Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Happy Birthday!

Today's P's birthday. So for a bit more than two months he has the privilege of having a younger wife. More birthdays are on the way, as two very good friends of ours are about to become parents any minute now.
September is also the birthday-month of this blog, which was started in 2007.
So happy birthday to husband, to baby on the way, and to my own blog. Hope it's going to be a great year!

Monday, September 27, 2010

The students from Hell

This morning I dragged myself out of bed after a horrible night – almost no sleep, bad dreams,…the usual suspects. The day ahead looked anything but promising: 4 hours with “the students from hell”, followed by 2,5 hours of challenging language teaching to a bunch of electricians.

The students from hell have managed to spoil my last three weekends. I have them on Friday afternoon and on Monday morning. 2 groups of 12 adults following a one-year program to become “administrative employees”. And behaving like the worst 16-year olds I’ve encountered in my teaching career.

So this morning, when I found myself way too early in Midi station sipping coffee, I almost ran to the Thalys platform to jump on the next train to Paris – kind of a “let’s do a wild escape”. Of course, instead, I meekly went to school. My bag stuffed with lessons I once again spent hours on, in an attempt to get them motivated.

Right before the lesson however, I decided to throw all teaching methods and lesson plans overboard. I put the advanced ones into groups of three and made them write an essay.. I made the beginners write a Dutch dictionary with all the words they already know. So no fancy “communicative approach” but “bite your biro and sweat it out until you have at least two pages”.
It worked. I’ve never seen them work so hard. They were quiet and concentrated. They really wanted to do a good job. For next lesson, I’ve planned a test. I’ll have them sweat and work again. No more mercy.

And in the meantime, I have my set of 7 private “students from Heaven” – who deserve a mentioning here as well :-).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A little gem in Chatelain

Last night we went out for dinner at La table à Caro, a tiny restaurant in our neighbourhood. It has no “concept” (like theme-inspired menus in lightened tubes), the interior is not pretentiously modern or stylish, the staff is not selected on their bra-size.

No, Table à Caro is about food. From starter to dessert: everything was simply delicious. Smack in the middle of Chatelain, it has to compete with all the overprized big names, such as La Quincallerie. I want it to survive. So please, do me a favour, and go there. I promise you won’t regret it!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Hello hospital?

Last week, for the first time since getting fired 1,5 year ago, I sent my cv for a job with a fixed contract. Yes, I broke out in a sweat, and my heart rate went into the red zone. But, it was a job as a language trainer – so I considered this a save leap.
The only thing I “missed”, was that it was to be a language trainer in a Brussels’ hospital. And N and Brussels hospitals have quite a history of not getting along very well, to put it mildly. Let’s just say that I have some 2 year-old bills I refuse to pay. Don’t ask.
Anyway – this was a different hospital –so I acted against better judgment.

This week, after not receiving any reaction whatsoever, I decided it was time to give them a call. So I rang up Mr. X, HR director of the biggest hospital group of the Brussels’ region. Here follows the telephone conversation. No, I didn’t leave out any words. No, I haven’t made up anything.

X : Yes? (no name, no nothing)
N : Uhm, hello sir. My name is N. Am I speaking to Mr. X, please?
X : Yes.
N : Good morning Mr. X. I’m calling concerning your vacancy for a language trainer
X : Can you keep it short? I have another line.
N : (gasping for breath, and thinking "what the F***?")I’ve sent my cv last week. I just wanted to check if you received it well, and what the next steps in the procedure are.
X : I’ve sent all cv’s to the “Huis van het Nederlands” (= main Dutch language organization in Brussels). They choose, and if they find someone, they’ll let me know. Okay?
N : Okay – thank you for the information sir. Have a good day.
X : (just hung up)

I think it’s safe to say that Mr. X is rather impolite and rude. I think we can assume that he’s not a nice guy. I think I’m pretty sure I never want to work for him.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A tricky question

From time to time people ask me if my wedding day was, as people say, “the most beautiful day of my life”. To which I diplomatically respond that my life is not over yet, say I can’t possibly say :-).

Was my wedding day an amazing day? Of course. It was so special, so intense, so overwhelming,… It was a day I had been dreaming about for years and years, and suddenly it was there. I enjoyed every single minute of it. And yes, I did feel like a princess :-).

Then why do I not simply say that “yes, it was the most beautiful day of my life?” For the simple reason that there are so many other fantastic moments I’ve shared with P; moments in which I felt as special as on my wedding day.

The first one that comes to mind is the INSEAD Summer ball. I remember thinking that night, while watching the fireworks in P’s arms “this is it, it can’t get any more romantic than this”. I came from weeks of terrible news and hospital rooms – and all of a sudden I stood there, In France, in my first real gala-dress. I will never forget that night – the hugs from friends, and P letting me feel that I could let go of everything, and he would take care of me.

Our first New Year’s night together, although almost ten years ago, is another one I will never forget. Or the week we spent in a tiny B&B in Florence one spring. The fall weekends in Paris when P shared a flat with a colleague near the Arc de Triomphe. The Valentine evening when he surprised me by taking me to a reading of beautiful romantic prose by famous authors. The night he took care of me when I lay flat out on a bathroom floor in Cuba. Or the morning he postponed a business trip to Germany because my hamster was dying (don’t laugh).

What was unique about our wedding day, is the fact that we spoke out our love for eachother, and celebrated it with all our friends and family. And the “yes” that made it all official, made me the happiest girl in the world.
But as I’ve said – P has made me the happiest girl of the world on many other days as well :-).

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

More Münich

Last weekend we went to the city that caused me sleepless nights and nightmares for several months. (the exact reasons are, sorry, classified). So while I was extremely happy to be part of what was to be a great wedding, I wasn’t exactly “over the moon” to go back to Münich.

Stepping out of the “bahnhof” I couldn’t help thinking “oh God, I still don’t like it”. So while P was having a lengthy conf call in our hotel room, I spent the better part of an entire hour reading in the lobby. I managed to cross the street for a quick visit to the Accesorize-shop, but ended up buying nothing. In my opinion the ultimate proof that Münich and I just weren’t made for eachother.

Still, I was hopefull. What better way to start liking a place than sharing great moments with loads of friends? (hell, we even liked Fonty in the end, didn’t we?). So with renewed courage I went to the Biergarten-party on Friday night. And yes, we had great fun. Until we were on our way back to the hotel, and P mentioned that yes, he could live in a place like this. Which sent me right back to hating the goddamned town.

Saturday. The Big Day for C&E. A train took us out of the city, to lake Starnberg. Okay, this was more like it. This was great. We spent the entire afternoon on a boat, soaking up sunshine and champagne. 1 – 0 for Münich for having such a beautiful spot just 40 minutes outside of the city. The evening party took us straight back to the 1920ies, with ladies in beautiful dresses, and gents in suits and hats.

Sunday – the day after. This stubborn German city just wouldn’t give up. As if it had to convince me that it wasn’t all that bad, the sun was out again. Blue skies, and a nice 24°C. What was not to like? P And I, by now quite familiar with Münich, took some friends on a walk to show them the most beautiful spots. The surfer boys showing off on the river Istar, the beautiful English Gardens where people are sunbathing naked, and the Biergarten in the middle of this huge park. We sat down on a very sunny terrace for (once more) beer and bretzels, and by then I was defeated.

Okay Münich, you win. I guess you’re not all that bad ;-) .

Monday, September 6, 2010

Must be Monday

Can I rant & ramble for a bit?

- Morning: 2 new groups of 12 pupils. First impressions: important. I prepare very good lessons with audio material and everything. One small detail: no radio to be found in the school.
- Parking meter outside foresaid school is out of order. (Do I have to continue?). Right: parking ticket when I get back.
- Lunch: the spiciest thai soup on the menu to clear my nose (and every other tube in my head that seems to be blocked). My lips are burned, my stomach is suffering, and my nose is, right, still not really working.
- Evening: first lesson with good friend. With video-material and everything. Video is still online 15 minutes before the lesson. Video has completely disappeared from the internet during the lesson.

Now I’m going to prepare myself a nice spaghetti carbonara. Please let the pig already be dead and the eggs still fresh

Sunday, September 5, 2010

To hamster

P likes to compare me to a hamster. In Dutch “to hamster” is actually a real verb, meaning to gather and collect stuff (see the great ad from a Dutch supermarket about their "hamsterweeks"). Which is exactly what I do. Movie tickets, boarding cards, restaurant receipts, … If they have the slightest whiff of a memory, they’ll end up in one of my drawers.
I’ve improved over the last few years. I really have. I’ve learned to throw stuff away. That is…until I started teaching again. Over the last 18 months, I’ve been gathering everything that seemed only remotely interesting to use in one or the other lesson, I’ve created tons of material myself, and I’ve bought an entire library of course- and exercise books.

Yesterday morning, I decided this can’t go on. I started throwing out all the old, and by now irrelevant, newspaper articles (regardless of the time I’ve spent making vocabulary exercises about them), I got rid of stuff I’ve kept for months, thinking “it might be useful someday”, and I tried to get some order in the chaos. When I was finally done, after several hours, I looked at my closet. All the loose papers had gone. Everything was neatly piled or put into maps. But, I still didn’t have a clear overview ( I still haven’t found a perfect system to classify all the material (levels? subjects? competences?). And there’s simply still too much stuff.

So, the next step is to go through the entire closet once again, folder by folder, and make yet another selection. This hamster is going to get organized, even if it takes days!
(of course, I could have done this over the summer holidays, and not one day before my new school year starts…, in a panic-induced, last-minute attempt to get prepared…)

Saturday, September 4, 2010

When in Brussels...

..forget about chocolate for once. Or don’t. But try to go to Lilicup as well. Yep, I’m sharing another Brussels-secret with you all!
Lilicup started on the web, but now has its “real life” shop. Unfortunately for me: just around the corner. Let’s list the pro’s and cons.

- The cupcakes are simply delicious
- So are the scones, cookies, cheesecakes, etc.
- Cupcakes are made right in front of you. Just the smell of the place is foodcoma-inducing
- They have a few small tables inside. It’s the perfect place to read the weekend papers on a Saturday morning.

- If you want to be sure to have enough choice, go early or command in advance
- Sometimes the line can be very long, and you have to be very patient
- From time to time, the place is invaded by young mothers + kids / babies. Horror. Even with a cupcake.
- Staff is young, and sometimes lacks a bit of respect and friendliness, esp. towards older customers, as I have noticed a few times while going there with my parents.*

Go early – enjoy the quietness of the shop and the activity of the baking atelier behind the counter. Let your mind wander between vanilla, chocolate, rose, lavender, peanut, toffee, … And then spoil yourself before the others arrive!

* P asked me what this was all about. So let me elaborate. Starting to scream out loud, run around in the shop, and go hide behind the counter while serving people (because you happen to see some boy on the street) - it's just not my idea of customer-friendliness. But maybe I'm being too harsh. And I haven't seen that obnoxious girl there lately...

Friday, September 3, 2010

INSEAD weddings

If you think the INSEAD money-drain is over 3 years after starting that overly expensive year – think again. Sure, chances are you can save big time on hotel rooms. Maybe you’ll gain a bit more than before (although this doesn’t count for a lot of resident partners – they’ve put their career on hold, and have to start all over again). But the loan is not fully paid back yet, and…. people are getting married. In Sri-Lanka, Mallorca, Mumbai, Munich, etc. Think: gift, outfit, plane tickets, hotel room. A money drain time and again.

“Okay, don’t go then” you might say. Not an option. ‘cause you see: these weddings are very often the perfect opportunity to finally get back together with some of your most precious friends, whom you haven’t seen in months. And do you really want to feel left-out while watching the pics of another great party on Facebook? Nope. So – once more – you dig into your (already empty) savings’ account. You buy the gorgeous dress you saw that perfectly fits into the “Twenties-theme” of the next wedding, you get a haircut you can’t afford right now, you spend hours online looking for the cheapest plane tickets (no, they’re all expensive), you sleep in the very fancy designated hotel (while a youth hostel would be more fitting for your current financial status). And of course, you give a generous gift (because you got married too, and you know how appreciated these gifts are).

And then I’m not even talking about the weird looks your boss gives you every time you say “uhm, I need a few days off to go to a wedding in X-Y-Z”. Even my hairdresser chuckles and asks “and where is this wedding taking place?”.

Yes, I DO still have friends in Belgium. But most of them are already far beyond the marrying-phase (let’s face it: INSEADers are not exactly early bloomers). About some new friends in Belgium : you’ll never believe it – but they happen to be INSEADers too…and they’re getting married in Bali next April!