Heredity - The transmission of genetic characters from parents to offspring, it is dependent upon the segregation and recombination of genes during meiosis and fertilization and results in the genesis of a new individual similar to others of its kind but exhibiting certain variations resulting from the particular mix of genes and their interactions with the environment.

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I woke up thinking about my grandmother. 

She popped up in the middle of my essay on the evolution of Feminism yesterday. Since then I've been wondering which of her characteristics, good and bad, live on in me. Grandma Dot passed away almost three years ago, but I think about her often. On some days, I even see her in the mirror. She's there in my slightly left-upturned mouth. My high, pale forehead.

Some of the genes have pulled through. We may not be movie stars, but there's a capable, bookish, frankness, something trustworthy and approachable, behind my grandmother's eyes in this photo. It reminds me of something Bette Davis says in Now, Voyager as she cradles her young, emotionally damaged charge, Tina. 

"Well, whoever wants that kind of prettiness, Tina? There's something else you can have if you earn it. A kind of beauty. Something that has nothing to do with your face. A light shines from inside you because you're a nice person."

Dot was an insatiable reader, an archer, a woman with a soft spot for the past (a genealogist). She was quick to talk to strangers, an eloquent listener, and had a charitable heart. I want to claim all of these traits as my own, too. Segregated and recombined. But maybe that's just wishful thinking. Maybe I'm entirely my own woman and there is no one behind me to blame when I fall short.

Either way, Grandma's beauty is the kind I want. She is missed.
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You've just landed on Planet Zuto. Thus begins a recent article in The Atlantic titled Why the U.S. Economy Is Biased Against Men. The author, Marty Nemko, plants his readers on this fictitious planet to demonstrate that, given a blind test, the facts of the U.S. marketplace actually add up to a bias against men rather than women. It's fascinating to see someone try and state the position of the other side in the modern realm of gender bias, and Nemko makes many important points: 

  • Across all careers, surveys report that childless women under 30 make more than men.
  • More than 90 percent of workplace deaths, military deaths, and severe workplace injuries occur to men.
  • Women but not men are encouraged to form committees and caucuses to advance their sex's causes in the workplace.
  • U.S. unemployment is higher for men than women. 

Unfortunately, many of the Nemko's objections are still rooted in the classic chauvinism which rightly contributed to the rise of Feminism in the first place: that men are designed to work more, harder, and in higher positions than women, and that women are destined to make the sacrifices required by at least one parent in order to rear children. 

It is as though Nemko has no idea that while Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining and defending equal rights for women, it also seeks gender equality by acknowledging that men are also harmed by sexism and gender roles. 

For example, Nemko points out that women's advocacy groups pressured the government to create "The Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows employees to... take up to 12 weeks every year... to care for a relative, with a guarantee that their job will be held for them until they choose to return." It's hard to believe, but Nemko is pointing to this advance in employee benefits as a symptom of the anti-male problem (because women take the majority of FMLA days), as though attempting to even this playing field in a way that benefits both parties is fruitless because no man will ever truly desire to take the family leave he's allowed today to help raise his family.

If Nemko is correct, men are suffering a bias which exploits their unwillingness to take benefits they are offered, a bias which discourages them from taking action to help themselves. Nemko says, "Men's efforts to organize into groups have largely been ridiculed, for example, portraying men's groups as troglodytes tromping into the woods to beat tom-toms. And men's organizations have been pressured to admit women, for example, the service clubs: Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions."

He apparently finds it unimaginable that any man would want to join a successful women's business organization, making it a gender neutral business organization, when he could create a men's organization and go up against his rival women. Here I must point out that, had men been quicker to open the doors of Rotary, Kiwanis, and Lions clubs to women in the first place, to help promote the cause of young people regardless of gender, there wouldn't have been a need for NOW or Catalyst or any of the other myriad women-specific groups. 
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"I want to repeat one word for you: Leave. Roll the word around on your tongue for a bit. It is a beautiful word... Don't worry. Everything will still be here when you get back. It is you who will have changed." -- Don Miller

So we left.

Maybe it was that all of our familiar furniture was already placed in these foreign rooms, or maybe it was that sunlight streamed in through all our garret windows and made the place glow. Whatever the case, our cats had no trouble adjusting to their new surroundings. We unzipped the carriers slowly so that Disney and Crypto could ease their way out into the new space. They still wore their harnesses. Green camo for Disney and pink floral for Crypto. They'd spent the last 24 hours enclosed in the carriers, most of that time on planes between San Francisco and New York, then New York and Oslo. We'd pulled them out a few terrorizing times: going through security at SFO and then again at EWR, for a brief rest period at an airport hotel in Newark, New Jersey, and then finally at OSL where a veterinarian was on hand to examine them and grant our precious cargo official entry into Norway.
 
That was the longest day of our lives. 

Two planes, a train, a taxi. Five giant suitcases, two cat carriers, and two whining cats. Four flights of stairs. 

But as we entered the new flat, at once aware of our solitude and our togetherness, all the stress of the melted away. 

Disney found the circle window in the living room quickly. He hopped up to the sill multiple times that first day to check out the new street so far below him. Birds played in the sky at his eye-level. He purred contentedly. Crypto sprawled on the floor in one of the rectangular patches of yellow sunlight on the wooden floor. She lay there like a swimmer floating in a pool of light.

Jonathan and I stepped out on our patio and walked to the corner of it. I pushed up on the banister and leaned forward, face full into the fresh April air, pointing myself southwest where I could see, half a kilometer away, the water of the Oslofjord. Jonathan stood behind me and placed one hand on each of mine, his chest pressed warmly to my shoulder blades. 

That was exactly one year ago. And since then...

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I was fortunate to be able to see Ali Smith interviewed at Oslo's Litteraturhuset earlier this month. I've been a fan of Smith's work since I happened to pick up a well-thumbed copy of The Whole Story and Other Stories at a used bookstore in Davis, California several years ago. Smith's work has twice been short-listed for the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize. When I heard she was coming to Oslo to promote There But For The, her latest novel and eighth Norwegian-translation, I couldn't wait to see her.

"The next time you have a whiskey, drink to my dad."

At this the audience broke out in applause. Smith nodded and raised a pretend glass in salute to the crowd. The gesture summed up the mood of the evening, more a conversation in a pub with a mentor than a lecture given by an award winning author. 

Oslo's Litteraturhuset lecture hall was full of avid Smith fans on the evening of 11 April, eager to hear about the famed Scottish author's writing process and philosophy. After two introductions, one in English and one in Norwegian, Smith took her place onstage.

She sat in one of two chairs, each angled slightly toward the other, and in doing so, was forced to duck under an encroaching microphone stand. Her movement, while not quite graceful, was confident. She wore cuffed jeans and heavy brown boots, and her dark hair swung around her face in a plain, perfunctory bob. Over the course of her interview, conducted as a conversation with book critic Margunn Vikingstad, Smith displayed a delicate vigor. Her voice was both soft and tough as it waxed and wound around words, and her Scottish accent made every declaration sound both optimistic and final, as though no one could or would want to argue.

"But is the best word."

"We forget the formative moments of life until much later, but then they always have revolved around something kind."

"Clichés are a dead language, but they're wonderful. We need them. They offer a shared truth... an 'Oh good, that's happened to you, too.'"

In her chair, Smith sat with scrunched shoulders and one foot tucked up underneath herself. Her eyes sparkled as she recounted her early days as a writer, when the kindnesses of people like one of her first Cambridge landlords ("Now there was a versatile man. He was a plumber who also made hats!") nurtured her. He didn't mind whether she couldn't pay the rent. He'd take what she could pay, drink a cup of tea with her and her roommates, and then leave with thanks.
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Yesterday was my sweetheart's birthday. He's a thirty-three year old man. Can you believe it? I can't. I mean, look at him...

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Okay, I know. He's grown some since these photos were taken (all of them in the '80s!). But his inner cutie pie remains to be about eight years old. This 8-year-old spirit is what compels him to climb cliff faces, juggle fiery torches, and make faces at me when I'm being too serious. Between all that capacity for fun (and those big blue eyes!) how could I not continue to be madly in love with this man?

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We've known each other for a decade, been married for 7 and a half years, have visited 16 countries together, and by the end of the week we will have been living in Oslo for a full year! I guess I know him pretty well by now. Last night, as we walked home from the birthday dinner I'd planned at The Nighthawk Diner, Jonathan said, "That was great. It doesn't get any better than a spicy burger and good beer." True true. 

Here's to another thirty-three years, my love!
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When you move from one place to another, the big changes are evident first. Snow in winter. A new, unintelligible language. Whether cars drive down the left or right-hand side of the street. These changes are big. Adjustments are necessary. You must learn the basics all over again: how to walk, how to speak, how to live. 

Only after you adjust to the landscape and the currency of your new home do you begin to sense the other, more subtle differences:

The average height of women in Norway is a full two inches taller than the average height of women in the U.S.

Police officers walking their beats do not carry guns.

The bills of the magpies in the tree just outside our window are black, not yellow. Would anyone notice that except me?

Birds filled the skies, trees, and fields of my California childhood. Long-billed curlews dipped their curved beaks into the turf of the high school football field at dawn. Mountain blue birds fluttered into our backyard like fragments of sky. The killdeer scurried across vacant lots crying about murder. Our parents taught us to identify them all.

Now, no matter where the path I'm walking leads, I notice the birds. 

Flocks. Gaggles. Charms. Suits. Murders. Exaltations. 

We'd lived here only three months when I stopped in a bookstore and asked where I could find a book on fugler. Birds. Armed with our new full-color guide to the birds of Norway, Jonathan and I have been setting out to find and identify them. To make sense of this subtle, feathered shift in the scope of our new home.

Because I haven't been able to find a good online source of info on the Birds of Norway (or the Birds of Oslo), I thought I'd make one myself. Photos are sourced from Wikipedia. If/when I take passable photos on my own, I'll note that, as well.

The following are all the birds we've identified here in Norway. English name, Latin name, Norwegian name.

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Black-headed Gull
Larus ridibundus
Hettemåke



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Blue Tit
Parus caeruleus
Blåmeis





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Canada Goose
Branta canadensis
Kanadagås






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Carrion Crow
Corvus corone
Kråke


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Common Goldeneye
Bucephala clangula
Kvinand

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Propinquity - A nearness of blood, kinship; a nearness in place or time, proximity.

Serendipity - The phenomenon of finding a valuable thing not originally sought.

Wheelbarrow - A small single-wheeled vehicle fitted with handles at the rear by which it can be pushed and guided.

Scapula - The shoulder blade, connecting the humerus with the clavicle. In humans, it is a flat bone, roughly triangular in shape.

Beleaguered - Besieged, troubled, harassed.

Furtive - Done clandestinely and with desire.

Autumn - The fourth season (and my favorite), a time of color, retreat, preparation and battening down the hatches.

Quarter - To divide into four equal parts or to provide with lodging. 

Zephyr - A breeze from the west.

Accord - A formal reaching of agreement.

Clement - Inclined to be merciful, mild.

Will-o'-the-wisp - A ghostly light seen by travellers at night, especially over bogs, swamps or marshes.

Argentine - Silvery.

Splash - To move about in water, causing it to spatter.

Camber - To curve upward toward the middle.
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