Monday, April 11, 2016

That Time I Was In A French Magazine

We arrived back in the US, safe and sound last Thursday.
The flight was uneventful, save for one minor accident by an unnamed three year old.
But you'll have that.

It'll take about ten weeks for all of our stuff to arrive via the oversea shipment, so we kept with us what will be needed for those weeks, which equals a lot of suitcases.

We arrived in Atlanta, made our way through immigration, collected our luggage and headed towards Customs.

"Wow.  That's a lot of stuff," the US Customs Officer joked, "Are you guys moving in?"

Actually, yes.  We are.

Before we left Luxembourg, I was asked to do an interview with the French parenting magazine Parole de Mamans, which means Mom Talk.

When the editor first contacted me, I nearly declined.
I mean, it's a French magazine about parenting and not to state the obvious or anything, but I'm no expert in either of these areas.  In fact, I'm sort of a mess on both counts.

A dear friend (whom I met because of a parking ticket) (hers, not mine) (sorry, girl) who grew up in the US and Paris, helped me be my American self, only in French.

I talked a little about my blog, having a baby in America v. Europe and why I love my Scandanavian mom friends.

Click here for the article in English.

Or, if you're feeling particularly fancy, you can read it here in French.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

To Sum It All Up, I Didn't Think I Was Going To Like It Here So Much

The movers were here last week, packing, wrapping and loading all of our household goods onto a shipping container that will sail across the Atlantic Ocean and eventually make its way to Ohio.

These last days and weeks have brought high emotions, excitement and denial.  We've known for the last four and a half years that this day would come, it's just that, as I texted to a close friend in the US, I didn't think I was going to like it here so much.

I chatted one night with a friend who's been an expat for a long time, who hasn't lived in her home country for over 20 years.

"I'm starting to get emotional about this," I texted.

"Awwww...that's a good thing," she replied, "It means the time here was good.  Would be sad if it was a relief to go.  I've been through both - sad and relieved.  The latter isn't nice."

The days in which the moving company was here fluxed between moments of intensity and boredom, and many friends stopped by, creating a rush of goodbyes.  They brought coffee and lunch, had us over for home cooked dinners (as we were staying in a hotel at this point) and helped with menial tasks.  One dear friend even collected our wet laundry, took it home, dried, folded and returned it.
I may have sold our dryer just a tad too soon.
(That's French for Oops!)

Before all the moving started, we had a lovely farewell get together for Hannah and her friends.  She chose the theme: a dance party and her actual dance teacher (whom we adore) did hair, makeup and taught a choreographed number, performed for the parents at the end.  It was loud and chaotic and our girl danced and twirled and loved every second of it.

A friend made the cake, a suitcase complete with "stickers" of favorite places we frequent in and around Luxembourg.  The best part?  The airplane had our name on it.

In lieu of gifts, each friend brought a letter they'd written to Hannah and a photo of them together.  We pasted them all into a scrapbook and let me tell you: that scrapbook will be cherished for the rest of our lives.  I find myself getting a little teary reading the letters; knowing how much my little girl is loved by her friends (and mine) makes my heart feel so full.

Later that evening when everyone was gone and Hannah climbed into bed she prayed, "Dear Lord, please help my friends in Luxembourg to be okay without me and help our family to find lots of funny things to laugh about.  And Lord?  Can you please send me a friend when we get to America?"

Finley, on the other hand, just celebrated his third birthday and hasn't really a clue of what's happening.  I've been extra conscious lately to take notes and photos of things he might like to know about when he's older, little things about this little country where he was born.

Maternité Grande Duchesse Charlotte, the hospital where Finley was born

A lot of people have been asking specifics on where exactly we'll be going when we touch down in the US.  The answer is we bought a new (to us) house.

Except I haven't seen it yet.

I know.  I know.
Just after Christmas, when the kids and I returned to Luxembourg and Shawn had to stay in the US for work, he texted that he found THE ONE.
"It's perfect," he said.  "It's so us."
After nearly 16 years of marriage, one apartment and three houses, I fully and completely trust him.
If I'm being totally honest, the anticipation of this new home, one that Shawn picked on his own without any input, is rather exciting.

And so, as I write from this hotel room just a day before our flight back to America, I feel as if I'm sort of standing on the periphery; not quite in my Luxembourg life and not yet in my America life.  The chaos and flurry of last minute to-do items have settled, goodbyes have been said, hugs have been given and I'm able to catch my breath and take a good, hard look back at the last four and a half years.
It's nice to be able to do that while at the same time knowing where and to what we're going.
We're going back to where we came from.
And I'm ready.
Excited even, about a Midwest American life.

Not long after we'd arrived in Luxembourg, I received an anonymous comment here on the blog saying that I seem like a really boring person.  I chuckled, deleted it and never really thought about it until now as I'm scrolling through four and a half years of memories.

We've taken our daughter to the English countryside, the top of the Eiffel Tower and the London Eye.  We've skied the Alps, toured the Coliseum and eaten tapas on the streets of Barcelona.  We've wandered Europe in a camper van, learned to speak French (LOL) and taken the obligatory photo at the Leaning Tower or Pisa.
I've been interviewed on Luxembourgish television, we saw the Queen of England with our own eyes and I've had several of my photographs, pieces of writing and articles published.
We added a new baby to our family, I held my dad's had as he took his last breath and just ten months later lost my grandma. We traveled to the US and back more than 10 times.  We've tiptoed through the tulips in Holland, celebrated with locals at Luxembourgish festivals, shown our kids the birthplace of Democracy and hiked to the Parthenon in Athens.

We made friends.
Those friends became like family.
We learned to be foreigners, to adapt.
We changed our thinking, our perspectives and reassessed decisions, situations and relationships.

From this blog, Facebook and Instagram, being an expat can appear to be quite the life.  And it is, at times; don't get me wrong.  But there's a side to it that you don't always see.  There were days and weeks where homesickness and language barriers and cultural differences overwhelmed.  Days when I felt like I had it all figured out and days when being a foreigner knocked me down.  Weeks and months when post partum anxiety took over every bit of who I was and I was completely alone in a foreign country to pull myself through.

But we preservered, carried on and made a life here.
We took Luxembourg and made it our own.

And there's nothing boring about that.

Friday, February 26, 2016

From Lisbon, With Love

Except for the year I was huge and pregnant with Finley, we've gone skiing every February since we've lived in Luxembourg.  A friend and I joked that if there are aliens in space looking down at planet Earth on the Friday that schools in Europe break for the half-term holiday, they would see all major roads jammed with cars, ever so slowly queuing up to get to the Alps.

But we didn't do that this year.
We decided to visit a city we've not been, a place we've only seen in photos.

We went to Lisbon.

We flew from Brussels directly to Lisbon, took a cab to our hotel, got settled in and headed out to see the city.

Hannah and I sort of fell in love with the mosaic pedestrian sidewalks; each tiny, irregular tile placed faultlessly with purpose.

 We stayed at a beautiful little hotel near the city centre, with a big uphill climb.  
At the end of long days of sight seeing, we raced and lunged upwards, then collapsed onto the chairs in the lobby, hamstrings and quads on fire.

When visiting Lisbon with kids, the zoo and Oceanarium are must see spots.
The zoo is where Shawn and I had our first Portuguese "bica," which is what they call espresso, but from what I understand it's not the actual Portuguese word for it.
But it doesn't matter.  I'd recommend it all - the zoo, the Oceanarium and the bica.

Shawn loves public transportation and the Metropolitano de Lisboa did not disappoint.

 He also likes the Periodic Table of Elements, so this was the perfect backdrop.

Shawn: How often does this Chemical Engineer like to talk about elements?
Tina: Periodically.

If we've never given our children reason to think that we are nerds, well, that joke and this photo should do it.

The entire city is an art museum.
"Azulejos," from the Arab word for a small, polished stone can be found in the most inconspicuous of places.

Sintra is a quaint and whimsical little town, just a short train ride from Lisbon.  We boarded early and arrived with a list of things we wanted to see and do.

Someday when she's grown, Hannah will remember this as the day her dad taught her to navigate the train station.

Our first stop was Cabo da Roca, the Westernmost point of Europe.  
When the Greek philosophers first mapped the world back in 2 A.D. they noted that Cabo da Roca was the end of the world.
I showed Hannah where we were on a map.

"Oh, so right here in this spot, this is the closest we can be to America while we're in Europe?" 


From here we went to the Pena Palace, and despite the fog and rain (which I'm told is very common this time of year) I couldn't help but be a bit visually overloaded, not knowing where to look next, with all the vibrant color and cartoon-like features.

When we'd finished at the palace and made our way back to the entrance, we found out that we'd missed the last bus to the train station.  So we did the next best thing: we hired this to take us back.  I'm not even sure what to call it?  It was like a souped up golf cart, but way faster and lower to the ground.  It was rough and bumpy and not safe in the least, but the kids laughed the entire way.

And more public transportation!  This is Tram 28, a Lisbon icon.  We traveled the loop around the city, sitting on its wooden benches, careening around corners and screeching to stop for pedestrians that wandered into the way.

From the tram, Hannah and I spotted this: a wedding gown hanging in the doorway of an old building, beneath lovely azulejos.

It wouldn't be a vacation without a picture of "Vacation Shawn."  Relaxed, a couple of days worth of facial hair and genuinely enjoying himself.  Here he is at lunch in a Portuguese restaurant, finishing up with a bica.  (I didn't have one.  It was too late in the day for me to have caffeine.)

On our final day, we visited Castelo de Sao Jorge, which has an amazing panoramic view of the city.  The Portuguese have a word for describing places with a great view: miradoiros, which actually means golden sights.

I love traveling with these guys.  One of my greatest joys as a mom is taking my kids to a new place, showing them a significant piece of history, teaching them to appreciate someone else's culture. It can be demanding and exhausting and takes a level of planning that adult only travel does not, but man, is it ever worth it.  I read somewhere that travel is the ultimate education.  May each new country they visit, each new food they taste, each new language they hear somehow shape who they'll become.

We returned to Luxemboug, another country and city crossed off our bucket list.
Obrigada, Lisboa.
You're one of our favorites.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ohio Childhood, Luxembourg Childhood

January 16 in Luxembourg:
Hey, Mommy?  Where'd you learn to build a snowman like that?

Ohio, my dear.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Back From America

We spent a lovely two weeks in America, celebrating Christmas and ringing in the new year with family and friends.

From this year's family Christmas card

I hadn't been home in an entire year and I have to say that it felt very, very odd.  In fact, I felt like a bit of a foreigner in my own hometown.

I marveled at all the big cars; I'd forgotten how spacious roads and parking spaces are.
I was honked at multiple times for sitting at a red light, waiting for it to turn green before turning right.
I had a few moments of overwhelm when faced with the sheer volume of choice at the grocery store.
And then I tried to bag my own groceries.
On more than one occasion, I slipped in a French word or phrase like when the nurse at the doctor's office told me to have a nice day; I automatically responded with à vous aussi.

These things are purely habit now, a function of being away so long, I suppose.

An Ohio sunset

Our time in Luxembourg is quickly coming to an end, and we will soon return to the US, so Shawn and I spent a great deal of time getting things ready for our return.

Look out America!  We're coming back!

We took a tour of Hannah's new school, got her registered, tied up some loose ends with our house and a number of other boring details involved in a move.

When it was time to return to Luxembourg Shawn had to stay for work so Christine, one of our dear family friends came back with me and the kids.

It's hard to believe that she was the flower girl in our wedding when she was just about Hannah's age.

We didn't do a whole lot while she was here.
Because, you know, JET LAG.
If you know me in real life or you've been reading here for a while, well, you know how I feel about jet lag.  It swallows you whole and then spits you out into the sleeping pattern of a university student.  Except that you can't carry on with this pattern because it's just not practical to sleep from 4 am until 1 pm.
But we did get to show her some of the beauty of Luxembourg.

And of course, we never send any visitor back home without a trip to The Chocolate House.

Thank you, Christine, for corralling my kids through the airports with me, playing with them, helping Hannah with her homework and introducing me to my new favorite fruit: the pitaya.

We love you and will see you soon!