Last Days of Summer…

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Tomorrow I go back to work officially.  Days of staying up late and lounging on the balcony, on the Grand Place, on the couch, on the wherever/whenever I want are over (well, except for weekends!).

I’m glad we returned to Belgium two weeks before going back to work because we’ve had a lot of fun touring here — despite the heatwave — and showing off our hood to new friends (and old).

Bought chocolate in Brugge, beer at Orval Abbey, beer at Villers Abbey, sipped wine at The Abbey where friends live, and ate food all over the place.  It’s been good.

Some Orval shots for you…

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FYI Dog lovers: dogs cannot enter this abby, but they can hang with you in the nearby restaurant.

My favorite Orval pic:  Lord knows I’m going to need someone to hold me up the next few weeks!

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I really enjoyed Viller’s Abbey, which is less than an hour’s drive from Mons (less than that from Brussels).  Josh and Roger, friends of ours, suggested it since we could bring Badger on the grounds, and we’re so glad they did.

The whole area is worth it.  Tourists reading this, I highly recommend you give it a whirl.  It’s a maze of ruins and gardens, which you can get at just about all of the Abbys, but it’s a short drive and not as well known, so way less people.  It also has stage set ups and events planned throughout the year.  Mid-September there will be some sort of ghost walk and the end of September includes a fire symphony, which we’re totally going to.

Outside the Abby grounds are more walking trails, cafes and goodies to explore — including a “Dog Bar” for Badger.

Some Villers Abby shots for you.  LOL, yes there’s a disco ball in them ruins.

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Click here for Badger’s “Shits & Barkles” take on the day.

We also enjoyed cooking out where Mini and Leah, more friends, live. Their apartments are on old abby grounds.  I’ve been there quite a few times, and this is the first time I walked the grounds.  It’s beautiful, and Lo and behold we discovered there’s actually a No Frog zone.

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Frogs say pooh on that because we saw all kinds of baby ones hopping about.

Life never gets boring here, which is a good thing because my next vacation isn’t until November when I’ll finally get to meet my first grandchild (he or she is due August 28, come on lil one!  The world awaits your chaos).

And, I haven’t totally let go of Brazil yet.  LOL a piece of it is on my dining room table.

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Beach wraps make great table cloths!

Well, it’s noon and I’m starving, so time to get out on the Grand Place and nibble on something like this…

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I’m never getting thin again…

Rio de Janeiro!

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Ipanema Beach — amazing even on a cold, cloudy day!

Rio blew me away.  I was excited to go to Brazil, but I didn’t really care if we visited the big city.  While I’m a big fan of the movie City of God, it, as well as articles and documentaries about street kids, favelas and drug gangs, made me think the city would be an overcrowded, filthy quagmire of pick pockets and violence.

It shines despite all that.

And, while we were warned by locals to watch our valuables and not stray into the bad areas (which we decided wasn’t meant for us to see), crime did not come our way.  Vendors and passersby were fun, polite and busy with their own lives.

Rio is, by far, one of the most beautiful cities I have ever had the luck to visit.

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OMG that view!

We spent two days in Rio, so there’s plenty we didn’t get to see.  We did get in some highlights:  Ipanema Beach, drove by Copacabana beach, Christ the Redeemer, a colorful tiled stairway, and Sugarloaf — plus a few cafe restaurants.

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I loved all of the street art.  I could spend a day just walking the streets to admire all of the urban paintings.

On our last night in Brazil we took the cable car to the tippy top of Sugar Loaf and sipped bevies to toast our time here and just sip and stare at its glory.  We will be back to tour this land again.  Next time we’d also like to see more of other parts of the country.  Until then Saude, Brasil!

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Brazil diary…

We’re back in Mons after a whirlwind trip.  While we were in Brazil, I usually woke earlier than most of our crew, climbed to the upstairs balcony of ‘our’ beach house, and either read or wrote.  I didn’t have time to post any of it until now.

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July 21

This is my view right this second.  As will be the case with the rest of my photos it can’t possibly do Brazil justice.  The magic of travel isn’t in the party snaps or our landscape shots; it’s the inhaling/exhaling life in another corner of the world. You just can’t post the layers, the sounds, the scents, the soul —- no matter how good you are with filters and angles.

We’re staying at a friend’s family home in Angra de Reis (Port of Kings), a famous beach town nestled among the mountains about a two-hour drive from Rio. So, once again we are blessed to vacation with people who actually live here —- as well as with a group of friends whose mantra has become, “this soooo doesn’t suck.”

Snaps of the nearby beach life.  OMG that dog broke my heart.  She decided we needed to be her people, and we so would’ve kept her had we been able to.

Yesterday Wilber’s mom graced us with Feijoada, a traditional Brazilian bean and meat stew. She and her husband cooked all day while we napped, read, and watched Brazilian families sing, dance, swim at the beach.

On Thursday we rode a party boat to four of the 300-plus islands that bud off the coast. We ate amazing seafood, drank bevies with freshly-squeezed juice, partied with locals (and other tourists), swam in the Blue Lagoon, strolled the beach of what-felt-like a deserted island, relaxed at an open-air restaurant (more seafood please), and rocked and lulled our way through sunset.  Then we put on our sarongs, ripped off our wet bathing suits and ended the night at a beachside bar watching a guy sing Brazilian country music.

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What a day this was!

Someone is practicing the flute while I type this.  Booty-shaking music blasts from another house closer to shore. Children squeal while playing soccer.  Birds gossip about whose laying whom’s eggs.  Stray dogs shade themselves under tropical bushes, waiting for suckers like me to coo over them.  Tourist (or those of the wealthy) helicopters hover above, until it’s their turn to land on the numerous helipads scattered among the islands.  And, the annoying chihuha mix across the street is barking at all of us:  there’s always that one guy that’s gotta mess up the rhythm!

We also spent a day in Rio, and we’re spending a night there next week, so I’ll do a separate Rio blog.

July 22

It rained throughout the night, so this morning is blessedly cool.  While it may be winter in Brazil, it certainly isn’t cold.  Mist devours surrounding mountains; birds circling above the trees disappear into its density. The Atlantic pounds the coast. A grandmother scolds the young while she begins the long process of cooking today’s Sunday meal.  The clanking of her pots and pans adds to the disco (seriously!) music reverberating from a neighbouring house.  Rooftop satellite dishes taunt the few remaining anorexic rooftop antennas.  My cohorts are still snuggled in their beds since we exhausted ourselves touristing yesterday.

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The plan was to end the night Sambaing in the streets of Angra, but all but one of us was done. It’s all good because as curvy and wild as the roads are, we unintentionally sambaed our asses in the car.

We spent the day at a beach near Paroty, which was surreal.  You can either wade through a frigid canal (the water comes from a nearby waterfall) or pay 1 real for a boat to take you across to the beach (no brainer on which option we chose!).  Then you have the choice to either lounge on the beach or take another boat (lol the Shrek) to a nearby island to do the same.  This beach’s water is calm because it’s surrounded by islands that tame the feral waves, but there’s plenty of fun going on inland.

Behind the sea are mountains on top of mountains, and surrounding the beach is a small farm with chickens so tall they could be poultry runway models.  There’s also a restaurant, so we got to gorge on more fish, sausage, acai (it’s served with bananas and nuts), beer and a freshly-squeezed pineapple juice drink.

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After that we walked the large-cobblestone streets of Paroty.  I’ll never bitch about navigating the  streets of Mons again.  Brazilians used boulders to cobble their streets.  It’s a lovely town of artists, musicians, shops and restaurants.  Sadly, one of our crew had to leave to continue her summer journey.  Another one of us leaves tonight, and the rest of us leave on Wednesday.  In too short a time we’ll be back to the rhythm of our routines —-maybe being envied by tourists visiting our corners of the world?

July 25

We fly out early tonight.  The boys are packing up their suitcases; Joe is reading on his phone.  It’s been an amazing trip.  Our last night in Angra was spent whooping it up with Wilber’s family.  Oh my God did they ever cook up a storm.  Brazilian barbecues are the best.  Basically, you sit around drinking beer or calparihnas, laughing and waiting for platters of meat to be passed around.  There’s also salad, a Yucca condiment (basically yummy crumblies you put on top of stuff), spicy oil, rice, and this amazing garlic bread concoction —- it’s grilled and stuffed with sausage, butter, mayonnaise and other goodness (I’ll try to replicate it with my sandwich grill!).

I’ve already bored you with too many words on a trip that can’t be done justice with pics and words, so I’ll end this with a thank you to Wilber’s family and Brazil for welcoming us to this layered, complex-yet simple haven.  Yes I know there is an incredible amount of awfulness here too, and, yes, we totally avoided the poverty-crime stricken areas, so our view is biased.  It always saddens and surprises me that the most beautiful places in the world (with the most amazing people) are always partnered with corruption and violence.  So, I’m even more grateful for the good we get to experience.

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Jordy & Wilber’s Big Fat Gay Wedding

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Woo wee did we ever have a fun time celebrating Jordan and Wilber’s nuptials in the Dominican Republic.  If their wedding is any indication of their life together, it’s going to be a whirlwind of everything.  Pool parties, boat party, beach parties, dinner parties, a surprise party, hell even acrobatic pirates, a burlesque show and an unexpected night in Columbia became part of all the fun.

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The best was all the love and laughter from friends and family who traveled from around the world to take part in solidifying their union.  Those two have the coolest people as friends, and the wedding was beautiful.  I really enjoyed getting to know Jordan and Wilber’s family, and I’m honoured that we got to share in all of their glory.  Love should be unabashedly celebrated and highlighted like it was on this trip.  It’s the best of what we humans have to offer.

I also cherished getting to spend some time with some of Jordan’s and my UAE peeps who we haven’t seen in a year.  We became each other’s support and family over there, and I so missed our time together.   I’m a lucky gal to have so many wonderful people in my life.

Joe and I also had a few moments of couple time enjoying a spa day, and strolling through the resort’s tropical landscape, beach and shhhh, even sneaking in a night-time swim in its amazing pool.

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Our anniversary was on the 16th, so it was a nice way to remind us of our own love bond and life together.  The plan was to enjoy our anniversary in Brazil with Jordan and Wilber (since we’re spending 10 days there with them in an adorable beach house in a town called the Port of Kings), BUT we had to have some drama thrown in.

Long story short our flight was delayed, which caused us to miss our connecting flight, so the airline put us all up for a night in Bogota, Columbia.  At first we were like shit yeah, another country to add to the list, but then we walked up to the gate and saw folk bundled up in fur-lined parkas.  Um, it’s winter in Columbia, and we were in tank tops, shorts and sandals because hello? it’s flipping humid and hot in Dominican Republic.  But, the Team Jordy-Wilber crew persevered and made our way to Bogota.  Luckily a Bogota winter translates to rain and temps in the 50s and 60s, so while chilly it certainly wasn’t arctic.

By the time we got to our rooms we were all exhausted, so no tour of the city the next day, but we enjoyed watching the Policia and their bomb/drug sniffing dogs work their beats near the hotel.   Joe and I walked to the nearby mall, so that I could buy a sweater, and I have never seen so many working dogs before (and I so badly wanted to scratch their necks!).  It’s a little jarring, but everyone we met was so friendly and accommodating despite the fact that we knew very little Spanish and they very little English. I doubt I’ll get the chance to come back, but I would like to tour more of Columbia —- despite the uglies that facilitate the need for all that security.

And Joe and I got to celebrate our anniversary at the hotel bar (God Bless bartenders who aren’t stingy with their gin!)  We’ve made it another year sipping, feasting, and laughing our way around this lovely little planet of ours.  And, now we get to cheer on our friends as they do the same!

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Dubliners … until tomorrow

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We’ve been having a grand old time whooping it up in Dublin.  We decided to stop here for a few days to visit our friend Derek.  An extra plus is we got to also meet his parents, who are lovely, fun people (and now whooping it up on their own vacation).

The weather is unusually warm and sunny, so we spent a lot of time walking around in St Stephens park, Temple Bar area, Trinity campus, etc.

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We also got to visit The Irish Whiskey Museum on Grafton street (thanks to Derek’s suggestion) and loved it.  I’m not a whiskey fan, but I do love a good story mixed in with some history.  And, a few good laughs as well as some booze tasting (got to swirl some whiskey, sniff and attempt to like it) always work.  It’s worth a stop if you find yourself in the area.

We also got to tour the area Derek grew up in and the lovely university he earned his drinking badges and degrees in.

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And, today we got to take a Viking tour — something we wanted to do the last time we were here, but couldn’t fit it in.  They restore WW2 amphibian vehicles and take you on a tour through Dublin streets and for a bit of a float on the Dublin bay — plus give you the chance to scare the shit out of pedestrians with the group Viking roar.

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We also got to do a bit of this (imagine that!)…

So, it’s been a fun couple of days.  We’ve got to stay sober and crash early tonight because tomorrow we take off in the wee hours of the morning for our big adventure in the Dominican Republic.  I can’t wait to see the folk we’ll run into there — and get some quality pool and beach time.

God Bless summer vacay!

Will walk (and walk, and walk) for beer!

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We had fun on our our mini vacation lol visiting Mini and her family in Bavaria.  One of the highlights was our kind of workout:  the Funf Seida Steig, a 10 km hike that includes five breweries in the Franconia area of Germany.  Our hike turned into a much longer one when our guide got lost, but now that we’re no longer huffing and puffing and thinking we’re gonna die amongst the hills and fields it’s all good — we burned lots of calories and imbibed more.

 

Beer on a comfy lawn while earning our brewery stamps worked for us!

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And who doesn’t love walking through fields, forests and hills on a sunny day!

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Brewery hiking isn’t all that we did (although beer was a theme!).  Joe got to spend a day in Nuremberg with Mini’s son while Mini, a friend of hers and I went pottery shopping in  Poland.  I now have a slew of Boleslawic cups, plates, bowls, you name it prettying up the innards of my kitchen cabinets!  Plus, we got to spend the night in a quirky, burlesque art-like hotel, so of course a good time was had by all.

 

And yeah … more bevies and lots of Polish grub were also part of the journey.

Joe finally got to see Munich, but since it was a rainy day we pretty much just dried out (while wetting our insides) at The Brauhaus, and did more of this…

 

Another lovely day was spent strolling the streets of Regensburg (aargh those pics didn’t upload, but you get the idea:  beautiful buildings, greenery, and, well, beer!)

We even got to cruise a bit on the Danube to, big surprise here, an Abby with monk-brewed beer.

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But, most importantly, we got to spend quality time with friends, and that’s always a good thing!

I’m a bit rushed because we’re taking off again for our next adventure.  Tomorrow we’ll be in Dublin, and then it’s off to our big trek to celebrate Jordan and Wilber’s upcoming nuptials!  In between all of that is World Cup Fever (Belgium keep it coming!) and more quality time with old (lol not age-wise, but we’re getting on up there) friends.

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May none of us end up this way!

Red Devils…

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So, we’ve been having fun with World Cup fever.  We watched Belgium’s first two games at the Grand Place in Mons, and yeah it was fun.  Last night’s game we watched in Germany.  We also got to hang our heads during Germany’s last game.  I always root for Germany because hello?  my relatives would never forgive me if I didn’t.  A girl does not tempt her fate amongst blood members of her tribe.  So, I was really excited to get to watch Germany IN Germany, but, well, you guys know how all that went.  Perhaps I am not my mother’s land good luck charm.

On the bright side of things I no longer have to stress over who I’d root for in a Germany vs Belgium game, and the colors are the same, so it’s all good (leave it to this blonde to not concern herself with their order).  We head back to Belgium Sunday, so we’ll be back at the Grand Place to watch Belgium, hopefully, win again.

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Bringing sexy to the colors!

I’d post more pics, but my phone charger died, so no uploading photos today.  It’s all good I’ll post more on our visit to Mini’s other part of the world before we take off again next week.

Until then we’re doing a lot of this…

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regardless of who is playing, or if even there’s a game going on.

And, this is what the Grand Place looks and sounds like after a big event is over.

Badger is still digging it all too, although he can’t seem to find a girlfriend.  Check out his woes here.

School’s out for summmmmer!

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Summer break:  Day one!

Another year logged and graded!  Can you believe?  This year flew by.  I mean really fast. It still feels like I just got here.  This time last year I was going through close-out hell in UAE and new-hire paperwork hell for this job.

Some of my good UAE friends are going through that now.  I don’t envy them (although I know their next adventure will be as exciting as mine), but I am thrilled that I’ll get to see them in a few weeks.  We’re flying to Dominican Republic to cheer on Jordan & Wilbur’s wedding — whoop whoop!  I cannot wait to pool drink, beach nap and OMG go to a spa with them again!  Mama needs some pampering with her girls.

Joe and I have got it good. Because we’re finally living in an area that isn’t as hot as the sun, we’re not rushing to get out of here.  So, we’re piddling around Belgium next week, then driving to a friend’s house in Bavaria (I might even get a chance to go to Poland to shop for pottery — ewwww yeah!), then flying to Dublin (Slainteing it up with Derrick), then DR, and then off to Brazil for 10 days, and then Jordan & Wilbur will fly back to Brussels with us.  Sooooo woo hoo — lots and lots of catching up with friends and fun times. Then in August I get to go back to work to a job I really enjoy, and welcome year two of my life here — which we hope will continue for quite a few years!

One of the many perks to being a teacher is the annual end-of-year reflection.  It’s nice to have that time to sip coffee and think about all that went well and all that went south way too quickly — some years it’s more crap than good, but mostly it’s more positive.  And while we’re oh sooooo happy to be getting our break, we do think fondly of our kids and all that they taught us — yeah even you “Johnny” who may or may not have given me a twitch from refraining a cuss word or two.

For me, this year, the bad was mostly outside my little bubble.   I don’t like where things are in the world right now, but the optimist in me clings (desperately at times) to the notion that change for the better will happen.  I’m not naive; there’s more chaos to come before some sort of calm, but working with teenagers always gives me hope.  Of course they’re still hormone-riddled, angst-obsessed, volatile beings, but they’re on the cusp of the adults they will become, and I always see way more hope and good than helplessness.  So, yeah, I still believe the young will fix some of what we broke — while knowing they’ll also break some things of their own.

I’m not going to bore you with my thoughts on all the different movements and walkouts taking place in my home country, but I will say I’m glad people (especially the young) are waking up and getting their voices heard.  It’s my hope all those voices will join to lead us to progress and smother out much of our senseless harm.  So, that’s my first-day of summer break reflection for you.  Time to refill my cup of coffee and get on with my deadline-free days.

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While Badger gets to go to Germany with us, he’s ticked we’re not taking him on our other adventures.  LOL he thinks giving me the sad puppy eyes will change my mind, but nope he’s going off to doggy summer camp!

 

Bon Ducasse….

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It’s all quiet in Mons now —- well as quiet as this city can be.  It sure does love to throw a party.

Sooooo we experienced and survived our first Ducasse, aka the Doudou festival.  I took a gazillion photos and video, but my wifi here sucks — irritatingly so!  Uploading pics takes forever, and for some reason doing it on WordPress is even more of a pain.  So, you’ll only get a few snapshots of the big event.  It’s a weeklong series of surprises that lead up to the big celebration on Trinity Sunday.  It’s a celebration of the people of Mons from yesteryear and today, and they take great pride in it.

Long story short:  It includes relics from their patron saint Waudru (a woman thank you very much), her husband’s relics, religious relics from all over the area, a golden chariot, avoiding the plague, King George and the slaying of a dragon.  It’s ancient tradition melded with the city’s ever-evolving modern history.  There are sacred church ceremonies, bands, parades, rituals on top of rituals (with their own song!), and people chanting and practicing to push that golden chariot up a steep hill (because if it doesn’t make it up the hill in one try the plague might return).  Think Mardi Gras meets, well, macrame dragons.

It’s an 800 plus-year oral tradition that combines a people’s pride with their love of drinking.  It’s only been interrupted twice — once during one of the World Wars (the other war years they did a quick blessing and run with the chariot sans parades and parties) and once during the French Revolution.

It’s also insane.

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The Friday night that kicked off the festivities had bands and porta bars everywhere.  There wasn’t an alleyway free of people.  Thousands of people choked the Grand Place — luckily all were in good spirits!

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This crowd is for the kid’s dragon, which is slain (by children) exactly a week after King George slays his beast.  It’s a mini Doudou that trains the young for their part in the adult procession later on in life.

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Kids parading a baby dragon.

King George preparing for battle of the big dragon.  Sorry but I couldn’t get my pic of big dragon to upload.

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Just a taste of all that we saw.  Seriously, to my friends who would love to witness this first hand, book your airfare now.  Doudou 2019 happens in June.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  It’s loud, it’s sometimes dangerous (too many people), it’s chaos, and it’s beautiful church ceremonies, parade processions, costumes, music, etc. etc. — plus come on there’s dragons and beer too!

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If you’re brave — or are lucky enough to have a crazy neighbour brave enough to fight the crowds — you might even get a hair off the dragon to wear for good luck.

P.S. Badger was at Lorayne’s during the main weekend because of the crowds, but he took part in it during the week.  Here’s his take on it https://badgerdoesbelgium.wordpress.com

Nether, Nether lands…

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I’m writing this post in a hurry because it’s Doudou time.  Omg it’s a weeklong fest that I will totally write about after I’ve recuperated.  Right now we’re living it.  Lots of party time with thousands and thousands of people.

But first I should blast you with the fun we’ve had in our neighbouring country.  A few weeks ago we did a day trip to Amsterdam and last weekend, for my birthday, Joe and I spent the weekend in The Hague, which included a stop at Kinderdijk.

We love, love, LOVE the Netherlands.  It’s beautiful, fun and friendly.  I want to tell you all about it, but I’ve got peach salsa and some other goodies to make before our friends arrive to begin the next party.  Soo, here’s the photo blast to show you that Amsterdam aint the only gem in what we call Holland.

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Windmills, art and beaches!  Den Hague and Kinderdijk.  And yeah my roots are purple.  LOL my hair is rebelling against the blonde colouring apparently — who knew it had issues?

And of course there is always Amsterdam, which is always a good time.  Because we now live so close, we’ll focus more on discovering other parts of the country, but we still heart Amsterdam too.

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Badger is away at Lorayne’s this weekend since it’d be cruel to walk him amongst the crowds.  He spent last weekend with her too.  She and Zeke are pretty much his other family right now.  All is well, Lorayne reports he’s eating salmon and watching taped basketball games.  I’ll update his blog in a few weeks.  His traveling days aren’t over; he gets to go on a trip to Germany in a few weeks and whoop it up with Mini’s dog.  A few weeks after that he gets to spend a few weeks at a doggy haven.  OMG he loves the dog sitter’s home — we’ll be sure to post pics of that on his blog too.   He’s the luckiest mutt in the world.

Until next time …

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Lord I need to lay of the beer and cheese, lol me face is rounding even more.

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