Native Norwegians stood stranded at bus stops, boots deep in drifts of white, scratching their heads and wondering how they could have been so wrong. Within the last few weeks, optimistically, gravel has begun to disappear from the sidewalks. Clusters of crocuses were planted in boxes outside apartment buildings and storefronts. Usually, the Norwegians aren't so far off about the onset of spring, and I depend on them to let me know what's happening. (I'm a Californian. I don't know how to identify seasonal shifts. I got a pedicure yesterday.)

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I had to dig my snow boots back out of my closet, reluctantly stuffing my sweet, little spring-pink toes deep into the shearling. I had to put on my parka again. Thankfully, after telling the Hazelnut to suck in, I was still able to zip it all the way up over my bump. 

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A real winter storm finally arrived on Norway's west coast this weekend. Snow piled up in Oslo. I love our city, and I can never decide when the streets look prettiest: blanketed in white, or full of yellow-leafed trees, or under the violet-skies of perpetual twilight, or filled with lilacs. At every turn of a season, I think I have the answer. Then I change my mind again.

Since sledding and cross-country skiing (the way I do it is dangerous even on the flat-n-straights) are out of the question for me this year, it would be easy to let the snow keep us inside. Thankfully, a double date for brunch with friends on Saturday morning got our weekend off on the right, snow-booted foot. The four of us spent a couple of hours laughing and gabbing and sampling the tasty, eclectic menu at our local creperie, Les Crêpes D'Elen. Located just off the 12 line in Frogner, I highly recommend this little place. Delicious food and a fun, French atmosphere, as well as a friendly staff.

After brunch, Jonathan and I wandered all over the city. We were on a quest: a rug for The Hazelnut's room. We've been nesting, and finding a rug that is pretty, soft, on-theme, and affordable in Norway has been close to impossible. It was still a good excuse to walk the snowy city streets.

Without anything to show for our wintery outing on Saturday, you'd think I wouldn't be pointing to this weekend with such pride. But we still had all of Sunday to be productive, and I'm pleased to say... we were!

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Last night, we watched Valley Uprising, the latest in the Reel Rock Tour movie series, all about Yosemite Valley's climbing revolution. It made me want to get back on the wall again. Like, immediately. Like, if Jonathan said, "Let's move back to California and live close to Yosemite this time," I would have begun packing before he finished the sentence. That's not likely to happen, though, at least not for now. The movie was cool, full of wicked climbing footage and resonant musings on the evolution of the sport. If you're a climber, you should definitely check it out.

But this is not a post about climbing. Rather, I was reminded last night that one of the downsides of being a climber is what it does to your hands. For years, not only did I have to keep my nails cut down to the quick, but the chalk dried out my skin and my fingers were constantly scraped up, sometimes bloody. I didn't know what I was missing, really, because years of playing and coaching volleyball and basketball had also necessitated strong, quick, low maintenance hands. But since moving to Norway, I've had the luxury of growing my nails out on occasion (and one pleasant side effect of pregnancy happens to be healthier nails), which has made me think about nail polish for the first time in my life.

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OPI has quickly become my favorite brand. It's awfully expensive here in Oslo (like everything else), so I don't get it often, but last weekend I acquired a new color from the Duty Free on the DFDS mini-cruise we took to Copenhagen. Why? Because their new Nordic Collection was so sparkly.

With colors like Going My Way or Norway? and Thank Glogg It's Friday and Do You Have This Color in Stock-holm? how could I resist?

I nabbed OPI With A Nice Finn-ish, a shiny gold. Sadly, because I haven't become the kind of grown-up who is dainty with her hands, I'm sure it will be chipped up like crazy before Christmas, but I don't mind. I'll just do it all over again in a couple of weeks. Because my last final paper will be due next Wednesday and then I'll be on winter break. Time to celebrate!

*A fun write-up on all the colors in the Nordic Collection can be found on The Polish Aholic Blog.

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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.

NORWAY - A Time-Lapse Adventure from Rustad Media on Vimeo.

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.

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That's right. In the middle of my third Norwegian winter, I'm ready to call myself a pro. (Which is a little ridiculous, but let's go with it anyway. It's my blog.) A couple of my closest friends recently moved from sunny, drought-addled California to Malmö, Sweden. In January. (What, are they nuts?) So, I thought I'd pass along some of my hard-earned California-expat-in-the-far-north wisdom and make their transition easier. Hopefully, it helps you, too!

Candles: Tapers, sticks, votives, pillars... you'll want them all. They fight the darkness and make life instantly more cozy. That said, cheap candles burn more quickly, so you'll want to begin paying attention to how much you're spending on candles in relation to how long they burn. I'm not exaggerating when I say that, for basically the whole month of December, I've got at least one candle glowing in my house. We've discovered that at least one Norwegian brand will burn three times longer than the rest, and though they are twice as expensive, we still save money in the end. (This took us two years to realize. Slow learners on the slow burners.)

Dry Skin: Holy Dead Flakes, Batman! Winter makes your skin dry out! Two things. Chapstick This is an easy sell for the ladies. Most of us have this on hand anyway. But our men aren't crazy about smearing waxy stuff on their lips, so the amount of chapping can be severe, particularly for lips uninitiated to the cold. This makes them a fraction less kissable. Unscented Burt's Bees chapstick works well for us. Carmex is also an option. Moisturizer I also recommend that you invest in some excellent moisturizer and add it to your routine every time you wash your face (and/or exfoliate). I use mine year-round, but that's addiction. Clinique Youth Surge with 15 SPF is my preference.

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I delegated the writing of our Christmas card to Crypto this year, and she was full of her customary snark, but hopefully it will give you a giggle, dear friends. That's what this season is all about. Warmth and fun and friendship and making sure we don't forget to cherish auld acquaintance. 

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Front Photos (Clockwise): Old Town Tallinn, Estonia; The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St. Petersburg, Russia; Lofoten Islands, Norway 

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Someone must be last. That's the rule. And in my kingdom, this works out fine, because the last shall be first. Yet, this little leaf, now brown and curled around the edges, dampens even my spirits today. Perhaps it is the way it clings so hopefully to the branch. Well, last week, still surrounded on all sides by his family, his clinging might have been hopeful. Not so much now. Unflanked and exposed. His determination, then, brings me down a fraction of an inch. He won't give in to the turning of seasons--a process which has undergone more revolutions than anyone can count. Except me, of course.

Revolution: The act of rising up in defiance.

Each spring is something of a revolution, and even this last leaf has had his spring. That's the rule, too. I don't demand that the trees give up their leaves, all of them, at the close of the year. It's merely the way I built the machine. And the circumstances of spring--all noisy green, pushing up through the snow to hail the sun--seem like a victory. A resurrection. A thrilling surprise, at least for the new buds, the newly unscrolling leaves, green and emphatic. We live in spite of the death that came before!

But resurrections in my universe are also part of the plan. People were surprised by mine, you know. but make no mistake. What appeared a revolution embodied in a revived heart behind a stone was really ordained long ago. Back before there were springs at all, which is to say, back before there were winters. 

And so, even this last leaf must fall.

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It's that time of year again. Snow is thick in the hills outside the city, looking almost exactly like the kind of tree limb-burdened winter scene people think of when they think of Norway. But the sun is up. Days are eleven and a half hours long already, and spring hasn't even begun. That's the magic. Sun on snow. And up on the hill, visible from deep within the city, is the curved launch of Holmenkollen's metal spine, Oslo's famous ski jump. 

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This weekend, the city will be swarming with people intent on Holmenkollen, competitors and spectators, excited about the Holmenkollen FIS World Cup Nordic.

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The sunniest, warmest day yet this year turned snow to slush, pushed the ice flows around in the fjord, and made me yearn for a sweet treat. Take one bottle of Coca-Cola from the Folkmuseet cafe plus one snowball, and what do you get?

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A free snow cone

Positive temperatures for highs all this week. Here's hoping spring has truly arrived! (It seems a little too good to be true...)

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If the days aren't icy, they're just plain cold. If the snow isn't falling, it's turning to to black slush in the streets. Either way, it's slippery. And the bleak days may not actually outnumber the gloriously sunny ones, but the short daylight hours make it feel like we're being shortchanged on sunshine. So, what to do?

I've got a few tips for surving a winter in Scandinavia:

#1 Get yourself a red umbrella!

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Of all my tips, this one is the least serious, but the most fun. Last winter my umbrella was gray and busted. It took me a little while to figure out that, as I walked the streets of Oslo, my view from under the umbrella was impacting my world outlook. I traded up. No surprise, things look rosier with a bright, cheery, cherry red frame. Get a cute, colorful umbrella for those rainy, sleety days.

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Unwittingly, Jonathan and I stumbled across the perfect reprieve from Oslo's cold, dark winter last weekend. We took the T-Bane (Metro) east from the city center to the Toyen station. There we visited The Munch Museum first, a real treat! Lunched there at the café. Then we decided to talk a short winter walk.

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Another cluster of buildings caught our eye, in particular, two greenhouses. The windows were completely fogged up, but we peered through them anyway. Last year I learned how my mind craves the color green after a few months of white snow on bare, black branches, gray streets, and grayer slush piled at the corners. With nose almost flat to the greenhouse glass, I could feel myself yearning for the lush green leaves, vines, and branches I could just make out within.

"It is possible to go inside," said a Norwegian woman who had appeared beside me. "And it IS very nice."

She knew we were Americans. Standing on our tip-toes and drooling must have given us away.

It turned out that we'd wandered into the Oslo Botanical Garden. Under snow, it's tough to tell! The greenhouses, Palmhuset (The Palm House) and Victoriahuset (The Victoria House), part of the garden exhibit, are open six days a week, including Sundays, and are free to the public. 

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What should we do this weekend? The classic question. 

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The Oslo Music Festival -- June 2011

Living in a city like Oslo is great because there's always something to do. Unfortunately, as an expat, it can be tough to know what all (or any) of the options are. If you don't read the language... if you haven't found an active group to join. But there IS an answer to this question.

The Events List

This "non-profit, community service intended for individuals of the English speaking community in and around Oslo" takes the form of a weekly email that lists as many events--tours, concerts, art installations, festivals--as possible taking place in the coming week.

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Most years, Jonathan and I have put up our Christmas tree on or around December 1st. This Christmas season has been different. I've been in California for four of the last six weeks. The first trip was for pleasure; the second was to celebrate the life of Jonathan's Grandpa Wilson, a wonderful man, who passed away a few days after Thanksgiving. Jonathan and I were fortunate to make it home for the memorial service. While we were in California, we helped decorate two Christmas trees, but it wasn't the same. I couldn't wait to get back to our flat here in Oslo and make it all piney and glowy.

Yesterday we walked a couple of blocks to the nearest tree seller. This one only opened on 14 December; last year, because we wanted our tree earlier, we took Trikk 13 out toward CC Vest (a mall) to get a tree. Riding on a tram with a tree was a new experience! We were happy to skip that ritual this year, though, as the season has been much colder and there's a LOT more ice on the ground.

We spotted this year's tree right away! A little sparse, but beautifully proportioned. A nice, straight trunk. A rich shade of green. How much does a Christmas tree cost in Norway? Ours, just under 2 meters tall, cost 450 NOK ($80), including netting. We think they might be cheaper outside the city.

My manly husband carried it home and hauled it up the four flights of stairs to our place. He set it up in the tree stand while I made cocoa. Then, with When Harry Met Sally on in the background (I don't know why I think of it as a Christmas movie, but I totally do!), we began to decorate.

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Before his alarm sounds in the morning, I sometimes get up and push it back by a few minutes. He wakes then to my shuffling in the dark room. Even with the shades up, the bedroom remains dark; dawn come so late this time of year. I crawl back under the covers and wrap my arms around him. Waking is much easier on the system this way, quiet and tender. We talk in whispers about the oncoming day. How many meetings does he have? What will I write? Skin hot, breath stale, sleep crumbs deep in the corners of our eyes. The sheets on our bed are ill-fitting because we skimped on them at IKEA rather than hauling an extra set home from the U.S. in our luggage.  The cats mew outside the door, hungry and bored. Sleet slides down the gabled windows, only visible when a car's headlights reflect through it. Temperatures hover just above freezing. When the alarm goes off this time, he's already awake, rises and shuts it off. Ditto the fan. The hollow beside me in the bed goes cold quickly. While he showers, I go to the kitchen and brew his coffee in a to-go cup. Half a teaspoon of sugar and a dash of milk. While he dresses for the day, I help him gather the winter necessities: wool socks, cashmere scarf, gloves. I take his earmuffs and clasp them onto the plastic coffee cup so that they become warm, then transfer them over his ears. Because I don't own a bathrobe, I wear a thick sweater and a green blanket wrapped around my hips like a sarong. I ask if he likes my outfit. He says it's impressive how I make do, how I somehow survive. I hope he takes the hint and plans to get me a robe for Christmas. I worry that he will take it a step too far and order a Snuggie or a Slanket or something equally uncouth. Perhaps a One Piece, so I can truly be a Norwegian. He likes the way I do his scarf, halved, with the ends tucked back through the bend. As he pats across his chest and hips, feeling his pockets for keys, phone, badge, and pen, I make sure the scarf is high across the back of his neck. His hair is still damp from the shower. I worry he might freeze. But the true cold of winter, the blue dive into below-freezing temps, hasn't happened yet. A dip is scheduled at the end of the day. We keep the weather tab open on our computer all the times--an oracle to consult before we walk out the door. Before he leaves, I go to the front room and turn on the red paper star hanging in the circle window so that it glows. If he crosses the street and looks back, I want him to see how cozy our home is. Just a reminder. Our winter days run together this way, a dark ribbon of layered clothing and other survival routines. Weekends are for adventures, if we can coax ourselves out the door and into the chill. Evenings are quiet and spent in recovery. I cook. We eat. We talk. We laugh aloud at episodes of The Daily Show, Modern Family, The Office. Sometimes he asks me to read aloud to him, something I love to do. If he has a late evening conference call, I am in bed before him, reading and ignoring the cats as they scamper laps around the apartment. When he joins me, he plants kisses in my hair.

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Det Kongelige Slott -- Oslo's Royal Palace

Oslo, Norway. My home these days, and a great place to visit! Jonathan and I vacationed here about a year before we moved over, and were dazzled by everything the country had to offer in the summertime. Since then, I've lived through (and enjoyed!) a Norwegian winter, too. I'm even looking forward to my second. 

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Bærums Verk, Norrway around Chistmastime

When Cheapflights.ca approached me about writing a travel guide to Oslo, I jumped at the chance. My city has so much fun stuff to offer all year round. Visit the Cheapflights website to read my travel guide. It includes:

  • 5 Great Restaurants in Oslo
  • 5 Bars and Taverns in Oslo
  • 5 Fun Winter Activities in Oslo
  • 5 Must-See Monuments, Museums or Galleries in Oslo
  • 5 Day-Trips Outside of Oslo

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The Freia sign on Karl Johans gate in Downtown Oslo

Cheap Flights to Oslo from Canada

Cheapflights - United Airlines Destinations and Fares from Canada

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Holmenkollen Ski Jump -- Oslo, Norway

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California girls don't understand seasons. Even if we've long said inane things like, Oh, Autumn is my favorite time of year! Even if we've once or twice strapped a snowboard to our feet and slid down a mountain on the backside of our rented coveralls. Even if we know all the words to the current summer pop hit. California is a special place, a magical place, a place where temperatures just don't vary much. Especially in the south, but even in my own beloved East Bay. I spent the first 28 years of my life spoiled rotten by mild winters, early springs, hot, clear summers, and autumns that didn't require me to put a jacket on over my Halloween costumes.

So you can imagine what an adjustment it's been to move to Norway. Land of four seasons. Winter. Rainy spring. Raaaaaainy summer. And a dark, chilly autumn. I'm kidding. It's not that bad. And actually, I've enjoyed the seasons so far. Seasons are pretty. Who knew?

This is best demonstrated by looking at the changing seasons in Oslo's Frognerparken.
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On Saturday we venture to Geilo. It is a city I know little of, save that it is one stop along a famed railway line between Oslo and Bergen, and that it holds an annual Ice Music Festival each February. Our trip will coincide with this festival, a happy coincidence. The temperatures in Geilo are predicted to be lower than anything I've felt yet in my lifetime: -20 to -30 Celsius. I imagine it will be the kind of cold that will make my eyes ache. 

If we can summon the spirit, we will head outdoors to ski. At any rate we will lug our equipment along. It is to be a true vacation, so neither of us will mind if we end up in our room most of the time. 

We also plan to attend the Ice Music Festival and listen to a concert played forth on instruments of ice. It is something I never would have thought up on my own. After nine months in Norway (a full year for Jonathan) some things are still entirely alien to us. 
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Yesterday, I had lunch with a new friend and her four-year-old niece. The little girl spoke no English, with a couple of pleasant exceptions. "Okay." "Gimme five." "Yo dude." 

"Makes sense," I said, sipping my peppermint mocha. "She's spending so much time with a California girl."

"Believe it or not, that wasn't me. My Norwegian sister-in-law actually taught her that one."

While we adults talked, the little one played and played. A toy tube of fake lipstick kept her occupied for a few minutes. Eventually the separate plastic pieces skittered across the floor. Then she scribbled and sketched on a paper placemat. Then she crawled under the table and proceeded to "hide" from us for a while, shrieking with delighted terror when we "found" her. 

After a while, though, she'd had enough of our all-English conversation, our low-and-steady adult voices, and she popped up like a gopher, grabbing for the delicate white and black patterned infinity scarf around my friend's neck. 

The brain of any child is a mystery to me, but I enjoyed watching her take this scarf through its paces. From one moment to the next the scarf was a hat, a blanket, a hammock, the veil of a spøkelse (ghost). Her voice warbled through the fabric, a haunting howl. When the ghost-game was done (in a matter of less than two minutes), she demanded a dress from her aunt. My friend proceeded to wrap the scarf around the child's tiny waist, covering her red Helly Hansen snow bibs, and then tied and tucked the remaining end, pulling her hands away to reveal a makeshift dress. 

The little girl stared down at her new garment in wonder, twisting her head far around both sides to examine it, making sure it was a true dress, that no part of her was left exposed. Determining herself truly elegant, she drew back and hurled herself into her aunt's lap, wrapping her slender arms around my friend's neck. Grateful.
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Christmas cards and Christmas letters, chronicles of our year at a time of supreme reflection, appear to be a very American phenomenon. It's one I like. I have a box of cards collected over the years from my friends, and in the pictures I can see them fall in love. I am reminded up their weddings. I can marvel at the growth of their children and follow their adventures throughout the world. 

We may live in a digital age that allows us uniquely (and sometimes disturbingly) intimate access to the lives of friends and acquaintances alike, but these paper cards are important to me. In fact, the more digitized the world becomes, the more special it is that someone would take the time to sit and put pen to paper or lick a stamp and press it to the top corner of an envelope. (I'm exaggerating. No one licks stamps anymore.)

This year, due to the cost of printing and shipping and paying for international postage, I wasn't able to send as many of the paper cards as I have in years past. To make up for that, I thought I'd post the card here, too. After all, if you read my blog, you're important to me. You remind me that my writing is worthwhile. You help hold me accountable. You make me go on.

So... drum roll please...
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snowpic01.jpgA predictable post, I suppose, considering that I'm a California girl at the commencement of her first winter in Norway. 

For California kids, certain Christmas songs and lore carry a different kind of mystique. Not only Irving Berlin's White Christmas, but also Jingle Bells, Winter Wonderland, and Frosty the Snowman. We don't understand these things. That is, unless our parents dragged us to the house of a relative who was fortunate enough to live someplace where it snowed. While my Illinois cousins spent the afternoon of Christmas Day throwing snowballs and sledding, my brothers and I were out rollerskating on sunny sidewalks through our neighborhood. Without coats on. And while my cousins might have debated the point, I still say we were the ones who drew the short straw.

So, you can understand my excitement when, after the warmest November Norway has on record, big, fat flakes of white began falling damply and intermittently from the evening sky. 
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