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Monday, August 31, 2015

Back to school

Today the summer vacation officially ended with a bang (and you can take that literally - a heavy thunderstorm raged over Flanders). Tomorrow it will be going to school again for thousands of kids and teachers alike.

Shops remain open longer to sell all the stuff kids need for school, like pens and paper, notebooks, ... Btw, here it is still a tradition to put a neat paper around any book you borrow or buy for school. Do you also do that anywhere else?

Tears will flow. Little one who are going to school for the first time ever will find it hard to leave their mum or dad - and also the parents will wipe away some tears!

Some will love to go back, others will hate it. But the first day will only be about getting to know what and who. On the other hand, at the school offices people - like my sister - have been at work for more than a week yet, taking care that there are rosters to be followed, classes to be assigned, personnel to be paid. The first month is always a busy one for the school officials.

There will be traffic jams once more - especially when it's raining. But hopefully it won't tomorow morning.

A happy start everyone!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The devastating force of nature

During the past night, a devastating thunderstorm with hurricane force tore over Flanders. Especially West Flanders was hit severely. Houses were torn apart - a couple woke up to find half of their neigbor's roof in their bed.

On the other hand, where we live, we only saw a couple of flashes and heard a few thunderbolts. It barely woke me up. I suppose I only woke because I needed to go to the toilet...

The presence of two streams keeps away most of the severe storms, we have learned throughout time. While it can spook just across the bridge, we don't get any rain or worse.

The worst that ever happened here was a tornado tearing along the railroad. At random it destructed houses left or right. We live on the right, but here the tornado took left. Not a pane from the roof, while across the railroad all houses were down.

They predict more lightning for tonight. Hopefully we'll be safe once more!

Friday, August 28, 2015

Flanders loves its folklore

Yesterday was a rainy day. The wet drips kept coming down, but that didn't prevent the entire population of Dendermonde (and also from various other towns and villages) to come down to the center to watch the annual parade of 'Our Giants' - in our dialect that would be 'Gruete Mannen'.

It's a tradition going way back to the Middle Ages, when the guilds had an annual procession in honour of their patron saints. Ever since, these vast wooden structures (and make sure, they are not put on wheels or pulled by horse) are carried through the town by members of the guild of ship loaders. Nowadays no more ships are loaded or unloaded in Dendermonde, but only descendants of the original families are allowed to carry either the giants or the legendary Horse Bayard.

Unesco recognized our giants and horse 10 years ago as world cultural heritage and it was on occasion of this that the parade had some new items added, like the Hell wagon with it's frightening devil and lots of fire. And like each year, the onlookers were treated to bread with 'kopvlees' - a sort of meat traditional for our town - and 'sprot' (little fishes). And little kids had to look out for the 'Knaptanden'. Accordng to the legend, a giant fish was once caught in a net in the Schelde, and this fish had enormous teeth.

But what everyone was waiting for were of course Indian, Mars and Goliath. You should hear the noise when they are coming near! They are carried by a team of three, who switch regularly because the giants weigh heavily and it's no small task to carry it around and dance with it!

Katuit takes place every year, on the Thursday following the Annual Fair in August. It's more or less the last Thursday of August or one of the first days of September. And it only starts at 8 pm, because the darkness gives the event even more atmosphere.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What do you consider to be art?

Some time ago, I read an article in the newspaper, containing a sharp reaction to the exposition Beaufort 2015 at the Belgian coast. It was by the mayor of Knokke-Heist, who complained about the kind of 'art' displayed. Here's a picture to show what he meant:

I can only agree with Leopold Lippens (Count). This I also don't consider art. I might be old-fashioned, but to me art is something beautiful. A few lines drawn in the sand, or a heap of driftwood, isn't art in my view. Anyone can create it - even a little toddler! Or my cat, for what it's worth.

No, art should be something that makes you speechless. In recent decennia there has been less and less real art, I find - a few exceptions set apart. There IS modern art I can admire.

But in general my preference goes to art like this:

Rodin's artwork "The Thinker" is something to admire. And recently, we visited the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican. The ceiling painted by Michelangelo, that is also art.

And my greatest preference goes to the impressionists. This is one picture I'd like to see on the wall of my living room:

What is your view on this? Please don't restrain to leave any comments.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

This makes my old heart proud

I have a profile on Facebook. Not so much to post things about myself (I don't want to invite burglars!) but mainly to read news about my old friends and ex-students.

It's hearthwarming to see how most of my old students are really doing well! I've worked for the longest part at a school in Temse (Belgium) and lots of these guys have befriended me on Facebook. Some girls have married boys who were also in my classes and proudly show pictures of their offspring. Others have started their own business.

Not so long ago, a van stopped at the curb and a man got out. "Hello Mrs Moens!" he yelled from far. "Did you see my van? I put my name correctly on it, see?" That made me laugh. How often did I not tell my students (especially those in options preparing for a manual job) they should place their first name before their family name. So this young man was ever so proud he did it right! He owned his own transport firm by now and is doing well.

Another of my old students regularly get in the spotlights. He has created a company, Addmyberry, which creates t-shirts with a QR code. Well known artists (Luc Tuymans), designers (Tim Van Steenbergen) and top chefs (Sergio Hermanc) already worked with them. And if you remember that little guy....

Another one studied in London and is now a well-known biologist, who fights for the preservation of our Earth. He was the one who dared to put a push pin on my chair, in the hope I would sit down. But of course I knew what those guys were up to and I had checked before. So the pin was on HIS chair... The whole class was laughing when he sat down!

Some of the rather plain girls have turned into real beauties and proud wives and mama's. So never worry about your looks when you are young!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Disappointing news

You have to accept misfortunes, but it's not a pleasant duty!

Yesterday evening we got the news (by email) that our flight to Talllinn, Estland was cancelled. The airline proposed two other dates, but they were not acceptable. The first only allowed a stay of two days, and the other would make it way too long. So we took the option of cancelling. Luckily, we booked a hotel where we can also cancel without paying anything.

But now we're looking for a replacement, which is not easy so late in the season. We wanted to go during the Christmas break, and around that time all hotels are pretty full. And some cities are very expensive too in the festive season.

So we'll use the weekend to surf around the net to find something we can also agree on. Someplace north, by preference, but Iceland is already out because of being too expensive to fly to. (Used to think this country was cheap, especially after that volcano outburst some time back.) Not so. We considered Stockholm, but we are already going there next summer, so that would be stupid. Well, we'll see.

If someone has a good suggestion (a destination that isn't too expensive) they can always let me know!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Autumn is already here

What a 'summer' we've had! Wasn't it for our two trips to the south of France and Rome, we wouldn't have but two or three sunny days in entirely two months!

I don't know what 'warming the Earth' is supposed to mean, but I know it doesn't mean we get warmer summers and colder winters. On the contrary, the last few years our weather has turned more or less the same throughout the year. Sometimes we have better days and temperatures in November or December. While I don't complain about mild winters, I'd like to see some more sunshine when it's supposed to be summer.

A bit of sunshine does you a lot of good. It improves the mood, for starters. My sister doesn't complain, though. Her job demands she starts already working as of today, and she doesn't mind it rains or shines when cooped up in her office.

How's the weather where you guys find yourselves?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Glad to see some people dare to take action

How would you react? You are on a plane, a bus, a train.... and you see something suspicious. You assume someone (or more than one) plan to carry out a terrorist attack. What would you do? Just sit in your chair and do nothing because you're afraid, or jump up and act yourself?

Luckily, yesterday evening there were a couple of people on the Thalys train who took the second option. They figured out you can better die fighting than remain a lamb to the slaughter. Some Americans and one Brit could neutralize the assumed terrorist and nothing really happened.

To my experience, not a lot of people dare to take action. Most freeze just out of terror - or it doesn't interest them. I've seen situations like the one where a whole bunch of people was watching while two youngsters were trying to murder a third guy. They even cheered them on! That was in a classroom where I entered as the new teacher... I was so mad that I grabbed both boys by the hair (and janked it a bit) and held them apart, while I ordered two of the other students to run to the headmaster and tell him what was happening. None of these guys complained afterwards that I had hurt them a little... And luckily the one they were beating was not too bad in a state yet. A couple of days in the hospital and he was able to return to school, albeit to another class.

So you can guess I would also go for the second option when finding myself in a situation like the one on the Thalys. I'm not young anymore, but I still know how to go for those places which hurt. There's a lot you can do with a bunch of keys, or just with a hand or finger.

What about you?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Anglo-Saxon humor

On the possiblitily of stepping on some toes, I must say I don't like American-style humor. Once I was attending an American play, and when the entire theatre sat there laughing, I was wondering what they laughed about - it was not funny to me!

But I can laugh at British-style humor. I just love films like they only can make - 'Saving Grace', or "Waking Ned Devine", or '"Calendar Girls", or "The Full Monty", just name them.

Only yesterday evening we were watching "Waking Ned Devine", a film we programmed last year and had not watched yet. Hooters! What I especially liked was that the movie was entirely filmed on the Isle of Man, which we visited two summers ago. We've been to the place where Ned's little cottage stands.

And what about "Saving Grace", where a widow who's left penniless by the death of her husband, gets the idea of growing marihuana, because she has green fingers??? Well, of course she doesn't know at first it's marihuana - but the plants grow nicely...

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Women at work

Sorry guys, but tonight I really don't have any more energy to think about a topic for a blog!

I've been painting all afternoon, together with my sister. We had to give a second layer to ceiling, walls and doors of our flat. Since there ar no men in our life, we need to do everything ourselves. And those who think females are not able to do menial work, are wrong! We can paint, plaster, build a wall if necessary, unplug the toilet and do some small repairs. My sister can even make furniture.

Next to that, we can cook, clean and sew. Superwomen???

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The taste of vegetarian dishes

Twice a week we cook vegetarian. As both my sister and I need to take care we don't eat too much fat (nor sugar) we try to be careful with what we cook. We don't eat a lot of meat, also chicken, and very often fish. And now we have begun with veggie food.

At first I did not like the idea very much, but since we have been doing this, I quite enjoy our vegetarian dishes. They have a great taste and they don't make you feel hungry later on.

Tonight we had a dish with grains, green beans, mushrooms, mais and Camembert cheese. With that we ate some sort of vegetarian Wiener Schnitzel, which tasted excellently!

And what's even better: we have been losing weight since we eat veggie twice. I'm back to my size from years ago. No complaints!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Belgian's pride: the 'frietkot'

What do you do when you find out one evening that you haven't got all the ingredients to cook a decent meal? Can happen, yes?

Well, you take your purse and you head over to the nearest frietkot. A translation for those who don't understand: friet = pommes frites, fries, kot = little shack. Every town and village has at least one frietkot. You can eat there really cheap. A true frietkot doesn't only sell frites, but also sauses (the favorite still being mayonaise), all kind of meat balls and such, Flemish stew, and also drinks.

We used to go to frietkot Capri, but the owner has retired and a new one came, but she doesn't bake the frites like before. So we had to pick a new one. We went just across the street and we were very lucky to find a place where the owner still cuts his frites by hand and masters the skill of frying them. Yes, that's a skill. Most people wouldn't know how to do it right. We enjoyed our 'pakje friet' with a drink while on the square a pop band was playing.

An enjoyable evening!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Blessing of the sea

Those who read my blog know that my sister and I spend a whole lot of our time inbb Knokke-Heist. Our flat is in Heist, which has always been a fishermen's village. When we were little kids, our parents rented half of a house belonging to a pensioned fisherman and his wife. So we grew up with respect for the sea and loved to eat everything that swims in it.

On August 15th, one of our catholic holidays, Heist has a tradition of its own. There is a holy procession (and yes, they still find people for it!) through the streets of the center, and afterwards the priest gives his blessing to the ships and the fishermen. Every ship that is able parades before the coastline, and they fire flares and spout water. Quite something to watch!

As you can see, traditions go a long way in Flanders. We try very hard to keep our heirloom preserved and maintained. Do you have sortlike traditions where you live?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Our online privacy

Are you a user of Windows? Then you'll problably have got the 'good' news you can download Windows 10 FOR FREE. But know that at the same time, you'll be giving Microsoft permission to use all your personal data. Nothing is ever free, got it?

Of course, there are ways to protect your privacy with the new Windows 10. But then you need a lot of time and you'll have to read all the small letters.

These days, our privacy is big business online. Just Google a holiday destination, and then open up Facebook. Be sure to find a list of hotels or restaurants or plane tickets for that same destination! If you look for shoes on the internet, you'll get advertisements even by mail.

As you can see, this can really go very far. So if you really want to protect your privacy, either you don't go on the internet or you make sure you don't share too much info about yourself.

Btw, when I post this blog and go to my Facebook account, I'm sure to find some ads for hotels in Penzance, South Cornwall (UK) because I googles this some time ago as a possible destination for a holiday next year....

Thursday, August 13, 2015


While I'm writing this blog, I can view lightning coming down and hear the roar of thunder. I like to watch these storms through my window, and I'm not afraid of them.

Already as a child, we were taught to take precautions when a thunderstorm was setting in. We unplugged all our electrical devices and kept doors and windows closed. Nothing bad ever happened.

Thanks to these precautions, ours was the only house where lightning did not struck during  a particularly violent thunderstorm somewhere in the 1990's. I remember the sky was yellow like sulphur and thunder felt like an earthquake. Lightning struck one of the dividers in the street, and every device which was left plugged in went to pieces. Ours were the only one to survive that storm.

Are you afraid of thunder and lightning?

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Making your own furniture

My sister is one of those persons who like to create. (Well, I also like to create, but I'm quite clumsy in doing chores, I write books -which she can't.) She's a great cook, but she also loves to make her own pieces of furniture, just like our dad did when he was still alive.

Today she has been constructing little cupboards in which you can put up things. All she needs are a couple of boards and she can start. She has her own material (like an electric saw, a drill, just name it) and then she plans what to do. I am there to fetch and collect (which is what I'm good for, she says) and hold planks steady. I'm also quite handy in destructing! When it's not important what happens with something, just hand it over to me and I'll break it or tear it apart.

Here's an example of a TV cupboard she made some time ago:

What do you think of this? Better still, she's made an entire dressing in the bedroom, suited to all our needs.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Who's afraid to voice his/her opinion?

We live in dangerous times. Once we fought revolutions to be able to voice our opinion, but nowadays it can be dangerous to say what you think.

In my chosen profession, education, you have to teach students to have a free opinion. But at the same time you have to make them aware they can't always give it. Also us teachers are not always free to speak our mind. That's why I generally remain on the surface when asked for my ideas. I only voice them at home, where my sister thinks the same way.

I do have an opinion about most things. I can speak my mind about things that are not too sensitive, but I'd rather be quiet about politics, all sorts of crises in the world (like the problem with the fugitives in Greece), about religion, ... It's too dangerous a matter and it would offend some people who read this blog. Yet I'd want to say what I think and not be afraid of the consequences.

Do you think there will ever come a time when this is possible?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Coast fills up for final top weekend

It's pretty busy here at the North Sea coast. We noticed it in our apartment block as well: more and more owners return for a stay at their flat. The reason? It's pretty fair weather (most of the time sunny and quite warm) and of course at the end of this week is August 15th, a catholic holiday.

While we come to our flat whenever we have time - and we never rent it out - most owners only visit at some given times, like Christmas, Easter and this coming weekend. Lots of people put up their flat for rent, to pay the state taxes on property and the province taxes on second homes and such.

We never considered this. I wouldn't like the idea of strangers using the items I use, or sleeping in my bed... even though you change the sheets! Plus, to my experience, renting out causes nothing but trouble. I hear it every day from owners who do. On their return they find things destroyed, or furniture burned with cigarettes while smoking is not allowed. Or a dog has peed on the sofa.

What about you?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Belgian sex therapist becomes TV star in the UK

Has anyone watched the Channel 4 progam about sex at school? It was presented by our very own Goedele Liekens. Goedele (a true Flemish first name) is a former Miss Belgium but she also took a university course in sexuology. So she truly knows what she's speaking of.

Liekens became already popular through various programs on Belgian and Dutch TV, but now she was asked by the English to present a program about sex for kids at school. She did this in a very informal way - and the English liked it! Already the next day she had to come to various talk shows and conducted interviews. The BBC has also asked her to do a program for them, but she hasn't yet said 'yes'.

Goedele herself is the mother of two daughters and she knows what problems parents have to talk about sex with their children. But she thinks this should start at an early age.

Apparently, in Great Britain there is a problem with sex. Boys think that 'good' sex is what they see in porn films and their girlfriends should be satisfied with such a treatment. And lots of girls don't know a thing about their vagina.

I won't claim that in Belgium everyone knows everything about sex and sexuality, but at least a great deal does. We teach boys and girls not to consent to sex when there is no feeling attached. We teach them to say 'no' when they don't like what a boy or girl is doing. I have students in my classes (mostly 17 to 18 years old) who never had sex before. I tell them that's ok, they just need to wait until the right person passes by.

How does it go where you live?

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Planning holiday trips

What kind of person are you? Do you prefer to wait until the last moment and then book a last-minute, or do you like to plan well ahead?

My sister and I belong to the latter category. We've just returned from trips to the south of France and Rome, with two more trip coming on later this year, but we're already thinking of what we're going to do in 2016.

We have already one trip planned. To Marseille, in southern France, in May. But we're not sure what to do later on. A two-week cruise to regions we've never been to, or a couple of trips to for instance Sweden, Germany or Hungary?

Anyway, we want to have all planned by the end of these holidays. What about you?

Friday, August 7, 2015

Rome, the eternal city

Both my parents and my grandparents visited Rome, many years ago. But my sister and I wanted to explore further horizons, so we kept Europe until we were older ourselves...

The last couple of years, we've begun our exploration. We visited France (for the first time, if you don't count a trip to Lourdes with my parents when I was a little kid), going to La Rochelle and Saint Raphael. Now we made a city trip to Rome.

We had exactly four days, and that's long enough to get an impression of this historic city. We stayed in the northern part of town, in Parioli. This was the real Italy for us. We were among people who commuted to work and went to dine in the local restaurant. The hotel, by the way (Hilton Garden Inn), was quite a good one and not very expensive.

What impressed me most were the remains of antiquity, like the Forum Romanum and the  Colosseum. (Pictures underneath.)

And of course we also visited the Vatican and St Peter's.  The Sistine Chapel was most impressive (and here's a pic, although you were not allowed to take them...)

We walked for miles or kilometers and this with temperatures of high in the thirties Celsius. But the heat was bearable, especially when you drank enough. We swallowed liters of water (and wine in the evening). By the way, everywhere in town you could find free drinkable water. You just had to fill your bottle or spray your face.

We're still living on southern pace. We eat later and stay up until well past midnight. Luckily the weather here is fine as well. That way it hasn't been much of a scare coming back!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

No internet

Hello folks!

Sorry I've been unable to write my blog for a couple of days. I've been having troubles with my internet connection and was unable to go online.

The problem was my Norton Internet Security. After trying everything else I knew, I threw off the program and reinstalled it. Now everything works fine once more.

By the way, we've been away on a trip to Rome, Italy. I'll be telling more about this and putting up some pictures later on.