Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Made in Belgium: Romeo Elvis

Roméo Elvis is a Brussels rap phenomenon. He's won several awards like the best album at the Red Bull Electropedia awards. He was featured on Studio Brussel last week and that's how I discovered him.  Yes, it's possible in this schizofrenic country not to know the heroes of the other side of the language border but now finally Roméo Elvis gets the airplay in Flanders that he deserves.

His current single "Diable" talks about temptation

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Beertje starts to walk!!

Beertje has been walking with support for quite a while.  He steps constantly around the table, chairs (or pushes them forward) etc... But when we predicted he'd walk unsupported before his first birthday, as did his older brother, he kept crawling for further distances.   For weeks he "crossed" over from table to us or a destination of choice if it were no more than 3 steps (1 release, 1 unsupported step and then throwing himself forward to support again).

And that changed all of a sudden last week.  4 steps, 5 steps...Jan kept calling me "come on look! Look look".  This weekend Beertje seems to have made a click and he realised he can do more.  First 7 and 9 steps...then a lot of falling and going back to crawling.  But the next day he tried again and also without our incentives to walk to me. With a big smile he now constantly makes attemps. He visibly realises that he has a new skill and a new freedom that is opening up.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Our past weekend without Jan

Jan was a weekend away with friends so I was alone with the boys.  While I'm used to him travelling a lot on week days, I find it very difficult to be solo parenting in the weekend. It's the lack of adult conversation that I miss and that really makes me feel lonely.

I solved it Saturday with a spaghetti lunch with Kabouter's best friend and his parents. We choose the pub based on its availability of a big outdoor seating area but we decided to stay inside after all due to the cold wind.

The rest of the day Beertje was spending a lot of time napping, so I had a lot of quality time with Kabouter but I felt stuck at home.
Kabouter insisted to go to the store to buy an ice machine and water.  When he started talking about tools as well, I finally figured out what he wanted to do: to chisel out a little object in an ice block as they've done at school when it was freezing.  It seemed a fun easy project so we put a bit of water in the freezer with a plastic fish and then the waiting started. Kabouter wanted to open the freezer every 5 minutes and he was constantly convinced it'd be ready. After a few hours I too got impatient and i figured the bit of ice we saw, was thick enough to start playing.  Alas, we had been too impatient and apart from some broken outer layer of ice, we had a big splash of water on the deck. Lessons learned: we need to be more patient....attempt 2 is still in the freezer now for more than 48 hours. Surely that'll give us some fun in the coming days.

On Sunday I had planned my traditional tour of the family when I am alone with the kids during the weekend.  Busy days with lots of meetings are more fun when I'm alone.   We first had a stop at my sister-in-laws bakery where we found the rest of the family present as well. Unfortunately we couldn't stay long as we were going out for lunch with one of my friends that I don't see enough.  The children behaved quite well in the restaurant for 2,5 hours and devoured the appetizer cookies and a full basked of bread.  When their actual food arrived...they were not hungry anymore. Of course.  It was fun catching up with my friend and having a lazy lunch together.

It was already later than anticipated so I decided against going to the city park after lunch (in fact, the best decision as the VIP tents were still there from the classic cycling race Gent-Wevelgem, so it could have been very crowded there).

Instead we enjoyed the sun in my parent's garden. It was absolutely fabulous outdoors! Thank goodness I had convinced my mother to drink coffee in the garden, rather than inside.  Beertje amused himself going up and down the staircases endlessly, while Kabouter cycled, played with cars and trucks and searched for insects to bring to school today. Since we had forgotten Kabouter's favourite toy at noon at my sister-in-law, my parents-in-law also dropped by to bring the forgotten treasure and join us for a coffee/beer.

When we got a message that Jan was about to arrive home, it was time for us to pack up as well to give the children some much needed nap-time in the car and to spend some quality time in the evening with Jan, whom we all had not seen much previous week, 

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Outdoor in a cold weekend

Previous weekend we didn't leave for the Ardennes. We were tired.  2 jobs, sleepless nights thanks to Beertje, predicted rain...all of that convinced us fairly quickly to not move at all. We hang out in the couch and planned our vacation.

But we can't sit inside all day. Never. We need to catch some fresh air and I also find it important for the children to get outside.   So I pushed Kabouter first a bit in our tiny garden to blow bubbles and later on, we ventured out for a short moment to a nearby play garden where we met up with his classroom friend.  But it was ice cold so we didn't stay for very long.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Wooden floors

The last weeks the renovations have caused several frustrations.  Nothing serious...maybe we are just getting impatient and tired of it all. It seemed that misunderstandings built up: an invoice that should not have been addressed to us arrived and escalated, workers that were supposed to be on time when I was in a morning rush to get it all organised didn't show up, the delivery of the wooden floors got delayed etc...

Things were happening, there were always apologies and attempts to make it ok again, ...but nevertheless we've been on the phone so often to check status and planning and replan etc.  I didn't have the energy for this.

While I had hoped that all the works would have been over already for a few weeks, and while our renewed hope that end of March all would be finished, the end is approaching but it'll be probably be early April.

Last week there was another layer of painting done, and this week the wooden floors were put out and the shower walls.  Also the last missing window has been installed, so after 4 months all the "holes" in our house have been closed off again.  The protecting tarp has been taken off from the staircase at the 2nd floor so our claustrophobic feeling is gone and we have light appearing from the new top floors.  That feels nice.

So now we wait for the final layer of paint, the plints, the doors and the staircase.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A sunny day of community work

My husband's company boasts a 1-1-1 philantropy model which means that it dedicates 1% of its assets, time and technology to non-profit organisations.  He therefore has the opportunity/obligation to work several days per year during working hours on "volunteering time off".  I've learned through his experience how beneficial local community work and volunteering can be.

Also within Heineken it was a habit to dedicate some time to community work during a project week once a year: painting classrooms, cleaning up roadside garbage, ... Due to my commuting role going back and forth I somehow always missed the opportunity to participate and the Belgian company did not organise such activities. Philantropy and social engagement in local communities doesn't seem to be high on the Belgian company's priority list.

My current employer has a very strong culture with values that boast among other respect and local initiatives. Although our company's foundations invest each year money in local non-profit projects, I was very excited to hear that our management had made an agreement with a nearby home for children that we'd all come and work half a day to help develop their garden.

I was assigned this afternoon with 3 of my colleagues to complete a slide extension that other colleagues had started building in the morning.  The sun broke through and we had a very nice day outside.  The wooden constructions were quickly finished but the challenge was to liberate the slide on its own position from a cemented fixture and move it and dig and create a new concrete base.   The nearby donkey kept an eye on us and approved of our work.

As it was Friday evening, the other colleagues came over from the office and we all had drinks and dinner at a foodtruck and we visited each other's work (a fitness track, apple orchard, a feeding installation in the stable, swings, a shade rood above the sand playground, .....).

It was a really great day and fun to do some manual work outside for a change. I hope we'll continue to use teamwork now and then for improvements in the local communities nearby our company.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

22/3/2016 - 22/3/2017

(I started writing this post on Tuesday evening but couldn't finish and then had to review due to current news)

8:45 :
My phone rings.   It's Jan
J: "In case you've heard already the news, I'm ok, I am in the office."
G: "What, Huh? What do you mean? Where are you?"
J: "In the office in Diegem. I thought you would have read it already on Twitter - knowing you- so I figured I'd call you.  There would have been an explosion or something going on in the airport. But anyway, I already arrived in the office and I have meetings here. I just hope that the Americans that are coming over for the meeting come through."
G: "Oh I have not heard anything yet, I have not opened my twitter yet in the last half hour, I was busy with the children.  So what's up...oh wait I see...huh an explosion. Geez, hopefully not too bad."
J: "Ok, I have to go, I'll call you later when I come home ok?"
G: "Yeah?!"

With a 3 week old baby in my arms and a toddler who had been home all week with fever, I turn on the tv where there were special news editions starting.  There wasn't much to see except for people running outside the airport building and people evacuated in the middle of the tarmac amidst the planes.

"Ooooh planes, planes, mommy look planes", Kabouter jumps up and down excitedly, pointing to the tv screen. "Yes planes", I mumbled while trying to grasp what was going on.  This didn't look like just some sort of accident. There were reports of 2 explosions.
I start sending text messages:
- to my parents and sister to tell them Jan, the children and I are all in a safe place
- to a colleague whose husband works at the airport. I receive instantly that he's safe but that "it's really really bad"
- to other people that are frequently passing through the national airport.

The breaking news band below the screen starts mentioning something in the metro in Brussels. I figure everyone is paranoid and panicking now and I don't value the 'speculations' rolling in too much.

I inform the cleaning lady who is vacuuming upstairs and she panics because her relatives from Maroc are supposed to fly in today and her daughter is at university in Brussels. She does not understand the news so I try to translate. In the mean time it's clear that Brussels is in a lockdown and her daughter and Jan I assume will not be coming home quite soon.

After 90 minutes, I turn off the tv.  The images only show police on the street, the news is fragmented and confused. I don't need to know on repeat that there's two bombs exploded in the airport departure terminal and 1 on the metro.  I'll hear surely later on the chase on the terrorists, the condolences from politicians worldwide, the minutes of silence and remembrance images, etc... TV goes on silence, radio goes on silence and I withdraw myself on the bed in the bedroom with my 2 sons that I hug and kiss very much. For the first time that week I feel gratefull that Kabouter is ill home with me. It feels right to have them both in my arms right now. We tickle, we laugh, we play on the ipad, we nap, ...and I was irritated because the nurse didn't show up for the planned check-up visit for Beertje due to terror alert 4 in Belgium. I look outside and there is a clear blue sky and the sun is shining.   I try to ignore the many sirens that seem to race through Leuven as well.  I try to push away the emptiness that I feel, the defeat.

For days I avoid all news editions. My children are my only priority.

22/3/2017 AM

In the morning I hesitate whether I'd follow all the live news on the remembrance services for the victims of last year's terror attacks.  Would I watch the images I had avoided a year ago? During breakfast I listen for a few moments to the speeches at the airport but then the morning rush demands me to move on.  I texted on FB that 22/3/2016 had been a surreal day.

A few hours later I drive by the airport on the highway and I see the passing planes in the blue sky. It feels so good to see the planes flying again after all that had happened.  While driving by I hear the live music and poetry read out at the ongoing service in the Brussels city center and my breath stoked.  It was very moving.

A year ago, terror had arrived in my backyard.  Bombs exploded at 2kms from Jan in the the airport terminal where he crossed multiple times a week. It was frighteningly close and I hoped that none of my acquaintances would be affected. I imagined in sorrow the impact of the victim's families. That pain was so much more tangible when hearing the voices of the victim's (relatives) today.

A year ago I wasn't surprised by the events. Somehow the terror attack had been anticipated. It was bound to happen one day. It was the terror attacks in Nov 2015 that had shocked me a lot...those had changed my world vision. Those had frightened me and left me sleepless for a while. They made me wonder in what world I'd deliver my new baby, whether they'd have to grow up in fear?
While Europe had had terror in its past frequently (most terror deaths happened in the 70ies and 80ies with IRA, Lockerby, ETA, CCC, GIA, ...), the earlier attacks from IS seemed to target people that would not affect me : Jews, police enforcement, journalists , ... They were horrendous but didn't make me feel more unsafe as individual.  In nov 2015 it was clear IS terrorists targeted all of us: if we went to a concert, if we went to see some football, if we had a nice drink with friends on a terrace...We were their targets wherever and whenever. And apparently Belgium had been raising terrorists among our midsts.   So 22/3 did not come as a true surprise.  And that in fact is the most shocking fact to 22/3/2016...that terror is anticipated in our lives.

I liked the message from our King : let's be tender for each other.

22/3/2017 PM

Just when I get into the car I see some push messages on my phone about a shooting incident at Westminster and the parliament being in lockdown.   During the long drive home I cannot escape the incoming news and I'm cursing out loud in my car. No, not again, no more victims, once again.   Not on the bridge where I had been walking with my family a month ago several times a day.  It felt so close again. I cursed.

The journalist commented on the calm approach from the police & first aid in London, that an upcoming terror attack had been anticipated.

News of remembrance services mingled with news of new victims...Not only 22/3/2016 had been a surreal day. 22/3/2017 had become surreal as well.

Let's be tender for each other.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Monday, March 20, 2017


You might have noticed that I've posted slightly more than I'm used to. Kathleen from Verbeelding and some of the blogging friends that took her course, had the idea to try to blog for 40 days in lent  (with 6 free days).

While I usually feel a bit allergic to all hypes where I feel obliged to do something, this time I was in the mood to join.  With an average of 4-5 posts it's only a minor step-up. On top of that, Kathleen is so understanding that you don't truly need to blog for 40 days, but it's a nice incentive.  She also sent a long list with potential topics that can inspire us.

To be honest: I have an average of 90 posts in draft...most of the time just a title that reflect what seemed a good idea at one time.  Some are that old I have no clue anymore what they were about, some are no longer relevant, some take a lot of time to elaborate.  So so far, I've not needed any of the inspirational topics.

Usually I try to type some posts in the weekend that I schedule throughout the week - often pictures of the activities we did those days - but I had no time, no energy and no inspiration. No inspiration is really strange as I had reopened 10 of those draft posts with the intention to finish those during the 40 day blog challenge. Some days you just have a writer's block.

While last week I assumed I'd blog these 40 days with a breeze , not even using the 6 day offs, right now I'm not sure how much I'll be able to do next week since I've not posted anything in advance anymore.  We'll see :)

If I'd get too silent, you can always go and read over at the other participants.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Standing up and sitting down

Beertje mastered the skill of standing up for a limited time without support in his 11th month. We are quite used to the sight of Beertje releasing his hands and staying upright for a while now. 

Since 10 days I notice he's discovered the skill of going sit down somewhere and he's clearly enjoying that new sensation. Stairs, shoeracks, ...anything can be a baby chair apparently.  This is something Kabouter has never done so elaborately. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

Beertjes birth story (III)

(Part I here and part II here)

The gentle contractions from the start increased very quickly and soon I was pacing the room to seek my comfort. I sough the help of the nurses: the bouncing ball...not comfortable. Leaning on the bed while Jan massaged my back...nope despite his best efforts really not comfortable.  I had difficulty to find a position that could catch my contractions well. The pain with Kabouter (who was in a posterior position and still had to turn) was back pain  but this time I had more belly pain and that confused me.

Much to my surprise I was allowed to go in the bathtub, even though my water had been broken already. I had good memories from the bath when in labour with Kabouter, so I gave it a try.  But it hurt...It really really hurt and the water didn't sooth very much.

By 4 PM I realised I was moaning in high pitch and I was not applying the belly breathing I knew was better. I didn't relax anymore in between contractions. I was tense, completely tense and I feared I couldn't cope with this quickly increasing pain anymore.  My info sessions and pregnancy yoga had taught me the importance to relax your muscles and I felt I couldn't. I was doing it all wrong!! It hurt! It had to stop. I started to panic. I asked for an epidural but at that point it couldn't come fast enough. Why did it take so long??  I squeaked and cried while I was helped out of the bath tub. Hurry up, I cannot cope with this!

A too long 15 min later, a needle calmed the storm. As heavy as it first overwhelmed me, it was followed by


I kept having a vague sentiment of the contractions: no pain but I could tell my body was doing something which wasn't the case with the epidural for Kabouter.

Now the waiting restarted.  The disadvantage of an epidural is becoming immobile: you are stuck on your bed and even if you want to go to the toilet (which I could still notice), you need help and you need to do it at the bed. We were resting and talking a bit. And I was still irritated by the error message on the windows screen on the computer in the room that had been there since the evening before.

The staff let us alone for a long time so I had no real idea how I was progressing. I could track the contractions on a graph but lost quickly interest in doing so.  The evening approached and the nurses came to tell me my gynecologist's shift would soon be over and that he'd hand-over to his colleague but probably wouldn't be there anymore when our baby was born. They confirmed that it all had been slower than anticipated (no kidding) but that all was going well so that I shouldn't worry when he went home. Frankly I couldn't care less who was helping me to deliver the baby.  The disadvantage of having the follow-up of pregnancy in one of the biggest hospitals of Belgium is the fact that there's so many dozens of doctors professors and their assistants running around that you get to see new people all the time...I had found most of them evenly unworldly in their way of communicating. Only after my diabetes diagnosis, I was assigned a dedicated professor who specialized in pregnant diabetes patients. But I didn't care if he or someone else would assist the birth.

The nurses promised to come and check on me in another hour or so.  But after 7 PM I noticed a changing feeling.  The slight awareness of contracting muscles seemed to lower and move from the front towards the back.
"I think I'm ready", I said to Jan and we ran the bell button.

"I feel things are changing, can you please check how much I'm dilated now?" I asked when 2 nurses opened the door at 7.15 PM.  They glanced from one meter away.
"We don't need to examine you at all. You are ready, we can see the baby's head from here. We'll call the doctors."

5 - 10 minutes later, 2 nurses and 2 specialists were at my feet. Because I was diabetic, apparently the protocol considered this a birth at risk and demanded a gynecologist + a supervisor to be present. Glad I had not known this beforehand. What a party.

They inquired once again about my bad experiences with the episiotomy executed during Kabouter's birth, which I had listed on my birth plan. I was glad that the pieces of paper I had filled in from the hospital's booklet and handed in this morning, had not remained idle. I had not expected them to look at it and take it into account, but they did. But they couldn't promise not to get a new episiotomy.

I pushed once...
I pushed once again...
I pushed another time...and I was asked to pauze as I needed another episiotomy (boooh)
and then I pushed once more....
and they handed Beertje to me.  And all the rest didn't matter anymore (7.42 PM)

I didn't attempt to donate cord blood as I had read a lot this time about the importance to only cut the umbilical cord until after it stopped pulsating to provide Beertje with a head start full of his own oxigin, iron and antibodies filled blood. I had asked to at least wait the 2 minutes that the WHO recommended but then you might as well wait until the umbilical cord has completely stopped pulsating as there won't be enough left to donate anymore.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The first spring sun

We had not been in the Ardennes since the big snow fun in January but now we returned with the first hints of Spring around the corner. So it was a bit funny to see our snow plows fallen idle on the driveway as a reminder we had left with huge piles of snow.  This time we were greeted by snowdrops in the grass.

Unfortunately, due to the 2 jobs I currently combine, I had to work to prepare some meetings for the beginning from the week so I couldn't spend as much time outside as I would have wanted.  But Jan and the kids had a really good time and the neighbour boy joined them.  They biked, rode a little red tractor, played with a ball  ...and came inside constantly to beg for cookies :D.  On Sunday we repeated it but this time I joined them outside for a while after all so I could catch some vitamine D as well and load myself for the rest of the week.
That first sunshine was such a blessing for all of us!

Kabouter trying to make pictures from his dad and brother