Monthly Archives: August, 2015

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 35

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 35

The lure of technology to humans must be like the lure of a wriggling worm on a hook to a brook trout (BTW – not a trout). How can one resist? The truth is we don’t and neither do brookies, and we both pay dearly for our impulsivity. The other morning this week I spied an unfamiliar bird out the kitchen window: game on! Armed with the big camera I was quite excited. But as I fiddled with the camera, trying to find the feathered object in the viewfinder and compose a proper shoot, it flew away.

“Damn!” I cursed. Stupid camera, why can’t it be easier to use, have a better lens… You already know the answer, the fault wasn’t in the camera, it was in the operator. I accept the responsibility and am humbled. Had I just focused intently on the bird and took note of the plumage, the movement, and the voice, I bet I would have added another bird to the ledger. But I didn’t and I am to blame.

Isn’t that how technology lets us down; we get convinced it is really going to help, but then the technology ends up being an interference to the actual lived experience. And that’s what we really want, the authentic, in-the-moment engagement. The lure of technology (read computer and microprocessor-based gear) is that it will help you better capture, augment, and intensify the reality one is trying to experience. It can, and there are times when it does. But I’ve been finding myself too often on the sour side of technology.

Have you read, “Undaunted Courage”? What about, “Beyond the 100th Meridan”? “Walden”? Oh, here’s an obsure one, “Tall Trees, and Far Horizons”? All great adventure stories that relate evocative experiences, captivate, and inspire. For those adventurers not a cell phone was to be found. GoPro, absent. GIFs, JPEGs, Likes…non-existent. No Tweets. And yet, the stories are present because they were recorded. Paper and impresser, contemplation and remembrance, the ancient tools of humanity.

Of course, I will keep my SmartPhone and i-pad. I had a little fun making a GIF of #1 son chopping a log at a kids’ festival Saturday (Norway: kids=free-for-all). If I can remember that technology is an augmentation of the lived experience for human primates, then I’m sure I can live more authentically. If I think my gadgets will save me, then I am doomed to buffering, corrupted files, and not being able to enter the bloody four-digit code and then open the application quick enough to capture what I could have done if I had just stood there and gazed in full sensory enjoyment of the very thing I was foolishly trying to record!

I’ve missed birds. I have fumbled with a device and then lost the moment. Trying to capture some awesome experience here or there, I have ended up frustrated with my kids because they weren’t performing in ways compatible for me to capture the moment for digital perpetuity. You too?

Week 35 Tally:

Stillits (Carduelis carduelis)

Grønnsisik (Carduelis spinus)

There is a change in the air, it’s happened so suddenly. Cooler breezes, an autumnal feeling rain, birds flocking, these harbingers must be acknowledged and accepted. If you practice Friluftsliv, then there is no consternation. Just make the most of today. And if tomorrow is rainy, well, then you’ll need to dress accordingly. My active wool is ready – I just wished I had packed my second pair of running shoes – so I would always have a dry pair to put on.

No hawks, no sweat. Maybe this upcoming week, or maybe never: Semper Gumbi!

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh

The Gravity of a Place and a Time

The Gravity of a Place and a Time

“We don’t stand on ceremony ’cause life is phony in spite of it.” That song sends my mind immediately back to the early 1980s and in particular a wintertime exploration with cousin Paula along the stream at her farm. It just does. So often songs pop into your head for seemingly inexplicable reasons. Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton reuniting in my head was unexpected but understandable.

The sentiment of simple authenticity from that song is something I can appreciate. I know the Baptist, and Puritan traditions of America and those legacies we live, even if you’re a midwestern Lutheran. Anti-Catholic Know Nothings, rebellion against royalties and all those ancient tradtions…Americans have congenital incompatibility to ceremony – as if we have a level of gluten intolerance. Sure, a little pomp and circumstance now and then is manageable but in contrast to most things American, less is more.

Yesterday we gathered at the Nobel Institute in Oslo. The dignified building was in that particular Scandinavian yellowed tangerine color. The location was kitty-corner from the US Embassy and across the street from the palace grounds. Power, influence, history, and the future coalesces on the geography there. The US Norway Fulbright Foundation put on a ceremony in the Nobel building, in the very hall where soon the world will learn the winner of the peace prize.

Nobel Institute

The grantees, academic mentors, family, Foundation members, key Embassy staff, and Ministry representatives attended. Foundation director, and fellow Badger, Petter Næss was the adept master of ceremonies, smoothly flowing between english and Norwegian. After the obligatory speeches we got to talk. Each grantee got to speak at the Nobel podium: a brief introduction, scope of project, and “why Norway?”

I was one of the last grantees to speak. My moment at the podium was moving. I expected to be nervous about speaking into such an impressive audience. Instead, I felt a heavy sense of meaning and weight in this opportunity. For over 100 years some of the world’s most notable humanitarians had their names immortalized from this stage. Now my small thread is woven into the great tapestry of Nobel history.

JL Hanson at Nobel podium

The other Fulbrighters commented on how impressive and important an occasion this was. This ceremony reinforced the magnitude of the Fulbright program. We needed that.

We use ceremonies in life to pronounce to our community and sometimes all of society that this is important. Things like baptisms, weddings, graduations, inaugurations, and funerals are about impressing upon the individual and larger community that what is going on is important and to be remembered.

Physics dictate that to make an impression, you need weight; the pull of the earth’s mass leveraged to leave a mark. Is it possible that some places have more weight than others? I like to think so. Through ceremony and symbols we can invent greater meaning. We can craft an experience that transcends ourselves and Newton’s laws. From time to time, we can create more gravity.

PS: i’ve been delaying posting this blog posting because i have been trying to create a gif of laureate photos i took in the diliberation room of the fulbright committee. i finally made the gif but i cannot download it as a file to then attach to this blog. looking for comments of advice. jlh

The Teacher is the Student, or Learning You Don’t Understand

The Teacher is the Student, or Learning You Don’t Understand

I was following along pretty well, I got the key spoken words. That, coupled with the highlighted text on the screen and the body langauge, I could tell the principal was telling this class of new students about key school policies. In particular she gave emphasis to the attendance regime and its consequences. But as soon as I looked down to write some notes her voice disappeared, at least the intelligible part. At best I heard a Scandinavian version of Charlie Brown’s teacher. I retrained my eyes to her and then I was back in the lecture. Huh, a distraction to my right – “what did she say?” I thought, it was only a moment but I was totally lost. Back to her, focus. And so it went.

When the 10 minute address was over, I was spent. And then came a flood of guilt and humility. Oh my God, how many of my students felt like that on a regular basis? My poor English Language Learner (ELL) students, how they must have suffered.

Like me, most teachers were really good at school and frankly enjoyed their time as students. Yet, most students aren’t good at doing school, they work to muddle through it. They can succeed but it’s hard, a heavy lift. Do I help ease that burden enough?

Persbråten Videregåendeskole (VGS) was my first visit to a Norwegian secondary school. Pupils (not students – that term is reserved for University) are aged 16-19. Essentially American high school grades 11-12, with a 13. VGS is optional, “but everybody does it.” The hitch is that students choose a VGS, and in Oslo that means competition. Some school are winners and some are not winners in the enrollment scheme.

The walk into Persbråten made me think of a small community college. It was a newer building, about 7 years old with a clean and purposeful design. The languid pace of the atrium in the morning reminded me more of a college than the frantic bustle of my home school. But the students there could have been mistaken for most any teens in an American high school.

Student cell phones stored at the whiteboard to preempt distraction

Student cell phones stored at the whiteboard to preempt distraction

I was pleasantly surprised about all I learned about VGS programming and issues. The principal and teachers were informative and gracious. As my travels take me across Norway I’m certain I will enrich and broaden those insights. But what I must remember, what I will remember was how it felt to not fully understand. It is a short path from not understanding to not caring and then to not attending…

Was today a gift? Yes. Isn’t it funny that some of the best gifts are surprises.

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 34

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 34

Twice I’ve seen a hawk this week but the views were too fleeting to make positive identifications. Patience and persistence will win the day, plus a dollop of luck never hurts. Sunday was generous, I made my new bird score today as well as a surprise.

Spettmeis (Sitta europaea)

This guy was easy to identify, he was acting like a nuthatch. Maybe I’ll get my hawk this week.

Where are all the squirrels? It’s been several weeks without a sighting – so odd. I was tempted to offer a doubloon to whomever could spot one for me – they were becoming my white whales. But today, the sun shined on not one but three different squirrels in different parts of the forest. They (Sciurus vulgaris) had lovely chestnut coats with a light underbelly. Sighting one didn’t give me the feeling of inflamed attention like Captain Ahab, my reaction was more in-line with Clark Griswold.

European Red Squirrel

Another inferential sighting was made: Moose! Here they (Acles acles) are called Elg, it can be confusing. Elk are called Hjort. Back to the moose, er Elg. We were on a trip to “the beach” at Bogstad lake. On the walk to the lake, there they laid, on the middle of the trail, big poop. My first thought was a dog, but uff, that would be one scary big dog. We weren’t sure at the time and I didn’t bring the camera, but after consulting the wisdom of the internet I’m confident. Now I can have a new obsession.

The focus of this week’s Sunday Nature Call is less about the wildlife than on how people here seem to interact with it. We have noticed differences on several fronts. One front is the time children spent out-of-doors. Two, there’s a bias for making the most of the weather you have. And three, the structure of society makes accessing the out-of-doors more convenient.

Kids spend a lot of time outside. The other day was gorgeous and Meghan noticed the nearby daycare was in the park the whole day: they played, they rested, they sang songs, they ate, they played…all day outside. I suspect they peed outside if the urge called.

They boys’ school lets out at 1 Pm, typical. Then there is “Activity School,” pronounced “Aks, (like Ox) and according to everyone, “everybody does it.” You have to pay though…tell me something new about Norway, but I digress. The first 90 minutes or so they are outside – just having chaos as is totally normalized here. My boys are getting killed. They just aren’t used to spending hours outside without structure. Probably suggests a bigger problem (mine).

My dad has a favorite phrase, “Make hay when the sun shines.” I bet there’s an expression here that goes something like, “Spiller når solen skinner.” It’s probably so obvious they don’t but they should, trademark John Hanson 2015. In my post about Halden I noted the reveling in the outside lunch (but really, who wouldn’t?). On Wednesday we did something I feel like the Norwegians would do: we took advantage of glorious day.

I had found out that there was a new beach/swimming area constructed in the harbor and that it was pretty neat. My first thought was “that’s nice, but I’ll wait.” Once I told Meghan, we were packing. Sørenga was a happening scene. Very cool on a hot afternoon. Bodies were strewn about the decking, soaking in the rays, while many others were swimming gayly. Well, when in Rome.

Causeway to Sørenga

Owen and I hauled ourselves to the top of the diving platform. I jumped – OMG it was cold. I yelled back at Owen it was great. He jumped, and then nearly jumped back out of the water onto the deck. We were refreshed. Ryal took some cajoling but he jumped too. His reaction was priceless. I felt like I was getting away with a little bit of child abuse that we could all laugh about later. Meghan took the plunge, once. The thing was, I got used to the water pretty quickly. And in the water, but under that broiling sun, it was actually pretty nice.

Solbad på Sørenga

And maybe that’s the one of the big mental shifts. Who cares if the water is cold, you get in and enjoy. I read a report, empirical research, that people in northern Norway feel better about the winter (there it’s total darkness), than do people in the south of Norway (who actually get some sunshine). In other words, life is short – get out there.

The last point it is the most abstract, potentially stereotyping, but key feature. In this Constitutional democracy, Norwegians have voted to make health and the outdoors a priority. For example, we have come across two outdoor “gymnasium” parks without trying. High taxes on alcohol and chocolate are others – living longer and better does sound like a nice exchange.

Røa idrettsplass

Here you are essentially guaranteed some vacation. You own it, not your employer. The standard of living and labor laws are such that running between multiple jobs or juggling will-call employment are unusual. Most people have employment conditions that give them enough certainty and knowledge of one’s schedule that leisure time is possible to be a planned and consistent experience. They voted for that, why haven’t we?

My challenge for you is to take stock of your relationship with fresh air. One, do something pointless in nature despite the weather. If you regret it, I will send you a personal apology through the post. Two, think about how little it would take for you to get yourself and family/friends/dogs…outside – unplugged – and unfettered. Just think about it.

I’ll be keeping a look out for hawks carefully this week. Also, I be keeping a good attitude about the weather. We’ve had an exceptional run of stellar weather that is forecast to end. I will do my best to choose joy.

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh

Treated like a Prince

Treated like a Prince

What happens when you reduce 200 liters of Ox-tail broth over a week until you’re down to 2 liters and then drizzle it over beef that spent 8 hours in an immersion cooker? Magic, at least that is about as sophisticated a word I can think of for the most sophisticated meal I have ever enjoyed. My thesaurus is insufficient to relate fully the sensory joys of that meal and my time in Halden. But I’ll give it a go.

Thursday and Friday were my first real Fulbright grantee duties: an overnight road trip to Halden for two days of learning at the Fremmedspråksenteret at the local university-college, Høgskole i Østfold (HiØf). The Fremmedspråksenteret is the national center to support the furtherance of the world’s languages in Norwegian schools. I was eager just to get out of Oslo.

My dearest friend in Norway, the #32 bus, picked me up without delay on Thursday morning towards Oslo Sentrum, the central train station and hub for region. Setting aside the always engaging vistas, a persistent pleasurable sight are all the denizens on bikes wheeling to work. Such a lesson for America. We have no grounds for blaming the weather. Case in point, Minneapolis is #1 in bicycle commuters; take that L.A. ;).

Oslo Sentrum

With a minor hiccup I met my party on the #19 track to take the #102 train bound for Halden. The assemblage was the three Rovers, the three English Teaching Assistants (ETA) from the universities, and our rock, Rena. The train affords people the opportunity to travel and actually talk because of the seating you can actually look at one another. So convivial.

Traveling south and east there were times the countryside was packed with orchards, berry patches, and fruit farms. The geography reminded me a lot of growing up in western Wisconsin. In other stretches I saw fusions of northern Minnesota and northern Alabama. Since it was all new it was all interesting. Near Sarpsborg we had to switch to a bus because of construction to finish the trip. Not much of a bother, but I do prefer the train.

Fredriksten festning

As you drive into Halden the Fortress looms overhead, an impressive sight. Fredriksten festning has guarded south-east Norway for over 300 years. Today it has been repurposed as a hub for cultural activities that live in juxtaposition from the violent history of the grounds; think Isaiah 2:4.

HiØf was a welcoming host. Outside the Stars and Stripes flew alongside the Norwegian Standard. Inside, our conference room was rich with treats, coffee, and warm smiles. We got a lot of information on the purpose of the center and education in Norway. The star was lunch though. They put on an impressive spread in a private courtyard. We lounged in the sun and ate and chatted. The time for lunch to end came and went. I think the staff were all too happy to spend as much time in the gorgeous sun as they could. I was actually relieved to get back inside because I got pretty irradiated.

We Fulbrighters clucked excitedly about the food – we were surprised and so appreciative of the bounty; little did we know… Training ended and we bid adieu to Rena and ETAs, they were done, the Rovers had another day. Here’s where I need to read itineraries better or just get a clue (what would Sheldon Cooper do?) because the balance of the day was unexpected.

Walking to the fortress

Three of the women from the center accompanied us by taxi to the Fredriksten hotel and then took us on a tour of the fortress grounds before dinner (dinner was in the fortress). Fine company and an idyllic day overlooking Halden was too good. The fortress is worth a visit. We strolled the grounds and then got a private tour from a guide who’s measured and deliberate english added a gravity to her tales.

The burning of Halden explained

The burning of Halden explained

Next stop was back into the inner fortress to a tiny restaurant tucked into a former soldiers’ quarters. I was advised that this was going to be really good, special. But with my belly still working on lunch, I wasn’t as eager as I should have been.

Beef with ox-tail reduction on a beet puree and vegetables

Beef with ox-tail reduction on a beet puree and vegetables

Pre-course: A first-rate flute of sparkling white wine al fresco with petite appetizers for stimulation: on crackers were a salmon, cured ham, and moose salami topped with currants. We could have stopped there, but the dinning room beckoned. Forgive me for glossing over the balance of the meal but to account for all of it would take the wordsmithing of James Joyce or David Foster Wallace. Perhaps Hunter S. Thompson would have been the better chronicler of the evening because it was a blur and haze of exceptional food and merry conversation with new friends. Four hours later we finished supper and parted company. The wizardry of chef Sebastian Engh had me full to the gills; I appreciated the long walk back to the hotel.

Friday was more exploratory learning back at the center. Another sun-soaked lunch and then the director, a true Mensch, gave us a lift to the station for a return trip to Oslo. Attention creative fiction and story writers (Nick Bulter – talking to you), your lead character is a Norwegian, who lives in Sweden, and dreams in German. Go.

Does the prince get treated as well as I was in Halden? I suppose, but he has certain expectations. For the elements of sheer surprise and joy, I’d like to believe I came out better.

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 33

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 33

One new bird this week. There’s no disappointment from last week’s bounty. I expected this week would be lean. I did spot a raptor soaring over the neighborhood but I couldn’t make a positive ID, there’s always next week.

Kvitkinngås (Branta leucopis)

I think I’ll remember well seeing Kvitkinngåsene because I was in the company of my family during a little boat tour of the Oslo Harbor. Side note, Oslo Fjord isn’t a real fjord; the shock! It wasn’t created by a glacier but rather a splitting of the earth – think rift valley. I will be a good sport and not write any letters suggesting a geographical correction. That would be the kind of deviance that could get me kicked out of the country faster than waving a Swedish flag!

Vaccinium cyanoccoccus
Berry picking is a really big deal in Norway. My evidence is that it’s one of the first things I learned about when we got here. This time of year berries are on sale everywhere – like sweet corn in Iowa. Meghan and I agreed that we finally got to taste what strawberries are really supposed to taste like: soft and very sweet. I knew there were great expectations for berries. Ryal has a long-standing interest in berries based on a book he has read, re-read, asked a million questions about and read again. Plus he’s oh-so-hungry. Owen just likes to eat, but especially fresh produce.

Blueberry in Nordmarka

“Ocian in view. O! the joy,” Excited words from William Clark on November 8, 1805 as his party finally reached their destination. I really like that quote but our joy wasn’t first tempered by trials and tribulations of crossing an uncharted continent.  We finally went to the woods like proper Norwegians on Saturday. I was eager to hit the woods because I see it as another checkmark on the Oslo experience, and I hoped to score some new birds (not to be). The boys were “dancing with visions of blueberries dancing in their heads.”

The faithful #32 Bus drove us up the mountain. The end of the line was our goal. Seriously, just when you think Oslo can’t get prettier, drive up the hills. “Voksen Skog,” everybody off. Everybody was just us. All the  real  Norwegian were already there. Where in the hell are you from? Who goes to the forest at two in the afternoon?

For Nordmarka being such a big deal this enterance was underwhelming, classicaly Scandinavian I suppose. Why brag? A short walk on a gravel trail took us to Strømsdammen, a little lake set against a painfully steep talus slope. Families were scattered around the lake enjoying the day, naked little kids, senior citizens in sunning chairs and parents who hand toted incredible amounts of gear. Well, we found our little piece of shoreline and convinced the twins to take a dip.

Well, we convinced them to strip to their underwear and wade. Owen bravely plunged and immediatlely retreated – COLD! Typical, Ryal held back to see how others faired. Ha, he thought he had it figured out. Cautiously he wadded in, and then splash he slipped and was immerssed. God laughed.

After a birthday suit sun-dry, we headed further into the forest. All the while, Ryal was talking about berries. I did my best to downplay finding them because I didn’t want him to be too disappointed. “Hey, here’s one,” said Meghan. OMG, we actually found blueberries. And find them we did. Ryal did his best ursine impression by ignoring all formal berry picking conventions and just plopping down amongst the bushes and doing what the good Lord designed kids to do: eat.

Left to their own devices, the boys would have stayed there. I wanted to move. We pressed on, stopping here and there to pick. We reached the alpine hills with the snowmakers and turned around. All the while the trail was busy with young parents blazing down hills on bikes towing trailers with children, elderly hikers with poles, and everyone in between. My kind of scene.

Imagine a generous slice of the Boundary Waters abutting Minneapolis. At 166 square miles, the Nordmarka is 2.5 times larger than Fort McCoy. Everyone deserves such a refuge in their town – vote!

The week ahead promises more pleasant weather, more Solidago, and less daylight. Are new birds in the offing? Early migrators are afoot.

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh



Death is part and parcel of life. While our time in Norway has been pretty joyful so far, news from across the sea brought an element of sadness. Jewel Berge, of Strum, Wisconsin passed away – 96 years! Below is a memory I shared with the funeral home’s website. You should read to learn about Jewel.

Photo of Oslo Fjord from near Røa, looking SW

Photo of Oslo Fjord from near Røa, looking SW

“I am so sorry to hear of Jewel’s passing, although we only met a few times he made an important impact on my life. Jewel was a friend and business partner of my grandfather Maurice Hanson. Through stories I learned how much Jewel’s companionship and technical skills helped my Grandfather lead a prosperous life.
As one of the original “Liars” from the Drummond liar, Jewel occupied a special place in the lore of my upbringing. The stories, and tall tales from the Northwoods about bucks, bears, and buddies fueled my hope that one day I too would get to tote a rifle in the company of men under all those tall pines. And thanks to my dad I did.
In the fall of 1989 I got my chance. Dad and I joined LaVerne and Joe Gullicksrud, and Jewel and another. Jewel served whole wheat toast with homemade jam and shoulder bacon for breakfast on my first cold and dark Saturday morning. I was a fussy eater and my eyes widened at the prospect of having to eat it. But, wanting to be accepted by the group, and catching Jewel’s knowing smile of assurance, I ate my share; and then a second helping. I have counted that experience in particular as important in my maturing into an adult, thanks in large part to Jewel.
I remember seeing the photo from a news clipping of Jewel skiing downtown Strum during a particularly heavy storm. Who knew skiing could be so macho? The melody of his sing-song voice during a post-church breakfast at the Skyline clubhouse rings in my ears – he had on a dark suit with a lapel pin featuring a Norwegian and American flag.
Jewel was the kind of man who left an impression. He certainly left a positive one on me. Given his Norse heritage, maybe the most apt metaphor was that he was like a glacier: He came from the North and relished the cold. He changed all those around him, albeit so slowly maybe they didn’t notice. And like so many glaciers, Jewel is gone. Yet, the impressions, the carvings, the deposits in the hearts and minds of so many remain and will remain.

I have the privilege of living in Norway this year as a Fulbright Scholar. It has given me a lot to think about: my ancestors, the land they left, the traditions they carried… I included a couple of photos I just took, for Jewel and his family from the land that set his family on the path to the American dream. One is a photo high above Oslo, near the Holmenkollen, looking southwest over the fjord. The other is a pennant flying on Bygdøg as seen from the Oslo harbor.

Med vennilig hilsen,

John L. Hanson”

A Pennant flutters on Bygdøy

A Pennant flutters on Bygdøy

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 32

The Sunday Nature Call, uke 32

[Publishers note, The Sunday Nature Call will be a weekly effort to relate the author’s observations, insights, and musings. The following submission is the first of the series. “Uke” means “week,” 32 refers to the week of the calendar year as is the Norwegian custom.]

This will be my Big Year. My domestic log already noted some cherished entries, roving over Norway should really plump up my list. And I’m off to a great start.

The following are new birds for me listed in the order of confirmation:

  1. Kai (Corvus monedula)
  2. Skjære (Pica pica)
  3. Svarttrost (Turdus merula)
  4. Tårnsvale (Apus apus)
  5. Linerle (Motacilla alba)
  6. Kjøttmeis (Parus major)
  7. Ringdue (Columba palumbus)
  8. Blåmeis (Parus caeruleus)
  9. Hettemåke (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
  10. Bergand (Aytha marila)
  11. Toppand (Aytha fuligula)
  12. Grågås (Anser anser)
  13. Svartbak (Larus marinus)

The Sjære are the most charismatic residents of the neighborhood. You know they are clever birds. I have a nagging feeling there are merely tolerating people.


Aside from the birds, it’s been a joy to see all the bumblebees. I have a feeling there is little use of American-style pesticides here on an industrial scale like in Iowa. So far I’ve noticed two types of bumblebees, one with a yellow color distal to the abdomen and another with red. The flowers here are a mystery to me and I’ll leave it at that – only so many biological obsessions are allowed! Let’s just say there are many different kinds, the blooms are rich, and they make me smile.

The smell of this place has eluded adequate description. In the air there’s a little Midwest lushness, Colorado pine and rock, and I know the fjord must be making a contribution. This issue too will necessitate further research and contemplation.

Where are all the squirrels? Any rabbits are also mysteries to me. My initial suspicion is to blame a rich population of domesticated pussy cats. The judge will require more evidence.

Looking ahead, looking up, and keeping my pencil sharp. -jlh

3 Squares and Health

3 Squares and Health

“No, we are not buying any candy or snacks and please don’t ask again!” Poor Ryal, he’s not used to forgoing a snack at his pleasure; frankly, neither am I. Don’t worry, and no, we don’t need “care packages.” Save your donations for refugees. But a week in, and our culture vibe (not a shock – this is Norway ♥ ) is becoming apparent.

My middle-class, middle American habit was to eat whenever and just about whatever I wanted. One of the reasons I exercised was to balance my eating habit. Mid-morning handful of Oreos: done. Afternoon chips and salsa, check. Late night hunk of cheese and God-knows what else I felt like, I’m the king of my own castle. Really, it’s kind of remarkable I don’t weigh too much and have Type II disease.

Here, so far, things are different. They ought to be different. One, we’re getting used to Oslo prices and figuring out what works for our budget. So in the interium we are being oh-so-careful with the Kroner. Two, because we have the leash tight our routines have changed. We are back to three sqaures, period.

I haven’t felt this way in my belly and mind about food since I was in boot camp. Man, that was a long time ago. The Marines provided me three meals a day: “Take all you want, eat all you take.” And between meals you drank water and sweated your tail off. There was a tightness in your abdomin, a narrowing feeling. I suppose it was partly because your stomach was actually emptied of contents.

That familiar feeling is back in this much older body. That feeling is one that has been a ubiquitous companion to humanity until oh-so recently for oh-so few. By eating less and less often I am ironcially “comuning” with more people’s experiences in the world than I ever before.

Wallking through Frogner Park after viewing the Vigeland statues, we passed some girls doing promo work for Lipton Ice Tea. Ryal got to talking about pop and other “treats.” I tried to put his eight-year-old lizard brain into the context of his grandparents. He adores his grandparents. My effort was to explain how his grandparents, when there were his age, rarely had “treats.” They were either too isolated or poor to have pop or candy except as an uncommon surprise. It was a big deal for any of them to get a little pop or candy as a child. Truly, those were treats.

I told him that today those things, pop, candy, chips… are just everywhere. And while we see those temptations everywhere in Oslo, like Iowa, we have to adopt the austerity of the grandparents to keep walking and wait for a special occasion. I convienced myself that I did a thoroughly fatherly job and that he mostly understood. The big lies are the easiest to accept (the big lie being that I was a convincing father).

I should take my yearly physical now. I suspect my blood sugars and other blood work would come back steller. Will we proabably relax our strict position on food? Yes. Would my physican and dentist wish for me to remain on this diet back in the US? Absolutely. Meghan and I have already talked about the positive benefits we’ve noticed, physically and emotionally on this diet and how we should keep it up for the year and when we return. “Should” is one of those terrible words, like the road to hell, paved with good intentions but agonizingly difficult to follow through. Will we have enough courage to stand apart from a health harming culure? I pray we do, I pray you do to.

Other forms of Freedom

Other forms of Freedom

Whom are more “free”, Norwegians or Americans? Just asking that question is enough to draw the scorn of too many of my countrymen. That’s sad. But what also is sad for an American ego is to at least consider that people in another country may be more free.

It would be too easy to discuss how free Norwegians are in issues already well publicized such as health care, governmental allowances for children, health care, maternity and paternity paid leave, vacation…that’s all been done. I wanted to take this opportunity to think about another angle that by its absence, its invisibility is important.

Yesterday, we traveled via the bus and shanks mare to central Oslo. I had an appointment at a police station for immigrants to get identification cards and tax numbers – the all-access passes. It did not look or feel like a police station, more like a very nice DMV. The two security men I saw where dressed in casual grey uniforms and no visible weapons or other implements.

The center was a diverse place. I heard Russian, a pair of Macedonian women sat next to me. Many men and women wore traditional Islamic garb. Yet, I felt less tension there then waiting for my driver’s license back home. Granted, it was fascinating for me to be people watching, but there was no appreciable spectre of enmity lurking among the many peoples present.

From the police station, we walked to my office located next to the castle. Oslo was lively but not crowded on a Wednesday afternoon. As we walked and gawked, I didn’t see any police. Frankly, I was looking because I was just a little off course – not lost – just off course. As a paranoid American I only wanted to ask an official for assistance. It wasn’t meant to be. Finally, I asked some nice young men manning a cell phone table for directions. And just like that we were on Karl Johans Gate, the most important street (its pedestrian only) in Oslo.

Our walk took us past glamorous shops, swank hotels, the Parliament Building (Storting), the national theater, and the King’s castle.

R & O på KJ Gate med Slottet

R & O på KJ Gate med Slottet

In all that time, past so many critical landmarks, I only saw the police once. They were mounted officers riding slowly together, from the west to east.

This long setup leads to my question about freedom. Norway spends a lot of tax dollars to reduce inequality. The government, i.e. the people (no, not “We the People”, that’s a different topic) invests strongly in childcare and promoting healthy upbringings, education and workforce training, and general well-being. And perhaps, those monies then obviate the need for a heavy American-style police presence.

What is the opportunity cost in America of a heavy police presence? The police in general have gotten a lot of bad press of late, the bad apples ruining it for all the upstanding officers. If the price of freedom in America is to live in a heavily policed state, then how free can Americans be? I think the Norwegians have gone along way towards achieving Freedom from Fear. They’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination but they clearly have done many things right.

Can Americans ever achieve such a social peace? I believe we can, although first we would need to reconsider what freedom means. What if freedom went from meaning, “do anything you want” to living in a community that is free from fear? As I travel this year I hope to be able to come back to this topic with broader perspectives from cities and towns around the land.