Ever since I started “dating” my husband — I say “dating” because he was in Norway and I was in the United States — he has spoken about The Cabin.

I daresay anyone in the United States who has a cabin or extra residence is reasonably well-off, financially. Well, anyone in Norway who has a cabin is Norwegian, because I’m pretty sure basically every Norwegian has at least one cabin available for family use.

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The view from the end of our hike to the Easter Tree.

Intrigued, I loved hearing about the cabin and its various aspects — the well, the outhouse, the lack of amenities, the two-hour ski trip to get to it, that sort of thing.

This past weekend, I finally got to join a trip to the cabin.

Frankly, I was dreading it. As interesting as this romantic, remote cabin is from afar, the idea of spending the weekend in a rustic abode with an outhouse is not my idea of a good time. I spent the week prior to the trip telling Jens that I am not a Wilderness Person, and having the occasional cry.

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We stopped at a store, and there was a polar bear because Norway.

We stopped for dinner at a place that serves Norwegian food — kjøttkaker, medisterkaker, salmon, cucumber salad, mashed peas, sauerkraut, that sort of thing. It was so good, and although it was way too much food, I really felt it necessary that I eat it all, you know, to get the full experience of the cabin.

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Pre-cabin dinner.

For those of you who don’t know, the cabin is about a six-hour drive into some pretty remote areas. Jens’s great-grandfather dragged it up there a million years ago; the cabin itself is more than 100 years old. Every time the family goes to visit it, they fill out the hyttebok (cabin book), a blank journal where you can detail what you did whilst at the cabin. There are entries into the hyttebok from when Jens’s grandparents started going, Jens’s parents’ honeymoon, Jens’s childhood, and more recent trips. They draw and they write, and in doing so, record a history of a family full of love and changes and God’s generational blessing.

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The old and new hyttabøker.

The cabin itself is adorable. Like many Norwegian properties, there are several buildings that form a sort of compound — the main cabin (Gamlestua), the mini cabin (Jensbo), the storage shed, the outhouse, and the flagpole.

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The front of the cabin.

The cabin itself is very simple. There’s no running water, and the electricity comes from a solar panel hooked to something that I don’t understand. It provides enough power to run a few lights and an electric outlet. The portable heater, mini-fridge, and camp stove all run on gas. We washed dishes in a tub, fetched water from the well, and got most of our heat from the fireplace.

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Jens drawing water from the well.

I had pictured a nursery rhyme’s version of a well — a brick cylinder with a cute roof and a crank, rope, and bucket. As you can see, the cabin’s well is a three to four-foot hole in the ground, and it has a plank cover. The water came out of it ready to drink and was probably the best water I’ve ever had.

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Charting a course is important work.

We went on a hike to the påsketre (Easter Tree), a tree that looks like a cross when it has fewer leaves. It was nearly six kilometers through some really lovely marshes and moss, and you can see Sjølenfjell behind us in the distance.

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Hiking, with Sjølenfjell in the background.

The cabins in that picture are on an old farm, and are now family cabins maintained by individuals you are rarely around. The likelihood of seeing other people is slim, but we did run into a few characters, mostly hunters and the owner of those red cabins.

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Stopping for lunch at the påsketre with our lunch packs. There are definitely salmon, caviar, and brown cheese involved.

We ended up cutting our trip a day short, but I want to go again. Whether or not I will want to go at Easter when a two-hour cross-country ski trip is required to get from the car to the cabin, I don’t know. However, I have the whole winter to learn how to stop on skis, so that’s something.

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Last month, I participated in the Nattvandring til Gaustatoppen (roughly translated, the Long and Dark Hike Up Gaustatoppen with Lots of Rocks).

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See the tiny spire in the back? That’s where we’re headed.

I have compiled a list of questions I had that were answered along this trek up the 4.4-kilometer (about 2.75 miles) trail. I also have a few that were not answered, but we’ll see if I get to those in this post.

Why are we doing this?

  • To save the planet in a variety of ways. Apparently, this hike helps the homeless, hungry, thirsty, uneducated, environmentally offensive, etc. How it does that, I’m not sure, since it seemed like a free event.
  • It was Renate’s birthday.
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Anything for Renate’s birthday 🙂

How much farther?

All the way. Plus rocks and darkness.

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Rocks. All the rocks.

How much farther, now?

Still basically all the way. But also, now, people who had already finished the climb are coming down the mountain on the same trail you’re climbing, at a rate that seems impossibly fast and entirely determined to knock you off the side.

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Rocks and Darkness

Why isn’t my headlamp working?

Because you forgot to put fresh batteries in it. However, there will be an angel with an incredibly bright headlamp on the trail. That angel will stop and offer batteries only seconds after you’ve started crying.

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Thank you, headlamp angel.

What will we eat?

Norwegians have a genetic trait that allows them to pack food that would normally spoil, but in Norway it doesn’t, and then you eat it once it has been in your giant backpack for at least half a day. Usually, the food includes something that an American would consider gourmet, but that a Norwegian is genetically programmed to pack for the trail. They call this food bundle the Lunch Pack, and every Norwegian is born understanding how to make one of these. Here is what our lunch packs contained as toppings for our bread and gluten-free knekkebrød (Norwegian stale cracker that is also delicious somehow).

  • Smoked salmon + Brie
  • Caviar + sliced hardboiled eggs
  • Shrimp salad
  • Brown cheese (so Norwegian)

How will we get down the mountain once we’ve finished the climb?

After waiting for two hours in a very cold tunnel, you will get on a train, and it will take you to the bottom. The train will be inside the mountain. Though expensive, it sure beats walking down the mountain in the dark — a task which would no doubt end in your demise. Going down is a lot harder than going up, despite what seems like sense. This is Norway. Then, you will board a bus. Then, you will get back in the car and drive two hours home.

Questions that were not answered:

  • Where did all these rocks come from? No idea.
  • Why are there so many children here? My best guess was, Because Norway. Like the lunch pack gene, Norwegian children are born with skis on and an innate need to hike up things.
  • How are these ancient people passing me? Seemingly ancient humans were speeding by me on the way up the mountain, again, Because Norway. FYI: The exercise called “mountain climbers” doesn’t actually prepare you for climbing a real mountain.
  • Why is Norway so beautiful everywhere? It’s just the truth. Norway is just beautiful.
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Forget the landscape. Look at that handsome man.

The entire 4.4 kilometers took 3.5 hours (well, only three for Renate). It was quite a challenge, and I’m proud I only cried once. Jens was such a trooper, carrying everything except my waist pack with my water bottle. The train was an engineering marvel — a 1-kilometer track at a 45-degree slope with two trains acting as counterweights on a single track that split just long enough for the trains to pass one another on the way up/down. It was really neat!

It was an experience that I’ll never forget, and I think I will never repeat…though if Renate wants to go next year I may be down if we start earlier in the day.

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The trail of headlamps, as seen from the top of Gaustatoppen.

I went back and forth on whether or not to have wedding programs.

We finally decided that we had to have them because we needed the psalm lyrics printed. Of course, everyone was expected to sing along. This is Norway.

How hard could it be to make a quality program, right?

The first place I went to was Google. Norwegian wedding programs. Norsk bryllupsprogram. Norwegian wedding vocabulary. Brud og brudgommen (hoping more vocabulary of similar ilk would pop up). On and on. Forums, images, Word Doc templates, asking friends and family. When trying to research wedding programs in a country and culture as ancient as this one, the volume of unhelpful information is so intensely vast that I just wanted to give up and have no programs. I thought about going the song-sheet route, maybe having a cute card with the psalms’ words on it, which would solve my vocabulary problem. However, nothing was quite exactly what I wanted, and I admit that I gave up for about a month.

I won’t even approach the topic of finding a professional printer to print my impossible-to-write programs. Everyone prints cards, invitations, posters, shirts, etc, but finding a satisfactory template on a printing website was rather difficult. If the template was cute, it either had an unalterable graphic that included English, or it didn’t understand that date and time formats, address formatting, and the alphabet are different outside of the US. Long story short on printing — I found a Norwegian printer, Optimal Print, who did a lovely job printing what ended up being our programs.

So, after all of the research and digging, what I ended up with is the following:

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If some bride who is in a similar situation to me happens upon this blog, here is the template in the form of a Word Doc that you can download and fill in. The leaves on the cover I drew myself in Adobe Illustrator, so feel free to replace them as you like:

The fonts on the program are free ones I found on the internet.

I hope all this is helpful! Let me know if there are any questions or any way I can help with your own Norwegian wedding programs.

And so, here we are in the first sub-post in the series of Norwegian wedding planning posts.

Booking the church was absolutely the easiest part of getting married in Norway, short of saying “Yes” to my beloved husband.

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Slagen Kirke in the Tønsberg Kommune

However, not all churches are so easy. Norway is officially Christian and manages its churches through the State. The Kirken.no site umbrella houses the congregational sites for each of Norway’s official congregations, and on that master site the churches have their own web pages that they build and maintain. We got married in Slagen Kirke in Tønsberg, and the city’s Kirken.no site has a lovely button that says “Velg Dato og Kirke” — “Choose Date and Church” — which you simply click on and walk through a series of registration steps. Tønsberg is a pretty big city, as Norwegian cities go, but church websites for smaller communities require a telephone call or (if things are really advanced) an email, and some waiting.

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Walking down the aisle!

We picked our date, the time we wanted, click, click, click. And the bill? A mere 5000KR (about $625) for any Tønsberg church and the church servant — what my mom would call a “Church Lady” or church coordinator in the US wedding planning business. At a popular (and intensely lovely) Dallas church where my grandfather was married c. 2006, the fee for the 180-seat chapel is $2100 for non-members, $1300 for members (for comparison, Slagen Kirke seats 500). Additionally, the waiting list is long for any popular US church. I’ve heard of churches booked a year or more in advance — that is, no openings whatsoever. In Norway, we were able to secure a date a mere three months in advance, then change our minds, then change the time with no impediment whatsoever.

One really beautiful thing about many Norwegian churches is that they are really old, but have been refitted with modern conveniences like bathrooms and central heat. Slagen Kirke, where we were married, was built in 1901. Another church we looked at, Sem Church, was built in 1100 and restored periodically through the 17th, 18th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Everywhere you go here, history basically grows out of the ground. On our drive around Tønsberg prior to the ceremony, my husband’s dad showed us a king’s burial mound from c. 800. There it was, just sitting in the middle of a neighborhood. Incredible.

What has your experience been with booking churches, in Norway or elsewhere?

Planning a wedding in a country that isn’t the United States proved to be an interesting challenge.

Thankfully, my husband did a lot of the verbal and written work, negotiating the church, minister, ceremony, organist, and reception via email and phone.

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My perfect bouquet, crafted by my mother.

My mother is a professional wedding planner in Texas, where the wedding business is something like a billion dollar industry with lawyers and contracts and a lot of crying. When you have a wedding, you have any number of vendors working for you for a premium, and they all have different needs, and you have to sign a lot of papers that say you will or won’t do this or that, or you will be out by such-and-such time, or you have two hours to set up and not one second more.

As I found out along the way, Norway is a completely different story. The reception venue, the church, the photographer (all of which were wonderful, by the way) — we didn’t sign a contract for any of these. Some emails went back and forth, some phone calls happened, and that was it. We had a church. We had an organist and a church servant and a minister. We had a reception venue with a plated steak dinner, and hey, they even threw in some floral decor for no additional cost. Not only that, but even though we told them we wanted to be done by 7:30pm, they told us we could stay as long as we wanted and they would keep the bar open for our guests. They profit, we hang out longer, everyone wins.

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The Slagen Kirke altar area

There were challenges of course, as I mentioned. The area where I was particularly baffled was the terminology. I couldn’t find a central, all-inclusive etiquette guide for Norwegian weddings anywhere. In the United States, I’m pretty sure any Barnes & Noble Bookstore is going to have an entire section dedicated to wedding planning, including volumes of worksheets and fill-it-in planners. The internet abounds with guides for American weddings. All I wanted was to know what people usually put in the program, and what all that stuff is called in Norwegian.

Perhaps (or perhaps not), then, my calling is to make such a site. There are websites that have a few venues listed in this or that town, and a review or two, and some slightly blurry photos, and some kind of skewed budget estimator, but that was all I could find. Norwegian wedding program templates were definitely hiding somewhere as yet uncovered. There also exists a forum site where Norwegian brides can ask questions and get help, but I didn’t find it particularly insightful for my personal needs.

Maybe a series of posts is in order, detailing how to plan a wedding in Norway. Maybe not. Regardless, it was so beautiful, and involved far less money and crying than planning a wedding in the United States.

You may have seen on Facebook or elsewhere that Scandinavians have a different attitude towards trash than Americans. There are videos of vast plains of American trash, coupled with scenic shots of Norwegian recycling bins and fit Swedish runners making picking up trash a part of their everyday workout.

When I moved here, or even when I visited last year, I was definitely surprised by the actual Norwegian commitment to making the most of their waste. Each house has four or five trash bins lined up outside, and each trash bin has its own lid color — brown for food waste, blue for paper waste, orange for glass and metal, purple for plastic, and black for everything else.

How do they keep it all sorted? Naturally, they all have three to four trash cans in their kitchen.

Here, you can see our three cans. One for paper, one for stuff that will get us money, and one for trash. We also have a sack in the pantry for metal and glass.

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I mention that we have a can for “stuff that will get us money”. We have the option in the US, where you can turn in bottles and such for a penny here, a nickel there, but only in states where hippies live (CA, WA, etc). Here, the recycling money machines are in every grocery store. They are automated, scanning each item as you put it in the tunnel, and at the end, you get a receipt (or you can opt for a lotto ticket) that you just take up to the checker to get your Kroner. A sack full of Red Bull cans and juice bottles will get us around twenty Kroner, the equivalent of between $2 and $3. Every bit helps! And it is so convenient!

So, what if you have a lot of big trash, and all at once, and it won’t fit in the slim (and adorable) trashcans outside your house, or doesn’t really fit any of the categories that those trashcans represent?

Look no further! You can take your trash to the dump. But this isn’t a landfill. This is a privately owned business. You pay 25NOK (around $3) per large black trash bag of waste, though electronics are free to dispose of. They have a place for everything.

The first picture is the electronics disposal area. A bin for cables, a bin for heaters, a bin for screens, a bin for old fans, a bin for anything.

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Once you drive past the electronics area, you see the doors and windows area, and just beyond are a series of dumpsters. There, we could dump styrofoam, plastic, carpet, paper, tires, and on and on. Around from there is a zig-zagged concrete wall that creates car pull-ins. The opposite side of the wall is a sharp drop into deep, industrial container dumpsters where you can dispose of large cardboard, random large trash, and more categories of trash than I can even think of.

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There’s a totally separate area of the dump for natural waste, like branches or brush, and yet another section for furniture or other large household items.

Not only is it completely organized and seemingly clean, the place was also completely busy. It was the middle of a weekday, and Norwegians were lined up to get in and pay someone to take care of their trash.

Nowhere here have I seen a sofa (or other like item) abandoned on the side of the road with the cardboard label “Free”. Dumpster diving, though certainly a joy in my college days, doesn’t seem to be a thing here. Additionally, food waste goes into a special compostable green bag, provided by the state, and when you run out of green bags, you simply tie any bag to the trash bin outside and the state will leave you a new roll of the green bags.

The state even provides this gorgeous and very organized trash pickup calendar, color-coded and all:

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So, that’s the scoop on Norwegian trash.

Antidepressants make everything easier.

They make feelings, which are not easy, less keen. They make caring less painful. They make the ups and downs less drastic, less dramatic. They numb those parts of you that are undesirable to the social machine, and fill the void with “evenness”.

They are gentle sandpaper, rubbing out the rough spots and making you believe that numb is what “normal” feels like.

If your life is easy outside of your own anxiety and depression, then the evenness of numb-normal is fine, I guess. However, if your life is a cage, and your captor is sick, then being a robot — a well-oiled machine that feels nothing — is not fine. With antidepressant medication, all those feelings you’re supposed to feel when in a dangerous situation, like fear, anxiety, and the desire to flee, all get turned down along with the rough spots. The sandpaper, you see, is not selective. It’s a general anesthetic.

What it is, is a trap.

Now that I’m off of Prozac, feeling things again is taking some getting used to. I find bottling up my thoughts and emotions nearly impossible. If I’m frustrated, I cry. If I’m mad, I cry. If I’m sad, I cry. If I’m moved by the beauty of a song or by the world around me, I cry. The waterworks switch on so easily, but that is not a bad thing. It’s healthy to feel. It’s healthy to recognize that you feel, and for your body to respond in an appropriate way.

Antidepressants are a way to avoid dealing with your issues in the only way that works — turning to the Lord for help. The joy of the Lord, not a pharmaceutical, is my strength. He created me to feel all of these things, and only adherence to His law can regulate them in the way they are meant to be regulated.

Today, I was mad at an individual that I am legally required to keep without identity. My way of dealing with him was to let my emotions and feelings run out of control. I was ranting, I was inconvenienced, I was insulted. Where is the Lord in this? He says to pray for our persecutors. The very act of heartfelt prayer is an act of surrender to the Lord. Surrendering this guy and my indignance to the Lord, as His law requests, and letting go of what was unhealthy, did more for my spirit than Xanax or Prozac ever have.

Is every day still hard? Yes. Do I still feel the creeping spirits of depression and anxiety? Yes. But those things are on me, not in me, and I cast them off like a too-heavy mantle, no longer desirous of owning them, but knowing that I can walk out from under them in Jesus’ name.

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