Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A nice Christmas vacation chore

What is a better moment as to sand the wooden living floor and oil it than the Christmas vacation? It involves some shuffling with furniture and as an extra you get to move a fully decorated christmas tree around.

But we succeeded and it's wonderful now to walk around on our socks (with floor heating underneath) on the soft smooth wood that looks so much healther.

Van Rompuy I

So they made it before New Year....a new federal government has been sworn in by the king this afternoon. This is the 3rd government in 13 months, this time reluctantly lead by the former president of our Chamber of Representatives Herman Van Rompuy. This experienced technocrate and former minister had refused to become Prime Minister a few times in the past, once again last Christmas when the crisis erupted but was convinced to take the job after all this week. After the ex-prime minister Martens had spent a week in preparing meetings, he only needed 2 days to get all involved parties to sign a new government agreement. That seems at least a smoother start than Leterme's start.

This government is mainly made up by the same ministers as the former with some shifts. Yves Leterme and Jo Vandeurzen who will both be subject to a parlementary commission investigating the "Fortis" deal do not come back and some more ministers have been replaced, but most faces are familiar.

They have the intention to continu until the next federal elections in 2011 rather than being a temporary government that would stop in June 2009 when there's already regional elections planned. Hmmm, we'll see. Who's placing a bet that by mid 2009 new quarrels and (regional) election stress make them give/break up anyway?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Christmas traditions meme

1. Wrapping paper or gift bags?
Wrapping paper

2. Real tree or Artificial?
Artificial tree....it's so sad to see a real tree dying in your living room, although I miss the smell of a real tree though. And matching branches by color code in a holder doesn't really get you in the Christmas mood. But once it's done, I like it.

3. When do you put up the tree decorations?
When Sinterklaas is back to Spain (so after Dec 6th)

4. When do you take the tree down?
When the 3 kings are back home (Epiphany on Jan 6th)

5. Do you like eggnog?
They don't sell it in Belgium, but I like it because it's a Canadian memory (even though I never tasted it I think)

6. Favorite gift received as a child?
Check it out here

8. Easiest person to buy for?
People who have moved into their first owned house :-)....lots of potential presents

9. Do You have a nativity scene?
Nope...I'd like to have one one day, but I'm not searching for one actively

10. Mail or email Christmas cards?
Both depending on how personal the contact is and whether I have the postal addresses.

11. Worst Christmas gift you ever received?
can't have been that bad as I don't remember anything right now.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?
"Little match girl" ....a movie we had on video starring the little girl from the Cosby Show. Brought me to tears each time I watched it as a child but I loved it.

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?
Dec 23 or something :p...so imagine the look on my face during a recent trip to Ireland in NOVEMBER when a waitress asked me whether I had finished my Christmas shopping yet. I should have answered her that I had even finished my Easter shopping for 2010 already!

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?
Anything good

16. Lights on the tree?
Yes of course!! White ones

17. Favorite Christmas song?

18. Travel for Christmas or stay home?
Travel the full hour to our parent's place :)....unless they come to our place.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeers?
I wouldn't have a clue. How many are there? Rudolf I, Rudolf II, Rudolf III, Rudolf IV, ...

20. Angel on the tree top or a star?
Neither, currently I have a ribbon. We used to have the traditional "Piek" at home but that seems out of fashion in the last decade.

21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning?
Christmas Eve!

22. Most annoying thing about this time of the year?
Lame songs in the stores

23. Favorite ornament theme or color?
Red-Gold-White....although any theme is ok as long as there is a theme!

24. Favorite Christmas dinner?
Fondue or Gourmet....cosy and no stress for anybody

25. What do you want for Christmas this year?
nothing particular

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Absent on Jan 8th

I've made a decision .....I am NOT going to blog on Jan 8th 2009. Even better: I am not going to visit your blog to read your great posts either. Nope, I am going to ignore you. Even if my bloglines account says 100 unread posts, ...I'll leave them to the next day.

There is a very special reason for that. It's because January 8th is a day to read. You remember the real reading in those things that we call books? A whole bunch of papers full of print with numbered pages to turn in between 2 cardboard sheets. And if that's really really to hard, read a magazine or something, anything printed that you hold in your hands.

You ask why? Well, Soccer Mom in Denial has a very good reason to launch this day for the 2nd year in a row. This is what she tells us:

Because according to a report released last year reading books is linked to civic engagement. This National Endowment for the Arts reports that young folks aren't reading like they used to. Get this:

  • only 30% of 13-year-olds read almost every day
  • the number of 17-year-olds who never read for pleasure increased from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004 - that is 1 in 5 kids don't read for fun
  • Almost half of Americans between ages 18 and 24 never read books for pleasure
  • The average person between ages 15 and 24 spends 2 to 2 1/2 hours a day watching TV and 7 minutes reading

According to Diane Gioia, the Chair of the NEA,
"The poorest Americans who read did twice as much volunteering and charity work as the richest who did not read. The habit of regular reading awakens something inside a person that makes him or her take their own life more seriously and at the same time develops the sense that other people's lives are real."

A year later, that quote still gives me chills. It shows that reading can transcend poverty, help people think beyond themselves.

That is why I'm asking folks, myself included, to take time one day in January to stop blogging - for the entire day or part of the day - and use the blogging time to read. Last year over 100 folks got in touch with me to say they were suspending blogging for the day to read. So read a book. A magazine. A newspaper. Take the button and please paste it in a post as well as your sidebar (link back to http://denyingsoccermom.blogspot.com/2008/12/day-to-read-2009.html). Write about this. About what books, magazines, newspapers mean to you. Write a couple of posts about writings that have taken you to another place. Then Thursday, January 8, 2009 turn off your computer and read. Then on Friday, January 9th, write a bit about what you read.

I don't need a fixed set day in order to pick up a book. I love reading. Books are fun and I hope you think so to or I hope you are willing to discover so. On the other hand, I am not nearly reading as much as I'd like too. TV, computer, other media are all so demanding on me and I give in. And I'm always surprised by how long it takes me to finish a book.
So I'll be in again this year.

If you want to know what I was reading a year ago, check it out here. Or simply click on the label books below to find some more books I loved last year! If you play too, make sure you leave soccer mom in denial a comment so she can add you to her list.
I am really curious to see on Jan 9th (or 10th or ...) what you've been reading. Since I'll be recovering from some minor medical action myself, I might need some extra tips (yes that again, it has turned into a recurring problem...this time planning to get rid of it for good and planning to give myself enough time to rest and recover...and read)

Friday, December 26, 2008

A good day

  • A lazy morning
  • Walking in the freezing quiet city
  • Going shopping with my sister and buying the perfect jewels and shoes that match the white dress.
  • Smiling at a little boy who loves his chocopudding

  • Eating "gourmet" (don't know the term in English...it's not the English word gourmet) with a glass of red wine
  • Moving all furniture to one side of the living room to scrub the floor in order to prepare it to get oiled tomorrow
  • Phoning my dad who is home since Christmas Eve by the way!
  • Procrastinating in front of tv
  • Soaking in a hot bath

I hope the remainder of my Christmas vacation looks like this :)

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Music for life

The Christmas period is full of traditions that mark the season. Personally I usually get into the mood by all the "top xxx" programs on the different Belgian radio's. They seem to start earlier and earlier each year but bring excellent radio with only greatest hits. Radio Donna that will stop in 2009, even played 4 weeks long a real top 5000 from mid November to mid December while in the mean time Q-music had its top 1000 and 4FM had some other top as well, Klara the Top 75 of classical music and Radio 1 made a top 100 of Belgian music as usual.
I sure need to do a lot of channel surfing on the radio in December and I never need to put on CD's.

But since 3 years there's a new radio tradition in Flanders (longer already in the Netherlands): Music For Life . 3 radio DJ's from Studio Brussel lock themselves up in a (mostly) glass house without solid food, present for 6 days non-stop while listeners can come by and request music in exchange for a gift. All receipts go to a forgotten disaster and related Red Cross projects. It's been landmines, lack of clean water previously and this year's theme were mother and children refugees. Last 2 years the glass house was in Leuven but this time it had moved to Ghent (lots of pictures and reports at Gentblogt).

Music for Life indirectly modified my vacation plans as my colleague had already requested vacation 6 months ago during this MFL period as they were training for a big sponsored walk of 81kms to the glass house for which they raised more than 8000 euro! He was not the only one organising something. The newspapers reported that Music for Life was already a hype 4 days before its kick-off with a record amount of actions registered at the Red Cross. When listening to the radio the last week, you'd think every school, company, youth organisation, student pub, ... had been running for money, washing cars, selling cookies, organising Christmas markets, etc... So heartwarming and moving.
The campaign tv-spot was right on: the intro of a very popular prime-time soap called "Home" is played but instead of the normal actors you see images of refugees. Very much an effective smack in the face!

Nevertheless it was hard to predict if last year's record amount would be able to get broken, knowing the financial and economical crisis etc and the government's resignation (last year the federal government had topped off the amound with 1 million €, a third of the total amount).

But the record was broken again and a great 3,5 million got raised (1 million from the federal government after all was "given", ...although they can only execute the actual payment as soon as there is a government again :p).

Great great news, great way to start Christmas Eve. Although I can't get the critical side-note published in De Morgen out of my head either: It's very easy to be all sympathetic and warm and fusy with the far-away image of those poor refugees...but not a word is being said about the situation of the "illegals " in our own country that we want to go home. Are those a sort of refugees as well ? That makes you think, right?

Merry Christmas to you all

Merry Christmas to you all,
Happy Hannukah
...or simply have a great family time in this holiday season.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

No Christmas vacation for the Belgian King Albert II

I didn't write about the Belgian politics anymore since last July. I left you all with the message that Leterme I had resigned and had left the country in a big crisis. I was so disgusted by it all that I never followed up on my story.

But the king, after many many consultations, had refused the resignation of the prime minister. In order to solve the problems, the state reform negotiations were transferred to the regional governments and got out of the federal spotlights. By the end of september the radical Flemish nationalistic NVA, the political party linked in a kartel to Leterme's party CD&V , lost its patience with their big brother in the government and the lack of results. NVA decided to break-up the kartel and no longer support the government. Pheww, that did relieve some of the negotiation stress on the federal government and gave them some more breathing space to govern while their regional colleagues would now negotiate about a new future state structure.

And then the financial crisis hit our country and the biggest Belgian (-Dutch) bank FORTIS got into trouble at the end of September. While Lehman Brothers got bankrupt, Iceland became a broke country, our government got together with their Dutch and Luxemburg colleagues and nationalised Fortis on 28th of September. The Belgium government got the Belgian part (the one that was in trouble!), the Dutch government got the Dutch part (healthy) etc...
Leterme was glimming with pride on the press conference, finally able to show off his power to make swift decisions for the first time in his government.

But the stock markets were not convinced, the actions for Fortis were crashing further, rumours about new trouble arose and in the weekend of Oct 5th our government quickly sold the Belgian Fortis to the French PNB Paribas. By this action, Leterme had prevented Fortis of going bust and Belgium going bankrupt and had he saved the savings of so many Belgians according to him.
He had probably not expected the wave of Belgian protests since thousands of Belgians had lost an incredible amount of money in the shares of Fortis (formerly considered one of the most safe, stable and robust companies) which had now become worthless. They soon gathered in a law firm who contested the sale of Fortis without consultation of the share holders.

Leterme also claimed on Dutch tv that the European commision wasn't available that weekend and could not be reached. The Dutch Commissioner Neelie Kroes simply called Leterme a liar as a response, something that was wildly covered by international press and put some shadows on Leterme's proud actions.

The first court dealing with the Fortis sale decided that the government had had no other option that weekend in such an urgent and serious situation and that therefore the sale without share-holder consulation had been legal. But the share holders didn't accept that just like that, so they went into appeal. On Dec 12th the court of appeal put the sale on hold and frooze all the decisions taken. From then on the government started cursing at the share holders, blaming of putting the country at risk, and trying to find a way in continuing the sale anyway . All analysts say that the situation in the mean time is totally different though and that there are plenty of different options to look at: a merger of different Belgian banks, further nationalisation of Fortis, ....
But the government clearly didn't want to consider any other options, stubbornly holding on to their first action taken.

And then the rumours rose about contacts between the court judges and the government and their kabinets. On Dec 16th Leterme gave the parliament an overview of contacts that have taken place between his team and judges or their relatives etc... in a letter. His coalition partners didn't even know about this before he talked to the parliament which hurt their trust in him.
The next day the president of the Court of "Cassatie" (the highest court in Belgium), Gishlain Londers, sent a letter to the president of the House of Representatives declaring that there's clear indications that the government has tried to influence the court's functioning and decisions.

Those are serious allegations that touch the base of our democracy: the independance of the different powers. For all was clear that Leterme was dead and all demanded his resignation. Yet the government itself declared that there was a war going on between institutions and that they had done nothing wrong.

Leterme (coming from Ypres) acted as a lonely soldier in the trenches, continuing to fight and being oblivious that the battle was already lost. Or as Yves Desmet wrote in his editorial : the government had been shot dead by the letter but they didn't realise they were politically dead already. So they asked to shoot again: they asked Mr Londers a new letter with more explanation, which he did. On Dec 18th a new letter was received by the parliament stating once more that there are clear indications of influence (a judge's husband, CD&V party member, phoning with the kabinet of the Prime minister, a judge claiming to be ill, more contacts and phone calls). The ministor of Justice immediately resigned at that moment and an hour later Yves Leterme announced the resignation of the entire government....Clearly he didn't want to take the blame alone and took everyone with him. Another political crisis, this time Belgium and its structure was not the point of discussion. The government Leterme I has lasted exactly 9 months.

Somehow I don't think this government truly wanted to influence the court judges. I think they are just such control freaks and didn't think another phone call would do any harm. Stupid if that was the case!!!

And so the king Albert II is busy again, receiving politicians and looking for a way out. No Christmas vacation for him and the recording of his traditional Christmas message had to be postponed as it's not clear what he is supposed to say now (and the message needs to get approved...by the government. hahaha) (although they worked around that on our national holiday as well somehow as on July 21st we were without government as well). And as they showed on the news (reporters are camping at the gate anyway), the queen had to go out on her own as her husband was busy. Did you know she drives the cutest small Italian white Fiat? Pretty cool that she can drive around on her own by the way without a series of security cars behind her tail.

We'll probably get a new government with the same political parties, but some other players (Leterme is not getting on stage anymore for sure) and I'm pretty sure they only try to stay on road until the regional and European elections in June. ....I dare to bet for a lot of money that in June we'll have regional/European AND federal elections all together. By then they need to figure out a way to organise legal elections though if they haven't managed to split up the electoral district around Brussels yet (background here). I think that would be a good thing as the same political parties would be in the coalitions so less competition between regional and federal levels as well. The only ones who oppose to a temporary government is the CD&V. Hmm would they fear losing a lot of votes? I wonder why? They'd better use those 6 months to finally show what good government looks like.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A little list

2 weeks ago this list appeared on a lot of Belgian blogs and I thought it was fun to do (and fast). So here is mine

I've done the things in bold.

1. Started your own blog (dugh, where do you think you are reading this)
2. Slept under the stars (at the World Youth Jublilee in Rome and in Cologne)
3. Played in a band (euh playing the flute in band at school doesn't count I suppose, neither a chamber music group at the acadamy as it was part of my mandatory curriculum?)
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland (yes in Anaheim California with a group of fun crazy exchange students in '96)
8. Climbed a mountain (depends what you name climbing a mountain....I did plenty of easy hikes in the mountains, sometimes to a top though)
9. Held a praying mantis (nope, I caught a lot of grashoppers as a child though, we shook them very hard in our hands and then sold "tame" ones to the neighbours who were crazy enough to buy some. The poor grasshoppers had such a concussion that they didn't move anymore the first 10 minutes).
10. Sang a solo (yes at RYLA I had to sing my national anthem and since I was the only Belgian there, I had to sing solo. Then again, nobody knew what I was singing and whether it was correct. Actually I don't know the Belgian national anthem like many Belgians don't, so I sang a Flemish one).
11. Bungee jumped (yikes, that'll never become bold!)
12. Visited Paris (yes with school and for work)
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning (hihihi, this list has a Flemish version and 16 has "Eaten in the Come Chez Soi (a top star restaurant in Brussels) So funny they replace food poisoning with the Come Chez Soi. Neither options are bold though).
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
- Flemish version: been inside the upper boll of the Atomium
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France (yep on the schooltrip in Paris)
20. Slept on an overnight train (yep coming back from one of the many Switserland camps)
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked (yep from the Red Mountain skihill in Rossland, BC back to town, in the back of a pick-up truck)
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort or a sand castle (yes many many sand castles, still building them with my nephew every summer)
25. Ate lamb chops (mmmmmmmmmmmm)
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon (nope, never will do so either)
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse (I was in Canada when there was a total eclipse in Belgium. :( )
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
Flemish version: scored at Korfball
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors (yes not very difficult for most Belgians)
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language (several of them, at school though)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied 3
8. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing (in high school)
40. Seen Michelangelos David
41. Sung karaoke (I think it was "Girls wanna have fun" from Cyndi Lauper)
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa (yep Egypt is an African country)
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight (each vacation)
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris (pff no too many people, too expensive, wasn't interested)
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling (yes yes yes scuba diving of course, multiple times!)
52. Kissed in the rain (eum, since Belgians kiss to great each other, probably yes. But I don't think I've been making out in the pouring rain yet though)
53. Played in the mud (yep, sold mud pies to the neighbours too as a kid. We had a mudbad in Turkey as well)
54. Gone to a drive-in theater (ah yes, a good old Canadian memory)
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Been in Russia (yes, in Moscow)
60. Served at a soup kitchen
Flemish version: "served soup"...(yes plenty of times, I love soup)
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching (on Vancouver island)
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma (I should! I really should)
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check (checks??? Checks don't exist anymore in Belgium for quite a while now)
Flemish version: at the cash register with a blocked bank card
68. Flown in a helicopter (with the avalanche control team above the mountains in British Columbia to check up on the Highway 3 Summit pass)
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy (there's all still at my parent's place and my nephew now plays with them when visiting)
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar (yup, in Moscow. I like it)
72. Pieced a quilt (don't have the patience for that, and quilts are not very "fashionable" here either)
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person (yep with those same exchange students from point 7. We hiked it all the way down and up in a day. Hot hot hot and dusty. But the best experience of our 2 week tour!)
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican (at the World Youth Jublilee in Rome )
82. Bought a brand new car (I've been spoilt and driven company cars for 9 years now)
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper (hehe, hard not to get in the Canadian local newspaper if you are a foreign exchange student in a small town. I think I was at least in it once a month).
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox (no I'm vaccinated as a child and once again at high school in Canada)
89. Saved someone’s life
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous (how do you define famous? my childhood neighbour is a tv actor)
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person (who's that?)
Flemis version: seen Adamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day (I did that all the time as a kid. One day I finished 4 books)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's broken

I have to admit something....I post all my posts on this blog using telepathy. it comes in very handy because you don't need to type anything anymore.

But it's broken since last week. Very very inconvenient as I'd really need it right now. My agenda, already quite full as it is, got extra filled with crashing servers and incompetent suppliers requiring late night evening shifts at work and with frequent trips to the hospital and due to some sleepless nights with some urgent required catching up of sleep.

So without telepathy I don't manage to post regularly anymore. Oh well, i'm sure you can do without me for a bit.

I'll leave you with a beautiful picture Jan took in Reims and that totally fits the time of the year. Enjoy.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Sinterklaas goodies

Yes of course we've been good and we've put our shoe, so now our fridge is full of Sinterklaas goodies. Since half of my regular readers are non-Europeans, I'll give you a small overview of traditional Sinterklaas sweets in Belgium

Chocolates....all stores and bakeries are full of chocolates and Sinterklaas often leaves them in one's shoe. He's a bit a vain man as he often gives chocolate that depict his own image! However he adapted himself to the Dutch more calvinistic culture and there it's the custom to give a big chocolate letter.

Chocolate money! fun fun fun to throw around by Zwarte Piet!

Marzipan fruits and other marzipan figures! The bakery displays in Belgium are a true delight for the eye at the moment!!! (and the stomac obviously)

"Mariaatjes" or Mary figures. I've never seen them anywhere abroad. The closes I can describe them is marshmallow...but they are not marshmallow though.

Nic-Nac's... or little cookies that get thrown out in great quantities by Zwarte Piet. There's the "letter" version or those iced gems with colorful sugartops.

Jan entertained his Scottish colleagues last week with Nic-Nac's. He was very popular. When I worked in The Hague I also brought big bags of Nic-Nac's to the office and my managers and colleagues remarkably had a lot of questions to come and ask....and they always left with a handful nic-nac's :p. It was tough for them to understand that around Christmas time I really could not find any Nic-Nac's anymore. Especially the iced ones are true Sinterklaas candy!

Speculoos cookies, once again often in the figure of Sinterklaas himself.

We eat speculoos all year round though as little caramalised cookies with herbs that are served with a coffee or at the breakfast table. A tv reality show for inventors had a "speculoos paste " as a winner which became a huge hype to the degree that a new factory had to be built and it has been elected "product of the year" by the marketing foundation. So we have a taste for Speculoos and at Sinterklaas we can get them in all sizes , shapes, forms and quantities.

One thing we do NOT eat at Sinterklaas is pepernoten. Sinterklaas knows the Belgians have good taste ;)

It really is already December 6th and yet I met Sinterklaas and the Zwarte Pieten in the sportcenter today. It looks like he's working


If you've missed the boat back to Spain as well, you can surf for more Singular Saturdays to Jenn in Holland.

Last Wednesday

Thank you all for the sweet comments on my last post. I really needed them in some way.
As was to be expected last Wednesday was a long and exhausting day. My dad went into neurosurgery to get "Deep brain stimulation" to treat his symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

The meticulous procedure took 8,5 hours and takes place without any anesthetics. My dad had to stay awake and participate in small motoric excercises when some test electrodes got inserted, attached to the stimulator and their effect measured. In the end one final electrode got inserted in each brain side. My mother and sister were alternating in the surgery room to assist my dad. Needless to say my dad was completely exhausted when his bed got wheeled back in the room.

The doctors gave him now a few days to rest, but in the coming weeks they'll have to work and test the most optimal stimuli. So it really is too early to know the end result yet, but my dad is already on a very low dose of medication. So we took the first hurdle and we cross our fingers for the coming weeks. Another surgery is scheduled to implant the electrode's wires and the neurostimulator in the abdomen. .....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Nails fell on the floor
more than a decade ago
from a trembling hand.
The verdict arriv'd
Parkinson's not a tumor
First I felt reliev'd

Many pills to take,
unreadible hand writing,
no more car driving,

often sleepless nights,
new walking difficulties,
never improving...

Daily ups and downs
are your tough reality
to learn to accept.

After many tests,
tomorrow's your big day
to get surgery

Electrode implants
will stimulate your brain cells
from tomorrow on

Hope, joy, fear and stress
Your future gets defined now
We all hold our breath

Friday, November 28, 2008

Warning! You are a potential victim of this blog

The Belgian bloggers are quite upset, the emotions are stirred. The Controversion seems to be everywhere. It's war claims Houbi.
The following badge has been created by Adhese and spread (as well as other warning variations) while Houbi got creative with old war posters.

So what is it about? The Belgian minister for Defense, Pieter De Crem, was in New York with a delegation last week to meet with UN representatives. But the UN was gathering in Geneva so his appointments got cancelled. Apparently the group visited a bar , they were (quite?) drunk and openly talked about being aware of the cancelled meetings but deciding to go to NY anyway as some of the delegation had never visited the city and they didn't feel like cancelling.

The Belgian girl working in that bar was quite upset about their waste of Belgian tax money and posted about it on her blog. It must have been picked up I suppose, but 4 days later she's fired on the spot by her boss who would have received a phone call from th Belgian political delegation, which she mentions again.

In the mean time the story truly gets picked up by the Belgian media and Mr De Crem gets questions about his NY trip in the Belgian parliament. After first denying, then admitting the phone call, he all of a sudden claims the following in the house of representatives:

I want to take this opportunity and use this non-event to signal a dangerous phenomenon in our society. We live in a time where everybody is free to publish whatever he or she wants on blogs at will without taking any responsibility. This exceeds mud-slinging. Together with you, other Parliament members and the government I find that it’s nearly impossible to defend yourself against this. Everyone of you is a potential victim. I would like to ask you to take a moment and think about this.

Dangerous phenomenon? Without any responsibility? Everyone a potential victim?

Ok if he wants us to take a moment to think about it, then I will. Not because my opinion and post here is going to bring any added value in the controversy. Everyone else has already given all valid remarks. I want to post my reaction, simply because I am free to publish my opinion indeed. Whether Mr De Crem likes it or not, it is my right to express my opinion via any media, my blog included. If I want to write a long post why I see him as a representative of a group of sour uptight politicians that love to criticise any opponent's action but react very childish to any criticism they receive themselves. Why not? It might be subjective and opiniated, but I could publish that.

Let's nuance a little: Pieter De Crem gained his nickname "Crembo" within 2 weeks of being in function. He's not quite known for nuanced opinions and eufimisms. Isn't he the one who associates some of his political opponents in the family of "Osama Bin Laden and those who rape and cut off the ears of children"? So his strong remarks towards bloggers shouldn't surprise us.

Nevertheless he's the one who writes on his webpage as a welcome message.
Getting in touch with you has always been at the heart of my political engagement. Essentially, politics is a dialogue with the citizen. This conversation between you and me can be held in many ways. The internet helps close the gap between the citizen and the politician, it helps to close the gap between reality and policy as much as possible

Whaaahaaaa, internet helps to close the gap between the citizens and the politician, between reality and policy....but beware of the bloggers as they are a very dangerous species. yeah right, talk about empty words.

Look, let me be clear: I don't think the girl working in that bar should have blogged about her employer's customers. That's not really done. She claims she knew it was a risk (on a comment on the Facebook group that has been launched to fight her firing) but that she was too upset about the "vacation trip" that she thought it was her duty. Hmm tough call. I don't think I would have done it.

Nobody cares at all either whether De Crem and his delegation was drunk or not. So what. Belgians don't care, on the contrary. We keep electing ministers that are known to appear drunk in public and who's appearances are huge Youtube hits.
Was this an unnecessary trip to NY at the expense of the tax payers....that's something the parliament needs to watch, judge and control. And I would expect that this case would be easily verifiable.

So as a matter of fact this could really have been a non-event.
But if it was a non-event...why did the delegation bother to make the phone call to the bar and then deny it first? Why did they simply not ignore it and let it blow over?
Either the UN meetings were cancelled before they left and then he has to clarify himself in the parliament (and if he thinks his reputation has been harmed by the blog, there are legal steps that can be taken)....or they were not and then it's the blogster and the opposition in the parliament making a fool of himself.

But all of that should not touch the freedom of speech at all. Everyone can have an opinion and express it via any means. If one commits harm to one's reputation, there's legal measures to protect you from that. So it is wrong that you can't defend yourself, it's wrong that bloggers do not need to take responsibility (as does anyone who publishes / spreads news via other media!).

I can only conclude that Mr De Crem does not want to bridge the gap between the citizen and the politician even though he got elected by grace of the citizens. He is paranoia for the citizen's criticism and does not value it. He's a victim and we are dangerous!
If that's his attitude, he maybe should not have chosen a political career. Check this out, Mr De Crem.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

what I'd like to know tonight

Is there any American family gathering tonight around the table to celebrate Thanksgiving
....and not serving turkey at the meal?

I'm just curious. If you're out there....leave a comment

Anyway, whatever is on the menu, I wish you all a good time with your family. Enjoy!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mumbai attacks

When fun exotic vacation memories have mutated themselves in an explosive nightmare at boiling point in the late night news...you feel a big nod in your stomac.

Victoria Terminus looks like this at the moment

The magnificent Taj Hotel at India Gate is currently the scene of fire, explosions and hostages.

Shit!! What's going on?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Fish and pumpkin

What do you do when a good friend comes over and she doesn't eat meat?
And you have a huge pumpkin laying around (and already a freezer full of pumpkin soup)? Then you need creative pumkin/fish recipes.

Anyone? You google. Simple isn't it.
And then you land here. Sounds good and not too difficult right? Well it is very good and not too difficult and to us it was a new combination of ingredients.


  • 2.2 lbs (=1kg) fish fillets or slices, Kingfish or Red fish
  • 3 tbsp. butter
  • 1/4 c. sliced onion
  • 1 tbsp. ginger powder
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp. chopped pimentos (eum if you don't like spicy, take less....I unseeded our peppers but it still gave quite a spicy touch to the sauce. We liked it , but don't tell me I did not warn you)
  • 2 tbsp. flour
  • 1 c. evaporated milk (hahaha that made us laugh so much... do we have to gather milk condense? :p...ok wikipedia told us what we needed but we took normal milk nevertheless).
  • 1/4 c. pumpkin puree
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1/2 c. cracker crumbs (we took chapelure)

1. Wash and dry fillets/slices. Place in greased baking dish.
2. Melt butter. Saute onions, ginger, garlic and pimentos over low heat for two minutes. Mix flour with milk. Add to sauteed vegetables and stir.
3. Add pumpkin puree. Stir mixture until thick and creamy. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
4. Pour sauce over fish fillets and sprinkle top with cracker crumbs.
5. Bake at 375 degrees F. for 25 minutes (190° C). We finished by putting the dish a couple of minutes under the grill. Serve hot, garnish with lemon slices and sweet pepper rings.

We served on pumkin mashed potatoes.

The recipe claims that it serves eight, but then it'll be an entree though. I think it serves 5-6 max. For us making the pumkin mashed potatoes took most time.

Monday, November 24, 2008

He's around!

Jenn in Holland announced him first,
Lies saw him already although vaguely, her children got some letters,
Kate really got a good view,

but last week I got to phone with Zwarte Piet! I must say I was a bit confused when a phonecall to my sister got anwered by a very young sounding Piet who told me that Sinterklaas had proclaimed that all children have been good this year. For a moment I thought I was talking to Stef but nope, the voice confirmed to me that he was Zwarte Piet.

So I wasn't too surprised that I saw Him coming by when leaving the public library.

But the Holy Man still keeps busy at his high age as he had visited my parents that same evening and had left them already some presents for Stef. Lucky boy

Sunday, November 23, 2008

How you end up hating snow

After some snow/hail/thunderstorm showers yesterday with alternating white/green landscapes all day, more "winter showers" had been predicted from the west this morning. But when we drove this morning to our parents, it was very dry and I didn't worry too much about the potential snow. Hey, this is Belgium right, snow falls 7 days a year and lasts on average 15 minutes before it melts. Since snow showers were predicted, the highways would be covered with a ridiculous high layer of salt.

During dinner snow flakes started falling down. Wow, nice. After a while the world started becoming nice and it looked very beautiful. I think it'd be cool to take Stef outside after his afternoon nap to play a bit.

  • 16u I start getting nervous that we still need to drive on to Jan's parents while the snow is really piling up outside (3-4 inches) and I start thinking that I don't want to drive through the snow in the dark.
  • 16u15 We leave and decide to check downtown whether the major roads are cleared well
  • 16u20 The city roads are not clear at all and traffic creeps at snail pace through the city
  • 16u25 We decide not to continue further anymore and look for a roundabout to turn back and start heading home now it's still light. We phone Jan's parents that we are not stopping by anymore. Cars in front of us make some scary slides.
  • 16u35 We are almost at the highway entry, 2kms from my parents door. Jan is making pictures of the beautiful landscape while I try not to focus too much on the car in front of me sliding sideways each time he tries to accelerate a bit.
  • 16u40 We see that even on the highway traffic creeps slowly and that snow has not been cleared properly . There's a lot of salt trucks out there, but when Belgium gets hit by a major snow storm everywhere in a couple of hours, they really can't cope at all. (And Belgians don't know how to drive through snow either).
  • 16u55 I'm already stressed out, need to pee and pull over to let Jan drive. The snow crunches loudly under my shoes.
  • 17u00 The news bulletin stresses that all the roads can be icy, that air- and road traffic is very much disturbed etc...
  • 18u00 The news bulleting stresses that all the roads can be icy, that air- and road traffic is very much disturbed etc... Hmm sounds familiar, didn't we hear this like....25 kms before as well?
  • 18u20 All people that phone the radio seem to be stuck in major snow traffic jams and complain about being hungry , bored, ....or they request snow songs, ask for jokes to tell, suggest mooning to the other drivers to make it a bit more exciting etc...
  • 18u35 We really need to have a bathroom stop again and we are anxiously counting down the kms for the parking at Groot-Bijgaarden just before Brussels. Only 1500 m anymore.
  • 18u40 Still in the traffic jam trying to reach the parking lot. Jan's mom phones to check whether we've still not arrived home. Not within another hour I fear.
  • 18u45 Finally we manage to leave the traffic jam and enter a very full parking lot. Jan and I both go to the bathroom in the service shop and due to a misunderstanding we both come out with potato chips and a big bottle of water. I have a pulsing headache.
  • 18u50 We are back in the traffic jam trying to merge in and then take the city ring of Brussels.
  • 19u00 The news bulleting stresses that all the roads can be icy, that air- and road traffic is very much disturbed etc... it's getting annoying to hear this news bulletin for the third time after having only travelled about 50kms so far.
  • 19u10 We finally can take the exit for the Brussels ring. The exit south has been closed of by the police as it's uphill and looks like an icy slide, so all traffic needs to head north anyway.
  • 19u20 We are a few kms further still trying to merge into all the other traffic lanes joining in. Traffic hardly moves at all.
  • 19u22 We count 2 trucks stuck on a slope on a right entry lane and one stuck truck on a left entry lane around Groot-Bijgaarden still in Brussels.
    Someone comes knocking on our door to ask whether we have any beer on board (I have beer publicity on my car).
  • 19u30 we are finally on the ring driving slowly. Traffic information on the radio says that part of the ring has been closed off because they need to spray more salt on a major viaduct.
  • 19u40 New traffic jam at Grimbergen....I guess we are inline because of the former announcement. My headache medication starts kicking in.
  • 19u50 Just before the viaduct we notice a small tv news truck with a camera man sticking out of the roof filming the traffic jam. My friend on the phone tells me there's no live newsfeed on tv. Oh bummer.
  • 20u00 The news bulleting stresses that all the roads can be icy, that air- and road traffic is very much disturbed etc... Really? Would anyone not know this already???
    Once crossed the viaduct, the road is totally snowfree! Wow we can reach the insane speed of 60kms/h
  • 20u05 We change highways and much to our joy, this highway is fairly calm and snowfree too. Wooooohooo, the end is in sight. My mom phones to check whether we've arrive .
  • 20u20 We are home. I am exhausted. We've travelled 100 kms.
  • 20u30 On the computer I read a dozen facebook statusses and blog posts about the joy of building snowmen, the beauty of the landscapes (seen from inside usually) and the falling snowflakes.

    Beautful? Cosy? Fun? My ass.....I can only resent snow tonight.
    But maybe tomorrow I'll enjoy the view (it's freezing tonight so it'll stay) when I don't need to use my car at all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

That's what he does to me

Let me introduce Jan a bit more:

  • He's the type of guy that starts tickling you at a public event
  • He continues until you are laughing and crying at the same time and begging for mercy and try to grasp some breath
  • Then he points to all who is nearby "oh look look she's leaking" "look she can't stop anymore"
  • And he takes pictures of it all.

Yep that's what he does to me. What a funny guy.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tourists in Ireland and at a Irish (&Scottish) wedding

15 months after attending a Scottish wedding Jan and I were now invited to another colleague's wedding...in Ireland. Since neither of us had ever been in Ireland we didn't hesitate long to take some extra days off to visit Dublin and the countryside around.

We started off in Dublin, armed with a Dublin Pass in our pockets that gave us free entrance to a lot of major attractions. We wore our shoes out at Dublin castle, Trinity, St Patrick's cathedral, Christ Church cathedral, The Guinness Storehouse, The old Jameson distillery, the Kilmainham Goal, .... No wonder we dropped back in our room each night at a very very decent hour, totally exhausted from all the sightseeing . No wild nights in Temple Bar for us! We walked it all by foot despite the traffic lights and pedestrian crossings that were definately NOT pedestrian friendly (pedestrian lights that are for ever red, even if the car lights keep on changing for all directions, ....crossings that are only on one side of the crosspoint so you need to zigzag through the city or race across without any help. Argghhh...small point of frustration in Dublin). But it gave us the opportunity to feel the city, the walk along the river, feel the busy city quarters and the more remote ones.

What to recommend? The Kilmainham Goal, the city center Victorian jail that was into use until after the Irish civil war in the 20ies.

On our way from and to Cavan, we took the time to make some countryside stops to visit the countryside among other the megalithic tumuli in the Boyth valley (Newgrange, Hill of Tara, ...) as well as some ruins from medieval abbeys in the same area.

But of course our main goal was the wedding of this beautiful Irish - Scottish couple.

the bride and her beautiful friends....admired by the groom's tartan army present :)

It's always interesting to attend a wedding abroad to see the analogies and differences across cultures. As Ireland is a very catholic country, the actual service was very familiar.
The biggest difference (as was the case in Scotland) is the drinks that need to be paid by the guests at the bar during the reception (without appetizers) and the evening party. Even when it was the second time for us, it is still quite some culture shock.
The party after the delicious meal had a life band which gives a special atmosphere at the party, but it also restricts the music type variety played. But on this party it was the perfect mix: 2 hours with the band that let us swing and then followed by some hours of DJ work. And I've never seen a wedding with that many people on the dance floor all the time. The majority of the guests were constantly on the floor until the end! Coool. Must be the gaelic blood. Weddings with a lot of dancing are the best.
...and the party didn't end at 1AM as in the Netherlands & Scotland...but still earlier than Belgian ones.

(this little guy was definately the cutest Scotsman I've ever met!!)