14 August 2011

Twelve

Matthew and I have been married for twelve years today. Cheaper by the dozen, baby!

When I was crushing on my terribly handsome guy friend in college, no part of my daydreams around him involved considering whether one day we would be able to navigate the intricacies of parenting three children, moving internationally, changing jobs, buying and selling a home, and expecting a baby together in the course of one year (and oh yeah, that cycling accident too). We could not have planned it -- we had no idea what lay ahead for us -- so I consider it all grace that we have grown together and loved each other through it all. And today especially I am thanking God for this marriage that brings me such joy.

So much joy that I want to sing this to him -- both parts, why not: Tammi and Marvin are all the other needs to get by (although, aww, this video is way better because Tammi and Marvin are in it: Ain't No Mountain High Enough).

I can't wait until we renew our vows and have a big party with all our friends and family for our ?th anniversary, and I get a beehive and we sing this song. (Right, Matthew?) Please RSVP in the comments with what song you will perform at this event.

(If you do not have a tune in mind, I am also looking for a partner to help me with the best song from the 1980s. This song is irresistible. I will need to acquire black leather pants and a Cosby sweater so I can do Philip Bailey's part. I may not have the vocal range for it, but I do indeed have the lip syncing range. Ee-eesy LOVER!)

28 July 2011

Air America

We received our air shipment a couple weeks ago. To save space in our sea container some strange items ended up coming by air -- strange in that they are items we did not feel a pressing need to possess while living in a temporary, furnished apartment: a box spring and a love seat.

We had to save space in our sea shipment because we were maxing it out. Ick. We have too many belongings. I know almost exactly how many we own because I had to fill out a detailed insurance form listing the quantity and estimating the replacement value of everything we own that was sent by air or sea. Please don't ask me how many items of baby clothing we possess. It's embarrassing to the point of absurdity. Much consigning and craigslisting and donating to occur this fall.

But we also put some things in it, purposefully, that sit here shaming me. My KitchenAid mixer, used weekly in normal life, sits in the corner of the counter, cool and detached. We need to get reacquainted in a few months. Not just the mixer, but also my kitchen scale. And the flour, even, and baking soda and baking powder that I bought on one of my first trips to Cub -- they are unopened in the cupboard. We don't have many baking pans in the apartment, for one thing, but I just have no desire to whip up a batch of cookies.

The depths I have sunk to as a hostess became apparent when my father-in-law was here a couple weeks ago. He made an impromptu visit to help us address all the items we had to do on the house we're selling. (Don't you wish you had a Handyman Fairy? We are blessed!) One evening after eating pizza out, we all stopped at Walgreens, I ran in to pick up a couple items, and I grabbed a treat for us three adults to enjoy once the kids were asleep. So, for dessert, I served my guest one Reese's Peanut Butter Cup out of a king-size package. Help me!

My favorite item to arrive was an inadvertent one. The pile of items we designated for the air shipment was placed next to a bookcase in our home in Belgium, and the movers asked if we wanted all the books in it packed for the air as well. We didn't, but nonetheless one snuck in: The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Every time I see that behemoth on our dresser I feel a little jolt of amusement at the idea of trying to read through it in the midst of this unusual summer.

27 July 2011

The Repatriate

We've been back in Minnesota for one month and one day, probably the wackiest thirty-two days of my life. It's been a month of much house hullabaloo, as we learned the night before we flew out of BE that we had an offer on our old house, which we had started planning to move back into for a couple years in the interest of being settled before the baby arrives, and two days after arrival found a house we really liked and made an offer on. The process of getting to "pending" on both homes was not without a few snafus (if you have two hours, we'll tell you all about it), but we are cautiously optimistic that as of mid-August we will be rid of one and into the other.

Also occupying our time: buying two cars, seeing a new midwife group, getting insurance, finishing up with Belgian odds and ends (so happy to no longer be paying electricity there, given our "catch-up" bill that caught us by surprise a couple weeks ago).

Until our sea shipment arrives, we are living in a furnished apartment and are very thankful for the space and for the outdoor pool that we're using almost every day. But I have had much phone and email work organizing and researching, etc. and the kids have been a bit trapped inside since I can't send them to a backyard. And we are way out west and feel a bit out of things somehow.

It seems that the boatload of transactions and to-dos have numbed me a bit to the reverse culture shock, but here are a few observations:
  1. Lily, upon seeing the typical yellow school bus of America: "Are those old-fashioned school buses, or just the way school buses look here?"
  2. Soren is fascinated with American makes of car. BMWs, Audis, are so boring and ubiquitous in Belgium. Dodges? That's novel. Ford Mustangs, Pontiacs, Buicks, Chevrolets: They are exotic to him.
  3. Clara, upon waking at 3 a.m. on our first morning in America, went into the bathroom and after a few minutes called: "Mom! The [] won't go away!" Watching her try to operate toilet flushers has been a recurring amusement for me. Gone are the buttons in the middle of the tanks.
  4. Soren also felt like the water was coming up to get him when he flushed. The toilets here have a lot more water sitting in the bowl than in Europe.
  5. A license plate we saw two days after arriving: 2LAZY2P. It was probably later that night that I told Matthew: "Let's just get fat, get huge cars, get a huge house, and do all our shopping at Costco." I felt a bit anti-America for the first couple days. Then I got too busy to think about it. Now I feel like it's settled down a bit and I'm seeing more of the advantages of being here.
  6. I can't remember how to prepare or plan meals, and grocery shopping overwhelms me. So many options. Plus the kids ask for so much more in the store than they did in BE -- again, the novelty? My love for cooking is dormant.
  7. We miss our liters of milk (smaller containers seemed fresher) and the taste of the milk, especially Soren who is a milk connoisseur and would notice if I bought a different brand in BE.
  8. OH CUSTOMER SERVICE. I will save this for another day.
I'm not sure how much longer I can maintain a Belgian blog. But I sure have liked writing here, the discipline of being (er, somewhat) regular in writing. We shall see.

18 June 2011

European Vacation + Chinese European Vacation + Modern Parents

Some interesting reads about Europe:

In short: way less.

Fascinating -- the group ate only Chinese food, spent most of their time on the bus, and had a tour guide who was very critical of Europeans.

And then, for fun, a superlong Atlantic article re parenting that I very much enjoyed:

05 June 2011

Translating official mail: Will/won't/do/don't #5

I WON'T miss using Babelfish to translate official mail we receive. Here's one sentence I just typed into the program, from one paragraph of a nine-paragraph document we received after selling our car:

Voor belastingplichtigen die hun hoofdverblijfplaats of maatschappelijke zetel in het Vlaamse Gewest hebben, is de Vlaamse Belastingdienst bevoegd inzake verkeerbelasting, belasting op de inverkeerstelling en eurovignet.

I WILL miss seeing these endless Dutch words. Hoofdverblijfplaats? I love it.

And I will miss the amusing translations and the bluntness. The document from the DIV (= DMV) directs us to others for follow-up questions, and then explains in paragraph 7: Each contact with the DIV about these matters is "volstrekt nutteloos," = "total useless." Oh, nutteloos!

02 June 2011

Singalong

One more post for my vlog this week. Soren's class did a singalong last week. His role: a duckling. That song is second below; first, a common French children's song, "Savez-vous planter les choux?" ("Do you know how to plant cabbage?") He's the tall one in the middle with a duck bill on his forehead.


On the duck song, you can hear his teacher (our beloved Ewa) trying to slow the pace down, but the children see the end in sight and plow ahead for it. Around 4:00 she gives up.

Earlier, one of Soren's classmates played a tune on the violin. Four-year-old + stringed instrument -- you get the idea. In the middle of it, Clara asked loudly, "Is this a song, Mommy?"

01 June 2011

A Royal Viewing

Breaking news: Did you know there was a royal wedding? We watched it! Our friends David and Sara arrived that morning for a visit, and were happy to view some of it with us. David took these photos (Matthew was very newly injured at this point and thus unable to use his camera).


All the kids enjoyed the procession, checking out outfits, watching the cars and seeing the guards, but Clara just about flipped her lid:




31 May 2011

Rendezvous in Paris

Lots of video this week!

Lily's class of six to eight-year-olds put on a show two Fridays ago: "Rendezvous in Paris." If you haven't heard of this play, it's because you are about to see A World Premiere (i.e., the students and teachers created it).

She played three roles: Parisienne (she enters at about 2:00 below);


Van Gogh's self-portrait;


and a British person celebrating Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo.


That one's my favorite. Lily almost met her own Waterloo, missing her prop, but she gamely went through the moves without it until one was handed to her.

The long-haired girls got into the bowing after their final song, "Champs Elysees."

30 May 2011

Fun Run 2011, part 2

Lily and Soren's race:


Post-Race Soren Interview:


He was the first boy finisher in the 5-6 year olds. I didn't get Lily afterward, but she was the 3rd girl finisher in that age group.

This event supports Retrak, an organization that reaches out to street children in Africa. Beforehand they got to be part of a drum circle:

29 May 2011

Fun Run 2011, part 1

The kids did the Fun Run for the third time this weekend. I wasn't awesome at balancing my roles as cheerer, videographer, and (for Clara) pacesetter. I post video despite all the footage of grass, just grass by itself, you will see. We missed Matthew -- he may have thought to tie Clara's shoe beforehand and would have been so proud to see his little runners.

Pre-Race Interview and Warmup


Clara's Race

Clara Post-Race

One unlaced shoe did not stop her from winning her age group. Yea Clara! I'll post the older kids' race tomorrow.

24 May 2011

Cereal, mustard, tea: Will/won't/do/don't #4

These are the three processed food products available in Europe that we will most miss, I think -- unless you tell me you can find them in normal groceries in the U.S., too.


The kids mostly go for the original, while I am the one who wants the choco minis. Weetabix is like Shredded Wheat, huge biscuits that sog up in milk, but softer.


Powerful mustard. Kids won't miss this; Matthew and I will.



I know Twinings is available in the U.S., but is it the yellow box Twinings? That's what most grocery stores here carry as well, but some Carrefours and the British store carry the black box, which we're 95% certain is not just a mental thing and actually is stronger and better than the yellow box. A habit I've formed in Belgium is having a cup or two of black tea every morning, and if I have Earl Grey around, that's always my choice. Or "Girl Grey," according to a British friend (male) who prefers it as well but had endured some teasing as it's a milder tea. In England, you get made fun of for how sissy your tea is. Man up and drink lapsong souchong and smell like a campfire

23 May 2011

The Most Beautiful Walk in Belgium, Nay, the World

This weekend for our last family walk before Matthew headed back to Minnesota, we went on my favorite walk. I thought Matthew had run here sometime, but it was new to him. To think he might have left without seeing it: egads!

So, here are oodles of pictures of our kids on the best walk in the world, on a path in the arboretum in Tervuren.













19 May 2011

Efteling!

Matthew wasn't the only family member who suffered a cycling accident in April. The Fearless Bean Lurveen took a tumble on a hill on Kokua. Kokua is the brand of her pedalless bike and also her nickname when she rides it like the daredevil she is. KOKUA! has sort of a warrior princess ring to it, I think. Kokua took a hill with no qualms, alongside her brother and sister, in Tervuren Park a few weeks ago. When she was halfway down, the error of my mothering ways hit me, and I couldn't believe I had allowed her to go down that much of an incline considering she has no brakes other than her own two heels. She suffered some road rash, see below.


This photo was taken at Efteling, a fairy wonderland amusement park in the Netherlands that we visited a couple days before Matthew's accident. I'm so thankful we were able to do a special outing like this, a kids-centric sort of day, rather than another museum/church excursion. It really is a joy, as a parent, simply to watch your kids have fun. And to have fun with them -- double joy.

I liked that Efteling is more Grimm than Disney. At Efteling, the statue of the little mermaid is bare from the waist up, not wearing seashells as Ariel does. Wait, why did I like this? Just tired of Disney's iron grip on children's entertainment, I guess. And there were some pretty scary figures. The first section we visited was the fairy tale re-creation. First creature encountered (they were all mechanized figures, not humans in costume) was The Troll King. I don't know this guy, and we didn't understand the Dutch words he growled at us, but he's clearly mean. Five minutes in, Clara was not loving Efteling. "I want to go away from here," she said at every corner.

She didn't like the witch who crawled up Rapunzel's hair one bit. I was holding her, and she turned her head sharply to look over my shoulder in the opposite direction.


It was so enchanting, though! It was all so hobbit-ish, and in a beautiful wooded setting -- quite lovely. I think this is the Seven Dwarves' home:


And here is the path leading up to Sleeping Beauty's castle (note snoozing guard):


A huge talking tree (another fairy tale reference we didn't know, but enjoyed):


Then we hit some rides, and there was really no more scariness, and there was ice cream, and it was just good fun.


We went on a little boat ride,


and did the pedal trains.



I really wanted to go on the wild water ride one. Unfortunately, Matthew noticed the sign "no pregnant women" while we were in line. For a moment I considered holding Clara strategically so that the ride attendants wouldn't notice my belly, and then my love for Plumps overcame that absurdity. So Clara and I watched.



This was as exciting as they want pregnant ladies to get. Fair enough.





Senior photos:


How is she this old? I can't believe she's six, and then she's a six-year-old who looks easily eight because of her height. Time seems to go so (too!) fast with our dear eldest.

The entrance to Efteling was the coolest, with its wild swooping pointy roof.



This was at the end of the day, when we were ready to head home, and enjoy listening to the free CD (in Lily's hand) of haunting Efteling music on the way home: no chipper "Under the Sea" or "Zippity Doo Dah!" on this album.

18 May 2011

Will/won't/do/don't (miss) #3: Online banking

Will: Online banking system. We have a little card reader in our desk drawer that we use to log onto the bank website and do all our transfers. The website gives me a "challenge" (I love a challenge!), a number I enter into the card reader, then the card reader asks for my PIN, and then shows, "PIN OK!" -- every time it's that surprised and excited that I know my PIN -- and then the card reader gives me a "response," and I enter that into the website, and then I am golden, and I can transfer money willy nilly all over the globe. We use cash, or we transfer funds to pay all our bills. No checks, ever.

Won't: The image on the personal banking page, a photo of a, er, shapely woman in a tanktop doing her personal banking on her laptop while she reclines on a couch and her man friend reaches over her with genuinely bulging biceps to hold her bank card.

As I sit in my pajamas and glasses with my hair in a bun, doing my online banking, and Matthew sits five feet away from me working on his laptop rather than helping me in the sinewy fashion he should, I don't like this couple or their surely huge bank accounts.

17 May 2011

Will/won't/do/don't: Milk and bread

I claimed this might be a series. One to go, and then it is. (Right? Somewhere in the crevasses of my brain is the notion that a series is three or more whatevers.)

I will miss:
Bread. I think this is the number one food item I will miss. Last time we were in the States -- I am going to sound like a real snob but it's true -- the bagged, grocery store bread, even the nicer brands that I used to prefer, had a really off taste to me (preservatives, I guess) to the point that I would rather just eat meat and cheese plain than in a sandwich.

I will miss the bread, even though three years and eight months into our stay here, I still struggle to purchase the proper quantity; today I have three half-eaten loaves in our cupboard, at varying degrees of staleness. I will miss it even though I need to buy it every other day, really.

I will miss it because it is delicious, it is inexpensive -- this grade (too strong a term for bread? is bread graded, like dairy and meat? There's no USBA?) of bread costs twice as much in the U.S. as it does here, and I think you have to go to a bakery for it. Here we get probably half our bread from a bakery and half from the grocery store, which is probably my favorite, as they have sourdough, wheat sourdough, and what we call bagel bread, because it sort of smells like bagels and has seeds on top.

But maybe when we're back home I'll start making bread again. I did this some back in Minnesota, but it seemed sort of silly here given the easy, inexpensive access to good bread.

I don't miss:
Skim milk. What? This was one of the first things I mourned -- in my first blog post, even! I think the first visit back to the U.S. I was excited to drink skim milk, but after a year or so here, our tasty 1.5% milk became the norm.

But,

I will miss:
Yogurt, I guess, because people who have gone back, and Matthew when he's visited recently, have said the yogurt isn't nearly as good. We do have a yogurt maker -- maybe I'll have to start doing that again, too.

Looks like life is going to be full of kitchen time for me to attempt to replicate some of our faves from BE. I'm OK with that. But I have no intention of trying to make speculoos ice cream. I'll just let the deliciousness fade in my memory.

16 May 2011

Rome, part 2: The Vatican

My sister took all the photos of our time in Rome; thanks, Lauren!

On our way to the Vatican we went to the Pantheon.


This opening (no glass -- just clear to the sky) is thirty feet wide. Lauren didn't believe me until I showed her where Rick said so.


I was not expecting to be as awestruck at St. Peter's as I was. Visiting churches has been one of my more beloved pastimes in Europe, and this is the biggest, but I thought it would be over the top. (Forgive me; I'm not Catholic. Maybe it was the Protestant in me, protesting the presumed excess of it preemptively.)


My favorite part: every word Jesus said to Peter recorded in the Bible around the top of the walls, in the gold. I think what's below is the start of Luke 22:32, "I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you turn back, strengthen your brothers."


And here's the start of: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18)


These letters are seven feet tall! I was fascinated by how the scaling was done in order that it not seem monstrous: on a pillar, a figure higher up was larger than the one at the bottom, so as to not seem as far above it.

On the other hand, plaques on the floor showing where other cathedrals in the world would end, if placed inside St. Peter's.


"If you lived here you'd be home already."

Then we had lunch (dang, this green scarf dominates all travel photos from the past year). Eating in Rome with Lauren was such a treat: first, just having one-on-one time to sit with her and talk, and second, the food! I remember a yummy truffle risotta and a huge caprese + tuna salad (I bet there's a name for that . . .).



We then headed to the Vatican Museum. We started in the sculpture area.


I'll be honest. In museums I kind of bide my time, scanning things vaguely, until we get to what's always my favorite: paintings. (There are exceptions; see David. Really: go see David, if you can!)

I loved the maps.


The highlight of the Vatican Museum was the Sistine Chapel, and it was amazing. My mother-in-law sent me this great link after our visit: Virtual Tour of the Sistine Chapel.

Some things I learned, I think all from Rick, but I no longer have the guide to confirm:
  1. Unlike the Raphael rooms at the museum, where much of the work was done by Raphael's apprentices under his guidance, Michelangelo did all/almost all? the painting in the Sistine Chapel himself (although helpers probably mixed paint, etc.).
  2. Over twenty-five years passed during the course of the project, although I think there was a gap between finishing most of it and returning to do The Last Judgment.
  3. His style evolved during the process; later figures are more dynamic and fill the frames more fully than earlier ones do. (Jeremiah is more interesting than Isaiah, e.g.) When he was partway finished, he took a look and decided to amp it up.
  4. Michelangelo painted himself into the Last Judgment as an animal hide, basically. The saint holding him doesn't seem to have decided yet where he belongs. This makes me want to read a biography of him and learn more about his faith and feelings about the church.
  5. The Vatican Museum used to be a pope's residence, hence there being a chapel inside it. The guards in the room doggedly shh people and call, "NO PHOTO" to the rogues who think, Awww, just one, or, Video doesn't count, right? I had to fight against my rules nature being entirely distracted and irritated by these people rather than focused on the art. I was tempted to become an apprentice guard and back them up.

10 May 2011

Rome, part 1

Repatriating preparation, baby-growing, only-functioning-two-handed-adult-in-the-family-being has made updating tough. My sister and I visited Rome nearly two months ago!

This was the first photo we took in Italy: a poster for the Moorhead, Minnesota, high school music concert. We did not attend; we just enjoyed being part of the Minnesota cultural influx in Italy.


Our first meal in Italy was at a former church, Ristorante Sacro e Profano. We ordered an antipasto so extensive that the waiter had to roll another table alongside ours.


At the Trevi Fountain -- I didn't realize how big it is.


Everyone clapped for a bride and groom on the Spanish steps.


Here we are waiting for the elevator at our cute hotel. How did we find this nice place? I'll give you a clue: Rick Steves's Christmas cards were featured in the lobby. Oh, RICK. My sister started calling him my boyfriend. Regardless of her mocking, she too reaped the benefits of Rick's sage advice about lodging, restaurants, sights, and gelato.


A highlight sisterly experience was attempting to exit the hotel via the door, which was usually open, the one time it was closed. A sign told us not to force the door, that it was automatic, but we kept nearing it without it opening. We felt trapped. I started forcing the door, a little. Then we heard footsteps and played it cool, reading posters on the wall while we observed a (so savvy!) woman press the button near the door frame to make the door open. Aha! I thought "automatic" implied no action on our part, but as I think of it now, you still have to actually press the pedal on an automatic transmission; I do believe an automatic rifle requires some trigger action; etc. How we missed that button, I don't know. More sisterly exploits to follow.