Life in Luxembourg

Tis the Season

It’s easy to get preoccupied with logistics when you have a big life event like a m-o-v-e on the horizon. So many of you have asked how the boys are doing with the upcoming move to which I’ve consistently answered, “Great!” It’s true they are excited but also…

My 10 year old told me this week: “At school we were talking about if we won a prize and could have anything, what would it be? My answer was a week in Luxembourg with my big brother, my cousins and all my (extended) family. I thought that would be better than a mansion, a Lexus, or a lifetime supply of fruit.” Because who wouldn’t consider a lifetime of fruit? But much more than the punchline, Lawton understands that when we leave a place we want to savor it with those we love so they will know the backdrop for the stories we will tell long after we’ve gone.

And tonight my 8th grader told me: “I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to be different – like how I am going to change my personality - at my new school.” And when he spoke it I had this flash of a memory that somehow hadn’t surfaced until now. I too moved in the middle of my 8th grade year – moving from White Sands, New Mexico to Norfolk, Virginia – and had that exact same conversation over and over with my 13 year old self. I had no idea what logistics my parents were dealing with but I was acutely aware of the fact that I was being handed a golden opportunity to redefine myself (or so I thought.)

Ohhhhh. To really understand your child, my Colin, exactly where they are - even for a moment - is such a gift.

And because I have walked the path he will be walking so very soon, I was able to suggest that there is a gift waiting for him too. That while he will be able to make a new first impression and emphasize or de-emphasize certain parts of himself, it is impossible to rewire a personality (I tried it and failed.) We are who we are and not only are we beautiful but we’re also equipped in a certain way for the work only we can do. When I told him I didn’t think he needed to change anything about his personality he responded with a multilayered, “Thanks.” Because when you’re 13 years old, your insides are raging and awake while your outside self is working hard to keep it casual.

To know your child is on the brink of an experience that will mean more than your inadequate words ever could … is yet another gift.

Tis the season to behold all that is good.

Visas and Other Setbacks

Have you ever had a setback where the thing itself has been discouraging but your ungraceful, arms flailing response to it has taken you even further down the rabbit hole? Where you thought you were engaged in an interior practice to prepare you for moments like these only to discover that freaking out comes more naturally to you than breathing in?

That was my week. It started in Paris of all places. At the UK Visa office. It’s a long and complicated story and not worth rehashing here except to say that we’ve had a major setback with my Visa after weeks of preparation and a 70 page application because I didn’t have one extra page in my passport. My husband tried to problem solve. I freaked out and only freaked out. Significantly enough for the woman at the Visa office to offer me a cup of water while a room full of people looked on. [Here’s where I’ve written and deleted the rehashing I promised not to do.]

Suffice it to say it was (and is) a legit setback that comes with a lot of rework, time, trains, money and risk to our scheduled move date. Plus cancellations of good things like my Going Away Brunch next Friday which I was so looking forward to. But here’s the thing: in the end, my problem is a paperwork problem. Chances are good that a few of the people who watched my freak out will have more than a paperwork problem. And yet.

Knowing that you’d think I wouldn’t have to move through the stages of grumbling but there I’ve been on the lookout tower waiting for strike two, three, four … finding them (of course!) and counting very loudly. For example, we were called to present ourselves at the Local Police Station at 2pm yesterday for an unpaid speeding fine that we never actually received … but that’s a story for another time.

We like to think we are sufficiently geared up to weather a storm so when we find ourselves unsteady in a rain shower it can be really discouraging. The discouragement can be strong enough to keep you sloshing around in sandals or hidden in your lookout tower. We seem to think if we didn’t have our big girl rain boots on when the rain started our lack of preparation has ruined us until this shower has passed.

It’s still drizzling over here but I’ve traded my sandals for big girl rain boots by doing a few things. I remembered how certain life events – the birth of a child, a marriage, a new job, a health crisis, a MOVE (ding, ding!) – are natural stressors and so our responses to big and small events around them will be understandably exaggerated. These are the stretches in life where it’s best to keep your rain boots on at all times and double down on your commitment to give yourself grace. Telling myself I’ve already made one international move and so this one should be “no big deal” or telling yourself the second kid should be easier because you’ve already had one is like trying to claim immunity from life.

I’ve also experienced how when we unload our frustrations (and failures in dealing with our frustrations) to our friends it’s like coming under their umbrella for a brief respite. Not only are they happy to share their umbrellas with you but many will offer to go puddle jumping with you. It is reason enough to get down from your lookout tower. Friends also are the best spotters of silver linings. We need each other all the time but especially when we are uncertain and discouraged.

Finally, I’m thinking we put too much stock in our first response and that we should be less surprised when we don’t live up to our unrealistic mantras. Our raw, sometimes profane littered reactions may need improvement but if life is about growing in maturity then we can narrow the gap by recovering more quickly. Opps goes a long way. Sorry opens the door you just slammed and others you didn’t even know were closed. If you believe (as I do) that we are a work in progress until our last breathe then we should really expect an imperfect response to every problem. We might be 80% on target but there is always room for improvement. So rather than looking for the next strike we could choose instead to look for the next opening.

It’s only been 24 hours since my visit to the Local Police Station and already I’m seeing the story in new light.

For the Love of Starbucks


I’ve embraced a lot about the European lifestyle. I get that a proper café au lait should be consumed sitting down with a ceramic cup and a biscuit. That cappuccinos aren’t ordered after noon in Italy. That the espresso closer comes not with but following the dessert and before the after dinner liquor. But sometimes you just need a strong Grande filter drip coffee TO GO before 9am. And after four years of dating around it’s probably ok to admit you prefer the familiarity and personality of Pike’s Place Roast.

So … I may have a habit of occasionally driving unnaturally long distances on a motorway to one of the only two Starbucks in Luxembourg, specifically the one AT THE AIRPORT because it opens at 5am. As far as I can tell it’s also the only place in Luxembourg that isn’t a hotel or gas station serving coffee before 8:30am. The excursion takes both commitment and courage. You must park in the short term parking lot, jog lightly to the terminal, pray for a short queue and not be distracted by the Duty Free Shop or the fact that you are mingling with passengers in their traveling finest while you’re barely one degree past pajamas.

As a straight up filter girl without the need to burden the coffee bar, I usually can get ‘er done before my €5 filter coffee all of sudden jacks up to €7.50 at exactly minute sixteen. (There is no grace period where parking lots, parking meters or parking dials are concerned here.) But I’ve also learned to abort mission when the line is too long or there are obvious SBUX rookies ahead reading the menu or trying to find the tea selections. I also know I’ve been in line too long when I dare to want to try the pumpkin bread or muffin again, hoping for a better (butter) outcome.

This morning I made the trek through traffic – for the love of Starbucks - after I dropped the boys off at school. There was no queue which means I had time to have my beans ground and because I was dressed presentably even pop into Duty Free for a squirt of perfume. Now awake and smelling lovely, I situated my Grande drip in my car cup holder for the journey back across town for some errands at a local mall. I drank slowly, savoring every sip, extending my TO GO pleasure into the mall.

I know this may sound like an exaggeration but this was my first time grocery shopping in Luxembourg accompanied by the green and white Siren cup. It was such a little pleasure and reminder of home. But in a culture where coffee is a ritual and not something to be multi-tasked, grocery carts don’t come equipped with handy cup holders. As it turns out, navigating a cart and a hot cup of coffee requires more coordination than I’ve been gifted so I shortened my list and persevered all the way to the cash wrap.

One of the funny things about Luxembourg is that in the big hybrid grocery/homeware stores like Target you must do a bag check at one of the two main entrances before entering. They aren’t looking for weapons, they’re looking for openings. Whatever bags you’ve accumulated while shopping at the mall are either stapled shut or vacuum sealed or put in another bag that can be stapled shut. And while it doesn’t happen every time, they also mark any plastic bottle you walk in the store with. They are very serious about this business which presumably is intended to prevent theft and for whatever reason(s) has spilled over into water bottle vigilance.

Without any consideration that I could have possibly broken any rules, I show up to the cash wrap with this cup. It doesn’t take a close inspection to conclude:
a) This paper cup with a well-protected US based logo has not been been stolen from this store.
b) It has clearly been through an ordeal to get here.
c) Someone went through the effort to put on lipstick this morning.
d) It cannot be stapled.

But it wouldn’t be a story if the cashier didn’t inspect my cup. She did. I didn’t follow everything she was saying because it was in Luxembourgish but it was clear I had missed the mark in understanding this cultural norm of bag checking extended to paper cups. It wasn’t a big deal – and it made me laugh a little – but I left feeling a mixture of how stupid a rule and how embarrassing to be called out. Four years after moving here.

I can’t help but think of others living in places as visitors like me, especially the refugees, where the cultural norms are drastically different and therefore the potential for misstep and embarrassment even greater. How when we have grown up in a place that like the cashier we would be quick to point out, with justification and in our language, what the rules are. The lengths I went to for a silly cup of coffee, a piece of home, are small but what the cashier missed – what I wonder if we all can sometimes be guilty of missing is that embracing a new place takes time and patience on both sides.

Yes, we need to follow the rules. We also need to give THE OTHER the benefit of the doubt. Most people other from us aren’t trying to lift what isn’t theirs. Anyone who has left their homeland has been through an ordeal to get here and if that move was forced upon them, chances are good that ordeal has come with a lot of cost, sacrifice and suffering. Lipstick may signal that I’ve shown up ready for the day but effort comes in a million different forms. You had to be looking closely to notice the lipstick just like we have to look closely for how people are putting their best foot forward. Staples may be a strategy to try to keep things contained but some things – like a sloshing cup of coffee or a messy soul in a constant state of being emptied and refilled – cannot be stapled shut.

Berlin Marathon Weekend is Here!

Finally! The Berlin Marathon is this Sunday. I’ve done the training with Maureen and Holly but now all sorts of pains – both real and phantom – have been creeping in. A course of Advil is helping as is thinking about this:

My dear Dad has been living with Parkinsons for over 12 years. David Olmsted, the strong Army Officer who was always in PT ready shape my whole growing up. Though he is resilient and still playing some respectable golf, there are many, and increasingly more, hard days. Recently he has been having trouble walking and more specifically, stopping. He tells his brain he wants to stop which causes his legs to slow to a shuffle but his upper body doesn’t seem to get the message, intent instead on keeping the forward motion. It’s like a freight truck discovering too late the brakes don’t work.

But as people who love you do, before I could swallow the latest devastation of his disease, he brightly told me he found a work around. He said as long as he tells his brain to “stride out” instead of “stop" his lower body keeps from shuffling and he is able to stay upright through a stop. This simple instruction to his brain has made a huge difference. It reminds me that our brain is a powerful thing with more connection to our bodies than we will ever understand.

If my heroic Dad can find a work around surely I can too. Conventional wisdom might suggest that short choppy steps of a shuffle might be more cautionary and appropriate when you see a road block ahead but the upper body – the residence of the head and heart – have other ideas. Whether it’s a progressive disease like Parkinsons, a task beyond your capability like a marathon, a dream with no discernible progress -- when stopping is all you want to do – the better thing to tell yourself (assuming you are not directly facing a brick wall – “the imaginary wall” does not count here) is to stride out. It just might be the difference between a graceful finish and a broken rib.

Thanks to all those who have supported me through donations for the awesome cause of World Vision, friendship runs and encouragement. It means so much! And Daddy, I’ll especially be thinking of you as I stride out those last miles on the pavement.


I'll be running with Team World Vision! 

Our big boy is off to college!

As this space has become my journal of our life abroad, it would be incomplete without mentioning the monumental event of our first born leaving for college.

Graduation Day: June 4, 2016 @ International School of Luxembourg

International School of Luxembourg Graduation Day, Part 1: The Ceremony. 94 graduates representing 25 countries. Well done on completing the IB program graduates! Part 2 Dinner and Dance to follow.

Father/Son Weekend: June 19, 2016 @ Austrian Alps

I think he's having a good Father's Day.
In the mountains (somewhere in the Austrian Alps) on a bike with his son right now.
Thank you Brett Ballbach for giving us this life of adventure.
We ❤️ you.

Drop Off Day: August 18, 2016 @ University of Southern California

Move in day for Quinn.
We are all here.
The sublime work of parenting is a steady diet of letting go but this release takes your breath away.
Even when you know they are ready.
It's like having their past, present and future all come into sharp focus and auto play at the same do-not-blink moment.
Diapers to diplomas to discoveries.
And because of that overactive sense of time, you try to keep it together with small talk and too many questions about what they still need for their room (a coverlet?)
But ... Because your 18 year old child's heart has been shaped by you, and you them, they won't be fooled and will know to smile at your nervous questions, hug you really tight and send you off with a short Amazon shopping list.
And you will also know to not, under any circumstances, add a coverlet to that list.

Re-entry Day: August 24, 2016 @ Luxembourg

Here's what not to do when you get home jet lagged without your husband less than 18 hours before your children start school: walk into the room of the child who has just left for college.  It was the Steph Curry posters that did it. An ugly cry so loud it traveled the apartment.  But then there appeared my sweet, freshly showered 9 year old at my side. Gently he wiped the mascara off my face and said, "It's ok Mom, you still have me. And you're only half way done with me."  I may not have back to school supplies yet or clean laundry or well rested kids today, but our long group hug and conversation in big brother's bed last night was maybe the best way to kick off a new school year.  And it's a bonus that I'm up at 5am. 4th and 8th grade start today and both have found a clean outfit.

Camille Bloom: Luxembourg House Concert

Nowadays with time in such short supply we leave less to chance. So imagine getting an invitation to a House Concert (a what?) in Luxembourg (where?) with a musician from Seattle (who?) for Sunday night, June 19 (during end of school year/I need a vacation crazy?) You might be understandably counting the hours (and cost) and politely take a rain check. I might have too had I not been the co-host.

In retrospect, I probably wasn’t the most qualified co-host. I had never been to a House Concert. I don’t even know that many people in Luxembourg. I’m not in music circles (except in my own head.) And though I’d spent a cherished 3 hours with the way cool Camille Bloom on a layover in Luxembourg last summer thanks to a mutual friend who connected us (Cindy Randles Hagen), I had never heard her perform.

I had of course listened to her gorgeous, lyrically rich music and was a fan. I also stumbled on an April article the Seattle Times wrote about her recently released album “Pieces of Me” entitled "Camille Bloom May be the Next Great Seattle Singer-Songwriter.” (Wowza! – as Seattle is kind of proud about their music) but not even that high praise can capture the surprise it is to listen to Camille perform live. They say that your first concert is always the best and the chances of having your mind blown decreases with every concert because you’ve had more experiences. Whoever said that is wrong because they haven’t heard Camille perform 10 feet in front of them yet.

John O’Donohue, the Irish Poet, said, “I would like to live like a river flows, carried by the surprise of its own unfolding.” For twenty of us on Sunday, June 19th at Eugénie Jactat Krampe's house in Luxembourg, we were carried by the goodness of Camille Bloom’s talent through a set of acoustic songs that touched on big dreams, cell phones, friend crushes, gluten, long term love and garden TV.

Her voice is soaring, her lyrics poetic, and her storytelling between songs so genuinely real and funny. In a previous life Camille used to be a high school English teacher which means she knows both the power of words and wit and how to command a stage. She also knows how to rock the polyester shirt. You might say that after performing for more than 20 years Camille knows how to connect with an audience but it’s more than that. Camille, full of a radiating joy, knows how to open up a room of strangers and make them feel like family.

Though Camille can and does play bigger venues she says that House Concerts remain her favorite because of the intimacy she can create with her audience. I doubt an artist with only talent would say that. You have to be an artist with both talent AND a spirit of generosity to give yourself over in that way. As Camille says her songs aren’t really sad or really happy, they are somewhere in between - where most of us spend our time and energy. So … imagine getting an invitation to sit on someone’s couch to listen to the stories of life performed with way more poetic language and potentially, because you are in the company of others who seem to be nodding in affirmation, an incremental shard of hope or cathartic chuckle.

Some of you reading this may have that invitation in your inbox for her last concert on this European Tour this June 24 in Haarlem, The Netherlands – so my good word to you is this: Don’t miss it! (And hopefully it’s not sold out.)

For my Luxembourg friends, thank you for coming! AND good news is that Camille is hoping to come back to Luxembourg again next summer. Eugenie has made Camille promise to let her host again.

For everyone else, do that thing you do when you want to support local musicians doing their thing and doing it their own way. Buy and listen and share and say thank you!

Camille's Website

Mumford & Son: Dusseldorf, Germany Concert Review

There is music that is fun to listen to, music you can appreciate, music you can’t escape and some music that moves you.  The music of Mumford & Sons is like that for me.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that I most often listen to them in the forest running with the earth below my feet, a dance of light and dark flickering through the trees.  Though all bands have their haters, especially bands who make obvious musical departures like Mumford & Sons did on their 2015 “Wilder Mind” album, I know I’m not alone in saying this.

For music that routinely lifts you out of the rut of the ordinary, there is no better legit test than seeing your Band Crush play live.  I got to do that on May 14 in Dusseldorf, Germany for the second half of Mumford & Son’s Wilder Mind Tour.  Curious as to how their old folksy infectious sound of “Sigh No More” and “Babel” would intermix with the new powerhouse rock sound of “Wilder Mind” in the context of a live performance, the answer is: really good.   Like the wide arc of most their songs which take you low, high, then round again, the juxtaposition of style kind of just fits.  After opening with “Snake Eyes” and two more songs from their new album, the German crowd – demonstrating their first love - roared their belated welcome with the knee-slapping, banjo-infused, drop the F-bomb classic “Little Lion Man.”  Bouncing between the new and old material with an almost 50/50 split made for a richly varied and never boring nineteen song concert.  If anything, it left you wanting more of the songs they didn’t have time to play.

In contrast to my last recent dome-sized show with U2, this show was less about high production value with slick lighting and videography and more about the straight up music.  Marcus Mumford, who looks ridiculously like Alec Baldwin from a distance, can certainly carry a large venue with his smooth vocals and energy.  No lackey to the demands of the stage, the only knock was the band seemed like they were still adjusting to a less intimate venue.  This seemed most obvious to me when Mumford decided to crowd surf the entire arena during the song “Ditmas”which looked like both a security nightmare and watching an out-of-shape guy with a guitar run a 5k.  I noticed it again before the encore when the band played an acoustic set of “Timshel” (one of my favorites) and “Cold Arms” which was beautiful but interrupted by a few drunken fans able to hide from public hushing in too cavernous a space.

As someone who has no ear for notes or musical composition (even saying that string of words together feels like I’ve done it wrong), I do like words.  Marcus Mumford apparently does too as his lyrics matched with a rollercoaster ride of instruments invites a kind of searching.  There is a quality, not in every song, but in many of them that cause the listener to stop, listen and even yield.  Weirdly, it can happen among a community of arm-swaying people not in your own country just as easily as it can in the quiet of a forest.  When music is rooted in some reality, whether we understand the artist’s precise worldview, a redirection of spirit can happen.  Though Mumford resists the Christian label, for me whether consciously or not, his music moves me closer in my relationship with Jesus.  While I and others may hear deep calling to deep in their music, others may only hear the tambourine or a shout of surface emotion.   Regardless, we are all fans and fans love the reciprocity of a live performance rooted in something. 



When I first moved to Europe, a French woman told me something I didn’t yet have the experience to understand. Having been an expat in the US for many years but now back on her home turf in Europe, she said many of her friends here are expats because “Once you’ve had an adventure, you find yourself drawn to other adventurers.” More than language or cultural similarities, her “people” have become those with the shared experience of having lived as a fish out of water.

I get it more now. There is the opportunity for the relational concentration of the college years mashed together with the vulnerability of the middle school years for those willing to genuinely forge new friendships while living abroad. Making new friends in a culture that applauds a slow lunch and frowns at a to-go cup of the coffee is valuable lubricant for conversation with the potential to go beyond the surface. And in the absence of nearby family and a network of long standing friendships, 1) “Sorry, I’m busy” is a well-known lie and 2) shallow swimming ain’t gonna satisfy for long.

The downside of friendships established over new peaks and unknown valleys are that the goodbyes hurt a little bit more. Next week I say goodbye to these two beautiful women, Holly and Heidi, who have seen me through the good, bad, ugly, confusing and humiliating for the past two years. They have also graciously kept me from gaining twenty pastry pounds because I am far more faithful with exercise when they are around.

My oh my have they both adventured well. Not only have they taken the tosses and turns of a new everything in stride, but they happily hit the pause buttons on their careers (as a scientist and a Ph.D., respectively) to anchor their families here in Luxembourg and literally pour themselves out as a blessing to so many. I am but one of those grateful recipients.

So for you in Seattle and Iowa that get them back, my heart does sing for you. They are ready to be back home with you, dare I say more deeply alive than even before, and I happen to know – fully equipped to make you an excellent cappuccino in a “for here” cup.