Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tension is rising...7 more sleeps

"We are going to visit the house of Sinterklaas tomorrow", Luisa announced enthusiastically to us 2 weeks ago.

After Sinterklaas officially arrived in the city of Antwerp by boat in a big television show, he has a temporary house in Hasselt where he stays in between his many "store" visits, city parades and local preperations before December 6th.

**************

"Look what I've got from Sinterklaas, ...grandma S has seen Zwarte Piet in the garden this morning, ...look look (while waving a bag of chocolate figures & marsepin pigs in my face)...ooooh and I got a police helicopter, it can lower a man for rescue here..."
"mommy can you get the 2 letters...I had more green than red"

Stef doesn't know what to tell me first upon my arrival at my parent's home yesterday, jumping from one topic to another with a lot of enthusiasm. Little by little some story that my mother has seen a Zwarte Piet in our garden in the morning and had left her a letter with red & green points for Stef comes out (interesting, this must be a new strategy from Sinterklaas to write the children letters. I always thought it was the inverse). In the afternoon the door bell had rang and a box with some toys and candy had been left, but a Zwarte Piet was only seen at the hedge in the end of the garden anymore, leaving already for the next family. This was clearly only a teaser for the big weekend next week when Sinterklaas would come at Stef's own house. He was very excited and was hoping for some more Playmobil.

**********

"Sinterklaas's toilet is in the form of a throne" chuckles Stef at the table later on "and the Zwarte Pieten have a room to practise"
"to practise what" asks my mom curiously
"Well grandma, they have to walk on the roof and throw presents through the chimney" he answers with a look showing we've asked the obvious.

Interesting to hear that Sinterklaas also has a house in Sint-Niklaas to visit ;)...I hope Stef and Luisa don't meet in the coming week :p


********************

"I want Strawberry Shortcake!" exclaims Renée this afternoon showing us a drawing.

"Look look, my letter to Sinterklaas! And tonight were going to put our shoe already" which she demonstrates shortly later with the big working shoes from granddad she has managed to find in the hallway.

"I'm going to sing already so he knows he has to come" when she rushes in the living room again asking us to lower the tv sound after which she immediately starts to sing "Zie ginds komt de stoomboot" solemnly and with great concentration facing the chimney.

Rogier Van Der Weyden in M

Since a few years there was a big construction site shielded off right downtown: apparently the side of the old city museum was going through a big make-over. Over the summer the opening of the new museum 'M' got more and more publicity : the modern architecture, the opening exposition of Rogier Van Der Weyden was discussed in different media. A new stamp was released about the exposition, the Standaard newspaper had a full weekend edition dedicated to the exposition & museum, the city was full of big banners, ... An opening ceremony lead by the Belgian & Dutch princesses Mathilde & Maxima (M's...) accompanied with a parade and street festival & a for the occasion newly brewed Rogier beer added to the prestige of the new ambitious museum.

However Jan and I feared the masses in the beginning and figured we might as well wait a few weeks before going to the exposition. I did want to see the paintings from Rogier Van Der Weyden that had been brought together in the city, some of them especially restored for the exposition but there was no rush. The museum was only a 15 min walk from our house so we could go whenever we wanted, right?

Last Sunday I thought we had a nice afternoon off, perfect to head downtown and check out our new city museum and the successful ongoing exposition. Just before we left, I realized it was so successful you had to book tickets in advance for a specific entry time slot. That is practical and well organized, ...unfortunately last Sunday was already fully booked. As a matter of fact, the 2 remaining weeks of the exposition were almost fully booked despite some midnight openings in the coming week.

So I took our last chance and booked tickets for previous Thursday evening. I was very excited.

The entry in the new building didn't disappoint: the old pillars & pediment contrasted with the cool linear building behind, glass surfaces , staircases & squares. Hmm nice!

Inside the entire entry hall was packed with people. Most of them seemed uncertain where to go next, blocking each other's way. The personnel didn't really act to get the flow going. After following some arrows, multiple stairways up, we finally arrived in the horribly overcrowded exposition halls. Huh? Is this entry control? How many people did they allow inside in one time slot? You had to circle with your audio guide behind the many guided groups to get a glimpse of the small sketches, paintings or books displayed on which you are getting the explanation in your headphones. It really cost motivation to wait your turn to see something or to mingle yourself forward to check out some details on a huge wall tapestry etc... And when you finally were well in sight of a painting you could feel all of a sudden 20 pairs of eyes in your back and you can hear a guide telling "on the left you can see...., well unless someone's standing in front of it" or you got a push from other people working themselves forward.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrgh, such an incredible exposition (oh yes, there's no doubt about that) ruined by bad access management. What an incredible pity. I truly wish that I could be locked up inside for a few hours taking the opportunity to study the incredible small details on these old paintings or reproductions in more time.

Another thing that disturbed me: there's truly not that many original Van Der Weyden's to be shown as history has lost many of them. So the exposition was well balanced with contemporary art inspired by Rogier, reproductions and inspired sculpting. OK fine, that's reality.
But why...why name every painting " xxx" inspired by Rogier Van Der Weyden......if the painting is eg a Memling! A Memling! Wouldn't that be worth mentioning? Why not giving more information on the what and who and uncertainties and backgrounds of reproductions and derived art? All info was concentrated on a few masterpieces (hence the line-ups and over crowdedness) whereas information was scarce on the majority of the other displayed pieces.

Anyway, I've enjoyed the exposition but I also left with some serious disappointments. M, the new museum "with international" ambition has some clear learning to do.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Leterme II

So since Herman Van Rompuy has found a new job, Belgium had a vacancy for prime minister once again. Number 4 in 2 years time...

It's an unwritten rule that the political party who has delivered the prime minister in the government, can deliver the replacement in case of a reshuffle so nobody contested that CD&V had to give a new prime minister.


And since Yves Leterme had brought in most votes in last elections, it seemed only logical that he'd take up his position again after his resignation one year ago, especially as he was still playing the 'victim' role, being treated unfairly and accused without reason.

But he had failed so often.
He was not trusted by other parties.
And some very difficult negotiations still had to be tackled...some he had failed to succeed in the past. So would the CD&V risk giving him that responsibility again, risking him to fail, risking to get the reputation of their vote trophee hurt again? Would other political parties accept him on the lead again?

Well...we got a very Belgian compromise again. Yves Leterme is prime minister again but will not lead the inter regional negotations about new state structures. The king has assigned an former experienced prime minister Jean-Luc Dehaene to do so. Hmm rather shamefull for Leterme I would think. But at least we have a government and the members are not trying to kill each other. I'm easily pleased lately.
So can we please continue governing now?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Late

Our choir director was late at the choir rehearsal today and that was very unusual. She had not announced to anyone that she'd not make it so we started ourselves on our own with some confusion. Every time the door opened, we all turned to the door in expectancy and deflated a bit again when a different face appeared.

After half an hour she finally appeared and a gulf of relief waved through our rows.
"Sorry sorry, but my train was late as someone got run over by it".

In the next 10 minutes she missed to give us our entry sign half of the times and we missed our lines constantly.

Made in Belgium: Pump up the Jam by Technotronic

There was recently a radio chart with the best Belgian music of the last decade and on tv there are weekly documentaries on some groups that have formed Belgian's music history. Ooooh there's some pearls coming by. So I figured I wanted to share some of the best Belgian music with you all. From now on Wednesdays I share with you some Belgium music.

One of our succesfull export products is dance music and Technotronic is probably the most well-known. In the end of 89 their first hit single "Pump up the jam" reached number 2 of the American charts. It came right after the New Beat hype in Belgium and is still a hit on the dance floors nowadays.

Enjoy

Honest scrap

Sometimes bloggers seem to be telepathic. Last week I played Luisa's meme and tagged Carol....while at the same time she was playing a different meme and tagging me. Funny. She got the honest scrap award, obviously since she very openly blogs about all aspects in her life good and not so good on a wide variety of topics: family, vacation, (un)employment, health, aging, ... No wonder she's perceived as a very open genuine blogger.

So here are the rules:

Share 10 honest things about yourself.


  1. I learn that I must unwind before going to bed, clearing my mind of all the thoughts whirling through my brain and allowing myself to become tired...if not I remain sleepless for hours.
  2. I enjoy routine...it's comfortable and doesn't require making choices
  3. As a child we brought colouring books to the kindergarten class but the other kids didn't allow me to draw in theirs since I couldn't colour "within the lines" very well.
    then I allowed only kids to colour in mine who didn't colour within the lines either. However I never stubbornly learned to colour within the lines very well.
  4. In general, if I feel pressure to do something, I am less inclined to do it.
  5. I can't stand drunk people that try to talk to me
  6. I always buy yoghurt and can never finish them before their best before day. But I always have the intention to eat more yoghurt.
  7. I have improved the last year to learn to go to bed at time...sometimes my good intentions start becoming reality.
  8. Jan and I name all our hardware devices (laptop, external HDD, router, ...) with funny names reflecting inside jokes for us.
    Whenever I see the network name I'm connected to at home, I chuckle. I can't help smiling at the thought that some of our neighbours might pick up that signal and wonder who the hell marked their network with such an odd name. Oh if only I could rename some more neighbourhood networks (with boring router names or family names) ...I've got some inspiration left :)
  9. As a kid I took a lot of nose drops against my colds and I think it has effected my ability to smell all smells as sometimes people seem to pick up a smell that I do not notice at all. (I do think I notice all the bad smells though :( ).
    When living in Canada I tried to explaining this to someone by stating "I have a bad smell". I had no idea what they were chuckling for.
  10. Unlike many woman I do not have a shoe fetish. Please give me one comfortable nice pair of black shoes, one brown (in winter) or one white (in summer).....easy to combine with everything, nicely worn a bit to the maximum comfort level. Nice! Of course I need boots too in winter. But that's it really.

I tag on my turn a few honest genuine bloggers: Rozebril (of course we want you on that stage, remember); my friend Allie, Jenn , Luisa and Snooker.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

As if an alien was crawling in my body

Yesterday morning I woke up with itchy elbows and hands. It looked as if I had some bites but they were not quite obvious yet. Huh, did we get a new species of winter mosquitos in the house?
Jan joked he had been biting me at night. He thought that was so funny. He should know notting is funny when I just wake up, and even less when I'm itchy.

My work lately is intense enough to give me lots of challenge and concentration but by the afternoon I had scratched my elbows enough after all to reveal them all red with clear whiter bumps on it as if they were massively bitten by a bug. My colleagues contested that these could be bites and I was going nuts. Itch itch itch ouch. While discussing itch, we all started scratching everywhere: our head, our ears & nose, ....

Some creme calmed it back for a couple of hours and in the evening I showed off to Jan my now clearly allergic reaction to some bites on my elbows. I just hoped that some creme would calm it off again for a while. I discovered that freckles were a way to test my suspicion that the rash was spreading.

But while watching a theatre play directed by my cousin, even the good plot couldn't keep my attention away anymore from my itching hands & wrists. Huh my wrists, did that mean that my rash had reached there already? As soon as the lights turned on again, that turned out to be true. My entire arm was now red & glowing as if the theatre spots had given them a good sunburn. "Oh yes I already noticed spots in your face too, now there's more"

Half an hour later I was showing new areas of inflated rash on my knees, belly, ... to the doctor on night duty. And the verdict is food allergy. Yeaaaaaay, it had already been 4 years since I obtained a new allergy so it was about time my body immune system discovered some new tricks. Nickle, grass & house mites clearly wasn't enough so now I must be allergic to some unknown food ingredient too. Joy oh joy.

Some antihistamine & cortisone pills later I entertained myself in the sofa by discovering constantly newly areas of itch & red rash and saw it spreading over my body in a worrying speed while Jan kept telling me not to scratch. He should know that's not funny late at night when I'm itchy. It felt as if an small alien bug had entered my body and was crawling around.

But all of a sudden it soothened and eased away. And I slept well and woke up with my old body. Phewwwww what a relief.

and now I have to figure out what the hell gave me this reaction. I've listed all the foods I've eaten in the last 2,5 days and there's nothing on that list that I have not eaten regularly before
: toast with choco or speculoospasta, sandwich with cheese/nuts/honey, self-made pitta, pasta, ...and cross my fingers the alien doesn't come back.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Van Rompuy assigned first European president

After 9 years of treaty writing, rewriting, referendum organised in different countries, ... the treaty of Lisbon has finally been signed by all European union members. The treaty gives more power to the European parliament, decision by qualified majority votes instead of the unanimity requirement that currently paralises so much European decision taking, ... The treaty also foresees a new function a European president who will preceed the European council (all European government leaders) which will become an official institution and he will need to prepare their meetings.

And as immediate result of the treaty becoming active, heavy speculation started and who would become the first European president. Most countries had their own favourites and a lot of behind the doors diplomacy was happening to test the opinions and win concensus.

Much to my surprise I saw the Belgian press naming our Belgian prime minister as one of the potential candidates. My regular readers might remember the political debacle Belgium has been suffering for over 2 years and they might even be surprised we (still) have a prime minister. The fact that I've written so little about politics is because the situation in Belgium has become quite stable and quiet. It's our current prime minister Herman Van Rompuy (sworn in 30/12/2008) who can be credited for that.

Van Rompuy has a grey serious intellectual technocratic reputation only softened by his haiku writing hobby. He was not known for his big ego seeking the spotlight with bold statements, but more for being a silent worker in the background. Nevertheless he's build up a long curriculum from being political party president in the beginning of the nineties, minister for buget and recently the president of the chamber of representatives. In that last position he got often consulted during all the political negotiations /discussions / failing governments during the last 3 years. When Yves Leterme had to resign as prime minister last year, Herman Van Rompuy seemed the only 'acceptable' figure that had not burnt himself yet in the negotiations with bold statements who could take up the much needed role as prime minister.....which he seemingly dutifully but reluctantly did.

And we didn't hear much of him anymore. And I suppose he gained respect in Belgium for that, because we needed a worker so much, someone who clearly did manage to bring consensus in his team, reunite the many different opinions between the political parties and align them to work on a common project. And this didn't go unnoticed abroad.

So he was named as a potential candidate for the role of European president. More and more Belgian & international press started tipping the "poet-minister' and in Belgium the discussion for a new Prime Minister had been opened in the press. More and more newspapers started printing his haiku poems as support. The more they did, the more I was convinced he'd surely not become the president. In the past Belgian politicians named for top positions in the European union usually didn't get it due to British vetoes who fear our pro-European attitude. Besides bookmakers are always wrong right: aren't we always predicted to end in the top 5 of the Eurovision songcontest? Right?

Last week the European leaders didn't come to a conclusion for the assignment of their new top positions (they don't only need to assign a president, also a foreign affairs minister, new council members etc... One big balancing act!) so it was clear for me that not all countries were supporting Herman's candidacy. On top of that the British tabloids opened a vicious attack on the Belgian politician with titles such as "Britain ruled by a Belgian, you must be joking." Aaaaaah Belgium can sleep well: it's not going to loose its prime minister.


But the bookmakers proved right after all (the British gave up their veto after 'receiving' the foreign minister) and it is now a fact that Herman Van Rompuy becomes the first European president after all. With this choice they've surely given the journalists a nightmare by chosing someone with a name who probably only can be pronounced by the Flemish. But it is favourable to the budget as his move from one street in Brussels to another street in Brussels shouldn't be too costly :). It's still crisis after all.


So is he a good choice for the European Union?
  • He's not quite the profile to be an exiting "international" ego that will/needs to match his international counterparts like eg Obama or Poetin. This was the original intention when the treaty of Lisbon talked about a president role and at that time candidates such as Tony Blair were being named.
  • If he's chosen mainly because nobody opposed to him because of his grey unknown international profile, the honour is rather questionable.
  • If he's chosen mainly because he's going to be grey and not putting any of the European government leaders in the shadow of his spotlight, the honour is rather questionable.
  • If he's chosen because Europe needs a wise worker who seeks in the background the different aspects of a problem and unites different opinions towards a common view without seeking a show....they might have chosen the correct profile and have found added value.
Time will tell I suppose but he's got the advantage being able to define his new role with quite some liberty.


Time will also tell whether this appointment catapults Belgium back into political instability or not. The C&DV suggests bringing Yves Leterme back into the seat of Prime Minister which immediately causes already a lot of opposition on the Frenchspeaking side of Belgium just like the previous years.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

To the fifth power

A few weeks ago Luisa has tagged me for her self-invented meme. As with so many posts, I started right away and then I didn't manage to finish it. So here were are now a couple of weeks later with the fifth power meme.

Five North American Cities in Which I'd Seriously Consider Living:

Well given the fact that I probably have not visited more than 5 cities long enough to make a judgment, this is easy :)

  1. Vancouver, BC
  2. Calgary, AB
  3. Boston, MA
  4. San Francisco, CA
  5. Seattle, WA
Five Songs to Which I Know All the Words:

  1. "99 Luftballons" - Nena
  2. Parce que c'est toi" - Axelle Red
  3. "Liefde is alles" - Bart Peeters
  4. Zie ginds komt de stoomboot
  5. Plons de Gekke Kikker
Five Foods I'd Hope to Have in Unlimited Quantities on a Desert Island:

  1. Potato chips
  2. Nacho's and guacamole
  3. Bananas
  4. gazpacho (given that desert islands are usually hot)
  5. An assortment of different types of cheeses
Five Chores I Should Be Doing Right Now Instead of Blogging:

huh, I'm confused....do you mean that blogging should not be my top priority? :p

  1. Ironing
  2. Cleaning
  3. Going to bed early
  4. Do some administration chores
  5. reading books
Five Childhood Friends I'd Love to See Again:
  1. Sabine from the neighbourhood
  2. Sabine from school
  3. Leen from school
  4. Sigrid from school
  5. Valerie from school

So who want's to play? I invite Jen from a2eatwrite, Korie, Carol, Shan, Jenn from Mojenn if they feel like playing. If anyone else feels like playing , consider yourself tagged whether I mention your name or not. Feel free to adapt or change the categories to your liking.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Lasting international friendships

14 years ago I was a Rotary exchange student in the west of Canada for one year. My sister had lived in Canada for a year when I was ten and her exotic stories about lockers in school, Halloween, huge piles of snow, huge empty landscapes, ... had made me dream of my own exchange. I am really just a copy cat :p. My parents gave both of us the opportunity to live abroad in a new culture with host parents attending a different school system. During both our absences my parents were hosting a foreign student in our home.

It was the best year of my life where I developed more independence, awareness & openness to other cultures and a critical mind to my own culture; where I learned to overcome homesickness, to take initiatives, to speak in public , ... Every young adult should be submerged for a while in a foreign culture! I can really recommend it. This is an opinion shared by Rozebril and many other students who have live abroad, I think.

Most of all my exchange has given me lasting international friendships, similar to Carol's story. Thanks to the social networks & e-mail etc it's quite easy to keep in touch with each other lately.

And so all of a sudden I got an e-mail from a Canadian friend I hadn't seen in 10 years to let me know that he has a 3-day stop over in Brussels on his way to an India. Yeayyyyy. So we had the joy to host Pastor Doug Johns 3 days in October with us just before our vacation and one more night in November just after our vacation. It was a pleasure to see him again, to share about our families and hang out as in the old days.
There seems to have been a picture curse though as we both didn't think a moment in October to take a picture and last week I took lots....and we accidentally erased the entire picture card afterwards. Argh. Fortunately Doug had taken some too.




2009 - Leuven


1999 - Coeur d'Alene, Idaho



2009 has truly been the year of international reunions for me. My Australian host sister came over to our wedding. It had been 20 years since we'd last seen each other!!! I still think that was so unbelievable.




And also one of my Canadian host parents had taken the occasion to fly over for our wedding and to spend some time with us before the wedding to explore Belgium and some more of Europe. We had the time to spend time together and share with them the last preparations of our wedding.





Aaaaah all of this is so heart warming and fantastic! It's been so fantastic to see all of you again!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Millau viaduct







We took the "middle" ax across France for the first time, travelling over the impressive Millau viaduct, the highest (pillars)/2nd highest (road) viaduct in the world. What a beauty!

Our diving club vacation in Spain: the wet part

Obviously the best part was the diving.

















Our diving (club) vacation in Spain: the dry part

Ingredients for a good vacation:

A good sunny location:




Local gastronomy:






A group of very energetic teenagers....well most of the time at least :p :




Boardgames:




Interesting local markets to snoop around:





The sun that came out regularly to keep us company:


Friday, November 13, 2009

Busy bee

This week has been rather insane. I've been catapulted from relaxed vacation mood right back into projects at work & a backlog of little fires to put out, we had a Canadian house guest, some appointments, another diving excursion and a choir weekend game to prepare in little time. All good & fun, just a bit too much at the same time. Seems like ages since I've been on vacation already :p.

So where's that virtual telepathic blogging functionality when you need it. I would have shown pictures from our vacation in Spain, had a post about the Berlin Wall in my mind, some more food memories, Luisa's meme,... But the fact is that I'm off to work now with some suitcases in my truck because now I'm off to a short choir weekend. And after that, I am very much looking forward to normal routine life again :)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hang on

Just hang on one more second....I'm back but still a bit too busy with loads of laundry and sorting/loading/gazing at pictures of dives, boats, octopuses, sangria & chips & chorizo, mountains & beaches, rocks, board games, the other club members...

Well just still in vacation mood I guess.