27 February 2010

Minnesota, part 1

We made an unexpected quick trip back to Minnesota for my grandfather's funeral a couple weeks ago. He was 91, and his health had really declined in the past year, so it seemed like a mercy that he passed quickly at home. But I sort of thought my grandparents would live forever; he's the first one I've lost. It's hard to really believe he's not around, that I can't call their home and talk to him. He's one of the few people who still called me Jenny. Recently I've felt a fondness for the nickname I quickly shed in college; the people who would call me that are the ones who have known me a long time. It's so good to be known a long time!

Almost three years ago, on our flight back to the U.S. from our "familiarization" trip to Belgium to find a house, it hit me: We would surely lose some of our grandparents while we were living overseas. I remember looking out the window and crying, feeling that loss -- the risk of that loss, I guess -- that came with making a move like this. On this same flight we sat next to a man who said he could never do what we were doing, that it would be too hard to be away from family. Matthew and I had some tough conversations around that. And as it turned out, three of our grandparents have died in the two and a half years we've been living here.

But there were some unexpected gifts in the distance, too. I talked more on the phone with my grandpa than I ever had before. It never was a long talk -- Grandma is the chatter in that pair -- but we talked a couple times a month, I suppose. No matter how he was feeling, he'd greet me with a chipper, "Hi, Jenny!", ask about the kids, ask about Matthew, and, without fail, ask when we were moving home. The last time I saw him, when I said goodbye to Grandma and Grandpa at their home last January, for the first time in my life I saw my grandpa shed a tear.

Not until I moved away did I really know how much my grandpa liked having me close.

There's such sweet, quiet, family time around funerals. I'm so glad we were there for it. It feels like a better time to connect with family, actually, than at that other big family-collector, a wedding, because there's not the big extravaganza aspect. No one's spent months planning it. Funerals are smaller and simpler, in my family at least; there's lots of sitting around, visiting and eating.

Here are my dad and Soren after the funeral, at my grandparents' house.

Here's my sister and I sitting with Grandma and Lily. We are their only two grandchildren, and we had the privilege of sharing short reflections about Grandpa at the service.

Here's my beautiful grandmother, Mildred Irene, greeting visitors at the gathering in Pelican Rapids, Minnesota, where Grandpa was buried.

My dad's cousin Loretta, who my dad and his only brother joked was Grandpa's favorite child, made meat loaf and scalloped potatoes to feed forty. She's amazing. My sister and I are cutting bars here --

midwestern comfort food doing its job.

25 February 2010

Music man

New photos and an update are long overdue, but for now: My brother-in-law, mon beau-frère (isn't this sweet, in French, for in-laws or stepfamily members, the term is "beau," beautiful!) is an incredibly talented musician and may end up famous one day, in which case we will be hangers-on, and try to live on the tour bus with them, and give embarrassing interviews in which we claim tangential responsibility for his success, but for now, I'll just send you here, to an interview with him about SXSW, and a video, so that you can enjoy the music of Tacks, the Boy Disaster.

04 February 2010

Half pint

Oh, it's been a long winter! -- the coldest and snowiest we've experienced in Brussels. I'm ready for spring. Since early last year, I've been reading the Little House books to Lily and Soren, and we finished The Long Winter last week. I can't believe what they endured! They almost starved to death. They were slurring words, eating brown bread only for every meal, and Pa's hands were too stiff to play the fiddle. I thought I had read all these books, but I must have stopped after the first two or three, because these stories are totally unfamiliar to me. I'm as eager as the kids to learn what happens next.

I do know some key plot points they don't, though. Lily's been asking why we are hearing about Almanzo, anyway, and how Laura knows (and thus can write about) what Almanzo and Cap Garland experienced when they traveled twenty miles in the hopes of finding wheat. Last week she looked at the cover of the book and asked, "Why is it Laura Ingalls Wilder? Were they in the same family as Almanzo and Royal? That doesn't make any sense . . ." It's such fun to keep her in suspense. Let the wooing begin!

We have food, and warmth, and the cozy cozy beds that Soren thanks God for every night. We are thankful for these gifts and fully hopeful that spring will come in its proper timing.