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Monday, 4 August 2014

An Ocean of Kindness

In a world where news headlines scream death, destruction, war, planes that fall out of skies and so much sadness, it is nice to pause and be reminded of everyday kindness and love.

The Dalai Lama once posted (yes, on Facebook!) that at every moment countless mothers (fathers and caregivers) around the world wake to feed their babies, regardless of how tired they are, they nurse and provide for their children. These moments don’t make headlines. The true depth of this love and kindness may not even be noticed or fully understood until the child one day becomes a parent themselves. And it just happens, minute after minute, day after day, year after year, since the very beginning.

We have been the recipients of an ocean of kindness of late. Aunt Steph who babysat Baby Boy O, giving us a precious last New York City date night out. Irish Lass and English Andy who poured a much needed glass of cold white wine, dished a delicious dinner and prepped a cosy bed for the night after a very long day of moving. Family style fun with JJ, N + C in Cape Cod. Stylish sixth floor neighbors who housed our extra boxes and fussed over us endlessly.

Table set with dinner

The way to one’s heart

 

Add to that the random acts of kindness from people – the girl at the supermarket who held the door open, making it easier to navigate the beast that is our stroller, kind words from little old ladies, a great suggestion from the waiter. The list could go on and on, and for every dear family, friend, acquaintance and stranger mentioned there are a hundred more who deserve to be shouted from the mountaintops.

In the quicksand of sensational and ‘newsworthy’ headlines, this is what I wish to remember – acts of kindness are always there and may they help us keep in perspective all the things that happen around us.

 

Previous Post: Happy Times in Cape Cod

Next Post: Magic Happens

 

 

Monday, 30 May 2011

Thunder, Vikings and Norway

I have a dirty little secret – I went to see Thor last night.  Norse legend, big hammer, lots of lightning and thunder, manly vikings saving the world…ring a bell?  Not only was it a voluntary move to see an action movie with English Hubby, but I have to admit that I actually enjoyed it.

All in all, Marval and Kenneth Branagh managed to churn out a reasonable flick (I dare you to connect the dots between comic books and Shakespearean tragedies).  Not Natalie Portman’s finest hour, but right now she can do no wrong.  Antony Hopkins resonates well as the omnipresent wise old King trying to guide is sons – hot headed Thor and ‘second child syndrome’ Loki – through life’s trials and tribulations.  Plus an ample serving of Chris Hemsworth, need I say more?

Which brings me to the subject of Norway.  Just like the movie Thor, you may not naturally be inclined to go, but there are many hidden surprises if you do.  I’ve been to Norway twice.  First time, a fleeting EasyJet visit to hang out with English Hubby’s best friend, Carlito*.  Second time to celebrate New Year’s with an entourage of friends in Carlito’s magical winter wonderland cabin near Lillehammer.

It was one of the best New Year’s breaks I’ve ever had, and it all started with a few loose words. Something like this:

  • Me: “Hey, we’ve got a friend with a winter cabin in Norway”
  • NYC Entourage: “Never been to Norway”
  • Me: “How about going there for New Years?”
  • NYC Entourage: “Sure. I’m in. Let’s do it…booking tickets right now”
  • Me: “Um…(hesitation)…ok…just let me ask Carlito first…”

And so the hammer of Thor swung into action.  A few emails and Skype calls later, lightning struck.  Carlito foolishly agreed to entertain the five of us, three of whom he had never met before – as a meek consolation we did vouch for their characters, and promised they wouldn’t steal any silverware.

So began 5 days of friend fun in Norway, at the height of winter and frankly the coldest place we had ever visited.

Frozen trees

Brrr, it's cold!

 

We rendezvoused in Oslo (very cold), introduced everyone to Carlito (warm), spent a few days walking around Oslo taking in the sights (freezing cold) and frequenting coffee shops and bars to defrost (warm).

Friends walking along the harbor

Only silly tourists would be out and about

 

Norwegians to snow is like duck to water.  Whereas a light dusting of snow seems to bring JFK Airport to a stand still, Norway thrives!  Ten feet of snow, no problems. Blizzard? Bring it on. Minus 20 Celsius with wind chill from the Arctic, sure…just let me take the dog out for a walk with nothing else but a fleece on.  I can see how the vikings were tough and feared.  Their descendents are genetically impervious to the cold.  Life goes on, just with snow tires attached.

English Hubby lying in snow

English Hubby making a snow angel

 

So we pretended to be well-wintered Norwegians as we shivered across town.  Heading to the Opera House for a dose of Nordic high culture.  My friend C, has a love for architecture.  If you’ve ever had a friend like that, you know that you are no longer able to see buildings in the same light.  We admired the use of floor to ceiling glass windows that lets in the harbor views, and how the entire structure is nestled into its space, creating a summer-ready outdoor amphitheater that also doubles as a roof.

View of the Oslo Opera House

Style and substance all rolled into one Opera House

 

We admired how wood has been used to ‘warm’ the otherwise cold steel and glass construction, and gawked at the Guggenheim-esq structure that leads lucky ticket holders to their seats for a night of opera.

Glass and wood structure of the Opera House

Made of glass, steel and wood

 

Other points on the self inflicted sight seeing tour of Oslo included the Nobel Peace Center, the Royal Palace, the Viking Museum and the phallic park (yep, you read it correctly!).  It strikes me that Norway is a peaceful land.  After all, it is the home of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Nobel Peace Center

A celebration of peace - Nobel Peace Center

 

If that’s not enough peace loving action for you, just take a look at the Royal Palace.  The only thing separating crazy people and the Royal Family at home is a low hanging chain, stretched regally across a few stone bollards.  My local liquor store in Spanish Harlem has more security than that.  Obviously nobody has tried to jack His Royal Highness’ stash of Akevitt!  We casually strolled up to the palace and looked at the front door in awe.  It did cross my mind to knock.

You can’t go to Norway without going to see the viking ships.  What else is there to say?  We came, we saw, we photographed, we conquered.

Wooden viking ship

Gods of the sea

 

Then onto one of my favorite parks in the world.  I’ve been there twice, and still can never seem to remember it’s official name.  To me it will always be known as the phallic park.  No prizes for guessing why…

Snow covered park with statues

Vigeland Sculpture Park in all its glory

 

Once we had “done” Oslo (…sort of like how American tourists are able to “do” Europe in 3 days), the circle of ‘friend fun’ – led by Vino ferocious guard dog (sarcasm inserted here) – headed to the mountains.

Dog lying on couch

Vino the most popular dog on Facebook

 

A couple of hours in the car and we were transported to Carlito’s magic cabin.

Cabin covered in snow surrounded by trees

Camp Carlito

 

I’ve never seen so much snow in my life.  It really isn’t a surprise to me that Amundsen beat Scott to the South Pole.  This is the perfect training ground for a snow bound expedition.

Snow covered plains with trees

Winter wonderland view from Carlito's cabin

 

The rest of the days in our wonderful white icing wonderland were filled with snowboarding (skiing for the lesser man and woman), hot chocolates at the chalet, and well deserved hot showers and meals back at the cabin.  I’m utterly convinced that the beautiful fair haired, blue-eyed folks here learn to ski before they learn to talk.  Everyone on the slopes is as graceful as a gazelle.  Young and old alike glide their way delicately through trees and hurl themselves at frightening speeds down the mountain.  In comparison, our New York contingent look like knuckle dragging apes with planks strapped to our feet.  As we were shuttled back up the mountain in the most beautiful covered high speed chair lift, I counted less than a handful of tumbles on the mountain side.  I’m sure they were all tourists or Danish.

Mountain with ski slope

Hajfell ski slope - playground of the Norwegians

 

Now for the vacation finale – every year it happens…you get dressed up, say a silent prayer to no-one in particular, asking for strength to get you through the night.  The restaurant/bar/club/party is always a disappointment for one reason or another.  You curse yourself for wearing that new pair of heels, and worst of all you know you are meant to be having the time of your life (which is often far from the truth) as the clock strikes midnight.  Sound familiar?

Well, ringing in 2010 with beloved friends in a small cabin in Norway was, hands down, the best New Year’s plan ever.  Carlito spoilt us rotten with a traditional festive meal. It was a viking voyage of culinary discovery.  Sauteed juicy reindeer (yes, dear Bambi – sorry kids), ligonberry sauce and a whole load of trappings on the side.

Dinner table with food

New Year's Eve dinner fit for a Viking King and Queen

 

To top if all off (…as if it could get any better…) the Entourage competed for the inaugural International Nobel Yahtzee  Championship title.  With Australia, England, United States (U-S-A; U-S-A) and Norway all vying for bragging rights, the competition was stiff.  English Hubby dominated early, but luck seemed to be on my friend J’s side (side note: she is also the Boggle Queen of the Universe).  C + N blew on dice and rolled with the punches admirably. Carlito and his better half hung in there for dear life.  Tactics, calculation, foul play, bribery and orange cake came into play.

Dice game on coffee table

High stakes in the championship Yahtzee tournament

 

When all is said and done, another year (2009) passed into the annals of history and a new one begun.  The sun continues to rise, and eventually the snow will melt, but our adventures in Norway will be frozen in our hearts and minds.

Sun rising over snow capped mountain plains

Sunrise over Norway

 

May lightning strike twice, in fact many times over and bring each of you many more New Years to remember. Crackling fires, delicious food, fantastic friends. What could be better?

*names have been changed to protect the not so innocent