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.