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

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Belgian beer culture and my children's drinking limit

After work tomorrow we are going out for a beer. TSince we had the kids, the Husband & I don’t go out as much as we used to, although here in Belgium people do bring their children for after-work drinks and other such activities, so it does happen. All of the parties we go to are also open for children, and there is of course always alcohol served; beer mainly. The children often want to taste “can I have a sip of your beer?” and the parents let their children have a try. Eventually you have to tell your children “no, no more”. You know you’ve been in Belgium too long when your children, not are not allowed to drink, but have a limit for how much they’re allowed to drink.

By Lovain

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Polish contractor as a Belgian undertaker

Our friends Texas-born M. and his wife, my best friend here; The amazing M. have seen the student house they’ve been offered, and it’s not too bad, however, there’s no hook-up for a washer; a prerequisite when you are moving into a house with small children. There is however a redundant sink that perhaps could be turned into a washer hook-up, and M&M are going to ask the owner if they would be allowed to do this. If they were, they might actually opt for the student housing. If the owner agrees to the removal of the sink, M&M will need somebody to help them with the work, and my Polish colleague soon-1st time-father-to-be G. has a brother who can do these things. He has rebuilt my Polish colleague G.’s entire house. When G. and I talk, we speak Dutch. When we discuss his brother as my friends M&M’s possible contractor, we use the Dutch word ondernemer. Directly translated into English, the word would be (onder=under, nemen=to take) undertaker. How ironic is that?

By Lovain

Swedenizing the American Belgian Swede & her boys in Sweden

In one week I am going to Sweden with the boys. I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time now: I look forward to seeing my family, eat Swedish food, breath the Swedish air and enjoy the culture.

Having lived abroad for so long, I feel like a tourist whenever I go back to Sweden. I stare at people, listen in on people’s conversations (I can't believe they all speak Swedish!), take hours in the grocery store because I have to look at EVERYTHING, and feel, in general, a bit odd – like a foreigner; a tourist. To add to this; because I speak English to my children, whenever strangers need to speak to me, they will in a friendly but uncomfortable way address me in broken English.

It’s not that I’m not Swedish any more; it’s just that Sweden has not remained the Sweden I grew up in. There’s something underlying familiar about everything; yet, I cannot quite relate to the people, the culture, the fashion, etc. I am however, very fascinated and interested of course, and I want to Swedenize my boys as much as possible. I want them too, to feel a familiarity with everything Swedish.

By Lovain

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Match point dissapointed the Husband

The Husband had been looking forward to the day that Woody Allen’s Match Point was going to be available on DVD so that he finally could see it. We have heard so many great things about it; “Woody Allen’s sharpest film in years”, and last night we finally got to rent it. The Husband was deeply disappointed, and said it was just Crimes & Misdemeanors all over again; nothing new or exciting.

I thought it was clever although not very humorous.

By Lovain

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A blog reader attracted by the 33-year old married or the full-time working mother part?

On Friday I decided to take the big step and register my blog on Technorati, considering the possibility that I might find it gratifying to actually one day have someone but myself read my blog. My hard work and acumen immediately paid off: within hours I learned that, as far as I could make out, some gay guy in DC had visited my blog. I felt flatter, excitement, wonder and... fear: if a guy in DC could find my blog, that theoretically meant that anybody else could; my family and friends, for instance. I decided to let the Husband read my blog. If people were going to start finding it, then he should be the first one to know what it is. Crafty as he his, he found it himself. After he had read it, he told me it was good. Who would have thought? What that gay guy in DC thought, I will probably never know, but I did wonder why he decided to visit my blog in the first place. What in the following blog description was it that attracted his attention?

"Lovain is an (American) Swedish 33-year old married, full-time working mother of 2 children living in Leuven, Belgium. Lovain will discuss everything from friendship and family to the Belgian healthsystem and garbage."

Here's to you my readers, all 2 of you: Thank you for stopping by!

By Lovain

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Everyone else and my funny friend A.

Affleck-T.’s wife A. is one of my best friends. Unfortunately, she lives in Medfield, MA and not in Belgium so I don’t get to see her very often. Luckily, we are able to keep in touch via e-mail; however with 3 kids she does not get a lot of time to write, and when she does, she writes economically. She writes a lot, it’s not that, but she is very sparse with figurative speech and not at all concerned with decorating her text – she says right on what she wants to say; facts, sentiments - all very factually presented. She’s also not very generous with punctuation, so the sentences can be really long. I’m happy she takes time to write me; I enjoy every word, and with her style, it often turns out very funny (I assume unintentionally). Today she wrote me and said that things had been a bit hectic, and that Everyone has been acting up lately, probably because I am tense with PMS.” That doesn’t quite make sense, does it? Although I knew exactly what she meant: everyone acts up during my PMS as well. Well said!

By Lovain

Don't hassel my hoff!

By chance, or rather; by mistake, I ran into this music video with David Hasselhoff, Knight Rider and Baywatch star. The sexism is sordid. What makes people even blog about this?!

By Lovain

Monday, July 17, 2006

Antwerp Zoo visit and gorilla empathy

Yesterday I took the boys to the zoo. They particularly liked the gorilla. The boys sat down on the ledge right next to the glass cage, and the gorilla came over and sat down next to them, putting her hand up on the window. There was only 5 cm between the boys & the gorilla, all of it glass. They sat there for a long time, talking to her, looking. On our way home the oldest boy said “the gorilla is sad because he has to live in a cage” and the youngest one expressed disappointment over the fact that the gorilla had not been running around beating herself over the chest, like King Kong.

She did look sad, just passively sitting there, watching the zoo visitors. The boys were so excited to go to the zoo and see all the animals, they had such a great time, but the oldest one still had managed to pick up on the gorilla’s sentiment. I was touched by the empathy.

By Lovain

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Us perpetual foreigners, housing and our uncertain future

We didn’t move to Belgium to live here permanently. For the past few years, we have known that within the next few years we will leave this country and probably never come back. In some ways it’s reassuring, but it also creates a kind of perpetual state where we never quite settle in, however we actually do live here. In the meantime we rent a house, we’ve bought cheap furniture and we are probably not as integrated as other citizens in general.

Most of our friends, also foreigners, are in the same situation. Recently, our friends Texas-born M. and his wife, my best friend here; The amazing M., found out that they are going to have to move out of their house at the end of this year. Texas-born M. is at about the same stage as the Husband with regards to finishing his doctorate; let’s say a year away. The timing is bad. When you sign a contract to rent a house in Belgium you pay a deposit, usually 3 months rent, and a standard contract is for 3 years. If you decide to leave early, the landlord will keep a part of the deposit and your departure can turn out to be quite expensive. Hence, if you know you are going to leave within the next year or two, you are better off trying to get student housing, which they offer single students as well as families here. Student housing will, however, not quite measure up to the standards a civil contract carries; there will be no garden, no private washer & dryer and limited space.

Texas-born M. and his wife, The amazing M., have been approved for student housing, and should be able to move at the end of this year. Seeing that it’s possible they will leave Belgium in the fall of 2007, this is good news. However, when I talked to The amazing M. today she said they were going to look at a house tonight and asked if we would mind them dropping off the kids for half an hour. I told her I didn’t realize they were still looking at houses, whereupon she replied: “Yeah, we're not really looking. Well, we're kinda looking.” And then went on to explain that they had happened to spot this house the other day and it has made them think: they're not 100% certain that they will be heading back to North America in the fall of 2007.

Of course, after having finished our degrees, none of us will just pick up and move. There has to be something to move to, such as a great academic job somewhere acceptable.

“So, we're thinking.....thinking....” The amazing M. said.

We all do, honey, we all do. Even without the stress of having to find new housing, I wonder about these things all the time: When will we move? Where will we move? How will we arrange it? Where will our friends end up? What does the future hold for us?

By Lovain

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Reflecting on life, friendships, love and childen lost & children to come

I thought that things would slow down a bit once summer break started, but I was wrong. The past week was more busy than usual; everything from graduation parties and BBQs to Shabbat dinners and emotional conversations. A friend & I had a misunderstanding that had to be straightened out. Somebody I know had a miscarriage and another person I know just found out she is pregnant. Both of them confided in me. I feel honored and happy to receive their confidence, and I am offering both of them any assistance they desire. I feel terribly sad AND incredibly happy.

I have realized that I am not used to this kind of emotional compilation. Not that things don’t happen in my life and around me, but these events combined with the intimate confidence they carried have led me to appreciate my life and what I have. I am thankful every day for the friendships I have, my family, the children I’ve given birth to and the Husband I love. I enjoy spending my life with the Husband, the prospect of having more children excites me, as does the fact that the relationships I have with my friends are growing stronger & more intimate every day. We have also recently made new friends, and especially the Husband who is not easily inspired in this regard, seems enthusiastic.

It sounds so tacky when you hear it, but sharing your friends' joy and sorrow really is double the joy and half the sorrow. To feel sad for one friend and happy for another adds a richness to life that is indescribable (although I'm sure Kant or some other German idealist probably has anyway; described the richness, that is), and the emotional compilations add to life appreciation, vividness and magnificence.

By Lovain

Monday, July 10, 2006

The world as a village - a sad truth?

I cannot vouch for that the below information is correct, but I got it from a member of the European Parliament (you’d think they’d have their facts straight!) - it’s one of those things that’s “going around”.

If the entire world was reduced to a village of 100 citizens, and all proportions of the world remained, the village would consist of:

57 Asians
21 Europeans
14 Americans (from both North- and South America)
8 Africans
52 women
48 men
70 non-Christians
30 Christians
89 heterosexuals
11 homosexuals

6 persons would own & use 59 % of all the common assets, and all 6 persons would come from the USA.
80 persons would have insufficient housing, 70 would be illiterate, 50 undernourished, 1 dying, 2 being born and 1 would have a computer. 1 would be a college graduate.

By Lovain

The 2006 Soccer world cup emoticon

The 2006 soccer world cup is over. For French Zinedine Zidane, who lost his head over a comment we are still to learn, the game ended in shame. For Italy it ended in victory: they won a penalty shootout 5-3.

Throughout this world cup, there has been a lot of talk about faking falls and injuries to gain penalties. About this,
the prime minister of Sweden, a big solid man, commented “it’s ridiculous to see all these strong athletic and well-paid men fall apart from a light push.” I say. But it's a game, and they're men showing emotion; isn't it supposed to be like that?

By Lovain

Friday, July 07, 2006

A school day schedule in a full-time working mom’s life

She gets up, puts her jogging clothes on and goes jogging (mental note: MP3 player needs new batteries)


She takes a quick shower & gets dressed/hair etc.


She goes downstairs to the kitchen & gets everybody's lunches ready (WHY didn't she do this the night before? Because she wants everything to be fresh!) + eats breakfast


She wakes the boys up; helps them with their morning routine, makes sure they get dressed (sometimes the Husband will come to life and assist the boys), gets them breakfast


She gets herself & the boys out the door; wearing shoes, helmets, bringing schoolbags, her own bag…


The party arrives at school; Super-mom leaves the youngest one in his classroom & chats with teacher for a minute, the she says good-bye to the oldest one in the schoolyard using the “triple kiss routine” (blow one, throw one, spray one)

9:00am – 17:00pm

She WORKS (Sits down by her desk with a big sigh and utters the words "gosh it’s nice to sit down for a minute!")


She arrives home; hangs out with the boys while trying to make dinner & pick up around the kitchen




She plays with the boys OR does dishes & cleans up the kitchen while the boys play, and then picks up in the bedroom (takes care of clothes that were thrown on the floor that morning, and then she usually has to make the bed because the Husband didn’t)


She gives the boys a bath while cleaning up in the boys' room, she pays bills, and gets pyjamas and beds ready, as well as tomorrow’s clothes


She brushes the boys’ teeth and reads + sings to them


She puts the boys to bed


She does a load of laundry and cleans up downstairs – sometimes she chose to play with the boys before bed and didn’t do the dishes, and then she has to do them now. It appears that there is always something else as well: a bike tire that needs fixed, or something that needs to be arranged or prepared in advance.


She usually sits down on the couch exhausted, to watch a movie or whatever is on, read something, or to call a friend or family (they're scattered all over the world)


She goes to bed; if she's lucky and not too tired she'll have a few minutes with the Husband

By Lovain

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Grading the philosophy students at K U Leuven

Last night we attended the deliberation BBQ at the philosophy institute. There were a lot of people we know; a lot of friends and acquaintances to talk to, and I was also approached by a young man who introduced himself as follows “Hello, I’m smiling J. - your husband gave me a really hard time last semester in his class on Berkeley.” Through the crowd somebody piped in “yeah, he put me through hell as well.” Whereupon the Husband remarked “smiling J., I thought you did really well! I gave you a 13.”

The grading system here is to say the least, unbalanced: a grade ranges from 0-20, where anything below 10 is a fail, and anything above 16 puts you in the top 5%. People rarely get an 18, and there’s a very small handful of students who ever received a 20. But 13 would probably not be considered a particularly high grade. Indeed the Husband has prospects of becoming an excellent professor here at K U Leuven; arduous and frugal when it comes to grading.

By Lovain

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Woody Allen's philosophy diet

In the next weeks issue, The New Yorker is running an amuzing article by Woody Allen who claims to have come upon the “Friedrich Nietzsche’s Diet Book”.

“To sum up: apart from my own Beyond Good and Evil Flapjacks and Will to Power Salad Dressing, of the truly great recipes that have changed Western ideas Hegel’s Chicken Pot Pie was the first to employ leftovers with meaningful political implications.”

Woody Allen, Ladies & Gentlemen, witty as always.

By Lovain

Anti-pasta with Bob the Builder bologna

Yesterday the Husband went shopping with the boys, saw “salami” on the list, along with other anti-pasta groceries and thought “what is this for? I’ll just get Bob the Builder bologna instead, the boys will like that.” When he got home, while unpacking the groceries, he realized of course, that Bob the Builder bologna indeed may be an excellent replacement for salami on bread, but that I was not about to have mozzarella with fresh basil and roasted peppers accompanied by Bob the Builder bologna!

By Lovain

Making syrup -"saft" - out of red berries

Last night I made syrup. In Swedish we call it “saft” and it’s a syrup made out of fresh berries that you mix with water and drink like juice. There is a big berry bush in our garden, red berries, and the boys & I picked a big bowl full, washed the berries, boiled them with water, added sugar and poured the syrup into the Husband’s washed out ex-whiskey bottles. All the while I felt like a reincarnation of my own grandmother, my mother, her sisters, their mother and grandmother. I suppose I come from a long line of syrup-makers, and I remember swearing over and over again throughout my childhood and adolescence that I would never EVER as an adult pick berries to make “saft”. Such a boring and difficult process for what?! Something you could buy in the store! Well, I guess your perspective changes as you grow older. Now I found it quite rewarding, and the boys were naturally very interested in the chain of events that led up to a sweet drink.

Exactly where in this procedure we went wrong I don’t know, but the “saft” didn't taste like when my grandmother made it; it was less sour, sweeter and didn’t have that red berry edge. I wish I could ask her how she did it, but she passed 1 week after the oldest boy was born. It’s funny how you constantly come upon situations throughout your life, situations you didn’t anticipate, when you really miss a loved one that passed. Last night, I missed my grandmother and her “saft”. As I had a glass of my own, I thought of her: our “saft” might not taste as good as grandma’s, but it was worth making; just to see the boy’s faces, their interest, and to recall everything that I associate with “saft” - associations I didn’t even realize I had. So, here’s to memories of young summers, my mother, aunts and grandmothers – my “saft”-making family!

By Lovain