No curve was too sharp for them and their bicycle. No puddle was deep enough to stop them. -- Friends by Helme Hein

24 February, 2012

February Freeze

Thank goodness the cold-snap we had in the middle of February has passed.  For 2 weeks we never once got above freezing.  

It made for some beautiful scenes, though. 

Nyhavn frozen in ice.

Even the sea was frozen for as far as you could see!

We got a few centimeters of snow, enough to draw every child from 0-100 out to play on the small hills in the park across the street from us.

Woody wasn't so sure about the cold white stuff.

He was cranky after the few runs we took.

No such thing as fair-weather cycling in Denmark. 

The cycle tracks are better maintained than the roads!

This week I've heard the birds chirping and the lakes have thawed.  I would like to believe that Spring isn't far away, but the sceptic in me isn't holding out hope.  I've heard it's not nice until June.  

19 February, 2012

Felix's First

One year ago, on February 13, James and I went for a walk in the park to see the ume blossoms in Tokyo.  Three days past my due date, I remember moving slowly up the hill, stopping to catch my breath often.  I thought it would still be a few days before we got to meet our little baby.
It must have been the spicy curry I ate that day, because less than 12 hours later I was in labor.  On a snowy Valentine's Day night, we met our little guy for the first time.  The sweet Japanese nurses wrapped him in a tiny terry cloth kimono and gave him to use like we knew what to do with him. 

Today, we have this big kid at one year old.  A lot happens in a year.  More than I could have ever thought--from big earth movements to big family moves.  At one year, that little baby we took home in Tokyo is still in there, but he's now grown into a speedy, independent, adventure seeking, slightly stubborn, curious, social and sweet little boy.  

To celebrate that we all made it through a year (even though James and I look like we've aged five years), we threw a party for Woody.  I'd always thought of first birthday parties as more for the parents than the children, but Woody really seemed to enjoy his day.
Like any crazy mom, I tried my hand at baking the cake.  When it failed miserably, I bought these delicious cupcakes.  Everyone was happy.  I did succeed at making cute little cheddar goldfish crackers, though they were a true labor of love I won't be repeating often. 

True to his international roots, little Felix's guests were from around the world: Denmark, Japan, Mexico, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, UK, and the US. 
He was happy to show off his walking skills and push around his new packages.

The cupcake wasn't a quick hit.  In fact, I think he was a bit unnerved by the attention, the singing and the flame.  

But once he got his fingers in that cream cheese frosting and red velvet cake, there was no turning back.

Before we left Tokyo in June, we bought Woody a shinkansen train set.  We set it up for his first birthday and he was in love.

But then he went all Godzilla on it, and we've since had to put it away until he's ready for it. 

Every good party ends with a kiss.  Woody sure knows how to woo the ladies. This is our cute little 5 year old Mexican-Danish neighbor from upstairs.

 It was a good day and Woody is looking forward to doing it all again tomorrow (or next year, whichever comes first).

16 February, 2012

The Grocery Store

At the risk of sounding like a disgruntled stay-at-home-mother, I'm going to talk about grocery shopping because it is the single most frustrating thing about living in Denmark. Food is a large part of my daily existence (probably yours too?) and getting it is no easy task in Denmark.  Everything from service to price to selection to long, long lines becomes a point of contention, and the reason why I have, more than a handful of times, walked out of a store empty-handed in total frustration.

We live in the city, and city grocery shopping is different than suburban grocery shopping.  It means I have to walk (no big deal) and usually deal with smaller stores with less selection and visit more often.  In most places around the world, people shop daily because the food spoils within a few days.  In Denmark, I go shopping 4-5 days per week, which probably only compounds my dislike for the stores here.  I wish I could say I went so often because the food was amazingly fresh, but no, I can only carry so much when also toting a 20-pound baby. 

The cost of living in Denmark is notoriously high and food gets no break from tax hikes.  On my $40 grocery bill total, I paid over $8 of that in tax.  That's a 25% tax on food on top of the 45% income tax, the $200 bi-yearly media tax, and the $10 per month antenna tax (whether you've got a TV or not)! One has to ask where all this money goes.  

Here's a little sampling of what I bought today and the prices:

approx. 2 sticks of butter = $4 (thanks to the recent addition of the world's first fat tax)
half loaf of whole wheat bread = $3
1 cucumber = $1
10 organic eggs = $5.50
1 liter of yogurt = $3
1 grapefruit = $1
1 avocado = $1.25
1 liter of milk = $2
1 zucchini = $1

Those prices may not look like much individually, but they add up quickly.  We used to pay around $500 per month for groceries in Tokyo, and we are now spending close to $1000 per month. I do believe we should spend a high percentage of our salary on food because it’s not just something that fills our bellies, but it also nourishes our body and soul.  Healthy food=healthy bodies=fewer doctors visits.  Sounds like something a state run health care system would promote and possibly subsidize.  I could get behind the fat tax if the money gained on foods like butter, cheese and meat was used to offset the high cost of fruits and vegetables, but it is not.  It just seems like greediness to me.

I expect to pay more for "exotic" foods that provide me the comfort of cooking food that is known to me, but the prices on these items due to import taxes are criminal: 

1 tube of wasabi paste = $7
10 sheets of nori = $7
small jar of bland salsa = $5
small jar of natural peanut butter (about 1/2 the size of an Adams jar) = $7
half size package of plain tofu = $5

When you consider these items hardly taste anything like the original and are made in neighboring Holland, you begin to realize you are getting ripped off.

But even more frustrating is that I did this shopping at three different stores because you can never count on one store having everything in stock.  I'm not picky.  Basics like grains, vegetables and dairy vary from store to store.  Each store usually only has one or two brands to choose from and will possibly be out of stock of the one you are looking for.  Or it will be out of date!  I know this can happen in remote places where food doesn't turn over quickly, but come on, in the middle of the city?!  Right now, at the dead of winter, the vegetable selection has been reduced to about 10 choices: soggy looking asparagus from Brazil, small potatoes, celery root, big potatoes, onions, gold potatoes, turnips, new potatoes, tasteless hothouse peppers, and a few more varieties of potatoes.  You get the idea.  I promise I'm not being overly dramatic, it's really that sad.  I know it's winter, I know it's best to eat locally grown produce, but I also know from living in Japan that winter does not have to mean a dearth of fresh vegetables.  Japan introduced me to daikon and lotus root, among other lesser known root vegetables, all grown in the winter.  A wealthy country like Denmark should be able to stock more than potatoes in January.

Just like any place, there are high-end stores and low end stores.  Most of my frustration comes when I visit the low-end stores--narrow aisles crowded with palates of un-shelved goods with no room for shopping baskets (let alone a stroller) and terribly, terribly long lines.  You can count on seeing only 1 or 2 checkers at most in a store.  Each line is about 15 people deep, taking 10-15 minutes to get through.  (I use the term "lining up" in Denmark loosely: A new checker opens up?  The 10 people in line behind you peel off and go to the new stand, rather than politely offering the new spot to the person who has already been waiting 10 minutes in front of you.  Grandmas will take your spot if you aren't standing with your nose in the back of the person in front of you. Danes don't do lining up well.) And once you do reach the front of the line, you can expect nothing but the most brusqueness of service.  Danes have a particular brand of customer service.  It goes something like this:  I'm not really bothered by what you need.

I definitely benefit from the high tax rate while living in Copenhagen, but where do we draw the line?  It just seems like too much.  Maybe I'm just extra grumpy because I had to schlep home a heavy bag of food 1/2 a mile while carrying a 20 pound baby and wearing 5 pound winter boots because it's 25 degrees F (-3 C) outside.  Or maybe I'm just a spoiled brat who is used to modern conveniences and needs a little perspective on just how good I have it. 

02 February, 2012

It's cold here.

Really cold.  Up until this month, the winter in Denmark had been quite mild.  But for the last 2 weeks, the temperature has barely gotten above freezing, with most days well below 0 C. 

This morning it was -7C/19F when I left with Woody for the day.  The verdict is still out on what's worse in my opinion: staying indoors with a busy baby or getting a busy baby dressed to leave the house in this weather.  This completed winter look took about 30 minutes of chasing and dressing, one layer at a time.  In between layers, he speedily crawls away from me laughing at my growing frustration.  Here he is wearing long underwear, wool pants, a onesie, two long sleeve shirts, two pair of socks, a fleece suit and a baby balaclava.  It's hard work living in a cold climate. 

 All of that dressing for an hour or two at an indoor playground.  At least he is too tired to fight me after all that play when I dress him for the way home.

 I've been saving the topic of babies and prams in Denmark for a whole separate post, but this seems like a good time to talk about sleeping in the cold.  Did you know that babies in Denmark sleep outside for naps?  All year round?  The Danish health authority encourages moms to bundle up their babies, rock them in their prams, and leave them in the protected courtyard to sleep up until -10C.  After -10, they finally come inside. Some moms leave a baby monitor in the pram (complete with temperature gauge!) so they can tell when their baby has awakened.  My jaw dropped when I first heard this, but Woody does actually sleep very well in the cold. Unfortunately our courtyard is more like a trash heap, so he sleeps inside where it's warm.