donderdag 22 februari 2018


I have solemnly swore to myself that I will stay blog-wise away from the 45th president of the US till 2024.  Yes, I still predict T to win again in 2020.  The signs are there and honestly I do think that there are enough States out there who are very content & even thrilled with the way things are going down there.  No, I am not a citizen myself and so in a way I don’t think that I am impartial enough to give my balanced opinion about how the White House is running the federal government.   Still, I have got a very emotional relationship with that gigantic nation that has also shaped me as individual.   Having spend there a year myself and having been back already numerous times to visit friends and now also family I do think that I have a deeper insight into a nation that even starts to make less and less sense to many of us.

Not that there is no resistance at work and there are still enough voices out there who do try to point out why many disagree with what is happening.  Education and health care are just two of the things that will always make me wonder why they are so differently to our system but believe me in the mindset of many Americans social security is not the holly grail they are after.  In the land where many wish to have total freedom about their personal assets and wealth you are not always very willingly to invest into a system that will not automatically guarantee personal benefits.  Governmental decisions are considered in many cases a way in which a citizen might feel he/she might loose something he or she is not willingly to give up.  

Freedom remains a very hot topic in the US. It is that one word that has shaped the nation. So many adventurous souls have found there what they could not find anymore in Europe or other remote places.   It became the place where also many people found the liberty to worship their faith without the fear of being persecuted.  Plus that nation has granted over the centuries so many people opportunities to chase after their dreams.  

So yes, I still love that country. I wear my class ring still with gratitude and fond memories at heart and at touch down in any American city it does feel like homecoming.  Even the most imposing border control officer can not make me crumble. It is part of ‘the game’…and even the insane tipping (or at least when you are used to Belgium) I do with a gigantic smile and gratitude. Customer care is here also a total different ballgame and the weeks after a trip across the ocean I will always be a bit more annoyed how so many sales assistants do not seem to care or give you the cold shoulder.   Plus that I will always love to attend a church service in the States.   What I always find in a church I have not found anymore in my own nation.   Traveling to the US is being able to change gears and activate a certain personal modus that can make me feel so much more alive. 

Okay it is also linked with the intense relationships I have over there.  That there now also very close people have moved down there makes it of course a bit more personal as well. But still, there are some things that I will never ever get my head around.  Not that this also not happens while being at home.  One look at the newspaper and I need to run to the chocolate counter of the local supermarket to find some comfort.  Once more I have to calm myself down by using the mantra ‘Nobody is perfect’ and honestly I don’t think is there is one nation that has got it all covered.  Everywhere there are cracks to be found.

Yesterday I did decide to compose a tweet after trying to put the ‘18th’ shooting in a school in 47 days in the States. Yes, I first did think that these numbers were fake news but in one way they are not. You will even find a recent news article that will tell you that this is not a correct number and that some of these shooting did not involve any school children and have not caused any harm.  One of them took place on the roof of an empty closed down school.  So even the statistics are under fire when it comes down to getting a point across.  Let it sink in, 18 in less than 2 months!  Yes, I did predict shortly after that the president would mention rather the mental status of the nation than the fire gun involved in this drama.   That there were other more courageous politicians who once again did demand to change the legislation when it comes down to carry a gun was also predictable.  Also the calls for prayers for all involved and the gratitude for those who were first responders were not a surprise. 

There are so many people who will now make statements why this has happened again.   Numbers and statistics are showing up once again and believe me even my nation is not doing so well either when it comes down crime. We have our own problems to tackle and those also involve some irrational issues.  Belgium is surreal and many Belgians are aware of it and will not agree with what their government when it comes down to following the law.  In case you were wondering if we ever had shootings taking place inside of a school…not that I can think of but a few years ago did a certain individual walk into a day care center and did kill with a knife 2 babies and a day care nurse.  A very dark day in our national history. 

Can you imagine that you suddenly get a phone call at work from the police telling that your baby has died by a stabbing in a nursery? Unthinkable but it did happen.  It happened in Belgium and it did certainly took away a certain feeling of security.  The person who did commit these crimes has got mental problems.  These seemed to have been ignored and even his parents at the time had tried to point out that they were aware that something was not okay with their son.  Despite all the warning signs it still happened…and so we needed action. 

Suddenly did many day care centers had to change into fortified safe houses. Security became a major concern. In some cases you might not even know what there is a day care center when you walk or ride by.  All for security reasons. There are still people out there who are able to commit crimes and we can all get our hands on a sharp knife. But at least we have taken action towards to keep nurseries safer.  Not that this comparison is a suitable one. Still it is action undertaken by individuals who care, deeply care about the safety and wellbeing of others.

Already some parents and students have expressed their opinions.  Some of them have done it very fiercely and with a lot of conviction.  On top of that I also have read also some news articles who also put in question what these ‘victims’ say now openly.   We are even at the point that many will already shake (including elected officials) their heads and say that is won’t make any difference and they are even blaming other officials that this has happened on their watch.  Sorry but to use the words of one student that is BS. We all need to start somewhere. 

So if then  high school students suddenly say that time is up and something needs to change who are we then to say that they do not get their head around government.  These are children who go to school, are educated and take exams, write assignments about many subjects.  I think they will get their information somewhere and not only from googling it.  Plus in the States there is the subject American Government that you can take in high school.  From personal experience they very well explain how their government works and laws are made.  One of my best teachers at the time in the States was exactly my AG teacher.  He made me very much aware how politics and government works and he even made me reflect about how my own government functions.  I have not stopped being a critical thinker ever since. 

Over all I do personal think that when students and teachers speak up and when a community starts to express their feelings and thoughts about what they think is necessary should that then be ignored?  Personal freedom involves also a sense of security.  Safeguarded not only by a document written a few centuries ago.   If a certain group of people starts to question the situation then I do think that the politicians that have been voted into office have got the obligation to listen to their constituents.  Not only to those that have donated freely to their campaign fund.  And it is not that because the majority of school children does not have the right to vote yet that they do not matter.  That is actually BS!!!!  

From a personal experience I do know how the voice and the mind of a teenager can ‘change’ through out puberty but there is also something else that I more and more become aware being a teacher.  It are these minds that we help to form and that we get to invest in.  Not only parents raise children.  It does take a whole village to raise a child….if you then assume that these young minds will remain silent through out their whole teenage period then you must be living on Mars.  I keep saying that I as a teacher are the witness of amazing things that can happen in a classroom. It makes me heart jump. Yes chances are like that I would jump in front of a bullet to safe guard all my students because. Not that this part of my job description but honestly when my school goes into practice lockdown modus even then I for a split second become very much aware that I might end up doing the unthinkable. Why because if it is going to happen I might end up do things that I have never ever done before in order to save a life, any life. No matter what.  There have been teenagers and teachers inside that school that have done the unthinkable.  Even standing against a door to make sure that the shooter would not easily get access into the classroom.   I have a child myself who goes to school and I trust the teachers completely that educate A.

That mental issues are a bigger issue is also not a surprise.  All around the world do many, young and old, feel the pressure mentally weighing on them.  Many call out for help and therapy sessions are now also part of a teenage routine.  Yes, there are still people who will not find the help they are after or what that they do not find the right people who can help them due to many reasons.  It might take sometimes very scary things before people can/wish to see what is going on inside the brain of someone and even then.

My GP and in-house doc and my father have already numerous times pointed out that medicine is not an exact science.  Oh yes, when we are a patient we so much hope that a doctor will help out and get us back on the road to recovery as fast as possible  Well, psychology and psychiatry are in a sense more challenging then amputating a leg or arm. Not that that later action will not also affect mentally the patient.

It is a scary world out there and it will remain that. But that that there are people who try very hard to come up with ways to prevent bad things from happening is surely a blessing.  No,believe me that day care centers had to start to invest in high tech security measures was not done light hearted. People can still get their hands on knives and even guns.  That has not changed but at least many are trying to prevent that it will happen again.

Nope, the US does wish to have a ban on guns….that would be ten bridges too far.  Still if you listen very carefully then you hear very clearly that these youngsters wish to be taken serious and that they call for a government that is willingly to admit that there is more to be done than just send over their thoughts and prayers or visiting for a photo opportunity.  ‘No, a ban on guns won’t prevent bad things of happening.’, is a very lame excuse not to do something. There are so many ways to try to make society a safer place where the younger generation feels safer and more taken care of.    I don’t wish to see the US changing again into wild far West as much as I like the music of Enrico Morricone.  

The millennials are told to be a lot that many of us wonder to what the world has come to. But when I hear the students speak up (even the young ones) I am still hopeful.  The potential, the dreams, the aspiration, the courage, the creativity, the endurance, the faith, the strength to make a difference in the future is still out there even if when politicians, science and media is telling them that they might end up facing a very dark future.  Who are we to deny them a safe world in which they can become the individuals and the society they wish to be?  If you dare to call this BS then you take a good look into the mirror and then try to come up with at least one or two names who have granted you opportunities and kept you safe.  If your mind remains blank then give it an other shot. Aim right between the eyes because the answer is in front of you.  You do not even need a gun to understand this…honestly you do not…many children understand this.  And this is not BS….

zondag 7 januari 2018

The Tower of Languages.

It is the season that we celebrate and gift wrap and make sure that we drive home to hug those we love the dearest.  This year I have to miss a few people who in 2017 have moved away.  Luckily is on Christmas day arriving a certain flight from NYC that carries three people that we surely look forward to fill up our glasses with.  At the moment I am right on schedule.  I only had to cancel my trip to beauty spa due to my painful feet, lower back and my eye that still is fighting back the eye cream that I three times a day squeeze in there.  P tells me to be patient and so I am taking deep breaths.  So we try to stay positive on the injured body frontier and kicking our selves into Christmas spirit.

Oh yes, it is starting to look a lot like Christmas at the moment.  The Christmas trees and lights are all out and this year they surely make up for the lack of sun shine we are facing this month.  Up till now we had only two hours of sun shine to enjoy and that helps to make December as the darkest month so far. Needless to say that it already has got that reputation but this year it decided to add a few extra extra grey and dark days. So it surely helps that it is the holiday season in order to survive the gloomy weather conditions.  P even started us on Vitamin D chewing tablets.

On top of that I also survived my first long term of the school year.  The teaching part I never ever grow tired of. Surely I have got those days that I wonder why I stay in the language learning business.  Dutch is not the most straight forward language to teach to an international target group. I still consider it very worth while to learn a foreign language and I do envy those people who master more than four.  Some of my students tackle a lot of languages in one day. They are considered sponges on the language spectrum.  That my mother tongue is not on the short list of must-know-language-to-get-by-languages I surely understand. But please understand my point of view as well for once...please...pretty please!

Let us face it Dutch is not a language many of us globally speak on a daily basis. It is what it is. The last few years I have found out that speaking and understanding a language takes so much more than motivation and talent.  Some people just do not manage.  And in quite a lot of cases it has nothing to do with intelligence.  More than ever I do realize that speaking a language also is connected to future aspirations and also involves some extra time and energy. Plus that my mother tongue is blessed with some very interesting sounds we produce with our speech organs. Believe me there are people who do not get their heads around that.

My coworker and I do not give up tough to teach young students a few words and expressions. No, we passionately share the Dutch language with others. It is our job and we both take our job description very seriously.  Constantly we are looking for new ways to introduce vocabulary and also make them aware of how a language works.  Language awareness is a central idea in our Dutch language learning.  When a child in my classroom is able to make a connection between their mother tongue or any other language than fireworks goes off in my head.  It is proof that the brain is active during a language lesson. 

Oh yes, if I would be granted three hours a week to teach my mother tongue I would be able to do so much more. But it is what it is.  I am granted  55 minutes a week to do my thing and expand the language awareness of my audience. So yes, I still miss my secondary classes and audiences and coworkers. It is what it is…and I try to make the best out of it.

That the last few months I have been a bit quiet even when the national press and politics had some very intense discussions, debates and words about language learning and education is due to the fact that I have also learned that I just do not see social media fit to have such a discussion. I am even very willingly to state that since I am not teaching in a ‘normal’ or should I rather describe it as being a less straight forward educational hot spot gives me less the ‘right’ to speak out my opinion.  I tend to stand now a lot next to the field/fence when I read opinions about my profession but I never stop trying to get my head around the words and understand all the parties involved.  Believe me I have been very busy.

At a certain point I even had typed a Facebook status that stated that I not wish to express my opinion out there but rather prefer a face to face discussion/educational chat in the company of gin&tonic.  That is just me but honestly I do have some interesting teaching experience under my belt when it comes down to mother tongue in combination with learning an other language.  I do think that any language deserves a spot in an educational setting. The languages we speak define us.  Language is one of the strongest communication tools there is. It can built bridges and help to overcome prejudice. Yes, it does stimulate integration and cultural assimilation.  It can create friendships that will last a life time. 

But in the last few decades the world has changed. It has become more dense in many ways. That we are thanks to the internet able to ‘speak’ to each other is surely something very positive.  I sometimes click for fun on the the translation tool that Facebook has to ‘translate’ messages people type there in their mother tongue.  I challenge you to do this because it will amaze you what sometimes the translation tool with spit out.   But it is also then that I do become very aware of how much our languages are different. It is what it is…

When I started out teaching at my educational work hot spot I found quite rapidly that banning a mother tongue of child is nefast for learning languages. Not only learning wise but even in general.  My office is located next to the the room in which one of the most talented teachers I know introduces newcomers to the English language.  Now if you think that in there is only spoken English the moment they walk in, you are wrong.  I would rather describe it a language lab where all these languages collide and where the teacher needs to find a million ways to teach the dominant school language. Some kids pick it up in no time and others need some more time in order to express themselves in the English language. Time they are granted…

I now sometimes witness moments that blow me away.  Oh yes, believe me have got students who in now time can pronounce challenging words and sometimes even catch up with those that might already have  more years of any language learning under their belt.  Now is this because they are banned from speaking their mother tongue at school?  Well, most of students will speak their mother tongue at school but I also found out that they do tend to speak English the most. After all that is what we all in have common in school.  The English language connects us in the most intense manner what so ever. 

English is the fastest way from A to B in my school. It is the most powerful tool that empowers students to work together and create successful learning moments.  Does this mean that students are not allowed to use their mother tongue inside a classroom when tackling certain math problems or when they studying the Romans?  No,…I have picked up French, Dutch,  German, Swedish, Turkish, Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Hungarian, Russian, Spanish, Italian and many more  in a classroom.  Has this caused problems for the teacher or/and students involved?  Not that I have been aware of it.  I have seen many children been able to cope faster with certain things if they were allowed to use that one thing they consider that one tool that can save them.  They seem to use their mother tongue rather as a way to make sense of their learning. 

I do think that education is one of the most essential rights a child has.  Globally there are still too many children that do not have the opportunity to learn. That in my nation there is compulsory learning till 18 I do call a blessing.  And yes that new comers are as quickly as possible send to a school I do think is essential in the integration process. That now some schools have found out that the languages their students speak can help them to assess and stimulate learning I do think is very positive.  It proofs that educators and school boards have come to terms that the 21st century comes along with a few extra challenges.

Now I can’t deny that learning the dominant school language involves energy and time.  On top of that you do need educators who learn and teach the target language.  My own capital still faces many challenges and education is surely one of them. Brussels is the highest tower of Babble in  many ways.  And it inhabitants not only speak French or English.  Some of them will go to an international school where they are educated in English or French by people who master this language. Some of them will even end up in a school that facilitate the education in their own mother tongue. Yeah, there is a for example a Swedish or Greek school in Brussels.  After all some these children will move back after three years to their home country and chances are very likely that they will follow higher education in their mother tongue than rather in English, French or Spanish.

There is one thing that all schools need in order to function optimal and offer high quality education and that is that they need teachers and also students who speak mother tongue the educational language. Many local French speaking parents in Brussels prefer to send their children to Dutch speaking schools and this for very obvious reasons.  But what if less and less people speak actively the language inside the school? When the instream of the students who attend the school consists mainly of people who never outside school speak Dutch or   Well, then I do think that the language learning aspect will be more challenging.  After all do children not only learn inside a classroom where one person speaks the language they need to study in order to pass their exams. 

You learn a language by putting it into practice.  Now the less and less a language is spoken by people in the context where they learn it the more important it is they speak it when they are suppose to speak it.  Dutch is one of those languages that you do not learn easily by listening to songs from K3 or binge watching ‘Thuis’.   In the 21st century Brussels and other major cities of this tiny nation many children speak more than one language and is Dutch not there mother tongue.  Not that this is such a big issue but it gives the learning process an extra dimension.

Any learning needs context in order to make sense of the meaning of learning. It is always much simpler to explain why you need to know or being able to do something when the destination is clear. Just learning something for the sake of it is not that motivating in itself. Surely you do have these learners who just love to learn anything. Now do not take me wrong but I even had a hard time to come to terms that learning how to fill out American tax papers. After all chances were very unlikely that I would ever move there. My American government teachers used the words ‘you never know’ but inside of my head I surly did not agree with her.

In Brussels we face the most challenge language learning there is in Europe and honestly I do think that momentarily many schools are not equipped for it. Sorry, it is what it is.  This is not criticism it is rather that in the last three decades so much globally has changed. That the skills a millennial needs in order to feel well prepared are ‘slightly’ different than when we were their age.  You do surely learn things that we question and find out about wonder why we had to learn them in the first place but still…

Yes, nowadays society demands a lot of a teacher.  The list is long and distinguished what they think a young adult needs in order to be a global citizen.  Is learning foreign languages a demand of the youngsters itself?  From what I see around me I can state yes but it is only of the skills they need in order to ‘survive’ outside the classroom.  Yes, I do agree that it is vital that teachers speak the target language as much as possible.  But believe me that all parties will benefit from a child who will explain it in their  that is able to help out when a student does not understand something. It speeds up the process in an 21st century classroom where so many more obstacles are to come over come than understanding the language most people speak in the room. 

Yes, please give our children the education they deserve and wish for. Invest in school facilities that are eco-friendly and that stimulate learning.  Give students the tools that they feel safe and brave enough to try new things.  Let a school be the setting where not only the teacher teaches but where children find out that they also are actively involved in the learning process.  That you therefor need highly qualified teachers is beyond any doubt.  So what are we waiting for to come up with a different way of educating the teacher? In this nation we still fail to do so.  Many still argue about the 'power' they wish to have in the whole decision making process but we are loosing precious time here....believe me!   Millenials are the ones who are going to rebuilt the world that others are now putting under pressure but they need to be equipped for the gigantic challenge ahead!

The context in which I need to be the best teacher I can be is surely the world in which I live and sorry for the moment we still do not seem ready to make some brave and cunning decisions.  That we Flemish-Dutch speakers have a very intense relationship with our language does not make it any less challenging.  After all is Flemish-Dutch one of the most outspoken ways in which a Flame can express him or herself. It is one of the few things we do have to show what we stand for.  The political and cultural fights that hide behind this language are so much more than a vocabulary list.  The Dutch language is one of the few things that we have left to show the rest of the world who we try to be. It defines us but it is only one aspect of us.  But where I do come from it is a bit more complicated. Believe me that we more than once will judge people by how well they are able to speak Flemish/Dutch.  Our Royal Family has now understood that sending their children to a public  Flemish/Dutch speaking school is rather important.  Momentarily rumors are that our crown princess Elisabeth can speak more fluently Dutch than French.  And this while her parents are known to speak rather French. (Again proof that the dominant language is the language of education combined with the language youngsters speak amongst themselves )

Well, believe me to many this matters.  Why?  Well..let us say that the majority of a tiny country does not always feel they are taken serious.  Flemish people are deep down very down to earth and are the last ones to take themselves serious. In general many of us are so good at putting ourselves down.   We hate to stand out and will always find a flaw.  Many speak very softly and will rather whisper than shout even when in being in an ecstatic state of happiness.   We will shut up easily when Dutch people suddenly enter board rooms and then will swallow down any arguments or opinion that might blow up the deal.  It is only when many of us sit in a dark corner of pub and orders a ‘pintje’ that we open up.  We gently and carefully use our mother tongue.  Flemish people tend to over analyze what they say and will rather listen before opening up.  We loose time...rather seizing the opportunity!

One of our exchange students from the States who managed to have full conversations with my grandmother. I have never seen my grandmother so happy that she was able to communicate with this vibrant girl who in less than a year was able to express herself in a language she would likely never ever again use in her future career. Unless she might end up fall in love with the Flemish person who had moved to the US or when she would start working for an international company who would send her to the Benelux.   Still she stole all our hearts and this forever!  And no, she might not have spoken it perfectly and gotten all the subtle differences and figurative speech but still she never ever gave up.  It was then also that my mother became very much aware that learning Dutch was not easy for everybody. 

If I do get into a debate with on other global citizen why ‘we’ make such a big thing out this I do try to tell him or her that we do not have something to show to the rest of the world what we easily can describe as ‘Flemish culture’.  Or at least it is not as easy to define it  in comparison  as many other cultures that surround us. The dominance of other nations in the past have made it very challenging to express what Flemish people stand for and how they differ from others. But the language is surely the most straight forward one. Believe me that a Dutch-Dutch speaker will come up with many arguments why we 'Flames' do not speak the same language as them and that we sound so different than they do.  Plus in the sixties we for sure made a very clear statement that we feel strong enough to take care of our own Dutch/Flemish higher education. People have put their neck out in the political arena to make this happen. 

So in my personal opinion do Flemish people tend not to be most outspoken about what drives them and what they are proud of.  In many cases what you see and hear is what you get.  We speak a language that not many understand but it connects a small group of people who for centuries battled with their identity and their family and cultural heritage.  In our language you can hear a lot of the internal battle we still daily fight. It is still about respect in the first place.  Discrimination on basis of the language someone speaks is on the work floor present... believe me it is there... the stories are there... but you do not read them in the headlines...but the result of this discrimination is missing out life changing&saving solutions &changes!  'Pride&Prejudice' is a timeless tale!  'TheTale of Two Cities' as well!

Now please do not the get me wrong!  I do think it is very essential that all Belgian citizens learn the languages we speak in our nation. People who choose to live long term in our nation need to learn a common language in order to make this a better place for all. Not only for the happy few. Or at least one or two of them. This does include becoming aware of the fact that many of them already communicate in other languages besides the language in which they have chosen to be educated is essential to get the most out of the learning process.   Yes, we need more teachers in Brussels (even tempted to say globally) that are up for this challenge.  That city has got the people & the know how in order to become a true educational hotspot globally where many educational innovations can be put into practice but then we do need to make some tough decisions in order to make it work for all parties involved. 

The past, present and future colliding in a classroom demands people who are ready to face the language of many involved. Do you honestly wish to live in a world where we less understand each other or rather in one where we find common ground or rather in place where we find risk takers who might be the ones who will come up with the next ground braking idea, invention, technology, design, theory, operation, that will make the difference in the lives of many? I think that is a very straight forward choice. They might not speak the language most of us speak in this country. But our lives might benefit from it as well in so many other ways.  Learning a languages is about becoming aware in what way we all differ but also what we have common. It connects and builds bridges.  It creates and stimulates to make connections in a structured and adventurous way. The tower of Babble is being built in my back yard but I do hope it will not end up collapsing like it did in that one particular story.

I did pick out no songs in my mother tongue to go along with this entry because I realy wish to get my point across. It is thanks to like people like Celine Dion (and I know many do not like her voice but still) that I did start to fall in love with one of my national languages.  Her winning Eurosong made me aware that I wanted to know what she is singing about.  And I love this song because we need to seize the opportunities when they show up also when it comes down to languages 

zondag 10 december 2017

The Holidays Are Coming?!

The last couple of weeks have been very busy work wise and I have found my way to the yoga-studio as well.  I am now back into what I call a very nice and safe routine. One that I can make me feel comfortable and at ease. Yeah, I am zen…that is as long as my body wishes to follow along and that is momentarily not the case.  Today I even had to get out the white flag due to painful feet, pain in my lower back, an irritated left eye that after 4 months still does not clear up and blisters on the heel of my right foot.  Oh and also my nose and throat produce sounds and fluids that are not considered as business as usual.   Yeah, I am at war with my body at the moment and yoga does not seem to help the healing process.  Even have to point out that some of the pain is connected with the yoga.  Seems that like all what I dive into I have overdone it.   So today instead of sitting in zen position and bending all my body parts and trying to stay up right I am home drinking a cup of George Clooney coffee and crossing my fingers that things will clear up soon. 

My GP told me that I need to be patient concerning my eye and that it might take months before that is healed.   Momentarily I put three times aday annoying cream in there (and this for a whole f****** month) and all I can say that it is very ANNOYING.  I am so tempted instead of opening doors of our lovely Bear Paddington advent calendar to create a cross out calendar to get unharmed through those 4 weeks.  Who ever came up with the idea to put eye cream in those tiny tubes in the first place!!?? You should see me trying to get the sticky cream into my eye.  It is hilarious and there is cream all over the place but not in my eye. Or at least it takes me a few times to get it right in there and leave it in there.  Guess you are getting the picture…

I am fed up with it and it does not help either that it is outside freezing cold and wet, a horrid combination. The moment I walk outside all my body parts even hurt more. Thermal underwear and skiing outfits might end up on my wish list for Christmas.  I also still have to order my new Moleskine diary for 2018, book my beautician and hairdresser, do most of my present shopping and wrapping, put up our tree (we decided to go eco friendly and I can not wait to get it out of its square box), bake cookies, tackle the Christmas mail, putting together a few menus to keep us food wise entertained during the holidays,….. My Holidays-to-do-list in very long and I bet that most of these things I will end up doing last minute…as always…but that is what  I like best about Christmas.  That might sound a bit like I am being sarcastic but I am not.

One of the things we have been doing is creating our annual Christmas card and that is a very lengthy and painful process. First of all I first have to engage into a very long battle with my photo program on my computer. Every year again it seems that the ‘create your own Christmas card’-option on the website that we use already for years has come up with some an update that includes some ‘cool&fun’ features but can only f**** up my mind.  Every single year again I have those moments while trying to upload a selection of pictures that I wonder if I should rather buy some nostalgic  Hallmark cards.  Honestl,  I then end up cursing at my screen and I am then so close to just throw my computer through the window.   

Is it that much to ask to create an easy to use uploading program in combination with some cool and great lay out options?   User friendly seem to be two words that I can not seem to combine with creating our family Christmas card.  And if you think that the battle is fought when I then have finally figured it out how the export pics and import them into the program you are wrong.  It is only then that it the fight really begins. 

First of all I then come to terms with the fact that there are no pictures of the three of us together. I am dead serious.  I am the one at home who walks around most of the time with the camera. P lives in the now and here modus and is also not easy to capture on camera.  So I am the one who is trying to capture all those picture perfect moments we share as a family or on my own while wandering through Brussels and beyond.   The creation process it self is easy peasy due to the fact that I already way ahead of Christmas have picked out the pics I wish to use for this joyous card.  I then click away almost blindly and add some stardust and glitter and feel like a pro creating five star greeting cards.  Hmm, yeah right it is all perception I guess! ;-)  But then that one dreadful moment comes…

‘So, what you think, any good to send off to family and friends world wide?’, and then I show him my computer screen.  P then stares at the creation that has taken me sometimes hours and ex- & internal curses.  Most of time his face tells me all I need to know.  ‘Hmm, not sure…’, and he then shovels the screen back to my side of the living room table.  I am sure that I do need to point out what it makes me feel like…

The thing is that this year it has taken me so much more time and energy. I am even at the point that I am wondering if it is even worth while to send out well wishes to the world.  No please, do not take it personal that I am bit disappointed in mankind. It is just that I feel let down myself. It seems that I have not been living up to the expectations of many.  In 2018 I am even considering to do the same as P and that is not going on Facebook anymore.  Just a minute ago I did come across a comment that in Belgium all traditions are scary… and I feel hurt.

It is already going on for few months that I feel the odd one out.  No, I don’t dive in my keyboard to then scream and shout at ‘strangers’.  Yes, I still give them all the benefit of the doubt but the self reflection process is then still taking place.  Seems that lots of people feel hurt, humiliated, discriminated, wronged in their feelings when it comes down to what my nation stands for. It goes very very far…believe me.

People even make comments about the way my mother tongue sounds different to the Dutch spoken in the Netherlands and that they don’t understand me. While I have not a single problem understanding them and finding out what they wish to tell me. Otheres even ignore me while spitting out a comment about Belgium. It happens daily and do you honestly think that it does affect me?  But then I am the odd one out…I love my nation dearly, I do hate it at times as much as you do and I do not always agree with the policies and administration they have put in place. I am not that much different to you but this is my home soil. It is were I try to be a responsible citizen and where I try to be proud of what we stand for.  Can you also understand that please?

Deep down I know I so much know what to do and it won’t be easy but it is necessary.  After I have enjoyed the holiday delights my body wishes to be signed up for boot camp.  There is no way back… but still it does hurt. I do not wish to be on a rant but many of you out there seem to think that it is very necessary to just tell what you think and feel.  Is it then that many of you just  hope that we all just swallow it down and get on with our lives and come up with our own justifications, adjustments and adopt? Just wondering.....  Still, it is a very tiring process.

Telling me that I do not need to take it personal all that I read and hear about my nation, my politicians and my traditions does not help.  Why in the first place then you express them? Why do you then seem to ignore me while I am just standing next to you in the same room?  Do you honestly do think that I am deaf... that I do not have got feelings and that I have got no empathy or no shame what so ever?  Is because you need to get rid of your own personal frustrations and that you feel the urge to express your opinion openly and freely no matter what the consequences are?  Or do you just think that it is all just a joke and that nobody will feel offended by them in first place?  Life goes on no matter what.  Despite North Korea launching an other rocket, Trump moving his embassy from Telaviv to Jerusalem, unhappy youngsters causing havoc in our capital,  Catalan people invading Brussels, Brexit talks that do not make any senses anymore, educational upheaval/strikes in the Netherlands and Belgium, and the list goes on and on…. it goes on…but I still feel like I am the odd one out. 

I have seriously considered not showing up on our Christmas card this year because I have been too busy observing, listening, and searching for the beauty, the hope, the faith and good intentions that is still out there. All I can say that I very much looking forward to putting up  our eco-friendly Christmas tree,  getting behind the steering wheel of our new car that is considered a bit more eco friendly and will be charged by the power we are getting out of our solar panels,  hovering the house with a vacuum cleaner that is has got the right EU-labels, turning down the furnace one more degree and putting on Christmas jumpers that have been produced in countries that tell us that they do not use child labor, hoping from the bottom of my heart  it will slow down climate change for a split second, washing laundry with eco friendly products and not getting all the stains out of them, filling up tumblers with the Belgian gin by the lovely name ‘Save the Queen’ that tries to save the bee population, putting together holiday menus with local products that have bio-friendly labels on them or at least have been produced locally, riding into Brussels to visit the Christmas market using public transport in the hope I am not adding time to a longer traffic jam, wrapping my presents in recycled gift paper, trying to use language and singing holiday carols that are political correct (yes including Sinterklaas ones that do not mention Zwarte Piet, believe me I have done that) and not hurting anyone’s feelings, cooking my meals in olive oil that has been produced in the EU with EU cultivated olives and bying fish that is labeled ocean friendly, taking showers with paraben free shower cream and ingredients that are considered not influencing my hormones, using make up that is not tested on animals,  buying christmas cards and tiny stocking fillers from people that volunteer for charities they strongly believe in,…..

You see, I all take it personal.   I am  fighting my own little private war to make the world a better world.  I am quite sure you are fighting you own one as well.  The difference is that I not constantly scream it out how I annoyed I feel about certain opinions that some of you express very loudly or at least not when I have got an live audience . 

So please forgive me not to be as upbeat for the moment and I am very busy to help to save the world in my own way but unfortunately I might end up still hurting people in the process.  Do not take it personal…but I very much try to respect all of you. All I can do is just try.  Can I just say that I am so happy that the new Star Wars in coming out quite soon in theater quite soon.  I feel the pain that Luke Skywalker feels so much…and share his gospel.  Perhaps it is time to put a light saber on our annual Christmas card????   I STILL LOVE YOU...I DO!  Believe me ! Even if I have been misled… or at least feel like that at some days of the week. Love can move mountains.  No??

PS: I promise you a more upbeat Holiday blog entry quite soon but I needed to get it out of my system. Interesting to read after reading this might be this article about that one Jedi that kind of tells what I do feel like momentarily.

And this week Belgians and French people said goodbye to the one and only performer that so well expressed the feelings that many French speaking people wish to tell the world in his songs.  Johnny Hallyday will be missed by many.  So that is why I opted for this song. Sorry in case this is not your cup of tea but many love his music and that is also the case for that other performer in this music clip. ;-)

The second clip I picked out to go along with this entry because this is one of the Lindsey Stirling tracks that I will put on when driving home and need to find back my 'grinta'.  Plus that a lot seems to be like a mirage in the 21st century.  Power music that manages to get the energy level back up in my body and mind.  I have seen her performing on stage and believe she is ace! So is her Christmas album but that one I am saving for on an other entry.  

zondag 29 oktober 2017

Walking next to the fence

There are those moments that I am not up the fence because I rather like walking next to it.  That the view I am after is not on top of a mountain and that I feel so much more at home while wandering on the trail next to it.  I have been there numerous times on the fence.  Yes, Stallie has got very outspoken opinions.  This lady can jump on the bandwagon when she feels the urge to do so.   But there are as many times that I resist do so.  In the last decade I have kind of figured out that in order to stay in balance screaming, fierce discussions and debates won’t bring me what I need. Plus that there is sometimes a piece of the puzzle missing in order to feel strong enough to dive into the cool water. 

Last Friday evening it happened again while driving home.  I had just left my educational hot spot after a very interesting and at times mind shifting professional learning day.  It had been the perfect day to finish up the first half term of the school year.  I felt in balance professional and please believe me that this is a rare sensation.  The Autumn sun was out and I was tremendously looking forward to spend quality time with my family and friends in the week to come.  It was then that I did hear a person explain how his parents and he felt now that Catalonia had declared their independence!  This person was over the moon and I was not… I did not feel what he was talking about it. Nope, I did not.  There were no fireworks going off inside of my head. Instead I went blank.  Honestly I did and I know so well what this means. I am back walking next to the fence. 

Stallie tries to keep on top of things and still she feels she is not that well informed. That it does take more than just reading a few articles that Facebook will post in between all those exciting status updates.  It takes a lot of time to get the whole picture and up till now I feel that I just can not get my head around it.   I refuse to click on a vote button that someone will post on Twitter in order to find out what people think about all that is going on.  Not that I don’t try to see both parties their point of view. I constantly do but that does take up a lot of more time and energy.

Nope, I don’t think that you can only be for or against separation in cases as such. Sorry, if I hurt your feelings I just do not share that opinion.  After all that is my opinion and honestly I don’t feel the need having to come up with numbers and scientific research to justify myself why I feel that way when it comes down to such things.  My personal opinion I have put together by reading, listening and looking up things.  Still I am very cautious due to the fact that the internet is not always such a good ally when it comes downto spitting out nuanced and fundamental objective news.

I have been long enough around to have seen the world coming to terms that some things do change.  My own nation is certainly not the same as let us say 20 years ago.  I am very grateful to my parents that they have tried and still try to let me figure things out on my own.  Plus they are the ones that have always pointed out that you always have to be aware that there is more then one side to each story that is told. 

The picking side-element in nowadays society tires me out and I just do not feel that you just can always ‘gratuite’ shout out what you think and feel.  It does not work like that in my corner of the world where I try to ‘create and make’ a worth while living.  I don’t judge easily people by their looks and opinions. Rather I tend to wait and take a step back, observe and listen.  Oh yes, I might internal curse and I do wish daily that some of those loud humans who just look for the frontal confrontation to go out of my way and leave me alone. 

We have in Dutch this expression ‘kleur bekennen’, translated ‘confess color’ what means that you have to express your beliefs and opinions. Honestly I sometimes refuse to do so. Especially the matter at hand is one that is too complex to get my head around.  Okay, I admit my head might not function as many others. There are those moments that I even envy those who very openly express their opinion and stand by their principles no matter what.  It feels like they have figured out what I just do not seem to master. 

Tonight I did point out to P that I do not get it that chances are very likely that it will be the last time that we had to turn back the clock and that I did wonder who had made that decision.  Hey, we were not asked what we feel about that and how it might influence our lives in the Spring and Summer months.  It then will be much earlier light in the morning and it will get sooner dark in June and July.  Well, honestly I did wonder out loud if there will be a referendum to decide if this is something the majority of us wishes to deal with. Okay, I do get it that our biological clock, and especially that one of the very young ones, is messed up and causes havoc and chaos in the daily routines of many young parents.  I get that but I wonder if they look forward to even facing the morning light at an earlier stage than now. Just wondering…but then I am not a scientist and I have never faced any issues of that kind with A.  So I better jump of the fence before I say something inappropriate or hurt someone’s feelings.

Sure, the comparison between Winter and Summer time in comparison with Catalonia is perhaps not fair.  Still, this will affect me and I have never had the opportunity to express my feeling or opinion about it. Get my point.  But I also do not think you can compare a 15th century Europe to a present day one.  The world constantly changes but I do think that the world in which we live is more connected to each other than let us say 200 years ago. In my historical conscience there is not a lot to space for taking facts and opinion out of context. Especially if the context is not matching the one in front of me on a screen or on paper.  Or at least that is what I think about it…

It is rather confrontational to see, hear and read comments of people who do think that when you do not express your opinion that you then lack back bone.  Sorry I don’t agree!  Opinions are often linked to emotions and you know what responding emotionally is not always without ‘danger’. Sorry, perhaps was my mind set on Friday just not up for this ground breaking and historical news. Especially if you had a short workshop on decision making and how hard it is when you need to make that one call.

It is one thing to be able to read the outspoken opinion about the EU from someone across the ocean who considers many us leftist who most of the time have already screwed up the whole world by strange decisions. Certain things as health care, the death penalty, transgender issues, abortion, euthanasia, parental leave and social rights you just seem not to be able to explain to people who live in an other political and economical structure.  It is not that I have given up on it but I have just decided that I just can not put my energy into such a crusade.  Plus honestly I wonder if you have ever have walked in my shoes and more than 2 miles walked along with me.

By now you might already have jumped on the fence and start to curse at the screen.  Feel free to do so.  Yes, I understand you but it is like all men suddenly seem to feel that they had to speak out what had happened to all these women who have been facing sexual assaults.  The #metoo surely has opened up a debate but sorry no not all men are sexual predators. In a way I felt a bit out of place when some men I know from the past suddenly were posting things on social media that they feel sorry for not having spoken up and that they should have.   There are now even very out spoken men who start to speak about ‘fake feministic men’. Oh please,…sorry even if your name is Julian Assange who is on a crusade to ‘save’ the world then you do not speak for all men.

Including myself have not spoken up when something happened that many other considered wrong. I have been guilty of not defending the weak one in the room or stand up when I saw something that actually is considered discriminating when it comes down to gender, race, health status and much more. It has happened to me as well.  But I just do not consider all mankind guilty. Yes, I do think that dialogue and empathy and essential to get out of gridlock in many situations.  This involves energy of both sides and the courage to face the fact that you can not have it all. 

I don’t have outspoken opinions about everything and the ones I have I will rather express when you are up, close and personal with me in the same room.  When we have the chance to have a fair conversation about what drives us.  Momentarily it seems rather that he media and politicians have found that one weapon that we all fear that will over take us on a sunny day and that is fear.

Fear can paralyze us and seems to suck up all the energy that we demonstrate on good days. That this is not an easy thing to beat and only grant the air time it deserves is it either. Belgian psychiatrist Damiaan Denys will agree with me on that one.  He is even trying to write a book about it.  And you know what that even turns out to be a scary act.  There is a cover, a title, a price tag and there was a date of publication that he is now for a second time not making due to…FEAR.  The fear not to write it right is like a paradox he is facing constantly in the process of writing about this subject.   He does think that social media are the citizens and that they should feel free to express out there and write but that our traditional media has got a few responsibilities that it momentarily is not safe guarding as much as it could and should. And I do agree with him on that. I do…sorry I do.

So even if the psychiatrist now is stuck in a what he calls a strange kind of dynamics then I do think that right now many of us feel rather safer walking along the fence.  Feel free to join me and the moment you feel the urge to jump on the fence do not hold back either just do not forget about me or all the others that once in a while feel the need to catch their breaths.  Do not be surprised that you find me wearing different colors depending on my mood. Plus I am told to be a Autumn type so our colors might not match mine but together we might create a rainbow.  And who knows we then might then find that one pot filled up with gold the leprechauns have been hiding already for centuries!

donderdag 21 september 2017

Zen Hard To Come By

Okay here we go..I have been pondering a few days about sitting down and writing this down.  After all this not an entry that will be considered light hearted.  Please believe me that I have been overthinking this big time if I even want to put this down black on white.  Yes, Stallie her writers blocks are sometimes fake.  These are more moments that she decides rather not to scream out here what is going on in her life and her mind.

Before plunging into the deep and letting you in where it for the moment is storming I wish to point out a few things. First of all do not take it personal.  Most of these feelings have been evoked by total strangers or people I assumed knowing a bit but found out the hard way that is a big misunderstanding.  I still will be the same Stallie after you read this. Nothing has changed. It is still the same voice I am using.  So please beware of making any assumptions about me. You are very welcome to question me but if you know me well than you must now that I rather prefer to do this face to face in a place where there is candle light, some G&T and smooth back ground music. 

Second I know this is a phase. It will pass. The thing is that I can not predict when this will exactly will be.  Some things are beyond my control. Oh yeah, believe I have got a great Pinterest category by the name ‘Words I try to live by’.   I update that one weekly and I still grant these words supernatural powers.  

Thirdly I am a teacher and believe me I am very much aware that those are very hard kind of humans to get your head around.   Add September to these three and you have got a lethal cocktail that I would rather not consume but it is part of the job description. It will come around and around.  Please be so kind to keep this in my mind while reading the next entry. It certainly will help to put things in the right context.

So September it is and no we both are not good friends. Never were and never will.  Chaos all over over the place. In the beginning I try desperately to ignore it and try to stay on my own created safe haven where I try to fight off all the havoc that is taking place.  Three days that is what give and take I manage to stay on those safe grounds.  Day four the it is like hurricane Irma passes by and sweeps me off my feet and makes me dive into the deep and dark sea.  At this point I am totally disorientated and all my folders with good intentions and brilliant (at least what I did think while drinking George Clooney coffee in my cracked&made in Sweden- mug) ideas and intentions have already been sent to the mental bin. 

The last few days I have come to terms that I feel very lonely that I miss many people and things in my life.  Over the last few years I had to say goodbye to a few people I very much care for. People who know me very well. People who know the darkest secrets of me. These are most likely the ones that hardly read my blog. Some are even not aware of it’s existence. They are the ones that can read me very well.   I don’t see them often. Some of them even once in a decade. That is what life does.  Yesterday it just hit me big time.  The deluge had arrived….

Nope I am not easy when it comes down to making friends. Plus that being a teacher in international educational hotspot has certain side effects when it comes down to making friends. It is tough and honestly most of these places are exceptional in many ways.  I love working there. Every day when I walk in there I feel professional blessed.  Nothing has changed.  Still, I believe strongly in my teaching ethics and that I have been granted something that not everyone is.

Over the last six years I have found out that nothing is what it seems at first sight.  I feel more and more like I am trespassing on my own country. That the harder I try the less it makes sense.  Now before you jump to any conclusions. I was fully aware when I signed up for this job.  If you have been an exchange student, Erasmus Student and Socretive teacher you are fully aware that life is filled up with short and powerful encounters and that you have got to seize the day. That you need to enjoy it as long as it lasts.

Still I have got a hard time to integrate it in my daily routine. Not to take it personal that I do not seem to blend it or truly belong anywhere.   Yes, I can still fake the smile, wave at you and talk chit chat. That won’t change.  But it does not help that some idiots are trying to f*** up the world that I try to preserve and help to educate.  It already starts in the morning when a gigantic white Audi thinks he is granted a few extra traffic privileges. The last few weeks I have witnessed a record of red lights being ignored.  There is the everlasting rain that seems to think that it just will keep us close company and seems to be signing up for a long term relationship. My summer dresses and sandals I have already kicked into a corner and we have even turned up the heating. Oh yeah, baby we are on a roll here mentally!

Never ever have been so much aware how many people around me tend to just look through me. How many people think that they can bump into me and not even say a sincere ‘sorry’, how many people try to jump the line and coming up with insane excuses that they were not even aware that there was a line (oh please get a life!), a record of middle fingers went up in the air (including North Korean missiles that annoy many),  getting lost in translation (you think you speak the language but then there are all these loophole that not a single college professor or textbook has prepared you for),  unannounced changes (oh yeah, Stallie believes more and more that being a Capricorn in combo with being a teacher at the educational hotspot is sometimes rather a handicap.  ‘Let it go’-song is now my mantra when facing an other change that nobody has kindly informed me of)...and the list could go on and on.

Yes, there are the days that I don’t like being a teacher and parent in the same go.  I then feel lost.  Sometimes I stand out there on a hockey pitch or field and are total disorientated.  It does not make any sense what I am doing there. I don’t know what I am allowed to feel or not feel.   Walking into a building that then stands for my ultimate educational dream job is then tough.   Plus what I teach is also a battle. Oh yes, believe me teaching the Dutch language is not easy.  Still it was I signed up for. It is my personal mission. One that I will not forsake and take very close to my heart  but there are days that it is a bit of struggle. But that is rather challenging when the press points out that less and less French speaking Belgians even bother to learn a language that is not beautiful and consisting out of many exceptions. 

Pardon my French, but is so much to ask to dive into a language the majority of your nations speaks?  Is it so tough to sit down and concentrate on the conjugations of some basic verbs? Is it too much too ask to listen to some Dutch speaking radio stations or find some Dutch music on Spotify?  Is too much hard work to read once in a while a newspaper from the Dutch speaking part? Oh well, it seems that I fighting out there a battle that I will never will. Singing along with Ed Sheeran and opening a conversation in Spanish on the beach with good looking Carlos with a six pack is so much cooler and German will help you along in a board room or when skiing down a mountain. Do you see what I am up against? 

Still, it is my mother tongue and it is part of personality. It is my language. It is one of the three official languages spoken in this tiny and complex nation. Yes, it is not a straight forward language and it does not always makes sense. I do get that but it is my language. I love all four languages I speak. Plus I even trying to get my head around the Italian language by using the very motivating language App Duolingo.  So it is not okay that I more and more feel a bit the odd one out by the language I speak. 

It is not nice to hear over and over that my language is boring and does not contain as many lovely expressions as Shakespeare was able to reflect in this great works. Plus that there is nothing that sounds as poetry like as what for example Honoré de Balzac put down on paper. Sorry the Dutch language is nothing of that kind.  Still being able to order ‘vijfhonderd gram pralines in een geschenkdoos’ or ‘een Brusselse wafel met slagroom en een koffie verkeerd’ will make those things even more tastier. But who am I to tell you so? Plus then balancing with trying to coach A through his educational years is then rather tiring.

The feeling that I am the idiot in the room is creeping towards me and even tough I try to fight back it is very hard to ignore.  Act kind and you will receive kindness in return, I have been told over and over. Well let me say that in September that seems very hard to come by.  It has nothing to do with me missing the Summer.  The one who just had was not my best one ever. Too much turmoil going on. It will get better the closer we will get to Christmas and gift wrapping but still. It will pass but it is a everlasting battle. The rules of engagement I know very well and so admitting that  I am not happy momentarily is not easy due to me knowing what I need to do to snap out of it.

So momentarily I am  dragging myself into yoga studio in order to find back my center is then not very surprising. Thanks to my close colleague U who gently pushed me towards the local yoga studio.  Believe me it hurts big time.  My body and mind are aching and there is not a log of fun involved pushing into positions that are not natural looking at all. I mean I do not look like the Dalai Lama when even sitting with crossed legs and if you would see me how I desperately try to find my center in order to keep myself in check you would get a few laughs out of that as well. I suck at it big time momentarily but hey you know what at least I am trying.   Me at yoga is the first step towards contentment and finding my inner self again.  The only thing I need to do now is staying away from social media and not reading the morning newspaper.   

We will see where it brings me. For now I am just happy to survive my sessions and get through the work week. And managing all the things I need. So please be aware of me humming away and sitting with closed eyes in my car or in a meeting that all I am is trying to find the peace within.  You are happy to join in. Have seen many in need of it. Some of you even just bumped into me, skipped the line, ignored red traffic lights or pedestrian crossings, throwing cigarettes out of the car window,..  Namaste to all of you.

PS: So to go along with this one. One in my mother tongue by one Dutch older guy and a Belgian/Flemish young one. Believe it or not but this one Spotify granted me this morning...wonder why that is? ;-) The message they bring goes along very well with this one. The second one I picked out because Max Raabe can express in German the simplicity of life that is worth while to put your energy in. Very zen Max!  Get your German dictionaries out or go on Google Translate. Oh wait most of you know German, don't you?  ;-) 

zaterdag 19 augustus 2017

The Summer of Cracks

It is raining…again…it is not the first time and it won’t be the last time. The thing is that the last few weeks it has been raining a lot and that if  you happen to have a lot of time to do those so much loved typical Summer related things but the weather seems to conspire against your intentions this is a bit annoying.  Still it is what it is.  I have given up and no don’t think I get to wear quite soon that one colorful dress or skirt that only matches with sun and blue skies.  When I look out of the window I try to come up with some positive side effects that rainy weather brings along.  Well, remember how our farmers in June were almost about to perform rain dances due to the dry weather.  They were predicting a harvest that would rocket prices into the sky and they said that in order to save their crops they were need of quite a great amount of rain.  Not that these hardworking farmers were calling out for thunderstorms and a few depression above the Channels islands.  Nope, if I understood all the info correctly they were asking for consecutive days of wetness and rain that was not always coming down in a deluge.  Well, one look out of the window and it seems exactly what is on the weather menu.  So somewhere there must be a very happy soul who looks up to the sky and whispers ‘thank you!’. 

Contrary to the rather cold and wet weather it seems to have rather a hot spot in many places conflict wise.  Does it affect my life? Do I even care? Even when I look at the ‘poffertjes’ I brought back from my very adventurous trip to Amsterdam I do wonder if they have used any eggs containing fipronil.  I take a deep sigh and then take a sip of very artistic coffee mug that I bought while being in Summer modus.  It is a wonderful item and made by the hands of a very talented Swedish potter by the name Åsa Olofsson. It was love at first sight when I did spot this mug amongst all the hundreds of beautiful objects produced by loving hands and creative minds.  I had set my mind on that one particular mug. 

As expected did the outstanding object of my affection came along with a very ‘nice’ price tag.  For a second I was in doubt due to the fact that I never ever had spend that much money on a mug.  Still I had that one perfect mug in my hands.  All the colors added up and the comfort my hands sensed while holding on to it was undeniable strong.  Perfection right there, to have and to hold on even on a rainy day.  Face it you can not drink Aperol Spritz every single day.  Coffee and tea at the other hand always goes along with any weather condition or feeling.  ‘You live only once and you never know if you will ever come back here’-excuse made me get out my credit card. The attentive shop owner did wrap the mug in some carton in order to let it survive the trip back home.   After all this is a fragile object and could end up breaking before we made it back to Belgium. 

Well, can you guess… nope it did not make it into my cupboard unharmed. When I unwrapped it after spending the rather very long trip mostly in my son his back bag I did spot a major crack and some chips of paint where missing as well. I stood there in the kitchen feeling rather awful and empty.  All my joy that I connected with that mug suddenly went down the drain and the fact that I was standing next to our colorful trash bin was also rather tempting.  Perfection gone…imperfection arrived once again. Outside it was raining and I did wonder if there was a conspiracy going on.  Still this was my mug the one that I had big plans for. The one that I wish to share the good and the bad days with.  Still, just throwing it out because of some paint that come off and a crack was perhaps a bit bit too harsh. 

So the mug was granted entrance and moved in with all the other mugs that already kept up with my existence and longing for caffeine.  The last few weeks the mug stands out in my cupboard and yes it helps to get it through on a rainy day.  It still does wonders in combo with some of that black liquid that I pimp with some foamy milk.   It helps to digest the news of an other very painful terror attack or to hear that there are street names and statues that need to be removed in order to make many people feel at ease.   And I do fill up with this mug while two political leaders have their fingers caressing the red button.   It does hang out with me while hearing over the news that binge watching creates tired youngsters or how a visitor stepped into an artwork by the French Artist Yves Klein who mostly paints with International Klein Blue or IKB. The unaware visitor of the museum left a blue trace through out the room ruining the perfection and leaving behind of a trace of imperfection. 

There is a lot of imperfection surrounding me and has even invaded my mind this Summer. There was even a news report the other day that most of the time our Summer memories are not matching what our summer holidays in reality were like.  It seems we play tricks on our mind when it comes down to traveling the world or when we take time off from our daily business. Hmm, not totally agree because momentarily I have claimed my money back from air flight carrier who managed not to bring us back on the promised time and I am about to list a few complaints about a hotel downgrade ‘due to the booking system granting five people to book the same room’-situation.  Plus not to mention some other unpleasant things I had to deal with. Some have created total havoc in my mental state and are seriously testing me. There are even a few ones that I am still trying to figure out what the best rules of engagement are for in order to deal with them.  No, not all my memories of this Summer will be nice ones.  There are cracks everywhere in my life. Some of them are tiny ones and a few ones are rather deep and very visible ones. 

The thing is that this Summer I more and more come to terms with the fact, or should I rather call it perception, that being ‘blessed’ or is it a rather cursed with a historical analytic mind set causes sometimes turmoil.  A few months ago someone told me that I am the odd one out in a room.  That I have to stop expecting that many think along with me when I watch and listen to the news. And you know what I believe this person. Last night there was a professor of History in a news program giving his opinion about why certain statues and street names might not be fitting anymore in our present day society. They seem to stand out to some of us who seem to feel offended by them for some very clear or even less obvious reasons.  

At a certain moment during the conversation the presenter  asked him if it might be a good thing then to organize a referendum to decide what to do with these street names or statues that cause friction amongst citizens or human beings.  His answer was no and that it should rather be our politicians that have to decide what to exactly with these confronting signs, statues and symbols.  According to them it is their responsibility.  They are the ones that have to open up a ‘healthy’ debate in which they can make the decision.

Well, I am not going to tell you what I at the point did think but it does come down to the fact that yes I do agree that you can not ‘fix’ or ‘justify’ everything by means of a referendum. In the last few years it seems that elections and referenda their outcome have even caused more chaos and insecurity than ever before.  Was this person then calling for a dictatorship or despotism? No, that was what he was after.  Our opinions will never all be in perfect harmony and what you like I might detest.  That we all hopefully after a peaceful society in which hate, contempt, bigotry, corruption and many more rather negative words are not considered as the ‘normal’.  Many are still holding on to common values or at least that is what I hope. 

The reality around at the moment is a bit different and sends out a total different message. I will now admit I have grown a bit tired of trying to keep up with what it political correct. That the National Dutch Railways have decided to stop using ‘ladies and gentlemen’ when asking for our attention and that in some lectures are expected to use rather 'a person without or with a womb' instead of 'a man or a woman' when teaching biology is for me honestly one bridge too far. It is like I am expected to be able to expand and adjust my daily vocabulary daily. I feel like I am walking out there in minefield and trying very hard not hurt someone’s feelings by using certain words or expressions. 

The trained history teacher I do think it is very important to name the facts and not sugar coat them. I have spend enough time in a classroom with young adults trying to teach them a few things about what the past had in store when it comes down to extremists and ideology that was after supreme leadership and dominating one group over the other one. As much as I like 'Game Of Thrones' I hope it will never happen in reality. Despite the Mother of Dragons and Jon Snow I don’t think that the non fiction ever can be replaced by the fiction. 

I have always hated labeling people. Labels can come in handy but they also cause friction and give you less freedom when dealing with individuals or even yourself.  Still I do believe in structure, order and common goals and values.  Plus evidence based facts I consider very important.  Surely we should be granted enough space and time to believe what we wish to believe but still there are limitations within this continuum. Yes, I have got my limitations and believe me there are moments that you can push all my buttons. Some of you have done and some of you have only done it recently. It stull hurts and it will keep on hurting but I try to deal with it. Momentarily I have got all my fences up and I refuse to be put into one specific corner and being labelled. Also for the moment it does seem that my beliefs, vocabulary, goals and many more of the rather abstract words that make up my mental state seem now under attack.  Not that I am after perfection…I drink my coffee out of a mug close to perfection with a major flaw that will constantly remind of that.  The perfect crack…that is what the Summer of 2017 has granted me and perhaps I should be grateful for that. 

P.S. While the rain kept us company I had time to read the following: It might help to get a grip on what is going on in the world and beyond.  But watching an episode of the X-files might never be the same after having read this.

PS: The first clip is by a lady who while I was in Sweden I did hear her music over the radio and although I do not always understand what is singing I will forever link her with the sun and the happy moments I was blessed with in Sweden.  The second is by Sting and due all the rain, the cracks and the rather gloomy thing that are happening around me I still believen in the power of that one feeling he keeps singing about as well. 

dinsdag 1 augustus 2017

On the road to Passchendaele.

Grief…it is one of these words that can go to the core of my heart. It is one of these sensations that can fill me up with all kind of negative linked words. Words that evoke the worst side of being alive. After all it is one of these acts that only takes place when we humans are confronted with that one part of our existence that involves something that creates chaos and a lot of uncertainity. Surely many of you who read this modest blog know what I am talking about and I don’t need to go into more depth to explain what this act involves when it comes down to me.  Still, after this weekend and just having read the first few paragraphs of a specific news article I did feel the urge to write something about this word.

When my father died the first couple of weeks I don’t recall grieving.  That is something that only kicked in a few months later and then it fiercely attacked. It found a home inside of me where it seemed to feel very much at ease. The memories of that period of time are those that I consider very hard to deal with.  Nothing was certain and I was flying blind. It took me years to come to terms with the loss and the pain. I still have got days that I can curse while looking up to the sky. Not sure that I make sense but that is one of the things that I personally found out about grieving…it is a very personal thing.

I use the word thing and some of you might not even like me doing so.  Still I do it purposely. Like mentioned a few lines above did the first weeks my mind and also body seem to cope quite well with the loss of my father.  It was like an automatic pilot was active. I managed to do my job and I even can’t remember crying at the day of his funeral.  Yes, I have got very vivid memories of these first weeks leading up to him dying and being erased from our daily existence but tears are not one of them. 

One of the most confrontational things I experienced during that time was how my grandmother dealt with the loss of her son in law.  That was something I had totally underestimated. The day that my beloved ‘bomma’ expressed her personal opinion in a very open and straight forward manner my time stood still.  It was like a knife was planted into my heart and all the feelings I tried to keep under a lit of the boiling kettle suddenly were pushed out into the air. I will never ever forget that day when my 90 year old grandmother stood there in total defeat and her face reflected what she had just told me.  Her words were like daggers and landed into that one spot where some scar tissue was formed.   Believe me, she got her message across…very clear…

I have mentioned my grandmother before. She is one of the strongest people I have known in my life so far. The last few years I become more and more aware that what she managed to do was certainly not straight forward.  The war correspondence of my grandfather is one of those things that pointed out that my grandmother at numerous times must have been exposed to grief.  Did she ever talked about it?  No, she hardly ever told us something about that one person that we never had the pleasure of meeting.  Yes, there were pictures and in those we met up with a very good looking soldier in his uniform. Even in their wedding picture he was wearing that outfit. 

Neither will my mother tell us a lot about her father.  She was the youngest of 3 and was born after the second world war. The things she does tell us about him are mostly funny childhood memories. Even talking about how he died was done with not that many words. Like they all wish to tell us ‘less is more’.  I am never ever able to follow any of them there.  My grandfather stays an enigma  and only since reading those letters he wrote in prison I was able to feel some connection.  It was like a door was opened that my grandmother had kept closed. But it remains mostly firmly closed.

Yes, I did wonder how my grandmother had done that.  Why she never ever did think of handing us over those letters at a sooner stage in our lives. Why did we never ever had an in depth ‘meaningful’ conversation about what she must have felt when he was imprisoned, on the run and when he then finally died years later after the war… Reading those precious letters made something very painful clear to me and did also put what had happened between my grandmother and me in a meaningful perspective.  It did teach me something very important about life. Something that they write about in those self help guides dealing with depression or loss.  But let us be fair that what is written down on paper has never ever the same effect than what is spoken out loud. 

My grandmother had a lot of love to give and she shared in abundance what she had.  Many of our friends envied us and described us as being ‘cool’. To be honest at that time I did assume that all grandparents were like her. Was I wrong about that?  Still you only find out at a very later stage what the reality was.  That she in her darkest of her existence did express what she felt like must have been very hard on her. 

It is with this in my mind and all the things that I have been taught in history classes and English Literature lessons that I did watch the remembrance of the battle of Passchendaele. For those amongst you who ever been to Ypres and other spots where the first world war I guess you must know what I am talking about.  I was 14 when I did hear the Last Post playing under the Menin Gate.  I have biked and hiked and sat on the back of a motorbike while the landscape where many people gave their lives passed by.  I call these bitter sweet memories. For many reasons and even for the word grief that is. I was there with others but more importantly I was there all by myself.

The newspapers and many specialist have over the last few days expressed what the impact of that battle precisely is.  It is certainly necessary to repeat those wise insights.  The outcome is known. The effect of it speaks in the number of white crosses and the names of all these people that their life ended during that one battle.  And there are many rather invisible ones still at work.  But there is one thing that did make me dive back into my own grief, my own personal grief. Yes, I did put that one word purposely in bold here. Yes, I do think that word is vital in this context.  Why?

Well like everything in life are we always confronted with two sides of the medal. Even when it comes down to a medal that a soldier was granted post mortem/human or after the war he/she managed to survive physically. Nowadays social media and main stream media will gladly point this out to us.  I went on Twitter while the BBC and Belgian national television were broadcasting Helen Mirren bringing that one timeless poem about a certain flower. Overall many expressed their positive thoughts and opinions about this event.   But I did come across enough other opinions that did reflect the other side of the medal. 

Yes, it was very clear that this was a British affair and that even the Belgians were considered a foot note in all of this.  We were hosting and granted to stood along side all those people of a nation who 100 years ago had lost so many souls. All went smoothly and it was a well directed program of speeches, songs, poetry and evocation of a battle that has left scars on the should of many lives. 

It was also not very hard to notice that there was not a very meaningful connection with the German side of the grieving.  And in the view of our leading war historians the people responsible for organizing this they missed out on something vital.  Forty eight hours after the whole ‘pomp and circumstance’ I seem to read that many have not managed to make it even more meaningful.  Like we have missed out on building a bridge towards those others who have lost their lives in those fields.  Hmmm....not sure about that....but who am I?

Have you ever been in Tyne Cot and have ever stood under the Menin Gate on your own? All by yourself? In total silence...nobody around...and then closed your eyes...?  Just wondering?  I can tell you that when I stood there that I was all by myself. I don’t need speeches or a duke or a king who puts down a wreath of flowers to feel.  No, I don’t and even Helen Mirren did not manage to bring back what I felt when I did read for the first time ‘In Flanders Fields’.  I do think I have enough self criticism to know that there is not such a thing that will take away the grief of what happened there. The impact of that one battle is lingering around in the earth of those fields.

More and more we seem desperate to look for common ground in order to make sense out of the society in which we live. Unfortunate events seem to ignite always sensations that we are eager to share with others.  Hands are hold out and many hope to find an other hand which they can hold on to in order to make ‘sense’ of what they are experiencing.  It is like we are desperate looking for life lines that will show us the way out of the minefield.  When it comes down to grieving those that were taking away from us there are not suitable acts that we all consider well enough. It will never be enough.  When it comes down to grieving we walk alone…do we get lost and spin around in a minefield.  The moment you manage to leave that place and come across an other person who turns out to be grieving as well we do secretly hope he or she is holding out her/his hand. 

Last week while being in Sweden and having that one holiday that I had been so desperate after I ended up in a church yard. It was a glorious morning and the sun light created a certain glow that made me feel up with happiness.  The vitamin D was racing through my veins and I felt zen and then suddenly it was there.  In the middle of that church yard I was warped into that one specific spot. Right there in front memorial plaque of Germans…Germans who had lost their lives during the battle of the Aland Islands in the Baltic Sea. 

It felt awkward to find that memorial plaque in a such a place where only Swedish people were buried. But then this sea battle was between Russia (British were involved as well) and Germany. Sweden was neutral ground at the time. My Swedish friend C and I both expressed our ‘surprise’ while standing in front of it.  But then the names on that stone stand for so much more than a footnote in a sea battle.  The grief their mothers and fathers, children, family and friends must have experienced must have been as deep as the grief there is still for those that were buried around that stone.  I was sanding on neutral ground and I felt a shiver going down my spine.  Suddenly I imagined the ice cold water of the Baltic Sea, the screams, the explossions, the tears and so much more ignited by this act.  The moment I stepped away and turned away from it and was swept back into the sun light and the cheerful Swedish summer delights. But I had been there…I had found the common ground.

And so after this past weekend and all the articles I have read about Passchendaele 100 I just even more feel disconnected when dealing with grief and loss. Is this something bad and should I now panic about this? No…honestly I even changed channels last Sunday while watching the program. We still think that it is certainly is necessary to keep doing this.  But P and I had expected something else than what we got to see.  I did not even ask him what he had expected from it but it seemed not to be it what we were given. 

We did rather prefer that one program the Belgian national television called ‘Ten Oorlog’ in which three men travel along all those places where war took place. Humanity collided with havoc, disaster and loss. The stories that all these people told they did not needed any marching band or Hollywood rated actress to get their message across. It was sometimes in a smile, a handshake or even a deep sigh that they were able to suck us into their story. For a second they opened up their firmly closed door and gave us a peek into their sadness and their own history of loss. War stories are sometimes covered up by a blanket of heroism and tend to leave out what the deeper impact was over all.  Those stories were told by this format were told without bright spot lights and high tech effects.  They are pure and sometimes very raw...but that program still manages to do so much more...

No, I am not upset about last Sundays remembrance. Even the criticism that I get to read I find very hard try to ignore.  While changing channels it became so clear that I will never be able to share that one specific  feeling with someone else.  I just did recall standing in front of that one stone in Sweden..being on neutral ground and feeling connected in what many seem to have missed during this Remembrance.  Well, I did not…I found it within myself…deep down where nobody else can follow. Like my grandmother had pointed out so explicitly. 

Compassion is perhaps the closest we will ever come when it comes down to dealing with loss and grief.  In Flanders Fields I will forever find the constant reminder that being alive is so also about being on your own in a life where we are confronted with pain, chaos, blood, suffering, torture, loss and death.  The people who have lost their lives in what the British call ‘Dale of Passion’ in combination with what my grandmother taught me that is all it takes.

So no, I don’t agree with some of what people are now reflecting in newspapers.  I respect their opinion but then I am all by myself wandering around in those fields where crosses are planted and were poppies are wielding. You don’t need to follow me there…and chances are likely that I will not follow you when it comes down to this. Not sure if I make any sense…but that is okay… I can live with that… I can grief and mourn with that…  So next time your life is touched by 'a poppy' know that many are around…but that you are likely on our  own and personal walk of grief and remembrance.  Luckily there is that one flower to remind us of the fact that we more than once are all ‘on the road to Passchendaele’.