Final thoughts on my live below the line challenge

It's 5h30 on Friday afternoon and I'm close to finishing the challenge.

My final thoughts:
- surviving on $7.50 a week is tough, tougher than I thought it would be
- i had underestimated the impact on my emotional health - you need more food than this to feel good
- it was a great way to raise money, almost 2000 dollar so far!
- i'm so grateful for being able to go back to "normal" and will keep those in mind who don't have that luxury
- we had a great team in Cincinnati, it was so powerful to come together to do this

See you next year...!


Live below the line - Day 3 pain

Day 3 is definitely the worst day so far...

- hard to get up
- feeling weak
- somehow have this idea that I can't eat anything so even when I'm eating my carrot at 4pm for a second I think I'm cheating and am not supposed to eat... (yeah...)

but on the positive side:
- ramen noodles are surprisingly delicious after 2 days of beans and rice
- I'm still going strong, haven't cheated!
- having lunch with the below the line colleagues is encouraging: other people are as grumpy as I feel :)


Live below the line - day 2

It's 9pm on day 2 and here are my observations for the past 2 days

- tap water in Covington tastes really really bad
- people are surprised to see that I can get a full plate of rice, beans and 4 taco shells for less than 1.50 a day
- i'm not really hungry, but more bored with what to eat. very excited about switching to ramen noodles tomorrow for lunch!!
- having a snack was a good idea, i get excited about eating my carrot around 4 pm :)
- my stomach doesn't really hurt but feels like it's shrinking
- your social life pretty much disappears when you don't have money to eat (wanna go for dinner? errrm, no...)
- best idea is to have lunch at your office with other people doing the challenge to encourage each other. today i had a lunch meeting with pizza and it was pretty hard sitting there on my own eating my beans and rice
- i'm glad i don't usually drink coffee, it seems tough for the caffeine-lovers out there!

My dinner tonight was exactly the same as yesterday... but tomorrow I get ramen for lunch and carrots with the rice and tacos for dinner....!


Living below the line this week

So this week I'm living below the line: surviving on $1.50 a day for food and drinks for 5 days... Right now I'm at the end of day one...

You can follow my adventures on my live below the line blog and also support me and my team there: https://www.livebelowtheline.com/me/louisedejager 

Thank you!



Day 2 in Alabama

Been in training from 8-5, then dinner from 5h30 to 8 and then 2 more hours of discussions.

Fair to say haven't seen anything new.

2 good places for dinner I can recommend though:
http://www.cypressinnrestaurant.com/ Beautiful riverfront views combined with quality southern cuisine and friendly service - all with fresh ingredients. Truly amazing views!

http://epiphanycafe.vpweb.com/Home.html New American farm-to-table cuisine. Try the scallops as a starter, the duck as a main and the carrot cake as a dessert. I promise you won't regret it! No view here, but amazing food! Good cava too :)

Tomorrow same schedule...


To be walking in chieftain Tuskaloosa's footsteps

When I was living in Europe, "the South" of the US didn't really mean anything. Sure, I knew that's where the plantations and the slaves were, but other than that? Not a lot of facts come to mind.

And then suddenly, I am travelling to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for 4 days! So I got a chance to experience the South by myself, pretty cool, right! I'm here for a training with work. It should be all about innovation and 'fail fast, fail cheap'. I'm very excited for our first day of training tomorrow. Today was half a day at work in Cincinnati and then half a day of travelling to get here (Cincy - Atlanta - Birmingham - then 1h drive from Birmingham to Tuscaloosa, in the state of Alabama).

For those who don't know where Alabama and Tuscaloosa are, see below. This city got hit badly by a huge tornado in April 2011 (2.4k wide...), leaving 47 dead. We still saw some of the impact when we drove into this town.

If you wonder where the name comes from, it refers to Tuskaloosa, the chieftain of a Muskogean-speaking people, who battled and was defeated by Hernando de Soto, in 1540, in the battle of Mabila.

Fascinating, no, to be walking where this guy walked about 5 centuries ago?

My first impressions of Tuscaloosa:

- very green area, lovely very wide river. This river is apparently called the Black Warrior River, which is what Tuskaloosa meant in Muskogean! We just had an amazing dinner, overseeing the river, very nice.

- they like to fry food over here. They have hushpuppies; they are deepfried cornbread balls that are kind of delicious. The name apparently refers to the fact it was a way to feed the dogs, to 'hush the puppies' (make them be quiet). I also tried fried pickles (mwah, not sure what the obsession with pickles in the US is about) and cheese grits (ok, but oh so heavy... couldn't even fit dessert anymore after this...)

- I think I saw a real palm tree - it's warm and sunny out here

Tomorrow full day of training (8-5 and 7-10...), we'll see how much I discover about the South then!

Night yall!


My running adventure: from 0 to 15k

A little less than 4 years ago I moved to London and was inspired by all my healthy and sporty colleagues to start running. Up to that point I had never loved, or even liked to run.

As a kid I would often be the slowest runner of all of the girls and I found the school system horrible: you would get marks for how far you could run in a certain period of time. I remember giving everything and still ending up with 5 or 6 out of 10. A horrible experience for me. And then one day the sports teacher brought in heart monitors, but didn't change the system, so when it turned out that I had to run even slower in order not to force my body, I would have failed the test...

I went through my university years without almost any running at all. Without any sports actually. Whereas up to my 18th I loved ballet, jazz dance, anything about dancing, during those university years, the combination of studying and partying seemed to be perfect. Who needs sports anyway? Luckily I walked and biked a lot, so still maintained some sort of shape...

I did sometimes try to go running but I would be exhausted after 15 minutes, losing my breath and just being very frustrated about the whole experience.

And then, almost 4 years ago, 3 elements came together:
- my Belgian colleagues gave me an ipod shuffle as leaving gift before I moved to the UK
- my new English colleagues all seemed to be so fit and sporty
- AND, most importantly, I downloaded the START TO RUN series [Dutch] http://www.start-to-run.be

And with those 3 elements, all I needed to do was committing to going running 3 times a week. The series made me go from 0 to 5k without a lot of problems. I learned how to breathe in the right way, how to run for 2, then 5, 10, 20, and finally 30 minutes without stopping...

I did my first run, the 6k Santa run in London. And I made it :) I felt pretty weak afterwards though and it took me 9 months until my next run: I had moved to Paris and after a long break without running, redid the 0-5k and then ran La Parisienne, a 6k female-only race along the Seine!

So now I could run 5k, but how to keep going and progress to another level?
Enter 2 additional elements:
- my parents noticed how much I seemed to love running (much to their surprise) and bought me a heart rate monitor for Christmas. HIGHLY recommended: I noticed I still ran too quickly in order to be able to run for longer periods of time. Slow down and you'll run a lot longer, feeling better
- I signed up for a 10k on my 27th birthday, to make myself proud on a special day

And off I went, now with the KEEP RUNNING series, which takes you from 5-10k with 3 training sessions a week: a short run, an interval session and a long distance run. This series is a lot harder and it took me a lot longer to get to the end of it. But, on my 27th birthday, I ran 10k, in 1h and 7 minutes. The girl who was horrible at running ran 10k and actually enjoyed the entire race. Plus it got me a very flashy yellow t-shirt, which I love.

So then I moved to Cincinnati and it seems to be all about running here: people get up before 6 to go and do their daily run (really...) and before I knew I signed myself up for a 15k. Random factors in the sign-up process were that it was the same price as the 5k and that they didn't offer a 10k... On top of that, doing 15k would allow me to start with my husband, who would run his 4th half marathon...

So I decided to go for it and essentially just followed the same model as the Keep Running series: 3 runs a week, with the long distance run being between 10 and 15k.

And today, I did it, I ran 15k and enjoyed it so much. It felt so good being able to run, not having to walk, beating those hills.

Do I run fast? No
Was I surrounded by walkers for most of the time? Yes
Did I looked very red for most of the race? Yes

Was I smiling? Yes, all the time, because I knew how proud I could be of myself. Yes, because I ran at my own speed, checking my heartbeat. Yes, because today I ran 15k!

So what's next?
- Rat Race 10k in April
- Flying Pig 10k in May
- and then... building up to 21k? Why not? If I have learned one thing from running it is that when you set a crazy objective and train in the right way, there's a big chance you may actually meet that objective and be prouder of yourself than you ever thought was possible!

So just try it!


Did you know that in Cincinnati...

people stop for STOP signs, even when there are no cars around?

you can bike on the sidewalks and people will smile at you and step aside?

a car honking means that people closed off their car, that's all! People hardly ever honk when they are angry!

all girls drink beer when they go to a bar. Asking for a wine is fancy and cider is likely to be non-alcoholic

men wear t-shirts under their work shirts (really?)

people cut their food and then only use their fork in their right hand to eat it up

cats are considered to be indoor animals and are very often declawed

German beer is "cool" because people here are often descendants from German immigrants

Belgium is mainly known for their waffles and beer (not really for chocolate, fries or mussels)

it's normal to drink bloody mary's and mimosa's for brunch and margaritas when you go and eat Mexican

people get together before sport games to drink and eat barbeque and that's called "tailgaiting" (because the back of a truck that you can open is called the "tailgate")

it's normal to have lunch at 11h30 and dinner at 6pm which means that you can have an afterparty or "after-drinks" at 8pm ;)

people go to bed at 10pm at the latest and get up at 6am at the latest (...)


I love it here :)


Dropped into an American movie...

This week, I had 2 experiences that made me feel as if I was dropped into an American movie. Literally.

The first one was a basketball game we went to see. Cincinnati bearcats UC against another college Marquette. It was a great experience - the game was sold out, UC won, the atmosphere was amazing!

But remember those American movies about life at their universities (colleges)? Well, turns out that it's all real: we saw cheerleaders and the dance team, as well as the marching band. And of course I knew it all existed, I just didn't really realize it really did. That may not make sense but that's how I felt. I guess in my mind it was all part of a distant American world of which I would never be a part. And suddenly I was sitting there, watching the cheerleaders being thrown up in the air and the marching band playing their tunes. I loved to observe, but at the same time I was so grateful that I didn't go to an American college. I can just imagine the stress it would take to try out for the dance team and then not make it for example. Because don't be mistaken, all of those cheerleaders and dancers looked as perfect as the girls in the movies. The top of the top I guess! I'm pretty sure I would have been part of the nerdie book club :p

The second -more serious- experience this week was the tornado alarm. This, again, is something we all know can happen in the States. Who hasn't seen "Twister" after all? But when you move to Cincinnati, no one tells you that there may be tornados there. So imagine my surprise when on Friday people started talking about tornados in Cincinnati... Around 4pm an e-mail was sent from work saying that we'd better go home. Turns out I just left with some colleagues to have a drink in a closeby pub. I asked them if we'd better go home but they were very calm and said that we were very safe in the pub because it is a concrete building. It seemed to make sense that that was safer than walking (or even driving) home. So I believed them and stayed there until the danger was over. After about an hour, a bright sun came out and the danger was over. It seemed almost stupid to have worried about it. Until I saw the damage the tornado had made and the lives it had taken.

It's fair to say I'd never thought I'd live somewhere where tornados aren't that weird...

But to all those who are worried about me: be sure that I'll always go to the safest place possible (even when that turns out to be the local pub ;))


My blog vs. Twitter, Facebook, Yelp & Pinterest

There's a war going on. A social media war... and the fight is against my blog.

You may have noticed that my blog posts aren't as frequent as they used to be. Yet I don't spend less time online... So what do I do instead?

I share my random, short thoughts on business and everyday life... on Twitter

I share pictures and updates with my friends and family... on Facebook

I review restaurants, bars and cultural outings... on Yelp

I share pictures of things I like... on Pinterest

And I realized that often my blogposts are a combination of exactly those things: describing the restaurants I'd been to, sharing pictures, thoughts... whereas now most of those things perfectly sit within their own social media bucket.

So is the war over? Not yet. There is one thing that none of the social media networks cater for yet and it's random thoughts like this post. Longer than 140 characters, a white piece of paper where you can just write whatever you want. That's what my blog will be and stay for.

But in the meantime; don't hesitate to check me out on:
Twitter: @louisedejager
Yelp + Pinterest: Louise Dejager


Biking in Cincinnati

"Do people bike in Cincinnati?" I asked when I just arrived. "Yeah, sure, there is a 50 miles bike trail, it's very popular!".

Perhaps I had to rephrase my question and actually ask: "do people use their bicycles as a mean of transport?" and the answer would definitely have been "no, especially not during the winter".

Most people seem to own bikes, but they keep them for the summer, to do bike rides with friends in a sunny weekend. The simple idea of me buying a bike to actually ride to work with seemed crazy in my colleagues' mind...

Now if it would be snowing here and be freezing all the time, then I would understand it. But it is surprisingly mild in Cincinnati this winter, a lot warmer than in Belgium :).

So we bought bikes and now bike to work. The speed, the freedom, the fresh air, I love it! I just use the sidewalks and nobody cares :D So it was all great for the first week. I put my bike in the bike rack our company has (3 spots, of which 1 is taken by the "company bike", which always seems to be there). I admit it felt good to be the ONLY one out of 500 employees coming to work by bike :D

And then I got a flat tire, because there is quite a bit of glass lying around on the bridge I cycle over :( so this weekend it's operation "fix the tire" time...

The proof: my bike


Socializing in Cincinnati

Week 6 and I wanted to get to know some people in Cincinnati... Result: a very very busy week, with not a lot of gym classes but a packed social agenda...

Tuesday: Spanish lunch + French meetup

I have recently started to count in English, which really is the last step to the total domination of that language for me... I want to make sure I don't lose my French and Spanish, so Tuesday was "foreign language day" :) I went for lunch with 2 other Spanish speaking colleagues, one of them a native speaker and after a few minutes we were all happily chatting away in Spanish. Such a good feeling!

In the evening, I went to my first French meetup with a French colleague of mine, in the Barnes and Noble in Newport on the Levee. It's a monthly "conversation class" organized by the "Alliance française de Cincinnati". The first 10 minutes it became clear that my colleague was the only native speaker and that the level of most attendees was below the standard Belgian 18 year old just out of school level, which is saying something... Luckily a few latecomers turned out to be real francophiles who spoke French very well.

Wednesday: Yelp bookclub

I don't know if Yelp is very known in Belgium and the UK. It's a website for reviews from normal people and in Cincinnati Yelp is big, in terms of number of reviews and events they organize. I decided to join their book club and the first book I read was "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern. I recommend it to everybody, it really was a very good read! The book club was held in the York Street Café in Newport and 12 people showed up - it was a very interesting discussion led by one of the Yelp members, with well thought questions for us to answer. I just love getting other people's view of a book I loved (btw, everybody adored this book :)). And of course, it was a good way to start getting to know a few more people. Since, I have started to write some Yelp reviews myself, because it is a nice way to document my experiences in Cincinnati and it may help some other people who are new to Cincinnati too! Check it out here: http://www.yelp.com/user_details?userid=dgLWRL88AB37-EAn0mBwvQ. You can also click on the Yelp picture on the right hand side of my blog now!

Thursday: EACC Happy Hour

The European American Chamber of Commerce organizes monthly happy hours for young professionals who are interested (or from) Europe. So although I started to get a bit tired after such a busy start of the week, I decided to check it out. Thanks to twitter, I found another dunnhumbian who was going too and we took off around 5h30 to Japp's, a very cool cocktail bar in Over the Rhine. It was a young (20 and 30'ers) mingling crowd that we found there, very open to talk to. In the meantime, Maarten had arrived as well, so we moved around different groups of people and handed out our business cards to future contacts (friends?). At the end of the evening, we even met a guy from Holland. So even when our search for other Belgians in Cincinnati continues (we've found 1 so far, the owner of Taste of Belgium), we were pretty close!

Friday: Lang Lang plays Liszt

On Friday we went back to the Music Hall to see Cincinnati's Symphonic Orchestra perform with Lang Lang. I love the Music Hall and have been impressed by the symphonic orchestra. Lang Lang is a very popular pianist and he even played an encore, but if truth be told, we preferred the Brahms piece at the end of the evening, without the piano in it...

Saturday: Findlay market

A really nice couple we met at the EACC event invited us to come to Findlay market with them on Saturday morning. It was really worth it, from the nice little coloured houses around it to the fresh meat, vegetables, bread, I loved every second of it. I'm sure we'll be back once we have our bikes, or a car!

Oh and I did go to one gym class on Tuesday before the French meetup and went running for 42 minutes yesterday so I would say it was a good social and less sporty (but still a bit) week!


A random post

It's almost 10pm, I'm tired, my first meeting tomorrow is at 7h30am...

I've got a new company picture, what do you think?

Today at work we were asked to film our day so I did - I'll see what I can upload here later.

I finished an amazing book this weekend, "The Night Circus", I recommend it to everybody. AND it was the first one I read on my Sony e-reader (THANKS again French colleagues for the leaving gift) --> it was perfect, like reading a real book.

So on this,
with sleepy eyes,
and a head longing for deep dreams,
I say good night to you all:
"Good night"


Our American Adventure - episode 5

Episode 5 - Cincinnati Symphonic Orchestra in the Music Hall


4 weeks in

4 weeks. That's how long we've been in Cincinnati so far.

After 4 weeks, we live in our apartment, with the furniture we chose and assembled (see here for Maarten's first IKEA experience). We managed to open a bank account, I got my identity verified by a notary so I could transfer the electricity account to my name, we got internet set up and our socials sent. It's mostly boring admin stuff and I just wanted to mention that moving is not ALL fun, mainly because of that. But all in all, I'd say we've made good progress. Our apartment really starts to feel like home!

I also wanted to share a few 'first times' from the past week:

*first time in a Kentucky bar*
No one told me before we moved to Kentucky that you are still allowed to smoke here in bars - at least, in Covington, which is where we live... I was shocked. The second observation is that everybody, everybody drinks beer, yes, also the women. So being Belgian that put me in a weird position, asking for a glass of wine and being thé exception. Third thing is that it was a leaving drink for an English colleague. In the UK, those drinks would last at least until 11pm whereas here most people had left by 9pm. We managed to stay on until almost 10pm with another colleague :) But still - it's different

*first Helping Hands activity*
dunnhumby is proud to give back to the community they work in. After the set up of Helping Hands in France and the amazing work we've been doing there, I was keen to get involved into Helping Hands US. Last week, I participated in my first activity, which was serving food to the people in the Drop Inn center. 4 of us served dinner. I got complimented by one young woman on my accent :). It felt good to make a (small but) tangible impact.

Still, I was told not to walk around the building because it would be dangerous. And that is something I'm definitely not used to yet - how one block in Cincinnati can be 'dangerous' and the next one 'ok', I need to get to grips with that...

*First night out*
I got invited to a girls' night out on Friday night: first Mexican food and cocktails, then to a bar called the Righteous Room in downtown Cincinnati. It reminded me that girls across the world have more in common than that they are different and I had a great time!

Interestingly I also learned a bit more about the South of the States and the old traditions there of using the parents or grandparents' surnames as the middle name or even first name for the kids.

*And do I miss France?*
For all my frustrated comments about Paris in my blog, I do admit that I miss some things - apart from mes copines, there is the Notre Dame seen from the back at sunset, the baguettes, my vélib and also, the nostalgy for the French language starts cropping up. Luckily there is an "Alliance française de Cincinnati" so in 2 weeks I'm going to a French conversation group :)

So long, farewell!


Our American adventure - episodes 3 & 4

Episode 3 - an all American Christmas party

Episode 4 - our new home