HAPPY THANKSGIVING

Thanksgiving is a major curiosity here in France.  Everyone is always asking about it; what it means, why its celebrated, what is eaten, if it is just as important as Christmas–the list continues.  So it has been my job to spread the word about this American holiday.  Of course I was doing that in French and I found it quick confusing and complicated at times, but luckily I have perfected the breakdown into simplified words and meanings because this past Monday I went into Célénie’s class (essentially 5th graders) and gave them the run down.

We ate Pilgrim hats (so easy and was a major hit), colored a picture of a Pilgrim and Native American, and went through the history of 1621 as best (and as simply) as possible.  After they asked me questions about my daily life, much like Louis-Auguste’s class last week.  It was funny because in their eyes I live a life in the movies.  They asked if I had met Obama, if I have been to this concert, or met that famous person….it was cute but unfortunately I dont live my life like Disney channel portrays it 🙂

All in all, Show and Tell with Beth was another successful adventure!

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and to all a good night

Vente des Vins des Hospices de Beaune

This weekend was jam-packed with activities (love when that happens).

Friday I went into Dijon with friends for dinner and drinks. We ate at the Imprimerie which is decorated from top to bottom as a newspaper.  The menu, the walls, the things hanging from the ceiling. It’s a very cozy and homey atmosphere.  Great for a quick chocolate chaud or a nice sit-down dinner.

Saturday I ate dinner at Libbi & Ben Leroux’s home again (Bonfire night).  It was such a nice evening of conversation between people from France, England, Italy, Spain and America (that’s me!).  So neat to have so many people at one table, sharing a meal and sharing stories.  That night–after Skyping Liz (my friend who was the Au Pair for the Leroux family) I went to bed at their house so that we could get up in the morning to go into Beaune.

This weekend in Beaune was the Vente des Vins des Hospices de Beaune.  Here is the lowdown (if you read French click this): When old wine makers died and they had no children to take over their vineyards the hospital in Beaune, which was constructed to help the sick poor people, bought the vineyards.  The hospices now has 25 hectares of vineyards with which they make their high-quality wine.  So during this weekend, this festival, this auction, all the big shots in the wine community come to Beaune and bid on barrels (these barrels must be bottled in Burgundy).  This year a record was set: 400,000 € for one barrel!!!!

Although the auction is a closed event, people watch from the surrounding courtyards.  The streets are filled all weekend with people celebrating Beaune’s traditions, buying (and drinking) wine and just enjoying the atmosphere which surrounds this fun event.  There are many vendors, parades, marching bands, people dressed in medieval costumes, kid fair rides, dégustations (tastings) of food & wine and of course vin chaud (mulled wine).

Most everything goes on all weekend long but specifically on Saturday there was a 1/2 marathon through the vineyards and the grand event: the auction is on Sunday afternoon.

When we got into town Sunday we wandered the streets a bit before chowing down on escargot (my first time and so delicious with a pesto garlic sauce on top) and then des crêpes and du vin. The crêperie was specially set up for the weekend in an old chapel and was run by many generations of one family.  Libbi, Ben, the kids (Zack and Lexi), Libbi’s parents, brother Johnny and his girlfriend all sat and chowed down on crêpe after crêpe.  We started with meat and cheese filled ones and finished with chocolate ones.  After, I met up with two Au Pair’s from Nuits St. George.  We had been trying to get together for some time and this was the perfect opportunity.  We sipped on mulled wine as we got to know each other.  After some shopping and a stop at the kiddie fair to win a goldfish, they were off and I wandered the streets once more.

By this time it was getting dark and cold (winter is officially on its way here in Bourgogne).  But people still filled the streets and the action didnt die down.  On many corners and through the streets people would perform a traditional dance or song while everyone circled around to watch.  Christmas lights lined the cobble-stone streets, everyone was bundled up and steam poured out of the cups of vin chaud that everyone clutched for warmth.  For a moment I felt like I was in some 1800s European Christmas card.  It was an atmosphere which I loved but also made me miss having friends and family around to share it with–especially when I saw the couples and the families walking hand-in-hand through the streets.

But not to worry, I had my new cozy oversized scarf, a mug of hot wine and I was on my way to end my night on the bumper cars with Libbi and her family.  After a few rides I called it a night (even though a lot of Beaune was still moving–the bars didn’t close until 4am for this night) and grabbed a “hamburger royal” (fries inside the burger) from La Caravane.  I headed home and jumped into a hot shower….perfection!

Cette weekend était top!

1:30am

So I was driving home tonight after dinner and drinks with my Hungarian friends (I was outnumbered by people who live in a country that frankly I cant place on a map–yet) and I came across a radio station with ENGLISH. Immediately my ears perked up.  It was a commercial for CMT music awards on ABC–interesting advertisement for France.  Intrigued, I kept listening and was even more surprised when I heard a French DJ say the words; Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, Jason Aldean and Taylor Swift!  It was so hilarious with the accent that I just had to share this short story.  I was so happy to end my day with some country tunes on the radio in France (even though it was un peu bizarre comme même)

I have an announcement to make

So I dont really know how to begin this post other than to say; I have come out of retirement people!  That’s right, I have come all the way to Dijon, France to get back into swimming shape.  For all my fellow retired swimmers, you won’t think I am crazy when you see the picture of this 50 meter, olympic-sized pool.  It makes the list of top nicest pools I have swam in believe it or not!

For all those who are confused about why my plunge back into the pool is a big deal: I swam for over 12 years and the last 8 were highly competitive (ending at the Division 1 college level).  So after spending 20 hours a week staring at a line on the bottom of the pool and slowly deteriorating my body, retirement was a necessary and much enjoyed process.

So I had been hearing all about this brand new (opened in May) facility but had not seen it yet with my own eyes.  The kids and I planned to go swim during the school break but never made it happen and I just never thought to plan a trip (I was retired remember? As much as I wanted to see it, I was not too sure about swimming laps again).

The issue I run into here is that going for a run (the easiest way to workout alone) is a process.  First of all, everything is uphill.  Well, it all starts downhill obviously but what goes up must come down!  That was precisely my issue the first time I went for a run here–felt great, turned around, and realized I had gone straight downhill and now had a tough trip back up to the village.  The second issue is that if you dont take to the road and instead find a nice little path through the woods (after getting a little lost on a muddy trail I did find a nice loop through the woods that is better on the shins and flat instead of all downhill or all uphill), you have to worry about getting shot! Yeah I know, it’s a strange concept and I swear I am not in the ghetto, but I do live in the country where people hunt (la chase) on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays.  I go to school for most of the day on Tuesdays and Fridays so it doesn’t leave much flexibility.

Which brings me (finally) to the reason for pursuing the POOL!  And I am so glad I did.  It is beautiful and clean and an easy stop in between my classes in Dijon and my responsibility to pick up the kids from their activities in the afternoons.  It might even be another way to meet more people.  Just today I met a nice Italian runner who is swimming as a way to stay in shape during an injury.  We met because I ran into him–oops.  When we both hit the wall he commented on my fast swimming (HA!).  Little does he know I thought I was going to drown and I didn’t do anything too taxing–I enjoyed the compliment anyhow 🙂

Swimming has and always will be the most therapeutic thing for me–not to mention the sole way I know how to get my body back into shape.  So I am excited to be able to use this nice pool while I am here for the year!

show and tell (part 1)

Today I went to school with Louis-Auguste.  And not just to drop him off–I actually went to his school with him.  Having an English girl live with one of your students is a novelty to an English teacher in France and I was more than happy to come and share, well I guess share myself (although that sounds a little riskaayyy) with the class.   Didn’t seem too difficult: speak in English (making sure to pronounce my “t’s” as such and not as “d’s”), talk about myself (easy enough), and make Louis-Auguste feel cool for bringing the “American girl.”

So we get there and wait in the rain for the large gate to open.  In front of most French schools I have seen (this one included) there are large gates.  Behind them are huge courtyard areas where the students wait between classes.  We waited here as well (did I mention it was raining and cold?)

During this long 15 minute wait I was reminded quickly of when a foreign exchange student came to our middle school in PA.  We had surrounded her as if she were a lab animal and had asked her endless amounts of questions.  They didnt smother me like that (I am not their peer) but instead they stood, stared, whispered and asked; “Louis-Auguste, is that her?”  I was more like a lab rat being examined at a distance.

In class I talked about my family, my hobbies (I laughed a little when I was asked this because its SO not a phrase used in conversation but I also remember being taught to ask this in French class), Philadelphia’s history and things that are special to the city (tried to draw a soft pretzel on the board–epic fail), described Thanksgiving (harder than you think to explain in simple terms), explained the sport of Lacrosse (also a challenge) and explained the way school works in USA (elementary, then middle school, then high school and finally college).  I even put a little plug in for JMU–if some frenchies apply in a few years you can thank me President Rose 🙂

Next week I am off to Célénie’s school to teach about Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Any pointers?

A Lesson in Patience

The process to get to where I am today (an au pair in France) was pretty stressful.  After making the decision to come and before buying my ticket I had one hell of a time checking off the list of official “to do’s.”  The red-tape items included getting original paperwork from France (signed by me, the Duband family AND some big whigs in France), getting an acceptance letter from the school I was to attend in France, getting a background check, a physical (didnt end up needing the last two), accumulating a collection of little passport photos, signing up online for an appointment at the French Embassy, going to the French Embassy in D.C., waiting for the visa to be approved and sent to me (I was told 4 weeks for this and it ended up being 2 days!)….. I basically thought my head was going to fall off with the amount of stress I felt.  I also thought that all these official things would be over when I stepped onto the French soil.

Not the case.

Last week I received a letter from the OFII (Office Francais de l’Immigration et de l’Integration) asking me to come to Dijon for l’examen clinique général and l’examen radiologique.  Since I am staying here for a long period of time and I have a long stay visa I need to be counted as a resident and put into the larger system of people in France–or something like that.

So I had David help me translate what I needed to bring.  Of course there was a list of documents needed and I learned from my trip to the Embassy–always bring everything and more than you need to these appointments.  I got a letter signed by David saying he knew who I was and a copy of a house bill to prove the residency.  Then I needed a picture of my face and a special 55 Euro stamp.  Unfortunately my little collection of beautiful, non-smiling photos had run dry and I only found out about the stamp thing the night before, soooooo I had to get these things in the morning.

So at 7:30am I leave Chevannes and head into Dijon.  I pulled into a space on the road next to my destination and put 2 euros into the parking machine.  This meant I had a little less than 2 hours (8:20-10:15)–seemed perfect to me because you never know how long something like this could take but I couldn’t imagine being there longer than 2 hours (spoiler alert: it took longer!!!)

Reach the gated entrance. I have no idea how to work the intercom system to get in.  Ask a man smoking a cigarette outside. We manage to phone the office–5 times.  Doesn’t seem to be working.  Then someone speaks: “we don’t open until 8:30. wait.”  Waited 10 minutes (chatted a little with the helpful man who was here for an OFII visit too). Got to the office, waited in a long line to check in.  I am sorry but to me an “appointment” means a specific time given to a specific person.  But contrary to my thoughts it seemed that the OFII gave each person the same “appointment”: the time the office opened.  Not a big deal yet, things went smoothly and I sat down in the waiting room with my French Glamour magazine and waited…..for 1 1/2 hours! (remember I have a parking spot for 2 hours)  As I watched the hands on my watch go round for the second time I was a little nervous that I was going to get a ticket on my car AND not have time to get back to Chevannes for Célénie at 11:50am.  Patience is a virtue though, and I am learning a lot about that here in France!  People tend to move at their own speed (all happen to be a version of slow) and the doctors were no exception.  After each person they examined they would stop. Chat a bit.  Change a lightbulb in the hallway (no lie).  Have a coffee (in America you do this while working but in France coffee is like a sacred ritual where you stop and enjoy.  I really like this idea and have become a firm follower of it since I have been here, but seriously!?  Not when we are all here waiting to see you.)  In defense of my frustration I think this was about the time my watch hit the one hour mark and I was practicing taking deep, steady, calm breaths.

In retrospect this was a nice little experiment for me because all I could do was wait patiently.  And that I did.

Once it was my turn things moved smoothly (although it was already 10:10).  Did an eye exam, blood pressure, x-ray (that was interesting because I had to undress my top in front of a strange French woman. Oh my life–I just laugh sometimes), and then back to the lobby to get the paperwork signed and my passport marked with yet another visa-like sticker.  This was also when I needed the photo and special stamp, so I dipped out of the office quickly and searched for un Tabac.  Ended up having more luck finding a photo shop so I did that (another successful ugly, non-smiling picture to restart my collection) and then asked the photographer to point me in the direction of a Tabac.  Found it. Bought my 55 Euro little stamp and headed back to OFII. I was tempted to put more money in for the car, but decided it was already 11:20, I’ll live on the wild side 🙂  Glad I did too because when I finally returned to the car at 12:00 I had NO ticket! Successful morning if I do say so myself: practiced patience, spoke only French to the doctors and people I encountered today during my adventure, no ticket, and I now have a cool x-ray in my possession.  

Only problem is that on my way out of Dijon I was feeling so on-top-of-the-world happy that I turned right onto a one-way street!  Can’t always get everything right…


just what the doctor ordered

Friday night was November 5–for those who missed that memo–and I was invited to a bonfire! Not just any bonfire though, it was in celebration of Guy Fawkes Night.  This British holiday might seem a little out-of-place in France, but not in Merceuil.  Which is where I found myself happily surrounded by people from Ireland, Scotland, New Zealand and of course England.  I guess I can’t leave out that there were also two Frenchman (we are in France after all) and many bi-lingual children (a result of French school and English-speaking parents) in attendance.

So that we are all on the same page here: I had been invited to the house of Ben and Libbi Leroux.  This is the family where my friend Liz (the one who got me on the Au Pair track) had been an Au Pair the year before.  Libbi is from England and Ben is a French winemaker in Beaune.  Their friends are from the above mentioned countries but they all work, live and raise their children in France.

So I arrive Friday night and am immediately greeted by children running around the side yard.  In the distance I can see the prepared bon fire and notice a scarecrow-like man on top of the wood pile.  I didn’t think much of it until Libbi pointed out that she hopes the kids don’t get the idea that burning a person is OK!  Uhh..yeah, me neither!! But the man stayed put because that is the tradition of the evening…

For those who are as clueless to this as I was, in 1605 a man tried to burn down the House of Lords in an attempt to assassinate the Protestant King.  The attempt was a big fail and the people involved were accused of high treason and thus hanged, drawn and quartered.  So it is English tradition–even if you live in France–to have a bon fire and light fireworks on November 5th.

The night ended up being exactly what I needed. Hearing and speaking English while relaxing with a bowl of pumpkin soup and chatting with bi-lingual kids (and adults) was a great pick-me-up during a week when I was a bit homesick.

La Toussaint

My apologise: it is Wednesday and I have not posted pictures of Halloween. I have a good excuse, don’t worry…we didn’t celebrate! I know, I know after all the work making the dress and ordering of costume parts from internet vendors and the kids didn’t even dress-up!  The deterrent: rain. Can you imagine kids in the States not going out for Halloween because it was raining? Yeah, me neither ; )

So there is a chance I can get them to pose for a pic in their costumes, but no more promises in that department.

So after the Halloween let down we decided to watch a movie and chow down on popcorn. Louis-Auguste makes the best sugary popcorn. He pops it right on the stove with fresh kernels.  Reminds me of my Poppop and Mommom who used to have a bowl of fresh popped popcorn every afternoon. Of course theirs was covered in butter and salt whereas Louis-Auguste’s specialty is sugar. Delish!!

Speaking of food (I am truly taking hold of this Bourgogne culture) I spent the day Monday sitting at a table; eating, drinking–being merry.  Everyone had the day off because it was All Saints Day (La Toussaint).  Juliette’s boss and his family came over to the apartment along with David and the kids.  We began with L’apéritif and champagne, then L’entrée and Le plat (Baeckeoffe).   

We literally were eating from 1pm-4pm.  Took a short break to watch the boys have some bike races, tandem-style (photos at the end)! But after we returned to the table for fromage, dessert et un café.

I was ready for a nap (and to never eat again) but that is not what happened.  Instead more friends arrived–everyone is ready to eat and drink with friends when there is no work–and I even ate “dinner.”  In my defense I ate because the jambon (ham) was on the list of things to try.  It’s called pata negra and these pigs strictly eat acorns which produces the smokey, nutty, awesome flavor.  So even though I was in a food coma, I had to indulge.

The rest of the week I am in charge of making dinner and lunch so maybe I’ll be checking out Cooking Light for my recipes…or maybe I’ll take the bike for a spin around the village?