This is America

Time keeps rolling on by…

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As is typical I’ve been busy with guests, work and fun day trips.  In two weeks it’ll finally be School’s Out for Summer!  I’m so looking forward to that.  Our trip to China and Korea seems like forever ago, but it was just last month.

I promised a post on South Korea and Hong Kong, so here’s a quick snapshot of the fun we had.

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Seoul and Hong Kong were our favourite places.  In part because they’re just easier to navigate.  There’s no strict visa process or censorship, there’s more English spoken, and our credit cards easily worked.  Seoul was the friendliest, quirkiest city we visited.  You’d think taking a tour to DMZ would be a somber event, but once you get over the barbed wire alongside the road (to keep North Korean soldiers from swimming in for an attack — a plan gone wrong for those swimmers) your bus pulls into, I shit you not, an amusement park.  Our guide told us it was for the young children of families visiting the area to either mourn the loss of relatives or feel closer to loved ones still on the other side.

The tour we took included a stroll into an infiltration tunnel (you can’t take pics), which I was really excited about until a few minutes in I realised I was going to have to walk like a hunchback for too long a time.  Um, those tunnels were not made for the tall folk.  But, it’s all good because our exhausted selves got to be entertained by our singing tour guide.

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Yep, we dodged mines listening to “Gangham style” and “I did it my way!’   It was so odd to be in such a serious, tense place (there are rules to follow and soldiers to do their thing) surrounded by so much touristy/silly things, but I think that might sum up Korea — mix in the fun with the serious.

We also got to go to a Korean baseball game (way fun and so much energy) and a Korean barbeque (yum yum!).  And, yes, we got to use high tech toilets (the fan is oddly refreshing) and see K-pop fashion.

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Hong Kong was oh so cosmopolitan and gorgeous.  We had an amazing day touring their Big Buddha and surrounding areas.  It was just stunning.

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There’s so much more I could tell you, but I’m tired from a day at work, so the pics will  have to tell the tale.  We’re hoping to visit both Hong Kong and Seoul again and do more touring around.  This trip was just a quick taste of what it was like, plus a chance to whoop it up with Jordy & Wilber and my buds based near (a few hours away) Hong Kong.

Before I close out, though, I do have to share some of the bizarre signs we saw.  LOL definitely lost in translation (or not …)

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But my favourite all time pic is this one from our last night in Korea.

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What you don’t see is the metal pole with a latch on the top. This is on the 9th floor of our hotel near the elevator.  Basically, if there’s a fire you’re supposed to hook yourself up to that rope, trust the metal pole and repel to safety.  Um, I guess it’s first man first live; everyone else gets to jump.

Next up?  Bonnie and Michael visit, and then we’re off to our summer travels.  Oh and Dou Dou fest is also just around the corner — another week of mayhem and dragons.

Some shit you should know before going to China…

 

IMG_9168We’re back into our real world again readjusting to our Belgian rhythm, and when I have more time this weekend I will tell you more about our trip.  While stuck in the airport (no offence China, but we will do our best to avoid ever having to layover in Beijing again), I wrote up my list of things you should know before going to China.  I’m sharing these bits to spare you from embarrassing moments like the one I had on our very hot, noisy, long, stiff-seated flight to China on a Chinese airline.

A parched me was overjoyed to see the flight attendant strolling the aisle with a tray full of water cups.  “Yes please,” I croak, only to find out it was a steaming hot cup of water — no tea, no coffee, just scalding water.  My crabby self didn’t edit or think when a little too loudly I blurted out “Why in the fuck would I want hot water?”

Turns out hot water with a slice of lemon is as common as ice water is to we Westerners.   It’s what you’ll get at restaurants too (although Westerners should stick to bottled water because our bellies can’t handle what comes out of the tap).

Be careful of the ice too.  A refreshing gin and tonic at a cafe bar in Beijing will not make (the next day) for a comfortable hike on the Great Wall —- trust me on this one.

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Which didn’t stop me from posing — lol going by my hand placement I’m not entirely sure I’ve got it under control. LOL nor is Joe, but hey we’re smiling!

img_9702Spitting and sucking one’s teeth is common place; chewing gum is low class or something rude like that.  Sitting next to men swishing spit between their teeth (or hacking it out on the sidewalk) was gross to me , but I’m sure there’s shit I did that they considered gross as well (eating with forks perhaps?).  Culture is a finicky cat —- oh and it’s totally cool to wear a bubble backpack and shove your cat in it while you stroll the city.  Don’t have a cat?  Go to one of the many cat cafes (also popular in Seoul and Hong Kong).  Cats are cool here!

And so are you!  OMG if you’re tall, fat, light eyed, light haired or black you will be stared at.  If you’re more than one of these things you will get pointed at.  You will also have couples come up to you begging for a selfie.  Others will still snap your picture, thinking you’re too high up to notice the camera is pointed your way.  Joe and I are Chinese Social Media super stars.  I’m sure there’s captions like “Look!  You can put lipstick on a Godzilla,” or “Fee Fi Fo Fum he didn’t eat me.”

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LOL even fat Buddha and his minions get stared at by standing Buddha…

If you book a hotel because you’re wowed by its pool pictures, do know that you will be expected to wear bathing caps while in that pool.  If the pool man says, “you want new or borrowed?” go for new.  We thought he meant disposable caps, but what we got were two wet bathing caps.

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And yeah you look like this —- new wouldn’t have helped us on this one.  Joe might divorce me for posting this pic.

Ladies work out your thighs.  Squatty potties are real; toilet paper is not.

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And food is racist…

Last but not least:  Don’t be fooled by the adorable little old ladies hobbling near you. They will smack you on the bum or push you in the belly to get ahead.  Turns out there’s old lady karma too because I accidentally pawed one in the face when she was trying to whiz past me going up the stairs to the Grand Buddha.  I had no idea she was down there.  I felt bad then, but by the time we got to our layover in Beijing I was so disgusted by being pushed and prodded.  All I wanted to do was windmill my arms to take out as many as I could.

Crowds are everywhere … it can be pretty intense

I always do my best to respect another culture, and I get that my way of doing things is not THE way of doing things.  But, I do not get what we experienced at the mosh pit of hell trying to board our plane.  I also do not appreciate the dirty looks I got from some passengers on the crowded, loud plane —- especially considering that these same folk were half my size and took up twice as much space and would not stop moving and talking.  So, yeah, I guess I’m still a little bitter about getting pushed.

Things we knew but also should be stressed:  Google maps or translate will not work in China, nor will your social media.  I downloaded WeChat so that I could communicate with my friends there. The language barrier is also as vast as the Great Wall. Traveling in China is not easy if you don’t know Mandarin.

If you leave the touristy areas make sure you have lots of cash on you because no matter how good your travel credit or debit card is it will not work in much of China.  Luckily we had friends who picked up our tab more than once and booked all of our didi (their version of Uber) rides.  We did not pull out enough cash, so shame on us for that one.

For Americans, the visa process can be complicated, BUT if you stay in Beijing for less than 72 hours (maybe it’s higher than that) and leave for another country (say Korea) and then pop back into Shanghai for less than 144 hours you will not need a visa.  You can get a transfer visa at the airport, but don’t expect friendly agents (then again isn’t that common in most airports?).

But it is all worth it to see sights like this and experience a life different than ours.

We’re still glad we went, and so glad we caught up with friends.  Spending time with our peeps, hiking the Great Wall (even with an angry digestive track), sipping champagne at the Hyatt rooftop bar in Shanghai, walking through the shopping village in Wuxi and spending the day at a Buddha park were all worth the inconvenience of being aliens in a place far from our own.  And we also met  many friendly, helpful locals who made us feel welcome in their land.  So thank you China for sharing your corner of the planet with us for a few days.

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Up next: Korea, Hong Kong and some of the oddities we met along the way.

Cheers from China!

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Today is our last full day in Wuxi, China.  We’ve been having a fantastic time.  Last week we landed in Beijing and toured the Forbidden City and Great Wall and stayed at a wonderful hotel where we were spoiled.  The Great Wall was so worth the long flight to China.  It’s a must do if you can do it!  Then we took off to spend some time with Jordan and Wilber in S. Korea, then took off for Shanghai and Wuxi.  I don’t have much time to write because we’re off on another adventure in a few minutes.

Yesterday we went to a Buddha “amusement” park, The Grand Buddha at Ling Shan, which was such a nice surprise.  The Buddha in itself is worth the trip, but there are garden trails and pagodas and other goodies throughout the park.  And, of course, we’ve been feasting and sipping all sorts of goodies.

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Including bubbly at the top of the Hyatt in Shanghai!

Okay, I’m rushed, so here’s your photo blast of some of the cool stuff we’ve gotten to see.  I’ll write more and post later —- including a Seoul post.

Beijing shots ….

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More Beijing — lol can you find Joe in the crowd?  And loved the pool at our hotel.  Below are Shanghai and Wuxi pics — including riding the subway.  LOL the hanging handrails kept bopping us in the face.  We also got to ride a bullet train, so that was fun.  You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the madness of public transport when you can’t read, write or speak the language — or use google translate.

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Oh, how I wish I could tell you more, but my crew is ready to get out and about.  So, next time I pop in I’ll give you more story.

Bottoms up…

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Shame on me for not posting most of February and all of March.  Work and life have been busy (I know you’re tired of hearing that excuse, but it’s true).  We’ve whooped it up around Belgium and Paris with friends who were visiting, we’ve gone to a few wine tastings and lots of dinners and local outings.

Same old, same old … but never dull!  Even a trip to the flower market could turn into bubbly on the curb — especially when the sun is out!

The Grand Place is all decked out for Easter, including a big ferris wheel, which I’d like to post pics of, but I’m sure it’ll be down before I get to it.  We’re leaving on Saturday for our big trip to Asia.  I’m really excited about it.  We begin in Beijing where we’ll see the Great Wall and Forbidden City, then we’re off to South Korea where we’ll whoop it up with Jordan and Wilbur and watch a Korean baseball game, imbibe at a Korean BBQ, do a DMZ tour and check out Seoul, then it’s off to Shanghai and then Hong Kong.  Every stop except Beijing includes fun time with friends, some of whom I haven’t seen since moving away from the UAE.  So, a busy, good time will be had.

Another thing I’m excited about is it’s Spring!  Days are blessedly longer and work is winding down (I’m already planning away for next year).  When we return from Spring Break, we have Game of Thrones parties, more friends visiting, weekend trips, Dou Dou fest (before that the Beer Fest!), more dinners and plenty of Grand Place adventures to look forward to.  And then it’s time to fly back to the states for the summer where I’ll get to swim with the grand baby, my kids and friends.  Let the warm days of fun begin!

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And while I like this picture: Adieu to the long dark days of winter.  LOL Winter is NOT coming here  — until November.

What a difference a day makes

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A view from our lobby window.  I absolutely LOVE The Hague.  Next time Joe and I go, we’ll stay at the beach.

I had a meltdown yesterday outside a clinic during a snow/rain storm, which really wasn’t a smart idea — who cries in the freezing rain?!  This morning I woke to a sunny morning: walked the dog, then snuggled up with my favorite blankie and a cup of coffee on my favorite chair, and just inhaled the peace and quiet.  I am once again happy to be alive and where I am in the world, but yesterday morning not so much.

Last week was one wave after another of highs and lows.  Two teachers and I took 27 students to The Hague for its annual Model United Nations conference.  It is an amazing experience for students; a complete drain on their teachers (but worth it when you see how much good it has to give our young).  Basically each kid there has a role to play, and they do it for an entire week.  Most of our kids were mock UN delegates for Peru or Armenia, two of them were also ambassadors for each country.  We also had a chair and a press photographer. Our kids, who are already part of an international school setting (with primarily European and North American countries), got to work with kids from all over the globe including South Korea, Egypt, Oman, Zimbabwe, etc. etc.  One of our kids was ecstatic he got to co-write a resolution with a Netherlands princess, the future queen — how cool is that?  But, just as enlightening, was the ability to work with kids from countries where the threat of violence, starvation, humanity’s uglies are all too real (and in today’s uncertain times I guess that includes us all, but you know what I mean).

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Go babies go!  Ambassadors from the countries and organizations they represented during the week.

I cannot tell you how much it fed my soul to see teenagers on crowded trams and busses or at corner cafes lobbying/debating/co-writing resolutions with other teens, some of whom they just met that day.  Like in the real world, their jobs did not end at 5 p.m.  These kids were coming up with solutions to real-world issues — if only they could take the reigns away from some of their adult counterparts, we might not be in the sticky wickets we are in today (let me have my pollyanna moment).

During closing ceremony speeches one boy stated that he got to work with a young man from a rival country.  He pointed to his committee teammate and said, “if war breaks out, I will not fight my brother.”  Moments prior I saw the breaking news flash on my phone about nuclear treaty breaks.

How is it that I live in a world where teenagers are the more mature ones?  And, I know it’s easier for them because they’re not in control of the real world.  It is just words and practice, but why can our politicians/leaders/whatevers not see each other as brothers and sisters and find a better way to resolve conflict?  I get it; life beats us up with real-world crap, but come on folks we can do this better.  We can model what we preach to our kids.

So, why the waves you ask?  Well, they are human teenagers and with that comes their drama (okay so maybe not so much different than adults), so we had a few mini crises to facilitate — none of which included drugs, alcohol or sex (thank God!).   And, then sadly we had a big tragedy that affected us all.  There was a death back  ‘home.’  We teachers had to quickly become stand ins for their parents and grief counsellors until we could bring them home (all the while working with parents, counsellors and admins via technology).  Families were told it was okay to come get their kids, but our students decided to finish off the week, so we all powered through, but it wasn’t easy.   We also had two sick kids and one sick teacher (me).

My breakdown at the clinic happened because I just needed some antibiotics but because I never made the time to register at the health clinic on base they cannot help me until Monday when they can put me into the system.  It’s totally my fault for not going there sooner.  I’ve been here a year and a half — hello? bitch, get your affairs in order.  I also could have gone to a local clinic (and friends offered to drive me), but I was so beat and the roads were tricky that I just didn’t have it in me.  Caving in to my inner drama queen:  I’d rather cry and be miserable, which is okay because Nurse Badger is keeping an eye on me — and honestly my thing is such a minor problem.

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And, yes, my Christmas tree is still up.  I’ll finally take the time to put it all away next weekend.  

It’s all good, I’ll get it taken care of tomorrow.  I’m still a very lucky woman because I do not get ill often, and when I do it’s nothing major.  I also had two friends come over last night to enjoy Indian take out and much-needed talk and laughter.  Life is good, even when it has its bad moments.  And, Good God, our young will one day take over and hopefully put us on a better path.

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Tomorrow these will be their seats for reals!

Let there be snow!

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Guess who got her first snow day?  Whoop whoop!  Badger and I joined friends for breakfast, then we walked the park and had fun watching the kids pummel each other with snowballs, came home, cleaned, sipped tea with Chris, and totally just enjoyed being alive and home on a cold, wet winter day.

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It’s so beautiful, especially early morning.  Now, that the day is almost over it’s slush and dirt snow.

Lol, that said, the dog isn’t a fan of the cold.  To get his perspective click on his pic below. img_7746.jpg

As usual, I’ve been busy with work and fun.  Before Kyle and Kendra flew back to Arizona we got to see the Niki de Saint Phalle exhibit at the museum across the street from me and the weirdest performance (think fantasy characters on acid) at the Collegial.  Both were a lovely way to end our time together, and I was melancholic when they left.  I so miss spending regular time with my babies.  I love this life of mine, but, well, you know, I want both worlds together.

Last weekend I spent in Amsterdam playing with friends.  I finally got to visit the Moco museum, which I’ve been wanting to tour forever.  I highly recommend.

Sorry, turns out I didn’t snap too many pics, but here are few Amstie goodies for you. Never a dull time there!

We also had our own Yellow Jacket protest here in Mons.  Laura and I were walking Cupcake and Badger and ran right into their parade.  We brought our dogs home to avoid the noise, and the protesters ended up walking right under my window.  No violence, just noise.

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It’s an interesting time to be aging.  So much anger and disappointment among many.  There’s a lot to be angry about.  I hope/pray/dance/beg/whatever it takes for my species to figure its shit out.  We have oh so much to be thankful for and in love with; may we remember that before we destroy it all.  {this is what happens when I have a day off to also sip tea and reflect]

My man is in the states, returning here March 1.  I’m not going to lie:  I LOVE having time alone (don’t worry I also miss him and love our time together too).  He’s catching up with friends and family while getting some of his stuff taken care of.  He finally got to meet Kaylene’s baby, and never has he looked sexier to me than in this pic right here…

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Torin says, “Badger you’ve got competition.  I’ve got him wrapped too!”

Next week I’ll be at The Hague all week watching some of our students play out their roles in Model United Nations.  It ought to be a great thing to witness — if teenagers only knew how much hope they feed me.  Keep it up, kids.

Well, it’s getting dark and drafty in my apartment.  Time to up the heat, light the candles, pour a hot bath and settle back into work-night mode.  Before I know it, it’ll be time for summer vacation again, and I’ll be back to cackling with my kids and friends.

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Here’s to our crazy pool time together, which will be here in a few blinks!

um, p.s., Snow Gods:  I’m totally good if you want to give us another Snow Day.  The pool can wait for that.

Happy New Year!

New Year’s Eve bubbly on Brussel’s Grand Place

This time next week Kyle and Kendra will be back in Arizona, Joe will be on a plane headed to Arizona (for a two month visit), and I will be busy at work.  BUT, that’s next week.  This week I’m still on holiday getting all snuggly with part of my family.

We’ve been busy living it up.  We’ve done weekends in Amsterdam, Paris, Cologne and Brussels, along with showing off Mons and Brugge — including lots of good cheer with friends.

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We’ve imbibed in a lot of goodness!  And, the obligatory tourist shots!

We also got to witness a little bit of the Yellow Jacket ruckus in Paris.  Our tour guide was more a fan of the protests than telling us interesting bits about the city, but it’s all good since it’s now part of our story.

The city was way less crowded than normal, and we saw the remnants of the violence that erupted prior to our visit, but we were lucky that no projectiles or fires took off where we were — just people chanting and parading for their something better.

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We also got to celebrate Lorayne’s birthday sipping champagne at the top of the Eiffel tower, so our story is always more full of happiness than its antonym.

On New Year’s Eve we joined the party at the Atomium, which was fun until, well, it wasn’t, but that too turned out okay.

The aerial dancers, music and fireworks show was amazing — and free to enter!  But, the trip home was insane.  I love Belgium, and I get it has its kinks, but promising free public transportation after midnight (in Brussels) and then not planning on crowd control eeze a problame!  

We got to the Tram station only to find a swarm of people like us trying to figure out where the damn line to get into the station was — instead it was just a mosh pit of hats and scarves pushing our way forward only to learn that the corner of the crowd we were in was ‘closed.’  Wtf did that even mean?  Long story short we have no idea what was going on inside the tram station, only that our asses weren’t getting in.  So, Kyle took over  the GPS and we began the alleged 1.5 hour walk to our hotel.  The goal was to hail a cab or jump on a bus or try out another metro station along the way.  LOL, but every bus that passed us was so packed with people their faces were literally squished against the windows.  They would have flipped us the bird — since we laughed at the insanity of it — but they were too packed in to be able to lift their hands.  I wasn’t handling the whole thing very well and was really pissed, but then it started raining, and I just gave in to it because what can you do?  Walk in, hopefully, the right direction, while packed taxis and busses pass you by — until Kyle managed to hail us our miracle cab.  

So, we brought in 2019 with amazing fireworks, a bit of a “wtf do we do now” panic, then relief thanks to a stranger, and then, finally, oh thank God we’re home.  That pretty much sums up our years, doesn’t it?

It’s all good because our story will always move forward, and that’s a great thing.  Cheers to all of you and all that the new year will bring us!

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And Auf Wiedersehen to the holiday season — we’ll catch you again in 11 months!

‘Tis the season!

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Okay, first off I know, I suck.  I missed sharing the entire month of November with you.  It’s not that I didn’t want to pop in here and tell you all about the cool things I get to be a part of, or that I haven’t been taking pics to post (I have plenty!) — it’s just that when I finally do have the time to type, my eyes are like “no way, woman!”  And before you know it I’m snoring alongside the dog and Joe —- seriously all three of us have our own little orchestra going.

Speaking of which, we did get to see the Russian ballet perform the Nutcracker in Brussels (sorry about that abrupt transition) — and while I’ll never regret going to the ballet, it was the first performance I’ve ever watched to canned music not alongside an orchestra.  It was lacklustre, BUT I got to go to the ballet in Brussels and that’s worth something.  We’ve also been busy doing all sorts of glass clinking and touristing thanks to friends visiting.  Thanksgiving week was busy, busy, busy with Suzanne and her beau flying in from Chicago, Jordan and Wilber from Korea, and Emilio from Phoenix.  Needless to say lots of laughs and feasting went on — lol never once having a turkey included, although we did get to eat delicious pheasant.

Last week of October, first few days of November I was home meeting my adorable grandson and spending time with my own children.  That time always goes by way too quickly, and I don’t have enough of it, but I’m grateful for every second of it.  Warning:  baby pic alert!  And, yes, I look at pics of him (and video clips Kaylene sends me) way, way, way too much —- cannot get enough of that face.  He’ll be walking the next time I see him in person.

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My Babies and their babies

As for life here, it’s beautiful.  I LOVE Christmas time, and Europe does it up right with the lights and Christmas markets.  So far I’ve been to the Christmas market in Liege (another pretty Belgian city) and Cologne (my favourite German city); Joe also got to go to another one in Germany.  Mons Christmas market opened up on Friday, but it was raining so much we decided to wait until today to stroll through it.  Tonight, we’re just going to relax and soak in all the Christmas cheer despite the gloomy weather (which I also love because hello?  candles!).

Kyle and his girlfriend arrive on Friday, so we’ll spend the weekend in Amsterdam with them, and then cart them back to Mons.  I’m so excited they’re coming.  They’ll be with us for three weeks, and we have all sorts of fun stuff planned (including a weekend in Paris!  Yellow Jacket protests or not, we’re going).  I’ll try to pop in to post pics and whatnot, but if not life will slow down again in January, so just in case I don’t get to type again until 2019:  Happy, Happy Holidays!

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Mons living…

Me right now dancing around the airport because I’m finally en route to meet my grandson Torin the Terrible!  Cannot flipping wait.

Work has been busy, busy, busy, but now I have my week off, all is well.  I survived Homecoming week.

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I’m the accidental junior sponsor this year, which meant overseeing a lunch, Homecoming nominations, the votes, and the big dance.  It was a lot of work, but thanks to some awesome parents and kids it all went off without a hitch.

Things have been busy in Mons as well.  The leaves are turning and the temps are finally cooling down.  Just last week we were still in the 70s.  Our backyard is all confused.  The rose bush is still budding while the tree and ivy are turning color.

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Pic not of my backyard, but of the ivy in a nearby park.

Mons is also gearing up for its 100th anniversary of the WW1 armistice.  This poor city got hit hard during both world wars, and they take the ending of both wars seriously.  The Grand Place has been rehearsing bits and pieces of its amazing light show that premiered last night.  It’s the story of a young soldier and how the war affected Mons.  It will air twice a night through Nov 11, and it’s quite moving.  I’ll try to do a better job of portraying it again.  For now here’s a few shots

 

The spot lights from our park and apartment are also pretty cool.  Looks like we’re being invaded by aliens.

There’s plenty more I can share, but I’ve got to head on over to my gate and wait to board plane one of Oma’s wild ride to Torin.  Next up?  Baby pics!

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