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!