Tag Archives: Belgium

OWL KILLERS by Karen Maitland

Owl Killers

During the Middle Ages, a lay group of women dedicated to a life of prayer, hard work, and community service thrived in the Low Countries. Known as the Beguines, Karen Maitland imagines what it might have been like for a group of these women to have struck out on their own to settle in an unwelcoming English town. The atmosphere is tense as the women are seen as outsiders, not part of Mother Church and not part of the resident pagan tradition either. The women bring their ideas of Christian charity to the townsfolk who regard them with suspicion and sometimes open hostility. As the village suffers through a series of disasters, the power of the Church is threatened, dark forces from earlier times reawaken, and the beguines must decide to make a stand or return to the safety of their continental shores.

Karen Maitland novel is well-researched and executed. The story is told from the various viewpoints of the characters in the town of Ulewic. In this way, we learn each of the beguine’s has her own history and her own reasons for joining the group. We understand the struggles of the local priest as he fits into a system that leaves him little room for personal choice. A nobleman’s daughter helps us feel the restrictions of living as a young woman in Medieval society. An array of townsfolk completes the cast. The Owl Killers are a group of masked men who harken back to a day before law and order. They are definitely flesh and blood and do their share of evil, but Maitland has, at times, blurred the line. Although most of the story feels firmly planted in third dimensional reality, there are a few places where things take on an otherworldly creepiness. Man’s ability for cruelty can be disturbing and this book certainly has those moments. The ending may leave you wanting more or maybe something else entirely.

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NOT Mr. Herriot!!

(If you’re not an animal person, bail out here.)

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In the 70s PBS had that show All Creatures Great & Small and I loved it. English countryside, small village life, vets in tweed. I went on to read many of the books placing those beloved actors neatly into their roles all through the 90s. I had lots of connections to animals then too, the kids were small and I did a jaunt as a humane educator. We’re a little further down the timeline and the kids are grown. I still have a small menagerie. A dopey Golden retriever named Luke (named because he was intended to be a healer), and two intense calico sisters, Maggie and Millie.

Moving to Belgium I suffered under a lot of delusions about what life here was going to be like. We are now at the six-month point. Many of the rough patches have been smoothed over, expectations lowered to ground level. On Saturday, it was time to have the two cats looked at and get their shots taken care of.

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Belgium has a very different standard of veterinary care than what is typical in the US. Vets come to the house to provide basic care. There is the option of taking your pet to the vet at his/her practice at his/her home office during surgery hours (open once or twice a week). Think 1950s. Think All Creatures Great & Small.

Believing the hardest part of this visit would be locating and catching Maggie and Millie, my husband and I restrained the two patients in an inescapable, internationally-certified flight container a full half hour before our Belgian Mr. Herriot’s arrival. And waited. Maggie was very good in the cage, but her nervous sister was stressed. Two cat fights and twenty minutes late, the vet arrived. Pleasantries exchanged, we got down to business. I reached in for Millie and was soon dripping blood as the cat flew up my chest, down my back, and behind the sofa. Millie is four and a high-strung cat, but I’ve taken her to the vet at least twice a year and never had that happen. Both cats received a feline leukemia shot and (I found out later) a rabies shot. Neither got the physical exam they should have. Granted, conditions were not good, but the vet did nothing to slow the process down or get to know the cats. Some pet owners may be aware that in the US we are moving away from yearly rabies shots because vets have seen concerning instances of cancer at injection sites hence the three-year rabies shot which my cats have. Belgium is behind the times and still requires annual rabies. The vet did not ask me if I wanted this, the cats’ three-year inoculation was still active, he just did it. So, I’m not happy with the experience with the cats for multiple reasons.

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Millie

Now, with regard to the dog. Luke has an on-going medical mystery since we’ve arrived in Belgium. It started one day when I watched him get down from a chair. It looked very much like a collapse incident I had seen with a previous Golden Retriever we had. In that instance, the dog had a vessel cancer and bled from the heart. Luke hit the ground, couldn’t get his legs under him, and fell to the floor. Because of the history with the other dog, I went and made him stay down. After a few minutes, he got up and was fine.

I talked myself out of it being anything more than maybe his legs were asleep and he hit the floor funny. Until. That weekend, a pet sitter observed an incident where Luke couldn’t get off the floor coupled with shaking, and general panic. The pet sitter was so concerned she contacted us in Amsterdam and we came home. In the US, I would have had the option of going to a 24- hour emergency veterinary facility (multiple ones in the Colorado Springs). Here- not so much. There is a mobile veterinary service that can come to your house and do x-rays, trauma surgery, etc. but my situation was going to require multiple specialties so it didn’t seem like a good option. An internet search revealed, a veterinary teaching hospital in Ghent (yay! – the only one on the country, maybe). Complying with their requirements, he had a full workup to the extent of their abilities and they found…nothing. Which could be good or which could require additional heart monitoring or it could always be a rare form of epilepsy or neurological problem. We were sent home with no answers except that making a video the next time it happens would be great. Anyway, we crossed our fingers hoping it was nothing serious and we’d never see Ghent University again. A couple of months passed and another pet sitter reported another incident. Now, I’m wondering if what we might be seeing isn’t a rear leg problem. Luke had a knee surgery about 18 months ago which healed fine. He has no lameness issue, but there are these incidents of him getting up or getting down on hard surfaces. Is it something quirky connected to the surgery?

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I need an orthopedic surgeon to take a look. Back to our Belgian Mr. Herriot. I ask him to recommend a specialist. He doesn’t know any, but he knows a guy who can do an x-ray. WTF??? (Shouldn’t any vet be able to do an x-ray? Not so fast, this is Belgium. I must lower my standards.) I press on thinking an internet search might be a better option than this vet. Since coming to Belgium getting Luke on a good grade dog food he will eat has been a challenge and he’s gained some weight. Luke is pudgy. I ask the vet for options. He says decrease the dog food 20% from what the package says. We have already done this to which he responds, “ah, then there is no solution.” I am underwhelmed by his problem- solving skills. Given Luke is seven and from a breed known for hypothyroidism, I expected him to offer a blood test if dietary changes weren’t working. Silly, silly me.

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Vet visit concluded. 100 Euro cash given (almost all interactions in Belgium are cash, including restaurants, hair appointments, etc.), no receipt, and the vet leaves. No jaunty smile, no tweedy jackets, no good- humored advice. I miss you Mr. Herriot, in more ways than one.

A later internet search reveals that there really aren’t any veterinary specialists in the country. It is illegal for vets to use any distinguishing titles or designations that might presumably mislead the public. I take this to mean that the profession has not reached a level where governing bodies have been established to self-police themselves. In the US, we have the American Veterinary Medical Association but here there is nothing comparable that I can find. At the EU level, there is a board of surgeons and there are three vets in Belgium who are listed as doing orthopedic work.

Be grateful for the veterinary care you can easily access if you are in the US (or the UK- it looks similar). Don’t take it for granted. I did. I thought all of Europe would have comparable service. It does not. Hug your pet today knowing you can get an array of pet specialists to help keep your special family member healthy! Heck, hug your vet too!

 

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Well…life in Belgium

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I keep pushing this blog post off into the future hoping that with the passage of time some kind of perspective would give way to a new way of seeing things. I didn’t want to project a bunch of negativity, especially if what is happening is short-lived. It’s been two months now so obviously my feelings and impressions aren’t fleeting. Time for a check in blog and if you were hoping for a sunny, happy go lucky piece- abandon hope here. Once you read this, I won’t be anyone’s envy and you’ll all be glad you have not forsaken your Lazyboy recliner positioned comfortably before your hundreds of TV channels ALL IN ENGLISH!!!! Not that everything is TV. But how many of you can shrug off not having a phone or internet access for a month? My TV options are limited to BBC, CNN Europe, and a few channels that run old American movies. Nothing begins on the hour. We have no idea why. My husband jokes that it’s tied to the bus schedule (and it may be).

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I live in a French quarter on the east side of Brussels that is centered around a Catholic Church built in the 1930s. There’s a quaint town circle that holds a market every Wednesday morning. No joke- that is where I’m supposed to do my grocery shopping if I were living as a Belgian. I think this is a hold over from a bygone era because some of the young families sure seem eager to make use of the handful of VERY NEW supermarkets coming in. I do see a lot of old people at the village markets, but dual income families don’t have time to shop mid-day in the middle of the week. One of the major problems we have here is that stores are not open a lot. Many things close by six or seven on the weekdays and virtually nothing is open on Sunday. Remember the Blue laws (if you’re old enough to remember back to the 70s)? If you’re an American who hasn’t lived like this in forty years, it’s quite an adjustment. From what I understand, Germany and the Netherlands are not like this.

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The house we’re in dates from the 1950s. It has many odd features that have been eye opening. Every room has a door, every door has a key- each unique to the door. The basement has three interior keys and a locking mechanism designed by a former security official for the state of Belgium (absolute truth!). The windows have a tilting mechanism that allows “air from the garden.” Since they have no screens, we can’t even try them because the two cats would be out in an instant.There are heavy privacy shades that roll down over the exterior of the front and back windows. These are like those inner city store security systems you see in sketchy neighborhoods. Since I couldn’t bring my weight machine, these provide my upper arms with a daily work out routine. The staircases in the house are narrow, uncarpeted, and treacherous. Probably the most unique feature (?) to the whole house is the WC (water closet) on the main level. Upon entering the house, to the right (after climbing two stairs) is a small closet- like cubicle that houses a toilet. It is the only bathroom on the main living level and it means that all your visitors get to wash their hands in the kitchen sink. Now this would be okay if this house was a 1600s Dutch canal house before modern sanitation, but really?  The house was built in 1951!!!!

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Anyway, this blog has gone on and could go on rambling over eight weeks of hard earned experience. But I’d better give you all a break.

Here are some  of the things I’d give my eye teeth for (after weeks of searching here’s what we still can’t find):

breakfast sausage (for my husband, any kind)

chicken gravy (any form)

a plastic pitcher (to make iced tea)

ice cube trays

baby oil- gel

81″ length, sheer curtains

a shower curtain

raw hide chews (for the dog, no way am I giving him pig’s ears!!)

loose leaf paper

(all found at your local Walmart)

Future Blog Topics:

Laundry: The Persistent Nightmare

And You Thought You Knew Meat (why something labeled hamburger contains only chicken)

Who is Madam PeePee & Why Do I have to Pay Her?

How to Fry 2 Computers in 8 Weeks: (hey-the IT guy is here and speaks only French)

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dav

 

 

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Arrival 6 Days!

Brussels.

(photo: Paul IJendoorn)

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Exciting News: Moving to Brussels

Manneken Pis - Bruxelles - Belgique

photo by Myrabella

 

It’s time to announce a big change. Over the next few months, I will be relocating to Brussels, Belgium. Living abroad will bring many new challenges and hopefully, lots of new experiences. I speak no French or Dutch so that in itself will be tough, but we’ve been assured that many Belgians speak English and there are lots of expats already in the city. My most pressing issue is to figure out how to get a big dog and two cats into the country. So if anyone has sage advice on airlines, routes, or anything else- please share.

We are planning to travel just after Christmas and so much has to be done between now and then. Because of that, I probably won’t be as available on social media as I have been. Be patient, I’ll be back. 2017 will bring the publication of a new book called Tender Tulips, Dark Diamonds:A Ghost Story. Part of the story takes place in the Netherlands and this move will allow me the opportunity to explore some of the places mentioned in that book. Oddly enough, I’ll be writing a new novel set in Colorado at the turn of the last century while I’m in one of the low countries. So on to new adventures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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