Saturday, February 28, 2009

Aging Play Dough

OK, here is a dilemma for you. Leave a comment if you have a magic solution:
Connor LOVES play dough. We cut shapes together and roll it and practice colors with it. Whoever came up with play dough is a genius! Now the challenge we face is this. Our American play dough is getting a little old and crusty. Wish I could say we were always on top of putting it back in the cans the second we finish with it, but we aren't. We try, but you know the powers of other toy distractions are strong. Cleaning up immediately is not always cool! So if anyone knows a way to re-moisturize play dough, please let us know!

Friday, February 27, 2009

Victor Horta House

In the Saint-Gilles neighborhood of Brussels you can find the house-turned-museum of the famous art-nouveau architect, Victor Horta. Not only did Mr. Horta have a noteworthy house, but he is credited with art- nouveau masterpieces all over the city of Brussels. He was one of the foremost creators of this architectual style.

What is art-nouveau? It is described by the museum as a way of designing that "creates harmony between architecture and interior design by devising its own ornamental language, which transforms the home into a work of art." Hmmm. My translation is that it is more rounded and curvy than the edges and corners found in traditional architecture. Think scrolling lines and a warm glow incorporating as much natural light as possible.

This afternoon Connor and I met Dallas to take in Horta's mansion museum. Knowing and understanding Mr. Horta seems an important step in becoming more of a local (culturally) in town. All of the Brussels buildings that make you stop and stare took influence from him. So now we are more "in the know" with the culturally astute crowd.

The museum was lovely and a good blend of abstract yet understandable. My favorite was all of the chandeliers and lights. Just look at this chandelier in the tiled dining room! The blown glass, colored flower bouquet was stunning. Connor thought so too!
Here is an example of the abundant stained glass skylights. Combined with the warm wood paneling and antiques, the mood inside was aglow. Connor took in all of the fabrics and light with enthusiasm. She was respectful in the museum and listened well. I was pleased. Especially given this was another, no strollers and no cameras kind of places. (These interior photos are of postcards I bought). Please just look at this shot...this is the Horta museum we walked with Connor. She loved skipping up and hopping down the steps. I can't imagine living in a home with so many floors. Or raising a child in a home with so many stairs!We were inspired as we circled the block on foot after our Horta Museum visit to look for some of the art-nouveau facades nearby. Not sure if these officially qualify, but they looked rounded and art-nouveau-ish to me! Plus the windows are fun and made me smile.

They did give us a maps of all the art nouveau styles nearby. Maybe I will do a more extensive walking tour of them when it is not raining!

If the sun ever comes back!


These days not only am I translating French to English in my mind all day, I am also attempting to translate "toddler rambles" into real words. Connor babbles 24/7. Honestly, it is amazing! Her mind must just be going a million miles an hour. No wonder she has to hit the hay at 7 PM - she must be exhausted!

Yesterday Connor kept pointing to something and saying "icky, icky." I kinda tuned it out with the rest of her stream of consciousness speech but then I realized she was saying "sticky, sticky!" She wanted the scotch tape (she calls it "Sticky")! Oh.The girl has a thing for tape. She sticks it on the walls and even on her belly. It is miraculous the fun a loop of STICKY tape can spur on!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

That's Entertainment!

Today was an ambitious day socially. I love to entertain in our home. We always had some event or celebration to host in Atlanta and I have really missed having groups and gatherings here in Belgium. The stress, manic cleaning, followed by fulfillment in the accomplishment all fuel me. Mom always taught me, "To be invited places, you need to invite and entertain others." Makes sense. Today I pulled double duty though. From 3-5 PM we hosted our Brussels Childhood Trust (BCT) Playgroup and then at 6:30 PM Karen, Tony, and Brady came over for spaghetti dinner.

Everything just takes a little more effort over here. Hauling groceries, figuring out European ingredient substitutes, determining the outside temperature and which coats to wear, and balancing Connor's schedule all proved formidable tasks. Connor of course fell asleep in the stroller in the supermarket, so she woke up earlier than I planned - during those precious hours I was relying on to clean and organize for the back-to-back groups. So I put her to work! Connor loved helping me wash windows and vacuum. I on the other hand struggled with how to stay three steps forward with Connor taking me two steps back in every cleaning effort. I would put books away and she would come behind me and pull them right off the shelf. Ugh. As soon as I put the vacuum away Connor dumped out her bowl of Cheerios and proceeded to step on a dozen of them (not on purpose, but a pain nonetheless).

Finally it was game time. Snacks out, check. Toys put away, check. Crumbs and Cheerios off the floor, enough of a check! There were probably about 8 babes with their moms who came from our BCT Group. These are English-speaking moms living in the "Central" neighborhood, so most are within walking distance. Everyone seemed to have fun and there were no bruises, bumps or blood and relatively few instances of "not sharing." Those were my real goals given so many toddlers in one place. The group was especially impressed that I had Pepperidge Farm Goldfish and Betty Crocker chocolate chip cookies (both of which are not sold over here)!
And the cherry on top was dinner with the Proctors. I told Karen recently, "It is like finding good couple friends - but in this case it is like finding good triple friends!" I mean we love our time as adults and our kids couldn't be happier playing together. After spaghetti, we put the kids in their PJs, and the moms and dads enjoyed a second glass of wine while Brady and Connor chased each other up and down the hall sliding these red chairs. And they liked sitting and "reading" together in their matching seats! Needless to say we fudged on bedtime tonight. Connor went down around 8:30 PM, but it was so worth it!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Carnival Continues - in Binche!

Did you think that was it? One Carnival parade and we were through? You know me better than that! On (Fat) Tuesday we traveled with Karen and Brady and Karen's parents (visiting from the States) to the old fortified hill town of Binche, Belgium. It is located near the eastern part of Belgium, nestled in the French section of the country. Complete opposite of Aalst which was the Dutch celebration. Gotta love a bilingual country!
The origins of Binche's Carnival have been traced back to the 14C and the celebration is recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. So after resting Monday we packed up and went.
We arrived in Binche midmorning and we were immediately enveloped with the Carnival spirit. The small town was packed with people. It was a bit intimidating for two Moms with strollers, but I was astounded by how kind and jovial the entire day stayed. The crowds engulfed us, but also gave us pockets of space for maneuvering and enjoying the atmosphere.

Traditions in Binche include wearing this bright and cheery yellow baby's breath type flower. And most prominent is the tradition of the "Gilles" dancing in the streets. In the morning they dance and clog around in wooden shoes in a mammoth tight-knit circle on the town square with their arms around each other. Karen and family watched Connor and encouraged me to squish closer for a picture. I wasn't getting anywhere and was just "moshing" with the crowd. But then I saw someone break under the Gilles and into the center of the circle. It seemed ok and a good answer to my crowding problem so I did the same. Inside the circle was a collection of drummers pounding out the beat to the "rhythm."

It was roomy and a great opportunity for photos and a better look at the mysterious Gille costume. I snapped my shots and then scooted back out to be with our group, yet exhilarated by the newness and boisterousness of it all.
I urged Karen and family to do the same while I watched the strollers. But when they returned from the circle they told me that made it under the Gilles, but then they were pushed back under and tssk-d out from the middle. Oops. So you aren't really supposed to be in the center without being an official drummer. Oh well. I plead ignorant American Expat.

We wandered around the town and let the kids play with the ever present confetti. They loved throwing it and shrieking at it floating atop one another. Confetti is a hit.
After lunch Karen and family left to return to Brussels, but Connor and I stayed for the afternoon parade. I just hadn't had my fill of the Gilles! It was a long, chilly wait for the parade to start, but my rock star baby slept in her Bob stroller and awoke just in time. Thank you sweet Connor! While I was waiting, I had so much fun people watching. More costumes! More confetti! And more darling children - everywhere. So I had to take pictures.
The parade was much different than the one in Aalst. It consisted of groups or "cliques" of Gilles. Starting with the youngest, wee little ones and gradually growing to the adult men Gilles. Each group had a unique costume identifying them. In between each group there was always a band entourage belonging to that group singing out a melody on their instruments. And then there were also accompanying parents and friends wearing regular street clothes and all carrying backpacks and duffel bags full of blood oranges interspersed with the Gille group. What is up with the oranges?
The tradition is that the Gilles throw the blood oranges to the crowd along the parade route. What is the point? That is the point. Fortunately we were on the front row so many were kind enough to gently hand over the fruit rather than pegging us with it. But in many cases they threw with a lot of force. All of the town windows were well defended with chicken wire against the oncoming oranges. Guess they learned their lesson in past years!

Kirk and August drove up to Binche and met us after work. Unfortunately they didn't get to see it all, but they didn't miss the most famous Gilles dressed in their 8 foot costumes with big feathery hats! And they caught a few blood oranges.Connor did seem to really get a kick out of the day. She experienced it and felt it. I pray that all of these opportunities are positively absorbed into her as her little brain takes it all in.

We ended the day back in our cozy apartment and made pancakes for dinner. That is the traditional "Shrove Tuesday" meal and it was a comfort-laden way to end an exhausting Mardi Gras!

Click here for Binche Carnival Celebration (full album)

Happy CARNIVAL from Aalst

I have never, ever celebrated Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Carnival before. And we are Presbyterians so while we do Easter up right, we seem to be more passive with Lent and the build up to Lent as a denomination. At least in my assessment. Not sure why that is. I have yet to give something up for Lent in my lifetime. So, when I heard about the countless Carnival celebrations leading up to Mardi Gras in Europe as a whole and in Belgium specifically, imagine my surprise. We are having a ball marking all of the other new holidays here, so why not join in the Carnival festivities? So on Sunday we traveled to Aalst, Belgium with our friends Dallas and Thomas Stromberg. Aalst is in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium and about 45 minutes from Brussels. We arrived in the third hour of a 5 hour long Carnival Parade. Yes, you read that right. A 5 hour parade. This parade was complete with huge floats, marching bands and lots of clowns. And I am not sure why it had to be this way - but the parade had an element of European humor that included a lot of off-color components. The participants in the parade were all men dressed as women in drag or scantily clad. I think it is a tradition centuries old. So it has been and will continue to be!And most of the floats had a clear political caricature to them. Made me wish I knew more about Belgian and European politicians so I could better understand the satire. Although I did and could certainly appreciate those making fun of Belgian bureaucracy and the infamous red tape of the government. We have definitely experienced that! Covering every inch of the streets of the town was confetti. Imagine how much fun never ending confetti is for an almost-two-year-old! How can bits of paper be so wonderful? We now have tag-a-long confetti all over our house and in every crevice of our car as a reminder of and a souvenir from the Aalst Carnival confetti fun! Also, apparently we didn't get the memo but everyone dresses up in costume for the occasion. Those in the parade as well as those on the street. They dress up in whatever. Young and old. It is a fun twist of Halloween and New Years smushed together for Carnival.
Thomas and Dallas are both accomplished and amazing photographers (by hobby not by trade) so it was an extra special bonus to have them along. They took gorgeous photos of Connor. They weren't just fabulous photographers, but they also seemed to clearly enjoy time with her and relish in all of Connor's toddler moments. Thank goodness for friends like that. They took these 3 photos below.
We stayed for a couple hours of the parade and then were pooped. We came, we saw, we laughed, we ate (traditional beignets), and we had a lot of fun together. The party clearly continued into the wee hours of the night despite our departure!

Click here for Aalst Carnival Parade on Sunday (Full Album)