28 February 2008

Sister o' mine


Auntie is here! Woohoo!

As we drove to the airport to pick her up, Lily was saying in the back, "Eek! I'm so excited!" Soren played it cool when he first saw her, for about three minutes, and since then he's been full of requests of "Uppee?" ("Up please") to her.

After fourteen hours of time in transit, on her first international travel experience, how did we ease Lauren's arrival onto foreign soil? By making her wait at the airport, incommunicado (no phone), for thirty minutes. Nice!

We're off to Paris early Saturday. There, I will practice my French. I have had one lesson with the teacher that I love, Pascale. French is hard -- my Spanish background helps me recognize words, but really messes with my tongue. The little words are so tricky -- "un" and "de" sound so very different in those two languages. But I am loving it! And I think annoying Lauren with my practice.

When Pascale arrived, she began speaking in French and encouraging me to respond (in French). When I said I was from the midwest, she asked me a follow-up question. I was confused. No one has ever wondered whether I was of Native American descent. Soon I realized she was asking me whether I was from Indianapolis, not whether I was Indian.

Lauren is sitting on the couch as I work on this and said, "Do you want to know what I would like to say?" OK, her turn: "I would like people to know I had tulips and a sign and books and chocolate in my room, and I would like to say that the traffic in the streets is crazier, and the pastries are delectable. And the weather's nice."

24 February 2008

Chunneling to England

Alright. I'm about to bring it like it's never been broughten. I have six posts for you today.

Last Friday the kids and I headed to the Brussels Midi station to take the Eurostar to London. Matthew had been there since Wednesday for work. I was a smidge nervous about traveling with the kids by myself -- more so just the logistics of parking and boarding and lugging our things aboard than the two hours on the train. They were champs -- Lily turns into a ten-year-old in these moments, just totally steps up as the big sister. We had already cleared security (bless the man who did not make me take down the stroller and put it through the x-ray machine!) and the passport check and were standing outside the train. I set the kids out of the stroller and was folding it up. "Stay right there," I told them, and when Soren took a half-step, Lily's hand was on his jacket, stopping him. "No, Soren."

Lily was intrigued and a bit concerned that we would be traveling under the water. "Will the train feel wet?" she wondered. "Ta-da!" Soren announced, throwing his arms in the air, each time we emerged from a tunnel.

Lily's favorite part of the trip? "Sleeping in the hotel as a family," she informed us upon our return. What a dear. Well, there were some cute highlights, like:

I really don't know what these kids could ever, ever, do to ever, ever make me lose my patience with them, ever. I wish this photo could be seared in my brain so that when, say, a poinsettia is dropped, removed from its pot, and dirt is strewn around the family room as I make dinner, if that were ever to happen, for example, my ferocious love for them would temper any momentary frustration I might feel.

Anyhow. The hotel. And then of course there was the special in-room entertainment:



Larry loves an up-do.

But there were some downsides. That cute photo of them snuggling together preceded Lily falling out of bed in the middle of the night. After that, Matthew and I decided we better split up and offer the kids more protection. The next night though, when Soren fell out of bed, it seemed that the protection his mother provided was not especially thorough.

And Matthew played a role in another tumbling incident. Can you believe that the children suffered another simultaneous stroller drop on a curb?

We like to think we're fairly smart people, but honestly. The stroller comes with buckles. The kids have adapted to our ineptitude, though -- not a tear was shed, and they hardly even seemed surprised.

Sogilicious/Handsome Pants/BIG BOY is TWO!

It's my birthday! I'm drinking a smoothie for a mid-morning snack!


Oh heck yeah. Why not. It's my birthday. I'm having another smoothie for lunch.


Evidence that I now have a two-year-old on my hands: The past two nights, the sweet boy who used to snuggle in and rest his head on my shoulder when I said good night to him has extended his arm in a blocking motion from the crib, frowned, and sternly said, "Go away." Welcome to TWO, Soren Gabriel! We'll make it through. I'm praying.

No, really, children, you HAVE been to Buckingham Palace . . . you just slept through it . . .


Well, I woke Lily up -- for weeks we've been reciting the nursery rhyme, "Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been? I've been to London to visit the queen!" I thought she'd be disappointed if she didn't get to see where the queen lives.

And the look of sheer joy on her face made it all worth it . . .


. . . or something. Ah well. Spring has sprung in London -- Matthew and I marveled though at seeing daffodils, crocus, roses, even, in the near-freezing temperatures we experienced.

Wheel in the sky

Saturday afternoon Soren (and all of us) got a special birthday treat of a ride in The Eye.


Each capsule holds about twenty-five people and is completely enclosed in glass. The ride is about half an hour long, and you can move all around in the capsule to look out every which way.


We got some amazing views of the city -- and the sun was setting, so the colors of the sky were beautiful.


Here are the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. We walked over that bridge to the tube station after our ride.

Keeeeeew are you? Kew kew, kew kew?

Sunday we headed to Kew Gardens.
We had a bit of a transportation snafu as the subway to Kew was closed for the weekend, but they were running buses instead -- DOUBLE DECKER BUSES. Sweet! Our trip to Kew took a loooong time but it was so fun for the kids to sit up top, and we got the front seats so could really see. Lily would see another bus approaching and announce, "Here comes another decker!"



The kids made a new friend.


My subtle peahen imitation was unable to provoke a response, but as we started walking away, the peacock got all flashy on us.


Crocus bloomed throughout the gardens.


Matthew and I both have been to London before but neither of us had been to Kew. It was lovely.



Kew too

Here are some more of Matthew's shots from Kew.



An abbey, a museum, some fish

Monday we headed to Westminster Abbey in the morning. Poet's Corner with stones commemorating famous British artists was a highlight, as was the coronation chair that has been used in every British coronation for at least a century. The kids enjoyed running around the cloisters, and Lily liked seeing the robes of the queens in the museum.

In the afternoon went to the Tate Modern. I loved the Tate thirteen (!?) years ago when I was in London. It's in a new building housing (obviously) just modern art, and there is now Tate Britain too, with, well, you are smart people. We only hit the modern museum. Lily enjoyed some of the film work, like a man walking and then tripping on a dog, over and over, or a man rolling a barrel through NYC. She's sort of avant garde like that; also, she likes TV. Soren slept. He's kind of post-modern.

Here's an exterior of the Tate Modern:


Afterward, we walked on the Millennium Bridge, right outside the museum, and saw an amazing sunset.


Then we walked to get fish and chips. I was desperate to get some. It was very tasty, huge portions with sides of pickles and whole pickled onions. We reeked of the fry smell until we got back to Brussels, and I washed our jackets. It was worth it, though.

Our little urbanites on the underground.


Tuesday we caught the train back to Brussels in the evening, but in the morning we went to the National Portrait Gallery. We saw the oldest portraits but the kids started losing it in the 18th century (frankly how they held up looking at that many men in wigs up to that point was fairly miraculous), so we sped it up and didn't see much of their modern stuff. I would like to return; I really enjoyed it.

20 February 2008

World clique

[We were in London the past several days -- I can't wait to post photos and tell you about our time there. I will, in fact, wait, however, until Matthew, aka Globetrotter Joe, who headed out again this morning to Brugges and then Geneva, returns and downloads photos.]

I go to a study on Thursday mornings at an international church, the one we've been attending on Sundays too. One of the very cool aspects of it is the diversity of ethnicity in the women who attend. It has been a joy to get to know women from all over the world, women with backgrounds entirely different than mine. 
Here are the women's home countries, plus in parentheses the country from which they moved to Belgium, if different (and if I know). So, clockwise from me at the table one Thursday were: 
  1. The Netherlands (France)
  2. Zimbabwe
  3. South Africa
  4. Mexico (U.S.)
  5. Belgium since infancy but born in the U.S. to American parents
  6. Belgium (England)
  7. U.S., now permanently Belgium
  8. Barbados (England)
Cool, huh?

P.S. If you know the source of this post title (without Googling!!), I bet I went to junior high school with you . . .

14 February 2008

Labels

There's been a lot of parenting type talk on here lately. I have this idea that all posts must be Belgium-focused, but frankly, most of my "Belgisch dags" consist of normal mommy life with my little dumplings/the dumples/the dumpsters (that's what came out once when I was calling them -- not to be used again).

Last week Lily wrote her own nametag at music class. And then I had to be resuscitated from the fumes of parental pride that overtook me.


On our way to our car after class, we passed a group of junior high students from the international school, and I overheard a girl saying:

"I know. I HATE Newfoundlanders. They're all . . ." (and then she proceeded to imitate how they talk).

Perhaps a downside to international schooling is that it provides the opportunity to develop absurdly specific prejudices?

13 February 2008

A rose by any other name

Names Lily has suggested for the baby:
Larry
Willis
Princess

For comparison purposes, names Lily has given dolls:
Squash
Squash Two
Baby Jane Squash
Willis (formerly known as Squash Two)
Larry (a girl)
Gracie

Unless Matthew and I come up with some boy names we really like, we may be announcing the birth of Willis Larry Jacobs in July. Unless we have a girl. Then you'll hear about Princess Larry Jacobs.

11 February 2008

My sister, my sherpa

There are some pantry type items that I love to use that I cannot find here, or are ridiculously expensive. Some things I can make do without -- I can chop chocolate bars for chocolate chunks rather than chips, I can cook dried black beans instead of using canned. But others, although I could definitely make do without, I would really miss. If you come to visit, we will probably ask you to bring over a few items for us. But we probably won't abuse you as we do our immediate family.

Matthew's co-worker Sara came for meetings in November and brought canned chipotle peppers and green chiles. Then, when Don and Deb came, they brought -- besides about 438 Christmas gifts -- several pantry items, most urgent (and I am clearly way too into food if I label these as urgent) being maple syrup and extracts, and a quite heavy electrical transformer (since I burned one out popping popcorn). 

My sister arrives two weeks from tomorrow, and I've asked her to bring an American mall over in her extra suitcase: sure, some food items -- crushed red pepper, dried cherries, more green chiles, York peppermint patties, Cadbury Mini Eggs, Tylenol PM -- but then also kids' clothing I ordered and had shipped to her (plus an item or two for Matthew and me), a couple Boz DVDs for the kids, and more cloth diapers.

I'm hoping our ladies' only weekend in Paris (WOOHOO!) will make all the lugging through the airport she will have done fade into a distant memory.

07 February 2008

Snip

The kids got haircuts today.

And they received those sweet discs of goodness, lollipops, as their rewards for sitting so well. 


The hairdresser even put some product in their hair.


Soren went first, and while we watched Lily from a couch, he noticed some of the clippings from his hair on the cushion. He scowled, then tried a few times to pick one up and place it back on his head.


As we were leaving, the hairdresser asked, "So, are they off school this week, or next?"

For the bazillionth time, I answered, "They're not in school yet," and then resisted the urge to make this face:


 

05 February 2008

Getting schooled

[This is a long post that has less of an overseas adventure tone and more of an expat frustration vibe. For the former, see my posts from yesterday about the abbey. They are cheerier and have photos.]

Lily has told a few people recently, "I go to school!" I was confused, since she doesn't, but Matthew pointed out, "We do go to school -- we've visited several -- she probably thinks that is 'going to school'!"

I mentioned months ago on the blog that we were going to visit a Flemish school. Then I have gone black on this topic, out of exhaustion with thinking and talking about it. Considering what to do regarding school has been a hard thing about living in Belgium. We have toured schools; talked with parents here whose children go to Flemish schools, French schools, international schools, Montessori schools, or are home schooled; talked about it a lot with each other and with some of you. I am overwhelmed, angry, and utterly unsure of what the best thing to do is. This is surely a sign I need to spend more time in prayer, but for now, a little mental purging.
This compare/contrast exercise may be more for my benefit than yours, but I do want to share with those who are interested some of the main thoughts surrounding this topic. And if you know and love our children, please do share your thoughts, too.

Local Flemish school (3 visited)
Pros:
  • Nearby.
  • Free.
  • Immersion experience in Flemish (Dutch) would be good for their brains, but teachers know English too so Lily wouldn't be stranded language-wise.
  • Flexibility on how much they attend -- could be full-time (8:45-3:45), or could be just the mornings, or could be three mornings a week (my preference).
  • Soren could start in the fall too, if we chose; it's available to all Belgian children from age 2 1/2.
Cons:
  • Large class size (22-25 students).
  • Possibly glorified daycare -- no writing taught until ages 5-6. This concerns me as Lily is writing her name now.
  • I'd prefer they learn French since Matthew and I will be studying that.
  • An immersion experience could be more challenging if they're not attending every day, so that either 1) I would feel pressured to put her in every day, or 2) it would just be really hard.
  • Every American mother with children doing this has said that the first month or so of the immersion school experience was really, really hard (and these were moms who went with full-time school, so that language acquisition was quicker).
  • The toilet area weirds me out -- just a big room with no doors on the stalls, and unisex for up to age six.
International schools (1 visited, 1 scheduled)
Pros:
  • English speaking.
  • As long as full tuition is paid, flexibility on how many days/parts of days attended.
  • Beautiful, clean facilities.
  • Smaller class size.
  • Wonderful art and physiometrics (a.k.a. "gym") room.
  • Very safe premises -- card required for entry, guarded and gated.
  • Nearby.
  • Feels most like typical American preschool experience.
  • Diverse student body, from 65 countries.
Cons:
  • Incredibly expensive (and we don't yet know how much assistance we get on this from Matthew's employer).
  • No second language taught until kindergarten.
Montessori school (1 visited, 1 or 2 to be scheduled)
Pros:
  • One English-speaking and one French-speaking teacher per class -- some language learning without the stress of the immersion experience. Most teaching in English, but the French teacher always speaks to the children in French, and song time is in French.
  • Focus on autonomy and going at own pace could help ensure Lily is challenged -- able to explore what she wants to. I was more impressed with the philosophy than I expected to be, as my first impression was that it was a bit flaky.
  • Cool house environment -- nice, small, safe-feeling setting.
  • Teachers seem enthusiastic.
Cons:
  • More of a drive.
  • Still much more expensive than anything we'd be doing in the U.S. (again, we'll be getting some help with this, but we don't know how much, as the policy is in flux).
  • I wonder if the focus on independence comes at any price of socialization and interaction.
Local French school (1 to be rescheduled)
(We haven't visited this yet, but here are my thoughts going in.)
Pros:
  • Immersion experience in a language I'd prefer.
  • Free.
Cons:
  • Less English speaking among the administration and teachers than in the Flemish system (this I do know from trying to schedule a visit).
  • I've heard the French schools' facilities are not as nice as the Flemish.
  • More of a drive.
  • A friend with a son in a French school (I say "French," but the proper term I suppose is Francophone -- it's a Belgian school) says that although it's "free" she ends up spending around fifty euros ($75) every month on required supplies, etc.
And then of course I'm not sold on the idea of sending them to school.

Reasons to keep them home:
  • I can work with Lily on writing and numbers -- we do "schoolwork" now.
  • Soren and Lily play together well and have a special bond I hate to break up.
  • I enjoy our leisurely mornings and don't look forward to having to hustle out the door.
  • We have years and years of school ahead of us; why rush?
  • I would miss them!
  • To declare the validity of my choice to be a stay-at-home mom, i.e., to stick it to the (Belgian) man. I have sensed that some people believe I'm depriving my children by not sending them yet, since most Belgians are in school full-time from 2 1/2 years old, and I'm angered by that. Query whether this has anything to do with what's best for Lily and Soren or is just my contrarian nature rearing its ugly head.
Reasons to put her, or them, in school:
  • Socialization. There just aren't the activities here to do with younger children as there are in the States. Right now we're in a music class, and they could do gymnastics or dance, but these classes are expensive. And the gymnastics and dance classes I've looked into fall at times catering to children in school.
  • For Lily to have a special big girl thing to do, that is her own. (If I put Soren in school some too, that would negate this.)
  • Because I really do think Lily would love it.
  • Lily and Soren would still have lots of time together if one or both of them went to school three mornings per week.
  • To give me a bit of space as we adjust to life with a new baby.
So. There you have it.

04 February 2008

L'Abbaye de Villers-la-Ville

On Saturday the forecast was for snow and rain showers, but the sky was beautiful and blue, and you just don't take those days for granted here. We headed out to Abbaye de Villers-la Ville, the ruins of a twelfth century abbey. This was a wonderful day -- we are now officially "amis famille de l'abbaye" so we have free admission for a year. When you come visit us, you will want to go here, and we can take you!


When we walked into the entrance building, the woman behind the desk was on the telephone. We looked around at the books and postcards for a few minutes, waiting for our opportunity to pay as we presumed we had to, but the woman never even looked up at us. I finally said to Matthew, "If she needs to collect a fee, she wouldn't still be on the phone like this."


Guess what? My American assumption: wrong. When we left through this same building, she cheerfully stopped us, we paid, and we even became "amis." Not with her, just the abbey.


I love this abbey! A dear amie it is. It was such a great place to take kids. The sun was shining, we were running all over, we were exploring history but did not have to worry about our children somehow harming its remnants.


As this was all outside, with fences blocking unsafe areas, the kids could run around freely, and the iron mom-claw did not have to be used. However, while walking around the former hostelry turned brewery, we noticed an incline with a sign reading "Zone Dangereus," and a picture of a stick figure falling off a cliff. I am not kidding that Matthew looked, pointed, and said, "Kids! Want to go up there?"


They probably did, but they didn't get to. I play the killjoy when need be. Killjoy, life preserver, whatever.

More from Villers

It feels wrong for me to put a post like this on "my" blog. This is Matthew's creativity at work. If anyone out there likes photography, taking the pictures, you should come to Belgium, and go there. We will take you. We are amis. Not just your amis, but amis of the abbey. It's so good to have amis.

You know who you are, you friends into photography -- Matthew misses you, and you should come.