England, pt 1

Ah, England.  I feel as though I should preface this part of our trip with a little bit of information.

First off, there were parts of this trip that I believe were literally out of experiences in hell.  I don’t actually like road trips, as anyone who grew up with motion sickness may understand.  Additionally, my in laws and I travel very differently.  I tend to stay in larger hotels, figuring the room is an insignificant portion of why I am there anyway.  I also have no problem eating lunches or dinners in a fast food place such as McDonalds.  If saves a bit of money that can be used for more fun things, and feeds everyone quickly.  It’s an all around win in my book. However, my in-laws prefer to stay in bed and breakfasts, and eat in pubs.  It’s not like I don’t like these ideas, but it all comes together to make it a very different experience on this trip.

Now to the hell of our first day.

When my in laws first discussed coming to visit us, they made a request to travel to England and Germany as well.  It is surprisingly common for people to want to visit other countries when they visit us, even in conversation.  I guess not everyone knows what to find in Belgium, but they can see how close it is to countries.  It’s sad.  Anyway, my father-in-law is retired from the US Air Force, and was once stationed in both places.  The desire to return has been there for a while.  It’s been over 30 years since they had been to England, and they were anxious to return.  Additionally, my Mother-in-law was very excited to take the chunnel, (officially the Eurotunnel).  Approximately a decade ago she gave a speech on the chunnel and really wanted to go through.

We left early in the morning to drive out.  The plan was to drive the three and a half hours to the chunnel, cross, then drive up to our B&B and check in early enough to still see some of England that afternoon.  This first drive wasn’t too bad; a little traffic, a few stops for gas and relieving ourselves of bodily fluid, but nothing excessive.  Until we arrived at the terminal.

We had given ourselves an extra hour and a half from our scheduled chunnel crossing.  We figured that would give us an hour of extra time, plus our checkin.  With the time of day we were traveling we didn’t think we would need more. By the time we arrived, we were beginning to push our time limit, and were worried.  Buying a chunnel crossing in advance is significantly less expensive than a last minute fare, and we didn’t want to miss out slot.

As we arrived, there was traffic due to construction.  We were following the signs to where we needed to be, but somewhere along the way we got a little mixed up.  Trying to find the right lane for us we asked someone for help.  Their English was either not good, and my French is horrible.  We thought we were communicating, telling him “touriste” lane.  Somehow we were directed to the lorry lanes instead and being herded long with the large trucks.  We couldn’t get out, but we also couldn’t get through.  Eventually we found someone who could help us get out and to where were were supposed to be, but we had already missed our checkin time.  Luckily for us, the nice woman informed us that we actually had a two hour window, and we would still make our crossing.  We got in the correct lane, and on we went.

IMG_3201

The chunnel is a pretty cool thing.  You drive right onto this train thing, park your car, and when you drive again 35 minutes later, you are across the English Channel.  This wasn’t my first time crossing, so I was mostly just wanting to get it over with.  Trust me, if you are claustrophobic or have a very sensitive stomach this isn’t going to be very fun for you.  However, if you are my Mother-in-law, you will be giggling like a school girl.  It was adorable how excited she was.

Arriving on the other side, we continued on towards the B&B we had booked the day before.  We were out in the middle of no where, lost and looking for a place called the Brambles.  Pulling over to ask for directions, we learned that somehow we were in the wrong town.

While waiting for good directions, a nice English man pulled up next to us and gave us a friendly greeting.  It was adorable how surprised he was to discover than in spite of seeing a Belgium license plate, it was a van full of Americans.  We talked about American football, because apparently there was a recent game in London with a couple of NFL teams coming over to play.

After we received directions we moved on, driving to our B&B.  As soon as we arrived, we were greeted with a large dumpster filled with construction waste and a locked door. When we finally found someone to talk to, we were informed that our reservation had been cancelled the day before.  We should have received an email.  We did not.  We were now in the middle of England, outside a closed B&B, planning on staying for three days and having no place to sleep that night.  The only good news we received for the next four hours was a random phone call from my husbands work informing us we would be receiving his rank promotion soon.  It didn’t solve the place to sleep problem, but it still improved my mood a lot.

We drove around for an hour or so, receiving very little help from places nearby until we finally found a Travelodge in Cambridge where a very kind man named Georgi was able to get us situated into rooms for the night.  Unfortunately, no matter how much he wanted to help us, there was no way for him to book us for more than one night at at time.  In order to book a room for more than a night, we needed to go online to a faulty website which used up my 30 minutes of free internet access and still didn’t get us booked.  It was exhausting, and frustrating, but with the help of a kind person we had a place to sleep.

IMG_3202

The view from our room wasn’t that bad either.

From there we went out to see some of my in laws old friends.  It had been over thirty years since they had seen them, but it was as if they had never been apart.  It’s always nice to see real true friendships like that.  We went out to a pub for dinner where I began consuming my typical UK food, fish and chips.  I’m not supposed to eat them, as the gluten in the beer batter does make me sick, but I LOVE fish and chips and there is no where better to overdo it on fish and chips than England.

The pub was a cute place, slightly rustic and everything you would want from a stereotypical English pub.  Somehow I ended up with only one bad picture from inside the pub.  I guess that is a good statement on the food there.

IMG_3203

Seriously.  I have no idea how I ended up with this as my only picture.  I guess it wasn’t my day.

In fact the only disappointment was having regular peas instead of mushy peas.  Most people I know, whether they like peas or not, hate the mushy peas that seem to come with every order of fish and chips.  I actually love them.  With a little salt, they taste just like split pea soup.

While we had thought we might be continuing to rent our hotel rooms night by night until we left, we were also able to book a small cottage for the next two night which would cost half as much as the Travelodge.  It was too dark that night to take a picture of where we were staying, but we were able to snap this picture later.

IMG_3242

Adorable, right?  Everything inside was so tiny, my husband actually hit his head on a door frame.  It was like a dollhouse.

IMG_3243

We were informed that this house was once owned by a Mrs. Bradford, and named after her daughter Hilary when it was added to the property of a Bed and Breakfast.  While I can’t help but feel as though we wouldn’t have had any trouble with where we were staying if we had booked a hotel from the beginning, it was definitely cool staying in a house with history.

So that was our first day in England.  A mess, exhausting, but ultimately good.

And for anyone who is wondering, the story with the first B&B did have a bit of a happy ending.  Sure, it was an inconvenience having our reservation canceled almost instantly after it was made, but a couple of days later (we had a lot of internet issues while we traveled) my in laws received an email from them.  They said they had been trying to reach us, they were very sorry for the problems it may have caused us, and in addition to the refund, they refunded us the cost of an additional night, knowing last minute accommodations can be more expensive.  I can’t be sure of what went wrong, but I have to give them credit for trying to make it right.  And no, I don’t think they have an idea that I would be writing about it on a blog, or that this would reach enough people to ruin their business (which I don’t think it ever will).  They made it right simply because they felt they should.

Vaalserberg

While my in-laws were in town there were a few days where we wanted something to do, but it needed to be something small.  This was partially due to Big One still needing to attend school occasionally to complete her finals for the year.  Luckily for us, not far from her school is Vaalserberg, the location of the triborder point and the highest point in the Netherlands.

So, first things first, to clarify, we live in Belgium, yes, but our daughter attends an international school in the Netherlands.  It’s a thing, partially a thing that has her riding a bus for an hour and a half every day, but she is really happy there, so it’s all worth it.  These are the kinds of things you can do when you live within an easy drive of several other countries.

We went looking for the triborder point from her school, climbing up windy mountains in the Netherlands. It was quite beautiful, but as I get motion sickness, I took no pictures.  Our GPS didn’t know exactly where we were going, but managed to get us close enough a nice person in a cafe could point us the rest of the way.  (Thank you anonymous Netherlander!)

When we first arrived, we weren’t actually sure where we were.  Truth be told, I had never been, I just figured it would be a nice trip instead of staring at the outside of my daughters school.  The first place we found was actually a large staircase that brought you about five stories up to see into Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany.

IMG_3197

I’m pretty sure this was Germany.  I think a sign said that church was in Germany.

IMG_3199

Maybe this was the Netherlands?  I don’t remember.  I was mostly hanging out towards the middle with Big One who is terribly afraid of heights and was being incredibly tough even going up there with us at all.

After we climbed the tower we went in search of the actual triborder point.  Technically this place is known as Drielandenpunt.  It sounds pretty impressive until you realize it literally translates out to three land place.  Somehow I ended up with no pictures of the actual spot, but my mother-in-law took a video of Little One running through three countries in a matter of seconds.  We were all very impressed.

IMG_3200

Sadly, I couldn’t get that video to load, so instead enjoy Big One and Little One conquering the highest point in the Netherlands.  Okay, technically the highest point is that pillar behind them, but they conquered the plaque.  That’s something, right?

11401322_827096960709627_5995105053444613206_n

My husband and I also conquered the peak, though I could have sworn I looked better on the day than I do in the picture.  Is it just me, or do I look like someone morphed my face with Miss Piggy’s face?  Whatever.  It was fun either way.

There was little left to do as we were planning an early start the next day.  But of course, that is another posting.

Tongeren Market

Over the last two weeks, my in-laws were in town.  We traveled a lot, slept only a little, and sent them off to the airport exhausted.  I will get all of the traveling posted, but it will take a little while, so be prepared.

They arrived Saturday evening, and on Sunday morning, we started off.  Tongeren is a city halfway-ish between where I live and Brussels.  While there are many things to do there (I am told), it is best known around here for the antiques market that takes place on Sunday mornings.  I had never visited this market before, but it sounded like the kind of thing my in-laws would love.

IMG_3169

This market was huge.  There were vendors going in many directions, with many different things.  Some places seemed like a glorified yard sale, while others held secret treasures.

IMG_3170

And Tongeren is a beautiful city on it’s own.  All along the market was this cool old wall, left over from some other time.

IMG_3171

Here is a view from above the market.  Stalls everywhere, and only a very small portion of the market.

We found a few hidden treasures, classic beer signs for my father-in-law, and a wooden foldout cabinet thing that reminded me of my grandmother. I’m not even certain if my grandmother had one, or if it is just a feeling, either way, I brought it home. I slightly regret not taking home a set of pewter goblets that I really liked, but knew would end up in storage for a while as I have no place to keep them.  They would have been fun for my wine last night, but sadly no, they stayed behind.  We might go back, look for my goblets or even just wander around.  We might even try to see more of the city than just the market.  It’s worth it.

A Good Cup of Coffee

People drink coffee differently in different parts of the world.  Traveling though America, almost every shop you visit will make your drink in a cardboard cup.  Occasionally, you are lucky if the coffee in your cup came from real beans.  It’s not always consistent, but every coffee lover has their favorite shop.

Outside the states it is a little different.  Finding good coffee to go in Belgium is difficult, and not only because Starbucks are almost exclusively in airports or train stations.  This varies slightly country to country, but for the most part, coffee houses are an experience, not a simple stop.

It’s hard to determine which coffee shop style I like better.  I miss the quick stop to get a latte on my way to work, but I enjoy sitting and enjoying the atmosphere as well.  During my trip to Edinburgh last summer, I fell in love with their coffee houses.  Maybe it was knowing I was sitting in the exact same place where JK Rowling had worked on parts of the Harry Potter series, and the delusion that perhaps I was soaking up left over inspiration.  Maybe it simply the relaxation that comes with being on vacation.  Either way, I felt a fire lit beneath my creativity, pushing through the pieces of my broken heart, knowing I would likely never be able to visit again.

I wanted to return, or even better get my own local coffee house where I could occasionally work.  One month ago, that dream became a reality.  A short, five minute walk from my front door is a new neighborhood coffee shop, Brogela.

First off, I have no idea what the name means.  I assume it is a play on the name of my tiny town, but Google translate can’t help me.

Six months ago, this lovely little shop didn’t exist.  Instead, it was an open room with a variety of vending machines.  Looking inside now, you can slightly see the conversion.  Cement floors have been left, and imprints where machines used to live are on the floor.  However, they added a bakery, windows, and a variety of delicious coffees.

I can admit it, I was a little scared to go on my own the first time.  I had so many hopes for a place I could work when I needed to get out of the house.  There was a lot of pressure on this little visit.  My daughters were more than happy to accompany me to check the place out.

thumb_IMG_3162_1024

Now, I am not exactly a coffee purist, but I did choose to keep it simple with a chocolate cappuccino.  Sure, I could have gone with a plain cappuccino, but when you are in Belgium and they offer to put their amazing chocolate in or on something, you take it.

thumb_IMG_3161_1024

Big one chose a Mars Latte, delicious coffee with excessive whip cream, caramel, and miniature Mars Bars.  Somehow it still wasn’t sweet enough for her.  I try not to worry, but I think it’s warranted here.

thumb_IMG_3160_1024

Little One chose a similar option, the Snickers Latte.  It was kind of cool to see the caramel melting down into the drink in little trails.

Between the three of us, we all agreed it was a great place, one we will continue to visit.  On my own, I’m almost afraid to try to work there.  I want my coffee shop work space, but it is so different from what I already do.  Trying something new could be brilliant, or it could be a disaster.  Either way, I will only be living near this particular shop for another six months.  If I hate it, oh well, it was a failed experiment.  If I love it, it doesn’t matter, because it is temporary.  Sure, maybe I could write the best works of my life, but then I would leave and always wonder if it was me or the shop.  Maybe Dumbo flew without his feather, but we’re not all flying elephants.

In spite of the potential risks, I think I’ll have to try.  After all, big risks, big results, right?  Time to get me a good cup of coffee.

Searching…Again

My creativity seems to go through cycles, not only periods of inspiration and darker periods, but also times when I am more inspired in one way than another.  Sometimes I just go with the flow, writing when the words are there, sewing when the spirit moves me, whatever.  As long as something was created that day, I was usually all right.  Other times of course, I am not as relaxed.  I want to create using a specific medium and I want to do it now.  By now of course, I actually mean right now.

April’s session of Camp brought me about 75-85% of the way through the novel I was working on and I decided I wanted to get the other 15-25% done in May, giving me June to prepare for the July session of Camp.  Easy enough, right?  I know, famous last words.

Of course, the words have been stalled.  I’m not sure if it’s a story issue, or simply that I have been pressing too hard for too long.  The outline for the story is still there, but my inspiration seemed to disappear.

images

Even without my inspiration, I have been sitting daily, getting at least a few words in.  Realistically, 1000+ words a day isn’t even that bad.  It’s more of the feel of the writing that has changed.  Yes, I am still writing daily, but I don’t seem to be connecting as well as I feel I should be.  It’s a petty problem, but it still stalls me out.

I’ve mentioned before one of the ways I push my inspiration higher is through travel.  Overtime we go on a trip, preferably for at least 3 days, I come home feeling relaxed, renewed, and ready to write.  I think it comes from reconnecting with the world.  I am seeing new things, watching people and seeing how they live their lives.  It shapes my writing by keeping me in reality.  Yes, I am writing fiction, but it needs to feel as though it could be fact.

Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly the type of fix that is possible right now.  Instead, I decided to see what I could do to capture that feeling at home.  I started with a couple of realities.  First, I had to be able to walk to where ever I was going, and second, it had to fit into the time frame I had before Little One would be dropped off by the bus.

My town is small, mostly residential with a median age of about 60, though I think it is slowly getting younger.  We have houses, a small grocery shop, a butcher, a new coffee shop (I’ll get to that in another post!), and of course since we are in Europe, a large church.

IMG_3152

You may have noticed, when we travel, we go to churches.  A lot.  The churches out here are different from the ones I saw growing up.  These are not modern buildings with benches, pulpits, sound systems, and jacuzzis they claim are only for baptisms.  These old churches are works of art, works of art that usually hide even more works of art.  It’s beautiful.

I’ve never been inside this church, inspire of living in its shadow for two and a half years.  (And I do mean in its shadow, I can see it from my backyard.)  I took a visit today, but I still haven’t been inside.  Firstly, because I am still deeply uncomfortable visiting churches without dressing up.  I may have moved away from the religion I grew up with, but it seems disrespectful to enter a church wearing jeans and meditation beads.  Maybe a rosary would have helped, but oh well.

The real reason I visited the church today was the cemetery.  I am a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t even know there was a cemetery at the foot of the church until a few days ago.  I had past the church at least a hundred times, but never really paid attention to what I was seeing, and then poof.  It was there.

IMG_3153

The cemetery was small, with tombstones dating from the early 1930s to  the late 1960s.  My Flemish isn’t great, but it seemed to be a combination of priests who had served in the church with a few parishioners.  Some of the stones were old and worn, making it hard to even read the words.  Others  were shiny and new, as though they had only been put in yesterday.  There were plots with planters, where flowers could be growing, and others covered in marble.  Some of the graves seemed as though they had been forgotten, and others had clearly been visited recently, with gifts of flowers, wreaths, and even a candle (not lit anymore).  There was so much to see in such a small place.

I know, some people out there are instantly asking, why did I go there?  I didn’t know anyone, I wasn’t leaving flowers, or cleaning.  Simply put, I went to visit those who were gone.  Each of these people had a story.

The priest in the back, who died in his seventies, and was born in the later years of the 1880s.  His plot was large, covered in white marble with a simple black cross above his name.  As a priest, he obviously did’t have a wife or children, but someone felt it was important to bury him with well.  Even all of these years later, the tombstone is clean and well cared for.  It seemed obvious that he was well loved in his time to get such a tribute.

There was the couple buried under the large tree.  The husband was almost fifteen years older than his wife, but she died within two weeks of his passing.  People talk about dying from a broken heart; maybe she just couldn’t stand the idea of continuing on without him.

In a tiny corner, a plain cross marked the grave where a four year old was laid to rest.  The plot next to him was empty, perhaps still waiting for his parents to join him.

It is said that no one who is remembered is ever really dead.  I don’t know these people, but how they were laid to rest tells me a part of their story.  It’s stories of love, and heartbreak.  Most of our everyday lives are filled with routine, the boring things that must be done for us to continue on.  When we die, everything we ever were becomes clear because that is how we are remembered.

If this isn’t inspiring, I’m not sure what is.

Keukenhof

I’ve been living in Belgium for a couple of years now, but because of it’s location often our day trips take us to different countries.  Having grown up in Northern California, the idea that I can travel for a couple of hours and be in a new country is still a little exciting.  On that note, a couple of weeks ago we made a trip to the Netherlands.

There are many things that the Netherlands are known for; wooden shoes, windmills, debauchery in Amsterdam, and tulips.  One of the best places to go for tulips in the spring is Keukenhof, a large garden.  It’s only open for a couple of months out of the year, but when it is in bloom, it is amazing.

IMG_1972

After a two hour drive, we found a parking spot and walked up to the unassuming outside.  This was my first trip, but I had an idea of what was hiding inside.  I was not disappointed.

IMG_1973

Fun dandelion fluff fountain!  It was the closest thing to a weed in the entire park, at least that I saw.

IMG_1977

As expected, the inside was filled with flowers.

IMG_1986

Lots of flowers.

IMG_1990

In lots of different colors.

IMG_2000

Seriously.  Lots of flowers.

IMG_2039

I mean.  Flowers everywhere.

IMG_2037

I know, it’s a flower garden, what would you expect.  But there was more than just flowers here.

IMG_2007

Little one is always ready for a picture, so we went for it.

IMG_2019

We went walking on these wooden platforms through a pond.  It was strange, as solid as they were, I still felt like we were about to fall at any minute.

IMG_2028

The platforms brought us very close to these lovely swans.  It may have taken about 30 shots to get one without their head in the water, but they were still cool to see.

IMG_2040

We watched a giant game of chess.  Little One was bummed that she was not allowed to move any of the pieces, since someone else was playing.

IMG_2047

We even visited the pigs.  Little One LOVES pigs, and she has since she was tiny.  I guess knowing they become bacon gives them a special place in her heart.

Each year, Keukenhof has a theme, something they use to create a special flower feature.  This years theme was Van Gogh.  Now, I’m not huge on art in general.  I mean, I like it, but I don’t know all of the nitty gritty details.  I’ve never studied art or art history, I just know what I like, and I like Van Gogh.  I was looking forward to seeing the flower portrait based on one of his self portraits.  However, as the line was very long to get on the platform, and I could see from the ground the colors were off, we didn’t wait.  I mean seriously, there are about a hundred different kinds of tulips in a range of colors.  Why choose hot pink as his skin tone?

Instead we visited the selfie garden.  Since Van Gogh loved his self portraits, they created a small section designed to give a modern twist.

IMG_2049

Big One refused to be a part of this, as she is opposed to selfies in any way shape or form.  Instead as usual, Little One and I were in the pictures.

IMG_2050

Say cheese!

All right, so this was more pictures than words, but let’s be real.  It was a trip to a flower garden.

Happy travels to everyone!

Editing

I worked throughout April on a new manuscript as a part of Camp NaNoWriMo.  This is no secret, and was actually a part of my temporary radio silence.  At the end of the month, I had met my word goal by writing 40,111 words, but had not actually finished the story.  I suppose I should have aimed for a higher word count, but based on the last couple I had written, my young adult first drafts tend to hit slightly on the lower side.

While I am still completing this novel, I am also beginning to think about the next step.  No, not publication and inevitable success.  (Okay, maybe occasionally.  I am an unapologetic dreamer after all.)  No, as I finish my mind begins to turn to the dreaded task of editing.

There are different views to editing, and honestly different needs based on the writer.  Many successful writers have made statements indicating that editing was a key part of their success.  True or not, Ernest Hemingway is credited with stating, “The first draft of anything is shit.”  Of course there are others who only edit for spelling errors, and are completely happy with their end results.  So who is right?  I don’t know, and I don’t really care.

For me, I hate editing.  It requires me to be objective about my own writing and my own story.  I begin to second guess everything and suddenly I not only believe Hemingway, but I realize that no matter how much you polish, a turd is still a turd.  I take everything about my own writing personally because it is technically personal.  This is something that came from inside me.  Even if it’s not actually my biography there are parts of me in every character and every choice.

It’s much easier to be objective and honest when I am working with someone else’s work.  I’ve done beta reading before, reading the draft of a story and giving honest feedback.  I feel like I can give constructive criticism without making it unnecessarily cruel.  It’s not about what I like or don’t like, it’s about what makes sense.  Occasionally, I even do it without thinking.

I recently finished a novel, a new adult story that at first seemed like a straight forward girl goes away to college and falls into the middle of a love triangle.  Instead it felt to me to be several books in one.  As I read I could not help but cut through the chapters mumbling to myself about what was unnecessary and what was distracting or weird.  To me, this book needed some severe editing and should not have gone to print without it.  But then, as far as I could find, the writer is at least reasonably successful so my opinion may be the unpopular one on this book.

I hate editing because at the end of the day it is going to arbitrary.  There are many books I have read and wondered how the hell they got to print through a major publishing house without someone saying something about editing the story in some way.   If I had been the agent, or publishing house rep, I would have sent it back and said redo it and we’ll try again.  But no one did, and the world (or part of it) thanks them for sending it through as is.  I can look at someone else’s work and whine about how they should have done things, and doubt all of my own work, but at the end of the day I am only one reader.  My opinion is not the one that makes decisions, and clearly I shouldn’t be the one to make those decisions.  I might have saved the world from some poorly written books, but I also would have saved myself and everyone else from a large quantity of money.

So what does this mean for my own editing?  Hell if I know.  I guess it means I will be one of those writers who needs someone else to help me sort through my own mess.

Het Hallerbos

Several weeks ago I stumbled on a forest here in Belgium.

I’ve done a little research on forests before this.  When writing, I always try to find some sort of an element of truth that can be included in my works of fiction.  A story I was working on a year ago needed a forest, and as I currently lived in Belgium, it seemed a good place to start.  There are myths, legends, and everything I wanted for the topic I needed.  I was writing frequently, and then it fizzled out.  The inspiration was gone.

This travel destination wasn’t a part of my research, or anything else interesting.  It wasn’t exactly like stumbling through a wardrobe and into Narnia, so much as seeing a link on Facebook.  Of course, how I found the forest isn’t the story here.  The point of my little babble, is the stories, both how I came to be walking through the forest, and the story I was working on.

Enter Het Hallerbos.  I tried to translate what it meant, but I only came up with ‘The Hallerbos.’

IMG_1940

Most of the year, Het Hallerbos is a normal forest, with hiking and running trails leading you on a run through the great outdoors.

IMG_1942

However, in the spring, this forest near Brussels explodes in bluebells.

IMG_1957

There are sections where you can’t even see the green or brown of the forest floor.

IMG_1956

It was like something out of a fairy tale.  Of course, as that was what I was writing, this was the perfect inspiration.  To be a writer, you need to write, but those words need to come from somewhere.  It’s nice to get out and see the world so I can bring it home with me.

Pairi Daiza

I once read a silly notion, that is spread on the internet.  It claimed that the surest sign of a happy relationship is no sign of it on Facebook.  I suppose that could easily be spread out to include most forms of social media, and for me, it might be re-written to state the surest sign of a happy life, is no position on the blog.

Yes, I have been gone for a while, but for the most part, it has been because I was happy.  I have been writing, volunteering at my local library, writing, taking pottery classes, writing, traveling, and writing.  This session of Camp NaNoWriMo, I feel as though I fully embraced the idea of working hard not only to complete a novel in a month, but to do work I am proud of.

Of course that hasn’t been all I have done, and isn’t even why I am writing today.  No, with the return of sunshine and warmer weather, I have been struck hard with wanderlust.  It is an almost uncontrollable need to get out and do something, and in truth, I’m not sure I want to control it.  While we have only had time for day trips on the weekend, I think we are making the most of them.  One of the first we took recently, was a trip to Pairi Daiza, a zoo near Brussels.

We first heard about this zoo almost a year ago, as we returned from a trip to Edinburgh.  I may have mentioned before, my family loves to go to the zoo, so we make trips frequently, including one to the Edinburgh zoo.  It was a spur of the moment thing as we were traveling, so we were not aware of the Panda bears who live there.  Unfortunately we were also unaware that seeing the Panda’s required a special ticket, and they had already sold out for the day.  I was desperately disappointed, as I love pandas.  So, when we were walking through the airport in Belgium, waiting to go through immigration (or customs, I don’t remember which) we were excited to see an advertisement for a zoo.  Not only was it right here in Belgium, but the poster had a prominently featured Panda bear.  A little research, and we had it confirmed; there were pandas here in Belgie, and we were going to have to go see them.

Unfortunately, life happened and we simply didn’t get around to it for a long time.  Until last week.  The zoo had just recently reopened for the season, and we were not going to miss it this time.  Let me tell you, I am very glad we didn’t.

First off, the drive from our house wasn’t too bad, until we were about 15 minutes away.  At that point, we turned away from main roads and were driving through small towns on tiny roads that for some reason Europe thinks should be two lane, even if they barely fit one car.  However, as with many of the best things we have found in Europe, the search was well worth it.  Eventually we popped out by the parking lot of a large and very beautiful zoo.  I mean seriously.  It was huge.  The parking lot was at least the size of a football field. However, as it wasn’t very pretty, I didn’t waste my pictures there.

Once inside, we took a few minutes to wander through the petting zoo.

IMG_1857

Goats, sheep, chickens, deer, and one turkey.

IMG_1859

I have no idea what that deer was doing to the turkey, but it almost looked like grooming.  He followed him around for a little while, nibbling at his feathers.

IMG_1864

Big One had no desire to be a part of the feeding, but Little One loved every minute of it.

IMG_1867

We moved on from there where we found miniature mongooses (with the pop up bubble for Little One).

IMG_1871

The otters were enjoying a little breakfast.

IMG_1876

This random peacock, just chilling by the bird show arena.

IMG_1878

All on our way to find the pandas.  Now, this building was actually a noodle house and sushi restaurant.  Not surprising, the sushi was only okay, but still very cool.  The entire area where the pandas lived was beautiful.

IMG_1907

For my family, this place felt like home.  I know, some people are instantly clicking over to look at pictures of me, and yes, I am a pale blonde who grew up in California, but not too long ago, I lived in Okinawa, Japan for eight years.  While Japan and China are in fact very different from each other, the island of Okinawa was actually a part of a trade route, and much of their traditional architecture was more influenced by China than Japan.

Eventually, we passed through this section, and found what I wanted.  Meet Xinghui, the panda.

IMG_1885

This was a very chill panda.  The way he moved, he almost looked like a person in a panda suit. It was very strange.  However, as he lay back going to town on his bamboo, I could completely relate to him.

IMG_1887

I mean, seriously.  This is me watching Netflix.

IMG_1890

If I thought he would remain gentle and cuddly, I would completely invite him over and introduce him to the magic that is in the box.  If he agreed to be the pillow, I would hand him all the bamboo he could eat.

A little ways away was the other panda, Haohao.

IMG_1893

She was a little more active, and wouldn’t stop moving the entire time.  It made it more difficult to get a good picture, but we still had fun telling many, many, many ‘How how does she do that?’ jokes.

IMG_1895

I’m not even embarrassed by that.  I maintain that I am hilarious.

There were a lot of animals, too many for a full breakdown on everything.

IMG_1897

IMG_1900

IMG_1908

IMG_1926

IMG_1927

Awww.  Love birds.

IMG_1933

IMG_1919

These are just the best pictures, and only a little bit of what they had.  The habitats were huge, and I do mean habitats.  The only places that came close to being ‘cages’ were the carnivores who were simply separated from the humans very well.  Not only did the animals have plenty of space, but several of the animals were out where humans could actually interact with them.  There was a viewing area where a large group was feeding and petting a giraffe. (It was too crowded for us to bother fighting our way in, but still cool.)

Along one path we found this guy just chilling.

IMG_1903

There was a warning that he might bite, so we didn’t try to get too close.  Only a few feet away, his friend was taking a nap in the sunshine.

IMG_1904

They jumped around on rooftops, and basically hung around.

IMG_1906

There was an area with adorable little monkeys, but there were so many people, taking a good picture was difficult.

IMG_1930

One of this guys friends was on top of a roof, and tried to climb into the hand of a passing tourist.  Unfortunately, the tourist got a little nervous and dropped the little guy.  I guess this is the big downside to having non-zookeeper interaction with the animals.

IMG_1915

We even saw baby ducks and baby geese following their moms around the park.  Of course, Little One’s picture was better than mine here.

Big One’s favorite animal interaction exhibit was inside this large building.

IMG_1874

Once you were inside, you couldn’t really get any pictures.  It was pitch black, and using a flash would have disturbed the bats flying around.  Yeah.  I never wanted a bat flying at my face, but apparently Mama freaking out was fun for the kids.  Next time I am sending them in with a flash and seeing how much they laugh then.  (Okay.  Not really.)

This zoo was amazing.  In addition to having lots of animals, the habitats were beautiful.  I mean, seriously.  Their habitats looked better than my house does.  It kind of made me sad.  Near the elephants was a temple dedicated to Ganesh.

IMG_1917

IMG_1921

This place was everything they advertised and more.  Not only was it my favorite zoo in Belgium, it might be my favorite zoo we have ever visited.  Even with an almost 2 hour drive, we are going back again soon.  Woo-hoo for season passes!

Silence

Today is April 1st.  In many places this is known as April Fools Day, but not in my house.  I have an absolute hatred of pranks as 99% of them are mean spirited at best and absolutely cruel at worst (if not criminal) and designed to have amusement with someone else’s pain.  Even the things that are considered harmless involve laughing at someone and then forcing them to clean up the mess of what you did.  Luckily for me, my husband was born on April 1st.  He spent years hearing the ever so witty joke, ‘Oh, so you ARE the April Fool,’ and agrees with me that this day sucks (except as his birthday.)

This year, in addition to celebrating his birthday, I am celebrating another day.  April 1st marks the first day of the first session of Camp NaNoWriMo.  (Don’t forget to sign up!)  November was exhausting for me, but it was also effective, which naturally means I can’t wait to start again.  I have my story picked out, my outline done, my opening line. In fact, as soon as I am done writing this, I’m onto my next novel!

I thought that I should take a moment this morning and explain why I might not be writing as much this month.  You know, since I am pushing hard to write elsewhere.  Then I realized, I haven’t been writing much anyway, so you might not even notice.

When I first started this blog, I wrote much more frequently.  I actually had a schedule for myself, telling myself when I was going to write about what, and I often pre-wrote and scheduled my posts.  What it really came down to was an excess of ideas.  There were so many things I wanted to say, I felt like I needed to say them all, right away.  Sometimes I would have a random thought and start writing with it, other times it was a weird observation.  None of the things I wrote about at the beginning seemed like they were a big deal until I started writing.

I think with my fingers.  It’s something I’ve noticed about myself.  Something might be just a thought for a long time, and then when I sit in front of my keyboard and start writing a lot more can come out of it.  Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad, but either way, I don’t know until my fingers do their little dance.  Many of these random thoughts I had felt like they were something that might just be funny, and then I would start typing and everything would change.

Go ahead.  Go back to a year or so ago and read some of my earlier posts.  Somehow, no matter what I started with, typing it out seemed to give me some bigger or deeper meaning into who I am.  It wasn’t what I set out to do, but there it is.  Good for me, right?  Sigh.

It’s not like I don’t like learning more about myself, or realizing why I do the things I do.  It’s nice to occasionally realize that I was not just insane, some of these thoughts made sense, in some world, somewhere.  But the constant making something small into something huge felt incredibly pretentious.  I mean really, who wants to spend all of their time listening to someone drone on narcissistically about how the way they eat breakfast in the morning actually points to the greater issue of how to feed the world?  (Don’t bother looking, that isn’t one of the early posts.)  I didn’t want to be that person even more than I didn’t want to read about that person.

So, I started writing less.  If I wrote less, and concentrated, fewer of my posts would end on a pretentious note.  I started trying not to ‘wrap up’ my posts, leaving out anything that could be misconstrued as a larger purpose or thought.  Basically, I was writing worse, and feeling like less of myself was really here.

This was where I started to hit my biggest fear.  Was I writing pretentious posts because I am in fact a pretentious person?  First of all, to be pretentious is to, in essence, pretend.  A person who is pretentious is one who pretends to have knowledge or status when they really do not.  You pretend that everything you have is greater and better than it really is.  At least this is the technical definition.  Generally speaking, a person is considered pretentious when those around them feel like less, rather then when a person acts like they are more.  So, yes, sometimes my posts were pretentious, not because I was faking finding insight into who I am, but because I was attributing this knowledge of myself to the tiny moments which were not really that significant.

I stopped writing as many posts that could accidentally lead me to something bigger because I didn’t want to be that person.  Then I realized, that maybe I am that person.  Maybe I am just someone who will find deeper meaning in little things.  I’m still not sure how I feel about that.

So, yeah.  Writing for this blog has changed the way I write.  I don’t want to be the person who is the person who I am, but the more I get to know the person who I am the more I see the person I don’t think I am.  Is this a midlife crisis, or a middle school flashback now?  Either way, it is very confusing.

Now is when I would normally try to give this post a neat wrap up, almost like what you would find in a  sitcom.  Everything has changed, yet nothing has changed at the same time.  I give insight into why things are how they are for me, and realize that maybe I am smarter than I often give myself credit for being.  Then, I read through and realize I kind of like what I realized, but worry about how the post sounds.  Do I sound like a real person, the person who wrote this post while drinking their morning coffee wondering if they can skip washing their hair that day, or do I sound like a person who wears real clothing on a regular basis and leaves the house daily?  If someone who only knew me from this blog met me, would they think I was the person who wrote it, or would they be instantly disappointed?

And see, I am doing it again.  Maybe it isn’t the deeper insights I should worry about, but the fact that I care so much about what people think.  Ugh.

So, yes.  I am going to Camp, and yes I will post occasionally throughout.  Maybe it will have deeper meaning into my life, and maybe I will write a poem describing the way my toe nail clipping fly, because honestly, both posts would be very me.  But today, I have other things to worry about.