Sunday, May 31, 2009

INSEAD gym: the true story

Apparently one of the searches that still leads people to my blog is “INSEAD gym”. Obviously due to a post I wrote back in February 2008. And boy, that became something to remember.
Back then, the gym was “hot news”. After being closed for the better part of the year, it finally reopened – and we were among the first ones to try it out. After my first few visits, I wrote a piece on it, which you can read here.
The day after, I went to the gym again, late it the evening. I was the only one there. The girl who worked there came over to have a chat with me while I was sweating and puffing on one of the bikes.

N: And how does it go with the new gym? A lot of members yet?
SHE : starts. But it really isn’t easy. We get so many comments.
N: ??
SHE: Yeah, there’s already a blog that completely criticized us.
< after which she began quoting MY foresaid post almost word for word>
N: Oh...that’s awful (heart rate speeding up even more, head becoming even redder)
SHE: Yes, it’s one of the *partners* Sigh! They are the worst!
< Obviously for some reason, maybe because I spoke French, it didn’t occur to her that I could be a *partner*> And now this piece on this blog is already read by the dean and everything....
N: Owww..
SHE: They really are something. They are worse than the students or the staff. I have the impression that it’s never good enough for them.
N: Ah well, it’s just the beginning. Maybe they are also used to a lot. Most of them come from big cities like NY etc, and are probably used to the newest, hottest gyms in town, no?
SHE: Yeah maybe...Still it’s really not motivating..
N : Ah, you’ll’ll get better!

Meanwhile in my head: Shit! Fuck!! This can’t be! They have read my blog! HOW?? How did they find it? How on earth did they come across my blog! And now she is telling ME...What are the chances? What do I have to do?? HELP!!

I rushed out of the gym, straight to P. “P, blog emergency. Need to talk to you, NOW!” P’s cool response was “Well, it’s a blog, it’s public, so people read it, right?” Right. At which point I finally realised that yes, indeed, it’s not some kind of personal diary. It came as a shock, really. I put everything into question. Did I have to stop writing? Did I have to leave all sarcasm and irony out? Did I have to consider my readers with every word I wrote? All of a sudden my blog became “known”, and I just wasn’t ready or prepared for that. I did some heavy thinking about it, and some writing (here). Looking back on it, I don’t think my post on the gym was that bad. Sure, I made a bit of fun about the guy teaching us and about the lady in charge – and I can imagine how they must have felt about it – but it’s not as if I didn’t say a single positive word. And to be completely honest: I still miss that gym. I really do.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Teaching & planning (and freaking out)

6 pm
The levels of adrenaline were finally lowering. Only this afternoon, I was lying on the couch, reading, and realizing how relaxed I felt – for the first time in a few days. Then the phone went. It was the language school. To ask me if I could start teaching...tomorrow.
That’s right, tomorrow. From 9 am till 1 pm. I’ve received a very short briefing on who my students are, and everything else is basically up to me! I immediately started preparing my lessons, and now, two hours later, I’m satisfied with the results. But I’m by no means less stressed out.

10 pm
I’ve got the nerves under control. More or less. Ironically, by planning the wedding all night long with P’s brother. We are on the same wave lenght about almost every single detail – it’s amazing; we even had the same hotel in mind for our guests from abroad. It feels so good to finally get somewhere...I even believe we almost have a date! To clarify things a bit : organizing the whole wedding is my brother-in-law’s gift to us. You have no idea how grateful I am for this...Thanks E.
And now: off to bed! Big day tomorrow!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Parachute: the sequel

Hmm..What's this? Color of Parachute? One of N's new books...let's see..What are my skills? What do I like doing?

I like to test if whatever I find is eatable,umm...I mean edible

I like to have my daily cuddle with N

That's it - I'm done with the book! Easy!

A pizza after 4 am

It's after midnight, and here I am again! Unable to sleep. My mind jumping from "new job" to "song for opening dance". I listened to a meditation track on my ipod, which was supposed to bring me to a tropical island. And I ended up there all right, together with our 200+ guestlist...
Feeling as hyper as Lucy (who is running one of her midnight-marathons in her little wheel), I just decided to get up again, come down, and call P. To bombard him with one question after the other about the wedding, while he was getting ready to go to bed in Ireland, after a very long day full of meetings. "Everything will be all right N, easy...Just go back to bed". Right.
So I flipped open my laptop to have a look at my blogger-statistics. What else does one do at 1 am, right? And a few surprises were in store. For instance, one of the searches that leads people to my blog : "the perfect lover is the one who turns into a pizza after 4 am". I'm pretty sure that I have never ever written such a thing (well, not up until 5 seconds ago). Although I could do with a pizza right now...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What a day for a daydream

If there’s one positive thing about being HSP, it’s that you can feel so intensely happy you could burst. Forget “cloud nine”. Forget “over the moon”. It’s over another galaxy altogether. And that’s exactly how I feel today!

I finally got to try on the dress I fell in love with, just by seeing it online. And it was a hit. A big hit. I immediately knew: this is MY wedding dress. It was love at first sight. When the sales lady left the fitting room (which was again the size of my bed room), I started jumping up and down in my underwear, giggling, smiling, repeating endlessly “I have a wedding dress! Can you believe it? I – have – a – wedding dress! Me! A wedding dress!!!”. This went on for about five minutes. Then I saw the price tag. But my mom left no room for discussion. “This is your dream dress. You get married in it. And that’s the end of it.” Thanks mom. Wow.

After that we went for lunch to celebrate. Champagne, nice pasta, some red wine, and a sambuca to finish. The alcohol only enhanced my already ecstatic mood. By the time we left the restaurant around 2 pm, I felt I could conquer the world. Which was a good thing, ‘cause I had a job interview at 2.30pm. Not joking.

I rushed to the metro, and got there just in time. The rain helped to sober me up a bit, and the interview went like a high speed train! After thirty minutes, the guy basically told me I was hired. The first available student he has, is for me. He was not kidding: he called me back this afternoon to confirm, while I was buying my wedding shoes!
I still feel like I’m on some happy drug trip (at least, I think that’s how it must feel). One of my friends just compared me with one of those little rubber bouncing balls, going “boing-boing-boing-boing” all around the house, unstoppable. And I indeed start to wonder how I’m ever going to unwind after such a day. Luckily, I bought an emergency packet at the brand new Lush Store in Brussels. I think this qualifies as an emergency... :)

Thursday, May 21, 2009


Just a quick little post before going to bed.
Tomorrow morning I have to get up at 4.15 AM, 'cause I'm once more going to Ireland! I'm all packed and ready, and looking forward to the trip.
If only I could take Lucy with me...*sigh*. That little hammie has sure conquered my heart. And every time I leave for more than a day, I feel like a "bad mom". All right, laugh all you want, but that's just the way it is. I wonder: would airport security mind if there's a little, super-cute & adorable white hamster in my handluggage?
To be continued...

Election fever

This is what our hallway looks like. Every single day. Around 10 flyers, leaflets, booklets, posters, etc of election candidates. You also get this stuff pushed into your hands every time you leave the house. And when you park your car somewhere...right, there’s a leaflet under your wiper when you get back.
Needless to say, I’m getting seriously fed up with this. Not to mention that I just cannot take politics in this country serious anymore. Last time, after the federal elections in June 2007, it took them no less than 7 months to form a federal government – and even then it was only a temporary solution for three months.
Moreover, we have so many governments and parliaments in this tiny country, that nobody knows what elections are actually taking place. Is it local? Provincial? Federal? European? Regional? Ask 10 people in the street, and if you’re lucky, one will know the answer. Just to clarify it on this blog: this time we’re voting for the European parliament, for the Flemish parliament, for the Walloon parliament, for the Brussels Capital parliament and for the parliament of the German speaking Community. Are you still following? Don’t worry; none of us Belgians are either.
Even the guy who was supposed to become prime minister last time ended up singing the French Marseillaise when asked for the Belgian national anthem. So why should we feel ashamed if we bluntly admit that we don’t have a clue about what’s going on?

Maybe by now you’ll start to understand why in Belgium we still have compulsory voting (that’s right, we don’t have a choice – we have to vote, or at least show up). And because of this, people have no other way to out their unhappiness than by voting on all kinds of extreme and populist parties. Or they keep on voting for the same old parties without giving it any thought, because they believe that nothing is ever going to change anyway. And who can blame them?
Politics has lost its shine and glory a long time ago in Belgium. And when I look at the little wooden matchbox with my grandfather’s picture on it, from back in the 60s when he was having his own campaign, that really makes me kind of sad.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The first dress

I had two glasses of wine during a lovely dinner, and I feel totally knocked out. God, INSEAD is a long time ago... ;-) However, I want to share my experiences of wedding dress-choosing with you.

I always thought that I would get super-emotional. I believed I would burst out in tears once I saw myself in an actual wedding dress for the first time. Well...that did NOT happen. On the contrary. The whole thing was rather un-romantic. Let me explain.

1) I was led into the fitting room, which proved to be the biggest I ever saw. And...every single wall was a mirror. Forget about subtle lighting. I immediately thought “Right, this is going to be, umm... revealing..”
2) To my absolute horror, the sales lady did not leave the fitting room, but stayed there with me. As if the 4 mirror-walls were not enough.
3) So I got undressed. And as this fitting was totally unplanned, there I stood, in black panties and a pink striped bra. Great. Add unshaved legs, armpits – and let’s not even talk about bikini-lines.
4) I looked, well, in every possible direction, and all I could think was “I MUST go to the gym tomorrow. And the day after. And the day after that. And every single day until the wedding.” I also thought “I’ll never leave the house again in unmatching underwear”.
5) The dress itself. They don’t have sizes. They just have try-on models. Then you choose a dress, then they take your measures, and then the dress is made to perfectly fit you. So, basically, this meant I had to try on a size 42 (or L) while I have a size 36 (or S). This also meant that what was supposed to be the middle of the dress, was somewhere near my feet. After 5 minutes, I felt like a human pin-cushion, while the sales lady went “of course, you have to imagine it shorter, and on this side you have to imagine it narrower. And on that side, it will be fitting much closer to your body. And imagine that the cleavage will also come higher.” In short: the whole dress was left to my “imagination”. The sales lady and my mom both assured me that I looked gorgeous in this dress, but all I could see was meters of superfluous fabric, with me somewhere lost in the middle of it.

My mom and I ended up having a good laugh about it; we had a great afternoon. I didn’t care about finding the right dress. I was just very, very grateful that, in spite of everything that happened last year, I was here now, sharing this with her.
Next week we’re going to another store – the one I’ve had in mind ever since the engagement. And this time I’ll be prepared! I’ve learned my lesson....

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

And thank God for that!

Conversation nr 1 (on the phone)
P: What are you doing?
N: I was reading ‘bout my MBTI profile
P: Interesting!
N: Did you know that my type, INFJ, is actually the least common? Less than 1% is this personality type!
P: And thank God for that!
N: Excuse me?
P: Yeah, thank God for that! Imagine more people like you – the world just couldn’t handle that!

Conversation nr 2 (also on the phone)
N: Guess what I’ve done today?!?!?!
P: Umm, don’t know..
N: I’ve tried on a wedding dress, for the very first time!! Yay!!
P: You know you’re not supposed to tell me *anything* about that, do you?
N: Umm, yes...I know...
P: And thank God for that!

Don’t worry. I’m allowed to drive his big BMW while he’s in Ireland. I know he loves me.

Our newest acquisition

Belongs in the category : totally unnecessary, but really nice to have. I’m talking about...tadaaa.....: a patio heater.
I secretly wanted one of these things ever since we moved into our new apartment, and have a very nice terrace. But I never mentioned it, because, right, it’s in the totally-unnecessary category. A few weeks ago however, P showed me all the stuff he could get for free with his Amex-points. And he goes “Look, a patio-heater! Wouldn’t that be nice?”.
One thing lead to another, and yesterday a delivery guy dropped the foresaid heater on our doorstep. Leaving it to me to carry the heavy thing all the way up to our apartment.
As you might have deduced from the picture, yes, the heater still has to be assembled. And carried to our terrace. No, not finished then. Then I have to go and buy a gas canister and, right, also carry it up 3 flights of stairs, through our apartment and on our terrace. *Sigh*, life can be so hard ;-)

Monday, May 18, 2009

What color is your parachute?

I’ve read the first 100 pages of “What Color is your Parachute” today (the Bible for job-hunters or career-changers). And I already came up with 3 interesting insights. Maybe they’ll look trivial to you, or you might think “of course” – but to me, they are meaningful. Here they come:

1. First focus your energy on “information-gathering”, as in “Do I really want to work here or not?” . Only afterwards, turn your energy towards selling yourself.
See, that’s where I always went wrong. With my eagerness to please the whole world and everybody in it, I always start selling myself immediately. By being very enthusiastic, by convincing the recruiter that I am the right person, etc. Only to find myself in an existential crisis, and really not knowing what to do once I have the actual job offer in my hands.
2. Send a thank-you note after the interview
This is so straightforward. And I know for a fact, from the other side of the table, that it really works as well. And yet, I’ve never done it.
3. A resume first presents itself to the fingers
If the company asks you to mail it by post, or if they ask you to bring one to the interview, that is. This happens on an unconscious level, but it’s true. Nice, thick paper versus low-quality, almost see-through : you notice the difference. I never gave it a thought, but last week I presented my resume to a good friend (who happens to work in HR as well). I had just bought a new printer, and had printed my resume on the over-priced paper that came with it. Her reaction was “wow, nice resume. And on such nice paper” (and this was without even reading a word).

I have a habit of never finishing non-fiction books. But this time, I really really want to get through the whole book. So I’ll make a promise right here and now that I’ll keep you, dearest reader, further updated on my findings. Book has to be read by the end of the month.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Baby elephant, Bones, and dodgy Italian

And that sums up my Sunday!
I spent the entire morning in my PJs, glued to the computer screen, watching live-images of the newly born baby elephant K (in the Antwerp Zoo). It’s the first elephant ever to be born in Belgium, so there was quite a media-circus around it (in which I happily joined).
The rest of the day, P and I cuddled up on the couch, and watched episode after episode of our favourite series Bones. Just to keep up appearances, we went for a 30 minute walk around the neighbourhood (there was a huge flee market). Only to continue our potato-couch marathon afterwards.
We ended our super-lazy Sunday by going out for pizza. Just around the corner, there’s this very dodgy looking place; we were always too scared to give it a try. was the only pizzeria open for business. We went in, and I have to admit : damn good pizzas! The fact that they were being served by a seriously overweight Italian with the biggest moustache I’ve ever seen, only added to the flavour.
To say that I didn’t do anything productive today would be a lie. I wrote an application letter and filled out all the necessary forms for another teaching job : as an HR professor at the College for Social Studies in Brussels. My self confidence is about as high as my ankles, and I know I will break out in cold sweat tomorrow when I actually put the letter in the mail – but hey: just the fact that I’m doing it, is a little victory all in itself! Step by step, just like the baby elephant, not trying to break any Bones, and just going for it, even it looks dodgy or scary at first sight ...: if it works for perfect Sundays, it might work to find the perfect job as well!

Friday, May 15, 2009


Yawn-yawn. I really should be in bed by now – but once again I’m still up after midnight. Bad habits die hard. Anyhow, what’s the point? Yesterday I went to bed on time, only to be still wide awake at 2.00 AM. (the fact that I’m reading a great book – Mao’s last dancer – is not really helping)
I had a nice evening with E, P’s brother. We’ve always got along really well, but tonight was the first time it was just the two of us, having dinner, catching up, watching a movie (oh yeah, and driving through knee-high flooded roads). It’s difficult to put in words how much it means to me to be so accepted, and well… loved, I guess, by my “extended family” (yes, that even includes my “mother-in-law” :-).
And on that bombshell, I kiss you all good night and wish you the sweetest dreams!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Eat that frog!

A few years ago, on a sleepless night in P’s apartment, I came across a little book with a picture of a frog on the cover. I finished reading it around 4.00 AM, after which I finally fell asleep. Ever since that night, the baseline and the main idea of the book (by Brian Tracy) has helped me to get into action.
“Eat that frog” is doing NOW what you actually want to postpone – because you don’t like it, because you can’t motivate yourself, because there’s always an excuse...So this morning I had two frogs for breakfast : I called the language school (again!), resulting in another interview with them next Monday (this time to teach English). And I sent my CV to another language school. Hell, this afternoon I almost became an amphibian myself, getting caught in the worst rain and hail storm Brussels has seen in a very long time.
I realise there’s is still a pool full of tadpoles to be dealt with (stop doubting my career change, filling out my tax papers, getting my pension fund sorted out, etc, etc), but for today I had enough. Leaping on to nicer things!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

What do you want?

I’ve tried to find equilibrium on this blog : be honest, but don’t hang out all the dirty laundry. Show glimpses of how I feel, but don’t spill all the guts. It’s not easy. What I don’t want is to be one of those “marketing-blogs” : hey everybody, look at how great my life is!!! I don’t want to sound suicidal either. What do I want then, exactly?.

A few days ago I did a meditation exercise where you had to picture your ideal life. In other words : what do you want to do when you grow up? (as I’m only 1.58m tall, this is a completely relevant question).
This is sort of how my dream looked:
I had a beautiful house, with big windows, and lots of light streaming in. There was a huge garden with some rabbits, some chickens, and some home-grown veggies. I had two kids, who were off to school, and a little baby, still sleeping in its’ cradle. Two cats were turning round my legs, begging for some food and attention. You could hear nothing but the singing of the birds in the garden, and the silent music of a radio in the background. I had my own little office in the attic, overlooking the garden, where I did my translation work, wrote my articles and gave language lessons. Two days a week I went to the company to catch up with my colleagues, and do all the necessary admin. P was abroad, but made time every day to catch up on video-skype with me and the kids. Weekends were family-only time, where we went on little excursions to the seaside, the woods, or some city. We often had guests from all over the world, and I enjoyed pampering them and showing them around. Sort of a B&B, but only for friends :-).
Oh, and of course, before I forget : we had a cute hamster.

So, let’s see : I have P, I have the big windows with lots of light streaming in, I have the cute hamster, I already have 1 language class I give, I write no articles, but I do have this blog.
Almost there!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Hi, it's me! How are you?

Did this ever happen to you: you call up a friend because you feel horrible, and you just want to spill it al out to someone and be understood? But instead, as soon as she picks up the phone, you’re trying to sound rather upbeat than down, and you end up listening for 30 minutes to stories about work, kids and how she spent mother’s day. You hang up, and you haven’t said a word about how you feel.
You try another friend. Same story: she sounds so happy, she’s getting ready to spend mother’s day with the family and you hear the kids playing in the background. So who am I to spoil a party, right? Even if it is only by phone. Again: I try to sound happy, continuing my tour of wishing happy mother’s day to my closest friends. And feeling lonely as hell.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Swine flu

There, that should get me a few extra hits!
But I’m really going to write about it.
On my way from Cork to Belgium, I had to catch a connecting flight in London: posters everywhere warning all passengers for the dangers of the flu, newspaper headlines about nothing else,... And I have to admit, I started to feel a bit ill at ease, thinking “the virus did also come through this airport”.
Soon after, I discovered I was not the only one feeling itchy. At the gate, a Dutch guy behind me sneezed. Immediately 5 scared looks in his direction. One lady even moved seats. When I sneezed a couple of minutes later, I felt as if I had a scarlet letter F (for flu) sewn onto my jacket.
Landing in Brussels, thinking I’d left all the flu-craziness behind me, someone from the National Health Service was distributing flyers to everyone leaving the airport : “feeling feverish? Nauseous? Etc? Stay indoors and immediately contact your family doctor.”
So now, every time I sneeze or have a slightly aching muscle, my mind goes, unwillingly: swine flu?? Something tells me my paranoia will not improve when P’s mom returns from Mexico in a few weeks...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Paddy’s Green Shamrock Shore: some travel notes

Friday morning, 5.00 AM
Hopping into a taxi to Belgium’s low-cost airport “Brussels South”, which is nowhere near Brussels, but is in Charleroi.

Friday, 7.30 AM
My first experience on the best known low-cost air company. A guy in swimming trunks, goggles, snorkel, flippers and inflatable duck is standing in front of the plane, singing “row the boat, row”, and everybody’s singing along, waving arms from one side to the other. 5 minutes later, the cabin attendants are selling lottery tickets to the passengers. Welcome aboard!

Still Friday morning, Dublin
Arriving in Dublin, with...ok...5 minutes left to catch the next flight to Cork. Running across endless hallways. And with no time left, I still manage to stop at the Accessorize shop and buy a new rain hat. Of course, the price tag is lost, and the sales girl goes on a 10-minute search for it. I curse myself, but catch my flight to Cork :-)

Friday – on the flight to Cork
“Lme hlp ye wif tha” Um? What? But the nice steward is already carrying my little, but heavy suitcase up the stairs and into the plane.
“D”ye wn mi the git t fr ye?” Sorry? But the guy in the business suit is already lifting my suitcase in the overhead compartments.
Nice people, those Irish! (but I don’t understand a word they say)

Friday evening
Getting motion sickness from first experience with driving on the left side of the road.
And having an absolutely great dinner in Kinsale. Where the lovely staff finally kept moving all the tables in a desperate attempt to kick us, the final five guests, out.

Exploring Cork, visiting Blarney Castle (where we risk our backbones to kiss some stone, which will make us eloquent for the rest of our days), and finding out how whiskey is made at the Jameson Distillery in Midleton (and realizing that it’s really not my drink).

Road trip to the Killarney Lakes, the Beara peninsula, and the Healy mountain pass. *sigh*...nothing but beautiful landscapes, wild nature....and a lot of tuned racing cars for the yearly car rally held in these parts of the country.

Other road trip along the coast, more breath-taking sights. Bringing our rental car back in one piece to the airport.
Followed by the most relaxing facial treatment I ever had in the hotel’s spa.

Sad to be leaving already. The taxi driver bringing me to the airport senses my mood, and puts on some Irish folk song that goes : “farewell my dear Ireland, farewell Paddy’s green shamrock shore. Farewell my love, the one I adore”.