24 August 2015

The Green and the Grey

One of these days we will no longer be living in Belgium and for the record, I don't want to forget some important things, both good and not as good, about living here. 

Today it's the climate.





I've said before, the weather here was the most difficult thing to get used to.  Plenty of grey skies. Short winter days.  Long summer days.  Many cool days. Few hot days. Very, very different from where we've always lived.

Perhaps we're spoiled now or have just grown accustomed to the craving for sun and the likelihood of a soft rain.  One thing is for certain - we appreciate a sunny day and will go to great lengths to stay out in it.



Our patio has never been more used than here.



With all that grey comes a lot of green.



The lush green that only comes from a lot of rain, clouds . . . 







Photo by Ross :)

and that occasional day of sun to make us appreciate it.

10 August 2015

The Taxman Cometh

One of these days we will no longer be living in Belgium and for the record, I don't want to forget some important things, both good and not as good, about living here.  

Today, it's taxes.

As you probably know, "tax liberation day" is when the average worker has theoretically earned enough money to pay all their taxes for the year to the government.    

You Americans have probably forgotten when that was, because for you, it was back in April.

But for Belgians . . . and for us!, it was just last week.

Belgium is way behind America to reach this day (by nearly 4 months!), and it is the last European country to get to this day too.

Have I mentioned taxes are high here?  Not just income tax, but a sales tax of 21% is also painful.  Ouch.

If you google the country with the highest taxes, you'll usually find one country at the top of any heap and it's often used as a comparison to other countries.  Even our American friends who live and pay taxes in the U.K. think their taxes are some of the highest worldwide, but they aren't.

So, what did all that googling turn up?

Where Do People Pay The Highest Income Tax?

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Forbes Investing

Countries With The Highest And Lowest Taxes

One of the world’s highest tax rates, and the highest of Western European countries, has been imposed on the citizens of Belgium. On average, Belgium taxpayers are taxed a marginal rate of 54.9%. 

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BBC

Which country has the highest tax rate?

At the top end of the distribution we have Belgium where single people pay 43% of earnings in income tax and social security contributions (or national insurance), followed by Germany with 39.9%.  The lowest rates are paid in Chile at 7% and Mexico at 9.5%.

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Pew Research Center
Among developed nations, Americans’ tax bills are below average
A single, childless American making the average wage in 2013 ($48,774), for instance, paid 24.5% of her gross income in federal income tax and payroll taxes. Such a person living in Belgium, by contrast, would pay 42.4% of her gross income. An American married couple, both working (one at the average wage, one at two-thirds of it) and with two kids, paid 19.1% of their gross income in taxes; a similar Belgian family would have paid double that rate, or 38.4%.
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Yes, you read that right.  The average couple in Belgium pays more than twice the income tax that an American couple pays.  That. Is. Huge.





07 August 2015

Summer Pictures

It's been a pretty lazy summer for us - not so much going on, but here are a few photos I've taken with my fancy new phone.


These are turnip greens I grew from seeds.  They are supposed to be for Jim to eat, but something else is enjoying them too.



Turnips.  We can only buy turnips here, not greens.  I guess they are just thrown out?



Jim and Ross working on a project for holding his leather in place while he stitches.



The finished product!



It's that time of year here when there are roadside stands selling fresh-picked cherries.



We bought this, our first watermelon of the year, at a fruit stand near Ross's apartment.  It was delicious and definitely worth the 19 euros we paid for it.  Yes!  Watermelons are expensive.



Here's where I spend most of my time - working in the garden.  Everything grows so well here with a sunny day followed by a couple of overcast days, followed by a couple of rainy days and it so rarely gets really hot.  



I'm so proud of all my flowers.  There, on the left, you can also see a couple of the apples on our apple tree.



On those rainy days I sometimes like to experiment with my hair.  I'm done with hair dye!  Maybe.  I found this new-to-me product called color remover.  I've applied it about 4 times now (that photo is my "test strand") and although my hair feels like pine straw, it's definitely lighter. I've now moved on to bleach and still have all my hair.  More on that another day!



Also this summer  . . . I can hardly believe - Frazier turned 6 years old!  What a sweetheart.  
Happy birthday, Frazier!



And here's an adorable picture of Norma Grace in a beautiful dress from Aunt Becky :)

Happy Summer!

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
www.proximus.be/roaming.
In geval van nood: bel 112
(gratis).

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.