27 December 2017

Christmas craze

Neil Young is singing Harvest Moon while I sip my sixth coffee of the day. I am sitting in my favourite book cafe and smile. I'm tired. Happy to steal an hour away from everyone and everything. Hiding between books, wondering if the act of taking a bath in coffee would energize me. I've been feeling like an old lady lately. Not the cosy sweet kind, but the grumpy kind who complains about how short the days are getting.

A family member laughs: "this is what it feels like to work, Joke. Better get used to it." Ugh. That's exactly why they are family and not friends. I've been working as a saleswoman in a crazy busy shop, emptying customers wallets with the biggest smile. "Never again will I work for a billion dollar company," I said last year, when Lush fired all seasonal workers before any contract was finished. Surprise! Here is a bath bomb, enjoy and merry Christmas! 

After working mostly legally the past year, and with six out of twelve months, double as much as usual, I think I'm becoming part of the rat race. As soon as I arrived in Belgium, I was writing motivational letters and handing out resumes. Opening my arms to anyone who wanted to hire me. The sooner, the better! Let's get to work! What else was I going to do? I am starting my own little business, yes. And I have a couple of books in my head which need to get printed on paper. But how do I explain that? That I don't want to work full time selling my soul for minimum wage? Instead, I would fill my days with 24 hours of writing and creating teas! 

I've always had a love-hate relationship with work. I love it, because it brings some kind of structure in my chaotic life and mind. Meeting new people, learning skills, supporting someone's dream, all great! Until every day starts to feel the same and you realise: routine is here! Killer of all dreams. As a dreamer, this is when it gets dangerous. A full time contract is offered, and I'm looking for a place to live. I'm staying in Belgium! I'm actually getting excited! 

Until I calculate rent prices, bills and salary and how crazy much I would have to work just to live. So I booked a ticket to Spain instead. 

Hasta la vista, baby!

7 December 2017

My baby Lélé

Because it feels like the entire world is having babies, I decided to have my own. Not a human, but a business baby. Something to take care of, but it doesn't require a partner to make it. And instead of waking me up in the middle of the night, it makes my room smell nice because I have bags of herbs and flowers piled up in my bedroom. Which is now a tea studio with a bed. Yes, indeed! Lélé's Garden is open for business!

This is what I have been doing during my short time in Belgium, apart from drinking wine with friends and selling Rituals massage candles to old ladies: creating teas like a maniac! After my herbalism studies three years ago, I started to experiment with herbs and essential oils. Then I went travelling for two years, gathering inspiration, dreaming of a herbal shop of my own. 'Lélé's Garden' in big letters, flowers everywhere. Me, happily creating potions, brews and all the goods. Playing records, drinking tea. Some call it a crazy grandma hobby, others just smile politely when I say I'm a herbalist, mixing herbs to get your mojo working like never before.

They think I'm joking, but I'm for real. I spent the past weeks creating 10 herbal blends I will sell at two markets in Leuven this weekend: Camping Flamingo on Saturday, and the Christmas Market on the Martelarenplein on Sunday. Come on over and I will tell you all about my magical brews! You may think I'm a witch or a granny in the body of a young woman and you're probably right! But try my tea and you will notice: they work their magic. 

Interested in the herbs but can't make it to Leuven this weekend? No worries, you can also order online, through Lélé's Garden facebook page, my facebook page, this website or good old email: jokederoeck@gmail.com. My phone and doorbell work mighty fine too. 

What's on the menu?

1) Christmas Morning: the ultimate fruit + spice blend to get you in the mood for Christmas.
2) Wild Flowers: for the wild ones! Put a flower in your hair, wander the streets of San Francisco and celebrate the Summer of Love for ever! Or just drink a cup of Wild Flowers.
3) Rock n Roll Skin: a detox blend to purify the skin. Or how to rock that flawless skin like never before.
4) Kung Fu Flu: beats the flu out of you. A winter must have! Especially if you live in Belgium or any other winter wonderland.
5) The Feminist: takes the grumpy out of that grumpy week. Balances hormones and reduces pms so you can focus on ruling the planet. Because who runs the world? Right.
6) Good Morning Energy: to wake up like every day is the best day of your life! Great alternative for your much needed cup of coffee. 
7) sweet Dreams: makes you feel relaxed, destressed, sleeeeeepy.
8) After Dinner: digestea to help digestion, perfect after a big Christmas dinner or any meal that requires sweatpants.
9) Passion Potion: spice up your love life! Awaken your inner tiger/tigress and get that mojo working!
10) Happy Smoke: an uplifting, relaxing smoke blend. Totally legal and goooood for you!

Only € 5,90 for one bag! € 15 for three bags!

Mix and match! Get your Christmas shopping on! Support the locals! And all that jazz.

Lélé's Garden and her crazy witchy granny owner thank you.

24 November 2017

Quarter life glitter

Ah, Belgium! You've been a roller coaster of love and happiness. Like a lifetime happened in just two weeks. The jetlag gave me many more hours in a day than I'm used to, which means I've been a productive human being. Ordering heavy boxes filled with herbs to blend into teas, applying for markets, manifesting a van, going on more job interviews I have ever experienced in my life. A fresh new chapter, seeing loved ones again after a very long time, finding myself starting a business, building up something. Growing up, I guess it's called? Writing business plans, hunting for apartments, the longing to stay. All the responsibilities I've always been running from, welcoming and hugging them into my life. So mature, ha! 

With so many reasons to celebrate, I have felt tipsy or hungover more than ever. Dancing with my favourite people, sitting on terraces in Brussels drinking cava, pretending it's summer time. Lunch turns into an all night dance party and concerts end up in hotel rooms. My face has been hiding under a hazy smile of pure life delight. Pink records are spinning in front of my eyes. I'm seeing stars, sleeping on clouds. I have the most vivid, crazy dreams. Because you're sleeping with a rockstar, he says. 

All I know is growing up seems to go hand in hand with staying stuck in a teenage crush. The thrill of going out every night, of saying yes to adventure and another yes after that. Yes all the way until you wake up to a brand new day and your reflection in the mirror tells you a morning swim in a pool of coffee will do you good, honey. 

It's with that exact face I ended up sitting silently in a Brussels cafe, with Jean-Claude the neighbourhood cat purring on my lap. My hangover bought me overpriced chocolates, golden glitter socks and a course in burlesque dancing. This is my life right now, I think to myself. My Belgian life is spent mostly productive, quarter hungover and quarter glitter socks. Growing up is more fun than I thought. 

13 November 2017


That moment you arrive in Belgium and your homeland welcomes you with a huge shower of rain. It's a ritual. The smell of autumn, the frizzy hair, I don't care because I AM HERE and I can't stop smiling. Coming home is usually paired with an excellent soup of mixed feelings. The first week is always fun. Seeing friends' surprised faces when you show up unannounced at their house or work. A slight heart attack of happiness, followed by hours of telling stories of the past year. The second week, you realise everyone here has a life filled with responsibilities and you start to feel pretty useless between 9 am and 6 pm. Maybe you should look for a job. Is it still okay to couchsurf your friends' and parents' homes at 28? Maybe you should look for an apartment. And before you know it, you're stuck in a rut.

Then you find an unopened golden envelope that looks familiar. A letter to myself, written in the Nevada desert. Sent through the Black Rock Post Office. Burning Man dust and quick scribblings remind me there was no time to lose. Letters had to be written but frolicking in the desert was the number one priority. How strange to read these words I wrote while I was in such a different place. Like a time traveller, I discover words of inspiration I wanted to keep in mind when I would be back home in rainy Belgium. Magic travels. "Burning Man as the ultimate inspiration that nothing is impossible. Take this with you wherever you go: take action! Love, Joke" 

"Damn right!" I say to myself as I'm reading the letter one more time. I might be back in Belgium and as usual, nothing much has changed. But I have! So I decide right then and there to not let myself get dragged into a life I don't want to live. To see my homeland with a fresh set of eyes. For too long I have been selling Belgium to foreign countries as a 'tiny boring grey land filled with people who practise complaining as a national sport. Who look at you as if you have shit on your face when you smile or wish someone a good morning.' That is how I have experienced Belgium to be, because I myself easily turned into a complaining moody Belgian who is weary of shiny happy people in the street. But no more! I choose to be shiny and fabulous as ever, handing out smiles until my face hurts. Even when it's pouring rain. All the time. 

Blame it on the jetlag, the lack of sleep, the ridiculous amounts of chocolate I have been eating, drinking, staring at. The Burning Man letter that sent shivers down my spine of sweet summer memories. Or maybe it's the fact that I haven't even been back for one whole week yet. But as long as this Belgian optimism stays, I stay. 

4 November 2017

The Beast and me

I could write a book about the adventures the Beast and I have been through. This car has been perfuming me with the scent of freedom. And sweat, as there is no airconditioning to be found. When no one else had faith in her, I did. I looked further than the obvious issues like rust and old tires, a broken light. And the hidden issues: holes in the gas tank, oil leaks, a loosely hanging exhaust. "So what", I said,"no one is perfect!" We made it work all fine and dandy, maybe a bit louder and more rough than the average car, but rusty old trucks are nothing new in Canada and the USA.

Being a woman without night vision, travelling alone in a bric-a-brac car, I've been taking it really easy. The Beast started making new sounds, some things definitely felt like falling off and when even the cassette player spit out what I had fed her, I got worried. I parked, gave the car a motivational speech: we can do this! Let's show the USA what we've got in store! Imagine all the adventures we're going to be living! Road trips 4 life! I stepped back in, started The Beast and drove through the giant Sequoia trees. Until after ten minutes, the exhaust fell off. 

I ran across the street to pick up the hot piece of rust and panicked. It was dark. I had no idea how bad this was. "Is my car going to blow up?" I asked a passing driver seriously. The lady smiled and told me to spend the night at the Chevron gas station, where the mechanic would be able to have a look at it in the morning. Relief rushed through me. Thank goodness for people who know, or pretend to know what they are talking about!

At the gas station, they told me it was okay to sleep in my car on their parking lot, "but on your own risk. Things get dangerous out here at night." Stereotypes of crazy Americans with guns ran through my mind. "Okay, bye!" I yelled and drove a couple of meters further, where I saw a bed and breakfast. I stepped through the doors of Rio Sierra Riverhouse and told my story to the lovely lady who owns the beautiful place. Happy to help out a damsel in distress, Mars showed me my very own hotel room. 

I was about to cry tears of joy. After months on the road, it felt so incredibly nice to treat myself to the peace of mind and comfort of a room of my own. I filled up the bathtub and washed all car worries away. The Beast will be fine and the road trips unforgettable! As I dozed off in a soft puddle of pillows and blankets, I thought: travelling can be exhausting.

Don't get me wrong, I love it all. The long drives, sticky situations, crazy adventures, waking up and not knowing what will happen and where I am going to sleep that night. I love that my cocoon of comfort is so far out of sight, it's just a dot in the distance. While I also have my cosy little home on wheels with me wherever I go. 

That night, I dreamt the past year and a half away. Like it was the first time I reflected on everything that had happened while living in Canada and the USA. I slept a thousand sleeps and woke up feeling fresh. The mechanic couldn't help me, but told me I could drive without the exhaust. "It doesn't harm the car, it will just be loud." And loud she was, that crazy Beast. A five minute drive left me with a ringing in my ears. I smiled, because I saw myself in her. 

Seeing the Rio Sierra Riverhouse in the daylight was a wonderful surprise. The beauty of the river and breathtaking scenery! Arriving somewhere in the dark always carries the comforting weight of surprise. It felt like Christmas morning! While enjoying french toast breakfast covered in syrup, I talked with the ladies who work at the b&b and felt at home. First of all: desert for breakfast! And the conversations left me so inspired I wondered if all these travels, winding roads and long drives were needed to lead me here. To Rio Sierra Riverhouse in Three Rivers. Where brunch is sweet and the talks even sweeter. It felt like I found the destination of the journey. It was hard to leave, but I had to get The Beast home before she would completely fall apart. It was a long, sweaty, noisy drive home, but we made it to Santa Cruz just in time for sunset. Pure romance, that Beast.

30 October 2017

California dreaming

My American dream is becoming reality. Late afternoons bathing in Indian summer colours, winding mountain roads, starry skies. The road is home. My old beat up truck The Beast makes me live at a slower pace. Going only twelve miles per hour uphill, I have been able to enjoy the scenery nice and easily, smelling the dusty desert air, getting yelled at by drivers lined up behind me. Ah, America. The ultimate road trip country.

Days are spent driving thousands of miles, stopping in diners with plastic seats and bottomless cups of coffee. The waitresses are platinum blonde, melted cheese covers every dish. The hours are midnight to midnight. It doesn't matter if I go in at 2 am on a Tuesday or on a grey Sunday afternoon, the place is packed. People are hungry for diner food, crave to live the diner life. Bring their dates, babies, books, work, comfy pants, their own special bottle of ketchup. Americans! I love their ways. I love the jukeboxes, the cheesy songs they play. The chain smoking servers doubling as therapists to customers. Refilling their cups with lukewarm black coffee all through the day and night. Like a blanket for the soul. It tastes bad but yes I'll have another one. I'm not sure if it's the coffee, but diners make me feel alive, even though time seems to stand still once you enter the joint. 

No better break from long slow road trips than a pancake stack with butter squares melting all over the place. Aunt Jemima's syrup and I'm in America. This country likes to make sure you know you are in the USA, at all times. Flags, stereotypes, halloween decorations for months, Starbucks, Taco Bell, Mc Donalds, drive-thrus, drive-ins, dive bars, colourful beach towns, wide open roads, the feeling you are living in a movie set.

The National Parks! Of course I had to play tourist and be a part of the traffic jammed Yosemite and Sequoia parks. I am here! So how can I not? I hugged the massive trees, took about two gazillion pictures of the autumn colours, went skinny dipping in the freezing river. National park rangers don't like that. They do. But they don't. So I kept my clothes on for the rest of the trip. I got tired of the long hot drive, and so did The Beast. Her exhaust fell off just as we left the Sequoia National Park. I saw this as a sign: time to go back to our Californian home. We hit the road, rattling, growling, louder than ever. With the exhaust in the back seat and a smile on my face, we drove until the air tasted salty and life was sunshine, lollipops and rainbows. Home sweet Santa Cruz.

27 October 2017

The monthly murder scene in my pants and other female taboos

Being a woman comes with a truckload of taboos. You wear them like a secret pocket monthly (your period), weekly (sexual harassment) and daily (masturbation). While really, we could be wearing those taboos like fluorescent, glow in the dark fancy dresses and get rid of them for once and for all. There are millions of other taboos, but these three are the ones I feel like I have been struggling with recently.

The #metoo movement stirred something within me. Reading stories of friends being harassed, even on a daily basis, broke my heart and made me feel sick to my stomach. Because we've all been there. And way too often, out of total helplessness, we could not fight back, or even yell back. I ignored many insults and dirty propositions, touch and talk because what would happen if I'd try and fight back? Something worse. Once I yelled at an older man making vulgar moves on me, he spit in my face and raised his hand to hit me. Brussels, broad daylight. That's when I learned to keep my mouth shut.

But not anymore! Because this is my platform, my freedom of speech! Where, for far too long, I have kept quiet about taboos that I really don't want to keep secret. Because I believe that the way to break a taboo is by talking about it. So let's talk. I can tell you about the beauty of bleeding. How what looks like ten people got murdered in your pants and makes your body collapse with pain, can bring such a relief at the same time. How happy I am to not be pregnant, because I wouldn't have a clue who the father may be. How I still feel like a silly teenager doing the walk of shame to the pharmacy to buy the morning after pill. 

If you think that's getting too personal, I am not done yet. How about masturbation? Do you know how hard it is to find a travel sized vibrator that doesn't look like a giant penis? Do you know the colour of my cheeks when it started vibrating in my backpack, in the airport? Being a single woman travelling, makes for many great stories, but even more awkward ones. And I embrace them all! Just as I embraced the stares when I walked down the street with every ex-boyfriend who was not quite 20 yet. Young boys! Another taboo!

Call me a cougar, call me too much, roll your eyes and make sounds of disgust with everything you read. These are all signs of taboo. I have never written about any of this, because the taboos stopped me from doing so. From speaking my mind, sharing my experiences and going into detail. Maybe you don't want to know, but I am happy to share nonetheless.