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This isn’t a proper post, more of a compilation of what could have been…

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I’d planned a whole post on Linnea’s passion for bugs, but had to let that go. She just showed up for breakfast like this one morning. I hope she wasn’t too much of a distraction for her teacher or the other kids at school–she’d also done up her arms and legs in assorted insects and on her neck hung a bug suspended in hard resin.

 

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Niklas’ boss was in town and we took him on a long hike with a traditional Norwegian sporting lunch of hot dogs from a thermos. The intricacies of the Norwegian hot dog culture deserve a whole separate post, but, alas…

The Helly Hansen lady from the busstop invited us to the grand opening of the new HH flagship store on Karl Johan Gate, which was fun, but kids and champagne and fancy hors d’oeuvres don’t mix which meant I missed my chance to meet …

the coolest of cool guys from “moods of norway” who showed up because they’ve collaborated with HH on a wild line of ski wear. I would have loved to have met them in person and would have definitely made time for a whole post about them if I had!

If we hadn’t been moving out of our apartment a few days after President Barack Obama’s visit to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, I would have given a blow by blow commentary about how I took the kids down to the Grand Hotel to see him step out and wave to the crowd…

and how,  in a bad parenting moment, I lost Linnea and Mattias in this record breaking crowd of 10,000. Luckily, some nice Norwegian lady found them wandering down the street and brought them to the police and by some miracle, a woman from the school that I’d just happened to have called that morning on her cell phone so she had my number, recognized the kids and called me so I could find them easily…

and when all was said and done, this is the most of the President and First Lady we saw–their arms! It was sort of a Super Bowl moment–yes, it’s excitiing to be there in person, but the best view is usually in front of the television…

The box of fancy chocolates Mattias is holding is from a stranger who saw two little lost kids waiting with police officers and gave it to them just to be nice!

If it hadn’t been such a crazy busy fall, I would have shared more of the continuous and curious nature of Linnea’s fashion ensembles–again, a huge thanks to Jill and Anette for allowing this girl to express herself through their awesome hand-me-downs!

A friend of mine recently emailed and asked what we’ll miss most when we leave and what we’re looking forward to when we return. After pondering a bit, here’s what I’ve come up with…

What I’ll miss most

I’ll miss most the friends we’ve made. I came over with a list of projects I wanted to complete and not wanting to make friends so that I would have time to do them.  But, we were warmly welcomed into some special people’s lives and they made our time here so much more wonderful than I ever could have imagined!  We also loved getting to know and spend time with Niklas’ Norwegian family and being so close to Niklas’ Swedish family and our friends over on that side of the border.

Aside from that, I’ll truly miss living in such a beautiful, walkable, pedestrian friendly city with such great public transportation, which offers all the amenities of a big city, yet so much magnificent nature in and around it as well. It’s an incredible combination that makes Oslo unique amongst capital cities and has truly enamored us.

I’ll also miss the “life happens outside” culture here. It doesn’t matter how big or small your house or apartment is or what kind of car you drive or even if you have one. What’s important to Norwegians are the adventures you are creating for your life. Are you training for a ski race, marathon, climbing mountains, hiking, traveling, learning something new–this goes for everyone, all ages, no exceptions. When you do spend time indoors, it’s about creating a cozy environment and cooking extra special food to share with friends.

What I’m looking forward to most about returning

Obviously seeing our American family and friends tops the list. Also just the ease of living, where the kids walk a block to school, I know how to work the government, sports, grocery and highway systems, where the front door is always open and kids are coming and going, and of course my garden, composting worms, and definitely the library!

One thing I think will be interesting to see is how removing the timeline will affect us. On the one hand, it’s been fascinating living with a “deadline”. It forces you to get out and explore, travel, take advantage of every opportunity to just experience “X”, whatever that may be. It’s also made us so much more social than we were at home. On the other hand, there is a lot of pressure to “use your time wisely” and it will be nice to just hang out and putter around the house and garden.

Curiously, many of the things I’ll miss and look forward to are one in the same. For example, I’m looking forward to our yard and garden, but I’ll miss the extra time not having to maintain a yard and garden. I’ll love being in a house again where the kids can spread out and run around without disturbing anyone, yet I’ll truly miss the cozy living an apartment provides and how safe I feel up on the second floor. It will be great to have the freedom a car provides, yet I’ll miss walking, biking or taking the bus around town. I’m soooo looking forward to Trader Joes, Costco, and Whole Foods and all the wonderful varieties of fruits and vegetables, yet I’ll miss how convenient it is to walk across the street to a tiny grocery where a) you’re only buying food for the day and b) you don’t need to spend time deciding between 15 different kinds of toothpaste because the selection is so limited. I’m looking forward to going to the gym when it’s convenient for me since it’s open 24 hours, yet I’ll miss the complimentary candlelight cappuccinos and breakfast at my gym here.

So that’s about it for a quick wrap up of our fall. There’s so much more to say and post about, but this is it for me. The Moe family has left Norway and is celebrating the holidays with Niklas’ family in Sweden before our return to the US. So let me take this opportunity to say…

 

We wish you a Very Happy and Joyful Holiday Season!

Mattias, Joakim, Linnea, Susan and Niklas  

ISTANBUL

Niklas and I have a history with Istanbul: Back in 1998, we Eurorailed for a couple of months before he started working for Microsoft. At one point, we ended up in Budapest, which at the time, seemed so despondent, dreary, and decrepit. While we enjoyed learning about the city and taking a cruise up the Danube, we thought we’d escape the grey and grime and trek down to Turkey since we were so close.

We loved our time in Istanbul! It felt like we’d traveled back in time. It was thrilling to be in such a radically different environment and culture and to learn about their incredible history. The conditions were tough, though, and when we landed again in Budapest, it felt like we’d returned to a wealthy, dynamic, progressive, organized place with paved streets, tall buildings with windows in tact, and where driving laws existed and were abided. It was the best lesson in the power of perspective!

Flash forward to present time. The kids’ school was closed on a recent Friday so we booked a last minute trip to Istanbul. We only wanted to invest the time, energy and expense to go some place truly different than any other European city before we head back to the states; where we could learn about a different culture and see life from a different perspective.

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Imagine my surprise when we arrived and found this!

Last time we were here, poverty was prevalent, but during the past decade or so, the wealth factor has skyrocketed! Last trip, we could have traded our North Face jacket for a beautiful Turkish rug or antique; now there are at least two North Face stores where anyone can simply walk in and purchase a jacket. Not only do they now have all the stores of any European or American city, many of the traditional rug shops have been replaced with high-end jewelery stores.

Nothing against Starbucks, but why on earth would the Turks, who have such a long coffee tradition need a Starbucks?! And not just one, but many, all around the city!? Oslo doesn’t even have a Starbucks. Last trip, we drank the traditional Turkish coffee in tiny cups filled halfway with grounds and sugar; this trip, we never found it… Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled for the Turkish people that their standard of living has improved so dramatically. It’s just that I question whether the entire world needs to be drinking the same coffee, eating the same fast food, and buying  the same clothes.

They still had their sweet tea, though! Whew!

Since we had paper pictures from our 98 trip, I’d done a scrapbook album and in it I wrote that should an earthquake hit Istanbul, the destruction would be devastating. One year later, that’s exactly what happened.

But clearly, they’ve rebuilt. This cafe scene could be from any European city. All the new and restored buildings have intact windows and are standing tall and straight and proud! There are roads and lanes and traffic lights everywhere now and the traffic flows in an orderly manner. They even have a new tram system and modern buses. Last time we feared for our lives whenever we were in a taxi or on a bus–a crash in that chaotic, lawless environment probably wouldn’t be survivable. This time, we were just uneasy because there were no back seat belts for our precious cargo, but the traffic ebbed and flowed in an orderly manner.

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The city planners deserve kudos. Rather than just quickly paving a bunch of roads as they reconstructed the city, they chose to install cobblestones in many areas, especially around the old town, which compliments the historical energy of the place and of course adds a degree of beauty that pavement just can’t match.

With all the dirt roads gone, the city takes pride in keeping its streets clean.

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These guys are definitely old school. On our last trip, we marveled at how nicely dressed the men were in their suits, or at a minimum, slacks and a dress shirts. We couldn’t figure out how they had crisp, clean and ironed shirts and slacks while selling their wares on the dirt roads and the electricity going out regularly. We felt sloppy and dirty in comparison.

Today, jeans are omnipresent…

Luckily, there are still some signs of the traditional way of living in Istanbul, but I would wager that in another decade, many of those will be long gone as more and more modern influences spread here.

For example, most wares sold before were from tarps spread out over dirt roads, whereas now, storefronts are the norm. The funny thing is that the stores cluster together. Here is the “satellite dish” section of town. Seriously, there were at least 20 of these shops lining both sides of the road; back-to-back satellite dish stores. We also walked through the music section, the wedding invitation section, the power tool section, etc. — each with a dozen or more stores selling essentially the same goods. I couldn’t figure out how one wedding invitation shop differentiated itself from the any of the others, but maybe that’s where family connections come in or something. Or maybe they are following the tradition of the several hundred year old grand and spice bazaars.

Of course we visited the main attractions which are just too amazing to describe, but to be honest, I think a lot of it was lost on the kids… To be in a 1400 year old building with such important historical significance was awe inspiring, but I guess when you’re just 6 and 9 years old, it’s hard to grasp that magnitude.

They really only wanted to chase the wild cats which are everywhere (a much easier wild animal to deal with than the wild dogs of Bali).

What they (Joakim at least, Linnea and Mattias practically live on air they eat so little) enjoyed most was getting to eat the local food surrounded by locals and all their vibrant energy! (Reality check: you’d never guess Joakim had been a world class nightmare right before this picture was taken. Is that a grin or is he gritting his teeth? But I have to hand it to the kid, he’s an adventurous eater and for that I am grateful).

A big highlight of our trip was the traditional foreign hair cut. On Friday night about 8pm, we were in a taxi on our way back to the hotel (HUGE shout out, btw, to all our Scandinavian friends with SAS miles to burn, check out the SAS Bosphorus for a special treat!!) when Linnea saw this barber shop and asked if we could stop and go there. On impulse (or did we succumb to whining/nagging?? I’ll never tell:)), we hopped out of the cap and walked into this little shop. Each of the four chairs was occupied with men getting their hair cut or an old-fashioned shave or both. The massages seemed so thorough and relaxing, it made me want to get a cut and shave myself!

The kids were welcomed and treated as though they were loyal customers with massages and all, even though that meant other adult patrons had to wait.

The guy who cut Mattias’ hair finished first and on his own, went across the street and bought freshly squeezed pomegranate juices for the kids. None of us could understand a word the other was saying, hence Linnea getting bangs again, but the friendliness of the barbers and other patrons towards us made the whole experience special and memorable. I guess the outrageous prices for kid’s hair cuts in Oslo has been a blessing in disguise because some of our fondest memories this year have come from these traveling hair cuts.

Another highlight was the open air fish market. This place was so fascinating that the kids made us walk up and down the whole market three times the first day, and twice the second! The proprietors were shouting out their wares and prices and street vendors were selling hot fried fish sandwiches and fish plates as well. This was a local market, ie, no tourist paraphernalia sold–no flowers, t shirts, coffee mugs, key chains; maybe a few vegetables, but primarily fresh fish–most so fresh they were still flapping around and off their trays! The energy of this place made the guys throwing fish at Pike’s Place Fish Market look like they are on sedatives and the dead fish on ice seemed old by comparison.

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The fish are weighed using old-fashioned scales and sent off in plastic bags.

Everywhere we went, the kids were given little “gifts”. One of the vendors at the fish market, seeing their keen interest in his fish, gave them these little dried sea horses. He knew we weren’t going to buy anything as we were obviously tourists and couldn’t really buy fresh fish to cook in our hotel room, but still, he wanted to share something with them. In addition to these beauties, they were given coins, a key chain, Turkish delight, juice, the chance to hold the living fish, and countless heart felt smiles and pats on the head. Mattias seemed to draw people to him like a magnate and elicited the most delightful interactions.

Speaking of this character, we did a Turkish bath. It didn’t work out last trip so we made it a priority this time and it was a great experience. The scrubbing down and all was nice, but just to be in that 3ooplus year old room where Turkish life really took place lifetimes ago was an incredible sensation. Males and females had to be separated so Linnea and I had our bath together. Don’t let this picture fool you, we were buck naked in there! Luckily for me, after all my infertility work, cancer treatments and just plain giving birth, I wasn’t the least bit squeamish with the gal scrubbing me down and giving me a short massage in my birthday suit. The stones are warm, by the way, so it’s much more comfortable and relaxing than it looks.

One fun difference we felt was the sheer number of people. Istanbul’s population is over 12 million. There are only 4.5 million people in the entire country of Norway and only 500 thousand in it’s capital city, Oslo! When we returned to the Oslo airport on Sunday afternoon, arguably one of the busiest times for an airport, it felt like we’d returned to the North Pole there were so few people around, relatively speaking. Oh, that reminds me of another change. The airport we flew into 11.5 years ago was practically a shack. The one we flew into this time has over 300 gates! Now that’s expansion!

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Another interesting part of being in a primarily Muslim nation, were how beautiful and melodic the calls to prayer were. We truly enjoyed hearing the different tones of the calls sung out from the various mosques. Out of respect, I did not photograph any of the men praying during these times, but if I could have recorded the memorizing calls and shared them, I would have.

This is a random picture, but Joakim has this amazing ability to find money in every country we’ve visited this year. He just tells himself he’s going to find money and then, suddenly, there it is!

As we were waiting at the airport, we talked about our favorite memories from the trip and while there were many, we came to the conclusion that the Turkish people were the best part of our experience. From the  friendly taxi drivers (even though they couldn’t speak English), to the hotel staff, to the dozens and dozens of every day strangers who greeted us with a genuine smile or gracious gesture, we were overwhelmed by the generosity of the Turkish people!

You can imagine my surprise then, when a few days later I read this Newsweek article which talks about the growing anti-American sentiment and how the country has cooled down its interest in Europe. We never once felt unsafe, unwelcome, or as an antagonist. Quite the contrary. We couldn’t have been more warmly welcomed and treated with such genuine kindness.

The  entire time we were there, seeing over and over the vast changes that have taken place in one short decade, I felt an incredible urge to travel the world now, before it morphs into one big ball of sameness. This article just made me that much more determined to do so. Our experiences contrasted so significantly with that report, that had we not had them, we could have taken it at face value and “experienced” Turkey from that negative perspective.

I send out a huge THANK YOU to the wonderful people of Istanbul. I can’t wait to go back and explore more of your beautiful country!

We took a bunch of pictures and almost every one of them has a story behind it, but in the interest of time, I’ll just post a slide show here.

Sweden vs. USA

Just for fun:)… Enjoy!

Sweden: Part One

Sweden: Part Two

<table style=’font:11px arial; color:#333; background-color:#f5f5f5′ cellpadding=’0′ cellspacing=’0′ width=’360′ height=’353′><tbody><tr style=’background-color:#e5e5e5′ valign=’middle’><td style=’padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;’><a target=’_blank’ style=’color:#333; text-decoration:none; font-weight:bold;’ href=’http://www.thedailyshow.com’>The Daily Show With Jon Stewart</a></td><td style=’padding:2px 5px 0px 5px; text-align:right; font-weight:bold;’>Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c</td></tr><tr style=’height:14px;’ valign=’middle’><td style=’padding:2px 1px 0px 5px;’ colspan=’2′><a target=’_blank’ style=’color:#333; text-decoration:none; font-weight:bold;’ href=’http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-april-21-2009/the-stockholm-syndrome-pt–1′>The Stockholm Syndrome Pt. 1</a></td></tr><tr style=’height:14px; background-color:#353535′ valign=’middle’><td colspan=’2′ style=’padding:2px 5px 0px 5px; width:360px; overflow:hidden; text-align:right’><a target=’_blank’ style=’color:#96deff; text-decoration:none; font-weight:bold;’ href=’http://www.thedailyshow.com/’>www.thedailyshow.com</a></td></tr><tr valign=’middle’><td style=’padding:0px;’ colspan=’2′><embed style=’display:block’ src=’http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:cms:item:comedycentral.com:225113&#8242; width=’360′ height=’301′ type=’application/x-shockwave-flash’ wmode=’window’ allowFullscreen=’true’ flashvars=’autoPlay=false’ allowscriptaccess=’always’ allownetworking=’all’ bgcolor=’#000000′></embed></td></tr><tr style=’height:18px;’ valign=’middle’><td style=’padding:0px;’ colspan=’2′><table style=’margin:0px; text-align:center’ cellpadding=’0′ cellspacing=’0′ width=’100%’ height=’100%’><tr valign=’middle’><td style=’padding:3px; width:33%;’><a target=’_blank’ style=’font:10px arial; color:#333; text-decoration:none;’ href=’http://www.thedailyshow.com/full-episodes’>Daily Show<br/> Full Episodes</a></td><td style=’padding:3px; width:33%;’><a target=’_blank’ style=’font:10px arial; color:#333; text-decoration:none;’ href=’http://www.indecisionforever.com’>Political Humor</a></td><td style=’padding:3px; width:33%;’><a target=’_blank’ style=’font:10px arial; color:#333; text-decoration:none;’ href=’http://www.thedailyshow.com/videos/tag/health’>Health Care Crisis</a></td></tr></table></td></tr></tbody></table>

Fotboll Final: Part 5

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It’s pretty easy to blog about our experiences and observations here when I have a photo to help demonstrate what I’m writing about. More challenging is blogging about things that don’t exist, but do. As just one example:

Not once, after any of the multitude of soccer games or tournaments, did the parents bring “snacks” for the players. No goldfish, granola bars, doughnuts, chips, pretzels, juice boxes, or anything of that nature. Nada. Not once. Nothing.

During the day-long tournaments, you brought your own picnic of sandwiches and fruit or you bought a hot dog on location.

The focus is on fotboll, not food.

Fotboll: Part 4

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One of Joakim’s fotboll coaches, Vidar Riseth, was a professional player himself. I use the past tense because, as of a week or so ago, he officially retired from the sport as a player.

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Traditionally, the last week of the summer before school starts, each fotboll club throughout Norway hosts a fotboll clinic.

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Vidar is incredibly dedicated, not only to his daughter’s team, but to all the kids at HUK’s fotboll club. He brought some of his fellow players to the fotboll camp and they talked about how each one of them started at a neighborhood club just like HUK.

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It was inspiring for the kids to hear how the pros started out just like them. Vidar told the story about how he practiced extra hours, outside of practice, with his dog!

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Before he retired, Vidar invited us to one of his last games. We had a blast rooting for him and his team!

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But we were nothing compared to the die-hard fans!

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Vidar has been an incredibly positive influence on Joakim. Thank you for everything, Vidar, and best wishes on all your new adventures!!

Fotboll: Part 3

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As soon as spring sprung, Linnea and Mattias’ fotboll training moved outdoors.

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Again, the fields are incredible here! No mud, no rain puddles–just perfectly flat, well tended turf.

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One of Linnea’s best buds is the only other girl on the team. They have a ton of fun together!

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But proper sport attire is what this post is really about;

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or rather Linnea’s version of fotboll fashion:  Yes, you most certainly can play soccer in a skirt!

The general consensus among Norwegians is that Americans do not know how to dress properly.

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When they see kids walking around in the snow with no ski pants and jackets unzipped, I guess I can understand their dismay. If only my kids would speak Swedish, dagnabbit! We did take them to Legoland afterall! That English gives us away every time!

Remember, I’m from California where frostbite was never an issue if we weren’t properly protected so I think it’s a cultural thing. I have enough battles to wage so if the kids are cold, I figure they’ll dress better the next time. That could be considered negligence or natural consequences depending on your perspective.

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When one of our Norwegian friends saw our Besseggen post on this blog, she was incredulous that the kids didn’t have hats, gloves, and hiking shoes! (For the record, I had packed their caps, but Niklas forgot to put them on the kids.) Hiking shoes for kids? Never even crossed my mind! Aren’t tennies good for everything?

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But keep in mind, Norwegians have special attire for every conceivable weather condition and sport activity–this assorted glove display is just one small example. Niklas likes to say they have a special glove to match each ski wax requirement (but you’d only understand that if you were a cross-country skiier–there are a lot of different kinds of ski wax out there)!

 

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Sometimes I get lucky. At this practice, Mattias was dressed for the task at hand. He might not be paying attention, but he’s appropriately attired, by golly!

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I swear, some of the other Norwegian kids were doing this as well, it wasn’t just this wayward American!

Or maybe I’m just saying that.

 

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Linnea, on the other hand, is a loose cannon. She loves to play in whatever her creative mood dictates at the time, even if it’s tights and a dress!

But wait, something is missing. This soccer cone would make the perfect hat if I could just get it to stay on my head!

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Yes, that’s it, I’ll use my head band to attach it to my head and then I’ll just hop this fence real quick!

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I play so much better when I have some armor!

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Sometimes I don’t get so lucky when Mattias joins his sister in her transgressions. I’ve never seen a Norwegian kid in kakis at practice. Maybe Americans reading this are just as perplexed as the Norwegians and would never let their kids go to soccer practice in their school clothes. Maybe I’m just a loose cannon mother who doesn’t make their kids wear the right clothes.

In any case, when Linnea and Mattias are both dressed so “wrongly” and they are chattering away in their American English, I fear we give credence to the general consensus that, “Americans don’t know how to dress.” To my fellow Americans, “Please accept my apologies!”

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But in the grand scheme of things, I enjoy the Flashdance flashbacks and am delighted in the fact that the kids couldn’t care less what anyone thinks about their attire.

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PS  It’s snowing and we’re back indoors again. Our sports fashion saga continues…

Fotboll: Part 2

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Linnea and Mattias also played fotboll this year. Since they joined the league in the middle of winter and were on the youngest team, they started training indoors.

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The sport facilities here are incredible, but that doesn’t surprise me given the intense role sports play in the Norwegian culture.

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Special soccer shoes are required for training on the indoor floors.

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What a bunch of cutie kids!

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Linnea and Mattias were often put on different sides when they scrimmaged, but that just made it all the more fun for them.

I just loved that they had a place to run around and get some exercise! Waiting for the bus to get home afterwards in the dark, cold, snow, not so much, but it was still worth it!

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