10 things that are awesome right now

These are the hard times seasoned expats talk about. Missing out on simple gestures like gift swaps with siblings, shopping the lightening deals on Amazon, and signing up for who brings the bread rolls and who is on pie duty. The hustle and bustle of fitting in your own immediate family fun, while frantically and excitedly running off to the ‘rents and then to the in-laws.

Truth be told, I’m missing my family desperately. I totally wish I was there with them right this very second, but understand why we are apart and the value it holds. We are here in Belgium (only) three-ish years. Three big years to do big crazy things we could never do or see living in central Indiana. But yes, three big years away from so much family and friends that are as good as family.

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So to compensate, I’m listing 10 things I’m thankful for right this very second. Random little bits, just off the top of my head, with as little thought involved per usual:

1. I have dedicated speakers in my kitchen (I got for my birthday) where I can plug in my computer, tune into NPR (English speaking!), and listen to American talk radio while I prep food. Since we’re somehow roundaboutly connected through a server computer thingy in Indy, my Pandora ads include Fox59 highlights, and I totally know Ray Cortopassi is still on my side.

2. Extra freezer and fridge space in the garage to supplement my bitty baby dorm-room sized European appliances in the kitchen. It’s a big deal, you guys.

3. Michael is always a willing participant to my weekend travel plans. Even though he works extremely hard all week and probably just wants to veg out on Saturday and Sunday, he’s still always (mostly) up for any adventures that get me out of the house. Last week I had him drive the family into France for a warehouse cookware sale, and this week I plan on him driving us into Germany for a Christmas market. Frohe Weihnachten!

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4. My kids are not picky eater. Meaning, they’ll try anything once, and sometimes not like it at all. But they will always try it. And almost always like it. Also – food here is different, but in a mostly good way. But still, salsa and peanut butter be gone.

5. We have a working fireplace, something i haven’t had since a child and it’s a total dream to fire it up every chance we get.

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6. I found the one store (gas station!) in town that sells Kraft mac n’ cheese. It’s only $4 a box (complete eyeroll). But at least we can obtain it in the event of an emergency or 5th birthday.

7. Our netflix is hooked up and in good working order (which is actually a really big deal here, it’s not common). We’re (I’m) currently binging on Gilmore Girls, House MD, Hotel Impossible and Sons of Anarchy. Whatcha else got for me, hobos? It might be a long winter and I need to be prepared….

8. Today I took Paul to the doctor. It was our first time for this sort of thing and I’m glad to finally have it under our belt. It went much more smoothly than expected, and ho-boy health care in Belgium is wildly and beautifully different compared to the approach and protocol in the US. Also, I’m not complaining. I could (and probably should) write a whole post dedicated to this experience.

9. I feel like I’ve crossed a very *small* social hurdle. Slowly but surely, I’m finding my way and getting involved in activities that don’t directly revolve around my children. Think book club, signing up for running races this Spring, Mums night out, ect. It’s nothing major, but it does add up.

10. I wake up every morning and don’t feel complete loneliness. This is not me being dramatic, this is me being real. Moving away and across the globe from everything I have ever known has been difficult. I am by no means completely assimilated, I’ve just started to feel a shift in the tide.

So I’m doing ok. Things are looking up, possibly borderline awesome.

International school daze

One of the most frequent questions I get asked from friends back home is: how are the kids liking and adjusting to school?

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The short answer? Really well. So well. They are thriving, making tons of friends, and getting involved in after-school activities.

But there’s always a longer answer.

So for those interested, I’ll break it down in more detail per child. Given we just moved from your average Midwest public system to a private international school in Europe, there might be some difference. Just maybe.

Our day starts around 8:10am when we walk down our long driveway en route to school. We’re extremely fortunate to live within walking distance to campus, which incidentally was the top selling point to the house (other than the windmill view from the kitchen sink).

We can be on school grounds in just a few hops skips and jumps, and I get a mile or two worth of exercise every morning thanks to the commute. Because if you’ve ever lived in Europe, you know the croissant struggle is real. And yes we have to walk passed a patisserie (aka fresh bread shop!) to get to school every morning.

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Piper: Piper is a fourth grader this year, in an English speaking classroom. In Indy, she attended a school for high ability students, so she is used to the bar being set exceptionally set. As far as I can tell, she’s doing really well at the new school and loving everything. Truth: I’m not surprised at all. Our main struggle is finding her enough English written books to read, as she doesn’t love her kindle, something I can sympathies with. After school she’s learning how to play soccer and will finally start violin lessons next week, something she’s really enjoyed back home thanks to the Indianapolis Metropolitan Youth Orchestra.

 Nola: Nola is in the 2nd grade, and enrolled in a dual-language classroom. This means that every Monday, Wednesday and 1/2 of Friday her day is spoken exclusively in French. Even if she goes to a “special” like PE or art, it’s all in French. Also, half her homework is in French. Needless to say, we’ve had some challenging moments at home with getting through homework and then anxiety for the coming day. I’m so very proud of her and her continued French comprehension. Nola has also been loving after school art club and has join an international chapter of Girl Scouts Brownies. She’s adorable and I can’t wait for her to start selling Thin Mints.

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Gage: Gage is in a dual language pre-k program. He goes 5 days a week, from 8:30am – 3:30pm. And for someone who’s never been in school, he’s surviving. One thing I regret about our previous year in Indiana was not sending him to preschool. He basically went from being home with me full time to going to school full time. I’ll be honest here, group settings for him have been a learning experience. You can’t kick friends. Personal space is a real thing. But for someone who’s never gone to school and then the first experience the teacher is speaking a foreign language, I’m proud of him.

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Me & Paul: With the big kids in school, Paul and I are hanging out just the two of us for one more year. Come next September, baby Paul will be enrolled in school just like his siblings (Europeans start em’ early), so the time right now is super sweet. We fill our days with figuring out the lay of the land, and sometimes just trying to run a few simple errands can take all day. I’ve recently started French lessons which is basically the hardest thing I’ve ever tried, but am committed to sticking with it. Soon I hope to join an American women’s club so the two of us can make friends and get involved.

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 Overall, we’re doing good. We are being stretched and challenged every single day in ways I would have never dreamed, and becoming incredibly flexible in the process. There are extreme highs, and there are moments of low low low.

And really, isn’t that the bones to any good adventure?

 

A birthday weekend in Cologne, Germany.

Over the past few months living here in Belgium, I’ve come to love many things, one of them being the amount of national and public holidays Belgians observe. Belgians like their days off, something I can wholeheartedly get behind and support.

And last week, Michael and the kids had off from both school and work, which was super convenient timing because HELLO BIRTHDAY WEEKEND for Piper and me. No school, no work, another year in the books to be celebrated – yes a road trip was in order. This time, to Cologne Germany (just two and a half hours away from home). 

The really cool thing about living in Belgium is that it’s so incredibly centrally located to a ton of awesome places. Paris is only three hours away, Amsterdam is three hours away in the other direction, you can get to the North Sea in under two hours, and you can drive into Germany in less than one.

DAY ONE:

We left mid-morning on Saturday, stopped for lunch on the road at Burger King, (I know, but Michael had to get it out of his system) and headed into the heart of Cologne to do some sightseeing and window shopping.

One of my favorite things to try is street food that is specific to the region we’re visiting. I immediately spied people lining up at this cart to buy little paper cones filled with some sort of snack. I needed to know what was in the cone, and at only 2 euros a piece, I sent Piper shopping.

Maronen. Also know as Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Our little cone came with about eight or so chestnuts, perfect for everyone to have a taste.

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This little snack of chestnuts taught us a very valuable lesson:

1. know what you’re eating.

2. know how to eat it.

You guys, chestnuts do not taste very good if you just pop them in your mouth as-is. They need to be shelled like a proper nut (I know, whodathunk?). The first go-around, Piper and I did not shell ours – instead just popping the roasted little sucker right in our mouth. Also: gross. Also: any German watching us and our reaction probably got a pretty good laugh at our expense.

At this point the snack was lost on us, even after we figured out how to shell them properly. At least we tried and gave it a go, I guess.

Next up we walked around the beautiful Cologne Cathedral in all it’s Gothic glory. Having an interior design degree and given the amount of art history classes I took in college, it’s absolutely fascinating to finally be able to see what I had previously only read about in textbooks.

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After touring the cathedral, we walked across the famous Rhine river via a beautiful footbridge (no photos here folks, I was admittedly afraid of heights and fearful for my children’s well-being, even though they were perfectly safe) and did some shopping.

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The girls each picked out a small bottle of iconic 1411 cologne (because when in Cologne that’s what you do) and then we headed out to dinner. Dinner was at a super fun (and super huge, loud, inexpensive) beer hall called Frueh am Dom which serves their own house brew, Fruh Kolsch.  Again, me being always up for an adventure ordered something off the “chef specialty” list called Schlachtplatte.

I’ll spare you the plate photo (I’m no food blogger) but let me just mention that my dish was a combination platter of liver dumplings, pickled pork, boiled bacon and black pudding served on a bed of sour kraut and mashed potatoes. Basically a big ole’ pile of German. Also make note: I’m now adding “learn to read German” to my ever-growing assimilation to-do list.

After dinner we found the car and headed out of the city to our rental apartment (through Airbnb, which I highly recommend, it’s the only way our family of 6 travels affordability) where we tucked the kids in and got ready for day two.

DAY TWO:

Sunday we woke up (my 36th birthday, yes I had to do the math, secretly hoping I was turning only 35) and headed to an indoor water park called Aqualand. (exactly how a 36 year old female would want to spend her special day, right?).

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 Watersides, whirlpools and lazy rivers. I didn’t take any interior shots, and that’s ok. We spent eight hours tiring out the kids before heading back to the apartment for a quick pizza dinner and OMG bed.

DAY THREE:

On Monday (Piper’s 10th birthday), the plan was to pack up and head to Bonn, about 25 minutes south-ish to the Haribo Factory Store.

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Yes, THE GUMMY BEAR STORE.

We knew going in that they didn’t do tours of the actual factory given that it’s a food facility, but our research said the destination wasn’t to be missed regardless. Guys, I don’t even really like candy, but I have a soft (or shall I say sticky) spot for Haribo gummies.

I love them. Open a bag, finished it within the afternoon. Not sharing, hands of momma’s chewies.

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We spent around 45 minutes and 30 euros at the store, walking out with an epic assortment. And yes, there’s a nice sized kids area which includes some gummy bear history and memorabilia to look at and kill a few some time (aka where I sent the family while I finished up shopping).
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Clutching our bags of sweets, we headed back to Belgium by way of the autobahn (holy speed, batman!) to conclude the celebration weekend. Piper decided to forgo a traditional birthday cake and instead chose German “berliners” for her evening celebration.

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Kid, it’s been a good 10 years. We had a great weekend, and I hope you always remember your 10th birthday spent in beautiful Germany. Cheers to many more crazy adventures…

What I really think about the Smooth Fitness 9.65TV Treadmill (sponsored)

I’m currently blogging about my fitness journey thanks to my ambassadorship with Smooth Fitness. While these posts are sponsored and I received a super sweet treadmill in exchange for my story, I’m taking this opportunity to get in shape extremely seriously. OK, mostly seriously anyway…

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I’ve made it. Almost. Only 4 sleeps and 9 training miles stand between myself and the big 13.1 race this coming Saturday morning. I know the anticipation is killing you, and you’re on the edge of your seat wondering how it’s all going to go down.

Will she chose the Gatorade or water? How will her Lady bits fair? Will they chafe? I wonder if she’ll trip and fall during mile #1. She always falls…

While the conclusion of the race is still TBD, one thing I’m sure of is that I’ve finally logged enough miles (almost 200 since January) to give a comprehensive review of the Smooth Fitness 9.65TV treadmill. You know, feature I just love, and even a few features they could improve upon because nobody’s perfect.

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A few loves:

1. It was a piece of cake to assemble. Sure, it was heavy + bulky and we had to bribe our neighbor and her dad with ice cream to help up get the beast in our basement, but once it was down there, it took Michael all of about 40 minutes to have it up and running (pun intended).

2. Long and strong. When shopping for a treadmill, one thing I wasn’t going to compromise on was the length of the track. Michael is over 6 feet tall, which means his stride is longer than average and I wanted him also to be able comfortable use the machine too. The 9.65TV has a generous 64″ running deck, which allows more than enough room for both of us to run together at the same time. Kidding. Don’t do that, you’ll get hurt. But seriously, we could if we were coordinated enough, the track is that long. He’s been running on it a couple times a week, to rave reviews.

3. It has a turd box attached. At our home, we call the TV the “turd box”. Why? Because if you sit on the sofa long enough watching crime show marathons on repeat, you’ll start feeling like a turd from all the lazy. But having a turd box attached to a piece of exercise equipments? LOOPHOLE, BABY! I’ve watched more episodes than I can count of Toddlers and Tiaras while running on the treadmill and I have no regrets. NONE. In the name of cardio fitness, yes I guess I’ll see what Honey Boo Boo is up too. A treadmill with a built-in TV is the only treadmill I ever want to be on.

4. Built-in heart rate monitor. A few posts ago I mentioned how my favorite work-out watch/monitor is the Polar FT4 Heart Rate Monitor What I really think about the Smooth Fitness 9.65TV Treadmill (sponsored). Little did I know that the 9.65TV has a built-in wireless heart rate control when using a Polar chest strap (which is included with the purchase of the machine). This feature keeps me in the “zone” and has really had a hand helping me get the most out of my runs.

5. Sound quality. While in use, the treadmill really isn’t that loud, and I’m surprised given it’s powerful 4.0 continuous horsepower motor. I was prepared for Michael to sound like a charging herd of elephants coming up the stairs, and I was pleasantly surprise that it’s relatively quiet. Even with his tall boy floppy flapjack feet. What I do hear is his MP3 player bumping (Phish! I mean really, who purposely listens to Phish to exercise?) that’s plugged into the treadmill’s dashboard.

A couple improvements that could be made (because this is a honest review, folks):

1. Weird shaped water bottle holders. While the 9.65TV treadmill has plenty of places to hold a drink or iphone (I think like 4 holders), they are a wee bit weird shaped. Maybe I’m just being incredibly fussy, but my bottle always rattles while running because the bottom of the holder is angled.

2. Heart rate monitor display options. As mentioned above, I LOVE that the machine has a built-in heart rate monitor. The thing that bums me out a bit is that if you are using the chest strap (which I like to do), you cannot opt-out of the treadmill displaying your heart rate. And to the best of my knowledge, if your heart rate display is showing, you then cannot see the mileage racking up because they share the same little window and it’s impossible to switch between the two. Clean as mud? Thought so.

3. Sometimes I like to read. Yes I’ve mentioned the TV is simply amazing, but sometimes a gal likes to check in on her celebrity gossip via trashy mag, am I right? A fab addition to the machine would be a little ledge to hold magazines, books, e-readers or what have ya.

Ok, enough talk. I got a half-marathon to prep for. Very important details include finding the most perfect race shirt, planning my spaghetti pre-party, and editing my sweaty girl race day play list. Because if I get to mile 12 and Christina Aguilera’s “Candyman” comes on, I will kill things.

Wish me luck!

 

A few things learned while on the treadmill (sponsored)

I’m currently blogging about my fitness journey thanks to my ambassadorship with Smooth Fitness. While these posts are sponsored and I received a super sweet treadmill in exchange for my story, I’m taking this opportunity to get in shape extremely seriously. OK, mostly seriously anyway…

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I am not an athlete, but have decided as part of my farewell to Indianapolis, to run the famous Indy Mini Marathon (largest 1/2 marathon in the country with around 30,000 participants) on May 3rd. Almost seven weeks into the twelve week training program, I’m learning so much about myself both physically and psychologically.

A few things you probably never wanted to know about me, but now I know about myself:

1. Miles one – three are the serious worst. I’m stiff, my body hurts, I’m cursing and swearing with each step. But if I can power through the first few, I can find my rhythm and start enjoying the ride.

2. But bananas are the serious best. I’m not a huge fan of the banana, but since starting my training, I’ve swallowed one down almost every morning. They provide energy, calm the nervous tummy, and keep the poops away (more on the poops later). Bananas are the perfect runners’ food I’ve learned.

3. I have one speed, and that’s ok. Whether I’m running one mile or eight, I move at a pace of around 11:30 miles. This is pretty much classified as a “snails” pace, but for me it’s both my jogging pace and my race pace – I’m owning it.

12991392475 c2b5b8956c A few things learned while on the treadmill (sponsored)

4. TMI: Chafing is a real (painful) thing. My bra strap causes chafing. The seams in my pants cause chafing. A very good (much more in-shape) lady friend of mine says her butt causes chaffing. You know, not the actual crack but the part when the rump meets the leg. I’m currently combating the chafe with Body Glide, which basically makes me feel like I’m rubbing deodorant in my crotch. But whatever, because it’s helping.

5. “Mind over Matter” isn’t a flippant saying tough people throw around. I know it’s hard to believe, but 6 miles really isn’t that far if you slowly work your way up to it with gradual training. I already know if I can get past those first 3 miles, I will absolutely be able to finish 13.1 miles.

6. Playlists are key, get a good one. Download the (free) app Rock My Run, it will change you.

7. TMI: Running will give you “dirty tooters” (Paul’s favorite phase). I don’t know what it is about running, and yes I googled it to make sure it’s just not me, but running makes you want to get business done if you know what I mean. Yes, I’ve had to pause the treadmill mid-run to avoid a situation (linked to super funny marathon poop story) and I’m not embarrassed to admit it.

Currently it fits into my schedule to run on my treadmill 2-3 times a week, and run a longer distance outside on the weekends as weather permits. I prefer the convince of running on the treadmill, but love the high running in the elements gives me.

Ok your turn. What do you love (or hate) about running?

spill, sweep, trap & repeat (sponsored)

 spill, sweep, trap & repeat (sponsored)

Even though Gage is only four years old, this August he will be enrolled in full-day kindergarten. And no, this wasn’t my initial plan whatsoever. The plan was for him to stay home with me this year, go to two-morning a week preschool next year, and then the following year (at five and a half years old) he would start full-time kindergarten at our neighborhood public school.

But a year ago when I decided this is the way it would be, moving to Belgium wasn’t even a dream. But here we are, only four months away from getting on a plane with a one-way ticket to Waffle Town.

In Belgium, four year old children attend full-day Kindergarten. And because we want to do like the Belgians do, Gage will be going to Kindergarten too. To make the transition a little bit easier on him and us, we’re giving him more freedom now, hoping he becomes a little bit more independent (and possibly gain a little more maturity) before this drastic change rocks us all. We’re treating him more like one of the big kids, and less like his little brother.

Gage’s new responsibilities include:

Getting dressed in the morning on his own, including picking out his own outfits. And even if his outfit is a straight-up clown costume, I let him keep it on because he made the choice.

Brushing his teeth unassisted. (so so so messy)

Making his own Breakfast.

 12838502953 e679da4c77 spill, sweep, trap & repeat (sponsored)(of course it’s Nutella. We’re “doing as the Belgians do”, remember?)

And prepping a snack for himself and Paul after their afternoon rest time.

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This is what happens when you leave the room to pee while he’s “just gonna pour a little in the bowl”.

As you can see, his new responsibilities are totally cutting my workload in half. He’s a work in progress no doubt, and I have to give him an A for effort when it comes to gaining independence.

And with every splatter and spill, comes a sweep and trap.

12838502793 3c29b1bb7e spill, sweep, trap & repeat (sponsored)

I’ve been a long time supporter of all things Swiffer for as long as I can remember. They always seemed come up with innovative products that do a really great job cleaning up all the little messes happening on our hardwoods.

Their newest little cleaning gem is the Sweep & Trap. Basically, rotating blades sweep up the mess into an easy to empty dirt bin (in the above photo, you can see all the cereal collected) and then a dry cloth follows behind, picking up any stray crumbs and dirt. Best part? There is no motor or batteries to worry about replacing.

We’re in love it it, and it’s easiest enough that even the most independent of mess makers can embrace life’s little messes. Yes, Gage is a Swiffer Sweep & Trap pro. It’s part of the deal. You make the mess, you clean the mess.

COUPON TIME:

Get $2 off of a Swiffer Sweep & Trap starter kit at Target.com by going to Target.com and entering coupon code TGTBBAGU (Offer is only valid through 2/28/14 at Target.com)

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.