Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Well That Was Awkward!

Traveling to different places is always an adventure. Especially when there are different languages, customs, and on occasion, unruly beagles involved. We have been in Belgium for almost two months now and since our arrival I've experienced a few unexpectedly embarrassing moments that I thought I should take the time to write down, if for no other reason than to look back on one day for a good laugh.

     The first awkward occurance happened about a month ago on my way home from the grocery store. Whenever we move to a new post, we are car-less until our vehicle arrives and makes it through customs. It's not too bad, (Love the public transportation in Brussels!) except when it comes to grocery shopping. Typically I wait to shop on the weekends when I can bring Dan and the kids to help me carry bags, but on this particular afternoon, we were out of pretty much everything, and unless I was planning to feed my family jarred pickles and mayonnaise for dinner, it was necessary to make a run to the store on my own. I packed four, large, cloth bags in my purse and took off. I had every intention of buying only what we needed, but of course, the breads here look amazing and the cheese, and chocolate, and before I knew it, all four bags were stuffed full and I was packing everything home like a donkey.
    I must have looked even more ridiculous than I felt, because half way home, a handsome man in a creepy, white, utility van pulled over and with a concerned expression asked me (in French) if he could help and give me a ride home. Of course the ride would have been great, but common sense dictated that hopping into a stranger's van would probably not have been a good idea, and so I politely declined. The man gave me an expression that basically said, "Suit yourself, crazy lady." and took off up the street. I laughed and after a bit of effort, restarted my forward momentum and made it home ten minutes later with bruised shoulders and wounded pride. I will say, that my husband was happy later that day when I texted him about my choice to decline the ride. :)

  My second awkward story took place on the metro. I was on my way the kid's school to meet Ellie for a library party. She had worked her tail off to read a certain number of books in time to go to the party (even though she had only just started school a few weeks earlier). I had made my switch from one train line to another and was seated happily by myself with my music and headphones, when a short, incredibly muscular man stepped onboard. We'll just say that the man was very conscious of his appearance. His spiky hair, leather jacket, indoor shades and cologne spoke volumes. So, anyway, even though there were a number of seats available, this guy chose a spot directly beside me and proceeded to lean forward to adjust the laces on his boot.
All that was fine, I'm used to sitting close to people on the metro, but then, almost on cue, a spider (a really BIG spider) dropped down from the ceiling of the car and landed on his back. I clenched my fist to keep myself from brushing it off (he was a complete stranger after all), but then the spider turned and started creeping right towards me. That was it, game over. There was no way I was going to let it get to me,  so I quickly brushed it off. The man, feeling my touch on his back, sat up and looked at me with a disgusted glare. I put my hands up and said (in French) "there was a ... a ..." and then my mind went blank and I couldn't remember the word for spider and so I made up a word that was way off and the guy just shook his head and scooted over three seats away from me, while I sat looking like an idiot (or a creeper) until the next metro station where I got off, even though it wasn't my stop. Even now, I'm sitting here laughing, because it was so incredibly awkward, and the guy doesn't even know or appreciate that I saved him from the rabid spider!

     Finally, my third awkward moment. This time I wasn't alone. I had with me my daughter, my son  (who has a tendency to laugh even when he shouldn't) and my beagle, Lola. We were out for a lovely stroll a few weeks ago. My son and I were walking (he was holding the leash for Lola), while my daughter was on her roller blades.  I have to interject here and say, that for the record, Lola is a very gentle, fun-loving animal. She is great with kids and babies and really is the perfect dog for us. That being said, she has a mild defect which, on occasion, causes problems.
    She doesn't like carts on wheels. Bikes are fine, roller blades are fine, she has no problem with cars or motorcycles or anything like that, but when it is a cart (like, say ... a baby stroller) she freaks out and goes into full "hair-raised, aggressive barking" mode. We are working on this and we've gotten to a point now where if I see a stroller coming, I pull her aside and she remains calm enough until it passes.
    But, on this particular outing she met a new kind of cart on wheels, in the form of a little old man in a wheelchair. I am embarassed to say, that I have never seen her so angry before. She started barking well before we approached the man, and it was not a "somewhat annoyed" bark, it was a full-on "angry" bark. I took the leash from my son and tried pulling her to the side as the man passed but she clearly wanted to attack his chair. I apologized profusely (once again, in French) but he didn't even look at me. He stared straight ahead and passed by with a red, angry face. I turned around to see my son laughing at the ridiculous situation and felt even more embarrassed. The poor man. All he wanted was some fresh air and he got us.
    My son and I had a serious talk about how it must have made the man feel to see him laughing like that and he understood and felt bad for laughing. All I can say is, wow. Sometimes life just tosses you into ridiculous situations that no amount of explaining (In French or English!) can get you out of.

I'm sure there are plenty of other experiences waiting for me, and with the communication barriers I face, my foot will end up in my mouth again. I just hope that when it does happen, I can laugh at myself and those situations and embrace the awkwardness that is sometimes life!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A Quick Trip to Ghent

One of the things Dan and I have been most looking forward to about living in Belgium, is the country's close proximity to so many amazing places. We plan to put any and all long weekends to good use while we are here, so for our first "out-of-Brussels" experience we kept it in-country and hopped a quick, half-hour train ride to the well preserved, medieval city of Ghent. Ghent has been referred to as the sister city to Bruges, and though I haven't seen Bruges yet, I can say that Ghent exceeded all of my expectations. It was like a step back in time.
Of course there have been many modern changes in Ghent over the past few centuries, but the city still retains an old feel and has been so well preserved, it's easy to picture how things might have looked way back when.
So, because we only had a day (about six hours to be exact) I'll just run through the little itinerary we followed and then post my favorite pics and be done.

Our train left at about 10 a.m. and we arrived just after 10:30. We purchased the inexpensive coach tickets (10 euros for Logan, Dan and I, while the younger kids were free) and I just have to say that we got what we paid for. Dan ended up standing the entire ride, and we were pretty crowded, but for ten bucks, we weren't expecting much else!

The station in Ghent is about a mile and a half away from the historic town center, so we put our walking legs on and before we knew it, we were there. We found a quaint little sandwich shop and fed everyone before heading first to the Belfy Tower. I was anxious to see the view from the top. 350 step later, we were there. Along the way we stopped at different sections of the tower. One displayed a number of really old bells that were actually pretty cool. My kids enjoyed the medieval urinal we found in the basement (Not currently in use, thank you, although my boys wanted to try!). Just a note, the Belfry Tower does have an elevator after the first small set of stairs.

After the tower's incredible view of St. Nicholas's Church, we headed toward Gravensteen Castle. Along the way, by luck, we came across Graffiti Alley, a little section of Ghent dedicated to street art. It was modern meets medieval and I loved it. There were so many colors and the kids really had a fun time there.

After stopping for fresh chocolates and waffles we finally made it to Gravensteen Castle, which was of course, the highlight of the trip for my boys. We let them wander on their own a bit. Dan and I both love history, so walking down corridors that were used so long ago was magical. I wasn't a fan of the torture room, but everyone else seemed to like it. :)

I am just now realizing how much eating we did because after the castle, we stopped again to eat some fries. It was starting to get cold, but I had my heart set on a river boat ride, so we finished our day off that way and then headed home.

It really was a perfect little day-trip and one that I highly recommend! Most of the museums charge a small fees and children below thirteen were free for nearly all of them. We didn't get to do everything because we ran out of time so we will definitely be back. Here come the pictures!

My lunch. Curry Chicken with shredded carrots and Pineapple. Different, but so good!


Who wouldn't want a zebra-colored house/store?

Really, really, old glass.

Really, really old tiles. Original floors in a 700 year old building. Wow.

 View from the top of Belfry

Linc is a bell.

The boys figured out that the different bells had different pitches and made a song.

 Graffiti Alley

Waffle Stop!

Castle Gravensteen

Another really, really old window

 View from the top of the castle

Ellie found a harp, awww!

"I dub thee ..."

 River Boat Tour

 Ghent's version of 'Mannequin Pis' and his two sisters.

 Till next time!

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Made it to Brussels!

Time for an update! I'm sitting on my un-made bed, going over the last two months and shaking my freshly cut head-of-hair over the craziness of it all. Crazy, yet, normal. That about sums it up.

So, I guess the big news is that we have arrived in Brussels. We are still in temp housing, but hope to be in a permanent place by the first of June. We shall see. :)

The month before we left we had three sets of visitors in DC. My parents, my awesome niece, Rachel and then Dan's parents. We had fun showing them all the sites and just spending time together. We are hoping for more visitors in Belgium soon! We arrived here on April 2, 2018. Wait, scratch that, we left on the 2nd from DC at about 5:00 pm, and arrived six hours later in Brussels on the 3rd at 7:00 am. After our kind sponsor picked us up (frazzled dog included) from the airport and deposited us at our temp home, the entire family slept and slept and didn't feel normal again for about a week. Poor Dan had to go to work the day after we arrived so he didn't haven't time to recover, but that's okay, he caught up on sleep that weekend.
We arrived just in time for spring break, which was two weeks long. It was nice, but the kids had just finished Virginia's week-long spring break. Needless to say, after three weeks of being together constantly, we were all very excited when on the 16th of April, an over-sized "school bus" stopped in front of our tall, skinny townhome to carry us all to the new school.

I feel like the kids are adjusting really well. The school is fantastic and very welcoming. It's a bit smaller than they are used to, but I think that will be a good thing. I'm constantly in awe of how brave and accepting these kids are. They switch from school to school and friend group to friend group so easily. I use the word "easily" when I know that really, it is hard for them. That only makes me appreciate them even more. I'm a very lucky mom.

So, in Brussels, we have already seen a few things, and are excited to see so many more. We went down to the Grand-Place a few weekends ago, the Parc du Cinquantenaire, and of course, we have found a great place for waffles and frites. The waffles are only available to us on Saturdays (good thing for me, honestly!) at the Stokkel Market. It's not a long walk from our home, so we've taken the kids there a few times. I'll have to grab some pictures, because it really is a beautiful market and the waffle vender there is incredible. Just make sure you go early, they ran out of waffles on us our first time. It was tragic.

A great place for Le frites (fancy, French lingo for "fries", thank you) is downtown in a little shack called, La Maison Antoine. They were everything we'd heard about and more. I'm glad the place is a bit out of our way!

Belgian life is going to be an adjustment, for sure, but I think it will be an easier one than we've experienced in the past. Spring here is so pretty. I'm trying to force myself out everyday at least for a little while with my camera.  Our clothes dryer is interesting. It sucks all the water out of the clothes and into a little container than needs to be emptied after every load. I actually kind of enjoy dumping the pan. It's strangely satisfying.  Recycling in Belgium is INSANE. But good, yeah, definitely good to recycle ... if ...  you can figure out which of the five bags to use for each of the different recyclable materials. I think I've finally got it down. It's funny because the kids won't throw anything away now without running it past me first to make sure they are putting it in the correct bin. We would be fined big time too if we didn't recycle properly.

Lola is loving the yard. She escaped once, but luckily we found her pretty quickly and have reinforced our fence. She spends a lot of time out in the yard. It makes me happy for her.
I guess that is about all for now. I'll update more later and leave you all with a few pics!

Spring in DC, Family Pic!

First day at a new school

Le Grand-Place


Spring in Brussels

Ellie's new favorite thing...

DC Visitors!

And finally, the new haircut, eek! Still getting used to it.