Monday, January 31, 2011

How to Arrive for School Just in Time - having really annoyed your mother

1.  Decide late the night before that you need to do your laundry

2.  Go to bed before transferring said laundry to the dryer

3.  Hope your mother (aka the laundry fairy) discovers the laundry in the washing machine and transfers it to the dryer.

4.  Don't wake up the first time your mother (aka the alarm clock) comes to your room to tell you to get ready for school.

5.  Finally wake up and shower.

6.  Be shocked to discover that the laundry you left in the washing machine the night before is not dry.  (keep in mind you have lived in Belgium for several months now - you know a dryer cycle of 1.5 hours is just enough to make them only damp.  This dryer cycle is usually followed by at least half a day of the clothes hanging on the clothes line.)

7.  Decide to wait for your clothes to dry before going to school.

8.  Eventually capitulate and wear a combination of dry (but unwanted) clothes and damp (but really want to wear it) clothes.

9.  Miss bus

10.  Decide to ride bike

11.  Spend several minutes hunting chain and lock

12.  Realize you can not get on base without a helmet on - find helmet

13.  Get ready to ride bike to school only to discover tires are flat

14.  Spend several minutes hunting bike pump while implying that your mother and sister have conspired against you and put it where you can not find it.  (Keep in mind neither the mother nor sister ride bikes or use a bike pump for anything)

15.  Finally concede things are not going your way and ask the laundry fairy/alarm clock for a ride to school, knowing full well rides to school are not free and missing the bus has consequences.

Sunday, January 30, 2011


Last week was kind of full, which is why this blog was not.

For the past semester I have been very fortunate to be in a French class that had only three students who showed up for class regularly. That meant that we could practice our French quite a bit.  The down side is that now that is time for re-enrollments we don't have enough students for the class to continue.

At the beginner level students can pick and choose between instructors, days and times for their classes.  At the intermediate level there is only one of each class.  When your class is discontinued, well that is it.

My teacher recommended that we give the advanced class a try.  So, a week and a half ago I did.  I was a bit afraid, but figured my other options were no French class or repeating these last few months.

In the advanced class I found that I could understand what was going on.  My speaking and grammar aren't quite up to the level of the other students but I'm not overly behind either.  What that class is doing, I was doing in college, so in theory, my brain could do it once, my brain can do it again.

I did not however wish to fall further behind so for the last week plus I have been attending both French classes to make the transition.

This week I don't have class and then next week, I start the advanced class.  Wish me Bonne Chance!

Thursday, January 27, 2011


I am for the next few months home schooling Kyra in Civics.  Social studies here at the American school runs on a different schedule than in Fairfax County.  Given the timing of our move here and then back to Virginia, Kyra would entirely miss any instruction in Civics.  As both Kyle and I feel this is important subject matter, I have worked with the school here to free up a class period in Kyra's schedule so that she and I can study Civics together.

I am sure in future blogs I will be reflecting on the joys of home schooling one's pre-teen daughter and the lovely attitude one enjoys when spending one on one time with someone who believes you are an idiot.  Fortunately we are not yet there.

What I have realized is that Kyle and I are more civic minded than I would have initially characterized us.

According to Kyra's text book civics has to do with the rights and responsibilities of citizens.   Kyle has recently begun to work on our taxes (responsibility).  We are both quite diligent in voting in whatever election is held (right and responsibility).  Kyle recently wrote our senators and representative about mixed seating for the parties during the State of the Union (right).  I signed a petition to the President about ending human trafficking (right).

I hope we are making civics come to life for Kyra.  This isn't just something in her book, this is something her parents actively participate in.  At least we have her attention, she was quite surprised that Kyle and I both take the initiative to communicate with our elected officials at whatever level of government.

Have you given any thought recently about your practice of civics?  What rights are you enjoying?  What responsibilities are you addressing?  Are there services, protections and freedoms you take for granted?  I'm certainly more mindful of this these days and grateful for the opportunity to share them with Kyra.  She may find it boring, but she's learning more than she thinks.

Saturday, January 22, 2011


I'm in trouble.

There is a patisserie between our house and SHAPE.  I drive by it almost daily (sometimes multiple times a day).  I have never been in it before today for a variety of reasons most of which have to do with the fact that it is always raining, I'm usually going somewhere else, there isn't any parking and I'm an American and  it is not a one stop shopping kind of place.

Today though I wanted bread for lunch.  I only needed one thing and it is the closest bread store - a bread store with all kinds of yummy looking treats in glass cases.  I'll have to take my camera on my next visit so I can show you.

I bought bread and I also bought a chocolate ganache thing.  I would have taken a photo of that, but Kyra and I devoured it too quickly.  It was about 4 inches high and 2 inches across.  It was layers of meringue and fresh whipped cream with raspberries all covered in gooey chocolate.  Very good.  I did have the sense to buy only one and then show it to Kyra so I would be compelled to share.

However, good sense will not keep me from making return visits to the patisserie.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Who is Bob?

This isn't the best image but the only I could find and copy.  Look at the car it says "I Bob You."

We've been seeing this on billboards since we arrived.  It makes no sense even though it is in English.  That's because it is Belgian.

In French class today I learned this Belgian expression.  Any guesses?  As I read billboard signs that said "I Bob you" I tried to make sense of the other words and images.  The images included cars and/or car keys.  My guesses were auto insurance or maybe some sort of auto loan.

They are a public service ad campaign for designated drivers.  Bob is the guy who doesn't drink and drives everyone safely home.  In English we would ask at the beginning of the evening - Who's the designated driver?  The French would say (in French) - Who will not drink alcohol and drive us home?  In Belgium (in French) they ask - Who is Bob? (Qui est Bob?) Either that or the aim of the campaign is to get people to volunteer to be "Bob"

So now the mystery of the billboards have been solved and I know a uniquely Belgian expression.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ugly Green Dress Comes in Handy

Ignore the Charlie's Angels type pose.  Admire the dress, the lovely hue of green, how figure flattering it is and how large it is.

This is "my" Nutcracker dress.  The past two years that Kyra has danced in the Nutcracker, my contribution has been to be an adult party guest.  My reward for doing so is the privilege of wearing this ugly green dress.

Until yesterday I did not realize that the ugly green dress had anything to offer me.

Last night was our first rehearsal for Tartuffe.  I've been cast as Elmire.  According to the costume designer, my dress will be quite something. The director warned us ladies that we will need to become accustomed to wearing a dress with a fitted bodice and long bulky skirt.  That we needed to know how it felt to wear one, how one moves in it, how one sits, the space one takes up with such a dress on.

And I thought - check!  After all I danced in the ugly green dress and worked back stage doing quick changes in the ugly green dress.  I know the movement, feel and spacing of the ugly green dress.

I just hope my Tartuffe dress is prettier.

Monday, January 17, 2011

APO Shipping

Having a US Postal address is very helpful.  We don't have to pay international shipping costs to buy stuff we want.  Amazon Prime is even better - one flat annual fee and lots of stuff comes to us with no additional shipping cost.

From time to time though we come across stuff that does not ship to APO addresses.  It is an odd assortment of things, so I thought I would share -

Companies will not ship the following (I should note for accuracy sake - the stuff can be shipped and mom has been great about being our private shipper)

Scrapbooking Supplies (albums, papers, stickers)
Printer Paper
Graph Paper
Pencils (but we can and did get a pencil sharpener)
Hair Color
Shampoo for people (but yes to shampoo for dogs)
Cliff Bars
Some Electronics
Car Battery (yes to tires)
Bitter Apple Spray that keeps dogs from chewing stuff (like their own paws)
Noise Canceling Headphones
Customized Converse Sneakers (but regular ones yes)
Mitt for Carwashing (but yes to soap to wash the car)
Car Emergency Kit - the ones with that orange triangle

Even with these and other "no" products we are extremely fortunate to be able to order many of the things we use on a regular basis.   Between Amazon and our PX American consumer goods are plentiful and it's not like we really need any of it, but it does make life more comfortable and for that we are grateful.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


My previous post said "watch this space for news"  The news is I have been cast as Elmire in Tartuffe.
Rehearsals begin Monday.  Work on my southern accent (which my spouse refers to as phony) begins now.

Yes my southern accent is phony and will always be phony, I'm a Yankee.  I do however believe I sound quite convincing.  (Paula, I am not channeling an unnamed school administrator as I need to sound higher class than that and no where near as patronizing.)

I'm sure I'll be blogging more about setting a French play in the American South and about rehearsals in general so if you are interested, watch this space....

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


The last time I participated in community theater I was not yet a mom and not yet married.   So let's just say it's been awhile.

This past fall Kyra participated in SHAPE theater's production of Bye Bye Birdie.  I have been impressed by SHAPE Players for a number of reasons.  Even in just dropping off and picking up Kyra I could tell that the participants were having a good time, respected one another, took their roles seriously, and were giving a significant amount of time to the production.  Briefly observing rehearsals I could tell that the production level was high but not unrealistic and that the director is quite talented.

I began to consider if I could possibly make the time commitment to a production.  The more I watched the director, the more I wanted to give it a try.  (The director recently won an award for best civilian employee of morale/welfare in the entire military - not only for being really good at his job but also his ability to involve a large part of the community - soldiers, civilians, adults, teens, kids, etc)

So last night auditions were held for Tartuffe.  Tartuffe is a comedy by Moliere.  The play is being done in English not its original French and the director is setting the play in the American South during Reconstruction.  The audition notices did alert us that southern accents were required.  I started trying to channel my inner Scarlet O'Hara a couple of weeks ago.

The auditions were quite fun.  We practiced our southern accents we read short scenes from the play in various combinations so that the director could get a sense of of stage presence, etc.   Even though scenes were read out of context by people who had no time to prepare, practice or refine, they were funny.  I can only imagine how much better the play will get as it is staged and practiced and refined.

I'm now waiting to hear if I have a part.  I hope I do because it was fun.  If not, I'll wait and try again next time.  Watch this space for news....

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Finally (or how to get a Belgian ID in 12 easy steps)

After several months and several steps the kids and I now have our Belgian IDs.  Here's how the process worked for us...

1.  On our first full day in Belgium (early August)  we went to the in-processing center at SHAPE and visited the Belgian Police desk to fill in the appropriate paper work and have our photos taken.

2.  We (the kids and I) returned to the police desk the next week to have our photos retaken as the first set was not deemed acceptable.

3.  We began our wait.

4.  We waited until mid-September when our temporary SHAPE IDs were about to expire and went back to the Belgian Police desk.  They called the county ID desk - no answer.  Our SHAPE IDs which allow us access to the base were extended until the end of December.

5.  In theory a letter was sent to our house in October saying we could do the next step of the process.  We did not receive this letter.

6.  In November when Kyle was at the county office he stopped to inquire about the IDs but the office was closed.

7.  In December I went to the Belgian Police desk yet again as our IDs were once again about to expire.  This time upon calling the county office, there was an answer and a response that we needed to go to the county office to sign and pay for the IDs.  The process would not be complete for a few weeks yet, so we had to extend and get new SHAPE IDs yet again.

8.  The county office is only open 2-3 hours mid day on week days.  The kids had to be present for this part of the process.  If it weren't for snow days, we would have had to pull them from school to go sign for their IDs.  On a snow day we drove to the county seat, waited for the clerk to find our paper work, paid our euros and each signed our name to a piece of paper.

9.  Wait again for letters in the mail.

10.  Receive letters.

11.  Go to county office again (kids not necessary this time) within the limited hours of a week day.  Input PINs for cards.  Pick up cards.

12. (still to be completed) return to SHAPE and be issued final SHAPE ID cards good through the length of our stay here.

It only took us five months to complete this process and several trips to SHAPE and/or our county seat.

Before this I was not a fan of the DMV.  I have ended up in the wrong line and more than one line and I have waited for hours.  However, in most cases when you go to the DMV to get a license or ID or whatever, you usually walk out with it the same day.  Not the case here in Belgium.  I am quite glad to finally have this process all but done.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Automobile Troubles

A piece of advice - bring a well-functioning maintenance free car to Europe.

Why - because cars are triple the pain to maintain here.

Case Study - December 26th Kyle and Allen departed for youth group trip to ski in Austrian Alps.  Kyle drives his car to SHAPE and leaves car in church parking lot.  Later that morning Kyra and I get in my car to go to church.  My car won't start.

In order for Kyra and I to take our planned trip to Paris (I know life is rough) the next day, I need a functioning car.  I still have to take dog to boarding place in Flanders.  The car at the house doesn't work, but the car at SHAPE does.  So, I begin my 90 minute plus walk through the snow to SHAPE to get the functioning car.  This achieved I drive home and take dog to board and pack for trip.

My car is still sitting useless and non-functioning in garage.

Upon Kyle's return he attempts to jump start car.  No luck.  As with most things in Europe we can expect that towing a car will be significantly more of a hassle and more of an expense than in the US.   Kyle had attempted to find a AAA equivalent here but without success.  With a renewed sense of purpose he tried again and found one.  He joined.  Then we had to wait a day to call for service.

We waited a day.

I called.  The company came.  I attempted to explain what was wrong with the car (difficult enough in English) in French.  The guy attempted to jump start the car.  It worked and my car now works.

I haven't yet tried to start it again this morning, so keep your fingers crossed for me.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Paris in a 9/11 world

 On our first day in Paris, Kyra and I visited the Louvre.  We took the metro there and entered the Louvre via the connecting hallway with the metro. We encountered what we now think of as standard museum security - a bag check and a metal detector.   We didn't think much of it.

What did catch our eye the next day were the soldiers with rifles wandering through the crowds at the base of the Eiffel Tower.  It's a bit disconcerting to see guys with guns wandering through mobs of tourists with cameras.  It was a sad reminder that we live under the threat of terrorism - even on vacation.

We would in one moment we would be enjoying the sights and snapping photos and the next we would see camouflage and rifles.  They were at all the major Paris sights - Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Monmartre and I would presume outside the Louvre.

When we were at Monmartre, Kyra and I happened upon some street singers who were collecting quite a crowd.  The young men were African, the crowd was international (Tunisia, Uraguay, Portugal, US, Denmark, Germany ....) The concert turned into some what of a group sing along with U2's One and various Beatles' songs like Imagine.

I snapped the photo below while the music was playing and the crowd was singing together.  The guys with guns are there - do you see them?

I think we need to keep singing Imagine.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Hat Stanley

You may recall that in November our Flat Stanley decided to stay in Pisa Italy.   This was a very sad event for Kyra and me.

As we do enjoy traveling with Flat Stanley we made another one.  His name was Flat Stanley 2.  It was not a very creative name and only made us miss the original more.  A friend of mine (thank you Jim) suggested that Flat Stanley 2 needed a personality, so that we could bond with him rather than just missing the original.

Kyra and Hat Stanley at the Louvre
So when Kyra and I got ready to leave for Paris, I decided to make Flat Stanley 2 a hat.  I had initially thought that I would make him a beret, as we were going to Paris.  But I changed my mind when Kyra wore her snow hat for two days straight, every waking hour, inside the house.  I figured if FS2 was going to travel with Kyra and she was wearing her snow hat, he should have one too.

So FS2 now renamed "Hat Stanley" toured Paris wearing his snow hat.  Each trip he will get a new hat to wear, so keep your eyes on this blog to see what I manage to create to keep his head covered.