Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween 2015

Halloween 2015: a witch and a ninja.

Yesterday was Halloween, which for our family entailed all of the usual suspects of dressing up, trick or treating, soup for dinner and watching the classic Peanuts Halloween specials. Halloween also fell on a Saturday this year, which made for a much more relaxed celebration for us. Instead of quickly shoveling dinner into everyone and rushing out the door to go trick or treating before bed time, we were able to go at a much more leisurely pace which is so nice when you have small children. And, because we weren't juggling work and school and bedtime schedules, we were even able to accept a Halloween party invitation this year! This family-friendly party was brilliantly scheduled to start before everyone went out trick or treating, and involved actual, real dinner, which was such a lovely way to start the evening. I'm definitely tucking that idea away for future years. 

In no specific order: Halloween 2010-2014

One unexpected side effect of Halloween this year was the wallowing pit of nostalgia I kept throwing myself into at every opportunity. A lot of it was, of course, for the kids and their decreasingly chunky cheeks stuffed into various adorable costumes over the past five years that we have been celebrating Halloween as parents. I mean, look at them! Have you ever seen anything sweeter?

But I also found myself mooning over Halloween photos from college and high school and waxing nostalgic over years gone by. I suspect that the reason why is the fact that Halloween is a day for taking pictures, so it's sort of a fixed point in time that you can revisit every year and see how things have changed. Or less esoterically, it's a day for having fun, so looking at pictures of yourself or your friends and family being happy and having fun is naturally going to have you breaking out your nostalgia pants. 

Deep thoughts for not-the-deepest of holidays! How was your Halloween?

Monday, October 19, 2015

A very Norwegian kulekyse for Gwen

I made the pretty hat and the pretty girl wearing it! Aren't I clever?

In a somewhat surprising, and certainly unprecedented, turn of events I've written two knitting posts in a row! While I don't think Project Project is in any immediate danger of turning into a knitting blog, I did finish the hat I was working on for Gwen and felt happy enough with the result that I wanted to show it off to you. Isn't it cute?

It never ceases to amaze me that this blue-eyed blonde is actually mine.

A friend at the monthly knit night I attend showed me the pattern for the adorable hat she had made, and I immediately knew I had to make one too. It reminded me of the type of hats that little girls used to wear when I was growing up in Norway. And then I realized that the pattern was actually in Norwegian, and it was a done deal!

She devised this little pose all on her own. 

But then I couldn't find the yarn I wanted to make the hat. I knew it had to be something really soft and non-itchy so Gwen would agree to wear it (there is nothing sadder than spending weeks working on a project for someone, only to have them not wear it because it's not comfortable), and I knew it would have to be just the right shade of blue. Something cool and icy and feminine to really make her eyes stand out. So I looked around a little bit locally, but couldn't find the right thing until the kids and I were in Norway this summer. We happened to venture into a small yarn shop, and after a little poking around (and exercising a lot of restraint to not buy up the entire store!) I found just the thing. It is a silk/alpaca blend, and is the softest, most buttery smooth yarn imaginable from Du Store Alpakka. It was a little on the spendy side, but seeing as I only needed one skein and it was perfect (and it was my birthday!), I snapped some up, downloaded the pattern and started knitting it right away. 

From the back. I love that it comes to two little points!

The kulekyse (or bubble bonnet, as it is delightfully called in English) is a fun and pretty quick little project. I'd never tried knitting anything like this bubble pattern before, and it was a little nerve-wracking seeing as it involved letting a stitch drop down four rows before picking it back up and knitting it twisted! But after some trial and error, I figured it out and then it was pretty smooth sailing from then on. In Norwegian, at least, the pattern is quite clear and straightforward in its directions, which I appreciated, especially after the problems I'd had with the last pattern I found online. My only complaint is that they only let you download the pattern a limited amount of times, so even though I've paid for it, I can't print a new copy to replace the very worn and raggedy one I've been using to knit from. Kind of miffing, but not the end of the world.

Gwen didn't especially want to pose for pictures - unless her fairy wings could come too.

Gwen was very interested in the whole knitting process, and was quite eager for me to finish her hat. I showed her the finished result on Sunday morning, when she decided that she had to wear it to church. She was already wearing a dress that my mum had knitted for her, so off she went to church, decked out from head to toe in homemade knitwear. She looked very demure and proper in her little bonnet, and I had to smile at how fancy she obviously felt.

I love how the bonnet frames her face, and I am delighted with how that shade of turquoisey blue really brings out her blue eyes. I also like that she can wear it with a dress for "the more formal toddler occasion" or with jeans and a shirt for every day. And it's not something that every other mom in the neighborhood has bought at Target for their kids - it's always fun to have something a little different.

Also - I ended up buying two skeins of the yarn I used, just to be sure that I had enough (imagine how frustrating it would be to run out of yarn that you bought in another country!), so now I have a whole extra skein and a bit of this gorgeous yarn. What do you think I should make with it?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A sweater vest for Espen

Showing off his new knitwear.

Wonders never cease - I actually knitted something! I sort of unintentionally put away my knitting when Gwen was a baby, and then didn't pick it back up again until earlier this year when I started working on a sweater vest (or pullover as I secretly call it in my relatively English mind) for Espen. Then the weather got too warm for knitwear and life got busy and I hardly picked up a knitting needle all summer long. But recently I've been bitten hard by the knitting bug, and have had a hard time putting down the projects I've cast on. I just want to knit all the time, you guys!

A sassy little man and his sweater.
My first completed knitting project was a sweater vest for Espen. I used this free pattern that I found online (courtesy of Revelry!), and while it wasn't without it's issues along the way, I'm quite happy with the result!

A few notes:

  • As is sometimes the case with free patterns that haven't been professionally tested or edited, there were a couple of typos and unclear instructions that had me stumped. I got a bit frustrated and discouraged a few times, but was generally able to reason my way through it in the end. 
  • I thought when I was starting the pattern that I could probably easily have knitted it in the round, but didn't trust myself to get it right. But the further into the pattern I got, the more obvious it was that even I could have adapted the pattern to be knitted in the round, which would have been both quicker and easier. So I think I need to have a little more faith in my knitting skills!
  • It's a great fit for Espen, but I do wish I'd added an extra inch or so to the length. It'll probably still fit him widthwise in a year, but I suspect it might be too short by then. He's just a long, skinny kid, and I need to remember to adapt my knitting accordingly. 
  •  This was my first time knitting a v-neck, and I struggled! I had a hard time picking up an even amount of stitches on both sides of the center stitch, and keeping my decreases even and in the right place. I wish the pattern had been a little more clear about what exactly I was trying to accomplish, but with a lot of counting and concentration, I got there in the end. 
  • I similarly struggled with picking up the right number of stitches around the sleeves, but I tried and failed enough times that the end result is flawless. I'm seriously happy with how neat and tidy it was in the end. 
  • Because I'm still not an expert knitter, it didn't even occur to me to do a stretchy decrease on the collar, and so it's a bit uncomfortable going over Espen's head when he puts it on and takes it off. Blocking it helped a bit, but I really should have done a looser bind-off, or looked up how to do a stretchy one. Next time!
Having said all of that, though, I'm actually quite delighted with it. It fits Espen really well, it keeps his skinny little body warm, and most of all, he likes it, so I'm counting it as a success - as long as his head doesn't get any bigger! 

And now I'm onto knitting a hat for Gwen! And after that I'm making a baby blanket! And after that, and after and after that!

Cheeky face!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Parks, picnics and pasta sauce

With about half an hour to go before school got out at lunchtime today, I was moving over some laundry and plotting how, exactly, I was going to go grocery shopping and give the kids lunch and still make it home in time for Gwen's nap and to do all of the other things I had on my list today. We could grab lunch while we were out (Wendy's is very conveniently next to Target), but Espen had already chosen to make chicken and fries for his dinner day tonight, and there's only so much fried chicken you can eat in a day, y'know?

Then inspiration struck. Today was one of those glorious early September days that Utah does so very well, and I decided to capitalize on it and pack up a quick picnic of juice, sandwiches and a handful of cookies and run out the door. Gwen and I pulled a very bewildered and excited Espen out of his carpool, and then headed off on our picnic adventure.

The park was more or less empty at lunchtime on a Friday afternoon, so we had a nice little lunch beneath the shade before the kids ran off to spend a happy half hour or so on the playground. As I watched them bask in the glory of having the entire playground to themselves, I knew that there was absolutely no way I was going to be able to do all of the things I had planned to do today. But I knew I had to (as Espen so enthusiastically belted out in the bathroom at Target a little later) let it go, and just make that time in the park with the kids my priority for today.

I forget that sometimes. In the rush to check things off my list and get things done and organized and into shape, I forget that the whole and entire point and purpose in life is to be with the people we love.  To serve others and allow ourselves to be served. To love them and to let them love us. Isn't that why we're really all here?

I got another reminder of that after we got home. Espen was in the backseat of the car, telling me that he could unbuckle Gwen from her seat "so you don't have to waste your time doing it, mom. I don't want you to have to do lots of work today." It was meant as a kindness and I so appreciate his good little heart and willingness to help, but it felt a little bit like a slap in the face. Waste my time? Is that really what I have been teaching them? That things I do to take care of them are work and chores, and that anything that takes a little while is wasting my precious time? That my time is somehow more important than them? Oh, I hope that's not what they're learning!

I was too stunned at the time to say much of anything, but what I should have said, and what I will say to Espen tonight when we snuggle up in his bed after his bedtime story is this: "Taking care of you and your sister is a gift, and if I have ever made you feel like any of the things I do in a day are more important than you, then I apologize. There is a lot of work involved in being a mom or a dad, or just a grownup in general, and sometimes there are things that just have to happen, like making our food, doing laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning up... But those things never, ever matter more than you or Gwen, and loving you and taking care of you is not a waste of my time, even if it just something small or not very fun like unbuckling a car seat or changing a diaper. If I ever make you feel like I care more about unloading the dishwasher then I do about you, please tell me, and I will be happy to remind you just how much I love you, and how much you really do matter to me."

Two more little events: yesterday afternoon I put Gwen down for her nap and then started to head downstairs to make a large batch of pasta sauce when the thought popped into my head to invite Espen to join me. I popped my head inside his bedroom door and asked if he would like to keep me company while I cooked, and his whole little face just lit up. He came downstairs and spent the next hour or so perched beside me on the kitchen counter, chatting about school and helping me with the occasional cooking task. It was so nice to and easy to just spend time together like that, and I felt like such a doofus for not thinking of it before. Which is exactly the reason why, when Gwen asked me to play Lego with her this morning when I was really planning to go upstairs and do some laundry, I said yes. And sure, I spent some time cleaning up the playroom around her while she played before I came to my senses and actually played some dang Lego with her, but I got there in the end, which help both of us remember that she is infinitely more important than even the longest to do-list.

So: yes to taking ten minutes to play Lego with Gwen before I go upstairs to do the laundry. Yes to letting Espen help me cook, even though it's messy. Yes to putting away the iPads and having a tickle fight. Yes to first things first. Yes to family first.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

In the middle of the week

All of the apples!

I have just successfully put Gwen down for an early nap (sing, choir of angels!), and Espen is playing at a friend's house, so I have a few minutes to spare before it's on to the next thing. How are you?

Espen has been in kindergarten for two weeks now, so we're starting to really get the hang of our new schedule. As much as I still don't like getting up in the mornings, I do like getting an early (for us!) start to the day, and really like being able to get the bulk of my errands and whatnot done before lunch, which frees up the afternoon quite a bit. Not that I do anything very exciting with it, but I have steam cleaned the couch and put together a couple of storage shelves for the basement, so things are happening, and I'm happy about that.

A few things I've had on my mind lately:

  • Gwen's naps. She still takes a nap most afternoons, but is often grumpy when we wake her, and then has a hard time getting to sleep at night, which isn't easy for anyone. I'm really hoping this won't be the end of nap time for Gwen, so we're experimenting with this and that to see what works. Today I put her to bed an hour earlier than usual, and I'm going to wake her after 90 minutes instead of her usual two hours, so we'll see how that goes. Any wise words would be much appreciated!
  • Nick's aunt and cousin stopped by this weekend with a huge box of freshly picked apples. What a great gift! So now we're trying to work out what to do with them all. We've made a few batches of apple fruit leather, and I think apple muffins are next on my list, but that barely scratches the surface. At least apples store well, so we have a couple of weeks to use them all!
  • Nick and I started watching A Path Appears  last night, and it has given me so much to think about. The first episode was about sex trafficking in the Unites States, and while it was so shocking and quite hard to watch at times, I really do believe that the more we know about a problem, the better we can solve it. So now my mind is buzzing with things I can do and ways to help. If you're interested in watching the series (I highly recommend it) you can find it on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon. 
  • Reading time with Espen. We've been working our way through the books his preschool gave him (about 60 short books that get increasingly challenging) and now he only has three left! We're hugely proud that he has plowed his way through all those books, but now we're trying to figure out what to have him read next. So now I'm looking for something simple enough for him to be able to read, but fun and engaging enough for him to want to read. Suggestions? 
  • Starting a new blog! A friend and I have a fun idea for a blog in the works, so I'm thinking through all of the nuts and bolts involved in getting that particular party started. Hopefully we'll move from the thinking to the doing stage pretty soon. 
  • Knitting! I've got a couple of projects going at once right now, so hopefully I'll have something to share with you soon. For now you can get a preview of the hat I'm making for Gwen here
OK, time to wake Gwen and start thinking about dinner. Enjoy the rest of your week!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Espen goes to Kindergarten

He's got his new backpack and he's ready to go.
 Last week was another big milestone in our family when Espen started kindergarten. He's done joy school and preschool, so it wasn't our first first day of school, but now he is finally one of the kids going to the neighborhood school.

It's bittersweet, of course. There were tears when I dropped Espen off for his first day, and they weren't his! On the one hand it's scary and hard to send him off to a school with hundreds of kids to fend for himself (and it's every day!), especially knowing that he's a sensitive little guy who sometimes gets his feelings hurt. I worry about him making friends and kids being mean, and will his teacher "get" him and all of that motherly anxiety-ridden stuff. But then I'm also so excited for him to make friends (his preschool class was all boys, so we are super excited to make friend with girls!) and do all of the learning and growing that comes with going to school. Education is such an essential part of growing up and being human that I can't wait for Espen to fully experience.

I took a risk and let him pick his own First Day of School outfit.
Other than this being a 90 degree day, I think he did pretty great!

He's had a few nervous moments, of course, but mostly Espen has been happy and excited about going to school. His favorite part is playing with his best friend at recess, and he's already had a new friend  (a girl!)over for a play date already, so socially he's very happy, even if he was a bit shocked that a girl in his class had been "mean" to their teacher yesterday. And academically he is just fine. The pre-school that Espen went to last year was pretty academically focused (I mean, for a bunch of four-year olds!), so he already knows his numbers and can read or sound simple words already, so he's a little ahead of the curve - for now. But he's happily learning the alphabet and numbers all over again, and treats everything like it's valuable information to him, so if he's happy in the classroom and not getting bored, we really can't ask for anything more. Besides, a little review never hurt anyone.

I love this kid. 

So... so far, so good! Our days start a little earlier and our mornings are busier, but I feel like we've quickly settled into our new routine. Gwen and I drop Espen off at school at nine and then go and run errands and go shopping until it's time to pick Espen up at lunchtime, so I've had a lot of productive mornings! On Monday I was positively elated to have all of the week's grocery shopping done and dusted by 10 AM, which basically never happens at our house. And with our mornings being so productive, I've had more time to do other things in the afternoons; like working in the yard, reading, blogging, playing Lego or even painting with the kids. I really do feel so lucky that I am able to spend all of this time with the kids while they're small, and having more un-rushed time where I'm not constantly feeling guilty about all of the other things I should be doing is honestly pretty priceless. My least favorite thing about being a mom is when I feel like a stressed-out, snarly head case, so any time I don't have to do that is golden.

In conclusion: we're one week in, and school is great! Espen likes his school, we like his school and his school seems to like him too. I'm sure the time will come when things aren't as quite rosy at school as they are at the moment, but until that day comes, we're grateful that Espen is off to a good start.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Ten Years

We are back from our cruise and our busy summer is officially at an end. We've had a few North Family Milestones since my last, including Espen's first day of pre-school and our 10th wedding anniversary. Ten years! How did that happen?

We decided very early on in our marriage that we wanted to really celebrate our anniversaries, and seeing as we both like to travel, we decided that an annual trip would be the way to do it. It didn't always have to be big or expensive or even very far, we just knew that we wanted to escape the everyday and spend a little time away, just the two of us. And so far we have done a pretty good job of managing just that! Some of our anniversaries have been in faraway places (Venice!) and some of them have been a couple of hours away (Cedar City!), but what they do have in common is that they have all been such happy occasions, as well as a perfect opportunity to stop the world and remind ourselves that we are still the people we fell in love with years ago.

2005: Married for about six hours and seriously happy about life. 

2006: First anniversary in our first apartment!
And then a day or two later, we hopped on a plane to spend a few weeks in England and Norway.

2007: We don't have any of our own photos of this trip, (so I borrowed one from Tripadvisor) but for our third anniversary we ventured north and stayed at the Providence Inn near Logan, UT. We slept in, wandered around the town, went swimming and just generally enjoyed a long weekend together. 
2008: Utah Shakespeare Festival. We watched lots of plays, stayed in a seriously cute B&B and fell deeply in love with baked brie and each other.

2009: This year we combined our anniversary trip with a babymoon to Stockholm! Sadly, most of those photos disappeared in The Great Photo Loss of 2010, so we will have to make do with a pregnant photo of me in Gamla Stan.
 I promise Nick came too!

2010: Back in 2010 we didn't post our every move on social media, so we actually don't have any pictures of our fifth anniversary trip. But we do have this picture of Espen swimming with Grandpa, which is how he spent his weekend while we went back to the same place we stayed in when we got married. 

2011: Nick's beautiful Grandma Jo passed away just before our actual anniversary, so we replaced our plans for an anniversary trip to Las Vegas with a visit to Las Vegas for her funeral instead. Life got very crazy for us that fall, but we managed to sneak off for a few days after Christmas, just the two of us, and went hiking in Zion National Park (and stayed in a posh-ish hotel).

2012:Six months pregnant with Gwen and enjoying a quick break in St. George while Grandma and Grandpa took care of Espen. The heat was ridiculous, but we enjoyed tasty food, a show at the Tuacahn theatre and spending time together.

2013: Our babysitter cancelled last minute, so we scaled back our plans and made our eighth anniversary a family affair.
(A friend offered to watch the kids for us that night, so we did manage to sneak off to dinner and a moonlit ski-lift ride in the mountains, so no harm done.)

2014: Our anniversary was also Espen's first day of preschool, so celebrations were low-key.

2014: But we did celebrate a month earlier with a trip to Venice, so romance was not dead.

2015: Ten years! We went on a cruise to Alaska and celebrated the actual day canoeing across a lake near Ketchikan.

2015: Back onboard the cruise ship, we celebrated again with a fancy dinner and eversoverymuchtoomuch dessert.

Happy anniversary to us! I can wait to see where the next ten years take us. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Back from Norway

An extremely jaunty walk to get the mail. 
The kids and I are home again from our trip to Norway and getting settled back into every day life. We miss granny and uncle Jeremy and all of our favorite Norwegian people and places, but my goodness, it's good to be home! Home where my bed and my pillow (my pillow!) are, home where my kids sleep peacefully in their beds, home where I don't have to live out of a suitcase, and above all, home where the love of my life is! Good gravy, we missed our Nick/husband/daddy.

Playing by the lake. 
Whenever I talk to people about our trip, they always express that traveling such a long distance with two small children on my own must be really hard. But to be honest, the actual travel part wasn't too bad. Our kids are seasoned travelers that know how to hunker down, get comfy and make the most of being stuck in a seat for hours (and hours and hours), and I am endlessly grateful for that. They're rock stars! But what was hard (besides the first couple of nights of jet lagged kids) was the realization of what a gaping void there is in our family without Nick. All of the countless little things he does in a day to keep our family running smoothly suddenly weren't happening. And the kids, who usually love being in Norway so much that they don't want to go home, were counting down the days until we could go home to Daddy. Our family is just not our family without him.

A visit from my grandmother and the kids' great-grandmother. With my mum standing in for my dad, we've got four generations on this sofa and ages ranging from two to ninety-four. 

 That being said, we had a wonderful time. We spent hours and hours outside in Granny's garden and adventuring in the forest and along the lanes nearby. We discovered a wild strawberry patch and picked as much as we could find. We caught up with old friends and made a few new ones. We went swimming in the lake and splashed in the paddling pool in the garden. We ate lots and lots of ice cream and tasty Norwegian food. Espen discovered a love for salami, meatballs and fish cakes. Gwen spent every waking moment asking for ice cream, cookies and chocolate.

I gave Gwen one of my old bridesmaid dresses, and she immediately declared herself Princess Gwen.
I'm rather inclined to agree. 
 We had tea parties and made a playhouse in one of Granny's outbuildings. On rainy days we played with Lego from my childhood and drew the children's outlines on big rolls of paper. We picked wild flowers and jumped up and down in muddy puddles. We made leaf rubbings and had epic games of hide and seek all around the garden.

We went for lots of walks up and down the lanes.
Lest this is sounding too idyllic for words we also stayed up too late, threw epic tantrums, made big messes, lost some of Granny's belongings and spent way too much time playing on the iPads.

There were wildflowers (and their tiny tenants) everywhere.
 For me, the theme of the trip seemed to be getting out my comfort zone. I drove a car with manual transmission for the entire month, something I haven't done in well over a decade. I repaired the lawnmower and figured out why the vacuum cleaner wasn't sucking. I read instruction manuals and wielded power tools. I drove to places I had never been before without a GPS, and I drove the entire family on a road trip to Sweden. My comfort zone is my happy place, and I'm never especially interested in leaving it, but I will admit that there is something to be said for making it a little bit bigger. I didn't especially want to know how to clean and replace a spark plug, but now I do, and it doesn't sound so foreign and difficult anymore.

Pancake brunch with my Norwegian Bestie. We love our Annika!
 Of course the whole reason we went was so we could help my mum while she recovered from hip replacement surgery. When we got there a few days after she was home from the hospital, she had to use two crutches to get anywhere, and was frustrated because she couldn't even carry a cup from the kitchen counter to the table. So to begin with I cooked and cleaned and did the dishes and drove her to appointments and ran errands and mowed the lawn and did all of the things that she just couldn't do for herself yet.

Annika is the director of an opera museum, and therefore wins all of the Best Dress-up Box awards. 

As the days turned into weeks, it was really great to see my mum recovering more and more each day. Over the course of the month we were there, she went from needing two crutches to get anywhere, to mostly getting around the house unsupported and only using a walking stick in one hand if we were going somewhere. She was even well enough to drive the car into town before we left, which made me feel like we weren't leaving her completely in the lurch. And now she just had her first day back at work!

My lovely Mumsy

My mum and I have always been good friends, so just spending time with her was great as  it always is. I know I'm very lucky in that regard, because not everyone gets along as well with their mum as I do. She does have an absolutely frustrating ability to be right about things, but other than she's lovely.   We did a lot of chatting and knitting and shopping (so much shopping!) and sorting through old photos and just spending time together without doing anything very significant in that way you can only do with your very nearest and dearest.

Visiting the cows and breaking in their news boots.
There were other good things about being in Norway too, besides just being able to help my mum. One of them was that we were able to spend some time with my brother, which doesn't happen too often. He starts a new job next week, so had a few weeks off to spend with us. The kids adore their uncle Jeremy (he was getting bedtime hugs and kisses whether he wanted them or not!), and I suspect that he's pretty fond of them too. I won't tarnish his manly image by telling you exactly how sweet he can be to a two year-old with a bumped foot or a five year-old in need of a man-to-man talk, but it made my heart happy to those relationships develop.

Washing Granny's car. 

And I was able to enjoy some time with Jeremy too! We went for walks and talked a lot, and discovered that we are equally nerdy about Dr. Who, so almost every night after the kids were in bed, we'd pile onto the couch with my mum and watch some vintage Dr. Who or an old movie. He was great at helping out with the kids and did a lot of stuff around the house in general, which I really appreciated. He's going to make some girl very happy one of these days!

Cooling off with popsicles in the paddling pool. It's a rough life!
Spending time with friends is always a great part of being in Norway. Some of my friends have kids of their own now, which is great because it gives my kids someone to play with while we chat and catch up. And it's just fun to see how children aren't really all that bothered about not sharing a common language. There's usually about a 15 minute warmup period where everyone is figuring each other out, and then they just play. And Espen and Gwen always leave a play date in Norway with a few more words in their Norwegian vocabulary than when they came, which is wonderful.

Picking wild strawberries.
 Being able to spend time with my own friends is great too. We met up with one girl (lady, I suppose!) that I have known since I was four years old. Even though we haven't seen each other very much at all in the past 20 years, there is still something so comfortable and familiar about spending time with people you have known for practically all of your life. I also saw three other women who have all held the title as my best friend at some point in my life - and on some level still do. I think that unless there was some clear and obvious falling out that ended the friendship, then a best friend maintains that level of closeness and love no matter how many years have passed since the last time you saw each other. Some friends you just pick up with where you left off.

One of many tiny tea parties.
 I also spent my 35th birthday in Norway this year. Until last year I hadn't celebrated a single birthday in the same country as my mum for a decade, so being able to spend it with her and my brother for two years in a row was a really special thing. She helped Espen and Gwen chose presents for me (some favorite Norwegian chocolate and Marimekko-print napkins, respectively), and I took her out to lunch. My brother gave me a much beloved TV-show from our childhood on DVD (Vi på Saltkråkan), and my mum cooked a delicious dinner for us and a few friends, one of whom had just happened to fly in from New York that morning. My sweet friend Annika baked a cake and played games with my kids, who just can't fathom how you could possibly have a birthday without party games. I really feel that, for me, are less and less about cake and presents, and more and more about the people around you and the kindness and love that they express through the efforts they make for you. I probably missed Nick more on my birthday than on any other day the entire time we were gone, but it was still a special day where my family and friends just made me feel so loved.

Who even knows? 
Now we're home and everything is getting back to normal again. It took a few days of trying to put my foot on a clutch that wasn't there, but I am finally getting used to driving my own car again. I was a good girl and unpacked our suitcases quickly (within a couple of days, which is pretty great for me!) and have integrated most of our new belongings into our home already. It makes me happy to see our new tablecloth on the kitchen table, and the cute little dish I found holding tomatoes, like little splashes of Norway here and there. And it has to be said that we left with one suitcase and returned with three, so there was quite a lot of putting away and integrating to be done! (Did I mention we did a lot of shopping?)

Happy and handsome.
The next thing on the agenda, of course, is our upcoming trip to Alaska, so our travel bags won't be packed away for too long before we hit the road. And the air. And the high seas. The kids will have a fantastic time staying with grandma and grandpa while Nick and I can hardly contain our excitement to go on our very first cruise! Then, a few days after we get back, Espen starts kindergarten, by which time I suspect we'll be happy to sink into a nice little family routine again.

Playing with mama and uncle Jeremy's old Lego.

 How has your summer been so far?

Friday, June 19, 2015


Our house, where I thought I'd be spending my summer.

At least that's what my GPS says to me when we all thought we were heading in one direction, but then I suddenly throw everything off by heading down a different path than the planned route. And that's kind of what is happening to our summer.

When we got back from our trip to Florida and Disneyworld on May 1st, I thought that was sort of it as far as traveling went this summer. We'd had our big fun trip, and had nothing else on the cards beyond maybe a long weekend with Nick's parents as far as the eye could see. The rest of the summer would be spent at home, playing with friends, doing a few day trips here and there and mostly trying to beat the heat.

But then there was the question of our anniversary. We will have been married for 10 years in August, and always planned to do something big to celebrate. Although that was going to be tricky/nigh on impossible with two small kids, unless we took them with us, which wasn't really what we had in mind. At this point some friends and family kindly offered to take the kids so we could maybe swing a long weekend in San Francisco, and we thought that was going to be it. While it wasn't quite the Grand Adventure we'd always envisioned for this milestone, we love San Francisco and were definitely happy to spend a few days there.

Then Nick's parents, angels that they are, offered to take the kids for a week. A week! Suddenly the world was quite literally our proverbial oyster, and we started thinking what might be really fun. We knew we wanted to stay within North America so we wouldn't spend half our time traveling and adjusting to time changes, and we knew we wanted to go somewhere neither of us had been before.

We're going here! On this ship!

And now we have booked a cruise to Alaska in August!

Neither of us have been on a cruise before, and neither of us have been to Alaska before, so we are very excited to check it all out. We did our research and booked all of our shore excursions, and were more or less just enjoying the rest of the summer at home until...

We're going to see my mum!

My mum needed to have hip replacement surgery. We knew it was coming, but it wasn't until two days before her surgery that I fully realized how tricky recovery is going to be for her. She will be on crutches and won't be able to drive for six weeks, and was sort of wondering how she was going to manage. Long story short, she had her surgery on Wednesday, should be headed home on Sunday, and the kids and I are flying out to Norway on Monday.

I am freaking out just a little bit. We booked our tickets just a week before leaving, which is the shortest amount of time I've ever had between deciding to go on a big trip like this and actually leaving. And I'll be flying with the kids by myself for the first time ever, which is pretty daunting. I'm actually not dreading the actual flights as much as the travel surrounding them (when I think about getting myself, two kids and our luggage onto the train at the airport in Oslo, I kind of want to cry just a little bit). But I know we can do it, and that things are rarely as bad as I imagine them to be. It'll be a hard day getting there, but it's only one day, and when we're done, we're done.

The hardest part by far is going to be leaving Nick for a month, because I am crazy in love with him. And he's helpful and lovely and we share a brain. And the kids love him and he is the other pair of hands that takes over when I'm doing something else. And we haven't been apart for more than about five days at a time in the 10 years we've been married. Oh, I'm going to miss him like cray-cray. (See?)

But! I get to spend time with my mum and my brother, I'll be able to see some of my favorite friends (and I'm really hoping my 94 year-old Nana!), I'll be in Norway, I'll get to speak Norwegian and hear Norwegian and read Norwegian and be Norwegian for a whole month! And I get to eat Norwegian food! Ohhh, it's like finding a gas station in the middle of nowhere when you weren't sure you were going to make it to the next town. So unexpected and just what I needed! And most importunely, I will be able to actually be useful and helpful to my mother which, given the geographical distance between us, doesn't happen very often. I feel very lucky that we were able to make it work.

So, goodness knows when I'll be able to blog again. I'll be keeping up with the small health changes I've made, but not adding anything new until we get back (although I am hoping I can do a good amount of walking while I'm in Norway and it's not 97 degrees outside). I'll be Instagramming up a storm while I'm gone (I even convinced Nick to get an account!), so if you're interested, you can find me there. My username is Tamsin_North.

I'll be back in a month, if not before, at which point I will surely start blogging about frugal living and austerity measures after I have spent all our money traveling the Northern hemisphere.

Bye for now!

Image borrowed here

Monday, June 8, 2015

Small Steps to Health: Four weeks!

Look at meeeee, I'm so healthy and sporty!

I've officially been doing my own little self-invented "Small Steps to Health" regime for a month now, so I think it's time for a little self-evaluation and accountability.

First of all, I'm feeling pretty proud of myself! I've been consistent and good and both seen and felt some results, which helps me feel like I'm doing something good for myself and moving in the right direction. I've lost five pounds (2.2 kg), which obviously isn't a lot, but considering I haven't really felt like I've been trying all that hard, I will definitely take. I've also felt happier, more energized and somehow... lighter on the inside, if that makes any sense at all.

In case you need a reminder, what I've been doing for the past month is picking a new area or habit to improve on each week, and then taken a small step to improve it. When the week is over, I try to keep up my good work from the previous week, and then add something new to it. Here's what I've done so far:

  • Week 1: Drinking more water. I've replaced more or less everything I drink in a day with water except for the orange juice I drink with breakfast and the occasional glass of milk (some meals just cry out for milk!), and it has basically just become a habit now. I'm not hitting 96 fl. oz. as regularly anymore, but most days I definitely come in above 64. I'm still using my giant 32 oz. hospital cup, and just fill it up a few times throughout the day, usually around lunch, dinner and then again in the evening. I think this will definitely be a habit that will stick with me. 
  • Week 2: Eating more vegetables. This has become something of a family project. As we have planned our dinners together, we've all made an effort to make sure there are plenty of fresh vegetables on the menu. Even Espen (age 5) who has a weekly dinner night that he is in charge of, knows he needs to make sure there is a vegetable or two on our plates when he's cooking. I've also started to buy bagged salad mixes specifically so I can eat them for lunch and get a little closer to that elusive "Five a Day" (at least!) that we should all be shooting for. I've mentioned before that I really, really like vegetables and salads, so this has been a pretty enjoyable change. The only hard part continues to be making the extra effort to actually make it a priority for me to eat well, as well as for my family (the washing! the chopping!). 
  • Week 3: Being a little more active every day.  I need to refocus and try harder on this one. I just get busy and sidetracked with other stuff, and all of a sudden it's Gwen's nap time or dinner time or time to get the kids to bed, and the opportunity has passed. And I'm very good at making excuses. I have hopped on my bike and gone for a quick ride around the neighborhood after the kids were in bed, which I honestly love doing. I love my bike. And I did give the kids piggyback ride around the house this morning. But there is a lot of room for improvement. 
  • Week 4: Better afternoon snacks. This is another area that needs some work. I didn't really have any bad snacks last week when I was trying to do this, but I just didn't have enough good options on hand. I feel like I just go to the store and my mind goes blank and I completely give up. I really do struggle a bit with buying and preparing things that are just for me. A friend did introduce me to these Kashi cookies, though. I thought they were tasty and filling enough that one cookie would be enough to scratch the itch. And, while I haven't studied their nutritional information in depth, the ingredients look decent and the calorie amount is pretty good for a snack. But I will continue to hunt for the perfect afternoon snack!
As for this coming week, I'm going to give myself a week off from adding new projects and work on improving the four areas listed above. I'll be back next week with a new Small Step, and hopefully before that with a post or two that have nothing to do with my health quest whatsoever!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Small Steps to Health: A better afternoon snack

I'm so healthy! Look! Look at meeeee!

Before I get into my snacking habits, let me first report back on how I did on last week's goal of being  a little more active every day. Here's how it all worked out:

  • Monday This was an easy one! It was a national holiday, so we all had the day off and went for a hike and a picnic up in the mountains. The hike was about 3.5 (5.6 km) miles roundtrip, and I clocked just over 10,000 steps on the step counter on my phone, while equals about 5 miles (8 km). I felt like that was pretty good!
  • Tuesday  I can't really remember what I did exactly, but I know we had stuff going on all day long, so I didn't get a chance to really do anything until after the kids were in bed. Fortunately by then the rain had stopped (we had such a wet and rainy May!), so I invited a friend and went for a quick 30-minute bike ride around the neighborhood. 
  • Wednesday Another busy day filled with play dates and shopping and errands. The weather wasn't being too cooperative, so we spent the afternoon inside. I knew I wouldn't get a chance to go out and do anything in the evening, so I turned on some music and had a 20 minute dance party with the kids instead. Lots of fun, and it definitely got my heart rate up! 
  • Thursday and Friday These days both completely got away from me. We were busy with appointments and this and that, and, to be honest, I think I was just feeling a bit discouraged by this whole "healthier me" thing that I'm trying to do. To do it right and get these new habits in place can be a little all-consuming, and frankly, my interests lie elsewhere (like in curling up with a book and eating cookies). But I'm determined to get there, and I will. Sometimes just feel like they're "two steps forwards and one step back" kind of days. 
  • Saturday The rain stopped and the sun came out at last, so we spent the whole entire day working in the yard. I mowed the lawn in the backyard and spent hours and hours pulling weeds, so by the time we stopped for dinner I was almost too tired to lift my fork (almost!). 
  • Sunday After we get home from church, our Sundays are always about relaxing and spending time together as a family - usually with some baking thrown in. All I did was take a 10 minute walk to the mailbox and back with Gwen, but it was still 10 minutes more than I might have done otherwise.
Baby steps, people! 

This week I'm trying to improve another habit of mine: the afternoon snack. Every afternoon, more or less without fail, I get absolutely starving hungry around 3-3:30 PM. Which isn't too surprising, because the kids and I usually eat lunch around noon, so being hungry three hours later is pretty reasonable. What isn't reasonable is that it somehow always seems to take me by surprise, so I never have anything planned to eat. Sometimes I do a good job and eat a handful of almonds, and sometimes I start opening cupboards and come out with a cookie or a fistful of chips. Personally, I'm of the opinion that if you want a cookie, then have a cookie, but maybe don't have a cookie every day? There are other snack options that will do a better job of fueling me with the energy that I need for the rest of the day, and I think I should try to eat some of those instead. And if I want a cookie one day, I'll eat one and move on with life. 

So, what is a better/healthier snack? A quick browse around the internet will show you that there are quite literally thousands of different sources* trying to tell you what a healthy snack might look like, and you honestly just have to try to find out what rings true for you. After a little bit of research, this is what I'm going for:
  • High in nutrients (proteins, vitamins and minerals)
  • Low in fat, sugar and sodium
  • Up to about 200 calories (much more than that and you may as well call it lunch)
  • Rich in fiber and protein (both help you to feel full, which is what I'd really like for a snack
  • I like food that is real food, so nothing too processed or pre-packaged, please. 
  • It has to be tasty and satisfying! It can be as nutrient-dense as it likes, but if it tastes like cardboard, I'm not eating it. 
So, off I go to the world of healthy snacking! Will you share your favorite healthy snacks and resources with me? 

*A few resources if you'd like to join me in being a better snacker. This article from WebMD gives a good outline of what you should be looking for in a healthy snack, but you'd have to be a complete doofus to need their list of "Not-so Healthy Snacks" to help you figure out that chocolate doughnuts might not be your healthiest choice. I like this article from Real Simple too. It supports what WebMD is saying, but then adds quite a lot of other good information too. And I like this list of 24 Nutritious (and Tasty) Snacks also from Real Simple (although I'm not going to be steaming myself an artichoke as a snack any time soon. Sorry, Real Simple!). The US National Library of Medicine offers this article that has some good ideas (put it in a container to help you control portion size!) and some advice that you'd think most of us would be able to come up with on our own (replace the candy dish with a fruit bowl!). Still, sometimes it's helpful to read even the most obvious of statements just to help solidify them in your mind, don't you think?