21 December 2007

Stronk it up

I haven't talked about our bakery in detail yet. It's one of at least two in our little town, and it is the only one we have gone to because it is fabulous. We are there a couple times a week buying bread, sometimes a dessert, and usually sugar doughnuts. The kids love it because, besides the sugar doughnuts, the ladies who work there bring out a small wooden box of gumdrops when we pay. As they hold it out for the kids, Lily politely takes one, and I monitor Soren. He can get a fistful in his mouth lickety-split.

Today we all walked down to the market and bought quiches, cheese, pastries, a baguette, and rotisserie chicken, not from Chicken Man, but a seller with a Flemish name, De Rijdende Kip ("The Riding Chicken"). How we love the market. Then we headed to the bakery to order a dessert for Christmas.

You know how I like to bake? I still do, in theory. I did make some Christmas cookies; they're not big on cookies here. The cookies they have don't fit our American standard of chewy wonder -- speculoos, traditional Christmas cookies, are spicy thin crisps. Fine in their own right, but not exactly a cookie-lover's cookie. So I will continue to bake no matter how lovely the pastries and cakes are here. And lovely they are.

Last time I was at the bakery, I noticed a flyer advertising their special holiday desserts. The first item was "Kerststronken." Kerst = Christmas, but what's "stronken"? I googled it, and found this definition: Dutch slang for being both stoned and drunk. Sounds like a powerful dessert. We must have one. So, it's ordered, and I'll report on it later. If I can remember it! OH YEAH!

I adore this bakery not only for its delicious products (shelves and shelves of wonderful bread, too) but because the women who work there are so kind. They gave me a special sticker once for ordering in Flemish (rather than English). Today Soren fell in the store, and as Matthew comforted him, one of the ladies behind the counter came out quickly with the gumdrops, wiped Soren's hair from his forehead, and spoke tender Flemish words to him. She gave him one gumdrop, and then another, to ease his pain. Or perhaps this was inventory control -- she's seen him go at that box.

20 December 2007

Happier Christmas

Matthew and I had a date last night. We bought tickets for a Christmas concert at the big Catholic church at the center of our town last night. We were thinking we'd bring the kids and have a "family date."
Family Date! Yea!

I can give it all the cute labels I want, but that doesn't change reality. This story has a happy ending though, as we realized that beforehand. The concert started at 8:00. No way would that work, especially when Lily has been going to bed around 7:00 since she no longer naps. We decided I should invite a friend and have a ladies' night out. I called my friend from the grocery store -- she's my friend now! -- and invited her, but she had plans. "Let me find a babysitter for you!" she said. OK! (I told you: I'm getting better at taking people up on offers of kindness.)

We haven't been out, just the two of us, for almost three months. We were giddy with the fumes of freedom. Add to that the fact that the program and all the spoken explanation were in Flemish, and we got a bit silly. We tried to translate the song titles. Some were English, some were Latin; we did OK with those. Especially the English ones. Because we were English majors. The Flemish or German ones were harder. "Stille nacht" we got, but what's "Richte mich Gott"? "Rise mighty God"? "Reign, my God"? "Right with God"? 

When polite laughter followed a statement from the speaker, I really wanted to join in -- was there a joke? tell me! -- but felt like a fake.

At one point Matthew whispered, "At the end, they torch a bunch of hosta." What? I looked at the program. After the last song these words were printed: "Tollitte Hostias."

Now, that's pretty funny, but when you're on your first date in months, it's HI-larious. We were wiping tears from our eyes and trying to compose ourselves for the next song.

The music was beautiful, the church was even lovelier than the one we attended Sunday, and all the descants were sung by trained musicians. It was delightful.

19 December 2007

Happy Christmas

We went to a carol sing Sunday night. One of the churches we've been attending put this on, complete with mulled wine and mince pies (it's an Anglican church).
It was held not in the school cafeteria where this congregation normally meets, but in a beautiful old Catholic church in the center of one of the neighboring towns. There's a beautiful old Catholic church in the center of all the towns around here. They make me want to get married all over again so we can use one. Jacobs 9th Anniversary Catholic Recommitment Ceremony, Belgium, August 2008: You're invited!

The program started when the kids should have been tucked into their beds, but we bundled them up and headed out. These old churches -- pretty cold. Our coats stayed on. Except maybe not Matthew's. I can't recall. For us to be comfortable in the same temperature zone, though, me wearing a sweater, wool coat and scarf, and him wearing a t-shirt, is about right. Is our house the frozen tundra, or is it a blazing furnace? When his parents arrive this weekend, the truth will out! Don and Deb, I recommend packing wool sweaters and tank tops, to cover all possibilities.

I can't imagine a better setting for singing Christmas songs. The gray stone decorated with candles and greenery was beautiful. And the sound of the carols in this church was amazing. I got a bit teary. The man in the t-shirt next to me looked touched, too.

Here's how moved I was: I could not stop myself from trying to sing the descant on a line or two. Believe me, I have no business singing a descant, but when the spirit hits you, what are you going to do?

13 December 2007

The winner takes it all

I'm a bit ashamed of myself. Yesterday I informed you of Matthew's back improvement with almost journalistic detachment.

We are SO HAPPY and SO GRATEFUL that Matthew's back has improved! A burden has been lifted from all of us. It is so very good to have normal Matthew/Daddy back, no longer struggling to even focus on, much less enjoy, what's going on externally because of all the pain he's feeling. This is a huge relief. It is a gift of mercy to our family, and we are thankful.

Now, the game. Chris Susi, no surprise being that he's a bit competitive in the game arena, is the big winner of the prize that is . . . Huh. Now I realize I don't really know what to call it -- when you take each letter of a name and attach a word to it? Acronymization? That sounds horrible. Let's run with it.
I got this idea from a post months ago at this blog. Well, not the acronymization, I've done that before, but giving that as a gift to a commenter -- that I got from there.

So, Mr. Susi, an acronymization tribute to you:

C: Capturer of beautiful photographs
H: Husband to the lovely and loving Leah, fiercely competitive in her own right
R: Righteous caregiver to our children, even if it requires donning a hand towel as a bandana to protect himself from an especially challenging bottom wiping
I: Insightful thinker and discusser of the things of God
S: Steel Magnolias fan. Seriously, big time. There are t-shirts and real live pet basset hound names involved (Truvy). Also, am I mistaken? Was there not an armadillo groom's cake at your wedding? He can get away with it; he's a southern boy.

Nice try at playing the "I'm your FATHER" card, Mr. Martinson, but next time you'll have to be quicker on the draw. Thanks for playing.

12 December 2007

Can't run but

Matthew's back pain, which peaked the day before Thanksgiving, was miraculously healed during his travels in England -- perhaps by hearing Evan's band. Both brothers in England for their respective work -- pretty cool.

The neurosurgeon called last week and said she could do the surgery this Monday, but when Matthew explained how he's been feeling, she agreed it should be postponed indefinitely. Because it's a relatively easy procedure (but with a lengthy recovery time -- four weeks without driving, six weeks without work, she said), she can fit him into her schedule quickly if the pain intensifies again.

She did tell him that high-impact activities like running are considered off-limits for people who have had herniated discs, as they're at risk of having another. But she also said that she knows some people go back to it without problem, and I think it's safe to say Matthew isn't ready to retire the sneaks.

So that's that. Don't you think it's time to play a game? Some fun, some competition, a little more interaction, you know. A little less conversation, a little more action. No: a little more action in the form of a little more conversation.

So, I will have a special gift for whomever comments correctly identifying the source of my post title today. Assuming it's someone I know, because the gift requires that.

10 December 2007

The science of Christmas

What have we been doing, you might be wondering. Any fun travels? Why no. We've been getting settled. That's fun too, though. Oh, and I burned out one of our (~$100) transformers because I needed to use -- I just couldn't wait to check with Matthew, or pause to think and check voltage on -- that must-have small appliance: the popcorn popper.

We did emerge from the house a couple Sundays ago to attend Matthew's office's Christmas party for children. It was held at Technopolis, a science museum.

We pretended we were large birds . . .


construction workers . . .


scooter drivers . . .


fairies . . .



And we gorged ourselves on crepes, doughnuts, ice cream cones with sprinkles, and gummy candy. The event was in the late afternoon and included a buffet -- a buffet of SWEETS. It was Wonkaland. There were clementines too, and we paused from sugar overload to eat some of those.

Now it's time to talk about a side of Belgian Christmas that we would never see in the U.S.: Zwarte Piet ("Dark Pete"). He is Sinterklaas's sidekick. He is a very darkly complected jester character. He's in all the holiday ads and store decorations -- in just about every depiction of Santa, Zwarte Piet is there too. At this party, a white man and woman were both painted black to be Zwarte Piet.

So, that is . . . odd and disconcerting, and Sinterklaas himself isn't exactly familiar. He's Pope-esque -- big hat, fancy ring, long white garments.

An interesting duo.


The woman on the far right was the presenter. The "Sinterklaasshow" part of the party was a science demonstration of gravity, etc., in Flemish. (I say, "etc.," because really, I don't know. Things exploded and flew high in the air. It was magical, it was science!) Lily and Soren were probably the less antsy of the four of us.

Here's where our lack of Flemish really got us. At the end of the show, Sinterklaas called the children down to pick out presents. Everyone scrambled toward the stage, and we slowly made our way down once it was clear we were supposed to do so. Next year with some language study under our belts we'll be jockeying for position with the others.

04 December 2007

The woes of the international traveler

Lily groaned the other day, "I don't want to be in Belgium. I want to go back to . . ."

She paused, and I waited while she recalled the place name (Minnesota, surely). I was sad to hear this. She's homesick, I figured. The move has been too much for her little spirit to handle. How do I help a three-year-old process this?

Then she finished her thought: " . . . Italy."

Alrighty then. Looks like she's surviving.

02 December 2007

Food glee

We tried Thai/Vietnamese/Chinese takeout a couple times with little success. I waited until everyone else finished eating the lemon chicken and curry contentedly, and the kids had left the table, until I shared my opinion with Matthew: "That was foul."

I missed Thanh Do. Aaaah, Thanh Do.

With little ones, takeout happens more often than eating out. So, I was missing the takeout.

Hurrah! Three delicious prepared food options have presented themselves:

1. Chicken Man. "Oh, you foolish Americans, can you not learn a Flemish phrase," I thought when told of this. "'Chicken Man?' Come on." Then I saw the van with "Chicken Man" painted on its side. Oh.

The Chicken Man van is across from our grocery store two nights a week, and there are other chicken purveyors at every outdoor market I've been to, also.

Chicken Man roasts chickens on about ten spits stacked vertically. A huge pan of small potatoes, onions, and peppers below catches the drippings. Chicken Man cleaves the chicken apart, tosses it into a bag with the juice, throws a few big scoops of the potatoes into another bag, and sends you merrily on your way.

2. Quiche from the market. The quiche seller brings about thirty types of quiche to our village's weekly market. Leek, bacon, goat cheese, spinach, mushroom, watercress . . . They are maybe six inches in diameter so you have to buy more than one to sample a few flavors. Flaky crust, nutmeg-flavored custard -- wonderful.

3. José. José is a Mexican man who has lived in the area for nine years. He almost moved to St. Cloud for a woman, so we've got a Minnesota connection. He caters and also makes ready-to-heat Mexican food that he delivers weekly. He sends an email every week explaining the two entree options, and Mexican rice, refried beans, and rice and beans are always available as sides. We have now ordered from him twice, and I think I can live in Belgium forever. José is my new favorite person in Belgium; nay, the world. This food is so good. Here's what we've had so far: pastel aztecas (chicken tortillas layered with sauce), poblano pepper and refried bean tamales, spinach pie.

Unlike during our Asian takeout disappointments, when I ate quietly, rousing Matthew's suspicion with my silence, when we are eating our Mexican meals, I cannot shut up about how wonderful the food is. I'm not the only one gushing; when José arrived to deliver our meal this weekend, Matthew came to the door too, greeted him warmly in Spanish, and told him how delicious his food was.

So really, unpacking my Thanh Do menu, when it arrived in the box with my cookbooks, was fairly painless. Now, when I have to say goodbye to José, or try to convince him to reunite with this St. Cloud gal to get him to Minnesota, that will be another story.

27 November 2007

Gobble

I just thought we weren't going to do Thanksgiving this year. We would give thanks, and talk about how God provides for us and read those books Louise gave us, but Matthew was traveling on the actual day, and, well, I've never been in charge of a holiday meal before. Not until Thanksgiving morning, when an American asked me, "When are you celebrating -- today or Saturday?" did I realize, Heeeeeeey . . . We could do it. Can I not cook? Do I not, in fact, enjoy the cooking? Also, do we or do we not love to eat?

So we surprised Matthew when he got home Saturday around noon and had everything going for it. I had heard turkeys were hard to come by here, but our grocery store had fresh ones to appease the American expats. We had sweet potatoes (or, as the kids viewed them, orange stuff messing up the underside of the marshmallows), cranberry sauce, stuffing, green beans, and Grandma Edy's apple pie.


Also, as Soren displays, we had rolls.

22 November 2007

Perspective drawing

Today we have been in Belgium for two months and five days. It's been a lot of getting settled: getting bank accounts, insurance, cars, internet, phone, TV; learning how to shop, eat, communicate; visiting churches and schools and doctors; trying to figure out how to keep old friends and make new ones; waiting for our belongings and now unpacking them. It's felt like a lot.

I learned yesterday that the pilgrims were actually in transit for almost as long as we've been on the ground here. My new British friend loaned us a Scholastic book, The Pilgrims' First Thanksgiving, by Ann McGovern. ("You really should borrow it," Louise said when she asked what we were doing today. "It's your heritage, right?") The pilgrims were on the Mayflower for two months and three days. Children had little room to run on the ship and had few toys. They had left their belongings behind, for good. Food was limited and eventually went bad. The children slept on the floor of the ship and wore the same clothes every day. Many got sick.

So.

I am thankful that we have a home. That we have heat. That we have food, clean clothing, and our health.

I am thankful that we have the privilege of having a bank account, insurance, cars, internet, phone, and TV. I am thankful that the food here is delicious and that so many people speak English. I am thankful that we have visited two or three churches we could imagine ourselves attending regularly, that there are so many options for schooling here for Lily. That Matthew will see a neurosurgeon next week at a hospital that people from around Europe travel to. I am thankful that we have met so many warm, kind people, and that so many of you back home have been keeping in touch with us. I am thankful that we have belongings, that we are able to keep, and that made it here soundly.

The book ends: "They gave thanks for good friends, new homes, and plenty of food. They gave thanks for the new life they had begun in Plymouth." Swap Belgium for Plymouth, and that is my thanksgiving prayer this year.

19 November 2007

Slip sliding away

Matthew has a herniated disc (a.k.a. slipped disc), an "important" one, as his Flemish doctor puts it. He has a neurosurgery consultation next Thursday the 29th, and if you are wont to, please pray. He's in a lot of pain, and the kids miss rassling with Daddy. Also, the lawn needs mowing. Oh, I kid!

Celebration

I didn't feel like I could host a birthday party for Lily this year without our shipment. And you know, we had a really nice time just the four of us on the evening of Lily's birthday. But when I emailed a couple moms we've had play dates with to tell them we were getting our shipment, and oh, by the way, Lily is 3 today!, one of them wrote back quickly, saying, "Let's have a little party over here for her Monday!" followed by another message, "And if you want me to take the kids when the shipment arrives, just call."

There were brownies, pizza, balloons and streamers, presents, and a sign reading, "Happy 3rd Birthday, Lily! We are so glad you are our friend," on which the kids traced their hands. One woman brought Lily bags of her daughter's dress-up clothes that she's outgrown. I hadn't met her before that day.

I have found as a mother that nothing warms my heart more than someone being kind to my children. I appreciate it when you are nice to me, but if you are nice to my kids, I will gladly write a letter of recommendation for you to the educational institution or employer of your choice.

So my heart was full. Although we moved here "for" Matthew's job, I trusted there were reasons for all four of us to be here. We're not just tagalongs, Lily, Soren, and I; we are in Belgium for individual purposes, too. One purpose, it seems, is to teach me about community and hospitality -- how it's good to depend on others. I know this in theory but now we are being put to the test. I'm getting better -- when another new friend offered to loan us their train set before we received our shipment, I did no hemming or hawing: "Thank you! YES!"

Can you see the images in the posts below?

Tell me, please. I seem to be having some problems, or maybe it's Blogger.

17 November 2007

I send you a virtual care package, instead

In an email I received regarding a special one-day discount on UPS shipping prices:

"Normal shipping costs for a package of up to 5 kg is 217€."

Two hundred seventeen euros?!?

That's really too bad. Otherwise we'd be sending all of you for Christmas:


I wonder: If the items are indeed private, why proclaim their presence so brazenly?

Uncontainable

Tuesday was "Container Day," as our shipment arrived.


Woo!


Woohoo!


WOO HOO HOO HOO!

14 November 2007

Pony up

On Saturday we gave Lily one more gift, a pony ride at a nearby stable. Our town has a lot of stables and riding, and this school is on the way to the grocery store. We always look to see whether the horses and ponies are out when we pass.

We really didn't know what we were in for (which summarizes much of what we do these days), but this wasn't just a ride, it was a lesson. Her instructor, Claire, is a 71-year-old French woman who used to compete in equestrian and owns the school. She works with the littlest ones until they're comfortable on horseback, and then they work with her daughter in groups. She had us call her Mommy Pony.

We set Lily on Pom-Pom ("pome-pome"), and Mommy Pony started tugging her ponytails down to make room for her helmet. Bad start; Lily cried quietly, "I want to go in the car," but turned it around pretty quickly.


Mommy Pony taught her to hold the reins properly, how to pull on one side to make Pom-Pom turn, and how to slap her legs against Pom-Pom's side to make him go.


She was a tough lady but a good cheerleader, too: "Bravo, Lily!" when Lily followed her direction. Lily warmed to her eventually, sharing, "I smell some poop."

"It doesn't matter," Mommy Pony reassured her.


Soren was content to stomp around in the mud and watch all the action. There was a group lesson with bigger girls and bigger horses going on, too.


Does she look like a big girl or what?!

3

We had our first expat birthday last week as Lily turned THREE! Here's the birthday girl waking up.


We celebrated Friday night, just the four of us. I was concerned that this might feel a little lonely; we've never celebrated a birthday just with our little nuclear family. But I am happy to say it was a really fun evening. It helped that grandparents and friends had sent gifts or cards along so it felt like lots of people were celebrating with her in spirit.


I felt bad that I couldn't bake a cake for Lily. Until I saw the cake we ordered. A cake decorated like this will never exit my kitchen.


Plus, it was yummy. White cake, with creamy (and not sugary) frosting, and slices of pineapple between the layers. Here's where Soren got sick of watching his sister open presents and decide to sneak back over for seconds:


Lily got a lot of fun new toys. One gift, however, has been a bit of a disappointment. It is one of those gifts that looks cute but doesn't hold up great to little kids' playing: Lots of tiny pieces for Lily to lose or Soren to choke on, and paint that chips off as it is dropped repeatedly on the tile. One of those gifts that you think someone who isn't so tuned into little kids would buy.

That someone was me. All of YOUR gifts, however, are great.

10 November 2007

One of those up-sides I was telling you about

Matthew had a meeting in Milan last Monday, and suggested that the kids and I come, too. "OK!" we said. We broke up the trip (about a nine-hour drive) on the way there, staying Friday night in Luxembourg City, or what Lily referred to as: "Burg . . . Burger . . . That burger place . . . Burger King!"


Luxembourg City was beautiful -- Matthew had never been, either. Saturday we drove through France and Switzerland and arrived in Milan around dinner time. Switzerland was so very lovely. I kept thinking of Heidi. It's possible "The Hills Are Alive" was sung. We marveled at the cows and sheep grazing on steep hillsides. It was basically driving in a beautiful valley the entire time, spotting churches and castles way up on the hillsides, and wondering if perhaps we should take up dairy farming.


Sunday it was go time. Take in as much of Milan as we can in one day. We headed out pretty early, and decided to cut through Giardina Pubblica to get to our first stop.

Waylaid! "Look at that park!" Lily cried.


So we played for a bit. The kids were starting to think they're royalty at this point, because from the moment we exited our hotel room, Italians of all ages have been waving at them, stooping to them, even caressing their cheeks, pronouncing, "Che bella!"


Principessa Lily and Principe Soren were stuck in the strollers much of the day so we were glad to let them run free for a bit.

Castello Sforzesco

Once we left the park, we headed to Castello Sforzesco.




One church, two church . . .

Second site, Sant'Ambrogio:


Here's when angels from the realms of glory appeared.


Wowza.


After Sant'Ambrogio, we tried to see da Vinci's The Last Supper. Except that we got to the church where it's located, Santa Maria delle Grazie, too early. When we returned and walked through, enjoying it kind of, except that really, we were just looking for The Last Supper -- blah blah blah other church artwork and architecture, bloo bloo bloobedy bloo, bring out the big guns! -- we learned that it's actually in an attached museum, tickets to which were sold out until the end of the month.

I haven't read it, I haven't seen it, and now I'm mad at it: I blame you, Dan Brown, and The DaVinci Code.

Fear and trembling in Milano

First, La Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, a shopping area right by il Duomo:


Now. If we had come to Milan and only seen il Duomo, it would have been enough for me. It is the third largest church in the world, and it is simply awesome.


We took the elevator up to walk on the terraces. As per our custom, we were kind of late -- the last people allowed up for the day, to be precise -- so the guards kept hurrying us along. We could not leave our double stroller at the bottom, so we carried it up with us (diaper bag too), while gripping two children and Baby Jane Squash.

No question: totally worth it. I was both silently cursing in fear and blissing out on the views of the spires and the city beyond. It was a white-knuckle, sweaty experience of joy.


Here's us, on top of this huge church! The mom-claw was in full effect.


Just to clarify -- in this photo -- we are ON THE ROOF OF IL DUOMO, a few flights of stairs above where the elevator stops. We did not know what we were getting into; we just walked into the church, saw a sign saying something about the terrazzos ending in half an hour, and hustled in the direction of the arrows.

Solo mio

There are no photos from this day, because Matthew had to work, and although I can and did use his camera, I did so in a poor and distracted fashion while ensuring the kids weren't besmirching antiquities.

So, Matthew had to work. I had to work, too, let me tell you. Solo sightseeing with two under the age of three -- not exactly leisure. But it was a fun day. First we went to the Abbey of Chiaraville. It is four miles southeast of the city, so I drove.

Did you read that? I DROVE! In Italy! It was a little scary, but OK. If I had been less scared, I would have taken a photo of the sign I saw along the way for Agata Cristie Investigazione and also, applied for a job with them.

I parked basically right in front of the church. This can't be right, I thought, but did it anyway, because there were a couple other cars there. Once we left and I saw a large parking lot for about 100 cars down the street from the gates, it was confirmed. I had parked where only an ambulance for a monk should.

We got out, poked around a bit, looked in the chapel and wondered how we were supposed to get into the rest of the abbey. No luck. Our guide book had a list of "star features" throughout the abbey, but I couldn't figure how to get to them. Oh well.

In the afternoon we walked via the Giardini Pubblica again so played at the park, and ate a panini too.

Then we headed to La Scala. We had to climb stairs to get into the theater, so we left the double stroller by the ticket office; I had some trepidation about entering a national treasure without my children in restraints, but they did great. We got to look out from the boxes onto the theater -- stunning in red and gold. On stage a man tuned the piano, and two workers raised huge yellow floral arrangements onto the outside of the boxes via cables. Lily enjoyed running in and out of various boxes. "Should we go in another box?" she'd ask the moment we left one.

Then we walked through the theatre museum, which featured an exhibit on Maria Callas. About twenty-five costumes she had worn were displayed -- beautiful gowns, most of them heavy with velvet, fur, jewels. "Look at that huge dress!" Lily kept saying. The kids even sat still long enough for me to watch about 10 minutes of a video about her career.

Back to the hotel for a bath, then another bath after Soren, well, besmirched the first one, and then reunited with Matthew for dinner.

Lake Maggiore

We drove home via the lakes of northern Italy. Although most of the photos from this area were taken by Matthew as he drove with one hand, reached across me with his camera with the other, and snapped randomly (despite at one point observing, "Wow, there's really no room for error here," as in, on the road), I believe the photos below were all taken when the car was at a complete stop.


Now, it is time for me to confess. I did this far less than I normally do because the views were just so amazing, but in the car, even on scenic and beautiful drives that are new to me, I like to read.


In fact, one of my most favorite things about drives is being confined, restrained, inhibited from physical movement, so there is nothing "lazy" about reading.


Matthew, well, first of all, he's almost always driving, so can't read, but doesn't want to read. Doesn't even want to listen to an audio book. He enjoys taking in the view in quiet. He's so peaceful like that. I admire this in him. But you know how it is when the ones you love possess character traits you admire and also happen to lack.


I began to suspect he was inventing sights. Along the lake here he said once, "I just saw the bluest hydrangea I've ever seen -- really, so blue, it almost looked fake!" He is a cunning fellow. He knows I'm a sucker for hydrangea.


It works out well, actually. I get to read a bit, but my attention is called to anything particularly remarkable in our environs. He's my scenery screener.

Noticeable weight gain seems inevitable at this point

We ate well en route and in Milan. Along the highway there are these huge rest stops with large cafeterias with really good food -- sandwiches and the like, but then fancy looking warm entrees like lamb.

Breakfast in Milan -- pastries, yogurt, and fruit salad (macedonia de frutta); espresso for Matthew.


And hot chocolate, or liquid pudding, for me.


Oh yes, Baby Jane Squash was there. She's really so patient while we eat.


We tasted amazing gelato at a place called Chocolat. I tried two flavors: Caffe B (?) and chocolate with orange.


Other food highlights: pizza, gnocchi with pesto, rigatoni in a red sauce with bacon, tiramisu, and focaccia with whole green olives pressed into the crust (the kids went nuts on this) (I did too).

08 November 2007

Then sings my soul

Matthew headed off to his MRI early today, allotting twice as much time as Mappy (our Mapquest) recommended, and arrived 25 minutes late anyhow due to crazy Brussels traffic. We have been waiting for six weeks for this appointment, to figure out what's causing his crazy sciatic pain. Matthew's not a complainer (we balance each other that way) but he has been in a lot of pain, on prescription meds, hobbling some, grimacing much. He had an x-ray last month, but there has been such a long wait for the MRI because Belgium is "under-MRIed," as his doctor (Dr. Docx!) put it.

But the receptionist turned him away because of his tardiness, telling him he'd have to wait another week. Matthew was fuming when he called me as he walked back to his car, and caught me just as I was putting the kids' shoes on to head out the door. I was angry too, and pretty much bossed him to go back into that office and not leave until he got an !!MRI!!. To call Dr. Docx for help, to say he wouldn't leave until he got one, whatever. Perhaps I could go, with the kids, and sit in the waiting room driving them mad with the noise of joyful American children until they relent.

I headed to my Bible study, giving God a piece of my mind as I drove. Remembered along the way that there is a reason for this, that somehow God is using this season of Matthew's pain for a purpose. Went to study, talked about Noah, Abraham, and other people commended for their faith; sensed my lack.

Matthew arrived home moments after we did. Yes, he got the MRI, and by the way, our stuff is coming next Tuesday!

Hooray! Hooray!

13 November, two months and one day after the moving truck left our home in St. Louis Park, we will be reunited with our belongings. Absence has made the heart grow fonder, believe me.

Matthew worked at home while the kids napped this afternoon so I could do some birthday shopping for Lily. I went to an amazing toy store in Brussels -- it was huge, full of creative, colorful toys and games, lots of cloth and wood, and very little about which one would worry about a lead recall.

So: Matthew got his MRI. Our stuff is coming. And I got to get out of the house, by myself. Yippee-yoo! And thank you, God.

07 November 2007

Whine tasting

First, let me say: There are some big upsides to the expat experience. Like, really big. We went to Milan this weekend! Isn't that cool? I'll be posting a cheery tale about our adventures there soon. This is not that tale.

I really, really, want our stuff. I don't want to want our stuff so bad, I want to be sort of transcending Things, and spiritually more mature than that, but I'm not. I just want our stuff. I'm tired of sleeping on two twin mattresses shoved together to make a queen-size, sitting on uncomfortable chairs to eat meals, not being able to make any food item that involves more cookware than a stainless-steel pot or a shallow ceramic casserole, seeing the kids get bored with the same toys they've been playing with for a month and a half, having only one bath towel per person so that laundry has to be strategically planned (wash loads are a much lengthier endeavor here), and generally not feeling very "at home" because I'm surrounded by things other than ours.

Yesterday Matthew phoned the Belgian moving company in charge of our shipment to inquire about our container, which we believe landed in Antwerp on 22 October, i.e., two and a half weeks ago. Antwerp is in Belgium, mind you, a country that is about the size of Maryland. So Matthew asks for Katrien, the woman in charge of our shipment, and is told, "Katrien no longer works here." Oh. Maybe that's why our delivery hasn't been on the fast track. Matthew introduces himself to the woman who has answered Katrien's phone, and she says, "Oh, you're the ones whose shipment has some problem with it, I think." Huh! OK. The reassurance we had hoped for, not happening.

Matthew then phones the woman handling our shipment from the U.S. side, who contacts this Katrien-replacement in Belgium, and reports to us that the shipping company has refused to release our container (and let's be clear here, if "container" is conjuring up images of Tupperware and such -- this is basically a moving truck without the truck, full of all of our household belongings, our furniture, dishes, clothing, toys, books, photos, pictures, everything we have that did not come on the plane with us (8 suitcases + carry-ons, so not nothing) or in our air shipment) until it can cross-reference our bill of lading, which only it can do, because it generated the bill of lading. Oh, I see. ?!

Matthew was reassured by the fact that the U.S. coordinator was angry about the situation, but I'm crankier than he is, and not so easily assuaged. She called back later, after sending a terse email to all involved, to report that our container would be released today. It then (I use the term "then" as if this is a neatly transpiring sequence of events) will go to customs and then to us, by early next week, we think. But we are a foolish, hopeful people.

This is one of the downsides of the expat experience. I am somewhat hesitant to share it. It wouldn't be unreasonable for your reaction to be: "You whiny brat, you're in Europe! A place many people want to vacation! Living in a comfortable home and with food on your table, and you have cute kids, too. And a nice husband who isn't nearly as cranky as you. Count your blessings, missy." Oh, I know, you big meanie. I feel materialistic and privileged and foolish to be so fed up with this, but it's what's going on.

The Editor strikes again

Before we left for the weekend, I fiddled with the settings on this blog and unwittingly made it so that comments had to be approved by me before they'd appear.

This seems an appropriate time to share that when we moved from Florida to Minnesota, my first grade class made a book for me saying goodbye and wishing me luck. Each student had decorated a page, and the book was looped together with yarn tied in a bow.

I spent the first part of that car drive correcting their spelling mistakes with a marker.

Then I spent the next part re-making the mistakes, after my parents realized what I was doing and induced some self-reflection.

Anyhow, I changed the setting back, you all were approved, ALL of you! You always will be! I accept you, just as you are! If I could, I would sing to you what Lily and I like to sing to each other these days: "I love you just the way you are."

Except for you, Brazilian spammer. Your comments, I will continue to delete.

01 November 2007

This is the way he rolls


Eco-Boy and his new toy.

Once Matthew saw this at a nearby gardening store, he had to have it. He was so excited that he wanted to buy it when we were waiting for a wire transfer, so only had 200 euros here. I drew the line. No, we cannot spend half our available funds on a lawnmower.

"Good on you!" as they would say on Celebrity Master Chef. Less expensive than a gas mower, and of course more environmentally friendly.

But who are we kidding? I know he just loves the way it looks.

My secret shame

So, we're enjoying TV. We watched "Celebrity Master Chef" the other night. They are British celebrities, though, so we weren't exactly starstruck. "Who is that?" we kept asking each other.

There's one show, though, that is a point of contention in our home. This show brings me great pleasure, but it is a pleasure riddled with shame. When I hear Matthew's footsteps approach while I am watching this program, I cringe.

Murder, She Wrote. Is that so wrong? How can I resist Jessica Fletcher's widowly charm and wholesome crimesolving skills, or her quaint town of Cabot Cove?

30 October 2007

Paris!

We took the high speed train to Paris on Saturday. We left at 7:44 a.m. from Brussels Midi, ate a tasty breakfast of meat, cheese, and croissants on the way, and . . .


. . . arrived in Paris at 9:05 a.m. WOOHOO! We're in PARIS!


That's Baby Jane Squash there on Lily's lap. She got to come to Paris, too. (For those who haven't met Lily's dolls, she has three: Squash, Squash Two, and Baby Jane Squash. Baby Jane Squash used to be my doll. You can't really see her awesome '70s Dorothy Hamill 'do in this pic.)

First, we went to Sacré Coeur:


Here are the kids enjoying the view after trooping up all those steps.


You cannot see in the photos, but golden rings were suspended above their heads all day. No naps, lots of stroller time, stairs to climb and metros to ride. They did great.