14 July 2015

Just a few photos

Isn't this nice?  Ross made this collage of photos from our 4th of July celebration.  It was some kinda hot that day and the night of July 3rd set the record for hottest day since 1833.

Once the sun got behind the house we were able to go outside without melting.  I can't believe I'm even saying that.  We invited Ross's friends, Laurel and Daniele, who live in Leuven (American and Italian originally :) to join us.

That's Jim, Laurel, Ross and Daniele in the photo (taken about 9:30 pm).

Jim and Ross on Jim's birthday.  Happy 55th birthday!

Jim, cooking his own birthday dinner - just as he prefers to do :)

I took this picture between 10:30 and 11:00 at night a few nights ago because I forgot to take one on the longest day of the year several weeks ago!  I love how the summer days just go on forever here, but I always forget to take pictures of it.

08 July 2015

Roaming Revised

If we drive a half hour east, we are out of Belgium and into another country. Having my cell phone with me can get pretty costly.  Roaming charges apply.  In the same way Americans crossing into Canada or Mexico. Except we are "out of the country" with a half hour drive.

Although the charges have been reduced by nearly half since we arrived in 2009, they still exist and they add up quickly.  So I always keep my phone set to avoid these charges which also means I don't call, email, text or "google" anything.

Every time we cross a border into another country (the buitenland) I get this text message from our carrier, Proximus . . .

Proximus-info: in het
buitenland, bellen naar
een EU-land kost 23
cent/min, gebeld worden
6 cent/min., een sms sturen
7 cent, een sms ontvangen
is gratis.  Tarieven incl. btw.

Yes, texts and phone bills and electricity bills and parking tickets and groceries, and everything else . . . comes in Dutch!

In English, that text reads "abroad, calling another EU country will cost me 23 cents per minute, receiving a call costs me 6 cents per minute, sending a text message is 7 cents and receiving a text is free and these prices have the tax already included.

That text is always followed immediately by this one . . .

Proximus-info: in het
buitenland, surfen op
internet kost 24 cent/MB.
Een mms sturen/ontvangen:
24 cent.  Tarieven incl. btw.
Info: 6000 (gratis) of
In geval van nood: bel 112

In English, that says "abroad, surfing the internet will cost me 24 cents per megabyte, an MMS, sent and received: 24 cents, and the tax is included.  I can call the number 6000 (for free!) to get more information. And last, but not least, in case of emergency, call 112 (also free!).  Thanks for that.

That doesn't sound like much, but if my phone is "roaming", it's "roaming" all the time, not just when I'm using it to "google" something . . . so rather than try to figure all this out, I just keep my phone off! :-(

Well, all that's about to change.  Not immediately, because that would be too easy.  But in a couple of years.  Mobile phone companies will no longer be allowed to charge roaming fees to their customers when they are in another European country. The agreement, years in the making and finally reached this week, will make these fees a thing of the past come June 2017.  Finally.

And the commission was also savvy enough to include a clause in the contract to ensure these companies don't charge the customer in some other way to recoup that lost roaming charge revenue.

So if we were are here for two more winters, I can "google" and text from France or Germany or somewhere else in Europe, the following summer for no more than it costs me right here at home . . . with my fancy new phone that does everything but laundry.

06 July 2015

Vakantie Begint!

Don't mess with Belgium and its holiday season.  Actually, don't mess with Europe and its holiday season.  

It's an entitlement and come hell or high water, every European will be going somewhere on holiday during July and August.  Not June.  Not September.  July and August.

It's a ritual and do not underestimate it.  The office or the factory job will have to wait and "entitlement" is not just a cliche', it really is required.

Here are just a few of the local headlines when July 1 rolled around . . .

If you can only go to the Belgian coast, that's good enough -

Extra treinen naar de kust op 1 juli, 
de eerste dag van de grote vakantie 

(Extra trains to the coast on July 1, the first day of the big vacation)

But if you can afford it, you'll go even farther -

Vakantie-uittocht zorgt woensdag 

voor piekdag op luchthavens

(Vacation exodus creates peak day on Wednesday for airports)

Woensdag weer piekdag op Belgische luchthavens 

(Wednesday  again peak day at Belgian airports)

Het vakantieverkeer in Europa begint op 
gang te komen. Dat betekent vooral richting 
zuiden een rode dag op de wegen.

(The holiday traffic in Europe is beginning to get underway. 
That means a red day on the roads going south.)

That article, accompanied by this photo, shows just where nearly everyone in Europe is headed, if possible.  


One would think that a few people here and there would prefer to take their vacation some other time of year.  Even those with children in school might consider Spring break or Easter or . . . 

Maybe there are a few . . . they are over in the left lanes headed north :)

03 July 2015


Hittegolf.  That's Dutch for "heatwave" and we're right in the middle of a long one - longest one we can recall in our 6 years - with temperatures rising nearly every day to 100F (38C).

Now, 100F is nothing new to us Southerners, but there's a difference in a Belgian 100F . . . because in Belgium, we don't have AC.  That's a huge difference.

Normally that isn't a problem.  It's been this hot before, but only a day at a time here and there.  We suffer through one night of miserable sleep and it's over.    

Not this year.

My lush green garden is shocked and struggling.

We're holed up and camping out in one room downstairs, going upstairs only to shower.  Heat rises and we've got a lot of rises in this house.  Our third floor bedroom is very much like an attic right now.  And the fourth floor . . . !

July 1st was the hottest day on record since 1901 and it's going to be even hotter tomorrow - the 4th of July. As Ross said . . . our BBQ will have a real Louisiana feel about it.

Fortunately we've got a little portable AC and have no choice now but to crank it up.

It should get back to normal summer temperatures here by mid next week with highs in the 80's.  

Maybe this is my reminder to quit complaining about all that Belgian grey.

01 July 2015

The Tractor Factor

This photo was in our local paper recently.  Fortunately, and incredibly, the driver saw it coming, quickly slipped over to the passenger side and got out of the car.  Amazing.

This incident came as no surprise to me.  The thing that surprises me is that it doesn't happen more often. Farm tractors on public roads is common here . . . and everywhere else.   And it's perfectly legal.

You may have heard me tell this story . . . a few years ago I encountered a farm truck, like the one above, on Tech Drive.  I was so shocked that I immediately dialed 911 only to be further shocked by their response . . . it's perfectly legal.

And you may have heard me tell this one . . . when I called 911 on my way to work one day in El Dorado because there was a boy in the back of a pickup truck on a 4-lane highway . . . only to find out that's perfectly legal too.  Shocking.  It's not okay to ride in the cab without a seatbelt, but no problem flailing around in the bed of the truck.

I couldn't believe it so I looked it up myself and, at that time, Arkansas had no law prohibiting riding in the back of a pickup truck.  Maybe that has changed.  Hopefully.  

However, in Louisiana . . . be at least 12 years old and you can be hauled anywhere but on the interstate. Flail around all you want on any 4-lane highway as long as your 12. Just not on I-20.

I try to picture myself sitting around the table when these rules were pondered.  Hmmmm . . . how far do we really want to go with this safety thing?

So back to the farm tractor . . .

In Texas, there's a whole set of rules and it is sooooo worth reading.  I've also put a link below for your reading pleasure.

Here are just a few of the "gems" within this legal Texas document for operating a farm tractor.

"use a turn indicator or hand signal when changing lanes"
"equip the tractor with turn signals if driving after dark"
"all Texas traffic laws apply to tractor operators using public roads even though a driver’s license is not required"

Unbelievable, right?  Don't worry about a license to drive and stick your arm out the window to turn, but not when you're farming on the highway at night.

Jim and I have sold both our cars and will have to buy at least one car when we move back to the States. I'm thinking farm tractor.  Jim's always wanted a garden.  As long as we stay off the interstate, we won't need a license, we'll save on insurance, and we both have arms for turning.