Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Turkey, A Santa and Hunting Season

The Saturday after Thanksgiving, we had a quiet little dinner at home, just the four of us.  We’d been invited to have Thanksgiving with some of our American friends and had planned to go, but Shawn had been traveling and we had a stomach bug in our house earlier that week, so we decided to stay home.
I was going to get a ham, but at the last minute I found a turkey, which isn’t always easy to come by in Luxembourg unless it’s closer to Christmas. 

On Saturday morning I ran to the grocery store to pick up a few things while Shawn stayed home with the kids to get the turkey started. 

My husband is quite competent in the kitchen, but this was not a pre-brined, easy open Butterball turkey we were dealing with here, with the giblets and innards all packaged up neatly and a little button that pops up when done.
No sir, this was pretty much just a (mostly) de-feathered turkey with floppy legs wrapped up in some plastic.
We’ve never had a turkey like this.
But still, I had full confidence in Shawn.

When I returned, the bird was roasting away, rotisserie style on the grill in the garage.
I asked Shawn what he stuffed the turkey with.

“Six sausages, a pound of bacon and an onion,” he said.
It was a vegetarian’s dream, I tell ya.

The turkey came out to perfection and we had a nice little dinner with mashed potatoes, stuffing, candied yams and some other traditional fixins.

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Last week, the kids and I went to a Christmas party hosted by the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg and we’d really been looking forward to it because The American Women had asked Hannah to dress as an elf and be a special Santa helper.

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She was happy to oblige.

Our Santa picture turned out just as I had thought (and hoped) it would.

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It sounds awful, but I really do love a crying Santa photo.  My parents have at least six Santa photos from the late 70’s/early 80’s in which either my sister or I (or both of us) were crying.  We love looking at those pictures and laughing about them every year.

But what he lacks in love for Santa, Finley certainly makes up for in cuteness.  I think he’s trying to stay off the naughty list.

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So this here is a common sight this time of year in our little village.  Men in fluorescent orange camo (is that what it’s called?) stand at the edge of the woods with their guns.  They send their dogs in to sniff out and chase wild pigs.  As the pigs come charging out of the woods, the men in fluorescent orange camo shoot them dead.   I’ve never actually seen one of the wild pigs, but I’ve heard them make their grunt/squeal/oink sound and it’s terrifying.  Shawn’s seen one and he said they are just as ugly as they sound.  It’s all too gross and violent for me.

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But I can’t cast too much judgment, I guess.
Because if someone didn’t shoot pigs, what would Shawn use to stuff our Thanksgiving turkey? 

Friday, November 28, 2014

24 Hours in Paris (And More Visitors!)

Two weeks ago, Hannah and I took the Train à Grande Vitesse, the high speed train from Luxembourg to Paris because Shawn’s aunt and uncle and two of their close friends were going to be there for the week and were then coming to Luxembourg to see us.

Hannah has been asking for ages to see the Mona Lisa, and when Shawn suggested we meet his family in Paris and then ride back with them, I thought, “Pourquoi pas?”

Okay, I didn’t really think porquoi pas, I thought, “Why not?”
But if my inner dialogue spoke French, I totally would have thought porquoi pas.

We left Friday morning on the 10:09 train and arrived in the City of Lights at lunchtime.  I was a little nervous because I’ve never been away from Finley for more than a few hours, but it turns out that he and Shawn had a great time together, just the boys.

I let Hannah skip school.
Her school does not approve of this type of thing.
But I do think that spending the day in Paris is quite educational, and she did do her math and spelling homework on the train, so there’s that.

We took a cab from the train station to the hotel, checked in, met up with our family that we hadn’t seen since August, had a leisurely lunch and headed to the Eiffel Tower, stopping to look at things along the way.

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By the time we got our tickets and made our way to the top, it was dark.

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After some pushing/shoving/crowding and general rudeness by some other tourists, we got on the elevator back to the bottom. 

Our next stop was Le Musee du Louvre.

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We’d been reading about and discussing the Mona Lisa, or La Joconde, as she’s called in French.
Hannah loves all the stories about how the famous painting was stolen, had acid thrown on it, had a coffee mug thrown at it by a Russian woman who was denied French citizenship, and was once on display in America.  Her favorite story, however, is the first time I saw the Mona Lisa.  This was long before smart phones, at a time when taking photos of La Joconde was strictly prohibited.  The room was packed with people and a guard stood just to the right of the painting.  A man tried to be sneaky and took a picture and got caught by the guard.
”NO PHOTO MONA LISA!” the officer shouted, all militant-like.
Embarrassed, the man laughed and tucked his camera away.
”NO SMILING AT MONA LISA!” the guard yelled.

When you go to The Louvre on a Friday night, you practically have the place to yourself.
For a while, it was just us and Mona.

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After all the hype and excitement, I thought she’d be disappointed by La Joconde’s small size, but she didn’t mind.

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Since it was nearly closing time, we hurried to see Venus de Milo. 
“But where are her arms?” Hannah asked.
”Well, that’s part of her mystery,” I told her.
She was ready to move on pretty quickly but I insisted on a photo because YOU’LL APPRECIATE THIS SOMEDAY.

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I din’t imagine that we’d close The Louvre, but we SHUT THE PLACE DOWN.  We stayed right until the last minute and were literally walked to the exit by the museum curators.  We hadn’t eaten dinner yet, so we went to a cozy little place called Chez Papa for a real, honest to goodness French meal. 

I’m a fan of neither canard (duck) nor foie gras, which is the greasy, fatty liver of the duck, so I played it safe with a tasty tuna steak served alongside some veggies.  I think we provided entertainment for our waitress and other customers as we fumbled our way through.  Hannah fell asleep right at the table, before our food even arrived.  I may or may not have also eaten her omelet. 
Now, listen.  I don’t claim to know a lot about French cuisine, but there’s one thing I do know and it’s this: Don’t order steak in France.  Just don’t.  Shawn’s been saying it since we moved here and our friend Michele can now personally confirm it.

The next morning we headed over to Notre Dame.
Poor Paul.  Bless him.  He carried Hannah all over Paris like this.

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I remember reading a few months back about the lock bridge in Paris collapsing under the weight of all of the locks and thinking, “This is why we can’t have nice things.” 
Apparently that didn’t stop them.  And also, how perfect is it that Hannah stood on the lock love bridge wearing a shirt that says LOVE?

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Our time in Paris was coming to an end, so we boarded our train and all headed back to Luxembourg.  Hannah was so excited to show everyone her school and our house.
We ran into what you might call a logistical problem at the Luxembourg train station and decided that it was a fine idea for some of our party, WHO’D NEVER BEEN TO OUR HOUSE to take the bus to our house. When all attempts to get help from the bus driver resulted in a shrug of the shoulders and a, “neh,” they got off the bus.  Luckily Shawn was able to track them down and found them like this, luggage and all.

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And of course, no trip to visit our family in Luxembourg is complete without a trip to Vapiano’s…

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…Or a trip to Vianden.

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Thank you, Karen, Paul, John and Michele.  You were wonderful guests!  Thank you for playing with, feeding, bathing, and loving our kids.  Thank you for your company and laughter.  I love that so many of our family and friends have been here to visit us.  There’s a certain comfort in being able to talk about our lives in Luxembourg and having you know exactly what I mean because you’ve been here.  We love you all and can’t wait to see you at Christmas!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving

Today’s just another Thursday in Luxembourg, and no matter how long I live here, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.  It’s business as usual and everyone is going about their day to work, school, the grocery store, and whatnot. 

Today when I was walking Hannah to school, I kind of felt like don’t you people know?  We should be at home watching the parade and putting the turkey in the oven!
Hannah’s teacher and many of our friends here wished us a Happy Thanksgiving, which was so, so kind.

We had originally planned on going to Fakesgiving, like we did last year, but Shawn traveled last week, this week and is leaving again on Monday morning.  Three of the four of us have also had a stomach bug this week, so we decided that we need a quiet day at home together on Saturday. 

As for today, Shawn is in Bled, Slovenia (returning home tonight) and I’m hanging with these two turkeys:

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Oh, and I also worked out this morning.  I joined a gym about six weeks ago and I’ve been working out with a personal trainer.  I’ve never used a personal trainer before and I’m seeing results really fast because he sets up all the workouts and nutrition that are just right for me.  He’s far more fit than I (duh) and younger, and if I’m being honest here, I sometimes wonder if the other gym goers think I’m some kind of a cougar or something. 

So that’s pretty much how we spent the actual day of Thanksgiving this year.  Although I would’ve loved to be in the US with our families, I feel so thankful for where we are, who we have in our lives and what we’ve been blessed with. 

And with that, I guess it’s time to officially kick of the Christmas season, which will include some trips to the Christmas Markets here in Europe and our big trip home to the US in a few weeks.

Oh, and endless text messages and Facebook wall posts containing quotes from Clark W. Griswold.
(If you’re my sister or one of my best friends from college.)

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween 2014

I’ve mentioned before that Halloween isn’t a huge deal in Luxembourg, but the American Women’s Club hosts a Trick-or-Treat event for kids and we had so much fun last year, that we knew we had to go again this year.

I had thought it would be really fun for Hannah to be a bee keeper and Finn a bee, but Hannah wasn’t down with that idea.  There’s a new TKMaxx near us (that’s not a typo – it’s called TKMaxx and it’s just like TJMaxx, only smaller) and we happen to come across the perfect costume.

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And then we found this one for Finn.

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Finn didn’t really want to carry his trick-or-treat bag.  After the first house, he just wanted to carry the little package of candy around.

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My favorite part of his costume:

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We found a cute little pumpkin patch a few villages away from ours and picked up some pumpkins for the front porch.  After Finn had gone to bed one night, we let Hannah stay up late to carve hers.

This is how it turned out.

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I did the template, Shawn did the carving, but the idea?  That was all Hannah’s.
Because BARBIE. 
It’s her love language.

Happy Halloween!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

7: Celebrating Hannah

Today our sweet, imaginative, funny, all-American girl turns 7.

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We celebrated last week by spending the afternoon at Jardin des Papillons, (The Butterfly Garden) per Hannah’s request.

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It was nothing fancy, really.
Just some homemade cupcakes…

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…a few friends and some sparkly antennae headbands.

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The kids got a tour of the indoor garden with René, who taught them about the life cycle of a butterfly.

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We saw some really beautiful things.

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It was hot and humid in there, just like a tropical oasis.
But these kids didn’t seem to mind.

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Finn was there, too, and he loved the butterflies.
(But not as much as the cupcakes.)

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All the schools are on the half term holiday this week, so today we had lunch at Hannah’s favorite restaurant in Luxembourg: Vapiano’s.  She ordered her favorite: Caesar salad and a piece of chocolate cake.  Although I have no idea why she loves the cake so much.  It’s the kind that’s made with 85% cocoa and isn’t sweet at all.  But she loves it.

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Happy Birthday to our sweet girl. 
She makes us laugh and she makes us so proud.

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I should also mention that today officially marks three years that we’ve been living in Luxembourg.  And even after three years, my French is embarrassing and I still have moments in which I’m overwhelmed with homesickness.
But I love it here.
And I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything.

Friday, October 24, 2014

When In Rome…

Ok.
So, back to the places we went while Shawn’s parents were here.
After we got back from Cologne, we hung out in Luxembourg for a few days and then packed our bags again and headed off to The Eternal City.

Barbie came with us, too.  She even wore her fluffy blue skirt.

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Once we collected our luggage, we took a taxi to our hotel, got settled in and then went out in search of lunch. 

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Doesn’t Hannah look absolutely thrilled to be in Rome?  By this point, we were all starving.

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This cheered her right up.  So good.

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Ya know, it always amazes me when I see women walking around big cities in this manner of footwear.  I made a similar mistake once in Vegas.  In my defense, I was in my early 20’s but, oh, did I learn my lesson.  NEVER AGAIN.  It was also hot as blazes in Rome that day and I just cannot imagine being sweltering and walking around in high heels.  No thank you. 

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Anyway, shoes and temperatures aside, here are some of the things we did and saw.

Il Colosseo.
This was my second time in Rome and I was shocked to learn that it only took the Romans eight years to build this thing.  That’s right.  EIGHT YEARS.  They were some mighty efficient folks, those Romans.

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Clearly my kids were interested in everything but my camera.

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Shawn explained to Hannah how there were trap doors in the floor that the gladiators used. 

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The inside of The Coliseum is full of holes like this because during troubled times the Romans dug out the metal pins to make tools.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, I guess.

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The Arch of Constantine.
Way back in ye olden days, there was a fountain in front of the arch, but Constantine had it removed because apparently it got in the way of his grand entrance through the center of the arch. 
What a creep.

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Shawn took the kids back to the hotel to play for a while, have lunch and take a rest while his parents and I pressed on and toured The Roman Forum, Palatine Hill and Circus Maximus.  

I’d been telling Hannah all about the Trevi Fountain and showing her pictures of it online.  We made specific plans to toss in a coin over our shoulders, which is just what you do at the Trevi Fountain.  Well, when we arrived, this is what we found. 
The entire thing was under renovation.

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All was not lost, because we found the best gelato place just across the street.  I think we ate gelato twice a day while we were in Rome.

We got a family photo on Via dei Fori Imperiali, the street that leads from The Coliseum to the Piazza Venezia.  Way back, this area was full of ancient ruins, but in the 1920’s and 30’s Mussolini swept through and had a road built, demolishing ancient and Renaissance structures.  What a creep.

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We walked past the ruins of Torre Argentina where Hannah found her favorite thing: cats.

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And Finn found his favorite thing near the Pantheon: water.

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It took us a few shots to get everyone to look at the camera.
Besides Finn doing a backbend trying to get into the fountain, my favorite part of this picture is the chick in the white dress having a leisurely conversation on her mobile.

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This is the best we could do.

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Later on, we found ourselves at The Vatican.  Okay, that’s not necessarily true because one doesn’t just find themselves at The Vatican and The Sistine Chapel.  The truth is that we walked for ages, knowing that we really only had time to quickly make our way through the different museums to The Sistine Chapel to see the famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo. 

I had shown Hannah pictures of what we were about to see and told her about the time that Shawn and I went to The Sistine Chapel before she was born and how I had broken the rules and taken a picture.

How cheeky of me. 

“Mom?  Are we almost to the Sixteenth Chapel?” she asked.
Let it be known that this may possibly be one of my favorite things she has ever said.

Of course, there are no pictures (Or talking. Or breathing, for that matter) inside the Sixteenth Chapel, so here we are at the entrance to the Vatican Museum.

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Hannah: Hey, Mom?  We should take a picture of this one cuz it looks like Finn.

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Our final stop was St. Peter’s Basilica and by this time the wind was blowing and it was starting to rain.  Let it also be known that this is my least favorite weather condition for flying because TURBULANCE. 
Anyway, we had just time for a few quick pictures outside because the line to get inside was quite long and we had a flight to catch.

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This is what most pictures of both kids look like these days.  We get them both settled and then Finn takes off running.  I can’t wait to show this picture to them when they’re grown.

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And that’s pretty much it for Rome.  There’s so much more to see and do, but with two kids in tow, we’re lucky we saw all that we did.  We caught our flight home, unpacked, did a few loads of laundry, packed our bags again and headed off to our third adventure with Shawn’s parents.

To Be Continued…