Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Just a few things...

A) I am in Bath, England! It's beautiful. But FREEZING. Literally.

B) It feels really strange to be back in an English speaking country. For one thing, I feel all self conscious that everyone can understand what I am saying when talking in a crowd/on the bus/etc. And then there is the part where I throw out a bit of French or Arabic and no one gets it. But on the other hand, it is a great feeling--I understand everything! (well...almost everything--the accent is beautiful, but throws me off a bit) And no one makes me feel like an idiot for not understanding.

But, maybe just a little, I miss that feeling?

C) Adjusting back to Texas might be a bit rough. Prepare yourselves to hear me say voilà and ooh-la-la repeatedly.

D) The fact that it should be 72 (more than 4 times tonight's low) on Saturday when I get back to DFW should soothe my pain.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Week in Review: Week 12

Ah, my final week in review from Belgium! But, I'm soo tired, so just a quick overview (when I get home, I promise to fill you all in):

  • My mom is here! We've had a tour around the "Belgian" part of Brussels along with the "Moroccan" part of Brussels, along with a day trip out to Bruges. Good times. 
  • Thanksgiving was this week--so much to be thankful for! Especially for green bean casserole. 
  • Tuesday we had a potluck/thanksgiving/end of course celebration in conversation. We had a nice mixture of Moroccan, African, Polish and American dishes. My students ended up staying hours late and it was a good time over all. 
  • 2 of my students (the twins) gifted me a USB powered salt-rock lamp. The most random gift I have received, but awesome nonetheless. 
  • Tomorrow we are headed to England! Yay for English!
  • After all that complaining about French, the last few days I have realized just how much I have picked up over the last 3 months. Considering I came with little more than Bon jour and je t'aime I guess its not too bad.
  • Today at church I said goodbye to a lot of people. I am not a huge fan of the goodbyes. 
  • I might have to come back in March for our neighbor's wedding...
  • I love our neighbors. 
  • The Belgian Christmas market is up! So pretty!
  • It has turned very, very cold. It's supposed to be -10 sometime next week. Tomorrow has a low of 18 degrees. That makes coming back to Texas all the more enticing. 
  • I will be home on Saturday! Bring on the Mexican food and sunshine!
  • Our neighbors made us a Moroccan tea tonight that contained absinthe--the plant, not the liquor. It may or may not have contained a drug. 
The end. I'll catch you all up later!

Monday, November 22, 2010


Fall, the verb, is decidedly not a favorite of mine. But fall the noun? As in the season? That one is a favorite.

(Blurry, but look! Bunnies!)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Week in Review: Week 11

It's the next to last Week in Review from Belgium! Here goes:

  • Here's the count: 13 straight days of headaches, 8 full days of migraines. I've officially turned into a vampire. I'm ready to get off the migraine-train. 
  • The painkillers are leaving me relatively "filter"-free. It almost seems appropriate for this time of the semester. 
  • Speaking of...I FINISHED ALL MY COURSEWORK. I'll bring back my evaluation and then walk myself across the stage at graduation. Man, this has been a long time coming. 
  • I think I've gotten dumber, not smarter, but I won't be opposed to you all calling me Master Brewer. 
  • I've enjoyed helping take care of Phoebe this week, but it also makes me miss my little girls in Texas. I can't wait to see Madeline and Emma and see how much they have changed over the last 3 months!
  • English classes have also been wrapped up. I have to put the finishing touches on the exams for levels one and two and then give them tomorrow evening. They will come for their grades and certificates on Wednesday. Tuesday we are having a potluck/Thanksgiving celebration in my conversation class. It should be interesting to see what kind of food my students turn up with. 
  • With just 2 weeks left I officially gave myself permission to think about Mexican food and Dr. Pepper. 
  • This last Tuesday was the Fête du Mouton, which is one of the biggest holidays in Islam. Families get together to sacrifice and eat a sheep in honor of God providing a sheep to sacrifice instead of Abraham's son (Isaac for Christians, Ishmael for Muslims). Part of the holiday includes sharing the meat with friends and the poor. Our neighbors said they would send over their son with some of the lamb, which turned out to be an entire raw leg of lamb. 
  • I rode back to Brussels from the neurologist Wednesday with a family from the church who had gone to the hospital to visit Phoebe. The husband is Egyptian, the wife is Syrian. They have two adorable little hellians. He exhibited the best steering wheel drumming I have ever seen. (He drums at the church and was a professional back in Egypt.) They ended up taking me home with them for a while and fed me mashi (sp?)--little stuffed grape leaves. Very, very tasty. Also, I realized after almost 3 months that the husband speaks English! Who knew...
  • I cannot say enough for the Flemish Belgian healthcare system. Everyone was ridiculously nice, almost everyone spoke English, and they all went out of their way to be helpful--the neurologist even game me his personal email should I need more information or help filing on my US insurance.  
  • The amount I paid to go to the ER, have a CT scan, an appointment with the neurologist and an EEG with no outside insurance? 108.22 euro. Let's all say it together--government healthcare is not the end of the world. 
And, that's all. It has been a long week, but when I look back, most of what I remember is just cooking, cleaning and sitting in a dark room as much as possible. Maybe I'll remember some of the more interesting tidbits later!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Moussaka Bi Zeit

So while the last week has not been full of triumphal moments, I did have a strong showing in at least one area. As I attempted to get in touch with my Southern roots and cook up some casseroles, I decided to branch out a bit. Janee has a good Lebanese/Syrian cookbook and I found a recipe for Moussaka that I wanted to try. (As an aside, Lebanese and Syrian food is almost exactly the same. Hary says that even if the people are Syrian, they market the food as Lebanese because Lebanese food is more well known.)

Lebanese Moussaka is not the same as its Greek incarnation--there's no cheese or potatoes. Hary does tell me that there are different kinds of Moussaka. Moussaka Bi Zeit, or Moussaka with oil, is what I made and it is a vegetarian variety. Making it is pretty straight forward: you peel, slice and fry a few eggplants, add a layer of chickpeas, then top it with a mixture of sautéed onions, garlic and tomatoes which have been simmered together. To finish it off you top it with a layer of sliced up tomatoes, and then bake it. It can be eaten cold, but we ate it hot with rice.

I hadn't realize that Hary was coming back to the house the day I made it, but he was really excited when I told him what I had made. I was a bit worried for him to try it because it was my first go at moussaka, and I hadn't even tried it myself, but I am happy to say he liked it. Now honestly this isn't saying much because I have been around long enough to know that Hary will eat just about anything. Yet as the days went by and he kept eating it, meal after meal, I started to believe him. And the highest praise of all? He said it tasted just like an Arab woman made it.

Triumph indeed.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

ER Adventures

So not long ago I ended up on a date with the Syrian Mr. Collins. This week? It was a date with the neurologist.

I should have never mentioned that the culture here reminded me of a Jane Austen novel. First the whole Mr. Collins thing, and then I also unwittingly acted out a scene from Persuasion. In the need of a brief novel to give my brain a break, I picked up Persuasion off of Janee's bookshelf. My mom and I are going to Bath in a couple of weeks, so I thought it would be a nice read. I hadn't realized a large portion of the plot revolved around one of the girls falling and knocking herself unconscious. I might would have avoided the book otherwise.

Anyway, we all know what I then preceded to do--I fell down the stairs and banged the back of my head into the concrete wall. That's nothing new though, I told you about that last week. Everyone kept insisting that I go get my head checked, but I refused. It wasn't that big of a deal. By Sunday though, I was feeling worse instead of better. The headaches were getting stronger, so much so that I thought I might pass out during church on Sunday. My vision was getting a little blurry and I was feeling dizzier than normal.

I started to rethink the idea of going to the doctor. (I've seen way too many medical shows where someone dies of an aneurysm all because they didnt go get their headaches checked out.) The system is a bit different here, so Janee suggested I go to the ER. At this point they were still at the hospital in the next town over, so I hitched a ride there with a couple from our church. After a 10 minute wait (!) I was back in the ER getting checked out, and then got to do one of my least favorite things--a CT scan. Thankfully it came back in the clear but the doctor scheduled me an appointment with the neurologist for an EEG the next day.

Really Lauren? I don't know how I get myself into these things.

The EEG in itself was an odd experience. She started taping probes on my wrists and ears and then pulled out a giant syringe. I panicked--nobody had mentioned injections! Thankfully it was just to squirt gel. She then pulled a cap with about 87 wires attached onto my head and started filling all the little holes in the cap with the gel. (Which I am still trying to wash you of my hair...) Once the test started it was a lot of open your eyes, close them, breathe through your mouth, breathe through your nose, and then a lot of try not to go into a seizure as we blink all kinds of colored lights in your face.

Anyway, I finally got to see the neurologist, who was incredibly nice. After doing a couple dozen little tests (and him squeezing the bruise on my foot!) he showed me my CT and EEG results. All in the clear. (Hamdula) He said since I have had migraines before it is probable that the trauma has triggered them. He said that Post Concussion Syndrome can explain all of my symptoms, and that it could last a week or two or a month or two (lets all pray for weeks not months!).

In the end he prescribed me some good painkillers (which I should probably mention I am taking at the moment...so if none of this makes sense, now we know why), we chatted about healthcare and Belgian and US politics, and he mentioned that if life were like Grey's Anatomy that by that time I "would have been whisked away to the OR for brain surgery with McDreamy." He then followed it up with "or whatever his name is." But it was too late, he was caught.

So in the end, it has been a long, strange week. My head feels like someone is massaging my brain with brass knuckles. But on the upside, they gave me my CT scan on a CD. How cool is that? And while I lament my ability to do the most ridiculous things, I figure everyone who's traveled to Brussels has seen the Grand Place and the Atomium. But how many have seen the inside of the neurology department?

That's right, probably just me.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Picking Up The Slack

Janee and Phoebe will be in the hospital until Thursday, and Hary has been back and forth between here and the hospital (which is in the next town over). I've been trying to pick up the slack around the house, which has meant mostly some cooking and cleaning (and like I mentioned, a lot of TAL podcasts!).

I made a list of goods I wanted from the store and headed off. While looking through the shelves, guess what I found?

Tortilla de patatas! Now the price on this bad boy was significantly steeper than the big ones we used to buy in Spain, but considering it taste just like I remember and didn't involve me frying potatoes all afternoon, I was sold. This sent me down Memory-of-food-I-ate-in-Spain Lane which caused me to remember (how could I forget?) that I bought this when we day-tripped to Germany:

That's right, Salsa de Pina y Curry! (Which also cost me an ojo de la cara, but who cares!) I will be eternally thankful to Kate for introducing me to what is definitely my all-time favorite salad. It consists of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), white beans, red bell pepper and avocado mixed together with a pineapple curry sauce. Eaten with potato chips it will change your life. Yum.

So here I present you, the best lunch a girl could ask for:

More on my the rest of my cooking adventures later.

Monday, November 15, 2010

I feel like there should be some church bells ringing. Or some tambourines. Some celebratory music and dancing.

Why? Because I just finished this:

That is a screen shot of the very last paper I have to write to complete my masters degree. I've written so many papers this last year (even pulling 2-a-days all through August), that it might take a while for it to sink in that I'll never have to write another one. But then again, maybe not!

Now, I do have to admit, the paper was in no way the best paper I have ever written, and was really just a write up, nothing special. But to honor the occasion, I actually typed it up in Times New Roman, proof read it, and even took the time to put page numbers on it. It has been submitted, the only thing that stands between and walking across that stage is the completion of my portfolio, which is basically finished as well.

I guess it is time to send out these:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Week in Review: Week 10

It's Sunday--Week in Review time!

  • Phoebe is here! Janee had her early on Thursday. The whole process was complicated and scary and ended in an emergency cesarian, but both of them are now doing great--hamdula!
  • My foot is a mix of purple and black, and I'm still having some headaches, but I'm not too much worse for the wear after my tumble down the stairs. 
  • With all the activities of the week, I've already fallen off the whole blog-a-day November bandwagon. But hey, I tried. 
  • Yesterday one of Hary's friends stopped by the house here to pick me up and take me to the hospital to see everyone. They surprised me by showing up early. I invited them up for coffee and the whole thing just kept striking me as odd. They live in Antwerp so they don't even speak French (not that my French really does me any good...) so it was just me and 4 Arabic speakers. I was trying to be a good Arab host, serving all the coffee and busting out all of the cookies/seeds/nuts/etc., using just hand motions and the handful of Arabic words I know. Everyone (except me) chatted for about 30 minutes, and then we were off. The subsequent search for a florist and 20 minute drive to the hospital didn't fail to be less interesting either.
  • I played video games this week with some of my youth for the first time in probably 6 years. Unfortunately it seems my years of experience driving a car has not improved my ability to keep my car on the road in video games. 
  • IT'S LESS THAN ONE MONTH UNTIL I GRADUATE. How bout them apples?! The plan is to finish my last paper this evening and get the portfolio sent off sometime this week. ELF hamdula!
  • For those wanting an update...I was pretty sure Mr. Collins understood that I was not interested in marrying him. Unfortunately the hilarious/pitiful texts he sent me out of the blue this week might argue the contrary. 
  • Rain, rain go away, come again in 3 weeks when I have moved back to Texas. But seriously, it has not stopped raining for what feels like weeks. 
  • I've been doing quite a bit of cleaning, cooking and laundry this week. That also means I've been listening to a lot of This American Life podcasts. Sadly I've gone through almost all of the old episodes Cody gave me. 
  • I got the dress ordered (after some creative measurement taking measures). One less thing to do when I get back. 
  • It kind of scares me that when I tried to write in Spanish this week that all that came to mind was my crappy French.
And...that's it for today. Three weeks from yesterday I'll be back in Texas--which is kind of hard to believe. I know this last month is going to fly by, so I am trying to soak up what I can! OK, marsalami.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Depth Perception

After I wrote it, I realized that it was a lie. Last week I said that I hadn't finished a single non-school related book since I got here. That's not actually true. My first month here I finished this guy: 

Fixing My Gaze: A Scientist's Journey Into Seeing in Three Dimensions by Susan R. Barry 

I had been wanting to read it for a while and remembered at the last minute to pick up a copy before I left Texas. It was a little more scientific than I bargained for, but it was fascinating. 

It might seem like an odd book to read unless you know that (drumroll please) I am stereoblind

Yep. You've probably heard me talk about it endlessly or not at all. Basically it means that your two eyes don't necessarily compute and combine the slight differences they see resulting in a lack of depth perception. Now before you start lining up cups and asking me if the blue one or the red one is in front, I can do that kind of stuff. No need to take away my driver's license. It's not that I can't see that something is in front of something else. It's just that I can't see the space between things. 

I had been trying to tell people about this for years. The only reason I knew that I didn't have depth perception was because every once in a while I did. Occasionally, when walking home or dashing around campus, especially if it was a sunny day, I would notice the leaves on the trees were really defined. All of a sudden it is like stepping into a pop up book. It always seemed like magic. I remember the fist time I saw why it's called looking through the looking glass. I had always seen myself flat on the plane of the mirror. 

I would usually confuse people by saying, Oh look. I have depth perception today! For a while I tried to explain it by saying that I basically saw the world like a regular movie, while other people saw the world like a 3D movie (which probably helps to explain why I never really understood 3D movies). After reading the book though, this doesn't really help either: apparently the eyes of people with stereovision (those with depth perception and 3D vision) actually create 3D when they watch regular films as well. 

Anyway, I believe it was the crunch time of the Spring semester that led me to procrastinate by researching my vision online (I think it was also after I had tried to explain it to a friend...who told me that was not how normal people saw). I was surprised to find out that other people had the same experience, and found a review of this book online. 

As it turns out, stereoblindness is not that uncommon. Some people who are cross-eyed or have a lazy eye (or did as a child) or even just don't have eyes that are perfectly aligned have the same problem. Sometimes it is just because one eye is much stronger than the other. It's kind of funny because I always said that I felt like my center of gravity was over to one side of my body--I am constantly ramming my shoulders into door panes and walls. Turns out, it might just be that my eyes use images from one eye predominately. 

The fun part of the book is that there are lots of little exercises to help you practice your vision. Sitting around in airports and offices I am sure there were plenty of people confused by my squinting and focusing. I had already figured out that if I tried really hard I could conjure up a bit of depth perception. If I close my left eye, focus the right one well, and then open the left one, sometimes I can get the images to merge. When I am just sitting around, I try to practice. This came in handy when I drove back and forth between Abilene and FW two dozen times this summer (watching the hawks flying through the air is fascinating when you have depth perception!) or when I got bored in class (I would try to make a desk, or a pencil pop out,  or even sometimes I would just stare at the professor and try to see his nose in 3D. Ha!) (Apologies to any professors reading, I'm sure it wasn't your class!)

All of this to say that when I was little and wondered if what saw as blue, was really what you saw as blue, or if we all saw things a bit differently, might have a bit of truth in it after all. (Cue some postmodern philosophy and situated hermeneutics!)

So now you know. 

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Go Big or Go Home

Welp, I spent the latter part of the afternoon like this: 

Janee and Hary are off to the hospital for the baby, and apparently I had a strong desire to go to the hospital too. Helping to carry stuff down the spirally stairs my ankle gave out with at least three stairs to go. Because the stairs spiral that means I found a way to whack my head into the concrete wall on the way down. I might have left a dent.

Fantastic, Lauren.

Thankfully, my head is hard and with the help of some unidentified frozen Syrian food to ice it, there doesn't even seem to be much a knot left up there. The foot is turning purple though, but that's nothing new for me. Really, to be honest, my big beef at the moment is that it's just way too cold to be having to use an ice pack!

Ouff, it's hard work being clumsy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Dress Drama

Turns out, it's not easy to order a bridesmaid's dress from overseas. I've been trying to find the dress online, order it online, and call David's Bridal futilely for a couple of hours now. It's not looking positive.

Out of nowhere they declared that we had to have our dresses ordered by today in order to have them back by March 5th. Four months seems a little extreme, but you never really want to mess with the people who control the taffeta when it comes to weddings.

Anyway, it's after midnight, and I am still trying to make this work...so a better blog tomorrow maybe? In the mean time, if you see this:

in cornflower blue...let me know! The things I do for my friends!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Week in Review: Week 9

Week 9? It's already the 7th of November? Whoa! Time is flying. Here is the week in review: 
  • Since we opened the Christmas season this week we decided to watch White Christmas the other day. Janee also brought along some Christmas music for the car the other day, which was a nice change from Hary's Arabic music. 
  • I will graduate in less than 5 weeks! And I have (drum-roll please) ONE PAPER LEFT! I can't believe it. My portfolio is almost finished too.
  • This week I did not have classes to teach--everybody is on a week long All Saints/Fall break. And while we managed to fill each day up, I managed to get a good nights sleep every single day. It might have been the most restful week I have had since...last December? It's been a long year. 
  • My mom will be here in a little over 2 weeks! We have decided to hit up England my last few days and are going to go over to Bath. Exciting!
  • We went over to the house of an Iraqi family the other day. The tea she made for us tasted different from the Moroccan or Turkish tea that we normally drink. I don't know if it was just the tea or some spices added, but it was really good. 
  • Why isn't "other day" one word? I think it should be like someday and stop making my life difficult.
  • Anahabuck is Arabic for "I love you." 
  • Also, did you know that Gazpacho, the Spanish soup, is actually from the Arabic for "soaked bread"? And while I am at it, hummus, the dip, is actually the Arabic word for chickpeas in general. Arabs seem to be really impressed that I know that word. 
  • What do you think--Should I get some henna before I go?
  • Sometimes I really do forget that I live in Belgium. We were at a market in the center early today and I was amazed at all the white people. (Abilene is going to be a shock to the system...)
  • This week someone told me I looked Chinese. Again, close, but no. I just have small eyes. 
OK, that's about all I've got at the moment. 

Saturday, November 6, 2010

A Note On Waffles

Before I came to Brussels I admit that I never really liked waffles. A lot of that has to do with me not much liking syrup, but I was just never a huge fan.

But let me tell you this: Belgian waffles are not like waffles in The States. I have seen "Belgian Waffles" on menus and in restaurants, but making a normal waffle and calling it "Belgian" does not make a Belgian waffle. Neither does making a really big normal waffle.

For one thing Belgian waffles aren't made out of batter, they are made of dough. They roll it into balls and squeeze them in the waffle maker rather than the old pour and flip method of American waffle makers. The other major thing is the sugar. For Belgian waffles you need waffle sugar: 

See waffle sugar comes in chunks. The chunks are mixed into the dough and then cooked up. Some chunks on the edges even get a bit caramelized. 

And the best part? No syrup required!

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Art of Saying No

As I mentioned the other day, I am horrible at telling people no. It's probably yet another thing I inherited from my dad. I just can't help it. The problem is, it gets me into all kinds of situations. For example, my inability to say no is exactly what got me tangled into spending the evening with Mr. Collins last night.

I have been joking for a while about how the Arab culture here surrounding marriage, dating and matchmaking seems like something straight out of a Jane Austin novel. Turns out, the joke was on me!

But don't you worry. I channeled Elizabeth and when marriage came up it was not difficult for me to dig up the word no.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

For the Directionally Challenged

Shops around here are like boxes of chocolates--you never know what you are going to find!

I thought this was pretty awesome:

It's an Islamic prayer kit, including a prayer rug complete with a built in compass. How clever is that?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Today is the first day...

Of the Christmas season!!!

OK, I know Thanksgiving hasn't even passed yet. But at least we waited until November. Janee will be having her baby anytime and then there will start getting crazy around here. So today when I came downstairs the stockings were up and The Holiday was on. The tree is now up and all the presents are wrapped under the tree.

And I couldn't be happier. I love Christmas--the music, the movies, the decorations, the cards, Advent, all of it. And it looks like this year I'll be stretching the season out a bit. Which I am perfectly fine with! (I'll just celebrate once in Europe and once in the US.)

So wishing you all a happy beginning to the Christmas season!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


I talked to Abby tonight and she sold me some story about November being National Blog month, or something like that. She tried to talk me into joining her and Krystal in writing a blog a day for the month. The problem is, I don't have time for things like that right now.

But, the bigger problem is that I have a very hard time telling people no. So you know what? I decided I'll try to give it a go. Now, too bad I am already a day behind...and that should I actually get a blog up everyday they won't all be witty or interesting. But who cares. I'll try.

In other ambitious challenges, part of me would really love to participate in NaNoWiMo (or National Novel Writing Month). Basically you sign up and try to write an entire novel during the month of November. How fun does that sound? Now of course the problem there is that I probably won't even get a novel read during the month of November, much less written. (Seriously--I haven't finished a single non-school book since I got here!). But maybe one day.

For now I'll just try for 29 blogs.