Today, Sunday, was about winding down my Christmas Season holiday and winding up for work. Yes, tomorrow I return to an employer and do employee things.
I’ve had a good bit of leave. How do I know this? I have a tender spot on my thumb from pushing a button on a Wii U control. A side-effect from playing far too much Mario Kart 8 with my daughter! Yes, we’ve included a gaming console for those wintery Belgian inside days but with motion controls so that Speculoos can jump, punch and generally move and play like a five-year-old loves to!
I’ve made a few New Year’s resolutions which I’m hoping should be easy enough to achieve with a little attention to my actions and well-being.
I plan to be more restful and less inwardly angry and resentful. I suppose it’s inner peace I’m after. More Dudeist I suppose.
Blog more and write more. Let that filthy bugger – the arty side of me – out more. I may even allow it to wield some art supplies and see what happens!
This year’s Christmas was a completely new experience. For the first time since I’ve met my wife, we haven’t had family close enough to spend time with on Christmas day. We’ve always either hosted or been to family for Christmas lunch. This would break the day into opening presents, the hectic dash and then the exhausted wind down of the day with the realization that Christmas has been all about rushing, stressing and being crazy-busy all day.
This was the first year we didn’t have family to visit or hosting family for Christmas lunch. The family we had in Belgium moved back to South Africa, their son who still lives in Belgium had gone to them for Christmas and there was no visiting family in our little apartment.
This year we would be…
Christmas this year was a quiet, intimate affair and it’s been the best Christmas I’ve had in years! Christmas lunch was a quick but luxurious eating experience with my amazing wife and daughter. We had eisbein with mashed potato, sauerkraut and ratatouille vegetables accompanied with red wine and cherry cola for my daughter. She loved the eisbein, the sauerkraut…not so much.
We don’t have Thanksgiving or any holiday like it before Christmas in South Africa or Belgium. For me it’s always been rolled into one. I’ve always been thankful for the gifts under the Christmas tree but also more than that – the things I can’t take pictures of. For me, Christmas is a time to reflect and be grateful for the things and privileges I have.
So, first the things I’m grateful for that can’t be expressed in a single photo:
The privilege of living in Belgium.
The feeling of safety for my little family, knowing that when I come home from work that they’ll all be okay.
Safer traffic conditions than I was previously used to.
The ability and right to be able to change employer without the hindrance of law that discriminates against me because of the colour of my skin.
Public transport that works.
A government that looks after the interest of its people and not their own personal interests.
All in all, I’m grateful for our quality of life here in Belgium.
…and what was under the Christmas tree for me?
A chocolate orange with dark chocolate. Yes, Belgians love their dark chocolate.
This is big for me. A really amazing gift and I’ll tell you why. I’m pretty much deaf in my right ear because the mechanisms between the outside world and the nerve parts of my ear don’t work. This means that if the sound were to be able to get to the inner parts of my ear, I could hear with both ears. I’ve never been able to appreciate music in true stereo. My wife, with this gift, has made that possible! I tried it and it works! It’s like a little miracle in a box!
Thank you Mrs. Awesome!
I think Mrs Awesome’s hinting that I should awaken my artistic side again. It’s time I produced some drawn art again. I like that idea.
A mojito kit for summer time.
I love liver pate. Here is the assortment I got under the tree. Perfect for a breakfast slice of toast.
I love gaming. It relaxes me. I can’t wait to really get into these!
And that was everything under the Christmas tree!
I hope you all had a fantastic Christmas with all the good things you wanted and perhaps some good things you were simply granted because you were such a good boy or girl!
A walk in the woods seems to be becoming a tradition on the afternoon of Christmas Eve, no matter how cold. My daughter was kind enough to join me.
Some houses have that little extra Christmas spirit, with visible decorations for passers-by to enjoy.
It’s strange to have Wolvenberg, a little forest area, so close to home in the city as it were. It’s a quite extensive green area and well established.
Our winter has been exceptionally warm this year in Belgium, even getting a hash-tag of #lenteindecember meaning “spring in December”. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we’re lounging around in our swimwear. It is cold but not as cold as it usually is. We haven’t dropped to below zero temperatures…yet.
The woods are very bare this time of year with skeletal trees reaching for the skies, waiting for warmer times.
Walking through the woods at this time of year gives me pause to contemplate. To review what has been, what is and what will be. It’s my personal “A Christmas Carol” experience.
There’s even some green still to be seen among the trees and the ground was very wet from the rain of the previous night. It can make walking a little difficult as the mud can be rather slippery.
There’s nothing more wonderful than my daughter skipping through the woods. Even in winter the woods deserves a little skipping through. It brighten things up a bit.
We found pools of moss at the base of the trees in this spot. It’s fantastic how some things occur in some places and not in others. Only in this little region did the moss grow like this.
My daughter pleaded with me here to go to the play area across the road for a bit. Well, why not? Today there’s no urgent appointment to be going to. Today is for us and I’d like nothing better for her.
Off we go then across the bridge.
From the bridge we can see all the busy people of the world below. Rushing to their destinations on the road below.
We had a really pleasant time in the park. My daughter got to burn off some of that young, crazy energy and I got to relax and enjoy the fresh air. After an hour or so, the clouds started looking very heavy and moving really fast. Being winter, the sun began to set far sooner than we’d have liked. Too soon it was time to go home and prepare for Christmas Day.
Surprisingly, this little lifestyle change was quite easily achievable in Belgium. I dearly wanted to adopt the almost forgotten, largely lost, art of using a straight razor. Unfortunately a regular quality straight razor and the items required for normal maintenance were not to be found in South Africa. Another rare, neigh, impossible to find resource was a person to instruct and tutor me on the use and upkeep of the razor.
The essential items required are a good quality straight razor, a good strop for sharpening, a tensioned honing strop, ointments and pastes to maintain the strops, shaving cream to get a good lather on for shaving. I picked up all these things at a place called De Messenwinkel. The literal translation is The Knife Shop and it’s certainly worth a visit if you’re in Antwerp, Belgium. They even offer courses!
Something German or Swedish made for the straight razor is ideal. The quality of materials used in razors from China or the Middle East are not treated correctly and can lead to difficulty in sharpening the razor and horrible results when trying to shave.
A good strop with a cotton and leather side is ideal. Again, a good quality should be sought. The blade of a straight razor is a delicate and beautiful thing. If you treat it with a low quality strop, you’re going to get low quality results. You may even end up damaging your straight razor!
A honing strop can be useful for six-monthly blade honing can be useful but not absolutely obligatory.
Then there are two tiny tubes of ointment, one yellow for the treating of the leather of the strop so that it stays free of moisture and one red for the honing strop. When I say that I use a pinhead of the ointment every few months I’m being very generous. Absolutely tiny amounts of the ointment are used at a time and it is only applied every few months.
There are copious manly pampering and proper stuff out there from preparation treatments to post shaving treatments. I use the absolute basics of shaving cream and brush for generating a lather.
The initial price was steep but over the long term it’s incredibly affordable and in some instances, beyond value. I no longer use the commercially available multi-bladed rip-offs for a couple of reasons.
The multi-bladed disposable head razors are expensive in themselves and even though you purchase a cartridge with multiple heads supplied, once they’re blunt they’re worthless.
When the straight razor gets a little dull, you can sharpen it yourself in under 10 minutes and at a maximum cost of a few euro cents for each sharpening at most.
Nooks and Difficult Spots
You’d think that with such a broad blade it’d be difficult to get to those difficult nooks on a face.
For years I haven’t been able to really get a smooth shaved spot under my nose. The commercial blades have simply been too bulky to get into that nook. I even tried a commercial blade that had a single razor built onto the edge of the multiple razor. It was advertised that the single razor could get into those tight little areas. Unfortunately it couldn’t. With the straight razor? No problem! Those little “difficult spots” haven’t been a problem!
Well, it’s a straight razor. It doesn’t clog no matter how much hair you have on your face. The multi blade commercial razors would clog up almost every time. More than one day’s growth and the blades would clog up like custard in a coffee filter. I’m certain this is deliberate in order to force daily use, hence quicker dulling of the blades and forced re-purchase.
My Razor and the Art
I have a Dovo Astrale straight razor which I will hand down to a worthy young one eventually. These razors, if looked after, will last generations. They are delicate, sensitive creatures made for one purpose – the manly morning grooming act of shaving. The movies have portrayed them as cool weapons to be whipped out from a boot or used to slit throats. Yes, they’d do this very well a couple of times but it’s not their purpose. You’d destroy a very delicate creature by not using it as intended.
It’s also a contradiction. A straight razor’s worst enemy is water but it cannot give a beautiful, clean and comfortable shave without plenty of water. Always be sure to dry your straight razor very well after use. The tiniest residue of moisture will rust the blade. I don’t even keep my straight razor with my other toiletries! It lives in my bedroom away from the steam and humidity of the bathroom.
It goes without saying (I hope) that a straight razor is dangerous and should be kept well out of reach of children! The slightest sideways slide can cause serious lacerations. Painless mostly but potentially deep and serious!
After my little Movember face squirrel moment, the removal of the face squirrel was a single-pass affair with the straight razor. No clogging, no multiple passes and no crazy razor burn.
I think I’ll use the Spanish face squirrel next year.
If you think this is something for you, I’d say go for it! I think it’s one of the best personal grooming things I’ve done in terms of cost, comfort and coolness.
I’ve struggled with writing this piece. My problem has been trying to put a positive spin on this story. This of course wouldn’t be truthful story then, would it? The truth is I don’t need to add spin to it because it’s my experience. This wasn’t helped much by various blogs and posts advertising how wonderful my land of birth is once I arrived back in Belgium. It only went to perpetuating the feeling that I was somehow wicked and wrong to feel that resentment. It takes a massive amount of motivation to make someone change their circumstances as my little family has. I turned down two offers of an increase and an offer of my dream position in the company before they accepted the reality that I was leaving. We sold our dream house. It took us approximately two years to find our home and we sold it because we were motivated enough (in a completely negative sense) to disassemble our lives, sell everything we could, give the rest away and flee. So there we go. I was forced, through circumstance, to return briefly to my land of birth. The circumstance being the happy union of my little brother and the girl he loves. Horrors – I had to leave Belgium and I wasn’t particularly happy about it. I wasn’t looking forward to this brief excursion for two reasons.
My wife (due to some crazy Belgian red-tape) is not allowed to leave Belgian territory whilst applying for her residency.
I simply wasn’t looking forward to returning to a land I fled.
This blog should have been done on the 24th of August but honestly I didn’t know what to place on virtual paper. I was completely unsure of what it was I wanted to say about my first year in Belgium. Sure it’s an important milestone but I also felt kind of casual about it. Do I draw attention to the anniversary? Do I simply continue strolling down the road and casually ignore the elephant following me?
Belgen mensen zijn stipt – Belgian people are punctual.
Simply two minutes late for an appointment can land you all the way at the beginning of a sequence of appointments. It’s the equivalent of drawing the “back to the beginning” card in a board game. Starting at the beginning most likely involves making an appointment to make an appointment to begin the red tape process all over again.
Belgen mensen zijn niet chauvinistisch – when I first heard this phrase I thought it meant that Belgians aren’t chauvinists. I was confused, making the immediate association with male chauvinists. As obvious as this phrase sounds when converted straight into English, there’s a certain context here. It has nothing what-so-ever to do with women, bras, holding doors open for the ladies or employment ethics.
Correctly translated, the phrase means “Belgians are not patriotic”. Perhaps I still have a tainted foreigner’s view, but I find this phrase false or at least incomplete and misleading. I think the phrase should be elaborated on such: “Belgians are not patriotic like Americans.” Continue reading Belgen mensen zijn niet chauvinistisch.