Friday, December 30, 2011

Valkenburg, Bruges, Thai with Luc and 5km on New Year's Eve!

Christmas markets are all the rage here. Every community has one and some are more famous then others. They are set up like a small little village in the cities centre. Small wooden huts are set up and filled with local goods. There are food stands and of course delicious Gluhwein (mulled wine). I find it really sweet but on a damp day it really hits the spot :) My mom sent me an email to let me know about a market she saw on the internet in Valkenburg. They have their market in caves. It was a short train ride and we walked through the village. It was a really great trip and I found a silver charm of a bicycle for my charm bracelet. We spent a quiet Christmas Eve together at home and opened presents together on Christmas morning. On December 25th they have Christmas and on the 26th they have Christmas #2. They actually call it Christmas day 1 and Christmas day 2. We stayed here but it was really quiet. Everything is closed for the 25th and 26th. We did a few runs in preparation for our race and just to get out. We were beginning to get cabin fever. On December 27th we took the train to Bruges. My mom and dad surprised us and paid for the hotel, train and a nice dinner. It was a wonderful trip and we really enjoyed it :) We stayed for two days and one night. The city was very romantic with old buildings and canals running through the city. There were horse drawn carriages and of course, a Christmas market. The photos are from our visit. We stayed in a boutique hotel in the city centre. It was perfect! We had nice dinner and a wonderful time wandering and exploring the city. Bruges gets two thumbs up from me :)
Last night we went out for dinner with Nick's boss Luc. He took us out to a little Irish pub for some conversation and to catch up and then we went to a Thai restaurant on the Reichstraat. I had been eyeing it for some time so I was really excited when Luc suggested it. It was delicious!
For New Year's Eve we are doing a 5km road race with friends and going to a party. I have a feeling that 2012 is going to be an
amazing year! I've been reflecting on 2011 and how many wonderful things we experienced and how we have grown. I think 2012 is going to bring even more excitement and growth. Bring it on!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree

This morning I taught a spin class at UM Sport and biked home with plans to go to Valkenburg, to the Christmas Market. They have a Christmas Market in the caves, but the weather had another plan. We got sleet/ice rain, off and on, for most of the afternoon. So we've decided to try again tomorrow. Instead, I did some running around for our dinner party tomorrow night. I picked up groceries and a Christmas tree. Admit it, nothing says “Christmas” like the Christmas tree. No matter how close it is to the big day, it really doesn’t feel like Christmas until you’ve spotted the perfect tree, and then decorated it within an inch of its life :)
I bought a small potted ever green so that we can put it on the balcony in the spring. It makes me sad to cut down a beautiful tree so this little one is absolutely perfect. This little tree has definitely put me in the Christmas spirit. We went to the Blokker (like giant tiger) and bought Christmas decorations. I found two silver birds for the "Burds", I thought they were fitting. Nick found a small strand of white lights and we picked up antiqued ribbon and glass ornaments. Isn't it the most perfect little tree that you have ever seen. Gizmo helped me to decorate and Pumpkin was quick to check it out after her nap. I am so glad we have a tree and as you can see by the picture so is Maggie. She can't stop smiling! Isn't this picture so cute? I can definitely see a future in modeling for this cat :) Nick didn't like the back drop so he created this more festive one. He is so talented! After decorating the tree I was inspired to do a little research as to this traditions origin. Did you know that the custom of the Christmas tree dates back over 1,000 years to Northern Germany. The tradition didn't make its way to North America until the 1700's when German soldiers set up a Christmas tree at one of their camps and by the 1870's nearly every North American home had a Christmas tree. Pretty neat!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Only 10 Days.....but I don't want to talk about it

Every year around this time my mom starts her Christmas baking. Now I'm not referring to a few dozen cookies and one relaxing afternoon of preparation. I'm talking about a baking marathon and enough cookies for ten families. My mom's motivation is not one of obligation to bake for numerous people or even that she loves to do it. In fact she often speaks about how labour intensive it is but for her it truly is a labour of love. What she loves is making sure that each of us gets our favorite cookie for Christmas. She makes a special package of at least one large Christmas tin for each of us to take home. My sister Leigh is a very healthy eater but she can't say no to the "classic" chocolate chip. For Charlotte it's the peanut butter and marshmallow squares and the chocolate brownies. Everyone loves the thumb print cookies with the jam in the middle and sugar sprinkled on top. Aunt Elsie loves the short bread with a cup of tea and my dad always takes one and sometimes two of everything! I have no idea where he puts it. For such a small guy he sure can pack those cookies in. A big glass of milk and a stack of four cookies is a typical dessert for my dad around the holidays. Most important of all, well at least to me, is a very special cookie - the Alana cookie. They taste just like short bread but they have cherries and walnuts chopped up in them. Mmmm....She makes them every year just for me! How spoiled are we? But alas, this will be the first year that I will not have any of my mom's Christmas baking. It's sad but true...we're not going home for the holidays.
Today in class someone wished me a Merry Christmas and said only 10 days. I thought to myself - no way, it can't be that close but it really is. It does not feel like Christmas or the holiday season for me this year. I haven't bought any gifts or decorated my house. We don't have a tree or stockings hung up. There is no snow and we have barely even worn our winter jackets. I haven't heard one familiar Christmas carol on the radio or in the stores. Don't get me wrong, Maastricht is beautiful with Christmas lights and the stores are full of Christmas shoppers, so it is happening here, but this year just isn't going to be the same.
I have gone through moments of feeling down thinking about all the things I will miss about home but I have decided that I am going to be excited instead. This will be our first Christmas as a married couple and we get to spend it together. I know that Nick is in the same boat as I am and he is going to miss his family as well. So instead of sitting around feeling sorry for ourselves we have planned some special things to do to keep ourselves busy. We are having friends over for dinner and going out for dinner as well, we have planned some day trips to the different Christmas markets and we are spending a weekend in Brugge. Not too shabby! We aren't alone for Christmas, we have each other and Pumpkin, Gizmo and Maggie. Our family and friends are in our thoughts and I'm sure they will be thinking of us too. I am planning to skype my family when they have their Christmas celebration and I have sent out Dutch Christmas cards so that they know we are thinking of them. My friend Laura and I searched for the tackiest ones we could find :) I think I will try to make a real holiday dinner for Nick and I and we will look forward to establishing some new traditions for the Harris Burd family. Being away this year will make next year even more special when we get to be together with our friends and family again. For New Years we are running a road race and going out with two other couples. I sure will miss the Rodeo Red - the very finest in Ohio wines - as well as the fabulous company of Tina and Randy Burd to ring in the New Year. Last year they had to wake me up because I fell asleep at 10pm. Man I'm getting old!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Love is a Many Splendored Thing

Splendored??? Is that even a word? I love, love! Nothing makes you feel as good as when you hug someone really hard and they hug you even harder right back :)
Today on my marathon of traveling, everywhere I turned there were couples in love. The driver that picked me up this morning at 3:50am also picked up a young couple from the Maastricht business school. It was soooo early in the morning but the young man was chivalrous even at 4am and carried his girlfriends bag to the car for her and opened the door. Awwww.... When I got off the plane there was a guy at the gate holding a sign that said "Natalie, I love you!" and he was holding flowers. Awwww... At the train there was a couple of high schoolers that were making out on the platform. Kind of gross but there is something to be said for young love. On the ferry there was this beautiful couple. I say beautiful because they could have been models; tall, tanned and smiling. They were holding hands, hugging and gazing deeply into each others eyes with the backdrop of lake Lucerne and the Swiss mountain tops. It was right out of the pages of a romance novel. Yes, today was marked by young couples in love everywhere I turned. During my short time in Europe I have been blown away by the number of oldies in public make out sessions as well. This is not something that I have ever really seen in Canada. Yes, older couples holding hands but public make-outs, NEVER! People here are all about the public displays of affection. They stand closer in lines, they give three kisses to say hello and three kisses goodbye, they hold hands with everyone; children, girlfriends, the elderly, couples - EVERYONE - and yes they grope each other in public too.
So how do they do it? How do they keep the love alive? I've heard from a number of different sources that love and a passionate relationship is something you need to work at. Well, I don't believe it! I think that passion and love can simply be a by-product of a healthy existence and as they say "by having all your ducks in a row" by ducks I mean the important things in life and when I say row I mean in order or figured out. If you're taking care of you I think your relationships follow suit. I think if you walk and/or ride your bike everywhere you have more energy, you are in a better mood, you like your body more and you are more likely to want to share it. If you have shorter workdays and go on regular holidays you have more time together to enjoy each other. I think living in small European style households don't allow you to hide from one another. I think that a culture that encourages you to kiss people hello and good-bye has got love on the brain. I think a culture that embraces eating feel good food like cheese and chocolate, in moderation, is all about the finer things - the simple pleasures. In an environment like this, love is bound to thrive and in many cases to go public as I have witnessed. So what do you think? Do you need to work at love or do you need to work on how you live your life? Did Audrey Hepburn have it right when she said "The best thing to hold onto in life is each other" or should we be holding on to our remotes, big houses, over indulgences and belief that everything needs to be "hard work" including love.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Smell you later Maastricht

I am headed to Switzerland for another Osteopathy course. This time we are studying the bones of the face. I will be in Switzerland for 5-days and returning next Thursday. I've been told that the bones of the face course is a really great one but every course has been really great so I don't expect anything less. I'm always surprised by the number of new things I learn. My head feels so full of anatomy and physiology and techniques at this point I don't know if there is any more room in my brain. It feels like time has flown by but when I look at all the information we have covered I can see that the time has been jam packed. I can't believe we've only covered half of the content of the 5-year program.
Organizing myself for these trips takes quite a lot of focus and attention to detail. I have to request coverage for all my fitness classes, I have to make sure everything I pack fits in to a carry on sized bag (flying easyjet), I have to book flights, shuttle, train and ferry tickets and confirm my accommodation with the nuns. I went out this morning and bought some new boy cut underwear for my course as well. I know it sounds funny but last course we were studying the cervical spine (neck) and I didn't expect to take off my clothing. It ended up that we needed to stand in front of our colleagues in our underwear for a full physical exam. I was embarrassed that I did not have the proper undergarments. So this time, like a girl guide, not that girls guides hang around in their underwear but the always be prepared part :)
I realized this morning, when I was reviewing my itinerary, that I had given the wrong departure time to the shuttle service so I am waiting to see if they can pick me up 30-minutes earlier in order to make the flight. As we speak, or should I say as I write, I got the confirmation that the shuttle can only pick me up two hours earlier so it looks like a 4am pick-up and 3:30am wake-up. Yuck! What a pain!
I wonder if they have snow in Switzerland??? We still don't have any snow here and the weather feels like fall in Canada. It's very doubtful that we will have snow for Christmas :( Highly likely that we will have rain though :(

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Ladies Night

Oh yes it's ladies night, and the feeling's right.
Oh yes it's ladies night, Oh what a night (oh what a night)!

Last night my friend Laura invited me out for ladies night at the movies in Maastricht. She has made it a ritual with two of her friends, Steph and Hannah, that once per month they attend ladies night at the movies. I thought this sounded like a great idea! I'm always up for meeting new people and trying new things. Laura arrived at my house at 5:30pm to meet the babies; Pumpkin, Gizmo and Maggie and to catch up before we met up with her friends for dinner. The babies loved Laura and because she has cats of her own she was not bothered by them running all over her in her all black ladies night attire :)
We had a reservation at a new Indian restaurant in the city centre. I haven't had Indian food in a really long time so when Laura suggested it I was thrilled. Laura loves to try new restaurants and we seem to have a similar palate for food so I was excited to try her suggestions. We met Steph and Hannah at the restaurant shortly after 6pm. They were great! Lots of fun and very easy to talk to. They both are very familiar with Canada and are world travelers themselves. They made me feel very welcome and at ease. We agreed that ladies night would be relaxing and fun and that conversation would steer away from politics and work. They are both PhD students and at this time of year are more then ready for a break from their studies.
Our meal was excellent! I had veggie samosas and a chickpea curry dish. It was delicious :) It was perfectly spiced. We had the opportunity to meet the owner who also serves in the restaurant and Hannah asked him about where he was from in India. He said he lived close to Nagpol. Hannah and Steph have both travelled parts of India and talked about some of their adventures there. They said that people are relaxed and trains are always late. Not just a little but we're talking hours late. It sounded like an eye opening experience to see the poverty and experience the pollution. I've never had the urge to go to India but I'm thinking that at some point in my life I would like to go and study yoga there in an Ashram. I have heard wonderful things about the Iyengar Institute from my yogini, Suzie. Laura is very adventurous and I'm sure I could talk her into this without too much effort ;)
We had tickets for 8pm at the movies so when we finished dinner we started the walk over the bridge to the theatre. We were going to see the movie, New Years Eve. It's by the same people who made Valentine's Day. A girly movie, for a girly night! They had glasses of champagne and grab bags for all of us with some really great treats inside. We took our seats and they had a fashion show by the store that sponsored the event. They were showing holiday dresses and the models strutted their stuff to Christmas music. It was really corny but we laughed and enjoyed the show. The manager of the theatre was a real "ham" and loved the lime light. He was eating up the opportunity to be on stage in front of a theatre full of women. He took his sweet time with the draw prizes, telling so many bad jokes that for once I was almost relieved I didn't understand the language. In the end we didn't win prizes but we all felt like winners! hahah...corny, I know. But we really did have a great time. The movie was good, the champagne was great and the company was amazing! The night ended with Dutch kisses and Canadian hugs. Thanks for the awesome ladies night and I look forward to next month when we get to do it all again :)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one.

On Saturday morning when I woke up I was tired and didn't feel like getting up. I contemplated how wonderful sleeping in would be but thought about the people who would be waiting for me at UM Sport. I teach a spin class on Saturday mornings and there is a group of regulars who depend on me to teach. So I mustered the strength to pull myself up and out of my nice warm bed. I looked out the window and it was pouring rain. I held off leaving hoping that the rain would let up but it didn't. I knew it was going to be a wet ride to the University but that there was no avoiding it. I had a brilliant idea that I would try riding my bike while holding on to an umbrella. I have seen the proficient Dutch riders do this with ease and thought I could do it too. I struggled to hold on to the umbrella and steer my bike and hold onto my bag and when I got to the bridge, dismounted and tried to push my bike up the ramp the wind took my umbrella and turned it inside out. I struggled with my bike, my bag and my umbrella, got frustrated and for a second it got the better of me. I stopped struggling, dropped my bike and bag and started to laugh. I looked like a complete fool. I tossed the umbrella into my basket and said "who cares", it's just a little rain. I jumped back on my bike and I pedaled faster to try to dodge the drops. I had a great class and when it was time to ride home the sky was clear. I got home and jumped into a hot shower. A hot shower always feels great but this one was exceptional. During "the best shower ever" I thought to myself, would I have appreciated this shower as much if I hadn't had to persevere the bike ride in the rain. Sometimes it's the challenges that make the small things that much sweeter.
In the afternoon I had an appointment at Toni & Guy to get my hair done. I had been looking forward to this all week. It was the perfect afternoon of pampering.
I really like how my hair turned out. They did a colour dip technique to give the look of being sun kissed from the summer. The ends are a few shades lighter then the top and they layered it. No more tree head! My stylist and colour technician were awesome. They had great energy and lots of great stories of back packing adventures across Australia.
We joined our friends Ben and Mandy for dinner at Pet Thai. Numerous people have recommended this restaurant to us and we have been meaning to go for some time. It is a very busy spot so Mandy made us a reservation for 7pm. The restaurant was very cozy with bright colours on the walls and thai inspired decor. Our meal was fantastic and the company was even better. The spice scale goes up to 15 so I thought I was being conservative ordering a 5 but the server quickly made the suggestion of going with a level 3. I am so happy he did! We were glowing from the heat of the food. At a level 5 I think I would have needed a cold shower to finish :)
This morning I taught a workout mix class at UM Sport to my usual group of Sunday morning students. They are so dedicated :)
When I arrived home Nick and I went to pick up groceries and to check out the Christmas market. I took pictures of Sinter Klaas (who looks more like a religious figure then our North American Santa Claus) Black Peter, I know this sounds inappropriate but that is what they call him and the beautiful Christmas decor of Maastricht. I'm really appreciating and enjoying all the small things.

"Today was good. Today was fun. Tomorrow is another one." Dr Seus

Thursday, December 1, 2011

It was a dark and stormy night...

We have had the most beautiful fall weather here in the Netherlands. November had average temperatures in the mid teens with lots of sunshine. We were told that this is not typical weather for this time of year and that we could expect a change pretty soon. Well when December arrived so did the yucky weather. It has been rainy and windy for the last two days. Because we ride our bikes everywhere this leaves us riding in the rain and sitting in damp clothes when we arrive at our destination. I hate when my clothes stick to me and when I get a chill it seems almost impossible to get rid of without a hot shower. Last night we were laying in bed and listening to the rain and wind howling outside. We have a skylight that gives us a view of what's gong on in the night sky and lets in the sunlight when we have it. Our bedroom is a loft, Nick can't stand up except in the middle where the peak is, and we sleep in the highest peak of the roof of our building. This makes me a bit nervous when the weather is bad.
In addition to the grey and rain I have really noticed how little day light we get. The sun doesn't come up until almost 8am and it goes down by 4:30pm every day. Nick leaves in the dark in the morning and gets home in the dark at night. The lack of Vitamin D is really starting to get to me and I'm lucky enough to have a schedule that allows me to get out in the middle of the day. I thought that the Canadian winter days were short but these are extremely short. It's a good thing I've been exercising as much as I have as this really helps to improve my mood and energy levels. Apparently, in the south of Holland, we will get some snow but not much and only for a few months. I much prefer a really snowy winter with sunny skies to the grey and rain that we have had the last few days here. I hope that this is not the tale of things to come over the next 3 months.
On Saturday I'm going to get my hair done. I haven't had it cut since July because I have been apprehensive to get it done here not knowing the reputation of the salons and the fact that there are so many to choose from. I've been going to the same stylist for 5-years and although my hair isn't complicated I am a bit anxious about having someone new do it. I feel a little I'm cheating on Rachel (my Canadian stylist). A friend recommended a place called Toni and Guys so I have finally made an appointment for Saturday afternoon. I am really looking forward to it! You always feel great after a relaxing day of beautification :) I dropped in to the shop to make the appointment and it is very posh and the staff were super friendly. I really noticed the customer service because it is not common to receive really great service here. The stylist I am seeing speaks english so that should be very helpful as well.
Saturday night we are going out for dinner with our friends Ben and Mandy for thai food. Thai is my absolute favorite food. Last night I made a thai inspired dish and it was awesome! Here is my list of ingredients and prep instructions. It was easy, healthy, quick and very delicious if I do say so myself.

  • mixed vegetables (seasonal root veggies)
  • tofu (cubed)
  • green curry paste
  • coconut milk
  • match stick rice noodles
  1. I grilled the cubed tofu in a warm skillet in olive oil (I like my tofu a little more firm and grilling it helps with the texture)
  2. When the tofu was lightly browned I added a variety of seasonal root vegetables (zuchini, brocoli, cauliflower, carrot kale, celery, bean sprouts) and a bit of water for steam.
  3. I mixed coconut milk and green curry paste in a small bowl, to taste, and added it to the skillet. I allowed the stir-fry to simmer, only about 10-minutes so that the veggies stay firm. I hate limp veggies!
  4. Boiled water and added match stick rice noodles, they soften quickly so keep an eye on them
  5. Plate noodles and pour stir-fry over bed of rice noodles
  6. Enjoy your delicious thai style dinner :)