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Belgium | designhermomma.com

Three months later and all is well-ish.

I haven’t written in a really (really) long time. So long that I had to google how to get into the dashboard of the blog. And then I had to troubleshoot my very own password. And if I can be completely candid, the lack of updates isn’t because I’ve been busy.  I mean, I have been busy, certainly never a dull moment, but being busy has never stopped me from blogging in the past.

I just needed a break I guess. Time to process and reflect the move on my own terms.

But well, here we are in Belgium, which is really far away from Indiana I’m realizing. And I know you’re dying to find out how the past three months have been for our family, right?

Well, they’ve been great in a “this will make us stronger, we’ll look back at this and laugh someday, mama said there’d be days like this” sort of way.

We’re together, we’re healthy (although Gage is home from school sick with a mild fever today), and we’re doing our best each and every day to create a new normal – which is finally starting to happen slowly and surely. We’re finding our way doing normal everyday stuff like dentist appointments, soccer practices, pet sitting the neighbor’s dog and spending an inordinate amount of time translating food labels from French (or Dutch, or German) to English.

I want to share a thousand beautiful moments we’ve spent here already, and maybe tell of a few hard and challenging times as well. Good thing I have a blog and know (finally, again) how to use it.

Hopefully someday soon these stories will start to trickle out onto the blog, but for now here’s a few moments from the highlight reel (also known as my Instagram feed):

the first 3 months

First Row:

1. Taking the kids downtown Brussels to see the bi-annual Flower Carpet installed in the Grand Place. It’s a beautiful sight to behold, and I’m glad we caught it in all it’s botanical glory.

2. Finally starting school, which proved to be the first step to creating a much needed routine! Piper, Nola and even Gage started school at the end of August, and it was just what we all needed after the most hectic summer of our lives. One of the main selling points of the house we found was it’s proximity to campus. We’re walkers, which makes me very happy (except when it’s raining, which happens far too much) not to have to get in the car twice a day for pick-up and drop-off.

3. Our first visitor arrives! In somewhat of an awesome whim, my youngest sister Betsy decided to visit towards the end of August. We packed in a ton of sightseeing, beer drinking and chocolate eating into her stay, including weekend trips to Amsterdam and Paris.

Second Row:

1. Paris, oh Paris. Michael and I both said before we even moved here that our first stop would be to show the kids Paris and of course the Eiffel Tower. Needless to say when we finally made it, Paris did not disappoint.

2. Our second visitor arrives, Nana! Over the kids fall break, Michael’s mom braved her first ever transcontinental (and alone too!) flight to spend a few weeks hanging out with us. We stayed extremely busy, with quick trips to Ghent, Bruge, Knokke (all in Belgium), Paris and Amsterdam.

3. Finding that perfect breakfast coffee shop in town. Europeans LOVE their coffee and pastries, and while Nana was here we shopped around, trying out a few cafes.

Third Row:

1. The Sunday morning routine. Many friends and family have asked if we’ve found a church to attend here in Brussels. The short and uncomplicated answer? Nope, not yet. So while we sort through that situation, we’re enjoying a Sunday routine that includes visiting our town’s weekly farmers market and flea market.

2. Celebrating. A hard parts of moving here is knowing not all the holidays we celebrate back in the USA are celebrated here in Europe. Thankfully, even though Halloween isn’t a Belgian holiday, our neighborhood hosted a trick-or-treat night on October 23rd, the night before fall break started.

3. Opening up our home. It’s no secret that while I’m not the best in the kitchen, I absolutely love cooking for others and having a full table of friends and family brings me great joy. Admittedly, meeting people and making friends has been very slow going (speaking for my introverted self, the kids are doing great and very social). But last week we had our first ever guests over for dinner.

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Ok, so now that I’ve given a small update as to what we’ve been doing and got that awkward “oh hey I haven’t blogged in three months but made a major life change” post out of the way, I’m opening it up to you guys. Anything you’re dying to know about our life here?

Don’t make me follow this post up with an embarrassing story about me learning how to drive around here – I have too many (with varying degrees of public and private humiliation) to pick from. 

Rain or shine, a day-trip to Ghent is good.

We’ve been in Belgium now only two weeks and I’m already feeling the push to start traveling. I mean, Europe is so vast, how on earth will we see it all in just three short years? And what if for some reason we’re only here two years? The struggle is real.

We’re starting small with a few day very manageable day-trips. Fortunately for us, living in Brussels means that there is SO VERY MUCH to see and do within an hour or two car drive. So saturday morning, we headed to Ghent, Belgium – just an hour and a half from home.

ghent canal

A few things worth noting. This was our very first “adventure”, and I learned a lot about family travel in Europe in just one attempt.

1. Just because it’s sunny at home when you leave does not mean it will be sunny and warm at your destination. We worn shorts, t-shirts, ect. heck, I packed sunscreen. The reality was that it was cold and rainy the whole day, even though we were just 90 minutes up the road. Next time we all leave the home with sweatshirts and rain jackets, at least packed away in the car. Oh, and an umbrella or two would have been nice.

2. Have a plan that includes where to park. Sure, I planned what we were going to do, and where we were going to eat, but knowing where to park trumps everything else on the agenda. Learned that one the hard way.

3. Take enough cash. Unlike the US, where you can plop down your credit card for almost everything, that’s not the case here in Europe. More than a few times we’ve tried to pay with our card, only to be told they take cash only. Michael learned this the hard (and embarrassing way) a few weeks back…

wet kids

Ok, on with the day.

Like I mentioned above, we dressed ourselves and our four children totally inappropriately for the day. Michael and I had hoodies (which we rotated through the kids), but everyone else was dressed as if they still lived in hot and sweaty Indiana. The plan was to visit Gravensteen, a medieval castle located right in the center of the city – but with the tourist crowds and the cruddy weather, we decided to skip it and just seek shelter instead. Moving on was probably a good choice, although I know Gage would have really gotten a kick out of the tour, given his current fascination with swords and anything medieval (emphases on the “evil”).

medevil castle

Seeking lunch felt like the perfect next step. And since eating in Europe with six people is almost always a budget-bender, we headed to a place called Pizza Gulhan, known for not only their affordability but quality as well. You guys, best idea ever. Perfect for kids, amazing food, and our family of six walked out of the place completely full for only 25 euros. And yes, we even had a couple drinks.

the pizza and the egg

Soft eggs on your pie? Go for it, you won’t be sad. At the end of the meal, the kids were treated to Turkish Delight (with mixed reviews, Paul scarfed it up), and Michael and I enjoyed complimentary after-dinner drinks of some unidentifiable orange dessert liqueur. Whatever it was, gimme moar.

turkish delight(holding it up like it’s the freakin’ Lion King or something)

Since it was (still!) raining, after lunch, we decided to call it a short day and head back to the car by way of Ghent’s famous graffiti alley, Werregarenstraat. The kids were impressed, and maybe a little bit inspired too.

graffiti row

Overall, it was a bummer that it rained on our fist attempt at European travel, but we still had a blast. We will be back, probably sooner than later, and hopefully the sun (or at least dry weather) will be on our side.

Moving out, moving around, and finally moving in.

So much has happened since I last blogged that I don’t even know where to start. And quite honestly, I’ve very much considered not starting back up. Just, you know, moving on and chugging forward with life undocumented. It could happen.

But who am I kidding – like a reoccurring itch you just can’t scratch, I’m back. First things first – WE MADE IT TO BELGIUM about a week and a half ago.

The kids (and cats) did amazing on their first ever flight which just happened to be transatlantic. I had a lot of anxiety over the logistics – to say we had a lot of spinning plates in the air would have been a gross understatement. Because when 2 adults are responsible for getting 4 kids, 2 cats, 11 pieces of checked luggage, 6 backpacks, 4 car seats from one end of the globe to the other, what could go wrong?

 waiting

Nothing. Nothing went wrong and I’m not even kidding – the almost 24 hours of travel went as well as could be expected. The next week or so we spent staying in a small hotel apartment in the heart of our new town, getting ready to move in and set up shop and making good on our promise of waffles and chocolate.

 waffles

Our sea shipment (think semi-truck) filled with our very important personal crap (which I packed 1000% too much of) arrived this past Tuesday, and after all this time living like nomads, it was time to move in.

Welcome home, baby Paul. May this be the first house you will probably remember.

paul door

It took a crew of six men 4 days to move us out of our home in Indianapolis, and a crew of 4 Polish student-manboys a full working day to unpack us into our new place. And by move in, I mean they brought everything into the house, took the bubble wrap off the big stuff and ran a box cutter over the boxes, for us to unload at our leisure.

sea furniture

But we’re getting set up and trying to make this new place feel like us. Today, I did my first couple loads of laundry (which was challenging, considering I don’t understand French and am apparently not as intuitive as I thought) and even drove for the first time ever here in Europe to get groceries for the week and it only took me two hours in the store. You guys, I meal planned – which is a huge step in the right domestic direction. And last night we pilgrimaged to the Holy Grail of shopping, to IKEA, because our feelings felt like occasional lighting fixtures and Swedish Meatballs.

That being said, even though we have literal piles and piles of chores to do, I’m not in a hurry. I figure the kids go to school in a few weeks, and then it will just be baby Paul and I every day, so organizational details can wait. First up is working on culture shock with things like chocolate croissants and glasses of cheap French wine.

Lazy morning and warm afternoons are taking priority.

 tramp

(front yard view from second story window)

 
Almost all boxes have been unpacked and the entire house is a cluttered disaster, but we have better things to do. Guys, it's play-doh time. (A peek into the dining space. Need to hang things. Need to organize allllll the things. But need a moment to chil

(dining/living area, one day post-bubble wrap)

I hope everyone had an absolutely awesome summer, I really can’t believe how it’s basically over already. When we were kids, didn’t it last forever?

While we waited for our things to arrive here in Belgium, we spent a few weeks doing crazy things like white water rafting – horseback riding – mountain peak summiting in Colorado with our cousins, cottaging on the lake in West Michigan, and long days hanging out at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Maybe someday I’ll blog about those pre-Belgium days. Because they were blog-worthy in their own right.

Guys, thanks for checking in and following along as our family transitions. Hopefully in these next few weeks and months we can find a rhythm that makes sense. I’m excited to share the good, the bad, the embarrassing and hopefully the downright ridiculous side of expat living.

Tomorrow we’re headed as a family to Ghent, Belgium on our first ever daytrip. Wish us luck and follow along for some real-time micro-blogging over on Instagram. Cheers!

a home with a view

Last week Michael and I played International House Hunters (nope, not on that TLC show, I’m way too camera shy for that funny business), searching for the perfect (or at the very least) acceptable house for our 3 year Belgian adventure. I went into the search with very few requirements or expectations, I just wanted it to “feel” right.

Yup, I’m an Interior Designer waiting for a feeling, and I would basically hate me, if I was my own client.

Our only requirements were 4 bedrooms (girls share, boys share, parents share, and a guest room/playroom), a yard bigger than the one we have now (which is currently the size of a postage stamp), and an open-ish “modern” kitchen.

Day 1 we saw around 9 houses. Approximately 8 were unacceptable, only 1 I could possibly, maybe, see our family living in. I went to bed that night with an “oh what the hell did I just get myself into” feeling about moving internationally, glad dinner included a few stiff Belgian beers to curb the anxiety. The gravity of just how different life was about to become for all of us hit me like an ugly ton of bricks.

Day 2 I woke up feeling physically sick, not from the last evening’s dinner beer and steak tartar, but from the whole “this isn’t going to end well” feeling. We saw another 3 houses, two non-options and one which was really nice but on the wrong side of the tracks (or specifically, “ring road”) when it comes to traffic. The home’s location would put the kids and I at a 30-45 minute one-way school commute everyday morning and afternoon, and it wouldn’t do Michael’s commute any favors either.

But it was the very last house (it always is), on the very last day, that we nailed it. A home with a view at the end of a subdivision, within walking distance of the kids school. Big yard and lovely stone terrace, four (very small) bedrooms and a playroom, a modern-ish kitchen with an overall peaceful “Belgian countryside” vibe. The house is 100% different from what we’re living in here in Indiana, and I mean that in the very best way possible.

The house was listed at 200 euros over our housing allowance, so while we were touring it I knew my budget conscious husband would probably put the big NOPE on the deal. I did my best to prep my heart to be letdown, which resulted in very few photos and not a single room dimension taken.

After the tour we got back in the car and our relocator asked us if the house was a contender. The house was far and away the best thing we had seen in almost 15 houses, and I wanted to scream SOLD!, but instead tried my best poker face, waiting for Michael to chime in with a “well wouldn’t that be a nice house if it was in our budget” sort of response. Instead, he responded with a classic “let’s contact the owner and see if that price is negotiable”. Always a deal maker, that one.

Long story short, the owner came down 100 euros – the house will be ours come August 1st, and we’re very excited. Since the house is smaller than what we have now, I’m now busy evaluating each and every piece of furniture, deciding if it will physically fit in the new place, or if we will be parting with it for good. It’s like I’m finally putting to good use my college degree, and remembering why I hung that profession up a few years back.

Quirky things worth mentioning about the house:

Each bedroom comes with it’s own personal shower and sink. No toilet, just shower and sink. This will not end well in the kids bedrooms, trust me.

The entire house has tile floor – absolutely no carpet or hardwood floors. Also, we will be spending a small fortune on area rugs.

There is a city-wide “quiet” ordinance on Sunday reguarding doing loud things like mowing the lawn and whatnot to “keep the peace”. I’m totally on board with this.

Our refrigerator is comically small, and our freezer can store approximately one frozen pizza and a pack of peas.

And while we live just steps away from our school and in a housing community, we have this uninterrupted view from the kitchen:

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 2.13.37 PM

The feeling I felt when I saw this view will stick with me a lifetime.

I’d love to show you more photos of the interior, and while a have just a few, the images are filled with another family’s belongings. When we get a chance to make the place our own, I promise I’ll give you a quick little tour. Quirky shower stalls and all.

Maybe then this would be managable

While getting my degree in Interior Design in my early 20s, I found out the hard way that I do not thrive under stressful situations. I honestly would rather have chronic surprise attack diarrhea than perpetual days filled with stress and anxiety.

Currently my bowels are working just fine, not that you asked.

I knew when I signed up for this move (I mean really, it’s a move, not a trip, and I’m slowly coming to terms with that), stuff would get stressful. I figured I would be OK, because I would quite everything and focus 100% on getting our family to Belgium.

As if live as I knew it pre-relocation would cease, day-to-day commitments would vanish, and everything that needed to get done would go smoothly and according to best laid plans.

Below is a whiny list similar in nature to a public display of surprise attack diarrhea. Please save yourself and your guaranteed eye-rolling and skip reading it. Long story short: I still want to move, but the process is proving harder on me that previously calculated.

Proceed at your own risk.

Look! It’s springtime in the city! Close the computer and go outside! THIS BLOG POST IS DUMB.

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 12.34.39 PM

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We’re moving to Belgium in less than three months, but before then we have a lot of everyday life to squeeze into a 9 week window. A few things:

Relocating would be easier…if my sister wasn’t getting married (at my parents house) a few weeks before we leave. I’m feel like I can’t help out and be there for her like I really want to be because I’m preoccupied and very much self-serving right now. Heck, I’m even going to miss her Bachelorette party.  *But I am so excited for her to tie the knot I could pee. The timing is just not the best.*

Relocating would be easier…if I wasn’t trying to train for a half marathon through all of this. Isn’t moving across the globe marathon enough? Who’s stupid idea was this anyway? *Worth noting: I really want to run it, but am so excited for May 3rd to come and go, basically so I can get these training runs off my plate.*

Relocating would be easier…if Michael wasn’t traveling so much. *But I understand this is part of the deal, still hard though.*

Relocating would be easier…if the week before we leave (we literally will get back to Indy from this trip and fly to Belgium within a day) we weren’t going on a nonnegotiable extended family road trip across the country. *This trip has literally been planned for over two years, and I’m excited for the adventure, but again, the timing is a wee bit insane.*

Relocating would be easier…if I hadn’t just taken all 3 of my pets to the vet for their pre-relocation “well checkups”, and walked out with heartbreakingly grave health discoveries. *I am overly emotional about this, and honestly I think this sad new has been a real emotional tipping point. Moving on…*

Relocating would be easier…if we weren’t in the middle of selling the house and our two cars. *I know it must be done, but I truly do not understand people who buy and sell homes every few years. This shit is hard.*

Relocating would be easier…if I could skip going on our house finding trip to Belgium next month. Childcare is so, so, stupidly complicated when you have four kids. Once thought of as fun trip I totally just don’t want anything part of, and this is not me being dramatic (cue eye-rolling). For real, let me pick out the rental house out off internet. I’m a good visualizer of space from photos, and I cross my heart and hope to die I’ll be happy and never bitch once if I don’t like it.

Relocating would be easier…if my brain and body would let me sleep. *I’m living proof that lack of sleep can cause an influx of irrational emotions.*

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You got it, I’m in pretty rough shape. I find myself shutting down a lot, crawling into bed around 8pm, instead of tackling my to-do list. Basically the exact opposite of what I should be doing if I’m actively pursuing stress reduction.

And this isn’t a cry for help by any means. I made this mess, and I’ll find my way out of it, hopefully in about 3 months time.

I keep telling myself how fortunate I am to even be in this situation to give my family this life-changing experience. That this is the hardest part, and great reward lies ahead.

Eyes on the prize, folks.

no! sleep! till belgium!

During all four of my pregnancies, somewhere towards the beginning of the third trimester I started suffering from middle of the night panic/anxiety attacks and bouts with insomnia. I would be dog tired and head to bed right after tucking in the kids, around 8pm, watch a little netflix or read a book for an hour, and then attempt to sleep.

Sometimes I would fall asleep right away, only to be woken up around 2am, were I would lay in bed and worry about stuff and nothing in particular until Michael would hop in the shower around 6am.

Other times I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep at all, secretly hating my husband snoring next to me, who would fall asleep within 5 minutes of hitting the sheets (which, even on the most relaxing of days how is this even possible?). I would lay there wide awake until around 3am, praying to God to turn my brain off like a switch.

I always thought it was the pregnancy hormones keeping me up, but now I’m finding out it’s just me. Apparently I’m a pretty cool cucumber during the waking hours, but turn into a Nervous Nelly once the sun goes down.

Because you know what? It’s baaaaaaaaaaack. Same as it was before, thankfully with less Elton John and a whole lot more Zac Brown Band.

This 3 year trip has turned into my 5th pregnancy, complete with opposite nesting-syndrome and all. I’m currently in my 3rd trimester with this growing baby, and looking forward to birthing a beautiful waffle baby in less than three months.