Autumn Abundance

Happy Autumn!

While it’s hard to celebrate the season in the midst of a busy work week, I am happy to embrace autumn

It personally feels like a much more transitional time than in recent years. Our Big Guy is now in Kindergarten and Girly is quickly growing into her potty training panties. Hubby is ecstatic about the arrival of honey crisps, our family’s favorite apple. Our family calendar is already getting full, and I’m doing my best to practice simplicity parenting.

Yet, with all this abundance, I’m also feeling a bit ambivalent about my blog writing. I’m having trouble finding a financial goal that inspires me half as much as our family trip to Denmark. We are continually working to cut our family carbon footprint, but I also feel a bit of a plateau effect. I still want to reflect on my journey, but I’m feeling a bit more relaxed about the venture. Maybe it’s just a post-vacation syndrome, but I’m more inclined to crawl in bed with a good book (loving Elizabeth Gilbert’s Committed ) than turn on our laptop to check in on finances. Or better yet, enjoy the last days of sunshine, while harvesting our heirloom tomatoes.

Once I really reflect, I guess I’m feeling a bit isolated too. While I have a number of readers, blogging hasn’t created the community I’d hoped to create. I’m not sure why I ever  expected that writing into cyberspace would create deep seeded values-driven relationships. I have planted a few seeds though…;-)

I guess I just need this autumn to reflect, recharge, and refocus. 


Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Miss You Denmark!

I’m guessing that most of my friends/readers are probably ready for me to return from our fairy tale trip and get back to real life Portland, but I’m reluctant to say “farvel” without a bit more reflection about why I already miss Denmark so much (and it’s not the weather 😉 

Here’s my top list:

  1. Family comes first for Danes – While surely there are some estranged families in Denmark, as a culture, family really matters to Danes. Many families live near each other, but with the country being so small, you can’t ever be that far from “home.”
  2. Food is central to Danish culture and family life, and almost every family eats dinner together every night, typically lasting at least an hour and then it’s coffee hour. Breakfast and lunch is often leisurely as well, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that while we were visiting we were eating/conversing around the dining table for at least 3 hours a day. (And yes I gained about five pounds on our trip, but when I lived there I didn’t gain anything because I was biking and staying active, and thankfully I’ve almost lost the extra “kilos” since I’ve been biking again the past few weeks 🙂
  3. Danes celebrate daily life – Danes seem to savor every season. In summer, Danes head to beach at the glimpse of the sun, stroll through the woods, and eat outdoors as often as weather remotely allows (plus, there’s no such thing as being “too hot” there 😉 In winter, Danes love their candles and creating a hyggeligt (cozy) atmosphere in their home. 
  4. Danes know how to party – Danes hold the most festive and beautiful parties, and find creative ways to show others how much they care. For special anniversaries or birthdays, family and friends will remake the lyrics of traditional songs to match the celebrant’s life story and personality. Plus, if you are lucky, Danes will drink just enough to remove the facade of social shyness that you may find on the surface…once Danes open up to you, you’ve got a friend for life 🙂
  5. Danes take care of each other – I think the socialist system is really the key factor behind Denmark being at the top of nearly every happiness research (you must read Living in Bliss). After paying a 40% tax, Danes don’t have to worry about health care, education, retirement, or caring for ailing parents (or themselves). As a result, Danes just don’t need to waste their energy worrying about the basics that even middle class Americans can’t take for granted. Students need to demonstrate their smarts in order to get into their chosen field, but no one is saddled with college loans. New families can afford to take time away from work to care for their children, maternity leave starts a month before the baby is due, public employees get full pay for one year (Dads get two weeks initially and then need to share up to 52 weeks of leave with Moms), and I don’t think I need to go on and on again about how financially difficult maternity leave can be for young families in the states… 
  6. Danish politics – Needless to say, the politics of a small socialist country are far different. Just yesterday the first female Danish prime minister was elected, and it was interesting to read/talk about the election while we were there. Financing the welfare system was the primary topic, because they have a deficit of $22 billion (which happens to seem paltry in comparison to nearly $15 trillion of U.S. debt!) Yet, even in a tight economy, people were debating how to improve social services, not cut them. I won’t rewrite my poli-sci paper from college here, but I would like to point out that a multi-party system really allows for diverse political perspectives to be debated at a national level. I love the fact that there is a leftist female politician in her late twenties who is in the national debate, she was very fiery and articulate when call the current (soon past) prime minister on his politics, and reminding everyone that climate change isn’t going to just go away… energy and climate issues have been at the for decades now…

I could go on and on with my love list, but I think you should get the point. While I can’t bring Denmark home with me, my trip has inspired me to have celebrate life more like the Danes.

Really the only thing I missed while we were away was our delicious Bull Run water here in Portland. Danish well water does the trick, but it’s no where near as refreshing and my curly hair is happy to home 🙂

Thanks for following along on journey to Denmark!

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Danish Family Budget

I’ve haven’t managed to sort/post all our photos/stories yet (these are from Legoland), but I did complete our Danish family vacation budget.

Almost a year ago I budgeted our trip (as we were steadily saving up!), and my estimate was roughly $7500. I was obviously keeping track of how much money I was withdrawing, but between kroner and cards, I really didn’t know how close we were to matching our budget. I was amazed to find the final tally matched so closely:

Family Budget:

Item                                   Estimate                       Actual
4 flights to DK                     $4-5000                          $3991 (on Icelandair)
Rental car                           $800                               $910
Lodging                               none                              $388
Gas/ferry/parking                none (whoops!)               $350 (almost a hundred for ferry)
Sightseeing (Legoland)         $500                               $220    
Meals/groceries                   $800                               $650 restaurants, $450 groceries
Trains                                 none                               $93 (just 5 days in Copenhagen!)
Souvenirs                            $200                               $193 (included anything for us)
Gifts                                                                        $150 (anything for family/friends)
Phone                                 none                               $38 
Transaction fees                  none                              $72

Total:                                $7300                              $7505

While our expenses didn’t mirror my estimate exactly (we saved on the flights and spent more on the rental car), it was pretty spot on. I was especially astonished because it’s been 12 years since I lived there and I’ve never fed a family of four. The accuracy more of a fluke than a precise calculation, but I was sure happy to see that we spent what we predicted (we had saved more just in case too!) We also spent $515 on our passports, and I spend around $250 on gifts for family and friends. 

There’s a huge caveat to our budget, and  I don’t want to give you the impression that this is the typical budget for 3 weeks in Denmark. We stayed almost entirely with my host families, which saved us a ton of kroner. We stayed in youth hostels for 4 nights, and the rest of the time we stayed with some of the most beautiful Danes you could imagine. Our groceries covered breakfasts and lunches while we were on the road or at summer houses, and we only ate out for 7 dinners. This was really lucky, because restaurant meals cost us almost $100 (although we did have several pizza nights which cost closer to $50).

While we weren’t extravagant, we were able to travel generously and without undue worry. Knowing upfront that we had saved for a few expensive meals made them more pal atable (although truly the best meals were made by my lovely host families…yummy!)

Although we saved the full budget, we also had a little wiggle room due to our typical family budget. For example, we usually spend $650-750 a month on groceries and dining out, so our vacation expenses weren’t too much higher. We also saved $900 on preschool tuition by having our Big Guy end a month early before starting Kindergarten. 

In the end, I’m most satisfied that we were able to reach our family goal. The trip brought our family even closer together and created many fun stories and beautiful memories. But the part that Hubby didn’t quite anticipate was how much he enjoyed getting to know all my host families and friends, and those relationships are worth everything!

How do you budget your family trips?
Do you account for costs that you would normally spend, like a grocery bill?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Family Trip to Denmark

We are home from our dream vacation to Denmark, and finally over our collective jet lag (turns out to be a surreal family experience!). The kids were star travelers, and thankfully jet lag wasn’t too bad on the way there.

It’s hard to put the full 3 week trip into words, but we really had a fantastic time. I love Denmark so deeply, and loved sharing such a special place with my family. 

Most of all, I loved being together with all my host families again and seeing our families bond. When our kids weren’t busy playing, they were busy entertaining us all.

We also soaked up Denmark’s pastoral landscapes and all the amazing views of the sea. We were lucky enough to stay on three different fjords, and having water all around you is just so gorgeous. Hubby will tell you the weather was awful, and truthfully is was one of the worst August’s on record, which meant that it was really more like a typical June (and unlike Oregon, the rain never lasted for more than an hour – not withstanding a day of thunderstorms). But we did have five beach days, and lots of sunny memories (minus a very wet walk to the tip of Denmark off Skagen, which still wasn’t actually cold). 

I’ve posted even more family pics on our family blog – West Coast Cronin Clan. I’m also in the process of editing/posting to our online Picasa album. Even though the trip is over, it’s wonderful have all the memories.

It was absolutely worth all the planning and saving

What would like to know or learn about Denmark?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.

Price of Family Passports = Priceless

Today we are flying off on our big family adventure to Denmark!! I’ll have infrequent access to email while we are there, but I’ll make sure to take lots of photos and I’ll be back to blogging regularly in September. Enjoy the rest of your summer!

I knew that buying passports for a family was going to be more expensive than when I only had to pay for myself. But it was still spendier than I anticipated…I expected $400 tops, but here’s the break down:

Adult passport renewal = $120
Adult passport replacement = $120, plus a $25 execution fee
Children’s passport = $80 plus a $25 execution fee per child
Passport photos = $10 per person

Total passport fees for 4 = $515

Check the government site for current fees

Passports are really priceless though. On an inspiration note, my travel-hearted friend Kim wrote a inspiring blog post about the Power of a Passport. A passport is really your ticket to exploring this beautiful blue ball called planet Earth. Our Big Guy may only be 5, but he was the first to get his passport in the mail, and he looked at it in awe for the longest time. While the photo here is pretty goofy, in his passport pic he was very serious, seeming to know that this photo would forever immortalize him as a traveler. And it’s crazy how Girly has already lost much of her baby face in the past six months since we first took our photos. It inspires me to dream of where we may travel together as they grow…

Practical tips:
Unless you are very near your travel date, it’s advised to never pay for the expedited passport services, since typically they are finished in about 3 weeks (rather than the 6 weeks they promise). So unless your trip is just a month away, don’t bother, but better yet send everything off a few months in advance to save yourself the stress.

Keep in mind that kids that you need to have both parents and the child present in order to submit the application. The passport office in Portland has limited hours (City Hall mid-day on limited days, FYI), so the first time we went without Girly, figuring that nap through her first passport application. But we had to return the next week instead.

Also, our other lesson was that it turned out that Hubby had to get a passport replacement, which added a $25 fee. It turned out that he hadn’t seen his passport since our trip to Canada two years ago (very likely in our basement somewhere…). Thankfully he found his previous passport, so the application process wasn’t a complete hassle. Plus, his was set to expire anyway so the $110 fee didn’t hurt quite as much. We definitely plan on having a home for all our passports when we return so that we’ll never have to be in search of them.

OK, so I also have to fess up and say there was one more lesson…I filled out my first application in pencil… I figured that I didn’t want to mess it up! A  big no-no, so it got delayed by about a month.  So, I was really glad that I sent it in 2 1/2 months before our departure…but still a few weeks ago I was starting to get a little worried! 

Now I’m content with photocopies of all four in hand, plus some Danish Kroner!

Is your family ready to travel abroad?
Is travel a priority/value of yours?

Sustainable Family Finances 
The story of a family creating an abundant and sustainable life.