Some little things

I’m one of those people who always seems to be waiting for, preparing for, anticipating, and/or dreading some future big thing. It’s good to remind myself to stop looking ahead and appreciate some little things. I also think it’s good to share.

Little things I’m reading:

neckThe Thing Around Your Neck is a collection of short stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recommended and pressed into my hands by my niece. I’m enjoying it. I don’t feel fully engaged by her short stories, but the writing is excellent and I need to move her acclaimed novel, Americanah (also highly recommended by the niece) higher up my to-read pile. Adichie is a master of noting the little things; in the story Jumping Monkey Hill, the protagonist Ujunwa is attending a writer’s workshop and has just been introduced to the other participants.

Ujunwa looked around the table and wondered with whom she would get along. The Senegalese woman was the most promising, with the irreverent sparkle in her eyes and the Francophone accent and the streaks of silver in her fat dreadlocks. The Zimbabwean woman had longer, thinner dreadlocks, and the cowries in them clinked as she moved her head from side to side. She seemed hyper, overactive, and Ujunwa thought she might like her, but only the way she liked alcohol — in small amounts. The Kenyan and the Tanzanian looked ordinary, almost indistinguishable — tall men with wide foreheads who were wearing tattered beards and short-sleeved patterned shirts. She thought she would like them in the uninvested way that one likes nonthreatening people. She wasn’t sure about the South Africans: the white woman had a too-earnest face, humorless and free of makeup, and the black man looked patiently pious, like a Jehovah’s Witness who went from door to door and smiled when each was shut in his face. As for the Ugandan, Ujunwa had disliked him from the airport, and did so even more now.

speakI read Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and Emily Carroll in one sitting yesterday while I was “volunteering” at the library. Actually, I did accomplish some useful things while I was there, but once I started on Speak, I had to finish. I loved the original young-adult novel when I read it years ago and the graphic novel was excellent, too. It packed a different, but equally visceral emotional punch.

 

Little things I’m watching:

I had been neglecting the bird feeders in the yard, but I finally got them cleaned up and refilled with fresh seed. This morning I watched a mamma red-bellied woodpecker grab a seed and hop up to a branch and feed it to her offspring. She did this several times before hopping up higher and calling encouragement to the young bird to sample the buffet himself. He was having none of this self-sufficiency business. She grabbed one more morsel for him and then they flew off together. I’ll be keeping an eye out, I hope to soon see this juvenile back on his own.

Little things that amuse me:

I have a bit of a front yard flowerbed reserved as my whimsy garden. Eventually I’d like to create a little fairy garden, but for now I’m using the space for a monthly series of gnomepun displays. Here are pictures of March, April and May.

What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t use it to showcase your own amusements. Here are some hints if you have no idea where I was going with these.

IMG_2721.png

Think small and have a great day.

 

Guest Post

Sometimes it seems as if the husband and I take separate trips, even when we are together. We have different takeaways, different memorable moments. I offered him a chance to do a guest post on TFTB so he could recount our northern lights adventure with his own words. 

Things I knew about Iceland before I went on the trip, based on the Sagas, Independent People by Halldór Laxness, and Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy

  • Oldest democracy in the world
  • Don’t kill a sleeping man
  • Dead sheep everywhere
  • Rocky landscape
  • No forests
  • Warm springs to soak in

Things I learned about Iceland

  • Democracy is still very strong, extending to a high level of gender equality
  • Don’t kill anyone – very low murder rate in spite of small police force now due to country “bankruptcy” in 2008 financial crisis (one highway patrol seen in 3 days of driving)
  • They keep the sheep indoors in March so you can’t tell if they are dead
  • There are small shaggy horses everywhere to make up for the missing sheep. Live. With a weird gait.
  • Got the rocks right!
  • Forests abound (at least by their definition, three or more trees within 5 meters of each other)
  • The best known soaking spot is a man-made pond holding the effluent of a geothermal power plant

Plus

  • That shark dish is nasty
  • Icelanders believe in elves. Really.
  • They are very matter of fact; example: “The increase in tourism is hurting the quality of life here somewhat, but the money is nice.”
  • You can’t see that the Northern Lights are colored until you take a picture with your camera
  • Lady Brewery produces good beer
  • One cool Opera House
  • Every farm has a waterfall
  • Don’t mess with Icelandic cod

 

Norway

Before

  • Oslo is a cool town
  • Bergen is gorgeous
  • The Norwegian language is just Danish with a musical score

After

  • Oslo is a cool town
  • Bergen is gorgeous
  • The Norwegian language is just Danish with a musical score
  • Damn this is a long country
  • People pay more attention to the country 5 miles away than the capital a country away does. If you need the SAT analogy: Kirkenes:Russia is to El Paso:Mexico as Oslo:Russia is to Washington, D.C.:Mexico.

 

cary.jpg

Happy Anniversary to my husband of 34 years! (He’s the one on the right.)

Oliver Loving

oliverDevastating. That’s the word that came to mind as I was reading and when I finished Oliver Loving by Stefan Merrill Block. Now that a week has passed for me to pause and reflect, the original emotional crush has faded leaving behind memories of another excellent novel by Block.

Ten years ago, a former student entered the Bliss Township High School during the homecoming dance and shot five people before killing himself. Four victims died that evening, but 17-year old Oliver Loving survived and has lived for 10 years paralyzed and completely unresponsive. That moment has divided the lives of Oliver’s family into before and after.

The book is written in the third person, but each section shifts the focus between the different characters: Oliver, his younger brother Charlie, his mom Eve, and his father Jed. This structure works really, really well in this novel. I prefer the consistency of the writing, rather than switching fully into the voices of each character. Block’s timeline and pacing of the novel are excellent, also. It felt remarkably real-time and linear to me, even though so much of the past had to be told along the way.

I have always loved Block’s writing style. At the very first I thought maybe the writing was perhaps too descriptive, but I was quickly transported to the world and people he had created and never again stopped to think that maybe he was including any more details than were absolutely necessary.

Why did I love it? The setting was the Big Bend area of Texas, one of my favorite places on earth. Block weaves in a lot of issues for readers to ponder (such as gun control, violence, immigration, racial tension, mental illness, medical ethics, quality of life), without hitting you over the head or preaching. And, of course, the reason that I will love any book, the characters are amazing.

So why did I feel so devastated? The characters are all, not so much flawed, as broken. And as I empathized with each and every one of them, I felt broken, too. There has been no closure for the Loving Family in ten long years. How long can a mother hang on? How long can a brother search? How long can a father hide?

When I finished the first section that gave readers a look into the after life of Oliver’s brother, I looked up from the page and sighed out loud, “Oh Charlie.” I don’t know how I would react to such a tragedy, but how could I not feel for Oliver’s mom? Lines like this, from before, just tore me up:

This conversation….was about the untenable faith in which she (Eve) had tried to raise you: that all you had ever needed was right there, in the very cramped but infinitely loving planet she could enfold in her arms, and that the world beyond could only corrupt that simple, beautiful vision.

An excellent book that I would recommend for bookclubs, too. I just can’t guarantee that your heart will be in one piece when you finish.

Impressions Part 5

Time to wrap up this trip recap! This final post has been delayed because of life. And baseball. 

It was a bit startling to be gathered together and told by the ship’s captain that there was an issue with the ship and the trip was going to be cut short by a day. In typical Norwegian fashion, this was fine, everything always works out for the best. So we had an extra night in a hotel, an extra flight down to Bergen, and best of all, an extra excursion inland to the old mining town of Roros.

Roros is about a 2 hour bus ride, inland and upland from Trondheim (maybe a little longer since our bus had an issue and we had to detour to the bus barn to swap it out – but this is Norway, everything always works out for the best), on a plateau about 2000 feet above sea level. Someone in our group remarked that the town reminded them of the American Old West. Yes, maybe, but this mining town was founded in 1644 (!) and the copper mine was active into the latter half of the 20th Century. It was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. And it is far from a ghost town. The centuries old wooden buildings are essentially all occupied and it is a thriving vacation destination and artist colony of sorts. So kind of like a cross between Aspen, Santa Fe and Tombstone? Maybe of all the places in Norway, that is where I would like to return, especially in the summertime for hiking and exploring.

We ended our journey with a partial day each in Bergen and Oslo. Free from both the group tour schedule and the confines of a boat, I really enjoyed stretching my legs out and doing some city exploring on foot. Our exercise plan was aided by the husband’s affinity for searching out local breweries and underestimating distances involved. I enjoyed both cities and could have spent another day in each, but they are far less unique that the rest of Norway. They were an old/modern European town and an old/modern European capital.

Bergen had plenty of charm, especially the old harbor area and the street/plaza with yarnbombing, but perhaps the roundabout in a tunnel (picture not available, we were in a bus) made the strongest impression. I would be so confused driving in Bergen.

We were able to round out our Norwegian WWII history lesson by touring the Homefront Museum in the old fort in Oslo. There were two things about Oslo that felt especially Norwegian to me. One, the Royal Palace is located in the heart of the city. I don’t believe the king was in residence, but the (not excessive) grounds are completely accessible to the public and the architecture of the building itself is less ostentatious than most of the (old or new) buildings surrounding it (picture not available – we obviously didn’t find it impressive). Two, the Vigeland Sculpture Park. Over 100 acres dedicated to one artist because he’s famous and needs a place to put over 200 works.

And then, whoosh, it was over and we arrived home. It was good to see green in nature again. I came home tired and happy, mind and body full and fulfilled. Perhaps I regret not learning/studying/understanding more about the Norwegian coastline, both the geology and geography of our cruise route. Perhaps I regret not truly discovering the joys of the Norwegian Bun (boller, boule, with and without raisins) until Oslo (buying three more in the airport in Oslo for the flight home) (they didn’t make it to the connection in London.) Regrets? Not so many. Impressions? Oh yeah, this trip left a lot of them.

Impressions Part 4

Norway is Iceland’s big brother, they come from the same family. In fact Vikings from Norway settled Iceland in the first place. Actually, Irish monks were possibly the first folks there, but the Vikings populated the land with men AND women, even tho they kidnapped most of the women from, among other places, Ireland. Norway has had its share of hardship, but somehow, things always seem to turn out OK and the Norwegians have a much more relaxed, positive, and carefree attitude because deep down, they know that they have a better life than their ancient brethren in Iceland. For example, Iceland may have plenty of geothermal energy, but Norway has OIL which has dramatically changed the economic status of this nation. The only thing I heard a Norwegian complain about was the high price of gasoline, followed by the comment that everyone is getting electric cars.

We saw a lot of the coast of Norway, with limited drives into some interior valleys and plateaus. The mountains are older and more rounded, like Appalachia, not as sharp as the Rockies, but with full snow cover they were rugged and stark looking. I have trouble reckoning the pictures of the Norway in summer with what I observed this trip. Norwegians do not find 8 months of winter oppressive, they embrace it. Yes, they celebrate when the sun finally makes an appearance, but I think they are much more excited about the year’s first snowfalls than the first glimpses of summer green.

We started our Norway adventure in the northernmost county, Finnmark. Located almost entirely above the Arctic circle, the county also stretches further east than St. Petersburg. It is a crossroads of culture between Finns, Russians, Samis and Norwegians. Our guide in the city of Kirkenes began her tour by saying that people often ask her if she feels isolated living there. She replied that they are only two hours (flight) from Oslo or Helsinki, a 3 hour drive to Murmansk, and the Hurtigruten boats come every day, so they don’t feel isolated at all. As we started our walking tour and the snow started swirling, she gave one of my favorite quotes of the trip “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” Norwegian positive attitude.

Most of what I learned about Norway this trip, both from the museums we visited and the lectures we heard, was about Norway’s role in WWII. Norway was a neutral country in WWI and hoped to have the same status in WWII, but Hitler really wanted to use the Norwegian coast to control the the waters of the North Sea and North Atlantic, and as a naval launch point for invading Britain. German forces moved in and occupied Norway without much of a fight. The King and the rest of the Royal Family narrowly escaped, eventually to England from where they refused to surrender, but a Norwegian named Quisling took over the government as head of the National Unity Party, which cooperated with the Nazis. The word “quisling” is now synonymous with traitor throughout Scandinavia. Quisling even sounds weasly and traitorous in English; it’s a good thing the man didn’t have a traditional Norwegian name like Hansen or Larsen or the whole country might have gone along with him. As it was, there was a strong and active Norwegian resistance movement.

Even the small towns in Finnmark were overrun with German soldiers. From these areas, Germans tried to interfere with the Allied ship convoys trying to get support and supplies into Russia at Murmansk. Tiny Kirkenes, only 6 miles from the Russian border was the most bombed city in Norway, sustaining heavy damage from the Soviets who then became the liberators of the town and are still gratefully appreciated in this area of Norway. As the Germans retreated down the length of Norway, they implemented a scorched earth policy so as to not leave any resources that could aid the Russian army that was chasing them. And because they were just mean.

After the war, northern Norway had to rebuild. There weren’t a lot of architects, there weren’t a lot of resources, but there were a lot of Norwegians who needed homes. So today, pretty much every town in Finnmark looks the same. There are only a few styles of buildings, literally only two or three architectural house plans in the whole region. It was all built from scratch after the war.

Norway becomes more populous and the cities become larger as you move south. Still, the country feels very unified. Much as the guide in Kirkenes felt connected, a different guide from the town of Trondheim talked proudly about how connected the whole country was with a great road system, tunnels, bridges, and ferries. There are cabins all over the country – coastal retreats on the islands, fishing (and/or ice fishing) shacks along the rivers and lakes, rustic (no, really rustic, like without electricity and plumbing) in the interior – where Norwegians escape from the big cities (like Trondheim, population 190,000) year round.

I have some more Norway thoughts and impressions that I hope to finish writing about in one more post. This seems like a good place to break and to leave off with a picture of us at the middle of Norway marker in the harbor in Bronnoysund.

MVIMG_20180323_161132.jpg