Friday, May 30, 2008

Secret Pal 12

Yup, I decided to do SP12 at the very last minute. Hope I'm in!

1. What is/are your favorite yarn/s to knit with? What fibers do you absolutely *not* like? I'm fairly particular about man-made fibers and have no real use for most novelty yarns. I do enjoy most other "natural fibers". I love soft wools like merino, alpaca, and cashmere. I also enjoy some cottons as well since I'm addicted to knitting ball-band dishcloths.

2. What do you use to store your needles/hooks in? Lantern Moon wrap case for straight needles, special case for circulars, and a rectangle-shaped make-up case for DPN's.

3. How long have you been knitting & how did you learn? Would you consider your skill level to be beginner, intermediate or advanced? I've been knitting for around 4 years. Hubby bought me knitting lessons from the amazing Pat and now I knit with her and a bunch of other fabulous women about once a week. I would say my skills are in the intermediate range with dips into both beginners and advanced.

4. Do you have an Amazon or other online wish list? Yes and I'd be happy to share that info with my Secret Pal directly.

5. What's your favorite scent? Lavender, lemon verbena and other clean smells.

6. Do you have a sweet tooth? Favorite candy? I love real genuine Belgian chocolate (pralines) but a Hershey bar is an easier alternative to find. However, chocolate would be a bit melty this time of year, so I'll have to think of another goody.

7. What other crafts or Do-It-Yourself things do you like to do? Do you spin? I don't spin and am not too interested in it currently. I do love to take pictures and would love to find more time to either scrapbook or put them in a photo album. I'd like to sew a bit too, but the machine scares me still.

8. What kind of music do you like? Can your computer/stereo play MP3s? (if your buddy wants to make you a CD) Yes, I am MP3 capable. I really love world music especially (but not limited to) African and Cuban music. I'm always looking for Chinese music as well. My taste varies, but I like anything from Erasure to Joan Armatrading, REM to Ella Fitzgerald, Abba to Indigo Girls, The Beatles to the Doors, movie soundtracks to Broadway soundtracks. I'm not too into country, although I think Patsy Cline is a goddess and rap ain't my thang although there have been some songs that I enjoy. I enjoy classical and opera, but although not very knowledgeable about either. (Although my previous Secret Pal gave me some great music, so I know a bit more than before.)

9. What's your favorite color(s)? Any colors you just can't stand? My knitting buds would tell you that. I tend to like jewel tones and not-too-bright brights. I enjoy blue, greens, purples and pinks for wardrobe choices. I'd say fuschia is probably my best color and anything in the blue to teal family looks good on me. My house is decorated in butter yellows, sage greens, lavender and I have 2 very red doors. Although oatmeal, browns, taupes and putty are beautiful, they aren't for me.

10. What is your family situation? Do you have any pets? Hubby, daughter "Buttons" (almost 4) and our kitty.

11. Do you wear scarves, hats, mittens or ponchos? Yes, although I rarely wear ponchos and would probably do a wrap or a scarf before wearing a poncho. However, Buttons has a poncho that I will try and persuade her to wear for a couple more years.

12. What is/are your favorite item/s to knit? One large project, one project that needs concentration and one (or more) quick projects. I enjoy hats, scarves and bags. I like making sweaters, but they're still a challenge even though they're usually for Buttons.

13. What are you knitting right now? Christmas stocking for Hubby, slippers for me and I have some WIP's at home that I have completely lost track of while I'm here in Belgium.

14. Do you like to receive handmade gifts? Yes please!

15. Do you prefer straight or circular needles? Bamboo, aluminum, plastic? I love my set of Denise needles, but I now own 3 Addi Turbos (16" sizes 7 and 9, 12" size 2) and I'm diggin' them. Pretty needles like Lantern Moon make me weak in the knees, but I'm too practical to ever say I "need" them. My last SP bought me a pair of size 7 Lantern Moons and they are lovely. I've been thinking of trying Knitpicks Options too.

16. Do you own a yarn winder and/or swift? No, but I have that page bookmarked on Knitpicks.

17. How old is your oldest UFO? A Fiber Trends felted hat I was making for a knitting store I worked at, but is now only available on-line. 3 years ago?

18. What is your favorite holiday? Fave holiday is Christmas and Buttons is getting to the age where it's just amazing. Fall, however is my favorite season.

19. Is there anything that you collect? More knitting and cookbooks than anyone would ever need. However, if there's a recipe or pattern you love, please share it if you'd like. I do like knit items for the Christmas tree.

20. Any books, yarns, needles or patterns out there you are dying to get your hands on? What knitting magazine subscriptions do you have? Currently, I have no knitting magazine subscriptions. I can't think of a single book I "need", but I'm always happy to receive 16" Addi Turbos from size 4 to 15 with the exception of size 7 or 9.

21. Are there any new techniques you'd like to learn? Someday I will learn Entrelac, Intarsia and maybe even Fair Isle.

22. Are you a sock knitter? What are your foot measurements? I am still working on my first pair and I have quite a bit of sock yarn already, so I'll be an odd duck and say I have enough sock yarn right now. Exceptions to that would be sock yarn made out of corn, soy or bamboo. Don't know my foot measurements, but I have a size 7 1/2 shoe.

23. When is your birthday? In November, just before Thanksgiving

24. Are you on Ravelry? If so, what's your ID? mayleebeezir

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Now that I've told you a little bit about our time in Belgium,

I was wondering...

Do you have any questions (vragen) for me?

I'm getting used to things here, let me tell you.
This weekend we're planning a trip to Brugge. We've been before last time we were in Belgium, but it's so lovely we really want to go back. I'll be back on the flip side with some pictures.

( The clips are from the Dutch/Flemish shows K3 and Kabouter Plop.)


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Things I've Learned

I knew coming to Belgium would teach me a few things. I even had an inkling of what some of the lessons would be. Yes, I can get along quite nicely with less stuff and I'd even say I'm getting along better without the burden of too much crap. The three of us can even go to Paris for the weekend with two small backpacks, a purse, a stroller and get along just fine, thank you.
No matter how many toys Buttons has, she very often goes back to the basics of art stuff and imaginative play with found objects or changing the role of her toys. Here she is pictured with her Lego violin. I swear I could take her anywhere with string, beads, blocks, paper, scissors, markers and her beloved doll and she'd be good.

I've learned that I'm really going to miss the view we see everyday when we decend our staircase from our apartment. I may need to get a gnome for my yard. (Yes, the little guy has grown on me.) Unfortunately we don't have room for the horses, cows and chickens we see.

The two things I was most worried about happened while we were here and we're still ok. The first major thing was Hubby losing his passport. After just a couple of visits to Brussels along with about 100 Euros less in our pockets, he has a new one. We're hoping that he'll get his Visa for our Russia trip in time and then everything will go as originally planned. The second thing was scary at the time, but everything turned out ok.

I can cook without recipes and also sans oven. No one was more surprised than me. I rely heavily on my recipes, oven, slow cooker and rice maker. However, with a little thinking, some creativity and a little magic bouillon, I've been cooking some yummy soups and adjusting some of my recipes for the stove top. The fridge is also quite small and I'm not used to that, but it's actually helped my culinary skills and I find I waste less when there's only so much room. Plus, a good portion of the fridge must be reserved for Belgian beer, ya know?

Yes, I've learned more but my last post was a novel, so I'm trying to get this one down to a short story. More to come, I promise.

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

No More Monkeys (Aaps)...

Our apartment in Belgium has a double bed with a crib in one room, two twin beds in another room and in an alcove off the hallway there's another twin bed. We decided that we'd put the two twin beds together for Buttons' bed and we'd use the full-size bed. At home in the States Buttons has a toddler bed that's close to the floor and quite small, so this would be quite a bit different. Almost the minute upon arrival in Belgium, I put chairs on one side of the bed, the crib mattress on the other side on the floor and pillows all around so she wouldn't fall off the bed during sleep or she'd at least have a soft place to land. Those first few nights I watched her sleep and saw that she knew when she was coming close to edge and would pull herself back. However, I still worried and found I slept much better sleeping next to her.

Now, we don't promote jumping on the bed, but last Friday night right before bedtime, Buttons walked on top of the bed to give her daddy a hug goodnight and fell off the bed. I was in the other room getting her blanket and doggie when I heard the radiator bang and Hubby call out her name. I knew then that something was wrong. I ran in to find Hubby holding her, she came to me and after briefly holding her, I could feel my hand was a little wet. Yup, blood. She was screaming and my heart sank. I put her down to get a look and I was pretty sure we needed to go to the hospital for some stitches. There was one place I hadn't "bump-proofed" and the corner of the radiator found a spot behind her ear to make a small hole. I didn't remember the way to the hospital and I thought both of our hosts were gone for the evening but I remembered their daughter-in-law (A) was a nurse who works at the local hospital, so I called her to verify my suspicions and also to get directions to the hospital. She came over and then went with us to the hospital. (So nice!)

I'm pretty sure since they knew A things were a bit easier for us. The only thing we had to do to check-in was to write down Buttons' name and our address. It was a Friday night so you can imagine it was busy. There were a couple of guys in football (soccer) outfits there, one being A's nephew and the other with a dislocated shoulder, also a man with quite a few family members present who had cut his finger pretty badly and then there was Buttons. She was in her pajamas, with an ice pack for a pillow and begging to just go to sleep (slaap in Dutch). I was so happy A was with us as my fears were greatly reduced just knowing she was there.

During the wait I explained to Buttons what I think will happen including a shot and stitches. She took it in and seemed to be mostly ok but a little frightened. I told her we would hold her hands and we would be right there. Her biggest fear was that she would have to stay in the hospital. I assured her we wouldn't be staying (I was pretty sure) and we would all leave together (100% certain) and that seemed to comfort her.

By letting her know what would happen she was able to lay calmly and let the doctor put the 2 stitches in with absolutely no fuss. And that's the end of the story.

Yeah, I knew you wouldn't believe me. Buttons was not happy and I forgot to tell her about the big green sheet with the hole that they would put over her while they're stitching her up or the need for 4 people, including Hubby and myself, to hold her still. I didn't know it would take 3 hours to do it either. Ok, it was probably like 5 minutes, but when you're holding your daughter down and she's doing a primal scream and shouting "mama" every few seconds it just feels like 3 hours.

While it took her a while to calm down, one of the nurses gave her a sucker and that helped ease the pain. Then we were told to wake her up every 2 hours to check for signs of a concussion. I was so hyped I stayed up for the first 2 wake-ups and she was not a happy girl when I woke her up and made her look into the light. We had a rough night and then she had the nerve to wake up at her usual time in the morning. (By the way, we decided to put her in the crib that night and now that's her new bed. The only problem? She knows how to get out of the crib and there's a radiator right near it.)

We went to Antwerp the next day to visit the zoo with Hubby's colleague J and J's girlfriend T. We had a great time and Buttons was thrilled to see the animals. It was really a wonderful zoo and we were able to see a snow leopard and two cheetahs moving around in their cages, a baby rhino and nesting storks. We went back to J and T's house for a wonderful dinner and Buttons had a major breakdown (understandably). After devouring some delicious homemade strawberry ice cream, we made a hasty retreat and Buttons slept all the way home and transferred quite easily to bed.

The next day was Sunday and we fell out all day and in the late afternoon watched most of Seabiscuit together. With the exception of some scenes in the beginning of the movie and a little bit of language, it's a surprisingly family friendly movie. We thought is was a good movie to watch because several weeks ago Buttons shared with us that she wants to be a horse rider, a ballet dancer and a sports player. Yeah, you better believe I'll be pushing her on the helmet issue.

So, one of the things I feared most happened and we survived. We had to visit a hospital in a foreign country. Although, things don't seem so foreign here anymore and with A by our side and everyone speaking English it seemed pretty much like any other ER. Still, I'm ok if we don't go back.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wordless Wednesday

The Hand of Antwerp

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

Compare and Contrast : The Food

You know about the great chocolate (pralines), the incredible beer selection, the delicious mussels (only eaten in "r" months), and of course the fries (Belgian, not French, thank you), but there are other foods here and they do differ from typical foods in the U.S.

For instance, if you order an ice tea here it will be sweet and carbonated. In the States, I've been to the south and I do enjoy "sweet tea" sometimes, but I finally decided to make some ice tea at home because I was craving just a simple non-sweetened still ice tea. However, I am starting to enjoy their ice tea here and I'm sure I'll miss it when I'm back in the states. In fact just about everything here is carbonated and I do enjoy my bubbles.

And the dairy products? Oh my. The milk is to die for and the yogurt here is actually fantastic. Normally not a fan of yogurt, here I have at least one a day. It's creamier and better tasting. I can't really explain it except to say "mmm, good". They also have Greek style yogurt with strawberries and let me just say I'm glad I didn't know how to read the fat content. Yes, it was THAT good.

There is a great deal of meat here and ham seems to be a popular choice. Hubby only eats fish/seafood and poultry as far as meat goes, so it's been slightly challenging. In Ghent he ate Waterzooi and in Bokrijk he had an amazing cheese plate and shared a bit of my Vol au Vent. I imagine that vegetarians have a bit of difficulty eating in Europe and vegans? Holy cow. Good luck. The popular dish Stoofvlees is kind of like having my mom's pot roast made into a stew and it's wonderful. Once again, glad not to know the fat content.

We have a friend coming today to stay for a couple of nights and I know we'll eat out a bit, but I'm trying to decide what to make here. I'm so used to having an oven and a slow cooker back in the States that I really have to think about what to make. I finally found some taco fixins finally and I'm thinking of trying that. Can you believe I found vegan taco filling? Well, whatever we have I know it will be served with beer, but that's a whole post unto itself.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Americans in Paris...

Well, the beginning of our trip started off a bit more exciting than we would have hoped for since we took the wrong train to catch the Thalys, the high speed train we wanted to take from Brussels to Paris. So, we had to purchase tickets for another one. Luckily, they had seats and for some reason, Buttons was not only free, she made our fares half price. Yeah, go figure.
We stayed near the Arc de Triomphe and Hubby took this picture at a local cafe with Button's new favorite drink, Orangina.
There were many firsts in Paris. My first toilet experience in Paris was at the train station where I had to pay one Euro to use the facilities. There was another woman there who needed to change her baby who asked me to pay for her. I did. I thought it was pretty funny that the station was called "McClean".
Buttons smiles on our tour bus at Notre Dame in one of the few pictures that doesn't include her tongue.
Our first experience with a French waiter was wonderful. He let us know when using a credit card, the waiter should never take your card away, but they should instead bring a machine to the table. We also found out too late that you have to add a tip before they put your card through. Yes, we've been told that tipping is unneccesary, but when you receive good service, you should tip. Anyway we had wonderful food there but stayed mostly in the touristy areas, so we didn't get to the places where the locals go, but we enjoyed the food very much and Buttons just had omelette or ham sandwichs the whole time.

We were very bad American tourists though and ate at McDonald's for our last meal (our first McD's on this trip) before catching the Metro back to the train station. The food was pretty much the same except the fries were not quite as good and they had beautiful looking pastries. We didn't see any wine or beer there, but I did get the "Royal with Cheese" . The people who waited on us were very amused because even though the menu was in "McDonaldeese", I think I should have tried to order it in a French accent. Oh well, I'm ok if people in different countries are amused by us as long as we leave them with joy and not with anger.
Hubby and I took turns taking Buttons on a carousel just across the street from the Eiffel Tower.
Buttons really loved all the modes of transportation (thankfully) and was very excited to see the Eiffel Tower each time we saw it. She was a real trooper and I think she really did have a good time in Paris. By the end of the days, we were all exhausted and Buttons even slept in the Louvre. When she woke up, she was screaming in the Louvre and I did another "American" thing and let her watch "Blues Clues" on my I-pod. Snicker if you must, but it quieted her down and gave us about 20 more minutes to see the Mona Lisa and other great works of art. Let me tell you, when our tour bus rode into the Louvre "compound" I became a bit teary.
It's truly beautiful.

I love this picture.

There were many Americans there and we were able to spot them right away. The only people who have thrown me for a loop on this trip are those tricky Canadians. They have very similar clothes, shoes and for the most part the same accent. Hubby and I had fun trying to guess the different nationalities. During our people watching I never once caught site of Johnny Depp though. Darn.

Knitting in the Louvre in front of a painting depicting the French Revolution. Yes, we really were allowed to take pictures, can you believe it?

I have more to say, but for now Buttons needs her breakfast and I need to get some laundry done. Well, we'll always have Paris.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

We missed our train to Paris, and went a little wonky on the Metro, but other than that no hiccups. It was a great Mother's Day and now I must sleep. That's how good it was.

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Weekend Paradise

This is my 3rd Mother's Day and this year I'm spending it in Paris with Hubby and Buttons. Our hotel is steps away from the Arc de Triomphe and since this is our first time to "gay Par-ee" we're planning to visit all the major spots. We leave tomorrow morning but I'll be back Sunday evening and shortly after I'll post pictures. I'm a lucky woman and after the news about my neighbor's son I'm feeling even more thankful than before. Happy Mother's Day to all of you who are mothers, waiting to be mothers, or enjoy nurturing people.
Why not celebrate life this weekend?

*By the way, the mystery bottle was liquid margarine for "roasting and baking".

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Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Feeling Far Away

Our neighbors back home (M. and N.) have been very good to us. They have watched over our house and our kitty on many many occasions including when we went to China to meet our girl. M. had quintuple bi-pass surgery the day we left and I felt bad that I couldn't stay home and help them for a change. I e-mailed shortly after arriving here to find out how M. was doing and he e-mailed back to let us know he was tired but everything had gone well.

Today, I was missing friends and family a bit and decided to call M. using Skype and when M. answered I asked how things were going. He told me that he was fine, but his roommate N.'s son had been hit by a car this morning on his way to work and didn't survive. My heart sank. M. had just found out about an hour and a half before my call and was quite stunned by it all. He seemed to need to take his mind off of things, so we chatted about Belgium a bit and I told him to take good care of himself right now.

So, as the title of the post says, I'm feeling far away. Any ideas on what I can do for my nieghbors so far away?


Saturday, May 03, 2008

Mystery Bottle

In high school I took 2 years of Spanish and in college I took a year of French. I can barely speak anything intelligible in either of those languages, but I have some knowledge that can get me by here and there. But Dutch? It may be Germanic, so it's close to my native tongue, but going to a restaurant in Belgium has been challenging. I have my guidebook and thankfully our "landlords" C & J are amazingly helpful but on my own when the restaurant has food that doesn't match the guidebook I have to do some guessing or just continue eating the same things each time. It's amazing how much you take for granted when you know the language and go into a restaurant or a grocery store and just make your choice.

Luckily, when we arrived our fridge was kindly stocked by our landlords/hosts C & J with Belgian beer, strawberries, crepes, milk, orange juice not too mention the croissants, Nutella, and chocolates. So, we didn't have to navigate our way around too soon. However, also in the fridge was this mystery bottle, pictured in our kitchen window. I do know what it is now and have used it. (Yes, I do know that it also has French on it, but I still couldn't guess.)
Without "cheating" can you guess what it is?

By the way, right now I'm watching a Dutch cartoon with Buttons that includes rapping goats and a mildly mean yet bumbling wolf while I'm nursing a hangover from last nights dinner with C & J. Things are different here in Belgium and I'm really enjoying it.