28 April 2011

Chute à vélo

On the evening of Easter Monday, Matthew fell while cycling as he was going pretty fast downhill. He ended up needing surgery on his finger, and now his right arm is in a pretty hearty cast. We are full of gratitude that it was not worse, and we thank God for all the compassion and care we received, from bystanders who waited with him until the ambulance and I got there and phoned the local doctor who stayed with us until we left for the ER; friends who stayed with the kids so I could be with him at the hospital in the middle of the night, and brought us meals and groceries the following days; good doctors and nurses; Soren's teachers who let him stay through lunch the next day so I could be at the hospital; long-distance family and friends calling, writing, and praying; Clara's superhuman (super-two-year-old-human) patience at several hours at the hospital visiting Matthew and dealing with the admissions/insurance process the next day; and all three kids' gentleness and helpfulness since he's been home.

And now Clara, as the other two do, has a photo of her with Dad in the hospital.

20 April 2011

Will/won't/do/don't: A series, maybe!

I've been thinking a lot about things I will and won't miss here, and what I do and don't miss from the U.S.

I'll start with this one:

The hyper-sexual themed fair rides occasionally set up in the middle of the town centers. No holds barred, silicone-breasted women in dominatrix outfits, sort of stuff. Amusing in its irony: quaint European small towns, where people are more reserved and where far less skin shows in general than in the U.S., versus the explicit designs of the fair rides, heavily featuring degrading images of women. Will I miss them? Well, no; boo to the objectification of women, and I don't really want my kids taking in these visuals. But they seem to represent a cultural paradox that has intrigued and sort of amused me.

19 April 2011

Once, twice, three times a lady

When my sister was here, we visited Keukenhof for the third time (here's our 2008 visit, and 2009 visit).

It was a cold and drizzly day. We had never been this early in the season before, and there weren't as many flowers blooming, nor was the cart out that sells magical hot ham sandwiches.

But we had a cocoa break when it rained; the kids didn't seem to mind how many flowers they saw; and I made a version of the sandwich (inferior, but tasty) later in the week.

It's such a fun place to explore.

Clara had a special arm move she did before she started running on this bridge -- throwing her right arm back, maybe for leverage.

The kids were so excited about the petting zoo. But I was not disappointed at all when workers exited the area, locking the gate just as we were arriving, so we had to view the animals from afar rather than get our hands all up in their fur/feathers/woolly smelliness.

The sight of the playground just beyond it was a consolation for the kids. We had zip line fun -- well, they did; I started to hop on it but then Matthew saw the sign restricting to 12 and under:

They had a building devoted to orchids:

Clara continued to delight us with her expressiveness:

And there were still a few gazillion flowers to enjoy.

Oh, I will miss this spring tradition of ours. Goodbye, Keukenhof!

If you visit, toast our family with a ham sandwich or two.

16 April 2011

I'm special, sooo special! I've got to have some of your attention -- give it to me!

You should hear this title in Chrissie Hynde's voice for full effect (and you may want to see the guys pointing to the word "special" on the diner menu at the appropriate time in the song. Niiice).

The term "special" has come up a few times now in talks about repatriation. One friend, who moved back to the U.S. after a couple years of living here (and then returned to BE and has lived here for eight since), said that although she doesn't think of herself as someone who particularly needs to feel like she is special -- and she certainly doesn't come off as someone who does -- the noteworthy part of their year or so back in the U.S. was the sense of not being special anymore. When they had returned for visits while living overseas, she and her husband had been guest stars (we've definitely experienced this). When they moved back, it wasn't long before it was back to the norm. People expected her to bring a side dish to family gatherings, rather than just be the honored guest.

She said, "It actually might be good you're having a baby, because that will be special to people" -- it will ease the transition for us from specialness to ordinariness, she thought. I know! It sounds absurd, but she wasn't being facetious.

(Should I clarify that the arrival of Son Two/Plumps/The Patriot was not planned to give us continuing identification as special? What will I have to do next . . . just keep having babies? Dye my hair red? Audition for Cirque du Soleil? Start a Pretenders cover band?)

Another friend who lived here for a couple years before moving back almost two years ago said that she too experienced the lack of specialness, although she said there's a six-month window where you "just moved back from living in Europe!" and thus are still interesting. She also realized that it wasn't just back home that they had been special, but also in Belgium, as an American. Her husband and she joke that they're just not fabulous anymore.

I am intrigued. Both these women are giving, thoughtful, selfless women. This is not the outlying experience of narcissists.

There have been more conversations and reading on this topic -- more things to write about for sure. But don't get me wrong! I still need to write about my dear sister's visit.

12 April 2011

Clara helped me unload groceries one day

perhaps setting them up for a motorcycle stunt.

11 April 2011

It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you! There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do!

[Perhaps you'd like to listen to that song (or maybe Rosanna?) while you read this post.]

I finally visited the African museum in Tervuren last month. We've walked in the adjacent park many times, picknicked on its grounds, both the kids have visited, and I drive by it every day bringing Lily to school, but I hadn't been inside before.

It's in a beautiful huge palace in a gorgeous setting. We focused on the animal displays. There were an elephant and a giraffe, lions, lots of antelope/okapi/gazelle/etc. hooved creatures, and many insects pinned on boards and fish floating in formaldehyde. It felt very outdated and somehow bordering on the kitsch.

Belgium has an African museum because Belgium colonized the Congo years ago. Here's some history on Belgian Congo. The last room was visited was the colonialism room, which toed the line so carefully that it was hard to glean much information from it. A paraphrase of one blurb: "Colonialism has been viewed differently over time. Years ago it was viewed more favorably, and more recently it has been viewed more critically." Ah, that tricky passive voice. Who is it, exactly, that viewed/views it that way? Museum, have you an opinion? I don't understand what Belgians' view on this part of their history is. I wonder if it would be too sensitive a subject to broach with our French teacher.

Next step: reading King Leopold's Ghost, which I think has a pretty different tone.

08 April 2011

Return to Sender

We're moving back. After nearly four years in Belgium, we will all be back in Minnesota at the end of June. Mixed feelings abound. The mountain of things to accomplish and/or pray happen (our darling but petite St. Louis Park home selling being the biggie) between now and then is huge. The amount of time we will spend not all together is far greater than what I consider healthy or certainly maintainable for a happy, connected family.

But there is a light at the end of the tunnel; we are healthy and happy; we know that Son Two, a.k.a. Plumps (Soren just coined that one yesterday -- he's full of great name ideas for this boy -- yes, BOY, we learned the gender this time for the first time) will arrive to an expectant, excited family in September no matter where we're living or whether we can locate the bin of newborn clothing in which to wrap his Plumpsness. I was brought back to a Howard Johnson in Flint, Michigan after my birth and have lived to tell the tale as I'm sure Plumps will too.

Coming soon: Clara's adventures at my gynecologist appointments; my sister's visit and our trip to Rome; photo evidence of our children's existence over the past several months. I am getting back on the blog horse and intend to ride it into the Belgian sunset.

05 April 2011