May 31, 2006

They start young

Far more common on a Norwegian than a pair of skis, is a rucksack. This is the fence of a local daycare center and the colorful bands belong to the children's little rucksacks hanging on the other side.

Friday 8 to 10 am

This has been such a weird day at work, for many of us. As we left today, we took home any personal must-have items. We turned off all computers and photocopiers. We transferred our phones to the switchboard. We put an auto-response on our e-mail. We left employer-owned cell phones and PCs at the office. Not until after midnight today will we know if this was all unnecessary.

If negotiations break down tonight, we're on strike tomorrow. And if we are on strike tomorrow, we will likely be on strike for a couple of weeks. In which case, I will be on the picket line Friday from 8 to 10 am at the north entrance to our subterranean parking, sporting a wordy sign about our right to veto changes in pension plans.

Honestly, I've never been on strike and would love to find out what it's like. But I do have mixed feelings. I don't like picketing my employer. I like my employer. Many co-workers understand the conflict in emotions; they feel it, too. But it's the principle of the thing, and all of Norway is concerned with it this year.

May 29, 2006

It looks just like its egg!

I just saw the oystercatcher chick! Woohoo! In case you've missed this spring's act of voyeurism, read here, here and here.

The first egg hatched yesterday. The parents are still incubating the other two eggs, but in the meantime, the eldest chick wanders around, and is colored and patterned very much like the egg it was in, but with the parents' white belly.

I just saw the chick minutes ago, when the parent got off the nest. The chick did, too, and wandered off, but came back as the parent returned to sit on the nest. Awfully cute little thing! The chick, I mean, not the nest. And certainly doesn't look just 24 hours old. See a picture here: http://tjeld.uib.no/snapshots/1148910787.jpg

May 27, 2006

On strike - me?

In the US, I'd probably be a Republican (I was, back when). Here in Norway, I've joined a labor union, partly because my union is non-political, and partly because labor unions in Norway are the rule, not the exception, and even encouraged by employers. Labor unions in Norway nowadays tend to work in concert with the government and employers organizations, but still have their watchdog function. It was union efforts in the 1930's that paved the way for federal laws governing vacation time and vacation pay, sick leave, maternity leave, and overtime regulations. This is the road most union work took in most of Europe. In the US, the labor movement shot itself in the foot (and I am so sorry it did).

I have to go back in a week to pick up my US passport, and have mused on whether or not to take a vacation day for that. I have 25 to choose from, thanks to my union, which has added another 4 days to the federal vacation law's 21. And then it occurred to me: We could be on strike that day and getting the day off would be a moot point.

I'm a member of a union that organizes people in the finance, banking and insurance industries. Our union hasn't been on strike in 30 years, and so this time around is a bit giddy. I'm not alone in feeling that way. The negotiations came to a complete halt on May 9, and our union (and many other unions this year) are adamant about getting the issue around pension plans cleared up. A recent change in Norwegian law now makes pension plans mandatory even in small businesses, but can ruin better plans already in existence. We want the right to vote on schemes proposed by our employers. It's a principle important enough to strike for.

Since so many unions are discussing the same principle this spring, it's a long wait to get a government-appointed mediator, whose job is to break deadlocks. My labor union and our employers organization are scheduled to meet with a mediator on May 30 and by the end of May 31 must have reached some sort of agreement or we go on strike on June 1. And that might mean being on strike for a couple of weeks, and so time off (which will be spent outside my place of work with a sign, most likely). The employers have threatened a lock-out as of June 12, meaning union members not put on strike, will not be allowed to work, so effectively keeping all union members from their jobs. These are the rules of the game.

It's all rather fascinating because I've never really bothered to get into the terminology nor have I ever experienced a strike first-hand, and yet I've heard enough to be a bit excited. And so we all wait and wonder what will happen as of May 31.

Typically, in Norway, labor agreements are renegotiated by May 1, and any disagreements can lead to mediation or strike, and so another sure sign of spring here (besides motorcycles, lambs, and that peculiarly Norwegian version of a high school graduate, the "rødruss") are all the labor disputes and (threats of) strikes. Due to one on-going strike right now, hundreds of tourists are without boat access to our beautiful fjords, but it does finally answer one common question heard at our tourist information office:

"When do the fjords close?"

"When the ferrymen strike."

May 26, 2006

Once every ten years...

...I renew my passport. Having renewed said passport, I then must go to what was formerly known as the alien office to get my residency visa stamped in my passport. Since I do this only once every ten years, I approached this with complete cluelessness. At least I had the forethought to phone ahead and get the office hours, but not much else.

I walked briskly to our local police headquarters, wherein are all things passporty, Norwegian-style, and saw about 70 fair-skinned people milling around entrance B. I scanned the sign and finally realized what the A, B, and C stood for which jogged a vague memory from 10 years ago. I walked around the corner to entrance C, and was instantly met by a couple of dozen dark-skinned people, and a door I recognized. I went inside, more definitely-foreign people, and eventually realized there must a queue system, and sure enough, there was the machine dispensing queue numbers. I then went back outside, because outside was coolish but sunny while inside was stifling. I read a little, wandered to the newspaper shop and got a bottled water, and after a 70 minute wait, it was almost my turn and my turn took all of 2 minutes.

Once inside the waiting room (as they called it), I discovered a row of various forms, and panicked. Was I supposed to have spent 70 minutes filling something out? I grabbed an appropriate-looking form in Norwegian and did a marathon form-out-filling. (You would be so proud of me. Not one mistake.) Then it was my number up, and I went to one of the two windows. "Haven't done this in 10 years, need this thingy stamped in that thingy, and filled out this form," I said, thinking I knew that much, because the last time, that's pretty much what happened. The reply: "We've changed the rules. We don't need that form, but we do need your passport and a passport photo, and you'll get a special visa in your passport. You can pick it up in a week, no sooner. Yes, you have to pull a queue number then, too, and wait." I was eternally grateful that impulse had let me bring the spare passport photo I had.

So I get to go back and do this all over again next Friday. I'm thinking I'll try to be there when they open and go to work afterwards. Today I had the whole day off. And not enough coffee. I really needed coffee.

May 20, 2006

A look at the oystercatcher eggs

I got a good look at the eggs just as the parent bird got off the nest for a minute.

May 17, 2006

More info on the oystercatcher

The Norwegian University newspaper has published an article about the oystercatcher pair, but only in Norwegian. The article says it's really a love story. The oystercatcher couple have been together for years. Last year, their eggs hatched in the very beginning of June, and this year the eggs are expected to hatch at the same time. Both parents are equally involved in tending the chicks. When they hatch, you have to pay close attention, because it'll only be a matter of days before the chicks are able to wander off away from the nest.

May 16, 2006

For the birds

I'm trying to get caught up. I have what the Norwegians call a "luxury problem": One of those problems that isn't really a problem; it's insignificant and often a result of abundance. Mine is having so much material for blog posts, that I a) can't choose, and b) can't find the time. I found a common theme for a couple of items, so here you go:

Shooting birds

My new camera has a 12x zoom and I wanted that so I could take bird pictures. I'm not sure if it's the camera or the camera settings, but this picture of a fieldfare (in Norwegian, "gray thrush") shows some artifacts around the bird. The picture itself is good, though. I was walking around Ortuvann (the pond near where I live), and was mostly focused on the birds on the ground. Then I got the impulse to look up, and looked straight at:

I took several shots of this bird and then noticed two more just like it in another tree. Those two seemed to be having a dispute; I'm assuming over territory. One would fan its tail feathers, and the other kept its distance. Eventually, all three birds decided to fly off and argue in another tree farther away.

The Ministry of Silly Walks

Commercial break

I love creative ideas, and fell for the clever concept of advertising birdfeed by attracting real birds to the billboard with the product itself.

Breathing

Recently, an oystercatcher couple built a nest on the roof of one our university's buildings. There's a webcam and a live video feed. What you can't see is that as of this writing, the weather's pretty unpleasant again: Almost freezing at night. Momma bird (I assume it's Mom) pretty much just sits there, occassionally stretching her neck or shifting her head. Sometimes she checks the eggs or turns around (I don't know yet when she eats). Via the live cam I got a glimpse of the eggs today, and they are very pretty: White with gray squiggly markings. But what gets me watching the live video instead of the webcam, is her breathing. Sometimes the only movement I can see is her breathing, steadily, three times faster than my own resting rhythm. And there is something so meditative, so calming about watching her. It never occurred to me before just how patient a bird incubating its eggs must be.

May 14, 2006

Trying something new every week

At the end of April, I decided to make a point of doing something new at least once a week. I wanted to break out of my mold, avoid more boring weekends, and also see if I couldn't meet people. I have been acting like an introvert for a quite a few years now, and I've decided that I need to reach out and get some social skills.

So, in addition to the International Worker's Day parade, I attended the monthly member meeting of our union's local, and got a free treatment through an organisation and system started by a Norwegian, called Still Point. The consultant "read" me using a pendulum and dripped various tinctures under my tongue. After an hour and a half of tuning my physical, causal and astral selves (the areas that he said needed tuning), I got ready to leave. The thing is, the treatment center is on the second floor of what was essentially a boathouse, and access was via a winding metal staircase with grated steps and landings. Another woman there for a treatment did not like those stairs and neither did I, but I felt good, and kept looking up and got up without trouble. But when I was leaving, I stepped out onto the grate landing and looked down. I looked down at the ground more than a story below me right under my feet and felt no fear, no vertigo, no "draw". I have never been able to do that before. I started down the stairs, looked straight down again, and again, no fear, no reaction. I turned around and ran back in to tell the consultant that apparantly my fear of heights was cured! Then I happily went down those stairs.

Today I took my new camera out for its first outdoor trial. A young couple came walking with their very eager beagle. I thought it was such a joyous and attractive dog, I considered asking them to let me take its picture. However, I felt uncomfortable about that. As they past me, the dog got distracted by a lamppost just a few feet from me. I realized I had an opportunity, and asked the couple if I could take some pictures as I had a new camera. They agreed. I got a good shot and ended up very happy I had asked.

May 13, 2006

Crazy cat woman

Nothing like messing around with a new camera. Testing out features and functions and discovering... My goodness, but I do have a lot of cat things! And what you see here - in my window, my coffee cup, Grandma's painting - isn't all.

All photos are right from the camera, only reduced in size. The last two are experiments with the PowerShot's "effect color" function. The original is a painting done by my grandma and given as a housewarming gift.

May 12, 2006

New camera has arrived!

I bought a Canon PowerShot S2 IS via mail order and picked it up today. (Yay!) The above is my very first picture taken with it - without reading the manual (just to see how intuitive the camera is) or installing software (yay, iPhoto!). Yeah, I know, it's out of focus. So here's my second picture taken with my new camera:

The photos are reduced in size, but otherwise unretouched. Now, to go read the manual and maybe install some Canon software since iMovie can't recognize a USB-camera. My intuitiveness has taken me only so far.

May 5, 2006

The late spring of 2006

We had a light covering of snow and 7 weeks of freezing temperatures through February and March, and then we thawed, but just barely. Finally, this first week of May, weather mild enough to encourage growth appeared. In fact, as I write, we are enjoying summer temperatures! Rather odd to have 22C and still-naked trees, but neither will last long. At long last - signs of spring! I found several, including the delicate white wood anemones, the birch's "mouse ears", and some assorted other buds and new leaves, even a tree with yellow flowers. Enjoy!

May 1, 2006

International Worker's Day

May 1 is Labor Day, international style. It's celebrated, often as a day off from work, in many countries around the world, except in the nation that was the reason for May 1 becoming the laborer's own day: The United States (can you say "ironic"?). See Wikipedia's entry on May Day for that particular background story.

In Norway, May 1 is a national holiday and traditionally labor unions, labor/socialist parties and special interest groups gather for parades, demonstrations and speeches. My impression is that it's very left-wing even for a left-wing nation, and I, with my American background, always end up feeling dark blue on such a day. But I attended today, for the first time ever, walking in the parade with the local plumber's union. (My friend's a plumber; no cracks about his crack, thank you.)

According to the speeches, the "man" is still out to get us, Israel is out to get Palestine, and the non-leftist politicians are idiots. In local news, the weather gods were out to get the kids' balloons and were quite successful: A marlin, a heart and a lion all went due south, over the Strand.

Here are a few snapshots from a sunny and windy day in Bergen, May 1, 2006:


The crowd is gathering.


A good pop band ("The Owens") played while we waited for the speeches.


The plumber's union has a lovely banner, featuring a famous fountain in Bergen.


The view of part of the parade as seen from our part of the parade, as we paraded around Ole Bull's Place.


This one didn't get taken by the wind, but got to go home with the little girl it was tied to (her sister wasn't so lucky).