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Life in Tokyo and Brussels

Week 443 – January 31, 2016

Life Posted on Tue, February 02, 2016 18:37:23

A new running challenge has been booked and it will most probably also define where and when we will be spending our summer holiday.

Earlier this evening I registered (together with Peter) for a 31 km run in Switzerland. The run will take us from Sierre to Zinal and make us climb 2200m and descend 800m. We registered in the “Elite” class which allows us to start at 9h30 (and not an an impossible 5h30am for the Tourist class) but also requires us to finish the run in less than 5h30. This time-limit would be no issue at all for a normal 31km (doable in well under 2h30). But now we will have to run in the mountains and to be honest, we have no clue as to how long we will actually need.

The run is on Sunday August 14. As a consequence we will most likely be spending a week or 2 in the area (Italian Dolomiti?). Now that the run is booked, we can start planning the holiday as well.

In checking the details of the course I noticed that the run will take us past the Weisshorn hotel. I know this mountain hotel from an epic langlaufing trip I did with my father many years ago (see Week 291 for all the details). So the run will be a trip down memory lane as well.

We had another relatively quiet and family oriented weekend with a visit to the swimming pool, a birthday playdate for Alex with friends from school, a 15km run in the forest (with Alex accompanying me on the bike) and a lot of time at home spent playing, reading and watching movies.

On Friday evening we had Lave (a friend from Alex’ class) for a sleep-over. It’s nice to see how the kids play together and also how Alex and Lave were constantly discussing and trying to impress the other with knowledge about stuff they saw on TV (be it about animals or stuff about to happen in animation series).

With us spending lots of time at home there are again no pictures this week.

Week 442 – January 24, 2016

Life Posted on Mon, January 25, 2016 19:40:23

We just completed our 15th Yoga session, so we are halfway the 30-day challenge. We are about 5 sessions behind schedule, meaning that we “only” missed those 5 days out of the plan since the beginning of the year.

Not too bad if you consider that we also have to take care of work, the kids, the house and each other from time to time 😉

Last weekend was a very busy one, so we had decided to make this one more quiet and also more centered just around us. And that is exactly what we did. We did not meet with anyone and spent a lot of time inside the house. But the Smeyers-Pascuzzi family can not sit still for 100% so this morning we went for a Sunday morning stroll in the Marollen in Brussels. This is a neighborhood known for it’s authentic Brussels’ feeling and also for his daily antiques market and many decoration shops. When we just moved in together we spent many Sundays there going through all the shops looking for inspiration and furniture. The past couple of years we somewhat forgot about the area and headed back today to discover that it did not change a lot. There are some changes to the shops, but the feeling is still the same. The Spanish Community is still very present with a couple of cafes and a new (at least for us) Tapas bar where we had lunch. The place was similar to Tapas bars in Spain, but the big difference was that here everybody was seated at tables to enjoy a drink and a couple of tapas whereas in Spain people tend to enjoy all this standing in front of the bar.

We are all suffering still from a cold and so also this week my running was a bit slower. Hope to start feeling better soon to hit the (forest) road again.

There are no pictures this week.

Week 441 – January 17, 2015

Life Posted on Thu, January 21, 2016 18:34:38

WOW, snow can be really beautiful.

This week winter really arrived with some snow all over the country. As a result the south-eastern part of Belgium (with peaks up to 694m) had around 25cm of snow and thus attracted lots of people this weekend, including us.

We went, together with my parents and Jules (more about him below) to Elsenborn on Sunday morning leaving just before 8am from home. This made us arrive before 10am and before the big crowds joined. We spent the day making a nice walk in a snow-covered forest and with the sledge.

Marina is not a big fan of the cold and the snow, but she had to admit that it was beautiful. The kids enjoyed the sledge-rides and the snow a lot.

We left the snow around 2pm since we had arranged with Peter and Inge to meet at their place at 5pm for dinner for the birthday of Mats (my godson), the birthday of Inge and XMAS. It was a pity we had to leave so early but it helped in getting out of the area before the big crowds hit the road.

As I mentioned before, Jules joined us this weekend. Jules is a doll from Matías’ school.Every weekend one of the kids gets to take Jules home and take care of him. At the end of the weekends the parents are asked to write down a little report of what Jules did in the weekend such that the kids can then talk about it on Monday.

4 Years ago we already had Jules staying over with Alex. And Jules asked us o go to the same eating places as last time: the Cafe de la Presse for a croissant and kokuban for Noodles at lunch. Jules behaved very well and so we took him with us to the snow on Sunday.

Matías is not behaving so good lately. He is very stubborn, shouts a lot, punches on the table whenever he does not agree and resorts to crying a lot. Marina and I decided to be a bit more strict and more coordinated in our actions towards him for the coming days and week in an attempt to get him behave a bit better. Now, at many times he is an angel and a really nice, talkative and joyful boy. But there are moments where he is a bit more difficult. he will be seeing the “corner” a bit more than usual…

With the cold weather in Belgium all of us are suffering a bit from coughs and running noses. Butthis does not stop us from continuing with the Yoga sessions. I must be honest and confess we did not do it every day, but we still do it most days and still enjoy it.

The running this week was low. With the cold, the long working days, the tiredness it’s a bit difficult right now to find the motivation. hope this changes quickly.

The pictures of the week are here.

Week 340 – January 10, 2016

Life Posted on Tue, January 12, 2016 04:29:57

I found a solution to the riddle of last week. Did you?

2016 = (((((10-9)+(8*7)-(5-4))*6)*3))*2/1

At work I fell immediately back into long working days. Many actions are needed to define the activities and strategy for 2016 and that has kept me very busy and is likely to keep me buys for a couple of weeks more.

Because of this I arrived a bit late at Peter and Inge’s place on Tuesday this week. I wanted to arrive around 18h30/19h in order to be able to spend some time with Mats, Lien, Peter and Inge. I arrived only around 19h45 and this caused the kids to end up in bed a bit too late. Mats, my godson, had prepared a nice little XMAS card for me and learned a little text as well. he was a bit nervous and missed part of the text, but he did it with lots of enthusiasm.

Next week Sunday we will have a full-family gathering with them and will have a more relaxed time to be and play together.

On Saturday Alex had a birthday party at a bowling place. The bowling lane suffered a bit from the ball throwing of the kids, but they had great fun. While Alex was bowling, I went for a run and Marina took Matías to a classical music concert where the kids got the opportunity to touch the instruments and play on them. Originally this concert was planned last year and we had planned to go all together but the concert got cancelled due to the terror threat. And because of the birthday party, Alex could not go anymore so we invited Zoe (a British friend from Matías’ class) and her mother to join.

Today we had a relaxing day at home with a visit to the market this morning and a 1h30 run for me accompanied by Alex on his bike.

Marina and I are keeping up with the daily Yoga sessions. So that;s good.

There are no pictures this week.

Week 339 – January 3, 2016

Life Posted on Thu, January 07, 2016 04:36:25

Happy New Year!!!

Let me start with a little (mathematical) riddle that will keep you busy for some time.

How can you make 2016 with using the following numbers only once (using them all): 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

You can use as many +, -, /, *,( and ) as you like. I’ll spend some time the coming days to try and find a solution myself.

2016 has now started and as I do every year, this is the time to review the good resolutions of last year and make plans for 2016 as well.

In 2015 I completed all of my running related objectives:

– I improved my time on the 10 miles to 1h08’36 (90s faster)

– I improved my time on the marathon (in Berlin) to 3h19’31” (10 min faster)

– I completed the run of the entire Belgian coast together with Peter (with a total of 60,6km)

– I went running more regularly at lunch-time at work

I also managed to eat better at work (eating actual meals and not vending machine calorie bombs) and went to see a dietitian to get some healthy eating tips and am following these more or less correctly.

The weekly blogs are also still part of my weekly routine and I have managed to read many good books this year again. And even though we still watch some TV at night (with some trash-TV from time to time I must admit), the amount of hours spent in front of the TV is rather limited.

Over the whole year, the work-life balance has been OK I would say in 2015. Only at the end of 2015 did the stress-levels increase a bit too much. But with the quiet XMAS period I hope 2016 will be better…

The one resolution that I did not make any progress on is the one related to buying a new apartment. Even though I managed to organise my financial investments a bit better this year, and even though I am still reviewing the investments at least once per month, I did not make move forward on the apartment.

I will thus keep that last resolution as one for 2016 as well and next to this I:

– want to keep on running regularly but also work on my general condition, core strength and flexibility

– am not setting any concrete time improvement targets (but improving the 10miles, 20km and marathons times would still be nice); what I do want to do is run a nice nature trail of over 30km in the mountains (real mountains, not the hills in Belgium). The Sierre-Zinal run in Switzerland is a likely candidate.

– keep up the good eating habits and work-life balance

– buy that apartment

– would like to learn something new this year (I have not made up my mind yet but i would like to be able to do something at the end of the year I can not today. This should not be work related but something like playing a new instrument, be able to draw, acquire a new skill, …. More on this later once I decided what it will be)

This week I enjoyed some further holidays with the kids. Unfortunately, Marina has to work on until Thursday afternoon. I went a couple of times to the pool with the kids (Matías is really not afraid of the water and is starting to be able to swim independently under water; I obviously stay close to allow him to hold on to me as soon as he needs to breath; but he loves to throw himself into the deep water and “swim” to me). We also went for a couple of walks, played games at home and enjoyed the time together. It was a very relaxing holiday for me without any real interruptions from work.

One of the pools we went to is the pool of Overijse. Overijse is one of the cities south of Brussels that officially is part of Flanders but since it is south of Brussels and thus geographically closer to Wallonia than Flanders, many people living there are French speaking. And thus the Flemish government makes sure to make it clear that it is part of Flanders. They do this by displaying a lot of Flemish flags (yellow with the black lion), have all information in the city only available in Flemish and by stating at all the access routes to the city that Overijse is “Vlaams – Groen – Gastvrij” (Flemish, Green and Hospitable). To be honest i find it all a bit aggressive; but that is Belgian politics in action.

In the pool most of the people we heard were speaking anything but Flemish. We heard English, German, Spanish, French and from time to time some Flemish. The pool however is a nice one with a nice glass dome and a big rapid that Alex has spent most of the time in.

On Thursday we then celebrated New Year. We did it at home and rather quietly. Natalia, who is the godmother of Matías, joined us and brought some very nice things for all of us: an Indian feather head-dress for Alex; a knight armor for Matías, and nice champagne, snails, bulots and octopus for us.

The Indian feathers inspired us for a little YMCA dance in the living room using YouTube as our guide…

The kids stayed awake until after midnight and could enjoy some of the fireworks that took place in the street. Compared to Buenos Aires the amount of fireworks was very limited. The official Brussels City firework was cancelled because of the terror level that still is not fully back to normal; and the government did not want to take any chances. In Antwerp however the firework did take place and (of course) went fine. We watched part of it on TV. By 1am we were all sleeping.

On Saturday we then celebrated a bit more for my mother’s 67th birthday.

With the new year starting and Marina and I both having some exercising related resolutions we started a 30 day Yoga training via YouTube on Jan 1st. We have now successfully completed the first 3. I hope we will keep up the good habit, because last year we started a 30 day challenge as well but stopped after a week or so. There thus is some ample room for improvement…

Pictures of this week are here.

Week 338 – December 28, 2015

Life Posted on Tue, December 29, 2015 23:04:22

For Marina’s birthday we headed to Aachen today and it felt as if we spent an early spring day there. There was lots of sun and temperatures of about 14 degrees! So plenty of people were sitting outside on terraces having a drink and Alex and Matías even enjoyed an ice-cream in the afternoon sun. Not at all the weather you associate with the XMAS period.

This morning however when we woke up in the Val d’Arimont resort close to Malmedy (eastern part of Belgium) the temperature was just above freezing and it took some time to get all the ice off the car windows. So there is a touch of winter, but later in the day it was very far away…

On Saturday we already headed to Aachen, but had to return immediately since we did not know that the 26th of December is a Public Holiday in Aachen, so all shops were closed and the city was kind of dead.

We spent the last 4 days in a little cottage in a valley with a little stream close to Malmedy together with my parents.On Thursday we celebrated XMAS with lots of food and plenty of presents at our place. And as I suspected some Star Wars items found their way to the kids.

For Marina i bought a Kindle ebook reader. For years I told her she should get one, and this year I decided to get one for her XMAS and birthday present. She spent many hours since receiving it reading (and finishing) the first book I did put on it: The Girl on the train by Paula Hawkins.

My parents then stayed the night to leave together with us to the Ardennes. Unfortunately my mother woke up with fever, so they stayed a day longer in our place and joined us only on Saturday. When they arrived at the cottage they confessed that while being in our place they indulged in some Binge-watching of The Killing series on Netflix. Netflix is a service on the internet where you can watch movies and series as much as you want for just 9,9EUR per month. We have the service available through our TV subscription. And since you can watch as much as you want many people, including my parents, spend hours watching all episodes of a particular series in one go. They spent around 11h watching the killing 😉

In Malmedy we spent the time making nice little walks, swimming (in the indoor pool) and just relaxing.

We also played a couple of games of Quarto, a very nice and challenging board game with a variation on the Four-in-a-row. The idea behind the game is very simple, yet the game play itself is challenging. I am surprised the game was only designed a couple of years ago. But it has won many prices since. And if you like board games, this one should be part of your collection.

While in the Ardennes I only managed to go out once for a run and did it on Saturday night between 8 and 9 in the pitch-dark. But with my headlamp i still managed to run the 10km on a bike-track between the cottage and the little village of Waimes. The bike-track is part of the Ravel bike-track circuits that are available all over the southern part of Belgium.

Tomorrow marina will be going back to work. i will stay home with the kids for the rest of the week.

At work things are quiet for the moment. Last year the XMAS period was very hectic with many customer issues. This year, I have not yet received a single call. Much better if you ask me. 😉

The pictures of this week are here.

Week 337 – December 20, 2015

Life Posted on Tue, December 22, 2015 05:18:56

Since my maternal grandmother died now 8 years ago I have not been in Izegem (my mother’s birth place) a lot anymore. So when I had to be in Izegem on Wednesday for a meeting with a supplier from work I used the opportunity to make a quick stop at the cemetery to go and visit the grave of my both grandparents.

The meeting with the supplier took a bit longer than planned so i only had a couple of minutes time before heading to work for another meeting. My detour to the cemetery made me arrive late for that meeting, but I really did not want to loose the opportunity of the visit. I’m happy i could make it.

This week has been a pretty busy week in general. We are approaching the end of the year, so there are many end-of year deadlines and XMAS drinks and dinners to attend to. So I went to bed late every night. Marina too did have some celebrations as well. On Thursday I also organised an XMAS bowling and dinner for my team at work. We ended up with 67 participants enjoying some all-you-can-eat fondue and 2 games of bowling. A good way to celebrate the achievements of the year, to say thank you to my team and to spend some time in a relaxed atmosphere.

This relaxed atmosphere was gone on Friday night when I spent almost 3h (starting at 11pm) on the phone because of some customer escalation. The year-end stress and the lack of sleep this week make that I feel tired both mentally and physically. The holiday break between XMAS and New-year will be very welcome at the Smeyers-Pascuzzi family.

Matías and Alex too are a bit tired at the start of their XMAS holiday. For Alex this translated in some remarks from his teacher in his mid-year review. All in all the report was very good and Alex scored above average on the vast majority of topics. But some recent tests went a bit less good, mainly driven by tiredness. The teacher noted it as follows: “During the resent test-period i was sometimes surprised. I expected better from time to time. But you have been ill and I assume you are very tired. So probably it will go better after the holidays. In any case I will follow you up closely and let you practice a bit more if needed. You can practice a bit during the holidays, but most importantly you should rest and get some fresh energy. I wish you a good holiday.“.

The (sleep)recovery of the kids already started this weekend. Whenever we spent more than 15min in the car Matías fell asleep, and after a day of enjoying the outdoors in Sijsele today, Alex too fell sound asleep on the way back home.

They will spend the next 4 days at my parents place until our holidays will also start. This will give them some more time to rest (and a bit less for my parents 😉 ). Marina and I will use our kids-free status the next couple of days to go for a tête-à-tête diner and a visit to latest Star-Wars movie. Alex already saw the movie on Wednesday. He was invited by Arthur, his friend from school, together with a couple of other kids. I do not think the movie is really for kids, but Alex has already seen all of the Star-Wars movies and is fond of them. He has this love for Star Wars from his mother. Marina too has seen all movies when she was a kid. I for some reason do not really like the movies, but I do love all of the Lego Star-Wars toys of Alex… I read somewhere today that since 1977, when the first star wars movie was screened, more than 30 billion USD worth of merchandising has been sold from the Star Wars franchise. A little part of that stands in our home.

Marina did not join us to Sijsele today since she had to complete some XMAS shopping for the family. I would not be surprised to see some more Star Wars themed stuff make it into our home. But more about that next week.

Week 336 – December 13, 2015

Life Posted on Mon, December 14, 2015 05:59:40

Right after Sinterklaas we jumped (together with the rest of the country) into the XMAS feeling. We installed our XMAS tree and decorations and ordered our XMAS greeting cards on-line (you can expect one in your mailbox in the coming weeks).

Unfortunately Matías has been ill most of this week. he had a bad cough and some light fever. So we kept him home most of the week. As always we were lucky that my parents (and on Friday my brother) jumped in to help us out. After almost a week inside, he is fully recovered and ready for school tomorrow.

There’s no change in the terror alarm levels, but since everybody gets used to it life goes on (luckily) as if nothing happened. The XMAS period also brings plenty of XMAS markets everywhere. And there too, luckily, things go as they should.

Marina could enjoy one of these markets today in Antwerp while I stayed home with the kids. Marina did not go on her own, she willingly acted as a tourist guide for Javier and Carine. Javier is the godson of Abuela Eva (he is the son of an ex cleaning lady of Eva and Daniel and they build a friendship relation over time). Javier and Carine arrived on Thursday in Belgium and they will spend a whole month touring Europe. After visiting Brussels and Bruges on their own. Marina took them on some more Brussels visiting yesterday and Antwerp today. They also spent some time at our place. I scored some good points while they visited since I did the cooking both on Saturday noon and evening. And for dinner I prepared them some Carbonnades a la Flamande. Now I must admit that during the week it is always Marina who cooks. But in the weekend i take over from time to time, and so too this weekend. It seems they liked my basic recipe:

1kg of beef cut into squares of 3cm
1 big onion cut in small pieces
1l of dark brown beer
salt and pepper

cook the meat in a little oil on a high fire until nicely brown on all sides adding the salt and pepper.
cook the onion until golden brown
put everything together into a big pot and add the beer (make sure to add all the sticky bits from the pans in which you cooked the meat, this adds to the taste). Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for an hour or two. This will turn the meat all soft
At the end you can add some flour to thicken the sauce.

Serve with French Fries

This week there’s only a picture of our XMAS tree and a picture of Alex and Matías together on the sofa while Alex reads a story to his brother.

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