Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cold December

When we were preparing to move here, we were told that it doesn't snow much in Belgium.  That at most there were a couple of snow falls of an inch or two.

That has not been the case.  We have had multiple inches of snow and no melting in between.  The average December temperature is in the 40s.   Lately it has been in the low 30s, which by winter standards isn't really all that cold.

The thing is (in case you haven't caught all the references to rain) we get a good amount of precipitation.   So when the temperature is 30 and not 40, the rain becomes snow.

In the snow there is limited clearing of the streets and non existent clearing of the sidewalks (where they exist).  There is a whole lot of driving on snow and ice and through slush.

We live on  a hill.  Our neighbors live on a hill.  No one is using their driveway.  We can access our house via a back road.  Most of our neighbors can not so they just park their cars at the bottom of their driveways.

At the airports, you may have read, there are issues.  The issue isn't so much the snow or getting it cleared. The issue is that the airports have run out of de-icing stuff.  They didn't expect to need so much.  They have run out.  Truck traffic has been affected by all this cold and well there is a strike in France at some factory that makes the de-icing stuff.

Glad we aren't flying anywhere any time soon.  In the meantime, we'll exercise our winter driving skills and keep pulling on our boots when we head out.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Kyra wanted a nod


While writing my blog about how Allen spent Christmas day, Kyra asked if I would be writing about her as well.

My first thought was no, as she played he Sims3 expansion pack game for hours.  Not interesting blog material - My child mindlessly played on the computer.

But then I remembered the other gift she used for hours.  She has wanted a "snow hat" for a while now.  The hat must be knitted, have ear flaps and ties.  She wanted a pom pom on top.  I couldn't find one like that, but I did find one with a long braid/tassel.  As she has worn it every waking hour since unwrapping it, I would say she likes it.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Surprise

 Not surprisingly, Allen asked for computer games for Christmas.  The one he really wanted was Call of Duty.  He has anticipated receiving this game and playing it for a few months now.

One of his other Christmas wish list items was a soldering iron.  He has begun to experiment with battery electronics and speakers and wires.  One of his grandpas buys and sells similar things at flea markets, so we knew Papa would come through.

I anticipated that if he didn't have anything to solder right away, he would be frustrated so I went on e-bay and bought him a $6 solar cell.  I had no idea what he would do with it, but that was for him to figure out.

So our festival of unwrapping comes to an end and we turn to our gifts - putting them away, powering and registering them (Kyle's kindle) and playing with them.

What I expected - Allen would disappear to his room to play his game only to reluctantly appear again at dinner.

What happened - Allen got out his soldering iron, the solar cell, his Ipod, and the charging/sync cord. He connected the proper wires (the black and red ones) to the properly charged spots on the solar cell.  The cell isn't quite powerful enough to charge the Ipod but it does (in sunlight) keep the battery from running down as fast.

Then Allen went out in the snow to play with the dog.  And yes, then he did go and play and yes he did come to dinner and then he returned to his game.  He is a teenager.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Luke 2

Merry (almost) Christmas!

Tonight if we can get to church (yes this is in question) I have the honor of reading Luke 2:4-20.  I'm excited about it and will be disappointed if I miss it.

When I worked at church, Christmas Eve was a mixed blessing.  It was wonderful to spend hours celebrating Christ's birth, to greet friends with a Merry Christmas and to sing and sing and sing.  I did truly feel like I got to worship on that evening.  On the other hand, it represented significant time away from family at a significant time of year (I never served a church that had fewer than three services).  It meant I was tired on Christmas day.

This year there's only one service.  I'm not in charge.  I haven't had to work.  I simply need to show up and read.  But the reading is significant, it is the Christmas story.  Sure we all know it, even those who don't go to church know the gist of it.  Linus recites this passage in the Charlie Brown Christmas special.  But if it has been awhile since you paid attention to the words, take a moment, slow down and read.  And then, do what Mary did treasure these things and ponder them in your heart.

One more thing - tonight when you see your pastor - say thank you, let them know you appreciate this gift they are sharing with you this evening.

Merry Christmas everyone!

4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
   and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Shortest Day

It is just before 4pm and the sun is already beginning to set on this day.

This was to be the last day of school for Allen and Kyra before their two week winter break, but due to all our recent snow, winter break began last Friday.

Yesterday the kids stayed inside and plugged in.  Today they channeled their energies in a much more productive manner.  Without much prodding, both children cleaned their rooms to the point where they actually look good.  Kyra is doing laundry.

And now, they are outside playing with the dog in the snow.  They built this igloo/dog house and are continuing to refine it.  Kyra also made a mini snowman.

As for me, I know my role - I've got the hot chocolate on the stove ready to be served in mugs adorned with a mini candy cane.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Legos, Cars and Engines

 It started with Lego car sets.  Allen wanted to build a Ferrari and then another one and then another one.  Lego sells kits to build these cars.

Then Allen decided to use his random Legos to build his own car, complete with car doors that opened and closed.

Now he has moved on to bigger and better things.  He's built moving pistons.  He is powering them with a motor and experimenting with gears.  He has created a clutch and can move from first to second gear.

The version pictured has only one motor but he has moved on to two now.  He has added gears to see how many revolutions he can get and when he hits the point of diminishing returns.

Allen loves explaining all this and as I am not at all mechanically inclined, I understand only a small fraction.

What I do understand is that he is good at this and he likes it.  That is enough for me.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Fourth Sunday in Advent

 Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent.  Other than Easter, Advent is my favorite season in the liturgical calendar.  I love this time of preparation for and anticipation of the birth of Christ.  I love Advent hymns (not so much O Come O Come Emmanuel but People Look East and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus).

I like taking the time to wait and anticipate to savor rather than rushing headlong into the crazy and joyful celebration of Christmas.  I'm glad when Christmas comes but I really do enjoy this time of expectation.

This year I have a new found appreciation for the advent wreath.  As our daily light decreases and our world stays darker later each morning I love the symbolism of the wreath's increasing light.  Today all four candles are lit.  At the brink of darkness this wreath burns at its brightest proclaiming the coming birth of the Light.

What you see pictured here is a treasured Advent wreath.  It's a paper plate, toilet paper tubes, some fun foam cut outs, a bit of glitter and yellow tissue paper.  Allen made it when he was five.  I love it because we can leave it "burning" 24/7 and because, well, Allen made it.  What's not to love about that?

As we head toward the darkest day of the year (and it will be dark here in Belgium) may you too experience the warmth and light of this Advent season.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas Tree

The Sunday before I got really sick we got our Christmas tree up.

We had hoped for a real tree but they are sold in very few places and did not go on sale until about mid-December.

So we caved and bought an artificial tree at the PXtra. This one we can use when we return to the US.  It is pre-lit and runs on US voltage.  That means that here we have to plug it into a transformer.

When we packed up our Christmas stuff last year, we all picked out 10-20 ornaments we really wanted to have here in Belgium.  We enjoyed seeing these old friends but also missed the ornaments we won't see for a few years.

Allen picked out his guitar ornaments and trucks and tractors.  Kyra made sure she brought her Nutcracker themed ornaments.   Kyle's choices were Williamsburg and White House ornaments.  I picked out churches and the hand-made ornaments the kids have made.  The angel at the top of the tree was made by Kyra when she was 4.

Kyra was especially pleased to have our Christmas decorations out and on display.  It now feels more "christmasy" to her.  It's not quite as "christmasy" as it would be if we were in Virginia but it is enough of home to make us feel warm and get us in the Christmas spirit.

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I'm back (at least I hope I am).  Being sick, solo parenting, Kyra finishing the December run of her play and Allen getting sick have all thrown my life and schedule out of whack.

As I have recently had much experience with doctors and healthcare I'll start with that topic and work my way back into daily life and Belgian experiences.

Our main healthcare resource is the SHAPE medical clinic.  This clinic serves all SHAPE families (except probably the Belgians).  For the Americans it is part of the US military health care facilities around the world.  Appointments, lab work, x-rays and prescription medications and over the counter medications are all paid for with tax dollars.  So thank you for paying your taxes, we certainly appreciate the healthcare.

The SHAPE clinic handles much of the routine stuff a general practice/urgent care center could handle.  The kids got their school physicals there, Allen gets his asthma meds there and I've been treated for a UTI and whatever I'm still battling there.

In September I started experiencing shortness of breath issues (which I now believe were caused by bathroom cleaners but this is undetermined).  I saw a couple of doctors there (one Italian, one American) who gave me asthma meds but also realized they needed a bit more information.

There is no pulmonologist at SHAPE clinic, thus they had to refer me out on the local economy.  There are staff at the clinic who make the calls to set up the appointments.  They work with doctors who speak at least some English.

In Belgium the specialists work at the hospital.  Thus when I went for my appointment I went to the hospital.  (Now I know how to get there)  There is a check-in system involving numbered tickets - like a meat counter at the grocery store.

After checking in I was directed to a different waiting area than the ticket waiting area.  There my doctor came to get me.  I met with the doctor as well as a technician who administered a breathing test.  Even though I am still coughing, these tests indicated all is well.

I left without paying for anything.  I am not clear if SHAPE clinic will be billed or if I will receive a bill later or if there won't be any bill.  I'll let you know what happens (if it is notable).

Anyways next step is back to the referring doctor at SHAPE to see what follow-up if any is necessary.  As all is well, I'm not sure there is any necessary next step.  I think the answer to the issue is for me to stop cleaning the bathroom.

So there you go - SHAPE and Belgian healthcare.  So far no out of pocket expenses and what I would call a good standard of care (and I'm pretty picky).

Friday, December 10, 2010

I'm Back (sort of)

It has been a rough few days.  I've been miserably sick and am finally feeling sort of functional.

I haven't been blogging for two reasons -
1.  I haven't been up to much computer time
2.  When most of one's day has been sent sleeping or zoned out there isn't anything to write about

I am behind on a few topics so when I'm up to it, I'll show you some photos of our Christmas tree (fake not real) and tell you about why you do not want to get a flat tire(s) in Belgium.

Kyra finishes her December run of Bye Bye Birdie this weekend after this we expect a tad more sanity in our family schedule.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Orange Juice is Closer

I'm sick, therefore I'm whiny.  Nothing serious just a runny nose, awful cough and a fever that has me shivering one moment and burning the next.  The doctor says it is viral which means I get to just let it do its thing.

There are things one likes to have close at hand while letting a virus do battle with one's immune system, like orange juice, extra soft tissues, ginger ale, tea, chicken soup and just the right medications.  In our house, we have tea.  In Burke, I probably could have mustered the energy it took to run to the Giant or CVS less than five minutes away.  There is no way I can make the trek to Chievres in my current condition.  I'm sure Belgian stores have some of the things I need but the closest one is about a 10 minute drive and then my brain would have to work in French.  My brain is pretty fuzzy today.

So instead I'll stay home and write a whiny blog, take a nap, drink some tea and hope that my immune system will soon be victorious.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Opening Night

 Last night was opening night of the SHAPE Players' production of Bye Bye Birdie. 

Kyra was cast as a "sad faced girl."  She and another "sad faced girl" Renee were in the number Put on a Happy Face.  

Their characters were sad because Conrad Birdie (a teenaged heart throb) was going off to war.

In the number, Conrad's manager, Albert encourages them to cheer up and put on a happy face.

He makes funny faces at them and acts goofy and eventually gets them to smile and dance with him.

The number was cute and all three did a great job with the acting and the dancing.

Kyra is currently quite sick so she's had to push herself to put energy into her performance and she has three more to go this weekend.

She'll make it but after Sunday's matinee I expect she'll go to bed and stay there until Monday morning.

I'll let you know how the weekend goes....

Friday, December 3, 2010

Il Neige

Or in other words (English ones) it is snowing.

It began snowing here on Tuesday and has done so off and on through this morning.   Temperatures have not risen above freezing and the snow accumulation is a few inches.

My native born Virginian children expected school to be cancelled or delayed.  Kyra even wore her pajamas inside out and backward Wednesday evening (a Virginia tradition to bring on a snow day).  This did not work.  They have had school every day this week and it has started on time.

I wouldn't say this is because Belgians are great about taking care of the roads.  They don't.   The reaction to snow is a bit like the reaction to rain - you ignore it and just get on with your day.

At our house we have made one accommodation.  We are now using the back driveway instead of the front one.  Our driveway is very steep and in current conditions we can not drive the car up the drive.  Fortunately our driveway runs from the front of the property to the back of the property where it connects with a tractor road.  This portion is much flatter and as the mud on the back road is now all frozen it is easier to drive upon rather than in.

Overall, I would have to say I prefer the snow to the rain.  Walking the dog is easier on snow and frozen ground and upon returning home there is no need to wipe all the mud from his paws and underside.  The snow doesn't make me as wet as I run errands and the sight of snow is far prettier than gobs of mud everywhere.

I'll probably welcome the sight of mud and warmer temperatures after a long dark winter, but for now I am content to say "Il neige."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas Caves

 On Sunday, before we went to Snow World, we stopped in Valkenburg in the Netherlands for their Christmas Caves.  Almost every town in Europe (at least in our area) has a Christmas market.  These are primarily located in the town squares.

In Valkenburg, the market is located in caves below the downtown.  The caves are decorated for Christmas with trees, lights, Santas, and manger scenes.  This was Flat Stanley 2's first time out, as you can see he is not as photogenic as Stanley 1.

Given the enclosed nature of the market, there is controlled access to the market.  Even so, we found it to be crowded and that we were constantly struggling to make our way through the caves.

On the plus side, it was far warmer than an outside market and there wasn't any wind.

I enjoyed the unique atmosphere of the Christmas Cave.  I was disappointed that the merchandise for sale was not very special. I had hoped to see hand-crafted goods, but the majority of the goods were things you could buy in a store.

Kyra found some of those bracelets that are popular among school kids these days.  Apparently the animal shapes are numerous and easy to find, but she found fruit shaped bracelets which she called "rare."  She was willing to pay a euro for the purchase.

Allen spent more - 10 euro.  He found a non-sport watch that he wanted.  It was a pretty good deal, as the seller removed the extra links so it fit him and threw in an extra watch battery.  Allen was pleased with his purchase.

I told the kids that we couldn't leave the caves until I took a photo of them.  Can you tell which kid was the least thrilled by the experience?