The Romanian Challenge #3

It’s hard to believe it but we will be going to Romania in two weeks so I have been refocusing my energies on getting my Romanian up to speed in as far as possible before we go there. Because of my university studies there were some weeks when I had no time at all to devote to it but I have tried to do my best when I could and I have had my Teach Yourself Romanian in my bag to study a little when I was waiting for a bus or picking the kids up from gymnastics training.
Would I say that I can ‘speak’ Romanian to any level? The answer is a big ‘NO’. With the same amount of study of Spanish I can remember that I was able to hold a simple conversation already but Romanian has a lot of tricky points.
In terms of understanding there are so many familiar Latin based words that you don’t have to ‘learn’ those, the same goes for English or French imports, a lot of the Slavic cognates are logical once you make the link (for instance the word for sick is ‘bolnav’ which is like the word for sore ‘boli’ in Polish). In other places the Romanian word sticks out because it is not a cognate so you might expect a word like bella for beautiful but the word is actually ‘frumoasa’ which I remember by thinking of the Dutch word for raspberry ‘framboos’. Vocabulary is not really a big issue in understanding Romanian. The problem is that there are loads of irregular plurals, the adjectives also change gender and it is basically a very inflected language (like Polish) so speaking proper Romanian is a pretty difficult task and it is not going to happen in two weeks that’s for sure.
At the same time there are so many easy parts to the language that you can do a lot with a few key words like ‘avem’ (we have) or ‘aveți’ (you have). You can ask questions with intonation changes like most languages but in say Polish or Japanese not having you ‘czy’ or ‘ka’ can mean that people think you are making a statement if you haven’t mastered the correct intonation. Romanian is a lot more like French or Spanish in this respect. Right now I could order in a restaurant (I love the word for bottle ‘sticlă’) and get the bill and I can shower Romanian with thanks and praise and say I am married (important) and that I have three daughters. I don’t do politics (maybe for the best) or economics yet (at least I won’t bore people).
I have two more weeks and my university schedule is a lot more forgiving right now as I just have one last assignment to do so let’s see how far we get. The more languages you speak the more people you can become.

Today we had the biggest national competition of the year in many ways – the semi-final. Luna needed a Top 8 place to reach the A final. You are always one mistake away from disappointment and one of the best girls had the bad luck of seeing her ball go unreachably far away from her so she ended up missing out on her place. That’s what can happen so I suppose that we can say that the glass is half-full.
Last year Luna also came fourth in the semi and the three girls ahead of her have all moved on to other places and age categories. Following that logic you would hope for a better result this year. Her choreos are much more difficult this year. Luna performed really well, especially in Free. Unfortunately though the jury didn’t agree with this. Her Free was definitely one of the best of the competition but only got the fifth best mark. She made a mistake or two on Ball so her mark was a bit lower than the best but really she lost her place on the podium based on the low Free mark.
It’s a bit of a disappointment and it means that we have to revise our hopes for the year. At the start of the year we would have thought she could get a medal in the A final this year. Her Free came second in the District back in January but now it is ranked fifth if you think that all the girls with better scores are from our District.
The glass is half-full because she got to the A final but it is hard not to notice that it’s also very much half-empty.








Getting My Life Back

It’s a waste of life to wish oneself forward in time but I find myself aching for June when I will be finished the sixth and penultimate Open University module that I am currently studying. I started out on this OU journey with the goal of extending myself intellectually and somehow finding my way back to the road not taken. Things haven’t quite worked out as intended, life gets in the way of many of the best intentions, what was originally a labour of love has become more of a labour. There is no doubt that I have learned a lot in the last years but my inner child is screaming ‘basta!’, ‘let me out!’.
I probably needed to study English at university level to realize that I can only go so far as a writer. On the one hand I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t have some deep mine of writing talent to exploit but it’s not a bad thing to have explored. It’s not a bad thing to be not so bad or even quite good at times. I will finish my OU studies with a module in Spanish which is really a way of not doing OU study any more. I have missed the freedom to learn new languages at will or to improve existing ones. My OU degree has become a cloud hanging over me and I want my life back.
Since I started with the OU a lot of things have changed in my life. My job has changed dramatically. After years of a pretty comfortable existence with manageable levels of change I was moved into a new area and I had to take a lot more responsibility. Rather than wilt at the prospect I had to take on the challenge and I ended up moving on again to even more responsibility. It’s made me less fearful because the new normal turned out to be within my capacities and I realized that there were aspects of myself that I had written off that were functional after all. I might not be good at empathy but it doesn’t mean that I can’t ‘do’ empathy. The soft side exists after all.
Sport has taken an even more important place in our lives as the three girls have begun on their different paths. For a while I was investing far too much emotionally and getting too involved. Luckily I have managed to distance myself again as the things I was involved with have finished and I am able to enjoy the fact that the girls are doing well at their sports. Still though, we devote a lot of our family time to sports training and competitions so there is no getting away from the fact that it has a primary place for us.
In a sense I have been practicing giving up drink for much of the last ten years as I went dry for longer and longer periods. The decision to finally kick the booze for good definitely helped clear up some room in my head. Anybody who has had a bad relationship with drink will know how draining it is thinking about how much you will drink, whether you will drink, what you said when you were drunk, regrets, hangovers and blackouts. It is all just so sickening and pointless in the end but only people who have an issue understand why it is such an issue. After you stop drinking you have to just shut up about the fact because most people can live quite happily with alcohol as a companion.
I try not to torture myself by wondering how I could have lived my life differently. There are things that everybody might change if they had the chance. The most important thing is to look forward. Right now I am looking forward to getting my life back

There are so many things happening now and I can’t even write about most of them yet but these are exciting times for our girls and their sports. Tomorrow Daisy will have what will probably be her last competition of the season when she takes part in the District championship for the C level. It would be nice if she could break into the Top 10 but she is a girl whose real passion is for Acro and dance so that lack of focus and passion makes it harder for her to up her level.
Next week Luna has the national A/B semi-final which is just about the most crucial competition of the season. Of course the A final is more important but the semi-final presents more risks. She has to be in the Top 8 to make the A final. In the semi-final you don’t even think as much about the podium places, the most important announcement is hearing about who has taken ninth place.
With Luna we are continually in a battle between short term interests and long term goals. In the short term we want her to get the highest possible ranking nationally but that doesn’t really relate to the bigger picture. In the longer term we hope that she can reach a level to be competitive in international events. In May we have a competition coming up in Romania and it’s a bit defeatist to say it but the truth is that we will be happy if she can come ahead of one or two other girls. There are sure to be Bulgarians and Romanians who will be top class. What gets you a medal in a Dutch competition is not enough to get you near the podium internationally because the difficulty and risk expectations are so much higher. In a Dutch competition the full use of the floor, high throws and difficult acrobatic elements are likely to lead to big deductions without enough reward for the risky routine. In international events every girl will be trying to operate at the border of her abilities and safe routines are not rewarded.
For us as parents we want her to have national success even though we support everything that will improve her to international level too. It will be interesting to compare how she performs in the national against the Romanian competition. Whatever happens there are more plans and events which will overshadow these events. Luna’s trainer is always coming up with new ideas and plans to make RG life interesting. Besides that, in the summer Luna will to a two week Elite RG camp in Canada so that will give her another dimension. She has passion for the sport so we just have to keep making things interesting.

Nine Months

It’s been nine months since I last had an alcoholic drink so it’s a good time to reflect again on what difference that has made to my life. The most obvious thing is physical because I had lost all of the excess baggage by October and I have had no relapse since, my weight has stayed at around 72kg for the last months. The main trigger for getting fat again was always drink and ancillary unhealthy eating habits. Without drink in my life it is far easier to just stay in control and be the slim person that I should always have been. Of course it’s not that simple either, the times I drank more were often linked to life events. It does take some courage to embrace depression like the pain of the dentist’s drill without anaesthetic knowing that it will pass easier without drowning it away. However, you get used to it. The problem with alcohol or any other chemical is that it stops you from confronting your true feelings. Once you live with all the real highs and lows again then life is a lot more comforting and stable.
One of the hard things to get used to when you kick the habit of drinking is that you don’t have that social crutch any more. You think about the occasions when you might ‘need’ to drink and get worried about how it will go. When I gave up drink for a year in 2012 there were a few occasions when I did feel a certain panic in that respect. After a while though you get feedback from various people that makes you realize that those were exactly the occasions when you should never have drunk. The times when I was ‘good’ company were when I was comfortable with friends and people I knew, not when I was under any kind of pressure. The pressure times were the ones when I made a fool of myself.
The thing that I realize about myself now is that I am fundamentally introverted. That doesn’t mean that I can’t interact socially, I can do just fine. However, a naturally outgoing person gets a lot of energy from talking to different people. I enjoy talking to some people but if I don’t have a natural connection with somebody then it’s a big struggle. As you get older and know yourself better you can just adapt yourself better to the situation. It’s better to breathe deep than drink deep. Even the most awkward situation will pass.
The other thing that not drinking and all of the psychology around that has flagged up for me is a deep-seated inferiority complex. It’s hard to understand the origin of this but it manifests itself in various ways. Now that I see everything with a fully free mind I try to address these feelings and rationalize them. There is only so much you can do to alter the habits of a lifetime but once you have the clarity that comes with knowing that there are no chemical solutions you can try to rebuild yourself and become a better person.

Trilingual Life

Since sport has taken the top position in our family’s priorities we often forget about the other ‘project’ that dominated our thinking from even before Luna was born. As being multilingual has been part of my own self-identity since being given the gift of a second language (from the age of four when I went to primary school) I have imagined a future where my own children would speak in other tongues and experience the world with all of the shades and colours that other languages bring.
When the girls were younger we were continually worried about the threat of language loss. There are so many children who give up on their parents’ languages even when their mother and father have done everything they can to preserve them. It might have seemed strange to people on the outside who don’t realize how easily languages disappear but we were really worried about the kids stopping speaking Polish.
The years go by. You become a family, you live languages, they are not academic abstractions. So where are they now? Well, the news is mostly good. If you spent a day at our house you would hear Polish, Dutch and English spoken by everybody in the family. Of course the purest English and Polish is coming out of our mouths or from the television or radio. The children understand pretty much everything that is said to them in our languages, of course we need to explain or translate unfamiliar words but sometimes I am surprised that they understand or use very specific words. On the other hand they often don’t know basic English or Polish words or are just lazy and code switch with Dutch words. I am not really tolerant of this because a half Dutch sentence can quickly become a fully Dutch sentence.
The main test is when they come into contact with English speakers or Polish speakers who have no knowledge of Dutch. What you see then is that they know that they can’t code switch so the laziness disappears and the real gaps in their level show up. Of course they do not speak English or Polish with the same proficiency as a child who lives in a country with those languages as the community language but they do have a very strong basis. Nadia is younger and uses all kinds of weird constructions like ‘I don’t can’ instead of ‘I can’t’ but those idiosyncrasies will smooth themselves out. With English there is no doubt that they will reach a native level once they have more exposure at (bilingual) secondary school. We are going to Ireland soon and to Canada in the summer so there will be more than enough extra opportunity to use English. With Polish things always get better when our Polish family comes to visit. The girls know that everything has to be 100% Polish with them.
It took a lot of effort and hurdles to get this far, to have given our three beautiful girls the gift of tongues. What they do with it is their decision. Personally I hope that they emulate me in trying to expand their language knowledge throughout their lives. If they do that they will no doubt surpass me just like I surpassed my father’s efforts and he surpassed those of his own father before him, passing on a gift that keeps on giving.

Body Transformation #6

The warmer weather has arrived and my mind and body are finally waking up again. I went through a phase of eating chocolate for a couple of weeks but luckily I was able to put the rat inside back into its cage and clean up my diet. No damage was done in that period so it’s not like all of my efforts since September got destroyed. From a diet point of view things are pretty balanced.
There is little sign of a body ‘transformation’ though I can certainly see a minor ‘transition’. It’s weird when you hear women saying that they don’t want to do weights because they will get too muscular. It really is not so simple to put on any muscle at all. I am probably failing to follow best practice in terms of protein and overall calorie consumption but I would have expected more of a result by now.
Instead my body is still very much my body. My weight is stable at 72 or 73 kg. The main difference that I notice now is that I have bigger biceps than before and my pectorals are more defined. I have also started getting pains doing chin ups because the top muscle in my abs seems to have realized that it now has a function and it is hurting after being awoken from its sleep.
I am doing weights on Sunday and Wednesday and 40 minutes cardio most other days. I have some plans for changes to the routine but there are a few other priorities in life that are getting in the way.
Here’s where I am now compared to at the start:
- Bench press (targeting pectorals), 3 sets of 6, currently lifting 45kg [Plus 10kg with okay form]
- Chin-ups (targeting shoulders, biceps secondary), 3 sets of 12 at bodyweight minus 10kg [Plus 25kg with okay]
- Abdominal machine, 3 sets of 12 at 55kg [Plus 10kg]
- Shoulders on machine at 25kg, 3 sets of 12.

 So, progress is slow but at least there is no regression.


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