Monday, December 28, 2009

Whoosh!

That is the sound Christmas would have made here as it rushed by like a light-speed streak of wine and good food.  It was a very disorganized affair for me this year.  I worked a truckload before and during the Christmas period, and given it's the first time I've really had to figure out how to manage shipping or internet shopping for everyone, sadly some fell through the cracks until after Christmas, which hasn't really made me feel like the greatest of expat-relatives/friends.  For those who who haven't received or heard a peep, I'm so sorry.  I was absolutely caught with my pants down, which is a really bad feeling for someone who normally has all their Christmas givings figured out by the end of October.  Give me time, and it'll all get sorted through, but I'll still feel guilty for not getting 'er all done on time.

Enough of this though.  Updates:  It snowed again!  Just a few days after the snow on the 16th, and we were thrilled because it was like some crazy blizzard blew threw and left everything gorgeous in it's wake.





The snow didn't stick around though.  Most of it melted fairly soon after falling, though there was enough left for us to have a "whitish" Christmas.

Boyfriend's mom showed up on our doorstep one day just a few before Christmas with a tree (well, actually with two trees.)  I've always felt bad about killing a real tree just to put it in your house for decoration, but in this case the killing was already done, so we gave the tree a lovely wake.


The other tree is this guy below, who is alive and well, and pretty tiny.  Mostly I'm happy becuase he's alive.  He's the first plant in the house I've claimed as "mine".  Hopefully I won't kill him.  I'm an alright gardener but I have little luck with houseplants.


Christmas is definitely different here.  It seems most people do their "big dinner" on the evening of the 24th.  When I say big I mean it too.  Like, more than 6 courses.  We had two cold entrées, two hot entrées, a "trou Normand" (this is usually a sorbet or something to try and help your stomach make room for the upcoming courses,) the plat principal (which is often not turkey, in our case it was chevreuil - a type of deer,) followed by coffee and dessert.  Dinner starts late, and ends crazily late.  As in: it's past midnight and you're still eating dinner.(!)

Of course, everyone here is used to eating late, (except me that is, and it usually results in me feeling significantly less than fabulous.)  Though the dinner was amazing, because it was huge and ended so late, I woke up later in the night with a horrible pain in my stomach and then realized as the cold sweat started to take over and the pain intensified in my belly that I should head, quickly, for the washroom.  It all... all 6 courses that we'd eaten, came back up and out.  I felt VERY MERRY about that, particularly since I'd only slept about an hour at that point, during an evening where I'd only be able to squeeze in a maximum of 5 hours of sleep before heading to work on Christmas morning.   (I work in a hotel, so we don't close for Christmas.)

I managed to drag myself into work anyhow, despite my jerk-stomach and I manage the day with a weak smile.  The eating late thing is something I just haven't been able to adopt.  I've tried, I just can't.  I can do it the Spanish way, however, since they're really smart about it, and take a nap in the afternoon.  This means that even though they eat late, they also stay up later too giving them time to digest things a little more before going to bed.  Spain is awesome that way.  I digress.

Now the end of 2009 is upon us.  After much batting around of ideas for how to spend our mutual end-of-year time off, we've finally settled on heading to Strasbourg for a few days.  On paper it seems like it should be a good trip.  The drive isn't too long, we're staying in a bathrobe and slipper providing 4-star with what trip-advisor tells me is a delicious breakfast buffet. The Christmas market should still be around and open, which is always pretty and festive, and though neither of us has been there before we've both seen and heard great things about how lovely it is there.  So I'm looking forward to it!  And since today is Boyfriend's last day of work, tonight we'll be heading into the Christmas market in Liège to wine and dine, followed by a very rough schedule tomorrow which includes picking out bottles of champagne for new years, and getting a massage side-by-side.  After a year where both of us have worked very hard and faced a lot of challenge, I feel no guilt about winding it down this way.  We totally deserve this.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

How to make a Canadian living in Belgium *finally* feel the Christmas spirit


This photo actually has the file-name "omg.jpg" on my computer.

Deck the halls with Plantaardig vet!

Tra-la-la-la laaaa la-laaaoooooh... no.
The Caramac is a (sad little) "Karamel Candybar", according to the back of the package.
First three ingredients: Vegetable Fat (Plantaardig vet), Sugar, Lactose.  Mmmmmm.

Ok so to break it down quickly for you while trying NOT to make myself sick: granular texture, very sweet.  In fact I don't need to go further.  I can just tell you that you would actually be better off taking 11 grams of butter, creaming it with 17 grams of brown sugar and 2 grams of molasses, placing this in a cool area in order for it to solidify, and then eating said mixture.  Yes, I'm serious.  It would be better if you did that.  Really.  Much better.  No, I have never done such a thing.  Yes, I'm still sure it would be better.

The packaging is in German and Dutch, which means (thankfully) that there isn't much of a market for these fail-bars here.  I made this "find" last night while doing a little Christmas shopping.  At the time I was in Hema; a store of Dutch origin.  Those Dutch... wacky people sometimes...  Did I mention they have "herring stands"?  (Think of something like a hot-dog stand, and then replace the dogs with raw fish.)  Again: "Mmmmm."

Oh well, at least the Dutch can claim the work of Dick Bruna as something that's pretty universally likeable and inoffensive.  Anyway, it's not like they make this bar, they just eat it.  It's the lovely folks at Nestle UK (?gasp!) who prey on their questionable tastes by making this.  *shakes head sadly*

Last thing: The German on the label: Seriously - what self-respecting German is eating this crap when there is an ABUNdance of great chocolate in Germany?  Really, this confuses me.  If anyone out there actually enjoys these, I want to know why.  And then I want to have a doctor verify that your mouth and tastebuds are functioning correctly.  Seriously, if you enjoy Caramac, I want to know why (and how.)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Long lost siblings

The Cha-Cha.  Wafers with caramel between, enrobed in chocolate.  It's not bad, really.  I believe that I would have enjoyed it thoroughly were I not already aware of the existence of it's smarter, cooler older sister...


Image from www.westindianshop.com

Tunnock's Caramel wafer biscuits.  Eating the Cha-Cha caused me to think "It's like a Tunnock's, but not quite as "on" about texture.  You see, Tunnock's have a little more chew in the caramel, a slightly denser wafer, and again, like the Cha-Cha, it's enrobed in chocolate.  In comparison the Cha-Cha just seems a little flimsy, both taste and texture-wise.

My first Tunnock's came to me via Trinidad, when a friend brought some back for me.  I'd thought for quite some time that they were a Trini-chocolate bar, however I've since learned (after taking time to read the label rather than just greedily inhaling the goods) that Tunnock's is a Scottish company.  This only adds fuel to the fire for me with my suspicions that people in the UK simply have a much better idea of what is involved in making a good consumer level chocolate-treat.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Chasing the light

Yesterday I decided that no matter how unmotivated I was feeling, that it would be stupid to allow a lack of daylight to end up sucking the life and all the fun out of me.  There is nothing more miserable than feeling miserable, and in a defiant surge that welled up from somewhere, I decided I'm not the sort to give up in defeat.  I've decided to do a few things about this:
Just to give you an idea of what I'm dealing with here, I took this photo as a comparative illustration.  The bright part in the sky is what we normally DON'T see much of in the winter here.  It's RARE to see real sunlight, or blue sky.  The dark grey clouds are the normal sky-cover, as are the light levels in the photo that accompany them.  This was taken at 2pm.


*I'll be making a conscious effort to find as many ways to work sun exposure into my daily doings.  I'm hoping for a cumulative effect here.  I'll be finishing my Christmas cards today under the skylight, or by the window...wherever is brighter.  If it comes down to it, I'll buy one of those light-therapy lamps and read by it for a spell every day.
*Yoga.  Studies show that physical activity helps to ward off seasonal depression.  I've been neglecting my yoga mat a bit lately, and though it was partly due to injury, it's not as though I couldn't have modified my positions a bit and kept doing it.  So, the days where I'm not working (because when I'm working I'm moving a LOT) I'll be making sure to fit a yoga session into my day.  It's good for me, it usually makes me feel good, and ultimately there is no reason for me not to be doing it, other than that sometimes I am a lazy girl.
*Running.  This has posed a problem here, for sure.  The woods are off limits thanks to all the rain we get right now, not to mention that it's hunting season and I have neither a bright orange vest, nor the desire to be mistaken for a deer by someone who's got a rifle and one too many beer in them.  The cobblestones and very un-flat sidewalks around here regularly mess with my ankle BUT the boy and I are both restless, so we've taken to running after he comes home from work, about once a week on the university track (in the dark.)  It's flat, which is much better for my cranky ankle, and the light pollution from Liege provides enough light to see where you're going.  The only downside is that Boyfriend's maximum distance is about 5k whereas I prefer a session of 10k, but I'll take what I can get when I can get it.
*Weekend daytrips.  These are an excellent way to soak up the sunshine (through the car windows on the way to and from the destination) while avoiding the rain, humid cold, and wind that takes up residence here in the winter.  And we continue to see new places which is always a plus.  Yesterday we made our way to Orval, which is home of the Abbeye d'Orval, a Cistercian monastery that just happens to make one of my favoured beers.

I should preface these limited photos by mentioning that my camera died very early into our time here.  We will be visiting Orval again, so I'll show more photos next time we go.

This is part of the modern monastery grounds, (access to lay-people is very limited.)

Just next to the modern site, there are the ruins of the old church and monastery.  A 5 Euro contribution allows access to them, along with a museum of monastic artifacts (actually pretty cool,) and the silent area (which gives a feeling of immense space while being very, very quiet.)

The old church was built around 1100 AD.

The ruins are quite open for exploration.  There are several rooms and chambers off to the sides of the main room complete with descriptions of the activities that used to take place in these areas.

This is an access point to "Mathilde", the spring which provides water to the monastery, as well as its cheese-making facilities and brewery.  Legend has it that the widow Mathilda of Tuscany lost her wedding ring in the spring, and when she prayed for it to be returned to her, a trout appeared at the surface of the spring with the ring in it's mouth.  In gratitude, Mathilda made the funds available for the foundation of the monastery here.

Of course, we took a case of Orval home with us as well.  The beer you buy on-site has the added benefit of being aged for 6 months, whereas the Orval you can purchase anywhere else only has the guarantee of being aged for 4 weeks.  Other abbey-only products we'll be back for include the aged Orval cheese, and the beer cheese (which spends a full 24 hours bathing in the beer, glorious!)

Now, speaking of glorious, it is an incredibly rare blue-sky day here.  Sunshine in abundance!  This means it's time for me to take myself outside to soak up as much sunshine as I can get!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Grey = S.A.D

Winter in Belgium is dusk, followed by night.  Dusk, all day, every day.

I haven't seen the sky for days, no, weeks.  I've seen a thick cover of clouds that prevents the light of the sun from getting through, making it feel like the sun is about to set from the instant I've gotten up in the morning through to the time it actually does.

This makes me feel grey, grey, grey.  I hadn't really counted on the lack of sunlight being a problem, but even in Canada where we get a different quality of light in the winter lack of sunlight was a bit of a problem for me.  There, this was more easily remedied by going out for a walk, where the abundance of clear blue sky coupled with the sunlight bouncing off the snow gave me enough vitamin D to feel better.  Here a walk in the winter often involves an umbrella to keep the wet away, not to mention that bone-chilling kind of cold, the kind no amount of layering or special technical fabric seems to protect me from: humid cold.  Between the umbrella and the clouds I don't get much sunlight, and the cold does nothing to make me feel better.  This makes the idea of a walk so very appealing, and as you might imagine I'm not getting out much.

We have a skylight in the kitchen.  I've tried spending more time under it with the hope of soaking in a little more 'natural light', but as yet this has made no difference.  After weeks of grey I have come to feel as though I am dragging myself through finishing off my Christmas cards, I have lost all desire to pursue the architectural gingerbread house, I haven't bothered with social outings, and the making of plans for a trip around new year's has come to a grinding halt.  Even this blog entry felt forced, but you know... it's been more than 10 days, I should at least signal that I'm alive I suppose.

It is official, I am seasonally affected.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Detours and diversions

Ok, a little bit more of a real post for the day, rather than just diverting you with comics (but really, check out the link in the entry below.)  I stumbled across him this morning in my "what's going on in the world" internet session, and immediately devoured like, everything on his site.  His style reminds me somewhat of Natalie Dee's.  If you don't know who Natalie Dee is, take a small detour and click here now to know.  Or (but I would recommend it as an "and") you could click the following link to see another regularly funny comic she creates (in an entirely different style,) with her partner Drew.  That one goes by the name "Married to the Sea".  And now, for REAL this time: I'm done geeking out about comics... for today.

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I ate this:
Though the claim is that it's a praline filling (here this means a creamy nut-based paste,) that uses hazlenuts, cashews and almonds, really it just tastes blander than the regular praline filled chocolates (which are in a ridiculous abundance in Belgium, seriously, the country is obSESSED with praline.)  It's less hazlenutty, (hazlenuts are kind of your 'standard' praline material) and slightly salty.  It definitely didn't taste doubly-milky as the name might lead you to believe.  This, and it's choc-full (no pun intended) of hydrogenated vegetable fat.  Someday my dream-bar with come.  Until then, le sigh.

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The visit to Canada (at least for January,) looks like a less and less likely affair.  Time ticks on, we try to navigate the administrative channels here, and we are slowly getting the information we need to make an intelligent decision about whether or not to throw several hundred Euro at a plane ticket.  Meanwhile as we await the information we require, the number of seats on the flights I had my eyes on dwindles.  This is one of those situations where I wish I were a little more moneyed than I am, because if I were I could (and would) just pop by and visit friends and family every few months.  But no, at least not yet.  (Growing a rich and powerful empire takes time, ok?)

Now, after having said all of this, how sick is it that my schedule at work gives me 7 days off in a ROW ending on December 23rd?  I felt a bit like my calendar here was taunting me when I noticed that.  Of course flying to Canada for that period is completely out of the question given it's like a zillion more Euros than normal, so I'm thinking I have to at least find a good use for this period of time.  Something to divert my attention from (and make me feel less sucky about) missing out on spending the holiday season with friends and family.  I'll be brainstorming on this while I attempt to make headway with some Christmas cards today.
What to do, what to do... any suggestions?

Breakfast of another sort

Internet obsession of the day. The Oatmeal. Comics. Binge-reading them now!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Architecture, aviation and the avian abattoir

Ok, so dreaming in gingerbread:  I've got the itch to make a gingerbread house.  Ideally not just any old house too, one that is a little more original, (architecturally speaking,) than four walls and a triangular roof.  I've been mulling it over for a bit now, and I think today I'll start sketching out some ideas.  There is a problem though:  I can't seem to find molasses anywhere here!  I've been in touch with the anglo-expat community in Brussels, and there is a grocery store there that carries it, but I was hoping for something a little closer to home. : /  I may just end up having to find a reason to go into Brussels in the next couple of weeks.  Maybe to finally check out the new Magritte museum?  If worst came to worst,  I think something along the lines of a  sugar cookie might have the structural integrity to work as house-material too.  We'll see.  Mmm, cookie house.

Anyhoo, the plane tickets:  I had hoped to get myself back to Toronto for a week in January.  My boss said I could have 7 days.  However with the way travel schedules work, 7 days actually amounts to about 4.5 days on the ground in Toronto, which is not a lot of time to see people and handle administrative things there.  So, before deciding we are looking into what administrative things can be handled here instead of there (it seems a fair number of things can be handled at the Canadian embassy here,) and examining our costs and concerns for the upcoming year (like...what to do about my health insurance which expires at the end of March, even though my resident permit expires halfway through May?)  I just don't have enough info at the moment to make a decision I might not be kicking myself for later.  Meanwhile, I would absolutely LOVE to see my friends and family this wintery time of year.

Now, my poor chicken:  yesterday I bought a soup-chicken.  And this morning after breakfast, I went at the bird with a meat cleaver, getting it ready to fulfill its destiny of glorious soupdom.  I did consider for a moment before-hand that it might be nice to take pictures and explain my method of making chicken soup from scratch, however... well, butchering a chicken ain't pretty, and it sure doesn't leave you with hands that want to touch your digital camera.  Not only that, but today I'm glad no photographic evidence exists of my lame butchery skills, since in the process I discovered that our meat cleaver here is a joke.  I may as well have been trying to separate chicken-parts with a hammer, it's sooo blunt.  At any rate, if the soup turns out well, and if I can hone our knife blades in the near future, perhaps I'll photo it up next time.  I don't know though... I love food, but do the people who read this really want another person posting on how they cook via the interwebz?  It's not that this blog would ever turn into anything other than it's original intention (which was to communicate my experiences after leaving home and becoming a foreigner elsewhere,) but I suppose if cooking, baking or candy-making is something people take interest in, why not show what I'm up to in the kitchen now and then?  I'm pondering this one, since part of me thinks it's self-indulgent and part of me enjoys reading other people's food thingums now and then.

Food is definitely a significant area of my life, given that it is both a love and a matter of business for me.  Would the occasional kitchen post be a waste of time & space, or nice additional dimension to the blog?  What do you think?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Experiment Successful!

YES!  Money successfully transferred!
I was beginning to worry I'd have to escort it back to Canada personally in a suitcase or something, but this is much MUCH better.




Now to get back to researching plane tickets and dreaming in gingerbread (more about this later.)

Friday, November 20, 2009

A scary (and possibly ill-advised) experiment

An international transfer of funds from my bank account here to my bank account back home.

When this was last tried it was Boyfriend trying to transfer funds from his account here in Belgium to an account we'd set up for him to receive the funds in Canada, and it totally didn't work.  Granted, the woman processing the transaction at his bank messed up and wrote down the wrong sequence of numbers, but thanks to her error by the time his money was bounced back to him he was several Euros lighter, and back at square one.

I sent a message to my bank outlining the information I needed from them.  They sent me what seems like some of the right information and some irrelevant information... possibly.  From exploring my bank website here, I was (crazily...what was I thinking?) led to believe that maybe I *did* have all the information I needed after all to initiate the transfer.  So I did.  And now I'm scared.

There are so many ways this could go wrong, and I'm just really hoping right now that this doesn't end up being some sort of expensive failure/learning experience.  Because that would suck.

I'll be nervously checking my Canadian account every day like a mother-hen.  Where is my money right now?  I don't know!  It's trying to navigate the void!  Why god, WHY did I decide to try this on a Friday?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Recent additions

To my hips!  I stumbled across another stash of chocolate bars one day, and well, lets just say they didn't last too long.  First up: Kinder's Happy Hippo.  This also comes in White chocolate only versions if I understand correctly, but here I tried the one that has half chocolate cream and half white cream inside.  It absolutely wins on the novelty front, with the adorable shape and the idea of wafer on the outside and chocolate on the inside.  Also, very tasty!  Better than all the other Kinder products I've been exposed to in fact.  There's a rich taste to the chocolate filling that is sweet, but not sugar coma sweet.  And it's creamy.  Mmm.  If you see one, get it.  Eating enjoyment!


You could just eat him up, what with those adorable "please don't eat me" eyes and all, no?  Well, I could at least.

Balisto Korn-Mix: 2nd best of the Balistos I've had so far.  Although it's not too sweet, and while the corn taste is noticable without being annoying, I have to say that when it comes down to it, this bar is boring, meh.

Notice how this one says "à la tiramisu?"  Liars!  This is what happens when a marshmallow meets a snack cake in an amaretto-coffee confused haze, and then a bastard child is born.  Tragically bad.  The texture was ... gummy, and the taste was decidedly cake-like but not at all tiramisu-like.  This one is now at the very bottom of my list.

Another variety of Balisto.  I think that they try to market themselves as healthy simply because they don't taste very good, because god knows they don't actually have any fibre, or less calories than the other real chocolate bars kicking around in Belgium.  This one was very, VERY sweet.  There was no real taste of yogurt or berries, and no textural difference from the others.  I had hoped for little currant-like fruit-bits as were in the Meusli-mix Balisto, but *sigh*, no.  Hopefully I've eaten all the kinds of Balisto in existence now, because I have to say the disappointments with them... it's getting monotonous.

Now to go for a niiiice looong walk.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Well whaddya know?

I finally figured how to get my blog to allow comments.
It only took me... 8 months of fighting with my formats after accidentally setting something the wrong way to begin with.  yeesh.

In other news, today I finally stumbled across this video.  Having attended a well respected University of the Arts, all I can say is though I still don't really like Lady Gaga all that much, I do love this video.  It's unhealthily awesome, and though the song compliments the video, the video is 10 times more awesome than the song.  All the little details in it (hello 3:01-3:02 albino bat headpiece) make me want to watch it in slow motion, or even better yet with stopped frames.  And the almost lobster-claw Alexander McQueen heels that she's wearing (which one fashion magazine in Canada complained nobody could walk in) while singing "walk walk fashion baby"are fabulous.  This is an aesthetic cornucopia.  The digital editing on her body when she's in the cage-like structure (Shades of Chris Cunningham's creature in the Aphex Twin video "come to Daddy",) very cool.  The white PVC costume with the built in ribs and spine for that extra-creepy emaciated look ... hello!  As an aside, I love her nails in the opening sequence, where I also love the "slightly more whacked" Anna Wintour hair/shades combo.  And the glasses!  The lenses are made of razor and Xacto knife blades!  Can I die now?  Here is a video really working very hard at selling a song.  That along with Alexander McQueen fashion, and Nemiroff vodka (mind you I personally think this product placement stands out as a little gaudy,) and Parrot audio gear, Carrerra shades and, well, I guess we know where the all the money for the video came from now, don't we?

Video: "Bad Romance" - Lady Gaga

Now.  Just remember after all I've said that this is about the video.  I still don't like Lady Gaga.  Never have.  I'll be offended if you think I do.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Buckle in...

This may be a long one.  *Takes deep breath trying to organize thoughts & events.*  It might be a little messy too.  But there are pictures!

So.  I've been sleeping like some kind of creature preparing for hibernation lately.  Yesterday I slept in until 7am (I normally wake around 5), then went back to bed at 11 and slept until 2:30.  I dozed off again on the couch later around 8pm and aside from being woken up to head upstairs to bed, slept right through until 5:45ish this morning.  Soundly.  Evidently I have a little black-bear DNA hiding in there or something.

Yesterday being November 11th, boyfriend and I both had the day off.  During our non-lazing about time, we went and paid a visit to the nearby American Cemetery of the Ardennes, in Nandrin.




Recently visited stones had sand rubbed into the engraving.  I'd like to know the story behind this.





This one confuses me a little.


I will say this much: it was a miracle that it wasn't raining when we went to the cemetery.  I'm beginning to think Belgium's winterish weather is worse than Toronto's.  Here, it rains.  It's cold and it rains, all the time.  It's miserable!  Going for a walk in the forest is a muddy mess, and though many would disagree on account of the colder temperatures in Toronto, all I can say is it's easier to stay warm when you are DRY.  Dry air is what we get with the cold in T.O., and you can brush snow off... rain...not so much.

Which brings me to Rally weekend.  The first day of Rallye du Condroz I woke up with very unpleasant stomach pain, and it of course was raining and cold outside.  Joy.  I did manage to get my butt out the door though, and we made it to the first special (race) on time to see the zero cars pass (these are the cars that come before the competitors in order to ensure the route is ok.)  I have to say that this is one of the things I discovered about Rally watching here: Hot spiced wine makes being out at 8am in rain and wind much better.

Are you shocked?  I should have taken pictures of all the people with 24 cases of beer, eating pain au saucisse at 8am for you too.  It's not just a Rallye thing either, morning drinking is not seen as odd here, really.  I've had friends say they're shocked to see people drinking beer at 10am in Berlin.  Here it's more like 7am that you can walk past a café and see two old gents chatting over a glass.  We had a good laugh last night while watching the news, when the subject of non-smoking legislation in cafés was being discussed.  It was because the report started off with the anchor saying "many people enjoy their morning cigarette accompanied by a cup of coffee or a glass of beer."  As if it were dead normal, which it pretty much is here.  Now for a few Rally pics:

Rain = slippery conditions

Very slippery.



Did I mention it was slippery?



On our way to the second special.

Finishing off day 1.  Cold, wet, dirty.

Day two was much sunnier!



And now for something completely different:  If you are into food and cooking (as I happen to be,) then you should see Julie & Julia.  Not the most serious cinema, but well researched, interesting, touching, and funny.

Rain rain go away.

Friday, November 6, 2009

It's official...

The seat on the bus that faces someone else is the 'get coughed on' seat.

Everytime!  Everytime I sit there, I get coughed at by the person sitting directly opposite me.

Today that meant on the way to work, and on the way back.

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This weekend is the Rallye du Condroz!  Tomorrow I'm off to watch cars do stuff on narrow winding roads!  It's my first rally!  I'm taking my camera!  I hope it doesn't suck!

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Just an interesting factoid from over around these parts: 25 employees of France Telecom have committed suicide in the past 20 months.  Wow, I wonder what their company culture is like?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Les approches de saison

It's safe to say it's fall here, and quickly on it's way to being the double-Christmas.

Double Christmas?  Yes.  I have termed it this because here on December 6th there is the jour de Saint Nicholas, which is the day which seems to be more of a gifting-occasion.  On the 25th there is Christmas, which seems to be more of a gathering with family thing, but not exclusive of gifting as well.

This is a little confusing for a person who comes from a super-consumerist "gogogo" overscheduled sort of society.  I have to say that the sentimentalist in me thinks it's nice that there are several family and friend gathering occasions around this time of year (New Years Day is also another,) however the obsessively organized part of my mind is panicking, not knowing when I need to be ready for what.  I don't even know when to start making Christmas sweets so they'll be ready for the correct occasion, because Christmas has been deconstructed, oh nos!

Of making sweets:  I've been looking awhile now for a decent candy thermometer that will double nicely for chocolate work, and have yet to see the one I feel like forking out several euros for.  We scoped out another professional kitchen supply store yesterday, and while they had several things I hadn't yet spotted here that would be nice to have or at least to know where to find for when the occasion arrives, the top items on my list were not found, yet again.  Seriously, how hard is it to find a store that has a decent bulk supply of quality chocolate, and a frikkin' digital candy thermometer?  I think I'm going to have to resort to online means, or a trip to another country, or at least to the other side of this country, where the Callebaut factory lives.

So there is a little pressure mounting, and there has been a little disappointment in the sweet-creating part of my mind and life.  I've recently tried 2 new recipes and had 2 failures.  One fail was the internet recipe which looked ok on paper, but the result was, well, not great.  Edible but not great.  The other fail was my fault.  This morning I was trying out a new carrot-cake recipe (interesting to me because it used nut powders, and had a distinct absence of raisins or spices.)  I misconverted 2,5cL as 250mL.  It was morning, and I could plead foggy headedness but somehow I think this is just one of those things where my foreign brain isn't accustomed to seeing cL or dL in recipes very often. : /  I *thought* a cup of oil was a lot... and it was.  There was no redeeming the fail, (unless I felt like making 10 carrot cakes, which I didn't) though I did try a few culinary experiments before retiring the batter to the garbage.  In case you had ever wondered: sweet carrot pancakes are interesting, but not all that good.

And that's where things are at.  Nothing terribly exciting for the moment, which I suppose isn't all that bad now and then, a little calm leaves me the time to do a few things around here that need doing (like hemming pants, which is boring I know,) watching a few borrowed DVDs, trying to figure out how to most intelligently handle the deconstructed Christmas, (not to mention how to try and get gifts to Canada on time by post,) and getting a little extra sleep (never bad in flu-season.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Though I cannot physically juggle, It seems I am a juggler.

I ate this on the way to Paris, and forgot to include it in the last entry, but anyways.  It's too sweet, and the almond taste gets a little lost in that.  Perhaps this one was a little old, but it tasted kind of 'dusty'.

This weekend I worked, and partied, and worked.  Saturday morning I was at work for 7am, where essentially I run around for 8 hours, or juggle I guess.  There are a bunch of things that have to be done every day, and then there are the things that come up along the way that you have to handle as well.  Sometimes these things that come up can really mess with your ability to get all the regular things done in the amount of time you have.  This is why I say I run, because I think it's always better to take less time than to take more.  I don't actually RUN there though... that would be unsafe!  But it's safe to say I'm one of the fastest walkers you'll ever meet.

So, Saturday am was work.  I came home, showered and began to get ready.  We had a wedding reception to attend on Saturday night in Malmedy, which is about an hour away from here by car.  While getting ready we had dinner and took an apero (drink), after which we finished making ourselves pretty (we both looked smashing and I hope to have a photo come my way to show you...stupid camera batteries always trying to sabotage me!) and left.

The reception got pretty wild pretty quick, with lots of booze and dancing.  We arrived back home at 6:30am... just in time for me to go to work again!  No, thankfully since it was the evening the clocks go back here, it was actually 5:30, so I managed to squeeze in 45 minutes of sleep before waking, showering and heading into work.  I have to say that for this I am a champion... only my feet were really the wiser that I was tired I think, but then dancing for 7 hours in heels will do that to you.  At least I hope nobody was really the wiser... I had a dream last night that my boss told me he wasn't going to re-sign my contract since he wasn't sure how long I could stay in Belgium.

In the real world (not dreamland) it seems as though my contract will be re-signed.  I don't have the official word yet, but some of the signs are there... enough to make me think it's likely.  The dream I had does reflect a concern I'm dealing with though, which is about leaving.  My visa has no expiry date, and my permis de séjour (my identity card) expires in May.  So, firstly we aren't sure if I have to leave at the end of March (one year from my entry into Belgium,) or if I'd have to leave by 14th of May (end of my permis.)  This is a need to know for when my contract comes up in discussion, because a 6 month contract may be proposed, and depending on which date is my required 'leave date' I may have to say I can only sign a 3 month contract instead (not a good move to make if a 6 month contract is offered.)

We'd like to request a visa based on cohabitation for me.  In this way I could stay and work here, and we'd have the assurance that we'd never have to say goodbye again to each other unless it was by choice, rather than by circumstance as it's been up to this point.  Unfortunately to be able to request this, my divorce has to be finalized, giving me the required proof that I'm not married, and I'm not sure that this will be done in time.  Sadly, at a distance I'm not able to be much help to my spouse (who is still, my amazing friend as well,) in Toronto.  He's working, studying, trying to see his girlfriend (who lives in the US) and trying to move things along with the divorce too.

I guess a little anxiety hangs around me for the moment simply because there is so much stuff that's out of my hands, but that will determine the events of my life over the next while.  Will I have a job after Nov 18th?  Will I be able to stay in Belgium past the end of March?  Past the 14th May?  I don't know if or when I'll have to leave, and that makes it a little more challenging, if not downright difficult.  I can deal with instability, but I think in this case I'd prefer to know a little more than I do right now.  Planning anything is a little bit of impossible with so many elements up in the air.

Friday, October 23, 2009

So what's the problem?

"YOU'VE GOT A PUSSYYYY, I'VE GOT A DIIIICK, SO WHAT'S THE PROBLEEEMM?"





This is what came home the other night.  Boyfriend, in a very low and booming voice, chanting this as he came through the door.  He explained to me he'd been listening to Studio Brussels (a radio station that plays mostly electronic music) and he'd heard a song that used these lyrics over and over in an almost heavy-metal style.  (He then proceeded to do his best imitation, which had me doubled over laughing.)

This morning I googled these very lyrics only to discover it was Rammstein... a German hardcore-industrial-electronic group I've known about for years and years.  In fact... Boyfriend does a pretty good imitation of the voice of the lead singer, now that I know who it is.  The song (called "Pussy",) is pretty weak lyrically (no, ...really?) and the video is plain out porn interspersed with shots of the band playing, but hey... this is Europe.  That's all I can really say.  People over here are less uptight about these kinds of things, at least when the lyrics are in English.  Personally, I have to say I find the song hilarious in it's Eurotrashiness, but I doubt it'll ever make the airwaves in N. America without a little editing.

If you want more of the "Eurotrash experience", feel free to look up a song by Tiga called "Shoes".  Tiga is Canadian by the way, of Montreal, though like many techno producers, these days he spends a great deal of time in the global hot-bed of techno production, Berlin.  If you prefer something a little tiny bit closer to home and want to know what Can-culture looks like served up through Eurofiltered lenses, then look up the video for Tiga's version of "Sunglasses at Night" (a song originally by another Canadian, Corey Hart.)  The Tiga video features a celebrity tranny by the name of Amanda Lepore.  (PS Amanda: a little less botox would do wonders for that drooping lip and eyelid you seem to have.)

Ah yes.  I've been meaning to show this to you for awhile.  I tore it out of a catalogue that came to the house just to show you.  I call it "The day Christelle decided to stop telling people she was a model":

Doesn't she just look thrilled to be part of this shoot?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

coup de fil = :D

That's what it's called when you give someone a shout on the phone.  A "touch of wire", if you will.  I did just that last night, calling the Belgian consulate in Montreal to figure out exactly what's what with my visa and my rights to come and go.  I wanted to make sure that at the very least if my visa really was that restrictive, that I wouldn't accidentally end up in the wrong country and have my visa cancelled.

Turns out that though my visa is quite restrictive, my residence permit overrides that, and since I have my residence permit, I'm all good!  I can come and go as I like!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Crap.

I cannot visit home, not even for a few days.  This is because I have a single-entry visa, which could be cancelled if I return to my home country, even if it's only for a few days to visit.

Very not happy.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Encounters of the unexpected kind

So we went to Paris for the Salon du Chocolat Professionel.  Left the house at 5:30am to arrive in Paris just in time for the buchon (traffic jam) at 9am.

The Salon... disappointing.  As far as information and new things to discover I was definitely underwhelmed, and felt like maybe I should have gone to check out the other major chocolate salon in Europe instead, Eurochocolate in Perugia, Italy.  The world masters of chocolate was happening though and it was neat to watch the competitors doing their thing.  By watching the competitors in their regulation kitchen-spaces, it was easy to see that the American and the Japanese felt right at home as they worked quickly and efficiently while others seemed a little more fuddled.


Shigeo Hirai of Japan won the overall title this year.  The American came in 2nd.

I was amazed at the warmth of the room.  A cool ambient temperature makes for easier tempering of the chocolate, however I did notice many competitors frequently making use of a spray-coolant provided to them as a standard issue tool for the competition, while others 'flashed' the chocolate they were moulding or shaping on acetate in their freezers.  It seems some clever little bees did their moulding earlier in the morning when the room was cooler, and left the finishing of their pastries for when the room was warmer (smart.)

Along with the Salon being a bit of a letdown, I wasn't feeling in top form, and then later in the day realized I was getting a cold-sore, which is everyone's favourite feeling.  Fortunately the pharmacy saved the day when they explained I could go for the traditional creme or ointment, or try these neato new medicated patches.  Check it out.
So there are 15 of these babies in each pack, and really... they work.  They do a pretty darn good job of taking care of all the things you worry about when you have a cold-sore (pain, gross-factor, visibility, possibility of infection & so on), and to top it off, they're almost invisible and seem to speed the healing process along.  Here's me wearing one as we walked around Paris Saturday morning (day 2 of cold-sore.)

You should know I would normally KILL anyone trying to take a picture of me with a cold-sore.  Thanks to these patches, the photographer survived!

Aside from my lip maybe looking a little swollen, you can't tell, can you?  And here's a closeup of my lips today, day 4 of coldsore.  You can't really tell but the sore has already ulcerated and without these little guys would be all burny and gross-crusty-ulcery.  Yech.  But honestly, I hardly feel a thing when I've got this lovely on.  Not the patch, nor the pain that usually accompanies a cold-sore.  Ready?


Yes, I know, I could use some lipgloss.  And you can see the patch maybe a little here, but at this point it's been on for a few hours, and I had a cup of tea.  They normally stick for about 8 hours depending on what you're doing (I generally try to drink through a straw when I have a cold-sore, and that seems to help here with retaining the adhesiveness of the patch too.)  But, for anyone who suffers from cold-sores now and then as I do, these things are a GODSEND.  A godsend made by Johnson & Johnson.  The last plus is that they take a long time to expire.  Since I get a cold-sore once every 1.5 or 2 years, and the expiry on the package is 2012, before leaving Paris I picked up another package, so I'll be ready next time!

After we left the Salon we walked around for a little while and then went to check-in at our hotel.  Very verrry nice for the scandalously good 65 euro/night price (I am the queen of finding amazing hotels at amazing prices in good locations.)  Essentially we had a furnished apartment, large by Parisian standards, fully equipped, and very clean.  (If you're making travel plans in France, check out Citea Aparthotels.  Seriously.)  Having been up so early, we napped a bit and went to locate dinner upon waking.  After a long drive and a lot of walking we were pretty bushed so it was dinner in and a movie on the canal + provided free in the apartment.  So I suppose the first day in Paris was a bit of a washout.  The next day we went to check out an exhibition of masterworks re-done using spongebob squarepants, which was pretty neat, and we both agreed that sadly it was far more satisfying than the Salon had been the day before.





We walked a little more in the moody weather (rain, sun, grey, rain, sun, rain, grey,) and then decided we were tired and bored of Paris, so we got in the car and headed for home, making a significant detour on the way to check out Reims (the home of something else I like: Champagne.)

It was a few hours out of our way but we've been curious to see what's there for awhile, and we discovered that Reims is a pretty little city, a little touristy-cute, but not too much so, and perfect for a weekend getaway.


Amusement for us: the set of wood-huts in the central walk of the city, which turned out to be a promotion of Canada.  It was a parade of all the things you've ever heard about Canada from someone who isn't Canadian: Maple syrup, native carvings, teepees, lumberjack coats (red&black), and pancakes.



 (People here are very curious about pancakes...which is weird to me since it's not really rocket-science to make one.) Even funnier still was that at the end of the row of wooden huts, off to the side there was another stand where a man was selling Liègois-waffles.  So in the end we each got a little dose of our own cultures right there in France.  Apart from the delicious quiches we had for dinner, French culture was difficult to locate in Reims that day, save this one other thing:  Stopped in a McDonalds to use the restroom.  That bastion of globalism samey-sameness, where french-fries taste the same the world over is good for washroom use since you don't normally need to pay to use the McDo's washrooms.  Here, like other McDonalds, there was no madame pipi collecting a toll for the w/c and so I entered directly, and was served up this unusual flavour:


Lol, what!?  

I've seen pictures of pedal toilets before... IN INDIA!  I really didn't expect one in the McDonalds in Reims, France.  Boyfriend informed me after I came out of the washroom and showed him this photo on the LCD screen of my camera, that in France this type of toilet is common.  Though I'm sure he's peed a lot more places than I have there, I'll say that I've peed a lot of places in France, including other McD's washrooms and have never seen one of these there, so it was an odd surprise for me.  Being the champion I am though, I negotiated the deed with no troubles, and we were on our way home.
And that's the end of that story.  We hit up La Batte (a huge outdoor Sunday market here in Liège) for some vin-chaud and saw some gorgeous fall colours yesterday, but my camera battery had nothing left when I went to make my first shot of the day, so another time perhaps.

Chitika