Dear Friends and Relatives:                                                                                                                                                                Christmas 2006


“Hey, Mabel, which of your weirdo friends is sending us this garbage from Norway?”  Yes, that’s the cheery phrase being heard all across the world this festive season as millions spy the long-awaited 19th Almost-Always-Annual Paukert Christmas Letter lying in their mailboxes.  And with that, PCL Industries sends out a hearty ‘congratulations’ to Mrs. Bernice Thorndyke of Stilton-on-Fen, Leeds, U.K. who is the winner of our ‘What Country Will the Paukerts Move to Next?’ contest.  Bernice’s guess of ‘Botswana’ was the closest guess received, just beating out Mr. Marvin Snelnick of Fester, Alabama who guessed ‘Mars.’ 


However, as pleased as we are to present this year’s letter, we at PCL industries would like to apologize for the recent deterioration in its quality.  This decline came to our attention last month when Katherine decided to read through the entire PCL archive and reported ‘you know Dad, these used to be kinda funny, but the last few years have really stunk.’  Because we at PCLI value your patronage so highly we took the unprecedented and costly step of hiring the consulting firm Slackov, Billum & Runn for a full audit, which identified an appalling 72% drop in humour and 93% drop in interesting anecdotes over the last 5 years alone.  We have therefore included in this mailing a special CD which when installed on your computer will greatly enhance your Paukert Christmas Letter experience.  Please follow these instructions:  1) Place this copy of the PCL face down on your flatbed scanner.  2)  Insert the CD containing the PCL-enhancement software in your CD drive.  3)  Reboot your computer.  4)  When asked ‘Do you really want to install this moronic drivel?’ click on ‘Oh, if I must.  5)  Reboot your computer twice.  6)  When asked, enter the password ‘Trivial’ and the user I.D. ‘Boring.’  7)  Click on the box ‘Crash computer at random intervals for no apparent reason’ and hit ‘Enter.’  8)  Reboot your computer three times while reciting the alphabet backwards.  9)  When asked to ‘Install Abode_Explorer_SysDump/FlashExecution.dll Proliferator’ click on the box that says ‘What the heck does that do?’  10)  Your computer will now freeze up.  11) Go ask your 10-year-old son for help.


Many of you may not know much about Norway, our new home, so let me help you out by sharing some of my geographic and historical expertise.  Norway (or Scandahoovia, its official title) is a country located so far north that 78% of the country has never seen the sun.  One primitive Norwegian tribe has 39 different words for drizzle but no word equivalent for ‘sunshine.’  Norway was discovered and settled in the mid-10th century by seafaring farmers from Minnesota wearing purple football helmets called ‘Vikings.  This practical headgear evolved over time to become the familiar horned helmets worn annually during the pillage of Europe and/or opera season.  Norway’s most famous export is it’s ‘fjords’ which are a type of fish not unlike herring.  Norway’ is actually an ancient Latin word meaning ‘Stop calling me Swedish or I’ll hit you.’  The capital of Norway is just outside of Fargo, North Dakota.  Interesting little-known fact:  There are actually no blondes in Norway; the light-coloured hair is an optical illusion caused by the low angle of the suns rays at this latitude. 


vi telle du alle godt ting Nordland:  ­Housing:  The houses in Norway are brightly painted wood - a nice change from the drab granite we had in Aberdeen.  Inside, the style is ‘Early IKEA Faux Cabin’ with wooden stairs, floors, gabled ceilings and plumbing.  We live in Sandnes, a 60,000-person satellite of Stavanger, which has 110,000 people.  Our house is up on a ridge with a nice view of the fjord below.  At least that’s what we’ve been told – we’re still waiting for the fog to lift so we can confirm this.  ­Cars:  Cars cost three times what they cost in America.  Gasoline is US$6.60 per US gallon and you are electronically charged a toll every time you enter the city by road.  My commuter car of choice is a stylish 1988 (yes ’88 – as in 2nd Reagan Administration) Mercedes 190E which I bought for $3,000.  It has a mere ¼-million kilometers on the odometer.  Norway has an amazing road tunnel system due to the fjords and mountains.  Some are 25km-long and plunge 230m below sea level!  There is a bizarre traffic rule that requires you to yield to traffic entering from the right on all but arterials.  The drunk-driving laws are so strict here that people driving to work in the morning often fail the breathalyzer test if they’ve had more than a couple drinks the night before, (the fine is 1-1/2 months salary).  ­Prices: Oslo (and therefore Stavanger) recently passed Tokyo as the most expensive place to live on the planet.  This is why we are currently living in a large cardboard box underneath a railway bridge.  But on the bright side, all the stores are closed on Sundays and weeknights, so there’s not much opportunity to buy all those things you can’t afford anyway.  ­Language:  Barb and I both take ‘Norskkurs’ at my office.  This may be the single biggest waste of time either of us has ever participated in because EVERYONE here is completely fluent in English and NO ONE wants to listen to us struggle to communicate in Norsk.  But it started out quite fun – the first 10 hours are an intense immersion process where you do nothing but watch old Muppet Show reruns in order to learn to talk in a sing-songy voice like the Swedish Chef….’Erka versa tingy-moosy mork mork mork!’  ­Food:  Let’s put it this way:  When was the last time you went out for Norwegian?  I think I’ve made my point.  Nobody moves to Norway for the food.  Lots of unidentifiable protein sources preserved in the traditional way with massive quantities of salt or lye.  Mmmm, lye.  Yummy!  Not only that, but there is a disquieting scarcity of junk food here, and the ever-lurking danger of ingesting lutefisk by mistake.  However, I am learning to just love a good pepper-baked salmon and believe it or not we enjoy reindeer steak quite regularly.  ­Weather:  The yearly rainfall numbers say it all – Denver 15”, Aberdeen 30”, Stavanger 50”.  Bergen, 200 miles north of us, is the Seasonal Affective Disorder capital of the world.  I think the phrase that best conjures up a feeling for the beauty and charm of the climate here is ‘wind driving sleet against your window throughout the 20-hour winter night.’


What’s Gary been doing?  Well my work team at Talisman actually moved from Aberdeen to Stavanger way back in February, but in order to keep Katherine from splitting another year between two schools, my boss was kind (?) enough to allow me to commute back and forth for 6 months.  That meant two nights a week away from home, driving left-side to the airport and right-side to the office, sharing a flat with a Swedish geologist and spending WAY too much time wondering what happens to a twin-prop airplane if its engines stop while 20,000 feet above the cold North Sea.  Surprisingly, this lifestyle got old after, oh, maybe a week.  So it was a relief to completely dismantle and reassemble our lives again come August.  I still confidently tell the company where to set the big drilling rigs down in the 100m-deep water to poke a $35million, 4000m-deep holes in the seafloor.  And they still believe that someday we’ll find some oil that way.  Our office is a really neat location, right on the harbour with a marina out back.  Other than that, I’m living a pretty quiet life here.  No exhausting involvement in important efforts.  My greatest contribution to the world right now is being Webmaster of the church webpage. 


But Barb, now there’s a lady living la Vida Loca!  She hit the ground running on this expat lifestyle and has never looked back.  She learned early on about cheap airfares and sharing hotels with other expat ladies, and has been running around Europe again this year doing….well I’m afraid to even open the newspaper.  This year she went to Rome and Tuscany one long weekend, and then in November went to Istanbul of all places!  It’s not easy figuring out the city recycling scheme or food labels when it’s all in Norwegian, but so far she’s managed to avoid mistakenly serving us rat poison instead of macaroni.  She has taken up playing Mah Jongg, (which as we all know just leads to the evils of Pinochle) and has a whole tool belt of roles at church – Praise team, Greeter and acting in the Christmas play.


Katherine complains often about the child-abuse she has endured by being forced to live in Europe for a few years, and thus we are relieved to know that she is a completely normal 14-year old 9th-grader.  This year she has had to endure such horrors as being towed across a fjord on an inflatable raft by a speedboat at a beach party, flying to Basel, Switzerland with her school choir and going to summer camp at her beloved Teen Ranch Scotland.  She goes to the International School of Stavanger, sister school to where she went in Aberdeen, but with more girls her age in the potential friends pool.  She has really gotten serious about learning the guitar this year and truth-be-told is probably better than her dad already.  We’re really thankful for the good small (140) church here that has an excellent youth program.  Katherine has been on a couple neat weekend retreats to Norwegian mountain ‘hyttes’ (huts) and sings on the youth praise team.


Chaco the Wonderdog our German Shepherd has adapted to Norwegian life despite a harrowing trip across the water.  (Due to a travel agent mix-up, we were stopped from boarding our flight here because the kennel we were shipping him in was too large to fit in the cargo door of the Boeing 737...that was a fun trip).  I know everyone has been scanning the papers expecting us to have won a few Agility Championships by now, but sadly all my commuting really cut into our training.  Also, there’s not much of an agility club here.  So in the coming year we’re going to try out the ‘Shaefferhund’ Klub which does some search & rescue and scent tracking training.


DREADED VACATION RECAP PARAGRAPH:  Overseas postings often end earlier than expected and with little warning.  We’re thankful for our time here and look on it as a great blessing and likely the only chance in our lives we’ll have to see and do many things, so we continue to travel like complete maniacs while the clock ticks.  I expect when we return to North America we will all have sit at home for three years just to make up for it all.  In January we went to Paris and committed the unspeakable sin of visiting EuroDisney and Paris on the same weekend.  You can imagine how perturbed the French were with us walking around the Louvre in our Mickey Mouse hats.  You know one thing that’s really, really weird, though?  Walking around a Disney venue while it is snowing and 30°F!  I mean, Disney…palm trees…Florida/SoCal….snow?  I’m sorry, it was just so wrong.  Anyway, all the touristy stuff in Paris was neat and as a bonus no one spit on me for trying to use some of the French I’ve picked up from living in Canada for 15 years.  Over the summer we made it back to North America and got to see many of you in Denver, Calgary and Saskatoon.  So you already know how thrilled I was to stop off in New York and Boston (hey, they were on the way) to see ballgames at Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park.  I can die now.  In October we took the Hurtigruten (Norwegian for ‘fast route’), a working ferry that plies most of the Norwegian coastline, hauling people and supplies to the many small towns on the fjords.  We boarded in Bergen and took 6 days to go all the way up the coast to the Barents Sea, around the northern tip of Europe as far as Kirkenes on the Russia/Norway border.  Fjords, glaciers and mountains and the chance to walk about small town Norway.  It was also a chance for an unnamed member of our family to spend time on HER knees in front of a toilet when we hit 20 foot waves on the open ocean.  At our northernmost we were above 72 degrees latitude (middle of Greenland for reference) and less than 1300 miles from the North Pole.  Barb and I also spent a week in April driving around the dramatic west and north coasts of Scotland, including the Isle of Skye and Outer Hebrides.


One of the biggest concerns above moving overseas is distance from family, especially if you are really old, as we are, which means your parents are usually even older.  Unfortunately in our two years here we have twice lost parents and had to make emergency trips home.  This March my mother, Joanne, who had had life-long health problems, had a bad reaction to an arthritis drug and passed away two weeks later at the age of 72.  As you can imagine, it wasn’t a lot of fun keeping up with her deterioration in Denver, often from my office in Stavanger late at night and 8 time zones away, not knowing if this was just another of many hospital stays in her life, or something worse.  And of course the worst is the feeling of powerlessness to help.  I miss my mom, she was caring and compassion and tenderness to me. Two things make it much easier – one is knowing that she is finally free from her physical suffering and the other that I will see her again soon.


We don’t expect many of you will just be passing through Scandinavia this year and have the chance to drop by and say hello, but if you ever wanted to visit Norway, well this is your chance.  Our free guest bedroom is your ticket to seeing Norway on the cheap!  And you’ll find it’s worth every penny.


Love in Christ, and ‘Ha det bra og vi snakkers,’


Gary, Barb, Katherine & ‘Chaco’ Paukert                                                                                                         

Høgevollsveien 26A, 4327 Sandnes, NORWAY                                                                                                        


P.S.  This year’s photo was taken a few blocks from our house in Sandnes and looks pretty much like every other Christmas photo we’ve ever sent you (except the kid is bigger again this year).