Portlandia

At some point in my life, I will live in Portland, Oregon. Every time I visit, I find new things with which to fall in love. It doesn’t hurt that I have some amazing family in Portland who always show us a great time whenever we’re in town.

Lena and I hopped on the train from Tacoma and made the beautiful trek down the coast to the heart of all things weird: Portlandia. The cuzzies (as we call them) were excited to see my little munchkin and marveled that she could speak. The last time we saw them, her vocal repertoire consisted mostly of loud screaming so this was an exciting discovery for them. The Northwest has had an unusually warm summer so we thought some time in the water and sunshine would be perfect. As usual, Liv knew just where to go (seriously, you should be a travel guide or something, woman!) and we were off with our wild crew of kiddos.

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We packed snacks, suits and some spray tubes then sent the kids into the wading pool while we lounged in the grass. The kids took a few random breaks to enjoy their lunches and warm up on their towels. Espen even treated us to some signature moves that were highly reminiscent of something his grandma and great-aunts would have done. Those Caspersen genes are dominant.

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The kids were supposed to change into dry clothes once we got home but Lena couldn’t really be bothered to put on anything other than these monster legs. She and the twins then performed an impromptu dance show which almost made me pee my pants. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Liv’s house where there hasn’t been at least one naked kid running around. Luckily, they’re now all old enough that we don’t have to worry about finding a puddle of pee though it certainly adds to the excitement of Naked Time.

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It was decided that we absolutely HAD to have burgers and a shake for dinner but could not seem to find exactly what we were looking for. I should mention that Liv and I are both pregnant and actually due just a week apart so this was a serious predicament we found ourselves in. Liv is acting as a surrogate and carrying twin girls so between us, there was a triple threat of pregnancy cravings for juicy burgers and icy blended goodness. We ended up driving to three different locations before finding what we were looking for and by that point, we were so ravenously hungry that we may have ordered like cavewomen. Also, I now want a burger really bad…

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The next day we got a little one-on-one time with Kaeden, had a lunch date at Nordstroms per family tradition, and strolled through a bookstore. Basically my perfect day. My other cousins came over that night for a barbecue and the typical sarcastic banter that comes with any family get together. We have six kids between us now and it was so fun to watch them all play together in the back yard. I got a little nostalgic wishing that this was Lena’s normal but who knows where life will take us in the future.

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As usual, all the kids gravitated towards Uncle Leif as he’s basically the coolest big kid in the world. Even Lena, who is generally suspicious of adult men, latched on to Leif immediately, giggling hysterically at everything he did.

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Our final day with the Portland cuzzies was spent melting at Oaks Amusement Park. I’m sure we were a sight to behold – two pregnant women, one carrying twins, with a trio of boys and one lone, blonde girl. We had promised the kids a big adventure and when we pulled up to the park in the full-to-capacity minivan, there were some seriously excited squeals from the backseat. Since neither Liv not myself were in any position to go on rides, Kaeden stepped up to the plate and was an amazing big brother to the three younger ones. He helped Lena climb all the stairs, went down the giant slide with her and always made sure she was buckled in and knew where to hold on. True to form, my little daredevil went on every ride she could without a hint of fear.

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All four kids gravitated toward one particular roller coaster and ended up choosing that as their favorite. I was slightly concerned about whiplash and brain injuries but they seemed to love it. And no one puked the entire day so that was a success. We did one final train ride before strapping the kids into the carseats to pass out and then headed back to Liv’s before Lena and I caught the train back to Tacoma. A big thank you to our ever-generous hosts, the Cruse Crew, and to the rest of the family for making time to hang out. We love you guys and are really looking forward to the day when we live close enough to mock each other on a daily basis!

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(re)Making Memories

I am incredibly lucky to still be friends with my childhood classmates. Through boyfriends, marriages, babies and cross-country moves, Tricia and Alicia have always been there for me. On my last trip home, Alicia was pregnant with Boden (who also happens to share my birthday) so I was really looking forward to finally meeting her little guy. We decided another slumber party was in order only this time, I would have an actual bed rather than sleeping on two crib mattresses. That resulted in no sleep and a public meltdown from both Lena and myself – something I think we all wanted to avoid this time around.

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There was a Family Fun Day going on at the new local park (why was this place not around when I was a kid growing up in the Harbor?!) so off we went to get our share of bounce houses and bubbles. Grayson and Lena were in their element so we let them run wild in the hopes they would later pass out from exhaustion.

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We also checked out some army tanks which Grayson (and Marc) thought were pretty cool. I’m just sad that my tan has faded now that I’m back in the land of tea and crumpets.

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Someone had the bright idea to get popsicles for the kids and with the 90 degree temperatures, we quickly had a giant, sticky mess on our hands. Despite being the youngest of the group, Boden demolished his popsicle first though the majority of it ended up covering his clothes rather than making it into his mouth. It was a food coloring nightmare.

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We decided to head back to Kyle and Alicia’s but not before Lena threw an epic tantrum due to being hot and hungry. It was one of her more impressive performances and I finally had just had enough so I attempted to pick her up and carry her to the car. I hadn’t really thought through my outfit choice because as I lifted her writhing body off the ground, she managed to pull down my top and strapless bra. It was also at this moment I heard a voice say, “Hey Tove! Haven’t seen you in forever!” Of course this would be the moment I run into a former classmate whose name, of course, I can’t remember. In a last ditch effort to avoid a massive show of public nudity, I pinned Lena to my chest, said a quick greeting (something along the lines of “Hey! It’s been a long time. I’ve just been living the dream, as you can see!”) and made a beeline for the car. I stuffed a melted protein bar in her mouth and we were off.

After enjoying some lunch and watching Grayson pee in the kiddie pool, Boden went down for a nap and we took Grayson and Lena out to the garage to check out Kyle’s cop car. The lights and siren were a big hit and Lena even got to try on some handcuffs. The picture of Grayson in the back of the vehicle is faintly reminiscent of a certain parent of his who had a little wild streak back in high school. I’m not naming names but you’ve got a 100% chance of guessing right (love you Pat and Marc-y Poo!).

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Kyle was a good sport and even let the kids try on his hat and vest. And then they got to talk into the loud speaker which I’m sure the neighbors loved. Hearing toddler voices magnified was hilarious and the kids loved it.

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After a full day of playing and Lena essentially beating Boden at every opportunity, we threw our little stinkers in the tub and called it a day. It’s crazy to see what little mini-me’s they are though let’s hope they don’t do EVERYTHING their parents did.

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The next day, we hired my cousin, Laila Eva, to take some photos of us with the munchkins. We brought along plenty of tricks from bubbles and crackers to toys and chocolate but still managed to get a few tears. Luckily, Laila Eva is incredibly talented and you would never know all the bribery and cajoling taking place behind the camera.

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I’m obviously a little biased, but these three monsters are awfully cute if you ask me.

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It’s so great to watch my friends as moms as well. Both these girls are hustlers, working full time jobs with crazy hours and still managing to raise kind, loving and smart little dudes. I could not be more proud of them and I am really thankful Lena has so many strong aunties in her life to look up to. I know we all hope our little ones will grow up to be close like us and despite living far apart, we are doing our best to facilitate that.

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We also staged a repeat photo from my senior pictures which makes me die laughing every time I look at it. My mom refused to pay for professional photos because I had colored my hair and she didn’t like it. So we had one of our friends take photos of the three of us in my parents yard and called it good. Laila was a great sport and helped us reenact that fiasco complete with an attempt by the kids. These just make me happy and I think this is going to become a tradition now. I love my friends!

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Mt Rainier

Mt. Rainier…. ahhh. This glorious tower of rock and snow is not to be missed when visiting the Pacific Northwest so in honor of our visit, my parents packed up the car and we headed for Paradise. Of course, after refusing to pee at the designated rest stop, Lena announced she needed to potty. Thankfully I had brought along our Potette – if you travel with a toddler or have a small bladder, this is a handy little apparatus to keep around. Plus the pictures are hilarious. Also, please notice the forlorn look on Laila Eva’s face as she was stuffed into the very back row of the car. This sends me into a giggling fit every time I look at it.

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Since there were four Caspersen women in the car, our first stop was to a picnic area where we could eat lunch. It doesn’t take long to figure out that you need to keep us fed at regular intervals if you want to avoid a hangry meltdown. Plus the air conditioning/heating situation in the car was getting intense as my dad and brother were in charge and doing a rather incompetent job. So it was a matter of safety that we all get some time in fresh air to cool our jets.

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Because she’s a saint, Laila Eva subjected herself to a day with all of us and Lena could not have been more pleased. Tante Laila is on par with the Frozen princesses in Lena’s eyes and that is a high honor in the toddler world. I love how Lena is looking up to her in this photo.

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Lunch consisted of open face sandwiches (obviously, gotta have some Norwegian pride), grilled chicken leftovers and remnants of Lena’s birthday cake. At one point, I looked over to find my 95 pound mother double fisting the cake with frosting everywhere including down her neck. This is a face with no shame in it’s game. Mormor is a sugar addict.

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The guys had fun showing Lena all the different birds and she loved that they kept stealing food from the picnic tables. My dad even took her to the base of the waterfall where I’m sure she was subjected to stories of Fossegrimen and other naughty trolls.

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Laila Eva and I decided to go check it out as well which may not have been my best plan. Lena came with us but got tired on the climb back up so I carried her on my shoulders. I got some interesting looks coming back up the hillside with my 20 week belly and toddler in tow.

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Then it was on to the Visitor Center for another short hike. The weather was gorgeous and it wasn’t horribly crowded so we were able to get some nice pictures. This little deer was hunting for snacks as we approached the trailhead and seemed completely unphased by all the cameras pointed in it’s direction.

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Lena had just about reached her hiking quota for the day so it took awhile to get her up the trail. She really wanted to wash her hands for some reason so my mom was a good sport and helped her rinse off on the side of the trail. I was getting crampy from carrying her up the last trail so my dad toted her around on his shoulders before heading back to the Visitor Center for some ice cream.

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Right before the end of the trail, we saw another beautiful wildlife specimen which Lena informed us was Sven, the reindeer from Frozen. She was pretty excited about this latest discovery especially as it was so close to us.

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We did a quick run through of the gift shop and picked up a Christmas ornament thanks to my mom. Then some ice cream and a family photo and we called it a day. It had been years since I’d been up to Mt. Rainier but the views are just as gorgeous as I remember. Hopefully, I’ll be a bit more agile my next visit so we can explore more of the park – though with two munchkins in tow that might be a bit ambitious!

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Pacific Northwest Paradise

Before we left for Washington, my cousin mentioned she would be teaching at a local preschool for the summer and they were holding different sessions themed around art and nature. I knew Lena would love it (and I was in desperate need of some kid-free time), so I signed up the Bacon Bit for the four day camp. Each day, the kids would head outside to the nearby nature reserve and learn all about colors, numbers, animals, plants, etc. I loved the idea as we had looked at enrolling Lena into a Forest School in England during our preschool search. I also knew she’d be well looked after by her Tante Laila and I would have five glorious hours each day to myself. Here’s the little munchkin all dressed up for her first two days; standing on the exact same steps as me on my first day of school. While she’s sporting a monogrammed lunch box rather than Barbie and The Rockers like I had, the amount of sass in this little package definitely matches that of her Mama.

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At the end of camp, Lena came home with all sorts of new artwork which is now proudly framed in her room. And since she had her own personal photographer on hand each day, I was lucky enough to get these great photos showing her hard at work getting all smart and grown up. I could seriously eat this kid, I love her so dang much!

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After the first day of preschool, we had a very tired toddler on our hands. I know my dad was in heaven here snuggling his oldest grand baby.

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The entire time we were home, the weather was absolutely perfect. So we got lots of sunshine and pool time which was heavenly. My parents had carefully picked out the perfect pool in anticipation of our arrival and had it all set up each afternoon so we could head outside and cool down. The foot picture cracks me up because we all have the infamous “Caspersen toe.” I’ve been mocked for this nubby excuse for a metatarsal my entire life and now, my own flesh and blood has started in on it. Every time Lena looks at my feet, she asks, “Mama! What happened?” and points to my littlest piggy. The funny this is, she has yet to realize the curse has been passed on to her as well!

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My hometown has changed and grown by leaps and bounds since I lived there so I was excited when my mom mentioned they were now holding outdoor summer concerts in the Harbor. We met up with Tricia and Grayson one evening for a quick listen to some live jazz and a visit with local sea life. I truly believe you’d have a tough time finding somewhere as beautiful as Gig Harbor on a warm summer evening. There’s a reason people put up with all the grey and rainy days and these pictures are the perfect illustration of that. The beauty and atmosphere is indescribable – and at times it feels like you’re in a movie because it’s so perfect. It definitely made me miss living there and got the wheels turning about where we might like to be stationed next or think about retiring once Jason is out of the Air Force. Time will tell!

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Lena’s Third Birthday – A Blue Party

Since Lena has never been able to celebrate a birthday with my side of the family, we decided to host a celebration in her honor while we were home even though it was a month before her actual birthdate. When I asked her what type of party she wanted, I fully expected her to respond with something that included animals and Frozen. However, she was adamant that she wanted a “blue party” and every time I asked her for clarification, she gave me the same response with increased annoyance and exasperation. Not entirely sure what she had in mind, I decided to just make all the decorations blue and crossed my fingers the birthday girl would like it. I sent out an email to our close family and friends and got to work making tissue paper puffs and streamers.

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Everyone was a good sport and wore blue much to the delight of my little munchkin. We kept it pretty simple with a backyard barbecue and a few toys for the kids.

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We even filled up the kiddie pool though the water was absolutely freezing. Apparently, the temptation was just too much and next thing we knew, Grayson and Lena had jumped in with all their clothes on. Luckily, it was a gorgeous night so we just stripped them down and let them enjoy themselves. Just a note to the two of you in the future however: your mamas do not want to hear of any skinny dipping at birthday parties past a certain age. You have been warned!

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The kids played football with Uncle Stein and Uncle Tor before heading inside for cake and presents. That’s my “little” brother on the left and yes, I can still beat him up despite him being a foot taller than me.

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Lena was super excited about blowing out the birthday candles this year which was fun as she didn’t quite grasp the concept last year. I can no longer light candles in the house because she demands I sing “Happy Birthday” to her as soon as she spots a flame. All my attempts at explaining the difference between a house candle and a birthday candle have just fallen on deaf ears.

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We opened an insane amount presents especially given the small number of people at the party. I’m not even sure where they all came from but the Bacon Bit was in heaven. Babies, books, and Frozen paraphernalia topped the list of her favorite things. My brother even drew her a custom poster with Princesses Anna and Elsa which elicited giant squeals of glee.

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It’s a bit surreal to think I sat in just about the same spot some 30 years before opening my birthday presents. I wish Jason could have been there to celebrate with us but luckily for the Diva, she’ll just get to have two celebrations this year. And if you want to see how much our little kiddo has changed in a year, you can check out her 2nd birthday party recap here.

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Lena, it’s crazy to think your birthday has come around again and you’re already THREE years old! You are definitely a baby no longer as evidenced by your giant vocabulary and even bigger personality. You’re one of the funniest people I know which delights me to no end but also brings it’s challenges in parenting you at times. Your comedic timing is impeccable and lately, when I ask you to do something you don’t like, you give me a giant sigh and tell me, “Ughhh!! You’re driving me nuts!” Touché’ little one, touché’. We’ve had a good summer together while Daddy has been away and even though we both miss him, you have been such a trooper through it all. On nights when Mama gets sad, you’re quick to offer me hugs and kisses and the other night, you even tried to nurse me telling me that “Lena milk” would make it all better. I guess you’ve been paying attention when I’ve talked about becoming a big sister and how the baby may cry and need Mama milk. I am excited to watch you step into this new role and I know you’ll do great because you just roll with the punches. Your Daddy and I love you beyond comprehension and could not be more proud of the little person you’re becoming. I hope you always remember our little mantra and that you hold it in your heart as truth: I am Lena and I am awesome; I can do anything! I am smart, I am strong, I am kind and I am beautiful. Yes, little chick, you are. You certainly are. Gratulerer med 3 års dagen; jeg elsker deg!

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More Norwegian than Norway – A Home Tour

I love reading blogs and have a few favorites that I frequent on a daily basis. Design Mom tops the list as there are always great links, thought provoking posts and my personal favorite: a feature called “Living With Kids.” Readers submit photos of their homes alongside a virtual interview by Design Mom herself; Gabrielle. I’m nosy by nature so getting to peek inside someone’s abode while learning about the reasons behind their decoration choices is pretty much the best, in my opinion. The styles and locations of the homes vary greatly so there’s always something new to discover.

While I was home visiting my parents, I thought it would be fun to document their house a la the Design Mom blog. My parents still live in my childhood home and over the past 30 years, have certainly made their mark on the place. I used to joke that I grew up in a museum and when you see the photos, I think you’ll agree that description is pretty accurate. All their design choices are very deliberate and for the most part, are either handmade or stem from the motherland. I actually think their place may be more Norwegian than Norway itself.

So without further ado, on to the grand tour!

Despite working full time and being in their 60’s, Mormor and PopPop (as Lena calls them) log a few hours a day tending to their beautiful yard. The hard work has definitely paid off as they have some of the most manicured landscaping in the entire neighborhood. One of the days we were visiting, we were even treated to a deer sighting as it took a leisurely walk through the grass and into the neighboring properties. The parental units are so detailed oriented, in fact, that even their tool shed has been decked out to match the house as well as the Scandinavian details echoed throughout the inside of their home.

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As soon as you walk through the front door, you see this hand carved bench made by my Grandpa Robert and painted by my dad. The hardwood floors were installed while I was in high school though certainly not out of necessity. My mom is such a diligent housekeeper that she had managed to keep cream colored carpets stain free and looking like new for TWENTY YEARS. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, Martha Stewart has nothing on my mom. The wooden couches have been appearing in family photos since my toddler days yet still look like new. All the hand painted furniture was done by my dad in his free time (read: when he wasn’t managing his own chiropractic clinic, going to art school, or spending time with his family). Everywhere you look, there are small details just waiting to be discovered from little trolls hanging down the clock to vintage wooden containers found at thrift stores and antique shops.

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The living room and dining room share an open space and here is where you might notice that my mom has an addiction to dishware. Every holiday or special occasion is celebrated with her blue and white Porsgrund pieces lovingly collected over many years. For the record, Mama, I call dibs on this in my inheritance package ;) There is no shortage of Iittala glass, copper teapots and pewter flower vases. And that’s just what’s on display. The treasures behind the rosemaled doors are endless. During my childhood, the dining room table was usually covered in violins, bows and Suzuki books as the sounds of Norwegian fiddle music floated through the air.

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From the entryway, you’re greeted by your reflection and a rooster perched atop the pantry as you make your way into the kitchen. Lena is constantly narrating her day so we had a great time saying hello to the various animals adorning the walls while staying with the grandparents. Rather than seeing a sometimes moody teenager like I used to, I noticed hints of my mom when I looked in that faithful old mirror. The kitchen appliances, backsplash and countertops have all been updated since I was a legal resident of the household but the kitchen table where I spent many hours doing homework is still in it’s place. I remember staring out the window dreaming about the day I’d leave and now I wait patiently to spot hummingbirds at the feeder much to the delight of my animal-loving toddler. Not ones to let a surface go unstyled, my parents have utilized all the space on top of their cabinets as well. The wooden candle holders are another PopPop creation; hand cut and painted by him to showcase the traditional Norwegian costume worn by his side of the family.

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Turning around, you’ll find the staircase where my brother tried to push me to my death at one point. We managed to break several of the closet doors in the house from our regular wrestling matches though the doors have long since been replaced. My parent’s room is probably the least decorated of the whole house yet is the most tranquil. Minimal decor with white on white bedding. My mom was gracious enough to let Lena and I sleep here during our visit home and I really wish there was some way I could have packed the entire bed set into my suitcase. The master bath has a skylight which provides beautiful natural light during the day. As a kid, I always imagined someone was peeking in on me taking a shower and would sometimes leave all the lights off so they couldn’t see me.

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My old bedroom has been converted to a guest room and when we arrived, my mom had set up my old American Girl doll (it was Kirsten, of course, because she’s Swedish) for Lena to play with. You can just make her out in the corner wearing a hand knit sweater by my Grandma Eva and sitting in a bed carved by my Grandpa Robert. For one birthday, my mom had even made some custom clothing for her complete with tiny buttons and lace all of which she had washed and pressed in anticipation of our arrival. On the dresser is my mom’s very first doll which was purchased in Norway. My grandma traveled back to see her family with my my mom, her twin and their older sister in tow – all by herself. Grandma Eva was also cloth diapering at the time and would have traveled for over 24 hours just to get home. It made my solo trip with Lena while pregnant look like a walk in the park. Though it is somewhat fun to think that I’m following in my grandma’s footsteps from the opposite direction – living in Europe and traveling home with my kiddos to meet their family. Inside the cabinet are more family treasures and staples of my childhood. Aside from carving beautiful furniture, my grandpa also loved creating characters out of wood – you can see everything from trolls to farmers and I used to love watching him create these pieces in his woodshop as a kid.

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My brother’s room has now become part office, part guest room and definitely has the coolest bed in the house. My dad created this Viking ship bed for him when he was little and I was insanely jealous of it though I never would have admitted it to him. I was a really, really weird kid at times and used to put my boogers in the dragon’s nose. Sorry Stein. Jealousy is an ugly beast. This room boasts the second out of three grandfather clocks my mom has at her house and I’m looking forward to the day when I get to display one of them in my house. My grandpa made one clock for each of his eight grandkids though all our moms seem to be hoarding them from us. I somehow lucked out with artists on both sides of the family as evidenced by this intricate cross stitch made by my paternal grandma, Beatrice. It was a birthday gift for my dad and I can’t even begin to imagine how many hours it took her to complete it. She was an amazing artist and if you were lucky enough to get your hands on a piece of her art, you would be hard pressed to tell which side of the cross stitch was the front. She definitely passed that meticulous eye for detail down to my dad.

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Down the stairs and past the kitchen is the last main room of the house which we always called the rec room. This used to be where we’d watch TV and play as kids. There were many slumber parties, wrestling matches and even an incident involving an attempted fart lighting which resulted in a burnt pair of pants that happened in this room. It’s now a small sitting area and my mom’s weaving studio. We grew up playing under this loom and helping my mom thread the warp. Lena played on it a bit and maybe as she gets older, she will want to learn to work the loom like Mormor.

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Out the back door is the “hytte” or Olaf’s house, as Lena has affectionately named it. My parents are pretty smart and figured out that if they stayed under a certain square footage, it wouldn’t require the permits needed for a full-blown structure. They wouldn’t be able to run electricity to it but they could run an underground extension cord from the house in order to plug in a CD player and electric stove. The exterior looks like a mini version of the main house with beautiful landscaping and details all around. Inside, there are bunk beds, a rocking chair and a small table for enjoying coffee or hosting a tea party with scones and clotted cream (specially made for a certain granddaughter visiting from England). As usual, my parents went above and beyond in decorating the interior and here you’ll find the third of three grandfather clocks, as I mentioned. It smells like Christmas in the hytte year round thanks to the pine covered interior. I foresee some special nights in here as the grandkids grow up and enjoy their very own playhouse at Mormor and PopPop’s place. And if you look closely, you’ll see one of the only American decorations in this entire collection – the snowman by the door. My parents were part of a home tour at Christmastime so all their rooms were dressed to the nines with holiday decor. My dad found this snowman at a local thrift store and they dressed him in my little brother’s old Norwegian hat and sweater. Knowing Lena’s love and affection for the movie Frozen, my mom thought she might enjoy pretending it was her very own Olaf. She guessed correctly and I imagine Lena will forever associate this snowy friend with her grandparent’s house.

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So there you have it! A little peek into my childhood home which perhaps provides some insight as to why I identify so much with my Norwegian heritage. While I was embarrassed from time to time in my childhood by our diehard pride of all things Scandinavian, I have to say it’s pretty amazing to know that my kids will grow up seeing this and learning about where they come from in such authentic surroundings. And as my mom likes to remind me, my brother and I will get to decide how to divide all of this up once she’s gone (morbid, yes). Though she’s quick to point out that we won’t be getting it until that day comes! Ever the Norwegian realist.

Lute Reunion 2014 – Part 2

For the second and final day of our reunion, we kicked off the festivities at one of our favorite Tacoma restaurants, The Rock. They have a huge selection of wood fired pizzas not to mention a great range of drinks on tap. In the olden days, we would host celebrations here, consuming their infamous Bucket drink before heading next door to listen to live music at The Swiss. While a few people in our group indulged in some adult beverages, the majority of our requests centered around glasses of milk, extra ranch dressing, and as many napkins as they could spare. Times, they are a-changing.

After a delicious lunch, several meltdowns (most of them by my little angel), and multiple potty breaks for the kids and pregnant women, it was off to Parkland; the home of meth labs and Pacific Lutheran University. I’m not exaggerating when I say that our school was planted in the middle of America’s armpit. Parkland’s glory days, if it ever had any, have long since passed and what’s left is a sad, dismal, and very run down community. While on campus, also known as the Lute Dome, it’s easy to forget where you are thanks to some beautiful landscaping and architecture. However, as soon as you step foot off school property, the reality of your surroundings hits you like the aroma of Tacoma. I’m fairly confident that our little college rental house was adjacent to one of the more active meth labs in town. The cast of characters that came in and out of that little blue shack was almost unbelievable and their antics entertained us to no end. From knife throwing contests, fights over stolen belongings to a woman jumping on the back of a car then being driven down the street, there was never a dull moment. I even had a chance to chat with one of the residents who informed me his name was Cowboy Wayne just after offering me a box of Lucky Charms produced from the large trash bag he was carrying around. Seriously. I couldn’t make this up if I tried.

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As we descended on campus, I couldn’t help but hang back and laugh at the scene in front of me. The stroller mafia had arrived. Tyler, ever the smart aleck, made sure to tell all the students we saw that “life sure comes at you fast.” They seemed unimpressed by his assessment while the rest of us laughed hysterically.

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The Lute Dome had undergone a massive face lift since our heyday and we barely even recognized the updated facilities. Gone was the old cafeteria and in it’s place was a fancy new restaurant. We wondered what excuse the current students would have to explain their freshman 15 weight gain given such fancy meal options. We had always told ourselves they covered the lettuce in calories so the anorexic girls wouldn’t starve to death. And that’s why we’d gained weight despite eating salad with each meal. It obviously wasn’t the half gallon of ranch dressing on top, the cinnamon toast for dessert or the swirl cones we had to have in order to be fueled up for the walk back to our dorm!

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Luckily, not everything had changed and the Chris Knutzen room was still intact. This was the infamous location of the freshman orientation dance where the stars aligned and our friendship was formed. Ashley treated us to her signature dance move in honor of being on such holy ground and then we did a poopy diaper change in the hallway because kids.

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Next it was downstairs to the Scandinavian Cultural Center. I had never planned to attend PLU as it was so close to home and my family had been volunteering there for so many years that I felt I’d already explored all it had to offer. As luck would have it, my first few months at PLU coincided with a cultural center exhibit all about my family. So there were childhood photos of me wearing my Norwegian costume and playing my fiddle plastered all over the bottom floor of the University Commons building. It was great because any new friends I met at college could just go to the Center and see the most embarrassing photos of my childhood. Not wanting to miss a photo opportunity, the stroller mafia insisted I get a picture in front of the Scandinavian flags. We attempted a group shot as well with fairly vocal protests from Lena, Emmett and Eden.

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Carlee and Chenda bonded over their roles as Diversity Center advocates and as Dino likes to remind us, this was also where Carlee tried to convince Chenda he was a bad choice for her. Aside from being one of the only male nursing students, Dino was also infamous for an incident involving a water fountain and some choice body parts. Luckily, Chenda didn’t listen to Carlee’s sage advice as the world would be missing two of the cutest girls you’ve ever seen – Kennedy and Reagan.

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Ashley’s old workplace had long since been remodeled but we did reminisce fondly of her stellar work ethic in the Games Room. I’m not actually sure how she stayed employed as she tried to call in sick with some of the lamest excuses I’ve ever heard. In the absence of the game room, we snapped a photo of The Cave – home to various talent shows and campus parties including our first Halloween where Ashley dressed in hair-print hammer pants and toted around a giant boom box.

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To finish up our reunion tour, we posed for photos in front of our old dorms and even attempted to break into Dino’s room. Ashley noticed the screen was loose and within minutes, had it removed despite Carlee’s protests. It was good to see some things hadn’t changed. And yet, things had changed as evidenced by this photo of our former wild child Cali girl breastfeeding her son in front of Foss Hall. I think I speak for the entire group when I say this is a sight none of us ever thought we’d see (love you, Smash!).

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I am so thankful I got to see all these friends again and am still grinning at the thought of how far we’ve all come. Dino and Chenda, thank you so much for opening your home up to all of us. I don’t blame you for making Noah sleep outside in a tent because he is kinda hairy, has a faint scent to him and would probably have scared your children in the middle of the night. Carlee and Ty, I am sincerely hoping Logan grows up to be a modern dance enthusiast just so Tyler is forced to sit through more performances. Ashley, you’ve been blessed with the world’s most laid-back child and are doing an impeccable job at being his mama. It’s so cool to see you in this new grown up role but I’m also glad that old crazy Ash is still in there, too. Noah and Annie, I can’t wait to see what your little bun in the oven will look like. I have no doubts you’ll be great parents despite all our jokes at Noah’s expense. Also, Noah, way to land a hottie who’s also super athletic. I’m kinda impressed. And finally, Dave and Ashley, a big congrats on the birth of Harrison! I’m sure he will be well-loved by his big brother and sister not to mention be a brainiac with both of you as his parents. Love you all; time to start planning the next reunion!

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