Classic Car Talk in Luxembourg

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Me driving my 1970 Ford Torino GT Convertible in 1987

Today I had another unique experience in Luxembourg. It is just another reason I really like living here. I stopped by a car part’s shop to buy a liter of oil for my car. My son and I will be taking our annual May mother/son trip to the Belgium coast next week and I didn’t get a chance to get the oil changed yet.

I was greeted by a very friendly Belgium man at the counter who showed me which oil I needed for my car and then we proceeded to chat for almost a half hour about a number of interesting things. I have always been a car geek and especially classic cars. It was after I told him that I used to change the oil in my cars years ago that the real conversation began.

He recommended a mechanic who does car repairs in France for about the quarter of the price in Luxembourg and gave me his name and number so I can go to a reliable and nice garage in the future. The man he referred me to also works on race cars and he showed me pictures of some amazing cars.

I received a quote for an oil change here in Luxembourg about a year ago for €350 ($410). Last year I ended up driving 25 minutes over the border to France and only payed €150 ($175). So, maybe changing the oil myself would be a good idea after all.

It has been years since I have talked to anyone about working on cars and in particular classic cars. He is a huge American classic car fan and we traded stories about which cars he has owned and wants to own as well as the classic cars I have owned. He showed me pictures of his friend’s classic cars and his favorites, the late 1960s Cobra and Charger as well as European cars. I told him about my 1970 Ford Torino GT convertible and he even knew the engine specs of my car.

His dream is to open his own garage/shop one day and specialize in classic cars. He recently bought a place just over the border in France, which is much cheaper than Luxembourg, and is putting together contacts and hopes to open his shop soon.

After our intense classic car discussion he gave me a discount on the oil and we went out to my car to take a look at the engine to see how difficult it would be for me to change my own oil and fuel filter. After a five-minute inspection he showed me how to access the nooks and crannies and gave me plenty of advice on how to proceed on my own. In fact it is not very difficult at all. I will just need to roll up my sleeves and get dirty.

I love meeting new and interesting people every day in Luxembourg.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Been Quite the Morning

baguettekioskIt’s just after 1:30 in the afternoon and I have already had quite the morning. It started with driving Luca to school, as his Friday classes start an hour later. Afterward I decided to stop by a friend’s expat store, Home from Home, in Strassen to chat and ask for a favor. When I arrived there was a television crew from RTL Luxembourg set up and they asked if they could film me and ask a few questions. It’s not like I could say no. And definitely not in Luxembourgish since I haven’t learned the language yet. Actually they were quite nice and did speak English. So I walked around the store and chatted with John and Mark the owners and did the shots and the interview. I am hoping the footage turns out well. I wasn’t exactly dressed for it.

Now to ask the favor. My daughter, who has two more years of secondary school, currently 10th grade in the US, must do an internship at the end of the school year as part of the curriculum. Yes, I said internship. She wanted to work with a local veterinarian but cannot for insurance reasons. She also would have loved to work in a pet sanctuary. But, in Luxembourg you cannot do volunteer work in these environments until you are 18. So, why not ask a friend if she can work in their store. Of course Mark and John were very nice and agreed that she can work in the store at the end of June. We chatted more about the schools in Luxembourg, our kids and how well their store is doing and possible new ideas. I went on my way thankful that they will let Juliana do her internship at their store. They are such great guys.

So, then I returned home to quickly study a little bit of French before my tutoring session in France. I am studying my French, somewhat intensively, to prepare for a French language nationality exam the second week of March, just over two weeks from now. As I drove the half hour to Haute-Kontz in France I enjoyed the beautiful sunshine and the rolling hills and countryside of the Moselle valley. It is breathtaking, except for the nuclear power plant billowing steam not far away. It has been quite nippy lately or just a little chilly for me but freezing cold for almost everyone else. When you have Minnesota blood it is just chilly when it’s around freezing or a little below. But at least we have the sunshine after months of rain and looming clouds.

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We had a very nice tutoring session and I drove back through the country roads to Mondorf. I had noticed a kiosk before but today I had to stop. There was a fresh baguette kiosk just outside Le Bureau de Marie (Town Hall/ Mayor’s Office). For just one euro a fresh, warm baguette pops out of the kiosk. I had to get two of course. As I was backing out of my parking spot, I turned around and just in time stopped as I almost hit a woman walking through the parking lot. She tapped the back window at the last second. I was mortified. I thought, “Did I just hit that woman with my car.” I jumped out the car and asked her if she was OK in French. I had to practice my French and especially since we were still in France (the border was only 100 meters away). She was in fact just fine and she smiled. I have to say that adrenaline surge lasted for at least another 20 minutes as I made my way back home.

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Now it’s time to make lunch, study more French, get ready for a Skype French lesson and clean up the house. Oh, that’s right, little Nipper decided to help out with putting the dishes away.

So that was my morning in Luxembourg. There is always some new adventure just around the corner. Although next time I will pay more attention when I back out of a parking spot.

Socially Active in Luxembourg

It’s hard to believe that I have been in Luxembourg more than two and a half years already. While many people think it is hard to move to a new country and feel at home and get involved, that is not true for me. I love Luxembourg and all the people I have met here. What I like most is that people are from all over the world, very kind and open. I have yet to have a bad experience with people I have met. And let me tell you, or as my close friends will say (you know who you are K and A), “Natalie makes friends with everyone she meets.”

Since I am a very “social” person I meet someone new almost every day and I am very involved in community events and volunteer with a number of groups. This weekend I have volunteered, as an executive committee board member for Democrats Abroad Luxembourg, to host the Women’s March Luxembourg at my house. We will meet at my house at the edge of the city, discuss issues and then stroll through the walking routes and fields near my house. I know this seems like a grand endeavor, but it will be very fulfilling and it will bring together like-minded women and men to discuss the issues of today.

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I am not doing this alone, along with Democrats Abroad Luxembourg we have the Women’s March Luxembourg, which was very popular last year, as well as other groups in Luxembourg that are participating. I recently made a connection with CID | Fraen an Gender, for all those who are interested in feminism, gender issues, equality between women and men and who refuse stereotypical roles attributed by gender.  We are lucky enough to have socially active members and volunteers to gather people together for this Women’s March and Solidarity Stroll to address the issues of today.  Thank you for everyone’s help and passion to get this out to our members, Luxembourg residents and in the local media. I can only hope that we have better weather than we have over the last month. Sunshine or at least no rain and wind please!

I cannot live in such an international and vibrant city as Luxembourg and not be involved. I look for new opportunities every day. I was lucky to meet a wonderful group of women last weekend for a Woman’s Healing Circle. These are the types of people I like to meet and build lasting relationships with.

I am also very active with the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg, which is actually a very international women’s club. I am the communications director on the executive board and enjoy putting together the monthly newsletter as well as taking care of the website and FB page. They are such a lovely group of ladies.

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I also started volunteering with the World Peace Forum last summer for the annual Luxembourg Peace Prize that awards world peace makers. I met some very wonderful people from around the world and look forward to this year’s event on June 22, 2018. The Schengen Peace Foundation was initiated in 2005 as a not-for-profit charity approved by His Royal Highness Henri the Grand Duke of Luxembourg.  The Foundation contributes to the construction of a more peaceful world by promoting peace, tolerance and understanding through multicultural dialogue with the help of discussions, publications, exhibits and workshops, internet platforms, encounters, exchange and education programs as well as studies about peace.

I was lucky to be part of the GAYMAT, the Luxembourg LGBT Pride Event in July.

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This is a short list of the social activities I participated in over the last year. Let’s see what new opportunities come my way in 2018.

Treetop Walk Baumwipfelpfad Saarschleife

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It was such a beautiful day that we decided to take a day trip into Germany. I just found out about Saarland and all it’s beauty the night before our trip and was astounded at all that was so nearby us in Luxembourg. We haven’t really explored Germany as much as I’d like but we had such a great time with this trip. And, it was only a 35-minute drive.

Baumwipfelpfad Saarschleife is just breathtaking. It is a treetop walk to a high tower that is 42 meters tall. Once you reach the top  you see a beautiful view of Naturpark Saar-Hunsruck as well as the banks of the Saar and Mosel rivers. We first had lunch at the Bistro Mirabell onsite, and it was amazing food and very well priced compared to Luxembourg restaurants. Then we walked the treetop walkway up to the tower. It was magnificent.

When we came down we went to the edge of the Cloef to watch the barges on the river and then took the meandering path down the hill. The hike down was not for the faint of heart. It just kept going and going, snaking through the trees. It was quite beautiful and picturesque despite there being no leaves on the trees. We were all exhausted when we made it down and then we had to trudge back up. Wow was it a hike, but well worth it. In total we walked about 10 km of beauty. Myself and Luca look forward to going back again and exploring more of Saarland.

Lunchtime in Luxembourg

The sun will come out tomorrow!

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After weeks of rain, the sun finally came out Today. And what do Luxembourgers do when the sun comes out? They go outside. They come out it droves. Why? Because these rays of light rarely come out over the winter or spring. And, when they do, everyone goes out and soaks up the sun.

So today as I took my first really nice, sunny day walk this spring I enjoyed seeing how people in Luxembourg enjoy the great outdoors and everything it has to offer. In America, despite living in areas that were quite outdoorsy places, I noticed that people didn’t really leave the office let alone their desks for lunch. Here in Luxembourg people take their one-hour lunch and then take a leisurely walk through the streets or parks near their office. You know it is noon because everyone takes their lunch at exactly noon. Oftentimes lunch lasts up to two, relaxed, non-frenetic hours.

I live in the Southwest edge of the city in Cessange, where you see huge cranes building a new mall, alongside meadows and farmland. My street in particular is very busy on nice days with people strolling, talking and smiling.  Yes, I said actually talking and smiling. Unlike Americans, people here can actually put down their phones long enough to take a walk, catch up with colleagues and friends while also soaking up the sun.

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This is why days like today make me really appreciate the way Europeans actually take time to eat their lunch, have a walk and talk to friends. This relaxed attitude is why I came to Europe. Now if only we could share it with the rest of the world – yes you America.

 

Living Through the American Election Abroad

futurebelongsvote.jpgMost days I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over what I am seeing in this year’s election. Most days I try not to cry. With everything that is going on in this world, including the disenchanted refugees, the terror attacks and a multitude of other issues here in Europe and the rest of the world, I am even more upset and ashamed of what is going on in America. I am thankful that CNN International doesn’t showcase the election quite as insanely as the American version. So, at least I am not going through the terror of many of my friends who are asking, “What happened to America.”

Being removed from it all has been a blessing for me because if I was there I would have had a serious mental breakdown by now. I am on the verge as it is. Living abroad has actually opened up my mind and made me get more into American politics from afar.

When you live outside your bubble you see things very differently. I talk to different people every day and see how people from around the world view not only the world, but America. I rarely meet an American. And when I do they share the same shame and anguish as I do about this election cycle and what America has seemed to become.

What do non-Americans think about America right now? When I first mention I am American they kind of smirk and ask if I am voting for Trump. I of course say no and follow up with a quip about telling people I am Canadian after the election if Trump is elected and getting my French citizenship. Of course I laugh when I say this but I am serious.

I am finding it harder and harder to see what has become of the America I love. Where is the compassion? Instead of people helping their neighbors, in the world I grew up in, it is friend or enemy. People can’t seem to have a discussion about politics or religion without picking sides and alienating anyone that doesn’t believe in the same things they do.

What do people I meet think about the election? I have yet to meet one person that believes that Trump will be elected. But, as the discussion progresses we talk about what would happen if he does become president. Despite the havoc he would reign on America, it would be catastrophic for the rest of the world.  People look up to America as a model, a country that invites people in and let’s them pursue their dreams. Now people are shying away from even visiting America for a vacation let alone moving there. When I tell them about how the political system and America really works in regards to education, healthcare, race relations and a myriad of other areas they just gasp and wonder how we can say we are a blueprint to democracy.

Thankfully I have been able to meet up with like-minded and devoted Americans who really do care about the future of our America and want to make a difference. I am a member of Democrats Aboard and have done many activities with my new friends. Yes we discuss politics, but we also discuss our lives and how America has shaped us and what we miss about being away. We also discuss how bad things have become and mourn the America of the past. But, we try to make a difference despite being thousands of miles away.

Recently we went to American based companies as non-partisan volunteers and registered people to vote and to obtain their absentee ballots. Everyone we met was excited to vote and really thinks this year is key to the future of our nation. We have gathered to watch the debates and discussed them. This week we had a dinner where the American Ambassador to Luxembourg attended and talked with us about how this election will shape the future of our country.

I have become more involved in politics this year than I have in many years. Despite being abroad, I feel like I can make a difference. It is upon each and every one of us to not just talk about it and gripe and moan about how bad it is but to do something about it. I have less power as an American abroad but every one of my friends in the US has the power to vote, talk with their neighbors and friends and change the things that are not working effectively.  The presidential election is very important but the local and state elections are just as important.

My ballot was 7 pages long. I researched and found out which initiatives and people aligned with my view of the future. Everyone in American needs to do the same thing. Treat this election like you would the welfare of your family. We the people are in charge of our destiny. As the saying goes, “Put your money where your mouth is.” Educate yourself and vote.

 

The Quest to Get My Luxembourg Driver’s License

luxlicenseMoving to Luxembourg has some quite interesting hurdles. One of them is getting your driver’s license. You can drive with your original license but must apply for a Luxembourg license within 12 months of arrival if you are a non-European citizen. If you don’t get it before one year of residency you have to pay big bucks to take a driving class and test.  So, at the beginning of June I started my quest for the Grande-Duché de Luxembourg  Permis de Conduire.

You must get quite a few documents together and it is quite a feat.

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First I made an appointment with my general practitioner and friend Dr. Nana Ikoko. You need a health certificate (certificat médical). It is a pretty in-depth exam and you pee in a cup to make sure you don’t have diabetes. It will take about 30 minutes and cost €60, which is not reimbursed.

Next I made an appointment with the American Embassy for an Affidavit that states that I haven’t had a criminal record within the last five years. Since the embassy is only open one day a week in the afternoon during the summer,  I was lucky to get an appointment only a week later. This was actually the most time-consuming part of the process. I arrived at the embassy with an appointment. Myself and three other people had to wait outside for 15 minutes for them to let us in.

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We went through a medal detector and then were escorted by a security guard to the administration office. Once there we had to wait an additional 15 minutes for the lady to come back from lunch. When it was my turn I went up to the window and was asked if I had a criminal record and put up my hand to swear upon it. After one minute of basic questions I was back in the waiting room waiting for the signed Affidavit, which took another 10 minutes. There is no official background check by the embassy, just your word. I was then escorted back to the entrance and was on my way. It took about an hour and cost €50.

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The next day I was off to Bierger-Center in the city center. Here I needed to take a ticket and wait my turn, thankfully only 10 minutes. Here I needed to get a certified copy of my driver’s license front and back and a Certificate of Residence (Certificat de Résidence), as well as a copy of my Carte d’identité (Luxembourg ID card) and a copy of my passport. This only cost a few euros.

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Just a five minute walk is the Cité Judiciaire, where I received the Bulletin No. 2 Casier Judiciaire that showed that I had no criminal record in Luxembourg.

I rounded out the day with the last piece of documentations, a photo. I drove to Photo Nett at Belle Etoile Mall where it only took 20 minutes to get my photos. The photos cost €14.

Now that I had all my paperwork I downloaded the Demande en obtention d’un permis de conduire (application form), which is available in French and German. This outlines all of the paperwork you need. I went to the SNCA in Sandweiler the next day. Here you take a ticket and wait your turn. I only had to wait around 20 minutes. I gave them all the paperwork and purchased the Timbre de Chancellerie (tax and admin fee) for €33.

Less than a week later I received a letter stating that my license was ready for pick-up. Since it was a busy summer for me I waited until the kids were back in school. It took two minutes to get my new Luxembourg license today. The grand total for my new license was €160.

Here is a list of documents you need:

  • health certificate from your doctor in Luxembourg, which is no more than three months old
  • affidavit from your Embassy
  • certified copy of the front and back of your current driver’s license, (if this is not in French, German or English you must have it legally translated before applying)
  • certificate of residency, less than one month old (Bierger-Center or your commune)
  • passport picture (45/35mm)
  • Photocopy of your passport of Luxembourg ID
  • your police record of good conduct from Cité Judiciaire
  • driver’s license request form Demande en obtention d’un permis de conduire
  • tax stamp (timbre de chancellerie), available at SNCA when you apply

The Beauty of Bacharach, Germany

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Our friends the Westerbeck’s from Kenmore, Washington, started a three-week trip to Europe this week. We had the pleasure of joining them at the beginning of their adventure in Bacharach, Germany. Bacharach is a two-hour drive from Luxembourg. We traveled through the rural countryside of Luxembourg through Trier, Germany, and the landscape became more hilly as we drove. The rivers and hills of vines made the two-hour drive go by rather fast. As we got closer to Bacharach we drove into a forest with hairpin turns and beautiful, looming hills. The view coming out of the forest overlooking Bacharach and the Rhine river is just breathtaking.

Bacharach is a small town on the Rhine river with a quaint, Old World charm. There are narrow cobbled streets and quaint timber houses surrounded by fortified walls and hillsides filled with grapevines. The river is majestic in its own right as it flows from the Swiss Alps in the south to Cologne, Germany and eventually Holland in the north. There are ferries and barges constantly floating by the riverfront park.

We arrived at lunchtime and had a wonderful meal at Kleines Brauhaus, an old theater and outdoor carousel that was made into a beer garden and restaurant. We had a very nice meal overlooking the river.

bacharachrainbow2After having the local beer and wine it was time for a short nap for the kids at Hotel am Markt at the center of the village. Our family room was light and airy and a wonderful place to stay. Our friends stayed at the Hotel-Pension Im Malerwinkel that has beautiful gardens (pictures below) and set at the edge of the hill built into the fortifications of the city.

The afternoon and evening we spent exploring the town and hiking up hillsides for amazing views of the city. We were lucky enough to catch a rainbow after a few minutes of rain. The kids decided to take a quick dip in the Rhine River. For dinner we had a wonderful evening tasting local wine, eating local sausage and sharing our travel stories.

Although we would have loved to stay, we traveled back to Luxembourg the next morning as our friends made their way to Austria.

 

Our Drive Across France to Bordeaux & Loire Valley

bordeauxsignMy mother and sister in law live in Bordeaux, France. Since they are not able to travel we took our May school break traversing France to Bordeaux. We had considered flying, but I wasn’t quick enough getting the tickets and we are trying to travel a lot on the cheap while we have the chance. So, we decided to undertake the 9.5 hour drive to Bordeaux. I made all the arrangements since I love planning trips.

We started Day 1 on Saturday, leaving around 10:30 am. We drove west from Luxembourg through  Paris (which is about 4 hours). The outer ring of Paris was a little busy but not bad. This quick view of Paris was anything but beautiful or romantic. As the motorcycles weaved in and out between cars at breakneck speeds we maneuvered through the black fume-laden auto route that was full of pitted roads, slow-moving cars and graffiti filled bridges.

After we left Paris we headed south through the Loire Valley. Our next stop was Futuroscope near Poitiers Saturday evening. Parc du Futuroscope is a theme park based upon multimedia, cinematographic futuroscope and audio-visual techniques. It has several 3D cinemas and a few 4D cinemas along with other attractions and shows, some of which are the only examples in the world. We had been to Futuroscope when the kids were little, around 9 years ago.

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The next morning we ventured out for a full day of Futuroscope. It was a long day but the kids kept us going until 9 pm. Luca and I had a great time on the Dances with Robots ride, which was a combination of being in a dance club and riding a bucking bull. It was quite the challenge and not for the faint of heart. We also were able to visit the Arthur and Ice Age Dawn of the Dinosaurs 4 D Adventures, as well as see two Imax style theater productions Mysteries of the Unseen World and The Explorarium, a stunning dive with Jean-Michel Cousteau. We also explored Futur l’Expo, a hands-on journey into the future. There were also many outdoor exhibits and park areas as well as rides for the kids. We didn’t get a chance to see everything but we had a great time.

On Monday morning we finished our trip to Bordeaux, another 1.5 hour drive. Although the weather was not sunny during our stay it was pleasant. We spent most of our time outside exploring the city, Parc Bordelais, Place des Quinconces, the water fountain on the promenade (we couldn’t get the kids to leave) and visiting with our family. We rented a beautiful house on Housetrip.com in the Bouscat area of Bordeaux called Maison de Charme that was fantastic. It was in the perfect location, only a five minute walk to our families house and a couple of blocks from the park, shopping and restaurants in the heart of Bordeaux.

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Luca in Parc Bordelais

 

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We took a day trip to see to the coast near Bassin d’Arcachon. We didn’t have a lot of time so we were only able to visit Dune du Pilat, the tallest sand dune in Europe, 60 km from Bordeaux. It was quite a hike up the dune and the kids had fun climbing up and running down a couple of times.

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Our trip to Bordeaux had to end and we had to say goodby to my mother and sister-in-law Friday morning as we started back home. We stopped in the Loire Valley in Amboise. We could not drive through the Loire Valley without stopping. We spent the afternoon visiting the Chateaux du Clos Luce a Amboise, Leonardo de Vinci’s house and workshop at the end of his life. It is a museum and gardens that is out of this world. This year is the 500th  anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s arrival at the Château du Clos Lucé.

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We spent the night in a nice Airbnb apartment on the small island that straddled the Loire river. We walked into the village of Amboise for an excellent dinner and explored the town. In the evening after dinner the kids and I found a nice local park and the kids played until dark.

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Saturday morning we walked across the bridge to town for fresh pastries before our day at  Château de Chenonceau, the famous château spanning the River Cher, near the small village of Chenonceaux in the Loire Valley. It is a 15 minute drive from Amboise. There are not words to describe Chenonceau. We did a tour and explored the gardens and out buildings. It was hard to say goodbye to such beauty and history.

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My First Day Teaching English to Refugees/ Asylum Seekers

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Respect is a rare bird in the world!

I found a post a couple of weeks ago asking for volunteers to teach English classes to the refugees and asylum seekers at Croix-Rouge Luxembourgeoise (Red Cross). Today I had my first class and it was enlightening and enriching. I have been wanting to help out with the refugees since I arrived in Luxembourg last summer. I was able to donate clothes and toys and also help out at the sorting center, but this was my first opportunity to help face-to-face.

After a few e-mails back and forth with other volunteers I found a time to meet up with Mairead (a kind and gentle Irish woman that has lived in Luxembourg for many years) this morning for my first class. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The only note I received about the classes was that many of the people spoke little to no English and would only be in this transitional camp for a few weeks to months.

Mairead sent me an e-mail telling me how to get to the camp, an old industrial warehouse that many don’t know about, just a 3 minute drive from my house. Drive past the supermarket parking lot and stop at the gate for the guards who will need to see your ID and usher you in. Upon arrival I saw a few men going from building to building and a couple of security guards. It was very laid back. There were beautiful murals on the walls outside and in the building. We met in the parking lot with her husband and she proceeded to show me around and give me the history of the building, the murals and how the Croix-Rouge has been housing the refugees here since November 2015. It was a camp for families and men but is now just a camp/center for men. There are other camps in the area that cater to families.

As we walk into the building there are men milling around, saying “Bonjour” or “Moin” – hello in French and Luxembourgish – with a smile.

Mairead explains how many men are housed here, around 150 now, and how they go about their daily routine, which includes language lessons onsite in English, French and Luxembourgish if they wish. Language is very important since you can’t get a job unless you have one or more of the national languages – French, German or Luxembourgish. English is also very well-spoken in Europe.

At first we only have one student, an 18-year-old boy from Montenegro in the Balkan countries.  He has been in Luxembourg for a few weeks and hopes to stay but knows it is unlikely since primarily true asylum seekers (Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.) are getting completely through the process. Years ago refugees from the Balkan countries were granted asylum but nowadays not. The boy came here in hopes of finding work. When he returns to Monte Negro, which he is sure will happen, he wants to go to school to become a police officer.

Next a 42-year-old man from Iraq joins us. He knows very little English and only speaks Arabic. After introductions Mairead sets me to teaching him one-on-one as other men start joining the class. He is soft-spoken and earnest and really wants to learn English. He is a welder by trade and we have worksheets that have pictures of tools and workers with the names in English and Arabic underneath. We work on his pronunciation. As the class progresses we start to talk more. He shows me pictures of his wife and children, who currently live in Germany. He has only been in Luxembourg for 4 months but his wife and family were able to leave Iraq six years earlier and start the immigration process in Germany. His family visited him here in Luxembourg last weekend and he shared his pictures of their picnic. I told him how beautiful his family is and he continued to share pictures of them including his daughter’s 11th Birthday party. I could see a sadness in his eyes that he wishes he could be with them now but knows it might still be a while before they are reunited.

Close to the end of the class a few more men show up and work with Mairead. A young man from Afghanistan joins our group. He has been in Luxembourg for just two weeks. He shared with me his route here and what it took to get here – trains and bus rides. At the end of the class I talk with the other men too. Some of them have been here a couple of weeks, some a few months. They are from Monte Negro, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and other countries.  I didn’t get a chance to talk with all of them and we are using limited English.

There is one thing that did stand out with all of these men. They are happy to be in Luxembourg but sad to have left their countries. They have left behind family and friends and lives that they could no longer live. Some of them were laughing and joking while others were quiet and contemplative. Who really knows what they have been through to get to where they are today. One thing is for sure, they all have kind hearts and want to start a new life in Luxembourg.

 

Container Gardening in it’s Simplest Form

I bought a wooden garden box and starter veggies last week while I was in France.  I thought it was bigger than it ended up being. As I only travel to France from Luxembourg every couple of weeks I knew I needed to find a solution to my poor little veggie starts. I was hoping to find another box for my vegetables yesterday in Luxembourg but apparently they don’t sell them here. Plastic window boxes and pots abound but no wooden garden boxes. So, it’s Sunday, and nothing is open in Europe on Sundays and my poor veggies are wilting in the extreme heat this week.

So, I must come up with a plan. I had been throwing around the idea of using my large compost bags that are for garden waste to plant potatoes. My neighbor in Seattle used something like this for his potatoes. I thought, why not use my grocery bags, which are smaller than the compost bags but the same plastic material.

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So this afternoon I dug out all my grocery bags to see if I could fill them with my veggies. Thankfully I had plenty. There are no plastic or paper bags here in Europe so everyone brings their own bags to the market when they go shopping. And, the best part is that they are very inexpensive, only 50 cents. Each bag fit one 40L bag of soil perfectly.  With the bags only costing 50 cents each and the 40L potting soil only costing €2.39, I paid less than €3 ($3 US) for each container.

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In total I planted six tomato plants, six beet plants, three swiss chard plants and one hot pepper plant.

I also have a very artistic garden that can be mobile as well. Now I just need to replenish my grocery bags with some new ones (the prettier the better) and start my Spinach seedlings.

Universal Healthcare “Socialized Medicine” in Luxembourg VS. the US

So, the big question, is universal healthcare better than the system (very broken) in the United States? I would say hands down yes with my experience in Luxembourg. I had my first visit to the doctor yesterday. I am running out of my thyroid medication and need to get a new prescription. You are not allowed to ship prescription medicine from the United States.

Thankfully I met a wonderful woman a couple of weeks ago during the American Women’s Club of Luxembourg’s discussion on medicine and how the system works here. Dr. Nana Ikoko and I hit it off right off the bat and of course I wanted her to be my GP (general practitioner). She is an amazing woman. She grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa, and moved to Belgium for university. After university she moved to London, where she practiced medicine for five years. Oh boy the stories she told me about her experiences in London. She has been in Luxembourg for a year now. It has been hard for her to establish a practice here since most Luxembourg people go to the same doctor from birth to death. She is fluent in English and French but not German and Luxembourgish so that has limited her.

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I went for my first visit yesterday. Upon arrival there were no forms to be filled out, you simply show your Securite Sociale card. I went directly into her office where we discussed what medicine I was on (a natural form of thyroid medicine). I had done some research and since alternative medicine/naturopathy is not available here I knew we would have to look further than Luxembourg. She was not familiar with my medicine. I had a print-out of pharmacists in the UK and she got on the phone and called them up right then and there. Within 10 minutes she had set up an account with the pharmacy and had ordered my prescription. She also wrote up a long list of blood tests I have been wanting to get for a while to see how my thyroid and other mineral absorptions are doing. Although I haven’t been to a primary doctor in the United States in many years, I know I never had an experience as great as this.

Upon check out, I paid just €55 (about $60) for my half-hour visit. Most of this will be reimbursed by the CNS. To give blood is a little more tricky since there are only a few labs in Luxembourg and most of them are only open from 7-9 am. Thankfully they had a lady that comes to this clinic on Thursday mornings so I was able to go this morning. Upon arrival this morning I was immediately wisked in and gave blood in less than 10 minutes. I gave six vials and was dreading what the bill would be for so many tests. I am guessing in the US it would be almost four figures since one thyroid test alone has cost me $300 in the past and I was getting 26 different tests today.

I asked the technician how I should pay. She said, “CNS pays for it. You pay nothing.” As I left the office, I was ecstatic. How could this be?

So, both times that I have had experiences with the medical establishment here it has been great. My son’s antibiotics cost less than €3 (post here) in the fall and now this.

I did find out some interesting information during the AWCL talk that American’s would find alarming, but overall I will take this system over the American system every day.

Interesting ways they do things here:

There are two hospitals in the city of Luxembourg. There are two more in the country (north and south). At any given time only one of the hospital’s emergency rooms is open. You have to find out which one before you go. They do have an after-care center (urgent care center) that you can go to after hours (8 pm) but you also have to know which one is open on which day. During regular hours you see your GP.

911 in the US or 112 here: If you call, very few will speak English so speak slow and simple. This is also the number you call to see which hospital is on-call and which pharmacy is open. You can also ask about a directory of doctors and specialists. It is not just for emergencies. So, if you do have an emergency they will ask a couple of questions. If it doesn’t involve blood and not very urgent they will send out an ambulance as transport only. This will be followed by a doctor who has all the medicine and materials in his/her bag. If it is a true emergency they will call for another ambulance that has more advanced materials for transport to the hospital. In the rural regions of Luxembourg they will send a helicopter instead of an ambulance since it is hard to get to places with the windy roads and can take too long. The doctor follows the ambulance to the hospital. The ambulances are nowhere nearly as advanced as the US and the EMTs are volunteers and are not trained in life saving.

If you show up yourself at the emergency room of the hospital that is not on-call they cannot take you in. It is closed – doors shut and lights off. You will need to go to the other hospital. There was a case recently where someone died outside the hospital in this circumstance. The infrastructure of this fast-growing city has not been updated and it is obvious if you go to the emergency room I have heard. People can wait hours to get in. Luxembourg is slow and Old World with regards to this. Although I have to say there are probably areas in the US that do not have adequate facilities either.

If you want to know more, here are nice articles by expats.

Public Health System in Luxembourg by Expat Mum in Luxembourg
Using The Healthcare System In Luxembourg – A Short Guide For Expats

Just Two Hours from Brussels but Safe

For those of my friends and family that are concerned about our families welfare living in Europe – Don’t worry! I feel perfectly safe. Yes, it is a travesty what is happening, but nothing new … as outlined in the shared post below… all over the world, not just Europe … these suicide bombings are happening … there are coups.

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People display a solidarity banner in Brussels following bomb attacks in Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. The banner reads “I am Brussels” in French and in Flemish languages. Charles Platiau/Reuters

I made a new friend a couple of weeks ago who is a doctor from the Congo in Africa. She moved to Belgium for University (still has family there) and most recently lived in London for five years and now Luxembourg for the last year. We met again today and shared our plans for vacations in the next couple of weeks and discussed current events. She is still going to Turkey for vacation despite the bombing in Instanbul because it can happen anywhere. She is not worried about her parents or brother and sister who life in Belgium. She has no plans to cancel her vacation and said we cannot run away scared because it could happen anywhere at any time. We must live our lives and not give in to the terrorists.

These things happen every day in Africa and on a smaller scale throughout the world. But in America it is so hyped when it happens in an anglo saxon country (or Europe) that everyone is told to be afraid. I try not to follow the American news too much because it makes me said. Especially this morning, when I saw that there was an alert out in America to “Not travel to Europe.” Seriously, does America know how big Europe is? Let’s stop the fear mongering and take care of the real problems .. which are plenty… that America has.

We are going to Mallorca, Spain during our Spring Break in a couple of days, we will travel through Paris on our way to Bordeaux to see family later this spring and we plan on traveling north through Belgium (just 20 minutes from home) and the Netherlands and Norway this summer. This will not stop us from exploring and seeing the world and all the beauty and people that it has to offer. We will continue to live, laugh and love instead of putting up walls and cowering in our home.

Controle Technique Car Inspection – Will I Pass?

IMG_0338We received a notice at the end of November about the yearly Controle Technique inspection that needs to be done yearly on the car. I put it aside since it seemed so far off. The holiday break began and I found the letter. In fact, instead of a deadline of the end of January, the inspection was due by Jan. 2.
In the US this would be no big deal, we would have two weeks to get it done. But, in Luxembourg, everything shuts down during the holidays. It is a ghost town the whole month of August and the week of Christmas was the same.

Dynamic websites in Luxembourg are lacking, to say the least. Websites are the same as you 10 years ago in the US. Usually there is little more than a homepage. The Societe National de Controle Technique has a quite interesting website. It shows you the multiple papers you need to bring with you and the four, yes just four, stations in the entire country, where you can get your car inspected. There is a tab for “Prise de Rendez-vous” or make an appointment.

On the letter we received it does not give you any information about where to go to get the inspection or how it is done. It is suggested that you make a reservation/ appointment but does not say it is mandatory. We looked for the first available appointment and it was for January 23rd. So we decided we would go without an appointment the next day and just wait in line.

Well, guess what, it is necessary to have an appointment. And how did we find out? We got up early Dec. 23rd and drove a half hour to sit in line for about 20 minutes, after trying to figure out where in the line we should be. We finally asked for directions and were told that we MUST have an appointment. Nowhere on the website or letter did it say this. There were about 20 cars in line and nothing seemed to be moving. We thought we would try to see if we could sneak in without an appointment.

Upon reaching the first inspection stop it was pointed out to us that we did not have an up-to-date insurance card. So, it being a holiday week we called our insurance company and raced into town to get a new insurance card before the holiday break. So, two hours later we trudged home to see what appointment would be available or if there were alternatives. The attendant also mentioned that we could just come by the next week on Monday at 8 am and take a chance to see if there were any cancelations.

Bright and early Monday morning my husband went to get the inspection and came back as he was turned away and told we MUST have an appointment. We came upon a page on the website that listed “partners” that could also do the inspection. Yeah! … Not so fast… After the few garages within a half hour radius, the best we could do was for an appointment on Jan. 6th. Technically you cannot drive your car in Luxembourg without a valid controle technique. But, what could we do?
My husband made the appointment for me (his French is much better than mine his being French and all) and I take care of the inspection myself.  We had an address and where told to come at 8:30 am on the 6th. There were two garages with the same name listed near each other online and I wasn’t sure which one to go to. The garage is for trucks – big industrial trucks – and is located in an industrial park that I had been to when I changed the winter tires.

Our GPS is outdated (area unmapped) so I went on Mapquest to make sure I knew where the two garages were located and hoped to find the right one first. The only problem – there are not road signs on all the roads. Thankfully after making three different wrong turns and 10 minutes of circling the same roundabout I found the one garage, there were not two. It was a huge complex that was at least a block long. I could not find the entrance through all the trucks parked outside. I found a truck stall and saw a mechanic inside. I knocked on the window and asked in my fabulous French where the controle technique was. He told me and I pretty much understood what he said but in fact not really. I drove to the next part of the building that looked like it was the right place half way around the building and stepped into an office where they do truck rentals. They again gave me directions that I fouled up. There were dozens and dozens of trucks parked everywhere. I finally found the small sign that pointed to the controle technique.

There were multiple trucks in line and a car. I parked to make sure that this time I was in fact in the right place. Yes! Again my limited French worked and the man behind the counter took me outside and guided me and my car to a scattered line of trucks to wait my turn. Shortly after, an Italian man in his car drove up and he asked if I knew where the line was or where the truck stall was for the controle technique. I told him that the man had told me to wait here in my car and and pointed out the spot where I believed the inspection would be. He spent the next 10 minutes trying to figure out where he was supposed to go with his car. I had faith at this point that I would get my turn. Trucks continued to go in and out of the lot. Multiple times myself and the trucks and car behind me had to move for the big rigs coming through.

Finally I was up – only one hour later… As I pulled up to the garage, the door shut and the men left the building for a coffee break for 15 minutes. I was just happy to be next at this point. I was also just hoping that the car would pass inspection. I had heard stories of how difficult it can be to pass and when we had the tires changed they told me I had to put digital sensors on in order to pass. I hoped it wasn’t true.

When it was my turn, three men speaking Luxembourgish asked me to put on the lights, wipers etc. and I did not understand and tried my French again. They were very nice and helpful and probably loved hearing my broken French and watching my flailing hands. If they had been speaking in French I would have understood their banter as they checked the car over for loose brakes, suspension, etc.

At the end of the inspection I was wringing my hands.  I told them it was my first time with the controle technique and they just smiled. As they finished I asked, “Ca bien?” “Oui!” they said. Ahhhh. I finally let out my breathe. Now I just had to walk back through the truck/inspection stall to the office, pay, come back through the parking lot and inspection stall and get back out to the car. It is definitely old school here.

As I got in my car and tried finding my way back home – unmapped area – I felt a small victory of making it through the dreaded controle technique after only 2 1/2 hours.

I Found €50 – Peace on Earth and Good Will Toward Man

50EurobillI found €50 on the sidewalk today during my neighborhood walk. It was just 20 meters away from my house on my way back home. There have been workmen across the street building a new house and there are men coming and going every day.

When I found the €50 bill I looked around to see if anyone had just gone by and dropped it. No. So, I went to one of the workers and asked, “Parlez-vous Anglais?” (Do you speak English?). The answer was no so I switched to my best French and explained, with plenty of gesticulation, that I had found the bill on the sidewalk and wanted to know if any of them had lost it. They looked at me puzzled. Why was I asking them if it was there’s? I had been lucky enough to find the €50 bill. They said “No.” They smiled, shrugged their shoulders and said, “Bon chance pour vous,” in French and “Boa sorte para você,” in Portuguese. Many of the construction workers in Luxembourg are Portuguese.

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I smiled and said, “Oui, bon chance pour moi.” (Yes, good luck for me.)

It is the Christmas season and I just came back from my  walk where I was listening to a Ted Talk on compassion and just being a little nicer. I have decided that I am going to take the €50 and buy goodies for the workers across the street, the mailman, my neighbors, delivery drivers and anyone else I may come across.

My birthday was last weekend and Christmas is coming up. The kids kept asking me what I want for my birthday and Christmas. I always say, “Peace on earth.” The kids are getting kind of sick of it. So, since I cannot actually make peace on earth, I have decided that I will up my game and work even harder for good will toward man.

The Differences Between School in Luxembourg and the US

The kids have been in school here in Luxembourg for three months now. They are settling in pretty well at the European Union school considering how different things are here. I will break them down.

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Languages

I feel that learning additional languages is one of the perks of being in Europe. It is also very hard. There is not one person you meet who doesn’t know/ speak at least two and usually three to five languages. I am in awe every time I meet someone new and hear their story.

I feel embarrassed that I can only speak English, un petit peu Francais and un pequito Espanol. And I was lucky enough to at least be introduced to another language in school – German and Spanish in high school and French and Spanish in university. I can remember the German alphabet and count to 10. I have picked up a little bit of French over the years with my French husband. Most American’s do not learn anything but English; seems a little backward to me now that I am here.

There is no such thing as a second or third language in the US. “Foreign languages” are electives. We were lucky in Virginia that the kids were able to attend a French immersion class for 2-3 years when they were younger. It was a lottery system and we were lucky. Fairfax County is one of the largest school districts in the country and was able to give some kids a second language. Were were in Washington the last three years so no second language. In Washington, Juliana would have had the option to take Spanish or French this year (8th grade). In order for her to take the French class she would have had to take the high school bus (one hour earlier) to the high school, take the class and then take a bus back to the junior high school to start her regular school day. This is not exactly something kids want to do in order to learn a language. She would not have been able to take French during the regular school day until she was in 10th grade.

Children here attend a creche (day care) and there are at least three languages spoken (Luxembourgish, German, French). Then they move on to maternelle (pre-school) and continue with multiple languages and then in primary school they start actively studying a second language: usually French, English, German or a language of their parents if they attend the European School.

Since my kids did not start school here until secondary school (Luca is first year secondary and Juliana is third year secondary) they are quite behind in their second language and a third for Juliana.

Both kids have to catch up with their French quickly, but Juliana in particular. She is taking her French classes four periods a week, her Social Science (geography) and Morals classes in French four periods a week and her German class three periods a week – 11 periods. On top of that she is attending make up periods to catch up. She is taking two extra periods of French and one of German. That makes a grand total of 14 periods of French and German in one week. She is not happy about the extra classes but realizes that it is necessary for her to pass her classes. I am very proud of her. She stays late on Thursday afternoons and is quite excited when I pick her up to share her new words as she quizzes me.

Luca needs to catch up in French too. He takes French classes five periods a week and has a catch up class during his short day on Tuesday. I pick him up early two days a week and we can share his school day. He is just starting his third language, German, which is twice a week. For Luca it is a grand total of 8 periods of French and German in one week. He had a hard time with French at the beginning. It is frustrating when you don’t understand.  But now he is more excited to learn. Both kids spend time with Papa (who is French) in the evenings doing homework, which helps greatly.

School Schedule

The school schedule, now that it has been finalized, is much different than the US. It was amazing to me that the first three weeks the kids did not have an even remotely finished schedule.  I came to find out that a math teacher (yes, one person) was in charge of putting together the schedules for the entire school. Apparently this teacher was not able to get it done before school started, unbeknownst to the administration. This is a school with 2,400 students and seven different language sections with each secondary student having 45 periods a week. Now let’s have one math teacher take care of scheduling during their free time. I was told that any changes to administration procedure must go though the European Union system so it is very hard to change things.

So, when school started, the kids were given schedules that were changed multiple times the first month. Finally after six weeks they had a final schedule on paper. It makes me dizzy just trying to read schoolid2it because the type is so small. Their final ID cards and schedules were sent home two weeks ago (mid-November).

It took more than two months for us to get additional French and German support for the kids though. We even met with the director of the school and it still took four more weeks to get them the support they need to catch up in their second and third languages.

The first thing I noticed about the schedules was that Juliana had four free periods built into her schedule. Luca had one. First year secondary students have early release days on Tuesday and Thursday while third year students have an early day on Thursday. Ironically, Juliana had only three periods scheduled on Thursday, her early day, and two free periods. Of course that has changed now with additional French and German help. Luca has one free period, Wednesday, at the end of the day so I pick him up early.

There are nine periods in the day. School starts at 8:40 and each period is 50 minutes. There is a 20 minute break in the morning and lunch is one of their middles periods. School ends at 4:30 and the kids get home at 5:20. On Thursday Luca gets home at 1:40.

I get tired just looking at their schedules…

Their schedules:

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Luca

Monday – French (2 periods), English, ICT (Information Technology), lunch, Art (two periods), Gym, Math

Tuesday – German, Music, Science, English, French, lunch, Extra French class

Wednesday – Human Science (History), Science, Morals, Math, lunch, English (two periods), French, free period (go home early)

Thursday – Science, Math, German, Gym (two periods) – Early release

Friday – Human Science, Science, English, Math, lunch, Morals, French, Music

I pick up Luca from school two times a week – after his extra French class on Tuesday and because of his free 9th period on Wednesday.

Juliana

julianaschedule

Monday – Gym (two periods), Science (two periods), Math, lunch, French, German, English

Tuesday – Art (two periods), French, Music, ICT (Information Technology), lunch, Human Science (Geography), Morals, English

Wednesday – German, free period, Human Science, Gym, French, lunch, English, Science, Math

Thursday – Extra French, German, Morals, free period, Math, lunch, Extra French, Extra German – free period to go home early

Friday – French, free period, ICT, Human Science, Science, lunch, Music, English, Math

Teachers

Teachers are very different here. First of all, think of the stories you hear about Catholic schools and nuns – strict, non-encouraging, calling kids out on mistakes – you are close. No rulers on the hands though. It is definitely old school here. The teachers come from many countries since it is an international school. Our kids are in the English language section and have teachers from Ireland, England, Scotland and of course France and Germany for second and third languages as well as art, gym and ICT (information technology). There are no American teachers here. The teachers almost seem to enjoy calling the students out. Juliana comes home with stories about teachers chastizing kids in front of the class and making them do things over in gym class in front of the entire class. There are no warm, fuzzy teachers here, at least that I have heard of. I have met some encouraging ones though. It is even more difficult for Luca since he was in an elementary school setting where you have a homeroom teacher and stay in the classroom most of the time. Now he is in a school with 11 to 18 year olds all together switching periods nine times throughout the day.

And if you have special needs, you won’t find it here. There are no pull out classes or special education classes. If there is a problem they simply send the kids to the nurses office or the director’s office. Teachers are not really trained to work with this sort of thing. Thankfully we have only had a few episodes this year with Luca and the teachers and concierge (counselor) where able to help. I wrote a letter to each teacher explaining his PANDAS and possible anxieties in case they come up again. I have to say that all of the teachers were wonderful and understanding. But they are definitely not familiar with “issues” like the US teachers are. Perhaps because there are not that many kids with problems like ADHD and autism in this school system. That I will address another day.

Teacher Absences

One of the things that drives me crazy the most is that when a teacher is absent there is rarely a substitute. The first three weeks of school Juliana had four teachers out for multiple days with no substitute. She didn’t have her first Art class for three weeks. What happens when a teacher is out? There is a digital reader board at the secondary school building entrance that reports what teachers are out for the day. I think there was only one week so far that there was NOT a teacher out in the classroom at least once. So, what do the students do? For first year students like Luca, they go to a study room and check in and study – pretty loud and chaotic I’ve been told. For third year students like Juliana, they go check in at the study room and then can wander the campus. This usually means going to the cafeteria with their friends to get a snack and chat. The school does not seem to even try to get substitute teachers, despite what they said at Orientation Night. Luca’s math teacher was out for more than a week and no one filled in for him despite it being his vacation days and the administration knowing about it. If there are teacher training or absences for illness – no substitutes. So, some kids use it as an advantage to study or some, like my daughter, use it to buy snacks (i.e. Mars bars) from the snack machine or pastries from the cafeteria. Her payment key runs dry way too often because of snacks throughout the day. So much for me keeping her on a healthy diet with the vending machines.

Maturity/Behaviour of Kids

I know we came from a very nice, sheltered neighborhood in Kenmore, Wash. But, kids here have potty mouths (to say it nicely or “worse than a drunken sailor”) like I have never heard. Almost every day Luca or Juliana come home with stories. I know I was quite the swearer in my time (as an adult of course) but the words that come out of some of these 11-year-old’s mouths is downright horrible. Many sexual comments and the F-word is quite commonplace. I guess it’s cool to swear in English here. There is one boy in particular that is outrageously obnoxious and a bully. Luca seems to deal with him pretty well. He tries to rationalize with the bully he says. He calls him out on comments and asks him to “prove it.”

Despite that, the kids are quite nice overall. And everyone dresses quite nice. I haven’t seen any pants hanging from hineys or sweat pants. The kids are not as welcoming as Washington, but it is middle/high school so we cannot expect them to have open arms during adolescence. And, the kids are from all over the world and speak many different languages and have different cultures. Luca has been having a hard time making friends. In class and during lunch the boys only want to talk about Futbol (soccer). He also doesn’t like that the kids are constantly talking in class and he can’t concentrate because of it. I am not sure if that is any different than the US.

Juliana has landed into a group of friends that is full of drama. She is NOT happy to hear about the drama all the time. Two of her friends are Romanian and one is Korean. Romanian kids are picked on at the school so it is hard for Juliana to see it. I am trying to get her to branch out but she is very shy and doesn’t know how to initiate a new friendship. There are no Americans.

Lunch

I was so excited when I saw the menu for lunch at the school. No more processed, nasty non-food items. Although in the US, my kids brought their lunch from home and were not subjected to it. The menu lists soups, bio (organic), entrees, vegetarian, cuisine de monde (cuisine of hte world), chef’s plate of the day, pasta bar, vegetables and desserts. But, the menu is deceiving. Many times Juliana, who has the second lunch period, is not able to get the plate of the day because it is already gone or there are too many people in line. Plus many kids elbow their way in front and join their friends. So kids like mine, who are quiet and not obnoxious line-cutters, are left to the end of the line.

Most days she ends up at the pasta bar and simple gets plain pasta and some cheese sauce. No veggie, no other side, just pasta. So where are the vegetables and soups and other tasty options? That is something both kids are trying to find. The daily soup seems to be missing. The plate of the day is often already gone and nothing new to serve except pasta. Luca usually has first period lunch and can get it. He tries almost everything, fish included, and enjoys it.

tresseSo, Juliana, anticipating not getting a great hot lunch by fighting the crowds only to be turned away when she finally gets to the front of the line, gets a pastry during the morning break. She gets a tresse – a twisted pastry with creme in the middle and chocolate chips on top. I’m drooling just thinking about it. At lunch she usually gets a heaping plate of pasta which they charge €5 for. And then in the afternoon she goes to the vending machine to get a Mars bar and occasionally a fruit drink. I really wish her American appetite would change into a European palate like her brother. Luca tries everything. The gluten and sugar monster has taken over my daughter.

Here is the menu for Monday.  I hope Juliana gets the Raviolis.

Potage (soup) Potage haricort beurre – butter bean soup

Entrees bio – Salade composee au tomate et coeur d’artichaud – salad with tomatoes and artichoke hearts or coleslaw or tartare de choux fleur (cauliflower tartar)

Plat vegeterien – Poelee de legumes au basilic et tofu (fried vegetables and tofu with basil)

Clin d’oeil du chef (chef’s choice) – Supreme de volaille aux fruits exotiques  (chicken supreme with exotic fruits

Cuisine de Monde (world cuisine) – Raviole ricotta epinard sauce poires et gorgonzola (Spinach and ricotta ravioli with gorgonzola and pears)

Feculents (Pasta) – Fusilli, Riz au curry (Curry rice), Pommes de terre aux herbes (Herb mashed potatos)

Legumes (Vegetables)- Carottes Vichy, Salsifis tomatees (Salsa tomatoes), Fenouil Roti (Fennel sauteed)

Desserts – Yaourt aux fruits bios (Organic fruit yogurt), Tiramitsu maison, fromage blanc aux clementines (White cheese with clementines), Ananas caramelise au sesame (Carmelized pineapple with sesame)

 

To my American friends who are seeing the Paris tragedy from last night…

parispeacesignTo my American friends who are seeing the Paris tragedy from last night… I found out about it around 11 am this morning after receiving a message from a concerned family member on Facebook.

Yes, we are in the heart of Europe bordered by France, Germany and Belgium and just four hours by car from Paris. But, I feel safer here than I did in the US. Every day in America there are senseless shootings of innocents and it seems nobody cares enough to do something about it. But when something big happens it is a travesty and the media has a field day with it.

So, now, who do we blame? That’s the first thing that comes to mind in American society. I have seen some of the crazy tweets blaming the refugees and Islamists and even shaming Obama. Seriously?

I was at the Red Cross Refugee Center on Friday afternoon and saw a woman with her baby on her hip. I wanted to hug her not run from her.

I don’t know what the US media is sharing with America, but the French and European people and news are probably handling it much differently. As I sat on the couch this morning watching the French news, I commented to my French husband how different the American media would portray this tragedy.

Tell me if I am wrong.

American media portrayal: videos of people running and screaming for cover playing over and over on the screen; blaming, blaming, blaming every possible suspect (refugees, Islamists) before a real perpetrator was actually named; blaming President Obama for not doing enough with Syria; counting how many American’s were killed or visiting Paris and thought missing; scaring the shit out of everyone and telling them how dangerous Europe is; France’s borders are closed and no one can escape.

France’s borders are not closed. As a matter of fact, France issued an announcement earlier this week about border checks in anticipation of the 12-day UN conference Nov. 30th through Dec. 11th in Paris. Yes, people must show ID at the border, but it is a simple check for security.

“France issued a note to EU officials last month, announcing border checks at all international airports, as well as its 131 land crossings with Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and Luxembourg. The note said that Schengen rules allow controls “when there is a serious threat to public policy.”

During the hour that I watched the French news there was not one splash of carnage or injured or witnesses on the street (this is about 12 hours after it happened). Instead the French news teams were discussing how the people are coming together in support. What safety initiatives are in place to keep everyone safe. They are asking themselves why this happened and what they can do now to not have it happen again. They even had a philosopher on the news explaining what kinds of people do this. One segment was showing a long line of people giving blood. You would never see this in America. In America it is all about bringing fear and blame.

givingblood

It’s That Time of Year in Luxembourg – Change Your Tires

fallroadIt is that time of the year – the leaves are changing colors and falling, the nights are getting longer and there is a chill in the air.

Here in Luxembourg a rule was put into place in 2012 that makes in mandatory to change the summer tires on your car to winter tires by October 1st. Yes, that is right, each vehicle has two sets of tires. When we were looking at the adds for a car it was often mentioned that the car included winter tires. We soon found out what this meant. There is a very rigorous registration and inspection regime in Luxembourg that is beyond compare of anything in the US.

You won’t be fined if you don’t change the tires unless the police tag you, there is snow on the ground and they are needed or you have to go for your yearly control technique inspection.

So, I finally took our car to change the tires last week. I wasn’t sure what to expect since it is mandatory and every car owner in Luxembourg is out getting his/her tires changed during the month of October. The weather here is brutal in October as you can see in my picture. Actually it has been quite nice all month – 50s and 60s during the day and going down in the 30s a handful of nights. So, why October 1st? Why I ask for most rules in Luxembourg.

tiresBecause of the mandatory law, there are repair shops that only work with changing tires. So, I crossed my fingers and hoped for a short line. I was in luck. It only took about 40 minutes from the time I arrived until I  left. And, even better, it only cost €33 for changing the tires and balancing the wheels. I am not sure there is anywhere in the US that you would get this type of service. Now I just have to find a place in our garage to store the summer tires.

Greener Pastures Indeed

greenpasturecowkitchen

When I started my blog Greener Pastures in Luxembourg I came up with the name because my backyard is actually a green pasture. And, aren’t we all looking for greener pastures.  I have the luck to now live in a beautiful country where the city and the country blend together into a quilt of cosmopolitan and provencial. The city bus rumbles by on Rue Kohlenberg in front of our house every 20 minutes and my kitchen overlooks a pasture. A block from my house is a path that wanders through fields of wheat and corn. During the weekdays I see dozens of people jog by our house onto the path, passing cows on their midday jog. Where else in the world can you find something as eclectic as this?

greenpasturecowkitchen2

During my French class today the professor asked us to share why we like Luxembourg. The students, all middle aged and from countries around the world, all agreed that Luxembourg is cosmopolitan, calm, safe, friendly and is home to people from around the world. They shared how Luxembourg is open to people from other countries and how everyone stops to talk and get to know each other, something that doesn’t often happen in their own countries. I have to say that most of the people in my class are quite happy to be in Luxembourg. They come from countries like Italy, Spain, Romania, Japan, Turkey, Argentina and Germany, to name a few. I am still getting to know some of the students but we all feel equal and comfortable in our class. We speak in staccato, awkward French and explain our ideas as best we can about current events and where we come from and why we are here. Each of us is living in a foreign country, learning a new language and hoping to find greener pastures. I think perhaps that many of us have found our greener pastures.

Getting Sick in Luxembourg Is Definitely Different

Luca has been sick for almost a week now. He came home from school Tuesday afternoon tired and it was quite evident within a couple of hours that he was sick. He and I were up almost all night that night and there was not much sleep for the next few nights. He couldn’t sleep from the cough and fever. He stayed home from school on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and seemed to be getting a little better. He still wasn’t sleeping well at night but his cough was a little better.

certificat1

In order for a child to return to school after being sick for more than two days they must visit a doctor and get a Certificat (Bescheinigung) that is certified by the doctor. We already had an appointment scheduled for Thursday with his homeopathic doctor, but since they are not recognized as doctor’s here in Luxembourg she could not give me a note. We went to the doctor (general practitioner) Friday afternoon to get this certificate so that he could return to school on Monday when he was feeling better. Thankfully the doctor’s visit wasn’t too expensive, €39 Euros, and the Certificat was €7 Euros.

So now it was just a matter of feeling better. Juliana had her Birthday party sleep over Friday night which meant Luca got very little sleep and the next day starting feeling worse again. The coughing would not stop. We tried natural remedies and essential oils throughout the weekend but he was getting worse.

Each day he missed school I contacted his counselor at school to let him know that Luca would be at home sick. Today when I contacted him and said I  had a Certificat for Wednesday through Friday he told me that I had to have a new Certificat that would cover today and any other days he was sick this week. So, this means visiting the doctor again.

certificat2

Well, since Luca was feeling worse this morning, Monday, we made an appointment with the general practitioner again. He is in fact getting worse and has some infection in his lungs so we are now going to start an antibiotic. She wrote me a new Certificat that will be good through Wednesday (since she can only write it for up to 48 hours after she has seen the patient). She also wrote me a Certificat that allows him to not participate in his gym class this week since it will irritate his cough. So, we are hoping he is better by Thursday and can go back to school.

Now it was time to go to the Pharmacie for his prescription. After standing in line for 10 minutes waiting for one older to lady count out her coins and an older gentlemen making small-talk with the cashier I had my turn. I gave her the prescription, she went in the back room and return in 30 seconds with two bottles of medicine. Her English wasn’t that good and my French is not sufficient so when she asked me if I wanted her to mix I said no. We had decided to get a liquid medicine since Luca’s throat is so sore from coughing. I assumed it was liquid in the bottle. Wrongo spagetti-O. So she told me that it costs One point seventy three as I handed her my credit card. She shook her head as I handed her my credit card and said they don’t accept credit cards for transactions under €6. I asked her again, “How much?” Then I realized that the 5-day course of Amoxicillin was only going to cost me €1.73, less than €2 Euros. My jaw hung open and I told her how surprised I was at the price. She just smiled and said, “It’s Luxembourg.”

Upon arriving at home I was a little chagrined to find that the medicine is actually in powder form. And the instructions are in German. At least if they were in French I could understand most of it. So, I got on my computer for the next 20 minutes using Google Translator to find out what the long pamphlet said in English.

amoxicillinSo, after much translating and cursing I figured out that one spoon of powder in a glass of water was how this medicine works. Luca was not excited by the taste but I learned a very good lesson –  always get the pills.

So now we hope the antibiotic kicks in, Luca feels better and he can go back to school and catch up on missing over a week of schoolwork.

And on the plus side, once we finally receive our social security cards, after waiting for more than three months, we can send in the doctor receipts for a partial refund. I don’t know how much they will reimburse us,  but it is an added bonus. And it is costs us much less here than visiting the doctor in the US.

My First Parent Association Meeting, New Italian Friends, Talking French with Luxembourgish Neighbors and Helping Put Out a Fire

It was quite a day today. I experienced my first parent association meeting in Luxembourg, made new Italian friends, talked in French with my Luxembourgish neighbors and helped put out a fire, literally.

Let’s start with this morning. After the usual rush to get the kids to the bus on time I drove to school for my first parent teacher association APEEEL coffee time meeting. The constant construction of Luxembourg never ceases to amaze me. On my 12 kilometer journey I was stopped in traffic two times by construction vehicles that take up the entire lane of traffic during rush hour and all day of course. Since there are small, narrow streets, you just have to sit there patiently and wait, along with the busses full of school children and unhappy morning commuters. When there are 2,400 students arriving at school all at once — yes preschool (maternelle), primary and secondary kids all arrive at the same time by school buses, country buses, city buses, car, bike and walking — It is quite a spectacle to see.

The meeting was quite informative and there were quite a few parents, men and women. Every time a speaker came forward the words were translated into either English or French depending on the speaker. The activities and programs that our kids will have a chance to participate in are beyond my wildest dreams. There is a Global Issues Group that students work on issues facing the world, a Fair Trade group doing fundraising and education, Les Mots de Zaza, an association helping with school books and the library, and a Peer Mediation group for students to help with Bullying in the school. One of my favorites is Actions Sans Frontieres (Actions without Borders), which raises money for NGOs, more than $41,500 last year, and then facilitates programs and projects with NGO’s that students, parents and teachers bring to the group.

actionsansfrontieres

Afterward I met some really wonderful ladies, one of which has a son in Luca’s classes. I now have two Italian friends so I can try a little Italian language learning after I get a better handle on my French. And hopefully our sons will become good friends.

In the afternoon, upon leaving the house to meet Juliana at the bus, I noticed fire and smoke coming from behind the house across the street that is under new construction. I had not noticed any workers there today so to see a fire was quite surprising. It is very windy near our house since we are on a hill and I was concerned that it might spread. The weather is really quite like Seattle – cold, windy and wet during most of the year I’ve heard. Since I have no idea how to call the fireman or police I went to my neighbors house. My neighbors are an older Luxembourgish couple who are very nice. The husband is able to speak a little English and the wife none so it took me a few minutes to try to describe to the madame about the fire, with many hand movements. Too bad I don’t know sign language. She called her husband and we discussed the situation and he called the police and firemen. When the firemen arrived I showed them the fire and tried again to communicate but it was mostly me gesturing wildly. Enough to get the job done.

Then I noticed my other elderly widowed neighbor looking on. Since she recently had heart surgery, according to my husband since I could not speak French or Luxembourgish with her, I went to her and tried to explain what had happened. We talked for almost ten minutes with me practicing my French, nodding and saying Oui. I did actually understand most of the conversation and could communicate, which actually made me feel quite confident.

So, tomorrow I have an appointment with my French language school to see what level I will need to enroll for classes. Such was my day in Luxembourg. Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

First Week of School in Europe

First day of school
First day of school

So, it’s day four of school here in Luxembourg. It’s Monday, September 7th, Labor Day in the US. Let’s just say it has been a very “interesting week” since I can’t say the appropriate words in print. My children attend the European Union School “Schola Europaea” with 2,400 other kids. So, it is quite a feat to get organized it seems.

Being new to Luxembourg we really didn’t know what to expect. We applied at Schola Europaea in May after our house hunting trip to Luxembourg. We sent in multiple copies of forms and paperwork and were not sure when we would find out if they would be accepted. We were told we would find out by mid-July which was a little uncomfortable not knowing if they would be accepted.

We did apply to another secondary school, Lycee Michel Lucius, a Luxembourgish school that has a wonderful English section, but in mid-June we were told that Luca was too young and immature for the school. So, for about a month we didn’t know if Luca would be accepted at the European School or have to be thrown into the Luxembourgish system for his last year of primary, which would mean learning French, German and Luxembourgish in one year as well as taking his end of primary tests in Luxembourgish to see which path he could take in secondary school. There are two tracks here, classique and technique. One is for students expected to move on to University and the other is for those who will not. So, if Luca were to be tested in Luxembourgish, he would probably fail the test for the classique school and be put in the track that would not take him to University. This was not an option for us. There were two other options in Luxembourg, the private schools St. George ($13,000 Euros per year) and the International School of Luxembourg ($17,000 Euros per year). Not really an option really unless we wanted to live on Top Ramen. Juliana was accepted at Lycee Michel Lucius but we felt keeping them together the first year would be better.

Finally in mid-July after not receiving mail about whether the kids were accepted we called. It is a good thing we did call because they had sent the acceptance letter to our address in Washington. We have still not received it in the mail… Thankfully the office was open for two more days before closing down for the summer. The office did not re-open until a couple of days before school. This meant me scrabbling to get the last minute paperwork in to get them fully registered. The acceptance letter simply stated your child has been admitted, school starts Wednesday, Sept. 2, there is a tour of the facility on Tuesday, Sept. 1, send us the tuition fees and go to the website for any information. The website had information from a year ago: nothing new for this year. It did have a list of books for each grade level but was ambiguious since we didn’t know what classes they would be taking.

Two weeks.. one week until school starts … nothing new on the site or in the mail. So I posted questions on Facebook for help and my husband posted at work and asked if anyone could tell us anything about the school, transportation, anything. We heard that the children take the public bus transport system which is wonderful and very safe here but we were not comfortable with sending our kids on the city system that showed them changing buses two times and taking an hour to get there.

We finally were able to get together with a nice family that would help us the weekend before school started. The father works at Amazon and his wife is a teacher at the European School. We met them for lunch and learned lots of information but still nothing on transport until Monday afternoon. Two days before school started the bus lines were published. Whew! The bus goes right by our house and stops just a block away. One less thing to worry about…

The Tuesday visit to the school didn’t really give us a lot of information but at least the kids had a chance to walk around the school. Wednesday morning was chilly and foggy. It was the first weather like this since moving here. It has been a record-breaking hot summer in Luxembourg. The kids were anxious and excited at the same time. I have to say it was a little sad and inspiring seeing them getting on the bus for the first time. My little chicks left the nest. I walked home alone and had the place to myself, enjoyably quite, for the first time in two months.

The first day of school went well. We went over the school bus route many times, and a map showing where they should get off on the return home. But low and behold, the bus went the opposite direction on the return from the published route and I watched as the bus went by and my kids didn’t get off. I started back toward home and the earlier bus stop in case they got off there. I walked back and forth hoping they realized that they missed their stop. Neither Juliana or Luca had a cell phone so if they did get off at another stop I wouldn’t know where so I would just have to walk and walk and hope they didn’t double back through the side streets to home and I miss them. After about five minutes I saw them running down the sidewalk toward home as they had gotten off at the next stop and climbed a big hill to get home. Whew… I am so glad I didn’t have to hunt for them around our small village.

On Thursday they received a schedule but it was missing times and classes. One of Juliana’s friends only had one class scheduled for Friday. The first two days were early release days so it went quite well but they were confused as to what classes they would be having. On Friday they had a complete day of classes except for Luca, who had a free period at the end of the day and just wandered around the school. Apparently during free periods, which both kids will have, you have time to go to the library, study hall or anywhere in the school. It baffles me but if it gives them time to do homework I am all for it. Friday evening an e-mail came to the parents stating that the schedule system was down and they were working on it. The older kids schedules would be fixed first.

Today is Monday and they came home with entirely new schedules and these will be in place for the next two to three weeks until they finally get the correct schedules. Juliana is third year secondary school and should be attending every day except Thursday from 8:40 am to 4:30 pm. Luca as a first year secondary should be attending every day except Tuesday and Thursday the same hours. Their early days off classes end at 1 pm. So, on a long day the children will leave at 7:50 and arrive home at 5:15 pm. Much different than the US. There are 9 periods of classes each day with one of them being lunch. Luca has said that 8 periods is more than enough and would like to suggest to the school removing the last period…

Both children have a second language, which is French. Juliana will take a while to catch up and her Morals and Social Studies classes are also taught in French. The kids get a choice between a Morals class or religious class. She will also have to catch up with two years in her third language, German. Luca will be starting his third language in German this year. So he will only have to catch up in French.

Today Juliana called me at 1 pm asking me to pick her up since her Art class, which was scheduled for two sessions and then nothing else in the afternoon blocks, was canceled because the teacher is sick. Apparently when teachers are sick the classes are just canceled and the kids just hang around and do homework or go home. On the plus side when I came to pick her up she was sitting with her new friend from Romania, Andreena. There is a group of four girls that have become close over the last week. We found out that Andreena lives just a block away on our street. Juliana is over the moon having a new friend that lives in the neighborhood, first time ever. We are about 6 miles from school so it is quite lucky… The girls spent the afternoon together strolling the streets and visiting the playground on their own. They just went out again this evening. I might just have to get her a phone.

On the negative side, I received a call from the school at 4:45 pm when Luca should have been on the bus, asking me to pick him up because he had a very bad time in his double period gym class and was in no shape to take the bus. Since it was rush hour it took me about a half hour to pick him up, but he has come out of it quite well, telling me all about his day, the ups and downs.

The thing that set him off was the way they play dodge ball here. It was confusing, the teachers didn’t explain it, there were four classes all together and it was overwhelming to say the least. On the bright side, Luca has also made a couple of friends that he plays futbol (soccer) with during lunch recess. His friend Lucas is the boy he met over the weekend with his family. And it turns out his mother is Luca’s French teacher.

It does seem that Luxembourg is a very small town in some ways. Is it kismit that we have been meeting people in just the right time and place? I am quite agitated at the schedule mess but very happy that the kids have been making friends and settling in. All of the teaches have been very helpful and kind. Oh, and Juliana was also signed up to learn Latin as her fourth language. Hmmm not sure if she should take that on too…