Sunday, October 31, 2010


When the kids were younger and we had au pairs living with us, we made an effort to share American culture with our au pairs.

There are a number of holidays that both Americans and Europeans observe - Christmas, Easter, independence days, New Year's, etc.  Yes we had different cultural spins but these holidays were familiar to our au pairs.

Halloween has no European cultural equivalent.  The pumpkins, the costumes and the candy are uniquely ours.

Even though we are far from home, we are not far from Halloween.  The commissary sells pumpkins and Halloween candy.  The PX has Halloween costumes and decorations.  Club Beyond (the youth ministry here) had a pumpkin carving evening.  Americans are kind of spread out throughout the Mons region, so trick or treating is not quite possible - but the kids can dress up and enjoy trunk or treat.

Here and there I've noticed shades of Halloween among the Belgians.  There are some Halloween type decorations for sale in the local supermarket and I've seen some small nods to it in the neighborhood.  I'm not talking about lovely fall decor - pumpkins, hay and mums.  I'm talking jack-o-lantern pre-printed/factory made stuff.

If one must adopt American stuff, I think, they should take the best part.  Factory made decor not being what I consider the best part.

The best part is trick or treating - costumes and chocolate.  And here that would be costumes and Belgian chocolate.....

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Beltway in Mons


Driving in Mons has taken a bit of getting used to.  My first few weeks driving around the city were quite stressful.  Definitely a white knuckle experience.

Now with routes that are familiar to me, I whip around the city with a bit more ease.  

One of Kyra's dance studios is located south of the city.  Traveling to the studio it is fastest to take the express way - the A7/E19/E42.  Headed home it is faster to just take the Mons' Beltway - the R50.

I tried to find a good map of it, but this was the best I can do.  Only a small portion of the R50 is obscured from your view.  Those of you who have experienced Washington DC's beltway know how much fun it can be at any time of the day, but particularly at rush hour.  

I travel the Mons beltway in rush hour.  My drive takes me around half of it.  This portion of my drive takes me under two minutes.  To circle the Mons beltway takes between three and five minutes, during rush hour, still no more than 10 minutes.

When it comes to traffic and driving, I'm definitely getting spoiled here.  Places we go are further away, but I certainly don't have to work my way through as much traffic as back home.   I'm sure I'll pine for the Mons beltway when I've returned to the US.  

Friday, October 29, 2010

Wall to Wall Carpet

How I miss it let me count the ways...

1.  I miss the warmth and cushiness of it underfoot, especially now that it is cold outside.

2.  I miss its sound dampening qualities - we can hear everything from anywhere in the house

3.  I most especially miss the way it disguises dog hair.  We never realized how much Dobby shed until we moved here.  There are constantly tumbleweeds of dog hair rolling across the floor no matter how much we vacuum.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Farmland + rain + tractors riding through fields and then pulling out onto roads = mud, and lots of it.

In our walking routine, Dobby and I have our habits.  If the weather has been reasonably dry, we will walk the unpaved roads between fields behind our house.  If it has been raining, we avoid the puddles and mud and stick to the paved streets.

These days though, it does not matter, there is dirt and mud everywhere.  Farm equipment moves from field to road and road to field throughout the area and throughout the day.  Anything - people, animals, cars - that moves on the roads gets dirty.  Both Dobby and I have to wipe all the mud off of our feet and legs when we return from our walk now. 

The other day as I was driving into Mons, I noticed a van with the word "sale" written in the grime.  At first I thought, "it's for sale" then I realized nope "it's dirty."  The French word for dirty is "sale" and I guess the practice of writing in a car's grime transcends nationality.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Back and Forth

This is my life today.  Back to the bank to exchange more euros.   Then to SHAPE for quick stops at the library and post office.  Yet another meeting at the school regarding Kyra's classes.  I made a long run to Chievres for weekly food.

Upon walking into the house with arms full of groceries, thinking I had a couple of hours, Allen greeted me with "Can you take me to SHAPE at 1?"  He wanted to hang out with friends before his running practice.  So yes, I ran him back to SHAPE.

Back home to attend to other chores before I again go to SHAPE to take Kyra to her theater rehearsal followed by dance class.

I think I will have entered and exited SHAPE every two hours today.  By the end of today the gate guards should be waving me through instead of checking my ID.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

You know it is cold outside when...

I have always lived in the suburbs.  Cows are those animals you pass by while driving on the highway between cities.

Now that I live in farm land and have cows for my neighbors, I am learning another rhythm of life.  I know when my bovine neighbors are fed, their movement from pasture to pasture and when it is going to rain (cows lay down when it is going to rain, according to one of Kyra's teachers).  In Belgium this is pretty much every day and all the time.

Now the cows also help me gauge temperature.  About a week or so ago, I noticed four foot piles of hay and dirt "burning" close to the barns.  I'm slow on the uptake, but I've got it now.  You know it is cold outside when you can see the steam rising off the manure piles.

Monday, October 25, 2010

If it isn't one thing, it's another...

For those of you who are wondering - still no Belgian IDs.  Our ID cards that get us admitted to the SHAPE campus have an expiration date of November 1st.  They are temporary IDs until we get our Belgian IDs and then we get issued a SHAPE ID good for the length of our stay.

As our Belgian IDs have yet to materialize, the Belgian police gave us a SHAPE ID extension until December 1st.  So today I went and updated our SHAPE IDs which meant getting new cards issued.  This was fairly painless and didn't require too much waiting.  I was feeling really good about getting something done today, until...

I was paying for my groceries and my debit card was not working.  So now I have gained myself a trip to the bank tomorrow to get that card sorted out.  C'est la vie.

Sunday, October 24, 2010


I hate announcements in church.  The whole point of going to church on Sunday is to worship God.  There is little to nothing in the church news feed (aka announcements) that is worshipful.  No one has had their heart warmed or their affections stirred for Jesus because of announcements.  (If you have, please tell me I am wrong).

To varying degrees churches do make an attempt to tame this beast.  This ranges from letting them run amok - a free for all, anyone talks for any length of time to a tightly tamed only one person talks and makes no more than three.

Given how much I hate them, I find it amusing (and imagine that you will too) that I am now the designated announcement person at the SHAPE chapel.  It is Alan Marshall's fault.  He coached me into how to make announcements with enthusiasm and in an expedient manner.  He also taught me to never ask for volunteers in desperation or for warm bodies and to get it all done in three minutes or less.

This training all came in handy when there was a shortage of chaplain leadership two weeks in a row.  The first week, I was asked to announce a huge multi month ministry, the following week, they handed me the welcome, announcements, offering and prayer with ten minutes notice.

I guess all the coaching stuck.  I now get to serve God by making announcements....

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Away Meets

I'm dragging a bit this morning.   Allen's bus for his away meet left at 3:45 in the a.m.  Within the DOD league there are only two schools relatively close to us - both are in Brussels and are about an hour's drive away.  All the other schools are spread throughout Europe.

Throughout the course of the cross country season the team has travelled to England, other places in Belgium and to Germany.  They have competed against teams from England, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.  That's a lot of passport traveling for a lot of kids.  Often it has meant overnight trips departing mid-day on Friday.  Yes, Allen has had to miss half days of school, much to his dismay.

As pleased as I have been that Allen has enjoyed cross country, I am also pleased that the season is ending.  We'll have a bit of a break before track starts in the spring and the whole crazy travel schedule begins again.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Our House

I realized I have not yet posted a photo of our house.
Here it is -

When Kyle was looking for a house, curb appeal was very important to him.  Not sure the house looks very special.  Other houses on the street certainly look more charming, but ours doesn't look awful.

From the street it is hard to see our house, as it is surrounded by hedges.

We have a family room, eating area, kitchen, laundry room, pantry, four bedrooms, loft area and two and a half bathrooms.

As I look at it, this photo gives you a false impression of our home.  It appears as if the skies are blue with small fluffy clouds.  This is a rare occasion.  More often than not it is gray and cloudy.  Usually it is also rainy.  

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Kyra Speaks Dance French

Kyra does not speak French.  She can however dance in French.

Ever since she started dancing, she has been learning to dance in French.  All ballet terms are French, it doesn't matter whether you are being taught by an American, a Russian or a Belgian.  The steps, the movements have French names.

So yes, I am a mean mom for tossing Kyra into dance classes taught in French, but I'm not that mean.  And I'd like to note Kyra is doing very well.  Sure she misses some of the corrective notes but she gets the gist of things.

I was especially pleased when she climbed in the car a couple of weeks ago and said, "Mommy, I think I have it but I don't know whether it goes gauche - doite - gaughe or doite- gauche - doite."  For you non French speakers - left right left or right left right.  She now does her eight counts in French and distinguishing left from right in French.  She has passed that all important milestone in learning another language - she has stopped translating and just starting thinking in the new language.

Yes she still doesn't know every word that has been said but gauche is gauche and doite is doite.  And she dances to the rhythm of un, deux, trois, quartre, cinq, six, sept, huit....

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Whiny Blog about Power Outage

Context -
I am not unaccustomed to living/staying for an extended period in places where municipal services are shut down for hours or days at a time.  When I was in Leningrad there wasn't any hot water for 48 hours (I have no idea - don't ask).  Since we have arrived in Belgium there has been one afternoon when our whole neighborhood didn't have electricity.

That said, when the power went out yesterday afternoon, I initially didn't think much of it.  I chalked it up to a scheduled outage that I was unaware of.  A bit of an inconvenience but we could do without power for a few hours, besides I was the only one home and would soon be leaving (or so I thought).

My car was in the garage.  No problem - pull the release and manually lift up the door.  The release was easy enough to find and pull.  Manually lifting the door was another issue.  There wasn't any handle on the interior of the garage.  OK, I'll just go outside.  There wasn't any handle on the exterior.  My finger tips are not that strong and I wasn't willing to crush them by reaching under the door.

I really needed to get out.  I had a meeting at the school with the guidance counselor.  I had been waiting five days for the meeting.  No electricity = no car = no meeting.  OK, I could reschedule, not ideal but could be done.

Next I needed to be out to go pick up Kyra from school and drop off dinner for Allen.  Power should be back on in time.  As the time drew closer but without power, I started trying to get ahold of Kyle, who always has his work cell phone with him.  Guess who wasn't answering.

Overall a very frustrating afternoon.  Insert more blah, blah, whine, whine here. Turns out it wasn't a scheduled outage.  The house circuit breaker flipped (not sure why, I was alone at home using far less power than when four of us are home).  How to turn everything back on was not immediately intuitive, Kyle got everything restored in time for me to miss all my meetings/pick-ups.

For the future, I now know how to turn the power back on and I have learned to leave my car out if I think we are likely to lose power.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Monday, October 18, 2010

People Speak French to Me

For the most part I live in English-speaking culture.  My family speaks English.  All my web/email interactions are in English.  The dominant language of SHAPE is English.  In touristy areas, shopkeepers speak English.  Church is in English.  Chievres isn't only English-speaking, it is completely American.

The first few times a stranger addressed me in French,  I was startled and it took a few moments for my brain to catch up and respond appropriately.  Now I'm a bit faster on the uptake.  Not only that, but I do enjoy hearing and speaking French.  Conversationally, I'm still quite slow, but every day interactions with strangers are getting a bit better.

I like greeting people with a "bonjour!" as I walk the dog and wishing store keepers a "bonne journee" (good day).

I can ask for a pork roast at the butcher's counter and respond when someone wants the extra chair at the dance studio.  I'm not a great French speaker, but I'm decent.  People quickly realize French is not my first language.  They also are generally pleased I am making the effort.

I like the mental exercise of thinking and speaking in French and I expect if I keep at it, it will continue to improve until I once again move back to the US and forget everything I've learned.

Until then- Bonne Journee!

Sunday, October 17, 2010


Today we attended our first church potluck here at SHAPE.  They have one monthly, but this is one that finally fit our schedule.

While church potlucks all have their own individual flair, I do have to say that this one fit the general potluck mode.  There was plenty of food.  Desserts were in abundance followed closely by casseroles.  There were a couple of those quirky dishes that people weren't so sure about - in this case, grapes in some white dressing and a rice stir fry with olives.  All the food on my plate was very good if not good for me.

Usually the SHAPE Protestant Chapel has themes for their monthly potlucks and the hospitality ladies match the decor with place mats, printed napkins and center pieces.  This month's theme was "Totally Random."  The bonus of this theme is that all those odds and end place mats, napkins and centerpieces could be used.  Tables had floral place mats, Christmas napkins, fall leaves and Italian flags.  The effect was colorful if not coordinated.

Three of us ate well.  Limited by his allergies, Allen stuck to the apple crisp he knew I made.  Now he is supplementing it with a lunch at home.  Next time we'll have to pack more lunch for him.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

PTA Fall Bazaar

This weekend the kids' school is having their Fall Bazaar.  As entry is free and the location convenient, Kyra and I went to check it out.

Vendors were local professional crafters, antique sellers, home crafters and food sellers.  The products were of uneven quality but some items were really quite charming and interesting.  There was wine, chocolate and cheese.  There were the ubiquitous Belgian waffles for sale - by Americans.  One stall had antique mantle clocks.  Several tables displayed jewelry - mostly hand made.  Christmas ornaments were also a popular theme.

I'd show you photos of things I bought, but all are Christmas gifts and my gift recipients all read this blog.  I don't want to spoil the surprise.

 My favorite item was a handmade manger scene from Poland.  It is soft sculpture with the figures standing about 7 inches tall.  Jesus can rest in his manger or in Mary's arms.  The kings are all well detailed with gold braiding and lovely fabrics.  The animals are soft and fuzzy.  The donkey is particularly charming.  By the time I purchased Christmas gifts, I did not have enough cash to purchase this.

The bazaar is still going on tomorrow.  Kyle reads this blog and Kyra is also aware of my love for this item.  Hint, hint, hint.....

Friday, October 15, 2010

Grocery Shopping - Local Economy - Traditional

First a disclaimer - I have not yet entered a traditional local grocery store, so what appears below is gleaned knowledge with little first-hand observation.

Houses in Belgium are small.  Kitchens in Belgium are small.  Refrigerators in small kitchens in small houses are small.  As cold storage is limited, it is difficult to store more than a couple of day's worth of meals for a family.  This means that food shopping must be done more than once a week.

For people who live in small towns, this may best be accomplished by visiting the local food markets.  Most towns have a grocery store which is about the size of a small convenience store.  Here one can buy dairy products, produce, and a limited amount of canned goods, meats, wines and the all important chocolate.  Usually close by to the grocery store is a bakery - for the essential daily bread and also a local butcher.

If one does not live in the small town, shopping at such locations is not terribly convenient.  These stores are typically located along a stretch of buildings that are hundreds of years old.  The store building does not stand alone.  It is one store front sandwiched between housing and/or other store fronts.  It also doesn't sit that far off the street. Typically the distance from the store front to the front of the building across the street consists of - wide side walk, two lane road, wide side walk.  If you are able to follow my description and visualize - you will quickly realize that there is no place to park one's car while one shops.  Well, actually there is - on the sidewalk.  The local market is two car lengths long.

And one more impediment to any kind of food shopping on the local economy - the stores are closed on Sunday and Monday and all the other days they close at 6 pm.  Honestly, I'm not sure how working people ever buy anything.

Traditional local market shopping seems romantic and it would probably be lovely to have a neighborly relationship with one's grocer, butcher and baker.  If I lived in town, I might even pursue it, as I have the time to do so.  But for now, I'm sticking to the commissary and Champion market.   Some day if one of the two parking spots is open, I may stop in and have a look around.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Food Shopping Local Economy - Supermarkets

When it comes to grocery shopping on the Belgian economy, there are a few options.  In the Mons area there are a few "supermarkets" - the chains are Carrefour (think French wal-mart), Colyrut and Champion.

These markets are about the size of a Trader Joe's.  They have a bakery, cheese counter and a meat counter in addition to the standard produce section, canned goods, wine section, cleaning supplies, paper goods, etc.

Shopping in these places is fairly similar to what you would find in the US.  Grab cart or basket, load up with what you want to purchase, put stuff on conveyor belt, stand in line and pay.  There are a few slight differences.

If you want to use a shopping cart, you must have correct change.  The shopping carts are all chained together.  To release a cart, one must have a 50 euro cent coin.  Not 50 cents in assorted change, but the actual 50 cent piece.  When you are done shopping and link the cart back with its friends, out pops your 50 cent coin.

You are your own bagger.  Most people bring their own shopping bags, but there are bags available for purchase.

In general there is a greater emphasis on fresh food versus prepared food, though prepared foods are available. Potatoes are plentiful and cheap.  Pork and beef are also plentiful and reasonably priced.  Chicken is quite expensive.  Leeks seem to be a popular food item as well.  Outside of the fresh food a good amount of floor space is given over to wine and chocolate.

We were pleased to discover that there is a soy brand that is well stocked in local markets.  Alpro Soya makes several flavors of yogurts and puddings in addition to boxed soy milk and soy margarine.  This helps us add some variety to Allen's diet, as this type of soy product is not available at the commissary.

In general, I enjoy shopping at these local markets, it is good for practicing my French skills and I can buy goodies - tiramisu, chocolate mousse, fresh bread, brie, etc that I can't get at the commissary.

Tomorrow- traditional food shopping

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Commissary

Food shopping seemed to be of interest to those who have responded to my invitation for suggestions.  I'll address this over a few blog posts.

As I will be visiting the commissary today, I think I'll start there.

The closest (and I believe only) commissary in Belgium is located in Chievres.  Depending on farm equipment traffic I can travel one way in 30-50 minutes.  This does not make the commissary the most convenient shopping location.  For most foods though it is the cheapest.

The commissary for the most part looks like your typical American grocery store and it carries the most popular brands and types of food preferred by Americans.  It has a bakery, produce department, and meat counter.  The meat is from the US and all of it has been frozen.

The two major differences between the commissary and a US grocery store are the frozen foods section and the lack of sales/promotions.

At the commissary there are no sales or promotional items.  One is not bombarded with advertising or displays to buy a particular product.  Overall the prices are lower than what I would pay in Northern Virginia.  Not by a huge margin, but lower.  The prices between what I'd pay in a Belgian market and what I pay at the commissary are a bit more remarkable.  Chicken for instance is twice as expensive out on the local economy.

Frozen foods comprise four full aisles of the grocery store.  There is quite a bit of meat, frozen pizzas, frozen prepared meals, frozen vegetables and fruits.  There are two main consumers of these products.  The first group - single soldiers who really have no need to cook and the second group - Americans who live in Brussels or Paris and come long distances to shop at Chievres.  They need food that will keep for long periods of time.

So as much as I dread my weekly trips to Chievres, I am grateful we live as close to the commissary as we do.  Our food budget is much less because the commissary is close by and we can buy a number of familiar and favorite foods that would otherwise be unavailable to us.

Tomorrow - the Belgian market where I shop

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I am now taking suggestions for blog topics - this is one of my mom's requests.  Truthfully, I considered it a while back, but memories of my kitchen in Virginia were still too fresh.  Now they are more of a fond memory.

 This is my kitchen in Belgium.  One photo the entire kitchen.  On the right, the tall blue cupboard is the refrigerator.  The stove and oven should be pretty obvious.  The sink and dishwasher are on the left.

If I stand in the middle of the kitchen and stretch out my arms, I can almost touch both counter tops.

The bits of yellow on the far counter are mousetraps.  We don't have mice, we have a dog.  After the pyrex eating incident we have had to resort to this deterrent.

I've provided a close up of my stove top.  It is electric and has four burners.  Four pots do fit on its surface.  It gets a bit crowded to have more than two at a time, as the burners sit very close together and the pots touch.

The oven is another feature of this kitchen.  The width of the oven interior is just shy of 17 inches.  My cookie sheets and baking stone do not fit inside (well they do fit, if inserted diagonally).  Theoretically a 15 inch pan would fit, but by the time the sides slope up from the bottom and you add handles, well the result is too wide for the oven.

There is no way to make a Thanksgiving meal in this oven.  One would have to choose between turkey or casseroles (2 max).  The good news is that the school barely observes Thanksgiving (no school Thursday afternoon) so, we probably won't make it a major celebration.

To make the kitchen a bit more workable, I added a few things - a step stool so I could reach high cupboards and some storage from IKEA.  The bit of additional surface space and more drawers come in handy.

One more complaint and then I'll tell you the good thing about this kitchen.  Complaint - no garbage disposal.  I'll let you figure out what a hassle that is without describing it.

The good thing - by Belgian standards this kitchen is large.

I'm taking requests for future blog topics - let me know what you are interested in...

Monday, October 11, 2010

most beautiful cathedral in Belgium

Today is Columbus Day.  As a federal employee, Kyle has today off of work.

Allen and Kyra attend an international school.  Columbus Day isn't a big deal in Europe.  They had school.

 Kyle wanted to do some touring so we tried to figure out a place to go that wasn't too far, had something interesting to see and that the kids would not like.

Tournai seemed to fit the bill.  It is about a forty minute drive away, has a cathedral (Belgium's most beautiful) and several museums.   In case you would not already make the assumption, Allen and Kyra are not fans of cathedrals or museums.

Our first stop in Tournai, was Notre Dame Cathedral.  Once there we quickly learned that Belgium's most beautiful cathedral which began construction in the twelfth century was undergoing massive restoration.

By massive, I mean massive.  Floor tiles were ripped up, there was scaffolding inside and outside of the cathedral.  All the windows of the nave were covered or blocked up.

There were two small chapels that were not currently affected as well as the crossing where some chairs were set up.

The stained glass rose window at the end of the nave was not blocked entirely.  I shot a photo of it through the scaffolding, as best I could.

The cathedral's treasury was open.  We saw many of the cathedral's chalices, patens, priestly garments and reliquaries.  They were very pretty and elaborate, but after a while, Kyle and I wondered how many different chalices a church would need and how many parts of saints' bodies would be enough.

Within the area dedicated to the treasury, was also the cathedral's chapter room.  Up until reading, Ken Follet's Pillars of the Earth and World without End I wouldn't have know what this is.  It is the meeting room for the monks (or nuns) where they talk about the business of the monastery or abby.

After touring the cathedral, we went to the bell tower, which was closed and after lunch to the tapestry museum (Kyle's choice).  The tapestry museum had more modern art in it than tapestries.

So as for our day's criteria -
1.  Close enough for a day visit - check
2.  Kids would not like - check
3.  Something interesting to see - not really

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Homecoming Dunlap Style

 This weekend was SHAPE homecoming. This past week was spirit week - each day with a theme, such as wacky tacky, pirates vs. ninjas, cartoon characters, green and gold, etc.

Friday evening was a parade and a bon fire.

Saturday all the teams had home games/meets.

Saturday evening there was a homecoming dance for the middle school and a homecoming dance for the high school.

 In case you have not yet observed this fact - Allen and Kyra are not very formal kids.  Allen prefers to wear jeans and t-shirts and Kyra has the same preference.  Outside of dance, Kyra doesn't wear dresses or skirts.  She is not a girly girl.  I was a bit surprised when she asked me if she could order a dress for homecoming.

The other girl you see in the photos, is Kyra's friend Zoe.  Zoe's parents are out of town this weekend and she did not want to miss homecoming, so Kyra has some extra company and a friend to go to the dance with.

 As you look at the photos of the kids you may be wondering, where is the Dunlap style??

Look down...

Cross Country Meet at SHAPE

 Today was a more traditional cross country meet for Allen.  His uniform and warm-ups were clean and dry so he wore them to the meet.

Today's meet was notable for two other reasons -

1.  The sun was shining

2.  The meet was at SHAPE - a home meet.

It was nice not to have to carry an umbrella or break out my Alaska rain gear to watch Allen run.  It was also nice not to have to devote an entire day (or more) to watching Allen run.  Kyle is giddy contemplating what errands he can do today.

The course wasn't overly thrilling.  It was simply a loop around the track, football field, gym and surrounding grounds.  The runners had to circle three times before crossing the finish line at the 50 yard line.

I helped monitor the course so I was able to watch Allen run by a few times before going to the finish line.
Allen finished in the middle group of runners and then enjoyed hanging out with friends.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Harvest Time

 Fall colors the view down our back driveway
 Tractor tires leave deep ruts in the mud
 Trucks travel through the early morning mist
 The hum of tractors at work drowns out the sound of farm animals

It is harvest time

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ordinary Day

Late blog today - no reason other than daily crazy and lack of inspiration

Nothing overly special today, just a review of a typical day

Mornings consist of all of us rising fairly early (Allen unwillingly) to get ready for work and school.  Kyle goes off to work, the kids off to the bus.

I get to lag behind a bit, walk the dog and get myself ready for the day.

I had French class today.  I usually combine going to class with various errands - sometimes a visit to the library, always a check of our mailbox and sometimes a visit to the grocery store.  Less often I'll fill my gas tank or check on the progress (or lack thereof) of any bureaucratic process (still no Belgian IDs).

Kyra rides the bus home.  Allen stays after for cross-country practice.  Kyle picks up Allen after work and after practice and they come home together.

Evenings are typically devoted to homework.  Tonight I have a meeting - a church meeting.  I'm now serving on the parish council and in the student ministry.  I know you are all shocked.

My day usually allows pockets of time for cooking, reading, and/or blogging.  Nothing terribly exciting, but it is nice to have time to relax and not have to rush around.

Maybe I'll be more inspired tomorrow...

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dobby's Diet

 This is what Dobby does all day long.  

Sometimes he moves, so he can lay like this.
As you might presume, this takes a huge expenditure of calories.

Dobby has always been on a special diet.  Corn makes his epilepsy worse, so we have to buy special dog food without corn.   We have it shipped to Europe in sizable quantities.

Apparently we have not been feeding this very active dog enough.  Over the past three days, he has eaten - a bar of soap, chocolate chip brownies, and the glass Pyrex pan that contained said brownies.  These have not affected his epilepsy nor his daily routine of rigorous bouts of sleeping - for which we are thankful, but I think we'll stick to his regular diet and discourage further bouts of experimentation.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Inefficiencies - A List

1.  Belgian IDs - they are required but take forever to get.  We applied for ours the first week of August, we are still waiting.....  (I did go to the first office where we applied last week - the guy I talked to didn't seem surprised at the length and told me there was nothing I could do to hurry the process.  I was told to just wait for the mail)

2.  Military Veterinarian  - theoretically they have office hours four days a week.  After several phone calls and left messages, I managed to talk to a person.  They might have two days this month when they care for animals, all the others they are closed.

3.  Gas Card - they can be bought at SHAPE all week long, if you have the necessary clearance to get to the window where they are sold.  If you don't have clearance, you can buy them at Chievres (40 minute drive away) but only on Mondays.  On Monday - the Commissary is closed - so you don't get two trips for the price of one, necessitating greater use of the gas card.

4.  Only Kyle can cash checks on base.  The base's dollar/euro exchange rate isn't great.  Kyle writes and cashes check.  Brings home US$ to me.  I go to bank in town to deposit/exchange cash.  I have to go before 12:30 though - no cash transactions after that time.

5.  Houses don't have closets - I understand that Europeans don't have as much stuff as Americans, but still I see them wearing clothing that I presume they would want to hang up when it is not in use.

Some days the inefficiencies are so frustrating they make one want to scream.  More and more I can shrug my shoulders, take a deep breath and keep pushing through the craziness to get something accomplished.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Wacky Tacky Day

 It is Spirit Week at SHAPE American High School (of which the junior high is a part).

Today is Wacky Tacky day.  True to her nature, Kyra has carefully planned and prepared for the day.  She put much thought into assembling her costume, which is composed of the following elements...

1.  Fill Your Tank at Bill's t-shirt from the Arkansas gas station and restaurant

2.  Her ballet skirt

3.  A striped scarf

4.  Pink sweats from her days in the Crystals dance company

5.  Five different socks of varying lengths

6.  One fake Ugg boot

7.  One blue Croc with caterpillar jibbit.

8.  plaid shirt over Bill's t-shirt

9.  Candy Land beach towel (she has had since she was four) worn as a cape

 10.  Two pony tails of varying heights

11.  Plastic creations made from beads melted together - two are fish and one is a smiley face - these hang from pony tail holders

12.  One puffy feathery hair piece from her dance recital when she was 5.

This entire ensemble makes up Kyra's wacky tacky day ensemble.

This is Allen's level of spirit.....

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cross Country Meet - Allen Style

 1.  Attend youth group lock-in the night before

2.  Play outside in the rain in your warm up suit

3.  Get warm up suit so wet and dirty it can not be worn to the meet the next day

4.  Wear street clothes instead

5.  Hang out with friends while waiting for race to start

6.  Eventually warm up a bit

7.  Remove street clothes, change shoes and prepare to run

8.  Go to start line

9.  Begin to run

10.  No matter the terrain, the rain, the mud or the incline, keep a steady pace throughout the race

11.  When encounter obstacles (there were some thigh high rails that the runners had to weave around) jump over them rather than run around them.

12.  At the end of the race pour on the speed and pass other runners in a race to the finish (Allen passed four runners on the track and three in the transition from path to track)

13.  Finish 63rd among 108-120 guys running (count of total runners unconfirmed)

14.  Hang out with team afterwards - the best part

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Another List

Random things I like about Belgium

1.  I like speaking French and exercising my brain trying to improve my French speaking

2.  Tiramisu in pudding cups

3.  Fresh bread and cheese for lunch

4.  Yield signs and roundabouts - less stopping more going

5.  Greeting people with Bonjour!

6.  Being in proximity to many castles and art museums

7. Seeing cows and horses on a regular basis

Friday, October 1, 2010

Making lists

I've making lists in my head these days, so here's one I've been thinking about...

Things I don't like about Belgium (in no particular order) ...

1. Spiders - they refuse to live outside where they are supposed to

2. I haven't seen the stars since we moved here - too cloudy

3. Rainy (see cloudy reference above)

4. Muddy (see rainy reference above)

5.  Everything (laundry, shopping, administrative stuff) takes longer 

6.  My stove is very small and heats slowly

7.  Blocked from some US websites

8.  I'm doing much more driving (though there is a lot less traffic) 

There are many things I like too, I get to those in the coming days