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Moves

Three months, five moves, and three buildings later, our new home.

In my last post, I briefly mentioned that we’ve recently moved into a new apartment.  Unfortunately, I was almost completely “off the grid” for the summer months—writing my thesis—so that was news to many of you.  I say that’s especially because it might lead many readers to believe that we, like normal people might, simply decided to “move” (i.e. pack all of our stuff into boxes and then bring those boxes from one place to another place).

Suffice it to say, we’re not all that normal.  As stressful and time-consuming as moving is, that sort of thing would be too easy.  Have you ever lived with a Trevor?  Trevors make things complicated.  Like, excruciatingly complicated.  It’s a built-in feature of the model.

For starters, we decided that before we moved—before we even had a new apartment to move into—we needed to get the hell out of our crappity-crap-crap old one.  Which was crap.

Actually, it was a stroke of fortune that we were able to do so, and to do so in some serious style, despite the complications that came along with the process.  We were really blessed to be found by a couple who needed someone to house sit for the summer, and after a brief interview and tour of the place, they gave us the keys to what would become our wayside-rest of a home.

Now, when I say that we house sat for the summer, I cannot emphasize enough the scope or importance of the word “house.”  This was not some dinky, hyper-efficient, euro-house (though I shouldn’t know those, either, as we have both fallen in love with a couple of in our time here as well); this was a house house.  A people house.  A three and a half story, used to be occupied by seven college students but has since been beautifully renovated, and now functions as a “home” to a beautiful family, house.

Also, there was a backyard with chickens in it.  I shit you not.

So we began the summer with our first move.  We started out as stewards of our new people house by living out of suitcases.  At first, it wasn’t a problem, since Linds was in a state of limbo at various points between Belgium, New York, and Minneapolis, and had become used to living out of suitcases.  (Personally, I’m adept at this minimal style of living, since in high school I used to pack as little clothing as possible for week-long FCCLA trips in order to better accommodate my X-Box, which also came along.)  But as we passed the week mark, my better half started to get antsy.  So we completed another small move from the apartment to the new house.

Then things got interesting.

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One year in Leuven

This week, we marked the one year anniversary of our arrival in Leuven.

Has it been that long?  It hardly seems possible, but when I think back on all that’s happened these many months, I can’t imagine how we’ve (all) fit so much living into such a small span.

I remember arriving with Lindsey in our cab from Brussels and seeing our soon-to-be home city for the first time.  The previous 72 hours had been no picnic.  We’d each packed up our respective lives to varying degrees of completion, Linds had made a manic round of goodbyes in Boston, I’d pulled a last minute, all-night run to New York to pick up my visa, and we’d both traversed the Atlantic separately—though for some unfathomable reason, I’d chosen to stop halfway across for 10 hours, leaving Linds to wait for me in Belgium.

We only sort of had a place to live—I’d put a security deposit on a 28m2 apartment without ever having seen it.  Our first night, we stayed in a small hotel within the city limits—Hotel New Damshire—and began, with the help of a surprisingly open and informative desk clerk, to get our bearings.  After a few hours of exploring, we came back to our room for the first good night’s sleep either of us had really had in days.  We would need it too.  The next day we moved into our bedless “funished” apartment, and that night we slept on a mattress made of sweaters.

And now—somehow—here we are: we’ve just said goodbye to Jim and Leslie (our first visitors in months), we’re settling in to our new apartment, and awaiting the start of work and the new school year.  How much things change and how much they stay the same.

At least this year there’s a mattress.

Thanks to all of you who have kept checking back even though we’ve been on blog hiatus for the almost half a year.  We’re making an effort to get back to regular posting.

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Vis a Vis Visas

Our fans are pretty upset with us these days. We haven’t updated the blog in months, and there may seem to be no real reason for that. This is somewhat true. The reason mostly being that we are busy/lazy/suffering from intermittant bouts of frustration and rage.

But let me start from roughly where we left off last time.

In April, I was offered a nanny position with a family in a town called Haasrode about 5 miles south of Leuven. I nanny for two darling children ages 1 year and almost 4 years old. They are the cutest kids in the universe. I love them; it’s going great. The parents are nice. The house is great, (and I get to eat their food!). I work 4 days a week for now, Monday thru Thursday with occassional Fridays. I will work full time starting in October. I will write more detail about them later.

In the 3 months that I was in Belgium, Trevor and I were working hard getting all our documents together for my visa. We applied for a cohabitation visa. Basically, I get a visa for living with a Belgian resident (Trevor) on a permanent basis. It’s complicated.

It really doesn’t sound like it would be that hard. But it was. Because it’s Belgium.

If you recall, last fall I was working on getting a job, then getting a work permit, and obtaining a visa that way. Well…that didn’t really pan out. Let’s just say that my internship went less than swimmingly. They more or less refused to fill out the paperwork needed for the work permit, and I decided that I didn’t want to keep trying to work, for no money, and no real prospect of being paid, for an “organization” that didn’t really want me.

So this time around, we chose a different route. Almost equally complicated and difficult. We had to acquire document after document, all with correct apostille*, dated less than 6 months ago, translated into Dutch, etc, etc,etc. It was long and arduous. There was lots of emailing back and forth with the Consulate in NYC, the Leuven townhall, and my parents. There was much money spent in the process…we’ve estimated it at around $2000. All for a sticker in my passport that says I can stay here legally with multiple re-entries into the country.

So now comes the chapter where I go to New York. Brace yourself, you are in for a bumpy ride.

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Partycipation

It’s springtime here, and as is the case in most countries with cold or oppressively dreary winters, that means two things:

1) Girls in sundresses.
Linds even went out and bought one, much to my delight.  It’s as if she knew intrinsically that my ability to be grumpy or even to think thoughts becomes decimated when I absorb sunshine while simultaneously beholding cute floral dresses.

2) Festivals in Belgium.
It appears that unlike Minnesotans—who enter spring with trepidation, as if the mere hope of lasting sunshine might itself bring snow—Belgians embrace the months of March and April with a vigor deserving of festival.  Maybe that’s why there are so bloody many festivals here right now.  Honestly, every time I turn around I feel as though I’ve inadvertently walked into another festival.  We could learn a thing or two about ringing in the spring back home in the great white north.

In the last month alone, we’ve seen a Flemish Wine Festival, the Deronde von Vlaanderen (think Tour de France, but on a tiny scale), three separate single-day concert festivals, several faculty celebrations, a film/media festival in Ghent, and an African film festival a couple blocks away.  How are we supposed to keep up?  More importantly, how am I supposed to resist eating fries at almost every one of these things I pass?

It’s festival season in Leuven, and that means mobile fry shops.  Mmmmm.

Here’s a little taste of one particular festival we accidentally found, called Partycipation.  What was the occasion?  Who knows?  Who cares?  There are mobile fry shops people–trailers of which the only function is the preparation and distribution of fries.


Sorry for the low quality video. It was shot on my Sony Cybershot from 2004.

One night I walked by a large town square that had been effectively cordoned off by a large temporary fence covered with black canvas.  Inside what I assumed could only be a quarantine zone for some sort of contagious brain disease were about 500 students singing mish-mash Flem-lish versions of Christian hymns and nursery rhymes; what I’d actually stumbled onto was a Cantus.

Cantuses … Canti? … whatever … are basically semi-exclusive parties for each faculty’s student groups, which basically serve as the Belgian equivalent for fraternities/sororities.  The article I’ve linked above will try to tell you that the main activity at a Cantus is singing, but don’t be fooled.  This quaint historical practice may have become popular during its advent in the 19th century because of the general feeling of camaraderie cultivated by singing silly songs together, but it stuck around because that merriment is primarily facilitated by beer.  Lots and lots of beer.

My guess is that the practice makes a lot more sense the next day, when very few of the actual rituals surrounding Cantus can be remembered due to the effects of mild alcohol poisoning.  If no one can remember it, did it even really happen?  Maybe only if a wayward American wanders by and blogs about it later.

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Job Update

So recently, I’ve been looking for jobs that actually pay money (go figure). But being that I still don’t have a work permit (visa in the works), I thought I might be able to try a different avenue of employment. I’ve shifted my focus temporarily towards being a nanny. I have recently secured a position as such from a very nice family that live nearby, and I start next Monday. Hurray!

So yeah, this will be a short, sweet post detailing very little about this family. I’m sure they wouldn’t want me talking about them on the blog anyway. If you’d like specifics, please email me or something. I just thought I’d let our fans know that I have, at least for now, found something that pays.

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I don’t mean to alarm anyone, but during Linds’ hiatus from Belgium …

I grew a beard.

Yes, a beard.  That most hallowed and revered of all the many facial-hair configurations.  No other is so honored as to have an entire month—two, if you count both Novem-beard and Janu-hairy—dedicated to its cultivation and coiffiture.

In doing so, I have joined ranks of great thinkers like Socrates and Augustine, writers like Jules Vern, strategists like Clovis, the first Frankish king, Ulysses S. Grant and Rick Aguilera.

And of course, yours truly.

Damn.  I look good.

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I’m now back in classes, and with two weeks of the current semester under my belt, I’ve become convinced that Belgium is, and has always been, out to trick me.

If you got a chance to read any of my posts concerning last semester’s courses, you’re probably aware that my favorite thing about KU Leuven has been the lack of busy work.  With minor assignments and the dread machinations known as “reflection papers” expunged from the curriculum, classes here seemed to be both stripped to the bare muscle of their being and simultaneously robed in abundance with layers of meaning.  It actually took some getting used to.

Oh, but now it’s back to ways which are far less foreign to my American sensibilities.  I even got three syllabuses (Syllabi? I like syllabi better.)!  Syllabi—in Belgium.  I barely know what to do with myself.  While I ponder it, I’ll probably write up a few reaction papers, mindless though they may be.

The shock my system is experiencing with this change of pace isn’t negative, though.  Quite the opposite.  While I don’t have as much time as I’d like to explore in-depth the subject matter we’re going over in each and every class, the classes themselves are pretty satisfying.  Last semester I only took four classes (while sitting in on another), and this semester I’ve got seven, so there was bound to be more stretching anyway.  I’m just glad that even the classes which aren’t in what I’d call my “wheelhouse” just happen to be focused on issues I’ve touched on before but never had the time to probe more deeply.

It’s like having an extra pile of files thrown on your desk at work when you’re already overburdened, but then finding that those files are filled with tasks you already do, or would like to, on your breaks.

But then there are those blasted reflection papers again.

I don’t know what it is about reaction papers that irks me so.  Maybe it’s that I’m not entirely sure what I’m supposed to be reacting to.  The text?  The lecture?  Discussion?  My feelings?  The meanderings and eddies within my stream of consciousness, where the four  (or more) might meet?  If it’s the last, there will probably be drawings—usually involving a Platygator or a cowboy monkey riding a crotchety ostrich.


(Platygators are friendly but excitable creatures which can be found
primarily in notebooks and moderate climates. Their whimsically
mismatched nature makes them less than ideal study partners.
)

Maybe what makes me hate reaction papers so much is the way they make me feel.  At this level, they seem like some sort of academic Xanga blog.  It’s as though the professor is some out-of-reach girl that I’ve got a hopeless crush on—someone I hope will find and read (by chance) my deeply insightful and poetic thoughts, causing her to fall desperately in love with me.  Except in this scenario, my deeply insightful blog posts are about the process of theological development in the high middle ages.  Ugh.

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Regulars

(Behind me, you can see the Town Hall–the big Gothic building with statues all over.  Just one building toward me, with the white awnings staked out front, is one of our favorite night-time destinations, Brasserie Quasi Modo/Notre Dame.)

Just down the street from our apartment, there’s a bar/restaurant we frequent, called Brasserie Quasi Modo Notre Dame.  Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.  But it was one of the first restaurants we ever ate at here in Leuven (at the recommendation of an extremely kindly and helpful hotel clerk), and it’s become one of our most reliable destinations in the cities.  The food isn’t amazing, but it’s good, and it’s very affordable; the beer prices are the lowest we’ve found yet, even for fancier brews; and best of all, they take American debit cards, where many restaurants will only take Belgian cards or cash.

We’ve also continued going because it’s one of the few such establishments with a full bar area—it has two actually, one of which often sits empty because so few know about it—and is still considered a restaurant.  The distinction is key.  You can’t smoke in restaurants.

So on more than a few Friday or Saturday nights, we’ve found ourselves either starting or finishing at Notre Dame.  Sometimes it would just be Linds and I, but usually it’s with friends like Justin, Chris, and Abby.  Our visits have become so frequent, in fact, that we almost always sit at the same table (in the bar in the back), and we almost always have the same waiter—a man we named “Happy-face Sad-eyes,” for very obvious and very literal reasons.  Though I can’t explain how, his eyes always seem to be drooped in sadness, while the rest of his face attempts to compensate with a smile; the fight between the two is never-ending.  (I’d heard an old friend describe the same phenomenon once before.)

The events of each of our nights at the bar there were pretty unexceptional in most ways.  We’d come in, wait for too long to be seen by a server, order, get served, then finish our beers over conversation, wait on Happy-Face Sad-Eyes to stop ignoring us so that we could get another round, and repeat.

But last week, while at Notre Dame, we came to a strange and altogether unexpected realization—we realized that without trying, we’d become regulars. (more…)

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I know that some, if not all, of you read this blog solely because I contribute to it ;)… and therefore, you have been disappointed by my lack of contribution for the past few weeks. Let me now take this opportunity to update you all on what’s been going on.

First off, Happy President’s Day. I hope you celebrate by buying discounted cars and furniture. I would appreciate this ridiculous holiday if I were still at school and had the day off. However, I am stuck at home, not working, and bored. Most people don’t have the day off (which makes it not a real holiday in my book) except the US Postal Service. So now, I’m trapped in my house — yes trapped, for it is blizzarding 12 + inches outside — with no Netflix DVD to keep me company. I should have received it today, but since it’s a “holiday” it won’t arrive until tomorrow. Pity party for one.

Other than sitting alone in my house on this fake holiday/snow day, I’ve done a whole lot of nothing for the past few weeks. You may wonder why I wasn’t recording my adventures in snowy MN lately, but I thought that my close friends and relatives would not be terribly interested to know the mundane details that make up my life for the past month and a half.

But if you are dying to know what I’ve been up to, I’ll tell you…

I was only filling in as a receptionist in downtown Mpls until the company hired a permanent replacement for the last girl. That gig is now up, however, my relationship with that company is not. I got an in there in the first place because my mom’s friend works there (I mean, isn’t that how it works everywhere?) and she luckily needs lots of help with her job lately. As this help is temporary and I have nothing else to do, I obviously accepted. However, I’m at the mercy of the regional VP as to which days I can come in and work, etc. So basically, I’m working part-time for a woman in said office as her assistant. It’s decent money, and, like I said, I have nothing else to do, so I’m not complaining.

I told you you wouldn’t be interested…

But anyhoo, if you’ve made it this far in the post, I congratulate you! For now the more exciting news is presented. I have booked a return ticket to Belgium for March 17th!! Yes, by then I’ll have been in the good ol’ US of A long enough to return to Europe, and I cannot wait. I know this last month will probably be excruciatingly long as I count down the days till I get to see my fiance again, but I’m pumped!

So there you have it. Not much going on here besides the occasional blizzard/money-making. Speaking of which, if you have extra cash to spare for the “Lindsey-and-Trevor-Pre-Wedding-Adventure” Fund, donations are now being accepted. For as you may easily imagine, living abroad is expensive, especially when there’s very little income coming in.  Maybe I’ll set up a paypal account on the website 😉

Ok, that was a joke…unless you really want to donate, then I’m serious.

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Super Bowl Sunday was … well, I had a great time, and I guess that’s all that matters.  The game itself isn’t as important, so long as you get to enjoy all four quarters in the company of friends, right?

The original plan for the night had been to visit one of the local bars which was carrying the game—a surprising fact in itself, since the game didn’t even start till 12:30 a.m. local time.  But eventually we decided against the bar idea in favor of a more subdued, smoke-free apartment style atmosphere.  For me, there were really three deciding factors

  1. As alluded to above, you can still smoke in bars here, and smoke the Europeans do.  You can’t hope to go into a bar for 15 minutes without smelling like an ashtray.
  2. More importantly, I hate both the teams that played, and I wasn’t enthused about the prospect of spending a night with their fans, fair-weather or otherwise.
  3. You can’t play the cork game (explanation to follow) in a bar.

Our plans of spending the night in with friends, away from the rabble of green, yellow, and black supporters, hinged on finding some sort of Internet service which might allow us to actually, you know, see the game.  That particular aspect of the plan hit a snag last week though, when a certain federal agency decided to pull a bunch of websites off the Internet (who knew they could do that? can they do that?  apparently they can do that.).

Thankfully, many people who use the interwebs are quite clever.  Who could be blamed if, say, a feed of the game somehow, for whatever reason, appeared on the screen of a computer which happened to be nearby?  I’m sure that I don’t even know how something like that might happen, let alone how to stop it.

I won’t spend time talking about the game—it’s Thursday already, and this isn’t the place you go to for that sort of thing anyway.

And besides, the football game wasn’t the highlight of the night.  No, that was reserved for another game, one that took place during halftime.

No, it wasn’t the Puppy Bowl.  And no, it wasn’t a drinking game involving the number of times Fergie missed a note or will.i.am said the words “Get UP!”

It was the Cork Game.

The game itself is pretty simple.  Two pasta sauce jars are set out at varying levels of height and distance from the throwers, who attempt to throw corks into them.  There’s scoring involved, but I’ll leave the explanation of the details to mrscimo, who invented the game with her husband.  You know.  Cause sometimes Belgium (like any country) gets boring, and you’ve got a bunch of corks sitting around.

(Uprights not pictured)

We even went so far as to add some variant, Super Bowl related rulesets to the game.  In one version, after scoring a point by hitting a pasta jar on the rim or sinking a cork, the player has to flick a cork through two uprights constructed from beer cans.  Now that’s good, wholesome, American fun.

So while I wasn’t pleased with either the Super Bowl itself—it was highly unlikely that a situation would arise in which both teams could lose—the Cork Game Super Bowl I was a massive success.  Add to that a price tag of just 45 cents per can used in the construction of those special uprights and the fact that before construction could begin the cans themselves had to be emptied, and you’ve got yourself for a recipe for a nice little evening.

 

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