Category Archives: Belgium Year three

Hello? Is there anyone out there?

Am I going under?

Before I get into bitch mode and tell you all about how unseen or unheard or whatever I’m feeling, I do need to point out that our weekends have been busy. Before Joe got back from his Arizona trip, I went to Aachen, Spangdhalem, and Mechelen. The weekend he got back we were off to Antwerp, and then my friend Ashley visited, so that included Brussels and Brugge and Dinant (without me on that one — a girl’s gotta work — but Joe and Ashley had fun).

Hey girl! Was soooo good to play with you.

Last weekend we were in Ramstein, shopping our little hearts out. Next weekend we’ll be in Dusseldorf, and then we’re off to Malta for five days. So, I am out and about seeing and doing all sorts of stuff again, and that is freaking wonderful.

But that’s not what this post is all about. It’s about the days in between all the fun stuff: the real-world work days we live in. Is it me? Or, has Covid made us all, well, more invisible? Nothing is easy or seems to happen right the first time around, and communication is not what Websters defines as communication. I mean there are plenty of emails and memos and forms and FML more forms. I just filled out a form to attach to my vaccine card to go with my stack of papers in whatever file cabinet the ‘me’ file goes in. That same vaccine card is in another file cabinet in the nurse’s office, and in the files of the clinic that keeps my medical stuff stashed away. I also have a QR code in my phone that I can show to anyone in the careers of bars to border patrol.

OMG and all the platforms that house these different to-do lists and forms. Whomever invented Teams; I hate you.

There are a lot of words telling me what I need to do, but when it comes to me reaching out for answers, it’s …

I’m going to be good and not tell you all the work to-dos that keep popping up, just know I’m assessed out, and now all I see when the verb assess comes up is my little mental noun the ass. But, I’m doing it. I’m pretty sure most results will show that, get this? Kids need to learn more.

I tried paying back a debt payroll said I owe. It’s a month later, and that money is still in my account. I emailed someone hoping to get an answer, and I almost fell out of the chair when she emailed me back an hour later (If we were in the same country, I would’ve hugged her), but she had to email someone else to see if she could find an answer, so we still don’t know why I’m still in debt because I still have my money. There are a few other things I’m trying to accomplish, but I’m in limbo mode waiting for my emails to be answered.

I wish I could say it was just work where this was happening, but no it’s everywhere. I tried several times to change my checkout date at the hotel we’re staying in Malta. Sadly, I couldn’t find a decent flight home Saturday, so we have to leave a day earlier. I even called the hotel and was told to email a certain address; email sent; no response. I’ll be really pissed if I get there and my entire stay was cancelled. Please oh please travel gods do not let that last sentence come back to haunt me.

It took four tries to get my cable/internet company to reschedule installing their new fiber optic cable, a request originally made by them. First time they came, they couldn’t do it because they needed landlord approval to drill holes in my wall. Next up I went to one of their offices with a French-speaking friend and was told I’d receive an appointment email; I didn’t. Then my husband was on the phone for 45 minutes to try to reschedule. LOL today I got an email that they received my request to reschedule fiber optic at a later date. I responded with a “No. I’m trying to schedule it. Give me a date please.” An hour later they did. Inshallah I’ll have this nifty new cable and the holes in the wall to go with it on Nov 8.

Oh and they too say I owe money for a bill I know I paid, but I was a little worried about it because I had to send it to a different account number. How much you want to bet they attached someone else’s transfer number to my bill? Another phone call I need to make, but when will I have the time? They’re closed by the time I am free.

I seriously could go on and on about the amount of requests/inquiries I have sent out the past few months to various people and businesses to no avail. What in the effity eff is going on? Is there no one on the other end?

I have literally sent emails to myself just to make sure my email receiver wasn’t broken.

I also feel like people are more rude or annoyed in public too. I saw a lady push a kid out of the way in a grocery aisle. The kid was talking to her sibling and didn’t see the obvious VIP barreling down the aisle. Drivers stress me out with their stupidly aggressive moves — do they not see I’m in that lane?

Or, maybe I’m the more rude one now. It could be. I’m always on edge because I must be invisible. That’s gotta be it, right? Or have I truly become so insignificant that no one has got time for me? It’s enough to drive a woman to

Translation: The 11th commandment: drink beer. (a really cool restaurant in Antwerp, where the waiters see, hear and, actually seem to, enjoy you. highly recommend!)

I feel like perhaps Covid is, afterall, turning us into some form of zombies. We’re just sucking up each other’s time and, with it, our brain power.

And that, my friends (if you’re out there), is my vent. I feel better now — if only I could also burn steps while running on this damned insufferable hamster wheel.

Hopefully, my next post will wax poetic over all the cool shit I saw and did in Dusseldorf and Malta, which, by the way, includes the whole hassle of online things called Passenger Locator Forms.

The dance between light and dark

I apologize for skipping the entire month of August. I’ve been happily busy with work and the myriad of fun things my blessed life brings me. Up until yesterday, Badger and I were enjoying our single mom/dog time. Joe is in the states until September 28. Badger loved his sitters who would take care of him while I went to work or on a day trip with friends, and I enjoyed making him his special dinner bowls while I whipped up salads and things Joe would prefer to not eat. We both enjoyed our walks and time with friends on the Place, and of course we missed our Joe too, but we had a good routine going.

That all changed Sunday night. Badger walked more crooked and moved even slower than normal during his before-bed pee. He was antsy and wouldn’t settle down when we went to bed. He went into the living room and made sure I knew he wanted company. From the bedroom I could hear him doing his “bitch where you at” sighs, so I came out to move his doggie bed and water bowl closer to the fan. I told him I was tired, gave him a good night pat and went to bed. A few hours later he started barking. Totally pissed off and annoyed, I came out to snap at him. He was struggling more than normal to get up. He’s an old, old dog (more of a hobbit), so it was normal for his body to betray him. I reluctantly moved my pillow and blanket to the couch (because hello? I’m also not young and I needed my sleep) and massaged his hips until he settled down and went to sleep. Sleep didn’t last long. His bowels gave out next. He freaked out because he could no longer stand. Our dog has never allowed himself to defecate in the house (early puppyhood excluded). Now, he’s shitting himself uncontrollably. I cleaned him as best I could. Then came the vomit and the seizures (they were mild but still troubling to watch). My sweet old dog was stroking out, and there was nothing he nor I could do, so I sat in his excrement and wiped his face and paws with a warm cloth and mumbled stupid things like “it’s okay.” Which, of course, it wasn’t.

He calmed down and was able to regain control of who he was, but he did so by no longer fighting what was happening. He was still in pain, and I’m pretty sure he knew his time was short, so he said fuck it and just let me love him. I got him one of Joe’s pillows because I figured he’d enjoy having Joe’s scent nearby as well, plus Badger has always loved to burrow his snout into a good pillow, which he did. He slept for a bit, woke up a lot, but always calmed down when he saw I was there to soothe and clean the best I could. Even in dying my dog continued to teach me about the depth of being humane. It’s a light that comforts those we are helping as well as ourselves.

A now friend for life (the mom of two of Badger’s sitters) came to the rescue the next day to help me bring Badger to the vet (all of my other friends were at work, and I didn’t want to ask any of them to take time off for this, but I know all of them would have). We managed to get him on a doggy bed and carry him to the car as if he were a prince on a palanquin. And don’t think for a second my dog didn’t eat that shit up. I swear he lounged and let the sun warm him while we fussed over his comfort. As horrible as it was, it was also a beautiful thing.

When a pet is euthanized the doctor first gives a sedative and, in Badger’s case, some time for dog and blubbering mom to snuggle and say good bye. The look of relief in his eyes when the pain finally stopped was such a gift. In his own way he let me know he was good, it was time, and then he fell asleep and snored. This is how I would like to die, snoring with my head on a loved one’s lap.

My dog died yesterday, and, yes, I am engulfed with all the layers of sorrow. I’m normally not much of a crier; these past two days I’ve done so much of it I wonder if I’ll run out of tears. But, I am also in wonder and awe at how much my dog has given me in his final moments.

I used to worry that I’d burden my loved ones with the indignity of whatever horrors my own body will release toward my end. I now know that none of that matters. All we have to do is let go and take the love our people want to give us. The dance between our light and dark selves is part of the magic we all bring, and it becomes immortal when we embrace the love that binds us. Should I be denied this chance for whatever reason, I want my loved ones to know that I will remember this lesson, and I will go with their love. How fucking amazing is that?

While I want to picture Badger chasing birds with his animal buddies that passed before him, I also realize it doesn’t matter if there is any form of life after death. There might be; there might not be. Who cares? What matters is what we do with the time we have, and trust me my dog spent his days well. He loved his people, his snacks, his walks, his everything, and he never held a grudge — although he’d totally give you the side eye if you didn’t slide him a snack.

I think the reason we love our pets so much is that they bring out the best in us, even when we don’t want to be that best. I think they teach us so much more about humanity than we teach ourselves, if that makes sense.

Badger has his own blog, which I created, so we could capture his overseas adventures. I will write his final post after Joe returns. I know Joe is burdened with not being here, but he shouldn’t be. He deserves the trip he is currently on, and Badger would much rather have Joe howling in the woods with his buddies versus being sad and lonely in our apartment.

When Joe returns we will bring Badger’s ashes to the Ardennes and sprinkle him along the hiking trails he loved but could no longer walk (oh but how he wanted to). We will also remember him fondly with our friends who also loved him — perhaps dropping an ash or two in the parks he loved to roam, and most certainly on spilled beer at his favorite bar.

Joe and I will embrace our time together and do what any good soul would want us to do — live and, for Dog’s sake, take in the love.

Thank you Badger for giving us so much wonderful!

Doing a whole lot of catching up…

I’ve been busy inhaling summer time freedom. Before taking off to see the fam in Arizona, Joe and I rented a boat and a cabin you could get to only by boat. It was three days of just the two of us living in what felt like the middle of nowhere, but we were hidden off of one of the Netherlands many canals. What a fantastic way to detox from the 2021 school year!

I also did a day trip to Durbuy, so that I could buy some special perfume gifts for Kaylene and the boys’ girlfriends.

We caught Belgium fever and had friends over to watch Belgium play the EuroCup.  Sadly, we watched them lose to Italy while we were in the states.  We got Torin to cheer for them, but it didn’t work this time around.  We’ll cheer harder for next year’s World Cup.

And then finally, we got to fly home!   It was a bit of an ordeal with getting tested and filling out forms and whatnot, but whatever.  It was totally worth any hassle to get back to the states to see my babies (and their babies)!

Our first few days were hectic, but we got to see some of Joe’s family and catch up with some of my crazy friends.  Once again the crew flew in Monica to surprise me with a weekend of debauchery.  Tis a good thing we live so far away from each other now because I don’t think our livers can take much more of our abuse.

And then FINALLY all of my kids and their significant others, Joe and me, and all of our goodies made our way to our vacation rental near Huntington Beach in California, where we spent a glorious 6 days being a family again.  I cannot tell you how much I treasured this time.

Poor Kendra fell during a rock climbing adventure with Kyle, but she was such a trooper riding her scooter or crutches every where we went. Joe and Kaylene planned a family photo shoot with a great photographer.  We’re waiting on the final photos but the group (after the pic below) is a sample of what she caught of us.

I will never get enough of my beautiful family. I’m so happy my children have also found partners that fit right in and help my little adults find their way in this world (and they them).

The day after we returned to Arizona, Joe and I drove up to Prescott to catch up with some Belgium peeps: Mini and Lorayne. Again, fun times were had.

Then Joe had to return to Belgium to take care of Badger, and I soaked up plenty of time with Torin and Kaylene. I’ll fly home with bald spots and bruises thanks to all the wrestling matches with Torin. Never, ever underestimate the force of an almost three-year old’s “Hulk Smash.” He looks harmless in photos, but watch out he’s quick.

I’m in the midst of my last week in Arizona and sad to see that it has flown by so quickly. I have a two-day trip to Vegas to catch up with Jordan and Wilber, then I’m back in Arizona for two days before flying off to Virginia to catch up with folk, and then back to Belgium to continue my adventure there.

Hopefully, the next time I pop in, I’ll have more time to find the right words and pics to share. Right now, I’m too busy doing the family thing to mess with the right words and tones. Do know that my heart and soul are embracing all the love and wonder that comes with being with your tribe. I needed this time so berry, berry much (as Torin the Terror would say).

Waking up …

Me in the mornings trying to remember where in life I am

It’s been sunny, humid and hot (by Belgian standards; Phoenix and UAE not so much). This morning was gloriously gray and breezy. I sat on my balcony, reading, sipping, and taking in the beauty of a workday morning that I don’t have to work. The rain splashed me with the scent of wet roses, earth and masonry. School children and their teachers became a symphony of voices in the old courtyard over the brick walls that separate us.

I, on the other hand, do not need to go back to my own din until August 10. It is once again summer break. I love that my job has its seasons that include blocks of time off. There is a clear beginning, middle and end to my work. Closure is a good thing.

And, God help us, may that also mean we’re nearing the closure of restrictions and “wtf now?” stress. Europe is waking up again. It’s not fully open, but it’s getting there. We can do things with friends in public now — woo hoo!

Our weekends have been busy, which is why I haven’t been posting. We’ve explored the area of La Roche-en-Ardenne, La Chouffe, Lupulus, and all the goodies to be found there.

We also got to spend a night in Brugge. Better yet, we got to eat and sip in public — and spend the night in a hotel room versus renting a cabin. I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to be able to do this again. The next day we did a self-guided six-hour vespa tour, which took us through beautiful countryside and coastal towns. I discovered that I’m petrified of dying via vehicle. My poor crew had to wait at every intersection for me while I put put puttered my way, but it’s all good. There was beer and wine at the end of the journey — and lots of laughs. The next day we enjoyed a lovely walk along Nieuwpoort, a charming coastal town.

Oh and we also hiked the citadel in Namur. It’s so much larger than the one in Dinant. I’m always amazed at what our ancestors were able to construct without the technology we have today.

We’ve also had our fair share of outings on the Grand Place. The street musicians are back, the waiters and their trays full of booze and food are back; the streets are bustling again. There are still restrictions, but we humans are inching closer and closer to life the way it was again.

En Sante’! Time to sip and stroll! Oh my goodness and eat out again! Please oh please don’t let this end again.

Last weekend we had fun at a friend’s house while Belgium won its first match in the Euro Cup. Red Devil fever is alive and well. The beeps, cheers and assortment of horns blared well into the wee hours.

Red, black and yellow everywhere.

I also got to go on a Van Gogh hike. Before going to asylum and before painting his famous flowers and stars, Van Gogh spent six months working with the people of the Borinage, a mining community west of Mons. In one of his letters he said he wanted to come back. He seemed to love this area. Unfortunately, his time here did not end well since his odd behavior (blackening his face with dirt to be more like the miners, sleeping in the woods, giving up his comforts to the poor, forgetting to eat, doing what he felt was truly God’s work) was reported to his superiors and he was fired from ministry work. It is said that his time here was his transition from following his father’s footsteps into theology to making his own path in the art world. Regardless of what his intentions were, his mark is all over the Borinage, and our tour guide is passionate about preserving this history and sharing it with the world.

My newsfeed is full of friend’s posts leaving the country to visit much-missed family and friends back home. We’re not leaving for the states until July 1 because friends of ours were supposed to visit. Unfortunately, Belgium is not yet open to American tourists. That said, Europe reopens to tourism on July 1. There’s a vac pass for people in Europe, but I’m having issues getting it to work for me. My vaccine was through the American clinic, and I’m not a normal Belgian resident. My protocal id isn’t the typical legal resident card since I don’t have to pay local taxes (don’t worry I do still have to pay Arizona and US fed taxes, so I’m not living tax free). Long story short the kinks are still being worked out. Fingers crossed, we can get the magical QR code into our phones before our return later this summer.

Joe and I have a mini trip planned for next week. I’ll post all about that later. And, we plan on enjoying our time ‘home’ before we finally get the chance to go home. Three days prior to our flight we’ll get the Q-tip jab, so that we can board a plane, and then, finally, we’re flying again. I haven’t been in an airport since my return from Venice a year and a half ago. I’m curious to see what flying during Covid will be like.

Until then, I’ll be doing plenty of walking, sipping, reading, inhaling my time off.

Cheers and I’ll be seeing my peeps in Arizona soon! P.S. sans the sweater.

Badger did a little blogging today too …

Backyard Bliss

this is what I’ll get to see every morning for the next few days

I was going to begin this blog describing the scents and sounds of spring in the Ardennes, but then my dog got all antsy and kept running to the door. He apparently knew what I didn’t — that snow was on its way — and he is apparently a big ole wuss because it’s beautiful out there, but he’d rather huddle inside. So, if it snows while the sun is shining do we get rainbows? I’ll be sure to stop writing and snap a pic if we do.

Here you go — sometimes a video is better than a pic

We’re in Somme-Leuze, a village not too far from Durbuy. Today is my day to stay home with Badger, our senior, sometimes senile pooch. He can no longer handle real hikes, so we take turns playing puppy sitter. I’m stocked with books, my camera and laptop, and with a backyard like this I am A Ok spending quality time with my grumpy old fur ball (lol not to be confused with my husband).

He enjoyed sniffing buds before the snow/rain made it too wet for his paws.

So, we saw in the news that England is opening its pubs today. That is not yet our reality. Originally we thought they’d be back open by May 1, but rumor has it probably not until mid May. Lockdown sucks, but we are so grateful we are still allowed to escape to the Ardennes. And, um trust me, it’s not like we’re not imbibing…

That last pic is of an abandoned bar on a hiking trail we walked yesterday. Pre covid days you’d hike, bike the woods and stop here to hydrate. Oh Belgium how I heart thee — watering holes and friteries everywhere.

While I loathe Covid with all my being, I am grateful to have had this time to discover so much of Belgium. Its countryside and stone villages will forever hold a special place in my memories.

Yesterday, Scott (our cabin buddy) and I checked out a fromagerie on the Route du Fromage. We were two very happy cheeseheads in a stinky pod. Tomorrow I’d like to stroll through the streets of Durbuy. Badger can handle that. I think it’s my favorite ‘city’ in the Ardennes, but I do love them all. I don’t know how much fun it’ll be with appointment-only shops (although I bet if no one’s there I can be a drop in) and no sit-down restaurants, but like always we’ll make the best of it. We brought the bikes too, so maybe we can just ride around the river trails.

The sun is shining, and I don’t have much else to share with you. There are only so many ways a body can wax poetic about the brisk, clean air, the lush green hills and all the gifts of the countryside. It does a body and soul good each and every time. I’m happy to have the time off to enjoy it, and just as happy to also be healthy enough to enjoy it. So, despite the nasties in the world, life is still very much a good thing.

And, apparently, there are no rainbows during a sun snow shower, but that’s okay the birds are still singing and the sheep are lounging in the fields, so I still get to see a little magic. In a few days, I’ll be back in Mons getting ready for my back-to-work life.

Which also has its magic

Down my own rabbit hole..

Sadly I had to nab this pic from Internet because my Ghana pics are on an old hard drive (will need to fix that).
Pic taken from

I’m officially six minutes into my spring break — woo hoo! Since we’re working virtually this week, I’m at home. Luckily, I finished my reports and whatnot before going online to piddle around with a poetry unit for one of my classes. Then I got an idea and googled it, which led me to another idea, which led me to thinking about someone I lost touch with, so then I googled that person, which led me to wonder what people see when they google me. Surprisingly, there are a lot of Bettina Bennetts. We all seem to be doing cool things.

Then I googled Bettina Tison Bennett to see what comes up since that’s the name I use when I’m serious about my writing. I haven’t been serious about my writing in a very long time, probably because I’m quite serious about teaching writing to others. That search led to my first blog (surprisingly not my ‘real’ published work). The one I wrote while being a very lucky soul on a Fulbright Hayes trip to Ghana. I cringe at the sometimes insensitive tone my voice had at the beginning of the trip, but it is who I was at that moment in time. Some of the writing is sloppy or cliche because I was on a busy journey with sporadic Internet (lol including dial-up Internet cafes), so time to polish wasn’t really an option (I am still guilty of sloppy or cliche and I do have time to edit but don’t —lazy is also very much part of who I am past, present and future).

There is depth in there too, and it brought back so much I hadn’t thought about in a long, long while. Ghana changed me. Wait, that’s not true. It revived the girl I once was — the dreamer who wanted to see the world and share its stories. What it did change was my lens. It helped me see things from perspectives I did not know existed. Well, maybe I did, but I could never know what they truly were had I not opened myself to them (nor them to me).

When I left Ghana 11 years ago, I knew I would find a way to teach overseas. It was no longer “oh wouldn’t that be nice.” It was as real in my being as the air I breathe (like writing once was, or maybe still is in a way). Teaching the young from all walks of life has taught me so much about the magic of living. Even now when my body hurts and my younger years are certainly a thing of the past, the work (and all those kids) keeps me connected to what is good about us. If any of my former Arizona students are reading, that also includes you. Some of my favorite teaching was done there, but I needed to also see more of the world (and learn from its young).

I truly had no idea how I would embark on this overseas life, or the path it would take me on. I thought I’d probably end up teaching in Ghana, but to be honest, I also really like to wine and dine with the good stuff, so a Ghanaian salary was never going to be the right option for me. I also had my own children to look after. Four years later my youngest graduated high school, and I was off to the United Arab Emirates for a whole new batch of different ways to look at the world, which of course led to more journeys than I can remember to count. Ghana was my first trip to Africa, but thanks to my overseas life I have now also been to Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania and Zanzibar (which is technically part of Tanzania, but it is also an island with its own story). I interviewed for this job while in Kenya and accepted the offer while in Egypt. Africa has been so incredibly kind to me and blessed me with more gifts than I could ever give back to her — other than my soul-felt appreciation, respect and admiration.

I’m rambling because, you know, I’m caught in my own rabbit hole. When I was young I used to talk to older me. I’d sit on a hill or under a tree or by a brook and just prattle away to ‘old’ me. LOL I’d ask about my pulitzer and my beach house and the school I created for misunderstood children (because I was that child and would literally draw up plans for this ‘school for the cool’). Oddly enough I never really thought I’d be a teacher. I think my plan would have me rich and famous as a National Geographic reporter (in my world they were celebrities), visiting the school as the adored guest speaker/founder. Then a butterfly would taunt me, and I’d be off running into the woods.

And, that my friends, was more than you probably care to learn about where my mind escapes to. I have no new travel tales to share, but that’s okay there will be more. Who knows where the journey will take me next. I’m just so grateful to the little girl in me who keeps the light going and all the amazing folk I meet along the way who also keep the light burning. Tis a good life!

And, if you’re in the mood to stroll through my clunky old blog, Ghana is so worth the visit — even virtually. If you do get to go, please do get to know its people, whether it’s the workers in your hotel or the vendors you buy things from. While there is absolutely no Ghanaian blood in me, we do share the gift of gab and love of story.

The Ghana Blog link.

The sounds of silence (sort of)

Ewww walking through the Grand Place a few minutes past curfew — we’re such rebels. That said we high stepped it to get back inside before the horse police had their chance to spot us.

Badger and I sipped (okay he sniffed) on the balcony this morning. Birds busily tweeted their morning chores, a lonely school bell pinged its shrill on centuries-old stone and brick, construction vehicles groaned, growled, gnashed their way through steel and earth. With all that action, you know what wasn’t included in this morning’s orchestra? School children squealing their last bits before the bell, impatient drivers using their horns to hammer out their frustrations, and pedestrians staggering on cobblestone to get to work.

We’re on an “Easter pause.” We’ve been mandated to retreat back into our living rooms — our year-long game of hide and seek with those spiky corona particles. Belgian schools have closed a week early (basically getting a 3-week spring break) while employers have been warned there better be a darned good reason for any of their employees to be coming to work versus working from home. This apparently doesn’t apply to construction workers. We also didn’t hear the scrape of train moving on rail, but that’s because they’re on strike (again). That’s one way to get an extra break (and good timing since it won’t affect a lot of folk).

Shops also can no longer be visited without an appointment, and you can forget about getting your hair, face or nails done. They’re closed for a month. The sun, of course, is out. It’s become a local joke that if we go into stricter lockdowns, the sun comes out. I’m okay with it because I can take long walks during my breaks. My school has gone virtual for the week. Since it’s the end of our grading quarter, we have more planning/grading time built in, so I’m happy about having this extra time to do the things I need to do. I’m not happy about having to delete some difficult stuff because I just don’t have the time I need with the kids. They, on the other hand, are pretty darn excited about having easier work. Fingers crossed they don’t get too enthralled in their video games and forget to do the easy stuff, which then means me pestering them and their parents with “oh child” emails.

I do, however, LOVE getting to sip my morning coffee on the balcony. Sure I can do it on normal work days too, but it’s rushed because I’ve gotta get dressed and factor in my commute time.

Spring is most certainly here with all of her glory. Since I’ve had both my shots, I didn’t mind visiting our Sunday market yesterday where I bought some adorable seasonal plants to spruce up my home.

Well the gin was from a local store, and it’s quite nice with Italian citrus soda — my now after-work balcony beverage.

So yeah, here we go again. We’re getting good at this work from home, celebrate via take away, don’t leave Belgium thing.

And I would have missed out on seeing men hover outside my window installing some sort of cable. We wish we knew what it was for, but I guess we’ll eventually find out. It is good to see that the city is working on its improvements, so that maybe she’ll be ready for full-fledged fun when we can finally partake in it again.

So, there you have it folk. I have a week of lovely weather and the chance to walk in it to look forward to. I also have a week of accomplishing more planning than I normally would get the chance to, and then I have two weeks off to look forward to (I plan on reading, walking and sipping my little heart out). So, while I’m bummed that our hospital numbers are again rising too rapidly for anyone’s comfort, over all I’m thankful for the time to enjoy my time at home (while plotting and planning for when I can also travel again).

Anniversary of sorts

Bring on the wine, flowers and cherubs! It’s finally Spring again.

Well we’ve hit a few milestones. Last week was the one year anniversary of lockdown. This week was the one year anniversary of teaching virtual (although we haven’t done that in a long while). On Friday we finally had the accreditation visit we were supposed to have last year — virtually, so class visits won’t happen until next school year. Etc. etc. And we’re still in blahsville. Numbers are going up again, bars and restaurants still closed, uncertainty still very much apart of it all. Planning vacations is a bitch because, well, you don’t know if you can go anywhere. That said, I have two vacation homes booked this summer. Regardless of what the world holds for us, I am going to see my kids and grandson this summer. My poor grandson is going to be so disappointed when he sees me face to face. On video calls, his first words are always “Filters!” Then he sticks his tongue out waiting for butterflies or rainbows to pop out. It’s going to be a mindfuck when he realizes Oma in real life does not come with photo filters.

Life is rolling along as it always does with not a whole lot of new to report, but I guess here are the newish things that I can remember happened since the last time I wrote:

*My dog is on more meds than a nursing home patient, including a new monthly shot to help with pain. LOL he’s all excited and puppy like for a bit, and then sleeps for hours to make up for that extra burst of energy. That said he’s still wagging his entire body and greeting me at the door at the end of my workday, and he’s still tripping me up while I’m cooking in the kitchen, hoping I’ll drop something good. He’s so old he even gets excited over dropped carrots.

*It’s been two weeks since my second Moderna shot, so I’m good to go. Joe is still waiting on his appointment for his first shot. Europe is discussing a vaccine passport deal, which works for me but not him so far. Fingers crossed he’ll be on his way to being all dosed up too.

*Thanks to stress, hormones, and age, I experienced an influx of heart palpitations and vision migraines, which motivated me to get checked. The hospitals with known English speakers had longer wait times, so I went with another clinic where I got to experience health care Belgium style. Luckily, work also provides medical liaisons who will translate over the phone when needed (pantomiming, Google Translate and my choppy French worked just fine).

While there were issues with my not fully understanding instructions, all went well. Everyone was kind and as helpful as they could be. I had a series of tests, including having to wear a heart monitor for 24 hours, which also included no douche (that’s a shower, people). I did discover that aint no one got time for modesty. The nurse tells you to take off your shirt, whalla you do it right there in front of her, sit your fat ass on the table and let her hook you up while doctors, nurses, whomever of all genders walk in and out. I joked about it being obvious I eat too much croissants, the nurse (who was thankfully bigger than me) joked about it being about beer (I love that they share my passion for alcohol).

The day I got to meet the cardiologist, the same nurse told me “Doctor speak Englaise.” I yelped Magnifique and we were both pretty damn pleased with our obviously bilingual selves.

The cardiologist, however, while a nice enough man, wasn’t much for talking. “Who sent you here?” I explained what was happening and that the clinic at work sent me because of my symptoms. “Your report shows palpations, but for you (via facial and body language says — you know chunky, premenopausal) normal. Everything is very good.”

Then he looks down, and I’m waiting for him to say something else, he looks up “anything else I can do for you?” And that was it. I’m healthy — a fat, hormonal wreck, but healthy. He then returns my paperwork and says “for reimbursement.” You see since my insurance is American, I have to pay costs up front and then my insurance will reimburse me. I broke the bank at 33 euros.

Good news is most of the stuff that was causing me stress is now officially in the past, and I’m back to normal. I’m also walking more and attempting to eat healthier — hence the carrot and broccoli droppings in my kitchen versus chips and sausage.

*Folks are getting restless, especially the young. Our local police prevented a vandalism outbreak yesterday, but yeah we’re all sick and tired of being sick and tired. I get it, but I don’t get breaking shit because you’re bored. It is super hard to face another spring break with no where to go and no bars or restaurants to gather and no legal parties to whoop it up at. Don’t get me wrong my neighbors are certainly whooping it up, but it’s in smaller groups. We even broke the rules by going over to a friend’s place to eat a traditional dish from their home country (yum!) and sip some bevies, BUT we were home by curfew.

It’s even harder when we see people being able to frolic mask free in other parts of the world. As a friend of mine would say, “Come on man, it’s a mask. What’s so hard about wearing a mask?” Agreed. And not going to a bar is a lot easier than it is for those who can’t work and earn at that bar, so while I hate lockdown, I also know that again I am one of the lucky ones. Joe and I are also fully aware that if we didn’t have our local restrictions, we’d be out there mingling until the mingling did us in, and with our unhealthy lifestyle I doubt it would have been just a really bad cold or mild flu.

This time last year I would never in a million years have expected to still be here not going anywhere, but the key is I AM still here. It’ll be interesting to see where we are this time next year. Please tell me on a beach with sand in my ass and chilled rum in my hand.

As for work, I’m on the downhill. While there is no debating the extra stress this year has caused all of us, I am glad I got to work face to face with my kids. Was it the healthiest or smartest thing? I honestly don’t know, but my time with them has been as good for me as I believe it was for them. So, I’ll take that positive and cherish it. My job, as frustrating and unfair as it can sometimes be, is truly a gift, and I am so very grateful it is where my path has taken me.

On that note, the sun is fighting its way through our haze, so I should probably go take a walk — lol and then reward myself with a mimosa (it has vitamin C).

Rainbows and Unicorns

We had fun relaxing for two days in a rustic cabin near the town of Wachtebeke. It’s okay if you’ve never heard of it. It’s a small village in the Flemish region of Belgium, but like all the other small Flemish towns it’s adorable and loaded with bread and produce (and oh hell yes!) chocolate vending machines, farms, canals, countryside. It’s always a good place to kick back, stoke a fire in the fireplace, explore and sip and stare. The rainbow pretty much landed in our back yard.

We also checked out Dendermonde, a small city on a river that has a cute Grand Place (or Grote Markt), a university, two UNESO sites and horse statues all over the place. Like Mons it has an ancient festival that stars a massive horse versus a dragon. Unlike Mons, this festival only happens once every decade. Its black steed was supposed to parade its way about town in 2020, but, well, you know what happened. It’s scheduled to come out and play again May 2021, so we’ve marked it in our calendars. Fingers crossed we’ll get to visit the big event. To learn more about this interesting town, not too far from Gent, check out this website.

Of course everything is locked down, so the streets were empty, but we enjoyed checking it out. Not being able to sip and stare at a cafe, though, is getting old. I’m glad we’re safe and all, but you know. Tomorrow, I go back to work, and then it’s 5 weeks until my two-week spring break. We’ll rent more cabins in small Belgian towns if we can’t cross borders. The hikes are always better than sitting in our apartment.

As you can see we make a lot of new friends along the way. So, we’re still finding a little magic in this Covid world. And some of us can still make maskless contact. Well, it’s a beautiful sunny day outside, so time for me to take a walk around Mons before getting myself back into work mode. Happy Sunday everyone!

Banal realities of bill paying

Click and send not my reality…

I’m on break this week, but there’s still not much we can do. We do have a friend coming over for dinner tomorrow, and on Thursday we are going on a two-day road trip, which includes a cabin with a fireplace. So, we will do something, but this is my 5th vacation in a row where I did not set foot in an airport. This has not been my reality since I moved overseas seven years ago. One of the biggest perks of living abroad is all the travel we get to do, but, well, you know Covid messed that up.

With no flights, no bars, no restaurants to explore, I’m left doing the same as everyone else: cooking, cleaning, watching TV, paying bills. Today, I finally checked my mailbox and discovered I was two months late on my electric bill. I got the email on it too, but, um, didn’t pay attention. You see I paid a bill in January, so surely it was a mistake.

Paying bills here just isn’t as simple as you’d think. Sure, if I could ever figure out how to set up my online accounts with cable and electricity it might be easier, but I have to use google translate because I can’t seem to find the English versions. My normal routine is I just do a wire transfer from my local bank account (which requires I use a card reader to get codes and whatnot) and I wire money to my utility companies. Easy peasy (well sort of).

In America, when I pay a bill it will automatically subtract my oldest debt up to my newest. Not the case here. I did pay something in January, but that was apparently my December bill. For whatever reason, I skipped November and January. Soo, now I don’t get threatened with a “we’re going to cut you off” letter. Instead, it’s a “we’re going to put a prepaid meter on your ass” letter, which is actually kind of cool that they don’t cut off your electricity, but I soo don’t want the hassle of figuring out how to work that thing too. Long story is I got it taken care of. I managed to find my way to an English-speaking rep who told me how to prevent the meter from making its way into my home.

But, something that would take less than 5 minutes to sort through at home, took me much longer than I care to admit, and it included having to use a card reader, Google translate and several letters in Dutch and French to sort through — oh and an email to company with my proof of pay pdf. BUT, bill is paid and meter won’t be installed.

In the UAE we didn’t have mail, everything happened via text. Seriously we did not have any mail boxes. There were regional post offices, but I only used mine once — to mail a ballot. Because there are more expats than locals living there, finding an English rep was never a problem. LOL, but trust me there were other issues to be had. Inshallah is in itself a lovely phrase, but when you’re on the wrong end of local timing and the lord’s will, it sometimes feels like an illegal middle finger.

So paying bills or taking care of your adopted-country responsibilities is not a perk of expat life. Each country has its own way of doing things, and what may be logical to us is most definitely not the same in other areas of the world. Bureaucracy is a bitch no matter where you are, but being the idiot who can’t speak the language adds a whole other level. So, please remember that when you’re dealing with a foreigner who is taking too much time with a rep trying to figure out what in the hell to do, they’re clueless for a reason. They are, however, trying to fulfill their responsibilities.

And that’s my exciting vacation tale for you. You see if I was off traveling and whatnot, I’d still have this issue (and, well, I’d have gotten a stupid meter installed because I would have missed the letter), BUT it wouldn’t annoy me as much because I’d be distracted by the next beach, hotel, excursion I had planned.

Come on Covid — you’ve gotta retreat and cut us some slack. For the first time in my life, I find myself missing the way I did the bullshit stuff back home. When I do move back, the utility reps will be so excited to have me on the phone because I will tell them how much I love them.

Hope you’re all safe and healthy. Here’s to whenever we can do real vacationy things again!

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