Each spring, the tenants in our apartment building in Oslo come together for an afternoon of unpaid, voluntary, organized community work.


This is a dugnad, a Norwegian tradition in which a bunch of people, in this case neighbors, join forces to spruce up their public, shared spaces. In my opinion, this is a beautiful concept, like a barn-raising, but on a much smaller, less sweaty, less Amish scale.

As it was our third time at this rodeo, Jonathan and I knew the important stuff: where the box of gloves and cleaning supplies is kept, that we should bring our own ladder and paper towels, etc. Stuff we hadn't a clue about the first year. Some people trimmed trees and hedges, some scraped the weeds from between the stones on our walkway. Jonathan and I raked leaves (and cigarette butts) on the front lawns, then completed the task we look forward to each year: cleaning the front door.

We have this beautiful door on our building. Lots of burnished wood and glass. Together, Jonathan and I scrubbed and squeegied the thing until it shined. One of our neighbors called it "Jonathan's Masterpiece." I didn't mind. It was Jonathan who risked his life on the rickety ladder to reach the high spots!

My favorite thing about dugnad is that it gives us the chance to meet our neighbors. Classically, Norwegians aren't the most overtly friendly people, especially within apartment buildings. The joke is that you could pass your neighbor on the steps in your building for 20 years without getting so much as a hello, but if you ran into the same guy on the ski trails outside of town, he'd hail you down and chat you silly. That's only partially our experience in Oslo. A couple of our neighbors know us by name; everyone makes a point to say hello. But the spirit of the dugnad sparks teamwork and breeds organic conversation. Plus, there's always someone new to meet, and that's a pleasure.

The main reason so many dugnads happen this time of year is in preparation for Syttende Mai (17 May), the big national day celebration. We all want our buildings to sparkle as we celebrate Norway's independence. At the same time, I like to think we're celebrating that a country like Norway, one which puts such a premium on teamwork and equanimity, thrives in the world today.

More on Dugnad from other Oslo bloggers:

It's a Dugnad! via Northern Natterings

The Dugnad: A Big Community Clean Up via A New Life in Norway

Dugnad via My Feelings For Snow


Warning: This video is probably not work safe. It's crude and rude and unbelievably hilarious.

Last week, I blogged about the Russian language and how it threw me during our recent trip to St. Petersburg. I did have a positive revelation, though. Suddenly, Norwegian looked comfortingly familiar to this happy expat. And that made me want to share this very amusing video. It's a couple of years old now, but please enjoy. It's occasionally vulgar, so be prepared, but know it will also be educational. Now you'll understand how to pronounce the Norwegian alphabet's three extra vowels. In fact, you may never be able to forget the pronunciation because it will henceforth be burned into your brain.

You're welcome!



It took less than a minute after the plane landed on the tarmac in St. Petersburg for me to realize that this vacation was going to be drastically different than the rest. All I had to do was get through passport control. I froze. My eyes flicked wildly from wall to wall. Where were they? My beloved letters?! How could there be so many signs, but not a single recognizable word?

такси. банк. цветы. аренда автомобиля.

Until that moment, I had considered myself well-traveled. I had sixteen countries under my belt, most of them in Europe, and I was used to breezing through airports without a hiccup on my way into town. Not because I'm multilingual (far from it), but because I've got a basic hold on several languages. My years of French class in high school and college are a useful foundation, but it's simpler than that:

Take the English alphabet, throw in a couple extra letters, sprinkle a few accent marks on top, and you've got French, Italian, Spanish, German, Norwegian, and the rest of the European languages.

Except Russian, Greek, and the like. 



Photo: St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theatre. Photo via RussianTourism.com.

Sometimes I'm such a girl. When Jonathan asked me what I wanted to do for my 30th birthday, I told him the truth, even though it felt like a pipe dream. I wanted to attend a ballet at St. Petersburg's legendary Mariinsky Theatre. In my imagination, nothing could be more romantic. So, we made plane reservations (Norwegian Airlines flies directly from Oslo to St. Petersburg in two hours), obtained the necessary visas, and purchased tickets to the ballet. And I held my breath.

You know how it's totally possible to look forward to something so much, to put such a great deal of pressure on a single moment, that the reality can't help but fall short of your expectation? 

Yeah, that didn't happen here.



On Sunday, City of Oslo, VisitOSLO, and Ruter hosted Turist i Egen By, an annual event which, in English, translates to Tourist in Your Own City. Free Oslo Passes for everyone! I'm a huge fan of the Oslo Pass, and I always recommend it to people visiting for more than two or three days, because it includes access to most of the major museums here in Oslo, as well as access to all public transportation (buses, trams, trains, ferries).

The Turist i Egen By event appeared to be a HUGE success. It was one of the most crowded afternoons I've ever seen in the city. The line to board the ferry to Bygdøy wrapped across Rådhusplassen to the Nobel Peace Center and beyond. And since we've been to so many museums, galleries, and other exhibits here already, Jonathan and I decided to tour Oslo's City Hall instead.

Rådhuset is a very distinct building, with its twin brick towers. It was completed in 1950, 19 years after construction began. Construction was postponed during WWII, when Oslo fell under Nazi occupation. The drama of the city hall comes from more than the monolithic structure--intricate murals and powerful statues, each full of symbolism, cover the walls, inside and out.



I've been accused of cowardice. 

Yesterday, I reached out and told someone that I didn't agree with him. Not a shocker. We don't agree on much. But I also told him, via a Private Message (PM), that he ought to be more careful of the kinds of things he posts on Facebook.

This particular young man has a habit of libeling our President, of posting items about the gun control debate that can only be described as antagonistic, and of bullying people who don't agree with him. I've seen him attack the character and convictions of individuals and groups. These social media choices mirror his real life actions: he lives unapologetically. Which is to say, he steamrolls through his conversations with deaf ears and blind eyes... self-righteous to the point of recklessness... and it pisses off a lot of people.

In this case, he shared a Reuters article about the defeat of gun control legislation in the senate with just one comment: "WOOHOO!!!!!" Unfortunately, the thumbnail that accompanied this article was a portrait of distraught parents in the wake of the Newtown school massacre. I doubt he selected this photo intentionally, but it was still insensitive. At best. In fact, after the correspondence that ensued in the wake of that post, I wouldn't put it past the guy to choose precisely that photo. You'll see what I mean in a minute.



#1 Spring weather. Which hasn't really shown up yet, though yesterday was gorgeous.

#2 Angel food cake. I made one from scratch this year for Jonathan's birthday. It's light, sweet, sticky, and delectable. Also, only 130 calories per slice, and I choose to believe that doesn't vary by the size of the wedge I cut. Can't believe there's still some left!

#3 Working out. No, really, these days, a good run on the treadmill or a half hour of pilates sounds better to me than sitting in a chair and writing. And I can't even fault myself for it because, hey, writing won't make me live longer or have a stronger heart or trimmer thighs, but exercising will.

#4 Human suffering.

#5 New Girl.

#6 Laundry. Because we don't have a (working) dryer, doing a load of laundry takes more time and effort than ever before. Which means I get through it slower. Which means there's always a pile to do. And if I put it off 'til tomorrow, that pile will fall over and crush me.

#7 Grocery shopping. Again, it's an ordeal because we don't have a car or an elevator. I have to plan carefully what we actually need (no impulse buying!), bring the appropriate number of bags to carry it back in, and then take forever hauling it all up four flights of stairs.

#8 Friends. I will always, always, always put a lunch or coffee date with a friend above my writing goals for the day. This is both because I want the friend to feel loved and supported, and because working from home makes me feel isolated sometimes, and there are days when I crave human contact.

#9 Husband. He's just so cute, and if there's a chance to hold hands with him, I'll take it. Even if it means I can't write (because I need hands to do that!). 

#10 My cat. As evidenced by the photo above, my 17-pound animal likes to put himself between me and the keyboard, then reach for my face with his paws while he purrs like a sports car. He puts the Diz in Diztraction!



My running shoes are neon pink.

This morning, I laced them up and stepped onto the treadmill at my gym, just as I have many mornings in the last few weeks. And I ran.

I ran toward the glossy faces of the broadcasters on CNN and the BBC as they told the story. Two bombs exploded in quick succession near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, yesterday. At least three are dead. At least 144 are injured. Critical injuries include amputated limbs. Among the fatalities is an eight-year-old boy from Dorchester. 

My feet thumped and thumped and thumped on the spinning road of the treadmill. I was going nowhere. And the newsmen and newswomen repeated the little we know, and all that we don't know, over and over. 

Yesterday, I was watching the live stream of the Boston Marathon as the elite runners churned through the miles between the halfway point and the finish. I was watching as Yolanda Beatriz Caballero Pérez of Columbia pulled ahead of the women's lead pack by more than thirty seconds. 

A year older than me, Caballero looked strong and fluid, pumping along at a blistering pace (at Mile 12, her split was 5:26). The announcers ran through the details of Caballero's life as she ran straight toward the camera. Last year, she lost her husband of five years to a stroke. He'd been her best friend, her true love, and her running coach, taking her from a daily jogger to a marathon champion. Last year, she placed 8th at the Boston Marathon and earned a selection for the Summer 2012 Olympic Games.

After a couple more miles, I watched as Caballero was overtaken by Portugal's Ana Dulce Felix, her long, blond ponytail swishing in time with her stride.

Already, I was looking forward to my next day's workout, inspired by these incredible lady athletes who make it clear what the human body is capable of.

Once the elites had crossed the finish line, I stopped checking the Boston Marathon Twitter feed. We had a birthday to celebrate. While thousands of people continued to run from Hopkinton to Boston, I sang Happy Birthday to Jonathan and carried his angel food cake into the living room. The candles wavered. He made a wish and blew them out.

Just about then, there was blood in the streets of Boston.

President Obama has warned against jumping to conclusions, but promises that whomever is responsible, be it an individual or a group, they will feel "the full weight" of justice. 

Detonated for maximum carnage, the "crude devices" placed among the crowds at the finish were timed to coincide with the moment that the most runners would be crossing the finish or arriving in the last miles. Thus, we are reminded of the evil which human beings are also capable of.

Could there be anything more sadistic than cutting off a runner at the knees?



Last year, Canadian Travel Website Cheapflights commissioned me to write an Insider's Guide to Oslo for them. I've found my calling. Researching restaurants (eating out) and researching bars (drinking beer) and researching museums was a good gig. 

Along the way, I wrote a little more than necessary for their purposes. Imagine that. So, I thought I'd put my full descriptions here on my blog for all my readers. To begin... What are some cool places to eat in Olso?



Which black hole has Audrey fallen down today, you ask? Well, I'll be happy to share. 

This video clip is one of dozens which has been posted by a Baptist preacher out of Tempe, Arizona in the last few years. This guy is a NUT JOB. Unfortunately, he's handsome (Jack from Lost, anyone?), affable, articulate, has ample proof of his personal virility (seven kids), and enjoys wearing a suit and tie. I say unfortunately because all of these things make him prime preacher material, whether or not he has any real handle on the Truth. 

Today alone, I've watched him preach on the role of women (surprise, he doesn't like Feminists), gender (he thinks women shouldn't wear pants), and our President (Barack Obama is the devil... "and get the hell out of my church if you don't want to hear it!"). 

In the clip I've posted, Pastor Steve Anderson holds forth on the "righteous government" which at least one of the original thirteen colonies had in place back in 1639. This government did away with jolly old religiously-persecutorial England's rule of law which included a whopping 150 crimes which were punishable by death. Whew. Because killing someone who forged a check is just dotty! And then the New Haveners in the Connecticut colony instated the Hebrew rule of law which had a much more reasonable list of 11 crimes punishable by death. 

You're wondering how this is better than the old British standard the colonists escaped, aren't you? Good news for check forgers: they just get time in the stocks. But the new and improved list includes the following crimes: 

  1. Murder
  2. Treason
  3. Perjury against the life of another
  4. Kidnapping
  5. Beastiality
  6. Sodomy ("Which is homosexuality... being GAY!" Wait for the jazz hands. Seriously excellent.)
  7. Adultery
  8. Blasphemy in the highest degree
  9. Idolatry
  10. Witchcraft
  11. Rebellion against parents

Now, I'm not going to get into a debate with anyone about capital punishment. At least not here. So, why post this? 

Because it frightens me and I want to call it out of the darkness by name.



Lovers of movies and television can easily name their favorite stars. Those beautiful faces, those echoing voices. But the personalities donned by those stars onscreen, the words they speak, are almost invariably the inventions of someone else. Directors direct and producers produce, but every time you are moved to laughter or tears, whether watching the big screen or the small, it's important to remember the writers. 

The best writers have their rhythms. I rejoiced when I heard that Gilmore Girls creator and writer Amy Sherman had a new show on TV (even if it is about teenage ballerinas), all because I've missed her rapid-fire, pop culture-riddled trademark dialogue. Then there's Aaron Sorkin, known for The West Wing, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and, most recently, The Newsroom. His snark is golden. And if his name is attached a project, I can trust that I'll enjoy it, that I'll laugh aloud. 

Today, it's Aaron Sorkin. Yesterday it was Preston Sturges.

In Sullivan's Travels (1941), a wealthy young movie director named Sullivan, affected by the realities of the Great Depression, wants to make a movie about all of life's hardships. He's met with the pushback of his producers.

Sullivan: I want this picture to be a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The problems that confront the average man!

LeBrand: But with a little sex in it.

Sullivan: A little, but I don't want to stress it. I want this picture to be a document. I want to hold a mirror up to life. I want this to be a picture of dignity! A true canvas of the suffering of humanity!

LeBrand: But with a little sex in it.

Sullivan: [reluctantly] With a little sex in it.



Today, I gave the editorial staff at The Zesty Digest my notice. I couldn't shake the feeling that I'm no longer their target demographic (if I ever was). Beyond that, we had a couple of creative differences that really boiled down to my desire to write about stuff that moved me and that would inform the audience about something other than fashion, style, etc. But it was a good 10 months anyway! I still think Sweet Lemon Magazine is a great publication, and I'm so impressed by what the young women who run it are able to create together.

My past posts for the blog are below...

Happy Birthday, Ruth Bader Ginsburg!

After earning her law degree from Columbia University in 1959, graduating at the top of her class, Ginsburg didn't receive a single job offer. (Sandra Day O'Connor, who eventually became the first female justice on the Supreme Court, experienced the same prejudice on the west coast when she graduated from Stanford in 1960.) Continue reading...

Audrey in the 1960s

Audrey Hepburn is recognized the world over for her swan-like neck, delicate nose, and big, beguiling eyes. She is one of the most popular style icons in history. But sometimes I think her face and figure have managed to outshine something very important. Over the course of her career, Audrey earned an Oscar, a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a Tony, a Grammy, and three BAFTA awards. She was an incredible actress. Continue reading...


Dear 20-year-old Me,

You're running around your college apartment in a Blue Man Group tank top and a pair of boxer shorts because the only place you could afford in Davis, California doesn't have air conditioning. You're eating Pop Tarts for lunch while an episode of ER runs in the background. Tivo is the greatest invention in the history of the world. Just so you know, that cheap, strawberry-scented kids' shampoo you always buy isn't doing your hair any favors; adults use conditioner. And before you stick your tongue out at me and pretend you haven't grown up yet, remember what you're wearing on the ring finger of your left hand. That's right, it's almost your 21st birthday, and you think it's high time you got hitched for life. In honor of our birthdays, I thought I'd reach back and give you some insight about the next ten years.


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