Brussels: More Seedy than Chocolatey

On a partly sunny late June morning, our redeye landed in Brussels. With dreams of chocolate and architecture, we waited in the immigration line, eager to hit the cobblestone, rather Belgian stone. Our plan, per Rick Steves, was to peruse the town for a few hours and later ride the rails to Bruges. We hopped the train to city centre, stowed our carry-on suitcases in a locker and approached our first outdoor look at Belgium with a warm welcome from…drunk bums. Upon exiting the main train station in Brussels, we found trash, drunk confrontational homeless people and open outdoor toilets. Yay, we made it!

Don’t get me wrong, we like to make our own adventures but since we were foreigners, I suggested we just keep walking toward the Grand Place or Grote Markt like Rick said and get the heck away from the train station. He did mention Brussels was a little seedy, but Brussels sounds so fancy and French, so the only seediness I envisioned was that of chocolate dipped strawberries. Still, each city has its less desirable areas, so we ventured on and found what our little hearts desired…cappuccinos and chocolate filled pastries amid tall and ornate structures.

It became more and more overcast and eventually started to downpour, but the flowers that lined the windowsills of La Grand Place were still beautiful. The architecture consumed hundreds of pictures on our memory card, with each angle or sculpted archway appearing more intricate and astonishing than the last. This was the Belgium I wanted to see, shortly followed by a little peeing baby. “Let’s go see Mannequin Pis”, I tell my husband. “A pissing mannequin? What? Why?” I expected a response like this, since the only portion of the Belgium book he read was on the beer. But we did find the tiny statue of the baby boy peeing into a fountain, which seems to capture quite the crowd of tourists. It is a national symbol afterall…and there are many different variations that poke fun at the original. I found these much more amusing and not quite G-rated enough to post for your viewing pleasure.

We continued to wander and saw a parade of Belgian police ride through the narrow streets on gorgeous horses. It was a procession that included drumming and what seemed like a ceremonious trot through the main square. And though it was raining and the sight was one that we’d remember, I remember most getting my jeans smattered by….”stuff” from a horse splattering on the Belgian stone. I think that is the most delicate way to put that. Wonderful, a post full of bodily functions. But luckily we had our handy laundry detergent and my husband stopped laughing long enough that I could get cleaned up and we could head over to Bruges, which would hopefully welcome our tired and cranky selves with open arms, clear skies and beer.

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Creep at the Carnival

Last night I felt like a creep. I didn’t do anything wrong, mind you.

We are preparing to go on a trip soon. I like to call them adventures; we don’t have much planned out yet. But we bought new heavy duty backpacks and we’re feeling pretty ready to go. My husband wanted to try them out, so since we were going to the local Catholic School carnival, we’d get some walking in and this could be a good opportunity to try them out.

He loaded mine up with books and water bottles, which I thought was a bit excessive, considering it won’t be our main luggage, but used mostly for a large daypack.

We got some pretty strange looks when we show up childless, huge backpacks and taking pictures. I felt like a predator trying to take pictures of carnival rides and treats for sentimental and blog sake, while trying to avoid capturing the children belonging to the parents eerily watching us. Maybe we should have gone on a ride or two, or not acted as awkward as we appeared. Maybe we should’ve played another game besides the one where you use a big rifle to shoot out the paper star. Maybe we shouldn’t have run off with that stroller…

Just kidding.

We aren’t creepy generally, but we definitely appeared odd. Needless to say, I captured some decent shots and we determined that our backpacks are sufficient enough to join us.

Note to self: Next time bring friends with kids so we don’t feel so out of place; or at least don’t look like we’re surveying prospective kids to kidnap and take camping.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Close

Close.

A close shot of the vegetables lying close to each other. I purchased these this morning, from the local farmer’s market.  The produce was grown close-by, by a group of close-knit farmers who run a community event each Saturday; Jersey fresh and organic.  This is as close as we can get to eating healthy and helping the local farm economy.

Close enough for you?

Weekly Photo Challenge

Grandmom’s Spoons Are Better Than Yours

When you were little, did you ever stand by your Mom or your Grandmother at the kitchen counter, fascinated that they could effortlessly create something edible out of powders, liquids, chunks of produce or meat?  If you’re lucky, you did.  Even if they kept busy and didn’t explain what they were doing, it was fascinating to watch a grown-up with a flair for culinary creations.  I look back at these moments and find myself wishing I had asked more questions.  More importantly, I wish I had written down the answers I did get.  I will have to do that with my Mom next time I see her.

I am lucky that I come from a line of avid cooks and bakers, male and female on both sides of my family.  I will admit that the cooking bug may have skipped a couple people here or there, and the prominently Irish population opted for very plain dishes with minimal seasoning, but it was all good food.  I don’t remember a meal that I wouldn’t eat or that I disliked.  I trusted their ways, even when I was picky.  I remember wondering why hamburger meat was shoved into a green pepper or a plum into potato dough, but the final result was wonderful.  Now I can really go for some plum dumplings; those would be from the German/Hungarian side.

To coincide with my memories of the women in my life and my old soul, I wander through antique stores whenever I have any free time.  My favorite section is where you’ll find cooking tools because there are so many gadgets that don’t only look fascinating but are also so functional.  I try to decorate my kitchen with cooking tools, but only the ones that I can use and that do not appear to have lead paint chipping off the wooden handles.  True, they can’t be put in the dishwasher, but their style and efficiency are worth it.

The tools range from aluminum to copper, and the detail and quality can’t be matched by the goofy plastic options you’ll find at Target.  They were devised for a cook, for an avid homemaker who spent a lot of time in the kitchen.  The well used kind are just as promising as the mint looking ones, but they prove how well they can last.  The spoons have just the right shape for scooping, holes for slotting, edges for scraping and angles to maneuver into difficult corners to mix.  The mashers are sturdy, the grater’s lip lies across my bowl and my handled strainer lays on the edge of the pot so I don’t have to dirty a big awkward bowl style strainer.  My ball jars hold excess rice and beans and are gorgeous on a sunny day because they are an aqua blue.  And my favorite metal spatula is the only thing I can use to not break the yokes when I flip my eggs.

These may have been massed produced at one time, but clearly they’ve lasted for generations, at least a couple lifetimes anyway.  The worn handles make me daydream about how many cake batters were mixed and if the owner is gone or has just “upgraded” to new stuff.  I see “Made in the USA” stamped into the metal or funny patent names on my tools and more than in just the kitchen, I’m reminded of what the US used to be.  We used to make stuff.  These things are so simple, but make life so easy.  I like not using plastic or imported cheap materials, containing chemicals we will find are recalled in a couple years.

I wonder how many nifty things from my family had gone by the wayside and ended up in an antique store corner or in the trash.  (I also wonder why I just wrote nifty.)  I’m not a hoarder but I am sentimental.  I have such an appreciation for what used to be, but without letting that hinder my acceptance of what is current; well, maybe just spoons.  So what if I use a seventy year old spoon and listen to big band?  I did get this recipe off our iPad, so we’ll call the war of generations a tie…this time.

Living Through News

We wake up each morning to news stories that really make you think.  Today was a mix of banned bake sales, solar flares, thwarted bomb plots and cheating politicians.  Some of these are new and some are not, still they can capture our attention.

I often wonder if the world is safe or if freedom will ever truly be realized again.  I won’t go into politics because that spells disaster and I’m not necessarily looking for a debate, but I simply fear for the future at times.  But I think generations through time did this as well.  Haven’t you read classic literature that ponders and fears over changes in society?

I don’t want to live in fear.  I see bomb plots uncovered, only to recognize how advanced terrorism is, and how my family is very much their target, because we are all American.

I want to believe that if I have kids, that I can teach them healthy eating habits and still bake a pie to raise money for a carnival.

I know to never trust a politician.  If you think they are dishonest going in, there is less room for disappointment.  Hell, I think our mayor even looks slimey.

Solar flares that can knock out power grids.  Well, I don’t doubt that these sort of events have happened over time, but with our advancements, life is just more complicated as we try to make it easier.  I want to live knowing that I can survive without my computer or my cell phone if I had to.  If I had to live off my land or have a community of smart and innovative people, I’d like to think we could get by the way people did for thousands of years before us.  Still I know some people who would cry if they lost their phone charger.

I’m a news addict.  I read all I can and I listen to all I can, from all different sources and opinionated perspectives.  I like to form my own judgments and perspectives while I put faith where I know it counts; in myself and the people I can count on.  No, we aren’t perfect, but I know they have my back and I have theirs.  I can’t trust anyone else in the world to care for me.

Simple Things That Make Me Happy

I feel like my posts tend to alternate between longing (teetering on whiney) and dorky ideas.  I don’t do this on purpose, but maybe writing down things that bother me are effective enough that the following day I can look past them, at least temporarily, to see the beauty and pleasure in other things.

I sat here smiling as my pug and my husband snore next to me; (I mean, no honey, you don’t snore). I thought about how lucky I am to find joy in simple things. In no particular order, these are things that make me happy.  I welcome what simple things make you happy; there is always room to add to the list.

  • Tea, in a teacup with saucer and perfectly sweetened.  On a regular day, I drink tea unsweetened at work, just throwing a tea bag into the cleanest mug I have within reach.  (It just feels that way, don’t worry, I wash them.)  I’ve tried to perfect a perfect pot of tea; I can’t seem to do it like my Mom does, and so I make mine by the cup.  I go in phases with what type I’m in the mood for and lately rooibos wins.  Still, I wish I gave myself a moment to sit down and absorb just a moment of sunlight and a few minutes to drink tea each morning.  At the very least, I take a moment to think about the little sayings on my tea bags.  I started to save them at my desk because they are generally uplifting and every corporate cubicle can use random positivity.  Geez, now I sound like a hoarding Pollyanna.
  • Hot buttered toast and dipping it in hot chocolate.  Mmm.  I think I’m hungry.  Maybe I’m missing my Mom.  She’d make this for me when I was little, because her Mom did the same.  It came up in conversation before she passed that my Great-Grandmom used to get this when she was a kid from her Mom too.  I suppose it’s a traditional treat then.  The hot chocolate must be hot and so must the bread, and it should be white bread.  If you’re going to do this, you might as well go all out and use the soft white bread.  One day without wheat bread won’t kill you, but it might be the real butter that I suggest you use.  I know I’ve missed the boat to suggest this part, but it is particularly good on a colder morning. We still have some of these left.

Early morning. Though I have my favorites, Oscar prefers oatmeal.

  • Hanging clothes on the line.  Laundry chores are annoying but necessary.  I think this makes me happy because it has to be a beautiful day for this chore to be feasible, and that itself is a reason to smile. There is just something calming about pinning sheets up in a gentle breeze on a warm and sunny day.  Just don’t step in dog poo while you trek through the yard, it certainly takes away from the calming experience. Continue reading

Pep Talk to Myself

I know I’ve hinted at this before, but life is going to change for me (for us) in two months.  It’s the whole “giving up security and chasing dreams” thing.  At this point, with my husband by my side, it has been decided and I’m going to take a leap.  I’m luckily enough to have the support of family, friends and fellow dreamers/bloggers to do this, even if my head tells me I’m slightly crazy.  (Thank you.)

I can’t help but notice that now that I’ve mentally made a decision, the rest of my body needs to follow along; and it’s not too eager yet.  The next phase of my life will be very challenging, though the hardest part will be regaining and maintaining willpower that I’ve had in years past.  I have slacked for some time now and I’ve done what I wanted, when I wanted (outside of the hours of 8am to 5pm that is).  I’m not the Superwoman I once was.  I’m lazier and my body, energy and wallet suffer because of it.  Soon there won’t be room for gluttonous activity, at least not on a daily basis.

I had major surgery last March and it physically put me out of commission for several months.  I’m not sure I’ve been back to myself since before that happened.  There’s absolutely no reason to let this continue.  I’m at that turning point that I usually question in other people; “How did they end up there? What happened?”

Goals to get Shannon back:

  • Try harder at everything; AKA stop skating by.
  • Put down things I don’t need to purchase.
  • Eat less and eat better.  Stop eating what makes you feel ill and don’t forget your vitamins.
  • Show more love to others by loving, not by buying things.
  • Be a better friend.
  • Sit up tall, get to sleep earlier and stop telling yourself you’re tired.
  • Have faith that no matter what happens, it’ll work out.

No jokes today kids, just the sad reality that if I want things to change, I have to make changes. I like to think that if I publicly commit myself to something, it might be easier to succeed.  Sometimes honesty outplays humor and this is all I’ve got to give during an evening of contemplation.

I have this quote in my “Ultimate Purpose” page, and it’s time to live by it:

“To change your life: Start immediately, do it flamboyantly, no exceptions.” ― William Jones

Your Guide to Grocery Shopping

My husband and I met at the grocery market after we were both done work and did some shopping together.  This isn’t normal practice, but it worked out since we had to run an errand in the same shopping center.  With an extra hand, I was able to look around and absorb what a ridiculous chore that food shopping is.  Is there ever a convenient time to go food shopping?  It is likely my least favorite chore and there isn’t much you can do to avoid the hassles.

Here is a rundown of what it takes to be an efficient grocery shopper.

  1. Some make a list or cut coupons.
    1. This could be a chore on its own.  Dreaded meal planning or in depth scan of the fridge, so you aren’t held accountable later when you’re out of something.
    2. Don’t forget to bring your own bags.  Even if you don’t want to be “green”, the plastic ones are getting thinner and cheaper.  (One too many jars of spaghetti sauce in your bag then causes disastrous mess in your driveway.)
  2. Seek out food like a hunter.  Even with signs, it feels like a scavenger hunt most times.
  3. Figure out what you can afford.
    1. Scan options and ask yourself why there are twenty-five kinds of jelly or tea to choose from.
    2. Try to decide what is actually the least detrimental to your health and affordable.
  4. Fill your basket.
    1. Enter all of Grandmom’s rules about handling your food; don’t crush your bread or pin your bananas against any boxes.  Keep your cold stuff together and eggs on top.  Bag meat products that may leak as well as your vegetables to keep loose items together.
  5. Don’t forget to check expiration dates.
  6. Pull a ticket and wait in line for the deli counter.
    1. The deli people are usually the most unhappy workers at a supermarket.  Play a fun game and try to guess what the people in front of you order.  Play with your phone if you’re still waiting after five minutes.  Don’t expect anyone but you to be happy that you’ve found alternate amusement.
    2. When you hit the lottery and your time to order meat and cheese has been announced, spout your selections quickly like it’s the last thing you get to say on earth, there is no time to stumble or make last minute decisions now. Continue reading

“God bless you, little animal” and Other Sappy Feelings

I’m not sure if I’m an idiot or compassionate, but I’m definitely sad.  On my way home from work this afternoon, one of the cars in front of me hit a little squirrel. I didn’t know until I came up closer and saw it flailing in the middle of my lane, clearly badly injured.  I’m not particularly a fan of squirrels but I love animals and it really broke my heart.  It was flopping around, like it was trying desperately to get up.  I contemplated the rest of the way home if there was something I could do for it, so it wouldn’t suffer any longer, but I couldn’t imagine running it over to “end it” either.

I’m such a sucker for animals, yet I’m such a hypocrite with living things.  Here I am with tears for this little squirrel that I have zero connection with, but when I listen to the news and hear about humans who’ve tragically died; it doesn’t upset me this much.  I feel bad for them and their families of course, I’m not cold or heartless.  Maybe it’s the fact that I saw the squirrel struggle and there was nothing I could do for it.  I mean, I know if it were a person who got run over, I would feel just as affected.  And if you’ve followed me for some time now, you also know that I don’t like crying; that somewhere I have some deep seated distain for it.  I’m slightly embarrassed that my husband will come home soon and see my puffy eyes because of a simple squirrel.

I’ve seen plenty of road kill in my day.  I suppose my sensitivity comes from my Mom.  She is very compassionate and loving.  Since as long as I can remember, if we ever saw a dead animal, she’d say “God bless you, little animal”, even if it were a big deer.  It was something that I consider sweet and kind because they live and hurt like we do.  I started saying it myself when I got my license and had/have gotten made fun of many times by fellow passengers.  It didn’t bother me because I knew I wasn’t doing anything wrong.  I’d feel like an ass if I stopped saying a simple blessing because of peer pressure.

I’m not even a vegetarian.  Continue reading

The Easter Bunny is Making Me Chubby

I’m also going to blame Santa, St. Patrick, Revolutionary War veterans, ok all veterans, the Pagans that started Halloween and the Pilgrims.

I realize a furry bunny did not force a chocolate one down my throat; or peeps or jelly beans.  So maybe I should blame my metabolism for failing me when it should clearly know that I like to celebrate every holiday with food; it’s the American way.  Continue reading