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As I prepare for my first solo trip with my son to the U.S. for a month long visit, lessons learned from our last vacation pop into mind. Below is the beginning of a blog I started after our five day May vacation: a low budget, whirlwind trip to Luxembourg, France and Belgium.

Luxembourg

An unscientific yet plausible way to measure your stress/chill ratio is to go on vacation– with a small child. The number of days it takes to let go of work and other stresses is the exponent of your stress. I discovered one dimension of the stress/chill ratio while sitting in a canopied restaurant deep in the valley of old Luxembourg.  The moment I completely enjoyed the Estaminet Premium Pils passing over my lips, while being not in the least annoyed that my son was filling my shoes with tiny pebbles, I had reached chill.

I’d like to say that on our May vacation I stumbled into chill and stayed, sucking up the foreign landscapes with the voraciousness of a crisp piece of bread descending into French Onion soup. But I didn’t. I vacillated between relaxed and mildly anxious about some nameless, yet poignant stress residue.

Oh Grasshopper, you might say, it is one of life’s great challenges to stay in the moment. Or if you were feeling wise but less sarcastic, life will always present stressful situations. It is how you react to these situations that will determine your stress/chill ratio.

And I would answer with my own scrap of truthful triteness: knowing these truths and acting upon them are two very different things.

The first morning when I awoke in Bertrange, Luxembourg in our friend’s guest room, I felt the relaxation percolating through my cells.  Not one wayward client plodded through my mind.

I must attribute part of this relaxed state to our host, Wim. When we arrived at 1:15am the evening before, he waved to us from his balcony. He welcomed us warmly and showed us to our quarters, making no fuss of our ridiculous arrival time. In the morning, he was gracious and relaxed as if he too were on vacation, not headed out the door for a long day’s work. His calm demeanor not only made my son feel at ease in an unfamiliar house, but set the tone for the day.

As we headed into the City of Luxembourg, the corset of stress I didn’t realize I had been wearing slowly unlaced, string by string. By the time we parked the car in the deep valley of Luxembourg filled with old buildings and warm sunshine, I thought I had cast the corset aside. We walked along an old stone wall, an ancient city river below us and a high train bridge above. Sections of the old city topped by cornflower blue sky were elegantly framed in its arches.

“This would make a wonderful picture, don’t you think?” I said as I retrieved my camera. I’m on vacation. It’s sunny. Life is good.

“Yeah. If you want to take a shot that’s been done a million times before. It’s hardly original,” commented my husband. I’d like to say I responded calmly, saying how I thought his comment was inappropriate. But no. Anger rippled through me and the imaginary corset, far from cast aside, constricted my ribcage, causing me to cough.

I can’t tell you exactly what words I spewed at him, but they were far from a shining example of the Non Violent Communication skills we’ve been trying to incorporate into our communication. This one little incident might have put a damper on our day had it not been for our son who snapped us back into the present with his glee and ability to be completely in the moment.

At other times, he was the little winged creature setting flame to my fuse. But both situations give you a chance to assess your stress. The deeper we settled into our vacation, the fewer times I found myself being reactionary.

France

When we opted for the low-budget motel in Nancy, France, rather than the architecturally refined lodging adjacent to a central monument, I experienced no longing. Instead, I followed my son’s lead.

“This is our new home! Look at the bath tub! Let’s take a bath and you can tell me a Scooby Doo Emmet and Ezra Ninja story in the bath tub.”

Cheap plastic drinking cups transformed into submarines and we taught orphan baby sharks how to hunt. After a leisurely bath and a stint at watching French adventure cartoons, we walked to the center and passed through the golden edged entry gates of Stanislas square. http://www.ot-nancy.fr/uk/centre_historique/place_stanislas.php

The Netherlands has beautiful squares with brick buildings and inviting terraces, but Stanislas square, built in the 1700s, presents an intentionally royal atmosphere. Designed to honor Louis the XV of France, the three-story white classical buildings with golden detailing exude nobility. Lavish fountains and golden gates catch the light of the street lamps throughout the square. It is a place to not only fall in love, but to fall in love with France.

As we dined in the square under the stars with hundreds of other tourists, the sun slowly set, washing the square in the deep magenta hues of a romantic evening. My son had his french fries, I, a large salad, and my husband ordered something called “steak tartare.”

As we waited for our food to arrive, sipping on chocolate milk, white wine and beer, the locals entertained us. No street musicians, but drunk university kids rushing fraternities. They ran around awkwardly, some smeared with paint on their faces, others arm in arm, escorting young men who should have stopped drinking a few flasks ago.

And then dinner arrived. French fries: check. Scrumptious salad: check. Steak tartare: what the hell? I stared at my husband’s plate and started to laugh.

“That looks like chopped up raw steak!” I gasped.

“It is,” he said calmly.

“And what’s that ocher yellow sauce next to it?” I asked.

“Raw egg yolk,” he mustered with less sarcasm. My husband likes his eggs over hard. Not sunny side up. Not easy. Hard. Not a single wiggle from the egg yolk.

“It’s very French,” he said. “And you have to get that look off your face if I’m going to be able to eat my dinner.”

I’m not sure what my look was, but I’m sure had he taken the shot, it would have been captioned “gastronomic horror.”

I did take a shot of his dinner (see slide show).

We rounded the evening off by standing in line with the other tourists from around the world for a scoop of ice cream, and then chasing Ezra around the regal square. The walk back to the hotel took us past flowing fountains, down stone lined streets, and then into the more modern, car lined area of our hotel. I’m guessing my sound night’s sleep in our cheap hotel was only somewhat attributable to a decent mattress.  The rest?  I was with my beautiful family, relaxed, and at peace after our glorious evening in Nancy, with more travel adventures on the horizon.

And Belgium still lay ahead! (I had written a long portion on visiting castles in Luxembourg and on Metz, France, but somehow, wordpress didn’t save it! The gothic cathedral and beautiful candles in the slideshow above were taken in Metz. If I have the heart, I’ll recreate that entry at another time. It is a stunning city worth writing about.)

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