We have spent these last few weeks of summer at home in Tromsø. I was not particularly looking forward to this ending to our summer as we have had so much fun with travelling and visitors throughout June and July. I just wanted the adventures to continue. As this final week of summer is coming to a close, I am grateful for this simple time we have had as a family. It was an adventure in its own in that I learned a lot about simplicity. I have been thinking about our life here in Norway a lot over these past few weeks, trying to figure out how best to describe our days at home. It is easy to write about travels, adventures and visitors because that time is full on nonstop activity. But what do we do when we are just home as a family? What is our ‘normal’ life like in Norway?
I will just run through a list of what we have done these past three weeks to help answer that question.
1. Picking berries. This is just something that you do as a Norwegian in the summer. Every family seems to own a little handheld berry picker and everyone has their favorite spot. We joined right in, bought a berry picker and found that you don’t really need to search for a favorite spot because berries grow EVERYWHERE. Right out our back door in what looks like a hillside full of weeds are red currant, black currant and wild raspberries. On every hillside around the island are massive amounts of blueberries and crowberries. If you find a nice wet, marshy area you will find what is referred to as Norwegian gold, the cloudberry. We have our favorites, blueberries and raspberries, so that is mostly what we have been picking.
2. Trying new recipes. This is mostly due to the accumulation of berries and rhubarb. Learning to make homemade juices and jams is quite rewarding and of the kids love to help mix the ingredients and eat the finished products. We have made muffins, breads, jams, juices and even some extra yummy oatmeal berry bars. We were also fortunate to have a huge crop of wild rhubarb on the hillside out our backdoor, so we added some of that to our yummy recipes.
3. Tours (or Turs in Norwegian) are popular year round. This is simply getting out in nature. You can tur on skis in the winter, on foot or by bicycle in the summer, tur in your canoe or kayak on the water. You get together with your friends for a nice day tur or a longer multi-day tur. If you topptur you go to the top of what ever mountain you are near. We only do short turs as a family. I like to bring a picnic and make the tur into a scavenger hunt with lists of things for the kids to find. It is a good way to spend an afternoon.
4. Futbol. While a hillside full of lovely plants and berries is out one door, on the other side of the house is an immaculate soccer field lit and made of very nice turf. We play a lot of soccer. Not so different from life in the States other than we do this as a family. The four of us have made up some fun games and both kids are getting quite good. The best part is that they enjoy it…or at least Odin does. Adelheyd is still too young and gets bored easily. She prefers #5.
5. Playgrounds. There are not too many city parks with playgrounds, but every school has a nice playground and there are plenty of schools around. Odin and Adelheyd have a few favorite playground features. The zipline which is just what it sounds. A platform that allows you to sit on a disc attached to a zipline and fly to the other end. Swings and slides are fun, especially the big basket swings that 7 or 8 kids can fit in. It is like a hammock made into a swing. The diving board into a sand pit is definitely a favorite as are the big rope ‘spider webs’ that you can climb around.
6. Bike rides. We ride our bikes pretty much everywhere. We can bike to the beach, to the city center, to the mall, to any one of 6 grocery stores in biking distance, to the playgrounds and schools. Joel and I can both easily bike to work. We sometimes load our bikes into the car and head out to the trails around town. Adelheyd is still just learning to bike, so she is mostly in the Chariot or the kid seat on the back of the bike. The kids don’t even ask about the car. They just know that when we are home in Tromsø and want to go somewhere, we bike.
7. Fishing. Need I say more? Fishing IS Norway. We are surrounded by ocean, rivers, lakes, and streams full of fish. When not fishing, there is always hunting for sea treasure or making ‘sand’ castles on the beaches.
8. Library. Thank goodness there is an amazing library in town. It is a beautiful 5 story glass building with the entire bottom floor set up for kids. There are couches and computers, tables filled with coloring supplies. Kids can eat lunch in the library. There is a little theater where they put on free puppet shows on Fridays (in Norwegian). There is a nice selection of English books and movies. We love the library and go once a week.
9. Movies. The library selection of movies for kids is amazing. The Norwegians are quite insistent that they do not translate many of the American movies into Norsk because they believe watching the movies in English helps with learning the language. I can’t argue because Norwegians speak better English than most Americans. We try to get some Norwegian made movies to watch in Norwegian for the same reason. We probably watch more movies than I would like, but we are doing it as a family. We aren’t plopping the kids in front of the TV (well sometimes we do:).
10. Learning time. In order to keep the kids up to date with the American school system (Norway is a bit behind as you will read in my next post), I have workbooks and games that I play with the kids almost every day to teach them letters, numbers, math, reading, telling time, etc… We all sit down at the kitchen table together and do our ‘work’ or head outside for some learning play time, usually in the morning after breakfast, reserving the afternoon for real play time. I am learning during this time too. I am learning patience. I am learning to spend A LOT of time with just my kids. I am learning to embrace and enjoy these simple days together.
We occasionally have friends over for dinner or meet friends for an afternoon tur, but for the most part it is just us. We sit down and have breakfast, lunch (in the summer) and dinner together at the table every single day. We don’t have too many parties or BBQs to attend, there are no big family gatherings, no play dates, no nights out on the town. It is the four of us….together…every day. The list above describes what we choose from when planning our days. They are fun activities, don’t get me wrong, but after 6 months repeating these 10 activities every week, life can get a bit repetitious. There are no options for summer camps or afterschool activities for kids under 6. The Norwegian way is to have family time, especially when the kids are young. The workday is over at 4 in the winter 3:00 or 3:30 in the summer. The family unit is home for dinner at 5 and that is just the way it is. We are definitely experiencing this part of Norwegian culture. I am grateful for these simple days. They are not always easy, they are often frustrating and certainly monotonous, they test my patience to the very end, and we all miss sharing our days with friends, but we are all learning to rely on each other… as a family….together.