from school, and head up towards the cottage for the weekend. B boy was home a little before noon, and even though Christopher had a field trip, he was still back at the house at 12:15 pm.

Have I mentioned how much I love school in Norway? I am still not sure if they are actually learning anything, but the schedule sure does suit my social calendar...

By 1 pm, we had packed the car with food (chocolate) and a few items of clothing, including mitts and hats as it can be cold this time of year, and off we went. As we started our drive, we were pretty pleased with ourselves, talking about how efficiently we'd packed, how quickly we'd managed to pull everything together, and how much time we'd still have left of the day when we arrived at the cottage. By our estimation, we'd be there no later than 4:30 pm, with plenty of time to go exploring before sunset.

Looking back now, I can't believe I didn't see it. Things had gone too smoothly. Something was bound to happen. Pride comes before a fall.

The trip is normally 3.5 hours long, provided you don't get stuck in rush hour traffic. This being Norway, the trip consists entirely of single lane roads, so a truck or a tractor ahead of you can easily add unexpected of time to your journey.

However, it wasn't traffic that was our downfall last Friday. Nah, we managed to mess up all on our own. We had been driving for a good one and a half hours - almost two. In fact, we had just made it past the halfway mark of our journey, when I turned to Mike and said "The key! Did you bring the key to the cottage?" Sadly, Mike had not done so, and did not feel like that was his responsibility, either. Of course, I immediately protested the notion that remembering the key should be my job alone. Funny that we'd both feel that way so strongly...hmm...Mike opined that he had thought of almost everything else and couldn't be expected to remember everything, which, coincidentally, was how I felt, too. Imagine that?!

We finally agreed that "discussing" this further would not solve the problem as we still had no key, and in desperation, I called my dad to check if they by any chance had a key hidden somewhere around the cottage for just such situations. No luck, of course, because my parents - responsible people that they are - would never forget to bring a key to the cottage.

Rats! What to do now? If we turned back to get the key, we'd add at least 3 hours to the journey. Plus we'd hit rush hour traffic. Maybe it would be better to just go back home instead? While we debated our options, my incredibly kind father offered to drive and meet us half way to hand over a key to the cottage. Shameless that we are, we took him up on it, and met him some 50 minutes later. I am not particularly proud to think that thanks to us, my father got an extra two hour drive on Friday.

Key in hand, we turned our car around and headed up towards the cottage again. Feeling optimistic about it all, we were probably speaking a tad louder than earlier - when the mood had been rather tense - and unintentionally woke up Benjamin, who'd thankfully been snoozing for the last hour or so. Benjamin, who does not like to drive any length of time due to his motion sickness, promptly proceeded to throw up all over Mike and Christopher's fleeces. Simultaneously, he also effectively removed the "new car smell" that Christopher so detested in our rented Golf.

B boy is usually very good about warning us when he is feeling ill, but this time he was caught by surprise, undoubtedly because he was so rudely awakened from his snooze. Apart from the need to keep my voice down, I learned another important lesson that afternoon: Never let a child prone to motion sickness eat chocolate ice cream before a long car ride. I'll spare you the details.

Scrambling, we got B boy and the car cleaned up as much as we possibly could at the side of the road, and continued on our way. But despite our frequent stops to let Benjamin get some fresh air, the poor kid was as white as a ghost and managed to get sick another few times before we finally made it up the mountain. Fortunately, he was now awake and fully equipped with the requisite bags.

According to the clock, the trip took about 5 hours, but to us, it felt much, much longer. When we finally arrived at the cottage, any urge to go exploring had been zapped. We had a rather uninspired pizza dinner and then we collapsed in front of the TV, watching an episode of the fabulous "Planet Earth" series:

....ah....love that nook...

By evening's end, we had recovered enough to be looking forward to spending the rest of the weekend in the mountains!

Nominee for Hero of the Day: My Dad
Nominee for Trooper of the Day: Benjamin

7 Sep 2007

Boys' clothing

I'm the first to admit that I am not a great shopper. My ideal shopping experience is walking into a store and finding exactly what I am looking for "right there" in front of me, on that very first rack. Right size and everything. Then I like to carry it over to the cashier who is a) at her station and b) ready to serve me. I know, I am bad, bad, bad. Shopping can bring out the worst in me. Especially when I am shopping for boys' clothing in a girls' clothing world.

A few years ago I walked into a well-known children's clothing store one fall afternoon, looking for a snow suit for Christopher, then a toddler. I had been lured in by the snazzy looking outfits modelled in the front store window - fashionable little tots with the ultimate in cool winter gear. As I entered the store, I was instantly dismayed that all I could see was girly pink and frilly clothing. Not a good look on my little man.

I turned around to look for someone who could point me in the right direction and immediately saw a cute teenage girl with a big smile on her face, tiptoeing her way over to greet me. As I inquired into boys' winter wear, she happily danced over to show me a tiny section of boys clothes, albeit with some admittedly good-looking coats and jackets. When she realized I was browsing through the rack looking for two piece suits, she sang out "We're not carrying snow pants for boys this winter." Still with that big smile on her face. Riiiiight...no problem, I'll just tell my 3-year-old to avoid the snow, then, this year...?!

Nowadays, my biggest headache is Christopher's opinions about the clothes he wants to wear. Being "cool" has become much more important, and our definitions of "cool" rarely match. I'll bring something home that I am sure he'll love, and it'll be a dud for some obscure reason. He has developed a passion for two or three shirts, and unless I catch him, he'll wear them over and over and over again. Apparently there is no conflict between "cool" and "filthy".

He also has a very interesting way of getting dressed in the morning that is slowly driving me over the edge. He will get up in the morning and put on the clothes he wore the day before, which are in a pile on the floor next to his bed (can you sense my blood pressure rising...why are those clothes there in the first place? Should they not be in the hamper??). Only then will he go and have breakfast. After breakfast, he will go back to his room, take the dirty clothes off and dress himself again with new clean clothes, trying first to pass the old, filthy but "cool" shirt off as clean. After getting caught, he will also change his shirt. Now, bear in mind, this all gets done with the speed of a sloth....slooooowwwwlllyyyy, and only because I am prompting him every step of the way. I tell you, my patience gets a workout every morning.

I have suggested what I thought were rather obvious alternatives to the current situation - that he either a) has breakfast in his PJ's and then puts on clean clothes, or b) gets dressed right away in clean clothes. No change so far. Sometimes I just don't get it!

Benjamin, meanwhile, cares nothing about what he wears. A few months ago, he would have happily walked around in his PJ's or underwear all day. That's now past, and he likes to be dressed, but is fine with whatever is at the top of the pile. The thing about him, though, that never ceases to puzzle me is how he always manages to put his clothing on backwards. I mean, he clearly has a 50/50 shot at getting it right. With his bad luck, I just hope he never makes it to Vegas.

6 Sep 2007

8:30 pm on September 6, 2007

...and a bit of movie trivia - from what film is this quote taken?

"In the months leading up to my wedding, I was thinking about you all the time. I mean, even on my way there; I'm in the car, a buddy of mine is driving me downtown and I'm staring out the window, and I think I see you, not far from the church, right? Folding up an umbrella and walking into a deli on the corner of 13th and Broadway. And I thought I was going crazy, but now I think it probably was you."

5 Sep 2007

What...he loves school?!

My boys are fairly typical, I think, in that they are "fine" with school, but given a choice, they'd stay home any day. No surprise there, right?

Imagine my shock, then, when I realized that Christopher now loves school. He is thrilled with the shorter hours, the freedom he is experiencing here, not to mention his hectic social schedule. I feel like he has grown up and matured so much over the past few weeks - and it's only been two and a half weeks of school. At this rate, he'll be unrecognizable by the time he gets back to Canada.

School starts at 8:30 am every day. Monday through Thursday, Christopher finishes school at 2 pm. But get this - on Fridays he is done at noon. It's so civilized! Top that off with a rule saying no homework allowed on weekends - and I don't know who is happier, Christopher or his school-weary parents! No more PowerPoint presentations to finish on Saturday, no more tests to cram for on Sunday.

Yes - "life with school" has suddenly got a whole lot brighter. And it bears mentioning that Benjamin is also done at noon on Fridays, which gives us a precious few extra hours to fly/drive away for the weekend....Stockholm...Copenhagen...London...Paris...here we come!

The more important thing is that even on longer days Christopher is perfectly content to go to school, be at school and hang out with his buddies. He plays soccer at recess and during the longer lunch break. He occasionally checks up on his brother, and according to B boy, he is always accompanied by a friend or two. But most of all, he is busy planning his schedule for the afternoon.

As soon as school is out, Christopher whips out his most prized possession - his new cell phone - and checks in with us. We just wait for the inevitable question to come (in Norwegian): "Can I go home with so-and-so?"...or... "I'm bringing so-and-so home. Can we make waffles?"

And the best part of it is - he has the time to go out in the afternoon. Partly because he has much less homework than what we are used to, and partly because he finishes earlier at school here.

It is wonderful to see how the boys organize themselves. You might think it would be all electronics and indoor activities, but, surprisingly, they spend a lot of time outside. They go to each other's house to jump on trampolines (no respectable family is without a trampoline in Norway) or they kick a ball around on the soccer field just below the school.

I was not sure what to expect from the other kids in the class Christopher joined this fall. I realized that his "foreign-ness" could be seen as cool, but it could just as easily have worked against him. You have to know that these kids have been in the same class, with the same teacher for 4 years already. They do not reshuffle classes from year to year here, so the children obviously get to know each other very well. The school is also much more proactive at arranging after school activities on a class by class basis. There are class sleepovers from grade 1, disco nights, games nights, sports nights, etc. That's a lot of bonding!

On top of that, foreign students are extremely unusual at this school. We are simply too far away from Oslo to get any of the expats or new immigrants. In fact, I think I mentioned in a previous posting that we are rather famous at our little school as "the Canadians". The teachers all knew we were coming before we'd even had a chance to go to the school to introduce ourselves!

Knock on wood - but so far the kids in Christopher's class have welcomed him with open arms. No one seems to pick on him for his grammar being off at times, or the occasional misunderstandings that are inevitable with a new language. It is heartwarming to hear them talking together. They do not even correct him when he uses the wrong word or messes up the word order. They simply reply as they would to any other kid. Amazing.

You gotta love'em...

Boy, n.: a noise with dirt on it. ~Not Your Average Dictionary


Conversation between Benjamin and Christopher as we walked past a bunch of parked bicycles, while looking for a washroom in which to wash dirt out of Benjamin's eye:

C: "Benjamin, when are you going to learn how to ride a bicycle?"
B: "Never!"
C: "What if when you are married, your wife asks you to go for a bike ride?"
B: "I'll say I don't want to."
C: "Every time?"
B: "Yep!"
C: "What if she asks you to do the Tour de France with her?"
B: "Then I'll just take the car."


We worry about what a child will become tomorrow, yet we forget that he is someone today. ~Stacia Tauscher

3 Sep 2007

Aker Brygge and Akershus Fortress

We spent Sunday afternoon in Oslo, exploring the downtown area. I had hoped to take the Yims there during their visit to Norway, but we ran out of time the one day we spent in Oslo. Or more to the point, the kids ran out of steam.

Seeing as Sunday was another lovely day, weather-wise, we decided to take advantage of a free afternoon and show the kids around. During the weekday rush-hour, you can get to London, England faster than Oslo from where we are. On Sunday mornings, however, downtown is a mere 40 minutes away.

There is a lot of new development going on in the centre of town, with swanky new condos popping up all over the place. Thus, as we arrived, things looked quite different from what Mike and I remembered from some years ago. But after parking in what we eventually realized was a still unfinished parking garage (and Mike lamenting that we shouldn't have bothered paying the $ 10.00 parking fee, as no one was going to think of checking a garage that isn't even done yet), we made it to Aker Brygge in no time.

Over the last decade or so, Aker Brygge has become the most well-known shopping and dining area in Oslo, with its superb location down by the waterfront of the Oslo fjord. When the sun is smiling, the wide boardwalk is a great place to stroll around and people watch. Both locals and tourists abound, and there's always a street artist or two to keep you entertained. You might prefer to hang out on one of any number of benches conveniently located everywhere, and you'll see boats return to harbour with their fresh catch of seafood and fish. You can even pick up dinner here, if you are so inclined. Those of us not feeling up to the task of cooking may pick and choose between all kinds of different restaurants, provided you are prepared to pay the rather hefty bill attached to eating out anywhere in Norway.

As we strolled along the seafront with our ice creams, we passed the fairly controversial Oslo City Hall that Mike loves making fun of. He thinks it is up there as one of the ugliest building in the world, certainly the most hideous City Hall. While I'll admit it isn't a beautiful building in the traditional sense, I quite like its unique look. It definitely stands out. What do you think?

Incidentally, you might be interested to know that Oslo City Hall is where the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded each December. Does that make it more attractive? :) When we were walking past the building, the boys caught sight of a bunch of teenagers who were skateboarding up and down the wheelchair ramp. To our boys, that was infinitely more exciting than any talk of a peace prize, and we spent a few minutes admiring their skills.

If you keep walking past City Hall, you get to Akershus Festning, which is a fortress that dates back to the 13th century. For many centuries, it was of huge strategic importance due to its location at the mouth of the Oslo fjord. Those in control of Akershus Fortress were in control of Oslo, and therefore of Norway.

Thus, the fortress was added on to and expanded several times, and today it is quite a large and impressive place. The Norwegian military still keeps a base here, but the fortress is open to the public during the day.

Of course, Benjamin cared nothing about the history lessons we were trying to impart. And why would he? Not when there were cannons everywhere. No matter where we turned, we saw cannons, some very old and some newer, that were just begging to be climbed on. For boys, Akershus fortress must seem like one giant playground. Even Christopher got a bit carried away as he imagined how battles may have taken place in the past.

After an afternoon of envisioning battles of yesteryears and glorious victories of brave kings, we finally decided to head back to Aker Brygge and a much anticipated dinner out.

As we turned around, we saw what arguably amounts to the latest attack on Oslo:

...the Germans are back!!