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Plane Tickets:The New Antidepressant

September 30, 2010

Guess who has tickets to Pittsburgh for Oct. 14-19??? THIS GIRL. RIGHT HERE. ME!

And, with this happy development, I finally feel up to writing a post. Kind of an odd thing to say, I know, but July, August & September were kind of weird around here.

It’s not that Belgium was weird (well, weirder than usual I should say), it’s that things just felt… off. And not “expat, fish-out-of-water” off. That sensation has mostly evaporated in the 2 and 3/4 YEARS I have been living here. No, it was more akin to the crash after a sugar rush.

You see, March-May were basically nonstop wedding/adventure planning. In addition to the 2 ceremonies + reception, we organized trips to Venice, Rome, Paris (x5), Amsterdam, Bruges, Antwerp and consulted on a trip to Prague. It was awesome. In June, all of the planning was followed by the crazy excitement of the wedding and wonderfulness of spending close to an entire month with our families.

Not to be a broken record, but it was awesome. And magical. And more…. just more than we could have ever dreamed was possible.

And then it was over.

And the families went home.

And it was just BF & I in our apartment. In Belgium.

And our families were back in the U.S.

And I fell into a funk. Gorgeous 90 degree weather in Belgium & a free weekend without work? I sat on the couch and pouted.

Not that we didn’t do fun things, because we did.

We had a getaway in Mechelen.

We went to two fantastic weddings.

We camped out for a music festival with friends.

And had visits from the amazing Ms. Meaghen

And in the middle of those things, I smiled and laughed and had a generally wonderful time. But the minute they were over, I started being a sad Sally again.

It was really irritating. For all parties involved. Including me.

So, with fall (read: literal gloom in the form of more grey skies & rain than Pittsburgh without the tempering effects of Football) in full force, I finagled my way into a ticket for a quick trip home.

And now, when I look out the window at the soupy grey weather, I actually smile. Big, silly grins at nothing in particular. Much more my style.

It’s amazing what an email confirmation for a roundtrip ticket to the Steel City can do.

At work, I

well, that didn’t work.

July 26, 2010

oops! last post clearly got all sorts of messed up.
as happens sometimes when you combine wordpress & an IBM, computer crashed mid-post and an early draft got published instead of the final.
if there is a break in between work, writing thank-yous and trips to the hospital to deal with BF’s pesky kidney stones, I will try to spruce it up!

until then, check out my gorgeous sister.



she finally posted her professional wedding pics on picasa so i’ve been going through and downloading/compiling and sort of collaging the heck out of them. in case anyone else would like to blow off some steam via free, online editing sites, I highly recommend the following:

1. Picnik (http://www.picnik.com) – this is like photoshop super lite and is perfect for quick, lunch break style editing. although, user beware, it’s kind of a gateway drug for photo-editing. a few sessions with this program and I got sucked into more advanced sites..

2. Phoenix by Aviary (http://aviary.com/tools/phoenix) – kind of a free, online photoshop with great tutorials for novices (read: idiots) like me.

If nothing else it was authentic.

July 23, 2010

(Part 4 of the “Wedding and Other Happy Disasters” Series)

From the outset, Boyfriend* and I had a few priorities when it came to the wedding.  In the midst of our many ups and downs – cake baker can’t fit us in for a tasting? we have to pick a cake at $10/slice by reading descriptions of the flavors?????!!! – I clung to these goals. Focused on them to the exclusion of all the minor details in the hope that, if accomplished, our guests would leave thinking, “You know, that was fun. Worth the trip, even.”

So, what were our aims for the wedding?

1. QUALITY time with our families.

2. AUTHENTIC and FUN European experience for our guests – many of whom had never been abroad.

3. FABULOUS food.

4. PRETTY pictures that captured the day. How it felt. The people that shared it. Pictures of the artsy, organic, un-posed, full of light variety.

5. Get hitched. (No small feat given our experiences…)

Were we successful? Though we may have failed in Martha Stewart Wedding’s eyes, did we at least do well in our own?

I guess it depends on who you ask. I thought our rehearsal dinner appetizer of Belgian beef with king crab and asparagus in a light curry sauce was divine while my new l11 year old ittle sister in law was less than impressed.

However. One area where there is no room for debate is whether or not we gave our guests an authentic European experience.

The ladies learned how to navigate on cobblestone:

From wedding

Everyone had a chance to “terrask” (a Belgian slang word – at least, I believe it’s slang – that refers to sitting on a terrace and enjoying the evening)”:

The boys gained a few pointers on European restroom etiquette:

Everyone sampled the local brews:

And learned how to sleep on trains:

Finally

Hysterical!

July 20, 2010

(Part 3 of the “Wedding and Other Happy Disasters” series…)

Quick review. For me. Because after weeks (months?) of wedding planning fun followed by visitor fun followed by actual wedding fun followed by festival fun followed by more visitor fun with some [opposite of fun] work sprinkled in between, I have absolutely lost my mind.

How lost, you ask?

I tried to brush my teeth with a razor this morning. Right. Put toothpaste on it and everything. Fortunately, I do a cheshire cat grin while brushing so the blade hit my front teeth and I realized my [space cadet] mistake before serious damage was done. I mean, can you imagine trying to explain injuries resulting from shaving your gums to a doctor? In Flemish? Or French? Yeah.

So. Review. I told you about the birth certificates? And the passport?

I guess that means we have reached the priest & church complications.

Ooof. Frankly, I’m not sure how to relate this part of our wedding planning fairytale without sounding like an irresponsible whiner. Or worse, an unbelievable irresponsible whiner. I mean, after everything else that happened, this just begs the question, “Seriously?? You guys. Seriously??”

Sooo. I’ll make it as short and sweet as possible. It went like this:

Between December of 2009 and March of 2010 we were accepted and then rejected from our two favorite churches in Leuven because we weren’t enough affiliated with KUL (Catholic University of Leuven – aka the people that own the churches) for the second and third persons who reviewed our file.

Sint Jan de Doper Church in the Groot Begijnhof. aka the first church that rejected us.

Sint Lambertus kapel, Heverlee. The 2nd church that rejected us. Can't quite tell from this picture, but when the trees are full of green leaves it is simply breathtaking.

So, in April(ish) we found a new church and a new priest and we were all sorts of happy because both were AMAZING. Until May. When our wonderful, accepting priest cancelled.

Right.

Less than 2 months before the wedding our priest canceled on us.

Several phone calls, loads of emails and 2 more meetings with 2 different priests later, we signed all the necessary documentation for a church ceremony on……

The WINNER! Sint Kwinten, Leuven.

June 15th.

Yup. 3 days before the wedding. THREE.

Now pause for a moment and imagine the kind of stress and fighting this incited between boyfriend and me.

Did you picture epic screaming matches? Glassware chucked about the apartment? Finger pointing? Name calling? Condescending looks?

I would understand if you did. But you would be ever so wrong.

Instead, we laughed. And then laughed some more.

We can’t get married in the historic church a stone’s throw from the reception site? Hilarious!

You suddenly have an important, can’t-miss appointment on June 18? Too funny!

All of the English-speaking priests in Leuven are taking exams on June 18? You crack me up!

Oh, so you DON’T do rehearsals? And this is your first English wedding since 1983? HYSTERICAL!

Ha. Ah well. In the end, the only thing that really matters is that I found someone to laugh with

“Have you seen my passport?”

June 30, 2010

Part 2 of the “Wedding and Other Happy Disasters” Series…

Where were we?

Oh, that’s right. BF and I had just conquered the Red Tape Demons and were relaxing at home.

Tuckered out from the emotional roller coaster incited by watermarked, translated, apostilled, kissed, blessed and deified papers proving that we were in fact born, I passed out around 9pm.

At 3am the local rooster started crowing.With 6 hours of snoozing logged, I struggled to fall back asleep and came up with the brilliant plan of hopping online and watching a show or something to tire my eyes.

Tv/video site wasn’t loading so I – stupidly – checked facebook. (New rule, NEVER check facebook after 3am.)

And saw a status post from my older sister that said she was worried for her youngest sister.

Did a quick reading comprehension check. Older sister is worried about younger sister. I am the middle sister. Youngest = Kelsey. Worried = bad news. Me = heart attack.

So I email, facebook message, gchat, IM, text, skype and call. Either no answer or busy signal. What on earth is going on??

Apparently a lot.

Around 5am my older sister graciously sent me an email informing me of the following events:

That evening – 2 days before they were set to fly over to Belgium – Kelsey and Dave, my brother-in-law, decided to be semi-proactive and pack for the trip.

“Clothes? Check.”

“Shoes? Check.”

“Books? Check.”

“Passports? Check… wait. Um, where’s Dave’s? We have Kelsey’s. But not Dave’s.”

Now, for the slow kids in the back, let me just point out that this was a problem. Flights to countries outside the U.S. requires a passport. Belgium is outside the U.S.

From the moment the passport was listed as “missing” all hell broke loose. Drawers, closets, beds, cabinets, sofas… even the trash was torn apart. Items declared lost a decade ago were found, but no passport. (In the “important documents” box where they thought the passport was being protected were crayons and some lovely artwork drawn by my niece. The working theory is that she found his and either hid it really good or threw it out.)

So. International flight in 2 days. No passport. At this point you have 2 options: cancel the trip or get a rush passport. As option 1 was unacceptable, a rush job was the only choice.

What’s needed for a rush job? A… wait for it (I loved this part of the story!)…  birth certificate! Did Dave have a birth certificate handy? Of course not. It was also lost.

Fortunately, Dave was born in Ohio and not some far away state like California, so he hopped in a car with my dad and the two drove 3 hours to Columbus for a new birth certificate. (side note: what on earth is the Ohio department of records going to do for business now that we are all set with our certificates?)  As they were pretty familiar with document retrieval by this point, the process went smoothly and they turned around and went home.

So. T-8 hours or something until the flight out of Pittsburgh. They’ve got the birth certificate. Now what?

Due to flight times or office hours or processing requirements or miscellaneous annoying-ness, they decide the best – and only – course of action is to have Kelsey catch the original flight out of Pittsburgh the next morning. The flight has a layover in Philly. So Dave and my dad will drive the 7 hours to Philly and get to the passport office when it opens at 8am. Get a new passport and catch the Philly to Brussels leg of the flight. My dad will drive the 7 hours back home and everyone will breathe again.

Miraculously, it went exactly as planned. Kels caught the flight. My dad and Dave made the drive without issue. Got the passport with time to spare. Had lunch in Philly. Dave reunited with Kels on the way to Brussels and my dad made it safely back home. Where my mother remembered how to exhale and inhale at a normal rate.

And I finally fell back asleep.

Dave celebrating his passport-retrieval with Rocky in Philly. (Pardon the photo quality, captured with my Dad's blackberry)

After all this, marriage is going to be EASY.

June 25, 2010

(Part 1 of the “Wedding and Other Happy Disasters” series…)

June 18th, 2010 dawns in Belgium. Morning light filters through antique stained glass windows and falls on the sleeping bride. As the lavender and cerulean blue rays graze her cheek, she awakens. With nary a hint of the excitement about to ensue, our bride pauses to cherish the moment. She is well rested, the weather is idyllic, every detail is in order. The months of careful planning and years of blissful dating have reached their crescendo… the wedding day is here.

As those of you who know me will have already guessed, that is exactly how the morning of the wedding went.

For some other bride.

My morning? My morning was a little different. There were stained glass windows. And morning light. (It was punctuated with a few more clouds than I would have preferred, but at least it was there.)

But… details in order? Perfect weather? Lots of rest?

Heavens, no!

Frankly, what fun would that be? Do you really want to hear about cohesive themes and perfectly executed plans? Not only would that be boring, it wouldn’t be Belgian. And it most certainly wouldn’t be us.

So. Where to begin??? To fully comprehend the ridiculousness that was our wedding day, to appreciate the fact that it happened at all, to understand why I spent the day saying “ah well, add it to the list!”… well, we will have to rewind a few weeks.

Do you recall my previous post regarding birth certificates and red tape? I left you in April with a lovely story about apostilles and uber helpful Belgian office workers. To the shock of no one, that rigamaroll of bureaucratic stupidness was not resolved in the 2 easy steps promised. Instead it was a stressful, heartburn-inducing, 18 step process:

1. My dad takes a day off of work and makes the 4 and a half hour drive to Harrisburg with my mom. There, they navigate the maze of government offices to pick up a brand spanking new birth certificate.

2. My parents take this fresh certificate (that looks irritatingly similar to my original birth certificate) to the apostille and get it stamped, signed, sealed and kissed.

3. They hop in the car for their 4 and a half hour drive back to Cranberry.

4. They send me a pdf copy of the certificates and drop the originals in the mail for express delivery to Belgium.

5. I send the pdf copy to the planner who sends it to the translator (yes – they have to be reviewed by an “official” translator) who says it all “looks good.”

6. BF gives his mom explicit directions on how to get him a new birth certificate. She graciously embarks on the 3 hour drive to Columbus (each way!) and gets him new documents and has them apostilled. Makes a pdf copy, sends it to me and I send it to our planner. Again, it all “looks good.”

7. With 5 weeks to spare before the wedding we head back to the U.S. for my gorgeous cousin’s nuptials. We dance, we laugh, we cry, we drink and fun is had by all. Far too much fun. In a post-wedding-fun haze, BF heads back to Belgium. Without his apostilled birth certificate.

No big deal. My original is sitting on the kitchen table in Belgium and we have an excellent copy of BF’s. Plus the original of the original birth certificate. What more could a translator need?

8. The day I get back to Belgium I give MY original apostilled birth certificate plus a full color copy of BF’s to the wedding planner to deliver to the translator. She hands everything off to him and apparently it still “looks good.”

9. THREE DAYS later the translator calls, “You gave me a copy. I need the original.” Me: “!#%%FLIBBERTYGIBIT#@%A%A^.   OKAY.”

10. It’s now  May 18th. One month before the wedding. We MUST, must, MUST get all the documents to the commune 14 days before the wedding for “posting of the banns” otherwise we can’t get married on June 18th.

That gives us 2 weeks-ish to get the stuff. Should be fine. BF calls his mom and sends her specific instructions on how to send it priority global express 2-day shipping to Belgium.

11. It’s now Friday. The certificate is nowhere to be found. Turns out this is because his mom hasn’t sent it yet. Right.

He resends the global mailing instructions. She drops it in the mail.

12. It’s the following Wednesday. Just over a week until the deadline. Certificate is no where to be found. BF calls his mom to find out the tracking number.

Turns out she sent it normal mail. It should arrive within 6-10 business days. Even if it comes within 6 business days it will be past the deadline.

I lose it.

13. BF’s explains the situation to her and she makes the ultimate mom move – agrees to drive to Columbus AGAIN, get a new certificate, new apostille and send it super fast global priority mail.

14. She gets it, sends it and I track it.

15. Certificate arrives on Monday, May 31. We take it to translator.

16. Translator translates the documents and gets them notarized by the Belgian somebody or others.

17. With ONE day to spare take documents to the commune.

18. Everything “looks good” and we are about to officially reserve our date when the commune says…

“There is a problem. The date is wrong.”

BF was born November 1, 1981. In the U.S. you would write that as “11/1/81.” In Europe you write that as “1/11/81.”

The OFFICIAL, Leuven-approved translator wrote it wrong. He did it the American way. Not the European way.

A conversation ensues in Flemish between our [amazing] planner and the worker.

And… documents DENIED.

Which means wedding DENIED.

Which means… um…. heart attack?

A few moments and several Flemish sentences later, we were party to a miracle: the person doing our paperwork is willing to overlook this detail provided we get it fixed over the next few days.

HALLELUJAH!!!!!!!!!!!

Wedding was finally, officially ON.

Walking home from the commune that evening, BF and I were on top of the world. Convinced that all of our problems were solved, we relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Oh how silly and naive we were. How silly and naive, you ask? Well, stay tuned for Part 2…

“How do you feel about birth certificates, apostilles and the Belgian red tape?”

Wedding help! (Please feel free to chime in…)

April 23, 2010

[Note: Many apologies, but nearly every post I write between now and June 18 will be wedding related. So very sorry for this, however, the people that I would be fussing over all of these details with are a continent away. I am left with no choice but to vent my frustrations, questions, excitements and inspirations via this site. Read at your own risk of boredom…]

Ok. So. Thanks to my amaaaaaazing, wonderful, selfless, [insert glowing, suck-up-y adjective here] parents who drove 7 hours roundtrip to Harrisburg yesterday, I am apparently the proud owner of a signed, stamped and soon to be delivered New Original Apostilled Birth Certificate!

Score.Now we just need BF’s mom to make a similar journey (from Cleveland to Columbus) and we will be nearly set.

However, short of flying to Ohio and personally driving her from place to place, I can’t really do anything to move that process along. SO. I will obsess about the things I can fix.

They are as follows:

1. Wedding Music

BF would be the dj for our wedding rather than the groom if only I'd let him...

BF and I have decided to forgo the wedding dj dude and do the reception music ourselves. We may do the cocktail and ceremony as well with the help of a few cds, but BF is still hoping for some kind of live musical group. A violinist? String quartet? Harpsichordist? I have no idea. If we were having my dream beach wedding, I’d push for some super cheesy awesome cliche like a steel drum band. If we were having my dream Cleveland wedding, I’d push for one of the Case (our alma mater) choral groups or one of the student groups from the Cleveland Institute of Music (their students shared our campus and are crazy talented).

However. We are having a beyond our wildest dreams Belgian wedding and I do not know of any choirs or quartets. So cd will suffice.

ALSO. With regards to the reception, I am looking forward to having the mix from our wedding forever. And ever. We’ll be able to listen to it on our anniversaries, play it at our U.S. wedding celebration and maybe even force the future children to sit and listen to it on repeat during long roadtrips. Just to annoy them. Sounds amazing, no?

here’s where I need your input…

a. if anyone knows of wedding-appropriate bands or quartets or soloists (around Leuven) who are reasonably priced OR where to look for these sort of things, please let me know! The wedding planner only knew of one group free on our day and they were roughly $1,000/hour. Umm, no.

b. ALSO. If you know of any MUST PLAY wedding songs, I’d love to hear them. We have all the standards from “Sweet Caroline” to “Living on a Prayer” on our list, BUT, if you were at a wedding and heard something more unique (yet perfect), let me know!

2. Tasting

A summer gazpacho (like this one via Sunday Suppers) is on the menu. But will it taste as good as this one looks? Quandry.

Our reception will be held at this incredible, rustic, classy, intimate, magical place called “The Faculty Club.” It’s right in the Begijnhof in Leuven and will (hopefully) be special for our American guests. (I’ll share more on it when I have suitably amazing pictures – the gardens around there are starting to bloom so we may photo hunt this weekend.)

We had many reasons for picking this venue, but one of the biggest factors was the food. As our wedding is on a Friday, the food for the reception will be catered by the team from Arenberg, a Michelin starred restaurant. (yummmm) And they won’t just be catering, they will be catering. Like, big time. There will be 200 or so passed hors d’ouerves during cocktail hour for the 50 or so guests which will then be followed by either a 3 or 4 course meal (it will depend on # of guests. Fewer people will = more courses as there is a minimum cost for the evening.) Plus cake. And potentially some late night snacks such as fries.

Sounds perfect, right? Sadly, I think there is a catch. It appears that you have to choose just 1 menu out of 4 different offerings for ALL of your guests. For those of you who weren’t aware, in the U.S. you typically have a cocktail hour with hors d’ouerves then you serve either a buffet or a sit down dinner with 3 courses – soup/salad, a main entree which you allow your guest to choose followed by cake. And that’s it. Here there are all these options, which is great, but we have to pick the perfect combination that will make the most people happy AND – kicker – I don’t think we get a tasting.

If we want to sample the various menus we either have to go to their restaurant at least twice. It’s a great place and I LOVE having dinner there, but at 45-55 Euros a meal (without beverages)… it’s just sort of annoying.

input time…

a. Is this normal for Belgium? i.e. does everyone pick menu items blindly? If so, I’ll quit being bummed. If not, perhaps I’ll try and work something out with the Faculty Club people. I just don’t want to be a rude, demanding, obnoxious American. Especially not around people who might hold it against me and spit in my wedding cake. That’s gotta be bad luck for a marriage.

Do I go all crazy Bridezilla and make complicated centerpieces?

(gorgeousness via oncewed.com)

b. Has anyone ever been to a wedding at the Faculty Club? Comments? Even general ones… i.e. there weren’t enough flowers or not enough light or the food was awful or we should make sure we have X and do not have Y? Are additional decorations needed since the place is pretty austere?

ummm… that’s all I got for now. I had some weird dreams last night about getting married to a 3 year old (wonder where THAT came from) and decided to write rather than sit in bed wide awake. Better get ready and go to work. Without the job I will have to have the local friterie cater the reception. And no one wants that.

Have a wonderful weekend and thanks in advance if anyone comments 🙂