24 December 2008

Bonnes fêtes de fin d'année!

Or, "Happy end-of-the-year festivities!" to you.

See you in 2009!

23 December 2008

Snack hijinks

Lily was assigned raw vegetables with "sauce" for la collation a few weeks ago. I asked my French teacher what kind of sauce Belgians eat with vegetables, and she said mayonnaise and cocktail sauce. To be certain, and because that sounded gross, I confirmed this with two women working in the deli at the grocery store. They gave me the same answer. Ew. Cocktail sauce here is half mayonnaise -- it looks like thousand island dressing.

I am torn in these situations: Do I just send what the kids are used to, but is not what we would eat, or is this an opportunity to share a more American flavor with them? I toed the line and sent three bowls: mayonnaise, cocktail sauce, and sour cream ranch dip.

Perhaps you can guess which bowl came home nearly full. Even Lily liked the "orange" sauce best. Oh no. Of all the influences Belgium could have on one's palate.

We continued to bombard Belgian children with American food items when Lily brought spritz cookies for the Christmas party:

I was labeling these as almond flavored in case of allergies, and then decided that I better go ahead and be clear that they were, in fact, cookies, because of their tricky green hue. So, here are our biscuits au arome de amande.


Clara's first experience with snow, November 22, 2008.

Lily on a snow trek with Daddy around that same time while the little two napped.

We have had more snow so far this year than we did all of last winter. And the largest snowflakes I have ever seen fell a couple weeks ago. I was hanging out with a couple other moms and our kids, and we were watching it casually, and then gathering the kids to look, and then boosting the kids to press their noses on the window, and then our host was fetching a videocamera to document it. It looked like mouthfuls of cotton candy.

Our love affair continues

Speculoos BREAD!

18 December 2008

May the Zwarte be with you

Two friends (Katie this year and Anne last year) reminded me of David Sedaris's story Six to Eight Black Men, which features Zwarte Piet. I first read that in a book of his a couple years ago but it escaped my mind when I actually came face to face with the phenomenon.

If you're not getting enough Zwarte Piet from this blog, and you enjoy a touch of the outlandish in your humor, I recommend this to you.

16 December 2008

Apotheek adventures

I appreciate that the Belgian doctors we have seen, and the pharmacists, often recommend homeopathic remedies first. I went to the on-call apotheek a couple Sundays ago. I like the word "apotheek" ("ap-oh-tayk" or close to that), which is Dutch for pharmacy (French = the less charming "pharmacie") -- maybe because it sends me back to eighth grade and the Apothecary in Romeo and Juliet. I remember watching the Zeffirelli film in English class. Romeo's naked behind! How shocking!

(This memory provides a bit of foreshadowing, another word I bet I learned in eighth grade English.)

You have to look in the local paper or online to find which pharmacy in your area is open on a Sunday or at night. On Sunday during the day they have normal (for Belgium) business hours, and you can buy over-the-counter medicine (truly OTC because all medicines are kept behind the counter there). At night, however, the pharmacist is on-call and will only open up shop if you have a prescription to be filled (I learned this when I called late one night last fall hoping to get cough medicine for Lily and woke up a pharmacist).

So I went to an apotheek to get some saline rinse because Clara had a rough night experiencing great astonishment at the existence of such a thing as nasal congestion. I got a mist bottle for Clara and, since that can't be shared (as you can see I wrote her name on it to help me remember), individual doses for the big kids (the box on the left and little tubes in front). Sinus irrigation for all!

The other item in this photo is a box of eucalyptus suppositories, a homeopathic cold remedy for children. Also, a way to make diaper changes more aromatically pleasant. You can't really see on the box, but there is a outline of a child innocently playing with blocks, surely unaware that he's about to get a tablet of medicine up his hiney.

This time I had to buy a different brand, and, wow:

Four reasons to love this packaging:
1. It addresses any lingering doubts about how this medication is to be administered.
2. It depicts the task falling to the mom -- see the manicured nails. In our home we are equal opportunity suppository inserters.
3. It has a cheery brand name: Kalip'tus Kids. Sounds like Saturday morning cartoon programming or an after-school kids' club.
4. The best part, however, has to be that it depicts incorrect insertion -- she's got it backwards.

Two days in a row of artistic(?) Belgian depictions of the human body is probably two days too many. I'll try to class this joint up soon.

15 December 2008

Only 9 shopping days left!

Are you looking for a special Christmas gift for a father in your life? Let me share two ideas that are sure to please any discriminating gentleman.

1. A new nickname.

I did no rearranging to achieve this charming pet name. It was just there for the enjoying after I drew tiles.

Nicknames are fun. Giant Rhubarb (and its variation for Clara, "Little Rhubard") gets used a lot in our home.

2. Belgian chocolate.

That they make chocolate in this form is interesting enough. But, to advertise it as "A nice present for your father or friend"? Yes, buy this for your dad, and then, arrange a nice therapy session for yourself.

My sister took that photo when we were in Bruges last spring, and I didn't post it out of reasons of taste. Since then we posted a photo we took of our nudist neighbor, so . . .

11 December 2008


Scary stuff.

124 euros

That's how much Clara Irene is worth, according to our town. We received that upon notification of her birth.

I'll consider this my salary for 2008.

08 December 2008

A friendly tip

Say you get a call from a telemarketer, and you want to end it quickly, but you don't want to be rude. May I suggest you use our Sure-Fire Call Drop Technique: Speak the telemarketer's language poorly, then hand the phone to your spouse, and have him or her speak the telemarketer's language poorly. Out of sheer frustration, the telemarketer should eventually just hang up.

Oh yes, our limited French has transformed the hanged-up-upon into the hang-upper!

06 December 2008

Bonne fête de Saint Nicholas!

On December 6, Belgians celebrate Saint Nicholas. He came to Lily's school this week. A donkey did, too, and all the kids got to ride it. Lily has informed me that Santa Claus speaks French, and she also told me: "That guy -- not Santa Claus, but that other guy -- the one with the feather in his cap -- he gave us candy."

Yes, she described Zwarte Piet, or, as he's called in French, Le Père Fouettard*, as "the one with the feather in his cap." I love that that is his distinctive characteristic to her.

Her school organizes a sale of "cougnous," bread in the shape of Baby Jesus, which we had last year for the first time. While Clara and I were still sleeping, Matthew took some photos of the kids with it this morning.

*This translates to "whipping father," since the character supposedly whips the children who have not behaved well. If you didn't see the interesting comment left by our friend Paul about Zwarte Piet, you should -- it's here.

04 December 2008

A bit of a dry spell

After I put up the last post, I thought the title sounded familiar, so I looked back. As you can see below, this year's Thanksgiving post was titled "Gobble gobble." Last year's? "Gobble." Can you even imagine what I might have in store for 2009?

Gobble gobble

The upside of being thousands of miles away from family is that we're all in the same boat -- all our friends here are far away from family too. So everybody really needs each other. And I would be pleased to base my expat friendships on this codependency/desperate-grasping-for-relationships vibe, but, we have actually made real friends, in the traditional sense of the word, here. Very cool. So, we had 33 people at our house on Saturday for a Thanksgiving potluck.

And with borrowed tables and some rearranging we got them all into our dining room to eat.

I roasted one turkey in the oven, and Matthew grilled two, thanks to instructions from my stepdad Bill, the Original Grillmaster.

I made two of my Grandma Edy's apple pies and two cherry pies with beautiful jarred cherries that claimed to be pitted on the label, but that almost broke my teeth when I tried a piece the next day. Ouch. Our guests were so kind not to mention that if they had the same experience.

They also were so kind as to bring copious amounts of delicious side dishes, and folding chairs, and many bottles of wine.

Our kitchen lighting makes food look unappealing in photos, but it was delicious, I promise.

One guest got some good group photos that I hope to get my hands on and post later, but for now, a couple random shots to give you a sense:

The paper goods store here carries huge rolls of paper in dozens of colors for table covering. I hate to use disposable things but didn't want to invest in four matching huge tablecloths, so we spent about five euros for this covering. (Maybe they have this in the U.S. too and I just didn't know about it? In which case this is less noteworthy.) You can kind of see the brown paper in this picture (underneath the runner) -- it has a little pattern, pretty cute.

Kung Fu Lily (cute apron thanks to Grambie)

These aren't the best pics of our other two but in the interest of equity, here's Clara getting loved on by the lovely Janet,

and Handsome Pants enjoying the goods.

Eighteen children aged eleven and under were there. They mostly played in Lily's and Soren's rooms when they weren't eating. Parents took turns going up to ensure true destruction was not going on. One told me upon his return, "Your children's rooms will never look the same." But! Some sneaky good-hearted elf of a parent (or maybe a couple) straightened up their rooms, so that when we went to put them to bed after everyone left, the rooms were neat.

I had told everyone to be ready to share something they were thankful for -- but with a full, noisy house, and parents getting kids fed and then grabbing a plates for themselves, it just didn't happen. So, now is my chance, a week late, to say: I am thankful for good friends in a faraway place to make life cozy and comfortable and fun.