Monday, November 29, 2010

Lazy Weekend

There are three things I always want when I am sick. Movies/TV, soup of some kind (Thai tom kha gai is always my first choice, but chicken noodle will do in a pinch), and my mother. At least I got two of those this weekend.

Yes, I spent the weekend in the house, feeling pretty yucky. It started on Thursday night. After having a nice Thanksgiving chat with the family on Skype, I headed out to the Little Rock Cafe, which is a local bar (in a really cool old mansion) with darts and pool tables and such where my expat friends and I like to hang out, I think because it's the closest thing we have in Valenciennes to an American bar or British pub. I had a couple of drinks, but not too many, because I work at 8:30am on Fridays. So I was a good girl, home by 11:15 and in bed by midnight, but I woke up around 2am and could not for the life of me get back to sleep. Some of you may have seen my disgruntled Facebook statuses about this. I tossed and turned, counted sheep, read, Facebooked, took some Benedryl, and nothing was working. And the longer I stayed awake, the more I noticed that my body was beginning to ache and my head was getting stuffy, and I was just generally feeling crummy. Finally at 7am I decided work wasn't going to happen for me, so I sent emails to the appropriate people, popped a couple more Benedryl, and tried again to sleep. I think I finally fell asleep around 8:30am on Friday, right as I should have been walking into work.

I woke up late Friday afternoon, feeling even worse. Not really like I had the flu, but not like a cold either. I was stuffy but had no cough, achy but no nausea. And TIRED. Like I couldn't possibly sleep enough. So that's what I did, pretty much for the rest of the weekend. I slept whenever I felt like sleeping, and when I was awake I got caught up on all of the Harry Potter movies and reread the 7th book so that I can see the movie when I get home. By yesterday evening I was feeling better and a little restless, so I took a walk around town. All the Christmas decorations are up now and it was really nice. Now today I'm back to work, trying to tackle a massive to-do list, and counting down the days til I'm home for the holidays!

Sorry it's not much of an update, but I'm going to the big Christmas market in Lille this upcoming weekend, so I should have lots to say and some pictures to share next week!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Le Plus Terrible Thanksgiving du Monde

The least blurry pic of me and all of my roomies. From L to R: Laura (British), Valerie, Romain, and Joel (all French)
So we did Thanksgiving this weekend. And it was, in a word, TERRIBLE. This is of course because "terrible" is young French kid slang for "freaking amazing." Sort of like how we used to say "bad" or "wicked" to mean good... you get what I mean. Indeed though, this was a Thanksgiving for the books.

My roommates and I had been planning this event for about a month, as we also wanted to have a housewarming party at the same time. Little did we know what a party it would be. We decided to make it a two part event, with Thanksgiving dinner in the afternoon, and the party portion in the evening. That way people could come for one or both parts. We did the Thanksgiving dinner portion pitch-in style, which was really cool because then we not only had traditional American dishes, but we had some from Spain, France, and other places as well. We had to have chicken instead of turkey, because apparently you can't find a whole turkey in France any time before December (they only eat turkey at Christmas... seriously, you can't even find turkey lunch meat around here), but when it was on my plate, smothered in mashed potatoes and gravy, even I couldn't tell the difference. So we had chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, several more exotic plates from our international friends, candied yams (definitely may favorite part of the meal), cheesy potato bake, and all kinds of other deliciousness. My friend Ben and I also collaborated to make a green bean casserole, which was a feat as you cannot find canned cream of mushroom soup or French-fried onions around here. We improvised by making a powdered mushroom soup with a little less water than called for, and we battered and fried the onions ourselves. It actually turned out great, and I was sorry we hadn't made a second batch, because the first one went quickly. We had probably about 15-20 people for dinner (less than half of which were American, haha), all dressed up in our "church clothes," and it was a really nice time of eating, socializing, and drinking wine. I think it was just what I needed to cure that little pang of holiday homesickness.

After dinner, everyone relaxed for a while, changed out of their nice clothes, and more people began to arrive, many of whom were bearing gifts of alcohol. This is the part where the parents may want to stop reading, haha. Nothing too debaucherous happened, but if you want to preserve your image of me as sweet and angelic, this is not going to help :-).

So after everyone changed, we cranked up the music and got down to business on the party portion of the evening. We (myself and my fellow Americans) started off by sharing another very important American tradition with our international friends: beer pong. My friend David and I did well in the first couple rounds, but soon got schooled by my friend Allison (who claimed she hadn't played in years...lies), and a French guy who was super quick on the uptake. No one was skunked or trolled, so no naked laps were taken and no one had to sit under the table, but it was probably a good thing that this was earlier in the party, rather than later. Then two of my lovely roomies disappeared to the kitchen for a while and came back with plates and plates of food, ie, round two of Thanksgiving dinner. This is why I love Europeans, because they have no qualms about eating another entire meal at 10pm. And none of this meal involved leftovers from the afternoon, either. It was an entirely. New. Meal. Yes.

SO there was more eating and more socializing, a VIP sesh in my room with some friends, and then all the chairs were cleared out of the living room to make room for DANCING. Yay dancing! This was when I think having the international crowd was most interesting, because we all took turns DJ-ing and ended up with a pretty interesting mix of tunes. We had American hip-hop, French hip-hop, some middle Eastern stuff, salsa, reggaeton, pop, Britney, all kinds of fun music, and everyone was enjoying it. It was really funny to see different groups of people rocking out to different songs. I think my favorite moment, though, was when the Cupid Shuffle came on. For those of you who don't know, the Cupid Shuffle is like a modernized, club version of the electric slide. Same basic beat and step, just a "cooler" song. Anyway, if there's one thing French kids love, it's a group dance like that. So David and I taught approximately 40 people how to Cupid Shuffle and it was probably the highlight of my night.

After the Cupid Shuffle things start to get a little fuzzy, haha. We danced some more, and then I retreated to my room with several of my friends for most of the rest of the night, as it got quite crazy downstairs. I think, all told, we had upwards of 60 guests at the peak of the party. I know that the cops also showed up at some point, but just to make sure everything was alright and to tell us to turn down the music. They didn't even come in the house. Since the drinking age here is 18, we didn't have any underage drinkers, so we didn't have much to worry about anyway. I think I finally got to sleep around 5 am, after people quit randomly coming into my room, and after the thumping bass of the stereo stopped reverberating through my floor.

So yeah, that was Thanksgiving in France. And it was one I will remember for the rest of my life. I slept until 3pm yesterday, haha, and I'm still feeling the residual effects in my thighs, my lungs, and my liver. But you can't have fun without a few consequences to remind you why you don't have fun like that every weekend, right? :-)

Pics on facebook too, by the way.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Qu'est-ce que vous avez compris?

What have you understood? This is a question I have been asking both myself and my students a lot lately. I've FINALLY gotten into a solid routine at my schools, one which mostly consists of my making very elaborate powerpoint presentations (in English, of course) for my students, and then having to meticulously rehash every detail again in French. But everyone is learning (myself included), so that's a good thing. For example, I can now speak quite competently about American Thanksgiving traditions in French, and my students can speak somewhat competently about them in English. So we are making progress.

Also, I worked with the choir at one of my schools for the first time last week. That was interesting. The teacher is SUPER nice and I really like working with her, but her only qualification for teaching this choir seems to be that she herself enjoys singing. The kids don't read music, they don't know any scales or solfege, and they don't have any concept of key or tune or harmony. So I'm hoping I will be able to impart a little bit of Judy Hubbard wisdom on them in the next few weeks. Tomorrow we are definitely learning do-re-mi. I doubt I will be able to recreate any kind of Sister Act II miracle, but I think I can give them an experience that is a bit richer than what they are getting now.

Despite my successes at work, this has been a long and difficult week in many ways. First of all, I'm not sleeping well. I think it is because my sleep schedule is really turned around due to all of the days off I've had recently, during which I've slept pretty late, so now I find it extremely difficult to get myself in bed (let alone asleep) at a reasonable hour. Then once my head hits the pillow, my brain won't turn off, and with only 4-5 hours before I am supposed to be at work, I'm afraid to take any kind of sleep aid. So of course then I come home from work and cannot restrain myself from taking a nap, and the cycle starts all over again. I'm a bit cranky about all of this. Last night, however, I managed to get in bed by 11:30, only to be awakened by a ridiculous racket in the street around 3am. Granted, I live on a street with several bars, so I am used to hearing the drunks out and about once in a while. But last night woke me from a dead sleep because it was LOUD. I heard lots of shouting and glass breaking, some really loud booming noises, and, eventually, police sirens. A little too scared to open my shutters and check out the situation, I just put on my headphones and went back to sleep. Today however, my roommate informed me that it got pretty ugly out there last night. Apparently a group of skinheads (yeah, the white supremacist group with shaved heads and lots of ink) were drinking in an Irish pub about half a block down from my house, and eventually stumbled out into the street, where they then decided it would be a good idea to harass the Arab guys in the Kebab shop next door. And by harass, I mean break their windows, beat them up, and either fire gunshots or explode small flashbombs (I wasn't too clear on my roommate's French, but it was one of the two, or maybe both). And I'm really hurt for those guys, because not only are hate crimes HORRIBLE, but also those guys are some of the nicest guys in the neighborhood! My friends and I frequently stop by the kebab shop on our way back from the bars, and the guys (all young, probably in their 20's) couldn't be friendlier to us. They ask us about America, and how we are settling in in France, and they often don't charge us full price for our food. They've even called off drunk French guys in the shop who hit on us. Seriously, great guys. My heart hurts for them, and for the ignorance that caused this terrible event.

But I do have some good news to share as well, on several fronts. First of all, making my BS and ACV shampoo and conditioner with boiled water seems to have done the trick. No more glue roots! Hooray! Secondly, after my lovely medical appointment with the French immigration offices yesterday, my visa has been validated and I am officially a legit resident of France! You will also be happy to know that I do not have tuberculosis. And I got to keep my chest x-ray, haha, which is an interesting souvenir of my European travel I guess.

Third, and most improtantly, I'M COMING HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!!!!!!!!

I could not be happier about this. I love France and am relishing my experiences here, but I'm really excited to get to spend some time with friends and family, rather than being posted up in my huge old house here, all alone (all my roomies and almost all of my friends are going home for Christmas). I'll be home December 16-26, so let's hang out!

Alright, I've got a private lesson to give in a few minutes, but I'll leave you with a list of the first things I am going to do when I get home, purely for your entertainment.

1. Eat Chipotle.
2. Eat more Chipotle.
3. Find some dry ice so I can bring more Chipotle back to France with me (I kinda miss Chipotle, ok?).
4. Cuddle my dogs (and friends, and family!)
5. Buy some American cigarettes.
6. Karaoke night at the Metro (Megan, Popkin, Jessie, I'm looking at you!!)
7. Drive a car.
8. Get lost intentionally just so I can ask for directions in English.
9. Buy bras and underwear (SOOOOO expensive in France!)
10. Drink Mountain Dew and eat Cajun trail mix.

That is all :-).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

French people don't get fat. And kids really do say the darndest things.

I've noticed something really interesting over the course of the last 2 months: I'm losing weight. I'm losing weight despite the fact that everything I eat here is loaded with cheese, cream, butter, and/or chocolate. And bread. I eat mountains of bread. And yet... my pants won't stay up on their own.

I have several theories as to why this might be. 1) French people take meal times seriously, and a good dinner with friends or family often lasts for two hours or more. Although this leaves plenty of time for eating seconds (and in many cases, thirds), it also slows down the pace of each course, and (gasp!) actually allows you to recognize when you've had enough. And instead of inhaling your food, you have more of a chance to actually taste and enjoy it, which I think also leads to eating less. 2) Dessert isn't a big deal. Yes, the French are known for their pastries, and yes, I have had some really stellar ones here. But in general, in day-to-day life, there isn't much focus on dessert. After you've eaten your fill of a really rich entree and had a glass or two of wine and plenty of bread and cheese, a huge dessert doesn't really even sound good. Of course most of us want that little something sweet after dinner, but I find that a small piece of chocolate or a small piece of fruit is usually all I need. Add to that a cup of hot coffee or tea with milk, and who needs cake or pie or cookies? Not the French, apparently. And 3) There's not much of a (if any) taboo on fatty foods here. I think in the US we are always looking for a way to cut back the fat in our meals (and with the way we eat, many of us probably should), but that means that there's a lot of guilt and stress that goes into those things that we do add butter or cheese or cream to. And stress = weight gain. It's kind of an abstract theory, but I think because the French don't feel guilty about all of the rich things that are central to their cuisine, it enables them to enjoy those things in a (mentally) healthier way, and in a more steady, moderate way. I think the tendency in the US is to make things like butter, cream, and cheese a "once-in-a-while" treat, but I think this also leads us to be more reckless when we do eat these things, and causes us to binge on them or otherwise overindulge. Then we feel guilty and/or stressed, and stress = weight gain. Also, this may not be scientifically accurate, but it seems to me that a cup of cream consumed over the course of 4 meals in 4 days would be easier for the body to process than a cup of cream consumed in one sitting. Just saying. Anyway, in summation, I don't really know why I can eat all this rich, fatty deliciousness and still lose weight, but I'm certainly not complaining.

I've had two very full days of work so far this week. I've mostly been giving powerpoint presentations about my life and where I'm from, showing photos of family, friends, and, of course, dogs. The kids are loving it, and it's been a lot of fun for me too. I also have a huge, wonderful map of the US that Mom sent me, so we've been talking a lot about life in America, different fun facts about the states, etc. The kids are downright gleeful when I tell them that Michael Jackson was born in Indiana, but they are soon disappointed when they find out that this doesn't mean that he and I are friends, or that I've never even met him. And they ask lots of strange and interesting questions, too. Now, my students are mostly 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, and yesterday when we were looking at the map and talking about the different states, I had a student ask me if the death penalty was legal in Indiana. I'm not sure I even knew what the death penalty was when I was that age, let alone what a controversy it is. When I told him it was indeed legal in Indiana, he then asked me if anyone famous had been executed there.So weird, haha. Then today I had a student who knew more about American government than I do. Again we were looking at the map, and he started grilling me about Barack Obama. And he was asking me questions about policy! Do you have any idea how strange it is to discuss health care reform with a 9 year old French kid?! Tres bizarre. But I am quite enjoying myself in most of my classes, and I am SUPER excited because starting this Friday I will get to spend 2 hours a week working with a choir! There were too many conflicts between my schools to give me all English classes, so at one of my schools I will also be teaching music, haha. As strange a placement as it is, I couldn't be happier. I miss my high school choir days! Look forward to a comical post about it soon, as it's been a few years and a few packs of cigarettes since I last sat down in front of some sheet music, haha. 

And lastly, I have some sad news to report. Sad for me anyway. I think I may have to switch back to shampoo for the duration of my time here in France. I had about one week of fabulous hair, and then I started to feel this gunky, glue-like substance building up on my roots. Thoroughly grossed out, I headed to the internet and my guru of all things natural, Crunchy Betty. You see, the water in Northern France is exceptionally hard, and apparently all of the calcium and magnesium ions in the water react with the sodium and carbonate in the baking soda when I mix my shampoo, and this causes what I've come to refer to as "glue roots," ie "must wear ponytail" hair. I've been told that I can try making my shampoo and conditioner with either rainwater (very easy to come by in these parts, but probably not so clean), or water that's been boiled and cooled. So I think I will try the boiled water option for the next week or so and see what happens, but if I still have glue roots I may have to throw in the proverbial towel, at least until I get home and have access to soft water. I'll keep you posted, but don't expect any photos. Glue roots are not pretty.

So that's what's good in the 'hood at the moment (ooh I feel like such a gangsta haha). I'll leave you with a photo. Not of France, but instead, of Indy, because this particular photo elicited a collective gasp of delight from every single class I showed it to today. It is a really great photo, and it makes me proud to call Indy home.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Uh... Sorry I'm kind of a slacker...

Hello all.

It's been a while. I'd like to tell you that it's because I've been ridiculously busy that I haven't updated you on my life, but really it's just because I've been on a long school break and I've been in super sloth mode for most of it. So sorry about that.

Not much has been going on around here lately. The strikes are still going on in places around the country, but Valenciennes has been pretty quiet the last couple of weeks. Most everyone has also been on "Vacances de Toussaint," which is a 1-2 week vacation period around All-Saints Day, which is November 1. I was off for all of last week and all of this week until today. I taught one class today, and may or may not teach one tomorrow (the actual classroom teacher is away tomorrow), and then, ta-da! Weekend. Then next week is a short week because of Armistice Day.

The French sure do love their vacation time, and I'm certainly not complaining, but I'm so used to working a bajillion hours at home that I'm running out of ways to entertain myself during all of my down time. I've been sleeping a lot, reading a lot (Barbara Kingsolver's new novel!), and spending waaaaaay too much time on Facebook. I did go to Amsterdam last weekend with my friends, and that was a lot of fun. We were there from Thursday night through Sunday morning, and we spent our days exploring the city, checking out the architecture and cultural stuff (we took a really awesome boat tour of the city through the canals), and of course we spent our nights partying. And let me tell you, Amsterdam is a crazy place to be on Halloween. Getting up at 6am the morning after to catch our bus home was NOT fun, but all in all we had a really great time, and I was able to get a lot closer with some of my new friends here, which helps me not miss my crew at home quite so much. 

In other news, my shampoo-free lifestyle change is going pretty well. My hair was really awesome last week, full of body and easy to manage (I even straightened it without a drop of product-- a definite first!), but this week it's being kind of oily and weird. I must still be in that adjustment phase. I think it's going to be a good thing overall though. The biggest difference I've noticed, though, is that immediately after I stopped using shampoo, I stopped having dandruff/dry scalp/ itchiness/ flakes. Seriously. Something others with scalp issues might want to consider. Also, my hair dries wavy/curly now when I air-dry it. Who knew I had curly hair hiding in there?

Here is a picture of me about one/one and a half weeks into the project:
Still wasn't sure if I'd made a good decision at this point... but notice the hair is starting to get wavy.
And here's a multi-purpose picture (me in Amsterdam, with good hair, ab three and a half to four weeks in):
That would be my friend Allison next to me.
And that's really all I've got to say for myself. Except, if any of you see my mother, give her a big hug for me. She is awesome.