Monthly Archives: September 2010

You’ve Got Mail


Over the past few years the number of packages  I receive from the U.S. has diminished.

It’s expensive for my parents (and us too if customs decides to open and tax it) and there’s very little that I miss enough to warrant trans-Atlantic postage. So you can imagine my glee when the first (of three!) arrived here on Monday.

And if you could imagine the glee, perhaps you can also imagine the giddiness when I discovered a happy little box filled with Halloween candy goodness inside! See, my mom may not know my taste in veggies whatsoever, but she does know my junk food indulgences. along with the Pumpkin Spice flavored Hershey Kisses I requested (yes, they’re making pumpkin spice ones now, I heard about them on Facebook and they’re actually pretty good), my mom also sent the following items:

Halloween Oreos, which come complete with scarily orange cream filling and I’m overjoyed about because it’s nearly impossible to find Oreos here and when you do, it’s a box of 6 regular old Oreos and they cost as much as this package of 32 probably did. I’m actually a Hydrox girl, but since those apparently no longer exist, Oreos are what I want when I’m in a cookie mood.
Which sucks when you live in a country that doesn’t really have them. Or anything even remotely similar.

Mmmm, sweet, oddly colored goodness.

Along with the Oreos, my wonderful mother also sent a six pack of Reese’s Peanut Butter Pumpkins. Which is really just a way of legitimizing the consumption of a pumpkin-shaped chunk of sweetened peanut butter.

I so love peanut butter. And if you think Oreos are hard to find here? don’t even try with the peanut butter. Occasionally I find a dust covered jar of Dutch peanut butter but I don’t even dignify that with a second glance. So yeah, this particular item? Pure win, my friends.

Along with those two treasures came the requested pumpkin spice kisses, which I recommend trying if you’re in the U.S. and have a target in your neighborhood.

I actually took half the bag to work so as not to have too much sugar in the house and my health-nut colleague was quickly addicted and asked me to hide them from her.

I’ve been very well behaved so far, only eating the serving size once a day or less, although with the first two things it’s tough. In fact, taking pictures of everything tonight was enough to make me have an Oreo and a few kisses when I wasn’t planning on any tonight.

But I did the right thing, shared some with my husband and father-in-law, and then dutiful came upstairs to blog about my little care package and the Halloween themed happiness that is sitting in the kitchen cupboard.



Forgotten Ripples


Have you ever been daydreaming or thinking some random thought and it leads to some complex recollection that reminds you of a person or a group of people that you encountered briefly, people that really mattered, but who you will most likely never see or hear about again?

This is a complicated thing to explain, because I have to begin by saying that I spent about two months the summer before I graduated university in a rehab center.
I may or may not have mentioned that on my former blog, I can’t recall, but to sum it up as quickly and simply as possible I’ll say this:

I am an abnormally anxious person who is very easily depressed and there are times when I have very sudden mood swings, obsessive behaviors and sometimes even unwarranted paranoia. The diagnosis that seems to have been slapped on me the most is GAD and that seems to sum it up pretty well so that’s what I assume the condition is. I’ve had it pretty much forever and I imagine I always will.

Anyway, the anxiety and depression got worse and worse throughout college and in the end I was pretty much self medicating via alcohol. Basically drinking myself into oblivion almost every night just to forget how awful reality was feeling and it was getting me into a lot of trouble. Not legally, but pretty much everything else. So when I finally had my little breakdown and called my parents for help, the first thing my mom wanted to do was find me some therapy, but therapy that also included some kind of counseling for substance abuse.

At first I really resisted the idea. I didn’t think I was an alcoholic, but it did scare me how one beer so easily became six or ten or twenty without my even realizing it anymore, so I agreed to do the therapy/rehab combination. My skepticism eventually turned into hope. Maybe all these torturous thoughts and ideas going on in my head were the result of being an alcoholic. At least then I could just not drink and it would eventually all go away. But after the first month I began to realize that drinking wasn’t the problem. It was a result of the problem, but it wasn’t the cause. I stayed though, because the community I found myself in was supportive and kind and caring and usually sincere.

The fulltime people in the group were of varying age, social class and gender. There was Larry, an alcoholic who actually walked a straighter line with those drunk goggles on than off. He came to rehab because his addiction was so bad that when he got the flu and couldn’t drink he went into seizures and nearly died.
There was Dave, a hyperactive cocaine addict who actually used in order to calm himself down (they don’t call Ritalin “poor man’s coke” for nothing).
Rose was a heavy set woman in her late 40’s or early 50’s. She was so sweet and motherly and for a long time didn’t think she was an alcoholic because she was only drinking wine, although sometimes it was a bottle of wine a day.
Megan was a couple years older than me and she lived in a halfway house for heroin addicts. One of her main difficulties was that the halfway house was split into two parts; one part for recovering users and the other for users who just needed a roof and bed. Sadly, the two parts shared a bathroom and it was really difficult for addicts trying to get clean to see all the used needles in the bathroom stalls all the time.
Pat was a sweetheart and worked in some kind of security business. He smoked crack and was caught during a routine lab test of the employees. His job basically depending on him being able to get clean through the rehab.

There were other people that came and went through that room. Some of them admitted they were struggling and wanted very much to get help. Others made it clear they were only there because they had to be and they only wanted to do the court-prescribed amount of time and then go right back to how they were living before they got busted.

Anyway, for two months while I struggled with what my issues really were (and still are to some degree), the people I listed above were my main support. They didn’t know my past, they didn’t judge me on my old behaviors. They only knew I was struggling, like they were struggling, and they supported me like I was one of them, even though in the end I wasn’t.

So today, when I smelled the fresh odor of cigarettes hanging on the teenagers that sat in front of me on the tram, it made me think about the one single time I’ve had a drag off a cigarette since I quit smoking over three years ago.

It was at my bachelorette party here in Gent and I took one quick drag off a colleagues lit cigarette, thinking that it would probably be disgusting.
But it wasn’t. It was so, so good and the taste was so familiar and comforting. I could picture myself smoking the whole thing without hesitation. So I quickly put it down with the realization that I did know what addiction felt like. Not with drugs or alcohol, but most certainly with cigarettes.

And I suddenly the faces from that summer floated in front of me: Larry’s strong Pittsburgh factory worker drawl, Dave’s tinted glasses and goofy smile, Rose’s flowery clothing and hugs, Pat’s laughter and goofy sense of humor, Megan’s good natured attitude. I wonder how they are and what they’re doing.

I know that statistically the odds aren’t good, but I hope they’re all doing well and have found happiness and a healthy lifestyle.

And even though the memories will settle again into the dark stillness at the back of my mind, I know they’re only a a thought away from being a ripple right back at the surface.

Bursitis + Rain = Sad Little Immigrant


I think I probably forgot to mention it, but I have been home all week due to pain in my shoulder that is apparently bursitis caused from work.

Once I started working and ended up on all sorts of weird hours I often thought how nice it would be to have a break. Obviously this isn’t the kind of break I wanted, since it comes with pain and some limited movement on my left side, plus Piet and I are taking our belated honeymoon to Tenerife in October, so I was already getting my break anyway. But not being able to work has really not been fun.

I’m a creature of habit and I need my routine to have even a semblance of a healthy day. As of right now I feel like a lump and I’ve been eating nothing but junk food, usually at very irregular times of the day.  I can’t honestly say that I miss my job, but I miss spending time outside of the house with colleagues and I miss having some structure to my day.

Oh, and to top it all off it’s raining, which, while perfectly normal for September in Belgium, does not help my dreary attitude whatsoever. According to the physical therapist I’ve been seeing, I should be able to get back to work on Sunday, so hopefully that’ll get my mind off of my annual Autumn Blues before the trip to Tenerife.

This Weekend’s Golden Moment


I was reading the blogs in my Google Reader today, like I do every day, cause who needs newspapers and magazines when you have the internets, and one of the titles is particular caught my eye. It was this one from Bubblewench where she talks about the golden hour, “that time when the sun turns everything to gold, right before it sets.”

I have several photos taken during the golden hour, as it seems I find that time of day as magical as she does…

Anyway, Bubblewench hopes that we all had a golden moment this past weekend and at first it got me to thinking.

Because yesterday was one big tarnished moment for me. Piet and I had a sad disappointment and it really tainted my whole day. So I kept trying to think about my golden moment this weekend and after a second or two it popped into my head: wine!

Okay, not the wine itself I guess, but the wonderful, golden feeling that came from several glasses of wine over a delicious meal in a softly lit, nicely decorated banquet hall. The rosy cheeks and shining eyes and easy smiles and laughter, flavored with the sweetness of wine and bright futures.

That was my golden moment this weekend.

What was yours?

Fun With In-Laws*


*In honor of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, this post has been translated into Piratese. Yarrrr!!!!

Yesterday Piet and I attended t’ weddin’ o’ one o’ his cousins. I’ve been t’ a few Belgian receptions before, but I’d yet t’ go t’ a weddin’ service, so it was a new experience for me (somethin’ that be gettin’ fewer and farther between).

And I can honestly say that a Catholic sermon in a foreign language be only slightly more uninterestin’ than one in your native language. But still, it was somethin’ new and after t’ late afternoon service we went aft t’ me in-laws’ house for a couple hourse before goin’ t’ t’ reception, which was in a really nice banquet hall-hotel. It was actually very similar t’ t’ venue where Piet and I had our Belgian reception, only it was larger and a bit more polished. T’ food was fantastic, t’ grog was flowin’ freely (like it does here durin’ special events), and Piet and I ended up havin’ a really fun time with Piet’s sister and her husband.

It was actually really cool because we don’t often get t’ spend time with me sister and borther in-law as a couple since he’s usually busy workin’ at his family’s restaurant. Occasionally he’ll pop in t’ say Ahoy! or have a quick Christmas what crawled out o’ t’ bung hole before hurryin’ aft over t’ t’ kitchen, but that’s usually about it. So this was a nice, if rare experience. I took some photos so you could share in some o’ t’ shenanigans.

Unfortunately I forgot t’ get photographic evidence o’ t’ huge pile o’ flower petals, candy wrappers and sugar cubes that resulted from t’ tower we started buildin’ in t’ middle o’ our table, but that’s probably for t’ best since I imagine t’ servers on cleanup duty weren’t too thrilled when they found most o’ it hidden under t’ tablecloth.


Bein’ a grown up every day be hard! Sometimes you need t’ take a little break!

Calling All Belgian Catholics


Remember that controversial post I mentioned a while back?
Well, it’s still sitting half written on the paper sleeve I began it on. I look at it and consider it from time to time, but it always boils down to my inner voice asking, “do I want to write this because I’m truly interested or because the topic touches on a tender spot that I’m trying not to let grow bitter?”
So rather than dive face first into that snakepit (for now), I’m going to take on a topic I feel perfectly fine about…criticizing Catholocism!


As I’m sure  most of my Belgian readers (and probably some others among you) know, one of the better know bishops in Flanders, Roger Vangheluwe, resigned from his position on April 22 of this year, after admitting that he continuously molested his nephew while he was a priest and also after he’d been made bishop, shocking the Flemish community (even Piet, the atheist), since he had spoken against molestation in the Catholic church until as late as the day before he resigned.

Since his confession, Vangheluwe has been holed up in Westvleteren abbey while a Flemish investigator researched whether or not the Belgian church could be held culpable for covering up and therefore facilitating the instances of molestation in the church. The Catholic church and Pope Benedict voiced its outrage that Belgium’s justice system dared to try to investigate rather than leave the matter where it belonged, namely in the pedophilic hands of the church diocese. Irregardless, the investigation continued and a report was recently released stating that, according to the information gathered, this was not an isolated incident, but rather practically the norm and was indeed something structural within the church and was kept silent, despite the reports of victims.

Since the report was given on national television, Vangeluwhe has left Westvleteren and is now supposedly in Westmalle abby. In the meantime a former Belgian-gone-Canadian priest who returned to Belgium after being accused of molesting Inuit children in the ’80’s has been discovered by the Canadian justice system and in a recent interview a fellow monk laments that it’s a shame for the priest that this whole incident has stirred up his lurid past. Apparently the victims are more of an afterthought since the monks don’t know them.

So now we’ve finally gotten to the crux of my post: Catholic Belgians, how are you able to tolerate this kind of behavior from the church you believe in and the men who supposedly guide you spiritually and in worship? How do you find it acceptable that the church receives state funding and in return, openly covers up the abuse of children?

I mean, I come from a country of religious extremists so I don’t expect much from most people who claim loyalty to organized religion as far as the willingness to deviate from what is spoon fed to them in a sermon, but one of the things I’ve come to respect about most Belgians is rationality in the religio-political arena.

So what’s the story with you guys regarding this issue? Do the constantly growing number of rotten apples falling from the papal tree cause you to falter in supporting the church? If not, could you explain how or why this does or doesn’t effect your feelings regarding your faith?

Just To Let You Know


The hedges along the slow moving, fowl filled waters of the coupure were a lush and brilliant green today.
The uniform borders of maple trees stood tall, the thin, ivory and beige mottled trunks supporting a broad canopy of full, emerald leaves, broader than their Canadian cousins.
The peaceful scene was laid out underneath an azure sky spotted with soft clumps of fluffy clouds, perfumed with the cool clean air of September. Summer’s last sigh, autumn’s first breath, co-mingling, rustling the branches and rippling the water.

Pouring hot water into cups of espresso and fresh milk sent puffs of cozy, comforting coffee scented air into my face today, triggering minuscule memories of warm family gatherings, post-holiday feast dessert time where my mother and aunt served coffee to the adults while the kids tried to snatch extra brownies or strawberry whip; my father stirring creamer into his favorite white porcelain cup with the faded blue stripe around the rim; later my own giant mugs, flavored with amaretto or cinnamon creamer.

Today brought more smiles than frowns, laughter and no tears, an evening of pleasant company with my husband (who spontaneously cleaned the upstairs), and an overall feeling of contentedness.

Just to let you know that I do have plenty of those kind of days too.

Understanding The Dysfunctional Immigrant


There are some days where I hear about a Moroccan in Antwerp assaulting a bus driver, or I see a Turkish teen get unjustifiably angry when someone tries to step off the bus while he’s stepping on and I find myself shaking my head, sympathizing with the large amount of antipathy towards many immigrants in Flanders.

I see the women with head scarves and misspelled cardboard signs (all of these sign have the exact same handwriting, so it’s like a chain beggar business) begging for money and the piles of discarded sunflower seed shells that litter the backs of the buses where the immigrants tend to sit and it frustrates me because immigrants like that give the hard working, aspiring, successfully integrating immigrants a bad name.

But then there are days like today. Days when the air is sharp, the rain is pouring, the gutters are overflowing and the sky is like slate. Days when an immigrant such as myself go to the city center at 9:00 to get some shopping done, only to realize 75% of the businesses don’t open until 10:00, which is not only inconvenient for people who prefer to get errands done early in the day, but is also somewhat mocking when you’re a person who often has to be at work before dawn in order to make a living.

Days when an accumulation of nearly 3 years of frustrations and culture shocks and language struggles and paperwork and disillusionment sit like a lead weight in the chest, matching the dismal grayness of the first real days of the swiftly approaching autumn.

And so, when I got off the bus, both hands full of bags from my shopping trip to the center, and began walking down the sidewalk towards home, I initially ignored the irritated “hallo” from behind me. And then it came again, louder and even more insistently rude, “hallo“.  I turned only to have some impatient harpy with a large stroller nearly mow me down as she flounced past me.

I didn’t say anything, though I wish I had.

I wish I had turned and stood in front of her, blocking her way and forcing her to stand in the rain.
I wish I had spoken up and said, “you can say ‘excuse me’ or ‘pardon’ or ‘may I pass’ or you can walk on the street.”
Part of me wishes I had simply turned and spit in her face.

Because there are always days, regardless of how long you’ve been living in a different and foreign country, where your temper is set to boiling and your patience rests on a hair trigger. It’s not always the result of something happening directly to you, nor is it even a result of anything particularly disappointing or frustrating happening to you that particular day. It’s a build up that reoccurs; a simple memory of injustice, the inability to remember a word in your second (or third or fourth) language, a particularly galling cultural difference.

It sits and it swells and sometimes it peacefully, benignly subsides.
And other times it bulges, buckles and bursts.

Fortunately, I have yet to lose it completely, although I have entertained plenty of wishful thinking when it comes to how I would lose it if I could.  And frankly, I doubt that I ever will go off on someone like I occasionally long to do. But I can say that I do understand how some immigrants do end up going off the deep end, it’s just sad that it’s usually just one more thing that reflects badly on us all as a group.

Putting a Price On Time


I’m going to go out on a limb here and write a bit about work.

I know that it’s possible that some of my colleagues read this blog, so I’ll keep things as obscure as possible while I try to discuss what’s irking me.

Last week we had a meeting. Albeit a pointless, useless meeting that did nothing but solidify enmity between some of my colleagues and force me to work a ten hour day while four other colleagues sat around and singled out and pointed fingers at each other.

The only good thing about the stupid meeting was that it had absolutely nothing to do with me, aside from the fact that the person who I’d consider my closest friend in Belgium was at the center of the conflict and the meeting accelerated her current job search.

But one thing was said that planted tenacious little barbs in my craw and it’s been stuck there ever since.

“I spend more time here, with you all, than I do with my wife. I’m with you full time, and her part time.”*

Now, this coworker was simply trying to point out that in the line of work we’re in (10 people working in a small kiosk that is open 7 days a week) we have to be around each other a lot and therefore, we have to be patient with each other and try to get along despite our differences.
And he has a point and is totally correct in the sentiment he was trying to put across.

But I, personally, do not want to spend more of my waking time with my coworkers than my husband! Period.

As I stated to Piet via messenger a few minutes ago:
life just shouldn’t be like that
you work with someone cause you have to, you marry someone cause you want to. You should be spending more time with the people you choose, not the ones forced on you by association

Not that I don’t like my coworkers (to varying degrees), because I do, but I don’t get to pick and choose who I work with or what shifts I work or anything like that. There are times when I work with all of my favorite people for an evening, although that’s rare. There are times when I work only with people who I can really only relate to on a work level and those times I quite content to cut out the chatter and simply do my work. I am very rarely working with what I consider the ideal set of people to work together in a cramped little box surrounded by loud, hot machines, serving people who aren’t always particularly good natured or friendly.

Some days I wake up at 4 in the morning and I’m biking in the cold darkness of 5 a.m. on a nearly empty street where even the gas stations aren’t open yet in order to get to work in time to open and have people leave in a huff when they find out the croissants aren’t fully baked yet. On those days I leave work at 1:30 in the afternoon and I usually take the rest of the day to get any random groceries or laundry done before spending a few hours online. I don’t usually have the energy to want to cook dinner by the time Piet gets home, but lately I’ve gotten back to trying to do it more. Or at least buying some healthier things and asking Piet to cook them. On those days I try to watch some television in the evening with my husband, but more often than not I’m passed out sleeping by 8 p.m.

Other days I get to wake up around 8:30 and Piet goes to work while I have my few hours online before preparing my lunch and heading off for the evening shift. I usually get home around 10 p.m. which means Piet and I don’t eat together at all.

I suppose we could develop some sort of routine around these shifts if they were regular, but they aren’t. Monday and Tuesday I might close, with Wednesday off. Thursday and Friday I might open with a middle shift on Saturday and Sunday I’ll have off. the next week is usually something different.

I admit, it’s really starting to get to me. I want nothing more than to work a nice, normal, Monday to Friday job that’s within normal hours. Oh, yeah, that isn’t customer service.

I want to spend more time with my husband, the person I chose to have in my life as much as possible.

I’m not asking for more hours in the day, just for the hours that exist to be spent on the person I love the most.

*loosely translated from somewhat broken, Arabic-accented Dutch