Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mama Roma's Pizza and The Best Fries in Brussels

A few weeks ago we had the rare weekend in town and decided to go out on Saturday night for pizza and fries - a nutritious dinner, right? We headed to Mamma Roma in Place Jourdan and ordered yummy pizza. This is a cool place where they have numerous kinds of pizza pies...but instead of paying by the slice they actually weigh your slice and you pay by the weight. I love the pizza here and it was a fun treat. Place Jourdan is right near the EU and there always seems to be English-speakers all around, so there is some comfort in that. Sometimes you just need to hear a little English, you know? After some yummy pizza loaded with veggies and colorful, exotic toppings we walked across the street to what is rumored to be "the best fries in Brussels" at Chez Antoine. There was something exhilarating about the hot fries wrapped in a paper cone. We got them to go and shared one order in the car as we headed home. Yum, yum, yum!

Frog and Pig

I feel like I should start with a disclaimer that my child likes to watch videos. It is so taboo these days to admit your child watches television. But mine does. Actually she doesn't WATCH them, but they are on in the background of her active play from time to time. I think they have their place and as long as she isn't zoning out then I am fine with it. And Connor just tunes in for 5 minutes here and there before something else takes her attention. Anyway.....

Connor's new favorite is an oldie but goodie and one of my favorites too. She likes "The Muppets Take Manhattan." Have you seen it? It is all about Kermit, Miss Piggy and the gang trying to make it on Broadway as famous celebrities cameo throughout the plot.

Connor's very favorite part of "Pig and Frog" (what she calls the movie) is the scene when Joan Rivers and Miss Piggy are working a department store make up counter. They start giving each other "makeovers" and laughing hysterically. Connor anticipates it saying "Pig laugh!" and "Pig laugh comin'!" I love to watch how her mind works! And I am glad the Muppets still have a place in childhood laughter.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Craft Night and Moody Photography

I know I keep going on and on about Dallas and her photography, but I am just mesmerized by it. Last week she had an assignment for her natural light photography course to find a moody shot. She asked if we could shoot some night shots near my apartment and if I could spot her and equipment while she took the photos. I was of course more than happy to tag along.

Seeing the results through her lens makes me love this city all the more. And makes me love living right in the middle of it all! Who would ever guess that this would be my neighborhood?!?! Sounds like Dallas got positive critiques on the assignment - I can see why!
And this one she obviously did not take in the city center, but this is along the road on the way to the Women's Club. Quite a drive, huh? It is one of my favorite parts of the city.Recently Dallas invited me to join several of her friends for my first ever "Craft Night" at her house. Not only does Dallas take awesome photos, she also quilts, sews, and does all kinds of crafty things. I had a lot of fun at craft night. Who knew crafting with friends could be so fun and relaxing?! I brought Connor's birthday party invites to work on. I figured that counted - sort of - as a craft. I am getting excited about Connor's "Old MacDonald" themed party. She is animal-crazy so it is a fun idea to build on.Dallas worked on the Pink Muh-Muh surgery and finished one half of it which she presented to Connor. Connor just went to pieces over having a new Muh-Muh. She snuggled it and rubbed it in her fingers until she fell asleep. Thank you Dallas! And thank you again Mom for finding Pink Muh-Muh!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Pitiful at the Playground

Are you starting to sense a theme of toddlerhood and extreme emotions in my blogs? I think motherhood is all about the highest of highs sometimes peppered with the lowest of lows when your kids are upset, angry, hurt, or frustrated. What a chaotic mix! With Connor 99% of the times are logical and wonderful, but when it comes time to leave the playground that 1% of stubborn rears its ugly head.

It starts off so innocently. Happily playing on the playground equipment (in this case at a rest stop on the side of the highway), not a care in the world...Even time to let mommy tickle and to laugh for a photo!But even with fair warning, leaving the playground is a chore. She just loves to play. I wish going to the P-L-A-Y-G-R-O-U-N-D (we have to spell it in our house or Connor goes nuts) wasn't such a chore at the finale. But that is sometimes just life as a nearly two-year-old!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

La Hulpe

Last Monday the weather was picture perfect and I was so happy we had planned another Brussels outdoor adventure! This time we were off to La Hulpe - a park and chateau only 20 minutes away. The La Hulpe Chateau, owned by the Solvay company/family, was built in 1842 and overlooks nearly 550 acres of woods and ponds on the edge of the Soignes forest. The parks are open to the public everyday for FREE. It was rumored as a beautiful place for "walking and relaxation," and not to be missed. Although I am not sure how much "relaxation" is possible for the moms of two busy toddlers, we were so glad we didn't miss it on this beautiful Spring day!!! There were massive trees of rhododendrons and azaleas surrounding the castle, which is not generally open to the public. That was no problem though - the grounds were wonderful enough on their own. This is one of my favorite shots: we saw this older man entering the park with his canvas in hand all ready to paint a masterpiece. Quintessential Europe!
I wish I could say that the children were as well-behaved as the glorious day beckoned them to be. Unfortunately at the start of our visit they were both a little cranky and whiny. If they were out in the grass, they wanted to be in their strollers; if they were in their strollers, they wanted to be out and running around. Some days you just can't win in the toddler negotiation no matter how hard you try. After a little while they settled in and really enjoyed the grounds, but for a while there we thought we were going to have to leave prematurely! Although, truth be told...I know why Connor was in a funk. And it was totally my fault. With the start of Spring I was pumped to pull out the sweet white shoes I have been waiting all winter to put on Connor. Dresses and girls clothes just go better with bright, shiny white shoes. Well Connor has been wearing these white shoes, kids size 7.5, for a couple of weeks now. They are already snug width-wise and I knew they were a little long (gotta love the way kids feet grow). But it wasn't until Connor fell hard on the gravel and in the grass for the fifth time in five minutes at La Hulpe that I realized it was the shoes and not Connor's balance that were the problem! Oops. You think I would have put one and one together a lot sooner. I went up and pinched the end of the shoes and there must have been over an inch of space. She was tripping over those long shoes! So lesson learned - you can't will the shoes to fit, and my daughter needs size "wide" shoes!
Since it was the very beginning of our walk when I discovered the shoe fiasco, and I didn't have any extra shoes on me, I just decided that since the park was acres and acres of soft grass as far as the eye could see that I would just let Connor run around in her socked feet. Poor little thing, she got soaked through and through - socks, tights, dress and all - in the dewy, wet grass...but once she got going she didn't seem to mind one bit. This photo (below) had Karen and me on the ground in stitches! Brady and Connor were nicely sharing the bowl of coveted American Cheerios. I think a few too many hands must have reached in at once because before we knew it the O's were on the ground. And without missing a beat both kids were eating them right off the ground! We were laughing too hard at their reaction speed and Cheerios focus to intervene right away.Solvay's Chateau de la Hulpe was for sure one of my favorite spots of all in Brussels. Even though we had a lot of obstacles to our visit (cranky kids, big shoes, Cheerios on the ground, AND flattened stroller tires). Nothing could have spoiled that clean, clear, fresh day. My favorite memory will be of Brady and Connor chasing between Karen and me as we lifted each approaching child into the air and tickled them until they shrieked in a field of green. On days like this I remember this truly amazing gift of spontaneous, unscheduled daytime with Connor. It was a perfect spot for a Monday morning since we practically had the entire place to ourselves. I definitely will go back to La Hulpe one day soon!

Hold You?!?!

There is perhaps nothing more endearing than when your child looks up at you with arms up and outstretched wanting to be held and cuddled. Especially when they are tired and just want a shoulder to snuggle on. This happens so infrequently as it seems Connor is rarely ever tired and almost always busy.

But the best part when Connor does want to be held is that she looks at me with those deep blue eyes and asks, "Hold you?" and sometimes three times in a row, "Hold you? Hold you? Hold you!"

Guess our smart little cookie hasn't quite grasped those pronouns of 'me' and 'you' just yet. She just knows when I ask, "Can I hold you?" or "Do you want me to hold you?" that means she is picked up. So it would make sense why she asks, "Hold you?" instead of "Hold me?" when wanting to be held (which is, as I said before, not that often!)

Frozen Peas and Corn

To all moms out there: a way to make veggies a little more exciting!

Connor has been eating frozen peas and corn with dinner. She loves it. It is so easy because all I have to do is literally dump the peas or corn from the freezer bag onto the plate and wa-la vegetable course is made. Karen taught me this trick and I am very grateful. Plus, I think Connor likes the vegetables MORE this way. They are cold and seem to be more of a fun food for her in this frozen state. As long as she is chewing and eating them then I am a happy mom!

The only problem is that the only place I can find frozen corn in Brussels is at the Stone Manor grocery store which is 45 minutes away from our house. We carefully guard those kernels! It is baffling to me that frozen corn is not a mainstream food in regular grocery stores here.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Street Musicians

These guys are my very favorite street performers in Brussels. They are the very first act I ever donated to on the street. I am not big on spontaneous donations like that, but honestly I couldn't pass this trio without reaching into my pocket just to say thank you for making me smile. Sorry it isn't a very great photo, but the best part is that their music is lively, peppy, and foot-stomping fun. And every now and then the guy in the middle will let out a "Yeah!" in harmony. The "Yeah!" is the perfect touch to humanize the trio and draw you right in.These guys are often right on the main shopping street next to the Grand Place. Now that the tourist season is in full swing and the streets are that much more jam-packed these guys are there all the more. I dare you to walk by without doing just a little dance!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

WELCOME BACK BOB!!!!

We had some European trauma this week. Not really, but it definitely feels dramatic in our family! Bob - the stroller - suffered 3 flat tires all at the same time! Don't worry though. Bob is back after an overnight stay at the "bicycle urgent care" and back to full health. Phew. We couldn't do without Bob. I am pretty much grounded without Bob. And it is no fun being grounded when it is GORGEOUS (still!) outside in Brussels.

On Monday Karen and I took the kids to Chateau de la Hulpe (more later). We had three magnificent hours in the outdoors but lost track of time and needed to make a quick beeline back to our car to hit the nap window sweet spot just right. So we decided to leave the park and take the more direct road path. Wrong decision. The "path" got skinnier and skinnier until finally we were bushwhacking through the weeds on the side of the road. Well Bob picked up a stick with long briars in each of the three tires. Luckily I was able to limp to the car and get to a bike shop. Thank goodness Karen knew of a classy bike place where the owner speaks English. That is the confounding factor here - not only do you have to know where to go, but also can they speak English. Because I wouldn't leave our Bob with just anyone you know!

We made it back to Uccle for the much-anticipated Bob pick up and Connor kept saying "Go get Bob! Go get Bob!" We walked from Uccle back home, making a brief stop at the Chatelain market for strawberries ("straw-babies" still to Connor) and a rotisserie chicken from "Le Roi Poulet" for dinner.

Welcome back Bob!!!

Monschau, Germany

Last Sunday we squeezed our car with 4 adults and one busy toddler and went with Dallas and Thomas to Monschau, Germany. It is only 1.5 hours from Brussels and is one of those grapevine places people tell you you ought to go. So we went.

Before we left we tried to find out a little more about Monschau in one of our many travel books. But wouldn't you know not one of them mentioned Monschau! Kirk was a little wary that I was dragging a car full to a town not even in our guidebooks! But I had faith. Connor was a little unsure too....And indeed we found Monschau, a small German town that oozed German charm and flair. Thomas at first blush told me about Helen, GA - which is apparently a town in Georgia trying to be stereotypically German - comparing the two. But he then recanted as we walked into the city center and said, "Oh no, this is MUCH BETTER than Helen!" I guess there is a lot to say for the authentic Germany. The half-timber houses right on the rushing river definitely imprinted in my memory book. We enjoyed just walking around the maze-like streets and taking photos. When I am around Dallas and Thomas I want so badly to be a better photographer. They are both incredible and could be professionals with their talents. And Dallas is a gentle but exacting teacher. She is humble in recognizing her talent, but she knows so much. I appreciate her bite-sized lessons and her patient technique. (The vast majority of the photos in this blog entry were taken by Dallas or Thomas).
After bee bopping through the town we decided we just had to have Schnitzel since we were in Germany. We checked the menus of several places right on the water, but the prices seemed pretty steep (I guess that water view comes with a price). But when we came across "Lemon Tree" with schnitzel for 5.90 euro we knew we found our spot! And as luck would have it we were the only patrons at Lemon Tree so Connor got to dance and jive all over the restaurant without disturbing other diners. Which she did to the delight of the restaurant staff. It is so difficult to keep her still these days!One other fun fact about Germany. January 6 is The Feast of Epiphany (Three Kings Day). This day is also called Heilige Drei K├Ânige, which means Three Wise Men. The three kings who visited the Christ child were Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. A German Christmas tradition is to write the initials of the three kings in chalk the night before the Feast to protect the home and family. I guess it really hasn't rained very much since January, because we saw several of these chalked initials still bold and bright on the doors.As we were strolling back to the car we came across these fun puppets. Most of them made corresponding animal sounds with a squeaker. Dallas and I had fun trying them all out. And in the end I bought a non-audible puppy puppet for Connor. She is a big fan!
On the way home the 3 ladies all fell asleep in the back seat. And none of us is a particularly glamorous snoozer. Leave it to the guys to capture it on film! I take our exhaustion as evidence of a Sunday well spent in Monschau, Germany!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Brussels Basilica

Last weekend we took Connor to the large Basilica of the Sacred Heart. It was a gorgeous Spring afternoon and this spot has been on our "to see in Brussels" list for quite some time.This Basilica really dominates the Brussels skyline and while it was very pretty up close, I have to admit I think it is even more beautiful from afar. The way it captures the setting on clear days from the overlook near the Palais de Justice is iconic.
The inside of the National Basilica is very modern and movable. There aren't any pews, rather folding chairs - hundreds and hundreds of them. I loved the main dome. Dallas told me later there is an elevator that takes you up to the top of this dome for only 2 euros and the views are magnificent. Bummer. I can't believe we missed it. Maybe another time....
As memorable as the structure was, the best part about the Basilica is the large green yard surrounding it. We just sat back and watched as Connor ran and ran and ran. It seems she could run all day and still not be tired these days...

Lazy Saturday in Dinant

Last Saturday we drove down the road (~45 minutes) to Dinant - a little, picturesque town in Belgium. Dinant is situated right on the River Meuse and boasts an onion-topped cathedral nestled beside cliffs which are topped with a citadel. The scene is charming - even in the misty, foggy weather - the type of weather we had on Saturday.
The Proctors met us there and we immediately set our sights on getting to the top of the cliffs to see the citadel up close. (By the way, do you know what the difference is between a fortress and a citadel? I am curious). Kirk and Karen took the kids up the cable car funicular, but I wanted to try out the old stairs to scale the cliff. Good exercise! Tony was kind enough to join me! We "felt the burn!"
We reunited at the top and joined the French tour guide to explore the inside of the citadel. I can't tell you too much about the official history of the place since the tour was entirely French and the guide didn't speak a lick of English, but it was a fun place to navigate. There were tunnels and old prison cells. And I gathered this was an important base during WWI and in previous battles. The view from the top was breathtaking and it was interesting to think of the defense and preparation that took place here long ago.
By far the strangest part of the tour was the small room that is still in tact despite suffering a direct bomb hit. It has completely shifted and is crooked. When you walk through it your center of gravity and sense of vertical is shifted. So everyone walks sideways and gets dizzy. (We took turns without the kids). I really think there must be something magnetic about the site too because it was absolutely the strangest sensation.
We trucked it back down the mountain and had lunch along the river. And before we left Dinant we found the golden saxophone sculpture to snap a few photos. Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, was born in Dinant.
On the way home Kirk and I drove to Rochefort, Belgium - 30 minutes from Dinant. We wanted to check out the Rocheford Trappist Abbey and Brewery. But it was closed so we only saw the outside. Oh well.
Dinant was a wonderful day trip from Brussels. Easy-peasy to reach, gorgeous scenery, and enough fun, interactive things of note for the kids. Even a stone car passage cut directly into the mountain! Click here for more photos of Dinant (full album)