October Bucket List

Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Carol. For those who do, I’m Professor Trelawney.

October 2017 shall now and forever be known as the busiest and most exciting month of my life thus far. I met so many wonderful, interesting people, visited three new places I had never been before (Disneyland Paris, Dublin, and Edinburgh), and conquered my fear of roller coasters AND public speaking! Well, maybe not quite conquered, but I’m getting there. This month was all started off in the most mystical way possible. Being as it was the month of Halloween and the veil between the land of the living and the dead is at it’s thinnest, I decided to see what the spirits had in store for me. I went to get my Tarot cards read.

DISCLAIMER: I am not a firm believer in the accuracy of Tarot cards, tea leaves, or crystal balls. Going into this experience, I was mostly looking for a bit of fun. You know. Just see what could come from it. I understand there are those who really believe in that type of thing. For them, I say that this post is only a statement of what happened. I’m not crediting or discrediting the practice. After leaving the reader’s room, I am still not a believer. However, the session did give me some things to think about and answered some of my unanswerable questions. Without further ado, here is Carol B and the Tarot Cards.

I decided about mid-September that I wanted to get a Tarot reading. I had my tea leaves read before, but (again) because it was October, the month of Samhuinn and Halloween, I wanted to try Tarot. I started researching psychics in Brussels, but quickly realized I had a problem: they all speak French. My French is high beginner or low intermediate on a GOOD day! How on earth was this going to work if I couldn’t understand the reading?! (There’s an inspirational quote in there somewhere… “Life is like being told your fortune by a French psychic. The answer is right in front of you, but you won’t understand until you use Google Translate”… something like that.) This somewhat BIG dilemma didn’t stop me from trying to find the English needle in the French haystack.

My research brought me to a Facebook page called Brussels Holistic Readings Tarot and Oracles. The posts on the page were written in English, so I was very hopeful. I messaged the Page Admin asking the obvious questions: “Do you speak English? When are you free in October?” We exchanged a couple of messages and scheduled a reading for the first week of October. I know she was the real deal because she ended her Facebook messages with “Blessed be”. Legit.

I arrived at the reading (which was at her home) a couple minutes early and really thought about what I’d ask. I decided the four most obvious questions would suffice for a 30 minute-long appointment: career, life, love, and the future. Once I was satisfied with these topics, I rang the doorbell. Just as the buzzer went off, a panic overwhelmed me, like the bell woke up every insecurity and fear I had ever felt throughout my 23 years of existence. What if she tells me I’m going to die tomorrow? What if she says I’ll be poor and homeless within a year? What if the bogeyman kidnaps me tonight while I’m sleeping?! Some childhood fears never go away…)

The front door opened and standing behind it was Andi, my spiritual guide for the next hour or so. She welcomed me in and offered me a cup of tea, which I graciously accepted. As we waited for the kettle to boil, I took the opportunity to ask her a couple questions about herself and the art of Tarot card reading. Andi is originally from Connamara, near Galway on the west coast of Ireland. She realized her clairvoyant abilities when she was about 18 or 19 years old. The spirit of a deceased relative appeared and communicated with her (I didn’t ask what it was that the spirit said. It’s none of my business). From that point on, she became interested in using her abilities to help others. Andi was given her first Tarot card deck by a friend, as it is a tradition that you obtain your first deck as a gift (Christmas gift ideas. You’re welcome). She read about and practiced her craft for many years, which eventually lead her to Brussels. She felt an emotional connection with the city, like she was always meant to be in Brussels (sounds vaguely familiar… *cough, cough* me *cough, cough*), and so she packed up her things and moved from Ireland to Belgium. Now, she uses her abilities to give guidance to her customers, from career advice to healing a broken heart, not telling fortunes and seeing the future. She made a point to tell me that the cards are not an exact science. Each card can have multiple interpretations. Her purpose is to interpret what the cards say as they relate to one another in a layout. By the time she finished her story, the tea was ready and it was time to tell my story. The story hidden in the Tarot.

The session started off with the lighting of a candle and a prayer to God and the angels for guidance in the readings and to reveal his plan through the cards. I felt a bit more comfortable knowing God was the driving force behind the fortunes. I don’t know if I  could trust the Faerie Realm with my fate. Prayers were spoken, the deck was shuffled, and the cards were flipped one-by-one onto the table, ready to reveal my future.

Career

Apparently, even the cards had no idea what my future held in terms of future career! (Back to the drawing board) However, the Magician card was present and prominently displayed, which was interpreted to mean that I have all the skills and tools I need to find a successful career. (I’m a wizard, Harry!) Another shuffle revealed I might find something in counseling or advising, music, or a combination of both.

Life

The cards seemed to agree that I shouldn’t worry too much about the future. I should enjoy the present while I can. Fate has a plan and everything will fall into place, but I must give it time. I’m young, I have plenty of time left, and many experiences to come. The future holds a lot of happiness and content. When I leave Brussels, there will be a period of little to no traveling, so I must make the most of the experience while I can. (Don’t need to tell me twice!)

 Love

Around mid-October, I will meet a man who will become very important to me. However, the relationship will end terribly, and I will be heartbroken (thanks, mystery guy…) From the heartbreak, I will find my future husband (THANKS, MYSTERY GUY!!)

Future

Again, my future will work out in the end. I will be happy and content. I will definitely have a family (although, I’m sure everyone I know could have guessed that), and I will have three children, with at least one girl (Andi was very specific about that number three.)

 

 

The session ended with another prayer. Then, the candle was put out and that was that. Andi helped organize many worries that I had about many different things going on in my life. I’m still not a believer of the paranormal, but I do appreciate the guidance and order Andi helped me find. I felt a strange sense of calm as I left the house. Sure, some questions were left unanswered, but some worries were put to rest, and that is a great feeling. You may not have Andi near you, but I would recommend going to get your Tarot cards read, especially if you need help sorting out your anxieties. It might just help take some of the weight off your shoulders.

Until next month,

Carol B

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September Bucket List

Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Carol. For those who do, I’m a chocolaholic and I’m ok with that.

If there is one thing Belgium is known for, it’s chocolate. Specifically pralines. With that being said, I’d thought I’d take the opportunity to make the world famous pralines in the country they were created! I’ve never attempted to make my own chocolates before because Godiva and Russell Stover exists. Why make my own when I could buy them on sale after Halloween or Valentine’s Day? I could easily do the same here since there is a chocolatier on every street, but that wouldn’t be making the most of my time in Brussels. Next best thing to buying expensive, delicious truffles from Leonidas or Neuhaus is to learn how the pros do it.

My search started online through Viator. After scrolling my way passed “Private Transfers to Brussels City Centre” and “Belgian Beer Walking Tours”, I came across a Brussels Chocolate Workshop. The experience was described as follows:

Make over 30+ chocolates yourself, but not only:
During this 2.5-hour workshop you’ll learn how to temper chocolate and, from it, craft 2 types of Belgian chocolates. You’ll make at least 30+ chocolates, which you can either eat on the spot or take home to family and friends.

Perfect! I was sold at “Make over 30+ chocolates”. It’s funny that they think I’m going to share with my friends and family. Haha! Good one. So I signed up for the workshop.

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Finally, Chocolate Day arrived. I woke up early, quickly got ready, and ran to the bus. It felt like Christmas morning as a kid, but without the bus part… or getting ready (I never had the patience to get dressed just to open Christmas presents. PJs, all the way!) I met the chocolatier and the rest of the participants in Le Grand Place before heading over to the kitchen as a group. The workshop itself was a large room within an old office building just outside Le Grand Place. There were several tables set up with tempering machines filled with melted chocolate, and bowls of even more chocolate on the side. Yea, definitely like Christmas.

The chocolatier started class by introducing herself and what we were going to do that day. Unfortunately, I can’t remember her name. Let’s call her Coco… What?! It’s fitting! Then everyone took turns introducing themselves and where they were from. There were lots of people from the UK and Ireland, one from Australia, one other American (woot woot!), and a couple from Israel. I don’t know why I was surprised to see so many native English-speakers. Maybe after three months of hearing mostly French, I’ve just expected everyone to speak French. Thankfully, the workshop was taught in English.

IMG_7810Coco went on to explain what makes good chocolate. For this workshop, we worked with dark chocolate with 54.1% cocoa solids. If you’re wondering, we used Callebaut chocolate. Apparently, it’s very good Belgian chocolate brand. Then we went into the tricky, time-consuming part: tempering. Tempering the chocolate makes it stronger against heat and gives it a shiny appearance. Appearance is everything when making chocolates. If it’s not pretty, who is going to eat it? Answer: me. Chocolaholism is no joke.

Our first job was to cool the melted chocolate to 31ºC by stirring constantly, then reheat it slightly so it was ready to use. It takes longer than I thought to cool down chocolate. A good 10-15 minutes had gone by before it was close to being ready to use. Once the base was ready, we filled praline molds until they were coated completely, banged it up a bit to get out any air bubbles, and tipped it to create a thin shell. The shells went into the fridge for a bit as Coco prepared our ganache by adding warm cream to a mixture of honey and melted dark and milk chocolate. Simple in flavor and easy to make! Once the ganache had cooled, our shells were filled and covered in more chocolate to seal in the filling.

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With chocolate #1 chilling in the fridge, it was time to move on to chocolate #2: mendiants. Mendiants are thin chocolate disks topped with nuts and dried fruits. You might have seen it in a chocolate shop before but didn’t bother with it. Why would you bother with chocolate that had healthy stuff on top? What’s the point? Let me answer that for you: it’s delicious and really easy to make! Just take a small spoon of your tempered chocolate and spread it on a piece of parchment/ non-stick paper and top with raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews, etc. Coco said to let your imagination run wild with this. When I use my imagination, I think Mickey Mouse. So I made a couple Mickey Mouse mendiants.

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As we waited for the pralines and mendiants to set in the refrigerator, we used the remaining ganache filling to make hot chocolate. Simplest recipe ever: heat up milk until hot, stir in ganache/ melted chocolate, remove from heat, enjoy. And I did enjoy it. There was time to socialize with some of the other participants. Two people I talked to were going to school in Ireland and had come to Brussels for the weekend. I tried my best to recommend places to go, but since I’ve already done so much in Brussels, it’s hard to narrow it down to a two day trip!

At the end of the course, we packaged up our 30+ chocolates in gold boxes, said our good-byes, and went home to indulge in our homemade sweet treats. After a full three hours of working with chocolate, I was still happy to get home and sample a couple of my pralines (seriously, I might need help. Is there a Chocolaholics Anonymous group in Brussels?)

Throughout the whole process, I felt very professional! It felt good using the tools of the trade to make a beautiful, edible product. Coco was there every step of the process, helping those who needed it and encouraging everyone to get involved. This experience is something I could take with me to America and show off to my family and friends! Everyone I know might be getting chocolates for Christmas this year, so word of caution: don’t plan on any holiday diets, because I will ruin it for you.

If you ever find yourself in Brussels and are looking for something fun to do either alone or with a friend, I highly recommend the Belgian Chocolate Workshop. You can book your place in their workshop on their website, www.BelgianChocolateWorkshop.com, or through Viator: Brussels Chocolate Workshop. Happy eating!

Until next month,

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Carol B

August Bucket List

Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Carol. For those who do, I got a tattoo!

Just kidding! (Seriously, Mom and Dad. I’m kidding…)

I think it’s safe to say that, based on July’s Bucket List item, everything I’ve done for the past two months has been new and scary to me. I’ve moved to Belgium, travelled around France, met old friends in London, and explored the tourist-y areas of Brussels to get acquainted with my new home. If I wrote about every new, strange, or exciting experience, I’d be writing until next month, and I have a resolution to uphold!

Instead, this month I decided to try something different: get out of the house and meet new people. This may not seem like a big deal, but for me, it really is! I’m, inherently, a shy, reserved person who prefers to stay at home rather than go out and meet people. That is, until you get to know me. That’s whyI sign into these blog posts the way I do. For those of you who don’t know me, I politely introduce myself and invite you to read about my adventures. For those of you who have the pleasure of knowing me personally, you’ll know I can be loud and a bit silly. A majority of the time, however,I’m actually very quiet around strangers, especially in social gatherings. I hardly ever initiate conversations, but when I do, it’s mostly to apologize for something (“*GASP* I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to purposefully run into you so that I had something to say!”) To save people from spilled drinks and broken toes due to my “clumsy” way of starting a conversation, I’ve made this month about working on my people skills and, hopefully, making new friends.

Within the month of August, I went to a pop-up dinner and an Ex-Pat social event. These types of organized events are more personal and intimate gatherings of like-minded people, not to mention it’s safer than finding a random person in a bar and striking up a conversation. Still, the evenings didn’t come without difficulties.

Has a friend ever dragged you to a party because they didn’t know anyone who was going and wanted at least one familiar face there? Well, just about everyone who showed up to both events was accompanied by their “familiar face”. I completely understand why, too. They want to look like they are “getting involved” without really getting involved. Translation: they BYOF (bring your own friends) to an event and talk amongst themselves, all the while hoping some courageous, outgoing person will come to them, introduce themselves, and make their evening a little more interesting. If no one stops by, the friends still look like they are participating in the social event. Based on what I know from my own experiences, when people BYOF, they do it out of the fear of looking “abnormal” or anti-social. (I’ve been using a lot of air quotes…). They don’t want to be that shy person sitting by his or herself, fake-texting to look busy while everyone else is making friends and engaging in interesting conversations. I’ve been there. It’s a bit embarrassing. I’ve dragged and been dragged to parties and I’ve been the loner staring at my phone. This month, it finally dawned on me that everyone is as uncomfortable as I am in these types of social situations. It’s a satisfying feeling to know that I’m not the only one who finds speaking to strangers difficult (see, Mom and Dad? Even at 23, I’m still not talking to strangers! Stranger danger, am I right?)

Even with this newly realized epiphany, I was still the lone wolf in a forest of BYOFs. That meant I needed to suck up my social anxiety and release my irrational fears of public rejection. I needed to force myself to speak to someone, even if I had nothing interesting to say, and pray that my go-to conversation starter (“Hi. I’m an American. Nice to meet you”) will propel the conversation forward. I could be at a party, in a classroom, or in front of an audience, I’ve never been comfortable speaking to large crowds of people. But not this month! This month, I was going to make an effort to join in the fun, and not look like a lone wolf, playing on my phone in the corner of the room. I was going to be a social butterfly, gosh darn it!

The month started out with a pop-up dinner in London. I had rented a room on Airbnb for a couple days from a London-based chef. As well as working with the takeaway website, Just Eat, she hosted pop-up restaurants around London through GrubClub, a website that is like Airbnb but chefs advertise dining experiences rather than homes. She had an extra seat at one of the dinners, so she invited me to join. When have I ever said no to food? Plus, I’d never been to a pop-up restaurant before, so might as well take advantage of the opportunity.

IMG_7059When I arrived, there was a long table set for about 20 people. I was the first to arrive (I am incapable of arriving fashionably late), so I sat down and waited as the rest of the dinner guests came through the door. The dinner was a delicious 5-course meal, featuring peaches in each dish. At first, I was nervous to say anything. It was difficult for me to think of anything to say. I just looked around the room hoping for some inspiration to fly out of the air. As each course was served and the wine glasses were filled, conversation became much easier. The guests at my side of the table managed to talk about a very wide range of topics, from the “conversation starter pack” like work and weather, to Brexit and traveling in Southeast Asia. The experience as a whole felt like I have been teleported back to a time when wealthy aristocrats hosted lavish dinners in their family mansions for their friends in the hopes of creating connections, romances, and learning all the recent gossip. I thought I was in Downton Abbey! Checking “pop-up restaurant” and “be on Downton Abbey” off my bucket list.

After a couple days vacation in London, I, reluctantly, traveled home to Brussels (that’s weird to say… “My home is in Brussels”. AHH!). I spent several days exploring the city on my own, then realized how lonely and, especially, homesick I felt. I went to the trusty, sometimes-reliable internet to look up some clubs and events I could get involved in during my year abroad. Little did I know at the time, but Belgium in August is practically deserted! Everyone leave for vacation during August. Shops close, work stops, people leave. It’s a great time to sightsee and explore, but not for meeting people. Many hours of research and a few good meltdowns later, I found the Irish Club and the American Club of Brussels (I just wanted to hear someone speak English). The American Club was the only one hosting events in August, so I registered myself for the next event they hosted, the Last Friday event. On the last Friday of every month, the American Club of Brussels hosts a social event at a restaurant or bar somewhere in Brussels. It’s great for newcomers and old friends to intermingle and talk about our home of the free, land of the brave.

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The Last Friday event was held at a California-Mexican restaurant called Chez WaWa. It’s like Brussels’ answer to Chipotle (and it’s delicious). I arrived first (…again), and was welcomed by the owner of the restaurant. He showed me to the back patio, where the event was being held, and I waited as more people arrived with their BYOFs. After speaking with a couple people, I eventually found a group that I stayed with until the event ended. Everyone was incredibly nice, and I enjoyed talking to people that understood 1) English, 2) where Florida is, and 3) how much I miss peanut butter. It’s refreshing to know I’m not the only American in Brussels, because sometimes, it feels like I am. I’ll most definitely be attending another American Club event in the future.

I didn’t go to as many social gatherings as I would have liked (why does everything shut down in August? It makes no sense!), but this may just be a work in progress. I have another 10 months in Brussels. There will be more events, more people to meet, and more friendships to come. Fortunately, I feel more confident in my ability to engage people in a conversation. Before this month, I was scared to say anything to anyone. Maybe I’m too boring? I never have much to say, anyway. I don’t hold any strong opinions on politics, sports, or whatever people are interested in. Nothing exciting ever happens to me. Wait a minute… I’m living one of the most exciting years of my life! What better conversation starter is there than “I learned to surf, ran a 5K, and donated blood for the first time all this year”? I’m awesome, and it’s time other people knew that too.

Until next month,

Carol B

July Bucket List

Hello. For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Carol. For those of you who do, je m’appelle Carol.

This July, I took a big step. More like a leap of faith. At the end of May, after my second Disney attempt, I was contacted by a woman from an au pair agency. She asked if I was interested in becoming an au pair for a French family (wait for it…) in Belgium for (it gets better) a year! Naturally, I said, “I’ll think about it… yes”. After a couple Skype interviews with the family of three and the au pair agent, I had a job within 2 weeks! (Thanks GreatAuPair.com 😉 ) Officially, I will be an au pair in Brussels starting July 2!!

The family I will be staying with this next year is a French family living in Brussels, Belgium. They have an 8-year-old son who loves all things Lego, Star Wars, and airplanes. The father is a businessman and the mother is a dentist/ professional dancer. For the purpose of this blog, I’m concealing their names so they can maintain their privacy. They will now be known as Father, Mother, and Boy (so inventive, I know…) Boy and Father know English because 1) Father works with many offices around the world and 2) Boy went to an American school in Brussels for several years. Mother knows enough English to be conversational, but not a lot. I guess we can learn from each other: I’ll work on my French and she can work on her English.

June became a busy month after that. I had to get together some important documents for my work permit and permanent residence card (I’m going to be a European citizen for a year!! Woot woot!), buy anything that I might need before going abroad, and then wait. A lot of waiting… To pass the time, I visited friends from out of town, practiced packing my luggage a couple times (I had to make sure everything fit! Also, I was too excited to wait until the day before), and spent as much time with my family as I could.

The waiting did nothing for my nerves. I started creating best case and worst case scenarios in my head: is the family is as nice as they seem? Is Boy poorly behaved or not? Do I know enough French to make my way through Belgium? Will I meet some like-minded people and make friends with them? Am I ready to take care of an 8-year-old boy? Am I ready to live on my own? I’ve never been to Belgium before, so there was a lot of uncertainty and fear during the past month. All I really knew of Belgium was that it’s famous for its beer, chocolate, and waffles, it’s 6 hours ahead from Florida (Eastern time), and they speak French and Flemish. I did some research, but I wasn’t learning much. What I did find, though, was that Brussels is the home of several European governments/ agencies like the European Union, the European Council, and NATO. That made me feel a bit safer. They also have their own monarchy!

 

All I’m certain of in the coming year is I’m given two weeks holiday in December and April. During the school year, I’m tasked with picking up Boy from school, feeding him an afternoon snack, helping with homework, playing with him, and occasionally, putting him to bed. The mornings and weekends are up to me. With so much free time, I’m planning on traveling a bit (hopefully), taking some courses on writing and graphic design, and learning French (kind of important if I want to live in Belgium). Maybe I’ll take some fun classes, as well, like dancing or cooking. There are so many options! Don’t worry, I’m putting the family first; their needs come before mine. After all, they’re the reason I’m going to Europe in the first place!

As the day got closer, I began felling more emotions: excitement, nerves, fear, curiosity, sadness. The night before I left, I slept soundly. My room was empty except for two suitcases, but it still didn’t feel like I was going to be moving across the ocean to Europe. I had to keep reminding myself that it was actually happening: I’m REALLY moving to Brussels. I’m living the dream. For some reason, though, I didn’t want to let myself believe it was happening in case it all went wrong somehow. I’d rather expect the worst, but hope for the best.IMG_0925.JPG

I woke up the next morning at 4am for my 7am flight to JFK. In New York City, I spent a couple hours with Evelyn before the long-haul flight to Dublin. Luckily, I was in a row all to myself. First class at coach price. After three flights within two days and a full 24 hours of traveling, I finally landed in Brussels Airport! After spending about half an hour reporting my lost luggage (good news is it was returned with in a couple days!), I was met at the airport by the family, who displayed had a sweet “Welcome Carol” sign that Boy had made. I felt very special. I’ve never had a sign at an airport before, but I’ve always wanted one! When I got through the crowd, they greeted me as if I was already part of the family. My nerves were instantly settled.

The next two days were full of appointments and filling out paperwork for my visa. On the afternoon of the second day, I was whisked away to the French Riviera for a couple days of rest and getting to know Boy and his routines.

It’s going to be one crazy, thrilling year. I can’t wait. Send good vibes my way!

Until next time,

Carol B