The Land of Crazy Weather

So what is one of the things I miss most about Denmark now that we’re (temporarily) living in another foreign country? Believe it or not, I miss the weather.

Now, for those of you living in Denmark who are looking at this with one skeptically raised eyebrow, let me explain. I don’t miss the dark or the constant mist-rain. But I do miss the consistency.

This is what Melbourne’s weather looks like for the next week:

Melbourne Weather

I’m not saying that it’s not nice to see all those happy suns in my future, but those temperatures are all over the place! And this morning, it was pouring rain, so much so that Brian’s tram had to drop him off three stops early because the tracks were flooded.

Suffice it to say, I’ve been spoiled by Denmark’s consistent weather. In Aarhus, I don’t even have to look at the weather forecast  before heading out the door. I just stick my head outside and know it’s going to feel about the same all day long. Here, I have no idea what to wear. Not only do the temperatures swing back and forth between days, but they do so within the days as well. So now as I leave the apartment, I have to make sure I have at least three layers and a scarf with me just in case the wind picks up or the clouds cover the sun and the temperature plummets.

Yep, definitely spoiled. But I miss the predictability of Danish weather.

Oh, and one other thing. The bad thing about traveling so that you experience two springs in one year? Two allergy seasons. The allergies here have hit us. Hard. And I don’t usually have outdoor allergies (unlike Brian, who has them big time), but even I’m sneezing and coughing all over the place. Bleh.

6 Months! And Other Adventures

OK, really I’m 24 weeks today. If you’re counting 4 weeks a month, then that makes me 6 months. Buuuuut, then that would make the usual 40 week pregnancy 10 months long. Soooo, who knows! Basically, pregnant women and doctors count pregnancies in weeks, but no one else knows what I mean when I say “woo, I’m 24 weeks today!” so I’ve been trying to translate that into months to make sense to the non-pregnancy obsessed lay person.

23 weeks on the left, 24 weeks on the right.

23 weeks on the left, 24 weeks on the right.

I was going to cheat a post a picture I took last week because I was all cute and in an actual outfit. But then I realized that I’m noticeably bigger from last week! So I just went ahead and posted them both, so you get a picture of me looking normal and a picture of me wearing pajamas. You’re welcome.

(Now, I say that I’m noticeably bigger from last week, but maybe you won’t be able to tell at all. Lately I’m feeling HUGE, but annoyingly it doesn’t seem to come across in photos at all.)

I’m in pajamas because that’s my prerogative as a husmor (house mother/stay-at-home-mom as the Danish would say) who’s busy blogging and planning our tourist activities for the next weekend. It’s a pretty sweet lifestyle :)

Other than all things pregnancy (by the way, now that the baby’s started kicking, it’s like he won’t stop! He’s going right now, and it makes me wonder how I ever couldn’t feel it), we’re busy either working (Brian) or playing the tourist (me, and Brian on the weekends).

Last weekend we went to the Melbourne Zoo, which was super fun. We spent 5-6 hours there! Which is the longest I’ve spent at a zoo in a really long time. (The zoo in St. Louis is free – yay! – so while we used to go all the time, we usually wouldn’t go for more than an hour, just a quick pop in to say hi to our favorite animals.) The best part, of course, was seeing some of the animals that we’re not able to see back home in St. Louis, like koalas and kangaroos and pygmy hippos and the cutest animal ever: the platypus. Plus, Brian decided that the wombat is his spirit animal.

Awwww, aren't they both so cute!

Awwww, aren’t they both so cute!

While I’ve decided that I love the platypus more than anything, the little duck-billed, beaver-tailed, evolutionary weirdo.

And we almost got devoured by some lions, which was pretty crazy. Apparently, we’re not the only ones these lions perform for. There’s all kind of videos of them performing on YouTube.

Apart from that, we’ve been finding our way around the city and planning bigger weekend adventures. Melbourne is soooo different from Aarhus. For one thing, it’s a much bigger city. There’s just so much more hustle and bustle here. During working hours it’s full of professionals in business attire taking coffee breaks and going on business lunches. On the weekends, it’s full of shoppers and then, later, people heading to the club. Perhaps due to it’s larger size, the city is so much more diverse than Aarhus. And it’s so much more colorful! There’s graffiti everywhere, and people wear colorful clothes and crazy outfits.

I'm building up quite the collection of photos.

I’m building up quite the collection of photos.

It’s pretty cool, and a very hip and happening city. It reminds us of a cross between San Francisco and Portland or Seattle. And although I still don’t think we’re big city people (the noise! the crowds!), it’s definitely fun to try it out for a while.

Now, back to planning more adventures!

We’re in Australia, or, Jet Lag is Sooo Annoying

Well, the new big news is that we have relocated to Melbourne, Australia for the next month and a half! Brian had to come for work, and I tagged along. Because Australia. We’ve been here a couple days now, and are sort of figuring out this city. We’re staying downtown. (That’s the Central Business Disctrict or CBD to all you locals. Yep, that’s right, I got the slang down.) It’s a muuuuuch bigger city than Aarhus, and we’re still both adjusting to all the people and noise and busy-ness. (We’re not really big city people.) But it’s also pretty exciting.

Plus, we have immediate access to, like, thousands of restaurants. And I have just one thing to say: yum. Yum yum yum yum yum yum yum. There is soooo much good food here. For one thing, we’re surrounded by authentic Thai and Italian and Chinese food. (There’s even a whole China town!) That’s so exciting after a year of pretty much blah in Aarhus. For another thing, Melbourne is just generally a foodie town, so we get to eat at restaurants like The Meatball & Wine Bar where they only serve, you got it, meatballs. But ohmigod they are best meatballs you will ever ever eat.

mmm meatballs. Mine (the closer ones) were served on creamy polenta. I'm drooling just thinking about them.

mmm meatballs. Mine (the closer ones) were served on creamy polenta. I’m drooling just thinking about them.

Not to mention the coffee shops on every street corner. I feel like I’m in Seattle with all the talk about daily brews and textured foam. Granted, I’m not drinking caffeine, but decaf espresso is a thing here! Yay!

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So we’ve spent the last few days swinging from excitedly exploring the city to exhaustedly trying to stay up late enough for it to reasonably be considered bed time (i.e. 8:30 pm). Somehow, jet lag caught up with us, even though I don’t really understand it this time. I woke up yesterday morning at 4am, unable to get back asleep. But Denmark is 9 hours behind us. Which means it was 7pm Danish time. Which doesn’t explain why I woke up so freaking early. And we get totally tired around 3pm, which is 6am Danish time. Again, it makes no sense in a body/sleep rhythm kind of way! Suffice it to say, our sleep patterns are all screwed up. But, as with all jet lag incidents, we’ll adjust.

So in the next couple months, you can look forward to some posts about Aussies and wallabies and cricket and coffee in addition to the occasional baby post because I’m almost 23 weeks pregnant dudes!

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It’s a Boy! – Let the gendering begin

Baby Boy Announcement

We had our 20 week scan on the 22nd and were told by the technician that we are definitely having a wee little boy!

And somehow I feel like everyone who knows me already knew that. Brian swears I’ve been saying “he” and “him” to refer to the baby for months now, though I was doing so subconsciously. Everyone we tell responds with, “Yay!” which is quickly followed by, “That’s what I thought it was going to be.” And all the clothes and baby things we bought while in the US turned out to be teal of some kind, again something I did subconsciously.

However, I still maintain that this last one happened because I was consciously trying to be gender neutral and teal (NOT baby blue) is more gender neutral than pink. Which brings me to the meatier part of my post: gendering.

This is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, so bear with me a moment. When we went to the ultrasound, we found out the sex of the baby, not the gender. Sex is biological, gender is a social construct. Gendering means assigning a gender (male vs female) to a person/child based on their biological sex. (This blog has a really good summary of what it means to gender a child, if you want more information.)

However, these things often get conflated because gendering starts soooo early. Literally, before a baby is even born. It’s the whole boy=blue, girl=pink, boy=cowboy, girl=ballerina thing. An example: I was trying to make the little banner to use for this post announcing the sex of the baby, and I had the hardest time making one that I felt would be exciting and informative to family and readers and was also gender neutral. So despite my best efforts, I ended up using blue and a mustache because… well I think because the cultural shorthand is so much easier. Blue=boy.

And that’s my worry, that it’s just easier to go along with stereotypical gendering. And I worry about finding ways to actively allow my tiny wee one to explore gender on his own. Because it’s so much more than just sometimes dressing him in pink or letting him play dress up with my dresses or keeping his hair long. It’s about what roles we, his parents, have around the house and how we reinforce stereotypes by example. It’s how other children will react to a boy that likes pink and princesses and still allowing that choice to remain open to him. It’s about consciously remaining open minded about what he plays with and the media he consumes and not falling into the typical, easy rut. It’s about teaching him that girls can be strong and boys can cry.

You always think that these lessons come later in life, but I’m starting to learn that they come right at the beginning.

Oy with the Squeegees Already!

Yeah, because that's real water and squeegees are actually that effective.

Yeah, because that’s real water and squeegees are really that effective.

Listen. I love our apartment. It’s perfectly located, close enough to stuff to be convenient but out of the way enough to be quiet. I love our neighbors. There’s only 4 of them in the building, and they’re all nice and friendly and helpful. I love that even though we share laundry, it’s free. I love that our apartment is old and has big bay windows and light wood floors. I even love the radiators.

But what I don’t love, what I am getting really really tired of, is our bathroom.

I would like to register an official complaint about the typical Danish apartment bathroom. It is slowly driving me crazy.

So if you’re in Aarhus or Copenhagen and maybe you got an AirBnB apartment or you just found a place to live and it’s an older apartment, you are going to run into this type of bathroom. It’s the all-in-one style. As in, your bathroom is literally both a bathroom and a shower in one small room the size of a closet. As in, the water will go everywhere when you take a shower. But don’t worry, you have a handy squeegee to clean it up afterwards! As in, you may want to warn any flat mates before you take a shower so that they can use the restroom because that toilet is going to be soaking wet and unusable for the next two hours until it air dries.

Now, our bathroom is not quite this bad. We are able to pull a shower curtain around a corner of the room where the shower is located, separating it from the rest of the room and keeping our toilet mostly dry. But the walls and floor? Forget about it.

It's so small, I can't even get any good pictures of it!

It’s so small, I can’t even get any good pictures of it!

And the shower side. What's that, you don't see the shower? Oh, it's that thing on the wall between the pipes. You just pull the curtain around and voila! Instant shower.

And the shower side. What’s that, you don’t see the shower? Oh, it’s that thing on the wall between the pipes. You just pull the curtain around and voila! Instant shower.

It is such a little thing, but you would be amazed how annoyed you can get with always stepping out of the bathroom with wet feet. And then you go back in to dry your hair and the floor is still wet!

These bathrooms, and ours is no exception, tend to have horrible ventilation, unless it’s warm enough outside that you can open the window. So in the winter everything remains vaguely damp and develops this mustiness that I absolutely cannot stand. We try to air it out by leaving the door open, but that only encourages the must to spread into the kitchen, which is not an ideal situation. We finally switched to Danish towels – which are craaaazy thin for anyone coming from the US – after I had a brainwave that maybe they’re that thin on purpose. They dry faster! It’s helped a little, but it’s still must city in there.

And oy with the squeegee-ing already! It barely helps. (Did I mention the wet feet already? Did I post that unrealistic picture of a squeegee actually removing water from tile?).

But my main problem, the thing I absolutely cannot stand, is how difficult this kind of bathroom is to clean! You think it’d be easy; just spray everything down and then rinse it all off. But, no. Or maybe other all-in-one bathrooms are this easy to clean. Ours, however, is a horse of another color.

See, our bathroom has all of the pipes exposed, outside the walls. (I refer you back to the pictures above and all those white pipes everywhere!) Which means that I can clean as much as I want, but I can never quite reach the spaces in between the pipes and the wall. Spaces that nonetheless get soaked every time we take a shower. Spaces that I am sure – because I can see it! – are crawling with mold and mildew and ick of every kind.

And what are we going to do when we have a toddler in the house and it wants to stick its little fingers in those spaces made exactly the right size for little fingers?! Ahhh, I don’t even want to think about it!

I guess we’ll just keep the door closed all the time and deal with the must.

So if you are in Denmark – or elsewhere in Europe, these bathrooms are a European phenomenon – and are dealing with this type of bathroom, you have my sympathies. If you somehow made out with a fancy modern bathroom with a shower separated by a lip or – gasp – even a tub, you have my envy. If you’re back in the US and can take a bath whenever you want because everyone has bathtubs there, I’m not sure I feel like talking to you right now.

The One Year Anniversary Post

As of July 25th, we’ve been living in Denmark for one whole year! Yay! Of course, I missed this anniversary because morning sickness, so I never did a post for it. So I figured that would do that now.

Obligatory photos of us. I've been a really bad photographer lately and haven't taken any recent photos. I think this is of us on our way to the US in August.

Obligatory photo of us. I’ve been a really bad photographer lately and haven’t taken any recent photos. I think this is of us on our way to the US in August.

Also, I’ve been thinking that it may seem like from some of my blog posts that I’m a little down on Denmark. I have the habit of writing more when I’m upset or unhappy about something (which actually has many health benefits because science!). It’s a way of working through it for me. But when things are going well, I don’t feel as much compulsion to write. And the transition to living in a foreign country as a first time expat is rather difficult, especially for someone like me who is not always excited about big changes. So I’m worried that I’m not sharing the good, happy, and fun parts of our experience with you guys as much as I should be. Because we do have a lot of fun! And there’s a lot about this experience that I’m grateful for.

So, without further ado, reasons why I am grateful for Denmark and this experience:

  1. Brian can work and earn his PhD at the same time. This is a big one. This is the reason we came to Denmark and what makes it all worth it. In the US, this situation would pretty much be impossible. Companies and universities are not at all used to sharing information and copyright possibilities. But here in Denmark, they encourage industry and academia to work together (which really sounds like a good idea to me). So they have this thing called an Industrial PhD which allows Brian to work full time – and get paid – in a company while also earning his PhD, using the same work for both, basically. If it weren’t for this, Brian either would not be getting his PhD or we would be living on a PhD student’s and a librarian’s salaries, which I guess would have been an adventure all on its own.
  2. Denmark is a westernized country full of very proficient English speakers. You will have some expats who argue that it is a negative that so many Danes speak such good English (“you don’t learn the language as quickly”) or that Denmark is so similar to other Western European countries. These are usually the adventure hungry, wanderlust expats. Just to be clear, you will never hear that argument or complaint from me. I am so thankful, every day, that I can communicate in English. I just, I can’t imagine what it would be like to live in a country where that isn’t a possibility. Of course, we are both learning Danish, and I try to speak Danish whenever I can. But there are so many situations in which my Danish is not going to cut it. For instance, I had to call the insurance company today to figure out how travel insurance works. I just can’t have most of that conversation in Danish and know what’s going on. So, this is a big one that makes our lives here much easier. Denmark is just different enough, and I like it that way.
  3. It’s taught me to deal with being outside my comfort bubble. Ugh, it has taken me a while to see this one as any kind of positive or to be grateful for being forced soooo far outside my comfort bubble. The thing is, I don’t mind change or new experiences. I just like them a little bit at a time so I can adjust before moving on to the next thing. A lot of change all at once kind of overloads my system. This was especially hard for me with Danish, for some reason. There’s just something about learning a new language that makes you feel about 5 years old and 2 feet tall. But I have come to realize that it’s a necessary skill to have, to be out there and to be uncomfortable and to get on with what you have to do anyway. Recently, I think the baby-to-be has really pushed me through a big barrier, again with Danish. I’m always uncomfortable starting a conversation with Danes in English because I don’t want to be…I don’t know, the rude foreigner I guess. But as I said above, there are certain things that just work better for everyone if we all speak English. Doctors’ appointments, for instance. And recently there have been a few times where – due to baby-to-be – we’ve just had to get things done and I’ve just had to get over my weird hang ups and do them. And it all turned out OK. So I’m learning to not judge myself so much for feeling uncomfortable or for not being the perfect Danish speaking foreigner, for being who I am where I am on my Danish language journey.
  4. It’s taught me how to make friends. This has been a big one for me and probably is the thing that I’m most grateful for after #1 up above. I feel like after high school I kind of fell out of practice of making new friends. It comes so easily when you’re young, but it got a bit harder as an adult. You have less down time with random strangers, I guess. Everyone has their lives, and it takes more effort on both sides to build a new friendship. So when we moved here and literally knew no one, it was like back to basics in making friends. And the thing is, I actually really enjoy the process. It’s fun to meet new people who are going through the same things we’re going through. It’s fun to compare notes and share embarrassing experiences and complain about Danish. I’m hoping this all just continues when the baby comes and I start meeting fellow mothers. I’ve learned that in adult friend-making, it’s pretty important to have one big thing in common: expat, country of origin, mother, love of reading, etc.
  5. All the great new friends we’ve made! And thanks to my new found ability ;) we have made some really great new friends. Since everyone in the expat community here is missing their support network, it seems like you bond pretty fast, especially with the people you meet when you’ve just arrived. And it is a HUGE help to have people that are going through the same thing who can share stories and resources. We are definitely grateful for our awesome friends.
  6. The ability to travel. This is also a really big one. Living in Denmark means we get to travel a lot more in Europe, which is usually pretty difficult for an American. So we get all these added bonus experiences, which so far have been totally awesome. It’s not as easy – or as cheap – as everyone tells you it will be before you move, but it’s still easier than coming all the way from the US for each trip. Plus, we get to go places we never would have visited before like Stockholm or some tiny dutch town. I think next on our list are Iceland, Finland, and Norway.
  7. Living on our own. Brian and I have always lived in the same city as our families. And we’ve loved it. There is so much to be said for living around family, and we’d like to end up back in that situation. But I do think that it’s good for us to have this time to try and figure things out on our own. It’s that last push into adulthood, if you will.
  8. The change in our perspective. Brian and I are pretty open minded anyway, but living in another country just further broadens your horizons and forever changes your perspectives on a lot of things. Suddenly you really see that there’s not only one way to do things or one way to live.

So I think those are the big ones. I am also, of course, grateful for little things about Denmark, like the awesome public transportation system, the bike paths, living by the sea, the weather (yes, apart from the darkness I do quite like Denmark’s cool, mild climate, come to St. Louis in August and then we’ll talk). It’s nice to go through this list every once in a while, especially when I’m feeling frustrated about something having to do with being an expat in Denmark, and remind myself why this experience is actually quite positive and why we decided on the move in the first place.

Well, one year down, two more to go!

Our Experience (or lack of it) with Reverse Culture Shock

I feel like all I ever read about these days on expat forums in “reverse culture shock.” It’s all anyone ever talks about, probably because no one ever used to talk about it. What it means is that while living abroad you adapt to life in your adopted country. You change a little bit. Maybe the pace of life slows down or you have become more direct in speaking or you discover a liking for salty licorice. Then, when you visit or move back to your original culture, you have to go through the culture shock process all over again. You assume it’ll be no big deal. After all, you grew up in this culture. But you’re surprised to find that certain things just don’t fit anymore. You hate driving everywhere or you can’t stand how friendly the waiters are or you can’t find your favorite candies at the grocery store because Americans don’t eat salty licorice. (And for good reason.) 

So I was all prepared on our trip back to the US in August – for a month! – to experience some reverse culture shock. I was braced. And then…nothing. 

Well, not nothing. There were a few little things. It was weird being able to understand all the conversations around you – and a little annoying, people talk about the dumbest stuff! I remembered how ridiculously frustrating traffic is when you’re the one driving and how annoying it is to have to drive everywhere. The weather was almost unbearably hot at one point. I had forgotten what the St. Louis humidity felt like.

But mostly, it felt instantly normal and kind of awesome. We were surrounded by our family and friends. I could talk to people in stores without stress, without cringing at my bad Danish or at my need to speak English. I could go to the grocery store and choose between 30 different kinds of cereal! (Who knew this would become such a big deal for me?) I could eat Saltines! I could get cheap, fast, casual dining or takeout and didn’t have to cook every night! (That last one is a big one.)

Now, we’ve only been abroad 1 year, so that probably isn’t enough time to fully adapt to another culture and lifestyle. Also, I don’t think you could say that I’ve fully integrated here. For one thing, I spend much of my day at home alone. (Imagine an old school housewife only lazier and without the retro housedress.) And during the “morning” sickness period, I felt so bad that I stopped going into my volunteer job and Danish classes were on summer break (thank god), so I don’t think I spoke any Danish for about 3 whole months. And it’s really true, the language barrier will keep you from feeling fully a part of the culture around you. 

So given all of that, I was a little apprehensive about coming back to Denmark. I was worried I’d have to adjust all over again. But then we landed, and I was so glad to get on the train from Copenhagen to Aarhus and see the familiar countryside whiz by. We got home, and we just picked back up with our lives here. Even if we’re not 100% comfortable here, it’s still familiar, and we’ve got our little routines and we’ve got our friends (all of whom I was excited to see) and we’ve got our life that we’ve made, just the two of us.

So I would say, the weirdest thing about this whole reverse culture shock experience is the realization that we have two totally different lives in two totally different places and we could go to either place and pick up with either life fairly easily. I’ve never had that before, and it’s a bit of a strange feeling. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it, but I’ll tell you one thing, it’s wonderfully reassuring to know that we have something to go back to and people at home who love us.

We have Big News, of the pitter patter of little feet variety!

First, let me say: I’m so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so so sorry for leaving for so long without a word.

But, I have a really good excuse: I’m pregnant! See, here’s a (bad) picture of me sort of, kind of, almost visibly pregnant.

And for those of you who know St. Louis, you may recognize the famous and delicious ice cream stand behind us.

And for those of you who know St. Louis, you may recognize the famous and delicious ice cream stand behind us.

The reason that’s an excuse for not posting is that I had a really bad first trimester that included morning sickness that lasted all. day. long. I’ve never been seasick before, but I imagine it’s like taking a three month cruise which you can’t get off of and you’re horribly seasick the whole time. I literally did nothing but groaned on the couch while thinking exclusively about what I could possibly eat next that wouldn’t cause further harm. For a while it was a very small list that seemed to consist mostly of pizza and french fries with mayo. (Definitely NOT stir fry or barbecue, ick. Those things still make me nauseous.) So not a whole lot of posting on the interwebs could be done at this time during the groaning and the almost barfing.

And then we spent the entire month of August in the US visiting our family, so not much posting got done then, either. Luckily, I was starting to feel a bit better for that part or I would have been really upset because I had a list a mile long of food that I needed to eat while in St. Louis. I got to some of them (toasted ravioli!), though some others I still couldn’t really eat (cheeseburgers).

So that is my big news and my big excuse. I know I’ve committed the blogging sin, to disappear without a note, but hopefully I will be forgiven. And I plan on being back and making regular posts again, now that I’m feeling almost human.