Trondheim, Bergen, and the Open Sea

Sorry that I’ve been off-line for a while, folks.  Odd that it’s been harder to get internet in Scandinavia than in Peru….  Anyway, here’s a recap on the last part of the Scandinavian portion of my trip.  Tomorrow I’ll post on the UK part.

TRONDHEIM:  Discovered a few key things of use there for my book.

(1) Lovely woman at the folk museum called her father on her cell phone to ask him about Trondheim in 1879, the year my Norwegian relatives left.  Her dad is a historian.  Found out the railroad had come there in the early 1870s but had not gone north to Bodø yet.  So my ancestors’ week in Trondheim would probably be the first time they had seen a train. Also, the city was just starting to industrialize then, with a few machine shops popping up.  They made iron stoves, among other things.

(2)  Lovely tour guides at the cathedral helped me put the pieces together that the ancestors would have been there during the time when they had just started restoring the ruined nave of the church.  I saw drawings of what it looked like then — much diminished from the grandeur of today.  That visit to the cathedral, the holiest sanctuary of Norway, made me start thinking about what my relatives would have done in Trondheim while waiting for that boat…. Ah, pray and attend church, I think.  They were very religious.  The tourguide ladies sent us to another old church that they thought my relatives also might have visited.  Yup.  Looked like their church in Bodø but only bigger and a little more ornate.

(3) Also discovered that they would have stayed at a boarding house down on the canals.  Interesting because there are also canals in Göteborg, where my Swedish relatives started their journey to America.  Canals, I know.  My own town is full of them.  Anyway, got a good view of that area.  Short stay in Trondheim, less than twenty-fours hours.  But fruitful research.

We also visited a decorative arts museum and an old fort that had been taken over when the Germans occupied the city in WWII.  I’ll write more about WWII stuff in a post after I return home.  It was very interesting how this kept cropping up….

BERGEN:  Flew to Bergen as the train would have to go all the way to Oslo and then Bergen. A short, uneventful flight.  I did not expect to discover anything of note in this city.  It was merely a stopping point, or more accurately, an embarkation point for our sea journey.  But, as has happened repeatedly on this trip, I gained in understanding.  Perhaps the most interesting thing was just to see this part of the coast and to realize that the immigrants hugged the coastline all the way south before crossing the North Sea.  Bergen was a major port at that time.  While their ship did not stop there, they were traveling in waters frequented by many ships.

By the way, it rained in Bergen.  Anyone at all familiar with the place will not be surprised.  It is like saying, “It was Bergen in Bergen.”  Charming city but we mucked about with our heavy backpacks in the rain for far too long to say we enjoyed Bergen fully.  Had a terrific meal at an Italian restaurant set off the tourist road one block.  Not a soul in there when we first arrived, but we were starving.  We sat down and had dinner while listening to loud Michael Jackson music. Waiter chose the music: “I LOVE Michael Jackson! He’s a great singer!!”  Surreal.

BOAT:  Boarded the Queen of Scandinavia the next morning at 8 a.m. and found our cabin.  La dee dah!  When I booked, I decided to go for the room with a window because I was worried about being sea sick.  Didn’t realize that Commodore Cabin essentially means first class.  Oh, my, aren’t we special?!  It was a lovely room (for a boat, that is) and I learned to thank my lucky stars for that window once we hit the open sea.  Before that, however, I made an appointment to interview one of the crew about travel from Scandinavia to England.  Kim from Denmark was super helpful (except for his comments that seasickness is purely psychological and HE never gets sick). What I learned from him that is useful:

(1) There is a very dangerous and rough patch of sea between the north coast of Denmark and south coast of Norway.  Our Swedes must have had a rough time traveling through there on their way to England, about a day out of the port of Göteborg.  Also, they sailed at the worst time, in October, after the start of storm season.  This explains why great-great grandma Lotta was so very seasick.  I knew that from my grandma’s story, but I didn’t know they had very good reason to be ill.

(2) Norwegian steamers would have followed the coastline even if they did not go into port.  One can totally see this after traveling by boat there.  A huge difference between the sheltered coastline with its many islands and deep and easily navigated fjords and the open North Sea where the wind sweeps down from the north and huge waves can make sea travel treacherous.

(3) The coast of England just appears out of nowhere, and it is relatively flat with a few hills with churches or ruined castles and a few lighthouses dotting the coast.  A strange contrast to the rugged fjords of the north.

When we hit the North Sea it was almost supper time.  Ugh. Within an hour I decided to take the little motion sickness tablet they give out free at the information center.  I went to bed and let it take effect. My friend had no problem with seasickness at all — thank goodness!  When I awoke from my nap, I felt better.  Decided to go to dinner as planned.  Ah, but I hadn’t counted on how the sight of odd sea-related food sitting out in a buffet would make me feel, plus the difficulty of getting to the buffet and back my seat with a loaded plate.  Oh, and the woman at the table right next to us who vomited on the table, poor dear. I ate a digestive bisquit and a few bites of lovely salmon, with my head turned to look out the window at the horizon.  Finally started feeling clamy and made a run for our lovely cabin where I applied a skin patch for seasickness and went to bed for good.  Awoke in the morning feeling much better.  I kept my equanimity overall.  Bed is sometimes best.  Even ate breakfast that morning.  But was heartily glad to get off the boat soon after that.

Good thing that I took that trip, too.  I discovered soon after boarding that the route is being discontinued in September.  This was my only chance to trace the ancestors.  Whew!  What a lucky duck I am!!

And now to bed. I shall write about the UK tomorrow (more interesting stuff)…unless I can’t get the internet connection to work again.  Took an hour this time before I managed to make it work, and I’m not sure how I did it.  Ah, well, homeward bound soon.  Missing the family. Will be good to be home.

On Trusting our Parental Instincts: Stomach Bug vs. Homesickness

Tues. at 9 a.m. the phone rings, and it’s my son’s teacher, Mr. S. Always a lump in the throat when your kid’s teacher calls, right? Well, in this case, my son is away at overnight camp all week, so my heart leaped into my throat big time.

Turns out that my son had thrown up twice, once the night before and once in the morning during breakfast. Mr. S suspected that it was probably homesickness. Huh?

Everything in me said no way, not my kid. My son LOVES going on overnights wherever and whenever he can. He has never been homesick while on one of these excursions, as far as I know, (and he’s been away to overnight camp twice, albeit those were shorter jaunts). It just didn’t ring true to me. Then again, I wasn’t there. I asked to speak to my child, and he called me a few minutes later.

“I want to go home!” he wailed. Why?

“I threw up…TWICE…and I want to go home.” How would going home help, honey?

“I’d be more comfortable. I only ate a cracker for breakfast and now I’m supposed to go on a hike all morning,” he began crying again. Well, I’m sure you don’t have to go on the hike if you’re not up to it. Do you want me to come and see if I can help you get more comfortable there? Do you want me to bring you a stuffed animal — Fuzzy or Hobbes?

“I want to go home.” I understand that you don’t feel well, but if you really were still terribly sick, then I think the teachers and everybody would see that. I can help you today, but I’m also telling you right now that you are not going home for the whole rest of the week. You’d be missing out on a lot, and I’m sure you’re going to be fine.

“It would help if you came. Can you bring Hobbes? … It would be even better if you came every day.” I’m NOT going to come every day, but I will come today, honey, and help you get more comfortable and assess the situation. Can you give the phone back to Mr. O?

So I hopped in the car, stuffed animal in tow, and drove off towards the camp. En route I got a phone call from the camp counselor, who informed me that my son was homesick and would benefit greatly from going on the hike (“It’s not strenuous, not like real hiking!”) Oh, there’d be all manner of team-building and stuff going on that my son would miss out on if he didn’t participate. Clearly, she thought that I was somehow encouraging my son to turn coward. I countered that I didn’t think he was homesick but merely exhausted because he came into the week already depleted from our weekend at camp in Maine. She was not convinced. Finally, she agreed to ask him herself and see what he wanted to do and call me back.

I continued driving. Then, less that five minutes later I got another call from the counselor, and she informed me that my son’s other teacher, Mrs. O. (who is out on maternity leave but is coming to the camp here and there this week) had spoken with him while we were on the phone earlier and convinced him to give the hike a try. Hmm.

Camp counselor assured me that she would call when he got back and let me know how he was doing. So I detoured to the grocery store to get some shopping done (might as well make use of the gas burned to drive that far in the car). When she called later around 11:45, she said that he had participated well in the hike, etc., etc. Clearly, she felt vindicated, thinking that it was clear now that he only needed to get involved in a fun activity to stop feeling homesick. I remarked that he always has a good attitude and enjoys activities, and that is why I did not think he was homesick but actually sick. His participation, though, seemed to indicate that perhaps he was on the mend. She said she’d call me after lunch and let me know how he did with the meal. Then she never called.

No news is good news, right?

At 6:30 p.m. I finally broke down and called Mr. S.’s cell phone but had to leave a message. I was pretty sure at that point that he must be okay or I would have heard. But the last I spoke with my child he was crying and sick and I told him I was on my way. I know it’s best for him to be able to handle things himself when possible, so I tried to “suck it up” myself all day and talk myself out of worrying.

Then around 9:50 p.m. I checked email and saw a slew of messages on our church listserv with families saying they had come down with a bad stomach bug on Mon. night! The very kids with whom he had spent the weekend were some of those listed as sick. Luckily, most seemed to be recovering after 24 hrs. Yikes!

I called the camp counselor directly and informed her about the stomach bug in our church and asked how my son was doing. “Well, if that’s what it was, he’s doing fine now.” IF!! IF???

AARGGHHHHH

Apparently, he had been doing great all day. He and his beloved Mrs. O. had spoken several times and my son kept saying that he wanted to stay. This teacher is such a doll, and my son has really been missing her in class since she had her baby. I’m sure it was a terrific comfort for her to be around when he wasn’t feeling well. And I’m equally sure that she would see that he was actually sick and not merely MAKING himself sick from missing home. As if!

The counselor apologized, twice, for not calling earlier. We ended the conversation with my warning her to be on the lookout for other kids getting sick later in the week now that they have been exposed. The church emails indicated that this was a quick onslaught, extremely violent, but short-lived bug. She didn’t seem convinced that any such thing was possible, but we ended the call politely.

What! Does she think I’m lying about dozens of my fellow parishioners getting sick?? Or was she so stuck in her mindset after years of dealing with homesick kids that she just could not hear what I was saying in order to shift her reality? Did she actually believe me but was merely distracted and thus didn’t respond in such a way as to show me she understood?

Ah, well, let’s face it — the only important thing here is that my son is fine and having a good time at camp. He really has something to be proud of. What a great kid! I’m glad that he found a way to get through it and stick it out — such things are great character building events in a child’s life. Wed. I did hear back from his other teacher, Mr. S. (the one with whom I left the phone message Tues.) and when I told him the news, he immediately accepted it: “Well, that explains that!” I asked him to tell my son that he caught the bug from his church friends. After all, who wants to be known as the kid who missed him mommy so much that he threw up?! As if vomiting isn’t bad enough! And then to get that reputation.

The truth does matter, especially to a ten-year-old boy who is trying desperately to spread his wings. Hobbes never made it to camp, by the way. My son remains stuffed-animal-less this week. Apparently, he’s just fine on his own.

Breathe

This weekend my friend gave me some advice. Breathe. She said breathe in and then out and then in again and out, and just do that on and on for five minutes. Hmm. Breathing is easy, right?

Turns out there are different ways to do this…

(1) While you breathe in, say in your mind one phrase and then while you breathe out say another. This is that mantra thingey. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated or foreign. You can say whatever you need to put in your head. Just pick something positive, short, and empowering.

OR

(2) Try to get your breathing as smooth as possible. Inevitably there is that small jerk at the transition between breathing out and in and vice-versa. Can you smooth this out completely?

OR

(3) Count as you breathe. If you want to gain energy, breathe in longer then out less time (that is, in to the count of 4 or 5 and out to the count of 3). If you want to get in a more relaxed state, do the opposite and extend the breathing out portion of the cycle.

She said that EVERYBODY has five minutes to do this, and the people who say they don’t have five minutes are the ones who most need it! I invite you to take five minutes right now and breathe. Oh, and I’d be really interested to know which method you tried and how it felt…

“Do I look tougher?”: Blood … and Tears … on the Field

My son is not particularly tough. I love him to pieces. He’s just not one of those kids, though, that engages in physical activity with no eye to personal safety. He has always been cautious (thank goodness!) And though he has played soccer now for six of his ten and a half years on this planet, he still has a tendency to be non-assertive on the playing field.

Well, maybe the word “still” is misplaced. Apparently, he’s changing.

Last Saturday’s game (which I did not attend but heard all about when my husband and son got home) is a case in point. Apparently, some kid on the other team had the ball and was outstripping everyone. My son went after the ball, but from the sidelines it looked like he just decided the best way to stop the kid was to take his legs out from under him.

Funny thing is that my husband says that everyone on the sidelines had just been yelling, “STOP HIM!!” And right after that he tripped the kid.

Now, I know better than to think that he heard anything that the crowd was yelling. That kid tunes out everything except his teammates and coach when playing ball. He never hears “helpful advice” from the sidelines. So it’s just coincidence not cause and effect.

I also know better than to think he was actually trying to trip the poor kid. In fact, he was trying to reach the ball to steal it. After the ref blew the whistle and called a foul, my son turned to the kid and asked if he was okay. He hates the thought of actually hurting someone — which is a big reason why this big kid of mine (5’1″ at ten years old) often just reaches out a foot instead of using his whole body. But at least these days he waits to succor the enemy until after the ref stops the play.

The thing that I see here is that he is starting to get more assertive. He went after the ball. He got close enough to cause a collision. He laughed (later) about getting a foul. (That’s actually desirable in a sensitive kid like that.)

He’s also getting in there with the under 12 team, where he practices once a week with his old coach. His official team is the under 10’s (he started the year as a nine year old). He is about a foot taller than almost everyone on his team. But with the U12 team, he’s more evenly matched in height and weight. Those kids are a lot more assertive, though. And it’s been interesting to watch him practicing with these older kids. Clearly, it’s also helped him to get into the fray with his body a bit more, too.

SO…last night was the weekly practice for U12. And I was watching him get in there with the older kids. He was doing okay — clearly still not entirely at ease, but holding his own. Then someone passed the ball to the kid next to him, who kicked it hard to my son. Wham, it hit him in the face and then headed straight for a teammate, who took the ball down for a goal. I thought at first that my son had inadvertently “headed” the ball, and I was thinking that maybe that would help him to start doing that manuever on purpose more. But NO!!

He starts walking off the field quickly, walking not running. And I see blood streaming down his face. Did you cut your lip or is it your nose? “My nose.” Tears welling in his eyes and blood everywhere. There I am looking in my purse for a tissue, and the coach says, “Ah, took one on the nose, eh?” And she slaps a red “penny” (those mesh shirts they wear when they divide into teams during practice) on his face. I love that woman. She is so much tougher than I am. And she is exactly the right influence on my son.

I finally took over holding his face and she went back to coaching. Eventually the blood stopped, but not before getting on his shirt and arms and face. I had just begun just wondering if I would now have a battle on my hands to force him to go back onto the field, when he surprised me.

“Do I look tougher?” I stepped back and saw him as with new eyes. Absolutely.

He ran back out on the field.

Later he took a shot to the eye, and he was a mess on the car ride home. But he handled everything so much better than he would have been able to in the past, even a few months ago. Once back home, he bragged about his war wounds to dad and then started singing in the shower.

My little tough guy.

Summer Preview: Kids and the Fine Art of Having Fun

Yesterday my son went to a friend’s house for a playdate while I went to work and attended a department meeting. Spring has finally arrived in New England, and it was over 80 degrees. YEEHAW!

Soon after we arrived, the kids were already soaked by the sprinkler, running gleefully through the shooting water, cackling loudly and squealing as the cold water pummeled their legs. Ah, summer! Yes, I know, I’m getting ahead of myself. The trees are blooming but not leafed out yet. Flowers have magically appeared all over the place but there are still bare branches. It’s only April, for goodness sake. Not August.

But it was a lovely summery day yesterday, and the children knew exactly how to spend it. Spend. That’s an interesting idiom, isn’t it? We SPEND our days. And what does spend mean?

The Oxford English Dictionary provides these relevant definitions (among others):

  • To pay out or away; to disburse or expend; to dispose of, or deprive oneself of, in this way
  • To employ, occupy, use or pass (time, one’s life, etc.) in or on some action, occupation, or state.
  • To use up; to exhaust or consume by use; to wear out.
  • To suffer the loss of (blood, life, etc.); to allow to be shed or spilt.
  • To waste (time).
  • To allow (time, one’s life, etc.) to pass or go by; to live or stay through (a certain period) to the end.

Some might say running back and forth all day over the same ground, getting soaked by cold water, is a “waste of time.” But because they are children, somehow this is acceptable, even desirable. Why can’t adults do this without censure? Perhaps the world would be a better place if every once in a while we actually lived in the moment and just “allowed time to pass” without a constant attention to efficiency and work and lord knows what else.

I hear that in Scandinavia, they have learned the fine art of relaxation and that they think Americans are nuts because we are such workaholics. Perhaps they have a point. Perhaps our children know the best way. Or at least they know how to seize the day and “use up” every last minute in fun and exploration and healthy exercise and companionship. Perhaps they spend their day in the best way possible.

Counting Our Blessings

Yesterday I came upon a very fresh accident with a school bus and a munched car.  EMTs were on the scene attending to the injured (or worse).  I hurriedly told my son, who was in the back seat, to cover his eyes.  An awful sight, not for a ten-year-old.

I pass through this intersection at least four times a day.

It wasn’t me and my son in that munched car.

I had the stomach flu this week.  I rarely ever succumb to such bouts, so it is always a shock to me when I ACTUALLY throw up. (Now you know why I haven’t posted all week.)

But a person I know at church has stomach cancer and is only one step ahead of her disease, taking each new, experimental drug as it becomes available.  She’s a trail-blazer and a real trooper.

Me?  I just threw up a couple of times and then recovered a couple of days later.

Our yard is a mess and desperately needs some professional lawncare.  Spring is FINALLY here and the poor quality of our lawn is startlingly obvious as everyone else’s lawn is already getting pretty green, but ours remains patchy and gray or tan in many spots.  But we can’t afford to pay for services right now.

The village of Laguna in the Culebras Valley of Peru, though, has worse troubles.  The river flooded the whole town, wiping out not only all of the work that we did there in January (biodigestor, solar irrigation system) but also their very homes.  These people get by on less than a dollar or two a day.  They live in huts made of woven bamboo mats lashed to poles.  They have next to nothing and now they have even less.

So our lawns sucks.  Big whoop.

I’m counting my blessings today and they are abundant.