Monday, September 28, 2009

La Rentree

We are just back from two weeks in the United States. While a terrific vacation, I would call it more productive than relaxing - what a whirlwind. And now we are back in Brussels. And it feels like home. And that feels good.

In the French culture the "back to school" time in September has an official name - La Rentree. I wrote previously how folks leave Belgium (or France) for at least a month every summer to go on holiday, leaving signs in shop windows that they will be back soon. My mother-in-law heard this blurb about La Rentree on NPR and I thought it was an apt description:

It is true, there is a distinct change in the air from Summer to Fall around here. The cooler weather is upon us and the routine of normal life resumes. We are taking the advice of the French and have some La Rentree Resolutions:
1) Potty Training - Part Two
2) Swim Lessons for Connor
3) Reduce the amount of juice - evolving to only water and milk (to minimize cavities)
4) Tackle the remainder of our "to do" travel list in the next 6 months
5) Exercise and eat healthy
6) Prep and ready myself for returning to work when we get home

Here is the transcript of the above NPR audio:
Every September, Paris buzzes with renewed excitement and energy. It's la rentree - an expression that translates to the return. It's like one giant back-to-school for the whole country, the entire nation returning from a long summer's break. This is a country that takes its summer vacation seriously -no three-day weekends or a paltry week at the beach. Vacationers even have names depending on which month they take off. Those who go on holiday for the whole of July are juilletistes. If you take the entire month of August, you're an aoûtien. Now, all those tanned and rested juilletistes and aoûtien are back in the city gearing up for a new year. The street markets are bustling again, as colorful vendor stalls spill over with summer fruits and vegetables. And neighbors and friends hail and greet each other with a flurry of cheek kissing, despite the warnings about swine flu. Others gather in groups on the sidewalk, smiling and talking animatedly. Small children with nannies in tow frolic between the vendors' stalls, and a new crop of babies seems to be making its debut. Young mother Laurents Marmot is standing in front of the cheese seller's stall holding a chunk of Roquefort and her new son Antoine, who was born in July. Marmot says la rentree itself is a rebirth. La rentree in September is a lot like the New Year in January. A lot of people make resolutions and make a new start. Paris is bursting back to life after the doleful month of August, when every other shop is shuttered and the streets are full of tourists but empty of Parisians. It's as if someone has flipped a giant light switch and turned the city on again. Neighborhood butcher Michele Sinai is back behind his counter. He lifts a giant beef rib cage out of his window and carves up a thick entrecote steak for one of his customers. Sinai has run his busy butcher shop on Rue Saint-Charles for more than 30 years, except during the month of July when he puts a handwritten note in his window that says gone for the annual closing. We work hard all year, and we're all packed together here in the city, so you've got to get away for a month. When you return, life starts up again and you're ready for it. I observe la rentree in full swing from my vantage point on the terrace of the newly reopened Cafe Maribeau. As he brings my frothy cafe creme, my waiter admits he's a little bummed to be back, but he seems a minority among such high spirits today. Fall rains and broken resolutions will come soon enough, bringing the scowls this city is famous for. But for now, at least, it's la rentree and Paris is glorious.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Steamy Durbuy

Several weeks ago (I am way behind in my blogging!) Dallas, Connor and I packed up and headed for the little town of Durbuy (der-BOY). And when I say "little" I really mean little. Durbuy's claim to fame is that it is the smallest "town" in the world. Not sure how you define a town versus a city or a village, but we went with it.It was also the warmest day recorded of the summer. So, as Dallas astutely summed up, it was the hottest day in the smallest town! The intense sunshine made the photos pretty bright - but you get the point.We pranced around the Topiary Park in Durbuy. There were shapes and figures of all different types carved out of the hedges. I don't know that I had ever been to a topiary park before. Cool idea, awesome execution!But as neat as the topiaries were, Connor was most entranced with her Slinky. Dallas showed her how Slinky could 'walk' down the stairs!But most of all Connor loved running around the (thankfully) enclosed Topiary Park with Slinky dragging behind her.Dallas took some great photography. Most of these photos are hers (the good, clear ones!) It is a wonderful treat to see your child through someone else's camera lens.After the Topiary Park we wandered into the town to check it out and find some lunch. Durbuy is actually very cute and packed with quaint restaurants, antique shops, and boutiques. When we saw this dog chillin' in the sun spot we just had to laugh.We found a divine charcuterie where they happily cut fresh ham and cheese and made us sandwiches for a picnic. I look at this shot of Connor with her sandwich and can tell how hot this child was in the steamy temperature.We took our fresh sandwiches and sat by this intricate fountain hoping the cool water would spray us to cool us down. Durbuy was a picture perfect day trip. I had scheduled to go several times but other commitments kept trumping the travel. I am so glad we finally made it to Durbuy. The town may be little, but the charm was great.

Friday, September 25, 2009

EATING and SHOPPING in the USA!!!!

It is hard not to go crazy eating and shopping when reentering the USA after a year away. Everything seems cheaper after enduring the Euro conversion. And the food is delicious. There is comfort in visiting our old favorites. And I think in 2 weeks we managed to fit them all in!

Target must be the best store ever invented. I think I may have gone 6 times in 2 weeks!

An entire store of books in ENGLISH! I think I could have poked around for hours just content to browse in my own language rather than translating in my head.

Costco was overwhelming in every way. Our European fridge couldn't fit ONE thing from their shelves.

I had several stops to make at the Post Office. You would never think about it without having experienced Belgian post offices - but Raleigh's post office was totally zen-like. Minimal wait, friendly postal workers, and I knew exactly how to ask for what I needed. Ahhhh!

Don't even get me started on Belks. This department store is a traditional shopping stop for Carol and me. Get those red dots and coupons going and we can save more than we spend. Or at least that's what we like to tell our husbands in hindsight!!!!

Now it is time for a major diet. But oh my it was all scrumptious. And worth it. My mouth is still watering!

The GREATEST Great Grandparents

I am in complete awe when I see Connor with her great grandparents. She seems calmer, wiser, and knowing of their deep love. Although it is easy to see why...

For this blog post I think the photos say more than words ever could.I am grateful for the bountiful love from Lucy, Charlie, and Anmama Pat. I am sorry Connor didn't know my mom's parents because they would have cherished Connor too. I see a little bit of each of them in Connor. Genes are pretty spectacular that way.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh the Places You'll Go and the People You'll See!

After 9 months away from the USA we were overdue for a home visit. It did feel a little "Dr. Seuss-ical" with all we crammed into two short weeks - New York City, Raleigh, Atlanta, Beaufort, and everywhere in between. But we survived and were comforted to see that even though life certainly goes on, our dear friends haven't forgotten about us. A huge THANK YOU to everyone who hosted and loved on us during our visit - reminding us why we love the USA!Connor and I traveled back to the States by ourselves a few days before Kirk. We stopped to bask in the glow of new-mom-to-be Deya! She is expecting her first child in November. I couldn't bear for her entire pregnancy to pass without us patting her tummy and squealing with anticipation and excitement in person. So we laid over our first night in NYC and it was a fun girlie time. Deya is beautiful and is going to be a super duper Mom.

We also had time to get our American bearings while in New York. I immediately noticed how friendly folks were on the streets. We walked across the Brooklyn Bridge and it felt patriotic, flooding me with gratitude being "home" (I never thought I would think of NYC as home, but it was the first place I saw our flag and where I could read the street signs in English - it was, well, sweet - like the sign says!)We made it to North Carolina and delivered "the grandchild" into the eager arms of Connor's grandmothers. Oh it was good to be home. We had every hour scheduled going forward filled with visiting friends and family. We had breakfast in Greensboro with Lin-Lin, Uncle Marshall, Aunt Anne, Aunt Howard, and Cousins David and Caroline. Then we met my college roommates, Adair and Beth, at Friendly Shopping Center in Greensboro. It was hilarious to see our three little ones together. They were all blond and could have been siblings! Who would have guessed a blond, brunette, and redhead would deliver three towheads!?!? Adair and Will were feeling a little under the weather, but you would never have known it from their adorable smiles.Beth and Rutley were two peas in a pod. Rutley got Beth's entrancing blue eyes. It did my heart good to be with these friends who are like sisters to me.Back in Raleigh it wasn't long before Cara took us to the pool. Connor was in Heaven - a doting grandmom, warm sun, and a pool to splash in. Does it get any better?!?
And oh the UNCLES came to visit! Sweet Ryan, Evan and Davis all made the trek home to play with their niece. Davis and Evan indulged in a tiny tea party...
Ryan taught Connor all about money (quite fitting from the investment banker!)...And they played ball with Connor in the backyard! They had trouble getting this big green ball in the basket, but laughed and played to Connor's delight.
Connor is lucky to have three handsome, wonderful uncles.Uncle Bill, Aunt Shari, and Cousin Lauren came to visit!Connor basked in being the center of attention!Great Grandma "Anmama" was ready with lots of hugs and kisses!
Cara even let Connor play atop the pool table with all the pool balls. One of Connor's all time favorite activities!We met Katie, Chuck, and Rachel in Durham for breakfast at Nosh. Thankfully there were lots of toys. Great to touch base with this gorgeous family!Next we flew to Atlanta to check on everyone there. We made a beeline from the airport to Oakhurst. Connor fell right back into sink with Aly and Mattie. I really think she remembered them from 12 months earlier.We had a tremendous dinner with all our Oakhurst gang at Wahoo! It was the perfect setting for the kids to run around and the grown ups to gab. All the little ones have grown up and the fellowship with one another was terrific. We dined with Rick and Christy and their daughters, Palmer and Hagen. Mexican at Matador's...great company, a new baby and salty margaritas!!! Perfect.
Mike and Tonya made us a homemade meal of all our favorites! Tonya is an avid blog follower and knew all of Connor's very favorites from our journal. Connor was in food disbelief - mac and cheese, ham and cheese croissant and frozen peas. Yum, Yum! Their one-year-old, Harrison, is absolutely adorable.The kids had a bundle of fun together. I was completely touched by Mike and Tonya's generosity and thoughtfulness. It felt like they had rolled out the red carpet just for us. I met Judy's new baby, Javier, and we played hard at Oakhurst Park. Javier is the smilingest baby I have ever seen. Judy is a natural mom; her calm confidence is reflected in her happy baby.
We took Connor by her old school to see her first teachers - Miss Gloria and Miss Melissa. She was a little shy at first, but it proved a terrific treat once she warmed up. Connor couldn't get enough. It seems like just yesterday that I put my trust and my 4 month old into their arms and their care. I am thankful for their tremendous love.Next we hopped on a plane to Raleigh then traveled directly to Beaufort, NC. We gathered there with all 4 grandparents in celebration of Lin-Lin's milestone birthday! We scampered to Atlantic Beach ASAP where Connor proved to be a little fish in the waves and sand. Here she is just so void of attention at the beach, don't you think?!? Hah!I have never seen a child RUN as much as Connor did at the beach this day. There was sand in every part of her and we all got a great dose of the beach.
Any photo compilation of friends and family would not be complete without picturing Connor with Clay. They were the best of friends. I think being the same height helps. There was definitely a strong Toddler/Dog bond!Connor loved waving at all the boats going by in Taylor's Creek. Beaufort is a special place. With wild horses on Carrot Island across the creek and beautiful sailboats crossing, you can't go wrong!Dick and I put on a family party for Lin-Lin. Balloons and the paper towel banner made everything more festive! We even had several birthday shouts from boats sailing by recognizing her special day!PEE-PIE Lin-Lin!Three generations celebrate a birthday in the Beaufort sunset.Back on the Willingham ranch we were happy to see neighbors Lucy, Shelly, and Noah!Davis returned from college to do some laundry and eat Popsicles with Connor!Becca, who will also be delivering her first baby this Fall, came by for some laughter and baby hugs! Becca is radiant and her little boy must feel all her love and goodness enveloping him.The annual Roseberry Family photo came out great!And we had a blast with the Anders. Cousins Rose Mary and Jack were loads of fun! And Olivia, the new aupair from Brazil makes a great fit, rounding out their family.The goodbyes were hardest of all. Papa Ed came by after work for a farewell squeeze.Lin-Lin and Cara took us to the airport. We were sure to squeeze in some last books together before boarding the plane.

We are lucky and loved. It made getting on the plane very difficult. We will be back soon!!! Love you.
Click here for Part One photos and Click here for Part Two photos from our USA trip (too many photos to cram into one album)