When I moved to Norway with my three young children back in 1989 our lives took a drastic turn.
There were few expats and no international school in our area. If we ever expected to fit in, we had no choice but to learn a new language. There were no more Sunday dinners at grandma’s house, because she now lived thousands of miles away. We soon found ourselves saying goodbye to things we never imagined living without..
There would be no more picnics or fireworks on the Forth of July. No more Valentine’s Day-mailbox in the children’s classroom. No wearing green on St. Patricks Day and no turkey on Thanksgiving. Of course I could always make a turkey dinner on the last Thursday of November but with the kids in school, my husband at work and no parade on TV, it wasn’t the same.
There were no more presents on Christmas Day, because the packages were all given out and opened on Christmas Eve. No more Easter Bunny. It was now the Easter Chicken leaving Easter candy for the children in large paper-mache eggs, and then everyone goes skiing for the day. Mother’s Day was now in March and Father’s day in November.
My children took it all in stride, until they found out there was NO Halloween!
“Fear not,” I explained. “Instead of Halloween there is a tradition here called Lossi. On December 12th all the children dress in costume, go door to door singing Christmas songs and receive treats from their neighbors.”
By the time December 12th rolled around it was dark and freezing in Norway. This meant covering up their costumes with layers of sweaters and jackets, and carrying flashlights. I can still remember my kids that first Lossi, all excited and carrying plastic pumpkins they’d brought over from America to collect their loot in. They didn’t even let their disappointment show when they came home to find their pumpkins stuffed with nothing but tangerines.
That was over twenty years ago. There’s still no Halloween in our town, but they have started to sell real pumpkins and more people are giving out candy instead of tangerines for Lossi now. I guess thats progress.
Halloween is unfortunately not the only thing approaching my home-state of New Jersey this year. Prayers go out to all my friends and family as they brace themselves for the wrath of Hurricane Sandy.
I was a shy girl, who grew into a guarded teenager. I never had the nerve to try out, or join anything at school. I was afraid of failure and being made fun of, that’s why my only goal was to blend in with the crowd. I probably never even raised my hand at school and I’m sure half of the people there didn’t even know my name. Don’t get me wrong – I had friends, but never wandered outside my circle. I played it safe at all times.
I grew up and although I gained some confidence in becoming a mom, I still worried about what other people thought and kept my head down. On the heels of a nasty divorce, I left America and started a new life in Norway (not because I was brave). After visiting numerous times throughout my life, I thought I knew what it would be like to live there. I was wrong.
Learning a new language and adjusting to a foreign culture is hard. I felt more like a refugee in this small local town, than an expat. My children didn’t seem to have any problem; They turned into little Norwegians overnight. Again, I kept pretty much to myself and tried not to be noticed. I knew there were people who thought I was unfriendly, when really I was just scared. Afraid of saying something wrong, afraid of being judged.
Only in a close group of friends was I able to open up and be myself, or as much of myself as I could be – talking another language…
My husband is the complete opposite. Once a local football hero (back in the day) he never cares what anyone thinks and oozes confidence. He’s dragged me kicking and screaming to events, in which I was forced to smile and meet new people. Together we have done things I never imagined myself doing…
Like cycling through France.
Sleeping in an igloo.
Hiking 2.4 miles up to the top of Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen).
And publishing a book.
The whole time I was writing Fly Away Home, I never, EVER thought anyone other than family would read it. Why would they? I wasn’t a writer, or anyone famous, just a woman trying to explain her side of things.
There’s no hiding now…
With all the traveling I’ve been doing this summer, my blog is starting to resemble a travel blog. To mix things up, I thought I’d try writing a book review. I just finished reading a good book, so here goes…
If you’ve ever lived or simply dream of living in a foreign country, then Kathleen Gamble’s book Expat Alien: My Global Adventure, is for you. I was first introduced to Kathy and her well told stories of travel and adventure through her blog, also known as the Expat Alien. Kathy and I are two American girls who were both born in the fifties, but while I grew up on the steady shores of our homeland, she grew up wandering the world.
Her parents and two brothers started their great expat adventure in 1952, when they first moved to Burma, where Kathy was later born. Throughout most of the years the family lived abroad her father worked with the Ford Foundation, in Third World Agriculture.
The story moves along at a fast and exciting pace as we follow the family to Mexico, Nigeria and Columbia. They travel across Europe and Kathy attends boarding school in Switzerland. If it’s excitement your looking for, there’s also a plane crash, a military coup and an earthquake.
Having barely spent anytime at all in America before starting college there, Kathy has just as much trouble relating to her peers as they do to her. Feeling different and isolated she spirals into a case of severe reverse culture shock.
Later she marries a Russian American and when he takes a job in Moscow, she follows. Here we get an inside look at what its like to live, work and raise a family in Moscow. Nine years later they are forced out under unfortunate circumstances and return to the States to start again. After losing everything, Kathy is forced into making tough decisions for both herself and her son.
Kathy’s story gives superb insight as to what its like growing up globally and as exciting as that is, there were times I felt sad for her. I found this book to be an honest and riveting account of her journey.
Expat Alien is available in paperback on Amazon.com and in Kindle format.
Its fun meeting new people while traveling and hearing their stories. Everyone likes to tell where they come from and are usually excited about where they’re going. All around the world people are flying in and out of airports, crossing the globe and trading places.
I was recently on a flight from Norway to Amsterdam and sat next to a young woman from Geneva. After hearing I was American, she told me told me an incredible story about her first and only trip to the US. She was on her way back from a wedding in Canada and decided to take a twenty-four hour stop over in New York.
She checked out of her midtown hotel early the next morning and set out to explore the Big Apple. She planned on heading down to Battery Park, to see the Statue of Liberty and The World Trade Center first. But due to a mix up, she got on the wrong bus and found herself heading uptown instead. After taking a stroll through Central Park and checking out Time Square, she began making her way back towards downtown Manhattan.
She was suddenly stopped by roadblocks, turmoil and sirens screaming throughout the city. It was September 11, 2001 and she soon found herself stranded in a chaotic city, with no money and no where to stay. She turned to the Swiss Embassy for help and it was five days before she was able to finally leave New York. Sigh.
A few days later, I met a Scottish woman on my flight from Glasgow back to Amsterdam. We got talking and after telling her I live in Norway, she told me she had once rode her bike to Norway.
“From Glasgow?!” I asked.
No – she was an art student living in Denmark at the time. Her and her Danish boyfriend took a ferry to Sweden and then cycled all the way to Oslo. She felt so empowered by the trip that upon her return, she packed her bags, left her boyfriend and moved back to Glasgow to become a rich and famous artist. Ten years down the road and she’s still single and struggling. Her Danish boyfriend however, is married, has two children, lives in a beautiful house and owns a very lucrative art gallery. After telling me her story, she shook her head and said, “You know what the worst of it is Maggie? I felt so guilty after leaving him, that I paid half his bloody rent for a whole year.” Ouch.
Afterwards, while franticly flipping through the pages of my passport, an officer at the passport control counter in Amsterdam asks, “Why are you going to Norway?”
“Because I live there,” I answer.
He then asks if I have a Resident Card, I tell him no. I only have a stamp in my passport, which he points out has expired. (Oops) With a crowed of inpatient travelers grumbling behind me, he calls for another officer to come and take me away!
I’m taken to the Immigration Office, asked to have a seat, and then bombarded with questions… How long have you been living in Norway? Why do you live there? Why have you not renewed your Norwegian Resident Permit? I see you also have an outdated, Dutch Resident Permit in your passport, why? Do you have a Norwegian personal number (Social Security number)? I answer the questions, give him my personal number and he calls the Norwegian Immigration Office, in Oslo.
By now I’m wishing I’d simply told them I was going to Norway on vacation. I was also wondering if he had the power to ship me back to New Jersey. Then as if nothing happened, the officer hangs up the phone and says, “Okay, you’re free to go, have a nice trip.” Phew.
Is it like this when you travel?
For those of you who do not know, I live on a small island off the southwest coast of Norway. Although I was not born here, I do believe it is where I belong. I tried to fight it, but is there any use in fighting fate?
Unless its pouring (which happens – not complaining) I walk my two dogs Khloe and Mia everyday. Our goal is always Skadberg Sanden, which is a little beach about a kilometer down the road.
Unless the weather is exceptionally fine, I mostly find myself alone here. And that makes it a perfect spot to think, or scream into the wind, “Why am I here?”
I feel closer to God and better in touch with myself in this place. It is also the ground where my ancestors walked and that makes me feel less foreign, in this my adopted land.
There’s a charming old house standing close to the dunes, which is particularly special to me. I was no more than eleven the first time I saw it and can remember thinking how beautiful it was. I visited Norway often when I was young and every time I saw the house, I would picture myself living there.
I don’t live there, but I live a lot closer than I really, ever thought I would.
I have six children!
Four of them live here in Norway (two still at home) and two are living in the States. My travel goal each year is to at some point visit these two missing children of mine, whether they come here or I go there. This past May my son and his lovely wife came to Norway and my daughter came to the Netherlands for my book launch. My daughter is also coming to Norway in September and as a bonus, she is bringing her son. The only bad thing is her daughter can’t come because of school (that stinks). It’s not easy when an ocean separates you from your family, but this is my life.
Life has been both good and bad, in fact it has thrown me twenty-three chapters worth of curveballs to write about and thats what I’m getting to with this post…
I never thought sitting down to write my story three years ago that it would be published but for once, I was in the right place at the right time. I got lucky. Not that it isn’t a good story, because it is! I defy anyone to read it and not find something they can identify with.
The reason I feel so honored to be published is this… I’m not really a writer. I lived and yes, wrote, but if it weren’t for the talent of a skilled editor, I’m afraid my book would be nothing more than endless rambling.
The reason for my confession is this, I follow dozens of blogs, half of them are written by people who are (whether published or not) writers in every sense of the word. I can see how good they are and yet they struggle for recognition (this in my opinion is a true writer). They are gifted, dedicated and deserve to be rewarded. I on the other hand work for hours and then break out into a cold sweat every time I press the publish button on my blog. More than once I’ve found mistakes that have left me spinning in my bed at night.
I don’t want it to be like that. I want it to be fun. Thats why I’m declaring this blog to be the endless ramblings of your average everyday person (who just so happens to have an edited book out there).
Phew… That felt good!
My daughter and her family in Norway:
My son and his wife in Norway:
I love summer, its my favorite time of the year. There are no guarantees the weather will be nice in Norway, but thats why we have airplanes to carry us off in search of the sun. When my children were little we always went to my parents house in New Jersey. There the weather was always warm and the kids enjoyed the swimming pool in my parents yard, while their mother enjoyed the air conditioned shopping malls (just kidding…).
Now the children are grown and my husband and I like to travel around and see new places. This years vacation spot is, Cinque Terra. Whats interesting, is how I found this location… I casually stumbled across the picture above on Naomi Baltuck’s blog, Writing Between the Lines and immediately commented, Where is this place? Three days later our trip was booked! I’m sure once you read about “the five lands” on the Italian Riviera, you’ll be dying to go too…
Blogging has been quite rewarding lately, not only did I find this year’s vacation spot, but I’ve also had three blog awards bestowed on me. First was the Versatile Blogger Award which I received from Beth’s blog, it’s a whole new world. Beth is one of those people who feels like a good friend, even though we’ve never met. The second is a Liebster Award from Robin Coyle her blog is, The writing Life of Robin. Robin has a great style and her blog is overflowing with writing tips. Since I already have a Versatile Blogger and a Liebster Award, I’m going to jump right over to the third one which is the Sunshine Award. I was nominated for this one by Paula’s blog, stuff I tell my sister. Paula is also a delightful person and her blog is a warm and cozy place to visit. Check them out, you won’t regret it!
The Sunshine Award guidelines are:
- Link the award to the person who gave it to you.
- Answer the questions that come with it.
- Pass it along to other bloggers and let them know they have received it.
Here are the blogs I nominate, (I tried to see who already had the award, but that was a lot of work and then I got my lists confused, so I’m just randomly throwing some names out there. If you already have it, then I’m sorry. If you don’t have it and your name is not on the list, just take it, I’ll never tell…)
2. Expat Alien
4. Expat Lingo
- Favorite color- When the sky is solid blue, thats my favorite color.
- Favorite animal- Thats a toss up between Mia and Khloe…
- Favorite number- That has to be six, because I have six kids.
- Favorite non-alcoholic drink- Easy! Tea (warm or cold).
- Facebook or Twitter- Definitely Facebook (thats where all my real friends are)
- My passion- Everyone will expect me to say writing, but its scrapbooking.
- Giving or receiving- I love to buy gifts but when people ask me what I want, I always answer, “I don’t know.”
- Favorite pattern- Hmm… Burberry plaid.
- Favorite day of the week- Without a doubt Friday night, I love having the weekend in front of me.
- Favorite flower- After living in Holland for three years, I have to say tulips.
This picture was taken in 1963, the woman in the picture is my grandmother, Gerd. She was living in America at the time, but at home in Norway for a visit. I’m not sure what she was up to with clothes slung all over the open car, suitcases in the trunk and a bucket? Whatever it was, I can see she was certainly dressed for the occasion.
Life didn’t start easy for Gerd, she lost her father when she was quite young. She was married at nineteen, had three children and lost one to pneumonia. At twenty-five, her husband died and three weeks later she gave birth to her fourth child (who she would later loose in a boating accident). She was also left with a small-run-down farm to manage (which I can now see from my kitchen window).
Five years later, in 1949, she gave the locals something to really talk about when the widow up and married a man eleven years her junior. They sold the farm in 1955, packed up the children and moved to America. They stayed for thirteen years before moving back to Norway, but Gerd had a restless soul and lived the rest of her life with a foot in each country. Bouncing between her devotion to Norway and her love affair with America, she never could decide where she was happiest.
At ninety-two, Gerd passed away yesterday. She died quietly in her sleep, of old age.
Not many people are lucky enough to have their grandmother for over fifty years, like I was, but that doesn’t make it any easier to let her go. I have plenty of memories, like when I was little and we would visit her on a Sunday afternoon. She would always spread a blanket on the floor and there my sister and I would sit eating ice cream, looking through photo albums of people in Norway, we didn’t know. When I was eleven and visited her in Norway, I remember asking if she could make me a tuna salad sandwich for lunch one day. After she explained and I saw that Norwegian tuna was pink, I was a bit skeptical but it turned out to be the best I ever tasted. She later confessed that when she couldn’t find canned tuna in Norway, she used salmon instead.
With her in America and me now in Norway, I’d ring her every other week and she’d always answer the phone saying, “Is it really you Margaret?” and then when it was time to hang up she’d say, “I’m so happy you called, its always nice to talk to you Margaret.” She was sharp and clear to the very end. I’ll miss those calls.
The one thing I’m most grateful for is that she was able to hold my book in her hands and see her picture inside it. She couldn’t read it, but she lived it and now she will live on forever…