Mar 31, 2008

Cool (re)construction!

I'm in awe. This man shifts huge blocks of concrete weighing many tons - alone, without fancy tools or machines. He's reconstructing Stonehenge in his backyard. Get a fun physics lesson from Wally Wallington:

(Via Boing Boing.)

PS: Can somebody please explain the "two small rocks" method? I'm not clear on either where the pebbles are being placed, nor how it's helping him move the block. (Max?)

UPDATE: Max came through for me! Check the comments! Thanks, Max!

Mar 30, 2008

Do you need fear?

There's a movie called "Esoteric Agenda" making the rounds. I actually watched the full 126 minutes this movie lasts, and it is, in my opinion, a shining example of how erroneously we can connect the dots and see patterns where there are none, inventing monsters under the bed with no other evidence than an absence of light there. I'm basically saying, don't watch it.

So why am I even mentioning this? Because the movie, though it has a feel-good "love is the answer" ending, spends an hour and 45 minutes trying to convince you that "they" are out to get you. No, really. Using the end of the Mayan calendar, some dubious explanations for the word Israel and an even more dubious correlation drawn between paganism and socialism, with the Bush family geneology thrown in - just for starters! - the movie tries to convince the viewer that there is a plot to rid the planet of 5.95 billion of its 6 billion humans. Somebody wants you to starve to death, or contract a curable disease but get no medicine, or be the victim of yet another senseless war, says the movie.

I actually enjoy Eric von Däniken's far-out ideas. I find some conspiracy theories so fascinating that I wish they were true (like the one the Da Vinci code is based on, or any of the Indiana Jones movies).

This movie does not present any facts. It presents theories that can not be independently verified and offers connections between events or people that don't exist. It rehashes urban myths and New Age wishful thinking (like the 100th monkey story). However, it's one thing to fantasize about where the ark of the covenant ended up; it's something else entirely to weave a story with the intention of frightening people.

And that is my concern. There are plenty of things to be afraid of, from Moslem terrorists to gene manipulated food to the current economic situation in the US.

All of this the movie grabs onto, and for the claimed 87 per cent of the population who do not think for themselves this can lead to an even greater distrust of governments, of the decision-making process both personal, national and global, and of the world at large itself.

It makes me wonder what the purpose is.

If life is resilient, if the only constant is change, and we have survived any matter of problems over the millennia, if the nature of God is inherently good and One, why be afraid?

What purpose does fear have?

I can see only one: To tell you to rethink a situation.

But how much fear is necessary to reevaluate a situation, to reconsider a possible danger? And is fear necessary at all to make decisions about which politician to vote for or whether or not children in a foreign country should be given free food?

Can any message of unity, of a universal oneness, be "sold" without the use of scare tactics?

I believe so, but I also understand that we do tend to believe the statistics, and worry, and remind ourselves (partly thanks to our own history books) that bad things do happen.

But they don't happen all that much. The majority of what we experience is generally not bad.

So I ask you: Do you need fear? Do you need fear in order make positive changes in your life? Do you need fear to care about your health? Do you need fear in order to believe in God? Do you need fear to take action to improve your community? Do you vote for the politician who gets your attention by scaring you? Do you stay in a job or a marriage because it scares you not to? Are your decisions in life made to lessen your fears?

Try this instead: Ask yourself, what would love do? Ask yourself if you loved yourself, or your neighbor or town or country, what would you do?

Try seeing the world as a safe place, only waiting for improvement, not a dangerous place, only waiting for some way to fight back.

How do these thoughts make you feel?

How does the idea of being able to act in and on the world from a feeling of love and safety make you feel about being here on Earth?

I'm sure it makes you feel better than thinking about what scares you.

The point that even "Esoteric Agenda" makes is that you always have choice: Love or fear. Which do you choose to habitually hold in your mind? Fear makes you give away your power; love helps you find it. If you to have real choice, to have real freedom, to have real self-empowerment, love is the key. Focusing on the one thing that always supports life is the best way to address confusion and fear. Love is the answer.

Links:
Slade's review
Sravana's review

Mar 29, 2008

Great expectations - fulfilled

I have a habit. It is a habit of never having expectations. I do look forward to things, but I don't delight in the looking forward. It is rather an intellectual exercise to put me in the right frame of mind, but I never fantasize about the future event, and I never dwell on the expectation.

Until yesterday.

On my way home from work yesterday I bought some onion rings at the loca McDonald's (we finally got onion rings!) as a snack to tide me over till dinner.

I then relaxed in front of the TV a bit with my onion rings, then started getting myself ready for the party.

I managed to shave my legs cleanly and without any nicks.

I found a spare pair of shoes in case my feet got too tired in my lovely red ones (with 3" heels).

I did my hair and my make-up without frustration or mistakes.

My dress fit perfectly and had shrunk a tad in the wash, so it came exactly to the middle of my knees, not right below them, cutting my legs at their narrowest point, which was flattering.

I left home on time, and arrived at my own anniversary party, after a joyful walk, with all of my thoughts focused on the happy event to come.

I caught myself breaking a life-long habit doing that: Dwelling on the evening, feeling utterly elated about it and not dampening my own spirits (in order not to be disappointed) at all.

I told myself that it was time I could expect a happy ending to anything, that it was safe for me to look forward to the party without any worry or skepticism.

And I was right to do so.

The dinner, the party, the evening was a huge success. I can't say it was my doing alone, though I'll never really know. After all, I did invite these specific people, and I went around hugging each one and thanking each for coming to my party. (Can't remember others doing that, come to think of it.)

The way these things go down in Norway, there are some speeches interspersed, usually between the main course and dessert (we had a three-course meal), throughout. Also a bit of entertainment, in the form of my co-workers singing a couple of songs they'd written themselves in my honor. And everyone at the table also sang songs: A welcome song, a finishing song, and the company song (yes, we have a company song and I've always liked it).

We sat at the table for about three hours. Even for an occassion like this, that's a long time to be seated. But nobody minded. (The table was set with a Norwegian and an American flag. Very sweet.)

Some guests told jokes. The food came and went on schedule. There was so much talk and laughter - and toasting me - and I noticed no one seemed left out. Everyone was talking to someone around the table. There was a lot of laughter.

My own role in all of this was to just relax. Receive.

I had to work my way through the appetizer and the main course before I was finally able to wrap my brain around the fact that this party, this celebration was because of me, was because I had been in the company all of 25 years. Little ol' Keera was the guest of honor, the reason for a big party.

Wow.

Actually, I'm still having a bit of trouble grasping that.

My only planned contribution was to give a thank you-speech. So after the songs, the gifts and the speeches (and what lovely songs, gifts and speeches!) had been delivered, it was my turn to stand up and say a few words.

My only other intention for the evening was to include everyone in my celebration. To leave no guests left out.

I succeeded hugely and accidentally with my deaf co-worker.

My initial thank you-speeches in my head were long-winded and unfocused. I have virtually no experience in public speaking, so I had to think of a way of keeping my speech short and to the point.

I ended up printing short sentences on large sheets of paper, intending my speech to be a silent movie, that my deaf co-worker could also enjoy.

At the party, it turned out not to be silent. I stood at one end of the long table for my speech, holding up the sheets, and my co-worker impulsivly started both signing and reading out loud what I had written. It is probably one of the most unusual thank you-speeches ever, but it went over very well.

I never once looked at my watch. By the time we'd had coffee and cake and cognac, and had danced a while, I found myself left with four guests. I shared a taxi with three of them, and let myself in a little after 2 am.

Not a single thing went wrong, nobody was unhappy or bored, everybody told me what a lovely party it was, and how happy they were to be there.

The only thing I don't know is what my cake looked like. My guests had already dug into it by the time I made it to the lounge where it was served.

All of my expectations of having a wonderful time, were met.

Gift list

Over NOK 2 000 in cash collected among the guests; flowers and a gift certificate for NOK 8 000 from the company; a book of poetry read from by a former co-worker who used it in a sweet speech about what the letters in my first name stand for; a gorgeous hand-made quilted "throw" with a dedication on the back, delivered with a touching speech by a former co-worker (moved me close to tears). My boss gave a me a lovely speech and I hope I can get a copy of it Monday. It had some positive surprises; either that, or my memory's going.

Mar 28, 2008

Can'ttalknowhavetogetready

The day has arrived! Tonight, in less than two hours, I will be standing with co-workers, holding a glass of champagne, and all because I've managed to stay with the same company for 25 years.

I can't believe I actually did that.

25 years.

Wow...

UPDATE: Drunk as a skunk. But not the drunkest there. In a taxi home, with the last to leave. We danced. Everybody who was there said they had a wonderful time. As the guest of honor and sort of their hostess, that pleased me no end. More later. I'm one of the drunk ones. You have no idea how many times I hit backspace just to type this...

That was posted at 2:14 am. I'm just saying...

Mar 27, 2008

More snow

All of winter has decided to show up after the vernal equinox, apparently. As I left the grocery store this afternoon, it started to snow. Again. It has been gently snowing since (four hours and counting).

I looked out my living room window and got rather fascinated by the snow settling on the street lamp outside my building.

Those pretty flames in the lower left of the photo are one candle I have lit reflecting in my double-glaze window.

An hour after I took this photo, I heard a thump at my kitchen window. Kids had thrown a snowball at it. I then heard a softer whump outside my living room window. The snow had slipped off the street lamp.

UPDATE: The snow has stopped. As I go around my living room, turning off lights, I look out the window at a white world, magically lit by the street lamp and the windows of the surrounding apartments.

Mar 26, 2008

Outstanding origami

Check out Robert J. Lang's origami sculptures. That's the best way I have of describing an entire world of figures each made from a single, folded sheet of paper.

A couple samples of Lang's stunning work - a carp and a wasp:

Mar 25, 2008

Banned

I have the day off work tomorrow. I have one Wednesday off a month (by choice), and it is usually the first Wednesday of the month. This time, I'm taking my Wednesday off tomorrow, a week ahead of schedule. My boss is very pleased with my decision, which I made after everyone else but him had gone home for the day, meaning it was a last minute and impulsive change of plans.

I told my boss that fortunately, I enjoy looking forward to surprises, so I did not open the file "Keera - song" on his computer, but he could hide such things a bit better.

He then told me that his computer (on which he stores a database of all our work) and the departmental coffee breaks - both the 9 am and 1 pm one - were off-limits to me tomorrow and Thursday. I wasn't even to be wandering past the downstairs breakroom since one can hear through the door.

I told him he'd have to tie me down because I've never been one to follow orders very well. He laughed in agreement.

That's when I suggested that since I'm unwanted, I may as well take my Wednesday off tomorrow.

He lit up. "Yes! Do that!"

So while my wonderful co-workers are rehearsing some whacky song about me and who knows what else (they are practical jokers), I'll work on my speech tomorrow, I guess. I had some ideas falling asleep last night.

Mar 24, 2008

Recharging

March can't make up its mind. It spent all of Easter Sunday snowing. Gently, consistently. This morning we woke up to smooth, untouched, beautiful, powdery snow, glittering in the sunshine. Said sunshine has been making the apartment warmer than usual. Feels good. Feels like...the end of winter! Oh, yes! The season where we don't turn on all the heat even though the tourists are freezing their nummynums off is soon upon us! (Which means I have to start shaving my legs again. Oh, well, can't win 'em all.) So I'm feeling hopeful and cheerful in spite of a fresh blanket of wintery goodness.

As evidence of the sun rising on Easter (or second day thereof) I give you yet another view out my kitchen window:

Sorry about the quality. The batteries on my other camera were dead and by the time they were recharged, the light had shifted. And speaking of rechargables, I've read somebody else's blogpost that explains why going for the batteries that with the most milliamp hours may not give you the longevity you want in a charge: "It turns out [that] that massive 2500mAh capacity of the Energizer rechargeable battery doesn't mean much when the battery drains itself within a month."

And this little article explains that all the batteries in a camera should have the same mAh values, else the lesser one will drain the others. I didn't know that. When I go to buy new rechargables, I'll get 8 matching ones that hold around 2000 mAh each. The old rechargables can power my alarm clock and TV remote.

Don't assume you know the truth

As everyone else says who has past this on, watch till the end, and don't assume you know what's coming.

Mar 23, 2008

How Norwegians make friends

Norwegians make friends the same way porcupines mate: Carefully. In fact, they (the Norwegians, I mean) are so careful about it, I'm still not sure exactly how they do it.

That was the short answer to Victoria's bafflement at Norwegian behavior.

Victoria says: "[S]ome people are quite friendly and will smile or even chat a bit but I am still so surprised by the number of people who will either look right at you without cracking a smile or uttering a single word or will walk past you as if you don't exist."

I'm sorry to say, but that aloofness is quintessentially Norwegian (and shared with the Swedes). The "cold north" isn't just a comment on the weather.

Norwegians simply are not in the habit of nodding and smiling and saying hello to perfect strangers, and sometimes not even to anyone they've seen 518 times before. (If I want to shock someone I've passed in the neighborhood 518 times, all I have to do is greet them. They never see it coming.) It is the most frustrating thing about them for non-Norwegians - and even for some Norwegians - but, believe it or not, the country has actually warmed up a bit since Norwegians started traveling abroad more.

The one exception to this rule that has always existed, is on hiking trails. Norwegians greet complete strangers like old friends as long as they are encountering each other on some godforsaken mountain top. You're considered rude if you don't say "hello" as you pant up a rocky climb and pass someone on their way down. You're not expected to stop and chat, necessarily, unless the other party is already standing still, but you have to nod, smile, greet.

That said, people involved in a common experience will start talking to each other. Perhaps not as easily as in the US, and there are regional differences in Norway, too, but in general, they will talk. Norwegians are actually quite garrulous once they get going. A common experience can be fellow dog owners, or stuck waiting for a late bus, or sharing a taxi.

Because of this, Norwegians (mistakenly) think Americans are shallow because we talk about anything to anyone, and all it takes is a "Hi, how are you?". I always have to take a deep breath when I visit the States, to prepare myself for being constantly asked by someone and anyone how I am, and I just ducked in to buy more batteries and chewing gum. It is easy to react like a Norwegian and think, "None of your business!", but it does start conversation and I usually don't have to make much effort; the other person is very happy to chat. I have found that it is quite cheering.

Let me digress just a bit. Bill Bryson's "The Mother Tongue", made me realize a few things about my native country versus the one I currently live in. Bill explained how the pioneers in the US had to consider all strangers as friends, unless there was evidence to the contrary, because when you're alone in a strange country, allies are always needed. This has influenced American attitudes towards strangers and American speech, as exemplified in the Texan greeting, "Howdy, pardner". The Norwegians, on the other hand, come from the opposite experience: The typical Norwegian had little contact with strangers due to a lack of travel and a sparse population spread over an area the size of California. That, coupled with incidents over the years of other nations taking over the country, helps to breed a territorial and skeptical attitude. With the exception of lone mountain trails: Then they all become Texans.

From my own personal experience, I know that Americans and Norwegians alike can count the really, really good friends - the kind that you can call at 3 am when your cat or mother has died - on one hand. Neither are shallow when it comes to who you trust with your life and your weaknesses. But history has made the two people approach friendship differently: Americans, because of their past, use the word "friend" of someone they like as a promise to hang out together in order to solidify the friendship, letting it grow and prove the initial trust was not misplaced. In Norway, "friend" is an honor bestowed on you after already hanging out together over time and one day discovering there's deep trust and affection between you.

I'm not entirely sure how anyone decides when one slides over from acquaintance or "buddy" to "friend". I usually wait for the Norwegian to call me "friend" first, just to be sure.

Corrections

I am one of those people who loves the Chinese symbol for "crisis": A combination of the symbols for "danger" and "opportuntity".

Except that it doesn't exist. Via Hanzi Smatter, a blog "dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters in western culture" - sometimes hilariously - I have come across an essay by Victor H. Mair that explains what the Chinese symbol for crisis really means. It's combined of "danger" and "crossroads", not "danger" and "opportunity". Those ancient Chinese weren't such die-hard optimists, after all.

Which brings me to another erroneous belief Westerners have of the Chinese: That they believe two women under the same roof means disharmony.

Not the case. Hanzi Smatter calls it simply a hoax. Perhaps started as a joke. "If the symbol of one woman under a roof means peace [which it does in Chinese], then what's two women under one roof?" "War!" (Insert laughter.) The character with two women under one roof simply doesn't exist in Chinese.

That brings me to an error in Norwegian: "Kvinner er kvinner verst," which translates roughly to "women do women the worst". I was introduced to this phrase in the 80's, when women's networking was the new rage, and we females were all trying to learn to encourage each other rather than gossip about each other. Apparently, only women backbite, get jealous, sabotage. Research has shown a couple of things, however. Men do gossip and backbite and can feel resentment at other's success as much as women do (if not more, since men are inclined to be more competitive). Also, the original saying is, "Humans do humans the worst", which makes more sense, but most Norwegians don't know the original saying any more.

Mar 22, 2008

Easter Eve sights and sounds

Remember my telling you what a dream Easter is in Norway? How the perfect Easter is brilliant white snow and brilliant yellow sun? We have that right now. I wore wool underwear and sunglasses for my walk home from the store, carrying a generic automated coffee machine cappuccino which tasted surprisingly good if not cappuccino-y. I just had to take the long way home, around the pond. The weather outside is too beautiful to ignore, to not want to wander around in for a while. Ice underfoot, and warmth on my face.

I did not bring any camera. Of course, with birds out and about, beautiful snow and sunshine, that was a mistake. But I'll take my inspiration from Unphotographable - "a text account of pictures missed". And in that vein, there will also be sound bites.

Unphotograph 1: The pussy willow's gray female flowers are larger and plumper now and as the sunlight hits them, they turn into glistening silver eggs, turning the tips of their tree into precious metal.

Sound bite 1: I hear what sounds like someone pulling on a spring door stop, a subtle "thwong", accompanied by some clicking sounds. I follow the direction of the unusual sound to a tree 10 yards away and see a crow. "Do that again," I say to it in a stage whisper. It hears me and freezes. "I want to hear it again," I whisper again. The crow eyes me. "I just want to hear that sound again," I plead breathily to the crow. A second crow appears on a lower branch and clicks and thwongs. The "thwong" is actually a sort of soft caw done in a bass voice.

Unphotograph 2: Our local mountain, Løvstakken, is drenched in powdered sugar, the dark tops of pine trees and still leafless birches and craggy gray rock poking up in the sugar. The mountain is fully lit by the sunshine, and stands gentle and beautiful above the valley like a mother modelling her Sunday best before her admiring children.

Sound bite 2: For a moment, no car drives by, no voice is carried across the pond, no wing flaps across the sky and no bird calls. In that moment, there is silence, a moment of no activity whatsoever. And in this moment, a sound not there: The soft whoosh of an unseen breeze brushing against my ears. The breeze exists only in my hearing; it is too gentle to impact anything larger than the surface of an ear drum.

Unphotograph 3: Above, whispy clouds drape across the blue sky like voile curtains. The tendrils of the clouds criss-cross each other transparently, making a shape that makes me think of an X-ray of a bird, with the bones of its chest and wings surrounded by a diffuse blur that is the bird's flesh.

Sound bite 3: I am absorbed by what I see, the sun halfway up the sky between its summer zenith and the horizon, still casting long shadows, but also facing us on the planet surface more directly, melting the snow and ice on the ground, creating a multitude of lilliputian rivers and lakes. I am made aware of a background noise, so familiar it doesn't register at first, but when it does, I am delighted. It is the sound of a family out in the sunshine. It is the sound of children laughing, shrieking with joy in their play on the snow, nearby mothers making goofy noises to their toddlers, and adults talking amiably with each other. It makes me feel good to hear people not yelling, chiding, grumbling, just enjoying each other's company and enjoying the day.

Mar 21, 2008

Wishing I were there

There are a few photos that make me wish I could trade places with the people in them:

(Photo from Tom Dempsey's Antarctica)

Isn't that the coolest thing? (No pun intended.) Curious Gentoo chicks will approach humans and even lie on them for warmth. Can you imagine being the human? I think that would be such a wonderful experience!

(Photo from Cute Overload)

This brings back memories of childhood. I would love to be that girl, both because of the cow and because of her age.

I am reminded of my first summer in Norway and with it, my first encounter with cows. I was 8 and so a young human female and my grandpa's brother's cows were young bovine females. My first introduction to them, separated by a fence, taught me my first lesson about cows: They have very long and very strong tongues. I found that out because when a heifer decided my flower-print mini-dress (ah, the crazy fashions of the late 60's) was edible and tried to get the whole thing in her mouth. She darned near succeeded. I had to use force to get my dress out the hold of that heifer's tongue. Lesson no. 2: Wear something else besides a flower print around cows. With that lesson learned, I discovered Lesson no. 3: Cows love to be scritched. I scratched and petted the heifers on their foreheads, rubbed their soft noses, and discovered what soft hide and incredibly beautiful eyes they have. I've had a thing for cows since. Not cow patterns (or patties), but cows themselves. And the girl's skinny legs and her still-growing body remind me of myself at that age. What a wonderful time! Still all the world to explore and all the time to enjoy doing so - without any other responsibilities than homework and cleaning your room. (Still have those, come to think of it. The responsibilities, I mean, not the skinny legs.)

Finally, the person I would have liked to trade places with is not the one in the photo but the photographer, my friend Ann. Look what she sent me from Mexico:

Ann is obviously a very good friend. Very good.

Mar 20, 2008

Skiing - it helps to have a sense of humor

Everyone has heard of Norwegians and their skis. How they invented this mode of transportation by basically noting, "Hey, that was good beer! And I'll bet I can glide down this slope with planks on my feet!" OK, maybe not the beer part. Well, maybe very much the beer part. But the next part was, "Hey, look at what those crazy Sami are doing with planks! I can do that!" Because it turns out, the Norwegians did not invent skiing; they just made it theirs (much like they did with rose painting and Swiss cheese) and eventually exported it.

I have skied. It is fun. I don't ski any more. It's not that much fun. Really, it depends on where you are and the snow conditions, and I'm not such an enthusiast that I a) enjoy skiing in a crowd or b) waiting to ski in a crowd nor c) struggling with anything but the most perfect powder snow in the most perfect weather. OK, I can handle a bit of a wait in line and some clouds, and for cross country, nicely packed snow, but I stand by the rest. I have cross-countried and I have downhilled. Both have their merits. Both have the advantage of putting you outdoors in a landscape made breathtakingly beautiful and surreal thanks to a covering of snow. Both have the disadvantage of sending you down a hill you weren't prepared for.

So I sit at home, with a nice cup of chocolate tea (yes, there is such a thing), reading the online newspapers since there is no printed one delivered today, and I come across a couple of items that tell me that not only do you need a sense of balance, strong legs and strong arms, and warm clothes when skiing, but also a sense of humor:

Skiers in Geilo - Norway's answer to Mammoth Mountain, California (Hemsedal being the answer to Vail, Colorado) - experienced that icky situation of being stuck in a ski lift yesterday. For 45 minutes, 160 skiers swung high and helpless above the ground in uncovered chairs, waiting for help. Fortunately, they got the emergency power supply going (don't know what happened to the regular power supply) and the skiers made it safely to the top. That's a cold wait, and they had to do it without beer.

(Photo taken from Bergens Tidende)

Not knowing how long the ski lift would be stuck, rescuers started helping people down from the chair lift.

Beer was the whole point for some other skiers who were out and about earlier today - in downtown Bergen. Which typically had far less snow that my neighborhood has, only 10 minutes' drive away (you'll also notice the difference from this photo):

This bunch dons old-fashioned ski equipment and, regardless of the weather, ski from pub to pub, and have done so as an annual Easter tradition eight years running - or scraping, as the case this year may be. They have noted that today's have been the worst skiing conditions yet.

(Photo taken from Bergens Tidende)

I love the rucksack on the guy in the rear. That is seriously vintage!

Mar 19, 2008

Laundry

The last municipality in Norway to get electricity was Røldal, on March 22, 1958. Our local radio station interviewed a number of elderly Røldal residents about what it was like to get "current" ("strøm"), which is the colloquial Norwegian for electricity.

One woman described trying to get used to cooking with an electric stove. Baking bread certainly became easier with the stable heat of an electric oven. Fresh food became a first for them. They could get refrigerators and a long era of salting, drying, pickling or canning everything came to an end.

Another woman's story of not trusting herself around with an electric washing machine reminded me of my grandma who preferred all of her contraptions to have just an on/off button. No such luck when it comes to washing machines. But Grandma figured out how to do laundry, and when the ladies of Røldal were asked if they'd ever go back to heating water, boiling clothes, rinsing, scrubbing and spending all day bent over steamy tubs, they all answered an emphatic, "NO!"

Ah, yes, the washing machine. Washing clothes and linens was back-breaking work, and so in many ways, the most significant household item of the 20th century is not the TV or the refrigerator or the computer, but the washing machine.

I have never owned my own. That is to say, my folks owned one, but if it broke, that was their problem to take care of. (Amazingly, the contraption I grew up with in Norway didn't break down until after 30 years of use!) The apartment building my mother and I lived in in Glendale, California, had it's own coin-operated laundromat with one washer and one dryer for the six units. If we had major stuff to do, or someone else was using the machines, we'd go to the regular laundromat a couple of blocks away.

My current home has a laundromat, too, with one washer and one dryer for a building with 21 units. Two chalk boards with the days of the week on them hang on the wall and you write your apartment number on the two-hour slot you want that's next available. You can't sign up for more than one slot at a time. More and more of my neighbors have their own washing machine so I've rarely had a problem getting my laundry done in a timely manner. I do on average one load every 10 days. It takes a while for a single girl to save up enough laundry to fill a load of lights, and to fill a load of darks. One reason for me is that I try to wear tops at least three times before they go into the laundry, and jeans for more than a week. I tend to wash everything at 40C/105F (our machine doesn't do cold washes). I do use the dryer because I don't have anywhere to hang two loads of laundry to dry, and because the dryer heat will kill germs.

I was reading a post on clothing on Treehugger, which had linked to a New York Times article on the lack of environmental consideration in the textile and fashion industries. One thing is the new trend of "fast fashion": Cheaply made, cheaply sold, expected to fall apart quickly. That way you can justify constantly buying news clothes and keep up with fashion. (Ugh.) People who are more "green" will buy cotton garments thinking that is the most environmentally sound thing they can do; I do that, too. But modern cotton production requires a lot of pesticides, and then there's all those steps from the cotton farm via bleaching to the third world workers who make the cloth and sew it together to the container ship that takes it halfway around the globe and then the trucks that move the garments to the stores. Oh, did I mention the dioxin?

And then there's the laundry. Says the New York Times: "Sixty percent of the carbon emissions generated by a simple cotton T-shirt comes from the 25 washes and machine dryings it will require, the Cambridge study found."

Wait... 25? Only? Sheesh. I'm sure I've had clothes that were laundered far more than 25 times before I tossed them or gave them away to the Salvation Army. The NYT article states that a "polyester blouse, by contrast, takes more energy to make, since synthetic fabric comes from materials like wood and oil. But upkeep is far more fuel-efficient, since polyester cleans more easily and dries faster. Over a lifetime, a polyester blouse uses less energy than a cotton T-shirt. One way to change the balance would be to develop technology to treat cotton so that it did not absorb odors so readily."

Yeah, that would help. Or make polyester breathable and not absorb odors (who can wear that stuff?). Or - hemp. Can't we grow hemp? Who cares about the US paranoia that maybe somebody will smoke it? Why should some third-world-country wannabe (yes, my beloved native country, I mean you) dictate what the rest of the world should do - on any environmental or agricultural issue? Hemp is a wonderful plant with a multitude of uses and not as picky (no pun intended) as cotton.

Or just make me give up washing machines. Yeah, right. Let me echo the ladies of Røldal: NO!

Mar 18, 2008

March mood swings

Not my mood swings, but the weather's. It is typical of March to not be able to make up its mind about the weather. Storm? Calm? Winter? Spring? About all at the same time? Which is pretty much what we had this past weekend, leaving me to walk home from work Friday on clear paths, in warming sunshine and with plants budding, and walk back to work yesterday morning in a freezing north wind on treacherously icy sidewalks with an inch of snow on the ground. Today it was cold but clear and sunny, warmly so - except for the part where it snowed a bit. Just a bit.

But this moodiness does make for some lovely moments: Sunday morning, I looked out my kitchen window, and sunbeams through the trees were making stripes on a frosted lawn.

Mar 17, 2008

Philosopher, heal thyself

I saw my acupuncturist today. I knew I had to give her bad news and make a decision about whether or not to keep trusting her. You have to wonder at the "signs" one can get: I opened the same door as the last time I was there, and walked into a room I didn't recognize. I actually backed up a step to re-read the sign on the door. Yep, same sign as before. But things were definitely different, and I was desoriented. I recognized the corner bookshelf where the herbs were, and the two cash registers. I distinctly remembered a coat rack last time I was there. This time there was no place to put my wet umbrella or hang my coat. I asked my acupuncturist about the look of the room and she laughed and said they were constantly remodeling.

Well, I told her that the herbal treatment sucked. She was a bit surprised at my reaction to the treatment; I was the first patient she'd had that had such problems with the herbs. I admitted that perhaps I should have told her I'm not quite like everyone else. Then she offered to fix my poor gut with just acupuncture. I said no thanks. I told her this wasn't for me. I was a bit surprised I was saying that, and so was she, and she was disappointed. However, she waived the fee for today's appointment since she wasn't giving me anything. I thought that was very nice of her. I paid for the herbs and left.

There was some relief. Decision made. I thought about it on my way home, and realized that part of my decision was not feeling a connection to my acupuncturist. No chemistry. You need to feel connected to your therapist, feel able to completely relax and trust her, and tell her anything if you're going to be going to her regularly for personal stuff. I didn't feel anything negative from mine, but I also didn't feel "right" about it all.

I started wondering what was going on with me. I usually have good health and I'm not usually prone to running to all sorts of healers and what have you to fix what's wrong with me physically, partly because it's simply not my philosophy. Think Louise Hay's "You Can Heal Your Life". In fact, I was thinking about Hay's book, about the philosophy behind it (she's a Science of Mind minister), and about an article about prayer I had just read. And I realized that this time around, it's not about being helped by someone else; this time, I fix my own health problems. I have the tools. I just have to use them.

I decided to take the days up to the Easter holidays off from work; I have the vacation time. This means I'll have plenty of time to pray, meditate, do yoga, use EFT, and see if I can't walk my own talk.

Mar 16, 2008

Collateral damage

Her expression was always the same. It was always pleasant. It was always smiling. Not a big smile, just a little pull on the corners of the mouth, sometimes a little parting of the lips.

The apartment was perfect for a retired couple. Conveniently located near a bus line and a grocery store. Good neighbors, many their own age. Peaceful neighborhood with some younger families. One had a troubled son, now a young adult. A drug addict. He'd come around a few times, asking for money. They had given a bit. They knew his mother.

When he came around again in the middle of a sunny afternoon, he didn't wait at the door as the old woman went for her purse. He came in. He pushed her over. Her husband couldn't stop him, stop what was happening.

He grabbed what he could and ran. Neighbors saw him. Neighbors went to the couple to see if they were all right. They weren't. Neighbors called ambulance, police.

It was so unexpected, so unusual still, that it made the news. People talked about it.

The wife was injured, broken hip, concussion. She stayed in the hospital for a long time. She never fully recovered. The husband struggled with the wreckage: The loss of safe home, healthy wife, peace of mind.

They were her parents.

I waited in fascination to see if her expression would change. With a bit of "schadenfreude", I noted it did. The smile was gone. There was no other expression that took its place.

I became ashamed of my bit of gloating.

It was to be a long time before the smile came back, but it came back. It wasn't the same, though.

It never reflected in her eyes again.

Mar 15, 2008

The wonder of SMS

I was amused by the following comment in a Treehugger report on using SMS: "The SMS (short message service) is an institution in Scandinavia[…] You can even file your taxes in Sweden by SMS." Well, you can do the same in Norway, too. I know. I did it that way for the first time last year.

It is true that the use of SMS ("smess" as the youngsters say) is ubiquitous in Scandinavia. Norway has one of the highest numbers of cell phones per capita in the world. That's one reason for all the texting. Another reason is that an SMS is less intrusive - and cheaper - than a phone call. Telephoning has always been prohibitively expensive in Norway, so the much cheaper SMS (less than NOK 1.00 per message for basic texting) as a way of giving a quick message really caught on in the early days of the cell phone. For many, including myself, it is one deciding factor for adding a cell phone to the household. Using SMS can even be more reliable: In areas where you may have only one bar for a phone signal, you'll still have plenty of signal for an SMS.

The Treehugger article reminded me of how many services are offered via SMS now: When I signed up for my free newspaper subscription, I was asked for my cell phone number. Just before my subscription started I got an SMS from the paper, giving me instructions for where to send an SMS if my newspaper is late. This past week I transferred money from one bank account to another by sending my bank one SMS. If I order something online, the post office will send me a delivery pick-up message via SMS when my package arrives, if I so wish. Several online food columns will SMS a recipe with shopping list to you.

And in 2006, when we were on strike? Those who wanted could get status updates via SMS from the union and strike leaders. I tried it and liked being able to stay informed no matter where I was.

I stay in touch with friends via SMS. I love texting because I'm more of a writing person than a phoning person. SMS-es are also cheaper to use when using the cell phone abroad. Cell phone subscriptions are set up so that if someone phones you from Norway while you're abroad, you pay the extra cost of the international phone call. I had an entire "conversation" with one good friend who was laid up in an Austrian hospital after a skiing accident.

I'm (obviously) not the only one whose thumb dances across tiny keys on an ever-shrinking portable phone. On New Year's Eve the circuits are clogged not with phone calls, but SMS-es flying back and forth wishing everyone a happy new year. This last Eve the telephone companies were prepared and there was only a three-hour delay in delivery; the year before they were caught off-guard and some SMS-es weren't delivered until well into the afternoon on January 1.

The gang at work discovered yet another use for SMS when one co-worker crashed his car driving home from Oslo. As luck would have it, he was uninjured and had crashed right outside a town that was a stop for the train to Bergen. When he got to the train station, he found a schedule posted and noted he had only a 20-minute wait for the next train. Nice. Oh, footnote. "Stops only on request." Darn. Printed at the bottom was a toll free number to call. So he called. What he really wanted was for someone to tell the train he was there. He was told that the trains slow down passing such stations, so they can spot passengers wanting to board.

My co-worker didn't feel like taking chances, so the woman on the other end of the line offered to sell him a ticket. That would also send a message to the train that there was a passenger waiting. All she needed was a credit card number and his cell phone number. He gave her the information, and after he hung up, he received an SMS with a confirmation and the number of a reserved seat.

The train glided to a gentle stop in front of him and he got on and found his seat. He never saw a conductor.

Me? I'll probably be filing my taxes this year via SMS. Again.

Mar 14, 2008

Spring break

We finally got a break from the wet, the gloom, the gray, the chilling. Today we got a break from winter, and a sneak peak at spring.

So I took a walk, a slow walk around the local pond. Delighting in the fact that I actually needed my sunglasses, and in all the little signs of winter's hold loosening.

This plastic mesh once contained a ball of suet someone hung up for the local tit birds to help them through the winter. The most common one is the great tit, and it usually sings tee-too. But there is one in my neighborhood that sings tee-tee-too. The way the sound carries is rather strange. Although my ears can localize the source (to some local tree), it still sounds like I'm surrounded by the chirping. The tits stay all year round and love suet. The great tit's name in Norwegian is "kjøttmeis". "Kjøtt" means meat or flesh.

Beneath the tree the suet net hung in was a spot of bright green, attracting me with its message of the fresh and new. It was a baby rosehip or wild rose. Those are hardy and if not as fancy-looking as cultivated roses, certainly smell just as good. They are favorite haunt of bumble bees, and one of the nicer sounds of summer is hearing the barytone buzz of bumble bees inside a rosehip blossom, muffled by the surrounding pink petals, in search of nectar. Can't remember seeing such a young rosehip plant before, so I took this one's picture. Isn't it cute? It has thorns, just like the big bushes do.

Another thing showing signs of life and generally doing so the moment the ground thaws (and what luck: This winter it never froze), is the female willow tree. Her modest fuzzy, gray flowers are popping out here and there, making a bumpy silhouette against the sky. I rather like the subtle pink in the upper buds in this picture, as well as the speckles on the lower flowers. Norwegians call these flowers kittens ("kattunger"), and I guess that's also how the tree got its English name: Pussy willow. Later, the males will bloom and produce larger, tuberous blossoms covered in bright yellow pollinators. Norwegians call those goslings ("gåsunger"). So in case you were ever wondering what in the world would come of a mating between a goose and a cat, here's the answer: A tree. Weird, huh.

The sight of this pile of ash transported me three months into the future, pulling me away from spring and right to Midsummer's Eve. This is the site of our neighborhood bonfire, and behind me is a local soccer field that we fill up with barbeque grills, tables, chairs and neighbors. We watch the bonfire burn and eat and drink and gab. Maybe there's music and dancing; there certainly are games and entertainment for the kids. It's been a while since I last attended our local Midsummer celebration, so maybe this year I'll be watching a new pile of ashes get added to this one.

I hope you enjoyed walking around the pond with me on this early spring day.

Mar 13, 2008

Repeating a mistake

It may be perimenopause, it may be something else, but whatever it is, my constipation - which has been a part of my life since I was little - has actually managed to get worse since the summer.

The acupuncturist gave me some herbs to take to clean out my gut. Big mistake. The herbs worked, sure, but the days of diarrhea weren't any better than the constipation. After hunting around on the internet, I found some more information, and quit taking the pills.

I was discussing this with a US friend who is also an acupuncturist and she clarified a few things for me as well as gave me some advice. (Digression: I helped her design her website so go look, at least. Thanks!)

I lay in bed, musing on what the heck had happened. How had I let myself treat my own stomach so badly? Why was I letting a stranger who didn't know me well enough to realize that my gut wasn't just constipated but also sensitive put me through a rather rough treatment? And that's when it hit me: I was doing to my gut now what I had done to my skin during puberty.

I got blackheads as young as age 8 and with my pubescent skin felt different from the other kids who still had smooth, non-greasy skin. So began my obsession (if one can call it that) with trying to have normal skin. Every product available at the time was tried. One strange white paste a girl I was hardly friends with in junior high school donated to me had the best effect. It was in an unlabeled tin, so I have no idea what it was. Clearasil and expensive, exclusive dermatological products all landed on my face, none more successful than the other, and some burned, stung, or dried without doing any good. My greasy hair was subjected to similar chemical attempts at achieving normalcy. (Take it from me: Do not wash your hair in green soap!)

The hair problem sorted itself out at age 15 when my mother told me of her good friend who simply washed her hair every day. So I started washing my hair every day. Problem with greasiness solved! I use mild for-daily-use shampoos and don't bother with the ones for greasy hair - too harsh. I also never use conditioner. I simply don't need it, and it can weigh fine hair down. After I stopped punishing it, I discovered I had great hair.

But my search continued for something that would cut the oily shine and shrink the large pores my facial skin. I was maybe in my 30's before I learned that one reason skin produces extra oil is for protection because the skin is actually sensitive. So I stopped buying products for oily skin (which all too often contained harsh drying agents like alcohol) and started buying products for sensitive skin. I also stopped using foundation. In spite of what they tell you, your skin does not breathe well with that stuff on. Pimples stopped appearing after I stopped trying to cover them up. I still have large pores and blackheads, but hardly any wrinkles, and still swear by products for sensitive skin. (I even use products for aging skin without increasing the shine.)

So here I am, trying to do to my gut what I had once done to my hair and face. And with no more success or comfort.

I feel like an idiot. New tack: I need to drink more water, exercise more (more walking and even more sit-ups), perhaps even eat more prunes and figs, and less meat (which is the hardest to digest). I can also try EFT and affirmations. I want my digestion to function well on its own, not because it keeps getting a pill. I may have to rethink that since perimenopause and age may be factors, but I certainly am not going to let myself go from one extreme to another. That's not healthy.

This whole experience may be about giving me a kick in the rear so I start doing what I need to do for myself and my health.

I bought two boxes of tea and two 1 kg bags of brown rice on my way home today. The girl shoved the rice bags to one side in the shopping bag and the two light-as-a-feather tea boxes to the other. I said to myself as I stopped outside the store to repack the bag, "It's all about balance. Everything in life is about finding a balance and keeping it."

Mar 12, 2008

A couple of Norwegian oddities (for Victoria)

Victoria is a fellow expatriate who has just gotten a new puppy and is about to experience her first Easter in Norway. She posted about that and since I know something about the matter(s), chose to reply here, rather than fill up her comments.

I am fairly familiar with the weirdness that is the Norwegian attitude to spaying and neutering. Up until 1995 or thereabouts, the rule was not to neuter a pet because that would infringe on its right to choose. I kid you not. They made birth control pills for the cats (bitches don't go into heat just because it's a Tuesday and a tom is yowling) and I remember giving those weekly to a cat we had when I was a young teen. But those things caused cancers so the powers that be finally decided to encourage spaying cats. The aforementioned cat probably died of something like that because she didn't make it past her third year due to "tummy trouble". Because cats are more likely to stray/become strays, neutering and spaying of cats now is normal and encouraged, and the local Animal Rights group will capture strays and have them fixed.

I wish I had known of the change in the law when I got Sammy in 1990, but in her case, she got the pill only when she started to go into heat. She was an indoor cat, so that worked. I'd generally give her half a pill, mixed in with her food. I could tell a full dose made her feel unwell.

For dogs it's an entirely different matter. There doesn't seem to be a problem with stray dogs and there is no dog catcher in Norway. There is also no dog license. It fascinates me that Norway somehow manages to avoid strays. But I often get the impression Norwegians respect the dog more than the cat because I'll meet people who think cats can take care of themselves, i.e. do not need us so no need to bother with them. Which may explain the stray cat problem.


This is a segue: My Sammy sniffing a daffodil I bought. The daffodil is called Easter lily (påskelilje) in Norwegian.

Now, about Easter: Be grateful it's not the 70's, Victoria. The whole country went into hibernation for five days straight, and everybody liked it. (They still do; I'm finally getting to like it too, so my frustration is waning.)

Easter is the big holiday in Norway: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday and the Monday after Easter Sunday (Easter Monday) are all holidays, i.e. everything closed. Grocery stores are generally opened a limited number of hours on the Saturday squeezed between them (Easter Eve), but that's it, and any newspaper you buy then, was printed the Tuesday or Wednesday before. (Sort of like how the Sunday papers in the US are available on Saturdays.)

When I was a kid, Easter was a nightmare, an excruciating experiment in unrelenting boredom. You know how Christmas is always associated with snow and snowmen and snowflakes, and how the Christmas movies always show it starting to snow on Christmas? Well, Easter is the time of sunshine and snowy mountains and glorious ski trips. For those who have cabins in the mountains, or skis - or money. When I came back to Norway in 1981, I learned over the next five years how important the Easter tan is for status: Post-Easter you'd see chocolate brown faces and hands in bright white sweaters. A successful Easter holiday! They'd happily slide a sleeve up to show you the original winter-white skin just so you could just how fantastic their holiday had been.

Fortunately, the combination of increased awareness of skin cancer and an increasingly urban (and lazy) population made showing up flaky and snow blind at the lunch table less common. But Easter was still about as excruciating as I remembered it.

Easter can be wonderful. A mini-vacation, often extended by taking the preceding Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off as well, which school kids do. But if you are stuck in your home (and it's raining), it could be boring and annoying - because not only was there no daytime TV to speak of, but they changed the menu to something wholesome and holiday-related. There was one reprieve, late in the evening: The Easter mystery. Each channel runs a mini-series on TV, and this is usually when I got my dose of PD James and her detective Dalgliesh or Ruth Rendell and her Wexford. Nowadays the novelty has worn off; we are served up mysteries and murders every night, but Easter still reigns as the time to do some sleuthing. This is also obvious in the bookstores: The proper Easter reading fare for when you are snowed in and not getting a tan is some mystery or other. Even the Norwegians aren't too sure why murder and mayhem comes at Easter, but since I love detective stories, I'm happy for this particular tradition.

As we entered the 21st century, Norway no longer remained as shut down for the holidays. Now, gas stations and movie theaters and 7-11 type places are open every day of Easter and whole malls are open on Easter Eve, not just the grocery stores. You still have to beware of the early closing on Wednesday; myself, I work half day at the office that day.

PS: In trying to verify how to spell maundy, I searched for "mondy" and got my own post from 2006 on Easter as the top hit. What are the odds?

Mar 11, 2008

Bloggie Award winners have been announced

I'm not necessarily in touch with everyone else so I did not pick all the winners. I did pick some winners, though:

  • best web application for weblogs Blogger.
  • best canadian weblog - The Redneck Mommy I enjoy this blog so it'll continue to be a regular read.
  • best photography of a weblog - I Can Has Cheezburger This has become a "Why didn't I check this out before???" because it makes me laugh. Out loud. For real. I Can Has A Noo Addikshun.
  • best art or craft weblog - Post Secret It's as fascinating as a train wreck so I still read it.
  • best fashion weblog - Go Fug Yourself Yeah, I got hooked looking at the people who have stylists look no better than I do. I still read.
  • best gossip weblog - Dlisted So I picked a winner. I gave up reading it after a couple of weeks.
  • best teen weblog - Sarcastica I'm losing interest, but blame my age, not her writing.
  • best writing of a weblog - Confessions of a Pioneer Woman This one has become one of my favorites. For those of you who like to read about food, check out The Pioneer Woman Cooks (which won a Bloggie, too). I'm actually trying her Asian noodle salad.
  • lifetime achievement - Dooce No surprise there.

I monitored my picks for a while. Here are the ones not mentioned above that I voted for and now have as regular reads, Bloggie or not:

  • best australian or new zealand weblog - Tokyo Girl Down Under. I read all of her archives. We'll see how long I stay with her now that she's distracted by her arms. (She got MS.)
  • best european weblog - Iceland Weather Report Still reading this one, partly because I keep learning about Iceland and a few other things.
  • best americanUS weblog - Lifehacker I pick and choose which posts to read.
  • best food weblog - Gluten Free Girl Gluten Free Girl is still a good writer, but I haven't tried a single dish. She's still in my feed.
  • best sports weblog - Up In Alaska This blog got me totally hooked. You have got to read about this woman's biking the Iditarod Trail Invitational.
  • best topical weblog - The Consumerist I've kept this in my feed but I pick and choose which posts to read.
  • most humorous weblog - Cute Overload Still my personal addiction.
  • best group weblog - The Consumerist See above.
  • best-kept secret weblog - That Night Still reading. May keep doing so.

Mar 10, 2008

Hrmph

Hrmph 1: I had an upset tummy all weekend, and diarrhea. I felt weak from it and called in sick today. I searched the 'net for information about the herbal supplements, was relieved to discover that they truly are harmless but that it may be necessary to cut the dose if one gets diarrhea. The pills are for cleansing the gut and moving any constipation, but surely my gut is cleaned out by now. I cut my dosage today, from 6 daily pills to 4, and ran to the bathroom only once. The 'net also said I should stick to a vegetarian diet and avoid sugar as well as milk. However, my acupuncturist never told me any of that (except for the avoid milk part). Not a confidence builder, that. I'll see her again on Monday, and decide then if I should continue seeing her.

Hrmph 2: I don't like criticizing people. Bringing up my dissatisfaction with my acupuncturist's lack of information is not something I look forward to. But, it may very well be that we do not communicate well, that not only did she not tell me everything I needed to know, but I may not have told her everything she needed to know. But who knew?

Hrmph 3: Blogging daily. I feel - dissatisfied. I lead a very quiet life so you, my dear reader, just got the same topic that is so popular in nursing homes: Bowel movements (subtitled: What Are They and Can I Get Some?) I also depend on my mood for inspiration. I've never thought of myself as a Moon child (influenced by the Moon) but I can tell by my own introvert-extrovert cycle what sign the Moon is in. Some days I'm an extrovert, other days I'm an introvert and on those latter days, I don't want to tell nobody nothing. But Blog365 makes me, and now I'm wondering if my simple posts, my uninspired "must says" (this is one of them; sorry about the digestion mention) are worth it. The truth is, I want to offer something more - substantial. I read other people's blogs and some are so inspiring, are so well-written, and that's really what I want to offer. But with this daily schedule I no longer have the luxury of just resting, waiting for inspiration and/or spending a few days polishing a post. Now I end up doing a quick hunt for something - anything - to post. It's not what I want to do to my readers. I miss feeling inspired, feeling that I need to write, to tell you something. Right now, this feels like a chore. Posting daily without having daily things to tell sucks, and I'm sure it shows in my writing.

Mar 9, 2008

Dancing with the co-workers

There was a party Friday night at work. In a world where all the workers who never get anything extra are expected to cut costs, er, in a world where we delight in helping our employer earn a bigger and bigger profit, the section my department belongs to managed to save NOK 6 million in 2007. And for that, we got an unscheduled (as in, not on the budget) party.

I wasn't really in a party mood, being more in the mood for staying at home in comfy clothes front of the TV, but affirmed on my way to the party that I would be delightful. I knew that if others enjoyed my company, I would enjoy theirs.

I was right. My boss commented on it. Said I was "holding up well". Dancing. Socializing. Staying. To my surprise, I was among the last to leave. I left at 1:20-ish AM, after assuming I'd be out of there by 10 PM-ish.

Many of the people at the party were the same people who had been invited to my anniversary party. The RSVP date was Friday. I wondered if I should "sell" myself in some way, and then decided to just enjoy myself, no pressure. Just be happy.

We did have a organizing committee for Friday's party and they decided we had to do more than eat and drink, so they announced we would do our own version of "Dancing with the Stars". Eight couples were picked by drawing names out of a hat (and since that is the way my life is, I knew I would be picked and I was), and then we drew which dance to perform for the "judges". I got to dance boogie-woogie with one of the janitors and we danced a more 50's style swing, so we didn't win.

Before the contest, we were waiting for the couples who were trying to learn the paso doble in 10 minutes (make that 20), so one of the committee members donned cowgirl gear to teach us a dance. That's when I realized I had misheard her. I heard "reinlender" (Schottish), which I know very well and enjoy, when what she had said was "line dance".

I suck at pedal co-ordination. It's the funniest thing: I am Ginger Rogers in the arms of a man on the floor, but on my own, I have absolutely no brain-eye-foot coordination. For this reason I flunked jazz dance but aced modern, and I always stood in the rear during aerobics so as not to share my confusion. There is something amiss with me because it also took me four months to learn to waltz, a dance others kept telling me was "easy". But now I can waltz! Still, I made an effort to learn the line dance. I think it would have been fun if we all got the hang of a good line dance. I think it would have been fun if I got the hang of it after six tries rather than still stumbling around after twelve. My consolation is that I was the only one still willing to try at that point.

The party started to lull after our competition and a round of cake and coffee, so somebody scrounged around and found music to dance to. The majority does love to dance, so I spent the rest of the evening being Ginger Rogers with several Fred Astairs.

And that probably explains why I didn't leave until well past 1, tired but happy.

Mar 8, 2008

Pizza and beer

I did go to the party last night and my stomach is not entirely cooperative, but I nevertheless enjoyed the pizza and beer, the cake and coffee, and our take on "Dancing with the Stars" as well as all the beer. Since I didn't get home until well past 1:30 am, I'm not feeling spunky today, so I offer you pizza and beer as personalities:

Cheese Pizza
Traditional and comforting.
You focus on living a quality life.
You're not easily impressed with novelty.
Yet, you easily impress others.

You Are Guinness
You know beer well, and you'll only drink the best beers in the world.
Watered down beers disgust you, as do the people who drink them.
When you drink, you tend to become a bit of a know it all - especially about subjects you don't know well.
But your friends tolerate your drunken ways, because you introduce them to the best beers around.

For the record: I did impress some people last night at the party, and I do enjoy Guinness. However, I do not care for plain cheese pizza nor do I know anything about beer. I just happen to prefer pizza and beer to champagne and caviar.

Mar 7, 2008

What it looked like just days before

Sunday I was in the city, and while waiting for the bus outside our bus station, snapped a few pictures. You are looking at one of the main roads in and out of town. The big structure is a parking garage (cheapest in town) and if you look behind it, you can just make out the top of our city's tallest mountain, Ulriken, covered in snow. It's the white pointy thing with the TV mast on top, to the left of the blue structure (which is an elevator shaft) on the parking garage. As you can see, with the exception of Ulriken, we didn't have chaotic snow. We were actually experimenting with spring.

The national differences in road design and marking fascinate me. There are so many different ways to do signs and dividing lines. Signs that tell you which lane to be in for a certain destination are green with white lettering where I come from (California) and gold with black lettering in Norway. Here, a solid line to show no passing is allowed is actually a dashed line with a very small space between the dashes, versus the version that does allow passing which has a much wider space between dashes. I assume this bit of possible confusion for a foreign motorist is just a way to save on paint. I don't actually know why it is the way it is. The Norwegians are simply fond of dashes, it seems. To show where the road ends and the shoulder begins, they paint a white dashed line. I do remember there being some logic to that along the lines (!) of the dashing showing that one was allowed to cross that line to pull over or something. Like the "solid" line showing "no passing" would actually prevent your wheels from crossing it. (Since it doesn't, we've had a few bad accidents lately, a prohibition on overtaking and passing traffic in tunnels has been suggested.)

If you follow the lane marked "Sotra", you will eventually get to a sign marked "Fyllingsdalen", which is where I live. You get to go through a tunnel, over a bridge, and through another tunnel. If you're lucky, you get to see a gorgeous sunset over the city fjord.

This day happened to be the 11th day so far this year of fairly clear skies. (No wonder I've been feeling blah.) And I saw a bit of beautiful sky while waiting for the bus, which why I took these pictures in the first place.

Mar 6, 2008

I was one of the lucky ones

All that snow-drama I experienced yesterday turned out to be peanuts compared to what happened to some other people. Today's newspapers could tell us that yesterday's meteorological chaos was the worst since the 1970's. Well, no wonder some busses never came, and some people were forced to walk home, and some parents never got to deliver their kids to the daycare center (which may explain yesterday's cold and wet father and son).

So I was truly one of the lucky ones. My move through life and traffic flowed easily and quickly - relatively speaking.

In other news, I've started taking the nasty-tasting pills my acupuncturist gave me. Aspirin is bitter but this stuff is worse than bitter and it doesn't matter where I place the pills on my tongue - this incredibly nasty taste spreads through my whole mouth. But it's having an effect. The acupuncturist said that I would probably re-visit earlier physical problems in reverse order (like last in, first out). She was right. I'm feeling feverish and queasy now. Sheesh!

It had better be gone tomorrow because I have a party to go to tomorrow evening.

Mar 5, 2008

White misery, wet misery

Today's schedule was supposed to look like this:

14:23 (That's 2:23 pm to you 24-hour clock challenged people) Bus leaves for town
14:45 Arrive in town
14:55 Arrive for 3 pm acupuncture session
15:00 Needleless acupuncture
15:55 Acupuncture over
16:00 A bit of shopping
16:25 Bus home
16:50 Arrive home

What actually happened was that we got all of our missing winter in one day. I was on time for the 14:23 bus, having first slogged my way over unplowed sidewalks covered in heavy 6 inch snow. On my way, I passed by our co-op's janitor, who was helping to tow the maintainance crew's van to the road. Their tires simply had no bite in the thick, loose snow.

At the bus stop, the wait for the bus got longer and longer. We theorized that our bus was stuck at the stop before ours which is halfway up a long slope that can be quite slippery in winter. While I was waiting, a small plow machine showed up and cleared the sidewalk in front of our bus stop. We were three passengers who kept waiting for the bus, sheltered from the snow and wind gusts, sometimes chatting with each other. The little plow had scraped the snow away down to the dirt and shoved muddy snow along the sidewalk. By the time the next bus showed up, the sidewalk was completely white again. And my feet were cold.

View from my bus stop today

Gratefully, we got on the bus that had left its end station at 14:43. It arrived at our stop at 14:47. Our driver was a very cheerful and helpful Indian man I'd ridden with a few times before. I had called the acupuncturist around 14:40 to let them know I would be late, but wasn't sure they got my message since I was suddenly cut off. On the bus, safe and dry and warm, I called again, and got the woman who was to treat me. She told me to show up whenever because she'd already had a couple of cancellations due to the weather.

Norwegians rarely let weather stop them. At most they cancel a ferry or close a mountain road. The rest of us are expected to show up for work or school or appointments regardless of what the weather gods are doing. So I was wondering if cancelling would be forgiven or not. It looked like I could have. Still, I was curious about the acupuncturist and now that I was on the bus, on my way to the city, I figured it would be a nice afternoon.

Two stops on, the bus's engine stopped.

I figured if we going to be stuck, it was good that we were stuck just a few minutes' walk from home.

Our Indian driver got the bus started and we drove slowly in the piling snow to the main road. There we hit traffic. Snow does to Bergen what rain does to Los Angeles: It paralyzes traffic. This time, though, it wasn't just being surprised by white stuff (honestly, you sometimes have to wonder if people are aware that a) it's winter and b) Bergen is at 60 degrees north because they always seem to be caught off guard when it snows). This time, the plows had plowed the road, but the snow kept coming down, undoing the plowing.

We crawled towards the tunnel between us and the bridge, and once inside the tunnel, our driver gunned it. The advantage to a tunnel is that it doesn't get snow.

I got off the bus in town, and slogged my way through another unplowed 6 inches of snow, umbrella up shielding me from both snow and wind.

The acupuncturist's office was in the same building as my orthodontist had been when I was a kid with a retainer. I rode in the elevator with a mother and daughter who had pushed "6", and realized that the orthodontists were still on that floor. I got off on the third, blew my nose, and went in.

My acupuncturist, a wonky-eyed but very pleasant woman named Gro, remeasured me. This time my bladder and spleen qi were not completely depleated. I had more energy than what she'd found at the new age fair. I told her my main problem was my digestion, and a surprisingly stubborn constipation. She said she'd work to top off depleated qi and that I needed to cleanse my gut. She used an electronic device to stimulate the acupuncture points on arms, hands, toes and ears, rather than stab me with actual needles. The device worked by giving off a light in the same frequency given off by moxibustion. I can't tell you if there was an immediate effect; I didn't notice any. I did enjoy relaxing for a bit.

Gro sold me Norwegian herbs to take for the cleansing (intestines and bladder). Chinese herbs are forbidden in Norway, and they did try importing directly from Denmark to patients, but it got too complicated. So they looked for Norwegian equivalents. The dose I've been given is 6 of each kind of tablet a day (3 at a time), which is higher than the recommended dose on the box, and will give me about 11 days of cleansing, during which time I should avoid smoked or cured foods and preferably also dairy. The pills are essentially diuretic, anti-bacterial and laxative.

I left the acupuncturist's at 16:15, exiting the building into driving rain.

Oh, joy.

Anybody who thinks hell is heat and fire, hasn't had the challenge of experiencing a half foot of snow in heavy rain. Still, I was among the best dressed. I was dressed for snow (wool coat, lambskin boots which had been waterproofed), and had an umbrella. And thank goodness for that.

There was a large crowd at my bus stop, and as the minutes past, I began to realize that the missing bus from earlier in the afternoon was still missing. The 16:25 never showed. In fact, I didn't get on a bus until 17:16.

In the meantime, I stood rooted to the spot, relying on others to navigate around me without bumping into my umbrella or slipping on the wet and slick trampled snow. Several busses past by with snow chains clanking against the cobblestones. I spent my time looking at the others waiting.

When I was a kid, we all dressed according to the season. Norwegians don't do that (as much), any more.

For a while I watched the white-haired man with the button-nose and florid skin, visibly shivering in the icy rain. He had on a baseball cap, a canvas jacket soaked through except for where the hand in his pocket shielded it, jeans and trainers. The cold rain was pelting his ears, running down his neck and down the back of one jean's leg, soaking its entire length. Even if he had been expecting snow, he was badly underdressed. I figured that maybe he had been expecting a car. He looked miserable but never sought out the bus shelter for a roof over his head.

A woman in her late 30's was dressed in the new style of skin tight pants, with matching skin tight boots with long, pointed toes. Her black down jacket with a hood looked waterproofed. Rain was running down it in. Her hands were in its pockets, pulling it tight over her rear. That let the rain make her butt all wet. As we continued to wait for the bus, I noticed that her thighs were acquiring that dark, wet look, too, so she no longer looked like she'd pissed herself.

In case you're wondering where Norwegians get the idea that weather is never to stop you, it starts when they are young. A tall father with his one-year-old in a seat on his back, both getting the driving, freezing rain in their faces, made his way into the crowded roofed waiting area. Junior, however, was already miserable and wouldn't stop crying. I last spotted them across the street, sheltering in a doorway, while Junior wailed, and Dad fished out dry mittens to put on his child.

A teenage girl skittered past me, shocking me with sneakers and naked ankles. I wondered if her mother knew her daughter had left home dressed for a summer walk. I wondered if Mom had any say at all. I felt cold seeing that bare skin in this weather.

Another woman balanced precariously along the edge of the sidewalk, on the slick, wet, packed slush, hampered by her boots' tiny pointed heels (and probably slippery soles). She wasn't the only one in footwear more suited for the office than a wintry walk.

Finally, the bus came. Same Indian driver. Nobody was mad at him. Everybody understood. Several passengers made witty remarks about the lateness, the weather. I joked that it was nice he came to take us back home. He chuckled. The line to get on was very long. I realized it was one of those rare times where I would have to stand on the bus. I say rare, because I am hardly ever on the bus during rush hour. This time I was at the very rear, and the large, wet rucksack of a college student standing in front of me was trying to lean against my chest. I asked the young man if he could move forward a bit. He cheerfully turned around to face me and solved the problem.

He was drenched. He said he'd been waiting for this bus for an hour and 10 minutes at the bus station and had finally abandoned that stop and walked to ours to see if he could catch a different line home. The bus station stop was next and he said that we were going to be crowded because there had been about 30 people waiting. We'll have room, I said, because there are always people who get off at the bus station. And what if nobody gets off, asked the college boy. Then you and I get even better acquainted, I replied, and he laughed.

But people did get off the bus. I got a seat. College boy found a seat next to someone he knew and talked to her.

Traffic was slow and heavy going home. Out of the city, we moved at a regular speed, but the moment we entered the tunnel, everything slowed to a crawl. A two minute drive through our tunnel lasted 15.

As I got off the bus, I could feel that my feet were wet. Stepping into unavoidable puddles and standing in the rain was no match for the waterproofing spray I'd used. I could hardly wait to get in my own door, peel off the wet and eat.

Entering said door happened at 17:47. No wonder I was hungry!

Irony being a universal phenomenon, this slush would normally freeze. Fortunately, the meteorologists are not promising freezing temperatures until tomorrow night. They are also forecasting some sun tomorrow. With any luck, most of this crap will disappear then.

I'll let you in a secret: I actually enjoyed it all.

Mar 4, 2008

Green is just another way to make money

People who want to make a positive difference in the world try to do what they can to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. But they're being made to pay for their choices. Literally.

Currently, we in the west are being told all about global warming, carbon footprints and the need to think green. I spent my teen years in Los Angeles, right after the catalytic converter was made mandatory, and during the oil crunch of '79, where it actually got to be a game to see just how far we really could make a car go on one gallon of gas, both to offset the rising price of fuel, and to reduce emissions. And I was already aware of the advantages of organic farming.

It's 30 years later, and apparently, neither Detroit nor the west at large has learned a thing. The powers that be have nevertheless managed to prey on our individual consciences (ignoring their own role in the current state of affairs), and encourage each of us to do things like avoid plastic bags and use, say, paper ones instead.

To which I say: Bullshit. Because you know what? Plastic bags here at my local grocery store cost half what the paper bags cost and are far more practical in our wet weather. So if the global warming crowd doesn't want me to ever use plastic bags again, either ban them, or make the alternative far more attractive. I already pay more for organic food at my store, and this in spite of organic being a cheaper way to farm, and now I'm supposed to pay more for something that's going to immediately join my newspapers in the recycle bin? (Plastic bags get reused umpteen times before they finally find their way to the garbage dump.) I don't think so.

Quit making me pay for trying to help.

Mar 3, 2008

Boots and feet

Back in the day when England was less expensive and Norwegians less exposed to the good things in life (like more than one kind of toilet paper), we girls were thrilled to find a Boots store when on the opposite side of the North Sea because that meant stocking up on items not easily available in Norway (at the time) or that cost more.

A few weeks ago, I had seen a sign advertising for the familiar British "chemist's", and the thought that Boots was finally coming to someplace near me wandered idly and a bit happily through my brain only to get dislodged by the regular trivia that dwells there and forgotten.

For my acupuncture date on Wednesday I have decided to make my feet more presentable because they have said they will ask me to take my shoes off and that meant getting a hard-working foot cream. Since I also wanted more fluoride to rinse with I decided to stop at our local drugstore, AKA the apothecary or chemist's.

And that's when I discovered exactly where the Boots' store was. My good ol' drug store had restyled itself completely, put in both more lighting, good posting of prices and a lot of sensible rows of shelves (you should have seen how cluttered it used to be and that was after another remodelling - and you would have seen had I thought to take a picture). It's so bright! And clean! And shiny! Whee! (The big sign is an ad for an anti-aging serum that promises to actually work.)

And I got my foot cream, my fluoride and just for good measure, a pair of new inner soles for my boots, aptly Boots brand.

Mar 2, 2008

60 minutes of New Age Fair

One thing that has been is consistently popular since 1996, is the new age fair (or "alternative convention", as it is actually called). Several major cities in Norway hold one each year, and this time of year is when Bergen's has its fair. It is always popular.

A former co-worker had a gift for sensing things her five senses couldn't sense and eventually took a daring step and turned her ability into a business. She tested the waters about 10 years ago at our new age fair, giving Tarot card readings at a friend's booth. A couple of years later, I got to give astrology readings at the same booth. Heady fun! But I gave it up. I don't have the mindset for that sort of thing; I get bored when three different people ask me the exact same question. My friend, however, finds it thrilling, and turned her Tarot card reading into a full-time job, quitting her nine-to-five for good.

I ran into my Tarot-reading friend, who has legally changed her name to Hope, earlier this week, and took that as a sign, because we've actually been out of touch for about four years. This weekend, my free month's worth of newspapers started arriving, too, and what do you know: My friend again, in a nice spread in Saturday's paper. So I told her I'd see her at the fair, partly to lend her my copy of the DVD "The Secret", since she'd mentioned reading the book and being curious about the movie.

The fair is held in our concert hall, which doubles as a convention hall. About 150 booths, umpteen lectures and talks each of the three days, and quite the crowd of people. I ran into a neighbor who was so happy about the good vibes this year! I noticed that some old stand-bys were not present, that other regulars had changed places, and that even the numbering of the booths on the map had changed. Numerology probably played a part in changing the vibrations, and maybe so did changing the color of the convention aids' T-shirts from a visible but unflattering sun yellow to a regular red.

So I buzzed by the booths, marveling at the choices in decor so many "psychics" choose (and people think I have bad taste for liking tigers painted on black velvet) and came to yet another change: Hope's usually dark blue booth was now plain white and rather tiny, but offered privacy for the customer during the reading thanks to a strategically placed white curtain (probably drawn back in the newspaper photo). Next door was her friend Malu, who had lent Hope the booth space back when. Malu's decor had changed from various drapings of blue crushed velvet, to a calmer and uncluttered look with soft pink tulle as her backdrop.

I finished the organic, freshly-made carrot juice I had purchased (discovering it left an after-taste in my mouth; that was disappointing), and walked down another row of booths. One booth was offering all sorts of Feng Shui trinkets, but I got rather overwhelmed (do I need protection? Better memory? A lover? All three? Something else entirely?) so bought nothing. I did buy the movie about Neale Donald Walsch and his "Conversations with God"). Another booth was set up by an acupuncture practice in town, one I had seen in our yellow pages, because I had been looking for something that may help me with my digestion. I paid my NOK 200 and had points around my cuticles on my fingers and toes prodded, and was told that my bladder qi and liver qi were very low. So, since I had planned on checking them out anyway, I made an appointment for Wednesday at 3 pm to get needleless acupuncture. My plan is to use my monthly Wednesday off for treatments until the summer.

All in all, I spent exactly one hour at the fair. When this all first started, I could spend hours; I was still looking for books, Tarot cards, fellow astrologers, fellow metaphysicians, curious about my aura, my future, the lines in my hands. Now it's both comfortably familiar and largely irrelevant, though seeing several familiar faces and exchanging smiles is always nice.

I sometimes have to remind myself that the cow was once a calf (as the Norwegians say) when I meet "newbies" who are checking out everything at such fairs, looking for answers, looking for the answer. I shouldn't shoot them down right away. After all, I enjoyed such searching myself at one time. I still search; I just don't look out there any more. I look within because I now know there's little money can buy that'll matter. But looking within isn't as much fun as having some man with large, intense eyes and ditto aura about him tell you what a beautiful soul and vessel for it you have.

Hmmm... I wouldn't mind a repeat of that, come to think of it.