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