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.

American Section at (some of) the Shops

American section have recently appeared in some of the markets around the area. It’s generally a funny combination of American and British staples, and although we have embraced Danish products and food, we are still happy to see them.

Generally, the sections include American pancake mix (ours are thicker), cake mix (Betty Crocker in boxes we’ve never seen before!), Dr. Pepper (OMG YESSSS!), and mac ‘n cheese. There is usually BBQ sauce too, but Stubbs (one of our favorites) seems to be everywhere now anyway. so it’s not “new” here. The funny thing is, both American and British products are mixed on the shelves. Grab your cake mix and lemon custard, or McDonalds ketchup (I’m really tempted to buy it now since local ketchup is so different), or try some of the UK’s breakfast treat – baked beans… no thanks.

Someone on the Americans in Denmark page posted this photo:

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See that? Left side, 4th row down?! Libby’s Pumpkin!!!!!! Yay! I’m guessing this shop was near Copenhagen, but maybe by November, the passion for pumpkin will spread to Jutland. Let’s hope so! Our local Super Brugsen has a similar endcap (maybe a tad smaller?) I plan to scout it out regularly to watch for pumpkin!

What would YOU stock on the American section shelves? Given this selection, what would you buy? I’m so curious because the U.S. is so big and the tastes are regional.

I’m looking forward to be overwhelmed by choices when I’m in the U.S. this fall. Happy shopping y’all!

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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…

Our first guest visits!

Last week we had our first visitor! Shane came to see us. J and Shane met 15 years ago in Phoenix when J first moved there. Though we have all moved around a lot since then, we’ve always managed to keep in touch. It was really nice of him to extend his Europe trip to come see us. It meant a lot to us and the kids.

We tried to pack in as much as we could in a couple of days’ time. It was cold and rainy when Shane arrived, but some of the NorCal sunshine followed him here. (yay!)

We had Shane jump right into life in Billund. On his first morning here, we showed him the kids’ school and he joined me at the FIRST Connect Billund meeting. After the meeting he and J went to lunch in town (J wanted to take him to the hot dog stand!) and in the afternoon, I took the big boys to LEGOLand Billund! That’s J and Shane, not the kids – they were still in school 🙂

The little boys were somewhat disappointed that we went with out them but seemed to understand that Uncle Shane should see the park while here. (It closes fairly early).

After collecting the kids, we headed to Vejle to show Shane around and had a bite to eat.

Since it stays light for a long time, we were able to drive around and found a strand (beach) down by the fjord.  We chatted with a local mom there with a cute pup and her kids. There were some boys and their scout troop there fishing, and she was filling us in on the types of scouts in Denmark. Maybe our boys will try it in the fall – M did Cub Scouts in California and J was one of the den leaders. It was FREEZING and windy at the fjord, so we didn’t stay long. Plus it was late for a school night! Whoops.

The next day J had meetings at work and Evan didn’t want to go on a road trip, so he went to school while M and I took Shane on a short drive to Ribe. The weather was lovely (thankfully), though we still had to wear our coats. I’m convinced that everyone has been tricking us and there isn’t actually a summer in Denmark. We had sunshine so that made the day nice.

Ribe is a neat old town to explore. There are various styles of architecture, a Viking museum, and great spots to eat local food!

Did you see it?! I ate herring! And it was pretty darn good – so it must be amazing. The ham was from a nearby island. (Tania, I was thinking of you.) The cheese and homemade cracker were nice too. Both fish portions were good. Shane and I aren’t big mayo eaters and found the sauces to be a bit much for our tastes, but I had some and they were nice. If you are a mayo fan you’d enjoy them! The apple dessert was nice too. Yum. Ok, here is the photo again.

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There could be a whole post based on this photo.

Moving along – after our huge lunch, Shane wanted to see the shore. Great plan! I just didn’t have experience on anywhere to go near Ribe. So I looked on google maps and found a National Park. Cool! Let’s go there! We started to drive and enjoyed the views. The canola flowers right now are incredible! We came across a beautiful village too.

The funny thing about Google maps is…  you don’t always get ALL the info you need…

The road ended in the sea. THE SEA, I tell you! What? Oh yeah, high tide. No drive. We drove to another spot out of curiosity. There, the sign said no cars or motorcycles. Ah! NOW we know what the big tractors and bus-like trailers were for! Getting to the National Park! Someone commented on how dumb tourists get stranded all the time…

Well, that’s the funny thing about Denmark. You’re just supposed to KNOW things. I’d have gotten a bit nervous with a road where the sea laps up to its edge, but may not have thought about a tide coming in and taking the road out… I’m not accustomed to driving on roads that are often underwater! Haha. You learn something new every day. Like, I may have a fear of riding in a tractor bus. I kind of feel we got the real experience at the water’s edge…

The pole that you see Shane and M standing next to has markers indicating the water levels in years past. I may have to Google that too. Crazy high tides or big storm surges? I’m not sure. There was a berm there and old illustrations noting that the seawall had been compromised in the past and washed people away. Glad things were tame when we arrived. I’m also glad that we didn’t drive down the road and get stuck in high tide. Whew.

That was Shane’s last day. That evening we got home and J put on a slideshow of photos from the last decade or so. What fun! We saw so many familiar faces and relived our lives in Phoenix for a few moments.

Thanks for visiting Shane! We enjoyed having you!

Freedom in Childhood

A quick reblog… This is a good read. I’m thankful each day for the little things that my kids get to do here. Run down to a neighbors’ house, bike to a friend down the lane. Our friends’ older kid can bike to the bakery to grab the family’s Sunday breakfast. There are trade-offs of course, but I hope we are offering our kids a great childhood…

If you missed the link above, try it here: http://theartofsimple.net/freedom-for-kids/

The little things: hygge playdates

This week is spring break for the kids that attend ISB. It’s a big week! On Saturday, LEGOLAND opened for the season, then on Sunday folks decorated easter eggs and flung them down a hill, and this morning, we woke up to SNOW! All this and it’s only Tuesday.

My younger kiddo has been sick and needed to stay in to rest after two cold days at LEGOLAND.  Embracing Danish motherhood, I sent his older brother out with friends to go sledding on the big hill in town while I stayed in with the little one. One of the girls is a bit older and can watch out for the younger kids, so I promised them warm treats after some time outside. They weren’t gone for too long though – they got pretty wet and cold quickly with the rain/snow mix we’ve had today. I heated up aebleskiver and cocoa for them. Since it felt a bit like December and it’s fairly dim from the cloud cover, I figured why not add the candles and enjoy this November/December Danish treat properly.

I love that our kids can have impromptu playdates, walk to the sled hill & come home to cozy candlelit treats for play dates that last all afternoon. That said… we would all welcome warm weather and sunshine to move these playdates outside! I think we are all ready for alfresco entertaining!

The little things: Trash & Recycling

We keep seeing in the media how happy happy happy everyone in Denmark is. I truly think it has a lot to do with enjoying a simpler life and having fewer choices to ruminate over. In the US we have detergent aisles longer and larger than our local Danish markets. Here in Denmark, you tend to zip in and grab what you need (for the day) and zip out. I don’t find myself contemplating which toilet paper rolls to buy this time and then having buyers’ remorse over selecting the cheaper one, only to wish I’d have spent more for the larger rolls with nicer tissue. haha It’s a thing. LOOK.

Anyway, this post isn’t about shopping so much as how happy I was today realizing that the garbage truck had been by. What?! I. Know. Sounds bizarre. Our trash and recycling were FULL. Back in the US, we rolled giant bins down to the curb for the weekly trash day. I think in the last 3 states we lived in, each type of refuse was collected on the same day by various trucks. The rules were the same. Take bins to curb the night before or early that morning. Trucks came to empty them. Roll bins back into your garage. Fine. Except for the hill in CA… OMG. That was a STEEP and long drive to haul 3 full bins down and then hike back up with the 3 (thankfully empty) bins. In CA, we had a bin each for trash, recycling, and greens – grass, leaves, branches, and eventually food waste. In Colorado, we had recycling and trash. Compost was available in some areas. Many events in Boulder County offered trash, compost & recycle bins for festival attendees to separate their waste.

Here in Denmark, we use tiny trash bags in an under sink trash bin. Next to that, a brown paper bag for food waste. It makes sense. You can quickly and easily get your trash out on a daily basis. In our house we still need to figure out our recycle sorting. At the moment we just run it out to the garage area. Which brings me back to the excitement over the garbage having been collected… Each time we move, the trash has become more and more difficult to get rid of. This is fine by me – it causes you to stop and think about what you are buying, how long it will last, and how you will get rid of it when it no longer serves its function.

Here in Billund, trash comes weekly… however, not every type is picked up on a weekly basis. Each week the collectors come for either the black bin (trash) or the green bin (food/plant material) and the recycle bin is emptied on a 2 or 3 week rotation.

Since things can back up after entertaining or consuming a lot, having the trash emptied can be rather an exciting thing. Bonus! They come to your garage and empty the bin for you. You can see in the photo above that inside the black and green bins are large paper sacks. The collectors come by, open a door on the front of the wooden bin and remove the large paper sack and plop in a new one before heading to the curb and awaiting pick up from the truck.

Recycling is handled slightly differently. We have a rolling bin like you would find in the US, but with a divider to separate items.

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No rolling bins about. It’s lovely. See, it’s the little things. Sometimes just having your trash taken out for you is enough to make you happy in Denmark.

J’s commentary: Agree, it’s nice to have the trash dealt with for you each week. The separate bin for food waste is nice, but OMG actually getting the food waste into the brown paper bag under the sink is a pain. Have to remember to scrape your plate off into the bag and not let it go into the sink, since there’s no trap and no garbage disposal. I understand the no garbage disposal thing, but c’mon, can’t you make a sink w/ a small receptacle?? It’s just a flat drain for the water, which means we are forever pinching small amounts of gloppy food matter out of the sink to deposit in the bag… Luckily I don’t get grossed out by this, unlike my darling wife, who can’t even handle raw chicken without shuddering. #firstworldproblems

Gatherings at Home

Friday night was my turn to host Book Club. I had the pleasure and privilege to share my home with 11 women from all over the world (S. Korea, Iceland, England, America, New Zealand…) for a festive Mexican potluck.

Since I had borrowed some extra chairs for Book Club and we still plenty of leftovers from dinner, I had a couple of the women come back the next night with their families. They brought a few ingredients and their happy selves. J cooked the taco meat and made guacamole, and I poured margaritas. We enjoyed (another) a nice night of food & company. I’d say spring break is off to a festive start!

I’m loving our little international town and finding friends from all over the world. We are truly fortunate to be able to live in such a small cozy town with an international school, airport, theme park, indoor water park… all within biking distance. And we can enjoy those places with kind folks that are locals and internationals. It’s truly a fun experience.

Rundhøj

Went for a walk in our new neighborhood a few weekends ago and noticed that the path out back encircles a large mound.

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Doesn’t look like a landscaped bed, plus it had this sign posted on it:

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Translation: Dogs must not dig in the mound.

So, yep – that, plus a nearby street called Gravhøjen (burial mound), means it’s one of the ancient burial mounds found all over Denmark – there are more than 22,000 protected sites. I just didn’t know we had one so close to the house!

Some locals (via one of the Facebook groups we belong to) gave us some further info. It’s called a rundhøj, and is at least 1100 years old (the Viking era ran from the late 8th century until the late 11th, after which point the Danes’ ancestors started burying their dead in the Christian fashion). Archaeologists searched this particular mound in 1896 and then again in 1952, but it was found to be empty.

Guess that means we won’t be seeing this guy hanging around our backyard one misty night…

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New House!

After three wonderful months in our temporary apartment, we’ve finally moved into our permanent home here in Billund! Rental houses are extremely hard to come by in town – LEGO is hiring like mad and lots of families are arriving from all over – so we’re very happy to have found something that meets our needs and is a convenient distance to school and work.

We’ve been in the house for two weeks now, and have settled into a nice groove. Family dinners, bedtime, all of the normal stuff that you can’t do when you’re stuck in box hell. B bravely fought through the chaos and has managed to arrange our remaining possessions and furniture (after the Great California Purge of 2014) into a lovely home. Girl’s got skills! (Anyone in town need some staging help, you know who to ask.)

I won’t post pics of the whole house just yet, because we’re still finding a place for everything (and going through another mini-purge), but here are some of the quirks and details of our new Danish digs in case you’re home-curious.

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Yep that’s a white wall. All of the walls here are white. The walls in our last place were white too. Very Danish, very clean. There’s a good reason for it – during those dark winter months, when it’s all about the hygge – that uniquely cozy Danish feeling – the candlelight makes those white walls glow. Very hygge indeed.

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The ceilings in many Danish homes are wood, painted with a pale white stain to give them a cool and frosty look. Pairs well with the white walls, and keeps the rooms from feeling too stark or cold.

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Denmark doesn’t just have the happiest people on Earth, it also has the happiest outlets too! Omg plugs!

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These are the vertical blinds in our bedroom and living room. All white, but two of them are black. At first I thought they were mismatched, but nope, that’s the way it is. I keep thinking that a blind is missing and it’s pitch black outside.

Apparently this is a common design here – a co-worker told me that it comes from an old tradition where craftsmen would always include one mistake or mismatched element in their designs, because “only God can create things perfectly.” (Interesting sentiment given how secular Denmark has become.) So for instance, a mason laying out a patterned tile floor might purposely turn one tile in the corner the wrong way. Rebels!

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This one’s new. There are these round vents in most of the rooms. You screw them open and they let some fresh air in. I screwed open this one and it seems like so far, it’s mostly good for letting spiders in.

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We’ll probably use the windows instead since there’s no AC here (and hopefully very few bugs). Turn the handle upwards, and the window opens downward to let in some air. Turn the handle to the center, and the window opens inward like a door. Neato. No screen either. Now I know how I will sneak out of the house at night.

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Okay, this one just baffles us. This is one of many large wardrobe units that our landlord was kind enough to leave in all of the bedrooms. That’s because there are no built-in closets! There weren’t any in some of the other homes we looked at before either. Not sure if this is a common Danish thing. Maybe it’s a subtle deterrent to the endless accumulation of stuff, the way that a 180% tax on car purchases and $9 gas are supposed to deter you from driving. Or maybe it’s just a national plot to sell more IKEA furniture.

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The fridges are smaller as well. That might be because people here seem to shop every few days, preferring to buy things fresh. The food here has less preservatives anyway, so we’re not complaining. You’ll also notice there’s no freezer – we had to buy one last week for the house. I don’t think you can buy a fridge without a freezer attached in the States. Folks gotta have them pizza rolls and popsicles!

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No garbage disposal in the kitchen sink. Also probably common here, since you have two kinds of garbage:  a green bin for food waste, and a black bin for other stuff. (There’s recycling too). Have to get used to not having a drain or trap to collect the bits and scraps – you have to scrape it all off into a brown bag under the sink, and use your fingers or a sponge to collect anything else that washes off your plates.

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We are lucky to have this super fancy range top and oven. It’s conductive heat, which means it’s very safe – no risk of the kids burning themselves – but we also had to buy new pots and pans that would work with it. Our beloved Whirley-Pop won’t work here… we’ll have to look for another. (If you don’t have a Whirley-Pop, get one. You’ll never make microwave popcorn again).

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Speaking of gadgets, this is my new buddy – a step up-step down transformer. Bought it on Amazon (after some advice and coaching by a more tech-minded friend than me) and shipped it with our big-screen TV (which I couldn’t bear to part with and which only runs 110v). So far, works great and has enough juice to handle the TV and a game console (can probably take more but I don’t want to try). If you’re moving overseas and want to bring a few of your bigger electronics, you’ll need one of these bad boys.

Hej hej!