26 January 2010

Dual language signs

Here's a typical Brussels street sign, in both French and Dutch.

Place Sainte-Catherine and Sint-Katelijne Plein are pretty close to each other. A road near us, though, Chausee de la Hulpe, or Terhulpensesteenweg -- that's less intuitive. It certainly has made getting around here trickier, and is one reason why I am so very thankful to have my dear little Tomtom with me.

20 January 2010


I wrote about the different types of waffles here a while back. A couple months later I found this recipe for my favorite, Liège waffles. Before I knew we were moving here, I had given my Belgian waffle maker away because I realized I preferred thinner waffles and got an iron that made those. But I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to get one again when we move back so I can make these. I did buy some pearl sugar when I saw it recently, but I don't think I can justify buying a European waffle maker.

18 January 2010


The New Yorker occasionally runs a piece featuring The Cursing Mommy. I cannot possibly link to those pieces, because as you might imagine The Cursing Mommy uses some very strong language, and I am a lady, and this is a Family Blog.

But The Cursing Mommy came to mind yesterday as I taught Sunday school. I cannot manage my Sunday school time. I only teach once a month, so I haven't gotten into a rhythm. When I am planning, filling thirty to forty-five minutes of time with a bunch of five-to-seven-year olds seems daunting, and I plan more than we're able to do, not imagining, for example, how many definitions will be shouted out for what it means to be brave (our topic yesterday), or how many examples they are going to share when I ask about times they have had to be brave. Every time, it seems, we get to the end, and I am rushing them through the craft -- "Cut! Cut!" -- and encouraging them to finish it at home with their parents (to the delight of all the moms and dads, I'm sure).

Yesterday, as per the norm, at some point I realized that we had far less time remaining than I thought. "Oh, jeepers," I said.

"I heard that," said a girl near me. My helper* snorted in laughter. I was flustered. What just happened? Wait -- is that a word I shouldn't use with the kids? The girl is Australian. Does "jeepers" have a stronger significance Down Under? Or, did she mishear me and think I uttered an exclamation wholly inappropriate for a Sunday school teacher? Oh . . . does she think I just broke one of the Ten Commandments, right in the middle of Sunday school?** Blargh. I bumped into her mom after church and gave her the rundown, just in case. I imagine The Cursing Sunday School Teacher gets fired.

*My helper, whose snort was of no help at all, was Matthew.
**There may be worse commandments to break in front of one's Sunday School class.

11 January 2010

Noël recap, part 4: Filling the senses

The brothers played some music together. It was really sweet to hear them. I think they had fun, too, although Matthew looks so serious here. Matthew's intense about most things, though, including pasttimes.

I requested John Denver's "Annie's Song," but they didn't know how to play it. I think when Matthew started playing guitar he focused more on ladies buying stairways to heaven than women filling up your senses like a night in the forest and a sleepy blue ocean.

When I was in my twenties, and actually knew some current music, it's possible that my liking "Annie's Song" was cute. Quirky! Now that I am out of the loop, I'm afraid knowing "Annie's Song" just makes me seem two decades older than I am. On a related note, I'm starting to realize that if I always dance goofily rather than ever trying to vaguely look good, I'm just a nerdy dancer, not a good dancer who happens to be able to laugh at herself. Just because I'm only dancing in the kitchen after dinner with the kids doesn't mean I can't put forth some real effort. Also, I think I need to stop saying "supposably," "strategery," and pronouncing debris as "debb-riss," around people who don't know me, and also, maybe, around people who do, because mis-saying words just might not be as funny as I think it is. It's as if I'm becoming the person I used to pretend I was for a laugh.

Shayla and I sat and listened for quite a while to the Brothers Jacobs. She's cooler than me so requested songs from this century. We both had colds at this point, with a strange cough -- no sore throat, just a tickle that occasionally threw us into spasms. The coughing sounded vaguely like sarcastic laughing, like we were heckling them. Well, they didn't know "Annie's Song." Maybe I was heckling.

08 January 2010

Noël recap, part 3: Media nostalgia

  1. I had never seen White Christmas until three or four years ago, and now it's a tradition. The kids are still singing tunes from it, like that yuletide favorite, "Gee, I Wish I Was Back in the Army." They are also singing, "Snow," apropos because this winter we've had the most since we've lived here. I cannot for the life of me harmonize on that song, but it's so fun that I have to try. Matthew's musical ability probably feels more like a burden than a blessing when I do.
  2. I was so excited when I saw that Yogi's First Christmas was airing. It is the most beloved Christmas movie of my childhood. I remember watching it in my bedroom on a very small television (with a three by four inch-ish screen -- but it was probably a foot long and half a foot high? -- that my parents won, maybe?). I sat through about ten minutes before occupying myself in the kitchen. It just wasn't as special in reality as it was in my memory. Also, it was 120 minutes! Hanna and Barbera saw fit to take two hours to unfold all that drama.
  3. I recorded a Johnny Cash Christmas special from 1976 for us to listen to Christmas morning. I imagined Johnny's deep voice rolling through "O, Come All Ye Faithful," et cetera, as we opened gifts. But the show opened with Johnny driving his Jeep across a dry, brown field, and then Tony Orlando visited and they sang "Tie a Yellow Ribbon," and it was just not very festive. Maybe there were some Christmas songs later, but I tuned out. I did love it when Barbara Mandrell popped on playing the steel guitar. Seeing her sent me back -- my parents must have watched her show when I was little. We started Lily, Ruby, and Clara with leotards, but as grown women, they too could match -- see?

06 January 2010

Field and fountain, moor and mountain

Today is Three Kings Day. I saw a group of three kids dressed with robes and crowns walking in our neighborhood this afternoon. On this day, children will knock on doors, sing a song, and get candy. We've seen them on the street, but have not been serenaded ourselves.

When we stopped at the bakery on the way home from church Sunday to get a loaf of bread, I saw dozens of a certain unfamiliar dessert on racks and in the window. The baker came out, looking harried, and counted how many were left. A lot of people were there, and many of them were buying one of these. Hmm. The mysterious dessert that would not have grabbed my attention otherwise thus became desirable to me. Once I saw an employee place a gold foil crown around the cake inside its box, I realized its significance -- Three Kings Day was around the corner. I embrace cultural traditions related to food! So we bought one of the rounds. They had frangipan or cherry, and I picked the latter (I couldn't remember whether frangipan was strawberry -- eh -- or almond -- yea! It is almond, but we love cherry too). It was like a huge, circular cherry turnover, flaky and delicious. Soren found the little ceramic Mary in his piece, so he got to wear the crown.

The first Christmas I played clarinet, at age ten, I regaled my parents and grandparents with a toe-tapping solo rendition of "We Three Kings." I can picture a photo of me from that Christmas Eve, with clear plastic glasses that took up half my face, a muted Christmas dress with a large bow at the neck, a grown-out perm with overlong bangs, and that particular horsey face that one makes while playing the clarinet. I presume rollicking guttural laughs were suppressed, and I thank all in attendance.

Happy Three Kings!

[Update, ten minutes later: We just got sung to!]

05 January 2010

Noël recap, part 2: Christmas markets

We went to two Christmas markets while Evan, Shayla, and Ruby were here.

Before Christmas, we drove to Aachen, Germany. I had heard that German Christmas markets were better than the Belgian ones, but we didn't buy anything other food. Potato pancakes dipped in applesauce, mmm.

MMMMM! I say.

And, Wheee!

We stopped at a cafe to warm up, but I think Clara was pretty warm already.

Willy Wonka/Nutcracker/visions of sugarplums dancing in heads!

The youngest two shared the double stroller that carried Lily and Soren around Europe our first year here. If that stroller could talk . . .

If it could, it would probably accuse us of child endangerment from dumping the older two out of it so often. "Seatbelts! I have seatbelts!" it would say.

Ruby looks happy to be in the stroller, but on later days Clara started swiping so the side-by-side thing got a bit old. Also, this was probably the site of the pink-eye contagion.

(Ruby's wearing Matthew's old snowsuit in that photo. Awww!)

After Christmas we took the train into the city for the Brussels market -- part of its "Plaisirs d'Hiver" (Winter Pleasures, but cuter in French because it almost rhymes).

It was Ruby's first train ride!

The carousel that we had seen with my mom earlier in the month was running so Matthew bought two tokens, but the kids were not delighted with the freaky old-fashioned giant crickets, flying man, huge frog, etc. I coerced Soren into riding by standing next to him; Evan tried to go on with Ruby but the carousel employee made it clear adults were not allowed to sit and she clearly was not thrilled, so they exited; and Lily would hardly even look at it. The ticket booth attendant kindly refunded our money for the token that no child would use.

We ate boudins (English translation on sign: "giant white sausage"), and I forget what they called it but a bowlful of scalloped potatoes with crazy yummy meat and cheese, and frites and the beloved smoutebollen.

I love the atmosphere at these markets; I enjoy the food; but overall the goods for sale do not entice me. There are some nice things -- Matthew's parents bought some beautiful glass ornaments at the first one we visited with them; Shayla got a very cute hat; and we found Soren a warm pair of mittens -- but there's a lot of trinkety, candles in strange shapes, sort of stuff. Earlier in December a friend and I drove to one in Holland she had heard raves about and I found myself just cringing around every corner -- it was kind of cool, because it was in a cave, but there was just odd stuff for sale. We had more fun shopping in the center of Maastricht on the way home (at a store called Sissy Boy Home Land, a name I won't forget because I bought a candle there, and the name is in bold on the label).

But the markets are so festive, and you can smell warm wine around every turn, and it's lit up, and the food is yummy, so I love going to them anyhow.

Evan and Shayla liked the food OK, too.

They're just posing there as people freakishly enjoying the food -- they enjoyed it only a normal amount. Evan made nearly an identical face when he first met Lily, as if he were eating her head. But he's a father now, so he doesn't do that to our kids anymore. He has his own to fake eat.

04 January 2010

Noël recap, part 1: Brotherly love

Matthew's brother Evan and his family came to visit!

And we got one group photo where everyone's eyes are open!!

(All these photos are thanks to Evan. We still need to get Matthew's Nikon fixed.)

Evan and Shayla made the long travel from Austin, Texas, with a toddler (Ruby!) and a bun in the oven (!) to see us. What a treat it was to have cousin time, aunt and uncle time, sib time.

This was Matthew's and my first Christmas without any parents, the first Christmas we were the oldest. As you can imagine, we ran wild/maintained traditions because we are the eldest children of our respective families and we value tradition, for good gravy!

Lily and Soren loved having Cousin Ruby around.

Evan coped with the absence of all of his pianos, keyboards, moogs (not sure I'm using that word right), etc. by using the kids' piano from time to time.

I read some new books with my niece.

The kids had some unkie time.

There was lots of cousin lovin'.


No, tripletskies!

Lily got a very special gift of a treasure chest full of baubles and bangles, thanks to creative Aunt Shayla.

Poor Ruby. She got pinkeye and a cold from Clara, but still we made her pose four days after Christmas for the obligatory stocking shot. This is the best one we got. If you click on the image you'll see the rage burning in Clara's eyes.

Whatchoo sayin 'bout pinkeye foo? I'll give you pinkeye, woman!

She did, too.