Monday, December 10, 2012

Brussels Christmas Market

We made our annual trip down to the Christmas market, which is always a treat.

I've never been able to place my finger on what exactly it is, that makes this market have such a great atmosphere about it. The smells wafting up from various market stalls? Crepes, sausages, glühwein, hot waffles, paella, hot cocoa, moules, frites,...oh save me the calories! Or is it the endless array of festive lights sparkling in the chilly air? The happy strangers mingling among each other? The market stalls, offering everything from the odd (lava lamps)  and unique (hand crafted leather bound journals), to the simple (hats and gloves) and sweet (dried fruit)?

I can't tell you why, but this market is really special and everyone agrees, it has a very festive holiday feel to it. We're lucky to have been able to be a part of it for several years.

The kids went ice skating, we took a Ferris wheel ride, and patronized the incredibly fun steam punk carousel. It took almost 8 rounds of the carousel, starting and stopping, for each of the kids to get to ride on what they wanted. Arleigh was especially determined to ride the rocket ship that blasts through the ceiling of the carousel. Indeed, that huge grin on his face when he was strapped into his rocket seat, was as if we were watching Christmas in its purest form.

Here are some out takes and pics from the evening.

Poor Arleigh could think of nothing better than getting to the market, and once we were there, and he rode inside the carousel rocket, he could think of nothing more than going home and warming up again!



We're always hopeful that the journey along the Christmas market will end in an amazing light show. This has been the case in the past, although, to be honest, we were disappointed in this year's   eclectic display. The kids were tired and it was very very late, so we wandered home to warm up and rest our heads, happy to have been to another year at the Brussels Christmas market...even if the light show wasn't a super finale.
(Cheers to the moment we did see Santa do a back flip across the Hotel de Ville.)

We hope your season is as fun filled and bright as our market experience. Happy Holidays!

Saint Nicolaus came!

So this week was the week of St Nick.
As instructed (at school) they cleaned their boots and set them in the chimney in hopes that they'd wake to find the boots filled with candy, toys, and clementines.
St Nick helped us out by delivering some packaged on Santa's behalf this year as well
(to lighten Santa's load in a sense).
So, packages were opened, though I was snapping photos while still asleep I think. There were almost no photos to even remotely resembled what took place.

We also let the kids open a few that had already arrived from Aunt Betsy...and this means Stella opened her big gift request. The Kindle.
Thanks to all the family who pitched in on this for her and to Aunt Betsy and Uncle Alex for setting everything up. She's thrilled!

Then it was off to school. No time to play with new toys- like all the other Belgian kids, there was no time to waste, as the school bell wouldn't hold up, even on a special day like this.
So off to school, but lo and behold, St Nick showed up at the gates.

Saint Nicolas, patron des écoliers,
Apportez-moi du sucre dans mon petit panier.
Je serai toujours sage comme un petit mouton,
Je dirai mes prières pour avoir des bonbons.
Venez, venez Saint Nicolas!
Venez, venez Saint Nicolas!
Venez Saint Nicolas!
To hear the patron song, which I continue to hear the kids sing over and over and over and over, click here. ('cause I know you're dying to hear what's been ringing in my ears over the last 2 weeks)
Saint Nicolas, patron saint of school kids,
Bring me some sugar for my basket.
I'll will always be good like a little lamb,
I always say my prayers, to get sweets.
Come, come Saint Nicolas!
Come, come Saint Nicolas!
Come Saint Nicolas!

Emory's swim competition for St Nick

Emory had a 'swim competition' this week. He tore the pool up with his super backstroke skills :) Afterwards, the kids got to meet St Nick.

While waiting on Emory to finally reach the end of the winding line on the pool deck, to chat with St Nicolaus and receive his big bag of chocolate and speculous, we thought it was amusing that the parents next to us were having a Belgian beer while watching the kids swim. ...We're gonna miss Begium.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Arleigh's Christmas song for St Nicolaus

Arleigh learned this song at his French school, and is singing it round the clock these days.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wish list

The kids made up their Santa wish lists and sent them off weeks ago.
Emory keeps rewriting his list though, making addendums, footnotes, and clarifications, just to be sure there are no mistakes or misunderstandings. After all, it is Christmas and the stakes are high.
His list incorporates a lot of typical things that any 6 year old boy might hope for;
a hot wheels race track, bat man books, tops. And he lists some things we never knew he cared about, or already has, but is perhaps to lazy to find among the Amazon of his bedroom? Those include "a hair brush" and "A Bat Man costume".

But my favorite- perhaps of all time, the pinnacle of his hopes and dreams for Christmas morning?

A magic wand.

And he clarifies that request. No, not just any old wand. Not just a magic wand. No stupid magic starter kit, or cheeky girls baton. Don't misunderstand. His clarification is printed in bold, (and misspelled) words.


I'm framing this one. Who wouldn't want "a magic wand, that really works"?
Imagine what we could do in this world with a magic wand, that really works?
And Stella's list includes "A Narnia Closet", a "Very big monkey" (like sweetheart's) and "Some of your magic".
Sure enough, those will be under the tree, just beside the genie in the lamp, the magic carpet, and the magical spells book. (that all really work as well)
At least they dream big. I hope they always dream big.
Here's hoping that all your Christmas wishes and dream come true too.

To market to market jiggity jig

One of the things I will miss most about living in Europe is the market. It's usually cheaper that the grocery store, and fresher too.
Big bunches of herbs are usually just 1 euro.

The vendors stand among their produce and whoop and hollar out to attract potential buyers "un euro, un euro, un euro!!!" Or they wave their knives to whack off a slice of fruit for incoming shoppers to sample.
The cheese- oh man. Incredible and too many choices!
We've heard from friends who've left here and returned to the US that, among the things they missed the most, fresh, unpreserved, great tasting food is very high on the list.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Missing Europe

In Bill Bryson's book, "Neither Here Nor There" he describes Europe in a way that I cannot begin to improve upon. His sentiments are mine exactly. He writes "One of the small marvels of my first trip to Europe was the discovery that the world could be so full of variety, that there were so many different ways of doing essentially identical things, like eating and drinking and buying cinema tickets. It fascinated me that Europeans could at once be so alike- that they could be so universally bookish and cerebral, and drive small cars, and live in little houses in ancient towns, and love soccer, and be relatively unmaterialistic and law-abiding, and have chilly hotel rooms and cosy inviting places to eat and drink- and yet be do endlessly, unpredictably different from each other as well. I loved the idea that you could never be sure of anything in Europe."

We arrived in Europe 4 years ago, after 34 hours in transit from Guam, unsure of what to expect. We will leave Europe feeling incredibly lucky to have lived here. We're leaving. That's right, as sad as it feels, there's not stopping our next move.
Over the last months, knowing a move back to the US was imminent, I began to note the things I'd miss most, and least, about living in Belgium.
The list feels unfinished, so perhaps I'll continue to add. For now, here they are....

MISS THE MOST- (these apply to Aunt Julie's phrase "You can't get that in America!")
1) quality of life
2) trocs
3) markets
4) wet cobblestones on foggy rainy days
5) endless bike trails, bike lanes, and time on our bikes
6) the amazing Alps
7) Belgian beer, waffles, speculous, and samauri sauce
8) unique travel within a day's reach by car/Proximity
9) bakeries- just walking past them makes me giddy
10) really great wine at really great prices
11) castles
12) pharmacies and the plethora of OTC  medications
(Sadly, we've regulated ourselves out of great OTC meds in the US - unless you talk to a meth addict)
13) pace of life
14) "stages"
15) the long school year, predictable holidays, and 1/2 school day Wednesdays
16) warm crepes in the Christmas market
17) the vast array of nearby parks and forests
18) simple perspective on most things, to include nudity. In Europe, a boob is a body part. Just a boob. In the US a boob seems to imply pornography, Hooters wings, La Leche women, or eventually perhaps, breast cancer.
19) All of our great friends that we'll leave behind - too many to count
20) croissants and baguettes
21) beaucoup holidays and vacation time
22) architecture and ancient villages
23) incredible carousels
24) 2 hour drive to Paris, 7 hours to Milan
25) Madame Francine, our violin teacher
26) hearing the kids play and sing in French
27) the peal of the nearby church bells in the morning
28) European camping trips
29) flowers- how much people value flowers everywhere
30) international friends, communities
31) moules and frittes
32) closed on Sunday
33) tulip fields in Netherlands
34) espresso served with chocolate or speculous
35) the Belgian countryside
36) our school, La Fermette and all the teachers who painstakingly gave the gift of a second & third language
37) the comedy of watching Matt try to order in French at fast food drive through windows
38) taking the kids to see movies in French
39) week long school class trips each year
40) Skiing in Bavaria
41) incredible feeling of safety, freedom (from a lack of guns, mace, etc.)
42) Belgian chocolate
43) Tuesdays with Madame Christine. She has taught me so much without ever offering a lesson.
44) affordable, decent, health care- we're still gawking at the ER bike accident bill of only 200 euro.
45) watching our small children grow into young adults here
46) trains & trams
47) sending the kids by themselves to the market
48) fromage (blanc, bleu, Gruyere, Swiss, Gouda - young and old, Camembert...)
49) watching choclatiers in their shop window
50) French galettes with cider
51) living next to a chateau
52) kids debating over macaroon selections
53) Neuhaus chocolate outlet
54) chivalry
55) cornfields unharvested in October
56) reading food labels and still guessing what's inside the can
57) a society with incredible self control, patience, and awareness of others
58) Christmastime focus on family instead of commercialism
59) freedom to have kids home at lunch on school days, any day or every day
60) seeing the postman roll up to our mailbox on his bike
61) the waffle truck after school and the smell wafting over the school yard
62) bricks
63) 1000 year old cathedrals
64) CD plates

MISS THE LEAST- (rather, what I won't miss)
1) blank stares as I try to communicate in French, or worse yet, Flemish
2) priority to the right traffic
3) cost of gas
4) parking meter guy in Stockel and his ticket dispensing machine
5) my tiny kitchen (it's smaller than your walk-in-closet)
6) other Americans making idiots out of themselves- such poor representation for dear ol' USA
7) dealing with companies who refuse to ship APO
8) my cheap cell phone
9) dubbed or subtitled movies
10) searching for reading material in English
11) 1 hour drive to the commissary -
(Won't miss the time it takes to get there, but will miss the lovely countryside along the way)
12) foot baths at swimming pools
13) on that note, won't miss men in speedos
14) 2nd hand smoke
15) pick pocketers
16) having to skype to see family on holidays
17) mailing Christmas gifts
18) menopausal weather
19) packing and unpacking multiple international moves
20) translating school papers and homework
21) living in someone else's house/ being a renter
22) dependency on a GPS due to street listings in 2 languages
23) European washers and dryers
24) currency exchange and rate fluctuations
25) translating the menu
26) establishing a language to use prior to commencing conversation

In the end, it seems there is a lot more that we'll miss than not. We've have lived fantastic life in Belgium and will look forward, to adventures in the US now.
The kids see the US as "a new country" and are excited to immerse themselves in America.
Arleigh recently asked "mom, will the beds in our new country have blankets?"
The girls asked "What does it mean when our English books talk about 'the popular kids at school'?"
And Emory referred to the US as "the country where Aunt Julie and Aunt Betsy live...".
So we have some catching up to do. We'll look forward to our list of favorites in the 'new country' to grow endlessly. Meanwhile Belgium will remain a very special place in our hearts, without a doubt. After all, we are truly "Neither Here Nor There".

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Spuds on the way to school

Yes indeed, we got up early on this foggy morning to take a photo in front of the potato pile...and this wasn't our first time to try to get a pic in front of the field.

Potatoes have been harvested and the piles are humongous. I'm talkin' the size of a house in some fields. The kids have been amazed by these piles popping up at the corners of fields all around us.
Where are all those potatoes headed? Into the form of Belgian frites of course!
Here are some fun Frites Facts....

  • Belgian Frites are made with Belgian Bintje potatoes
  • They get their special flavor and texture because they are fried twice, often in beef fat, but in some places you can select the form of oil that the frites are fried in.
  • There are more than 4000 frietkots throughout Belgium.
  • There is a selection of over 50 dipping sauces to choose from for dipping frites
  • Belgians consume an average of 165 pounds of friend potatoes per person per year
  • Despite the language and culture differences between Flanders and Wallonia, Belgian frites remain a specialty that unites Belgium.
  • Research shows Belgium's 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and 4 million Francophones average a weekly visit to one of their country's 5,000 or so fry shops and shacks.

Why "Frittes"? They aren’t French!

Apparently the name originated due to a linguistic misunderstanding, because in old English ‘to French’ meant ‘cut into sticks’. According to the Belgian historian Jo Gerard, chips appeared on the dining tables in Namur, French speaking Ardennes and Dinant in the latter half of the 17th century. Poorer inhabitants in these towns used to fry tiny fish. When the river froze in the winter the fish were replaced by sticks of potatoes cut to the same small size of the fish.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Berg Eltz

We made the journey to the Berg Eltz castle this weekend, for no other reason than this was the last chance for us. We'd failed to see it so far, despite various other attempts. The Berg Eltz was truly impressive and worth the trip. We had intended to hang around for a fall hike and dine on the banks of the Mosel, but we changed the plan up a bit. We found ourselves in a pizza joint in the Netherlands instead. Why not?

We went along with another family who happen to be new to the area. This was their first castle visit and perhaps our last.  With 7 kids in tow, we opted for the English tour and wandered past artifacts, swords, armor, amid dishes that were thousands of years old. No photos were allowed inside (despite that warning there was some irritating American dude who followed behind in the tour with his humungo ipad and snapped shots once the tour left each room. Why is it that people have to go and make such bad examples of themselves? Seriously dude, put your ipad away and just follow the tour next time!)
 The Eltz family built upon the site about 1,000  years ago and still owns it. Amazingly, despite attempts to siege the castle, and various wars in the region over time, the castle has remained protected. The castle was said not to be protected by landscape or barriers, but instead, secured by the wide reaching political and social influence of the family and their social networks.
Key to happiness and longevity- friends and family eh? 
However, on the day of our visit, it was certainly under attack by children coming from every direction. They were peeking in doors....
Sword fighting on the terrace....
Sulking by cannon balls.....
And waiting to find out what we were going to do next....
So,...what do we do next? Where to this week? Stay tuned.... 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

TTE Designs

Tammie Everly must be one of the most crafty, creative people I know. She created TTE Designs and let me tell you how lucky I am that she focused a slice of her artistic creativity into jewelry!
I met Tammie eons ago in Norfolk, VA. Same squadron, Navy spouses, etc. She has always boasted a fun attitude, positive outlook, and endless creative juice.
A former nurse, Tammie has since supported me in a full assortment of ways- from writing a recommendation letter for me to sitting bedside in a hospital in Guam (ugh-  poor Tammie).
Her most recent, incredible, gift of friendship and salvage, happened to be found within, of all places, my jewelry box.
I had collected, over the years, lots of costume, commercial jewelry that truly didn't amount to much financial worth, but was special for one reason or another. Over time, an earring lost here, a broken clasp there, the sets of jewelry began to break down into almost nothing that I could wear together. I came to the point at which I needed to decide if I should just toss it all, or look for someone who might be able to salvage it. Or at the very least, if it couldn't be salvaged, I thought perhaps someone artistic might reuse it somehow. Can I help it if I'm a recycler at heart?

A fan of salvage, flea markets, and re gifting life to used or old things when possible I began to seek a solution for this sad box of what amounted to junk. So, picking up the camera, I laid out about 20 sets of jewelry and took detailed photos on grey cards to help give accurate colors to the photos. I contacted a full list of people from business cards I'd been given by family and friends who attended jewelry shows or festivals, emailing the photos and explanation to small shop owners, Etsy shops, and others. Almost everyone said they could fix things, but admittedly, I didn't like how they prepared to do it, or I'd have had to spend the kids college savings. There were suggestions for repair to include "I'd be happy to replace that clasp on your black necklace, but all I have in stock are orange ones, is that OK?" or "I can fix it for you, but I won't ship APO, so you'll have to wait until you return to the US" (Seriously?) For a time, I just gave up and let it all continue to sit.

Of all people, dear husband mentioned that Tammie had a jewelry business. He recommended that I email her. (That's how it is when you're not a Facebook lovin' gal- you have to get the scoop from hubby). Long story short, in the middle of a military move, Tammie kindly took on my sorry jewelry box full of odds and ends and gave it all a sparkling new life. What she did is a testament to her skill, creativity, resourcefulness, and talent. Don't believe me? Check out her blog with photos of the pieces and her handiwork.  and here

Her specialty isn't necessarily to repair your jewelry, as she did for me, though quite obviously she can do just about anything! She's crafted lots of jewelry and has a lovely store for you to check out. If you're looking for a great gift of jewelry for yourself or a friend, I highly recommend Tammie.
The holidays are coming up! Give her a shout! (at her blog page chok-full of craftiness) Or browse her Etsy store here.   You can purchase her talent on ArtFire as well - click here.
Thanks again Tammie- you're amazing.


Trick or Treating - tonight.
Boo! To you!

Witches Stew

by Gareth Lancaster
Bubble, blubber, squirm and gloop,
Boiling broth of bat's tail soup.
Wobble, slobber, liquid goo,
Add the sole of one old shoe.
Spooky shadows dance around,
Of frogs and rats and snarling hounds.
Steam swirls rising to the roof,
Add one small ear and one old tooth.
Gnarly, scratchy, tickle and itch,
Stir round and round to make it rich.
Mushy, sticky, sizzle and stew,
They're making mischief just for you


A Trick of a Treat

by Nancy Hughes
Dressed up little creatures
on a dark October night
run from door to door
giving everyone a fright.
They come and ring your doorbell
and before they will retreat,
they beg you for some candy
by yelling "trick or treat".
When their bags are full,
they run home to eat their fill.
They taste a bit of everything
and by morning they are ill!
So to keep the youngsters healthy,
I've figured out a deal.
This year instead of candy,
I'll give them all oatmeal!

If You've Never

by Elsie Melchert Fowler
If you've never seen an old witch
Riding through the sky--
Or never felt big bat's wings
Flopping, as they fly--
If you've never touched a white thing
Gliding through the air,
And knew it was a ghost because
You got a dreadful scare--
If you've never heard the night owls,
Crying, "Whoo-whoo-whoo?"
And never jumped at pumpkin eyes
Gleaming out at you--
If all of these exciting things
You've never heard or seen,
Why then--you've missed a lot of fun,
Because--that's HALLOWEEN!

Four Little Pumpkins
(adapted version of popular poem)

Five little pumpkins sitting on a gate,
The first one said, "Oh my, it's getting late."
The second one said, "But we don't care."
The third one said, "I see witches in the air."
The fourth one said, "Let's run, and run, and run. Hurray quick! Get ready for some fun!"
Then whoosh went the wind, and out went the lights,
And those four little pumpkins rolled out of sight!

Happy Halloween (& Toussaint Holiday) to everyone!

Engagement Session- Cold Feet

Passion? Photography.
I would so very much love to work on the side as a part time pro photographer. I love photography- from the challenge of trying to capture something with my own camera, to looking at photos from long ago. If it's a photo, I'm interested. For me, there's something incredibly special about capturing a moment and aligning emotion to that moment. But my skills are far from polished. I don't have a bag filled with awesome lenses.  I work with what I have, though I know my lack of gear at this point causes me to feel limited. So it is with much frustration, despite workshops and courses, that progress feels so slow.  Nevertheless, I utterly love photography.
I do.

So it was during an engagement shoot for Tyler and Nicole last week that I was surprised to get cold feet. She's here in Belgium for a work study for one semester. He came to visit. They are engaged to be married in October next year. I was with them for about an hour to take some shots.
This session was such a learning experience. The location got changed. He showed up in a dark shirt despite a chat about 'clothing color pallate'. The weather was dreary and odd. They arrived an hour late. Trying to get them to pose in the ways that I wanted, trying to deflect their recommendations for poses that I knew wouldn't work, trying to pull emotion into the photo, or capture a twinkle of what they see in each other, that was all hard work. I came home stating that perhaps I should just stick with the hobby end of photography. Perhaps I should just save the money I'd spend on another class. Perhaps I should just sell the darn camera. Perhaps I should take up pro-wrestling.
I see error all over the shots I took. Mistakes that shouldn't have been made in the first place.
Cold feet- a quintessential sign of anxiety. And just like marriage, a house can't be built from the roof down. Perhaps it's the same for photography, or any passion.
A few days on, I've contemplated further on my chilly toes issue and realized that what has rocked my passion is foundation. So, instead of taking up pro wrestling, which might, in fact, be cheaper, it's back to the drawing board to build a stronger photography foundation all around.
In the meantime, I wish Nicole and Tyler all the best and pray that there are no cold feet for them!

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Whirlwind Trip

They said they wanted to squeeze in as much as possible. I said "You'll be tired"
They said they wanted to see Paris, Brussels, Brugge, Amsterdam, castles, and initially, London, in 12 days.
I said, "You'll be tired."
Cousin Lauren's teachers gave the OK for her to miss school and take on the experience of a lifetime.
I'm so glad, cause there's a lot of things that you just can't learn from turning the pages of a book.

It wasn't long before they arrived. They hit the ground running and they stayed running, with only the occasional indication of fatigue. Amazing travelers our Aunt Christy and Cousin Lauren! They never seemed to get tired.
 They battled the crowds at Versailles, climbed the stairs of the Arc de Triomphe for a glimpse at a twinkling Eiffel Tower, snuck a peek at Moulin Rouge and Notre Dame, and said a passing "hello" to Mona Lisa.

But despite aching feet and dreary weather, they pressed onward and upward to more new and exciting destinations. Next up- castle visits....
And yet, they wanted to travel on and to continue to see as much as possible. Additionally they visited Brugge, Breendonk concentration camp, and then took a 'girls trip' to Amsterdam....
So in the city of bikes and canals, they visited the Anne Frank house museum, took a canal cruise, and viewed  Rembrandt's work in the Rijksmuseum.
The tulips weren't in seasonal bloom over the fields, but the Bloomenmarket was alive and kickn' where we'll have to say they tip-toed through the tulips (in their own way).
 They spent very little downtime. If we could, we'd have them stay another 2 weeks and we'd take them to see even more, but alas, they need to return home again.
The family misses them.

Needless to say, we're glad they came with so much enthusiasm.
We're gonna miss them too!