Stuff changes so fast in Oslo. Many might think Norway remains old or stodgy or slow. Wrong. These days there's a revolution-a-minute when it comes to new enterprise. The level of education is high here. Norwegians are also overwhelmingly technologically literate and quick to embrace new tech as it comes. A couple of years ago, I wrote a short post on online grocery shopping in Oslo, highlighting a company we used exclusively at the time called Dagligvarerexpressen (Dex). It was one of only a couple options available at the time. Since then, several other delivery companies have popped up, so I thought it was time for an update here!

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First of all, grocery delivery in Oslo has boomed, and there's a new, very successful kid in town. Kolonial.no showed up seemingly overnight and has taken the industry by storm. Already, it's absorbing up its competitors. I think this is partly because, unlike Dex and the rest, Kolonial.no's website is incredibly user-friendly, though not available in English.

We've used Kolonial.no, and they provide very good service. In partnership with Rema 1000, their selection continues to grow, which is nice, as we are attached to certain brands. Delivery fees in town begin at only 39 nok. (You can also pick up your order at one of thirty pick-points in the city for free.) When the delivery person arrived with my last order, she said she'd decided not to bring the greenbeans I ordered because they looked pretty bad. "Our produce is usually better," she said. Rather than tossing it in anyway and letting the customer sort it out, she was proactive about bringing only the best. The refund was automatic.

Coincidentally, I had the opportunity to interview Kolonial.no's cofounder, Karl Munthes-Haas, in September for Startup Guide Oslo. His story is fascinating, and you can read my full interview with him (along with several other exciting entrepreneurs) in the book. Here's one thing that stuck with me. When I asked what motivates him to come to work each day, building Kolonial.no into the number one grocery delivery company in Oslo, he said:

"I like that the value of the company is not just in the profit the company brings in, but also the benefit it provides to its consumers, above what they pay for. That's what motivates me. Let's say we do ten thousand deliveries in a week; that's at least ten thousand hours saved for the people who buy from us. Once the ball starts rolling, you get swallowed up in the responsibilities--employees to think about, orders that need to be filled, growth that needs to be done--but I think the underlying motivation is still creating value, which is good."


Karl's work ethic and vision for the company are inspiring and definitely in keeping with Scandinavian ideals about business and equality. It makes me feel good to support them.

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"I want to work on climate change," says Paridhi Rustogi.

It's December 8, the first official day of Telenor Youth Forum 2016. At a hightop table in the Scandic hotel lobby, TYF delegates from India, Norway and Bangladesh lean in to talk about what's to come. Later in the day, they'll be broken into teams and assigned one of seventeen possible global goals. They've had no control over either of those steps. So, which global goal do they each want to work on? Most hedge. They're open minded. A challenge is a challenge, and the experience will be good no matter what. But Paridhi--an environmental engineer and a delegate from India--shakes her head.

"Climate change is what matters most to me." She is definitive.

Two other delegates gently challenge her choice--or, indeed, any choice at all-- especially in an opportune environment like TYF. Better to get something you're not as familiar with; you'll learn more that way.

"Hey, I thought this was a safe space," says Paridhi with a laugh.

Her fellow delegate from India, Sharad Vivek Sagar, answers, "A safe space isn't a comfort zone."

He's right. But I still give a little inner cheer later that day when the Climate Change team calls Paridhi's name. Hurrah for young people with resolve.

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I blogged the whole four day event--the fun and games, Oslo by firelight and by rain, the Nobel Peace Prize reception and exhibit preview, the meetings with dignitariesthe hard hard work, and the final pitch competition--for the Telenor Youth Forum Blog. But a few things didn't fit there. A few moments I want to bottle up. Keep. Share.

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This is what I'm doing for the next four days:

Following 26 inspiring young people from around the globe as they work to use technology to better the world. 

I'll be live blogging the Telenor Youth Forum. Please read. And share. And support these fascinating human beings as they tackle global goals like ending hunger and poverty, accomplishing gender equality, providing clean water. On and on and on. 

Read the Telenor Youth Forum Blog. (Just made the first post!) Follow me on Instagram to see Oslo through the most excited and optimistic eyes.

Happy Nobel Peace Prize Weekend, everyone! Peace be with us all.

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See if any of this sounds familiar.

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A swarthy, coarse, rude tycoon named Harry arrives in Washington D.C. He's ready to do business. He's got a right hand man with political experience and connections. He's got a "bad apple" congressman ready to take bribes. And he's got a statuesque trophy girlfriend, Billie, who knows how to keep her mouth shut as long as she gets what she wants. ("Two mink coats. Everything.") 

While Harry wheels and deals, he realizes Billie's own brassy, uncouth manners might be a liability. He hires a bright young reporter named Paul to squire Billie around and teach her a few things. Just to give her something to do during the day, to polish her up.

But Paul begins with books. He urges Billie to read and read and read. He gives her The Federalist Papers and "After Visiting the Tomb of Napoleon" by Robert G. Ingersoll. Billie tries hard to understand it all. She's a high school dropout and a former chorus girl and, worst of all, she's been living with Harry for seven years. Her own father won't see her as long as she is still "living in any way unethical." Paul is the first person to respectfully meet her where she lives and give her a shot at seeing out of her circumstances.

(And Paul is William Holden so, hello sexual tension.)

They visit the Supreme Court, the National Archives, and attend the symphony.

Paul even gives Billie a political piece he wrote titled "The Yellowing Democratic Manifesto." In a moment of tables turning, Paul learns that his liberal elitism has rendered his message and principles all but unintelligible to people like her. 

This is a problem, because, in taking on this Pygmalion-style task, Paul has an ulterior motive. Frustrated, Billie asks why it's so important to him that she reads and thinks about the writing of men dead for hundreds of years.

Paul says:

It's sort of a cause. I want everyone to be smart.
As smart as they can be.
A world full of ignorant people is too dangerous to live in.

Here's where I'll stop and say this has always been one of my favorite films. I watch it at least once a year. It began as a smash Broadway play by Garson Kanin, and the dialogue sparkles. It's hilarious. It's also an incredible time capsule of 1940s Washington, as well as a glimpse of the post-WWII re-casting of gender roles. 

But with a twist. Billie is the hero.
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The casserole dish in my hand felt suddenly heavy. In front of me were three long tables full of food: fried rice, potato cakes, shrimp rolls, toasted baguettes, quiches and hummus with vegetables. All homemade. All basically healthy and hearty. And here I was with a casserole dish of chocolate chip cookies.

It was FN Dag (UN Day for us English speakers), and the Hazelnut's barnehage had a celebration, complete with singing and food. The kids in her avdeling (class) wore pink face paint splashed across their cheeks and had their names on pink sashes across their cold weather parkdresses. We were supposed to bring food that represented our home country.

I dug into my "America stash" and finished off my last bag of Nestlé chocolate chips for the occasion. Because that's how much I love my daughter.

But once I was actually at the school, elbow to elbow with other parents arriving to drop off their food contributions, I felt a wave of self-consciousness break over me.

Did I really show up with the only dessert? Is that weird for an event like this? Were we asked not to bring desserts? Did I miss that in the translation of the notice from the barnehage? Were people opposed to giving sugar to the kids? Was this a Norwegian thing I just didn't understand yet? Would people see the little American flag next to my cookie casserole and roll their eyes? I might has well have brought a big sack of McDonald's burgers...

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For the last two months, I have been swimming in the Oslo startup scene. It's an exciting place to be. Norway is poised to make the most of its status as one of the fastest growing hubs for innovation in Europe. There's wealth, education, competency and infrastructure aplenty here. Since 2011, a vibrant network of coworking spaces, incubators, accelerators and angel investors has developed in this fertile environment. And here's the book on all of it: Startup Guide Oslo.

I was honored when Startup Everywhere approached me about writing the sixth in their growing library of entrepreneurial handbooks. Startup Guide Oslo offers a comprehensive overview of the city for its current and would-be entrepreneurs. Everyone in the guide was selected via a nomination and voting process.  In August and September, I raced all over the city interviewing the major players. 

I had the chance to visit ten very different coworking spaces in town: 657 Oslo, Avd. Frysja, Bitraf, Fellesverkstedet, Gründergarasjen, The Factory, MESH, Oslo International Hub, Sentralen and SoCentral. You'll find insights (including practical stats like square meters, number of desks/offices, pricing) and beautiful interior photos in the book. 

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Having done all the plausibly necessary prep, Jonathan and I set out for our first backpacking/camping trip with our 15-month-old daughter on a sunny Saturday in July.

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Our destination was a little lake called Skjennungen, approximately 5km from Frognerseteren (depending on the trail you choose), at the end of the 1 Tbane line. We've camped there sans baby twice before. It's close to Skjennungstua, an unmanned hytte on top of a hill, which gave me some comfort in the event of a freak thunderstorm or baby-related emergency. There are also trashcans near the hytte, which meant we could unload some waste weight before the longer hike home on Sunday. Our route took us out by way of Ullevålseter, a manned hytte, where we planned to stop for a coffee break. Total distance over two days was only about 12 km (7.5 miles). Click to enlarge the map below.

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We left after naptime on Saturday. The metro ride took about 40 minutes, and we disembarked at Frognerseteren at 3:45pm. The ability to start summer activities late in the day like this is one of the many things we love about Norway. Sunset in Oslo that Saturday wasn't until after 10pm.

  • In Jonathan's pack (32 pounds): tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, warm clothes for the kid, extra socks for all, books for all, food for one breakfast, one lunch, and one dinner, a backpacking cook stove and pot, plastic cups and sporks, water pump and filter, camera, and extra backpacking-related stuff (small lantern, waterproof matches, knife, etc.).
  • In my pack (40 pounds): a 15-month-old Cheeks McGee, water for all, first aid kit, trail snacks, diapers and wipes and waste bags, the kid's favorite stuffed animal.

Over the next two hours, we tramped along dry, well-marked trails, taking time to point out different types of trees, birds, and flowers to the enraptured baby girl. She got to see butterflies in motion, which garnered major giggles. She ate blueberries. She tried to get a good look at an itty bitty frog that her mama couldn't quite catch from within a patch of grass. She picked up stones and traced her fingers through the dirt in the trail. She tried to sing along to various hiking songs. Happy Trails, Row Your Boat, etc. But mostly she sat quietly with a fresh breeze in her hair as her parents talked about interesting things. McGee was a backpack champ. After a couple of breaks, she even voluntarily returned to the pack and attempted to saddle up herself. We will be buying our own Deuter Kid Comfort 3 soon!

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Arriving at Skjennungen just after 5:30pm, we decided to eat dinner before setting up camp. (One thing about having a baby--even an easy-going one--with you... there's less flexibility when it comes to the timing of meals.) A couple of campsites closest to the trail were already taken up by tents, but one less accessible site, on the opposite side of the lake was open. After boiling water on the stove, I sat at a picnic table and fed the kid, while Jonathan hurried to stake our claim.

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We're the Camps. We camp. It's something we've done together since the beginning. Jonathan and I have pitched two-person tents in Yosemite and Grand Teton and Joshua Tree, as well as myriad other campgrounds in the eastern Sierra. When we moved to Norway, we brought all our camping gear along for the ride, including both our 3-season and 4-season North Face tents. In the last five years, we've camped out on Kvalvika Beach in Lofoten and in the shadow of Galdhøpiggen, Norway's tallest mountain, but mostly we've stuck close to home, trekking not so very far into Oslomarka, the wilderness area surrounding the capital city. Having the marka so accessible is one of the reasons we love living in Oslo. 

Two years ago this month, we traveled to Bodø in Nordland to chase the midnight sun. We rented a little fishing cabin to allow us to travel light. What we didn't know then was that the girl basking in the glow of midnattsola--slathered in bug repellant, signing the guest book tucked into a tall cairn at the lookout, and grinning victoriously at her husband--was a couple weeks pregnant. That was the last "camping" adventure we had before our daughter was born in April of 2015.

Last summer, camping couldn't have seemed more impossible.

Our little Cheeks McGee was a born screamer, and her mama's best coping mechanism was a controlled eating and sleeping schedule. The babe was six months old before we attempted putting her to bed anywhere except her own crib. That trip to Berlin proved she could be a champion overnight sleeper no matter where we went, but it was already October, and the window for camping in Norway had closed. 

When my semester ended in May, I was craving some time in the woods. I hauled our camping bins up from the cellar and inspected the contents. If we wanted to pull off any camping trips this summer, there was much to be done and much to be acquired: a tent to accommodate three people; sleeping bag for the babe; a backpack-style carrier; a new first aid kit. 

On top of that, it's been five years since we owned a car, so any camping trip here requires backpacking, as well. This was no problem in the old days. We tramped many, many miles with 20-25 lb packs. Now one of us would also be shouldering a growing toddler, along with her proper-care-and-feeding miscellany.

But I was determined we wouldn't miss another summer. It was time to go camping in Oslo with a baby!

Preparation

  • We started working out in the evenings after the baby was in bed, focusing on strength-training for our glutes, quads, hams, and calves, as well as core exercises.
  • We researched tents and ended up buying an MSR Mutha Hubba NX 3-person, purchased at Oslo Sportslager downtown. Adqequate brand selection; knowledgable staff. An employee allowed us to set up the tent we wanted in the store before we made our final decision. 
  • We tried on multiple backpack baby-carriers, ultimately borrowing a Deuter Kid Comfort 3 from a friend. In the weeks leading up to our camping adventure, we tried out the pack around our neighborhood and on a shorter hike. This worthwhile endeavor taught us lots of important things. Especially that my hips were impressively designed to bear children, both in the sense of birth and lugging the kid around later on. When the time came, I would carry the babe; my husband, devoid of hips, would carry almost everything else.
  • We followed the weather forecast, watching for a dry week and weekend. Best weather website for Nowegian weather: yr.no.
  • We made food plans and packing lists.
  • We purchased bug repellant; natural stuff for the babe and her dad and DEET-heavy stuff for her sweet-blooded mama. Also bug-bite reliever. Also a bug-net for the backpack carrier, a last-minute panic-purchase that didn't get used once. All this I found at Chillout Travel in Grünerløkka. Fun little shop with lots of expensive gear, but also a campy cafe and a cozy basement spot to hole-up and plan an adventure.
  • We pored over Den Norske Turistforening (DNT: Norwegian Trekking Association) website and maps, choosing our destination and route. Criteria included proximity to transportation and personal familiarity. 
  • We repeated to each other over and over that our bar for success on this outing would be low. Everyone comes out alive = We did it! No pressure.

The stars aligned two weeks ago. After several hot, dry days, there was sunshine in the forecast. All three of us were fit and healthy. Jonathan was in town. I was still on summer break. McGee hadn't yet begun barnehage. It was time.

Look for future posts this week on the hike itself, along with details about our destination (Skjennungen), and additional commentary on the gear we used. Spoiler alert: It was awesome! Thanks for reading. It's good to be back.

See also: Camping again: Baby on board - Part II (Destination & Gear)

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No single thought is more important than any other, at least at the outset.

The trees remain bare all over the city. From my chair on the third floor of the main library I can see across the city to the hills on the opposite side of the fjord, and it is all still black and gray and white. An overcast sky, mottled whites and grays, snagged by the lazy gray turns of seagulls. Spring is on the verge. Spring is tightly wound. Spring is kinetic. There is a paper cut on my thumb. The man beside me at the desk has neon green plugs stuffed deep into his ear canals to block out even the slight rufflings of pages, the scratch of pens, the gentle tapping of keyboards, the sniffing back of running noses, the gurgle of upturned water bottles, the muffled footsteps, the swish of closing doors, the whir of a distant printer, the whispered questions at the reference desk, the unzipping of backpacks. All white and gray noises--delightful sounds--of library life. The man with earplugs finds even these distracting. I don't envy him. And perhaps I am him, too. These sounds now populate this paragraph because I couldn't or wouldn't shut them out and focus on something else. But this is as it should be, perhaps, if I stick with my original thesis. In the moment, unguarded, open, no single thought is more important than any other.

My semester is drawing to a close. There are a few weeks left, but most of it will be dedicated to research and paper writing. Finals come in mid-May, but there's much to do before then. I find it easier now to sit someplace and focus on my assigned readings and writings. I find it easier to tap into that sacred vein where I keep my words and release them onto the page.

In the beginning--January--it was not like this.

Honestly, I felt a bit dead. When I tried to read, the stuff--plot, philosophy--couldn't find purchase in my mind. It was like throwing undercooked spaghetti at the kitchen wall and watching it bounce stupidly and disappointingly to the floor. It was like trying to eat something delicious with a no taste buds. Ash in my mouth. Not for the first time since my daughter was born, I began to wonder whether I would ever be the same again. Whether it would always be this new, numb way. Dread came in a flood and sat there, a stagnant pool. When I moved, everything felt heavy. Heart, hands, head. But I kept trying. And there were, occasionally, shudders and sparks that reminded me of my old self.

It was Whitman that got the gears moving again. A bilge pump. "The young mother and the old mother comprehend me."

It was Hemingway that said, "Don't worry. You have always written before."

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Cancer stole a friend yesterday. She was a bright light; a testament to resilience and strength; a writer; a ballerina; a lawyer; an optimist; a traveler; a champion. But most of all, she was a mom. She LOVED being a mom.

I was four months pregnant when we met at a writing conference in California, and I was clueless about how my life was about to shake and shatter and need to be pieced back together. Mimi opened her heart and poured the precise encouragement I needed into mine. She gave me precious advice. Something that I think about over and over.

No matter what happens, you are still you.
Above all, you are you.  In the darkest, crying night. In the longest, restless day.
And you are the person your kids watch and depend upon.
When they are scared or confused, when they need to explore and celebrate.
You are the person they need.
Even when you don't feel like what you have and are is enough.
It is.
You are.

I don't believe in coincidences. We met then because she was who I needed to meet then. Perhaps I was who she needed, too. She went now because now was her time to go, but it feels tragic. Like I didn't clap hard enough.

Here's the brilliant thing: Her words and positive energy remain in the lives of everyone who still stands in the world. That's immortality. And so, dear friends, I implore you to speak now, hug now, get together now, take pictures now, ask questions now, tell stories now, listen to one another now.

Love now.

Offered in memory of Mimi Chiang

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