Wear Sunscreen

An historian's view on life, love and leisure

How to achieve total freedom in 5 easy steps



Step one: switch off your phone, your tablet, your pc, your laptop, your TV and every other machine that seems to be controlling your life. Instant freedom.

Have you ever travelled to a place without Wi Fi or an internet connection? With no newspapers and no network coverage whatsoever?

After experiencing some minor withdrawal symptoms and panic attacks (the dreaded FOMO), you will quickly realize nobody really misses you, your friends can eat pizza without you, the 3.685 newsletters you receive each day will still be there to be deleted without a second glance when you get back, your colleagues were glad to be left alone for a change, and your cat did not die.

It is something we gladly accept when travelling, but as soon as we get back we have this idea that living without technology is a dream and that if we really want to get some rest, we either have to quit social media altogether or pay good money for fancy workshops to teach you to ‘disconnect’. But you don’t need to quit anything, and you don’t need to pay anyone. Just switch off your f*ng phone and taste the food in your mouth.

Seagull in Russia

The air that we breath is still free (for now).

Step two: breath. No seriously, breath I said.

Instead of driving like a maniac, switching queues in the supermarket because the student at your cash register is too damn slow, running like hell because you want to catch that train/metro/bus for fear of arriving 15 minutes late even if it means stinking of sweat, eating your lunch in 5 minutes because your boss wanted that report two days ago but you forgot because you were busy checking Facebook, or sewing like mad for 3 days straight because all the other moms at school are making Halloween costumes themselves and you don’t want your daughter to think you don’t love her, ….. just breath.

BREATH. And look around. And sing while you drive just a tiny bit slower. And take the next train please, because I can’t stand your smell.

Russia-stop and read.

Stop and read.

Step three: read. Read a really nice long book. And don’t read it just before falling asleep, because then you don’t remember shit when you wake up next morning. And don’t you dare read non-fiction.

Instead of shopping on a Saturday when every other crazy person goes shopping, eat out or order your shopping to be delivered home. Take your kids to a playground for a few hours and ignore the other parents. Better yet, if your children are old enough, tell them they can play just fine on their own for a while. Forget your housekeeping, your clothes will just get dirty again. It’s a Saturday for your client too, you really don’t need to call him/her and yes, you still have the job on Monday.

Make tea, make coffee, take a glass of overpriced bio juice, make sure the cookie jar is close at hand, and sit down.

And read.

The old oak at the village of Kaggevinne near Diest

The tree doesn’t mind you walking.

Step four: take a walk.

There’s this great thing called ‘a tree’. It’s brown and green and when standing in groups you call them ‘a forest’. If there’s a little bit more grass (it’s that soft green carpet under your feet that’s quite wet in the morning) and you can hear other people laughing and children playing, it’s called ‘a park’. If you can hear cars, music, screaming children and nervous people shouting over each other, it’s a shopping street on a Saturday and you should be reading.

It’s amazing what a walk can do. If you hate being alone that’s no problem, I’m sure your friends can use a walk too. If you think walking is not cool, try imagining people all standing around taking the same photograph (of themselves). If you really don’t know how to enjoy a walk, pay a mindfulness coach or your grandmother and they will teach you how to shut up and listen and look at the world around you. And yes, your phone is switched off for the walk. You can look for another tree to put on Instagram later on, your followers will not see the difference.

Balloon in Belgium

Walk. Drive. Bike. Swim. Fly. Travel.

Step five: If you have the budget, travel.

Taking a vacation in a hotel at the Spanish coast with 5.000 other people fighting over a place at the pool, is not travelling. Trying to look for a restaurant that serves the same food you eat at home, is not travelling.

Travelling is going somewhere that you cannot call home. Travelling is when you go abroad. Or not and decide to explore your own city/village/region in a way you’ve never done before. Travelling is when you go somewhere and expect to be surprised. Travelling is going somewhere and realising people are not all the same. It is learning to say hello and thank you in another language, because you don’t expect everyone to speak yours. Travelling is learning to leave yourself behind now and then.

If you don’t have the money to travel, repeat steps one to four as often as you can.

And enjoy your freedom.


5 images, 5 things I’ve done in the past few weeks


we've moved!

I hate moving, I really, really, really hate moving. This was actually my 5th or 6th move, so by now I can probably write a book about what to do – and especially about what not to do – when you prepare to move. Anyway, we survived. Barely, but we did. Our new house has a bigger office space and it’s closer to the offpring’s school. Everybody happy. More or less.

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The day after: 9 things to do in November

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Forest of Averbode (Belgium)

Forest of Averbode (Belgium). This photograph was actually taken in July, although with pine trees that doesn’t matter does it…

Halloween and All Saints Day are over, and as I sit here eating the offspring’s Halloween candy (note to self: stop bying candy as if you have 10 children), I can’t fail to notice what an incredibly dull and generally gloomy month November is. Though I shouldn’t complain, considering it’s about 15° C warmer than it usually is. We even went out for ice cream at the abbey of Averbode yesterday. Not really something you would consider doing when winter is nearing. Averbode is our ‘go to place’ when we have friends over and we’re looking for a relaxing way to entertain them. We took the kids out for a walk in the forest and a delicious ice cream, everybody happy. Although we did get some strange looks. All Saints Day is a serious thing in Belgium, and the fact that my daughter was dressed as a ‘devil princess’ (for want of a better description) for a small Halloween party we had yesterday was clearly not to everybody’s liking… Continue reading

Expats and Belgians: living happily ever after?

The ancient palace of the dukes of Burgundy in Brussels

17th century view on the ancient palace of the dukes of Burgundy in Brussels by Jan van der Heyden and Adriaen van de Velde. The palace on the Coudenberg was the quintessential meeting place for European diplomats and a true expat heaven for centuries before it was completely destroyed by fire in 1731. Its foundations can still be visited today in the Museum on the Coudenberg.

When The Bulletin (for those who don’t know The Bulletin, it’s the first, best known and largest of the media targeting the Belgian expat community) featured the results of the Expat Explorer Survey undertaken by HSBC, the reactions on social media were far more interesting than the results of the survey itself. Many of the issues discussed on social media weren’t even part of the survey and had nothing whatsoever to do with the article featured in The Bulletin. As the comments on social media demonstrated, people are often bewildered by the culture that surrounds them, even if that culture is not so very different than the one they left behind.

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This is what a lunar eclipse feels like

Lunar eclipse of 28 September 2015

The lunar eclipse and blood moon as seen in Belgium on 28 September 2015

By now your Facebook and/or Instagram feeds have probably been flooded with photographs of last night’s lunar eclipse and blood moon.

I just couldn’t resist adding my own impressions to the multitude of beautiful images already out there.

Lunar eclipse around 3.55 a.m. on 28 September 2015

Lunar eclipse as seen in Belgium around 3.55 a.m. on 28 September 2015

Last night over dinner we debated if we were going to get up at night to see it or not. The offspring was particularly adamant in stressing the importance of the event, given the fact that she would have to wait another 18 years to see it, if we wouldn’t grant her this. Considering waiting 5 minutes is already a challenge for most 7 year-olds, we decided that she was actually right. Then again this is also just the thing we do.

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