Belgian Christmas

Christmas Eve is the big Christmas celebration time for Belgians. We were invited to Sam and Denise Liberek's house, and had a fun evening. We ate pumpkin soup, turkey, salad, and.... french fries. Belgium and their fries. You know what, we are starting to love fries as much as they do :)

Christmas evening we had the Americans over for dinner. We all pitched in to make enchiladas, margaritas, 7-layer dip, and peanut butter chocolate pie. Mmmm. Brent and Daisy had sent us some candy from America that we snacked on all night too.

The big moment in the night was the white elephant gift exchange. Amy and and Josh got hit pretty hard, though I think Amy was a little more bummed than Josh. Yes, that is an almost 2-ft tall plaster Captain Hook statue. Oh my goodness.

Here are the three of us that got off pretty easy. I think the bar for tacky gifts has been raised and we all better beware for next year.

We had a great time. Being away from home was hard at times, but made easier by being with friends.


Snowy Huy

This is us on our walk to church last week. Sheesh.

It was coming down so hard the snow was blowing sideways! A new experience, for sure!

After church Katherine and Pascal asked if we wanted to go up to the woods and walk around in the snow.

It was so beautiful.

There were lots of snowballs.

And some trimmings for a Christmas centerpiece.

Our cute friends.

Clay made a snow angel.... it was kind of gross under the snow- lots of leaves and dirt. Not as picturesque as we were anticipating :)

And to give you a laugh, here we are in our winter running clothes. It is sooo cold. We may have to start running every where we go just to keep warm :)

Amy's Birthday

On Saturday we Americans celebrated our dear friend Amy's birthday. Nothing like chicken noodle soup and birthday banana muffins on a slushy Belgian day.

And of course, they couldn't let us get away with throwing a gingerbread party and not getting in on it themselves. What a fun little group we are. 5 random Americans thrown together in Belgium. We lean on eachother when times get tough, and we celebrate the victories- big and small.

Happy Birthday Amy! It wouldn't be the same here without you.

Gingerbread Party!

After all the preparation, we finally got to decorate the gingerbread houses!! We were really excited to have some friends over, all of whom had no idea what a gingerbread house even was, much less why you would decorate one. They were all pretty curious.

You should have seen me at the grocery store the day before the party. The conveyer belt was piled so high, and it just kept coming and coming out of my basket. People were looking and pointing at my register, all pretty bewildered. It is pretty uncommon here to see someone buying so much at once. When you carry everything you buy, the purchases usually have to be pretty minimal. I was in all my American glory at that moment, and it felt awesome. I even explained to the lady in front of me (whose jaw had dropped at the sight of my approach) that all of this was for an American tradition of decorating little cookie houses. She smiled really big and explained to all the other onlookers what I was up to. It made me laugh.

Here I am preparing the supplies.

It didn't take long for everyone to get the hang of it. Clay made a gingerbread house slideshow to inspire everyone, and then we got to work!

As you can see, our house is pretty... American. That's what they all said, anyways :) It weighed a good 2 pounds more than anyone else's.

SUCH a fun night, and well worth all the prep.

Mental note for next year: Though it seems counter-intuitive, SWEEP before guests come. (I may or may not have seen someone cleaning up some candy he had dropped come up with a handful of dust-balls. Yeah. Awesome.)


Today we had an unexpected adventure with Edgar (We have lunch every Friday with Edgar and his wife Lillian. We love them). Anyways, Edgar is retired, but his profession previously was (and his passion still is) buying and selling STUFF. Furniture, odds and ends, you name it. Our bed was found by Edgar at an estate sale. Well today, the new American here, Josh mentioned that he needed a desk. I am not sure if he was actually talking to Edgar at the time, or if Edgar's internal furniture alarm went off from across the room, but before we knew it, Josh, Clay and I were all in the car with Monsieur Edgar heading across town to his warehouse.

It was a dream come true.

No pictures from inside, because I was too busy trying to keep my mouth from hanging open- it was like a personal Round Top experience. He even had a buffet/dining room table set he bought off an old castle. He said it could be ours for 5oo euros :) That would actually be an incredible deal if it wasn't that our entire apartment would fit in the buffet. Seriously, it was all just glorious. I love warehouses filled with treasures. They are one of my favorite things in Belgium.

When we got home, it was back to the gingerbread grind. First, the walls were glued.

Then, a break for dinner while the icing hardened. This picture is monumental, because it documents the first restaurant I have been to in Huy that put ice in our glasses. It was only 2 little cubes, but I felt like a queen.

Home again to put the roofs on. Voila! 6 mama and 5 baby houses, all ready for decorating fun.

Whew. Now, here's hoping that they can just stay standing until Friday!


After 8 straight hours of baking, these beauties are now ready for construction.

And I am ready for bed. Goodnight all!
As the weather gets colder, we are trying to squeeze in as many of our walks as we can before we are forced to cower indoors. We walk through rain these days, people. And tromp through mud. And, oh, it's wonderful. We have such long talks on these long walks. Ranging from food (if you could eat anything right now, what would it be?), to silliness (why so-and-so did such-and-such on Survivor that week, and why it cost him the million), to seriousness (what is God teaching us through this experience, and where could he be leading us?)*. We love our walks. And we refuse to surrender them to you, Winter!

Notice that our faces are frozen.

I typically take the camera on our walks. There is usually some sight I want to remember for always.

So. In my excitement for the Christmas season, we decided to host a gingerbread decorating party next Friday. Invites were proffered, people are getting pumped. I think they are all quite intrigued by these mysterious little cookie-houses that one decorates, but does not eat. I am excited too, but reality soon set in. We have to make a LOT of gingerbread houses! There are no cookie cutter kits here to make it easier, and my oven is the size of a microwave (actually it IS a microwave), meaning the process is going to take forever.

I started 2 days ago. It didn't go so well. The easiest recipe ingredient-wise called for molasses, which we don't have here, so I had to experiment with some substitutions, and then, just when I was on a roll, I hit the microwave button instead of the oven button, which stunk up our house, and ruined 1/3 of my dough. It was hysterical. In the true sense of the word. I went to bed shortly after.

Day 2. More gingerbread making, this time using a different molasses substitute, which I think will work much better. The kitchen didn't fare so well.

Ah, but this morning. I awoke to a clean kitchen and a fridge-full of ready-to-roll-out dough. Bring it on.

Today is baking day, and tomorrow is building day. Wish us luck.

* For those interested, the answers to the above questions are usually as follows:
1) What food would you eat right now if you could have anything? Typically ribs and chicken-fried steak at the Gristmill in Gruene make an appearance, along with Phil's steaks, pork chops, and sausage. Oh and Chuy's Chicka Chicka Boom Boom enchiladas.
2) Why so-and-so did such-and-such on Survivor that week, and why it cost him the million? Is anyone else watching it this season? We get it off of itunes each week and are loving it. And if anyone cares, the answer to the question is that Russell just burned Shambo, which we predict will begin his downfall. He is so out of there.... ;)
3) What is God teaching us through this experience, and where could he be leading us? He's teaching us about himself, which is pretty overwhelming. And that also brings out a lot about OURselves, which is pretty painful and uncomfortable at times. As far as where he could be leading us, we have no idea. Very few walks end with any resolutions or new ideas, but they do usually conclude with a peace that we are where he wants us for now and that is enough.


Irony is:

Snow in Tomball last week when it was in the 40s here.
Turkey and cranberries found at my grocery store the week AFTER Thanksgiving.


Baby it's cold outside.

I've been cocky. European winters can't be THAT cold, right? I mean, really. Cold is cold. Put on a jacket and get on with it. And the weather here lately has even shown up on google as warmer than in Tomball! Kind of embarrassing after buying out REI's winter-wear at last year's after Christmas sale.

Enter today.

The windchill made it 29 degrees. This is very cold for me. And I am learning something else about winter. When you walk everywhere, life is much colder. Oh, so much colder. I predict that my face will not be making it's appearance outside of my coat (my much appreciated REI coat from last year's aforementioned Christmas sale) until February.

Another thing. I have never lived somewhere where one must layer pants. This is a foreign concept. Why would you EVER make your pants bulkier than they have to be? I am learning. When your legs freeze solid and you actually have to carry them home, then, THEN will you know why one layers pants.

And today it was only 29 degrees. December 2... so much more winter to go.

Here are some views from our walk to school this morning. The school street is kind of abandoned and creepy looking.

The hallway to our classroom. Not much for aesthetics, this school. There is a bigger, nicer school a 20 minute train ride away, but we weighed the options and decided to stay closer to home. It is so worth it.

Most of our days lately have been quite gray. We have heard this is good, because clouds keep the heat in, making for a warmer day. Today we had some a little blue sky, and consequently, the frigid temperature.

However, with the cold, comes Christmas! And the town is already putting out all the stops. The lights are coming out.

And the Grand Place is being converted into a Christmas Market, complete with kiosks and an ice skating rink!

Christmas Markets are something really awesome about Europe that I am very excited about. Most cities have some sort of set up with vendors selling spiced wine, handcrafts, and all kinds of things "Christmas." I have heard Germany is ridiculous... maybe we can get out there and see.

On the home front, Clay just left for his running group. I know, how can he run in such cold? And such darkness?? He is suited up well, and even has a headlamp. I am so proud of his dedication.

Meanwhile, I am making Christmas cookies in my toasty kitchen :)


Happy Thanksgiving

Yesterday was a first. Our first Thanksgiving in Belgium and our first Thanksgiving without family to share it with. Surprisingly, it was a great day! Filled with food and friends, and lots of thankfulness to God!

The only turkey I could find at the store was expired, and while poisoning our guests seemed like an interesting party game (not quite as wild as the last one), I opted instead for goat cheese-stuffed chicken breasts.

A little Settlers always makes one thankful. If 2 years in a row makes something a "tradition" then, goodness gracious, I think we have ourselves a Sandoz family tradition! (I have been waiting for one of those :)

A happy crowd at dinner. I made my Mama's beer bread and my Gma's sweet potato casserole. It made me so happy to be eating foods that remind me of home.

After dinner we ichatted with the fam. Sounds like there were some adventures this year (like Clint dropping the stuffing on the way to Grandma's and Stormie the dog eating it all), and it was good to laugh with them. I was surprised at how un-painful this holiday was. I had asked a lot of you to be praying for us yesterday, so I really shouldn't be surprised. God takes pretty good care of us. It was a happy Thanksgiving spent with my Clay, new friends, and even a moment spent with my family from far far away.

We left the clean-up for this morning... Dirty dishes, you don't stand a chance against this chick.


We are really enjoying our time here in Budapest! This is our 3rd time to visit this city, and all three have been for work, but each time we get to know different people and new parts of the city. It is quickly becoming one of our favorite places we have visited so far.

Here's a street from the surrounding neighborhoods around the city that I thought was just the prettiest. Fall is really good at making places beautiful, isn't it?

This is one of the biggest markets in Budapest. Kind of touristy and really fun!

Here's one of our friends enjoying a pastry. If you look to the upper level you will see Clay working hard with his camera. This picture makes me laugh because it represents poor Clay's plight well. The crew always gets to sample the local snacks while he's up there shooting video!
(We saved some for him this time :)

A lot of our shooting has been in intense fog! But for this project it is actually working out really well.

Budapest and the Danube.

There is a lot of grunge here, some of it post-communist, some of it just vandalism, but there's a lot of beauty, too, if you look closely.

We had lunch here one day at the cute little cafe, and behind it you can see some of the towering communist apartment buildings that are all over this place.

Ok, this picture requires explanation, and I hope it doesn't offend anyone, but it really makes me laugh! We found the perfect place for a series of shots, but unfortunately, there were some words that weren't the best for the intended viewing audience. A little doctoring here and there, and we were ready to roll. I was so worried we would get arrested. But can you really get in trouble for improving graffiti?

Coolest parking garage ever! At first I thought we were just pulling into our own personal little garage within the big garage, but THEN, I saw that actually our car was going to be lifted up (or taken down) to its own little shelf. Kind of like a backwards vending machine!! So we got out, pulled down the garage door, and then watched our car be taken somewhere up beyond where we could see. It was so cool!

Look at all those cars! They stack up so hi! It kind of reminded me of The Matrix.

Here are the boys watching the car come back down. We were hoping it had changed into a sports car or something :)

We love Budapest!

Last night we went to see a performance some of our friends' kids were putting on. You can guess by the picture what show they did :) It was great!

This picture just makes me happy. The house we are staying at has a great big family cat that lounges around and reminds me so much of my parent's cat back home. Just another way God takes care of me- even down to the sweet kitties he provides here and there.

It's been a great trip so far! We are so thankful to be here.