Saturday, April 28, 2012

Mad Props To Norwegian Bureaucracy

Have I ever complained about the song and dance an expat has to do to get a passport renewed while living abroad?

It's pretty much absurd.  The pictures, the paper work, the permission forms that have to be signed in front of a frigging judge, for God's sake!  One year the girls and I had to fly to Oslo for a day because we'd missed the one day that year a consul from the embassy set up in Bergen to notarize all that stupid paperwork.

We've never bothered to get the kids set up with Norwegian passports, a) because we haven't really needed them before, all our travel being directed Stateward, and b) because I flat out refuse to go through all that song and dance in Norwegian, I figure--his country, his language, his kids, his job.

We've known since early last autumn that we'd to be spending a week in Madeira this coming summer.  It's Mister's mother's 70th birthday in July, and her birthday wish was to get her whole family (us, and Mister's two sisters' families) on the same tiny island at the same time.  Fine.  Fun, even.  But travel within Europe requires European passports for European citizens--even the 50/50 models.

I reminded him when the trip was planned and agreed to, "It's your job to get the kids' passports.  Don't leave it to the last minute."

"Yeah yeah, fine. No problem."

Every month since September, I've said, "You need to get the kids' passports."

And he'd say,  "Yeah, yeah. Soon.  Next week maybe.  Can you do some research for me?  Find out what's required?"


And here it is--April.  Plane tickets should have been ordered at least a month ago, but we can't order them because the kids still don't have Norwegian passports.

GRRRRRR!  FINE!  Here!  Just let me do EVERYTHING!

I thought for a long time that there was a good chance that they wouldn't even let me apply for the passports, me being a scary foreigner and all.  I dropped into the passport office at the police station one grey day in March to ask that very question. The guy looked at me like I was more than a little bit soft in the head.  "I don't understand," he said, "You're not the children's mother?"

"No, I am.  But I'm not Norwegian."

"Then why would we give them Norwegian passports."

"Their father is Norwegian.  But he's too busy.  I need to bring them in to get the passports.  Can I do that?"

"You're the mother of the children?"

"Yes.  But I'm not Norwegian."

To which he lifted an eyebrow and snorted as if to say, "Ya think?"  Then he gave me a form for Mister to fill out, giving me permission to apply for passports for his kids.  The Americans have a similar form, but it comes with a whole bunch of strings attached, so I asked, "And does this form need to be notarized?"

"It needs to be signed, yes."

"But does it need to be notarized?  Like...(my norwegian words were failing me here) know...official like?"

"Just sign it.  And bring his passport when you come."

"And the other forms?  Can you give me those too?"

"What other forms?

"For the passports.  The application forms."

"This," he held up the permission form, "And the kids.  You bring.  We take care of rest."

So maybe he didn't say it exaclty like that.  But he was clearly getting frustrated with the fact that I was so desperately working to complicate a really very simple process.

Blah, blah, blah.  Life, school, crap.  I finally managed to get the kids into the police station just this past Wednesday.  They looked everything up on a central computer--my status, kids' status, addresses, fødselsnummer (basically a Social Security number)--everything.  They took pictures right there.  We were in and out in less than 15 minutes. When I asked how long it would take to process the actual passports, she told me, "We guarantee them within 10 days." 

This shocked me, "That's it?  Seriously?"

To which she gave me a level, I shit-you-not kind of look over her bifocals, and said, "It'll probably be much early than that."

I snorted and said, "Dude, could you call the Americans and tell them how you do this?"

She must have thought I was pretty damn funny, and put a rush on my order, because I'll be damned if the very next day, Thursday, the passports were......



I might have to take some of my mad praizzz back.  See I wrote all that yesterday, after I'd recieved TWO of the passports in the mail a mere one day after applying for them.  I thought that was pretty freaking impressive.

But....why just two?

I assumed that the third one must have come up on the pile just in time for someone's coffee break, so I'd get it the following day--yesterday.

Only, I didn't.

I still only have two passports.  Which means, I still can't order plane tickets.

I'm kind of suspecting this little hiccup has more to do with the post office.  But who knows.  I'm probably going to have to make a phone call Monday.

Anyway--I spent a lot of time on this post, so I'm posting it. 

Happy Weekend!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012


One of my more bitter memories of elementary school is the Presidential Fitness Test that we were forced to perform every Spring.  The shuttle run, the standing long jump, the flexed arm hang, the god damn 800 meter dash. 

I sucked--I mean really, really sucked--at all of it. 

And sometime during that fitness week we'd be weighed and measured right out there in front of God and everyone. Empirically proving, year after year, that I actually was the galumphingest elephant in the whole class.  This is how it seemed to me anyway.  I mean, how else was I supposed to interpret slim and perfect Jennifer Murray being able to hang from that stupid bar for upwards of 40 seconds, while I could barely manage 3?  And the 800 meter dash!  Gah!  That's what--barely even half a mile?  I don't remember specific times, but I do remember the abject humiliation of being one of the last ones to drag myself wheezing and hacking over that finish line year after year after year.  By the 6th grade, I was refusing to even try.  I just walked the whole 800 meters, because FUCK YOU Presidential Fitness Test!  You don't own me!  When you say run, I don't say, "How fast?"

I hated it.  Loathed it entirely.

I can look back on it now--on what I was, how I was--and see quite clearly that I wasn't anywhere near as fat and awful as I thought I was.  I was big, yes. Bigger than all my friends. But that was genetics, not fat.  There were kids in the class who struggled more than I did--a few anyway.  I would love to be able to go back in time, and let myself off the hook just a little bit for all that.  Of course, I can't do that.  So I've resolved instead to do everything in my power to make sure my kids (specifically Emma, who--it's been clear since she was an infant--is shaped exactly like me) make it through their childhoods without ever once feeling the same shame and inadequacy over their general fitness and appearance that I once did.

I married into a family of runners.  Serious, medal winning, title holding athletes who have all been sweetly indulgent of my galumphing, elephantine thighs.  I've felt, nevertheless, a certian amount of pressure to up my fitness game in order to be worthy of their exalted, sweaty presense. 

When I first started running as an adult--about 13 years ago--I remember my wildly hammering heart having serious difficulty after only 100 meters.  I'm pretty sure I cried the first time I ran from one bus stop to the next (about 500 meters) without stopping.  It wasn't until after Amanda was born that I got consistent enough with my workouts, that I was able to run any real distances.  My first full kilometer, my first 5, my first 10...these were huge milestones for me, and I remember the season, the weather, and the pride that accompanied each and every one of them.  But let me tell you, all that pride is nothing compared to what I felt this past Monday when Emma completed her first full 3 kilometer race.

Both Emma and Daniel have been going to track and field training every Monday evening for two years now.  Daniel is a natural.  He's got the body.  You know the one.  That lean, sculpted, athletic body built to skip and prance lightly through any physical activity you point it at.  That's his genetics, the lucky little bastard.  Emma and I just have to deal with that.  Emma goes primarily to ensure that she gets in one good workout, once a week.  No one asks her to compete, because the thought of it makes her sick to her stomach.  But she's been saying for the past 4 or 5 months now that she can tell she's getting better.  Her coaches are complimenting her on her running style.  She feels lighter.  She can keep up at a sprint with some of the faster boys in the class now.  She's obviously pretty pleased with herself about all this.  So when the prospect of this løpskarusell* came up, she was open to it, as long as I would run it with her.  I happily agreed.

I told her at the start that our time on this one didn't matter at all.  The most important things were to a) finish, and b) run as much of it as we possibly could.  She was nervous, but she agreed to those terms.

Found picture here.

We managed to get in the way of the photographer right at the start of the race.  That's me in the middle--green jacket, goofy hat, #40.  Daniel is to the far right--#42.  He started behind us, but less than a minute after the gun went off, he was ahead of us and out of sight.  Emma, unfortunately, is behind the pink headband.  But this picture is proof that she was there, that she did do this thing.

As we approached the 1.5 km mark where we were supposed to turn around and head back, she huffed, "When we, get up there, can we just, walk?  Just for a, little bit?"  I looked over at her.  Her cheeks were flushed, there was the slightest sheen of persperation on her upper lip.  She was breathing heavily, but not hard.  Utterly beautiful.  I could tell she didn't really need to stop, so I said, "We'll do what you want, but you seem fine to me.  Let's just see what you've got left in you when we get there."

I deliberately didn't stop or even slow down when we got to the turning point.  She looked at me expectantly, ready for her little walking break.  Instead I said, "Think about this, Em.  Tonight, when we get home, you get to send a message to daddy telling him what you've done.  But you only get to say you ran the whole way, if you ran the whole way."

"But, I've never, run, this far, before."

"Doesn't mean you can't do it.  You're fine Emma.  I can tell.  You're not breathing hard enough to need to quit.  Let's just slow it down a bit."

So we did.  But only for a minute.  There was one other moment just before the 2.5 marker where she really wanted to quit, but all I had to say was, "Em, just imagine how proud Daddy is going to be to hear you ran the whole way!"  To which she dug deep, and kept right on running.  All the way to the finish line.

Daniel was there waiting for us, all bouncey and excited as ever Boy is.  He was 4 minutes ahead of us, and of course I'm proud of him too.  But as I said before, he was born to this kind of thing.  If he ever decided to dig as deep as Emma had just done, he'd be in danger of maybe winning something someday.  In my mind, this was Emma's moment.  I hope she remembers it in years to come with as much pride as I will. 

Your first full 3 kilometers, Em.  It was Spring.  It was cloudy and drizzly.  And your mother wept with joy at the sight of it.  I love you.

*løpskarusell--I'm not sure what's up with this word.  Løp means run.  Karusell means carousel.  I think maybe it's a løpskarusell because it's a cycle of 3 races?...or something? The next one is on May 7th.  And you can bet your ass Emma and I will be there for it.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Boy climbs into the backseat of the car humming loudly.  He's a fairly hyped up because he's just been to soccer practice, and apparently there was head butting involved.  But wait.  Allow me to correct the unintended tameness of that first sentence.  Boy doesn't so much "climb" into the backseat, as he does "mount" it. Maniacally.  Yes, that's more like it.  The humming too, boarders on maniacal.

None of this is unusual for Boy these days, so I coolly push my sunglasses into place and drive on.

When we turn out of the school parking lot onto the main road, the maniacal humming turns to maniacal singing.  Mind you, he still hasn't said a single word to me beyond a chirpy "Yyyessss!" when I ask if he's remembered his hat and jacket. 

His song goes something like this:

Bosom, bosom, bosom, bosom.
Bosom, bosom, bosom, bosom.
Smack your BOZEM!
Smack your BOZEM!
Bosom, bosom, bosom, bosom....
And so on and so forth, until I finally have to ask, "Boy?  Why are you singing bosom, bosom, bosom over and over again like that?"

He stops mid-bosom and thinks a second before he says, "I don't know.  I just think bosom is a fun word to say.  Listen! Bosom, bosom, bosom..."

I let him sing his song again.  It's growing on me.  Bosom is a great little word, afterall.  But after the second round of "Smack your BOZEM!" I begin to wonder.

"Boy?  Do you have any idea what the word 'bosom' means?"

"Oh.  Um.  Well....I think it might have something to do with friends? or something?"

"Yes, it can mean something like that.  Something close.  Something comfortable.  A bosom-buddy. Or the warm bosom of family.  But it has another meaning that you should probably be aware of."


"It also means, you know....boobies."

Boy begins to giggle--maniacally--and in so giggling, very nearly swallows his tongue.

"No!  Wait!" he snorts, "You mean!  I've been saying...!  And smack your...!  Nooooo!"

We're nearing home by now.  Gradually the fit of giggles wears itself out.  I'm backing the car into the garage when he asks, "So, you didn't say.  Am I allowed to say it?"

"Say bosom?  Ummmm.  Tja, yeah?  I guess so?  Maybe?  If you really want?"

That is right, isn't it?  I mean--bosom.  It's not like titties, or knockers, or even boobies.  Right?  Sure enough he'll come across as a pretentious turd if he ever decides to compliment a girl on her ample bosom, or anything dire like that.  But he's allowed to go around singing "Bosom, bosom, bosom, bosom" at the top of his lungs, right?

I'm pretty sure I've totally lost the plot on this whole naughty words/nice words parenting task.  I figure, as long as nobody in this house feels free to tell me to go fuck myself, I've won at least half the battle.  But here in Norway where both TV and radio are completely uncensored, where the likes of Nicki Minaj and Eminem are played blithely in my kids' classrooms during the lunch hour, and the English swear words are considered by most parents to be harmless good fun, it's really hard to draw much more of a line in the sand than that.

It also doesn't help that I've lived here so long that I no longer have a clear sense of what some of these words actually mean.  As an example, this past week the kids have had uteskole (outdoor school).  Rather than the usual classroom routine, everyone heads outside, and each day each class is assigned to a different station designed to get kids moving and enjoying the great outdoors.  One of the stations was canoeing, which we, here in this house, oh so wittily renamed kanoodling.  As in, "Boy!  You're kanoodling today, don't forget the lifevest."  Or, "So Missy, did you enjoy the kanoodling today?"  And even worse, "So EM?  Did you get wet during the kanoodling?"  It was Wednesday afternoon before I dimly remembered that kanoodling might have something to do with sex.

Given all that, who am I to deny my boy the right to sing his joy of bosom?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Her Mother's Math Talent

3 + 3 is 8.

No it's not.

Yes it is.

Missy, 3 + 3 is not 8.  Use your fingers if you have to.  But, no.  It's just.....not.

Well, in math 3 + 3 is 6.  Boring.  But in real life if you  put a 3 and a 3 together, it makes an 8.  So the real 3 + 3 is 8.

Friday, April 13, 2012

It's The View, Stupid!

So, yeah.  It's been awhile since I've done this with any sort of regularity.  Quite a bit has happened.

We've touched briefly on the university thing.  I finished the damn problem set, by the way.  There was much grumbling and moaning, and once again Mister had to fish me out of one or two tricksy Algebra muddles.  But it's done. Now I get to start studying for exams.  Yey me!  Wanna know the worst thing about Norwegian university?  Five hour exams.  Five frigging hours of hell.  I don't think it's right, but that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

Today I want to talk about the best thing that's happened to us recently.  Our cabin! 

Best. Purchase. EVER!

A cabin is not something that I had ever aspired to own.  I've visitied several. I've had reasonably good times in all of them. But for the most part, it always felt like far more of a hassle to pack up and get there than it was worth.  Then Mister started pining for one, and I was like, "Shit!  How am I going to stop him from doing this?"  I seriously didn't want to have to fight with him every weekend about whether or not we were going to pack all our crap--AGAIN--and go to the cabin--AGAIN.  Because I knew that's the kind of cabin experience he had in mind.  It's the weekend!  Take me to the sea!  Take me to the mountains!  That's just the kind of guy he is.

He arranged to view our soon-to-be cabin between Christmas and New Year's.  I tagged along.  Reluctantly.  All prepared to start poking holes in his little pipe dream the minute we climbed ashore.  FYI--it's on an island, only accessible by boat--1st easy strike against it, right there! 

Only, once we got there, I couldn't seem to stop myself from saying, "Oh my God!  Look at the view!  The view, kids!  Look at it!  It's....It's....Stunning! Majestic! Magnificent! It's GOOORGEOUS!" 

When I was 14, I had a poster of Norway in my room.  This wasn't it, but it looked something like this:
by Michele Molinari taken off of
I adored everything about the idea of Norway when I was 14 and 15 (coughA-hacoughcough), and I wanted to go there more then just about anything.  I naturally assumed that everywhere in Norway must be exactly as breathtakingly beautiful as the place in that poster. 

Turns out, I wasn't too far wrong, and now I own a piece of it. 

These pictures were taken with my iphone, and they don't capture even a quarter of the grandure that managed to change my mind about buying that cabin in about half an instant.  But they're all I've got, so here ya' go:
Towards the southeast.

That tree and those bushes are scheduled for demolition pronto.

Not as majestic here, but this is looking towards the northwest.  We've got ocean views everywhere we look.
It's pretty much awesome.
I was a bit shocked this morning when I sat down to write this, to discover that I don't have any pictures of the cabin itself.  Doi!  Nevermind.  It's practically new.  Tastefully furnished (for the most part).  And covered floor to ceiling in pine paneling (as every Norwegian cabin ever is).  It's lovely really, but God people!  The view!  The view is what sells it!  Well, the view, and loads and loads of fresh seafood.

We spent all of vinterferie there, and all of Easter, plus a weekend or two in between.  The neighbors are delightful, and have four kids more or less the same ages as ours.  They all get along great which makes the kids want to pack up and go as often and as eagerly as we do.

All of this shocks the hell out of me.  Because, seriously, I'm not a cabin person. 

Well, that is--I never was before.

One last bit of eye candy--a terrible shot into the sun of the girls playing with crabs.  Made moderately interesting by Picasa photo editing dodads.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Imagine Me Wispering This. REALLY! LOUDLY!

I have a confession to make.

I'm about ready to quit school.

Quit, as in:

Walk away.

Cease and desist.

Run. thefuck. away.

I have a problem set for my Linear Algebra class due this Friday.  I have to get at least 60% on it to be allowed to sit the exam in May.  You have no idea how tempting it is to just blow the whole damn thing off.  Wash my hair, put on some make-up, and go shopping instead.

I'm all mathed out, folks.  Done.

I was talking to a woman this past weekend, an aquaintance of Mister's from the village he grew up in.  She was asking me what I was studying, how it was going, and such n' all.  I explained that, for the moment I'm in the meteorology program, but I've just finished applying to switch over to the geology department.  She chuckled heartily at this, and said, "Ah! Not autistic enough to get through meteorology's math requirements, are you?" 

Now, I can think of half a dozen ways to be righteously offended by such a casual dismissal of my current academic predicament if I chose to be, but the plain fact of the matter is, she's right.  And funny to boot. So, yeah, I concede.  I'm not autistic enough to get through the math.  I is stooppud.

The reason I'm attempting to switch over to geology is, even if I take the geophysics degree, there are only two required math classes there (neither of them Calculus II), as opposed to the six that meteorology demands.  Geology is what I wanted to do in the first place, but it's a very competetive program to get into in Norway because all the eager young pups coming out of the high schools looking for the quickest route to loads of spare cash know that the oil industry is nothing but booming, and a degree in petroleum geology is their surest ticket to the party.  Meteorology was relatively easy to get into, and global climate change is something I'm genuinely interested in. But this particular program puts all its emphasis on weather tracking, forecasting, and modelling.  Hence the unholy fuck ton of math requirements.  I want out.  I'm trying to get out. 

But. I mean. Like. Seriously? Secretly?  Even if I do manage to get into the geology program?  I don't really want to.  This is my truth.  My truth that my Mister is not yet ready to hear: I want to quit.