Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Journey

I started this blog nearly 4 years ago after moving from the US to Denmark. Not only was it a way to document thoughts, feelings, and differences between the 2 countries, it was also a way to keep family and friends back in the US up to date on my new life in Europe. Above all, it helped me (and them) feel not so very far away.

My first challenge in my new country was learning the language, then making new friends, then finding a job, and finally getting my Masters Degree. Not to mention transition from the self-sufficient woman I was, to the other half of a couple, remembering to use the word "we" from now on. Throw some cultural differences into the mix and it has been quite a ride!

While I am still learning and experiencing new things, I no longer feel I am starting a new chapter, as the title of this blog would suggest. After all, I have practically written a book! Therefore, I am closing this chapter, and simply beginning another. It is now about "The Journey" for me which I will be documenting through images, quotes and a new post now and again on Tumblr.

If you would like to continue to follow me, you can find me here or on Twitter at @hltweet.

Vi ses for nu!

Winter Blues

Whenever I hit the 4th or 5th month of winter I begin to get cabin fever and crave the sun, sand, and beaches of pretty much anywhere warmer. When living in the Midwest if you are lucky, work travels can take you to the West Coast or somewhere down South, so you can at least get a taste of sun and warm(er) weather to rejuvenate your soul while you brace yourself for the remainder of winter. If you are very lucky you can afford a long weekend or few days away in Florida or Mexico.

Living in Denmark during the winter isn't that much different than living in the Midwest. On average, the weather is milder and not as cold in the Winter, but the lack of sun definitely sucks the life out of you. The Midwest may be cold, but at least it has sun! So when I attempted to find a quick trip or long weekend getaway to Greece or Italy or Spain or anywhere with a bit more sun this time of year, I was shocked to find how limited you are when living in Denmark. 

First of all, there is no such thing as a 4 day weekend trip in Europe (at least of the beach vacation kind). It's a one week trip minimum, which is enforced by the charter vacation offers available. You could probably do a 4 day weekend in a city in Italy or Spain, or do a ski holiday for that amount of time (which most Europeans do). However, sand and surf options are limited, most likely due to airline restrictions.

Secondly, Greece appropriate weather (my preferred destination) doesn't begin until May. This makes me wonder if it is tied to the vacation scheme in Denmark (which is on a May-May timeframe). Anyway, if you want sand and sun now, it's either Thailand, Egypt, the Canary Islands, or some other 4+ hour flight away. That's all fine and dandy because the typical European has more vacation than the average American. However, when you are an expat living in Europe and have used up all your vacation time on transatlantic flights back home, that limits the options considerably.

So, I will wait patiently for May to take my beach vacation to Greece as the chance of Summer actually hitting Denmark by then is slim to none. That's where the difference really lies between the two countries in terms of weather. In the Midwest you can count on three solid months of true Summer weather. I'm talking 80+ F or 25+ C. In Denmark you're lucky if you get a couple weeks, unfortunately.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Home is Where the Heart is

We just returned from nearly 4 weeks in the US over the Christmas and New Year holidays, which explains my blogging absence since Thanksgiving. For that, I sincerely apologize. However, rest assured I was thoroughly enjoying myself back home surrounded by family and friends and lots of love. Home. Some say it's wherever you lay your head, and others say it's where the heart is. But what if your heart is in two different places? That is most definitely the case in this instance.

I am blessed with an amazing husband and he comes with a wonderful family that is kind and caring and thoughtful. I realize how lucky I am as I have found a true partner and as far as in-laws go, I couldn't have asked for a better lot to be married into for the rest of my life. But blood is blood. There is just nothing like looking at a family member and seeing the resemblance of you in them, through your parents. Good or bad, it's what bonds you or drives you crazy. The love is often unspoken, unless of course you live thousands of miles away. Then you know better than to hold it in. You speak it when you feel it.

The choice to live in Denmark was very logical, given our emotional state at the time of our engagement. Since then I have learned a new language, made new friends, received my Master's degree, and have worked with fantastic people. So why is it so hard to leave the US after each visit? Because my heart is in two different places. The country of my birth and the country I reside in are both amazing places to live. If I could combine qualities from both I could create the ultimate utopia. Add all of the people I love in one place and it would be heaven.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


The first Thanksgiving in the U.S. is commonly traced back to 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusets as a celebration of food after harvest season. Whether it was between the Native Americans and Pilgrims as we were taught as children is up for debate, but it makes for a good story. The day we celebrate it today, the fourth Thursday in November, has roots tracing back to the first date proclamation made by President George Washington and another by Abraham Lincoln declaring all Americans celebrate it on the same day (Source: Wikipedia). 

As the U.S. is a melting pot of religions and cultures, Thanksgiving is the one non-denominational day of the year (besides the 4th of July) where every American has the day off to spend time with family and friends. For reasons unbeknownst to me, both days also include a parade, but that's a blog for another time. The Thanksgiving feast is typically centered around a turkey with various trimmings and side dishes depending on the family tradition. In the Midwest, we always have stuffing, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes and gravy. My sister-in-law who grew up near Louisville, Kentucky brought creamed corn and sweet potatoes into the mix. The day ends with family gathered around the TV to watch endless games of back to back football. 

When you are an American living outside of the U.S., Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that is hard to miss, so you do everything you can to recreate it in your present environment. Which often means, gathering close friends and cooking the traditional meal. Hence, the name for this post. This was my 2nd Thanksgiving outside of the U.S. and by far the closest to the real thing I could have ever asked for. My husband and I cooked a whole turkey and friends pitched in to make the side dishes and dessert. In the end we had enough food for 6 of us, left overs for several days, a feeling of being home, and above all, gratefulness that I could share this day with others just as excited about it as I was.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Beautiful Berlin

A few weeks ago my husband and I took our annual trip together, which happened to be to Berlin. We've decided this is our Christmas present to each other each year due to the fact that 1) we never really feel like we "need" anything and 2) the majority of our travel budget is spent on trips back to the U.S. to see family and friends. This allows us to see someplace new and slowly check off the long list of places in the world we would like to travel.

Apart from being mesmerized in its history, Berlin is a place of great beauty. I'm not just talking about the landscape or architecture, but more of the inner strength and colorfulness of the people. It felt very international to me, and at times American. I know that sounds crazy, but walking through the Mitte neighborhood where we stayed, there were times I swore I could have been in Chicago. The fact that they have Starbucks helped, but also the newness of the buildings and wideness of the streets definitely made me feel like I was on the other side of the Atlantic at times. Then I would see an old building next to a new one and I would remember how the city had to rebuild itself many times over the years.

The most emotional part of our trip was a visit to the Holocaust Memorial and the parts of the city where the Wall still stands. The American Embassy was right next to the memorial which reminded me of the role the country played in WWII. I have a suspicion its location was a strategic decision given it took nearly 17 years to complete the construction after many years of negotiating and planning. We found a path which symbolized where the Wall once stood and followed it to a part of the city where you can see it in its original form. After walking by the words "Why" and "Madness" spray painted into the Wall, you get a sense for how it must have felt to be living there at that time. A Visa was required to move from one side of the city to the other. This part of the city known as "Checkpoint Charlie" actually still has the original signs up, in addition to fake American soldiers standing guard (for the tourists of course).

One of my favorite parts of the trip however, was dinner at an authentic German restaurant with friends. Because I work for an international company and we have an office in Berlin, we met up with some locals for traditional schnitzel and cheese noodles, in a warm and friendly atmosphere. Afterwards we went to a hotel bar, which again reminded me of something we would do in Chicago. Whenever I travel, I prefer to go where the locals go, and do as the locals do. Just goes to show, no matter where in the world you live, some things remain the same.

What's the Bond Deal?

The whole James Bond fascination must be a European thing. The latest Bond movie has everyone I know in Denmark and throughout Europe talking about the movie with a sense of excitement you usually only see for major events like the Oscars or the World Cup. From opening night black tie attire to dinner plans to drinks, this movie has friends excitedly talking about when and how they plan to celebrate seeing the next Bond flick.

I tried to share in their excitement (to be polite of course) but kept asking myself inside the entire time they were talking, what the big deal was? In the U.S. the Bond movies are legendary as well, but for me they are more nostalgic than anything else. Like listening to Frank Sinatra, or going to a great steak house. Looking back at when the series began that makes sense, as the first movie was aired in 1954.

I am certainly not against seeing the Bond movies, but honestly can't remember the last time I saw one. I remember Madonna releasing a song for the 'Die Another Day' movie but that was circa 2002. The Bond actors that come to mind for me are Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan, but of course there are many more. Ask any Bond fan and they are sure to utter off the actor's names as easily as their children's names. 58 years and nine Bond actors later, Daniel Craig seems to have resurrected the series from old school charm to current day action.

How do I know that? Because when I was invited to see the movie with my favorite British friend, I of course accepted the invitation succumbing to the excitement of it all (for research purposes, obviously). When in Rome, do as the Romans do, right?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Football Politics

I was living in Chicago during the last American Presidential election. It was 2008 and Tobias and I were still dating. I remember him waking up with me early in the morning so I could be one of the first in line to vote at the church around the corner from my building. Later that night we celebrated the historical victory with friends and champagne. We could hear the cheers from Grant Park, nearly 2 miles away, when Obama took the stage to accept the Presidency. It was an incredible evening. 

Six months later I moved to Denmark.

I have been gone for the majority of Obama's Presidency in the U.S. and have only seen progress or discontent through the eyes of the Danish media, my American friends' Facebook posts, and discussions with family back home. When the Affordable Health Care Act was passed, it was deemed a success when talking to friends and colleagues in Denmark. This of course was coming from a place where there is a good public health system, and a private option as well, functioning side by side. It is also coming from a mindset where people are happy to take care of others and health care is a human right, not a personal responsibility. In terms of foreign policy and approach, the Obama administration has made being an American living abroad a pleasant experience. Not like when Bush was in office and most Americans claimed they were Canadians whenever they traveled abroad, to eliminate the uncomfortable dialogue and scary anger felt towards the U.S. at the time.

Despite my lack of physical presence in the country of my birth during the past 3.5 years, I have still been able to follow Obama's successes and losses (for the most part) due to Denmark's global news focus and interest in American politics. It has actually surprised me how much the majority of Danes identify with the U.S. in terms of language and culture versus England, who is their next door neighbor. This fascination with American culture has enabled some great conversations allowing me to elaborate on my country's politics and reflect a little bit as well. One thing that strikes me as needing an immediate modification is the limitation of a 2 party political system, who's ideals are too far apart to make any real progress in 4 or 8 years, depending on which party is currently in office. This creates a football politics situation where two parties are too busy fighting with each other or winning the office, that no real progress is ever made. Any time one party is in office, it seems to be the goal of the other party to get them out of office as quickly as possible. As long as they continue to go back and forth tearing down what the other party implemented, no real progress is ever going to be made.

In Denmark there are 9 political parties. In the U.K. there are now 3 strong parties. In Germany there are 2 major parties and 3 minor parties and in France it is a multi-party system as well. I am not saying the U.S. needs to look to Europe for guidance in any way. I have just found myself trying to answer the baffled looks as to why the system is the way it is in the U.S., more than once. Believe me, I refer to the online version of Wikipedia, as well as the human version (also known as my husband) a lot when this happens.