Friday, December 29, 2006

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas shopping marathon

Yesterday my pregnant friend the amazing M. & I spent the entire day Christmas shopping. We bought food & drinks for a week, and all the Christmas presents. This took the entire day; frantic shopping interrupted now and then by my pregnant friend who either had to go to the bathroom or eat (or actually most of the time; both). At the end of the day we were both exhausted, but DONE. I’m ready for Christmas!

By Lovain

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

24 hour stomach flu

Sunday night, or rather Monday morning, at 2 am, I woke up because I felt sick. I went to the bathroom and threw up, cleaned myself up a bit, wondering where that one came from, and was trying to go back to sleep when the youngest one sat up in bed and threw up. This was the beginning of a violent 24 hour stomach episode involving both of us.

Today I’m back at work however still very reserved when it comes to food. Yesterday I had a couple of yogurts and fruits; this was all I could stomach, while the youngest one, 3 ½ years old, felt remarkably better and spent the day asking for food. (Children are amazing!) First I gave him a yogurt and told him to eat it slowly. He finished it and asked for more. I gave him dry toast, then toast with butter & jam, and then tea, apple, banana, grape fruit, noodles, more toast, more yogurt, rice with chicken, egg rolls and eventually he finished off the day with crackers & cheese; all generous portions. Those 3 lost pounds were quickly regained, I’m sure. Today he was as good as new, excited about the birthday party at Broekveld this afternoon. A boy in the oldest one’s class is turning 5 and the youngest one is invited as well; imagine his joy.

By Lovain

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The most wonderful time of the year

This time of the year is my very favorite here in Leuven; the town is beautifully decorated with Christmas lights & banners, a live-sized Christmas crib on the main square, 2 huge Christmas trees around the main church and the town hall who’s windows are decorated with thousands of lights, a Christmas tree outside every store, beautiful window displays, not to mention the house decorations. Then, there’s the Christmas market. It’s only in town for less than a week, but all the little stands selling beautiful crafts, accompanied by food stands offering seasonal treats such as Bratwurst, Bacon kabobs, sugar pancakes and hot mulled wine, make my eyes tear from joy. There’s Christmas music coming from speakers, people are happy and children excited, and Santa Claus is there to listen to their whispers revealing their Christmas wishes. It's all beautiful!

By Lovain

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Matching Mr. Speedo with my florescent vest

Since I take the boys to school through busy morning traffic every day, and the Belgian winter mornings are quite dark, in addition to putting extra lights on my bike & the kids’ cart, I’ve started wearing a florescent vest over my coat for safety. I’ve noticed other concerned parents carrying the same attire, and that it’s very visible. It makes me feel safer; however it’s not exactly beauty-enhancing. Mr. Speedo could certainly relate this morning when he saw me (see post from Monday, November 06, 2006 "My friend Mr. Speedo").

By Lovain

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Christmas shopping dilemma: a privilege

All that my oldest son wants for Christmas is a Transformer, and not just any Transformer; he wants the Transformers Cybertron Leader - Optimus Prime, seen by him only on a collection poster acquired in Sweden about ½ year ago. (The mind & memory of a 5-year old is indeed amazing.) This fantastic toy is available - as far as we’ve managed to find out – on special order only from the US, the UK or Germany for about 95€ (cheaper via Amazon in the UK but then it wouldn’t make it here for Christmas). Seeing that we have very sparse finances this Christmas, this is an unaffordable prize.

The Husband is going into Brussels later this week to see if he can find it there, for less. If he is unsuccessful, I’m not sure what we’ll do. I try to put this whole matter into perspective: there are so many children out there that never have anything; neither food nor clothes, and therefore my son should be grateful - we should all be – for being able to celebrate Christmas at all. It should not matter that we can’t buy our children specific toys.

When I was little, my brother & I usually got the most amazing gifts for Christmas. My family was upper middle class; not poor, but not excessively rich either, and both parents came from economically underprivileged families, which meant we never received gifts outside an occasion. Then, however, we would often be privileged, and for Christmas in particular, Santa brought us gifts we had never even dreamt of asking for. I must have been about 9 when I received my very own new modern record-player with huge speakers to put in my room. The present I received from Santa was actually just a record, Peter Cetera’s “Glory of Love”, and at first I thought it was a joke, but then my father told me it actually came with stereo equipment and I didn’t believe him. Another year I got skies & boots; at the time a very expensive gift. I did not always expect the most fantastic gift, but my brother & I knew that our wish lists to Santa Claus would usually compare roughly to what we actually got. Except for one year; it was the year my mother spent the 2 weeks before Christmas at a women’s conference in Stockholm. I had asked for a Barbie bride and nothing else. I was only 5 years old but I knew it was more than doable for my parents. However, come Christmas, inspired by the 1970’s feminist idea “give boys dolls and girls toy cars” my mother had decided at the very last minute NOT to get me that Barbie, but a stuffed dog instead. I never particularly cared for dogs, and I hated that dog. Just thinking about it still puts a lump in my throat.

In sum; I understand that this is a privileged dilemma that I am struggling with, but I want my boys to enjoy Christmas as I did when I was little, and, if possible, avoid a stuffed dog trauma.

By Lovain

Friday, December 08, 2006

Lovain's Bad Friday

This morning my lunch fell out of the kids’ cart on our way to school, the brakes on the bike didn’t work because it was raining so I had to walk part of the way which meant I was late for work, and when I got to work I was SOAKED despite wearing my ridiculous looking rain-jacket & rain-pants! I’m so happy it’s Friday!

A new tool was launched at work today and my job was to make sure everybody made it onto the shuttle together, so to speak. I'm not responsible for the development of the tool; to do my work I simply had to assume its working. The reason I have a minute to write this blog entry is that NOTHING is currently working, not even our phone lines. Somebody is working on the problem, somewhere, and eventually things will start to pick up, but in the meantime, all we can do is wait (and let the company loose money). We’re in the middle of the tornado, so to speak. Did I mention I’m happy it’s Friday?

By Lovain

Monday, December 04, 2006

"Where are you from?" - difficult question at the Sinterklaas party

On Saturday we attended the annual International Contact Club’s Sinterklaas party.

The Sinterklaas legend is as follows: Once upon a time there was a severe famine, during which a poor man, a father of three children, was unable to provide enough food to support his family. In a moment of despair the poor father abandoned his children in the woods. Sinterklaas (Saint Nicholas), a holy man, passed by and returned the children safely home after having given them plenty of food. Because of this legend, Sinterklaas is considered a friend and benefactor of children, and comes to offer them presents on December 6, the day of Saint Nicholas. Sinterklaas is accompanied by his helper “Zwarte Piet” (black Peter), a colored boy.

Sinterklaas came to the party & sat, surrounded by his helpers, on a throne, and all the children lined up to greet him, sit on his lap, have their picture taken by excited parents, and receive their gifts. When it was the boys turn, one of the helpers asked them what she had asked all the other children “What are your names?” the boys said their names, “How old are you?” the boys told her their ages, “Where are you from?” the boys went silent. I knew they probably couldn’t answer. Most of the other children attending the party are in Leuven temporarily, are usually not born in Belgium, and have a precise country of origin. The boys are born in Belgium where they’ve spent their entire lives so far, but they have an American father and a Swedish mother, and they will, within a couple of years, move to a different country; Sweden or The United States or anywhere else work might take their parents. Where are they from?

By Lovain

Friday, December 01, 2006

Our non-religious catholic life in Leuven

In theory, the Husband & I don’t practice any religion. In practice, our life is strongly influenced by the catholic faith; most of our closest friends are catholic, and the Husband’s promoter is a catholic priest. I could not imagine having celebrated Thanksgiving with our substitute family here in Belgium, The amazing M. & Mr. Speedo and their children, without prayer and grace. We enjoy the live-sized Christmas crib on the main square in town every December and tell our children the stories of Jesus. We honor the traditions of lent and Easter, and when our friends get married and have children, we pray in church with them.

Most people, I imagine, have a reverse situation, this is at least my impression here in Belgium. People claim that they are believers of God and strong in their faith, but they do not practice it accordingly. Belgium is a catholic country and in some sense you notice, however it’s still striking how little it’s visible; surprisingly few people go to church on Sundays for example. During Christmas however, the whole city of Leuven is transformed, and the live-sized Christmas crib on the main square next to the church constitutes the centerpiece of the celebration. When baby Jesus is placed in his crib on Christmas Day, we enjoy seeing him along with all the other Belgians, celebrating faith.

By Lovain

Advent and anticipation

This morning the boys let out a shriek of joy when they found their advent calendars on the wall in the living room, each covered with 24 little presents; one gift to open every morning until Christmas. It was a joy to hear & see them enjoy this tradition that was started by my grandmother a long time ago. She had sown us calendars with little hooks on, and on the morning of December 1st every year, we would wake up and find the calendar on our wall full of presents hanging on the hooks. They were small, simple things, like scented erasers or a piece of candy. In retrospective I realize that it was not really about the presents. What I enjoyed was waking up knowing that we were anticipating Christmas. Once Christmas Eve came with Santa Claus & all our big presents, the magic was not as intense any more. I always did enjoy the prelude; I still do.

Every night this week I’ve told the boys the story about how baby Jesus was born; the stable, the star, the Shepards, and then I sing them a couple of Christmas songs about the event. I know they also talk about this in school but the boys have been so focused on Santa Claus, the Christmas tree and PRESENTS this week that I wanted to add a bit of nuance. I’ve tried to emphasize the generosity, serenity and magic element of Christmas, and I have great hopes that this message will get through to them by the time Santa comes. I want them to enjoy the anticipation and magic this season offers, as I’ve always done.

By Lovain

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Jogging alone on deserted roads a dark evening

I just read an article on a Belgian website about a rape that happened right in the center of Leuven this week last year. A student was on her way home one evening when a man pulled her into a large parking garage, threatened her with a knife and raped her. This incident took place about 200 yards from our old apartment. They never caught the guy.

While I enjoy the jogging, I don’t like to be out alone on the dark, deserted biking/jogging paths in the evenings. I still do it; but even though we live in a nice neighborhood, I’m always a bit scared. I’m a big and strong woman; I know how to run fast, and I know how to fight; should somebody attack me I would be able to get away or at least put up a significant resistance. If I’m nearing the end of my run, however, I’ll be absolutely exhausted, and quite vulnerable, run-wise and fight-wise, which is worrisome. I wonder if it’s illegal in this country to carry around a knife. I wonder how other women deal with this fear. Certainly I can’t be the only one.

By Lovain

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Holding diarrhea

Last night as we were walking home from the store, the youngest one signalled that he had gone “a little bit diarrhea in his underwear.” Unexpected, but seeing that he’s a young boy, not entirely foreign.

“Are you OK?” I asked.
“Yes but I have to go diarrhea AGAIN!” he urged.
“We’re almost home, youngest one. Try to hold it. Just hold it.” I told him, whereupon he grabbed his behind with his hand and held onto it.
“No, not with your hand.” I said with an obvious tone. The youngest one looked up at me with a surprised face, almost shocked.
“Wh… Wha… With WHAT then?!”

By Lovain

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Finding a turkey for Thanksgiving in Belgium

Since our very arrival here in Belgium, we and our fellow American families have been presented with the same Thanksgiving dilemma every year: how to acquire a turkey. Belgians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, and they only eat turkey for Christmas, hence turkeys will only be available here in the stores closer to Christmas. In fact, somebody in the business explained to us, the turkeys will not be of acceptable size this time of the year, should we be able to locate one, because they’re all bread to be slaughtered for Christmas and not earlier. One year we were able to order a turkey in the grocery store (indeed it was tiny) and picked it up the day before Thanksgiving. The next year we ordered a turkey from the very same grocery store however when we came to pick it up it had not been delivered. Another year we ordered a turkey from a special fowl shop and it cost a fortune!

Last Saturday I went to the grocery store and was startled when I reached the meat section. Lo and behold; they had turkeys, on special. A whole section filled to the brim with fresh turkeys. What possibly had possessed our Belgian grocery store to suddenly start selling turkeys at the end of November?! Nobody knows, however our yearly dilemma was solved. We don’t need to order a turkey, but can simply get one at the grocery store, like normal people, a couple of days before Thanksgiving. Or can we? It’s not possible that they’d sell turkeys only one random week in November, run out, and then not have them again until Christmas, is it? Well, our unison answer was, this IS, after all, Belgium.

Tomorrow I shall, a bit nervously, return to the grocery store and hopefully, with a bit of luck, I’ll be able to buy a turkey.

By Lovain

Haunted House Halloween Party in dolly land

The boys were playing “Halloween party” when I left the house this morning. They had put all their action dolls in the portable dolly house and told me they were in there having a Haunted House Halloween Party. “Look, mama” the oldest one said, pointing to a Batman doll “this man is dressed up to look like Batman.” 3 Action Men; all named Dr. X, 2 spider man dolls and 2 superman dolls had also been able to fit into the Haunted House. One of the superman dolls was dressed up to look like Clark Kent; imagine that. Apparently the Transformers had been invited as well but they didn’t fit.

By Lovain

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Sweden and the H&M underwear advertisements

They have not been there for 2 years because of all the complaints, but this year they're back: The H&M underwear advertisements for Christmas. The complaints, of course, are also back.

By Lovain

Monday, November 20, 2006

Jack the Pumpkin King paper dolls

My youngest son, the 3 ½ year old, loves A Nightmare before Christmas. He knows all the songs by heart, and went as Jack the Pumpkin King for Halloween. Yesterday was a rainy, windy, dark and cold fall day, which we spent inside playing, painting and doing crafts. I helped the youngest one make a couple of Jack the Pumpkin King paper dolls – one larger one and one smaller one – and the youngest one has played with them since. He has dubbed the bigger one “the daddy Jack” and the smaller one “the boy Jack”, and this morning he even wanted to bring them into the shower. When I told him they would be destroyed, he carefully put them down to wait for him in the hallway. As I left for work, I heard him trying to convince the Husband to help him make “a mama one” as well. As George Bernard Shaw once said “If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”

By Lovain

The drawback of being a parent abroad: your extended family is thousands of miles away.

Following my cold last week, the oldest one has been struggling with a stuffy nose, and this weekend he started running a fever while complaining about earache. He has had a couple of ear infections before, so recognizing the signs we immediately administered anti-inflammatory medicine in an attempt to preclude the infection. I think we managed to dodge it this time, however to err on the safe side we decided to keep the boys home from school today. God forbid they’d miss the “grootouderfeest” (the Grandparents party) on Friday; a vast art exhibition the children have been working on for weeks.

In Sweden, when your child is sick, the insurance system makes it possible for you to stay home and care for your child while receiving 80% of your salary. You can choose to transfer this benefit to a relative or someone else, should this be necessary. In Belgium, you have the right to stay home and care for a sick child 10 days/year, unpaid, with a doctor’s note certifying that your child really is sick. Because this is financially difficult or even impossible for a lot of parents, your insurance does provide you with an alternative; if your child is sick, you can call your insurance company, and they will send somebody to your house to care for your child while you are at work. I never ask somebody I don’t know to baby-sit my children even when they’re healthy, and the idea of leaving my sick, needy child with a complete stranger, no matter how certified, is intolerable. In my experience, most Belgians will ask a relative, usually a grandparent, to take care of the sick child, however with our families thousands of miles away, we don’t have this option. As so many times before, the husband’s work had to suffer, and he is home caring for the boys today.

I’ve travelled a lot and I have lived in several countries; since the Husband & I got married we’ve lived here in Belgium, always maintaining a close bond with both our families. The fact that there is a physical distance only became obvious when we had children. As parents, we now recognize our loss: we appreciate the value of having an extended family at hand, and the ability to rely on grandparents or siblings to be there for you, as you would be there for them, should the need arise. We can’t ask grandma to stay home with the oldest one should he get sick. The boys’ grandparents will not be able to attend the “grootouderfeest”. The Husband stays home with the sick boys, and we will both attend the grootouderfeest; we manage, however we also recognize one of the drawbacks of living abroad.

By Lovain

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Our funday at Aqualibi Speedo world

On Sunday, the boys & I, my friends The amazing M. & Mr. Speedo (formerly known as M. - see my post from Monday, November 06, 2006) and their 2 children finally made it to Aqualibi. Mr. Speedo debuted in his fabulous new purchase and I managed to refrain from teasing him; mainly due to shock as we entered the facilities realizing that everybody was wearing Speedos. We even witnessed the guards’ rejection of a frustrated man trying to enter in shorts, and recognized his pain as he was sent to the front desk for Speedos rental. This unusual European phenomena was quickly bypassed however, as we rushed in to enjoy the slides, pools and other water fun available. We had brought food to refuel the children throughout the day, and disregarded the “no picnicking” signs hung up all around the over-prized restaurant. It was a great day. My older son, of a more careful disposition, enjoyed the smaller slides and the pool with waves. He likes to jump into the water, or even dip his head under water in a more & more successful attempt to swim, however he is scared of the bigger slides. My younger son went down the most furious waterfalls with me, only to yell “Again! Again!” after each ride. At the end of the day, I was exhausted. To run around and keep yourself from drowning in whirlpool waterfalls is half the work compared to keeping yourself AND a 45Lbs, 3 ½ year old boy constantly above water. Fun, we had, in any case, and the cost I suffered the next day, a cold, was a fair prize to pay.

By Lovain

A Jewish/Catholic baby naming ceremony

On Friday, March 03, 2006 I told you about our friends A. & W.’s Jewish AND Catholic wedding; they have since had a son, and this past Saturday we were invited to a naming ceremony. It was neither a brit milah, nor a Catholic baptism. Texts were read from the bible, candles were lit, blessings were given, songs were sung and we all said the prayer “our Father” together. It was a personal and joyful ceremony. Coming from 2 different traditions, both of strong faith, our friends A. & W. combine their religious practices in an admirable fashion. I can understand their desire to let Joachim decide for himself, as soon as he is old enough to do so, which religious practice he chooses to follow; it must, at the same time, as a catholic, be a difficult decision to make not to have your child baptized.

By Lovain

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Friendships for life

An eventful weekend has come and gone. I spent Friday evening with one of my oldest friend that I’m still in touch with, a Swedish farmer’s daughter who now lives with a Dane and works in Brussels. We had dinner, drank wine, played Scrabble and chatted. She knows me perhaps not better than most people but in a profound way. Most of my very close friends here have never seen the house I grew up in, my family, my hometown, and they haven’t followed me through life in presence, by letters, e-mail or hearsay, but U. has always been there. We went to high school together, our parents worked together, and we know all the same people from home. We have not only gone through a lot together and separately, but we also come from the same type of home and upbringing; we have a mutual understanding of the world. However not always of the same idea - I grew up in a socialist home and she in a conservative home - we understand each other well. We’ve lost contact; got in touch again, moved to Belgium together, got separated only to find each other again a few years ago. It's the kind of friendship where we can loose contact for a couple of years, only to pick up where we left it as soon as we see each other again. No explanations necessary, no apologies needed. If I cancel a dinner at the last minute, she understands; if she needs to get away for a night because her Dane is having a group of guys over, she's always welcome, even without notice; if I don't call her for weeks, no worries; if she calls me every day, great. It's a friendship for life. I count my blessings to have not only one friendship like this one, but several, and they all have something unique about them. This one is one of my oldest.

By Lovain

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Post election comments from here & there

Last night as I talked to my friend A. on the phone, her kids (aged 4-10) were trying to get her attention because they wanted her 'to vote'. They had made up ballots and before she was allowed to choose her mayor they told her she 'had to listen to the arguments'.

My friend A., a home schooling caring mother told her children to "go away!" as she proceeded to tell me that they got all this from yesterday's event. As the whole family drove to vote, they had discussed certain issues and explained the procedure to their kids. In particular the issue "should selling wine in grocery stores be prohibited or not?" had been discussed (this was one of the extra questions on the MA ballots).

When I asked my friend A. "so, who did you vote for? Did you win?" she told me that she had not won. Massachusetts's two U.S. senators (since 1985) are Edward Kennedy (Democrat) and John Kerry (Democrat), and they are not threatened by my friend A.’s disapproval; it’s a Democratic state indeed. As she proceeded to point out, these elected officials are in fact supposed to be representing the people of the state of Massachusetts – us - however, quoting her husband Affleck-T. she concluded "but I don't think they're doing a very good job representing me."

My friend Untravel has also made
a few interesting post election comments. He is of an entirely different political opinion than my friend A. It might be his Swedish heritage influencing him. The Swedish liberal press, of course, is musing: "President Bush has been slapped in the face and his next two years in office are going to be a painful struggle." This schadenfreude despite the rise in popularity the American president has had in Sweden since he participated in the inauguration of the new Swedish Embassy in Washington DC. “House of Sweden” last week.

The Belgian press appears to be more interested in the sacrifice of Rumsfeld but here it seems that political affairs tend to evolve around persons, not parties or ideas.

By Lovain

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The news of today

A note on the world news today:

Following the American elections yesterday, Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives for the first time since 1994; and the control of the Senate hinges on races in Montana and Virginia.

Britney Spears files for divorce from Kevin Federline. This time it’s supposedly for real. Why do I care? Because there are children involved.

So there you have it. The American society might or might not see changes in the near future, and the Hollywood divorce rate has again been confirmed.

A note on our local news today:

The Husband managed all his responsibilities yesterday, and is spending the day with the boys. As I left work this morning, Batman & Superman were discussing the destruction of ‘the monster’ behind the living room chair over a bowl of cereal.

My Brazilian colleague A. is busy preparing his art exhibition in Brussels, and I’m helping him with the translations of the titles of his works (they’re currently in French and my Brazilian colleague A. doesn’t speak English). It’s not as easy as it sounds. How would you, for example, translate the catchy phrase “Bien faire et laisser dire”?

By Lovain

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Organizing your life: it's not rocket surgery!

What is it exactly in the male brain that is missing? Why are men worse than women when it comes to advanced planning and coordination? Our family wakes up around 7 every morning. The Husband had 4 things to do today: the dishes, a quick shopping, pick up the boys and feed them, and his work. I called him about ½ hour before he had to go pick up the boys to ask him if he remembered to buy brown bags and what met me was an unorganized array of information.

“So you didn’t go shopping?”
“No, not yet - I’ve been working! And now I have this translation I have to finish before my meeting tonight. I have to go get the boys AND I haven’t done the dishes yet.”

The Husband hence had to go pick up the boys and let them come with him to the store, which meant shopping took about double the amount of time. After the shopping there wasn’t enough time to prepare a proper dinner, the Husband somehow had to do the dishes while entertaining and feeding 2 hungry boys, and the translation… Well. Granted, the Husband is a brilliant Kant scholar and I’m sure he got great work done on his thesis today, something that’s really important. But still, wouldn’t better organization improve even further?

I would have done the dishes this morning (or even last night), picked up groceries on my way home from taking the boys to school, worked on my translation until it was done, then moved on to other work until it was time to get the boys, fed the latter an easy dinner bought at the store, and voila; all done. As the headline Jay Leno read out loud the other night stated “it’s not rocket surgery!”

By Lovain

Monday, November 06, 2006

My friend Mr. Speedo

On Sunday, my friend Texas-born M. & I were going together with our kids to Aqualibi. I had been the lucky recipient of a coupon for a reduced entrance fee and since we enjoy this kind of water fun we had decided to take advantage of the offer; a short, but for a group of 3- and 5 year olds an oh-so-exciting train ride followed by hours of play in the water – what an excellent way to spend the day.

When on Sunday morning I checked the Aqualibi website for the exact opening hours however, I noticed a small potential problem: There's a 'slips-only' law in Wallonia - only Speedos, and not shorts are allowed. My friend Texas-born M. & I go to the pool all the time, but I could not say for certain what he usually wears; I never noticed. He could be wearing Speedos for all I know, but something told me I should mention the regulation to him so I did. Indeed, he said; he never wears, and in fact would never wear a pair of Speedos. When deciding how to handle this dilemma, we first decided it might not be a big deal; he would bring his usual shorts. After all, this is Belgium. What is a law? After having looked at the website however, he called me back to say that he thought this might actually be a strict regulation. If it is, it would be foolish to go to Aqualibi only to be told he wasn’t allowed to enter, or worse; they would make him rent a pair of Speedos! Stores in Belgium are closed on Sundays, so running out to get a pair was not an option. Finally we decided to postpone until next Sunday, and in anticipation of the forthcoming event, my friend Texas-born M. promised me he would adjust his wardrobe accordingly. My friend Texas-born M. shall become Mr. Speedo.

By Lovain

Thursday, November 02, 2006

We had a Happy Halloween!

I’ve had a few pleasant days off work. I mainly caught up on sleep and spent time with the boys preparing for our Halloween party: we carved pumpkins, cut out bats and crafted other decorations, placed fake spider web and spiders all over the house and prepared food (chili, spinage dip and cup cakes). The Husband baked pies. 2 lemon meringue pies, 2 banana cream pies and 1 monster-sized pumpkin pie. I found myself, probably along with thousands of mothers out there, putting together the boys’ Halloween costumes a few hours before the party. I made a Jack the pumpkin king bow tie for the youngest one and bat wings for the oldest one. The latter ended up going as Zorro, and the youngest one did appear as Jack the pumpkin king however minus the make-up that I had purchased for the occasion.

A couple of weeks ago we went to a special carnival shop and got white make-up to cover the youngest ones face & hair, and black make-up to create Jack the pumpkin king’s eyes and mouth. As soon as we got home I had to put the make-up on my son and it looked great. He looked just like Jack the pumpkin king. So much that when I turned him around and he saw himself in the mirror he freaked out and started crying, and I instantly had to wash his face. We have since been trying to convince him that the Jack the pumpkin king look is perfect, however he has not been persuaded. Hence the no make-up yesterday.

The party was a huge success; lots of friends, food, drinks, candy, kids’ play & games, A Nightmare before Christmas and The Shining. We had a Happy Halloween.

When we woke up the next morning, the oldest one asked me “mama, what day is it today?” and I told him it was Wednesday the 1st of November, the day after Halloween. “Next time it’s Thanksgiving” he said. How right he is.

By Lovain

Friday, October 27, 2006

Belgian company structure: hierarchic management without responsibility

Having studied, worked and lived in Belgium for over 10 years, I’ve grown quite familiar with the culture and customs of this peculiar country. When it comes to the private sector (I will not get into the public sector today – it would require a special mood which I’m not in) I’ve gained a general insight into the operations of the system, and the company I currently work for is one of the most Belgian companies I’ve ever encountered.

When I first started here, I was not introduced to anyone. The structure of the company was not explained to me, I was not shown around and the person who hired me did not give away any information on how things actually work. I was given a desk, a phone and the basic instructions “take care of anything that comes your way”. Over this past year I’ve somewhat figured out who is responsible or part of the managment, but I’m actually not entirely sure; especially not after the coffee machine incident last week.

Apparently there have been complaints regarding the coffee for a long time, and eventually this April we found out that 2 candy machines and a new coffee machine had been ordered and would be installed in June. Because it was a fancier brand, the coffee would no longer be free but cost 10c/cup. Last week (yes, end of October; another Belgian custom that never fails to stand out) the new coffee machine was installed (no sight of the candy machines yet though). Already the next day, the company had to come back because there was a problem. People had immediately started reporting that this coffee was much worse than the old one, and that there must be something wrong with the machine. I don’t drink coffee but I do like a cup of hot chocolate now and then, so I proceeded to try the “chocolate de Luxe” which I indeed, had I not seen the label, might have mistaken for “burnt water de Luxe”; it was terrible! There wasn’t something wrong with the machine, however, and eventually INGE, this lady that I have still to place on my hierarchical chart (I know she is NOT part of the management however), had a tasting session that ended in the typical comment “het valt mee”, which basically means that “it’s not bad”, or “it’s all right”, whereupon everybody shrugged their shoulders and returned to their desks. So on this verdict, the coffee machine company left, and here we are now: we have a coffee machine with worse coffee than before AND we have to pay for it. Nobody is taking on the task of rectifying the error because well, NOBODY is responsible.

By Lovain

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Men simply get sicker than women

As I was starting to feel better over the weekend, the Husband got sick; a light throat infection followed by a cold. Being a man, of course, he immediately got 100 times sicker than I’ll ever be (including the time when I was pregnant and got pre-eclampsia and bile was leaking into my bloodstream because my organs were shutting down) and suggested that he has a lung- AND sinus infection. Last night he administered himself an overdose of Nyquil followed by, purportedly, 12 hour of sleep. I think he’s going to make it.

My Swedish friend U.’s boyfriend was sick last week, a cold as well, and he certainly outdoes the Husband when it comes to self-pity: My Swedish friend U. told me that he laid around the house talking about his upcoming death and ran down to the pharmacy for new medicines every day. He too, however, has got better.

By Lovain

A baby smile just made my day!

On Tuesday our friends A.& W. (see my post on Friday, March 03, 2006) had a little baby boy named Joachim William. I have not yet spoken to them (The Husband talked to the proud father W. on the phone yesterday) but they should be able to come to our Halloween party on Tuesday. The prospect of holding a new-born baby in my arms makes me smile, and enhances the excitement over the party.

My Polish colleague G. who had a baby last month was taken to work this morning by his wife and baby. I got to hold Rube in my arms for a few minutes and experience one of the most wonderful sights in the world; baby Rube smiled at me. I don’t care how tacky it sounds or how sappy it is; a baby smile can totally make my day!

By Lovain

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Illness give you time off from work but not from motherhood

As I’ve explained before (my post from Monday, March 13, 2006), if you work here in Belgium and you get sick; you go to the doctor and get a note, and the company covers your sick-leave 100%. This is important for us since I otherwise couldn’t afford to be sick.

Last Wednesday I woke up with a throat infection and have since been absent from work until today. When I finally returned to my desk this morning, my Brazilian, single, Madonna-fan colleague greeted me with a cheerful “Welcome back! Did you enjoy your holiday?” I still don’t feel 100%, I’m tired, stressed and lethargic; I couldn’t help but suppress his joke with a short lecture on parenthood: The doctor can very well write a note that lets me stay home from work, but the mother in me can’t call in sick – the boys still need food, clean clothes and baths, a ride to and from school - only to mention the essentials. Nobody else is going to take over these tasks while I’m sick; hence being sick while a mother is not a holiday. My Brazilian, single, Madonna-fan colleague will probably never have any children (he's a Brazilian, single, gay, Madonna-fan); however I think he got my point. Everything is different when you have kids.

By Lovain

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

The things we learn from children

The following e-mail list came via my friend Texas-born M.'s mother from an anonymous Mother in Austin, Texas who must be raising boys, and I simply have to share it with you:

Things I've learned from my Children (honest & no kidding):

1. A king size waterbed holds enough water to fill a 2000 sq. ft. house 4 inches deep.
2. If you spray hair spray on dust bunnies and run over them with roller blades, they can ignite.
3. A 3-year olds voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant.
4. If you hook a dog leash over a ceiling fan, the motor is not strong enough to rotate a 42 pound boy wearing Batman underwear and a Superman cape. It is strong enough, however, if tied to a paint can, to spread paint on all four walls of a 20x20 ft. room.
5. You should not throw baseballs up when the ceiling fan is on. When using a ceiling fan as a bat, you have to throw the ball up a few times before you get a hit. A ceiling fan can hit a baseball a long way.
6. The glass in windows (even double-pane) doesn't stop a baseball that was hit by a ceiling fan.
7. When you hear the toilet flush and the words "uh oh," it's already too late.
8. Brake fluid mixed with Clorox makes smoke, and lots of it.
9. A six-year old can start a fire with a flint rock even though a 36-year old man says they can only do it in the movies.
10. Certain Lego's will pass through the digestive tract of a 4 year old.
11. Play dough and microwave should not be used in the same sentence.
12. Super glue is forever.
13. No matter how much Jell-O you put in a swimming pool you still can't walk on water.
14. Pool filters do not like Jell-O.
15. VCR's do not eject Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwiches even though TV commercials show they do.
16. Garbage bags do not make good parachutes.
17. Marbles in gas tanks make lots of noise when driving.
18. You probably do not want to know what the odor is.
19. Always look in the oven before you turn it on .. plastic toys do not like ovens.
20. The fire department in Austin, TX has a 5-minute response time.
21. The spin cycle on the washing machine does not make earthworms dizzy.
22. It will, however, make cats dizzy.
23. Cats throw up twice their body weight when dizzy.
24. 60% of the men who read this will try mixing the Clorox and brake fluid.

By Lovain

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Busy times followed by sick times for a Swede in Leuven, Belgium

It was a busy week indeed. Last Thursday I went into Brussels for a job interview (yes, I'm tired of being underpaid), just to make it home in time for my oldest son's 5th birthday party and then the weekend entailed everything from a housewarming party to dress making. It was a productive week and things were looking good until I woke up Wednesday morning at 4 am with a throat infection. The pain was excruciating. My doctor took one good look at me and immediately prescribed 3 days bedrest. The Da Vinci Code, lots of medicine and the entire first season of Grey's Anatomy kept me on the couch as the Husband made lunches, brought the boys to school and managed the house.

As a mother and the wife of a thesis-writing doctorate student it is very hard to remain horizontally while witnessing the house quickly turned into something resembling the remains after hurricane Katrina. A throat infection leaves you no choice however - you just can't get up; you'll watch the boys turn the living room into a toy storage location/ breakfast cereal dump without moving a fin.

Today I finally got up. I've scrubbed the floors, washed clothes, wiped every surface and cleaned the kitchen. My throat still hurts but no enough to keep me in bed. I'm on the mend.

By Lovain

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Friday night dinner with best friends & good food - de-stressing indeed!

On Friday, the Husband was supposed to come up with something exciting for our Friday night dinner with our very good friends M&M, clean up the house/kitchen AND go shopping, but instead he impulsively went off to listen to a lecture given by Prof. Martin Stone at the philosophy institute, leaving me with 1 hour between coming home from work and guests arriving to clean up the house/kitchen (a mountain of dishes), prepare an interesting meal, and socialize with the boys I had seen very little of all week.

As I pulled up on our mini-driveway with 2 tired boys in the back, a Dr. Seuss quote came to mind “That [Husband] I am, that [Husband] I am, I do not like that [Husband] I am!”.

I did pull it off in the end. I found minced meat in the fridge and threw - while cleaning up and doing the dishes - together an, as it turned out, delicious minced meat pie and a salad. The Husband arrived right before our guests with steak & pasta, and quickly whipped up a fresh pesto made from herbs in our garden; as we topped this odd meal off with pumpkin pie (made the evening before), I could nothing but conclude that all is well that ends well. Texas-born M. ate himself sick as usual. We sat around the dinner table while the kids watched The Wizard of Oz, and chatted until way past our kids’ bedtime; although not extravagant in any way, it was one of those Friday evenings I know I will remember - one day far from here - from our time in Leuven.

By Lovain

Stressful sleep and taxing dreams

2 nights in a row now I’ve been having exceedingly stressful dreams: I dream that I oversleep, I’m late for work and my bike is broken, at one time I was in a car with some people driving but they didn’t know the way and we were late for a conference or something, I get to work and forget to log-in to the system for like an hour (=I don’t get paid for that hour), I’ve forgotten to buy ham for the boys’ sandwiches, or juice, it’s pouring and we’re late for school… All various occurrences on the same theme: I ‘m either forgetting something or I’m late & stressed.

My oldest son is turning 5 on Thursday and I have a job interview in Brussels that very same day. Groceries & presents need to be bought, the house needs to be prepared for the party; cleaned & decorated, cakes need to be made (1 for school and 1 for the party), party food needs to be prepared and I need to prepare myself for the interview. All the wile I’m working 9-6 every day, trying to keep up with the every day chores. It’s a busy week. I wish I could rest while I sleep – I need it.

By Lovain

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Nobody is sick

While dropping off the boys at school this morning I ran into my friend Texas-born M. whom I had not seen for a couple of days, so I stopped for a minute and asked him how he’s doing. “All right” he said “busy” and then he added with happy but surprized and almost suspicious voice “nobody’s sick!”

Our kids (my 2 and his 2 = 4 in total) go to school every day and in school there are other kids carrying germs, potential colds, stomach flus and goodness knows. It seems like there’s always something going around, and last year they (and we) were sick several times.

Apart from the discomfort any infirmity brings to the family and the sick child in particular; since the Husband and Texas-born M. are finishing their doctorates, they’re not officially employed by anyone and hence should one of the kids get sick, they are the ones to stay at home with the sick child, loosing days of work. A simple three-day cold could mean up to 15 pages of thesis work lost, and at this pressing stage of the thesis writing, it’s an unkind loss.

For now however, nobody’s sick. Knock, knock.

By Lovain

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Google opened new offices in New York this week...

...and I want to work there! Look at the size of those cinnamon rolls. Free food for all employees. Drewl, drewl; cinnamon rolls...! (It's almost dinner time)

By Lovain

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Nobel Prize Announcements 2006; an American blast

The Nobel prizes of 2006 are currently being announced. So far, the 4 winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics and Medicine have been proclaimed and they’re all Americans. In 1866 Alfred Nobel established the United States Blasting Oil Company in the U.S. I guess he saw the potential.

By Lovain

The linguistic consequenses of reading blogs - I'm an isolated English speaker in Belgium on linguistic life support

I’ve been reading blogs. There are so many blogs out there and impossible to know where the good blogs or the blogs I would be interested in are. Still, I’ve done a couple of random searches, and a few blogs did stand out (see my links), but mainly I’ve read blogs that somehow relate to my own; my readers’ blogs, my readers’ blog’s readers’ blogs, my favorite blogs’ recommended blogs, and so on. I’ve found that the blogs I’m inclined to keep reading are the personal blogs written by people that either lead a similar life to that of mine, or a very different life however with some form of connection to me or my life.

The other day I stumbled upon this blog where Linka72 recounts her life as call-center slave. I found myself reading the one post after the other, just to find out more about her seemingly disgusting colleague "Belly" and what happened at her co-worker's FABULOUS wedding.

However interesting these lives are, in reading blogs you will end up with a lot of wording of questionable quality, not to mention useless information, however I find it sometimes acts as life support for my current English (or for my other majority language Swedish, for all that matters). Living away from the country where the majority language is spoken, I find myself linguistically isolated and my English has become obsolete and well, shabby. I can read all the Charles Dickens I want, I speak English at home; to the Husband, my boys and most of our friends, but the fact that we are stuck on this “island”, recycling our own words and, all modern technology aside, are not in the immediate loop, inhibits my linguistic development. I know; I just used the word “shabby.”

By Lovain

Monday, October 02, 2006

It's fall in Leuven

We’ve had a bit of an Indian summer this past week, and dressing the boys in shorts & t-shirts in the mornings I had forgotten what season it is, however this morning as I raced down the hill on my bike; the cold gusts of fall rattling the trees, making the brown, red & yellow leaves fly everywhere, reminded me that it is indeed fall.

The Husband has taught the boys a poem, and they recite it with such rhythm and delight, that every time I think of the seasons changing, I hear their pretty voices:

In winter when the fields are white

I sing a song to your delight

In spring when the woods are getting green

perhaps I’ll tell you what they mean

In summer when the days are long

perhaps you’ll understand my song

In autumn when the leaves are brown

take pen & ink and write it down

By Lovain

Friday, September 29, 2006

Having a baby in Belgium or Sweden and the economical consequenses: a comparison

The Husband & I have been talking about having another baby, but the maternity leave system here in Belgium is in direct conflict with our ideas on having children. We have until now not had to take this into consideration; we have managed to provide for ourselves during the first couple of years of our babies lives without having to rely on paid maternity leave. At this very late stage of the Husband’s doctorate education, however, we rely on my income only, and should we choose to conceive another baby, our existence would be at the mercy of the Belgian maternity leave system, whose structure, again, is in direct conflict with our concept of parenting.

I have until now mercifully spared you, my dear readers, my opinions on pregnancy, birth and parenting. My personal philosophy is closely related to that of the Sears family, and in general I advocate natural pregnancy & birth, followed by attachment parenting; breastfeed on demand and practice co-sleeping. You cannot teach your child independence; only found it with security. In practice, this involves me staying home with the baby full-time for about 8 months, and then part-time preferably until the baby is 18 months-2 years.

In Belgium there is maternity leave and paternity leave. The latter is 10 paid days, usually 82% of the salary. Maternity leave is 15 weeks where at least one week has to be taken before the baby is born or this week is lost. The 1st month maternity leave amounts to 82% of the salary, the 2nd month it’s 75%, and the 3rd month 60% of the salary. Thereafter the parents have right to a parental leave which is partially paid. One parent can stay at home up to 3 months enjoying a grant amounting to 558,34 euro brut/month (it can also be a part-time leave for 6 months). This, I’m afraid, is all. In general, a well-meaning employer can also grant the parent an unpaid leave, but this is not compulsory.

In Sweden paid parental leave lasts 18 months and the parent staying home with the child receives 80% of his/her salary for 390 days; the remaining 90 days the parent receives approximately 20€/day. The leave can be disposed of as needed; both parents can stay at home, the father and the mother can take turns staying at home, or the parents can take part-time leave in order to extend it. In order to promote equality, there are also special paternity months that are reserved for the father.

I wish I was employed in Sweden.

By Lovain

The mind of a man: on labor and birth

My Polish colleague G. became a father for the first time in his life a couple of weeks ago. On Thursday evening his family was busy celebrating his birthday, and right after the cake his wife announced that it was time to go to the hospital. My Polish colleague G.’s baby was born the next morning; a healthy boy (as expected) named Rube. Since this was the day my Polish colleague G.’s brother was supposed to come over and pick up our late Ford, My Polish colleague G. and I had sporadic contact throughout the day. When I asked him about the labor & birth, he replied “no, not difficult - only 10 hours and no complications” and then added “now I’m home running around trying to gather things my wife needs - very difficult”. Well. The mind of a man - an excited new father - a caring husband is a wondrous thing.

10 hours of labor & birth = not difficult

Finding your hospitalized wife’s stuff = very difficult

I suspect his wife, having just gone through 10 hours of contractions followed by 1/2 hour of pushing out an 8-pound baby, would beg to differ.

By Lovain

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I'm a wife of a doctorate student but I see light at the end of the tunnel

As I’ve mentioned before; the Husband, like several of our friends, is writing his doctorate dissertation. It is an arduous venture. Sometime this spring, we made a schedule that had the final draft handed in well before Christmas this year. Over the past few months, I’ve recognized that this deadline will not be met, and the latest forecast predicts early spring as a more likely time of deliverance; sometime around the arrival of our friends M&M’s 3rd baby.

I, as several of my friends (including the amazing M.), am getting tired of being the wife of the constant doctorate student, and it’s not the wife but the doctorate element that must expire. This earth-shattering Opus Magnum has to be finished so that we can get on with our lives!

Yesterday the Husband kept talking about his “paper” and having to finish his “paper”, and finally I had to say “honey, it’s a thesis; a doctorate dissertation” whereupon he replied “yeah, yeah, whatever…” obviously trying to play some kind of psychological trick on himself. I have come to the point where I reply to any similar folly with “whatever works for the Husband, as long as it gets written.”

Confounding my apprehension, the Husband showed me this week’s work last night: 17 solid, ready dissertation pages. If he keeps this up, we might just have a Merry Christmas after all.

By Lovain

The opening of the academic year of 2006-2007 in Leuven

This week represents the official opening of the academic year 2006-2007 in Leuven. Town is suddenly overrun by old and new students, and it is the latter ones in particular that stand out. They take over the streets in crowds, bike like infants, and willingly consent to public humiliation in childish initiation rituals.

Yesterday my dissertation-writing friend newly-wed R. (who actually is not so newly-wed any more) reported from her office that “the Economics faculty has some guy driving around Leuven in a car yelling inane…inanities…on a loudspeaker!” which made it hard for her to concentrate. This morning I didn’t see any economics goons but I certainly saw traces of their presence around the boys’ school as I parked my bike & kids’ cart in between some broken beer bottles and vomit. The boys immediately noticed, of course “Mama, somebody threw up! Who threw up?” to which I mumbled “the students, sweetie, the students threw up”, immediately exposing myself to 100 follow-up questions: Why did they throw up? Who are the students? Where did they go? What did they eat? Oh, they drank too much beer? But I can’t SEE the beer! the youngest one noted, studying the vomit thoroughly.

Gaudeamus igitur, juvenes dum sumus

By Lovain

This school-year's first cold

My productive weekend was followed by a non-productive week. I was constrained by a cold, and although I did not notably neglect my work or other duties, I had no energy left for extravagant leisure such as blogging. A low-key weekend restored my health however, and I have now returned with full strength.

By Lovain

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The weekend when things got done

This weekend was one of those marathon weekends where things got done.

I cleaned the house; scrubbed the bathrooms, sorted out the toys in the boys’ room, swept and washed the floors, changed & washed all the sheets & blankets in our beds, did 4 loads of laundry that I folded & sorted and then I scrubbed the kitchen. I also cut back the ivy in front of our house, mowed the lawn, weeded, paid bills and fixed 4 broken lights. I ran errands in town - with the boys - which included, among other, making them sit still in a tiny fitting room while I tried on 9 different swimsuits. I played with the boys in the backyard and their room, we watched a movie and ate popcorn, went to the KERMIS with our friends, and then I spent a bit of quality time with the Husband. I also managed to call my friend & colleague T. the Dane’s widow and my mother.

As the great Margaret Thatcher once put it:

Look at a day when you are supremely satisfied at the end. It's not a day when you lounge around doing nothing; it's when you've had everything to do, and you've done it”.

Of course; the hallway and closets still needs sorted, the laundry room needs organized as does the attick in preparation of the Halloween Haunted House. And the grass grew long again. It never ends, does it?

By Lovain

Happy Wedding anniversary!

Yesterday afternoon I called the Husband from work to check if, or rather confirm that he, like me, had forgotten that it was our wedding anniversary.

Did you have something in mind for tonight?” I asked, scouting.

He thought for a while and then asked “How many years is it?” He got it.

Does this happen to everybody after so many years? Or is it just the Husband & I that have a different perception?

8 years ago, we had a very small wedding; a simple ceremony in the Warsaw Town Hall, followed by a family picnic in the city park. Rather than a grand event, our getting married was more of a confirmation of something we had already promised each other when we got engaged.

To mark the occasion last night, I picked up Chinese food – Lemon chicken; the Husband’s favorite – on my way home from work, and after having put the boys to bed we watched the final episode of LOST together.

Happy Anniversary, my love.

By Lovain

Friday, September 15, 2006

A 1991 Ford Scorpio - Part III; Epilog

In the end we decided that keeping our Ford is too much of a financial risk – a risk that we currently can not afford. Hence I posted our car on e-bay where it stayed for 1 whole week, like some forsaken redundancy; shoved into that callous realm they call internet shopping, awaiting its gloomy kismet. Nobody bid on it.

Fortunately my Polish colleague G.’s brother offered to buy it for 250€, and tonight he’s picking it up. I have signed a contract stating that as of today, our car is of a different owner for the representative sum of 1€. As of tomorrow I shall have to carry our milk home myself.

By Lovain

Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Swedish elections are coming up

On Saturday I brought the whole family to accompany me to the Swedish Embassy. We entered a festive atmosphere; Swedes standing around chatting, people laughing, and there was a big bowl of Swedish candy centrally placed on the reception table. Swedish children were running around, filling their mouths with candy. The boys threw themselves right in and mingled with the other “blondes”, while I stood in line for a few minutes, and then watched the official voting administrator put my vote in an envelope with the other votes.

I left the embassy with a feeling of satisfaction and pride; I felt Swedish – a Swede that had just fulfilled her citizen duty. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful Saturday morning, and I was a voting Swede: we celebrated by going to the Pizza Hut lunch buffet for lunch. After all, one only votes once every 4 years!

The Swedish elections are one Sunday, and it’s a very close call. The parties have joined forces and are divided into 2 opposing sides this year: the blue side and the red side. The blue side is represented by the conservative party ‘Moderaterna’, the liberal party ‘Folkpartiet’, the farmers’ union ‘Centern’ and the Christian democrats ‘Kristdemokraterna’. The red side is represented by the Social democrats ‘Socialdemokraterna’, the socialists ‘V’ and the environmental party ‘Miljöpartiet’. It is the latter group that are in majority for the moment, but as of Sunday, our prime minister might not be Göran Persson any more, but Fredrik Rheinfeldt. God help us.

By Lovain

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

My friend T. the Dane is dead

On Thursday morning at 5:30 am my friend and former colleague T. the Dane suffered a massive heart attack and died almost instantly. He was 59 years old.

On Monday, 4 days later, T. the Dane's first grandchild, whose birth he has been proudly proclaiming and eagerly awaiting, was born.

The Lord Giveth, The Lord Taketh Away.

By Lovain

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Babies to come & babies lost: I'm oh so happy but oh so sad

In July two of my friends confided in me; one of them had just taken a positive pregnancy test, and the other one had just had a miscarriage. The due dates of the baby to come and the baby lost were only a couple of days apart.

My friend the amazing M. is now somewhere around 15 weeks pregnant; we have seen solid ultra sound pictures of her healthy baby, and it is no longer a secret that she is expecting. 3rd time around, her body certainly knows what to do and you cannot be mistaken when you see her: she’s having a baby. We’re all happily expecting our addition at the end of February of 2007.

My other friend has wisely kept her secret, and although having recovered entirely physically from her miscarriage, the loss and sorrow remain. When I confirmed the rumors she had heard about the amazing M. expecting another child, and added the exact due date, my friend’s sadness came over her again. I’m happy my friend lets me share her grief. I have never had a miscarriage but I know what it’s like to loose a family member; you go on living a happy life, but the tears still come back once in a while.

By Lovain

I'm reading "Kant: A Biography" by Manfred Kuehn

Last night I started reading “Kant: A biography” by Manfred Kuehn. With the Husband finishing his doctorate on the philosophy of Kant, one would have thought that I’d read it before, but it’s one of those books that I never got to. Until now.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a great philosopher and an interesting man. He devoted his entire life to philosophy and never married or had kids. He never went further than 70 miles from his hometown, Königsberg in Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia), and yet, or perhaps consequently, he produced some of the most read philosophical texts ever. There are millions of pages in several languages written about him and his philosophy. I shall read my share while the Husband works on yet another opus.

By Lovain

Friday, September 01, 2006

First day of school and the boys did great

Today was the first day back to school. On Wednesday evening we took the boys to an open house at their school, just to reacquaint them with their class rooms and new teachers. This morning the boys excitedly ran into the school yard, dodging crying children and stressed parents, and made their way to their class rooms. The Husband followed the youngest boy, and I the oldest one; he hung up his coat and ran into the class room with a look of expectation and delight “bye mama!” and immediately started playing with his classmates. The teacher had a big smile on her face. What a relief.

I went back to the youngest one’s class room for a last check; he was busy assisting his new teacher in taking care of the younger, crying children in his class, putting their lunch boxes in the lunch box box, and had taken on his over-protecting concerned look. He seemed confident and comfortable.

I kissed the Husband good-bye and went to work. It was a good morning.

By Lovain

New research: breastmilk cures cancer

There is an article in a Swedish paper about research on cancer cells at a university hospital in Sweden: Professor Catharina Svanborg and her team have identified a protein only existing in breast milk that cures cancer. Named Hamlet “Human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cellens”, it has actually been tested and proven to cure certain types of cancer. The concluded study involved an external benign cancer, papillom, which is a type of wart; however the cells in these warts are somewhat similar to cells in uterine cancer for example, and this, of course, makes the discovery even more fantastic.

40 people with the papilliom cancer participated in the study. After having brushed the protein on the cancer over a period of time, 8 in 10 were fully cured. 2 years after the study the cancer had not returned. Experiments involving urine bladder cancer are currently underway. Here, the protein is injected into the bladder. So far, the study has been as positive as previous tests. The protein actually kills the malign cells without hurting other cells.

Isn’t it amazing? And all we had to do was lactate; something women have been doing for 100,000 years, and I for 5.

By Lovain

Thursday, August 31, 2006

A 1991 Ford Scorpio and 4 academics - Part II; we didn't pass the control

I’m trying to get over a depression. It started this morning at exactly 8:06 am when I read out loud to my friend Texas-born M. from our AUTOKEURING-slip “Corrosion. Code 2”. We actually thought the guy who checked our car, Mr. Flashlight, had said he would pass us this time, but that we should think about taking care of the rust (all the while rubbing his thumb & two fingers together giving us the general sign for “it will cost you”). When we saw our permit however, we realized that Mr. Flashlight had not been so generous. We have two weeks to recondition our car or we may not drive it any more.

My friend Texas-born M. is ready to give up. However, it’s really myself and his wife, the amazing M., that benefit from the car, and I don't think I can give it up. It makes shopping so much easier (we consume about 10 bottles of milk/week – try dragging that home on your bike after work)!, and no matter what anybody thinks; being able to go to IKEA and buy Swedish food makes me so happy I feel it’s a physical need. Is the convenience worth 300€/family though, seeing that we’ve already spent about that much on repairs already? None of us is wealthy with the husbands finishing their doctorates, not making any money at all, and the wives working for women’s pay, supporting 4 people each.

The car is a luxury; a luxury that I, however, have learned to not be able to live without.

By Lovain

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A visit to the Brussels Museum of Natural Sciences - try explaining the evolution of man to a 3 year old!

On Sunday the whole family went to Brussels to visit the Museum of Natural Sciences. It’s not a very modern museum and they are actually reconstructing most of it so a lot of the displays are limited to a temporary exhibition. For us, it was perhaps best so. The train and metro ride to Brussels alone provided the boys with an exiting experience. For the boys’ little brains, the things we saw and taught them about were enough to last them a long time: dinosaurs, fossils, the composition of the earth, butterflies pinned to boards and mammoth skeletons, not to mention the evolution of man. “Mama, look! A monkey next to a man!” The younger one was pointing out a stuffed gorilla displayed next to a wooden statue of a man. “Well, yes, you see: scientific research indicates that man might ascend from apes. Before there were people…” The younger one’s eyebrows were touching his hair line by now: I could almost see the 3 year old brain processing the information. We had a great day.

By Lovain

A 1991 Ford Scorpio and 4 academics

Our car, our dear 1991 Ford Scorpio (color indeterminable) that we share with our friends M&M, has to go through the yearly control, the AUTOKEURING, by Saturday. Since the car has died 2 times over the past month, we have not had access to it, and have not been able to see to the minor details that needed to be seen to. The right front headlight needs a new bulb. The drivers seat is a bit loose and needs a bolt fastened. Our car mechanic Willy (that’s his last name) also told us that the car would not pass inspection without 650€ worth of rust treatment and new tires. Yesterday, Texas-born M. picked up the car from the garage - the fuel pump had been fixed a 2nd time - and brought it over to our house. We circled the car and noticed rust. We checked which bulb needed replaced but couldn’t quite figure out how to get it out of the headlight. We decided that the rust had always been there and shouldn’t implicate our car’s worldly existence. We forgot to check the tires. We looked under the seat and realized that it was actually not a bolt that we needed, but a blow torch to reattach the metal piece that the bolt attaches to; alternatively, we needed a new driver’s seat. Texas born M. looked up and presented me with the standard American solution “How about super-glue?” suggesting that we try that just to get the car through the control, and then move on to a more permanent solution when time was less pressing. I offered to replace the bulb; however once at the store last night, I failed to identify a suited heir.

So here we are: in this strange country trying to figure out what will happen. We have no fathers or uncles here to show us how the yearly car inspection works; nobody to help us with the car, and nobody to tell us what to expect should we not manage to repair the car or even pass the inspection. We’re on our own. Will we be able to use our car two weeks from now? Between the 4 of us we have over 20 years of university education, at least 4 Master’s degrees, and yet, we don’t know. We’re just going to have to see.

By Lovain

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

on mother-daughter relationships

When I talked to my good friend A. on the phone last night, I found myself answering her question “How was Sweden?” with “Great. My mom & I did not get into one single argument. The whole trip was great.” I realized only afterwards that this might be perceived as an odd answer; however looking at it in the context of my relationship with my good friend A., perhaps it’s understandable. We often discuss family relationships, and mothers are naturally the issue once in a while. My good friend A. is, like I am, familiar with that, from time to time, rutted province, a mother-daughter relationship might occasion.

I love my mother and since the birth of my children our relationship has moulded into something comparable to a sustainable peace. The past conflict is present, however only as history, and time certainly has if not healed all wounds, at least made them acceptable.

By Lovain

Monday, August 28, 2006

The busy life of an American Swede in Belgium - Happy Easter!

Happy Easter!

You may think I’ve gone mad, but, well; it’s practically Easter. The summer we so eagerly awaited and enjoyed for what seemed like a microscopic moment is now officially over, and things are picking up again. The car has to go in for inspection this week, school starts on Friday, then it’s my oldest son’s best friend (M&M’s oldest son) I.’s birthday, our friends W. & A. are having their first baby, then it’s my oldest son’s 5th birthday tightly followed by Halloween, Thanksgiving, Sinterklaas, family visits and Christmas; Happy New Year! A full final doctorate thesis draft will (hopefully) be handed in, the Husband turns 29, we enter lent, our good friends M&M’s third baby arrives, and swish; it’s Easter. So there you have it, in case you were wondering what I’ll be up to in the next few months.

By Lovain

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

My friend Texas-born M. on his bike with 4 children

I wish I had a picture but I don’t because I was at work when it happened.

While the Husband is in Turkey astonishing the conference audience at the University of Ankara with his brilliant paper on the notion of life in Kant, our good friend Texas born M. has been taking care of the boys and his own 2 children while I was at work. Monday and Tuesday I left the house at 8:30 and didn’t get back until after 6 pm. Texas born M. would cook and keep the house tidy, and of course feed, dress, entertain and maintain 4 children aged 3-4 ½ years for nearly 10 hours a day.

Yesterday Texas born M. decided to take the kids to the big park; the Provinciaal Domein where a plethora of playgrounds awaited the energetic 4. Since our car is at the garage and it’s quite a ways to get there, they went by bike. Texas born M. has a bike with one seat in the front and one bike seat in the pack. We have a bike cart that seats 2 children. Texas born M. attached the cart to his bike, placed the 4 children in their seats; on in the front, in the back and 2 in the cart (all of the kids wearing helmets, of course), and rode to the park. I wish I could have seen it!

By Lovain

Monday, August 21, 2006

Cleaning the house while the Husband is in Turkey

The Husband is still in Turkey. I spent a wonderful weekend with the boys; cleaning the house, posting holiday pictures online for the family to enjoy, mowing the lawn, reading & playing – getting things done. It’s remarkable how much extra time one has on one’s hands when the significant other is away. When you live with somebody you spend a lot of time just talking to each other, or simply hang out. Alone, I go from doing one thing to another, and especially when the boys are in bed, I get a lot of things done. Alone-time well needed indeed, at our house. I’ve cleaned the house so well that all that is left is the garbage/storage room & the laundry room, the left-over rooms nobody ever wants to get to. Now I miss the Husband.

By Lovain

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Friday, August 18, 2006

Back to work @ home and @ work: e-mails, phone calls & cleaning the house

I’m back to work after 2 weeks of holiday.

At work on Wednesday, my first day after a fabulous vacation in Sweden, I had 63 persons waiting for me to call them back. 652 e-mails in my inbox. My new-found friend K. from Portland said that many mails ought to be a crime. I’ve managed to sort them out however; neatly filed in folders and a lot of them deleted. It took me two days. I wonder what people did in offices before there was Outlook?

At home, the house is in dire need of a thorough cleaning. The husband might have done a significant amount of groundbreaking research and remarkable writing on Kant while we were away, but he didn’t sweep the floors. Or wash the sheets. To sum up, he didn’t clean the house or even keep it tidy. Today, the Husband departs for a conference in Turkey, and while he’s away the order of the house shall be restored.

By Lovain

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My blond, Swedish-speaking, crayfish-eating boys

The boys assimilated well to life in Sweden. Even though they are not Swedish per se, it was obvious they felt a familiarity with the culture and the Swedes. The oldest one, our blue-eyed blond boy, kept noticing that a lot of people and especially kids had the same hair color as he. The boys also picked up on the language really well, and enjoyed all the Swedish treats in a way only a Swede can. The ultimate proof of their Swedishness is a skill they quickly aquired: they are, namely, both able to perfectly peel and eat kräftor: break, peel, suck, smack, and then a "skål!" followed by the emptying of a small shot glass of alcohol free pear cider. Those are my boys!

By Lovain

A Swedish tourist in Sweden: Suduko, bag-in-box wine and Summer at Skansen on TV

Sweden is an amazing country, and the Swedes are so… Swedish! Belgians have a lot of common features but it’s also a diverse country: there are several official languages, the northern Flemish & the southern Wallonian cultures are different, and most of all the social division is very noticeable. Sweden is of course also diverse; still the conformity is so much more striking than anywhere else. The majority of the population belong to the middle class, and they all seem to do and have the same things. This year, everybody had a swimming pool in their backyard, they all wore D & G jeans and shirts, they all did Soduko on the beach, they all BBQed a lot and had their food with a bag-in-box wine, and they all watched the summer shows on TV. I didn’t find any D & G clothes, but mormor had set up a water slide for the boys in the backyard, we drank bag-in-box, BBQed and watched the summer shows on TV, and I solved Soduko puzzles on the beach in Ystad. I felt Swedish. As a tourist in Sweden, I think I did pretty well.

By Lovain

Flying to Denmark, landing in Sweden

It was an evening flight but we were going to be fine: estimated time of arrival in Copenhagen was 9:50 pm, and the boys could fall asleep in the car on the way to my mom’s house, avoiding any major sleep disruption. This, my nice plan, was sadly eluded. We departed from Brussels 1 hour later than estimated due to “too much traffic”. One wonders how the traffic load can surprize the flight planner to this extent. Don’t they know who is coming and when in advance? On top of this delay, we ran into extremely bad weather in Denmark; I could see lightning around us, and the descent was anything but smooth. The youngest one had already fallen asleep at this point, but the oldest one was laughing his being-tickled laughter, as his stomach was turned upside down in the vivid landing. The captain announced “due to heavy traffic in Brussels, and bad weather over Denmark we are delayed but have now finally managed to land” long silence “in Malmö”. What?!

Apparently, due to the storm, no planes were allowed to land in Copenhagen. Some Swedes on the plane were happy about the alternative arrival, and requested that they’d be allowed to leave the plane. They were closer to their destination than they would be in Copenhagen and besides, one guy didn’t even have any luggage. But due to security reasons, nobody was allowed to leave. We all sat on the plane waiting for 2 hours and then a fuel truck came. The oldest one fell asleep eventually. Around 1 am we left Malmö and flew across the Öresund to land at Copenhagen airport. It was the scariest landing I have ever experienced; I seriously thought something was going wrong when we hit the ground and the plane starting sliding sideways, but we survived. I woke up the boys and we could finally go home to mormor’s house. So began our holiday.

By Lovain

Monday, July 31, 2006

Sweden, here we come! We're going on holiday.

Tomorrow the boys & I are going to the third top country in the world when it comes to internet penetration, but I sadly have to report that the gigantic broadband covering most of Swedish soil has somehow missed my mother's house; hence, I will not be blogging over the next 14 days. I will, however, enjoy the trip; cherish every moment of it, and return with a pad full of blognotes to post, which should at least be enough to almost make up for my off-line abscence. See you on the 16th of August!

By Lovain