A Postcard-Image-Worthy Hike

Norway is a country filled with incredible drama in its natural landscape. As you can imagine, this land of numerous fjords, lush green valleys, and enormous glaciers offers unending opportunities for creating awe-inspiring images. One of those is called Preikestolen. Preikestolen_Board10 My husband first brought this place up a few months ago when he was planning our annual sojourn to the motherland. In a 2-3 week family vacation, we have plenty of time to visit family, relatives, and friends, and insert an excursion to parts of Norway we’ve yet to see. One of the images you’ll often see in a Norway postcard is that of Preikestolen or “Pulpit Rock.” Preikestolen_Board01 Preikestolen_Board02 Pulpit Rock is as dramatic as they come. Sheer drop-offs over 600 meters (or about 1800 feet) with no guardrail in sight to secure any curious tourists reminds us that we are no longer in the States. Here, you accept the risks and consequences of your actions. If you happen to fall over the edge, well then, that’s your fault. Nobody to blame; no one to sue. I like that philosophy…but I digress. Preikestolen_Board03 Preikestolen_Board04Preikestolen_Board05 A 2-hour hike to the top and a 2-hour hike to the bottom. Couldn’t be that bad, right? I mean, my hikes to St. Josephs Hill at home should have been good preparation for such a journey, right? Hahaha Well, it was and it wasn’t. Perhaps the idea of trudging uphill for a couple of hours didn’t bother me because of the weekly St. Josephs Hill hikes. But I didn’t expect that most of the way up to Preikestolen would be along paths created with various sizes of uneven rocks. Ugh. I hadn’t counted on the fact that it would take a bit of concentration on my part to pick out my line along these steps. And some of those steps were rather high, at least with respect to the level of flexibility and strength I have with my artificial hips. Preikestolen_Board06 Preikestolen_Board07 Preikestolen_Board13 Preikestolen_Board11 Preikestolen_Board09 Ugh. I’m sooooo glad I was never curious enough to see if anyone provided a description of what this hike would be like (on the Internet) beyond elevation and duration. All I knew was to bring my hiking boots. Had I known the path would be a rocky one, I may not have attempted it at all.

Hiking uphill is far better and easier for me than hiking downhill. After all, hips are what help slow me down and that strength is still building. Then again, hiking uphill does take strength to move from step to step, especially the big ones.

We took frequent rest stops as our girls ran up ahead to check things out and wait for us to catch up. I was a little worried that our girls would get bored, tired, and whine most of the way. Not so. Not at all. They were as curious and bouncy the entire way up and down as I could have hoped. They are in great shape from their hours of sports and their youthful curiosity kept them going until we returned to our car. We often caught up to them standing atop a nearby boulder ready to point the way forward. They were also very good about showing me the smallest steps up the rocky pathway for me. Once we reached the top with the rest of the early crowd, it was truly breathtaking. Did I mention the absence of guardrails? Preikestolen_Board12 Preikestolen_Pic02 I could feel my legs get a little wobbly anytime I got a little close to the edge. The view over the sheer drop is enough to make you a little dizzy and lose your balance. Because of that, we crawled to the edge to take a quick peek. And that was all we needed. The all encompassing vista was easily and safely seen from at least 5 feet from the edge. The views down and around the fjord were nothing less than spectacular. I don’t have enough adjectives at hand to justify the beauty of the site. Let’s just say that you have to see it to experience it.

Likewise, the climb itself offered several postcard-worthy spots. Of course, there were several brave [or stupid] tourists who sat with their legs hanging over the edge. Did you know that only two people have lost their lives falling over the edge? It was not an accident, though. They had created a suicide pact together and Preikestolen was their choice for death by elevation.

The climb down the mountain took just as long as climbing up. It wasn’t an easy descent because you still had to pick your lines along the same rocky paths you took uphill. And for me, it was a little scarier making sure I didn’t get going too quickly, lose concentration, and miss the next step. Preikestolen_Board14 Preikestolen_Pic01 But I’m glad I did it. I knew my legs would be screaming at me the next day (and they did!) but it would be a soreness well earned. One that would remind me, painful though it might be, I did it!

An original post by mommytwingirls for It’s Never Easy…But It’s Always Fun blog.

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Christmas Vacation in Norway

This is the first Christmas we’ve spent in Norway since our girls were almost two years old. Though it was not the same without Farfar, it was still a wonderful vacation with family and friends.

I documented most of our trip in several posts on the Solheim Photography blog. Check them out:

Traveling for the holidays

Baking with Farmor and Snowplay with Cousins

Winter White Sledding and Ice Skating

Signs of Christmas

Celebrating 2012

The holidays are over and our girls are back in school. I think the calendar just kicked into hyperspeed. So many activities coming up, not the least of which is their upcoming performances in Annie, this year’s musical at school. Hopefully, I’ll find some time to post a bit more between events here and there.

An original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.

Exchange Students for A Day…or Two

Though our trip here to Norway this time around was somewhat last minute, I managed to obtain school work from their teachers for them to work on while here in Oslo between various family functions related to my father-in-law’s funeral…oh, and playtime with their cousins. They happen to have a couple of cousins in their equivalent grade and as such, we thought it might be fun for them to attend school for a day. Both cousins go to different schools so, they attended one and then the other.

Today, they attended the school where 3 of their cousins go. We walked with them to school to make sure they were properly introduced to the teacher. Our girls were a little nervous. They compared it to feeling like the first day of school at home. But there were several girls curious about these new faces with their classmate and many hovered around asking their names and if they spoke Norwegian. This, I think, broke some of the ice as our girls answered such simple questions. Then, another of their cousins showed up (one grade older) to say Hi and introduce them to many of the girls standing around them. The teacher had a very sweet and welcoming demeanor and we knew our girls would be okay. We left as they all ran down the hill as the bell rang.

Last week, the girls attended another school with a different cousin. Two years ago, the girls attended this same school when their cousin started in Kindergarten. In Norway, students are in the same class throughout elementary school with the same teacher. I’m not sure that this teacher remembered the girls from two years ago but it did feel a little familiar to them when they arrived. This school is a bit of a walk from home and kinda hairy to walk to with the many busy road crossings…so they were driven to school.

The reviews of both days were great. The girls felt a little weird at times with so many kids curious and some staring but they enjoyed hanging out with their cousins in class. None of this, of course, would have been possible if they were not fluent in Norwegian. There were several crafts and a few worksheets they got to do because they could follow the instructions. The added benefit is now they both have something they could write about as part of the homework they’ll have to turn in when they return to school at home on Monday.

An original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.

Senseless and Sad

Norway is one of those countries that I think…it could never happen there. But it did. Senseless violence. Hatred. And a grieving nation.

News in the U.S. is filled with stories of violence and hate. I often ignore it…or I would live in fear everyday for myself, my children, my family, and my friends. No, I don’t live under a rock. I know that evil and hate exist. And if I should know about a particular awful story (or stories), I’m certain my husband and/or Facebook friends would let me know.

But this time, I’m the one that woke up on Friday morning to the news that a bomb had gone off in downtown Oslo. And I immediately woke up my husband. He called his parents and fortunately, our immediate family was not affected. Shock underscored the voices on the other end of the line and we hung up so his parents could listen to the breaking news on NRK while my husband searched the Norwegian news sites for more information.

What was revealed were actions so deeply rooted in hatred, you cannot believe one person could have conceived of them. I won’t go into details here. The headlines worldwide are filled with them. My concern is more focused on the families reeling from the pain of losing their loved ones, their children.

The kids on the island were about 15 to 17 years old. Kids coming together to discuss their political similarities, to see old friends and make new ones. It was, as the prime minister mentioned …paradise from his childhood

What troubles me is that a lone gunman, in his demented state believed that this was all to those kids. That political leanings were what defined them…and they did not. These kids were someone’s sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, grandkids, cousins, friends. They were multi-dimensional with so many more interests in their lives – sports, travel, journalism, science, charity and more. To kill any of them because of political beliefs they held at such a young age accomplished nothing. Who knows if they would have become a political party leader, driving their interests in the government. They were so young, filled with hopes and plans for their futures. Some may have become doctors, teachers, explorers, scientists, world-class athletes. Who can know? Who will ever know?

Their lives were cut short. For a belief, a bond they shared with like minds. No one should ever be killed for that.

Ideas do not die by killing people. Beliefs do not wither away. To kill a human being, particularly a kid, will not kill the idea or the future manifestation of that idea. In fact, in the face of such tragedy, resolve becomes stronger.

Nine years. That’s what news stories are saying now about how long this madman may have been planning his actions on Friday. Nine years ago, those kids would have been about 6 to 8 years old. As a mother of 7-year-olds, I can’t help but think about what those kids were doing then – playing in the sand pit? Climbing a play structure? Learning to ride a bike? As parents, we watch our children develop and strive to understand their particular strengths and interests. To the extent we can, we encourage those interests and hope we can create an environment for them to thrive.

Whenever I think of my children’s futures, I imagine them as adults on their own, graduated from college, well into their careers. The thought that their lives could be cut so short in their teens does not enter that picture; as I’m certain it never did for the parents of those 80+ Norwegian kids.

We continue to shed many tears for the kids and their families, along with the rest of Norway. Our hearts and prayers are with them, wishing them all strength in the coming days, weeks and months.

An original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.

Hipp Hurra For 17.Mai!

17th of May. Constitution Day. It’s a big, big thing in Norway. Bunads are donned throughout the country. Parades dominate the streets. Celebrations abound in every town. And even though you’re not in the country, it doesn’t mean you have to miss out. In fact, we’ve attended the annual 17.Mai celebration in the city, sponsored by the Norwegian Seamans Church, every year we’ve been able to. Last Saturday was no exception.

The parade and festivities took place at a different locale than in previous years. We were at Fort Miley and in many ways, it seemed better for this group than Crissy Field. It was much more secluded and the views over Ocean Beach were spectacular. There was a large grassy area for the many contests – burlap sack races, potato & spoon relays, and tug-of-war. There’s also a few sets of stilts for those wanting to test their sense of balance. Some people clearly have ample time to practice.

The parade took most of the group down the hill to a memorial. A large Norwegian flag led the group and a drum kept the group in beat with the tunes. Afterward, hot dogs, ice cream and other treats awaited everyone.

But Fort Miley offered more entertainment for children than the usual. Kids disappeared into the trees and found many woodsy areas to explore. Kids being kids, quickly made friends and were off.

Though the weather wasn’t the greatest and I never took off my jacket, it was a successful celebration giving everyone a chance to feel at least a bit of connection to their roots and kinship with families and friends in Norway.

An original post to It’s Never Easy But It’s Always Fun blog.

Our Little Ambassadors

MAM_Ambassadors_IMG_0937 copy The capacity of a child to play is boundless. I’m not sure where I heard that quote but this summer, my twins proved that observation to be quite true. In perfecting their daily play ethic this summer, our girls became the little ambassadors of the neighborhood at my in-laws’ place. As twins, my girls have an extra oomph in their sense of security and assertiveness. Strength in numbers, as the saying goes.

We’re lucky that our twin girls have never really exhibited any signs of co-dependence. Sure, they hang out with each other a lot, though no more than any other sibling duo might. In past years at preschool and Kindergarten, they have separated naturally within the same classroom. But watch out if one feels the other is threatened in any way, by any one (including the teacher). Her sister is always within earshot and will come to back her twin up, if need be. As such, I think my twins have a sense of security when they’re together and this gives them the confidence to go out and meet other kids.

This summer, my brother-in-law and his family moved into the house next door to my parents-in-law. My girls were excited to have their cousins next door for playtime all the time. Then, a new family had just moved into the house on the other side of my parents-in-law’s home. The squeals of laughter as the kids jumped up and down on the trampoline drew my girls to the new neighbor’s front yard. They just happened to have a couple of kids around my daughters’ ages and soon, my girls were taking turns on the trampoline. Another couple of weeks later, my girls found the daughter of the neighbor across the street playing and joined in.

Quickly after, they (i.e., my girls, their two cousins, the two neighbors next door, and the little girl across the street) became one big playgroup running from one yard to the other. Imagine long games of hide ‘n seek among four different houses and yards. It’s a wonder they ever finished one game of hide n’ seek with the myriad choice hiding spots.

The thing is, as the kids got to know each other, so did us adults. Our girls playing in the new neighbor’s yard prompted my in-laws to meet the children’s mother, as well as my brother-in-law and sister-in-law. My parents-in-law already knew the neighbor across the street but here again, my brother-in-law and sister-in-law got their chance to meet them and realize that their second oldest son would be in the same preschool together as the little girl.

When I became a mother, I had not anticipated how large a community I would join by sharing the ups and downs of motherhood with other moms. And now that our twins are older, I hadn’t anticipated how much larger that community could become when our kids serve as its ambassadors.

Cross-posted from Mad About Multiples blog.

Summer Vacation – Langedrag Nature Park

Summer vacation is winding down and soon will be a fond memory. But I didn’t want to miss sharing one of my all-time favorite parks – Langedrag Mountain Farm and Nature Park. It’s located in Nesbyen, Norway. It is a sanctuary for animals and birds and a fabulous getaway for locals and tourists alike. There are over 22 different types of wild and domestic animals including lynx, reindeer, wolves, moose, fjord ponies and more. The location is phenomenal with sweeping vistas of mountain ranges and dramatic fjords in the distance. The architecture is rustic and traditional. The park is a harmonious combination of nature and modern conveniences. It’s a park I look forward to visiting when we travel to the family cabin in Hallingdal.

Cross-post to It’s Never Easy, But It’s Always Fun blog from Life As We See It, the official blog of Solheim Photography.

Summer Vacation – Karius og Baktus Children’s Theater

Staying in Oslo all summer meant that we would be able to see some special events we have missed out on in past years because our timing just wasn’t right. A few years ago, a company of actors started acting out well-known children’s stories in one of my all-time favorite parks – Vigeland’s Park (aka Frogner Park). Our girls are well-versed in popular Norwegian children’s tales, songs and folklore. Karius and Baktus is a favorite book, written and illustrated by Thorbjørn Egner, especially among parents, because it encourages children to brush their teeth and keep them clean. Karius and Baktus (a play on the words, caries and bacteria) are two brothers who live in a little boy’s mouth who cause all sorts of trouble. They absolutely love it when the little boy eats loff (white bread) and syrup, without taking care of his teeth properly afterward. However, one day, the little boy sees a dentist who instructs the little boy to brush his teeth – not a good thing for poor Karius and Baktus who have worked hard to hammer out holes in the boy’s teeth and make themselves a nice, cozy home. During a subsequent dental appointment to fix the cavities wrought by Karius and Baktus, the brothers face the end of their stay as a drill ruins all their work and washes away the home they had so happily built. It’s an amusing story that stays with children for years. Our girls have often asked about Karius and Baktus during their nightly routine, wondering if they are in their mouths. We, of course, encourage them to brush, rinse and floss to make sure Karius and Baktus don’t hang around.

I was happy that the theater did not mind if anyone took pictures during the show – as long as no flash was used and no video (of course). It was time to push my Canon 5DMkII for this low-lit scene. The only light source was the theater lights strung above, hanging from the top of the big tent. I alternately shot these images at ISO 1600 – ISO 2000 with a 24-70mm zoom lens (fully zoomed in at 70mm) at f/2.8 to f/3.2 and shutter speed set from 1/60 to 1/80 seconds. I was pretty high up in the stands, so I knew I’d be cropping these photos in much tighter later. Though I worried about the amount of noise I might get from such a high ISO, I was rather happy with the results.

The children’s theater in Vigeland’s Park takes place under a big tent – and a good thing because you just never know when it will rain. All the kids were invited to sit on the ground right next to the stage, like my daughter, Storyteller (here), and the cousins.As in the DVD we have at home, there is a narrator that tells the story from scene to scene. Here, Karius (dark hair) and Bactus (red hair) check out their new space and immediately start planning and building a new home in the little boy’s teeth.Karius and Bactus are ecstatic with their new home. They sing, laugh and dance and encourage the little boy to eat more bread and syrup!Unfortunately, just when Karius and Baktus start decorating their new home, the little boy feels the pain. A trip to the dentist reveals that the little boy has not been brushing his teeth regularly. So a thorough cleaning is in order and Karius and Baktus meet the Teeth Cleaner. A fight ensues but in the end, Karius and Baktus are forced to run and hide.When they come out of hiding, they find that all their work has been washed away. The narrator tells the audience how the little boy has received strict instructions on keeping his teeth clean. Another trip to the dentist will rid the little boy of Karius and Baktus completely. But Karius and Baktus give it one more try – and scream for loff and syrup, hoping the little boy hears them.

But their optimism turns to despair and finally, to fear as they hear a rather loud roar – a drill! As they try to evade the drill, the Teeth Cleaner suddenly appears again and washes them away, out of the little boy’s mouth.

And the actors take a bow. What a treat to see this play. Certainly a highlight in our summer abroad in Norway.

Cross-post to It’s Never Easy, But It’s Always Fun blog from Life As We See It, the official blog of Solheim Photography.

Summer Vacation – Farmor’s Garden

Whenever our parents visit, they always leave our gardens filled with flowers so vibrant, you can’t help but feel a little light-hearted at the sight. Here are a few images from my parents-in-law’s garden. Don’t they bring a smile to your face? Enjoy.

Cross-post to It’s Never Easy, But It’s Always Fun blog from Life As We See It, the official blog of Solheim Photography.

Summer Vacation – On the Island

Norway is a beautiful country with such a unique look to its landscape…or island-scape. My parents-in-law rented a couple of cabins on an island situated at the east side of the Oslo fjord about 1 1/2 hours drive from Oslo. It’s actually rather close to the border with Sweden. All of the grandchildren, sons and daughters came out to enjoy a relaxing 2-week vacation. Large boulders dot the fjord, offering a unique playground for children – a slide and climbing rock in one. The opportunities to explore were endless and the grandchildren (well, 8 of the 9, one is a 9-months-old baby) were constantly scampering up and down the rocks. We parents basked in the sun (when it shone) and enjoyed the views of miles of sea and islands that surrounded the cabins. In addition, the dock and nearby beach kept the kids going all day long. Swimming in the water? Jumping from the dock? Rock climbing? Building sand castles? Water fights? And I couldn’t begin to recount the numerous pretend scenes our kids played out. All in all, it was a fabulous trip because once the kids were entertained, there wasn’t much more for us moms and dads to do but relax and enjoy the sun and sea.

Cross-post to It’s Never Easy, But It’s Always Fun blog from Life As We See It, the official blog of Solheim Photography.