30 August 2014

Moving Day in Jefferson

We held onto our house in Jefferson for exactly 5 years.

Ironically, on the 5th anniversary of the day I landed in Belgium, our house in Jefferson was cleared out and everything put in storage.  

The new owners are painting the house!  It's only primed now and will ultimately be a taupe color, but it also looks really nice in primer white.

The movers had good help!

Nana's piano on the move again.  Only until Ross can find a place for it!

Enjoying that front porch one last time.

Queen of accessorizing. 

The movers brought Jagermeister, Seagram's, Jack Daniels, AND Tito's vodka?

Ohhhhh, those were things already boxed up.  Right.

It was a hot one.  Like seven inches from the midday sun.

The Princess and Pop

The grandfather clock making move # 9.

Boy, you can't put a price on that!

I'll bet Frazier is telling quite a story.

Norma Grace figuring out just how that gate works.

No doubt that ordinary stick has morphed into something way more extraordinary.

It was a very long day.

And did I mention it was hot?!

A big thank you to all those in the photos for all their help with this occasion.  We couldn't have done it without you.  

A special thank you to the person behind the camera for all these photos which were accompanied by texts and for all the incalculable help :)

Merci beaucoup, Randi!

28 August 2014

That'll cost you

You can't do that here!

And by here, I mean Belgium.

Is filming the police an offence?

26/08/14 - Bruges police have taken a man to court after he filmed a police intervention at a local café, despite a particular request to stop the filming. The man next also put the footage on the internet. He risks a fine between 100 and 100,000 euros.

But in case you were wondering . . .

25 August 2014

For Crying Out Loud

As we've been spending a few weekends at the local flea markets, we've noticed quite a few paintings of crying children.  I took photos of a couple of them, but I've seen at least 5 or 6 so far.

My question is - Who buys a painting of a child they don't know . . .

and who's crying?!

Apparently Belgians.  Perhaps every Belgian.

Out of curiosity and sheer dismay, I googled this odd artwork.  Turns out there are quite a few . . . okay, thousands of these mass-produced prints of paintings done in the 1950s by Spanish painter Bruno Amadio.

The original was called The Crying Boy, but there are lots of boys and girls with tearful faces from this same painter.  Okay, thousands.

According to an article I read . . .

Although most of his models look as they were of poor descent, they were picked out at random among schools and playgrounds from around Venice and through ads in newspapers.

Amadio asked the children to take a neutral or sometimes a sad pose. Tears were added when the portrait was finished.

Although there is nothing to explain why Bruno painted these crying children, this next article I read may be the reason we keep seeing them at flea markets now . . .

On September 4, 1985, the British newspaper, The Sun, reported that a firefighter from Yorkshire was claiming that undamaged copies of the painting were frequently found amidst the ruins of burned houses. He stated that no firefighter would allow a copy of the painting into his own house. Over the next few months, The Sun and other tabloids ran several articles on house fires suffered by people who had owned the painting.
By the end of November, belief in the painting's curse was widespread enough that The Sun was organising mass bonfires of the paintings, sent in by readers.

I was telling Jim and Ross this story about the curse.  When I mentioned the bonfires, Ross said " . . . and they burned?!" and Jim said "if this painting was the only thing that didn't burn, perhaps wallpapering the house with these paintings would make more sense!" 

Hmmm, I never thought of that or that.

This still begs the question . . . why would anyone buy a painting of a child they don't know and who's crying?  

Honey, we need a painting over the mantle.  

I know just the one!


20 August 2014

Americans in Belgium

This post is a follow up to my recent post about a Belgian family who moved from the town of Hoeselt (about 15 min. south of where we live) to the Houston suburb of Kingswood, Texas.

Since our situation is similar to theirs, you may curious what we think of living in Belgium.  Or maybe not.  So far, not too many people have asked this question!

We moved exactly 5 years ago (Jul/Aug 2009) from Jefferson, Texas to Hasselt, Belgium. Before that, we had never lived more than 2 hours from where we grew up in Louisiana.

Jim is the Site Manager for Norbord Genk which produces OSB (oriented strand board).

What differences do you find in the workplace?

- taxes are twice what they are in the U.S. - half of a person's salary goes to taxes

- employees don't worry as much about losing their job because

(1) they will just get another job because wages are pretty flat for most people making one job the same as another; and

(2) there is a strong social safety net making them confident they will be provided for because they pay into the system (tax dollars at work) - the good thing is that the government is trying to change that to keep people working

- hourly workers have little incentive to work overtime due to the high taxes - overtime is discouraged by the government

- the standard work week is 38.5 hours

- vacation time is government mandated and is taken very seriously - not so much as an entitlement, but as part of the culture

Americans work about 50% more than Europeans.  Belgians enjoy a standard minimum of 20 days vacation and 10 public holidays (that's 6 weeks per year!) By comparison, Americans have 10 public holidays and are not guaranteed a vacation by the government; and just for the record, the French enjoy a 30 day minimum vacation plus 10 public holidays (that's 8 weeks per year!).  Ooh la la.

Americans think working more shows commitment and dedication.  In Europe, it's not the same.  Jobs are more secure here, because in Europe, an employer can't just fire you.  Labor unions are very powerful.  The system is complicated (because everything in Belgium is complicated :), but if an employee is terminated, it can take months before the employee is actually gone and the employer will pay a hefty severance as well.

What should I know about Belgium?

- the population density changes everything - it's like the size of Dallas metro with twice as many people

- the country is very small - if you drive about 2 hours you are out of Belgium and into another country

- it is very easy to survive without a car - public transportation throughout Europe is extensive

- in every neighborhood, it is possible to walk or bike for all your needs - food, doctor, pharmacy, bank

- the access to safely walk and bike everywhere is also extensive - sidewalks and bike lanes are commonplace

- bathrooms are few and far between, they are NOT free, and are often a sobriety test away (downstairs, upstairs, winding staircase :)

- Belgians follow our politics more than we do

What keeps Belgians busy?

- they spend a lot of time at home and with family

- for entertainment, they like to spend time at the cafe'

- they are very active in biking, hiking, walking, all outdoor activities

What can you not do as an American in Belgium?

- it is very difficult to go hunting, fishing - guns are basically not permitted and fishing is very limited

- Belgians are not patriotic - they associate with their own province (similar to a state in the U.S.) and their own city, but not the country as a whole

- most Belgians would probably recognize the American national anthem before their own

Is living in Belgium more expensive?

- short answer - YES!

- there is a 21% sales tax on nearly everything

- gasoline is 3 times the price as in the U.S. (about $9.00 per gallon)

- food, drink, rent, utilities - basic living expenses are 2 to 3 times higher

- one bright spot - mobile internet is cheaper :)

- education costs are lower due to it being government-sponsored (tax dollars at work)

Education is very different and very important; most Belgians are well educated and students study much more here than in the U.S.; each year-long class will usually hinge on one test at the end, and making an "A" is nearly impossible.

What do Belgians associate with Americans?

- guns, the death penalty, obesity

What are typical Belgian expressions?

- Alles goed? (Dutch) or Ca va? (French) meaning  "Is everything okay?"

- Alstublieft! used to mean quite a few things - like "Please" and "Here you go" 

What is a typical dish?

- mussels (shellfish), videe (creamy chicken dish), stofvlees (beef and gravy stew) all served with fries

- waffles

- kebap - a Turkish invention of shaved meat with vegetables either in a sandwich or a wrap (my personal favorite :)

How religious are Belgians?

- most everyone is Catholic although we've never met anyone who attends church - an estimated 10% of Belgians attend church at Christmas only

- the large churches in every city are mainly tourist attractions - some have even been turned into hotels and restaurants

What annoys you in Belgium and/or about Belgians?

- the lack of flexibility - it is a very structured society

- most Belgians don't feel they have much influence or control over their politics - their vote doesn't count due to there being too many different parties, languages . . .

Although this question was not asked of the Belgian family in Texas, I wish it had been . . .

What do you like about living in Belgium?

- there are many beautiful places to see in Belgium and being centrally located makes it easy and not too expensive to see much of Europe

- the weather is wet, but we've gotten used to it for the most part and in general, winters are summers are mild

- it has to be one of the greenest places in the world - gardens, forests and agricultural land are picture perfect due to the amount of consistent rainfall

- it's so different from what we've experienced living in the Southern U.S. - nearly 10 times more people per square mile so that changes everything - not good or bad, just nice to experience the difference

16 August 2014

The Trapping of the Shrew

Not by William Shakespeare.  Not a comedy.

: a small animal that looks like a mouse with a long, pointed nose
: an unpleasant, bad-tempered woman

So, it turns out it was not a mouse, but a common shrew.  The most common mammal in Northern Europe.

What else do I know about shrews now?

The common shrew breeding season peaks during the summer months. A female gives birth to a litter of five to seven baby shrews. A female usually rears two to four litters each year.

Caaal-cu-la-ting . . . thaaat's somewhere between 10 and 28 shrewlets annually.  Plus mama and papa shrew. 

Well, not wanting to be the bad-tempered Shakespearean Kate type of shrew, we captured (not killed!) the "small animal that looks like a mouse with a long, pointed nose" type of shrew.

You're welcome, Melissa :)

And not just one . . . so far we've nabbed 4, yes 4 of them and we know there are more because we can hear them scratching around.  Eck!  

Anyway, we've taken all of them to one of our favorite abandoned houses.

It's close by, but not too close by.  No reason to give it a chance of finding its way home, but it is right next to the field of dreams for shrews-previously-thought-to-be-mice.

Humane traps are now reset.  Only somewhere between 11 and 29 more adorable shrews to go.  This year.