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