Our Norwegian Home

Wednesday 31 October 2012

In case you missed it:

{Note: As previously mentioned, our company gives us a budget for housing.  It is meant to allow us the same standard of living we would have at home.  In this case, it was substantial and on par.  In Gabon, we struggled to find something acceptable for the budget we were given.}

We were really excited at the prospect of Norwegian housing.  Having looked at hundreds of listings, we knew we'd find something we'd be happy with.  Early on, we decided to focus on apartments.  With it being just the 2 of us, we wanted something manageable and we knew we'd be able to find a really great apartment within our budget.

-*2 bedrooms* (second bedroom must be big enough for a double or sofa bed.)
-*in-suite laundry*
-*furnished* (it didn't need to be perfect but we wanted something that suited our style)
-*close to centre or easy access via public transit*
-outdoor space
-grocery store nearby

{*denotes a deal breaker*}

In our first round of apartment hunting, we found several places that fit the bill but one clearly stood out.  As you know, we hit a bump in the road and figured we had lost the apartment but everything came together in the end and we are so happy to be calling this apartment home!

+ 99 m2 (including terrace)
+ 2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom
+ underground parking
+ furnished
+ insuite laundry

I really love the layout of the apartment and all of the space is used wisely.  The large windows let in enormous amounts of light and of course, that giant terrace is the icing on the cake.

We're mainly settled in but now the challenge is putting our own touches around the apartment.  We've bought a few things for the terrace but I still have a large box full of pictures and decorative items packed away until we find a bookcase to showcase them.  I'd also love a new rug for the living room (the cowhide isn't my thing.)  We couldn't be happier with our apartment and we really hope to welcome a few visitors from home!

Househunting in Stavanger

Monday 29 October 2012

The moment we started considering Norway as a possible home, the first thing I was concerned with was the housing.  For the expat housewife, this is one of the most important things about a new location.  We want something that suits our tastes and that will feel like home.  Afterall, while Joe goes off to work, I'll be spending a lot of time at home by myself so I, especially, need to feel comfortable there.

Let me preface the rest of this post with a few of things...
---Our company provides us with a relocation agent (sometimes within the company and sometimes a third party) to assist us with finding a home.
---Our company also pays for our housing and we are given a budget to work with.
---We last lived in Gabon and had housing drama from day 1 including insufficient electricity to robberies to something breaking almost every single week.  We were ecstatic with the standard of living in Norway and would have been able to live in any one of the places we looked at.

Stavanger's real estate market is intense as with most cities who are home to a thriving industry housing thousands of expats.  It boasts some of the most expensive rental property in the country ahead of Oslo & Bergen because it's the hub of the oil & gas industry and thousands of expats with big salaries are continually arriving.  Pair that with large companies willing to pay large rental bills and the average prices continue to rise.

From Gabon, we started scouring Finn.no.  Finn is basically Norway's online classified section where one can advertise and list just about anything.  We were told that 99% of all real estate listings would be listed on Finn and while some get insider tips from elsewhere, we solely worked off that website.  It was impossible to do anything but research before we actually visited Stavanger.  First, we wanted to know and see the neighbourhoods and houses before we settled on something and second, it's rare for a landlord to rent to you without meeting you.  So, research we I did.  I looked at hundreds of listings, learned the layout of the city and read neighbourhood reviews before we even set foot in Norway.

By the time July rolled around and we had made the move, we knew what to expect for our budget and had a few neighbourhoods we wanted to investigate.  I began emailing Finn listings to our real estate agent and she set up the viewings for us.  While the process was sort of similar to what we were used to in Canada, there were a few differences:

---Even though we were looking mainly at apartments, it was always individual landlords who were leasing out their properties.  Not once did we look at a building owned by one company with a superintendent.
---We had to be prepared to be fairly transparent when it came to our personal lives.  The landlords showed us the apartment but they also treated it like an interview.  Salary, future plans and family situation were all on the table.
---While they expect us to be transparent, they are too.  We had landlords telling us things we weren't even asking about and occasionally they were negative.  (This apartment is hard to heat and therefore cold in the winter.  There is a 3 year old child above this apartment. etc.)
---It's not necessarily first come, first served.  The landlord will continue meeting with potential tenants until they feel they have someone they want to rent their property to.
---It certainly helped to have a company guarantee.  Without it, landlords will ask for several months of rent upfront and they'll be much more critical of your financial situation.
---The majority of rental properties in Stavanger come furnished and many of the landlords are very accommodating to change pieces of furniture or add things you think you might need.  Friends of ours got a new bed, a BBQ and a blender written into their lease agreement.  We had our landlord remove the bunk-beds in the spare room and replace them with a sofa bed.
---We were able to negotiate all of our utilities into our lease.  High-speed internet, cable TV, gas, electricity & water are all included in our rental price.

Aside from our own problems, we found the process fast-paced, a little stressful but also completely predictable.

Stay tuned for a tour of the apartment - you just might get to see more than that terrace I keep teasing you with! 

Inspire Language Learning Contest

Monday 29 October 2012

Remember THIS POST - The Story Behind My Second Language?

It's entered into a contest and I could potentially win some cool Apple products.  In order to make it to the next round, I need your help.

If you would be so inclined, I'd love for you to CLICK ON THIS LINK and hit the "Like" beside my name.

Your support would be greatly appreciated!

The Art of Making Friends

Friday 26 October 2012

Sunset in our neighbourhood

When we're young, we tend to make friends quite easily.  Our biggest commitment is school and let's face it, a lot of school is about social interaction.  As we get older, it starts to get a little more difficult. We have spouses and commitments and that takes away time from our friendships.  Some of our best friends move away or we move and things change.

I grew up in the same town and went to school with the same people from kindergarten through graduation.  It was impossible not to know everyone in town.  Upon graduation, I chose to go to a university that my friends weren't going to but I lived in residence and made some really great friends - in fact, some of my best friends (including my husband.)  Then we all moved away to pursue our careers. I started in another small town and after awhile, made a few friends at the school I was teaching at and as I was feeling comfortable there, the decision was made to move 7 hours North to be with Joe.  Again, I had to make all new friends.  With each move, it got a little harder.  The older I got, the more commitments I had and the same went for potential peers.  I also became a little pickier about my friends - I wanted people I connected with, who had similar interests, someone that I could hold conversations with and feel like I could be myself.

And then we moved to Gabon.

It took me about a month before I met my first English speaking friend in Port Gentil.  The next week, she took me to a group event and slowly but surely, friendships started forming.  Port Gentil is small and while the expat community is pretty large, by the end, I felt like I knew or knew of most of the other women in town.  The majority of us didn't work and had nothing but time on our hands to have coffee, go to the beach, and plan soirées.  I made some pretty unlikely friends in Gabon - people I would never imagine myself connecting with on many levels - but we needed each other.  Gabon was hard on all of us and having people that actually understood all that we were going through was essential.

Now, we're in Norway and I find myself wanting to connect with other people - to make some friends.  It's a bit more difficult here.  Some of the women work and there are loads of things to do in town from shopping to yoga to language classes.  I don't have a job that connects me with other people and I don't have children that will make friends so that I can be friends with their parents.  It's solely up to me.

This week I decided to put myself out there.  I went to a movie with the women's group, I did the field trip to Stavanger Glassblåseri, I sent emails about yoga classes and book clubs all in the name of making friends.  It takes a lot of work to connect with other people when we don't have forced interaction and unfortunately, I don't think I'm going to make any friends having a latte on my terrace.

Eventually, it will happen but it's going to take some of effort.

Where have you had the most success making friends?

{Loved this article on making friends as an adult}

Stavanger Glassblåseri

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Yesterday, I took a little field trip to Stavanger Glassblåseri with INN (International Network of Norway.)  They organise different activities throughout the month to help new arrivals settle into life in Stavanger.  Sometimes they're fun activities, like yesterdays, and sometimes they are more practical, like learning Norwegian traffic rules.  In any case, this activity was free unless you chose to pay the 300 NOK to try your hand at making a small glass fish.

Our small group was introduced to Trine Sundt, the in house artist.  Within the hour, she made 2 wine glasses and a small bowl to model the process of glass blowing.

Everything revolves around the oven - it runs 24 hours a day, 7 days of week and she typically uses 1 tonne of gas per month!  Once that small white door was removed, the room quickly heated up and the fires were raging inside.

It's a continual process of rolling, shaping, cooling, adding and forming using a variety of tools all of which was fascinating to watch.

She makes a variety of pieces all of which are for sale in her shop.  (Interesting fact: The Norwegian government only considers it as 'art' if it doesn't have a specific use.  Basically, everything Trine makes is 'useful' and thus pays 25% tax on everything that is sold.)


Monday 22 October 2012

Living directly on the equator meant we didn't have seasons (aside from rainy & dry.)  While we definitely enjoyed a year round summer, it was difficult to gage the time of year.  This year, Norway has brought Fall and I'm welcoming it with open arms.  I love the crisp air, the falling of leaves and all of those hues of red, green, yellow & orange.

(Sorry, I only had my iPhone with me yesterday!)

Instagram: cjstjohn

Now if only we could have a little more of this and a little less of winter!

Travel Plans

Friday 19 October 2012

Certainly, one of the best parts about being an expat is the ability to travel.  Being in Europe, we are just a couple of short flights away from so many countries.  This year, we saved all of Joe's holidays so we'd be able to take a few trips once we got to Norway and now that 2012 is rapidly coming to an end, it's time to explore!

Berlin has been my number one city to visit in Europe for some time now.  I am utterly fascinated by it's history and having read books with Berlin as the backdrop, I can't wait to see the city with my own two eyes.  We will be spending four days here at the beginning of November.

Photo courtesy of Nicole

Prague is at the top of Joe's list of cities to visit.  I think it may have something to do with the beer but I can't be certain.  In any case, we keep hearing amazing things about this city and we'll get to spend five days in the Czech Republic.

Photo via

By mid-December, it will have been 18 months since Joe has set foot on Canadian soil and we have a brand new niece to meet, family to visit, and Christmas treats to eat.  After we celebrate Christmas with both of our families, Joe and I hope to take off to spend a quiet New Years together.  We've had a couple of ideas and have pondered a bit of time on the West coast and perhaps Washington state but we haven't settled on anything quite yet.  After 3 weeks in North America, it'll be time to return to Norway.

The next couple of months will have us jet-setting all over the place but we're so happy to be able to explore and travel while we're abroad.  You, dear readers, did such a fantastic job recommending things for us to see and do in Brussels, we'd love your thoughts again.

Do you have any must-dos, must-sees and restaurant recommendations for Berlin or Prague?


Wednesday 17 October 2012

During the week, Joe gets up at 6 to leave by 7.  I get up with him and see him off to work.  I've never been much of a morning person but I can't help be wooed by them here.

These days, the sun is rising late as the days get shorter.  Instead of drifting back off to sleep for an hour, I've been staying up to watch the sunrise.  It's quiet & peaceful and the perfect companion to a cup of tea.

The Story Behind My Second Language

Monday 15 October 2012

Awhile ago, I was approached by Kaplan International Colleges about participating in their Inspire Language Learning Blog Challenge and this being a topic close to my heart, I decided this was a topic I'd love to cover on my blog.

inspire language learning

I'd love to say that I had some sort of master plan when it came to learning a second language, but alas, I was not quite so organized.  You see, in Canada, it's mandatory for every student to receive some French language education being that it is one of our official languages.  I, like many grade 4 children, looked forward to this class in hopes of being able to speak a secret language that neither of my parents would understand.  Little did I know, it would take a lot more work and time than a lesson per week and that those secret conversations weren't going to exist until I was well out of my parent's house.

While it's mandatory to take a few years of French as a Second Language, students have the option of dropping the class as they get older and my classmates began dropping like flies but I decided to stick with it.  The progress was slow but I liked the class and I hoped that at some point, I might become fluent enough to hold a conversation.  It made sense to take French as my language requirement in University and when that went well, I enrolled for second year classes and then I had 12 out of 18 credits needed for a minor.  Again, it was logical to continue.

I didn't see the full benefits of my perseverance until after I completed my degree in Education.  As my fellow graduates were scrambling over a handful of jobs, my French minor landed me my first teaching job.  It was now my place to inspire school kids in Western Canada, where French is not widely spoken, to keep learning.  I listed all of those benefits in the info-graphic above (minus the 'sexy' stuff) but it was hard to get them to buy in at such a young age.  I knew that my second language had done me well and I hoped it would for my students too.

When my husband was offered a global position within his company, I had no idea just how thankful I'd be to have French as a second language.  A move to Gabon on the West coast of Africa transplanted us in a French speaking country where finding anyone who spoke English was a challenge in itself.  I listened to my husband remark that perhaps he shouldn't have dropped out of French the second he was permitted and I smugly grinned that my perseverance would pay off yet again.

While we've since departed Gabon and my French language skills aren't put to daily use, they continue to surprise me.  Recently, we found ourselves in a bit of a predicament in Brussels, Belgium when our car was locked in a parkade on a quiet Sunday morning and we had a F1 race to catch.  The security guard didn't speak English and the 3 gentlemen I was with did not speak French.  It was my stellar French skills that communicated our problem and ended up releasing our car from it's unintended imprisonment.

My second language has gained me numerous benefits when it comes to travel & career (and I'd like to think brain power too) that it's hard to argue which may be better than the other.  What I have learned is that it's difficult to plan ahead and it's impossible to know exactly where life is going to take us but I will guarantee that learning a second language will never hamper you and perhaps you'll be like me, it'll come in handy when you least expect it.

What's your language story?  

Øvre Holmgate

Friday 12 October 2012

One of my favourite, and most recognizable, streets in Stavanger is Øvre Holmgate.  Located in the downtown port, it is widely known as the colourful street.

Stavanger's downtown area is home to Northern Europe's largest concentration of wooden homes and the exterior colour of these homes is heavily moderated, and mostly painted white.  Øvre Holmgate itself dates back to the middle ages and while fire once devastated this entire area, it was rebuilt to it's historic charm in the 1800's.  While the rest of the city continued to develop, this area was left behind until one of the local business owners crafted an idea to liven up the street with a bit of colour.

Working with artist Craig Flannagan, a plan was born.  Each house was given 4 or 5 colours meant to harmonize with it's neighbours and this new colourful street was created and unveiled in 2005.  Now, it's home to trendy and eccentric shops and cafes and is one of the most photographed sites in the Stavanger region.

Why Do You Read?

Wednesday 10 October 2012

I'm a reader.

I always have been.  In fact, I can't think of a time where I didn't have a book on the go.  Perhaps that's why majoring in English was never a question.

I'll admit, I'm a bit of a snob when it comes to literature.  While I understand the desire to escape to an easy-read from the grocery store paperback selection where the author's name is bigger than the actual title of the book, I don't often do it.  I like good writing - writing that swirls around in my head creating the most vivid of pictures; writing that makes me think long after I've finished the book; writing that makes me question life, the world & myself.

While I do occasionally enjoy a feel-good book, I'm often most drawn to those a little darker.  My husband thinks it's a little morbid but I think it's realistic.  I was lucky enough to grow up in a lovely but uneventful and completely normal childhood where I didn't have to face a lot of the much more difficult circumstances people live through all over the world.  I'm constantly trying to understand humanity and I think to understand it, I have to look at all aspects of the world which includes those that are less pleasant.

I love books about other cultures, I love historical fiction but most of all I just love good writing.  I've compiled a list of some books that have resonated with me - ones that still have me thinking about them months or even years after first picking them up.

The Glass Castle {Jeanette Walls}
A Long Way Gone {Ishmael Beah)
Push {Sapphire}
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn {Betty Smith}
Sarah's Key (Tatiana de Rosnay}
Behind The Beautiful Forevers {Katherine Boo}
Beyond the Sky and the Earth {Jamie Zeppa}
Tisha {Robert Specht & Anne Purdy}
The Kite Runner {Khaled Hosseini}
A Thousand Splendid Suns {Khaled Hosseini}
Room {Emma Donoghue}
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time {Mark Haddon}
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas {John Boyne}
The Giver {Lois Lawry}
The Five People You Meet in Heaven {Mitch Albom}
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society {Marie Ann Schaffer & Annie Barrows}
In the Garden of Beasts {Erik Larson}
Harry Potter - all of them {J.K. Rowling}
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks {Rebecca Skloot}

While this list certainly isn't extensive, (it would go on for days if it was) they are books that pop into my head on random occasions; books that have taught me something.  They've inspired travel or further research.

I read to be inspired.  I read to learn & grow.

Why and what do you read?

Any must-reads to pass along?

{EXPATRIATED} Amanda from Marshalls Abroad

Monday 8 October 2012

Sometimes I get the impression that people think we are crazy for leaving all that we are familiar with for a life abroad but we aren't the only ones who have chosen this lifestyle.  In fact, there are a lot of us and many of us blog about it.  Expatriated is a series to introduce you to other expat bloggers.


While I'm making my way back to Norway after 2 weeks in Houston, we have Amanda from Marshalls Abroad on Expatriated today!

-Where are you from and where do you live now? 
I'm from Santa Barbara, California and my husband is from outside Denver, Colorado. We are living right now on the beautiful island of Okinawa, Japan.

-How did you end up in Okinawa and what inspired you to make the move? 
We're here for my husband's job. We wanted to move here so much, thinking, when else can we live on a subtropical island in Asia?!

-What is the best part of living overseas? 
The time and adventures together. We love our family and friends so dearly and miss them, but this time overseas, being so far away, has been amazing for our marriage and the challenges and blessings of being abroad has brought us closer than we've ever been before.

-What do you miss most about home (besides friends & family?) 
After friends and family, I honestly miss everything at Trader Joe's, most especially Two Buck Chuck! On a serious note though, we badly miss being there for family and friends during important seasons. It breaks our hearts every time we miss a wedding or birth.

-What has been the most difficult thing to adjust to in Japan? 
Japanese! Goodness it's a difficult language! Very few locals actually speak English. We are trying to learn as much Japanese as we can (as we should!) but it is slow going.

-Any funny 'whoopsies' while adjusting to your new life? 
Haha, where to even begin?! In this language and our attempts at speaking it, 'whoopsies' happen all the time. The first one that came to mind actually has to do with American friends we had just made. Cam and I decided to have a bonfire on the beach one night and invited a group of friends. I also sent a message to two couples we had just befriended that said, "We're having a spur of the moment on the beach if you guys want to come!" accidentally leaving out the key word, "bonfire." Haha. WHOOPSIE! You can imagine what they thought.. They never responded until about a week later when we were at their house and I brought it up. We laughed SO hard and to this day, still do.

-Saving graces?  (ie things that made life abroad easier) 
My wonderful husband. He's been so easy-going and adventurous, and together we completely believe we need to live this season as vibrantly and adventurously as possible while we have it. Also - our church and close girlfriends and my womens bible study every week. I learn over and over again that good girlfriends and fellowship are so important in every stage of life.

-What is the biggest lesson you've learned from your time in Okinawa? 
Slow down, live simply, enjoy life and be so thankful for every moment the Lord gives.

-If you had the chance to move elsewhere in the world, where would you go and why? 
We dream of living in Europe together, Eastern or Western. Though my husband might answer this question with the Middle East!

-Any advice for the newly expatriated? 
We're not actually expats since we're military, but I would recommend making the place where you're living (wherever or whatever it may be!) into a beautiful home that is both comforting and inviting and represents you; taking advantage of each day - whether it be diving into the culture, exploring the area or traveling; and being vulnerable enough to put yourself out there to make new friends and reach out to someone who needs a good friend. Also, I think it's important as a military wife to be as flexible as possible and be open to all sorts of home and work opportunities. The last thing I'd say is to be thankful for the amazing eye-opening opportunity to witness and experience another country! It is such a great and lasting blessing!


Thank you Amanda!

I will never tire of Amanda's beautiful photographs and while I have a pretty nice view off my terrace, I'm not sure anything can compete with hers!  Amanda also regularly posts her delicious and healthy recipes that will leave you drooling!  You can follow her journey in Japan on her blog.
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