No, I’m not entirely excited.

“You must really like Norway if you are going back.”
“You must be so excited!”
“Do you love Norway?”

Whenever we tell people we are headed back to Norway they usually say something along those lines to us — why else would we be leaving our Colorado home, families and friends?

Well, the truth is much more nuanced.  I am excited to return, but mostly I’m apprehensive about it.  

The two years we spent in Norway were the hardest two years of my life.  I’m not exaggerating.  Yes, we did have some amazing highs, but the lows were so low and so frequent.  During the first three months, one of us cried five out of seven days.  The next three months we were down to just crying three or four days out of the week, and the next few months were just one or two days a week.  Immigrating is hard.  We were frustrated, lonely, and confused.  We needed to learn how to do everything again — how to buy flour, how to open and use a bank account (in Norwegian), how to make a “social security” number (personal number), how to navigate a new city.  We needed to make a community, to create a purpose for ourselves and to find ways to give back. All of these things took months and months.  We weren’t fully set up there for an entire year. It sucked.

And then we were broke.  Dead broke. Card bounced while trying to buy a street taco broke.  One trip to the movies used all of our “extra” money for the month broke.  Not able to take a commuter train to see friends broke. … And finding a job as an English speaking person was crazy hard.  It took us 4-8 months of solid job-hunting to find restaurant jobs.  It was rough.

Moving to Norway also represents other transition.  I am going from Worker Brooke to Mother Brooke. I may find a small job, but my identity will be in motherhood and not my job.  And while I think I’ll like that, it’s also a huge shift for me. I’m also going from constant family (we have lived with or next-door to my parents for the last year) to every-few-months family.  That’s going to be tough.  I’ve loved living with my parents and seeing them for dinner (and breakfast and afternoon coffee and after dinner games). I’ve really enjoyed being able to leave Elsie with them, people who don’t consider watching her “babysitting” but really want to be with her.  And I’m sad to take Elsie away from her family (my parents, Jesse’s parents, my grandparents, cousins, and our friend/family).  These transitions are adding to my apprehension.

But.

It’s really not going to be as hard as it was last time.  We have our lives set up in Norway. We still have a bank account, our personal numbers, cell phones and other life necessities there.  We have friends. Friends that have become like family. Friends that are so excited to see us again.  We have an income.  We have an incredible church family that loves and understands the difficulty of immigrating.  We have a place to live and we are sharing that home with another couple.  We aren’t alone.

So I am okay with moving to Norway.  I think it’s a good decision for my family.  I am so excited to see Jesse do something he loves and is good at.  I’m excited for the possibilities that will bring to him, to us.  I am thrilled to see our friends again.  I am looking forward to more adventures and seeing more of the stunning Norwegian wilderness and the historic European cities.

But moving isn’t entirely wonderful like so many think it is.  It’s nuanced.  I’m apprehensive about it, knowing how hard it was last time and adding the difficulty of motherhood.  But I also know it won’t be that hard this time.  So be excited for me; I am. But also know it’s going to be a bumpy ride.  

 

(Harry Potter reference intended.)

 

Some photos of Elsie with her family:

IMG_9174IMG_1309.CR2Kevin and Elsie  IMG_9012

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The Unstopped Fire

Once there was a city nestled high in the mountains, surrounded by forests on all sides, and prosperous.  It was a center of trade, learning, and religion, a city in a place of leadership for the whole surrounding countryside.  Running past this city was a river.  In the past it had been a treacherous river, flooding often.  It was especially dangerous to the wealthy and powerful who built their houses along its banks, just upriver from the city.  They loved to hear its beautiful rumbling, but were tired of seeing their lovely gardens washed away.  To control the flooding, the last king had constructed a large dam, and now it was just a pleasant stream.

On a particularly warm summer day, a small girl was walking out from the city and up the river towards the dam.  She walked past the fine houses with their fine gardens and up and up into the deep forest.  The pine needles were dry and cracked beneath each step.  Then suddenly in a clearing ahead she saw a group of men, and she crouched down behind a log to watch them.  They were having a party of some kind, and cooking a grand feast over a fire.  She watched, and the party and saw only the most important people.  The king and all his court were present, and many others in fine clothes.

Then suddenly she watched as a spark went out from the fire and caught the grass.  The grass lit, and the fire spread to a bush.  The bush began to burn and caught the tree above it on fire.  The dry tree went up like a torch, and only then did the party goers notice the fire.  They packed up their camp as quickly as they could, making it look like no one had been there, and ran back down the river towards their homes, hoping it would put itself out before too long.

The little girl was shocked that nobody tried to put the fire out, but she knew she was too small to stop in on her own, so she ran as fast as her legs could take her towards the city.  She yelled out in the middle of the town square, “Help, help!  There’s a fire in the forest!  We have to stop it or it will burn down the whole country and the whole city!  Help!”  Many people heard her, but nobody helped.

One man listened attentively and commented to his wife, “She’s very right.  Fires must be put out.  On the whole I am very much against fires.  Although since I don’t know anything about this fire, I think I will just keep this in mind for now.”

An old woman tried to hush her saying, “You know there are so many reports out there these days, and you can’t really believe any of them.  You should do some more research before claiming there is a fire.”

The little girl told the old woman, “But look!  Look at the smoke!  You can see it rising now!”

The woman didn’t look, but replied, “You are young, and don’t understand.  Smoke can come from many things, and not all fire is bad.  We need fire to cook our food and warm our homes.  Go home, child.”

Frustrated, the girl ran to the Grand Hall where all of the dukes and noblemen would meet and had their offices.  She knocked on every door, and at each one a servant answered telling her, “Your message is very important to Such and Such.  Please write a note, fold it up, and put it in that box at the end of the hall.  They are so proud to represent you in our fine city’s government.”  After finding none of the noblemen in their offices or willing to see her, she scribbled a note as fast as she could, and opened the lid to the box, only to find that it had no bottom and went straight into the city sewer.

Shaking with anger the little girl ran with tears in her eyes to the biggest church in the city and cried for the priest until he came.  He did his best to calm the child, and asked her to tell him the whole story.  She told him from beginning to end about the party, the fire, and how nobody would help her.  She pointed out the window to the massive pillar of smoke that was growing larger and closer every minute.  The priest looked alarmed and told her in earnest, “Child, you must not speak badly about the king.  He is our great lord, and is only doing his best to protect the city.  And besides, I would have to look it up, but I am sure that our scriptures don’t say anything about how to combat forest fires.  So even if I believed your story, it would not be my place to help.”  Then two large men picked her up kicking and screaming and threw her out the front door of the church.

With no one to help her, the girl sat in the middle of the square, wetting the cobblestones with her tears.  She watched the fire grow, and the people do nothing, and she cried until she ran out of tears.  Once her eyes were dry, she thought and thought about what she could do to save her city.  If every person grabbed a bucket they could put the fire out, but nobody wanted to lift a muscle.  Then all at once she had an idea.

The girl ran, despite her tired legs, to the square where the day laborers waited for managers to come offering work.  It was late in the afternoon, so those who were still there weren’t likely to be offered a job any time soon.  She went up to each of them, one by one, and said with authority, “I have a job for you to do, but you have to follow me right now.”  With a train of fifty strong men she marched up the river again.

The men were amazed when they saw the fire as they passed by.  “Shouldn’t we tell someone about this?” they said.  “It will reach the grand houses in an hour, and the city before nightfall.”

“They already didn’t listen,” she replied.  “Just keep walking.”

The men walked, nervous and uncertain, behind this little girl until they reached the dam.  “Everyone grab a beam, and be ready to pull and run!” she shouted.

The men looked at each other quizzically, until one by one they understood her plan.  As each one understood they ran to grab hold of a beam supporting the dam, and when they were all in place the little girl yelled, “PULL!”

All of the men pulled, and the river gushed forward.  The men jumped out of the way, and down the river roared, through the forest and over the fire.  It overflowed its banks so far that the whole fire was put out.  It kept going, and demolished the houses of the firestarters, the king, his court, and the rest of the nobility.  And right before the city walls the river slowed into a moving lake of logs and debris, and glided past leaving the walls of the city untouched.

In town the girl was vilified, because the rich and powerful who had lost their homes spread rumors about her.  They said she lied about the fire as an excuse to release the dam.  They said she tried to destroy the city but failed.  They called her a troublemaker with no respect for law and order.  But the fifty day laborers she recruited told the truth among the ordinary people, and one hundred years later a statue was built in honor of the little girl who saved the city from burning.

The end.

My Struggle with Daycare

(By Brooke)

I always knew I’d be a stay-at-home Mom.  My mom, grandma, aunts—all of them were stay at home moms.  They all loved it, recommended it and I thought it was the only way.  They never said it, but I assumed that if you didn’t stay at home with you children, you were a bad mom.

But now I’m here.  I have a Master’s.  I need some means to use my brain outside of caring for Elsie.  I need space to be creative.  To interact with others.  The idea of staying home all the time with never ending cleaning sounds miserable and lonely …  Especially as Elsie loves to follow me, flinging whatever I just put away onto the floor.  And instead of the high-heeled, dress wearing beauty of the 1950’s who always has her house spotless, dinner on the table and smiling happy children quietly playing in the room, I’d end up a slumped figure on the couch with piles of laundry, dishes and toys scattering around the house and a crying girl on the floor.  …  Okay, okay, it might not [always] be that bleak, but no time to myself would mean an unhappy Brooke, Elsie and Jesse.

I do want to spend time with Elsie.  I don’t always mind that she pulls all of her clothes out of the closet a few minutes after I put them here.  I love that she holds my hand, and pulls me to where she wants to go.  I love that she snuggles her head into my chest when she is waking up.   I love make her laugh and laugh.  I love hearing her say “Mama” and seeing her proud beaming smile afterwards. I love my daughter.

But I need time away.  I need time to do my errands, to feed my soul a bit.

But still, I think putting Elsie in daycare is failing as a Mom a bit.  And I can’t help it.  Tears are streaming down my face now.  I don’t want to fail as a Mom.

I thought about kid exchanges with other moms, so we can both have time off.  But nearly all moms in Norway (except a few other immigrant moms like me) put their kids in daycare.  There is no one to trade with.  There aren’t so many moms to go on coffee dates with either, because they are working.  I’m leaving my family in Colorado, so it’s not as easy to drop Elsie off for an hour or so.  And one day of babysitting is the same price as one week of daycare because the government subsidizes daycare.  If I wanted Elsie in daycare at all next year (August through August), I had to apply for a spot in a center in March and accept it by the end of May.  It was such a big decision.

I struggled.  So much.  What do I do?  Do I follow what I always thought I’d do?  Or do I put Elsie in daycare, so I have time for myself?  It’s not like I have a job or something pressing I need to do.  But Jesse is working full-time, and Elsie is mine to care for during those hours.  And I need to have time for me.  I want to grow my photography business.  I want to write more.  I want to clean my house.  I want to be able to have a job if a great one comes up.

And I want to be fully with Elsie when I am with her.  I don’t want to be upset at her for interrupting me from editing photos or writing a blog.  That’s not her fault.  She needs attention.  And I want to fully give it to her.  I want to chase her across the yard, play peek-a-boo around a chair, read her books, smile into her eyes.  I want to be present rather than annoyed.

And so I took the spot.  I am going to have her in daycare a few mornings a week.  I don’t know how I am going to handle dropping her off at daycare.  But she loves playing with other children.  She is going to learn Norwegian.  She will be fine.

And if she’s not fine, I’ll reassess.  Because Elsie is and needs to be first in my life.  But Elsie first, means there is a list of people whose needs must be met.  And I’m on that list.  I have to take care of myself so I can love her better.  So that’s my plan.  And I’m working on feeling okay about this decision.

[Edit: Whatever you have chosen to do is great.  Whether you are a full-time stay-at-home-mom or a working mom, or if you’ve chosen to do something in the middle — if it’s a healthy choice for you and your children, I’m glad for you.  You are a good mom.  Or dad.  And I’m cheering for you.]

 

 

Here are some photos from her recent birthday party:

 

Our Land of Opportunity

Here’s the big news: We’re going back to Norway!

On August 21 we will fly out of Denver and arrive the next day in Oslo with everything that Norwegian Air will let us check.  And for the next four years, Norway will be our home as I pursue my PhD at the MF Norwegian School of Theology.

While many of you who are digitally connected to us are just learning about this, the whole town of Creede has known for a while.  The grapevine is still alive and well here, and people who only vaguely know who I am have been coming up to me on the street and congratulating me.  The conversation usually goes something like this:

Other Creedite: “Hey! I heard you’re going back to Sweden!  You’re from there, right?”

Me: “No, actually I’m from Carbondale, up by Glenwood.”

Creedite: “Oh.  Well Brooke isn’t from there.  She’s from here. (insert awkward pause) So why Denmark?”

Me: “It’s Norway.  And we did our masters’ degrees there.  We both wanted to go, and they pay for tuition.  Now I can go back and do my PhD, and they’ll pay me enough for my family to live off of.  If I did it here, I’d be in debt for the rest of my life.”

Creedite: “You must really love it there.”

Me: “We love parts of it, but we love being here too.  If I could do this closer to home, maybe I would.”

And from there we make pleasantries and go our separate ways.  I think the most confusing thing about our decision for most people, especially people who got an education before the price spiraled out of control, is that America isn’t the best place in the world for us to do it.  We’re still very used to thinking of ourselves as “The Land of Opportunity,” the place where people immigrate to in droves from around the world because life is so grand, and there are so many chances to get ahead.  If you just work hard enough, smart enough, and want it badly enough, you can make a life for yourself and your family.  It’s a narrative that’s foundational to how we think of ourselves as a people.  Most of our ancestors came here when this was true, including mine.

It was true for 4.5 million Norwegians who immigrated to the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century.  About a third of Norway’s population left their homes and families and boarded ships to take them to the New World.  At the time, Norway was one of the poorer countries in Europe and America was the place to start anew.  Today Norwegians still make up the tenth largest European ancestry group in the US, and have shaped culture in enormous ways in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Washington, Oregon, California, and several other states.  The town I was born in, Aspen, Colorado, was planned out in large part by Norwegians who were brought in to help found what would become a world renowned ski town.

But these days are past, at least for now.  Most Norwegians I know would love to go on a road trip to see America, but when the President made a distasteful comment about attracting Norwegians to live here, rather than people that he….doesn’t prefer, my Facebook feed was full of Norwegian friends saying: “We’d love to move there.  Just fix your health care system, make education affordable, introduce reasonable gun laws, institute parental leave of some kind, raise minimum wage, and work on some systemic injustice.  Do that, and I’ll buy my plane ticket.”

When I talk to my friends who aren’t from Norway but who live there now, many of them have said: “I would move to the US if it was possible.  But if I started now, I may or may not make it through the entry process before I die, and I would almost definitely be turned down because of the predominant religion of the country I was born in.  Maybe someday I’ll try to get a visa to visit.  If I get it, I’d like to see New York.”

And even for me, advancing in my academic career while also having a family would be next to impossible.

But we are very fortunate.  For us there is another Land of Opportunity, a place that is willing to provide us with chances that aren’t available in our home country right now, a place where I can make a living for my family and work toward a better future.  And that place is Norway.

So thank you America for being my home and giving opportunities to my ancestors, for welcoming them and allowing them the chance to build a life for their children and their children’s children.  And thank you Norway for giving me opportunities today, for helping me build a future for myself and for my own family.  We are very grateful.

Becoming a Mom

In my first advanced literature class in college, I had a long book list to order.  Once everything arrived I stacked them all on top of each other and the pile reached nearly two feet.  I didn’t realize for a month or so that I was required to read through that entire stack by the end of the semester — I thought we would just reference it and not necessarily read every page.  I was wrong. We averaged 350 pages a week for that class, on top of the workload for my other 6 other classes. I was always reading, and still often behind, but I got through that pile.  Parenting feels similar.

 

When I think of parents, I think selfless, patient, self-giving, loving and caring.  And when I became a parent, I rather thought those attributes would automatically come.  I’d be patient. I’d be selfless. I would think of Elsie and her needs first, and of my needs second.  I’d give of myself gladly. But that hasn’t happened. Or at least it hasn’t been instant. I’m realizing it’s a long journey, and I’m just ten months in.

 

And the process of possessing those attributes is tiring and difficult.  They slowly come from waking up throughout the night to comfort and feed a tiny babe; from feeding that baby through tears and agony and near screams and wanting to give up (my first 6 weeks of feeding her were rough); from holding that baby all day when she is sick – with piles of dishes, clothes, toys, and meds cluttering the house and not being able to do anything about that; from wanting to just wash those dishes, but having a tiny hand tug on your pants, demanding to be picked up.  The process of becoming a selfless mom feels like building a mountain a handful of sand at a time.

 

And the hard part is, I still want to do what I want.  I want to finish my board games with friends rather than bathe her and put her to bed.  I want to sleep through the night. I want to drive to Denver without a crying baby in the backseat.  I want to work on crafts. I want Jesse and myself to work on cleaning the house together rather than one needing to watch her while the other cleans.  I want to always love having a baby. And don’t get me wrong, she’s wonderful, but it’s still hard.

 

Guilt creeps in too.  I think I should always want to be with her, that having someone babysit her so I can have a break or go on a date is failing.  I think I shouldn’t want to do things without her or to do my things. But it’s not true.

 

But I do love being a mom. I love making her giggle. I love seeing her smile.  I love dancing and twirling with her in the kitchen. I love watching her play and knock down blocks and problem solve and learn and love.

 

So I’m learning.  I’m realizing I have to “read” all those books.  I’m learning one book at a time how to be a mom. How to be me with her.  I’m learning to be more giving, patient, kind, and selfless. I’m learning this is a process.  And it doesn’t always look easy from here. But at least there are baby giggles.

Wrapped in Community

Community.  2017 was defined by that word. And it started from the very beginning of 2017 and was true throughout the end.  Stress encapsulated 2016 and the two are linked.  In 2016 I was so dang stressed all year long.  We had no money, were behind on rent, could not find jobs for months and months and were living in what used to be the most expensive city to live in the world.  We had enough to eat, plenty of people to take care of us, but I was still so stressed.  It’s hard having nothing.  To make Norway feel like home, we’d occasionally go out to the movies.  But that ticket was all of our “extra” money for the month, plus some.  It makes my chest clench just thinking about it.

But this year has been an entirely different story.  We are so wrapped in community.  It’s crazy wonderful.

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Here we are with our Christmas hats on!

That season of transition from stress to community started last Christmas.  We were a long way from home, in a dark country and had no means of fulfilling the song and coming home for Christmas.  (The song is wrong, btw, its not the same to be home only in your dreams.) Our housemates, our Norwegian family, invited us to have Christmas with them and their family.  We went to church with them, ate the Christmas porridge (one almond is tossed into the pot and whoever gets it wins a marzipan pig), dined on pinekjøtt (traditionally prepared lamb), and had presents on Christmas eve (the normal time to do so in Norway).  Karen, one of our housemates, found out that stockings are my favorite part of Christmas, a tradition they do not have, and so she made a Christmas stocking for me.  I felt so loved.

 

I wrote a blog on stress.  A member of our church in Norway read it and wanted to help.  We were honest with them.  They paid our debt.  They launched us out of our blinding stress.  We still didn’t always have enough money to pay for anything extra, even the price of a commuter train ($8) was often too much for us, but we no longer had to also try to save to pay back rent.  It was amazing.

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The beginning of my baby belly.

Fast forward a few months and my belly was bulging with the weight of a then un-known Elsie.  Norwegians do not have baby showers, but they are aware of the tradition and know that its very normal for Americans.  So our friend, Lisa, decided to host a surprise baby shower.  She enlisted the help of Jesse and invited lots of friends, many of which had never attended one before, to surprise me with a party.  One pun-loving friend even mentioned he didn’t know if it was expected to bring shampoo to a baby shower….   But they, my Norwegian community, surrounded us in love.

It’s normal for pregnant women to “nest” to prepare a place for their baby.  But I couldn’t really do that, we were going to leave six weeks after the baby was born, packing up everything we had and moving to a new place.  I couldn’t buy anything I wasn’t willing to pack into a suitcase or give away in Norway.  My community came in again giving me baby clothes (mostly boys’ clothes, but it didn’t matter), a bassinet, blankets, toys, bottles, a pump: everything I could need.  I bought a few cute baby items because I wanted to, but I didn’t need to.

This happened even in Creede, my hometown.  I mentioned on a Creede FB group that I’d like a bag of baby girl’s clothes someone was giving away and several women said, “Yes!  I have so much!  What do you need?” Once again, I was given everything I needed, plus boxes extra.  I had baby clothes, a carrier, a crib, a pump, bottles, toys.

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Our pastor, Maicon, dedicating Elsie to serve in the world-wide church.

The day before we left Norway, we wanted to dedicate our child to our God in our church, the place that loved us so well for our duration in Norway.   All of our communities – church, housemates and school friends came and surrounded us in that moment.  Loving us.  Caring for us. Showing the vastness of the community of God.  Our hearts were so full.  Leaking out the corners of our eyes full.

 

Then it was time to move.  Karen drove us, with all of our luggage, to the airport where we traveled to a place where we didn’t have baby room set up, but where people had stepped in and provided everything we needed.  We decided to move to my hometown with my parents for the year.  There we would at least have a place to live and wouldn’t have to join the Denver craze of renting and job hunting.  There might not be jobs, but there was at least my old room in my parent’s house.

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Our cabin for the winter!

But it was much better than that.  We continued to be engulfed in community.  We posted in the Creede FB page of our need of a job and within an hour three offers came in.  We had jobs!  My parents next door neighbor, a summer resident, offered his house for us to live in for the winter.  It had never been lived in in the winter, but he said we could be the first to do it.  We now effectively live in my parents backyard, we have jobs, and boxes of used baby clothes show up at my door every few months as another Creede child grows out of them.

I love my communities.

And I am so grateful for them.

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Our family in front of our Norwegian church.  Thanks, Lars for the photos!

 

My 2018 Theme

New Year’s resolutions are probably one of the more positive things that our culture has shared with the world.  Taking a moment to reflect on where you have been and where you’d like to go, and making a decision about how you will make that future look.  The problem that hangs most of us up is that we know big changes need to take place in our lives, so we set big goals.  Goals we can never really obtain.  They’re either so abstract that it’s impossible to know whether we’re making any progress, or so concretely daunting we soon find ourselves defeated.  The question we’re left with is how to make positive changes in our lives without setting ourselves up for failure.

One approach that Brooke took a couple of years ago (and wrote a delightful blog post about) is to choose something very reasonable and concrete.  In her case, she chose to start using the word “woman” instead of “girl” more consistently.  It really worked for her, and has changed the way both of us speak and perceive the people around us.

This year, I’m going to try the complete opposite.  I’m going to choose a theme for myself.  Something that I’d like to continually reorient myself towards, but that I don’t have an absolute way to fail or succeed at.

In my mind I keep returning to an afternoon of kayaking that we had with some friends in the Oslo fjord just before coming back to the United States.  We paddled out through some choppy waters and met the rest of our bunch on a beach to have a barbecue.  Not being particularly experienced at kayaking, or prone to things like balance, I found it challenging in the best way.  Lars, our trusty guide, knew where we were going, but I was a bit unclear.  What he did tell me was how far I wanted to be from the shore, how to keep myself perpendicular to the waves, and which direction we were going.  As long as I kept everything where it should be (waves over here, shore over there, Lars up there) everything kept moving smoothly.  It turns out that was plenty, and following his lead we all made it successfully.

Here’s why this kind of resolution appeals to me.  First, I’m a sneaky little devil with self-destructive designs.  If anybody in the world can find a way to fulfill the concrete rules I set for myself while still completely ignoring them, it’s me.  Second, I have some of the tendencies of a perfectionist, and tend to give up after I’ve satisfactorily failed at something.  Combined with reason number one, this means I’ll find a way to shut down my own project for good in under a month.  Third, as is the norm for our family, I have no idea what this year is going to look like.  The next couple of months kind of make sense, but September?  Only God knows what September will be like.  My resolution might not even be possible in that foggy abyss we call a year from now.

So at long last, here is my theme: I want to declutter my time.

I don’t know a lot about decluttering time yet, but moving internationally a couple of times and being dirt broke in between has made Brooke and I pretty much experts at decluttering our space.  We’ve got a very concrete idea of what things we need, what things we enjoy, and what is just stuff.  Stuff that exists just to exist.  Stuffy stuff that stuffs it’s way into every nook and crevice and stays there long enough for you to confuse being used to a thing with needing it.  (Having a baby seriously puts a damper on trying to get rid of stuff faster than we acquire it, but we’re trying.)  It’s really pretty great to be able to look at something and objectively say, “I like this, but not enough to put it in a suitcase.  I’ll find someone else who might like it that much.”

I want to experience the same kind of freedom when deciding how I spend my time.  I want to be able to look at what I’m doing and say, “I like doing this, but not enough to spend an hour on it each day.  I’m going to do it less, or not at all.”  So I’m not going to totally shut down all of my social media accounts, but I am just going to log on, see whether anything really worth my attention has happened, and log off.  I’m not going to give up watching television altogether, but I am going to make sure I’m watching something because I want to see it, and not just because I want to do nothing.  I do plenty of nothing already.  I’m not going to resolve not to have any games on my phone…..actually, I might do that one.  That one’s an alright idea.

Maybe at the end of 2018 I will really give some of these things up for good, but I don’t really care about having less of this stuff as much I care about having more of the things I really enjoy in my life.  I want to write for pleasure more.  I want to play my banjo more.  I want to be more consistent with learning French.  I want to make myself read and learn instead of complaining about being bored.  For me to have more of these things, I have to find myself using moments like this one, with Elsie asleep and Brooke working on a project, to do something worthwhile instead of something habitual.

Good luck to everyone on your New Years resolutions or themes, especially if you happen to be a sneaky perfectionist with unbearably fluid life plans.

Baby, Moving, Thesis: An Update

 

 

Oh my.  So much has happened in the last few months: we’ve both turned in our theses, we had a sweet baby girl, we moved internationally and are now unpacking in Creede, Colorado.  So, I think it’s time for an update.

First.  Elsie, because she is the cutest thing around.  She was born one week late, on June 20th at the wrong hospital and facing the wrong direction, both of which we learned about on the 20th.  Summer is a busy time in Norwegian hospitals (due to all the Mommas wanting their babies to start daycare in time for the new school year and after their year-long maternity leave.)  So instead of going to the hospital we planned to attend, we had to go to the furthest hospital from us in the Oslo-metro area, the 4th hospital away from our house.  Thankfully we had a ride to the hospital no matter where we went, so that was okay.  But she was also in the wrong direction.  The midwife tried to put a little sensor on her head to check her heart rate and discovered it was not her head, but her butt.  So after an emergency cat scan to see if my body could handle a breach birth, an insertion of an epidural (love), and blood tests to prepare for an c-section just in case, it was determined I could have her naturally and we had to wait for her to take her pretty little time to come down the birth canal.  After a long wait, but a very short amount of pushing, Elsie Catherine Ophoff was born at 9:52 pm! And five very sleepy hours later I was asleep in the maternity ward where we stayed for three more days, eating too many Norwegian sandwiches and learning about sleep deprivation.
But she is ours.

Life with her has been lovely.  She learned to smile.  She no longer needs to eat every 3rd hour.  She coos, stretches and sneezes and makes my heart smile.  We’ve been able to have some great photos taken of her, so I have put a few of them here for you to see! The first row was taken when she was 6 weeks old and the ones on the bottom row were taken when she was 9 days old!

Alright. My thesis.  I turned it in last night.  I am done! And it feels so good.  That was a long, long project.  It was 121 pages and over 47,000 words with everything included.  Glad it’s done.  Switching to the social sciences after completing a literature degree in the humanities was rough.  I’ll send it to you if you want to read it, but it’s a long haul to read the entire thing.  But I think it’s good.

So, “What’s next?”  Well last year Jesse applied and was accepted into two universities in England to pursue and write and study and receive his PhD.  Buuut, neither of those schools offered him a stipend or any sort of money to do so.  And with a new born baby, that option was not available.  He also applied to study at MF, the school in Norway we attended.  PhD students at MF are more like faculty and receive pay for their work, but that means they have a very limited number of positions available.  And this year they only had one.  And he didn’t quite fit what they were looking for.  But several members of PhD committee told him his proposal was promising and that he should apply again.

So that’s what we are going to do.  This year we are going to scour the internet looking for funding opportunities to attend universities in England and he will apply to MF again.  And we’ll see what happens.  Our hope is that one of them may work out.

Why Europe you ask?  A few reasons.  It’s only a three-year program instead of a five-year program that it would be in the States.  The only programs Jesse likes are on the East coast and they are not as good as those in Europe, and that’s still a flight away.  The programs in EU are much, much closer to the material he’s studying, which means more opportunities to actually see and experience them.  Both our 3-week archaeology trip and our two-week trip around Greece and Italy were because of his studies, and living in Europe would give us— I mean him, more chances for those sorts of learning opportunities.  And if it’s in Norway it’s paid, which is a huge financial benefit.  We could come back without far too many loans.  But we know if we do go back, it’s only if it’s funded and we have means to visit the US every year.  That nearly two-year long absence was too much.

But we’ll see.  For now we are in Colorado and we are so dang happy to be here.  In a year, we could be ready for another adventure.  Or we could say we’re ready to plant trees and stay for a while.  We honestly have no idea.

We’ve decided to move to Creede, my tiny hometown far up in the mountains of Colorado for this year.  Jesse has found a job building houses, a nice change from academics.  I will try to find a two-day a week job here and will look after Elsie and spend time with my Momma the other days.  I am really excited for that.  We are going to move into my parents next door neighbor’s summer cabin for the winter.  We will miss Denver and we promise to visit.  But the idea of finding housing and a job for just a year or a few months (after seeing friends and family) seemed too daunting.  And the mountains of Creede were calling our name.  So here we are.  The cabin we will stay in has extra beds.  You are welcome to check them out.

Here are a few photos of my house, of Jesse and Elsie checking out the eclipse today and the two of them enjoying a Sunday afternoon nap.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Strengthen Your Herd

 

Speaking of humans, this is a picture of my very favorite one dressed up as Princess Leia and bearing my second favorite one in her womb.

Human beings all live in herds.  It’s one of our greatest strengths.  Our ability to cooperate, communicate, strategize, and align ourselves towards common thoughts and goals is what makes us capable of the things that we do.  Just like in the story of the Tower of Babel, “The Lord said, ‘If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.’”  Within our own little groups of people that we have something in common with, be it space, language, culture, age, class, etc., we form herds.  They help us define ourselves, make decisions, and be more than any of us could be on our own.

Moving from one culture to another, or one country to another, means migrating from living among the herd that you’ve grown up with, and making a place for yourself in another.  All of the differences between you and the new herd you’re trying to fit into come out, and you have to make decisions about whether you want to hold on to those differences, whether you want to conform, and what you want your role in the herd to be.  Culture shock is a deeply introspective process.

For me, climate change is a topic that’s treated very differently in my American herd and in my much newer Norwegian/International herd.  I’d always hear people say that the way the climate change debate takes place in America is unique to America and that nobody else in the world talks about it the way that we do, but that didn’t really sink in when I was still in the herd.  Now that I’ve spent two years living in another one, and making close friendships with people from too many countries for me to count, it has sunk in.  My American herd is the only one I’ve encountered that talks about climate change the way it does.

Before we came, a little over two years ago, I wrote a pretty moderate Facebook post (by my American herd’s standards) about climate change.  It basically said, “I understand that the science and reasoning behind this is important, and I think being environmentally minded would matter even if it wasn’t true, but I’m just not convinced enough to hop on this ‘indisputable train.’”  It’s not that I didn’t know the arguments around it, or that I wasn’t familiar with both sides.  Frankly, I was pretty sure I was wrong to be so resistant and skeptical of something that obviously mattered a great deal to many people, but I also had an emotional roadblock keeping me from being ready to actually make a change of mind about it.

After two years of living in another country, connected only at a distance to the conversation on climate change in America, having the people around me come from Norway, England, Germany, Brazil, Turkey, Ethiopia, Eritrea, South Africa, Pakistan, India, Singapore, etc., etc., etc. I can confidently say that my emotional roadblock was my herd.

Before when people told me that America was the only place in the world where climate

Check out this completely unrelated picture of a tulip in the middle of a bunch of daffodils. Happy Springtime!

change was an argument rather than a fact, or something marginally important rather than a central global challenge of our era, it just kind of rolled off of me.  I heard it, I understood it, but it didn’t matter to me emotionally as much as the opinions of the people around me.  The herd was more important.  Now my emotional rub doesn’t come from the idea of hopping on board the “indisputable train.”  It comes when one of my friends here, someone from literally any country, asks me why so many Americans don’t believe in climate change, and I can’t come up with a single reason even worth playing devil’s advocate for.  The only reason I can think of is that one of the major herds uses it to set themselves apart from another, and on an unspoken, subconscious, deeply intuitive level, that matters more than the voices of every other herd put together.

Our friends from other countries, or with roots in more than one world, are remarkably sympathetic to that reason, because everyone who has lived outside of their own culture can identify something about their herd that doesn’t make sense to anyone else, but for some reason makes sense inside the group they come from.  Everyone who has poked their head out of their herd understands that being a part of it is a weakness as well as a strength.  There is no end to the good or the evil we can accomplish when we work together.  Not every herd has a problem that puts us in danger of irreparably harming the planet…but everyone’s got something.

Now there are some things that I think my American herd has really, really right, but I’m not going to talk about those things because the last thing the herd needs is more affirmation of its own infallibility.  There’s plenty of that to go around.  Nobody learns from being told to just keep listening to the sound of their own voice.

This is a fantastic drawing. It was the winner of a recent competition at a baby shower for Brooke. Drawn by Ruth, this picture particularly captured the dinosaurish nature of the little girl inside. And Ruth drew it without even using her eyes!

What a human herd needs to stay healthy, to serve as a strength most of the time and a weakness less of the time, is the ability to listen, learn, and be changed by the best parts of other herds.  We do this pretty easily with some things.  Incorporating the Arabic numerical system was a no brainer; it’s just better in every way than the Roman one.  Switching to Chinese paper manufacturing methods was pretty straightforward; it’s cheaper, easier, more uniform, and again in every way superior.  We even get pretty excited when somebody says, “The way you’ve been doing this simple thing your whole life is completely wrong.  In India, they do it this way, and it’s amazing!”  I watched (and loved) an entire commercial on how ineffective our Western style of pooping is.

But it’s harder when it’s something we’ve taken up as a banner, something that matters to us, or something that would actually require us to make a change to the way we think.  In fact, I think it’s even harder when we’re told we’re the only herd who doesn’t have a certain thing figured out.  We get defensive, we get edgy, we fortify our defenses, even if the only one we have left is to stick our fingers in our ears and sing the same song over and over again.

Like I said, this isn’t a blog about climate change.  It’s a blog about what I’ve learned about how to make your herd stronger.  It doesn’t make sense to pretend not to live in one.  This is what humans do, and it generally works out for us.  But if you really want your herd to be a strength for you instead of a weakness, if you really want to look out for its well being, and if you really want to help it advance, make a point to poke your head out and look around.  Better yet, immerse yourself in another herd, see where it rubs you the wrong way, and be thoughtful about each little point of friction.  Then go home and tell your herd what you found in a way that makes sense to them.  You may actually make them stronger, if only in a small way.

Easter on the Edge of the Grave

I’ve had American friends ask me if I feel afraid living in Europe given the frequency of terrorist attacks in major cities here.  They turn on the news and see terrorists driving trucks through crowded streets in Nice, London, and Stockholm.  They hear about the bomb meant for the subway in Oslo that was caught and defused, and the one in St. Petersburg that wasn’t.  They are glad to live a little farther away from the action.  They are afraid of seeing in America what Europe is experiencing now.

I’ve also had European friends ask me why I would want to ever go back to a place as dangerous and uncertain as the US where someone might just walk into your school or workplace and start shooting.  They learn the names of cities like San Bernadino because of the children and teachers that were killed there.  They see a police force which is always armed to kill and often makes mistakes.  They hear about all of the people who get sick and die of things that could have been prevented if somebody was willing to foot the bill for the medicine.  They are glad to live in a place that makes them feel secure and taken care of.

Both groups know something about their own home that the other side forgets.  They know the world they live in is more than just news reels, tragedies, scandals, bombings, hatred, and fear.  It is also children selling lemonade on the sidewalk to buy their mom some Easter tulips.  It’s birds starting to chirp for the new season, babies learning how to smile for the first time, and grandparents giving their grandchildren too much candy.  It’s a world of falling in love, hearing new songs that make your bones want to dance, magical tales that make the world around us fantastic, and friends who can make us feel loved from anywhere on earth.

It’s a world full of people who are rotten to the core.  It’s a world positively bustling with people made in the image of God.

It is a world tearing itself apart as quickly as it can manage, and a world being reborn with new hope every morning.

But which of these is more true about the world we live in?  Is the world dying, or is the world coming alive?

You could say that it’s all a matter of perspective.  That you choose whether you live in a good world or a bad world by what you focus on, and how you think about it.  That the grass is always greener somewhere or another, and if you just open your eyes to what’s in front of you you’ll find that it is beautiful.  That’s not entirely untrue.  You can change a lot in your life and the world around you by changing the way you think about it.

But it’s not entirely true either, is it?  I can’t put a church full of worshipers in Cairo back together by thinking positively about all of the churches that didn’t get blown up.  I can’t take back the president’s pointless missile strike by thinking of all of the refugees who are finding new lives in countries that have welcomed them (unlike my own).  I have no power to undo the kind of evil that leads to death in this world, no matter how much I focus on the good.  The best I can do is give myself enough of a pep talk to live with less fear in a dangerous world.  That’s not nothing, but it’s not enough either.

So in the real world, the world we actually all have to live in, the world that we know is full of wonder and terror, mourning and comfort, bliss and despair, what has the final word?
I think this is the question that I need Easter to answer for me this year.

During Holy Week we remember Jesus, who came and suffered.  God himself, innocent and blameless, gentle and humble, always loving towards us even when we have hated him, who came and put himself in our hands.  And we remember what we did to him.  We abandoned him.  We tortured him.  We stripped him naked and auctioned off his clothes.  We mocked him.  We drove him through the streets dripping in blood.  We chanted for his execution.  We hung him up and left him to die.  We showed our true colors.  We killed him, and called ourselves righteous.

But more than this, we remember what happened after we had done all of this.  After we had piled all of our sins on top of one man, after we had given him the shortest end of every stick, after we had taken from him everything we knew how to take and given him the full force of our hatred, fear, and jealousy, after we proved the power of tragedy in this world, he amazed us.

After everything we put him through, he came back.  After we abandoned him, he returned to us saying “Peace be with you. Do not be afraid.”  After we tortured him, he came back and comforted us.  After we stripped him naked, he left burial clothes behind him and put on new heavenly clothes.  After we mocked him, he exalted and encouraged us.  After we hung him up to die, he reached out to us and said, “Touch my wounds and believe.  I have undone death.”

After all of the death that we could muster, he came back to bring us life.

No matter what else comes up in the news this week to assure me of the truth that this world is racing headlong towards the grave, Easter will assure me of something even more true: Christ is racing towards the world with new life in his arms.

Suffering and death are real here and now, they are brutal, they are terrifying, they are all around us. But life is springing up, it is overcoming, it is surprising, it is better than we could have asked for or expected.

Death is temporary, but life is eternal.

Hallelujah.  The Lord is risen.