Saturday, May 19, 2007

Back in the Shenandoah Valley

Well, we're back. And it's good. And it's not. I can't tell if I have jet lag still, or whether I'm just plain tired from our adventures, or some mixture of both. We've been home a week and I don't really have coherent memories of things I've done or conversations I've had since we got here.

You know that scene in the movie "Poltergeist" where they get the little girl back from the underworld and she and her mom fall out of the ceiling and land on the living room floor covered in glop, and everyone's there to catch them and wipe the glop off? Let me tell you, thank goodness we had people to catch us when we landed and help us make the transition from one world to another. It was a hard shock, mentally, physically, you-name-it-ally. Truth be told, at this point I just want to go back to Antwerp.

To backtrack a moment, here's how we got home after our lovely time in Estepona. We flew from Malaga Airport to Brussels Airport on Friday the 11th, then stayed over at the Holiday Inn Brussels Airport. I chose the place because it has an indoor pool that the girls could play in for hours before they'd be cooped up in a plane for hours. Mom and Dad stayed with us there too, so we had some more time together before they flew back to the Twin Cities. Mr. K met us there (SO NICE TO SEE HIM!) and brought some bags we'd left with him. He agreed to join us for dinner at the restaurant in the hotel, which actually isn't all that expensive, as hotel restaurants go. Would you believe we all ordered burgers and fries? We had had so many multi-course Fantastic dinners that we just wanted some grub, and it was good. Another sad goodbye to Mr. K, and then a truly sad goodbye to my mom and dad on Saturday morning. I wish they lived closer (HINT HINT) so we could see them more often.

We got into Dulles about 9pm last Saturday and all of our luggage made it safe and sound, except MeiMei's car seat, which somehow didn't make it from Malaga to Brussels. We still don't have it. They (SN Brussels Airlines) called to tell us it had been flown to Atlanta, and did we have it we don't. So we have an extra one to use for now. Whatever.

A nice lady from the JMU motor pool was there to meet us and drive us to Harrisonburg, thank goodness. The girls nodded off and I went to the back seat of the cargo van to do the same. I was in the twlight zone bigtime. When we got home it was almost midnight. That's six a.m. Belgium time. So we'd been traveling almost 24 hours straight. Ouch.

What did I think of home when I got there, after being gone so long? If you live in and love Harrisonburg, PLEASE don't be offended. I've lived here myself almost twenty years, but I have to say, as I rubbed my eyes and sat up all groggy in the back seat of that van, I caught sight of a gas station and a cinder block grocery store, and the first thing that came into my head was I live here? Talk about the bubble popping. John said he had much the same reaction. We had come to take spectacular architecture for granted and all of a sudden we're back in sort of mish-mosh American exurban vernacular, a little Victorian here, a little 60's boxy there, a little coordinated-facade strip mall over there. Blah.

How did the girls react? Well, they are at totally opposite ends of the spectrum. JieJie (the five-year-old) remembered everything from home. When we got in the house, John saw her march straight over to MeiMei's "treasure box," pull out a harmonica she'd gotten for Christmas and walk it over to her own treasure box--and as she went, John heard her mutter to herself I thought I left that there. Scary! A few days later we went to Kroger to grocery shop and she asked if she could have animal crackers, then promptly informed me which aisle they are in.

MeiMei on the other hand (almost 4) seemed to remember nothing about this house. She said "Mommy, I need to go potty. Where's the bathroom?" and as she sat on the toilet she said "is this our new house?" The next morning she asked me if we were in a hotel. She also refused a toy because "we won't be able to fit it in our suitcase." She doesn't like to let me out of her sight, although that's getting better. Both of the girls had to stick so close to me for safety's sake while we were away...for the first several days I had little shadows! I was afraid I was going to step on someone by accident.

We measured our girls yesterday on their growth charts and they've each grown an inch since we! On Tuesday JieJie had her kindergarten registration meeting too, since that had already begun. We're excited that we didn't miss the orientation night at her school.

So slowly but surely, our family and friends have gathered around, dropped by, checked in, and we are re-integrating into the lives we left here in January. Strange: our Christmas card basket was still on a bookshelf in the tv room and our holiday tablecloth still on the dining room table, though our irises are in full bloom around the front porch. Anyway, tomorrow morning it's back to church, and our calendar is starting to be dotted with picnics, meetings, etc.

Still, some permanent changes will take place as a result of our time in Antwerp. We are more willing to pay more for better quality food at the grocery or farmer's market. We are less likely to go out to eat (why be disappointed??). We are more likely to walk where we need to go. We are much more conscious of the amount of electricity we use and have been near-obsessive about turning things off when not in use. Same goes for water. We realize that our old (ok, antique) toilets are just guzzling water. In Europe it's really common to see dual-flush mode toilets, where you can choose a small flush for liquid waste and a larger flush for solid waste, and we are already planning to replace our toilets (especially the one that seems to run constantly) with these more water-wise contraptions. I'd like to start composting again, and I'd like to set up rain collection barrels to use for watering the garden and stuff like that. In Belgium, all of the houses out in the country are required to have a cistern for collecting rain water, and I believe Mr. K and his wife L told us it has to hold at least 500 liters. That would be a great policy for new construction here too. It makes no sense to let all that rainwater just go into storm drains and out to rivers and oceans, when it could be put to use around the house.

There are water shortages in the Costa del Sol (no wonder, since they are building there faster than in Vegas, it seems) to the point that the townhouse renter's manual asked us to consider putting a watering can under the tub faucet while we adjusted the water temperature for a shower, and then to please use the water for the plants on the balconies. We take for granted that clean water will be there whenever we turn the faucet, but I just read that the average American toilet uses more fresh water in one flush than some people have available to them in a day.

Something to think about.

I'll write more in the days to come as I work through the aftermath of our time away. I seem to be having sort of reverse culture shock. Ah well, better to have gone and come home than never to have gone at all, eh? :)

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