Thursday, August 25, 2016

Random things I've learned in/about Denmark

1.  You have to put salt in your dishwasher.  We don't have a water softener in our house, and the water here is pretty hard and full of calc, so it makes sense. But, we didn't discover this until we had lived here for almost 9 months.  Instead, I had been running a cup of vinegar in every other load.  My glasses and plates look much nicer now.

2.  I haven't driven a car in Denmark since we moved here, so for over a year.  

3.  Spiders here are super productive.   I don't know how my bicycle can be completely covered in a spider web after only one night of sitting, but it happens on more mornings than I care to think about.  And yes, I look like a crazy person when I get caught in a web...

4.  We have no screens on our windows. (Maybe this explains why there are so many spiders in our house).  But for the most part, a ton of bugs don't get into our house. I like to joke about it, but I think Danish bugs are just more evolved...they fly in the house and most of them fly right back out.

5.  Toilets have a different button for flushing #1 or #2.  

6.  Fart translates to speed.  I still laugh about this.

7.  Sam was talking to himself yesterday in Danish.  I still get amazed when listening to my kids and their bilingual language skills.   I don't ever second guess our school choice when I look at this aspect of it.  It's amazing how fast they learn.

8.  While I like the aspect that all outlet plugs are controlled by a on/off switch, I still get annoyed that the bathroom light switch is located OUTSIDE the door.  My kids don't share this sentiment, they think it's hilarious.

9. Danes love sweet pickles.  It's really hard to find a good dill pickle without it being sweet. 

10. Danes use the Danish flag to celebrate holidays and birthdays.  At school when it's your birthday you get to put the Danish flag on your desk.  

For more fun facts on Denmark check out this link:

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

ExPat Advice Topic 2: On making friends

This is the second post in a series of posts on ExPat Advice.  Our family moved to Denmark in 2015 -- and after living here for a year, I decided to post some information about our experiences in hopes of helping others who are contemplating (or living with) a similar move.  Enjoy!  You can read Topic 1:  Communication HERE.

Today's topic is:  FRIENDS

When we first made the decision to move to Denmark, I was super excited about almost every aspect of the move.  The only part that made me sad or apprehensive was the fact that I'd be leaving my awesome friends in the States behind.  Luckily, because communicating in today's day and age is so easy, I didn't end up feeling that separated from my friends, and I really didn't start to feel lonely for a while.

In truth, I am a self-described 'introverted extrovert' or is it 'extroverted introvert'?   Basically, while I love to socialize and to meet new people, I can only do that in limited amounts before I start to feel exhausted or overwhelmed.  I wouldn't necessarily say that I am 'shy', but, prior to moving to Denmark, I never went out of my way to meet new people or to start up conversations with a complete stranger.  In fact, there was actually a time in my life where I refused to do anything alone -- go to a public bathroom, go to a coffee shop, etc.  I'd love to go to a movie by myself but I'm still not sure I'm brave enough to do that even lovely as it sounds...   Anyways, I digress.  All this to say that having a personality trait like mine can make it difficult to meet new friends -- especially in an environment that is completely new to you (an people who speak a language that you can't speak); which is right where I found myself  a year ago when we arrived in Denmark.

I realized early on that while I could continue to communicate with my girlfriends back home, if I wanted to go out with girlfriends or have that one-on-one time (wine is always welcome to make it a one-on-one-on-one time) with a girl friend, that I was going to have to step outside my comfortability zone and make friends the good old fashioned way. do you do that again?  It's almost like jumping back into the dating game!!!  Talk about scary and awkward!!  And, to top it off, our Danish 'cultural class' was filled with warnings that Danes were 'not prone to socialize with strangers' and that it was 'hard to make friends' with Danes, at least deep lasting friendships.

But still, I decided to give it a go.  And do you know what I found?  Danes are not unfriendly; they are not cold or stand-offish as some would have you believe.   Its a silly generalization that pre-disposes Danes to not making new friends, because I think that if you stereotype people like this in the first place, you're not going to approach them or even try to be their friends, am I right??   Well, I guess I threw caution to the wind -- or just completely ignored that part of the class -- and at the end of our first year here I feel like we have been pretty fortunate in the friend department. We have been lucky enough to meet a number of people during our first year here in Denmark that we can call our friends.

So, since I would say that our attempts were mostly successful, I thought I'd share some of the things/ways that helped us make some new friends:

1) School -- having school-aged children made it a little easier to meet people because you already have something in common with them -- KIDS!  As I've mentioned in the past, we chose to put the boys in the Danish public school system because WE WANTED TO MAKE DANISH FRIENDS.  The kids also wanted to have friends that lived in their neighborhood.  We wanted to make friends with Danish parents -- not necessarily parents of an international community (though if you have kids and you choose the international school route, which many do, you will have multiple things in common with those parents as well -- probably your language, your kids, moving to another country, etc.)  Sure, I had to get over my 'shyness' to approach some of the other parents, but I also had plenty approach me!  Playdates are also a big thing with the kids here, and the school even organizes play groups within each grade, so that made it even easier for us (and our kids) to meet new people.  Now, I should point out that living in Denmark, we are VERY fortunate that Danes speak really REALLY good English.  So, we didn't have as much of a language barrier to work through.  But school is definitely a great place to 'pick up' some new friends.

2) babies/other kids -- Being a stay-at-home mom is not common in Denmark.  Most women who are not working are home with a child under the age of one while on maternity leave.  So, while I didn't have a lot in common with these women (since Ben was almost 2 when we moved here), this group of women was one of the ones that I found I could socialize with during the daytime (when the kids were at school).  Before Ben started at the børnehave, he and I would walk around, go to the library, etc.  And, since babies generally love babies, it was a great ice breaker to let the kids 'introduce' us.  I met another one of my friends on the train to Copenhagen; her son was making noises and Ben wanted to go check it out, so we walked up the train to find them and the rest is history!

3) walking around the neighborhood - while we do have a car here, Max uses it for work and I choose not to drive it.  When we first got here, we walked EVERYWHERE.  (I was afraid to use my bike too, LOL).  And, once Ben started at the børnehave, I found myself with oodles of time and nothing to do.  So, I figured since I was already out and about, I would take a walk around the neighborhood.  If you keep the same schedule most days, you find you run into the same people repeatedly! (Another perk of Denmark I suppose is that people are very active -- out on their bicycles or walking as well -- so this made it easier to meet people out and about).  Sure, some couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak Danish so our 'conversations' consisted of a few "god morns".  I met a lot of older people this way -- pensionists (retired people) -- out walking their dogs.  Sometimes I even recognized their dog before I recognized them!  Conversely, a lot of people recognized me because I always wore the same purple NorthFace backpack around when I walked (good place to store stuff or carry stuff home from the store).  Turns out that several other parents had similar routines as I did -- so I met many of them between dropping the older boys off at their school and taking Ben to his -- or during pick up time as well.

4) Turn on your 'American Radar' -- in addition to the Danish friends I've met, I've also met a good handful of ex-pats or 'American converts' :).  Perhaps my most favorite meet-up story involves my good friend Jen.  Jen and I crossed paths one morning as I brought Ben to his school, and she was bringing her daughter to hers.  I happened to overhear her speaking to her daughter in English -- and not just any English, but AMERICAN ENGLISH.  So, being the bright conversationalist that I am, I stopped her in the middle of the path and blurted out "are you speaking AMERICAN?"  We started chatting, exchanged numbers and the rest is history HAHAHA.  Since that first experience with Jen, I have chatted up other Americans at the mall, in the Netto, etc.  It's funny how easy it is to pick up an American accent here once you've turned on the radar!

4) Join a class/club: When walking got to be a bit boring, I started visiting the local swimming pool -- I met some women while swimming laps.  (I joked with Max that the swimming pool is one of the few places that you can meet a friend and see them naked at the same time LOL).  Then, Jenn convinced me to try taking some Reformer Pilates classes with her at a local fitness place called Energii .  After one class, I was hooked!  And it has been a great place to meet friends!  The instructors are all super friendly and helpful and the people I've met there have been friendly and warm as well!  Plus, as an added bonus, I get to listen/learn/practice my Danish!  (and learn some fun new words like "skulder puder").  Yes, it was intimidating at first -- especially not always understanding what was going on, but there is nothing more 'bonding' than being in pain together, LOL.  It's almost like an initiation ceremony of friendship or something!  I definitely recommend finding something you can join -- like the gym, etc.

5) Meet your neighbors - it seems like everywhere we have lived we have had fabulous neighbors, and Denmark is no exception!  In fact, our next door neighbors are the REASON we live in this area in the first place (YAH for coworkers living next door!).  Meet your neighbors by being outside, taking family walks, saying hi to people as they pass by.  It's so nice and convenient to have friends that live nearby -- not just in case you need to borrow some butter, but also to join them with a glass of wine or cup of coffee to relax!

6) SMILE - I put this recommendation last, but it is probably the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT RULE in making friends.  No one wants to be friends with someone who is scowling.   This lesson is as simple as it comes -- and something your parents probably told you before you went to school (I know we've had this discussion with the boys here).  Smiles are also contagious -- if you smile at someone they are bound to smile back at you.  When I'm out and about walking around -- I smile at everyone I pass and say 'god morn'.  I smile at the people on bicycles even if they aren't smiling at me.  I smile even when I don't feel like smiling because if one person smiles back at me, it makes me feel like smiling again.  Happy people are much easier to approach, and much easier to remember.  There were a few women at my pilates classes that I was very intimidated by -- they never seemed to smile (in retrospect they were probably gritting their teeth to get through the workout).  But sometimes you just have to laugh or smile -- and that tension is lost.  Also -- being able to laugh at yourself helps a lot.  Like, when I lose my grip on my pilates ball and it rolls across the room....laughing at that usually helps break the ice.

Making new friends is NOT easy.  And besides, it's not about the quantity of your friends, its about the quality.  I'm not posting this to convince you that you need to go out and make a ton of new friends.  But, if you are lonely and on the lookout for a new friend, maybe one or two of these pointers can help you.  Making just one new friend -- and having someone to socialize with -- makes a huge difference in combatting loneliness and depression.  And once you make one new friend, that friend can introduce you to other friends and before you know it your social calendar will be overflowing (if that's what you want, that is).

As I mentioned before, I feel so grateful to have met and made the friends that I have this first year in Denmark -- I truly believe that their friendship has helped minimize my homesickness and has made my time here in Denmark SO much more enjoyable.  Three cheers to good friends -- near AND far!

Friday, July 29, 2016

ExPat Advice Topic 1: International Communication

We are quickly approaching our one year anniversary in Denmark -- a part of me cannot believe that a year has passed by so quickly and the other part is in awe at how much we have accomplished, seen, experienced and conquered...

I want to take some time to talk about some things we've encountered as a result of our international move -- for perspective -- or perhaps to help someone else who is considering an international move for themselves. This will be the first post in this series of topics -- today's topic is International Communication.

Communication is one of those things you take for granted until you really have to think about it. In my previous job, I had to help troubleshoot long-distance and international communication a great deal -- from Wisconsin to the interior of the Democratic Republic of Congo -- a place where communication just didn't exist until fairly recently. So, I was a bit prepared, to say the least. I knew that there were plenty of options for communication -- many of which worked really well -- and many of which were FREE!

As a result, when we first moved to Denmark, it didn't feel like we were thousands of miles away from our friends and family back home. Today's technology really makes it SO EASY to stay in touch. SMS messaging, FB messenger, Skype, Facebook, Email, Snail Mail, our MagicJack phone (that still has a US number), FaceTime, etc. The list goes on and on. And, most of these options are FREE. The biggest hardship has been the time difference -- not being able to chat with friends and family until the afternoon hours really limits the amount of time you have to communicate.

I know it seems like we've transitioned well in this transfer -- and truthfully it has been mostly smooth -- but I also don't want to make it seem like it was a walk in the park (see my earlier post on doing hard things). Our communication with friends and family has suffered to some degree, in fact, most of the online literature you'll read if you google 'staying connected with international family' will tell you that you should "Realize and accept that many of your friends (and even your family) back home will not be proactive about staying in touch with you when you move overseas. Just accept that if you want to stay in contact with key family and friends you will have to initiate most of the contact and make the lion’s share of the effort to keep these relationships going." Thankfully, with today's technology and a proactive approach with some of the suggestions below -- you can keep help to keep lines of communication open to the degree that the distance won't feel so great. And since communication is obviously a two way street, please know this -- if you are a friend or family member to someone living overseas -- or living far from home -- a little bit of communication goes a LONG way. Hopefully one or more of the suggestions below will resonate with you:

1) CHECK INs: There are so many ways to check-in with a friend that don't cost money and don't take a lot of time or effort. If you're on FB -- write on their timeline or send them a message. [Comments and likes are so impersonal and often times overlooked -- people have started liking their own posts for crying out loud (talk about narcissistic LOL)]. Send a short text message letting your friend know you are thinking about them. Write a personal email. Set up a Skype or FaceTime 'date'. Message them over FB Messenger -- you can even phone/video chat through FB messenger. Against technology? Write a letter (e.g. mail to Denmark from the US is fairly inexpensive -- the cost of a US International Forever Stamp). Pick up the phone and call.

2) MAKE THE CONVERSATIONS SHORT AND REAL-TIME: People often think that catching up over long distances needs to happen in one long sitting; this isn’t true. Short, regular bursts of interaction are often more effective and are easier to fit in your day-to-day life. I have personally found text messaging or SnapChat to be particularly useful in this respect (see also messaging apps below).

3) SELFIES: One of the best ways to lift your spirits on a bad day is to see the face of someone close to you. Distance doesn’t have to change this. Send pictures of yourself to each other. Perhaps you overslept this morning and you’re looking groggy and tired – take a picture of yourself just like that. It will add a level of honesty to your relationships. If you have children, get them to make funny faces and send to loved ones. One of my favorite past-times has been to make silly videos of myself singing popular songs in a chipmunk voice. HAHA, yes I just admitted that. And if someone makes fun of you for your selfies -- just ignore them (yes there are actually people rude enough to do this to your face).

4) INDIRECT TIME TOGETHER: Just because you aren't close in proximity doesn't mean you can't keep doing the things you like together! When I first moved here, I missed my running partner something fierce! It was so hard to stay motivated to run, and I really missed having her with me! We thought up a unique situation to keep ourselves accountable -- we ran a half marathon 'together' at the same time but across the ocean from each other! You could also schedule a time every month to watch the same movie, at the same time, in each of your individual homes. You don’t necessarily have to be in contact while watching the movie, but it will create the feeling of doing something together. Just like at home, you’re not always in the mood to keep a conversation going. Sometimes just doing something together silently is comforting too.

5) MESSAGING APPS: SnapChat, instant messengers like Whatsapp, iMessage, FaceTime, Skype, etc are paramount to your relationship. They enable you to send messages across borders for free and you can add pictures and voice notes when you don’t have the time or the patience to write. It’s easy to send a quick message asking how their day was or what they’re cooking for dinner. Skype is your second best friend, but your Skype conversations don’t always have to be boring. Pour yourselves a glass of wine on each end and play a game on a Friday night instead of going out.

6) KEEP YOUR DATES: If you have a date to phone each other, try your hardest not to cancel. Time differences and schedules will make it difficult for you to find a different time to catch up. Make this date just as important as a meeting with your boss would be.

7) BIRTHDAYS: I have friends who celebrate their birthday for an entire week or an entire month -- so it's no secret that birthdays are special and important days - ESPECIALLY FOR CHILDREN. Most young kids don't have a FB account but mom or dad likely does. Birthday wishes on FB have got to be one of the EASIEST ways to let someone know you are thinking about them. If it's too difficult to manage a phone call with the time difference or to mail a birthday card (FYI: International Forever stamps are not that expensive and are an easy way to send mail overseas from the US), send a message via FB, Skype, email or even text message! It might be hard to imagine, but birthdays can feel very lonely without your close friends and family around to celebrate with you -- this past year everyone in our family has experienced their 'first' birthday overseas. A big thank you to everyone who made a little extra effort towards our family during our first year here -- it was not overlooked, in fact it was cherished and greatly appreciated.

Small, regular habits can make all the difference, especially when life gets so busy that you can’t find time to fit in a decent conversation. Send a text the moment you wake up in the morning, or just before you go to bed at night. It only takes 10 seconds and it will keep the channel of communication open between you constantly.

Above all, remember that for a friend living overseas far from friends and family any little bit of effort counts -- and it IS recognized. There is never a 'too little' amount.

I hope these suggestions were helpful for perspective or for advice if you are making an international move soon. I can say without any hesitation that moving abroad has been a dream come true, but the one thing that has been really hard to deal with is not having friends and family close by. Obviously you can't really change that proximity thing, but with the right amount of effort from both parties, you can certainly make the distance gap feel A LOT smaller.

If this post was helpful for you and you would like to see any other topics/subjects on international living discussed, please feel free to leave that in the comments!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Combatting Loneliness with Gratitude

The Fourth of July 2016 fell on our 11 month anniversary of moving to Denmark. Back home, we would've been celebrating the holiday with family and friends, enjoying the warm weather swimming in a lake or pool, most likely enjoying a few drinks. Instead, I found myself living vicariously through my US friends from the pictures and posts they put on Facebook. There were no fireworks here to punctuate the quiet of the night; there were no loud parties or buffets of delicious smelling foods. The day was pretty much like any other Danish summer day: a bit chilly, a bit rainy, and a bit windy. With one felt a bit lonely too.

Over the past year, my emotions have run the full gamut. Excitement, elation, nervousness, gratitude, fear, frustration, amazement, pride; but it wasn't until very recently that loneliness started to creep in and overstay its welcome ...

It's funny because whether you live 15 miles or 4000 miles away from someone you can still feel lonely. It's all about being proactive with keeping lines of communication open. In today's day and age, technology makes it much easier to stay in touch, but that same technology can also make you feel lonely, left-out and sad. Hence the Facebook posts that usually made me feel happy and glad to see faces of my friends and family -- instead, today, made me feel sad and lonely.

So, to combat the loneliness I'm feeling right now, I decided to come up with a gratitude list. Instead of focusing on the negatives -- the things I'm missing out on -- I'm choosing to focus on the things that make me feel happy today, July 6, 2016 in Hørsholm, Denmark.

1) my bicycle and my walking shoes: it has been 11 months of not driving a car for me here in DK. Grocery shopping has definitely gotten much more creative :)

2) living on an island - technically Sjæland is an island which means we are surrounded by ocean!! It's 3 miles to the water from our house

3) caprese salads - seriously obsessed right now. I think the fresh basil from my garden helps :)

4) the sound of Ben's laugh.  

5) Pinterest and Instagram - feeding my crochet obsession with an endless supply of new ideas

6) wonderful neighbors and new friends - everyone we've met has been so wonderful and has really made us feel at home

7) Pilates - I've never felt stronger in my life.  I still enjoy my other fitness activities but I've met lots of new friends and learned to do things with my body I never thought possible.

8) unlimited adventures - it sure feels like we've got so much to do around us and that we've barely scratched the surface of all the cool things here -- and that's just in Denmark!  Europe is a whole new adventure!

9)  coffee - nuff said

10) my garden.  I was so excited to get my hands dirty and grow my own food here.  It reminds me of being at home with my garden.  

11) Is (also known as ice cream).  Thank goodness Danes love it as much as I do! Vi spiser kun is på dagen, der ender på 'dag'

12) a wonderful husband who is on the same page as me (most of the time) and loves and supports me

13) loving and supporting parents who choose to have an active and present role in our life not only by checking in with us regularly but also by making time to visit us.  They really are a treasure and I'm so thankful for them. 

14) my friends back home: I have truly been blessed with a wonderful group of friends that I've known for over 20 years.  We've seen each other through many firsts in our lives -- both happy and sad.  While being far apart from them makes my loneliness even more apparent, I am so grateful that I have them constantly reaching out to me.  It's almost as if they know or can read my mind at times.  I don't know what I would do without these friends -- you know who you are!  XOXO

Well look at that!  Without even having to think too hard I have found so many things in my life to be grateful for.  This was definitely a worthwhile exercise for me to help combat my sadness today.  How about you?  Could you use some gratitude in your life right now?  Try making your own list!  You don't have to make it public like mine, but if you want to share some of your thankfulness here in the comments I'd love to read it! ❤️❤️

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Doing hard things

I spent most of the last 8+ years trying to make my kids' lives safe and easy: cutting their food, holding their hands, kissing get the picture.  I felt that I was doing the right thing; being a good mom.

But life isn't full of safe and easy.  And often times, we don't get the choice or the chance to make things safe and easy...and what happens then?  I started to think that maybe I was doing a disservice to my kids instead.  Not that I would ever intentionally put them in harms way, but I started thinking about the life lessons I was teaching (or NOT teaching) them.  

You see, I have boys.  3 of them to be exact.  3 white, upper middle class, English speaking, male offspring.  I started to think, didn't they have enough advantage in life? I began to wonder how could I make them appreciate and not abuse or take for granted this privilege that they had not earned...but rather been born into...

When we moved to Denmark, we knew it would be hard on the boys.  But because of my earlier revelation about privilege, I welcomed the difficulty.  I realized that, for the first time, my boys would get to experience (albeit on a much smaller level) what it would feel like to be an outsider...a minority.  I hoped beyond all hope that they could take this opportunity as a life lesson and learn about empathy, understanding, privilege and inclusivity.

When we arrived in Denmark and picked schools for the boys we chose the public school route.  Whenever someone asked me where they went to school, I got curious looks and then I'd get asked why we didn't send them to the international school just 2 miles away when we were only here for two years.    While we didn't just pick the public school to make their lives 'hard', it was a definitely part of our consideration.  We wanted to integrate into Danish life...we wanted to make Danish friends and be motivated to learn the language.  International school just didn't mesh with our ultimate goals and wishes for our short time here.   

I won't sugar coat the first few months of school here.  They were ROUGH.  Daily complaints of:  'I miss my friends at home', 'I wish dad never took the job', even 'I hate it here'.  Refusals to try to learn Danish, refusals to try to speak it.  I started to lose hope and wondered if we had made the wrong decision...

But my boys, oh my sweet boys, they amazed me beyond my greatest expectations.  They complained but they didn't give up.  Max started to insist he needed to learn Danish so he could make friends in the neighborhood and play with them.  I can't even tell you how much it made my heart swell with pride to watch these boys walk so bravely into a classroom where they didn't know a single soul...or in the beginning, speak any of their language (nor they ours...except the teachers...English starts in 1st grade).  And yet day after day, week after week, they bravely went to school and tried their best.  Thinking about it now just makes me so incredibly proud of them and their strength, their tenacity, their bravado.  These boys took that mountain right in front of them and looked it straight in the eyes and then climbed it...and made it to the very summit!

Today we are nearly 10 months into our adventure here and Max is reading, writing, speaking and understanding Danish!  He's not quite up to grade level but he's doing a phenomenal job and even tested higher than expected on a Danish competence test and well above average on a national math test (part of which required reading instructions and a few problems in Danish).  Sam isn't far behind but he's been reluctant to speak Danish.  However in the last few weeks he's been trying to 'teach' me Danish (this is how Max started) and I've heard him speaking Danish at school and occasionally at home.  Ben speaks a mixture of Danish and English (sometimes in the same sentence).  He only is spoken to in Danish at his kindergarten and he responds in Danish there too.  

Today Max had his best friend over after school and my house was filled with excited talking in a language that I couldn't even understand.  Sam even joined in a bit!  It amazes me that in such a short time how far these boys have come and how much they've accomplished.  

Life is still going to have hard things in it.  It will never be simple or easy.  But I can always look back on this time and remember how this hard time went.  How, as much as I stressed about it, worried about it, cried about it, it turned out ok in the end.  My kids are champions.  They are resilient and brave and courageous and they didn't give up when the going got tough.  If ever there was a proud mom moment in my life...I think this one takes the cake.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Day in the Life - Horsholm Style

Many have asked what a typical day is like for us in Denmark.  So, I thought I'd snap some photos of our days here and patch them together to make a 'Day in the Life' post for you.

On school days we wake up around 6am.  Max's first alarm goes off before 6 so he can get in the shower.  My first alarm goes off at 6, but I usually snooze it.  Around this time we generally hear the older boys get up (their door makes a loud cracking sound when opened) or Ben wakes up and starts talking to himself in Bengilese (his native language).  Both the older boys get themselves ready completely on their own and then make their way down the SUPER creaky steps to the main floor.  I eventually roll out of bed before my second alarm goes off at 6:30 and go get Ben up and out of bed and dressed (if big Max hasn't taken care of it already).  Ben is very much a momma's boy and often times won't let anyone else help him in the mornings except for me.  We prefer to not have a temper tantrum every morning so generally I just take care of it :)


 Breakfast time:  Big Max usually leaves around 6:30 (carpooling with our neighbor to the office).  The big boys usually make their own breakfasts and if they need help with pouring milk or getting things out of the microwave he will help them before he leaves.  Ben and I get downstairs and I make him some sort of breakfast, usually an egg and fruit, or bread and butter or a breakfast muffin.  I make myself a cup of coffee with our wonderful Jura coffee maker and make sure that Ben's breakfast gets in his mouth rather than all over the floor (I am only about 60% successful most mornings).

The big boys put their lunches and water bottles in their backpacks after finishing their breakfasts, so at 6:57 I start rounding up the troops to put on coats and shoes and making sure library books or other materials have made it into backpacks.  We have to get out the door by 7:01 to walk to the bus stop -- the bus comes at 7:09 to take us to our first destination, Max's school.

bus passes
Max helped me take a few pictures this morning

Every morning, I drop each of the boys off at a different school.  Sam and Ben's schools are close to our house and only about .5 miles apart.  Max's school is about 3 miles away, so we ride the bus there first.  For awhile I had been alternating between taking the stroller and not taking the stroller on the bus.  Ben has been pretty lazy about walking (and when he does walk he ends up falling on his face half the time).  Lately, I've just been taking the stroller because it is easier getting him to school -- it is about .5 miles from Sam's school and my arms just don't want to be lugging his heavy body around anymore.  Most mornings Ben is content to ride in the stroller, but some mornings he asks to walk so I of course let him because we are working on encouraging this behavior.  The older boys are generally a few steps ahead of us making sure that someone is at the bus stop just in case the bus is early; to make sure it will stop for us.  If we miss this bus we have to walk a little further up to the main road to catch a different bus -- but that one won't come for another 10-15 mins which means that we will be late getting Sam to school on time.  

Waiting for the bus


Riding the bus

Once we get to Max's stop (the end of the line for the bus), he gives us all a hug and kiss and he crosses the street and goes into his school by himself.  Sam, Ben and I stay on the bus and wait the 8-10 mins (depending on if the bus was on time or late) until the bus starts the route up again in reverse.  We ride the bus back towards home, except we get off 3 stops before the one we got on at.  We walk .25 miles to Sam's school, drop him off at his classroom and then Ben and I walk/stroller on to his school which is about 0.5 miles from Sam's school.  The walk between Sam and Ben's school is a peaceful one -- just the two of us and we get to walk along the Usserod A -- a conservancy area right in our backyard which consists of a rivershed and the surrounding naturalized area.  Ben and I like to practice our animal sounds or our counting in Danish or English as we walk along.  

2 miles ~4500 steps later the kids are at their 3 different schools and I get to go home and finally eat my own breakfast.  I enjoy the quiet walk home and usually check my emails/texts from the night before on the way.

My day at home usually consists of either riding my bike to the grocery store/cleaning the house (today's project was tackling the disgusting oven we inherited)

Going for a run or getting in a workout -- today I had to play catch-up on boot camp and iron yoga so I did a back to back session...  Other days I try to explore areas close to home that I can take the family back to at a later time.  I try to keep myself busy now that the kids are all at school because it is very easy to get bored.  Contrary to Max's belief, I don't just exercise and then eat bon bons and watch Netflix all day -- well, not EVERY day :)

Then I get 'cleaned up' to go pick up the kids.  Today Max and I have to meet with little Max's teacher to discuss his progress so I look a little more cleaned up than usual (i.e. I don't normally look this put together LOL)

I'm a little nervous to meet with his teacher because we've been having some issues with his behavior at school....I'm hoping for a good report, or at least one that indicates improvement...

I usually get on the bus by our house that arrives at 2:09 -- school lets out around 1:45-2 (it is different every day).  Max participates in his SFO, but it's just easier to get him first -- and since I have 3 kids to pick up at 3 different places, it takes some time.  I start out around 2pm, but often we aren't home until 3:30 - 4pm.  

Lately, James Bond at the bus stop seems to be a favorite topic of discussion for the older generation of Danes.  They like to try to involve me in a discussion about him while we wait for the bus -- in Danish.  Jeg snakker ikke Danske!  This does not deter them and often they have a full conversation with me to which my only responses are appreciative head nods and lots of Ja..Ja...Ja...

Fall has exploded here and reminds me so much of home.  Except Fall seems to be lasting longer and isn't as chilly as it usually is back home.  Instead of the trees all dropping their leaves after a hard frost, they are still on the branches illuminating the forests and streets.   Hmmm...I like this!

 I arrive at Max's school to pick him up and I find him in the back play yard involved in mastering the ropes course one of the teachers has put together for the children.  Each school has a very involved "SFO" or after school program.  Most kids participate in the SFO, not only because their parents work but also because SFO is considered as a good thing for the children to have adequate play time with their peers.  The SFOs have lots of different activities (and a huge area of the school is at their disposal) -- such as Role Playing, a little farm, a petting zoo (bunnies and guinea pigs), playground equipment, board games, computers, gym, etc.).  No wonder the kids want to stay!

Outside the school Max finds a piece of paper on the ground and has the spontaneous urge to fold a paper airplane.  He's been obsessed with them ever since they saw the movie with school earlier this year.  

We cross the street to the bus area (that's the train station in the background).  We have two option for buses to take home -- one stops on the main street about .25 miles from our home and the other follows the same route but turns and drops off right by our house.  Our first stop today is to pick up Ben, so it doesn't matter which one we take since we need to get off on the main street so we just hop on the bus that is there already (which means it will leave first).  Max has memorized the bus schedule as far as which bus leaves first and in what order they leave, so he confirms that we have picked the correct bus (I have an app that can tell me this too for when little Max isn't around).

We get off the bus and walk about .25 miles to Ben's school.  Sometimes (if I haven't gone during the day) we stop at the grocery story (the bus drops us off right by it) on the way and grab a few staples that we need for later).  Otherwise we walk directly to Ben's school playing 20 questions, or talking about how Max's day was, or practicing our Danish.

Ben's classroom (part of it)

pictures from their field trip to the zoo -- notice the lions eating a calf??  Ben was very excited about that part of the trip.  That's not something you'd see in an American zoo!

Max and Ben are usually pretty excited to see each other and exchange a few hugs.  I always bring along a sippy of milk for the walk home -- Ben always asks for it and guzzles it down.  Notice his 'baba'?  He is like Linus always carrying that thing around!  We are working on just having it around during naptime, and he is getting better about not needing it during the day.

We stop and say hej to the ducks on our way home.  Earlier this fall there was a mandarin duck mixed in with the mallards under the bridge.  It made quite the topic of conversation for the locals, and we got to talk with quite a few people about it (I brought my bird book along to help ID).  They even did an article about the bird in the local newspaper!  He must have moved on because now we just have this hungry group of mallards that love it when we bring along our stale bread to give them a snack.  Sometimes the swans come up river and hang out here too, but more often we see them at the pond further up the river.  It is so great having this conservation area right in our backyard!

Max and Ben and I travel to Sam's school next to pick him up.  It's a Friday, so he's been doing role playing -- he had also worn his Halloween costume to school so now he's become a skeleton hockey player.  Sam loves role playing during SFO, so Mondays and Fridays are his favorite days -- I love seeing what outfit he's dressed in for the day when we pick him up.  The SFO had special Halloween cake and Sam went in and got a piece for him and his brothers before leaving.  What a sweet boy!

Here's the outdoor part of Sam's SFO -- this playground equipment is ONLY for the SFO, so they don't get bored with it playing during the school day -- it is special only for after school.  The two 'drums' in the foreground are fire cans -- on Wednesdays they light fires and the kids get to roast bread on sticks over the fire.  

We cross the street and the river to get home -- less than .25 miles.  When I say the school is across the street from our house, I am not kidding.  It really is -- well, across the street and over the river.

You can see our house in the above picture -- its the one on the far right.

Home sweet home!

When we get home, the boys have to do 1/2 - 1 hr of homework (picked out by me; either grammar, spelling or math depending on what I feel they need to work on) before we get to play.  The older boys can play on their minis for up to 1 hr (depending on behavior).  Sam usually picks Plants vs Zombies.  Max usually picks Minecraft.  Once that hour is up they go play -- usually with legos or Max will grab a book and curl up on the couch while I cook dinner.  Ben loves getting into everything and one of his favorite things to play with is Connect Four.  We have to work on taking turns :)

Big Max usually gets home around 4pm (if he has carpooled with our neighbor -- later if he's driving or taking the train).  We always wait for him to get home so we can have our family dinner time and talk about how our days went.

Tonight, Max is staying after work to go out with some coworkers, so dinner time and the bedtime routine is all me.  I can't complain when I get these sweet smiles at the end of the day (not always sweet smiles at the end of the day though).


Benny's friends include panda, elephant, lemur and ape.  We have to give them each a kiss before bed.

Turn on the music from Scout, our twilight turtle and the fan and say goodnight!

Over in the big boys' room they are getting silly waiting for me to read them their goodnight stories.  Crazy boys! 

I read them a chapter (or two or three depending on my mood) and we say goodnight.  I'm so excited that they are both into the Laura Ingalls Wilder series.  We are onto the second book already, and its been so fun reliving books that were some of my favorites during childhood.

Once the kids are in bed it's me time!  Some nights I'll do yoga or bootcamp (if I didn't do it during the day or if I only did a short run in the am).  Otherwise I pour myself a glass of wine and catch up on my reading or work on my latest crochet project.  Max usually ends up playing a game on the xbox -- but if he doesn't do that I'll turn on some Netflix (we don't have the TV hooked up to anything other than our streaming for now).

So there you have it!  Not the most exciting life for sure, but we've settled nicely into our routines and we are starting to get the hang of things here!  Everyone we've met so far has been incredibly nice and helpful.  We really are enjoying our time here -- hard to believe it has been 3 months already!