Thursday, August 28, 2008

Behind Door #1 . . .

To quote Bob Barker,

"It's a NEW CAR!!!"

Or, at least, that's what it looks like every time I see one of these vehicles I've never, ever heard of here on the roads of Belgium. A bizarre, new car. RaggedyDad and I have spent much time discussing the aspects that make a car appealing or not, to consumers in various countries.

Care to drive away in a Nissan Qashqai???

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Maybe We'll Drive to Belgium Next Time?

I'm not a natural-born driver. When I first learned to drive, I was 18 and hyper-nervous. My mother doesn't drive, and somewhere along the way, I received LOTS of messages that denigrated women's driving skills. But I vowed not to grow up to be as limited as she is, not to live only where the buses go, not to put my kids in the position of finding rides for me to parent-teacher conferences.

So drive I did. But it didn't come easy. I had one formal teacher and several informal 'teachers'. My nerves were so tense about and while driving that I couldn't catch my breath. I actually went to see a pulmonary specialist who said that my breathing was fine, and to RELAX.

I'm glad to say that ten years later, I'm doing fine as a driver, and even do a not-so-terrible job parking the van despite admittedly terrible spatial intelligence, and it hasn't stopped me from carpooling, and the like. But driving in a foreign country? That is another story altogether.

This is my fifth time visiting my in-laws overseas. But it's our first time renting a car here. In previous years, we've used the "nothing-if-not-efficient" European train system. But at this point, it would be very difficult to get around without a car here.

We're staying at the home of RaggedyDad's sister, who lives in a bit of a more remote part of town. Think cows, horses, and sheep, a freight train humming nearby, hanging laundry out to dry outside (watch out for that fickle Belgian weather! It may rain at ANY moment! Lots more about that in another post), a chicken that keeps escaping from the neighbor's coop (I have personally grabbed the chicken kaparos-style and escorted her home several times!).

So this time, we have a car. Neither of us being knowledgeable in the ways of the stick shift (Ever notice how people in Europe take a certain pride in doing things the hard way?!), our car choices were limited. Cars here are small, oddly shaped, and have bizarre names (I should start jotting those down - that would be a post by itself!).

We managed to squeeze three carseats and our luggage into a low-level Mercedes. Sounds crazy! But it was oddly an affordable option! A van would have been a fortune to rent, and to drive - gas here is very costly. Also, the car is very basic. I'd say the only luxury touch is the gear-shift which has that turkey-neck-like bagginess to it.

Driving here is different. The signs look like that card game we used to play in Israel with the different road signs - they don't make sense to me, and they look fake. (Updated: I just spoke to my brother in Israel, who remembered that the game is called Taki. He's wrong - it is actually called RACE. He then went on to convince me that he's currently in a Taki league. And then to laugh at me when I believed the story. Some things NEVER change.)

Luckily, RaggedyDad actually knows what (almost) all of the road signs mean. There are usually two lanes, and it is assur to stay in the left lane. You must politely pass that truck (they're never in the left) and then get back into the right lane. It's possible that these are also laws in America, but I learned to drive in New York, where people with manners are our tourist friends who are blond and wear fanny-packs.

One more thing about drivers here is that they like to tail gate! There's nothing I hate worse than a tail gate. Maybe they're just doing it to us because our car's plates are German (still can't get over that whole thing). The coolest car here seems to be the Citroen, if only for the double-dots over the "E".

Despite all of the insanity, I'm glad we rented a car this time. The train trip alone back and forth for Shabbos (frum people and kosher anything are about an hour away) would have cost quite a bit at this point, a far cry from the days when it was just the two of us and we were young enough to buy a student-rate ticket. Not to mention getting to and from the train station (cars this small mean it's just about impossible for anyone to give us a ride) and the airport, or the center of town, etc.

And the car gave us the freedom to go to some different, cool places this time around - more about those next time . . .

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Raggedies Abroad!

Groetjes van Belgie!!

Since Sunday, we've been overseas visiting RaggedyDad's family.

Here are some early highlights:

Pre-Shabbos, as a means to be social, and also, conveniently avoid cooking and leftovers prior to our trip, we had a great time at the BeyondBT Shabbaton. All of the organizers were so gracious!

Poor RaggedyDad thought I was serious when he asked me what I'd be speaking about, and I said I'd just retell my husband's "story" as a ba'al teshuva. He looked like he was about to faint. Thankfully, I did have other things to talk about. His story is one of the best I've heard though. Maybe he'll tell you some day.

Meeting a bunch of bloggers and various others turned out to be a lot of fun, even for the Mister. Special thanks go to Princess D'Tiara for staying with us, attempting to help me stay sane pre-trip, and coming along for the ride to the airport with us so she could take our van home and do who-knows-what with it!

The flight was long, made all the longer by the inevitable delays in getting the plane off the ground (close to 2 hours). I do hate flying. But we had individual TVs that each had their own on-demand choices of music, movies, television shows, games, etc. Pretty fancy stuff. I assure you, this was economy class.

Being the conscientious daughter-in-law that I am, I used my time wisely to try to learn some more Russian via the Berlitz game they had. I can now order a cab, ask if a store takes credit cards, and name some of the days of the week. Of course, being that we're not in a Russian-speaking country right now, the usefulness of this is rather limited.

Our plane (a 757) had two rows of 3 seats each. Somehow, for the bulk of the flight, I wound up in the middle of a row with Andy to my right, Ann to my left, and Little Rag on my lap. Where was RaggedyDad, you ask? Across the aisle! Alone! With an empty seat next to him!!!! I'm still not sure how that happened, and it is totally not representative of his usual helpfulness level. A momentary lapse of reason.

When the food came, it was super hot, and seemed to be not simply double-wrapped, but wrapped in a dozen or more layers of shrink-wrap, foil, various sticky tape sections, and more plastic wrap. The food was decent, but the amount of garbage outnumbered the actual edible parts about 50:1.

After deliberating, we booked a flight that landed in Germany, for various logistic and economic reasons. I grossly underestimated just how much I would, for lack of a better term, FREAK OUT about being in Germany. I know that people have very mixed opinions about this, and some other members of my family have already been through Germany for work or stopovers, or what have you. In the time it took to go through passport control, luggage pickup, renting the car, and driving out of the country, my kids saw me in way too many emotional-breakdown-type moments.

We barely fit into the car, and I mean barely. If we're back here again, we do have to both learn to drive a stick shift, because it will allow us to rent something bigger and not pay as much of a fortune. Since we had to go automatic and didn't want to break the bank, we had to go with a smaller car. But it is a relief not to have to shlep all of us and our stuff on buses and trains. I've been there, and it ain't pretty.

This is getting long, and it's time for me to go get supper ready, so I'm off and will continue later.

Friday, August 15, 2008

So Big!

Congrats to baby Little Rag on his first birthday this past Tuesday. Not so little anymore, are we? Although, wait, does that make him just . . . Rag? Hmmm, maybe not.

Two days later, Little Rag took his first steps toward my mother! She and I both saw him do it, which was nice.

And being the good sport that he is, he didn't even mind sharing the birthday limelight with Andy, who could not be convinced that it wasn't also his birthday on Tuesday. Despite the fact that his actual birthday is in October. This comes just a couple of weeks after Ann's birthday, which was, um, also Andy's birthday. Yep. Every family has one of these kids.

Next up - - The Raggedys take to the friendly skies for a Big Trip!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Raggedy-ism #2

Lionosaur (lī-no-sɔr)

An undetermined, vicious roaring creature, commonly imitated by nearly-three-year-old boys on a regular basis.

Usage: "I'm getting you! I'm the big lionosaur! RRRRRRooooooaaaaarrrrrrr!!"

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Holding On

I've had people tell me that I'm crazy, but I try to make a habit of saving each of my kids' doodles, drawings, and school 'projects' until I have a chance to ask them if they're ready to part with it. Believe me, space is at a premium in our apartment, so I don't intend to keep their stuff forever.

Every so often, we review everything and determine whether it is still something special to keep or if we are ready to say goodbye to it. In this age of digital photos, we also take some time to photograph some of the ones we want to remember. Thankfully, my kids are yielding enough to be able to handle this ritual rather well.

In general, I tend not to be overly kid-centric about everything. That is, our kids' interests sort of flow out of our own. They are busy going about my day along with me (or maybe just too young to want to differentiate themselves all that much). Although we focus on their needs a great deal, I wouldn't say we're the type of family where the kids run the show. But this is one of the areas where I put their desire to hold on to their stuff ahead of my own desire to toss it.


I think that it goes back to my own childhood. I've written before about how my mother is neat in the extreme. Museum-level-house neat. Nevertheless, she did allow us free reign over our stuff. Piles of papers lay stacked on a chair or dresser until I had a chance to sort them out. I had shelves and cabinets filled with shoe boxes of treasures and scraps of things from school, from friends, from around.

I realize that it is impossible to save every piece of art or every little memory for my kids. But to throw it out behind their backs would feel like a betrayal. I know of people who routinely purge their children's collections or even sell or give away toys that are still being played with in the name of organizing.

To me, home to a child is where they can feel sure of the fact that what is theirs will be there for them when they wake up and when they come home. Those little treasures do mean a lot to them at this age, and if those can disappear with no prior warning, then the sense of control and order they feel is made all that much more precarious.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Morning Person

When I was dating RaggedyDad, there were some mornings when he asked me to call him and wake him up. He was in college at the time, and apparently, he and his roommate had such difficulty in the mornings that they set up a computer program called "Wake Me Up" that would set off an extremely loud alarm. Loud enough for security to come and bang on their door. "Wake Me Up" had woken the rest of the floor, but not RaggedyDad and his roommate.

This was incomprehensible to me. And it worried me. Was this an indication that he'd be unable to wake up for a job? For kids? Be irresponsible in general? Be undisciplined in other areas of his life?

In our home, my parents woke up Very Early. They are morning people to the extreme. I've mentioned before that my mother's extensive daily cleaning routine is usually finished at around 5:30 or 6 a.m. My dad is out of the house very early as well. I really can't remember waking up in the morning and finding my parents groggily ambling about in pajamas (like RaggedyDad and I do).

Thankfully, RaggedyDad's shtick was more or less a college thing. His alarm clock is extremely loud and annoying, and it may go off an extra time or two before he actually responds to it, but we have learned to live with it or even tune it out somewhat. He makes it out of the house early and calmly.

While we don't enjoy early morning life the way my parents do, we've come to terms with it. And I do finally agree with my mother about how much more productive it is to be busy in the early morning (although I guess Ezzie will probably comment that that depends on the individual or something).

Pre-kids, I taught 25 miles from home and had to be there by 8:30. But since Ann was born five years ago, I haven't had a pre-9 a.m. destination besides helping everyone at the breakfast table. I've had part-time jobs and she's been in preschool, but nothing started very early or was all that far away.

Next year, Ann's school day will start at 8:15. The bus will come considerably earlier than that. And of course, I'll need to get the boys ready so that I can bring them along to the bus stop.

A friend suggested I leave the younger kids at home with RaggedyDad while I venture out to the bus stop with Ann. "He's gone by then," I told her. My former late-riser, while not quite a Morning Person himself, sure does a good job of acting like one these days.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Raggedy-ism #1

Garbagnik (gar-BAZH-nik)

One who finishes leftover food that is probably best thrown in the trash. In particular, an adult who finishes the children's leftovers.

Usage: RaggedyDad, stop being such a garbagnik with that soggy bowl of Ann's Cheerios! There can't be more than ten of them in there!