Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Count your blessings - November 2016

  1. A commute through the woods and along quiet fields with rolling hills with pheasants observing quietly the passing traffic.
  2. A little red pompon and a giant blue jacket with tiny legs underneath, running around in the park
  3. A little body crawling against yours, leaning in when you start to read a story, a small hand on your lap.  A voice that finishes your sentences of the lines we've read so often before
  4. A baby that drinks at your chest, ...pauzes...looks up and says "Mama" with a smile...and then eagerly continues to drink. 
  5. Baking cookies with a toddler
  6. A toddler that seems to sleep deeply at night, not getting disturbed when the rest of us go to bed later on or when his baby brother protests/whines at night , now that we are forced to all share 1 bedroom due to renovations.  (at least for as long as his baby brother didn't get ill)
  7. Listening to 3 men/boys breathing peacefully asleep in your bedroom    
  8. Plumbers that manage to move a heating system with less disruption that initially planned and communicated
  9. Colleagues (all with small children) who smile understandingly "we know what it's like", when you arrive late in your first morning meeting.
  10. A week of predicted dry weather to end the renovating waiting game and to make things happen
  11. Our little spot in the Ardennes to retreat to 
  12. Antibiotics that change your miserable sick baby into a smiling baby full of mischief and initiative again
  13. Internet tv that can be streamed to your big screen when the satelite is out

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Blue sky

The waiting for a predicted week of dry weather is over...let's now hope the prediction was correct and that the possible small amount of rain on Thursday & Friday is negligible.  And let's hope the works go allright.

I'm surprised that we managed to keep a good comfort level on the 2 floors that we are still using, although the gas usage will surely be a lot higher this month.

Nevertheless I took both children and we are now recovering from illnesses and lack of sleep in the Ardennes while enjoying the roof over here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Our new cleaning help

Apparently Kabouter had a student teacher is his class and they worked on the theme of "cleaning". At the end of the week he came home with a cleaning diploma.  We were joking whether he'd help us clean now. "Where is my kid's broom" he answered?


Ok, it's just a word boy.  So Jan shopped downtown with him today and they came home with a kid's cleaning set. He was very proud to show it and immediately got going.
The results needed some adjustment but it was so cute to watch him :D.  What a sweet heart.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Tough day

Beertje has had a cold for a while now but I noticed it had worsened last week.  I had been working long days myself.

On Thursday I checked his fever and it was ok but at night I noticed he was glowing. I got up to go and search for some medication but I didn't dare to wake him up yet.  He got more and more restless and a bit later I was giving him medication. Unfortunately a coughing attack later, I could change his clothes, mine and mop the floor.  He was very miserable and I couldn't get him back to sleep anymore.  In order to prevent Kabouter from waking up, we moved down to the sofa for most of the night.

In the morning it was clear that Beertje couldn't go to daycare and I was way to tired to work. I booked a doctor's appointment, mailed work that I'd take a day off.

Kabouter was tired and cold and I had to practically drag him to school for the very first time.

It took a long waiting time at the doctor's office.  Beertje slept through it at a moment I couldn't join him in a nap.
The verdict was a bronchitis for Beertje.

I put soup in the microwave, turned and turned wondering why I was in the kitchen.  "Soup" said Jan.  I took the bowl out again and started to eat in order to realise I had not heated the soup yet.

Beertje and I went to nap but he was snoring and breathing so heavily (and only wanted to sleep in my arms) that he was keeping me awake.   Right when I had dozed off as well, some technician rang the front door bell for the appointment to fix our fire more nap

I decided to go to the city hall to pick up our new identity cards that should have arrived.  I realised after a short while that I was waiting in the wrong waiting hall. When arrived at the right desk, I noticed I had no longer the digital codes that I was supposed to bring on me: those had dropped out of my purse at home before I left. So I had to return home without success.
I wanted to rush back by taking the bus and in my fatigue waze, I jumped on the wrong one.

Traffic in Leuven had just come to a complete standstill due to an accident on the nearby highway and a late night shopping event with road closures downtown. So the bus had to take a detour and I was stuck for 20 min before I arrived at the first stop where I could get off and try to find the correct bus home.  In the end I simply walked. At one point I had tears in my eyes.

I recovered myself a bit during the evening but I was glad to be able to go to bed and hope that Beertje would allow us some more sleep.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Baking biscuits

A big storm was predicted: rain, heavy wind gusts, ... Parks were closed and warnings were issued. The perfect day to cocoon at home.  Instead of walking to the weekly market, our neighbour came over for coffee and the kids were playing together.

Afterwards I promised Kabouter to bake biscuits together. I had planned to do this already a long time on a bad weather day and I had ensured Friday I had sufficient ingredients at home to make it happen this weekend.   Kabouter was quite eager to get started and was running around making an inventory of what we needed " mom, we need 2 spoons...and also a bowl, we need this plate?"

I especially needed the recipe as I had never....(I'll enter a pause here to grasp that confession) ....baked biscuits or cakes or anything before in my life.  A tiny bit scary, but I asked some supervision from Jan to ensure I started off with a well kneaded dough.

And then our fun could start: rolling out the dough and cutting our little star and car forms  and decorating our cookies. Easy and fun, to repeat in the future :).

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Sinterklaas arrived in Leuven

Sinterklaas arrived last weekend with his boat from Spain. Kabouter has watched the news on tv with some interest but without a lot of concentration.  He's interested but doesn't seem to get all the excitement and tension yet.

Since we had obligations in Leuven this weekend, I was happy to see that we could combine with the official arrival of Sinterklaas in Leuven. After an hour of rushing Kabouter to eat his lunch swiftly, not to go and sit for half an hour on the toilet , ... all in vain (Sinterklaas is not yet an incentive), we rushed down to the train station.  Yep apparently in Leuven he arrives by train??  We were a little late, but I could see some Zwarte Pieten dance on the square from far and heard music while approaching. Sinterklaas was just entering his horse carriage. 

As we had difficulty to have a good view, I rushed a bit in front of the parade to halt further and wait for them to come to us at a spot where we had sufficient space to park the double stroller .
Kabouter waved without hesitation when I encouraged him to do so and got Sinterklaas waving at him back. 

We rushed once more in a parallell street and waited at the city hall for them to come again. Beertje thought it wasn't very interesting. But the Zwarte Pieten gave a good dancing show and Kabouter was clapping eagerly along and applauded after every song.  This time he seemed very disappointed and confused when Sinterklaas mounted his carriage again and left.  He claimed the dancing Zwarte Pieten were most fun.

One newly wed couple leaving the city hall had the honor to be blessed by the good Holy man right away. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Amsterdam, the hell - Amsterdam, the heaven

The last months there's been several news articles claiming that Amsterdam has a tourist problem: there are too many of them and they are now searching how to become less successful.

Indeed I hate the city center of Amsterdam because of

  • It's hords of people, mostly tourists filling every corner, making it very hard/impossible to progress anywhere without bumping into people. According to the news, they become a security issue.
    The fact that there's also big groups of tourists on bike tours, while they clearly don't know how to ride a bike properly, definitely not in the busy center traffic is very unsafe too.
  • The sweet piss smell of cannabis that seems to be omnipresent in the tourist sites. If your city center hotel room needs to publish warnings in the rooms that you can't blow in the room, there's an issue. 
  • The abundance of crappy tourist stores selling endless "AMSTERDAM" toques, plastic clogs, marihuana T-shirt prints and fake tulips, ...The many cheese stores that only sell bolls of Gouda type of cheeses as if that's the most innovative cheese range you can have (and tourists that block the door taking pictures)...
  • Horeca that is limited to mediocre Argentinian steak houses, Italians or endless low budget snackbars with bad service and limited unimaginative menu choices
  • Tourist trap musea like "The Amsterdam horror museum", the Sex Museum, ...
  • Endless lines for qualitative museums like the Anne Frank House, the Van Gogh Museum, the Rijksmuseum, ...
  • Foreigners on the trams not understanding/listening to the instructions of the drivers to move forward and make place for the other people that want to get on
  • Lack of payable parking
  • Not much green space in the city center

Yet is is and remains a gorgeous city with
  • The high beauty of the grachten in all seasons if you manage to get out of the most popular busy streets
  • Beautiful buildings
  • A great variaty of world class museums like the Rijksmuseum, the Hermitage Amsterdam, The Van Gogh Musuem, Stedelijk Museum, the Rembrandthuis, Holocaustmuseum,...
  • The more residential area's of Oud-Zuid that have real culinary gems. 
  • Walkable distances
  • Good public transport (=> so park on the outside of the city and use the public transport to get in the city center)
  • New fun development across het Ij (with free ferry rides)
  • Markets
  • Attractive parks outside of the main grachten (Vondelpark, Westerpark)

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sitting down

After mastering the skill to stand up, Beertje has now also mastered the skill to gently sit down again over the previous week.

That makes a huge difference. While he could pull himself up and hold on to e.g. a small table, he could not go sit down again. So he was holding on and holding on and holding on until he got really tired and cramped and started to cry from fatigue.  Or he was holding on and holding on and then he let go and he fell and started to cry. When he was holding on to grab a thing on the table (it's always full of interesting stuff to him) and to throw it on the was out of reach and he'd start to cry because he couldn't reach for the object anymore.

Do you notice the crying trend? There was no happy end.  Because in a baby's logic, it's not good either if we released him from holding on and helped him gently to sit down again. Hah, hell no, parents are not allowed to sabotage the newly conquered autonomy of standing up.

But our evenings are a bit more relaxed now, as he now pulls himself up at our leg, a table, a box, ...and then goes back to sitting to crawl further and to pull himself up somewhere else.  What an ease to have a baby with such an independence...until we didn't look for a minute and he was in the kitchen on top of the mini staircase. Whaaa, too much autonomy! Now please stop growing up so fast!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Made in Belgium: Freaky Age

Freaky Age is an indy pop band that got discovered at the Humo's rock rally in 2006.  Their single "Where do we go now" was a big hit and they've toured a lot of festivals. They were even programmed at SXSW in 2010. Nevertheless it's fairly silent from them since.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016


It's difficult to be city-tripping in a city where you've worked for 3 years. Even though I did no visiting whatsoever during my working days here and I divided my time back then between the office, the hotel room and the restaurants near the Museum quarter, I have the feeling that I know this city too well for visiting. If for 3 years you rode multiple times in the tram across the Dam square per week, you don't feel the need to go and visit it anymore and take pictures of the royal Palace.

(Note: our visit in 2014 proved that wrong as we had a very fun weekend where I discovered so many new nice neighbourhoods of the city!)

While there's a dozen of musea in Amsterdam that I'd love to explore extensively, I figured the "extensively" would be an issue for the children. But we found an excellent alternative : we'd visit the downtown Artis zoo.  Bonus: since we have a subscription to the Belgian zoo, we could enter for free!! (Jan didn't have his card on him, but the man at the cash register was kind enough to let him pass for free as well. yeaay).

Our little fan of zoo's was running around enthusiastically with is red pompon toque on his head  "can we go to the elephants?" "where are the elephants" "Oh look mommy, come come here. " "oooh" "Can I go and see over there?"  "Is this the way to the elephants?".

Artis is a narrow rectangular city center zoo which isn't very large, but it has multiple houses that would make it very good for a visit on a rainy day as well : the aquaria, the monkey house, reptile house, bird/monkey house, ... Due to lack of space there isn't a huge number of large animals (e.g. 4 lions on a really small spot - no other big cats) but e.g. for the elephant family there is new larger accomodation under construction.
There is only one restaurant (with plenty of child seats) which offered more healthy snacks and drinks than on average on such public restaurants yet the waiting time was cruel. It was a non-busy day and it took us 30 minutes before we were all served with food in the self-service line.

We were lucky to see a 4-week old baby elephant nursing with his mom, but Kabouter's highlight were apparently the lions who were in the midst of their meal when we walked by (Our toddler told us they were eating "samali") and the fish  (we found Nemo and we found Dory).

There was a baby polar bear in the zoo on the day we visited :)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Escape to Amsterdam

What to do if the workers in your home need to close off water supply, gas supply and all heating options? What to do if they must do so on a holiday when school and day care and work is closed?
And what if Jan has some meetings in Amsterdam that he couldn't escape since it's not a holiday over there?
Then you can pack up a suitcase and the double stroller and both kids and drive to Amsterdam :). And so I gave the workers a key and left with their promise we'd return to a heated home.

North of Antwerp all roads seemed to have accidents, but Waze helped me to avoid all the stand-stills in Belgium and Netherlands, which is a true blessing if you have small children on the backseat.  The drive took longer than anticipated but we kept moving and the kids had both very good naps, after I had to stop on the first 2 parking lots to pick up fallen toy cars and a pacifier. Thanks to the Waze ETA updates sent to Jan, he was right at the road outside the hotel upon our arrival, guiding us to a good parking spot. All Kabouter wanted to know was when we were going to take the tram, as that's the only important thing to do when you are a toddler in Amsterdam.

Tough luck for him: we first went for a stroll through the Vondelpark right behind our hotel. Funny enough I've spent so much time in Amsterdam already and I've walked by the entrance of the park a 100 times but I had never walked through the park before. The big blue jacket with a red pompon toque above and 2 little legs under, enjoyed himself running around.

After an intentionally stereotype Dutch lunch (uitsmijters, pancakes, ...) near the Leidseplein we took the boat for a little cruise trip on the famous Amsterdamse grachten. A boat trip is almost as good as a tram ride for a toddler, especially if you get to listen to your own kid's audio (which was still too difficult to follow but ...the point was that he had his own headset to listen) and if you pass a true pirate ship. Wow! Personally I missed a lot of the tour as I was busy holding the forever escaping recently mobile Beertje.  I think you probably still see Amsterdam better by foot than from the low boat...but we saved us a day's worth of walking around.
It felt quite odd to float by my former office but I realised that there wasn't really many colleagues inside anymore that I knew: most have left following a restructuring after my departure and there aren't many remaining with whom I'm still in touch and whom I expected to be enthousiastic if I were to walk in for an unannounced coffee.  It'll remain a bittersweet memory.

Our planning wasn't very optimal as we wanted to take the tram back to the hotel right in the midst of the evening rush resulting in overly crowded trams that didn't even bother to stop and open their doors. After waiting for a long time in the city center, there seemed to be a service disruption so we started walking back to our hotel after all, along the tram tracks. Fortunately we were right at a tram stop when our tram passed after all and Kabouter could finally ride along :).

In the evening we had a very pleasant tapas dinner in a bar VIDA in the quiet residential area of the hotel, far from all the tourist traps.   The kids of the neighbourhood were celebrating Sint-Maarten and entered all the time in the bar with lampoons, singing songs to the bar staff in exchange for candy.  Very nice.