August 3, 2010

New directions

Posted in travel tagged , , , , at 9:53 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

Watch this space — this blog is going in a slightly new direction!

Waking up


Breakfast and treats


Last-minute packing


Hiding, prepping


Truck loaded, stomachs loaded


Internetting, ipodding


Run away! Snacks for the road.


Help arrives. Puppy pee pads.


Last-minute errand. Trapped.


Preparing, sulking.


Still packing.


Kitties loaded.


Our merry band of travelers.


Truck ahead, car behind.


Kentucky, Louisville


Ohio River, Indiana


Break for gas and stuff.


I fade, Dad drives


Cool cloud, Wabash River (near Illinois border)


Sun’s too bright, it sets (at Illinois state line)


A very late arrival


Settling in


Good night

July 5, 2010

Coming home

Posted in travel tagged , , , , , at 8:31 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

After 10 months in France, it’s time to return to the United States.
I woke up eaaarly in my hostel in Paris. I’d actually been up since about 5am because it started pouring rain, and I had the windows open. I finally had to face getting all my things from the last 10 months into three suitcases.


Quick run to the bathroom down the hall, and then get myself ready for the long journey.


I was on the 5th floor of the hostel, so I had to lug all my suitcases down the winding stairs.


I took a shuttle to the airport. It’s cheaper than a cab, but you’re sharing a ride with other tourists on their way to the airport. As we left the city center, I began to cry.


I pushed, shoved, and dragged my suitcases into the airport and immediately grabbed a luggage cart. It took a bit of wandering to find the Aer Lingus terminal. Fortunately I was early enough that the line wasn’t too bad, although I did discover that my “carry-on” suitcase was too heavy and I’d have to check it (and pay for it).


My first flight was from Paris to Dublin. I discovered there was another assistant from Bordeaux on two of the same flights with me, so we kept each other company.


I’ve never been to Ireland, and I didn’t even get a chance to explore the airport. The time between our connecting flight to Chicago was so brief that we rushed to get our new boarding passes and make it through customs in time.


I cried when they stamped me out of France, but at least I got a new Dublin stamp. US immigrations barely looked at my claims form before waving me through.


Giant airbus from Dublin to Chicago.


First we got a snack, and then I pretty much passed out from my tranquilizers (I hate flying). I remember hearing the attendant say “When she wakes up, ask her if she wants beef or chicken,” and I bolted up, “I’m awake! I’m awake!” (but very groggy)


Still a long way to go. We did fly close enough to see some of Greenland out the window. I was too tranq’d to pay attention to a movie, so I listened to the Glee soundtrack.


Scone snack. I hate raisins.


Two of my bags came out right away, but the third one didn’t come out until almost everyone else had left. I hate that, it leaves you thinking, “What if….?” Welcome back to the United States of America.


Welcome to (what was supposed to be) a six-hour layover. I only have Euros, so I need some cash (it looks so weird!), and then I hit Johnny Rockets for my first official meal in the US.


At this point, it’s around 11pm to my body, and I’m fading fast.


I officially take the adapter off my computer cord and watch some Mozart l’opéra rock videos.


7pm Chicago time – 2am to my body.


So excited! Finally almost going home!! And then, 5 minutes before boarding, they announce that the flight has been delayed 2 hours. I burst into tears. It would make over 24 hours since I woke up and left Paris.


Finally, finally, at 11:30pm in Chicago – 6:30am the next day to my body, we take off for Cincinnati. I’m so sad the adventure is over, but so happy to see my parents again.


And Mom and Dad were happy to see me too. ❤

May 31, 2010

After all this time, almost time to leave

Posted in planning, travel tagged , , , , at 12:42 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

I bought my train ticket to Paris today. My last ticket to Paris. The ticket that will take me to Paris, and nowhere else. Not back to Bordeaux. My heart broke a little when I told the cashier it was a one-way ticket. Because from Paris I will go to the airport and from the airport I will go to Dublin, Chicago and then home.

I teared up a little. I’m counting down the days until I’m outta here. 26 days till I leave Bordeaux, 29 till I leave France. But I’m so not ready to leave. It’s the biggest catch-22. I can’t imagine living anywhere other than France.

When I left in 2008, I remember standing on a bridge in St. Jean de Luz and saying “I will live here.” I made it my goal and I worked towards it, and I did it. I lived here.

I will return.

May 5, 2010

Spain! Part 2

Posted in travel, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , at 9:20 am by Fat Girl Dancing

Tuesday we tried to be up and out of the hostel by 9:30am, but with five women it was closer to 10am by the time we’d all finished breakfast and were ready to go. The original plan was to hit the beach just two blocks from the hostel in the morning and the further beach in the afternoon, but it was still fairly cool that morning so we went shopping instead!

Spain doesn’t have the restrictions on sales like France does, so there were some great bargains to be found. We went to some of our favorite French stores (H&M and Pimkie). I bought a Hello Kitty shirt-dress at H&M for only 10 euro. At Pimkie I was delighted to find a skirt I’d had my eye on back in France was marked down 40% here in Spain!

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Melanie’s new look

We finished shopping for souvenirs in the old section of town and walked back to the hostel for lunch. I had bought a microwavable potato tortilla from the grocery store the day before, and it turned out to be quite delicious and very filling! I had to share it with everyone else, because I couldn’t finish it all on my own.

Fed and shopped out, we were finally ready to hit the beaches! We started at the close beach, which was really the “surfer’s beach” because it was directly on the ocean and had very large waves. We spent a few hours there and then walked to the other beach — this one is actually in a bay, so the waves are much more calm. Melanie and I braved the cold April waters and went for a little swim! I love playing in the waves!

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We spent the last, dwindling hours of sunlight playing cards before walking back to the hostel to get cleaned up for dinner. As we were once again walking across town, we managed to catch the last rays of the sun before they disappeared behind the water.

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The hostel had recommended a Pintxo bar to us for dinner, but we’d had trouble finding it the last two nights. Finally I asked for directions (in Spanish!) and was able to understand the answer well enough to lead the group to the bar. The menu was all in Spanish, and everyone immediately demanded a translation, which was a bit overwhelming, but fortunately there was one employee who spoke English well enough to translate for all of us. It was only at the end of the evening that we saw a French translation of the menu hidden behind the bar! If we’d seen that earlier, it would have been much simpler ^_^

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Scallops (wrapped in ham — beurk!)

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Duck

We tried lots and lots of tiny dishes, including a superyummy risotto. It was a fun way to try lots of foods and get a very filling dinner. Once again we tried to find some kind of non-sketchy nightlife, but had no success with it, and went back home too early 😦

Wednesday was our last day in Spain! The day began warm and just kept getting hotter. We ate breakfast outside on the terrace, packed our belongings and checked out of the hostel. They very kindly allowed us to keep our luggage in a private room since we didn’t need to leave the city until 5pm. We did some more sightseeing, wandering around the city, up hills, and around the bay.

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And of course we needed a Cheetos break.

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Alicia, Karin, and Melanie nom some Cheetos

We walked towards the opposite side of the bay to see a sculpture that some members of the group were interested in, but as we hiked further and it got hotter, I could feel myself wilting. I knew if I continued the walk without water or rest (we were pushing ourselves because two members of the group had an earlier train to catch), I would dehydrate or get sick. When we passed a little cafe on the beach, I told the others to go ahead and catch up with me on the way back. Melanie decided to hang back too. We had drinks (I had a sangria!) and played cards while listening to Spanish conversation and watching the beautiful blue ocean.

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Back at the hostel, we said goodbye to two of our group and the rest of us changed into our swimsuits and went back to the surfer’s beach for the last time. Melanie and I tried to go swimming again, but the waves were definitely much bigger here than the ones at the bay! It was scary, but exhilarating.

We showered (the hostel was SO GREAT, letting us shower even though we were already checked out. Seriously. Olga’s Place in San Sebastian. Best hostel evar.), stopped to stock up on Cheetos, and headed back towards the train and to France. In the border city of Hendaye I grabbed a slice of gateau basque. You can’t come all the way to Basque Country and not have gateau basque!!

It was a great vacation with great friends, and I’m glad I got to go and have such fun times!

May 1, 2010

Spain!

Posted in travel, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:13 am by Fat Girl Dancing

This week, for three days, in order to somewhat salvage our vacation, my friends and I headed south to the warm and sunny beaches of San Sebastian, Spain.

I had been to San Sebastian once before, two years ago, on the fourth of July, for about 6 hours. I was looking forward to spending more time in the city and really exploring it. Once again I was the only Spanish speaker in the group, and I was looking forward to blowing the dust off my Spanish brain and getting some use out of it again. Living and breathing French for the last 7 months, plus not studying Spanish for 10 months had made me VERY rusty.

We met bright and early at the train station at 7:30 on Monday morning, and we were off! I tried to read a little of Crepusculo, my copy of Twilight in Spanish to help orient me, but we were all too excited to do more than chat. Once we got off the train in Hendaye, the border town in France, I took charge and got everyone to the Spanish train that would take us to San Sebastian. My first attempts to speak Spanish — to the ticket agent — didn’t go so smoothly. I was able to say I wanted a ticket to San Sebastian, but when he asked me if I wanted one way or round trip, I couldn’t remember how to say the word “today!” (as in, “just for today”) It wasn’t until we were on the train that I remembered it. Fortunately I had my French-Spanish dictionary, which came in very handy.

Once we were in San Sebastian I discovered we had bad directions from the station to the hostel. The group bugged me to ask someone on the street, which I did awkwardly (“Oh yeah, ‘z’ is pronounced like ‘s’!”), but she had no idea, so we went back to the station where the woman at the desk spoke English and had a map. Very helpful.

The hostel was about a 20-minute walk from the station, but it was a GREAT hostel. Only 14 euros a night for our room, and we had a balcony with a view of the ocean!

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View from our balcony

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I totally climbed that mountain

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Sangria!

The first thing we did was celebrate being in Spain with a bottle of Sangria we’d bought in France. Then we decided to climb a mountain. We’d gotten a map from the front desk of the hostel, and the woman there had marked interesting places and attractions for us. One place she’d marked was a mountain very nearby the hostel.

No kidding, this was a fucking mountain. Straight up climb, great picturesque scenery, but I was sloooooooowwww to climb, while all the others just kind of hopped up. My body just does not like gravity.  It took me a long time to get to the top, but the view was so worth it.

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Then we climbed back down the mountain because we were STARVING. Down is much easier than up. It was too late for lunch in most places, but one restaurant was willing to serve us bocadillos. I had a queso tortilla bocadillo that was AMAZINGLY delicious.

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YUM

We did some grocery shopping for breakfast and lunches for the next few days, and I bought CHEETOS. This became the Cheetos vacation. There are no Cheetos in France. I remembered from my last trip that there were Cheetos in Spain. I wanted Cheetos. Everyone thought I was nuts until they too tasted the Cheezy goodness. Then we were all going nuts for Cheetos, stopping in alimentaciones wherever we found them for MOAR CHEETOS.

We came home and passed out. It started as just having a bit of a lie down and turned into a three-hour nap. So much for going shopping! We headed back out to the other side of town just as all the stores were closing.

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But I found a Sanrio store!!

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This paella was so good, I wanted to eat it forever. And ever.

We passed a gelato place, and I had been named decision-maker for the evening, so i said, “DECISION MAKER SAYS GELATO.” Fortunately they agreed with me. The place was so good and cheap, we went back every day!

We wandered around forever, trying to find some famous Spanish nightlife, but everything was either really seedy or empty. We settled for a drink along the quai and then went back to the hostel for the night.

April 20, 2010

Classroom update

Posted in travailler tagged , , , , , at 8:52 am by Fat Girl Dancing

For the last six weeks, my 6th grade honors class has been working on a group presentation on the United States. Each group chose a state to present on (in the midwest) and they’ve been studying different aspects of the state each week.

We spent the last two class periods working on tying everything together and making posters, and on Friday they’ll present their projects for their classmates (it’s a combined 5th/6th grade class, but I only have the 6th graders; they’ll present for the 5th graders).

They act like little monsters (this is a class that’s had their game privileges permanently revoked because they get too out of control), but I’m really proud of how well they’ve done with this project. They were really nervous to present in front of their peers, and a lot of them reverted back to French, but most of them were able to recite what they’d learned in English and did fine.  I was especially impressed that they could say the population of each state, since we’d only spent two class periods learning large numbers!

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Kentucky

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Michigan

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Ohio

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The Tennessee group didn’t get finished in time the day I took pictures, so I never got a picture of them with their poster 😦

March 14, 2010

Playing catch-up (part 1)

Posted in travel tagged , , , , , , at 12:41 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

Guess I should finally update, then!  Since my last post, we’ve had our winter break here in the French school system.  Only one more vacation period left….I know, no one really feels very sorry for me, but those last two months without a break are going to be tough!  They’re helpful not only for the children, but also for the teacher’s sanity!

My winter vacation was fantastic, but it passed way too quickly.  The first week I did absolutely nothing, and it was glorious.  After a long, cold and rainy winter, moving, and school stress, I spent the week sleeping, hanging out with people who were still in town, and organizing my room to my liking.  The week just flew by.

Saturday, February 27, I set off for Paris to be ready to meet my mom and my cousin who were flying in the next day!  I hadn’t seen my mom since I left on September 15, so I was terribly excited to finally see her again. The weather was absolutely gorgeous in Paris on Saturday, and I remembered why I was so in love with the city — it had also been since September since I’d been there.

Sunday France and other parts of Europe were hit hard by tempete Xynthia, and I got a text from Mom saying that their flight was being redirected to Brussels instead of Paris. As Mom put it, “The flight was fine until about an hour before we were supposed to land. The pilot came on, and I thought he was going to say we were about to start making our descent, but he said Charles de Gaulle airport was closed and we were being rerouted to Brussels!”

The winds in Paris were about 60mph, and there was no way they could have landed that early in the morning. I tried to take a walk around the neighborhood, and couldn’t make it down the street. I saw motorcycles and fruitstands blown over, but all I was thinking was “I WANT MY MOMMY!!!!” I went back to the hotel and cried and watched French music videos and waited for updates.

They waited in Brussels for 2 hours, then the winds shifted and they tried again, landing safely in Paris. Unfortunately, there was no gate for them, so they sat on the tarmac for another hour or so (having now been stuck on that plane a good 11 hours!). The later it got, the more plans we kept having to cancel, until they finally showed up around 4:30pm and everything was scrapped except Hard Rock Cafe, the Eiffel Tower, and dinner. (We’d bought tickets online for a bus tour that we never got to use :-() I was just so happy to see them!!!!

We started off at the Hard Rock Cafe with appetizers and drinks so Mom could get her souvenir Hurricane glass.  Going back to the metro to go to the Eiffel Tower, we discovered that mom’s 3-day metro pass wasn’t working, so I went to the cashier and explained the problem (in French). Mom and Jenny were terribly impressed. I began planting the seeds that I was helpful and they’d be lost without me when they returned next weekend, so they should bring me back with them, to make up for the day we lost.

We arrived at the Eiffel Tower just as it was sparkling, and they were very impressed. We could only go to the second level and not the top (see above re: windstorm and 60mph winds), but it was still a great view and a good time was had by all. We took a taxi back to the hotel and then picked a small brasserie on Place Maubert for dinner.

Jenny and Mom in front of the Eiffel Tower

February 4, 2010

Forever a nomad

Posted in la vie bordelaise, travailler tagged , , , , , , , at 9:00 am by Fat Girl Dancing

*this entry is made most difficult by the fact that my “h” key has stopped working and every “h” must be copied and pasted :-\

I’m coming to you live from my third (and what had better be my last!) residence here in Bordeaux!  It took me three days to move, and I still have a few small things at the old place — including my bike!

I seem to have grown into the larger living space while I was living with my roommate and acquired a ton more junk, because what took me just two trips to move last time (one by tram and one by taxi) took me nine trips and three days!  Did I mention I’m living on the fourth floor?  My everything hurts, from my shoulders and arms from carrying all the bags to my hips and legs from climbing all the stairs!  Such a good workout!

I’m still getting settled in my room — it’s impossible not to think of it as a dorm room, because essentially that’s what it’s like.  I got my bed set up on Tuesday, and I’m still unpacking and finding a place for everything, so right now I still have suitcases and bags covering most of the floor.  I’ll show pictures once everything is put away and it looks nicer.

The walls here are super-thin, so you can pretty much hear everything anyone does in their room, but fortunately my neighbors seem to be pretty good about sticking to the quiet hours *knock on wood*  Last night I got home at 11pm and my neighbor had her TV up, but turned it down when I asked.  The biggest problem is the girl across the hall gets up at 5:30am every day.  I need to learn to filter out the sounds of her getting up and leaving so I can sleep through that and not get up at 5:30am every day myself :-\

This morning I had breakfast for the first time here in the new place.  Breakfast is included in the rent and is offered Monday-Friday.  It’s a typical French-style breakfast, and it was very yummy!  I had granola with fromage blanc (sweet and creamy like yogurt, but it’s a cheese), baguette with butter and jelly, and grabbed a banana for later.  I’ll probably eat breakfast Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, because I know I won’t be able to wake up early enough on Mondays and Wednesdays!  Still, it’s nice to not have to buy so much breakfast food anymore.

Things are moving along at school…my little kids are getting sick of learning about numbers, and I’m sick of counting with them.  But they still don’t know all the numbers, even 1-10, and so we drill!  They can count from 1-10 just fine, but when I ask them “How old are you?” they can’t just respond with the correct number in English, but instead must count up to the right number.

I’ve tried playing Bingo with my classes a few times, and I tell you, after this last round I just will not do it again.  They simply do not understand the rules!  I explained, several times, in French even, that in order to have Bingo they needed to mark off four numbers in a line across, down, or diagonal.  I then said the first number, and four or five kids shouted, “Bingo!”  After three or four classes of this, I was exasperated.  “No, you do not have Bingo!” I shouted by the last class.  “You cannot have Bingo after just one number!  I said, you need four in a line!”

“Mais, je ne comprends pas du tout!” they whined.

At least they like story time, which I’ve started implementing at the last 5-10 minutes of each period.  We read half a book per class in English, and even though they can’t understand the words, they like the pictures and they can generally keep up.  So far we’ve read “There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” “Hop on Pop,” “The Shy Little Kitten,” and “Barry, the Fish with Fingers.”

January 29, 2010

Just try and make me leave

Posted in Application, la vie bordelaise tagged , , , , , , at 7:12 am by Fat Girl Dancing

You can’t!  I got my official long-stay visa today!  I can officially stay here until October 1st, although I’m really leaving sometime in July.

All the Bordeaux assistants are being scheduled in groups, so when I arrived at the OFII office for my 10am appointment, there were still some assistants waiting from the 8:30 group.  I got to see some assistants that I hadn’t seen in several months, and it was nice to catch up with them!

The immigration/visa process included a medical visit, which is good because I’ve been sick for going on three weeks now.  I was called in to one room where I was weighed and measured and then given an eye exam.  Hooray, my eyes are still fine!  Reading the letters in French was fun ^_^   I was sent back to the waiting room for several minutes, and then called into the radiology room for my chest x-ray.  The x-ray is apparently mine to keep — yipee?  Quite a souvenir.

The wait for the third and final room was a bit longer — this was to see the actual doctor.  I told her how I’d been sick for three weeks, and she said I had a sinus infection.  She looked at my x-ray, took my blood pressure, listened to my heart and my lungs, and pronounced me well enough to stay in the country.  Phew!

I waited a little longer in a different waiting room with my tiny picture of my face (a common requirement in France) and my proof of residency for my new lodgings until I was called back to the final room.  She deemed my paperwork acceptable and gave me my official long-stay visa in my passport!  Hooray!  Now I can go anywhere and do anything (including get a second job!)

It’s cold and raining miserabley here, and I feel so terrible from being sick for so long, so I’m just eating lunch, taking antibiotics and going back to bed for the rest of the day.  I’ve made homemade mac and cheese so often here, I don’t think I’ll be able to go back to EZ Mac once I return home!

Tuesday I went to see Amanda Palmer in concert here in Bordeaux.  I was so excited that someone I really liked was going to be playing in my new hometown!  I found out about the concert from her Twitter.  The show was fantastic — a really intimate performance, with her interacting with the audience, taking questions and requests.  I had a great night.

And I got my picture with her and her autograph!

Me and AFP!

January 21, 2010

Loving life

Posted in la vie bordelaise tagged , , , , , , at 6:42 pm by Fat Girl Dancing

The most beautiful spiderweb

Within the last few weeks, I have really begun to love my life here in France.  Not so much the job, though there are still the occasional rewarding moments, generally I just try and get through it and get out.  But I love living in Bordeaux and being in France and meeting new people and the friends I’ve made.

For several months now I’ve been going to a language exchange group on Wednesday nights.  French people will come to sit at the English table with native English speakers and non-native French speakers will sit at the French table with native French speakers and have casual conversations to practice in a fun environment.  There is also a Spanish table and sometimes an Italian table.  Generally I sit at the English table, talking with French people who want to practice their English.  I have made some really great connections through this group, and it’s something I’ve come to look forward to on Wednesday nights.  Last night I sat at the French table for the first time to practice my French, and I was pleased that I could follow most of the spoken conversation and I was able to express myself fairly well (though still making some grammatical faults).  My French is definitely better than it was when I left the US.  It’s not where I’d like it to be (fluent), but the fact that I can see marked improvement is heartening.

I’m also enjoying spending time with the other English assistants (although that doesn’t really help me practice my French!)  Last weekend my friend Wes came from La Rochelle and brought one of his friends from Niort.  We had a good weekend of sight-seeing, and I think his friend from Niort will be coming back to visit again!

One of the British assistants had an impromptu tea yesterday afternoon that was absolutely lovely.

Tea time in Bordeaux

We had a mint tea made with freshly brewed mint leaves.  I really regretted that I could only stay an hour because I had to go down to a southern suburb for my tutoring job.

Tonight my roommate and I had some other assistants over for a small potluck to watch the week’s episodes of American Idol.  I made a baked macaroni and cheese, another assistant made chocolate chip banana bread, someone else made bruschetta, and my roommate bought Kinder Pingui.  There is too much good food in my life right now!

A lot of things in France are hard.  It hasn’t been an easy road to get to where I am now.  But I can honestly say: I’m in a good place, I’m happy, and I feel very blessed to have been given this opportunity!

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