When I grew up in Belgium, New Year’s Day was more important than Christmas. Yes, we had a live Christmas tree with colorful balls and twinkling lights in the living room, but the presents underneath would be distributed on the first day of the new year. On Christmas Eve, my brother and I would have a quiet dinner at home with my parents. Sometimes, my dear oma would join us. My dad retrieved the “gourmet set” from the cellar and my mom picked up trays of bite-sized, raw meat and vegetables (and not to forget, pancake dough) at the butcher. For hours, we would each cook our own dinner in tiny pans and on top of the “communal” electric grill plate in the middle of the table. This food experience was called “gourmetten”. We all loved it and finished the meal off with mini-crepes. Then, we would play board games until bedtime. Continue reading
“Hi, I’m Mark and these two are Kali, the white one, and Darwin, the gray one.” I looked up from petting the wagging fur balls that had run up to me on my way out to the camper. It is so funny how Americans always introduce themselves immediately, as if names are the most important thing during a conversation. Europeans could talk for hours before exchanging names, as I had realized more than once during my backpacking years. My eyes met those of a tall and skinny short-haired man in the doorway. “Hello. I’m Liesbet. My boyfriend Karl and I are staying with Nick for a week to visit San Francisco. Our camper is parked in front of the house.” “Camper? Why are you living in a camper?” I told him exactly why and shared my lifetime travel goals with the excitement I always feel when elaborating on my passion. Before I realized it, an hour had passed. I excused myself, ran towards our home on wheels, grabbed the CD of my favorite Belgian band dEUS and rushed back to Nick’s place. “Where have you been?” Karl asked. “Talking to a neighbor, the one with the fluffy dogs,” I answered, handing the disc over to Nick, who is an amateur disc jockey, interested in all kinds of music.
The weeks had flown by and my relationship with Mark intensified. He would leave the door to his apartment open while at work, so Karl and I could walk his dogs, together with our dog Caesar. And, I could snuggle with Kali and Darwin as much as I wanted. Today, I am not leaving, however. I am here to stay, to move in. To cuddle Kali and Darwin forever. What will Mark say about all this?
This is an excerpt of the memoir I am working on. Mark and I met in an area of Oakland called Rockridge, in November 2004. He loved living there and I enjoyed it as much, when I tossed my existing life with Karl and Caesar through the camper windows and decided to stay – unbeknownst to Mark. Continue reading
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
Today’s blog post is a difficult one for me. I have written emotion-laden blogs before, like the one about our sweet, smart and cute dogs Kali and Darwin and the one about my sister-in-law Dru. I never wrote about my dear aunt Monique or my paternal grandma I called meter. Both also passed away while Mark and I were sailing the seven seas. During all those years abroad, I had one massive dread and worry. It had to do with my maternal grandma, my oma, who I loved more and longer than most anyone else.
When I was thinking about this subject, I realized it is International Women’s Day today. Perfect! What better day to celebrate the woman who meant so much to me, my whole life? Continue reading
Here is another topic for my “Then and Now” series. This festive time of the year has been different for us, over the years, as my article “Caribbean Christmas Afloat” in All At Sea magazine partly depicts. Underneath is a glimpse into our Christmases then (mostly during the time we lived and sailed on Irie) and now, at our current house sit.
2008 – Culebra, Puerto Rico
Mark, Darwin, Kali and I were ready to explore the real Caribbean in our 35′ sailboat. Unfortunately, the day after Christmas, our sweet girl Kali passed away and nothing would ever be the same anymore.
A special breakfast with bacon grease for Kali and Darwin
2009 – St. Pierre, Martinique
One of the most beautiful anchorages in the Caribbean was our location on Christmas in 2009. It was just the three of us enjoying a quiet day of giving Darwin a bath and exploring the town.
A bath for Darwin
2010 – Bequia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines Continue reading
The festive season is upon us! While Mark and I are having a quiet one, across the country from his friends and family and across the pond from mine, I hope most of you are enjoying this period in the company of loved ones. It is a time of reflection, love, friendship, tolerance, peace and coziness. I hope all these feelings can be extended throughout the new year! Continue reading
Last week, Donna from Retirement Reflections suggested I do a “Then and Now” post about my birthday. While the thought had crossed my mind, I was hesitant to pursue it, because I thought I could do something bigger with that topic than “just” a blog post. See, a little while back, I played with the brief idea to make my variety of birthdays a thread in the memoir I am writing, or at least incorporate my last decade into an article, “Sailing through My Thirties” or something like that. As always with most of my genius ideas, not much ever happens with them. So, why not turn the thought into a blog? Some parts will still make it into my book, so I can’t reveal any juicy details or you won’t buy it. 🙂 The photos will not be able to make it into the memoir, so… here are some birthday galleries!
30 – Monterrey, California, USA
My birthday in 2005 was a bit stressful and exciting at the same time, since our sailboat F/Our Choice/s (on which we were living) was getting hauled out of the water in the morning and undergoing an inspection to be sold. Or not… We spent part of the afternoon in the amazing aquarium and went out to dinner. We both love Monterrey, especially the wildlife, like sea otters swimming by the boat.
31 – Belize, Central America
This blog follows the theme from last week, but with much less color! 🙂
Thanksgiving didn’t mean anything to me as a Belgian, until I started visiting the US over a decade ago. Being married to an American made me appreciate this day of thanks, and I am always happy with an extra day off, of course. Thanksgiving is Mark’s favorite holiday, since it is not commercialized and involves no gifts. Instead, the focus is on good food (lots of it) and being with friends or family. Continue reading
Tomorrow, November 8th 2016, is a day that many Americans have been waiting for. It is the day when the 45th president of the United States will be elected by its citizens. Too much has been said about this election and its candidates. We will all let out a sigh of relief when Wednesday comes around. I have no idea what the media will focus on then. I can’t believe Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have any energy left after these grueling last months. We lost our fierce energy for caring and being upset a while ago. Following all the pre-election news, debates and arguments is exhausting and, since this is the first time Mark and I are in the States during this period, we wonder whether it is always like that leading up to a presidential election. We hope not! Life was less hair pulling on our sailboat… We could be happily politically ignorant there. 🙂
Since I am a Belgian citizen, I cannot vote, but Mark cast his ballot by mail a little while ago. People familiar with our lifestyle and ideals, will surely know who he voted for. As a Belgian, I am not a fan of the “two party” system. Not everyone fits in just one defined box. But, this blog post is not about the presidential candidates or anything that surrounds them. It is about the Official Voter Information Guide I stumbled upon, here in California. Continue reading