Thursday, April 5, 2012

Adventures Galore

It's that time again: vacation.

For every six weeks of work, I get two weeks of paid time off. This has by far been the greatest advantage to working in France. In the next 14 days I will be conquering 6 countries. In the time leading up to my Eastern Europe Extravaganza, I've had plenty of other slightly smaller adventures.

These include, but are not limited to:

Dijon Mustard in Dijon, France
Reims, France: Champagne Region

The Lands of
Mustard and Champagne

Baking and Cooking Experiments

My First French Haircut
Visiting more of the Lorraine: Epinal
My Last Day of Laundry

Life in the Lorraine

Interlaken, Switzerland
And somewhere in there, I managed a wonderful weekend in BEAUTIFUL Switzerland
(Another ✓ in the book!)

        Stay at Balmer's Herberge 
Hike in the Swiss Alps 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Full Speed and Running: The Countdown Begins

The other night while lying in bed, I had math equations running through my head. I bought my plane ticket home for May 3rd, giving me 74 more days in France. Out of those 74 days, only 22 are work days. That means that only 29.7% of my time left here will be filled working. So what will I do with the other 2/3rds of my time?

For starters, I’m headed to Spain tomorrow! For reasons unknown, this country has been calling my name for quite some time. I’m following the tourist track and will be spending the first few days in Barcelona, then finishing the week out in the country's capital, Madrid. Of course I’ll be checking off items in my book of things to do as I go along, which includes “have chocolate con churros after an all-nighter in Barcelona”. This will hopefully be completed on Tuesday, aka Mardi Gras.

After my return from Spain, I will have another six weeks of work before my final two weeks of vacation. I only work Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, hence the remaining 22 work days. If only I could work the next three weeks straight and still be paid for the remaining 52 days and just travel nonstop. Although I’m sure I’d run out of money sooner rather than later… It’s actually good for me to have to take time off from traveling. It gets expensive!

When I look at my time like this, I can already see it flying by! I knew this would happen. Doesn’t it always? You hit the half way mark and BOOM, you’re running at full speed. I’m going to do my best to complete the things I still have left on my list, but I’m also going to savor all the time I have for doing nothing. Because let’s get real. I will probably never have this much free time for myself until I’m retired. Gotta soak it up while I’ve got it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


This past week I found myself with a little extra spring in my step and caught myself walking through my days with an unexpected grin on my face.

Things that made me smile:
Now just imagine the snowflakes falling and
seeing there's still 40 minutes left on the timer.
  • Having the first real snow begin while doing my laundry for the first time in six weeks. Remember the picture of me sitting outside waiting for my clothes to finish washing?
  • Seeing a typical French woman in her black high heel boots trudging through the snowfall with an umbrella in hand. Who does that?!
  • Getting smart about buying new groceries by Google Translating the names first. Assuming that cornstarch and brown sugar will clearly present themselves is only makes things harder.
  • Heading down the baking goods isle to realize InterMarche had gotten a makeover.  The sugar is no longer next to the flour and the tea is now accompanied by the chocolate. I’m having to relearn the grocery store. It brings back lost memories from my first weeks in Commercy.
  • Hearing my name loudly yelled out from across the store. My students are everywhere.
  • Having a group of male students stand directly behind me in the checkout line when the two lanes on either side of me were clearly open. Then hearing them debating amongst themselves whether or not I understood what the cashier was saying to me.
  • Finding myself with a group of students playing piano and being asked to join in on the sing-along of Titanic’s “My Heart Will Go On”.
  • Waving at my students from across the street and realizing how awkward they looked imitating my gesture. The wave does not blend well into the French culture.
  • Walking past a group of three middle schoolers jamming out to “Cotton Eyed Joe”. See video below.
  • Holding my first official Language Club. I tried to start it before Christmas, but no one came. This week a girl asked me about it and after changing the day and time, I met with four English enthusiastic students.
  • Meeting one-on-one with a sophomore girl wanting to practice her English, but who seemed to only be able to produce German words. “Ich habe one Bruder. Ich like lesen.” I was so thankful for my one semester of German!
  • Having the sun shine bright two days in a row and still seeing a bit of light out when leaving the school at 6pm.

Without even knowing, my effort of enjoying each day has started to become habit. I can say with all certainty, that I am so thankful for my time here in Commercy and wouldn't change any of it for the world. I pray that when I find myself in unpleasant situations, that I can think back to this and allow the smiles to continue.

I couldn't believe I was seeing twelve year old French kids dancing to this in public. Too funny!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Enjoying Today

« Les enfants n’ont ni passé ni avenir et, ce qui ne nous arrive guère, ils jouissent du présent.  »

--  Jean de La Bruyère

Children have neither past nor future; they enjoy the present, which very few of us do.

This past week I found myself quite antsy. I wasn’t sure the reason. I was with Claire, so being alone wasn’t the problem. I didn’t have the desire to be sitting in my apartment. I had no immediate need to travel. I just couldn’t put my hand on it. All I knew is that I had the overwhelming feeling of being unsatisfied.

I have an orange journal which I have written in every day since my arrival here in France. But lately I was upset with myself, finding the journal to be more of a nuisance than a joy. It had become rather impersonal, stating facts about my time instead of emotions and true thoughts. So on my train ride home (yet another three hours of being in transit), I took out my orange book and began dissecting what I hadn’t been able to put to words.

Here is what I discovered. I’m ready for a change. But the problem is, this is how I’ve always lived my life. A few months here, a few weeks there. What I’ve always loved is planning the next thing. There’s a point, however, when I’m going to have to live in the now. I don’t want to be wishing my time away here. 

Last spring I had taken a wellness class, mostly for an easy A and to get in my last credits I needed to graduate. To my surprise, I found this course very interesting and was able to apply what I learned in class to my daily life. A simple, yet inspiring lesson about the seven dimensions of wellness always stuck with me.
  1. Physical
  2. Emotional
  3. Spiritual
  4. Intellectual
  5. Social
  6. Environmental
  7. Occupational

Up until my arrival in France, I worked daily to create a balance among all these things in my life. Once in Commercy, my whole schedule was thrown off kilter, thus sending my harmony out the window. So on that Wednesday afternoon aboard the SNCF train to Commercy, I began to set goals to find this balance again throughout these next three and a half months. It’s crazy to see how my entire mood has already changed. I wake up almost every day at 8am (instead of my usual grasse mat, sleeping until noon). I have things to do accomplish and it makes each day so much more meaningful. And the sun shining sure helps too :)

I’ve got the next month to just take life easy and focus on the present, a surprisingly nice change from the chaos of traveling I experienced throughout December and the beginning of January.

A few highlights. (Or rather, I should start with the lowlight which consisted of me leaving my camera on the Paris metro upon my mother’s arrival, thus explaining the lack of pictures… )

  • After Commercy, Mom and I headed off to London! We spent a whole day with my friend Asha and her family. What a blessing! We also saw three shows in two days in West End and I was able to check off multiple things from my Book of Things to Do…
  • The two of use spent Christmas in Paris. Attending Christmas Eve Mass at Notre Dame was one of those surreal moments. 
  • I made a trip to Belgium to see a friend who was an exchange student at my high school. Her family was so welcoming and it was so wonderful to meet again after four years!
  • My great friend Kelsey visited for a week!! (And my mom sent a new camera with her for me. Thanks Mom!) We celebrated the New Year under the lights of Paris and we made a planned trip to Luxembourg.
  • Kels and I, along with Claire made a weekend trip to Amersterdam, which I have since deemed my new favorite European city. The architecture was beautiful. We went biking next to the canals like locals. And we were able to see the Anne Frank House. Wow. Only highlights. Well, except for that night bus...

There is so much more to tell, but the words never seem to give my memories justice.

February will bring a trip to Spain, but until then, I’m going to be working on being happy where I’m at. I want to look at life with a more childlike view, enjoying what each day has to offer.

Claire, Kelsey, and Bre outside the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Joyeux Noël from France

This Christmas season has proven to be quite different from what I'm used to. Instead of hot apple cider, I have vin chaud. My gingerbread cookies are in fact real gingerbread men (heavy emphasis on the bread part). Jingles Bells has become Vive le vent. And the Christmas tree sitting on top of my T.V. is only a foot tall with no presents underneath. But despite all these differences, I've still been filled with Christmas cheer. I've spent many days visiting the three largest Christmas markets of France in Strasbourg, Paris, and Metz and even ventured my way up to Germany where this joyful tradition began. My time has been filled with wonderful friends and lots of laughter. And although I may not be headed back to the USA to welcome in the New Year, I have my mom with me to help celebrate this holiday season. I don't need all the presents or the lights on every house. Having friends and family with me is more than enough. What a blessing I've been given.

So to you all,
Joyeux Noël and 
Bonne Année!

Until 2012,

Gingerbread men in Strasbourg
A little Christmas chez moi
Mulled wine in Hamburg, Germany
Mom and Bre at the market in Metz

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

All the World's a Stage

In the days when I did theater, I never let myself go. Even after the curtain rose, with the audience filling the chairs, I would find myself still repeating my lines off stage, afraid that the words I had recited countless times in the past weeks would escape me. This hindered me from ever truly giving myself over to the experience. I was never able to live in the moment on that stage or be true to the world in which my character was living. I didn’t trust myself enough.

Last night as I lay in bed, my mind was going over the list of things I needed to accomplish today. I saw myself going to the post office and soon I had a whole scene playing in my head. I rehearsed what I would ask the man behind the counter. « Bonjour! J’ai besoin de vingt timbres… » I stopped. « …pour les Etats- Unis. » No no no. « …aux Etats-Unis. » Wait. Which is it? And in that moment, I asked myself, does it matter? In all honesty, I think either phrase is correct. But what irked me was discovering my unrelinquished fear of making mistakes. I have asked for stamps countless times in French and have never walked away empty handed. So why do I still find myself repeating words and questioning something I know?

Shakespeare wrote “All the world’s a stage”.  There of course are many interpretations of what he meant by this. But for me, if I take this quote in its most literal sense, I find that my life on the stage is a magnified reflection of how I act in life.  Just like in those days of theater, it comes back to the simple truth that there’s a lack of trust within myself. The scenes I rehearse in my head are almost never what are played out. Instead of fretting over what I’m going to say to the man at the post office, I need to learn to just listen and respond to what comes at me.
Life is truly unpredictable.

A gift to myself: a Nutella recipe book along with my first creation.
For reasons unknown, I have grown quite fond of this chocolate, hazlenut spread while in Europe. 
Perhaps it was forced on me by the lack of peanut butter.
Regardless, I love Nutella and this has undoubtedly been my best purchase thus far.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Life and Learning

Two months ago today I arrived in Commercy, France. I was bright eyed and ready for what the next eight months would bring. Now here I am, a quarter of a way through this adventure.

What I’ve learned about myself:
  • Small town living is not for me.
  • The things that come to my mind don’t always need to be spoken.
  • I miss having roommates.
  • I love working with students.
  • The more free time I have on hand, the less I seem to accomplish.
  • Grey’s Anatomy is a girl’s best friend when it comes to learning French.
  • Perhaps I can learn to be a reader after all.
  • Hot water, bubbles, candlelight, good music, and wine can make even the worst day better.
  • I don’t like walking home from the grocery store with heavy bags in tote.
  • Some days I don’t even step outside and I’m okay with that.
  • I prefer having a set schedule.
  • I hate not being able to pick up the phone and call whoever, whenever.

This list just touches the surface. Being here has given me more time than ever to reflect who I am and what I want in life. Sometimes I feel like I’m going crazy with all this free time, but then I remind myself that I probably won’t have this much freedom again until retirement. Enjoy it while I can.

In general, things are looking up. I had a wonderful weekend. With the holiday on Friday (Bastille Day here in France), I spent the day with one colleague, her family, and an older retired couple. It was a day filled with food, games, and laughter. It reminded me a bit of home, especially when the round of Rummikub began, one of my family's favorites. There of course were language difficulties, as always. 

"BreAnna, do you like playing cards?" 
"No, I don't have a pet. My mother doesn't like animals in the house."

Oh my. But after six hours, I blame my exhausted brain for that one.

Saturday I was invited by another teacher to have dinner at a Chinese restaurant with her, her boyfriend, and her childhood friends. I wasn't sure if I would be able to last through another day of endless hours of French, but as the evening began, the conversation seemed to come with ease. We enjoyed the buffet, then headed back to the apartment for some Trivial Pursuit. Now, this game isn't for me when the questions are in English, so imagine me trying to play in French. Needless to say, I wasn't the most valued player. Despite the language barrier, it was still enjoyable. We took turns having me read off the cards in French, then having the other players try their best at translating them to English. This created quite the uproar among the group, making the next three rounds fly by with ease.

And on this typical Monday night, I sit enjoying a cup of tea, listening to the French radio, and basking in the glow of not having anything to do. What a great start to another week of life lessons.