Saturday, December 31, 2011

A Simple Reflection of 2011

It's the very last day of the year, closing in on the very last hour.

In one word, the year has been...eventful. It's hard to find a word that can pinpoint this mix of emotions: excitement, newness, challenge, stress, fun, and downright exhaustion. 

My only regret is that I wish I had written more - simply for the reason of wanting to be able to look back on it all later with perfect clarity.

Life has changed, to say it in the most obvious of ways, and changed in a way that can only be described as lovely and heartbreaking. 

This year I married a wonderful Norwegian guy that makes me laugh, brings out my best, and isn't afraid of my worst. This year my parents gave me a beautiful wedding. This year I moved far, far away from my family and friends and learned how to cope with things I couldn't have come up with in my wildest imagination a just a few years ago. 

This year, a new chapter of my life began. A bold chapter, as well. 

2012 will be a fresh beginning to an old story. 

Cheers and Happy New Year (Godt NyttÃ¥r) from an American girl in Bergen, Norway! 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Things Will Be Different

How do you start a post about your upcoming first Christmas away from home? 

I know plenty of people have to be away from their families at Christmas either by choice or by force (or simply inconvenience). And I guess I'm one of them now. 

While I'm sad I won't be with my own family for such a special holiday, I have to keep my chin up: this isn't bad - this is just different. I refuse to be a mope and/or complete wreck because of it. 

And, like most other couples with families spread out too far to 'stop by' on the same day, we have chosen the every-other-year option. This year is Norway, next year is California. It's fair and it's easy (as easy as it can be) and it's just the way it is. 

I've made quite the investment in Christmas this year (it's seems so easy to do when it's your first Christmas with your other half in a new home). The first thing I bought to get into the Christmas spirit? A manager scene. It's handmade from Germany - I recognized the look because my family had been to the Christmas markets in Germany, and brought back some wonderful things. Naturally, I had to have something, too. 

Isn't it beautiful?

I bought some red table cloths and candle holders. I used one of Grammy's table runners to complete the look. Thinking of her often, lately.

Clearly, I don't know how to work a camera. It's terribly blurry, but you get the idea.
On my wishlist: a tripod. 
I picked up some darling little Nisse's, too. A "Nisse" is...hmm. Well, I've gotten SO many versions of what a nisse could be, that I'm not confident explaining it to you. I tried Norwegian Wikipedia which I Google Translated... but, I can't be bothered trying to figure it out at the moment, so when I know more, so will you. 

I love these guys! Aren't they cute?

And then the tree. Thankfully, I packed up some ornaments when I moved, but I still had to get a few the lights....and the tree stand....and the garlands...and the tree topper.....and oh yeah, the tree itself! I love this tree. I'd rather sit with the lights down low and hang out near the tree than watch tv. 
The first thing I do when I get home from work is turn on the Christmas tree lights (which brightens up the whole room because it's quite dark these days!!!!!!) 

I haven't had a real tree in years...and it smells so wonderful. I could do without the sap, though. 

We put up my "baby's first Christmas" ornament, and lots of others from grandparents and parents. I asked the hubby if he had any ornaments stashed at home from when he was growing up, and he didn't think so. 

I was slightly surprised, and then I realized that maybe they just don't do that here. I can't say for sure, but I haven't seen any 'keepsake ornaments' so far...but then again, I haven't been looking. In any case, I think it brings so much more pleasure to decorate a tree with things that are special...things, for example, that my mom has held onto for 24 years so that I could one day put it on my own tree (not intended to be 5200 miles away, but hey, you never can tell, right?). 

In trying to figure out what we want our home to be like at Christmas, we're wading through our own traditions of growing up in such different places to pick out some of our favorite things. I'm getting familiar with his traditions this year, and he'll get to know mine next year. 

While I'm not crafty, I know that I want us to have cross-stitched stockings like my mom made for all of her children. So, I better get started! It'll at least give me something to do for the next few's so dark! 

While writing this, I think I may have figured out what I'm probably going to miss the most about Christmas with my family (besides actually being with them, obviously). 

Three things: 
1. Christmas Eve at Grandma's
2. Stockings
3. French Toast on Christmas morning with the whole family before opening the presents that we thoughtfully picked out for each other....

Uff Da! Every time I actually write out the things I miss (instead of just thinking a fleeting thought), the lump in my throat grows. 

It's just going to be different. That's all. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Try and Try, Again.

I can't explain my motivation, but I have been cooking and baking A LOT. I cook everyday, but it hasn't been anything to brag about, until now.

I've learned that the weirdest thing about cooking is that it's exactly like life: you don't know what you're capable of until you try.

Was I capable of making a pumpkin pie, stuffing, and turkey (okay, fine, turkey filet) a week ago? Probably, but now I know for sure. Was I capable of making a marinade and then baking a chicken in it? Most definitely. I found that out the other day. I tried a recipe for teriyaki chicken (from dearest Fran), that was, in a word...delish! Soy sauce, butter, brown sugar, water, and chicken...they all had a party in my oven, and then a party in my mouth. Mmm.

Am I capable of making a "perfect roast chicken" (recipe courtesy of Flo). I think so. That's next on my to-try list.

All this cooking comes with a learning curve. Today I Googled "bulb of fennel" because I truthfully didn't have the slightest clue as to what that looks like, and there are just some things I won't ask of a Norwegian grocery store employee.

I learned my lesson of knowing when not to ask when I was looking for 'shortening' - which Google Translate translated incorrectly, which I then horridly mispronounced. As sweet and helpful as the guy was trying to be, he ended up walking away dumbfounded. I wandered the store for another 20 minutes, mistook a can of anchovies for a pot of Crisco and miraculously stumbled upon Matfett -directly translated to 'food fat'. Right - the only combination of words I didn't try. I was practically playing Taboo with the poor guy. I tried: fat; white fat; white fat that comes in a can; fat that you cook with; lard?; uhm, it's greasy when you touch it...and it's white. He didn't know. I tried my 'phone a friend' option, which was my mother-in-law, who was equally perplexed. So now I do my research before going shopping.

I baked cookies last night, too! Delectable cookies...and I got the recipe from Auntie Diane. She always makes the most amazing platter of Christmas cookies every year, and she gave me the recipe for my favorite one: Peanut Blossoms.

For my bridal shower this past summer, all the women brought a recipe to give me. I took a picture with each woman, and the pictures and recipes were put into a book. This book (I apologize for my terrible photography!):

This was Auntie Diane's page with her Peanut Blossom recipe:

So I set off to baking. The recipe calls for Hershey's Kisses, but I can't get those here, so I had to make do with Freia's Melkerull chocolates. Not nearly as charming as the Hershey's kiss, but there's something incredible about Norwegian chocolate that only your tastebuds can tell you about.

Ready for the oven!

My Norwegian chocolate substitution.
'Et lite stykke Norge' means: A little piece of Norway. 

Finished! Missing the 'kiss' look, but just as tasty! 

I realized after these came out of the oven that the recipe called for 48 chocolate pieces...I had just baked 12 cookies and used half the dough. Needless to say, I made the cookies smaller before putting them into the oven.

These were...heavenly. And happiness - all in one bite.

Thanks Auntie Diane!!!

(I took them to work and they were a big hit!)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Darkness, Mostly.

I knew it was was going to be dark here during the winter, but it genuinely surprises me most days when I get up before the sun comes up on the horizon.

On the weekends I sleep in, and if I'm not sleeping, I'm hanging out in bed with a cup of tea and a fresh Facebook newsfeed of California-happenings during my nighttime (remember I'm 9 hours ahead of California!). This morning, I didn't get out of bed until well after 9, and it was just barely starting to look like day break instead of the middle of the night.

I kept busy all day with a thorough house cleaning while Stian worked on fixing stuff in our apartment (how 1950's of us!), and when all that was done, the mister and I went to a museum. It was actually the local children's science museum, but I'm not going to deny how much more fun that is compared to a museum geared towards adults (you know the kind: it's silent like a library and everyone is walking around reading tiny placards that give information, albeit interesting, about something in a glass case in front of them).

I can appreciate a grown-up museum, but at this place we blew bubbles, built a dam, drilled for oil (I was incredibly bad at that!), played the drums, camouflaged ourselves like zebras, and learned that a human heart is capable of squirting it's own blood over a meter into the sky with every beat.

I wish I had pictures to share, but realized at the Bybanen stop on our way there that I had forgotten my camera (I was so busy tidying up that I put the camera in the drawer instead of my purse.. :( so sad!).

The point of telling you about the awesome interactive museum was that when we left (about 4 o'clock), it was already dark. We walked through the park to get to the center of the city, and by the time we got was really dark!

We went into the city to go to the Pepperkakerbyen (gingerbread city), which I've been desperately wanting to go to, but things keep getting in the way. Today, there was a line which we didn't want to wait in and we were getting we went home. Ah well, I'll be sure to bring my camera next time! I know you'll need to see pictures of it!

The days fly by, and the nights drag on, but what can you expect as we're approaching the darkest day of the year (December 22nd)?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thanksgiving in Norway - oh, Bieber Invaded This Day, Too

I'm going to say something that I thought was obvious, but clearly isn't since I get this question so often: No, Thanksgiving is not celebrated in Norway. It's very American. To people in every other country in the world, "Thanksgiving" is just another Thursday - everyone is waiting for it to be Friday so it can finally be the weekend again.

I've been in Bergen for 4 months exactly (to the day!). I've met wonderful people doing wonderful things and I'm finding life to be pretty good here.

I'm part of a "tapas group" with some wonderful Norwegian ladies that I met, oddly enough, in line for the toilet in a bar just after arriving in Bergen. I think I've mentioned in another post how Norwegian's can be quite cold and unwelcoming at first - but these girls blew me out of the water because they talked to me first. I think just minutes after meeting them I might have said something like "I don't mean to be rude, but you're unusually friendly for a Norwegian girl." And I meant it. I've noticed that many girls are nervous to speak English, especially in front of friends or significant others, and then can seem a bit standoffish (which is rarely how they actually are, most of them are probably the nicest people you'll ever meet once you get to know them). I get it. I have to muster up lots of courage to try out my Norwegian, too.

Anyway, these sweet girls have kind of  'adopted' me, and somehow it came about that we should have a Thanksgiving dinner at my house.

I was looking forward to it, but I will be the first to say that I've only ever watched the meal being made; never really took part in the cooking.

While I was in California, I stopped by the grocery store with Grandma and bought a can of pumpkin pie mix and a can of condensed milk. I brought it back to Norway and set out to make the crust.

(I love to bake, but I've never, ever made a pie).

All I have to say is that I'm thankful for Skype so that my mom could offer up some suggestions. Once it was rolled out, I laughed because I had dreams of a perfectly circular crust, and this is what I created:

It was then that I realized I didn't have a pie pan. Tart pan, yes. Kiesh pan, yes. But not a proper pie pan. Oh well, I made do and it looked pretty normal:

Then I added the pumpkin mix and put it in the oven. Looked normal, smelled divine. The smell actually made me the slightest bit homesick. Before that smell, it was just another Thursday...after that smell, it was Thanksgiving in California and I was missing it. 

While the pie was in the oven, I needed to get started on the stuffing. I was doing this all the day before our Friday night Thanksgiving celebration. The stuffing recipe called for 2 loaves of white bread, torn into small pieces and left out for a day. So I began tearing...and tearing...and tearing...until my thumbs started to hurt from ripping the crust. Over a loaf in, I realized something important when my thumbs really began to ache: 


Sometimes I could kick myself for always doing it the hard way first. 

I finished prepping for the stuffing, made a plan for the big day, bought the rest of the the turkey (yep, waited til the last minute on that, too), and went swimmingly. 

Here was what the table looked like (the day before..unfortunately I didn't take any pictures on the day of): 

I didn't find a whole turkey nearby until the day before, which wasn't enough time to defrost it, so I went with the turkey filet option...I'm so glad for that! It tasted great and it was easy. A little butter and some seasoning and viola! Dinner! The stuffing was good, but really needed the gravy to make it great.

It was sort of a potluck Thanksgiving, so the girls brought the cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes, candied yams, meat pie, and an extra cake (we just weren't sure how people were going to like the pumpkin pie...). It all came together and it was really fun. 

Oddly enough, Bieber invaded Thanksgiving, too. How this boy has weaseled his way into my life, I'll never know. It came up because someone had a dream about him, perhaps as a result of reading my previous blog post, and then we started talking about what we actually knew about the guy. Collectively, this is what we found out: 

1. One of his songs goes something like " baby, baby, baby, oooh" (I think?)
2. He may, or may not, have gotten someone pregnant at some point in his life. 
3. He sang some song with another famous artist...Ludacris? 

And to top it all off, we watched a few Justin Bieber YouTube videos together. I think that might have been the strangest part of the night - not bad, but definitely strange. 

It was a good Thanksgiving. 

I was (and still am) thankful for new friends, pumpkin pie, skype, family (near or far) and not stressing too much about trying something new. 

Already looking forward to next year!