Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Jip & Janneke vitamin overdose

On Wednesday at work, I got a very stressed and upset e-mail from the Husband. The youngest boy had eaten half a bottle of children’s vitamins, all at once: about 35 tablets. 3 tablets contain 5,3 mg of iron. Our 3-year-old had just ingested about 60 mg of iron. Accidental iron overdose is a leading cause of poisoning deaths in children under 6 in the US. We knew it was dangerous but how much and how soon? My first Google hit made me, to say the least, scared:

“Children who are poisoned with iron face both immediate and long-term problems. Within minutes or hours of swallowing iron tablets, they may suffer nausea, vomiting, diarreha, and gastrointestinal bleeding, which can progress to shock, coma and death. Even if the child appears to recover from these initial problems, severe gastrointestinal bleeding, lethargy, liver damage, heart failure, and coma can occur from 12 hours to two days later. If the victims survive, they can develop other problems, such as gastrointestinal obstruction and more extensive liver damage, three to six weeks after the poisoning”.

The Husband immediately called the number we always have at hand: our doctor’s office. She told him to call a pharmacy. The pharmacy told him it was probably nothing to worry about; this analysis based on the brand of vitamins the Husband had mentioned. I went to a different pharmacy who agreed with the first one, but this pharmacist also gave a number to the poison center, who answered after 8 rings (!). By this time we had already got all the information we needed off the internet. How large of a dose of iron is an overdose (about 10 mg/kg)? How long does it take before your child is affected (about 4 hours)? What can you do as a parent (if it’s an overdose, go to the hospital!)? We already knew that our youngest son would be fine. But I still waited on the phone to hear the poison center give me the reassuring answer: “normally he should be OK”.

When I came home I asked the youngest one “What did you do today?” and he said with pride in his voice “I ate all my Jip & Janneke vitamins ALL up!” Good boy.

By Lovain

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Hard Rock Halleluja

On Saturday night my Swedish childhood friend U. and my new Swedish colleague K. and her boyfriend came over to watch the Eurovision Song Contest with me. We had a lovely meal, lots of wine and enjoyed Terry Wogan’s sarcasm for a few hours. When the contest was over, the effect of the wine remained and my new colleague K. started playing CD:s that she had bought that same day. I had already suspected her taste of music would differ from mine (she wears music related clothes, has piercings in her face and large tatoos on her arms), but we had never really had a musical confrontation to confirm it, so even though not unprepared I was at least taken aback.

My younger brother listens to heavy metal, but no matter how many times I’ve heard it, and despite all those times that I’ve sat down to really try and understand its charm, I’ve only just been able to hear “boom-noice-noice-noice-noice-noice-noice-bang” and then maybe a scream.

When my new Swedish colleague K. started playing heavy metal, illustrating in words and bodily movement the fulfilment and pleasure this music would provide her with, I really tried to enjoy it. She looked so cool. I tried to hear the lyrics (perhaps it was the lyrics?) and then I tried to enjoy the complexity of the music or even just the tune.

My Swedish childhood friend U. who grew up in an even more conservative home than I did, inquired “but doesn’t it make you feel stressed and angry?” expressing the very sentiment the music was begetting both of us, to which my new Swedish colleague K. replied “it’s so incredibly great!” Once more I tried to feel it. And there it was! Again. “Boom-noice-noice-noice-noice-noice-noice-bang!” And then maybe a scream.

By Lovain

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The current abortion campaign

The Swedish paper Aftonbladet is momentarily busying itself with a series of articles on abortion. Apparently, 34 978 abortions were made last year - every 3rd woman has had one - but even though it has been allowed in Sweden since 1975, it’s still perceived as taboo to talk about it, and now a movement has been created to break the silence and legitimize it.

According to the Swedish law, a woman is free to have an abortion before the 18th week of her pregnancy unless the abortion would pose an immediate threat to her health or life, and she does not need to give any reason or consult anyone. After the 18th week, the social authority can permit an abortion, should there be specific reason, although they do not allow an abortion should the baby have a viable chance of surviving outside the womb – usually around the 22nd week – however, should the mother’s health or life be seriously threatened, the social authority can permit an abortion anytime during the pregnancy.

Abortion was semi-legalized in Belgium in 1990. King Boudewijn I of Belgium refused on moral grounds to sign and execute the ‘abortion law’ (law of partial depenalization of abortion), which caused a constitutional crisis. The government therefore declared the king incompetent to rule for 2 days, which made it possible for an interim ministry council to sign and execute the law.

In Belgium, abortion is allowed until the 14th week should the pregnancy put the woman in an “emergency situation”. Should a woman present herself at a clinic, she has to wait 6 days before she may have the abortion. After the 14th week, the authorities may permit an abortion, should there be an immediate threat to the woman’s or the baby’s health or life.

It’s strange how travelling 1 hour and 20 minutes on an airplane will put you in a niche where the conception of life, physical rights and other fundamental ideas are completely dissimilar. We all drink Coca Cola, watch The Apprentice and wear jeans – in the practical realm, Sweden and Belgium societies seem very similar – however, the unlike abortion law represents a difference that is present in the very fundament of the social ideal. Belgium is simply more conservative.

By Lovain

Monday, May 15, 2006

American treats

Texas-born M. who normally is struggling with his dissertation on Thomas Aquinas, is currently taking a break from his doctoral life to do an internship at the American Embassy. The internship is unpaid, but with the position come a few other privileges, one of them being an access pass to the Armed Forces Base here in Belgium. On the military base there is an American grocery store with American groceries. For an American family who has spent the last 10 years in Belgium, and has not been able to visit the US for a couple of years, this gateway is priceless: it entails an opportunity to get all the things we miss and are unable to buy here.

Texas-born M. and his family went to the grocery store this weekend, and brought back a few goodies for us. Typical things they thought we might be missing: jawbreakers, extra butter-ishious microwave popcorn, pancake syrup, twizzlers and refried beans. The Husband feasted, and said, with his mouth full off burrito “Imagine if we lived in the US, then we could buy these things all the time” and then he added, with a tone of guilt “all these unhealthy things we miss but that we don’t really like anymore”.

It’s true. I was so excited about the jawbreakers, but really, they’re only cool because they’re American jawbreakers. If I could buy jawbreakers in the local grocery store, then I probably wouldn’t. In the beginning when I lived here, it was difficult to cook because I didn’t have the exact ingredients I was accustomed to use for my meals, but now, when I go to the US or Sweden, I have problems cooking for our families there because I can’t find all the ingredients I need. It’s a matter of adjustment, obviously, but it sneaks up on you and you don’t notice it, until suddenly, one day, you find yourself downing the one twizzler after the other - not because you enjoy it, but because you can.

As soon as we get a chance, of course, we're going back to the military base for more. When the internship is over we won't be able to get in any more, so we might just as well stock up. Because we can.

By Lovain

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Hail in May - I can't believe it!

Yesterday when I left work, the sky was dark and I saw lightning in the horizon. The air was filled with that wonderful before-the storm warmth and smell. As I came upon our house heavy drops of rain started hitting my face, and by the time the boys opened the front door for me, it was pouring. The Husband met me with a smile, the kind of smile you have when you’ve just spend several hours with 2 energetic boys and your relieve has arrived, but as I leaned in to give him a kiss, his smile suddenly turned into a look of terror, and he screamed out “My paprika!” as he turned around and leapt though the house, grabbing an umbrella and a blanket on his way. Hail large as golf balls was bouncing off the ground outside. By the time the boys & I got to the back of the house, the Husband was fervently bringing plants back into the house, while trying to cover the ones already in the ground. He leaned over the paprika like a father protecting his children during a sniper assault in Baghdad. Unfortunately, by the time the hail stopped, there were several casualties. Some of the radishes and paprika were broken in half, and time will have to show whether the roses survived or not. Hail in May - I can’t believe it!

By Lovain

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Dreaming of Turkey

The husband has been invited to a philosophy conference in Turkey in August. I’ve never been to Turkey but I’ve heard so many remarkable things about it and I would love to go. The history and culture alone is amazing.
Founded by Constantine the Great to be the new capital of the Roman Empire in 330 C.E., Constantinople sits at the point where Europe and Asia meet, as the very personification of cultural diversity. The capital of a vast empire for more than 1,000 years, the city finally fell to the Ottomans on 29 May 1453, after which it was transformed into Istanbul, capital of the Ottoman Empire. It remained the residence of the sultans until earlier this century.

Add to this introduction the beautiful beaches and water, fantastic food and interesting scenery, and I am sold. I am, alas, also dreaming, of course. We barely have enough money for groceries every month, let alone plane tickets and travel costs. But it would be so awesome to show the boys the Temple of Artemis and teach them all about Greek Mythology, buy them kebabs at the Grand Bazaar and teach them how to swim in the blue lagoon in Fethiye-Muğla.

By Lovain

IKEA for kids

In the younger one's birthday package, mormor included Sweden t-shirts for the boys, which they wore when we went to IKEA on Saturday morning. At IKEA there is a supervised play area “Småland” where you can leave your children aged 3-12 for up to 1 hour. The younger one would always ask to go in, but not being of sufficient age, we would have to bring him and his brother upstairs to the mini-play area in the restaurant, bribing them with meatballs to curtail the disappointment. On Saturday, however, the day had finally come when they would be allowed into the IKEA children’s shrine. The younger one had turned 3 and we were early enough that there was still room for 2 boys. The lady stamped my hand and the boys’ hands with a number (when you pick up your child, they compare the stamps to make sure you take your own child), put name tags on the boys’ chests, and put their shoes in a box. Then she asked me for my cell phone number and told me she would send me an sms should there be a problem (if you don’t have a cell phone they give you a pager). The boys seemed excited when we left; however, I suspect because of the novelty they were a bit insecure and didn’t end up staying the whole hour. In the check-out I got an sms telling me my boys were waiting for me in Småland, so I went to pick them up. “Did you have fun?” I asked. “Yes, but we wanted meatballs.” they said.

By Lovain

Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday trio of smells

Spring came late but now it’s finally here, and it’s warm again. I had almost missed it, that Friday scent safari I go through every last day of my working week. As we ascent on the other side of the train station, entering town, we are immediately greeted by the smell of roast chicken. Friday is market day in Leuven, and the Belgians sell – and buy – among other things, roast chicken. As I pass the market and enter the square with all the bars, I am met by the odour of yesterday’s partying. Thursday night is party night in Leuven, and the next morning some of the students linger, along with the smell of sour beer, trash, broken beer bottles, and a strong stench of urine. As I leave this nauseating day-after site, I enter the residential alleys behind the square, where I’m brutally reminded of the fact that Friday morning is green trash bag day (see my blog from Wednesday, February 22, 2006). Garbage bags lined up waiting for the garbage truck, releasing a strong disgusting smell.

This trio of smells has been repressed by the cold winds of winter but with the warmth of spring they’ve now returned, reminding us of this one wonderful thing: it’s Friday!

by Lovain