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

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’…