Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Cycling in the 'Forêt de Soignes' (forest) near our Apartment (Apr 2 & 22)

Since it's hard to stay in the house on such beautiful Spring days, I find myself looking for reasons to go outside and what better way to enjoy the weather and even get some exercise than to cycle in the forest near our apartment (Forêt de Soignes). Shannon and I went cycling a lot last year and have gone a few times this year when the weather has cooperated. Otherwise, if he's working, I go with Stephanie, my neighbor, who also loves the outdoors and enjoys cycling. Actually I just went today with another friend, Dallas, since she suggested it earlier in the week and it was only fitting to go on a bike ride on Earth Day (April 22)! To commemorate Earth Day I also walked to Chatelain Market with my recyclable bags to get some fresh fruits and vegetables. I also air dried all my laundry today. Oh wait, I guess I do these things on a regular basis, along with recycling paper, plastic, tin and glass. I think living over here has helped me become more environmentally savvy; hopeufully, it will stick when we move back!

Back to cycling, to make myself more comfortable I've been wearing Shannon's biking gear he got from participating in a Deloitte cycling event last year. I love the padded butt part of the biking shorts, but the rest of the outfit is kind of hideous as it has suspender like straps to hold up the shorts and to give you more support. I suppose it's really good for me because my 'growing belly' needs all the support it can these days! Don't worry, I don't let anyone see me in it since I always wear workout clothes over top of it to spare myself any sort of embarrassment. I also wear padded biking gloves and a camel back which not only holds my water, but my forest map, keys, snacks and anything else I feel like bringing along. I occasionally wear my helmet as well.

Anyway, Stephanie and I recently went on a long bike ride (3 hours roundtrip) down to the Groenendaal section of the forest where there is suppose to be a chateau, but once we got there we weren't impressed with the modern looking home that I guess is considered Kasteel van Groenendaal. However, there are several ponds and picnic areas so we settled on eating our packed lunches there. Earlier we had rode by another area of the forest, Tournay-Solvay Park, which has a rundown chateau which I believe is called Bischoffsheim. I actually like the Tournay-Solvay Park better than the area we ended up for lunch since it has a few ponds with ducks, flower gardens, apple trees and an old chateau on a hill which I mentioned a second ago. Throughout the forest we saw several people walking their dogs, running, casual walking with friends, some with baby carriages and even a few horseback riding. Overall we had a nice bike ride and couldn't complain about the perfect weather we had which was around low 70s and no wind. We did feel sorry for our husbands who had to stay in their offices all day while we enjoyed the sun!

Here is the rundown Chateau Bischoffsheim in the Forêt du Soignes which Stephanie and I cycled by. I've been by it a few times with Shannon as well. He wants to design our house after some of its architecture once we move back and build a house someday.
Taking a break for lunch at the Groenendaal section of the forest which wasn't as impressive as we hoped. Stephanie is modeling her Deloitte biking attire!
There are several horse trails throughout the forest
All of the pathways have names which makes it really easy to maneuver around the forest, especially with the map that we purchased from the American Women's Club.
You can barely spot him, but check out the cute little dog running down the path to his master. His master must have been a dog walker because there were around 10 dogs he was walking; however, I only happen to catch this little guy on camera!
Stephanie and I nearing the final stretch of our 3 hour excursion.
There are lots of ducks, swans and other birds in and around the ponds.
Another view of the old chateau from another bike ride episode with Shannon.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Place Châtelain and Watermael-Boitsfort Market (Weiner) with friends (Apr 1 & 5)

Going to markets is becoming a way of life for me which is already the case for most Europeans. I especially enjoy going to the Châtelain Market on Wednesday afternoons and usually end up meeting up with some girls for drinks or lunch and then a stroll through the market to get our weekly goods. Stephanie and I are regular market goers and are always up to try new ones, but we make it a tradition to go to the Châtelain Market almost every week since it's only a 15 minute walk from our apartments. Some of the items we buy include: fruit, vegetables, specialty cheeses, bread, olives, sun dried tomatoes, flowers, rotisserie chickens, fish and occasionally tarts or pastries. Châtelain Market is also known as being a social gathering place later in the evenings where people enjoy drinking wine, beer and a variety of foods, such as oysters or Thai cuisine, among tables within the market and nearby cafes. Many people agree that Châtelain has its own unique charm enticing people to come back over and over.

Another market my friend, Dallas, told me about is the Watermael-Boitsfort Market on Sunday mornings only a short tram ride away from my apartment (Weiner stop on the 94 tram). It's a fairly large market winding up and down a few streets along with occupying a small square. I've only been to this market a few times, but definitely think it's worth a trip when I need to buy lots of stuff since there is such a big variety and prices seem to be pretty good. Though, on the weekends, I tend to go to the Flagey Market which is about a 5 minute walk from our apartment if I only need a few items...I guess convenience wins there.

Enjoying drinks on a beautiful Spring day with friends, Maisie, Simone, Marta and Stephanie, at a cafe in Place Châtelain
One of the flower booths at the market
One of my friends, Leah, told me that Shannon wanted me to buy this belly dancing outfit...I definitely would have a lot to jiggle, but I decided against it!
This is the fruit vendor I visit frequently which has lots of samples. Beautiful bouquets of flowers for great prices...if only Shannon got off work early enough to buy me flowers occasionally; though, I splurge every once in awhile!
There are a few homemade bread vendors
There are also some cute bags, clothes and other accessories at Châtelain Market.
Now I'm at the Watermael-Boitsfort Market eyeing the olive booth and other Middle Eastern specialties.
Vicky and I purchased a rotisserie chicken for lunch. Of course I chose the corn fed chicken and she chose the grass fed chicken...hmm I wonder which one's healthier, I have a feeling not mine!
Dried sausages which I don't buy too often because I think they look funny, but they actually taste pretty good.
Buying some healthy vegetables with Stephanie
Vicky buying some tulips as there is quite a selection to choose from at the markets

Monday, April 13, 2009

Demonstrating Mexican Lunch to Japanese Friends (Mar 17)

Stephanie Cohan and I have been trying to figure out a good day to make a Mexican lunch with some of our Japanese friends and finally made it work out on Saint Patrick's Day of all days! I met these girls at the French Language Schools Amira and CPAB over the last year and have had fun getting to know them.

Several months ago, we had a Japanese lunch at Takako's apartment and now it was our turn to show them out to make American or Mexican cuisine. We settled on Mexican because it's more interesting than American cuisine, plus Stephanie is vegetarian, which defeats the purpose on making some of the most traditional American options. Stephanie and I demonstrated how to make 3 different kinds of Mexican dishes: Guacamole, Tasty Racy Quesadillas and Chicken Enchiladas. I had printed off the recipes for each person with detailed directions on how to make each item. We had the ladies help prepare the dishes so they would know how to make them on their own. Everything turned out delicious and I've heard that one of the girls, Naoko, actually made the guacamole and quesadillas for some friends of hers and her husband's recently.

We will be going to Takako's apartment again to learn how to make some more Japanese dishes in the next few months. The first time we made shrimp tempura which tasted fantastic; however, I was never brave enough to try and make it on my own! Stephanie, Maria and I have also made salmon sushi rolls in the past which have turned out pretty good. We all enjoy experimenting on making new kinds of cuisine. I've really come to like Thai food as well and have made it a few times and have gone to several restaurants here that are extremely good. In particular, I like the red and green coconut curry based Thai dishes. One of my favorite Thai restaurants in Brussels is 'Le Deuxieme Element' in the Saint Boniface area of Ixelles.

Takako, Mizuki, Naoko and Stephanie waiting to dive into the 'Tasty Racy Quesadillas'!
Takako making her first ever quesadilla!
Naoko making a quesadilla...she used to live in Houston, so she knows how good Mexican food tastes!

Some exciting news...Shannon and I are EXPECTING! (photos mostly from Mar & Apr events)

As most of you already know, Shannon and I are expecting our first child mid-July which we are extremely excited about! We've been busy trying to prepare for the arrival of our little one by going to baby expositions, baby sales and registering (photo on left is not our baby's bedroom, just a cute example!)

Back in January, we started acquiring baby equipment like a car seat and stroller. We found a good deal on a Quinny Speedi stroller on EBay. It was actually brand new and came from a store in Germany. We found a car seat at Baby 2000 since they have a huge variety and happened to have really good discounts during the January sales. There are only large sales in Belgium and most of Europe in January and July, so people stalk up on items in those months. It truly becomes a madhouse in all the stores during those times! I participated by buying lots of baby clothes even though I didn't even know the sex. I ended up buying more girl items than boys which later proved to be the right decision! We found out we're having a girl when I was around 18 weeks. I love all the girly clothes and other baby accessories here for girls, so hopefully I don't get out of control which Shannon thinks has already happened! Shannon is hoping she likes to play with knights and horses as well since he already bought some figurines at a few Christmas Markets!

When my parents came over to visit at the end of February, they brought over several baby outfits, sleepers, hats, blankets, a hooded towel, pacifiers, socks and even some of my sister-in-law's maternity clothes and a taggy blanket and burp clothes that she threw in. I loved everything and feel fortunate that my parents hauled all this stuff over with them! Also I never thought I'd be so happy to wear maternity clothes, but when your belly starts getting bigger and you can't do the rubber band trick any more with your pants, maternity pants with elastic bands are the answer!

We attended a Baby Exposition at Tour and Taxi's Event Center in Brussels held on March 15. We noticed an advertisement for the exposition in our weekly French newspaper that we receive. We had a fun time strolling through all the booths and ended up coming home with a diaper ginny, baby clothes, stuffed animal of a cow and a fancy nursing bra for myself! There were a ton of vendors carrying items such as personalized pacifiers, bottles, clothes, diapers, strollers, cribs, car seats, baby carriers, toys, bouncers, detergents, bras, bedding, furniture, photography, ect...

At the end of March we attended the semi-annual Nearly New Baby Sale put on by the Brussels Childbirth Trust Organization, which I'm a part of. We arrived 30 minutes early since we heard things go fast and there were still 75 people waiting in line ahead of us. Luckily, we managed to get everything we came for and more! We got excellent deals on a crib, Bjorn baby carrier, relax chair similar to a bouncer seat and some baby clothes. We will definitely be making this a regular shopping excursion twice a year since normal priced baby items are quite expensive here.

With urging from friends and family, in April we decided to register at two popular baby stores, Baby 2000 and Prémaman. We did it on 2 different days because I think Shannon would have strangled me if he had to go from store to store on the same day since my indecisiveness really annoys him! On one of the outings, he was lucky enough to find a bratwurst stand close to the store which satisfied him for awhile! In the end we found some great items to register for such as a diaper bag, monitors, high chair, bath tub, playpen, bedding and a ton of other accessories. We decided against registering for clothes because of the stores' policies and how one store requires you to buy the clothes that you put on your list if no one has bought them for you while the other store doesn't allow you to register for clothes until 2-3 weeks before the baby is born to help guarantee they have the correct sizes you want. The stores literally take the clothes off their shelves and hold them back for you, but we didn't want to come in last minute to register for clothes or be forced to buy them; thus, we didn't register for any. We figured if people want to buy us clothes, they're going to pick out cute outfits anyway, so these policies didn't bother us too much! Also I don't think they have baby showers here and therefore, it's more normal to give a gift a few weeks after the baby is born.

Baby Exposition at Tour and Taxi (Event Center in Brussels)
Some cool baby beds that were out of our price range, but were way cute!
Example of some of the cute clothing at the event
There were tons of strollers, car seats, bouncers, clothes, cribs, toys, basically anything baby or pregnancy related
This is Tour and Taxi's building which is used for cultural activities, events and shows in combination with great dining and shopping experiences
Waiting in line for the 'Nearly New Baby Sale' put on by the Brussels Childbirth Trust Organization
The mob once inside the sale. We found lots of great bargains!
Shannon sporting our new baby Bjorn carrier from the baby sale. I think he's going to have fun toting our little girl around!
We registered at a popular baby store in Belgium called Baby 2000. Luckily we already got a car seat during the January sales, but found lots of other great things to register for here.
Baby 2000 has about everything you could imagine
One of Baby 2000's displays - we registered for the mobile, but already picked out bedding at Prémaman, another baby store
Another example...notice the hot air balloon light which Shannon wants me to make since they're so expensive; though I don't think that's going to happen!
We also registered at Prémaman, another popular baby store in Belgium and the rest of Europe. Since we can't paint the baby's room being in an apartment and all, we're going to put some flower stickers on her dresser / changing table and maybe the walls to add some excitement to her room!
Here is a photo of me around 5 1/2 months along. The baby told me she wanted a lemon meringue pie which turned out quite tasty!
Another photo of me holding the cute baby book my Aunt Marilyn sent me called "Ma! There's Nothing to Do Here!" along with a stuffed toy cow we purchased at the Baby Exposition.

Creativa Exposition with Dallas & Sarah (Mar 14)

My friend Dallas had told me about the Creativa Exposition awhile ago, and we decided it would be fun to check out. Her friend Sarah also came along and had some extra discount tickets, so it ended up being very reasonable to attend.

There was about every type of craft you could imagine at the Exposition. We saw several booths of beads/jewelry, flower arrangements, purses, cooking/baking equipment, fabric, scrapbooking materials, paper mache, ceramic mosaic tiles, lace, large bowls of loose tea and spices, glitter, baby clothes and even silk worms! I'm sure there are others I'm missing as it was quite a large event.

I was hoping this event would inspire me to become more creative, but unfortunately I haven't been that ambitious lately! I do have a sewing machine, thanks to Shannon's mom, in our storage room which I've thought about dragging out several times, but no luck! Lately, I've only done some hand sewing to mend a few items of Shannon's along with attach some missing buttons to our garments. I'm hoping when I finally decide to start using the sewing machine that it all comes back to me. A long time ago, I used to sew in 4-H and even modeled some of my clothes at the Fair.

Anyway, at the Exposition, I bought some glue dots for scrapbooking, a fabric cutting board and a few fat yards of fabric that I plan on making a pillow or two with. The others also bought some fabric as well. They actually sew quite a bit and even make quilts which is hard for me to fathom. I'm jealous of their talents and hopefully they will inspire me to become more adventurous when it comes to sewing! Feel free to check out Dallas and Sarah's blogs on this event. http://forthejourney.net/2009/03/creativa-craft-show/ http://craftywaffles.blogspot.com/search/label/craft%20expo
Overall, we all thought it was fun and hope to begin a craft night at some point. In my attempt to be crafty over the last year, I have made a trivet out of wine corks, Belgium beer bottle cap magnets, earrings, cute gift boxes and cards and a bit of scrapbooking. I've also been saving Belgium Beer labels and coasters so I can make a serving tray someday.

Lots of glitter!
Just one example of some of the beautiful fabrics we saw
I thought this was a unique quilt
Demonstrating how some of the famous Belgium lace is made
Sarah and Dallas smelling the assortment of teas
Beads galore!
Lids that you can put on your pots, even on the stove, or other bowls to seal your food and keep it fresh
There were several flower arrangement booths
Silk worms - if you look really close, you can see their tiny threads