29 January 2015

2015 Sneeuw

On Friday night, Jan 23, we had our first snowfall of the year.

I guess that umbrella just wasn't big enough for the both of them.

Our little backyard.


Pieter's bike

On the way to the park.


Park bench.  But of course you knew that.

That's me with our big umbrella - also not big enough for both of us :)

Winslow.  He loves the snow.  His feet and legs finally get clogged with so much snow, we had to go home.

But he had fun there too!

Okay, the umbrella was big enough after all :)  
Me in my Russian hat from Scotland and Jim in his Ignatius Reilly hat from ??.

27 January 2015

Birthdays and Sinterklaas and . . .

I didn't realize how long it has been since I posted about the little things, the special events, and just everyday life around here.

In November, our neighbor/landlord/friend, Annemie, turned 60.  She had a big celebration for all her friends and family.  This is Annemie and her two sons, Bert and Pieter and their girlfriends, Esther and Anse.

Ross and Jim enjoying the party :)

These are clementines and marzipan. No chocolate here - they are the traditional stocking stuffers from Sinterklaas.  Here, the children put out their shoes, rather than stockings.  Unlike Santa Claus, elves, reindeer and a sleigh, Sinterklaas comes by boat from Spain with his helper, Zwarte Piet and he rides on a white horse.  That's actually way more believable too.

Our last barbecue before it got too cold for the year.  Yes, it was just as good as it looks!

On one of Randi's visits to see us, she brought all the fixin's for tamales.

We spent quite a bit of time preparing all this, but . . . 

it was worth it!  Frank's got nothin' on us!  We had tamales for nearly a week and they just got better and better each day.

Frank: a black guy who used to have a small cart in various locations around Ruston where he sold hot tamales.  We ate these fairly regularly because Nana (my mother) loved Frank's hot tamales.

This beautiful birthday cake was for me!  Homemade by Ross :)  In an attempt to replicate Traina's icing (one of a kind),  I think he got a little help from Aunt Becky. Thanks to both of you!  And yes, it was definitely as delicious as it was beautiful. 

24 January 2015

Hondje Zakje

Adding a "je" to just about any word in Flemish makes it a little . . . well . . . little, or it makes it sort of a term of endearment.  In the same way we sometimes do in English, like "girly" or "cutesy" or "bootylicious".  

Okay, maybe not that last one.  

Anyway, the Flemish do it ALL the time.   

For example, a "kopje koffie".  Not just a cup of coffee, but a little cup of coffee.  

They even have built-in spelling rules for this!  

A "jongen" is a boy.  A "jongetje" is a little boy.  Notice the change in spelling - drop the "n" and add "tje".  

Perhaps you could say the same about 'licious, but this can literally be done with nearly every word in Flemish.  And it IS done with nearly every word in Flemish.  They LOVE this.  Lovalicious.

tafeltje - little table
stoeltje - little chair
hondje - little dog
kusje - little kiss

And the all important - een beetje - literally, "a little" - I'll have een beetje more, alstublieft (please).

Well, you get the ideatje.

Hondje zakjes (doggy bags) do not exist in Belgium.  One would never think of asking to take leftover food from a restaurant.  Never.  Food preparation, presentation and quality is very important here and eating something as a leftover is unheard of.  It just wouldn't happen.

Until now.  Maybe.

In an effort to combat food waste, the city of Ghent is trying something radical - the doggy bag.

In our local newspaper . . .

A third of all food produced annually is discarded.  The city of Ghent and a popular consumer magazine are trying something new - the doggy bag.  In the United States, it has long been customary to ask for a doggy bag.  In Belgium, this is not yet the case.  With such a bag, the guest may take home what remains on their plate.  The magazine will appeal to other restaurants to promote the idea.  At this moment there are already 46 which are recognized with a sticker on their window.  The restaurant industry welcomes the initiative, but hopes that a clear legal framework is created: it is the consumer who is responsible for the freshness of the food as soon as it disappears from the restaurant.

The magazine decided to have a contest for people to choose a name for the concept and with more than 6,000 votes, this won . . .

You knew there'd be a "je" in there somewhere.  Lekkerlicious!

22 January 2015

Distribution of Wealth

Having nothing to do with distribution of wealth, but having everything to do with Belgium . . .

we were considering buying a new sewing machine.  No particular reason.  We looked at our local appliance/media/everything store - Best Buy equivalent.

Here's the Singer sewing machine we considered buying at 279 Euro (or $355).  That's right.  $355.

We considered buying it ONLY until Ross looked up the price if we were in America and could order it on Amazon.com.

The EXACT same sewing machine can be purchased, brand new, with free shipping, right to your door for $118.  That's right.  $118.

That is EXACTLY three times less than the price in Belgium.  Yes.  THREE times the price.  For the SAME.  EXACT.  THING.


 Actually it's not.

Things I never gave much thought to in the States are very thought-provoking here . . .

like un-refrigerated milk lasting for several months - this is a good thing, 

parallel parking on a dime - I will never master this,

biking in skirt and heels - she makes that look way too easy - I can tell you it is not. 

But money, in general - the high cost of nearly everything.  And I don't mean SIMILAR items to those in the U.S.  - I mean the EXACT. SAME. THING.

As they say, a picture paints a thousand words . . . distribution of wealth in the U.S. is pretty scary.

This next graph may paint the thousand words even better.

Nearly half of all Americans combined would own only that "red dot".

By contrast: Belgium.

Belgium was recently honored with the "nowhere in the European Union is disposable income more evenly distributed than in Belgium".

Some may say that it's simply taxes being redistributed from the "haves" to the "have nots" and that may, in fact, be true, but . . .

Minimum wage Belgium:  $11.69

Minimum wage U.S.: $7.25

However, it would need to be 3 times more to justify buying that Singer sewing machine.  Here.  In Belgium.

17 January 2015

Ordinary and Average

International news.  Belgium.  This little country, in the middle of Western Europe and often in the middle of things.

I would be remiss in chronicling our time here if I didn't mention these latest events.

Belgium is probably one of the most liberal, tolerant, and diverse countries, perhaps making it one of the easiest for the radical to set up camp.

Speculation abounds about who, what, where and why.  It should come as no surprise - haters gonna hate. Whether it's here, there or anywhere - those trying to be ordinary, average, tolerant, and free are the ones who suffer for the minority who wants none of it. 

There's nothing new under the sun, they're just better armed, better organized and perhaps better funded. This centuries-long battle to be superior, have everyone think like you, believe only what you believe.  

We've come a long way.  A very long way.  The world is a big place and the vast majority of us simply want to be ordinary, average, tolerant and free.  

Why can't we all just get along?  Appreciate the freedom to say what we want and think for ourselves?    

The alert levels will rise and fall and security measures will be stepped up and then relaxed.  Most of us will go about our daily lives, fearful for a minute, but mostly grateful for this incredible gift to be ordinary, average, tolerant, and free.  

Thank you. Thank you to those who make that possible.