Apr 29, 2008

Sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G

Sunday morning I was making myself coffee, when I noticed a starling couple on the lawn outside my kitchen window. Both birds were pecking away at the ground, looking for edibles. Suddenly, the female hurried over to the male, they "kissed" (touched beaks), then the male mounted the female - for one second. (Had I blinked, you wouldn't be reading this.) Then the male moved about 4 feet away and the female followed him, keeping that distance between them. Even in a tree, they keep that distance:

This may be the same couple of birds, spotted this afternoon. Here are some close-ups of the male (more uniformly black with some a gorgeous iridescent "ruff") and the browner, far more speckled female.

Apr 28, 2008

Tableaus at the bus stop(s)

Today I rediscovered the joy of being forced to stand still for a few minutes and do nothing but wait.

The waiting was for the bus. I worked late today, and since it was both windy and raining and I wasn't really dressed for both wind and rain, I decided to take the bus home.

I stood in the entry area of my office building, keeping out of the rain along with co-workers who were taking a cigarette break. On the wall next to me hangs a sign which reads "No smoking by entrance".

Two of the smokers were actually waiting for a taxi. When one showed up at the taxi stand, they headed for it. That's when I noticed that the long black fence between the taxi area and the street had a gap. The fence is simple, with two horizontal rails placed at heights that make it uncomfortable to crawl under or step over, and the only way to get its other side is to take the long way round, which is also where the cross walk is. I had noticed earlier that a bottom railing had been broken, encouraging people to take the direct route and stoop under, rather than walk to the cross walk and around the railing. Now the top railing was gone, too, and the two smokers had an almost straight line to the waiting taxi.

Just after the taxi pulled out, an elderly woman wearing a plastic head scarf keeping her hair dry pushed a shopping cart with her shopping to the shelter set up for waiting fares. She didn't have a long wait. Another car pulled in but didn't stop next to the waiting area. The woman got up and left the bench in the shelter, pushing the cart. The taxi pulled up closer and the driver got out and opened the door to the back seat. He then went to the woman's cart and started gathering up all her grocery bags and a bag from the shoe store. As he did, he told the woman that he hadn't seen her. While he was storing the bags in the taxi, the old woman looked for some place to park the shopping cart. The driver told her to just leave it. I knew what she wanted: To retrieve her 10-krone coin from the cart. Norwegian supermarkets have coin-operated shopping carts to keep people from stealing them. The old woman's attempts at getting her money back (which you do when the cart is slid into another cart) did not surprise me. The driver told her to just leave it as there were no other carts to join it with. The old woman then walked slowly but unaided to the car, and stiffly, while hunting for something to leverage herself with, she managed to seat herself in the rear, next to her shopping.

A little girl ran by on the sidewalk, on her toes, in pink trainers. I guessed she was trying to avoid back-splatter on her legs, which were covered in pale pink tights. I remember running like that myself as a kid.

The bus came, and I got on. As we pulled out, another taxi drove up, and the driver entered the little glass-and-metal shed the drivers can wait in. It has a keypad lock, and he swiped a card and punched in his code, and in one fluid, well-rehearsed movement, jammed an equally well-rehearsed plastic bottle in the door jamb. The well-used, waisted bottle kept the door open a few inches. I have seen the door jammed that way before. I imagine the air is pretty stifling in a tin can like that shed.

The bus stopped at a stop across from the local soccer field. It was obvious that a match was on. A long row of cars were parked along the side of the road, with two wheels on the sidewalk and two on the road, a European method of parking necessitated by narrow, medieval streets. New cars kept arriving, unloading kids, then manouvering into any available space.

Apr 27, 2008

Neither here nor there

Nicole B. has invited me to join InterNations, a sort of Facebook for expatriates, wherein one, among other things, can "Find reliable information and tips from other members about your local living environment". That sort of thing makes me balk.

Merlyn Trey Hunter has written about the culture shock a foreigner typically experiences when adjusting to a new country.

Interestingly, Nicole B. has left a rather aggressive comment on the whole matter of being foreign at Trey's.

Are they wrong to have such negative reactions? Heavens, no. You can't go by me, you see. I have felt some of the alienation and frustration but rarely more than a twinge. This is because I have spent part of my childhood in both California and in Norway, and so I've never had to struggle with either language or either culture as an adult. I have some of the common cultural rites of passage necessary for "getting" what bonds people, like grade school and having only one TV station in Norway when I was a kid, or teen car driving and high school in the US, common denominators that make all Americans smile with delight or roll their eyes. I am familiar with both macaroni and cheese and "pølse og potetstappe" (sausage and mashed potatoes, and preferably a lot of ketchup on both).

OK, back to that InterNations thing Nicole wants me to join. When I read that part about sharing information and tips, I drew a blank. It's that sort of thing that makes me feel I don't have anything to offer. (So I'm still undecided, Nicole.)

You see, I live in Norway like a Norwegian. With the exception of getting a visa stamped in my passport and not being able to vote in national elections, I have never not lived in Norway like a Norwegian. I went to a Norwegian school. I have the characteristic TB vaccination scar on my upper arm that every Norwegian my age has. I speak not only the language but the local dialect. I am employed like a Norwegian and I live like the Norwegians do. Nobody here pegs me as a foreigner when they hear me, and if my name baffles them, they often assume I'm married to a foreigner.

That's how assimilated I am.

You know where I'm a baffled foreigner? In the US. Every time I go on vacation in my native country, I have to ask friends how much to tip, or what is this item on the menu, or how do I use the phone, or what would appropriate dress be for the occassion and exactly how big is a medium ohnonono, give me the small, I can't drink all that. And if I have to ask a stranger, like asking the barista at Starbuck's what size a medium coffee is, I'll get a funny look, because they just can't marry the perfect American accent to a question only someone recently escaped from a lifetime in a religious sect would ask. So I have the odd experience of feeling stupid when I visit my own country.

However, I spent years being stupid in Norway (a second-cousin laughed her head off at me trying to understand the proper use of "Takk skal du ha" (literally: thanks shall you have) and I still remember understanding the humiliation but not the problem, as it were, and the ensuing fight in the kitchen which ended when my aunt said she was making waffles so stop that) so I generally shrug such things off. Which is also why I have been spared 90% of the culture shock Trey talks about.

I am reminded of the old woman who boarded the bus in town one day. She asked the bus driver, "Går denne bussen til post officen?" She wanted to know if the bus stopped at the post office, and used the English word for "office" in an otherwise flawless Norwegian question. In an instant, we all had her pegged as a returning emigrant. I will be her in 40 years, baffling everyone with my perfect accent - Californian or Bergen - and very imperfect questions. Or maybe I don't have to wait that long:

In 2001 I was introduced to frappuccinos during a visit to Rhode Island. What a yummy treat in hot weather: Iced cappuccino! When I saw a Starbuck's in Vienna on a hot day in 2006, I went in there to get a frappuccino. They asked me what flavor. I stuttered that I didn't know they had flavors. Oh, yes, they did. I was so unprepared for the question, I almost yelled, "I want the normal kind!" The barista didn't understand. She pointed to the menu, but all I saw were the different flavors. Eventually, she understood I wanted no flavors and only when I was a bit calmer and at the cash register, did I see at the bottom of the list a flavor called "original".

Once again, my perfect American accent failed at conveying that I am not your typical American tourist - or even your typical American.

Does this bus stop at the post kontor?

Apr 26, 2008

Blackjack

Taken from Paula.

  1. What was the last blog you left a comment on?
    Victoria's.
  2. Favorite black and white movie?
    Young Frankenstein, which has the distinction of being the first movie I laughed out loud at in a movie theater.
  3. What’s in your freezer right now?
    Assorted veggie mixes, left-over chili, bread. My freezer's actually too small for my current needs.
  4. How many pillows do you have on your bed?
    Only the two relatively flat ones I sleep with. I don't get that whole smother-the-bed-in-pillows thing.
  5. Do you regularly share your bed with anyone?
    Only dust mites.
  6. Do you sleep in pajamas, undies, nude, or other?
    Other, which means either nightgown or T-shirt. I cannot sleep with a draft on my shoulders.
  7. If you won $50,000, what would you do with it?
    Pay off my mortgage and take a year off work.
  8. Something nice you did for someone today?
    That would be myself. I had a nice soak in the tub and had a lovely meditation while I was there.
  9. Something bad you did to someone today?
    Myself again, until my meditation straightened me out.
  10. Hardest class you took in school?
    The first that springs to mind is American Government because we were over-crowded and under-taught and I got my only D in high school. But honestly, it was my 8 am typing class in my junior year in high school. I got detention several times because I just couldn't show up on time.
  11. Ever been in a car accident?
    No.
  12. What is one food you won’t eat?
    My first thought was deep-fried spiders, but I think actually it's anything that's still able to move around on my plate.
  13. Why?
    Why do you think?!?
  14. Would you ever eat dog meat?
    Sure.
  15. What is something as a child you wanted to grow up to become, but didn’t?
    Stewardess. Just as well.
  16. Name one place in the US you haven’t seen but want to?
    Tennessee.
  17. Name one place outside the US?
    Lisbon.
  18. Favorite smells?
    Huh? Smells? Oh, uh... Wait, I know! Pumpkin pie! And roses.
  19. If you could pick any game show to compete on, which would it be?
    Hollywood Squares. They don't have that in Norway. May have something to do with not having Hollywood, either.
  20. Where did you go on your last real vacation and who did you go with?
    Such a US-centric question. All Europeans take real vacations. The one I had last year lasted three whole weeks and took place in Alaska, Canada, Nevada and California, mainly with my mother.
  21. Your best birthday was for which age?
    All of them. Every last one is a good one.

Apr 25, 2008

Finally - signs of spring

Sometimes I have to remind myself it's still only April. But we seem to be really wanting spring this year. Or maybe I'm just getting old. Naw, we really want spring. That's it. We had a very dreary winter. We want light and flowers now.

Bergen just had a nine-day run of sunny weather (and the accompanying brush fires). That coaxed a number of plants into budding including the cherry tree and birch tree right outside my living room windows.

The cherry tree is just starting to bud. The flowers will be pink and the buds have a rose sheen to them.

The birch tree has, just in the last 24 hours, busted out in delicate fresh points of green, known around here as "mouse ears" because of their shape.

The nice thing about winter is that you can see through the trees, and get views impossible in the summer. The nice thing about summer is all the lush foliage that can block other stuff from view. Every season has its charm.

Apr 24, 2008

Bliss to pay

I've had a four-month grace period on the credit card I got to buy my new iMac with. I now have a choice: Pay the whole thing off, interest-free, or start in with monthly payments and interest.

There is definitely some Capricorn/Cancer in me because a part of me is saying "No!" to paying it all off because that will deplete my savings account! My wonderful fat-and-supposed-to-get-fatter savings account! It's going to take months and months to get it back up to today's level if I pay all that bill off now! And I'll lose interest! Whiiine!

Thank goodness for the voice of reason. I have no clue where it comes from or if it even has an astrological association, but I like the way it sounds, all calm and manly firm and reasonable. It's saying that if I owe myself the money instead, as it were, I won't be charged interest; I will instead slowly regain it, with interest increasing right along - a lovely win-win situation. Are you listening, Keera?

Yeah, I'm listening.

Finances. Before I was all into this business of having a savings account (started that when I turned 40), financial decisions were so easy: "Money come" minus "money go". If that little equation left me with no or some money, all was well. If it left me in the red, reduce "money go". I'm the sort of person who will spend $500 in a day if she has it, or make $10 last 10 days, if necessary.

But there's another side to finances: Attitude. And I don't mean the attitude to the math part, but the attitude to money itself in the first place. Like my whine above. What exactly is the problem? I bought an item I could have paid cash for at the time by dipping into the savings account then, and it is an item I really wanted and that is giving me a lot of joy.

I was discussing financial attitudes with friends in e-mail and told this story about one method I had for psyching myself into a generous and positive attitude about paying bills: With the electric bill, for example, I would imagine that some father of three worked for the utilities company and my check was helping him take care of his family. It is a far better fantasy than imagining I'm going broke every month. And it's not like electricity is a negative. Try to do without! In my home, it not only powers my lights and refrigerator and TV and cell phone recharger; it is the reason I can even blog - and nowadays pay bills because it's done online now.

I don't have bills to pay; I have bliss to pay.

Apr 22, 2008

Snake and lobster and cat

It has been an exceptionally lovely day, warm enough to crowd the lawns of the parks with people in short-sleeved garments. I took this picture in our city park on my way to the Picasso exhibit. The Japanese cherry trees are starting to bud, and I like how the gardeners planted a yellow flower snake.

So this year Bergen is host to a Picasso exhibit. Our trade union likes to treat its members to a monthly dinner and talk and this time the talk was a guided tour of the exhibit. I was fascinated by the pure vata/ectomorph body of our guide and the bold statement she and the room made together, colorwise. The large painting on the left is on loan from New York's MOMA and is as wide as I am tall. Just thought you'd like to know.

The shadow this glass case cast on the wall was as much a work of art as the bust inside the case. (The bust is of one of Picasso's lovers, Françoise Gilot.)

I was not so fascinated by Picasso. I know he's famous and why, and I also know he was a damned good artist. I have simply never cared for either careful pen drawings or cubism or muted colors. It was actually rather fascinating to discover that Picasso offered little I would want on my own wall (based on this exhibit). One exception is the painting "Lobster and Cat". What's not to like about a blue lobster and a madly happy-looking cat?

Apr 21, 2008

Thankful for the magic

I'm currently reading "The Moses Code", and it's a fascinating experience. The book is about using "I am that I am" (God's name) and just saying that phrase puts me in a much calmer and happier frame of mind. In general, reading the book has that effect.

It's also reminding me that I am not alone, that I always am and always have been continuously guided. For example: As I went to bed Sunday evening, I noticed that my alarm clock wasn't showing the correct time. The battery is running down. I couldn't be bothered getting a fresh battery so I went and got my cell phone and used its alarm function. And that's when I realized the wonderful synchronicity of the alarm clock's timing: It was the only alarm I heard Saturday morning at 4:30 am. Had it not rung, I might not have had a pleasant half hour getting ready to meet Torleif for our birding adventure. I hadn't reacted to my cell phone's alarm which was set for 4:25. (Had to make sure I'd wake up, y'know.)

There have been some other things lately, other blessings, other little sparks of magic in the midst of a regular life (including tripping over "The Moses Code" itself). And it occurred to me that I must remember to be grateful, to truly appreciate what I have, what I get, what I am delighted by.

This blog post is my way of remembering to say thank you to the Universe. The blog itself is also a nice bit of magic, which gives me a lot of joy - and friends.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for visiting my blog.

Apr 20, 2008

Little blue dots of fun

I remember when I lived in Los Angeles, a friend of mine and I drove on the ridge of the Hollywood Hills on Mulholland Drive, a road that devolved into a gravel single lane at the ridge's narrowest part. We parked and got out and enjoyed the views to both The Valley to the north and the Los Angeles basin to the south. Looking down onto some newish (at the time) homes climbing up from the valley side, we noted each one had a pool. A bright cyan spot in varying ovoid and kidney shapes. Little blue ponds of prosperity, I called them. Pools are a far surer sign of wealth in California than the car a person drives. You not only have to be able to afford a house, but the land around it to accommodate a pool.

Odd blue dots showed up on this picture from Google Earth, from my friend Torleif's neighborhood. My first thought were pools (of course), but Norwegians don't do pools. Not the climate for them. I pondered a bit what in the world people would have by their homes and in the same color. Then it hit me: Trampolines. All the rage in Norwegian backyards. And similar to the pool, trampolines have a bit of a luxury label still. It takes a bit of land and a bit of money to have one, especially a large one, but no where near as much as a pool. Cheap fun!

Apr 19, 2008

The charms of dawn

For the third time, my birdwatching friend Torleif and I went to the recreational area and former fort called Kvarven, which looks out over the city harbor and fjord and various mountains and islands to the north and west. Those islands are what make Bergen a safe harbor, protected from the worst of the North Sea weather.

We were parked by 5:30 and on our way up the paved foot path. The woods on either side were full of sound. It was like standing in the middle of an orchestra as it played. Torleif is used to identifying birds by their song, the equivalent of being able to pick out each individual musician in the orchestra. I was in the position of not hearing the difference between a bass and cello or a sax and clarinet. But no matter. I could still stand in awe at being so completely surrounded by the sounds of birds, as the dawn sky slowly brightened from a yet unseen sun.

I had made the sandwiches, Torleif brought the coffee. Breakfast was at 6 am, with a view over the island Askøy, now attached to the mainland with a pretty bridge. The temperature was just above freezing and we had both put on wool underwear and lots of layered clothing. I also brought a blanket to put over my lap. We ate and talked and with occassional silences to listen to a bird.

After breakfast we hiked a little farther up, on narrow trails winding over rocks and through woods, to the spot we had hiked to last year. We had heard the sound of a black grouse cock, carried to us by the wind. We had hoped to see it, like we had the first time we went birdwatching at Kvarven together. No such luck. But by now the sun was up high enough to add some warmth, so we found some sunny rocks, and finished off the coffee.

We heard and saw oodles of European robins (not to be confused with American robins which are a type of thrush), and Torleif was amazed at the number. That didn't mean I was able to get a picture, though. This year, too, the most cooperative bird for this photographer was a greenfinch.

Apr 18, 2008

Wagtail prediction

One sign of spring around here is the return of the migratory bird, the white wagtail. It's a pretty common sight here in the summer, and it has a striking monochrome coloring, and that characteristic and cute flipping of the tail that gives it its English name. In Norwegian, it's called "linerle".

There is a superstition associated with the bird. Basically, you need to take note of where you see your first wagtail of the year. If on stoney ground, you'll have an unfavorable year. If on grass, you'll have a prosperous year. I know that superstitions should never take the place of good ol' common sense (and personal effort), and besides it's all just chance where the bird happens to be just when you happen to spot it, but I do take note. You never know, right?

I started making a note of where I see my first wagtail after I heard about it being a portent. So two springs in a row, I saw the bird on rock. First time was on a brick sidewalk (dumb bird had to hang around the mall just as I walked by, didn't it) and I assume that brick is a sort of rock; the following year I spotted the bird on the look-out rock by the pond. The black-and-white-and-gray bird looked good on the gray rock, which was nice; I think my year was less than fantastic, but I can't remember. One year I saw the bird in the dirt of a flower bed. I'm as clueless about what that means as what it means when you see the bird on wood, like I did last year, when I spotted my first wagtail sitting on a log. Half the time I think I should ignore them; they obviously didn't get the memo about using rocks and grass.

So imagine how happy I was today when I saw my first wagtail of the year, wagging its tail on grass! I know what that means!

It means I have to try to get a picture.

Apr 17, 2008

Hey, that's MY picture!

Look what I found on I Can Has Cheezburger just now: My "black cat crossing path" photo, now wiff kapshun.

So I sent them this e-mail:

Hi!

This is my photograph. I did let a student use it for a collage, 
and I guess somebody found it and LOLCatted it (is LOLCat a 
verb? It is now). I'm OK with that, but I would be tickled if you 
credited me as the photographer. Thanks!

Keera Ann Fox, Norway

Stay tuned! Whoo, got a reply already!

Thx so much for letting us know!

We have updated the picture with your name as the photographer.  
Sorry about the missing credit and great picture!

kthxxbai

Tofuburger

So now the credit reads: Keera Ann F. That's a new one for me. :-)

Apr 16, 2008

Messing around with Photoshop

I saw an illustration someplace, which basically had taken a photograph and turned it into a stained glass window. I am picky about some details with this production here, but I like the effect. The original photograph was taken in Lake Tahoe last summer.

Apr 15, 2008

Printed material

I bought books. Actual printed books. Expedited shipping from Amazon. In New Zealand, of all places. Took a week to get to Norway. Lookit:

I found my camera's manual and managed to take a macro picture of the address label on the Amazon box. You are looking at a first. Please look again. Thank you.

Oh, the books I bought? That were so all-fired interesting/important that I bought actual printed and bound books and ordered faster-than-a-snail mail? These:

The only thing left to do is decide which to start reading first.

Apr 14, 2008

Foreign frustration

"Office hours Monday, Wednesday and Fridays from 9 am to 1 pm."

"Phone hours Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 pm to 2 pm."

They aren't making it easy for me to find out when I need to show up to get my "settlement permit" renewed. When I renewed my passport in 2006, I had to go get the usual rubber stamp in it, showing I'm a permanent resident of Norway. That usually just required showing up at what used to be called the alien office on any weekday during regular office hours and some worn bureaucrat would look at the passport and stamp it.

But they had changed the rules and their methods in the ten years since my last renewal. I had to bring a photograph and what I got back a week later was a slick, laminated holograph of my smiling face. The worst part was waiting in line for on average two hours twice for what took me no more than seven minutes all total for the two visits (handing in and picking up). Granted, you pull a queue number, but it's pretty frustrating to show up at 9:30 one morning and not get in until after 11, and a week later be in line by 9 am but not get in until almost noon.

And to do that every two years? Taking a day off work for hanging around for paperwork?

I had every intention of settling down tomorrow with office door closed and phone on speaker and spending the full two hours trying to get through to ask my question. To make sure I had the times and days right, I opened up the web page for the Hordaland police's immigration office today.

I have a friend who is impressed by my Googling skills, how I am able to hunt up information (so her brother can mail order King Oscar sardines, for example). Today I thought of her as I impressed myself. Frustrated with the lack of information on the county police webpage - in a fit of traditional Norwegian service, they list the office hours you can call, but do not post the phone number with that information, which makes me prefer new-fangled Norwegian service - I clicked on some links to the Norwegian equivalent of the INS, the UDI (heh). And while trying to find out if I could somehow do this all by mail or something, I tripped over a notice that the Hordaland county police department as of Feb. 1 2008 had transferred its immigration office to local police stations in the interest of increasing service.

That sounded great. That sounded like every last foreigner in Bergen didn't all have to show up at one office at once and make long lines for each other.

I got on the horn to the local police station. No "Phone hours Tuesdays and Thursdays from 12 pm to 2 pm" there, just a casual "Yeah, police" answering. The person to speak to was at lunch (I should have realized; it was 11:40 when I called). I called back later. I explained that I needed to renew my permit, and wanted to know when and how. The lady asked me for my name and my birthdate, found me in her system - "permit expires June 1... you live at..." - yeah, that's right, that's me. She told me to show up any time with a photo and passport during the office hours of 9 am to 1 pm, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Same hours but now they feel wonderful. The line won't be as long, no matter what, and it's near home. Funny how that last makes it better, too.

Apr 13, 2008

Apr 12, 2008

Little luxuries

I woke up feeling good, even though I woke up early on a Saturday. But since I had a hair appointment in town at 10:30, being up and about for a few relaxing hours first was a good thing.

Last night I checked a few things online, fiddled with a trial version of Photoshop Elements, and made a few decisions. (I'm such a nerd.) So after my hair cut, I went straight to our local Apple store.

But first I passed by Bergen's famous fish market, which was very empty of both booths and people. Shockingly so. I was relieved that I could see no tourists. We are actually fighting to save our traditional open-air fish market, because the direction it's heading in is no longer about fresh fish, Bergen or traditions any more. The vats that contain our live fish and crabs were closed. Those are one of the main reasons for the market. But there was one fish stand open for business, displaying a variety of caviars.

I've never really been into fish eggs, though I do like cod roe, which has a texture a bit like a soft cat tongue and a very mild flavor. Serve on a slice of bread, mayo or lemon juice optional. But once I was at a seafood buffet and there were three different caviars so I tried each.

I discovered that eating three different types was the key. The variety and contrasts made each one all more interesting and tastier. So as I stood at the one fish booth in our open-air market, I asked if they had those little jars of caviar in three different flavors. I went away with one small jar of salmon caviar, one of capelin (which the young man who was waiting on me struggled to remember the Norwegian name of; it's lodde) and one of the equally weirdly name in either language, sea hen/rognkjeks.

When I got them home, I wondered what to serve them with. I have plenty of crackers, which is the usual, but then I spotted the two avocados ripening in my kitchen window. One was just right. Avocado is the perfect compliment to various roes.

The salmon roe looks and tastes like salmon, but the large (relatively) eggs made me think of bubblewrap as they popped in my mouth. The cream-colored roe, which had the tiniest eggs of the three, is from the capelin, and it has a very mild flavor and a slightly crunchy texture. The black roe, from the sea hen, was salty - and not black. It is an amazing dark purply blue. It's discoveries like that that make me so happy I opted for planet Earth for this incarnation.

One avocado and half of each jar (i.e. two heaping teaspoons from each), and I felt pretty full. Rich food! And delicious!

The rest of my afternoon and evening I have spent messing about with the purchases from our local Apple store, spending a chunk of the anniversary money. I bought an Airport Express for wireless surfing at home and their largest iPod Touch with the intention of using the latter from my bedroom thanks to the former, for watching video podcasts or playing Bejeweled. (I'm flexible.) My third purchase was Photoshop Elements, the happy amateur's low-budget version (as in 1/7 the cost) of the humongously powerful and expensive regular Photoshop (which I use at work).

Anyway, I was looking forward to installing Photoshop Elements, but of course Adobe, which is slowly getting as user-unfriendly as Microsoft (are you listening, Adobe?), requires that you use their installer disk to uninstall whatever you have installed except it didn't work, Adobe! so when I tried to install, I just got some error about a payload already being loaded (what is this, the space shuttle?). I ended up making a long foray into all the inner workings of my iMac, hunting down and killing deleting every last bit of whatever that was labelled Adobe or Photoshop and finally I was able to install the program.

It's a good thing I'm a nerd (def. 2, thank you: an intelligent, single-minded expert in a particular technical discipline or profession) or, as the Norwegians say, a "bitfikler" (bit-fiddler).

Then I yelled at my Airport Extreme for giving me a green light when everything else said no connection, and then the thing insisted that I update it's firmware (YES / NO) - gawd, you worked just a minute ago! Just load my webpage! What's with the nagging!? And that's when I realized that I didn't need to have a human around to feel married and made myself laugh.

But now all is well, I got logged into Blogger, you can see my picture of food porn (it really is: fish eggs and a fruit bearing the name "green testicle" in Aztec) adjusted and cropped etc. in Photoshop, and the store didn't even charge me as much as I expected, though I spent enough (over NOK 5000).

On my way home, I waited at the same bus stop I'd been in a snow storm at, only this time I noticed the 7-11 directly across from me, went in, and came back out with a hot latte, which was delicious and warming company while I waited for the bus.

It's been a day full of little luxuries.

Apr 11, 2008

Romance on the roof

The addition to our office building of one extra floor has given those of us on this new level an excellent view of the sex life (and nest-building and child-rearing abilities) of the gulls that like to breed on our roof.

This couple is madly in love and expressed it this afternoon by sitting very, very still very, very closely, matching each other in both looks and moves. They reminded me of human teenagers in love.

PS: I downloaded a trial of Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 and have had fun fixing a few pictures tonight, including a quick-and-dirty blurring of the background in the gull picture. Just to see if I really want Elements at NOK 999 instead of Photoshop CS3 at over NOK 8000. ;-)

Apr 10, 2008

Woodpecker wonder

Today it started to rain as I was on my way home from work, without an umbrella. I decided that since I was carrying groceries, I had no free hand for an umbrella, anyway, and it wasn't raining that hard, and so I was going to have a happy walk home.

Which is about when I saw a bird that looked exactly like the logo of my county, Hordaland's birding site.

It is the endangered white-backed woodpecker (in Norw., hvitryggsspett), aka dendrocopos leucotos.

Even if it should turn out to be the far more common (and likely) great spotted woodpecker (in Norw., flaggspett), aka dendrocopos major, it was still an amazing moment in time and space. I was surrounded by apartment buildings, other people passing me by, never noticing why I was stopped in the path, and never noticing the pretty black-and-white-and-red bird exploring the bark of a birch tree only 10 feet away from me. But I noticed. And I realized as I watched the little woodpecker that had I had an umbrella, I never would have seen the bird.

Apr 9, 2008

Another slice of Norway

I went up to the co-op office earlier this evening, to complain about/replace a non-functioning laundry card, a plastic card with a chip that starts the washing machine and dryer in our communal laundry rooms, charging NOK 6 for each load. Last Thursday, I got one load of laundry washed, and went to dry it and start the second load, when all I got was "E00005" on both machines. Well, one load's better than nothing, so I took it all back to my place and hung up the wet.

Our steering committee keeps office hours every Wednesday from 7 pm to 9 pm. So I went to the office at 7 pm (it's just about a block away from me), and the doors were locked. That was a first for me, but not for an unfamiliar neighbor I ended up talking to while waiting for someone to show up. In a fit of honesty, I her that I felt the place was going downhill. With a smirk she replied that I was far from the first she'd heard that from.

When I first moved to this co-op in 1986, we had a very powerful steering committee foreman, even well-known far outside our co-op. But though he was controversial and could get into arguments during annual meetings with the members, he was both dedicated and visionary. Youth crimes seem to move from neighborhood to neighborhood, usually emerging as the first children in a new project hit their teens. In the early 80's, it was Fyllingsdalen's turn, and our foreman chose to handle the increasing vandalism by starting local youth clubs together with a neighboring co-op. Two weeknights a week, four different age groups had a place to hang out and could bring non-resident friends as guests and things settled down in our neighborhood.

The buildings themselves when I bought my apartment were looking far more worn than they were. Our foreman chose to hire an architect when it was decided to refurbish our buildings in the mid-90's. We ended up with a color scheme that gave some buildings a sky blue foundation wall, others a pale purple, and still others a strong apricot. A variety of materials was also used to add life, including using brick on the ends of each building. Such boldness was unheard of, but people loved the finished result. If you have nothing but boring cubes, you may as well unbore them, also out of consideration to neighbors who have to look at your buidlings. Anyway, our current steering committee has started the job of repainting the foundation walls. All in the sky blue color, regardless of the original.

It not only reintroduces boring, but defeats the intention of having a bit of variety among 19 otherwise uniform buildings all clustered in one area. It's turning us back into a dreary socialist building project. (Parden my language, but look at the cheerful apricot foundation wall that is my building's current foundation wall, with its matching balcony fronts.)

I know the only constant is change, but this feels more like entropy. I don't like it.

At any rate, nobody showed up for office hours and a third neighbor who came to get the key for the co-op "hall" for tomorrow's senior club could tell us that 5 out of 8 times when she came to get the key, the office hadn't opened on time.

It was 7:25 pm and we were kind of cold, so we all left, telling a fourth neighbor who was baffled at the locked door that we were going to try again later.

Co-op life. A uniquely Scandinavian way of life.

Another unique experience is the way we do tax returns in Norway. When I came back to Norway in 1981, the due date for tax returns was January 31. Then they moved it forward to today's April 30. This entire time, whoever you borrow from or save with, reported your debt, interest and balance to skatteetaten (doesn't it have a cute logo?), the Norwegian equivalent of the IRS, leaving little wiggle room for those inclined to fudge. Not that nobody tries to cheat on their taxes anyway.

One of the most popular ways to cheat on your taxes was to ignore the question "How much cash did you have in your possession as of December 31?" Like anybody would ever answer that honestly! Of course, if you withdrew a whopping amount on Dec. 30, so you'd have a lower amount reported on Dec. 31, they might come around and ask what you did with the cash in those 24 hours.

One year I realized that if the world was indeed to become a better place, I had to do my part, so I decided I would no longer cheat on my taxes, because that is both lying and stealing. So for the next tax return, I was going to answer honestly about how much cash I had as of Dec. 31. I got to do that once. The following year they decided to stop asking the question. Talk about getting my honesty rewarded! :-)

In the years since that, the tax return has become more and more automated, with a filled-in form mailed to you in the beginning of April. You check the numbers and if all is OK as is, you can report that via your cell phone's text messaging, via an automated phone service, or online (some may not even need to do even this any more). I went online this year, because a purchase last year payed in installments with interest charged hadn't been reported. So I logged on with the ubiquitous Norwegian version of a social security number, the "person number", and using a couple of the PIN codes on the print-out added the paltry interest charge and earned myself an extra NOK 50 to my tax return. Because I'm getting money back this year, too. (Donating money to charities helps.)

A few years ago, they started paying out most of the tax refunds out in June, rather than waiting until the end of September as before. But the fall is still when the tax returns of every one who has one are made public. You can go to the post office, for example, or online, and look up anybody you know (or don't know, for that matter, like a celebrity) and see what their income was for the previous tax year. This report seriously contradicts the normal Norwegian love of privacy, and every year there is public debate about the practice.

I remember looking through the official "tax list" after Grandma died, and seeing the word "deceased" next to her name. Such is the efficiency of the Norwegian tax system and the Norwegian "folkeregister" ("people's registry") which issues person numbers and is where all official agencies get your address from (when you move, your primary concern is getting a change of address to the folkeregister) and what your bank, credit card issuer or insurer cross-check their data with. Norway's a fairly transparent society still, not yet in need of all the precautions many Americans must take to protect privacy, which is one reason few Norwegians are anonymous on the 'net.

I remember there was some discussion about how well Grandma understood Norwegian since she couldn't speak it, and she said, a bit indignantly, "I understand it just fine. I'm the one who does all the tax returns!"

Apr 8, 2008

Fragments

Do you ever get to a point where you feel like you need to just stop everything - stop what you're doing, stop commitments, stop routines, stop time - just so you can think? Because you need time to think to identify what's rattling around in your brain? Because what you're really trying to do is give form to your thoughts?

That's where I am these days.

So many fragments looking for something to join with are floating in and out of my awareness. There is a theme of sorts, a recurring theme that seems to be the common link between these fragments. And that is why I feel they can be gathered together and finally coalesce into cohesive, conscious thought. But I have to give them the peace and quiet to do so. I have to give myself that peace and quiet.

I realize that it has been too long since I meditated on a regular basis. Too long since I let myself commune with myself, without interruption and without hurry. Too long since I let myself simply be, just read, think and ponder, and let any new ideas and new conclusions emerge in a mind open and calm enough to notice.

Some of my fragments involve my physical enviroments - body and home. Today I realized that both represent the same energies in my life. That's a thought that I need to pursue and crystallize.

Other fragments have to do with the direction I want to take with my blogs and my writing. I need some kind of renewal. These thoughts are vaguer than the body/home thoughts, yet they may all have the same source in the end.

Yet other thoughts revolve around faith and my current sense of separation, which sort of loops back to the body thing.

There is always a common thread in these things.

I need to just stop and follow that thread.

Apr 7, 2008

Palm tree

I don't know how many years I've passed by this tree and only just now noticed it has five trunks coming out of one, like five fingers coming out of a palm. Oh! It's a palm tree! (I crack me up.)

Apr 6, 2008

I think I've discovered something

I think I know why I am always surprised by the junk that shows up in my photos. I don't have ADHD (I don't quite fit all the criteria), yet I tend to see the world the way they often do: Either I notice all the details, or I don't notice them (or at least not the ones other people notice) at all. I'm probably just your garden variety scatter-brained, but this tendency to latch onto to the stuff nobody else does, while missing some pretty glaringly obvious things, is something I've always done. I've become far more aware of it in later years because I finally figured out that it influences how I do housework. Or rather how I don't.

Today it is sunny, breezy and a balmy 10 Celsius (that's an even 50 Fahrenheit) so off with the long johns and on with the sneakers and out with the Powershot S2, which has basically been in hibernation all winter, not being a camera I can easily hide under my coat to keep dry between snapping pictures. So the camera and I took a slow walk around Ortuvann, looking for something different to point and shoot at.

Some of the photos I thought would be wonderful, weren't. One had a distracting limb in the foreground (I was so focused on framing and focusing I never saw it), another had a bright blue house showing between the branches of the tree I wanted in the foreground I discovered once I downloaded the picture at home. I may be able to photoshop that out. And I need to learn how to focus. I am so tired of taking pictures like this:

And they were some really pretty cherry buds, too. I'd also like to do things like blurry foreground and background with focus on the middle range. (Could somebody tell me where I stashed the manual to my camera? Thanks.) On the other hand, I did manage to get some other pictures that turned out well using my usual method of just zooming in. These pictures have texture if not depth, and I'm actually quite happy with them. So enjoy a tree silhouette, a smorgasbord of moss, lichen and fungus on a dead tree, and the typical peeling behavior of birch bark.

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

Apr 5, 2008

I got an E!!!

Sparkling Red has awarded me an E for Excellence for being whimsical. Thank you, Spark!

Here are a couple of bloggers I'd like to pass the Badge of Excellence to:

Alice over at 10,000 Monkeys and a Camera for being topical and for darned good photography.

Chenpheng of Mekong River Tributaries for her photography and for being one of the few Western bloggers describing life in Asia without the culture shock getting a front seat.

Paula over at Light Motifs for her mix of topicalness, whimsy, shoes, cupcakes and kitties! That sounds disorganized but she's very good about not throwing the cupcakes in the with shoes or the cats.

Badaunt over at Present Simple for excellent writing and rib tickling. And for being one of the other Asian blogs that mixes "culture shock" with delight quite well. And some good photography to go with it.

Filling in the silhouette

It is almost imperceptable, but at some point, the silhouette of the trees change and get more filled in as winter ends and spring cannot be denied, as evidenced by the birch outside my apartment building.

Apr 4, 2008

P(h)unny physics

I rediscovered an old favorite, User Friendly, and started poking around in the archives. I came across this:

I got the joke/pun and laughed out loud, but then I started wondering what a brane actually was so I went a-lookin' (using define:"whatever" you need defined without the "" in Google's search box) and found this definition at good ol' PBS:

brane: any of the extended objects that arise in string theory. A one-brane is a string, a two-brane is a membrane, a three-brane has three extended dimensions, etc. More generally, a p-brane has p spatial dimensions.

P-brane. LOL!

Geddit?

Peabrain. Oh, those physicists!

I wonder what a no-brane(r) is? *gigglesnort*

Whadya mean, I must have one?

Apr 3, 2008

Småsko

Småsko, literally "little shoes", is a rather odd word in the Norwegian language (well, I think so). There is no storsko (large shoe), for example. But it has a very specific meaning:

Småsko is simply any kind of regular shoe that doesn't cover your ankles, and is generally used of children's shoes. That's one meaning. But that leads us to another, more significant meaning:

The first wearing of småsko signifies spring, because there is no surer sign of warming and the end of winter storms than a day that is warm and dry enough for you not to need to wear something to keep your ankles warm and dry. As winter gives way to spring, Bergen enters into its most vulnerable season for fires: April is generally a dry month and the withered grass of winter can easily catch fire. But those same dry and warming days make it possible to shed heavier footwear. Shoes are lighter than boots, and it is wonderful to feel how much easier it is to pick up the feet - in more ways than one.

I wore småsko on my way to work today, the first time this year for me. The weather turned a bit bitter on my walk home so my ankles did get a bit cold, but they felt great this morning. I've also noticed that the trees are getting a more cluttered silhouette: They are budding. Yesterday offered yet another sign of spring: All the kids out on their bikes in the dry, warmer weather.

(Pronounciation guide: småsko sounds sort of like SMOE-skoe. Except that that last O-sound is halfway between oe and oo. You have to pucker your lips to say it right.)

Apr 2, 2008

Emergencies of the past

Imagination prompt generator has asked if I was ever rushed to the hospital and what for.

My visits to the hospital total two my entire life: One was the day I was born, the other was at about 9 months old, when my mother woke up in the middle of the night and had an impulse to go check on me. I was burning up. My parents rushed me to the hospital and they worked to bring my fever down. I stayed overnight but there was no more fever and no sign of why I even got it. Anyway, thanks, Mom!

I have been rushed to the emergency room a few times more. What kid hasn't? I've observed that we all seem to end up with scars over an eye, under the chin, on a knee. Very standard. I have all three. The tiny scar under my chin I got at age 3, when I tripped on concrete steps and landed on my chin. I don't remember this.

The other two scars I remember getting very, very well and if you are squeamish, stop reading.

I was 7 and living in Twentynine Palms, California (yes, there really is such a place) with my grandparents. This was during my parents' separation. We rented a house on the corner, and this being the desert, there were no neat sidewalks, just mounds of sand spilling onto the asphalt here and there.

My best friend at the time, Elizabeth (she didn't shorten it to Liz until much later) and I decided to race our bikes. There was a gentle slope going from my house up the street to hers, and we started a few houses past her place and peddled like mad down the slope.

We got to the L-intersection by my house and I was ahead. I hit that 90 degree left turn at full speed.

I felt my bike skid on the gravel. I slid into the mound of sand on my left side. Liz sped past me.

My first reaction was to get angry. (Still is.)

I must have been a bit stunned, too. I didn't stop to look at anything, just flung my traitorous bike aside and got up, crying, and crossed the road to our house. Blood was running over the eyelashes on my left eye, annoying me a bit.

Grandma was home. Grandpa wasn't. He'd just taken our one car to do some shopping. Grandma had heard a noise that didn't sound right, and was waiting for me in our doorway. Grandma generally faints at the idea of blood, but she didn't (to her own surprise) this time. She got me laid down on my bed. She got some towels and started wiping away the blood. I was shaking, crying, "Mama, mama!" (which I had never done before and I can remember a part of my brain thinking, "Why are you saying that? You sound like a baby.")

Elizabeth came up to the house with my bike. She didn't know what had happened. It happened so fast and she was clear down to the highway before she realized she was racing by herself. I remember Grandma asking her with a worried voice if she'd seen our car.

Luckily, Grandpa was not the sort to get distracted and go off and do something else (unlike me). He returned after 20 minutes, and they got me into the car and drove to our tiny little emergency room. I had stopped crying. I can't remember any pain. Some other kid, a boy a few years older than me, had also banged up his knee; they wheeled him past while my folks were filling out forms.

I had been wearing only a bikini (which they took off me, to my embarrassment), and I had scraped my left big toe, my left ribs, my left elbow. I had a small cut above my left eyebrow, and a huge hole in my left knee. I insisted on taking a look after it was cleaned up and the doctor finally let me; it was a grayish crater about an inch deep. I don't remember how they gave me the anesthesia; I assume with a needle along with the tetanus shot.

Dr. Gilletta was the man who cleaned up my wounds and then stitched me up - a friendly, dark-haired man somewhere in his 30's. He started sewing the cut above my left eyebrow before the anesthesia kicked in. "Ow," I said, really just to say something. "This doesn't hurt," he answered quite firmly. Since he was right, I decided to shut up from then on, which wasn't hard to do. By the time he was done stitching my eyebrow, I was asleep.

I woke up 4 hours later. Dr. Gilletta had sewn 6 stitches above my eye, and a total of 32 in my knee, leaving a sideways Y under the knee cap. The knee cap was shifted a bit and for a long time, my left leg was thinner than my right. That Y, however, looks like my knee cap's just throwing a shadow.

I was told I was very lucky. Not only did our little town have such an excellent tailor, uh, doctor, but my deep cut had avoided a major nerve by a couple of millimeters. (Grandma's concern when she first saw me was that I'd poked my eye out. I was lucky with that, too.)

I spent a month with a bandaged knee and was healed in time for school. That was lucky, too. I liked school. It took me a few years to brave riding a bike again, though (not until I was in Norway did I try again) and I do not want to brave riding on gravel roads. I hated the bike I'd twisted in the crash. It became forever labeled "traitor" in my mind, poor thing. I mean, I was actually beating Elizabeth!

I totally identify with that knee, with that Y-shaped scar. It is part of what makes me Keera.

Apr 1, 2008

2.5 billion

I don't know about you, but I'm rather awestruck by the idea that there are 2.5 billion bacteria in a capsule this size:

2.5 billion.

Here are their names: Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium longum.

In other news: I spent April Fool's day serving the gang at work cupcakes (hi, Paula!) to mark my actual anniversary which is today.