Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Back to the "Good Life" aka Nebraska (May 22 - Jun 9)

As most of you know I went back home at the end of May (Shannon had to stay and work). I wouldn't say I was homesick, but there were a lot of things going on back home which I wanted to be a part of. I was also excited to see family and friends and bring them a taste of Belgium goods, like chocolate and beer and even stroopwafels from Holland whom my sister-in-law, Kathy, loves which I didn't even know! I guess she got hooked on them while she was working at her old job in Austin where they would send people over to Holland for work and they would bring back tons of stroopwafels. Luckily, she will periodically still get them since Holland (aka The Netherlands) is so close to Belgium.

The most important reason I decided to go home was my grandfather's health. As many of you knew, he was diagnosed with liver cancer in March. I was fortunate enough to see him before he turned for the worse. He passed away on May 30 at the Harvard Nursing Home. He was a wonderful grandfather whom I have several memories of golfing, playing games, watching sports, farming and all the fun holiday family gatherings at his house. He was a very generous and kind-hearted man who I dearly miss, but I know that the Lord is taking care of him now.

On a happier note, my cousin, Ashley, got married over Memorial weekend in Des Moines and I was lucky enough to attend her and Brian's special day. Everything looked so beautiful and I was happy to be around family that I hadn't seen in a long time. My nephew, Garrett, was the Ringbear and he was as cute as ever...he even managed to bow with the flower girl at the altar like all the bridesmaids and groomsmen. I think Shannon and my wedding paid off as practice!

Also while I was home, one of my good friends, Missy, had a BBQ which a lot of my friends attended. She called it a Tea Party Nebraska style with beer replacing the tea and hamburgers the crumpets...basically making fun of my occasional tea parties over here! The food and company were great and we even were able to play some yard games, bean bag throw and yard golf. It was nice catching up with everyone and made me realize how fortunate I am to have such good friends!

I also made a stop at Nelnet to visit my former coworkers and drop off a box of Belgium Neuhaus Chocolates, which I heard were a hit! It was fun to see everyone since I truly do miss the people. It also made me miss my old job, but then I remembered it's not too bad having my life at the moment! I'm applying for jobs occasionally, but still no luck. Recently Shannon's partner at Deloitte sent an email about a business that helps spouses of expats try to find employment, so I will be looking into it.

I traveled out west to Shannon's parents in Bertrand to say hello one day and by the end of the night ended up taking cover in his parents' basement because of all the tornado warnings (I don't miss having those around!) Shannon's grandma, Mildred, had a girls get together, so besides Shannon's mom, Lynda, I was able to see his Aunt Trudy and cousin Jill and her new baby, Shali. It was fun sharing some European experiences along with catching up with all of them. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to see much of Lonnie, Amy and the kids since they were all sick. They stopped by Terry and Lynda's while I was there for a quick hello.

Since I haven't played much golf here, I made sure to get my fill of it while I was back home. I think I played around 5 times. Garrett even came out with my dad and me once! Thankfully, I haven't lost my touch yet! I played mostly bogey golf which I was happy with considering I wasn't even using my own clubs. Though, I really did like Kathy's clubs; mom's, not so much (please someone buy her some new clubs!) I played mostly at Crooked Creek in Clay Center, but made it up to Lincoln one time to play at Wilderness Ridge with Evan since he's working there for the Summer. On a side note, I got a stinking speeding ticket with my parent's car on the way to the golf course! However, ask Evan about his which happened the same day!

I also supervised some fishing back at the Fisher Pond! One evening, my cousins, Jake and Jacey along with Evan, Garrett and I did a little fishing while the rest of the family hung out around a fire pit up by the house. Not sure how many we ended up catching. Not this evening, but another time while I was back, I actually caught one which I called a whale since it took me forever to reel in!

Cousins: Courtney, Ashley and me at Ash & Brian's Rehearsal in Des Moines
Ashley & Brian exiting the church
My stunning nephew, the Ringbear!
Clay, Kathy, Emma and Garrett
Cousins: Christina, Jake, me, Evan & Jacey at Ash's wedding
Missy's BBQ with cute little Camryn
The gang at the BBQ: Missy, Tarah, me, Gina, Emily, Charity and Elizabeth
Shannon's parents putting our old couch to good use! (when they aren't working!)
Shannon's grandma and cousin with her new baby
Cousins along with Evan and Garrett fishing at my parents
Garrett and me golfing
My parents and me golfing
Garrett's favorite place, the Park, which I took him one day

Monday, July 21, 2008

Our Apartment in Brussels

Finally I've decided it's time to show you pictures of where we live! I took pictures of most of the rooms except our bathroom/toilet room, extra bedroom and tiny office area. I've also included photos of our apartment's surroundings. Our apartment is very small compared to American standards, but we're getting along just fine! The toilet room (yes, it is in a separate room than our bathroom) could be a bit larger as your knees tend to hit the wall while sitting, especially if you're a tall person. We had some friends here in May and they took a picture of that room because they thought it was so funny...we've learned to sit at an angle!
Just the other day, we went to Midi Market (huge Sunday Market with everything you can imagine) and bought some additional plants to make our apartment more lively. We purchased a few flowers to put in a planter outside our middle window. We also ended up with an olive tree and some beautiful purple and white orchids. Maybe I won't have to buy olives at the market anymore if our tree does well! It's a little over 5 ft tall...we couldn't have anything too large because it's in our living room (we unfortunately don't have a lawn/garden area). It was either an olive tree or a grapevine, we couldn't carry both! You can see that we miss our yard in Lincoln.
Since our apartment didn't come with any light fixtures or blinds (very normal), Shannon had to
put those all up when we moved in. Gradually we've been buying light fixtures as they are quite expensive...we've become accustomed to light bulbs hanging by wires here and there! Shannon may also add some cupboards to the kitchen so our pantry can be moved from the dining room cupboard. You will notice in the kitchen there is no dishwasher; hence my hands are in suds every day, well I guess I do have the time! Also in the bathroom we have a washer, but no dryer since they are not energy efficient, thus I air dry about everything.
Overall, we love the location and have grown to like our apartment more and more as we are almost done furnishing it. I especially enjoy the large bay windows both in our living room and our bedroom. Our living room windows overlook a nice green space with ponds and our bedroom faces some cute old buildings; although, a tram does run by us, so occasionally I put some ear plugs in, but I'm getting use to it. There is also a forest near our house that we occasionally go biking in since it has several nice paths and some additional ponds. We also have some restaurants, pubs, grocery stores, clothing shops and other stores within a 5 - 15 minute walk.
Our Apartment Complex (bay windows 2nd floor) - Brussels (Ixelles Commune)
Living Room (overlooks ponds)
Dining Room
Our bedroom
Tiny kitchen...oh well, it's not forever!
Our neighbors down the street also facing the ponds (a bit nicer than our place!)
The Ponds outside our Apartment Complex (Christina and me) The Ponds by our Apartment

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Ardennes (May 10 - 11)

Since Shannon and I both like to camp, we decided to take a mini adventure to the Ardennes which is located in the southeast region of Belgium (mostly French speaking). The Ardennes is a region of extensive forests and rolling hill country, primarily in Belgium and Luxembourg, but stretching into France. The region is typified by steep-sided valleys carved by fast-flowing rivers, such as the Meuse and the Ourthe. Most people associate the Ardennes with the Battle of the Bulge which took place here at the end of World War II and the Battle of the Ardennes which took place in World War I. Many of the towns of the region were badly damaged during the two world wars.

We began our trip by going to Dinant which is an old city dating back to the 11th Century. Two of the city's fascinating landmarks are the Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame and the Citadel (fortress) on the cliff. Instead of taking the cable car up to the Citadel, I made Shannon walk the 408 steps up the cliff with me! Then we took the short tour through the Citadel which consists of a museum of armaments, several dioramas, a collapsed shelter cave, and a beautiful view of the Meuse River Valley and the city below. Dinant is also the birthplace of Adolphe Sax; hence the picture of Shannon with a saxophone below. The 'Leffe Abbey' is also located here which is where they initially began brewing Leffe beer, but eventually they decided to join a commercial brewery, so only a Leffe Museum remains. We even tried the famous Dinant ginger biscuits called the "Couques de Dinant" which are shaped in all kinds of molds, ours being a lion biscuit. I don't recommend it; I almost cracked a tooth gnawing on it because it appeared to be as hard as a dog biscuit without much flavor (note, this is one biscuit/cookie I will not eat and as most people know I eat most kinds of cookies!)

The next town we went to was called La Roche-en-Ardenne and was also the area where we camped. We borrowed one of Shannon's coworker's tents, sleeping bags and sleeping pads and roughed it out in the wilderness of the Ardennes. We pitched our tent with some trailer homes near a river where there were also a few campers. We didn't realize it was a permanent trailer park until we had walked around the area; it was quite funny to see some hill billy French people because I didn't picture them living in these surroundings. The next day we kayaked down the Ourthe River which flows through La Roch-en-Ardenne. Thankfully, we didn't take a spill, but saw a few youngsters purposely flip their kayak by standing in it rocking it back and forth; not sure why they would want to do this because the water was freezing this time of year! After kayaking we visited the ruins of The Feudal Castle built between the 11th and 14 centuries. It is currently being renovated since it was buried under 3,000 sq meters of dirt by the French to protect the vaulted artillery emplacements. This town is rich with war history, so we also went to a war museum which Shannon was quite thrilled about. The museum consists of mannequins of American, English, German and even Scottish soldiers with their equipment and armament, uniforms, light and heavy arms, photographic documents, personal objects, equipment found on the battlefield and military vehicles.

We will probably go camping again since I brought back our tent while I was home in the States in May. Camping is an inexpensive way to see some of the countryside in the Ardennes, so I'm sure we'll be back to visit other towns in that region along with military shows, my husband informs me!

Collegiate Church of Notre-Dame sitting below the Citadel on the cliff - Dinant

Top of Citadel (Meuse River below - Dinant)

Trying to play the sax (home of Adolphe Sax - Dinant)

Kayaking down the Ourthe River

Town of La Roche-en-Ardenne with The Feudal Castle in background

Shannon all giddy with the war equipment/vehicles everywhere in this region