Giving thanks abroad

I’ve been living overseas on and off since 1999.

That’s a lot of missed turkeys.

Thanksgiving abroad is a mixture of blessing and curse – if you’re willing/able/crazy enough to put on a feast for your local friends, it’s a day you’ll never forget. Thanksgiving is probably the one remaining 100% American holiday that hasn’t been exported abroad, so your presence is essential for it to happen. And you go so far out of your way to do everything “properly,” things you’d never actually consider doing at home… ordering a freshly-butchered turkey weeks in advance, cleaning an entire pumpkin for hours to bake a real pumpkin pie, making stuffing and gravy and cranberry sauce from scratch because the boxed versions aren’t available.

Per and I made a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings for eight friends in Stavanger in 2009. Naturally, as there were Norwegians involved, the festivities lasted until 3am the next morning. We had an apartment slightly larger than a shoebox, so the table stretched from the far wall to the kitchen counter. It was tight, cramped and absolutely fabulous. A real Thanksgiving.

But if you don’t have a group of friends yet or they aren’t readily available, it can be a recipe for one gigantic, disastrous case of homesick-ness.

This year is a bit unique, as you might expect since I’m typing from my lounge chair in a bikini top. There’s no big dinner planned at the Svendsen house, but I can still do my slightly-cynical list of thanks. Over the years, I’ve discovered this to be a pretty good remedy for delaying the onset of turkey-induced homesick-ness.

So here goes….

  1. I’m thankful that I haven’t accidentally killed, disfigured or injured my son yet. Well, there was that one big tumble off a bed last month… so scratch the injury part. The other parts still apply.
  2. I’m thankful that I’m typing from my lounge chair in a bikini top. Until I look down and see my post-preggers pooch-y stomach laughing at me… so scratch the bikini part. The lounge chair thanks still applies.
  3. I’m thankful that I have very special guests visiting this week and next. And that afterwards I’m traveling to visit very special friends and family during the holidays. Except that means long hours alone on the plane and the road with Per Christian, who has entered his I-hate-being-strapped-into-anything-and-everything phase… so scratch the travel part. The friend and visitor thanks still apply.
  4. I’m thankful that I have a husband who apparently still loves me despite all my CFM madness. I suspect he spends a lot of time laughing at me behind my back, but it’s probably well-deserved.
  5. I’m thankful my grandparents are still alive and will join us for Christmas this year to meet their 28th great-grandchild. No joke – that’s some serious family, folks.
  6. I’m thankful that we have a bit of money in the bank. It’s not a lot, it’s not even a medium amount. But it’s enough that we don’t have to worry about where we’re going to live or how we’re going to eat. The number of people who can’t say the same thing grows every year, so we should never take this for granted.
  7. I’m thankful that I don’t live in the US and therefore don’t have to deal with vicious Black Friday shopping crowds tomorrow. Except that I am seriously craving a bit of retail therapy (the absence of which probably accounts for #6 above), so scratch that…
  8. Most of all, I’m thankful that my son just napped long enough for me to write all this down. I feel much better. Except that he’s awake now, so scratch that too….

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and pass the turkey!

I have a plan…

I’ve decided to use my son as fish bait to find new friends. This might not get me the Mommy of the Year award, but I’d be willing to bet actual money on my success.

I’ve never been a modest person in general, and certainly not about my son. He’s been grabbing attention ever since I popped him out, and he’s only improved with age (this is, of course, a totally unbiased mother’s opinion).

But I really never anticipated the overwhelming reaction Per Christian has received in Gran Canaria. Strangers stop to coo over him at every turn, and I’m not even exaggerating. Yesterday our waitress at lunch stole him out of my lap and walked him around the entire restaurant. (This is not a complaint. Per and I sipped wine in peace for at least three blissful minutes…) This morning, I literally had a woman chase me down the street to stop and give him a little spanish beso. She started telling me what sounded like a very interesting and lively story, but I didn’t hear the words “cortado” or “cerveza” in there anywhere, so I got a bit lost in translation.

And don’t get the mistaken impression that it’s only the women, either. The men are just as eager to stop us on the street and sing praises to this miniature meatloaf. But they don’t usually get rewarded with his cheeky little smile – even at such a young age, Per Christian is a committed ladies man.

So my brilliant new plan is to beef up the Spanish lessons, strap Per Christian into his Baby Bjorn and hit the streets. I’ll just walk around until someone stops to admire him, then I’ll amuse them with my witty language skills and lure them into my friendship web. Bam! Amigos galore!

Feel free to forward my Mommy of the Year nominations to your nearest social services office.

In other news, crawling is, like, so last week, y’all….

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

Nature vs. Nurture: Is beach snobbery genetic?

After three weeks in Gran Canaria, the Svendsen family finally hit the beach.

It was NOT a huge success.

Per Christian isn’t a stranger to water. He’s been swimming in Greece, he’s been sailing in Norway, and he’s been in the pool for several baby-swimming classes.

But the poor chap didn’t care much for the crowed beach of Amadores this weekend. Being packed like sardines in the sand is apparently not his idea of a good time. I wasn’t heartless (or resourceful) enough to snap photos of his misery, but rest assured he looked something like this for the entire 20 minutes we were there:

To be quite honest, his parents agree. Call us beach snobs if you will, but crowds, heat and sand do not mix well in our opinion. Apparently Per Christian inherited those genes, which is just fine with us.

So we gave up the beach and went in search of something else. We passed by all the obnoxious boardwalk restaurants where waiters hustle the tourists with cheap beer and cheaper food. That’s also not our thing.

We finally stumbled upon the Amadores Beach Club. And then Momma, Pappa and little Per Christian lived happily ever after….

Later that afternoon, we created our own little exclusive beach club at Casa Svendsen. Baby nudity is allowed and in fact encouraged here, but I’ve been informed that those photos are not for public consumption:

We also made our first venture into Las Palmas this weekend. We only checked out a tiny portion of it for now, reminding ourselves that we actually live here and don’t have to absorb everything in one trip. So more on that another time.

Per Christian also started his Spanish lessons, which so far consist of tearing pages out of mommy’s Spanish dictionary. We’ll keep you updated on his progress.

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

Back to business

For all you die-hard PC fans and doting grandparents everywhere, I know exactly what you’re thinking…. “Thanks, mommy dearest, for all your thoughts and ramblings, but what about the little chap? When do we get to see a bit of him again?!”

That’s okay, I’m not offended that you’d rather look at my son than read my writing. Really. I’m here to serve.

So without further ado and to appease the masses, here are some shots of Per Christian adapting to his difficult life in Gran Canaria….

First, a “before” shot of the week we left Oslo – no more coats and hats for this little boy!

He’s really chomping at the bit to get on his feet – I have about 100 shots all identical to this one:

Speaking of chomping, here he is with his favorite teething toy. Those fancy-schmancy teething rings I bought him?? Forget it – he’d rather have a cardboard box:

We’re pretty lucky to be within walking distance of Per’s new hotel, so every once in a while Per Christian gets lunch with pappa (note – the beer was actually on a Saturday…)

The beginning of each day starts in bed with mommy and pappa — undivided attention, cuddles and a bottle filled with warm milk… What better way to start the day?

Every afternoon is reading time to prepare for Per Christian’s entrance exams to Oxford. (Kidding, maybe a little….) By the way – these hard books are also excellent teething toys in lieu of the ones mommy bought.

All dressed and ready for a day on the town. This little fair-haired child has quickly become the toast of the town — the darker locals love his blond hair and the Scandinavian pensioners always stop to pet him. He’s never gotten so much attention before, which I think suits him just fine….

He’s getting pretty skilled with the high chair, even the cheap plastic ones they have at the cafes. He’ll usually last about seven minutes in it before his Scream of Boredom begins – just enough time to drain my cortado in peace.

And then, every afternoon and evening, peace descends upon the house as Per Christian drifts off to never-never land. This could be the single best advertisement for Pampers diapers I’ve ever seen.

That’s all folks!

While the cat’s away

Per is out of town.

Mommy is home alone, drinking a local Rioja and typing.

A potentially lethal combination.

This is my most recent life in the paradise isle of Gran Canaria – put the Golden Child to bed at 18.00 and face the night alone. You’re in paradise, but you’re still a Single Parent for the evening. So you can’t actually go out anywhere. All you can do is open up the wine, heat up the frozen Ristorante pizza and entertain yourself.

Oh – and a bit later, after I’ve procured myself a fabulous little red wine buzz, I’m going to make this fabulous little minty peas recipe for Per Christian…. Seriously, this child doesn’t even know how blessed he is.

If this all sounds a bit pathetic and boring, then you don’t have a baby and you’re just plain wrong.

I just finished reading Thor Heyerdahl’s In the Footsteps of Adam. If you don’t know about good ol’ Thor, imagine a 20th-century reincarnated Viking, sailing on a wooden raft for 101 days from Peru to Polynesia. A modern-day Science Fair experiment to prove that his theory of migration was right and others were wrong. It’s all depicted in his book and also in the Kon-Tiki museum in Oslo (which is one of only three museums I visited in the entire two years I lived there, all of which were under the duress of visiting friends & relatives).

(As a cultural disclaimer, I did actually go to the National Gallery the first week we moved to Oslo, so I’m not a total schmuck. I’m just a bad tourist, preferring coffee shops and boutiques to museums and walking tours.)

So in his book, Mr. Heyerdahl writes about his many adventures over the years and totally boring life experiences like comparing the quality of local goat’s milk with Fidel Castro in Cuba. Amid all of that, there’s a great quote that I highlighted and dog-eared, specifically because it applied to my life at the moment:

“Those who have found paradise have found it within themselves. Everything I had seen and read had taught me that paradise and hell do not have separate locations on this planet. They are always in the same place, and one cannot simply avoid one by moving away. The two turn up like inseparable companions, no matter how far you have traveled.”

Being an Oxford-MBA graduate and semi-skilled mother has been a bit of a rough blend these past seven months. Now we’ve moved to Gran Canaria for Per’s work, and everyone expects it to be paradise for the entire family. But the truth is, it doesn’t matter where the map places you at one particular moment in time. A new move and new town don’t change the fact that I’m still floundering, still unsure, and still semi-skilled.

And yet, in the midst of that floundering, there are some small snatches of Thor’s paradise in my daily life. I feel them intensely; I breathe them in and hope they are imprinted upon my brain for when I lose my short-term memory in 30 years and only have these moments to remember.

My son is struggling so intensely to get up on his feet, and I’m so moved by his independent effort that I simultaneously cheer him on and shed a tear.

He is unbearably cranky by the time his bath and bottle are finished every day, but then he nestles his head into my shoulder for just that second, and it’s glorious.

He’s been waking at 6am recently for whatever unknown reason, but my grumpiness fades into the background when I go into his room and he literally bounces in his bed from excitement at seeing mommy in the morning.

These are my mini-snatches of paradise each day, and I treasure them. The rest of the time, I’m just a semi-skilled mommy and Single Parent trying to do her best.

So yes, I’m drinking red wine and making minty peas for my sleeping baby upstairs.

It’s my own modern-day version of paradise on Gran Canaria.

Thanks Thor.