Jan 27, 2007

Answering Robbi

Robbi asked me a lot of questions in the comments to my post about writing about Norway, and asked a lot of questions, which I decided were better answered in a post, rather than in the comments:

Robbi: My friend and I were at dinner the other night, and she brought up Garrison Keillor. She is married to a guy who is third generation American with Swedish background, and she says Garrison Keillor's books describe her husband perfectly, even down to his being prudish about nudity.

Keera: I haven't heard of Garrison Keillor. Today's Scandinavians are not prudish about nudity - certainly not compared to Americans. Perhaps I was unclear in my previous post. In Victorian times, everybody was prudish.

Robbi: Frankly, I don't care for Garrison Keillor or Sons of Norway. I can't relate to them. It seems that their version of Norway is the way Norway used to be in the 1800s.

Keera: I was a member of Sons of Norway when I lived in California, and found it to be a positive experience, but based on my experience then, I would agree that Sons of Norway tends to focus on what was. An older member of my lodge told me of how she'd been raised on countless stories of the old country that her parents had left. When she and her husband (also of Norwegian descent) as seniors finally got a chance to visit Norway, they were surprised by all the cars, satellite dishes, and their relatives' brand new dishwashing machine. So much for romanticizing the past!

My own version of misconceiving Norway is that after having seen all the pictures of people in bunads (Norwegian national costumes) and the peculiar storage houses (stabbur) in my grandmother's scrapbook, I thought Norwegians dressed and lived like that. I was actually a bit relieved to see T-shirts and jeans when we arrived in Oslo in 1969. I guess the moral is: Don't forget to take pictures of something new when you visit Norway!

Robbi: What do you think of Garrison Keillor? Have you seen the movie "Prairie Home Companion"? What do Norwegians generally think of Garrison Keillor, Sons of Norway, and Americans with a Norwegian background? (I know my family in Norway doesn't care for Keillor or SoN.)

Keera: I don't know who Garrison Keillor is, and have not seen the movie, even though it got good reviews here (if it airs on TV, I may see it then). I know Minnesota is the most Norwegian of the US states, and Sons of Norway are headquartered there, but I know nothing about its people nor midwestern Scandinavians in general. My Norwegian grandpa was born in and raised in Norway, and in the US, first settled in New York and then in Los Angeles.

Some Norwegians who have heard of Keillor find him amusing, but most Norwegians don't know who he is. Most Norwegians also don't bother with Sons of Norway (even though there are local lodges here), and those that do, usually have some pretty close ties to their relatives "over there" (in the US) and are gray-haired. Norwegians, as a rule, are proud of anything and anyone Norwegian, and lay claim to anything remotely Norwegian, including actress Renée Zellweger and that Fuglesang fellow currently in space.

Robbi: I can not tell you how many times someone from Minnesota or North Dakota has come up to my family or friends visiting from Norway, speak a very mangled version of Norwegian (?) to us, and when we can not understand them, they get mad and say to my family or friends (all of whom have spent their entire lives in Norway) that they are not "real" Norwegians!!! One Midwesterner even called my friend from Sandnes "fake Norwegian" to her face!

These people from the Midwest don't seem to want to consider that Norwegian has evolved over the years, especially with the language reforms, and their own Midwest version of Norwegian has also evolved away from Norwegian.

Keera: You're right about the language difference. It's like American English versus British English, where they were more similar in the 1700's, but both evolved and now neither is like its old self and even less like the other. The Norwegian dialects used in America are frozen in time, whereas today's Norwegian dialects are constantly being influenced by the mobility of today's Norwegians, TV, pop culture and even Norway's new immigrants.

Even here in Norway, many of us don't get each other's dialects/accents. My own experience happened when I was visiting a friend in Trondheim (I live in Bergen and speak the local dialect). I asked a bus driver which bus would take me to a particular neighborhood. I got a lot of syllables and a final one that sounded like "sjø" ("shuh"). I asked again, and got the same type of incomprehensible response and "sjø". I finally said to the driver, "You can probably tell by my accent that I'm not from around here. Could you repeat that again, please?" And he spoke slowly, and I made out individual words. And then came that "sjø" that baffled me. But I got the right bus. Years later I learned that the folks of Trondheim regularly end their sentences with "sjø", which is short for "skjønner du" (i.e. do you understand, or as we'd end it with, "y'know?")

Robbi: It used to drive my (ex)samboer crazy as he is from Norway. When Midwesterners asked where he was from (they were unable to recognize his accent?!), he'd say "Norway", then they would tell him they are Norwegian too. He didn't like that, especially since they had never been to Norway and were three or four generations removed from Norway. So now when he's asked where he's from he says he was born in Norway, instead of saying he's Norwegian.

Keera: He's not an immigrant so he doesn't get why someone from another country would say they are of a different nationality than that country's. It's about roots and heritage and claiming something as your own that sets you a bit apart from the rest. But I understand his changing how he answers. I ran into an American this summer, in Budapest. He asked me where I was from, and I answered Los Angeles. "Oh, everyone's from Los Angeles!" he said. I got a little miffed and replied, "Some of us are actually born there."

Robbi: I do think that the Midwesterners mean well, and they are proud of their Norwegian background, and I admire them for that. What bothers me is that some of them insult my family and friends visiting from Norway.

Keera: I'm sorry they do that. It doesn't help the US's reputation over here.

Robbi: Some (not all) Midwesterners refuse to even consider that modern-day Norway is not quite what they envision. They are shocked by things like being samboer. My best friend in Oslo was disowned by the American distant cousins in her family (in North Dakota since the 1880s) for being samboer.

Keera: I have sometimes wondered at the discrepency between today's Norwegians in Norway, and the ones descended from immigrants in the US, in both their own attitudes and perception by those around them. History influenced the US and Norway differently, and through that, the attitudes of their respective populations. Having a live-in sweetheart is so common in Norway (and the rest of Scandinavia), that Norway's government is currently suggesting some changes in the inheritance law to accommodate those who don't see the point of weddings. (Actually, I see that law as being for the benefit of joint children.)

Tell your Midwesterners to visit Norway in the summertime, so they can see all the topless sunbathing. ;-)

Answering Robbi

Robbi asked me a lot of questions in the comments to my post about writing about Norway, and asked a lot of questions, which I decided were better answered in a post, rather than in the comments:

Robbi: My friend and I were at dinner the other night, and she brought up Garrison Keillor. She is married to a guy who is third generation American with Swedish background, and she says Garrison Keillor's books describe her husband perfectly, even down to his being prudish about nudity.

Keera: I haven't heard of Garrison Keillor. Today's Scandinavians are not prudish about nudity - certainly not compared to Americans. Perhaps I was unclear in my previous post. In Victorian times, everybody was prudish.

Robbi: Frankly, I don't care for Garrison Keillor or Sons of Norway. I can't relate to them. It seems that their version of Norway is the way Norway used to be in the 1800s.

Keera: I was a member of Sons of Norway when I lived in California, and found it to be a positive experience, but based on my experience then, I would agree that Sons of Norway tends to focus on what was. An older member of my lodge told me of how she'd been raised on countless stories of the old country that her parents had left. When she and her husband (also of Norwegian descent) as seniors finally got a chance to visit Norway, they were surprised by all the cars, satellite dishes, and their relatives' brand new dishwashing machine. So much for romanticizing the past!

My own version of misconceiving Norway is that after having seen all the pictures of people in bunads (Norwegian national costumes) and the peculiar storage houses (stabbur) in my grandmother's scrapbook, I thought Norwegians dressed and lived like that. I was actually a bit relieved to see T-shirts and jeans when we arrived in Oslo in 1969. I guess the moral is: Don't forget to take pictures of something new when you visit Norway!

Robbi: What do you think of Garrison Keillor? Have you seen the movie "Prairie Home Companion"? What do Norwegians generally think of Garrison Keillor, Sons of Norway, and Americans with a Norwegian background? (I know my family in Norway doesn't care for Keillor or SoN.)

Keera: I don't know who Garrison Keillor is, and have not seen the movie, even though it got good reviews here (if it airs on TV, I may see it then). I know Minnesota is the most Norwegian of the US states, and Sons of Norway are headquartered there, but I know nothing about its people nor midwestern Scandinavians in general. My Norwegian grandpa was born in and raised in Norway, and in the US, first settled in New York and then in Los Angeles.

Some Norwegians who have heard of Keillor find him amusing, but most Norwegians don't know who he is. Most Norwegians also don't bother with Sons of Norway (even though there are local lodges here), and those that do, usually have some pretty close ties to their relatives "over there" (in the US) and are gray-haired. Norwegians, as a rule, are proud of anything and anyone Norwegian, and lay claim to anything remotely Norwegian, including actress Renée Zellweger and that Fuglesang fellow currently in space.

Robbi: I can not tell you how many times someone from Minnesota or North Dakota has come up to my family or friends visiting from Norway, speak a very mangled version of Norwegian (?) to us, and when we can not understand them, they get mad and say to my family or friends (all of whom have spent their entire lives in Norway) that they are not "real" Norwegians!!! One Midwesterner even called my friend from Sandnes "fake Norwegian" to her face!

These people from the Midwest don't seem to want to consider that Norwegian has evolved over the years, especially with the language reforms, and their own Midwest version of Norwegian has also evolved away from Norwegian.

Keera: You're right about the language difference. It's like American English versus British English, where they were more similar in the 1700's, but both evolved and now neither is like its old self and even less like the other. The Norwegian dialects used in America are frozen in time, whereas today's Norwegian dialects are constantly being influenced by the mobility of today's Norwegians, TV, pop culture and even Norway's new immigrants.

Even here in Norway, many of us don't get each other's dialects/accents. My own experience happened when I was visiting a friend in Trondheim (I live in Bergen and speak the local dialect). I asked a bus driver which bus would take me to a particular neighborhood. I got a lot of syllables and a final one that sounded like "sjø" ("shuh"). I asked again, and got the same type of incomprehensible response and "sjø". I finally said to the driver, "You can probably tell by my accent that I'm not from around here. Could you repeat that again, please?" And he spoke slowly, and I made out individual words. And then came that "sjø" that baffled me. But I got the right bus. Years later I learned that the folks of Trondheim regularly end their sentences with "sjø", which is short for "skjønner du" (i.e. do you understand, or as we'd end it with, "y'know?")

Robbi: It used to drive my (ex)samboer crazy as he is from Norway. When Midwesterners asked where he was from (they were unable to recognize his accent?!), he'd say "Norway", then they would tell him they are Norwegian too. He didn't like that, especially since they had never been to Norway and were three or four generations removed from Norway. So now when he's asked where he's from he says he was born in Norway, instead of saying he's Norwegian.

Keera: He's not an immigrant so he doesn't get why someone from another country would say they are of a different nationality than that country's. It's about roots and heritage and claiming something as your own that sets you a bit apart from the rest. But I understand his changing how he answers. I ran into an American this summer, in Budapest. He asked me where I was from, and I answered Los Angeles. "Oh, everyone's from Los Angeles!" he said. I got a little miffed and replied, "Some of us are actually born there."

Robbi: I do think that the Midwesterners mean well, and they are proud of their Norwegian background, and I admire them for that. What bothers me is that some of them insult my family and friends visiting from Norway.

Keera: I'm sorry they do that. It doesn't help the US's reputation over here.

Robbi: Some (not all) Midwesterners refuse to even consider that modern-day Norway is not quite what they envision. They are shocked by things like being samboer. My best friend in Oslo was disowned by the American distant cousins in her family (in North Dakota since the 1880s) for being samboer.

Keera: I have sometimes wondered at the discrepency between today's Norwegians in Norway, and the ones descended from immigrants in the US, in both their own attitudes and perception by those around them. History influenced the US and Norway differently, and through that, the attitudes of their respective populations. Having a live-in sweetheart is so common in Norway (and the rest of Scandinavia), that Norway's government is currently suggesting some changes in the inheritance law to accommodate those who don't see the point of weddings. (Actually, I see that law as being for the benefit of joint children.)

Tell your Midwesterners to visit Norway in the summertime, so they can see all the topless sunbathing. ;-)

A slight change

in the typeface. Trebuchet looks too annoying to me when there is a lot of text. Let me know what you think about the change!

About writing about Norway

Over at Tim's there are links to other American bloggers living in Norway or other places in Europe. One blogger Tim just linked to, a Norwegian, lets his American wife guestblog sometimes, to let readers see her new home country through her eyes.

After reading some of her posts, I realized why I don't write (much) about Norway as an American expatriate. What strikes an American (or any foreigner) as exotic about Norway, is already under my skin since I spent part of my childhood here. I therefore don't necessarily stop to think if something charming in Norway is charming by virtue of being in Norway. Am I charmed by Norwegian countryside because I am an American, or because I can appreciate beautiful countryside, wherever I am? I'm thinking it's the latter. Certain western Norway countryside does have sentimental value for me because I grew up with it. I also feel sentimental every time I see pictures from the desert of southern California because I lived there, too, at one time and I love the desert.

I grew up with rosemaling (literally, rose painting) because Grandma, the artist, enjoyed it and painted a number of plates and other items while I was living with her. One special project that I watched from start to finish was the traditional Norwegian storage chest (actually, a bridal chest) she gave me for my 11th birthday. The chest itself was hand-made by a nephew of my Grandpa's. I appreciate the decorative style of painting because it is pretty and because Grandma used it. I don't look at it and go, "They don't have that in America!" Well, they don't have pumpkin pie in Norway, which I associate with my mother because she taught me how to make a good one - complete with a prettily edged crust. I guess what I'm trying to say is that what may be foreign and exotic to you (either country), is familiar and family to me.

So I write from the same position my brain is in. My brain speaks, thinks, writes both English and Norwegian fluently. My brain, however, doesn't realize it's two different languages; my brain thinks it just have twice the words to use (which sometimes trips me up). Likewise, my life is a blend of California and Bergen, and that blend is part of what makes me Keera. My interest in Norway (and the US) is therefore more a reaction to what other people say about it.

But I don't ever claim one country is better than the other. I have too much experience with both to make such a silly claim. Like having two friends who are very different from each other, each country offers gifts (and challenges) the other country doesn't, and direct comparison isn't fair or even possible. That would be like arguing which eye color - blue or brown - is prettier. You may think that there are some situations so similar that it is fair to compare and to explore the differences, but I'm having trouble finding a good example right now. Even discussing US politics is not necessarily fruitful, as some aspects of US politics simply do not exist in Norwegian politics, so the average Norwegian will usually be baffled or get something wrong. (For example, the rights of the individual states versus federal law; Norway is not a union and so does not have those issues.) I'm sure the average American is baffled at some things Norwegian and may get them wrong, too. (Like assuming that because nudity is allowed in Scandinavian films, everybody here is promiscuous, when, in actuality, Norwegians/Scandinavians simply do not equate nudity with sex.) Other matters that might on the surface seem totally unrelated, nevertheless are related, by virtue of the US and Norway both being western industrialized nations, and by having similar constitutions and Judeo-Christian backgrounds. I see trends here and in the US (poorer math skills in today's students, increasing poverty, decreasing union membership, for instance) and realize these are not unique to each nation, but probably indicative of changes affecting all western industrialized nations.

So when something does get my attention, it's usually because it does illustrate some extreme difference in attitude, culture, history, etc. between Norway and the US. For example, corporeal punishment of children is banned in several countries in Europe, including Norway (which didn't get an all-encompassing law until 1987, I've just learned, though earlier laws banned physical punishment in school (1936) and in institutional homes (1953); and as a kid I was told that it was forbidden in Norway). There's a law in the works in California to ban spanking (simply put) and it's being discussed over at Paula's. The majority of her commenters think such a law is unnecessary and invasive, so I chimed in and basically said, "Is not!" I have the luxury of knowing two different ways to do something (like run a country) and know enough about both cultures to understand the reactions that come, so I don't believe for one minute that American parents are incompetent or evil; I do, however, understand that they are used to things being a certain way, and I was spanked as a kid, myself. When the law was initially passed in Norway, there were those here who wondered how the heck you could raise a kid without spanking it. Nowadays, Norwegians wonder why you would ever find it necessary to spank your kid.

Having spent over 25 years as an adult in Norway, and having learned a bit of Norwegian history in school as a child, I can just as easily compare Norway to itself, rather than to the US. I came back to the country just as it was finally breaking free of its World War II rations and a nationwide "sharecropper's attitude" ("husmannsånd" - i.e. "I'm not good enough to be my own master"). So here I am, a durned furriner in Norway, the land of trolls, skis and brown cheese (yummy!), and with stuff like this as part of my daily life: A small section in the local grocery store with uniquely American products, and my rose-painted chest made in the traditional Norwegian way by family members.

Mixed feelings

Via Alice I have learned of the blog Don to Earth making the rounds and gaining an understandably larger following. The 93-year-old man who writes it, writes well and, as Alice notes, thoughtfully. If I were to start reading another (new) blog at this point (I currently have little time for my regular reads and just weeded a bit), I'd definitely read Don's.

But…

Don is 93. He just had a minor stroke. His wife is ailing and has been moved to a nursing home. My grandma died at almost 95 of a massive stroke in a nursing home. This is hitting a little too close to (my) home. I can feel that my heart is just not ready to take the chance on delighting in another person of my grandma's generation, and possibly having to relive losing that person.

Dammit. I know I'm going to miss out on some fine writing. I've read enough to know that.

Me and my aching heart will get back to you on this. We need to think… In the meantime, you can go check out Don's blog.

Jan 25, 2007

Star Trek or Explaining Science Fiction to Norwegians

Tim asked me a question a while ago: Does liking Star Trek make one a nerd, geek, dweeb, dork, etc.? I had mentioned Star Trek conventions and that's what kicked that off. For the record: I have never attended a Star Trek convention, and even though it looks like some of the folks attending need to get a life, I believe the majority are fascinated by the Star Trek phenomenon for pretty much the same reasons I am.

A while back there was a discussion on Usenet regarding science fiction in Norway. The consensus was that there isn't any. There was a heyday for sci-fi in the 70's, spearheaded by Norwegian authors Bing and Bringsværd (and I have one of their books), but it died out. It's hard to rekindle because most Norwegians don't "get" space or space exploration or science fiction.

When the matter of space exploration comes up during lunch at work, the majority view is, "Why are they wasting money on going out there? What for?" Sometimes followed by, "We have so much to explore on this planet." And I try to explain, but I realize that they won't understand because they don't... dream. And that brings me to Star Trek: Why so many of us love it - according to Keera, of course.

I wasn't old enough to see Star Trek when it first aired in the late 1960's, while man was still figuring out how to get to the moon. My mother watched it and I knew all about Spock's pointy ears, and can remember the excitement when my mother told me she'd seen Leonard Nimoy on a talk show - and the disappointment when she told me his ears were normal. I moved to Norway in 1969, and on Norwegian TV was "Gunsmoke", enjoying huge popularity as Norwegians like westerns. There was no sci-fi. I moved back to the US in 1976, and there, syndicated on oddball local TV stations, was Star Trek. Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Scotty, Uhura, Chekov, Sulu. And I got properly acquainted with them and with their ideals, like the Prime Directive: Not interfering with the natural evolution of any society and some kinky problems that could lead to. And that was the cleverness of it: How to get out of problems without violating that Prime Directive, because some of those societies had some pretty destructive ideas.

One of my favorite episodes is "The Horta", because it has so many elements that I enjoy: The horta is a species so foreign to us that we have no idea how to relate to it, except try to kill it because it interferes with human activity. And then the discovery that it's the other way around: The humans are interfering with horta activity. The weird blob-like creature that eats rock, turns out to be intelligent - and to be a female, a mother desperately trying to protect her eggs, which are being destroyed by human mining. It all works out in the end, but the adventure getting to that ending... Ah, that is what is good sci-fi: Not shoot-em-ups with lasers, but challenging human beliefs and behaviors. Good sci-fi is also psychology and philosophy as well as adventure and technology. Star Trek is all that.

Star Trek's creator, Gene Roddenberry, had a very optimistic view of the future: He believed that technology would serve us well, and not be a problem; the introduction of the Borg in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" is a departure from that view. But "Star Trek" itself had some optimistic views of the future beyond technology.

When Star Trek first aired in 1966, the cold war was intense and so was the animosity between the US and the USSR; only four years earlier we had the Cuban missile crisis, and now the two nations were in a race against each other to the moon. It was also only three years since Martin Luther King, Jr.'s so-called "I have a dream" speech; there was a budding women's rights movement, while girls were still banned from wearing pants in California schools; and the US was fighting in South-East Asia. So what did Star Trek show us? Officers that included a Black who was also a woman (granted, in a mini-dress), a Russian, an Asian, a Vulcan who was also part Earthling (and struggled with trying to unite the two halves in his own way), and assorted other white folk, including a Scotsman and Americans. They all kept their cultural heritages, honored their backgrounds, while not putting anybody else's ethnicity or culture down. (Though Dr. McCoy tended to make some frustrated remarks about Mr. Spock's "vulcanness" in heated moments.)

Imagine that future. In the midst of a war in South-East Asia, a cold war with nuclear weapons held at the ready, an assassinated president, and later, civil rights leaders also being killed, and women in America struggling for the right to be treated as independent adults, not their husband's property, there is a crew on a starship - made up of the very mix of people that in the 1960's seemed completely at odds with each other - banded together with such loyalty and love that they are family to each other.

I think that is why America fell for Star Trek. It wasn't just the nifty special effects (which have held up extremely well), the clever stories, the wonderful mix of personalities, and that gorgeous starship - the Enterprise - that is as loved as the humans; it's the humanity, the spirit, the notion that we can succeed at creating the world that, at the time, seemed so far out of reach and even impossible. To truly unite the world is indeed to boldly go where no man has gone before.

America was the first to get a human on the moon. The whole nation shared a hope, a dream, a vision, a goal, and when I think back, I think that's what is missing in today's America: Something grand and positive that gets the whole country thinking in terms of possibilities and solutions. Like the crew on the starship Enterprise, also united no matter what faced them, bravely and loyally and creatively.

And I just can't explain that sort of dreaming, that sort of vision, that sort of "because we can, or we can't but we want to figure out how" to the Norwegians. Why both sci-fi and space travel capture the American imagination. How our reaching for the stars, or at least geosynchronous orbit, actually improves us, makes us more human, not less. Though Norwegians are tickled by the first Swedish-Norwegian in space, I'm not sure the whole concept captures the national Norwegian imagination like it does the American.

We fly the space shuttle up to the International Space Station and continue the cooperation with the Russians started on board the Mir ("peace") after the end of the cold war. And every time that happens - that former enemies get together up there beyond the safety of Earth, with the whole planet in their field of view, beautiful and blue - I think Star Trek isn't science fiction; it's science fact that hasn't happened yet.

Jan 22, 2007

It finally snowed!

Started this afternoon, kept up this evening, a quiet, gentle falling of white stuff, now over two inches thick. I never thought I'd be so happy to see the stuff, but I am. Squeeked under my feet as I walked home today, which means it's fairly dry snow.

(Streaks in picture are close-ups of snowflakes bungee-jumping. No, really. OK, fine, they're parachuting. Details, details.)


Look to Norway?

Norway's main selling points, even to its own inhabitants, are clean air, clean water, and clean living. We get our electricity from waterfalls (which is why you don't see them cascading down the mountainsides any more); we get our water from mountain lakes (but lack proper cleansing of that water in many places); we love to hike in the mountains (but hate waiting for a bus so we drive everywhere); we eat many kinds of fish (but only at fancy restaurants).

Our claim as an ecologically aware nation is being called seriously into question. Although not a member of the European Union (EU), as members of the European Economic Area (EEA Agreement) we are subject to many EU rules and regulations. And the EU wants to clean up. It wants to lessen Europe's carbon footprint. And guess who has as much work to do as the other European nations? Norway.

How can this be?

The discussion at work went something like this: We have assumed we would always have clean air and clean water, and lots of it. We outgrew our hydro-electric power far sooner than expected, without having any eco-friendly alternatives in place. We end up buying coal-fueled power from Denmark, not a very "green" solution. Our cities experience smog every winter thanks to particles in the air from studded tires and old wood-burning stoves. Our current "green" government did an about-face and is now allowing a gas-fueled power plant without emissions controls to be built; the emissions controls are supposed to be in place within four years of start-up. Norwegians are still in the habit of letting their cars idle while waiting, even when it isn't cold outside. And Norwegians are not yet in the regular habit of turning off lights in rooms they aren't using. A co-worker noted the fad of building huge mountain cabins (luxury multi-bedroom homes with a nice rustic look) in recent years, putting demands on both fragile nature and small, local power plants. One such "cabin" has an indoor swimming pool with wave action, I was told. But not for the owner; no, it's to exercise his dogs.

What happened to us? How did we get so careless, so irreverent? So caught up in the material? My co-worker said, "The oil has made us stupid."


(Information for Norwegians (link to English version on site).)

"Look to Norway" was the statement made after our very successful and happy hosting of the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, suggesting that ours was the ideal Winter Games.

Sewers beat mold

I have always believed that the most significant medical discovery of the past century or so was penicillin. Perhaps I think that way since penicillin was a part of my childhood, prone to bronchitis and pneumonia as I was. But according to a poll by the British Medical Journal, the most important medical breakthrough of the last 167 years is (i.e. the entire existence of the BMJ): Sewers.

Fond as I am of the flushing toilet and a well-functioning drain in my sink, and in spite of touring a water-cleansing plant here in Bergen, I did not think of sewers. I may instead have thought of hand-washing or of aspirin.

More than 11,000 readers responded, and sanitation won with 1,795 votes. London was one of the first modern cities to improve public sanitation after John Snow showed that cholera was spread by water, and Edwin Chadwick came up with the idea of sewage disposal and piping water into homes. (From the Washington Post)

Bergen was one of the first cities in Norway to get indoor plumbing but not because of John Snow's proof of cholera's connection to sewage (made in 1853 after yet another cholera outbreak). Bergen's priority in 1855 for making a serious effort to get regular running water to the people were fires and dry wells. But an appropriate handling of waste was far rarer, even after Bergen's devastating cholera epidemic in 1868. Gutters were a matter of road-building, not water-handling. A true sewer system did not come about until after 1910, when the flushable toilet was introduced and with it, huge pollution of the bay. By 1928, pumps were installed at key points in the downtown area to direct the sewage, and those pumps are still in use today.

How did the rest of the voting go?

Antibiotics was a close second with 1,642 votes. Anesthesia came in third with 1,574 votes, followed by vaccines and the discovery of the structure of DNA. (ibid)

Jan 21, 2007

In the now - I nuet

Most people treat the present moment as if it were an obstacle that they need to overcome. Since the present moment is life itself, it is an insane way to live. —ECKHART TOLLE in "Science of Mind Magazine" October 2006


That one got me. It is an insane way to live. Eckhart goes on to explain living in the now later in the article and gives these suggestions for staying focused in the Now:

One thing we can do is to notice the little things all around us, paying attention to details such as the birds in the trees and the flowers in the garden or the park—just notice the beauty everywhere. To notice seemlingly insignificant things requires alertness. That alertness [...] is consciousness itself.


This, or focusing on your breathing, or meditation, or being completely submerged in a task, like doing the dishes (I’ve tried that and got several minutes of complete bliss), is about freeing yourself from thinking. Tolle says that we identify with thinking, which gives rise to and maintains the ego. "When you become aware of your mind, you are not identified with your mind anymore," Tolle says. And this frees you from the ego and its expression: Fear, resentment, hurt, anger, greed, etc. All the negatives, the control-freak stuff.

The suggestions Tolle gives for living in the now, for keeping your mind focused on only what’s immediately in front of you, was also stated by America’s transcendentalists (who attracted Norwegian composer and violinist Ole Bull). In my high school American literature class, we were reading about the transcendentalists - notably Ralph Waldo Emerson and David Henry Thoreau - and our teacher gave us an assignment to think transcendentally for a week. It was really about taking a fresh look at the world around you - including seeing shapes in the clouds or marvelling at the beauty of a city lit up at night or the wonder that a few feet of overgrown garden path can transport one for a few seconds away from the urban surroundings.

This moment of now, this present, holds many treasures for the one who pays attention. And that moment of noticing, that realization that you have seen and experienced something unique, perhaps unexperienced by anyone else, is a moment of sheer joy, of discovery, of childlike delight. It is the moment that can let you know the divine.




De fleste behandler øyeblikket her og nå som om det er en hindring som må forseres. Siden øyeblikket her og nå er selve livet, er det galskap å leve slik. —ECKHART TOLLE i "Science of Mind Magazine" October 2006 (min oversettelse)


Oj. Det var sterke ord. Og det er galskap å ha en slik holdning til det å leve. Eckhart forklarer senere i artikkelen hva det vil si å leve i øyeblikket og har disse forslagene på hvordan være i Nuet:

En ting vi kan gjøre er å legge merke til de små tingene i omgivelsene, med fokus på detaljer som fuglene i trærne og blomstene i hagen eller parken – bare merke seg skjønnheten som er overalt. Å merke seg tilsynelatende uvesentlige ting krever våken oppmerksomhet. Den våkenheten [...] er selve bevisstheten. (Min oversettelse.)


Å gjøre ovenstående eller å fokusere på pusten din, meditere eller leve deg helt inn i et hverdagslig gjøremål, som å vaske opp (noe jeg selv har prøvd og opplevde flere minutter av komplett sjelefred), handler om å frigi deg selv fra å tanken. Tolle sier at vi identifserer oss med våre tanker, noe som skaper og mater egoet. "Når du blir bevisst tankene dine, er du ikke tankene dine lengre," sier Tolle (min oversettelse). Og dette frigjør deg fra egoet og dets uttrykk: Frykt, bitterhet, sårbarhet, sinne, griskhet, osv. Alle disse negative følelser, denne kontrollen vi føler vi må ha.

Tolles forslag for å leve i nuet, for å holde sinnet ditt rettet kun mot det som er her og nå, var også en av kongstankene til de amerikanske transcendentalistene, (som også fenget fiolinisten og kompositør Ole Bull). På a school er det obligatorisk kurs som heter "American literature" og der måtte vi lese om transcendentalistene, spesielt Ralph Waldo Emerson og David Henry Thoreau. Læreren vår ga oss i lekse å tenke transcendentalt i en uke. Det handlet egentlig om å se på omgivelsene med nye øyne - å se skikkelser i skyene, beundre skjønnheten i en by opplyst nattestid, eller gi seg til hen til en alternativ verden takket være en skjermet hagesti midt i en storby.

Dette øyeblikket, dette nuet, har mange gaver for den som er oppmerksom. Og dette øyeblikket med oppmerksomhet, bevisstheten av at du har sett og opplevd noe enestående, noe som kanskje ingen andre har opplevd, er et øyeblikk av pur glede, av oppdagelse, av barnlig fryd. Dette er øyeblikket som kan la deg kjenne det guddommelige.

A trail of salt

Sravana expressed an interest in hearing more about Norway, so I thought I'd accommodate her.

What you see in this picture (besides my apartment building on the left) is typical of winter in Bergen, Norway: After a good rain, comes a freeze, and those responsible for roads and walkways bring out the salt. Roads are salted here, the alternative being studded tires which tear up the asphalt and pollute.

Road salt itself is not without problems: It gets into the soil, pollutes water, and dries out dog paws. If it's wet, it'll soak into boots, leaving them white. It gets tracked into buildings, leaving milky footprints everywhere. The lobby where I work is white all winter long from the salt being tracked in. A mess. But necessary.

If it snows, we won't need it nor can we use it. Snow is best if it gets packed, whether on roads or sidewalks. Add salt to it, and you get miles of the ugliest, slipperiest slush. Yuck! Salt is only for black ice conditions, as it works best on bare ground at at-freezing tempuratures and with a bit of moisture. The trail in the picture is as white as it is, because the moisture disappeared before it could melt and leave an invisible coating. Right now, it's still crystals.

Having said all that, I can't tell you how happy I am to see that stream of salt in the middle of the road (no where near fences or other things to hold on to...hmmm...) since it signals the end of All. That. Rain. And the beginning of winter as it should be: Cold, bitter, bleak - and on time.

Meet one of the neighbors

Here is the white cat from an earlier post. She approached me, curious and friendly. She has lovely light hazel eyes and the tiniest ears. Her tail feels really thick with all that fur.

As I was petting her, a teenage boy walked by, with something clicking on him (keys around neck, perhaps?) and the cat crouched down. I'm not sure if it's males or sounds that get to her.


Jan 20, 2007

23

My grandma was quite the reader and she read everything. In her bookshelves I found the treasures of Egypt, the fairytale of Soria Moria Castle, palm-reading, seeing Europe on $5 a day, the history of the US, dictionaries, atlases, art books, murder mysteries, and even Robert Anton Wilsons' Illuminatus! trilogy.

I happened to surf by the L.A. Times and caught sight of Wilson's obituary. I remember when I read his trilogy that it was a fun and unusual read, though I would have enjoyed it more if I knew more about the US political personalities of the time that he kept referencing (the male sex organ was constantly called a Rehnquist, a mockery that escaped me back then). But it was one of those stories that left you feeling it could have really happened - a nice tickle of paranoia.

One thing did stick: The number 23. Wilson's exact words escape me, but it was along the lines of the number 23 being the Illuminati's secret number so seeing it was significant. And you know how it goes: After that I saw 23 everywhere.

Thanks for a good read, Robert!

The Pizza and the Mushrooms

One of my childhood memories is of home-made pizza. My mother would make pizza from scratch. Very tasty pizza.

Her challenge was a husband that loved mushrooms on his pizza and a daughter who didn't. My mother's solution (she should run the UN): Sometimes a pizza with mushrooms, and I've have to pick them off my slices (very annoying); sometimes a pizza completely without mushrooms and my father a bit grumpy about having to concede to a kid; sometimes a pizza that was half-and-half and my mother sternly reminding us to pay attention to which half we were grabbing a slice from because she wasn't going to listen to any complaining. (It fascinated me no end that my mother had no preference. She ate either type, equally happily.)

Now I love mushrooms on my pizza. Absolutely! They are as much a mainstay of the pizza as is the dough, the tomato paste and the cheese. I discovered that PJ feels the same way, right down to the proper consistency of the mushrooms: Canned. Why canned? Well, head on over to PJ's and find out.

Jan 19, 2007

I'm slow to update links because…

…I'll sometimes start reading a blog regularly, think it's a good blog and worth linking to, and then I lose interest. Takes a couple of months to test the permanency of a new find. So I read far more blogs than I link to and what you get on the left-hand side here is the cream of the litter.

At any rate, here's PJ. She links to me, and that goaded me into finally including her here, which I'd been thinking about doing, anyway.

Gekko mentioned misc.writing in her post mentioning me, but it's worth repeating here: For a while I was looking for writers to hang out with and found the Usenet group misc.writing. The people there used mw as a water cooler. Some place to hang out when you need a break from writing, so they discussed anything but writing (though that came up, too), and they argued and stomped all over each others' egos and politics and made quite a mess for the maid to clean up. Then someone said, "Let's meet!", and they did, and had a wonderful time meeting face-to-face the very people they passionately disagreed with, to the point that they repeated the experiment several times, and agreed with each other profusely. (Or something like that; I wasn't there. I just got the trans-Atlantic phone call.)

You've got to like people like that. You've got to appreciate the sharp wit, the biting tongue (or pen or keyboard) - and the huge hearts and roaring laughter.

Few of the above good folks are to be found on misc.writing these days. They have migrated to blogs. And I'm cherry-picking and making new acquaintances, rekindling old ones, and am happy to introduce you to them, too.

Spying on the neighbors

A fluffy white cat and a short-haired striped red-and-white cat that I have seen before in the neighborhood are over by the aparment building across from me. They are having a Mexican stand-off at about 8 paces. The red cat approaches. The white cat stays put, but shows no aggression. They stay about 3 feet apart.

Two girls see the cats and approach them. The white cat turns towards them, lifts its tail and rubs against the lamp post in greeting, and one of the girls pets the cat. So that's who owns you, I think. Red cat approaches, too, but does not want to be petted. The girls ignore him.

The girls test a slippery patch of ice on the footpath. The white cat follows them and pretends to climb a tree. The owner's friend notices and the white cat comes over to the girls. The friend scratches the white cat's head and tries to pick the cat up. The cat stays heavy, signalling it doesn't want to be held and the girl leaves the cat alone.

The girls head off in the direction of the store. The white cat sits relaxed on the footpath, momentarily distracted by a magpie who lands in a tree. Behind is the red cat, meatloafing by a doorway. A man approaches on the road in front of my building. He is carrying four bulging shopping bags and he is walking towards the store, not coming from it.

The white cat can see the man from the footpath and crouches down, showing extreme caution. The man with the bulging bags comes closer. I wonder if the cat knows the man, or associates him with someone. The white cat backs up a bit to keep its distance to the man and crouches again. The man passes by both cat and me, and the clatter of refundable empty cans and bottles rises from the bulging bags.

I can only speculate on if it is the sound or something else that frightens the white cat. The man passes and the cat relaxes. I go to blog.

What do sharks smell like?

I read this (displayed below) and that's the question that popped into my head. Anyone? And I don't mean a dead shark, either. Anything marine and dead always smells like fish. So what's a live shark smell like?

Jan 17, 2007

Metafilter, metasurfing, metathinking

With way too much time on my hands, I am surfing the 'net, jumping off from Metafilter, and making myself laugh at things like this:

Q: How does an elephant get down from a tree?
A: It doesn't, you get down from a duck.

(From http://paul.merton.ox.ac.uk/misc/elephants.html I liked the pair featuring ostriches, too. More jokes here.)

Apparantly there's more to laughing at elephant jokes than I thought. I've oftened claimed that my sense of humor is that of a ten-year-old. Turns out, the humor of a ten-year-old is exactly what is needed to appreciate elephant jokes. I have to admit I don't like the jokes because I'm invested in keeping my feet out of food. I like them because of their absurdity - and their hidden logic.

And if, like me and thousands of others, the new year has drawn your attention to your waistline, here's what 200 calories look like. (The picture of Fiber One Cereal reminded me that I missed "CSI" last night...).

Over at Tim's, both he and I commented on how Norway rarely hits the news radar abroad. Carl Størmer's map, comparing US states' GDP with the GDP of various nations, may give us one clue why.

Lunch conversations meander around, covering a range of topics. Today we happened to talk about spousal abuse Why won't a woman in pain and fear report her abusive husband to the police? The Stockholm syndrome, that's why.

Speaking of spousal abuse, Amnesty International (I believe it was) ran a clichéd "Beautiful Norway" ad, with the fjords and mountains and green hills and pretty blonde woman - who at the end turned to face the camera and revealed a black eye. One in four Norwegian women are battered, said the ad. Unlike some (all?) states in the US, where the police now can arrest a violent husband and not leave it up to his cowed wife to press charges before anything can be done, Norway has not considered that move. Granted, the police will step in if there is a fight, and couple's counselling is apparantly offered to repeat offenders. Still, and oddly, Norway is not in the forefront on ending spousal abuse, neither in changing the law (a woman must press charges) nor in supporting women's shelters (too few and too underfunded). I have idly wondered if that is the price to pay for other achieved women's rights - either a hidden anger in the men or a hidden guilt in the women. I do wonder why no political party seems to be addressing the problem. There are those, however, who have claimed that Scandinavia's brand of women's rights is really about mother's rights ("womb feminism", as one Norwegian blogger puts it (blog in Norwegian)), and/or matters socially visible, like the workplace. (And for whom that is an advantage, is another discussion.)

Whoo, that got serious. Here, have another elephant joke:

Q: How many elephants can you actually put in a fridge?
A: Depends on the number of elephants.

Time to leave the surfing for now and go enjoy a coffee break. Yes, you, too.

Jan 16, 2007

Someone else posted about me!

Which touched me quite a lot. Thanks, Gekko! (Now featured in my links.)

Involunteering

Friday night, a freighter ran aground off the coast to the northwest of Bergen, breaking in two and releasing 300 metric tons of bunker oil. The sparsely populated municipality of Fedje, a beautiful archipelago, is doing its best to contain the oil and clean the shores. Extreme weather (i.e. this ain't your grandmother's storm) is both helping, by breaking up the oil, and hindering, by blowing the oil ashore and tossing oil booms around on waves higher than the booms are meant for. About 3000 seabirds are now assumed to be affected by the poisonous sludge.

When I first heard of this disaster, my impulse was to go to Fedje and help clean rocks and shore and birds. I was thinking that maybe someone would organize something that I could join. Hands is what is needed when something like this happens. But the next day, such volunteering was discouraged, because no one can help without proper training or protective gear, nor was it safe as long as the storm was raging. I have no such training or gear and the storm is still raging.

Today the news reported that even protected species of birds must be killed if it is clear they are suffering from the oil spill. I was wondering how I could help do that, what would be the best way to kill a bird (strangle? break neck? How do you do that?), when it was mentioned using a shotgun. I don't own a shotgun nor know how to use one.

So I seem to not be able to do anything in this situation. I can only hope that what can be done is being done, even though it won't be done by me.

(news in English)

Jan 14, 2007

Tapas

I found this via Beep and decided to do it:

You Belong in Dublin
Friendly and down to earth, you want to enjoy Europe without snobbery or pretensions. You're the perfect person to go wild on a pub crawl... or enjoy a quiet bike ride through the old part of town.

My first answer was Barcelona, how it was the perfect city for tapas and art and napping and partying all night. Except I don't like tapas, so I tweaked an answer or two and got Dublin.

Yeah, I know, who doesn't like tapas? I assumed I did and enrolled in a tapas course last fall. After one evening of making aïoli, gazpacho and more, and eating it, I was Wide Awake. I later found out that a little garlic is relaxing, while a lot will wake you up. Since I'm not crazy about seafood or losing my sleep, and the only dish that I really liked that night was the gazpacho soup, I thought about whether or not to go back. Other factors that normally would be ignored now ended up in the "against" column, so I withdrew from the course.

But since then "tapas" has come back into my world, via yoga. "Tapas" means heat and basically means to burn away your own impurities through spiritual practice or self-disciplined. It's explained rather well on this website (frames; look for "tapas" in the overview).

Oh, the description above about pub crawling or biking through old neighborhoods? Count me in!

Jan 13, 2007

Chocolate versus honey

I got this via Paula and ended up Yin like her. I don't think there's a connection. Anyway, yin fits.

You Are More Yin
Feminine Devoted Forgiving Fall Winter Afternoon Moon Time Passive Metal Honey

There is one thing wrong with this, though. I reversed all my answers to see what Yang would look like, and discovered that Yang is associated with chocolate! I like honey, but I like chocolate even more. Why can't chocolate be yin?

Magnifico!

Posted because this made me giggle when I thought of the part of the song that this line is from: The boys in Queen going all operatically overboard with rather funny voices. But I'll concede to the message (ahem) it sends about me. :-)

I'm 'Galileo! Galileo! Galileo Figaro! Magnifico!'!


Which Line from Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody Are You?

(Via another one who spells her name with a double-E: Arleen)

Jan 10, 2007

Comet!

YES! I saw the McNaught comet!

As I walked home from work, I saw that the skies were clearing thanks to an icy wind. At home, I kept looking out my west-facing windows, and then: I noticed something not supposed to be in our skies. I couldn't get a picture through the window, so I ignored my freshly heated dinner waiting in the microwave, threw on boots and down jacket, wrapped scarf and camera around my neck, and went out. I walked to the top of the knoll in front of my building, on soggy and muddy ground getting a crispy, white covering as the wind froze the pathetic bit of snow we got earlier today.

Looking out over the roof tops towards the fading light to the southwest, I got a perfect view and a long moment of awe. I love that tail!

(Mc)Naught to see?

OK, fine, whatever, the weather's been quite variable but regularly cloudy and rainy. Now it's been so many days, we may as well hold out until the end of the month and beat the national record for number of days in a row with precipitation.

Except: I wanna see the comet! I may, just may, get a chance this afternoon, as the weather forecast calls for "clearing skies, chance of sunshine by sunset". That was after stating wind and some rain earlier in the day. I hope the meter--, mitter--, weather guys have got the timing right. Lemme see the comet! Comet McNaught, that is.

Jan 9, 2007

It's not hard at all — Overhodet ikke vanskelig

Sravana's comment on the previous post, suggesting that being spiritual is harder than not being spiritual, reminded me of why I struggled so trying to be a "good" Christian: It was an act of will. Willing myself to think good thoughts, do good deeds, keep my hands above the bed covers... And constantly failing at it. My will wasn't enough.

But the thing is, being happy, finding joy, experiencing a smooth day is easy! It's not about effort; it's about focus. The focus may require getting a new habit, but there's a nice short-cut there, too: Affirmations. Do affirmations when you remember to and it will have an effect. Try "The Great Affirmation" in the right-hand column, if you don't have any of your own.

It's not magic. I am, I must admit, terribly lax when it comes to self-discipline. So if I can experience instant goodness in my day repeating phrases in everyday language, so can you. To those who have been raised in the self-flagellating attitude of Christendom and felt God would never be pleased: A sure sign you have become aware of God is a feeling of joy, also if you are a practicing Christian. Never mind guilt, fear and submission. God's fun - and wants you to have fun, too!




Sravanas kommentar til forrige posting, at det å være åndelig er vanskeligere enn ikke å være åndelig, minnet meg på hvorfor det å være en "god" kristen for meg var alltid en kamp: Det var viljestyrt. Jeg villet meg til å tenke gode tanker, gjøre gode gjerninger, holde hendene oppå dynen ... og feilet gang på gang. Min vilje var ikke nok.

Men saken er den, at det å være lykkelig, å finne glede, å oppleve en dag hvor alt går på skinner, er enkelt! Det handler ikke om tiltak, men om fokus. Det å endre fokus i hverdagen krever gjerne en ny vane, men det finnes en snarvei til det, også: Affirmasjoner. Språklige meditasjoner, om du vil. Si slike når du kommer på det og du vil oppleve endring. Prøv "The Great Affirmation" til høyre (skal se om jeg ikke får oversatt den) hvis du ikke har noen egne affirmasjoner.

Det er ikke trolldom. Selv er jeg - dessverre - heller udisiplinert. Hvis jeg, med min ustrukturerte oppførsel, kan oppleve øyeblikkelig godhet i min hverdag ved å gjenta fraser på alminnelig norsk, kan jo hvem som helst det. Hvis din bakgrunn er den selv-straffende varianten av kristendom som fikk deg til å føle at du aldri ville behage Gud: Et sikkert tegn på at du er blitt bevisst Gud er en følelse av glede, også hvis du er kristen. Drit i skyld, frykt og underkastelse. Gud er moro - vil at også du skal ha det moro!

Finding God in the next person you meet — Om å finne Gud i det neste mennesket du møter

Mohandas Gandhi said: "If you don't find God in the next person you meet, it is a waste of time to look any further."

I could analyze this to death, so I'll limit myself to this: We all have a divine spark in us and if we cannot recognize and acknowledge that in each other, we cannot recognize or acknowledge it in anything else. By focusing on seeing God in another person, we are also seeing past personality, habits, physical appearance, and behavior. We are seeing what makes the other person both unique and valuable.

I have found the above difficult to grasp and to practice. I do not automatically see the spirit in my fellow man. I would sooner stop at the surface, charmed or annoyed, and that would be that. On the days when I have focused on the above, affirming to myself that I will see God in the next person I meet (or that I will learn to see God in the next person I meet), I invariably experience a less critical mind in myself. I can see someone else's overweight, for example, but it just doesn't get my attention. In stead, some other loveliness does. I notice their good taste in clothes, a healthy walk, shiny hair cut well first. And the day inevitably is more joyful and filled with laughter. (The laughing Buddha is no bad symbol for the true nature of God.)

Do try it yourself.




Mahatma Gandhi sa: "Finner du ikke Gud i det neste mennesket du møter, er det bortkastet tid å lete videre."

Jeg kunne overanalysere det Gandhi sa, så jeg velger heller å begrense meg til dette: Vi har alle en guddommelig eller åndelig gnist i oss og er vi ikke i stand til å se og anerkjenne dette i andre mennesker, kan vi heller ikke se og anerkjenne det i noe annet. Ved å fokusere på det guddommelige i den andre, ser vi forbi personlighet, vaner, utseende, og oppførsel. Vi ser det som gjør den andre både enestående og verdifull.

Jeg har funnet ovenstående vanskelig å forstå og praktisere. Det er ingen automatikk for meg å se det åndelige i en annen. Jeg har lettere for å bedømme ut fra det overfladiske, fornøyd eller irritert med det jeg observerer. De dagene jeg med vilje har fokusert på Ghandis ord ved å si til meg selv at jeg vil se Gud (eller lære å se Gud) i det neste mennesket jeg treffer på, opplever jeg uten unntak å møte den andre med et langt mindre kritisk sinn. Jeg kan se at vedkommende er f.eks. overvektig, men det får liksom ikke min oppmerksomhet eller fordømmelse. I stedet legger jeg først merke til noe positivt: De kledelige klærne, en energisk gange, glansfullt hår i en kledelig frisyre. Og selve dagen er alltid fylt med mer glede og latter. (Den leende Buddha er helt klart et godt symbol på Guds sanne natur.)

Prøv selv!

Jan 7, 2007

Rose scent, darkness and blah

It's one of those days. It's one of those blogging frequencies.

I sit a little too aware of the absolute blackness outside. I can hardly wait for the days to get longer. A combination of short days and little daylight because of heavy clouds coupled with darker than usual nights because of no snow and no stars is getting to be tiring. We've had over 70 days straight of days with precipitation, meaning that we haven't had a single 24-hour period where something wet didn't come out of the heavens.

I think it's getting to me. So what do I do? Stay in. Again. I'm not motivated to go out when it means donning my raincoat and rainboots. Again.

So I have stayed in with lights and candles and an aroma lamp with tea rose scent keeping me company but not quite able to hold off the sense that I should be hibernating under these conditions. So I'll do the next best thing: Curl up in the sofa with a book and a big cup of tea. I'll probably fall asleep doing that.

Jan 4, 2007

Spider trips

What A Trip 1:

Some spiders will shoot off a long silken thread from whatever they're sitting on (like a tree), then let a breeze catch them, and they float along in the air like a kite with a tail (also called "flying spiders"). Some spiders have been found high up in the atmosphere by hot air balloonists. This is one of those factoids that boggles my mind.

What A Trip 2:

(Via The Zero Boss)

And in case you're wondering if the makers of the above movie pulled it out of their ass (much like a spider does), not exactly.

Jan 3, 2007

So it's a new year

This switch to a new year seems to have a lot of people just ignoring it. No summaries of the year past nor any comments about the coming year. Going by some American bloggers, I'm sensing that the folks on that side of the Atlantic are feeling rather frazzled by how 2006 ended (like, more killed in Iraq than on in the September 11 attacks). One comment to that effect at Alice's prompted me to respond with this:

I see every new year like meeting a new, fun friend. You have no idea what the new person is really like or if the friendship will last, but that initial contact, filled only with promise and not one bad memory, is exciting.

And I mean it. I always like this time of year, the focus on wrapping up the old - not without gratitude, if only for having survived it - and looking ahead at the new. And because I am not alone in hanging up new calendars, wrapping my brain around writing dates with a new digit in the year, and other matters that come with January (like a raise in rent), this feeling of the new year as fresh and unspoiled finds recognition in others, too, even the cynics.

Why I love her

My dear, funny and fun friend Ann on skis (more or less), her brother Tor behind camera commenting in Norwegian and English:

PS: That snow's in California. And have your speakers turned on!

Jan 2, 2007

My namesake, Kira

New Year's Eve, or rather, 10 minutes into the new year, we were invited next door for a New Year's drink. Introductions were made, and I pronounced my name the way my teachers in school initially did: Keh-ra. (E is pronounced eh in Norwegian, whether there's one or two.) The introductions included the dogs: A collie who was handling the fireworks outside very badly, and a dwarf poodle who didn't mind the racket at all and never had.

Eventually, I grasped the name of the poodle: Kira, a variant spelling of Keera (or the other way round, actually). I was already aware that Keera is becoming a popular dog's name in Norway, so I wasn't surprised. What was surprising was Kira's age: 19 - a whopping 133 in human terms, and extremely rare, even for a small breed. Neither human nor animal gets to that high age without showing it, and Kira had thinning fur, missing teeth, failing eyesight and hearing, and a heart condition. Her twisted wrist and accompanying limp, however, was not age, but history.

Her current mistress, a hair dresser, had acquired Kira when the dog was five years old, and was to be euthenized. One day, the new owner rolled up a newspaper to swat flies, and Kira ran for cover. Hmm... Kira also was afraid of people, especially drunk men. Hmm 2... On a regular vet visit, the oddly shaped foot and limp were asked about out of curiosity. The vet revealed it was an old break, and would have been easily treated if the dog had been taken to a vet. One can only imagine what that little dog had to go through in her first five years of life. The next 14, however, were much better.

In her new life, Kira went to work at the salon, initially staying in the back office. Eventually the dog started to feel safe enough to venture out from the office and to greet strangers. In time, she even sat on customers' laps while they had their hair done.

Our own impression of Kira was that she was definitely a contented canine, and at ease with the comings and goings of unknown folk. I scratched her head at one point, and she appreciated it. This is one dog I am very happy to share a name with.