Sunday, December 25, 2011

0091: Happy Birthday Jesus

Merry Christmas

"Let us ask the Lord to help us see through the superficial glitter of this season, and to discover behind it the child in the stable in Bethlehem, so as to find true joy and true light." 
 Pope Benedict XVI, December 25, 2012 ~

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

0090: Is There a Santa Claus?

Is There a Santa Claus? was the title of an editorial appearing in the September 21, 1897, edition of The (New York) Sun. The editorial, which included the famous reply "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus", has become an indelible part of popular Christmas folklore in the United States and Canada.
Dear Editor, 
I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say that there is no Santa Claus. Papa says "If you see it in the Sun, it is so." Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus? 

Your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except what they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. 

All minds, Virginia, whether they be men's or children's, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge. 

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to our life its highest beauty and joy. 

Alas! How dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. 

Not believe in Santa Claus? You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your Papa to hire men to watch all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? 

Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. 

Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that's no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders that are unseen and unseeable in the world. 

You tear apart the baby's rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, or even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernatural beauty and glory beyond. 

Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else as real and abiding. 

No Santa Claus? Thank God he lives and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, maybe 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the hearts of children. 

Written by Francis P. Church in 1897
Francis Church
Virginia O'Hanlon
(circa: 1895)

Monday, December 19, 2011

0089: Saint Nicholas - Sinterklaas - Santa Claus

Did you know that the true story of Santa Claus begins with Saint Nicholas? He was a real person who was born during the third century in the village of Patara (at the time the area was Greek but today we know it as the southern coast of Turkey). He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and thus became the model for Santa Claus, whose modern name comes from the Dutch "Sinterklaas", itself from several variations of "Saint Nickolaos". 

Nicholas' wealthy parents, who raised him to be a devout Christian, died in an epidemic while Nicholas was a teenager. Obeying Jesus' words to "sell what you own and give the money to the poor," Nicholas used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick, and the suffering. He dedicated his life to serving God and was made Bishop of Myra while still a young man. Bishop Nicholas (who had a white beard and wore a red robe and pointed hat like Santa Claus ;-) became known throughout the land for his generosity to those in need, his love for children, and his concern for sailors and ships. 

But under the Roman Emperor Diocletian, who ruthlessly persecuted Christians, Bishop Nicholas suffered for his faith, was exiled and imprisoned. He was released in AD 325, died December 6, AD 343 in Myra and was buried in his cathedral church. Fostering the growth of devotion to Nicholas is the Manna of St Nicholas (pure water which formed in his original tomb in Turkey and still forms in his present tomb in Italy, it is said to have healing powers). The anniversary of his death became a day of celebration, St. Nicholas Day, December 6th.

Widely celebrated in Europe, St. Nicholas' feast day, December 6th, kept alive the stories of his goodness and generosity. In Germany and Poland, boys dressed as bishops begged alms for the poor—and sometimes for themselves! In the Netherlands and Belgium, St. Nicholas arrived on a steamship from Spain to ride a white horse on his gift-giving rounds. December 6th is still the main day for gift giving and merrymaking in much of Europe. For example, in the Netherlands St. Nicholas is celebrated on the 5th, the eve of the day, by sharing candies, chocolate initial letters, small gifts, and riddles. Dutch children leave carrots and hay in their shoes for the saint's horse, hoping St. Nicholas will exchange them for small gifts. 

Through the centuries many stories and legends have been told of St. Nicholas' life and deeds. These stories help us understand his extraordinary character and why he is so beloved and revered as protector and helper of those in need.

Several stories tell of Nicholas and the sea. When he was young, Nicholas sought the holy by making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. There as he walked where Jesus walked, he sought to more deeply experience Jesus' life, passion, and resurrection. Returning by sea, a mighty storm threatened to wreck the ship. Nicholas calmly prayed. The terrified sailors were amazed when the wind and waves suddenly calmed, sparing them all. And so St. Nicholas is the patron of sailors and voyagers.

Other stories tell of Nicholas saving his people from famine, sparing the lives of those innocently accused, and much more. He did many kind and generous deeds in secret, expecting nothing in return. Within a century of his death he was celebrated as a saint. Today he is considered in the East as wonder, or miracle worker and in the West as patron of a great variety of persons-children, mariners, bankers, pawn-brokers, scholars, orphans, laborers, travelers, merchants, judges, paupers, marriageable maidens, students, children, sailors, victims of judicial mistakes, captives, perfumers, even thieves and murderers! He is known as the friend and protector of all in trouble or need.

Sailors, claiming St. Nicholas as patron, carried stories of his favor and protection far and wide. St. Nicholas chapels were built in many seaports. As his popularity spread during the Middle Ages, he became the patron saint of Apulia (Italy), Sicily, Greece, and Lorraine (France), and many cities in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Russia, Belgium, and the Netherlands. Following his baptism, Grand Prince Vladimir I brought St. Nicholas' stories and devotion to St. Nicholas to his homeland, Ukraine, where Nicholas became the most beloved saint. Nicholas was so widely revered that thousands of churches were named for him, including three hundred in Belgium (I visited the one in Ghent, beautiful...), thirty-four in Rome, twenty-three in the Netherlands and more than four hundred in England.

Nicholas' tomb in Myra became a popular place of pilgrimage. Because of the many wars and attacks in the region, some Christians were concerned that access to the tomb might become difficult. For both the religious and commercial advantages of a major pilgrimage site, the Italian cities of Venice and Bari vied to get the Nicholas relics. In the spring of 1087, sailors from Bari succeeded in spiriting away the bones, bringing them to Bari, a seaport on the southeast coast of Italy. An impressive church was built over St. Nicholas' crypt and many faithful journeyed to honor the saint who had rescued children, prisoners, sailors, famine victims, and many others through his compassion, generosity, and the countless miracles attributed to his intercession. The Nicholas shrine in Bari was one of medieval Europe's great pilgrimage centers and Nicholas became known as "Saint in Bari." To this day pilgrims and tourists visit Bari's great Basilica di San Nicola.
Basilica di San Nicola, Bari, Italy
Through the centuries St. Nicholas has continued to be venerated by Catholics and Orthodox and honored by Protestants. By his example of generosity to those in need, especially children, St. Nicholas continues to be a model for the compassionate life.

Simple gift-giving in early Advent has also helped preserve a Christmas Day focus on the Christ Child.

So... do I believe in Santa Claus - yes! Is Santa Claus real - yes, he WAS real... 

Monday, December 5, 2011

0088: Nome, Alaska

Nome - probably best known as the end point of the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. 
The Iditarod began in 1973 to commemorate a race against time, when sled dogs and drivers teamed up in 1925 to defeat a deadly outbreak of diphtheria in Nome. It was feared the disease would decimate Eskimo families living near the gold-rush town on Alaska's western coastline. Dog drivers drove teams 674 miles from Nenana to Nome to deliver the lifesaving serum in five days.
Source: Fox Sports March 2011

Did you know that Nome has been iced-in because of a storm? A powerful Bering Sea storm that had gusts as high as 89 miles per hour? It prevented a supply barge from getting in before winter. There are about 3,500 residents in Nome and they are crossing their fingers that a Russian tanker (owned by Russian company Rimsco) will be able to help.
This tanker, that can plow through thick ice, will attempt to deliver 1.5 million gallons of home heating fuel, gas and diesel fuel. It is certified to travel through ice 4 feet thick for long distances - it delivers fuel to communities in the Russian Far East. The plan is for it to leave Russia this week and go to S Korea, where it will be loaded with fuel, and then travel to Nome, where it should arrive by late December. 
Cabin in Nome, Alaska

These types of stories hold me at the seat of my pants as people try to work against the clock to secure their survival. As well as the people on that tanker that are brave enough to work through these dangerous solutions. It is estimated that fuel supplies will run out in 3 months if they are not able to get any delivered. Plan "B" is to have it flown in at a very high cost, not good in these trying economic times but certainly at the end of the day there is no price for saving a life... 
As my heart pours out I wonder who lives in Nome? or Siberia? or any other place that shares such harsh weather. And I wonder from the cold to hot such as Death Valley?  Places that are so exposed to the elements and the unpredictable temper of Mother Nature??

Then I laugh and think, "hey, I live in South Florida", hurricane central depending on the year... It's our way of life so is that really any different? Every year we risk hurricanes that can be horribly dangerous and that have battered the Atlantic and Gulf coasts for years. But we still chose to live here. Why? I guess it's because home is home no matter where it is located. I chose to live here because it is where I grew up and I love it. When we get battered we clean up and pick up the pieces as best we can and move on. 
Where we are born is not our choice but where we live is and as a person that chooses to live in a hurricane zone, my prayers go out to the people of Nome - God protect your home. I also pray for the S Koreans and the Russians that are helping save lives. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

0087: Winter Pictures - Siberia, Russia

I live in South Florida, a place where winters can be considered a joke because if we go below 50 F (10 C) it is rare and everyone starts dressing like we live in Siberia - it's really quite hysterical :-)

So when I began seeing significant snow and frozen lake pictures on Instagram I was once again reminded of how different our lives are despite sharing this wonderful Earth... Some of the pictures I've seen are amazing so I thought I'd write about winter beauty starting with Siberia, Russia!! A place so foreign and mysterious to most of us, but a place that I always associate with untouched beauty. 

Did you know that Siberia (possibly from the Mongolian for "the calm land") is a vast region of Russia and northern Kazakhstan constituting almost all of northern Asia. All but the extreme south-western area of Siberia lies in Russia, and it makes up about 75% of that country's territory. Siberia remained a mostly unexplored and uninhabited area for the longest time. By the mid-17th century, only a few exploratory missions and traders inhabited Siberia. The other group that were sent to Siberia were prisoners exiled from western Russia. The first great change to Siberia was the Trans-Siberian railway, constructed in 1891 - 1905. It linked Siberia more closely to the rapidly-industrializing Russia of Nicholas II. Siberia is filled with natural resources and during the 20th century these were developed, and industrial towns cropped up throughout the region.

Here are just a few pictures to remind us all of the force of nature as well as the adaptability of people.
Siberia’s Lake Baikal is the deepest lake in the world—at over a mile (1,700 meters)—and holds an incredible 20 percent of Earth’s unfrozen fresh water. Formed some 25 million years ago, it’s also the world’s oldest lake. Because of its age and isolation, hundreds of aquatic species evolved here that are found nowhere else on the planet.
Photograph by Alexander Nemenov/AFP/Getty Images
Winter wonderland. (Tobolsk, Russia) Ru.Su Photography

In the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk members of a winter swimmers club get out of the Yenisei River after a short swim with air temperature measuring about -36C (-32.8F). Can you believe this? Amazing!!!

Just thought this was great. It is from The caption reads, "When it is -60 F (-50 C) outside, the car windows never get rid of the ice and snow. Even when the heater is on to its maximum." So funny!!

So I guess the next time you think its cold, its all relative!! Stay warm!! 

30-Day challenge Update - SUCCESS!!! Yesterday, day 8, I did all three!! I blogged, I drew and I biked (2.5 miles). Today I have just blogged so only two to go - not sure but can it be?? two days in a row :-) we will see!!!

Friday, December 2, 2011

0086: Easy Recipes: Morton's Chopped Salad

Yep, from Morton's Steakhouse - Truly easy and delicious!

Dijon Vinaigrette Dressing - ONLY 5 INGREDIENTS - love it!!  

2/3 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup of water 
1/2 cup dijon mustard
Good Season Italian dressing mix (2 packets)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Just whisk everything together and VOILA - deliciousness :-) You should try to let the dressing sit for a few minutes to let the flavors blend. (The dressing will last in the refrigerator for 7 days.) 

This is definitely one of my staple recipes - of only a handful... The salad done in its entirety is amazing and definitely impressive (or maybe just because I don't cook people get easily impressed when I bring something that has more than a couple ingredients :-) But anyway, if I know I have picky eaters then I will keep the onions, bacon and tomatoes (my niece still hates tomatoes) on the side and let people add these, if they'd like to. So, my left over salad dressing is my true joy. For someone that rarely has homemade items in the kitchen it is almost a little luxury and one that I have made myself just makes it that much yummier. 

Long after the party, I can have just some simple iceberg lettuce and maybe some tomatoes and this dressing and I am a happy camper! The following is the full recipe:

Salad Mix

  • medium head iceberg lettuce, washed and dried
  • medium head romaine lettuce, washed and dried
  • 10 -12 frozen artichoke hearts (in brine, not marinated, about 12 ounces drained) or 10 -12 canned artichoke hearts (in brine, not marinated, about 12 ounces drained)
  • cup hearts of palm  (about 12 ounces drained)
  • 1 avocado
  • ounces blue cheese, such as Saga, Maytag (1 cup) or ounces gorgonzola, crumbled (1 cup)
  • 12 -14 slices cooked bacon, slices (crumbled, crisp-cooked bacon strips or equivalent amount of crisp real-bacon bits)
  • 3/4 cup chopped hard-cooked egg (about 2 large eggs)
  • 3/4 cup finely minced red onion
  • 3/4 cup seeded chopped plum tomato

Basically chop everything, put it into a salad bowl, add about 2/3 cup of the dressing and toss. This should serve about 6-8 people. So delicious, I am going to go make some now!

Read more:

30-Day Challenge Update - Yesterday, day 7, I was a mess, didn't do any one of my three simple tasks (Blog-Bike-Draw) but I did run 5 miles - yeah, not on the list I know... BUT day 6 I legitimately did ALL three items :-) so today, Day 8, I am definitely hoping to hit a home run again - I've already drawn and here is my blog... although very rare to hit all three, it is possible, I've done it twice in 8 days!!! 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

0085: Persistence

So I'll admit, yesterday's blog was pretty weak - I just got desperate to say I was somewhat on track with this 30-day challenge (bike, blog and draw daily). BUT today is different... I'm re-focused... Today is Day 6 and I have gone on a 7-mile bike ride... here are a couple of pictures from this morning's ride:

My beach, Ft Lauderdale - a perfect bike route!!
It is a gorgeous day today!!
This was a shot from a bridge I had to bike over... I was definitely feeling the burn!!
So one down - and I am blogging now so all I have to really do is draw which I know I can do later... so close! This would be my second day (of 6) that I do all three!!

Although I haven't been doing so well on my challenge I don't give up easily (in case you hadn't noticed, I don't focus easily either :-). And having to report out that I haven't done these easy tasks is a bit embarrassing so that will hopefully get me motivated. We shall see...

0084: 30 Day Challenge - an update

Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

And so this quote helps me maintain hope that I will pick up on my daily challenges: blog, bike and draw...

Yesterday I drew but didn't blog or bike. Today I drew, am blogging but no biking... Tomorrow I hope to do all 3. I need to shift priorities a bit. Wish me luck!!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

0083: Artistic Collaborations

My niece and I have recently begun "collaborating" as "artists at heart". We literally draw something, and challenge the other to draw the next step and before you know it we have a piece of "art" :-) Right now we are primarily using an iPad app called Art Set, it's perfect for us novice artists... so I thought I'd share the couple of pieces we have done so far...

I simply love this one because it was our first and it has so many things we have shared together: piglet (from our love of all things Pooh related), sweaters (we live in S. Florida and live for cool weather days), we love stripes, we love cupcakes (any sweets really...), Willy Wonka (yep, those are Johnny Depp's sunglasses), Picasso's dog (appreciating the simplicity that art can represent), a French beret (we are in love with Paris)... To have no idea what the theme or outcome will be is also cool, to give up control of what will be the result is good practice as it keeps us open minded and to both be satisfied with what we've created together is, as they say, "PRICELESS!!!
Today's sketch - our starting point was the eye, our last step was giving the girl a painting
to hang on her wall - yes, our first painting :-) that was my niece's idea - brilliant!!! 

30 Day Challenge Update - DAY 3 - I just blogged, I drew but no bike ride today... but yesterday, DAY 2, I blogged, did 7 miles on my bike and drew (barely but did play around with colors). So, I may not be there yet but I certainly am feeling optimistic :-)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

0082: Holiday Shopping Etiquette

NY Macy's on Black Friday
Picture: Reuters/Eric Thayer
So, I didn't participate in Black Friday and as I read and watched the news this morning I'm shocked at how some people lost all civility. It's probably more sad than shocking if we were to understand what drove some of these people to do what they did - not that it makes their behavior right... For all my non-American friends, I'd like to point out that this is a very small group of people considering about 130 million people shop on Black Friday. For millions of people it was fun, exciting and non-violent... the news just likes to highlight the bad... And on another really good note, I didn't leave Black Friday behind empty-handed - one of my brothers went and scored me a Play Station 3 :-) like I always say, my brothers are simply THE BEST! 

So, with all the madness of yesterday I thought it might be good to research and post a holiday shopping etiquette list. Almost a reminder of how to deal with the madness if it comes into your world (or avoid it if you feel that madness bubbling up inside :-) And to my delight a very good list has already been published so why mess with it. It was posted by Emily Post (an amazing site for all things etiquette related). Without further adieu:

10 Ways to keep those holiday shopping spirits bright:

  1. Smile – You can’t do it enough. Your face (and your soul) will thank you for it.
  2. Lose the ‘Bah Humbug!’ attitude. Yes, it will be crowded and there will be lines and it will take time to find a parking spot. Don’t let that dampen the season’s joie de vivre.
  3. “Please, Thank You and You’re Welcome.” Make this your mantra and you will smooth the way for better service and create a kinder, gentler atmosphere wherever you go.
  4. Be gracious. You have circled the lot for the fifth time when you spy a space, only to see that someone else is already waiting for it. Be gracious - let them have the space.
  5. A little patience, please. Checkout counter or airline counter, the rules are the same: first come, first served, one at a time. (This is a great place to practice your smiling.) When it is your turn, be ready with documents or payment to speed things along.
  6. Friendliness. Say ‘hello’ to the harried clerk behind the counter (and smile).
  7. Complain to the proper person. Yelling at a salesclerk because a store is out of an advertised item only makes you look foolish and rude. If you have a problem, ask to speak to the manager. Frame your complaint clearly and simply. (No venting, please.)
  8. Cell phones: They’re useful when trying to find out your Aunt Mary’s glove size, but turn them off when you are working with a sales clerk or checking out at a register.
  9. Shopping with children: Sensory overload is the word of the day: the music, the crowds, the lights, the toys, the Santas! It’s best to arrange to leave your children home. If they must accompany you, or when it is their turn to shop, make sure they are well-rested and fed – kinder to them and to those around them
  10. Don’t forget the lights—traffic lights that is! Please stop at the red ones and use your turn signals to alert other harried, distracted shoppers to your directional intentions.
    Side note - as I woke up this morning I thought to myself, "today is day 2 of my 30-day challenge" in which I have 3 things to do every day (bike, blog and draw). Day 1 (yesterday) I only blogged and didn't bike or draw - I know, how weak is my focus??? But my rose colored glasses are still on so Day 2 (today) WILL be better. I am already blogging and I have arranged for a bike ride later and will draw something at some point. Wish me luck :-)

Friday, November 25, 2011

0081: A 30-Day Challenge

So I am thinking of taking on a 30-day challenge. It is an interesting concept I heard about on (Matt Cutts: Try Something new for 30 days). Its only 30 days, how bad can it be? My challenge - to myself - (today through December 24th) will include 1. Biking around town, 2. Daily blogging, and 3. Drawing. Seems achievable right? The intent is that I will do these things everyday for 30 days. 

I've always wanted to bike more; I even got a bike satchel while I was in Belgium - because in my heart I was determined to bike more. I've only been biking twice since November 14... I know, not enough but these next 30 days will hopefully help me form new, positive habits :-)

Blogging - I've just been so absent with my vacations but this should get me back on track. The funny thing is that I love to do it but it's so easy to get distracted...

Drawing - I've always had an interest and have recently begun sketching and drawing - on paper and on my iPad. But I never seem to do enough of it so I hope I can stick to this one.

My bike sketch...
We will see, no expectations, just fun for 30 days... wish me luck and let me know if you will be doing a challenge - I can always use a partner in crime...

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

0080: Be Thankful Thanksgiving Poem

Wishing you and yours a happy and safe holiday!!
So, I've been crazy hectic since I returned from Belgium and it seems like I blinked and Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I'm not complaining but time flies so fast!!! And what a wonderful holiday - to make our country come pretty much to a standstill to allow us to breathe again and give thanks for all we have - I love it, and as a foodie, I really love it!! My mom's turkey is the best I have ever had (moist and seasoned all the way through) and one of my brothers is making roast pork ("lechon" style which is AMAZING) with those as some of our anchors everything else is truly gravy!!! (BTW, I am making my pecan pie and the Morton's chopped salad, just to keep up appearances that I am progressing in my culinary education :-) But really I've only continued to progress in my culinary consumption!! ok ok so I digress... Here is a lovely poem to get us inspired and maybe even to read at the table? Enjoy...

Be thankful that you don't already have everything you desire.
If you did, what would there be to look forward to?

Be thankful when you don't know something,
for it gives you the opportunity to learn.

Be thankful for the difficult times.
During those times you grow.

Be thankful for your limitations,
because they give you opportunities for improvement.

Be thankful for each new challenge,
because it will build your strength and character.

Be thankful for your mistakes.
They will teach you valuable lessons.

Be thankful when you're tired and weary,
because it means you've made a difference.

It's easy to be thankful for the good things.
A life of rich fulfilment comes to those who
are also thankful for the setbacks.

Gratitude can turn a negative into a positive.
Find a way to be thankful for your troubles,

and they can become your blessings.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

0079: Brussels, Belgium

I am not sure if I've mentioned it before but I am one lucky chick!!! I'm headed to one of my life must-dos: a premier Chocolate Festival....

This adventure starts Monday, November 7th and will take place in Belgium. I am flying into Brussels, then going to check out Ghent then onto Bruges for the Choco-Late Festival (November 11 - 13). I figured I needed to do a bit of homework on each city so why not share it with you? So I start with Brussels whose origin lies on an island in the river Senne around 580...

10 Things I Probably Want to Know About Brussels Before I Get There

1. How far north is it exactly? And yes, it will be chilly... so I get to wear my wonderful winter gear that barely gets used here in South Florida!

2. What's the primary language? French 80% and Dutch (Flemish) 20%. But English is widely spoken because of the many international institutions based there such as NATO, European Commission and the European Parliament. Some consider Brussels something of a capital for the European Union - of course I just consider it the capital of the chocolate world... 

3. Is there a Metro? Yes, duh!!

4. What is a must-see landmark? The Menneken Pis (literally Little Pee Man) dating back to about 1618. A few interesting facts about this little guy... he is dressed in costume several times a week. On occasion he is hooked up to a keg and people can fill their cups with beer as they pass by. He has been repeatedly stolen; the current statue is a copy from 1965. The original is at the Grand Place. This tells me that this country has one heck of a sense of humor!!

5. What's the beverage of choice? BEER - ummm, I don't really like beer. BUT when in Rome... and Belgium's brewing methods date back to the Middle Ages!!!! I can start with the Trappist beer (it was originally made exclusively for monks and Westmalle is dark and sweet)... and they do have over 800 kinds of beer so I have to like at least one or two of them.
The seven Trappist beers (2009, Wikipedia)
6. What must I eat? Before we get to the chocolate.... Belgium food is described as French quality with German quantities - I'm thinking creamy and hearty so I am going to have to seriously run hard because there is no way I am not going to try these foods!!! Aside from some interesting local dishes - that I can't pronounce - I'm glad to see that waffles, speculaas (cookies from Dandoy's) and french fries (from Fritland's or Haute Frituur) are also very popular throughout... OMG, I'm already gaining weight and haven't even gotten to the chocolate!!!

7. Which are the must-try chocolates? Hard to say... "they" say that the best pralines and truffles are hand-made in small rural villages. I will have to try to find hand-made places and try several - of course so I can report back to you all :-) But when in doubt, Belgium is the home of Godiva, Neuhaus, Leonides and Guylian so I will never be at a loss for great chocolate...

8. A must-do for chocolate addicts - the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate and a stop at Pierre Marcolini - tres tres bon!! 

I'm hearing a choir of angels!!!!
Pierre Marcolini
9. Grand Place/Grote Markt - a UNESCO site - is the central square of Brussels - was voted the most beautiful square in Europe in 2010.

10. St Gudule and St Michael's Cathedral - Dates back to 1047 - The patron saints of the church, archangel St Michael and the martyr St Gudula, are also the patron saints of the city of Brussels. 

Definitely looks like a close relative of Notre Dame in Paris...