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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Graffiti: Art or Disrespectful?

Graffiti cement barrier. Looking out on One World Trade Center.

I tend to like things neat and tidy, but I also appreciate art and character. I don’t know that I consider graffiti art. I’ve never known an actual graffiti “artist”, so I’ve had no one to help me solidify the answer. The closest I’ve come is the random guy at an artist street fair who makes cool poster size prints from spray paint. They usually have a painters mask on while little kids sit right in front, breathing the fumes as their parents stare in fascination.

Back to graffiti; I won’t say I’m not intrigued by it. It’s hard not to draw your eyes from random splashes of color in places amongst plain brick or cement backdrops. There are times that I appreciate color on a decrepit and crumbling wall, in the form of a beautiful mural. There are also times I see spray paint on two hundred year old Continue reading

Past Lives: Who Were You Before?

This post could be the one that pushes me into either crazy territory or a relatable one.  I’m supposed to be truthful and share who I am in this blog, so I’ll get on with it.

Do you believe in past lives? Whether your religion abides by this belief or not, it might have crossed your mind.

I wasn’t raised to believe that we were reborn but there is something in me that leads me to believe that maybe I’ve been here on earth before. I don’t know who I was or where I was born. I don’t even know when I was here or how many times. I know that there are things I’ve been drawn to since I was a child, and these feelings drew me despite the fact that my family never led me there.

I grew up Irish/German Catholic, in America and in the 80’s. I have had a subconscious fear of someone stealing my shoes since I was a child and I’ve been drawn to 30’s and 40’s music even before my peers went through a rap and bad pop phase. I have however, since the time I began school, had a fascination with the Holocaust.  I’m not going to sit here and say this means anything, nor will I claim any actual connection to this time, but it’s a very odd feeling. I longed for Continue reading

I’m A Brick – Part Two

Philadelphia was built by innovators and blue collar immigrants. Though we’ve housed our fair share of wealthy folk, it has never been an upscale or rich city; rich in culture and history, yes, but not in money. Like other old East Coast cities, Philadelphia was built by people like my ancestors. They mixed the mortar, carried the bricks, polished the marble and bend the heated iron.

The city has beautiful areas that are captured of Philadelphia based movie and TV sets. It also has beautiful materials left in rundown neighborhoods that share marble steps amongst trash and crumbling concrete. It may not all be polished, but it’s ours.

To coincide with my last post, here is Philadelphia and its brick.

 

I’m A Brick!

If the walls in these shots could talk, they’d mimic the words of Ralph Wiggum.

For me, I think the way to appreciate beauty is to capture the good and the bad.  My eyes sway toward the gritty truth of the world around us, so I know I’m not meant to be a wedding photographer.  Though the Philadelphia tourism board would likely burn my pictures of trash, destruction and neglect, there are plenty of beautiful things that can be grabbed from the background.  It’s the truth of what a city is outside the paths that tourist take.  Today, I just share bricks.

Mae’s First Concert Rule

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been places I don’t belong.  Usually it’s not so much that I truly don’t belong, as much I don’t appear to belong.  I am sort of an old soul chameleon.  I enjoy having different hobbies and interests that don’t necessarily mix amongst themselves.

When I moved to California and became involved in a few different scenes, whether it was music, surfing, desert camping or antiquing, I found that as long as you play the part and believe that you belong, you can generally avoid standing out.

The first time I met the Red Hot Chili Peppers, I was at a charity event with a friend/date; I’m not sure what he was, honestly.  I bought my way into a small show, but there was a clear segregation between invited celebrities and ticket holders.  My “date” was clearly more interested in mingling with the bartenders while I was interested in making my very first attempt to score a couple minutes with the Peppers; any of them would do.  So while my “date” and I went separate ways, I found myself locking eyes with another fan who did not dress the part.  I mean, I had clearly been prepared in a sparkly pink sequin shirt, leather pants and spiked heels.  He was in a Chili Pepper t-shirt and Dickies.    Still, as I stood alone, as did he, at least we knew we had something in common; Chili Peppers.

After the usual introductions, he quickly asked if I’d been into the forbidden area of the evening; the main house.  I likely replied with something goofy like, “but we aren’t allowed in there”.  Fan Boy had a hint of trouble in his eyes, said “come on” and grabbed my hand.  As we approached a kitchen area, which had a wide open door to the back of the mansion, he stopped me and looked me dead in the eyes and said “if you act like you belong here, no one will question you.  Act like you own the place”.

So in the door we went, amongst buzzing kitchen workers, up the back stairs in stilettos I could barely function in and there we were.  We were in.  This was my first concert rule that I’d keep branded in my mind for all time; act like you belong and no one will question you.  It works because we clearly did not look the part, but we acted like we did…until we approached the band Continue reading

How Do I Become A Girlfriend?

Growing up in a neighborhood of boys, I only played with Barbies in private, unless they were invited to a GI Joe game and they needed a nurse doll present.  I was an only child till I was eight and I was fascinated with so many things.  My parents never led me to understand what was meant for boys or girls because I think they wanted me to experience childhood the way they both had.

I didn’t really have girlfriends until I started grade school.  Still, I played ballerina or Paula Abdul (don’t ask) with the girls and then army or Pogs with the boys.  As I got older, I found girls like me.  My best friends in high school were not girlie.  They could play rough with the boys but dress pretty for prom too.  We were a perfect fit.  We still are, except out of the group of girls I cherish the most, we are scattered amongst four states in separate geographically regions of the United States.

I’ve been hopelessly awkward since I began college.  I left home and found myself having to start from scratch.  Southern California does not give an East Coast girl the same kind of welcome a surfer girl gets, particularly Continue reading

Mach 3 Warms My Heart

I was affected by propaganda, in a good way.  We went to the Air Show at Maguire Air Force Base this weekend and it was quite a patriotic event.  It was a bit like “Bring your daughter” to work day, but for the public.  My husband was in the Navy but it’s been a few years since I’d been on a military base.  It seems the pride and respect for the military was not too far under the surface.

Once a jet breaks the sound barrier and hits Mach 3 over your head, it’s hard to not pay attention to the precision and pure awe of what some of our men and women are capable of.  While I’d be getting sick, they reach heights with twists and turns that make my body hurt just thinking about it.  They flew prop planes, helicopters and exhibited mission-like exercises.

Besides giving the tax payers a peek into the equipment that the military has thankfully splurged on, the event is emceed in a fashion reminiscent of old WWII news shorts that would play before a movie.  There is pomp and circumstance to backdrop the expansive array of aircraft on display on the ground and in the air.  You’d have to be made of stone to not feel proud of the Air Force capabilities.  For a second, I had wished my husband had stayed enlisted.

Then I think about the days when he was my boyfriend, and he worked for fourteen hours at times or inconveniently had gate duty on a weekend and how annoying it seemed.  When I saw the men and women who were forced to spend their weekend guiding civilians on how to park their cars or which direction to walk, I didn’t see the discontent in their faces.  They were respectful and kind, while parents dragged oversized strollers onto the shuttle buses and grubby little hands touched everything that they scrubbed and shined for the big weekend.  There is pride there.  Though I’m not naive enough to know there weren’t gripes, they didn’t show it.  They give a lot more than their time, they’d give their lives and that’s the hardest part of having military in the family.

Though we took probably a hundred photos of various types of aircraft, old and new, I’ve attached a brief sampling.

My husband was right; the military must get a really great deal on flat gray paint.

Atlantic City: The Original Vegas

Atlantic City Boardwalk

Saturday was so beautiful in the Northeast. It was the perfect kind of day to spend in the garden, or divert the car towards Atlantic City.

So that’s what we did.

Eighty degrees, cloudless sky and a nice sea breeze. Add that to the smell of funnel cake, sunscreen and slurp down the experience with fresh lemonade, while strolling the boardwalk and recognizing street names you normally see on your Monopoly board.

Steel Pier, Atlantic City

Atlantic City is a diverse mix of people, but it has most everything that Vegas touts, except there’s an ocean and expansive boardwalk. No, Celine Dion isn’t playing Atlantic City every night and I’m ok with that, but there are shows to be seen. There are glitzy and glamorous nightclubs, casinos and hotels. The amusement rides may not be as sparkly and the exterior decor may be a little more worn, but there’s something to be said for the city by the sea.

I grew up being fascinated by films of ladies jumping their horses off diving boards next to Steel Pier and photos of the old timers who wore their Sunday best as they wandered the boards in the early 20th century. I’ve also watched a lot of Boardwalk Empire on HBO, and though I know its primarily fictional stories written for entertainment, I have no doubt that Prohibition brought waves of crime and corruption that still linger today. Feeling that way does take away from the nostalgia of flapper girls and their shiny cigarette cases and replaces it with heroin chic society types that rival fashion models of the 90’s.

Atlantic City is an accessible city. It is a little less sparkly but nice equivalent to a five hour plane right to Nevada from the East Coast. But just like Vegas, don’t wander too far off the “strip” in Atlantic City; unless you’re looking for some non-fiction CSI type experiences. Also, get some saltwater taffy; it’s so good and the remnants of it can be tasted for days since it’ll be stuck in your molars. That might be an exaggeration, but in all honesty, stop at James’.  If taffy isn’t your thing, drop by the Whiskey Tavern in the new Revel casino, order an Old Fashioned and slip into shiny 1925 subway tile heaven.

James’ Salt Water Taffy

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.