27 March 2012


The weather has been beautiful here in Leuven, and it's making our walks around town a thousand percent better. However, although I know I should be floating in the delirium of spring, I am plodding around in a fog of fatigue and weightiness. I wake up exhausted after sleeping poorly, I take naps prior to 10 am, and only guilt about the Mister doing so much of the housework and child-wrangling on top of his busy job and dissertation-writing provokes me to get the laundry done, make and clean up dinner, and pick up toys (squatting or on all fours, because--oof--the bending over thing is just not good).

My belly is, I am convinced, as big as it was with Gabriel shortly before he was born. And we have ten weeks to go. It's sticking out like a giant torpedo, probably because all of my muscles have given way entirely. Wherever I go--church, book club, daycare, Dutch class--people assume that I am on the verge of giving birth. Yet: ten weeks to go. At thirty weeks with Gabriel, I was still only just starting to feel *really* pregnant. Hah!

In comparison with my first pregnancy, I am doing very little by way of body-strengthening and stretching, and I imagine this is in part to blame for the aches and pains. I took yoga and birth movement classes with Gabriel, but here I haven't been able to find a prenatal yoga class that's accessible to me. I know I should just do some yoga at home and figure it out on my own or via podcasts/youtube videos, but somehow a nap always sounds better. At least I am walking at least four miles a day, no matter what, so there's that. But I do want to start working on stretching and yoga practice, so I hope registering that desire here will spur me to do so.

The best part about this pregnancy with Junebug is how much he is in motion. He is continuously stretching and rolling, more than I remember with Gabriel. It's not a pummeling or a kicking feeling as much as a sensation of smooth but seriously pushy-outy gestures. I'm constantly grinning in wonder as I watch a little fist or foot make a visible path across my skin, sometimes strong enough that I feel like I need to press back with my hand lest he bust out of there! (Even if I'm not stretching enough, *he* certainly is!) It's very easy to feel his little head or rump, probably due to the aforementioned stretched-out and separated abdominal muscles, and I love poking at him (although he probably doesn't appreciate it as much). I'm convinced he moves in response to Gabriel's voice or cry, and he always wakes up and starts moving in the morning when Gabriel comes to our bed asking for a banana.

Gabriel still doesn't have much of a clue what is in store, even though we've gotten a few books about a new baby and try to read them regularly, in addition to talking about (and praying for) his new brother. He knows that my belly is "baby," but I don't think he realizes that the baby will come out and be one of the babies in his books, or the babies we see of our friends and family. I'm very curious to see how he reacts to a new sibling, and find it hard to predict what response he'll have. A friend suggested that we let him pick out a gift *from* him to his brother, an idea I like a lot--helping him feel big brotherly. We shall see!

I have a lot more to say about Mr. Gabriel, who is such a delight and a handful these days. We got him a new bed at Ikea, and he transitioned perfectly well from sleeping on a mattress on the floor to sleeping in his bed, which we are very relieved about. "New bed!" he says. He's busting out with new words and phrases all the time, in all three of his languages, and it's pretty adorable. Our favorite is "Extra yum!", which comes from an adorable book called Little Pea, about a pea who hates the candy his parents give him for dinner but loves spinach for dessert: "yum, yum, extra yum!" Gabriel gobbles up most of the food we give him, in portion sizes about equivalent to ours, so the phrase is apropos. Anyway, now I'm rambling on about Gabriel and I will try to write a separate post soon.

We leave for Barcelona again shortly...there is a general transportation strike on Thursday, the day we are scheduled to leave, and our flight is cancelled, so we are currently trying to reschedule and don't know yet when that will be. Could be as soon as tomorrow night. We'll be gone for 10 days, much of that time without internet when we head up the coast. I'm looking forward to a longer, quieter break from our regular routine, and the weather forecast is looking good. So I don't know how much I'll post during that time. By the time we get back it will be well into April, which...wow! Ten weeks is going to fly by.

21 March 2012

Red-carpet day

I did something completely out of the ordinary and completely fun today. I took the train to Brussels and headed out to the Expo in order to attend the Bocuse d'Or European championships and browse a massive food and hospitality trade show. The Mister met me for his lunch break, and we sampled our way through an astonishing array of booths offering every manner of foods and drinks, from the finest cheeses to the most humble of fast foods (Belgian frites!) and supermarket brands.

With hundreds and hundreds of vendors handing out samples, I practically rolled out of the place after eating until my already round belly was about to burst. There were trays of sushi, bowls of soup, fresh preparations of fish, avalanches of pistachios, mountains of cookies and pastries and chocolates, and a truly surprising number of ice cream and coffee stands (maybe these were the easiest "sample" that companies not directly producing either could still wheel out). There were bars where free drinks flowed (I stuck to water, obviously, but could have ordered anything) and huge sections dedicated to wine and beer and liquor tastings.

Fortunately, I could intersperse the food-sampling and expo-wandering (to give my full belly and sore feet a break) with stretches of viewing the Bocuse d'Or, a live cooking championship in which the best chefs from each country present elegant, elaborate fish and meat trays to a panel of judges after hours of preparation in front of the audience and the media. It was a bit chaotic and hard to follow at first (just a jumble of white chef hats seen from a distance), but got exciting when the teams started sending out their food, arrayed on heavy mirrored trays, slowly paraded before the judges and then nervously portioned out by teams of white-gloved students. The audience members looked and sounded like they belonged at sporting events, waving flags and wearing wigs and face paints, screaming for their teams. Noisemakers, air horns, and vuvuzelas added to the general excitement, as did dramatic musical fanfare used to announce the presentation of a given team's dishes, and trilingual descriptions of the food, the kitchen preparations, and so forth. Think Iron Chef meets Eurovision meets the Olympics.

This is a not-great picture that I took with my iPad, but at least it shows the distant kitchens (in real life I could sort of kind of just make out what they were doing), the huge array of chefs cooking, coaching, and judging, and some of the cheering fans on the big screen. This image shows only half of the ten competing country's kitchens.

I have no idea why I was sent an invitation to these events--I must be on some mailing list somewhere. I thought it might be because of the Mister's work, but he didn't get an invitation (mine got us both in), so that's not it unless it was "spouses of...". But I'm definitely thankful for the super fun day and all the yummy food I got to taste! I had to tear myself away from the competition at 4 in order to get back to Leuven in time to pick Gabriel up from daycare, so I didn't find out who won. But it was a fantastic excursion on a sunny day--and here's the red-carpet view that greeted me on my way out of the hall.

20 March 2012


We flew back from a sunny Barcelona to a sunny Leuven (with a nip in the air, but still sunny)! Gabriel did great on the flights, and him having his own seat made them so much nicer for us. The house is very clean and the walls didn't cave in, although the diggers seem to be mysteriously redigging holes that they had already dug.

The crazy thing is that we fly back to Barcelona again next Thursday already--we deliberately squeezed another trip in before I could no longer fly, and since it will be a long holiday during Easter week M. had days off. But this time we'll go up the coast and spend much of our time having an actual vacation, just us, no internet, and hopefully plenty of sun and walks on the beach.

Before that happens, though, we need to make some progress on the babifying of our house, which means a trip to Ikea. I know Ikea is a cliché of frustrated couples compromising over cheap, mass-produced shelving units (and we have certainly lived the cliché), but I still really love going there. I have childhood memories of going to one of the early Ikeas to arrive in the US, and I always loved (still do!) strolling through the cleverly composed floor model apartments, locating items in the giant warehouse, eating in the cafeteria, and so forth. The whole Ikea package.

I'm also trying to decide about the best sleeping arrangement for when the baby comes, which impacts what we buy at Ikea. Ideally, I'd like to sleep in our bedroom and put the baby in a co-sleeper or bassinet next to our bed. But there's barely room for that, and even if we found room, there's no room for a chair to nurse in (I found that the first weeks were better nursing sitting up, until baby got big enough for side-lying), or a place to change his diaper. The normal changing/diapering area (on a dresser) will be in Gabriel's room, as will the full-size crib. Since Gabriel's room adjoins ours, we also risk waking him up during the nighttime wakings.

The alternative, probably more practical option is to relocate, temporarily, to the guest room/office, which is twice as big as our cozy bedroom. We can stick a chair for nursing in there, and even the crib if we want to, and we could use the desk for nighttime diaper changes. But I'm not entirely happy about that prospect, for several reasons: the bed is smaller (roughly a double compared to our queen, which when you add a little baby--and potentially a toddler--in the middle makes a big difference), the windows face the street (noise issues), our massive wardrobe and thus clothes would have to remain in our room which is where my mom would be staying if we took over the guest room, and, well, it's just not *our* room. I imagine nuzzling our new baby in the family space we've already created, not in the somewhat disjointed all-purpose guest room (a corner of which serves as suitcase/baby gear/Christmas decoration storage, since as I'm sure I've mentioned before, Europeans don't believe in closets, grrr).

All of this leaves me going in circles. If we do need to create a new setup, I want to start doing it in advance so Gabriel gets used to us sleeping elsewhere. This is why I'm feeling pressure to get things settled and decide already! I realize that the difficulty is in large part my inability to imagine just how life is going to be: M's the visionary and I'm always stuck dithering about things until I actually start seeing them unfold in real life and then I feel much better. So I probably just need to take the plunge and start setting up the guest room as a new-baby headquarters, reminding myself that it's only temporary, and then I'll settle right in. Although--again with the althoughs--I'll have to wait until after our last round of visitors (M's entire family!) at the beginning of May, so they can use the current guest room.

Baby is kicking me right now--he's getting very baroque with the kicking and stomach-rippling effects lately--as if to remind me that the main thing he'll need he already has: a spot in my arms and my heart. So I guess we'll be OK, wherever we end up spending our (probably sleepless) nights.

15 March 2012

Rumbles and travels

I'm still here, although I've somehow let more than a few days go by without further commentary. March is being very...March-y, with a few scattered days of sunny promise tucked into the usual damp gray cold of Belgium. We're flying to Barcelona today for a long weekend and another grab at Catalonian spring, and the forecast promises some lovely weather. Gabriel is finally old enough to require his own seat, which I'm relieved about because it means we have much more space and take up a whole row of our own. Plus, the flight is not rescheduled for some late hour, instead falling in the middle of the afternoon, which *should* make things smoother (although my first rule of travel with children is that any time I anticipate a smooth flight the whole thing is a disaster and vice versa).

Other than that, we've had more visitors, which is always a treat, I've been plugging away at Dutch and a few academic projects, and Gabriel has been a delight and a crazy two-year-old (more blogging on that later, I promise). Oh, and this has been happening ten inches from our front door:

Most mornings I have to wave somebody down to make sure the digger operator sees me and doesn't swing the...digger part towards me and Gabriel, then precariously maneuver the stroller along the soft dirt edge of the massive pit that is our street. Someday, this will pass. Someday.

I've entered the third trimester of this pregnancy, which means there are three months to go. ONLY three months to go! I'm mostly taking it easy and alternate between feeling like we still have lots of time and worrying that it will be here in a flash.

For now, a weekend in sunny Barcelona with extra grandma-aunty-cousin hands to help wrangle the toddler sounds pretty nice. We're bringing no computer, just the iPad, so I plan to read and play Words with Friends and check Facebook and blogs but not much else. We'll come down loaded to the gills on the return flight, of course, because there are still piles of baby blankets and baby clothes that we migrated from America to Barcelona but not yet to Belgium.

One of the construction men with a rather smelly cigar, in fact one of the guys from the picture above, just knocked on the door and asked to see our basement. I hope this doesn't mean the walls will cave in, which we actually do worry about given how much the house shakes at 7am and throughout the day as trucks rumble past and diggers smash into the ground. Here's hoping that the house is intact when we get back from the weekend away!

05 March 2012


Two very Good Things happened today, things which I want to focus on in order to distract myself from my sore throat and aching back and the day's blustery, sleeting, muddy turn back to winter.

In order to achieve the first Good Thing, the Mister had to wake up at 4am and stand in line in that cold, windy weather, joining people who had spent the entire night in line in tents and sleeping bags. No, this was not a queue for some concert tickets or fancy electronics: it was the line to get Gabriel enrolled in school for next fall. The system works like this: on the same March morning all around the city (and all of Flanders, I think), enrollment opens for the following school year. You choose the school you hope to get your child a place (or a place on the waiting list) and go stand in line--you must be there in person, on that morning. It's a very fair setup in many ways. We barely got our spot, though, seeing as there were only a few available after M's number came up! And that with him getting in line at least an hour before the director told us he thought would be necessary for kids in Gabriel's class.

This school is right on the other side of the park (we can see its windows from our dining room), and so will only be a five-minute walk away next year! It's highly recommended by friends who send their kids there, is very international, and we were very impressed by our visits. It's a Catholic school, semi-private, but still entirely free.

Pretty much every child goes to school at age 2.5 here--it's expected of children in daycare that they will transition to school, with preparation and a big party at the end of daycare. Of course if you strongly feel that your child isn't ready, you can hold them back, but this is mitigated in large part by staggered entry dates throughout the year. The children who are already 2.5 start in September, and then there are four or five other "start dates" after holiday breaks to welcome children who have turned 2.5 in the meantime. It makes a lot of sense, and I think it reduces some of the stress American parents have in deciding whether their child will be young for one school year or old for the next. Anyway, Good Thing! We got a spot at our first-choice school for our little guy!

Second Good Thing: I just might have gotten my Belgian drivers' license today, after trying in vain to do so since we arrived last summer. It's supposed to be an even swap: you trade in an American license for a Belgian. But every time I went (maybe five or six times?), the officials found some problem with my application, always problems that could be surmounted by a small dose of straightforward logic--but in this country paper documentation and official seals trump logic. I won't bore you with the many hassles, but just give a for instance, the most recent difficulty.

You must have proof that you have been driving for more than five years. My Indiana driver's license was renewed in 2011, and shows only that date. According to the last dour official I talked to, I needed an older license. So my mom dug up my very first (!) license from Vermont, and I brought that in. But the "category 1" listed on that old license did not match the "class" system used now (and which appears on the computer here, telling them my VT license must say A, B, C, etc.). Here, the application of a small dose of logic would work; my Vermont license clearly states that "category 1" allows the user to drive a car (not a truck or bus or motorcycle or whatever). But no: the dour official insisted I have the US government issue a sealed and signed affidavit declaring that Category 1 was equal to today's Class D or whatever. I wrote to the embassy and as expected they declined to do so, licenses being state responsibility. I wrote to the state of Vermont over Christmas (and sent money!) asking for a signed document stating this information, but they also refused and returned my money.

My recent stroke of genius: I abandoned the Vermont license approach altogether, and instead decided to order my driving record from the state of Indiana, which would show that I have been driving there with an IN license since 2003. I paid for this luxury but was able to receive a pdf within minutes and it has an official letter and stamp and everything: I thought the Belgians would be pleased. And so it was. Plus, I got a somewhat nicer young woman instead of the dour official I've dealt with before, and even though there were still some questions that required she call over several senior ladies, none of them were the dour official I was dreading. They shrugged their shoulders and told her to just input the information that was obvious to all (i.e., apply logic, what a novelty)!

The license still has to be "checked for authenticity" by the police, and thus I will still be waiting for a few weeks for the actual document approval, but I am cheered that I am this much closer to being a legal driver in Europe. (Spain puts up even more--and expensive--roadblocks to getting a Spanish license, so I am happy this license will work in all the EU.) Now we should be able to sign up for a car sharing system and at least test the waters in terms of car ownership, especially now that we'll be carting two kids around. It feels like a major victory to have found the right combination of documents that would satisfy the officials at the town hall into giving me a Belgian license. Good Things!

02 March 2012

Sacred heart

Hello March! I'm so glad you're here. I thought February would never end, even though it was a good month, what with birthday celebrations and "it's a boy!" excitement and a trip to Barcelona. But March brings us one step closer to spring, one step closer to a baby, one step closer to an actual street instead of a mud pit and the construction equipment hulking over our front windows.

Right now we have friends in town, and Gabriel as usual is beside himself with glee, forcing them to color and read and hide'n'seek to his heart's content and crying bitter tears when he has to go to bed. He is really going to dig having a little brother to play with, in about a year when they can actually, you know, play.

They graciously watched Gabriel while we took our tour at Heilig Hartziekenhuis (Sacred Heart Hospital) last night. ("Hi! Welcome to Belgium! Can you babysit?") We came home laden with piles of coupons and free samples, but without much of a sense of what will actually go down in the hospital at all.

First of all, everything was in rapid-fire Dutch. I asked for translations, but only my specific questions in English were met with replies in English, and I didn't know what to ask most of the time because I had no idea what had been said (and my questions weren't necessarily related to the specific labor or recovery room or monitor that was being presented at the moment). We gleaned a few details only thanks to some other couples translating for us. At the end of the tour we gathered in a conference room and had a powerpoint presentation in a question/answer format, but the nurse would put the question up, then discuss and talk through the answer, only flashing it momentarily before clicking through to the next question. This was...NOT helpful for those of us who might glean more from written Dutch than spoken.

Secondly, there was a large crowd, so it wasn't easy to pull the nurse aside for questions. Third, so much of what was presented was practical info: here are the different kinds of rooms (only the "luxury" room allows M. to spend the night, which seems to be the only way in which it is "luxurious," save a few more inches of space than the tiny regular rooms), here's the number you call to get the maternity ward, these are visiting hours, this is a baby bassinet, this is what you should pack (everything, really! they don't even supply hospital gowns!)...and what I really wanted to know had more to do with labor scenarios and birth plans. Argh.

Still, we got to see the place and get the lay of the land and find out where to go when I'm in labor. I was most surprised to discover that while some rooms have dual functionality, in most cases you labor in one room and then move to another for pushing/delivery (and then, of course, yet another for recovery). I don't much like the sound of waddling across the hall (or maybe getting pushed in a wheelchair?) when it comes time to get the baby out. I remember barely being able to climb onto the bed last time when we were at that point. Ah well! These are minor things if all goes well. I was glad to see, at least, tubs and showers and birthing balls for labor, and a quiet, gentle atmosphere.

Best of all, I saw a tiny itty bitty newborn being wheeled down the hall in her wee bassinet, and that moment made everything beautiful and real in a way that a herd of shuffling pregnant ladies and their husbands nosing around empty rooms couldn't. We'll have a brand new baby boy when all is said and done, and that... that is what matters. That's the sacred heart.