Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Oversea's Olympics

If I had to pick a Winter Olympic sport that best represented what life overseas looks like, I would say most people picture life like figure skating. A long smooth never ending glide. It’s beautiful, fun, entertaining, you are captivated by it and it becomes a surreal dream.

However… While there are moments of seem less ice skating is involved- we can’t all do perfect sit spins and triple toes all the time and would say the living overseas process is more accurate when including the following Olympic sports:

The first competition would be “Ski Jumping”- right before leaving home everything is going by so quickly you don’t realize what is going on. Just like the steep slide of the ski jump. Then suddenly you are launched at the end of the strip and AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH! You are simply hoping those small skis attached to the bottom of your feet catch you- cause you have a journey up ahead. But even when in mid air you know it’s a risk you are willing to take – you’re mid air and it’s too late to turn back or panic now. You have to believe it’s worth the fear that comes with your first jump- cause even if not at first… you’ll eventually find your perfect landing. Or almost perfect.

When you first arrive in your new home country it’s a lot like “Curling”. You landed the ski jump but now it’s take to take it slow and just get from one point to the other. Making small, but large progressions in your new area and just trying to hit the target. You are given a small push and must make lots of adjustments to make it to wherever you are trying to reach. To reach those- you really need others around you, who have been there before to help guide you to the right areas and show you a few mishaps to avoid. (Though you'll still manage to find a few on your own.)

While you are trying to hit the new cultural and living targets of curling- you enter a new Olympic sport called “Biathlon.” Apparently this sport is big here in Europe. I personally had never heard of it before, but it is quite an interesting concept. Living abroad, there can be times you think your new culture does everything wrong and only yours is right. (Cause America is perfect right?) You are trying to be two people at once, a skier and a hunter. Or An American and a Frenchie. You need to learn to bring the two worlds together. While learning the new language and culture, if you become frustrated you have to stop, look at your larger surroundings, focus remember why you are here. And hey if you are having a hard time, at least in Biathlon, you get to shoot things and break things at the same time. That’s awesome, and the perfect cure for times of cultural clashes.

During those cultural crashes you can feel all wacked out and out of control like you are racing in Apine skiing and Moguls- you know where they have to go around all those lil red markers and then hit the moguls and go uh uh uh uuh uh uh u hhhh over all those bumbs… yah there’s a lot of those uh uh uh uhhhh’s. But also times where you get to fly past amazing views and do some awesome high jumps. But the race is downhill making it quick and it’s all over before you know it.

So at the end of your journey hopefully you’ll take Gold. But just like all the training the athlete’s put into their sports, it’s all about what you put into your time abroad. There is much to be gleaned from the time. Every athlete I am sure has contemplated giving up especially when they do this…

But you have to continue to work hard and follow your dreams in order to look back one day and realize all that you have achieved when you finish the journey.

Monday, February 15, 2010

California Raining

The lyrics belong to Madeleine Peyroux and the pictures belong to Tim Walker. But the love of both, belong to me.

California rain is falling
I can hear the summer calling
Far away, far away
A song that's fading

Put me on a plane tomorrow
I'll try to run from all my sorrow
Far away, far away
From endless waiting

It's so cold here without my sun
I'm so sad here, far away from everyone
What a fool to be ambitious
Moving here with all of my wishes
Far away, far away
From where my heart is

Shut the phone off and pack my bags
No more boys who boast and brag
far away, far away
Where I belong

I'm so sorry for some things I've done
I'll be lonely till I can see my only one
California rain keeps falling
I can hear my old love calling
Far away, far away
Where I started

I’m going back, back where I belong
Gonna catch a train
I gotta get back where I belong
Get back...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Do's and Don'ts of Summer Travel

As Spring and Summer will arrive eventually (though with the constant snow- it’s quite difficult to imagine)… there are many out there who dream of heading over to Europe to explore in the next few months. I would like to leave all of you with a list of Do’s and Don’ts to think about as you prepare for your summer travels. Now some you would think this list is obvious… but they are not apparently- because I have seen them all done.

Do plan ahead. I know, mind blowing advice! It might not be quite the fun adventure you would dream of but trust me… you will be much happier if you do. I don’t understand the concept of people showing up in Europe with no plan, hotel reservations, or clue what to do. I am a girl who likes spontaneity- but I am also a girl who likes to sleep in a bed at night and not on a park bench. You never travel anywhere in the U.S. without having a place to stay, so why would you show up in a Foreign country where you can’t speak the language to find a cheap hostel or hotel that is probably already booked. If you are loaded this is easier but traveling on a dime, not so much. Booking is easy and can be done a few days in advance, if you don’t want to book months ahead, that’s fine, just make sure you have a place to drop your stuff before you next arrival destination. Seriously even just 24 hours in advance- works miracles.

Don’t abuse the power of a friend’s friend. If a friend passes you off to a friend who lives in a place you want to visit and the friend’s friend agrees to let you come and stay, Great! But… if they give you any reasons why you can’t, don’t show up at their door step. Not quite, so cool, to do. Free is great, but not if it’s coming at the expense of someone you don’t even know. I don’t think you’ll be making friends with your friends friend. Never let leaving cheap come at the expense of someone else. Plus if you do it right, they’ll likely treat you better and maybe even help you find someone or place wherever your next destination maybe. But Do ask, Cause they most likely will say yes and show you some of the best places you would miss on your own.

Do know the power of a Back Pack- If you are staying in one place, go for the roller suitcase, Awesome! But if you will be going from place to place, riding loads of trains, and going where the day leads you, Use a Back Pack. Europe is filled with cobble stones, stairs, and platforms to which you will be grateful to have a bag on your back rather than a bag to roll, trip around your dream vacay. Trust me when I say, it is not fun carry your massive bag up the never ending flights of stairs. I always feel so bad for those I see who make this mistake in the metros here.

Do take pictures. But don’t ask anyone who doesn’t look like they have a clue about what’s going on in the world. People always ask the first person they see walking by. Which is fine… if you don’t mind having the monument in the background and your head cropped out of the photo. If you don’t mind this scenario, then you made the perfect choice. Look for someone you think would have a decent idea on how to take a picture. You don’t have to do this, but they are your memories. Just thank goodness for digital cameras. I cringe at thinking off all the pictures people in the “film” days paid for to be printed, only to try and decipher what the picture taken was actually all about.

Do Picnic! Some of the best experiences you will have is throwing down a towel or blanket or heck go crazy and sit right down on the ground, and buying local goodies. This is the cheapest way to eat- and the best to fully experience the area. Restaurants tend to be pretty pricy comparatively, so for lunch lounge, enjoy, and then you have a bit extra to spend in the evenings.

This could also be used as someone could have gotten both us and the Tower but failed, just as we failed to ask the right person.

If it’s warm weather and you are a girl do wear tank tops, but if you plan on visiting old churches, Do bring a scarf or something to wrap around your barred shoulders- Cause you Don't want to have to wear this. Not quite so cute.

Do have a guide book- they are helpful in finding all the major spots you want to see. But don’t just stick to the book. If you wanted a LonelyPlanet, Frodors, or RickSteeves experience- I am sure they have great selections. But don’t limit yourself. A guide book is exactly that- A Guide. Do talk to locals, and find great places of your own. Make the experience yours, invent it, live it, and them remember all of YOUR great finds, that were assisted by your guide book of choice.

That’s all I have for you for now. I am sure I will think of some others as the snow melts away and the spring flowers begin to bloom. And man am I excited for that day! I also look forward to the turistos and turistas who will come to visit me soon.

This prompt was inspired by MamaKats writers workshop. Want to see others go HERE.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010


A few weeks ago I was at critical melt down point. It wasn’t fun. But, shortly after, like two days after, I was headed to a Stint Mid-year conference. I suppose for those who don’t know I should say, my time here in France is known as a Stint. A short term of service rather than being on fulltime staff. Every year in September my organization holds a briefing where all the Stinters gather before being flung out into the foreign land, they were headed towards. Then, after a few short months later, (that seem never endingly long) in January they hold a Mid year conference to check in and see how everyone is surviving and how they can last the remaining time thriving.

Now, my situation is a bit unique, in that all other Stinters are on a team. Most teams have about 5 or 6 other young twenty something’s on their team and they go through the whole process serving, living, and working abroad together. They meet each other in September and then from the briefing head out to their new homelands and return to the U.S.A in June or July. I am different in that I started my Stint last January, and have not yet set a return home date. I am also different in that I do not have a team of other Stinters with me here in Paris. I have staff families but no other “youngsters” living and learning all together.

The night before leaving for Mid-year I was on the phone with my mom and she started asking Mom like questions:

Mom: “Well, are you going to have a roommate.”

Me: “ yeah… I am sure they will set me up with someone.”

Mom: “um… are they going to have ice breakers, (pause) so you can you know … meet people.”

Me: “Mom, are you worried I am not going to make friends? I have been living overseas for one year without any American 20 something English speakers! and you are worried about your daughter who at age 5 went door to door searching for friends? Please! Don’t worry about me, worry about them.”

The next morning I boarded the plane at Charle de Gaule and had a layover is Switzerland. I wandered the airport and then headed to my gate. Walking up to the gate I saw 6 young Americans and thought, “Jackpot! My first group of friends!” I sat in their area and struck up a conversation with the two girls sitting across from me. Yup- I guessed it, they were headed to mid-year too! Six new friends and 200 more to come! This is gonna be A-mazing!

We stayed in a place that was beautiful. And quite deserted because it’s not quite beach season, but it was beautiful none the less. I am sure for those serving in quite hot, ugly, desert places- this was a dream location for them. But for me, it was the dream surrounding of people for me. I was immediately energized by all the people and the stories they had to tell. It was incredible to be with 200 people who knew EXACTLY, I mean EXACTLY what I have been going through. Those I work with in France are so incredible, encouraging, and understanding, and I couldn’t ask for more. But there was something at a heart level of peace and comfort all of these people could give me that was unexplainable. I didn’t need them to tell me they understood or that it was okay, because you could hear it in their voices and see it in their expressions, that they did get it. Even without talking about it, they got it. They knew the joys, and they knew the struggles, and it’s not a memory for them, but something they are experiencing full throttle in the moment now too.

In France and at work, it’s not that I am all that different from everyone else. But at the same time, there are just small differences, that I see no where else, but with me. It was amusing for me to see I am not so abnormal or the only one with my similar interests. What’s interesting they are all traits or characteristics I didn’t ever realized were held by others around me, until I came to a place where I was suddenly so similar to everyone around me. Apparently the composition of a girl in her young twenties living overseas comes with: Journals, giant sunglasses, nose rings, flip flops or ballet slippers, funky jewelry, and reusable water bottles.

Girls from Mid-year

Mid-year for me was exactly what it was meant to be, spiritually, emotionally, and physically renewing. I was refreshed in a good dose of social life, doing hair, talking about nothing, taking pictures and at the same time being encouraged. Knowing that somewhere else in this world away from home, though I am technically alone and without a team, there are many others out there, living and adjusting to life abroad, and doing what it takes to make this time, the best that it can be.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Happy Crepe Day

Now you American's reading this today I am sure are anxiously waiting to see if the groundhog will stick his wee lil head out of the hole to know the predictions of the remaining winter season. However, here in France February second is National Crepe Day! Or more appropriately called La Chandeleur.

I love that this country has a day dedicated to a meal! Even better that it is the Crepe, because I have come to love Crepes. However, before we get to the food, I’ll give you a sentence or two of the history. The origin of this holiday comes from the Catholic Church. February 2nd commemorates 40 days after the birth of Jesus, and apparently after 40 days, Jesus was presented to the community. And some how batter and egg, or batter and Chocolate- is a good representation of that presentation. Amen!

There are two other “traditions” that cling to the traditions of “The day of the Crepes.”

The first would be a bit of fortune giving. When preparing the crepes, you are supposed to hold a coin in your writing hand, and with the other attempt to flip the crepe in the pan. If you are like me, you would have a mess of batter splattered all over your clothes. But if you are like Julia Child you are able to perfectly flip the Crepe meaning you will be prosperous in the year ahead.

The second tradition falls a bit more along the lines of Groundhog’s day and has the following poem:

À la Chandeleur, l'hiver cesse ou reprend vigueur
On Crepe Day, winter ends or strengthens

À la Chandeleur, le jour croît de deux heures
On Crepe Day, the day grows by two hours

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

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

Considering that it snowed AGAIN yesterday, I am thinking we just lost 40 more days according to traditional the stated poem above.

So in case you are wondering, What the heck is a Crepe? Let me tell you. A crepe is made from a thin pancakeesque batter poured into a frying pan and evenly distributed to cover the entire surface. After a moment or two on each side you will have a thin, delicate, and delicious crepe.

When most touristos and touristas appear in Paris, they want a Crepe. But, not just any type of crepe a Nutella Crepe. They are oh so delicious and oh so rich. I can just see the open potential for a "Got Milk" campaign. These crepes are usually wrapped in a triangle and enjoyed as you stroll along the streets of Paris.

Nutella. Yum!

There is another type of Crepe- but it's not called a crepe it's called a Galette. Galettes are still a thin pancakeesque batter, but made with salt and a bit thicker of a base to hold greater contents. Galette's are typically filled with savory flavors rather than sweet food. My favorite is the typical Egg, cheese, and ham, but if that’s too breakfasty to you at lunch or dinner, they can be filled with a variety of meats, cheeses, veggies and sauces.

A Galette Complete- Egg, Ham, and Cheese.

Galettes and Crepe’s alike came from the Western Region of Bretagne, where they are typically served with Cider. Cider can either be Brut or Deux. The deux is my preference because it is a bit sweeter and tastes almost like Apple Cider that is served to the Kiddos on Thanksgiving and Christmas day.
The Bretagne Flag

So while you are watching for the groundhog to poke his head out of the hole, think about whipping up a batter and making yourself a traditional French crepe and celebrate the Frenchie way!