30 January, 2006

Anecdote that will become a family legend

A friend reminded me the other day of something that still hasn't shown up in this blog-- an event which MUST be preserved in the annals of our family history.

One afternoon the boys were playing outside. I was inside doing something significant like reading blogs meditating or researching better parenting techniques. S ran past, happy and smiling, and I noticed he was FILTHY! "Hi, S, whatcha up to?"

S: Oh, we're building a castle outside out of rocks.
Me: Great! Have fun!

And I left it at that. It was only later that I went out to check on them and realized the gravity of the situation. They were, indeed, busy building a castle. But what he neglected to mention was that the "rocks" were pieces of brick that they were chipping off of the side of the house with a hammer! (They had actually done enough damage that M later had to go back and fill in the entire area with concrete!)

*note: Do not try this at home... photo is a simulation borrowed from pirateplanet.

Field trip to the art gallery

We took a little trip down to Mons yesterday. One of M's colleagues has now stepped halfway out of the closet and his "dear friend" was showing a bunch of paintings at his first Belgian exhibition.

It was nice to be able to expose the kids to some culture and to show our support for M's colleague who looked like he might have been more nervous than the artist himself!

So the paintings were attractive, but I was really struck by the, well... OK, vaginal quality of all of them. Which was especially ironic in light of the weight of the whole social aspect of the situation.

I was relieved when M confirmed my opinion-- it's a running joke between us that my women's studies track at UF has warped my outlook on art and literature. Which has spiced up more than one visit to the museum and is a source of endless eyerolling on M's part...

28 January, 2006

Naked people are funny. (?)

Am coming down with a cold and wanted nothing more this morning to crawl back under the covers and hide for the rest of the day. Drank a lot of coffee and took a long time to wake up-- so it surprised me how good it felt to get outside and do our usual hike in the woods. The sun was shining, and the weather was crisp and clear. The ruts in the paths had frozen over and we really enjoyed finding patterns made by air pockets in the ice.

At least this outing distracted S and B from their favorite song. One of those charming schoolyard ditties that's wearing my nerves thin lately-- "In Africa and America girls walk around with their bottoms bare!" And this sung lustily at the top of their lungs. (It rhymes in Flemish, but that doesn't make it any more endearing.)

I've tried reasoning with them: YOU ARE AMERICANS! Have you ever seen girls walking around in the States in the nude?!

To which they invariably answer "YES!" and fall to the ground in giggles.

I realized this morning why this all sounds so familiar. I have a distinct memory of being just that age and torturing my mother with:

"There's a place in France, where the naked ladies dance. There's a hole in the wall where the men can see it all"

What comes around goes around...

26 January, 2006

Why Daddy is nicer than Mama

S and B were just sitting on the couch this afternoon and started waxing philisophical.

S: I like Daddy more than Mama
B: Yes, but we love Mama too.
S: True, but daddy is nicer.
B: Mama is nice too.
S: Yeah, but she gives more time outs. Daddy doesn't really give us timeouts.

And I'm just listening along, and I really wanted to jump in at this point but I didn't because I wanted to see where this was going. And then my patience was rewarded as S continued:

"But then again Daddy works more, which is a smart thing to do because then you don't have to give as many time outs..." :-D

25 January, 2006

Straight out of an Andersen fairy tale

We were putting the kids to bed this evening when S suddenly asked:

"Mom, are we poor?"

To which I answered: "No, we're doing just fine, honey, why?

"Because I think we might freeze to death in here"

And while he's not yet ready to follow the same fate as the Little Matchgirl I have to admit he has a point. Our heating woes continue.

Poor M has taken the heater apart on more than one occasion and we're now on a first-name basis with the technicians who keep leaving stumped, but hundreds of euros richer. We'll be replacing the whole unit soon-- yet another lovely surprise from our cursed residence.

When we think about this house and all the expensive skeletons we've been encountering in the closets (and basement, garage, bedrooms, etc) our move to Gemany seems like a deus ex machina...


Today is my day off and I took it easy, trying to pull myself out of this funk. Puttered around the house, drank a lot of tea and took a nice run with D out in the fields near my house. It makes me happy to see her joyful leaps and stunts when she's finally set free.

The weather was cold and clear and felt great. Got back, walked in the door and was shocked to look out the window less than a minute later to see big, feathery snowflakes coming down. Very surreal, almost like I'd just left a parallel universe.

Climbed into bed with a book while the boys had their "quiet time"; was startled awake an hour later with two beasties and a growing population of stuffed animals under the covers. Got some sweaty whirlwind hugs and wet kisses, which was more theraputic than one might think.

I'm starting to wonder if this laptop purchase was such a good idea. In the pre-laptop era I had to limit my online addiction because I actually had to sit in the cold study to surf.

Those days are gone and I can feel my habit starting to spin out of control-- it's become too easy to get waylaid by emails and blogs and answering random questions that pop into my head.

I wonder if there's an Internetters Anonymous program out there somewhere?

24 January, 2006

Am thinking of just retreating from society...

Someone I just met recently called to see if I could pass on the name of a good babysitter. And she started with: "I need to ask you something". To which I replied: "My favorite color is orange". And she didn't laugh.

She recovered pretty quickly but I felt really stupid-- sometimes I forget that not everyone appreciates my odd sense of humor.

I was out walking D this afternoon when she suddenly bounded forward and snatched something enthusiastically up off of the sidewalk. Was completely horrified when I got to her and realized that it was a pair of underwear!

Perhaps it was flotsam from the upperware party last weekend-- made me shudder in any case. Thank god it was just underwear and not another party favor-- that might have been more difficult to pry from her jaws...

22 January, 2006


It's me again. I know, I know, I'm about to turn the computer off, I promise. I've just realized that I haven't posted any pictures here for a while. Here are some great ones that my dad took while we were visiting.

Am just now realizing that M is underrepresented on the images in this blog. Will try to capture glamor shot asap... ;-)

21 January, 2006

Now I'm sounding like a racist!

I suppose I should probably clarify my last post. We like living in Belgium-- so much so that even after having moved away we actively worked to return here. I've learned to speak fluent Dutch and have our kids in a great local Flemish school.

S is on the village football team and we might have even decided to send him to scouts here if they didn't have regular sleepovers in the house of a registered pedophile. (but that's another story...)

So the phrase that's spraypainted on buildings around here "Pas je aan of ga weg" (integrate or leave) does not apply to us.

BUT I have become increasingly distressed at the open racism I keep encountering here. People in my neighborhood from the architecht to the shopkeeper have no problem talking about "foreigners" as the scourge of modern Belgium. And the term "foreigner" is reserved primarily for Moroccans, although anyone with a dark complexion is likely to fall prey to their gossip and wrath.

There was an affluent muslim family that lived around the corner from us. They were quiet, kept to themselves and maintained a spotless garden. Yet we have actually heard neighbors gossiping about them stealing things from yards in the neighborhood.

When M pointed out that the guy must have a good job to be able to afford a house of that size he was almost patted on the head for his naivete.

Oh but you know how those people are-- they might not steal themselves but they invite their friends and relatives over and what do you think they do after dinner?

Half-African children of a friend of mine have been tormented mercilessly at school recently, with epithets that can only come from language used freely at home. Because they are blond, my sons, though foreign, have been spared teasing. For that I'm thankful as well as a little guilty.

I keep reminding myself that this open hatred is the product of life in a small town and not of a diseased view of the citizens at large. We have been welcomed by many open-minded people here and I am grateful for the experience. But some days it is easier to remember this than others...

Life in a Belgian village

I just bumped into a friend of mine who lives in the street behind us. Apparently her double-chinned, fuzzy-toothed neighbor knocked on her door this morning at 9am with an invitation to a tupperware party at his house this evening. To which she replied that she's already got enough tupperware, thanks anyway.

He apparently got a little embarrassed and corrected her-- not "Tupperware" but "Upperware" or some such. Turns out his wife is peddling sex toys and erotic lingerie! And this from a man who has been known to relieve himself in his own backyard!

It wouldn't surprise me if this Upperware party has a neo-nazi theme to it if our neighbors are any barometer for the rest of the street. One of them went on another tear earlier this week. He told M that we'd better not sell our house to any "foreigners" or he'll have to move as well.

So now we're thinking about putting ads in the local Moroccan newspapers...

20 January, 2006

I should take up kickboxing

I'm feeling really stressed out this week-- just this vague, uneasy sense of pressure without any real direct cause. Of course it could be due to the Spring Day launch, or the Blogathon I'm helping organize for Insafe, or the move, or any other number of things. Suffice it to say I'm cranky.

Missed my train yesterday for the second time this week which meant the kids landed in after-school daycare and they were really cranky about it when we got home.

Barely caught the next train out and realized only after getting on that my pass had expired. Was too distracted / stressed to actively go find the conductor, so when he came around I explained the situation and asked if I could buy a ticket from him.

Of course he had to weld his god-given authority with the Belgian railways and did his best to make the situation embarrassing. Sold me the damned ticket, but only after a bellowing lecture and a big, nasty fine of EUR 2.50. I tell ya, it put the fear of God in me... ;-)

I just get in to work and the director asked my breasts to go get him a cup of coffee. In my mind I'm karate-chopping him in the throat right now, even as I type this...

19 January, 2006

To hear or not to hear...

Sometimes I say things that make me want to slap myself on the forehead Homer Simpson style and shout "D'Oh!"

Last week when B and I got out of the hospital I called M to give an update. B was playing in his carseat while I relayed the events of the past hour and passed on the doctor's conclusion: At the moment he's stable but she says we should start antibiotics immediately because you can feel "deathly sick" if it gets worse.

That was the actual phrase she used: doodziek

So I hang up the phone and start the car and then a small quiet voice floats up from the backseat: "So I guess I'm going to die?"

And those of you who know B's usual foghorn volume will realize how frightened he must have been to sound so timid. And how bad I felt at that moment-- I wanted to break out the hair shirt and start self-flagellation on the spot!

I tend to forget that I'm not the only one who can multitask, and that even when they seem busy that S and B are probably listening to every word I say!

Except, of course, when we're in a hurry to get out the door and I ask them (repeatedly) to put on their shoes and jackets. It's a proven fact: the quicker we need to leave the less they hear!

Beethoven may have been able to write full symphonies after deafness set in but if he were my child he would probably also have shown up at school in socks and shirtsleeves...

18 January, 2006

Books and Blogs

I haven't been blogging the last couple of days because I've been seduced by a book: The Birth of Venus. It's so wonderfully written and suspenseful that I don't want to put it down! I even put the kids in "quiet time" this afternoon so that I could steal a few minutes to read a couple more chapters!

B is back to his old self-- he's gained his weight back and has that mischevious spark in his eye again...

Have discovered a fun blog: Suburban Turmoil. She's been nominated for Best of Blogs and if you scroll past the campaigning pleas to the other postings she's really funny!

D has now made her debut on a blog other than this one! She's now contacted her agent for more roles as a stunt dog-- this could be the springboard to a lucrative career...

16 January, 2006

Video games promote violent behavior!

One of the trends I follow at work for the Internet safety portal is electronic gaming and its effects on the player. Expert opinions vary widely as to whether video games actually promote aggressive behavior in children. Yet another study has come out analyzing sensitivity to violent images.

One of conclusions: "All we are really getting is desensitisation to images. There's no way to show that this relates to real-life aggression."

Even at his tender age S is becoming interested in gaming. He got hold of my brother's Playstation 2 during our vacation and did a couple of marathon sessions. On the last day when B was sick and it was too cold / rainy to go outside he played demolition derby for probably three hours straight.

I think the only unexpected side effect was my own aggressive behavior. He became hyper from playing the game and I wanted to KILL HIM.

14 January, 2006

I am just SO cutting edge!

Can you tell how relaxed I am right now? I've finally decided to pull myself out of the stone ages-- those of you who have had the pleasure of visiting my house know that my PC was a relic from the stone ages. The monitor had to be cranked by hand to get it started and the hard drive ran on coal.

M and I just got home with a shiny new laptop! And not only is it not threatening to crash at any minute, it's actually a novelty because it's portable! I'm lounging on the couch with M right now. In a room that's warm, and sitting on something other than that implement of torture that we've been using as a desk chair.

I'm thinking of getting up and going to type this from the bathtub. Just because I can...

13 January, 2006

Green Eggs and Ham

Unfortunately I can't take credit for today's title. It came from one of today's articles on the that they've bred in Taiwan. If this article wasn't on BBC I might not believe it was true! Especially since the author's surname is "Hogg". (???)

10 January, 2006

Just call me Florence Nightengale

Yesterday I'd just finished taking B's temperature for the umpteenth time (which was normal, by the way-- he's out of the woods) when the dog walked up and vomited at my feet. Charming.

Had to plow my way through a counter full of antibiotics, fever reducers and cough medications to get to the paper towels and vinegar.

Started mopping up the mess and was horrified to find flecks of blood in D's vomit. Great. She always seems to have something, but this is over the top, even for her! Ulcer? Cancer? Perforated esophagus?

It was only today at snacktime that the lightbulb finally went off. S and B are addicted to Baby Bell cheeses and were tearing through the dark red wax coatings in a frenzied way. And D was sitting expectantly next to them licking her chops. D'oh!

Isn't there some sort of unwritten law against coloring food in the same hues as a bodily fluid?! You'd think they could make that wax dark green, or something! But being as quick as I am lately I might just assume that D is a martian oozing emerald alien slime...

09 January, 2006

Cake in the tub?

B just walked in and asked me if he could eat cake in the tub. When I asked why he said because he likes warm water. (Am now wondering if this has anything to do with the frosty conditions in the house. Our heater is proving more troublesome than expected.)

Here are a couple of pictures from our vacation:

Goofing off at Niagara Falls. (Did I mention that they were a handful?!)

Hunting for glass on the shores of Lake Ontario.

I've got some more great ones that I'll post on my flickr account when I get a minute.

07 January, 2006

Too bad hospitals don't have frequent flyer programs!

Spent the afternoon at the hospital again-- B got sent to Vilvoorde for chest xrays and a blood workup. He's still acting pretty normal, but is very pale and is on his 5th day of high fever and cough, which obviously isn't good.

They think he's got something called mycoplasma, which is a form of walking pneumonia. We should get the results of his blood test back on Monday. For now he's got some antibiotics, cough syrup and, of course, good old Ibuprofen.

As luck would have it he's extremely contageous. So if you've been reading my blog regularly you've probably been exposed... Don't say I didn't warn you!

Life in the hot zone. (but am so c-c-cold!)

We're back home! Am totally exhausted but am jet-lagging and feel completely wired. That, and the heater has had yet another stroke while we were away, so it's 5 degrees Celsius in here. I can actually see my breath! Will type as long as my fingers don't stiffen up and turn black.

B is still sick. Am trying to stay calm and rational about the whole thing, at least until we see a doctor tomorrow. They've ruled out influenza (which is a relief considering all of the chicken flu jokes I've made on this blog in recent weeks) but whatever this thing is it's virulent!

And I'm feeling guilty as well-- we are an epidemiologist's worst nightmare! In the last 5 days we've dragged our little Typhoid Mary around southern Ontario, across three states and through busy airports in Newark, Milan and Brussels!

And four-year-olds are not exactly paragons of good hygene. Yesterday I said "Gimme five!" and held my hand out-- watched in horror as B's finger went up his nose, slapped my hand and then went into his mouth in one smooth trajectory!

He's pretty cheerful, though, under the circumstances. Add the name of Ibuprofen's inventor to the list of people who should be considered for sainthood...

05 January, 2006

Surprise pitstop in NY

Sooooo frigging tired. B has picked up some sort of virus-- he's been coughing and was feverish for a couple of days. He's acting pretty normally, though, so I didn't take it very seriously.

But then, halfway between Toronto and Dover NJ he suddenly became very pale and clammy. We stopped at a rest stop for lunch and he started shaking uncontrollably and his fingernails and lips turned purple. Scared the shit out of me!

So we got ahold of a doctor's office, but they told me to take him to the emergency room. Where he had chest x rays, urinalysis, bird flu swab, etc. The doctor was great, though, and made the experience as positive as a trip to the emergency room can be.

In the end he's got a virus, which they can't do anything about, and he was a bit dehydrated from sweating out his fever. One pediatric popsicle and three hours later we were sent on our merry way.

Today he seems better but M and I are completely dragging. We've been worried about him so we've had him in bed with us for the last two nights, and he's coughed all night long. So we're running on no more than 1 hour's sleep at a time, and then it's not good sleep because he tosses and turns and sweats and kicks you. zzzzzzzzzz...

01 January, 2006

They're either on crack or double espressos

What does one do with two energetic little boys in the middle of winter wonderland? Yesterday we took a walk and had a snowball fight, but their energy level doesn't seem to have decreased at all. We dropped slightly from code red to code orange, but are inching our way back up again this morning.

I keep thinking about driving them out to the woods and dropping them off a la Hansel and Gretel. But then without the breadcrumbs.

Now I understand why some animals eat their young-- it's a desperate measure to get them to stop jumping on the couch!

We spent new year's eve in a karaoke bar-- there were a few truly horrifying moments, including an enthusiastic but off-key rendition of "Play That Funky Music, White Boy". What does this bode for 2006? Either an abundance of bad taste or of bouts of sidesplitting laughter that have tears streaming down your face...