Real life

Now starts real life in Stavanger. We have had tons of free/vacation time up until now. We spent almost all of July at the summer cabin with my in-laws. We did a week in Italy with my parents. We took a five day trip to Spain for a work trip turned long weekend and got back on Sunday. We went to the fishing cabin for two nights and three days before going home to the temporary apartment.

Now the routine of daily life starts. I want to start getting things set up for the project based learning I want Kiddo to get geared up for. I signed us up for a swimming class on Friday mornings – I missed the first class when we were in Spain so now I have to go for the first time next week (I get really nervous for this kind of thing). I am always late; it is a weakness – I think I have more time than I do and then Kiddo doesn’t cooperate on top of that, and then I forget my contacts and then we are running running running. I am not sure Kiddo will want to leave the house, at least the first time. But I think she will like it. And I am encouraged about meeting other kids her age. It is very rare to find an activity for kids between age 2 and 5 that takes place during the day. What I hope it means is that there are some other kids who are at least home one day a week. I really hope that Kiddo can make a friend or two, because I feel like she is the type of personality (like me ;)) who does really well with a couple of close friends.

In a few weekends, I hope to be able to volunteer at the Stavanger Kids Sale, a consignment sale for kids’ clothes that my friend started up. She used to live in the Stavanger region, moved to Oslo, and I met her through an online sewing class we both did that was based out of Atlanta, where she is from. Small world! Anyway, she knows a lot of people that she can introduce me to here, so it would be a good idea to throw myself into that situation.

There are playgroups on Thursday and Friday (which I will miss). I know my daughter, so I don´t want to jump into too many things. I have contacted a Spanish speaking non live in nanny (“dagmamma”) about using her for a few hours, a couple days a week. I think it might be nice to have time to run errands and workout and clean in the hours when I am most productive. Hubby is not convinced, though, so we will see. 

Time feels like it is passing so fast. We turned over the apartment a week ago. I didn´t go, so I saw it for the last time in June. It is kind of sad, but I don´t need the symbolism of saying goodbye. It was a change that was happening, no matter what I thought or felt. When we were writing a luggage tag for the stroller last week, I started writing the old address. And then I couldn´t even remember the zip code. My brain is struggling, clearly.

Just to be extra confusing, I am going back to Oslo for a doctor´s appointment next week, and since Hubby was going for a conference anyway, we are going together from Tuesday to Friday morning. I will see my “old” friends (even though I don´t have any new friends yet), go to book club, and see my SIL. Except: we will stay in a hotel and not our lovely apartment, because someone else lives there now. That is so strange.

Hubby says the fall will pass quickly. I am not sure about that. The days can go really slowly with lots of playing make believe with a 2yo who doesn´t like to leave the house. It is lovely but sort of slow motion at the same time.

Our house is making lots of progress, even though the contractor said they won´t be done until January, now.

I have the urge to just stay home and watch Netflix and read books and play with plastic animals with my daughter, but the faster I do this process of meeting people, the faster I will know people. In Oslo I jumped in super fast, and the benefit was that I had a circle of friends in record time. But it feels different now, with a toddler who we parent rather alternatively. It feels like that sets the framework. But at the same time, I think it gives a good filter. I am not necessarily going to click with a woman with grown kids, who likes to drink tons of wine on Friday and Saturday night and then spend Saturday and Sunday lounging around. I am more going to click with people who found the fun farm on Saturday and are maybe down for a barbeque in the early evening on Sunday. So, I have to be open, but understand my stage in life when looking for friends.

I had plans to take an art class or a guitar class this fall but I don´t see how there will ever be time for that. I can only have so many hobbies as a parent, if I also value sleep, which I do. But it is a phase in life.

I hope this doesn´t sound pessimistic. I don’t feel pessimistic, I just feel a little bit overwhelmed. They always talk about moving as this thing that happens on that day, and maybe the week after, but I feel like moving is something that actually takes months. Luckily, part of that is the honeymoon period where you discover new shops and paths and people, but then you settle in and start seeing the traffic and the rain and the place specific problems. Then, you take a little upturn again when everything levels out. That is probably after a year. Such is moving; such is real life. 

“I Hope You Have A Pleasant Stay in Stavanger” – The Reality of Settling Somewhere for Good

Yesterday we moved.

Kind of.

We still have to go back to Oslo. Our apartment is not packed up, but we have removed most of the things that we use on a day to day basis, like our clothes, toiletries, shoes, and kitchen machines. We are renting it out until mid July, at which point we will go back and help organize and pack up for the movers, who will come at some point. But we will be there for a visit. We will come with the clothes we will wear. We will bring toothbrushes. Cuz that stuff isn’t there anymore.

Yesterday, we loaded up the car, did a couple of random errands like get the dog vaccine card stamped at a vet we will never visit again and pick up some gourmet coffee, and then Kiddo and I hopped on a plane to Stavanger and Hubby drove with Poodle and the car full of lots of our crap across the country. It felt weird, but not that weird.

Until 40 minutes into the flight, when we were almost on the ground, and the pilot announced the weather in Stavanger and said, “I hope you all have a pleasant stay in Stavanger.” Then, WHOOSH! Tears.

“Oh my god,” I thought, “We live in Stavanger now. My stay in Stavanger is indefinite.”

I had a similar moment when I changed my voter registration to Switzerland. I had sent my ballot to Greece for the 2004 election, and then for some reason they were still sending it there for awhile, and then when we got married and I changed my name, I went to the office in the US and told them I needed to be sure my ballot got to me where we were. They asked where that was, and it was a big deal that it was overseas (not a lot of army people in the area? Not a lot of traveling businessmen/women and their families?). The options were to send the ballot there for one calendar year or indefinitely. She asked how long I would be living in Norway and I said, longer than a year, that is for sure, and so she told me to mark, “indefinite.” I didn’t want to then, and I don’t want to now.

Not for any other reason than it is scary.

I think the hardest part about essentially settling here for good (whichever city it is in Norway), is that it is NOTHING like the US. It will never be the US. That can be both positive and negative, but it is true. If I live here and raise Kiddo (and any other babies I might have) here, then this will be her childhood. She wont have…I don’t even know! She won’t have Saturday morning cartoons in English. She won’t have grandma´s house where she goes and watches Nickelodeon and eats cottage cheese and canned peaches. She won’t have a birthday party at McDonald´s. She wont have an elementary school tradition including tea bag dyed pillowcases for Native American celebrations or plaid shirts and cowboy hats and square dancing for the old west dances. She won’t have Halloween. She won’t have OMSI summer camps. She won’t have my childhood, in other words.

Of course my kid(s) won’t have the same childhood as I had. That would be weird and impossible. I think parents always sort of hold on to the idea that their kids will have lots in common with their own childhoods, though, consciously or subconsciously. That is just what we know.

For expats, it is easier to understand – superficially – that our kids will have different upbringings than we had. We expect these obvious differences, such as food preferences, song knowledge, slang words, cartoons and so on. They will adapt to where they are, as much as we make them mac and cheese (or Mac Oh Geez!).

But it is easiest, I think, to avoid thinking about the problems they – or we – will have living away from one easy home base. For us, Kiddo has half her nationalities represented in Norway. She still will likely feel in the middle, because I am American and I do things differently – not exactly American anymore, I don’t think, but definitely not full fledged mainstream Norwegian. How will a child cope with being moved a lot, or in our case, feeling pulled between two poles: one set of grandparents (and cultural references) on one side of the world, the other set of grandparents (with different cultural references) on the other side of the world?

When I started writing this, I was only thinking of myself. How I felt about moving. But I guess it dredges up a whole lot of feelings about my life, which now is certainly centered around Kiddo, and where I fit in the world.

I guess I am left feeling very small, and at the start of a long windy road called life. I don’t know what will happen here in Stavanger. I don’t know what kind of childhood Kiddo will have. I don’t know if I will stay at home for the duration of her early years, or find a job or some sort of other work. I don’t know which way my passions – about organic and compassionate food, music, writing, reading, meditating, and so on – will evolve. I don’t know if we will be able to have another child, and if so, how that will affect our family. There are so many unknowns.

Which brings me back to the Buddhist axiom: you only have today. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow might never come. You have just got to live. So that is what I am trying to do, wherever I am, however I feel, and whoever is around me. It is not always easy but it is all I have. (And that is a lot!)

Saying Goodbye and Feeling Forgotten

The time has come for goodbyes. The things I am doing and the people I am seeing will stay in Oslo, and I will move away.

I have been doing pretty well with it up until now. I have been going to old haunts – the petting farm at Ekeberg, the beach on Bygdøy, the park, the shopping haunts in Grunerløkka – and meeting friends for drinks and playdates and lunches. When I do these things, I try to enjoy them fully for what they are and not spend too much time thinking: “this is last time I will be doing this” or “if I do this again I will not be coming from my awesome apartment but a hotel or something.” And my friends have been acting in just the way I want. They have been sad and expressive. One friend who is close but not that close offered her couch to me for whenever I want to come to town – “we will make it work.” I felt loved and wanted – and those are good things to feel!

Then last night I saw a friend of mine whom I don’t see very often, but when I do we have a great time and we have lots in common – especially our parenting styles, which gives me a lot of comfort since I often feel like the odd women out around here. We had a nice evening, with great discussions and a glass of wine and some food. As she walked me a block in my direction, she ended with something like, “Well, have fun in Stavanger and maybe I will see you there someday.” I don’t know why this has overturned all the positive “grieving” I have been doing about leaving Oslo. Suddenly I don’t feel like people are going to miss me at all. I feel like their lives are going on and that person they saw sometimes isn’t gonna be around anymore. It doesn’t feel nice.

I am pretty sure she would like to see me if I am back again. I am also fairly certain she didn’t mean any sort of subtext when she said that – that it is just weird to say goodbye to someone when you really don’t know when you will see her next.

I think what this brought up for me was the feeling that I am the one who is losing in this situation. (Of course, I am winning too, to extend the metaphor – a new house, a set of grandparents nearby, a garden, etc.) Still: the world I have been in will move on without me and I will relocate. I have to start over, and they get to continue seeing their friends, visiting the familiar places and being here – the place I am used to.

The exciting part of moving, of course, is just that: starting again!

When I was studying abroad in college, I had recently broke off my first serious relationship (and started a new one – pffff), and used the opportunity of being around totally new people in a new place to introduce myself as a nickname that I had never used before. I had tried it once in 5th grade on a trip to California – those people still address me as that in cards. You know what? I didn’t like it. I felt like a fake. Sometimes people would say the nickname and I wouldn’t turn around, and there would be this awkward moment where I had to pretend I was spaced out.

I think this is a reminder to me that starting over in a new place doesn’t have to be more meaningful than it already is. I don’t have to change things about myself just because I have the opportunity. But it doesn’t mean that I can’t embrace the change. And none of this means that the friends I have from Oslo will disappear. I have phone, texts, emails, and everything. If I make the effort (and so do they), these friends can still be in my life. 

Letting go of a place

I am in between. No, really, I am in between two places – Oslo and Stavanger – and I feel uneasy. 

Yesterday we sold our apartment. That last string tying us to Oslo has been – poof! – cut, and I feel it. When we bought the house in Stavanger, it was a big deal because it meant the move was happening. But we still had our real house – our place in Oslo – our beautiful, high ceilinged, central, old apartment in Oslo. Now we don’t. Someone else owns it now (or they will soon enough).

It makes me want to cry.

There, I am crying.

At the same time as all of this is happening, I am reading more about Buddhism. I am reading a fantastic book by Stephen Batchelor called Confession of a Buddhist Atheist, which talks about how he went from becoming a Tibetan Buddhist monk at age 21 to renouncing his vows ten years later and finding a way to live from Buddhist principles without all the religion (rebirth and karma and prayers and chanting and stuff). So in a word, it is perfect for me. He is talking about how the Buddha created the Four Noble Truths not for monks, but for lay people – real people out engaging in the world – working and living in it, not just thinking about it. What is relevant about that now? Well, Batchelor talks about the second Truth, which is letting go of craving. He writes that we cannot remain constantly unchanged, whether that means being happy or suffering, for the duration of our life. When we really understand this for ourselves, craving – for one place, for things, for fame, for money, for food, and even for stability for example – falls away and we can more easily live in the moment. (Plus a lot more, but this post isn’t a summary of Batchelor´s book.)

So I feel like my craving for stability and friendships and the happiness I have had in Oslo isn’t bad, but it also isn’t based on reality. My great group of friends there started falling away mere months after I found them. I found more, and others fell away. This is life in general, but especially life as an expat whose friends consist of 99% other expats. After I am gone, others will in turn begin to leave. It is a good metaphor for this idea of a fleeting, contingent world that the Buddha taught about. And it helps pull me out of my mopey funk at “being pulled away from my friends” and “starting off into the unknown”. The latter happens every day, no matter where I am in the world.

There are some concrete things that make me feel better. First of all, the friends I have who are not moving anytime soon will only be a 50-minute plane ride away. I technically can still be a part of the book club I am in in Oslo, although I am not sure I am so excited about that anymore since the turnover has been so high. My sister in law lives in Oslo with her boyfriend and they have a guest room, so we can always crash there, although it would be wisest to get a hotel if we start doing that often – from experience I can say that couch surfing is not a good way to keep familial relationships strong in my family.

Finally, there is a lot to be excited about in Stavanger. We have access to our in-laws for that family feeling, for babysitting, and for advice/connections. We have access to the winter cabin and a fishing place that are too far from Oslo to use. There is a great organic farm here with two outlets for buying all our crazy ingredients, including our lots of organic fruit and veg, our favorite tofu, alternative grains, alternative baking supplies, organic snacks and organic meat, eggs, and cheese. It is a great place to meet people, too. People put up signs there about activities and there is even one from a women who is possibly even more alternative than I am, with her phone and email (although I tried to text her and got no response – meh!). There is a Friday playgroup not far from our temporary apartment. There is a new organic bakery and café within a short drive or long walk from our temporary place.

I guess I am actually looking forward to exploring and finding things here. What I will miss is running into my friends, or getting a text from someone I feel really knows me, saying, “wanna grab coffee?” or even asking how I am. That is the part that makes my heart hurt the most.

But there is hope. Yesterday, I decided to get out of the house a little bit, so I went to a shopping center to find some hand weights and check out a sale at a baby store, and I ran into the one person I actually personally know in Stavanger, with her baby, at the baby store! On the one hand that means: shit, what a freaking small town. I get a text from this store that there is a sale, and so does she, and we both are there at the same time. And my MIL said she saw her earlier yesterday too! What the… On the other hand, that means maybe it isn’t so scary. Maybe it won’t be too hard to find people here.

Lastly, I have been fantasizing about meeting my people – like those people, male, female, don’t care, whom I really click with. People who get me. People who question. People who think deeply. People who make me a better and more thoughtful person.

You know what, though? That is hard to find ANYWHERE. Childhood friends drift apart, college friends move away and get different jobs and do different things, work friends disperse, get promoted, and find new jobs, and people are all basically over the place. People are changing all the time. I have moved so much in my life and changed so much in my life that it is a wonder I have any friends left from the earlier stages of my life, sometimes. (Actually I only have a couple, but let´s not dwell on that!) I try not to label, but my current description of expat, stay at home mom, super-crunchy, extended-breastfeeding, co-sleeping, non-deodorant wearing, non-shampoo using, part-time vegan, business class loving, fancy car driving American makes me wary of finding people who aren´t put off by some or all of these things that make up my current persona. They aren´t me, though, and as reassuring as it is to find people who have similar interests to me, I don´t need to put myself out there as THAT type of person. I just have to be “me” as I feel each day and hope that people connect with that person. Equally important, I have to not judge people by their current actions – just as I try not to judge my friends and community and enemies and basically everyone, where ever they are in the world. If they parent differently and live differently, that doesn’t mean we don’t have some things in common.

So another part of letting go of Oslo is letting go of an idea that I am one certain kind of person and I only will get along with one specific other type of person, and that my eternal happiness depends on finding that type of person, in a couple of specimens, in Stavanger, within a few months, thankyouverymuch. That just isn’t reality.

I have to be open to the city and all its people and places and spaces.

Which leads me to close this post by mentioning another Buddhist aphorism. We live only in the present, but that doesn’t completely diminish the fact that the past set the foundation for it and the present sets the foundation for the future. The past and the future are important, in other words, but there isn´t anything we can do about them today!

Starting the move to Stavanger

The time has come that we have fewer days left in Oslo that I think I can deal with. Like, instead of months, or even weeks, I feel like we have days. Just days. Like, 9 days for sure, and a few more that might happen if we need to or want to or can manage.


Are you kidding me?

When did this happen?

I feel NOT good about this. In fact, I feel sick about this. Yesterday, I flew with Kiddo and Hubby drove with Poodle to Stavanger, from Oslo. We are getting keys to the temporary apartment, and we have fishing rights on the river nearby early next week, and we were going to rent out our Oslo apartment through airbnb but had to cancel, so the plan is that we will be here until next Monday, which is about 10 days. Then we go back to Oslo for 9 days, and spend the next essentially 6 weeks at the summer cabin, and then a week in Italy with my parents, and then…Stavanger?

Because of all these feelings that arose when I realized how few days we have left in Oslo, I was bitter and surly to Hubby yesterday. I didn’t want to go to Stavanger, but I didn’t want to stay in Oslo alone with Kiddo and no backup (I have a health issue that I will probably write about soon that makes that scary). I knew I was upsetting him, but I couldn’t help myself. I was trying to be kind to myself, to honor the feeling, to be honest with him, but at the base of all that, I was just pissed off. 

Let´s spend just a moment on that. Why, when this has been coming for so long – I mean really since I met Hubby I knew we would probably end up in Stavanger so he could work with the family business – why do I feel so upset about this?

This is what I come up with:

  • Change is stressful.
  • Oslo is so nice this time of year.
  • My friend just had a baby and I want to see her a lot.
  • Friends in general.
  • Barbeques and beer and stuff in the park?!
  • Our apartment is amazing and we have been keeping it cleaner and I love being back in one place after so much traveling.

But Stavanger will be undeniably great on paper.

In Stavanger, I will have access to a place that is my own. In half a year I will have a house with a garden, something I have dreamed about for a long time! But I will be trading in my real city life of walking absolutely everywhere for a life where you can walk, but will probably drive. I hope we will bike more often, though.

I can make friends – this I know! But it is undeniably stressful. (Of course, it is also beautiful when you connect with someone for the first time!) It is hard, as an introvert, to put myself out there. I feel too different. I feel like a crazy person, like who could possibly jive with me?  When I moved to Oslo I fell into some amazing friendships literally within days. But I was younger then; I had lots of time. Specifically, I didn’t have a child who is age appropriately dependent on me and who I parent in a way that is respectful to that. Also, I feel like being a stay at home mom in socialist Norway makes me some sort of pariah, or at least a veritable freak.

Also, I am the kind of person who wants a handful of people that are really close. I don’t want hoards. I don’t want to befriend the entire English speaking population of Stavanger (let alone the whole Norwegian population, jeez!). I want a few great chums. I don’t look forward to the part when you weed through people whom you might get along with but might not.

Anyway, this is why I am apprehensive and irritated about the move. 

I guess it is normal? Unless you thrive on change and love meeting new people, you probably dislike moving, and even if you are those things maybe the other aspects of moving are unappealing. I think it is not a natural human thing – to move so many miles from one place to another (says the person who has done four major moves in my life already!).

I am making some deals with myself to ease the move and motivate myself to get out there:

  • Sign up for a class – anything! Guitar or painting or drawing or I don’t care, just: something. (I had Norwegian class in Oslo that put me in touch with the first and best friendships I have!)
  • Find fun places to work out – a park, a running route, something where I can get my blood flowing and maybe run into other people who are out doing the same things.
  • Connect on Facebook and social media to people with similar interests – I am already doing this with an international moms group and a group that is interested in traditional foods.
  • As much as I don’t like them, try out all the playgroups I can find.
  • Also, try out all the åpen barnehager or open daycares that I can find.
  • Find a book club.
  • Get a library card and join stuff at the library.
  • But: don’t overload myself all at once or I will just burn out and feel horrible. If I don’t feel like doing anything that day – don’t!
  • Spent lots of time with my in-laws, because they are family and can help out and know the town and love me for me.
  • Spent lots of time with Hubby, because haven’t we always said that at the very basic core, we just need each other?
  • Remember to breathe! Life is for living, not for stressing about!

Here is to trying, forgiving myself, loving everybody, and living in the moment. I will need a lot of all of that in the weeks to come!

Why I don’t love the summer cabin and what I am going to do about it


The sun sets over the little island – this picture was taken around 11:30pm in July.

(Warning: I am aware that I probably am going to come off so spoiled in this post, but I am trying to be honest!)

Every year this happens.

We come down to the summer house that my in-laws own for the first long weekend of the year, Kristi himmelfartsdag or Ascension, which usually is in May. And the weather is terrible.

Hubby´s family literally shakes with giddiness about the prospect of spending the weekend cleaning up from the winter, planting potatoes and herbs, eating extravagant dinners at 10pm, lighting fires in the fireplace, fishing, taking the boat out, rain or shine, being outside in rain suits and fisherman hats for the better part of the day, having to go outside to get from one room to another (including the bathrooms) and generally doing things that Norwegians like to do at their cabins or “hytta”. 

Many Norwegians have a hytte. Usually it is a kind of small shack at the mountain or by the sea. My Norwegian family has one of each. But they are not shacks; they are proper cabins with heating, dishwashers, toilets, and even a washing machine. So, I could have a lot more to come to terms with. 

And what do I have to come to terms with, exactly?

Tradition. Hubby and his family have a very traditional kind of Norwegian holiday at their cabin, which is not at all what I am used to.

When my family went on holiday as a kid, it was either to visit my dad´s family in Los Angeles or to a summer resort called Inn at the Seventh Mountain in Central Oregon. Or to the Oregon Coast. A handful of times we did other things, like rent a motorhome and drive until it broke down one state away, totally not making it to our final destination, visit my dad´s sick friend in New Mexico, and take other road trips within several hours drive, like to Victoria, BC, or Ashland. We also took a cruise to Alaska one year and went to Hawaii another year. When I was older, my vacations always involved water polo tournaments.

What do 99% of these have in common? Hotel rooms. Cars. Outside time confined to heated pools and pickle ball courts. Maybe horseback riding. Possibly Disneyland. Or in bad weather, a short walk on the rainy beach before coming inside and watching TV or curling up with a book afterwards until it was time to sleep. Warmth. Comfort. Whole days for reading.

So, it is hard for me to picture a weekend on an isolated coastal island as restful in the same way. I love making food, so that part is fun, but I don’t get to plan the menus. If I am lucky, I will plan a couple of meals throughout the weekend.

Otherwise, my idea of an ideal day on vacation would be something like this: wake up, make and eat a super healthy breakfast, possibly work out before Kiddo wakes up, read the paper, or go out to a place where we could buy and read the paper, do something that the Kiddo wants to do (beach, playground, loud crazy sweaty indoor gym, walking around picking up rocks, whatever works), eat a super healthy lunch, possibly a picnic, read a book while she naps, spend the afternoon either outside again, maybe going for a hike or doing something cozy inside like reading books, drawing, painting, playing with playdough or something messy, making and eating dinner, and curling up and watching a movie together. That sounds amazing.

Here, we have some of those elements but I have no freedom of movement as this is an island and I don’t drive a boat. I am not actually interested in boats, but I am planning on getting my boating license just so I can actually feel comfortable getting myself somewhere. I would be happy if I never had to use boats, or maybe this is more accurate: I would not notice it if I was never on a boat again. I just am totally apathetic towards them. So I resent the fact that the summer cabin life revolves around boats, boat cleaning, boat parking, knots and all that stuff.

It is very hard for me to get motivated to work out here, which is bad because exercise really helps me feel positive and happy and all those good things. I would have to drive the boat to somewhere to go jogging, and in bad weather I am 100% not going to do that. I have gotten much better over the years at finding workouts that I can do here. Plyometrics, workout videos, maybe now yoga are all good candidates. But I really only can do them in good weather because there is nowhere I can stand to do them while it is raining (there is limited space inside and I don’t really like people to watch me while I do them!). Hubby loves to get his exercise from finding some random job to do in the yard, like shovel something or move rocks or something. I just can’t get into that, but I guess I could try.

A lot of time here is spent on upkeep. Sweeping, vacuuming, taking the trash off the island, hosing down the stone wharf, cleaning up after fishing excursions and so forth. There is always lots of shopping to be done since we are 6 adults now (My in-laws, their two grown children and each child´s partner) and there is only so much room in the fridge. We have gotten in a large dramatic argument in the past about how clean we keep the bathroom we are using, since it is the one people would use if they were visiting. This makes it stressful to do things like cook and live in a space where I feel my cleanliness is constantly being appraised.

This brings me to the last problem of this place: we are constantly with my in-laws. I really like them – they are super lovely people. But they are not my parents, and they are from a different generation, which means that the way we are raising Kiddo is not only strange, but possibly actively threatening to them. Our lack of a schedule, lack of a bedtime, lack of punishment, and lack of rules on most things parents have rules about are constantly in their faces when we are here, and it is hard for them not to comment on them. Add to that that I am still breastfeeding Kiddo at 2 years and 4 months…all this adds up to a situation where I feel very vulnerable as I carry out my daily parenting moments one after the other. This would be the same at any location, but it is extra strong here, since we are all in a 100m2 on a tiny island, all the time. There is no place to get away. For us, or for them. It is a challenge for all of us.

So, those are the reasons it is hard for me. This is not my ideal vacation (and for Hubby, it really is. It is like all those vacations I had as a kid rolled into one). The mismatch is hard because Hubby “just wants me to be happy”, and I don’t want to disappoint him or myself by being a recalcitrant sulker who cant wait for the next time I can sneak away to read my book. Plus, Kiddo loves it here. She told me she dreamed last night about playing in the sand here (FIL has a couple of manmade beaches with rough sand on the island). It made my heart melt. She has such a great time here! 

My promise to myself is that I am going to make this tradition a part of my own life. I won´t just be a tag along to someone else´s traditions and someone else´s idea of a good vacation.

That means that on the one hand it is okay that what I want to do most when I am on vacation is read books and cook food, but on the other hand I would benefit from trying my best to get involved in the activities of the day here. That means I need to learn out to drive a boat and get involving in the gardening here. I am actually interested in gardening and we are about to have our own, but I find it really intimidating, and when I first have some free time here, I am not inclined to read about gardening or dig through the seeds we ordered, but instead pick up one of the 20 books I brought😉

Also, I need to remember that Hubby and I are on the same team. Some times I will have bad days where I want to swear at everybody and take Kiddo and drive back to Oslo (I couldn’t anyway – we are renting out our apartment through airbnb this week). That was yesterday. But I can talk to Hubby about it and try my best to be kind to myself and my husband and be compassionate to my in-laws, who also have a large challenge of having to parent their grown children while watching them parent their own children very differently. Hopefully they can all be compassionate with me in a real way while I continue to learn the ways of the Norwegian cabin holiday, which is not at all what I grew up with. 

What did I learn from the world?

My friend asked me this the other day.

“You have to have learned something important from being away. You can’t just be away for half a year and not learned anything.”

Of course! I believe people are always learning something, everyday, but I know that isn’t what she meant.

I have been ruminating about this for a while. Were we just sun seekers, or did we have revelations that made us better people? Did we come back having gained something intangible? Were we wiser?

To answer that, I am going to tell an anecdote about a similar experience I had. When I was 17/18, I did a month long Outward Bound trip backpacking and rafting through Colorado and Utah. I asked my parents to support this trip because I wanted to find myself before I went to college. When you start out hoping to change your life, it does put a bit of pressure on you, but the trip did not disappoint. What I learned from that trip was that I could start over – do something I never had done before, stretch myself, challenge myself to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, and survive AND enjoy it.

But what about that trip proved that to me? Was it hiking up a bluff when I was totally exhausted in hot weather, but watching that my legs managed just fine? Was it cooking cornbread in a lukewarm pan and eating the half raw dough, and laughing about it? Was it leading the group by compass and being so scared we were going to get horribly lost? Or was it just something in the detail of each day, being outside, doing something different, being away, getting your head out of the minutae of normal life for long enough to make a real change? I think it was the latter, actually. And I think it was the same for this trip.


12 Apostles rock formations along the Great Ocean Road in Australia

We saw so many cool things; it is hard to even relate to them. We saw Buddhist temples that have been around for centuries. We saw rock formations that were jaw dropping in their raw, physical beauty. We stood and looked at the view from one of the most beautiful vineyards in the world. We stood at the edge of an active volcano and watched it´s smoke drift out over the open ocean. Each one of these moments would have been enough to ruminate over for a year, but we packed them together like sardines in coach class. There was not a lot of time to process. 

But thinking back, those moments are stored in some deep place inside me now, to remember when I need to think about things bigger than the four outer walls of my apartment and the 1km radius in which most of my life takes place. And what´s more, it isn’t only those big moments. It is all the details of all the places we visited. The mundane.

  • The lion´s head on the manhole covers in Australia.
  • The fine mist in the morning in New Zealand.
  • That first view of the South Island from the ferry.
  • The chocolate aisle in Australian grocery stores and that amazing shortbread cookie in the supermarket in Cromwell.
  • The airbnb hosts in Kona and their friendly dog.
  • The loads of new people we met.
  • Driving on the wrong side of the road.
  • The wave of heat when leaving our hotel in Singapore.

Things that are different about waking up in a place with which you aren’t familiar.

What do they do to you? Do they change you? 

Yes and no.

Yes, because they remind you that you are one of billions of people living in one of millions of habitats. Because you realize how insignificant you are. And because of course – you experience things and people and sounds and smells and tastes that you haven’t experienced before. But that just widens your horizons. It doesn’t change you.

No, because you assimilate these new experiences into the core of you. I´ve been reading the Bhagavad Gita and to me it seems like this is the Atma – the real person you are, in my interpretation kind of like your soul. To put it another way, you don’t need to travel thousands of miles to find yourself, although sometimes it cant hurt to shake up your surroundings a little bit so you can get out of stale states of mind. Your self, your “real you” is there inside of you waiting for you to notice it.

Unfortunately, I am kind of stuck on figuring out how this applies to me. I think I need a little more distance. I have, however, seen an example of what I think I mean with my daughter.

Kiddo´s real self, as far as I can tell, was only made more apparent by the trip. The person I think she is – animal loving, music loving, mostly patient, very flexible, night owl/teenage sleeping, verbal, loving, goofy, curious – was not altered by this trip. She didn’t take in all these new stimuli and become some Australian ranger. She just added koalas and emus and kangaroos to her collection of favorite animals. She realized how much birds are exciting when they are all kinds of different colors. She realized she liked Hawaiian music as well as Psy. (Haha!) This kind of thing. No major changes. I think the only thing that we could only do on the trip, other than of course stay out all day in the sun and sand and water, was eat real Japanese food. Kiddo loves Japanese noodles. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that she loves Japanese food, because the list of things she didn’t eat was longer than the list of foods she scarfed down, but she did love the flavors. 

Japan was the first time I have watched her eat soup broth. Usually she picks out the big bits, like, I used to cook her veggies in chicken stock, but she would never drink chicken stock from a spoon. In Japan, she did. It was a very fancy bowl of clear soup, and she loved it. She ate loads of noodles – soba, udon, fried chinese noodles (aka yakisoba) and maybe others. She ate edamame and ikura and loads of rice. But she didn’t touch raw fish, any kind of katsu, anything with Japanese BBQ sauce on it, anything with Japanese pickles touching it, and so forth. So…it isn’t exactly as if traveling to Japan awakened her palate completely.

I think this is kind of an intensely powerful realization as well as a bit of a let down. Did we travel the world for nothing? I don’t really think that at all. In fact, if anything, this just reinforces what I am learning about Zen Buddhism (so maybe that is why I am having this revelation and not the opposite one!) – that the best way to live well is to be in awe of the world, to be rich from what you already have, to desire just enough to care for yourself and your family, and to practice compassion for all. Being in awe of the world can happen looking at a street lamp on your street, or looking at one on the other side of the world. We have many riches around us right now, where ever we are, and while of course there are tons more things to see in other places,  we don’t need them to feel better or different or fulfilled.

So, there you go, a really long post about how you don’t need to travel to have an awakening. : )