Yesterday I was super duper Dutch! I rode my bike into town (about 5 km…not so far) to run some errands, the most important of which was to obtain a gift for Arrie’s cousin’s new baby girl (we drove all the way to Amsterdam to see them last night…2 hours one way…in the evening…sooo tired). While in town, I purchased some things at a couple of different stores and then selected an adorable dress set for the baby along with some pretty flowers for Mommy. I also got myself some beautiful peonies, on sale three bunches for the price of two (one bunch was 3.50…so lots and lots of peonies for only 7 euros).

On the way home, my humble American bike was packed to the brim. I felt sooooooo Dutch (sort of). Funny thing is: I didn’t get a single strange look!🙂

The saddle bags were full of odds and ends, along with the flowers. The green bag was the baby gift. I wore the red bag on the seat across my shoulders. What fun!🙂

The neighbor's pasture.

It has occurred to me that I have never really described for you guys the area in which we live. And since I really love it very much, I think I should share a little about our neighborhood, or “buurt” as they say in Dutch.

As you know, we live in a small town in Northern Belgium. Besides the quaint city center, most of the area is rural. We live in a wooded area, which is surrounded by farms.

A roadside poppy.

Each morning we wake to the sound of what must be hundreds of singing birds and the faint call of roosters in the distance (we don’t have one of our own…luckily). The air is mostly fresh and clear, but is very often tinged with the not-so-pleasant, yet not-entirely-unfamiliar (to me), smell of the manure the local farmers use to fertilize their fields. Sometimes the dogs’ fur sucks up this lovely aroma, but they mostly just smell of the trees among which they romp and grass upon which they sprawl out to soak up the sun (when we have it).

Out for our morning stroll.

Almost every day, I jog with Finn and Seeley (and then walk all three dogs) and almost every day we encounter at least one, but often two or three tractors. Generally, we jog in the middle of the road, but, since the roads here are so incredibly narrow, we are forced to remove ourselves from our path in order to make space for the giant machines as they pass on their way to some unknown (by me, of course) destination.

On sunny days, we also often share the road with bikers. Some are making their way to a popular local restaurant, while others are out either to enjoy the sun or to take a ride through the shady woods (which are situated within walking distance of our house).

One of our favorite country roads.

Our neighborhood itself is heavily wooded, but we don’t live “in the middle of nowhere” as my Dutch family often claims. I don’t think Europeans have any grasp of the meaning of that phrase. This observation isn’t meant as a comment on the intelligence of my Dutch friends and family, of course. It’s just that I’m pretty sure “the middle of nowhere” doesn’t exist here. We, at least, live only 5 minutes from town. And, though our neighborhood is quiet and peaceful and we have a lot more land than most people we know, we have many neighbors…nice, quiet neighbors, who enjoy the tranquility of the woods as much as we do.

Sounds ideal, right? Well, it kind of is. I think our house and the neighborhood in which it is situated have made the move well worth the trouble…and the trauma.🙂

Roadside rhododendron.

Of course, Belgium/Holland is possessed of nowhere near as much natural beauty as Virginia. I will always miss the Blue Ridge Mountains and, as our anniversary nears, I really miss the Shenandoah Valley, where we used to celebrate that occasion every year. I’m told by one of the innkeepers at our favorite B & B there that this spring was particularly beautiful in the Valley.

My beloved Valley

But, alas, we live here now and we can’t fly to the States just to spend a few days at a B & B in the Valley. Still, there’s plenty of beauty here if you just adjust your perspective a little. There is a bounty of trees and birds, lots of beautiful fields full of fledgling crops. There are quaint country roads lined with lovely silvery trees, whose branches create a canopy that shades the lane. So, really it’s not so bad. It’s actually kind of nice.🙂

Nearby field, with baby crops.🙂

Guess what, peeps? The sofa is here and it was soooooo worth the wait. We also got a beautiful antique coffee table to go with.🙂 Check it out!

Sorry it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been going back and forth about what I should write. For now, I’m just going to get you up to speed with what’s been going on here. I must warn you: it’s nothing all that special. 🙂

Let me start by letting you all know that all the vertebrae are in tact. Horse riding went just fine except that I’m weak. The horse is a real sweetie, though. Looking forward to riding again.

On Monday, which was a holiday here, my mother-in-law had a barbeque in honor of her and her husband’s birthdays (they’re a day apart). It was very nice. Arrie’s brother and his girlfriend as well as one of his two step brothers were there. It was also a special day for Yama because he got to attend the get-together unaccompanied by his brothers. He was pretty proud of that. He chased the cat up a tree and out of the garden and he sent a chicken flapping for her life (she was fine, by the way).

"Luney Tunes"

That night we also brought home my canine sister-in-law, Luna. My mother-in-law left for Dubai on Tuesday, so we’re watching the little booger for ten days. She’s a real cutie and she’s discovered that a foxhound makes a pretty nice playmate.

On Tuesday, we drove to Den Haag (the Hague) to attend a real estate auction with one of Arrie’s cousins. It was pretty amusing, I guess. Arrie thought the attendees were interesting because some of them seemed (to him) to be a bit skeezie (how on Earth are you supposed to spell that word?).

Anyway, not much interesting happened after Tuesday. Finn got a bath today and now he smells like strawberries…so that’s nice.🙂

Wet Finny

P.S. Still no sofa.😦

Me and Arnoud (a.k.a "Arrie", the hubby whose pic I wasn't allowed to show until now because he's shy)

People here always ask me if I’m homesick and I usually say “not really.” I mean I haven’t lived near family in about five or six years, so I’m used to not seeing my relatives more than a couple of times a year. And, as for my closest relative, my mom, well I do wish we lived much closer together, but we’ve got Skype and that helps immensely.

Sure, I miss my family and my friends in America. How could I not? But I’m not exactly homesick per se. Still there is one thing, besides my peeps, that I really do miss. I miss the comfort and the ease of home. No, not the “convenience” of home, but the comfort, the freedom, the independence, the feeling like anything is possible.

I’ve now lived in three states in the U.S. and I can honestly say that, no matter how intimidating moving to a new American city can be, it’s nowhere near as overwhelming (periodically) as the experience of moving to a new country. I’m not complaining, really I’m not. But, at this point, even the seemingly mundane activity of driving to the grocery store can be a little frightening.

Lucky for me, I live in the country and mostly only have to drive from one small town to another, but Dutch/Belgian traffic rules are quite different from American regulations. I’ve never been one to take the act of operating a motor vehicle lightly (I mean cars a really basically death machines on wheels), so, in the beginning at least, I was pretty hyper-vigilant of my surroundings. All these crazy new rules, the strange positioning of traffic lights, and the tiny-ness of the roads had me longing for the familiarity and ease of driving in the states. Man I love those wide roads!

Driving’s okay now (at least in the vicinity of my home), but there’s still the matter of interacting with people outside the family. One has to buy groceries, right? Sure. So I do, but it’s a little uncomfortable every time because, while I understand quite a bit of Dutch, I really don’t speak it very well at all. Plus, there’s this terrible syndrome that plagues me when strangers speak to me. Somehow my brain tells me that there’s no way I can possibly understand what that stranger’s saying. Now, I’ll tell you that if my brain (or my nerves) weren’t working against me, I’d probably understand 60 or 70 percent of what that cashier just said to me.

Of course, Dutch people (I do most of my shopping over the border) don’t care that much if you don’t speak Dutch (though one unpleasant young cashier seemed to care very much), but it’s still such an uncomfortable situation. I feel stupid when I can’t answer a simple question like “Do you have your discount card.” And, it’s at times like this that I miss home. I miss not being nervous to venture out on a walk with the dogs for fear that someone will say something like “Wat een mooie hond” (“What a pretty dog”…and actually I would understand that). Normally, I’d say thanks and maybe strike up a little conversation, but I can’t really do that in Dutch (though I can say “thanks” if my brain allows me to comprehend the stranger) and I think I end up seeming either dull or rude.

I know. All I have to do is learn the language and I’ll be fine right? Well, yes that will help a lot. But, it’s still always easier to be home. After all, I know where to go to get just about anything I want in America. I know how to find a job (though it’s a little tough in the current economy).  I know how to find fun training classes for the dog and I know what websites sell the best clothing or house wares.

Of course, someday I’ll know all those things about Belgium and Holland, too. Someday this will feel like home and someday this will be easy. Someday I’ll look back on all of this and think, “Man what a whiney little wimp I was back then.” And this is supposed  to be an adventure, right? I should embrace the discomfort of this liminal state (to borrow a term from Victor Turner), knowing that, once I emerge from it, I’ll be transformed for the better.

I know all of this, people, I do. But I’m not used to having to ask my husband to call the vet for an appointment for the dogs. Except when I was a kid, I really can’t recall ever having been so dependent on another person. Oh well, that will pass. I know it will. And I can’t think of a better person on whom to have to depend.

I’m sorry if it seems like this post was one huge complaint and I’m sorry if it wasn’t as lighthearted as some of my previous contributions. But, please know that it wasn’t meant as a complaint. I am happy here and I am optimistic about the future. These are just some things I contemplate every now and then. I’m glad for this experience and the chance it’s given me to grow and, hopefully, to become a little more adventurous. It’s what my mom always calls a “character-strengthening event.” Thanks for the insight, Mom, I think it’s really coming in handy now.🙂

P.S. Today I’m going to ride a horse for the first time in probably almost a year, so wish me luck. I’ve been riding off and on my whole life, but the last time I rode a horse in Holland, I ended up with a fractured L1 vertebra! Hope my luck’s a little better this time.

Bye bye paint supplies! Off to the shed you go!

Yesterday was a great day, mi amigos. It was a great day because yesterday I put down my paintbrush and I have no intention of picking one up again for a very long time. Yes, that’s right, after weeks of taping and rolling and brushing, my efforts to cover our house’s smoke-stained walls have come to a beautiful end.

On our first day here. Note the smoke stains on the wall in left-hand corner.

Of course, the house isn’t really finished yet. We still don’t have a couch or a rug or a coffee table for the living room. And we still have to set up the office and the guest room. But the walls are finished!

In the beginning, painting was a welcome diversion, but by the end I couldn’t wait to be done with it. Thus, I’m pretty happy that all I have to do with my paintbrushes today is clean them and put them away.🙂

After I do that, I’m going to assemble the table bases we bought at Ikea the other day for our desk. Then, I just have to wait for the couch and for the day when we can pick up our spare bed from my mother-in-law’s house. Then, my house will be done!

Of course, all of that will probably not happen very soon. I give it four to six more weeks.  And, by the way, did I mention that my Dutch classes don’t start until September!

Patience. Patience.

The hubby and Finn assembling furniture.

The living room. No sofa, but also no stains.

Another angle on the living room.

The dining room. We call our style "East meets Horse."🙂

More dining room.

My favorite room in the house, the kitchen!

More kitchen. Isn't my stove cute?

Don’t worry. More pics to come.🙂

If you have the time, you guys should check out Melissa’s blog. Her story is very similar to ours. She’s also a Southern girl (from NC) who married a Dutch guy and ended up here. She’s in Maastricht, which is a much bigger city than where we live, but it’s really beautiful. Her site is great, so have a look! The link is on the left, but I’ll put it here as well.

You won't find a sign like this in Belgium!🙂

So, my American friends, I’m here to tell you that you are very lucky and that you shouldn’t take for granted the many conveniences of life in the U.S. Sure, Europe is great. It’s charming and quaint and all of that, but it’s also a pretty inconvenient place….at least if you’re a spoiled American like me.

Well, I really shouldn’t generalize. I don’t know about ALL of Europe. I just know that things take forever in Belgium, and, to a certain extent, in the Netherlands.

Though becoming a temporary resident of Belgium was amazingly easy (and we’re hoping permanent residency is simple as well), acquiring such things as Internet service and automobiles takes forever in Belgium. And when you buy a sofa in Holland, don’t expect to be snuggling up on it any time soon.

Our current "sofa."

We ordered a sofa from a large furniture store in Breda about four weeks ago and we’re not expecting to see it for at least four more. That’s right people: a regular sofa—nothing fancy at all—takes at least eight weeks to be delivered.

My husband attempted to order our Internet service the first week we were living in our new place. Silly him. He wanted to compare prices, so he called one company and was told that he’d get a call back the next day because the person with whom he needed to speak was unavailable (crazy right?). Well, that call never came. He eventually got back with that man only to find out that that company didn’t provide service where we live (a draw-back to living in the woods).

When we finally got through to another company, they said it would be another week before someone could come out to install the equipment. Eventually, the guy came, but he didn’t actually “install” anything. He just set up our phone and left us to do the rest (cable TV and modem, etc.). He said that if we wanted him to do it, we’d have to set up another appointment (no doubt 2 or 3 weeks later!).

The car was another fun adventure. We found a nice used vehicle on a small lot in a nearby small town. We told the owner of the lot that we’d like to purchase it. Pretty simple right? In America, we’d have driven it off the lot that day. No so in Belgium.

Belgian law requires that all vehicles must be inspected before purchase by a government-employed inspector, who certifies that they are safe for both the driver and the environment. Okay, no problem. I’m not going to argue if the government wants to protect consumers. So, how long would that take? Not so long, really. It was a Tuesday, so, provided we got insurance and plates (I’ll explain in a sec) before then, we’d probably be able to pick it up on Friday. Great!

Or not! Apparently, the inspection didn’t actually take place until Friday. We got the call on Saturday. If we had insurance and the plates—which we didn’t—the car was ready to be picked up. If we didn’t have those things, we’d need to wait another week before we got the car because the owners were going on vacation and would not return until then.

We didn’t have insurance because we hadn’t heard from the garage all week and were still in the process of shopping around. Four days is not a lot of time when you’re on Belgian time. If you don’t have insurance, you can’t get your plates and if you don’t have both of those things, you can’t get your car! Thus, the process of buying a car took not one day, as it would in America, but almost 14! In-freakin’-sane! And we still have to buy another car!

Me painting.🙂

Of course, I shouldn’t complain too much. Because the sofa is taking so long to arrive, I have plenty of time to finish painting. Plus, it really is a good thing that the car was inspected by a third party before we bought it and that drivers are required to have insurance before they purchase a car. And I guess there’s one other positive side-effect of all this waiting: it’s teaching me patience! I never realized how little I had until we moved here.🙂

Well, people, I’m finally back. So sorry for the absence. There is, however, one advantage to my having not written in so long: I have managed to amass a small treasury of tales to tell.

Our little chalet.

We have settled in to our new home in Belgium. The house is situated in a so-called “vacation zone.” We have over half an acre of land on which our dogs can run and play and there are eight chickens frolicking in a rather large coup at the back of the property. The house is unbelievably cozy (in need of interior paint, but cozy) with its wood stove in the living room and gracious front porch. By European standards, we have ALOT of space and solitude.

The boys at play.

Sounds great, right? Well, for the most part, it really is. The only problem is that, when we moved in, this idyllic abode lacked one very important attribute: a good fence. Yes, there was a fence. Some of it was excellent, but half of it really stunk.

Our chickies.🙂

Why did this matter? Because of the hound, of course. Finn and Yama both exhibit mostly retriever/herding instincts, thus roaming is not all that important to them. Seeley, on the other hand, was, as you know, made to run. He’s also a rather skilled escape-artist.

Now, this was no surprise to us. We knew about Seeley’s penchant for flight. He had escaped from our yard in Virginia more than once. When he arrived at our new place, he literally freaked out. He went darting back and forth like a lunatic, swiftly patrolling the perimeter for any weaknesses in the fence.

Luckily, we had spotted a few vulnerable points before we brought the dogs over. We temporarily secured those places and were able to keep the hound in for a day or so without any incident.

Nevertheless, it didn’t take long before our crafty little escape artist found a getaway route. One morning, he climbed atop a mound of roofing material left by the former owners and hurtled himself over a flimsy stretch of fence. He then went galloping across our neighbor’s property, barking wildly at the man and his family (he’s afraid of strangers).

Yama rolling in the soft grass.

On that occasion we were, because of his fear of the neighbor, able to round him up rather quickly. The next morning, however, brought a similar breakout. And, after a couple of attempts to thwart his unruly behavior, we decided we really had to erect a more secure enclosure. Thus, my husband, his brother, and his brother’s friend lined the old fence with several panels of willow branches (not ideal, but easy on the wallet).

That seemed to work for while, but that dog-gonned hound just couldn’t seem to shake his hankering for adventure. He found a place in the corner of the fence through which he could squeeze out. At the time, however, he didn’t know from where he’d managed to escape.

We’d pretty much decided that it wasn’t such a big deal if he had a romp or two every now and then (after all, we were in the country and he always came back), when a neighbor told my husband about a dog he used to have who’d been run over in the neighborhood. The fact that Seeley almost killed one of our chickens one evening solidified my resolve to secure our enclosure. After all, a chicken-killing dog living in the country stands a really good chance of being shot (yes, even in Belgium).

Part of the chicken coup.

Thus, I scanned and scanned the perimeter until I found the vulnerable corner. There I observed the slight opening created in the corner where our fence abuts that of our neighbor. I’d seen the hound squeeze through similar openings in Virginia, so I was pretty sure that was his point of escape.

Turns out, I was right. We fixed the flaw and we’ve since managed to keep Seeley in. We’ve also trained him to stay away from the chickens. The wounded one is still alive, but she seems traumatized by the experience (who could blame her?). We keep our fingers crossed and are ever-vigilant of the hound’s whereabouts. Can’t wait ‘til we’ve saved enough money for a new fence. But, I think that will be a while. For now, though, we have peace and we’ve been able to enjoy our peaceful surroundings.

Hi all! Just wanted to let you know that I haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth. I just have very limited internet access at the moment. We’ve moved in to our new place, but everything here takes forever, so we won’t have internet ’til next week. At that point, I promise to tell you about our latest adventures!

All the best! ‘Til soon!

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