Wednesday, December 22, 2010

God Jul

This has been perhaps the most Christmas-y of holiday seasons for us thus far.  We've been covered in snow, and we've been to what seems like a gazillion Christmas markets.  

However, perhaps our greatest Christmas achievement has been this:

We met a reindeer!  Isn't he/she pretty?

And, contrary to popular belief (a.k.a. what Ken and I initially thought), this woman leading the reindeer is not dressed as an elf.  She's actually Sami, and dressed in a traditional costume.  The Sami are indigenous people who live in the very far north of Norway/Sweden/Finland.  Reindeer herding is part of their culture.  This woman apparently takes reindeer to various events, from what I could decipher from the Norwegian on her website.  Here, she just finished sticking her face in the reindeer's fur to warm up her face (also a conclusion Ken and I came to - or perhaps she was just showing it affection?)

 This reindeer hoopla took place in a little town called Bærum's Verk, northwest of Oslo.  It used to be an iron foundry, and now it has cute red buildings with art galleries and cafes in them.  It was also super cold here - hence the frozen creek above.  The moose burger stand at the farmers market here (no, we did not partake) actually had the ketchup and mustard bottles on a warming plate, so they didn't freeze.  That's cold.

Ken wandering amongst the pretty red buildings and the juletrær for sale.

Let's discuss the juletrær, shall we?

Normally, I love the look and scent of a huge, fluffy Christmas tree in the apartment.  At the end of November, Ken and I wondered where the heck to get a Christmas tree.  We figured Norway was the perfect place to score an evergreen.  And we heard rumors that stands pop up in the city (no car = no trip to the tree farm to cut one yourself).  But, apparently they don't sell trees until very close to Christmas here, so the stands near our apartment just started popping up about a week ago.  

So, we settled for a small potted tree at the end of November, and that will serve as a our Christmas tree (sustainable as well!)  No sense in paying who-knows-what for a tree and decorations, then dragging it up the block and three flights of spiral stairs, and later figuring out where to dispose of it (who even knows?) for only two weeks of enjoyment.  And we actually won't even be here on Christmas, so there's another reason to go cheap this year.  I think in terms of "I could be spending this scrilla on fun travel" now, since trips are so cheap.

Thus, we're off to London, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen for the next week.  Have I mentioned that this trip, including hotels in Amsterdam and Copenhagen, cost just a tidbit more than our usual two flights from Portland to Tulsa/Dallas for Christmas?  'Tis true.  We'll be sad to not be home for the holidays for the first time in our lives, of course.  But no need to sit at home and mope about it, eh?

I'll leave you with this week's Moment of Zen:

After some very short days, the winter solstice is upon us today.  Longer days from this point forward!  

And check out the June ahead of us.  Ahh...

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


This week we started in on the winter sportiness by learning how to cross-country ski.  Ken has always loved downhill skiing, and I've always despised it (something about flying down a hill on slippery sticks just doesn't do it for me...).  Now we can go on some ski trips together, if I eventually get the hang of it.

We tagged along with our new, fun friends Silje and Pierre to learn the ropes.  Silje may win the Patient Norwegian of the Year award for teaching two Americans and an Englishman how to cross-country ski...

Silje showing Ken the proper waxing technique.  

On the trail with Silje and Pierre.  Please note: if I look a bit rough, it's because this is the equivalent of running in snow.  While wearing very slippery sticks that slide out from underneath you while running.  Further evidence that this is a workout includes the fact that I ripped off my hat and gloves shortly before this, and shoved them into my pockets to "cool off" in 15 degree F weather.  Definitely felt the burn!

We enjoyed ourselves, and will try to go often, since we bought skis (before we even tried it...whatever).  The only cost to go is an $8 roundtrip on the train or bus - you can get to quite a few trails by quick public transit.  We've discovered two things that are inexpensive in Norway:  ice skates and skis.  Velkommen to our plan for making it through the long winter! 

I also went for a snowy hike with a couple of new girlfriends...

The lake, covered in snow.  The pic is a bit dark, but I loved the color of the sky.  Which you can't really see in this small version. was nice in person.

No leaves, but the snow makes it nice, eh?

The path around the lake.

All bundled up with Robin and Kaila.

Jeg liker trær.

And this Moment of Zen is from a couple of weeks ago, but I think it goes well with the wintry mix of photos for this week. 
Beautiful, cold, snowy run.

Alright, I'm off to go clean up the nice puddle of soot the chimney sweep managed to shove down through the chimney onto the wood floor surrounding our fireplace.   Excellent.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Last weekend we traveled to Germany to visit our friends Holger and Annett, who did a rotation in Portland for two and a half years.  Ken and Holger worked many, many hours together, and the four of us got to hang out at various happy hours.  When we found out we'd be living in Norway, we were happy to have a chance to visit them.  So we flew to Frankfurt, and made it out to their house, which is in wine country (so pretty, and it was covered in snow!)

View of the vineyards (and Annett's bird house) from Holger and Annett's patio.  
It was gorgeous to sit in their living room and have snowy vineyards in full view!

So apparently, Christmas markets are where the cool kids in Germany hang.  They were everywhere.  And they sold magical things like glühwein, which we enjoyed many a glass of over the weekend.  

Enjoying the good stuff at Christmas market 2 of 3.

My favorite thing about this particular glühwein experience was that is was purchased and consumed under this little gem:

The moment I saw this, my mind immediately darted to the scene in Christmas Vacation where Cousin Eddie is wearing a white sweater over a black faux turtleneck (otherwise known as a dickey), and one touch of his hand destroys Clark's Christmas pyramid.  

So the fact that we were actually inside one of these was excellent.

Anyhow, more Christmas market pics:

Booth where you can just walk up and take a shot of schnaps.  We'd had enough glühwein at this point, so we somehow managed to not patronize this booth.  Intriguing as it was...

A full pork steak, on a bun.  I can get into Germany's version of a sandwich.

Festive streets and pretty buildings in Bad Wimpfen, the town with the greatest of all the Christmas markets.

Annett and I imitating the cute polar bears.

And we'll end the Christmas markets with this one.  
Bet you can't guess the refreshment we're enjoying here...

In addition to the markets, Holger and Annett took us to beautiful Heidelberg. 

Heidelberg from the journey up the steps to the castle.

Heidelberg Castle.

The whole crew at Heidelberg Castle.  Thanks for remembering your camera, Annett!  
Forgot mine (seriously who does that on a day in a beautiful, historic city??)  Most of these are iPhone (and Annett gave me some of her pics as well).

Just some pretty buildings and streets along the way.  I found a delicious falafel on this walk, and almost cried tears of joy.  It's been awhile since the smorgasbord of delish falafel at the PDX food carts...ahh.

So, thanks to Holger and Annett for such a lovely weekend!  You were fantastic hosts.

Not pictured are some goodies we picked up along the way - bottles of Pinot made a few blocks from Holger and Annett's house that were ridiculously cheap (and delicious!), and reasonably-priced Christmas lights ($20 for a strand of white lights in Norway...)  And no, I'm not exaggerating.  My jaw dropped and I started to laugh when I saw that at the hardware store.

And this week's Moment of Zen occurred just a few moments ago, whilst I was out shopping in the neighborhood.  I turned down a street I'd never been down, and went into a small shop with an inviting array of veggies outside of it.  And found this inside:

It's the little things, friends.  BBQ has been on my mind the past couple of months, and I decided just this week to finally make some delicious BBQ in the slow cooker.   I had just hunted down quite possibly the only piece of pork shoulder in Oslo earlier this afternoon, and was prepared to resign myself to some inferior BBQ sauce that I found awhile back.  Then this little treasure showed up right in my lap (okay, maybe not right in my lap, because I go in every tiny corner shop and search the shelves for anything familiar and wonderful these days).  But still.  BBQ Friday, here we come!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dublin (and Movember)

Before we start in on the Dublin pics, let's discuss the little strip of fur that you'll see above Ken's upper lip in some of the photos.  Semi-disturbing, indeed.  But, Ken's office participates in Movember every year, so it was for a good cause... 
Here is the lovely mo enjoying a Guinness at the factory.  This is three weeks into the growth.

I hope you kept your lunch down after that pic...

Anyhow, we took a nice, cheap trip to Dublin.  What a great city - pubs on every corner, green parks, beautiful old buildings, pretty mountains close to the city, and friendly people.  

On Day One, we arrived at our hotel, which just so happened to be two blocks from the Old Jameson Distillery.  Yes, please.  I don't even really like whiskey, but I'm fascinated by any sort of "how it's made" tour (it must go back to the Reading Rainbow days with the ever-so-mesmerizing crayon factory segment...who didn't want to go to the crayon factory??)

Anyway, the tour guide asked for four female volunteers.  There were approx four females in the group, so I got to be a volunteer.  This was not the sort of volunteering where you plant trees, walk dogs, or paint schools.  This was an opportunity to become a certified whiskey taster.  And that I did.

Perhaps one of my proudest accomplishments.

Someone was just a wee bit jealous that he wasn't chosen as one of the four male volunteers, and therefore did not get to become a certified whiskey taster.

After the Jameson tour, we went to a Spoon show at a small venue.  I was so excited, because: a) I love Spoon, b) I love seeing my favorite bands at the smallest venues possible, and c) I get the feeling that, in Europe, I'll be able to get as close to the stage as I want for most bands.  

So, there we were, front and center, enjoying an excellent show.  The last time I saw Spoon was sometime last year.  And I could barely see anything over the crowd at the Crystal Ballroom.  So this was great!  They always put on a good show, but it was lovely to be so close.

Day Two started off with a walk around the Medieval area of the city.  Excellent.

The old city walls.

Christ Church Cathedral.  Please note the gorgeous blue skies we got that day!

Dublin Castle.  I liked these guys.

Dublin Castle.

The very nice gardener at Dublin Castle told me these swirls were Celtic symbols.

St. Patrick's Cathedral.

Day Two then digressed into drinking.  We like to keep it balanced.

Pretty horses outside of Guinness.

Enjoying our free pints in the Gravity Bar after our Guinness tour.  Take a long look at that hott mo.

Now for Day Three.  We're both big fans of sheep, pretty green scenery, and mountains.  So, we really wanted to check out the Irish countryside.  We took a bus to Glendalough, which is an area in the Wicklow Mountains National Park.  Umm...hello gorgeous!  It actually reminded me a lot of Oregon, which I've been missing a lot lately.  So that was nice.

Beginning of the hike.

Okay, this is definitely a random photo.  So please let me explain. We came across a pretty patch of clover, and I started to take pics.  On the way to the bus that morning, we bought a little leprechaun ornament to commemorate the trip on our Christmas tree when we got home.  So Ken had the brilliant idea to put little Crazy Legs in the clover patch.   Still a random photo, but at least you now know why.

"Oh, stairs leading into a dark forest.  That seems like a good idea."

Approx 1,000 of those stairs later, and we stumble across this...

A little worn out, but loving the scenery!

Lovely moss.  Just like good ol' Oregon.

Beautiful old church and graveyard.

Sheep!  Grazing in a green field!

Ruins of an early Medieval monastic settlement from the 6th century, founded by St. Kevin.

The Round Tower and graveyard.

So, there's Dublin in a nutshell.  Didn't take my camera to the pubs, but they were awesome.  Also awesome: Leo Burdock's fish and chips.  A man dressed as a viking greeted us outside of the restaurant (bonus points).  Then I sat down to the largest battered and fried piece of delicious cod ever, with fries and garlic sauce.  I was too entranced to take any photos at the time.  The moment will just have to live in my mind and tastebuds.

And finally...the Moment of Zen?

The final mo product after four weeks.  He looks like some sort of Norwegian rapper here, eh?  

(And I didn't tell you that the mo was quite sparse in the middle.  You inferred that from the pic yourself, right?  Right.)

Anyhow, Movember ended Friday, and the mo said goodbye yesterday.  You know what they say...all good things must come to an end...

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


We're packing up for a trip to Dublin this weekend, so here are just a few tidbits from the past week...

The living room is done and livable!  Actually, I set most of it up on day one of receiving the shipment.  I just finally remembered to snap some pics...

 Love all of the natural light.  Even though it's been fairly gray out, it's actually pretty bright in here. 

 Cozy little spot in the living room - love.

The kitchen and bedroom are mostly done, just putting on some finishing touches.  Once I finish my second Norwegian class next week, I'll be able to focus a bit more.  Class is really keeping me on my toes for now!

We also enjoyed some wintertime sportiness last week...

 We took a 10-minute bus ride up the mountain to Holmenkollen, and found all this lovely snow.  There isn't really any in Oslo right now (lightly dusted spots, but they don't count).  So it's nice to get to the snow so easily/quickly.

 Lovely trees.
 Pretty old wooden church we found.  Then we walked down some slippery iced-over stairs of destruction on the way down.  Despite our usual lack of sure-footedness (neither of us are the most graceful creatures on the planet), we made it down with no slips.  It's only a matter of time though, before the ice wins.

 Such beautiful detail in the wood.

 Skate Club!  Ice skating in Frogner Park with a few fun friends from Norwegian class: Hoan, Katrin, and Sylvie (not pictured - she was out shredding some mad ice).  I think we need to go as much as possible.  I mean, the 2014 Winter Olympics are just around the corner...

 Ken's actually a great skater!  Those hockey days came back to him the moment he stepped onto the ice.

Never really pictured myself living somewhere cold enough to actually buy ice skates.  But, guess life has a funny way of making its own plans.  One of the funniest moments I've had here involved me asking a guy at the sports store if they sold ice skates.  He responded, "You mean for adults?  We sell them for kids..."   Umm, hasn't he heard that ice skating never gets old??  Because it definitely doesn't.

This week's Moment of Zen doesn't involve food or drink (shocking, I know...)  On a very cold walk through the park, I saw the most beautiful color of blue I've ever seen in the sky.  This pic doesn't really do the color much justice, but maybe you can see it.  Or maybe you should just use your imagination and pretend like you see it...

I hope there will be many a Moment of Zen this weekend: pubs galore, fish & chips galore (YES!), and Spoon (the band) galore...can't wait.