Problem with air

(caution: this post contains swearwords. Why? Because that´s how strongly I feel about this issue.)
Recently someone criticized me for being too negative about the air quality in Belgium.
Their argument was that, the bad air quality is not only the fault of those living in this country and if you concentrate on the negative, people feel discouraged and don´t want to do anything. Instead, you should lead with the positive….
That can all be true.
The positive is that a lot of improvement has happened. Even these images below show that a lot has improved between 2005-2016 and that governments can do a lot to protect their people.
But, the way I see it, is not being being negative about air quality but it´s me being negative about air pollution in Belgium.
Because the fact is that that cloud of shit, that black, cancer-like blob of air pollution that sits on top of Belgium, is STILL there! And this is the reality and will be so, during my life time. Unless something MAJOR happens.  What´s worse is that this cloud of filth will also risk the health of my kids. They, however, might see a big improvement towards their old age. If something MAJOR happens. Luckily they still have time.
I think that shocking facts can help to wake people up. Depends on the personality and whether or not they feel like they can do something about it. At least, this worked for me back in the day. For an entrance exam, I had to read the State of the World report to be accepted at  TPU. What I read blew my mind. Holy crap! But instead of feeling discouraged, I felt fired up because I was getting a degree in how to be the change that will help to NOT wreck the planet.
So the depressing facts can work if  accompanied with information about things you can do. And there´s all kinds of information out there on how an individual can do their part in fighting the environmental disasters – any one of them really, there´s plenty to choose from.
But I think we can all agree that the days of hiding our heads in the bush and make-believing it´s all okay, are gone.
The air is dangerously shitty in Belgium, and although it is not Beijing, like many Belgians comment to me when I mention it (and it drives me nuts, godverdomme) – it´s still disgusting air we breathe in. Just this morning when I stepped outside our door, I could TASTE the exhaust fumes in my mouth, just standing on our yard!
We  urgently need to do something about it, individually and as a movement. Why are all those filthy trucks passing by here? Why are there so many multinational factories polluting the air we breathe? Why does everyone need their own car or company car to drive in as the only passenger day in, day out?
My son carpools to school somewhat further, so instead of needing three cars for three families´ children, we only need one per day. We accompany our daughter to the nearby school and back by bike because it is faster than sitting in the car.  So, we try to do our part.
But on a morning like this, I think to myself: are all of us parents who bike our kids through that cloud of shit and in our idealism harm their health in the process, just insane? Why should we make the sacrifice if others won´t? What makes our kids any less worthy of protecting their health? What keeps us from hopping in the car and pretending it´s all okay while we  we just contribute to the problem?
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Winter post #3: Favorite things

Though I miss the snowy landscapes of Finland, these are a few of my favorite things about the Belgian winter.

  1. The crusty frozen leafs that crackle under my shoes.

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2. The running streams that are transporting the melting snow water but still rocking some nice ice sculptures.talvi5

3. The naked tops of the trees and quieter forest though the omnipresent red robins can always be heard, and the woodpeckers who are playing sounds on the trees high up on the trees as they are looking for any snacks under the bark or just showing  anyone who might be wondering, that it is their territory.

4.  I also like the tiny little puddles with some fiercely strong ice that seems to be yelling, also at the adults, to come give a try at their strength and hardness.

 

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5. Call me an antisocial Finn but one of my most favorite things is the fact that I can have the forest all to myself more often. There are much less people in the forest in the winter. Your loss, not mine.

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Winter post #1: The Wonder of Snow

Last night it started snowing in Belgium.

The snowfall came as a result of the storm that is said to be the strongest in 50 years time. But where we live, we have only seen a heavy snowfall. Snowfall of snow flakes the size of two euro coins.

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Talvi means winter in Finnish

I am a winter´s child, born  in the middle of the coldest winter. I love winter so much I couldn’t help but run outside at 11pm last night, just to enjoy the wonder of snow.

There I was, standing in the snowfall, sticking my tongue out, and enjoying the wet snow. Immediately, when there´s a snow cover, the landscape becomes quieter. Somehow, the snow absorbs the sounds, or at least this is how I have always experienced it.

Finally, I went inside hoping that the snow would stick until the morning so my kids would be able to enjoy it as well.

And it stuck! It must have snowed all through the night to have the snow stick even if the temperatures stayed above freezing.

And boy did my kids enjoy it! Especially the smallest one for whom this was the second contact with snow in his young life. He smelled the snow, and he tasted it. He walked in it, he crawled in it. He dug it. He made snowballs out of it. He smashed those. He threw the snow. He rolled in it and he made snow-angels in it.

And he had a fit when I dared to suggest that we go inside to have lunch.

After his nap, he wanted to go back out, especially, because it was snowing again. Luckily I have spare outdoor clothes, because the first outing´s clothes were completely drenched.

Same routine, now with bike included.  After his nap, he wanted to go out yet again. And again, there was a fit when it was time to go in.

 

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This is my son, almost 3-yrs-old, making snow angels.
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This is me, almost 39-yrs-old, making tractor marks.

Though we have over 30 years between us, it seems that we feel the same way about outdoor play. I guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Luckily.

Skipakje vs. ballerinas: how to dress your kid against the cold.

“Oh, what a cute skipakje (Dutch for skiing outfit) your child is wearing!”, is a sentence that probably most Scandinavians or at least the Finnish mothers in Belgium have heard. The comment is followed by a well meaning laughter and a smile. This happens when our children appear to any outing wearing what is very common in our cold corner of the world: the winter overall.

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In Finland, this type of clothing is common, convenient and coveted as children still spend a lot of time outdoors even in the winter. Yes, even when it´s below freezing. Outdoor playtime is valued as the fresh air is known to be good for the immunity, refreshing our little ones and guaranteeing a good night´s sleep, not forgetting the better appetite and less complaining at the dinner table.

This sentence used to make me agitated. Nowadays, with the importance of outdoor play  gaining more weight in the media,  I sometimes also hear encouraging comments like, “My kid could use a pakje like that”. Indeed,  more and more articles, newsletter pieces, blog (mine included) and Facebook posts and Tweets are underlining the importance of nature and outdoors for everyone´s health. Still, us, parents who choose for these outfits that aim at keeping the kids warm from head to toe, allowing them to move flexibly in sturdy and warm outfits that on top of everything else are easy to clean, are in the minority.

And, to add to the amusement of the majority, it´s not only in the winter that we choose to dress our kids in the so called skipakjes. We also have lighter versions of those pakjes that include only a thin lining or no lining at all (AND, the pakjes also come in two-piece suits). As a result, our children are the ones running across the playground in their pakjes, or whizzing over the frozen puddles in their play-enabling clothes. In rainy weather, we dress them in full rain gear, i.e. more than the rubber boots. In fact, our rain gear includes a jacket, pants and even gloves that, ones you have on, it´s impossible to resist the urge to  run into the biggest puddles head first.

And, while our kids are enjoying their getting-dirty-&-wet action, the  rest of the  parents choose to keep their children´s upper bodies warm, while lower bodies are kept cool. Or this is how it looks with the current winter attires that often include warm  jackets, scarfs, in 60% of the cases, beanies or other head-wear and sometimes also gloves. And then, regular pants or jeans for boys (with or without long underwear?) and stockings and dresses for girls. Shoes that are worn are pretty, but pretty does not always equal pretty warm in this cool and damp weather. In case rubber boots are worn, I hope the little toes are dressed in woolen socks in those boots because, without them, the kid is getting cold in an instant (leading to an unhappy, shivering child).

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My Spanish friend is used to the very warm weather and has asked me for some help in clothing her kids for the Belgian winter. This same friend´s Spanish mom was once horrified when she witnessed her daughter´s Finnish friend (that would be myself) readying her baby to take a nap outside in the buggy “in the freezing cold” (I believe it was about plus 5 degrees Celsius outside then). I get it, it´s a totally different climate and southern Spaniards have no to little experience of freezing cold temperatures in their latitudes. I, likewise, welcome my warm blooded friend´s advise on keeping my kids cool during the hot summer. She´s an expert on that.  In Finland, those hot summer days, though they do occur, are still limited to only few and far between.

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Different occasion, but still, napping outside is common to Nordic babies. Heck, our buggies are bigger for that reason too.

So here´s my advise to my Spanish friend as well as for all those parents who find our skipakje choices odd. If you plan on spending time outside with your child this winter, these clothing tips are guaranteed to keep it more fun for both of you.

For a cold winter day (anywhere colder than +5) these clothes include:

Also include:

  • Mittens, rather than the types of gloves that separate fingers. Mittens are warmer.
  • A kauluri , i.e. a neckwarmer or a polo shirt to keep the neck warm. I would advise against scarfs for little children because…well, you do the math.
  • Warm shoes that are water tight and that can fit a pair of preferably woolen socks in them.
  • Add a water proof or water resistant layer, according to your judgement, unless your overall is water resistant.
  • A beanie

By dressing your kid accordingly, they can have more fun, be more daring in their experimenting with the natural elements and the parent will have much less washing to do in the end. Win-win.

Gentbos, 19.6.2016

Noticing a lot of small houtrotzammen on a tree. Small, pure white ones. What will this one become?  Tonderzwammen?

Sweet chestnut has beautiful katjes beginning. Sat for a long time with a red robin looking at me. Apparently he was waiting for me to go away so he could proceed in his nest to feed his young, as he had a insect on his beak and was not moving.

Gentbos, 13.4.2016

Around 9.50 am, 7 degrees.

So much trash all over the place!

Mud feels thicker. It´s been drier and warmer so the water´s been taken up. I hear a pheasant. A blackbird female jumps on the ground.

I never noticed some of the perfect holes in the fallen tree before – were they nests sometimes? X

So much bird song, it´s unbelievable! (Why didn’t I measure decibels!)

Next time I have to bring a bag to pick up the trash.

Esdoorn has big leaves already. X Why are some bos anemonen almost pink, can it be because of different composition of soil? X

Little water in the stream. Everything’s got leaves.

On the other side of the bank a lot more green vegetation, because of the Sun?

Kleefkruid on the side of the field.

Why do some trees have that moss around their foot and others do not? X

Why are the hazel leaves still so small compared to others? X

Why are the leaves of the esdoorn hanging downwards? X when the leaves are young, that is.

Male and female pheasants on the field.

Braambes old leaves are low while new ones are reaching up. In some places I think I can smell the nettles. Honeysuckle is really beautiful with almost pink young leaves.

At the ground level also lots to see. Something that looks like an orchid, maarsviooltje dus. There´s a lot of light still though it´s green all over. The air seems cleaner too because of the green, though it hasn´t rained. Why is the bos anemone growing all white in one spot?

I hear a woodpecker knocking and wonder if that sounds is for marking the territory with sound or is he testing the wood for food or is he actually there making a hole to eat.

I notice we are close to the play area because I find trash. This makes me so angry. The kids are loud, none of them are speaking with a normal voice, all are screaming. Atleast 30 kids and only 3 adults.

Again I wonder about the rhododendrons and the fact that the kids will associate that as their speelbos, and perhaps also start planting that in their yards. That´s all fine and well, but why not plant something more useful and native? X

 

 

Gentbos, 13.3.2016

New info boorden, blue skies, lots of lights since no leaves. Lots of water in the stream. The sand has fallen to the ground, and water is clear. First katjes in hazel and willow.

We hear a great tit. Also jackdaws. Phasant, buzzard. I have written down “faint viiu viiu sound”. That must be a wren? X

I have made my notes with a green marker and because of a water bottle in my bag, i can not see most of my notes.

Herfstexcursie, Gentbos 31/10/2015, 09.00

Herfst excursie with the group.

Autumn is here:  you have to think about the Earth´s position to itself as well as to the Sun. When day and night are as long, begins the autumn, they say. In the winter, Earth is actually closer to the sun, but in the summer, though we are further away, we are facing the Sun longer. The sunlight is stronger in the winter months.

We see a toad. We hear a woodpecker laugh. long-tailed tit (staartmeesje). Goudhaantje (hippiäinen).Gaai (närhi).

The climbing plants sling around either to the right or to the left and you have to look at it top down. See a lot of still green nettles which are important to the forest as they bring a lot of butterflies, like the red admiral (atalanta). There are white balls under the nettle and these are from the gall wasps.

We learn that the bushes especially with thorns, are important hiding places to many species and that some animals actually place their reserve food on the thorns.

Mosses are important as they withhold moisture.

Elderberry tree is typically very soft from the bark. That´s why the judas ear grows often on elderberry? Story says that it´s because Judas hung himself on the elderberry tree after having betrayed jesus.

Gentbos is a parkbos, park forest, which means a forest that is…… It is at the corner of three municipalities, of Bottelaere, Lemberghe and Merelbeke.

Gentbos is about 28ha in size. It is managed as a  “natuurbos” which means that…, waarbij de nodige aandacht gaat naar conservation, enlargement and reparation of the nature value. On top of this, work is being done on the rejuvenation of the forest. In the Gentbos, a lot of different natural forest types are represented, such as: …..

Ref: http://www.tov.be/nl/provinciaal-domein-het-gentbos

History

The area of 22ha (at the time) was bought by the provincial government in 1990. In 1993, a comprehensive forest management plan for the Gentbos was prepared with the basic principle to manage the domain naturally. This means, that the area is  allowed to  naturally regenerate. Another goal is to reduce the proportion of common beech in favor of the oak and the common ash . The aim is increase the variety in both species composition as well as age . Other habitats such as grassland get into the Gentbos a chance.

After purchasing the Gentbos locks the provincial government of East Flanders and the Merelbeke council into an agreement to divide the tasks . In summary , the provincial government ensure the implementation of earlier large-scale works while the city council is responsible for the daily supervision and management.