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Saturday, April 25, 2015

5 Things about Myself Now that would have Surprised 21-year-old Me

There I am, in France for the first time. Oblivious.
I am 31, right now.  (I just confirmed this with my husband.)  I was recently reflecting on #1 from this list and realized that in the last ten years I have changed a lot, and in ways that might have alarmed 21-year-old Me.  21-year-old Me was in her senior year of college in 2005, just back from a year abroad, with no idea what she was going to do after May.  Let's have some fun and dig through the old college and post-college diaries fraught with anxiety and mega-realistic plans for the future to examine the five things about my current self that would befuddle, shock, and possibly even revolt my Former Self.

#1 You snore.  While this remains unconfirmed, my snoring at night has even prevented my bed-mate from falling asleep.  (As aforementioned bed-mate is only known witness to alleged snoring, I maintain that I need further empirical evidence to be convinced of this fact.  Also, I don't snore, shut-up.)

#2  Your husband is someone you went to high school with.  This one would have truly knocked my socks off, as all through high school I was becoming more and more consumed with the idea of going "away."  Attaching myself to someone that would have further tied me to the area where I grew up would have been unthinkable for 21-year-old Me.  I had been dating David on and off since high school graduation, but there was always something that kept us from getting "too serious":  college or another sojourn in France or simply me feeling too young to commit to one person.  Looking at the whole relationship now, I'm so glad we didn't settle down any sooner than we did--we had the time to develop a complex friendship that survived long-distance and big life changes, while also pursuing those individual life goals of our youth that require one's undivided attention.

#3  You are physically stronger and in much better health.  I have always been skinny.  However, I spent most of high school and college feeling weak and fatigued.  I didn't realize how my (very crappy) diet was affecting how I felt.  Sometime in college and especially the year or two after, I realized that being skinny didn't necessarily indicate that I was strong or in good health.  Working out regularly gave me way more energy, muscles, and confidence to try new things.  I have achieved a few things I probably couldn't have several years ago.  ie, backpacking, climbing a 14-er in Colorado, wandering around a foreign city for a longer period of time, etc.  Additionally, I can focus better on more complicated tasks and my cognitive reasoning has improved.

#4  You can handle personal criticism.  In college and even after, if someone criticized something I did or even commented on my character, I would shut down for a few days.  I would obsess over the negative comment and feel like an utter failure, unable to absorb the information and just move on.  While this is still something I am working on, I am much better now at dealing with how people see me.  I can hear what people are saying, analyze it and take steps to work on what needs to be worked on and move past the rest, without letting it totally crush me.  21-year-old Me thought that the way to handle criticism was to just be so good at what she was doing, that she couldn't be criticized.  Wrong, my child, so wrong.

#5  Your French has improved.  As mentioned in #2, I became very concerned in high school about moving "away" from home.  This abstract idea took the more concrete form of "Go to France.  Learn French."  Of course, as I am a really late-bloomer it didn't actually occur to me that there was any specific action to take until about my second year of college.  I signed up for a French course and, the following year, studied in France.  I had a wonderful year but my French was still pretty dismal and as I winged my way back to America in June I thought, "Well, that was lovely, but I'll probably never really master French, so what's the point?"  (Ha.  Over a decade later and I haven't shaken the French bug and am still scheming ways to make a life here.)  21-year-old Me would have been shocked to discover that there are all sorts of situations I can now participate in without acquiring an unattractive sweat mustache.  Things like: talking on the phone, reciting long sequences of numbers, setting up a bank account, calling to fix my Internet bill and (unthinkably!) have a job interview.     

Thursday, April 23, 2015

No Prayer Bars? Out of Celestial Service?*

I live about a ten-minute walk from the metro.  Most afternoons, when I'm heading into work, I take those 10 minutes to pray.  On several occasions, as I'm approaching the stairs that lead down to the metro, I've thought to myself, "Better wrap this up, I don't want this conversation to get...dropped....wait...."  

This week has been spring vacation for me.  I had all sorts of intentions to go hiking and participate in life, etc, etc.  However, the weather hasn't been too cooperative and I forget that I'm old(er) and can hurt my back and suddenly for a few days I can't do much more than get dressed. 

What this week lacks in exciting memory-making adventures, however, it makes up for in productivity.  I have a grand life-plan to "learn more about computers and stuff."  My first step was to learn Java and this week I actually had time to make progress through a free, on-line course.  I'm noting my goals here as a way to be held accountable...

I also managed to apply to more jobs this week than I have ever applied to in my life.  I'm pretty terrible at cover letters and interviews and getting my foot in the door, but I'm realizing a work contract is the only way to stay in France.  David and I have both agreed that if we can squeeze out even just one more year in Toulouse, we would feel like we made the most of our time and energy to get here.  And so, I've sent out resumes in response to listings for hotel receptionists, bilingual administrative assistants, English teachers, even a couple banking positions.  Most days, I have a little grey cloud in one corner of my brain, dedicated to worrying about "how will we stay next year?"  

Today, I'm feeling really good about getting one of those short-term work contracts, or even one of the magic, infamous indeterminate-amount-of-time contracts.  

*There's a clever title for this post somewhere, but I just can't think of it.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Scenes of Toulouse

Back in February, my younger brother visited and we decided to spend the day in Carcassonne.  The sun was shining, there was a gentle breeze, and the crowds all seemed to have stayed home that afternoon.  We were sharing the tiny, walled, medieval city with just a hundred or so other tourists.  The city sits up a bit on a hill, and while I was content to just wander along the streets and stare down the ramparts at the landscape far below, my husband and brother wanted to do some more aggressive exploring.  Rocky, craggy paths led steeply down and away from the main walled city, to the surrounding neighborhoods below.  While the rest of the streets and walls are fairly well-kept for the tourists, these craggy access-ways, no doubt part of some old system to haul supplies up to the city, were clearly not meant for the casual visitor to traverse. 

My husband and brother disappeared down one of these steep ravines, leaving me to wander along the narrow streets above.  Slightly annoyed already at being left alone without our supply of snacks when I was hungry, I just rolled my eyes when I heard them calling up at me to come join them further down the rocky hill.  But they persisted and I angrily huffed and slid my way down the rocks, sliding on small stones. 

Part way down, we found an outcropping of rock--just enough space to sit on and enjoy our lunch.  Although we were in a narrow, ravine-like alley, the sun was angled toward us.  We passed around the Camembert and salami from my brother's backpack, and tore off hunks of baguette.  It was quiet at this distance from the town and we had a gorgeous view of a little river below us.  Pretty soon, a few small green lizards appeared to stare at these curious visitors who had suddenly usurped their sunning spot.  We stayed quiet and restricted our movements, just to see how many of these little guys would creep out of the shadows.

Far, far above us, as we basked in the sun and air and enjoyed our simple lunch after being so hungry, we heard a voice cry, "Bon appétit!"  Craning my neck to see above me, I saw the head of an older man or woman, peering at us from over a high wall.

"Merci!" we shouted back.  

Friday, April 17, 2015

Lessons from the Maternelles

Once a week I teach English to a group of 3 and 4 year olds (called 'maternelles' in French).  In the few moments during our hour together when they aren't plotting my demise, they can even be a tiny bit adorable.

(Their strategy, by the way, is ingeniously simple.  Fire-teams in the larger platoon exploit their strengths in a shock and awe campaign.  Clément and Antoine are in one corner poking and kicking each other.  For Océane and Luddine, however, their specialty is a sort of tactical chatter/singing/ asking about the bon-bons they spied earlier in the closet/twirling in circles diversion.  For Quentin and Anne, they are clearly in the run around in circles division.  Delta Company.)

Despite this, they can be cute.  Watching them interact a few weeks ago, seated in their tiny chairs at tiny tables, I realized that I could even learn from them.  The main obstacle with getting tiny beings to accomplish the clear-cut, simple, age-appropriate task in front of them is that they are too interested in what the other people around them are doing.  I often have to interrupt the whines and protests of "Luddine is not coloring!" or "Marc won't stop staring at me!"  This frustrated me until I realized...I do the exact same thing. 

I am constantly looking around me at what others are accomplishing instead of putting all my time and effort into the totally achievable (even if it doesn't seem like it immediately) task that God has planned and timed and packaged and set right in front of me.  For the little kids, wielding scissors and a glue stick might seem boring or laborious, but that eternal hour they are in English lessons would go much faster and be more beneficial if they just focused on coloring and cutting out that kangaroo.  Likewise, I realize how much more I could get accomplished if I quit worrying about Jessica's promotion, Carl's new happy marriage and house, or the fact that Kelly is licking the green marker and hasn't even finished gluing her tiger.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

(Made-up) Word of the Day

to scheherazade
origin: Arabic

:to watch, in succession, every episode of a television program without pause, generally in one evening or weekend in order to avoid pressing professional obligations, minor errands, household projects or death.

eg: Kelly spent the weekend on the couch scheherazading all three seasons of "House of Cards" instead of catching up on laundry.

(Some may argue that this is called "binge-watching."  They would be wrong.)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Week(end) Trip

I don't work Thursdays or Fridays, but I do have to work Saturday mornings.  This week, as a way to celebrate our anniversary (a few weeks ago) David and I decided to exploit my schedule and take a little mid-week trip.

I had been anxious to go see the cave paintings in a near-by town because I was certain they would close the site to the public before I got a chance to see them.  And what is more romantic than hiking around a dark, damp cave staring at cryptic sketches of bison?  Wednesday after work David came and picked me up in a rental car (a Twingo! Yay!) and we headed to Foix, where we would be staying for two nights.  The weather was sunny, we had a beautiful view of the Pyrénées right ahead of us as we headed south and we were feeling adventurous enough to not take the toll road.  

Thursday was the big day to see the cave paintings; I had had to make a reservation to see them on a guided tour.  For conservation reasons, they can only allow a few groups of a certain size in every day.  The guide explained that the Grotte de Niaux, the cave we were at, was one of the four important decorated caves in Europe.  There was also one in Spain, the cave of Lascaux, and another cave in France.  The Grotte de Niaux is the only one still open to the public.  

The tour lasted about two hours as we progressed deeper and deeper into these long, craggy rooms.  Our guide was so informative I wished that I could have stopped to take notes.  At one point, I was feeling out of breath for an extended period of time and I couldn't tell if it was from the atmosphere of the cave or if I was just really excited.  

After hiking along the slippery, sediment-covered cave floor with just our flashlights piercing the total blackness around us, we finally got to Le Salon Noir, the cave with the bulk of the paintings.  They were truly marvelous.  They were much more realistic than I had pictured, and the guide noted that these were clearly done by painters who were practiced and particularly talented.  One of the bigger pictures of a bison, the guide mentioned, had traces under the paint indicating that the artist had made a preliminary sketch before starting in with pigment.  The oldest paintings in the cave date from 12,000 BC.
 After the tour we emerged into the-what then felt like-excessive heat and light of the day to head to the Parc de la Préhistoire.  This was a park and small museum that was mostly dedicated to outdoor demonstrations of aspects of prehistoric life in the area.  We really just wanted a place to enjoy our picnic lunch outdoors, and the grounds had nice fountains and water-features.  

Then we walked around Foix and fell totally under its charm. 

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Scenes from a previous Life

This time last year, I was living in a simple, small, ground-floor apartment in sunny Fort Collins, CO.  The furniture was mismatched and nearly all second-hand, most of it gleaned from kind friends and colleagues.  I believe only two items were actually purchased: David's heavy wooden desk that I worked at and for which he had paid the princely sum of 80 dollars at a thrift shop, and the card table that served as our kitchen table purchased from the grocery store for about 20 bucks.  Here are some photos of our abode.

Despite the ramshackle feel of the place, it seemed like our little newly-wed home would often be the central hub at which our friends would often congregate.  Several friends had keys and then later we discovered we could just leave the back door unlocked, in case someone needed an emergency nap or Internet access or a snack. 

Additionally, and in truly uncharacteristic form, I got to be on a more-than-first-name basis with both sets of neighbors who lived on either side of us.  On several occasions we shared spontaneous dinners, drinks, and conversations.  When it was time to make the late-night Wal-mart run to get Christmas lights one snowy, bitter night around midnight, it seemed only logical to see if Sally, the young neighbor on the left, wanted to go with us.  We came home and decorated that very night, stringing up our connected lights across both of our front-windows, scrounging up extension cords and leopard-print duct tape to get the job done. 

We even got to know Sally's regular group of friends as they would often hang out at her place. They were a group of young women who were easy to engage in conversation; old enough to be just tasting financial and social independence from their parents but young enough to still be bewildered by it.  This often resulted in long, late-night, wine and cigarette-fueled group conversations that they would conduct on our shared front porch, and into which we could easily drift on a whim.  They covered every topic that could be interesting to a young woman and you could sense their eagerness to learn, their energy, and their vulnerability even through their strategic bangs and tattoos and cigarette-rasped swear words.

One time, David was trying to describe a girl he had chatted with the night before, to our friend Kevin.  "Kelly?" tried Kevin, guessing at who David was trying to describe.

"No," David answered, brows furrowed, searching for the right words to describe this girl that he was sure Kevin knew.  "No, not Kelly.  This girl has existential problems."

"Yeah, I'm better with physical descriptions."

"Well, I'm better with metaphysical descriptions."

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Carnival Parade

I work Saturday mornings.  The fact that I am a night-owl combined with the inherent pain one feels when working on a day that most other people have off, means I rarely go out Saturday nights.  I drag myself home after work, shove whatever food my husband has made in my mouth and aim myself towards my bed as fast as possible before collapsing into oblivion.  By the time I wake up, it's late afternoon (read: early to full-on evening) and I have the whole night to work on projects, read or relax. 

I had heard earlier that there was a carnival parade that was supposed to be going on yesterday.  Chatting about weekend plans with my co-worker after teaching yesterday, I mentioned it.  "But it's probably over, right?" I wondered allowed, assuming as much since most parades are morning to afternoon type affairs.  The co-worker assured me that it wasn't, it took place at night and even insisted that it was the highlight of her year last year.

Deciding to break my usual, action-packed Saturday routine, my husband and I headed into the center of town to watch the parade.  Two aspects of the night struck me: the whole event was more family-friendly than I had thought and the floats were all on the home-made side.  I suppose I've been influenced by all of the photos of the wild, lavish Brazilian carnivals that I've seen.  People and children of all ages were out in the streets and dressed up in all types of costumes, milling around the floats and walking alongside them as they progressed down the street. 

There was loud music and confetti and a great festive ambiance. 

The mascot of the parade this year was The Werewolf.  (which the crowd apparently burns in a huge fire at the end, but we missed it.)


I loved this goofy snail!
Empty streets full of confetti.

I must've had a good time; my shoes were full of confetti when I got home!
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