We had fun relaxing for two days in a rustic cabin near the town of Wachtebeke. It’s okay if you’ve never heard of it. It’s a small village in the Flemish region of Belgium, but like all the other small Flemish towns it’s adorable and loaded with bread and produce (and oh hell yes!) chocolate vending machines, farms, canals, countryside. It’s always a good place to kick back, stoke a fire in the fireplace, explore and sip and stare. The rainbow pretty much landed in our back yard.
We also checked out Dendermonde, a small city on a river that has a cute Grand Place (or Grote Markt), a university, two UNESO sites and horse statues all over the place. Like Mons it has an ancient festival that stars a massive horse versus a dragon. Unlike Mons, this festival only happens once every decade. Its black steed was supposed to parade its way about town in 2020, but, well, you know what happened. It’s scheduled to come out and play again May 2021, so we’ve marked it in our calendars. Fingers crossed we’ll get to visit the big event. To learn more about this interesting town, not too far from Gent, check out this website.
Of course everything is locked down, so the streets were empty, but we enjoyed checking it out. Not being able to sip and stare at a cafe, though, is getting old. I’m glad we’re safe and all, but you know. Tomorrow, I go back to work, and then it’s 5 weeks until my two-week spring break. We’ll rent more cabins in small Belgian towns if we can’t cross borders. The hikes are always better than sitting in our apartment.
As you can see we make a lot of new friends along the way. So, we’re still finding a little magic in this Covid world. And some of us can still make maskless contact. Well, it’s a beautiful sunny day outside, so time for me to take a walk around Mons before getting myself back into work mode. Happy Sunday everyone!
What a nice surprise to wake up for my 3 a.m. pee and see that there was snow on the ground. A few hours later I got the “two hour delay” call, a few minutes after that the “our bad…school is cancelled” call: even better! Several hours later the clinic called to let me know that my afternoon doctor’s appointment was also cancelled. So win! I get to go braless all day long. whoop whoop!
I’m teaching three different novels, so it feels like the perfect way to catch up on some reading and lounging. I wasted much of yesterday lesson planning. Today it’s read, write, eat, sip, walk, repeat. I’m so okay with that. On Friday teachers at my school got our first dose of the Moderna vaccine, which is a relief. Hopefully, by this time in March dose two will be doing its thing. I had a sore arm for two days, slept super deep on Friday and had strange dreams. On Saturday I was a little woozy, but um I also had a celebratory bottle of wine the night before — so vaccine or vino? We’ll blame it on the shot. The flu shot affected me more. Fingers crossed it’ll be the same for number two. We don’t know when Joe will get his, but we’re on the upswing.
Hair dressers can begin taking clients (with strict protocols) again next week. Bars and restaurants are still closed. I’m off next week and still cannot travel, but it’s all good. I’ll cook, clean, read, etc. I’m alive and healthy and, well, also an adept binge watcher. We got a memo that said don’t plan to travel during our spring break in April, but I’m still holding on to hope that there will be something we can do then. Maybe restaurants will be open? Takeaway is nice and all, but not the same. That said we’re really lucky to have wonderful friends nearby. Some friends of ours made an amazing curry dinner Saturday night, and all we had to do was walk over to pick it up. Another friend smokes meat in his green egg while yet another friend bakes. Talking on the street for a few minutes while we exchange goodies is better than nothing at all, but if my spring break only included friend sippy time at the Grand Place, I’ll take it! And, I’ll love every minute of it. I also enjoy putting a dent in my couch (seriously one cushion fits Joe’s butt perfectly, the other fits mine — we now have personalized butt imprints), but this extravert needs some face-to-face people time (outside of teaching). Plus, I’m sure Joe would like seeing me groom again.
So yeah we’re celebrating bad weather and hoping for the best. Hope you’re all healthy and well. Just a few months and the sun will shine again (please)!
I wish I had some fun and exciting news to post, but it’s all pretty much the same in my corner of the world. Yes, we’re still in lockdown. Yes, I’m still working face to face. Yes, it’s still dark and cold (with sadly so little snow when I could really use more of its magic right now). And no to knowing when any of it will change. There are the rumors, the flickers of hope and then there are the headlines, which are also muddled with rumors and hope or despair (depending on the day). So, yeah, we’re all just getting by the best we can.
I’m guessing that I’ll hear about when I’m scheduled to get my first virus shot soon (I think we have a meeting on it this upcoming Friday). It sounds like maybe within the next few weeks or so. At this point I’ve decided that I must be a mutant by now since I’m still healthy. Or am I? Who knows these days?
For my own sanity I’ve decided to begin avoiding social media feeds. I’m tired of seeing posts of folks not on lockdown, traveling or reveling freely (and I don’t begrudge them at all. I’d be doing it too if I could!). I just don’t understand why some of us are on lockdown and others are not when the virus is among us all. I’m tired of seeing my teacher friend posts. I’m not tired of them nor their complaints/concerns. I’m just done with the constant jerking back and forth and inconsistency of it all. Basically, I am done with the politics of plaguing. I don’t know why some of us are teaching all day long while others are virtual. I don’t know which is better. I don’t know why in many cases those who are virtual are able to get the vaccine before those of us who are not working virtually. I don’t know if any of that even matters. Oh there are memos after memos telling us what a great job we are doing and that folks are doing their best to get us what we need — and I do believe that there are many, many folks doing just that. But, you see, in a Covid world it doesn’t matter what your intent might be because for whatever reason there are other layers upon layers of bullshit that get in the way.
There’s also the whirlwind of blended living now. In education we’re using more online programs to work with our face to face (and, to be honest, lots of good stuff is happening from that, but it’s also LOTS of stuff and our own circuit boards are overloading). In our real worlds it’s zoom this or Google Meet that, make an appointment here and maybe I’ll meet you there. I don’t know about you guys, but I am frazzled as fuck (sorry no PG-rated way to say it). And, I’m tired of video meetings. I’m tired of covering my face whenever I meet someone or apologizing for having my icon represent my face because my laptop is in a docking station and I’m too busy to pull it out. I’m tired of jumping through all the hoops to find myself on pause because the people (or technology) on the other end are glitching. Or, more accurately, because I tripped over one of the hoops and didn’t get to connect in the first place. Hell, I can’t even manage to book a vacation house for my children and me this summer. I’ve booked two, but one canceled so it could be rebooked at a higher rate and the other didn’t meet some deadline, or whatever. I have literally booked houses around the world, and now because of Covid the rules of the booking game have changed. As is very typical in my current state of living, I don’t know why.
BUT, there is also good. As much as I bitch about being frazzled, I have picked up some new teacherly tricks. My students have also picked up some new skills. We ARE adapting. We ARE finding happy connections at a time when mingling is muzzled. My time with my own children this summer (Covid will not stop me from flying home again) will be more priceless (lol who knew it was possible to make something even more priceless?). Changes for the better are happening (at least that is what I tell myself), so of course there is hope and there will be progress.
We will get through this. BUT, the fog truly does suck, and sadly we cannot blame Mother Nature for it — the worst of it is all of our own doing. And it is us and I, not them and you. I just wish I knew how I could turn this mess into a collective we, so that we’d get our act straight and solve without all those damned layers. And yeah that is a wish that will not be fulfilled in any of our lifetimes, but a girl can dream.
So, onto some bright bits to end on a positive note. We did get snow two weeks ago. It didn’t last long, but it was beautiful.
And I have been enjoying so much home time by reading and reflecting more — always a good thing. And, there have been good times with friends and family (at a distance). Joe and I have made some yummy meals and watched lots of good television and movies — lol and some not so good, but entertaining nonetheless. And because of social media I have been able to see my grandson turn into the terror he is via lots of video. So, all is still very well in my world. I am loved, I am fed, I am safe, and I am still so very grateful to be alive.
And so is our old dog Badger. A plus to this crazy is that I am spending so much time with him during his final days, although at this rate he might just outlive me.
Happy Sunday my Lovelies, and I cannot wait until I can hug and laugh and cry and sip with you all!
Just a few more days and this year will finally be in our past. I think we’re all ready for the new to hurry up and get here.
We’ve made the best out of it as much as we could, but not being able to leave Belgium has made me very homesick. That said, if I’m going to be stuck in a country not my own, I’m still happy to be in this one. We’ve done a few cottage trips, which is always awesome, and we’ve explored hiking trails and towns we’ve never heard of before — all beautiful and each with its own distinct personality. Belgium is totally underrated as a travel destination, which I think pre Covid Belgians were totally okay with that. Now, I bet tourism dollars would be most welcome.
A glimpse of some of our new friends we’ve made along the way, lol including the babies of Zeebrugge a port town not too far from Brugge. Sadly my iPhone camera is still shot, so it’s just not as much fun snapping photos with Joe’s phone or my Whatsapp.
Luckily the shops opened a few weeks before Christmas, but bars, restaurants and places like salons are all still closed, and are rumored to remain that way until February or later. Oh how I miss eating cheese with celery salt and sipping beers at a cafe’ or in an old woodsy pub. I miss looking human as well — lol cannot tell you when the last time I had my eye brows done. My hair is a whole other story as well.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Mons has done its best to keep things controlled but festive. The Grand Place is magical.
The Belfry is no longer lit up, but it was beautiful alternating between rainbow colors and a pink glow. It went dark a night or two before Christmas. I don’t know why. We figured it was to prevent crowds from coming here, but then why keep the Grand Place lit? Who knows? We still have a 10 p.m. curfew, and no parties are allowed — steep fines for anyone caught doing so. We’re allowed only one friend over, but again we’ve made the best of it — video chats help, but after awhile they’re also just a reminder of all the socializing we all miss so so much.
We also did our part to keep our home magical and Christmassy, which I could keep doing all year long. I don’t know who began the trend of Christmas lights and decorations, but God Bless them! A girl can’t remain down with all this color and warmth around her.
I’ve also taken advantage of the gloomy weather and snuggled in our back balcony room with a good book. Some tea (or wine), a blankie, and the balcony view makes reading all the more pleasurable.
So, as usual, I really can’t complain. The kids, Joe and I are all still sane and healthy. I’m well fed, well paid, well housed and well loved, so while I am a little blue, I am also so grateful to yet again be one of the lucky ones.
We did have to say good bye to our neighbor and close friend, Belgium family member, Chris. A true negative to the expat life is that none of us is meant to stay overseas forever. We build a family here, but we all leave eventually. Of course on the bright side of things, we have that many more people to visit around the world. So, chances are we’ll get to see Chris this summer when we fly home to visit the rest of our family (born into and chosen!). OMG and how I cannot wait to hug all my loved ones back home.
Well it’s my last day of a one-week break. We’re in the midst of our second lockdown, so we couldn’t leave the country. That said we did explore more of Belgium. Luckily this lockdown allows us to travel within our own borders, just as long as we mask up and social distance. So, for a few days, we booked a cabin within walking distance of a town called Beerse and ventured off onto all sorts of nature walks. We explored forest trails, Beerse and Turnout. We wanted to drive into the town that has the Belgium/Netherlands border going through it, but we would have had to drive across the border to do so. We’ll save that for another time.
On the one hand it’s nice to stroll through cities without crowds of people, on the other it’s not the same without hydrating at local cafes. We made tasty meals in our cabin and feasted in front of a fireplace — all very cool — but sometimes you do want to just eat and drink out. That said there were all sorts of vending machines out and about where you could get anything from fresh-baked bread to I-kid-you-not Tiramisu.
I’ve basically spent the week eating, sipping, exploring, reading, watching movies, shows, and, of course, hello? the election. A sigh of relief it is done (and that my vote was counted). May we heed the new president’s words and heal together. Please let these last weeks of this shitty year end peacefully.
As for Covid, it still sucks, but our numbers seem to be stabilizing in Belgium. I go back to school tomorrow, but the kids will see me virtually. The latest news we received has them learning online all of next week. We’re expected to go back to face-to-face teaching on Nov 16.
It’s all good, I have some interesting literature selections geared up for them. Hopefully, the kids, I, you will all get the chance to reflect and grow forward with our spiritual, emotional and physical selves.
Our holiday season is getting ready to kick off without any Christmas markets, large (or small for that matter) gatherings, festivals, restaurants, pubs, face-to-face Christmas shopping, or trips. But, that’s okay. We’ll make the best out of what we do have, and on the days when it feels too much to handle we’ll do stuff like take walks, inhale and remember life is bigger than what we think we need.
So, the only travel I’m doing is imaginary, but I am also so blessed to live where there is always something magical to bump into. I’m also so damned happy that I love to read and write as well — and that I have the time and means to do so comfortably.
So, come on holiday season. Covid isn’t going to rob us of good tidings and cheer — we’ll just adjust and learn to do it differently for now.
We are in the midst of wave two. Belgium is expected to reach an average of 20,000 new positive cases a day before the end of this week. It’s at the top two list of worst affected countries in the EU, but that doesn’t really matter anymore because most EU countries are red according to whatever thing they use to measure our misery. Belgium is doing everything it can to not have a full lockdown, but the numbers of hospital admissions is alarming.
Bars and restaurants are closed again, only one close contact is allowed to visit your home, masks are mandatory (they pretty much have been for months now), there’s a curfew from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., universities are mostly remote, many jobs are remote, people are encouraged to stay home as much as possible. Elementary and secondary schools are still open. There’s more I’d like to say about this, but it just isn’t healthy for me to vent about what I cannot control.
This time around I also can no longer claim that I don’t know anyone who has had the virus. I know several people (and I’m blasting them with every ounce of healthy that I can). Luckily Joe, I and my adult children remain healthy. I’m taking advantage of more at-home time to clean, organize and plan my lessons. I’m switching my pacing a bit and will do units on dystopian fiction; it feels appropriate right now.
I have many flaws, but one of my few talents is embracing the positives in life (lol although I don’t know that dystopian fiction will help me with that right now). And after going through a rightful funk, Badger and I took a nice walk today — mainly because he let me know, “Bitch, I gotta poo.”
I needed this walk since I’m really grappling with not being able to see my own children. Needless to say it’s really hard to be so far away from them when it feels like everything is going to shit.
Badger and I were blessed with sun (it won’t last long) and dying leaves surrendering to the wind. Mons is built by so many layers of art and architecture — by nature as well as man. I forget how magnifique it is while holed up in my apartment. The mold and mortar have so many stories to tell if only we knew how to listen.
It’s such a gift to be reminded that there’s much more to our history in the making than our most recent layers of crud. Yes, it’s disturbing to hear the ambulance sirens (three screeched at us during our 45 minute walk), but we were also treated to the Belfry’s hourly bells and the occasional Bon Jour by fellow humans and dogs. It is amazing how much good our helloes do for us. Life demands we see all of her, especially those little things we don’t always realize are as vital as the air we breathe.
So today’s post is all about remembering to stay safe while also embracing the good that is ours to hold. Yes, wine, gin and home-made meals help a lot with remaining indoors, but a good walk outdoors (ahem while masked!) is damn good medicine too. Hang in there people. We can get past this despite the idiotocracy that also surrounds us.
And remember our children’s children are keeping up our family legacies. LOL in my case it’s this scowl whenever a mama wants to capture her cutie. There’s a reason above pic is my fave — there are hundreds more that share the below “do I have to pose again?” face.
And here’s Badger’s take on the day, but I warn you he now has a Cannabis prescription, so lol not much to share with you. Badger’s link
A few weeks ago we booked our first Belgian beach vacation since moving here, and lol of course it’s the one weekend a major storm hits. All is well: we survived, our cars survived, Badger survived.
We rented a cottage in the Koksijde area, which was lovely and its old roof and walls held tight despite the constant pummeling of gusts up to over 100 km per hour — all weekend long.
On Friday night while the wind howled, we made some noise of our own yowling out our own gusts of fun and stories. Saturday we ventured out and followed a trail that brought us to the dunes, which brought us to the beach, and which eventually brought us to the woods. It was wonderful, windy AF and probably too dangerous to be out, but whatevs … we survived.
I started this entry a few days after out trip, but life, work, the exhausting drain of 2020 got in the way. Basically, I forgot to come back and finish up the post. Badger has some great pics to also share, so I’ll get on his blog next.
Today is a rare sunny autumn day. It’s been raining for weeks, which is okay because Belgium is supposed to be rainy and before the rain finally returned it was way too dry. The leaves haven’t really changed color yet probably because they were so damned dehydrated. Some are yellow but mostly it’s just brown or green — totally matches the whole mood/tone whatever the eff you want to call it of 2020.
Like everyone else on this planet I am sooooooooooo done with Covid and sooooooooo done with the shitstorm that is 2020. And oooh there’s a lot I could say about the politics in my own country, but those conversations are better off had in my living room. That said I did finally upload my vote yesterday. I clicked the submit button with a little extra gusto, so it felt good.
Covid numbers are drastically increasing and with that comes more restrictive measures, so yeah we’re once again hunkering down in our apartment. I have a vacation coming up in a few weeks, but we can’t cross borders right now (they’re not actually closed, but I can’t miss work because of travel-related quarantine), so we’ll explore more of Belgium while masked. Again, I’m done with it all, but I’m glad to say we’re still healthy. And, at least I’m stuck in a beautiful corner of the world, so we will make the best of it. With the longer dark and cold days comes more baking and roasting — it’s not like my waistline ever had a chance.
I’m bummed we can’t see the kids nor can they visit us, but summer (and hopefully the chance to travel) is lol just around the corner.
Stay safe and healthy everyone! We have some rocky days ahead of us before it’ll get better, but we can pull through and make the best of what we have.
And Badger pawed out his version, go to Badger Does Belgium.
While rightfully angry souls march the streets to protest racism and brutality, others march for the titillation of mayhem, and others gang together to protest mask wearing. It’s an angry effing world out there and humanity is boiling with all its levels of discontent. On a bad day it feels as if the rage is dimming our light.
I miss my own children and my grandson so damned much. Thanks to social media (which I also curse for how quickly it helps spread hate and misinformation) I am able to ‘visit’ them for bits here and there. I don’t know when I’ll actually get to hold any of them again (fingers crossed: next summer?). These times are tough, and I get why we’re oh so angry. We should be. I’m angry too. We piss me off.
But, we are also blessed with so much good in our lives as well. My family and I still have our health — on a mental level, I’m not so sure, but our bodies are holding up.
While I hate being so very far away from my children, I do still love where I live. This morning I walked to the Sunday market for the first time since Covid hit. It’s been running for quite a few weeks now, but I’ve been hesitant to go because, you know, crowds. Today, I was serenaded by the baritone bong of St. Wadru’s bells. On my walk home she treated me to the angelic notes of her choir.
It’s gray and cool outside, but walking up cobblestone hills with a mask on keeps you sweating. The market itself was loaded with all of its scents and sounds, but our exchanges were muffled because of our masks, and the police with their dogs joined the stream of pedestrians — just our friendly reminder to keep those masks and our peaceful sides in check.
Mons has truly done a lot to keep us happy and entertained. They keep moving the collection of artsy elephants around, so that we’re pleasantly surprised when we run into them unexpectedly.
We’re still treated to live music on the streets. Yesterday, we thought we somehow ended up in New Orleans when a marching band belted out When the Saints Come Marching In. Badger was disappointed they did not have a violinist. We’ve pretty much started up a pension for the guy who plays at the Grand Place since Badger pulls us to him each and every time. Me thinks that dog will strum strings in his next life.
We can’t make the two-hour drive to Paris or Amsterdam on the weekends now (until we manage to all get out of code red and orange), but we’re happy to rest and shop here on the weekends. I type this as the Belfry plays its weekly bell concert in the background.
I’ve also successfully completed my third week back to school (second week with kids), and we’re figuring it out. It’s not easy, but the kids and I are settling into a groove. We’re enjoying learning together, and we’ve figured out our own ways to have meaningful discussions (lol and sometimes not) while social distancing. My poor babies struggle understanding English without reading our lips, and we struggle understanding them with their accents (and not being able to read their lips).
I have learned there is a huge difference between wearing a mask most of the day and being inconvenienced for the 30 minutes you’re in the grocery store. By my second day of teaching and wearing a mask for four hours straight, I realized I might need to buy diaper rash cream for my face. I’ve learned that one should not eat curry for lunch. Pointy masks are better than flat masks because that little air pocket makes all the difference. A wise teacher brings more than one mask to school because we apparently spit a lot when we talk. It’s truly disgusting how wet my masks can get. I am one gross saliva spreader.
Dress code reminders used to be me whispering to a girl to pull her shirt up, now it’s all about me saying to both genders “don’t show me your nose.”
The last five minutes of class are all about giving kids disinfectant wipes and having them wipe down their work areas, so it’s all nice and clean for the next batch of kids (I like this part). And, all day long, I have to remind myself to not get too close to a kid or to wash my hands because I touched someone’s paper. Alllll day long: do you have any idea how many times a day we’re near a student because he or she needs our help? I can’t correct syntax six feet away.
There’s no sharing of resources either. When I give a kid a marker to write something on the board, I collect that marker and sanitize it before another student can touch it. I am literally wiping off teenage kooties right before their eyes now. It’s a new world for us where, basically, we’re all considered unsafe, unclean.
But, omg, I still get high working with them. I can’t see their smiles, but I so see them working hard and trying — which makes me try harder too. Online teaching will never compare to face to face (even this very filtered form of it), and I am so very lucky that I get to do this. Am I worried that we’ll get sick? Oh god, yes. Every tickle in my throat, or every gasp of air because I’ve sucked in my mask, makes me think, “oh shit do I have the Covid?”
But, I keep masking up, washing my hands, and doing the social-distance-santize dance. It’s clunky, uncomfortable AF and awkward, but we’re doing our part to fight the dying of the light.
We had our first 100 degree day last Friday, and it looks like we’ll have our second today. We have been so lucky this summer because, for the most part, our temps have been great. So, we can’t complain about the current heatwave, but we’re human, so we will. It’s supposed to stay in the 90s until around Thursday next week, which sucks when you’re in a country that doesn’t consider A/C important — until we hit these days and folks flock to the hardware stores desperately searching for portable units.
Luckily, Lorayne sold us her unit (looks like R2D2), which we use in the spare bedroom to cool off. Our apartment has a great cross breeze between the front and back windows, so it’s not as bad as you would think, BUT it does get warm and stuffy.
The best, however, is our new vehicle because it can take us anywhere, so last week we did our first off-road adventure and loved getting lost in the forest.
One of the coolest and saddest things about Belgium is that you run into war memorials all over the country. We were literally in the middle of nowhere, and we came across this celebration of an American soldier’s bravery. Joe googled him, and it turns out he stopped the German’s Panzer division by blowing up their lead tank with a bazooka, which also took him out and earned him this tribute that reminds us hikers to thank those who fought for the lives we have today.
We’ve also spent the week touring towns and breweries. I’d show you pictures, but the camera on my phone isn’t working, so I take snaps with Joe’s, but lol it’s a pain to send to me to upload, etc. etc. Just know we’ve had lots of lovely trips checking out all the good Belgium has to offer. Yesterday we escaped to Maredsou Abbey with friends.
Today, we’re staying in Mons, but we’ll find shaded cafes to sip and dine with friends, so all is good. Mons also is doing its best to keep our spirits up despite this damned pandemic, which just won’t go away.
There are new murals and 31 elephants placed around the city, so it’s fun to walk and find these treasures. The musicians are out playing, and we’ve discovered that Badger loves the violin. Last week, there was a parade of puppet animals. They looked so real. I wonder what fun things we’ll witness this weekend.
Badger has also been totally loving our new car and our trips. He has some cute pics on his blog. Click here to see him all woodsy and what not.
On Monday I go back to work. I’m not as excited this year as I normally am. I do still love my job, and I do so look forward to seeing students again, but, well, you know, the pandemic. There are just too many unknowns right now, and we’re all feeling it. We all want to do the best that we can do, but we all also do not want to get sick, so there’s lots of uncertainty. But, we will get past this as well. The kids and I will figure out how to make it work, and fingers crossed we will all continue to stay healthy. That said I’m not looking forward to training and classroom prep with no a/c next week — tis a good thing the kids don’t arrive until the following week because I’m going to be pretty stinky and sweaty. I’m amazed the ring around my mouth hasn’t broken out from all the mask sweat.
There’s not much more for me to share other than stay safe, and that I hope you’re all enjoying your little bits of joy as much as I am. Please keep masking up despite the discomfort. I want to be able to fly home next summer and see this cutie pie (who turns two this month! And, he’s such a responsible toddler).