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.