Roaming About

A Life Less Ordinary

Month: May 2017

Long Weekend Away in Friesland, the Netherlands

Warning: this post is photo-heavy!

When my cousin Griet and her husband Wim visited us in Sebastopol, California two months ago, we picked a long weekend in May to go on a trip together while Mark and I are in Belgium for four weeks. The destination was to be determined: Normandy in France or Friesland, in the north of the Netherlands.  The two of us had never been to either place. The coast of Normandy would more than likely remind us of the one in California, so we were happy the decision fell on Friesland, with its famous Waddeneilanden, five islands in the Waddenzee or Wadden Sea. This area (which also stretches into Germany and Denmark) is a World Heritage Site with a character and outlook that changes with the tides. At low tide, people in excellent physical condition can attempt a walk to some of the islands with a guide, certain times of the year.

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Completed House Sits: Sebastopol, CA – February 21st to April 26th, 2017

Each time Mark and I complete a house sit (or a few weeks later :-)), I write a little overview of our experiences. Our conclusions of previous sits in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Florida and California can be read here. I am almost a month late with this one – blame the extremely busy times we have had on the East Coast visiting friends, family, doctors and dealing with a bunch of unexpected developments in combination with our usual jobs – but I think most of you will still remember sweet Lola from Sebastopol!

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Ironies of Life – The US Driver’s License

When Mark and I were cruising full-time on our 35’ catamaran Irie, we made yearly visits to Massachusetts for family and health reasons. Mark was usually the designated driver in his mom’s SUV. For short stints, I would drive, either to get to an appointment myself or to help his mom out. As a visitor to the US, my Belgian driver’s license was sufficient. I did purchase an international driver’s license eventually, only to learn that is doesn’t mean anything. It must be used in combination with a valid license of one’s home country and its main goal is to offer a translation in different languages, like English, which is not one of my native tongues. I happily handed the car keys to Mark in any situation, because, frankly, I hate driving in the US, especially on highways. Particularly driving into Boston is a major hassle, full of annoyances and crazy drivers.

My Belgian driver’s license from 1997

In 2015, we “moved” to the States, bought a Toyota Prius and started a lifestyle as house and pet sitters. Now, we were part of the system and part of the road gang. For the first time in my life, I experienced a prolonged feeling of anxiety and distrust. I’d cross an ocean any time. We were never scared or in danger on the Pacific, but on a US highway… I often fear for our lives. Drivers in general are unpredictable, easily distracted (by their phone or other activities), oblivious to their surroundings, and rarely follow the rules – if they even realize or remember these rules. Contrary to Belgian road etiquette, drivers here don’t like to move over to the right lane of freeways, but happily crawl along in the middle lanes. Tailgaters don’t have the patience to let you get out of the way safely. Cars pass anywhere, on any side, at any time. Drivers are often unaware of bikes and pedestrians in towns. And, did you know that indicating is optional? At least, that’s what it looks like when cars enter the highway, change lanes, turn corners or pull into parking spots. Especially as a pedestrian, this can be deceiving and dangerous.

Driving Carol’s SUV

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Monthly Expenses – April 2017

Expenses - image

Every month, I post a report of our expenses to show that it is possible to live a comfortable, exciting and relatively adventurous life without being rich. Or even without owning/earning a lot of money. That being said, Mark and I seem to manage one big expense a month for some reason, whether it is car, plane, travel or computer-related. Luckily, we live totally rent-free, wherever we end up. 🙂

This report includes ALL of our expenses, in US$, for the two of us. Under groceries we incorporate all the food, produce and non-alcoholic drinks (100% orange juice, oat milk for Mark and organic 2% milk for me) predominantly bought in supermarkets. Toiletries belong in that category as well. Dining out means eating at a restaurant/event or purchasing take-out food. The health category covers non-prescription medicines and Mark's vitamins and supplements; medical contains prescription drugs and doctor's visits. Utilities are always Skype-related, since that is how we make phone calls. 

Health insurance and costs are related to my health care. Mark is still eligible for free health care in the state of Massachusetts as of today. If a non-emergency were to happen outside of that state, it will be expensive! Every six months, we have to fly or drive to the East Coast (where we are a this time) for check-ups. I still pay a small quarterly fee in Belgium for health care (required to keep my citizenship), which I mention in my year report.

Here is an overview of our expenses in April. We managed to stay under $1000, our loose goal, but car expenses were higher than usual, due to maintenance, extra sightseeing and paying up front for my MA driver's license. If I include the money we spent on Tax Day, our total would break all records in the "monthly expense history of Mark and Liesbet" (barring the cost of a sailboat or a camper). Because our income was a bit higher than expected last year (we are self-employed and don't know ahead of time how much money we will generate with sales of The Wirie), we ended up funding the US government much more than usual.

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IWSG Writing Update May 2017 – Expanding Your Horizons

Every first Wednesday of the month, the IWSG (Insecure Writer’s Support Group) encourages writers to share their fears, thoughts, progress, struggles, excitement, encouragement or anything really about their writing. A different question is posed each month, as a writing prompt for IWSG members. Answering it is optional. For May, that question is “What is the weirdest/coolest thing you ever had to research for your story?

This amazing, supportive group of writers was founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh. Today, the co-hosts are Michelle Wallace, Nancy Gideon, Tamara Narayan, Feather Stone and Liesbet Collaert. That’s me! 🙂 May is a big month for some of the members, namely the twelve finalists of this year’s IWSG anthology contest. The genre was “fantasy” and the published result, Hero Lost – Mysteries of Death and Life, has just been released on May 2nd. It is available in print and e-book. Congratulations to everyone involved!

My favorite subjects to write about are personal experiences and travel stories. I have had plenty of adventures all over the world, so there is no lack of inspiration and content, the words come easy, and little research is required. I don’t like doing research. Although, with the internet at our fingertips, it sure is much easier than when I was working on high school projects in the early 90s. When I write articles for sailing or travel magazines, I sometimes have to double-check locations and facts online, but that can hardly be called weird or cool.

Mount Cook, New Zealand

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