30 Nov 2007

"There's no mice in Norway"

Moi to Mike - last year, after discovering suspicious signs in our cold room.

Translation: There are mice in Canada. And why do we live in Canada? Because one of us is Canadian. So, who's to blame for this mouse situation ? That would be...YOU.

I'll admit I was slightly wound up and possibly freaking out a tiny bit - I don't do well with rodents, so I'd had better days. You know, mouse-free days.

It didn't help matters that the mouse (mice?) appeared to have been making itself at home for a while. Who knew that a little thing like that - and possibly its extended family - can produce that many turds? It is D.I.S.G.U.S.T.I.N.G.

Mike got rid of the mouse. I do not know the details. All I can tell ya is that he came up from the basement with a plastic bag the next day. From a quick glance, I could tell the bag wasn't empty. [Shudder].

For the next many weeks, I avoided going down to the basement to exercise before he'd checked the many, many traps set up in the cold room. Just in case a tiny rodent - attached to a trap - was able to jump through the door from the cold room, across the play room and into the rec room, to scare me.

And there you have it, my friends. The true story of how we ended up in Norway for the year. We were chased out of Canada by a - deceased - mouse!

All righty, then, that may be a slight exaggeration. Perhaps we had planned this trip to Norway for years. But you have to admit - the timing was good! A year in mouse-free Norway.

Cue the happy music.

So, imagine my gobsmacked self when I heard a radio announcer declare this to be a particularly bad year for mice...in Norway.


(For a fleeting moment I thought I saw that look in Mike's eyes - the I TOLD YOU SO look. But I can't be sure, and he wisely didn't comment.)

I immediately consoled myself that this infestation was primarily a problem in southern Norway. Not where we are. We are in the south-east region of Norway. Really, mostly east. Just a little bit south.

Except that last night, while reaching under the sink to retrieve the compost container, to my horror, there they were.

Stop the happy music, start the Twilight Zone theme song.

The T.U.R.D.S. There was a mouse in the house. In Norway.

I say was because as of this morning, it is no longer. Also gone is my confidence that nothing lives in Norway but Norwegians and mosquitoes. Apparently, mice can live here, too.

PS: While Michael Moore clearly hasn't heard about the infiltration of rodents, the UN must have, as they just demoted Norway to the world's second best place to live. I'm considering moving to Iceland.

PPS: Special note to our friends now living in our house: Don't worry. We did get rid of that mouse, and forever sealed off the cold room from any outside access (why take chances?). It is now a warm room. Really. You're fine.

26 Nov 2007

Winter Wonderland

My parents built their cottage almost 11 years ago, pretty much right after I moved to Canada. Despite the fact that they spent 25 years of marriage talking about getting a cottage, only to build one the second I left the country, I carry no grudge and have been a regular visitor. I am not one to let such insignificant issues such as...eh..5000 km stand in the way.

My visits have been limited to the summer and fall, when the boys' school schedules allow for a trip across the Atlantic. The "hytte" is the perfect place to escape from the heat of a June or July day. The sun barely dips down behind the mountains before it rises again, which may make it hard to sleep, but also promotes fun and games outdoors at all hours of the day - and night.

A September outing is equally thrilling with its crisp air and spectacular glimpses of Mother Nature's full colour palette. A final gala, if you will, before the trees and bushes, the grasses and flowers go to sleep for the winter. Even the sheep seem to sense that they are grazing on borrowed time, and are much braver in their attempts to check out your picnic lunch. Soon they will be rounded up and brought down to the farm.

Until now, these have been my experiences at the cottage, and I've always thought that I was seeing the mountains at their best. I didn't miss not going in the wintertime or even the spring. But today, I'm no longer sure, because this weekend was my first taste of what winter is like at the cottage. And from what I can tell - it tops both summer and fall.

I noticed a difference from the moment we started the 3 hour drive up on Friday afternoon, when a brand new blanket of snow gave the landscape a scrubbed, just cleaned appearance, lined with snow-covered fern trees glistened as if decorated for Christmas. The rivers and lakes had the ice-blue colour of glaciers, with the occasional sparkle of newly-formed ice crystals.

As darkness crept in, the snow lit up our surroundings, like nature's own sunshine. It was pure and untouched, without footsteps and almost void of tire tracks, and none of that ugly black yuck that piles up on the side of the road after too many cars, or too much salting. I imagined we were the only people in a winter wonderland.

My parents were already at the cottage, greeting us with lit lanterns by the doorstep, a roaring fire, and the delicious smell of fresh waffles. Yum. (I have informed my parents that we are now forever spoiled and can never go back to the cottage without someone arriving first to prep and get everything ready. Once you've tried First Class, you can never go back).

The temperature outside was a cool but not ridiculous -5 degrees C. Our bellies full of waffles and hot tea, we bundled up and headed outside. Grabbing a couple of "rumpebrett" (literal translation - "bum trays") on the way, we headed out into the darkness, to hit the tobogganing hill for an hour or two.

It was magical! The sky was clear and the stars overhead seemed so close, I felt like I could reach out and steal one. The largest full moon I have ever seen lit up the horizon like a miniature sun. From our vantage point, there were no electrical lights anywhere, only the gentle light cast by the lanterns outside our cottage in the distance. The soft snowy carpet muffled all noise, except the occasional squeals of delight as we all slid down the hill and ran up again. And again, and again.

After a delicious dinner, we soon tucked a couple of tired boys into bed, still with rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes. It didn't take long before I followed suit. All that fresh air wears you out!

The next day began with an incredible sunrise. Pictures do not do it justice, but here's our best attempt:

Outside was a chilly -12 degrees C when we woke up, but the cottage was nice and toasty with a cosy fire (OK, and the heated floors, too. We are not exactly roughing it). The temperature began to rise as the sky filled with heavy clouds, and though the snow fell slowly at first, majestically and silently, it wasn't long before our cars were covered. It wasn't until the snow began to come down fast and furious that we realized there was only one thing to do:

Bundle, bundle, bundle. Hats, gloves, mitts, scarves, snow pants, coats, extra socks and boots. Phew!

Hot and sweaty, we finally made it out to a winter scape overflowing with opportunities for snowball fights, angel making and general mayhem:

When we were thoroughly soaked and content to take a break from all the goofing around in the snow, Mormor and the boys baked gingerbread cookies and decorated the cottage for Christmas. The rest of us watched skiing on TV, while sipping lovely hot mulled wine with almonds and raisins.

Sunday morning, our final day at the cottage, Mike decided there was just enough snow for the boys to try out their new downhill skis for the first time. He even built a small jump for Christopher. The incline wasn't steep enough to keep the boys' attention for long, which was probably not a bad thing, considering poor Mike had to pull B boy back up the hill each time. Hopefully we'll get an opportunity to try the skis out at a real hill next weekend.

Still, it was a fantastic winter weekend. What I loved most about it was that the focus was on family and playing. And I hope it was only the first of many such weekends to come this year.

23 Nov 2007

Off To The Cottage...

But I'm going to leave you with something that's all over the newspapers here today, courtesy of Michael Moore. If you have a couple of minutes, you might get a laugh at the utopia called Norway.

Hope everyone has a great weekend!

The best country to live in - left out of the movie

22 Nov 2007

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like...

We woke up to a lovely sight this morning:

Yes, I said lovely. For the last few weeks, it has been pitch black when we've woken up in the morning, but today, at 7 am, there was an ethereal, wintry glow peeking through the curtains:

The light dusting of snow had our boys super excited to go to school, planning elaborate forts and spooky snowball fights:

While we frolic in the snow this afternoon, we'll be sending happy thoughts to all you Americans out there celebrating Thanksgiving today.

21 Nov 2007

Postcards From Color Line

Despite a cold and dreary day in Oslo, we started our Kiel-bound cruise on the Color Line Fantasy exploring the ship's exterior...

Checking out all possible escape routes....

When we no longer could bear listening to "I'm cold, can we go now?" we ventured inside to find our cabin. On the way we made a pitstop here...

Before we took the glass elevator up...

We made it to deck 11, walked down the hallway to our door...

And crashed on the bed...

After verifying that the sleeping arrangements were up to par, we inspected the free minibar...

And partook of its bounty...

We even shared with the non-living amongst us...

Some of us got a tad too comfortable...

But we managed to drag him with us up to the indoor Aqualand on deck 12...

We swam in the lazy river...

Under waterfalls...

And hung out in the jacuzzi...

Then it was time for dinner...

The boys were extremely excited to be the only children in the restaurant, and thus had the run of the kids buffet...

Their dinner consisted of hamburgers (no buns, of course), smoked salmon, chicken nuggets, cookies, gold chocolate coins and honey...

We had time to catch a show...

And a couple of car races...

Before this...

Breakfast the following morning was eaten in this restaurant (eerily reminiscent of the Titanic's dining room)...

Thank you, Christopher, for running ahead to secure us prime seating...

Then, after a few hours visiting the lovely portside town of Kiel, Germany, we did the whole thing over again.

I've never been a big fan of cruise ships and had nasty visions of bunkbeds, extremely tight quarters, low ceilings and yucky food. But things have definitely changed since my childhood trips - my eyes have been opened...and now I choose to cruise!

18 Nov 2007

Weekend Window

We had a lovely, lazy weekend with the boys.

That is, except for the frantic cleaning session I initiated on Saturday morning. You know how you get up, look around and realize everything is filthy? And then catch your blissfully unaware spouse eating cereal, reading the paper or doing some other non-cleaning-related activity?

Well, people, let me tell you - PhDs are not a waste of time! Somehow, Mike realized he was this close to being subjected to a full-on lecture on how Cleanliness Is Next To Godliness, and immediately fired up the vacuum. Yes sirree! Crisis averted at the last possible minute.

And not to worry, the rest of the weekend was spent at a much more leisurely pace. Our only attempt at exercise on Saturday was a nice long walk with the kids. The ground was covered with frost, and since the boys bring their scooters everywhere, they had fun sliding around on the ice. There was one or two wipe-outs, but no tears!

We finally made it home around 4 pm, at which point it was already getting dark. This, in my mind, is an invitation to light candles. Everywhere. The one good thing about having moved past the toddler years.

And speaking of candles, check out this Christmas Calendar Candle in the shape of Santa's hat, which we found in Copenhagen:

I'm having a hard time understanding why my boys are not going crazy with excitement about this candle. I mean, isn't it the cutest candle ever?

My nephew Joakim spent the weekend with us, and on Sunday morning, eager to show him that we can do other things than clean with desperation and light candles, we took the boys skating. Although the weather was mild, and even a little foggy, this didn't dampen Benjamin's enthusiasm:

Even when in his usual position:

Sadly, Benjamin is not the best of skaters. Neither am I, which is why you can probably tell that I am edging away from him, lest I be dragged down, too.

We wound down our Sunday with a visit to my parents' house for hot chocolate and home-made cake, before dropping Joakim off and heading home. All in all, a great November weekend.

The boys are asleep now, and I'm getting ready to pack for our Germany trip tomorrow. Yes, I know you feel sorry for me and my jet setting ways. All that packing is wearing me down!

Hope everyone had a wonderful weekend.

16 Nov 2007

Wonderful Copenhagen

Q. Is it possible to get up at 4 am with a smile on your face?

A. Yes, it is...

...if you're going to Copenhagen, Denmark for a 2 day pre-Christmas shopping trip without boys. Which is exactly what my mother and I did on Wednesday morning. We caught the 7 am flight, and 1.5 hours later we were checking into our hotel in Copenhagen's city centre.

Ah, the life of a European jet setter! Here's the view from our hotel room as the sun was rising:

We quickly deposited our bags and caught the metro to Strøget, the shopping district in Copenhagen. Strøget is actually a collection of streets, all cobblestoned pedestrian walkways, anchored by Kongen's Nytorv (King's New Square) in one end. This lovely old square dates back to the 1600s and houses the Royal Danish Theatre and some of the city's high end hotels. At the other end, Strøget connects with Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square), which sports a large statue of Hans Christian Andersen and also the main entrance to Tivoli Gardens, the oldest amusement park in Europe, if not the world.

But it's what's in between these two squares that counts - a veritable shopping mecca of everything from good old H&M, Top Shop and EB Games to high end boutiques such as Louis Vuitton, D&G, Bottega Veneta and Chanel, as well as the illustrious upscale Danish shopping centre of Magasin du Nord.

As we arrived on Wednesday morning, building facades everywhere were getting a make-over in time for the holidays. Lovely, large balsam fir trees were being hoisted, while display windows were framed with fir garlands. Here's a shot of another up-market Danish shopping centre - Illums Boligvarehus - all decked out in time for the Ho-Ho-Ho...

I am a huge fan of modern, minimalist Danish design (think Arne Jacobsen) and could have bought everything in sight, but airport baggage limitations and strict security measures limited our spree to essentials, such as fabulous Christmas decorations [Mike secretly thanks the powers-that-be for said luggage restrictions]. Thus, we spent a fair chunk of our time in the beautifully decorated Georg Jensen store, and were able to check off several items on our Christmas lists.

"Where there's a will, there's a way," mother said:

Along Strøget are hidden little courtyards exuding peace and quiet, some with high fashion ateliers and artisan shoppes, and others with cosy cafes where cups of hot chocolate and freshly baked crepes beckon to tired shoppers needing an escape from the shopping frenzy:

Needless to say, we didn't need to be asked twice.

The food in Copenhagen deserves a blog posting of its own, but suffice to say that it was outstanding. We had a delicious lunch platter of open-faced sandwiches at a lovingly restored restaurant in a cellar off Strøget, with Danish staples such as herring, gravlax, shrimp, pates and roast meat. To take advantage of Copenhagen's decidedly international flavour, we also managed a bit of hot spice courtesy of a superb Indian meal, complete with raita and naan.

Burnt Almonds - The Preferred Snack of Christmas Shoppers:

Another stop was to pick up delicious Danish pastries, all flaky and decadently chocolate-y. Believe me, the 'Danish' pastry in North America doesn't hold a candle to these babies.

Two days in Copenhagen just wasn't enough, which is why Mike and I are hoping to squeeze in another trip in the spring. I may allow the boys to join in the fun this time, providing we survive the much anticipated cruise to Kiel this coming Monday!

13 Nov 2007

Broken Dreams

I have very few friends from my childhood, which I mostly blame on my family's frequent moves, combined with an underdeveloped desire to write letters as a teenager.

One of my oldest friends is an American girl I met in high school, who eventually settled in Norway. Throughout my time abroad, we've stayed in regular contact, and I'd counted on seeing her frequently during my year here. But after a month of visitors in August, followed by slightly stressful weeks of helping the boys settle into Norwegian school and life, time just passed by without me picking up the phone to reconnect.

Then I began to feel awkward about calling her, unsure of how to explain why I hadn't called sooner. More time passed, laced with more guilt and anguish. Eventually, I pushed my guilt to the back of my mind, and tried to ignore the occasional nagging.

Wait a minute...[thinking, thinking...]. Let's start this post over again:

I only have a few friends from childhood, because I do a crappy job of staying in touch with them. Until last Sunday when the phone rang, and a chirpy voice sounded: "Hey, chicky, where've you been?"

There's a good friend for you! Ingrid finally made the decision for me, without any harsh words about my utter pathetic-ness. We ended up spending a lovely afternoon and evening together yesterday, languishing for hours over plates of steaming noodles and curried mushrooms, catching up on what was new in each other's lives. She hadn't seen our boys for a few years and was politely impressed by their growth. Which just goes to show what a kind heart she has, since B boy is, well, vertically challenged.

But mostly, we talked about Ingrid's job. She works for the municipality of Drammen as a social worker in a daycare with a high percentage of foreigners. The demographics in this daycare make her job both rewarding and extremely difficult, since children of new immigrants and refugees are often lost in their own little worlds as they try to adjust to a Norwegian daycare miles away from what they've been used to. Everything from the games that are played, to the food that's eaten, to the language spoken is new for them.

Their own families are under extreme pressure as they try to establish a new life with very little money and a non-existent social network, juggling new societal expectations with values from their homeland. Sometimes a parent has been left behind, occasionally with unknown whereabouts. In other cases, one or both parents struggle with mental illnesses caused by horrific experiences in the country they came from.

And out from these families, and into Ingrid's daycare, come new little boys and girls on a daily basis, trying to cope as only children can.

My friend's job consists of identifying children with special needs within the daycare, and instructing and aiding employees in their care of these children. Given the population makeup, the percentage of special needs cases in her daycare is much higher than what you'd see elsewhere. And while her success stories are beautiful to hear, she has tales that will keep you up at night with an aching heart.

Like the one about the 3-year-old boy who started at the daycare a year ago, joining his 4-year-old brother. The older brother had already been pegged as a troublemaker who'd get into physical altercations with other children, but once his little brother joined him, these sessions turned into outright group bully behaviour against other children. On more than one occasion, they were caught standing on either side of a playmate, kicking that child as hard as they could.

I can't imagine a 3 or 4-year-old with that much rage in his heart.

The older brother left to start school this fall, leaving the youngster alone at the daycare. A few weeks ago, the boy asked the one daycare teacher whom he'd grown ever so slightly attached to, and who also had a son at the centre, if she ever hit her child,

"Like my dad hits me?"

After replying that she did not, she noticed an immediate and striking change in his attitude, as if she no longer warranted his respect.

"You can just leave. I don't want you here."

Only a few days later, Ingrid played a linguistic game with the boy to improve his weak language skills. This particular exercise consisted of picking out matching cards, such as a doll and a stroller, or a ball and a net. As he picked out the bucket and spade cards, Ingrid, in an attempt to promote more advanced language usage, asked if he could use the spade with something else as well.

"I can use it to throw sand in other kids' eyes."

She prodded him, asking why he'd want to do such a thing.

"To make them cry."

And the reason he wanted the kids to cry?

"So they'll be afraid of me."

The boy came to Norway with his family from a war-torn country, and the father has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. The mother looks like she is about to fall apart from exhaustion every time she drops off or picks up her children. And every day, her son - her baby boy - desperately tries to cope with his own fears by transferring them onto others.

Ingrid told me that Children's Aid have been notified, and that the children will likely be removed from the family. My heart breaks for these boys, who are seething with anger at the world. I wonder what foster care can do for them. What foster care might do to them.

But my heart also aches for their parents. For what they've become, and for all those broken dreams.

11 Nov 2007

Of Mousse and Marriage

Last night, the entire Bjerkan clan gathered for a potluck, our first here in Norway. The day was cool with a hint of snow in the air, but once the sun set, lit candles cast a lovely glow over the mix-and-match buffet magically conjured up by our joint efforts.

My contribution was relatively uninspired - a salsa/bean/cheese concoction toasted in the oven on the new 'tub' style taco shells that are a huge hit with my family. I also sliced some smoked salmon (a staple in our home), and wrapped puff pastry around a brie topped with mushrooms sauteed in red wine.

Among more exciting offerings, the Italian kitchen was represented by cheesy lasagnas of both the meat and veggie kind, as well as a delicious green salad. We were also treated to French cuisine courtesy of a red wine based casserole with whole onions, peppers and juicy chunks of fillet. All dishes were scrumptiously satisfying.

And yes, I did gain 5 pounds last night. Thanks for asking.

The night's pièce de résistance was definitely my sister's homemade mousse au chocolat. It was divine in its fluffy lightness, and the chunks of chocolate hidden within layers of decadence were little bites of heaven.

In my reverie, I was transported back to a similarly cool November weekend some 13 years ago. On paper, that looks like a long time ago, but last night, it felt like the blink of an eye. Each spoonful of pure bliss brought back memories of another evening where chocolate mousse had played a starring role.

In November of 1994, I had settled in Oslo after completing my degree at UBC in Vancouver, Canada. I'd landed a decent-paying job, found a great little apartment in the up-and-coming artistic section of town, and, in my domestic fervour, even acquired a cat. I was enjoying my life, dipping my toes into the post-education waters called 'adulthood'.

My place of work employed several other gals and guys at a similar stage of life, and our interaction often expanded into the off-work hours, with dinners, workouts, clubbing and shopping. One Friday afternoon, after work, a few of us went out to dinner followed by drinks at a club. When I finally made it home, it was past midnight, but it had been a fun evening, and I was looking forward to the weekend off.

The very next morning, I met up with another work colleague for some quality shopping time. This was my first time shopping with this particular girl, and I was thrilled to find that we hit it off right away. After scouring the stores at Aker Brygge for good deals, we had one of those looong lunches, where we cemented our new found friendship with talk about not just work and colleagues, but also our hopes and dreams for the future. We were both in that sweet spot in life where our only responsibility was to ourselves, having completed the scheduled life of university projects and papers, but not yet hit true domestication, partnering and child-rearing. Life was good!

Following the marathon shopping and chatting session, I didn't make it back to my little apartment until late that afternoon. The sun was already setting on the blustery day, and I remember walking from the bus stop towards my building at a brisk pace, feeling happy that my shopping date had gone so well, but chilled to be outside after spending the better part of the afternoon inside a warm cafe. I wondered if I was coming down with a cold.

As I opened the door to my apartment, my little kitty ran out to meet me, relieved to have company after several hours alone. She is the only cat I've ever known who enjoyed a good game of 'fetch', and we had a quick session of throwing a rolled up ball of paper down the hall for her to bring back to me.

I'd just crashed on the couch with a cup of steaming hot tea and a book when the phone rang. It was my friend Helene calling to remind me of her dinner party that evening. A dinner party I had forgotten all about. As we were talking, I looked outside and saw snowflakes in the air, the wind busy throwing them this way and that. The last thing I wanted to do was leave my toasty warm apartment again. I told Helene I was feeling a bit under the weather after the busy week, and that I'd rather not have to venture out into the cold again. "Thank you, but I hope you have a great party."

Helene was never one to take no for an answer, and she persisted, begging me to come. She'd invited a Canadian guy to her party and needed someone to help entertain him. He didn't speak much Norwegian, but since her other guests were Norwegian, she couldn't very well speak English all night. "Can't you please come and help me?"

I had no desire to waste a Saturday night trying to make conversation with some guy I'd never met, and frankly, had no interest in meeting. I looked longingly at my book and the hot tea on my table. As I hesitated, trying to come up with an unassailable reason to stay at home, Helene grabbed the chance to clinch the deal: "Heidi, Eivind is making his famous chocolate mousse especially for you tonight. You have to come and have some, or he'll be upset."

I made it to Helene's party that night. And I dutifully sat down next to Mike, who was working as a consultant in Norway for a few months. I also made an effort to converse in English, as requested by my hostess. It didn't take long for me to realize I wasn't wasting my time. And when Mike moved to Costa Rica 9 months later, I packed my bags and followed. The rest, as they say, is history.

Oh, and the chocolate mousse? Life-altering!

8 Nov 2007

One Night In Dubai

We had invited my parents over for dinner last night, and Mike and I were in the kitchen prepping an easy Tex-Mex dinner while the boys were watching TV. Suddenly, Christopher came running into the kitchen, and he was extremely excited:

C: "Did you know that the most expensive hotel in the world is in Saudi Arabia?"
Me: "Oh, really? I thought it was in Dubai."
C: "Yes, that's right."
Me: (??!) "It's the one that looks like a sail, right?"
C: "Yep. It's a seven star hotel!"
Me: "Wow."
C: "And when you go, they give you your own butler!"
Me: "That's great, Christopher."
C: "Yes, and if you go out shopping and you have too many shopping bags, your butler will take them to the hotel for you. Then he'll come back and get you when you're done with the rest of your shopping!"
Me: "Excellent."
C: "It costs 3,000 dollars a night."

Mike (loudly, because he's now setting the table in the dining room): "That's a lot of money. For that amount of money, you could buy a PlayStation, an XBOX 360, a Wii and 20 games."

Benjamin (yelling from the living room, having heard only the last part of the conversation): "I want a Wii and 20 games."

Christopher walks back into the living room to Benjamin.

B (still yelling): "I want a Wii and 20 games!"
C (clearly exasperated with everyone for missing the point): "But Benjamin! You could have a servant."

6 Nov 2007


You know the word verification thingy all you 'portant bloggers have activated? It. Hates. Me. And the feeling is mutual. Here's how our relationship works:

I punch in my supportive/cheerful/sympathetic/sarcastic comment and press 'Send'.

Immediately little miss Word Verification answers back, quite snippily, with intimidating red letters:

Enter the letters as they are shown in the image.

She even uses a bossy little Warning triangle! Sort of like a veiled threat. Only not veiled. More like an in-your-face 'be afraid...be veeeeeeery afraid' threat. A 'you-are-going-to-lose-your-entire-comment-if-you-don't-do-as-I-say' dare.

Fine. So I look at the stupid letters. But they're in a cursive I have never, ever seen before, unless it's the type that my oldest son tries to pass off as cursive (meaning little miss Word Verification is not just rude but also a lazy bum). I can't tell for sure what's a 'v' and what's a 'w'. Lazy, mean bum.

I punch in the letters while muttering 'what a pain in the butt' under my breath.

Press 'Send'.


She's back. And this time, I swear the message is bigger, bolder and redder:

Enter the letters as they are shown in the image.

The triangle is larger, too, and more ominous. Like the exclamation mark is ready to jump out of the screen and in my face.

She's got new letters up there now. Fewer this time, and slightly easier to read. It's like she's mocking me. She's clearly thinking I'm so stupid, I need the idiot version. She's trying to make it easy for hopeless little me. The nerve! I'll show her!

Punch, punch, punch... 'Send'


Third attempt Word Verification reads as follows: BENDOVR


Homework At Our House

I'm sitting in our dining room watching, out of the corner of my eye, as Christopher prepares to do homework. He has just come home from a friend's house, it's 4:30 pm, and the sun is already setting. I've suggested he do his homework at the kitchen table, because the light is better there.

As I write this, I've counted him going back and forth from the kitchen to his school bag in the hallway 3 times. Each time carrying a single item from his bag. First his math book. Then his notebook. And finally, his pencil case.

There is no way a girl could've been this distracted, is there? She would have been able to get all three things out of her bag at once, surely? Or better yet, moved the school bag into the kitchen? Heck, most boys may even have thought of this. But not my Christopher. He's too busy chatting to anyone who'll listen to concentrate on what he should be doing.

[One hour later...]

Christopher continues to do his homework. He finished his math pretty quickly. Math is easy for that child, but he still manages to make it look horrendously complicated by being so. darn. messy.

He is now reading about Northern Norway. I understand that this is difficult for him, seeing as it is in Norwegian and all. But he has come into the dining room twice in the last 5 minutes with sentences starting like this: "You know, when we were in Hawaii last year..."

"Stop right there, Christopher! Unless Hawaii has suddenly become part of Northern Norway, you need to go back to your work." I say with as much firmness as my voice can muster (and believe you me, that's quite a lot).

He's clearly taken aback, because 2 minutes later I hear: "Are we having pizza toni..."

"Christopher! Nose. In. Book."

30 seconds later, realizing he's getting nowhere with me, he attempts this one on Mike: "Do you remember in Planet Earth, when the baby whale drank 3000 liters of milk a day?"

Mike acknowledges the question, says he can't deny that this is an interesting fact, but shouldn't Christopher be doing something else right now?

Why yes, he should. Northern Norway. Keywords in notebook. Now.

Please tell me it isn't just him?


Rewind 4 hours, to when Benjamin came home from school happy as could be. Rosy cheeks from the crisp air, jacket unzipped, just to drive his mother batty. He bounced joyfully into the house and declared to no one in particular, "I don't want to do homework the very minute I walk in the door." (Never mind that he'd already played for 2 hours in the after school programme at school). I told him if he wanted to play outside for a while, he could do so while it was still light, but that as soon as he came inside, it would be homework time. No playing inside before homework was done.

Wouldn't you know that he proceeded to stay outside for an hour? Using his scooter, he went around and around and around the block. Aimlessly and without any purpose, other than avoiding homework.


So I guess it isn't just Christopher after all...argh!

5 Nov 2007

The Bachelor - Part II

So maybe I knew that posting those pictures wasn't the nice thing to do. That they would be a little, teeny, tiny bit humiliating for the Norwegian Bachelor. I couldn't resist - I couldn't get over how different the two guys were.

It was meant as a simple spoof - but your comments made me think. And so, having started down this road, I might as well go all the way, even though I'm not sure where I'm going. Especially since I don't even watch Bachelor, and only stumbled across the Norwegian version on Saturday evening, bored and waiting for the boys to return home from a soccer match.

Many of us agree that while Mr. Norway is far from the ultimate in male hotness, he seems less plastic than Mr. USA, who also does not seem to have much of a following in the blogosphere.

But shall we take a look at the ladies?



Isn't it amazing how these two shows, based on the exact same premise, are worlds apart in their final presentation? The oh-so-smooth American package vs. the stark realism of the Norwegian show.

The Norwegian production may look less polished and more rough around the edges partly as a matter of cost. Little Norway, with its 4 million people, can not justify a lavish budget for a show that maybe pulls in a couple of hundred thousand people an episode. Meanwhile, according to my best friend Google, more than 10 million people watched the last episode of the Bachelor in North America. That kind of ad revenue can pay for a rose or two.

Accepting that there's money to spend, I still wonder why the American show has such a sky high polish factor and is filled with perfect human specimens, beautifully airbrushed with blindingly white teeth, who so do not resemble any of the people in my neighbourhood?

The 25 Bachelor girls look like they just stepped off the runway. They are all gorgeous. Are we really supposed to be believe that they are unable to find a date on their own, and that they're so desperate they're willing to slug it out over a single guy they don't even know? On national TV?

I think not.

I can only see one reason for these girls to be doing this in the first place -because it is filmed for everyone to see. This is a stepping stone, a way to gain exposure, perhaps to promote a modelling or fledgling...ehem...acting career. Finding love is the farthest thing from their minds. Which is why the name reality show is so hilarious. Can we get any less real here, people?

This is escapism in its purest form. A prime time soap opera with all fluff and chocolate, no substance. A beautifully designed world, full of beautiful people doing beautiful things, in the hopes of winning a beautiful price. Enjoy it, if you like, for what it is. Don't try to look for anything real, beyond the name of the designer dresses.

Which makes me wonder what exactly it is that Norwegian viewers are escaping to? A world of average-looking, middle-aged, slightly overweight women - who have all been around the block - competing for the affections of a middle-aged, chubby, dishevelled man with a fairly grumpy demeanour.

There is an element of grittiness here that gives the illusion that the programme is showing it like it really is. Except we are still watching a group of women being scrutinized, evaluated and picked off one by one by a single man. Ouch!

I also question what's in it for the Norwegian women participating on the show? They are in a different age bracket than the American Bachelor girls. These women are mature - in their 40s. Surely, this can't be much of a stepping stone for them. Could it be that they are really looking for love? Wouldn't that be awful? I honestly can't imagine anything sadder.

So, although I initially thought the other way around, I'm now thinking that the Norwegian version might be worse, precisely because it looks more real. At least the American show is so over the top, you can almost feel the participants laughing with you at themselves.

From a feminist point of view, I do worry about the subliminal messages (actually, subliminal is the wrong word - I mean blatantly obvious messages) in shows such as the Bachelor. But the truth is, I can choose not to watch, and as long as there is a market for this type of thing, I suppose I'm fine with it. There are worse things to watch on TV. Except maybe for pubescent girls...

4 Nov 2007

Weekend Wanderings

Saturday morning, having fought and won the dreaded Battle of the Shower* against the boys, we made our way to Oslo for a change of scenery. After parking our little Golf near Aker Brygge, we grabbed our coats and walked up towards Karl Johan Gate. It was a chilly morning, but we didn't feel cold thanks to the sunshine and brisk walking.

Karl Johan (so named after King Karl Johan) is the main thoroughfare in Oslo, connecting the Central Railway Station in one end with the Royal Palace in the other, passing Stortinget (Parliament) and the National Theatre on the way. The lower part of the street is a cobble stoned pedestrian only walkway, and this is where you'll find all the upmarket boutiques that Oslo has to offer. The upper part of the street is a wide boulevard with a park and the National Theatre on one side, the University of Oslo's Faculty of Law on the other, and, at the very end, the Royal Palace.

During the summer, Karl Johan is bustling with people shopping or enjoying a drink or meal at one of the numerous cafes and restaurants lining either side. In the wintertime, the park between the National Theatre and Stortinget is turned into a skating rink, to the amusement of children young and old. The street is truly the heart of the capital, and it is my favourite place to visit in Oslo.

Our boys are particularly fond of playing in the Royal Gardens, but this time around, we decided to walk down towards the Central Railway Station. The street artists scattered along the way provided the necessary amusement to keep the boys going, despite my occasional pit stops into various clothing stores.

Next to the railway station are a couple of newer shopping centres, where we managed to pick up a new pair of indoor running shoes for Christopher. I was shocked to find that he now has bigger feet than me. My feet are on the small side, but having your child outgrow you in anything is nevertheless a milestone. And yet another sign that they are growing up much too quickly.

After a gourmet lunch at McDonald's for our nugget-deprived boys, we leisurely strolled back to the car along the Oslo fjord, passing the infamous City Hall on our way.

As we left Oslo, we happened to see the Color Line cruise ship that we are scheduled to go to Kiel on in a fortnight. The boys were extremely impressed with the sheer size of the ship, and are now looking forward to our mini-getaway.

Sunday morning was yet another crisp but beautifully sunny day, allowing us to meet up with my sister and her boys for a good 7 km trek on forest trails. Christopher has been a good walker for some time, but I am noticing a big change in Benjamin, who now keeps up with his brother and cousins, and does not complain when walking for several hours. I'd forgotten just how pleasant these walks can be without continuous whining and whinging about feeling tired, having sore feet, being cold, hungry or thirsty.

Today's walk took us from Landfalltjernen to Tverken cottage, where we stopped and purchased freshly made waffles from the city-run cottage. And truly, there's nothing like eating waffles and drinking home-made hot chocolate on a lovely fall day.

Compared to last weekend, when I was ready to give my boys away for free, getting out and moving around did wonders for us this weekend. I am still noticing signs of teenageritis in Christopher, but I'm happy to report that the fresh air improved his symptoms somewhat.

I'll sign off with this final piece of happy news. Remember my plans to sneak off with this Object of Absolute Cuteness?

Well, as luck would have it, I no longer need to: Ann and Per have graciously asked Mike and I to be Godparents for baby nephew Emil. We are both honoured and extremely excited! I also believe this grants me rights to access at all times, which will come in handy whenever my children are acting, you know, like 7 and 10 year olds.

*To be addressed at a later date, as I currently do not have the energy required to describe - in sufficient and necessary detail - the amount of persuasion, coaxing, threatening and bribing required to get my children to SHOWER.