Sparkling Allison

American expat in Denmark, mom, lover of sparkles and staplers, avid book club member.

Lose a job, gain a friend

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It has hit me more than once over the last couple of weeks how loss leads to gains. I'm thinking in particular of how becoming unemployed has opened doors to some new relationships, and to the strengthening of some existing relationships. It is such a nice thing. I've really struggled with friendships since coming to Denmark, and it feels like suddenly my social life is booming. So thanks, unemployment, for that. 

We also found out this week that Calvin's vuggestue is closing. Unexpected, and everyone is really sad about it. My initial reaction was to do whatever it took to keep Calvin together with his classmates, who have become close friends. But reality struck, and we decided that it is actually best to get Calvin into a vuggestue closer to home.

But again, loss leads to gains. A handful of the parents are in touch now and coordinating weekend play dates. These are parents whose children I've known, but I've never met or talked to at length just because... Daily life at the vuggestue didn't require it. I'm kind of kicking myself for not being more proactive about meeting these parents before this happened. But I'm delighted that the parents I've been in contact with are so open to continuing the relationships our little ones have forged. 

It's not just relationships that I've gained. 

Time. Oh, the free time is glorious. I get to spend it reading over a prolonged cup of coffee, strolling through Torvehallerne, picking up Calvin a little early and biking around the neighborhood with him, making Halloween decorations, cooking for my family. Touring new vuggestues, and doing the necessary paperwork to file for an exemption that would let me get to the top of a waiting list. It's good times.  

Perspective. My head was down and a little bit in the sand about my career before. I've spent the last few weeks narrowing in on what I enjoy most about working, and setting some priorities for the type of work and people I want to be challenged by and surrounded with in the future. I'm feeling very fortunate about the connections and skills that I have. Very fortunate.  

Health. I thrive when I have a lot of sleep, and I am getting exactly that right now. I'm also walking and biking a ton, and eating well. Mm mm. Feels good. 

So loss, gain. This is just a reminder to myself to appreciate it as such. 



[Book] Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

BookSparkling Allison

My first time reading Wallace Stegner, and likely not my last. I read this book because it was recommended to me in Goodreads and forwarded by one of my favorite authors, Terry Tempest Williams. Both authors are from and write about the American West, although this book is mostly set on the upper East Coast. 

I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads. It has great depth of character and weaves the shared histories of two married couples together with a powerfully understated tone. The author addresses this tone directly saying:

"Human lives seldom conform to the conventions of fiction.

Drama demands the reversal of expectation, but in such a way that the first surprise is followed by an immediate recognition of inevitability. And inevitability takes careful pin-setting. Since this story is about a friendship, drama expects friendship to be overturned...

Well, too bad for drama. Nothing of the sort is going to happen. Something less orthodoxly dramatic is. Nevertheless there is this snake, no bigger than a twig or a flame of movement in the grass. It is not an intruder in Eden, it was born here. It is one of Hawthorne’s bosom serpents, rarely noticed because in the bosom it inhabits it can so easily camouflage itself among a crowd of the warmest and most generous sentiments."

I could not put the book down, and it's left me thinking about my own relationships, with Scott, with my family and with my friends. Definitely recommended.

[Book] We Are Water by Wally Lamb

BookSparkling Allison

I recently suggested this book to my virtual book club, and was surprised when everyone agreed to it and then actually read it because it is long. Not to mention it is also dark. There were large swaths of the book, chapters with one character's perspective in particular, that I flat out skimmed/skipped because my heart could not take it.

The last time I read Wally Lamb was back in college, so it's been over 10 years. I remember I Know This Much is True and She's Come Undone as amazingly deep stories. And just as this latest book We Are Water had its first twist, I also remembered why Wally Lamb is such a powerful writer. He introduces topics gently, and then hits you over the head with them emotionally later on. 

I gave this book 3 stars on Goodreads. If you're a Wally Lamb fan, then I would recommend reading it to get a sense of his latest work. I would also recommend it for its powerful storyline and deep character development. It's not a book to read on a beach, or lightly in passing.



My 10 Commandments of Unemployment

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According to research reported by Gretchen Ruben of the Happiness Project, habits form best in transition periods in your life. I've recently become unemployed, and want to take the opportunity to kick off some habits in addition to keeping myself busy and productive. So I've written 10 commandments for this period in my life, as follows:

  1. Thou shalt get 13,000 steps per day on your FitBit
  2. Thou shalt get a library card
  3. Thou shalt make social arrangements at least 2x per week
  4. Thou shalt spend Monday mornings, and only Monday mornings, cleaning the house
  5. Thou shalt start a photo-a-day project called #funemployment
  6. Thou shalt wash your face and brush your teeth every morning and night
  7. Thou shalt read a book a week
  8. Thou shalt share an interesting article on Twitter and LinkedIn 1x per day
  9. Thou shalt actively show gratitude for the support of your family and friends
  10. Thou shalt go to a museum on free admission day

IKEA start to finish

Sparkling Allison

Scott was out of town the last two Fridays when we'd normally have our Noche Juntos. Instead of canceling the regular babysitter, I took the opportunity to go to IKEA. Twice. I know I'm crazy.

The first visit was a surveying mission of sorts. I had a vague list of things we needed for the house, and some time to wander in and out. I came home with some photo frames, a couple of pillow cases, candles (of course), and a picture in my head of some items that caught my interest.

I spent almost every waking moment the following week thinking about what I'd seen, looking at items on their website, scouring Pinterest. I arranged and rearranged furniture, to make sure that it was just so, and that anything new would compliment and not clash. I measured. And I made a plan.

The following Friday, I executed. I found everything I wanted, loaded it up into two carts, and bought everything. I managed to get it into a taxi truck, and back home and unloaded before the babysitter had to leave. And then I built as much as I could on my own without Scott. I potted the houseplants. I arranged and adjusted.

I just feels damn good to make plan and see it through, right?

Our house is definitely turning in to an eclectic home that is much more worthy of love than our previous rental. And that also feels damn good.

[Currently] September

CurrentlySparkling Allison

Watching: Orange is the New Black, Season 1. Love it. And also it's not a show that Scott would ever want to watch, so I don't feel guilty binging on it without him.

Listening: My Spotify Discovery playlist. Spotify creates a fresh playlist automatically for you each week, with music that is tailored to your preferences. I love it. Takes out the guess work when I want to quickly start listening to music... I'd previously just turn on my starred music, but this is better as it introduces me to new songs and artists.

Reading: I just finished "We Are Water", for the virtual book club that I'm part of... I'd recommended the book because it's by one of my favorite author's Wally Lamb. To my surprised, the group was okay reading it, even though it's super long. I also didn't realize, but should have, that some of its themes would be so dark. Tis Wally Lamb, after all, digging deep into the darkest parts of the human psyche.

Eating: Vegetarian little smokies. Love 'em.

Playing: Alphabear.

Op igen

Sparkling Allison

It's Fall here in Copenhagen, and in step with the change of seasons, my routines and daily life seem to be shifting into nesting mode. We had a terrible summer here in Copenhagen. Rain, cold. Maybe a week of good weather. So I'm readying myself for a terrible winter to follow suite. And... I'm actually looking forward to it. The Danes really know how to do Winter, with candles, warm drinks, nontheist Christmas and hygge all the way. And I'm 100% ready to get into that.

We just moved to a new, lovely, lovely house. We're still in the city, but tucked away in a little neighborhood called Humleby (literally "hops city", as it's located next to the Carlsberg brewery). The story is that we'd found another apartment, made a verbal agreement with the owner, and the next day she came back and said that the deal was off. This is apparently illegal to do in Denmark, so the realtor who was representing that apartment felt very bad about it. In a stroke of perfect timing, just that day she'd heard about this little house going on the rental market and she gave us the first look. Scott went over immediately, taking Calvin with him to secure the "we're a cute family" deal. And the rest is history. Our lease here is locked in for 3 years, so we'll be here that long. And no longer. 

While I'm enjoying my time in Copenhagen, it was important for me this summer to establish that I am not going to be here forever. Having this rental come up with a definitive time limit felt like a good moment to set the 3 year countdown for when we'll leave Copenhagen. It took us 8 years to decide to move Scandinavia, find jobs and then physically move here. I have no idea where we'll be in 3 years, but we'll figure it out. Likely not back to the states, for those of you pining, as I don't think I'll be finished living the expat life. Just finished with Denmark.

There are still many things that I want to do while we are here, and actually setting that time limit has pushed me to get moving on those things. Learning Danish is one of them. I realize that this skill is not going to transfer, but I really enjoy learning languages and I feel like doing so opens up a side of the culture that would otherwise not be available to me. Calvin is also very quickly lapping me and Scott in his Danish skills, so there's that to keep me motivated.

I also really want to get my driver's license so we can see some of the more obscure places in the vicinity. Møns Klint comes to mind as a place that's difficult to get to by train, but sounds just gorgeous. I also want to spend more time in Skagen, and the coasts throughout the country. We got a glimpse of them on holiday this summer, and... wow.

On the home front, I'm doing all things yarn right now. Also a really Fall thing to do, huh? I know they're trendy, but I love the woven wall hangings that are all over Pinterest and Etsy. I think they're a great way to tie the colors of a room together. I picked up a little loom in the kids section at our craft store, and when a woman walked over and asked me how old my child was (in Danish), I told her that he was two (in English). My response, in English and with the loom clearly not for a 2-year-old, completely confused her and she walked away without giving me a chance to explain that the loom was for myself.

Much love.

[Five Sentences] Scott as a father

Five SentencesSparkling Allison

It’s Father’s Day and Constitution Day here in Denmark, so some people (including Scott and the staff at our vuggestue) have the day off. Scott chose to spend the day going on an epic bike ride with Calvin. He has a checklist a mile long to prepare for all uncertainties, and he’s scoped a route that includes stops at parks and Calvin-friendly features along the way. This is the kind of father that Scott just is… naturally, without prompting. Involved, loving, positive, supportive, encouraging, direct, concerned and fun-seeking.

[Five Sentences] Spacey work travel

Five SentencesSparkling Allison

I've been traveling so much for work that today I left for the airport without any credit or bank cards in my wallet. Just cash and my ID. There's a Danske Bank office in the airport, so I took enough money out of my account for my trip down today, and back tomorrow. No big deal. Just another day traveling in space.

[Five Sentences] Homesick pastry

Five SentencesSparkling Allison

Sometimes, mostly when I'm feeling how very far away I am from my family and friends, I don't want to live here anymore. But then I go to work and really enjoy an interaction with a coworker. And when I get home, I realize that Calvin is babbling in something that sounds like Danish. And when I look out the window at midnight the sky still has blue in it. So tonight I'm going to sleep anticipating having a pastry that taste like butter with chocolate on top for breakfast.

[Five Sentences] Grandparent Week

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1. We capped off grandparent's week with a trip to Tivoli today, with highlights being going on new rides with Calvin (who especially loved riding "Veteran Bilerne" or "The Old Cars") and the parents going on rides while he napped.

2. Mom and I walked to the ATM tonight at 9:30pm... it was still light out and the street lights were not on yet.

3. I've been so immersed in THIS week that I'm just now remembering that LAST week was insane -- solo parenting as well as attending and speaking at a conference across the water in Malmo.

4. I'm sad that my parents are leaving tomorrow and wish we lived closer together. 

5. I love seeing them with Calvin -- time with grandparents is just special.

[Currently] March

CurrentlySparkling Allison

Three themes this month: Cal, data security and surveillance, Danish, work.

Watching: Person of Interest. Scott introduced me to the show, and I have to say that after the 1st episode I was NOT sold. Too geeky and far fetched... but it's grown on me. I've been loading up my iPad with them for my long haul flights. For those of you who don't know, the premise of the show is about a government surveillance system that can also predict crimes.

Anticipating: Warmer weather! It's coming. We had a few days of it last week, and next week is supposed to be sunny. 

Listening: To my Danish lessons. I'm trying to double down on learning Danish, so I've been popping in my ear buds with repeating Danish over and over for the last week or so. The lesson this week is on the morning routing, so:

Klokken halv syv ringer altid vækkeuret om morgenen. Jeg vågner og står op. Min mand vœkker min søn og jeg tager brusebad, børster tœnder og tager tøj på. Mens Scott tager brusebad, jeg tager tøj på min søn. Vi spiser sammen morgenmad, normalt Cheerios. Scott tager af sted hjemmefra klokken halv otte. Calvin og jeg spiller i 30 minutter hjemme. Vi tager på vuggestuen klokken otte.

Først jeg drikker kaffe på arbejde. Jeg skriver email og taler med min kollegaer. Klokken tolv spiser altid vi frokost. Jeg tager hjem klokken fems.

Efter arbejde jeg køber ind mens min mand henter vores søn. Sammen vi laver mad og spiser aftensmad. Jeg vasker op og min mand og min søn spiller sammen. Klokken nitten Calvin går i seng. Så vi slapper af. Jeg lœser tit en bog og Scott spiller tit videogames. Klokken elleve vi går i seng og sover.

Reading: "Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World". Okay, the title is a bit sensational. I'd heard a lot about Bruce Schneier  both through Scott and the ACLU. Two institutions I respect. :) The book is timely for me at work, and by the way do you see a theme here with what I'm also watching?

Eating: We made tacos this weekend and Calvin said "TACO" out loud, honest to goodness. He said it! Momentous.

Working On: Work. Work. Worked my butt off last week... I worked so hard that I hit the weekend and have not looked back for a full 48 hours.

Loving: Our new weekend activity: SWIMMING! Well, I shouldn't really say "we" because it's more of a Cal and Scott thing. I feel like an interloper when I go. It's really adorable though. Cal really likes the water. Each time has been a little different. The first time was just a big adventure. The second time was all about kicking around in the deeper water. And today it was all about the water toys. Good stuff.

Playing: My Horse. Again, work related. :) It's kind of fun though. Except for cleaning out the stalls.

[Currently] February

Sparkling Allison

Watching: Mighty Machines playlist on YouTube.

Anticipating: A week in San Francisco for GDC. I was in South Africa for #smithsiswk last week, I'm here in Denmark this week and then I'm off again. Kind of brutal, so I'm mostly anticipating being done. I always appreciate the time in the U.S. though. I'm prepared with my shopping list.

Listening: Fresh Air, with Terry Gross. I wax and wane on this particular podcast, but am currently really liking it. And actually, I'm listening to a LOT of podcasts now because of my new headphones. I LOVE THEM. I'm also attributing my uptick in listening to the new podcast app that I'm using called Pocket Casts. It had a great interface and controls, so I can easily manage the 20 or so that I listen to without becoming overwhelmed. (Note: I don't listen to every episode that comes out for every podcast.)

Reading: "The Almost Nearly Perfect People", a book about Scandinavia. The author (originally from the UK) has spent most of his time in Denmark because he's married to a Dane. So his commentary really centers around Denmark, even when he's covering the other countries. It is GREAT. Scathing, loving, admiring... and pretty hilarious at times.

Eating: After a week of wine and cheese in South Africa last week, I'm scaling it back to toddler food this week. Breakfast = Cheerios. Dinner = blueberries and a slice of cheese.

Working On: My phone usage. Another podcast I follow (New Tech City) had a week of challenges examining how our cell phones don't allow us to be bored anymore. While some of the challenges didn't resonate with me, I really liked the idea of detaching a bit from the constant connection. During the time leading up to the challenge I used an app to track my usage, and was appalled on some days, and delighted on others. The days where I was appalled were work related -- one day I was working from home, sick. The other I was at a conference for work. So, both reasonable  (in particular the one where the challenge was to NOT take any photos that day. Just did not agree with the premise there.)

Loving: Project Life. Just really love it. I've been printing and cutting cards from digital files lately, because I feel low on supply. It's been fun. I have plans to stock up on supplies next week in the US, including some more page protectors and basic blank cards.

Playing: With Calvin as much as possible this week. His teacher at vuggestue told me today that she could tell that I was gone last week because Calvin walked around saying "mama, mama". Seriously, she told me this! I'm sure she was meaning to be nice and intended to emphasize that he missed me. I wish she hadn't though. The thought is heart breaking! 

[Currently] January

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Watching: Up and Star Trek, the original series remastered on Blu-Ray. One of the nice things about vacation is the extra time to relax and watch TV. We don't watch much at home, so it's an indulgence when we're at my parents house. I gave Scott the Star Trek DVDs for Christmas, which he'd mentioned wanting in passing more than a year ago. I'd say I did pretty well, huh?

Anticipating: Getting back home and back to work. Our vacation has been really, really nice, all things considered. Okay, there's really only one thing to consider: an 8-hour time zone change with a toddler who had an ear infection and who broke out of chicken pox two days after we arrived. We had a rough landing here in Utah, but are making the best of it! 

Listening: To everything using my new, wireless bluetooth earbuds. I've been wanting a pair of these for a long time and got them for Christmas! My favorite feature is that the ear buds have magnets in them, and you can snap them together around your neck when you're not using them.

Reading: Continuing to read through the New York Times Best of 2014 book list... I blew through the fiction section and really liked 4 of the 5 books. I read the books without really thinking about what they were about, having remembered the advice from Gretchin Ruben about how a book becomes less interesting to her if someone describes it. I have to agree... I don't think I would have read 3 of the books had I read the descriptions about them beforehand. My favorite was "All the Light We Cannot See", followed by "Euphoria"... and then "Redeployment". My least favorite, and one that I ended up skimming at the end, was "Dept. of Speculation".

Eating: As much fast food as possible... I forgot just how much fast food is available in the US. I'm especially happy to eat Taco Bell and Taco Time, but have also had Del Taco on this trip. If you're not into tacos, there are burgers: Apollo, Arctic Circle, Crown, Burger King, McDonalds, In-and-Out, Sonic, Smash, Astro, Five Guys, Wendy's, Salt City Burger, Carl's Junior and Iceberg to name a few.

Working On: A summary of a customer survey that I got the results for before leaving on vacation. I'd like to have it done by the time I get back, but am finding it hard to find the motivation.

Loving: My new sweater from Kohl's. I found some nice wardrobe gems shopping with my sister and mom yesterday.

Playing: With Calvin to keep him as occupied as possible. We need to keep him isolated because he's contagious, so that means breaking out all of our tricks! The dog and cat here help!


Sparkling Allison

It's time again to choose a defining word for the coming year.

Last year, we were approaching our international move to Copenhagen, and all of the major life changes that come with that. So the word I chose was "big". And it was a big year. A huge one... and I learned a lot about myself not only because of all of the big changes but also in trying to be a bigger person overall. It felt appropriate.

So, as 2015 is approaching, I'm thinking about what I'd like to learn and reflect on and the word "lightly" keeps coming to mind. In particular, I'm inspired by this quote from Aldous Huxley's Island

“It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”


[This is Denmark] Following the rules

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Two people walk into a bakery, person A is very clearly in front of person B. Person A walks straight to the counter, person B takes a number from the automated machine. The person behind the counter calls the next number. Person B gets served first because person A did not have a number hands, and nobody balks at this. Person B knew and followed the rules of this particular bakery. Person A turns around to get an automated number for himself, but at this point there's another person who arrived as this was happening and took a number. Person A gets served dead last.

I was already being served when this happened. I'd walked in before all of them and even though nobody was there at the time, I took a number and waited to be called on... you know, because the rules.

Danes are all at once very independent, critically thinking people but also orderly, traditional, law abiding folk. Their rule following is ubiquitous, and I've often noticed it in subtle situations like this one. If I were person B in this situation, I would have demurred and insisted that person A go before me. If I were person B, I would have expected that... but that behaviour would be awkward and confusing here.

December Currently

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Watching: The BBC version of "House of Cards". Someone recommended that we watch it before the US version, and still not yet having seen the US version, I completely agree with them. The BBC version is from the 90's, and the production value is just very hard to watch. The storyline is great though, so within an episode or two you forget about the terrible outfits and muted colors. We're on Season 2.

Anticipating: Our 3-week vacation for Christmas and New Year. We'll be in Berlin and Salt Lake City. I'm not looking forward to managing the time zone change with Calvin, but am really happy for him to see his grandparents, who are extremely excited to see him! (They're so giddy with excitement that they broke into singing Christmas carols to Calvin on our last Skype call together. I am no longer of interest to them... "BRING ME THE GRANDCHILD".) We're also planning to pick up Luke to bring him back to Denmark with us. YES!

Listening: To myself give a presentation at a conference. Horrifying? Not really. I did an okay job. Almost put myself to sleep though. Next time, more oomph!

Reading: "All the Light we Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. It is very, very good. And a reminder that horrifying things happen in the world. Related side note: I love this time of year because all of the "Best of 2014" book lists come out. This one was on the New York Time's list. I've bookmarked many of them and hope to do some serious reading on our holiday vacation!

Eating: Homemade Indian food! We have a new arrangement with a woman to come and clean our house and do some food prep for us on Mondays. It's a glorious evening to come home to food, and Indian food for that matter! Amazing, fortunate.

Working On: Getting my Christmas postcards out the door. Yeah, they're going to be late to the US, but they will have cool Denmark postage on them!

Loving: (I’ve decided to change “Wanting” to “Loving”, like sister, like sister.) Life here in Denmark is pretty good these days. You could say that I'm loving it, maybe for the first time since moving here in May. November was a bit of a horrific month, with everyone getting sick, and the days (if you can call them that) getting really stinking dark. I was sick for two weeks straight, and in the middle of it, on Thanksgiving night, I fell down some stairs and dislocated my shoulder. There's nothing like dislocating your shoulder to slow you down a little... having one arm out of commission makes you think a little more about putting on your shoes, blow drying your hair, and more importantly, picking up your son. I put up our Christmas decorations, and have been making a point of lighting candles and playing Christmas music every night. I've been drinking lots of tea (with honey and rum, as prescribed by my doc to clear my cough). I clearly needed a bit of a crash to slow myself down and focus on the making things cozy. Things have been pretty relaxed and happy since.

Playing: Zombie Catchers, Best Fiends, Crossy Road and a bunch of other games that are using GameAnalytics and just killing it right now. It's exciting times at work.

Holiday Baking Cheer

Sparkling Allison

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving in America and this is my first time celebrating it outside of the country. I'm sad about that. We are going to dinner at another expat's house, but without the day off, and without my family and American friends around me, it's not the same.

To cheer myself up, or maybe to distract myself, I decided to focus on finding the necessary ingredients for my holiday baking. Calvin and I were both home sick earlier this week, but the weather was glorious and sunny. So I bundled both of us up and walked to the Super Best grocery store, which has the best selection of American foods. Calvin napped on the way, but woke when we got to the store and was not happy to be there. In a huge rush, I found all three of these very important items, bought them and left. Looking back on the experience, it was as if the ingredients found me!

The sweetened condensed milk, in particular... so excited to have found this! I don't know if I could go back tomorrow and find it again. Oddly, I think it was near the bread.

Do you know what holiday food each of these ingredients is for? If so, you're American, and I miss you.