24 November 2016

A Year of Days . . . Special Days


We are approaching one year back in the States.  Hard to believe in many ways and it seems like a lifetime ago we were at home in Hasselt.

Here are just a few photos of some of the special days we've had since our return.



We were hardly moved in when it was my birthday - complete with a Traina's cake.  
Happy birthday, me!



Our first of many cozy fires



One of many evenings gathered 'round the fire pit



Christmas 2015



Easter egg dying tradition :)



Overnight guests :)



New baby!



Ansel :)



Happy birthday, Ross!



A new dog!



Eames :)



Happy Mother's Day!



Kindergarten graduation :)



Happy Father's Day!



Happy birthday, Jim!



Fig pickin' :)



One of many beautiful days enjoying the pool



including Eames



Winslow - not so much.



Happy birthday, Frazier!


Norma Grace, Josh, Ross, Jim, Tommy, Andrew, Travis
Frazier, Randi, Ansel, me, Mae Mae, Pop, Melody, Jane, Mary Reid, Lauren

Family get-together and photo shoot



4th of July picnic



Sno cones :)



Happy birthday, Josh!



DIY



Afternoon tea



Happy birthday, Randi!



Muscadine pickin' :)



Happy birthday, Norma Grace!



Launch day!



Afternoon tea . . . again.



Happy Halloween!


And here we are . . . one year later.  Happy Thanksgiving.  Be grateful :)

22 November 2016

The Dust Has Settled

Today is Nov 22 and it's our anniversary of 36 years.  A day of celebration.  Congratulations to us! As I've said many times, but not nearly enough - no one is more fortunate than me. No one.

It's also two days from Thanksgiving.  The irony that we are back in the States and will celebrate much like we did for the last seven years - at home with ourselves.  A day like any other.  

It's obvious I've pretty much abandoned my blog so this is more a personal journal for me now as I will probably be the only one to read it.  This year has been one of many highs and maybe a few lows for us. And I don't want to forget.

I debated about posting something regarding the election, but since this format has become a record of sorts and because it had a profound effect on me . . . I'm compelled to record.

Nearly two years ago, Jim felt he was nearing completion of the goals he set when we moved to Belgium, taking on the challenge of managing a foreign manufacturing plant.  Earning the trust and respect of the employees and encouraging them to do what he knew they were capable of.  He's good at that, but he wouldn't want me to say it.

Soon after leaving Belgium, I received several emails from some of Jim's co-workers.  Like this one . . .

Everything will be different now, I will miss him badly…his unconditional concern for people.  He did his work all these years with a devotion I have never discovered in other managers.  I will be thinking of you all when your families are hugging you both when they see you.  I can now, more than ever, imagine what they had to miss all these years.

Our one to two year Belgian stint turned into nearly seven.  It was home and we were happy there.  But we aren't Belgian and here we are.

I must say, if I had had any idea we would be right here, right now . . .

But, I must remind myself - this is exactly what we wanted.  All of us.  We were ready to return. Anxious, excited and ready.

That feels different now and it makes me somber.  I want to be content again because we Americans do the right thing.  Proud of our country again because we are advocates for all. Grateful because we are good. Hopeful because what else is there?

Much of our new life in Texas has been good.  Very good.  Time together with our family has been priceless - which was our whole motivation to begin with.  We have a nice home with all the trimmings.  No needs and few wants.  We are healthy and fortunate.  First world problems only.  Life is good.  I have no idea what anything else feels like and I am grateful.

But at this moment, I shake my head and question everything - and that makes me bitter.  We have made many moves in our 36 years of marriage and never regretted any of them.  This move may be our last and I don't want to be second-guessing it.  Now or ever!

Were we so far removed, by being abroad for so long, that we didn't see this coming? 

I've become way too familiar with words I hoped I would never need to describe us.  Like . . .

misogynist (prejudice against women) 
xenophobe (fear of foreigners)
bigot (intolerance)
hypocrit (feigning to be what you're not)
alt-right (all of the above and more)

We're better than that.  These words describe other people.  Not us.  Did anyone ever ask "what makes us great?"  We were already great, weren't we?

As journalist S. A. Aiyar of the Economic Times said in his newly invented Trumpism . . .

"I grabbed America by the pu**y and she said yes."

Make you cringe when you read that?

Apparently not enough for a lot of us.  It's certainly cringe-worthy for me.  Doesn't that say something about a person's character?  I'm reminded of a news article superimposing Jimmy Carter saying those same words. It's horrifying and unimaginable, yet here we are.

What happened to all that progress I saw from a distance?

Now that the dust has settled, the data shows us who they are and it scares me.  They scare me.  This new normal is devoid of respect for others and rife with contempt for anyone who has an opinion other than their own.  Put the lid on the melting pot.

Where is the tolerance and inclusion and compassion for EVERYONE?  I know, the world is a complicated place and I've never experienced intolerance, exclusion or animosity, but is the golden rule an option now?    

I've joked that the internet would be the death of us all.  I'm not sure that's a joke anymore.  I'm not a member of facebook and never have been, but recent statistics show that a whopping 62% of adults get their news from social media.  Incredible. You do know that anyone can say anything whether it's true or not, right? There's no fact checking.  Just click and forward it on to the next idiot.  How did we become so irresponsible?  Reinventing history.  Focusing on trivia and distractions.

As George Carlin put it . . . "never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups".

Too many Americans obviously wanted something different and that's understandable up to a point, but not with the options this time around.  To sell your soul . . . and mine?  That's disturbing.

In the words of John Oliver . . . "turns out hindsight, much like the year we're all desperately looking forward to, is 2020".

We don't know what lies ahead and we will never know what might have been.  I'm ready to lose this wave of sadness.  Even if you weren't a fan of Clinton and even if you thought it would be "more of the same", how did we get to this point - willing and ready to risk everything?  As for me (and more than 60 million others), I still believe she worked her entire adult life for, earned and deserved this one chance to represent us.

And what about us?  Didn't we deserve better than, best case, a narcissist and international embarrassment, and worst case, a danger to us all?  Our new leader of the free world seems to embody the definition of a sociopath - extreme antisocial attitudes, a lack of conscience, unchecked egocentricity, ability to lie to achieve one's goals.  I have to hand it to him though.  He's good.  He rallied a confederacy of dunces and we will all pay the price. 

Well, it's over now and despite my registering to vote for the first time in my life, it didn't matter.  I'm saddened for our country and troubled.  I honestly had no idea so much had changed.  Perhaps I didn't see it before, but the divisiveness is all too clear now.

Our lack of compassion for ALL people is startling, disheartening and frightening.  The social reform progress made in my entire lifetime, and toward catching us up with the rest of the world, could be set back decades.  This awareness may be a Slight. Paltry. Inkling. of what it feels like to be a minority.

We aren't born to be compassionate.  We learn it and it seems to me, some of us simply didn't.

I'm hoping to wake up one day without this veil of despair hanging over me and feel truly happy again.  But today, I'm going to raise a glass in celebration of 36 years and the best thing that ever happened to me . . . and be grateful.

11 November 2016

Virtue


With grace, poise and dignity . . .










Full Transcript:

Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you.
    Thank you all very much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much.
    Very rowdy group. Thank you, my friends. Thank you. Thank you, thank you so very much for being here and I love you all, too.
    Last night, I congratulated Donald Trump and offered to work with him on behalf of our country. I hope that he will be a successful president for all Americans. This is not the outcome we wanted or we worked so hard for and I'm sorry that we did not win this election for the values we share and the vision we hold for our country.
    But I feel pride and gratitude for this wonderful campaign that we built together, this vast, diverse, creative, unruly, energized campaign. You represent the best of America and being your candidate has been one of the greatest honors of my life.
    I know how disappointed you feel because I feel it too, and so do tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort. This is painful and it will be for a long time, but I want you to remember this. Our campaign was never about one person or even one election, it was about the country we love and about building an America that's hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted.
    We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.
    Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don't just respect that, we cherish it. It also enshrines other things; the rule of law, the principle that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values too and we must defend them.
    Now -- and let me add, our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years but all the time. So let's do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear; making our economy work for everyone not just those at the top, protecting our country and protecting our planet and breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams.
    We've spent a year and a half bringing together millions of people from every corner of our country to say with one voice that we believe that the American dream is big enough for everyone -- for people of all races and religions, for men and women, for immigrants, for LGBT people, and people with disabilities. For everyone.
    So now, our responsibility as citizens is to keep doing our part to build that better, stronger, fairer America we seek. And I know you will.
    I am so grateful to stand with all of you. I want to thank Tim Kaine and Anne Holton for being our partners on this journey.
    It has been a joy getting to know them better, and it gives me great hope and comfort to know that Tim will remain on the front lines of our democracy representing Virginia in the Senate.
    To Barack and Michelle Obama, our country owes you an enormous debt of gratitude.
    We -- we thank you for your graceful, determined leadership that has meant so much to so many Americans and people across the world.
    And to Bill and Chelsea, Mark, Charlotte, Aidan, our brothers and our entire family, my love for you means more than I can ever express. You crisscrossed this country on our behalf and lifted me up when I needed it most -- even four-month-old Aidan who traveled with his mom.
    I will always be grateful to the creative, talented, dedicated men and women at our headquarters in Brooklyn and across our country.
    You poured your hearts into this campaign. For some of you who are veterans, it was a campaign after you had done other campaigns. Some of you, it was your first campaign. I want each of you to know that you were the best campaign anybody could have ever expected or wanted.
    And to the millions of volunteers, community leaders, activists and union organizers who knocked on doors, talked to neighbors, posted on Facebook, even in secret, private Facebook sites...
    ... I want everybody coming out from behind that and make sure your voices are heard going forward.
    To everyone who sent in contributions as small at $5 and kept us going, thank you. Thank you from all of us.
    And to the young people in particular, I hope you will hear this. I have, as Tim said, spent my entire adult life fighting for what I believe in. I've had successes and I've had setbacks. Sometimes, really painful ones. Many of you are at the beginning of your professional public and political careers. You will have successes and setbacks, too.
    This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it.
    It is -- it is worth it.
    And so we need -- we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives.
    And to all the women, and especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.
    Now, I -- I know -- I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but some day someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.
    And -- and to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.
    Finally...
    Finally, I am so grateful for our country and for all it has given to me. I count my blessings every single day that I am an American. And I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us.
    Because, you know -- you know, I believe we are stronger together and we will go forward together. And you should never, ever regret fighting for that. You know, scripture tells us, "Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap if we do not lose heart."
    So my friends, let us have faith in each other, let us not grow weary, let us not lose heart, for there are more seasons to come. And there is more work to do.
    I am incredibly honored and grateful to have had this chance to represent all of you in this consequential election.
    May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.
    Hillary Clinton

    12 September 2016

    House to Home II - Big House


    Where to begin?  That's what we said too.  Although there wasn't much we absolutely had to do, there were quite a few things we wanted to do.  So we dove in and we're still swimming.

    Big Ed (previous owner) had apparently installed this granite island and countertops as a selling feature and although it is beautiful, we just couldn't fall in love with this crazy island bar configuration.
    Before.


    We searched in vain for the same granite (that's pretty much impossible) so you'll see later that we (mostly Jim) found something completely different. 



    Jim did all the work preparing for the new countertop which would be completely flat and bigger.



    After.
    Tada!  We are so pleased with the new look and the work surface is much bigger and better.  Since we were starting over, there was no need to continue cooking on that electric stove top we didn't like.  We knew we'd eventually have to have a gas one so we did that too!



    Here's a better picture of that big island being put to good use :)



    Jim insisted we paint the insides of all the kitchen drawers AND install all new drawer slides.  With all the other stuff we had to do, this did NOT seem like a priority to me.   I was wrong.  They are so nice now.  The extra good help made it go by quickly too!



    Jim has dreams of having a shop out back and perhaps one of these days we can do it.  For now, he decided to convert the formal living room into a violin carving workshop of sorts.  It's a good use of space and air conditioning is a bonus.



    All those words, painted by the previous owners Big Ed and Cheri, were uncovered when the carpet was removed.  Things like "Cheri loves Big Ed" and "Big Ed loves Cheri more".  Apparently neither of them loved each other enough - they divorced not long after.  We decided not to add our own graffiti.  Bad karma :)



    Jim installed this pine flooring that he tongue and grooved himself.  It smells wonderful and looks great too.



    The spot where the clock now sits used to be one of those openings.  It looks like it's always been like this.



    In the other opening, Jim installed this antique door we brought back from Belgium.  It's so beautiful I wish we'd brought back a whole houseful!



    Before.



    After.



    A much better use of that space :)



    Before.
    I know this bathroom looks pretty good and we liked it too.  Only problem was that the countertop is actually laminate and looked like I had installed it myself.  That really says it all - I'm really bad at laminate installation.



    After.
    Much better.


    So many possibilities for this big space.



    A little paint, new light fixtures and all our favorite old stuff.



    Here's a better picture of that room :)



    This is the second house where we've done this exact thing - a solid door changed to a French door going out to the patio.  So much better.



    Although there's no "before" of this room, it was empty with a different light fixture.



    We brought this antique table from (and also handmade in) Belgium.



    Here's a better picture of that table being put to good use!