Moving day: Tips and tricks to survive the chaos

Let’s be honest – this isn’t our first run around the rodeo.

As I posted here almost exactly two years ago, moving is always a mix of emotions. On the one hand, you have the excitement of something new around the corner. On the other hand, you have the total fear and utter uncertainty of something new around the corner.

Same experience, different hands.

We get a bit smarter with each move. We pack less ourselves (and by “we” I mean, obviously, “me“) and we leave more to the paid professionals. We ask the right questions, we get the right documents and we pay for it without a second thought (and by “we” I mean, obviously, “not me“). There are few things in this world that I research more than moving companies, and trust me when I tell you it’s time well-spent.

Leading up to the day itself, I get rid of loooooooads of stuff. Anything I don’t absolutely love gets donated, delivered or dumped. All those quick-fix items around the house that stuck around out of sheer apathy? Gone. All those half-empty bottles of shampoo that were bought and then not used? Gone. All those sexy skirts and jeans that linger in the closet with pre-mommy hopefulness? Gone.

And all those half-eaten cartons of ice cream in the freezer…

Oh, wait. Nope, those get eaten. Duh.

I keep one file folder with original documents like birth and marriage certificates in my suitcase while the rest gets shipped. I keep scanned documents and files on a flash drive or in my Google Drive account, just in case they’re needed before our shipment arrives.

My goal before the moving company pulls up outside is just to get everything in the right room, in the general vicinity of where it ideally belongs. So then, when everything gets packed, it ends up in approximately the right box for unpacking. Laundry is tricky – I woke up my husband at 6am this morning so I could wash the sheets before the movers arrived. But he was really understanding and quite happy to be of assistance (and by “happy” I mean, obviously, “very, very grumpy“).

On moving day, I pamper the packers with coffee and food and lots and lots of fresh water. I don’t hover, but I stick around in case there are questions. Beers afterwards are always offered, but rarely accepted. Such treatment isn’t required, of course, but I like to believe that well-fed, relaxed packers help ensure my sh*t won’t stink at the next destination.

And then, finally, when all is done, dusted and loaded, I look around at the house where my son took his first steps and shed a few tears. We pay homage to the home that housed us for the past two years, that absorbed our nicks and knacks and scratches and scrapes. I always, always get nostalgic at the point when I see our former home, stripped of all its trimmings, an empty stranger to me once again.

It’s said that “home is where the heart is.” But does that mean you leave a little piece of your heart behind in each home you inhabit? In 20 years and 10 houses from now, will we have any pieces of our heart remaining? Or will they all be left behind and scattered around the globe, I wonder.

Thank you, dear Calle Nayra 83, for all your sunny days and breezy nights, for your large terrace that hosted our BBQ’s and birthday parties and our first-ever Christmas dinner. Thank you for your rooms where our guests have slept and for your close proximity to the wine bottle recycling station. The only thing I won’t miss is your tiny dishwasher that never allowed enough space for all our champagne glasses, and that ain’t really so bad…

The Next Chapter

If I wrote a book about the past few years of my life, it would look something like this:

Chapter 1 – Marguerite Meets her Match: A Love Story with Fruit (aka Per) in Azerbaijan

Chapter 2 – Marguerite Gets Schooled: Beer-Stained Spreadsheets in Oxford

Chapter 3 – Marguerite Moves North: Separating “Titte” from “Tisse” in Norway

Chapter 4 – Marguerite Births Fidel: A History in the Making

Chapter 5 – Marguerite Takes a Time-Out: Adjusting to Mommy-hood in Gran Canaria

And now… !

Chapter 6 – Marguerite Gets Her Groove Back: Moving the Family to Istanbul

Yep. Istanbul. Can and get a “WTF?” from my dear readers, please?

It’s hard to even imagine the changes in store for Family Svendsen as we move from relaxing, peaceful Gran Canaria to the buzz and chaos of Istanbul. But I’m somehow irrationally excited about returning to an urban address after two years of beach living. Most people hear the news and think we’re insane, giving up our easy existence here for a big, fat Turkish-speaking question mark. And I get your point, really I do.

But I have this song running on replay in my head these days, courtesy of living with a two-year-old who adores Winnie the Pooh (and Tigger, too)…

Eeyore: Well I’m not sure.
Tigger: Oh stop that gloomy roomynation
All you need is a little bit of Tiggerization
Tigger: Why wait? Don’t you see it’s gonna be great?
It’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be great!

Strike me down! Give me all ya got!
Bounce me! Trounce me! Flounce me! Pounce me!
Do it! Do it! Do it!
It’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be….

I suppose quoting Tigger is perhaps not the most auspicious beginning for this next chapter of the book called My Life. Maybe my senses are dulled by the fumes of moving boxes already filling the house, or the weariness of researching Istanbul’s numerous neighborhoods online in an effort to focus our impending house hut.

Surely the fact that I’m writing this at 4:36am has nothing to do with it.

But the wheels are set in motion and momentum is building. Over the next month, I’ll be dis-assembling the house we spent two years putting together (which, let’s be honest, mostly involves negotiating with my husband on whether we really need to take that unused cord plug or unwatched DVD with us). And I’ll be emptying the freezer of our totally unnecessary stockpile of food, trying to assure my family that we can live on frozen chicken, peas and beer for a few weeks (plus about 24 bottles of duty-free Prosecco our friends just delivered, but nobody’s complaining about that one.)

And I’ll slowly be saying good-bye to Gran Canaria, a place that looks amazingly attractive now that we’re leaving.

But hey –

It’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be great!

Glory days

I have no words to describe the complete and utter beauty of a true Norwegian summer. Long, sunny days spent lounging around the various lawns of our friends and family, followed by equally long, cozy evenings spent sitting around the picnic tables and feeding troughs of the same.

Such idyllic summers don’t happen every year in Norway, but when they do decide to make an appearance…

YES. A thousand times… YES.


No fence is tall enough to keep this boy from his ice cream.

No fence is tall enough to keep this boy from his ice cream.

Per Christian gets his first guitar from Uncle C.

Per Christian gets his first guitar from Uncle C.

The downside of simultaneously having a 2-year-old in the house and train tracks nearby.

The downside of simultaneously having a 2-year-old in the house and train tracks nearby.

Boys... rocks... enough said.

Boys… rocks… enough said.

No, Tante Eline, you press THIS one!

Nei, Tante Eline, you press THIS one!

Farfar introduced his plane-crazy grandson to the world of Merlins (which he lived to regret at 7am every morning)

Farfar introduced his plane-crazy grandson to the world of Merlins (something he came to regret at approximately 7am every morning).

Nothing beats a snooze in the fresh sea air.

Nothing beats a snooze in the fresh sea air.

More boat time with the two uncles.

Norwegian-style driving lessons with the two uncles.

A wonderful day with the animals and rides at Dyrparken, just outside Kristiansand.

We spent a wonderful day with the animals and rides at Dyrparken, just outside Kristiansand.

Look, Momma... I'm adorable!

Look, Momma… I’m adorable! (And no, I do NOT need a hair cut!)

Cheeky bugger learned early how to cut the line for train rides.

Cheeky bugger learned early how to cut the line for train rides.

TRAIN! TRAIN! TRAIN! (Seriously, how can a little person physically generate so much noise?!)

TRAIN! TRAIN! TRAIN! (Seriously, how can a little person physically generate so much noise?!)

Tractor rides came in a close second to train rides.

Tractor rides come in a close second place to train rides (especially if Oliver is on board).

Fevik beach, where we spent our early mornings while the rest of the house was still sleeping

Fevik beach, where Momma and her Noise Machine spent some early mornings.

Cool enough for a long shirt in the morning...

Cool enough for a long shirt at first…

... but quickly warm enough for bathing suits

… but quickly warm enough for bathing suits!

The lovely Norwegian coastline and quiet beach

The lovely Norwegian coastline and quiet local beach.

Typical summer day in Fevik...

Just a typical summer day with our Fevik family…

... and typical Fevik-style entertainment.

… and typical Fevik-style entertainment.

Per Christian continues his auspicious musical education.

Per Christian continues his auspicious musical education.

The annual Fevik White Party begins!

The annual Fevik White Party begins!

The much-adored Uncle Per Fredrik.

The much-adored Uncle Per Fredrik.

Quick! Take a picture while his clothes are still white!

Quick! Snap a picture while his clothes are still white!

Ooops! Too late.

Ooops! Too late.

Thank you to all the friends, family, grandparents, chaperones, drivers and fellow revelers who made this summer holiday so wonderful. We’ve been incredibly blessed to take a slice of Norwegian summer back with us to Gran Canaria… until next year!

Fiesta del Carmen 2.0

One of the great things about living abroad is celebrating the local holidays. There’s always something a bit quirky and unfamiliar on these special days – from Russian marathon “piknik” days in the woods, to British horse-and-hat exhibitions, to Norwegian bunad costumes… and, now, to the crazy, overwhelming and hangover-inducing land of Spanish fiestas.

For the past two weeks, our little town of Arguineguin has been in the throws of its annual Fiesta del Carmen, celebrated every July in tribute to St. Carmen, patron saint of the sea. I’m not sure how honoring this lady translates into foam parties and all-night DJ extravaganzas, but so it is.

The highlight of the fiesta is on the last day when St. Carmen is paraded through town, loaded onto a boat and taken down the coast to her sister church in Mogan. Sounds like normal, respectful behavior towards a beloved, sea-faring saint, right?


Do you remember that flotilla boat parade they organized on the Thames in London for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee? The Queen and her entourage stood in full ceremonial attire with proper British decorum, calmly waving to the crowds and the boats that passed.

Respectful flotilla behavior (The Guardian, 2012)

Respectful flotilla behavior (photo courtesy of The Guardian, 2012)

Yeah. This one in Arguineguin is slightly different…. (Note that some photos below are from last year’s celebration but never posted before. ‘Cause that’s the punctual way I work.)

I'm sure St Carmen appreciates your tribute (2012)

I’m sure St Carmen appreciates your tribute (2012)

Parading down to the harbor (photo courtesy of La Provincia, 2013)

Parading down to the harbor (photo courtesy of La Provincia, 2013)

The boats begin their journey (2012)

The boats begin their journey from Arguineguin to Mogan (2012)

Boat procession (2013, photo courtesy of Gran Canaria Info)

Boat procession (photo courtesy of Gran Canaria Info, 2013)

Shipping St Carmen to Mogan (with a totally-no-obvious plug for Per's hotel in the background, 2012)

Shipping St Carmen to Mogan (with a totally-not-obvious plug for the Radisson resort in the background, 2012)

Arrival in Mogan (2013)

Arrival in Mogan (2013). No idea where the lady saint went, not sure it matters to these people…

Per, Per Christian and "Uncle," thankfully wearing more clothes than many other fiesta-go'ers

Per, Per Christian and “Uncle,” thankfully wearing more clothes than the other fiesta-go’ers

Honestly, this fiesta and boat procession will be one of my favorite memories from living in Gran Canaria. The crazy-factor is high and people-watching opportunities abound, but even despite that, it’s a great day out on the water with an authentic Canarian party atmosphere. What could be better than that?

You can read more about the annual Fiesta del Carmen here, here or here.

Summer in Seville

The Svendsen clan was lucky enough to actually get away for a real summer holiday this year, something we haven’t done since Per Christian was three months old and we went to Greece for 10 days. That was a hell of a trip, to say the least – a real introduction to how our holidays would NEVER be the same again.

This year, I was insistent upon visiting “The Mainland,” believing in my heart of hearts that living in resort-dominated Gran Canaria was not the same as seeing Spain. So we joined forces with some good friends who have a son relatively equal in age and energy to our own, and we rented this villa together in the Ronda mountains of southern Spain for a week.

Pappa P and I spent a few days in Seville with Per Christian before we drove south, which suitably heightened my itch for a return to urbane life ASAP. Seville is a lovely city, complete with an ancient, cobble-stoned pedestrian area, a lively city centre with plenty of shopping, and oodles and oodles of tapas bars to quench our boredom with Canarian papas con mojo.

In typical Svendsen fashion, we were hopelessly lame tourists and took zero photographs in Seville. Forgive me, grandmothers. I’m afraid Per and I have never been good at the whole castle/museum/cathedral shin-dig, preferring instead to spend our time mindlessly wandering the streets in between stops for tapas and cava.

And how about Per Christian, you ask? How did we manage with a two-year-old in the midst of all this cava? Somewhat surprisingly, it was just fine! He walked around with us, slept when he was tired, charmed the waitresses into giving us better service, and pointed out all the buses, cars, taxis and horses along the way – just in case we didn’t happen to see them ourselves. I think his favorite part was the hotel room itself (thank you El Rey Moro hotel for the lovely service and babysitter arrangements) and he adored the TV channel that played Top Gear on continuous repeat.

Truth be told, Pappa P and his son were equally pleased with that little discovery.

So, unfortunately, we have very few photos of the holiday, but here are the few existing shots to help soothe the hearts of our love-sick Grandmothers out there:

Future career opportunity...?

Future career opportunity…?

Pappa offers the best skyline view

Pappa always offers the best skyline view

Don't be fooled - that cute, little Sivert can really pack a punch!

Don’t be fooled – that sweet little man can really pack a punch!

The boys were delighted with the horses in the mountains

The boys were delighted with the horses in the mountains

See....?! It's the best view!

See….?! It’s the best view!

Two-on-one iPad time. Wine essential.

Two-on-one iPad time. Wine essential.

Listen up, ladies... Handsome pappas = cute babies.

Listen up, ladies… Handsome pappas = cute babies.

I don't know. Really. I just don't know.

I don’t know. Really. I just don’t know.

Upon returning to the island, Per Christian received critical "sharing" lessons from his pappa. We're still working on it...

Upon returning home, Per Christian received critical “sharing” lessons from Pappa. We’re still working on it.

The uncelebrated milestone

I’ve been a Cold-Hearted Mommy at times.

I’ve seen other mommies tearfully watch their child’s first steps, nostalgic smiles lining their faces and wondering how time passed so quickly.

I, on the other hand, cheered that I no longer had to drag that damn stroller up those damn steps.

I’ve seen other mommies tearfully leaving their little ones at daycare, stifling their mixed feelings of guilt and relief.

I, on the other hand, cheered that I could finally watch Downton Abbey in peace.

I don’t have a baby scrapbook and I don’t have miniature hospital clothes tucked away in a memory chest somewhere. I don’t have adorned photos for each month of his first year, and I don’t remember the precise when, where, or what about his first word.

I’ve approached many of my child’s milestones in typical middle-child “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” fashion, not because I didn’t care, but really just because I didn’t know any better.

But the milestone that really brings tears to my eyes, the one that has me cursing the need of my son to continue to grow – and the one that nobody warned me about! – is the milestone that really, truly and finally has changed my life…

Two-years old = the end of free airplane travel.

So very, very sad, this passing of the free-travel age.

Maybe your little one reached this mark before the airline-mandated age of two, probably when you realized they were too big to sit on your lap without obnoxiously kicking the seat in front of you. Maybe you, like ourselves, stretched the limit as far as possible, employing all possible techniques of seat thievery – we’ve done the aisle-window shuffle plenty of times, hoping that nobody wanted our middle seat and we’d score a spot for free.

But no matter what, when your child turns two, your travel plans get 33% more expensive. All of a sudden, flight tickets for a weekend away are more expensive than the entire house we booked for our summer holidays.

We were never shy about traveling with an infant, as I wrote about here and here and here. We went wherever we wanted and just dragged our baby along. But now, with a full-fare travel companion to pay for, I’m going through a serious case of sticker shock. We’re now grudgingly adjusting our travel plans to be more… ahem… realistic.

And I know it doesn’t just stop here. I know this is just the tip of the iceberg, that there are all kinds of upcoming expenses threatening our Prosecco fund. This is when I realize the universe is still laughing at me. You can take my breasts and my flat stomach and my daily showers and my quiet morning time. You can expose me to a screaming, irrational toddler and smelly diaper changes and mind-numbing hours of Elmo.

But now you’ve taking my airplane tickets. Now I’m pissed.

Fare thee well, weekends in Copenhagen! I’ll miss you, quick little hops to London! I hope we’ll meet again, cozy trips to Oslo for no reason at all! You’ve kept me happy and adventurous for many years, I hope we’ll be reacquainted before too long. Just as soon as we pay off karate classes and music lessons and football tickets and college degrees and weddings and ….. and….. and…

A taste of Tenerife

This past weekend, the Svendsens left town. Just like that – no huff, no puff. We just quietly and simply ske-dattled our way off the island. Pappa Svendsen had a rare and luxurious three-day weekend available, so we booked a hotel, loaded the car and hopped the ferry to Tenerife.

We were not disappointed. I’m not sure if it was just the change of scenery or the much-needed time away as a family, but we loved this place. We stayed away from the southern beach resort area (that scene is too close to home), and stayed instead at the lovely Hotel Botanico in northern Puerto de la Cruz.

My first impression was, “Wow! Green! Greengreengreen!” After months on our own dry, parched island, the presence of green grass and green trees and green gardens was a sight for sore eyes. As soon as we drove off the ferry, the highway took us up above the cloud line and along the coast towards Puerto de la Cruz. When we arrived at the hotel, Per Christian was let loose to explore the suite while we sipped our Cava on the terrace with this view:

I know I’m like a broken record here, but…. “Hurrah for green!”

We had no plans other than to just relax and spend time together – Per Christian, on the other hand, had all kinds of plans of his own. And they all included ditching Mommy & Pappa at every possible moment and exploring every nook and cranny within reach. If there was any baby pooch still left on my body, it’s definitely disappeared since Per Christian discovered his walking legs. No longer is he content to sit on the floor and play or sit at the table and eat – heeeeeellll no! Now it’s all walking, all the time.

Finally, though, we did manage to get our hands on the little bugger and keep him close:

Traveling with a small baby has taught us (at least) one very important life lesson – never underestimate the power of a baby monitor! This little apparatus and it’s companion iPhone application allowed us to enjoy a long leisurely lunch by the pool while PC napped in the room, plus we managed a full three-course meal at the hotel restaurant in the evening. We did get a babysitter on Saturday night so we could actually leave the hotel and have a date night in town, but for any other time, we can’t recommend enough the value of a good baby monitor.

Before heading back to Canaria, we had to check out the famous Mount Teide, the largest mountain in Spain at 3718m. These photos don’t do it a bit of justice, but they’re the best I could manage from the car window. Heaven forbid we actually stop the car and disrupt somebody’s nap (and our quiet time)!

All in all, I highly recommend including Tenerife in anyone’s plans for the Canary Islands. We only had three days and didn’t want to stress out with too many activities, but I’m sure we could have easily spent a week there and found plenty to do. As long as there’s a good deal of walking space available for our little guy, then everyone’s happy!

Leaving town

Here is a standard sequence of events in the Svendsen household lately:

  1. Per Christian goes to barnehagen.
  2. Per Christian plays and cuddles with lots of germ-y babies.
  3. Per Christian brings germs home to Mommy & Pappa.
  4. Per Christian gets sick.
  5. Mommy gets sick.
  6. Pappa gets sick.

So, yep, fun times.

Prosecco & Pampers has been a bit more quiet than usual while this cycle plays itself out. Luckily for us, by the time we reach number six, it’s a new week and Per Christian goes back to barnehagen, thereby beginning the cycle at number one all over again.

It seems like as good a time as any to get out of Dodge, so I’m splitting town this weekend for an all-girls Mommy-palooza gathering in Amsterdam. Just four old married ladies, sans hubbies and sans babies, spending a few precious days to ourselves away from home. It’ll be my first weekend away since Per Christian was born 13 months ago, so I’m thinking it’s long overdue.

I’ve got friends waiting and a sexy new dress packed in my luggage – and the fridge is stocked with beer and frozen pizza for Pappa.

Amsterdam, here I come!

Weekend getaway

Per Christian’s farmor and farfar were skiing at Mt. Blanc this past weekend and invited us to join them. I have no false illusions about this invitation – it means, in reality, that they wanted to see their grandson while they’re in Europe, but they’d be happy for his parents to tag along as well.

Unfortunately, Pappa S is a Very Important Man, and couldn’t escape the rigors of hotel life to make the trip. But being the typical loving, supportive wife that I am, I left Pappa behind in Gran Canaria and took Per Christian anyway.

It was Per Christian’s first introduction to the snow, which is quite surprising given that he’s 50% Norwegian material. Even the 50% of his American material has spent a great deal of time in the Russian tundra, so the poor chap is seriously lagging behind in cold weather experience.

Here are a few photos from our weekend getaway. Hope you all had a good weekend also!

How to spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria

After my last post, I received a lot of emails from people asking, “But Mommy Svendsen, how do you really know all those people passing you on the steps are Norwegians?”

(Okay – not really. Such popularity is only in my head. Nobody wrote and asked me anything. Moving on…)

Despite this self-imagined popularity, the question still remains – how exactly does one spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria? I mean, when people greet you, do you respond by saying, “hola” or “hello” or “heihei”? This is an important thing to know!

To answer this important-only-in-my-own-head riddle, I took it upon myself to spend a pleasant (i.e – “childless”) afternoon hour in downtown Arguineguin sipping cortados, people-watching and gathering my thoughts.

(Okay – not really. Arguineguin doesn’t have a downtown. Such grandness is only in my head. It’s more like of a small town’s main street. But I was childless for the hour, which is definitely something. Moving on…)

The result, outlined below, is now available free of charge for all my adoring fans and readers worldwide.

Top Five Ways to Spot a Norwegian in Gran Canaria:

1. SandwichesThis might sound like an odd way of spotting a Norwegian, but not once you’ve lived and breathed in Norway for a few years. After living there, you’d never do anything as crass as actually eat a sandwiches with your hands. No way! Norwegians eat their sandwiches, burgers, etc. with a fork and knife. Very civil-like. Take a look around the Arguineguin cafes, spot the clean-fingered sandwich eaters, and you’ll instantly know you’re among friends.

2. Backpacks – Look closely and you’ll notice these aren’t just any normal backpacks. These are the ubiquitous “Bergans of Norway” hiking backpacks, famous throughout Norway where every person lives and breathes the Great Outdoors. Bergans is so much a part of everyday life that you don’t ask if someone has their backpack or jacket before leaving the house. You ask if they have their Bergans. If you see someone with a Helly Hansen backpack, proceed with caution – their origin is questionable. But a Bergans? The answer is obvious.

3. Trekking poles – I know a lot of older people come to Gran Canaria during the European winter in order to defrost and enjoy the numerous hiking trails. That’s impressive, and I can respect that. Good for you for being 80 years old and regularly hiking up the side of a mountain for exercise. Bravo! But listen, do you really need your mountain-essential trekking poles while walking around the cement sidewalks of Arguineguin??? There must be some serious pedestrian perils I’m missing in my ignorant youth, but the older Norwegians among us  – they know better.

4. Ecco sandals – This one’s a bit tricky. The presence of these god-awful sandals doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve met a Norwegian. You may be amid Germans, or even a Dutchman. BUT! If those sandals are worn in combination with a Bergans backpack OR are worn by someone eating a sandwich with a fork and knife – breathe easy, my friend. You’ve definitely found yourself a Norwegian. However, beware if these sandals are worn with socks, especially black socks. In that case, no matter what the assumed nationality, do not stop and chat. Keep walking because you do not want to know this person.

5. White wine before noon – Norwegians, especially sea-faring ones, usually have rules about these things, like “no alcohol before noon.” Such rules keep many a drink-lovin’ Norwegian (my husband included) from succumbing to the seductive lure of alcoholism. But just as they sometimes forget their own national etiquette rules when abroad (like not helping stroller mommies, or shamelessly walking topless in public), Norwegians on holiday also love themselves a bit of liquid before lunch.

There’s a hierarchy to the liquid though, so be careful that you’re not mistaking a Norwegian with someone else. For example, if there’s beer in their glass, keep walking – they could be from anywhere… if there’s something dark in their glass like Canaria’s famous honey rum, then you’re getting closer – maybe you’ve met a Danish or a Finnish friend…. but if there’s white wine in their glass and the clock has yet to strike twelve, you’re in luck. Pull up a chair, order yourself a drink, and feel confident that you’ve entered some welcoming Norwegian territory.

So go ahead – with this essential information, you can wave and say “heihei!” to all the Norwegians in town without fear of being misunderstood! Bravo!

(Okay – not really. Norwegians don’t talk to strangers. Such an extroverted display of cheeriness from a real, live Norwegian would only happen in my head. Moving on….)