Happy New Year!

2006 has been a pretty happy and successful year for us. Liam has changed momre in the last year than I would have thought possible. Back in March, I was bemoaning the fact that he was barely talking; now, I can’t get a word in and he WON”T STOP. We’ve investigated a dozen different possibilities on where to retire and where Jesse should look for work; we were overjoyed when he was selected for a NATO civilian post right here at SHAPE. We explored some of the various child-friendly museums et al in the area, and Liam loved them all! Liam and I did a lot of cooking, and we all enjoyed partaking in the feasts he explored. During the year we were able to visit with both my parents and Jesse’s mother, and Liam just basked in the attention. In September, Liam started at the local school. The first few weeks were torture for all of us as he adjusted to this strange new event, but now he loves to go! Just before Christmas break his teacher told me he is now starting to speak in short sentences — in French!

We are happy and healthy, and so pleased to be able to stay in the place we consider home. Oh, yeah, one more thing:


(that’s a plus sign, as in positive, ladies and gentlemen)

Happy New Year to you, too!

Evil Vegans, continued…

Well, we’re more than a week into not eating animal products. Not as big a change as I expected. I will always miss the dairy I think, as dairy products are so varied and pervasive. I read somewhere that just over half of the daily caloric intake of Americans is from dairy products. That’s a lot of casein, which turns out to be one of the most potent cancer promoters ever found.

But, I’m not hear to preach. To the practical issues…

Karena has a few vegan cookbooks and keeps a good watch in the internet for interesting recipes. It really is fascinating how tofu can become just about anything. The v-loaf (vegan-loaf) she made was not quite as nice as a good meatloaf, but I liked it anyway. I really like eating whatever I want (since there’s nothing in the house we cannot have) and still, my weight is going down. This intrigues me very much. I am now ten pounds less than the heaviest I’ve ever weighed on our home scale (not all in this first week, I’m sure), and still have another 35 pounds or so I will be happy to get rid of.

The lads at work are puzzled, I think. They know me well enough to know I never make decisions lightly, and this was no inconsequential decision. I think they are really questioning what they have always known to be a “good” diet. Daniel, from Romania, has actually printed the excerpts of “The China Study” from the author’s website. Interesting sidenote to that, in the days of Nicolae Ceauşescu, the last communist dictator or Romania, Daniel tells me they got mostly soy products and very little meat and dairy. Soy is nothing new to him. It turns out that for whatever reason, Ceauşescu may have been more correct than he knew.

Liam is doing well at it, also. He is still warming up to a lot of the soups, but there is no unhealthy foods for him in the house, so he is eating well. He gets, and really enjoys, a glass or two of soy milk at every meal. The soy milk is surprisingly good. We were buying half-fat milk (1.5% milkfat) for a long time, and the soy milk is thicker and creamier than that, so it is a step up for us. In my milk drinking days, I always preferred whole milk, but it sure has a high calorie load from fat. Anyway, the chocolate or banana flavored soy milk is actually creamier and better than the cow’s milk dairy equivalent. Try it and see. The brand you can get in the US is called “Silk”, and I bet you can find it in the dairy section of any sizeable supermarket.

There’s only one drawback so far. I crap too much. Just too much. I ran into a bumper sticker on the internet that boasted “I’m a vegan and I poop three times a day.” I didn’t get it at first. It wasn’t far from reality. Not that crapping three times a day is any kind of health goal of mine (or anyone else, I suppose). But there’s a lot more undigested residue in plant products than animal products. Something to get used to. I hope my GI tract gets more used to it as well.

Evil Vegans, continued…

Well, we’re more than a week into not eating animal products. Not as big a change as I expected. I will always miss the dairy I think, as dairy products are so varied and pervasive. I read somewhere that just over half of the daily caloric intake of Americans is from dairy products. That’s a lot of casein, which turns out to be one of the most potent cancer promoters ever found.

But, I’m not hear to preach. To the practical issues…

Karena has a few vegan cookbooks and keeps a good watch in the internet for interesting recipes. It really is fascinating how tofu can become just about anything. The v-loaf (vegan-loaf) she made was not quite as nice as a good meatloaf, but I liked it anyway. I really like eating whatever I want (since there’s nothing in the house we cannot have) and still, my weight is going down. This intrigues me very much. I am now ten pounds less than the heaviest I’ve ever weighed on our home scale (not all in this first week, I’m sure), and still have another 35 pounds or so I will be happy to get rid of.

The lads at work are puzzled, I think. They know me well enough to know I never make decisions lightly, and this was no inconsequential decision. I think they are really questioning what they have always known to be a “good” diet. Daniel, from Romania, has actually printed the excerpts of “The China Study” from the author’s website. Interesting sidenote to that, in the days of Nicolae Ceauşescu, the last communist dictator or Romania, Daniel tells me they got mostly soy products and very little meat and dairy. Soy is nothing new to him. It turns out that for whatever reason, Ceauşescu may have been more correct than he knew.

Liam is doing well at it, also. He is still warming up to a lot of the soups, but there is no unhealthy foods for him in the house, so he is eating well. He gets, and really enjoys, a glass or two of soy milk at every meal. The soy milk is surprisingly good. We were buying half-fat milk (1.5% milkfat) for a long time, and the soy milk is thicker and creamier than that, so it is a step up for us. In my milk drinking days, I always preferred whole milk, but it sure has a high calorie load from fat. Anyway, the chocolate or banana flavored soy milk is actually creamier and better than the cow’s milk dairy equivalent. Try it and see. The brand you can get in the US is called “Silk”, and I bet you can find it in the dairy section of any sizeable supermarket.

There’s only one drawback so far. I crap too much. Just too much. I ran into a bumper sticker on the internet that boasted “I’m a vegan and I poop three times a day.” I didn’t get it at first. It wasn’t far from reality. Not that crapping three times a day is any kind of health goal of mine (or anyone else, I suppose). But there’s a lot more undigested residue in plant products than animal products. Something to get used to. I hope my GI tract gets more used to it as well.

Christmas 2006

Liam thinks Christmas should be every day!! Today he said to me, “I know, let’s do Christmas again!” He woke up yesterday at 6:15 and quickly remembered the plan of action for the day. Jesse and I stumbled out of bed and we all went downstairs to find that Père Noël had indeed enjoyed his peanuts and beer; he left a note thanking Liam for the welcome change, and had left a bundle of presents.

Now, I seem to remember when I was a kid, being able to open our stockings, but then waiting for Gramma and Grampa to come up from their house to watch us open our presents. How my parents kept us occupied and away from the tree, I have no idea. Liam thought it best to forego the stocking entirely and head straight for the tree, and he wasn’t about to be waylaid by ideas of juice or breakfast or buddy, mama needs a cup of coffee. In his defense, two of the gifts were unwrapped. How could he resist?

Let’s see if I can give you a general rundown on his presents. Most of them are littered around the living room, so that shouldn’t prove to difficult.

  • giant combine
  • train set and extra engines
  • toy car
  • viewfinder with extra cards
  • construction rug with a variety of construction vehicles from
  • crayons, coloring book, and John Deere crayon canister
  • harmonica
  • Curious George book and movie
  • Little Red Tractor DVD
  • wooden number puzzle
  • large fire engine floor puzzle
  • I’m sure there were more, but I can’t remember now. Obviously, anything vehicular was a BIG hit!


    Liam driving around his combine; note the stocking, discarded and ignored on the floor beside him.


    Obviously, anything vehicular was a BIG hit!


    Liam figures out how to work the harmonica and was enthralled.


    With Jesse’s upcoming civilian job, he needs to build up a nice, casual-business wardrobe. I thought a tie from Liam would be nice on a variety of levels. 1 – the tie is a stereotypical Dad’s gift, so I thought it was funny. 2 – it’s something he could actually use. 3 – the design possibilities are endless, so I was sure Liam would find something he liked. And he did. I wasn’t quite expecting them to have anything quite so… bold, but once he saw the fire trucks, there was no talking him into one of the other patterns. No worries. Jesse will think of his boy every time he wears it!


    From Liam I received this beautiful, mango-scented candle. He loves to stop and smell every…single…candle… at the store, so this was the perfect gift. Again, J steered him to the area and gave him free reign to pick the one he wanted for me.


    Playing on his new rug. I’ve already been down on my hands and knees FOUR TIMES this morning driving construction trucks around the roads.

    We had a wonderful day. Thanks to all the contributors, from presents to cards to well-wishes. We hope you have a wonderful Christmas as well!

    Christmas Eve


    Here in our alternate universe, tonight is Christmas Eve. We’ve done some spur of the moment, last minute shopping; we’ve done some preliminary baking. After visiting with friends this evening, Liam set out a snack for Père Noël: boiled peanuts and beer. We figured Père Noël would be sick of cookies and milk by the time he reached our house, so decided to give him something with a little more kick. I don’t get the boiled peanut-thing, but Jesse assures me that Père Noël will think they’re great.


    Père Noël’s snack.

    After Liam was nestled snug in his bed, with visions of sugar plums and all that, we set to work. Not too much; just right, we think, for a kid his age. The train set was a last minute addition; we literally bought it today. The one big disappointment of the evening was Spiderman Hoppity ball. Jesse blew it up, keeping within the margin of safety. When he tried to push in the plug, however, the darn thing ruptured right at the plug point. He turned the air blue for a few minutes, Liam is shy one present, and we are out 20 bucks.


    The tree and all the goodies.


    Père Noël relaxes after a hard night’s work. We’ll leave the remains, along with a thank you note, for Liam to find in the morning.

    Stay tuned: I already have two posts brewing in my mind. One, obviously, is about how Liam’s Christmas plays out. The other will be of interest to the many out there wondering what the heck does a vegan eat for Christmas? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, or why this applies to us, you must have missed Jesse’s last post. Scroll down the page and find out!

    Christmas Wishes


    In honor of the festive holiday season, I have learned how to change the color of my text. Note the red of these words. See? I’m festive. And Christmas-y! Gramma and Grampa M, your package arrived safely this Tuesday. After wrapping the gifts, I’m pretty sure Liam will absolutely love everything you got him. In fact, the little trucks may be the biggest hit of the day! Everything is wrapped and ready to go! The rug we ended up rolling tightly and tying a velvet ribbon in the middle.

    NOTHING is under the tree right now. Why? Because I have little faith in my boy’s willingness to leave them alone. So Christmas morning will be a major OOOHH-AAAHHHH moment. Speaking of which, we’ll be celebrating Christmas this Saturday. Jesse goes back to work on Sunday, and will have to work all day on Christmas, and we thought it would be a novel change to have him around to witness the present-opening scene, and to just spend the day with us. Just to remind you, last Christmas we were all so sick that we couldn’t bother to be festive and excited about the whole event. (see how I did that again with the font color? Normally links are orange-ish. But this link was green, for the holidays.) This year, Liam definitely understands that a big event is on the way; he also realizes that the word present means something good and exciting for HIM to open. At school they’ve really been playing up the theme of Père Noël. So this should be his first big, exciting Christmas.

    Big is a relative term, of course. He’ll probably have, all told, about a dozen presents under the tree. That sounds enormous to me, put is pocket change to what some of the kids we know are getting. I hope we can always keep our heads and remember that it’s family and fun that matter at this time of year, not the gift count. I’m hoping to make it to church on the 24th, as well. With the secular emphasis on Christmas here, I think it’s important he (and we) be exposed to elements of the true meaning of the season as well.

    A big thanks to Gramma B, for her lovely flower arrangement. This really is a stunner. The pictures don’t do it justice. The colors are much deeper and more vibrant. I’m pretty sure it’s poinsettia leaves that the large cone is covered in. Liam hasn’t given it a really good going-over yet. I’m sure he’ll discover that there’s a glass bell on it any time now, and then I’ll have to be guarding it or putting it behind locked doors!

    We are healthy, happy, and joyfully looking forward to another year in our new home country. We hope you all enjoy your Christmas and holiday season just as much as we plan to enjoy ours! The photo below is Liam’s school picture. In the package we received, a 2007 calendar with his photo, one holiday card (this one), and a few small pics. Of couse, these arrived the day AFTER we sent out our cards. Sorry, Mom and Bonnie, we’ll get you out your copies some time soon. We think this is a pretty good picture, but can you tell that Liam’s not quite sure if he should trust the guy behind the camera? After all, that’s not Pa behind the lens!

    Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année!!

    Evil Vegans

    That’s what I’d like to call us now. The word “vegan” generally brings up images of what I call “nutcases” and “animal rights freaks”, among other things I won’t print here. But, as it turns out, I am about halfway through the book, The China Study. Which irrefutably tells me we humans have no business eating animal proteins, so we Ohlssons are no longer eating animal proteins (or animal products of any kind, for that matter). Only a fool goes against hard science, and I’m no fool. Karena pled with me to read this book since last summer. I have to say, if our roles had been reversed, that is, if I had been the one to read this book first, I’d have been MUCH MORE insistent that she read it.

    Somehow, the word “vegetarian”, which I always took to mean one who eats only vegetable matter, has come to mean one who doesn’t eat flesh, but dairy and eggs are fine. I wasn’t consulted about this shift in definition. So, the word “vegan” was coined to describe the more strict exclusion of all animal products from our diet.

    But, as I started out, “vegan” has its socially negative connotations. I therefore am seeking a modifier to use before the word vegan. I prefer evil vegan, because although I have what I consider a normal healthy aversion to animal cruelty, I in no way am against animal testing or use of animals by we humans. I love leather, for many applications, there is simply no substitute. I’ve got no beef (I like that pun) against fur, either, providing the animals from which it’s harvested are kept and killed humanely. For example, I, along with Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller, will personally kill every chimpanzee on the planet if doing so will save the life of a single crack addict.

    Karena has suggested “cynical vegan”, which has its merits. To me it implies that I am cynical about the benefits of being vegan, which I am not. I am maximally cynical about the animal rights wackos, though. So in that sense, Karena’s right on. We’ll see what we end up with.

    I welcome suggestions.

    Evil Vegans

    That’s what I’d like to call us now. The word “vegan” generally brings up images of what I call “nutcases” and “animal rights freaks”, among other things I won’t print here. But, as it turns out, I am about halfway through the book, The China Study. Which irrefutably tells me we humans have no business eating animal proteins, so we Ohlssons are no longer eating animal proteins (or animal products of any kind, for that matter). Only a fool goes against hard science, and I’m no fool. Karena pled with me to read this book since last summer. I have to say, if our roles had been reversed, that is, if I had been the one to read this book first, I’d have been MUCH MORE insistent that she read it.

    Somehow, the word “vegetarian”, which I always took to mean one who eats only vegetable matter, has come to mean one who doesn’t eat flesh, but dairy and eggs are fine. I wasn’t consulted about this shift in definition. So, the word “vegan” was coined to describe the more strict exclusion of all animal products from our diet.

    But, as I started out, “vegan” has its socially negative connotations. I therefore am seeking a modifier to use before the word vegan. I prefer evil vegan, because although I have what I consider a normal healthy aversion to animal cruelty, I in no way am against animal testing or use of animals by we humans. I love leather, for many applications, there is simply no substitute. I’ve got no beef (I like that pun) against fur, either, providing the animals from which it’s harvested are kept and killed humanely. For example, I, along with Penn Jillette of Penn and Teller, will personally kill every chimpanzee on the planet if doing so will save the life of a single crack addict.

    Karena has suggested “cynical vegan”, which has its merits. To me it implies that I am cynical about the benefits of being vegan, which I am not. I am maximally cynical about the animal rights wackos, though. So in that sense, Karena’s right on. We’ll see what we end up with.

    I welcome suggestions.

    The Christmas Pageant

    Saturday was Liam’s first ever Christmas pageant. Here are a few shots from the momentous day.


    This has nothing to do with the Christmas pageant. Liam just decided in the morning that Bear needed to wear a diaper before he could lie down on the floor and “sleep” with him. He explained to Bear that when he was a big boy he wouldn’t need the diaper.


    At about a quarter to five we went over to the CALVA — I don’t know what that stands for, but it’s basically the community hall here, where wedding receptions and village events are held. It was the first time we ever went there. It was packed!!! We struggled to find seats together, and quickly regretted the choice to wear sweaters. Liam entertained everyone at our by delivering smiles like this every time Jesse tried to take his picture.


    This is Liam’s best friend from school, Baptiste. He’s the second most adorable little boy I’ve ever seen — I love the curls. He’s always extremely friendly, and sometimes gives me kisses, which is customary here in Belgium.


    We waited a LONG time for Liam’s class to go up and sing. They were the last one’s of the evening. As you can tell, Liam was just thrilled to sit up there and be the center of attention. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a lot of great stills from the evening. Jesse had to go stand in the very back of the room and hold the cameras over his head to get these. We took some video, which hopefully will come out well. At a few points while on stage, Liam decided to practice to hike his butt up in the air, and stand on his hands and his feet. Everyone thought this was pretty funny.


    Here’s a shot of the whole maternelle school (2.5 to 4 years old). They sang about five short songs, although from where I was sitting, I don’t think Liam did much singing. In this shot he’s in the first row, third from the left. His teacher is the blond on the right side of the shot, her head just poking in. Later, she got up and came up on stage with them, and he was much more interactive with her comforting presence up there.

    After they sang, Père Noël sat down centerstage, and each of the kids sat on his lap, spoke with him a minute, and got a gift. Liam was the second child to go. He didn’t look very comfortable up there, but he did give Père Noël a kiss. And he was more than happy with his gift — a pirate ship and a bazillion little plastic accoutrements. He wouldn’t leave this behind, even when he had to go to the bathroom. It had to go EVERYWHERE with us.

    Things started winding down, and we decided to escape the now-broiling CALVA and head for home. I think Liam had a pretty good time, although I don’t think we have a budding performance artist on our hands. I think he was much happier sitting with us, watching others make a spectacle out of themselves.

    Speaking of which, I was a bit dismayed by the tone of some of the evening. This event was for the elementary and maternelle students only, which means the oldest kids were in the sixth grade. Yet when the older girls got up there to dance and sing, they were dressed in tight tops (too tight for their jelly midriffs), super-short skirts, and doing really quite suggestive dance moves. And singing hiphop-type songs. What did this have to do with Christmas? I also expected that there would be perhaps a nativity scene or something, but it seemed to be all about Père Noël… that, and sixth graders acting like slinky starlets.

    St. Nicholas Day

    December 6th is St. Nicholas Day here in Belgium, and throughout most of Europe. St. Nicholos is NOT synonymous with Santa Claus, as you might expect. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of children, and comes to visit all children on his saint’s day. The actual tale of how he became the patron saint of children here in Belgium is actually a little gruesome and, well, scary.

    The Legend of Saint Nicholas (translated from French)

    Three little children sought the plain
    Gleaners of the golden grain.
    They lingered past the angel-song,
    And dewy shadows swept along.

    ‘Mid the silence of the wood
    The butcher’s lonely cottage stood,
    “Butcher! lodge us for the night,
    Lodge us till the morning light.”
    “Enter in, ye children small,
    I can find a place for all.”

    The butcher seized a knife straitway,
    And did the little creatures slay.
    He put them in a tub of brine,
    In pieces small as they were swine.

    St. Nicholas, at seven years end,
    His way did to the forest wend.
    He sought the butcher’s cottage drear:
    “Butcher! I would rest me here!”

    “Enter! enter, St. Nicholas!
    You are welcome, St. Nicholas!
    Enter! enter, St. Nicholas!
    There’s place for you the night to pass.”
    Scarce had the Saint his entrance made,
    He would the supper board was laid.

    “Will you have of ham a slice?”
    “I will not, for it is not nice!”
    “Of this veal you’ll take a bit?”
    “No! I do not relish it.”

    “Give me of the little swine,
    For seven long years have laid in brine!”
    The butcher caught the words he said,
    And forthwith from the portal fled.

    “Butcher! butcher! do not flee,
    Repent and God will pardon thee!”

    St. Nicholas the tub drew near,
    And lo! he placed three fingers there.
    The first one said, “I sweetly rest!”
    The second said, “I too am blest!”
    The third replied, “Tis well with me,
    In Paradise I seem to be!”

    Freely translated from the French by English poet James Henry Dixon

    So…. kids beware of strangers, because they might just cut off your heads and prepare your bodies to be eaten. Sounds more like a Halloween tale to me! St. Nicholas comes along, miraculously restores the children to life, and reforms the butcher. The butcher, incidentally, is most likely the Black Peter or Pere Fouttard (Father Spanking) that is said to travel with St. Nicholas, and will dole out punishments to children that haven’t been good.

    Luckily, at Liam’s age they don’t tell them this tale. St. Nicholas came to Liam’s school on December 5th. Liam got to speak with him and, although he was a little standoffish, did give St. Nicholas a kiss and was more than willing to accept the candy he was offered.

    Our good friend Katrin surprised us with a homemade stocking filled with typical St. Nicholas Day goodies for Liam. An apple, some clementines, nut and dried-fruit mixes. A huge thank you, Katrin, for being so thoughtful! And for leaving out the candy. Liam’s getting enough of that in school right now!

    Showing off his goodies… and his bedhead.

    Looking for more. There was also a great winter hat.

    December 6th the kids here still go to school. They get their treats at home, then go to school for a regular day, but festivities too. Liam brought home this superb, hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind decoration. It’s St. Nicholas, obviously, and was filled with candy. Ahhh, the candy. Liam’s had more candy in the last few days than in his whole life!