24 July 2011

The Cape

Two days ago we made the trip back over the Atlantic to join my family at that lovely curving hook of land jutting out of New England, Cape Cod. We did the trip without a stroller for the first time ever, so my back is a tad sore from lugging baby G. around, but it was also fun to see him proudly stomping around in his little red sneakers and holding both of our hands tightly as he navigated the airport. It was one of our smoothest trips ever, since we were traveling so lightly, and had oodles of time.

With a four-hour layover in London, we enjoyed a nice meal of fish and chips, then hung out in our little secret Heathrow Terminal 3 corner, the wheelchair waiting room, which provides an enclosed, relatively quiet space with comfortable chairs that gets us away from the shopping center chaos that is the terminal at large. As is Murphy's law, the trip on which we had extra time and little luggage was the one where we encountered short lines and few problems. Still, even a smooth and easy 6-hour flight with a toddler on your lap is neither exactly smooth nor exactly easy--it's six hours with an active toddler on your lap.

But oh, it was so worth it. Summertime heat, for real. Beautiful beaches, sand. Cape Cod hydrangeas and weathered shingles. Cousins romping around the house in their matching t-shirts. Little tow heads and dimples. Time for reading, iPad and iPhone games, photo sessions. Walks. Board games and card games with siblings and parents. Seafood. Bundling a happy, sea-salty shivering kid in a towel and holding him in my arms as the evening sun warmed us. And we've only been at the rental for a day!

I brought the book Cod by Mark Kurlansky, and I'm already in the middle of Moby Dick on my iPad. Perfect reading for Cape Cod (isn't it good geeky fun to match books and location?!). I also have David Mitchell's new novel, which I was half way through when I had to leave it in Boston two months ago (and um, really doesn’t match our location since it’s set in a Dutch trading outpost in Japan), plus a pile of other books on the iPad. I can't wait to devour them all.

14 July 2011


In order to go to the grocery store today, I layered up in jeans, warm socks and shoes, a fuzzy sweater, a striped jersey scarf, and a bright coral trench coat. I bundled Gabriel in his fleece and zipped him into his stroller's raincover (he doesn't like it very much). I pushed the stroller with one hand, and with the other held my blue polka-dotted umbrella.

What I'm saying is: it's cold. And rainy. I do the best I can with the cheery colors but it sure doesn't feel much like summer around here.

So when I get home, I open the big bag of ripe peaches that I had carried home (technically earmarked for the banana-peach-yogurt popsicles I plan to make for the kids who will be over for lunch tomorrow, along with their parents--M's coworkers--in yet another attempt to pretend it's summer). I eat two of them, one right after the other, standing over the sink, juice dripping down my wrist.

What I see, looking out the window, does not look like July.

But what I taste...ah, that's July.

05 July 2011


I've decided to write about two things making my life great this week, in order to combat the frustrations induced by wading through dissertation revisions; a toddler who now thinks that the appropriate response to any of life's indignities, large and small, is to throw himself on the floor in a sobbing heap; and the discovery that this city has many more children than it does daycare spaces, but no one who can clearly explain how one goes about getting one of those spaces.


If you had asked me how I liked our lightweight Combi Cosmo Ex stroller, until the day we moved to Belgium I would have said it was great! Particularly good for hauling up stairs and easy to maneuver due to its narrow width and small footprint, Gabriel had been comfortable in it since around three months old and had taken countless naps, eaten countless snacks there, happy as a clam.

But then we got to our new home town, and the cobblestones and work zones and uneven pavement and curbs chewed up our Combi and spat it right out. The wheels got stuck in every crevasse, it balked at every curb, and half the time we ended up hauling it around with sheer force.

Fortunately, we had another stroller waiting in the wings. The bumblebee yellow, super deluxe Quinny Buzz that I randomly won on the internet. We had brought it with us to Barcelona in March, aware of our future move Europeward, and left it there. Honestly, I'd thought it would stay there until another baby comes along, because it's heavy and wide and takes up the entire trunk of my father-in-law's midsize (=compact in American terms) car.

But oh my lands. We did the switcheroo this trip, so the lightweight stroller good for carrying up many flights of stairs to our elevator-less apartment stays there, and the heavy-duty, air-filled tires of the Buzz can help us push Gabriel around here (not to mention giving him a more comfortable ride). There are no stairs here, just one step up to our front door, so the weight isn't as much of an issue. I was worried about the width, and in some places we'll have to take detours or abandon ship briefly, but so far it's not too much of a problem.

The difference is, no exaggeration, life-changing! I schlep so much stuff around with the stroller (no car=frequent heavy loads of groceries), and I can now steer the thing with one hand, even while it's fully loaded. In fact I did steer it with one hand, pulling a suitcase with the other, when we came back from the airport this weekend, and never felt so much as a twinge of stress on the steering arm. It easily rides over curbs with no extra lifting on my part, and it even fits through the narrow alley on our street that skirts the large, deep pit we have dubbed "the Hatch," due to its imposing metal substructure and our Lost geekery. The thing practically drives itself.


The second miraculous item is a knife. I should backtrack a minute and explain that when we got married we registered for a perfectly lovely set of Henckels knives, but I made the mistake of selecting them without trying them, and I've never been completely satisfied with how they sit in my hands, the length (too long), the weight (too heavy), the blades (too thin), etc. Then we moved to the US, and my mom loaned us a knife. This particular knife was a gift to her from my brother, brought home from a trip to Taiwan, I believe, and (am I remembering correctly?) made from recycled bomb metal. It has a santoku blade, is shorter than the chef's knives I was used to but still plenty long, and I fell in love with how it felt in my hands, how sharp it remained despite daily use (and even some unauthorized trips through the dishwasher). I was loathe to give it up, but mom wanted it back, naturally, when we moved out of Bloomington.

So I was on the hunt for a new knife to furnish my empty Belgian kitchen. While we were in Barcelona, we made a quick trip to the store where we registered when we married, and where we still have store credit, even though we've been steadily chipping away at it. Come to think of it, I guess it was kind of appropriate that we used up some of our registry money the week of our five-year anniversary! Anyway, I was determined to buy a knife that would equal or surpass that beloved old Taiwanese friend. I tried out a bunch as best I could, and settled on a 16-cm chef's knife by Global, hoping that the feel would translate well once I actually started chopping.

I opened it eagerly once we unpacked our suitcases and got to making Gabriel his latest favorite food, lentils in the Catalan-grandmother style (seriously, I've never seen him open his mouth so wide). I pulled out a few onions and carrots and garlic and tomatoes, and sliced away. Since I already gave away the punch line, let me just say "wow." Even carrots feel like butter under this blade. It handles so well, and I love the size, the weight, the feel of the handle in my palm. My only wish is that it had those santoku-like divots so food would fall away from the blade (the store didn't have any santokus), but it's a small quibble for something that will be practically the only knife (I've got a small paring knife and a slightly bigger prep knife) I'll need now and forever amen.

Like I said, it practically drives itself!

03 July 2011

One in...

OK. So, what are the chances, if you take a random girl born in Iowa, and a random boy born in Catalonia, that they have a friend in common?

Let's just say, for the sake of argument...one in a million.

And then? Boy and girl meet. In another random place. Say, Austria. And they don't know they have a friend in common.

So, what are the chances, that when she goes to visit him for the first time, that THIS friend, the one-in-a-million friend who connects them without them knowing it (already a phenomenal coincidence), is AT the airport at the exact moment that the girl arrives at the airport to see the boy, nervous as all get-out? She hasn't seen the friend for a couple of years since he dated her pal while they were at Taizé in France, and he hasn't seen the friend for over a year since they studied together in Italy, but when the boy is about to go find the girl at airport arrivals, he runs into the friend and tells him to hold on, and then brings her over a few minutes later to introduce her, and she says, "hey I KNOW you!"

Let's just say the chances are...one in a billion.

You've probably figured out by now that the girl is me, and the boy is the Mister. This story happened just over ten years ago, and we got married five years ago today on a perfectly sunny happy day in Vermont. I still get goosebumps when I think about that day I flew to Barcelona for the first time, to meet a boy I liked, and how we ran into this guy we both knew, like we had lived around the corner from each other all our lives.

I guess we sort of had, just in a more...global sense.


This morning I took a peek at my wedding dress, hanging in a closet at my in-laws' house. It's still as perfect and as glowy as I remember, much like our wedding itself. Every memory of that day is suffused in a peaceful light, because--as all weddings should be--it was a day of true promises, simple beauty, the love of family and friends, and the joy of shared hope for the future.

I admit to being one of those insufferable people, who, when she reads about weddings in glossy magazines or blogs, however adorable or fancy or beautiful or clever, smugly thinks that OUR wedding was the best. Well, of course it was, because it was ours.


This post is probably really disjointed, because we've just come home from (a real! live!) date at a restaurant designed by none other than Antoni GaudĂ­ himself, where we ate delicious fancy food and drank a whole bottle of wine. I haven't had half a bottle of wine in I don't know how long, so it's making me both sleepier and more verbose than usual. The Mister's parents are here as kangaroos (which is what they call babysitters in Spanish/Catalan), and it turns out that after we put our little munchkin to sleep and tiptoed away to our date, he woke up and watched TV with the grandparents, king of the castle and adamant refuser of sleep. Ah well, it was totally worth it.


Here's to five (and five before that) beautiful years, my one in a billion. I love you.