Friday, July 7, 2017

Recommended Reading: Summer



Reading books is kind of one of my favorite things. That doesn't surprise anyone who's spent more than about 5 minutes near me. I can use my job as an excuse for why I need to read a lot, but I would do it anyway even if I didn't teach. Sometimes though, I forget how much I enjoy reading. It's easy to get caught up in important things that take up my time - like work - and then fill all of my free time with media - like netflix and cat videos on youtube. In my defense, I do really want need a cat.

I've been making an effort to read more over the past two years because time spent reading makes me less distracted and less stressed.

As strange as it may sound, the thing that encourages me to just sit down and read is actually other people. Being able to talk about books with other people who are just as enthusiastic about them as I am can be as much fun as reading. I've spent hours in bookstores with friends and taken group trips to libraries. When I go to someone's house, I will be looking at their bookshelves. Not because I'm judging, but because I am looking to see what I might be able to borrow. I love it when friends bring me a book (or an impossibly large stack of books, no names) that they think I'd enjoy. Reading seems like a solitary past time, but, in my experience at least, it's a social activity.

I have more free time during the summer. Which means that I have time to catch up on books that I've been meaning to read and to work on a few book challenges. Even though I didn't read as much I as would have liked, I have read some good books over the past few months. If you're looking to do a little (or a lot) of reading over the summer, here are a few books are interesting/entertaining.

The Books


Entwined - Heather Dixon
Good fairy tale retellings are some of my favorite books. This one is based on the twelve dancing princesses. Each of the girls has a distinctive personality which is one of the best parts of the book. It's not a difficult read, and I completely got lost in the story.

The Girl Who Drank the Moon - Kelly Barnhill
If you keep up with children's lit, you might have already heard of this book because it won the 2017 Newberry Award. A witch rescues a baby girl left in the woods as a sacrifice, and she accidentally gives the girl magic. This book has witches, dragons, monsters, and magic. Basically all of the necessary points for a good story. The book is intended for middle grades, but even if you're not ages 8-12, you can still enjoy it.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? - Mindy Kaling
Celebrity memoirs can be annoying because the celebrity tries so hard to be relatable, and sometimes it just doesn't work. But, Mindy Kaling actually manages to get this right. While reading her book, I came to the conclusion that Mindy Kaling and I should probably be best friends. This book and her other book Why Not Me? make perfect, hilarious beach reads.

Paris, My Sweet - Amy Thomas
Another memoir. This book sends you back and forth between New York City and Paris, and it includes descriptions of sweets that will make you incredibly jealous. This book was right up my alley in every possible way. At one point, she mentioned Valrhona chocolate, and I could barely keep from pausing to take a look at trans-Atlantic plane tickets. Read this one if you're prepared to deal with some wanderlust.

Maus I and Maus II - Art Spiegelman
Change of pace from the rest of the books on this list. This book is not a light, fun read. It's a graphic novel based on the experiences of the author's father during the Holocaust. The book isn't easy to describe because it doesn't fall into the format that I typically read and I don't have any references within my reading to compare it with. The main characters are difficult and real. Sometimes, the story feels overwhelming. I had to take breaks. I wouldn't have picked this one up on my own, but it's worth reading.

Hope that you've got some good books lined up for your summer reading. Also, I'll always happily take book suggestions (and offers of armfuls of books to borrow).

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

To the Girls Who Want Adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere

It's probably no surprise that I loved the Disney live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. These days things related to France tend to send me day-dreaming. It seems likes it has been much longer than two years since I left, and I miss it.

And, then, in addition to my feelings for France, the movie's main character is one of my favorites. A girl in love with books growing up in a small town, but dreaming of something more.  

That does sound familiar.

Maybe it's just that I make friends with a certain type of people, but many of the women and girls that I know identify well with that character too. I see her in my friends, in the people that I work with, and in the students that I teach.

Right now, it is hard to remember the time when I felt like my life would never change. It seems like a long time ago that I was the girl who kept wanting more from life than the options that I saw the people around me having. I know that I am lucky because my family didn't think that what I wanted was unusual, but there are girls out there who haven't had the same encouragement that I've received from my family, my friends, and my teachers.



To all the girls dreaming of adventure in the great wide somewhere,

 

You will go one day.

It will happen.

Although it may seem impossible to you today while you feel stuck in your tiny little corner of the world where everything continues the same day after day, you will find a way to have your adventures one day. They may not happen quite the way that you expect, and let's be honest, in life nothing ever happens quite the way that you expect. But, if you keep your eyes open and you keep working towards it, you will find a plane, a train, a job, or an excuse that will get you there.

Don't get discouraged.

While you're waiting, don't be waiting. Don't spend your life on hold waiting for your adventures to begin before you start living. Your life is happening around you now.

Let your dreams be as wild as your imagination can run. But, enjoy where you currently are. Your starting point might not be exciting every moment but don't miss what's in front of you while you are dreaming of more. Even the smallest of places has something unique about it. If nothing else, you can wake up for the sunrises and stay up late to see the stars. That's something worth doing anywhere.

Still, don't feel bad for wanting to leave. Even if a place is good for others that doesn't mean that it has to be right for you. Maybe you'll come back in the future. Maybe not.

The fact that you don't want to stay in one place forever doesn't mean that you don't love the people or the place. If you're fortunate, the people around you will understand that your need to wander is part of the way that you are. That no matter where you started out, you would have had to go see what else is out there.

Some people are just made to live that way.

But for the moment, until you leave, enjoy where you are. Despite what you think now, you will miss that little place when you are gone.

Please know in advance that while adventures are magical and wonderful, life gets difficult and complicated and messy, and life doesn't care that you are in the middle of living your dreams. Go anyway. Because life will get difficult and complicated and messy even if you don't go.

I see you there with pictures on your walls of far-away places that you want to go and notebooks full travel lists that never stop growing. Keep dreaming and keep planning.

I know that sometimes you are afraid that you will always be dreaming and never doing, but your whole life will change one day in ways that you cannot even imagine. One day you might find yourself looking out from the top of the Eiffel Tower with a friend you've know since kindergarten, amazed that the two of you have somehow gone from afternoons on the playground to strolls through Paris. There will be days in the future when you will not be entirely sure that you are even awake because your new normal is worlds away from the life that you had for so long.

Those days will come, eventually.

Right now, it is ok that your head is in the clouds and your nose is always in a book.

You'll get your adventure in the great wide somewhere,

And that will only be the beginning.




Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Few Words

First of all, for those of you from home who are worried about me, there's no reason to be worried about me right now. I am no where near Paris, and everything has been as calm as can be expected here.

Originally, this week I had planned to write about the trip that I took with my sister during Christmas break. We had a wonderful two weeks together traveling to different cities around Europe, and we had an experience that we will never forget.

Now, though, in light of the recent events in Paris it seems like the wrong time to talk about that.

On Wednesday in Paris, two men killed 12 people at the magazine Charlie Hebdo. Because I'd rather not repeat all the details here, you can read an update from the BBC of what is known so far.

People in France are both shocked and saddened.

Yesterday, all of my teachers had to speak to the children about what had happened. Before the children left for lunch, they had a moment of silence for those who were killed.

It was an odd experience to be with 10-year olds whose country has just been attacked by terrorists.

Because I remember being about that age and finding out about the same thing. 

People are saying a lot of different things about the attack. There are so many issues all in this one event. Issues about freedom of speech, the press, religion, immigration, and identity. Too many for me to talk about or give my opinion on. Especially since I can't pretend to completely understand it all.

What most worries me about this attack is the possibility that the men who killed the workers at Charlie Hebdo might win. 

It's entirely too easy to respond to violence with violence and to hate with hate. We see it every single day, and unfortunately, some days we're the ones doing it.

But hatred only leaves everyone worse off than before.

My condolences go out to the families of the victims, to those who are now afraid that they will become targets of violence, and to all of France which now has to recover from this tragedy.

All of them could use your prayers right now.

My hope is that love and understanding will triumph over hatred and violence and that the result of this event will be that France heals in time.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What an English Assistant Actually Does

In addition, to running around Europe and looking at cool things, I actually am working while I'm in France. While I'm sure my mother and my sister enjoyed me showing them a story about turkeys while we were skyping earlier this week, I don't think that I accurately explained to them what exactly it is that I do. So, here it is.

The kids that I work with are young. From about age 6 to 10/11ish. On the one hand, this is perfect because they are in the stage where they are adorable and when I walk outside during recess, I am mobbed by young French children who run up to me to say hello and hug me. On the other hand, their English skills are pretty basic (but still much more impressive than my French skills at age 6). For the youngest, we learn maybe 5 words a week. The oldest ones can learn more and can usually understand part of the instructions that I give in English. It depends.

Although it seems as if they aren't learning much, please remember that most of my students have about an hour of English practice a week, and I'm with them for about half of it. The main goals for my students in elementary are for them to get used to making sounds in English (especially sounds that aren't normally used in French) and to get used to how English sounds. When children are exposed to a foreign language early, it makes it so much easier for them to learn it later.

I try to do similar lessons with all of my classes for each week, but I modify the lessons for the ages of the students. I also try to have some back up ideas in case whatever I have planned just isn't working with a particular group. Because sometimes the class that has finished with recess isn't quite so calm as the one that I had at 9 am.


One of my favorite lessons so far has been the one from last week. Yes, I use pinterest for my lesson ideas occasionally. My older children learned a song called "Five Little Ducks." We went through it line by line, and I made the motions with the ducks. Then, I sang one line at a time with them while they sang it back. And, then we sang it together. French ducks don't say quack, quack. They say coin, coin. So, as you can imagine, they loved making the English duck sounds.

I made lots of duck noises that day. Sometimes, I feel slightly ridiculous in front of the class, but since they're happy, I just keep on going.

The students also like whenever we do cultural lessons. My roommate (who is from the UK) did a tour of London lesson with her students. She handed out tickets for the bus, had a powerpoint that showed all the sights in London, and had postcards for the children to write.


She even made a mail box for the postcards. So much cooler than any of my lessons. I definitely wanted to join her classes and listen with the children.

Although I titled this post What an English Assistant Actually Does, we all do slightly different things. It depends a lot on what the teachers want, what the students are capable of doing, and what the assistant wants to do.

This week I'm talking about Thanksgiving, of course. With my younger classes we read a story about a turkey and learned a few words. With my older classes, we'll learn a few words as well, and I have a powerpoint about Thanksgiving with a little bit of the history and with today's traditions (that includes a short clip of a football game, naturally).

Also, thanks to my friends who sent Halloween cards to me in October. My students loved it! And, for those who want to send Christmas cards for me to show my class, then put them in the mail within the next week or so, so that they'll get to me in time. Of course, I'll be happy to get any cards whether or not I get them in time to use with my class.

Hope everyone at home has a Happy Thanksgiving this week!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Midnight in Paris


We had a picnic under the Eiffel Tower. At midnight.

There were plastic tarps spread out on the grass in the space in front of the Eiffel Tower. The weather was surprisingly warm even at midnight. The plastic might have been just a little bit wet, but a water spot on your clothes is a small price to pay in exchange for a prime spot to watch the Eiffel Tower light up the sky before you. We had a baguette and a block of Reblochon cheese to share. Earlier in the night, we had gone to Ladurée. Vanilla, chocolate, and caramel macaroons.

Picnicking in front of the Eiffel Tower.

I cannot believe that I am in France. Again. I keep repeating it, but it's true.

During the last few days of the fall holidays, I went to Paris. I have a friend who's currently studying in Italy, and she's got a friend who's working in the UK. So, the three of us met up in Paris, and for several days three Ole Miss girls got to wander around the city of lights.

We had a string of misadventures which included losing each other in the metro and watching as the subway doors closed between us.

During our picnic we had what I can only refer to as a strange encounter. We were enjoying ourselves for our last night in Paris. Sitting on the grass, like I wrote above. When a French guy appeared in front of us. And by appeared in front of us, I mean he suddenly somersaulted/rolled across the ground and stopped in front of where we were sitting. Yes, somersaulted/rolled. He said hello and started speaking to us in English. We had no idea how to respond to this. The guy looked about sixteen and had definitely had a bit more to drink than he should have had. Two of his friends came up after him. Thankfully, they just walked like most people would do. They wanted to talk, but we (not surprisingly) weren't interested.

So, for all of you guys out there, please cross rolling on the ground off your list of ways to get girls' attention. It doesn't work as well as you might hope.

We were amused, but not in a good way.

Most of our adventures turned out well though.

By far, my favorite new site of the trip was going to the Musée Rodin. I had never been there before but wanted to go based on a recommendation. The best recommendation ever.

I got to see this guy.


The Musée Rodin has beautiful gardens. Since it was still warm on the day that we went, we enjoyed all the flowers and the sculptures in the garden. If I lived in Paris, I would have a yearly museum pass to this place so that I could go sit in the gardens whenever I wanted to.

There are so many things to do and see in Paris that it is impossible to do all of them. On this trip we saw the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Musée Rodin, Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe, and the Champs-Élysées. I left later than the other two girls on Sunday. Lots of museums in Paris have free admission on the first Sunday of each month, so I spent time in the Musée d'Orsay, one of my favorite art museums. Then, I grabbed a crêpe and preceded to eat it while sitting on steps on the bank of the Seine.

If you're wondering what you should do in Paris, here's a list of some of my favorite things to do there.



Also, I have friends I met during my study abroad in Angers who are currently living in Paris.

Can you imagine that? Living in Paris.

I was so happy to get to see these people again. When the school year ended last time, and it was time for me to go home, I wasn't ready to leave. I didn't want the year to be over, and I didn't want to leave the people I had met. It's been three years since we'd seen each other. Too long.

We've all grown up so much in the past few years. It's not something that you notice when you are used to seeing people every day because then you can't see it happening. But a three-year gap makes it more noticeable. They are such amazing people, and I feel proud of what they've accomplished in the past three years.

I know that the people I met in Angers are part of the reason why I missed France so much.

I am so glad that I got a chance to see so many of my favorite people in Paris.

Every time that I go to visit, I love Paris even more. I understand why people feel that way that they do about the city.

Paris is the place that millions of people dream of visiting. To go there once in a lifetime would be more than most people will ever get to do. But, I've been able to visit so many times. I forget some times how incredibly blessed I am, and I have to constantly keep reminding myself.

Before I left to study abroad, I had a meeting with my English advisor. He asked if I had been to France before, and I said I'd only been to Paris. I wasn't expecting his reply. Only Paris. He said if Paris were the only place you ever went that would still be something. And it is true.
 



Thursday, October 23, 2014

The One Month Mark


I arrived in France on the 23rd of September. Since today is the 23rd of October, this means I've been living in France for one month now.

I still cannot believe that I am actually here. Every morning when I wake up I am so surprised to find myself in this place. When I was back in the US, I used to have dreams that I was in France. This has happened since the last time that I left. Every time that I would wake up from one of those dreams, I felt disappointed as my sleepy brain processed that it hadn't been real.

Life in France takes some adjustment, and there are areas that you would not even imagine would be a problem. But even with those changes, right now is the least stressed that I have felt in a while. Not to say that I don't worry about many of the same things that I worried about while I was back at home. I do still worry. Of course. It is me. But, I know how lucky I am to get to do this, and I don't want to waste this opportunity.

Right now the schools are on a two weeks' holiday for Toussaints giving me a chance to try out some new things. Over the past few days, I got to experience some pretty amazing parts of France.



For one, I went to the Château de Crussol in Saint Péray with some of the other assistants. The Château is the ruins of a castle at the top of a hill not too far from Valence. Even though I've called the place a hill, it is pretty high above the surrounding area. Let's just say that if you were trying to attack this place during the 13th century, you'd hardly have a chance of making it to the castle. There were moments while we were heading up to it where I doubted whether I would actually make it, and since I wasn't attacking the castle, there wasn't the added obstacle of arrows and whatever else people used to use to defend castles.

There was also a picnic involved in our day trip which is why there are donuts and beignets in the pictures above. We stopped by the market to pick up supplies, so we had a wonderful lunch involving sandwiches with cheese and ham, vegetables, apples, and wine. I'll let you guess which one of us decided that we needed to have a dessert as well.

The trip was the perfect way to start off the vacation. A beautiful, sunny day of adventure with a group of some of the best people I've had the pleasure to meet here. If that were the only thing I got to do, it would be more than enough.
 


Some of my other favorite moments from the break so far have been a Sunday brunch and exploring Chabeuil (the town where I teach). I've written before about how adorable Chabeuil is, so I won't keep repeating it. The middle and right pictures are from a church in Chabeuil.

Other highlights from the week
- Went to a church serve at a Protestant Church near my apartment. There's a Catholic Church even closer, but I thought a Catholic service in French might be more confusing than I could handle.
- Tried two new types of cheeses. My roommate and I have a list going on the fridge so we remember which ones that we've tried and liked. France has a lot of varieties, so the list should be long by the end of the year.
- Ate a duck burger. It is what is sounds like.
- Got my first card in the mail here. I was so happy today when I opened the box, and actually found something in there addressed to me. Thank you so much!

Although Valence has had an unusually warm and sunny fall so far, the temperatures have recently begun to drop. It's probably only dropped into the 50s today, but the wind makes it feel much worse. I've had people warn me about the strong winds that happen here, and I now understand what they are talking about. Walking to get postcards today, I was momentarily worried that the gusts might cause me to take flight. While Mary Poppins might be able to come and go when the wind changes, it probably wouldn't work out so well for me.

I am trying to convince myself that I like cold weather by reminding myself about scarves and boots and soup and hot chocolate. Unfortunately, I haven't been persuasive enough. It might require larger quantities of hot chocolate to fully convince myself.

Still, since I am so happy to be here, I'll be able to handle some cold weather in trade off for all the rest.

I'm looking forward to seeing what another month in France brings! Until later!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Halloween Comes To France

This week my students got an introduction to American culture because we talked about Halloween in all of my classes. Powerpoint presentations have a reputation for being a little boring, but my students did not seem to feel that way this week. By far, their favorite slide was one about candy. They tried to convince the director to let them celebrate Halloween at school. He reminded them that they'll get to dress up for Mardi Gras (which I cannot wait to see!), but the students suggested that they could celebrate Halloween by getting candy. Basically, they just wanted candy - standard international trait of all 8 year olds.

There are still some awkward moments while I'm teaching. Partly because I'm awkward. It happens. Occasionally. But, also, partly because it's odd to knock on the classroom door and walk in to start English. The teachers do have a schedule to let them know when I'll be there, and they are on top of things. Still, they do have to finish up whatever they are working on, and then transition into English time. Which is made more difficult by me standing in the classroom because for the children I'm new and distracting.

I work with 12 different teachers and 13 different classes, so we're all getting used to each other.  The teachers all have different ranges of English skills. Some of them stay up at the front, and I help alongside them for the lesson. Others assist while I do most of the activities and speaking. A few stay in the back of the classroom working on other things during the lesson. Thankfully, all of the teachers have been so helpful so far. I have a break between some of my lessons, and one of the teachers invited me to sit in during French literature time. Listening to the class begin to learn a poem was one of the highlights of my week. Another class wrote a newspaper (in French) which they told me about (Not during an English lesson, so they explained all of this to me in very slow French. I'd like to avoid speaking French with them, but some of them have only just begun learning English and only about an hour a week. Either I speak with them in French, or all we say to each other is hello, my name is... My solution is to tell them that I only understand a little French, so they very patiently explain everything with me while trying to use English when possible.), and the teacher gave me a copy to read. I use the word adorable too often to describe things, but it applies in this case as well.

What I am doing definitely takes a lot of energy, but since I work so few hours a week, I can't complain at all. I've been working about two weeks so far, and I now get two weeks off for the Toussaint holiday. Another thing that I am not complaining about. I'm looking forward to exploring the area around where I live in France. My goal is to do something or try something new every day. So, I'll be letting you know how that goes.