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.

 

 

Summertime, and the living is easy. And quiet. And deserted. The programs at churches and clubs are bare bones for the summer. There is no book club, or travel talk, or Bible study or small group, no French classes–no traffic–as everyone (and I mean the whole country) goes elsewhere on vacation. The American expats fly home to Alabama and Michigan and New York and Oklahoma and Seattle and Ohio and Texas for weeks on end, taking advantage of the completion of a school year. The EU expats travel to Italy and Ireland, to Provence and Poland, London and Latvia, the Netherlands or New York. The motorways are filled with campers and motor homes going everywhere but here. 

travel-plan

For a week I sat here by myself, while Mark flew to the U.S. for work, still far FAR away from our kids. I did my best to stay busy, but I nearly had to break up with Netflix–it was so much easier to settle in with my favorite shows and actors and movies than to make myself join the rest of the remaining population of Luxembourg. The weekend was the hardest: despite the never-ending festivals in Luxembourg, the energy and activity of city centre, the evenings defeated me, so I called up my old friend Tom Hanks and the staff from Downton Abbey to keep me company.

Mr. Wonderful has returned, and the rest of Luxembourg is slowly trickling back. I’ve now experienced the sadness of losing three expat friends back to their homelands–just the nature of the beast here. And now is the advent of a  new crop of expats, having spent a last summer wherever “home” is, squeezing out every last minute with family and friends, staying in temporary housing until the shipping container arrives, shopping for appliances with the correct plug and wattage, foraging in the grocery store for products that look familiar despite the two languages choices on the packaging being more than foreign.  This summer, I’m the adviser, the info desk, and I’m anticipating the new friendships in the making.

Giant Blue Container Ship and Small Red Tugboat

The predicament here in this beautiful country, whether sultry summer, foggy fall, wet winter, or pretty printemps, is the coming and going of allies, fellow compatriots navigating not only the narrow roads but the wide cultural differences. I recognize that friendships exist in my life in seasons, for reasons–to teach me, to mature me–and I’m grateful for that instruction as well as the pleasure of rapport, no matter what the weather. But today? It’s Assumption Day in Luxembourg, and while this Protestant doesn’t understand why it’s a public holiday, my BEST friend is home from the office.  It’s summertime and, at least today, the living is easy. Cheers!

cremant

 

 

In the Market for Christmas!

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, and it has been since before Halloween! Here in Luxembourg, stores began holiday displays before All Saints Day–maybe because there’s no distracting Thanksgiving celebration in between–but probably because Christmas in Europe is beautiful and the traditions varied, and we’re doing our best to sample them all!

Christmas markets, Marché de Nöel, Weihnachtsmarkt, Christkindlmarkt are lovely little holiday villages that pop up in city centers and villages across Europe during Advent and sometimes beyond. Shoppers stroll about, clutching a glass or ceramic mug of glühwäin in one hand and mettwurscht in the other, the aroma of mulled wine and sausages wafting through the nippy air. Decorated wooden stalls display homemade goods and crafts, Christmas ornaments (some made locally and some, unfortunately, from China), breads, candied nuts, more sausages, chocolates, leather and wooden commodities, chestnuts roasting on an open fire (for real!),  and any form of drink. Christmas music plays–American Christmas tunes, played by brass band, sung by choir or soloists–people are humming along, laughing and talking, oohing and aahing . Mark and I have been to markets in Luxembourg City, Dudeldorf (a very sweet market in a tiny German village), and I’ve traveled in Germany to the markets in Mainz and Weisbaden with the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg. When visiting markets, wandering through the stalls with a warm beverage (you can keep the cup!), it is advisable to keep your bag zippered closed and avoid being jostled–not because of pick pockets, who certainly exist in any gathering–but because one could spill her spiced (and spiked!) eggnog in her fairly new purse. NOTE: Febreeze is not sold in Europe.

And those pretty little Christmas table decorations? The wooden, tiered scenes with the candles that make the blades on top  go around? Well, Saint Nicholas, since today is your day–I’d really like one of those German Christmas Pyramids in my huge stinky shoe. I’m might be a day late, but maybe Saint Mark, mon marie extrodinaire, could put a light under someone’s, well…

christmas-pyramid

There’s no doubt that Christmas in Europe is magical, whimsical, remarkable, but there’s no place like you-know-where for the holidays.

 

 

 

What doesn’t kill you: expat epiphanies

I’m not a weenie, a wuss, a weak-minded woman. I’ve survived – even thrived – in some fairly adverse circumstances. But, quite honestly, being an expat, a “trailing” spouse, a foreigner– can be precarious in the best of times. As the holiday season begins, as families consider going over the river and through the woods…well…for this expat, it’s all downhill from there!

I’m sure the weather here in Luxembourg (rain, rain, and more rain) doesn’t lift my spirits, nor did my husband’s extended-at-the-last-minute trip to the U.S. last week. Being alone in another country continent is plain odd. I’ve lived places in the past besides my home town, but it was with my husband AND children, so that when Mark traveled, I had the kids keeping me spinning, paired with the comfort of their “I know, Mom,” mantras. Then, as the kids (mostly) grew up and left us, I had the routine of my job, the camaraderie of coworkers, and the congregation of my church to keep time flying. Now the days are long, daylight is short, and my heart is a bit cold in relation to being away from my…relations.

Thanksgiving is drawing nigh. In the United States. There is no Thanksgiving holiday in Luxembourg, though a smattering of celebrations can be found. Here, turkeys must be ordered (and may not fit in the small ovens), canned pumpkin is nowhere in sight, and Thursday is just another day at the office (or home alone in the apartment)! There will be no kiddos stumbling downstairs and into the kitchen, no offspring sniffing the air and asking “what time are we eating?” There will be no Scattergories or Settlers of Catan or Macy’s parade while I prep and cook and watch the family fun. There is, however, a rehearsing of gratitude, a chorus of gratefulness. My dear husband and I have a strong, affectionate marriage–we enjoy each other’s company. We have four (our dear daughter-in-law makes 5!) children who are accomplished, kind, funny people. We have the cutest grandson in the world, who is learning integrity and compassion from his parents. I survived sepsis, the illnesses of and death of a parent and parent-in-law,  breast cancer, an exile to Georgia (the state), and vacuuming around dead people in a funeral home–our home–for over 2 years. We’ve (Mark is a willing and wise participant) stumbled through all this and more, regained our footing, and continued to wait on that “peace that transcends all understanding.”

This is a wonderful place to live, a once-in-a-lifetime-experience to garner. BUT it’s not easy–to live/work/drive/shop here, to be away from our kids and extended family, to work in an environment where English is spoken only when necessary, to have no friends (yet) who know us deeply and love us anyway. BUT again–we thank our God every time we remember you. In all our prayers for all of you, we always pray with joy. Thus says the Apostle Paul in Philippians. This Thanksgiving, I’m sticking with him.