Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Gobble, Gobble Here and a Gobble, Gobble There!

We may be in Belgium (where Thanksgiving is clearly not a national holiday and fresh turkeys and pumpkin is nearly impossible to find), but that being said we certainly enjoyed a lot of turkeys and pumpkin pie over the past few days!!!
We gathered for a late feast with our American Expat Friends on Thursday. It was fun to pack Connor up in her PJs and pop her in her stroller and walk in the night to the lovely neighborhood of Sablon for the meal, served up with love by our hosts, Matt and Julia Spencer. Connor was the perfect baby as she nestled in and slept peacefully in their bedroom while we partied on.

Then on Saturday we hosted the crowd for Thanksgiving #2 at our home. But since we were unable to find a large turkey, we ended up making TWO small turkeys to feed the group. I have done enough turkey basting for one year! We certainly missed being with our families in North Carolina, but we are very thankful for our new friends and their generosity and fellowship. It helped make the holiday yummy and festive!

We also have a HUGE Christmas market/carnival surrounding our apartment, called "Plaisirs d'Hiver" Our expat crowd enjoyed checking out the booths and rides, while Connor really loved the antique carousels! There was even a big tree and light show in the Grand Place. Brussels has caught the Christmas spirit with street lights, piped music, and mulled wine. Kirk even saw a Sinterklaas (St. Nick in Belgium) in the GB grocery store singing to Frank Sinatra carols and all alone waiting for children?!?! How odd!

And today we went to a new church to ring in the first week of Advent. It was familiar and comforting to sing Christmas carols and to renew and remind ourselves of the reason for the season. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming - so I think we have a new church home. After church we drove 40 minutes to the lovely town of Antwerp for lunch and to poke around. We ate at a charming Irish pub and Connor had fun running around the booth and watching the "Buses" and "Choo-Choos" out the window at the Grote Market square. She left tons of fingerprints on the glass, but oh well - that is part of toddler fun!
This week has also been a breakthru week for Connor and I to find activities to fill out our new life in Brussels. We stumbled upon a great playground we can walk to from our house in the Parc du Bruxelles - equipped with swings and slides, Connor's favorites! The first day we found it there was another mom with an 18 month old girl from Poland. Her husband is a diplomat at the EU Parliament and we managed to communicate through broken English and French that we would have to meet up here at the park again and again. The girls enjoyed each other, despite the cold. Connor and I also joined a French music class called "La Chaise Musicale" on Friday mornings. It is a program of nursery rhymes and songs all in French with a group of English-speaking moms and toddlers. I definitely felt like this was the epitome of "stay-at-home-momhood" (WAY different from my previous corporate working life), but I think it will be a fun way for us to learn more French and connect with other kids and moms. The other moms invited us to join them for "un cafe" after the class, which was so inviting and welcoming.

My favorite memories of the week include:

- Just walking around the Grand Place area as preparations for the Christmas market were underway. Connor and I found the cutest street trio of musicians that we stopped and danced to. They were three elderly Italian guys who were kinda scruffy but they were so peppy and cheerful with their "Ooo-Paahs" and "Bravos" and their accordion and trumpets and songs that we couldn't help but to be drawn into the fun. Connor clapped and danced and for the first time in my entire life, I felt compelled to give money to street artists. I would never have taken the time and interest in my previous life to do this.

- Connor has several new words: "couch" - "bah-bah" for Belly Button - and she knows the turkey goes "Gobble, Gobble" which she will tell you several octaves higher than her normal voice. She speaks so many new words everyday, but these are my favorites. Connor will bring a book to you pronouncing "Read this, Read this, Read this" on and on until you read it to her. Also, this is the view from our living room windows - see all the birds resting on the ledge? Connor LOVES all the birds. They flock and fly all around and Connor runs from window to window shouting out "birds, birds, birds"!!!!

- Enjoying time just the three of us. We have had a grand time with brand new friends this week, but we also got to spend some good time together. When you are in a foreign land you learn to rely on and draw strength from each other so much more than in an environment of comfort. Kirk and I have always had a strong bond and connection, but this challenge has strengthened and renewed it and brought Connor into the fold.

We rejoice in welcoming the Christmas season! --- Reid

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Celery, Celery, Celery

Life is starting to "come alive" now. After several valuable leads from a fellow Atlanta expat who has since returned to the USA we are now signed up for a weekly music class among other valuable resources and connections on "all things toddler" - thank you Shannon! And just in the nick of time too for our budding songstress. Connor makes me smile from ear to ear during breakfast every morning. I turn on my iTunes on our computer and Connor immediately starts singing along (literally!) with the songs and then claps her hands and says 'YAY, YAY!' a the end of the song. Her 'la, la, las' are literally the sweetest I have heard and it brightens my morning daily! Look out Barbara Streisand!

I am trying to put my ALL into finding good learning activities for Connor as a stay-at-home-mom amidst the chaos of learning and functioning in a new European city. Yesterday the activity was walking/running/skipping atop a piece of bubble wrap and hearing and feeling the pop pops. We had fun! I could make a lot more "pops" than Connor when skampering across as weight is key to this game. Also yesterday I gave Connor a piece of celery (leftover from turkey making last week). She immediately started chanting "celery, celery, celery" - always 3 times back to back and very fast - and she loves gnawing on either end. She talks about "celery, celery, celery" nonstop now. Go figure!

Kirk came home early, which was a wonderful surprise. His training finished up in the afternoon. We jumped in the car and traveled to the Atomium to play. It was too cold to stay outdoors for long so we went to the top of the massive atom-like structure built for the Expo '58, the Brussels World Fair. We walked around and saw the sun set over our new city and enjoyed a hot chocolate at the cafe on top. When we were back in the car driving home, Kirk looked at me and just said to me, "You know, we have a lot of fun together, don't we?" I couldn't have summed it up any better. It was a perfect spontaneous afternoon of fun.

Then tonight - another priceless memory. If only I had had a video camera. The three of us had to report to the police station tonight to complete our official "registration" to live in Brussels. Guess this is part of the fun of it all - the police need to know who you are and where you live. We were waiting in line (of course) for our appointment with the inspector. Out of nowhere Connor just busts out laughing while sitting in her stroller. I don't mean a giggle, but a deep belly laugh - waves upon waves of it until she was crying from the laughter. Peels upon peels of gleeful, innocent, toddler shrieks. Who knows what is was that she was thinking that tickled her so, but it was so intense that no one could ignore it! A bunch of stoic adults waiting blase at the police station and then Connor's laughter piercing the formality. There was not a straight face in the crowd by the time the laughter passed.

Then when we made it back for our "appointment" with the police inspector we were concentrating on saying and answering everything correctly despite the language barrier to be legal. All of a sudden Connor starts pointing and saying loudly "Stars! Stars!" - she was pointing at the policeman's chest where he was displaying his police badge that did indeed have stars on it. We all looked at her and I said "etoiles" (french for stars) and we all smiled then got on with business. But indeed Connor knows the word for stars and in context, no doubt. Thank you Connor for these irreplaceable moments!

Click here for Atomium photos and playing around the apartment (full album)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Winter Wonderland!

It is literally DUMPING snow everywhere right now. Kirk, Connor and I are nestled in tight and enjoying the cold, wet, white blanket on this cozy Sunday afternoon. Our apartment is slowly but surely coming together. We have put all the IKEA furniture together - piece by piece - and managed to get all the boxes out of our home. Hooray! Still some organizing, but it feels a lot more like home and we are happy.

This week we had to make our Thanksgiving turkey 1 week early since the one we bought wouldn't fit in our freezer no matter how we tried to force it in between these teeny European freezer shelves - so if you can't freeze it, cook it! August Hammonds, another EY expat came over to enjoy the feast and I managed to survive my very first turkey preparation. Please do tell me what this knob translates to in Farenheit?!?! Definitely a challenge cooking in the small, celsius oven!

Yesterday we took a day trip into Luxembourg. Yet we never made it to Luxembourg City because the snow slowed us down a lot. So instead we went to a postcard town called Vianden in Luxembourg and then over to Trier, Germany - a city of ancient Roman ruins and the oldest Christian church in Germany. We will have to return to Luxembourg City and the Moselle Valley (to taste Reisling wines!) another time.

Amidst the glamour of Europe, perhaps the things I will remember most are the ways Connor is embracing it all and developing the midst of this transition. She has learned to show you "one" when you ask how old she is, she has a handful of new words and sounds everyday (including 'Bonjour' and 'Au revoir', and she has learned to give Eskimo kisses and walks towards us wagging her head to move in and rub noses. The time with her is quite an awesome gift!
--- Reid

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Healthcare Abroad

Connor and I had quite an adventure today - our first day on public transportation and our first taste of European healthcare. I found an English-speaking pediatrician through the American Women's Club of Brussels recommendation and established this "get-to-know-you" appointment for today last week. As "luck" would have it Connor came down with her first ever temperature (103 degrees) last night. She must have wanted to be sure we got our money's worth today. She is fine but fighting some virus, so all is ok.

We caught the tram and bus connection to get to our new pediatrician's office - it was about an hour commute. When we got there I was surprised that this was also his personal home! But apparently that is typical here. Dr. Alexander shares his home/practice with his wife who is a GYN (good to know - two for one!) I rang their doorbell and Dr. Alexander himself buzzed me in. He had also been the one to answer the phone and make our appointment personally when I called. Worlds away from Emory! He had no nurse but came and retrieved us one by one from the "waiting room." We went into his office with an exam table - all in one. He wrote our info down on a little notebook and he was very kind and patient. He did answer the phone and doorbell during our appointment which was rather unique! We still have a few vaccines ahead of us and to get those he wrote a prescription for them for the future and I am to pick up from the pharmacy ahead of time and bring to him to administer. He also handwrote our receipt for us to file insurance claim and took our cash only to pay for the visit and put in his wallet. How different!

After the visit it was an adventurous rush hour commute with us being stuffed on the tram and buses like sardines. But Connor smiled at the other children and was pretty good - especially given that she is under the weather. And our fellow passengers all helped me with getting umbrella stroller and baby up stairs and through the mobs. When we successfully made it home I was sure to lavish a lot of TLC for my ailing little one.

Between the doctor and finally figuring out this crazy trash collection schedule and getting the cardboard boxes out of home (at long last!) we are in business. You wouldn't believe all that goes into sorting and placing garbage out appropriately to avoid fines.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Settling In!

So we have arrived in Brussels (toting NINE checked bags, not to mention the stroller and other carry ons!) and are finally connected to the internet in our apartment after 2 weeks!!! Hooray. Up to this point we have had to take turns at night going down the block to the McDonalds with free WiFi after Connor goes to sleep at night! But thank goodness for the McDonalds - not only for free internet but an indoor playground and a Ronald McDonald to boot. Connor likes those! Mom does too on rainy days!

It has been a busy time since arriving. We rented an unfurnished apartment right in the center of town - you can literally see the "Grande Place" from our street! It is a great place with easy access to public transport and markets and it has a lot of European charm. We decided that if we rented an unfurnished apartment and furnished it ourselves with IKEA furniture that it would come out about even cost-wise over the 18 months - and would give us a chance to personalize it and babyproof it the way we wanted versus a prefurnished apartment. Now that we are a million IKEA boxes into this endeavor and our arms ache from putting together so much furniture (bed, couch, dining table, lights!) we are still happy with our decision - but definitely underestimated the task. Things are getting set up and homey slowly but surely!

We have already made a big trip to Portugal. Kirk had a 4 day holiday weekend right off the bat (Belgian Armistice Day) so we decided we shouldn't let that time go to waste. Portugal was amazing - great weather and a perfect escape from the boxes and moving exhaustion! We went to Lisbon, Sintra (an enchanting fairy tale town of palaces and forests) and Oporto (the home of Port wine). We also rented a car and went to Santiago de Compostela in Spain to see the famous church that so many pilgrims have come to - this is considered the third largest Christian city, next to Rome and Jeruselum - but it was a quaint college town. We had fun marveling at Portugeuse tiles, tasting port wine and also finding every playground in Portugal for Connor to enjoy!

More to come, but enjoy our blog! --- Reid