Sep 29, 2010

Does this Bunad make me look fat?

Alternate Title:  Which way to the US Consulate?

Our European vacation began with three flights. Detroit --> New York --> Reykjavik --> Berlin. We ended this unbelievably long day by knocking back a few Berliner Pilsners at my Uncle Dieter’s dining room table. He lives in Dabendorf Germany, just south of Berlin.

Before you know it the clock says its 11 pm. Off to bed so we could get up early the next morning to catch yet another flight at 10 am.. This time to Oslo, Norway.

Observation --> German pillows are awesome, especially after 24 hours of flying and a few German beers.

First stop in Norway was the Oslo Hard Rock Café to get a shot glass for my collection.

My Dad looked like he was going to complain about the 20 mile detour but I wasn’t going to be denied. I doubt I will ever go to Norway again so this was my one chance. We pulled up to the HRC and I darted in to get the glass while they waited in the car.

Wish we would have had more time there. It looks like a beautiful city.   This is the National Theatre, right next to HRC.

Observation --> the older my parents get the crankier they get when they travel.

Now for the six hour drive from the east coast of Norway to the west coast. Please don't ask me why we didn't fly into Bergen instead of Oslo. My husband asked me that question so many times. I don't have an answer. And being the "Lemonade out of Lemons" kind of girl that I am I decided to make the best of it by enjoying the scenery.

Observation -->  When your Dad disagrees about getting the minivan instead of the sedan, insist on the minivan.

Norway has three distinct regions, each characterized by unique landscapes, all of them beautiful. The eastern side of the country gently rises in elevation as you drive through beautiful green forests filled with pine trees.

In the middle of the country the road begins to climb more steeply and the terrain begins to look like arctic tundra. Few trees, scrubby brush and flowers and shallow streams and lakes. This area was pretty barren except for some grass covered camping huts and three vacation lodges.   It seems as though this area is a popular spot for camping. 


We stopped at one of the lodges to get some coffee and stretch our legs a little bit. Snapped a few pics.  Then back on the road.

The western side of Norway is where all the fjords are.  A fjord is formed when a glacier takes a slow leisurely stroll through rock.  Once the glacier is gone the fjord is filled with a mix of water running down from the mountains and sea water.

The western side of Norway is  also where the roads narrow considerably.  Nothing like barreling down a steep mountain road and then all of a sudden a semi is heading your way.  Close your eyes (not really), grip the wheel (really) and pray (to any and all Gods that may be listening).  They have lots of tunnels too.  Some of them wind around like a corkscrew through the middle of the mountain. 

The later it got the more worried we were about getting to the hotel in time for dinner.  There are no fast food places here and things clearly were going to close early.  Our best shot at a meal was getting to the hotel.  Didnt' make it in time though.  We ran into some of the people my mother knew back in 1955.  They insisted we come in for coffee and traditional Norwegian waffles.  By the time we got to the hotel it was 11:00.    We had peanuts and crackers for dinner.  
As we were unloading the luggage from the car I couldn't find my purse.  I searched under the seats, inside luggage and backpacks.  It was nowhere to be found.  That's when it dawned on me...... I had left it at the lodge back in the Norwegian tundra.  I panicked.  My money, my credit cards..... OMG my passport.  The second day of my vacation and I was destined to spend the rest of it at the US consulate in Oslo trying to get a new passport to get home.

I never leave my purse anywhere.   The only explanation I have is that during the plane trip(s) from  hell I had been carrying it in my backpack so had gotten out of the habit of insinctively reaching for it.

I rushed into the hotel and frantically told the hotel clerk (Thor, seriously, his name was Thor) my story.  He asked if I remembered the name of the place.  "No.... it had some weird looking vowel in the name and I remember it was 1000 meters above sea level."  That's when I remembered the pictures.  I had a picture of the place.  I showed him my camera.  "I know the place. Let me call them."

Sure enough, they had my purse.   Mentally, I resolved to be thankful and not to be bitter about the six hour round trip we had to make in order to retrieve it.  Then Thor says,  "They'll send it on the local bus tomorrow morning.  You can pick it up from the bus driver right out front there."  Promptly at 2:00 pm the next day I got my purse with "all" of my belongings.

Next post I'll tell you about my Mother's reunion with all her old friends.

Observation --> Norwegians are very honest and hospitable.

Oh.... what's a bunad you ask?  It's the traditional clothing of Norway.   I was pretty sure I'd be sporting one after being forced to become a Norwegian because I wasn't allowed to enter the US without my passport.

Sep 23, 2010

I take all the credit. Good genes.

That's my daughter.  At the risk of sounding like a bragging mother I just have to say, you couldn't get much more proud of a daughter than I am of her.   This is her new blog ------>  Read it.  It's good.

Sep 20, 2010

It's Not a Contest People!

On any given Sunday you are likely to find me sitting in my pajamas playing computer games all day. It's not very constructive. Unless you count the following: 1) leveling yet another WOW character to 80 or 2) beating some on-line poker punk's straight with my flush. My daughter is grown and out of the house. My son is still at home but, like a houseplant, requires very little of our attention. So, I find myself with too much free time on the weekends.

Sitting around on my ass all day wasn't good for my health or my mind. I needed to break myself of this habit. I decided to sign up as a volunteer at our local animal shelter. Last weekend was my second Sunday of volunteering. It's been very satisfying so far. But I'm increasingly bugged by what I can only describe as a caste system.

I should have known this was a whole different world at my orientation. The volunteer coordinator is a very nice lady and she did a great job explaining the program. She brought a stray puppy with her. A cute little pit bull pup that was allowed to run around the room and interact with the 40 or so would-be volunteers. It's hard to resist a puppy, I know. But some of these people were hell bent on getting the puppy to pay attention to them, to the point of interrupting the presentation. It was as if they were trying to prove how good they were with animals. Calm down there Puppy Whisperer - you don't have anything to prove - it's sort of a given that everybody in the room loves animals.

The volunteer jobs are classified into four categories moving up from Level One through Level Four jobs. The Level One jobs are labor intensive with no animal contact. You earn the right to move up a Level by putting in your time at the lower Levels. I understand why they do this. Makes perfect sense to gauge someone's level of commitment before you give them more responsibility. Especially when they will be coming in contact with animals who potentially have trust issues. It's a necessary weeding out process. Who's here to help and who's here because they want to pet puppies and kittens all day? What I wasn't expecting was this sense of superiority that some of the higher level volunteers exhibit towards the lower level volunteers.

As a Level One volunteer all I am currently allowed to do is housekeeping or load trucks or the warehouse with pet food for delivery. (For an awesome program which gives pet food to low income families so they can keep their pets.) I have done only housekeeping so far. I learned quickly there are a few issues you have to deal with on housekeeping duty. First, no clear idea of what you should be doing. Except for laundry... I'll get back to this later. They have a list on the wall of duties to be performed each day and the duties get marked off as they are completed. The problem is the list has not been updated with current sheets. It only serves as a guide to what might need to be done. You have to go check it out and see if someone has completed it yet. If not, you do it. This then leads to problem two.

You don't know where anything is and have to ask for help from the staff or higher level volunteers. It's hard to be a bother to people who are obviously busy with their own duties. I tried to be as self sufficient as possible but a few times I just had to ask...... where does the garbage go?....... where can I get Windex refill solution?....... where is the vacuum? Ask the wrong person and you get an answer like "I'm a DOGWALKER!" (cue angels singing in background) "Ask one of the cleaning people." Well, excuuuuusseeee me. I can only hope to reach the levels of animal philanthropy that you have achieved. Let me shuffle off to the belltower and polish the bell while you resume your important duties.

I am not exaggerating. Most of the upper levels avoid eye contact with you and the cat ladies actually gossip and talk insider talk as if you aren't in the room. Maybe most people don't make it past Level One so this could be some sort of defense mechanism on their part. Don't get too attached to the dishwasher they'll be gone in a month. Like the red shirts on Start Trek.

Laundry is the best housekeeping job. Piles and piles of filthy pet bedding that needs washing, drying, folding and putting away. They go through an amazing amount of towels, blankets and rugs in caring for homeless pets. You really feel a sense of accomplishment shuffling baskets of clean laundry down to the cat supply and dog supply rooms. They use them faster than you can keep them supplied. Plus you can sneak a quick peak at the dogs as you stock the supply room..... but don't act too interested or you could be pegged as an animal groupie instead of a hard working volunteer.

This past Sunday I was on the early shift and staked my claim to the laundry room. Busy, busy. Awesome. While off on a clean laundry run my laundry room spot was commandeered by a grey haired lady who was making no bones about being in charge from that point forward. I wasn't happy but moved on to other things that needed doing and occupied the rest of my day.    

At one point during the day the Grandma who stole my laundry duty passed by me and announced that she was going off to clean up dog doo from the doggie play yard because "I don't mind dirty jobs like that."  I was the only person in the room.  Why did she think I cared?  I'm even being one-upped by my fellow Level Ones.   I felt like saying... "Oh yeah, well this window cleaning is really rough with my ammonia allergy and my arthritis." 

My strategy will continue to be "Keep your eyes down and keep working". I do hope to graduate to a Level where I can interact with the animals.... maybe even a dog walker, dream of dreams. If anything it won't be the hard work that keeps me from it or the heartbreaking stories of these poor animals in need of a good home.  It'll be the people.

Sep 14, 2010

One of a Kind

Our Chance is getting older.  Not being the type to celebrate dog birthdays, I'd have to look up his birth certificate to tell you exactly how old.  Around 12 I think.  Like people years, dog years are on fast forward (times 7).  Seems like just yesterday that we picked out the "crazy" red puppy that scrambled just out of reach when we released him from his pen.  Not sure why that didn't deter us from choosing him but it didn't.  Fate?  Destiny?  Luck? ........ Chance? 

Chance has been a handful. 

He eats EVERYTHING he can get his chompers on.  It's the Labrador Retriever in him.  He has eaten whole loaves of bread, garbage, chocolate (scary & messy) and something my husband calls "cat treats".  I won't explain that one.  He ate a whole box of paint gun pellets.  He once got a hold of a battery and chewed on it.  Probably from one of the kids' toys.  Thank God he didn't swallow anything but he had a bad case of the drools for a few weeks until his tongue and lips healed.

He's a barker.  Not a neurotic barker and not a yippy barker.  It's a deep bark he lets loose to let you know he's there, or that he wants something.  He's also a snarfer.  At least that's what we call it.  If he's gotten into something and you start pointing at him accusingly ----- he curls his upper lip up and does this sort of huffing thing with a little growl.  Never seen any other dog do it. 

My son-in-law says he's a tool but I can tell he secretly likes him.  My husband calls him Butthead but also calls him the best dog we've ever owned.  My sister went from hating him as a puppy to being openly in love with him today.  My Mother feeds him treats on the sly when she visits (like he needs anything else).  For me Chance is top dog.  Never been and never will be another dog like him.  He has all the usual dog qualities.  Loyalty, devotion, a desire to please...... it's why we love dogs isn't it?  But somehow, in Chance, they're all wrapped up in this unique bundle that would be impossible to replace. 

Having owned Chance I totally understand how somebody would pay a small fortune to clone a dog.  Though I'd be afraid that the "nurture" side of the nature/nurture equation wouldn't be adminstered in the same dose in a Second Chance.  We wouldn't end up with the same dog.   

Chance has started to slow down.  These days he walks instead of runs up the stairs.   He's getting really gray in the muzzle.  He has arthritis that needs to be treated with steroids and pain pills every day.  There's no getting around the fact that he's a senior dog now.  No way to escape the heartache that is headed our way.  I suppose the heartache is the price we pay for having the privilege of the perfect companionship we receive from our dogs, whether we deserve it or not. 

These days I hug him a little longer and harder.  Pet him a little more vigorously.  Tell him he's a good dog more often and slip him an extra biscuit here and there.  If somebody asked me to design the perfect world there would be lots of things I would change but near the top of my list would be that dogs live longer. 

Sep 9, 2010

I quit! And I'm taking my ball with me.

I'm a Wade. Wades are competitive.  We can also, sometimes, be sore losers.   When we lose we can get angry, very angry.  It's not pretty. I've seen my father and his twin brother swing golf clubs at each other.  The day I threw a chessboard across the room because I was losing was the day I realized I had the "winning is everything" gene.  It was also the day I gave up chess.

I've learned to control this ugly side of my competitive nature.  I can smile and congratulate the winner very convincingly.  But every so often, if I lose to the wrong person (someone who is gloating - someone I think I should have beaten - someone who keeps handing me my ass over and over), I feel this rage boiling up inside me.   Mostly this just causes me to talk through clenched teeth or in extreme cases to leave the room.  Once in awhile though I lash out.  I'm not proud of it.  It's just how I'm wired. 

Last night we played Live Trivia at a local bar.  We had a powerhouse team.  Daughter, son-in-law and son.  They bring me and dear Hubby along for anything that happened prior to 1990 they didn't learn in history.   Stuff like Chaos being the evil organization in Get Smart or the fact that we know who George Burn's wife is.  At stake was a $30 gift certificate but more importantly, bragging rights. 

Our toughest competition was a table of young, suburban punks.  I call them them punks because they were obviously cheating.  The rules clearly state "No cell phones allowed."  After all, with google's help what fun is a trivia contest.   The Suburban Punks were clearly googling under the table.   WE CALL FOUL! 

At half time we were behind them by only one point after we scored an amazing 10 points on the bonus question.

Name the meat contained in each of these dishes:
Sashimi                               (fish)
Bushy Tail w/ apples           (squirrel)
Marsh Rat                          (muskrat)
Squab                                (pigeon)  - a last minute change in answer no less

Second half starts.  The opposition was hobbled by a quick reminder from the Trivia MC about no cell phones and her watchful eye for the rest of the game to make sure they didn't cheat anymore.  Score at the end of the 2nd half was in our favor 63 to their 57. 

Time for the bonus question, sort of like Jeapordy.  You can risk all or nothing on one question.   Sucks if you're in the lead, awesome turnaround possibility if your'e not.

Besides Jimmy Carter, name one of the other two 20th Century Presidents who lived 30 years past his election.  

You have the time it takes for them to play two songs to answer.   At this point one of the suburban punks gets up to go the bathroom.  When he returned he looked around all nervous like, sat down, wrote the answer down and turned it in.  OK, they cheated, obviously.  We could only assume they had bet everything.  This left us no choice but to do likewise.  We bet all 63 points.  We were confident in our answer - Gerald Ford.

Correct!  We beat them 114 to 126.  They were not happy.  But little did they know they narrowly escaped my competitive fury.  If they had beaten us by cheating I would have gone all "Wade" on their asses.

Sep 2, 2010

A Cold, Wet Beginning

Iceland looks like the moon.

My opinion of Iceland, based on my very brief visit, can be summed up with...... a tough bunch of people live here.   It's cold and wet with an inhospitable landscape.  We had a layover on the way to Europe from 6am until 4pm. I bought bus tickets for the 45 minute ride into Reykjavik and researched a few things for us to do in our short time there. Breakfast, shopping, big old famous church.  I even mapped it all out ahead of time. I was prepared. 

We started with breakfast at “The Grey Cat”. This restaurant was billed as the local favorite place to be “seen” eating breakfast. It was a cramped, musty basement with pretentious, bohemian art on the walls. I think it should be required to cook your eggs special order if you bill them as part of an “American Breakfast”. The Grey Cat served them one way, sunny side up with snotty, runny whites.  Blech.

On to the shopping.  Store after store offered the same things, souvenirs (viking stuff, lava rocks, volcanic ash in bottles, keychains and flags) and overpriced sweaters.  Oh, and they really have a thing for puffins.  I would love to have seen some puffins but we were in the desolate, lunar region of Iceland, not the cool, puffin region.  I had to take it on faith that somewhere they have puffins.

This has to be fake.

We visited this concrete church called Hallgr√≠mskirkja.  In front was a statue of Leif Eriksson that was a gift from the egocentric US to Iceland.  Sort of a thanks for heading out on the open ocean and discovering America.


It was cold and wet and I was miserable because, once again, I had the wrong shoes on.  Will I never learn?

Here are my three favorite things we saw in Iceland:

This backyard fence made of stones.  Truly a work of art.

The roofs covered in grass (common in Norway too.)

These flowers that look like feathers.  (Click to enlarge and see how beautiful and unique these flowers are).

Cool facts about Iceland.  Founded in the 9th century by Vikings.  All native Icelanders can trace their origins back to the original settlers.  They speak Icelandic which is the same language spoken by the Vikings.  Population of about 400,000 and most of them live in or near Reykjavik.

The return layover was also 10 hours but it was from midnight to 10am so all we did was sleep on the cold concrete floor of the ticketing terminal.  Well, loving husband slept on the floor, he gave me the bench, but it was hard and cold too.