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37

5 Aug

I somehow like this number better than 36.

It feels cool to say I´m 37.

Yeah.

That´s a good start.

 

I didn´t complete any of the challenges of last year´s list, although I have been slowly working on some.

Actually, looking at that list I feel the same inclination as last year, namely the urge to change another few items on it, because they have lost their appeal.

And now I´m wondering: instead of starting out with challenges, wouldn´t it be better to just do what I feel like and then afterwards report on what I´ve accomplished?

So for this year I´m going to turn this thing around. I´m changing the Belgian To Do List into a Spanish Let´s See What Happens Report.

Baseline: I have no clue what I´m going to do this year. But I hope a few very cool things will happen, things that will be interesting enough to blog about.

As for the past year, this is what´s happened (and some things rather unexpectedly):

  • I got a dog
  • I wrote a theatre play for children
  • I sewed a skirt and some pillowcases
  • I travelled with my daughter to Belgium
  • I sang Schubert´s “Ave Maria” during the mass for Saint Cecilia
  • I won a trophy at a karaoke contest (haha, that was fun)
  • I quit my job
  • I became a member of the Dutch School in Valencia
  • I started singing in the local jazz band

Now let´s see what happens next.

 

 

 

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36

9 Aug

For my 36th birthday (which was two weeks ago) I´ve given myself the permission to revise the list I made up last year and alter a few things, since we´re supposed to not only grow older, but also wiser every year.

Here are the things I so far accomplished:

These things will stay on the list:

  • Do a photoshoot with my daughter
  • Write a book
  • Paint a mural
  • Pass the Valencià Mitja exam
  • Read 100 books

That leaves me with 6 goals I feel I should change for more realistic ones.

Going to a music festival seemed like a really fun idea, but I´m afraid I´m simply not made for it. The older I get, the more difficult it becomes for me to feel at ease in a crowd. Instead, I´d like to change this one for two different things that combine certain aspects of the festival experience: one, go camping with my husband and daughter, and two, sing in a bar or out in the street.

To become politically involved in my community I´d have to master the language a lot better than I do now, and I´d have to learn a lot of stuff that´s simply not my cup of tea. Now that we have a new (very young) mayor, I have a slightly better feeling about how things are going here, and I think I should leave the political stuff to the people who know more about it.

Sponsoring a child in another country and working 100 hours as a volunteer seemed like very beautiful and altruistic things to do, but far from realistic for someone who, as a sufferer from aura migraines, keeps losing her job and that way doesn´t even have an income of her own. I should substitute these goals for working out a migraine treatment plan for myself (with the help of this fantastic book). Because you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.

I have been sending birthday cards, and I still think it´s a nice thing to do. But apparently nobody cares about birthday cards anymore, and it´s becoming rather expensive, now that the prices have gone up again. Instead, I was thinking of making photo-albums of my daughter´s pictures. I have my photos mostly on the computer, but it´s so much nicer and safer to have them actually printed out.

Having my hair like Jennifer Aniston was a goal that was actually supposed to motivate me to deal with trichotillomania. (Don´t worry, it was never as bad as in that picture.) But I think I made a lot of progress in that field and it doesn´t necessarily have to result in Aniston´s hairdo, because I think I look better with my hair a bit shorter than hers. Instead, I want to focus on another one of my childhood heroines: I´d like to dress up as The Little Mermaid at the local carnival. I already have my daughter´s full support.

That leaves me with 13 goals instead of 14. So I´ll add one more: in addition to reading 100 books, I feel I should brush up on my French and work a bit harder on my Spanish, so of those 100 books, at least 5 should be in French and 5 in Spanish. (Man, we Belgians are very good at giving ourselves homework, aren´t we. Not hard to see where the trichotillomania comes from.)

So this is the new list of things I want to do before I turn 40:

  • Sing at a wedding – check
  • Pass the Cambridge Proficiency in English exam – check
  • Sew a dress for myself – check
  • Do a photoshoot with my daughter
  • Write a book
  • Paint a mural
  • Pass the Valencià Mitja exam
  • Read 100 books
  • Read 5 books in French and 5 in Spanish
  • Go camping with my husband and daughter
  • Sing in a bar or out in the street
  • Work out a migraine treatment plan for myself
  • Making photoalbums for my daughter
  • Dress up as The Little Mermaid at the local carnival

 

Here we go.

Pass The Cambridge Proficiency In English Exam: Check

6 Jan

(Number 5 on the list)
In 2015 I gave myself a useful present: a 40-hour course to prepare myself for the Proficiency in English Exam.

 
I did this for three reasons:
• I love English.
• I´m an English teacher, but not a native speaker. So that certificate will be a great help when I start looking for a job again.
• I´m often asked to prepare people for language exams, so I thought it would be a useful experience doing an exam myself.

So that´s how I got to spend eight Saturdays in a row bent over linguistic exercises. My fellow students were a bunch of bright and brilliant twenty-somethings and one sweet-tempered middle-aged woman. Most of us were strangers to each other, but again that Spanish magic happened, the way I´ve seen it happen so many times before. You put some Spaniards together and within a few hours they will have managed, with the skillful use of casual conversation, to tie a group together that is ready to collectively celebrate Christmas, New Year´s and each other´s birthdays. Whenever I get to be part of that experience, I always feel blessed for living here.

 
Our teacher was a loveable Scottish girl, who repeatedly expressed how sorry she felt for having us all locked up inside on a Saturday evening. But those were needles worries, because it always seemed to fly by.

 
The exam took place at the end of November, in a fancy hotel. It took just about the whole day, hours and hours of intense concentration. I was tired but in full Border Collie mode, so I managed all right.

Today is Three Kings´ Day, which is a big thing in Spain. The Three Wise Men bring presents to all those supposedly well-behaved children, the way Santa Claus/Father Christmas does in the English-speaking world, and Sinterklaas in Belgium, Germany and The Netherlands. But apparently those magic kings also have some leverage with the people at Cambridge, because we´ve just found out that our results are already online.

And I passed!

Thank you, Melchior, Gaspar and Balthasar!

The Blanket Skirt: What Friends Are For

24 Nov

I had a piece of blue tartan fabric lying around and sewed it into a skirt –plain and rough, more for practise (see item 12 on the list) than fashion. But I wear it anyway.

Now there´s a woman I know, really pretty with long black hair, always dressed smartly. When she saw my skirt, she started laughing.

“Is that a blanket you´re wearing?” she grinned.

I explained her that it wasn´t, that I had sewn it myself. Showed her how amateurishly the zipper had been installed.

“Oh,” she said.

That evening I looked at the skirt again and realised that, yes, the fabric was indeed intended for blankets. Whatever, I thought. And the next day I wore it again to take my daughter to school.

When I met up with my friends at the school gate, Ramón pointed at the skirt with a smirk on his face and said: “What are you doing wearing a blanket?”

I just smiled and shrugged my shoulders.

Then suddenly the black-haired woman, who is part of our little group, turned to Ramón and told him off in a stern voice.

“Hey!” she said. “She sewed that skirt herself, you know!”

She was all serious, not a trace of irony.

I hadn´t felt in the least offended by that blanket-remark, but still I thought that was really sweet of her.

 

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Sing At a Wedding: Check

15 Sep

(Number 4 on the list)

Take everything you know about weddings and store it in a far corner of your mind for the duration of this post.

Now think bellydancers and paper airplanes. Think festivalbracelets and foodtrucks. Think blonde female priest. That´s the kind of wedding I was invited to by Tim and Tina. And they had asked me to sing. What an honour!

It all started off a lot less glamourous than I had imagined. Excruciating pain in my left eye the day before, frenzied search for an eye-doctor. Damaged cornea, he said, and an infection on top of that. I was in a bigger panic than the day before my own wedding. Luckily the eye-drops I got worked wonders, but I couldn´t wear my contacts, nor any make-up. So I had to resign myself to singing to strangers while wearing my glasses. Uh-oh. I know how silly that may sound to you, but I have a dioptry of -13, which means my eyes look very, very small behind my glasses, which gives me that hyper-intelligent, but far from sexy, nerd-look. But apparently it´s a lot easier to get over something when there´s absolutely nothing you can do about it.

The wedding took place in a beautifully restored Flemish barn, where a stage had been mounted and decorated with colourful Indian lanterns. Tina, who is a gifted belly,- and Bollywooddancer although Belgian by birth, wore an amazing cream-coloured Indian wedding dress. She had bought it in Mumbai, just after Tim had proposed to her in front of the Taj Mahal (which is a super cliché thing to do, and therefore a very original thing for Tim to do, who usually keeps himself very far from clichés).

The ceremony was lead by our friend Leen, a teacher, singer and actress. She did a marvelous job, with lots of love and humour. There were many moving speeches, Tim´s brother and his wife gave a wonderful performance of “Head Over Feet” from Alanis Morrisette, and then I got to sing an a capella version of “Don´t cry for me, Argentina”. I had adapted the lyrics -the chorus going something like this, to give you and idea:

I love you so much, Tim, said Tina/ and I promise I´ll never leave you / all through my wild days / my mad existence / I´ll keep my promise / don´t keep your distance – etc.

I´d been very insecure about the lyrics – unlike the chorus, the verses had nothing to do with the original text anymore and were very personal. It´s quite a risk, taking something you´ve made up all by yourself and throwing it out into the world. It makes you very vulnerable. So I was super-nervous, hands trembling like crazy. But everybody was listening attentively, like they didn´t want to miss a word, and I got so much positive feedback afterwards that my fear of coming across as the Ultimate Nerd slowly evaporated.

Instead of wedding rings, Tim and Tina exchanged festival bracelets -how cool is that? Imagine a bride with a pair of pliers in her hands! Then Leen and I sang “A Whole New World” from the Aladdin movie. By that time I wasn´t trembling anymore, and it was beautiful. It´s so nice to sing a duet. It´s one of my favourite things in the world.

And then came the most spectacular surprise: a live show of belly-dance and Bollywood performances! Fourteen dancers taking turns swirling and swaying around, tying bells at their feet, throwing scarves in the air, through the movement of their bodies invoking all the emotions on the spectrum of love. And of course Tina was there, dancing as we had never seen her dance before, with that irresistable joy and conviction that brides radiate on their wedding day. We just stood there, gazing at her with our mouths open wide.

Unforgettable.

35

25 Jul

Ever since I turned 33 I´ve been feeling like a cosmic countdown has started somewhere. Maximum this many more years to live, if I reach age x I still have that many years left, one third has passed, almost half, etc. Something I had hardly thought about when I was in my teens or twenties. Seeing the numbers go up has therefore become more of a reason for worry than celebration.

A girl I spoke to last month, put me back with my feet on the ground. “The older you get, the more reason you have for celebration,” she said. “It means you got to live that long. People should be happy to celebrate their 40th, 50th,… 80th birthday. Dying young, now THAT is sad.” And although I was secretly thinking You´re only 28, let´s see how you feel about this in a year or four, I knew that she was right.

So another approach towards birthdays seems needed.

Last Saturday I spoke to a friend of mine who had been to a music festival, the second one in his life. He had such a great time there, that he wondered: “Why haven´t I done this more often? I´m already 35.” And I said: “Yes! Same here! I´ve only been to one music festival, can you imagine? Let´s do this more often.” And that´s when I came up with making a list of things I want to do these coming years. It´s not a Bucket List, because I have no intention of “kicking the bucket” any time soon. It´s a list with things I´d like to achieve before I turn 40.

Today is my 35th birthday. That seems like a good day to start.

So I made a list of 14 things I would like to do before I turn 40:

  1. Do a photoshoot with my daughter
  2. Go to a music festival
  3. Read 100 books
  4. Sing at a wedding
  5. Pass the Cambridge Proficiency in English exam
  6. Become politically involved in my community
  7. Have my hair like Jennifer Aniston (will explain this later)
  8. Write a book
  9. Sponsor a child in another country
  10. Work 100 hours as a volunteer
  11. Paint a mural
  12. Sew a dress for myself
  13. Pass the Valencià Mitja exam
  14. Send 100 birthday cards

And of course I will keep you posted on how it works out.

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