29 April 2008

Born on the Bayeux

We stayed in the town of Bayeux in Normandie. It has a beautiful cathedral that we walked through one morning.

27 April 2008

Pointe du Hoc

More photos from Normandy to show you. I'm taking dictation so Matthew can explain the history of this spot: "This is Pointe du Hoc, a promontory situated between Utah and Omaha Beaches."

(And this is my mother and step-father, aka Liz and Bill or, if you're feeling funny, Biz and Lil.)

"It is a cliff area that was well fortified by the Germans and gave them excellent defense against the landing zones. U.S. Rangers scaled the cliffs in an attempt to surprise the Germans, who fled by the time they crested the edge."

"Today you can see many craters left by the Allied bombings in their attempt to weaken the Germans' position prior to the assault."

"Bill is standing by a concrete base on which a large piece of German anti-aircraft artillery was mounted. In the photo below you can just make out where the gun would swivel and lock into place in the concrete grooves."

Here ends your history lesson for the day. Thank you, Mr. Jacobs!

24 April 2008

For your good humor

I have permission from my husband to reprint here an email that has brought me great delight as I have reread it over the past few days.

At 10:37 a.m. on Monday, 21 April, surely less than two hours after surgery, Matthew wrote his parents, cc:ing me, on his Blackberry, from his hospital bed, under heavy anesthesia:
Done and good. I just backto $y room. Feeling okay. I'm grateful. Earlioer than expected. Talk later. Love. Son

Hours later that afternoon, Matthew said to me, "I think I emailed my parents . . . ?"

23 April 2008

Home free

It was fun for the kids to visit Daddy in the hospital.

They made him cards, had some ice cream (not documented due to it being a gross error in judgment on my part, taking far too much time and leaving Daddy with chocolate remnants on his floor and sheets), and gave him lots of kisses, especially Soren (whom we called Luvbug in utero with uncanny foresight).

But it's REALLY fun to have Daddy home! Dropping off Mom and Bill at the airport this morning was no fun, but we were delighted when we got a call just half an hour later while running an errand that he was released and ready to hit the road. (Yesterday afternoon the surgeon was not sure whether he'd leave today or tomorrow.) The kids had a good long bedtime snuggle with him tonight.

It's amazing how much he's improved in two days. We're all so glad to have him home. Lily and I washed his hair this afternoon, which she deemed "so much fun!"

N.B.: Regrettably, our staff photographer has had to take an unpaid leave of absence due to disability. The quality of photographs may suffer in the interim.

21 April 2008

Leuven it up at the hospital

Matthew's surgery went very well, according to his surgeon. Tomorrow he gets to eat his first meal since Sunday night, and a physio (physical therapist) visits to help him walk. I keep adding sentences to this paragraph and then deleting them because I want to respect his privacy. He's not in much pain, but I'm hopeful he'll feel more like himself tomorrow. There.

Nurses were teasing Matthew before the surgery because when they began speaking to him in Flemish (Dutch), he'd say, "I speak no Dutch" in perfect Dutch. "Are you sure you don't?" they asked. "You say that so well!" Even in his groggy state, he asked a nurse kindly, "Did I hear you are from Nigeria? How long have you lived in Belgium?" He even apologized when she had to help him with something. He was concerned when he learned I hadn't eaten any lunch.

In summary, he is the sweetest man in the universe, and he's mine. Mine all mine! And he can't escape me for the next month (no driving). Are you familiar with Stephen King's Misery? I am his biggest fan. And he's incapacitated and needy! I'm in heaven.

When I brought him to the hospital Sunday afternoon, both a nurse and the surgeon didn't track what I was saying when I asked where I could be during the surgery. They encouraged me to come afterward. The nurse told me there is only a small room outside the surgery area, "with no windows and no air." (Would I even survive?) He told me the anesthesia process lasted about seven hours (i.e., he'd be out for that long), and Matthew would be woken at 6:30 and taken to surgery shortly after 7 a.m. He said maybe around 2 p.m. Matthew would be back in his room (he'd wake up in the operating area), and I couldn't see him before then anyhow. The surgeon suggested I phone the hospital around noon to see whether he was back in his room. After much hand-wringing on my part, Matthew and I decided that I would just show up at the hospital around noon. I'd bring some books and expect to sit outside his room for a couple hours waiting for him to be brought up.

So imagine my surprise when I was at the freaking grocery store at 10:27 and heard my mobile ring. Right away I thought the hospital was phoning and something had gone wrong. No; the screen read "Matthew." What?! There he was, Groggy Joe himself, already awake and in his room. We wrapped up shopping quickly and I dropped Mom and Bill and the kids off at home and headed to Leuven, about half an hour away. On the way, I reviewed my anger at the hospital staff for not accurately informing me of the length of the procedure; tried to come to terms with it with thoughts of, "Well, now I know . . .", as if there will be a next time this information will be useful (we're hoping not); and finally decided, OK. It didn't go as we would have liked. BUT THE SURGERY DID. Matthew's done! Hooray!

In the interest of preserving my husband's dignity (not something I usually give a second thought to), I post no photos of what I believe may be the cutest patient, ever. But, I will give you a glimpse of Belgian hospital life:

Yes, that is a bottle opener (with Jupiler beer logo) chained above the table in his hospital room. Bottoms up, patients!

18 April 2008

I wanna rock with you

Matthew's surgery is Monday. He'll be in hospital (UZ Leuven, which is supposed to be the best in the region) from Sunday to Wednesday. Mom and Bill will be here until Wednesday. Matthew's only other experience with stitches and surgery was wisdom teeth removal -- which is a miracle, really, if you've heard about his crazy childhood antics. Back surgery is a little scary. Even though it's a fairly routine procedure, all that important ambulatory type stuff is in there.

Enough about him. What about me, and my experience with supporting a spouse through a major medical issue? Minimal. He's so healthy in general. That's how I like it. I like him to be the healthy one, and me to be . . . also healthy, but if I'm pregnant, or, you know, have a headache, for him to be the rock on which I lean. So my rock will be laid up, and I will have to step up. Rock up, shall we say.

Step one may be no longer asking him multiple times a day, "Are you nervous for your surgery?" or talking about how back surgery seems scary. ROCK UP woman!

17 April 2008

Omaha Beach

The French refer to the Allied Forces' arrival in Normadie as the "débarquement," my French teacher explained. I asked if that was the term for any time soldiers arrived somewhere. She said that although technically it was, they only use the term for that moment in history.

The flag at the top of the hill in the photo below is from the memorial from the previous post.

Lily and Soren . . . well, storm the beach:

It was quite moving to be here. Matthew and I had finished watching Band of Brothers a week or so ago (as a side note, I knew it had been out a while, but: 2001? I couldn't believe it). We also kept thinking of the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.

I hadn't anticipated that it would be a beautiful place, but it was.

15 April 2008

American Memorial at Omaha Beach

We went to Normandy over the weekend with Mom and Bill. I'll be posting pics (courtesy of my husband) over the next few days.

10 April 2008

April flowers

My mom and step-dad arrive this afternoon. We're all excited. Lily and I have been talking about how many sleeps until they get here. She was disappointed to realize a couple nights ago that I was preparing dinner for just the four of us, and yesterday at breakfast she didn't want to eat the granola I had made because it was "for Gammy and Poppy."

We're going to do a little traveling with them, they'll do some on their own, and we'll hang around here too. Then, at the end, as a grand finale, we will take them to: the hospital! Matthew's surgery is two days before they depart. Their tickets were purchased before we knew when it'd be happening, and although partly it's a bummer, I'm thankful that they will be here so that I can be with Matthew during the surgery, and not also be distributing snacks to the kids to entertain them or something.

06 April 2008

We who laugh last, laugh best (after we laugh first, and worst)

Going through paperwork today, I found the printout of an email exchange from last November between Matthew and the company that provided our rental furniture before our sea shipment arrived. The day they picked up the furniture, we realized they had left a couple things -- a knife from the silverware set, and, more surprisingly, a cushion from the sofa, which was left in the middle of the floor.

How could they miss that?, we laughed. Haha. Foolish rental furniture people with their silly oversight. Hahaha.

Matthew received an email from them the next day:

"Dear Mister Matthew,
While cleaning the furniture we picked up yesterday at your place, we found some personal belongings. (Passport, social security,) . . ."

Matthew and I have one file folder labeled "IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS" in which we keep pretty much every piece of paper that identifies and protects us -- birth and marriage certificates, social security cards, passports, visas, residence cards for Belgium, etc. We had left this folder in the rental file cabinet -- we didn't notice it was stuck in the drawer when we were moving everything into ours. Who's laughing NOW?

Us still, but at ourselves instead, and it's more of a nervous, embarrassed laugh.

03 April 2008

My mom, doing the laundry

(Let me preface this by saying that today, as so often is the case, Mr. Paul Simon has a lyric apropos for my blog title. A friend in college once asked who I'd pick: Paul or Art. Pick for what?, you may ask. True love and romance was the gist. "Umm . . . Paul, I guess," I answered. "WRONG ANSWER!" he informed me. Art was cooler, rocked the white man's afro, sang the crazy harmonies on "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and generally, I think for this certain friend, was a bit kookier, and therefore preferable. I recently read a New Yorker article about Mr. Garfunkel's extensive reading, and the list he has kept of all the books he's ever read. I too have a list like this, and now have been forced to reconsider my answer from years ago.)

So, laundry. One cold water wash takes one hour and fifty minutes. 1'50". That is just the wash cycle. That is 110 minutes for one cold water wash. I timed it in disbelief one day. The tub on my front loader (all this machinery lingo; do you feel like you're on popularmechanics.com?) holds maybe 2/3 what my basic Maytag held back home. I like the front loader -- I know it uses less water, and the clothes all seem well cleaned and all that. But, I tell you, laundry, which took a lot of time back home, what with two little ones, cloth diapers, and actually washing my dishrags**, now really seems to dominate life. I am doing a load or two or five almost every day other than Sunday. Once Matthew's healthy again and starts running and biking -- oh, the sportswear!

Our dryer is a condenser dryer, so there is a container under the tumbler that collects all the water that is magically removed from the clothing during the cycle. Nothing is vented to the outside. When I remove a shirt from the dryer, it feels faintly damp until I shake it. Dewy, you might say. Condensation! The drying cycles -- who cares how long they are, because I'm only removing what's in the dryer to make room for whatever's coming from the washer, and that, as I've explained, won't be ready for almost two hours.

Now, if a Belgian laundress such as myself actually wants warm water in her tub, she must wait even longer, because only cold water is piped into the washer. The machine heats up the water before beginning a wash. How long does this take, you may wonder, and I do too. For a hot water wash, I put a load in before I go to bed, and we reunite in the morning. Diapers, which take a cold cycle with no soap and a hot cycle with, and extra long in the dryer, take, approximately, forever.

I am not crying in my detergent over this; I'm thankful that the laundry is across the hall from the kitchen, and I watch TV while I fold laundry at night. I just marvel at how much time the task takes.
But, lest I tend toward self-pity, I have this reminder. I am reading Little Heathens: Hard Times and High Spirits on an Iowa Farm During the Great Depression, and the author, Mildred Armstrong Kalish, includes a chapter on wash day. In summary: Family members were expected to wear the same clothes all week. Clothes were soaked every Sunday night in a huge galvanized tub of cool water. Grandpa shredded bars of soap to be used. Water was pumped outside and brought in by the bucketful to be boiled on the stove. All the clothes were washed in the same water, cleanest to dirtiest, by cranking a lever by hand on the washing machine. Clothes were lifted out with a wash stick and put through the wringer; rinse, repeat. Some were dipped in a handmade starch solution, and then all the clothes were hung on the line.

So, it could be worse. I can't, however, agree with the opening line to the chapter: "Nowadays, with computerized washing machines and automatic temperature controls, we don't give the family wash a second thought."

**Sometime when Matthew was in B school and I was in law school, which I like to believe partially excuses the oversight to follow, and we were living at the co-op (which sounds so much more interesting and hippie than it was -- we vacuumed the hall every six weeks), my mother-in-law mentioned she washed her dishcloth every day. It never dawned on me to do that, and I confessed that I was in a quarterly wash rotation. As in, four times a year I thought of it. Conventional wisdom would probably suggest a gal keep that fact to herself, especially in the presence of her mother-in-law. If you ate at our home during that time, I apologize.

01 April 2008

Heavier things

I've had two requests, which I consider an overwhelming consensus from my blog audience. Here's a photo of some growing bellies in the family.

Soren, 2 years, 1 month; Lily, 3 years, 4 months; Sprout, 23 weeks.

They're the big kids now, it's time for tats.