Monday, January 28, 2013


In my one and a half years at the university, I've managed to make one friend.  Several acquaintances, sure, but only one friend.  The effort was entirely hers.  There aren't many of us non-traditionally aged students skulking about, and when she recognized me as one of her kind, she went out of her way to sit next to me, continue sitting next to me, ask me questions and generally chit-chat her way through my 10 foot wall of resistance.  Eventually, I was glad she did.

I spent months in the rather uncomfortable postion of growing closer and closer to a person whose name I did not know.  I could only assume she must have introduced herself to me one of those first few days we sat together, but of course her name didn't come anywhere near registering.  When I talked about her with Mister, I called her the Fusa Lady because that's what I knew.  I knew she lived in Fusa (a much, much longer commute every morning than mine); I knew she had three kids, and that her husband was a high school teacher.  She had worked as a meteorologist for many years, but grew tired of the late hours and holiday shifts, so was reeducating herself as a high school science teacher so she and her husband would have the same schedule.  She was five years older than me.  I finally learned her name in October, just before the mid-term exam, when I reached down to pick up the calculator she had dropped.  She had taped a lable with her name and phone number on the back that I craftily memorized before I handed it back to her.  Marit E. Tuft.  My chemistry friend's name was Marit E. Tuft.

Last night, when I read that there had been a car accident in Fusa--two adults killed, three children and two other adults injured--I wondered briefly about the Fusa Lady.  But nah, I thought, what are the odds?  I should have known better, I guess.  Fusa is a pretty small community, after all. 

The names of the victims were released this afternoon, and oh how my heart breaks to say it, but Marit and her husband were killed last night.  Their three children were in the car with them; they sustained only slight injuries.

I'm a little blown away by the crushing strength of my reaction to this news.  I mean, I only knew her for a little over 5 months, and it's not like I ever met her husband or kids.  But we talked about our families a lot together.  I know what her kids got for Christmas.  Not long ago we showed each other pictures of our babies, and laughed about how quickly the time goes, how quickly they change.

And I'm wondering--God, I can't stop wondering--what would she say now, right now, about how she had chosen to spend the last months of her life.  Of course she didn't know they were the last months, none of us can know.  But would it have been worth it to her?  The stuffy lecture halls, the daily grind of juggling the family, the kids, the household with the long commute and the homework.  And all that stress around exam time?  These are the things we talked most about.  This is what we had in common. 

I'm just having the hardest time processing the finality of it all.  This is a first for me--the sudden death of someone my own age, someone that I knew.  We took the same bus home last Friday.  I keep trying to remember if she told me her plans for the weekend.  She probably did, but I wasn't listening enough to remember them.  I'm beating myself up over this negligence as if it matters.  I should have listened closer.  Paid more attention.  I'm sorry, Marit.  I'm so unbearably sorry.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

More Smug Than Proud, To Be Honest

I have no idea where to put this feeling I'm feeling.  How to box it up.  Contain it and preserve it so that I can unpack it and revel in it later, whenever I want to--whenever I need to.

You see, I took my last exam of the semester this morning. A five hour, hand-cramping, butt-numbing calculus marathon.  I took one of these this exact same time last year.  I remember walking away from that exam thinking it would be an honest to God Christmas miracle if I hadn't outright failed it.  (I didn't.  But we're talking by-the-skin-of-my-teeth barely.)

I very nearly quit my little re-education project as a direct result of my desultory performance on that exam.  I was convinced I was too stupid, too right-brained, and too damn old to be embarrassing myself in any sort of science program, for heaven's sake!

But oh-ho-hooo!  Not so this year!  Not so by a mile.

I nailed it.  I knew I had nailed.  I double underlined my last answer on my last problem set, and I knew. "That's it," I thought, "I'm done with you, puny exam.  You cannot scare me anymore."

I walked out of the building, turned on my phone, and called the guy who refused to let me quit on myself.

"Jamie!" he answered.  Not even a hello.  Hello wasn't necessary, because I think he knew too.  "Done already?" he asked,  "This must be an A then!  Must be."

Always wary of a good jinxing, I didn't dare agree with him too blithely. All I'd say is, "It went well.  I think I did well.  There was only one problem where I couldn't get the stupid signs to work out.  But the answer is right.  I'm pretty sure the answer I got was right...just something wonky with the algebra in the middle there.  But just that one problem.  Other than that I....It went well, I think."

The professor posted the solutions to the exam early this afternoon.  Mister thinks I'm crazy for having done this to myself, but I couldn't help it.  I had to know.  Did I nail it?  Or did I not?

I don't know if this is done anywhere in the States--it certainly wasn't done at Smith when I was taking exams there--but here we write our exams on carbon paper, so three copies are made of every page we turn in for evaluation.  The third copy is ours to keep.  So I was able to check my answers against the solutions that were posted this afternoon.

It's all good.  I really and truly did stick the landing.

Except for problem 4d) and e).  His answers didn't match mine, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why.  It had to do with an area (multivariable functions) that I'm not totally sure of myself in. So it was altogether possible that there was some subtle reason why we had to use the y-coordinate instead of the x-coordinate as I had done.  But I was just this side of confident enough in myself that I decided to ask.  So this evening, just before dinner, I sent off an e-mail to the professor asking why he had done what he had done, and where had I gone wrong?

After dinner I checked my messages, and this is what he had answered:

Tusen takk for hyggelig email og kommentar ang. fasit
Kan du se om det er rett nĂ¥:
Thank you for the nice email and comments regarding the solutions.  Can you see if it is right now:  

This was followed by a link to the solution set.   The CORRECTED solution set.  Because--are you ready for this?--I was right, and he was wrong.

Can I just say that again?  I was right!  And HE was wrong!

It doesn't even matter what grade I ultimately get in the class now.  And it's not really even about being right where my professor was wrongwrongwrongwrongWRONG!  It's about believing in myself.  I sat that entire exam in complete control, confident in what I was doing.  I knew I was right.  It's hard to explain how fucking good that feels.  How empowering.

 I've got my smarts mojo back.  Finally!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012


This commercial has been getting a lot of play here the past month or so.  Statoil is a state-run oil and gas company, and this campaign of theirs seems to exist soley to celebrate--not so much achievement, as simply putting yourself out there, and trying. 

I think it's wonderful.

I identify viscerally with each and every vingnette:

  • The alarm going off as you stare sleepless and wide-eyed into the dark morning.

  • The frantic last minute cramming on the bus.

  • Line 'em up: pencils, pens, ruler, calculator. Oh God! What if your calculator runs out of batteries half-way through?

  • Chew your bottom lip some more. That will help.

  • And those cheerful, chattering, smug retirees come to hover and leer at you as you sweat. Bastards!

  • You'll spend the next 4 to 5 hours flagging them down for more and more and ever more paper.  Why can't they just go ahead and give you at least 10 pages to begin with?  You know, and they know you're going to need it.  Carefree bastards!  

  • You hope their sciatics are screaming by noon.

The message towards the end translates as: 

  • There are many things worth cheering.  The desire to learn deserves perhaps the biggest applause.

  • You tend to agree. Which is why you continue to put yourself through this.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Intro calc classes at the University of Bergen come in two flavors: easy 101 and hard 111.  Last year as a meteorology student I was required to take hard 111.  It was awful for me.  A lot of theorems, and proofs, and hair-pulling "Ugh! Who really gives a fuck!"  Easy 101 bills itself as a "user's course":  here's your problem, here's how you solve it, and don't you worry your pretty little head about why--it simply doesn't matter.  Guess which one is required for the geology program.

As I mentioned earlier, this past week has been orientation week for new students.  The university does a pretty good job of organizing this event.  I don't really have any complaints about it other than I'm way, way too old to play name games with pimplely teenagers, and I never saw a box anywhere that I could cross off, opting out of the games due to excessive age considerations.  There really should be such a box somewhere.  Anyway, after the games, we had some extra time before the campus tour, so the grad student who was leading our group opened up the floor to questions.

"Anything you guys were wondering about...?" she asked.

They wanted to know how long she took to complete her bachelor's (3 years).  Which master's program she was in (petroleum geology).  Was it hard to get into (not if you have a C or better in all your undergrad classes).  "And which math class did you take?"


"And that was enough?"


"You never felt like you needed more?"


"They don't expect more if you're planning to take a master's degree too?"


"Are you sure."


"Was it hard?"

"Was what hard?"

"MAT101.  Was it hard?"

"Not particularly."

"Cuz' we heard MAT111 is pretty hard."

"101 is easier."

"Are you sure?"


It was just one kid asking all the questions, but pretty much the whole group was holding its breath listening to the exchange.  It pretty much took a collective sigh of relief when it was over.  I already like geologists so much better than I like meteorologists.


Here's a random thought I had while I was waiting for the name games to be over:  All of these kids (including the grad student) are between 19 to 23 years old.  That means that many of them were busy being born, if not gestated and conceived when I was busy suffering through orientation week at Smith in August of 1991.  Now that's some scary, hard math to digest!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Summer, As Was

Classes start again next Monday. Well, not classes exactly, but that pre-classes, welcome to the new year, tell your new classmates all about your fine self week that precedes the start of actual classes. That starts next Monday. It's obligatory for new students. I did it last year, but last year I was a Meteorology/Oceanography student. This year I'm a geology student. As such, I'm obliged to do it all over again.

Which means, of course, that I did it. I got into the geology program.  I feel a little guilty about this, actually.  There's been a bit of a brouhaha in the papers over the past few weeks involving 500 or so, in some cases, highly qualified students not getting accepted into university because of some minor computer glitch in their transcripts causing them to be rejected altogether.  I agree with the students.  It's outrageous and unfair. And Samordna opptak (central agency tasked with processing and accepting/rejecting all applications to all colleges and universities in Norway) bloody well should be obligated to inform applicants when there's an obvious discrepancy in an otherwise normal application.  I mean, obviously. I didn't work very hard on my application.  When I submitted it last March, emotionally I was more or less done with my little re-education project. At the time, I didn't really want to be accepted. I didn't even bother to track down official transcripts.  I just sent them photocopies; all but daring them to reject me.  Only they didn't.  Now, after a three month break from the horrors of calculus II and linear algebra, I'm glad about that.  But I still feel guilty that I might have taken the place of some more eager, less ambivalent, more qualified kid who, through no fault of his or her own, lost their place to a dusty, fossilized matron.

(I'll get over it)

The impending start of classes, also signifies the inevitable end of summer.


It hasn't been a great one weather-wise.  Not that it's been raining non-stop, but it's been pretty consistently grey and cool.  Not much in the way of beach weather.  We had one glorious week of sun and heat in Madeira.  After that we've been mostly at the cabin.  I've read well over a thousand pages of fictional, strictly non-educational rubbish.  None of them involving bondage, because...I'm going to go ahead and say it...I'm better than that...not the bondage bit...I don't care what you do in the bedroom...says nothing about your character...or mine, for that matter...but the books...they're just...silly...erotica...erotica-lite...It doesn't count as real reading!

(I feel better now)

My greatest accomplishment of the summer has been learning to drive the boat.  Almost.  Docking it is still a pretty tense affair.  And mooring it is, well--I'm still of the opinion that a knot is a knot; Mister emphatically begs to differ.  But I'm getting there.  I know how to turn it on, battery and all. And I'm pretty sure that I could manage to get myself to Rosendal and back without incident as long as someone was with me to grab the pier when I get close enough, because making it stop when and where I want it to?  The dark arts are involved, surely.

My daddy and Boy are so proud of me.  You can tell.

I'm going to do my level best to keep writing and updating this blog, even after classes start.  Share more of the university experience than I have in the past. There are quite a few American in Norway type ex-pat blogs out there.  There may even be one or two students in the mix, already reporting on the vagaries of the Norwegian collegiate ethos.  But when it comes to dusty, fossilized, mothers-of-three?  How many of us could there be left still clinging to the ridiculous dream of becoming a geologist?  In Norway, no less!

Stay tuned.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Belated Art Appreciation

We missed EM's art show this year. We had sent out invitations to her weekend long birthday party weeks in advance; long before we knew the exact date of the art show. By the time we realized there was a conflict, we were into party preperations too deep to back out, so we decided to skip the art show instead. 

I feel bad about that.  Sort of.  My understanding is that it was somehow set up outside this year.  No overcrowded, stuffy museum!  And hey, who doesn't love a temporary outdoor art installation?  Especially in a city whose citizens are told to expect rain upwards of 300 days per year.  What could possibly go wrong?

She brought her portfolio home a few weeks later.  She thinks, but she's not sure, that these are the two pieces that were hung in the show.

This is all well and good. I am definitely impressed. Whimsical.  Approaching proportional.  Three-dimensional, even, in parts.  And she's still really enjoying the classes, and wants to continue into the foreseeable future.  So that's great.  I'm as proud as any parent could be.

But, again, I just have to ask:  The hands EM!  When are they going to teach you how to draw hands?!!!

Saturday, June 30, 2012


Late last summer, Amanda's Godmother (who also happens to be my sister-in-law) mentioned to me that she wanted to do something special just for Amanda and Camilla (her youngest daughter, who is a year older than Amanda).  She said that she had been thinking of taking them to Legoland while they were still young enough to really appreciate it.  Did I have any objections to that?  And did I think there would be time for the trip before school started?

No, I did not.  And no, I did not.

To be honest, I didn't really give the conversation that much of my attention.  It sounded to me like one of those pipe dreams we cook up when we're fantasizing about how our lives would be if we were all as organized, altruistic, and motivated as we wish we were.  And sure enough, nothing ever came of it.  School started, fall weather set in, and everyone forgot all about it.  Or so I thought.

Much to my surprise, Vigdis called out of the blue earlier this month to ask, "Is anything happening from the 21st to the 24th?"

"Um, besides school not being out yet, no.  Why?"

"Does it matter?"

"Does what matter?"

"That school isn't out yet?"

"Vigdis!  Help me out here.  What are we talking about?"

"I told the girls I'd take them to Legoland.  I want to do it between the 21st and the 24th.  Do you have anything else planned?"

"Oh.  No, I guess we don't.  So, I guess that would work."

"Great!  We need to figure out a way to get Amanda to Stavanger then.  Do you think she'd be okay to fly down on her own?"

"Wait.  You're planning to take them alone?  Just you?"


"Won't that be awfully boring for you?"

"Yes.  But I promised them, so, you know..."

"Wouldn't it be more fun for you if I went too?"


You could feel the relief oozing from her soul with that one extended esssssss.

And that's the story of how Amanda ditched school two days early, and the four of us: Amanda, Camilla, Vigdis, and I, set out for Legoland.

We drove from Stavanger.  Took the ferry from the southern tip of Norway to the northern tip of Denmark.  And then we drove some more.  On a map, Denmark just doesn't seem like it should be that big, but in fact it takes hours and hours to get from any one where in Denmark to another where in Denmark.  So if you were to ask the girls how the trip went, they'd roll their eyes at you and whine, "Ugh, it took foreverrrrrr!" 

And you'd feel the outrage oozing from their souls with that one extended errrrr.

The weather was threatening, to say the least.  We drove the final two hours to Billund in an all out deluge, and we feared we might have to put the girls off another day in hopes of better weather.  But, miraculously enough, right around the time we started seeing "Legoland, thisa way" signs,  the clouds broke and the sun prevailed.  Perfect amusement park conditions.

Happy faces.  Finally!

They probably wouldn't be able to articulate it themselves, but I'm pretty sure these smiles say,
"It was worth the wait!"

Vigdis and I spent most of our time here at this outdoor restaurant while the girls ran from ride to ride.
They'd get hungry or thirsty from time to time, but for the most part we were left blessedly alone to chat.
My kind of vacation!
Alas, our lucky break with the weather didn't last.  The following day dawned blustery and grey, and worse, Camilla came down with a vicious stomach bug at breakfast.  It looked like we might have to spend our last full day in Denmark nursing a sick kid.  But kids are incredibly tough, especially when a trip to a waterpark is on the table.  After throwing up a time or two, Camilla rallied, put on her swimsuit, and demanded that we do the same.

She gave it her all, dear heart.  But after two and a half hours at the waterpark, Camilla was wiped out and coming down with a fever.  Amanda was not as gracious as she might have been at having her fun cut short, but she's still small enough to pick up and bully so we got her out of the pool eventually...

That night was St. Hans.  In Norway, they build huge bonfires along the coast to celebrate mid-summer night.  In Denmark, the bonfires are considerably smaller, but much more interesting because, turns out, they burn paper mache witches on them!  After choking down a paracet for the fever, Camilla was feeling well enough to come out and join the fun.

I kept telling them to get closer so I could get a good picture of both them and the burning witch.
They were all like, "Fuck that, woman!  This is close enough!"

Thanks for a wonderful, impromptu vacation Tante Vigdis!
Let's do it again sometime, only...without the vomit maybe, 'kay?