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Archive for February, 2010

A Heart With Wings

As I pack the last few things into my new, carry-on, rolly suitcase, I can hardly believe this day is already here. It’s February 12th, and tomorrow (barring any weather/plane delays) I will finally see my boyfriend again after almost 5 months. I can’t describe the feeling in words, though I’m sure most people have had a similar experience of reconnecting with a loved one after a significant period of time away. The movie “Love Actually” sums up this experience quite nicely. I think that is why it is one of my all-time favorites. Adam’s visit also happens to conveniently coincide with the arrival of Valentine’s Day!

Photo from our last European adventure in Venice

P.S. Apparently when the Saints won the Super Bowl, hell really did freeze over because it’s snowing in Louisiana…again! So now I’m praying that any more of Adam’s flights do not get canceled (the first one was canceled and they rebooked him for a later one). Good thing we’re not leaving for Madrid until Sunday!

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Wow! I am SOOO glad I stayed up until 4:00 a.m. to watch the Saints make all Louisianians the proudest Americans in the country (and around the world) ! For those who know me well, I’m not really a football fan. But at this point in the season, this game was so much bigger than football. This was about rejuvenation and bringing hope to a city that is still recovering from a devastating natural disaster that occurred 4 1/2 years ago (Hurricane Katrina). It was about never giving up (as many die-hard Saints fans never did), and about pulling together as a team. As humans, we all love a true Cinderella story, and this one just about tops the “king” cake (I couldn’t resist. lol It is Mardi Gras after all!). I do find it a bit ironic, however, that this incredible victory happened just a few months after Disney released it’s latest animated film, “The Princess and the Frog,” which was set in New Orleans and was all about working hard and never giving up to make your dreams come true. Foreshadowing anyone? lol

With all the crazy celebrations taking place right now, I’m sure God is smiling down at the people in my home state. “Those Louisianians,” he’s saying while laughingly shaking his head. “They never give up, and sure know how to party!” For me it is finally time to hit the pillows, but I know the revelry back home will continue into the wee hours of the morning. It would be wonderful to be back there if only to see the joy on everyone’s faces and to feel the spirit in the air. Inspiration like this only comes around a few times in a lifetime. But it seems like by inspiring themselves, the Saints have inspired the rest of the country as well. And that kind of joy can’t help but spread like wildfire. So doctors, I am pleased to inform you that Swine flu has finally been replaced…by “Who Dat” fever!

But the best part of all is that we finally know how to respond to the beloved cheer: “Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gon’ beat dem Saints?” The answer is: No one – at least, not this year! ūüôā

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In just a few moments, the Saints will be making “Who Dat” history by playing in the most-prized (and most-watched) American football game in the world: the 2010 NFL Superbowl. I have tried to convey the enormity of this event to my students here in France, but I’m not sure they fully understand. American football isn’t all that big around here. A few of my high school students have heard of some teams and occasionally see a game on TV, but they really don’t follow it closely. But I haven’t even been in Louisiana all season and yet I can still feel the energy emenating from my home state tonight. One of the historically worst franchises in the NFL is finally getting its “Cinderella story.” Regardless of today’s outcome, this team’s year has already been incredible. But let’s hope they can take it just one more step and go all the way.

I was extremely surprised this week to see the Saints in their black and gold jerseys on my French television screen, but I’m happy to say I’ll be able to watch history unfold. I don’t even like football all that much, but this game is different and I’m staying up until midnight just to see the kickoff.¬† I hope all the weathermen are watching out, because you know the saying: “When the Saints win the Superbowl, hell will freeze over!”

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When I was in kindergarten, the teacher asked everyone in the class what they wanted to be when they grew up. I was at the front of the line and had no idea what to say, so I chose the first thing I could think of. “I want to be a mommy,” I said.

As soon as the words came out of my mouth, the teacher and her aide cooed and ahh-ed. Apparently they thought it was a cute answer, and I was¬†pleased¬†with their reaction. But then all the other kids started revealing what they wanted to be (a movie star, singer, teacher, firefighter, garbage man, etc.). Their ideas sounded way better and I immediately wanted to change my response. But the teacher said no, and as a 5-yr-old, I wasn’t one to argue. At kindergarten graduation a few months later, I received my first experience with public humiliation when the teachers made me dress up as “a mom in the army with seven children” (they literally¬†put¬†army fatigues over my clothes and made me push a hot-pink baby stroller overflowing with plastic baby-dolls across the stage).

I learned a lot from that situation – namely: Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches. But if you don’t eventually speak up, you’ll never get what you really want.

Finally 18 year later, I’ve learned how to do just that.

I must say that growing up and “finding myself” along the way has been quite an interesting process. Some people go through it quicker than others, but at the moment I’m perfectly content with meandering through life and stopping to smell the roses. Who knows where I’ll end up working after this assistantship and what life will lead me to become.

Don’t worry Ms. Reagan, I still want to be a mom one day. But tutoring 4-year olds, listening to friends who are starting to have children, and remembering all the dirty diapers I changed when my youngest sister¬†was¬†a baby¬†reminds me that¬†that role is¬†far-off in¬†my future. I still have a few selfish dreams to fulfill – ones that¬†aren’t quite as¬†easy with a screaming¬†kid in your arms. But¬†it is nice to realize¬†that, once I am ready for motherhood,¬†I don’t have to give up all my other dreams too. I can still be a movie star, singer,¬†teacher, firefighter, garbage man, etc. I’ll star in¬†my family’s¬†home videos, sing my kids to sleep and teach them to be strong, kind individuals. I’ll¬†break out the fire extinguisher when the¬†[insert household¬†item or appliance]¬†catches on fire, and take out the garbage¬†if it tries to date my daughter/son ūüėȬ†I can be all of these things, a mom,¬†and more. But best of all, I can always be me.

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Punxsutawney obviously has been in his hole for a few too many years because he doesn’t know what he’s talking about! Today is a whopping 6 degrees C in Annecy (a.k.a. it actually feels warm) and the snow has almost completely melted in town. Heck, I even opened the shutters on my bedroom window, which I haven’t done since the beginning of December (I have to open the window and let lots of cold air in to get to the shutters on the outside).

It’s so nice to have natural light in my room again!

On another note, it’s time for me to get down to business with my French homework. Last night we practiced the oral section of the DELF exam (this test certifies your knowledge of French – I’m practicing for the intermediate levels B1 and B2), and I realized just how much work I’m going to have to do to even hope to pass the B2 in March. It’s frustrating because I’m in a bit of limbo land between the two (there’s unfortunately a huge gap), so I’m going into overdrive to try and catch up.

For the B1 oral exam you are given a paragraph or several paragraphs and you have to talk for 3-4 minutes on the theme of the document, your opinion, and argument with an example, and wrap it up in a conclusion. They give you 10 minutes to prepare, but you’re not allowed to look at your scratch paper once you begin speaking. Doesn’t sound too difficult, right?

Then there’s the B2 oral section which consists of a much longer document with more complicated vocabulary. You are given 30 minutes to prepare for your 10 minutes of speaking time. That’s right, the goal for this level is to speak for 10 whole minutes on a topic you’ve only just learned about! This would be fine in¬† my native tongue – just like speech and debate –¬† but try presenting a well-thought-out, grammatically correct speech on a sometimes foreign topic in a foreign language for that length of time.

Our teacher is doing his best to give us the tools necessary to succeed, but it still seems daunting. The standard structure of the speech helps a bit, but it doesn’t make finding the words you want to say any easier:

  1. Find the general theme
  2. State the problem(s) in the form of question(s)
  3. Make a related generalization- i.e. something related to the topic and problems in regards to French society/culture
  4. State your opinion and present three arguments (each of which needs at least one example to back it up)
  5. Finally, state your conclusion and wrap it up.

Last night was my first time attempting this longer version of the exam, and boy did I feel like a bumbling idiot. I did manage to talk for about 7 minutes though (good for the first time), and it seems my critique was worse than my teacher’s. He said my speaking pace was¬†fine (it’s important to speak fluidly for this level), and that I did a good job of presenting all of the sections except for the problem/question area (just need to make it a bit clearer next time). He corrected my grammar mistakes (I’m proud to say that I noticed a few of them myself before he even pointed them out – this is a huge part of learning), and we learned more transition words and phrases to identify the sections of our argument¬† (“Selon moi,” “Il faut que,” “En conclusion”).

All-in-all, I’m extremely glad I decided to fork over the money for this CILFA course. I’m learning a lot, and it’s also giving me the push I need to keep going even when I’m not in class. It’s not always easy, but life’s all about challenges anyway, right?

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Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of time to type tonight (busy putting the finishing touches on a Mardi Gras lesson – complete with a Second Line dance demonstration! – for my coll√®ge students tomorrow), but I wanted to tell you about today. In the U.S., it’s Groundhog Day, where the groundhog comes out of his hole and hopefully does not see his shadow. If he does, he “gets scared” and crawls back in, meaning 6 more weeks of winter. If he does not see his shadow, spring is soon on it’s way!

The name “Groundhog Day” is not well-known in France, but, like the French “galette du rois” and the New Orleans “king cake,” there is a tradition that is very similar. Today is the Catholic holiday of Candlemas, a “feast to commemorate the purification of the Virgin Mary and the presentation of baby Jesus.” (About.com) The French call today la Chandeleur, F√™te de la Lumi√®re (not to be confused with Lyon’s F√™te de la Lumi√®re celebration – they’re different) or jour des cr√™pes.

So in the tradition of trying out traditions, Lynsey and I made cr√™pes this evening. I’m not sure how hers turned out (I had class this evening so she made hers and just saved some batter for me), but mine were quite yummy, and I even managed to pull off a fabulous cr√™pe flip into the air and back in the pan (first time!) with my left (non-writing) hand while holding a coin in the other. According to tradition, this means that my family will be prosperous for the rest of the year. Let’s hope it works!

Listed below are a few “Chandeleur” (Candlemas) sayings (again thanks to About.com). I’m not sure if the American groundhog saw his shadow today, but there’s a bit of snow on the ground in Annecy right now so I guess that doesn’t bode well for a quick spring. Oh well. One can dream, right? lol

√Ä la Chandeleur, l’hiver cesse ou reprend vigueur
On Candlemas, winter ends or strengthens

√Ä la Chandeleur, le jour cro√ģt de deux heures
On Candlemas, the day grows by two hours

Chandeleur couverte, quarante jours de perte
Candlemas covered (in snow), forty days lost

Rosée à la Chandeleur, hiver à sa dernière heure
Dew on Candlemas, winter at its final hour

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Another week has gone by and that means today officially marks the half-way point of my time in Europe! It also means I am more than half-way done with my assistantship (I finish teaching at the end of April). It is incredible that time has passed by so quickly – it seems just one month ago I was cavorting around Switzerland on a weekend whims, trying to figure out all my paperwork and still getting to know all of the other assistants in Annecy. But no, tomorrow is February 1st, and the days aren’t moving any slower.

Things have been pretty busy for me lately. I wrote another article for the newspaper about keeping in touch

Contemplating Beauty - Lake Lugano, Switzerland

long-distance (I think it’s still online if you want to check it out – http://ponchatoula.com/ptimes/),¬† and am wrapping up a story for the magazine about Annecy and it’s quest for the 2018 Olympics (which will hopefully be published in the March issue). But in the spirit of “live life to the fullest,” I decided to fork over some time (and money) to attend a cultural event this weekend – an evening at the Lyon Opera. On Saturday evening I boarded a bus at the lycee with a bunch of other teachers and wondered what was in store during the two-hour journey. As a music minor in college, I’ve studied and have been to my fair share of operas – not all of them interesting. But I am happy to say that the music in Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut” was mesmorizing – sung in Italian with French subtitles (which I understood for the most part). The costumes were also beautiful, and it put us in such a good mood that¬† we didn’t even mind our horrible seats (we were practically on the side of the stage and had to lean over in our seats to see what was happening in the up-stage, right-hand corner).

Speaking of singing, choir is still going well. I’m really glad I joined – it’s so convenient (right next to my apartment), and I get to sing + have a free French pronunciation lesson each week. I’m also enjoying learning all of the mass parts in French – it changes things up a bit – and the director asked me to lead the agnus dei at mass yesterday. Even this tiny bit of cantoring makes me feel good – a bit more like I’m back at home ūüôā

On a more serious note, I took a full stock of my revenues/expenses for the month of January (haha, yes I’ve become slightly obsessive about finances – I actually enjoy making spreadsheets…) and am happy to say that even though the time period included all normal expenses, the tail end of my Christmas trip (starting in Chamonix and coming back to

Sporting my new faux-leather jacket from the "soldes"

Annecy), a weekend trip to Besancon, 2 ski day forfaits + equipment rental, the purchase of 2nd-hand ski boots + helmet and goggles, the evening trip to the opera in Lyon (opera tickets + bus), and a well-worth it last minute trip to the January “soldes” (“sales” in English), I still managed to spend only 140 euros more than I earned for the month!

You may not think that’s a good thing, but don’t worry. I’ve got it covered. lol. For comparison purposes (and anyone considering being an assistant), my monthly take-home pay from the assistantship is only about 800 euros (after social security is taken out), so I strongly advise coming to France with a little cushion of cash saved from previous jobs so you don’t get stressed out over money issues. And always watch what you spend!

Note: This month also included my CAF refund from November and December’s rent. This miracle check allowed for a little extra spending leeway!

Finally, the countdown to my real-life re-enactment of the opening scene of “Love Actually” : 12 days. I love the entire movie but this scene is one of my favorites – think airport – reuniting – hugs and happy tears. I’ve never been so excited for Valentine’s Day!

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