Oct 31, 2008

Jack-o'-lanterns

I have not been a frequent poster to this blog lately, and so decided it was about time to post again. I'm not done with my Dresden/Berlin trip yet, and started looking at photos for the next installment. It was harvest time in the ol' DDR when we were there, and ripe grains, fruits and pumpkins were displayed everywhere. That's when I noticed one of my photos was very appropriate for Halloween:

A close-up:

Oct 26, 2008

Charmed by Meissen

Well, we'd finished up at the porcelain factory/museum, and now it is time for lunch. No one prepared us for the ancient charm that is the town of Meissen itself, nestled on a large rock, with an assortment of buildings and its cathedral clinging to the sides like barnacles on a tidal rock. (I do wish the bus would have stopped so we could get pictures of Meissen as seen from the river.)

We started walking down the narrow street, which was steep and winding and at some point switched from asphalt to cobblestone (sometimes crazily laid out). The houses, too, ranged in style and age, depending on when they were built. With real estate so precious, every available space was used and newer buildings borrowed old walls rather than lose some inches. And, visible from most parts, the two spires of Meissen's cathedral, like beacons.

We kept rounding corners and finally got to what must have been part of a castle or something. It certainly looked like it. We were on a bridge. From the bridge, steps went down to the street below. Talk about making good use of the space!

From the bridge leading to our restaurant (with an incredibly laid-back cat sleeping right next to the walkway, totalling ignoring 40 tourists pointing it out to each other), we looked out over the red roofs of Meissen. I was especially charmed by the curvy way the garret windows are set in the roofs. Some look like an eye.

After lunch, we headed out to a vineyard north of Meissen for some wine tasting and another look at the river Elbe winding through some beautiful (and now hilly) countryside.

Oct 24, 2008

Business time - Kiwi style

Flight of the Conchords (from New Zealand) play some wicked good disco guitar and ditto lyrics.

George Washington in Norway

Welcome to George Washington National Park, Norway. No photos yet, but there is talk of oil exploration.

Read all about it here: Department Of The Exterior Opens U.S. National Park In Norway

OK, so my title is misleading. So's the article. ;-)

Oct 22, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Wet window

Wordless Wednesday - The rainy view through my boss's window

Oct 20, 2008

Driver's ed

Traffic fatalities so far this year in western Norway have been at an all-time high. 45% of the ones killed are between the ages of 15 and 25, and the main reason is speed. This is happening in a country that has mandatory and expensive driver's training and exacting driver's tests. It's like the thousands of kroners spent on learning to drive (and the many hours) to get that precious license means absolutely nothing.

There are a few other things that I find questionable about how things are set up here: In Norway, you can vote, drive and drink - all at age 18. The local paper is running small vignettes with kids celebrating their 18th birthday and quite a few are so happy they are now old enough to drink. No, they can't drink and drive, but one suspects that one reason for accidents with an adolescent behind the wheel are unruly passengers (who have been drinking).

One of the suggestions made about how to get young people to ease up on the gas pedal, is to get adolescent girls to speak up - for their own safety. I think this is a good idea, but I wonder how they will implement it.

The rules have changed in California since I first got my driver's license, but there was one experience during driver's training that I think is relevant today. My high school offered driver's training and at no charge. Four kids and an instructor would get into the car once a week for two hours of practice together. One kid would drive for half an hour, and the three not driving would watch, listen and learn. You learn a lot from other people's mistakes and a discussion with the instructor about it (Norwegians are always alone with their instructor). We were two girls and two boys. One boy tried to speed a bit and our instructor told him that he may want to find another way to show muscle. "Because speeding doesn't impress the girls; it scares them," our instructor said. "Isn't that right, girls?" he asked us in the back seat. And we emphatically agreed. I could see by the two boys' expressions that they hadn't really considered this, and no one tried to speed again during our driver's training. The two boys actually made the effort to be a bit more gentlemanly.

I can't help but think that a learning situation like that (we were ages 15-16) would be helpful in Norway. It was a good way to learn about driving and it was a good way to learn about appropriate behavior for other reasons than getting from point A to point B.

Oct 18, 2008

The opposite of crisis

Norway's government is bailing out Norwegian banks, or at least helping them reduce their losses. The front pages of Bergen's two newspapers have been telling me since the summer that the real estate market now sucks. I am following an Icelandic woman's blog and getting emotional about her problems and Iceland's. It's hard work not getting caught up in the energy, but I find myself doing so, and need to step back and look at the reality.

I was wondering what the opposite of "crisis" is. That word is getting used a lot now. I was surprised to discover that "crisis" did not originally mean a bad event, but a decision or moment of decision. There is no direct opposite to "crisis" but there is to "decision": Indecision. This suggests to me that whatever the crisis is (as described by either dictionary or local newspaper), it is a time to choose. It is a time to decide. It is a time to act.

A crisis is not a tangible thing, but more a point in time, something that spurs us into reevaluating our future. So many are looking at the future with fear and worry. It seems to me that making a decision to lessen that fear and worry would also lessen the crisis.

Me, I am fine. Unlike a lot of single people in Norway, I can easily afford my home, with it's now small mortgage. The interest rate can go wherever it wants; I can keep up. Lately, though, I have been playing around with some personal finance software, wanting to set up a budget. There are some things I want to do: I want to buy some expensive DVD-sets (the entire Star Trek: TOS, for example), I love shopping for music on iTunes Store (such an addiction), and I've discovered that my mortgage runs until 2021. I don't have the patience for that. I want to pay it off sooner. And there are some other things to save money for (like new a stove and bathroom) So, I want to take a good look at where my money is going and see if I can't do everything I want, when I want. That is a decision I am making, but it is no crisis.

I am a very lucky woman, and this blog post is really my way of saying I am grateful for my good finances and for my home.

Oct 17, 2008

Inspected

The electrical inspector showed up early. I had made an appointment for 8:30 and at 8 am I heard someone open the fuse box in the stairwell. I opened my door - I was dressed, made-up, had finished breakfast and was leave-the-house ready (if you knew my usual state at 8 am, you'd realize what a little miracle this was) so I could do something like just open my front door - and the man peering at my fuses was indeed the inspector I was expecting at 8:30.

He said he'd been told to be there before 8:30. He hesitated when he realized he was half an hour early, but I said it was just fine, come on in and do your thing.

As I write this, I actually feel tickled! My home was ready for an inspection, the inspector could enter every room (even the "free-for-all" that my guest bedroom is for the time being) and he even apologized for forgetting to take his shoes off. I told him I left everything as is, because I figured I might learn something from my "sins", and he was pleased with that. And I did learn something, and he decided not to write up my mistakes. "Just take care of that microwave," he said and left.

It all took the 15 minutes the electric company said it would and I got to work by 8:30. Such a smooth and easy and relaxed morning (and the inspector himself was easy on the eyes)! Lovely!

The microwave is no longer getting juice via an extension chord, and my cleared off left counter is where the extension chord is now plugged in for when I use my egg cooker, electric tea kettle and coffee maker. I look at that cleared off counter and think, "How nice to have you!"

My morning routine and new focus on keeping horizontal surfaces clear is definitely paying off.

Oct 14, 2008

Enjoying October

Man-made, all natural. City, woods. New, old. Yesterday evening, as I stood outside the police station waiting (no, not to get arrested), I looked up the street that leads to Bergen's cathedral and on up the hillside. The photo above is a feeble attempt at trying to capture the contrasts of modern cars, older buildings and timeless forest changing color. The whole scene both amused and awed me. This is such a beautiful time of year.

I seem to be more partial to autumn than to spring. There is something about the variations on yellows and reds that trees offer up at this time of year that appeals more to me than the variations on green of spring. All seasons have their charms and advantages, but I feel more connected to what's happening around me in the autumn. Perhaps because the changing colors are so obvious. Perhaps because the storms and rains have come back after an exceptionally good summer. I love the drama!

A good summer helps build one up before the dark of winter sets in. We've also been blessed with a lot of fair weather so far this October, and with temperatures that have been quite pleasant for the time of year (10-14C/50-57F). When the rain finally returned in full force two weekends ago, accompanied by a powerful wind, it was like seeing a good friend after a long absence. I curled up in my sofa, with candles lit, watching the storm rage outside, bending the tree tops and slamming brown leaves at my windows. Refreshing!

A yellow tree against a leaden sky. Rusty leaves dotting gray cobblestones. A soft wisp of cloud adding silver to a red and gold valley of trees. Clouds moving back and forth in front of a rising full moon. I can't get enough of these sights of autumn.

Oct 13, 2008

No comment

A couple of weeks ago, my ISP was the target of a massive spam attack. That choked the normal flow of e-mail and I decided to switch to a different e-mail address. What I didn't do, was correctly update the comments notification for my blog.

I thought my readers were just being silent - or really busy or whatever. I discovered today that I hadn't been forgotten. I was so tickled to see that you kept leaving comments! So, thank you!

I have now fixed my e-mail address so Blogger can notify me, and, yes, Max, there has been some water under the bridge since last we "spoke". My ballot got mailed today and I hope my vote counts.

Oct 12, 2008

Meissen porcelain

One of the excursions out of Dresden was a morning visit to the town of Meissen. That told me nothing until it was announced that we were visiting a porcelain factory. Then a memory stirred in the back of my mind about Dresden and porcelain, and I had the sense to appreciate what I was in for.

The Meissen tour was quite educational, with the group being slused from one demonstration room to the next, being shown the forms the potter uses, how the forms can be taken apart to get at the clay shape inside, and how it shrinks by 17% so one has to work large. We were shown the stages and types of glazing, types of glazes, including the famous Dresden cobolt blue, and how repeated firings at different temperatures can alter colors. Most impressively, it is all hand-made. The intricate designs are painted on by a very steady-handed artist, and little hands with fingers and feet with toes are sculpted by another steady-handed artist.


She spent most of the time we were there working on an itsy-bitsy little toe.

After watching the employees demonstrate the process of making a porcelain item and their skills, accompanied by a pre-recorded guide in Swedish, walking through the museum part became all the more impressive. Keep in mind that everything shrinks by 17% when fired.


I was completely charmed by this chess set.

Yours truly and quite the mirror/washstand.

Lifesize Capricorn representative. Amazing detail.

Outside the museum, a porcelain horse stands, decorated with all the Meissen porcelain logos used over the years to prevent copying.

This was the only place I bought anything: A small candle holder for about 60 Euro. Yes, it's expensive stuff.

Oct 10, 2008

Learning to FLY

These past few days I have been busy doing other things besides sitting in front of the computer. I got some energy back (in spite of darker mornings), and a good reason to clean house (electrical inspection coming up), and have actually enjoyed taking before-pictures, clipping my iPod Shuffle to my clothing and chasing the goal of clearing off all horizontal spaces not meant for storage (countertops, tabletops and floors). The after-pictures are a huge encouragement. It's also pretty amazing that what looks like an impossible pile can relatively easily be shrunk and even removed.

I give you Exhibit A, my "left" kitchen counter a week ago:

Exhibit B: Same counter, with a new turquoise candle. (When I look at the before-picture, I wonder what the heck was I thinking?)

I'll give you a hint for getting through paper clutter: Do it in the dark, or at least bad lighting. When dusk came and I couldn't make out details any more, I considered turning on a light, but discovered that not seeing well also meant not being tempted to start reading what I was handling. That made things go much faster.

I have mentioned before that I am trying to get some routines and regularity into my life. I am discovering that it really does me good, inside and out, to be less chaotic and less hampered by my own sloppiness (both in where I put stuff and in keeping time). It's a bit weird to be almost 48 and only now discovering what works, how to nurture myself, what I want in my home. I was one of those kids who'd be told "Go clean your room!" and would look at my room and simply feel overwhelmed, and never start. It's only in recent years that I have discovered what to do about that overwhelm, and that discovery was made reading FlyLady.

I mentioned her briefly on my blog five years ago. I have been trying to get routines going for that long, but I do have the kitchen sink down. :-) What I really like about FlyLady and her style of encouragement, is that it is not only practical, but also spiritual. Some people find FlyLady's voice "nagging" or her reminders too frequent or too detailed. What attracts me to FlyLady is that she is a) one of us, i.e. lousy at housekeeping and easily overwhelmed, b) understands that there is usually an emotional cause to unfortunate habits, and c) never mentions failure, but rather suggests that you are never behind so just jump in where you are (and that you can do anything for 15 minutes, which takes care of that overwhelm). All of these things put together have made me realize that the FlyLady way is actually quite spiritual, in the sense that a lot of what she says is about rising above the small stuff, removing that inner critic, and finding the joy in day-to-day living. FLY even found its own "backronym": Finally Loving Yourself.

If you knew how loathe I usually am to do housework (and that "routine" for years was a dirty word for me), you'd be laughing yourself silly at this point. Keera going on about a housekeeping system! But the thing is, it's not about the housework (or system) itself. It's about that whole self-nurturing thing: The ability and desire to make a home for oneself, simply because oneself is important enough to do that for. There is nobody else to clean house for except me. And it is so easy to just shrug and turn a blind eye to the dust bunnies multiplying in the corners (especially when facing a 24" computer screen).

It has been said that you're not truly spiritual if you can't function in the physical world. The physical world is the spiritual world; it is the spiritual world manifesting itself in matter. It is the effect of a cause is on the spiritual plane. I am not only keeping a table cleared off for me to eat off, but a space that welcomes me to my mealtime. I am not only creating a space for me to use to sort mail or groceries; I am manifesting a loving and pleasant environment for myself, a message to myself that I don't have to annoy myself or be annoyed by my physical surroundings.

And so I am enjoying getting rid of clutter, rediscovering my nice home (which I can also easily afford in spite of crazy financial times), and delighting in the freedom of having a number of horizontal spaces for my immediate use without having to shove something aside. I am finally loving myself through my home, and it's a path I want to continue on.

Oct 8, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Kjosfossen

Wordless Wednesday - Kjosfossen in Flåm valley

Oct 5, 2008

A last look at Dresden

Here are a few more pictures from Dresden, before "we" leave. First, we had to eat. It was noon when our official city guiding was done, and it was a rather bitter day weather-wise, so we wanted someplace warm, too. We were about 10 people who disappeared through a doorway, and down a long, spiraling staircase, not really knowing what to expect. What greeted us when we got to the bottom was a medieval-style(d) restaurant, the Sophienkeller. I highly recommend it!


We were eating in a room called "Zeithainer Lustlager" - "time-copse desire-camp". Heh.

The goulash was held in a metal pot over a tealight to keep it warm.

The atmosphere delighted us and so did the food. I had potato soup. The men had Real Men's Food. (One of them actually skipped dinner that evening. Understandably, since he'd eaten his entire lunch!)

Then it was back out in what was somewhat improved weather, camera ready.


I thought this old baroque bridge was absolutely gorgeous.

I also liked this modern version which also bridged old and new buildings.

Entrance to the tourist information office.

This organ grinder holds up a sign in front of his face if you try to take a picture without paying him 1 Euro. I did pay but I think this is the better picture.

This building is the sort of thing I've always associated with Dresden - as being Dresden.

Our hotel was on the river and apparently got a lot of bugs. I found this warning hung on my window's handle:

And the wonderful English translation on the reverse:

In spite of that warning, I did find three spiders (living and dead) in my hotel room. I also discovered that there is a screen on the window, too. Feisty spiders!

Oct 3, 2008

Ballot 2008

Finally! My absentee ballot arrived in the mail.

My choices for president are:

John McCain (pres.), Sarah Palin (VP) - Republican
Cynthia McKinney (pres.), Rosa Clemente (VP) - Green
Alan Keyes (pres.), Wiley S. Drake, Sr. - American Independent
Ralph Nader (pres.), Matt Gonzalez (VP) - Peace and Freedom
Barack Obama (pres.), Joe Biden (VP) - Democratic
Bob Barr (pres.), Wayne A. Root (VP) - Libertarian

Wait. Who are all those other people? There are other choices besides the Republicans and Democrats??? Yes, there are. There always have been. It annoys me more and more that the other choices don't get any press time, and don't get to participate in the presidential debates. It annoys others, too.

So, who are these candidates? I know who I'm voting for, and my vote this election is purely strategic, not a true I-like-this-one-the-best vote. But since I don't care for the two big parties, really, I am very curious about these other parties and their candidates. And I wish that things were not such in the US that I feel the need to be strategic this election. I'd love to vote for whoever I really like and have my vote be registered as such. I guess that would mean ending the electoral system, though.

The strategy is to not drain votes from the party that can beat the party one doesn't want. I've heard that the real reason both Al Gore and John Kerry lost is because people who'd normally vote Democrat, were sniffing around alternatives like the Green party. The Republicans simply experienced less of a drain from its typical voter group in 2000 and 2004.

2008 is a special election, no matter how you slice it. A black man is running for president and a woman is running for vice-president for the first time in US history, and there is the backdrop of the current financial crisis, the mistake war in Iraq, and 9/11. Well, the truth is, Alan Keyes is black and is running for president for the third time, and Cynthia McKinney is both black and a woman and her running mate is also a woman, but of course you haven't heard of any of these people. I certainly hadn't until I got my ballot today. Still, the main issue is that the white-men-only stranglehold on the two big parties (and the White House) is coming to an end, and that is indeed significant. And historical.

I'm voting!

Oct 2, 2008

The bilingual advantage

A researcher, Bente Ailin Svendsen, in linguistics at the university in Oslo has concluded that bilingualism is an advantage (Norw. article). It doesn't lead to confusion; it leads to greater flexibility. The article says about her findings (quoted text my translation):

Bilinguals react faster to stimuli than do monolinguals, and the brain seems to stay in better shape. Studies from the US and Norway show that students with long-term bilingual education do best at school.

Ah. I do react fast to stimuli, to the point that I've been wondering if I have ADHD. I did do well in school, too, but I was a smart kid before I learned Norwegian - which is probably why I learned enough Norwegian in three months to move up a class. I was supposed to be in third grade (today's fourth), but the Norwegian school started me in second so I could learn the language without being "bothered" by learning new stuff as well. By Christmas I was fully ready to move to my proper grade (I was also motivated by boredom, and the fact that one of the second grade girls was really mean to me).

"They also seem to be more empathic, perhaps because they can better see a situation from more than one perspective. People who know several languages aren't more intelligent, but their brains are more flexible," says Svendsen. Multilingualism also seems to prevent Alzheimer's.

Grandma told me a number of times that you never learn more about your own country than when you leave it. Living abroad makes an American more keenly aware of what is typically or uniquely American. Language is part of it. Language is culture and history and habit and custom. Learning a language teaches you about the people who use that language. With language you learn verbal habits, local sayings - and humor. Without understanding the local humor, you will never understand the people and you will never feel at home (is my experience). Being able to share a laugh, being able to be the one to make the others laugh, depends on language. I can remember feeling downright handicapped before I learned to quip as fast in Norwegian as I did in English. It's something about being able to participate.

"Researchers used to think that children would be confused by multiple languages and end up not knowing any of them well. Now it is a common belief in linguistics that knowing several languages well aids a child's cognitive and verbal development," Svendsen says.

I was never confused as a child. (No, really.) I was always clear on English being English and Norwegian being Norwegian. I do, however, tell people that my brain doesn't always bother keeping the two apart, but will just assume it has twice the vocabulary. I once claimed that my underarms had a funny rash and couldn't fathom why my fellow English speakers started going on about switching deodorants. It finally dawned on me that I was using the Norwegian word for lower arm, which is what I meant, and not armpit. That happens on occasion, especially when I'm tired. My brain picks the first and best word it can find, regardless of origin. Even my grandma would do that. She couldn't find the English word, but the Norwegian one was right there, ready to be used in an English conversation - or vice-versa.

The ultimate in linguistic confusion was Grandpa's. He'd learned English as an adult, and spoke it fluently, if heavily accented. What got us was his habit of answering Norwegians in English, and Americans in Norwegian, especially on the phone. Overseas calls from Mom, who speaks only English, would consistently be answered in Norwegian by Grandpa. Norwegian relatives on the phone learned English when talking to Grandpa. Our bilingualism got the whole family flexible. :-)

Oct 1, 2008

Wordless Wednesday - Height

Wordless Wednesday
Courtesy of xkcd - because it wowed me.