Dear Luxembourg,

It wasn’t you, it was me…

We were together six years and 17 days, though it started as a 2 year commitment–typical, you know, for a relationship that began the way ours did.

In the beginning I worried about our communication—as if language itself wasn’t hard, your rules for driving, your lack of giving me space for parking…You were unavailable to me, failing me with what I needed when I needed it most–like after eight o’clock in the evening and on Sundays. You forcibly stamped every paper in sight! Building our relationship was a procedure or policy to you. Every year from November to March you were gloomy and walked around in a fog. But I fell in love anyway…

The sight of you, Luxembourg, took my breath away–you were so different from everything I knew, and you opened new doors to me. Through you I learned to love travel, see places through different eyes, experience unfamiliar cultures. From you I learned to love not only the small towns along the way, but the big hitters–London and Paris, Berlin and Vienna, Strasbourg, Salzburg, Amsterdam and Rome, Bucharest, Provence and Puglia, La Côte d’Azur, and even Dubai. But I always came home to you.

You introduced me to delicious and reasonable wines, though I’m not sure how reasonable I was after enjoying them. Through you I met Bernard Massad and the Kox, Schmit-Fohl and St. Martin families, and my bubbly new best friend Alice Hartmann. With them, I enjoyed delicious cheeses like reblochon, epoisse, gruyère, comté, gouda, Neufchâtel, and the curly petals of tête de Moins, along with a slice of saucisse and a hunk of fresh baguette or a board of flammkuchen.

Oh, dear Luxembourg, you helped me soar! I was and am more confident than ever! I tried new things–leading book clubs and Bible studies, taking trips with my friends, practicing yoga, cooking new dishes, teaching English to those whose mother tongue was Italian or French or Azerbaijani or Romanian. My friendships with people you introduced were more than special–true and sweet, meaningful and lasting (except for those few that weren’t)…

And I do miss you, little Grand Duchy, even more than I dreamed. I rethink that decision to end our relationship, but you knew there was third party involved. You also knew I’d choose Mr. Wonderful over you, always. After all, he enjoyed you nearly 30 years before I met you, and I sat home resentful–of his time you stole from me, the tales he told of you, the food and wine he shared with you. He introduced you to me, and I was smitten–by your character and your culture and your culinary delights. You are a jewel.

Those 6 years and 17 days with you, Luxembourg, are threaded in the tapestry of my little life, and I see no warrant to give up my moniker. I earned the title European Trophy Wife, though it takes little effort to be unemployed and the wife of a successful technical leader on another continent. I pretend Mr. Wonderful is the recipient of a status symbol in his betrothed, but in reality, I was the winner. I am the winner–of a life of excitement and exploration and fulfillment, no matter where I live.

It’s time to go…

Six years ago we were preparing to move from our cozy, safe little life to an adventure in Europe. We had to make decisions, purchases and purges, preparations, preparations, and… preparations. We were leaving our 4 (nearly) adult children in charge of the family home we were determined to preserve, and the devil was in the details.

And now in the process of repatriating, memories flood back about the concerns we cultivated, the excitement we expected, and the issues we anticipated. As I’ve been searching through some of those documents and problems we addressed in 2016, I came across the extensive chronicle of home maintenance I’d shared with our family.

How to Ruin a House: a novella

By Mom

Sunday evenings are very special to our family. To commemorate this amazing bond we have, we gather all our trash/recycling and put it by the curb. Because of this ritual, we have the MONDAY ceremony of returning the trash/recycling receptacles to their rightful places. 

Dear Lockhart children…if you’ve been here over the weekend, please gather ALL the trash–upstairs and down–and remove it from the house to keep the stink monsters, soot gremlins,  and critters away. 

THERMOSTAT THEORIES — Summer settings for cooling–during the day, the thermostat is acceptable on 73 or so degrees (warmer if you want). At night, it can be turned down to 69, for a more pleasant sleeping environment. If you’re gone for the weekend in the summer, please turn thermostat up to 78 or more (in order to keep the Fairport Electric bill easy to manage). When the weather begins to cool in the fall, feel free to turn the thermostat to OFF position.

BEFORE TURNING THE HEAT ON WHEN THE WEATHER COOLS, and you’re sure you won’t turn on the air again…Change the ductwork in the basement. Photos for demonstration will follow.

For the thermostat in winter, please turn no higher than 71 degrees during the day. You may sleep more comfortably turning it down to around 66 at night.  If you’ve been home for the weekend, please turn thermostat down to around 62 when you leave to go home. BRRR…

Please also take care to not leave crappy food in the fridge for too long. We’re not too excited to come home to a fuzzy green monster in the kitchen! (See Sunday ritual instructions)

Plumbing (in the color of plumbs!) and other water issues

In case of a water emergency–think “flash flood” in the house–turn off water at the main valve in the basement. That valve turns off water for the entire house. In smaller cases, turn off water under each sink. 

Please flush toilets on a weekly basis (keeps crud from growing).

Electricity

On the rare occasion a breaker blows–you’ll know. Sometimes the vacuum cleaner and the de-humidifier running at the same time will cause the breaker to shut off. The electric box is in the basement in the corner past the fridge. If indeed a breaker blew, you’ll see one of these switches is not like the others (yes, I’m singing that age old Sesame Street song in my head), so simply flip it!

Floors

Feel free to vacuum–please once a week (if you’re here!). In the winter, those little cinders from the salt and road get tracked in and could mark up the floor. If you want to really CLEAN the floor, just use damp cloth with a tiny bit of Dawn–clean with one hand, wipe dry with the other  =)  Wax on…wax off….NO WAX–that was just a movie reference!!  http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0087538/?ref_=nv_sr_1

Laundry

Some quirks about doing laundry at home–comforters do not fit in the washing machine, no matter how hard you push and arrange. Those should be washed in a bigger machine in the laundromat (it’s not so bad–I’ve made friends there!). 

Occasionally, it may begin to seem things aren’t getting dried so fast (don’t pack the dryer with huge loads). Sometimes the outside vent gets packed with lint. It’s around the garage by the air conditioner condenser thingy. Lift up the little flaps on the vent (or if the dryer’s on–they’ll be flapping a bit) and see if you need to pull some lint out. Do it well–keeps the flow good for drying capacities. The applications are endless!!!  😉 The bunnies and bird love the lint. Okay…I’m not really sure that’s true…just making it up…

In Case Something Happens to Us…

We have a will, though the attorney who did it for us is no longer practicing. See the letter I put with the will–it’s either in the safe–good luck finding that!–or in the file box on the basement steps.

We each have life insurance policies–Dad’s through work and Northwestern Mutual, mine through Mass Mutual–maybe Hartford, too (not sure about that one–I’m in the process of seeing if mine from work can be converted). And, should we die in Europe, our healthcare–United Healthcare–has a clause indicating they’ll pay to mail us home–or something like that! Hope it’s not price per pound…

And always…

Take care of each other

Love each other

Be kind and forgiving

Be funny

Work hard, even when it’s not fun

Protect your hearts

Know we’re praying for you

Remember that your Dad and I lived an adventurous life, and as much as we love you, our Father in Heaven loves you so much more…

 

Brick by Brick [or how to build a life]

We’ve known him for about five years now, but the first things we noticed about our friend Simon Kennedy besides his rakish good looks (he will read this) and his Scottish burr and humor, are his love for his beautiful wife and sweet pups, and his passion for people and service. We now know he’s an expert in lighting and sound for large events, he’s creative, he’s a musician, he’s authentic.

Simon Kennedy

One thing we didn’t know about Simon until the ten minutes it took him to loosen up around us, is that he’s a self-proclaimed and family-sanctioned LEGO collector-builder-hoarder-expert (LEGO geek for short). When I asked Simon “how did your fascination with LEGOs begin?” I was gently chided for adding an “s,” as LEGO is an adjective–acceptable plurals are: LEGO bricks or LEGO sets. He told the story of the humble beginning of the carpenter who made the interlocking blocks and named them using the Danish phrase leg godt, meaning “play well,” which sounds very sweet and endearing until you step on one in your bare feet and call it something entirely different…

It’s wonderful to have all the facts of the LEGO company and its evolution, and hear Simon reciting his mother’s memory of the sound of her sons raking through the boxes of bricks, but the most fascinating thing about the Scotsman’s love of LEGO is how he connected it (ba-dum-chh!) to his love of Luxembourg. When the pandemic arrived on the scene and life slowed down for us all, Simon found relaxation in his love of building with LEGO. Though he had recreated other buildings around the Grand Duchy, like Ready?! Coffee in Limpertsberg, his “crowning” achievement is his replica of the Grand Ducal Palace in Luxembourg. He took pictures of the palace, studied it, and collected soooo many bricks. With its turrets, windows, and ornate balconies, it was a special challenge to recreate the grandeur and stately character of this standout landmark in the little city of Luxembourg.

Making a model of the beloved official residence of the Grand Duke and tourist hotspot (especially viewed from The Chocolate House across the walkway, avec an coupe de crémant ou de café et croissant au chocolat, of course) is a meticulous process that is not for the impatient and hurried souls. When asked how many bricks were necessary for the LEGO model, Simon answers, “I’ve no idea, but even one window took 70 bricks.” It’s not exactly built to scale, because, as our LEGO architect explained, it would be difficult, if not impossible–due to the sizing of bricks– but the replica is balanced and true to its in-person image. Understand, however, the building required hundreds and hundreds (and waaay more hundreds) of yellowish, buff-colored bricks, not to mention six months of time.

The LEGO rendition of the Grand Ducal Palace of Luxembourg, photo by Simon Kennedy

The turrets of the palace were borrowed from some Harry Potter LEGO collections, and the spires on the turrets are actually steering wheels from LEGO vehicles.

The true Palace, showcasing the turrets
Follow Simon on Instagram @luxlegogeek

In addition to the hours of collecting bricks, studying photos, constructing the palace, and loving his hobby, Simon connects with the traditions and history of his adopted land in real life, not just LEGO life. He has demonstrated that by serving at Croix Rouge–helping organize the donations of clothing, serving meals to residents, organizing volunteers in both of those ministries, and building relationships with those he serves and those he serves alongside. His involvement with All Nations Church of Luxembourg and the people he encounters there is a blessing and a joy. The Scotsman speaks French and continues to improve in using the language. He speaks well of the countryside and its beauty, the country and its leaders, the Luxembourgish people and their character.

Simon is one of those people who mold and conform to an environment, not just as a consumer of his space, but as a contributor to the community. He’s definitely one of those people who makes you think that you simply cannot imagine that place without him.

My friend Simon and me

Night sky in Luxembourg

When we found this apartment 5 years ago, I was excited about the proximity to city centre—an easy walk, convenient bus stops, shopping near. My dear husband was NOT excited about the proximity of civilization—he preferred the circa 1500 farmhouse in the Belgian countryside, complete with…nothing.

Operating under cover of darkness is his modus operandi—one of the many conditions necessary for his hobby. And no, Mr. Wonderful is not a serial killer, unless snuffing our social life for his clear nights of stargazing counts. My dear (self-proclaimed and family-sanctioned) geeky husband is an amateur astrophotographer, maker of telescopes and mirrors, teacher of the night sky.

He fits black felt inside the telescope tube to remove light reflection in the wrong direction. He cuts cardboard extensions, laminated with my reusable-no-more shopping bags for the tube to eliminate dew collection on the mirror. While he McGyvers his instrument (yes, I’m referring to the telescope), I watch British detective shows or grab a book from the growing pile. I’ve learned not to ask what he’s working on, because he’ll actually explain it.

Problem-solving
Felt liner on the inside of a tub of cardboard, grocery bag on the outside. This provides an extension on the tube on the telescope in order to prevent dew from building up on the mirror

Our travels have taken us to places of famous astronomers…to Greenwich to see the Royal Observatory, home of the Prime Meridian and William Herschel’s 40 foot reflecting telescope with which he discovered my favorite planet–Uranus.

Is this a big telescope? You bet Uranus it is!
One side is east, one is west…
We took a boat down the Thames River to Greenwich

In 2015, we were so happy to visit Paris (though my dear husband had, of course, been before). We walked and walked, practically ran through the Louvre to see all we wanted to see. As we gave up on our blistered feet and French-exhausted brains, we purchased tickets for those hop-on hop-off buses to maximum our views and rest on our grateful butts. At one stop, near the Pantheon, Mr. Wonderful suggested we limp off the bus in search of lunch. Though I saw some delightful terraced cafés in one direction, he suggested the other way. The neighborhood seemed somewhat sketchy to my suburban eye, but we explored on, grateful to find an air-conditioned pizzeria on the 99 degree day. As we rested, my travel buddy scoured the map, then looked at me sheepishly, “the Paris Observatory is only a 15 minute walk from here.” A thirty minute walk brought us to the observatory, authorized by King Louis XIV in 1666, where Saturn’s moon lapetus was discovered in 1671 and in 1676, the staff concluded that light was travelling at a finite speed. Sadly, the institution was open for tours only by appointments on Sundays (and is now closed due to renovations, not to mention the pandemic), but my star-gazing husband was thrilled to see a statue of Urbain Jean Joseph Le Verrier, who used mathematics to predict the existence and position of Neptune.

I’m sure someone would love to explain to you all of this astronomer’s many achievements…

We look forward to traveling to Denmark some day (hopefully soon?)–I would love to see Tivoli Garden and the colorful harbor of Nyhavn, the Little Mermaid, and Kronborg Castle. Someone is fascinated with Tycho Brahe, a 16th-century Danish astronomer who developed instruments for calculating and fixing the positions of the stars. My only attraction with the famous astronomer is that he lost his nose in a duel, and he may have been killed by king Christian IV because Brahe allegedly had an affair with his wife. My favorite part, besides hearing our Danish friend try to teach my dear husband the proper pronunciation of the name, is the myth that his death was the result of an exploding bladder…which makes me so sad he had nothing to do with the discovery of Uranus…what a fine pairing that would have been!

Though my level of scientific intellect differs greatly from that of my spouse, there are, beyond question, lessons learned. I now know that certain filters for a camera can assist in eliminating some light pollution; the light of a full moon makes it difficult to capture sharp images of stars or galaxies; globular clusters are dense collections of stars, nebulae are interstellar clouds of dust, and galaxies come in many shapes and sizes (spiral, elliptical and irregular). I know it’s better to watch a meteor shower with the bare eye, and I can (sometimes) locate Venus and Saturn in the sky. I know that when an amateur astronomer receives a delivery of new instruments for his or her hobby, there will automatically be 3 weeks of clouds and gloom.

One thing I know for sure: the look of joy on this man’s face when he opened the gift of a starter telescope nearly 20 years ago is one I’ll never forget. Nor will I forget the studious look on his face when he devoured (over and over) a book, written in 1947, given to him by our octogenarian friend Phil, along with a kit for making a 6 inch telescope mirror, and the satisfaction as he measured and re-measured, shaping the piece of glass into the perfect parabola before buffing and polishing. All this science and math and building and calibrating and measuring and adjusting leads, not only to an artillery battery of different sized telescopes, but to the amazement in his eyes when he looks into the night sky.

He determines the number of the stars, and calls them each by name. Psalm 147:4

Orion Nebula (M42) 1,400 light years from the Earth (photo by M. Lockhart)
Rosette Nebula 5,500 light years away (photo by M. Lockhart)
Veil Nebula (western veil), with bright star 52 Cygni (photo by M. Lockhart)
Ummm…it’s the moon, from our terrace in Luxembourg (photo by M. Lockhart)
Globular Cluster (M15) 34,000 light years away (photo by M. Lockhart)
Lagoon Nebula (M8) 4,300 light years away

Cloistered from Covid19

The first week of lockdown was (almost) fun. While Mr. Wonderful worked from home and I was free from obligations, it felt like a chance to step back and recharge. I started reading The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. I was sure I would use this two week lockdown to nourish my intellect, strengthen my physique with online yoga, and settle my faith.

I listened (by proximity rather than choice) to meetings about film and polypropylene and resins and recycling and customers and engineers and business cases.  I had video chats with friends from long ago,  nearly daily FaceTime with the kids/grandkids or sisters and mother. I cleaned the top of my cabinets, scrubbed my floors by hand, and posted non-stop on Facebook and Instagram.

The second week, I continued to read about the ‘rona and follow the directions of the Prime Minister, worried about my cough, grew exasperated when my husband said I needed to cut Facetime short because the WIFI for his WebEX meeting was breaking up. I defrosted my freezer and cleaned my oven. I waited for 6 pm, or 7 when work was finished for my great provider. I video messaged my gal pals, got excited when it was my turn to go to the store, prayed for my 3 friends who had positive tests for Covid19, and wondered if my non-stop headache and little cough could be from exposure at the dinner party at my sick friends’ house. I was interviewed for a podcast at our church. I was still reading The Goldfinch.

The third week, normal schedule resumed, though it was virtual. I was grateful for online church, Zoom Bible study and small group, Messenger chats with my friends. I celebrated a friend’s birthday with a group crémant toast on Zoom. I grew tired of trying to schedule running the vacuum around my husband’s meetings, hearing conversations about production runs and business cases and intellectual property. Our Zoom happy hour with longtime friends was a pleasure, and family Zoom meetin’ time with our kids a lifeline and a blessing. We signed up to help with grocery shopping and delivery with church, since we’d already been helping our elderly downstairs neighbors and our positive Covid19 friends. The Goldfinch dragged on and I grew so tired of the stupid mistakes the main character made, while continuing to love the character Hobie. I found out someone I love in the US had passed away and I can’t be there, to honor his life or the commitment of my sister, who loved him more.

Week four–ugh! In all honesty, I’m a bit pissed off at this stupid tiny virus that wreaks havoc in the life of the WORLD!

It’s so exciting when Mr. Wonderful takes his turn to grocery shop so I’m actually ALONE for a short time. On the other hand, as he passes for a snack between meetings and phone conversations, I annoy him with my, “honey, are you glad to be locked down with me?” and “will you still love me when they let us out?” queries. Yet, as my dear husband plays the guitar and sings in his beautiful tenor, I hum along in my serviceable alto. He puts his telescope on the patio and takes beautiful photos of the moon and the stars and galaxies and globular clusters. We’ve been married for 36 years…I’m sure we’ll stand strong in this and through this. And I finished The Goldfinch–FINALLY.

The amount of coffee we’re drinking is staggering, as is the amount of wine (not really–okay REALLY).  As my dear husband finishes a meeting and grabs for a snack, I cringe, dreading the sound of the pistachios and their shells in the little glass bowl–I’m just sure we have a rodent in a cage somewhere in the house. The amount of laundry is much less than usual, as my husband has his nice shirt only for video meetings, and I hang out in a tank and yoga pants. I cook, and cook, and cook some more. I might actually get good at it.

We head to the terrace every night at 8 to join the clapping and cheering for our healthcare workers. And every night, it brings a tear to my eye. We’re grateful for our health. We’re more than grateful for technology. I’m incredibly thankful for social media (well, some of it) and the diversion it provides, and the laughter at silly memes, and the feeling that we’re not alone.

I’m appreciative of those dear people who work in the grocery store, still smiling, despite enforcing the social distancing regulations. I’m grateful for full shelves in the grocery–for coffee and wine and chocolate and toilet paper, and beautiful fruit and vegetables. I’m thankful for the Post deliveries, and the Amazon deliveries. I’m grateful my little Chinese restaurant is open for takeaway once every couple weeks, and we’ve found some good pizza to grab. I’m grounded by my faith.

As this changed life continues, we pray for those directly affected by the disease, for jobs lost because of the lockdown, for milestones celebrated differently, for relationships and love and the joy of living. We look forward to a time of loosening of restriction. We pray for healing.

The Lord bless you and keep you, and make His face to shine upon you.

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This Thursday

Thanksgiving is all about the T‘s: giving thanks on a Thursday, eating a turkey named Tom with mashed and sweet ‘taters, and embracing traditions. We added another T to our holiday hoopla some years back, and since we moved to Luxembourg, it has become a big player in our November festivities…

When we were the young parents of toddler and baby boys, and we had an opportunity to save money toward buying a house, saving on rent by moving into a business and doing an odd job or two. And just like that, we lived in a funeral home.

Planning parties was tricky, knowing that if calling hours or a funeral were scheduled, we’d need to vacate the upstairs apartment, lest the rattling of the chandeliers downstairs rattle those expressing their grief. So when we invited Mr. Wonderful’s sister and her family for Thanksgiving, we knew our plans could go topsy-turvy. On Wednesday, we shopped and planned and cleaned and prepped and welcomed our visitors for the festivities. As the kids played and the men talked (American) football, my dear sister-in-law and I prepared a batch of brownies and threw them in the oven, knowing the picky little eaters in the other room would much prefer chocolate over pumpkin. We waited for the finished product, but realized there was no pleasing aroma of Betty Crocker wafting from the kitchen, because….the oven was not hot, not warm, not baking.

The appliance was antiquated, a huge monstrosity of enamel and iron, with a heating element that simply wasn’t working. Despite the men pulling and poking and plugging and un(plugging), calling every repair shop in the area, and driving to parts of the city no one should ever see, the oven remained broken, cold, unuseable. Our menu for the next day changed dramatically, as we needed a meal that could be prepared using only the stovetop and microwave. The solution was simple…tacos for Thanksgiving. The dinner was delicious and festive, the story funny for years to come (as if living in a funeral home wasn’t funny enough)!

And here we are for our fourth non-Thanksgiving in a country far away from family. The turkeys are tiny yet cost a wing and a drumstick. There is no Thursday closing of the office, no gathering of family and friends on a weekday for a midday meal, with the Macy’s Parade and football and the whir of a mixer and the mixture of laughter amidst the games. Of course I live in a different country and it’s unfair, and probably childish, to expect things to be THE SAME. So yes, I miss my kids desperately, and my mom and all the sisters. I miss making a meal for 10 people or more while my sons ask if there’s anything they can do to help and my daughters decorate the table. I miss the smells, and the heat of the kitchen, and the fully belly and exhaustion when the day is done.

As always, I am thankful, that our kids are with people who love them, that they are healthy, that they’re people who are kind and generous and funny. I’m thankful that I still have my mother, and that she Facetimes with me from her always rocking chair while I look for Dramamine. I’m thankful for my sisters and their husbands and how we love and support one another. I’m thankful for my dear husband’s sisters, whom I love and admire and enjoy so very much. And I’m thankful  for friends both here and around the world who become our family.

Tomorrow, the Thursday I’ve been dreading, we’ll give thanks for a God who loves us and desires the best for us. We’ll give thanks for Mr. Wonderful’s job, even when it’s difficult. We’ll give thanks for food on the table and and for all we’ve seen and done. And before we Facetime, we’ll have tacos for dinner and toast the technology that connects us with those we love.

 

 

The Day I Broke Yoga

I’m not physically fit.

Some might call me curvy, the politically word correct for “chubby.” I’m more flexible in my politics than my torso, but my very fleshly posture is not rigid enough in the correct way. I decided, with great encouragement and enthusiasm from a dear friend, it was time to do something about it.

For the first time in my sedentary life, I went to a yoga class.

Now, in all honesty, I had a fear of yoga for 3 reasons:

  • I am not athletic at all. My dad always told me, “Diner (his nickname for me),  if you can’t be an athlete, you can always be an athletic supporter.”  BA DUM CHHH
  • That rigidity I mentioned came into play in thinking if I participated in yoga, I’d become Hindu.
  • And, I was just sure that, upon doing the downward dog with my buttocks in the air like I just didn’t care, I would toot–having four children loosened my resolve in many areas, especially the nether regions…

So I put on my big girl yoga pants, took an imodium, prayed for strength and dignity and went to yoga class–senior yoga. Upon arrival, I was greeted by the very petite and kind teacher. And then I learned that, not only would I have strange-to-me vocabulary and movements, BUT THE CLASS WOULD BE IN FRENCH!! I understood a few words here and there, but mostly I just mimicked the other attendees, some of whom had taken more trips around the sun than I, some of whom were nattily dressed in yoga garb, some of whom were older men in t-shirts and shorts. I chose a spot waaay in the back next to the wall, unfurled my pink Nike yoga mat Mr. Wonderful had bought me many years ago for my birthday, folded a wool blanket of some kind, and sat on that: criss-cross-applesauce-hands-in-my-lap.

I was unprepared for the singing part of yoga–the not quite matching pitch of the humming drove my somewhat musical ear to prayer. The equipment that helps maintain poses also surprised me–the belt, the blocks, the foam blocks, bolsters, and  chairs. The bolster was nice and cozy until I scooched off the end as instructed, felt something pop, and drown in a tsunami of buckwheat. My friend, who shall remain nameless (Martha), looked at me with eyes wide and we both bent to scoop, sweep and hide away kernels of stuffing while the teacher paused and focused on us. There was no point in hiding the carnage at that point…

Here’s the good news: I made it through 90 minutes of yoga en francais. I felt strong, accomplished, sore as can be. And I went back the next week. And the next. I’ve found myself doing stretches when I’ve spent too much time bending over my computer or a book, or when my back starts to ache when I’ve walked a lot. I remind myself to pull my shoulders together, raise my chest, and take a deep breath. It’s easier for me to reach and bend. I appreciate the functional benefits. I feel proud that I tried something new, that I pushed myself a bit.

I will always be an athletic supporter–but a strong one!

I prayed for strength and perseverance during poses–I’m still a one God gal.

And when I google “farting in yoga class?” –there are 23,400,000 results, including YouTube videos…just sayin’…

 

 

 

 

 

Foraging for Friends

We brought only four place settings with us when we moved to Luxembourg. After all, we didn’t know anyone here, save our delightful relocation agent who was paid to spend time with us. We thought it would be just us for dinner, just us for drinks on the terrace, just us laughing at each others’ corny jokes.

For a short while, it was just us.

But then, the vacation, or “holiday” mood for you Europeans, with our new surroundings began to wane as we uncovered limited language comprehension, limited shopping hours, and even more limited parking spaces. With the dawning realization this funny, sweet little country was actually our new home came the discovery that we needed a plan–the same plan that had worked for us in our trailer in West Virginia, our funeral home and apartments in New York, our home in deep South Georgia, and back to our home in dear Fairport, NY. It was time to roll up our sleeves and get down to business about LIVING in this new place and making friends!

And now, in the present I question, “how did we make friends? where did I meet people?”  And I don’t think women are alone in the need for comrades. Not counting my delightful and enduring/endearing alliances with work friends, or friends I’ve made through my dear husband, here are some ways I (or we) have recently made new acquaintances/friendships:

  • Clubs–Though hardly all Americans (and who moves to another country just to be friends with their own kind?), the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg is an excellent introduction to life here. There are welcome coffees and book clubs, travel talks and hiking groups, moms’ outings and crafting hours and cooking classes and wine tastings, and wine tastings, and wine tastings! Opportunities to meet people and get involved abound. I’m so happy joining this cohort was one of my first steps to social sanity in Luxembourg!
  • Church–Attending church has been important to my dear husband and me, not only for the spiritual benefits, but for the social aspect as well. All Nations Church of Luxembourg is an English-speaking church with people from, you guessed it, all around the world. The people are welcoming and kind,  the friendships are rich in both challenge and encouragement. There are worship services and small groups, and here’s something you won’t see in America…wine at a church potluck!
  • Service–When I reach out to others, It helps me put aside my loneliness and loosen the grip on the idea that I’m the center of the universe. Volunteering to serve meals at Croix Rouge was some of the most meaningful time I’ve spent in Luxembourg. I made a very dear friend as we passed dishes and dished stories together. Though I stopped volunteering in this way because my poor old back couldn’t withstand the standing, it’s a pleasure to see my sidekick on a regular basis AND spot a few of the patrons around town!
  • Classes–Limping along in English only was not an option for us here in Luxembourg, so Mr. Wonderful and I signed up for French classes. The group at Prolingua was small, the teacher encouraging and challenging and humorous–at least we thought she was funny, but who knows? She spoke French exclusively! Though we were “we-could-be-your-parents” older than the rest of the students, we bonded over butchering the beautiful language in our different accents: Polish, Romanian, Norwegian, Greek, and American…and dined and laughed and festivaled together. We’re due for another meet up–I’ll be in contact, Dagmara!!
  • Restaurants–In European restaurants, tables are close to one another, often abutting one another so this big-butted woman worries about being able to maneuver to the table without…butting into someone. In such close proximity at our neighborhood Italian canteen, a couple at the adjacent table heard us speaking English…we began a conversation that finished with the exchanging of contact info and planning a next meal together. We’ve now shared many meals, a weekend away, and hours and hours of conversations!

Making new connections is certainly not easy, but what a richness in being able to share meals, life experiences, laughter, and heartache with someone. And making new pals doesn’t mean we forget the old or vintage relationships. At the risk of planting an earworm, “Make new friends, but keep the old: one is silver but the other’s gold.”

 

 

 

Q & A with an Expat

We never thought we’d move to Europe. Our relocation to New York from our cozy and familiar state of West Virginia was a big step for us years (and years) ago. Then our move to the Deep South was a huge difference–in accent, slang, food, and custom…The move back to New York after our nearly 5 year “exile” was not as smooth as we had hoped, but we did become quite cozy and comfortable in New York.

Then we moved to Luxembourg.

Upon our return “home” for a visit, we encounter a few types of people: those who want to know what our life is like here in this sweet little country, and those who are unsure how to approach the topic, and those who never (because of time constraints or lack of interest) get passed the subjects of family and current events. We’ve learned to distinguish the course of the conversation and, after sincerely investigating the events of their lives, we discern how honestly to answer or offer a snapshot of life outside the United States. Yet, even as Mr. Wonderful and I carefully answer queries posed, in the back of our little pea brains lie the responses with which we’d love to cut loose! Here are some commonly asked question:

1. So, how do you like living in Germany (substitute “Belgium” freely)? Answer given: Actually, Luxembourg is a country all its own, bordered by France and Belgium and Germany. Answer we want to give: You know, Luxembourg is  ON the map of Europe–perhaps you could take a peek!

2. Does everyone speak English? Answer given: Luxembourgish, French and German are the main languages used, but some people speak English, though we try to communicate in French first. Answer we want to give: Heck no, not everyone speaks English! It’s a FOREIGN COUNTRY!!!

3. What’s it like living in Europe?  Answer given: Oh, it’s hard being away from family and friends. The streets and parking spaces are small, the holidays are not the same, the language is labor intensive…but we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity! Answer we want to give: Are you kidding? Have you even looked at our posts on Facebook and Instagram? The castles, the views, the Eiffel Tower and the Tower of London, Vienna (the real one), the wine and the cheese and the bread…

4. Aren’t the people less friendly than we are in the United States? Answer given: Sometimes it’s harder to get to know people–remember, the language is a barrier at times and the culture is completely different. Answer we want to give: Do you kiss people you meet three times to greet them? If that’s not friendly, we don’t know what is! We’ve been welcomed and accepted by many of the nationalities we’ve encountered here, and it’s a privilege to call them “friends.”

5. Why did you move to Luxembourg, and would you do it again? Answer given: We had little choice in the move because we like to eat and pay our bills! Answer we want to give: Working and living in Europe is like a dream come true! We could never imagine being able to travel and meet so many fascinating and wonderful people on our own, so we knew our attitudes and approach had to match the task–to assimilate and appreciate and absorb the opportunity all around us with a touch of confidence and a ton of joy. Would we do it all over again? You bet we would!

Seasons in Luxembourg

It’s the leaving season. In the past few days, two of my dearest friends left Luxembourg, and in days to come, two more sweet women, as well as others I’ve been privileged to know, will depart with their families. If they return someday, it will be as tourists, guests, “friends who are visiting,” not as fellow expats navigating this adorable little country. It’s the heart-wrenching leaving season…my least favorite season of all…

My phone has been pinging so often, with questions to a group chat like, “Who needs a hand blender?” or “Mint extract, anyone?” or “I’ve got bottles of toilet cleaner–who wants ’em?” As those departing prepare to return to a country using 110 voltage or a different plug, and their packers have given them lists of forbidden items in the shipping container, they’re desperately clearing their homes while clinging to friendships. You see, living in an unfamiliar country or language or culture is a catalyst for relationships, as piloting through unknown waters together fastens people  in a bond held strong by experiences recounted or fear of the unknown. Butchering the language with someone is so much more enjoyable than floundering alone, d’accord? How comforting it is to laugh about the lack of online registering and the lunch hour closures of government offices when trying to renew that ever-expiring resident card? And then there are the lingering lunches on the terrace…

We don’t forget or replace our friendships “back home.” In fact, many of the people I love spending time with here in Luxembourg remind me of someone in New York. The candor and humor, the laughter and conversation, the compassion and service…I can draw lines to match Luxembourg friends to New York friends (or West Virginia family), regardless of language or nationality or accents or looks. The phrase “having the best of both worlds” takes on a whole, friendly new meaning.

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And now,  as expats move back to their home countries or next assignments in order to be settled before the school year begins, friends and family arrive here for visits, a lovely reminder that the longevity of friendship has little to do with location, but much to do with the heart and desire. The leaving season is upon us, and though it tugs at my tear ducts,  a lifelong alliance with the leave-ER is a sweet memento of life in Lux.

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