18 December 2009

Fine alone but better together

Bonnasola, Italy, is a coastal town whose name was inspired by wives with husbands at sea -- they were "buona da sola," fine by themselves. (Cooking Light, that treasure trove, is to thank for that tidbit.) Matthew left Monday morning for the U.S. Yes -- aux Etats Unis, all week! Last week, he was in the U.K. Every now and then when he's gone, there will be a tough, long day, when bedtime can't come soon enough, and I find myself singing Sting: "Bring on the night! Bring ON the night." But mostly, I suppose I am buona da sola. I miss Matthew terribly -- the time difference and his busyness have made connecting on the phone challenging, so I feel out of touch with him, and I hate that -- but the kids and I have been busy, too, and have had a lot of fun. Our week, in a nutshell:

Monday we started our gingerbread house. We bought it already baked as a fundraiser through church, so got to jump right to assembly. I frosted the walls together, and then we had to wait fifteen minutes before we could decorate. During those fifteen minutes, behavior was such that the privilege of decorating the gingerbread house was lost. (The week went up from here.)

Tuesday we made chocolate crinkles, my favorite childhood Christmas cookie. It's been a cold week, but the kids inexplicably wore their aprons with no shirts underneath while they rolled the little powdered sugar balls.

Wednesday the kids brought the cookies as part of their "festive lunch" (the school's term -- so sweet) before break. That afternoon we revisited the gingerbread house with success.

That evening we went to the craft evening their school hosted, with stations set all around for making Christmas crafts. Clara had taken a late nap, so was full of energy and, as always, very curious and loathe to miss out on a thing. As I'd get one of the older two situated at a station, Clara would bolt for another, climbing up on a little chair and grabbing for whatever was on the table -- glitter, glue, scissors. We did manage to come home with some cute handmade items to brighten the house.

Thursday morning a friend with older kids still in school watched mine for a few hours so I could do some Christmas shopping -- woohoo! Then, it snowed! So the kids played outside a lot.

Friday the kids played outside a lot again. They also "played Santa" -- put random items from their rooms into stockings, and then presented them to me, upon which I feigned surprise. We built with Legos for nearly two hours while Clara napped. Dang, they are fun. Legos, I mean --but the kids, too.

Buona da sola this week, but always better together with Matthew -- we can't wait for his arrival in the morning.

17 December 2009

There is no Clark Griswold in Belgium/Santa as cat burglar

After getting our Christmas tree one evening last weekend, we drove around looking at Christmas lights. Belgians are not really into outdoor holiday decoration -- we'd see one white-light reindeer every now and then, or a strand of lights in a tree, but they were few and far between, and to Matthew and me, a little pathetic. But Lily and Soren were thrilled, shouting with excitement when we approached another set of lights. Their little minds are going to be blown when they see Christmas decor, American-style.

The most common item of decor we see here is Santa climbing the outside of a house.

I see in the ad it's called "Kerstman." St. Nicholas is dressed fairly Pope-like, comes in early December, and puts candy in shoes -- so I guess they call the American Santa Claus "Christmas man"?

15 December 2009

Zwarte Piet rides again!

The day Lily and I went to the ballet, Matthew and the other two kids went to his office's annual Sinterklaas event.

You may recall that when last faced with not-jolly old St. Nick and his partner, Lily was the focused stoic, Soren was in a high panic, and Clara was calm and oblivious.

The roles have changed, and I am so pleased that after fifteen months of digital video camera ownership, we are finally able to upload video to the blog to show you.

13 December 2009

Ballerina girl

Last weekend, Lily and I went to The Nutcracker (Casse Noisette). I have been to a couple modern dance productions but I think this is my first full ballet experience. For Lily, too.

This most fancy dress Lily is wearing is a hand-me-down from my cousin, Sophie. When I pulled it out of the closet to see whether it fit the night before, Clara wanted to be included so badly. She saw a summer dress of hers hanging there, and tugged at her top and squealed at the dress until I put it on over her pajamas and let her run around the hallway, fancy-style, for a few minutes.

After Lily and I took our seats in the theater, an announcer came on, speaking French and Dutch. I heard him name a choreographer and say something about Belgium and an entr'acte -- I wondered if it meant there would be an opening act of some kind but wasn't certain. When the curtain rose, and we saw several dancers seated around a large dinner table, though, I thought it might be The Nutcracker. I'd never seen it before, but I knew generally that it was set at Christmas, about toys coming to life, a girl named Clara . . . Maybe this was Christmas dinner? But, it's all white -- I was imagining warm holiday ambiance. And, is that woman supposed to be Clara, and if so, why is she having a liaison with a waiter? I was perplexed, and vaguely disappointed, but once the dancers were wearing pink plastic minidresses and scooting themselves around the stage on office chairs while an African man did tribal dances in the center, I felt confident the main production hadn't begun.

When this piece ended after forty-five minutes, the woman next to me, clearly frustrated, asked whether we saw the real thing next. She explained that the announcer had said it was an exhibition of the future of Belgian dance. If she had known, they would have come an hour later, she said. She was with her daughter too, so I understood how she felt. With no disrespect to Belgian dance, I was concerned about Lily's attention span just for the main show, and tacking 50% more dance viewing on top of that seemed a bit much.

And I must say, if the males in the production do hope to be the future of Belgian ballet, they may need to hit the weight room for confidence, if nothing else. I saw one young man visibly cringe as his partner approached him to be lifted. I cringed too. I really didn't want to see her drop.

This prologue did have the effect of making the Moscow City Ballet troupe appear all the more talented, and the colorful backdrop all the more evocative. It really was amazing. One of the little toys jumped so high, so quickly, it was as if he were on a trampoline. And, oh! The spinning! by the Nutcracker and Clara. I think of ballet being about gracefulness, but this afternoon I was really struck with the athleticism of it.

As for my dear five-year-old's attention span throughout nearly three hours of dance, I believe the ice cream bar and bag of chips that we had at the intermissions helped, but one hour less would have been preferable.

Life with three young children is loud and busy much of the time. This morning while Matthew cleaned up after breakfast, I sat at the kitchen table with Soren on one side and Lily on the other, while they both worked on math books with stickers. Clara was on the other side of Soren, drawing with colored pencils. I handed her a new pencil when she squealed for one, helped Soren peel the stickers from sheets, and checked Lily's addition. I love moments like that, surrounded by three busy and content kids, helping them and seeing their minds at work. (Not doing dishes certainly enhanced the moment, too.) It was fun, and full. But last Sunday, I had over four hours with just my Lily, and that was a real gift. Sweet, too, that when we left the theater, and I asked whether she wanted to stop to get a bite of food, just the two of us, she declined, saying she wanted to get home to see Daddy and Soren. (Dear Clara, We missed you, too. The Clara on stage couldn't hold a candle to your fanciness.)

That title may seem generic, but please note I refer to the Lionel Richie hit from the first or second cassette tape I ever purchased (the other being Madonna, True Blue). If you haven't seen a harp string light with colors when plucked, you may want to watch that video. Unfortunately for you (and me, I suppose), most of my pop culture references are trapped in the eighties, and not cool.

09 December 2009

Mamma mia

What's that I hear?

I think it's the sound of my old posts echoing around the forgotten valley of this blog. It's been a while since I wrote anything.

I've been busy, though: my mom was here! I was busy protecting her from the inches (oops, centimeters) of rain that fell during her stay. Eesh. It was the one of the worst weeks of weather I can remember having here. She arrived Monday, and we hardly had a respite until the following Monday.

We had a fun Thanksgiving feast on the Sunday she was here with some Canadian friends. They hadn't had sweet potatoes with marshmallows until we introduced them to this culinary marvel. I felt like a food ambassador! But if I am a food ambassador, I need diplomatic immunity for my pies. [That is a really dorky joke but I cannot bring myself to delete it.] They were horrible. Wait -- they were beautiful: lovely golden crusts, a heap of apples, precious lattice on the cherry-raspberry . . . (that was another disappointment, though -- I only had half the cherries we needed so we substituted raspberries for the rest. I love the sourness of cherries, so the raspberries were too sweet for me.) They looked good, but you know -- it's what's inside that counts. Inside my pies were watery fillings and raw bottom crusts. Blech. I have figured out how to work with most baked goods in my smaller oven here (basically, shorter cooking times) but not pies. So, we all gave thanks that my friend had brought a beautiful, perfect, pumpkin pie.

Soren helped in the kitchen some. "I LOVE baking with you, Mom," he tells me whenever he puts on his apron and pulls over the stool. He tends to hyperbole; for example, recently he loved some butterscotch pudding, but the whipped cream on top was "horrible." I didn't like whipped cream as a child, either, but, "horrible"? (As I was rereading this before posting, I noticed that I use the term "horrible" to describe the pies, so, I am sure I am responsible for Soren's tendencies in this area.)

I continued another Thanksgiving tradition I've started in Belgium, other than bad pies: telling our guests we would go around and all share something we're thankful for, and then, amid the hubbub of lots of food and people, forgetting about it until they are walking out the front door. "Talk about it in the car on the way home!" Ahh, the memories I'm creating with these traditions!

One day we took the metro into the city to check out the Christmas Market at Place Ste. Catherine.

When Matthew and I visited Brussels in July 2007 to find a house, we stayed in a hotel right here.

This is not the hotel we stayed at, and I'm glad, because this man scares me. "Magic Jack will perform miracles to please you," the sign reads. Please just stay behind the front desk, Magic Jack, and perform miracles on your own time.

We strolled around, ate hot dogs or boudins (big sausages), frites, and gaufres (waffles).

We also saw the Ice Monster. Ooh, an Ice Monster! You can pay a few euros for the thrill of walking through the bowels of the Ice Monster. Or you can just walk near him, and peer down his throat, as we did. He was like a bounce house that you couldn't bounce in, and "ice" seems to appear in his name just to conjure up winter -- there was nothing icy about him.

The market had two beautiful quirky old carousels, with feathered ostriches, oversized crickets, and men in early 20th century flying costumes.

But it was gated off for the day.

We celebrated Mom's birthday early.

So, I forgot on the actual day, but I'll share something I'm thankful for now. Skype's OK, but e-mail and phone, which are Matthew's and my main connection points with friends and family back home, really do not work for the kids. We were so glad they got to have time playing, tickling, swimming, and snuggling with their Gammie. I'm thankful for our family's willingness to haul over here to see us.

Oh, and, in a fitting postscript to her first visit, Mom saw our naked neighbor fully naked again. She was the first one to observe him in the buck, walking right out his front door, when she visited the first spring we were here. At the time, I wondered whether she had been mistaken -- we had seen him shirtless in running shorts, and perhaps she had overlooked that snippet of fabric. But we soon established that she hadn't.

The remodeling on the exterior of the house is finished, and he's been working inside for months now. Mom saw him one night, near a large front window in his house, standing with one foot on the window sill and one foot on the ladder. A work lamp illuminated the scene, and yep, he was totally nude.