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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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 …
Lord I need to lay of the beer and cheese, lol me face is rounding even more.
After spending 16 years living in a desert, I am so so so so flipping ecstatic to be going through a real spring again! I loved Phoenix and the UAE, but I was born into 4 seasons (a late spring baby at that!), and it is my intention to die in a 4-season area (but not anytime soon). Don’t get me wrong, the desert has its spring too, and it is lovely, but it’s just not as amazing when the temperatures were already warm to begin with — AND when it’s your reminder that in too short of a time it will be in the 100s again.
Today is a gray, rainy day, but it’s all good because we’ve had almost two weeks of sunshine and temps that went above 80. Sooo, pretty much every free moment we have had has been spent outdoors. I’ve also gone into overdrive buying flowers for our place. So much color and fragrance! Here’s just a few, but my place and balconies are full of them.
I even have my birth flower. I love Lilly of the Valley, which grew wild in the Catskills, so a great childhood memory is picking them for myself (when we’d get out of the city to our ‘country house’) because, you know, they were MY flower. I haven’t seen these lil tinker bells in so long, I did a little dance when I saw them at the market. And can I say I freaking love, love, love that A. we have a Sunday Market; B. there are so many flower shops everywhere; and C. I always have fresh flowers in the house now. Ohhhh, and I also have a honeysuckle vine on my bedroom balcony, which makes my bedroom smell divine (why do I have to leave its bed?). I don’t care if temps drop back to the 40s, lol that window is staying open.
I’ve also bought a whole slew of edible stuff for my kitchen window.
I’ve got thyme, basil and rosemary too. Okay, I’ll stop with all the blooming pics. Oh wait, there’s one more. The backyard tree that mesmerizes me every day.
This pic doesn’t do it justice, but you get the idea. So, yeah there’s a lot of balcony time sipping and staring. Yum, yum.
There’s also been a lot of time on the Grand Place, doing the same, while running into friends.
And, we’ve done some touring too. Last weekend we spent all Saturday at an abby
I wish I uploaded more to show you because it’s in a beautiful area, and we plan on going back again. My wifi is sketchy, so this time around, I’m too lazy to fight it and upload more. The beer is quite tasty too.
Last Sunday, we went to Dunkirk.
And next weekend, we’re headed to Amsterdam. We haven’t gotten around to visiting the famous bluebell forest near Brussels or the tulip farms in the Netherlands, but we’re trying to fit that in the next two weekends (if it’s not too late). There’s also been a lot more touring around our area and finding little gems along the way, so needless to say we’re really enjoying ourselves. I cannot believe that in seven weeks the school year will be over (and oh my goodness do we have some fun summer plans). How did it all fly by so quickly?
Oh, and I bought my future grandchild his or her first bike bell. I’m already planting the seed for another without-borders soul. Cannot wait to meet him or her in November (although the lil one is expected to be born late August)!
And, of course, Badger has his take on the spring, so if you’re curious to see what he’s up to, go to https://badgerdoesbelgium.wordpress.com
We really lucked out in that Friday, Saturday and Sunday were sunny days in the 70s! My face got sunburned — I’m no longer a vampire! On the crappy side of things Joe got really sick, but he ploughed through and did the hikes. We avoided the more difficult ones this time around, but we live a 1.5 hour drive from here, so we’ll be back. I got sick toward the end of our trip, and it was wet and foggy the last two days, but it’s all good we love it here. I’m so glad we decided to do road trips instead of flying somewhere. We really needed a slow-paced vacation, and it totally would have sucked to abandon Joe in the hotel room while I toured Italy, Greece or Croatia (trips we’re planning down the road) without him.
If you ever get the chance the next time you visit Belgium, do try to spend a few days in Belgium’s countryside. Maybe do Brussels and Brugge first, and then wind down a bit hiking in all that green. There are campgrounds, kayaking, zip lining, and all sorts of outdoor adventures in the Ardennes. Um, if you’re into suicidal motorcycle rides, there’s plenty of that too — can’t tell you how many times I screamed we’re gonna die during a crotch rocket’s crazy manoeuvre.
Dinant: It’s an easy 1.5 hour drive from Mons and well worth it. We easily found parking and enjoyed just walking around. The Leffe brewery is also there, but we didn’t tour it this time around. The highlight was that we were able to take Badger on the Telefrique, cable car, up to the Citadel, which dates back to 1040.
Awww look at us frying in the sun on the Meuse river! Badger is at our feet. All of the Ardennes was incredibly dog friendly. Then again, most of Belgium is.
Houyet and our cottage (I keep calling it a cabin, but it’s more than that)
We spent four nights in a cottage we loved. The downstairs is a tight fit for more than two people, but who cares? The backyard is everything!
view from our bedroom window.
We’re totally going back in the fall. Click here if you’re interested in cottage (and noooo I don’t get paid for sharing their info; we just really liked it)
The tiny town of Houyet worked for us. We enjoyed our hikes and day trips from there.
Just a few pics of the cool stuff we got to see putzing around in the area.
Dubury: is the smallest city in the world, and it’s adorable. I found a perfumery I loved, and, well, everything about the town worked for us. Hello? it even has a pirate bar, so we’ve gotta come back for that alone.
Bastogne: We spent a night here, but after a great day walking and touring (and sipping some amazing gin and tonics), Joe had a rough night coughing and fighting the cold from hell, so we went straight home after breakfast. The town of Bastogne is more neon-lightish than other Belgium cities, but it has a lot of restaurants and shops — not to mention all the museums nearby. We have friends and family who want to come here, so we’ll be back again to see more. The war museum and memorial park is well worth the trip. It amazes me how we can war and maim in lands that are normally so quiet and serene. I could write up a whole blog on my thoughts on this alone, but I’ll spare you my reflection/hurt/concerns on this. Pray people, even if you’re an atheist (we need all the positive vibes we can get), that we manage to not go into WW3.
I have a few more days left of spring break, so we might take a day trip into the Netherlands, or just explore around here. Best part is I’ve got time to do whatever, including sipping coffee on my couch.
Here’s to whatever path we go on!
Of course you can also check out Badger’s view on all of this at Badger Does Belgium. It’s supposed to be sunny and in the 70s next week, so he and Joe will go on their first blog mission to Waterloo. LOL deadlines to keep man and dog busy — no such thing as true retirement here!
Helloooooo it’s been awhile. I’ve been busy having fun and readjusting to life with my man and dog, and now I’m on a two-week spring break. And Spring is in the air. Temps are rising, birds are singing and flowers are blooming. It’s a beautiful time to be in Belgium. Joe, Badger and I rented an adorable cabin in the Ardennes.
Joe is napping off a cold, while I take the time to blast you with some pics and updates.
First off my daughter is now in her 5th month of pregnancy, and my first grandchild is bouncing around in there, already letting us know he or she is going to grab life by the reins and ride it for all its worth. So far the little bugger has a pierre hat and booties and a little dragon (Mons loves dragons) hoodie. I’m having fun shopping for the little ball of energy.
Easter was great since we had 10 friends over for dinner and games. We were too busy feasting and laughing to take pics, but I’ve got this one of a basket of goodies a friend brought over.
and lol this one our neighbour and friend took of a whole other Peter Cottontail bouncing down our street handing out condoms.
Michelle visited for a few days, and as always we had a great time. We ate at great restaurants, toured Mons, went to the Cantillon brewery in Brussels, ate, drank, laughed: our usual.
Mons has so many gems. I can’t wait to show them off to those of you planning to visit!
Badger has been having a blast since he gets to go just about everywhere with us. Yesterday that dog was able to get on a cable car and ride up to the citadel in Dinant. He’s having so much fun he started his own blog, which will tell you all about his Dinant day (when he gets time to paw the keyboard).
Click on happy Badger pic (in our backyard at cabin) to see his view of the world. Lol on Badger Does Belgium.
Joe is coming back to life, so gotta get ready for our second day of hiking and exploring.
I’m sure I’ll tell you all about the magic we get to discover along the way, and I’ll post more about the cabin and Dinant later — both are well worth a visit!
Woo hoo Joe made it on Monday. I would’ve typed up something sooner, but it’s a mixed welcome. I’ll write more about the downside of this all after Badger gets here, but long story short the airline refused to let him on the flight because there wasn’t a full three inch clearance from the tip of his ears to top of crate, despite the fact that he could easily stand, turn around, etc. in the crate like their website said needed to be the case.
Devastated, Joe rushed to catch his plane. What he didn’t know is that while he was flying here, I (with Kaylene and Kelly’s help) already bought a bigger kennel and rebooked Badger to leave Wednesday morning. What I didn’t know (nor did I know it was an issue) was that Joe had Badger’s original papers on him, which prevented Badger from being allowed onto second flight. Now we need to redo paperwork because it’s no longer valid. So inshallah the dog makes his big flight next week. Trust me I have some venting to do, so more will be written in here and to the company.
Joe waiting on his dog!
As for Joe being here it’s surreal. He retired a week ago, and it still hasn’t sunk in that he’s not here on vacation, visiting his wife. We’ve taken lots of walks, inhaled quite a bit of beer, visited Brussels, got him in-processed at base, and lol netflixed and chilled. I’m very happy to have my man home. Monday I go back to work, so the ‘normal’ life will begin.
Badger at Joe’s friend Mike’s house waiting to join us. Thank God for good friends and family! Between Joe’s friend and Kaylene and Kelly running around all over Phoenix for us at ungodly hours, Badger will finally, eventually, hopefully make it here.
And here’s a few random Belgium shots (Brussels, Gent and Mons) to keep the vacation vibe going
Just checking in to let the folks back home know everything is peachy over here. I had started to write something on Sunday, but I was too busy sipping kir royals and dancing around my place while cooking up a stew (in my purple Le Creuset that I bought at the factory in France — hahaha other girls can have their Channel and Dior, I’m all about cookware you could pull a muscle lifting), catching up with friends and doing mundane Sunday-type things — and perfectly happy doing so!
I also made some new friends and had a last-minute happy hour at my place, which was a lot of fun. I’ve been humiliating myself at Zumba, and I’ve been pushing my students with literary theory, WW1 research and, oh my goodness, even attempting a little literary analysis, with the lower level ESL kids, which is cruel of me, but we all seem to be enjoying (notice how I convince myself they’re liking it too) multi-level thinking and discussions. I love this shit. So all is right in my world.
I won’t be watching tonight’s State of the Union because, well, I’ll be sleeping when it takes place, and I want to stay on the ‘expanding our minds’ track, plus the odds are it’ll just pull me out of my happy place — but I could be wrong. Here’s to hoping I am!
And onto even bigger news: Joe and Badger arrive in LESS than two weeks. This living in Belgium thing is happening for them soon too! Since it’s pre-work hours, I’ll have to raise my coffee (and save the champagne glass for much, much later) to celebrating whatever it is that makes us all happy. Here’s to the normal-day things that make life peachy!
Guess which lucky girl got to go to Epernay (self proclaimed Champagne capital), France this weekend?
And guess who got to sample a few glasses?
I know there are all sorts of scary, bad things going on in our lil shithole world, but I am not going to let any of that dampen my time in the land of glorious food, wine, beer (another Bachus miracle) and champagne. It is 2018, and I’m no longer moving in or settling in to my new school, I’m in the thick of it and finally getting the chance to breathe and appreciate all of it — including the rare moments of actual sunlight (she’s danced quite a bit with us this weekend). In less than 30 days (can you believe?!!) Joe and Badger join me, and then a little after that spring kicks in, and, well, there’s just so much for us to enjoy. Thank you to all the powers that be for the gift of now and where I get to live, work and play.
Epernay is less than a 3 hour drive from Mons. It’s an easy route (especially when you’re not the one driving), and great to do in the winter because it’s not crowded. Since I’m blessed to get to meet and befriend wonderful people, I had a great time with my bubbly-sipping crew. We laughed, sipped, ate, shopped and learned a lot. I appreciate champagne more now that I know more about its process. Perhaps during the summer Joe and I can visit the actual orchards too.
And look at all of those glorious bottles just sucking up dust and time waiting for their champagne to be born…
As for other news my house is officially sold. On January 4 a new family’s name went on its title. I was surprised at how sad I was that day. Had a good cry and mourned the passing of the place where I raised my children, but let’s be fair I raised my children in several places, that one was just where we lived the longest. And our bond doesn’t end just because the house most of us haven’t lived in for a while is gone. The next day I perked up when I saw the money in my account and realised, for now (you know it won’t last), I’m debt free. The stresses in my life are no longer connected to bills, and I so hope to keep it that way!
Oh, and I also got my new spiffy iPhone for Christmas (Thanks Santa Joe), so enjoying having a phone that works quickly. I’m learning to play with its camera too, but I still prefer an actual camera to the phone thing. That said a phone is more convenient for tours and stuff. When Joe gets here we’ll go on hiking trips where I can play with my Nikon and whatnot (sadly my Sony died), so life is transitioning back to normal again.
Of course there’s so much more going on — I’ve had some great meals, great times with friends, great experiences with students and the not-so great stuff like jet lag and wearing the wrong footwear on a cold rainy day.
Tried this tasty French appetiser Oeufs en Meurette. It’s a poached egg in a red wine sauce (beans, meat and mushroom stew). I’m on a mission to visit Le Creuset (yeah I know Staub was this restaurant’s choice) in France to buy my own dutch oven and little cute stew serving dishes, so that I can start making some of these dishes on my own.
To counter all my imbibing I’m also joining a Zumba class and attempting to use the gym on base. God help me it’s all about the balance.
As for all of you who plan on visiting, Mama has goodies waiting for you…