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