22 July 2016

an american in america


With a little technical assistance from Ross I think I've got a handle on posting to my blog again so . . .

Finally we are back in the U S of A

But first, I must do a little reminiscing about our journey from there to here because it was very emotional and very exciting and very exhausting.


I miss a lot of things about Hasselt and I really miss my little garden of cobblestones, ivy and moss and flowers that bloomed with only rain water.



This is Winslow's last of many visits he took to a cafe'.  The world traveler, he was.



Celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary just a few days before departing. 



I wasn't sure it could happen, but somehow all this managed to turn into . . .



THIS!



On one of our last days in Hasselt, we had dinner with our good friends and neighbors.  From left, that's Anse, Pieter, Esther, Bert, Jim, me, Ross and Annemie.  A difficult and bittersweet farewell as we don't know if or when we may see all of them again.



On one our last nights in Hasselt, we were treated to a farewell dinner with some of Jim's colleagues.  It was another bittersweet evening as we were excited for our new adventure and reluctant to leave our old life behind. Although I didn't get to know each one of Jim's co-workers personally, I was lucky enough to get to know quite a few.  These are some really great men and women who became friends and whom Jim has a world of respect for.



Moving day in Hasselt.  Loading a trailer this size on a city street is a complicated matter.  A lot of planning and scheduling and permission from the city must be done to allow these trucks to block the sidewalk, the parking spaces and the bike lane.  Everything must be done pronto.



Everything from upstairs must come through a window down to the street.



The international moving company was very efficient.



We wouldn't see our things again for more than 60 days so there was also a lot of planning when it came to packing for the flight - as noted in photos above!



This is Hasselt.  A great city to call home.



When we left Belgium, we had dinner and spent the evening with Ross.  We said our good-byes because we also wouldn't see him for a couple of months as he finished his job contract in Brussels.



The flight across the pond is really long.  If you've never done it, it's difficult to imagine sitting in one place for 10 plus hours.  Not long into our journey, I took this photo.  It's the display that constantly reminds you of how far it is!



Just when you think you've been in that seat as long as you possibly can . . . you realize it's only been 4 and a half hours and you aren't even halfway!  I actually didn't get out of my seat the entire trip.



Mostly because I didn't want to upset Winslow - who also didn't move for that entire trip.  He sat right there where my feet should have been.  My ankles might have been swollen!  Good news was that he traveled in the cabin with us rather than in the cargo like his first trip.  Good thing that worked out because I wasn't sure how I was going to smuggle him on board, but he was definitely not flying cargo this time.

Fast forward.  We landed safely in Atlanta.  Spent a few hours getting the rental car.  Drove a couple of hours and spent the night in Birmingham to get a head start on the drive south.  Went to Wal Mart at 3:00 a.m.  It was 10:00 a.m. in Belgium.  We were up and ready to go!  We drove to Ruston and had a nice welcome home visit with Jim's parents whom we hadn't seen in a very long time.  Then finally to Longview . . .


and our very own house!



The first of our moving trucks - delivering all the stuff that had been in storage in Texas all the time we were in Belgium.



Some of this stuff had been packed since Ruston (2010) because we'd moved Ross out of the Ruston house AFTER we had already moved to Belgium.  A few things we forgot we even had. 



Then, right on schedule, 2 months later, that very same shipping container from our front door in Hasselt made its way to our new door via the port of Antwerp, the Atlantic Ocean, the port of Houston and I-20!



Finally, all our worldly possessions in one place.



The fun part - unpacking and organizing and 



A LOT of discarding.  We kept the little girl :)

All settled, so of course, the next logical step is home improvement - our dream for the last seven years and our bane for the last seven plus months!  

It's all coming together.  

21 July 2016

Some time among the Belgians


In all the time we were living in Hasselt, we never met another American also living in Hasselt so we were unique to everyone we met and they were curious about why we were living there and very surprised to learn that we actually liked it there.

We also formed some opinions about the country, the people, and life in general.  Most importantly, despite 3 official languages (French, Dutch and German), Belgians speak fluent English which made life way too easy for us and learning Dutch impossible.  Nederlands is moeilijk.

Lest I forget one day . . . these are a few facts and a few of my own personal opinions about Belgium and Belgians . . .

Belgium is a kingdom with a king and queen and it ranks among the most densely populated countries in the world. The climate is temperate, making it not too hot and not too cold, Goldilocks.  


Belgians are generally nice and usually helpful, but not outwardly friendly.  If you approach someone and ask for help or directions, you will find them most willing, but it is rare for someone to smile and say "good morning" to a stranger on the street.

Belgians are attractive, not always beautiful.  They are well-groomed and fashionable.  Most are physically fit and average in size.  Personal appearance is not an afterthought - it is an important aspect of daily life.  No warm-ups outside the house. 

Belgians are family-oriented and prefer to live in close proximity to extended family. They are patient with their children, rarely scolding or raising their voice and never raising a hand to them in public.

Belgians love their homeland, but are not patriotic.  Their flag doesn't fly from every bank and car dealership, but Belgians also don't have any intention of leaving their country.  They want to own their own home, right there, and preferably build it with their own hands.

Belgians retire young and receive a decent pension.  They pay about 50% of their income in taxes and most have no incentive or desire to work more than 40 hours a week.  If at all affordable, they will spend 2 full weeks on holiday every year - somewhere that's warm and almost exclusively during July and August.

Belgians are tolerant, accepting and almost indifferent.  Less than 5% of the population attend church and practiced religion is almost non-existent.

Belgians are over-educated and speak at least 4 languages fluently.  They are rigid and structured to a fault, preferring every aspect of their lives be planned.  Impromptu is not in their vocabulary.

Belgians are entitled to all social services - their tax dollars at work.  They enjoy universal healthcare, but no, it is not free.  The country is famous for its bureaucracy and with five political parties, the people don't ever expect a majority nor do they take their government seriously.  Elections are hardly noticeable.

In my opinion, Belgium is ahead of the curve in some ways.  Euthanasia has been legal for the last 13 years. Microchip credit cards and paperless transactions were established 25 years ago. Yes, that long ago. Abortion has been legal for 25 years and gay marriage legal for 13 years.  

If Belgians marry, it will be after many years as a couple, usually with several children and perhaps a decade of cohabitation prior to a legal contract.  Although some couples also have a church wedding, marriage is only legal when performed by a civil registrar, usually at the City Hall.  

With over 11 million people (~1000 people per sq mile - 10 times that of La. or Tex.), drivers are mostly courteous and attentive, considering the number of them on the roads.  A drivers license, possible at age 18, is expensive and not easy to achieve.  Many fail several times before earning that coveted certificate. Pedestrians and cyclists are abundant and they always have the right of way.  With designated sidewalks and bike lanes, they are fairly safe - considering the number of cars on the road.  

Belgians and all Europeans enjoy generous public transportation options.  They are affordable and relatively reliable.  There's always room for improvement, but one can easily live an entire life and travel the world without ever owning a car, although most Belgians do have a car - hence the horrendous traffic.

Belgians enjoy life, but perhaps the one thing they talk about and/or complain about most is the weather. The national color is grey.  Just kidding.  Kismet.  I, too, complained about the weather and now I remember the true definition of "hot as hell".

Belgium - famous for great beer, delicious chocolate and waffles, and a cafe' on every corner.

____________________________________


We had the good fortune to meet a lot of Belgians and were able to glean a little into how some of them feel about Americans.  We almost never encountered anyone who was openly negative about the U.S. 

Disclaimer!  This is my own personal opinion about what Belgians think of Americans in general - obviously not ALL Americans.  And it probably won't surprise you.  The media has done a fine job of painting us all with the same brush.  I hope we left those who knew us with a better feeling about Americans than what they see and hear in the news.

Belgians think most Americans are very patriotic and think the world ends at the American border. They think most Americans want to impose morals and values on the rest of the world even if it kills and/or bankrupts us.

Belgians think most Americans are arrogant and unenlightened, particularly ignorant of history, geography and current worldly events.  They also think most Americans are intolerant and very religious.  

Belgians think most Americans are always in a hurry, are wasteful and obese.  

However, having said all that . . . Belgians apparently don't think any of that is necessarily bad.  They all want to visit America and those who get the chance remark that Americans are friendly, the prices are reasonable, and they hope to get to visit again!

Lest I forget . . . 


20 July 2016

an american no longer in belgië

Hello, it's me . . . an american no longer in belgië.

After 7 months, I stopped long enough to reflect and feel a need to chronicle . . . something.

Our departure from Belgium.  Our return to the States.  That last Turkse kebap.  That first American glazed donut.

I want to remember and  . . .  I don't want to forget.

Being back in the States has given a whole new meaning to the words "joyful" and "wistful" and "adjustment".

Seven years away is a long time and a lot of things have changed and I don't mean just my hair color.

Maybe things really haven't changed.  Maybe I've changed.  Maybe a little of both.

I've definitely stooped to a whole new level of low with my fashion.  I'm way to comfortable going straight from yard work to the home improvement center.  Flip flops and all.  That would never happen in Belgium. Never.  Dress to the nines or do not go out.  I could get used to this.

Also, I had completely forgotten to drive diagonally across large parking lots.  Had forgotten that.

And I had gotten way too accustomed to using the blinkers.  I'm adjusting to keeping one hand free for all those things we Americans do in the car besides drive. Blinkers - optional.  

And those greetings.  How you doin' today?  Can I help you find anything?  Are you lookin' for somethin' in particular?  Welcome to this store you're in.  Did you find everything ok?  If I can help you, let me know.

Yes, you can help me by not talking to me!  I have a hard enough time remembering why I'm even here.

I had definitely forgotten about all that greeting that goes on because you will absolutely not hear that abroad. I'm getting used to it again and it's nice.  Kinda.

Yes, I long to walk right across the street to the grocery store full of good wine, a whole aisle of smelly cheese and fresh baked bread instead of the Stuart's house.

But, I do love walking into my very own in-house laundry room fit with an American washer and dryer and not walking across the street toting my dirty clothes and bag of Euros.

Yes, I long to walk or bike downtown to the corner cafe' for a coffee or a glass of wine or a great beer.

But, I do love driving the car (no blinkers, of course) to one of 50 Mexican restaurants within a 5 mile radius and ordering a large frozen margarita.  Where "large" actually means as big as my head.

Yes, I long to go to a restaurant with no television, where we can linger and the waiter doesn't bring the check with our drinks.

But, I do love the doggy bag for that enchilada I couldn't finish.  You wouldn't think of doing that in Europe. Not allowed.

So I begin a new chapter because I want to remember . . . and I don't want to forget.

   
Of course I took pictures.

BUT, since I can't seem to figure out how to save my pictures to this blog anymore - sometimes they show up, sometimes they don't.  No rhyme or reason since I save them all the exact same way.  

So you can "get the picture", the photo on the left is a huge margarita.  The glass has a salt rim and a slice of lime and there are chips and salsa in the background - get the picture?  The one next to it is a picture of a glazed donut on a white plate on a white counter - get the picture?  Grrrrrrrr.

26 November 2015

Bitterzoet Carrefour


Our home away from home.  Belgium.

As I write this post, with tears in my eyes, it's only fitting that it be in my very own, mediocre, grammatically incorrect, Flemish words . . .

Onze leven in Belgie is tot een einde te komen.  Onze tijd hier was een fantastische ervaring.  Wij zijn zo fortuinlijk.  Het was meer dan een avontuur.  Het is ons thuis.  Ik zou niet wissel deze ervaring voor iets in het wereld.  Zes jaar is een zeer lange tijd en zullen wij het heel veel missen.

Ons verhuizen is ook bitterzoet omdat moet vertrek wij zonder Ross, maar weet wij dat hij is oke en blij. Wij kijken nu uit naar onze nieuw leven dichtbij de rest van ons familie en Ross zal snel volgen .

Tot ziens naar deze kleine land wij thuis gebeld!

25 November 2015

Lock Down


This is the header of our newspaper every day now . . . Paris Attacks.  The threat level remains at 4, the highest, for Brussels.  The city is in somewhat of a lock down, but slowly going back to normal.  This tiny country making headline news around the world . . . and not in a good way.

Brussels is normally a bustling metro city of nearly 2 million people.  A land area smaller than Baton Rouge, but with twice as many people.  More than 60% of the residents of Brussels are foreign-born making it the second most diverse city behind Dubai.

The Paris attacks have moved down a notch or two in the headlines and life goes back to normal for most - because it has to. 

The refugee crisis in which many European countries were welcoming, has morphed into racism and fear. What a shame that the same people who are trying to escape suffer again at the same hands that drove them to run in the first place.

Criminals.  That's all they are.

It shouldn't be so easy to find people with nothing to live for and nothing to lose.  Like Curtis Loew, on the day these criminals lost their lives, that's all they had to lose.

It's unimaginable for most of us.