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

 

 

Back in the Saddle Again!

Who likes to go to the gynecologist? Wave those stirruped  feet in the air! Last week, this breast cancer survivor who, because of changed health insurance and fear of foreign francophone “female” physicians (but fondness for alliteration), FINALLY  had a rendezvous with medicine. Making the appointment was simple…keeping it was challenging.

Rather than using the telephone to make my appointment, I decided, because of my anxiety in speaking French over the phone, to simply go in to the gynecology practice and make the appointment in person. I had checked my calendar first, practicing the days of the week (in French) and reminding myself of the reverse order of month and day in Europe. Those things, combined with the math involved in converting military time to “normal,” gave me the confidence to march through that door, up to the counter and say swiftly, “Anglais, s’il vous plait?” The receptionist was gracious, her English good, and I walked away with an appointment card for the next week. I had repeated, “Tuesday,” with the woman, cementing that day and the 16:00 time in my head.

Next week Tuesday arrived, and we were in the midst of that hateful heat wave–90 degrees for several days in a row.  I did my chores and errands early, knowing I’d like to shower off the evidence of said heat wave before my appointment. All nice and fresh, bolstered with courage, I kept my appointment, only to have the receptionist tell me my appointment was the next day. Sigh…Tuesday had been lost in translation…Wednesday, I did my morning chores and errands, rushed home to shower off the heat wave before my appointment, and while toweling off, answer a call from the doctor’s office: she’s not in today, would I please come same time tomorrow. Thursday (still 90 degrees), I keep my morning obligations, do my chores, run my errands, and rush home to freshen up in the shower before my appointment. I arrive two minutes early, thinking there will be much paperwork to fill out since this is my first time at the doctor, but there is no paperwork, no peeing in a cup, no prior histories, just “please take a seat.”

When I’m called back to see the doctor (I only had to wait about 15 minutes), she asks me some questions about my medical history. When she asks me how tall I am in centimeters, I grin and say, “Yikes–I don’t know. We don’t use the metric system in the United States.” She looks at me sternly, asking if I have a calculator. I do indeed make that calculation on my iPhone (but okay, really I just Googled “how many centimeters is 5 foot 8 inches”). The doctor typed in the information I gave her. Next question: how much do you weigh in kilograms? Now, I’ve always been sensitive about my weight, always ashamed of being chubby. Her answer to my Googled number in kilograms was, “wow, that’s a lot.” The doctor then, in her less than warm and fuzzy bedside manner, asked, “Why haven’t you gotten your mammogram on time now that you’re in this country where you can get any medical test done and it’s paid for?” At that point, my eyes are tearing up as I relay to her that I have terrible global  insurance, not my host country’s social security assurance. She nods gruffly, then escorts me to the examining room, where I undressed behind a small screen. My only comments about the exam are:

  • There is no paper drape given for modesty
  • The examining “chair” is much for comfortable than the table in the U.S.
  • An internal ultrasound is routine
  • No blood pressure was taken, no listening to the heart, no breast exam

In the end (no pun intended!), this all-business doctor actually had a tender heart. As I was leaving, she patted me on the arm as she assured me I would get the tests I needed and I could contact her if I needed any further information or help getting my mammogram and MRI.  I paid for my visit, and made my appointment for next year–on a Tuesday, I’m sure!

Oh, Pat! I have been thinking about you and praying for you so much lately. You’ve been on my heart. Have you become accustomed to your return to 24/7 shopping and English being spoken? I’m sure it’s quite an adjustment after all your years of living in Zurich, then Luxembourg.

First things first! Your crockpot makes me feel like I can cook again–no small feat in this country, being unable to read labels and find ingredients! Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to adopt your slow cooker. It’s so wonderful to come back after French class in the evening and smell ready soup or roast or chicken. The aromas make our apartment feel more like “home.”

Yes, we’re still learning that darned language–finishing the second course level. Mark remains incredibly determined, but I’m ready to throw in the serviette.  I’m ready for a little more relaxation–Monday and Wednesday evenings are anything but!

Speaking of relaxation, I don’t have much of that compared to when we first arrived. You can probably comment on the syndrome of the trailing spouse who, looking for things to fill the time while her husband is at work and/or traveling, over commits to (good) things in order to feel useful and productive. I’m almost happy the programs will be coming to a holiday soon–I’m tired!

I’ve taken on the English Conversation group at AWCL–I was tapped for this as the current leader is returning to the U.K. Though it’s apparently preferred that a British person speaking proper English facilitates the group, someone fancied my lack of accent (they haven’t heard my trying-to-be-funny-West-Virginia accent) and my friendly, patient manner. Thank goodness they didn’t contact the Lockhart children or my husband for references! The group of women involved are a sweet, fun bunch; the nearly 18 expats are Italian or Spanish or Chilean, or Ukrainian or French, and who knows what else! I’ve said many times, “I didn’t move to a foreign country to be friends with just Americans!” These women are gregarious and accepting and work so very hard to improve their English. It’s a joy to spend time with them–and you know how I love correcting grammar!

I’m also serving lunch to the refugees at the Croix Rouge. I enjoy seeing them at lunch very much, but it’s not convenient for me to get there! If Mark has the car at work for the day, I can walk to the center, but then also stand on my feet for over 2 hours and walk home 35 minutes…yikes! I just haven’t quite figured out the bus route, despite the fancy schmancy app on my phone. I’m ashamed to be complaining about getting to the refugees…imagine their voyages to make it to a safe place…

I lead a Bible study for women on Monday mornings. It’s the way I need to start my week, to ensure my heart is in the right place, because we all know what’s down in the well is what comes up in the bucket! Mark and I also attend a small group from church on Tuesday evenings with wonderful people from all over the world. Once in a while, we spend the Sunday morning service either helping in the nursery with the wee ones, or before service starts, we greet those who come to church.

I sit at the welcome desk at AWCL for three hours on Thursday’s. (I get so see your friend Pauline when she comes to scrapbook. She’s a lovely person!). Answering the phone or being a smiling face for someone new to Luxembourg–I think I’m equipped for that =)

We’ve had a couple visitors and look forward to having more! It means so much to have someone here, seeing where we live, how we live, that some parts are wonderful and others are quite tricky. It’s fun to “show off” this country and the people and the beauty. I know folks think it’s a grand adventure to live here–and it is–but it’s not easy. I’ll stop there, lest I complain about silly things that don’t really matter!

It’s been a privilege and such a blessing to us to see our children flourishing in our absence. They’ve all had great success at work or school this year, and they seem to have grown closer as siblings. That part–that huge distance–still hurts my heart and brings a lump to my throat. I can’t fix it, so I pray it changes me for good.

I believe people are in our lives for seasons–to teach us, to love us, to encourage us, to challenge us. You, Pat, were the most welcoming person to me when we arrived. I’m so grateful to know you and won’t forget you, as I try to follow your  sweet example.

Take care and keep posting beautiful photos of Alaska!

Hugs to you,

Diana

 

Let’s Be Frank

I am concerned about my husband. He spends hours upon hours in front of the computer on sites I deem to be unhealthy for him. He is drawn, fascinated, obsessed, speaking unspeakable words and sentences to his computer, unspeakable by virtue of the fact IT’S A FOREIGN LANGUAGE,  to the cyber people of Duo Lingo.

Yes, we walk to our French class every Monday and Wednesday evening, spending one hour and 15 minutes with our comrades from Greece and Poland and Romania and Norway, who are not nearly as desperate to learn French as my husband, but to whom the accent and conjugations tend to come more easily. Our French teacher is patient and encouraging yet challenging–in our comprehension, both spoken and written, and our expression. Unlike Mark, I have no dream of being fluent in French. I simply want to be able to converse in what my expat friend Pat called, “Tarzan French–” a simple subject and verb, whether the right conjugation or not, would please me. Mark, ever the scientist, calculates the hours he’s spent and will need to spend in order to participate in a complicated discussion in the language that’s so beautiful when someone else speaks it.

When we were in the U.S. for the holidays, I discovered a book by William Alexander titled Flirting with French: How a Language Charmed Me, Seduced Me and Nearly Broke My Heart. It’s the memoir of a 57 year old man struggling to learn the language, and his wife,  a natural francophone, which frustrates the author.  I presented the book to my husband, desperately hoping  it might transform his dream into a more pragmatic goal, but I fear the opposite has occurred.

So this morning, as I’m enjoying reading the last of The Elegance of the Hedgehog and the peace of a rainy Saturday morning, that reverie is punctuated by a man’s voice, my husband’s voice, saying  “êtes vous franc?”  over and over, faster, slower, with a lilt, then finally yelling the phrase with an aside of “this is driving me crazy,” as the Duo Lingo gods refused to accept his offering of the phrase as correct. (It’s truly driving me crazy, too). Mark calls me into his study, sure he will prove there’s a technical issue with the microphone when he asks me to repeat the question. “Êtes vous franc?” I say. “Ding,” says Duo Lingo. “You’re kidding,” says my dear husband. Hmmm….usually in our case, life imitating art refers to a cartoon (think Spongebob Squarepants or Bob’s Burgers), but Mr. Alexander’s life definitely parallels our skewed life here in Luxembourg!

 

 

 

Re-entry

Aaaaand…we’re back. Back in a routine–work and language class and small groups and American Women’s Club and volunteering, meeting friends for movies and coffees and meals–in a different town, in a different country, on a different continent. Our dear pastor’s wife had emailed back in December, before we departed for our Christmas vacation, with these wise words: “coming back will be difficult…..hope you don’t mind me butting in to say that, but just would encourage you to have a re-entry plan…..as in several “fun” things scheduled within the first 2 weeks you are back cause it can be rough—re-entry….” I followed her advice. While my husband is busy with his career, I’ve been busy with the business of busy-ness!

Returning to expat life bears resemblance to a vacation of sorts. Here in our neat little apartment there are no offsprings’ socks on the floor, no dishes left by the sofa, no towels on the floor, no questioning, “What’s for dinner, Mom?”, no adorable grandson running circles around the kitchen. Despite my dear husband’s extra long work days and travel for business, life here does, indeed, mimic a break from the “real” world as we knew it–before our expat assignment. Yard work, painting, repairs, and snow shoveling are unessential tasks in our apartment.

I’ve loved returning to walking to reach a destination rather than for exercise, especially as my legs returned to chunky gams while we were “home” because I don’t (walk). As I prepared for an early schlep this morning in the fog, I checked the weather app on my phone, remembering Groundhog Day is February 2, when celebrity Punxsatawny Phil predicts the remaining length of winter by observing his shadow or lack thereof. (If only the future of a Presidency could be predicted in the same manner, but I digress)! The mild winter here in Luxembourg, with temperatures rarely below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, has been a respite from snow and ice and bitter winds, but we’ll look forward to the fog and rain vanishing when spring returns–6 weeks according to the calendar–and according to Phil…big surprise…I’ll look forward to a coiffure without the fog-and-drizzle-frizzies! Good hair days are a throw of the dice anyway, but throw in that Luxembourg umbrella and it’s all over but the cryin’…and straightenin’…

The gloom of the Luxembourg skies are not helpful for this mamma’s heart missing her kids and grandkid–their voices, their hugs, their laughter. We are incredibly grateful for technology that allows us to see them and chat and almost make the distance disappear. With a few special dates on the calendar and the hope of some visitors, family and friends, I’m singing the lyrics of Lee Adams with Tony Bennett: Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face…Spread sunshine all over the place, so put on a happy face!

quote

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

Round and About

I’m writing this as I sit on a…wait for it, because it was 10 minutes late…a bus! I’m on my way to meet some ladies for a cinema matinee. My hope was that an American movie would provide for me the inspiration and motivation I needed to hop on the bus. Returning home to our almost cozy apartment will give me the guts to get back on! As I waited for the bus, a pretty, older woman who was also waiting asked me a question, in French, of course. I understood! I was able to tell her, in French, that this would be my premiere bus ride, that indeed, but number deux cent vingt deux  was en retard; we had a short dialogue all in French. We communicated, and just like that, one of the cultural limitations here was conquered (or at least encountered without my stammering “Je suis Americaine,” and running away). A second chain of culture was bent when I stepped up on the bus. These two little things truly bolstered my confidence and my courage.

Yesterday, Mark suggested I drive him to work, since I had my (first) hair appointment and the need to have a document notarized. As we were making our way toward Mark’s office early yesterday morning, seeing the sign, “Belgique 8 min” amazed me all over again. When I drove to the other side of the city, I saw the sign pointing to Germany. And we’ve been to France a few times since we arrived. So there was something special to me about arranging my errand for the notary, since I had to go to the US Embassy. What I was expecting when I saw the American flag waving on the property behind the barriers was maybe a warm welcome, a bit of small talk, a little “where are you from?” and “how about Donald and Hillary?” As my bag was being searched and I was escorted by uniformed men who were not American, I realized the folly of my fantasy. However, kindness was indeed employed on both sides, and, for a large fee of 50 US dollars,  my document was notarized. In one day, I drove solo through the narrow, busy streets of the city, drove on the highway, went through many roundabouts, paid for parking in a lot and parking on the street, prayed (as my hair was processing) my car wouldn’t be towed due to an expired parking pass, and visited a tiny little bit of my country.

That was yesterday. Today? Good thing I got that conversation and bus thing going, because I’m going to have to do it all again next Friday–I was a week early for the movie!

 

 

The Wheels on the Bus

I’m in possession of a little card that’s burning a hole in my pocket. It’s not a credit card or a gift card, but is as good as cash–Euros, that is. The value of the card is not the factor causing my tight grip. Nope, my grip is activated by fear–fear of making a mistake, fear of getting lost, fear of appearing stupid when I don’t know how to use that little card and the system it represents.

It’s no secret that public transportation is prevalent, necessary, and encouraged in Europe. Roads are teeny tiny, parking is limited, fuel is expensive. We’re a one-car-family here in Luxembourg. My husband takes the car to work and I walk. I walk to the grocery store (1.1 kilometers away) and buy what I can carry home. I walk to the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg, or my friend Karen takes pity on me and picks me up on her way! Mark and I walk to our language classes near the City Centre, then walk to dinner in the City Centre, then walk home again (nearly 4.5 kilometers).

Walking has been good for me. The waistband of my pants is a little less painful, my skin is glowing (from sweat or hot flashes), and I’ve got a bit more zipadee in my doodah–whatever that means! Alas, the weather will soon be cooler and wet, and perhaps I’ll want to purchase more than I can carry for a distance. It’s time for the next big step, the one that gets me on the bus. I have a handy-dandy bus card, filled and ready for 10 trips–even more if trips are within a two hour window! I’ve studied the maps, memorized the stops, plotted my journeys. Yep–it’s time to screw my courage to the sticking point and hear the driver say “move on back,” en français, of course!

 

Punks and Apologies

We were excited for our long weekend in Barcelona. Mark and I researched what to see and do when we met up with family from the US in Spain. High on the list was the Picasso Museum, tapas and sangria, the Gaudi architecture, sangria and paella, the Mediterranean Sea, sangria and tapas, the Magic Fountain, paella and…well…Besides those anticipated highlights, I’d been told by two separate acquaintances of purse snatching in Barcelona–both had lost phones, money, credit cards, and passports–pickpockets have mastered their trades in the city. All advice pointed to keeping passports in the hotel safe and carry copies, wearing cross-body bags with all zippers zipped, putting wallets in front pockets while keeping your own hand in that pocket (minimizing room for an additional hand!). Beware, we were told, of busy intersections, distractions. and the biggest attractions.

Exploring with my dear cousin, Laura, and her husband was such a treat! We enjoyed each others’ company so much, and appreciated Craig’s fluent Spanish to help us along the tapas trail from the Picasso Museum to the Sagrada Familia. As our quartet approached the structure (still incomplete after 100 years!), we sang our “watch your pockets” chorus, checking the position of belongings, going into high alert mode. We walked around the funky, beautiful church, looking up and admiring both the modern and the gothic side, taking pictures, chatting about the history of Sagrada Familia and the architect who designed it.  As in many parts of the city, hawkers of trinkets spread their cheap (imported–not even handmade!) wares on a cloth on the sidewalk. As we talked, I noticed a young man setting up shop near us.

Moments later, I was snapped out of the conversation with a yelp (Mark called it a girly scream) as someone stomped on my foot, and I teetered as I was shoved, nearly losing my balance! My first instinct was to grab my purse and look around to alert my family–I was afraid this was an attempted theft. Yet, as I turned to speak, a policía passed in a blur, tackling the young man I saw running with his bundle of goods. We all looked at each other–our eyes huge–as Mark and Laura and Craig made sure I was in one piece. As the policía walked back toward us, holding the kiddo by the scruff of the neck, we tried to move out of the way to allow their passage. Instead, the officer walked right up to me, holding onto the boy, speaking to him in Spanish. Then the boy looked at me and spoke–I had no idea what the words were, but I knew he was saying he was sorry for hurting me. The surprise of that nearly rendered me speechless, as I muttered, “Thank you, I appreciate your apology.” As they walked away, Craig said the policeman said to the young man, “For 4 Euros you hurt this lady?”

I was not badly hurt–my foot remains a bit sore. At the time, a “bit” of sangria and tapas removed the pain and fear! We told and re-told the story, laughing, exaggerating, musing what consequences awaited the kid. The remnants of my surprise, however, are at the manner in which the police handled this situation. The conversation Craig relayed to us reminded me of a father speaking to his son, of a parent teaching a child to ask for forgiveness and to count the cost of his actions. The lesson for me is to remember who has forgiven me all and taught me to forgive in return. The example is deep, the practice endless–on both sides of forgiveness.

 

 

 

This little piggy

Convenience:  anything that saves or simplifies work, adds to one’s ease or comfort,etc., according to Dictionary.com.

From this definition, there are different categories of convenience–an electric mixer or having laundry facilities close by definitely saves work! I wanted to make chocolate mousse last week, but having only a whisk and flabby old arms…well, I made brownies instead. Having a vehicle to use definitely adds to our ease of getting out and about, that is, until we encounter minuscule parking spaces and the need to exit the car through the rear hatch because the doors won’t open wide enough for the body matching those arms! And how this hot-flashing woman longs for the comfort of air conditioning, or screens on the windows…

This weekend, Mark and I had planned to go to the grocery store on Saturday. Not a big deal, you may say. BUT!  Stores here are open until 6:00 some evenings, 8:00 others. We had a very full day Saturday video-chatting with family (it’s not convenient to do so during the week, due to the 6 hour time difference). We tidied up, chatted with one family member, then another, then another… and before we knew it–7:30 pm. No time for the grocery store! (We still had coffee, wine, and cheese, thank God!). Plan B: DelHaize closes at 1 pm on Sunday, swing by after church and buy the toilet paper and water and laundry detergent and milk and bread…Needless to say, whisk a loquacious pastor into the mix, and this little piggy did not get to market!

The good thing is, Mark and I are learning to plan ahead–for shopping, for dining, for traffic and filling up the gas tank. Our tummies are syncing with the restaurant timetables (no early bird dinners!). Our fridge compensates the small quantities in which foods are sold here. While I waffle (we’re very close to Belgium, you know) on the reasoning behind such a way of life here, it does remind me of a simpler life, of a better balance between work and leisure,  rushing and resting.  In the meantime? This little piggy’s running to DelHaize to get some roast beef!