How to Let Your Weekend Invigorate You

As it is Monday again, and I am again trying to work but obviously failing, it is time to reflect on a most wondrous weekend.

It kind of already started on Thursday, when we went out on a little date night. We went to this fancy burger place. No fastfood stuff, but quality ingredients cooked to perfection. My choice was a lamb burger with grilled peppers and sheep cheese. Cole slaw on the side, and of course Belgian chips with freshly made mayonnaise, and a beer to wash it down. Omnomnom. Then: two games of pool, I won twice. Booyah. And to finish off: watching Everest at the cinema. My Goodness with capital G, what a movie. I was so impressed I even forgot to finish my skittles.

But then came Friday, and work was horrendous. It was the first time I had to teach, and it went far from well. I don’t really master the subject, so all I could do was read my notes and go through the slides. It must have been awfully boring, and all 100 students looked terrifyingly confused. It makes my stomach twist and turn when I think of the next session I have to teach. I guess you can all imagine I came home from work Friday evening in a state somewhere between priceless relief (thank god that’s done, for now at least) and mad disappointment (I think I might just be the worst teacher ever). But the boyfriend was waiting for me to cheer me up, and as always he succeeded. And we watched the brand new Big Bang Theory episode. Smiling and giggling was guaranteed.

For this weekend, we had nothing planned at all. At least no obligatory things like drinks with friends or dinners with families. So Saturday, we went out shopping. Time to get some winter gear: shoes, coats, gloves, and a good piece of meat to roast the next day. Then pop a pizza into the oven, watch the latest Graham Norton, and the brand new Heroes Reborn. Yes, summer has gone, television season has started! We were both very much looking forward to Heroes, but so far we are not convinced. We stuck through the whole episode, 1 hour and a half, but might not do next time if it doesn’t pick up. I’m hoping this was just an introductory episode, introducing all the new characters and story lines, and that the fun will start next week. Usually I wouldn’t watch series like this, I like cliffhangers from the first episode onwards, immediately being dragged into the story. But it’s Heroes so I’ll give it one more chance.

Sunday was a gorgeous day in so many ways. First of all, the sun was shining. But I didn’t really have the chance to go outside straight away. First, we were going to build our final Ikea cupboard. I started on it during the week, rearranged the whole room so we could lie the cupboard down, empty cardboard boxes everywhere, and I got so enthusiastic I was trying to build an over 2 metres high cupboard all by myself and slightly broke it. But thank goodness for my improvising skills, and my smarter boyfriend insisting on building it together after that. After we’d done the big parts together, I left him to finish it off and went to my kitchen kingdom. I was going to make a Sunday roast. For the first time. Ever.

Why would I do such a thing? Or even: why would I only do such a thing only now for the first time?! Well, I had this weird teenage phase where I was a vegetarian. Luckily, by now, I have come to my senses, as meat is not only good for you but also super tasty. Sadly though, I skipped the part where I learned how to cook it. So usually I do sausages or chicken, maybe some pork. But the time had come to tackle some roast beef. And as sides: oven roasted butternut pumpkin, oven roasted potatoes English style, broccoli, and gravy. Bring it on.

Usually when I cook, I just sort of improvise. But now I consulted recipes (including my dad and the boyfriend’s mom) and I made a cooking schedule. 3.50pm, skin potatoes; 4pm, boil potatoes; 4.10pm, preheat oven to 50 degrees; 4.15pm, warm up the meat for 30 minutes, 4.45pm, preheat oven to 200 degrees and put in potatoes. Etc. Since these oven cooked dishes were new to me, and the meat was like the biggest challenge ever, I thought it wouldn’t be bad to dig into my crazy meticulous planning side. And it worked. Spuds: perfect. Pumpkin: cooked to perfection. Meat: suuuuuper tasty! And best part: you should’ve seen the look on my boyfriend’s face! A little kid on Christmas morning. Mission accomplished.

After finishing our wine and cleaning up the battlefield that was once the kitchen, we went out for an evening walk. Let’s take this road, we haven’t been up this one yet. And what a surprise we got! Turns out we are only a 10 minute walk away from the countryside! Fields, cows, gravel roads that might just lead you to magnificent views, and some stunning houses to dream about maybe one day in our future. I really hope next weekend will be sunny as well, as I am planning to take my bike and go discover exactly how far this countryside stretches out for.

These are definitely the kind of weekends I need. No social obligations, nothing that needs to get done. Just me and the boyfriend and our new hub that needs exploring. So invigorating! I can’t wait for next weekend now!

The Teaching Terror

I have to teach today! For the first time! Well, not really for the first time, I’ve given workshops before, but always about a subject I mastered, and to very small classes of motivated students. Today, it is the real thing.

I will be teaching to an auditorium of about 100 students.

These students will be mostly unmotivated as this is one of the obligatory subjects in their curriculum.

I do not look any older than most of the students, and they will probably think I am a brave first year student pulling a prank.

I am teaching the Friday evening slot when everyone, including me, wants to go home.

I will be teaching a subject I almost failed myself when I was still in my first year.

I have to use a handbook I don’t understand because certain things just don’t add up.

I AM SUPER NERVOUS!

I have to do this teaching as a part of my PhD program. I was quite looking forward to it, I thought I’d be doing some of the more practical subjects to small groups of motivated students. Presentation skills, or maybe even English pronunciation, that would’ve been fun! Instead, I get to teach Dutch grammar.

I remember this course being absolute hell in my first year, it is the only one in my whole student career that I almost failed. The handbook I have to use now, is definitely not making it any easier. And on top of that, I have to teach in Dutch: even though it is my native language, I hardly ever have to speak it in such a formal environment where I have to show great language skills. If I make even the tiniest grammar mistake (which I will, because I usually work and speak in English, and I tend to make up words when I speak Dutch, think the opposite of the Dutch Louis Van Gaal trying to speak English), I’m a goner.

Please give me some tips! How do I compose myself and make the students think I do this all the time? What should I do if they ask me a question and I have no clue? What should I do if someone points out a mistake I made, whether it was in my grammar or something I explained wrong? And how do I keep having students in my class, rather than them dropping out and trying to self-study?

A Brunch Like No Other

Do you know those traditions you have with certain friends? The ones you don’t see often, but when you do, you always end up doing the same thing? Meeting up to bake biscuits, or going to that pizza place in town, or going on a crazy shopping spree. Every time. Well, I have this friend with whom I like to go out for brunch on a Sunday. Once, maybe twice a year we see each other. And then we brunch.

Only problem: in Leuven, almost everything is closed on Sunday. Our options are very limited. So the last few years, we have been going to Bar Louis, on the Leuven Grote Markt. The interior is extravagant and even luscious. Shiny objects making the light shoot all directions, leather couches filled with fluffy shiny pillows, etc. It is definitely not my style, but for some reason it really works. You feel very fancy while sipping your coffee, that’s for sure. The food is very nice as well. But there are two massive downsides. First of all, their waiting system is far from effective. Certain bartenders can only take orders / serve food, and other will then take care of the payment. As such, if you would like to pay some time soon after finishing your drinks or food, you are best off asking for the bill the first time already when ordering. A second time when getting your food. And after that every five minutes. Other downside: when that bill does come, it will make you sad. I guess half of the price you pay for the location, since you’re sitting on the beautiful market square. Apart from that, the food (and service) really aren’t worth all that money.

So I went on a little google spree to see where else we could go for a Sunday Brunch. And what I found, was perfect. This Sunday, me and my brunch friend went to Bar Stan. It isn’t located in the centre of town, but since Leuven is not big at all, that is far from a problem. If anything, it is easier to reach and find parking. For me, it was just a 10 minute cycle from home, like almost everything else in Leuven.

We booked a table for 10.30h, and thank goodness we did. The small cafe had definitely overcome it’s not very obvious location and developed a large and loyal clientele. We were sat down at an old school bench on wobbly old chairs exactly like the ones at my old primary school. Definitely very different from the Bar Louis, going from super fancy to very approachable and wonderfully nostalgic. The vibe was what I would call medium hipster. There were definitely a few hipster families there (you know, those moms and dads with their kids in designer but locally produced clothes, probably a four-year-old sun wearing a bowtie, having a bicycle parked outside with a big tub in front to drive the kids around, and quite likely some small odd looking but very expensive pet waiting for them at home, a pitbull with a little coat on, or maybe even a big tortoise in the garden). But thank goodness there were also awfully normal people there, not pretending to be “different” and “alternative” while being exactly the same like any other hipster. Now before my post turns into an anti-hipster rant, let me tell you about the food.

The Sunday brunch was advertised as a brunch buffet, and what buffet it was! There was crispy bacon (exactly the way bacon should be, not soggy and chewy and not that crispy that it breaks into a thousand small bacon pieces when you put your fork in it) and scrambled eggs. Hmm, you might say. That is not much for a warm breakfast buffet. What about other types of eggs, mushrooms, tomatoes, sausages, maybe some pancakes. True, this Brunch was definitely not trying to be an English or American breakfast. Which I kinda liked, because those breakfasts I can make myself quite easily. Instead, it offered a whole range of cold foods. There was a couscous with cherry tomatoes and coriander. Smoked salmon with a yoghurt sauce on the side. Spanish hame with sun dried tomatoes. Egg salad. Tuna salad. A whole range of different cheeses. White bread, brown bread, bread with pumpkin seeds and bread with raisins. Yoghurt, granola, and all sorts of fruit. Filter coffee (filter coffee!!!!) and fresh orange juice included, plus a whole range of teas and interesting sounding juices to choose from.

I went for seconds, and thirds, and yes, even fourths. Every single thing I tried was more than delicious. There was a nice and relaxed Sunday atmosphere. And I had a lovely chat with my brunch friend. Sunday Brunch at Bar Stan: successful. We will be back in, say, half a year!

A Very Belgian Weekend: No Rest For the Wicked

I have weekend stories to tell! Last weekend was such a lovely and very filled weekend. Autumn has arrived thought, and sadly, that also means the sore throats and stuffy sinuses are here. So of course, after a weekend like that, I now feel rather ill. But for a weekend like that, I’d be ill every week!

Friday I had a big day at work. Presentations all day, mine last of course. The amounts of coffee and bananas I had to eat to keep me awake and focused! (I think it went quite well, even got a pat on the back from my supervisor. I believe that means I was successful.) When I got back home, I was welcomed by a fun crowd in our living room. The boyfriend’s best mate came over for a visit with his girlfriend. Double date! I let them finish their card game while I tried to get rid of my work modus, and then we went into town.

I took them to a typical Belgian restaurant, not having been to one myself in ages. I love the multiculturality of our cities, with their American inspired burger restaurants, Italian pizza and pasta, Japanese sushi and teppanyaki, Nepalese curries, etc. But this was the perfect occasion to go back to a typical Belgian place with typical Belgian food. We decided on De Wiering in Leuven.

When we went inside, I noticed how similar a “typical Belgian pub” actually is to a “typical English pub”. Well, to be fair, we don’t really do pubs. It was a restaurant. But it had the same typical dark little corners with dark wooden chairs and tables and lots of odd clutter on the walls (like the super creepy looking dolls hanging by the side of our table). On the menu, there was a whole section dedicated to “Grandmother’s kitchen”, with dishes like cherry beer beef stew, and a dark trappist beer rabbit stew. Have you started to drool yet?

Of course, we started with a beer and some appetisers. As you do when in Belgium. For mains, I had ham in mustard sauce. My goodness that was more than goodness! The ham was a chunk of stringy meat on bone. Haha, I am not making it sound very tasty, but it was the best meat I’d ever had! The sauce went really well with it, and the veggies pleasantly surprised me, being more than just cauliflower and broccoli. There was mushroom, capsicum, asparagus, and plenty more. I couldn’t finish my dish because it was simply too much, and it made me really sad to leave that heavenly food behind.

Overfull tummies and three beers later, we moved to the Oude Markt, the old market square that has the biggest line up of pubs in the world. We were quite lucky with the weather, I think it was the last nice night of the year, so we got to sit outside on the massive super cosy square. But after one more beer, there was simply no more room for more, and we wobbled home truly satisfied.

The next day felt like a wonderful Sunday. Or even better than a Sunday, because Sunday still had to come! I wanted to offer our guests Belgian breakfast, with rolls and sweet breakfast buns. Another good side of having your Sunday on a Saturday, the bakeries are actually open! (See one of my previous posts for my rant on the bakeries being closed on a Sunday.) But of course I got to the bakery with no cash, so the leftovers from the day before would have to do. And it wasn’t that bad really, who doesn’t like a sandwich with speculoospasta (also known as cookie spread: it is a spread made out of Belgian gingerbread biscuits, omnomnom)!

We drank coffee, listened to music, played music, made fresh juice and ate chocolates. The weather was horrendous but our home felt more than warm and cosy. Ah, wonderful autumn relaxation!

And then suddenly, Sunday turned into Saturday! We dropped of our friends at the train station for their journey back, and in the evening we went out for a beer with other friends. One of my ex-classmates also picked up her boyfriend abroad, and he moved over to Belgium just at the same time as mine did. So we thought our boys could bond, and took them to what I now consider the most awesome beer cafe EVER! The Capital, on the Grote Markt in Leuven.

They claim to have over 3000 thousand different beers, and I must say I was impressed. You can choose from 2 menus: one ordered alphabetically, one ordered by kind (blond, trappist, IPA, dark, stout, etc.). The waiters are very friendly (a rare breed in Belgium, that’s for sure), and they definitely know their beers. I was looking for a new tripel to try  and I got recommended a La Corne. I googled it afterwards, and I was a bit disappointed by the glass they served it in. For Belgians, serving a beer in the wrong glass is like serving it in a smelly shoe. It is simply not done. Mine did come in a La Corne glass, but turns out this beer can also be served in probably the coolest beer glass I had ever seen!

corne-blonde-verre-et-medaille

The place is also very nicely decorated. The coolest part is probably the floor, where a few glass tiles show you the beer basement. There, a mysterious never been seen person (I think it’s a beer gnome) puts the beer on a wheel that rotates to the pub above. Pretty neat!

And then came the real Sunday. We cycled to my parents place (about a 30 minute cycle through the forest) for a family party. Me and the boyfriend were both very tired, but we made it in one piece. As expected, my dad outdid himself with the food and drinks. There was salmon, tuna, shrimp for starters and appetisers. And for mains: a proper Sunday Roast! Lamb roast with french beans and oven baked potatoes.

We returned to our lovely home content but exhausted. And then there was Monday. As my boyfriend likes to say: “No rest for the wicked”!

 

Lost: Motivation… Last Seen: 6 Months Ago

Once again I am struggling at work. I tried to keep these sad depressing posts of my blog, but since I’m trying everything not to work, I guess this one slipped through the nets of happy thoughts.

I was browsing through WordPress, hear what other PhD students have to say and complain about. How they handle with the lack of motivation. I assumed that after a few minutes of browsing, I would have some tips and tricks and be comforted by the fact that I am not alone. Instead, I am more than worried now.

There are posts about unruly library behaviour – I haven’t been in the library forever. There are posts about running out of reading material – I haven’t read anything in forever since I simply don’t feel like it. There are posts about the many travels and conferences – I haven’t been anywhere since my first trip, since my research hasn’t progressed in so long that I simply do not want to go give the same talk again. There are posts about working weekends as if it’s normal – I have and never will work during the weekend, because I do everything I can to get away from my research. There are posts about occasionally going into university but mostly working from home, libraries, cafes – I go into uni almost every day because I simply cannot get myself to work if my boss isn’t staring at me (which he is now, but since he sits opposite of me he can’t see my screen, so I’m hoping he thinks I’m writing some interesting stuff down).

If you are a PhD student yourself, you probably think I’m having the end of 3rd year blues. Nope. I’m still in my first year. Ow shit. It’s not that I don’t like my field. I’m a linguist and I’m still happy to be one. Languages have always fascinated me, especially how they are really not that different and how there may just be some universal patterns that can explain how languages do differ. My research just doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Yeah I know, there’s only one person that can change that. But I’ve felt stuck like this for over 6 months now. Which means, my PhD went well for only the first few months of the 4-year project. I tried to subtly mention this to some of the colleagues, all of them way further in their careers than I am. (It doesn’t help that I am the only PhD student in the team and feel so inexperienced because I never know what they are talking about.) They suggested I just go back to reading. Leave the data aside, just read read read. But I like the data. Hands-on approach. Or at least I did like it, last time I was actually putting my hands on it. And reading takes me for-ev-er. It takes me weeks to finish a paper to then not know what it is about. Another thing that doesn’t seem to trouble any of the blogging PhDers I found.

I don’t know how to get out of this hole. This is supposed to be the opportunity of a life time, the dream job, a passion rather than work. Then why the hell have I been doing everything I can for the last 6 months to not work?

Is this the wrong job for me? Or are there ways to get me back on track? Where did my motivation go! Has anyone seen it? Maybe I should go check in the lost and found at uni.