Wednesday, December 3, 2008


There's something magical about the fountain in Prospect Garden. Surrounded by tall trees and abundant gardens, you're hidden from the world. It's the kind of place you stumble upon by accident and then never want to leave. It's where Dave and I first kissed and talked about our dreams. It's a place to be in love; to make wishes on pennies and watch them float to the bottom. Though the years pass quickly we visit our fountain from time to time and sit where we once sat and share a kiss. We visited our fountain a couple months ago, right as the leaves were beginning to turn magnificent shades of red and yellow. And as we sat on its concrete ledge and shared a kiss a little girl approached with a penny clutched tightly in her palm. She knelt near the edge and closed her eyes, silently mouthing her wish to the fountain gods. She held the penny so tightly her hand shook and her lips moved rapidly as she made her wish. Finally, after some time of this, she tossed her penny in the fountain and ran away. I've never seen anyone wish that hard for anything. Whatever it was, I hope her wish comes true.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


"In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different." - Coco Chanel

Did you have a chance to catch the Lifetime special on Coco Chanel?  I'm always intrigued by stories like her's...people who achieve greatness even though the odds are stacked against them. Coco Chanel, for example, was once nothing more than a poor seamstress with a knack for how to pull an outfit together. It makes you look inside yourself and wonder...what am I capable of?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Precious Things

There are few things more precious than a newborn's first smile at his great grandfather.

Monday, September 15, 2008

True Love

Sunday; a sixtieth wedding anniversary.  The following Saturday; a wedding. Contrast as stark as a black and white photograph balanced by the sanctity of their vows. The older couple holds hands, sixty years of marriage embracing them.  The younger couple holds hands, the promise of forever unfolding before them. Everyone around them holds hands, humbled by the power of true love.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Gold Man of Norway

You may remember my May 25th post entitled, "Grimstad," in which I talked about the time we spent exploring my family's heritage in Norway.  When you consider how much we discovered about Dave's heritage, we didn't find much at all about the Neilson family tree.  That is, until now.  Since returning from Norway, my Dad has been working with a research assistant from Stavanger who filled in a bunch of missing pieces for us.  It turns out the story of my great, great, great, great grandfather, Captain Christian Paulsen is true!  He did strike gold in the California gold rush and when he returned to Norway he was known as "The Gold Man of Norway" or "Guldmannen" in Norwegian.  In addition to building the ship yard (for pictures, see the May 25th post) he built a beautiful waterfront home (pictured above), which recently sold for the equivalent of $5,000,000 USD. The current owner is professional Norwegian bicycle racer, Thor Hushovd, who recently won stage 2 of the 2008 Tour de France (check him out at  We were so surprised when Thor responded to our e-mail inquiry.  He told us he was familiar with the story of Christian Paulsen and the house.  Plus, he was kind enough to send  us photos!


Monday, August 11, 2008

Beautiful Celebration

Yesterday Dave and I celebrated our 5-year wedding anniversary. It just so happened that our big day fell on the last night of Musikfest, which our town commemorates every year with a magnificent fireworks display. Living downtown, we were able to enjoy the show from the comfort of our front porch. We sat in complete darkness, holding hands and exchanging a few kisses, as the fireworks illuminated the night. And in that moment, it felt like the whole world was celebrating with us.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Universe at Work

"When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." - Buddhist proverb

Have you ever noticed how people appear in our lives just at the right time?  There seems to be a pattern of this in my life and I can't help but feel that it makes our journeys here that much richer.  My favorite example of this was on a trip I took to Australia several years ago.  It was the summer before I graduated from college and, at the time, I was constantly wondering what I should do with my life.  As I boarded the plane to Sydney I got to talking with a woman in the waiting area who revealed that she worked as a new age therapist, helping people find their paths in life.  I thought that was coincidental, but then when she ended up in the seat right next to me for the 18 hour flight, I knew it was the universe at work.  This is how I felt a couple days ago when I met Cathy at my mother in-law's birthday party.  Cathy is my husband's step-father's niece, but we had never met before.  Over the past month or so, I've been trying to fit more creativity into my life - both personally and professionally.  Despite how much I love all things creative, it's easy to melt into the couch after a long day at work and let my creativity sit idle.  Cathy, I learned, is into anything and everything creative...just like me.  We talked for hours about our projects and creative ideas and we both left that evening feeling inspired.  Now I've got a 'creative buddy' who will not only continue to be a source of inspiration, she will hold my feet to the fire to make sure I'm being true to my creative soul.  It's comforting to know that the universe is always at work for you, even when you least expect it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The Vegan Experience: Beach Weekend

I stuck to my guns and made it through the rest of the week with relative ease.  My downfall, of course, was the weekend.  Not to make excuses, but this wasn't just any weekend, it was a special beach weekend with dinners at Specchio, Buddakan, and McCormick & Schmick's.  Naturally, my vegan lifestyle fell by the way side as I scarfed down fish, meat, and dairy by the forkful.  Do I regret it?  Not even for a minute.  After all, how often do I get to eat at these terrific restaurants?  Today, I'm back on my game knowing full well that I am likely to make special allowances for certain special occasions, like vacations, holidays, or my upcoming 5-year wedding anniversary.  Week 1 taught me that with a little thought and preparation, the vegan lifestyle cannot only bring you better health and weight loss, it can be an enjoyable and satisfying lifestyle.  Maybe one day I will be able to commit 100%, but in the meantime I am going to follow the rules day-to-day and allow myself the freedom to make allowances for special circumstances.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Vegan Experience: Days 2 & 3

I sit here, minutes before lunchtime on Day 4 of my vegan experience, pleasantly surprised at how easy - and enjoyable - this has been.  So far, I've found that there are vegan substitutes for EVERYTHING and they all taste REALLY good!  Even Dave has attested to the tastiness of the food and he's a tough critic when it comes to food.  The biggest bummer so far has been cutting out Wawa coffee but I think I've found something even better:  the chai soy latte from Starbucks...heavenly.  For a DIY option, buy chai concentrate and soy milk from the grocery store and mix them in a 1:1 ratio...delicious!  Now, I realize that part of the vegan experience is to completely purify your body and cutting out caffeine is part of that, however, I'm not a saint and for now the caffeine must stay.  One of the trickiest things about this challenge is picking the right food.  For example, I bought a butter substitute that's made out of olive oil, only to learn that it does contain a little bit of buttermilk (you have to read the nutrition labels super-carefully). So I botched up a little bit last night, but that's the great thing about calling this my "vegan experience" rather than my "vegan diet," it allows for imperfection and doesn't make me feel guilty when I mess up.  Plus, the word "diet" screams "restriction," which naturally just tempts you to cheat.  Surprisingly, I haven't felt the urge to cheat at all during my vegan experience.  My next big challenge will be surviving the weekend (that's when all my best resolutions seem to fly right out the window!)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Vegan Experience: Day 1

I made it through Day 1 of my vegan lifestyle challenge with little difficulty. The hardest part was lunch. I bought vegan "lunchmeat" at the store and tried it on a sandwich (with vegan mayo, avocado spears, and sprouts). The veggies were good, but I didn't like the faux lunchmeat at all. For dinner, I made the Penne and Butternut Squash dish featured in Skinny Bitch - it was excellent. Luckily, I had enough left over for lunch today, so no more nasty sandwiches!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Skinny Bitch

I love when new journeys spawn out of existing journeys, like this past weekend. We took a short road trip of sorts - my husband, my sister, and me. With endless amounts of highway looming before us, and stop-and-go traffic for several hours, my sister encouraged me to read aloud from the book she'd been reading, Skinny Bitch. It's a book that promotes the vegan lifestyle and blows the lid off the meat and dairy industries, serving up scientific information with a side of sass. Let me interject here, up until this point in my life I had been a self-proclaimed meat-loving individual who never seriously considered such radical lifestyles. However, this book really resonated with me, opening my eyes to the havoc that meat and dairy can inflict on the human body. Despite my love of seafood, pasta, cheese, and many other foods, this book forced me to consider whether I could adopt this lifestyle. I've decided to dip my toe in the water this week and see how it goes. Last night, I chowed down my last hamburger for a while and this morning I woke up to a glass of o.j. and a bowl of soy yogurt, wheat germ, and strawberries. Don't worry...I won't pat myself on the back just yet; lunch and dinner are going to be the real challenges!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Praise Wawa!

Today when I walked into Wawa for my afternoon pick-me-up, I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks:  the coffee bar was surrounded by a priest and five nuns.  Clad in brown robes with crosses and rosary beads hanging from their hips, they were in all their glory as they peacefully stirred creamer and sugar into their cups.  I couldn't help but grin.  I guess even the holiest people need a mid-afternoon caffeine boost!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Dylan David Liodice

Well, he's finally here! Our nephew and godson, Dylan David Liodice, began his own little journey in the world on Wednesday, June 25th at 5:58PM. He weighed in at 7 lbs 8 oz and measured 19.5 inches in length. We all agreed that he is the most beautiful baby we've ever seen. Dave and I had a chance to hold him and it was amazing to feel his little newborn body in our arms. I couldn't help but look into his little eyes and wonder who he is going to grow into one day. For a tiny little baby, he's got a world of possibility within him. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Phone Call

Getting a phone call in the middle of the night is typically associated with bad news, however, the one we got in the wee hours of the morning was anything but. The call we've all been waiting for finally came around 4am this morning. Our newphew, Dylan, is on his way!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Art of Relaxation

"Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are." - Chinese Proverb

Going down to the shore to visit my dad on his boat is one of our favorite things to do during the summer.  I don't know whether it's the fresh ocean air or the lapping water, but the deeply relaxed state we enter when we're there is comparable to a week in the Caribbean.  We drove down to Brielle on Saturday morning and by the time we reached the marina parking lot, all of our cares and concerns had vanished. We spent the day Saturday cruising around the harbor, admiring the multi-million dollar summer homes (see below), and picnicking on the Metedeconk River.  Sunday, despite the grim weather forecast, Dave and I plopped down on the beach in Point Pleasant and closed our eyes as the sunshine warmed our skin and the sound of the waves whisked us in and out of sleep all day. This weekend was a great reminder of the importance of relaxation. We all get so busy in our day-to-day lives that sometimes it's hard to find the time to relax.  Sometimes relaxing in itself can be stressful, especially if you're trying to organize a trip out of town.  But I've found that even simple things, like sitting outside on the porch for ten minutes or taking a walk around the block, can help you find your inner calm amidst the most hectic of days.  

As always, it was hard to see such a wonderful weekend come to an end, but Monday mornings always bring daydreams about what the next weekend might have in store.

(P.S. - Apparently the guy who owns this incredible manse is my age!  Maybe I need to spend less time relaxing and more time inventing something!)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

We could all learn a thing or two from Tim Russert

Tim Russert gave the commencement address at my graduation from Lehigh University in 2003 and though I never watched Meet the Press, I was deeply saddened by his sudden death a few days ago. After learning of his passing, I proceeded to search the Internet for his name and was stunned by his list of professional accomplishments, which only magnified my sense of loss. Here was an accomplished man of a relatively young age who had just returned from a family vacation in Italy where they celebrated his son's graduation from Boston College. Things were good in Tim Russert's life and I'm sure he never thought that last Friday would be his last day. If he had, how would he have spent it? And what would he have thought of the mark he was leaving on the world? 

The next day, I woke up and today my last day? And if it is, am I happy with the things I've accomplished and the general direction of my life? The answer is yes and no. Yes because I've achieved 3 things that are deeply important to me: 1) find true love, 2) travel the world, and 3) live creatively (I could certainly improve on this one, but I do the best I can with the time I've got).  On the other hand, I look at someone like Tim Russert, who has accomplished so much greatness that it makes my life seem so small and trivial. There is still so much accomplish! How does one accomplish so much greatness in life? How do we each leave our own special mark on the world? One answer that immediately springs to mind is...fill your life with the things you're passionate about and eliminate, if you can, the extraneous things that drain you of your energy and rob you of your passion. Of course, to do this we need to closely examine our lives and be willing to make some painful changes.  For some people, it might mean ending a bad relationship and for others it might mean changing jobs. Whatever it is, it doesn't make sense to spend our remaining days here doing anything other than the things we feel passionate about. After all, even if today is isn't our last day, we're one day closer.

A Lesson in Patience

After our European backpacking adventures of 2002, camping disappeared from our lives for a while and I'm not exactly sure why. Maybe living out of a backpack and tent for five weeks gave us our fill? Maybe we failed to make the time? Whatever the reason, last year we finally started to dip our collective toe in the exciting world of camping again, after five years of being away from it. We've taken it slow thus far, camping at "safe" places with bathrooms and easy access to Wal-Mart for forgotten marshmallows and chocolate bars.  This past weekend marked our first camping trip of the 2008 season and while it was great fun, it was also a lesson in patience. Typically, we camp in May because we enjoy the cooler climates and sparsely populated campgrounds. Camping in the middle of June, however, brought with it some interesting surprises, like intense heat that forces you out your tent at 6:30 a.m. and summer thunder storms that force you to seek shelter under a very rickety, and difficult to assemble, canopy (courtesy of Wal-Mart). Luckily, we were with our friends, Chris and Bri, who know how to fun no matter what the situation, so a night of Texas Hold 'em ensued despite buckets of rain pouring down all around us. Overall, we had a great time camping, although there was one part of our trip that was borderline intolerable:  the wild insects that look like they could be part of the cast of Transformers 2. Poor Chris found an insect that can only be described as a flesh-eating, giant-winged half-caterpillar, half scorpion on his leg as he was tucking in for the night. Believe me, Chris's screams cut through the night air like a knife!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sending some inspiration your way...

If you haven't heard, J.K. Rowling recently spoke at Harvard University's Graduation Ceremony( Though I haven't read a single Harry Potter book, I love J.K. Rowling for what she represents...the power to make your wildest dreams come true despite your circumstances. Here are three quotes from her speech that I found inspiring and wanted to pass along:

"We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better."

"What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality." - Plutarch

"As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters." - Seneca

Sunday, June 8, 2008


Now that we're home from Norway, Dave and I are gearing up for the arrival of our first nephew, Dylan David Liodice...due July 5th. Chris and Randi are pretty certain that he will arrive early, so we're eagerly awaiting the phone call! Today was such a special day because Chris and Randi asked me and Dave to be Dylan's god parents. Of course, we accepted with honor. This is such an awesome responsibility; to play a role of spiritual, moral, and religious guidance in our young nephew's life. You cannot imagine how honored and excited we are feeling tonight! What an amazing journey this will be!!
(photo: Randi in all her pregnant glory)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Bethlehem on the Big Screen

We've only been home a couple days and already life is full of adventure. Our normally quiet little town of Bethlehem has been cast as the opening scene in the 'Transformers 2' movie. Apparently, through the use of green screens and other digital enhancements, the Steel will play the part of a Chinese industrial city. Dreamworks began filming yesterday, so helicopters were flying over the Bethlehem Steel for several hours last night. And since our house is just up the hill from the Steel, our walls were shaking and every now and then spotlights sliced through our yard and illuminated our windows. The experience made us think of the poor souls living in Iraq and how frightening it must be to live in a war zone. You can check out the complete story on the Morning Call's website:,0,5867176.story
(Photo: courtesy of

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Story of Dave's Heritage

Ok, the amazing story of exploring Dave's heritage has been posted. Scroll down to the May 26th post entitled, "Biland." Enjoy!

The trip may be over but the blog lives on

Life is a collection of a million little journeys, so check back from time to time to continue hearing about mine...

Good to be Home

We arrived home last night around dinnertime with no food in the house and no energy to go grocery shopping, so we resorted to our lazy night routine...melting into the couch with a pizza and catching up on the Lost season finale (I fell asleep an hour into it, so I still don't know how it ended). We slept for what felt like a hundred years and woke up at 6:30a.m., to the most beautiful morning. The air outside was brisk and cool and the sky was that cloudless clear blue that only comes a handful of times throughout the year. Wide awake and wired with energy, we decided to go for a walk before work. I don't know if it was the jetlag or the fresh energy that Norway had injected us with, but walking around our little town was like seeing everything with new eyes; things that are normally so boring and familiar had taken on new life...neighboring houses were more beautiful than I had remembered, the other people out walking were friendlier, and overall my life here was more inspiring than when I had left it. And then a completely unexpected thought arrived in my's good to be home. I guess even after the best journeys, there is something soothing about coming back.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Last day

We spent the last day on a train ride from Bergen back to Oslo, which took about 7 hours. The scenery was maginificent and it gave us some time to reflect on all the wonderful memories from our journey.

This morning we're catching our flight back to Newark and arriving back at home around noon. In keeping with family tradition, we spent some time last night at dinner talking about where we want to go next...maybe Greece? I'll be keeping my fingers crossed on that one!

Biking in Bergen

Our last day in Bergen, we rented bikes and pedaled through new parts of the city. What a fun way to see a new place. We checked out the University of Bergen and a beautiful park, covering a lot more ground than we ever could have on foot.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Fjords

Today we took a boat trip through the fjords. Interestingly, most people choose to take the trip up the Søgnefjord, which is about 3km wide, making the contrast between the cliffs and the water less dramatic. My dad learned that a much less known fjord, the Nærøyfjord (which we think translates to "narrow fjord"), is actually the one that was named a World Heritage sight. And because it's a much narrower fjord, the mountains literally tower over you as you're cruising down the waterway. Many of the mountains are so tall that they are covered with several feet of snow at the top! The waterfalls we saw along the way were some of the most spectacular in the world, dropping hundreds of feet. Plus, the bus ride out here took us down the steepest road in's one of the stunning views we saw:
To top it all off, the train ride back to Bergen winded up through the top of the snow-capped mountains, where we saw undescribable waterfalls and even an icy lake. The air was so brisk and clean, all day I felt like I was in one of the purest places in the world. Today was literally one of the most beautiful days of my life.


We took the speed ferry from Stavanger to Bergen on Tuesday, which took about 4 hours. I spent the time sleeping, writing, and admiring the scenery along the fjord and I've concluded that there's not an ugly part of this country.

Bergen is another lovely port town on the west coast of Norway. With houses and shops dating back hundreds of years, Bergen is called "the gateway to the fjords" because you can access Norway's most spectacular fjords, which have been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List (which is the modern day equivalent of being one of the wonders of the world).
We're all very excited because we finally sampled fiskerbøller (fish ball soup) aka Bergen stew, which is a tradition in my family. The name may sound displeasing but the dish is phenomenal.


We spent Monday in the darling port town of Stavanger (on the west coast), touring the historic district and a church that dates back to the 1100s (I'll post pictures later as I don't have that memory stick with me at the moment). We visited the hall of records - which we imagined would be this gigantic library-esque place - to see if we could track down any of the Neilson family relatives. As it turns out, it's a tiny room on the third floor of a poorly marked old building with computers that are at least 5 years old. Plus, everything is written in Norwegian, which, unless it's numbers 1-10 or the days of the week, means nothing to me. Luckily, we were able to hire a researcher to look for records on our known ancestors. We came back an hour later to learn that she had found nothing. This, of course, piqued our interest. My first reaction was one of dismay...maybe our trip was going to turn out like that credit card commercial and we were going to learn that we're really Swedish. But then as Stina showed us her search process we realized that a number of variables were at play. Did we know the exact year the family traveled to the US? Which port did they leave out of? Did we have the correct spellings of their names? All questions we were not 100% sure of. Luckily, we were able to hire Stina to continue the search and contact us once she finds something. We've resolved to go back to the US and research some of the holes in our information.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Family Tree

Sunday was an amazing day, one of the most amazing of my life. As far as journeys go, boy do we have a story for you. Let's just say we made some tremendous discoveries when exploring Dave's Norwegian heritage. Unfortunately, his mom is on vacation at the moment and he wants to share the details with her and the rest of his family before I post it on our blog. So in the meantime I will continue to write about our adventures over here, but it will be a few more days before I can share this story with you. Believe me, it will be worth the wait ;)

Monday, May 26, 2008


There are no words to describe what happened to us on Sunday. It was easily the most surreal travel experience either of us has ever had. We left Kristiansand right after breakfast and headed out to explore Dave’s heritage, equipped with only a family tree that goes back to his great great grandparents and a loose understanding of the towns his ancestors lived in (Farsund, Lista, and Eitland). Farsund is a “kommune” which is basically like a county, as it contains many towns within it. Farsund is an area that would've never made it on to our itinerary had it not been a piece of Dave’s heritage. What a mistake that would’ve been. When we arrived in Farsund, we could barely keep our car on the road; mountains loomed tall all around us and plunged into crystalline waters that spanned as far as the eye could see. Of all the places we've seen in the world, this was easily one of the most exquisite.

In Lista, we stopped in the “Sentrum” (center of town) to use the bathrooms and get a kaffe (coffee) before beginning our search. Lista is a hip little waterfront town with tiny cottages tucked into the hillside and a harbor with sailboats and dozens of deserted islands off in the distance where the fjord empties into the North Sea. When we arrived most of the town was closed because it was Sunday, with the exception of a local bar. We took a chance and asked a group of older Norwegian men if they'd ever heard of Dave's distant cousin, a once-prominent Norwegian, Louis Jacobsen. One of the men, Olav, knew a fellow named Jan Jacobsen (in Norwegian the letter "j" is pronounced like a "y"...i.e. Yan Yacobsen) and offered to take us out to their house. Hoping that Jan was somehow a link to Dave's ancestors, we set off for what turned out to be one of the biggest adventures of our lives.

When we arrived at the Jacobsen's lakefront house, we learned that Jan had sailed to Denmark and wasn't home. Our hearts sank. But his wife graciously took a look at the family tree and recognized one of the names, Torlaif Borhaug. She made a few phone calls as we sat in anticipation. She spoke very little English, so Olav had to translate for us. Every time she said "nay" our hearts sunk further but finally we started hearing a string of "ya's" and grew hopeful. Olav explained that she had reached Torlaif's sister, Synnave, and again he offered to take us to her house. A short drive and we arrived at a quaint apartment building and were greeted by 83-year old, Synnave.

(photo: Synnave Maberg and Olav, the kind soul who made this whole adventure possible)

Again, Olav translated as we showed her the family tree. When we pointed out the names of Dave's great grandmother, Jenny Christiansen, we hit the jackpot. "Ya, tanta Jenny!" she exclaimed. It turns out that Dave's great grandmother, Jenny, was Synnave's aunt, making Synnave and Dave third cousins! As we pointed out the names of Jenny's parents, her smile grew wider in recognition...Kornelius and Otelia Eliasson (Dave's great great grandparents) were Synnave's grandparents! Then Synnave picked up the telephone and began chattering in Norwegian. Olav explained that she was calling one of her English-speaking cousins who lives close by and the next thing we knew, we were following Synnave to another relative's house.

We followed Synnave by car for about 15 minutes. We stopped at a great big white farmhouse, where she and her husband lived and raised their children. We continued along the road until the paved road ended and turned to a dirt road and raw Norwegian countryside. As we came up over the hillside, a panoramic view of the North Sea unfolded in front of us and literally took our breath away. Was this a dream?

A few minutes later we arrived at a simple little cottage with a splendid view of the North Sea. Inside, we were greeted by Oddny and Bjorn Reitkersen. It turns out that Oddny is also a third cousin of Dave's. We learned that she and Bjorn lived in New York for 14 years before moving back to Norway and starting their family. She actually worked at Barney's in Manhattan over 40 years ago! We showed her the family tree and she immediately recognized the names of Dave's great aunts and uncles, as well as his great grandparents and his great great grandparents. To top it all off, she pulled out a family tree that her son, Lars, had created many years ago. He worked on it for three years and has the names of all the people and the towns where they lived dating all the way back to the 1600s!!

(Bjorn showing Dave the family tree dating back to the 1600s)

(Dave with his newly-discovered cousins Synnave Maberg, left, and Oddny Reitkersen, middle.)
We didn't think our luck could get any better until Oddny told us that they could take us to Biland (pronounced "Beelan"), the house that was owned by Dave's great great grandparents, the home where his great grandmother, Jenny, was born. They warned us that we could only drive so far and that we'd have to hike the rest of the way because the conditions of the road are so poor. At this point, the sky had clouded over and it was pouring rain outside but everyone agreed that this was something we just had to see. So we put on some rain gear and drove out to the little town of Vanse and up a tiny dirt road toward Biland. We drove as far up the hillside as possible and then we hiked about a mile up a steep dirt driveway. The rain was pouring down on us, challenging us every step of the way but the fire in our hearts burned on and kept us pushing forward. And then the most unexpected thing of all happened. We reached the top of the mountain and in the clearing we saw the most charming little home you could ever imagine sitting right at the mouth of a fjord with the best view in Norway. We stood there in disbelief, looking out at the endless body of water and the mountain ranges that Dave's great grandmother grew up looking at. And with that the rain stopped and the blue skies descended upon us, like Jenny welcoming us to her home.

(Biland, the house where Dave's great grandmother, Jenny, was born)

(The view from the Biland house is simply spectacular)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Neilson's Corner

The white building behind us is where my ancestors lived generations ago. It's now a storefront on the bottom and apartments up top, but in its day was a beautiful single family home known as "Nielsen's Corner."


Yesterday's drive through the Norwegian countryside was filled with some of the most breathtaking sights we've ever seen. Evergreens cover the mountains and span as far as the eye can see. Sparkling lakes greeted us every turn and inspired dreams of having a summer cottage on the lake.

(photo: Grimstad)
My ancestors are from the adorable little town of Grimstad, on the southeast coast of Norway. My great, great, great grandfather, Captain Christian Paulsen, came to America during the gold rush and struck gold. He brought his fortune back to Grimstad and built a huge shipbuilding yard (seen below).

(These three buildings, dating back to the 1800s, make up the shipyard).

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Off we go...

After three fabulous days in Oslo, we're setting off for Grimstad and Kristiansand today. Not sure when I'll have Internet access again, but stay tuned for more...

Ski Museum

Holmenkollen also has a ski museum that recounts the 3,000 year history of skiing. When we got to the display of antique wooden skis, Dad pointed to the tiniest pair and told us that they were like the little wooden skiis he learned on, leather strap bindings and all. No wonder he's such a good skier today. Can you imagine trying to maneuver those things?


After Munch and lunch, we took a short train ride through the countryside to Holmenkollen, which is home to the world-famous ski jump and former site of the winter Olympics. No picture can do justice to this unbelievable structure. We climbed all way to the top and peered out over the edge to see what the skiers see before they take off. From the top you can see all the way out to the Oslo fjord in one direction and the peaks of snow-capped mountains in the other. The shoot and the landing hill below are so steep that you cannot even see where the skiers land. What's even crazier is that the skiers fly off the jump head first and maintain a position that's horizontal to the earth (nose to your ski tips) going 130 km/hour. We asked Dad if he would try it for a million bucks. Nope.

Getting our Munch on

Yesterday was another full day of sightseeing, good food, and laughter. As Cheryl put it, "we got our Munch on" at the Munch museum, which displays the works of famous painter, Edvard Munch. One of his most famous works, The Scream, along with The Madonna, were stolen right off the walls in 2004. They were recovered in 2006 and restored by the museum. Sadly, they had been mistreated during the two years they were gone, especially The Scream, which now has visible scratches and a water stain in the lower left corner.

Real estate

The real estate here is charming. Most of the houses have wainscoating exteriors and black tile roofs to absorb the heat from the sun.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Kroner

The Norwegian currency is called 'the Kroner.' Here is a picture of 5 Kroner, which is equivalent to about USD 1.25. Unfortunately, 5 Kroner doesn't buy much of anything...a cup of coffee costs 20 Kroner and a gyro costs 60.

The beers of Norway

To fully explore any culture one must taste the native beer. The two Norwegian beers we've tried so far are Frydenlund and Ringnes. Interestingly enough, they serve their beers in glasses with the name of the beer on the front and diagrams on the back that measure each beer's sweetness, fruitiness, and bitterness. They obviously take their beer VERY seriously!

Norwegian Museum of Cultural History

This museum took us by surprise. At first we weren't even going to go, but at the last minute we decided to stop in and were pleasantly surprised. We toured the outdoor portion of the museum, which featured a restored town with little shops, tiny homes, and an apothecary, where travelers could find a drink in Norway's "dry" days.

Another section of the museum featured dozens of tiny wooden farm houses that had been relocated here from Telemark. Inside there were no more than two rooms. Wood burning stoves provided heat and tiny beds, not much bigger than a twin, slept an entire family. We also found a little farm with a charming pony, who we adopted and named, Gretchen.

Viking Ship Museum

The Norwegian Ship Museum featured enormous wooden boats that were sailed by Viking Chieftans and required 30+ oarsmen. My favorite boat was the Oseberg - you might recognize it from that popular credit card commercial where the father and son go to Norway to explore their heritage. This magnificent boat was built in 820 AD and after sailing for about fifteen years, it was used as a burial ship for the Queen of Oseberg. She was buried with her life’s belongings, including jewels, clothing, food, and even her slave girl, as the culture of that time believed that those items were needed for the journey to the grave. The ship was then buried deep in the ground in and covered in clay, forming “burial mounds.” These boats were discovered hundreds of years later with many of the artifacts still intact. The restoration of this nearly 1,200 year-old ship was absolutely remarkable.


"Borders? I have never seen one. But I have heard they exist in the minds of some people." - Thor Heyerdahl
Then we strolled over to the Kon-Tiki museum where we learned about the great Norwegian scientist and explorer, Thor Heyerdahl. Some of his life’s greatest accomplishments included building boats out of papyrus and successfully sailing them across major oceans to prove that the New World was likely influenced by contact from the Old World. He proved this by sailing his Ra 2 boat from Morocco to Barbados and later, he sailed Kon-Tiki, which was a raft made of balsa leaves, from Peru to Polynesia using nothing more than the wind and the ocean currents. He also did a lot of work to raise awareness about the increasing pollution levels he was witnessing in the oceans and went on to win an Oscar for his documentary on the Kon-Tiki expedition. We all shook our heads in utter disbelief to think that a crew of men survived 101 days on the ocean on such anemic looking water crafts.