Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Evening rituals

Our children sleep pretty long in the morning. They usually let us sleep till 8 am. We are often envied of this fact by parents. Parents whose children usually are IN bed by 8 pm. Not ours. 9 pm to 9.45 pm is when the children are all in bed and mommy and daddy have time alone. This has disadvantages. Our wind down and time for ourselves in the evenings is of course limited. On the plus side, we do have a good night's sleep and the children get to spend time with dada. As my husband comes home at 6.30 pm, we try to maximize the time he can spend with the children. That means eating at 7.30, and then there is playtime, some days bath time, a bit of television. And then there is the evening ritual itsself.
Joseph gets to chose who puts him to bed. This is invariably dada. While my wonderful husband goes upstairs for tooth brushing, stories, and cuddles, I watch a little video with Michael on my lap, then move from the living room to the playroom where my rocking chair waits. We read three books, and then I go upstairs while singing the bedtime song. Once in the room he gets a stuffed animal to hold, and then snuggled down on the bed. I back out of the room blowing kisses and saying "I love you's".

But that does not conclude the evening rituals. I then go into Joseph's bedroom for my favorite time of the night: our nighttime talk. He asks for it every night, ever so serious and ever so sweet: "Mommy can you come and talk with me for a few minutes?" And then we talk, about the day. About what we have done. Some pint sized theology, some reflections on what was not so good, about what was so good, and always, always lots of hugs, cuddles, nosy nose, and "I love you."
While I am usually very tired at this time, and also longing to just sit and do something for myself, it is also part of my favorite time of the day. I let go of all tensions, and just.. enjoy this little boy that does not want anything at that moment except for my love and my attention.

It has been hard these last two evenings when that time of quiet bonding with my oldest has been interrupted by my youngest protesting bedtime. I believe in comforting a child who has a nightmare, a toothache, or a sudden longing for mommy. I also believe in developing good sleeping habits. When I have assured myself that Michael is perfectly fine and just crying because the world is so interesting he does not want to go to sleep, I need to force myself not to do what I want (pick him up and stop him thus from crying) and let him learn how to sooth himself to sleep. It's not that I am not willing to share my bed, or my time (though I admit, at 10 pm, my patience with all the needs wears thin), but it would be selfish to give him whatever he wants, because I do not want to listen to him cry. However the stress spoils this most beautiful moment of the day and long after Michael is done crying, the tension still lingers in me.

I hope and pray that tomorrow will be better. I so enjoy my evening routines. My cuddle time with the boys, listening to Joseph go over his entire day, finding the words to speak of what is inside him, hearing how he thinks about things and starts to reason and sort out what is in his mind.. and his heart.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ice cream

Since the floors had just been completely cleaned, I call this series of pictures "asking for trouble"...


I love holidays and feast days. What can I say? I am a Catholic. We thrive on celebrations. And on guilt. Maybe that is why we celebrate so much. Because of the guilt. It keeps things in balance. And the guilt is probably because Catholicism is rooted in such a long intellectual tradition. Which makes introspection a great part of your duty, inspiring such pamphlets as "how to form your conscience". Because just having a conscience or listening to your conscience is not enough. After all, as my three year old toddler just demonstrated by shoving his brother because he was angry with me, and not being nearly remorseful enough afterwards, an unformed conscience let's you get away with sins quite easily. A formed conscience however will point out your faults rather glaringly. Hence the guilt. And hence the love for celebrations. Balance after all, is divine. Did I mention I am really bad at Theology?

My love for celebrations is found in the fact that I love to find any occasion to celebrate. Catholic Icing, A shower of Roses, and Catholic Cuisine have been very helpful in that respect, and I can only thank Mother Church for reminding us how many things we have to celebrate in Jesus' love for us! I have a far road ahead of me before I am as creative as these wonderful ladies of course, but I dare to throw in an Saint's day here, and a Holy Day there, just to break the long line between my birthday in march and my son's birthday in September.
But with all that, you can imagine how much I LOVE the big holidays. Birthdays, Saint's days, anniversaries, Easter, Christmas. And I start thinking about them long before. How can we make them holy? How can we make them fun? Last year we started creating our own Christmas traditions, adapting them to our own family. With two small children and no family nearby we forwent the traditional formal Christmas dinner and spread out the blanket in front of the fireplace for a Christmas eve picnic with all of our favorite foods, from pizza rolls, over string cheese, to chips and sushi. It was great and a lesson learned for me: adapt and enjoy.

The next big celebration for us is Joseph's fourth birthday. His current obsession is marble runs. For the last months he has been talking about nothing else. Instead of his usual television programs (Sesame Street, Thomas the Tank Engine, etc) He wants to watch Youtube videos of marble runs and marble machines. And of course he really, really, REALLY wants a marble run of his own. We told him he had to wait till his birthday. This is still two and a half months away, and he has been asking for one for months. It's not an expensive toy, but we want him to learn he can not have everything he wants just by asking for it. He is counting down however, first to his visit with Mimi (his grandmother) in just six days. Then to his birthday in September. As he is counting down, I am starting my mental preparations. Anticipation is half the fun (and half the work, if you have already figured out what you want by the time you have to start buying and preparing).
The marble run is a given. He will have waited five months for it, so he deserves it. But what about the cake? After Last year's semi home made success, I really want something special again. Guess what I found online???

What do you think? Can I do it?????

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy, pretty, funny, real

round button chicken

This picture is not the prettiest, but during my month long break from the internet while I was on vacation in Belgium, I managed to make a tablerunner and 6 napkins decorated with "random roses" a design with randomly strewn embroidered bullion roses. Which turned out to be very pretty.

Happy: Michael is finally getting better. At 16 months he is in the midst of frustrated toddler territory, but he is not screaming all days anymore. And he is getting some very happy times with his brother's trains.

We have a quilt in our living room that kept being pulled off the table where it lay, nicely folded and decoratively, to be used as comforter, cuddle blanket, car.. anything they could think of. In the end I capitulated and bought a big basket in which it can be thrown. Guess who thought the basket was pretty cool too?

What happens when the older brother leaves an ice cream behind where the younger brother can get it?

Thursday, June 23, 2011


As you can see I have been playing with the design of my blog a bit. Unfortunately, I am not really satisfied. I will try again later to do a better job of it. Does anyone know how I can change the white background for the text? It is so... glaring.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


This playground was on the grounds of an old castle. The castle is long gone, but the stable building now houses the theatre where I have been a student and castmember for so many years. Another part of the grounds has a fun playground and these old, stone lions from a long ago impressive drive way are guarding it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Visit to Belgium: the fun stuff!

Okay.. so we are 'accursed' travellers. But our stay in Belgium itsself was really wonderful. The height of joy, for me, was the Efteling.
I love this place, and so do my boys. Last year was the first time that a wonderful friend of mine who lives in the Netherlands, and I combined our families for the trip, and it was a huge success. This year we went together again, and added two more friends, one who is my son's Godfather. We had a group of 7 adults and three children and the most amazing weather.
We started our visit with a lovely picnic. You can buy food there, with prices ranging from VERY reasonable, to quite expensive if you want a medieval four course meal. But picnicking is encouraged as well. Do you notice how beautifully green that picnic meadow is?

After that, there were so many things to do: rides, like the beautiful dreamflight, where you fly amidst fairies and trolls, the funny carnival ride which resembles 'it's a small world' in Disney World a lot, the spinning cooking pots, the beautiful antique carrousel's, the train diorama's and so much more.

But the heart of the Efteling, and among the oldest parts of it, is the fairytale forest. Based on Grimm, Andersen and Folklore and originally designed by artist Rein Portvliet, this place takes you away to a land where children's fantasy reigns.

You can just see the wide eyed wonder in the eyes of my boys as they discover the gnomes, Giant Long Neck, the candy house in the Hansl and Gretl fairytale.

After the fairytale forest and tired of a day of walking around, we enjoyed a beautiful boatride on the tones of classic music: twenty minutes amidst a lovely lake, with flowers, ducks, and beautiful landscapes, where you think yourself more in a pleasure garden than an amusement park. As a last treat for Joseph, we took the oldfashioned steamtrain to ride one more time around the park. Then, the boys got to play for a few more minutes in an oldfashioned play ground (all that, and then in little nooks and corners, they still have room for some sand and oldfashioned slides and swings, and parent powered little turning things.

We had such a wonderful, wonderful day, and so many more wonderful pictures. Can you see how sunny it was? And how lush the green? Oh, I can't wait till we go back next year!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Visit to Belgium (part 1: why we should carry a rattle when travelling)

I promised earlier that I would write more about our visit to Belgium. There is so much to tell. I could spend a whole post on our journey. As always (we should carry rattles and cry out 'unclean' so people can hastily try and change their flights if they see us coming, there were some troubles. The first one only affected us. After my husband and I had to switch seats because the baby had to sit on the side of the plane with two seats, because of a pressure mask issue in case of an emergency, I forgot that I had unloaded some stuff already in the seatpocket. Of course after we had moved seats and trying to shepherd two children and enough carry on lugage to survive a European trip out of the small plane that brought us to Chicago, I forgot about the little pouch I had put in the seatpocket of my previous chair. And Bill, knowing he had not put anything in there, didn't check.

So in Chicao, I realized I was missing a pouch which contained two lipsticks, one mascara, some desinfecting wipes and.. my car keys, housekeys and keys to our church. Ouch. Especially the first. Because well.. how would we get BACK after our journey? And to top things off, this was one of those fancy smart keys that don't look like a key but cost over a hundred dollars to reproduce. Ouch.

Well, it was in a seatpocket. Clearly it would be found when they cleaned the plane, right? I mean, a three zippered, zebra striped fabric pouch would attract some notice, right? Up to our next flight. Which was delayed. Not that much. Just half an hour. We managed to keep the children calm and happy and preboarded. (Never preboard with children if you can avoid it. It just makes them sit strapped in longer. We only did it because we had to board with a car seat which makes it harder to get through if the plane is full.
Unfortunately after we had boarded and then everybody else had boarded... we did not move. We did not move for TWO HOURS, with strapped up children and not allowed to use electronics. First there was a storm over head, then the storm moved ahead to our prospective route, so we had to start in another direction to go around it, but of course we had to wait to get in line for taking off. This all added two hours to a 7 hour journey in a small metal tube with two children under four that were not allowed out of their seats.
Luckily they were pretty good travellers. They even slept for a few hours. No problems with passport controle or customs and we even got a number to call to the airlines lost and found in chicago. My mother waited for us and all seemed to be okay.

Seemed. We called lost and found and of course did not get to speak to a real person. There is an answering machine where you can record your lost item and they will call you back if they find it. So, don't call us, we'll call you. Maybe.
Despite fervent prayers to St. Anthony, no reply call or email. We try again a few days later. No reply, no phonecall, no email.
We need to find solution. Because without the key, we can not get home. It is a one and a half hour drive from the airport to our house. Since we have the security code of the key we hope a local toyota dealer might be able to replicate it for us. No luck. They can apparently only replicate the key, if they also have the car! We have a spare key of course, but that is in our house.
We are trying to think of solutions. A motelroom for me and the kids while Bill takes the shuttle home after a 24 hour journey and then turns around to pick us up the next day just does not sound doable. All four of us on the shuttle home would add another 200 dollars to the expense.
I get an epihphany! The mail! We are here for a full month. We will mail our housekeys (my husband's set, mine are gone with the pouch) to our neighbours. They will go in our house (and unfortunately witness the total chaos in there) get our carkey and mail it back to us. It sounds like a good plan. The neighbours are contacted, willing and able so our housekeys go in the mail. And take a detour apparently, because they appear at the neighbours house so late, it's just not safe anymore to mail something back, not even express! Especially since some tickets a friend of us has send us in the mail have completely dissapeared in the mean time. So now our neighbours have the keys, but how to get them in our hands by the time we arrive? We contemplate for a moment having them send to an airline representative on the airport but by now we are terrified of the mail messing one more thing up and then we would have NO more car key.

God be praised for great friends. After some searching around (since I can't use it in Belgium, I didn't bring my cellphone, which has all those easy contacts at hand that you would love to have with you in such cases), I find the number of my friend and fellow Youth Minister Anne. She is immediately prepared to drive up to Charlotte for an hour and a half to bring us the keys on the journey back. After a few more contacting issues, everything works out.

Our journey back is only marred by a child (not ours) screaming almost continuously (remember, this is over 8 hours of flying on that first flight back). We try to be patient and remember: there but by the grace of God go I. Another passenger is not thinking those thoughts though, and shoots off his chair, stomps over and demands of the mother who is cradling a baby in her lap, in a shout that she does something to keep the kid quiet. At that time, the father (didn't realize he was travelling with them too, but he was sitting in a seat a row further with a third child) shot up too, and the two men look ready to do battle. Air hostesses quickly descend upon the scene but for a minute, I sit transfixed and fear this plane is going to have to make an emergency landing due to out of control passengers.

The rest of our journey was actually uneventful. Next time though, I am bringing that Rattle. In comparison of some of our earlier journeys however, this one was actually.. tame. Somewhat.

Monday, June 13, 2011

My engagement story

More stories of our stay in Belgium to come, and definitely more Efteling pictures. But when Mrs. Beguiles throws out a challenge, you know I can hardly resist. And this time she asks us about our engagement story. Oh, and do I have a sweet one to share. Okay, so I might be just the tiniest bit biassed, but judge for yourself!

The evening after we were engaged. Oh my, I was so slim.

As a few of you may already know, my husband and I actually met online on Because of the distance, we started our relationship with the proposition of just being friends. In the back of my mind, I had the idea that if God wanted us to be together, he would remove obstacles and make it clear.
Several obstacles were removed, including a serendipituous, but independent confirmation that I was not having hopeful conversations with some crazy ax murderer. (That story maybe another time).
Anyhow, the relationship progressed... online.. on the phone. And then finally we met in person. He came to visit me. Then I came to visit him. Each time for a period of only ten days or so. Despite that we had grown so close, had so many values, and goals and other things in common and we felt ourselves falling in love. Sliding into it is perhaps even a better word. We both prayed about it and before we knew it we were talking about the possibility of marriage.

Both of us were members of an online forum for catholics, which was good, because we could also see how the other acted in groups, and reacted to others. Somehow the topic there became engagements and engagement rings and diamonds and how expensive they were. I mentioned offhandedly that I personally didn't see the need for a diamond in an engagement ring. I would much prefer something else, like a saphire.
Bill came back to that in a pm (private message, this was in the days before facebook had exploded to it's current popularity) and asked if I was really serious about that no diamond thing, just in case.. when the day came.... I swallowed. This was getting very, very real. And I assured him I was perfectly serious.

Okay, so I am spoiling the story a bit, but... here is my engagement ring.

A few months later, Bill travelled on the afternoon of Christmas day (you know a man loves you when he is prepared to travel to you on Christmas day), all the way to Belgium to arrive there on the 26th. To avoid jetlag, I decided to try and keep him as busy as possible so he would not fall asleep halfway through the day. We ate something at my mothers house. He stayed there during the visits, while I just went home to my own little apartment a few streets further at night. We talked a bit. And we exchanged christmas presents from him, me, our parents, and so on. In the afternoon, I suggested a walk. Since we needed a destination I decided on the Cathedral: it's not far, it was a pivotal place for my faith, and it's always something interesting to see and do on a day when most museums shops are closed. He thought that was an excellent idea.

So off to the cathedral we went. It was still beautiful decorated with evergreen trees inside for Christmas. We wandered around a little bit and Bill remarked that there were more tourists than he had expected. There were. Mostly probably because almost everything else is closed on that day. We made our way around and ended up in the St. Joseph's chapel. St. Joseph was the Saint I had chosen to ask for his intercession to find me a good husband, shortly after which I had met Bill online. (Note to self: when you can't get something done on your own, remember to PRAY, silly!)
this chapel, I had done a lot of my praying! And it was here that Bill settled on a chair next to mine and told me that there was one more gift he wanted for the new year: he wanted me to become his wife. I remember looking at him. I remember being aware that there were people approaching the chapel. And I remember asking him: "Are you sure that I will make you a good wife?" He was sure. I accepted. And then he opened a little white jewelers box, which had a ring in it, so much bigger than I had ever imagined, with the most magnificent saphire I had ever seen. The box had a silly little light that went on as you opened it, which made us laugh and broke the tension.
We hugged. We kissed (rather chastely, we were very aware of where we were.). And we thanked St. Joseph for his intercession.
After that, we went to spend a few minutes in adoration at the tabernacle. I never asked what Bill prayed for but my prayers were a mixture of gratitude and requests for strength to be a good wife and a good mother. Getting married was such a marvelous and awe insipring step.

I was nervous.. I was giddy. And after adoration, we wanted to keep the news to ourselves for a little bit. I remember going out of the cathedral hand in hand and looking at some of the personel there. Many of them were acquaintances, since I gave confirmation class in this parish, and just was there a lot. I remember smiling at them and greeting them and thinking... I have a secret. I have a secret. I felt like a little girl that wanted to skip and hop.

We went for a little more of a walk to a nearby fry shop. Instead of a fancy dinner, we had fries with mayonaise and mystery type meat. We held hands, we talked about the future, about marriage, about practical arrangements (we needed to plan a wedding that would unite two continents!) and I just gazed at him and felt so.. utterly and completely happy.

We lingered over the fries, then went to my mother's home. When we entered the house everything was quiet and I realized she was taking a nap. At that moment, my phone rang and my very best friend in the whole world was there. Her first question was the very usual; "How are you?" and for once I just couldn't reply with the customary "fine, how are you?" because I was afraid to bounce off the walls with excitement. So I whispered into the phone: "I can't talk right now. Need to talk to my mom first. But Mary -obviously, that's here name- I am wearing a RING!"
We quickly agreed that she would come by that evening to get the scope and hear everything.
After my mom woke up I talked to her, she was excited. We cried a little bit. We laughed. We hugged. The same process repeated itsself later with Maria. Then we told Bill's parents the official news on the phone later.

Close up!

Of course both of our parents had known before me that Bill would propose during this stay. I had sort of expected it to happen either this visit, or in march.. but definitely not at that moment. I loved the fact that he proposed so privately. He didn't go down on one knee because there were so many tourists around, which otherwise he would have done, and I appreciated his discretion. I don't mind being the center of attention, but that moment was for us, and for God. I loved that he had heard me when I mentioned preferring a saphire engagement ring. I loved that we spend time in prayer, and time eating fries.
And I am eternally grateful to St. Joseph for guiding us and bringing us together. We are almost at our fifth anniversary and no matter how much I loved him in that moment, I love him so much more now.

(we used this as our picture for the engagement announcement, though obviously, it is taken in summer, not at the moment that we became engaged, or I would be freezing.)

Quick pictures

We had some problems during our journey to Belgium, and the weather was not as hot as I had hoped during our month of stay, but when it counted most, we had good weather. Most pictures still need to be added to this computer, but I can give you a few glimpses. These pictures are from our visit to the Efteling. Like last year, this was the most wonderful, spectacular day of our entire visit. I love this place, a fairytale park, older I believe than Disney World or Disney land, and in my opinion with much more charm. I have pictures of me when I was about 5 there. My husband and I went there on our first date (I wanted a place where we could talkon one hand, but where there was a lot to do in case we felt ackward as well.) And we went there for a day on our honeymoon.

Here is a picture of our little family there, minus Michael who was sleeping in a stroller at that point.

Secondly, this adorable little girl is the daughter of a friend of mine from the Netherlands (where the Efteling is). Since we are so far away, we only get to see eachother once a year, even though we keep in daily contact through facebook. Since last year, we have made the Efteling our meeting place, which is perfect for children and husbands and us: we can talk, marvel, and have a good time. Oh, and btw, did you notice my hairpin? I nearly jumped when I found it in an Antwerp shop. I love hair accessories, especially the one that do not look as if they were designed for a five year old.

Here is another little glimpse of the hairpin. I wish I would have a better shot of it.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Back home

We arrived back home the day before yesterday, after a journey of almost 24 hours: car for over an hour, then a plane for about 9 hours, layover, then another plane for about 2 hours and then finally a last car ride of almost two hours. Add a time difference of about 6 hours.. and everyone was all zoned out.
We are trying to get back in a rhythm, and I hope to find some writing time soon, because there is much to tell.