One SWEET Magazine Article Writing Assignment

My fun interview with a Norwegian Olympic athlete

How in the world did I, a freelance writer in the USA, get the amazing opportunity to interview a Norwegian Olympic athlete? In her own home, about a sport I’d never heard of, in a country I had never visited?

Cover of 1994 Viking Magazine with magazine article written by Laurie Winslow Sargent on Lillehammer athlete Hildegunn Fossen

Think creatively about how to find your next freelance magazine article writing assignment:

In 1990’s, my husband’s company in the USA was bought by Norwegians, so he traveled there frequently on business. When I had an opportunity to visit Norway with him, and I was thrilled!

I wondered if I might be able to garner an article assignment related to the trip. A family member told me about Viking magazine, for Sons of Norway members (people interested in Norwegian heritage) so I called the editor. She was responsive to my experience writing for other national magazines.

The editor asked if I’d be open to interviewing a Lillehammer Olympic athlete. (Of course!) She suggested that I contact the Lillehammer Olympic Organizing Committee. That led me to Hildegunn Fossen, a 24-year-old female biathlon (ski shooting) champion. A dynamite skier and a crack shot with a rifle, she had won the 1993 Norwegian national biathlon competition and was preparing for the 1994 Winter Olympics.

Unbelievably, in Drammen Norway we dined with a coworker who knew Hildegunn. She had been born in his city! I was told exactly where she lived, on a farm several hours away in the mountains. Serendipitously (actually I call it a God-thing), our plans already included a train journey on the Bergen Railway across the country to see the fjords. Hildegunn lived along the way!  I was able to use our preexisting train ticket, but simply hop off for a few hours, then back on. She lived only 12 minutes away from Bromma train station and fetched me to take me to her home.

For those as uniformed as I was: the biathlon for the winter Olympics is combination of skate style skiing (skoyting) and target shooting. In Norwegian, ski shooting is called ski skyting, pronounced “shee sheeting.”

Hildegunn told me that as soon as she had began walking, her folks had put her on skis. At around age twelve she learned to use a rifle. At the time of our interview, she was spending ten days a month on the slopes, practicing or traveling with the national team to competitions in Austria, Yugoslavia, Italy, and Germany. Home training included  jogging, weight lifting, mountain biking, use of road skis (short skis on wheels) on pavement, and target practice.

Curious about ski shooting? Here’s what I learned:

During a 7 1/2 kilometer ski run, the athlete (with a rifle slung over her back) has two opportunities to stop and shoot at targets 50 meters away–once while standing, the other while laying flat on a pad on the snow. The rectangular target has five holes spaced evenly. The athlete, whose rifle is loaded with only five bullets, must shoot through the center of every hole in the target. For each miss a penalty loop of 150 meters must be skied. Finishing times vary from race to race depending on wind, snow and track conditions, and how well the skis are waxed. When it is snowing hard, the athletes wear goggles, raising them to shoot while peering through the swirling snow. A flag near each target helps alter sights on the gun to compensate for wind conditions.

Hildegunn demonstrated her shooting skills for me outside her home, then showed me various interesting awards she’d been given. Most were lovely but practical objects, including a carved clock and a lovely silver goblet from King Harald.

Before I left, I was also given a tour of the farm. Their sheep would graze throughout the summer, in the hills, until rounded up in the fall. The family would shear them, sell the wool, and birth the lambs. I was amused at how when Hildegunn approached the meadow and called out, some lambs came running like puppies, bleating excitedly. One mama had been lost to a lynx so Hildegunn had bottle-fed the weakest lamb.

Bromma NorwayAfter a wonderful visit,  I hopped back on the train to catch up with my husband.

As our journey continued, we got to see the incredible Hardanger Fjord, then traveled on down to Haugesund, Norway.  Unbeknownst to me at the time, we’d later live in Haugesund for two wonderful years and have the adventure of a lifetime.

I realize now how grateful I am that Hildegunn spoke English so well. When we moved to Norway I faced some challenge in not being able to communicate well — especially difficult for a word person! You can read  On Being an Illiterate Writer to see how that temporarily affected my identity as a writer, but it also highly sensitized me to how expats from other countries may feel when they come to the USA if English is not their native language! And they may be even be expert writers in their own language.

It’s so odd to think that I can now read news about Hildegunn in Norwegian, and understand a bit of it, something I never dreamed of when I first I picked up that phone to call Viking magazine!

Also, at the time I called to see about a magazine article assignment with Viking, I wasn’t aware of any Norwegian heritage in my own family. And then my youngest daughter was born there, beginning our own heritage there. And to top it off — she’s an athlete too, now heading off to a college in the mountains to run cross-country and looking forward to skiing too.

And of all things, here it is 22 years later and I and Hildegunn, now with her own family, are connected on Facebook. She posts her family news in Norwegian, and thankfully I can understand some.  You just never know where a magazine article assignment will lead you and the long-term connections you may make because of that!

This video from Rick Steves brings back memories of our Norway in a Nutshell train ride on the Bergen Railway! (Makes me crave that brown goat cheese that tastes like caramel–yum!) Enjoy the virtual ride.

Childcare Trades with a Work-at-Home Friend

Have you ever considered childcare trades with other moms who write or otherwise work from home?

Here’s how it worked for me, with a few tips on how to make it work out well:

Playtime image by Lisa Runnel

I found it very helpful, when my kids were preschoolers, doing childcare trades one or two days a week with another self-employed mom.  That meant, of course, that one or two days a week I took care of someone else’s child, in exchange. But this had its perks too.

On days I had my friend’s child,  I devoted myself to playing hard with both kids, which benefited us all. And when the kids played together without me, I got caught up on household tasks.

On  days my daughter was at her friend’s home, she got to try different fun things I wouldn’t have thought of.  I think I got more writing done on those days than I do now, even with my kids all grown and the house quiet all day. There is something about being pressured to get writing done in a shorter amount of time that can be very motivating. I think I sold more articles and wrote more book chapters during these times than any other, because I knew I needed to produce writing during those precious workdays!

I traded childcare with both my daughters, at different times (they were born six years apart).  My first  daughter, Aimee, was in preschool with Eric, and really liked playing with him. It turned out his mom worked from home doing drafting and art. (See this recent article about my friend Joanne and her artwork!)  Since the kids loved being together anyway, and we had similar parenting styles, it was a win-win. Free childcare at least one day a week was wonderful for us, and the kids had a blast. We did the trades until the kids entered elementary school.

Six years later I thought it would be fun to do this again, with my youngest daughter Elisa, so I prayed for a good match. We started a church small group and a couple came who had a daughter the same age. As the girls had fun together, and my friend was also interested in writing, we then traded a day a week too, for several years. I also had the pleasure of seeing that friend’s own book published! (See my friend Barbara’s fun book, Growing Toward God: Life Lessons Inspired by the Wonderful Words of Kids.)

With both families we retained long-term friendships, and it is fun now seeing what’s happening with the kids now they are grown.

If you do the math,  one day a week of free childcare for several years adds up to quite a savings, considering typical childcare rates. But the trades also gave me a bit of extra joy each week.

I have so many fun, fond memories of my playtimes with the kids and seeing how my daughters interacted with their buddies. I still remember how Alexandra loved it when I got out the vacuum and I pretended to be a vacuum monster. I got housework done and she would giggle as I periodically swiped the vacuum at her, growling. She would ask me to get out the vacuum monster when she came over!  We also had fun making cornstarch goop. Cheap fun, and easy to clean up. We have many fun videos of the girls playing together.

My other daughter’s friend, Eric was adorable.  Funny how some of his little words and phrases stuck in my mind. He called Tyrannosaurus Rex “Meteors”  (meat-eaters) and I still do that now sometimes and laugh. He also called bad guys “bad doyes” and that also became part of our family’s  vocabulary. The kids are now all out of college yet I caught myself yesterday calling a villain in a movie a bad doye!  And I have the cutest videos of our kids dancing together at three years old.

This kind of arrangement can work out great if/when you:

1)      Pray for a good match of parenting styles and kids’ personalities.

2)      If you have more than one child and so does your friend, consider whether or not you can handle four instead of two kids. Two (my child and theirs) was perfect for me.

3)      Be willing to take a day of the week to play hard – it benefits all. But know too if you play hard and the kids still take naps you can wear them out, then get a little work done during their nap times.

4)      Be realistic about how many days you trade would be right for you without adding stress. One day a week might be perfect, two, too much. But you can alter how much you trade depending on how busy you and your friends’ workloads are at any given time.

5)      Think ahead a bit about activities to do with the kids.  I had a double stroller (a Runabout I could add a second bike seat to) and we often went on walks to town. At home I had fun things handy for the kids to get into, including an ever-expanding dress up box, art supplies, and kids’ music.

6)      Be honest about any issues that come up – keep lines of communication open. If one parent does not approve of certain types of movies, honor that. But it’s ideal if the kids aren’t plugged into the TV all day anyway. You will also want to be sure both kids are safe in each others’ homes, which could be impacted by other family members in the household. It helps to become friends with the families first and become familiar with their parenting styles and family dynamics.

7)      Let it bring out the child in you on the play days! Then on your workdays, work hard!

8)      Honor your commitments, of course, so the relationship doesn’t become lopsided. If it’s not working out, you can always stop the trades while ideally retaining the relationships.

Write on!


[Image by greyerbaby]