Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lunch in the Grande Place

 Last weekend Kyle and I went to Antwerp for the day.  We visited Reuben's house and the Antwerp cathedral (more on those in another post).  While in Antwerp, we had lunch in the grande place, because that's where one has lunch when in a European city.

If the weather is nice, you can sit outside and enjoy views of the city hall, various guild buildings, a fountain and/or a statue.   This was the view from our lunch table. Notice we could see all four of the above items.

As we were in Belgium we were offered the traditional Belgian menu items pictured on our placemat - mussels, fries and beer.  Kyle had a beer and fries.  I had a few fries.  I will note that Kyle and I have both tried mussels and don't find them worth trying again.  They don't taste awful, just nothing special.

I indulged in my favorite European lunch - bread and brie.  This restaurant served it as a sandwich with honey and walnuts as well.  Kyle had a sandwich on a baguette.

While the food in Grande Place restaurants is never anything terribly special, you can't beat the views and the opportunity for people watching.  And the chance to say - I've been there.  While all Grande Places have charm, unless you are eating in one, you tend not to linger long.  You walk in, admire the pretty buildings, snap a couple of photos and are on your way.  (I've been to Brussels' Grande Place three times now and probably spent less than an hour total there and most of that was spent waiting in line to view the flower carpet).  When you stay for lunch (particularly a European paced lunch) you spend much more time in the Grande Place and can watch the tourists move through, take a closer look at the beautiful architecture and soak in a bit more of the atmosphere.

I'm grateful that I'm not running through all of Europe at a high speed pace trying to check off as many sights as possible and have the time to stop, take a break and just be here. I think that's when I enjoy being here the most.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Plaza Suite

As we open this week, I should probably blog on this a bit.

SHAPE Players' fall production is Plaza Suite by Neil Simon.  The play has three acts that all take place in suite 719 of the Plaza Hotel.  Kyra and I were both cast in the play.  Kyra plays Mimsey Hubley, a bride who has locked herself in the bathroom on her wedding day.  I play Muriel Tate, a married woman who has gone to the Plaza Hotel to meet her high school boyfriend who is now a famous Hollywood producer.

Over the past few weeks I have been keeping busy with rehearsals and helping with the set (thus few blog posts).  The volunteer who used to help with set construction moved this summer so there is as much to do, but fewer trained hands to do it.  Thus Thomas (the set designer and builder) has taught me to use some of the power tools - circular saw, nail gun, staple gun and drill (already knew some drill skills).  I've also done a good amount of painting as one look at my clothes will confirm.

Rehearsal wise, I've had a lot of fun.  I most definitely prefer the shows with a smaller cast.  I guess I'm selfish that way - I like to have more time with the director, more time to run lines and the calmer atmosphere of a small cast.  Plaza Suite is essentially three small shows that share a common setting.  So in some ways we are functioning as three separate shows.  Full run throughs allow us to see what our fellow cast members are doing but otherwise we don't rehearse together.  I've seen a good amount of act 3 solely because I bring Kyra to rehearsal and then sometimes stay to watch.

The show is set in 1968 so the costuming is fun.  Yes I will post photos - keep an eye out for them.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Lille Flea Market

On the first weekend in September, Europe's largest flea market is held in Lille France.  Lille is just about an hour's drive from our house, so Kyle and I decided to check it out.

There are vendors all throughout the streets of Lille and they do sell everything.  As one would expect, there are lots of antiques - furniture, china, toys, linens, books and more.  You can even find plenty of mounted antlers if you are so inclined.

In addition to the antiques there are vendors selling cheap cosmetics, shoes, candy and other dollar store type items.

The big food item at the Lille market is mussels.  Restaurants hold a competition to see who can create the largest pile of mussel shells.  They have big bins to contain the shells and then let them pile up through the weekend.  Imagine millions of people, hot sun and unwashed seafood shells and you will know why Kyle and I opted to attend early on Saturday rather than late on Sunday.

I did buy a few things.  Those things will just have to remain identified as things, as they were all gifts.  And the recipients read this blog.

All in all a fun day and an opportunity to experience another part of Europe.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

You know you've accepted life in Belgium when...

Last weekend Kyle and I went to Lille France for Europe's largest flea market.  I need to write a bit more on that but I have a more pressing blog inspiration today.

This fall I will be teaching a couple of beginning jazz classes to students ranging in age from 8 to 18.  In order to do this, there is a bunch of paper work to be completed.  One piece of the paper work is a background check.

In the US this involves filling out a piece of paper, writing a check for the fee and waiting for the report to be mailed (snail or email) to whoever wanted it.  Maybe a ten minute investment of my time - tops.

In Belgium, I had to personally go to my city hall during their very limited business hours, hand over my ID watch them tap at their computer keyboard for 15 minutes and then receive instructions to come back on yet another week day during very limited business hours to pick up my report.

So yesterday I went and began this process.  It wasn't until I was driving home that I realized that I thought nothing of this!  I wasn't moaning and groaning to myself about limited hours, about paying for parking, about how nothing in Belgium is a one step and you are done process.  I simply accepted it as the way life is.  And really, I'm still not really bothered by this, it is just what is done.  In fact, as I was walking out of city hall I was thinking to myself, "well that was easy."

Go back and read my Belgian ID blogs and you'll see how far I've come in accepting how bureaucracy is carried out here.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Tanks in Town

A guest post from Kyle who really really wanted to write this and bugged me for days.....

Tanks in Town – Commemorating the Liberation of Mons from the Nazis

Mons was occupied by Nazi Germany from May 1940 until September 2, 1944. The liberation did not involve a battle, but rather reconnaissance elements of the 3rd Armored Division drove into Mons and stopped for a bit before taking up pursuit of the retreating Nazi forces. The Army Major leading the American tankers signed the city’s registry with his name and tank number. After the War, the US Army gave that tank to the City of Mons, where it was parked on the main square. Forty years later, with the tank in disrepair, the city passed the tank to a WWII vehicles enthusiasts group, which began to commemorate the liberation by having several dozens of WWII-era jeeps, motorcycles, half-tracks and tanks “invade” the city of Mons every year on the weekend before Sep 2; thus was born the “Tanks in Town” tradition. They drive in on the same route 3rd Armored followed, parking for the evening on the main square.
Our whole family went down to see the drive in. The neatest part was seeing the bigger tanks drive up the narrow cobblestone streets without hitting something. It had rained much of the day before and most of the tanks were covered in thick mud where they had chewed up the ground at their muster point outside of town; some tanks--all covered in mud--were towed in on trailers, presumably having become disabled in the mud. The loud engines and gas and diesel fumes were enough to give Melissa and Kyra a headache. It’s really neat to see all these vehicles being preserved by families committed to preserving history and acting it out each year.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Adventure Courses in a non Litigious Country

If you saw my facebook post yesterday, you already know that on our 18th wedding anniversary Kyle and I (and the kids) went spelunking, zip lining and did a ropes course.

I'm a bit sore and bruised today from the experience but we all had fun and it is always good to challenge myself to go a bit out of my comfort zone.  In many aspects the ropes course we did here in Belgium was like those we have experienced back in the states.  We wore a safety harness, there were caribeeners (spelling???), and all kinds of wires.  We walked on lines high above the ground.  There were unstable steps, cargo nets, rolling logs, etc.

What was noticeable different was the level of staffing and the level of staff engagement with participants.  Pretty much the staff made sure the harness was on correctly, showed us how to clip on and off a line, pointed to the start and said yell if you have any problems.  From there we were on our own.  No one supervised if we were indeed clipping on and off the safety line correctly.  No one yelled encouragement if we were unsure about going forward.  No one was there to help us figure out a tricky element.

A few people did have difficulty with the ropes course.  It took several minutes of yelling and/or whistling to get assistance.  Fortunately no one completely freaked out.  As a family we did fine on our own - it helped that all of us have done ropes courses before and have a decent level of strength and balance and that the height didn't bother us.  Kyra did fall off one element, but was able to pull herself back on without assistance.

I think Kyle and I were the most struck by the lack of supervision in the caves.  We were shown a map of the tunnels, warned that some of the passages were tight, and pointed down a flight of steps.  The staff person said if you get lost, just yell for a while and someone will come.  This may have been reassuring had there actually been a staff person who was nearby the caves, but as soon as instructions were given, he left and we were on our own.  No one monitored the caves.  If we had gotten stuck or lost, we would not have been discovered until someone else entered the caves.

Many times I have encountered excessive safety barriers and warnings for idiots in the US and thought, is this really necessary?   Yesterday, we were fine without the excessive care but I wonder if there isn't a happy medium.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

30 Day Movie Challenge

A few months ago one of the teens at church told me about Stumble Upon - an interesting way to surf the web and certainly can get addictive.
Anyways, today I stumbled upon this - a plan for watching a movie a day (not that I or anyone has that kind of time).  I doubt I'll do the challenge, but I think I may take on the challenge of figuring out what I would watch for each category.  Some are much easier than others to figure out.
Day 8 - movie I've seen countless times - Singing in the Rain
Day 23 - favorite animation - would have to be something Pixar - just have to figure out which one
Day 19 - favorite movie based on a book - Field of Dreams (the only movie I've seen that was better than the book - in every other case the movie was a good adaptation ie: harry potter movies or worse than the book ie: sister's keeper, clan of the cave bear.....
Day 22 - favorite documentary - Spellbound or Sound and Fury  (maybe I could use one for Day 11)
Wish I could figure out Day 25 - most hilarious - gotta think that through and then watch it - I love to laugh
Read the categories below, do you have any suggestions?

The 30 Day Movie Challenge

Day 01- The best movie you saw during the last year
Day 02 – The most underrated movie
Day 03 – A movie that makes you really happy
Day 04 – A movie that makes you sad
Day 05 – Favorite love story in a movie
Day 06 – Favorite made for TV movie
Day 07 – The most surprising plot twist or ending
Day 08 – A movie that you’ve seen countless times
Day 09 – A movie with the best soundtrack
Day 10 – Favorite classic movie
Day 11 – A movie that changed your opinion about something
Day 12 – A movie that you hate
Day 13 – A movie that is a guilty pleasure
Day 14 – A movie that no one would expect you to love
Day 15 – A character who you can relate to the most
Day 16 – A movie that you used to love but now hate
Day 17 – A movie that disappointed you the most
Day 18 – A movie that you wish more people would’ve seen
Day 19 – Favorite movie based on a book/comic/etc.
Day 20 – Favorite movie from your favorite actor/actress
Day 21 – Favorite action movie
Day 22 – Favorite documentary
Day 23 – Favorite animation
Day 24 – That one awesome movie idea that still hasn’t been done yet
Day 25 – The most hilarious movie you’ve ever seen
Day 26 – A movie that you love but everyone else hates
Day 27 – A movie that you wish you had seen in theaters
Day 28 – Favorite movie from your favorite director
Day 29 – A movie from your childhood
Day 30 – Your favorite movie of all time

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Back to School

8th grade
organized school supplies and folders yesterday
reviewed independent study plan
got up 2.5 hours before school bus arrival
10th grade
threw some paper, a pencil and two pens in his backpack 20 minutes before leaving for school
woke up 1 hour before school bus arrival

Tuesday, August 9, 2011


Curly and Gertie center stage - Gertie's laugh hillarious!
 Now that I have some time (and before I don't have very much again) I've been reviewing past blog posts to see what I have missed.

One of those things was Oklahoma!  By blogging about it now, I miss the in the moment thoughts and feelings, but maybe I gain the perspective of time.

It seems odd to realize I have only done two productions with SHAPE players because those productions were all consuming and seem so much more than just two shows.

Tartuffe had a small cast of under 20 and Oklahoma had a large cast over 60 of us.  That meant bigger stage, more people and more moving parts. Scenes took longer to stage and rehearse because it took everyone really paying attention.   Tartuffe and Oklahoma were two entirely different experiences.

semi-pro photographer in the audience took this one
I will note, I have never considered myself a singer, and still do not.  The role of Laurey was challenging for me in that respect.  I did work on vocal training.  I think the hardest thing for me was to just get over myself and potential embarrassment of not singing well (which I didn't) and just get on with the show.

I enjoyed the energy and laughter of working with a larger cast but missed the intimacy of a small one.  I also enjoyed the more intergenerational -ness of the Oklahoma! cast.  It was fun to share the stage with children and youth.

As a show, you can't go wrong with wonderful songs like Can't Say No, Kansas City and Oklahoma, especially because those were ones I didn't sing.

Very soon auditions start for the next show - Plaza Suite.  Yes I'll be auditioning and we'll see what happens.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Service Project

 As a high school freshman/rising sophmore, Allen was old enough to go on his youth group's mission trip.  In the US he likely would have ended up in Appalachia working on homes or in an inner-city helping with a VBS or feeding program.

In Europe it meant that he traveled to Romania.  In Romania he helped build a playground and assisted with VBS and sports camps for kids.

The living conditions were rough - camping in the rain and cold.  The travel less than desirable - 30 plus hours by bus.  But he had a great time and I'm sure would go again.  His one complaint - his small group didn't have deep enough faith  discussions.  So when his group finished up (early) he went and joined a group that had longer and deeper discussions.

Next summer we will be moving back to Virginia, even so, I imagine we'll do our best to make sure he can go on this mission trip again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Trick Candles

 Honestly, it was unintentional.  The commissary had a very limited supply of candles.  I didn't want the little kid ones, with Dora or Sponge Bob.  I grabbed the first package that looked normal.  Except they weren't.  They are the kind that relight after you blow them out.

I didn't tell Allen that.  Here he is anticipating eating yummy cupcakes.
And his first attempt to blow them out

and realizing what was going on...
and making another attempt

eventually he just spit on his fingers and squeezed them all out.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cinderella Weekend

 First of all - hooray!  We start a brand new month, which means our internet is back up to regular speed and now we have an unlimited data plan.  That means photos I put on the blog upload faster and I don't have to worry about using up limited data.

This was performance weekend for theater camp.  The kids all did a great job and it was fun to watch parents and friends enjoy their kids' production.

I enjoyed watching the evolution of the performances from learning lines and blocking to practice runs to dress rehearsals and then the live shows.  Many of the kids got bolder and braver in their characters and gave some very entertaining performances.  Some stepped up in ways they didn't think themselves capable.

There were some days of theater camp that were more enjoyable than others.  The mice certainly gave me a "fun" time.  Let's say they weren't the most focused characters nor did dance steps stick in their brains.  In the end they were an audience favorite.

The icing on the cake for me though is that now when I am going about my errands in the SHAPE community I enjoy surprise hugs from the kids at the PX and Post Office.    Can't beat that.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Vegan Cupcakes

My facebook status today says that my life changed 16 years ago when Allen was born.  Every mother quickly learns that life before your first born and life after are two different things.

At 7 months of age Allen had already so turned my life upside down that he prompted my grandchild-desiring mom to tell me "All children are not this hard."  To which I responded "you have four other married couples of child-bearing age, don't expect me to do this again any time soon."

By the time Allen reached 7 months, he had been diagnosed with asthma, multiple anaphylactic food allergies, severe eczema and had undergone skull surgery.  I count Allen's first year of life as the most stressful time in my life.

He still has asthma and has gone on to have other surgeries and yes he has those food allergies 16 years later.  Which is why I bake vegan cupcakes for him (thanks for the cookbook Paula!).  This morning Kyra and I spent a good amount of time in the kitchen preparing chocolate/vanilla swirl and margarita (fresh lime juice, tequila and salt)  cupcakes. I'd upload some photos of them except Allen has used up almost all of our monthly internet allotment so no photos on my blog until after the first of the month.  Trust me they look pretty and taste great.

Yes my life was turned inside out but is so much richer and funnier and joyful with him in it.  (I could do without the surgeries though)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


One of the many things Kyle had to do when moving into our house in Belgium was arrange for phone and internet service.

Belgacom (the phone and internet provider) gave him several service options ranging from dial-up with limited downloads per month to DSL and unlimited megabytes per month.  Kyle chose the second highest option which gave us fast-ish internet and 100 megabytes per month.

The last three months we've been hitting the limit of 100 megabytes earlier and earlier in the month.  When we hit it our internet speed drops to dial up speed.  This was sort of workable when we hit the limit on the 29th but as that crept to the 21st  or this month the 15th it has become unworkable.

Within the SHAPE community there is a genuine dread of working with Belgacom.  But the lack of internet tipped the scale and motivated me to make a visit to the Belgacom office.  We definitely wanted high speed and unlimited megabytes.

Yes I had to wait a bit (under twenty minutes - not bad by Belgian standards).  I talked with the customer service guy and saw the graph of our internet usage (a steadily climbing line) and arranged for the top tier service.

Good news - we are going to have it.  Bad news - it doesn't kick in until August.  Good news - for 5 euros I could purchase an additional 20 megs for the month which takes us out of dial up speed.

The new service requires a new router which Belgacom provided.  I was sent home with the router and instruction guides - 2 of them.  One in French and one in Flemish.  I was told to hook up the new router before August 1st.  So this morning I gave it a shot.  And hooray!  Here I am on the internet, that I hooked up using French instructions (and lots of pictures).

I'm looking forward to the faster speed next month.  Uploading photos onto this blog takes several minutes at our current speed - I hope it is faster next month.  If so, watch out - more photos coming your way.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Theater Camp

This summer three out of four Dunlaps are involved with SHAPE Players' theater camp.

Allen spends morning at the theater working on back stage production - painting, carpentry, costumes, etc. In general I think he likes what he is doing.  What he likes best is hanging out with all the other teenagers who are working there as well.

Kyra is a camper - this means she experiences the fun stuff of camp - learning theater stuff and is part of the production.

I am the choreographer.  This means I get to work with over twenty kids of varying ages and dance abilities and most challenging - differing desires to be in theater camp.  Overall it is fun and the kids are great, even if they are loud!

The camp is putting on a production of Cinderella next week.  They are doing the Disney version and I would have to say they are doing a good job.  Lines are memorized, choreography is memorized, the set and costumes look great.  Some of the kids are amazing actors and are quite good at getting the audience's attention.

The theater intends to offer an after-school version of this camp a couple of times throughout the school year.  I think Kyra is seriously considering this.  I am on board to help with choreography.  I think Allen will jump ship though and return to cross-country and track.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


Yes, I know I have not been a consistent blogger these days.  In December I was sick.  In January, I got cast in Tartuffe.  In March and April the kids were out of school more than they were in.  Then I was cast as Laurie in Oklahoma.  Then school let out and now I have a part-time job and kids out of school for the summer.  I'm going to try to be a bit more consistent but time will tell.

I also have found some blogs that are keeping me busy.  I'll spare you the craft blogs - I like them.  I want to make the cute, lovely, crafty things I see on them.  I lack a craft store and supplies, so I simply look at them and wish.

This blog is torturing me.  Random Abs.  I hate doing core exercises.  I am putting on some (just some) of the weight I lost doing shows.  I have yet to make it through a complete routine (there is a new one every day) but I try to do at least half.

Best title for a blog - Rage Against the Minivan. I've been reading "best of" and generally poking around a good portion of this blog.  One of my favorite recent postings is this one - The Lengths I Will Go to, to Avoid Making a Phone Call.  I don't think I would go quite this far, but I'd come close.

And if you are interested in Christian and inter-religious dialogue and liberal Christianity doesn't make you flip your lid, I like Rachel Held Evans. I enjoyed 12 ways to make Arminianism Cool again.

You might like some of these.  You may not.  Just thought I'd share some of what I'm finding on the web these days.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Miss Window Screens

For whatever reason, Europe lacks screened windows.  Most places also lack air conditioning.  So when the weather gets warm (warm is relative - let's say 70 degrees) windows are opened and fresh breezes blow through homes.

Open windows without screens invite not only cross breezes but house flies.  In rural areas where one lives with horses and cows all around, it means lots of house flies.  You know that annoying fly or two that makes it in to your house as you come and go?  Multiply it by 12 and have them all prefer your kitchen.

When it is not pouring rain and 50 degrees in July, we can have some lovely temperate days - partly cloudy  with temperatures in the 70s.  This gives rise to the debate to open up the house to enjoy the weather or keep it closed to avoid lots of flies.

We do have several fly control systems in place.  We have an outdoor fly trap.  We have an indoor bug zapper - this works better on our other flying visitors, as the flies don't seem to be attracted to the light.  Kyra is often willing to go on fly swatting missions a couple of times a day.  Dobby is also helpful - he tries to catch the flies and when he does he eats them - I've decided to find this helpful rather than gross.  I've ordered an indoor fly trap from Amazon which I expect this week.  I hope it helps.  I also attempt to keep things as clean as possible and not leave any food out anywhere to attract flies.  Kyle, Allen and Kyra aren't quite as scrupulously clean as I would prefer.

Even with all this, we generally have 4 flies buzzing around at any given time.  This started about a week ago and I expect it to last until mid to late September.  A fact of life that I could let really bother me or one I could just say, "Well, that's life in the European countryside."  Most days I try to just let it go.

Next summer though, I am looking forward to my screened windows and doors back in Virginia.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fun with Street Signs

 When Kyra and I visited Florence, I spotted a few street signs that were not typical.

They had something extra.  It was fun to see what a creative person added to them.

I thought you might enjoy them too.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Chocoholics (you know who you are) have a preference in how they consume their chocolate ranging from "I'm really desperate" to "OOOooo mmmmmm."

Mine scale looks something like this - 1 being desperate 10 being my very favorite

1.  Dry Nestle Quick
2.  Cookie with chocolate in it
3.  Chocolate cake
4.  From a box brownies
5.  Chocolate pudding
6.  Single source dark chocolate
7.  From scratch brownies
8.  Angelina's Hot Chocolate **
9.  Flourless Chocolate cake
10.  High quality chocolate ganache

** Via the sister-in-law network (Anne to Susan to me) I learned of a lovely restaurant in Paris called Angelina's.  They are known for their hot chocolate for good reason.  It comes served like this.  The hot chocolate (and it is chocolate not cocoa) is in the little pitcher and it is nice and hot.  There is a small cup of whipped cream (unsweetened).  From here, you create your perfect cup of hot chocolate.

Kyra and I shared this cup.  As I have taught my daughter well,  we did not add sugar to the hot chocolate.  It was nicely sweet as is.  If you like yours sweeter, there is sugar on the table.   We did add some whipped cream.  Which gave us a cup that looked like this ...

I wish I could give you a taste of it, as it was lovely.

And if you like croque monsierus, Angelina's had the best croque monsieur I've ever had.  All in all an enjoyable place for lunch.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"I Need A Day Trip to Paris"

When asked where she wanted to go this summer, Kyra listed Italy, Copenhagen and "I need a day trip to Paris."  Don't we all?

This statement could only come from the mouth of a wonderfully spoiled child (and she is).  But in context it is not so awful as it may seem.

Context -
Paris by train is less than two hours away.  For my northern Virginia friends, think of it as going to Richmond and back in the same day.

Kids here will in one breath tell you they don't travel much and in the next breath list off 3-5 countries they have visited this year.  "My family doesn't travel much."  "Well, where did you go for Christmas?"  "Oh, we went skiing in Germany and took a day trip to Paris."

When Kyra and I went to Paris in December, the Eiffel Tower looked like this.  One day we could sort of make out the top of the tower through the fog, but mostly it looked only partially built.

Had this been a once in a life time trip (which for many people it is) the Eiffel Tower enveloped in fog would have been most disappointing. Kyra ever the pragmatist, looked at it and said "well, we'll just have to come back."

So go back we did.  Yesterday started off rainy and gray.  So we started with indoor activities - the Louvre (Kyra is free) and lunch.  While the Louvre doesn't lack for popularity (particularly when it is raining) I knew once in, we'd be out of the crowds.  Why?  Because I wanted to visit the History of the Louvre exhibition.  So unpopular that the signs for this exhibit are only in French.

After lunch at Angelinas (separate blog post, maybe tomorrow) we began our walk to the Eiffel Tower.

As you can see, the day was lovely.  I have not done anything to enhance the photo.  The sky was a beautiful blue.  The clouds were white and fluffy and we enjoyed a nice breeze.

Kyra and I enjoyed a trip to the top of the tower and Kyra got her much hoped for photos of her with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Now to see if we can indulge her other travel wishes....

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Results of Second Surgery

First  - fair warning some of the photos below you may find gross.  If scars, surgery, etc makes you squeamish, stop now.  By the way his grandmother requested the photos.

Some history - Allen broke his arm (compound fracture of right forearm bones) doing parkour (click link for more info) on May 1, 2010.

On May 2 he had surgery to repair the break.  His bones were held together by two plates and 13 screws.  No cast just hardware.

In the ensuing months Allen was bothered by the hardware inside his arm.  Consultations with doctors led us to the decision to pursue a second surgery to remove the now unneeded hardware.  Allen had this surgery on May 23.

Following the surgery Allen had to keep his arm bandaged and dry for over three weeks.  Upon his return to school, his friend wrote on the bandage "Dan's Arm."  The next read "Still Dan's Arm."  The next "Still Dan's Arm - again."  The last bandage as you can see "Dan's Arm - forever."  Dan is moving to Florida in two weeks, it may be his arm, but it is staying in Belgium.

On Thursday, Allen was finally able to have his stitches removed.  This was not as bloody as the above photo makes it look.  It wasn't bloody at all - the dried blood was from the surgery three weeks prior.

Upon peeling back the surgical tape, what was visible was Allen's new scar and a piece of stiff thread used to stitch him up.  His skin looks flaky and yellow because it has not been washed since the surgery.

The scar is smaller (Allen does not appreciate this - he liked his wide bumpy and wicked looking scar).  And for the moment (I'm Allen's mom - I can say with almost certainty there will be a next time) we are done with surgery.

Saturday, June 18, 2011


When we went to the Keukenoff gardens in April, we bought a couple of amaryllis bulbs as our souvenir.  We planted them in late May and have lately been enjoyed these lovely blossoms.  

While the bulbs weren't cheap (about $10 a piece) they are definitely of high quality and we've been enjoying the flowers for close to 3 weeks now.  Certainly cheaper and longer lasting than a bouquet of cut flowers.

Since our visit to the Netherlands to see all the tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, etc, I have been pondering whether or not to purchase a bunch of bulbs for planting in our yard (in Virginia) next fall.  I think the answer is yes.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cherry Pie

In the past I have noted for you the many differences between our US home and our Belgian home.  Often these differences are lacks - no garbage disposal here, no storage space, etc.

One similarity is that both yards have a cherry tree.  In the US the tree is ornamental and here it produces fruit.

The tree has been tremendously accommodating in coming into full fruit during the Reeves family visit.

Kyle invited the girls to pick some cherries.  Some cherries turned into alot of cherries and before we knew it we had several bowls.  More than eight people can easily eat.

I posted some photos on facebook of Kyra and my nieces with their cherries.  This prompted a comment that cherry pie should be made (thanks mom).

Of course the girls thought that this was an excellent idea.  I told them if they pitted enough cherries, I would make a crust.  Thus they pitted and I pulled out the cook book.

 The girls pitted four cups of cherries and cleaned up after themselves.  I rolled out pie crust dough.  My dough wasn't terribly wonderful so the double crust pie turned into a single crust with decorations on top.

The decorations were the girls' initials - Kyra, Julianna and Hannah.  Kyra added an "m" (for me) and a heart.  Hannah added a smiley face (just above the K).

 The end result was quite delicious we all enjoyed the warm pie within moments of it coming out of the oven.

It was so good that the next day additional cherries were picked, pitted and baked into a second pie which was enjoyed after Sunday evening's dinner.

I'm getting pretty good at pie crust from scratch.  So who knows what other types of pies the summer holds in store....

Thursday, June 2, 2011


First two excuses for why it has been so long.  Number one between Oklahoma, Kyle out of town and Allen's surgery I've been a bit busy.
Then when I wasn't busy it was the end of the month.  For some unknown Belgian type reason our internet connection speed slows down to a snail's pace at the end of the month.  Doing anything on the internet takes incredible patience.  I don't have incredible patience so I do only essential email during the last few days of the month.

OK on to surgery...

A year ago May Allen broke his arm in spectacular fashion.  This necessitated surgery to put his two right forearm bones back together.  After the surgery his arm gained two metal plates, thirteen screws and two scars, one wicked looking and one more tame.

Last May shortly after surgery - scar not bad yet
Fast forward to now.  Two plates and thirteen screws are no longer necessary to hold Allen's arm together and were irritating his muscles.  After consulting with three different doctors it was decided that the best course of action was to remove the hardware.  The Belgian orthopedist who did the surgery was also offended by the wicked looking scar and was determined to give Allen a cleaner looking scar.

Yes we did consider returning to the states for this operation.  We know US health care and we are still getting to know Belgian health care.  In conversations with the Belgian surgeon and Americans in the area we felt confident that we would get good care here and that the procedure was a relatively minor one.  So we went ahead with arrangement for Allen to have surgery here.

Yes I was a worried mom, who wouldn't be?  But I also observed all the little differences between our US system and what went on in the hospital here.  Here is what I noticed -

1.  In pre and post op the doctors and nurses don't wear gloves.  Yes they wash their hands but they are not constantly changing gloves.  This was good for us as Allen does have a latex allergy.

2.  Patients wait in pre-op alone.  No family, no pastor.  They just lay on their bed and wait.  Unless.. they have a pushy mom.

3.  There wasn't any initialing of the limb to be operated on.  For his first surgery, Allen marked his obviously broken arm and the surgeon signed it as well.  In this hospital I guess they figured that the pre-existing scars and common sense were a good guide.

4.  Medical info is not to be shared with the patient.  I was given a sealed envelope to take back to SHAPE for Allen's doctor/medical records.  Allen's SHAPE doctor opened it and showed it to me.  It said that Allen had had surgery to remove the hardware in his arm.  This was a secret??

All in all everything went well.  It certainly wasn't necessary to return to the US for this procedure and I would say I grow more and more confident of the medical care available here.  One note though, speaking French was necessary and if I didn't have the language facility I have, the day would not have gone as smoothly.  SHAPE does provide an English speaking liaison but only at the Mons hospital which I have not heard good things about.

Allen is doing well.  He is still bandaged.  His stitches will need to remain in for another couple of weeks so we'll see about the scar.   He is using the arm as normal without complaint.  Scar update to come eventually...

Thursday, May 19, 2011


For the past two weeks, I've been kind of busy - thus the lack of blog posts.  In the evenings I've been rehearsing for Oklahoma and during the day I've been helping out with the odds and ends of production.

When watching a show, I've been aware of the concept that people worked on costumes, gathered props, constructed sets and painted.  But there is so much more to those tasks than you can imagine in just watching a show.

Oklahoma has a cast of 60 plus people.  Everyone has a costume.  Most have two.  I have four.  Start doing the math.  Most of the costumes were pulled from the theater's extensive closet so only twenty or so costumes had to be made.  But all the costumes had to be fit, hemmed and trimmed.  Accessories have to be found - we are in Belgium and we needed cowboy hats, gun holsters and chaps.  I'm impressed that these things were found.

The script has reference to many different props - knives, playing cards, garters, fancy underwear, elixir bottles, picnic hampers, a saddle and more.  Our props mistress had to find all these things, organize them and lay them out backstage so we can find them easily.

Our set has been in the works for weeks now.  Aunt Eller's house has been under going construction and renovation for the entire time.  Drops and wings have been painted and shaded and touched up.  Some set pieces have been painted four times until just the right look has been achieved.  I watched one of the set painters spend over 8 hours putting clouds in the sky.  I don't have any idea how many hours the other set painter spent painting corn but she was at it for days.   As I don't have the artistic talent to paint anything, I've tried to help with the more mundane tasks.  I painted wing extensions black, painted trim on the house, and covered various boxes with the appropriate base coat so that they could be dry brushed later.  Screw heads and staples are all touched up with matching paint colors.  The attention to detail is quite admirable.

The hours required to put on a show are incredible and in community theater most are volunteer.   Now that I've seen the work up close, I appreciate it more and am grateful for the people who take the time to make what happens on stage look fantastic.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Things I have become used to

The other day I made a quick stop at the local grocery store.  On the way in I realized that without thinking about it I had automatically grabbed my reusable grocery bags which led to me reflect on all the things I have become accustomed to since arriving in Belgium.  So here's my list...

1.  Carrying my own shopping bags into the store.  I have a bunch of them that ride around in my back seat.

2.  Round-a-bouts.  Not only am I used to them but I really do like them.  Stop signs are rare here.  Standard practice at intersections is to slow down, make sure traffic is clear and keep on going.

3.  Speaking French.  I'm not great but I'm proficient and comfortable navigating my daily life in French.

4.  Seeing cows (and smelling them).  Our street is in the midst of several small farms.  When the roads aren't muddy Dobby and I walk by a particular herd's pasture on a daily basis.  The calves are really cute.

5.  No garbage disposal.  I don't like not having one, but I've figured out the work arounds now.

6.  Length of time it takes to do laundry.  Once again, I will welcome larger capacity and faster cycles when we return to the US, but I've figured out the rhythm of keeping up with the laundry.

The list isn't exhaustive but I think captures the highlights of the things that took me some getting used to when I first arrived.  Unfortunately one of the other things I've become accustomed to as of late has been sunshine.  The weather has been lovely here and I have to keep reminding myself that standard Belgium weather is gray and rainy.  Not sure if that will ever make the list of things I have become used to.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Yes I know, it's been a while.

Oklahoma and Kyra's recitals have been eating much of my time.  I'll try to write about those things soon but today I'd like to share some news I am excited about.

Last weekend was the European military community theater's equivalent of the Tonys.  It's called the TOPPERs - Tournament of Plays.  As Kyra had rehearsals and recitals all weekend long, I did not go, but hope maybe next year I can.

During the run of Tartuffe, a couple of judges came to see our performance.  They judged it as part of deciding who would be nominated (and win) in a variety of categories.  They also provided the cast and crew with feedback about our production.

As you can see from the photo, yes I did win a TOPPER for best actress in a comedy.  What you can't see from the photo is that the other female lead won as well.  You also can't see that the entire cast was nominated for acting awards and that every lead won.  We won best ensemble.  The show won.  The director won.  Many of the crew were nominated and several won.

When Judi Dench won a best supporting actress award for her role (8 minutes long) in Shakespeare in Love she said of her director (John Madden) that if he called her up and asked her to lean a a door way for a few seconds in a film she would.  I understand what she is saying.

Dan took an entire cast of amateurs and created an award winning show.  Even the young girl with the non speaking role won for best featured actress in a comedy.   At the moment I feel a bit in over my head with Oklahoma but I trust my director to help me perform well.  I trust him so much I'm willing to sing solo in public for him.  (I'll let you know how that goes)

I can't post this until I note that Kyra was nominated for her role in Bye Bye Birdie.  She was nominated as Outstanding Female Youth in Community Theater.  (btw - the award went to Melyssa Gomez for her role in Tartuffe)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Keukenhof - Tulips in the Netherlands

One of my "must see while in Europe"  was to see the tulips in the Netherlands.  Allen and Kyra did not consider it a "must see" but were compelled to come anyways.  I don't think Kyra had a strong objection but Allen was less than thrilled.

The Keukenhof gardens are a three hour drive from our home.   This means we spent 6 hours driving to spend just under two hours in the gardens.  Without kids and crazy crowds I could see spending about three hours at Keukenhof.

As we drove in we passed by the commercial fields.  See all the bands of color?  There is field after field of tulips, hyacinths and daffodils growing in rows.

The gardens themselves are landscaped with mixtures of various bulbs planted in swirls and arcs.  There are fountains, bridges, and swans.  Photo ops abound.  Every background is lovely.

Tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils of every variety can be found throughout the garden.  If you have a favorite, you'll find it there.  Kyra and I were partial to the yellow and red tulips of differing varieties.

As you might imagine the Keukenhof gardens are popular.  People come from all over and often by the bus load.  The gardens aren't exactly peaceful but with patience you can find a good spot for a photo and there is always someone at hand to help with a family photo.  (you may see this one again on our Christmas card)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

European Vacation - Optional Elements

 We established yesterday that a European vacation will include visits to at least one castle and one cathedral/really big church.

As I consider it, there are three optional elements.  The first would be ancient ruins (usually Roman).  On the island of Mallorca they are currently excavating an ancient Roman city.  They have uncovered a few larger homes, a forum and an amphitheater (my current facebook profile photo).

Throughout Mallorca's history, they changed hands quite frequently, so not only are there Roman ruins but also Arabic ones.  We visited an Arabic bath house and gardens as well.  This bath house dates back to the 11th century.
Bath house 

The second optional element of a European vacation is an art museum.  Mallorca does have one.  We did not visit it.  (If one hopes to enjoy an art museum from time to time, one must not subject one's teens to every art museum in Europe.)

Optional element three is a historical rich person's house aka a mansion or manor.  Mallorca did have a rather nice one called La Granja.  The building and grounds date back to the 10th century and at one time it was a monastery.

La Granja not only had the typical displays of old furniture and pretty grounds but also demonstrated some of the working elements of local food and cloth production.   There was a yarn dying workshop, looms, olive and grape presses.

A strong stream runs through the grounds of La Granja.  This water powers a few water wheels which in turn power some of the equipment used in cloth and food production.   Kyra really liked the waterfall and took numerous photographs of it. (I'm very grateful for digital photography - she would eat up a lot of film).  I am invariably drawn to the arcaded terraces.  Thus I picked this photo instead of one of the waterfall ones.

If you come to visit we are prepared to show you a castle, a cathedral/really big church, a manor, and an art museum.  As for ancient ruins, we don't have anything local but we could suggest some in France, England, Italy and Spain.