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.

Paris, deux

Stained glass windows at Saint Chappelle depict scenes from the Bible -- not just the greatest hits, but Genesis to Revelation from left to right. The main chapel barely has walls other than the glass.


Here's me with flying buttresses. Notre Dame was my favorite part of the day. The portals alone, the stories told in sculpture around the doors -- it's just breathtaking.


We decided to go to Musée d'Orsay, in part because Matthew has been to the Louvre (this means that I will have to return to Paris another time with some visitors!). Highlights were Degas's dancers, Monet's water lilies, and the building itself, an old railway station.


Finally, Matthew's feeling a bit aw-shucks about the boasting about him (re: photography) I've been doing on this site. Allow me to remedy that.

When we had to do stairs, I would usually carry Soren and hold Lily's hand while Matthew dealt with the stroller.


That's where Matthew dropped the stroller down the incline next to the stairs, into oncoming people, right after he stepped in dog poop.

28 October 2007

Boo!

Belgium doesn't really do Halloween -- I've seen a couple spider decorations in the grocery store, but that's about it. An expat-heavy local town organizes a huge trick-or-treating evening, though. A few days before the big night, those who want to trick or treat drop off 50 pieces of candy per child at the home of one of the organizers and pick up a map identifying participating houses.

The festivities occurred last Thursday, a week before Halloween, because Belgian schools have fall break the week of All Saints' Day. We headed toward one of the main streets identified on our map, and soon knew we had arrived -- cars were parked for blocks, and hundreds of people were walking the streets. No question why they asked for contributions; having to supply treats for this many children definitely could deter involvement. We heard lots of French and some Dutch, too, among candy givers and receivers, so it wasn't only Americans participating. The homes to visit were interspersed among lots of non-participants, so we had to look for the black balloons identifying them (note to organizers: black balloons are hard to find at night).

I have some mixed feelings about Halloween. I don't want our children's early spiritual formation to be marred by a celebration of, what is it exactly? Dead spirits returned to earth? Yeah, I'm not into that. Is it wrong to participate in an event of sketchy origins? Must I overthink everything? Dressing up and getting candy -- it's fun. Plus it's a nice way to feel neighborly and social. And you know, if you look at costumes at, say, Old Navy -- they're mostly cute animals, monkeys and turtles and chickens, or what-do-you-want-to-be-when-you-grow-up sort of costumes. Harmless. I'm not going to be a killjoy.

The Halloween celebrators in Belgium, though, are not messing around. Not until we were almost back to our car did I see one harmless little animal costume, a toddler turtle. Everyone was doing the black-mask-witch-gory-devil thing. Even princess-style dresses on little girls were black and witchy.

So this made Lily's and Soren's costumes even more unique. I use the term "costumes" loosely. There are a few prospects for Halloween costumes in our sea shipment. I thought we'd receive them in time, if Belgians even did Halloween, not knowing they'd do it early, or that our shipment would take so long . . .

So, we made do. Soren has a one-piece blue outfit that reads "Bear" that came with a hat with ears. So, he was a blue bear. Lily has a traditional Chinese-style dress. So, she was an empress.


Soren's choice to not wear the hat made his costume all the more obscure.

Tervuren Park

Tervuren is about fifteen minutes from us. There is a huge beautiful park there, right next to the Royal Museum of Central Africa. In the very little bit of Belgian history I have read, Belgium's treatment of the Congolese people under King Leopold II gives me pause about visiting the museum. The park, anyway, is lovely. We visited it a couple weeks ago, on a bright blue Sunday, and it was teeming with people out for a walk.


And our children were full of unprompted sibling love! Ack! My heart was about to burst. They were walking ahead of us, and Lily stopped to take Soren's hand . . . Oh man.


Kids! I tell you. They are a lot of work, but, in honor of their father, I quote Ferris Bueller: "If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up."

26 October 2007

Beersel

Last Saturday we drove to Beersel, just a half hour away from us. It was another beautiful blue weekend in Brussels. No guard/guide or tour here, just roaming around an empty fortress.


It was really cool -- fun to climb the stairwells, and look out the . . . umm . . . vertical openings for shooting arrows, let's call them. Like I said, we didn't have a guide. Matthew's smart about these kind of things; he probably knows the name of this feature. But as explained below, we were occupied, so we didn't talk much.


We got there a little after 11 a.m., and it closed for two hours over lunch, so we didn't get that much time. As it turns out, it was just fine because, as you might imagine, this medieval fortress is not exactly designed for the toddler set. Lots of windows and drains (?) and arrow slits. Alright, I don't know what any of these things are called. Just imagine: We were up high, and there were lots of places from which one could fall.

I was busy gripping the kids' hands with my iron mom-claw and/or yelling at Matthew to make sure he had a hold of one of them.


If you look closely, you probably can see my furrowed brow and my mouth formed into a frantic cry to Matthew to put down the camera and help me protect our children for pete's!


Matthew took quite a few nice photos anyway, we lived to tell about it, and the kids got to run free on the grass outside the castle gates. Successful sightseeing.

24 October 2007

Hermits no more

We were invited to a family's home for dinner Sunday night. The kids were still a bit under the weather, but we seriously needed to socialize. It was a long week of self-quarantine. Matthew wasn't sure we should go, since Soren especially was still a little run down. Uh-uh. Let me loose! Once our hostess said they didn't mind that the kids had colds, I was not about to turn down an invitation to get out of the house.

It was so comforting to be in a cozy home with personal touches -- family photos, knick-knacks, candles, rugs, color. (I thought I didn't like knick-knacks until I was deprived of every item I own that possibly could be construed as one.)

This was our first meal with people outside our family since arriving five weeks ago. The kids and I have spent time with some other moms and little ones, and Matthew of course interacts with coworkers. But eating, visiting, and laughing with other adults, as a couple, was refreshing. Lily and Soren enjoyed playing with the children, ages ten, seven, and one. They both got to jump on the trampoline, and Lily got her fingernails painted by the older daughter.

What a gift hospitality is! We were grateful recipients of it that night.

Too cool

The house across the street from ours is being renovated. There is one man doing most of the work, and he's been there almost every day since we moved here. He's probably in his forties and has a deep tan, which only makes sense, as he has one uniform of choice. Every day, he wears very short, side-split nylon shorts. Only. Well, shoes, I think. But no shirt. It's 43 degrees Fahrenheit today, and he's sporting just the shorts.

We wave at him as we leave the house, bundled in jackets.

22 October 2007

Chocolate and kindness

Last Friday at the grocery store I finally discovered the aisle with the chocolate. They sell chocolate chips in the American section (which also includes Golden Griddle syrup for 9,07 euros). But I figured I would bypass the overpriced Hershey's chips and use superior Belgian chocolate for all my baking needs. When I find it.

Five or six market trips later, after finally asking an American woman during an unrelated telephone conversation, I learn that the candy and chips are kept at the end of one of the beer and wine aisles (to better facilitate binge behavior, I suppose). While I was taking in the array of chocolate options, a woman around my age with a baby in her cart remarked, "Wasn't it easier to shop . . ."

I thought she would finish her sentence with, ". . . back in the States?," since she sounded American. But, " . . . before them?" she smiled, gesturing to Lily and Soren. I nodded. "It's fun, though," she added. (I assume she meant parenthood, not grocery shopping with children. I'm with her on the former. The latter's up for debate.)

Do not fear, kind reader. I am not one to let an opportunity like this pass me by. No, I was not about to let her get away, this friendly, well-adjusted American woman. "Have you been here long?" I asked. This is my Belgian friend pick-up line.

And how do you like this: It turns out she and her husband used to live in Minnesota and are originally from North Dakota, where my mom grew up. They have lived here for six years now and consider it home. "It would be very hard to move back," she said. She has a three-year-old son in addition to the little boy in the cart. She gave me her phone number and said I should come to her house one morning and put my feet up, as she knows how hard it is at first. "The first year is so hard," she observed. The first year is hard? Uff da.

As we said goodbye she added, "Sometimes God just puts people in your path at the right time." Amen to that.

TV-licious

As of last week we have satellite TV, so we have access to far more channels than we did back in the states. In Minnesota we were living in channel poverty with only basic cable. Now we have many, many options. Lily gets to see Dora in action rather than just frozen in a smile on a sippy cup. Matthew and I watched a movie this weekend, and even though we missed the first fifteen minutes, we were able to rewind and start at the beginning. And not mess with a VHS tape. I know I'm a few years late on this DVR thing, but: Brilliant!

Some people call TV the idiot box. Some people "kill their TVs" to have more family time. Some people might actually want fewer channels during an overseas experience, the better to use all their free time to soak in the culture. These people probably don't have children who go to bed before prime time starts and who can't be left home alone. TV, I embrace you.

20 October 2007

Walking and stomping

Both the kids have been sick, so we have been on our own this week, not wanting to un-make any new friends by infecting them. We took a nature walk one morning down our street and into the forest. A "nature walk," not just a "walk," to make it sound more appealing, and because Lily and Soren are budding naturalists out there, delighted to discover snails, sticks, leaves, flowers, dogs, cats, and horses.

We brought our "burellas" (per Lily) in case in rained. It didn't, but Lily's stayed open the whole time. Soren preferred to drag his jauntily behind him.


Soren's favorite discovery were the puddles.


There is a huge forest on the south-east corner of Brussels, and we are just on the other side of it. Here's Lily in "our forest."

17 October 2007

The French Correction

When I wrote about my minimal French a few days ago, I referred to numbers, spelling "quatre" wrong, and skipping "trois." See, that's how minimal my French is! Minimal, and marginal. Maybe that explains why when we bought waffles at the Stokkel market, at first they gave us seven waffles, not the four I thought I so clearly ordered.

Excusez-moi, s'il vous plais!

Eyewitness account: Belgian medical care

On Sunday night, Lily had a mild fever at bedtime and then a higher fever when I went to bed a few hours later. I gave her medicine to try to bring it down. By 2 a.m., though, her temperature had shot up to 104.3 degrees.

If we had been in Minnesota, I would have called our pediatrician's after-hours number and talked to a nurse, who, if she thought Lily needed to be seen, would have advised me to go to an ER.

But of course we aren't . . . I panicked at first but then remembered that there is a section in our weekly local newspaper that lists the on-call numbers for the doctors in the area (it also lists which pharmacies are open on Sundays). Here's where it's good that I keep every piece of paper delivered to our mailbox!

I called the clinic, pressed "1" to be connected to the on-call doctor, and spoke to the doctor immediately. She sounded like she may have been sleeping. She told me to leave straight away and that she would meet me at the office. The office is right in our commune, maybe five minutes away. The doctor met us at the door and brought us into a room. She was young and very kind. She listened to Lily's lungs (clear), and said I could either give her another dose of medicine and watch her, or take her to the hospital immediately. We decided on the former as Lily seemed to perk up. We settled up right there -- I paid her forty-one euros, and she gave me a receipt for insurance and a note in case we did decide to go to the hospital.

Lily's recovering now. It may be a flu virus, gentle reader, as, how can I say this politely: "there's been a stomach component to it." She still has a slight fever this afternoon.

An expat who has lived here for three years told me that the first six months we can all expect to get sick more often, as our bodies deal with the new Belgian germs. (That's free for the taking there, that cool band name: The New Belgian Germs.)

15 October 2007

VAT chance

You can pretty much skip this unless you have grandchildren living in our home.

We have to pay value added tax (VAT) on international packages we receive. The mail carrier brings the package to our door and asks for money before he hands it over. VAT is based on what Belgian customs/the post office has determined the value of the goods inside to be. I've heard that it's better to send a few small packages rather than one large one; to not insure them; to fill out the U.S. Customs declaration form at the post office, but to value the goods very modestly; and to choose your descriptors carefully -- "used" has been recommended (this sounds sneaky, but play with them a bit -- presto! -- used); and to take new items out of their original packaging (all the better to "use" them!).

Wow, what a hassle. Why don't you just come yourself instead?

14 October 2007

Putting us in our place

When we arrived here a month ago, we were able to move right into the house we had rented. I am so thankful for this, as I've heard some families have lived in a hotel for a month or more. Here's a photo of our home from our familiarization trip this July (when we chose it).


We also are so thankful that we have basic furniture rented -- we met a family last week who will be living on air mattresses until their shipment arrives. It is minimal, though, and I know all of us will feel more settled and comfortable when we are surrounded by our normal things. So, here's our current living situation. Pretty much everything is from IKEA as far as we can tell -- furniture, dishes, bedding -- although I'm not sure about the pleather couches. Not sure they're from IKEA, I mean; sure that they are suh-WEET!


We took photos while the children were in a dream state so that the house was presentable, so what you can't see is all the natural light during the day. We knew that Belgium was pretty gray, so when we were looking for homes, one of our main considerations was the amount of natural light. So, it's lovely and warm during the day -- you can imagine it, can't you? You're creative like that!


I am quite excited about having more space in the kitchen. Here's a photo of it from this summer (so these are the previous tenant's belongings).


And here is Soren's bedroom. You can see why Lily and Soren are getting so much exercise these days, even when we're indoors. Lots of room to rrrrrrrrrrun!


Our sea container should arrive in Antwerp this coming week, and how long it takes to actually get to us depends on how much attention customs gives it, I believe. Here's hoping they overlook the crate marked "armory"!

Stokkel Market

Yesterday we went to the Stokkel Market in Woluwe St. Pierre (one of the 19 districts of the city of Brussels). This is one of the largest and best known of the open air markets. Every commune in the area has its own open air market at least one day per week. I love this about Belgium!


W-S-P is more Francophone -- like much of Brussels proper, I believe. So, we used our French. Ha. "Our French!" It's pretty minimal: "oui," "s'il vous plais," "parlez-vous anglais?," "merci," "merci beaucoup," "un, deux, cat, cinq," and "au revoir."

I bought framboises et salade (raspberries and salad) from this stand. (I just confirmed the spelling of those two words at Babel Fish -- do you know it? babelfish.altavista.net: It's my most-used reference these days.) There is no squeezing to test ripeness at these markets; the owners do not want you to touch the merchandise. You get in line in an orderly fashion and they hand you your purchases.


Highlights of the fruit stands are persimmons, figs, and huge grapes -- we live in an area where grapes (druiven) are grown, for eating, not wine-making. There's also fresh fish and seafood, slaggerijs (butchers), quiche, shoes, clothing, lots of fresh cut flowers and plants, a friterie (which sells fried food), chocolate, olives, yogurt . . .


Wafels voor de kinderen! (En de moeder en de vader.)*


*"Vader" is the Dutch word for father. I haven't seen all the Star Wars movies, but even I know the significance there.

(Again, all these photos by the lovely and talented Matthew Jacobs.)

12 October 2007

Kinderen

Now I know: They're not "just being kids!" They're "just being (American) kids!"

Belgian children are not as energetic and carefree as American children.

The Belgians might put it this way: Belgian children are better behaved in public than American children.

One American expat observed that a preschool she visited was "maybe too perfect -- the children were almost Stepford-like."

"Huh!" I said. "I think my kids could use a little Stepford-izing!" We'll be registering Monday. (Ha.)

Another American remarked dubiously to a Belgian friend, "It seems that the children are to be seen and not heard here!"

"Yes, that's right," the friend replied matter-of-factly.

You can sometimes hear our children before you can even see them. Not surprisingly, we've already been the recipients of several pointed looks from middle-aged Belgian women.

It's not all castles and blue skies, people!

Our dryer has been broken for a couple weeks, and now our washer needs fixing too. Right now there is a load just sitting idly in the water -- it's a front loader, so it's taunting me. The machine locks itself if the water hasn't emptied, so I can't rescue it. As you might imagine, I am regretting buying these from the previous tenants of the house.

I can make do without a dryer; there are clothes and cloth diapers hanging on the coat rack, door knobs, a shower door, and over radiators. Wet laundry, it's my decor. But without a washer -- well, it's gonna be ugly. We're anxious for Daddy to get home. I am a liberated woman, I can read a manual and all that, but when it says "Check the line to make sure there's nothing blocking it," my imagination runs wild, and I step aside for My Man.

11 October 2007

Gaasbeek Castle

Our first real sight-seeing occurred last weekend. It was a beautiful blue autumn day, and I was about giddy that we were doing something fun all together, not shopping for cars or buying bathmats or crying at church. (I should mention: The day I cried at church, dear Matthew drove home three tearful family members. Me, as mentioned earlier; Soren, due to hunger, although up to the point we fed the poor boy lunch, I was thinking he was seriously ill; and Lily, because she had to leave the playground since Soren was so upset.)

We drove about forty-five minutes and enjoyed a long walk from the parking lot to Gaasbeek. It was beautiful. Two weddings, or at least photographs for them, were taking place in the lovely gardens.



The man who led our tour (comprised of us and a man and his son) was "not a guide, but a guard." So, maybe he was packing heat, but I'm pretty sure he's basically a docent. He was really kind and answered all of our questions (especially helpful as the exhibits were in Dutch). When Matthew asked if he could take a photo inside the castle, the guard said, "No, it's not allowed," and right away Matthew replied, "Oh, sure, that's fine," and then the guard casually said, "Of course, if you want to take one or two, I will turn my head . . . But I didn't say that."

We're rules people. The lens cap stayed on.



Lily's favorite part of the tour was peeking through a gate down winding stairs to see a fire-breathing dragon!



The exhibits were mostly about knights and chivalry in general, Lancelot and Lohengrin and St. George, etc. At one point we walked into a room for a short video, and we settled in for what we expected would be an historical film about European castles or some such thing. And then Monty Python and the Holy Grail began. It was a ten to fifteen minute segment, including the scene with the killer bunny guarding the castle: a cute little creature mauling people -- great for the kids! We kept waiting for it to segue into some informational film, but no, it was simply an interlude of humor.

And now, an interlude of cuteness:



All photos (except the last, which I took) are courtesy Matthew Eric Jacobs.

10 October 2007

Maybe I do have that packrat OCD

I can't bring myself to throw away any advertising materials or local periodicals we've received. I can't read them (they're in Dutch), and I don't want to miss out on anything amazing. Maybe this one says, "Free TV for the first 50 people!" And maybe this one says, "This is the most amazing event/sight in all of Belgium! And it is only open one day a year, tomorrow!"

Mother Tongue

I've been here three weeks, so it's about time I start making (and sharing!) some generalizations about Belgium.

The Flemish (Dutch speakers) are, in general, either more fluent in English, or more willing to speak it, than the Walloons (French speakers) are. Flanders, then, feels warmer to Americans (or at least, this American) than Wallonia. We live in Flanders but Wallonia's just a few kilometers away. I don't know that I can blame the French speakers; I have been surprised to hear some expats express no interest in learning either French or Dutch. If I were Belgian that would feel disrespectful (heck, I'm an American, and that seems disrespectful), and maybe I'd rather not make an effort with English.

I stopped to ask for directions at a parking lot in Wallonia the other day. I asked a lady loading groceries into her trunk: "Madame? S'il vous plais? Parlez-vous anglais?" "No," she said quickly and turned away. When I stopped on a small lane a few minutes later, though, a kind man on a bicycle who did not speak English stopped, explained in French with expressive gestures, and I got to my destination.

But when I ask a Flemish grocery store clerk, "Spreekt u Engells, alstublieft?", what I most often hear is, "Ja, een beetje." ("Yes, a bit.") And then, usually, this modest lady turns out to be pretty much fluent in English, and we converse easily. Or, she really can only speak a bit, but we get along fine.

And may I add how kind that is, especially since I just realized I've been butchering the word for "please." Of all words, I have got to get that one right!

09 October 2007

Spreekt u Nederlands?

Tomorrow morning we meet with the head teacher at the local Flemish school in our commune (town) to look into preschool for Lily there. Belgium has free public schooling from 2 1/2 years old -- full-time, even for those little ones! But it's possible to go less frequently. So we are hoping Lily could go two mornings a week to have a social outlet, learn some Dutch (because yes, it'd be in Dutch), burn off some energy, and so that I could get some one-on-one time with Soren and a little breathing space.

We're hoping (praying!) that this feels like a good fit and a cool opportunity for our little Lily Sigrid. All four of us will visit.

Tomorrow night Matthew leaves for Nice for three evenings. Nice for him, maybe! HO-OH! (That's a shout-out to the punning portion of my family, the Jacobs'.)

I'm not gonna stop, I'm gonna work harder!

Success: 30 euros later, we have 20 large garbage bags. See, you have to buy these bags at the *service counter* at the grocery store, they're so expensive. The ones on the shelves are just decoys to fool the expats. I haven't checked yet, but based on the size of refrigerators, washing machines, milk containers, and cars here, I'm thinking their "large" garbage bags might be about right for our bathroom trash cans.

Surrender: I bought shelf milk. They were out of the 2% refrigerated, so it was either whole milk or hitting the shelves. Whole milk = volle melk, ~2% milk = halfvolle melk. I love Dutch!

And I really couldn't make this up: that Destiny's Child song "Survivor" was playing while I grocery shopped.

08 October 2007

International School by the Numbers

13.000: Cost per year of preschool at a popular private international school here, in euros (they put periods where we put commas)
6.975: Cost of the other most popular private international school here, in euros
1.4: 1 euro, in dollars, approximately
50: Percent of preschool cost covered in our expat package
$5000-9000: Approximate out of pocket to us this would entail per year
5: Number of mornings preschool occurs at these schools
4: Number of afternoons preschool occurs at the first (in addition to the mornings)
0: Level of willingness of admissions at these schools to accept a student fewer days a week and prorate fees
0: Chance we're doing this

Toysickness

Last night, Matthew and I were tucking Lily in, and I asked her, "How are you feeling about the move?"

"I don't want to be in Belgium. I want to go to our old house," she responded.

Not really what we want to hear. Well, in that it's the truth, it's what we want to hear. Not what we were hoping she was feeling, I guess.

"What's at our old house that you liked?" Matthew inquired.

"Toys."

"Is there anything else you miss?"

"Toys."

T minus two weeks until our sea shipment arrives -- we're anxious.

It was bound to happen

I cried when a nice lady in church asked how I was doing yesterday. I said that we are anxious to find a church home. She was very kind, and understanding, and the lady who phoned me last week who was standing right there was kind too, and her rugby coach husband said, "Everyone goes through it," very kindly, and the lady who runs their weekly play time with little ones sort of moved away quickly.

I would have felt embarrassed to do that at an American church I was new to. I felt extra embarrassed because this is a congregation that is largely British -- so, if they fit the stereotype, more reserved.

With tears and mascara and a bit of snot, I truly was The Ugly American.

07 October 2007

We don't have OCD, at least not this bad

Garbage bags are piling up in our garage, not because we have that extreme version of OCD where we can't get rid of anything, but because we're doing it wrong somehow. We've put the bags out at the right time, I thought we had the garbage separated correctly, but we can't get them to take anything. There are brown bags for trash, blue bags for plastic, you take the glass to the containerpark occasionally, and I forget how paper works, but don't worry, we're collecting that too.

You pay for your trash collection service here through the purchase of the bags -- a pack of garbage bags runs around 30 euros (~$45) at the grocery store. Or so I've been told -- I haven't found those bags yet. So our garbage sits and waits.

04 October 2007

On receiving our air shipment

Lily: "MY TOYS! MY TOYS! MY TOYS! Look what's in HERE!"

She will absolutely flip her lid when we receive the sea shipment in a few more weeks.

I about hugged our French-speaking delivery man. "He's cool," Lily observed, as he left to get another box. "Oh yeah?," I replied innocently. "Why?" "He's not cool?" she responded, with a tone of dejection.

Oh, he was cool. He brought Play Doh and Mr. Potato Head and puzzles and coloring books and several Nalgenes and two bathmats and three robes and Matthew's flip-flops and two candles to make our house smell like Our House.

03 October 2007

So far, Belgium hasn't been real good to my body.

I love a list.

Good parts of grocery shopping in Belgium:
1. Bread. They do not have shelves of bags of boring smooshy sliced bread. They have bins of heavy, dense loaves dusted with flour or sprinkled with seeds, square and round and baguette. And a bread slicing machine not for the faint of heart.
2. Croissants. Soon I will have to stop pretending this is part of my regular shopping list, that we "need" this.
3. Apple juice. No bland TreeTop that only a preschooler could love. It's tart and wonderful.
4. Beer. I don't know if you've heard, but they make some beer here.
5. Wine. In that, it's here, in the grocery store. How convenient! Don't worry; they won't sell it on Sunday. Because they're not open on Sunday. Nothing is, except church, and nature.
6. Cheese. Wow. So far we've had gouda, brie, some creamy "stanky" (as Matthew would say) cheese with orange fur (Lily's descriptor) -- mmm.
7. Yogurt. The majority of the dairy aisle is devoted to cheese and yogurt.
8. Many varieties of chocolate cereal: To think we deprived Americans have to choose between Cocoa Puffs and Cocoa Krispies. Here there are flakes and puffs and filled puffs and chocolate All-Bran and even some granola that has chunks of chocolate in it. Chocolate granola -- how can you argue with that?

Bad parts of grocery shopping in Belgium:
1. Milk. Belgium, I ask you, why do you value certain dairy so highly, and look with disdain at the beating heart of dairy: milk? There is some refrigerated milk, and some "shelf milk." Hmm. I want nothing to do with shelf milk. I'd rather try some prawn-flavored chips. No, that's not right; I'll go with the milk.
2. Poorly designed shopping carts that do not turn properly, so that I have to take a wide, loping circle in order to get into the next aisle. The wheels simply do not turn well and you have to put muscle behind it. My left knee hurts -- I haven't worn my knee brace since the triathlon almost three months ago, but I may have to pull it out the next time I grocery shop. Yeah, that's right, I have a sports injury from food shopping. What's it to you? I injured my knee doing what, you ask? Why, buying bread, and croissants, and chocolate cereal. See you next year, when I will be unrecognizably large. No, I'm not pregnant, I'm newly Belgian.