Wednesday, August 27, 2014

First Week of School!

Well, it finally arrived. Madeline and Charlie's first day at the International School of Luxembourg. They did great!

Gearing Up
The week prior, they attended a morning Summer Recreation Program at their school, which helped them feel more comfortable and familiar with the facility. They kept saying, "Mom, my school is awesome!!"

We also went to the New Family Orientation, though unfortunately, there wasn't an opportunity to meet their teachers (I heard that this has to do with European employment laws). That will happen this coming week, during Back to School night -- we can't wait!

The school itself is extremely impressive. Madeline and Charlie's classrooms are part of the brand new lower school, a $50 million addition that was just completed a year or two ago.

An All Day Party
The day before school started, we celebrated the end of summer and beginning of the school year by having an all-day party. First the kids picked out a pastry at a bakery they love, and then they each chose a new toy at Cora -- Luxembourg's " Super Target." Charlie bee-lined for Legos, Madeline got a make up kit with bulbs that light up when you open the box, and John chose Duplos that he can bring in the bathtub. Naturally we stopped for gelato, and then drove through McDonalds for a rare American treat. I figured with all the new experiences they've taken in stride, I would give them a little taste of "home." Rob was able to sneak out of the office early enough to join us for a family dinner. Then off to bath time (back-to-school hair washing!) and a nice relaxed bedtime with lots of talking, cuddling and reading.

The Big Day!
And then came the big morning. We all sat down together to a breakfast of crepes, croissants, eggs (these kids need protein!) and fresh fruit, then headed over to the school. We left our calm little bubble and entered the Back-To-School excitement, which reminded me of the hysteria at a Bruno Mars concert.
Hundreds of people. John kept his ears covered, it was so loud!
So despite a few hiccups, the kids marched bravely into their rooms. As Madeline walked up the stairs, I felt that giant rush of emotion, which certainly had Ugly Cry potential, but thankfully, there were too many people around. (Rob and I got separated in the crowd, so I didn't get to see Charlie off, but thankfully, we'd given each other big hugs at home in the driveway). It's hard to let them go...

On Wednesdays, each of the kids' days are shorter. Because Charlie was released at noon, Rob picked him up and took him out for a special First-Day-of-School lunch! And I couldn't wait to pick up Mimi an hour before her normal release time! (I woke John up to get her, and he was so tired, he kept lying down on the walk from our car to the doors. Both the kids gushed about their day.

The Rest of the Week
The rest of the week was just as fabulous. Apparently, most everyone orders the hot cafeteria lunch, and I can certainly see why! Madeline was eager to give it a shot, though she was unsure and nervous about how to navigate the process. When I picked her up her second day, she was absolutely euphoric -- so proud of herself for figuring it out! She told me the lunch room has place settings like a restaurant. That night at dinner, she explained to Charlie in detail about how to do it, and so on Friday, they both ate salmon, broccoli and small potatoes. Sort of beats soggy bread and a slice of cheese.

On Thursday night, I drove to the preferred vendor for the kids' P.E. uniforms, which were a staggering 200 Euros (about $280). But I must say, they look really adorable in them!

So we're off to the races. It feels like "real life" has begun. Soon they'll have lots of little friends, homework, and we'll have a full social and academic calendar. For now, we're enjoying the calm. I know I keep saying it, but I am simply floored at how the kids continue to adapt to these massive life changes as though it's no big deal. They're really something special.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Ning and Patrice Visit Lux!

The fabulous Ning and Patrice came to help us unpack the sea shipment. But when it was delayed, we had a fun-filled vacation instead, and got to be brand new tourists in our own town.
Our first adventure was simply picking them up from the train station. After weeks of waiting, the internet and home alarm technicians showed up on our doorstep unannounced at the very moment we were all about to walk out the door for the Gare. I was coming with the kids to act as the welcome reception; Rob was the muscle to help carry all the extra luggage that Ning and Patrice generously carried over from the States for me. So with the alarm tripped and roaring at deafening volume (all the construction guys across the street came out to see what was going on), Rob had to stay back while I zipped off at the last possible moment to pick them up. The train doors opened, and there stood Ning, Patrice and four giant suitcases. And there on the platform stood 7-month pregnant moi. As we hustled to get the bags off the train before it left the station, John tried to sneak on the TGV.
We had so much fun unzipping Ning and Patrice's suitcases once we made it home! They were filled with fun surprises, all sorts of things I'd bought for the kids to start school, and "necessities" like 12 bottles of Pam cooking spray and pumpkin bread mix! Andi sent along such a fun care package too!
Rob & Kyle have matching flag Brooks Brothers ties!
The following week was amazing! We went to the farmer's market, took a tour of Luxembourg Ville aboard a bright green train, and had gorgeous meals, including Sole Meuliniere, which Julia Child's ate during her first dinner in Paris, at a beautiful restaurant called Place Guillome. One night, we got a sitter and Rob came out to eat with us at a restaurant called Aime la Forchette (translation: Like the Fork) in downtown Luxembourg Ville -- flambe for dessert! One of my favorite afternoons was just sitting on the back patio, eating Brie, Chevre, baguette, and fresh mirabelle jam from the outdoor market while the kids ran around in the grass.

It meant the WORLD to me that Ning and Patrice came to visit! Not only was it a blast, but it was like a love bomb from home.

Looking at the seafood at Place Guillome
The kids and Miss Patrice bonded!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Air Shipment Arrived!! Um, the Air Shipment Arrived......

The air shipment arrived! Unfortunately, it turned out to be pretty anti-climatic. We originally expected the sea shipment only days after the air shipment, but the boat was delayed or over-scheduled, and will now arrive in early September. So the boxes allotted to our air shipment basically became a catch-all for all random stuff that was still around the house after the packers left. 

Half of our delivery was actually empty boxes (to keep things from fall falling en route) -- the unpackers here on this end told us they had never seen that before. What a missed opportunity! The other half included things like: a butcher knife, two metal bars that go in the Pack 'n Play, hardware for a Pottery Barn mobile that hung in John's room, a carpet sample, some wires, a spoon (yep....just one), Madeline's curtain tie-backs, and Brasso metal polish. What I wouldn't give for a simple down pillow and the kids' school lunch boxes!

The upside: Charlie got his Legos. So that kid's life is complete. And our desktop computer is here, as well as wireless speakers. It was awhile before we could use them, since we were waiting for our internet hook up, but now that's set up and it's refreshing to hear some cheerful music and be able to post to the blog again.

Live and learn. We're counting down the days until the sea shipment arrives in Antwerp, clears customs and pulls up to our front door on September 4!
The same exact container that left WI will arrive in Lux!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My First Prenatal Check Up in Luxembourg

At 6 1/2 months pregnant, my first priority when we landed in Luxembourg was finding a doctor to watch over my pregnancy. For a month leading up to our move, I tried calling an OB from the States who was recommended by an expat friend-of-a-friend. I even put our Relocation Director, Sylvie, on the case (never heard back). And then, during our Luxembourg medical exams (required for our residency permits), I discovered that the physician I had been trying to reach doesn't deliver babies. So the doctor performing our check up offered to make an appointment for me, asking me to call the next day for the contact information. Well, I didn't; I was totally jet lagged and we were sleeping at odd hours, and I was without a phone for several days after we checked out of the hotel. But the truth is that I was intimidated to speak French on the phone and it took me a few days to work up my courage. By the time I did call a few days late, my appointment date had been cancelled. I felt quite sheepish as I was gently reprimanded and told I was on my own.

So I began again, making call after call. Doctor after doctor. Answering machine after answering machine....all in rapid French and Luxembourgish. We discovered that most physicians here go on holiday in August, along with the rest of the country (construction sites shut down, restaurants close for weeks, as do most government offices). At last, Rob (my hero!) found me a doctor and I had an appointment on the books. Granted, we didn't know a thing about her (and still don't), but at least I was back under prenatal care.

The day of the appointment, Rob came home to watch the kids and I drove to the Hospital Maternite. Though it is only two minutes from our house on GPS, I couldn't seem to find the exact address to put in my maps, and after circling Strassen, I ended up calling the hospital for directions. It was one of my early victories -- the person on the phone didn't speak English, and I still managed to understand where I needed to go (sort of).

After parking and finding the door, I kept standing in the wrong lines, walking into the wrong rooms and wandering the hallways. I finally made my way upstairs to a darkened hallway, where I saw my doctor's name on the door. Then I stood confused. Should I knock? Is there a waiting room behind the door? Should I wait quietly outside? But then what if I'm late and no one knows I'm waiting? I timidly knocked. Nothing.

At last, a person in a white coat flew out of a nearby room and I leapt at the opportunity. "Excusez-moi?" I said. She turned, and I immediately recognized her to be my doctor from an online picture. In my rusty 15-year-old French, I asked her what to do, and she pointed to a chair and told me to wait. So I did.

Five minutes later, Dr. Marie-Noel Huot opened her door again and summoned me. I sat at her desk in her small office, and we had a somewhat brief conversation about my medical history. I couldn't stop glancing at her fabulous studded high heels and scalloped bra through her semi-sheer shirt. There was a slight language barrier -- while she spoke English, it was with a very thick accent. My French is the kind that helps me muddle through the grocery store -- certainly not explain the reasons why my physicians in the States recommend that I have my first-ever c-section. It took me three tries to understand she was asking if I have gestational diabetes.

She pointed to the examination chair, which was about three feet behind me, then indicated where my feet belong, and without any warning, told me to pull up my dress. I did as I was told -- I think she even sort of helped me hike it up to my arm pits. None of that cute US modesty -- who needs sheets or hospital gowns to cover your underwear (thank goodness mine were respectable)! We're in Europe now! She squirted cold gel on my stomach and began an external sonogram. The baby looked great! She was in position and growing right on schedule.

After a quick weigh-in, I followed her into another room, where my c-section was scheduled for November 4. She thrust a handful of papers in my hand, and instructed me to go back downstairs for bloodwork, and to have my next appointments scheduled with her and the anesthesiologist. A few more wrong turns and wrong rooms later (and after trying to pay the wrong person for the appointment), I was back in my car driving home. A little shell-shocked, but grateful -- thrilled!!! -- that our baby girl was healthy and back in the care of a doctor.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping with three kids anywhere has its challenges -- John filling the cart with 20 pounds of bacon; everyone moving in three different directions (or climbing on the cart like it's a jungle gym); and of course, buying all sorts of things you didn't come for. But my first grocery shopping trip with all three kids in Luxembourg was the mother of all grocery shopping trips!

I wanted to go to Cora (the Luxie Super Target), but couldn't remember what it was called to plug it into GPS, so I ended up going to Cactus, a large German chain about a mile from our house. Once we finally got through the giant revolving door (my kids love these things), and walked through the mall entry into the actual grocery store, I found out I had to go back out into the rain to get a cart. Then I realized all the carts were locked together. So since I didn't have any Euro change yet, and the tiny diagram on the cart handlebar indicated that a quarter would be just fine, I fished one out, stuck it in the slot and was horrified that it got stuck! But somehow our cart was released and we zipped back inside to begin again. (Little did I know that it was supposed to be stuck. It's only released when you return the cart. But I was truly mortified that I had broken it, imagining that it was because I had the audacity to shove an American coin in a foreign basket.)

Wow. I quickly realized everything really was labeled in German. So I just started putting things in my cart that looked familiar. Random sausages (meat unknown), strange butter (turned out to be something like lard), carrots with stems that were two-feet long, toilet paper (that was actually paper towels...extremely unfortunate), and some sort of white shredded cheese (which was actually a miniature ready-made lasagna).

The kids just about barfed when we got near the fresh cheese section. In their defense, it is a strong odor -- sort of an earthy mix of mold and dung that you can't possibly appreciate until you're an adult. I had to ask them not to scream and make retching sounds. We moved through that area pretty quickly.

Back in the States, I've learned to shop fast. It's supermarket sweep. I know which brands I like, and I swipe them off the shelves without even slowing the cart. I've rung up $400 in food in about 25 minutes at Trader Joe's. It practically took me 25 minutes just to pick out a German Windex and toilet bowl cleaner.

Shopping in French (or God forbid German!) is a whole different experience. Sometimes, it means identifying what a food item even is before you can begin deciding between the multiple brands, all while quietly converting Euros to dollars in your head. It's numbly standing in the meat aisle with Google Translator app open on my phone. It's moving at such high speeds through the fresh produce to keep John from eating every plum and carrot we pass, that I forgot to have everything weighed before I stood in line to pay. And it's searching, aisle by aisle (until you finally give up and begin charades with a store attendant) for those very few items that you just can't live without. For lots of Americans, it's probably peanut butter or Pop Tarts. Mine is Pam cooking spray. Ning carried 17 spray bottles across the ocean in a suitcase during her visit (more to come on that)...

All that, while keeping three kids busy (who, by the way, were perfect angels -- helpful and well-behaved the entire time)..... And you know what? We did great!

Friday, August 1, 2014

The Comedy of New Expat Life

Wow, I forgot how humbling it can be to navigate a foreign country. It certainly keeps us laughing! Here are some of the funny things that have happened, most of them just in the first three days alone:
  • On the flight over, the kids nailed me with pee, poop and barf. We took an eight-hour flight with a newly potty-trained 3-year-old and cleaned up unspeakable things in the miniature airplane restroom (he unloaded before the lid was up). After 20 minutes of desperation, I opened the door to 15 people waiting in line, which I then had to slide past with a 6.5-month pregnant belly. 
  • Both jet-lagged boys passed out at the dinner table that night. John was literally mid chew, so as I carried him back to the hotel in a TOTAL downpour (while Rob carried Charlie), he drooled chewed chicken all over my shoulder. When he woke up, he literally just finished chewing and swallowed his bite like nothing had happened.
  • I ordered my kids potatoes instead of apple juice when the waiter asked what they wanted to drink (pomme de terre v. jus de pomme). 
  • During our hotel stay before our home lease started, I explained what a bidet is to the kids. Can you just hear the uncontrollable fit of giggles ("bum washer!!!") 
  • I signed official government paperwork as the mayor of Strassen (they had reprint it and start over).....
  • We casually popped into the hotel restaurant with the three kids and promptly realized we were sitting in a five-star establishment in what was once one of the Top 50 hotels in the world. The kids nibbled on truffles, rabbit, lobster, and foie gras. John blew out the candle on our table (as well as several others), and blew bubbles in his Fanta. We caught Madeline seconds before she started licking butter off her plate. And Charlie was practically catatonic with jet lag, asking the same question (Can I have my Legos?) about eight times. Rob and I had a laughing fit behind our menus. But they hung in there, and it was delightful to watch them experience truly sophisticated food, with their squeaky little "Merci, Madame" every time the waitress gave them a new napkin.
  • We went down to city hall to get established in our "commune," which is sort of how they say suburb here. We needed parking stickers for the car, but the Parking Sticker guy was on vacation for the month of August. We needed special garbage cans and sacs to take out the trash, but the Garbage Can guy was on vacation too. We tried to register our car, but can't do that until we have residency permits, which requires TB shots, chest x-rays, fingerprinting and a physical (which, of course, were all conducted in different bureaucratic offices around Luxembourg City). A month later, we're still waiting on some of those checklist items!
  • John's passport was misprinted -- his June 9th birthday showed up as June 4. Even though we have since received his updated passport, we had to submit the incorrect one when we were applying for Visas in June. So that created an interesting little "spice of life" in a grumpy bureaucrat's office as we applied for our street parking permits...
  • I was handed the waste schedule in Strassen for recycling, garbage and green clippings. This is serious stuff. It's written all in Luxembourgish, and looks some something that was created for NASA. We were told if we mess up, the collectors will give us a giant red sticker and all the neighbors will think we're losers (paraphrasing). So far, we've passed!
  • We were so happy to learn that we'll be able to retain a US address, so that all mail and magazines will be forwarded to us monthly! But I felt sort of funny when I realized that all our mail will be opened and read by our new best friend, Sylvia, in case there's action required. Crazy, huh? Well...welcome to the family, Sylvia!