Category Archives: Belgium Year three

Week Two…

The Mons monkey masked up and ready to take on our germs

Well I’m in my second week of self isolation.  Last week began our first week of teaching online.  The goal was for us to teach from school while the kids stayed home.  That changed last Wednesday when Belgium went into lockdown at noon.  By last Thursday we were teaching our first online classes from our living rooms.  By 3 p.m. that Friday our borders closed.  I am now living at a time where the police will pull you over if you have more than one person in a car, and you better have a good reason for being on the road. Fines are steep for those who get caught tempting fate.  Not a problem for us since my car died last week, and, well, it’s now in auto isolation at the mechanic’s until the lockdown phase passes.

It’s all good, we’ve got nowhere to go anyway.  Luckily the grocery store is within walking distance as are the parks, but don’t make the mistake of loitering in the park either.  The police will find and fine you.  People are dying, and Belgium is finally taking this seriously (we were all resistant to doing so at first because hello?  cafe sipping is Life — until it no longer is).

We are allowed to go for a walk or run, and Badger still gets his walks, but we can only go with a person we live with (or alone), and we need to keep our distance from others.  Wouldn’t you know the weather has been sunny — in Belgium where it always rains, so it’s a bit of a bright middle finger from Mother Nature.

Spring says F you Corona!

I’m not complaining.  We’re up to more than 6,200 confirmed cases (in the past 24 hours almost 1,300 people tested positive) and 220 dead, which the news and officials clearly stress is an understatement since they only test the severely ill and medical professionals.  We’re obviously not alone since the whole damned world is shutting down to protect ourselves from this virus.  I worry that too many aren’t taking this seriously enough, and I pray (I’m not even the praying sort of soul) that this whole exponential growth thing doesn’t, you know, grow exponentially.  I’m not a math whiz or scientist, so I can still hold on to my hopes and dreams.

The beginning of last week I was a little excited about the teaching online thing because I mistakenly thought I’d get a lot of work done while in my classroom.  Then I got excited about the idea of teaching from home — look Ma no pants!  But, when we were told to pack up as much as we could because there’s no telling when we’ll be back, the reality of this all set in.  I might be homebound for a lot of weeks (can’t bring myself to type the possibility of months).  The probability of people I care about getting sick is quite high.  I’ve already learned about a few deaths of people who knew people I know — luckily so far no one I’m close to has been confirmed of having it. Yet.

I worry about my children.  I’m too far away from them, and I can’t tell them to come stay with me while we feast on my home cooked meals, watch movies and take dips in the pool (those days and that house are long gone).  I can’t Vics vaporize them if they get ill.  I can’t protect them from any crazy that might ensue, and I cannot pay all of them their missed salaries.  My sons work in the restaurant industry, my daughter has her own small business, and her husband is out in the public risking his health, so that his family can continue to eat.

A few nights ago Joe had a coughing fit; occasionally my head hurts a little bit. We both have runny noses.  Normally neither of these would be a concern.  It’s allergy season.  Joe could have inhaled a bug in his sleep because he hasn’t coughed since.  I’m on the computer too many hours, so hello? of course my head hurts.  I’ll be blind when this is all over with.  But yeah the what if? lingers and embeds itself as tightly as the pestilence that waits for us on door knobs and handrails.

This is what happens when teachers are forced to talk via computer screen

It doesn’t matter that most of us who get sick will recover — if any of us gets sick we will still stress.  Sure most of us will be able to nurse ourselves at home, but what if we’re of that percentage that needs intensive care?  None of us wants to drown in our own mucus, or cry home alone while our loved ones suffer. Joe and I (and many of our friends) have the added perk of not knowing much French, so communicating our ailments won’t be easy.  So yeah it’s a scary time for all, even if we crack jokes and minimalize any potential symptoms we might get.  Plainly put: this sucks.

But, it’s not all bad either.  I do so enjoy my morning commute, and I’m adapting.  My students and I still have our own learning vibe going (I do so miss working face-to-face with them, but their personalities still shine through).  I’m keeping track of the kids that don’t talk so much via our virtual sessions, so that I can check in on them one on one later.  We’re all coming up with ways to make this more fun.  And, we’re remembering to remind people we care and that they matter — and they us.

 

We’re learning how to reevaluate our time, our presence, our what we have.  My favorite memes are the ones that remind us that the only thing we have to do to save the world is to stay home — while still having food, all the joys of the Internet and our creativity (OMG keep it up you silly fools with all your stay-at-home antics.  Have you guys seen the one where a couple does their own thing to a Horse with No Name?).

And Badger is learning Shakespeare!

LOL I’m planning a photo shoot for Badger this weekend, so he can have fun being humiliated on his blog.  A girl has gotta take a break from HBO, video and email chats, and online learning or teaching.

So, all of this will eventually pass, and we will all learn something from it — hopefully more good than bad.  For those of us who will not get through this unscathed, know that we are all rooting for you (and ourselves) and blasting you with healthy, cheery, love-filled vibes.  It’s all we have to offer — along with keeping our fat asses at home on the couch.

Stay safe everyone, and do your best to keep your home filled with positive, cheerful things.  Our grocery store still sells fresh cut flowers, so our dining room table is blooming with life and color.  If I could, I’d buy you all a little of the same.  Hang in there, Humans.  We’ve got this (even if it feels like we don’t).

Day two…

 

Well that’s pretty much what my life will be like the next two months (minus the friends on couch — with social distancing we’ll sit farther apart next time we meet).  Pray my upcoming days won’t include people I know getting ill.  My colleagues, our families and I are on a 60-day travel ban (this comes from our work, not Belgium).  We are not allowed to leave Belgium, and our relatives are not allowed to come in to visit. I’m not complaining.  We all have to do what we all have to do to keep this thing under control.  But, that does mean our spring break trip has been cancelled.  We can’t even drive the 20 minutes it takes to get into France.

We are not in a forced lockdown yet, but precautions are put into place.  Beginning this weekend all bars and restaurants are closed (unless they offer takeaway only), all events cancelled and only grocery stores, street food markets and pharmacies can sell their wares (on weekends; during the week all stores can open). Fritteries, fry shops, remain open (lol you can’t stop the frites!)  All schools are closed Monday, including mine.

We teachers still have to go to work to set up our online materials and teach online from our classrooms unless it gets to a point where we’re told to stay home.  Confirmed cases in Belgium have jumped up to almost 900 — beginning of last week I think we had less than 100 (can’t remember:  a week ago feels so long ago).

I, nor most of my American or Belgium counterparts, am not panicking.  I do have a stash of paper towel and toilet paper, but we always have about that amount saved — my husband has this now-timely fear of running out of paper products. Who knew this would become one of our life-saving moments?

Yes on Friday (when closures were announced) our store aisles were bare, but most of them filled back up yesterday morning, so I think the mass buying will fizzle out here quicker than in the states

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our street is never this empty on a Sunday afternoon, but hey plenty of parking if anyone nearby wants to visit.

I’ve been preparing myself and my students for online learning, so I feel like the transition into that will be easier for us than those who found themselves having to make this shift overnight.

We’ve also got plenty of beer, wine and food stocked, so I plan on making us some great meals.  I also plan on using this time to organize and clean my house and finally focus on two online classes I signed up for almost a year ago.  I have to finish them by May, so giddy up it’s time to read and write the b.s. I’ve been avoiding.  Provided I don’t get ill, I’ve been given precious time to do all those things I keep putting off because I don’t have enough time.

I’m of two halves on this thing.  On the one hand I’m not worried that I’ll get sick, and I know I’m good at keeping my own morale up (not so sure I’m good at doing that with my husband, but whatevs shit will get done in this apartment).  As long as we can, we’ll still meet up with friends in small settings because none of us likes being alone for too long (although this extravert is embracing the notion of some down time).

The other part of me is very aware of the dangers of this damned disease.  Overall, I’m a healthy chunky monkey, so if I were to come down with this I’m pretty sure I’d beat it.  Joe doesn’t fare so well with respiratory stuff (he gets sick way more than I do with those kind of ailments), and he’s a few years older, but while he might bitch and moan about how miserable he is, I sense he too would recover.  BUT, there’s always that small chance that either of us won’t, so yeah that sucks — a shitty reality for all of us right now.

Belgium might become the next Italy or Spain.  Right now we’re good, but it could go to super scary over night, and of course I pray and hope and throw out tons of positive vibes that it won’t.  Universe I hope you’re taking in all that positivity!  But, yeah, we’re all fully aware of the reverse of my good wishes, so we just won’t dwell on that unless we have to, and then we’ll take that one step at a time like every other obstacle that comes our way.

I do not think it’s stupid for all of these closures and cancellations.  I don’t think it’s over reaction.  I do wish our governments would have done it sooner to really wipe this thing out, but only time will tell if their timing wasn’t too late.  I also do get why the waiting happened; closing everything down comes at a very large cost — hopefully, we all remember that it’s a worthwhile one, but again we’re an odd species, so we’ll see where it all goes.

I also worry about my sons who work in the restaurant industry back home.  They’re young and healthy and currently still working, which is great for them financially, but how long will that last?  It’s also affected my daughter’s business.

I worry about the long-term financial impact this will have on us all (and whether it will cause other tensions that lead to nastiness), but again now is not the time for me to focus on the negative, but it is a time to be alert and aware.

There is so much good also coming out of this.  We’re learning how resourceful we can be, and I truly believe more of us are pitching in to do good than to take advantage of the situation (although of course those assholes are out there).  I hope that when we’re collectively wiping our brows and exhaling because we survived this last bout of crisis, we will reflect and realize we can quickly make massive change for the better.

So it seems 2020 is the year of Wash Your Hands, and what a wonderful metaphor that could be for getting rid of all kinds of figurative bacteria that’s been making us ill for too long of a time. If we can close everything (for the betterment of all) and we can quickly realign the way we work and learn, hell’s yeah we could change those things we say are too embedded to change. Let’s remember that when life goes back to normal.

 

And thanks to Tracy for the best hand-washing gel a botanical sipper like me could ever scrub her fingers with.

From box to bottle … it’s all good

Tomorrow I go back to work after a too-short week off (aren’t they always too short?). As you already know we spent our first and last nights in Paris, and in between we toured some highlights of Bordeaux.

First off the fast train from Paris to Bordeaux (not pictured above; that’s our ride from Maubeuge to Paris) is totally worth it.  What would normally be a five-hour drive, took less than three on the train, and you can drink as much as you want because when you arrive in Bordeaux the tram system is super easy and super cheap, so all is right with the world.

Another plus is going in February:  no crowds but all that sweat, glorious wine and cheese and yummy goodness.

In places that look like this.

We lucked out that our first two days the weather was great.  Day one we walked alongside the river and nibbled on shrimp and beer, and then popped into one cafe after another aimlessly picking out wines by carafe or glass.

It wasn’t until our tour to St Emilion and the wine museum that we learned how to read labels and decipher good from great.

Even these old vines are dancing with joy over our newfound wisdom.

These younger ones now know we’ll still sip from them when saving money, but ew lah lah when we’re feeling like a splurge we’ll put them on hold.

 

That said no matter how much we splurge, we’ll never be able to afford these babies.  The most expensive wine in the world is born in this region, and it’s now a life goal to one day see if I can finagle a sip.

 

Until then, I’ll just keep buying what I can from the less-exclusive barrels (seriously though just inches away from the elite ones; they share the same rain, sun and soil).  And aww look a Mama and her babies…

St Emilion is a lovely little town, but because we were on a tour we didn’t get to meander and check out the shops and restaurants embedded in its corners. My credit card is saddened it didn’t get to come out and play.

 

The next time I go to Bordeaux, I’ll want to tour the wines in the Medoc region since I seem to like those more, but all is well I have some good St. Emilion bottles waiting to be served.  La Cite du Vin, also known as a wine museum or amusement park, within the city of Bordeaux is also a treat where we get to learn about wine through interactive exhibits.

As you can see we saved this experience for a rainy day, which was perfect.

Because hello?  Wine and inside exhibits rock.  And while meandering inside we were spared the alien invasion that must have took place.

We also missed out on the drunk shark attack.  Sooo lots of wine and interesting sights, but no drama, which are always the right ingredients for a great vacation. Here’s some pics of the actual city of Bordeaux.  Sadly, I didn’t take many good ones (hmmm I wonder why).

 

Alas it’s time to go back to reality and grade papers, plan lessons, stay sober.  But, it’s all good because spring break is just five weeks away.

Come on Spring flowers and please no late-season snow showers (unless it’s a blizzard that gives me more time at home in my jammies).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day (or two) of the Dead…

 

We just got back from a few days in France.  Last Friday, right after a work we hopped onto our version of the happy train to Paris and spent the night in the Montparnasse area, which happens to contain an interesting cemetery and the Paris catacombs.  Our only reason for picking that location was that our train trip to Bordeaux the next day left from Montparnasse train station (more on that trip on my next blog).

Saturday morning while strolling along looking for our next bar, we found what we thought was a park, which I guess is what a cemetery is after all, and spent over an hour visiting the dead we did not know.  Including…

Oddly enough, despite the lipstick kisses, this was one of the least interesting tombstones we read.  When you’ve got a mix of war heroes, politicians and prime ministers, artists, you name it, all sleeping side by side, and on top of each other it’s an orgy of interesting corpses.

Ricardo’s was the most interesting lover of cats, but there were more.


There were lovers of music and books and Christmas too…


I love this last one.  If you look on top of the stone books, you’ll see that instead of leaving flowers someone left a modern book.  Who doesn’t want to spend eternity keeping up with the latest?

There were also beautifully crafted crypts with wrought iron and stained glass windows, and then there were the sculptures.


She looks so bored mourning her keep while the city thrives behind her.

We also met an American actress who adopted Paris as her home thanks to her role in French New Wave cinema, and Paris apparently decided to keep her.

There were also those in denial…

And those, um, perhaps the world did not want returning…

Don’t know who this guy was, but there’s extra weight keeping him down.  But, this family wanted the world to know that they indeed were cut from the same stone.

What I loved most about this shrine to those who came before us is it was so inviting for those of us still breathing that we want to come in and mingle with the dead, appreciating all the different ways their tombs reflect who they must have been.

Gotta love that there’s a dumpster to clear up any evidence of the midnight parties we mere mortals cannot attend.

So, if you have extra time in Paris, go say hi to our new friends chilling at the Montparnasse cemetery.  It’s free, and they love the attention.

On our return trip from Bordeaux, we spent the night again in Montparnasse, so we could go beneath Paris to see where millions of its former residents are interred (many of whom met their end via guillotine or revolution).  Long story short:  in the late 1700s the centuries old, crowded cemeteries caused some issues — including vapors so bad they curdled milk and soured wine (um there’s no effing way Parisians are going to deal with rotten wine) — so in the dead of night graves were dug up and remains were dumped into an abandoned quarry in what was, at the time, outside the city.  One of the guys in charge thought it would be cool to organize the bones in patterns and surround them with pithy quotes that would celebrate life and lol not make their chamber of death so gloomy.

From Paris with Love!  Some of the skulls look like they’re laughing.

News flash for him:  it’s still eerie as fuck.  But, I appreciate the chance to go down there and thankfully make the climb back out.  Of course if you want to learn more, I highly recommend you buy advance tickets to not feel like a zombie in the lines that lead to the entrance (although we totally lucked out and went on a day where there were very few of us visiting — maybe because it was Ash Wednesday?)

Next up?  discovering French grape juice in Bordeaux…

Two Americans, a Dutchman, a Siberian and an Iranian gather at a bar…

img_3665There’s no punch line to go with that headline, but lol the blurry pic says it all.  It’s how  Joe and I spent our valentines in Valkenburg, Netherlands.  This little town packed with ruins, caves and too many restaurants to list is about a two-hour drive from where I work (on a Friday night, bet it’s a lot less other nights of the week).  Prior to our visit the only thing I knew about this place was that it holds its annual Christmas markets in its caves, which we’ve been wanting to check out.  It’s way more than that, and I totally recommend visiting it any other time of the year.

Valentines Day is also Joe’s birthday, so I wanted to treat him to a cozy weekend somewhere we have not yet been to.  The only reason Valkenburg won the pick is because while checking out places to stay in Maastricht, I saw a post for a hotel that offers an apartment with a fireplace.  Ding ding ding … this time of year there’s no telling what kind of weather you’ll have, so our own little fireplace wins.

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And what an adorable lil bundle of logs it is — especially on this rainy, windy Sunday (last week we left London in the middle of storm Ciara only to follow its path into Belgium; this week we’ll be coasting with storm Dennis).

Friday night we walked around the town and crossed canal bridges and just loved being away from it all and having the time to walk and breathe.  LOL and then we stopped in the hotel bar to have a nightcap, which turned into quite a few with our energetic, fun bartender and the other couple at the bar.  We learned about their countries norms and quirks, they learned about ours, and I’m pretty sure we all woke the next morning feeling worldly, blessed and cursed with the reality of too much valentine’s cheer.

After drinking a few gallons of water and loading up on Aleve, Joe and I toured the town and met interesting friendly people every where we went.  First up was a mill attached to a restaurant.  The owner who lived in the mill invited us to tour his place to see all the cogs and belts that made things work, just because we made the mistake of walking into his work area.  And, then, of course ,we bought a loaf of bread — yum.

There’s a whole lot of machinery involved in making organic flour.

I just loved spending the day popping into antique and quirky stores, sipping and nibbling at the numerous cafes, and then peeking into peoples windows (I know it is soo very wrong, but the Dutch have the cutest window decorations).  Finally we were ready to climb the stairs to tour castle ruins, and what a treat that was (I’ll never tire of castles and churches).

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Look at the view from the top of the hill!  Isn’t it such an adorable little town.img_3715img_3694

We take the WORST selfies, but damn we look good in this one.  LOL hangovers are our beauty secret.  Afterward we took a tour of the Velvet Cave, which was carved out under the castle.  It was used during WW2 as a hiding place for the locals when the Germans came to invade.  Luckily this happened during the last days of war, so Valkenburg did not have to hide long.  That said, it’s dark and dank down there, and who wants to hide with bats?

There are also numerous paintings all over the cave that tell the town’s stories.  Here the walls can actually talk (albeit a visual speak).

Today, we’re going back to a store where we want to buy more stuff we adore but don’t really need, but you can’t take American consumerism out of us just because we’re no longer there, and then it’s back to fighting the wind on our drive home.

Last weekend we went to London to see Book of Mormon, which was a lot of fun (but I didn’t take a lot of pics).

LOL and this pretty much sums up our London trip, but we do want to go back again since it’s nice to be understood.  Everything is just so much easier!  There are also more plays and musicals we want to see, so I’ll write more about London another time.

Next up is Paris (again, I know) and Bordeaux (woo hoo!).  We booked an apartment within walking distance of a wine amusement park or museum (depending on what website you look at).  Anyway, I’m pretty sure I’ll be in nirvana.

And that’s it for now.  Hopefully, you all had a lovely Valentine’s weekend, and for some of you I think you also have Monday off —- aargh, I’m jealous (I could use a Monday off — lol we’re never totally satisfied, are we?).

p.s. here’s the link of where we stayed.  We really loved it here and will probably do a few more weekends just because it’s so close and a nice little escape for us: Hotel Scheepers

Youthquake!

I saw this headline on Timemagazine.com and thought how appropriate it is for me since I’m finishing up a week at THIMUN, which is a 5-day Model United Nations conference at The Hague, also where the U.N’s International Court of Justice holds court (literally a 4 minute walk from where I sit right now).

According to THIMUN’s website more than 3,200 students from 200 schools around the world take part in this training ground for our future world leaders (and God help us may it hold true that some of these kids take the reigns because we need them).  I posted what an amazing experience this was last year, and it still is because the kids truly do cut their teeth on resolutions, debates, collaboration, etc. — real-world skills that will serve them well with whatever they decide to do with their lives.

I tear up during the opening ceremony when the parade of nations takes place because for a few minutes I’m filled with hope and love for humanity’s potential — especially when guest speakers remind us we’re in a city that prides itself on peace.  Peace, people.  Unity. A reminder that we still have a chance to not royally fuck everything up.  Our babies might just save us after all.

But, I’m also here at an unsettling time.  There’s great divide not just within my country but too many to mention; there’s too much scorched or parched earth; and there’s too many forms of life dying at what seems an unnatural rate.  The earth is also shaking and spewing lava and lethal microbes at us maybe because she’s pissed, or maybe because she’s just as fickle and petty as we are.

When I’m not going in and out of committees to see what my kids are doing, I sit and chat with other teachers from around the world (no longer a novelty for me, but still very cool).  It’s dangerous when teachers have time to sip coffee while it’s warm and not have to rush for this or that.  We reflect.  We philosophize.  We share the observations we don’t normally have time to think about yet alone articulate.

A common thread among our discussions this year is that we (mankind) are changing.  It’s visible in us and our young.  There’s more arrogance, more tuning out, more reactive versus proactive, more feed me now Seymour! Even here where open mindedness and compromise is at the root of all we do, too many times we ally to win our side for the sake of winning versus what might be in the best interest of most (although perhaps that’s always been the case).

This trip takes up a lot of my time, and it causes me a whole lot of stress.  There are all the arrangements and meetings that need to be made before we go, and then while we’re here I, and the other adults with me, are responsible for the safety and well being of someone else’s teenagers while being in a bustling city with thousands of other teens — all excited to be a part of this, and all wanting to have a little parent-free fun. I’m on guard from the minute I wake until the minute I finally pass out, and I’m always fully aware that I am a role model, so I need to practice what I preach alllllllllll day long (it’s hard being a model citizen when you’re normally such a sinner after-hours).

There’s teen angst, bravado, drama, anxiety, etc. etc. etc.  LOL there’s adult drama too.  And, I cannot tell you how many times I ask myself why in the hell am I doing this? Especially when a kid decides to test things and make me feel small for doing my job (although most of the time that’s not the case).  Shit happens while we’re here, and I have to help them (and me) deal with it.  It’s exhausting and not rewarding in the sense of recognition or money.  But, it does so feed and warm my soul when a kid gets it (maybe just for half a second) that holy shit my voice IS power.  Of course that’s after hours of not getting called upon, but that too is valuable — most of the time we are not heard, or not given the chance, or perhaps on this particular thing it’s better off silent, but we have to keep trying, right?

I doubt I’ll do this again next year because a week away is taxing on the job front for me as well as personally.  It’s just a lot, but I will make sure that this thing continues. It will be a success no matter who is managing it.  And, it does have to keep going.

You see there’s this virus going around that we’re all terrified of catching.  We adults are on alert.  The Hague is on alert with medical staff on standby should we need them.  I told my friends that if I ended up on lockdown at this conference with all of these kids my head would explode.

Then we got here and realized we were sharing our hotel hallway with a school from Shanghai.  I thought “oh shit, are you kidding me?”  I don’t know what my kids thought, but their actions were all positive — from inviting our neighbors to take part in our hallway games to socializing when we run into each other at dinner outings.  They don’t care where anyone is from or what they might represent (at least for now; pray the world doesn’t taint them tomorrow).

And that is after all what this is all about.  If we adults don’t keep ensuring that our kids are exposed to at least mock humanity (with real world actions on their part) then what good are we?  So go all you little debaters out there, keep doing your thing, but remember this is your training to spread some good when you shed your childhood and take on your adulthood.  Your species depends on it.

p.s. and don’t worry about my whine about my lost free time; my husband has a good bottle of red breathing for me when I get home Friday night.  Humdullah my sinning will commence.

p.s.s. If you’re interested in seeing more about the actual conference you can read about it by clicking here.

Happy New Year!

It was so good having two of my kids here for the holidays. I sooooo miss living close to them. We had a wonderful Christmas, mostly through the eyes of Torin.

He’s one of us — already begging for beer.

I soooo miss that little wiggle worm! I have to wait at least 6 months before I can see him again.

Day after Christmas we packed up a rental van and drove to Normandy, where we stayed in a renovated farm house and Kelly got to pay homage to all (including his grandfather) who did not get to experience Normandy with the love and warmth we did.

Loved this swing (and playing with my little Mama) in the barn.  This would be the perfect place to spend the summer.

They used airplane toggles for light switches.  How clever!

This bathtub was perfect for Torin (sorry i didn’t get a good shot, but my daughter got a few).  LOL I took a bath in it, and had to do yoga to get back out (I’ve never done yoga before — um a wet, naked me was not a good way to begin).

Joe’s and my bed in the attic room.  I want the world to know that even under the influence of fermented French grapes, my fat ass and weak ankle can still climb the ladder to this comfy bed.  Our first night I fell asleep to the wind howling because it could not budge those stone walls or the tightly fastened roof (Amen to that!).

Thanks to it being unseasonably warm, we ended up stripping down to tank tops just so we could enjoy our last night with a fire and Saving Private Ryan — a must see after visiting all the sites, just to remind us of how awful it all was. May we one day learn to resolve our conflicts without destroying our precious young and land.

Watching the sun rise from my bed in the attic room.  How cool is that?!

Who doesn’t want to um, read in this room?  Another perk:  the floors are heated!  OMG my tootsies love a warm bathroom floor.

And, here are some shots of the fam touring the shores and churches of Normandy.

We lit a candle for peace — oh may it shine brightly.

My little photographer taking all sorts of close ups.  Torin is not amused.

My baby of the group — looks like he belongs here!

I love Torin’s facial expressions, especially in his carrier.  He seems to love the mist on his face, but he’s always “so whatcha up to?”

Kelly with his mom.

Then we came back to Mons and brought in the New Year with fireworks on the Grand Place.  This was the first year they threw a party on New Years, and it was fantastic.  I do so love where I live.  It just seems to get better and better, except for the fact that my kids aren’t here permanently.

It’s all good because my trick to not suffering Empty Nest Syndrome is travel, so on Jan 2 when my kids flew home, Joe and I boarded a plane to Venice, where we spent a lovely long weekend with his sister (since he’s retired, Joe got to spend a few days longer; I’m still jealous).

This is my favorite shot I took during that trip, and I took it from the balcony of Joe’s sister’s apartment.

These two shots are from the windows of our apartment.

It was so cool to sip coffee with that view (fingers crossed I didn’t blind any gondoliers with my no-bra jammies).  We stayed in the San Paulo area, which is where Joe’s sister has been visiting for years (15 I think).  It was so nice to have her as our guide because we got to feast and sip with the friends she’s made there over the years, and we now love it as much as she does.  Thank you Linda for giving us another place to call home!

This shop was our guide to turn onto our street. And just in case you need more pics of Venice, here you go…

I could have sat and sipped here alllllllllllll day long.

Joe and Linda catching up our first night there.  We now know the best time to visit St Marco square is at night, after Christmas.  STILL magical!

But, can you ever get enough gondola shots?

These two dogs waited patiently outside while their owner bought bread.  Going by the amount of people taking pics, I bet they’re international social media stars by now. Badger would love it here since dogs seem to be welcome and adored everywhere.

Gotta post a selfie of us standing on the dock right by our bedroom window.

We had such a wonderful time that we decided to join Linda for Christmas there next year.  I’ll be sure to bring a big suitcase so that I can load up with more glasses and bowls and oh my the shopping!  So many pretty things, but the best — besides the scenery — were the people (food and wine almost tie with them).

As for the new year:  I no longer make resolutions.  However, this year I made one, and that is to upload my photos to this blog as trips are happening.  It takes a ridiculous amount of time to sort through them all and do it on a lazy Sunday (when I also have the pressure of having real work to do — ugh).  It’s quicker uploading via my phone anyway.  So, there you go:  fingers crossed I’ll keep to it.

Before I say chow, here are a few links that might interest you (and no:  I don’t get paid to share other people’s stuff.  lol I don’t get paid for this blog at all).

First one is Badger’s take on my return (poor boy is getting old, which means less trips in 2020 without him):  Badger Does Belgium

Second is a link to our cottage in Normandy.  Know that it’s an hour from most sites, but it has a lovely beach nearby:  Glatigny Farmhouse

Third is a Venetian walking food tour (by American guides) we haven’t taken yet, but we totally plan on bringing friends to Venice to do this (we’ve met the couple who do this and can’t imagine this being anything but fun):  Venice Bites

And that’s it for now.  I’m back in my real world and have a busy few weeks coming up.  Are they ever anything but busy?

Merry Christmas!

It’s been a busy month getting festive with friends and Christmas markets. I’ve not had time to pop in and show you the Christmas markets in Brussels, Mons, Aachen, Durbuy and Brugge. So here’s a quick blast of some of it.

Aaron got here on the 16th, and Kaylene and her family arrived a week later, so we’re inhaling time with two of the kids — and the grandbaby!

Mama bear and two of her cubs

lol the child is an artist with his food

my baby working her art

It’s Christmas morning and everyone is still all snuggled up in their beds, while I slowly wake in my big yellow chair. It’s good to have my children here.  I wish Kyle and Kendra were here as well, but we’ll all do Christmas together in Arizona next year.

Tomorrow we do a family road trip to Normandy where we’ve rented a lovely farmhouse.  I can’t wait to sip wine in front of its fireplace.  So, all is well with my world.  The next time I post it will be 2020 (unless I manage to fit in some time to write before then), so here’s a very Merry Christmas to all of you and a Happy New Year!  May you all have some blessed quiet time and a little bit of chaos with your loved ones.

Laish? Warum? Pourquoi?

Why in any of the languages I barely or fluently know just doesn’t get to the heart of what many of us are really asking.  So far this year according to a CNN article there have been 44 school shootings in America (32 of them at elementary or secondary schools).  That is almost a shooting per week in the very structures we’ve designed to nurture and grow our future.

I love my students, not like I love my own children, but it is a maternal mix of pride and frustration cemented in the sometimes naïve belief that ‘my’ kids can achieve anything they set their minds to — with a little push from all of us.  I began my teaching career at what some might think as the worst place to teach:  a charter school for the kids who got kicked out of inner-city public schools.  Minority students were the few who did not have facial piercings, multiple gang tattoos, and/or parole officers.  Most of my afterschool meetings were not with parents, but with social workers, police officers and drug/violence counselors.

To say these kids were intimidating is an understatement, but they had me hooked by the end of the first week.  Somewhere along the line I earned their trust and respect, and they rewarded me with the children they were — and oh my goodness the high I got from seeing them learn and discover more than their failures.   I moved from that school to others, which eventually led me to overseas teaching, where I have had the opportunity to meet teenagers from all walks of life — from the uber privileged to the scorn of society and everything in between.

Those early years taught me that no matter how abused, how absurd, how unimaginably horrid students’ lives could be that they still had a light in them; they still had hope, and unlike many adults in their world they could still be reasoned with if given the chance.  In my 17 years of teaching I have met only three children who no longer had that light – one was the epitome of apathetic (and hopefully still reachable at some point in her life); two made my blood run cold.  Out of the thousands of adolescents I’ve worked with I have only met two that I’d bet money on were sociopaths — and yet, while I have no idea where their lives have taken them, they did not pick up a gun and shoot their peers during their high school years (who knows what they’ve done since then, but I have not seen their names in the headlines so inshallah they’ve found some sort of normalcy that doesn’t include damaging others).

The Santa Clarita school shooting was done by a child who showed no signs of trouble, other than he struggled with mourning the loss of his father two years prior. One witness described him as a cookie cutter kid.  On his 16th birthday, this child decided to pull out a gun, randomly shoot those in front of him and then shoot himself.

Within 16 seconds a child transitioned from a beacon of hope to a monster.  Whatever triggered him to do this has now caused irreparable damage to countless others, ending the lives of three children (himself included).  Our children are annihilating themselves (literally and figuratively), and this is not normal — not even for kids who witness or take part in violence and destruction on a daily basis (their violence is a misconceived code of survival, which is a whole other subject, but in essence does connect —- why are those children in that situation in the first place?).

Forgive me, but what in the fuck is wrong with us?

Why are we still tearing each other apart blaming this and that and not being the adults our kids deserve us to be?  Gun control isn’t our only issue here (although it is embarrassing that absolutely nothing has changed yet), we are an angry, frustrated lot caught up in a downward spiral of corruption, fear, coercion, bigotry and the poisoning of my profession.  That last bit must play into this because why else would so many of us cave to manipulative messaging and our base biases?  Educated, critical thinkers would know better than to allow that nonsense to rule our newsfeeds and conscience.

I remember my language arts standards used to include teaching the avoidance of accepting logical fallacies and the importance of objectivity: two concepts that feel as extinct as the Zanzibar leopard and the West African black rhino (just two of the many species dying off during our lifetimes).  Yeah I know that’s an awkward analogy, but let’s keep in mind our children — the incredible sponges of all around them — are growing in a world where life and logic are under attack.

Of course we still teach these things, but we’re mandated to focus on so many other things now because of test results or political expectations, which all connect to funding, which we need to do our jobs — and the mandates continually change without really changing, but the ‘changes’ take up so much of our time we get lost in the vocabulary and paperwork that goes with it all. We can only attempt to model rational thinking in an irrational world.  We teach our kids to do the right thing, but let’s be really honest with ourselves:  we are not practicing what we preach.  And I’m saying we because I am part of this problem as are you.

Going back to my first years at the inner, inner city school.  While I was a novice teacher, some of my best teaching took place there because I had the freedom (ah there’s a word that’s feeling a bit shallow these days) to tailor my curriculum to meet the needs of my students, and then guide them to their next levels — all with outdated materials, incompetent management, and unsafe classrooms.  Before I lose you, I am not saying teachers should be left alone to do whatever we like.  We need standards, we need continual training, we need guidance —- just like our kids do.  We also need to be included in the decision making that impacts what we’re constantly being told to do or not do.

Just like our kids, if you throw too much at us and you don’t give us a chance to share what we’ve learned in the way we need to share it (don’t even get me started on the paperwork trail we have to follow to prove we’re collaborating, assessing and incorporating rigor into our worlds) we get confused, lose our focus, and, sometimes, implode.  We’re old; exploding takes too much energy for us. Some of us give up and just go through the motions or leave the profession.  Others become militant with their words — mostly through teacher chat boards or in faculty break away corners (we don’t really use our break rooms for breaks anymore).  A few lose their shit with the kids.

And that’s just my profession, which I do so very much still love, regardless of not always understanding the way it’s managed (and that’s not to say the folk managing it are the bad guys; they too are being pulled this way and that and running backwards on a treadmill trying to do the right thing). I’m sure it’s the same in other professions.  Are we at a time where the cogs are destroying the folk who turn them?

How many of us go home deflated, disenfranchised to bury ourselves into the distractions our phones, TVs, or computers provide?  How many turn to drugs (legal or not) or booze to put some calm into the crazy?  I’m not judging:  lord knows I love my wine and champagne and my Netflix.  I’m currently writing in my blog (while ignoring my husband and dog) to work through my shit now, which I will share to distract you with — all thanks to the same technology I sometimes blame for our bad.

My point is that while we the people have always struggled with the balance between the work world and our real worlds, it feels that maybe the crazy has taken over a bit too much.  We can debate until the cows come home, but come on we all know something is very, very wrong — just as Hamlet knew about Denmark (I cannot believe I’m at a time in my life where I’m seeing literary characters I thought of as weak and sniveling in my own being).

Our children do too.

This wrong begins with our us versus them mentality.  It’s definitely wrapped with greed, politics, climate change (yep), and all the uglies that continue to surround us, but it’s rooted within our divide.

I’m not smart enough to know how to fix any of this, BUT the teacher, mother, critical thinker in me knows that we will remain impotent to preventing the death of our children, our future, until we realize that the them we blame for all of this is us.  We cannot keep sitting on the sidelines waiting for someone else to cure what ails us.

Our school shootings have become the metaphor for our own crazy.  We have got to figure out a way to make this stop.  And, yeah, I know my little rant in my little blog won’t change anything, BUT it’s done.  I’ve taken my first step and posted it despite the fact that I try so hard to keep my views private because I just don’t want to bother with the fallout from folk who might not agree with me or like what I say. I like playing it safe and keeping my shit to myself.  I am not here to blame you; I’m here to say come on people we can do this.  We can hold our leaders — in all aspects of our lives — accountable and tell them to act like the adults we teach our children to be.  We can remind them that they are just as accountable for doing their jobs and fulfilling their mandates as we are ours.  We can change the goddamned cogs if they are destroying the essence of who we are.

Our babies need us to do this.  We need us to do this.

 

Fall Break!

I’m off for a week and spending most of it in Germany.  Woo hoo!  I sooooooo need this time off to breathe and reflect and enjoy the beauty of living.  Joe and I joined some friends for a long but fun drive to Munich where we spent the weekend sipping, strolling and eating.  Today, Joe is off to Prague with the friends, and I am off to Hamburg to spend time with family.

I always love being in Germany, and I still hope to one day find myself getting transferred to a school here.  It won’t be much closer to most of my family since none of our locations are up north, but Stuttgart is near my niece and sister — so, fingers crossed, one day.

That is not to say I don’t also love Belgium.  Germany is just so much easier for me since, well, some of it is in my DNA.  I’m more at home here.

We were blessed with beautiful weather yesterday.  Munich is ablaze with autumn colors.

But the long, dark, cold, wet days are right around the corner.  I’m okay with those too because it means candles, hearty stews and soups (a fat girl’s heaven), and the holiday season — whoop whoop!

My sister Angie and some of her family are visiting from Virginia; we’ll meet up again today.  Her first few days here I was so busy with work I didn’t get much chance to enjoy time with them, so the next few days will be all about fun, family time.  We head back to Belgium on Halloween where I’m sure more fun will be had, and when they leave Shannan arrives to spend a few weeks with us.

Sooooo, I’ve got plenty of cheer ahead of me.

My only complaint is I won’t get to spend Halloween again with this little guy..

But, isn’t he adorable in the space suit I bought this summer?!  Cannot wait to see him in December!  He’s hobbling along now, so he’ll be running all over the Christmas markets.

Well, I’ve got to pack up and get myself ready for the train ride to airport.  Happy Halloween and Harvest cheers to all of you!

p.s. I’m including this photo only because it’s a rare good one of me (lol I’d make a terrible model with my crazy facial expressions).  Thanks to Joe for knowing the right angle to snap his wife at! AND, hello?  I’m outside in Munich this time of year without a jacket on — in short sleeves!

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