Our Trip Home


| Monday, 27 July 2015
Most expats that only make it to their home country yearly (or less) will tell you those trips are hardly relaxing.  It's often a marathon of trying to see as many people as possible, eating everything you've been missing and running errands.  You collapse onto the airplane wishing you had a holiday from your holiday.

To make things even more interesting, my family and Joe's family live a mere 1300 kilometres from each other - too far to drive with very limited time yet still at least 2 flights and a half day of travel via air.  It's always a dilemma.  How do we get to see both sides equally, still having time to visit friends and other cities we enjoy while battling jet lag and now with a baby who generally detests his car seat? This year, I proposed something different.

My family ended up renting a lovely vacation home in Kelowna, a gorgeous little city in the Okanagan Valley which also happens to be in the same province as Joe's parents.  It was win-win.  The St Johns holidayed together, we finally made it to Joe's hometown (our first time in 2 years) and we didn't have to traipse across three provinces.  The trip was so much more relaxed for Joe and I too.  We felt like we vacationed, not just visited and having my family with us in Kelowna also meant that we could sneak away here and there for some time, just the two of us (yay grandparents!)  I wish we could have added an extra week onto both sides of the trip but I suppose that is always the case - the time goes far too fast.

Around Here: Summer Travel Plans


| Thursday, 2 July 2015

Well, sorry for the radio silence around these parts.  If you were picturing a sleep deprived new Mom struggling to string more than a few words together let alone a blogpost, you were partially right.  But lately, there's been a little more sleep (yay) and a lot of just regular life around here.  We've been finding our groove, settling into a schedule and when I'm not chasing Jasper around, I'm putting my feet up and enjoying some mindless entertainment (read: TV.)

This week we're preparing for travel!  Jasper is about to make his third trip to the motherland.  I'm so excited for our family to see him - he has changed so much since we were home in March and he's so fun now!  That being said, I'm a little nervous about the long flight.  While Jasper is no rookie (he's taken something like 17 flights,) he is now so much more active and we all know there's not a lot of room to spare in economy seats.  Along with his increased mobility, he's also much more aware of the world which is usually pretty fun but a bit of a nightmare when he needs to sleep anywhere other than a dark room.  If there's something going on around him, he wants in on it.  Keep us and our fellow passengers in your thoughts on Friday.

We are spending a week in a holiday home, complete with a pool, in British Columbia's Okanagan.  Temperatures are supposed to be in the mid-thirties, we'll be surrounded by wineries, orchards, a lake, and my immediate family.  It couldn't be more perfect.  Afterwards, the three of us will spend a weekend on the outskirts of Vancouver with Joe's family before flying North to Joe's hometown for the remaining week.

We've just started thinking about our final big trip of the year which we're hoping to plan around Jasper's first birthday at the beginning of October.  The South of France is in the lead (we're undecided between inland Provence or Côte d'Azur.)  But, there are so many places that have popped up from Iceland to Malta.  I'm more keen to find some sunshine before the long, dark, Norwegian winter sets in.  We'll have about 6 days - any suggestions or thoughts?

Tell me, what are you looking forward to this summer?

(While I likely won't be blogging in July, you're welcome to follow along on Instagram.)

Celebrating 32 in Copenhagen


| Saturday, 27 June 2015
Birthdays in my early to mid-twenties were rarely celebrated in a big way.  The timing, while wonderful as a child, coincided with University friends off making as much money as they could in our months off and later, in the final weeks of teaching which truly is the most exhausting, trying time of a teacher's scholastic year.  There was either no money or no energy to ring in another year in a grand way.  I've made up for it in recent years.

My 29th birthday was at the tail end of our time in Gabon and was spent with wonderful friends, sipping champagne and killing mosquitoes around our pool.  My 30th birthday was a grand affair staying at the luxe Waldorf Astoria on the edge of the gardens of Versailles.  31 was a long weekend in London.  These traveling celebrations, while lovely, had to come to an end at some point and 32 seemed to be the year for it.  As the day approached, I told Joe all I wanted was him to come home early and bring dinner and I genuinely would have been happy with just that.

But, imagine my surprise, when Jasper and I passed by our mailbox and inside sat a card with my name, without postage.  The card, a Norwegian children's card, stated:

How about Copenhagen?

I could not wipe the smile off my face.  My husband, as much as I love the guy, is not a gift giver.  He is also not the travel planner in our relationship so while I really looked forward to the trip, the effort and planning that went into this surprise meant the most to me.
I had spent an afternoon in Copenhagen a couple of years ago and Joe has been in and out for work but both of us were really looking forward to spending more time in the city.  We didn't have an itinerary or even a wish list of what we wanted to do aside from just explore at an easy pace.  In fact, I find our travel style has continued down this path as of late.  Gone are the jam packed days of sightseeing as we spend our time wandering with hardly a plan in place.  We were headed this way as it was but the addition of a baby maybe pushed us into it a little further.  A slow, flexible rhythm is easier on all of us and sometimes just being in a new place, letting it permeate a little, observing and experiencing is even more valuable than working from a checklist. 
It was nice.  Copenhagen was comfortable, being quite similar to our lifestyle in Norway.  We had great weather, a treat in itself after our awful Spring in Stavanger.  What we did do: we walked through the Botanic Gardens and over to Rosenborg Palace (without going in,) we bought juice at the Big Apple, meandered through Freetown Christiania and pondered life in a commune (next time, I'm definitely taking a guided tour,) we lounged in a perfect little park behind the library, people watched along Nyhavn and drank beers and played cards in our suite while Jasper slept.

 I couldn't have asked for a better way to celebrate 32.  Thank you Joe!

Oh Croatia


| Monday, 13 April 2015
Croatia has been at the top of our travel list for quite some time.  It seemed that every person we spoke to who had travelled there, raved about it.  We heard that it was beautiful, reasonably priced and the people were welcoming and friendly.  It was certainly all of that and more.

This was our first big trip as a family of three.  Sure, we had crossed that Atlantic twice before but once we arrived at our destination, we were fairly stationary.  We'd stay mostly at our families' homes, eat our meals there and have lots of hands to help when we needed it.  This was going to be much different.  We'd have 10 days of constant travel.  Jasper would be out and about with us for most of the day and sleeping in different spots as we went.  We knew this was going to be a big challenge for him (and us!) and because of that, our travel planning was a bit more relaxed.  We wanted to be careful not to over schedule nor spread ourselves, especially Jasper, too thin.

The trip was a complete success and it reinforced our hope that travel with a baby is completely possible.  In fact, I might even venture to say that Croatia was the perfect place to take an infant.  The Croats love babies!  I couldn't tell you how many times servers would ask to hold Jasper while we ate dinner.  Certainly, they were wanting us to enjoy our meal but they genuinely seemed to want to interact with our son too.  People on the streets and other patrons of cafes would make all sorts of faces at Jasper hoping for a smile.  Keys would be jingled, tongues clicked and baby talk whispered.  Jasper loved all the attention and was fascinated by all of the new faces.

The country itself - stunning.  That crystal clear water of the most brilliant hues, the mountains plunging into the sea, vineyards and orange trees and ancient walled fortresses - one couldn't ask for a better landscape.  We stuck to the Dalmatia region visiting Split, Zadar, Plitvice Lakes, Dubrovnik and the island of Korčula but I can almost guarantee we'll be back to explore more.  Croatia, you were lovely and this trip will hold a special place in our hearts as the home of our first family vacation.



Plitvice Lakes

Somewhere along the A1



Having Babies in Norway


| Monday, 2 March 2015
Prior to moving abroad, everyone I knew gave birth in Canada and while I personally hadn't gone through the process, I had a general idea of what pre and postnatal care looked like there.  Once I stepped into the expat lane, I was fascinated by all of the countries my new friends had given birth in, regardless of where they're originally from.  From South Korea to France to Dubai, it was interesting to me (even pre-pregnancy) as to how it all went down.  Sure, giving birth is giving birth no matter where you are but each culture brings it's own set of methods.  Norway is no different.  While there are similarities to what I might be familiar with, there are also differences.

On Prenatal Care…
+Midwifery is alive and well in Norway.  In fact, the majority of all babies are delivered by midwives in hospitals without a physician present.  Pregnant women have the choice to use their regular GP (fastlege,) a midwife or a combination of the two for their prenatal care but most doctors will strongly recommend you visit the midwife at least once as they are considered the experts on labour and delivery.

+Pregnancy is treated much less like a medical condition and much more like a normal part of life.  Like many aspects in the Norwegian healthcare system, common sense prevails.  Many tests that are routinely run in North America aren't even mentioned here.  I didn't have a glucose test and strep b was never brought up.  My iron levels were checked with a finger prick a couple of times and I was required to bring a urine sample to every appointment.  I had blood drawn once.  Despite this, maternal mortality rates are one third of the United States and nearly half of Canada.  The same goes for infant mortality rates.  Medical intervention during labour is also much less common.

+There are also private midwives and private physicians that you may choose to go to for care.  Of course, there is cost involved as they are not part of the regular healthcare scheme.  Also, at the hospital, the person that delivers your baby is the person on call regardless of who you've seen for your entire pregnancy.

On Labour…
+Almost all women give birth in hospitals in Norway.  (Home births, at least in this region, are quite rare. I've also never heard of any birthing centres.)  In the Stavanger hospital, there are two places in which one may give birth.  The first is the 'birthing loft' which is for uncomplicated, normal pregnancies and is completely run by midwives and baby nurses.  It is recommended that all women start there unless their situation requires closer medical attention.  Should a situation arise, or should the labouring woman want an epidural, they would be transferred to the first floor.  There really isn't much difference between the two other than the fact that the first floor is outfitted with more medical equipment and there is a physician consulting with the midwives regularly.  My midwife explains that both the doctors and the midwives work very well together and rely on each other and their expertise to assist the labouring women.

+In Stavanger, mothers and babies stay in the hospital for 3 nights after a normal delivery.  There is a hotel within the hospital with an entire floor dedicated to maternity.  Depending on room availability, fathers and other family members may also check in.  The rooms are exactly like a hotel room except they include a large changing table in the washroom and a nursing station is located at the end of the hallway.  Midwives and baby nurses will check on you several times daily and are a phone call away should you need anything.  There was also a standard itinerary for each day including learning to bathe your baby and other health tests for the infant.  The stay is cost-free for mothers but other family members pay for their stay and food.

On Cost…
+The government literally pays you to have children.  Every baby born in Norway is entitled to a Lump-Sum Benefit (including mine!)  In 2014, the sum totalled over 38 000 kroner or over $6000 CAD.  This is to help take care of the extra costs associated with having a child.  The payouts don't stop there.  One also receives 970 kroner per month ($160) until the child turns 18.

+Speaking of money, prenatal care is also completely covered under the national healthcare scheme.  As soon as you are officially pregnant in the eyes of the system, you don't even have to pay the nominal fee per appointment.

On Parental Leave…
+Norway has a very generous parental leave.  One chooses between taking 49 weeks at 100% pay or 59 weeks at 80% coverage.  There are some regulations as to how the leave can be used (read about it here) but essentially, both the mother and the father are entitled to some time off after the arrival of a new family member.

+It is quite common for Dads to take a substantial amount of paternity leave.  During the day, I see many men pushing prams and collecting groceries.

+Breastfeeding is highly encouraged and very common in Norway.  Breastfeeding in public is also very common and I've never seen a woman use a cape or cover.

+When mother and baby return home, a visit from a health sister will be set up.  She'll come to your home to check in with you and go over the schedule of appointments and wellness checks for your baby.  She'll speak to you about your labour and make sure that any concerns are addressed or will direct you to the appropriate venues.

+High-end strollers and prams are the average here.  Bugaboo, Emmaljunga and Stokke are the most popular on the streets.  More affordable car seat/stroller options aren't even really available here.  I assume with the cash benefits, people are more willing to spend greater amounts on baby gear.

I had nothing but a positive experience being pregnant and giving birth in Norway.  I have even joked that should we decide to expand our brood in the future, we might have to move back.

I'm curious - have you or someone you know given birth abroad? What was the experience like?  (IE, if Norway isn't in the cards, where should I move next?)
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