Saturday, December 31, 2011

Clementine and Or-han-je

We’ve added to the circus act.

2 traveling dogs and

2 exasperated clowns, juggling

2 short sticky boys,

2 sassy sophisticated girls,

And now., (drum roll please…)

2 swimming goldfish.

…Hopefully swimming right side up for a good while.

Addie and Stella saved their own money and each purchased a single fish, tank, and jar of food.

Meet Clementine and Orange.. pronounced “or-han-je” the Frenchy French way of course.

A Special Tiny Perk

The holidays are hard being so far from family.
The cost seems enormous over Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year,
let alone the other holidays that would be spent with family.
But there is one secret perk to having to mail all the Christmas gifts to family,
and from family shipping gifts this direction....

"Snow" (aka packing peanuts).

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.
When Christmas comes without snow,
use packing peanuts.
Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Violin Videos

I know, you've been dying to see these. You'll sleep so much better knowing they're here now. Anytime you need the squeaky smooth sounds of sticky people with their violins, you have it at your fingertips.
They chose a few songs- a little rusty, and no time to practice right now...

Expecting Arleigh to feel left out, I did a little question and answer session with him. He's incredibly focused and attentive for a 3 year old (cough -hack), so at times it comes off more of an interrogation than chat about the upcoming Christmas holiday. Unfortunately, and despite what he says in the following videos, it will not be a white Christmas in Belgium this year.

Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 23, 2011

Arleigh wanted to build "The Polar Express Train" today. He was referring to a plastic set that sweetheart Santa brought a few years back.

  We built it, upon the dining room table. Once the train was up, he didn't want to move it. He "fixed it", over and over again, always with his tongue hanging out, playing for hours.

Dinnertime came and guess what?
We ate our (grilled salmon, squash and asparagus) with the"Polar Express" train running around the table.

Guess what else? It was great fun.

Speaking of trains, this is a favorite poem about Santa and trains. Seems timely. Enjoy!

Santa Claus On the Train

by Henry C. Walsh

On a Christmas Eve an emigrant train
Sped on through the blackness of night,
And cleft the pitchy dark in twain
With the gleam of its fierce headlight.

In a crowded car, a noisome place,
Sat a mother and her child;
The woman's face bore want's wan trace,
But the little one only smiled,

And tugged and pulled at her mother's dress,
And her voice had a merry ring,
As she lisped, "Now, mamma, come and guess
What Santa Claus'll bring."

But sadly the mother shook her head,
As she thought of a happier past;
"He never can catch us here," she said.
"The train is going too fast."

"O, mamma, yes, he'll come, I say,
So swift are his little deer,
They run all over the world today; -
I'll hang my stocking up here."

She pinned her stocking to the seat,
And closed her tired eyes;
And soon she saw each longed-for sweet
In dreamland's paradise.

On a seat behind the little maid
A rough man sat apart,
But a soft light o'er his features played,
And stole into his heart.

As the cars drew up at a busy town
The rough man left the train,
But scarce had from the steps jumped down
Ere he was back again.

And a great big bundle of Christmas joys
Bulged out from his pocket wide;
He filled the stocking with sweets and toys
He laid by the dreamer's side.

At dawn the little one woke with a shout,
'Twas sweet to hear her glee;
"I knowed that Santa Claus would find me out;
He caught the train you see."

Though some from smiling may scarce refrain,
The child was surely right,
The good St. Nicholas caught the train,
And came aboard that night.

For the saint is fond of masquerade
And may fool the old and wise,
And so he came to the little maid
In an emigrant's disguise.

And he dresses in many ways because
He wishes no one to know him,
For he never says, "I am Santa Claus,"
But his good deeds always show him.

Joyeux Noel

He came home from school today with this photo in hand.
Couldn't help but to smile- the little things like this make surviving a french school completely worth it. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Rocketing into the 6th year

 Emory rocketed into his 6th year, or as the girls say, he's made his 6th circle around the sun now. Officially 6, he celebrated with 2 friends in a well planned and executed birthday affair this weekend.

First there was a cake- a cake which he drew up specific plans for (which I will scan onto the blog here ASAP.) In the meantime, here's The Batman Cake, which didn't really turn out like the plans he'd laid out, but it was chocolate, and he didn't seem to notice.

Batman holding a candle in your face must be totally cool when you're 6, so who cares if mom followed the plan right?

After successful completion of the paddy whack, he opened gifts with his 2 guest, best friend, school buddies looking on. Gifts are always a success right? At 6 years old you must become capable of opening gifts at lightening speed too. A skill only attained at this special age, because we've never seen wrapping paper fly so fast. Holy Wrapping Paper Batman!

Then, following the scheduled program, traipsed our own 4 kiddos and the 2 best friend school buddies down to the Grande Place for birthday celebrations on the carousel, Ferris wheel, sledding park, and the finale of a light show.

The carousel is the coolest, smoothest, fanciest, most amazing, awesome-ist, thing you ever saw spinning. Seriously, I dream each year about making myself look young enough to chuck some kid off so I can ride the pterodactyl myself. Really- where is there a carousel that shoots a rocket through the roof,  has a plane, a moving dinosaur, a jumping squid, and rocking violin, a flapping pterodactyl, a floating hot air balloon, a submarine, and Titanic that spews smoke? All so tastefully themed in an era that makes you feel like you're standing in the middle of A Christmas Story.  We cherish the Brussels Christmas Market and will be heading right back, rain or shine, later this week.

Emory, was in full 6 year old birthday glory as he waited his 9 turns to finally sit in the rocket seat and lift off. He launched with a grin as wide as a mile while he lifted through the roof, dreaming he'd set sail for the moon.

Despite the rainy cold drizzle at the end of the night, (and that we actually returned home with all 6 children again) it was a true standard set as far as 6 year old birthday's go.  (Ok, joking about the kids. But we did have to make several annoying pee stops). According to Matt, it was 50 euros of his life spent in a matter of hours he'll never get back. Yes, it was therefore, a raving success. Happy 6th Birthday to you Emory.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Kitchen Dancing at Christmas

The announcement to travel went over as well as a turd in the punch bowl.
We have an ipod player in our kitchen. It's used often. We dance. A lot. You wouldn't believe it, but our 5 year old can bust a move like no one's business. It was just after one of those dance party sessions of salad making, moonwalking, spins, and roasting, that I let them know I was packing a suitcase.

I claimed I'd be a better mom for it. I'd go to the States alone, research schools for our next move, jobs in my former profession of pharmacy, shop, and return refreshed. Perhaps even, eh, happy to conquer 8 loads of laundry each week. Alone. No kids. 2 weeks with no kids. No snotty nose to wipe. No begging to clear dinner plates. No teeth brushing with a sponge bob toothbrush. Travel with no kids. A most monumental thought.
My inner voice knew it though. The kids would play their dad like a harp. I would return to 18 loads of laundry at the top of an endless "to do" list. Nevertheless, I prepared some meals, stuffing them into the freezer, packed up the suitcase and gave dear husband the sage advice" if you can't convince 'em, then confuse 'em."

Flash Back- It's the holidays, and I know you're short on time. Think Charles Dickens and Scrooge, call this the Christmas Past version of a visit to the US...
Take my hand and imagine we're floating right through the Philly airport to Norfolk, VA.
Are you with me? Do you hear that New Jaw-zee accent? Hold on. This is gonna be quick...

Flash past the bazillion Dunkin Doughnuts and Starbucks that have sprouted up in the Hampton Roads area in the last 10 years. Flash back past the lady in the shirt that said "I don't want buns of steel. I want buns of cinnamon." Past the plethora of stores filled with so much stuff; stuff which no one seems to realize they don't actually need. Flash back beyond the scores of people who sat antisocially, texting away, or stood impatiently in lines, waving papers around like they were living on Sahara desert in a heat wave rather than waiting in an air conditioned store. (Maybe all those women were having hot flashes?) Dear God let me not just flash beyond but completely erase the commercial I heard on the radio, encouraging people to purchase guns. When did we start needing commercials for guns in the US? Let us move beyond the other unforgettable strangers in flip flops and spandex who referred to me as "honey", "sweetheart" and, the all time favorite, my sister's "mom". Flash back, ever so quickly past the "cake pops" I learned about. Cake pops people. Cake pops.

Ok. You can let go now.

Let me reveal my husband's confessions regarding family developments in my absence, (while I was stateside, watching the public school programs of other, unknown children at school visits on the school's 'grandparents day' (which, by the way, completely sucks); while strangers in the grocery store were referring to me as my sister's mother, these are the things my dear husband was working on.)

Here you can close your eyes and envision Tiny Tim at the table in the chilly creaky cottage house. OK- well don't really close your eyes. Obviously you won't be able to read further. Or, if you're like me, you'll fall asleep. Just stay with me. Here are the most important things that occurred in my absence....

1) Dear husband revealed to me that he'd had a "necessary talk" with 3 year old Arleigh, who insisted that his penis would fall off once he was older because that is obviously what happened to his big sisters, Addie and Stella.

2) Dear husband confided in me that he'd shared a "secret" with the kids....

This apparently came about when they asked him 'why dear father, was there a Spiderman costume in his closet?' (On a scale of order, this man regularly earns a sub zero value). We honestly don't know how the costume came about, but suspect it was purchased on sale for offspring, but upon opening, was found to be adult size, instead of child size, and then promptly stuffed to the back. Who knows?

The kids, who are still quite interested in the Easter Bunny and Santa, now fully believe their father is "Spiderman" and have gone about school spreading word. This word has travelled through the french school and come back at us via parents. (Yes, only 24 hours after landing, I was approached at school about my husband's "secret". Nice one honey.

3) He revealed that for his 40th birthday, he'd like to attend a Metallica concert here in Belgium...People, he's totally serious with this. (Information that will make for fabulous blog posting later, no doubt). You can laugh if you know him- because this is not only absurd, and hilarious, but slightly disturbing at the same time. He's currently looking for someone who will go along with him. Takers on this 40th b-day event can notify via email. Birthday gift recommendations now include a Metallica t-shirt. I think he's having a mid-life crisis.

All this and our violin teacher confessed that although the kids' hair was not brushed, they appeared, generally well and in good condition. Apparently, "Spiderman" indicated to the violin teacher that he was glad there was no afternoon violin lesson because he needed to clean the house, last minute, before my return. She said she could only imagine a frat house after party clean up going on. I'm sure the process was something close.

So, calling upon our Christmas past hand holding experience again, just indulge for a second here and take flight once more....or rest your bottom in the chair and read on. That's ok too.

While Spiderman was cleaning the house in Belgium, I sat down to dinner in Philadelphia, all by my lonesome at the Hilton airport restaurant. This was in fact, a moment I'd dreamt all about. Dinner alone. Peace and quiet. A dinner that I didn't have to prepare, defrost, chop, mix, cook, or burn. White table cloth. Nicely dressed waitresses. The reality? I felt as lonely as a goldfish in a jam jar. The table didn't have kids sitting there snorting milk out of their noses or squabbling over the last roll, or questions about the amount of food consumption being acceptable enough to earn desert. Like crazy, I missed my sisters who'd I'd said good-bye to just that morning. I missed my family. I wished that from the table I could reach my arms from Belgium to the US. Except that would make my sweaters look quite unfashionable. It was lonely. Sad. I was Scrooged.

Let's take pause. Pretend it's Christmas future now. I'm trying to get to the point. I promise.
Constance Gordon Cumming, a 19th century traveler, who I know not a thing about, indeed, spoke some very true words. She said, (according to someone else) "returning home involves more wear and tear of the mind and body than any amount of travelling in distant lands." Home at this moment, existed somewhere between Belgium, where my kids and husband awaited my return, and the US, where family and the house we pay a mortgage on (for other people to live in) stand by waiting.

Ok, now imagine the street buzzing with carolers. Scrooge tossing out coins and shouting "Merry Christmas". Yes folks, this means I'm wrapping it up. Just in time for you to go buy more stuff (you don't need).

In the end, I returned better for having made the trip. For one thing, I had my hair colored so that I hopefully, won't be referred to as my sister's mother. Secondly, the research was quite progressive, as I've already begun to investigate steel bars so that we can safely lock the kids away from guns, texting, and cake pops, upon our return. The kids were better off too. They learned, sadly, that I wasn't abandoning them. They found out that dad really is a hero. (The kind of hero that dishes out space and opportunity when someone needs it. The kind of hero who is capable of letting his wife wander at will.) Furthermore, they accepted that Spiderman has his own way of running the house . One can only hope this spurred a new appreciation for mom's methods.

Holding onto my hand again, in Christmas present....

Change is inevitable, (except from vending machines of course). We're meant to march forward and onward. To travel and adventure in our own ways. With each new place, I find myself crying upon our arrival, and sobbing upon departure. Europe will be no different. In the meantime, together, we will savor this time. This incredible, precious gift- to dance in the kitchen, wherever that may be, together. When family comes to visit, we'll dance with them too.

May you be lucky enough to share the holidays with your fellow kitchen dancers, whoever they may be!

Merry Christmas. Now let go of my hand.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Family Christmas Card Photo - A Christmas Miracle

Oh ho ho! The jolly good Christmas card photo. The 3 little words, “Christmas card photo” each year, bring on fear like no other phrase for my dear husband. He’d tell you that he’d rather stick a fork in his eye than endure the cajoling, dressing, prepping, propping, and persuading. The children, likewise, run the other direction from the camera, as I chase, beg and plead; making promises of a "quick photo", and "easy stuff". Still, every year, beginning around the last days of November, the subject is raised and the clan begins to look upon this inevitable moment with a level of dread and anxiety reserved for death row inmates.

I usually start with good intentions and end up settling for something that doesn't really look at all like what I was hoping for, but it stops my husband from crying and the kids from screaming.
The blunders are always fun though, and tis the season, so I’ll share with you our overwhelming Christmas card joy.
This one, wasn’t such a hit with the kids, as you can imagine why.

And this one, well, little Arleigh just seems not quite sure about much of anything there in the middle eh?

And while I’m at it, I try to take photos for the kids thank you post cards as well. Stella, to no one’s surprise, hammed it up for her thank you notes.

We ended up with something a bit like this.

The cards are currently in process at the “Hillmark Store”. Funny huh? I’m hilarious, I know. Try not to wet yourself.

Yep, we make our own cards each year by hand. This year, a special thanks must go out to one referred to as “Sweetheart”, my dad, who patiently cut umpteen square windows in the front of the card in order to meet the design standard set by 9 year old, Addie. She was the creator of our card this year and little sis, Stella, spent quite a bit of time making it actually happen. From cutting and pasting to passive-aggressively critiquing, she was right there, on top of it all. Emory stuffed envelopes, because having him lick the “sticky strip” was the only way to keep him quiet and let us all have 15 minutes of peace.

Since the computer crashed and our address list has gone to a land unknown, drop us a line if you’d like a “Hillmark” Christmas card this year. In the meantime, know that this house is safe from the dreaded "Christmas card photo" for a good 10 more months. That’s a Christmas miracle all by itself.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Almost famous

A promise is a promise.

I told these kids I'd make them famous. Well, I exaggerated a tad. I promised most certainly though, that if they checked out our family blog this week, they'd at least see their smiling faces. (And smile, do they ever! )
 I was so lucky to have a chance to head back to the US for a bit. So lucky to have a hubby who can handle 4 kiddos and is willing to let me take a break. So lucky to have been able to catch up with my own family as well as this family, who we love so much.

Sadie, you've grown so! It's incredible to remember you sitting on the floor as a baby. Now you're busy guzzling down every drop of mathematics that you can get! Whew! Who knew?! Really kiddo, we're so proud of you. Keep studying! (p.s. Addie says she'd love to chat all about Harry Potter and Nancy Drew with you.)

Ella (Bo- Bella), Man alive! Your grin hasn't changed a bit and your reading skills are simply amazing! I loved the stories you read. I hope you'll continue to make crepes and explore lots of new "fancy" foods! We'll plan that sleepover,... as soon as I plan a move back to the US OK? In the meantime, Keep grinning kid. Love that smile!
Caleb, you really can move eh? From monkey bars, and soccer balls, to climbing in the woods and racing around the yard, you're one out-doorsey little guy! Quite a master at games too eh? I'll take you on the game board any day, speedy. (Like I said, ah-hem, any day after I make that trip across the pond, again).

Speaking of 'across the pond', the offer stands. You're all welcome to visit and you know we're waiting! In the meantime, I'll be looking for you guys in the paper. Afterall, you're famous now, right?

Violin Concert for St. Nicholaus

Each year the kids participate in a violin concert for St. Nicholaus. They donate a used toy to charity, then preform for a large audience, and are asked to watch attentively when they are not on stage.  In the end they are rewarded for their grand efforts with a goodie bag filled with a big speculous cookie, chocolates, and little candies. Our kids seem to preform willingly for such a reward. I'll upload some video of their current musical talents, ( surely you're salivating in anticipation?) but in the meantime, here are some shots from the seats in the peanut gallery. I'm convinced that if I spoke better french we'd get better seats; one incentive to staying in french class. In the meantime, we'll just continue to watch from the cheap seats.
C'est la vie!

 Her list of requests was can just read the impatience on the kids in line behind her. (Just kidding, St. Nick was chatting it up, and not really taking details for Santa's visit on the 24th).
 If you're wondering where numero 4 was through the concert, well, he was right here. Sick with a fever, cough, earaches and miserable with sinus troubles. He toughed it out for his reward too - a trip to the doc and round of antibiotics. Life is good.

Feast of St Nicholaus

Yep, again this year we celebrated with the rest of Belgium on the feast of St. Nick, leaving boots in the fireplace overnight.
We were greeted in the morning, all too early, with goodies, clementines, candies, chocolates, and little toys.
A stranger might have mistaken this for Christmas morning.
We're gonna miss St. Nick when we return to the US.,...or maybe he'll ride his horse across the pond for a visit there too, who knows?

He rode his horse all the way to school today, as he does each year, to greet the kids on this special day.
They were all smiles. Zwart Pete wasn't in attendance this year, which was ok too. Consequently, I was all smiles.

Happy Feast of St. Nicholaus Belgium!
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