I live in one of the most beautiful countries on earth. I suppose there are many countries which have incredible landmarks and geographic features. The United States of America, my home, boasts 59 national parks, all of them spectacular in their own ways. Yellowstone is my favorite, followed closely by Yosemite and Grand Teton. I've also visited the Swiss Alps (and the Italian Alps), which take the breath away. Ireland's Dunloe Gap made me woozy with all the green, green, green. And I've stood stunned on the brink of the Blue Mountains in Australia. But Norway, even after all our travels, is special. This latest time lapse video from Rustad Media demonstrates that in high definition detail.
Yes, I've been to several of the places featured in this film. I've wandered among the sharp peaks of Lofoten and cruised the deep, placid fjords of Vestlandet, and hiked the snowfields in Midt-Norge, and walked above the clouds at Norway's highest point, Galdhøpiggen. But what I love most about this video is actually the way the cities and towns are woven into the narrative, too. Bright, gold lights flicker in the windows of snug, colorful buildings in these typical Norwegian towns. It's what I'll actually remember most if and when I leave this place one day: that among the wilderness, Norwegians have carved out the cosiest spots for themselves. As a resident of this place, I promise here and now never to take that for granted.
October is my favorite month, and this year, it's going to be an especially good one.
I'm finally in the swing of things as a new masters student in the English Literature program at the University of Oslo. Getting used to the class schedule took a few weeks. The assigned readings are a little overwhelming sometimes, but I'm interested in almost all of them. The school has a lovely campus, and the leaves in the trees and on the crawling vines have begun to change. The gold, red, and orange fluttering in the chilly autumn breeze makes me think of bouquets of sharpened pencils. It's a good season for learning.
My writing life remains active. I just taught my first creative writing workshop here in Oslo alongside my friend and fellow author, Zoë Harris. Eight students signed up to take our Writing A to Z: Creative Writing Basics class. They were diverse in their interests and backgrounds, and all of them displayed a core curiosity and creative spirit. We had fun sharing our insights about writing with the group--running writing exercises and teaching--and I hope we get a chance to do it again soon.
Tonight, several writer friends of mine will gather in my living room to put our pens to paper together. We've been meeting for three years now. Thanks to them, my life is even more full of words.
Baking with Julia is one of the cookbooks I received from my optimistic relatives in the weeks leading up to my wedding. Good news, it's been much used and loved over the last ten years. By far the most used recipe is the one for Baking Powder Biscuits. In fact, if you pull the book from its shelf, it will fall open to the biscuit page, the result of hand-written notes in the margins and a dusting of flour across the text and down in the binding. I've got the recipe memorized, of course, but I like to have the book out anyway. Just in case. I'm no Julia Child, after all. It's just that I can make her biscuits. And now you can, too!
Baking Powder Biscuits
"Among bakers, one hears the expression "She has a good biscuit hand". Like pie crusts, biscuits are a measure of a bakers talents and a pastry in which bakers take particular pride.
"To have a good biscuit hand is to have a light touch and restraint-a biscuit dough is so soft that it invites poking and prodding, kneading and mashing, when it should be barely worked. The golden rule with biscuits is to stop doing whatever you're doing to them two beats before you have to. So when you're rubbing the shortening and flour together and there are still some chubby chunks of shortening-stop. When you're tossing the flour and shortening mixture with the milk and the dough looks only just moistened-stop. And when you turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it just to work it into a mass, count each knead, get to ten-and stop."
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/3 cup of solid vegetable shortening (68 g butter)
1 cup of milk
Position the rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 425 F (218 C).
(Here I'll just say that Julia's recipe calls for you to grease a 9- by 12-inch baking pan and set it aside. I don't grease mine. There's enough butter in the biscuits to make this an irrelevant step, I think. That said, you might want to try it the "right" way, first!)
Mixing the Dough: Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk or stir with a fork to mix. Add the shortening/butter. If you're using shortening, follow Julia's direction to "roll it around in the flour mix to coat it, and break it into 4 or 5 pieces. Rub flour and shortening together with the tips of your fingers, making little crumbs and letting the crumbs fall back into the bowl." If you're using butter, you can cut it into the flour mixture with a hand-held pastry cutter tool. Either way, you'll end up with lots of small buttery crumbs and a few larger pieces. Add milk and stir with a fork to moisten the flour. Don't worry about mixing completely. If you've got "a sticky mass of dough," you're on the right track.
Kneading the Dough: Remember to use your aforementioned "biscuit hands!" Scatter flour across your clean work surface and scoop the dough out of the bowl onto the counter. "Knead the dough ten times--no more, even if its malleable texture tempts you." Listen to Julia; she's serious about this. Pat the dough into a large circle about 9-inches across. Then you can use a "2-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter" to cut out your biscuits. I use an overturned glass.
Baking the Biscuits: Move the biscuits to the pan. If you want softer biscuits, push them close together, even allowing them to touch. Placing them apart will make them crispy. If you're butter-happy like Julia (or my mom) you can brush the tops with melted butter before baking. I skip this. Because there is such a thing as too much butter, no matter what Paula Deen says.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are golden on top. Serve warm.
It's fall. That's why everyone I know has been baking, baking, baking. I do recommend Julia's whole cook book. Some of the recipes are a little ambitious for my taste/capability, but many of them are simple and straightforward. Plus, it's Julia. A brand we all can trust. Happy Biscuits to you all!
Want more of me baking? Who doesn't? The Best Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies (October 2013)
It's been a very long day. Sometimes, on days like this, I forget who I am for a second. I forget that I've made promises and commitments, grand predictions about my own future. I forget that I've eaten and what I like to eat and what makes me gag and how certain other foods affect me. If approached at this moment by a butler with a cupful of tapioca resting on a shiny silver tray, I'd probably take it and eat it all. Slurp it all down--damn the texture--and let the spoon clink in the empty glass and wipe my mouth on the back of my arm. I forget that I am mannered.
It's been a long day. All I want to do is sprawl on the couch and weep and laugh and play Scrabble and gossip on the phone with friends and rub my cat's fur the wrong way, then the right way again. I want to wear lint-covered sweats and throw my dangling earrings at the wall. I want my legs to be shaven smooth without my having to walk into the bathroom, strip down, soap up, and do the actual shaving. Then I want to slather myself with all kinds of moisturizing products. Lotion that smells like honey and vanilla. Lip balm that smells like strawberries. Until I am supple. Because at the end of a long day like this one, I feel a million years old, and I forget that I sometimes still possess a youthful exuberance, fearlessness and foolishness.
It's been a truly long day. Who am I again? My kitchen is hidden beneath piles of pans and dishes, crumpled napkins, empty cartons of milk and soda bottles. Dust bunnies swirl into invisible eddies between the bookcases every time I open a door. And we've had to move the hanging laundry inside again because the weather has taken a turn for the cold. I forget that I'm a writer, a wife, a friend, a daughter, a sister. I forget I'm anything but a shell for a throbbing brain and hands which feel useless in the face of constant, reincarnating mess. I forget that I have a heart. I forget that I have assigned reading which would fill the better part of the next week if I were to go at it non-stop starting now. And that a paper draft is due on Monday. And another is due shortly thereafter. Neither of which are anything currently but a heap of unintelligible notes, anchored by intricate doodles.
It's been a long, long day. I forget that I show up for things on time (most of the time), and often early. That if I have an important appointment coming up at a new place, I'll walk to it days in advance just to make sure I won't get lost when the real day arrives. I forget that I've eaten at McDonald's three times in the last week--always a McChicken and fries. Who is this person? Dark circles under her eyes and dry cuticles and a nose that never fails to rev its engine and run hard at 2 a.m.
It's been a long day.
But somehow my classes got attended. My teachers got the answers they were looking for from me. I invested in new friendships, worked hard, got a new podcast in the can. Somehow. How? I couldn't tell you. I am aching to be five years old again. I am wishing on stars and refusing to pull the bag of scarves and beanies out of storage. I am making burritos for dinner instead of doing the responsible adult thing and preparing something with vegetables. Beans, I forget, don't count. I have forgotten more than I've learned today, I'm sure of it. But time continues to pass, and tomorrow promises not to be quite so full or so long.
Here's hoping that, at the end of the day, I'm back to remembering me.
Journal entry from 20 July 2014:
This morning the wrinkles of our sweatshirts smell like pipe smoke and DEET. We left the hytte at 20:30, slathered in bug spray so that our cheeks shone in the late sunlight. Stopping to watch fish rise in the river--just a slip of dark, shiny head above the sparkling surface, then rings expanding to the shore--we found ourselves surrounded by a cloud of insects.
They hovered and glowed in the light, whirring and bobbing. It took me a moment to realize they were mosquitos. Enormous mosquitos. Their terrifying blood-sucking apparatus long and curved and visible. They appeared more like hummingbirds than insects. Thankfully, the spray kept them at bay.
We walked on up the road to the turnoff just before Rundvatnet, then up another steep fire road to its end. There we found no trail, but our object was the North-facing ride of Ostre Omasvarri (654 m), an understated hunch of a hill in this region of sharp-peaked giants. We turned and wandered in to the forest of birch--widely set from one another and branchlessly white down low, a departure from the forests of our Sierra home--which happens to be excellent for off-trail tramping and bushwhacking.
I'm proud to announce Writing A to Z: Creative Writing Basics, a one-day workshop in Oslo this September.
I'll be teaching alongside my friend and fellow writer, Zoë Harris, founder of the Oslo Writers League. For the purposes of this fun, introductory workshop, we'll focus on both the craft and the practicalities of starting out as a creative writer.
Participants will take part in exercises designed to stimulate creativity, and will also gain insight into the publishing industry. We will talk about ways to structure a productive, healthy writing life, as well as discuss different avenues in which to direct your writing energy. You'll have the chance to ask questions about your own work and may choose to share your writing in an introductory peer-critique session at the end of the day.
Date: Sunday, 28th September, 2014
Time: 9:30am - 4:00pm
Place: Sagene Samfunnshus, Kristiansandsgate 2, Oslo (Trinserud room)
Early-bird Price: 650 NOK (Book before August 31st)
Full Price: 750 NOK
Lunch, coffee, tea and fruit snacks are all included in the price.
Registration: Places are limited, so to secure your attendance, please email us to express your interest. You will then be sent an email with payment instructions.
For more information about the workshop--as well as bios for both Zoë and me--visit the Book Polishers website. We hope to see you there!
Apologize for stuff. Forgive immediately.
No, faster than that. Forgive before you get the apology. But always apologize. Beyond try-not-to-do-things-that-result-in-a-need-to-apologize, these are the two most important rules you can live by in a relationship.
Say thank you for everything, all the time.
In our house, this includes "Thank you for making dinner" and "Thank you for bringing me socks" and "Thank you for playing Scrabble with me" and "Thank you for stopping by the store for toilet paper on your way home" and "Thank you for washing the pans in the sink" and "Thank you for marrying me" and "Thank you for suggesting a walk" and on and on and on. No action is too small to thank the other person for, and this way, no one feels taken for granted, even after ten years of establishing a routine.
Continuously. Face to face, over text, instant message. Tell him how handsome he looks when he comes home from work. Tell him what you're wearing. Tease her over dinner. Play footsy under the table. It's attention we all crave, proactive affection, proof that we're worth the time and energy it takes. Proof that we still make the other person's heart flutter.
Be honest, but be kind.
The best answer is a straight answer, the truth, always. Anything less leaves a wound. A scratch, maybe, but something vulnerable to blisters, festering. There are only two lies allowed: You're more beautiful than the day I met you, and Yes, I want to hear more about your work. (I'm not being sexist. These two lies go both ways, especially in a marriage of equals.) Incredibly, if you are selfless enough, and if the person you choose to spend your life with reciprocates often enough, these two things will become mercifully true.
Embrace every day. And really hold on.
Longer. Put your nose to the part of her hair and inhale. Memorize the warmth of his hands on your back. Listen to his heartbeat. This is what's important. Even when you don't have time for it, hang on tight.
Before you fall asleep, tell her three things you love about her.
Then do the same thing for him. Do this often. Even if you have to repeat a few things over the years, the list will soothe her soul and build up his self-esteem. It will also act as a mantra and reminder for you. Why do you love this person? That's easy...
Clean up the messes without her asking.
Cats, kids, dogs, friends over and drinking their way toward clumsy... messes happen. You see vomit, excrement, hairballs, blood, spilled garbage first--the unglamorous inconveniences of life--and you shield her from it. Grab the paper towels and the cleaning spray and make it gone. Like magic.
Read aloud to him.
On road trips, kick your feet up on the dash and bring to life a story that will pique his imagination, answer his questions about the universe, make him laugh. Fill the miles with your voice and new ideas, and enjoy the conversations that rise in your wake.
Maintain the element of surprise.
If you're up early, make breakfast. Bring home flowers. Give gifts. Make love at random in a new room of the house. Tell him something he doesn't know about the way you think, the things you believe. And to that end, never stop learning or growing as an individual. If you don't change it up, she'll have you all figured out within the first decade. Stability is desirable, and knowing someone intimately enough to be able to finish their sentences is sweet, but without the promise of something new to learn, it's easy to lose interest. The element of surprise is absolutely key.
Laugh often and much.
Now, I can't say that this is one you can teach yourself to do if it doesn't come naturally. It's best if you join with someone who cracks you up in the first place. But this may be the most essential thing. If you laugh together--if you can make each other laugh, if you can laugh at yourselves in front of one another--the years will feel so easy. Tough situations will be diffused. Pressure won't be allowed to build. Joy will be at the surface of every day, and that's what makes you want to keep waking up beside the same guy. Every morning. For the rest of your laughter-filled life.
Happy Anniversary, Mr. Jonathan Peter Camp! I'm looking forward to the next decade very much indeed.
Past anniversary posts:
"There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind." ― Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own
Dorothy Ann Pancoast (nee Bercher) was born in Cicero, Illinois in November of 1923. Her mother called her Dots. Cicero was a small town, and most people knew the Berchers because Dot's Uncle Frank was the mailman. The families in Dot's neighborhood grew their own vegetables and raised chickens, geese, ducks, and goats in their backyards. As a child growing up during the Great Depression, Dot was more aware of her family's circumstances than they realized. She knew not to ask for toys or treats or store-bought clothes. So long as there was food on the table, she knew her family was okay, better off than many others.
At night, Dot would lean on the window sill and stare out at the fluttering softness of two huge maple trees in her front yard, dreaming about becoming a beautiful woman. Later she would claim she never became beautiful, but determined quickly that she would be a very interesting old lady instead. I think she accomplished both.
In January of 1949, Dot graduated with a Bachelor of Science, cum laude from the University of Illinois.
My grandmother's college degree definitely set her apart. According to this study, there were only 530,000 American women enrolled in college in 1947. Less than 15% of the girls who graduated from high school went on to university at all. Dot was a trendsetter, as it turned out. Over the next 40 years, the number of women in college increased to 7.1 million (1988). Today, women vastly outnumber men in both their pursuit of higher education and the number of degrees and graduate degrees awarded every year.
I love seeing these photos of my grandma as a young woman, leaning over her typewriter or laughing with classmates, showing off her enviable calves. These are years we have in common, and our passions of the age are shared, as well. One of my most treasured possessions is an "English Romantic Poets" textbook which belonged to Dots at U of I. Her pencil-notes in the margins are so similar to my own. (She was fascinated by the young age of Keats when he was writing his most important works. She admired Wordsworth's contribution to the canon.) Before my grandmother was a wife or mother, she was a curious, intelligent, ambitious young woman with dreams of world travel and a career.
The next two minutes and thirty-one seconds will be the some of the most bizarre you've ever spent thinking about Oslo. GoPro cameras have enabled humans to make some pretty incredible videos. My favorite is, of course, Lions - The New Endangered Species? Lion group hug! This vid is less cool (how could it not be?), but more relevant to my blog. Watch as Eirik Helland Urke hops on a city bike and pedals around town. He swings past a number of sights mentioned in my post about jogging through the city yesterday, too. I love the way Stortinget looks!
If you're considering a visit to Oslo, I doubt this video will have much impact on your decision. But Oslo in Motion: 12,000 Photos in 5 Minutes might inspire you!
At six o'clock in the morning the streets of Oslo are almost empty. An overcast sky shades every corner, every park, every closed cafe patio gray. The light breeze is welcome after several consistently hot weeks. Leaves are still tightly bound to the branches of the full, green, summer trees. It's just me out there. Me and the city I call home.
I've never seen Oslo like this before. Oh, I've seen her empty. On Easter weekend. Or after catching the 1 a.m. train home from the airport, rolling our suitcases up the hill from National Theater. But never like this. Behind every closed door and Stengt sign comes the buzz of potential energy.
I am running. Downhill first. From Inkognitogata to Henrik Ibsens gate, through the heavy construction at Solli plass. Asphalt peeled back to reveal old tracks and new track. Rust at the joints. Workers in neon vests sip coffee. All this downhill is a gift to me. It's tough enough to motivate myself out of bed in the morning. To lace up my old sneakers (new shoes will be my reward for successfully completing the Oslo Half Marathon in September). My footsteps are quick and even.
Down Dokkveien to Aker Brygge. No cars on the road. I pass the Nobel Peace Center, cross Rådhusplassen. I am alone with the statues, the fountains. Fishy smells waft up from under the piers on the fjord. The bells in the brick towers don't chime. It's only been a mile. It's only been ten minutes. My breathing is more labored than it should be, but I'm used to that by now. It's the first mile and a half that's hardest for me. A breaking in. Breaking through the wall and finding a healthier part of my spirit.
I skirt the perimeter of Akershus Fortress. No cruise ship parked where I expect it, so the fjord view is open to me. Islands. Sailboats. Ferries. Rounding the corner, I see the Opera House. It is an iceberg. Pristine. Not a single person on the terraced roof. And faster than I expect, I am running along Operagata. Three men exit a beige sedan carrying musical instruments in bulky, black cases. Cyclists whip past me wearing black spandex, neon vests, helmets. They are on their way to work.
I am suddenly anxious. This is where my path will deviate from what I've run before. As a reluctant runner, I find blazing new trails joyless, even stressful. But this is a necessary part of my training. I'm piecing together the half marathon course one segment at a time. Nordenga Bridge rises ahead of me. I run up. It's another deal I make with myself. Never walk uphill unless I must, but if I run up, I get to breathe at the top. Not sure who enforces these rules. My subconscious?
I take the stairs at the far side of the bridge. Carefully. My knees wobble. Platous gate, then Tøyengata. This is what I"ve been preparing for. The new segment circles Oslo's Botanical Gardens, and that's a climb. For me. Seventy-odd feet in less than a mile. On race day, it'll be about Mile 10. I predicted it would crush my soul.