All Articles (Page 102)

In this section, you'll find every article we've published on CheeseWeb in chronological order, starting with our most recent posts. If you're looking for articles on a specific travel destination, see our Slow Travel section.

I am sitting in bed listening to the rumble of trucks and the crunch of a cement mixer. It seems no matter where we go on this continent, we are doomed to be near construction. Our peaceful country house isn’t quite… I’ve been awake since 6, thanks to a rather persistent black cat, who is currently only coming out from under the bed when he is hungry.

At 6:30 the hammering started, as did the traffic. It’s surprising how fast people drive through here. I guess it shouldn’t be… they are Belgian after all. Andrew looks at me and says, ‘How can you blog with all this noise?’ Ah, but the noise is my muse… well, my inspiration, ok fine frankly I’m just bitching about it. But I did vow to write about the good AND the bad. So the noise is something we will have to get use to… or we could move our bed to the other side of the house… to the living room maybe, or the laundry room.

Aside from the noise it’s been good so far. We got quite a bit done yesterday. The clothes are unpacked and the patio set is assembled. Andrew also learned how to deal with the charcoal BBQ ‘I’m not sure that much lighter fluid is necessary’ but whatever gets the job done I guess. We are also serenaded by the ‘dueling roosters.’ There is a chicken coop behind us, where the donkey also lives, and there is one two yards to the left. One rooster will crow about every two hours and that will set off the other one. They aren’t that loud but it’s kind of funny. I’ve so far only heard the donkey once.

Last night we met our neighbors. L and her daughter C, who is seven. We saw C first, while we were sitting in our lounge chairs reading. After a long day of getting the house in order we wee taking a break. We noticed a little blond streak zipping by every now and then, peaking over the fence. Later, I noticed them on their balcony having supper so I waved and said hello. L came over to the fence later and introduced herself. She was very nice and offered to help with anything she could. She has lived here for 15 months but she said that most of that has been spent recovering from Cancer. She can’t be much more than her early 30s, if that. She said she is feeling well now and is able to enjoy the summer before she returns to work in September. She speaks English very well and said she will speak Vlaams to us once we start to learn a bit more. She also said the landlords were very nice and helpful and our neighbors on the left are very friendly also. We have yet to meet them.

Today, Andrew starts his first day of work at the new office. It will mean new people to get used to and new traffic to deal with. Either today or tomorrow, my landlady is supposed to show me around town. I’m still a bit nervous about this, because of the language issue, but I’m sure we’ll figure it out. Hopefully we can start our lessons soon, and maybe then we will start to feel a bit more at home.

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This is my first morning in the new house and, even though I can’t post right now, I want to record how I’m feeling about everything. I’m sitting on the floor in the living room. The only stick of furniture is a small side table we had purchased for the condo. My orchids and palm are in the window and my yoga mat is on the floor. I just had a nice little yoga routine, which my back desperately needed after two days of driving and lifting. Andrew is still asleep upstairs, we were both exhausted from the move and the heat is getting to him especially. Thank God it is supposed to be a bit cooler this week.

This room is actually perfect for yoga in the morning. When I’m on the floor facing the window all I can see are the trees blowing in the breeze. Because I can’t see the yards, I can almost imagine I’m in a field somewhere. There is a fair bit of traffic noise here but so far it hasn’t been a bother, we’ll see though what it’s like on the week days. The air is full of bird song. Drew and I sat on the patio last night in our deck chairs facing the forest and listened to the birds. It was a nice rest. We realized we have no idea what kind of birds are here and we will have to re-learn everything. Drew says it’s like being in elementary school again, having to learn the birds and the trees and the flowers… I know what he means. There are a lot of things that make me feel young and small and inexperienced here. We have to learn the basics all over again but with time, and lots of mistakes and trial and error, it will happen.

Back on the yoga mat, I contemplate the trees. There is something about them; something calming yet ominous at the same time. Drew and I talked about this last night also. He said he feels like they are the edge of something… like just beyond them there is an ending; the end of the earth, or the end of the forest, he’s not sure. It reminds him of a jungle and is slightly threatening.

For me, they are ominous in a slightly different way. The word ‘looming’ seems to fit. You could look at them one moment and then look away and when you look back again, they are slightly closer; creeping in. But they are also calming. The slight sway in the wind is hypnotic and soothing compared to the city that we just came from. There are no hard edges. It will be interesting to see how the forest changes with the seasons.

The move itself was as all moves: tiring, long, frustrating. It could have been much worse though. Between the rental truck Friday, and the car today, we managed to get everything here. We will have to go back to the condo next week to clean and do the exit inspection. We also need to return the rental car and get Andrew’s passport back. It seems that the little frustrations that keep us from feeling settled never end. There will still be to trips to the commune to register and God knows what else. Then there is finding a lease car and all that that entails. Doctors, dentists, hair dressers, vets… will all have to be tried out. Then there are the explorations that are a bit more fun: finding the new favorite restaurant, pub, shops, walking trails, mystery drives.

Making the house ours is also exciting. In a way, I’m sad that it’s a rental because you never feel you can do as much with a rental when it’s not really yours. On the other hand, I think there is much more flexibility here as the rental contracts are for 9 years. I’m quite sure that our landlords will be ok as long as we don’t do anything major without their consent. I actually like the colour they have chosen for the living room. It matches what I have in mind for furniture. I’m currently fixated with orange and red. I love the warmth and coziness they give. While I would love to buy and orange couch I’m trying to be practical. I know I could be sick of orange in 6 months so we’re going neutral and accenting with bright colours.

That is, when we have furniture at all. We’re trying to buy things without using credit. This is definitely a first for us. I know that budgets are a good thing in theory but they are so much work. Andrew has tried being in charge of finances and that was a disaster. Now it’s supposedly my turn and I’m failing miserably too. The whole no credit thing was Drew’s idea. We’ve talked about it before and ‘tried’ to do it, but it only ever lasted a few days. We are from an instant gratification generation. I know we are better off at planning for the future than others our age and when I think of the situations of some of our acquaintances, I don’t feel as bad about us. At least we have lots of insurance and RRSPs. But I agree that we need a change if we are ever going to get where we really want to be financially; to save for the trips that we really want to take; and the house we would like to build someday.

In a way, credit is safer here. We now have a Belgian credit card but you aren’t allowed to carry a balance on it. At the end of the month, the money is taken out of your bank account, whether it’s there or not. I think this will be a good lesson for us. The Canadian card will come out of the wallets and be used only for Drew’s work expenses and emergencies. (Unfortunately for me, Drew doesn’t think shoe sales qualify. Unfortunately for him, I don’t think the beer temple qualifies.)

So our big house is empty. Actually our first mission was under budget. We gave ourselves 1000 euro for the first installment. It will be half this from now on. We knew we needed a bed, but we deliberated over the second most important item: a sofa or a table. Drew came up with a brilliant compromise… a patio set. It has a table and chairs and can be used inside or our (with the weather the way it has been, I think it will be mostly out.) It took us a long time to decide on a bed. The Ikea beds here are very different from anything we were used to. We settled on one and hopefully we will like it. If not, it will be demoted to the spare room when we can afford another. We found a patio set with two chairs, a bench and a table. We also got two really comfy lounge chairs and a hammock. We also needed kitchen supplies and a small charcoal BBQ, and of course, a power screw driver for assembling everything. We did all of this and came in almost 200 euros under budget. Go Team!

So now, more unpacking awaits me; more lifting, moving, hauling, sorting, assembling but hopefully also some sitting and enjoying the bird song and maybe some strolling around our new home.

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This morning, shortly after 7 am, I awoke to what sounded like a jack hammer in the condo below us. You would think that this would be a bit disconcerting, but actually I’m quite used to it. You see, there are quite often noises that sound like someone will shortly be drilling right through one of my walls. I’m convinced that somewhere in this building, someone is constructing a cruise ship, or maybe an office complex. And it’s not just here; we heard the same noises at our condo on the Pratterlaan. I’m not sure what it is about the Dutch, and condos, and building things that require chainsaws and backhoes in their condos. Frankly I’d find it a bit odd to have a concrete mixer in my house, but that’s the Dutch for you … Now ask me if I’m going to miss condo living…

Speaking of dwelling places, we drove down to the future C-M abode yesterday afternoon for the house inspection. We signed a few papers, wrote down water and electrical readings and had a wander around. This will be the first place I have ever moved into that won’t require a thorough cleaning before I unpack. Our landlady spent all morning cleaning and getting the house ready for us. She had flowers on the deck and even brought juice, beer, coffee and Champagne for us. She seems very sweet and eager to help … in fact, she’s taking me out next Monday to show me where all of the shops are. Honestly it’s a bit intimidating. I really want her to like us and not think we’re going to trash her house, but I’m not sure I can live up to her expectations. I’m not exactly a domestic goddess and this woman seems to be a neat freak on terms with my Mom. (Not that that’s a bad thing Mom…it’s just not me.) Anyway, she was a bit concerned about the size of our dog and the fact that he will be in the house. She has no idea how many cats we have … Oh well, let the sucking up begin.

Despite my lack of domestic goddess-ness, I have a new best friend. I call him Sucky. He’s my new vacuum. He’s a blue Sebo K3 (with 3 hospital grade air filters). The vacuum at the condo conked out on Friday, so Saturday we took a trip out to the Maxis for a new one. We figured we will have it for a while, and dealing with all of the pet hair we wanted something up to the task. God bless the Germans and their efficient little hearts. Sucky is amazing. He is tiny and light and cat hair is no match for his suckiness. He can leap over tall buildings… no wait, he doesn’t leap, but he’s a really great vacuum AND he managed to get all of the cat hair off the couch … I’ve never had a vacuum that could do that!

Ok, so you don’t think I’ve become a total homebody, we did have a great day out Sunday. It was in the mid 30s all day, so we went to the beach. It was packed; it was hot; it was so sunny and I loved it. We’re both a little fried now (Andrew who insisted on not putting sunscreen on right away is more than a little fried) but it was worth it. We’ve had so much rain and grey weather that it was exactly what we needed to recharge our solar panels. We stayed on the beach all afternoon and had a few quick dips in the sea (it was still pretty cold) and then had supper on a patio and gelato for dessert. It was a very nice, restful day.

So now I go off to think about packing. I probably won’t be posting or e-mailing too much this week because I have a lot to get done. Hopefully this will be the last move for a while. Somehow in the next few days I have to break the 3 hour car ride to the cats … I wonder where you can buy body armor in Amsterdam…

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I had an interesting experience this morning. I decided it would be a good idea to add my old CheeseWeb blog entries to the new blog site. In so doing, it was the first time I had read through all of my old entries from start the finish. It was interesting to see which of my opinions changed and which did not. It’s kind of funny for me to read my initial impressions of this country and on things that seem normal now. I’m sure we will have similar experiences with life in Belgium. Since we are only a couple of weeks away from that new chapter of our adventure we decided to take advantage of one of our last weekends in the Netherlands.We wanted to visit the north of the country as we had not yet been there. I booked a hotel in Groningen and we set out early Saturday morning on our exposition. We took the highway to the dyke and once we arrived in Friesland we headed for the back roads.Our trick is to find the roads on our map that are white and have no apparent route numbers. This is how we found ourselves driving 10 kmph, beside a dyke, on a one lane track covered in sheep. While I was convinced an angry farmer was going to come after us at any second, we had fun checking out the sheep. We also seemed to be in the midst of Tractor Days as a parade of I would guess 50 or more tractors followed us on parts of our journey.

Our first destination was the Seal Rescue Facility. This little spot is dedicated to saving and rehabilitating seals. We got to see some babies in the nursery and some older seals basking their big bellies in the sun, (reminding us of a certain other four legged white creature). The only slightly disturbing thing was the poster condemning the Canadian seal hunt that depicted the Canadian flag as white snow and a red maple leaf made out of blood. I wonder if they know that a lot of Canadians are against the seal hunt too. Whatever the case we weren’t announcing our nationality there.

After that we found our hotel and had some supper, (probably a bit too much supper as our bellies were full for the rest of the evening.) The next morning after a rather sad breakfast buffet (why do all hotels do such a bad job of these?), we headed to the botanical gardens. Mother Nature was not accommodating and rained on us all day. We had a few clear breaks which allowed us the running tour of the garden. It was huge and beautiful. There were many different areas including; a re-creation Chinese Feng Shui garden with fountains, pagodas and a tea house; a Celtic garden; English gardens; a Dutch woodland and meadow; an herb garden; a rock garden and many small themed gardens.

There was also a large green house, which we could enjoy despite the rain, which was divided into several different climates, much like the gardens in A’dam. They also had a parrot rescue facility with many different varieties of parrots around the gardens. I would really like to go back on a sunny day and enjoy it further.

After our soggy experience we decided to see the sights from the warmth of the car. We left Groningen province and went south into Drenthe. We spent more times exploring the back roads and then finally headed home. One thing I often remark on to Andrew, and it never ceases to amaze me, is how the Dutch take such good care of everything – in particular their homes and gardens.Whether it is a huge farmhouse or a tiny cottage, 9 times out of 10 they are immaculate. The gardens are so elaborate and well tended, that going for a drive is like a driving garden show. I hope I can have the same success with my Belgian garden.

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Yesterday Drew and I discovered yet another wonderful way to become alcoholics in Amsterdam… (jenever, mango margaritas and now this… thank goodness we’re moving soon). In a tiny little hidden away bar, so small there are no chairs, there are shelves filled with a wonderful substance. The producer… Wynand Fockink the substance… brandewijn.

Like the name implies, it’s brandy (sort of) but it comes in a world of wonderful flavors. It is served in a liqueur glass. You drink it like jenever; standing at the bar, you bend over and slurp off the top. Then you pick it up and shoot or sip. We sampled several flavors and came home with two (after reading the take home menu, I think we need to go back). The first is Appeltaart (apple pie) and it tastes like apple pie with cinnamon. The second is citroen (lemon) and man is it strong. It tastes a lot like home made old fashioned lemonade and there is real lemon pulp in it. Be careful though, they pack a punch.

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It’s Monday again… It seems like there are way more Mondays than any other day. How does that work? Anyway, last week was a busy one. Tuesday, when I wrote the last blog, was the only day I was home all day. Wednesday we went back down to Brussels to sign the lease on the new place. We got a bank account set up as well. All I can say is thank God we decided to get an agent to help us or we would have been totally lost. As it was, it was pretty overwhelming and a bit scary but it’s done now and another worry is taken care of.

We went back to the house as well to take another look around. I’m looking forward to it. There’s lots of room and it’s very bright. The kitchen is small but has loads of storage and the living room/dining room is huge.

Our landlord and lady seem nice. They are older and live nearby. The landlady was a bit concerned about the dog but the landlord seems very easy going so hopefully with a bit of sucking up we’ll be in the good books. The whole process is definitely different than how it’s done in Canada but when it comes down to it the terms and responsibilities are more or less the same. I’m really looking forward to the little yard. There are neighbors with chickens and there is a donkey in the yard right behind ours. It seems very rural but yet we’re only 15 mins or so from Brussels.

Andrew took Thursday and Friday off to recover from his weeks in Belgium. The weekend was rather rainy but we still had some fun.

Thursday we went to Ikea to scope out the furniture we will need for the new place. It will be cheap and basic because we have to buy so much stuff when we first get there, but hopefully we can find some fun stuff over time.

Friday we walked to the Asian grocery and the market to find things to make sushi. We made the sushi in the afternoon and then got haircuts. Mine is now super short. My hairdresser wanted to know if I liked Celine Dion because he did but he didn’t like Shania Twain… Yay Canada.

That evening we met up with a friend of Andrew’s from work who was backpacking with his girlfriend and two Americans they had picked up along the way. We took them to Los Pilones and had supper and drinks. It was nice to have conversations in English without feeling guilty. It was also nice to be the ‘experts’ for a night and not feel like we are completely clueless about everything.

Saturday was rainy again so we drove to Den Haag and went to Escher in Het Paleis (Escher in the Palace), which is the M.C. Escher museum It was fantastic. They had just about all of his works and lots of photos and sketches that he had done. It was presented very well and we learned a lot about what influenced his art. It was very enjoyable. Afterwards we took a little stroll around the park nearby and then headed home.

Yesterday was mystery drive day. We took the back roads and headed to Geithoorn, which is supposed to be ‘the Venice of the Netherlands.’ About the only thing it had in common with Venice was a canal but it was very pretty. It is a National Trust village and all of the houses are quaint and have thatched roofs. Sadly most of them are for sale (oddly enough people don’t seem to enjoy the scads of tourists traipsing through their town.) It was interesting to visit but there are so many other beautiful villages in the Netherlands that aren’t crawling with tourists that I can’t see myself rushing back there. In that case I think the journey was better than the destination as we had a nice time driving through the country side.

It looks like rain for most of the week ahead so it should give me an opportunity to play with my stamps and make some cards.

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I’d like to start the blog today by thanking everyone. I’ve tried to do this in personal e-mails but I want you all to know how great it was after my last blog that you all came forward with support at a difficult time. I also didn’t mean to worry anyone with the negativity. I tried to end on a positive note and I’m afraid that may not have come through. But thank you all so much for caring. It really made me remember that you all are there for us, despite the distance, when things are looking down. Big hugs to all!

Thursday, I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and go out and do something. I settled on the Modern Art museum because it was nearby and I knew Andrew wouldn’t want to go anyway – Ever since the Pompidou Fiasco in Paris, he considers modern art to be ‘crap’ and doesn’t want to pay money to look at ‘garbage on the floor.’

The Stedilijk is in temporary digs right now as they expand the original building (there’s a lot of that going on here) and the collection is fairly small. It is presented in an interesting way though. They start in the late 1800s and have one piece from each year until 2005. I’ve posted the promotional film in the movie section. It is interesting to see the progression. Some of it I really liked some of it I didn’t ‘get.’ But it was interesting and, if nothing else, the walk did me good.

This past week was probably harder on Drew than me. The project that he, and others in the Halifax office, was working on was not coming together and he was under a lot of stress. He learned that he would have to spend yet another week in Brussels so he headed back down this morning. Living out of a hotel room for two weeks, with little sleep (and without my cooking) had taken its toll.

On Thursday he asked me to find us a weekend getaway spot that would be very relaxing, where we could just be together and not worry about all of the negative things in our lives. He told me that the cost didn’t matter because, despite our money worries, our sanity was more important.

I took my mission very seriously, especially since Drew’s birthday is coming up. I wanted to find something I knew he would love, to take his mind off work. Drew’s always had a bit of a fixation with castles and when I came across Duin & Kruidberg, I knew I found the winner. The castle dates from 1682, and was the hunting lodge of King William the III. I found an excellent last minute package on a discount travel website, which included a 4 course supper and breakfast buffet. It was perfect.

When Andrew got home on Friday night, we went out for supper with Robert and Marie-Anne and had a great meal. It was nice to finally have some time to spend with them both since our schedules had both been busy.

Saturday we got up and headed into A’dam to get my film processed. (The slides look fantastic and I will be busy scanning for most of the week. I’ll post them as soon as they’re ready.) The guy at the photo lab recommended a great lunch spot so we dined canal side in the sun. That helped me remember what I wanted to be here for in the first place. Once the slides were ready we headed out of town.

When we found the castle it was even grander than pictured on the web. The attention to detail was excellent. We strolled the grounds and generally relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company. Our super began with champagne and starters in front of the fireplace in the lounge. We decided to try the wine tasting menu with our meal as well, so with each course we were served a glass of wine to compliment that particular food. The dining room was stunning. There were fresh flowers everywhere and it was very formal. (Had to remember what forks to use first and try not to totally embarrass ourselves). The food was excellent and the presentation was beautiful. After supper we retired to the bar for a while and then to bed.

The next morning after breakfast and checking out, we went for a drive and discovered some WWII bunkers in the sand dunes. Drew had a good explore around them and then we headed towards home. We decided to spend a few hours at the botanical gardens, since Andrew had never been there. They have done a lot of work on them since I was there, last August, with Jenn. We had fun in the butterfly house and wandered around for a few hours.

By the time we got home we were too tired to go out for supper but there was nothing in the house to cook. We were sick of pizza and wondered what else we could have delivered. Sometimes, technology is an amazing thing. We found a website that listed all of the take-out places in A’dam that would deliver to us… and you could order on-line! No dealing with calling and finding someone who understands English. The website did it all for you. And there were all kinds of different restaurants available. We settled on Indian and a short time later we had a fabulous curry feast… I think we may be using that service again!

So this week we will spend in separate countries again. Hopefully it will be the last and it will go by quickly. Think positive thoughts for Andrew’s project and I’ll keep myself busy by scanning.

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I’ve been debating for the past few days what to write in this blog. There is a temptation to sugar coat things and only talk about the fun or exciting experiences we’ve been having. The downside to this is being frustrated when people think that this is all a big vacation. While I don’t want to sulk about our problems, I do want this blog to be an accurate representation of what our time here is actually like, as a reminder to myself, if nothing else.

That being said, the past week has been rather hard on me and I thank my friends who have e-mailed me uplifting thoughts (you know who you are) and put up with my moping. Andrew has been in Brussels since last Tuesday, with the exception of the weekend. It has been difficult spending that long period by myself. While I am not a super social person, I’m not big on being alone. It’s one thing to be alone in Halifax, when I can pick up the phone and go out with someone, than being utterly alone here. I try to go out for walks when I can but shopping and going to do things by myself really holds no interest for me. In addition the money situation is very bleak right now. Andrew’s work advanced us the money to pay for our uber-expensive apartment and is taking it out of his paychecks very aggressively. We are also going to be shelling out a lot of our own money in fees associated with renting the Belgian house and furnishing it. Then there is the cost of shipping the dog here… the list goes on.

To make matters worse, all of the things that we shipped (mostly stuff to keep me occupied) are stuck in Rotterdam and we very well may not be able to get them until we move to Belgium. It just seemed as if with every step we took in order to make this work, someone pushed us back or put up yet another road block.

By Thursday, I was feeling pretty down and then Andrew informed me he would have to spend this week in Brussels as well. Well, that just sent me into a deep, dark funk. Friday I had decided to take the train down to meet him and we were going to look for houses. It was Friday the 13th, naturally, and when I was a half hour outside of Brussels, we were informed that there was a train workers strike and the trains would not be running for 2 hours. I called Andrew and he came to get me. But the time he got there I lost it. Everything that had been building before and since our move came crashing down. I started to regret our decision and blame myself for pushing ahead with it.

Andrew dropped me off at the hotel and had to go back to work for a few hours. I had a long bubble bath and tried to cheer myself up. That evening we met our real estate agent and looked at a couple of houses. As you know, I was not looking forward to the Belgian move. Up to that point, I hadn’t seen anything in the Brussels area that really appealed to me, in terms of a place to live. The areas that our agent took us to started to change my mind. While several of the houses we looked at were too big for us there was one that had an odd charm and by the end of the night I was feeling a bit better about the situation.

Saturday morning we went to view more properties. The first was in a very nice area but the house reeked of smoke and the bathroom was dismal. Then the agent talked us into viewing a semi-detached house. I had insisted that we needed a detached house with the animals. I had pre-conceived ideas about semis based on what I had seen in North America. We went anyway and I totally changed my mind. It ended up being the house we were most interested in. It was the perfect size, very open and light, great yard, garage and big rooms. It was everything we wanted and the area was absolutely perfect.

It’s 30 mins from Drew’s work but it’s in a totally rural setting. There are hills and fields (it reminds me a bit of PEI) and lots of horses. It’s a small village but very close to Leuven which is a big university town, and also within 30 mins of Brussels. All in all, it made me feel a lot better about the move and a little more positive about life in general (as long as I don’t think of everything we’ll have to buy…)

So now we begin the next struggle. We have to put a rental offer on the house, get a bank account with 3 months rent available and do all the associated paperwork… without our visas. Should be interesting. At least we have enlisted the services of Linda, our agent, who also freelances as a relocation agent. Her prices are much more reasonable than an agency and it will be good for us to have someone who understands everything we need to do. So, cross your fingers for us that maybe this one thing will go smoothly. If these are all growing experiences, I’m going to be a very big girl…

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Our last four days here have been some of the most interesting, fun and emotional times that we have ever had in this country. I was ‘hailed,’ adopted and bitten… but I’m getting ahead of myself …

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