January 31, 2015

14 Year Olds and Energy

As you all know, one of my favorite aspects of my job is when I get to do some public outreach. I especially like to talk with younger crowds because they are so willing to learn and are excited about the future. Along with representatives of several countries around the world, I was able to go and represent the U.S. at a small conference for Junior High students. The topic was: Energy. YIKES!

Now, I like interacting with youth and can really talk with anyone on any topic, but talking about energy (or anything IT) may not be my most solid topics. Now, if it is energy as in eating and burning calories I could do that. If it is energy as in that is what powers my toddler—who seems to have endless amounts of it—I could do that too! However, this was energy as in global warming, petrol consumption and natural resources. Luckily there are plenty of talking points from the President and those close to him so I could gather some information and use that.

It turned out that I was paired up with a small group of bright youth. We were laughing and enjoying our time together soon. They had carefully crafted questions over the last month to ask me—no pressure. Haha.  I was glad that they also asked other questions about the United States’ culture, the people, the food and education. I must admit that I am a bit sad to see that the strongest association they had of the U.S. with fast food…does fast food really define America? On a side note, we had some great Turkish friends over to dinner the other night and they did not even know how to open a can because in Turkey they use all fresh ingredients (something that we have now began to do too).

I told these two that they were SERIOUS! They told me they were nervous, but I confirmed they were doing a GREAT job and went to give them a "high-five" or a "Chuck" in Turkish. They looked at me like-it-this-crazy-American-trying-to-give-us-a-high-five-on-TV?

I had so much fun. These young leaders were so impressive. It makes me happy to know that the next generations are ready to tackle the world and to be educated about it as they do!

January 25, 2015

Waffles, Chocolate and Horses--Day Trip to Belgium

Bruges, Belgium

On our last day of our weekend in Paris we decided to rent a car and drive to Belgium. We are so glad that we did. It was an amazing trip. We left Paris early in the morning (to beat all of the traffic) and were surprised to see that unlike other big cities, Paris still seems asleep until around 0900h. We drove straight North and compared the French countryside to Northern Virginia and Maryland—and a little like Bavaria. Once across the border we went to Bruges! If you are looking for a suprising romantic get-away that is not one of the “big-famous-European-cities” then Bruges should be high on your list!
Crossing the border into Belgium

Unlike Brussels, Bruges has preserved the Flemish architecture and culture. Tall, colorful buildings and ornate churches line the cobblestone streets. Restaurants, beer bars, pastry shops, waffle stands, chocolatiers and lace stores line the roads. Belgium is famous for all of these and we made good use of our time enjoying them (all but the beer you would have to ask someone else about the Belgian beer). As we parked there was a symphony of bell carols from the nearby churches. These were not the hourly dong, dong, dong, it was actually music. And there were huge palm sized snowflakes falling. As we neared the town center it was truly a magical experience. So perfect. The horse drawn carriages, the smell of fresh chocolate and waffles drifting in the air.

We walked the streets and were fascinated with the city. We ate lunch, all the waffles we could eat and spent most of our time alternating between  chocolate shops and lace stores—both of which are produced specially in Bruges.We went into several of the churches as we passed, something that I do in all of the cities that we visit. I like seeing the old architecture. In this one they had opened some of the graves and let you see inside. Morbidly interesting. 
Shopping for Belgian Chocolates in the company that invented pralines: Neuhaus

A look into the layers of the bell tower

Medieval burial spaces in the floor of the cathedral

From Bruges we went to Ghent. It is a bit bigger but still had the Flemish charm. The snow had continued to fall so there were less people out, but we still loved to see the area. Of course we found ourselves in more waffle shops and buying more chocolate. By this time we knew exactly what to look for and how much we wanted. We even tried the “Ghent Famous candy” commonly known and the Ghent Nose. It is a fruit flavored gummy treat. It is like a giant gummy bear.
One of the squares in Ghent Belgium

Dutch pancake

The waffle man

Making Ghent Noses

The fruit candy they call Ghent Noses

Our next stop was Brussels. As we drove Tau’aho was getting more and more anxious about being in his car seat (he is such a trooper) so Lady Hiva said to him, “Stop whining and look outside the window and appreciate the sights.” He must have looked out the window because he thoughtfully said, “Wooooow!” to whatever he was seeing. We both broke into full on laughter! At least we can say he can listen to instructions.

 Now in all fairness, Brussels has plenty to offer and for a large city it is rather clean. However, after being in Bruges Brussels didn’t have the charm that we wanted. We figured we would park and walk for a bit and we were glad that we did. We found the city square that did have the Flemish charm—of course we went into candy and chocolate store after chocolate store! Our last stop was for hot chocolate and waffles before heading back to Paris.

Brussels, Belgium

After chocolate store after chocolate store, Lady Hiva voted Neuhaus is the best of the Belgian chocolates

Belgium is heaven for my Lady with a sweet tooth!

Our weekend trip was fast and we packed in so much. We could have spent more and more time there, but we enjoyed everything that we did. Everyone we met the entire trip was so kind and friendly. We are happy that we had the chance to go! 
The "loot" that came home with us that was not already eaten! Haha