Monday, April 23, 2012


In the last few weeks, our little family has marked a number of milestones:

1. I broiled cinnamon toast in the oven and there were no flames. not even little ones.

2. Lou ran a 10k (accidentally, but whatever, we're totally counting it)
3. We built a crib and then - miracle of miracles - Babycakes slept in it for the entire night

4. I resisted the urge to rock Babycakes back to sleep in my arms for an entire night

5. I showed up at work on Monday with my hair done (in something other than a ponytail and headband) and in matching clothes that were clean (not a single spit up stain in sight) before 9:00am

 (hmm... I'm just realizing that #3, 4 and 5 may be related....)

and... most importantly...

6. Lou and I survived Babycakes' first trip to the hospital.

What? Hospital? How?

Well, let me tell you... (brace yourself, it's much longer than necessary. but so was her stay. so it works.)

Not a happy camper
The whole rigamaroll began on Sunday, March 31st. Babycakes had been "off" all day and, after waking up from a long nap, she felt abnormally warm. Well above 'I was just snuggled up in my blanket and your arms' warm so I decided to take her temperature. (Which. Sidenote. Do you know how baby temperatures are taken? Rectally. Uh-huh. So. That's fun.)

I went to the handy dandy Red Cross First Aid Kit Kelsalump bought us and grabbed the thermometer. 

Beep. Beep. Beep. 102.9. 102.9?!

I must have done it wrong. Let's check that again.

Beep. Beep. Beep. 103.1. 103.1???

I tried it two more times with a different thermometer and then we tested the thermometers on ourselves. (Which. Sidenote x 2. This has got to be some sort of Parenthood initiation test, right? I mean, what other club will make you think it's reasonable to test something in your mouth after it has been in a baby's bum? I don't care how much you wash the thing, it's still gross.) Average temp = 103.

Uh oh. (for the uninitiated, you are supposed to call the doctor if your infant - 12 weeks or younger - has a fever over 100.4)

So, I consulted the official mom handbook... and called my mom.

Me: MOM. Babycakes has a fever of 103. Should I call the doctor?
Mom: Yes.
Me: I have her U.S. pediatrician's card in my wallet.
Mom: Yes...
Me: Do I call them?
Mom: Yes.
Me: And then take her to the closest hospital if they recommend she go to the doctor?
Mom: Yes.

(as you can see, this call was probably unnecessary but it made me feel better)

So. Based on my mother's wise advice, I called our U.S. doc and they very kindly told us to take her to the hospital.

At which point we rushed around the apartment like crazy people. We turned off the burners - I had just whipped up a pot of homemade pasta sauce and noodles - grabbed every essential baby item we could think of and rushed to the hospital as quickly yet safely as possible.

We got to UZ Leuven - the hospital an oh-so-convenient 5 minutes away - and, after a short detour through the wrong entrance, presented ourselves at the emergency room window with "Hi. We have a sick baby."

We were directed to the waiting room and, surprisingly, were seen by a nurse within minutes. The nurse confirmed that her temp was high and said she would have to be moved to the children's ER for tests.
In the children's ER, hoping that a bottle will make her feel better and failing.

After a period that was surely a half an hour at most but felt like days, a doctor came in and explained that because Babycakes' temperature was so high they needed to rule out certain bacterial infections and the only way to do that was with a spinal tap. A SPINAL TAP. The doctor explained that this was usually a very unpleasant experience for babies and they recommended that we sit outside while she and three other nurses (three!) administer the procedure.

We sat outside in the hallway and fidgeted helplessly while Babycakes screamed. And screamed some more. The kind where you hear that moment of silence and you know it's not because the crying has ceased but because she is catching her breath and gathering her strength for a particularly impressive wail.

After they were finished, we went back into the room and rocked her for a few a minutes. The whole experience was so exhausting that it wasn't long until she was passed out:

While she slept, we talked with the doctor and learned that she would most likely be kept for 72 hours for observation. Seventy Two hours. Three nights. The rationale was that it would take 72 hours for the cultures from her blood tests and SPINAL TAP to develop and, in the meantime, they wanted to treat her with a wide spectrum of antibiotics to flush out any potential bacteria. If she ended up just having a nasty virus, then no harm done by being over-cautious, but if she did have a nasty infection like bacterial meningitis, she'd get 3 days of treatment into her.

As we are full believers in the "better to be safe than sorry" method as well as the "listen to the medical professional who knows a lot more than you" school of thought, we signed all the necessary papers to have Babycakes admitted and found ourselves in a private room in the children's wing of the hospital. It was 1:15am. Lou ran home for supplies - change of clothes, food (remember, dinner was on the stove when we flew out of the house) and basic toiletries.

When he got back, we sat side by side on this little chair-turned-cot and ate pasta out of a tupperware container while watching 'Mythbusters' subtitled in Dutch and listening to the rythmic beep beep beep of Babycakes' monitors.

It was easily one of the most surreal nights of my life.

If you had told my high school self that in a short 10 years I would spend a night in a Belgian hospital anxiously watching over my newborn daughter I would have called you crazy. Insane. Of all the milestones I anticipated, this was not one of them. Funny where life takes you.


After round the clock care and lots of fussing and cooing, her temperature dropped and by Tuesday afternoon it was at an (apparently) healthy 99.5. Although she was back to being her happy, smiling self, we still had to wait on the results of the cultures before we could be discharged. I used the time to do some work, watch some amazing Belgian television and brainstorm ways to entertain an 11 week old while in a small hospital room.

It went like this:

Finally, after three lovely days and nights, Babycakes' test results came back - no bacteria! Turns out she just had a nasty, nasty virus but since it was under control, we were free to take her home!

Which felt like this:


Final thoughts:
- I am SO glad that we live in Leuven and were able to communicate with the doctors and nurses without any problems. I'm not sure that would have been the case in Brussels or other parts of Belgium.

- I could not recommend UZ Gasthuisberg (the hospital) more highly. The doctors and nurses were attentive, friendly, professional, understanding and very patient with what I'm sure was their worst nightmare - first time parents. And not just that... first time American parents.

- Babycakes is not allowed to get sick again. Ever.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Happy Easter!

Hope everyone had a wonderful Easter!


Friday, March 30, 2012

A post only a grandmother would love...

I don't know what it is about grandmothers, but, when it comes to their little grandbabies, even the most mundane things become cause for celebration. Or at least a proud smile.

Grandbaby has a dirty diaper? "WOW! Look at that! She did such a good job with this one!"

Grandbaby lays on the ground and does absolutely nothing? "Look at her. She is SO advanced for her age. Must be my genes coming through..."

The following video is in that vein... For some reason I can't email it to my mom - the only person in the world who will find it interesting - so I'm posting it here. Please do not feel obligated to click 'play' as even I (the mother) find it dull:

Note: All the poking and prodding and pinching is me trying to get her to smile and capture her in all her cute, stretchy morning glory. Instead, she just sort of squirmed around and sneezed. Ah well. She's still sort of adorable. Wouldn't you agree, grandma?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

#1 Cousin

Unfortunately, I don't have any cute pictures of Babycakes to post today as she simply would not sit still for any photo taking this morning. All she wanted to do was wiggle and stretch. Wiggle and stretch. When I first woke her up, she scrunched up her legs, arched her back, shot her itty bitt fists in the air and made tiny high pitched squeals like the air going out of a balloon. The cuteness was just too quick for my little iPhone.

(I really need to get the video camera out in the mornings, it's the sort of thing that needs to be remembered. One of those everyday moments that deserves capturing. The good stuff.)

Anyway. With no fresh Babycakes photos to post, I have no choice but to share a picture of her favorite person. She goes by many names – though you would be foolish to think you could use any old one at any time. These names are not interchangeable. And they are not bestowed at your whim. No, no. She will tell you which name the situation requires. For example, if she is pretending to be a dog and would like you to pet her or play fetch, her name is "Jordan Puppy." Or, if she is pretending to be a princess, she is "Jordan Princess." On several occasions we tried to explain that she could switch things around and be Princess Jordan, but that was shot down. It seems that once she comes up with a name, that is THE name. No alterations allowed.

While at home, I had a fun time learning all of her names and even helping her come up with new ones (I claim credit for Secret Agent Jordan – both for getting her to play secret agent games and to put the relevant title in front of “Jordan”). However, my favorite name was the one she gave herself when Babycakes arrived… “#1 Cousin.”

So, without further adieu, here is #1 Cousin (I dare you not to smile at her cuteness):

#1 Cousin

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Wait. What? You want HOW much for that?

When I flew back home for my maternity leave in November, I was concerned that I had overpacked. When forced to answer "2" in response to the question, "How many bags will you be checking," I felt like my credibility as a seasoned traveler was shot. The mantra of the experienced traveler is 'pack light' and here I was - a solo traveler (Lou had flown back to the U.S. 3 weeks prior) with 2 bulging full size suitcases, 1 just-at-the-size-limit rolling carry-on and a fully stocked purse that was larger than the luggage of two Asian businessmen combined.

So. Embarassing.

(sidenote: the fact that I had to pack for 15 weeks and two different body types - my 3rd trimester self and my (hopefully!) much smaller post-baby self  - was of little consequence. I've seen people fit everything they need for a 6 month round the world trip in one large backpack. Granted, their definition of "clean" may be a bit suspect, but that's neither here nor there. Your status as a traveler is measured by the volume of your belongings, not your level of hygiene..)

Little did I know that at that point, the days of travelling light were behind me. Like, way behind. Way, way behind.

This was Lou and I at the Pittsburgh airport the day we flew back to Belgium:

Lou + Me + our 10 items. Missing: Car seat, car seat base and BABYCAKES.

Now, given my reluctance to overpack, one might ask why we needed to check/carry-on a total of 12 items. Surely they have stores in Belgium? Did we really have to bring the contents of the local Babies R' Us with us?

Short answer: Yes. And YES.

You see, while there are plenty of baby stores over here, few are within our price range. Or, to be more fair, a range we find reasonable. I don't know why things are more expensive here, they simply are. Perhaps it's because most women receive expert prenatal care for FREE. And stay in the hospital a minimum of 4 nights post-delivery for FREE. And children's check-ups are FREE. And top-notch daycare is not only affordable but comes with tax-deductions. And Belgian employees get special vouchers for FREE house cleaning for the first four months after delivery. And every mother is guaranteed 12 weeks of paid time off.

I suppose the baby products industry took one look at this setup and thought "well, they are getting a free ride everywhere else, maybe they won't notice if we gouge 'em here!"

How big is the difference? Well, take a look at the cost of a "Baby Bjorn," everyone's favorite baby carrier:

Baby's R Us sells it for $129.99. However, if you have time to do a bit of comparison shopping and order online, sells it for $99.94 - and that's with shipping.

Meanwhile, the exact same item is on my friend's baby registry at Baby 2000 (, the store that I am told is the Belgian equivalent of "Baby's R Us" for the low, low price of 113 Euros! If I were to buy that with my Capital One credit card and it's competitive exchange rate of $1.335USD to 1 EUR , that would be $150.88!! Nearly $50 more than Amazon. That's an upcharge of 33%.

 "So? Shop somewhere else" you say.  I've asked around. There is nowhere else. At least, no where cheaper. Not unless you want to start looking at second hand stores such as which are fine but incredibly hit or miss.

"Okay... well, what's $50?" you respond. And you're right. $50 isn't a big deal on it's own. But the extra $10 here and $50 there start to add up. I'm of the opinion that babies don't NEED much besides love and attention, however, one would be advised to stock up on diapers and invest in a car seat and perhaps a safe place to sleep. It's also considered good form to clothe the little munchkins. And, since they grow like weeds, it can be daunting when a sleeper at the local shops varies in price from 10 euros (ok, fine) to 40 euros (what the what??).
I guess what I'm saying is that even for the most frugal of parents, babies are expensive in Belgium. So, in an effort to avoid spending the entirety of last month's pay on outfitting Babycakes (and the apartment) for her arrival in Belgium, we brought as much as we could with us from the U.S. A suitcase and a half were filled with diapers, receiving blankets clothes in sizes newborn to 9 months and bottles. On top of that we brought a "Pack n' Play" (savings of $150 right there), a car seat (savings of approx. $50) and a stroller (savings of lots of dollars as our model isn't sold in Belgium).

I'm not sure how much we saved - particularly since we received nearly all of the items as gifts or hand-me-downs - however, I'm confident it was oodles and oodles of dollars. At least, that's what I kept telling myself (and everyone within earshot) as we struggled through the airport with our 13 bags...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bear with me

As you can see, I'm playing around with the format of this blog a bit. I have been following lou's brother's blog - - and wanted this to be as pretty as theirs. A homepage where you see pictures first and words second. I mean, at some point in the very near future we are going to get our act together and start taking photos of Babycakes from a proper camera and not my iphone. Which means we'll have lots of lovely images to share. (Looking at them will be far more fun than my run on sentences.)

Anyways, I haven't worked out the kinks yet - clearly - so pleae bear with me while I do.

In exchange, I'll show you some more cute pictures of Chubby cheeks - from before and after she earned the nickname.

sidenote: How CRAZY is it that a baby's looks change SO much in such a short time?? If I didn't know any better, I'd think the first two photos (from when she was exactly 1 week old) to the last two (taken when she was just over 2 months old) were of different kids.

Babies. Such strange, strange creatures.

I know I look different, but I'm still me, mommy! I swear!

Hehe. I'm still me. Just with 90% more cheek.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Lazy Leuven Weekend

Although a bit late to the "spring has sprung" party, Belgium decided to get its act together and sported the trifecta this weekend: warm(ish) temperatures, sun and zero precipitation. Amazing! Seeing as how we had little that "HAD" to be done, we made the most of all the pleasantness with two days of picnics, 'terrasking' and relaxing.

Saturday we left the house at the crack of 2pm (Babycakes slept on and off all morning so we did too) and hit up the shops in Leuven. First, we stopped at "Elsen Kaasambacht" for a a few pieces of cheese. According to one of our friends, this place is famous around Belgium for its fine cheeses. I don't know whether that's true or not, but I can vouch for it having a large selection and really helpful staff. Since I barely know the difference between parmesan and gouda, I genuinely appreciate being able to ask the staff for help without feeling like a bother. Usually, I just describe the type of cheese I'm looking for in broad terms - "creamy and bold" or "like blue cheese but lighter" - and they'll give me samples until I hit on just the right one. Which is pretty great. Until you end up at the checkout with 30 euros of cheese because all of the samples were amazing...

Elsen Kaasambacht (Source: Telegraph)

We picked up some fresh bread at Elsen to go with our two slices of 'sharp and hard' cheese (just two! I was so good!) and then mosied on over to the little grocery store for some juice and beer (what's a picnic without refreshments?). From there we checked out the other Saturday market stalls for jam, nuts and apples and, by the time we made it to the park, discovered that we had assembled a mini feast for ourselves. Fortunately, a friend joined us so we weren't tempted to eat everything on our own and the next hour or two were spent hanging out and people watching while Babycakes napped in her stroller. A lovely time was had by all... (until Babycakes woke up and decided she needed a change of scenery. And a bottle. pronto)

On the left: Babycakes enjoying the picnic.
On the right: (Hopefully) a future version of us
 After all the excitement of Saturday (after our exhausting picnic, we had a few drinks with friends at our place. Lou hung out with them until 1:30am or so but baby and I were asleep by 10:30), we decided to take it easy on Sunday. I did some cleaning and then took a nap with the baby while Lou did some "terrasking" (sitting on a terrace in the sun) with friends in the Oude Markt.

A view of the Oude Markt from Lou's "terrasking" spot

Meanwhile, Babycakes and I took a nap. I totally won the 'best way to spend the afternoon' contest.
Now, lest you think I spent the whole weekend eating or napping, please note that I did get crazy Sunday night. At the just-past-senior-citizens-dinner-hour of 6:30, I met up with my friend Devan for some Greek food followed by an 8:15pm showing of the Hunger Games! I was out til almost 11pm! On a work night! Who says things get lame when you have kids?

Anyways, that was our lazy - yet perfect - Leuven weekend. Hope yours was equally enjoyable!