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Going Home Again

In December we were able to take our home leave. Most of that was spent in Eureka Springs, Arkansas where our house

See that tower in the distance? It's really, really, really far away.

See that tower in the distance? It’s really, really, really far away.

is located, with my mom and brothers. But before I tell you about that I wanna share a little bit of my true home state and region – Northeast Oklahoma.

 

I didn’t get the chance to walk around and photograph my childhood home (well the land anyway – the house is long gone) and time was too short to make it to Tahlequah (the place where my love for Oklahoma was rekindled and the connection to my tribe deepened). But the hills above Denver’s home town of Ochelata were a huge part of my life and shaped my connection to nature and the world around me.

Hey look, a castle! Oh wait, that's just the power plant all the way over in Oolagah.

Hey look, a castle! Oh wait, that’s just the power plant all the way over in Oolagah.

 

Denver’s home leave started about a week before ours. I would call him from Brussels as he was taking in the sights from Graveyard Hill above Ochelata at sunrise. For him, the clouds provided an amazing backdrop for the land that stretches for miles and miles into the distance. He couldn’t wait for me to get there so I could capture that sight on something other than a smart phone. But the OK weather had other plans, and as the high temperatures plummeted from the 60’s to the 40’s the day before I arrived in OK, the clouds also took their leave. Each morning the sky was completely cloudless!

Watching the sun rise was definitely worth getting up and around and out into the cold.

Watching the sun rise was definitely worth getting up and around and out into the cold.

 

So making the most of the situation, and taking the opportunity to practice photographing sunrises, we got up before the sun, bundled up, and made our way up to the graveyard.

I still have a lot of practicing to do, but it wasn’t a bad first try. And I am much better at early rising these days. Not long ago, I would have taken someone’s arm off if they tried to get me out of bed early.

Early morning frost in the valleys of Osage County.

Early morning frost in the valleys of Osage County.

 

 

After watching the sunrise – and while waiting for my eyesight to return – we hopped back into the truck and drove around the back roads of Osage County that I know so well. As a kid, we used to drive from our house outside of Skiatook to my grandmother’s in Avant, through Ochelata, and onto Bartlesville for trips to the orthodontist – or just to go shopping. I even learned how to drive on those roads!

The roads of my childhood

The roads of my childhood

 

 

 

Going back home again, I am reminded just how much the post August/Winter palette of the countryside is soooo limited. Coming from green, lush Belgium, it was a bit of a shock at first. But this time I was finally open to seeing the beauty that is there, especially when you venture out when the world is just waking up.Beauty of the Grasslands

 

The gold of the prairie grasslands, illuminated by the rising sun is just gorgeous. I vaguely remember that from my early childhood.

 

And the presence of the oil pumps, tanks, and power lines, remind me of the promise that the land held (and still holds to some extent) for those who called Osage County home. These pumps dot the countryside, making a noise that used to remind me of drums in the distance and became as familiar to me as my own heartbeat.

Oil Pump

 

Then we found a llama. Not a common sight of my youth. This guy was transfixed on something in the distance. He seemed mildly annoyed that I was there.

An Uncommon Sight

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Helpful Tip for the Traveler

Upon return from an extended trip, check your tires for proper inflation before driving.

Doel, Belgium – A Place That Time Has (Not Quite) Forgotten

So when last I left you, I promised a recap of this year’s trip to the Royal Gardens.

Um, yeah…

That didn’t happen.

A whole lot of other stuff did, some of which I might share with you if I get my blogging act together.

For now, here is a photo journey of my walk through (mostly) abandoned Doel, Belgium.

Doel 12

This 700 year old town along the Scheldt River has been scheduled for demolition many times in the 20th century, but protests from the residents and history buffs successfully saved it every time – until 1999.

Most of the residents were bought out by the Port of Antwerp, their houses and businesses scheduled for demolition, and abandoned.

25 Doel residents, however, said “Bite Me!” and have refused to budge. (I may be paraphrasing)

In 2007, a group called Doel 2020 started a campaign to turn the town into a haven for street artists and invited the countries best to decorate the city walls and streets with their work.

The results were impressive, but almost 10 years down the line and most of the original artwork is faded and/or destroyed by less capable artists and hoodlums.

It was strange to see the contrast between the abandoned buildings and those that were meticulously kept up.

I was definitely not brave enough to venture into any of the old spaces. At the end of the day I was glad I took a friend with me.

In a way, it was a lot like visiting a graveyard. Impressive, cool, but more than a little sad due to the loss of life and the impending destruction of 700 years of history.

I’m (not so secretly) rooting for the remaining residents of Doel to keep the bulldozers at bay. Go Doel! Beat Antwerp!

Tired of Being Tired: Reflections from a Native American Student

Source: Tired of Being Tired: Reflections from a Native American Student

Barcelona Advice

When you travel to Barcelona, only to discover that you forgot to pack one of the hundreds of plug adapters you possess at home, you do not have to pay the king’s ransom for a new one at FNAC or the other big department store in Place Catalunya.

After purchasing a seriously overpriced adapter at FNAC I was irritated to find out that there are these weird vending machines in the subway stations that sell, among other things, basic plug adapters for 6 euros.

How much is too much? How little is too little?

I wrote this blog post about a year ago after an offhand comment on a Facebook post. In light of the good news from SCOTUS, I feel compelled to post it again. My heart is bursting with joy that the law has upheld the right for my loved ones to love who they love and have it officially and legally recognized. We all have a long way to go in creating a loving, accepting environment for all, but these steps sure make it easier to move towards that goal. (and to those who say that chik-fil-a does not discriminate against gays and even hires them to work at their stores – well, maybe that is true in some eastern states, but not so much where I am from – the discrimination is real and palpable in some places).

observationsofanokie

Hello folks! I’ve been away from the blog for way too long this spring/summer, what with the visit of my mom, youngest brother, and my stepfather. But though they have been gone for a whole month now, my memory cards are bursting with pics to post and there are tales to be told of our travels, I haven’t been able to sit down and hammer them out for your enjoyment (or mine really. Who are we kidding here?). First, I just needed some down time to vegetate. But then a comment was made during a Facebook exchange that caused me to pause and reevaluate my stance on a particular issue. I wasn’t sure how I really felt about it, or if it changed my outlook/behavior. To be clear, the comment wasn’t malicious and I do not bear any grudge against the commenter.

So basically, I posted a news article about…

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Groot Bijgaarden

On Sunday I was bound and determined to go SOMEWHERE, ANYWHERE!, rather than stay in on a sunny Belgian day with this stupid sinus infection.  I threw out some options at my husband, ranging from Kinderdijk in the Netherlands, graffiti town in Antwerp, to more castle ruins in Walloon Belgium.  In the end, we weren’t too keen on driving two hours to anywhere and my husband suggested Floralia at the Groot-Bijgaarden castle grounds. I had suggested this last year when we decided instead to visit the Abbaye de Villers, a place which is now a favorite and the origin of some of my most popular shots. I was convinced I’d never get my husband to go to Floralia, due to the likelihood of crowds, but he surprised me this year.

Groot-Bijgaarden is an ancient château dating back to the 12th century (with some expansions and improvements made over the next several centuries). The chateau itself is available for hire for weddings, parties and corporate events, but not open to the general public. You can, however, climb the four levels of the “dungeon” (really a tower, but whatever) built in 1347 for some great views of the grounds and the surrounding countryside – with Brussels, the Atomium, and the basilica all the in the background. In the early 1900’s Raymond Pelgrims de Bigard undertook a massive restoration of the estate and in 2004 the family decided to open the grounds up to the public in April for an impressive flower show.

 

Floralia is held every April. This year the exhibit runs until May 3rd. The grounds are covered in tulip beds, azaleas, daffodils, hyacinths, and more. The variety and quantity were just amazing and the setting, with its tower, moat, and drawbridge, was something out of a fairy tale. In my opinion, it’s another “must-see” on your Brussels bucket list. And it’s another “Belgium is boring” myth buster! Click here for information on Floralia and Groot-Bijgaarden.

 

Did I mention this past weekend was Venetian Carnival Weekend at the Groot? The costumes were pretty awesome. Though given that Venetian carnival is held in February, I’m sure these poor actors were boiling in these get-ups this weekend!

My next spring destination?  The Royal Greenhouses of Castle Laeken are open!  I must not have been reading my embassy newsletters lately, because this totally snuck up on me.  Each year, the Belgian royal family opens their private greenhouses up to the public for a few weeks. This year they opened up on April 17th and will continue to May 8th. I went as part of the Embassy CLO trip last year and really enjoyed it. I vowed however, that I would go this year on my own, as soon as the doors opened at 9:30, so that I could take my time and hopefully not get jammed into the crowds of school children that were there with us at lunchtime last year! I will keep you posted on my adventures there next week.

Information on the greenhouses, including directions, opening times, and entrance fees can be found on the Brussels City page here.

I would also like to remind my comrades in arms out there, especially those in the Foreign Service, but also to those who have yet to find the time to search out the hidden gems in your home state (you Okies know who you are!), not to let yourself be pulled into the ruts that can overtake our lives. Make yourself break out of your routine, out of your comfort zone (without putting yourself in great danger of course!) and go explore your world. Whether you search out a great new lunch spot, a quaint little park, or a historical amazement, just get out and explore!

Get Thee to the Hallerbos!

Yes! The time has come! The bluebells have emerged in the Hallerbos a bit later this year than last, but they are up and the forest is beginning to glow in all its purple glory! If you live in Belgium, and have not yet had the chance to visit this wonder, you just, simply, must. Last Saturday I took my daughter and her boyfriend for a look. There were still a lot of the white wood anemones about and the bluebells were not yet at their peak. But it was still beautiful.

Predictions are that this week will see the bluebells in their prime. This website – http://www.hallerbos.be/en/bloom-bluebells/flowering-season-2015/ – has been invaluable to me as I check the growth process. I have been out twice already (see this post as my alter ego, Arklahoma Muse on the Hallerbos in White)different times to see the different stages, and I plan on returning at least two more times before the season is through. I am keeping my fingers crossed that the rain that is predicted for this weekend does not materialize (or blows through overnight)!

Go see it!!

Happy Easter!

Vintage Bunny Costume

Vintage Bunny Costume

I am thinking about buying an Easter Bunny suit.  What do you think?

 

Bastogne and Clervaux – A Small Step Back in Time

When my husband came home last fall from an advance scouting trip for an upcoming VIP visit and suggested we go back for an overnight visit to Bastogne, Belgium and Clervaux, Luxembourg I thought, “I can think of better places to spend a couple of days!” The only thing I knew about Bastogne was that there is a large WWII memorial that many Americans make a pilgrimage to. While war memorials are neat, they aren’t really my cup of tea. But I’m also not one to refuse a trip regardless of the destination! So we talked the teenager into spending some time with us and planned our little trip to the Ardennes.

The first day was chilly and foggy. We pulled into Bastogne and parked near the visitor’s center, located in a square surrounded by the cutest little restaurants ever. Megan and I locked onto a place with crepes and coffee and wouldn’t let Denver lead us away without first treating us to some “brunch.”  Truly I am a monster if I am hungry.  There is some truth in those Snickers commercials!

We ate our crepes, and then proceeded to explore a little bit of the city.  We really only scratched the surface of Bastogne, and as soon as it’s warm, I plan on going back, but we had other sights to see just outside of town.

Our first destination wasn’t the memorial it turns out. It was to the forest just past. No signs, no notice, just the same sustainable forest that had been logged and replanted for hundreds of years.  What was so special about this forest?

Sustainable Logging Forest outside of Bastogne - site of US encampment during the Battle of the Bulge

Sustainable Logging Forest outside of Bastogne – site of US encampment during the Battle of the Bulge

Fox Holes. From WWII. From the Battle of the Bulge. Left over from when our troops were pinned down in Bastogne by German forces. Just like in the HBO miniseries “Band of Brothers.” It was so cool!

Foxhole

Foxhole

I could have spent hours there exploring the different fox holes, photographing the remarkable forest all around and generally soaking in the atmosphere of this historical site in all its natural glory and slight spookiness in light of the events that took place there.

But alas, we had a teenager with us, and we were urged to move on…

The Mardasson Memorial itself is actually quite impressive.  Built in the shape of a star, it stands 39 feet high and each side spans 102 feet.  The 50 US states are carved on the outside walls, while the inside walls are painted with scenes from the battle.  The memorial was built as thanks to and in remembrance of those that liberated Belgium from their German oppressors.

In a separate building there is a newly opened Bastogne War Museum.  I’ve been told that it’s an excellent museum. But we are picky about which museums we spend our money and time in, and this just wasn’t on our radar for this trip.

On we travelled to Clervaux, Luxembourg, some few kilometers from Bastogne, where we would spend the night.  It’s a landscape that reminds me of northwest Arkansas – with its beautiful farmland on the plateaus that surround, plunging, mountainous valleys that follow the winding rivers throughout the region.  Clervaux is nestled into one of these gorgeous valleys and the quaint little village is set up for the traveler with many hotels, B&B’s, and restaurants dotting the shopping district that surrounds its very own castle dating back to the 12th century.

Clervaux Castle

Clervaux Castle

Our evening was spent walking around the town (which takes much longer with a photographer in tow) and deciding what to eat for dinner.  With Mr. Herren and little Herren, you can pretty much conclude that they will choose Asian food, and true to form, they found a Chinese restaurant just steps from our hotel.  Surprise! It was awesome.

While checking out the sites, I discovered that Clervaux castle, in addition to housing the local government offices and the tourist office, was home to 3 different museums.  One is a museum dedicated to the Battle of the Bulge.  Another is a collection of models of all the castles in Luxembourg. But the third – the third caught my attention.  Aside from a bit of driving around and taking more photos, visiting that 3rd museum was number one on my agenda for day two.

It turns out that Edward Steichen was born in Luxembourg.  During his tenure at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York, Steichen oversaw the creation of an exhibit called the “Family of Man,” a collection of photographs of the human condition from conception to death and encompassing everything in between.  The exhibit consists of 503 photos by 273 different photographers from 68 countries and is a truly remarkable, photographic journey around the world.  It was Steichen’s wish that this, “the most important work of his life,” be permanently housed in Luxembourg. So after being viewed by more than 9 million people in the 50’s and 60’s, the US government presented the collection as a gift to the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. After decades of restoration of the project in Paris, the exhibit opened in Clervaux in 1994.

I highly recommend a visit to this most impressive collection.  I have always been a fan of Edward Steichen, and this just made my visit!

WWII Tank outside Clerveaux Castle

WWII Tank outside Clervaux Castle

There are other things to see in the area, such as the monastery on one of the surrounding mountaintops, that we didn’t get the chance to visit on this trip (there is only so much you can force your teenager to do cheerfully with you), but hopefully I’ll make it back before we leave Europe for good.

 

FYI – Each year in December, Bastogne honors the memory of those who fought for them during the December Historical Walk.  Participants reenact the conditions in Bastogne and those who wish to join the “Bastogne Historical Walk” can choose between walks of various distances.  I had planned on attending this past year, but was battling a chest cold.  It was a good year too, as it actually snowed, really mimicking some of the awful conditions that they soldiers faced during the occupation of Bastogne.  A colleague and fellow photographer really captured some great shots, many of them in black and white, and sometimes I had to remind myself that these weren’t taken in the 40’s!  Maybe I’ll make it this year. Keep your fingers crossed!

 

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