Marking Time

We are still in Austin! I know this has confused more than a few of our friends this week, so I’m here to clarify our status. I hope.

According to Not-Helpful Nora*, the person in charge of submitting and (hopefully?) notifying us when we’ve gotten through the first hoop of the immigration process, our paperwork was submitted to Belgian Immigration on December 31. This part of the process takes 4-6 weeks. Once that is completed, we will need to present ourselves in person at the Belgian consulate in New York City. Nora didn’t mention the need for a trip to New York until I specifically asked her when we could move. I asked whether February 10 would be a reasonable date, to which she replied that would be “ambitious” and then wrote that we would need to go to NYC. Every encounter with Nora seems to involve her throwing up her hands as though she’s surprised we have a question and is then followed by a new hoop we need to pass through in order to proceed. The hoops have been getting progressively larger up to this point. She’s not my favorite.

Today, I emailed Nora, who is out of the office. Thankfully, our ACTUALLY helpful Human Resources person at Todd’s office sent me the following message:

Since [Nora] is in the UK she might not respond until tomorrow.   I can give a little bit of information on your email.  As the application was filed on Dec 31st they attorneys feel like we will have the approval between January 31st and February 15th.  Once it has been approved it will take a few days to get in the system so at this time we are targeting mid February.

Below is the list of items that you will take with you to the appointment in NY.  Several of the items the attorneys have and they will be sending back to you.  My understanding is there is a link to make the appointment but you can do that until you have the approval.

Okay, back to Heather’s voice. I am hoping we’ll have most of this resolved by February 15. That is the date I’m bearing in mind as I try to sit on my hands and wait patiently.

This week, the kids have gone back to Treehouse. They need some routine and they’ve missed their friends. It’s good to have them back there and walking back in there Tuesday morning felt like a giant hug. Yesterday, we hosted our monthly book club party at our house. The party was exactly what my soul needed. And tomorrow we have a field trip with our Treehouse friends. Frankly, while I’m waiting to leave, I am deeply enjoying the relationships we have with friends here in Austin.

I promise to let you know more as soon as I know what’s happening!

* Not her real name…

London En Route to Belgium

We landed in London late last night after an overnight stay in Chicago. I would say which days they were, but frankly I’m not sure what today is! I know I’m on my second morning without snuggles from my babies… Today we leave for Belgium, though, and I couldn’t be more excited!
It has been a thoroughly interesting trip so far. I packed 2 small bags. 

It was exciting even before we left Austin because I packed in such a hurry that I forgot several essentials, including my airplane boarding pass! I also neglected to pack dress shoes, toothbrush, face wash, all moisturizers, and a comb/brush. Thankfully our hotel in Chicago was close to Target…
Chicago was a fun place to land for an accountant. The whole city is set up on a grid, so there were lots of rows and columns.
We flew out bright and early yesterday morning for London Heathrow. We flew Business Class thanks to Todd’s system-wide upgrades and it was an easy trip with movies and ebooks for entertainment. Fully-reclining seats didn’t hurt, either.

We navigated Heathrow with no major challenges, caught the Heathrow Express (train) to Paddington Stain, took the Underground to King’s Cross and stayed in the smallest hotel room I have ever seen. The bathroom door didn’t fully open because it ran into the foot of Todd’s bed, but we were thankful to have a private bathroom. It was clean and the beds were comfy with lovely down blankets. We even slept with the window open because Europe.

The lighting situation caused a great deal of hilarity last night at 12:45 a.m. as we were finally checked into our room and trying to get ready for bed. This is the light switch for the bedroom:
If you turn on switch A, the overhead light turns on. Switch B turns on the light over the mirror. Tap Switch A again to turn off both. Switch A can turn OFF both lights, but will only turn on the one. Then, because that wasn’t confusing enough, the lights in the bathroom were on a sensor, but we didn’t realize it when we originally opened the door. But we were in fits of hysteria trying to figure out how to get the room dark enough to sleep in it.
As we were in King’s Cross Station this morning, we had to stop for a quick photo or two. I was exactly this giddy to be here:
Sadly, as Muggles, we couldn’t breach the barrier.

This morning we were again on the move before the sun was fully up. As I type, we are on the Eurostar riding through the Chunnel. We have had a lovely breakfast and are awaiting our arrival in Brussels and then we will be off to Leuven.

Braving Brussels?

Todd & I leave for Belgium on Friday. The purpose for this trip is house-hunting. Unfortunately, we learned this morning that the place which looked to be the best fit for us is now under contract until April. In a perfect world, we’ll find a furnished 3-bedroom space with a reasonable commute for Todd. We had hoped to find corporate housing, but there are only a couple of places in Leuven which offer that.

We had our first contact with our realtor this morning. We will meet him in person on Monday and see what we can find. The realtor has told us that a couple of hours Monday afternoon will be plenty of time to see all of the options because there will likely only be 1 or 2. Fun fact: a “short” lease in Leuven is 3 years long!! People don’t tend to move as often, apparently.

The realtor also suggested we consider looking for a place in Brussels. This is less than ideal because it will mean a longer commute for Todd, but Brussels also looks beautiful, so that may be what has to work for us. We’d like to find something furnished with at least 3 bedrooms so we have room to homeschool without climbing on top of each other at every turn. Laine would also like us to live in a castle. I’ll keep you posted on how that works out…

Todd’s parents are going to stay with the kids in Austin while we’re gone. I am sure they will all have a great time while we’re gone, but I’m still a little nervous leaving my babies behind while I travel across the globe without them. We’ll be back next Wednesday and I am sure we’ll all have grown and learned new things in the interim.

Meanwhile, I recommend that you brace yourselves. I will be arriving in Leuven (and maybe Brussels) for the first time this weekend. I am sure I will be posting alllllll the pictures on social media and will try to blog about some of my first impressions.

From my previous post:

I *think* all of the paperwork we need to file has been completed and turned over to the people who are working through the immigration process on our behalf. We’ve been reviewed by the FBI, examined by our doctors, and met with the surveyor to review what we can air-ship. (They think the 2 crates will weigh less than 200 pounds. I think they don’t understand how many books and games we use for homeschooling).

We have a great friend lined up to house-sit in our absence. This is a huge answer to prayer – for her and for us!

I finished Laine’s quilt and I’m cutting the fabric for Isaac’s. No pressure there…

It appears Alexa will work in Belgium.

Planning Phase

Hello and welcome to my first post under the new title of the blog. If you’re not already aware of this exciting new chapter for the Walter family, we are moving to Leuven, Belgium for about 6 months. Todd is going to be the integration manager at a branch of National Instruments in Belgium. We leave January 28 and expect to be back here in time for the kids to return to our beloved Treehouse Learning Community in September 2019. 

We are so excited to be going on this grand adventure! Hopefully these blog posts will help you keep up with us. I will also post plenty of photos and updates on social media. This blog should give you more depth about life in Leuven and the many travels we hope to take while we’re living in Europe.

If you haven’t heard about what we’ve been doing, well… that’s because we’ve been so busy doing the things that we haven’t had much time for other things. Belgian immigration is no joke. There are a lot of hoops to jump through! So far:

1. We’ve asked Todd’s parents to take care of our sweet Jackson while we’re gone. Leaving our 11-year-old “baby” behind is definitely the hardest part of this entire process. I met with the vet last week and she assured me that leaving him with people who love him is the right thing to do. 16+ hours of travel, potentially both to move there AND to move back, in addition to quarantines is going to be too much for our little old man.

2. Todd and I have both had medical exams and gotten officially signed documents from our doctors that we’re safe to travel (or allow into Belgium). 

3. We’ve been fingerprinted by Williamson County Sheriff’s Department and submitted those fingerprints to the FBI for background checks. The fun part of this is that the FBI is going to mail us the results of these checks, but we’re not allowed to open the envelopes before submitting to Belgian immigration. I sincerely hope the return address label says “Federal Bureau of Investigation” so we don’t make a mistake.

4. Requested (and, thankfully, received) new copies of both kids’ birth certificates as well as our marriage license. Here’s a fun fact! They needed birth certificates to have been printed within the last five years and the marriage license had to have been printed within the last one year. Huh?

5. Scheduled an appointment with the kids’ pediatrician and a notary to get their official medical approval to move to Belgium. That should happen this afternoon.

6. Met with a moving surveyor to discuss what things we can send in a “small air shipment” in addition to what we can fit in our suitcases. I think we’re going to need bigger suitcases AND those nifty vacuum-sealing bags for our clothes. And possibly a temporary gym membership so we can haul a bunch of stuff through the airport. I’m hoping we can ship most of the homeschool books, however, so we aren’t carrying those.

7. Booked flights for Todd and me to travel to Belgium in early January so we can house-hunt. The kids are going to stay home with Grandma and Grandpa.

8. Discussed travel to about 1,000 different places! On the list of possible options: Poland, Macedonia, Denmark, Ireland, Croatia, Spain, Switzerland, and Italy. Places we’ll definitely go: Bruges (in Belgium), The Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and Germany.

9. The kids and I have started Dutch classes through Pimsleur audiobooks. I understand that nearly everyone can speak English, but I’d like to try to learn the language of the place we’ll be living. I am also considering trying to find Flemish (Dutch) classes for us once we’ve moved.

Todd’s in Belgium this week so he could be there for the signing of the documents that will allow us to move. It’s official! The documents have been signed and we will soon be on our way.

A few things are still in the hopper:

1. Figure out who is going to live in the house while we are gone. There are a couple of people who’ve asked us about it. I hope we find the right arrangement. We don’t want to leave the house sitting empty for half of a year.

2. I am making new quilts for both kids so they’ll have them in their new rooms. And I haven’t finished either one. This seemed pretty easy until I realized that I won’t be home for much of the month of January… If you see me on social media in the next few weeks, feel free to remind me of this. LOL!

3. Find out whether Alexa works in Belgium.

4. Setting up new bank accounts, finding jiu jitsu classes for the kids, and learning where eggs and milk are stored in the grocery stores. 🙂 And maybe a few other things…

5. Scheduling our itinerary for your visit to see us.

England, Scotland, and In Between

We had an amazing trip to the U.K. to visit our friends Kyle, Maureen (Mo), and Zoe.  We left last Wednesday and arrived late Thursday morning at Heathrow.  Our flight left Austin at 6:00 p.m. and from there we flew from Dallas to Heathrow (about an 8-hour flight).  Isaac was great on the plane.  He was awake for the first couple of hours, but then slept for about the last 6.  He had a tough time waking up when we actually landed in Heathrow, which made for an interesting de-boarding process.  From the airport, we got through customs and immigration fairly quickly, which was a nice surprise because there had been a strike of customs/immigration employees the previous day and there had been warnings of 12-hour waits which, thankfully, never materialized.  We then caught a bus from the airport to Reading and a train from Reading to Newbury followed by a taxi to the Voosens’ house.  🙂  Isaac was a great traveler and even took a short snooze on Todd on the bus.

Thursday, we walked around Newbury a bit and Mo and Zoe kept us as awake as possible so that we would be able to sleep that night.  Isaac went to bed super early that evening, he even fell asleep in the stroller as we walked to dinner and didn’t wake up until we were leaving the restaurant!  Todd and Kyle went out to a local pub to see one of their coworkers play in a band.  Mo and I stayed up too late and chatted.

Friday, we decided to stay in Newbury again and we walked up to Donnington Castle, which is about a 2-mile walk from Kyle & Mo’s house.  It is really fun to be able to walk across town to see where a castle once stood!

Isaac enjoyed stretching his legs once we got to the castle and was eager to explore.

He didn’t want to be still for a family picture!

Zoe showed Isaac some new places to check out:

…and of COURSE he enjoyed climbing on the rocks!

He is much more sure-footed upon returning to Austin after all of his practice climbing.

After our castle exploration, we walked down to a little pub where we all had an outstanding lunch.

Saturday, we packed quickly and left for the train station.  Off to Scotland!  It was a long train ride up on 3 separate trains.  The kids were both terrific.  Mo was a saint and actually walked a restless Isaac up and down the train a number of times.  We were all glad to finally arrive in Edinburgh.

The first day in Edinburgh, we walked up to the castle.  It was snowing when we woke up, but warmed up to be a wonderful day for walking.  The stroller we borrowed for Isaac had a plastic rain cover, which worked well for keeping him warm as we walked.  He was a trooper for being in the stroller as much as he was.

One of the many beautiful, snowy buildings we encountered in Edinburgh.  I can’t remember whether this was part of the university…

Family photo as we climbed up one of the hills in Edinburgh:

Amazing view!  You can just see the ocean in the distance.  It’s the patch of blue in the very center of the photo.

Zoe, Maureen, Kyle, and Todd all climbing up to the castle.  Todd is pushing Isaac in the stroller:

View of the city and the mountains in the distance as seen from the castle grounds:

Statue of the real (non-Mel Gibson) Braveheart:

Chilling, quite literally, in his stroller:

Checking out the snow:

Stretching his legs after the stroller ride up to the castle:

Father and son looking out towards the ocean:

Checking out the view through one of the cannon holes:

The view they saw:

In spite of the amazing views, Scottish crown jewels, and fascinating history, this was Isaac’s favorite part of the castle:

Other sights around Edinburgh:

I loved this clock.  It’s at least tall enough for a person to walk into it.

After a long day, we went back to relax at the apartment.  I love this picture of Zoe, Maureen, and Kyle!

Mo also played with Isaac quite a bit when the menfolk went to check out a local brew pub…

After our time in Edinburgh, we took the trains back to England.  We left just in time.  The following day, there were winds measuring 165 mph at the top of the castle in Edinburgh!  They stopped running all of the electric trains and had only diesels.

On Wednesday, the Voosens and Walters (Team Texas, as Kyle dubbed us) headed to Bath.  I somehow managed not to take a single photo as we walked through!  The city has a fascinating history, which we learned on one of the free walking tours they offered.  I didn’t realize Jane Austen had lived there.  We also learned some interesting things about a “window” tax that was once in effect.  Homes were taxed based on the number of windows.  The residents ended up either bricking over windows or moving them closer together in some cases (if they were less that 1′ apart, they could be treated as one window).  It was really amazing and I’d love to go back some day.

While in Bath, Mo wanted to check out this really neat light installation that was done near one of the local restaurants.  I don’t know that the photos do it justice, but it was just stunning.  They had used fiber optic cables to connect all of the bulbs, so the lights changed colors and so did the cords connecting them.

On our last day in England, Todd, Isaac, and I headed out on our own.  We toured Salisbury Cathedral, which I again forgot to photograph.  The history there was also pretty amazing.  We got to see the Magna Carta and hear some facts about what its original purpose was (hint: it was NOT to help the common man). There was a pretty nifty display within the cathedral showing how it was built in only 38 years.  Given that it was built in the 1200s, that is pretty impressive!  It was originally intended to have a modest spire.  About 100 years afterwards, they added a new, huge spire.  Apparently no one did the math to be sure the current structure could support the new spire.  It couldn’t!  Even though they have since braced the original supports, the spire still tilts 2 1/2 feet.

Finally, we toured Stonehenge.  It was interesting to see, but I was surprised to find that I already knew most of what we learned on the audio tour.  It is mostly speculation about who used the stones, how, and why.  I did enjoy hearing some of the theories on how they got the upper stones into place.  The answer is apparently not giants…  🙂

It was INCREDIBLY windy at Stonehenge.  Todd carried Isaac about half-way around in the Ergo.  We then let him stretch his legs and run a little bit.  He got blown over a number of times, though he seemed to think that was just part of the fun.  We got in the car to head “home” just before the rain started.  Perfect timing!

We had an outstanding trip and I can’t wait for our next adventure.  It wasn’t too hard to say goodbye to Kyle, Mo, and Zoe because they’ll be staying at our house in another 3 weeks or so.  I am eager to see them again!