Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Popcorn Bathing!

While we're on the topic of Vuggestue, I should mention the summer party that Riley's school threw at the beginning of Denmark's summer. We all still had to wear long sleeves and pants, and it was a very rainy day, but it was a lot of fun. All the parents were invited and everyone was to bring something to eat. The party lasted from about 3 to 6 and included a snack time at the beginning, a singing session where the teachers showed us all the morning songs they sing, a pot-luck dinner and, perhaps most importantly: Popcorn Bathing.

I have a vague notion that popcorn is not a favored snack for young kids in the United States. It's a choking and aspiration hazard, so I was completely surprised to see huge tubs of the stuff in every classroom after the singing session at the party. A fellow parent said to us, in English, "The popcorn bathing is down the hall." I thought he must have misspoken. Popcorn bathing? But, his description was incredibly accurate. What followed was a lot of fun. Kids were jumping in the tubs, eating the stuff, throwing it and having an amazing time.

The American in me was saying several things in my head, "This isn't safe! This isn't hygenic! Eeew, I can't believe Riley is eating that popcorn from the floor!" On the other hand, the kids were having SO much fun. Nobody choked and I am sure the freshly popped popcorn was cleaner than other things Riley had eaten that day at school. At a point I let go and just enjoyed the craziness.

Riley throwing popcorn at his teacher Morton

Filling a truck with popcorn

We haven't made a habit of snacking on popcorn at home, or bathing in it. But it was a very fun afternoon.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

I. Love. Vuggestue.

In late April, Riley started attending a Danish vuggestue (daycare). (You pronounce vuggestue like vogue-estoo.)

I was nervous about this transition for all kinds of reasons: I was afraid being immersed in a school where Danish was spoken would be stressful to Riley, I worried about whether Riley would eat the Danish food served, I was afraid of him being sick all the time, I wasn't sure if the school would be good or not, and basically, I was just afraid to let go.

I had been with Riley full time with very limited help (due to the fact that we moved to a foreign country far from family when he was 7 months old) for about 22 months. Riley had begun some part-time daycare with our regular babysitter when he was about 18 months old (a few hours three days a week) but it was different, because we were comfortable with our babysitter, Riley loves her and she speaks English to him. Now, suddenly, I was taking my little guy to a Danish school where he would be (gasp) away from me! and immersed in Danish (oh the horrors!).

The first day of Vuggestue was definitely culture shock for me all over again. I arrived with Riley and kids were all over the place, on the floor in the entry, climbing on window ledges, just everywhere. I was supposed to stay with Riley while he got to know the teachers and the rhythm of the day at vuggestue, but I felt very out of place in the classroom. Not only did I not understand most of what was being said, but there just also wasn't a place for a parent in the room. I was always in the way of someone trying to do something, climb on the couch, serve food to the kids, etc.

Even entering the school is different. There are two wooden gates that anyone over 5 feet tall could open - unlike the super-secure daycare entrances in the U.S. The gates here are designed to keep kids in, not bad guys out.

There was one kid throwing heavy objects in Riley's class - this worried me a bit. The teachers seemed to be pretty good about stopping him before he hurt his classmates, but he was clearly working through some issues and I didn't want them worked out on Riley's head.

The kids sat on benches that they climbed up onto themselves and they weren't strapped in! They were drinking from ceramic cups, not sippy cups. I was a nervous wreck and Riley really didn't want me to go anywhere either.

But, I realized on that first day that in spite of my nerves, I LOVED the teachers. I felt instantly comfortable with the staff at the school. They are calm, caring, professional, and amazing. There are men and women working in each classroom. Riley's first teacher that he bonded with was a young man named Morton who was cool. I don't remember any daycares we visited in D.C. while I was pregnant with Riley having men on staff. And if they did have men, I think in the US, we might wonder why those men wanted to work in a daycare. Not here. Cool young men work at daycares. They are attractive and have hot girlfriends. They unashamedly work at daycares and they do an awesome job.

We had a standard adjustment period and then Riley began to thrive. He has come home with Danish words - kanin is rabbit, sommerfugl is butterfly... He has friends, he loves his teachers, he is particularly fond of the rugbrød meal they serve on Wednesday. Today, Riley said he wants to go to school tomorrow. He may say something different in the morning, but the fact that he said it at all is pretty fantastic. 

I. Feel. So. Lucky. to have such an amazing place to send Riley during the day. He has gained confidence and independence. He is establishing relationships on his own. He is growing. One week, he got to go on field trips to the beach three times, another week, his class took a trip to see horses because he requested it. 

The school supplies diapers and food throughout the day and we pay 1/3 what we would be paying the daycare in Washington, D.C.

Need I go on? I love vuggestue! Denmark really gets childcare right.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Skagen is Awesome

Before moving to Denmark, I had never heard of anywhere inside this country other than Copenhagen. Like many Americans, it was all I could do not to mix up Denmark with the Netherlands. Dutch? Danish? Meh.

Now that I have been here a year and a half, I realize how small my world was before moving abroad and how much larger my world has become in this little country called Denmark. Not long after moving here, we began to hear about this magical place loved by artists and tourists where the North Sea meets the Baltic Sea. Skagen (pronounced: Skayn) is a tiny town at the tip of the Jutland peninsula with neighborhoods of yellow houses, amazing beaches, an old stone lighthouse and bike paths for miles.

We were magically gifted a warm (but not too warm) sunny day for our Skagen adventure and we made the most of it. We rented bikes first thing in the morning, pedaled to the parking lot for the beach where the seas meet (Grenen), rode the tractor bus to the tip and marveled as waves crashed into the shore on both sides of us. (An incredibly bizarre and awe-inspiring experience.) While we were standing on the beach wondering about tides and gravitational pull, we saw a seal near the beach on the North Sea side.

The North Sea to the left and the Baltic Sea to the right

Family photo at the tip of the peninsula

We visited the remaining white church tower of an old church that was rendered unusable by drifting sand dunes that buried the main building of the church.

After playing on the beach and in the sand, Riley decided to take a nap in our rented bike trailer which gave me the chance to climb the old stone light house in Skagen and get a view of the meeting seas from the top.

The lighthouse, which has a lot of steps to climb and...

an amazing view at the top.
After lunch at the delicious Skagen Fiskerestaurant, we biked to Gl. Skagen and spent time on a rocky beach and in nearby sandy fields.

Our day finished with an expensive but delicious meal at Ruth's Hotel Brasserie in Gl. Skagen. It was one of those sun-drenched, exhausting and simultaneously exhilarating days that makes you remember all the things that are wonderful about life and wish that summer never has to end. We were charmed, probably even enchanted by everything about Skagen. We could not have asked for a more pefect day.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Falling in Love With Denmark, Again

This past weekend (long weekend), our family went on a driving trip around Denmark. We have traveled all over the place since moving here (France, Israel, Estonia, Latvia, Germany, Ireland, Croatia, Lithuania, Monaco, Holland etc), but really hadn't seen much of Denmark outside Copenhagen and a few outlying cities (Roskilde, Hillerød, Charlottenlund, Helsingør, etc.)

As we are planning to move home to the U.S. sometime this winter, we realized this was our last chance to explore some of the highlights of Denmark in the "good weather". So, we packed our summer clothes (and some fall and winter clothes), hopped in a borrowed car and set out for Jutland on Thursday afternoon. Our drive was smooth until Riley, apparently stricken by a bout of carsickness that we didn't know he was susceptible to, threw up all over himself. The clean up delay was substantial and we nearly missed our 5:30 ferry. The next one wasn't scheduled to depart until about four hours later. Fortunately, our ferry didn't leave on time. We were the second to last car to check in for the trip and we got sent to an auxiliary waiting lane which we quickly realized was the "you can come on the boat if there is room for you after everyone else boards" lane. Once all the cars were on, we drove up a strange side ramp and parked on a ramp inside the boat. There may have been room for one additional car, but that's it.

The ferry ride from Sjællands Odde was very nice. We ate dinner at the restaurant on the boat and it was delicious. We were still giddy from our race to catch the boat and Riley was feeling better. Once we got off the boat we drove into Arhus where we spent the first night of our trip. On the way to the hotel, Neil got pulled over infor turning right on red (not allowed in Denmark), but once the friendly police officer established that we were American, he let us go without a ticket. It was actually the best pull-over ever, as all he did was drive up and ask us to pull over through our open window. No sirens. Very polite and quiet.

Our hotel, a Raddison right near the Aros art museum in Arhus, was perfect and included a children's play area right in the lobby. The next morning we walked to Den Gamle By - the world's first open-air museum of urban history and culture. We had fun walking around and going into all the old buildings. After lunch along a river, we went and toured Aros - a really fantastic museum with a rainbow walkway on the roof that's pretty amazing.

An old bicycle repair shop in Den Gamle By

Aros's rainbow panorama
After Aros, we played in a public fountain - a highlight for Riley - dried off and headed toward Skagen. Our day in Denmark's second largest city was fantastic and we'd actually like to go back and explore it more. It shared many similarities with Copenhagen, but had a slightly different feel to it. Maybe because it's a college town?

Stay tuned for posts about Skagen and Legoland.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Sometimes you don't realize what you have...

I had a long conversation with a pregnant Danish woman this week. She worked at a spa near my apartment and I had gone in for a pedicure. It was my first pedicure in Denmark - very nice, she did a good job making my feet smooth, but she didn't paint my toe nails. Isn't that kind of the point of a pedicure?

Anyways, the woman was in her late 20s and about 6 months pregnant. She was nervous about having her baby, about labor and what life would be like after the baby, etc. I am now an expert on all these things, having gone through them exactly once. So, because I can't help myself, I started offering my expert advice. I told her labor would be fine, we're built to do this, etc. etc.

Then I said how lucky Danish women are because of all the services for new moms here, including home health visitors who come to check on new babies instead of parents having to get out of the house and to the pediatrician. My pedicurist looked at me kind of funny and said, "I thought they did that everywhere." I told her about getting home from the hospital in the U.S., not sleeping all night and then packing up our tiny baby the next morning and going to the pediatrician where we had to wait in the waiting area with sick kids.

"Wow," she said. " I had no idea. I guess I need to appreciate things more here."

It occurred to me that many parents in Denmark might not realize all the things that make being a parent here so fantastic:

Things like the mother's group all women who have babies here are placed in. The hospitals put you in a group of moms from your neighborhood who had babies in the same month as you. Then the moms meet up weekly. Many mother's groups last for years.

Things like paid maternity leave that lasts up to a year.

Things like the abundance of changing tables and high chairs in public places and restaurants.

Things like stroller space on city buses.

Things like playgrounds in every park.

Things like super-affordable and really outstanding daycare.

Things like the annual passes to Tivoli and the Zoo and the Experimentarium that make them very affordable.

Things like the free teboller (soft and delicious roll) you get at my favorite bakery just for showing up with a little kid or the free piece of fruit kids get at some supermarkets upon checkout.

Things like the free carousel at the toy level of Magazin and the big play area in the toy area at Illum where you can take your kids on a rainy day and let them play without any pressure to buy things.

Copenhagen is a pretty fantastic place to be a kid (and a parent, too.) It's not like this everywhere.

I am glad I got to talk to the woman at the salon, maybe she will have a new appreciation for her home country as she brings up her child.

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Embarrassing story below:

It took me a year and a half, but I am finally biking around Copenhagen.

When we moved here, I was eager to adopt the local means of transportation. I did lots of research on how to transport Riley by bike and settled on a Chariot carrier (it's fantastic).

Then, I rushed out to a big Wal Mart-esque store called Bilka and picked out a cheap bike that came home in a box and Neil had to put it together. Not only was it extremely difficult to assemble, but once we had it together we realized the bike was actually too big for me. Even with the seat lowered all the way, I could not sit on the seat and touch the ground with my feet, which made starting once stopped extremely difficult.

I am really not sure what I was thinking. In my defense, I thought I needed to buy an inexpensive bike and that Bilka was the place to do it and I had not really ever purchased my own bike before. I had bikes growing up and then the one bike I had as an adult was a gift. (A gift that was later stolen from our apartment parking garage in Washington, D.C. - but that's a different story.) It really didn't occur to me that bikes came in sizes other than child and adult. I picked out a women's bike and that was that.

Neil tried to dissuade me, but I was not going to be talked out of it. The bike was purple and had a big basket on the handle bars and I liked it. I loved it up until I tried to ride it and realized it was not very fun. Not only was it too big, but it was also heavy and the pedals braked when you pedaled backward instead of freely spinning around. I hadn't had a bike with pedal breaks since elementary school. When we went on family rides, Neil kept wondering why I was biking so slowly while I struggled at every intersection to get back on my massive bike and pedaling again. Not to mention the fact that we had me towing Riley all the time because we didn't realize we only needed a $20 bolt for Neil's bike so he could tow Riley, too. I was slow and miserable.

We went on a few summertime rides, I locked the bike up and we hardly looked at it until this spring when Neil started using it to take Riley to school. It had become a sore point in our relationship, Neil was always wondering why I wasn't riding my bike and I was constantly feeling guilty for buying a bike that was too big for me. And then, one miraculous day a few weeks ago, my bike was stolen.

Don't misunderstand. Having the bike stolen made me feel sad and violated the way any theft is apt to do. Even worse, we hadn't written down the bicycle frame number and so we can't get insurance money for the bike. My perception of Denmark as the safest place on earth is a bit tarnished, etc. But, BUT... with the too-big, too-heavy bike out of the way, I got to purchase a new bike.

My bike at the store before I bought it
 I went to three stores, had them measure bikes to fit me and adjust the seats to my height. I compared prices. I knew what I wanted - a bike, with hand breaks and pedals that can go backwards and forwards that was my size and that I can use when we return to the US (i.e. has more than two gears).
I went for test rides. I was not messing around. And I ended up with a perfect bike. I actually look forward to riding it. I love picking Riley up from school with the bike and I have ridden it every day since I bought it two weeks ago (aside for a weekend when we had friends in town).

My bike on a sunny day ride

I am not yet totally proficient in riding bikes in Denmark. I'm a little unsure about how to hand signal and I can't multitask on my bike, like the many Danes I have seen texting and driving or chatting on their cell phones while biking. (not that I should aspire to this) I have no idea how to wear a skirt while riding my bike, but I realize I just have to give it a shot and see what happens.

It feels great to finally embrace this part of Copenhagen life. Apparently, now that we finally have the city wired and we know what we're doing, it's time to start thinking about moving home... but I'm going to enjoy biking around town a bit more first.

Cold Swimming

It's no secret that it's not often warm in Copenhagen. At a latitude of 55° North, there are lots of cold days here, or perhaps more importantly, not a lot of truly hot or warm days. The Baltic Sea that gives the Copenhagen area so many lovely beaches is almost always too cold to swim in around here as are the harbors and canals throughout the city. 

Yet, somehow this doesn't stop the Danes from swimming. I remember last Fall on a particularly cold day being in a coastal town near Copenhagen (I forget where) and seeing a woman in a swimsuit and bathing cap casually entering the water in the harbor and swimming several laps while her dog waited on the dock. When she got out, Neil asked her if it was warm in the water. The woman said something like, "No, it is very cold, but I train my body for this all year. You get used to it."

Since meeting this woman, I have had an assumption that many Danes do some sort of cold water swim training wherein they build endurance to tolerating incredibly cold water. I think it's probably not true, but I like to think it is anyways. 

Today was a pretty warm day at the end of a very warm week. It was, perhaps the warmest week since we moved here in January of 2011. And so, it is with that background that we decided to try swimming in the harbor baths (ie swimming pools in the harbor) at Islands Brygge. 

We'd seen people out there all week and Neil and Riley had even gone by one day and watched the people jumping off the high high dive. The pools are really cool looking and inviting - it seemed like the perfect thing to do on a warm afternoon.

Islands Brygge Harbor Baths on a sunny day.
In spite of a ton of people swimming in the pools, and a kiddie pool that was packed with kids, the water was absolutely freezing. We played for a little while. Neil went in up to the top of his calfs, I could barely force myself to go in up to my ankles. Riley was the bravest and went in up to his upper thighs. As we were "drying off" or, since we didn't get very wet, sitting on the warm dock and putting our clothes and shoes back on, Neil remarked that it seemed odd that everyone else there was unfazed by the cold water. "Everyone is acting so normal," he said. "It's like nobody notices." 

Indeed, we were the only strange family who didn't actually do what we came to do. Are we just weak Americans? Is there really tough Viking blood still running through the veins of most Danes? We have no idea. I probably won't return to the harbor pools with the intention of swimming, but it is a fantastic place to soak up some sun and watch people. Heck, maybe I will even return wearing my swimming suit, but don't look for me in the water.

Monday, July 23, 2012


The Danish flag or Dannebrog is one of the oldest flags in the world. It's a simple red flag with a white cross on it. Legend has it that the flag came down to the Danes in a battle in Estonia way back in 1219. The Danes went on to win the battle and the flag has been the Danish flag ever since.

There is not much historical evidence supporting this unique origin story, but the legend persists. Last summer, on our vacation to Tallin, we visited the spot where the flag is said to have come down.  Riley was asleep in his stroller and Neil and I posed for a photo. It felt important to visit the site, like it made us better expats living in Denmark. Now we can say, "Oh yes, we've been to the battle field where the Dannebrog came down." (If only we could pronounce Dannebrog.)

The Dannebrog descended right around here.
A friend of ours told us that a common theory is that rather than the flag actually being delivered by God, it was actually someone's family crest that they became separated from in the battle and then it came down by the Danes, thus leading to the legend. Others say it's just made up. Wherever it came from, the Danes love their flag.

As I have mentioned before on this blog, the use of the Danish flag in regular Danish life is very impressive to me. Danes use the flag for all celebrations - birthdays especially, but other celebrations as well. The Dannebrog is used in advertising to connote a sale, it is on kids stickers sold at the post office, it's just very popular.

Post office viking stickers
For Riley's second birthday, we ate on the pirate ship at Tivoli for dinner. It was the first time since living here that we'd been out to eat for a birthday and when we told the restaurant staff, they delivered a Danish flag for the table. Sure, the typical Danish wind knocked the flag over more times than I would like to remember, but it still made me feel like we are doing something right, we're getting the hang of this living in Denmark business.

The Pirate Ship

The birthday boy on the ship with his birthday flag
 Perhaps when we move away from here, our little American boy will look at photos from his first and second birthdays and wonder why there are Danish flags all over the place and think it a bit odd. I will be prepared for this. It will give me the opportunity to tell him about the time he slept in his stroller at the spot where the Dannebrog was delivered to the Danes from the sky.

The Dannebrog flying near Frederiksborg Slot in Hillerød, Denmark

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Peter Pedal, Holger and Unusual Children's Book Covers

Danish children grow up with many of the same storybook characters that children in the U.S. know and love. However, because names are different here, it is common practice to rename characters for the Danish versions. My favorite, because it is so incredibly different from Waldo, is Holger.

To me, calling my red and white striped friend Waldo by the name Holger seems so wrong. And yet, kind of hilarious.

Another good one is the name for Curious George which is Peter Pedal. For those of you who are curious, Pedal does not mean curious in Danish. Nysgerrig is, apparently the Danish word for curious.

 During a trip to the children's section at the library I came across the following children's books that both represent how progressive Danish culture is and how not politically correct it is in other ways. Have a look:

The above book is called "Littlered Has Two Mothers". I saw this and thought, "How fantastic that this book is boldly on display in the public library, we need more books like this in the United States."

And then, the decidedly less PC "The Day Mother Was an Indian":

As someone who grew up in the American Southwest, I immediately feel sensitive when people dress up as Native Americans. I have heard that in the schools here, they have "Dress as an Indian Day" and people paint their faces red. This is strange and I think it stems from a fascination with Native American culture and a lot of exposure to American movies and culture, not from anything malicious or intentionally racist. In my search for answers about the Danish fascination with Native Americans, I found a website addressing mock Native American pow wows held in Denmark that makes me feel a bit more ok about the above book... maybe? Read it and decide for yourself. The Danes who put on pow wows are very interesting and clearly not ill-intended. But as a native New Mexican, the whole thing seems bizarre.

Not being able to sit down and really read these books with much comprehension gives me a narrow cultural lens to view them through. It has been a challenge during my time here, for sure. Not knowing the language allows me to read things into book covers, or newspaper covers that might not be there at all. I have enjoyed realizing how many of my assumptions about things come from my cultural background and how often these assumptions are completely inaccurate since I am not in my own culture. I still have lots to learn and continue to grow in new ways through my time living abroad.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Gone So Long

When we began our Danish adventure, I had visions of free time and writing wistful blog entries in cafes. I imagined moving back to the US with a complete book about my zany time living abroad, it would become a bestseller because all Americans would want to know about my adventures.

Turns out, parenting is all-consuming. Parenting in a foreign country with no family or close friends around for support completely engulfed me. I was submerged.

And now, here we are, with a mere six months left in our two years in Denmark. It has been wonderful, horizon-expanding, challenging and occasionally zany. It has also been incredibly tough.

We have assimilated. But we are still different.

I am completely used to understanding about 2% of the conversations I hear when I am out in public. I no longer notice the massive size of baby strollers here nor do I think that the number of strollers is astounding. (But it is) Riley even has a nice "Scandanavian-built" stroller since our beloved American stroller got damaged on an airplane flight. His new stroller is only a mid-sized stroller here, but it would be one of the biggest at home, for sure.

I have an embarrassing number of scarves and have deluded myself into believing that if I wear one, no matter what else I am wearing - even if it is a baggy t-shirt and leggings or a sweatsuit*, I am at best dressed up and at least I look put together.

Some of the scarves I have acquired since moving to Denmark
I became somewhat painfully aware of my "scarfs make me look classy no matter the rest of my outfit" delusion when I threw one on for an early morning flight to Dublin and then arrived and did not receive my bag for the entire trip. Maybe it was ok for the early flight, but by the time we were at the pub that night, the scarf was really not helping to dress up my black t-shirt and sneakers.

I expect my rye bread to come chock-full of seeds.

Recently, when a friend was visiting and we were at a TIGER store (a cool Danish store, similar to dollar stores, but better) and we came across the bizarrely large section of things with the Danish flag on them she asked me sarcastically if I needed any Danish flags. (This is exactly the kind of thing I would have done when we first got here.) But since it was nearly Riley's birthday and Danes use the Danish flag to mark celebrations, I didn't even register her question as sarcastic. I just said "Yes!" and started scooping the flags up and tossing them in my shopping bag. Whoah...

Flags from Riley's birthday party
After a trip to Monaco last week where the temperature was in the 80's with added humidity, I was thrilled to return to Copenhagen and find cool temperatures and rain. What has happened to me?

Most of all, Riley is assimilating. He is attending Danish vuggestue (day care), speaking some Danish, "Nej Tak!"(No thank you), and eating the food at vuggestue. He has a love affair with Tivoli Gardens, likes throwing bread to baby swans in Copenhagen's canals and lakes and expects that every park has a playground someplace inside it.

I am sure we won't even know some of the other ways we have become a bit Danish until we return to the US and realize all the ways in which we have changed. After all, that is why we are here, to have our minds opened, our worlds expanded and to allow ourselves to be changed by our experience.

Here's to the next six months and to becoming a little bit more Danish before we go home.

*This is an exaggeration, I don't dress this terribly. Close, but not quite.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's Good to be a Mom in Denmark

I live in the 5th best place in the world to be a mom. I am from the 25th best place in the world to be a mom. Hmm.

Save the Children launched their annual Mother's Day Report this week. The report takes into account the well-being of mothers, education, childhood health and nutrition and economic status among other factors.

I think my favorite snarky blog, Gawker said it best: "It's worth considering that, even though the United States placed relatively well overall, it only ranked 25th out of 43 "developed" countries, which is actually pretty terrible."

I was a mom in the United States for seven months. I intend to be a mom there again when we move home. For me, an educated, white, upper-middle-class woman, nothing was particularly horrible about motherhood in America until I realized that I did not want to go back to work after only three months of unpaid leave. I know many strong women and fantastic mothers who did go back to work when their babies were three months old. I cast no judgment about their mothering, but for me, it felt all wrong that I was supposed to leave my three month old baby and get back to the office.

I was going to have to pay a nanny a big chunk of money to do what I wanted to be doing while I went to work to make enough money to pay said Nanny and some of our rent and bills. Forget about getting a spot in a daycare, though that would have been very expensive too, apparently people who intend to someday get pregnant get their not-yet-conceived children on wait lists all over DC making the wait for my not-yet-born child who got on the list when I was four months pregnant more than a year long.

I couldn't get over the idea of paying someone to be with my son when he was so small and I wanted to be with him. It didn't sit right. I kept asking myself why I carried this guy around for nine months, gained weight, went through the physical agony of labor and birth only to hand him over to someone so soon and miss out on the fun stuff - sitting up on his own, laughing, crawling, rolling over...

I tried to find a solution, I asked my employer if I could return to work part time - a compromise, more days with Riley, but still back to work. It didn't work for my employer.  So I did something crazy in America in the middle of our massive economic crisis. I quit my job. I stayed home with my baby and four months later we moved to Denmark.

When people ask me why we moved here, I usually say, "My husband got this great job and I wanted to stay home with our son longer than three months and we thought living abroad would be a lot of fun since we didn't study abroad in college." All of these things are true, but I am also thinking in the back of my mind, "We ran away from a system that doesn't offer adequate parental leave. We left because an opportunity presented itself and because we couldn't figure out how to stay."

In Denmark, everyone has up to a year of paid maternity leave at 80% of their salary. Some people return to work a little early, around nine or ten months. Most people I have met do not. When I tell people that I had three months of unpaid maternity leave in the United States, they either laugh or look shocked. Once Danes do go back to work, their children attend very affordable government-run childcare. I know there are issues with the childcare system here. Wait lists are long, sometimes you have to opt for private childcare while your child waits to get into a school, etc. But Riley attends a Danish Voggestue and I could not be more pleased with the quality of the teachers at his school and the cost of his tuition.

In Denmark, there is a trend of unmarried women having children or adopting children because single motherhood is easier here. Healthcare is covered, maternity leave is guaranteed and childcare is affordable. It is easy to be a mom here - the kind of mom you want to be.

I feel very fortunate to live in the fifth best place in the world to be a mom. I miss my home and the United States of America. I am proud of many things about my country, but we can do so much better when it comes to parental leave policies. I know there are many who complain of big government taking away freedoms, but sometimes more government can lead us to be more free - to be the kind of moms we want to be, to care for our children without worrying about how we will pay for their healthcare, to be home with our babies they need us most and to return to work and resume our careers when we are ready.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Starbucks in Vienna

In February, we traveled to Vienna for the second time as a family. Like last year, it was a great escape from cloudy winter for a more sunny winter. We got to see the fantastic ice rink in front of City Hall, visited Zoom Children's Museum and explored the Hundterwasser museum.

One day, Riley and I spent some time in the Starbucks. I know, Americans traveling abroad and going to Starbucks is a terrible cliche. But keep in mind that Copenhagen has only one Starbucks and it is at the airport. Also, a grande, skim, one-pump-vanilla earl grey tea latte is more than $10 at the Copenhagen Starbucks. So, forgive me if I sometimes seek a bit of American comfort at Starbucks locations across Europe.

This particular Starbucks is very nicely located in the heart of Old Vienna by the Hofburg palace. We sat in a booth with a spectacular view out the window.
 Hard to beat, I think, in terms of views from Starbucks. Riley enjoyed an "American Pancake" which looks like a pancake but is really a sugary pancake-like confection. I enjoyed looking out the window.

A few minutes into our time in the window-front booth of the-most-ideally-located Starbucks on the planet, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Tourists kept walking up, pausing, having friends photograph them standing in front of Starbucks and then walking away. We saw no fewer than 8 pairs of people do this within a 15 minute period. At first I thought that perhaps there was something historic on the wall outside the Starbucks. Then I thought, maybe there is a funny sign on the door? I couldn't bring myself to think that all these people were posing in front of a Starbucks for a photo. Especially given what was across the street. "Hello! Do you not see the amazing and massive palace across the street? Pose with that!"

When we left the restaurant after out snack, I looked all around to see what people were posing with and I discovered that it was, in fact, Starbucks. What I really wonder now is, what do all those people do with their silly photos in front of Starbucks? And why didn't any of them come in for a drink?

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Right Now

Springtime has come to Copenhagen. We have had something like four or five days of sunshine in a row. I was able to bring my medium-weight coat out of the closet and put away the down coat - instantly making me look at least 5 pounds slimmer when I walk down the street. With blue skies, anything seems possible.

I am sure that part of my sunshine addiction stems from growing up in Santa Fe, New Mexico with an average of 325 days of sunshine and blue sky each year. Yep 325 days. I can't seem to find an average of blue sky sunshiney days for Copenhagen, but it's nowhere near 325. This isn't to say Denmark is bad by any stretch. No place I have lived other then New Mexico or maybe El Paso, Texas, has provided me with enough sunshine. But after a long and dark winter, I am elated to have sun and fresh spring air streaming in my window. Aaah.

There is a particular rhythm to life in Copenhagen and this time of year is even more special because of how dreary winter can be. People all over town are outside. Ice cream shops and other seasonal businesses are re-opening, cafes are expanding their outdoor seating to take up entire sidewalks and to extend way out into pedestrian streets and city squares. All the outdoor chairs at the coffee shop downtown are filled with people, many of them eyes closed, faces toward the sun. It is as if the city takes a collective deep breath and all the people blow out their cozy candles and emerge from their homes at once.

For me, this time of year has always been artistically inspirational. A time to shake off the mental cobwebs and recommit to whatever it is I aspire to. This year, I will hopefully rediscover what it is I aspire to.

Like many women I know, I had a baby and lost my professional drive. Everything I used to do seems a bit devoid of meaning now after doing something more meaningful than anything else - having a baby and being a mom. However, I worked too hard and long in my schooling and professional life to just let go of my own aspirations. I realized that the one thing I have always wanted to do is write. All of my jobs have centered around writing and I am happiest when I have written. And so, I would like to publicly (if this blog has any readers anymore) state that I will be updating here at least three times a week as a path to rediscover my personal inspiration and develop new aspirations.

Riley has begun part time school and I have time to myself. This new thing, this time to myself, is a bit mystifying. I never had so little of it until Riley came along and then I went without it for about 21 months and to have it returned to me is both miraculous and terrifying. I have this luxury of being here in Copenhagen as an ex-pat and not needing to rush back into full-time employment and hopefully I can use this time to really choose a meaningful path for myself to go down next. Wish me luck.

Happy Springtime!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Neglected Blog

This poor blog! So very neglected. I have approximately one million posts in my head that were meant to be written down. I suppose this is what happens when caring for an 18-month-old, living in a foreign country, traveling and entertaining visitors. I am committed to post more frequently here in 2012. In addition to posting new posts, I hope to do some back blogging. There are a few things I want to mention: Danish campaigns (particularly campaign signs), Danish Christmas decorations and window displays, The bridge to Sweden, Hockey in Sweden, Coratia and Israel.

Meanwhile, I have just returned from five weeks in the US where I experienced reverse culture shock. The most amusing was my complete lack of understanding when it came to the size of shopping carts at the grocery store. They are freaking huge! Mammoth! I couldn't understand how my cute little 89-year-old grandma (who must be under 5 feet) could even reach the handle to push the things. They are SO BIG. I was also overwhelmed by the choices at all grocery stores and places like Target. I found myself just staring at the shelves not knowing what to choose, but simultaneously enjoying my abiliy to read all the labels.

I also truly enjoyed eavsedropping and talking to random people with the comfort of knowing that I was not asking them to speak in a foreign language. Our time in the US was fantastic, because it's home and because we saw our friends and family.

But, it's nice to be back here in our cozy apartment as the days begin to get longer and longer and every store in Denmark is having a sale.

Here's to more adventures in Danish (even if I don't yet speak the language). Happy 2012!