Author Archives: bettinabennett2014
Photo by Leslie Shinaver — if Santa gives me a new iPhone for Christmas I could start snapping away again! Shhh he doesn’t need to know I’m too lazy to whip out the Nikon.
More photos by Leslie. Xmas market in Mons —- and yes I look like a gremlin while she’s rocking the eskimo look.
First off … IT’S SNOWING REAL SNOW!!!! This might not be big news to most of you, but to me it’s Miracle On November 11 street! I’ve lived in a desert for the past 17 years. I almost killed myself jumping out of bed to run out to my balcony to catch flakes. I hope it keeps snowing and snowing and snowing, but, um not enough to mess me up driving to work tomorrow — unless, of course, it brings my first-ever snow day. I’ve been told not to hold my breath on that one, but a girl can dream. Whoop whoop it’s snowing and it’s Christmasy, and I have lots of food and wine, and, and lol I’m a happy girl. Okay on to updating le life in Belgium.
My apartment is looking fashionably cozy, but I haven’t had much time to snuggle up amongst the candles and faux fur blankies. I’ve been busy, busy, busy having fun. The past two weekends I spent with friends in Waterloo — feasting, sipping, brocante (flea market) shopping, brewery touring, Christmas marketing.
Some apartment shots for you to show that yes, my life is real here … it’s all coming together!
I also joined friends for a day in the Flanders region, sipping/buying Trappist beer and then touring a lovely Flanders winery (bought some of that too!). LOL I’ve turned my dishwasher into a wine cabinet. Easy access until Joe arrives, and then it’ll revert to its original purpose. Guess I just need to find me a nifty wine cabinet in one of the many brocantes I plan on visiting.
Baby wine hibernating in Flanders…
As for Joe arriving, we have a date. LOL Badger’s ticket got booked first — with ‘kennel club’ access — and then Joe (with squished economy seat club access). My buddha bellied, snoring, luv muffins arrive 9 a.m. February 12. That is just nine weeks away!
This time next week my buddha bellied self will be in Phoenix with all of my luv muffins. So, again I’ve got lots to be happy about. This year is winding down quickly.
OOOHhhhh and I totally forgot to mention that — drum roll please ….. I’m finally posting all of this on my own, personal wifi. Fourth time is a charm! I have internet, cable and a land line phone (which I can use to call home in the evenings). Whoop! whoop. I’ve also been driving my own car for two weeks. I’m all legit now and in two months I’ll no longer be doing it solo.
I’ve got friends coming over later, so I probably should stop goofing off on my comfy chair and, you know, clean and cook for company. Happy Sunday everyone!
More Belgian sites and holiday cheer. I swear one day I’ll get better at organising pics for you …
This is my fourth year away from family on Thanksgiving, and while it is hard there is still so much that I am grateful for.
- There are always people willing to take you in and share their food, wine and laughter with. I’ve been invited to all kinds of fun activities tonight, tomorrow, Saturday, Sunday — there is no time to get lonely, pining for family time (but oh what I would give to be with Joe and the kids today).
- I’m surrounded by giving, good people. My neighbors upstairs are moving back to the states, and you would not believe how much great stuff they have given me. You know how I’ve been stressing over getting a bed delivered; no need. They gave me a fantastic king-sized one, a dining room table, fans, lights, small appliances, the list goes on. I cannot believe how lucky I am. All they asked is I give back to someone else, and they’re fans of Grandma’s Closet (or is it attic?), so a donation in their honour will be made. I hope it’ll help pull someone else through a tough transition like their gifts have helped lift my spirits!
Just a taste of what I’ve been lucky to receive!
- I’m driving my car! I got my tags earlier this week, and it’s so much more fun to drive than the Twingo.
- I think I’m getting Internet/cable service next week — my hope is that typing this will make it so.
- I have my health; Joe and the kids have their health; every one is doing well.
- Life is good.
I’m also on the continent of Christmas markets, which are budding all over the place. I went with some friends to the one in Lille, France (only an hour drive away!), going to the one in Brussels next weekend, and the weekend after that the one in Mons is opening, so mulled wine, gingerbread and all sorts of goodies galore!
In a few weeks I head home to see the family for Christmas, and then the countdown for Joe and Badger’s move begins. It’s finally all coming together as it always does, and that might just be the best thanksgiving of all.
Badger finally cool with his kennel. LOL don’t know how cool he’ll be with it on that long flight, but we’ll cross that bridge in February.
I hope you’re all enjoying time with your loved ones, and I promise to post more soon — just a little busy with work, finishing up the move-here process and play.
Yesterday Belgium celebrated the name of my street — okay, not the street or its name (Onze Novembre), but the date since it commemorates the day WW1 ended on paper.
Most stores are closed on Sunday, so a friend and I planned a shopping day for Saturday. We had it all planned out, meet for breakfast, hit Ikea (yes I AM a glutton for punishment), the mall, other household stores, etc., etc. It was going to be our apartment decorating day. What we found was locked doors and Ferme signs all over the big-chain establishments.
Belgium takes its memorials serious, so employers take heed. Who wants to shop on a day off anyway? I wasn’t happy about this at first, but we strolled on down to a cafe I assumed would be open since it caters to English-speaking folk (although of course they’ve got the French down pat too). Hahaha a coffee house named after Texas and run by a southern man, who I’m assuming is from Texas. I love going to local places, and, for the most part, I’m all about imbibing in the local flavour and saving my Americanisms for when I’m home, but this weekend I needed to have my first cup of coffee where I didn’t need to point and pantomime, and it was awesomeness.
Turns out a lot of privately owned places were open. The Belgium bakery two or three doors up from the Texas place was also open, and I’ve been told that place is wonderful too (so it’s on my list). When we finished eating, we stopped into what we thought was a wine shop to learn it sells only beers. The owner is a lovely woman who works hard to find the right beer for you. We ended up spending quite a bit of time there and got some Christmas shopping done. If you’re ever in Mons, stop by Cave a Biere on Rue d’ Havre (a street that juts off the Grand Place, Infotel hotel is on it — everything else I mentioned is there too). Something tells me I’ll be a regular at this little speciality shop/bar.
The Fromagerie was also open, so heck yeah Mama bought some specialty cheeses. I love that I live in a place that has stores dedicated solely to cheese — with bakeries to boot. My two biggest weaknesses (well besides wine) have their own stores!
The Grand Place was loaded up with carnival rides and games for kids, so despite the rain everything smelled like roasting sugary goodness, which makes you hungry no matter how much you already have in your belly, so we ate again at a little place off some other road. That one wasn’t as great as our other stops, but we still had a good time.
We even got lost and ended up at the park near the Belfry, which has beautiful views of the city. I purposefully have not gone to any of Mons’ main attractions, The Belfry being one of them, because I’m saving touring those with Joe when he arrives. But woo hoo there are so many hidden gems in this city that I get to discover.
Soooo, my rainy Saturday didn’t earn the cube shelves I want for my living room, but it turned out way, way, way better. Later on today, I go to another friend’s house for curry pumpkin soup and more goodies — yeah, I know my buddha belly is never going away.
As for all the other stuff going on: my furniture did arrive last week (woo hoo), my cable/Internet did not (boo hoo), my car still looks great parked waiting for its tags, it’s getting chilly and I’m loving winter fashion, work is still great, my apartment is coming along (will post pics when I’m finished decorating), oh and I got to visit my relatives in Germany last week. I LOVE that all I have to do to travel is walk to train station, get to airport, land and then hop on a train again — it’s so, so easy. LOL although, lugging a suitcase up the cobblestone hill that leads to my place is a bit of a cardio workout.
So all is well, and my weekends are booking up with all sorts of holiday festivities, and then before you know it I’ll be home baking cookies and sipping bevies with my kids, Joe and Arizona friends. This year is flying by!
p.s. my crappy old phone (it’s a 3 in its series) has been annoying me forever. It’s insane, I know, but I’m wasting my hard-earned euros and buying the iPhone X soon —— soooooooooooo, better pics will be posting in the near future.
Raindrops keep blocking the view of my basil plant in kitchen window — now try singing that to raindrops keep falling on my head; twas difficult typing it to that tune. Yep, I’m even off key when I type sing.
It’s a lovely cool, rainy Sunday morning. The perfect day for me to assemble another Ikea puzzle after I sip coffee, read and write a bit. I’m all snuggled up on my comfy, corner yellow chair and embracing the fact that I have the next week off. Normally, I’d book a weeklong adventure, but my big shipment from America is coming tomorrow, the plumber is coming tomorrow, and allegedly the Internet guy. May it all pan out the way I hope it should! I am going to visit my family in Germany later in the week though, and I’m sooooo looking forward to that.
So, I bought a car on Friday. A cute little 2009 VW Golf diesel from a really nice Frenchman who also works on the base. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience in buying a used car. He did everything he was supposed to; I got it insured and did everything I was supposed to, and we met at the admin building to register the car in my name (something the previous owner did not have to stay for, but he did to help me out). I feel great about buying this car. Are you sensing a hiccup? Yep. Two numbers were wrong on the VIN number on my insurance card, “Sorry Madame, you must come back Monday with correct number on card.” Monday is a busy day! My car rental is the equivalent of $600 a month, and I just paid a few thousand for this ‘new’ car, so you can imagine I’m not liking the evaporating euros. That said I wouldn’t be able to drive the car this weekend anyway because it has to sit in the parking lot until my tags arrive 5 to 15 days from when it’s registered. Temporary tags do not exist here. So, what’s an extra weekend? I was never meant to save money anyway. C’est la vie
Before: And Twingo is its Nameoh! Le rental. After: my poor baby waiting for me to rev her.
In September I went to a salon to get my hair done, which turned out to be worse than letting the roots grow out on their own, so my hair has been part witch, part “can you spare a coin?” It’s a good thing I smile a lot because people would have run from me otherwise. Anyway a coworker and new friend suggested I try her place out, which is in some god-knows-where village. I met my friend 7:30 yesterday morning to follow her through the woods, the deathtrap construction, even alongside a canal, to the lil shop on the side of some curvy road. Who in the hell does hair that early on a Saturday? Turns out she needs to begin that early because this little shop gets busy, busy, busy, and for good reason.
Not only is the stylist known for her talent, but also the place is just what stressed out women need on a Saturday morning. Her adorable attendants pamper you, while she works her magic (although Jill, my stylist in Arizona, and Gina, my stylist in Al Ain, if you girls are reading, you’re still my faves). One guy takes my coat and serves me a Starbucks-worthy cappuccino, the other makes two sisters giggle and pretend orgasm (maybe it was real) while he massages their scalps. Speaking of which, those two sisters didn’t speak much English, and I don’t speak much French, but we thoroughly enjoyed our time together — and I dare say they were two sexy mamas when they left the place.
There are two tables. One where we women sit together while our colors are painted on; the other divided by a mirror where the stylist cuts and styles our hair — it’s sort of like a beauty salon whack a mole; she finishes one of us and another pops into a chair. Meanwhile women cackle and tsk, tsk over the stories of their lives. It’s the perfect set up, and my GPS better serve me well because if I can find the place, I’ll go back again. One day I might even know enough French to offer more than one or two word responses.
See, bathroom selfies are not just for online dating! Thank God you can’t see the heap of clothes on the floor.
So, things are moving along, and I’m nestling into my version of normal. Ohhh, I even bumped into a friend and chatted for a bit while lugging my old-lady shopping cart on a cobblestone street to get me some wine and goodies, so I’m turning into a local foreigner.
I’m relaxed and content, and that is exactly how things should be — anywhere in the world — on a weekend morning. May you all be snuggly and well in your corners of the world.
It’s been a great, much-needed weekend of food, wine, laughs, new friends and new experiences. Just up the street (a 5 minute walk if I’m wearing shoes I need to carefully navigate on cobblestone) from my place is this adorable little place called Osmose. It seats only 12 people at a time. Your waiter is the chef and owner. Two of my new friends, now neighbours, made reservations for Friday night and were kind enough to invite me to join — and thanks to them this will be a go-to place every time I have guests in from out of town.
They suggested I just go with what the owner says to try, which meant me eating things I never really saw myself liking. The entree (appetiser) of the night was foie gras, but he also had an alternative scallops dish for those of us who aren’t fans of the foie. I got those, but Beth Ann said to heck with it and gave the goose liver pate a try, so I tasted a smudge and it really was delicious. The main dish was duck — again not a fave of mine, unless it’s the crispy Asian kind — but I went with it. OMG I didn’t know poultry could be served medium rare, and I didn’t know a bird could taste like steak. It was an amazing meal with little surprises here and there, fantastic wine, and fun times getting to know the owner, chef a little bit. Our reservations began at 6:30; I didn’t roll down the hill back to my place until midnight.
Way too early Saturday morning I had to drag my carcass out of bed to rush to work. For 25 euros all of the staff at the international schools on base had an opportunity to hop on a day-trip bus to Paris. In a little over three hours, I could spend the day eating, drinking, etc. in PARIS. I crawled into that bus with absolutely no idea of what I was going to do, or whom I was going to do it with — other than I was getting out of town for a day and walking the streets of Paris.
A group of new friends lured me into their day by saying they were starting off with champagne at a cafe — win! It’s amazing how quickly a wine hangover and not enough sleep disappears when you’re sipping bubbly on the street.
Then we had lunch at Le Procope, the oldest restaurant in Paris. It’s where the male (thinking women not yet welcome at that time) revolutionaries, philosophers, artists, writers, etc. met and some of its guests included Voltaire, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson — just to name a few. Love that I’m teaching American History and some of the historical figures I’ve made my kids remember sipped and burped right at the same place as I did in Paris. I wonder if they too marvelled at the creme brûlée,
Ignore the wine stains on table (we had a few) and inhale the goodness of this giant brûlée. I should’ve known it was going to be huge when they gave me a soup spoon to eat it with.
Anyone else think of Beauty and the Beast here? I know I’m a terrible teacher since I should be pointing out all the historical amazingness of this place, and I did take it all in, but you aint got time for my geeky side. Just know I loved being here touching the banister so many great minds have leaned on — while wondering what their women counterparts were doing elsewhere.
After lunch it was walk, walk, walk on over to Notre Dame and then the Picasso museum.
It’s funny how the Picasso experience haunts me. While in the museum I was mostly just hot and tired and thinking to myself “dude, why so much dick in your work?” A funny side note: one of the middle school teachers asked us if we saw the penis on the face of his famous painting The Dream. We all did, and she was amazed because for years she’s been having her 8th graders do a replica of this and never noticed the phallus until someone pointed it out to her today. Oh Picasso see what you’ve made good women do!
It’s all I see, plus the naughtiness I think she’s up to.
I honestly don’t get a lot of his work, and as a woman I find the portraits of the women he loved disturbing, BUT some of his paintings pulled me in and stuck with me. His sculptures not so much. The black and white sketches made me want to understand this world of his, but then again I’m thinking the whole point is I’m not supposed to understand. I can’t tell you why his paintings keep coming back to me because … lol like his art I don’t exactly understand it … but his work haunts me. Some of it I found funny and some of it scared me. So, I’m glad I went because now I’ve taken an interest in getting to know what the Internets have to say about him, and for whatever reason it makes me think.
On this trip I did not get to go to all the other museums I want to visit, but that’s okay because it’s just a short train trip away, and some of my new friends said they’d totally do an art weekend with me. I’m a very happy girl!
I’m also procrastinating because instead of walking to the market like I had planned today, I’ve told myself I’m putting together another Ikea thing — my version of Picasso hell minus any sexual play — and I’m here typing to all of you looking at that damn box waiting for me to open.
Okay, gotta go do this thing. Hope you all have had as lovely a weekend as I have. It feels good to have gotten away from the stress of moving and working!
Okay, so on Friday I came really close to exploding. I almost threw a temper tantrum in the middle of traffic on my little street. Instead I counted to 10 while realising “Eeets not Posseeble” is the Belgium English version of Inshallah, although there’s no hopefully or maybe attached to it.
Flashback to Thursday: I go to Ikea asking if I could add a bed and mattress to my delivery expected to arrive the next day. I paid 100 euros for a truck with a lift, so that all my shit could go up through my windows versus the elevator. The receptionist at work called the police to reserve a front spot for me, so I was nice and ready to move much-needed stuff into my place. Anyway, I figured adding a bed to that order would just make my life easier since I need bed. After some phone calls and whatnot “whalla” it’s done. My bed was scheduled to arrive with another delivery; they couldn’t get it on the same truck, but a note was written to lift driver to wait.
Oh and then I ask if the bed will be assembled with the rest of my furniture. Pause, “Madame, there is no assembly in your order.” What? I asked when I bought it if assembly was included, or did I need to pay extra (which I would have!), and I was told it’s all included. I even repeated this to make sure it was. Yes, Madame.
Well, the reality was No Madame it is not. Okay, whatever I will figure this out, just bring my shit: which, by the way, is three chairs, a sleep sofa, a day bed, four armoires, a high table for my kitchen, and three dressers, oh and now that queen sized bed and mattress.
Thursday night I get home and see two spots out front reserved. One under my window and one near the garage entrance. I assume the one under window is mine.
8 a.m Friday, big ass truck and small ass lift truck are there. Parking spot under my window has an SUV in it, so guess what? that one’s not MY spot. Lift guy says he can’t reach my window from the other spot. I point out ways he can manoeuvre his vehicle to do it: “Eeets not posseeble.”
Furniture truck guys say it’s better for me if they unload my furniture, and I call another lift when a spot opens up. “But, I paid 100 euros for this one!” Oh, and we’re still waiting for the bed and mattress too. I show lift guy the note that says he needs to wait. He looks at me like I’m bat shit crazy if I think he’s actually going to abide by it. So, we agree that the furniture guys will unload my boxes, and we’ll pull into lobby, and hopefully a spot closer to my window will open up.
The furniture guys feel sorry for me and manage to lug boxes up the stairs and put some stuff in the tiny elevator, which we’re not supposed to do, but at this point I’m desperate, so I’m literally praying it’ll all work out.
It’s going great until an elderly couple cuss us out because of all the boxes and because they caught the guys putting some stuff in the elevator. They are not happy at all, and we keep trying to explain what had happened, and they yell at me in French that I should’ve called police to reserve a spot. I point to the one I did that with, and blah, blah, blah. I just know at this point I’m getting a call from my landlord (whew! so far that’s a no). Anyway, they leave all pissed off (yay me on making new friends). Another little old lady comes down, and bless her soul offers to move her vehicle in the front. This is when I learn the lift guy left!!!!!!!!! It’s okay, I’m told, that spot wouldn’t be close enough anyway. I’m still like, but I paid 100 euros for that guy. All I want is my shit upstairs without pissing off my neighbours!
Here’s just some of it. The wine table is perfect for my kitchen. Love, Love, Love it! And, the black sleep sofa is my bed right now and is quite comfy. Thanks, Doug! Leslie and I laboured away on a big closet, which has one more thing that needs to be done, and she also got a tricky little drawer thingy together for me. There are lovely chairs to sit on as well, so it’s coming along.
Anyway, long story longer the furniture guys did manage to get everything upstairs, and I do appreciate them working so hard to help me. I think they felt sorry for me when they saw I was lugging up smaller boxes myself, and the bed and mattress never showed up! Until 8 a.m. Saturday, when I get a call saying the bed is on its way. Oh hell no it’s not! At this point I’m so frustrated I cancel the bed and demand a refund. I’m told I’ll get it. I’m sure that’s a process too, but I’ll deal with it this week. There was just no way that early on a Saturday morning I was going to risk pissing off the neighbours again trying to lug stuff up those stairs and that elevator.
Now, on to the good stuff! There are always heroes in a bad tale.
Thursday night I message Leslie and Doug, a couple I’ve become friends with. They’re new here too and Doug hasn’t started his new job yet. I offer to pay Doug to help me assemble furniture. Friday morning I send out an SOS if he could come sooner (this was when I realised I might just explode but thankfully didn’t).
Doug gets here to help out while Leslie finishes work and arrives later. Both of them stayed here until almost midnight helping me put furniture together. Of course we sipped wine and nibbled on cheese, but we were so busy working that we never even left for dinner. I cannot believe they gave up their Friday evening AND dinner to help me. In return all they ask is for me to pay it forward. Don’t worry, we’re all headed to Paris for a day trip next weekend, so I’ll be sure to treat us to some good wine and food.
We didn’t get everything assembled, but that’s okay because they brought me back to reality and made me realise it’s okay, Efff that lift guy driver because anything EEES Posseeble, and when there’s chaos, there’s also always someone to the rescue.
Another treat was there’s a leak under my kitchen sink. The plumber came on Friday too, since I was home, and I almost cried tears of joy when he told me the landlord said I spoke some German, did I understand him now (after my now common “I have no clue what you’re saying” look to French). I was soo happy to be able to clearly communicate! The poor guy, I just rambled off about how his day was and how grateful I was for him, and blah, blah, blah. He’s coming back on Monday to replace my kitchen hot water heater, and I think he’s bringing a buddy to divert some of my rambling. And, I really appreciate my landlord sending a German-speaking plumber since she didn’t have an English-speaking one. It’s the little things that matter oh so much!
Another good thing I got to do was chaperone the Homecoming Dance. It was so nice to see teenagers from around the world decked out and having fun. I got to see some adorable moments when parents hovered in the lobby to take pictures of their kids, or when boys waited, corsage boxes in hand, for their dates to arrive and then nervously slip them onto the girls wrists. I know there’s a lot of effed-up mess in our world, and much of it is government (from all countries) botch ups, but I’m going to put all that aside and point out one of the things done right: and that is the effort that is put into making these kids lives as normal as possible. They didn’t choose to live on this base, but they’re still having sports and school-sponsored parties — and by the looks and sounds of them on the dance floor, they’re having fun. I am very blessed to be a part of that effort. Despite all the nonsense of moving in, I am right where I want to be. Come on Joe and Badger, I can’t wait to have you be part of all of this with me!
And on that note, it’s time for me to brush my teeth, get dressed and go to a bizarre on the base. I hear there’s a furniture store selling stuff — maybe the bed that is really meant for me is there waiting. I’ll just have it delivered the same day as my stuff from America (which is arriving Oct 30th — woo hoo!).
p.s. same day later on: No bed; but I discovered that you can fit a 55 inch t.v. into the back of a Twingo — click here if you’ve never seen one —if you drive with your face squished against the windshield (okay I’m exaggerating but not by much). Joe will be so happy. For the first time in my life I bought a t.v. that big — ewwww and it’s curved too.
Image taken from http://www.laprovince.be/425439/article/regions/mons/actualite/2012-05-30/mons-fin-des-travaux-a-la-rue-de-nimy-ce-mercredi
Oh this moving thing is always a bumpy ride. Add moving to a second floor apartment on a street like above, and you run into some extra issues. You see the stairwell and elevator are too small to lug up furniture, so delivery trucks need to use an “outdoor lift” to haul it in through my front windows. But, in order to do that, a large spot in front of building needs to be off limits to others for parking, which I thought my landlord was reserving for me. I was mistaken. I need to learn French STAT! The department you call to do this needs 5 days advance notice. Luckily, I discovered this on Friday, unfortunately an Ikea delivery was scheduled for Monday. Lol back to sort of luckily, I called Ikea to reschedule and they were just about to call me to let me know that they couldn’t come Monday anyway, so now that delivery is scheduled two weeks away! Um, I will be without a bed longer than I like now.
Image taken from http://www.glugo.pl/jak-zabezpieczyc-transport-mebli/
I’m still taking Monday off because I have two other deliveries being made on Monday that don’t require the lift thingie but do require me being home. Guess whose buying herself an air mattress this weekend?
That said I’m still excited to be moving into my place TODAY. Woo hoo! And, despite the setbacks, I’ve been getting a lot accomplished these past two weeks: got my Belgian ID in the works so that I could set up my local bank accounts, so that I could pay my deposit and first month’s rent. I set up an Internet and mobile plan, rented a car and I’m in the process of checking out cars to buy, while my driver’s license class/test is on Tuesday.
I don’t know when my furniture shipment from America will arrive, but the Ikea shipment includes a sleep sofa for the guest room and some other things that will tie me over until the rest of my furniture arrives (if I’m lucky maybe at the same time?). Basically, my place will be bare bones for a bit, but it’s all good I’m getting that much closer to leading a ‘normal’ life. FYI I could borrow a bed for free from the base’s loaner program, but I’ve decided it’s just easier to do it the air mattress way because I don’t want to have to worry about being home for the bed’s return pickup within its 90 days return policy. I did, however, take advantage of being able to borrow a washer and dryer for the life of my lease —- how cool is that?!
But, enough on my move (I’ll post pics next post), on the work front there’s plenty good to share. I work a block schedule, so I don’t have the same kids every day, that said some of my students are in all three of my classes, some are in two, a few are just in my seminar (study hall/tutoring) class. Each class I teach a day is different because I have history, English and ESL, so it’s never the same lesson period to period. I see my ESL kids every day, and while it’s a small class I have two different sessions going on because two of my kids are in the early phase of learning English, while the others are a year or two ahead of them. Long story short: I’m busy, busy, busy, but never stale or bored, and I’m really enjoying what I teach. I wish I could tell you more about the kids because their personalities and cultural nuances keep it fun and interesting, but I don’t want them to ever feel like I’m blabbering their stories all over the internet — just know that I’m glad to once again get the privilege to work with cool kids. My school is one of a variety of countries’ schools on campus, and last week the entire campus celebrated 50 years of the International School being open. All the schools took part in a parade and group panoramic while kids waved flags from all the different countries. It was so cute seeing the elementary kids from the U.K. school in their little uniforms proudly waving their flags. Some of our Polish students became Captain Poland by wrapping their flags around them. For me it was pretty darn awesome to see children from all these nationalities together just having fun and being kids — if only it could always be this easy.
On Thursday the entire campus celebrated International Teacher’s Day. The kids were given a day off, so that we could use the morning to catch up on some mandatory trainings and then eat lunch with all of the other teachers. I got to meet some German English teachers who’ve been here the same amount of time as me, and who also live just a few blocks from me. New friends in the making? I hope so.
I’m sometimes frustrated with all that still needs to be done and the things that pop up that I didn’t know I needed to know, but I no longer feel overwhelmed. I know that by the time this semester ends I will be settled and ready to begin the next one, hopefully, rested and organised. Oh, and on that note I bought my ticket home for Christmas, so woo hoo the countdown to see my family again is back on.
And, if I want to meet my landlord at 10 a.m. to pick up my keys, I better finish packing up this hotel room and begin the big move. Can’t wait to show you my new home pics — hahaha bare bones and all.
My hotel patio
It’s Sunday morning, and I’m sipping my coffee while listening to the maids clean the rooms near me. I’ll be getting the knock soon, which is annoying because I’ll have to answer the door with my bed head and sloppy sweats and repeat what I say every weekend, “non. I’m okay. Merci!”
This time in two weeks, I’ll be in my apartment, scrubbing away, getting it ready for my furniture delivery. My little hotel studio is the perfect place for me to temporarily live. It has a little patio and friends two doors down, but hotel life is hotel life even when you have your own lil yard, fridge, stove top and microwave. Besides, I’ve heard enough of my revolving neighbours’ noises — from snores, to off key singing, to their kids banging on my back sliding glass door, to their phone alarms. Thank God I haven’t had overzealous couples or loud bathroom goers! There’s also the crappy Internet, but it will all soon be another memory to add to the pile. Hopefully, the Internet at my place will not ping out so much, and I’m told since the bedrooms face the backyard my mornings and nights will be quiet.
That archway leads to a shortcut to my apartment.
Anyway, I’m soooooooo looking forward to moving into my new home. That said when I move, I will miss coming home from work to a freshly made bed, fresh towels and a shiny bathroom, with a tub that says, “Come on in Darling. I’ve been waiting for you.” My apartment tub will be there for me, but my fat ass will have to clean it because I love my bubbles, and they love leaving a ring.
Some shots of my currently empty apartment. That room in the middle is the entryway. The living/dining room is also huge. I’ll show more when I move in. And, I have two square toilets!
I finally feel like I’m somewhat settling into everything. Oh, I still have a boatload to do, and I tense up when I think about it, but I’m more than halfway up the hill. I’ve got this. I used this weekend to relax, grade and plan a lesson (the plan was to plan more, but oh well I got one two-day unit covered). I’ll finally rent a car and start driving next week, which will help me feel more like a resident than working tourist.
I’m getting to know Mons a little better as well. The Grand Place (pronounced more like Plahss) is a cobblestone mecca of festivals, food and alcoholic goodness. There’s almost always something going on. Weddings with their honking horns (which I enjoy — makes you wanna get in on the fun) on Saturdays, parades, festivals and tourist events throughout the weekends. A few weeks ago, I literally watched World War 2 jeeps and tanks parade about, while a band played favourites from that era. This weekend it’s street performers, outdoor concerts and fireworks celebrating Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium (which is where I am).
The city is as Shannan puts it is a big wheel with The Plas (ewww what we locals call it) as it’s centre (although not quite the center), and streets and alleyways as spokes going out to the inner and outer rings, main roads that circle around the city. The train station is on the outer ring.
The spoke my apartment is on runs parallel to The Plas, so I guess it’s more like a spider’s web (but I like the wheel analogy; it helps me when I get lost), and it’s a 5 minute stroll to all the good stuff. My landlord said I’ll be in the perfect location for the Doudou, (sounds like do do) now, now it’s not a dog-park cleaning nightmare. It’s a major event that dates back to the Middle Ages, and it involves pulling the hair off of a dragon’s tail. So, Daenyrs ain’t the only blonde getting to touch a dragon. This Mother of Heathens is gonna get her chance. I’m fascinated by its story and look forward to visiting the Doudou museum, which just happens to be on my street.
There are so many alleyways and off streets to explore as well. I love walking to get lost and then finding my way back to the way that leads to the hotel. I now know enough food words in French to somewhat figure out menus. I know that Filet Americain is a raw hamburger (the Belgium version of steak tartare) and that poisson won’t kill me since it’s fish. Entre’ is an appetiser and chaud is hot. The salads are almost always big and not low cal, and frites pretty much go with everything. I usually order jambon (ham), fromage (cheese) scampis, boeuf or poulette. I bet you can figure the last three out no problem. LOL so eating is not a problem! Nor is drinking — order the house wine; it’s usually good. I even like the beer, so all is well in my quest to destroy my liver.
The job is still great, and I’m adjusting to wearing close-toed shoes. It’s been in the 60s, which was a bit of a shocker for me since I’m not used to temps dropping that low until February. I’m not complaining though — love experiencing Fall again!
And, last, but not least, some random shots of Mons (although the doggy sign pic was taken at another village; I’m sure Mons has one too). My phone isn’t the greatest, so I promise to bring my camera the next time I walk to take some better pics.
A view of the backyard for my new apartment complex. Flowers, stone walls and green … lots and lots of green!
Hello from Belgium! I’ve been busy, busy, busy. I would’ve posted something sooner, but, well, I’ve been busy. The few times where I had a moment to write, I was torn about sharing my good stuff while shit was happening elsewhere. August has been a whirlwind of “wtf.” But, in between the “is this really happening again?” and the chaos of devastation, there’ve been moments of people putting themselves at risk to help strangers. As always there’s this mix of good and bad — I want to type balance, but let’s face it shit aint balanced right now.
I am so incredibly fortunate to be living my life, and nothing terrible has happened to me, but the wrongdoings in the world are very visible, especially in Brussels. I now go to outdoor concerts with military men and their weapons walking around for protection (and I am grateful for it). I’ve been asked to leave a park while security did a sweep. It’s surreal to get off your train to see fatigues and big-ass guns casually strolling by. That said life is certainly not taking a back seat. Parades, festivals, restaurants and pubs are still belting out their fun, and the necessary added watch manages to blend in. It is what it is. In the villages and smaller cities you don’t see this, but the police are there doing their thing, and I imagine everyone is more vigilant than any of us were what feels like a long time ago.
I wish I could say I’ve been going to a lot of the fun stuff, but right now I’ve only managed to fit in a few outings — thanks to a visit from Shannan and Ian and the new friends I’m meeting here.
Half the time I feel like I’m running a marathon backwards because there’s so much to do for the new job, the new bits and pieces of immigration, etc., etc. The other half I’m in awe by where I am. I cannot wait until Joe and Badger join me and we explore together (plus by February things should be way calmer for me). There is so much to see and do — and eat and sip!
Until then I’m settling into my new job, country and all that goes with it. It’s overwhelming, it’s stressful, and it’s full of lovely surprises. Again, people who were complete strangers to me a month ago have stepped in to save the day more times than I can count. I feel like I’m making another batch of life-long friends.
When I want to quit, throw a temper tantrum and scream “I can’t do this!” Someone pops in to help me figure whatever out. It’s going to be a very good life here.
I love my school — yeah, yeah I know I always love my school when it first starts, but this one is different. I love the international aspect. Students and staff have lived around the world and the mix of accents and languages in the hallway is music to me. As a newbie I’m intimidated, but everyone assures me I’ve got this. So, I trick myself into believing I do, and whalla! my classes have been going well. And then the day ends, and I realise “oh shit, I’ve got a lot to get ready for tomorrow.” InshAllah (will eventually learn its French equivalent) it’ll all be worked out by second semester, and I’ll be ahead of the game a bit.
A pic of my room before school started. I have my own classroom again! WITH lots of shelves and storage and moving whiteboards and my own teacher laptop and printer and books and woo hoo! My teacherly self feels whole again.
I’ve been lucky that I’m staying at the same hotel as another couple (who remind me a little of Joe and me — I’m thinking we have lots of fun times ahead of us), and I’ve been riding to work with them, so I haven’t had to worry about getting a car yet. We’re in our hotel studio apartments until Oct 1 when they move into their new apartment, and I move into mine. Sometime before then I’ll get my local drivers licence and buy a used car and deal with another country’s version of DMV (another thing on my life to-do list that I didn’t know I needed to do).
I’m excited about my new place. At first I wasn’t sure I wanted it because it doesn’t have the exposed beams or brick walls I’ve seen in adverts for other places, it doesn’t have a private backyard, and, well, it’s not what I was envisioning at first. BUT, it’s actually a pretty darn awesome place. First off it’s huge with three bedrooms and an office room (which I plan on turning into a closet), it has two balconies that overlook a lovely garden, it has a storage cellar and a garage, it has marble floors and huge windows, and there’s an elevator that can bring us up to it — whew! for those days when I just don’t want to lug groceries up the stairs like I did in Al Ain. And, it’s smack dab in the middle of Mons. I can roll down the hill into the Grand Plaz, which is this place:
Internet pics again. I haven’t had time to take good pics.
This is the street in front of my apartment (those second story windows that jut out I think are mine):
So, yeah, I’m excited about it. And just to show off my balcony view again, here’s another pic of all that green
I’m meeting with the landlord next week to inspect the apartment before we do the lease signing, so I’ll take more interior pics and post when I get a chance. There is also a park for Badger right down the road. Badger is also going to like hanging out at the cafe bars with us. I’m telling you we’re buying that dog a beret and wellies for his paws. Pics will ensue.
Meanwhile back in Arizona, Joe is training Badger to get used to his kennel for his long flight, and finishing up last-minute stuff on the house, so it can finally go on the market. It’s been a long time coming, and we’ll both be happier when it and the last of our debt is gone. At the same time it’s sad saying goodbye to the house I raised my children in, but I’ll just drown it out on the balcony.
Of course there’s tons more to share, but I’m hungry and a coffee cafe is wooing me, so time to get dressed, explore my new town a bit, eat and then come back to do lesson planning. I’m going to get ahead one way or the other!
Au Revoir! I promise to post more pics soon.
New teachers are arriving in the UAE (and everywhere else). It feels weird knowing I’m not flying back there this year, nor am I taking part in any of the back-to-school crazy (including those fun Welcome Back! parties and the NOT fun ‘PD’ sessions). Since some new folk occasionally check out my blog for bits about living there, it’s time for me to share some of the less pleasant parts. First let me point out that while there were many WTF moments, I would never disrespect my students, colleagues or former employer by speaking ill of them. I may not have understood or agreed with everything, but I will forever be grateful for the experience and the chance to grow with people I will never forget. So, if you’re looking for a bash UAE post, this one will only disappoint. It will, however, share my list of struggles. Remember everything’s relative, and this is all coming from my personal lens.
I’m glad I’ll no longer be constantly walking that fine line of culturally appropriate and haram. I cannot stress how incredibly accommodating the country is of our sinful ways. There are so many alcohol-related events that a booze-swilling, pork-pie inhaling, leg-showing wench like myself never got bored — just as long as I remembered where I could do those things and respected the many places where I could not. And, I did.
The drinking and dress code part was easy, although now that I’m home can I just say my cellulite loves flashing her stuff in broad daylight. What wasn’t easy was making sure I didn’t offend by posting the wrong things publicly or accidentally slipping up at work by sharing maybe a bit too much of what I did during my weekend.
In teaching too it was tough because I never wanted to inadvertently bring up something that would go against their cultural norms, so I played it safe, which, in the long run, made many of my lessons dry. Don’t get me wrong the girls and I had stimulating and fun moments together, but I feel like I could’ve done better if I wasn’t always in fear of revealing my true haramamama self.
That rule applies to you not me…
While I think this is getting better, consistency is not yet quite a strength. What’s on paper does not apply to all.
About that consistency thing:
Don’t expect it. Sometimes you have to call five times to speak to five different people to get five different answers to get close to what you need to do, and then you begin the process again. Every now and then stuff gets done with one visit or phone call, and you’re so shocked you do a little dance. In my case, work would sometimes change policy or curriculum and not tell us until last minute — sometimes you weren’t officially told at all and had to figure things out on your own.
I guess where there’s rapid change and growth there’s lots and lots of confusion, and, most surprisingly of all, things do manage to eventually get done. There’s also people forgetting to communicate with other parties, like my EOS payment. It took several tries for me to get an answer on what was going on with it, which was an incorrect answer because my file was passed on to another pile, etc. etc. That said I did get my money, and I was very happy with the amount, and it transferred easily to my American account. So it all worked out, but I had some tense, stressful moments thanks to miscommunication and lack of consistency — and that could so easily be avoided. But, it’s all a work in progress.
Me, me, me!
There are people — expats included — who seem to think their time, needs, whatever are more important than everyone else’s. They cut in front of you in line, they swerve into your lane and beep at you like it’s YOUR fault, or stop in the middle of a busy road to chat with a friend, they shift things around to accommodate their needs regardless of how it might affect others, they barge into an examination room while a doctor is working with you to demand they be seen now. For a polite soul like me this was probably the most jarring thing. I experience this back home and in other countries too, but it felt worse while living as a foreigner in a land far, far away.
There are also some of the most wonderful, kind, gracious and giving people you will ever meet. While the ME folk drove me crazy and caused me to mutter haram things under my breath, the good people were always there to give me exactly what I needed when I was at a low. Strangers and friends from all over the world have pulled me through and reminded me of how much more powerful being kind is. And to be totally fair, there were days when I was that ME person — sometimes it just flipping happens.
Phoenix is hot. The UAE makes it feel like a temperate climate. I am done with living the desert life — too much sand, too much hot, Miss. That said it’s pretty darn awesome swimming in the Arabian Gulf in October.
Knowing what I know now, would I do it again?
Most definitely! I have no desire to move back and work there again because I’m ready to move on to other things, but if I could go back three years and warn me about the stuff I didn’t like I’d totally do this thing again. There is so much more that I will miss. To any of my students who might be reading this, OMG you were a joy (even though lol there were just as many times when you weren’t — girls are loud around the world!). I will treasure remembering those smiles and moments of really, really trying to work out whatever I was teaching. My students would always tell me I was beautiful or that they loved me or whatever kind things they would shower me with, if only they knew that I was giving back what they gave to me. Hopefully, they know how beautiful and smart THEY are.
That said to newcomers: not all experiences are as good as mine were. Read the nightmare stories and prepare yourself for the worst. At first: you will not know how to manage a class (it’s just really different from what you think you know) or figure out what’s expected of you. You will not have the right resources. You might not even have your own classroom. It’s demanding, overwhelming and terrifying at first, but if you let go of what you think of as right and go with the flow you will learn how to do this — inshAllah! I had many “why am I here?” moments, but I can honestly say I’ve left a much better teacher. I’ve learned how to adapt, accommodate, scaffold, modify, etc., etc. like nobody’s business. I was good at this before, but trust me if these teacherly skills were Olympic events I’m pretty sure I could place a medal now. And, I have the people of the UAE to thank for that by letting me into their world and sharing their portion of it. Of course I also have my coworkers and friends to thank for all of their tips, suggestions, and sanity (hahaha or not, sometimes our crazy got us through).
So best of luck to all my teacher friends because this time of year is always stressful and full of “can I do it” anxiety — even at schools we’ve tenured at. A big hug to my UAE buds, and a big ole nice-to-meet you to the new colleagues I will learn from at my new location.
Masalama UAE. I sip this morning’s tea in your honour, and to my Emirate co workers several cheek kisses and a hand shake are attached to this post.