Sunday, January 30, 2011

We Ate a Mouse and a Man

Stella was in charge of planning and making dinner last night.
We ate a mouse and a man.
For dessert, we shared an Eiffel Tower.
Quite tasty!

Each person took off one piece at a time.
We decided that the next time we share dessert,
whoever gets the last piece has to clear the table.

We love making dinner time fun. Currently we're encouraging the kids to each pick a night to plan and make dinner (with a little help). We play "Family Dinner Games" read from our "365 Days of Manners" book, use our "Kid's Choices" cards to ask ethical questions. Not to mention, over the years, we've been given lots of great recipe books for the kids to use.

Despite Arleigh singing "Happy Birthday" during the blessing, or the occasional dispute over eating greens, it seems as if some of their most important lessons are learned around the dinner table.
Bon Appetite!

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Bit about Belgian Brood

For the longest time, I’ve been meaning to post a little note here about the "brood" bread machines. I'm not talking about your normal Oster kitchen counter bread machine either. It's more like an ATM for bread. When we first arrived, one of the most popular things to do as a family was to walk down the block to the bread machine and buy freshly baked bread. (What can I say? This group is cheap, and easy to please.)

Belgians take their bread quite seriously. You can get fresh bread anytime. Even on Sunday when all the other stores are closed, the local bakeries will be hoppin’ before the sun comes up.
They’re onto something too. Those bakeries are inviting, delightful places overflowing with sweet aromas and people with friendly smiles, ready to provide you with a varied selection of fresh breads (wheat, whole grain, white, 9 grain, etc), baguettes, sweets, chocolates, tortes, croissants, or pastries. There is nothing more satisfying on a wet, chilly, Saturday morning than the glow of a bakery and the baked smell that wafts up the street nearby.

 Remember, fresh bread is a big deal. So, if, heaven forbid, the bakery is closed, there is no cause for alarm. No one has to dawn an apron, or fight for the flour jar. One may simply waltz to the closest bread machine drop in a few coins, and make a selection. Out comes your fresh bread. How fab is that?
And for those of you who just can't imagine that, here's a short video clip from someone else that thought the machines are cooler than sliced brood!

Now, when chocolate dispensing machines will start appearing on the streets is beyond me, but I tell you, I can't wait!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


He's 39 today
...almost over the hill.
In a fitting tribute to 39, we almost got it right, but things seemed to fall apart.
Addie made him two small pillows. She almost got it right the first time, but she accidentally sewed the material shut before adding the stuffing.
Arleigh almost got it right when he said "Happy Birfday Mom" today.
Stella painted Matt a picture of flowers in a vase. We planned that we'd hang it in the house with her others. Daddy didn't know that, and told her he was taking it to work to display there...I guess that's almost like displaying it at home, except 5 miles away.
Emory announced after gifts were opened that he "almost had an idea for dad, but then didn't".
And when I asked Matt what he wanted for his birthday cake, he said a pecan pie.
I didn't have enough pecans on hand (and I'm not so great at pecan pie anyway), so we skirted it with a pan of brownies with a caramel topping, and some pecans showing "39". That was almost lovely, except,

the candles were added too soon and apparently the caramel was too hot.
The only candles we had on hand were pink.
They melted into the caramel, making it a bit messy.
(Sorry babe.)

Happy Birthday anyway!

The kids enjoyed looking through lots of photos to make dad a movie...
What a great dad!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Art Class

“Bravo Isabella!”
“Super Grace”
“Fantastique Natalie!”
“C’est cochon Stella”

That was when it began…”cochon” a word in French which means ‘pig’ and an adjective which means filthy, dirty,..…you get the picture.
And a picture was exactly what this was about. Stella and friends were painting in kindergarten class. Apparently the friends were producing works equivalence to Monet, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh, while Stella was producing a ‘pig sty‘.
This was a tough one to swallow as a mom. Stella can be a mess. Her room, her hair, her personal attempts at most anything can be unruly to say the least. At times she’s much more of a mule than a pig. Furthermore, if she doesn’t want to be doing it, she’s not going to do it well. Period.
We could appreciate an outside attempt at working to turn her organizational skills, perseverance, and kindergarten art work around. However, “pig” may have been a little harsh. I like to think something was lost in translation. It’s a competitive world out there, but does it matter how perfect a painting looks at the kindergarten level?
Nevertheless, she came home that day in tears. Eventually wailing for an hour about how horrible she was at painting. I tired to correct the issue early, offering her a personal painting lesson. Suggestions to paint often were abundant. Still, she felt she just couldn’t paint what she pictured in her mind. The sad picture became worse, as our infinitely capable and imaginative child began to shrivel creatively.
Despite best efforts, during the last year, her lack of confidence in painting spread to a lack of confidence in writing cursive, drawing, coloring, and eventually anything that had to do with applying something to a paper. Work that came home from school was given high praise by family, but she seemed to need to hear ‘bravo’ from someone else. Someone who might really scrutinize her work for her work, and not just toss out any willy nilly measure of support. Christmas rolled around and Santa brought Stella her very own painting kit, complete with ‘grown up” paint and supplies. Yet, we still heard “I’m not good at painting.”
To which we responded "but Santa must think you can do it?"
We needed help, and began to search far and wide. Little did we know we'd find help in our own neighborhood.

Hence, Pascale, an art instructor trained in art therapy, who has her own studio, but will travel to homes. She conducts birthday parties, adult and children’s classes. Pascale is very kind, and when we told her our story, she gladly offered to help (for a fee of course). We settled on 5 lessons. For locals, click here for her website
We’d recommend her. If someone told you painted like a pig, we highly recommend her!
Now Pascale comes to the house and instructs Stella, who is enamored with her. For Stella, suffering of 2nd child birth order syndrome at times, the personal one on one attention has been great. Her attitude and demeanor have improved. Her confidence continues to climb and she is willing to pick up a paintbrush again.

Who knows, we might just have the next Picasso on our hands.
We’d be equally happy with having silly Stella back though.
Stay tuned. We may have to present a gallery exhibit soon.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A smile is worth celebrating...

I swear this poster is hanging there, not for the support of patients undergoing orthodontic treatment, but for those supporting the financial end of that treatment. As if a mantra to keep repeating until the final bill is payed..."a smile is worth celebrating, a smile is worth celebrating, a smile is worth celebrating..."
And I would swear I’ve seen this poster before. Not in the same office…but perhaps 30 years ago when I lounged back in the orthodontist’s chair. Unfortunately, my memory has not faded. Picture perfect, I recall puking all over the orthodontist and his assistant when they tried to take impressions. I still wish they had at least forewarned me that they were about to gag me continuously for 5 minutes with a softball size hunk of plaster. (Again, my deepest apologies Dr Kendzior. That tie was surely unrecoverable.)
As if it was yesterday, the pain of headgear, wax balls, endless appointments tightening wires to a pressure that made eyes cross, water pic, brushing, brushing, brushing; left a haunting impression. Nor did I forget having to tell my parents about the retainer which needed to find its way out of the trash after a wedding reception when I accidentally left it wrapped in a napkin because it was simply disturbing guests around me…. unlike the Dr. Kendzior's tie, that retainer was recovered, and sadly, I was made to stick it back into my mouth again, post trash recovery.

Frankly, memories of enduring orthodontic treatments never found the positive spin they required.
So a dull ache came over me as Addie lounged back in the orthodontist’s chair today and I suffered frightening flashbacks. Perhaps the ache was more in the wallet this time than my gum line. Nevertheless, it still hurt. Enough about how I can stuff the pocket full of Kleenex now that it's empty. Without further ado,

Tun- da- da- dah! Starring the lovely, uber talented, ever so magnificent, but sometimes not so sweet, eye rolling lady of 8 years….our favorite 2nd grader most of the time!

Drum roll (again) please…..

Addie- In Braces!

For the full story, so as not to steal her thunder, please check out her very own blog,
“Absolutely Addie” clicking here if you feel so inclined
where she wrote about her ordeal in video format...

at home

Just an update on Bernie- the dog we adopted just before Christmas.
She's uh, made herself right at home.

Truly, she's a great dog and we feel lucky to have adopted her.
We'd forgotten how playful a pup can be. As a result, she never ceases to make us smile.
She's great with the kids, fun to have around, and a good buddy for Dudley dog.
Go ahead gal, make your self comfy...but no, I'm not sharing my breakfast.
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Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Favorite Pic

Aunt Julie and Uncle Pete visited us for a week. We schlepped them from Ghent and Brugge, to Brussels' Christmas market, Paris and back. They were real troopers, especially with 4 kids in tow.
Of all the photos snapped of our time together, this might just be my favorite...

There's something so very special about having an aunt who loves them to no end, tuck them into bed and tell them stories. Something terrific about having her here, live, and in person, rather than catching up on skype or chatting on the phone. Something ironic about the photo too, because it was bedtime. This week, we slept very little and tried as much as possible to maximize our time together.
We were lucky to have them here an extra day, because of a flight cancellation due to aircraft issues. Though today, they took off and left us all teary eyed, wishing for just a few more days, even hours. Saying goodbye is so darn hard.
Jul and Pete, thanks so much for making the trip to see us. We miss you tons and can't wait to see you again, hopefully very soon.
Aunt Betsy? your turn for a story!

Paris Day 1

A recent trip to Paris left Matt and I wondering why we hadn't ventured the 3 hours drive, (or 1 hour by train) to see the city. We had been warned that it's a tough trip with kids. But what a fantastic visit! We covered a lot of ground in our brief 3 days there. Certainly couldn't have done it all that quickly without Aunt Julie and Uncle Pete along to "buddy up" with kids. The ratio was more favorable of 1 adult for each child, making train and metro maneuvering much easier.

We left a bit later from Belgium then planned. Had more potty stops than planned. Had more trouble purchasing train and metro tickets than planned. And enjoyed the first evening much more than planned, as we diverted from the original itinerary and ventured off to see the sights we'd initially only hoped to hit if there was time.

First stop Basilique du Sacré-Coeur de Montmartre

Standing high on the hills of Montmartre, this impressive basilica has overlooked Paris for only 130 years. It's relatively young for a European church. Still, a landmark not to be missed, after a climb to the top, this basilica welcomed views over the city for miles.

Next stop - The Moulin Rouge,...just for a fun pic

We skipped the red light district though and headed for Arc de Triomphe.
The arch was built in 1809 to honor Napoleon's soldiers from the Battle of Austerlitz, but the arch wasn't completed until after Napoleon's own death. Today it's dedicated to the glory of all French armies. We arrived just in time for a daily ceremony at the tomb of the unknown soldier, where flowers are placed and a flame is rekindled.

After the ceremony, we climbed the 284 spiral steps inside a pillar for breathtaking views of Parisian skyline.

About 2/3 of the way up there was an exhibition where we caught our breath.

Oh la la, the Champs-Elysees was just beautiful.

Later, Aunt Julie and I strolled down Champs-Elysees with the girls and unknowingly met up with Colin Firth, the lead actor in the current film The King's Speech. I am not a paparazzi, and that unique moment you can read about here if you feel so inclined.

 We spotted the Eiffel Tower easily. Just before we headed back downstairs, the Eiffel gave us a surprise, setting off twinkling lights that made it appear to be sparkling against the night sky. A video camera would have been more appropriate to catch the glittering light show.

What a wonderful first day in Paris!

Notre Dame & Madame Martine -Day 2 Paris

Next stop-
Notre Dame

We planned our stop at Notre Dame so that we could join an English speaking tour for free. The 8 of us were enough to require a tour guide alone. Consequently, we were given a personal tour by Madame Martine, a lovely woman from France, who knows more than we could have imagined about Notre Dame. She was able to take us into areas where no tourist are usually allowed; areas which are reserved for the bishops or cardinals only. We asked if we were allowed to take photos and she responded "well, you're usually not allowed, the church frowns upon it. Everyone wants to take pictures, and I can't imagine Jesus would mind really."

The interior was dark, despite hundreds of candles and light from huge stained glass windows. There was still soot on the ceilings from candles previously burned from the chandeliers.

 As for Madame Martine, she was as sweet as pie, cute as a button, and a walking encyclopedia on Notre Dame.  We have Madame Martine to thank completely for such an enjoyable visit there.

It's not a wonder Victor Hugo was inspired by this church to create the Hunchback's story.

Later we stopped at a little Crêperie for a snack. Aunt Julie had never had the pleasure of eating a Nutella crepe. We felt certain her trip to Paris wouldn't be complete without at least a bite or two. Bon Appetite!

Go ahead, try a bite. Delicious!

Back across the River Seine to the Center Pompidou, which we might have skipped with the kids had we known then what we know now.

Paris Day 2- Loved the Louvre

This metro stop led us to a morning in The Louvre...
One could spend many many mornings in the Louvre. One could spend a lifetime in that place to be honest. From paintings and sculpture to early Egyptian art, it's not a wonder this museum is world renowned. The building in and of itself is quite beautiful, with details in sculpture or painting adorning every corner and ceiling.

So lovely  to have the girls recognize some of the art they saw. Summer art week with mom is paying off. The Mona Lisa was our first stop, as it was also the stop for a whole lot of other people too. We were warned that Mona Lisa attracts crowds that make it hard to see her up close, but we were lucky to have been there at the right time of year, and it didn't take long to find our way to the front of the line. Who exactly she was looking at in the crowd was hard to tell,..a secret only she knows of course.

Endless paintings had so much depth and color to them, photos of them wouldn't do justice.

Emory seemed simply amazed that the building spanned for city blocks. At one point he asked "How did they make all this?"

We spent most of our time in the painting galleries. The frames on each piece were as fascinating as the artwork itself. Walls and walls lined with amazing work all staring back at us.

The Louvre left Aunt Julie who initially said "I don't care much about art. This should turn out to be a quick stop on the itinerary" ...later saying,
'Um, I think I might have liked to have spent more time down there on the first floor. That looked interesting.'
No worries Jul, you're welcome back anytime, and by all means, we'll gladly join you for additional time in the Louvre!

We would have spent much more time in the Louvre, but we had other things on the itinerary too.
Yet another reason to make sure we head back!