Thursday, October 29, 2015

Dancing Leaves

Fall really is my favourite season. Now, the streets are covered with leaves -some crunchy and dry, others still damp. The dry ones are the best -they dance down the street when the wind blows by. Svea and I were walking to lunch yesterday and I laughed out loud as they started dancing, it was quite unexpected and just fills you with joy. Then a car drove by and stirred up some more, so the dancing continued. The sound of crunching leaves as you walk and the smell of fall are such great aspects of these cool days.

Though it's cool outside, the kids are still outdoors most of the day. Their warm suits are a welcome addition to their school clothing, and even then it can get chilly. They will definitely need to wear layers in a couple of months. One of the boys' favourite activities lately seems to be climbing trees -as it should be for any almost-6-year-olds. The other day when I arrived to pick them up, one of the teachers asked me how much Danish I understood, and when I said "not much" she said "ok, then I will have to say it in English" and I thought "uh-oh..." She told me that Torben had been climbing a tree and when he tried to get back down again, his leg got stuck in a cross-branch and it took two teachers to get him out. One had to lift him while the other tried to pry loose his shin from the tree. They asked several times over the course of the day if he was alright, and he assured them that he was. He walked home fine, but has a pretty big bruise. It didn't stop him from climbing the trees again the next day.

I finally have finished the scarves for all three kids. The boys chose their own colours, and I chose purple for Svea since it seems to be her colour of choice whenever she gets to choose.
I finished another book this week too, "A Year in the World" by Frances Mayes. Her writing really makes you want to visit each place she writes about. I requested another of her books about Tuscany via interlibrary loan and that arrived this week as well. I will have to read quickly to finish by the end of October.

My plan for November is to participate in Nanowrimo -national novel writing month- which I signed up for a few years ago and then realized at the time that I had no time to write 50,000 words of fiction in 30 days. But this year, I have some time each day to choose what I want to do while Svea is sleeping, so it seems like a great year to participate. 50,000 words is quite a lot, but I'm going to make the attempt. It seems like fun. You're only allowed to brainstorm ideas and plots for 30 days in advance. I don't have a big outline, I'm just going to see where the story takes me.

Today we had the parent-teacher conferences for Anders and Torben at school. We learned that they are both doing very well at getting along with the other kids -they are very popular!-, learning Danish well, and doing all the things you would expect for kids their age. Anders speaks more Danish than Torben does at this point, but Torben has started speaking a lot more in the last week or so. After school yesterday, he said something to one of the teachers as we were leaving, and she responded to him in Danish, and he responded back to her in full sentences of Danish! I have never heard him say more than a couple of words or a short phrase (still more than I know, however) so it was fun to see that he is comprehending it and able to communicate.

Even though they will not be going to the formal school while we are here, the teacher did the same "test" for school readiness that she would do with them if they were going to moving out of the kindergarten/preschool. She walked us through each of the sections and told us how the boys did. It was interesting to see that they both definitely have different strengths, but overall they scored exactly the same on the readiness. Their score was "very high" she said, and they definitely would be ready to go to school when they are 6 if we were planning to stay here. As it is, though, they will be transitioning into a different sort of program around April with the other kids who are getting ready to move to the 0-grade (similar to our kindergarten at home, but a little bit more formal). For the morning they will be in a classroom with about 12 kids and will learn in a semi-formal way, and then in the afternoon they will be with the teacher who runs the after-school program. This transitional program for the last two or three months of school is meant to help them learn the skills they will need to move into the next class for the fall. It's quite a neat strategy, really. You can definitely tell that the schools -especially the Friskole- are designed with child development at the heart of it. And the kids are thriving here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Everyday Pleasures

Some days I sit down to write and think "we didn't do anything extraordinary, there isn't much to say..." and then I stop and think about it and there is always something to say. I was thinking this morning how so many little things make up our everydays, whether we are here or at home, and if we blink too long we might miss them.

After dinner we were walking home, and the full moon was bright and clear. It was a perfect fall night! The air was crisp and clean, and the moon lit up the street in a way that only comes with cloudless nights. Torben and I had a race down the sidewalk. He thought it wasn't fair that I could run faster than he can. I think I actually run slower than he does, but my stride is longer so I cover more ground. It was fun to just break into a run while walking along the sidewalk. Just to add a bit of joy to the necessary.

We had promised the kids they could have hot chocolate after dinner before they got ready for bed. We neglected to choose an appropriately-sized mug for the occasion, though, so it ended up taking about an hour. Right. Note to parents: use a kid-sized mug when you promise them a hot drink before bed, or they will spend half an hour waiting for the large mug to cool, and another half an hour sipping it from a mug 4-times larger than their little bladders should take in.

This morning all three kids woke up early, for some reason. The time change always seems to mess with kids sleeping patterns. They go to bed later, and wake up earlier -even though they can hardly read a clock -and there wasn't a clock for them to read upstairs anyway. Anders was already sleeping in our bed; he had woken up from several bad dreams over night and was done sleeping in his own bed. Svea woke up crying "Mommy! Mommy!" It was only about a half-hour earlier than usual, so we let them get up. We sat upstairs talking about how the sky was getting lighter but we could still see the stars. Then I asked Svea to go wake up Torben to go downstairs. She and Anders both went into his room, but he wasn't there. Anders said "he must be downstairs already" and I thought that was unlikely since I hadn't heard the door open to the stairway. But sure enough, he was not in his bed. So the three of us went downstairs in search of was dark and there were no lights on, and no sounds. Anders checked all the rooms. Torben wasn't there either.

Now it was getting sort of curious; where had he gone? He likes to hide sometimes, but I couldn't think of where he might have decided to hide so early in the morning. I went back upstairs and saw his shadow outlined against the light coming through the bathroom window. He was sitting on top of the toilet seat, staring outside. He told me "I got up very early and have been waiting to watch the roofers do their work." He was sitting silent and still -which he so rarely does- but really seemed to be enjoying the peace that came with watching them get ready to start their work. They seem to arrive at around 6:30 or 7:00 each morning, still. It has been several days of rebuilding the entire roof next door. And it's a short house so from the upstairs we can see all of what they are doing.

The morning went so much smoother when we got up a little bit earlier. I mentioned to them how pleased I was with how they got ready, and we talked about how getting up earlier made it a little bit calmer in the morning, and they even had time to colour for a little while before we had to leave for school. They agreed that it might be a good way to start each day. Just a little earlier.

The weather is perfect for fall. Crisp and sunny, with fallen leaves covering the ground and turning it various shades of gold and orange. I love the smell of fallen leaves as well. And here we get the smell of fireplaces and woodstoves as we walk down the street as well, which adds another layer to the magic of fall.

Svea and I sat on the couch today before her nap, sharing a cappuccino. I tried to entice her to drink her milk instead, but she was much more interested in my coffee. "Dink, mommy? hot?"

I roasted the seeds from the kids pumpkins today, so the whole house smells like fall. I had washed the seeds, but there were still small bits of pumpkin stuck to some of them, so that really added to the delightful smell emanating from the kitchen.

We weren't able to go out for dinner for my birthday yesterday because Jeff was on duty and was required to be at the meals. We are planning to go to the Pizzeria Milano tonight. The boys have been asking to go since we got here. It smelled so amazing as we walked by in the late summer when they still had the doors open.

Jeff had to go to Ribe today to get the car windshield fixed -it got hit with a rock when we were driving from Grenaa- and he also stopped at one of the stores to get the boys a Lego Advent calendar. We are keeping it a surprise until December, but I can already anticipate how excited they will be. Svea isn't quite old enough for that kind yet, but we are planning to get her a Princess one with chocolates for each day so she gets to open a window too. It's so much fun to think about how to make Christmas magical for them when we are away from home. Which got me to thinking... home isn't a place, it's a state of mind. What a cozy thought it is to say "welcome, home."

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pumpkin Carving

We finally got to carve our pumpkins! Once the boys got home from school and Svea took a nap, we brought some newspapers outside to the patio table and set up the pumpkin carving station. Anders got out a pen and drew a face on his before we removed any of the seeds, so we cut the back off instead of the top. Other than the fact that it falls out if you move the pumpkin, it worked really well to get the gunk out from the side rather than the top. Was much less messy up your arms since there was a shorter distance to the sides of the pumpkin. I worked on Svea's, and both Jeff and I helped the boys with theirs. We noticed a distinct difference between the pumpkins at home -which have been bred and hybridized to not have much stuff inside- and these. I haven't seen this many seeds in a long time! We were grateful that we hadn't bought the huge pumpkins we saw last week, and opted for medium-sized ones instead. They were a perfect size, and lit up nicely when a tea light was put inside. I took this picture about 6:15, and it was already very dark outside.

Torben decided he wanted a one-eyed monster for his, so that is what he drew. Jeff helped him out with the carving part. We didn't see any pumpkin carving kits with safety knives here -nor did we expect to- so the kids drew and the parents carved. He added some pumpkin seeds for "hair" just for this picture, and then took them off again so we can bake them.

Anders wanted a scary one, so he drew a very jagged mouth, and the eyes were so close to the top of it, they almost leaned into the stem. Jeff moved the eyes down a bit from the drawing, and Anders was very pleased with the results.
I think it's sort of amusing how they both refused a natural smile with their pumpkins for these pictures. I tried twice each, and these were the closest I got to happy faces from the boys! Maybe they were trying to mimic the pumpkins instead.

While I was scooping and scraping the insides out of Svea's pumpkin, I noticed there was a fairly large rotten spot in it. Incidentally, it was a perfect circle and made for a very nice nose for a friendly pumpkin!

She was very excited to wake up from her nap and see the three carved pumpkins on the steps outside the door. She loves pumpkins. Every time she sees them around town, she yells "pumpkin!" and points to them. Often she starts giggling as well. And if they are lit up, she says "ooh, pretty!"

It was a bit chilly out for pumpkins, as it so often is in October in late afternoon, but we really had a fun time with the boys. Jeff and I took turns with the camera and helped the boys with theirs also.
 We used the spoons a bit to scrape the insides, but the scooping out was all them. I like this one where Torben has half is arm inside. He was warm while wearing his winter suit, but I forgot to remind him to push the sleeves up.
 I love this one of both of them diligently working! They are so focused on what they're doing.
 Here, Jeff examines whether the inside has been scooped clean enough, while Torben decides to see if the pumpkin tastes very good (he decides no).
 Anders got much less full of pumpkin stuff by carving the hole in the back instead of the top. We may remember that for future years!

This is a fun one of all three of them. Jeff is trying to figure out exactly how to cut along the lines Anders drew (the ones that are almost touching the stem) while trying to explain to Anders that he can make it look just as he was inspired to have it look but not quite on the lines. Anders ended up quite pleased with the results, so it was all good.

It was a fun afternoon activity. The boys had been looking forward to it for several days, so it was great that the weather was perfect and they were so pleased with what their jack-o-lanterns looked like. It's fun here that Halloween is more of a "season" than a day. They haven't really talked about trick-or-treating (the kids here do something similar in February, but not now), but have been excited about pumpkins. We still may craft some sort of costumes for them and have them go door-to-door in the dorms to trick or treat for a bit of candy. We'll see. They really are doing such a great job with adapting to new customs and traditions here. Every once in a while they talk about things they are excited to do when we get back home (like eat at Guadalajara -Anders mentioned that the other night) but for the most part they really seem to be embracing this experience.

Svea is definitely turning into a full-fledged-card-carrying toddler. Though her general disposition is happy -and I hope she remains that way her whole life- she has her moments where the emotions get the better of her. This photo is sort of classic, and I intend to print it out for the wall at home.

This was from dinner last night. She seemed intent on putting her finger in her nose, and I told her that was icky. I don't even think I told her not to do it; just told her it was icky. And she fell apart. Tears, crying, brief high-pitched shrieks. I guess it's good she is in touch with her emotions.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Eleventh Weekend

We have been here eleven weeks already! Some days it seems like we just arrived, and others it seems like we have been here forever. The kids are really hitting a stride and jumping into life here so that makes it fun. We stayed home, basically, this weekend, but it was a fully packed weekend!

On Friday, we arrived at school to pick up the boys, and Torben was sitting on the tire swing taking off his boots and socks. I told him to put them back on (so we could go home, and also because it was about 50 degrees and too cold for bare feet), and instead he stood up and shimmied himself right up the poles holding the tire swing! Just like a little monkey would have done.

He was so fast! He climbed those skinny little poles like they were simply stairs there. Then he carefully slid down, put his socks back on, and climbed the poles again, this time only using his hands! Neither Jeff nor I were ones who could climb the ropes in school gym class, so we're kind of surprised at where Torben's amazing strength comes from. I asked if he ever climbed the rope swing, and he said only once. Apparently he prefers the slick metal poles to the rough rope.

This weekend was a "free weekend" for the folk school students, so about half of them left to go home. There was another group of people who came for some special theater workshops, but it was still a much smaller group for all the meals. They rearranged the tables in the dining room to be large squares, which is definitely more cozy than long rows. They have done this a few times when there is a more formal dinner, and it's a nice change. Because of the special group, they did three meals each day instead of just brunch and dinner. We made it to breakfast each day, and the kids got by with three meals instead of four.

Saturday we decided to go to one of the larger stores outside of town in the afternoon. I was knitting scarves for the boys, and needed a bit more yarn, and wanted to get a pair of leggings so I could wear my skirts into the fall and winter here. We decided this time to go to Ribe, about 22km away. First we went to Føtex, and were a bit surprised at the prices, which were more than the local ABC here in town. We bought the ingredients to make the Olive Garden alfredo sauce to go with farfalle and chicken for dinner, since we decided that the formal dinner at the folk school wasn't the best idea for us to all attend. We also picked up several boxes of the Nescafe Cappuccino, which I've discovered isn't quite the same as the Cafe Francais I love so much at home, but it's a pretty decent substitute that is available here, so I drink that. Mom and Dad sent me four cans of Cafe Francais a while ago, and I just finished the last of them last week. I had brought one can with me, so I was quite impressed that I managed to make five cans last for almost eleven weeks! But I digress.

We weren't able to find the yarn I wanted at that store, so before heading home we went into the Kvickly as well. That was the chain I had bought the yarn at in another town, so I had high hopes that I would be able to find the match if we went there. I did indeed get it, along with two large crochet hooks -I think crochet might be easier to teach the boys than knitting- and a set of 13mm knitting needles that I want to use to make Svea's scarf. I used 5mm and 6mm for the boys scarves, and with the thickness of the yarn they are very dense. They will certainly be warm! I also found a fun knitting loom set, which Jeff got me as a birthday present.

I am thinking of trying to create Christmas stockings for the kids, and have ideas that maybe I can make these knitted squares and sew them together. We'll see.

Several people have told us that the branches from the hazelnut tree (is it hazelnuts? The nuts themselves seem to look different. I will have to check before I buy a tree for my yard at home) are often brought inside in the fall and winter and used to hang decorations on. I found a few dead and dried out branches under the tree outside, and we hung it from the ceiling in the porch. There were too eye-hooks already up there, which turned out to be perfect for it. I love the twisty branches, and there are many of them so they will provide a nice backdrop for a lot of various decorations. We first hung the leaf ornaments the kids made at school last week.

They blend into the branches, and it seems very fall-like. It will be fun to see what else we can come up with to hang on the branches as the season goes on. Sunday afternoon while Svea was sleeping, the boys and I spent about an hour and a half making sculptures and decorations with toothpicks, chestnuts, and yarn. We hung five of these from the branches as well. When Svea woke up, she looked at it and said "pretty!"

It's a little bit hard to get a picture, because when it is bright outside to provide light, it also casts a shadow on the branches and decorations, but if it's dark out, then the flash goes off and the branches are blinded by the light. It is pretty to look at, though. The yellow yarn in the chestnut ornaments is a nice pop of colour. Oh how I hate that phrase. But it seems appropriate here anyway.

Sunday morning right after breakfast, we went to the grocery store here in town (we forgot milk and other school lunch essentials when we went to the big store. sigh) and then took a side trip to the little county park on the way home. The kids were so excited to go there!
 All three of them really had a fun time playing on this teeter-totter. It's nice they have one with four seats. They all loved going down the slide as well. A few times the three of them sat together and went down. I wish I had the camera ready for that. So much joy on their little faces!

The time changed this weekend. We knew it was coming, but didn't remember exactly when it was, so we were surprised Sunday morning when we woke up and it was very light out. I figured we had missed the 8:30 breakfast. Then we looked at our clocks and they said 7:15. The light in the morning sure was nice! But then it was dark at 5:30pm. So, it is a tradeoff. In a few weeks, it will be dark again in the morning, and still dark at late afternoon. And it will remain that way for several months. That is going to be the hardest adjustment I think. The dark and cold all the time. The general consensus seems to be that November is the worst month. It's long and dark and cold, and they don't have Thanksgiving to look forward to in order to break up the days. December is dark and cold also, but they look forward to Christmas. In November, it's just dark and cold. We are planning to host several of Jeff's friends from when he was a student here for an American Thanksgiving dinner the last weekend of November, so we have that to look forward to. That meal alone will make our going-home bags about 25 pounds lighter! We brought condensed milk, canned pumpkin, and sage stuffing in our suitcases!

The theater group at the folk school had invited a clown for a special show on Sunday afternoon as well, so we went to that after lunch. Svea was very intrigued for about ten minutes, and then she was done. So she and I went outside so she could walk around and the rest of the kids could watch the show, which was about 45 minutes long. The boys said it was fun, and they came away with a huge balloon figure, so they were excited about that. Svea had a fun time playing a rendition of follow-the-leader, wherein she was the leader. She would say "this way..." and expect me to follow her. If I was not quick enough, she would move her fingers in the "come here" fashion, and say "Mommy, come." She would walk a short way, then say "this way!" and turn to go look at something else. She found a little ramp leading up to one of the residence doorways, and walked up and down, up and down, for several minutes. Then "this way..." to the pumpkins, then "this way..." to the flowers, and on and on all around the courtyard. She has so many words now! I wrote them down about a month ago, and she had 60 words she used regularly, and I know there are many more now. She talks all the time.

For late afternoon, Jeff and the boys went to the folk school and watched The Great Pumpkin with the students who wanted to join in. Jeff also made rice krispie bars, some with orange coloured frosting, some with Nutella, and some plain. That was a fun way to show them all a bit of American halloween tradition as well. Svea was napping so she and I did not join in the movie.

The stores are starting to get ready for Christmas here, and it's a lot of fun to see the decorations starting to pop up. Even though it's still two months away, it is exciting. We bought a Nisse (gnome) door kit at the store this weekend. It has a door, a ladder, a door mat, and mail box. That will be a fun little tradition to start with the kids. Funny that I was just looking at some fairy doors on Pinterest last week, and we came across this at the store and Jeff said it was a very common tradition here in Denmark. It's fun to mingle our own traditions with some new ones here. I really like the Friday night Disney Sjov one...we get home from dinner, the kids put on their jammies (we do too!), we pull out the big bean bag chair, get some popcorn and maybe hot chocolate, and settle in to watch an hour of Disney cartoons. I guess the common tradition here is that each child gets 100g of candy on Fridays for Disney Sjov night, but, we have decided on popcorn instead. We buy a bag of pre-popped "American Snacks" popcorn for about fifty to eighty cents, depending on whether it's on sale or not, and sit together and eat it while we watch. This week Svea went to bed right after Disney, but the boys started watching Versus, a game show where the audience participants vote on whether the A act or the B act will win in some sort of contest, and if they guess correctly they stay in the game, but if they guess incorrectly they are out. The winners get 100,000 Kr. We weren't planning to let them stay up for the whole hour of the show, but it was a fun one and they enjoyed watching it. They really are getting so grown up sometimes.

The pumpkin fairy showed up on our doorstep this week, dropping off three perfect little pumpkins. Our weekend was a bit too busy to carve them, and now that the sun sets early the evenings are very short for working outside. So the plan is to to them first thing after school today.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Hidden Food

Our experience here continues to be a new adventure in various foods. Though they are not exotic and different to the point of feeling "adventurous" at every meal, there are certainly some things that are new to us and take a bit of getting used to. The kids, for the most part, are doing a great job of trying new things and have found a few new favourites in the process. We have had some excellent meals here, and it seems so much easier to eat healthy snacks than it is at home. I cannot even count how many cucumbers we go through in a week, and we buy carrots by the 2kg bag, and fruit every other day or so. Yesterday after school, the snack request was for cucumbers and carrots with herb cream cheese. I don't know what the flavour is...dill maybe?... but it's amazing. We eat a fair amount of that as well. And the requests for "please can I have an aeble? en paere? en banane?" are frequent. So much better than other things they could be asking for! (to be fair, we do eat cookies and popcorn also, but they most often request fruit or crackers for snacks)

Then there are times when we eat something and thing... wha.......?

For example, the other day we had tacos. The tables were filled with a variety of bowls with a veritable smorgasbord of options...tuna, root vegetable with raisins and apples (I'm not sure what it is...turnip maybe? It is shredded and looks like spaghetti noodles), green salad, taco shells, yellow bell peppers, mozzarella cheese, avocado, green onions, taco meat, boiled potatoes with parsley, dill, sundried tomatoes and feta (amazing!). We took some of the sides, and made our tacos and sat down to eat. The meat tasted different from what you might expect. Rather than being spicy and savory, it was a little bit sweet. Teriyaki?  Not sure. Several people topped theirs with tabasco. I opted for a bit of garlic-essence olive oil and added the potatoes with tomatoes and feta to mine as well, making it into a taco salad. But what was the meat? We all wondered at it for a while. It wasn't bad. Just...different. The kind of different where you take a bite, stop, and try to identify what you are tasting, but you can't quite figure it out. Anders said, "this meat tastes different from ours..." but yet he ate three tacos. So, I was impressed with him for that! He is not our adventurous eater. About half-way through the meal we discovered what the difference was...raisins! There were raisins in the taco meat. That was a new one. Apparently, from discussions with some of the students, it was new to them too. But, still, we ate until there were no leftovers. Again, it was just different. Not bad.

Then there was the day we had a pinkish salad. It looks so much like the cranberry waldorf salad my mom makes every year at Christmastime. I knew it wasn't that, but had high hopes anyway. I could identify there were apples and beets and raisins in it, and guessed that the dressing was some sort of creme fraiche or yogurt. So I took some. I have been eating several of the options with beets in them since we've been here, and most of them are quite good. This salad seemed like a good choice to go with the chicken legs and breaded fish with the awesome yellow sauce similar to tartar sauce. First bite did not disappoint. The beets and apples were quite good together. The second bite, though, something seemed off. Like the tacos, you had to stop and think...hmm...what IS this I am eating. And then it hit me. Herring. There was herring hiding in the beet salad. I looked back toward the table and noticed that the little fish sign (they put signs on all the meat so that people with dietary restrictions know what there is and choose accordingly) had fallen down before I'd gone through the line, and had since been set back up next to the bowl of beet and apple salad. Alas. Too late for my plate! Even now thinking of it makes me cringe. I just cannot manage to like herring. I picked it out of the rest of my salad and ate the apples and beets, but they all had sort of a fishy essence to them now.

Next week is vegetarian week. We'll see how that goes. We have had a couple of vegetarian meals so far, and the squash soup was absolutely amazing! We had a similar version earlier this week, it's very spicy, and perfect for chilly fall days. I like to put feta in it. I don't know if you're supposed to, but, it sure is good!

The pumpkin fairy stopped at our house yesterday afternoon and dropped off three pumpkins, so that was a fun and exciting surprise for the kids. We are planning to carve them over the weekend. Halloween here is more of a "season" than a day, and they don't go trick-or-treating. They have a similar type of activity in February, but in October it's more of a fall pumpkin-themed time of year instead of a costumes and candy sort. We got a fun package in the mail this week from Jeff's parents with small treat bags for the boys to bring to their class at school, as a taste of what American Halloween is like. It's fun for them to be able to share some of their traditions with the kids at school, even as they learn about the Danish traditions here too. We are planning to bring them to the school next Friday.

We have been collecting a lot of chestnuts from the ground each day as we walk. I'm not entirely sure what we will do with them all, but they sure are beautiful! It seems many people collect them this time of year. Perhaps they eat them, as I suspect some of them do. Others use them for decorations -I have seen a wind chime made of dried ones at the friskole, and Bolette's kids connected them together with toothpicks into a sort of snow-flake pattern. So we will think of something exciting to do with them also.

The kids also made fun ornaments out of some of the fall leaves at school this week. They gathered large stacks of leaves and threaded them onto thin wire, then twisted into a circle. Some of the older kids made very large ones like you might hang as a door-knocker. Ours seem an appropriate size for a Christmas tree. It was hard to explain to Anders the several reasons we will not be able to bring them home to Illinois with us next summer.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Anders and Torben in the News

Several weeks ago, one of the teachers told us that the friskole was going to have a story in the paper about our boys. We've been waiting (mostly) patiently to see the story come out in the weekly Tuesday paper. Each week it seemed the answer was "I guess it will be in next week..." But this week, at long last, on Wednesday the teacher said "it was in yesterday's paper!" For some reason, we didn't get the paper this week, but Jeff was able to find the story online. on page 54-55, there they are!

We are going to get a copy of the article as well, but it sure is fun to see it in print! And it's such a cute picture too. Them being up in a tree is pretty typical, so it was a good picture to choose. They really have a great time at school here, and it's fun that they did a story about them as well.

All the kids really are growing up fast here, it seems. Svea especially is turning into a little girl rather than a baby. Oftentimes, now, she opts to sit on a big chair at the dining hall instead of in her high chair. This doesn't work very well in terms of neat eating, but she likes being like the big people.

Last night I was invited to Bolette's house with some of the other teachers just to hang out. There were six of us, and when they realized I was there (rather than Jeff, who has a full understanding of Danish language) they changed the game they were going to play and opted for Apples to Apples instead. That was nice. Their English is all much (much!) better than my understanding of Danish, so the other game wouldn't have worked very well -well, unless they just really wanted to beat me at it. It was certain I would have lost! Instead, we played a game I understood, and which I just happened to win. That was fun too. We did not start playing until well after 9pm, and I was already dressed for bed when Bolette called to invite me over, but I'm glad I changed back into clothes and went across the street to be with them. It was a fun evening.

Today it is chilly and drizzling, and Anders asked for his pilot suit instead of just the rain suit to wear at school today. When we arrived at school the whole big table was covered with Lego, and most of the kids were sitting together and building things. It's a great morning activity, since kids can just join in the play as they arrive, and not feel they have missed anything that happened earlier.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Fall Days

Fall is my favourite season of all, so it's nice that it starts earlier here than at home! The dark mornings take some getting used to, but, right now the neighbor next door is getting a new roof put on, so the workers turn on the floodlights just before 7am, and they shine in the windows so that helps! Jeff came downstairs yesterday and said "just FYI...the roofline next door is at the exact same level as the bathroom windows. Just do you know." Right. Use the bathroom downstairs when its dark outside and you have lights on inside. Good tip!

When I went to pick up the boys from school, I saw Anders right away walking around outside, but had to look quite a bit for Torben. He wasn't with any of the kids he's usually playing with in the afternoons. Then I saw him...

He was just chilling out, relaxing in an old log that seemed to be cut out specifically for that purpose, reading a map he took out of a magazine earlier this week. I'm not sure where he wants to go, but he does seem to have inherited Jeff's love of maps! It was so cute to see him just laying there reading. It was a very nice fall day, and the teacher said they'd been outside since 9am. So that was about 6 1/2 hours by the time I got there. She said they might want to play inside when we got home. They even ate lunch and their snacks outside. Today seems quite similar, so I imagine they will be outside most of the day today as well, except for lunchtime when they are going to one boy's house for his birthday party. I still think that's such a great concept...the school brings you all to the children's house during the day for a birthday party, and then you all go back to school. It doesn't cut into family time on the weekends or evenings, and you get to celebrate your birthday with all your friends. Genius!

Jeff's new class on Immigration starts today, so he has been reading and researching a lot for that class recently. It should be an interesting one. There are several movies and books about both Danes moving to other places, and other people coming here. He is also going to have one of his friends from Rotary who moved here after she married a Dane come to talk about her experience as an American living here for 15 years now.

The highlight of today might have been our discovery that the chocolate had been refilled in the coffee machine! It sounds trivial, but the machine that makes hot chocolate, tea, espresso, and the like has been out of chocolate for more than 3 weeks. Even the students were frustrated about it! Every few days we would go and check to see if more had arrived, and discover that it had not. So, we tried again after dinner last night and found that there was chocolate! There is nothing quite as delicious as an espresso choco (for me, hot chocolate for the rest of them) on a dark and chilly fall evening. Kind of akin to the first pumpkin spice latte of the season.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Good morning...darkness

After ten full days of waking up whenever we wanted to (or, rather, whenever the first of the kids wanted to), Monday morning was a little rough when the alarm went off. We typically get up around 7am, and this is what the sky looked like then

Anders would have none of it. He asked how it could possibly be morning when it was still that dark out. At least the light colours give a hint that daylight is coming! The sunrise was set for about 7:55 that day, and by the time we left for school it felt like "morning". The thermometer on the bank that we pass each morning registered at 2 degrees, so, while still not quite freezing, it was chilly. Our kids, of course, put their coats in their backpacks as they felt it wasn't cold enough to wear them. I had a sweater and a scarf on, and by the time I got back to the house I was actually quite warm from the walk. The snow suits we bought a few weeks ago are apparently the common apparel for outdoor school play whenever the temperatures reach a daytime high of 10 or less. So, about half of the kids were wearing those at school (I think the high got to 12), and the other half were still wearing their regular rain suits. It doesn't feel cold to me here, a bit chilly for sure, but not cold. But those who live here are often all bundled up already. I hope that means the winter will feel "mild" to us! We've heard that it's supposed to be a bad one here.

This morning Anders was on top of the whole darkness thing. He has discovered that you turn on all the lights as soon as you wake up, and that helps get the morning started. Torben is still not quite ready to be up and ready to go in the mornings. He will always be a night-owl I think. Anders is definitely our morning lark, and Svea seems to be marching to her own tune...both a morning lark and a night owl. She just doesn't want to miss out on anything! She still takes two naps during the day, though, for a total of 3-4 hours and sleeps almost 12 at night, so she's happy as a clam most of the time. She seems to have it figured out...sleep, wake up to eat, play, repeat. In the mornings, she wakes up and says "morgen", and after her naps she wakes up and says "lunch?".

The boys really seem to be interested in whatever activities we undertake...I got a colouring book of mandalas to bring with us, and they wanted so much to colour in it that we got them each their own this weekend so they could colour to their hearts' content. They LOVE it! We reminded them, though, that these are big kid books and they have to be careful and respectful with them. They aren't cheap colouring books, but we wanted to get them for them because they would enjoy them. While they were colouring, then, Anders said "Torben's not old enough for these books." Which was pretty amusing, since he's only 1 minute older. He pulls that out a lot, though, when it seems to suit him. He is more meticulous, though, and a bit more careful with his colouring than Torben is, so I think that is what he meant. It's fun to see them both run into the house and pick up their coloured pencils and colouring books, though, rather than start begging for Kindle or Pokemon.

I have been working on learning to knit since I got here, and the boys are very excited that I am making each of them a scarf. So this weekend, they also asked if I could teach them to knit so they could do it too. We went to the recycle shop and got two more sets of needles and some regular yarn, and yesterday started our first lesson. It's going to be a long road. I was trying to cast on for Torben's, and he just kept saying, "when do I get to knit? I want to make gloves and a hat." I tried hard not to laugh, I didn't want to stifle his drive! But all I can knit is variants of a scarf, so I don't know how I will teach my 5yr old to knit gloves and a hat... We will try again this afternoon maybe. Anders tried for one row, and decided it wasn't his thing. I like that they are wanting to try new things, though! That is something they are definitely learning from this experience here this year.

Tenth weekend

How is it possible that we just finished our tenth weekend here! It sort of ran through with the ninth weekend and fall break, like one long 11-day weekend! Between going up to the summer house, and coming back to coughs and laziness, it was hard to decide where to start the next post. But, I still like the idea of marking the passage of time by counting the weekends. So, tenth weekend it is.

On the ninth weekend, we had friends over for dinner at the summerhouse and forgot to watch Disney Sjov, so, we made sure to listen to the alarm for it this weekend. The kids love getting back from dinner, putting on the pajamas, pulling out the fatboy beanbag chair and settling in for some half-Danish-half-English cartoons for an hour on Friday nights. It is a nice tradition. I think they'd prefer that the first third of it was something other than 101 Dalmations, but they still watch it all and enjoy it.

Saturday morning we were able to sleep in a bit, ate some breakfast and planned to go over for brunch at 11. When we got there, the tables were all cleared and there was no one left. Apparently, brunch was at 10 that day. So, we went home and had lunch instead... no four meals for the kids who don't quite get the concept of "brunch" and often eat breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner on weekends in addition to snacks. I think they will be about 3 feet taller when we get home next summer!

After lunch Jeff went over to the library to pick up some books for his class, and stopped at the folk school to do some work while he had a few minutes. He discovered that the students were working on building cars out of scrap wood and other random materials, and that they were having a race later that afternoon. Excellent! We all got ready and went over to the folk school courtyard for the 2:30 races. There were several teams, and each of them represented a different country, just for fun. Many of them wore costumes representative of that country, and they decorated the cars they created as well. For the qualifying round, each team had to push (two people pushing, one riding and steering with a rope) their car around the courtyard road once to see who was fastest, and that settled the order for the "big race." The American team had a bit of trouble with theirs during the qualifying round, and one of the wheels fell off. Sigh. So they ended up at the end of the lineup for the longer race. It was quite fun to watch, as they ran as fast as they could on the rocky road, pushing a cart while their teammate tried his or her best to steer the wheels properly with the long rope tied between them. Everyone clapped as they came around a bend, and when they reached the finish/start line. Even during the qualifying round, one team was clearly the frontrunner.

For the longer race, each team had to go round the courtyard ten times, stopping at least twice with their "pit crew" to switch drivers, runners, and to drink 2L of water -total, over the stops. The whole race lasted about 8 minutes, and was fun to watch from start to finish. Most of the cars were sturdy, but also slightly out of control at the same time. The costumes added to the fun, and there were points given for the most creative and realistic costume choices. The kids really had a fun time watching, and Svea even clapped for them at the appropriate times as they came round a bend or finished a lap. The boys decided to have their own races and started running around another courtyard as well.

They had some time off after that to work with their country-teams on a "dry synchronized swimming" routine, which they would be presenting in a couple of hours. We went home during the practice time, but came back to watch what they came up with as well. It was entertaining, but not quite as engaging as the car races. I think if they had been in a pool instead of a gym, some of them may not have made it very long. There was a bit too much standing still from some of the participants. It seemed, though, that they were trying to be funny and entertain their classmates, so, that's a good outcome for an afternoon activity as well.

Saturday evening there was a private birthday party for one of the kitchen staff in the dining room, so we all ate dinner in the library. It's quite nice and cozy to eat over there. It fits around 40 people, but too many more than that would be quite crowded rather than cozy. Jeff's literature class meets in there, and it seems like a lovely place to have class as well. I would definitely spend lots of time sitting in there if I lived at the folk school! One wall is entirely windows, looking out onto the courtyard where there are benches and flowers. The opposite wall is all bookshelves, from floor to ceiling, with the exception of the center of the fall that houses a small wood stove. A fireplace in the middle of the wall of books might seem like a sketchy idea, but somehow it works here. At the far end of the library is a wrought iron spiral staircase, leading to a narrow platform which allows access to the second story of books. The whole library seems like a place from a storybook where lots of adventures would begin.

The weather has definitely turned now, though the rains are mostly not here quite yet. It's chilly in the mornings, and not exactly warm in the afternoons, but yet the flowers are still in bloom. I cannot figure it out at all. Maybe it is because there hasn't been frost yet? Or maybe these plants that look just like those we have at home, are actually somewhat different and have adapted to the climate here. Saturday afternoon I took this photo of a rose
that looks like it might as well be July, not late October. And it's not alone! There are roses in full bloom all over the city, and the zinnias are still blooming, and other plants and flowers that I definitely wouldn't expect when the sky is grey and cloudy all day long and the winds are blowing, and pretty much everyone is wearing a scarf and maybe gloves.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Summerhouse near Grenaa

Eleven days since my last post of our adventures, yikes! It was fall break here in Denmark, when all the schools are closed and many parents take off work and families go on some sort of holiday. The students from the folk school went to Scotland (30 hours each way by bus and ferry-ugh!) and we were invited to go to Grenaa for a few days. When Jeff was a student here in high school, he lived in Grenaa and the families he stayed with are still there. One of them owns a summer house about 15km away from there, on the ocean, and invited us to stay there. We left on Friday morning and returned home on Tuesday evening, and it was a very nice time of being "away", even though our regular daily life here is not that stressful generally.

What a delightful summer house it was! The neighborhood it's in is all summer houses, and all of them are one storey tall and it's quite dark -no street lights, dirt roads, and lots of trees and hedges. When you walked in, it felt "small" and cozy, not little. Just perfect. Jeff and I both said that if we ever get a summer house, this is exactly what we'd want it to be like! The kitchen-dining-living room is one space, with a small woodstove that acts as the furnace and will heat the entire house. There is a small room off one side that has a loveseat and chair and is perfect for reading while drinking your morning coffee. The dining table seats six easily, and we had friends for dinner one night and it wasn't a bit crowded with eight of us. There are three bedrooms which easily sleep two people each and a crib in ours so there could easily be seven people sleeping comfortably in the house; one bed in the kids room is a bit larger, so you could probably fit three kids in that room instead of just two. A lovely vacation spot!
 I think the woodstove was one of the highlights for us. The boys especially loved having a fire in there; loved going to get wood from the woodpile outside and fill up the copper bucket to make sure we always had enough. It's amazing how much heat a 2-foot-square iron fireplace can put out! We never left the fire going while we were asleep at night, and still the house stayed warm even when the temperatures dipped into single-digits.
The large-screen tv was nice too. Jeff was sick part of the time we were here, so we didn't have quite as many adventures around town as we were planning on. So instead we caught up on some shows -the boys were quite interested in the British bakery-challenge bakeoff, and some of the gardening shows. We had a generally-no-kindle rule while we were at the summerhouse, so they did a love of playing together instead. There were several games and toys in the kids room, and in the playhouse outside, to keep them entertained.

This loveseat fit perfectly into the room off the main room -you can see the footstool from the chair opposite it in the picture above as well. What a perfect spot for reading or just relaxing in the sun streaming in the windows.

It's interesting that in a summerhouse neighborhoood, you're actually not allowed to live year-round. In some of them, you can get special permission to be a year-round resident, but this is not one of those. There is no mail and they don't clear the roads of snow during the winter time. They are just summerhouses. And apparently there is a rule that only Danes can own them. This helps make it possible for Danes to have them, keeping real estate costs in check. Too many outside influences would drive the prices up and make it nearly impossible for most people to afford. When we first arrived, there weren't many people around, but as the weekend wore on, several people showed up to the other houses on the street, and we were assured that because it was fall break, it would be quite busy in the neighborhood with families coming to spend time.

The kids had a great time playing outside on the swings, in the sandbox, in the playhouse, and in the game room. Recently, Erik built a garage on the property and half of it is designed as a game room with a ping pong table, foosball, air hockey, and a table-size pool table. There are also Duplo blocks and darts, depending on your age. The boys loved having this room to play in! They also really loved the play house. Even Svea got in on the action there.

It was a short 10-minute walk to the ocean. We paused a few times -so it took us longer than 10 minutes- to listen to the water get louder as we got closer. It's fun to be able to show the kids some of the 'magic' that exists -not magic, per se, but just the awesomeness of the world around us. Trying to get two 5 year olds and a 1 1/2 year old to be quiet enough to hear the water is an interesting feat, but once they realized they could hear it, they got excited about it as well and would tell us to pause to see if it had gotten any louder. So that was fun. This tractor was in one of the driveways we passed on our way to the ocean. I just loved the whole picture of it, with the vine-covered garage and the long grass-covered road. It seems like it should be on a greeting card or a post card.

The water was beautiful here. On days when it was cloudy and overcast, the water took on a greyish hue that reflected the sky, and on days when it was sunny and there wasn't a cloud to be seen, the water was the bluest blue -like something out of a crayon box.
Anders couldn't resist the water. Even though it was windy and chilly, he got as close as he could (and went home with wet feet). Torben preferred looking for rocks and shells in the sand. 
Svea loves the backpack carrier, and found it was a great way to enjoy the beach -no sand in her toes!

On Friday evening after we arrived, Jeff's friend Morton and his wife Anja and toddler came for dinner. We cooked chicken on the charcoal grill outside and had creamed potatoes and salad. We're not really used to charcoal, so we ended up eating kind of late, but it sure was good! It was fun to have people over and just talk while the kids played. Their daughter is just about a month younger than Svea -and thankfully there were several little dollies in the cupboard so they could each play with them!

The next morning, Morton and Anja were going out to the stable to take care of their horse and asked if we'd like to come out as well. The kids haven't ever seen horses up close like that, except for briefly at the state fair, so we thought it would be fun.
Their horse is named Star, and he seems to be a gentle giant. The boys fed him carrots out of their hands.
 Svea was thrilled to see the horses! Hopefully we have not created a monster. She is learning to say the word "horse" now, though, so we might be in for trouble. Good thing I've got a couple of cousins who own horses.
 I held a carrot out so Svea could see the horse up close, but that made her just a bit nervous.
 We walked together with Morton and Anja to take their horse out to a field to graze as well. They share rental of a particular plot of field with their friends and the horses go out for a few hours each day. It was fun to see all of the horses running "free" within the confines of their fields.
This horse was getting a haircut the entire time we were there, and the kids were quite fascinated by it. It takes a long time to groom a horse!

It was a fun little morning adventure for them to get to walk around at the stable and see so many horses. When we were done there, we surprised them and took them to McDonald's for lunch. We haven't been out to eat since we've been here and when we pulled into the parking lot they didn't know what was going on. There was a gas station at the other end of the parking lot, and they asked why we were parked so far away from the pumps if we were getting gas. We said we weren't, and they repeatedly asked why we were there, then. It was pretty fun, actually, to see how long it took them to discover that we were going to eat! It wasn't quite as expensive as I was expecting it to be -about 230Kr so, somewhere around $40. I was expecting it to be more than that. They really enjoyed it, and also understood that it was a treat and not something we were going to do often. That made it even more fun.

We were here over the weekend of our 7th anniversary. Time sure flies! We were invited to Karin and Erik's home for afternoon kaffe and dinner on the day of our anniversary, by happenstance. It is their summerhouse we stayed in, and their year-round home is just about 15 minutes away from it. Still, it is outside of town enough to feel that it's "going away" to go there. We had a delightful time at their home as well. Their daughter who is our age and her husband and two kids were there, as well as their younger daughter. She got the job of entertaining the kids while we talked for a few hours. They had fun playing hide and seek together -though the boys talked quite a while about how Tenna only hid behind doors because she was so tall! We all went for a walk between our afternoon kaffe and dinner, and we happened upon a playground so we stopped to play there for a while. Svea wasn't quite big enough to climb the stairs to the slide, so I had to lift her up each time, but she enjoyed that just as much as the bigger kids did.

On Monday we were invited to Per and Jytte's house for lunch -another of the host families Jeff lived with when he was here twenty years ago. We had a fun time with them as well. They have a few grandchildren and had lots of toys that the kids managed to spread over the entire living room while we were there. They tried making American pancakes for us from a magazine recipe, and the boys completely devoured them! They were thrilled about that.

Around Grenaa, there are lots of things to do, including the zoo, the aquarium, lots of shops, and many other touristy attractions. Those will have to wait for another time. We received the travel guide to the area from one of the kitchen workers here, so we will plan another trip in the spring when the places open again. Many of them close over the winter because the weather isn't ideal for being outside.

Instead, we visited with friends, sat by the fire, played in the playhouse, walked to the ocean, and the boys climbed trees. We had a great fall break!