Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankful

Happy Thanksgiving from these little turkeys!

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This is the third Thanksgiving that we’ve lived in Europe (and Finley’s first!) and I have to say that I’m a bit homesick today.  It’s a strange feeling to be in a place where there’s no Thanksgiving and even if we live here for the rest of our lives, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it.  It’s also weird to watch everyone carry on as if this is just a regular day in November – going to work and school and the grocery store.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m making a big effort to do American holidays up big for my kids.  I don’t ever want them to miss out or not understand or appreciate holidays and traditions simply because of where we live.  So, on Saturday we’re having a big ole Thanksgiving celebration with some other American families and I can’t wait!

I did run into a bit of a snag with the Turkey Day preparations, however, when the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg, who has always gotten turkeys and other American groceries for members, was unable to do so this year.  We did manage to find turkeys elsewhere, but some of our other fixins may be less than, um…traditional this year.

Sometimes being an expat requires resourcefulness and flexibility.

I also wanted to mention that last week we hit the four month mark of the autoimmune breakout that Hannah had during the summer.  The doctor told us that if we make it four months without a recurrence, chances of it coming back are much lower.  That doesn’t guarantee that it won’t ever happen again, and she’s still being followed closely by the doctor, but so far we haven’t had any trouble.  For that, we are so thankful.

To our friends and family in the US -
We miss you.  We love you.  We’re so thankful for you.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

When My Mom Came To Europe

We’ve had a very special visitor at our house for the last three weeks.  When Hannah, Finley and I returned to Luxembourg from the US, my mom came back with us!  This was her second trip to Luxembourg – she was also here just before Finley was born and stayed with us for the first few weeks to help out.
I didn’t mention it on the blog, for security reasons, but now that she’s back home safe and sound I wanted to document a little bit of her stay here.

But first.  Before you go thinking that my mom was here on vacation, that wasn’t the case.  Flying 9+ hours from the US to Luxembourg with me, my 6 year old and 7 month old and then spending the next three weeks at our house doing everyday life things with us could hardly be called a vacation. 

I don’t think she minded.

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We spent most of the time she was here doing normal stuff – making dinner, going to dance class, packing lunches, ironing shirts, changing diapers, bathing kids, cleaning messes, and dropping off/picking up Hannah from school.

But we also did some shopping in Luxembourg and Trier and went to our favorite spot, The Chocolate House.

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We also tried to make the guard at the Grand Ducal Palace crack a smile.  (We failed.)

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Luxembourg officially kicked off the holiday season with the opening of the Christmas Market, so we shopped, enjoyed the lights, sampled Swiss cuisine (and gl├╝hwein!) and took in the culture. 
Christmastime in Europe is like a winter wonderland and I’ll miss it when we move back to the US.
(I’m also gonna miss this gapped tooth smile when her adult teeth grow in.)

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One day while Hannah was at school, my mom asked if there were any nearby Holocaust memorials or museums that we could visit.  I’d never been to one, so after a quick email to a good friend and a few text message exchanges we found ourselves on our way to a WWII concentration camp in Hinzert, Germany which is about 50 minutes from us.   My multi-lingual friend made a few phone calls for me to find out what time tours are offered and if there’d be one in English.  Besides some standard greetings and pleasantries, the only thing I know how to say in German is one dog (don’t ask) and that really wasn’t going to do us any good.

It’s so pretty here.  It’s hard to believe that a concentration camp used to be right at this very spot.

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From inside the museum, you can look out the window and see what the view was like in the early 1940’s.

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My mom (and Finley) listened to survivors recall stories from their time at Hinzert.

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At the end of the war, when Hinzert was liberated, bodies that had been buried in shallow, mass graves were exhumed.  Those that were able to be identified were returned to their countries for proper burial.  Those that couldn’t be identified were moved to a newly created cemetery, to be buried in a respectful manner.

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*****

Before she left, we took my mom to Bacchus, another of our favorite restaurants in Luxembourg City.  We love it because it’s kid friendly, the owners treat us like we’re family and the food is delicious.

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On Saturday morning we drove my mom to Brussels to catch her flight home.  Of course, no one in our family travels without incident and this was no exception.  As her plane was taxing out to the tarmac, the pilot slammed on the brakes because a vehicle pulled out in front of him.  This resulted in a three hour delay only for the flight to be canceled altogether.  The good news is that they put all the passengers up in the (very nice!) airport hotel and gave them vouchers for dinner and breakfast the next morning. 
So, I guess my mom did get a little vacation out of this after all?

Anyway, she’s home and settling back in.
Thank you, Mom.  For everything.
See you at Christmas!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Finley at 8 (and 7) Months

Finley is 8 months old today!

But I have to back up a bit to 7 months because with our last minute trip to the US for my grandma’s funeral, I haven’t posted about it yet.

Between months 6 and 7, Finley was all about sitting up on his own. He could do it for longer and longer periods of time before he got tired and plopped over.

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He also loved the doorway jumper.  He bounces and just laughs and laughs.

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We also spent a lot of time exploring new foods.  This guy LOVES to eat and isn’t picky at all so far.  He’s eaten every single thing we’ve given him and opens his mouth like a little bird.  I’ve started doing the baby signs for more and all done during meals, and I can’t wait for him to learn them.  I think Hannah was around 10 months when she started catching on to baby signs. 

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His bib says “one cool dude.” 
He certainly is.

Sleep at 7 months continued to go well with two naps each day and a little cat nap in the evening on most days.  Nighttime sleep was the same – bedtime around 7:30-8:00 and waking around 7am. 

The biggest thing we did at 7 months was travel from Luxembourg to the US!  This was Finley’s second trip to America and he did great.  Upon arriving in the US, the jet lag was not a big deal at all and he slept in a pack-n-play in my old room at my parents’ house.  Returning to Luxembourg (traveling east) is always more difficult on the body, so it took us about 5 days to get back on his daytime nap schedule and sleeping through the night again.

And here we are today at 8 months!

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(Sometimes his hair looks like Conan O’Brein.)

He’s still calm, happy, smiles all the time and is easy to take places.  Shawn’s mom told me that Shawn was a really happy baby, too.  But he climbed out of his crib at 11 months and didn’t stop climbing things until…well…he still hasn’t stopped climbing things.

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So we may be in for some active and challenging toddler years.
Finley has six teeth and we’ve been so, so lucky – besides some drooling and chewing they haven’t bothered him at all. 

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We don’t have a doctor appointment for a few more weeks, but I’d guess that he’s about 19.5 pounds.

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Finley “talks” and babbles all day long.  He says Dada a lot, but I’ve also heard him say Mama a few times.  He and Hannah are really interacting a lot and he loves when his big sister plays with him, talks to him and feeds him his baby food. 

He has the best giggle and his belly laughs do me in every single time.

I can’t believe that 8 months have passed by so quickly.
We love you, Finn Man!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Now We Are Six

When I was one, I had just begun.
When I was two, I was nearly new.
When I was three, I was hardly me.
When I was four, I was not much more.
When I was five, I was just alive.
But now I am six, I'm as clever as clever;
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.
                                 A.A. Milne

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Last week Hannah turned 6. 
We were in America so we celebrated at her favorite restaurant – Mexican, of course.
We also had a little party with family.

At six, Hannah loves princesses, dressing up, playing with make-up, dance classes, school, reading books, practicing her writing, horses, singing silly songs, words that rhyme, play dates with friends, Caesar salad, tomato soup and taking care of her baby brother.

She’s lost three teeth and is rockin’ Year 1 (US equivalent of Kindergarten).  According to her teacher, “Hannah always does the right thing.”  We couldn’t be more proud of her.

In the last two years, she’s traveled between Europe and the US 15 times.  I think.  I’ve lost count.
She’s an amazing traveler and I can always count on her to be my little helper.

Some recent Hannah quotes:

”Mom, what’s the French word for palindrome?”

“Take a look around you.  All these people are cranky and jet lagged.”

Happy 6th birthday, Twinks!
You are loved more than you’ll ever know.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Trick or Treat

Halloween isn’t a big deal in Europe.
But The American Women’s Club of Luxembourg hosts a trick or treating event and this year we were able to make it.  (Last year we were cruising the Mediterranean.)
I was surprised at the number of costumes I saw in the stores, and even more surprised that most of them were adult sizes, with not much for kids.

But that’s okay – we had no intention of buying costumes anyways.

To me, there’s just something special about making Halloween costumes for my kids.

Hannah said she wanted to be a cupcake, and from there we thought the obvious choice for Finley was to be a baker.

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Her costume was really simple to make.  I used one of her dresses as a pattern for the “wrapper” and sewed some suspenders to hold it up.  I also added a pink ribbon along the bottom for dimension.  For the icing, I used a large round piece of thick felt, cut a hole for her head and draped, gathered and stitched the organza material in place. 

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For the top, she’s wearing a knit hat with organza stitched on. 
Let me tell you about this organza material.
I bought the lighter pink material at a fabric store in town and then realized that I hadn’t bought enough.  Hannah has pink curtains hanging in her room and they are waaaay too long – pooling onto the floor.  I’ve been meaning to hem them for almost two years now, so I wacked the bottom off to use for the costume.

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And all I could think about when I was stitching the pieces together was the line from The Sound Of Music when Captain von Trapp yells at Maria, “Do you mean to tell me that my children have been roaming about Salzburg dressed up in nothing but some old drapes?”

Finley’s costume was even easier to put together.
I found this adult sized chef hat and altered it to fit a baby.

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I used some t-shirt material to make an apron, grabbed some measuring spoons from the kitchen and called it good.

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My children have been roaming about Luxembourg dressed up in nothing but some old drapes.

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Mmm-Hmmm.  And having a marvelous time!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Last Week and the Kindness of Strangers

I’m tired of funerals.
And I’m tired of sitting in the front row at funerals.

My grandma’s funeral was really lovely, however. 
A truly special tribute to who she was and how well she lived her life and how much she loved the Lord. 
We made it to the US in time to be there for the calling hours and the memorial service.

I think I mentioned that I was flying alone with both kids?
Well, I did it.  We did it.
And it was no trouble at all.
Tiring, but no trouble.
Shawn drove us two and a half hours to Frankfurt and we flew from there to Philadelphia, had a four hour layover and then flew to Akron.

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Getting through security in Frankfurt was a bit tricky, what with the car seat, stroller and hand luggage, but there was a retired American couple from Alabama (read: Southern folks with grandkids AND manners) behind us in line and they were more than happy to help with all the gear.
When we got settled into our seats, I flagged the flight attendant down and told her that I was probably going to be a tad on the high maintenance side because I was traveling alone with two kids, on my way to my grandma’s funeral and that I tend to have a wee bit of anxiety when flying. 

It turns out that we weren’t all that high maintenance.  Finley napped on and off, Hannah colored, played with her horses, watched a few movies and I spent the entire time making sure everyone was fed and comfortable.

With one dirty diaper, one spilled drink and one wardrobe change thanks to some baby spit-up, before we knew it, nine hours had passed and we were landing in Philadelphia.  I’m totally kidding when I say “before we knew it” because in reality being on a plane for NINE HOURS alone with a baby and a child is kind of like being trapped in the place where TIME STANDS STILL. 

We sailed easily through customs, immigration and security and still had two hours left until our connection so we found a play area, got some snacks and hung out there until it was time to take the shuttle to the next terminal.  We were the only passengers on the shuttle and the driver got out to help me lift the stroller and bags on.  He did the same thing when we arrived.  

There was a stranger at every step of this trip who was there to help me out. 
Truly an answer to prayers. 

When we arrived at our next gate, a woman about my age approached me and said, “I’m going to help you.  I see you’re alone with two kids and I’m a mom and I know this can be hard.”
She was a lawyer, a mom of a 9 month old and wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

She helped me get the stroller and hand luggage gate checked, and got both kids situated in our seats.  I told her that we’d just flown from Europe and had a four hour layover.  She stared at me for a second and then asked someone to switch with her, giving up her exit row seat, so that she could sit in the same row as us.

We had not one bit of turbulence, no delays and no lost luggage.   In the two years we’ve been traveling back and forth, this is probably a first.  My mom and in-laws met us at the airport and as soon as we got to my mom’s house, we put Finley in the pack-n-play and the three of us slept the sleep of angels.

The next morning my sister came into town from Los Angeles.

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We took flowers to my dad’s grave.

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And cake pops.  Of course cake pops.

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We spent the rest of the week visiting with family and friends.
Hannah got to play with her cousins, go trick or treating and to the zoo.
The timing for all of this couldn’t have been better because she was off school for the half term break.

Anyway, we’re home now and unpacking.
It’s cold, raining and dreary today in Luxembourg and Shawn just built a fire in the fireplace.
He also made chocolate chip pancakes, bacon and omelets, per our usual Saturday morning breakfast ritual.

I’ll be back soon with posts on Hannah’s 6th birthday, Finley’s 7 month update and Halloween.  Until then, if anyone needs me I’ll be over here fighting with the jet lag.