Thursday, May 31, 2012

The first step to not owning a car

I bought a bus pass today!  I am disproportionately excited about this!!!

City bus lines.
Our apartment is in Hollerich.  You can click this image to enlarge.   I know, only my mom is interested at this level of detail.
 Hi, mom!
Pete will walk to/from work beginning next week.  We have our rental car for awhile longer, but in day-to-day life we will leave it parked so we can test out the no-car plan.
a manual diesel Mercedes something-or-other-euro-car
Pete has been our designated driver since we arrived, and I have no desire to drive here.  It's not super crazy, but it sure doesn't look super fun either.  Our motivation for no car is dual: finances and lifestyle.  We were a one-car family in the suburbs and we're hoping that was good training for no-car in the city.  Opting for a close-in apartment in lieu of a larger house outside of the city was a significant piece of this plan.

Headed under the city to the bus pass kiosk.  James in orange.
A bus pass that covers the city and immediately surrounding areas is 22.50 Euros per month.  If you sign up for a year, the 22.50 is automatically debited from your bank account each month, and every fourth month is free.  So an annual pass is about $200 Euros (around 250 dollars).  For context, in Portland, an annual TriMet pass is about $900-$1000, depending on how many zones are covered.  But to be fair, Portland and the immediately surrounding suburbs is about the size of all of Luxembourg.  To get around the entire country by public transport, the pass is 400 Euros (500 dollars).

Another great thing about the Lux bus pass: Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, another adult can ride along with me at no charge.  So for example, Pete can hitch a ride to church every week on my pass.  He may end up getting pass through work, but mine should suffice for now.  Oh, and kids under age 12 ride free (in Portland it's free under age 7, 7-17 are discounted).

We plan to rent a car once a month or so, as needed.  Still working on a system for emergencies - more research and networking required.  Right now I feel the security of the rental car - I may completely freak out when it's gone.  And in the dead of winter.  (It's barely even rained here yet, so yeah, we've been spoiled.)

Again, we haven't met or heard of an American family with kids without a car here yet (although we did already have an American try to sell us a car at our first church visit), but we're assuming they do exist?  Maybe exist?  Either way, we continue to embrace our own oddball-ness.  We'll, we're learning to, anyway.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Parks!

With the beautiful weather since we arrived, exploring parks is our main activity when not running or recuperating from errands.

Across from our temporary apartment is a great little playground...

Dutiful big sister doing the pushing

watching the kids from our balcony
We also like to park by our soon-to-be apartment and walk to Parc Merl from there...

These giant tube slides are ubiquitous in Luxembourg.  Here's Daphne popping out at the bottom.

D on the zipline

J on the zipline
looking at a caterpillar with some American kids

cafe by the water

ice cream break at the cafe

ducks and big fish in the pond
This whole week is a school holiday, so we did a trial-walk from our soon-to-be apartment to their school playground.  They will start school Monday next week.  Pete will start work on Monday as well, and we move in on Tuesday.
the only kids in sight
And, the grand-daddy playground of them all....

(I let Youtube fix the shakiness of my video, but now it looks like I took it on roller-skates....)







Monday, May 28, 2012

First Ventures into Grocery Shopping


Locating and purchasing sustenance has been first on the agenda most days since we arrived.  Sure, fridges are small, food spoils more quickly as a general rule, and shopping close to daily is sort of the European thing to do.  But the real reason for our frequent short trips is that our collective meal planning and shopping stamina is very, very low.  It's all we can do to find the store, find a few things we recognize, and find our way home.

We've been eating a lot of pasta, eggs, yogurt, fruit, and bread so far.  Household products such as cleaning supplies are a mystery, since back in the US I had become so accustomed to making my own out of vinegar, baking soda, castile soap, essential oils, etc.  It feels strange and like a "regression" to buy things like Shout and Ajax, but they are easy to recognize and immediately know their function.

I'm also accustomed to buying many organic food items and knowing exactly what's in anything else we consume, but there's no time to figure that out now.  The current strategy: That's yogurt - buy it, that's pasta sauce - buy it.  Hope it tastes okay.  The fine tuning of price and ingredients will come later.  Overriding the picky/worried part of the brain is tricky for me, but we're here to stretch ourselves!  Right!

(And I'm fully aware that this is a "first-world problem," yes?  We have food - I'm grateful.)

A few shopping shots:
at Naturata, an organic/natural store, we didn't buy anything, will probably take us awhile to figure that one out
random "Trader Joe's" nuts at a Grocery Outlet-type store called Aldi
Cora (on the right), a grocery/household store inside a shopping mall (similar to Fred Meyer or Walmart)
Delhaize has been our most "comfortable" store so far, a bit like a Safeway I suppose
Pete grabbing yummy bread
returning cart to the parking garage



Sunday, May 27, 2012

Church


In May of 2002, Pete and I graduated from college in San Diego and moved back to Oregon.  Pete's parents invited us to the church they'd been attending in Lake Oswego while we were away at school.  We tried it once, and never left.  It's been a huge part of our lives ever since.

Exactly 10 years later, we find ourselves in a new country and looking for a church.  We know jumping right into a church will be a great way to build much-needed friendships and connections.  There are a few English-speaking churches in Luxembourg, and after a little research we decided to try All Nations Church first.

We weren't at all prepared for what a nerve-racking and emotional experience setting off for a new church would be.  For several years back in Oregon, Pete and I had been making a concerted effort to seek out and welcome new people to our church each week.  I figured that I "knew the drill."  But being on the other side brought such an unexpected, strange wash of emotions.  I was almost in tears from the first handshake, and I think both of us were holding on by a thread throughout the whole service.  I'm still not entirely sure why - if we were sad, happy, or just overwhelmed.  Probably the answer is, yes.

The kids did great.  Part way through the service we took them back to Sunday school and they seemed to assimilate right in - even quiet little James.  Afterward, crafts in hand and smiling, Daphne asked if we needed to look anymore - if we could stay.  I suppose considering what we've put them though the last few days, church was nothing.  No shots or X-rays or 3-hour bank appointments, and playing with other kids their age - what's not to like?

 name tags
As for Pete and me, we couldn't really complain either.  We were welcomed, folks were friendly, we saw areas where we might be able to pitch in, and nothing "theologically" speaking had us running for the door.

Maybe we'll just stick with this one.  Hey, it worked in 2002, right?


Saturday, May 26, 2012

Blaming the Blinds

When we were finally released from our marathon-jet-lagged-expat-bureaucracy-fun-fest on Wednesday afternoon, all four of us crashed hard at our temporary apartment.  We thought the kids might just sleep through until morning, but they emerged from their room active and hungry about 3 hours later, around 7pm.  We tried to send them back to bed around 10, but they couldn't fall asleep until 1am.

Because we cut our Wednesday errands short due to extreme exhaustion, we had a busy day ahead on Thursday - medical checks and TB tests first thing in the morning, getting phones, and most importantly, activating our bank account so we could pay our first month's rent and deposit with our newly arrived wire transfer of funds.  These and several other tasks-that-are-always-longer-and-more-complicated-than-you-expect must be completed by Friday afternoon.

But what does this have to do with blinds?

All residences in Luxembourg have blinds on the outside of the windows, like this:


And when fully closed, like this...


....they block the light quite thoroughly.  As Pete and I closed the set in our room to go to sleep, we were thrilled.  The room we'd been staying in at Pete's parent's house is very light during the night, and we'd been waking up to the sun around 5 or 5:30am.  But this!  This was so, so, so dark and luxurious!!  We were out instantly.

We didn't bring anything into the room with us, and there was no clock.  Eventually, I noticed a tiny bit of light creeping in around the blinds, but figured it must still be quite early in the morning.  On our previous two trips to Europe (England and Luxembourg), we'd sit up wide awake every night between 2:30 and 3:30am, so I assumed it must still very early.  

Yeah, you know where I'm going with this.

Then a bit later I heard some stirring...maybe people getting up for work?  I finally made Pete go grab the iPad to check the time.  I heard some murmuring from down the hall, something about the iPad needing a few moments to register the correct time.

Then I heard, "Oh crap, it is 3:20pm."

We hustled to the bank as fast as we could, but it closed at 4:30.  Even if we'd not had several driving mishaps along the way, we'd have missed by a long shot.  Miraculously, we were able to go get phones using our US bank account, but they won't be active until Tuesday.  We picked up a few groceries at a market open "late" (8pm), headed home for dinner, and took the kids to a park.

We'll try again tomorrow.  Meanwhile, we feel like complete novice-newbie-traveler idiots.  Jet-lag management fail.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Travel Day

airport shuttle
European kids carry their own (featherweight) backpacks.  At least that's what we told them.

checked 5 bags and carried on 6 (including 2 instruments)
Daphne calls these the super long treadmills
Best airport/layover toy, by the way - small Nerf ball.  There's often space (don't need much) where the kids can play catch or kick it around and get the wiggles out while only providing mild irritation to the other waiting passengers.  An occasional Nerf bonk never hurt anyone, right?

Another travel-tactic that Pete has passed along to us from his business travel days (and first referenced here) - pretend you are a cow.  Follow the herd.  Don't ask questions.  Only moo.  "Why are we stopping here?" "How much longer is this line going to be?" "Why is this taking so long?"- these are not questions a cow would ask.  A cow would just go with the flow and moo.  I have to say, it works (even for adults - just turn off the non-cow part of the brain for awhile and you're a lot more content with life!)

Anyway, we usually don't check any bags when traveling (as one of Pete's uncles says - there are only two kinds of bags: carried-on and lost), but all our bags made it to Luxembourg safely.  Which is very good, because it's all we own for the next couple weeks.

After picking up our rental car and dropping off our bags at our temporary furnished apartment (which is of course much nicer than our actual apartment will be), we set straight off with our relocation agent to register at our commune (sounds a bit biblical/communist , eh?) and enroll the kids in school.  Between very little sleep the last week or so, and almost none for any of us on the plane, we were really hurting.  I'll spare you the details, but picture 4 hours at hot and humid DMV-esque facility on no sleep when you brought nothing for an exhausted 4 and 6 year old to do.  If Luxembourg wanted to test to see if our family would remain intact and not kill each other, we just barely passed.  Too tired to even moo.  We were pretty much ground beef by then.

But we're here, we made it, we're alive, and all is well.

Moien from Luxembourg!



Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Last Days in the USA

The last couple of weeks have been the most emotionally and physically taxing in recent memory. Hundreds of errands, emails, forms, phone calls, chores, and goodbyes have rendered us utterly exhausted and raw. Most nights after the kids are in bed, we've found ourselves lying flat on the floor, or staring blankly at the wall, completely overwhelmed and spent, digging deep into our energy reserves for another round of tasks before we finally collapse into bed for a few hours. The demands of preparing to move overseas for an unknown amount of time have not left much time or energy for blogging and recording the process. I spent a lot of time the last week wishing I’d captured all the events, people, and special moments more thoroughly.

But one thing this perfectionist has learned about blogging is that you often must post the incomplete, imperfect, disorganized, or scattered for the sake of and moving on. It is very easy to wait, stall, fall behind, and then before you know it, it's been 6 months or a year since your last post! Therefore, I will post what I have right now, so we can begin documenting our new life in our “new land” (as James calls it). What I wish it was is a series of posts with detailed captions and descriptions that tell a complete story. What it actually is is a random slideshow with photos in no particular order. With generic acoustic guitar music that showed up along with it, apparently. Huh, thanks iPhoto. Welp, gonna leave it and move on!

The rest of the memories and photos will just have to live in our hearts (and on other people’s cameras) for now. Meanwhile, if anyone does have pictures from the last couple of weeks, I’d love to have them. Thanks to my Dad for taking some of these.

video

Thank you to everyone for your kind words, support, prayers, best wishes, and love as we embark on our new adventure. It's what got us through. And also, thanks for checking this blog. Sharing our lives in this way helps us feel more connected to you all.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Moving Sale Day

There is nothing inherently interesting or blog-worthy about a moving sale.  But I may as well briefly document it for the kids' sake.  I still vividly remember the big moving sale we had as a kid (and even many of the items we sold) when we moved from California to Oregon - and putting signs up all over town with my Dad.  Ah, the pre-Craigslist days...

Daphne sold cookies.  They were gone in a couple hours and she made $8.  She would have made more but I kept sneaking them.  Hey, I needed fuel.
A brief James sighting.  He spent the better part of the day inside on the iPad.   Modern parenting at its finest.
Special thanks to Grammy for the cookies and friends who helped with the sale!

Oh, and by the way, we're pretty sure our house is rented!  First person who looked at it!  We're assuming the deal will go horribly awry and fall though, but for now we are very excited and relieved.



Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Pack Out" Day



It's pseudo-moving day!  "Pack out" is the official expat lingo, I believe.  Our sea and air containers are now officially headed out on their week head-start.  We will be staying with Pete's parents for one week, and then we're off (Tuesday the 22nd).  We return in the meantime, though, for our moving sale this weekend.
some of the "sell" pile, minus bikes - we'll need those!
Our house is up for rent.  We got a couple of low-ball offers in the last couple of weeks, but decided not to leave it on the market to wait for the offer we really wanted.  So, landlords from afar it is.  We've come to peace with it.

The truck and three movers showed up at 8am, and the truck was loaded and gone before 1pm.


We had our air and sea piles pretty much ready to go, but (somewhat frantically) tossed a few things in throughout the morning - last minute laundry and such.

in process..
...and done.  looks like they missed something, though.



Monday, May 14, 2012

The Flow of Stuff and People

The movers are coming tomorrow!  We are in the process of dividing all our belongings into 4 categories/giant piles:

Air Container
Sea Container
Luggage/take to Grammy and Grandpa's house
Moving Sale

In hopes of explaining the whole process to the kids, I made this diagram:



Nope, doesn't help much.  I tried.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The week since we've been back from the Preview Trip

Just a quick catch-up here, life the last week or so has been hectic and frazzled.  So hectic and frazzled that in running all over town, I earned myself one of these babies:


Originally the fine was $260 and my court date was scheduled for after the move.  The officer told me I could just show up at the courthouse to see what options I had, so in true Holman fashion, I prepared a lengthy letter detailing the cause of the ticket (to sum up, I was stressed out and momentarily confused at a confusing intersection, thinking I was caught in a classic Portlandia-overly-polite-driver moment and the other cars were all waiting for me to go - but yeah, I was 100% guilty).  Thankfully the clerk was able to reduce it on the spot!

And it's a good thing because, holy cow, moving overseas is expensive!

We've been shopping like maniacs for all kinds of stuff, which has been quite the shock to the minimalist system.  We just know everything's going to be expensive in Luxembourg, and we have this gigantic sea container that we might as well fill with stuff we know we're going to need.  Combine that with the fact that all four of us could use some basics like socks, underwear, shoes, and clothes because we tend to avoid "shopping" as a general rule, and we are just bleeding money right now.

Oh, and in Luxembourg it's standard that to secure your apartment you need, in Euro-cash, the following:
1st month's rent and utilities
3 months rent in security deposit
1 month rent in real estate agent fees

Once we get to Luxembourg, we're going to need to buy new appliances, lamps, basically everything that plugs in.

Pete's first paycheck in July will be a day of great celebration and rejoicing.

But in other much less whiny news:

Daphne learned to ride her bike sans training wheels this past week.  Not to be outdone by his big sister, 4-1/2 year old James learned two days later.

Cook Park
Pretty darn proud of himself
James also had his closing program at his amazing (and amazingly free!) preschool.  The theme was "One Nation Under God."

James at front/right
Confession: overt patriotism is not really my thing, and overt patriotism combined with religion definitely induces a mild case of the heebie geebies, but it was really cute, well done, and I even got a little emotional.  Hey, I DO love you, USA!  God Bless America! Until we meet again!

Daphne made a sign to hold up during the program, it says "Go James!"
Nana and Granddad made it
Grammy too!
And finally, Happy Mother's Day!

Predindr = president.  She's pretty much got me pegged, I'd say.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Preview Trip: Part 6

Friday morning was our visit to the school James and Daphne will actually attend beginning in June, according to our second-hand info from the Education Ministry. Pete and I were both nervous, wondering if we'd made the "right" choice in apartment/school.

The first teacher we met was one of the kindergarten teachers.  And her name was Daphne. Definitely going to call that a good sign!

She spoke excellent English and was extremely helpful. There is one preschool class available for James this school year (which is optional, but we're taking it), and two classes for the equivalent of pre-K/kindergarten-mixed, so Daphne will be in one of those. All three classes have 13-15 students each.

I try to be somewhat discrete in my picture taking at the schools, but I managed a few shots...

James' classroom
hallway joining all 3 classes (love the boot-hanging trees)
James is a big Dora fan right now. Plenty of Dora books in his class, these ones in French (must have some Spanish thrown in too, eh?!)
This school was probably a bit more minimal or simple or less "busy" feeling than the other school we visited in terms of equipment, toys, art, etc.  But, sheesh, sound like anyone you know?!?!  ;-)  Don't think that will be a problem.

Considering we'd heard "it's not possible" and "it just isn't done" several times from various sources when we'd asked about visiting the local schools, we couldn't be more pleased about how smoothly this has gone.  Our guess is that a big factor is that this is uncharted territory in many ways (for both the schools and the people helping us out - maybe we Americans are just super nosy about schools - more than other cultures?).  So when we ask, those involved would rather us not be disappointed if it doesn't happen, but then they try to make it happen anyway.  So far it HAS happened, and we are immensely grateful.

more evidence that Dora is alive and well in Lux
Next we went over and signed the lease contract (in French, with our agent translating).  We will be able to move in on June 5th (give or take maybe a day).  We will be in a temporary apartment or hotel from May 23rd until then.  The schools will be on holiday the last week of May, so the kids can start June 4th, the same day Pete starts. 

Gonna be a big day!


Friday, May 4, 2012

Preview Trip: Part 5

Riding the high of finding an apartment Wednesday, we reverted into tourist mode on Thursday, with some purposeful exploring thrown in for good measure.  I can never kick completely out of research mode, and Pete is quite patient with me, bless his easy-going heart.  We rode a few buses around town, including down to the far end of Kirchberg, to the Luxexpo (basically a shopping mall) that also houses a hypermarche/supermarche called Auchan.   It's a bit like a Fred Meyer or Super Walmart in the states, but you can push your shopping cart out into the rest of the mall with your groceries as well.

Auchan supermarche down on the right, 2 floors
secretly pricing the essential merchandise 
We also located several other large and small grocery shops in the city, searching for items we typically buy weekly in the states, browsing unfamiliar foods, and getting a feel for prices in general.  So far the Asian market was the only place with sweet potatoes.  I know you were wondering.

Then in true tourist fashion, we stopped at the Chocolate House across from the Grand Duke's Palace.
Pete practicing his French with our server  
choose a square of chocolate molded onto the end of a wooden spoon (this one's "chocolate bourbon vanilla" flavor) 
stir chocolate into hot milk = hot chocolate.  

We thought we'd try dinner at an Italian/Pizza restaurant a few blocks from our apartment.  Yummy and quite reasonably priced (I'm liking the no-tip thing, by the way, although I feel American-raised-guilt for it.)



Glowing pizza oven in the background. European unsliced knife-and-fork-it pizza.  It's a workout.
Friday will be our last day in town. Signing the rental contract in the morning!  And...we have a scheduled visit to our neighborhood school!