the end of the blog

June 28, 2014

in blog news

I haven’t been blogging lately and I haven’t felt much desire to. I’ve been keeping up with this little blob of webspace for over five years now, and it has grown stale. It’s not giving me the satisfaction it once did. This decision is actually a long time coming, before I started working in an office full-time. When Darwin started going to daycare part-time, I had lofty ambitions (aka, the title of my never-to-be-written memoir) of putting enough effort into blogging to become a Blogger with a capital B. I had detailed plans and was convinced I knew what it would take, but I couldn’t bring myself to actually do it. It didn’t feel right. Now I have a Drafts folder full of half-written posts, some photos on my camera that I could post, but no. I’m just not feeling it anymore. I have a whole new set of challenges to face with my new job, especially since my predecessor is leaving the position on Monday (and I may have already asked him to stay another month and it’s not happening) and I may be panicking a bit.

I’ve thought about quitting blogging for a long time. I hit walls with it, I write posts that don’t meet my standards, my stats tank if I don’t keep up what seems to me like a rigid routine of making new content several times a week, sharing the new content on social media (at peak times), finding new blogs to follow and comment on, finding new people to follow and connect with on Twitter (or other networks), etc. It’s no longer the creative outlet it once was; it’s more of a chore.

I told Farrell about my decision (which he hears about at least once every few months) and he told me not to quit blogging, but to just post less frequently. It doesn’t fit, though. The idea of leaving this space open-ended, that the possibility of posting something new and taking on blogging responsibilities (if you can even call them that) is ever-present, seems worse than declaring once and for all that I won’t update it anymore.

I listened to two Freakonomics podcasts (this one and this one) to try to soothe my emotions over this decision. I’ve sunk a lot of time and energy into this thing, which seems like a shame to waste, but I need the time and brain-space to dedicate to other things. I’m not completely ruling out the possibility of a new project/blog/website further down the line. What I’m mostly looking to do is to clear myself of the nagging feeling that today, I really should work on my blog.

I made a lot of really great friends and random, wonderful connections through this blog. I was able to take advantage of some wonderful opportunities because of this blog, and I’m so so grateful for all of them. Overall, this blog was good for me.

Blogging was my creative outlet for five years. Some days it had my complete focus. Now, it’s time to move on and find something new. (For the time being, at least.)

(Comments are off, send me an email if you’d like. Thanks for reading, friends!)

turning 26

May 21, 2014 · 18 comments

in Belgium

Today I start my new job as a Social Media Manager for a company that makes TVs. I know! Millennial dream job! Absolutely nothing like what I went to university for! I am nervous and super excited.

Oh yeah, and I turn 26 today.

It doesn’t feel that substantial. I expected more intense feelings when I turned 25 last year, but I was adjusting to life with a new nugget, watching my friends prepare to leave Bishkek and feeling like my mind was in another place altogether while we were figuring out how to leave Bishkek ourselves.

Things are different now. I’m experiencing a golden age in my life, for sure. We live in Belgium, and yes, living in Europe is pretty much every bit as awesome as you think it might be. I watched an episode of Parts Unknown where Anthony Bourdain visited one of the show’s crew members in Granada; he kept talking about how Americans dream of moving to Europe and having an idyllic, European life, but here was his videographer actually doing it. I feel like that these days. I mean, my life rarely includes a midday siesta or free tapas with my nightly boozing (in fact, it rarely includes boozing), but still. I’m living the dream. My own charming rowhouse, awesome cheese and chocolate, fresh frites every week, social services that make my life easier, a picturesque and historic downtown area, a two-income household and a toddler who makes me realize that the “all-joy-no-fun” part of infant-hood does, in fact, become fun at some point.

In other words, everything’s coming up Kirstin and I’m looking forward to see where things go from here. Happy birthday to me!

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in the US

May 2, 2014 · 8 comments

in other

We landed in Philadelphia yesterday afternoon having survived an 8 1/2-hour flight from Brussels. We immediately experienced some authentic Philly culture in the form of a gravel-voiced waitress at a nearby diner (“What’ll ya have, sweet-haht“), where we got a quick burger-and-fries fix before sending Farrell back to the airport to fly to Colorado and start his US tour with the Language of Termites.

In the meantime, my role as Darwin’s one-and-only is being downgraded by the second as his grandparents shower him with all of the affection and attention they’ve been storing up since they saw him in October.

My plans for the next two weeks:
- say “hi” to Darwin occasionally
- stuff my suitcase with new clothes
- fill up my time with Skillshare classes (I just bought a membership for myself and I love it so far)
- eat Ethiopian food at least a billion times, if not more

Posting will probably be slow, but you can head over to Annie’s blog, Montgomery Fest, and check out my guest post on how I met Farrell (and stay to read her posts! She has envy-inducing adventures).

When we fly back to Belgium, my dad and stepmom are coming with us! Tell me all about the most fun things to do in Belgium (or day-trip distance from Ghent), because even at six months, I’m not much of an expert. Alsjeblieft and dank u wel!

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One distinctly unique behavior I noticed among my Belgian friends in Kyrgyzstan is that they were constantly talking about terraces. It’s sunny, let’s go sit on a terrace. We’ll order tea and beer and sit on a nice terrace.

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Farrell and I could never match their enthusiasm, especially in Bishkek where it was sunny most of the time. They’d tell us about how it rained a lot where they came from, Ghent, and we’d nod our heads and pretend like we understood their obsession with sunshine and terraces.

But now, we truly get it.

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It rains a lot in Ghent. When it’s not raining, a lot of days are just grey. The season has been teasing us with warm weather lately, but as soon as the sun is hidden behind an (inevitable) cloud or two, it’s chilly again.

With the sign that perhaps more consistent warm weather is on the way, we took the cue and trekked out to Ikea to buy furniture for our little slab of outdoor space. And with ridiculously long days (northern latitudes, what a weird thing), I foresee many nights watching the sky change colors with my lovely love after Darwin goes to bed.

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(Unless, of course, it’s raining like it is today, soaking our new furniture and grill.)

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Recently, I met up with Annie of MontgomeryFest for a delightful day in Antwerp! We had (apparently lofty) ambitions of going to one single craft store, with the requisite cafe time thrown in, but also decided to just “swing by” the Antwerp Zoo.

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It’s located right next to the Antwerpen Centraal station (like, really, just next to it. Although we did spend a long time looking for it because we’re the girls who didn’t realize we couldn’t take the same train, coming from Ghent and Brussels, to meet in Antwerp).

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Turns out, one can’t simply “swing by” the zoo. It’s pretty necessary to spend a whole day there, I’d say, to get the most out of it. Next time I go, I’ll be sure to plan better so I get more quality time with the big cats (who were all sleeping by the time Annie and I passed by their area in the middle of the afternoon).

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Umm… we didn’t make it to the store we went all the way to Antwerp to visit. Too busy trading lenses and taking lots and lots of pictures of penguins.

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Darwin is especially fascinated by birds at the moment, so I think he would love the zoo. If I go back with him, I predict that we’ll probably spend the entire day at the bird exhibit, or even just sitting on a bench watching a plain old duck. “Bbbbbbihr,” Darwin will say.

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Highlights of the zoo for me were the seals and all the tulips in full bloom.

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The strangest exhibit was the giant habitat filled with dozens of raccoons. I guess they’re interesting to non-North Americans.

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Eventually we moved on, even though the zoo was a lot of fun.

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We finished off our day with lots of quality girl-talk and awesome sandwiches at Tartine, about a 15 minute walk from the zoo, or a way more convenient 5-minute tram ride.

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Not bad, Antwerp, not bad. I do look forward to going again to get a better sense of the city though. Are there any must-visits for a future trip that you can recommend?

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By the time I left Kyrgyzstan, my Russian was far from the fluent level I had dreamed of achieving when I first moved there. I will give myself credit though, for my taxi-Russian, my restaurant-Russian, and my Darwin-Russian.

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Babies are natural conversation starters, I find. Especially when Darwin was super small and squishy, strangers would constantly come up to me to say something about him, ask to hold him (of course!), ask his name, where he was born, his age, what he eats, etc. To me, as a prudish and timid American, the questions were a bit invasive at times, but I learned to take these opportunities as mini-Russian lessons. By the time I left, I could understand most of the questions I was asked about Darwin and respond fairly confidently.

Here in Ghent, Darwin attracts less attention than he did in Kyrgyzstan (whether it’s because he has become bigger and less squishy, or because Flemings aren’t as fascinated by a stranger’s kid), but sometimes, on a packed tram car or on the sidelines of a crowded playground on a sunny day, a friendly stranger will start asking questions about him.

In Dutch, naturally.

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So far, Darwin-centric Dutch is what I’m best at. I can recognize when someone asks his name or age, and respond with a few words. The older kids in my neighborhood have lately taken to always striking up a conversation with me when I’m outside with Darwin, (despite having tried to explain to them that I don’t speak Dutch) and it has been a great way to practice listening and responding to small, simple sentences. When Darwin picks up a random ball, a boy will come over and say, “That’s my ball.” When they’re eating snacks, one of the kids will run over, hand outstretched, and say, “This is for the baby.” When I’m trying to stabilize the four-year-old girl who’s trying to pick up Darwin and run away with him (Darwin’s already a budding ladies man), she points at my nails (currently bright pink) and says “very pretty!”

Since I’m not such an obvious foreigner here as I was in Bishkek, the questions I’m asked about him aren’t the same as the ones I constantly answered in Kyrgyzstan, which were mostly related to whether or not he was born in Bishkek and what the heck are you doing with such a little baby here when you could be in the US, so more often than not, I end up quickly admitting that I don’t speak Dutch, or I speak loudly to Darwin in English when I come near groups of other parents to announce in a not-so-subtle way, “Hey there! I’m not from around here, and I prefer to speak English.”

Only for now, of course. I’m sad to admit that my Dutch studies have already slowed down. I had gotten into a routine of studying vocabulary while feeding Darwin, but now he’s fully weaned and I’ve replaced that time with much less important, but much more entertaining activities (Korean dramas, Viki is a drug). But while I’m back in the US during the first half of May, I’ll have so much free time while Darwin’s grandparents are doting on him 24/7 that I plan on studying lots and lots of Dutch. Wish me veel succes!

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To show you what a huge contrast this place is from the last place we lived in Bishkek (or any place, really, because plain white walls were a rare find in Bishkek).
To show you what you could possibly rent for 760 Euros a month in Gent(brugge, technically just outside of Ghent).
To have proof, forever and ever, that at one point the whole house was clean.
To remind me that I should decorate a bit more; some of the walls look a bit scarce.

Let’s start from the top floor.

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Our bedroom has two skylights, which makes the room gorgeous and bright on days when the sun is actually out. I should spend more time up here, but I always forget to drag my computer up there, and if Darwin’s around then we’re pretty much limited to the bottom floor anyway. I still won’t dare take him up those stairs.

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Darwin’s room faces west and gets so much light during the day. His shelves are from Ikea and came with the house; the legs are essentially nailed in place, so I flipped the shelves upside-down so they’d be Darwin-sized and more stable. He sleeps on a floor bed. My sister-in-law helps to run a Montessori school in Denver, so naturally her influence over the years has translated to bits and pieces of Montessori-inspired things here and there.

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Our guest bedroom/craft room. Those doors lead to a mini-terrace that I’ll show off in another post.

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The living room, dining room and kitchen are stacked next to each other on the ground floor. We live in a rowhouse so it’s fairly skinny and long. Our furniture is a mix of vintage pieces that came with the house, Ikea pieces that we bought, and a few things we shipped either from the US or Bishkek (like the rugs). And, of course, some DIY projects.

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Womp womp, what a bare wall! We have two canvas paintings that we need to stretch onto frames. My next DIY project, perhaps?

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Hands down, this piece of furniture receives the most compliments. It’s a vintage piece, it came with the place. I’m not in love with it; I think I would’ve picked a bolder accent color to paint it.

(There’s really no need to show pictures of the bathroom, it has a skylight, which is wonderful, but it also has the washing machine and is constantly blocked by mountains of laundry. Also, I’ve already shared what the kitchen looks like in this post.)

What do I love most about our house? How white and bright everything is. It feels modern and fresh. I don’t know that if given the chance, I’d have the guts to paint so many surfaces white. White, painted wood floors are one of those Pinterest decorating dreams, but living in this rental gives me the opportunity to see if it’s something I could live with. I have to admit, it’s pretty swell. Once the weather warms up just a bit more, I have a feeling I’ll love the terrace a whole bunch too.

What do you love most about your current living situation?

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Update! We bought a dang car. Thanks everybody for your responses!

Quick post: help me, Internet. Give me your crowd knowledge.

Here’s the situation. I got a job offer, and I’m patiently waiting for my work permit to come through. The job is in Bruges until mid-June, then it moves to Ghent.

(Stay with me, it might get confusing.)

Farrell, who also works in Bruges, commutes 1 1/2 hours each way to work. He rides a bike to the train station in Ghent, takes the train, then rides another bike in Bruges to the opposite side of the city. He leaves around 6:45am and, if all goes well (which is maybe 75% of the time), he leaves around 4:40pm and arrives home around 6:05pm. I know, I know! Commuting is the worst.

So that’s what my commute will be. But, Darwin’s daycare opens at 7:15am and closes at 6:10pm. Mornings, impossible. Evenings, cutting it very close. Any sort of delay (a meeting, a windy bike ride, a nervous rider, a train delay, etc) would strand Darwin at the daycare or leave us scrambling to have a friend pick him up on time. So… the solution for that is tough. Our company has a really great flexible schedule, so one person could drop off Darwin in the morning and go into work a bit later, while the other person leaves earlier and picks him up.

Or, we could buy a car.

Reasons to buy a car:
- Duh, convenient. It would erase this hellish commute scenario and turn it into a 40-minute drive (each way).
- We could use it for situations other than commuting, like going on holiday or easily transporting ourselves to places where there is no public transportation.
- Even when the company moves to Ghent, we probably will not want to bike 100% of the time. In case you didn’t know, it rains in Ghent. It rains a lot in Ghent.

Reasons to not buy a car:
- I hate driving. If it’s not walking or public transportation, I’m a total Debbie Downer about it.
- Cars are expensive.
- The company moves to Ghent in mid-June. I’m going to the US for the first three weeks of May, and (I’m assuming that) it’s unlikely I’ll start work before then. So there’s three or four weeks we’d actually make good use of the car for commuting. Once the company moves to Ghent then we’ll use our bikes (gulp).

Tonight Farrell came home an hour later than usual because he was in a late meeting and couldn’t find a ride home from a coworker with a car. I kept Darwin up past his bedtime so he could get 15 precious minutes with his dad. Having our own car would’ve gotten him home sooner and allowed him to spend more time with Darwin. I’ve really been fighting the idea of a car, but I wonder if we should just go for it?

Okay friends, I need your help/wisdom/opinions. Should we buy a car?

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DIY cork map

April 14, 2014 · 5 comments

in DIY

Now that I’m living in a stable location and about to start a new, full-time job, I’m trying to make my way through my giant dream list of DIY projects during my remaining free days. This one was much more manageable for our power tool-less household. I wanted a map to hang on a wall that would be both interesting to look at and could serve as a reminder of all the places we’ve traveled, lived, and want to go to in the future, as well as keep track of all the places where we have loved ones. I found this video by the Sorry Girls on how to make a world map out of cork.

The instructions for this project are pretty straightforward. You could probably figure it out yourself (buy cork, print map, cut cork, hang map) without my instructions, but if you’d like, read on for more details about how I made mine.

[click to continue…]

I’ve only been here for just over five months, so my views are a bit limited, but here are my pros and cons so far:

Pro – Ghent is family-friendly. People always seem willing to lend a hand with a stroller, there are tons of parks, playgrounds, and walking/bike paths around, and the city is just bursting at the seams with young families.

Con – With all of the young families around, kid stuff can get a bit insane. I think back to January of this year when our friends reminded us that Darwin, having been born in 2012 (just barely), would need to be registered for pre-school in a few weeks’ time. The pre-school system in Ghent is oddly competitive. My impression is that it’s not as bad as it used to be, once they rolled out an online registration system that essentially takes your top five school choices and spits out an invitation to one based on where you live, but overall, space is tight enough at schools that it’s possible the only open spot will be across town. Luckily, I got Darwin’s schooling all sorted out now (first choice, woo!) so that he’s set to start in September 2015. Let that sink in a bit. Isn’t it crazy? I’ve been told that other cities (ones not experiencing a baby explosion) don’t have competitive school systems.

Pro – Ghent is immigrant-friendly. The vast majority of people I meet speak some English, and most of those people speak it very well. I’ve heard that once I get my residency approved, I’m entitled to free integration courses that include introductory Dutch lessons. There are also organizations around the city meant to help immigrant families get settled by helping with residency paperwork, finding daycare, getting up-to-date with vaccinations, etc.

Con – Like any bureaucratic process, it seems that the full range of services are not clearly laid out anywhere, so I find out about helpful organizations usually only after going to the wrong office, trying to complete the wrong process, and generally going in the wrong direction for several weeks/months.

Pro – Rent here in Ghent is cheaper than big cities in the US. I’ll go into more detail about our house and our expenses in another post, but we pay 760 euros per month for a 3-bedroom/1-bathroom house. For comparison, we paid $600/month for our 1-bedroom/1-bathroom ground-floor apartment in Bishkek (the crazy one!) and $1425/month for a 1-bedroom/1-bathroom ground-floor apartment in DC (four years ago).

Con – Ghent is actually more expensive to live in than Brussels, the capital of Belgium (and the entire European Union). Being a big student town and popular for so many hip, young couples and families has driven up the cost of living, and the housing market gets fierce.
(Caveat – Babies are the trump card when looking for a rental. I can’t say for sure, but I think Darwin was the key to being chosen by our landlords over two couples who they kinda sorta promised it to before us.)

Pro – Public transportation and bike-friendly streets make it easy to get around without a car!

Con – Bike riding can be scary, especially where the paths (or lack thereof, there aren’t bike lanes on every street) intersect or run parallel to tram tracks. Public transportation can add up, it’s about 1.30 per ride, plus it’s not 100% convenient 100% of the time. Now we’re considering buying a car anyway (as foreigners? I can already imagine the bureaucratic headache) so I can commute to my new job (!!!).

Pro – Ghent is dynamic and energetic. There’s a fashion scene, movie scene, and attempts to make this the next big place for startups and tech companies.

Con – A friend, comparing Ghent to Bishkek, said Ghent was old and stuck in its ways, while in Bishkek everything is ever-changing. Could be true, but there are pros and cons to that viewpoint as well.

Con – It rains a lot. Maybe it’s just the winter doldrums, but it seems pretty silly to have so many sand-covered playgrounds in a city where it rains so often.
(Caveat – I’ve been told this winter has been especially rainy, so maybe it’s not always like this.)

Pro – Ample excuses to stay inside and eat frites. This might only be a pro for introverts like myself.

Another pro – It’s not always so rainy. Sometimes it’s beautiful and warm and the whole city goes to Graslei and sits along the canal, lounging in a way that only Europeans can.

Con – European ideas of business hours. In Belgium (and other parts of Europe), kids go to school for only a half-day on Wednesday. Do parents work a half-day on Wednesday? It doesn’t seem like it. A lot of stores take lunch breaks, so one store or office may be closed from 11-12, 11:30-12:30, 12:00-2:00, or 1:00-2:00. Some stores take a half-day on Monday, Tuesday, or Thursday. Some have extended hours on Wednesday. Some are open in the morning on Tuesday, but only in the afternoon on Thursday. And Belgian law puts a cap on how long a business can be open, so there are “day shops” and “night shops”. From my perspective, having wasted countless teenage hours drinking coffee in 24-hour diners, always being able to rely on convenience stores being opened whenever I needed something (convenient, eh?), and ordering pizza in the middle of the night in college, this whole aspect of Belgian/European life is a bit strange to me.

Pro – Ghent is freaking gorgeous and oozes charm. I can’t help it, I’m in love with this city.

Question for you! What is your absolute most favorite thing about where you live? Doesn’t matter if you’ve lived there for a few weeks or your whole life, tell me what you love about it.