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 Best People

The Crown, S2:E4 “Beryl”

TONY: You’ve probably never been on a bus, have you?

PRINCESS MARGARET: (puffs on her cigarette) No.

TONY: Pity. You really do meet the best people.

I don’t mind riding the bus. When the temperature is crisp and precipitation is less than predictable, it’s worth a good hair day to check the schedule, validate that ticket on my phone, and hop on the number 28 to some of my familiar, if not favorite, places.

I’d had a wonderful morning with some friends and needed to scurry to the grocery store to grab a few (ha!) things for upcoming festivities at our apartment. The bus would be another 5 minutes and since I was most likely the oldest person waiting, I parked my tired boo-hiney (West Virginian for buttocks) on the not-so-clean wooden bench to await my extra long limo. A woman, most likely near my age, joined me on the seat then began speaking to me en francais.

“J’aime tes chaussures.” I smiled, and immediately told her, in French, that I spoke only a little of the language. She was not deterred from pursuing conversation, so I tried in my best bad French to tell her I walk a lot in these shoes, because I couldn’t remember the French word for “comfortable” (which is, of course, confortable— almost the same word with a French accent!!). She spoke a bit of English, I spoke a bit of French, as she told me her sister had a bad foot and footwear like mine would be good for her. (Was that a compliment? I hadn’t thought of my sandals as orthopaedic).

My bus arrived, and it was, of course, her bus, too. I boarded and sat against the window, and as she approached I realized she was going to sit with me, so I patted the seat and smiled at her. She introduced herself: Marianne had lived in Luxembourg for a very long time, though she was originally from Cameroon. Her skin was beautiful brown, as she pointed to her hand and said her children were the same color, though her husband is Luxembourgish. We talked about how Luxembourg is a country of peace and the people are nice. We chatted about window shopping at La Belle Etoile and cooking. She swore the prepared chicken wings at that Cactus were better than any other Cactus store in the country. She told me her husband is a good man, and asked if I had a good man, too. When I answered, she smiled broadly and we both nodded.

As we parted ways, she squeezed my hand, and I told her I hoped to see her again.

It was no random occurrence, the encounter with Marianne, in my heart or in my mind. In this place, so foreign and far from home, I’m finding a human touch, a smile, a word goes a long way in making me feel like I belong or matter or make a difference.

Have you been on a bus in Luxembourg? You really do meet the best people…