Holiday Survey!

Good Morning and Happy Friday!

I’m going to be busy studying all weekend for my Operations exam…exciting right?

DEFINITELY not as exciting as my family…who will be busy doing the annual Christmas cookie bake sesh.  UGH, so jeal.  (Side note to fam – HINT HINT – I’m really looking forward to frosted cut-outs, pb cup cookies, pretzel rings, and of course, the new tradition of biscotti)!

My adorable mom & gam!

Source: My sister’s pic!  HOW fun does that look, seriously!

Speaking of Holiday cookies, I found this really cute Holiday Survey on one of the blogs that I read and HAD to do it too!

25 Holiday Questions:

1.  Eggnog or Hot Chocolate?  

Def Hot Choco, yuck to Eggnog.

2.  Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?  

ALWAYS wrapped (and perfectly, thanks to someone in our fam…)

3.  Colored lights on tree/house or white? 

I prefer white lights outside and multi-colored on the tree.  We’ve never had lights outside, my family always did uplighting on the trees (which I LOVE and think is so classic).

4.  Do you hang mistletoe?

Nope, never have.  Although, at my first party in Belgium, someone gave out real mistletoe, which I had never seen before!

5.  When do you hang your decorations up?

The weekend after Thanksgiving!

6.  What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

Hm, this is tough.  It would have to be Christmas Eve dinner at my house – ham (non-slimy), twice-baked potatoes, veggie, etc.  Always a tradition (and always in the dining room)!

The ham!

Source: My sis!

7.  Favorite holiday memory as a child?

Always dressing up and going to the First Stage children’s play on Christmas Eve in downtown Milwaukee.

8.  What is on your Christmas wish list?

Ann Taylor Loft boots (which I just so happen to know I’m getting –  spoiled, I know)!

9.  Do you open gifts on Christmas Eve?

Nope, not when in Milwaukee.  However, when we are with Joe’s Dad, we open presents on Christmas Eve!  Crete always has a present for us to open as well – one year we got super cute Christmas pj’s! 🙂

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

Beautifully.  Ha, seriously – I have a ton of ornaments.  My parents bought each of us girls an ornament every year – another great tradition.

My mom has created a new tradition now that we are all out of the house.  She LOVES snowmen and has an all snowmen tree this year.

SO adorbs!

11.  Snow? Love it or dread it?

Usually love it for Christmas.  This year I’m hoping it holds off until we arrive in the USA!

12.  Real tree or fake tree?

Real tree at my house, fake tree at our condo.

13.  Do you remember your favorite gift?

Yes, 6 years ago, Joe asked me to marry him.  That seemed to work out well 🙂

Love this pic!

Source: My sister again, hm, she must be majoring in photography.

14.  What’s the most important thing about Christmas for you?

Being with all our family and our MANY traditions

15.  What is your favorite holiday dessert?

Cutout cookies – see above!

16.  What is your favorite tradition?

Holy crap, we have so many.  I think it must be that my sisters and I would wake up in the middle of the night on Christmas Morning (like 2 or 3am) and sneak down to see all the presents wrapped under the tree.

17.  What tops your tree?

An angel!

18.  Do you prefer giving or receiving?

I know everyone will say “giving” as to not sound greedy and I really do love giving! (I LOVE when you find the perfect present for someone and can’t wait to see their faces when they open it).  But, can anyone really say they don’t like receiving?!

19.  What is your favorite Christmas song?

Any Mariah Carey Christmas CD song

The Original CD!

Source

20.  Candy canes, yuck or yum?

I think they are good – but I prefer the rainbow, fruity ones.

21.  Favorite Christmas movie?

This is so hard.  It is a tie between A Christmas Story, Home Alone, White Christmas, and Christmas Vacation.

22.  What do you leave for Santa?

A note and a variety of cookies!

23.  Do you have a Christmas morning tradition?

See #16.  But, we also open presents 1 by 1 and take a break mid-morning for cinnamon rolls!

24.  Do you prefer to shop on-line or at the mall?

Usually the mall, but this year it’s been all online (thanks to my mom for being my shipping department).  I am DEF hitting up the mall as soon as I get to Milwaukee!

25.  Christmas letter or Christmas card?

Christmas card for sure!

Hope you enjoyed – it got me even MORE excited to go home.  Not sure how that is even possible!

Only 1 week…

Until we go to the USA for the holidays!!!  Woo hoo – I cannot wait to see all our family and friends!!

As I mentioned, this year its Christmas in Milwaukee!  Hope they are ready for us…there will be 2 more stockings hanging up!

Mom - my stocking hanger is the snowman...

My grandma hand knit these stockings – aren’t they awesome?  Then, when Joe and I got engaged, she made him one.  So sweet! (Oh, shoot, now that I think about this, I wonder if my mom has our stockings or if they are packed away at the condo)!?

I have quite a few things to get done here in Belgie before we leave.  The most important would be studying for my first exam this year.  Let me tell you, it is NOT going well.  I’m so distracted!  Plus, I have a little bit of shopping to get done in Gent at a certain linen store!

I’m also struggling to get over a cold and so I’ve been trying to eat healthy and get rest (I HATE flying on a plane with stuffed nose – my ears are so sensitive, seriously).  So in the interest of eating healthy, here is what I’ve had!

Eggs + almond butter toast!

Salad + hummus bread + apple

I’m tempted to make soup for the second night in a row, but I’m afraid of Joe’s thoughts on that…assuming it wouldn’t be welcomed.

Not the most exciting post to date, but hey, I can’t go London and Cologne every day! 🙂

 

Cologne Christmas Market!

As you know, we explored the numerous Cologne Christmas Markets this past weekend!

We drove into town and found parking quite easily.  We thought that we might have “beat the crowds,” but wow were we wrong.  It was SO crowded.  So much so, that it was tough to enjoy all the stands and browse/make purchases.  However, we still had a good time and were amazed at the dedication the Germans have to decorating for the Holidays.  It is AMAZING – best I’ve ever seen!

Here are some of our pics!

Entrance to the main market!

The first bite: Melted cheese on bread, what's not to like?!

Rides for the kiddies!

Entrance to the "Altstadt" Market!

Gluhwein stand - LOVED the wood!

Awesome mugs you got!

HAD to get my Lebkuchen cookies!

Of course, no stop in Cologne is complete without taking a little break at the “bierhaus.”

Slightly annoyed with my picture taking...

As we were walking along the Rhein river, we came across a “floating” Christmas Market!  To bad it cost $$ to get on…

Ship Market!

We made one last walk through the main market set beside the beautiful Dom Cathedral.  Joe took over the camera and took some amazing shots with the sun going down!

Look at all those people!

My favorite pic of the day!

Overall a beautiful atmosphere and amazing stands – each market was like its own little village.  Next year I’d prefer to go earlier during the season or on a weekday to avoid the crowds!

A last note – I drove home that night.  My first experience driving on the autobahn and in Germany & the Netherlands.  Boom! 🙂

Relaxing Friday in Gent

Since we knew we were going to travel to Koln early on Saturday, we decided to make Friday a nice, relaxing evening.

For starters, we enjoyed a nice home-cooked meal!  It’s been awhile since I’ve posted one of our meals (mostly because Joe’s had traveled a bit and I do have 2 meals a week at school).  However, I found a new recipe and was very excited to try it!

Balsamic Chicken & Mushrooms (from this blog).  I followed the recipe almost exactly (I didn’t have any fresh thyme so I subbed in some remaining chicken spice plust I added 1/2 an onion).  I then made roasted brussel sprouts as a side!  I still can’t figure out when brussel sprouts are in season here…seems like fall and spring?

Yum, I fo sho had 2nds!

After, we decided to check out Gent’s Christmas Market.  It didn’t open until Friday for some reason (perhaps because I heard most Belgian Christmas celebrations happen after Sinterklaas).  The setting was beautiful – right outside St. Baaf’s Cathedral.  It was significantly smaller than the Brussels Christmas Market, but very cozy and quaint.  There was even a band playing!  Here are some pics:

The Belfort tower nicely lit!

The inevitable "Gluhwein" stand!

And of course, AWESOME hot chocolate - can you see the HUGE marshmallows?

We then walked into the Korenmarkt to see the big Christmas tree.  Definitely did not pass the “squint test,” but still very pretty.  I don’t understand all these carnival rides…

Gent's Tree!

Quite a nice night!

Off to the Koln Christmas Market!!!

I can’t tell you HOW excited I am to be able to visit an actual Christmas Market in Deutschland!  It’s like the best present EVER.

Today we are heading to the Christmas Market in Cologne/Koln.  It’s a short 2.5 hour drive from Gent.  Here is the link if you want to check it out!

Angel's Christmas Market at Neumarkt Square

Koln Christmas!

Source

I can’t wait to eat tons of LEBKUCHEN!

Source

Of course, I’ll be back and post pics and let you know how it goes!

Happy Saturday! 🙂

Sinterklaas

The kiddies here in Gent have been SO excited this week!  Why you ask?

Well, because here they celebrate “Sinterklaas” on December 6th.  Based on what I’ve been told via people at school, this is the BIG day for their children.  Before they go to sleep, they put their shoe out with either sugar or carrots for Sinterklaas and his helpers, Zwarte Piet (Black Peter).  *At school some mentioned beer…but, I think that’s for the parents.  🙂

In the morning, the good children awake to open their presents, while the bad children are stuffed into Zwarte Piet’s bag (seriously, how terrifying is that?!)!

Here is an article I read that really describes the holiday well.  You can make your own judgments about Zwarte Piet…and I’ll keep my comments to myself!

http://www.flanderstoday.eu/content/santa’s-ancestor

Sinterklaas & Zwarte Piets

Source

I was also curious if the children believed in Santa Claus as well.  Most people said that their children get presents on Dec 6th, 25th, and Jan 1st.  Um, seriously kids, ask your parents to move here…

***This Sunday we have the pleasure of going to a Sinterklaas party (for adults) hosted by some Dutch people.  I can’t wait to experience it firsthand!

Our tree!

Like I mentioned before, we decided that we should decorate for the holidays since we will not be back in the USA until later in December!

So…how can you claim your house is decorated without a tree, seriosly?!  It is not possible.  Onto trimming the tree…

Of course, there is a story to our tree purchase in Belgium.  Is there ever not? 🙂  We went to the DIY store, Brico, to pick out our tree (reminded me of a Lowe’s type store – only smaller and less clean).  However, they had nice decorations set up right in the front!  We were very $$$ conscience when picking out our little tree and chose the second to smallest tree with no lights (boom – only 24 euro)!  Then, we picked up lights.  NOTE – we did NOT look at the price of the lights…I mean, they were just normal 100 ct white lights.  OHHHHHH BOY was I pissed when we got to the counter (at myself for not looking at the cost and at the ludicrous prices).  Those lights were 12 euro a piece – that’s right, I spent 36 euro on lights.  I’m so embarrassed.

*Yes, I could have returned to the light section and picked out cheaper ones.  But, by this time there was a long line of Belgians staring at us (ok, me, since I had a look of horror on my face).  We panicked and bought the lights.

Anyway, it is taking me a long time to get to the picture of the tree, but I have to make one last comment.  I’ve never had to put lights on a Christmas tree before.  In fact, I’ve just reaped the benefits of a perfectly lit tree for the last 28 years.  This is all thanks to my dad.  Of course, it takes him about 8 hours to light our tree, but it always passes the squint test (ya know, squint to make sure there are no gaping holes of missing lights)?  I will never make fun of him again for taking so long – it is seriously a task.  Yea, and I only have about a 3 foot tree.

WOW – ok, a lot of dialogue above.  But seriously, our tree turned out wonderfully.  I absolutely love it.  It is the first thing I turn on in the morning and the last thing I turn off at night.  We have a couple ornaments on there that we’ve collected the last couple months (my goal is to collect an ornament from each country we visit)!

Our tree! 🙂

 

Christmas in Belgie, Part 2

If you’ve read Part 1, then you know what is coming:

The BRUSSELS Christmas Market!

I was very excited to go to this market.  It was raining all day Saturday and I was rather blue (ok, understatement – I cried).  I felt that I needed to go back to the USA asap to experience my true Holiday traditions.  I know, seriously, I can be a baby.  I am truly thankful for my experiences here, even if I have my moments….

Anyway, it cleared up around 4pm and was 50F degrees.  It was perfect —> off we went!

Joe's vending machine beer - for the train ride, of course! **Yes, you had insert your ID!

Bear with me, there are a LOT of pictures, so I’ll keep the chit-chat to a minimum.  We entered the Christmas Market (which has +150 little huts).  My favorites are below:

The Entrance - get your gluhwein! Perhaps to get a little tipsy so you'll buy things?!

Mmm, bread anyone?!

Traditional German wooden items...

My fave - glass ornaments!

After walking around for a bit (and of course, buying a couple things – HELLO ornaments), we decided we were hungry.  Joe originally wanted to stop and sit down at a restaurant.  I was NOT having that – how could we leave this magical (I know, gaggish) place?!  I said that I was SURE there would be food to eat.  Except, I didn’t say food…I tried to come up with an exciting thing Joe would want to eat…but, what came out was…”I’m sure there is warm meat available…”  He was NOT enthused, but…look what we found:

Joe's food...warm meat of some sort...!

My food - Roasted potatoes & mushrooms!

And of course, how could we forget dessert?!

AMAZING...I bought a LOT of treats for the week!

But couldn't wait to have hot chocolate and this lil guy!

Belgian "Speculoos" cookies - VERY popular!

This display drew me in...it was adorbs. May or may not have bought some "stocking stuffers" for the siblings!

After meandering around, it was time to head back to the Grand Place for the light show.  I’m going to be honest, it was seriously beautiful.  The show had music playing throughout the centrum with lights darting along all the beautiful buildings.  There were even ballerina’s and an opera singer.  Yes, I may or may not have teared-up here too.  Seriously, what is wrong with me?!  🙂  My pictures do not do it justice, but…take a look!

City Hall...

Ballerina's...supposed to be like a "Snow Globe"

City Hall, again!

The tree!!!! Amazing

Again, the awesome tree! I seriously LOVE Christmas trees!

A wonderful evening!

Hope you enjoyed – this was one of my favorite posts and also just happens to be my 100th post!!!!

Christmas in Belgie, Part 1

With the start of December, comes the start of the Holiday season in Belgie!  This weekend, we decided to see what Gent & Brussels had to offer!

Up first, Gent!  

I have to start out with the fact that Joe brought home dessert from work…

Yup, on his desk @ work!

We decided to make dinner (salsa chicken – recipe to come later) and then venture out for a walk to see the lights and the festival we had heard (and saw – HUGE ferris wheel) about.

We were sad to notice that most of the lights hanging down all the streets and the Christmas tree in the centrum were not yet lit.  I’m assuming it is because the Christmas Market in Gent does not open until next Friday.  However, I knew the Graslei would never let me down!  As we turned the corner, here is what we saw!

Beautiful!

The Graslei still amazes me at how beautiful it is…even when I see it everyday!

We then made our way to the “Winters Dream” Festival at Sint-Pieters Square.  I had rather high hopes of this considering the beautiful email I received from the Marriott promoting the fair.  Well, lets just say we walked through it in about 10 minutes.

The entrance!

What is a Christmas festival without a ferris wheel?!  There were many other rides (for those of you in Milwaukee, think ‘carni’ rides at State Fair).  I’ve never felt that “carni” rides were trustworthy – so, we did not partake.

Next we came to the second part of the entrance and what most would say, the appeal of carnivals to adults.  Enter, the Gluhwein stand!

Gluhwein!

This (no surprise) was the busiest of areas at the festival.  Gluhwein is like hot, spiced wine and is DELISH!  It is the drink of choice at all the Christmas markets in Europe (at least what I’ve heard).

We then came to my favorite part: the ice skating rink.  I just love them (no, I can’t skate), but I think they are so beautiful.  It reminds me of the one in downtown milwaukee and of course, NY.  I mean, nothing compares to Madison Garden, but still.

Does that say "Winter's Droom?"

We watched the skaters for awhile and particularly enjoyed the guy wearing women’s skates struggling.  I know, we’re so mean.

Not a shabby start to the holiday season in Gent.  Next week starts the Christmas market by the church, so we’ll be sure to go there.

My next post will be about the Christmas Market in Brussels…it was AMAZING.  Coming soon…

Happy Dec 1st!

It’s officially December!!! Woo hoo – this is absolutely my most favorite time of the year!!

As some of you may have realized, I’m obsessed with the Holidays.  Growing up, my parents have instilled MANY traditions that we do together during December…and we (the sisters) get VERY excited to do these things each year.  Tradition is VERY important for my fam (um, hello Katie)!   Here are some of our family traditions as well as some of my own that I’ve added over the years…

Christmas 2010 - sisters!!!

Christmas 2010 @ our condo!

My favorite traditions:

  • Listening to Christmas Music –  I start this in November, but my family doesn’t really accept that early start date – neither does Joe!  Thankfully, December is acceptable to blast it through the apartment!
  • Decorate the House – Growing up, we always dedicated one day over the Thanksgiving weekend to pull the decor out of the attic.  My dad every year said: “Girls, it is not a race.”  But really, it was (certain decor was more fun to put up than others and we would race to do it…)
  • Making Christmas Cookies – This was a tradition between my mom and my grandma that is now a tradition between my mom and the sisters.  Sadly, this year I will be unable to partake…so, seriously there better be good cookies when I get home.   🙂
  • Christmas Shopping! – The family always goes shopping the day after Christmas to reap the benefits of ‘Black Friday.’  Last year, my dad waited in line for 1.5 hours @ Banana Republic while we shopped and just piled clothes on top of him.  It was awesome.
  • Christmas Play – Each Christmas Eve we go to a children’s play at the theater downtown.  They can be a little “gaggish,” but, it’s tradition!
  • Don’t even get me started on the food served…

I could go on and on because there are SO many traditions, but those are my fave.  Joe and I rotate Christmas celebrations with our families and this year it is a Milwaukee one!  That means (mom are you reading?) I expect the Dickens houses to be out in full efffect.  None of this…”we’re not doing that this year, it just takes too much time.”  🙂

So, obviously, this year our December is a little different – the first Holiday season away from home (at least until right before Christmas).  I’m not going to lie, it is definitely harder than I thought.  But, we’re trying to make it special and take advantage of the Christmas spirit here.  I did set up some decorations in our apartment!

The Santa is an advent calendar - filled with Belgian chocolate!

Some sparkly bulbs!

One of the things that I am most excited about is…hitting up the MANY Christmas Markets in both Belgium and Germany.  First up, the Brussels Christmas market.  Apparently there are over 150 booths, a skating rink, AND a light show.  Awesome…

Lighting the tree in Brussels...only 1/2 way!