Friday, March 28, 2008

This weekend!

I am off to Istanbul, Turkey this weekend! I am really excited about seeing a new and very different culture. We are staying with friends who live in a fabulous house overlooking the Bosphorus Strait. From the pictures I have seen of this house, I am not sure I will want to leave!

I will be back in Brussels on Tuesday and look forward to sharing my adventures!!

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Making plans...

My time living abroad is quickly passing me by! I have been here almost 1 year (can you believe it?) and my contract is up next March (if it is not extended). As a result, I have some serious traveling to do in the next year.

Many of you have expressed an interest in coming over to see me. Well, if you are serious about coming, we need start planning. I am making a list of all the places that are 'must-see before I leave' and starting to plan those trips.

I would love to take you along with me so I need to know SOON if this is something you are able to do this year.

Hope to see (and travel) with you soon!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Snow Bunny!

Our snow only lasted until around noon yesterday, but Maxie did get a chance to hop around like a bunny!

She found a safe spot!

Can you find her?

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Winter Wonderland!

I had flashbacks to my childhood this morning when I woke up and saw about 6 inches of snow on the ground! I can remember looking out the window when snow was predicted to see if it actually snowed and if we would have the day off of school! You could not get me out of the bed before it was time to get up unless there was snow on the ground and then I was up at the crack of dawn! I laughed this morning when I did the same thing! I was up and taking pictures about an hour before the alarm went off!

I've waited all winter for snow and it finally came! We were being teased all weekend but nothing ever accumulated....until today! Too bad it was a weekday and I had to go to work.

But, the drive into the office was pretty! Today was the first day I missed not having a garage and I had to clean off my car!

Oh, and the first day was spring was last Thursday! HA, Happy Spring!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Monday

Today is another European holiday, Easter Monday. According to Wikipedia:

Easter Monday is the day after Easter Sunday and is celebrated as a holiday in some largely Christian cultures, especially Catholic.

Formerly, the post-Easter festivities involved a week of secular celebration, but this was reduced to one day in the 19th century. Events include egg rolling competitions and, in predominantly Catholic countries, dousing other people with water which, at one time, had been holy water blessed the day before at Easter Sunday Mass and carried home to bless the house and food.

Easter Monday on the Catholic liturgical calendar is the second day of the octave of Easter Week. In the Catholic Byzantine Rite and the Eastern Orthodox Church, Easter Monday is called Bright Monday.

Though not largely observed in the United States, the day remains informally observed in some areas such as the state of North Dakota, and the cities of Buffalo, New York and South Bend, Indiana. Easter Monday was a public holiday in North Carolina from 1935 to 1987. Traditionally Polish areas of the country such as Chicago observe Dyngus Day as well. Easter Monday is a public holiday, along with Good Friday in Protestant countries, such as Germany, Denmark and certain British Commonwealth countries such as Australia. Along with Good Friday, Easter Monday is a Bank Holiday in the United Kingdom , making a four-day weekend.

Happy Easter Monday!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter!

The Legend of the Dogwood Tree

When Christ was on earth, the dogwood grew
To a towering size with a lovely hue.
Its branches were strong and interwoven
And for Christ's cross its timbers were chosen.
Being distressed at the use of the wood
Christ made a promise which still holds good:
"Not ever again shall the dogwood grow
To be large enough for a tree, and so
Slender and twisted it shall always be
With cross-shaped blossoms for all to see.
The petals shall have bloodstains marked brown
And in the blossom's center a thorny crown.
All who see it will think of me,
Nailed to a cross from a dogwood tree.
Protected and cherished this tree shall be
A reflection to all of my agony."

Friday, March 21, 2008

Belgium hates me...

I am really not in the mood to talk about what happened to me last night in the dark pouring down rain. However, until I am ready to talk about it, I will tell you my car needs to be fixed.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Belgian Drivers!

I am not meant to drive in this country!!

On Monday night I had to park my car on another street because there was no parking on my street. I always get nervous about doing that, but I had no choice. On Tuesday morning when I turned the corner to get to my car, I saw another car trying to get into the parking spot right in front of where my car was parked. This spot was tiny and this guy drove a very large Jaguar which was absolutely not going to fit into the spot.

A lady standing on the sidewalk was saying something to the guy in French as he was backing up. I have to assume she was telling him he was not going to make it in the spot. She looked up at me as I was crossing the street and knew it had to be my car by the look on my face. I then witnessed what I knew was going to happen...the guy hit my car. He did not just hit it once, he hit it multiple times. By the time I got over to the car, I slapped my hand on his car and told he driver to stop as he kept hitting my car while trying to back into this spot.

He rolled down this window and said, "I think I just hit your car". Duh (I thought) and told him, "yes, many times". He proceeded to move his car to another place while I assessed the damage. Ok, it was not that bad...really not bad at all. There were only a couple of scratches and a small cover which had popped off. He walked up to me apologizing and told me he would be right back that he needed to run to his office and to get a business card.

He came back and we exchanged cards. He said he would take care of any damage caused. He also said he had the flu and his head was a bit fuzzy and he was not thinking straight. I wanted to tell him he should have stayed home in bed and not try to get into a parking spot half the size of his car.

That did not start my day off very well!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

C-USA Champs!

Go Tigers!!!! My Memphis Tigers won the Conference USA tournament yesterday and are heading the the NCAA tourney! I have grown up watching Memphis basketball so thanks to Slingbox and Sky TV, I am able to stay on top of March Madness from Belgium or anywhere else in the world I may be!

Here was the scene yesterday watching the game!!

Friday, March 14, 2008

Photo Friday: The Good Life

This weeks photo challenge is "The Good Life".

Maxie has got to have the best life! Seriously, she is spolied rotten and she loves it (and so do I)! The only bad part of her day is when it is raining outside and I still make her go out and potty!

I'm Broke!!

Since I have lived here the US dollar has plummeted. In April of last year, the exchange rate was approximately 1.35 meaning that for 1 Euro it would cost you $1.35. Now, the exchange rate has reached 1.55 (for 1 Euro it would cost you $1.55). Ok, so we are only talking about $0.20 but let me explain the impact.

I bought gas for my tiny little Fiesta about 2 weeks ago. I always wait until I am almost out of gas (I know, I lectures please!) before I fill up....give or take a few liters. Then I bought gas again this past week. So, on March 3rd, I spent $59.90 (yes, that is US dollars to fill up my tiny little Fiesta) and on March 13, it cost me $72.14. I may have bought a little more gas the second time, but the exchange is killing me. I spent almost $15 more the second time I filled up (getting about the same amount of gas) mostly due to the exchange rate. And, my car is a diesel...and diesel is cheaper than gas over here.

First of all, gas here is ridiculous. I spend close to 1.26 Euros per liter and sometimes more. I think there are about 4.4 liters to a that is 5.54 euros per gallon or $8.59 per gallon. I do not want to hear how much you are all paying for gas in the US!

Another April of last year, if I were to spend 100 Euros on groceries, it would cost me $135. For the exact same groceries that I spend 100 Euros on would cost me $155...for the SAME THING. Let me also remind everyone that I am still being paid in US dollars...and not Euros so the impact is there!

I have to be honest and say that my company does compensate us on the exchange rate fluctuations and I am not impacted that much....but how incredibly ridiculous is this. They are predicting the dollar to continue to go down...maybe even reach 2.0 before my time here is up! What is happening to our economy?

Monday, March 10, 2008

American food in Belgium!!

Located approximately 35 minutes from Brussels resides a wonderful place called, "Grare", an American food store! Can you believe it?

Oh my goodness, it was the greatest find of all since I arrived almost 1 year ago (well, it ranks up there with the day I found Diet Dr. Pepper!!). I heard about this place through some friends, but had not made it to Antwerp until this past weekend! I know it sounds silly, but when you have been deprived of little things from home, finding something like this just makes your day!

I came home with the following:
* Spices (assorted)
* Chex mix
* V8 Fusion
* Pancake mix (just because I could...although I am in the waffle capital of the world)
* Jiffy cornbread mix
* Saltine crackers
* Cans of Rotel tomatoes
* Caesar salad dressing
* Ranch salad dressing
* Croutons
* Peanut butter M&Ms

I am sure there was more I bought that I cannot remember right now. It was just great to walk in and recognize everything and not have to guess or wonder what a particular product was and how it was going to taste. They had all sorts of cereals, Pop-tarts, salad dressings, sodas, cookies, baking supplies, crackers, BBQ sauce, cleaning products, beans, Kraft mac and cheese, candy, even Budweiser beer! It is definitely expensive, but well worth it to me! Actually, since the US dollar is so terrible right now again the Euro...the prices are actually going down! YAY!

I was particularly excited about the fact that another shipment of new items will be arriving in the next 2 I am going back! Included in the shipment is the infamous, Velveeta cheese, I have been craving since the day I arrived!!!! The guy who owns the store was extremely nice. He said his mother opened the store about 60 years ago and was originally an 'international' store selling many items from different countries, some being American. However, over time, the business was so good for American products, they changed to selling only American goods!

I will keep you posted on my next trip and may even take some pictures!

Friday, March 7, 2008

Brussels, Belgium

To conclude Rick's European Adventure....we had a few days to play in Brussels. We hit the hot spots and had a great time. I love having visitors and it was so good to have him over here and experience a little of what Europe has to offer! A first trip abroad is very overwhelming, but he had a great time (at least I hope he did) and I hope he gets the opportunity to come again!

Our first stop was the beautiful Grand Place and he loved the gorgeous buildings located there. By living here, I think we all take the Grand Place and its charm for granted!

Then we were off to see the infamous, Manneken Pis!

We had lunch at a yummy Italian place (seemed to be our theme this entire trip!). Rick tasted Belgium beer and, of course, a traditional Belgium waffle (not all at this restaurant). We took Maxie on our little outing and she joined in the fun by having a beer of her own!!

Maxie had a lot to drink this particular evening.....or she was tired of listening to Rick's jokes!

She still loves him!

Showin' some love!

She misses him a lot!!!

We had dinner at a fantastic restaurant called the Belga Queen! It was really cool! Remind me later to tell you all about the bathroom doors! Anyway, Rick got to meet my friend, Julie, and some of her work colleagues.

On his last night here, Dan and Pam invited us over for dinner and to watch the UT/Memphis basketball game. I do not think Dan and Pam were expecting the intensity Rick and I gave to the game!! They looked at us really weird when we were yelling and throwing things at the TV!!! We had a wonderful time...although the Tigers lost!!!

Thanks, Rick, for coming over, all the laughs, and making many incredible memories!!! Love ya and see you soon!

Friday Photo Challenge: Surreal

I have been so blessed with the amazing opportunities I have been given in life especially while living abroad. I have had the chance to see more places than I ever imagined I would in my entire life.

Every Friday I receive an email from 'Photo Friday' which is a group interested in photography. This Friday's photo challenge is titled 'surreal'. I definitely experienced a surreal moment when I got to see the Taj Mahal. I never thought I would ever have an opportunity to be on that side of the world and see a place so incredibly beautiful and historic! God sure has been good to me!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Champagne Region of France

After returning late Thursday night from Paris, Rick and I were up and out of the house early driving to the Champagne Region of France as our first tour started at 10AM!! Yikes!

We made it and had a great time driving down! If you know Rick, you know that he is full of hilarious stories and Rick'isms (as I call them). We laughed the entire drive....he made the road trip a lot of fun! Oh, and I too had my fair share of funnies as don't think it was all him!!

A friend of mine highly recommended visiting the Ruinart Champagne House and I am so glad we did! It was incredible. The Ruinart House was officially created on September 1, 1729 and was the first Champagne House. We had a private guide to take us around the house and share with us the process for making champagne. It was great because we were not under any pressure and could ask as many questions as we wanted.

I will not try to tell you the process for making champagne, but the aging process was so interesting to me. The Ruinart cellars are old chalk pits used way back when. Mr. Ruinart found these chalk pits and determined them to be the perfect place for the storage and aging of champagne as the mines are more than 30 meters below ground and the constant and natural temperature remains at 11°C/50°F. Once he found this little discovery, he built the champagne house on top of the chalk mines!

These are the stairs leading the to chalk pits!

Bottles stacked for as far as you can see!

The aging process requires bottles to be hand turned on a specific rotation by trained 'turners'. (It takes 3 years in training to be qualified to examine and turn bottles!) You would think in this day and age there would be machines to do such a task. Well, we asked, and was told that each bottle is different and all bottles are examined and depending on how the yeast is settling requires bottles to be hand turned and monitored constantly. There are machines that do this on some bottles. It got really complicated at this point in the tour!

No wonder the cost of a good champagne can be so expensive!! After our tour we were able to taste 2 glasses of different champagnes. The cost of a bottle of the 2 types we tasted was over $200 per bottle! I told you they were expensive!

Rick and our guide!
Champagne in Champagne!!!
I think this may be enough for Rick to get through 2008!! There were over 60,000 bottles in this one area!
Our next tour was at the Mo√ęt & Chandon Champagne House. Founded in 1743, this house is the maker of the famous Dom Perignon and is the largest of the Champagne houses. Although fantastic, the tour at this house was not as exciting as the Ruinart tour. I think this house is a bit more touristy and the groups are larger than at other houses.

This lady had been doing champagne tours for over 22 years! What a cool job!

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Paris, France

I started counting how many times I have been to Paris over the past year and the total came to 5!!! Can you believe that? Five times in 1 year!!! The funniest (and saddest) thing about it is that I always do the exact same thing as I am always going with first-timers and we have to do all the touristy stuff. Nonetheless, I love to see the expressions on the faces of first-time visitors. Paris is one of those places everyone dreams of it can be emotional when you see the Eiffel Tower, for example, for the first time (my mom cried!)!!

This trip was the same...lots of emotions! Rick really enjoyed seeing everything he had always heard about but was never quite sure he would actually see them in person! The greatest was taking him to the top of the Eiffel Tower!

So, we hit the ground running and saw all of the hot spots.....Eiffel Tower, cruise down the Seine River, Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur, Arc de Triomphe, Champs-Elysees, Place de la Concorde, and pictures at Trocadero.

Rick is an incredible artist so he really loved the Louvre where we saw the Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, and Winged Victory as well as many other incredible works of art. We also visited the famous Montmartre district where all the up and coming artists show their work! He really loved seeing all of that!

Just like every other city we went to on our trip, Rick met some great friends. Lee and Alicia are from California and we met them in the Hilton Executive Lounge! They were such interesting people and we even invited them to dinner one night! Lee is an former college professor and an archaeologist who has traveled the entire world (seriously, I could not name a place he has not been). They certainly had lots of stories to share and we listened with great intensity!!!

We thought this was so funny!! It was a class field trip and in order to keep up with all the kids, they had to hold on to a long rope!!

Au revoir, Paris! Thanks for the memories!