Thursday, November 29, 2012

A (Strange) New Take on Holiday Decorating

If any of you are looking for a fresh, new way to display some greenery for the holiday season, there’s a house ‘round the corner from Hannah’s school with just that.

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I mean…I just…I can’t even…

The lower half of a mannequin.
Holiday foliage with pinecones planted just above the buttocks.
At the end of a lovely cobblestone driveway leading to someone’s house.

I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

But I did circle around the block three times to make sure I was actually seeing what I thought I was seeing.  Then I held up some traffic so that I could get a picture. 

I wonder what it looks like at night, all lit up?
You bet I’ll be going back to find out.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Weekly Bump: 24 (6 Months!)

Today marks 24 weeks, or 6 months!

Here’s what I look like:

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The Baby: This week the baby is gaining weight, lung and brain tissue.  He or she is about the size of an ear of corn.
Maternity clothes: I’m still wearing normal (long) shirts and maternity jeans/pants.  I can still wear normal leggings if I adjust the waist low below my belly, but that’s starting to be a tight squeeze.
Movement:  I feel lots of movement, but have had some days of quiet with just a few kicks and rolls here and there.  Baby must be tired from all the growing he or she is doing.
Sleep: I’m sleeping pretty well.  I’ve been waking up every few nights but haven’t had much trouble falling back asleep.  I’m still having a lot of strange, vivid dreams.
Food Cravings:  None, although I’m still liking salty foods far better than sweet things.  I’m more thirsty than normal and eating a lot of hummus and cucumbers, although I promise you when we get to the US for Christmas, I will be having Taco Bell.  Probably more than once.  I’m noticing that I feel full pretty fast, so I’ve been trying to eat a bunch of small meals/snacks instead of big meals.  I ate a lot of comfort foods over Thanksgiving so this week I’ve been snacking on veggie sticks (boring) to try to make up for it.
Symptoms:  A big belly!  I still get out of breath easily and I feel like everything is moving upwards as my belly grows.  Today I did my workout that I’ve been doing for a few months now and got tired much faster than I did just two days ago.  It might be time to adjust a bit because my body was definitely saying SLOW DOWN, SISTER.  Other than that, I feel great.  I have good energy during the day.
Gender: It’s a surprise!

Monday, November 26, 2012

5 Years and 1 Year

About a month ago, our family hit two big milestones.
Hannah turned 5 and the same day marked one year that we’ve been living in Luxembourg.

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Oh, hey.  I’m five.

Because we were on holiday on the actual day of her birthday and then Shawn was traveling for work, we had to wait until this weekend for her party.
It was a simple, small party.
Just the way we like it.

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Two things that you won’t find in Luxembourg stores - graham crackers and Hershey’s chocolate – were sent to us by Shawn’s mom, along with a bag of big, fluffy marshmallows.
The only thing Hannah wanted to do was make American s’mores for her friends.

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I spent the day after Thanksgiving hunting down all the stuff to make American cupcakes and frosting.  Success!

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Hannah waited patiently for her guests to arrive…

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Shawn built a bonfire and we taught our British friends how to make s’mores.
Can you believe they’d never had them before?!

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I am so, so grateful for this group of friends.
(My heart hurts a little when I think about when the time will come for us to move on to other expat assignments or return home.)

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The kids played until they were knackered (that means really tired) and the adults chatted around the campfire until late.

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The American s’mores and cupcakes were a hit.
Can I tell you a secret? 
I don’t really like European chocolate. 
I know, I know. 
But it’s too dark and rich and has too much cocoa for me.
I’ll take a light, sweet Hershey’s any day.

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                                              It was a very happy birthday!

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In marking our one year anniversary as Luxembourg expats, I thought I’d show you a couple of things that I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned (or shown you) that have taken me a while to get used to over here.  This is not meant to complain about Luxembourg, or Europe in general, and I hope that it does not come across as if I think that how things are done in the US is better.
It’s not that at all.  Because listen, if I were hung up on these things, well, I’d be a pretty miserable expat. 
And I’m quite happy here.

After one year of living abroad, I can honestly say that I think all three of us are well adjusted, and besides family and friends (of course…because we miss them terribly) there are just a few things that I look forward to reclaiming when we return to the US. 

1. My vacuum cleaner. This is the only kind that I’ve ever seen over here.  Oh, it gets my floors clean and works very well, but between the power cord, the hose and the main part of the unit that looks like a robot, I pretty much trip over and fumble around like a buffoon every time I use it. It gets the job done, but deep down, there’s a Hoover-Upright-shaped hole in my heart.

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2.  Large refrigerators and milk sold by the gallon.   Refrigerators in Europe are generally small because Europeans shop so frequently.  It took me a long time to get used to this, but now, without sounding dramatic, it’s just a part of who I am.  (I grocery shop every other day or every two days.)

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Have I ever told you about how milk is sold here?  It only comes in liter cartons, which can take some getting used to when you’re accustomed to buying by the gallon.  And my people - they drink a lot of milk.  The only metric system conversion that I seem to have a handle on is the liter to gallon.  Oh, I know that one well.  It takes 3.78 liters to equal one gallon.  Which means that some weeks I buy more than 12 of these.  But 12 of them won’t fit into that little refrigerator without taking up too much space for other essentials, so I’m constantly taking inventory and rearranging to make sure we have enough milk on hand.  It’s a game of strategy, really. 

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The last year has probably been one of the best experiences of my life.  We’ve been so blessed with finding a great church, making friends and sending Hannah to a school with which we are happy.  We’ve gotten to travel, learn about and live amongst other cultures and languages.  We’ve had a lot of challenges, but mostly a lot of fun along the way.
And now, as our second baby will have Luxembourg as the country of birth on his or her birth certificate, we will always have a special tie to this place.

I asked Shawn what are some of the things that he misses the most from home.  Without hesitation or contemplation, his answer was simple:  Chipotle.
Then he paused a minute and said, “Customer service.  Sometimes I just really miss good customer service.”

Then all of God’s people said, “Amen.” 
(Please don’t get me started on that one.)

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving in a Country That Doesn’t Have Thanksgiving

One of the things that I’ve been keenly aware of (and somewhat concerned about) with Hannah going to school here in Luxembourg is that she doesn’t learn about significant pieces of American history and culture.

That includes Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is not celebrated here in Luxembourg and she certainly isn’t going to learn about it at a British International School.  I mean, obviously.

Since we dabbled in a bit of homeschooling before she actually started school, I thought this would be a great time to put together some lessons on the topic.

I scoured the internet and found age appropriate reading material, videos and crafts relating to the history and meaning of this most special holiday.

We started out with this story that explains why the Pilgrims left England and how they sailed to America, landing at Plymouth Rock.

We watched these videos.

Part I
Part II

We talked about what a rough journey the pilgrims had sailing across the Atlantic and how they were crowded, uncomfortable and many of them were sick.
Then my parents sent her this Thanksgiving card with little mice pilgrims on the Mayflower.  I read the card to her and she crooked her head to the side and looked at it quizzically.

”Why are these pilgrims smiling?  I thought they were all sick.”

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Then we made this craft. 
Now, you know how much I love kids’ handprint crafts, so this one was right up our alley.

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When Shawn got home from work, Hannah showed him her masterpiece and explained that it was the Mayflower sailing across the ocean to America.

Then she leaned in close and whispered, “It looks like a big ship, but it’s really just my hand.”
Right.  It’s a good thing she explained because he never would have guessed.

Our next project was our “Thankful Tree” that is proudly displayed on the dining room table.

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Every couple of days, we color and cut out a leaf, I write down what Hannah is thankful for and we hang it on the tree.  Templates for leaves can be found here.

We also worked on memorizing some Bible verses on thankfulness.

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So that’s how we’re preparing for Thanksgiving in Luxembourg this year.
Last year, my sister came to visit us.  You can read about it here, here and here.

This is probably a good time to tell you that putting together a traditional Thanksgiving dinner in a country that doesn’t have Thanksgiving, well, it ain’t always easy.   It took me a few days, but I was able to track down just about everything I need.  I had to get a bit industrious and creative with a few recipes.  Oh, and I was also able to hunt down a 10 pound turkey.
(Not literally.)
(Kind of literally.)
It’s taking up nearly half of our teeny, tiny European refrigerator. 
Hopefully, it will fit in the oven when it’s time.

Thursday Shawn will be home early and I’m going to pick Hannah up from school early so that we can watch the Macy’s Parade (via Slingbox) and spend the entire afternoon and evening together – just the three of us.
I can’t think of a cozier way to spend the holiday.
Friday we’ll be back to our normal routine and we have some fun things planned for the weekend.

To our family in the US – we will miss you.  We are so thankful for you.

Monday, November 19, 2012

On being an expat…

So, there’s this thing that expats do. 
We disconnect ourselves, in a way, from what we’ve left behind.  It’s normal and healthy and if we didn’t…well…we’d be stuck in a cultural jet lag, so to say. 
We sort of let ourselves believe that the life we left has stopped moving and everything is just as it were when we were a part of it.

But then you get a piece of news from home and are jolted to the reality that everything back home is, in fact, still moving.  And everyone’s pressing on at warp speed while you’re feeling stuck in slow motion.

Last summer, my dad was diagnosed with cancer. 

Hannah and I were home in the US with him and my mom while he went to weekly chemo and daily radiation treatments.

We’ve finally gotten the news that the treatments did their job well enough to allow him to have surgery.  This is what we’ve been hoping and praying for.

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But it’s a major surgery, with a long recovery.
We don’t know what the outcome of all this will be, but we are trusting the One that does.

Will you pray for my dad?  And our family?
We could use it right now.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The Weekly Bump: 22

On Wednesday, I reached the 22 week mark and I meant to take a picture - I was actually dressed up in something other than jeans and a tank/cardigan because I went to an event for the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg.
And then I forgot to take the picture.

So here I am today at 22 weeks and 2 days.

22 weeks

(I’ve really got to get my good camera out instead of taking fuzzy cell phone pictures.)

There’s no mistaking or hiding it any longer.  
That’s one big, pregnant belly.

The Baby:
He or she is about 11 inches long, weighs almost one pound and is developing tooth buds this week.
Maternity clothes: I’m still in normal shirts and leggings, but I’m loving my maternity jeans.  They are so comfortable. 
Movement: Lots and lots of movement, mostly at night. I’ve noticed that the baby will be very active for a few days in a row, and then have a day or two where he or she is pretty quiet and calm.
Sleep: I’m still sleeping well at night, but I had two nights this week that I woke up and took a long time to fall back asleep.  I hope the pregnancy insomnia isn’t starting.  It’s too early for that, right?
Food Cravings: Nothing, really.  Olives and hummus are my faves right now and I’m still loving cucumber sandwiches for lunch, slathered with hummus.  I’m still more thirsty than normal. 
Symptoms: Still feeling great!  Just like with Hannah, I’m carrying kind of high, so I feel like things are moving up towards my lungs and I get out of breath easily.  (My French class is on the 5th floor of an old walk-up building with spiral stairs and I am always out of breath when I get there.  It’s embarrassing.)  Other than that, I feel mostly like my old self, but with a bump. 
Gender: It’s a surprise! 

Shawn was in Romania this week for work, so it’s just been us girls and we’ve been spending our evenings doing crafts and coloring. 
Hannah drew this picture of me and I never want to forget it.

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I love that she included the baby with an umbilical cord.
(We’ve explained to her how the baby “eats” while it’s in my belly.)
But perhaps I need to do something with my hair?

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Weekly Bump: Catching Up On 19, 20 and 21

I can’t believe that I’m past the half-way point in this pregnancy.
Here are some pictures of the last few weeks:

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I reached the 20 week mark on the formal night of our cruise.

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A woman asked me how far along I was and when I told her she said, “Oh.  Are you having twins?”
”Nope, there’s just one baby.”
Geez. 

Wednesday marked 21 weeks and I had a doctor appointment and an ultrasound.  I really popped out this week.  Here I am at 21 weeks and 2 days.

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Hannah always has her hands on my belly – rubbing it, talking to the baby.  It’s so sweet.

The Baby: He or she is about 10.5 inches long and weighs almost 13 ounces. 
Maternity clothes: I’m still in normal shirts, but I did move into maternity jeans last week. Normal skinny jeans are out of the question and although I could probably get away with wearing my normal larger ones unbuttoned with the bella band, maternity jeans are just so much more comfortable.  And so are leggings.  I see myself wearing a lot of leggings and long shirts this winter.
Movement: Lots and lots of movement,  mostly at night.  I’ve noticed that the baby will be very active for a few days in a row, and then have a day or two where he or she is pretty quiet and calm. 
Sleep: I’m still sleeping well at night, but sleeping on my stomach is no longer comfortable.
Food Cravings: Nothing I can’t live without, although olives and hummus are still tasting good to me, as well as nachos.  I’ve been eating cucumber sandwiches for lunch, slathered with hummus and they taste really good.  I did get over my aversion to sweets, but I haven’t had a real need for anything sugary.  I’m still more thirsty than normal. 
Symptoms: Nothing major.  I actually feel pretty great.  I still get out of breath easily but I have plenty of energy during the day.   In the evening, I get tired early and I’ve stopped doing exercises that involve any kind of bouncing.  Spinning is out because those little seats on the bikes just got too uncomfortable.  My body temperature has changed because I am warm all the time and end up kicking the covers off at night. 
Gender: We don’t know! It will be a delivery room surprise! During the first trimester, I was certain that it was a boy because I felt so differently than I did with Hannah.  But now, I feel exactly the same way I did with her, so I don’t have a strong sense one way or another.

We had our big ultrasound this week and everything looks good and healthy.  The baby had his/her hands up the entire time, so we didn’t get a good view of the sweet little face.  But everything measured right where it should be and I am so, so thankful for that.  When we left the appointment, I told Shawn that I feel so much more relaxed knowing that all of his/her parts are accounted for and developing well. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

On Holiday (The Longest Post Ever)

It’s been quiet around my little blog lately.
That’s because we’ve been…

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Of the Mediterranean, that is.

Hannah was off school for the “half term break,” so Shawn took the week off work.
At the last minute, and I do mean the absolute last minute, we found a deal on a cruise that just couldn’t be passed up.
We made our reservations on Friday morning for a cruise that set sail on Sunday. 

Because if nothing else, we are spontaneous. 

Saturday evening we drove to Brussels, stayed the night and caught a flight Sunday morning to Rome.  From there, we took a shuttle to the seaport town of Civitacecchia, Italy and hopped aboard the ship. 
A simple typo caused a bit of confusion (and hilarity) when we were looking for our shuttle transportation because they spelled my husband’s name “Shawn Face.”

(Our last name is not Face.  But it made me laugh and I called us Mr. and Mrs. Face for the rest of the week.)

Once we got the Face Family straightened out, we were on our way.

Our itinerary for the week included: Livorno/Pisa, Italy; Genoa, Italy; Villefranche/Nice, France; Toulon, France; and Barcelona, Spain.

Cruise map for Royal Caribbean 6 Night Mediterranean Cruise (14825)

On our first night aboard, we celebrated our sweet girl’s 5th birthday.  She wore her special “Birthday Girl” ribbon and the crew brought a cake and sang to her.

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I simply cannot believe that she is 5.

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The next morning, we made our first stop: Livorno, Italy.
Apparently, Hannah wasn’t as excited about the Tuscany region as her parents were.

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Until we arrived and she got to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or “The Leaning Tower of Pizza,” as she called it.

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Shawn told her about the gravity experiment that Galileo conducted from the top of the tower.   She wasn’t all that impressed, but more concerned that the entire thing was going to fall over.

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Second stop: Genoa, Italy
Lovely little town, it was, and we took a short walking tour.  Our itinerary provided lots of amazing excursions, but we opted for the shorter, less strenuous ones which was 
a good choice for this pregnant mama and 5 year old.  We saw a lot, but also didn’t have to rush.   We could spend the mornings touring and the afternoons and evenings relaxing back on the ship.

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And then.
This happened.

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After setting sail from Genoa, we were approaching what the captain said would be a “violent storm,” with “hurricane-like conditions.”  
Just perfect.
“We’re going to be encountering waves and swells approximately 8 to 9 meters,” he said in an accent. 

I looked at Shawn. 
“That’s like, um, 28 foot waves,” he said.
(I didn’t even have to ask him to do the meters-to-feet conversion for me.  He knows my metric system weakness well.)

And then I may have whispered a cuss word.  And crawled under the covers and had a pregnancy-hormone-related meltdown.

So, the captain turned the ship to face directly into the storm to minimize the movement that we’d feel onboard.  For the next 20 hours we rode it out, with constant updates from the crew that we were safe and that ships were designed to handle a bit of roughness from the sea.  This also meant that we had to skip our port in Nice, France because the waters were just too choppy to dock.

Of course, none of this even phased Shawn and Hannah, who carried on with their vacation activities as if this were totally normal and part of what’s included on the itinerary.

Since it was also Halloween, they had Trick-or-Treating for the kids.  I didn’t pack a costume for Hannah because we flew on RyanAir.  If you’ve ever flown on RyanAir, you know exactly why I didn’t pack anything extra in our suitcases.  If you haven’t, here’s the deal: tickets are seriously cheap, but if you go over the ridiculously light weight limit on luggage, by even one fraction of an ounce, they charge you an outrageous fee.  And by then, well, you should have just flown on a regular airline and paid more for your ticket and gotten free peanuts and a Coke inflight. 
But whatever, Hannah didn’t mind.  She was more excited about the candy.

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The next morning, we woke to this:

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Blue skies and nothing more than tiny ripples in the sea.  So we ate breakfast and hopped on a motorboat to the beautiful town of Toulon in the South of France.

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(When you say The South of France, you must say The South of Fraaaawnse.)
(Because pronouncing it any way other than Fraaaawnse is just all wrong.)

We walked a good distance through the harbor and promenade until we came to the Téléphérique, or cable car that would take us to the top of Mont-Faron Hill.

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Once we reached the top, we hiked around a bit.

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And took a family picture before taking the cable car back to the bottom.

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We made it back to the harbor just in time for the very last motorboat back to the cruise ship. 
The next day we spent at sea, swimming and lounging poolside.
Our final stop was Barcelona, Spain.
We disembarked the ship and dropped our luggage off at the airport, which turned out to be a little more of an ordeal than we had planned.  Now, listen.  I took Spanish for four years in high school and four years in college and long story short - ALL EIGHT OF THOSE YEARS in las clases de español were worth it for this moment because I knew the phrase esta perdido, (it is lost) which saved us a bunch of hassle and our entire lot of luggage being, well, lost.

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(She always rides in style at airports.)

Once our luggage was sorted out, we said VAMANOS and headed to our first stop - the most famous landmark in Barcelona – The Sagrada Familia.

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This basilica is pretty much a mess because they’re always doing construction on it.  It’s supposed to be finished in 2026. 

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Then we looked even more like tourists and took self portraits from the top of the Hop On/Hop Off Bus.  (Yes, the same one I made fun of in Luxembourg.)

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We saw a few more famous Spanish sites.
Casa Milà…

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…and Casa Batlló before returning to the airport and our unlost luggage.

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It was an uneventful flight to Lux and thanks to my husband, all of our suitcases were packed and arranged in a fashion that put us at the exact maximum weight allowed by RyanAir without a fee.  We showed them.

Now we’re back in Luxembourg and have regained our land legs and returned to our regular schedule.

If I don’t say it enough -
To my husband: thank you, thank you, thank you for working so hard and giving us the opportunity to go places and see things I’d never imagined.  Thank you for sharing my love of travel and all of the little (and big) things you do to make our trips so much fun!  

Oh, and if I fail the glucose test in a few weeks, this may be why.
The dessert buffet aboard the ship helped put an end to the aversion I was having to sweets.
Apparently.

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