Monday, July 27, 2009

Country Girl, City Girl

When my husband came home and announced that we could move home in forty-five days, my heart sank and I felt a bit sick. It was not the reaction he was expecting. Maybe I wasn’t even aware of how I felt until faced with the moment of decision. After all, I’ve done nothing but complain for the last three years about the difficulties of life in a foreign land. I missed Starbucks and Target. I wished for street signs that made sense to me. The language has been daunting, and service is s-l-o-w. And I’d rather not eat another croissant. But as it turns out, I am finally accepting my life in Belgium and I’m not ready to go topsy-turvy and run back to America just yet.
We were enjoying our Independence Day cook-out in our yard with friends and a few out-of-town visitors, when I sat back and took a good look at what we have and how our family has developed since moving here. It seems that at the very moment the rest of the world is in shambles, we have never had it better. We gathered at the table to feast on food we had prepared together, laughing and talking until the last twinkling of sun went out of sight. It was well past eleven and I was satiated. This was the simple life that I wasn’t even aware existed. Years earlier you would have probably found us eating dinner in front of the television or rushing in and out of a chain restaurant. Going out is not as convenient in a small European city and it didn’t take us long before realizing that doing it at home was not only easier and more economical, but increasingly more enjoyable.
This “can do” attitude has perseverated into most of our daily activities. The morning begins with a fresh brewed pot of coffee, made from beans ground at home, and poured into a moderate size mug. Stopping in for a latte and doughnuts on the way to work is not just a luxury we’ve chosen to pass on, but it’s simply not an option. At night we gather together as a family for a home cooked meal and talk about our day. Nowhere in the middle does Oprah or Sponge Bob play mindlessly in the background on cable TV like it once did. We reserve our big screen for family movie night and an occasional Rock Band jam session. Don’t get me wrong, we are an electronic junkie family like most others, but there is little need to be plugged in to the outside world for constant input. And it feels good to use the dining table for dinner rather than a collection point for all our miscellaneous acquisitions.
Recently, I have watched creativity blossom. When the mind is not constantly kept distracted by the need to run and go, or see and do, then suddenly it must find new ways to be entertained. I have inky fingers from daily interaction with paper and paint, David is currently constructing a massive game table, Gavin has drawn entire scenes about stories he knows and Taylor made a Lego city without instructions. I feel like every moment is an opportunity to put our Da Vinci side of the brain to work, instead of using a trip to Best Buy to derail our imagination. And I find that this creative ingenuity works in time of need, or rather want, not just boredom. We’ve gotten good at going without certain wants, and making do with the perfectly good stuff we already have. When want creates action, we find ourselves reusing, repurposing and revamping items we already had in totally new ways. I don’t think the economists would be happy to hear me say this, but I don’t think we need the newest line of towels and dishes at Pottery Barn.
Not every moment of European life has been perfect. If you visit us in the winter, then you know how damp and dark Belgium can be. Likewise, that “can-do” attitude could be applied to getting our toilet fixed as well and in the moments when we’ve waited weeks for repairs, we can’t help but long for the American way of efficiency. There has been a time or two when I wished something was written in plain English, but usually the moment has been fleeting and I try harder to learn a new language. And when I’m down and out, I think a bookstore or an afternoon matinee would hit the spot. Instead I spend some time in my studio and it’s not long before I’ve forgotten it was ever routine therapy before.
It’s the thought of going back to the masses of traffic as far as the eye can see that keeps me grounded in the desire to stay just a little longer. I know where our home is and we are bound to return, but hopefully having learned a lesson or two in moderation. The uncomplicated life that is right now may be just enough to guide us down future roads with less strife and a greater appreciation of enjoying the moment. But in the mean time, this wine and cheese, garden forts and hide-outs, breezy summer afternoon kind of living is exactly the “joie de vie” our family was destined (needed?) to experience.


  1. Now that I've read this I want to live there now more than ever! Even though I assume my life to be relatively simple I know I could use a bit more slow-down. Plus I sure as hell miss my sister!

  2. Upon returning to San Jose, I reflect on my recent visit. That big front yard with the green grass and big arching tree and all the fun spots for the boys to play...that's precious. I loved hearing the birds (even if they started around 4am) and watching them fly over the red roof tops. I loved not having TV and not feeling like we had to shop or scramble for dinner. It makes my heart happy to hear that you're finally making peace with your life there. I miss you already. I don't know why I had a particularly hard time leaving....I just want to be able to come over and visit and watch the boys and eat more of David's great imaginative meals. I love how much you're into your's good to have something like that that you love doing. My next purchase will be a video cam....for my iMac.

  3. Sounds like you've created some new habits that you can keep up when you do come back... Glad to see you are enjoying a "slowed down" version of life :)