Working in France

There are things about working in France that take more getting used to than you’d expect. Coffee for one. Coffees in France are espressos. (Unlike in Brussels where they are just smaller and stronger than North America). This means they go down fairly quickly. But that is not the real problem with coffees and working. Here, one is not supposed to drink, or eat, at one’s desk. So a few times a day everyone heads to the coffee machine (we do have a nice one) and has a chat while enjoying their coffee.

This sounds lovely and civilized. And it is. But countering that is 20+ years of being a coffee drinking North American. For me the coffee almost serves as a focal point as I hold it in my hand contemplating whatever problem I am working on today. As I take sips, ideas flow and focus emerges. It is a ritual. Without it my brain screams “WHERE IS MY COFFEE!!!!” instead of contemplating material deformations or stresses or whatever it is I do.

Of course I could just bring a coffee back to my desk – people have been known to. But the size of the espressos is such that it gets cold long before I complete a thought. Of course there is always tea.  As a matter of fact, I think I will go get one.

Le Chandail

If you are Canadian a vision of 5 Maurice Richards playing against 5 other Maurice Richards just flashed in your head. If you are not Canadian you wondered “What on earth (or other word) is ‘un chandail’?” And maybe “Who is Maurice Richard?”

Most Canadians have been exposed to the concept of “un chandail” partly because of the weather (sweaters are a wardrobe staple) and partly because of this story. (Link is to the english version.) And apparently “chandail” is Quebec French.

In European French “un chandail” is “un pull”.  I thought “un pull” was a light store-bought type sweater. Not a real sweater, but apparently that is only because the weather here is significantly warmer so no one has real sweaters so they do not differentiate between pullovers and sweaters.

So what brought this on: In french class this morning we were working on the conditional. And one of the phrases we were supposed to work with was “I would like to make…” and I said “a sweater for Jason – un chandail pour Jason” (because that is my next major project). And no one understood me except Jason and the teacher.

My french vocabulary is not as large as I’d like so I get rather taken aback when the words I think I know aren’t used here. (See also arachides, bluets and depanneur – technically “depanneur is used here – it just has a completely different meaning). Now I have some “chocolat noir avec myrtilles” to eat – yummy in any language.

The chill of winter – or Adventure ahoy!

Wednesday was cold and bitter. We all commented on it. And since it was Wednesday the boys only have a half day of school and the previous Wednesday went poorly. The middle was pretty good but on either end of the afternoon were major tantrums – some even by the kids. So in a move to prevent a repeat, Wednesdays have been declared a mini-adventure day.

The walk from the bus stop to the Brussels Ice Magic exhibit was cold and bitter. I mentioned that the ice sculptures would have to be kept in below freezing temperatures so it would be even colder in the building. We didn’t realize how cold… it was almost Toronto cold in there! But there was no wind and ice sculptures!

The theme of the ice sculpture exhibit was Comic Strips. Of course the TinTin rocket was there:

Objectif Lune!

Objectif Lune!

Detail of the Gaston exhibit

Detail of the Gaston exhibit

And for N – who gets the biggest kick out of “The peeing boy” – there was even a frozen Mannekin Pis. It looks like it even pees vodka… but not today.

Vodka anyone?

Vodka anyone? (He is holding a tube and it is too cold for water.)

And then we stepped out of the building and it was a glorious warm spring day. The birds were singing, the air was warm and fresh and there was a park right there! Either the temperature went up 10 degrees while we were in the building or was really cold in the building and it really wasn’t that bad a day after all.

So we went to the park. And the boys ran and threw horse chestnuts at the trees. Of course leave to F and N to find the wildest spot in the most manicured parks (at least they didn’t find water – they have a talent for it):

Where the boys were

Where the boys were

 

5 feet away

5 feet away

 

Wild spaces are not a Brussels thing.

Wild spaces are not a Brussels thing.

And then the boys discovered sculpture. There were a series of standing stones with subtle and not so subtle carvings on them. The boys were convinced there was a secret message in this. So they spent quite a while examining each rock and the differences between them trying to discern where they came from and what they meant.

Just before the mystery started.

Just before the mystery started.

What does it mean?

What does it mean?

It is trying to tell us something! The secret of the lost treasure!

It is trying to tell us something! The secret of the lost treasure!

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Two lines! What is the significance of the two lines!

So let’s see:

  • no tantrums
  • sculpture in various media with true engagement
  • quality outside exercise time
  • We had SO MUCH FUN!!!

I will call this experiment a success. (Although we didn’t find a treasure chest of gold and jewels. Maybe next week.)

 

 

The Zombies of Namur

Saturday, after some discussion, we decided to head to Namur for the afternoon. The big thing to see in Namur is the Citadel, a huge sprawling fortress at the junction of two rivers.

It was dull and occasionally drizzly. Not bad, but grey. It was obvious that the citadel was infested with zombies.

The zombie stronghold

The zombie stronghold

There were many potential zombie nests:

We can defend the bridges and the other bridges!

We can defend the bridges and the other bridges!

Quick through here!

Is it a trap?

Is it a trap?

The main nest must be down here:

Got your flamethrowers?

Got your flamethrowers?

Mission successful, Namur is now safe from a zombie invasion… at least until next time.

So many people unsuspecting of the danger so close

So many people unsuspecting of the danger so close

 

This week in Knitting: 12 January 2014

We are already halfway through January. I can freak now right?

During the week I worked on my code. A bit. I’m going to excuse the dismal amount of coding I got done on the fact it was the first week the boys were back to school and I spent most days running errands. I went to 8 stores before I found a knife sharpener. I don’t think people actually cook in Brussels, and they just buy new knives when the old ones get dull. In the end I took the hour long trip to Ikea and found one there. (It is an hour one way… the whole trip took closer to 3 hours.)

But I did get a fair bit of work done on A Star for Nancy (Evenstar) – about 4 rows. Which is impressive since the rows are quite long – but it doesn’t really show much. I’d like to get it finished before my lovely Polworth silk from Indigodragonfly arrives. (I’d also like a million dollars and a pony, while we are at it.)

I plan on designing a sweater for J – but if he doesn’t like the yarn (he has expressed reservations about the variegation from the picture – which he only viewed on my scratched up phone.) I will knit myself a CustomFit Sweater. Am I wrong to hope that he hates the yarn? The nice folks at Indigodragonfly dyed the polworth silk to my specifications. Apparently polworth silk is tricky to dye and they sent me this picture of finished result. I just sit and stare at it sometimes. – it is exactly what I wanted. It is in the mail and I expect it soon.

MINE!!!!!

MINE!!!!! (Picture by Indigodragonfly)

I also worked on the second sock… mostly during my three hour excursion to Ikea. Obviously the sock leg is a little longer but not much. Maybe if I were to focus on one thing a week I might make significant progress in it. But sometimes you want to knit lace (I find it very calming) and sometimes I want to knit socks (I find it very good when my brain is full), and sometimes I want to write code (but only when the children are not around).

Cologne Germany

When I booked the tickets for Cologne Germany I planned on staying two nights. The boys get restless when sightseeing so I was concerned we’d be bored in Germany. I did adjust the dates to be there when the Christmas markets are on to ensure we’d have something to do.

I need not have worried. It was amazing.

The night before we left – N yelled quite loudly what I had gotten J for Christmas (a camera – specifically a DSLR, although 5 yr old N didn’t know that part). J was in the next room. I was sure that J had heard – but the door was shut and the apartment is quite well soundproofed (good thing – since we are can be a “spirited” family). So while packing for the trip that night I asked J if he had heard what N had yelled. J swore he did not. If he had we’d have had a nice camera to take pictures of Cologne with. Instead we had my “good” camera – a little point and shoot. (And yes, at least once J looked around and said “I’d really like a good camera now”.

Cathedral at night

Cathedral at night

Cologne had several markets all of which served mulled wine and bratwurst. We’d get up, visit markets until mid-afternoon, go to the hotel and rest, and then head out about supper time when it was dark for a meal bratwurst, mulled wine and crêpes. It was a rough couple of days. J had literally all the bratwurst he could eat… and if you know J, that is a lot of bratwurst.

German Santa

German Santa

And the markets were magical. Each market had a theme: the sea, gnomes, fairy tales, angels, the cathedral market. The cathedral market took place under the huge baroque cathedral. There was a large tree above the market, and stretching out from the tree were lights to form a starry ceiling. It was stunning (and very crowded).

Pirates!

Pirates!

Technically in the Gnome market - but similar to the Fairy Tale Market

Technically in the Gnome market – but similar to the Fairy Tale Market

 

Gnomes!

Gnomes!

 

In the markets, the hot drinks were served in mugs. You paid a deposit when you bought a drink, and then got the money back when you returned the mug. The mug was associated with each market. We considered keeping a mug from each market, but in the end decided not to. Getting things back to Canada is getting challenging. (And yes, I will regret that decision I’m sure.)

Hot chocolate and hot wine!

Hot chocolate and hot wine!

There were also creches everywhere. It is an annual thing to have a display of creches throughout the city. One was huge and carved of wood, the one in the cathedral depicted a middle eastern town but included firemen and police officers and the one in the train station depicted Cologne during the devastation of WWII. We didn’t go looking for the others, but I wish we had. We will just have to go back.

As for my impressions of Cologne beyond the markets. It is definitely more car friendly and less pedestrian friendly than Brussels. Not that it was particularly pedestrian unfriendly but it definitely is less densely built than Brussels (on the other hand most places are.) Also after the laissez-faire attitude in Brussels towards infrastructure and health and safety, I enjoyed watching “German Engineering” at home. (I’m an engineer … bridges, pipe works and other infrastructure interests me.)

Saint Nicolas

In Belgium they celebrate Saint Nicolas Day and Christmas. Needless to say the boys rather enjoyed getting two sets of presents.

On our first trip to the Brussels Christmas Market on November 30, there was a Saint Nicolas parade.  This is a little parade, lead by figure of Saint Nicolas:

Leading his parade

Leading his parade

This is followed by these guys (who show up at all the parades, and there have been a parade most times we were at the Grand Place):

Belgian beer is good stuff

Arms swing free so they can twirl out

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Belgian Beer is good stuff

And finally the man good man himself follows behind with his helpers:

Saint Nicolas himself!

Saint Nicolas himself!

We saw this parade while walking between Grand Place and Mannekin Pis. We also crossed the parade two other times during that afternoon’s adventure. The boys walked away with a tonne of candy. These little parades seem to be a frequent occurrence here in Brussels. And are quite fun to stumble upon. There was also main Christmas parade but we missed it (we were coming home from Disney).

Once we got to Mannekin Pis he was all dressed up for the occasion:

IMG_7050

Hee hee

Saint Nicolas arrived for December 6th morning. If you check your calendar that is a school day (amazingly since the boys tend to never be in school). Which means the boys got up, opened presents and then headed off to school. Apparently in Belgium the Saint Nicolas presents are the fun presents and the Christmas presents are the clothes presents. In our house Saint Nicolas brought family games, and Christmas was celebrated with a mix of toys and clothing.

Saint Nicolas puts the toys in shoes that are laid out by the door. So in preparation for the big event F arranged the shoes all neatly and wrote Saint Nicolas a note – in French. I was impressed. Food was left for Saint Nicolas and his horse.

F would speak what he wanted to write into the translation software and then determine if it actually said what he wanted it to say

F would speak what he wanted to write into the translation software and then determine if it actually said what he wanted it to say

Saint Nicolas also came to the boys school and gave them a package of candy. It was fun to hear all the kids babbling excitedly to their parents upon pickup “Saint Nicolas!”. (Nicolas is pronounced closer to Tesla’s first name than how it is pronounced in English).

It is rather hard to pick up how these holidays are celebrated in a foreign land. They are celebrated with close friends and family and we do not have them here so our celebrations are a hodgepodge of Canadian Christmas and what we could determine about Belgian Christmas. In the end we are happy with our compromise. The boys got to participate a little in the new culture while enjoying our usual family traditions.

And I still knit!

It’s been a while since I checked in with the knitting. I have been at it – just slowly. I’m not the fastest knitter at the best of times and Christmas preparation, travelling (although that should actually facilitate knitting) and the kids being home has slowed me to a crawl. But I have made some progress.

I knit a sock!

A whole sock!

A whole sock!

I’m partway down the leg of it’s partner. I’m not really sure what I was thinking when I bought the yarn… I think I was hoping for more variegated than stripy. I like stripy but not necessarily like this. Oh well I’m having fun and won’t have any trouble wearing them when they are done.

I’ve also made progress with the Jester Hat pattern as well as with the sample knit for it. Of course I decided yesterday to change the entire framework for the pattern. Basically it is annoying to re-input your requirements every time you check the pattern so I want to remember the data. There are a number of ways to do this. I did the Santa Hat pattern using one method (well, it doesn’t remember your data but it could) and I think from now on it will be better to use the other way. Good thing the boys are back to school tomorrow – I’ll be able to concentrate on coding. You’d be amazed at how hard it is to concentrate with two zombies fighting in the background.

And that is it for almost a month of knitting! (Well there was a second santa hat, and I did sew a number of Christmas stockings.) I also stalked the Santa Hat pattern on Ravelry and people had knit it! And they were happy with their results! (I’m easily excited).

I really need to update my year of projects list. I might get on that. On the other hand I might make more coffee with foamy milk, and knit Evenstar. Hmmm… that does sound like a plan.

Brussels Christmas Market

Christmas was definitely different here than in Canada. If you are used to the constant barrage of advertisements and put up mental filters to accommodate you can practically miss Christmas here. In Canada I don’t worry about Christmas until the advertisements and Christmas jingle overload reaches a certain threshold. Fortunately for my family I realized that this threshold will never be approached here in Brussels and we did not miss Christmas. The boys were pleased about that. ;)

Up until just a few days before Christmas there was no Christmas music in the stores. There were some decorations, but mostly along main shopping thoroughfares and not everywhere. And the television did not really seem to have different advertising than it does in September, or now in January.

Christmas decorations at Brussels Christmas Market

Christmas decorations at Brussels Christmas Market

Instead of the constant pressure to buy! buy! buy! there are Christmas markets. A huge section of the core of Brussels is shut down and lined with wooden stalls. These stalls sell, crafts, toy, cuberdons, wooden ornaments, creche figures and food. We may have spent a crazy amount in the food stalls. There are the prerequisite waffles (it is Belgium after all), as well as crêpes. But besides that, there is tarteflette (potatoes, cheese, white wine and bacon… some of that may have been consumed), chestnuts (yum – even N likes those), hot wine and hot chocolate.

Cuberdons - runny on the inside, crisp on the outside... and delicious all the way through

Cuberdons – runny on the inside, crisp on the outside… and delicious all the way through

(If you are in Canada – you might want to skip the next part) And December was glorious. Most of the days were sunny and the temperature was between 5-12 degrees most days. Granted the sun was always low in the sky, but that just meant that the magical twilight lighting lasted all day. (Well the part of the day the sun was up – we are a good way north). The temperature was cool enough to appreciate hot drinks, but no colder.

Grand Place in the twilight

Grand Place in the twilight

So all in all, I have no trouble trading in rampant commercialism for hot wine and tarteflette, consumed while wandering downtown Brussels and maybe going skating with the boys, or riding the ferris wheel. (Still I missed my friends and family. They need to come visit.)

Ferris Wheel at Brussels Market

Ferris Wheel at Brussels Market

My suggestion is – if you ever get the chance – come to Belgium for the Christmas season. They seem to do a good job of it.

A new year

I love New Years. It is a chance to reflect and maybe get it better. This is the first year I’ve ever been hesitant about the New Year. For some reason I had really mixed feelings about the coming year. But then last night happened. There was a bottle of real champagne and there were a million fireworks. The whole city bought fireworks and were setting them off all night, peaking about twenty minutes after midnight. The were going off all around the apartment, and since we are on the top floor, we had a great view. And I love fireworks. It was spectacular.

I do have a lot to talk about. For example there was the Brussels Christmas market:

Brussels Christmas Market

Brussels Christmas Market

There was another trip to Disney:

IMG_7149

Christmas Jack!

And a trip to Cologne for it’s many Christmas markets:

Hot chocolate and hot wine!

Hot chocolate and hot wine!

And a trip to Ghent for their Christmas market:

All Christmas Markets all the time!

All Christmas Markets all the time!

As you can see I have a thing for Christmas markets. It might be the hot wine, or the food… or both.

So hopefully I will start posting regularly soon. But right now it is time to make New Years Day dinner. I made my super long to make French Onion soup. Actually I made the soup yesterday (it takes about 3 hours) so now all I have to do is grate cheese and toast bread.

Over the next little bit I will write about our adventures. J got a DSLR for Christmas so there should be some good photos.

Happy New Years to all!