Border Run

IMG_8297Denmark/German Border

A Brit, Aussie, American, and Korean walk into a mall… haha! No, not a bad joke, just time for another Billund to border run for turkey, booze, and over the counter meds.

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We hit up Citti-Park in hopes of finding just the right snow boots, turkey for American Thanksgiving, cut-rate alcohol, possibly stocking stuffers, and more. We did well. Thankfully, the turkey we came for was purchased. Sadly we didn’t find the cute snowboots half of us were after.

I do recall several flats of Christmas Beer and an obscene amount of nutella.

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Here we are, headed down the escalator with our goods. Had to check the top floor and try out more boots.

Oh geeze! Look at the time! We have to leave Germany and get back to school to pick up the kids!

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I had a fun day with the gals. Racing and riding carts through the parking garage may or may not have happened with cheers and squeals. Looking forward to another girls day shopping no matter which country we’re in.

xo

 

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Bring on the Blahs

Today it’s cold, damp, and the sky is the color of a dirty sock. It’s been that way all day. Yesterday too. Blah. So here, then, are some pics of what it looked like around Billund this summer, when we did have pleasant weather…

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…when everything was in bloom…

…when we would ride our bikes after dinner and explore the trails and fields around town…

…and when it didn’t look like this until 11:00 at night…

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Meh. I’m gonna go make a cup of tea.

Random Food Stuff

It’s been ages since I’ve posted regularly on this blog (it was almost daily when we first got here a year ago!), so let’s get back into the swing of things with one of my favorite topics: food!

Here are some random food events from the past six months that are worth sharing.

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In March, we hosted a Mexican night for some of our good friends – a family from Iceland and another family from South Korea. Not sure how much Mexican food they have had over here, but I think we did it justice (B is from Texas, and we’ve lived in Arizona, Colorado, and California together, so we’ve picked up a few things!).

We made fresh guacamole, fajita-style chicken and beef with onions and peppers, Texas caviar (basically homemade pico de gallo w/ tomatoes, onions, red and yellow peppers, cilantro, lime juice, and black beans – or black-eyed peas since you can actually get them here!). The tortillas and shells were from the shop, but did the trick. We’ll have to try making our own again one day! I even bought some Sol to make some micheladas (spicy beer). Everyone ate until they felt muy gordo, and B and I enjoyed the chance to share some comfort food from home with our international friends.

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I can’t drink wine (wine allergies yay), but I can have mead. (Guess the same histamines aren’t produced during the honey fermentation process.) The bryggeri (brewery) in town (a pretty little shop that carries premium wine, beer, and chocolates) has some, so I treated myself one day. It’s lovely stuff – goes down warm and smooth and tangy-sweet. Not the sort of thing you would think the Vikings would swill out of their horns…

Our Icelandic friends invited us over for an amazing dinner one night of Icelandic lamb in a creamy dijon sauce (so delicious that even B ate it, and she normally doesn’t like lamb). We also got to try an Icelandic delicacy: whale.

Yes, I know that is a touchy subject for some, but I’ve always been curious to try new things. Tried dog in Seoul once too. It’s not easy to simply draw a distinction based on an animal’s intelligence, since pigs are supposed to be even smarter. And I feel bad now about eating octopus.

Anyway, the meat is very dark and rich, like beef. Our hosts marinated some of it in soy sauce and left some plain. It’s given a light sear on the grill, and eaten very rare. It tasted a lot like steak, but with a vaguely fishy flavor. And not gonna lie… it was delicious.

We tend not to eat out a lot, but we’ve been back to the pandakagehuset, or pancake house, at Kvie Sø a number of times because of the rustic atmosphere and fresh air on the patio, not to mention the delicious food and well-curated Belgian beer list. It’s not actually Danish food – they serve sweet or savory Dutch galettes topped with meats, cheeses, and veggies – or just powdered sugar and chocolate for the kids. You can see one above with apple, bacon, and raisins, paired with a Belgian farmhouse ale. It’s also fun to go on a clear day to see which of the property’s feathered guests might be wandering about! The peacock was bussing the tables and clearing off eftover bits of food, while the turkey was just hanging out and trying to look inconspicuous. Hard when you’re a giant bird made of turkey.

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My grandmother used to put pickled herring out with the lox and bagels on Sunday mornings, so I developed a taste for it early on. It’s in every supermarket here, so of course I have to treat myself to it sometimes even though B cannot stand the smell. Goes great with a tart apple and a cold beer! The Danes also like it on rugbrød (rye bread) with karrysauce (curry, mayo, bits of pickle and carrot), but I like it just like this.

IMG_3558The TimeOut hot dog stand in town is one of my favorite comfort treats, but I decided to change it up one day and try a “pulsemix,” which is just a cut up hot dog on top of fries, with a ton of spicy powder and salt dumped on top. Plus ketchup and remoulade. Seems to me like something you would feed to a 6 year old, but it’s very popular here. Anyway, once was enough – it was incredibly salty, and besides, I like the typical Danish hot dog toppings – onions, french fried onion, red cabbage, pickles – too much to go for this option again. Chocolate milk makes everything better though.

I’m a straight-up popcorn and Coke guy at the movies. (All you weirdos noshing on chicken strips and personal pizzas from the concession stand, cut it out!) Danes don’t mess around with their movie snacks though – this is a typical lobby area at a movie theater. Lots of gummy and licorice-based treats we don’t get at home – the salty and non-salty kind too.

IMG_4073Our Korean friends invited us for dinner one night. The kids got kimbap, which are like sushi rolls, but with hot dog and fresh veggies inside. The adults enjoyed bibimbap with homemade bulgogi. I love love love Korean food, and there’s none to be had anywhere near here, so to have our Korean friends make us a homemade meal was a real treat! Afterwards we made some jars of kimchi, which I was so grateful to have in the fridge for the short time until I devoured it all!

I’m really grateful for the lunch buffet at work – every day brings new surprises, and sometimes unintentional hilarity. Kudos to the chefs since English is not their first language (and I am still slowly progressing with my Danish), but you have to laugh at stuff like ‘egg condition’ and whatever the hell an ‘Animal Doctor Midnight Snack’ is. Would love to know the story behind that one. Do all veterinarians get up the wee hours to snack on leverpostej and corned beef on rugbrod with onions? Brush your teeth before you go back to bed!

Connect Billund

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This spring, I began to wonder… what will be doing in Denmark? J is enjoying work, the kids were settled into school. I had us moved in. Now what? I couldn’t just shuttle the family about. I need a job.

My former neighbor and I had been chatting via Facebook Messenger, and she told me about WeWork.com and said maybe I could do something similar. Fantastic idea! I spoke to my friend and neighbor about it. She too was looking for some work, but was applying to summer season jobs to start bringing in some additional income. A couple of weeks later, she spoke to me about an idea a mutual friend had about applying for government funding in our area to assist those settling into the area.

The next thing I know, the three of us are putting together an application for funding to be awarded to a group or organization that helps newcomers integrate and find work. That’s exactly the focus of our group. There are so many supporting partners in our community that desire to feel more connected with the community, and of course to find gainful employment.

We were fortunate (and super stoked!) to receive a good portion of the funding, and that has allowed us to move forward with our desire to connect our lovely community further. There are so many resources here. Danes are big on joining clubs, and you can find a club for just about any interest. It’s fantastic! However, finding those clubs isn’t always so easy when you’re new and do not speak the language.

Connect Billund has been well received in the community as we have been planning and organizing. Local community staffers have been helpful in connecting us with the right people, providing information and help whenever possible, and showing up to events to help out. We are so thankful. Things have been falling into place. There has been a need to connect newcomers to the community, and the community is quite open to it. Connect Billund serves to bring everyone together.

We currently have 110 members on our facebook page and generally have about 20 people show up to our starter meetings. July is pretty quiet here with people on holiday so we have planned our first events in August.

We have an excellent autumn and early winter schedule planned, with events from a society fair (come see what all those clubs are and join up!), an HR talk covering CVs and help updating them, how to buy a house, how to pay your taxes, how to use the electronic mail box you’re assigned, a cultural talk, and more. Each month will also have some drop-in sessions that may follow up on the earlier topic that month or just provide a place for folks to come together to work on projects, socialize, work on CVs, applications, or any other work.

Our long term goal includes having a place like WeWork here in Billund. Something easy for locals to join, and available for the working travelers who may need a space to work or to have meetings other than their hotel or the offices they are visiting.

We have kept quite busy in the last couple of months with meetings in the kommune, LEGO, and working with other resources to line up guest speakers, help with our set up, etc. It’s a great time to be new in Billund. There is a lot of growth and improvement in the works from so many angles, and it’s great to see communication happening.

So, while I’m still on my quest to find out what it is I will do in Denmark, I have plenty to keep me busy, active, and involved. I love the gals I get to work with, and together we get to meet all sorts of interesting people from around the globe.

If you happen across this and you are living in the Billund area, search for Connect Billund on Facebook and join our group.

Summer in Denmark

This is our first summer here. I use the term “summer” loosely. We’ve had approximately 5 warm days this year and its mid-freaking July. J-U-L-Y, y’all!

We kept hearing that the weather would turn nice in May. Soon it was, hmmm, this is unusual weather. Then as June was approaching, it was hey, hang in there, we will have summer eventually…. Having moved here during the last couple of days of October last year, it feels like the weather has been pretty much the same all year, except now the days are thankfully MUCH longer. The one day it got pretty roasty, I didn’t complain. I was so thrilled to have SUN and heat! Real: “I wish I were in the shade” kind of heat! It was awesome.

The other thing about summer in these parts is that the majority of people take 3 week summer holidays. Both partners in a family typically work and since everyone is gone, there is little to send your kids to, as far as summer camp is concerned. What are the job-seeking parents to do?!

Fortunately, the kids have been fairly happy spending their summer break on the trampoline and building LEGO. Sometimes they even do it simultaneously! It doesn’t take much to keep them happy and entertained – it would just be nice to have something to look forward to and friends to meet with. Hopefully in the coming weeks there will be other kids to mix it up with.

While I’m sitting at the computer, a kid from M’s class came by, so that’s been a great diversion for the boys. We will find some little daytrips to take and see what other kids are around to play with to fill up our time between grandparent visits. (yay for grandparents visiting!)

Things are nice and green here. There are still some flowers blooming. Maybe some warm summer-like weather will come eventually. (I hope!)

Here’s to finding work, having holiday time next summer, and hopefully warm summer weather ahead. Cheers!

A few summery things…

Slugs and Snails – A Kid Post

I went for a walk with my mom on Sunday. We headed towards the woods and I let the wind push me on my scooter.

We saw lots of snails and slugs on the ground in the forest.

We collected some sticks on our walk for making a teepee – beans will grow on it in our garden!

On the way back, we saw a BIG snail about 5 inches long with a big white shell.

By:M

Rainy Spring Walk

This morning I took a walk between rain showers to explore some of the same spots I walked when we first arrived. I wanted to compare the autumn dampness to the spring. If you remember some of the pics I snapped last autumn, it may be fun to compare the brown, feathery foliage to the fresh and bright greens that are finally making an appearance.

Today is about 50*F and rainy. We are enjoying a cozy day inside, other than a walk or two. Happy weekend!

6 Months in Denmark!

Wow, how has it been 6+ months already? After more than a year of wondering, hoping, planning, packing, and then finally moving over in October, we have settled into our new life here in the small Danish town of Billund, and we are happy we made the leap. There were challenges at first, of course, but you expect that whenever you move somewhere new.

It also helps that we are now into the best time of year here in Denmark – green grass, buds on the trees, daffodils and tulips popping up everywhere, and blue skies on most days. (Well, sometimes). The sun doesn’t go down until around 10pm, and in midsummer it will be even later! Quite the change from when we arrived in late fall and all through the winter, when it quickly turned gray and gloomy, with lots of rain and wind and hail – and unfortunately not as much snow (which helps to brighten things up for the short time it remains on the ground.)

I’ll be honest, it’s not pretty around here in the dark season – everything is drab and mucky and it’s just cold and meh. The Danish tradition of hygge certainly helps – we really got into the feeling of “coziness” that the Danes use to ward off the winter blues: warm drinks, rich foods (roast pork, herring w/ curry sauce, caramel potatoes, æbleskiver w/ powdered sugar and jam), time spent with friends, and lots of candlelight glowing off of white walls. Still, all of that is months away, so we are going to enjoy the summer for as long as it’s here. It never gets hot, at least not compared to Pennsylvania, Texas, or certainly not Arizona. Right now it’s in the mid 60s and breezy, which is perfect.

We’re finally settled into our house, which we’ve also fixed up to be nice and hygge (though the boys’ rooms need serious organization). We purged most of our furniture and belongings when we left California, but we’re still getting rid of stuff. No closets and limited storage, but to be honest, we are finally happy to have less stuff weighing us down. (We still have more to get rid of!)

The house is also a short bike ride from the kids’ school and my office. I haven’t even driven a car since we left California, since we have a manual and somehow I’ve made it to manhood without ever learning how to drive one. No matter, as I really enjoy going to and fro on the bike – much more enjoyable than being stuck and crowded on the BART from San Francisco to the East Bay. Plus it takes all of 10 minutes to get home from work – which promptly ends at 4. (Work/life balance is a big deal here.)

I can’t say too much about my job at LEGO, but I will say that I am loving it and it is everything I hoped it would be. Working on a few very exciting game projects, one of which will hopefully be announced soon. Love my team – lots of bright, funny, passionate and experienced professionals from all areas of the videogame industry and from within LEGO. We’re all super busy juggling the LEGO games portfolio and are rarely all in the office together. I’ve traveled more in the past 6 months for work than I ever did at any of my previous jobs: trips to New York, LA, Munich, Manchester (5 times so far), and Helsinki, with more trips planned for London, Oslo, and New York (again). However, we all still make time to hang out, do the occasional group building project, and play games online (current fave: Helldivers), or our Friday lunch at the pizzeria down the street, which is affectionately called “going dirty.”

B, the boys and I have also done some travel and exploring together, mostly within driving distance so far: Hamburg, Aarhus, Ribe, Copenhagen, plus our trip to Spain over Christmas. If you’ve been following this blog, you’ve already seen all of that.

I’m also really happy to see how quickly B and the boys have settled in as well. We’ve moved a lot in the past 10 years (3 houses in Phoenix, then to Boulder, then to San Francisco), but this was the easiest transition so far – despite being by far the largest move. This is not only because we’re in the “Expat Bubble” here, but also in the “LEGO Expat Billund Bubble.” Life is smoother in the bubble than it would be had we moved to a small town without many internationals around. It’s been very easy to make friends here, since most people here are also from elsewhere. We regularly hang out with friends from Iceland, Australia, South Korea, the UK, a few Americans, and some Danes of course, and the boys have made lots of pals as well.

They also really enjoy school – sometimes it is difficult to get them out of there at the end of the day! They are always deep into some kind of art or design project, getting completely filthy out on the playground, or inside building LEGO (the company sponsors the school and there’s a heavy LEGO/Mindstorms presence in the classrooms).

It took B and I a bit to adjust to the curriculum and education philosophy at the school, since it’s not only a Danish school, but also an International Baccalaureate program as well (which I did during my jr/sr years in high school, so at least I was a bit familiar). It’s similar to the Montessori school of thought where kids are encouraged to pursue interests and do hands-on projects, within an overall structure that the entire school follows.

The kids have done units of inquiry (as they are called) on signs and symbols, housing through the ages, and are now focusing on lifecycles and biology. Each UoI presents opportunity for discussions, lessons, and projects in a variety of disciplines, so that the kids get a more holistic experience rather than switching between individual subjects. Hardest thing for us to get used to is the lack of homework – we appreciated the organized structure and weekly homework folders at the boys’ school in California (which was in an advanced and competitive school district). It let us stay informed on what M was doing each week, and gave us opportunities to track his progress and help him out. Here, the academic pace is more relaxed, and there’s no homework at all – it’s all handled at the end of the school day. We do receive emails about the weekly class lessons and projects though, so that helps us stay involved at home with discussions and supplementary reading or videos.

As for B, I’ll let her cover her days in her own post, but she has good friends she hangs out with often. She frequently gets out and about, popping over to nearby cities like Vejle, Kolding, or sometimes Odense. (IKEA!) Although she has only just started to look for work, she has recently started a networking group in town with two friends, and it’s already getting a big response. Go B!

Finally, we are both taking Danish classes twice a week. It is correctly considered one of the world’s most difficult languages – omg why don’t they pronounce half of their consonants? We are doing well, though. We have the same teacher, who we love, but B goes in the mornings twice a week and I go in the evenings. Usually only 6 to 8 people in class, and we are all from different countries: Iran, India, Greece, Portugal, Australia, S Korea, the UK, and two of us from the States (and we both grew up 30 min away from each other!) I don’t know that B and I will ever be fully conversant – plus we never get the chance, as the Danes like to switch to English as soon as they hear you mangling their words. Maybe within a year I will at least be able to translate most of the mail I get from the kommune (local government) and the bank without painstakingly typing it into Google Translate.

There are of course things we miss from life back home – convenience stores, take-out Chinese, closet space, a garbage disposal, being able to shop on a Saturday past 3pm, a tax rate below 50% – but those are small prices to pay for adventure, travel, a quiet, clean, and safe place to live, and the experiencing of being part of an international community. (Oh, and 50% off LEGO at the employee shop.) We miss our family and friends of course (and our dog!), but Facebook and FaceTime have made that very easy to stay in touch and talk often. And hey look, we’ve even kept up this blog for 6 months! (Though I am overdue on a few other entries).

After work today, I rode my bike over to LEGOLAND to meet up with B and the boys and some of our friends. On the way home (they drove), I stopped and took some pics of our town, so here’s a little tour:

Pas på hundelort

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One day while out for a ride, I noticed something in the grass by the bike path: a tiny Danish flag planted proudly in a lump of dogshit. Hvad er det?! Is this some way of warning other people not to step in the poo, or a way to shame the dog owners who left the poo behind in the first place? Maybe someone planted the flag as a way to find the poo again later, and were returning with a plastic baggie?

Eh, no, that would mean that people regularly walk around with tiny Danish flags in their pockets, but well, that wouldn’t surprise me considering how much the Danes love their national flag. It flies everywhere in town, and it’s a pleasing and cheery sight – a burst of color against an often gray and gloomy sky. But c’mon, given the reaction you can get by eating smorrebrød the wrong way, you’d think that a Danish bæ-flag might land you in jail for a night, or at the very least, given cold æbleskiver without any powdered sugar.

Turns out that this is not just the work of some lone poo-prankster, it’s a growing national trend that has been promoted, in part, by the local governments. See here: http://www.dr.dk/Nyheder/Ligetil/Dagens_fokus/Indland/2015/03/Kommune__Saet_flag_i_hundelorte.htm

We need everyone in Greve to help. For some dog owners forget to remove the shit, says Anne Pihl Rasmussen. The flag is to say, ‘Hey, we want that you remove hundelortene, otherwise there is some other, hanging on them,’ says Anne Pihl Rasmussen. When setting a flag in a shit, you commit to later remove both shit and flags.”

Needless to say, you would never see this back in the US, where there are criminal penalties for any kind of flag desecration. Still, marking those poor, abandoned piles of hundelort is a nice concept, so maybe we just need to come up with a better flag. Here’s my suggestion:

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Morning Hike

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Life has been busy in the way that it was busy back home. Normal life things fill up time, but with an expat twist. The kids are in a school routine, then come home to play LEGO or enjoy time with friends. Jordan goes to a job he loves. I scoot everyone around to their events, grocery shop, and find time with friends. It’s all fairly similar – but not.

Some things are easier, and many are harder, though Jordan’s commute has been cut down to next to nothing. You can’t even call it a commute, really. 5 minutes and he’s home, plus work lets out at 4pm. It’s a drastic change from San Francisco and Phoenix, where commutes, work schedules, or both kept him away from home for long hours. We are able to spend more time as a family and the boys LOVE having him around to play LEGO and Minecraft.

The boys go to school and play, but here their friends speak Icelandic, Korean, German, and Danish on top of English. They have loads of unstructured time and they love it. They miss old friends and old activities, but seem pretty happy with what they’ve got and who they get to do it with.

Me? I get to meet new friends from Iceland, Australia, South Korea, the UK and more! It’s such a fun mix of outgoing and friendly people. We are all going through the same experiences and yet differently in some ways, because we come from different places. Though it seems Australia, Iceland, and South Korea have loads of shopping and dining out experiences like the US so we are all dealing with the reduced choices here.

Various activities have kept me busy, and I’ve been forever trying to get back into regular walks and such. This morning, three of us gals finally were able to get in a nice hike on a path I’d not yet tried. One of the things I love about Denmark is the ability to find a trail through nature just about anywhere. Today’s hike started at the golf clubhouse. I’d have never guessed you could hike out of a golf course, but here its possible!

We got in a good hour’s hike. Hopefully in time we can add in more jogging and exercises. Today we were uncertain about the path, its distance and such. Walking briskly through the trees was nice on a cold and cloudy day. I think the zipline was the highlight!. Weeeeeee!

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