Saturday, December 22, 2012

Schèine Chreschtdaag / Joyeux Noël

So this is our first Christmas really away, away from our family and well our country... We were expecting it to be a real challenge and something that would make the holidays really hard, but we have been surprised how much we've enjoyed being here for the holiday season. One of the biggest and most surprising thing is how much religion still plays here. The kids come home from school on almost a regular basis with some symbolic art project that they made which somehow ties back to Christ or church.

Mr. L with a Kleeschen (St. Nicolas) he made in school and a bunch of treats he got when Kleeschen left all the kids presents for December 6th.

K has commented numerous times about how odd it is to actually be able to tell someone at work. "Merry Christmas", nobody really does the "Happy Holidays" thing here. This has definitely been a fun part of Christmas because we get to say what we really feel without worry of offending someone who doesn't believe in the holiday. We found it really odd that in Europe they are more accepting of religion and religious symbols than America.

One of the other things that has really helped to get us in the Christmas spirit is the numerous Christmas Markets around the region. These markets are soo cool. Basically the town center just becomes a major attraction for everyone, and vendors come and setup shop and sell anything and everything.

A big German Pyramid display at the Trier, Germany Christmas Market.

Some random "Yeast Ball" dessert thing. It was really good...

Can you tell it was good by his clean face?

E and the kiddos enjoying the Merry-go-Round at the market.

Did we say that it can get crowded?

Random things for sale

Yummy candy

German guy rocking Jingle Bells. Oh and behind him is an old ancient church building in Trier very pretty.

Since it was so crowded and cold, we went home early and decided that we would find a baby sitter and go just E & K to see the market by ourselves. There was so much yummy food.

Another thing that really surprised us was the party that K's work threw for all the employees kiddos. The party was amazingly fun/over-the-top. It was set up in huge tents and there were a ton of things to do, the kids really wanted to get their face painted and to get a ballon animal, so we waited in line for awhile for both of those things.

Not dandruff, just a sparkly alligator.

After paint and balloons were applied/received, it was our turn to see St. Nicolas and Black Peter. For those who aren't familiar with Mr. Peter, he is the person dressed in lack behind St. Nicolas. The tradition is that he is the one who keeps the books with all the bad kids' names in it. He also has sticks, whip, and a bag to take naughty kids away with him. But, he does have a soft side and has been know to help St. Nicolas scatter candy for the good children.

Ms. H wasn't really into the spirit at the time.

In the end the kids all got decent present from the company, a ton of,food and candy, really crazy big balloons, and a really good memory. Or as Mr. L put it, "Dad, I am really proud of me coming here!"

After we got home, we started talking about how in the US a company would never have a Santa Claus come once again for fear of offending someone. It was a great experience for our kids, and one that they still talk about a week later.

So while we miss our family and friends, the one thing that helps us to cope and fill the gaping hole in our hearts, is that we've got a great opportunity to really feel and appreciate the spirit and atmosphere of CHRISTMAS and we need to take advantage of it.

Well, for everyone who is reading, Merry Christmas, and we hope your have a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

On Medical Care....

Disclaimer- This post is really loooong and full of details that may be interesting to some, but definitely not to others.  I am certainly not offended if you decide to skip over this one!

After my last blog post I got quite a few questions through Facebook, the blog, emails, messages, etc. asking questions about the differences in medical care between the U.S. and here in Luxembourg.  While I am certainly no expert, and don't have tons of experience, I know a little.....

For starters, Luxembourg is a socialist country.  While I, of course, don't support socialism for the U.S., it is really fascinating to see how it works in a country that's already doing it.  The government programs are so different.  It seems as if we receive money from the government for so many things that I never would have expected, however we also pay sooooo much more in taxes here than we ever paid back in the U.S.  I also feel strongly that this form of government works for a country whose entire population is right at 500,000 people (crazy tiny, huh?)

So, the medical system is called CNS (Caisse National de la Santé).  Every resident is issued a card after all the paperwork is cleared that gives you a matricule number (basically, a social security number).  The number becomes your identity and you use your card when you go to the doctor.    

So, whenever one of us gets sick- or has another need to go to a doctor- I call to make an appointment.  That part is pretty much the same.  Unless, you have not yet "established" yourself at the doctor, of course.  In late October, our family all took turns having pink eye.  Miss H had it the worst by far, and it became pretty clear that it was not going to clear up on its own.  She needed antibiotics.  So, I called the pediatrician that a couple of my friends had recommended to try to make an appointment.  They were happy to see her until they found out that our family was not established at their office.  All of the kids needed to come in to be seen before they could have sick visits.  And we couldn't have our establishment appointments for almost a month- the last week of November.  So, I made my appointments, marked them clearly on the calendar, and made absolutely certain that nothing interfered with getting there on that date and time!  In the meantime, poor Miss H really  needed to be seen somewhere, so I ended up just having to walk in to the local children's hospital, Kanner Klinik (literally translated "Children's Clinic" in Luxembourgish), and be seen that way.  Not a big deal, really, just a little loophole that I didn't know about.  

Whenever you happen to have a need for a prescription medication (which is pretty much all medications), you get the prescription from the doctor, of course.  Doctors seem to love prescriptions.  K went to the doctor for a nasty cold a few weeks ago and came home with five prescriptions.  Then, you take the prescription to the pharmacy (still sounds the same, right?)  Pharmacies are a bit different.  There is seriously like one on every corner.  There are no medications, vitamins, or anything medically related in any regular stores.  There's no picking up some Tums at Target while you happen to be there grocery shopping.  All drugs have to be purchased at the pharmacy and they are all kept behind the counter.  Anything in front of the counter is not medicine- baby formula, beauty products, toothpaste- stuff like that.  That means, you have to ASK for anything that you need.  And of course, we don't know what any of the medications are called here.  

In the interest of full disclosure, here's my embarrassing story---- earlier on in this pregnancy, I was having tons of nausea, food aversions, ickiness, all the normal stuff.  As hard as I try, it's so hard to eat a perfectly balanced diet when you feel so nasty.  I noticed one day that my stomach was hurting particularly bad- more than normal.  And it wasn't sick, it was hurting.  Over the next couple days, it got worse and worse, until finally I decided that I thought I was dealing with constipation.  It's common in pregnancy, I know, but I had never dealt with it before.  Plus, the prenatal vitamin I've taken with my last three pregnancies has included a stool softener.  This time, it definitely does not.  I tried to handle it in the best way I could- eating more fiber, drinking more water, etc, but I was so uncomfortable that I thought if I could just get something to help move things along I would feel better.  You know, something with fiber, Metamucil, Fiber-One, something- anything.  So, finally, out of desperation, I went to the pharmacy, with my three little tag-a-longs, of course.  You have to understand that three kids is a pretty large brood by European standards.  There are a few families in our ward at church with more kids, but I have never seen any families at the school, at the store, in public anywhere with more than three.  Most have two, but there are a couple with three.  I went up to the counter and tried to explain to the lady what I was in need of.  I started with the nice, medical words, but I was definitely not getting through to her.  So, before I knew it, I was resorting to gestures and any way I could to communicate.  Finally, I blurt out, "I'm pregnant and I'm having trouble going to the bathroom."  Her eyes light up and she understands.  She tells me what I'm looking for and asks a few questions about which type of "help" I'd prefer.  Then, she makes the connection.  She stops and says, "Did you just say you're pregnant?"  Then she glances over at the three already I have, obviously thinking I must be a crazy woman.  When I responded, she shut down.  "I cannot give you anything, Madame.  If you are pregnant, I can give you nothing.  You must have prescription from the doctor."  And that was it, I walked out the door empty handed.  All that embarrassment for nothing....

So, on to the experience of going to the doctor.  We've had pretty good experiences, I'd say so far.  Different, but not bad.  I feel like walking into a doctor's room is like stepping back in time by about thirty years in the U.S.  I know the care we receive is fine, but it feels like a bit of a time warp.  They all look like old fashioned Dr.'s rooms in movies- with all the drugs lined up in a cabinet and all the medical instruments lined up on the counter.  There are old- fashioned looking scales and most things are recorded on paper.  My OB/GYN has a computer that she inputs information in at every appointment, but at the pediatrician, everything was done on paper.  Some of the "niceties" of going to the dr. like we have in the U.S. are just nonexistent here.  All of my kids had to strip down naked for their appointments.  I know that's not totally uncommon in the U.S., but Miss A, at age 6, was a bit weirded out by it.  Thankfully, the pediatrician speaks great English, and was very "sympathetic" to my situation of moving to a foreign country with three small children. 

At my prenatal appointments, there's no messing around.  This Dr. also speaks pretty decent English.  Not as good as the pediatrician, but not bad.  We've had a few mix-ups with vocabulary- such as a misunderstanding between the word "abortion" and "miscarriage".   The thing that amazes me though is that everyone speaks so many languages, so even just being decent in English is impressive.  At my first appointment, I walked in the door and she greeted me, "Bonjour, Madame." She continued by asking me which language I'd like her use when speaking to me, French, German, English, or Luxembourgish?  That's the part that just floors me.  Anyone who has grown up here, particularly anyone who is educated, speaks a minimum of four languages.  Sure does make me feel like a really dumb American when all I've got is English.  So, she began my appointment in English and before I knew it, she waved her hand and said, "Take away the bottoms!", which means take off your pants and go sit on that table over there.  There's no drape or cloth to cover up with.  And this happens at every single appointment.  The nice thing is I get to have an ultrasound at every appointment too, which has been amazing to see the progress the baby makes in just 2 to 3 weeks (which is how often she wants to see me).  Nine weeks gestation looks so drastically different from 12 weeks, and it's so cool to have pictures documenting the progression.  Definitely don't have that with any of my other kids.  This Dr. is all business, no small talk or jokes.  I believe that's partly her personality, but it's also definitely a cultural thing.  So, after having the ultrasound, still bare from the waist down, she always tells me to go hop on the scale and report my weight.  It's bad enough to have to see it, but there's just something wrong with having to announce it too.  The nice thing is that I get weighed in kilograms, so my weight is a much smaller number here than it would be in the U.S.  So, even though it means the same thing it sure does feel a lot nicer saying a number out loud that's less than half the number I'm thinking in my head.  

At the end of every appointment, we are handed a bill.  Typically, you go to the counter on the way out and pay your bill in full before you leave the office.  It's also acceptable though to take the bill with you and pay later with a bank transfer, or virement.  You absolutely must keep all these bills, including the stamp from the dr.'s office and your receipt.  All bills and receipts are then sent to CNS for reimbursement.  Or, if you have over 100 € of expenses, then you can just go to the CNS office, give them your receipts and they'll cut you a check on the spot.  I rounded up all our receipts two days ago and we're due over 400 € at this point.  I really need to do something about that.... CNS reimburses 80% of most medical expenses, though there are some things that are not covered at all, such as chiropractics.  We also opted to buy a private insurance plan though K's firm that allows us to submit the remaining 20% and be reimbursed even further.  The private plan also covers things not covered by CNS.  Anything purchased at the pharmacy is already subsidized by CNS, so it is already pretty cheap, and does not need to be submitted.

As far as the questions I got about having a baby here, I don't know all the answers yet because I haven't done it yet!  Someone asked about the possibility of having a water birth, and I believe that to be a yes.  I just learned that piece of information yesterday at my parent teacher conference with A's teacher because I found out at the conference that she is also pregnant  (due one day before me) and she was talking about her preference for a particular clinic because it's possible to have a water birth there.  I do feel very lost in the decision making process about labor and delivery.  There are two main hospitals that are close enough to use to consider.  One of them is nice and new, fancy and comfortable, with great food.  Everyone always gets this shiny look in their eye when they talk about this clinic.  However, from what I can gather, they are also very "clinical".  They have a fairly high C-section rate, and are pretty big on interventions.  It sounds like they have a hard time just leaving you alone and letting you labor.  The other hospital is usually described as being pretty old.  However, those that have been there describe a very different experience.  They describe being able to write their own birth plan, and being allowed to give birth the way they choose, with minimal intervention- this is more what I prefer.  I am surprised, honestly, at how reality on this issue is so much different than what I, as an American, had perceived before I got here.  In my mind, I thought of Europe as very  natural birth friendly, with most people using a midwife.  I'm not really finding that to be the case, at least not here in Luxembourg.  All the Luxembourgers I've talked to  don't really seem to care, while most of the Americans who have given birth here seem to be able to see my side of the issue more clearly.   I don't know what the end of our story will be yet, but I'm learning to be more assertive and ask more questions.  

As far as questions about family coming to visit in the Spring.... K's Mom has a ticket to arrive here on the 12th of May and she will stay for two weeks.  Then, my parents are planning to come on the 25th of May.  We are planning to bless the baby at church on May 26, while both of our parents are still here.  Then my parents will stay as long as they can- not sure how long that will be yet.  It seems like we're planning these things so far in advance, but when you're buying international plane tickets plans have to be made with time to spare, so that good deals can be found!

So, there you have it.  More than you probably really wanted to know, but I think everyone's questions have been answered.  Keep 'em coming!

Monday, December 3, 2012

This Little Bump....

.....has been busy growing!

We'll have a new baby in our family in early May and we're so excited. This little one will be born here in Lux, of course. The pregnancy experience has already been so different than my experiences in the U.S., but they are very cautious about everything here. At this point, everything appears to be perfect! Here's a profile shot of our little one from this morning. The dr was trying to measure the nasal bone in this pic, so that's why there's a little line over the nose....

So far, my motherly intuition has been three for three- I've felt strongly about the genders of all of our kids long before we were able to "tell"- whether on an ultrasound or when we've waited til delivery. This time around I've felt so strongly that this baby is a boy and we'd be back to even numbers. Well, we had an ultrasound this morning and although the baby wasn't super willing to cooperate, so we never got the "perfect" shot, it appears that this time I am.
WRONG! There goes my record;). It looks like we are turning into a family of mostly girls! Again, we're not 100% at this point, but the dr felt pretty confident declaring the baby to be a girl. At my next appointment, we'll get another peek (I have an ultrasound at every appointment here), and hopefully be able to confirm. I'd say we're 90% at this point.....

Here's another shot in 3D just cause she played around with it for a little while. This also a profile shot kind of looking from over the shoulder.

So far, we feel so blessed to have a healthy baby, regardless of the gender. Miss A is thrilled either way, and Mr. L and Miss H are pretty oblivious. We'll keep you posted.....

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Luxembourg, Luxembourg

Our Paris Getaway Sans Enfants!

Back in early April when we first found to that we had the opportunity to come to Luxembourg we posted the announcement on Facebook. Within a minute a sister missionary from my way back on my mission days messaged us and said that she lived in France, and that we would be in her stake. Well we've done quite a few things with her family and finally we decided that we would take turns watching each other's kids so that we could go to Paris without kiddos. It's not that we don't love them, but The City of Love just isn't very romantic when you're lugging three kids and a stroller. We love taking trips as a whole family, but this one was really nice for just us.

We dropped our kids off on Thursday night and stayed overnight at their house, then took the TGV from their house in Metz, France to Paris. The TGV is quite the experience, it starts out just like a normal train but before you know it you're going 320 km/hr or 200mph/hr.

So going that fast, within an hour and twenty minutes you're in Paris ready to see the sites. Thanks to busy season I had accumulated some hotel points so we were able to stay right in downtown Paris just a few minutes away from everything. We got settled in at the hotel, went and grabbed some lunch, and then headed over to check out the Louvre.

We absolutely loved the Louvre. It was HUGE... We totally put our pride aside and decided to rent the audio walking tour which was really nice because it had personal GPS to help guide you through the museum, and we honestly needed it. We looked like tourists, but eh, whatever.

There she is, the most popular painting in the Lourve - Mrs. Mona Lisa. It was very interesting to hear all the facts about the painting from the audio guide. It took DaVinci quite a few years to actually finish the painting, and the most interesting thing we learned was that it is actually painted on a wood board, not canvas or anything like that. Back in the 50's someone threw a rock at her, and then she was stolen and missing for a few years, so now she's behind bulletproof glass and you really can't get close to her. But even 10 feet away it was really amazing to see it in person. We both agreed that she was prettier in person that any of the pictures or copies of her that we've seen.

After visiting the Mona Lisa, we went and saw the Venus De Milo. We had both seen the statue before in books, but never really appreciated all the interesting facts about it. First, it is estimated that she was sculpted between 100 and 130 BC and also she's an original sculpture. We were surprised to learn that a lot of the sculptures in the Louvre are reproductions of sculptures that have been lost or destroyed. And even most of the originals have had missing "body parts" recreated and added back on. Not this lady though- her age alone makes her impressive. It was very amazing to just look at it and see all the different chisel marks and effort that went into making the sculpture. It really made us appreciate how special of a piece it is.

After visiting our friend Venus we went over and visited the other old and famous statue of the Greek Goddess of victory, Nike. She was a gift after a large naval battle. We'd both seen the pictures of her before, but to see it in person was really cool because the whole sculpture is actually three separate pieces of stone and it is incredibly huge. The tour kept discussing how difficult of a task it must have been to have everything end up in perfect balance given the weight of her wings and the large size of the whole statue and base. It was really a neat thing to see.

After Nike we just walked around a little bit more and looked at some other painting and sculptures. There was soo much to look at that there was no way we could have done it in one day. We stopped and looked at the two biggest paintings in the collection and man they were huge! Quite incredible the level of detail involved in making such a large work of art.

The Wedding Party

The Coronation of Napoleon. This painting has a lot of family baggage in it. In the end it really isn't a true representation of the actual event, but more so a very rosy picture of how Napoleon would have wanted the event to look like. Basically it was photoshopped but 19th century style.

After taking in about 5% of what the Louvre had to offer we went back to the hotel to get ready for our soirée. We bought tickets on Bateaux Mouches for a dinner cruise on the Seine river. It was an experience that we won't soon forget. The food was great, the views were beautiful, and to have a really nice meal without having to force feed an 18 month-old was priceless.

After the cruise we called it a night and headed off to bed. We had quite the day and we were looking forward to a full night's rest.

Day 2

After not rising at the crack of dawn -like little kids love to do- we had a delicious breakfast at our hotel and headed out to visit the Paris Christmas Market. In Europe there are generally Christmas Markets in the majority of all large cities. The markets are set up with lots of little booths and various vendors come and sell food, gifts, Christmas stuff, etc... The Paris Christmas Market was set up all along the Champs-Élysées and it went on forever. A lot of the stuff being sold was definitely made in China, but there was some local artisans and craft makers setup throughout the market.

We bought a few things and headed back to the hotel for a short nap (something that we don't get very often at home). After the nap we went back out and went back to the market for dinner. There were various food vendors and we really were craving some good Thai food. We were not let down and we really enjoyed having authentic curry and pad thai.

We both have begun to really take notice of how American food and culture is perceived in Europe. If you had to think of how to describe America how would you do it?

Well in Europe (at least everywhere we've been) they think all we eat is hamburgers, fries, wear cowboy hats and listen to country music. At this market we laughed at the main food vendor who was showcasing American cuisine.

After dinner we had just enough time to take a walk down to the Eiffel Tower and then it was time to head back to catch our train.

By the end of the trip, we were both glad we had come, but one of us was particularly worn out! Maybe the long stroll over to the Eiffel Tower was just a little too long :)

Location:Paris, France