This spring, I was invited by Editor Michael Sandelson to write a series of pieces for The Foreigner, a website for Norwegian news in English. I accepted at once! After all, writing about life in Norway is already what I do for fun. Why not spread my reach a little?
So far I've authored three pieces for The Foreigner:
Alone on the 17th of May (May 2014)
Norway's Constitution Day arrived suddenly my first year, as international holidays do to those who aren't used to celebrating them. That was three years ago. Looking back now, I realize there'd been plenty of signs in the weeks leading up to it. Planter boxes suddenly overflowing with freshly planted tulips, their yellow heads the size of coffee mugs; and, of course, an onslaught of teenagers in cherry-red pants. But I'll get back to that. Continue Reading...
Digging-in (May 2014)
Each spring, the tenants in our Oslo apartment building come together for an afternoon of voluntary, community work. This is a dugnad, a Norwegian tradition in which a bunch of people join forces to spruce up their shared, public spaces. Like a barn-raising, but on a smaller, less sweaty, less Amish scale. We'd been living in Norway only a month when our first dugnad notice showed up in our mailbox. At first we didn't know what to think of the typed, unsigned page requesting our presence on a Thursday afternoon in late April. Google Translate helped. Unfortunately, allusion to a small fine, owed if we chose to skip out on the dugnad, tainted the notification. We marked the date on our calendar and began to dread it. Continue Reading...
The Ski-in (April 2014)
Native Norwegians make cross-country skiing look like a glide-stepping walk in the park. As expats in Norway have heard a thousand times, this is because Norwegian babies are born with skis on. An atrocious thought, sure, but if you visit any cross-country trail in the Oslomarka on a sunny day, you'll see how plausible it is. Children as young as three zoom right by you: without poles; without fear. Only kids who are too young to walk get away with being too young to ski. I hopped on the cross-country skiing bandwagon with both feet, our first winter in Norway, and promptly slipped and fell into the snow. Continue Reading...
The Foreigner is a subscription-based website, but you can access a few articles each month without paying the fee, so please stop by and read these and let me know what you think. Hopefully you'll find something there that makes you want to stick around and/or check back more regularly.
Before moving to Norway, I did several things to prepare. I purchased books about the country and culture, fully utilizing Amazon's if-you-bought-this-you-might-also-like algorithms. I Googled around and came up with a list of expat bloggers living in Norway, dutifully combing their archives for insights into Norwegian life. There was never any way I would find it all, would be truly prepared. But no one was going to accuse me of not trying!
There is one resource I didn't come across at the time and now wish I had. Norway: A Handbook for New Residents (198 NOK) is a book by M. Michael Brady. He collected as much information as he could find about every conceivable topic important to someone living in Norway, and compiled it in a single book. First printed in 2005, I own the updated 2012 edition, and I cannot overstate how convenient and useful it is!
I do want to point out right away that Mr. Brady supplied me with a copy of this book for the purposes of my writing a review. This does not affect my personal take-away. All opinions expressed about Norway: A Handbook for New Residents are mine and absolutely sincere.
The Handbook is not warm or fuzzy. As the back cover states: "This is a book of facts taken from printed and online Norwegian resources and from country comparisons published by international agencies."
At almost 500-pages long, that's a lot of facts! But Brady has thoughtfully organized the tome, allowing three separate ways to track down the information you need quickly. First, the book is divided into an alphabetical list of chapters by overarching topics (e.g., Arriving and settling, Clothing and footwear, Foreigners, immigrants, minorities and integration, etc.). Then, individual subtopics are listed alphabetically within their relevant chapters. And finally, Brady has supplied two separate indexes by keyword, one in English and one in Norwegian.
When I say the Handbook is comprehensive, I mean it includes everything useful I can think of. From Second-hand shops to Halal meat, from instructions for Pant to an explanation of Julebord.
Chapter 23 is a timeline of Norway's history, from the first traces of human habitation (ca 9000 BC) to 2012, the year Norway passed a Constitutional amendment separating church and state. Chapter 6 (Church, religion and beliefs) breaks down the religious history of Norway's population, but also provides lists of Christian denominations in English and Norwegian, as well as phone numbers and links to churches, synagogues, and mosques within the country. Information on women's shelters for victims of domestic abuse can be found in Chapter 10 (Crime, wrongs, and countermeasures). Meanwhile, Chapter 25 (Housekeeping) diagrams the different widths of available light bulbs and explains municipal fees due for refuse collection and recycling.
You're either a feminist or you're not; and if you're not, I have no time for you. Today is too important to spend even a moment bickering about the definition of the word, or whether my desire for equal position, equal expectation, equal opportunity, equal pay, equal protection, and equal value in this world might make you and the rest of the non-feminists uncomfortable. You either believe your daughter is worth the same as your son, and can accomplish all the same things, and deserves the same size piece of the world, or you don't. And if you don't, I have no time for you. Your time is over. This is 2014, and we're sick of being statistics, sick of suffering the status quo. You think I'm exaggerating the problem? I'm not. Residual prejudice against our gender affects all women. The threat of violence affects all women. Yes all women.
Because a woman walking home alone at night knows how to carry her keys like a weapon. #yesallwomen
Because women make up more than 50% of the US population, but only 20% of the Senate and only 18% of the House. #yesallwomen
Because I minimize the time I was sexually assaulted, justifying that there was no penetration or skin-on-skin contact. #yesallwomen
Because when you hear the words doctor or lawyer or dentist or cop, you're more likely to think "he" than "she". #yesallwomen
Because a gentleman walks a lady home. This isn't untrue, just sad because it's necessary. #yesallwomen
Because Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer are taught far more than Anne of Green Gables in public schools. #yesallwomen
Because microaggressions add up. #yesallwomen
On Tuesday night, the Oslo Writers' League launched its second annual anthology at Oslo's Litteraturhuset. I'm proud to announce that the event--which included a panel discussion, readings, and an art auction--raised almost 10,000 NOK for Utdanningshjelpen; this will provide more than three full years of education to scholarship recipients. All in all, a fun, successful evening!
Tammy Dobson Photography came away with some excellent photos...
Crammed as many OWLs on stage as possible. We're a colorful bunch!
You can pick up a copy of All the Ways Home on Amazon in the U.S., or the U.K., as well as The Book Depository. All profits go to Utdanningshjelpen. Don't forget to leave a comment and let me know how much you enjoyed the book!
Spring in Oslo tends to come fast, if late. Three weeks ago, as we left for our trip to California, I snapped a quick photo of our front walk. It was a few days before Easter, technically a full month since the first day of spring. Our hedges were almost absolutely bare. The limbs of our apple blossom trees remained naked and cold.
It had been a rough winter and, given that I hadn't been "home" to California in more than 18 months, I was thrilled to run down that path to the airport. Toward family and friends and sunshine and a pattern of mild, vague, evenly-pleasant seasons I've missed so much.
Yesterday, we came home. The one without quotation marks. And the scene had changed. A flurry of apple blossoms. A wave of brilliant green.
The forecast for the coming week is bleak and unstable. Cloudy and rainy. Fluctuating temperatures. I'm unsurprised. But yesterday was glorious. Yesterday it was spring. In Oslo, it comes late, but fast. Don't blink; you might miss it.
I'm very proud to announce that the Oslo Writers' League (formerly the Oslo International Writers' Group) will publish its second anthology this month. All the Ways Home is a multi-genre collection of pieces by members of our group. Short stories, essays, and poetry on two themes especially pertinent to expat life: Crossroads and Identity. Once again, all profits from sales of the book in print or digital form go to Utdanningshjelpen, a Norwegian volunteer organization that assists students in developing countries complete their secondary education through scholarship programs.
My nonfiction piece, Sinober, is included in the anthology, but that's not the only reason I'm excited about this book. The tenacious Zoë Harris, Editorial Director of Grimbold Books--the publisher--asked me to act as Poetry Editor for the collection. That was a treat! Also, my best friend, Cindy Lackey, was commissioned to do the cover art for the book. It was a rare pleasure to witness the inner workings of an artist's mind, and I love the way her concept turned out.
Finally, most exciting of all, we're doing another launch event! (Details on Facebook) And you're invited!
What: Book Launch, All the Ways Home
When: 20th of May, 2014 at 18:15
Where: Litteraturhuset in Oslo
Tickets: 90 NOK*/each -- Order Here
*All profits from the event also go to Utdanningshjelpen.
Join the Oslo Writers' League (OWL) for a panel discussion about the group, the book, and what it's like to be an English language writer in Oslo. (I will be on this panel!) The discussion will be moderated by writing coach Greta Solomon.
Other OWL members will perform readings from the book, and artist/illustrator Evelinn Enoksen will put up her original sketches from the 2013 anthology for auction on the night, all to raise funds for Utdanningshjelpen.
Attendance is limited, so book early to secure your seat!
It's not uncommon for expats to, over time, develop an even deeper, more keenly felt affinity for their own hometowns. Absence often has that affect on the heart, or so I've heard. Then again, I've always loved Livermore, California. Not loving Livermore was never the problem. We left for other reasons, but I'll leave that for other posts. Today I'm singing the praises of my town.
Jonathan and I returned "home" for a visit over Easter, and allowed ourselves to be embraced by the comfy sameness of it all.
First Street -- Where all the action, such as it is, happens.
Donut Wheel -- Best donuts in the state.
Valley Furniture -- Can't ever remember a time when there wasn't a Blowout Sale sign in the front windows.
My score is a 9. I put my cold feet on my husband's legs at night to warm them. I never dress for breakfast, nor do I personally put my children to bed. I can't play a musical instrument, and I've never darned a sock in my life. Silly isn't it? But in 1930, these shortcomings would have made me an unequivocal failure as a wife, at least according to Dr. George W. Crane.
Dr. Crane wanted to know what made a good wife good. He interviewed 600 husbands, asking, "What does your wife do that annoys you?" He then took the 50 most common complaints and created a quiz for couples--conceivably to help improve their marriages. Today, the list is dated to the point of hilarity. Trying to apply the quiz to my modern day marriage is a hoot.
I mean, on one hand, the seams of my hose are never crooked (merit). On the other hand, I don't wear hose (demerit). I run around bare-legged. Bare-footed, in fact, and my visible toenails are almost always some shade of red (demerit).
On one hand, I don't not like children (merit). On the other hand, I have elected not to have children, something which wasn't even contemplated by Dr. Crane, because... duh (demerit).
On one hand, I do manage to keep my house neat and tidy (merit). On the other hand, my personal definition of both neat and tidy are likely different from those of good wives in the 1930s. Ask my dust bunnies; I'm sure they'll back me up on that (demerit).
The real bummer is that neither my prowess as a conversationalist (merit), nor my willingness to let Jonathan sleep late on Sundays (merit) outweigh the ten points I lose for not taking my children to Sunday school (demerit). Shoot.