Tuesday, April 30, 2013

What a difference a day makes

It is completely normal that you do your best. Not only in school, but in later life, at work, as well. Belgians are not that good at giving each other a compliment, when things are considered "normal". You only get valued when you do something extraordinary, something unexpected. That's when you get a pat on the shoulder. Over here, there are no signs in front of your company, stating your name next to EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH. There is no special name tag for when you have served the company 5 years. There are no bonuses for a project you ended with flying colors. It's up to your superiors to praise your efforts. Some superiors are better at this than others. The most important thing is, that you value yourself. It is important that you know that you do well at whatever you do. It is nice though, to hear others tell you every now and then...

I'm not your boss nor your superior. But nevertheless I can tell you, you are doing great. I hear how your colleagues talk about you in your favor. When you got that special email, to thank you for the energy you have put into that assignment, it made you proud and it made you feel appreciated. I think there is not one day you don't do the best you can. You are good at solving problems and you are even better at solving projects others are having trouble with. I believe you are truly gifted... I'm proud of you.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A lump threatened to lodge in my throat

We have spent a wonderful and relaxing vacation in Florida. We all needed some time off and some sun to warm our bodies that had become sore and stiff from a winter that has taken too long. Despite that wonderful vacation, I'm exhausted. Like in: totally empty, no more energy. My petrol tank needs to refuel big time. The thing is: I can't seem to find the time to rest. I go to bed at a decent hour but I don't sleep well. Diabetic lows and hypers are too present every day. This morning, I felt this lump in my throat and I knew I wouldn't need much more to cry. I need to sleep!!! Aaarrgghhhh.. I drag myself through the day, do whatever needs to be done, but still I get the feeling that I haven't done enough. There are always more chores to be done and things to take care of. I can't but wonder how other women manage to work fulltime and do all the other things women are supposed to do. It makes me feel like a failure. I lack time to do what I like to do. It would be nice to have some free time, just to relax and not think about anything or anyone. Maybe I'm just fed up with D. I don't mind having D, but I do hate the constant swings in my blood sugar. My CGM has been a great help in warning me from upcoming lows and highs but it also shows me how vulnerable us diabetics are.. I never knew I had so many lows at night. Because most of the times, I would sleep through them. I know now, because my Dexcom wakes me before my body tells me. It is a scary thought, knowing that for more than 10 years, I have slept through so many lows. I'm normally not the "what if" person, but now, it has slipped my mind a number of times. Thanks to my Dexcom, I go to bed without worrying about lows, because I know it will warn me. The thing is: I don't want any lows while I'm sleeping. Because they wear you out. You are never rested and never at ease.

It is pity time now. Holding the dogs, I'm sobbing on the couch, trying to get some sleep. I can hear the washer working overtime and the church bells are telling me it's 11:30 AM. I'm not supposed to take a nap. I have things to do. I have been asked to write 3 recipes for children and the question came with a deadline. I need to prepare dinner for the girls. I got a phone call from someone who is looking for a personal assistant. It's only 13 hours a week.. only.. where would I find 13 extra hours to work outdoors?
Maybe I will skip lunch, because I now prefer a nap over food. There's been too much eating going on anyway. And they weren't meals I enjoyed. I have stuffed my body with real coke and a humongous amount of candy, to beat those lows. I just hate those empty calories! My weight needs to come down, not up.. Just let me be. Let me sob. Let me hang out on the couch for a while. It's just one of those days, I guess...

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Why don't you come back?

Photo by Lana Joos
You love to join us when we feed the chickens. Since their run is in the back of the yard, you and your friend Rebba race all the way down there. There's a fence and a door that keeps you from going all the way back by yourselves - since you have shown you are not afraid to jump over the fence. It had been a while though and you are no longer a full-of-mischief-puppy. I opened the door and the three of us walked towards the poultry run. Then all of a sudden, the barking started. You had spotted a red cat and you were furious! You do not allow cats in your territory (well, since you don't seem to realize Arthur is a cat too, I can say you don't tolerate any cats) and that's exactly what you wanted to tell that intruder. The cat was familiar with the surroundings and left our garden to race over the grass field of our neighbor. Although you had strained a muscle in your hind leg last week, it didn't bother you to pursuit the malicious cat. You were too fast for my eyes and the last thing I saw of you, was your rear bottom as you left the neighbor's garden. Rebba panicked and she was in despair. She barked to call you back but you were not to be seen. I grabbed both of your leashes and took Rebba outside, to go find you. I knew you were not going to come back as long as you thought there was a chance of getting hold of that cat.

Just around the corner, we spotted you on the cemetery. I called you, but you ran off again, barking your lungs out. We started to run for we didn't want to loose track of you. I found you exactly where you had left our domain: just beside the rusty barbed wire that is the border of both our back yards. I put on your leash and reprimanded you for not coming when I call you. You kept your eyes hidden behind your lashes and you didn't look up once. I could see your heart pound in your chest. Rebba was relieved and she licked you. When we got home, I checked to see if you were injured. Holy guacamole Inthe! just look at you! Your groin is all bruised! You were looking for pity, putting your tail between your legs and hiding in your bench.. I'll let you lick your wounds for now. You're no longer allowed to join me when I feed the chickens. Your fault. And mine.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Got 20 dollars in my pocket

It's the end of the month. I've never liked that last week before paychecks hit our account. It means I have to be more careful of what I buy and what I feed the crowd. It means checking the freezer and the pantry before coming up with a week menu. I can be financially creative if I have to, but it's not something I like to do voluntarily. My freezer, fridges and pantry are always loaded with goodies and produce are always there just in case I feel like making fresh pasta or some casserole packed with vegetables. It shouldn't be a problem to make lunch and dinner for at least two weeks with what is sitting in my supplies. The thing is: I don't always feel like making something with what's available. Does that sound like I'm spoiled? Absolutely! I'm just spoiled rotten and sometimes it feels decadent to be able to eat whatever I feel like.

So what do you put on the table if you have 20 dollars left in your pocket? What would you serve your family of 4? Could you make a first course, a main course and dessert with no more than 20 dollars? Would that be a real challenge? I'm sure I could do it. Cooking is a passion. Looking for new recipes is more than a passion. Trying out new techniques and having a great time in the kitchen is what I like to do best. Okay, I'll give it a go. How about you?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Tjolela moja waha jeso

I don't know why, but every now and then this song pops into my head and I can't get rid of it right away. It's a lovely song. It's African. It brings back wonderful memories of the 3 weeks I have spent in South-Africa. Young black girls dressed in purple outfits, welcomed us with enthusiasm I have only seen in black people. Bare feet, they were stumping on the dirt floor, in a steady rhythm, clapping their hands and showing their bright, white teeth. Their eyes shone as they watched us come out of the car. They looked at one another, nodding their heads in a way that they needed no words to comprehend each other. They touched our pale skins and laughed, their teeth hidden behind their elegant fingers. They smelled us and we could tell our scent was so different from theirs, even after a long drive in a hot car. They took our hands and wanted us to dance along. Our hips were stiff and our movements not any better. It was interesting to see their dark fingers clasped in our white ones. They were honestly very happy to see us. They didn't expect anything from us. Despite their poverty, they seemed happy.

We had brought a big bag of wrapped candy. There were so many young kids present. I wanted to hold every child. They were so beautiful, so playful, so full of life. The older girls continued to sing, while the youngest gathered around us. They were holding hands and their shiny dark eyes were focused on us. There was not enough candy in the bag to provide all of the children. I picked out one piece and handed it to one of the youngest boys, who was a bit shy. He peeked at me through his thick lashes. He smiled. He gave the piece of candy to one of the older girls. She smiled at him and unwrapped the fruittella. She nibbled a tiny piece of one of the corners, before she handed the piece of candy to the next in line. Their eyes were still focused on us. The piece of candy was handed from child to child and every single one of them took no more than a mouse bite. How could I have been so  oblivious.. these children were not Western. They were African. They knew about sharing. The mouse bite of candy tasted a whole lot better than a bag full. They taught me a valuable lesson. It's all about the little things in life.

Tjolela moja waha jeso
Tjolela moja waha jeso

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Zealous people

They are all at work. Most of my friends and family, I mean. Some have to work harder than others. Who is to say which job asks more of a person? It's how you live it and how it makes you feel at the end of the day.

I was sitting outside after lunch, enjoying a small bowl of home made strawberry ice cream. The deck is vibrant with pots of flowers, that are seen from the corner of my eye. A little finch is sitting on the side of the BBQ, singing a hesitant song. I like to watch the birdy while I'm typing this blog. The sun is making my screen shiny and it's hard to see what I'm writing. The dogs are in their bed, next to me, sleeping - as usual. Arthur is sunbathing on one of the sunbeds we pulled out of the shed yesterday. I'm thinking about my husband, who left for work this morning around 5:00 AM. I'm sure he would like to sit outside too.. I could hand him a cool glass of Chardonnay and make him some bruschetta. He would sit in one of the chairs, his eyes closed and the crow's feet around his eyes would show. He would lean back, his legs stretched. Maybe he would take of his shirt to feel the sunbeams on his chest. I would look at him and be happy he were home.

Is it decadent, to sit outside in the sun, while others are zealous and working? I don't know. Maybe.. Do I feel guilty? Yes, somehow I do. Don't know why. Maybe because it's socially not accepted to be relaxing while there are chores to be done. I have made my preparations for dinner this morning. I have hoovered the house and fed the animals, made strawberry ice cream for dessert and I've put away the dishes. The bed has been given fresh linen and I have bought the groceries we needed for the upcoming days. There are two baskets of clothes that are crying to be ironed. They won't go away. I could do them tonight, you know. After sunset.. if I feel like it. Otherwise, I'll do it tomorrow, or even next week. There's no boss telling me what needs to be done. I have a to do list, but it's my own private list. Nobody present to supervise my list or comment my zeal. I don't envy my working friends. I'm not jealous of their paycheck, their colleagues, their way of life. After all, it's a choice everyone should be able to make. It was my choice to work no more than 12 hours a week. I don't mind being a housewife. I'm not the best maid, but are all working people the best possible staff? I'm not jealous of zealous people. They shouldn't be jealous of me either..

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fear of terrorism?

Last night, while she was packing her bags to go to Paris for 3 days, Eva expressed her fear of terrorism. Since the bombing at the Marathon of Boston, schoolteachers have been discussing the subject with their students. Their field trip to Paris has been given a dark side because of that horrible attack. Kids shouldn't be worrying about bombings on field trips. They shouldn't fear explosions while visiting the Eiffel tower. Their program is filled with exciting sightseeing and visits to famous monuments and buildings. They are kids, full of life and adrenaline, because of the upcoming trip. I hope they will have a safe trip and the time to soak up new impressions. Let the fear not take over, please. They know they have to stay together as much as possible and they shouldn't take the subway on their own. Not that being in a group will keep them safe without any doubt, but they shouldn't be out there by themselves either. These youngsters are 16 and full of adventure. Paris is shaken up a bit right now and people have been protesting against gay marriage yesterday. I hope the turmoil will have gone by the time the buses have arrived at their final destination. Those kids deserve a wonderful outing and we want to hear nothing but great stories when they come back home on Friday. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

For a spoonful of sugar..

She was only three when I came to look after her. Her prior (male) nanny Morgan showed me around on my first day in Portland, Oregon. He was really nice and he and Natalie bonded well. Morgan was there on a temporary basis though. Natalie's parents had applied for a European au pair. They wanted their little girl to have the best education possible and they thought some discipline could do no harm.

Natalie Ann Scott was cute. She was a doll. She was very smart too. I remember how she could read and write short words and she was only 3! Her private school provided with a French teacher by the name of Denise and having no more than 6 other kiddos to play with in your class, is a unique situation for a kindergarten. I would take Natalie to school in the morning and pick her up for lunch. I liked to prepare special kid's lunches for her. I would make little faces out of bread, that I would dress up with pieces of fruit and greens. Grated cheese was great for creating a perfect hairdo and some nuts would keep the brain working. After lunch, Natalie would take a nap and I would pick up toys and clean up the kitchen. As soon as Natalie would open her eyes, she would ask me to play one of her favorite DVD's, that we would play downstairs in the basement, where I had a whole floor to myself. Well, that is, for Natalie and I. I didn't mind sharing the space with her. We loved to sit on the sofa together and watch Mary Poppins. Natalie is the girl who taught me how to say: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious and cinnamon. Can you believe I had a hard time saying "cin-na-mon"? To me, it was more of a tong twister than the Mary Poppins-line. Natalie would curl up laughing when once again, I would wrongly say: cim-ma-non.. It became our little joke..

I loved watching Mary Poppins. I never thought I would ever see the movie again, once I left Portland. Only a few years later, I had two daughters of my own. Our little one had a favorite movie... Exactly.. Mary Poppins was back! We watched the DVD, on the couch, together. Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.. I cannot count the number of times we sang that song, without ever getting bored. Mary Poppins is of all times..

I wonder what has become of Natalie. She should be about 24 now. What kind of education would she have had? Is she seeing someone seriously? How about her parents? I remember how happy they were with their little girl.. Did Natalie ever get siblings? Maybe I should try to locate her on Facebook. Don't know if she would remember me. I have scrapbooks full of pictures and stories on her. It would be nice to show her some day..

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A skull on the cooker...

In my first year in college, there was a classmate, whose father was a grave digger. I was fascinated by his work and by skeletons. Not too many years before, I had collected some skulls and skeletons of tiger cubs and baby capuchin monkeys. Working in the amusement park and taking care of the wildlife, I sometimes ended up with some dead animals. I was always curious about their skeleton and my boss agreed I could bury the corpses in my backyard. And I did..

One morning, the friend-with-the-grave digger-father, knocked on my student's room's door. She was holding a black garbage bag and said: I think you will be pleased with what I'm bringing you.. She left me with the bag and took off to school. I opened the bag and found what I had already expected: a human skull. I'm sure it was so not legal what I was holding in my hands, but I was thrilled. The skull was old. I didn't know whether it was male or female, but I named her Rosy. I took Rosy home in the bag. Nobody was home to welcome me. Rosy was dirty with sand and bugs. I decided to cook the skull on the stove, in a huge pot. The smell wasn't too bad, but the skull didn't get much whiter. It was still yellow and dirty.. I added some bleach to the water and brought it back to a boil. Not much later, my mom came home and she was truly appalled about what was cooking on her stove.. Darn..

Rosy came out clean. She was still a bit yellow and brown, but I liked her. She got a special place in my room. I don't recall having taken any pictures of Rosy, but I do remember I put a candle inside and when I would light that candle, the eye sockets would lit up.. At one time, Rosy held a rose in between what was left of her teeth..

I'm not sure what happened to Rosy once I left for the US. Maybe she got buried again?

I met my husband in 1994. He lived in a small village near college. The friend who had delivered the skull, lived in that same village. So did her father. And that's where he was a grave digger.. Let's hope we didn't dig up one of the family members..

A shorter life?

Reading some comments on a Facebook group for diabetics, I let my mind drift off and think about the question asked: do diabetics lead a shorter life? Are we doomed to die earlier than our non-diabetics fellows? What a stupid question to ask... How could we know? Since we are no longer non-diabetics and we are still very much alive, there is no way to compare. What if I get hit by a bus this afternoon? What if I had been at the Boston marathon in the midst of that horrible explosion? Maybe some other disease would have killed me before I got diabetes? There are so many different scenarios and thinking about it, I don't even want to think about it. Because it's not in our hands. Nobody can determine our life expectancy. I love to live and I live by the day. I have never been that person who makes a zillion plans for the future. What if you never live long enough to go through with those plans? I don't plan on waiting for my pension to start my life. Life is here. Life is today. There's no use dwelling over the past and looking back about life without D. I don't even remember, although it's only been 10 years. I like my life as it is, with or without the diabetes. I know it's a serious disease and I know it's there, lurking behind the corner. What more can I do than take good care of myself? Would I have taken better or less care of myself if I had not been diagnosed? I don't know and to be frankly: I don't bother finding out. Because it's non existing. I have D and I have to live with it. Period.

It's true: some diabetics die at an early age. Some of them are still in their teens when they die and that is very sad indeed. In the small town I live in, I know about at least 5 young women in their 30's who have died.. They didn't have diabetes.. Maybe we are more susceptible than others to die at an earlier age, but maybe we are not. I choose to go for the last scenario. I will let you know at the age of 85, when I am enjoying my Latte Macchiato, all of my limbs and my eyesight still perfect, despite the diabetes. I am not in denial. I'm not a dreamer and I don't close my eyes for reality. But I refuse to get depressed over this condition we didn't ask for. I choose not to live in fear and I prefer to live my life to the fullest, before I'm too old to move around... 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

We don't have reasons to believe..

... we can't get pregnant..

Before you start to frown your eye brows or pick up the phone to give us an interrogative call: we are not planning on getting pregnant.. Today, coming home from Florida, I checked one of the blogs I am following. A couple I know, is trying to get pregnant. I read the follow up on the story and it struck me harder than I could have imagined..

We just came home from Florida, as I mentioned above, with only one of our daughters. The oldest one went to Italy with school and she had a great time too. I can't remember we ever went on a holiday with only one of our girls. It was completely different from bringing both daughters along. Then what would our vacation have been like, if we had not brought any daughters along? It won't be many more years before this occasion will occur. Nevertheless, knowing your children are at home while you are abroad, is still different from being away on a vacation without kids. Meaning: WITHOUT kids. Not: kids@home or kids@the.grandparents. No kids at all. As in: never having had children. I honestly can't imagine what that would feel like. I met my soon-to-be-husband and within 2 weeks he had moved in with me and I had become pregnant. So let's say we were never childless, if you count the baby in the womb too.

What would our life have looked like without children? What would we have done differently? Would we have traveled more? Would we have bought a different house? Would there be less greasy stains on the wallpaper? Where would we have been when parents were in school discussing school reports with the class teacher? Maybe we would have been out in a restaurant, sipping our glass of wine and talking about grown up subjects. Now many conversations involve the kids and their friends.  Maybe we would have had guests over. Maybe we both would have worked full time and've had lots of extra money to spend. Maybe..

There is no maybe. We were very fortunate our children came to us, just like that. It didn't take us months in a row to get pregnant. We have no idea how painful it is when that period hits you month after month after month, like someone slapping you in the face over and over again. How would we have reacted to people saying: do you want me to show how to make kids?

I'm well aware it's very painful and stressful, frustrating and disappointing if the two of you are so looking forward to having children of your own and it's not happening. You see different doctors, try different methods (some methods are completely new to me and I'm baffled with how things need to be followed up) and still: no growing belly. How would one respond to the news, that theoretically there shouldn't be any problems, but in practice it doesn't work out?

Are children the best thing since sliced bread? Do they make your life richer, warmer, better? Is luck complete once you have children of your own? That's a question I cannot answer. We are very lucky with our girls and we are so proud of them. We cherish and honor them and we would not want to miss them. We will never know what our life would have been like without them, because there is no comparison. If you really want to have that little baby in your arms: go for it! Make the best of it and believe in what you're doing. Keep loving each other in the mean time and keep living your life as a couple. I can only hope with you and keep my fingers crossed - cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye - that it won't be much longer before your household will be blessed with a rosy baby and nursery rhymes. I honestly wish that, one day, you will sit in that rocking chair, holding your precious little baby and sing to it with that voice of a nightingale..

Friday, April 12, 2013

There's no escape

Dinner at Bahama Breeze
Our vacation is coming to an end.. We are sad to know that tomorrow we have to head home. It's been such a wonderful stay and we had a great time together. But all good stories have to come to an end somehow. Our last dinner together at the Bahama Breeze Restaurant was a delight. Grandpa even said he had the best Baby Back Ribs ever. It could also be because he really liked the waitress though..

It was a bit emotional too, reflecting over the past days in Kissimmee, Florida. It will be a vacation we will remember for a very long time. It was a unique occasion for the inlaws and Auntie Erika, as well as it was for us. Who would have thought we would actually have gone through with this idea? None of us..

The sun was so hot today. We enjoyed some extra time at the pool. Tired from going out the previous days, we fell asleep in our beach chairs. And no, we did not put on any sunscreen... I know, I know, it's unforgivable and we've been there before. It will heal and the after sun will sooth our sore skin. We will have a nice tan by the time we come home, I may hope so..  It will be a painful night as it's hard to bear any fabric on our skin right now.. No pain, no gain?

While Eva and grandpa stayed at home, the rest of us went for a walk in Celebration. It's a town you just have to visit while staying in Kissimmee. Brandnew, spotless and calm.. You can compare it to Knokke, but newer and more lovely. One of our favorite shops has to be the Woof Gang Bakery,

where special treats are being baked to be gobbled up by dogs and cats only. Just imagine.. we didn't bring any for our whippets, since they are on a diet in Holland and we don't want to ruin their waistline.. It was tempting though..

It's been great. It's been an adventure. It's been our pleasure to bring our 3 guests along. Thanks to all who made this trip possible. Thank you hubby, for giving us the opportunity to come here and spend a delightful holiday..

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Sheer joy

Aunt Erika has been a devoted catholic nun all her life. She's a doll. She's just so sweet and helpful and fun to be around. We are so happy she came along and she's having the time of her life. She had done some research beforehand, so she knew what we could visit. But most of all: she enjoys the sun..  it is so relaxing to her to just lie down on a beach towel and enjoy the sunbeams on her body. Simple things can make one real happy..

We had already visited Clearwater on a previous day, but we wanted to show our guests the beach on the Atlantic ocean as well. So we headed towards Cocoa Beach. The sun was out - 29°C is awesome -  and the sand on the beach warmed our bodies. What a pleasure to have parking lots, restrooms and showers just beside the beach area. Aunt Erika is not a good swimmer, but she dared herself and took a walk in the ocean, all the way up to her waist. She loved the feel of the salty water but she held my hand real tight.
Photo Eva Joos - The Lookout Clearwater 
I was touched by her happiness for the small things in life.. The way she enjoys a simple sandwich or the joy of choosing her own flavor of ice cream, makes us realize how spoiled we are and how abundant we live. It's good to have her around..
Eva - Cocoa Beach, Florida

Lunch with an astronaut

Photo Eva Joos
You just have to be in the US to get the opportunity to have lunch with a real astronaut. I mean, how unreal is that? But it happens and it's not even that expensive. For $ 30 you can have a talk with Bob Springer or one of the other American astronauts, over lunch at the Kennedy Space Center. But we were humble, so we had a pick nick with cured ham and hot dogs in the grass and that was great fun as well.

Hubby was real excited about the visit to the Kennedy Space Center. The territory is immense although only 10% of the premises is being used by NASA. The rest is held as a refuge for wildlife. And yes, we saw turtles and alligators and even manatees! But that was not why we came. We wanted to see those rockets! The Saturn V was just immense with the height of a 36 story building. You feel really small next to a rocket that big. BIG is the word grandpa loves to use here, when he compares everything to what we have at home.

It is amazing to see how organized everything is at the Center. We had a bus tour to go around the place and the guide was more than willing to show us all the goodies. It's not like watching some documentary on TV. It's the real thing! Toys for boys!

Like real Americans, we put our hands through a slot, so we could touch a true piece of the moon. Hard as a rock and shiny black, grandpa made the comment that it would be real hard to grow potatoes on the moon..

It was worth the visit. We have spent more than 3 hours in the Center and we were not the only Belgians present. To be exact, Belgium was the first flag next to all the other countries (okay, the countries were sorted chronologically, but nevertheless... )!
Photo Eva Joos

Every school in Florida should do this field trip. I'm sure many of the kids would be inspired by the facts and the sizes of the rockets. Maybe there's an astronaut in every one of us. Have you ever dreamed about going to the moon?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

My momma told me so

Don't forget your beach towels! Bring the sunscreen! Have you packed enough cold drinks and where are your sun glasses?

All of a sudden, it feels like having small children in the household again. Although our girls are grown up now and they can pack their own things, going on a holiday with the inlaws
Photo Eva Joos - street artist Pier 60, Clearwater, Florida
sometimes means you have to explain things over and over again. What should I wear? Do I need to bring a sweater in case I get cold? Can I put on sandals or do I need trainers to go for a walk? .. I'm no longer used to putting that much energy in my family and it wears me out. So I could do with a rest on the beach and Clearwater was the best area to do so.
   On the way to the beach, the clouds were getting darker and we expected rain and thunder. But wasn't that the same thing last time we were here? We knew we had to persevere and keep driving and in the end, the sun would come out and we would have a great day at the beach.

We had visited St Petersburg on our way over to Clearwater. The car was packed with drinks and cookies, swimsuits and towels. We were glad Eva brought her camera, because we wanted great pictures of the Clearwater sunset. I wanted to surprise Hubby and Gramps with a visit to Hooters, but we ended up one floor higher on The Lookout, where we had a small dinner, overlooking the beach and the crowd. Pier 60 houses a dozen of street artists and they give people the opportunity to sell their hand craft goodies on the pier. There's a good atmosphere and people enjoy themselves. There is always interaction between the crowd and the artists.

The Gulf of Mexico was too cold for a swim, but we enjoyed the beach nevertheless. We rented an umbrella and seats, where we could enjoy our magazines and Oreo cookies. Too bad there were so many bugs on the beach. They freaked us out! They come with the sea breeze, so we were told and they wouldn't last long. They were harmless, but hey, we don't like bugs okay?
Photo Eva Joos - Sunset Clearwater, Florida

The sunset was amazing... It was worth the wait (7 PM is not that late) and the whole family was quiet and patient.

We had a long 2 hour ride home ahead of us.. I don't like to drive in the dark, since my eyes get too tired focusing on the road, but there was no other option. It was good to see the Irlo Bronson Memorioal Highway, knowing we were only a few blocks away from Caribe Cove. Hubby had to keep me awake in the car, tapping my arm every now and then and checking my Dexcom receiver, to make sure I wouldn't go low in the car. It was another memorable day out...

Running out of time

There are so many things left we want to do, but we are running out of time. We had St Petersburg and Saint Augustine on our schedule, but we had to make choices. Since we wanted to go to Clearwater, we chose St Petersburg as a new city for us to discover and that was definitely a good choice. It's good to have our TomTom in the car, as he brings us wherever we want to go. Downtown St Petersburg was our destination and we were thrilled to see the center of this
beautiful city. I almost had a Sex and the City feeling, strolling around town.
It's a pleasure how Americans tend to help tourists when they see you are new in town. They show you the way to the places to see and they advice you on where to have lunch. So we sat outside Lucky Dill Café to enjoy our sandwiches. I almost ordered a $ 22 sandwich for gramps, just to see if he could eat it in 30 min and have his name put up on the Wall of Fame. But I ordered him a Lucky Italian Hoagie, loaded with ham, salami, pepperoni, provolone cheese, greens and Greek peppers. As he is always in for a good bite, he had no problem indulging that humongous piece of bread.. We stuck to a sandwich a bit smaller in size and had some fries and onion rings on the side. Great lunch, great place! We did need a walk down to the harbor - only a few blocks away - to burn those calories.. There were too many vagabonds (drug addicts?) and beggars in the parks, so we decided not to talk to them and hold on to our wallets. We could have taken the trolley to discover this city, but as usual, we had too many things planned on the same day and we were running out of time.. again..

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The sound of silence

Photos Eva Joos
We cannot only shop - okay, who am I fooling here? - so we decided we were going to stroll through nature. In no more than 20 minutes, we arrived at the Lake Louisa State Park, a beautiful park we have visited 2 years ago as well. We knew Gramps was going to love the scenery and the walk we had prepared. The sun was out but it wasn't too hot. We had brought bug spray and walking shoes, cookies and cold drinks and our cameras of course.
Our guests were truly gobsmacked by the beauty and the serenity of this park. I mean, you just have to be here, to experience the vastness of this park. There's not one single spot not worth visiting here. We didn't get to see much wildlife this year, but that single squirrel and the fascinating alligator under the bridge, made the visit more than worthwhile.

The lake is so big, it's almost like an ocean. Some brave Canadians hired a canoe to explore the lake, inhabited by numerous gators. Not all of them are showing, but we were patient and we moved around the park until we found one that wasn't too shy to show itself. We were thrilled by its appearance. We enjoyed the silence and the purity of this park. No litter whatsoever and no loud people to spoil the serenity.

Later that day, we decided to trade the stillness for the entertainment and laughter at Old Town. A totally different environment, but great fun as well. We almost got grandma to join the Line Dancing group, but she hesitated. If only someone would have joined her, she would have danced her steps on Save a horse, ride a cowboy!

Grandpa tried several cowboy hats, but didn't find any hat to fulfill his needs. They looked pretty good on him though.. Too bad we couldn't take any pictures. The Truck Parade was not as impressive as the Oldtimer Parade we witnessed before, but still worth the visit.

Since we had had an early dinner at the apartment, we could enjoy some cocktails and Mexican sopapillas at the local TexMex restaurant. It was late when we got home and we were really tired. Will that keep us from going out tomorrow to .. what did you think? That we would actually give up on shopping? nah!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Crocodile Dundee

The day started out as usual, with breakfast at the apartment. While the others where still sound asleep - Grandpa not included, as he gets up at 4:00 AM - I cooked breakfast to feed the crowd. I love having a kitchen here, so I can be in control of what's being served. Of course I needed to get some more groceries to be able to prepare lunch today.

Photos Eva Joos
Our family spent the morning at the pool, enjoying the Florida sun and the refreshing water. Not long after lunch, we left for Boggy Creek, to hunt for gators. We have paid Boggy Creek a visit 2 years ago and we wanted to share this experience with the inlaws too. It's no more than a 1 hour and a half ride before you get to ride an airboat. We made sure to bring some warm jackets, as it can get pretty cold on the water. We were so happy to have our private photographer with us. Eva made wonderful shots of our outdoor adventure. We saw a small 3 yo alligator and lots of beautiful herons and grey egrets, white ibises and even a woodstork. We were amazed to see cattle in the water, looking for tender grass at the other side.

At the end of the ride, our company got to hold a young alligator, 8 pounds of weight. Grandma and auntie Erika were a little hesistant at first, but they faced their fears and "hugged" the gator. I'm so proud of them!

Having a great time at Boggy Creek
There wasn't too much sun today, although the weather forecast promised us more. I can't believe we had to drive more than 1 hour to find a place where we could sit down and have an ice cream. I guess we're getting spoiled here.. We visited Applebee's for the first time and we all enjoyed our way too sweet desserts.. What a great idea to share desserts in the US. We should have something like that at home too.

Before going to dinner at Cracker Barrel's, we enjoyed some more time at the pool and in the jacuzzi. Life can be so sweet...

Saturday, April 6, 2013

It is quite unlikely..

.. that we won't do any more shopping. What do you want? Have you noticed there are like a zillion malls in Florida? Since we cannot do more than 2 shops in a day (trust me, the women in our group are just so thrilled, they want to pick up every piece of clothing they can lay their hands on), we will run out of time. Hubby and I went back to the Mall at Millenia by ourselves this morning and the others went for a swim. Grandma and aunt Erika had a ball in the jacuzzi and it was great to see them enjoy the sauna. What an adventure this is to them.
Photo Eva Joos

We planned on going to the Premium Outlet Stores this afternoon, but traffic was so hectic we decided to change the plans. The Loop is a great shopping area as well. The girls loved Kohl's! I'm so happy with my new outfits! Like real Americans, we decided to go for Ben & Jerry ice cream, before we headed back home, loaded with new clothes and big smiles on our faces, for that $ 200 discount.. Don't you just love the US?
Photo Eva Joos

On the way back, we stopped at Flipper's Pizzeria, just around the corner of the apartment. We needed supper for the family, since mom & dad had planned a night out at Texas de Brasil. We needed some private time and something else than fastfood. It was a pleasant night and by the time we got home, everybody was sound asleep.. How come we were not amazed that Grandma and auntie Erika had cleaned the whole apartment? After all, it was Friday.. You cannot go to bed on a Friday night without having cleaned the house, right?

Friday, April 5, 2013

A gift from heaven

Aunti Erika is a catholic nun. Since she's used to going to church on a regular basis, we tried to find a catholic church over here she could attend. The manager at Caribe Cove has been very helpful and told us about the Basilica of the National Shrine of Mary, Queen of the Universe in Orlando. Aunt Erika and Grandma were completely excited about this trip. After a quick visit to the gift shop - we needed some post cards and Grandpa needed some extra T-shirts - we hopped in the car and left for Orlando. We're all glad Grandpa decided to leave the 5XL shirt for other tourists..

There was quite some traffic down the road. I heard the Basilica was real popular, but could all the traffic really be headed that way??? With a 30 min delay, we arrived at the Shrine of Mary. The other cars kept going - the parking lot of the Premium Outlet Mall of Orlando was just next door..

We were all impressed by the size of this church. Just in time for the 12 o'clock mass, we decided to join in and take a seat. We were surprised by the devotion of the people present. They all sang along and chanted their "Praise the Lord".

Although our guests didn't understand the exact words the priest preached, they did get the contents of the sermon. We lit a candle for whoever needed some help from above, before the priest gave us his blessing. He showed us the way to the museum and the gift shop. It made me think of Las Vegas: the numerous thingamajigs, the chaplets and rosaries, the bottles filled with holy water and the statues of Jezus Christ.. It was impressive to say the least. Plenty of souvenirs to choose from.. Auntie Erika and Grandma truly enjoyed this visit. They got themselves some post cards from the church and were pretty quiet in the car.

The clouds were filled with rain and we didn't want to ruin our hair - I don't think Americans are used to seeing ladies with raincaps - so we skipped the Premium Outlet Store for now..

Instead we got back on the highway and headed towards the Mall at Millenia. The ooh's and the aah's in jawdropping faces, the feet that went faster by every step we took, could tell we were really ready for some mall-time. We split up the group (well, Eva decided she wanted to see other stores than we were going to explore) and made an agreement to meet up again at the front door around 5 PM. But not until we had lunch at Dad's favorite Johnny Rockets. He really wanted his parents to indulge the perfect burger and crunchy fries and trust me: they enjoyed it allright!

The ladies enjoyed Bloomingdale's and Macy's, the men followed us around. We enjoyed Abercrombie & Fitch, The Gap store, Hollister, .. aarrgghhh... I think we need to come back another day, to see the rest of the mall..

Although it's only 9 PM, Grandpa already fell asleep on top of the bed spread around 8 PM. I guess he was tired of the active shopping day. We enjoyed our sandwiches at home and had a relaxing evening. Time to reflect over the day and make preparations for the upcoming days.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Where to next?

We had another fun day in Kissimmee, Orlando. Our guests are getting used to the Florida sun, the food, the free time. After a breakfast of cream cheese and red fruit French toast, the whole family headed towards the pool, determined to get a nice tan. After all, they want the home front to see how they enjoyed the good weather, right?

Since I had some time by myself while the others were at the pool, I took the Black Beast and headed to Super Target. I want this supermarket at home.. What a joy!! I can't stop filling my shopping cart with groceries. There are so many things I want to cook here and it's a pleasure to feed our crowd. There are plenty of restaurants out here in the neighborhood, but we also like a healthy meal when we get the chance. So yes, plenty of veggies and fruit, whole wheat bread and low fat cold cuts.

The plan for today, was to have a walk in Downtown Disney. The weather looked promising so we didn't hesitate. No more than a 25 min drive to spend a good time with the family. It was good to see how they all enjoyed the excursion. The Harley Davidson shop, the boatride, Rainforest Café, the Disney shops.. it's good to be back here..

No more restaurant visit for dinner either. Don't we love home cooked meals? Having seen so many overweight people, we decided we will skip on the French fries, donuts, cotton candy and buttered popcorn. We bought some new outfits and we do want those to fit, right?

We even enjoyed the thunder and lightening and the streaming rain, seen from the deck outside the apartment. Life is sweet.. It's good to be here with our family, although we wish our oldest daughter could have joined us.. We know she's having a good time in Italy with her friends, but I'm sure she would have enjoyed Florida too..

Grandma and Auntie Erika like to watch the Belgian news. They are pretty modern, checking the news on the iPad. While Grandpa is taking a nap - after all, he likes to be awake in the middle of the night - we are cleaning up and preparing breakfast for tomorrow. There could be some rain showers in the upcoming days, so maybe we should do some shopping.. How about the Mall at Millenia? I'm sure Eva won't object and neither will Grandma and Auntie Erika. Just trying to figure out how we could please the men in our company..

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Taking time to refuel

The day started early but slowly. Around 6:40 I heard noises in the TV room. I took a peek and saw that the front door was open.. guess who was outside, roaming around the premises? Exactly.. Grandpa had been up and going for a couple of hours. We picked him up at the front desk, sipping his cup of coffee, to take him grocery shopping, while the others where still dreaming their sunny dreams.
It's just fabulous that Walmart is open 24/7. We drove up to the store in Clermont, to get some necessities for breakfast and lunch. Fresh fruit, loaves of bread, drinks and cold cuts and some more pantry staples. The trunk was filled to the roof so we headed back towards Caribe Cove. Time to cook breakfast and wake up the lazy bones.

Eva was ready to go to the pool and get a tan. After all, you have to enjoy the Florida sun and get bronzed while you're here. We showed our family around and had a pleasant talk with the manager. It was good to see her again.

Cleaning up after a quick home made lunch of Cuban bread with sirloin steak, we were thinking about what we were going to do in the afternoon. Winter Garden Village seemed like a good option! I'm not sure if the men were as thrilled about spending hours in the mall as we were, but they surely didn't complain. We fed them Red Mango frozen yogurt and a drink at Uno Chicago Grill while we got to spend money in our favorite shops. Happy faces on both sides of the sexes!

Okay, some of us got sunburn.. we still have to get used to the idea of putting on sunscreen. We'll do better tomorrow.

Good thing the car is big enough to hold lots of shopping bags. We had dinner at Mimi's Café in Winter Garden Village, before we crashed at the apartment. Looking forward to another day in the sun.