Wednesday, February 24, 2010

My humiliating moment of the day

Yet another car-related one, big surprise.

I was trying to parallel park the car on a hill -- a challenge I might've avoided under different circumstances, but it was a big spot, the street was quiet, and no one was around.  In the past couple of weeks, my driving has gotten much better:  I almost never stall even with all the stop and go traffic around here, I can get the car into and out of our tiny garage with ease, I shift at the right time without grinding gears, and I don't hyperventilate anymore -- except on hills.  This is my biggest challenge.  So, when I saw this chance to practice without anyone around, I jumped at it.

I pulled up next to the the car in front, took a deep breath, and got ready to back into the spot.  The nose of the car was pointing downhill, so of course when I started backing into the spot, I rolled forward..and panicked and stalled the car.  Unfazed, I restarted the car and tried again...and overcompensated and gave it too much gas, nearly taking out the street sign...and then stalled, again.  Still unfazed, I pulled out and tried one more time.  This time, I did fine, only rolled forward a little and reversed without stalling.  But my angle was wrong and I ended up too far on the sidewalk (everyone here parks on the sidewalk, but this was a bit too far, like nearly on the boulangerie's doorstep).

I pulled out one more time, and this time thought I'd experiment with using the parking brake to keep me from rolling forward -- something I haven't yet mastered.  Well, I still don't have it:  I stalled the car yet again.  Restarted and tried one more time.  Now I thought I'd experiment with letting the clutch out to the point where the car starts to shake before moving my foot from the brake to the gas, thinking I might be able to get moving a little faster this way.  I did -- way faster than I expected, causing me to nearly take out the street sign again, panic and stall the car one more time.  Confident that I had it now, I restarted the car, and backed into the parking spot perfectly without rolling forward at all.

Feeling triumphant, I started to get out of the car -- and noticed a group of men standing around, laughing and pointing.    I had been so engaged with my task, I didn't even see them before.  Hoping they'd go away, I sat in the car a minute or two, digging through my purse and trying to look busy.  But they didn't.  In fact, they called over another friend and pointed me out to him.  Since I was now nearly late to pick up the kids, I had no choice but to get out and face the crowd.  As I got out, they burst into a loud round of applause, complete with whistling and cheering.

What else could I do but take a bow, then walk away with my face blazing, hoping that they'd have dispersed by the time I got back to the car with the kids.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's 50 degrees here!  50 degrees!!  Amazing, considering it was in the 20s a few days ago.

More photos and updates soon, once we dig our way out from under all the boxes... :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

I am in a good mood today...

For a few reasons:

1)  I managed to find chai tea today, the one thing I've really been missing from home.  I found it in an organic grocery store, and they had not one, not two, but three different varieties!

2)  The sun was out today, and it was beautiful.  It warmed up to about 7 degrees Celsius (44.6 degrees F), which may not sound very warm but it felt like spring.  Yes, I must be getting used to the cold weather here!  It felt like one of those rare, precious, hot days in San Francisco where everyone simply must be outside enjoying the weather.

3)  Our stuff is coming tomorrow!  While I know it will bring a few weeks of chaos until everything is unpacked, sorted and put away, I can't wait to be fully settled in.

We talked a little today about what we're most excited to have from home:

Kate:  Her bed

Me:  My vegetable chopper from Williams-Sonoma

I'm already on my second one of these, and if this one breaks, I'm hitting up my US friends to send me another one.  Cannot live without it!

Will:  Claimed he couldn't remember what he had and he wasn't excited about anything.  Ever.  He's been a bit of a grump these days.  I think maybe the lack of sunshine has been getting to him too.  Then he said, after hearing Kate's response, that he was pretty excited about Kate's bed too so that he wouldn't have to share a room with his annoying little sister anymore.  As I said, a bit of a grump these days.

Roger:  Said that he doesn't really care too much about any of his stuff.  He doesn't miss anything, and -- in fact -- the less stuff he has, the better.  I think I can see where Will gets it.

Anyway, tomorrow will be a crazy day but we are one step closer to being fully settled, which is a good thing!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Idiot expat moment of the day:

Having to go back to Ikea (again -- fifth time, but who's counting??) because the hinges weren't included with the wardrobe doors I bought.  I indignantly went to Ikea Customer Service, armed with my little speech -- which I'd verified was correct on Google Translate -- all ready to inform them they'd made a mistake by not supplying me with hinges for my doors, only to be told that hinges must be purchased separately.  Oops.

I then had to go back to the wardrobe section, where a very nice lady printed out a paper detailing exactly what I'd need, told me where to go to find them, then highlighted it in neon marker, just to be sure I couldn't make a mistake this time.  On this visit, I did notice that they had big signs everywhere indicating that hinges must be purchased separately.  In my defense, before this little incident, I didn't know the French word for hinges (charnières, in case anyone needs to know) -- not something ever covered in any of my French classes.  

Again, people were very kind and patient, and a little bit of humiliation is a small price to pay for a neatly organized closet, isn't it?

Sorry for the dim, shadowy picture but we still haven't gotten around to having the light fixtures installed!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Another snowy day here in Luxembourg

It started snowing here yesterday and hasn't let up since.  The kids, of course, were overjoyed to see the snow come back.  We spent a good part of the day outside playing in the snow, having snowball fights and rebuilding our poor, decapitated snowman:

He doesn't look quite normal so I call him "Frankensnowman."  We decided to make him a little companion.  Meet "Snowcat":

Will and Kate were very proud of their creation:

Afterwards, we decided to take a walk through the snowy woods:

Then came home for a cup of hot chocolate with marshmallows.  More snow is forecasted for tomorrow, so we may be able to build Snowcat and Frankensnowman another little friend...

Happy Valentine's Day!

The kids right before they devoured Mom's Valentine's Day gift from Dad!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Interesting little domestic differences

It's always interesting to come to another country and experience a different way of life:  new foods, different traditions and customs.  But when you're just visiting, not living there, a number of small differences aren't obvious.  This is one of the reasons I was so excited to actually live in another country, to have the opportunity to experience what it's like to live as the locals do.  Since I am now officially a "housewife" and am spending most of my day occupied with domestic matters, I thought I'd do an entry about some of the differences between American homes and those here.

First, every window in every home in Luxembourg is covered with one of these retractable metal shutters.  They block out all light and apparently insulate as well.  At first I thought it was kind of a pain to raise and lower them every single day, but now I think they're fabulous:

Second, apparently it's quite common to have a drain in the center of the basement floor.  These drains must be kept full of water or, according to our landlords, "unpleasant odors may arise."   I have no idea where this drain goes or why it's there, but I faithfully keep it topped off with water because who wants a basement filled with unpleasant odors?  I don't know if this is something common to old homes around the world or if it's unique to this area.

Third, many dryers here are not vented.  To avoid cutting a hole in the wall, people install condenser dryers:  rather than venting to the outside, these dryers condense moisture into a container that must be emptied regularly (usually after every cycle).  The dryer works great, so I have no complaints!  To kill two birds with one stone, I usually dump the accumulated water into the drain in the center of the basement floor (see above).

Also, things in general are smaller -- cars, appliances, parking spots.  We have to run the dishwasher and do laundry at least once a day.  Again, I'm not complaining, just saying:  smaller!

And, speaking of cars, here's a picture of the one that's been torturing me (and vice versa, more likely -- another reason I'm glad we're renting a car for a month or so before we buy one!) for the past few weeks.  It's an Opel Astra "Break," a brand I don't think exists in the U.S., which, despite it's relatively small stature, can contain close to 350 lbs of 7-foot long flat-pack furniture from Ikea (all of which is staring accusingly at me as I type this rather than assemble it):

Did I mention pretty much all cars here are stick-shifts?  After my first tearful, hyperventilation-filled driving session, we called the rental company to request an automatic, only to be told they don't have any.  In the U.S., it's just the opposite.  In preparation for driving here, I attempted to rent a manual transmission car at home.  Next to impossible.  The only company in the entire Bay Area that even has one (and yes, they have ONE) is Rent-A-Wreck.  Unfortunately, it wasn't available when I needed it and so I couldn't practice before arriving here.  Why do Americans almost exclusively drive automatics and Europeans stick-shifts? I have no idea.  

And the homes here all seem to be tall and narrow with steep, winding, downright terrifying staircases and no closets.  Seriously, NO closets!  (Thus the trip today to Ikea to buy gigantic wardrobes which must be assembled.)  Our house is five levels:  basement, main floor, bedroom floor with three bedrooms, second bedroom floor (also three rooms), attic.  We're getting used to the stairs, and I am definitely getting a workout going up and down the stairs all day.  

I also realized that I never posted a picture of the front of our house, so here it is.  As you can see, tall and narrow, and the attic floor isn't even visible in this photo.

Cute, isn't it? :)

I think I already mentioned that people take the light fixtures with them when they move.  At first, that was really strange to me but the more I think about it, the more it makes sense.  If you can take it with you, then you can invest more in choosing a light fixture you really love, even if it's fairly expensive.  Unfortunately for me, since we're only here for two years, I can't really justify spending 400 Euros on a gorgeous chandelier.  But I wish I could!  Some of the ones in stores are fabulous.  Sorry I don't have any pictures.  Maybe next time!

Off now to assemble furniture!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Life Cycle of a Snowman

Birth -- with the proud parents:

In the prime of life:

Gradual withering with age:

The sad end: :(

Tired of forest pictures yet?

Me neither!

A few more from my walk today:

Pretty spotted tree.  I don't know what that is:  lichen?

There is a lot of moss on the trees.  This one looked like the home of some cute forest animal.  I waited, but nothing appeared:

Any idea what this is?

That's right, a horse trail marker.  There's a stable less than a km from our house.  The trail is marked through the forest by painted horse heads or these:

Coming soon:  More house photos and details about life as a "housewife" in Luxembourg.

From Will

I like Luxembourg but I would change two things:

1)  There should be more sunshine
2) People should speak the same language as me

Friday, February 5, 2010

More forest pictures

We're having a heat wave here:  It got up to 6.5 degrees celsius (43.7 degrees Fahrenheit) here yesterday.  That, plus the steady rain, has melted most of the snow -- and the kids' snowman:

Isn't he a sad sight?  Notice the poor, fallen carrot nose.  Will is very unhappy about this turn of events.

We did get a brief break in the rain yesterday, so I took advantage of it and took another walk in the woods.  They're even more beautiful in the sunshine!

Still some snow around but it's definitely on its way out:

The City of Luxembourg scatters these little bird feeders throughout the forest:

I didn't see any birds but I did spot a magnficent buck!  Unfortunately, he was too quick for me so I didn't get a picture.  

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Idiot expat moment of the day:

Stalling three times while driving up an icy hill.

This is the hill* that makes me break out into a cold sweat each day as I take the kids to school.  It's right before a stoplight (naturally), and every morning I cross my fingers that the light will be green and I won't have to stop on the incline.  Today, the light turned green just as I was starting up the slope, so I inched forward and then downshifted to second just as I was nearly stopped because I'd heard you didn't need to shift into first as long as you had some forward motion.  Well, I guess that doesn't hold true on a hill, especially one covered in ice.  So I stalled out, panicked restarted the car as quickly as possible, only to realize I actually hadn't stalled:  the engine was still running.  This, of course, confused me so much that I did actually stall.  Then I tried starting off again, but had forgotten to shift to first.  So embarrassing!  I will say, however, that drivers here are incredibly gracious.  No one even honked at me or flipped me off or anything.  They just carefully went around me.

I did redeem myself somewhat by driving to Ikea (in Belgium!) on the autoroute without incident.  I thought that would be really hard but it's much easier than driving in town.  And I was very careful in Ikea not to make an idiot of myself:  I needed to buy some very large furniture so I meticulously measured the cargo space of the car first to ensure my purchases would fit.  And they did.  They were so heavy I had to drag them through the slush and manuever them with my legs to angle them into the car, but I did it.  And I was able to ask questions in the store (in French) and get answers that I understood.  Whew!  Shopping in a foreign country is rife with potential for making an idiot of oneself, so I'm feeling lucky that I only had one idiot moment today. :)

* Okay, it's not really a hill, especially by San Francisco standards, but it is enough of a slope that the car rolls back pretty quickly.  That's enough to scare me!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Our first venture out as tourists...

On Sunday, since we couldn't run errands, we decided to spend the day exploring the city.  We went into the center of town and, despite the freezing cold weather and snow, had a lovely time walking around and seeing the sights.

This is one of the main squares in the center of town.

There was a lot of snow!

Kids can't seem to keep their hands out of snow.  Why is that??

Naturally, Will was throwing snowballs at anything that moved:

These are the city bikes for rent.  Insert a coin and the bike is yours to ride around till you're ready to return it at another of these stands.  I love that they still have these here in the winter, and I actually saw someone riding one today in the snow.  There aren't nearly as many bikes around as in Denmark or the Netherlands, but I'd say there are more than at home.

There were a ton of cute shops around (mostly closed since it was Sunday) and I thought this toy store had an interesting window display:

The highlight of the kids' day (and mine too, quite honestly) was a stop at this chocolate shop.  You choose a spoon covered with chocolate, and they bring you a mug of hot milk to stir it into.  Delicious!  And there were dozens and dozens of flavors!

Will was in heaven (and this photo was taken before the sugar kicked in!):

Even Kate, who normally doesn't like hot chocolate, was a fan:

The hot chocolate place is right in front of the Grand Duke's Palace -- something Kate was very excited to see.  Will was more interested in seeing the guard and his big gun, but he was too intimidated to have his picture taken alone.  So I had to get in there too.

Next, we headed to the Museum of the History of the City of Luxembourg (or something like that).  It was a great place to get an overview of Luxembourg's long and confusing history:  Spanish to French to Dutch to independent to German and back again.  I can't say I have it down, but I know more than I did before.  Here are the kids in front of this amazing mural of life here in the 17th century:

We had lunch in the museum cafe, which had a spectacular view -- almost made the four-sandwich, 50 Euro meal worthwhile!

A little bit of spring in the midst of winter...

Monday, February 1, 2010

From Kate:

I heard a good story yesterday about a lady who had a secret:  She turned into a mermaid but didn't want her husband to know.  He spied on her and saw.  She disappeared into the river in Luxembourg.  People still look for her.  I'm going to the river and I think I am going to find her.  I think the story was kind of like Ariel but not quite.

Click here for the whole story

Idiot expat moment of the day:

Having to ask some random man at the gas station if my car took diesel or regular gas.  It said "Diesel" on the gas tank cap but surrounded by all these exclamation marks so I wasn't sure if it meant yes diesel or no diesel.  Fortunately, he was very kind and didn't laugh at me -- at least, I'm sure, until he drove away.