Wednesday, January 30, 2008

That was a busy morning.

So let's talk about what I did today instead of how emotionally overwhelmed I am. Either way, we're talking about ME ME ME. I am a very self-centered person. Yes.

I woke up this morning at 6:00am but did not get out of bed until 7:15am because I (a) am lazy, (b) am tired, and (c) really like my blankies. But I did get up finally and got to School One by 8:00. Why am I going to school on Wednesday? I don't have classes on Wednesday. Well, I'm grading my students' infernal cahiers. (Cahier means notebook.) They must have a grade on them, and their classroom teachers can't do it because it's not their lesson and there's a reason they're not teaching English. And I wouldn't ask them to grade them - it's my class, it's my work. It's frustrating, rewarding, surprising, and astonishing all at the same time. Some kids are awesome orally but don't have a darn thing written in their notebooks; some kids have everything in their notebooks and it's beautifully done; some kids are just absolutely clueless. Luckily their notebooks strongly correlate to their performance and behavior in class and later on the évaluations. I was at School One until 9:30. After that I went to School Two, where I have four classes. That took until about 11:15. I got to School Three which is about twenty minutes away if I book it or four songs on my iPod (thank you Jackie and Andre and Ivan and Benno, that little pink square saves my LIFE) by 11:35. I quickly graded the eighteen notebooks I have there, because school ends at 12:00. So that was my morning. Je suis épuisée.

Remember how S*, a fourth grader at School Three invited me to her tenth birthday party? I did call her parents to decline. I'm her teacher, not her friend. And it's not fair for other kids who don't have a birthday during the school year, who don't have a birthday party, or whatever. Apparently she told EVERY fourth grade girl at her school that I was invited. The other girls in her class all asked me, as did random other students at School Three who I don't even know. Greaaat. "Are you coming to S*'s birthday party?" Eek, I didn't know what to say! S* was absent yesterday for English and today when I was extraordinarily there, so I couldn't even tell her personally. I have a bad feeling this could be uglier, but it's not very comfortable for me. Thanks a lot S*.

Also, we have finally been paid. This paycheck is paying for two weeks on the Cote d'Azur and Paris. I am SOOO excited for vacations. It seems to be mostly on vacation that I speak more French. I will not be taking the Toshiba with me as I really want to disconnect myself from this thing for a bit. I will post about my vacation soon; I know I promised this weekend.

I am going to take a quick nap, write up some grade grids, bundle up American penpal letters, do my exercises (I should post about those some day, it's amusing), go to dinner, and veg. Thursday and Friday are going to be taxing.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

An email this morning:

Dear Rose,

I am pleased to let you know that we have recommended that the Graduate School admit you to the Professional French Masters Program beginning Fall 2008.

Congratulations and good luck as you prepare for your interdisciplinary studies with us at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and please contact me at your earliest convenience so that we may discuss enrollment and other “préparatifs” for the fall 2008 semester in Madison.

Bien cordialement,

Ritt Deitz, Ph.D.
Executive Director
UW-Madison Professional French Masters Program

This is exciting. I don't mean to put a damper on anyone, but I'm not sure I want to do this right yet. It's just a lot to handle.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Frustrating day Number 127.

I did everything "right" today, but things just didn't work out. Let's do the point system because that usually puts things into perspective.

+: Woke up at a decent time to eat breakfast.
+: Printed tons of stuff out at the liberry. (That's how I spell it.)
-: Boudin noir for lunch. I've tried it before. It's not awful but it's nothing special.
+: Monsieur Paillous is a very nice man.
-: Pascal, the talkative teacher, needs to read some real books about American politics that aren't written by French people and are about something other than American radicalism. I really wanted to tell him off but I wasn't able to find the words to say that politely and forcefully.
-: School One's fourth graders will not shut up.
+: School One's fourth graders loved the review activity.
-: School One's third graders will not shut up, and B* and L* need to cut it out.
-: School Two's difficult fourth graders will not shut up and totally blew the review activity.
-: I need to stick to my house discipline system.
+: I watched ninety minutes of French TV today: a game show called Des Chiffres et des Lettres which is like Boggle and Numbers Boggle, another game show called Questions pour un champion which is like Jeopardy and is really good for my cultural knowledge, and the news. Oh and tons of commercials. I love the commercials.
+: Comfortable food for dinner.
+: Karine and Delphine were at dinner.
-: Pascal was at dinner, and talked about horseshoe crabs ("It's not a crab. It's not a crab." OK I GET IT BUT IT'S CALLED A CRAB.), millipedes, and American soap operas from the 70s like Dynasty and Dallas. Oh my goodness. This man is insufferable. There is more than just you in this "conversation," sir.

So the total: 0. I guess it all evens out.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Today made me laugh.

So my responsable Madame Renson mentioned before Christmas break that I need to be inspected, or basically observed. Sweet, come on down. Watch the mayhem begin. I know that I speak too much French and that I don't use the textbook, but my kids can express themselves very well regardless so peu importe. But three weeks have passed since la rentrée and no word from the Power Tower (really, her office is a huge tower in the middle of what would be a quaint little river valley). So I email her. Her response: mid-March. Okeedokee. Glad to know it's not a pressing issue. Granted, I don't really fret about the problems in my classrooms like the other primary assistants she's in charge of do. I doubt I'll be inspected more than once.

Today was a national strike of government workers: some transportation workers, the post office, the water and electricity office, government officials, and teachers! Again! Fortunately, because there was already one strike back in November, only about 33% of all teachers in France went on strike. None of my Thursday teachers were on strike, so I still had all of my classes. I was very relieved to hear this, because missing a day totally throws a monkey wrench into my plans. However, some other students' teachers were on strike. Normally, students of striking teachers are given a note ahead of time saying "Your teacher is supporting something or other" and the kids don't come to school. Except the poor kids whose parents don't support the strike, don't know about the strike, don't have any other place to put the kids, or insist their kids go to school regardless. So I had a few visitors in my classes today. At School Two, they were luckily still my own students so it was ok. But at School Three, I had four extra fourth graders who do English with their classroom teacher Luc. Luc follows the textbook to a T, as well he should. I do not follow the textbook because I don't feel it's thorough enough. (I don't mean that I'm better than the book; I just think that me as a native English speaker and trained FL teacher can find other ways to teach my students the same stuff.) So I told the four guests that they could follow along as best they could, try to participate, and just learn some more English. They did well, and my School Three fourth graders were extra-better behaved because they were showing off for their guests. Whoopee!!

There is a slice of bacon on the outside part of my windowsill. That is all.

S* gave me an invitation (with horrific spelling) to her 10th birthday party.
Rose: Did you ask your parents?
S*: Uh huh. (nods)
Rose: What did they say?
S* (giggles) They laughed.
So I looked up the address, and it's a hike so I couldn't exactly just pop in and say hi. I really can't justify a teacher attending a student's birthday party, as much as it might disappoint her. So I'm going to call her parents.

Normally, employees of the National Education department are paid on the last Friday of the month or the 27th of the month, which ever comes first. The salaries are usually dispersed on the Thursday before and posted in our bank accounts that Friday. Well, considering probably anyone involved with my paycheck was picketing her very office today, I'm a little doubtful that my pay will actually be in my account tomorrow.

This weekend will include details on my upcoming February break. France is AWESOME.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Awesome happenings lately:

A* is a little boy in one of my fourth grade classes. He usually spends English class with a pained look on his face. He frowns, he pouts, and sometimes his frustration becomes full-on sobs. Last Thursday, instead of outright giving them the question to answer, I asked them to come up with it. Based on "What's your name?", "What's your dad's name?". and "What color are your eyes?", what would be the question about the color of your dad's eyes? A* raised his hand. That in itself is a huge deal. Yes, A*? "What color are your dad's eyes?" he asks firmly but quietly. YESSS!!! YES, THAT'S IT! I shout, throwing my hands up in the air. Good job, A*! Even his teacher, Catherine, who usually sits in the back of the class with a slightly annoyed look on her face because her students can get pretty chatty, SMILED. I was so proud of him. I gave him a sticker. And guess who's regularly raising his hand and participating in class now? A*. Go him. I'm so proud of him.

F* has been a constant problem in the fourth grade class at School Three. When his teacher, Virginie, and I exchange the groups (I also have her third graders) we trade stories about how F* is behaving today. Last Thursday, he was an angel. Thank you for remembering your medication. He doesn't speak too well but I can understand, and probably only me, what he's trying to say. I was very proud of him and told him so. He even earned a sticker for that day (this is one of the classes that I'm doing the house=sticker thing). He said, "Rose, I like you a lot. I like doing English with you. I didn't like English last year but you make it fun." Thank you F*. I like doing English with you too. Today, Virginie and I exchanged the groups. She walked out of the classroom with an annoyed face: "F* is be a handful today. Don't hesitate to send him to the directeur." Ohhh, he did so well on Thursday! "Yeah, he was for me too. Today is a different story." Well what do you know, but F* repeated his brilliant performance from Thursday. He raised his hand, he was enthusiastic, he made an effort, and he totally earned his sticker. He also asked me for my email address. I'm divided. I don't really want to because I don't feel comfortable with it - I would have to think before giving my email address to a high school student - but I don't want to lose his trust. In any case, as long as he takes his medication (which I'm sure he has, there's no explanation for the drastic changes in his behavior), he's a doll.

F*'s classmate S* is enamored with me. She gave me the most poorly written New Year's note saying "Rose you are the best teacher." She invited me to her birthday party next Wednesday. "Did you ask your parents?" Surprised look. "Ask your parents first sweetheart."

Ben is leaving in three weeks. This is not an awesome happening, but he is an awesome happening. Fun conversations with Ben, translated from French:
Rose: Have you seen my watch?
Ben: No...
Rose: Yeah I lost it.
Ben: Well, it must be with my glasses. And by with, I mean they've run off together. And by run off together, Rocio stole them.
Rose: Whaaat.
Ben: It's in her blood! You know how she is.

(While trying to eat a baked apple for dinner) Ben: So...(struggling) how is this supposed to work?
Rose: What I want to know is what was wrong with the plain apple in the first place. Why does it need to be cooked?
Ben: This is really hard. (Apple ends up on his tray.)
Rose: Food shouldn't be hard to eat.
Ben: Like crab! It's delicious, but it's way too much work for so little food.
Ok that was better with the visuals. Imagine trying to eat a baked apple. It's not pleasant.

He is an intelligent and amusing fellow. He's very sarcastic (see first conversation), but not in the usual annoying way.

Christophe is one of my fifth grade teachers. He gave me unprompted praise today. This is étonnant because the French just don't do that. He said "I really like that you make them repeat so many times. They're really getting the hang of it." Well, it can be boring, but at least now they're conjugating irregular verbs! "Yes. You're really doing well." Christophe is fantastic. Sylvie, my other fifth grade teacher, had a student observer. Sure, let her in, the more the merrier. Even the student observer said that she liked the lessons, that she liked how much they were required to move and talk and recognize.

Good days.

Also I think I have the French plague, but I'm stronger than it. I think the last time I was sick was maybe in February 2007. I don't get sick very easily. Lots of tea and lots of rest. Yay!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

That was a long week.

And thank goodness it's done.

School was okay. The students are progressing slowly and are understanding what English class is all about. I did have one lesson completely blow up in my face. Their teacher Sylvie said "It happens. Don't worry. Not every lesson is going to be perfect." It is SO nice to have the support of my teachers. They are such nice people. I really need to create lessons for the next weeks that are more student-centered. I'm tired of talking, they're tired of writing, and I think we're all getting bored. I have a great Valentine's Day lesson for my third and fourth grade classes, but I need something more engaging for my fifth graders. Also I'm discovering that my two fifth grade classes are on entirely different levels. Sylvie's class is just...well, they're not all that bright. Christophe's students, on the other hand, remind me a lot of Rhonda's Spanish IV classes: I can do anything I want with them and they will give me the benefit of the doubt and just go along with it. At least they try! Sylvie's class is chatty and they give up much faster. Anyways. I really really like this job. If it didn't require relinquishing my American citizenship, leaving my family and my home, and getting a French degree, I'd stay and be a real elementary English teacher. This is a sweet job.

That brings me to another point. I'm very frustrated with the comments I've been hearing from other assistants. Teaching is a profession. We take it seriously. Not everyone can teach. Heck, even I doubted my abilities and before that even refused to entertain the idea of teaching. I'm not very good at it and I see the mistakes I make every day, but I still take this seriously. I really question the wiseness of taking on this job without an interest in teaching or children. If you've never taught before, this is not exactly the kind of first experience that will make you like it. If you've never stayed in France for an extended period of time before, this is not the kind of experience that will make you comfortable. This is a real job, and people take you seriously. I'm just very disappointed in the amount of preparation - pedagogical, linguistic, and cultural - that people have done prior to this experience. Honestly, how do you expect to teach without ever having learned how to teach? How do you expect to succeed and be happy in France without really learning about the language and culture? I've watched a lot of baseball but that doesn't make me a catcher for the Yankees.

Speaking of learning about the language and culture, we had a dinner party on Wednesday. Ben was at the post office in November and overheard a woman with a strong American accent. Her name is Vicky, her husband's name is William, and they have lived in France - specifically just outside of Ussel - with their 23 year old daughter Juliette since Bush was elected seven years ago. They describe themselves to the French people they meet as political refugees. Neat. So Ben invited them over to have dinner. Vicky got even more excited when she heard about Rocio and Rocio's family, as Vicky spent years in Colombia (before the drugs) as a Spanish teacher. So we had a Correzien liquor made from the root of some flower. It was awful and apparently no one buys more than one bottle in their lifetime it's so bad. Dinner was quesadillas made from real corn tortillas courtesy of Juliette and salad. Dessert was pistachio ice cream and Mom's Christmas cookies and Oreos! It was an interesting evening: American conversations have so many codes, the most important one of which is to not offend your conversation partner. I spent the majority of the evening talking to William while he said my parents were selfish for owning a Suburban, that Sarkozy is awful for France, that I should stay in France for at least three years, and that the French are negative people. I disagreed with virtually all of this but as this was an American conversation, I couldn't find the words to express myself. I also got the impression that the entire family needed a good French civilization textbook. The entire evening was very confusing: Rocio speaks French and Spanish, her mother speaks only Spanish, David speaks Spanish and English, Juliette speaks French and English, Ben speaks French and English (and sort of Spanish), Vicky speaks English and Spanish and sort of French, William speaks English and sort of French, and I speak French and English and Spanish. Add in the fact that Ben and Rocio and I speak exclusively French to each other. I couldn't figure out what language to speak to anyone. It was quite possibly the most confusing dinner party I've ever been to. But it was enjoyable for the most part.

On Wednesday I attended a junior year French class. I am looking forward to more of these! The teacher, Madame S (it's long and Polish) is very sweet and accommodating, and her students were appropriately intrigued. Hopefully there will be more French going on in my life now.

My private tutoring student called on Wednesday evening and left me quite possibly the clearest French voicemail I've ever received. There was a school skiing trip on Saturday that she wanted to go to and as it would interfere with the English lesson (or vice-versa), could we please reschedule to Friday evening. But of course! Unfortunately, the lesson I prepared didn't go so hot. We did financial profiles of a fictitious company and of Citigroup. There was entirely too much jargon that I had to look up myself (what's private equity?), and she didn't seem to like it much. I'll find something better for next week.

I found a job in New York. I applied and contacted the group, but that was yesterday. The job was posted in November so I'm not sure when they wanted to fill it, but it's only perfect for me. I can do EVERYTHING :)

Today I went to the famous Bergeron pastry shop to buy the fig pastry I kept seeing. This shop is famous because it makes Les Chocolats du Président because President Chirac lives a few kilometers from here in a huge chateau protected by the Gendarmerie whose barracks are between the high school and School Three. Got that? Yes. I got home and Ben asked, "So are you done for this weekend? That's all you said you had planned..." Hahaha, yep. We also have one and a half bottles of wine to work through, so we'll keep busy :)

Life is pretty damn good.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Day 113 (!!!)

Good day today. Incredibly tranquil weekend (re: grocery shopping and lesson planning) but good day today. Well, my tutoring lesson on Saturday went awesome. My student isn't kidding when she says she's interested in economics. We did an article on the subprime mortgage crisis in the US and she blew me away. All righty then. More economic news it is then.

Saturday Ben made us - me, Rocio, her mom, her brother David, and Ben himself - a real American breakfast. He found real Canadian (whaaat no) maple syrup, so he made French toast and bacon. It was delicious. Go Ben. I'm going to miss him a lot when he leaves for his other city in February.

My fourth graders' homework assignment today was to either draw or cut out five pictures of peoples' heads and paste them in their notebooks. If you don't have magazines, if you don't have a computer, if you don't have catalogs, you draw pictures. We need to see eyes and hair. L* asked, "Can we find the pictures from porn magazines?" I told him in English that he was inappropriate and that I'm telling the teacher. But their teacher, Catherine, spends their English lesson time in maternelle and doesn't always get back immediately. So I go next door to Katell who is super fun to tell her in case I can't find Catherine immediately. Katell's eyes get huge. I leave the building (the school here is housed in four different buildings around a paved courtyard) and there's Catherine. I tell her. Her eyes get huge, and says "Well, he didn't even know that babies drink their mothers' breastmilk. And his mother will make up some ridiculous excuse when I tell her." Sucks for L*, but he's apparently not like this in regular class. He totally takes advantage of me, and it's going to stop. Eesh.

Ben and I are apparently going to Pascal's premiere history/geography class on Wednesday. Pascal is a tiny little teacher here at the high school, super friendly, and a great conversationalist. So we're going to his junior year history class to talk about "American institutions" like racism, immigrants, foreign trade policy, etc. Um. Do I look like I know anything about this?

I finished a book today! L'Amant de la Chine du Nord by Marguerite Duras. It was really abstract but neat for the role reversals in terms of sexuality, race, and socioeconomic status. I was very proud of myself. So I decided that I had to continue. I borrowed L'Oeuvre au Noir by Marguerite Yourcenar which is set in the 16th century and about an alchemist. The first forty pages are pretty sweet. I'm psyched! Look Ma, I'm reading! Finally. Eesh, I'm virtually illiterate.

Tomorrow will be a GOOD day. Hot chocolate and Nutella toast for breakfast. Yummy yummy.

Friday, January 11, 2008


I didn't get wine for tonight. I did however get an amandine which appears to be a little almond torte, which I got specifically because I have a fourth grader with that as her first name. So that's my treat. Yay!

I have two new students at School Two, and do they have the most Anglophone names ever. They're Roma, or gypsies, and due to the nomadic nature of their people, they don't go to school much. In fact, they probably won't stay long. I get the impression that the teachers don't invest a lot into them and quite possibly even anticipate the day they move on. It's one way of life for sure, but I just feel so bad for these kids. They're so disenfranchised from the start, and to keep moving them around so they don't go to school violates their rights as children. Fourth grader S* seemed to follow along ok, but when I asked fifth grader J* if she was able to follow at all she responded "I don't understand English" in a really off-putting tone. Eh, Christophe warned me about her.

I ate lunch today with Delphine the little librarian and a French teacher. I was truly interested in how French is taught here, because it's basically like English is taught in the US, so I asked some questions. The teacher then invited me to come to her classes! That was exactly what I wanted. I only took one French literature class at Cortland (I know!), and I need more French in my life in general. (Who doesn't?) So I will be attending her junior year French literature class on Wednesday mornings. I am so psyched!

Also of note: I am officially a card-carrying French teacher. I had heard through the assistants' grapevine about the existence of a attestation professionnelle, or teacher ID card. I hadn't seen or heard anything official from my responsibles so I took matters into my own hands. I asked Madame Cousty because she's the principal at my main school, ie the school that I'm attached to administratively, and she had no idea. But she suggested I go to the Inspection Academique or the District Office. Luckily it's in Ussel, luckily it's next door to School Three, and luckily my responsable Madame Mouty works there. So I go there and ask the secretary who is a younger guy who reminds me a lot of Ryan, the newest teller at my bank in Camillus, because they both have dark features, are of slight build, and a nervous energy about him. So I nicknamed this secretary Ryan. Makes me happy. I ask, "I apologize for bothering you but I would like to know please if I, as a language assistant in the first degree, have the right to a teacher's ID card." Now, for those of you who hate to hear me apologize so much, you need to know that this is the polite way to start a professional request, especially when you just walk into an office like I did. :) "Ryan" goes to ask the Inspecteur Monsieur Martinet, and fetches me a little card. Ryan and Monsieur tell me to mark that I'm an enseignante (teacher) and not an assistant, because the cards are only for real teachers. I am not a teacher de juris but based on what I do, I certainly am de facto. Luckily I still had my stash of AAA passport photos with me! So less than ten minutes later, I have a pretty little card that says I'm a teacher with the French National Ministry of Education. What's so great about that, you ask? American teachers don't have anything similar, just a xeroxed copy of their certification from the black hole that is Albany. Well, in the European Union, being a teacher means you are cool stuff. FREE ADMISSION to museums, historical sites, monuments, you name it. I am truly looking forward to trying this sucker out during the February vacation. I am so happy that I took the initiative to ask. France, you are silly but there are some fantastic perks.

My bank here in France is funny. It's not a national bank; I've seen two branches total. But it is a baby bank version of the much larger national Credit Agricole, so one would think they do normal bank-y things. I have about $200 in American Express travelers' cheques with me, mostly for "oh my goodness I'm going to sleep on the streets tonight" emergencies. However, just in case, I thought I'd ask my bank if they exchange them. I asked on Thursday. The girl at the counter said "Oh, no" and her eyes got really big. Now this is France, so you should never take one person's answer as gospel. So I went back today. The man at the counter also got the big eyes, inhaled deeply, and said "We could try. I've never done it before." Slightly more promising. It also costs €12,70 to make a deposit from my French bank to a bank account outside of the European Union. I think. I may not remember that correctly.

Ben got me a Christmas present! It's Lonely Planet: Europe on a Shoestring because I had mentioned how much I love Lonely Planet and that after my first trip to France, I somehow lost track of the edition Aunt Karla gave or lent me. I've always felt very very badly about that. But anyways, that was really nice of Ben. Merci mon pote :)

The price for a meal here at the cantine du lycée has been re-evaluated for the new fiscal year; it went from €1,69 to €1,71. Our rent has also been evaluated for the months of October, November and December and we owe and additional €8,12 (divided by three). Our rent has also been re-evaluated for the new fiscal year and will now cost €2 more. Upon hearing these increases, some teachers actually complained. "They don't increase our salary." Two cents or two euro more and you're complaining? I think I'm luckier than a skunk to have this place to live! To eat for about $2 a meal. Jeepers people. The French seem to be habituated to deprivation; after the wars they got used to being "have-nots" and have a hard time accepting that with proper money management, they to can be a "have" and stop feeling bad for themselves. Eesh. Live the good life already. Only a French person would complain about living in France, honestly.

Ahhh I really need to clean my room. Mostly my table. I need shelves, because it's basically layered with schtuff.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Just keep swimming!

It's been a decent week in France. Monday went pretty well, and I realized that my difficult classes really do need some kind of concrete discipline system. They work so much better when there's a physical "carrot" at the end of the stick and not just the nebulous "because it's good for you" reason to learn. Anything, for that matter.

Tuesday went beautifully. I LOVE my fifth graders! They are so smart! I also think that I'm not challenging them enough. Especially after talking with Mira, I think I may be simplifying things too much. The fifth graders can handle more. Hopefully next week will throw something fun in their faces. Ahhh I love this job!

I did a lot of work on Wednesday, but as always never enough. There's always more to do.

Tuesday night Ben bought a galette des rois or a Kings' Cake and some (dry!!) cider. And we feted the Epiphany, all of us: Ben, me, Rocio and her mom and her brother David, and our adopted buddy Marie (the substitute English teacher). It was delightful. The King Cake is a flaky pastry with almond paste inside. Somewhere in the cake is hidden a fève, which originally was a dried bean but in the past centuries has become a tiny porcelain trinket. Typically it's something country-ish like a chicken, a cow, a carton of eggs, or something religious like baby Jesus, Mom Mary, or the Magi; in recent decades it's become popular culture characters. I've seen Mickey Mouse. The tradition behind the King Cake is this: The youngest of the party hides under the table while the second oldest cuts the cake into eight or six pieces. The youngest person, under the table, dictates who gets what piece of the cake. He has to skip a part if there are fewer people than cake pieces. As you eat the cake, someone will find the little fève. This person becomes the king (or queen), chooses a partner queen (or king), and wears a little paper crown that Burger King totally ripped off. So our fève was Lord Asriel which matched "The Golden Compass" crown. And I found it! I made David my king because Ben already got to play because he's the youngest of us. Marie was so disappointed - she NEVER gets the fève! So that was a delightful evening.

Tuesdays are our usual wine and cheese nights but that was pre-empted by the King Cake. So we did wine and cheese on Wednesday. The usual suspects. It was so much fun. People in charge here at the high school like us because we're so laid-back and quiet. We don't have raucous parties; we do wine and cheese, and King Cake.

Today in school, I* gave me a New Year's present. It was chocolates! The tag even said "For Rose Happy New Year from the M* family" on it! I have to mention also that this family is Muslim, and if I had to stereotype my students, it's the Muslim and Turkish students who are more inclined toward language learning. Probably because they speak one language at home and French in school. Ah that was so sweet!!

My discipline system is working! I draw a house on the board. The house has ten components. Each time the class as a whole (I didn't say it was perfect) causes us to slow down or stop for whatever reason, I erase a part of the house. After three parts are erased, they write ten lines. After five parts of the house are erased, they get a croix dans les règles de vie (discipline marks that carry into regular class with Maitresse). After all parts of the house are erased, we stop class altogether. If the house is completely intact at the end of the class, they get a sticker. At the end of the marking period, I count up the number of stickers they have. 1-4 stickers gets a penny; 5-9 stickers gets a nickel; 10+ stickers gets a dime. I'd like to tweak it to make the individual students more accountable, but there are just SO many of them! I dunno...I guess I should do it like that.

Oooh Rocio's mom is cooking and it's onions and garlic and something. They're leaving next Saturday! I was really looking forward to spending more time with them. I hope they're not too bored here in the cultural mecca of La France Profonde.

Oh - while at the Post Office one day, Ben bumped into an American woman. Apparently she and her husband fled the US once Bush was elected...I forget if it was the first or second time...but in any case, they're pretty much political refugees of sorts. They are artists and used to teach Spanish in Colombia. So they're coming over on Wednesday for a Spanish soiree.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Let's be positive.

I am in such a funk lately.

Here is a list of things I love about France.

1. Patisseries. The stores, the pastries, and the sweet ladies who work in the patisserie down the street. There's this new one I haven't seen yet; it's called la figue or the fig and it looks like green almond paste. I hope there's fig in it. I cannot WAIT. It's my reward for this weekend.

2. Hot chocolate and toast with Nutella for breakfast. Oh my goodness. Now to hire someone to make it for me, because I have become that lazy.

3. The teachers I work with. I love Monsieur Modeste, the directeur of School One, who jokes around with me and gives me les bises (kiss kiss greeting); Madame Cousty, the directrice of School Two who sometimes greets me in English; Monsieur Barbe the directeur at School Three who I rarely see but is always very friendly; Astrid, Luc, Valérie and Virginie at School Three who always say hi and have nothing but help to give; Jean-François, Alexia, Katell, Catherine, Fabienne and the hordes of other teachers at School One who are so super friendly; Christophe, Sylvie, Marie-Pierre, Catherine, Monique, and the other teachers at School Two who always smile and say hi and love what I do even though I mess up all the time. I am so so so lucky to have such great colleagues.

4. I love Rocio, even when she is a sniffly coughy mess. Pobrecita.

5. Ben is awesome. He's smart. I appreciate that more than he knows.

6. Françoise. I could not express to her well enough in the Christmas card I gave her how much her support and friendship means to me. She is amazing.

7. The teachers at the high school: Karine the marketing teacher, the two librarians Krystyna and The Little One, Blandine, Marie, Marie-Jo, Pascal with the lisp and lazy eye who I cannot understand but love anyways, Madame Menardi and her husband, Madame le Proviseur who gave me a scarf for Christmas (!!!), and heck even the laundry lady. I am so so so lucky to be in a place where people are friendly and patient and kind. So kind.

8. Saturday markets are fun, even though the one in Ussel has become pretty po-dunk.

9. God bless the SNCF. And please make them stop striking.

10. I truly enjoy the French concept of cooking: anything can be put into puff pastry form. Fish? Puff pastry fish! Cheese? Cheesy puffs! Chicken? Vol a vent! (Chicken and gravy puff pastry dumplings.) Fruits? Well that's what puff pastry was made for.

11. Inexpensive high-quality wine.

12. Teevee.

13. Vacations!!!

14. Ussel-specific: Due to the location and geography, it rarely precipitates here. During the day, skies are usually clear. Any rain that comes from the Atlantic dries up, and we're just to the west of the mountains. It's also been unseasonably warm, so much so that I'm very much so anticipating a good sale at Depech'Mod' to get a nice light jacket. (The one Mom bought me years ago is kicking the bucket.) It's foggy a lot here which can be very thick. It sometimes rains at night. But it's just not cold or high enough for snow, and we're too far inland for rain. How happy does this make me?!

Things I wish France could figure out:

1. Meet the salt and pepper shaker.

2. You live next door to Italy. What is up with your Italian food.

3. Automatic cars are not bad.

4. Curb your dog please.

5. Central heat.

6. Customer service.

7. Convenient store hours (ok, convenient for ME).

8. A sensible immigration policy. (The US could use this as well.)

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Vacances de Noel et Bonne Année

So we were too busy and internet connectivity was limited in Lyon and Dijon.

Mira and Shannon showed up Monday afternoon. We bounced around. Unfortunately, we couldn't find a place to spend New Year's Eve. I think this was due to the fact that we JUST met each other and in good American fashion, didn't want to impose anything. However, that led to a lot of awkward situations. We did find a cool Chinese buffet and then a building fire to watch! It was not fireworks like Mira thought, but a huge building fire started supposedly by some dude who tried to make his chicken à flambée and ended up killing one and injuring two. Great entertainment. They let it burn for fourteen hours.

In Lyon I visited the Musée des Beaux-Arts, a sacred arts museum whose exhibit was on religious toys - like toys for children to "play" mass, and the Botanical Garden where I saw a very cold Asian elephant, agitated leopards, silly Tamarind monkeys, and I think reindeer.

We went to Dijon on Thursday. What a great city! All the museums were free! I went to the Musée de la Vie Bourgignone and the Fine Arts Museum. The Burgundian life museum was really cool: very well organized, well explained, and HUGE. It was totally worth it. The Fine Arts museum was incredible. HUGE, well explained, and fairly well organized. I got the audio guide for a change, which was nice to have a voice in my head other than my own. So much to see. We had dinner at this Spanish-style place: Shannon got fajitas! I don't remember the name of my dish other than it was in a dog bowl. The next day, Mira and i went to a vegetarian restaurant where they were out of fish but it was delicious nonetheless. I had a stuffed pepper and the world's largest organic brownie. DELICIOUS.

My trip back to Ussel took ten hours. The only bad part of living in the middle of nowhere is that you can't get there from anywhere. As usual, I freaked out about missing my connections but it all worked out. Note to self: avoid taking buses in the evening as it is dark, it usually rains, and roads in France are twisty and on mountains. Oh my goodness I was petrified.

So today I did laundry and sort of cleaned my room. I still have to make sure that all my stuff is ready for this week coming up.

I'm so confused about where my life is supposed to go. Grad school applications aren't doing so well, but I'm very uncertain about the status of my New York State teacher certification. I don't know what to do. I just want to be happy, and I'm starting to think that I need a Plan B.