I thought it was some sort of large-scale art piece when I first saw it.

It’s an old apartment building that is being dismantled in pieces. Right now (but I’m not sure how much longer), an entire face has been removed, letting everybody have a peek into the empty rooms.

On their own, some of the paint choices seem like too much. Two bright red rooms and one lime green? Pink? Turquoise? A lavender ceiling? Not for me, thank you.

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But in one overviewing glance, it’s a kaleidoscope. One person’s crazy design decision becomes the bold pop of color needed to make the entire building seem strangely in harmony.

Zoom in and you can still see a few details standing out, maybe a half-finished paint project or a bit of practiced graffiti.

(It’s at the Rabot tram/bus stop if you’re interested in checking it out for yourself, but I don’t know for how much longer; people were working on tearing it down while I was there last week.)

I wanted to go into more detail about my attempts to learn Dutch.

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Duolingo. I’ve been using DuoLingo for French… because I love wasting time? I don’t know, I really do enjoy the format. Plus, I studied French in middle school, high school and university, so it’s been nice for my ego to blaze through some of the easy levels and refresh those SEVEN years of study. The DuoLingo Incubator estimates that their Dutch course should be ready by next January (grrr, it was September when I checked a few days ago!), but if you’re a bilingual Dutch-English speaker, you could contribute and make it go a lot faster! (And have my eternal gratitude!)

Memrise. I like the format and I like that it quizzes me on new words in different ways. Not only do I have to choose the right Dutch word when I’m given the English translation (and vice versa), but sometimes it makes me type out the Dutch word when it gives the English translation. That’s usually where I mess up, so it helps to reinforce the vocabulary. There’s also a free Android app that I’ve enjoyed using over the past week. My biggest issue with Memrise is that it is just straightforward words on flashcards. I’m currently going through a course on the 1001 most common Dutch words, and I’ve learned several words for “you” (u, jij, je, jouw, jullie) but I’m not 100% clear on the differences between them. I’ve learned that “to go” is “gaat” and “(I) go” is “ga”, but I don’t know how to conjugate for other pronouns (I don’t even know all of the pronouns yet). I know “Ik ben” is “I am” and “je bent” is “you are”, but “zijn” is “to be”, which loses me completely. I do like the feature that reminds me to “water” old words that I’ve previously “planted”; it’s a great way to refresh my memory on words I might not have seen for a day or so. I just wish there were more sentences, phrases, and examples that show how to correctly use the vocabulary I’m learning.

LingQ. I had heard good things about their reading feature, and after five minutes of using this site, I was happy with the layout. There’s a short passage, with a recording, and I’d click on the words to get the definition, marking it as either a word I’d need to remember and study later, or a word I already know that doesn’t need to be studied later. I thought it was great to see words that I studied on Memrise used properly in context. So for five minutes, I was happy. Then I apparently learned too much for free, ran out of my 20 “LingQs” limit (I tried deleting them and it didn’t work), and I couldn’t even see the translations for new words anymore. Since the upgrade starts at $10/month, I’m writing off LingQ.

Lang-8. I don’t think I’ll get much use out of this site for now, since I’m mostly just absorbing random vocabulary from Memrise. From what I can tell, you can post a few sentences in the language you’re attempting to learn, and someone who speaks that language can correct it for you. You can also correct other people’s entries in your native language and earn points (because all of these programs have a point system. Maybe I’m a bit overloaded right now, but it seems meaningless to have A TRILLION-BAJILLION points on any one of these sites).

Busuu. I’ve heard good things, but they don’t have Dutch. Sad face.

Phrasebook and children’s books. I bought the Dutch phrasebook from Lonely Planets after reading Benny’s post on how phrasebooks are an excellent way to start learning a language fast. After going through Memrise and feeling unsatisfied with the amount of usable vocabulary I had after spending so much time with it, a phrasebook seems like the perfect way to get a teeny-tiny base of practical Dutch knowledge. I also bought a Dutch verb dictionary that has 201 verbs fully conjugated, which I feel will be useful when(/er, maybe if) I type out journal entries on Lang-8, and because the lack of verb conjugation on Memrise is another thing I find frustrating about it.

Huis van de Nederlands. I visit it a few days ago, spoke with a man about language courses, and I figured out that I could maybe start an intensive course at the University of Ghent in late May. Then a few days later I received a job offer, so I think classes are a no-go for me at the moment.

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Reading Dutch things. I follow a few Dutch-language Twitter accounts and Facebook pages. For now, thanks mostly to Memrise, I know a lot of prepositions, pronouns and articles, so when I look at sentences, I can recognize 90% of the words (or 100% of the words, in the case of this sign I saw on the bus), but my understanding is something like, “Take at home on also even you not at home are.” So, umm, I sort of get it. But not exactly.

Podcasts. So far, I’ve subscribed to several Dutch-language podcasts; One Minute Dutch and One Minute Flemish, Laura Speaks Dutch and a short, Dutch-language news podcast. I’ve already listened to the entire One Minute Flemish series, and it was good to hear the pronunciation. I’m curious how it differs from the One Minute Dutch series, and a little annoyed that some of the phrases are slightly different than those in the Flemish for Dummies videos. Come on, Flemings, cut it out with the new dialects every five kilometers.

I feel like I have to mention Memrise again, because it’s the resource I’m using the most now. If I’m on the tram, waiting in a bank lobby, relaxing at a cafe, or feeding Darwin, I’m most likely on my Memrise app repeating new vocabulary under my breath or silently congratulating myself on remembering a word I had previously learned. It’s not perfect, so I found other resources to (hopefully) supplement, but otherwise I think it’s the clear winner for me now.

We’ll see how the combination of all of this nonsense works out in the end!

P.S. – So far “giechel” (giggle) is the most difficult word I’ve tried to pronounce. Those Dutch G’s are killer.

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…I strap Darwin to my back and go for a long walk, because tomorrow it’s going to be cloudy and cold again.

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I won’t go so far as to say the “f” word…

(Forever.)

…but I think I could see us living in Ghent for a long time. Longer-than-three-years, long time. Longer-than-Kyrgyzstan, long time.

Moving to Bishkek, the plan was open-ended. Well, initially we said, “Let’s stay at least a year and see where it goes from there.” Then there was a second year and we said, “Oh yeah, we can keep going.” Then we thought, “Okay, three is good. Let’s get out after that.” The thing about long-time expats in Kyrgyzstan is that nobody seemed incredibly happy to be there for that long. I could tell that I wouldn’t last there forever.

Sure, I considered it from time to time, especially when we started thinking about having a baby. We could raise him to speak Russian and Kyrgyz and English! We’ll buy a dacha in the country and spend summers at Issyk Kul! We’ll continue with the business, which gave us enough for a decent life in Bishkek… but not much else, no building blocks for a future elsewhere in the world (except maybe Tajikistan). There are international schools. There are clean, private clinics for medical needs. And think of the adventure, the uniqueness of raising a family in Kyrgyzstan.

Those thoughts were rare and fleeting. The international schools are so freaking expensive. The clinics are okay, but during tense situations, all I wanted was an English-speaking doctor with a Western degree who I could be sure didn’t bribe his way through school or had updated his knowledge since the Soviet Union broke up. Dachas are charming, but roughing it in a cabin with only basic amenities was never my idea of fun. Yeah, okay, Issyk Kul is great. And while a trilingual kid would be a fun party trick, knowing Russian and Kyrgyz limits any potential career opportunities to, you guessed it, Russia and Kyrgyzstan (and a few other equally dreary and authoritarian countries). Usually all it took was a corrupt official, a monthly bout of food poisoning, or a power outage in the middle of winter to convince ourselves that a lifelong stint in Kyrgyzstan was not in the cards for us.

This is not to say it’s horrible for everyone, and I know families who are pulling it off quite well.

Kyrgyzstan was the adventure for us. In terms of a lifetime, it was meant to be a chapter.

Now we’re in Belgium. Belgium was never part of the plan, so each day is sort of a new adventure. A calm, developed, bureaucratic mini-adventure. We have no timeline, but unlike Kyrgyzstan, I can imagine us living here for a very long time. Five, eight, ten, twelve years, or even more. Who knows. It’s all a bit too soon to imagine. When was the last time you thought, “Twelve years from now, ____ is where I’ll live, _____ is what I will be doing”?

There’s a lot that appeals to me about this idea. There’s the uniqueness of being an expat with the ease of living in a country where students aren’t expected to bribe their teachers to graduate, where the heat doesn’t just go off one day, the hot water the next, the internet the next. Where the healthcare industry isn’t actually an industry, but rather an institution that is organized to work for you (that’s a nudge against the US).

Sometimes I try to dance around it, but living in Bishkek was not always rainbows and endless bowls of lagman. The business, the friends, the inertia of having made the decision to go there and then getting there and being there made it easy to stay there for as long as we did. I’m sure Ghent won’t always be filled with fresh croissants, frites with 50 different sauces, and maybe I’m just in the honeymoon stage, but I like what I see here. I like imagining our future here. I like talking to our friends about how things work here and not groaning at their responses because they’re so ridiculous. Things just make sense. I could see us raising Darwin here for a long time. And yeah, I know Dutch isn’t really a door-opening second language to know (a smaller range than Russian, even), but if we stay here for long enough then I guess it won’t matter where else he might be able to use it.

Besides, he’ll always have English.

(et francais? or, considering my neighborhood, he could pick up some Turkish too!)

No, really. I’m serious this time. I have to learn Dutch.

In Kyrgyzstan, I gave up on learning Russian. Work was the ultimate excuse, plus I had reached a decent level of speaking and comprehension. I was good enough at Russian, I told myself. It wasn’t even a personally satisfactory level, I always wished I had studied more and knew more and could speak better. Not knowing better Russian disappointed me, but I made excuses for why I didn’t need to bother and moved on.

But I’m telling myself it will be different this time. Kirstin, you MUST learn Dutch!

What makes this language different? Yes, duh, I should learn the local language wherever I live. It’s nice to be able to communicate with people (although there is so much English spoken here), and it’s respectful. But I have a bigger reason.

Well, physically small, metaphorically big.

Darwin goes to a nursery three days a week now. The ladies watching him speak Dutch. The kids he plays with don’t really speak any real language yet, but most of them are learning Dutch from their parents and will start babbling in Dutch. Once Darwin turns 2 1/2, he’ll go to a Dutch-speaking pre-school (it still shocks me that he’s already registered for school that he’s 18 months away from starting). This kid is well on his way to becoming a native Dutch-speaker.

So, two things. One, I want to be part of that world with him. I want to be able to talk and interact with his teachers and other parents, help him with his homework, read Dutch books to him, understand Dutch cartoons with him, and not feel like a total dope at any community events. I don’t know much yet about encouraging bilingualism in young kids, but I’m sure it would help him develop Dutch skills if I had a few of my own.

And two? I don’t want him to have a secret language. A friend of mine who grew up in Kyrgyzstan, speaking Russian, told me how she knew (and used!) all kinds of dirty words that her non-Russian speaking parents didn’t pick up on (while at home, she wasn’t allowed to say even the tamest of dirty words in English!). If my little man wants to make mischief or keep secrets, I don’t want to willingly give him an easy tool to do so. I recently read this great post on Design Sponge about Amy overcoming her fear of speaking a foreign language, “And perhaps my self lesson here is that I’m more nosy than I am afraid.” Farrell will readily tell anyone that I know how to speak Russian more than I actually do speak Russian (I’ll usually whisper vocabulary words for him to say), but wanting to make sure that I can share this part of Darwin’s life with him may finally(/hopefully) be the push I need to really commit to speaking another language.

There are plenty of other reasons to learn Dutch, too. Sure, all of our friends speak excellent English, but conversations can quickly lapse into Dutch, leaving me to space out until someone clues me into what the conversation is about. And then there are people who don’t speak English. I once took Darwin to a doctor who didn’t speak hardly any English at all! Luckily it was just to get a short medical form filled out, and we mimed a conversation about whether or not Darwin had tuberculosis, but obviously the whole interaction would’ve been greatly improved with some Dutch. Also, I can tell it puts people on edge when they realize they need to speak English. Even if we have to have a slow, repetitive conversation, I’m sure people would much prefer speaking dumbed-down Dutch with me then suddenly searching their brains for the right English word. (Even though, in my experience, people are so hard on themselves about their English skills. Relax, guys! Your English is great and understandable and I’m not going to ever laugh in your face for using a word incorrectly.)

So today, I’m cobbling together an action plan. I’ll visit Huis van het Nederlands and check out my options for classes. I’ll curse at DuoLingo for not having Dutch (not until September, maybe. Check it out and help out if you’re a bilingual Dutch-English speaker! Please and thank you!), because after playing around with the French levels it seems like a fun way to learn some basic phrases and vocabulary. I’ll check out Dutch Word of the Day, these free Dutch picture-vocabulary books (thanks for the tip, Leah!), these Flemish for Dummies videos, and the Dutch vocabulary courses on Memrise.

I have no real desire to use Rosetta Stone, but are there any other audio books/softwares for language-learning that you love (and that are available in Dutch)? Even those meant for kids, because that would be a great way to do activities together with Darwin. I’m also cursing at Little Pim for not being available in Dutch. I mean, come on! 28 million speakers worldwide, nothing to scoff at.

Other than recommendations and advice, I’d love your well wishes. Succes to me, inshallah!

I’m not much of a DIYer. I want to be; I’ve wanted to be one for a long time. In Kyrgyzstan, it seemed too daunting, so I silently pined away for a life located near a Hobby Lobby or Joann’s fabric store, filing away all of the DIY projects of my dreams. One day I’ll get to all of them.

Ghent isn’t exactly my dream DIY location (not yet, at least), but then again, I had expected that after Bishkek, we’d move back to the US. Even though we’re not in the US, I decided I don’t want to keep putting off my DIY goals. It’s time to do stuff, and do it myself!

First up, a Learning Tower for Darwin. A learning tower is a Montessori thing that is a glorified step stool with a protective rail around it, so Darwin can reach the counter like an independent little adult, rather than cling to my calves and flail around on the floor (screaming) while I make dinner. From these two websites I looked it, the project looked as easy as buying a cheap Ikea step stool and attaching a few pieces of wood to it.

Umm. It wasn’t quite that easy. If you already have a power drill, if you might happen to have some scrap wood laying around, if you already have an established area of your house where you can safely use sharp tools, then yes. This is a pretty simple and cheap alternative to buying a $200 pre-assembled tower. For us, we had to buy and borrow a bunch of tools, but we didn’t want to go overboard buying expensive tools that we weren’t sure how much use they’d get. For example, we ended up buying a cheap saw and plastic miter that were difficult to use and made crooked cuts, but eventually it all worked out. I’m sure there was a more effective way to do many of these steps, but we didn’t want to spend so much money upfront. I’d say all-in-all, we spent around 100 euros, but now we have a small arsenal of tools and wood scraps that can be used on future projects.

Here’s how we did it.

First, we unscrewed the top step from the Bekvam stool and put the screws somewhere we wouldn’t lose them.

We bought three pieces of wood: one squarish (34x44mm in our case) and one flatter, thinner rectangle (18x92mm), plus a wooden dowel with a 12mm diameter.

Farrell cut four 430mm-sized pieces from the squarish wood. These are the posts that attach directly to the top of the Bekvam stool. Farrell drilled pilot holes before drilling any screws in place to prevent splitting the wood.

As you can see, we’re an Ikea-loving family, as Farrell clamped the top of the stool to our Ikea coffee table to drill the pilot holes. If you use a square piece of wood for the posts, then this isn’t necessary, but otherwise check to make sure the posts are all facing the same way. In our case, the longer sides of the posts run parallel to the shorter sides of the steps (if that makes sense).

Farrell used two screws for each post. This wasn’t an obvious thing for me, so I hope it’s worth mentioning for someone else’s sake.

Next, using the remaining length of the squarish wood, Farrell cut two pieces measuring 154mm (which is the length of the short side of the stool, 242mm, minus the length of the two posts, 44mm and 44mm). Then he measured about halfway up the posts, drilled pilot holes and screwed these short posts into place as side guards. (In the photo above, the blocks are stabilizing the posts while he drills the pilot holes, you can see where they ended up in the final photos.)

Next, using a 12mm drill bit, Farrell drilled holes about 3mm from the tops of the posts on the front of the tower (the same side as the steps). He cut a piece of the dowel equal to the long side of the stool, 360mm, and slid it through the holes. He sanded the holes because they were a bit rough. The holes were not perfectly aligned either, so he had to widen one of the holes so the dowel would reach through. In the end, it’s pretty snug.

Now, using the flat, rectangular piece of wood, Farrell cut two pieces that are equal to the long side of the stool, 360mm, drilled pilot holes and screwed those onto the posts to serve as back guards along the top and halfway up the back of the tower (check out the final photos for the placement, we considered skipping the second piece, but went back later to screw it on because the space looked so huge otherwise).

Using the remaining length of the flat, rectangular piece, Farrell cut two pieces that measured 260mm, which is equal to the short side of the stool plus the width of the wood that’s already attached to the top posts (242mm + 18mm in our case). Then he drilled pilot holes and screwed these two pieces on so that they cover the holes for the dowel, keeping the dowel in place, and make a nice, neat corner with that back guard.

Ta-da!

The only thing that’s left to do is sand down any rough edges and reattach the step to the rest of the stool. I might like to paint the whole thing one day, but I’ll save that for project for later.

Darwin loves it! He has access to a whole new level of our house now. It took him about a day to get used to climbing up and down, and sometimes he gets a bit freaked out and will yell, so I’ll stand close enough to be nearby (but far enough so he can’t reach me) and talk him through how to get down (“put your hand here, bring your foot down here,” etc). Sure, it means we have to be mindful of what’s within his reach when he’s up at the counter with us, but I’m hopeful that he’ll figure out what he can and can’t touch pretty quickly and focus on his own little activities in the kitchen. Who knows, maybe soon I’ll be able to move the tower in front of the sink and have him do the dishes for me.

Also, you may have noticed that Farrell did a full 100% of the physical work for this project. What a man! Dad of the Year, Husband of my Dreams, that’s all I can say. But next time, maybe I should find a do-it-myself project that I can actually do myself.

Kyrgyz Music Friday is a (now defunct) weekly feature in which I post a pop music video from an artist in Kyrgyzstan. It could be catchy, annoying, funny, insightful, brilliant, awful, or anything in between. It’s what’s playing on the radio, what all the cool kids are listening to these days. Kyrgyz Music Friday is not trying to appeal to your musical taste (which I’m sure is awesome), but simply gives you a glimpse into how pop music is done on this side of the world. Feel free to share your thoughts on this week’s video in the comment section!

Just in case you haven’t been keeping up with Kyrgyzstan’s pop music scene on your own, here are a few new(ish) videos you may have missed.

First up, “Tamchi Deniz” (Drops Make an Ocean) featuring a packed ensemble of stars: Mirbek Atabekov, Nurbek Savitahunov, Gulzada, Saltanat, and two new-to-me singers, Darkhan and Ayana. Turn on the captions for the English translation of the lyrics. It’s a nice little patriotic song with some stunning views of Bishkek and Kyrgyzstan’s beautiful landscapes. Two things though; where does Nurbek disappear to at the end of the video? And why were there no shots of Issyk Kul!?

Next up, a new video from Eholami! “Yadernaya Zima” (Nuclear Winter) is by far their best video and I’m so proud of them! It’s a sad song, but with a bit of sass. Not depressing, a bit mournful, with little nostalgic glimpses of summery poppy fields. Although, I could do with a bit less electric guitar and could listen to that guy play piano all day.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, I’ve been slowly recovering from the flu. Karma for bad-mouthing February, perhaps? I hope to be outside, enjoying the springtime sunshine, and back to writing more than a few sentences before taking a nap, pretty soon though.

Dear February

March 2, 2014 · 11 comments

in ramblings

Let’s break up. We’re just not compatible. I was lured to you under an illusion of progressing further into 2014; the only direction for us is up, I thought. But it was a lie. You’re wedged between the depths of winter and the promise of spring, but, let’s face it, that’s the worst place to be.

You’re dark and rainy, cold and miserable.

I feel like I owe an apology to Bishkek, who I’ve always complained about in February. It turns out, it’s not Bishkek, it’s you. Here we are in Ghent and the doldrums still linger. Winter has gone on for too long. The newness of the new year has worn off, resolutions have been cast aside, and now we’re in February, just waiting to get you over with.

It sounds harsh, but it’s true. I’m stuck in your fog.

There’s a slog to you, February, a staleness that directly contradicts all that I had wanted 2014 to be, the motivation I was sure I could maintain. Maybe there’s an expiration date on January’s resolutions, an invisible limit that runs out at 23:59, 31/1/2014 (see what I did there? I’m really European). Right at the next moment, February, you were there to remind me that nope, there are still obstacles to my grand 2014 plans. Nope, February says, you can receive your national ID, but there’s a chance that Brussels will deny your visa in six months. Nope, you can find a school for Darwin, but it will take six weeks before he can start. Nope, he can start sooner, but he gets sick on his first day and has to stay home all week. “Your plans are nice and all, your ideas and ambitions are admirable. But I’m February, and I suck.”

Some nerve you have.

I was determined to make the best of it, like taking a walk on one of your many grey, dreary days. But you decided a rainstorm was appropriate as soon as we left the house.

We had to hide under the bridge with the legal-graffiti wall until it slowed down.

I guess it’s a good thing that you’re shorter than the rest of them, February. I couldn’t stand even one more day of this (and what punishment that we even have that extra day every four years), so thank goodness March has already stepped up to replace you.

So what will I do without you, February? Clear my head and get back on track. Spring is closer than ever and I’m ready for time to keep moving along. Life was pretty dull with you around, February, but the best of 2014, and the best of Kirstin, is yet to come.

It’s a shame that you won’t be around to experience it, because I’m sure I’ll be awesome. Darwin will go to school on a regular basis, I’m already making kilometers of progress on my (previously non-existent) video-editing skills, by which I mean, I watched a Youtube tutorial and opened Final Cut Pro and slapped together some clips before realizing that I probably should find music first. Is that how it works?

I don’t even know, but whatever. This isn’t about that, February.

Let’s end this now; it’s not me, it’s you. Maybe next year we can try to see each other on better terms, but for now, get out of my face. Bring it on, spring.

Smooches,

Kirstin

Farrell’s commute (which I do not envy at all) involves two bikes, a train, and about 3 hours total every day. He rides a bike from our house to a train station, catches a train to Bruges, then rides a second bike to his office at the far side of the town (beyond the cute and charming part, if you can believe it exists). With all the bike riding, he gets sweaty, so he packs his work clothes with him to change into when he gets to the office.

But Farrell can be a bit absent-minded sometimes, especially on Mondays, when the lull of a lazy weekend hasn’t quite snapped him back into his weekday routine. Sometimes he forgets his work clothes.

Cue Darwin and me to the rescue. One day, Farrell had important meetings scheduled and was only decked out in a sweaty old t-shirt. Since Darwin didn’t have anything pressing on his schedule, we headed out on an epic journey of public transportation. I present to you a blog post made up entirely of phone pictures (when juggling a giant toddler and a bag of clothes in the rain and crossing many streets, a DSLR is not in the cards), mostly selfies. So, you’ve been warned.

First, we walk across the silliest, most crooked, “no, seriously, this is really something I’m supposed to walk across?” bridge to get to a bus stop on the other side of the river.
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We wait patiently. It’s raining.

Bus stop selfie!
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(The first of many.)

Our route was bus-train-bus-repeat, but we could’ve also taken a bus that goes straight to Bruges. I write this as if it were a legitimate option, but really, that bus takes three hours in one direction, while the train takes about 30-40 minutes. No brainer, but it was a coincidence to see the Bruges bus patiently waiting there right as we arrived at the train station.
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We arrived a bit early and the platform was packed with commuters heading to Brussels.
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So we waited.
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And waited.
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And waited for our train to arrive.
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The train was fairly empty, so we had an entire section of seats to ourselves.
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(He’s spying on a group of hipsters with packs of cookies across the aisle.)
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We’re sort of sight-seeing in Bruges. Look! Off in the distance is some sort of medieval-looking tower… thing. How charming and historic, now we’re off to find another bus.
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The incredibly not-charming industrial park where Farrell’s office is. Because it was raining, the clothing hand-off was short and sweet.
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Another bus stop selfie.
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“Hey Darwin, did we see Daddy?” “Daddy! Daddy!” and then he started waving.
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Even though we just had to get on the same exact bus that dropped us off (we were at the end of the route and just had to circle back), the bus driver made us wait at the bus stop across the street for 10 minutes. In the rain.
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Taking the train back to Ghent.
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Lovely scenery! There probably were better scenes to capture, but I had to wrangle a wriggly toddler.
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I had woken Darwin up early from his morning nap, so I wasn’t surprised when on the final bus ride, just minutes away from our stop, he finally passed out.
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From now on, Farrell keeps an extra set of work clothes at his office. If we decide to go visit him at work, we’ll pick a nicer day to do so.

After nearly four months in Ghent, I think I have a pretty good idea for what’s available food-wise and what, sadly, is not. It’s not quite the food-wonderland I imagined it would be back when we first found out we would move here, but there are lots of things for our bellies to be happy about.

First, some positives. Good cheese, good chocolate, good bread, good frites. The grocery store I go to most regularly always seems to have kale, which is such a beautiful thing. There are usually avocados, but since it’s winter, they’re terrible right now. I can deal with that.

Some other things I’ve noticed that will take some getting used to are the types of produce available. There are a lot more leeks and witloof here compared to the US or Bishkek. In the US, a “witloof” is called a Belgian endive, not just “endive” like I had previously thought. It turns out that an endive is an entirely different leafy, green thing. I had cooked with leeks before in the US, but I get the impression that they’re used a lot more commonly here (or in Europe in general). Is there some wacky obsession with potatoes that I was previously unaware of? Bags of potatoes (of which there are many many varieties) are clearly labeled with their appropriate usage and defining characteristics. I usually just grab any bag within reach.

There is always rabbit for sale at my grocery store, which has been fun experimenting with. This recipe is quite delicious.

The availability of peppers is woeful, especially compared to the Western US (where Farrell is from). Farrell’s mom, when she visited over the holiday, said that would be a deal-breaker if she couldn’t cook her usual, pepper and chile-filled dishes. My usual supermarket carries… bell peppers. Luckily, we found acceptable chilies at a Turkish market for Farrell to make his Coloradan green chile with (similar to the green chile stew mentioned here).

There is an Indian grocery store so close to my house and it is enabling a lot of obscure spice purchases. There were so few sources for Indian food in Bishkek (compared to Chinese food) and only a few restaurants serving it, so having this grocery store here is great. Now I finally have a chance to stock up on ingredients and try cooking Indian food for myself. Even back when I lived in DC, I would eat Indian and Pakistani food often, but there were so many restaurants around that I never needed to cook it.

Of course, being in a new place, even just being in a new kitchen, means I have to adjust all of my usual dishes. Gone are the mini-stores selling basic food items peppered short distances from my house, like they are in Bishkek, so grocery shopping is a bit more difficult (especially hauling around Darwin, who’s no longer a little nugget that I can strap to my chest). Now I even have to (ugh) plan our meals in advance. It feels so mom-ish. And our work and home situation is different now; with Farrell’s long commute it means that I am cooking about 90% of our meals, which is a change from Bishkek where he did the majority of the cooking.

The peanut butter selection is dismal, but at least it exists. Darwin will not grow up without PB&Js.

I’m going through a breakfast slump and this article reminded me of Vegemite! I’ve seen Marmite available (I am firmly in the Anti-Marmite, no-they’re-not-the-same-at-all Camp) but I no longer have a bunch of Aussie friends constantly going back and forth to their homeland who can bring me back a jug of that salty, yeasty goodness.

Frites have become a weekly treat for our household. While we usually prefer mayo and Americaine sauce (which has nothing to do with America, from what I understand) with our frites, Farrell was once convinced to try Samurai sauce as well (pictured above).

Other than (all of) that, the offerings seem to be pretty typical compared to any normal US grocery store in the suburbs (not my beloved Whole Foods, nothing compares to that). Some baking ingredients have been a bit tough to find, and it seems like nothing comes in the mega-packaging I’m used to in the US. Baking powder in most of the world comes in little 10 gram packets, which I can’t easily scoop my gigantic tablespoon into to make fluffy American-style pancakes. Visitors are always welcome to bring me a canister of Clabber Girl.

All in all, we’re eating quite well here in Ghent. The crazy amounts of cold, wet weather has at least had one positive outcome on Flemish culture; delicious, comforting stoofvlees.