New Home, New Life

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For the last three years we have been living on the family farm breeding rare and endangered heritage livestock.  It has been fantastic to live a farm life with young children and getting to know the different breeds of Norwegian animals.  It was a blessed life and we are grateful for the growth and experiences we’ve had looking after the land and animals.  However, life keeps moving and our growing family has taken another road to journey in Norway.

We have recently bought a new house in the suburbs of Alta that is surrounded by young families.  The area is newly developed and has great views of the city and Alta fjord.  It will be amazing during the Midnight Sun.  The sun circles round the house on three sides, enlivening us – we had missed living in the sun.  (The farm was in the Tverrelvdalen valley and the house was only in the sun for a short part of the day because of surrounding forests.)

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Our house is a three bedroom, two bathroom, single garage, two story house.  It is built to the new Norwegian energy standards, is highly energy efficient with balanced ventilation, heated flooring all downstairs, a fireplace upstairs, central vacuum cleaner and extra large big double-glazed windows.  It is only 5 minutes drive away from the city centre but far enough away from major roads to have peaceful silence.  Wooden flooring, white panel walls, a stairwell chandelier and super modern fixtures.  We also have a community playground with soccer field, jungle gym and forested areas surround.  We had to buy the house without even seeing what the yards look like.  That is the funny thing when you live in the Arctic, you can’t wait until the snow melts to buy a house.  We are very happy with our move and look forward to creating a life in our new home.

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There are many reasons we chose to move and I think they all relate to a Norwegian life.  Living on a farm is hard work and a romantic life but not always practical for a growing family.

First comes the issue of play friends for our children.  Farming isn’t a young occupation in Norway.  The average farmer is 50 years old.  This means that there are not many families or small children in rural areas.  In our area most people were of pension age.  Several Norwegians advised us that when our children grow up it will be hard on them to see friends because they would have to rely on car transport (as the bus routes here are very sparse) to get anywhere.  Plus friends would also find it hard to get to the farm.  It is particularly important for our children to have friends because of their bi-lingual background.  Usually young kids play together because their parents know each other, which relationships keep when growing up.  However, I am not in the Norwegian inner circle and so my children don’t have the access to friends most other Norwegian children do.  Friends aren’t everything until you have some.

Second, is the issue of schooling.  In Norway children are generally required to attend the school within their housing district.  This can be reconsidered because of special circumstances such as the family has just moved and wants to keep the child in the same school, but if you don’t have a good reason, tough.  The school that our kids would have gone to is a country school in Tverrelvdalen.  It is considered a good school amongst the locals as the student/teacher ratio is small but children have a hard time doing after school activities like soccer training because they have to make it to the other end of the city.  The other issue is that smaller schools have less offers and less qualified teachers and more chance of closing (Alta is in a transition period with organising schooling).  So we decided that it was best for our kids to go to a stable inner city school with a good reputation, hence we moved to the burbs.

Thirdly, a farm takes up a lot of money and time.  Working it was great when the kids were too small to enjoy going on holidays but as they got older we wanted to travel more as a family and it is just not possible when you have animals that rely on you every day.  We found too that we were spending all our money on the farm but we wanted to spend our money on our kids.  Even though a farm is great for kids we found that it was more for me and Moose.  Moving to the burbs and postponing the farm meant that we could have the normal Norwegian life of jet-setting to different cities and countries on the holidays.

Fourthly, Moose and my career off the farm were quickly taking off.  We had not planned to have careers off the farm but we kind of fell into them and found that we enjoyed them thoroughly.  As we spent more time off farm we began to realise the inevitable.  Our hearts were torn between the love of our animals and the need for job security, a regular income and mental challenges.  We loved the quiet life but we still wanted to progress our education and careers.  It is hard to have both, therefore we had to make a tough decision.

So as much as we loved building up the farm, we decided to postpone it for a while to focus more on our growing family and our growing careers.  But that certainly doesn’t mean we have given up our animals!!

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While we were on the farm developing our breeds we realised that there were only so many animals that we could have on the farm.  Space, housing, time, workload and conservation limited development.  Having diverse breeds – chickens, rabbits, horses, geese, sheep – also greatly limited capacity.  When we were preparing to leave the farm we placed a lot of our animals on other farms in the area.

The breed that we found very hard to give up were the geese.  Surprisingly, they had become our favourite on the farm and we didn’t want to let them go.  We felt a duty to care for them as they were the most in danger of extinction (only 150 left in the world).  We had worked so hard with them, learning about breeding and geese husbandry and adapting them to the Arctic.  So we decided to find a forvert for them (a feeding host).  We found a farm that was just around the corner from our new house.  It is a dairy farm and they were very excited to have the geese.  The farm feeds and watches over the geese every day and we visit, do extra work like build fences and finance the operation.  Usually the hosts finance the animals and we would just use the animals for breeding with a for agreement but we still want the geese to be ours.

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Since, we have realised what an excellent idea it is to have many flocks of geese on other peoples’ farms rather than just one flock on our own farm.  It means that we can create a strong breeding program that supports genetic diversity.   We already have another farm lined up for this years breeding season which is actually the visiting farm where Ariel our mule is kept.  Breeding our geese on other peoples’ farms is a perfect solution, even better than breeding on our own farm.  It is a win/win/win – for us, the geese and the other farmers.

Living off the farm is only a small detour for us.  We have decided to explore Norway a little bit more first.  Our hearts are still on the farm (and it is only a 15 minute drive away from our new house) but for now we will enjoy seeing where our lives will take us in Norway.

Making Peace with Snow

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I first moved to Norway when I was 30 so I was well beyond playing in the snow, or so I thought.  Snow was wonderful and beautiful but always felt a little alien to me.  I had to learn how to walk in it, brush it off my car and get used to it being all over me.  It was cold, wet, and just like sand, got everywhere.  I must say, I wasn’t a willing participant.

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It wasn’t until this Easter that snow became a wonderful play-thing.  Being an adult you don’t get much time to just play.  There is always something to facilitate, organise or feed but with holidaying on Stjernøya there has been wonderful times of nothingness and that is when snow-play is just waiting to happen.

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Just me and the snow slid together and rolled together and climbed together.  I used the snow to make mounds and curve out slides, to create caves and build stuff, and the snow just let me.  I used my whole body to shape the snow, which before I would only do in water.  Feeling the depth and the thickness, the lightness and weight, I got to understand the snow a little better.  I was starting to build a relationship with it, just how all Norwegian kids do.  The snow wasn’t alien to me anymore.

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I’m excited about this new relationship and look forward to snow being an active part of my life instead of just a ‘Norwegian thing’.  Snow is now becoming part of my identity and this makes me one step closer to understanding the relationship Norwegians have with their nature.

Arctic Monkeys

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Beautiful days over Easter makes it easy to go outside.  When we go for walks we often turn around and our little Arctic monkeys are nowhere to be seen.

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This time we found them conveniently hanging off a tree.

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Yes, and they were making monkey sounds.

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Getting down wasn’t as elegant as climbing up.  Trees have the sneaky habit of catching your foot.

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Spring Fatigue in Norway

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Spring fatigue is an old expression from when a long dark winter combined with lack of fresh fruit and vegetables led to a vitamin deficiency and lack of energy in spring time. It is not actually a medical diagnosis but it is a condition which is well known, especially today, amongst Norwegians.

I used to think that spring fatigue was a cultural myth to explain away irritability and tiredness but every year when spring comes around I experience symptoms of the spring fatigue syndrome. And you know what, I believe Norwegians are right about this yearly phenomenon.

Tiredness
Tiredness is one of the main signs of spring fatigue, especially for me. It is common over the dark season, even for Norwegians, to get insomnia. You’d think that in darkness your body would want to rest and sleep more, however, during this time of year your body gets disorientated because of the lack of light. I’ve discovered that it is the lack of light, not the darkness, that tells your body when to sleep. My body is programed, from after living in a place with a usual sunrise and sunset, to rest and then sleep a couple of hours after the sun goes down. It is an internal clock that sets my rest and sleeping patterns according to the sun. In Norway, especially in the North, the sun doesn’t come up for two months over winter so my internal clock gets thrown out of whack. I have to artificially make my body go into a resting then sleeping phase during the dark season – and I can tell you, it is very hard to do. The main battle is that the sunlight slowly slips away day-by-day lulling your body into confusion. If the sun just cut off straight away, like a light switch, it would be a lot easier to maintain a rigid sleeping schedule.

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High and Low Activity
When the sun returns my body is thrown into a state of contradiction. It wants to run and jump and play one minute but when the warm light touches my skin I just want to coil up and go to sleep. Often when I’m playing outside in the snow with the family I have to take a quick cat-nap. When I close my eyes it feels like home – lying on an Australian beach, listening to the waves and feeling the sun on my eyelids – but in a thermal suit in the cold snow. That is the great thing about snow, you might need a bed or a couch to sleep on inside, but snow is one big fluffy mattress waiting for sleep to happen!

Warm and Cold Moments
It is strange that my body before needed lack-of-light to know when to sleep but now it wants to sleep all the time in the spring light. But maybe it isn’t the light that makes me want to sleep so much as the warmth. The last three months I have lived in complete coldness outside. In the coldness you have to jump and hop around to keep warm. Speak to a bunch of Norwegians standing outside and you will see them all giggle round like they have ants in their pants. It is the basics of Arctic survival – keep moving or die. Inside Norwegian homes are toasty over winter – perfect for snuggling up and going to sleep. Norwegians like to keep their bedrooms no warmer than 18 degrees celsius but that is actually warmer than the middle of summer in the North. In fact, a Norwegian likes their warmth to be warmer than what Australians like. Because of this, I think my body now associates warmness with sleeping time (whereas in Australia it was the coolness of nights). The light might draw me outside to play but the warmth just makes me want to curl up and snooze.

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Energy and Vitamin D
Spring is the skinny time of year. During the winter season comfort food in a necessity. Warm, hearty food helps the body to retain nutrients. Longer digestion is needed to keep up energy levels. The return of the sun brings with it a new influx of fresh fruit and vegetables to the stores. Heavy, salty food is done away with and berries, exotic fruits and water-dense vegetables infiltrate the diet. This past dark season I have concentrated on a green-diet but I still feel a change in my body. It is because vitamin D is now being activated daily from the sun. Vitamin D, which is not found in fruit and vegetables, ensures enough calcium and phosphate are absorbed into the body. In fact, a symptom of vitamin D deficiency is fatigue and a lack of energy. This is why seafood, fatty fish and cod liver oil, which have a good amount of vitamin D, is a favoured food during the dark season in Norway. The change of diet takes time for the body to adjust and so energy levels can be unstable, hence, the up and down sluggish feeling during the spring.

Irritability and Lack of Concentration
Irritability is one of the complaints of spring fatigue, and so is lack of concentration. Lack of sleep is widely known to be the cause for both of these symptoms and Norwegians, especially in the North, have had three months of it. (Grizzly was invented by Norwegians.) However, I think that the combination of spring fatigue and waiting to reach the bank of holidays after an intense winter working period, is what culminates into unfocused activity. I find that there is a lot of talk about Easter holidays around work tables and coffee. Nearly everyone asks me where I plan to go for the break. It is always a better, more cheerful conversation than the next work project. The bank of holidays gives Norwegians a rest to look forward to, time to get over the winter blues and sicknesses, and to collect themselves to be back on track with future endeavors. No wonder Easter is considered one of the most important recreational holidays in Norway.

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Kids
Kids certainly don’t escape spring fatigue. I find that my kids become hyper and cranky. They eat enormous amounts of food but can’t sit still long enough to eat all of it in one go. Because the sun is raising so early in the morning now, my kids get up at before 6am. They now go to bed within the light time (7pm) and they try to use the old favourite excuse ‘but the sun is still up’. Spring is the time when I notice my kids health is the lowest. They are skinnier than usual, even though I feed them as much (healthy food) as they want; they have dark circles under their eyes, even though I feed them plenty of iron and (try) to get them to sleep for 12 hours; and they get on each other’s nerves quicker even though I participant in more activities with them – Easter crafts, etc – to focus their attention on something else other than bickering.

Spring fatigue is here to stay but now that I actually believe in it and can see the effects, I can take measures to protect my family’s health and wellbeing. Food, exercise and sleep I’m sure are the things that can best help us to have a happier spring with limited fatigue. Norwegians know a lot about managing spring fatigue, however, they are still prone to the symptoms. I believe further investigation of the prevention and management on spring fatigue is needed. I am determined to more than just survive spring fatigue, I want to thrive through it.

This is one of the subjects we will be investigating more closely on our new blog topic Healthy Norway.

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