The Sacrament of the Moment

Le Prochain Chapitre means “the next chapter.” Probably because my entire life has revolved around books for so long, I chose it a year ago because it was the only somewhat creative title I could come up with for a blog about my life in France.

For those of you who have not heard, my life is no longer in France. I last posted about my friend Sam coming to visit me in Paris, and then I went MIA. The pages were just turning too fast for me to keep up with them. When I left Paris, it was with the hope of returning this fall. I was accepted into Sciences Po. to pursue a Master’s in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action for this school year. But in trying to discern if that was the right next step to take, I decided that I would let scholarships be a sign of whether or not this was what I was supposed to do next. Since I did not get the funding to go, and thousands of dollars of debt was not something I wanted to take on right now, I deferred my admission. This fall, I decided to begin classes at Denver Seminary where I was accepted into the Master’s of Mission and Justice program. However, instead of going to school full time, I’m only taking one Hermeneutics class this fall. I’m now working full time in Colorado Springs, teaching 10th and 11th grade literature.

Again? You ask, teaching? Why yes, because somehow, I can’t imagine life outside of the academic calendar year. Besides, the people that have influenced me the most have been my parents and teachers. There’s something about the smell of freshly sharpened pencils and the feel of a book in my hands that makes my heart feel full in a very satisfying way.

But I had no idea how hard teaching really is. Everyone says that the first year of teaching is hard, but when you’re a type-A perfectionist, and you can’t bear to make mistakes or let people down, it’s really hard. For the past five weeks, I’ve cried more than I have in months, probably since my freshman year at Hillsdale.

What makes it worth it—just like at Hillsdale—is the people. I work for a school called The Classical Academy, which has some of the best teachers and students that I’ve ever met. I feel incredibly honored to be teaching here and learning from colleagues what it means to be an effective teacher.  While I’m still considering if my small teacher salary will allow me to buy stock in Kleenex, I’m grateful for the concept that a more experienced person shared with me recently. He called it “the sacrament of the moment.” It’s overwhelming to try to think about the lesson planning and grading that I have in front of me, and being energetic in the classroom on little sleep, not to mention trying to keep up with my class at seminary. Instead, “the sacrament of the moment” means focusing on one day at a time, one student at a time, and remembering that it’s not all on my shoulders. Someone else bore the burden for me that I might go free. Even though I want to be perfect, and work so hard to be the best teacher I can be, it’s freeing to know that God’s love is not based on my performance. When I fail, he still loves me. When I fall, he is there. When I cry, he holds my hand.

The pastor at my new church this morning mentioned Psalm 84:5-7 in his homily: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion.” In Hebrew, Baca means misery or tears. The valley of Baca is actually in a desert.  But the Psalmist here is saying that even in the place of tears, because of the restoration found in the Lord, this place of misery becomes a place of cool refreshment. I’ve found the place of tears, and now I’m waiting for the refreshment. I know it will come because I know the character of my God.

The past few months have been evidence of his faithfulness as he protected us during the evacuation during the Waldo Canyon Fires, and provided me with a job, an amazing roommate, and an affordable place to live.

Who knows what this next chapter in Colorado Springs will hold? While living here is certainly different from Paris, at least the setting here is beautiful. Majestic even.  When I’m discouraged, I lift my eyes up, up to the mountains, and I remember that my help comes from the One who made them.

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The past couple weekends have been some of the most delightful weekends that I’ve spent in France. My friend Sam came to visit two weeks ago and we spent all Friday night, all day Saturday and most of Sunday together in Paris. I loved playing the role of hostess, translator and tour guide for my friend who’s from both Summit and Hillsdale. The Lord knew that I needed encouragement from another Christian, and that I was dying to have a few deep conversations that went deeper than talking about cultural differences or food.

[My end of these conversations can be summed up in two sentences: “Yes, I do miss the US, especially my family, and yes, everything is bigger and cheaper in the US. However, nothing compares to French food, especially the bread in France.” On another side note, I fear that when I come back home, I’m going to be a bread snob. Admittedly, I haven’t had enough wine here to really be a connoisseur, but I do know my bread. After the second day, it’s not as fresh and it looses its light taste. I’ll spare you the particulars, but I feel like I’ll never again be able to eat American store bought bread without longing for a fresh baguette instead.]

As much as I have adapted myself to being able to carry on a conversation that uses mostly straightforward vocabulary, doesn’t broach subjects which are too touchy, and avoids the use of the subjunctive verb tense more than absolutely necessary, I really long to have the chance to talk about really important ideas and issues with people that care about me. Thus, Sam was the perfect friend to come and visit me. Aside from being an amazing Christian, he’s smart, articulate and funny. We got to talk about friends back in Hillsdale, friends at Summit, Christianity, European culture, aesthetics, music, art, Beauty, Truth, and the list goes on. It was so refreshing to spend hours together appreciating the beauty in Paris, enjoying the lovely weather which was about 20º (68º F) and made our picnics next to the Seine delightful.

Sam arrived on Friday night, toting his hobo-like sack, having snagged a last minute ride via a German carpooling website. I was impressed; I haven’t had the nerve to try covoiturage here yet. We had a great time eating a Chinese take-out picnic by the Seine with my roommate and Jérôme and Charlotte and then a little before midnight Sam and I headed to the metro for me to drop him off at his youth hostel. I got him checked in without a problem, but since the neighborhood seemed a bit sketchy, Sam walked me back to the metro. As I arrived at Gare du Nord, I found out that I’d missed the last RER. So, I had to take the metro in order to connect with one of the night buses. But in order to avoid having my roommate come and get me at the train station at 3 am, I decided to take the night bus that takes longer but drops me off within walking distance of home. Unfortunately, the metro line I was on was stopped and the employees announced that an idiot (my word) had started a fight with one of the metro employees and as a result, they’d be terminating the train 4 stations earlier than planned. Thankfully, I was sitting next to a really nice man wearing a suit in the metro who shared a taxi with me to go the 4 stations until Porte d’Orleans. From there, I waited 28 min. for my bus, which came at 2:30, and then I made it back home at 3:30 in the morning and found out that my roommate was still up waiting for me. Since she was, I recounted the whole story about my bad luck with the public transportation system (including a crazy drunk guy that seemed Schizophrenic, the nice guy in the suit who shared a taxi with me and insisted on paying, and the creeper that tried repeatedly to touch my leg before I changed seats on the bus). I finally made it to bed by 4:00 am. Unbelievable!

Sam and I spent all day Saturday wandering around Paris, following my carefully planned path that would get us most quickly from one place to the next. We visited Sacre-Coeur, the Eiffel Tour, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame. We also discovered what is now officially my favorite place in Paris: Shakespeare and Co. Charming and quant, it’s a bookstore that sells books in English and is chock full of books in every nook and cranny. On the second floor, there’s a reading room that’s delightful. I can’t believe that I haven’t been there before. Perhaps its all for the best, because if I had, my budget and bags might would have suffered…. That night we met up with my roommate for dinner, and then took a delightful boat ride on the Seine (where I took this picture of La Tour Eiffel) before heading home for the night.

After changing to Daylight Savings Time and loosing an hour of sleep (rather in keeping with the theme of the weekend I must say), we meet up for church in Paris. Sam and I visited a Franco-Anglophone church called Hillsong that conducts bilingual services in English and French. There, I was amazed by the skills of the translator. She was very smooth and did a good thing of conveying the idea of what was said without having it sound stilted in the other language. It would be amazing to be able to speak, let alone translate with the fluidity that she exhibited. Sam and I had another of our great conversations over lunch after church and then we visited the Musée d’Orsay (my favorite museum here) before he caught his train back to Germany.

The past week has been filled with lots of goodbyes and good memories. I’ve been working on packing my bags. Ahem. It’s coming along…. We’ll see if and how it all fits. I still have two days of wiggle room. I did the rest of my laundry today and I’m going to try weighing everything tomorrow. If there’s a problem, it will be my books. However, I found out that the post office has an extra “cheap” way of sending things that apparently takes a lot longer, but eventually arrives. If I can’t fit everything into my two bags, then I’ll head for La Poste to send things snail mail.

While there are many things I’ll miss about France, at the same time, I’m looking forward to seeing many of you when I get back to the US.  Plus, working at Summit this summer is going to be a blast!  There, riding the bus is totally another story. I don’t have to worry about creepers, I love the bus drivers and sometimes we even get to pass out popsicles to the students!

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Stories, Sweat, Seduction and Spiders

The past several weeks have been quite eventful. After six full weeks of school since Christmas break, we were due for another two weeklong break: “winter break.” The week before break though, we had a week of exams called the “bac blanc.” It was a week of tests where the students can practice for the real bac, which is much more stressful than the SAT because it determines whether or not a student can graduate.  Even though I didn’t have to teach classes, I still had to work the same number of hours in the Lycée. This meant that I got to administer the written French exam to a bunch of juniors. Largely this consisted of telling them (in French of course!) to put their backpacks in the back of the room, take off their coats, show me their id, sign here, not to talk, etc. I think however, that I was more nervous about giving the exam then most of the students were in taking it. I was happy that I only had to give one test and the rest of the time I got to be either in the hallway in order to escort students to the restroom or part of the relief team to temporarily proctor an exam so the teacher administering it could leave the room for a bit.  After this week of exams, only seven weeks after Christmas break, winter vacation began!

After spending all of my time here in the Île-de-France, as the greater Paris area is called, I was happy to have the opportunity to visit one of my childhood friends in London and my roommate and her family in Germany. Ever since I was little, I’ve read books that take place in England, many of my favorites take place in London. Even though my family visited England in 2008, we didn’t have the opportunity to do more than drive through London. I don’t think that I even got out of the car.

This time however, I spent 4.5 days in the city, visiting many of the places that I’ve only read about in books. At the top of my list was the Globe Theatre. It was phenomenal! I was so happy to be able to visit it!  The British museum, the Tate Britain, the National Gallery, the British Library, Westminster Abbey, Westminster Palace, Keats’ house, and Dickens’ house, were also impressive. It’s amazing how much history is contained in one city. In a way, it felt surreal to see the Magna Carta, some of Guttenberg’s books, a First Folio, parts of the Parthenon, the throne from the 14th century that every British monarch sits in to be crowned, the tombs of many kings and Queens, paintings I’d studied in Art History, ancient Egyptian mummies, and artifacts from Bible times during the time of Ashurbanipal (600s BC) (he was only one of the many people we learned about in Old Testament whose name showed up in the British Museum!) and the inside of the building where Parliament meets. Incredible!  Things I’d only imagined before appeared before me in real life, and the stories I’d read became more real, truer than they’d been before. I’m grateful that I spent four years at Hillsdale, because thanks to my time there, I felt like I really could appreciate the historical value of what I saw.  Were it not for my studies of the Great Book and the Western Heritage, I would have had some nice postcard-worthy pictures, but no profound feelings of respect for what so many great people have done.

Not only did stories come to life before my eyes, but my friend Andrea played the perfect hostess, making me homemade banana crumble muffins, delicious enchiladas and white-chocolate chip cranberry cookies. She jokes about her apartment being notoriously freezing throughout the winter, but her warm welcome (in American English) was just what I needed for a good dose of Hoosier hospitality and it made me forget the cold and enjoy the comforts of home and friendship once more.

My visit to Germany was very brief but also historically and relationally profitable; While visiting on of the oldest cities in Germany, Trier (Treves), I got to see public baths built by the Romans, a cathedral built by the Emperor Constantine and the house of Karl Marx. For those of you taking the Heritage classes, yes, the people after whom you’re reading did indeed exist and they left buildings to prove it!  While I loved the educational aspect of my time in Germany, I also enjoyed seeing the village where my roommate grew up, meeting her family, and spending the day with her in town. We had coffee together in a cute café (actually, I had tea, she had coffee) and I bought both A picture of Dorian Gray (O. Wilde) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (A. Brontë) for only €6 and she bought the complete works of Shakespeare in German for €5. Content with our inexpensive treasures, we returned to her house, ready to come back to resume teaching.

I ran the Paris half-Marathon on Sunday before starting classes Monday morning.  Yes, that’s right, I, Mary Feeney, ran 13.1 miles (21.1 km) in 2h 24 min. and I’m still alive to tell the story. “Why”? you may ask.   Well, as some of you may know, I was asked at Hillsdale to be the Head RA for my dorm for two years. During the Leadership training class I was required to take beforehand, I had to come up with 100 goals for my life. Ahem. This sounds easier than it actually is. After naming the obvious and important goals like graduating, reading classic books, and visiting all the countries that exist, I had to resort to finding a 97 more things I wanted to do before I die. This homework was going to be graded after all. In perhaps a moment of pure desperation and in order to reach 100 goals, (getting good grades has always preoccupied me too much) I think this was perhaps when I first wrote down running a half-marathon as a goal. I don’t know. But somehow, the idea entered my head, and my friends Kimbosha and Abby of late have both inspired me with their running feats. My regular three-mile course seemed puny compared to their achievements. So, sweaty and smiling, I pounded victoriously across the finish line Sunday, happy that I can cross this crazy goal off of my list.

Yesterday, while waiting for the bus, I was once again asked for my phone number by a young man in his 20s. I don’t know what the problem is, but for some reason, this never seems to happen among eligible young men of my acquaintance back in the States to whom I would be very happy to give it. Instead, it only happens when I am riding or waiting for the bus here in France, when very forward young men I don’t know inquire.  I’ve now been approached by at least three men in their 20’s who have all tried to exchange phone numbers with me. Yesterday, the young man in question first asked me if I knew whether the bus was going to come, “yes, “ I said, “It usually comes very soon.” He was waiting for a different bus, but I’m familiar with this particular stop and knew that if all was well, his bus would arrive very soon. Remarking my accent, the man asked where I was from. My parents taught me that it’s wrong to lie, but they also taught me to be prudent. Reluctant to tell him exactly, I replied, “a little south of Chicago,” with a general wave of the hand. Giving very vague geographical answers suits me best in situations like these.  “What are you doing in France,” was his next question. Thankfully, I’ve started taking French classes in addition to my teaching job. So instead of telling him that I teach English in a Lycée, which would likely have lead me to divulging which one, I told him that I was studying French, which was the truth, just not the complete truth…  At some point in the conversation the young man insisted on giving me a map of the Paris metro. (I already have at least two, probably three if I searched the bottom of my bag thoroughly.)  Amused at his insistence that I take it, I accepted the map, shoving into my pocket. Then, the young man asked if I had a telephone number and if I’d like to have coffee together. I politely refused, inwardly wondering why this never happens to me in the US. Perhaps I don’t take the bus enough? Maybe Christian young men in the US ride the bus, and since I don’t when I’m in the States, I’m missing out on the opportunity to have coffee dates with them?  “No thank you, I said, I don’t feel comfortable giving it out.” “There’s no reason to have fear,” the guy reassured me. I renewed my regret, insisting that I couldn’t give it to him, and just as I was wondering if my bus was every going to arrive to rescue me, his cell phone rang and he walked away to answer it, missing his bus in the process, but leaving me relieved to see my bus arriving shortly thereafter.  The previous two times that this has happened, it’s left me equally confused and amused. Perhaps in 10 years, if my relationship status remains the same, instead of putting up a profile on match.com or e-harmony, I’ll simply return to France, find the closest bus stop and begin to wait for the bus.

Oh, one more thing, if you can’t tell from this and past posts, I have a penchant for alliteration. Perhaps I go overboard with it on occasion, (ok, I admit it, I do), but in order to have the title of this blog post in which I wanted to tell the about the books I’ve read about London coming to life, running my half-marathon, the attempted seduction by a 20-something-year old Frenchman, I can’t leave you without an update on my war against the spiders.  Unfortunately, I have bad news to report. While my tally has grown, (I’ve lost count exactly but I estimate it’s somewhere near 21), the spiders have scored a point. Before yesterday, I was unsure how the spiders would ever win a point. I mean, usually spiders don’t kill people. But yesterday, a spider was lurking in my running pants that were warming on the heater in the bathroom and it bit me. It quickly dropped to the floor and I soon disposed of him in revenge; but now, I all due fairness, I must grant the spiders one point. Thus, the estimated score stands as such: Me-21, Spiders-1.

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Cemetery Solemnity

Friday I went with the Americans who are in an exchange with my lycée to visit Normandy. We visited the American cemetery on the coast where many of the soldiers killed in the 2nd World War D-day battle are buried. The sight of the gravestones that stretched across the fields, each one marking the burial spot of some fallen warrior moved me deeply. Some of men are truly unsung heroes because they don’t even have their name to mark their gravestone.

I’m grateful for the men that gave their lives so bravely to ensure that we today live in the freedom we do. Visiting the cemetery was a humbling experience and it made me wish that my generation appreciated our freedoms more instead of taking them for granted and complaining because we don’t have the latest gadget that’s popular. The sense of solemnity and gravity that the cemetery evoked made me realize that justice does not come without cost.

 

 

 

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Revelations While Running

It’s been a long time since my last post, I know. After exhortations from both Kimbosha and Connie, not to mention my family, I’m finally getting around to updating this blog. Writing a post after so long is like trying to clean up your room after a very long time of letting books, clothes, and papers grow in scattered piles. They keep growing and it’s hard to know where to start cleaning, let alone muster the energy to do so.

In order to avoid rambling and recounting the myriad of interesting things that I could say, I’ll stick to just listing the top 7 things that I’ve thought, said or done since my last post- I’ve had most of these thoughts come to me on a run, hence the title of this post.

  1. Ahem…Christmas. I spent Christmas at home with my family. It was wonderful…except for getting the stomach flu on Christmas day. But even that wasn’t so bad because I got to be pampered by my family and I had a great conversation with my dad by the fire that was only periodically interrupted by desperate dashes to the bathroom. My dear friend Kimbosha came to visit and took these delightful pictures of my family. She’s a professional photographer and I’m always trying to learn more about Photoshop from her.
  2. I used to think that airports were the only place in public where one could run wildly in public and no one would think anything of it. That was before I began to use public transportation on a regular basis. Now, I realize that it is totally worth it to run in order to catch the bus. Especially if the bus only runs every half-hour. Would it be worth it to get up earlier? Perhaps, but running for the bus really makes more sense because the buses are almost never on time, and since you never know whether the bus will be early or late, it’s better just to leave the house and then alternate between running and walking briskly to the stop. I think the expression hurry up and wait should be the RTAPs new slogan. Realizing that a mad dash and burst of speed might just mean that I get to the stop before the bus comes around the corner has removed any qualms I might have had about running while fully clothed in professional attire and carrying my teaching bag.
  3. Égouttoir. Recently while doing some babysitting for Marie, I learned that this word means dish-drainer. While I’ve lamented before that my literature classes didn’t prepare me either for the real world, or for la vie quotidien, this word reminds me of Les Misérables because it comes from the same word as the word for sewers does. Hugo and Dr. J.-T. gave me a much greater appreciation for the sewers of Paris after reading Les Misérables, and now I’m thrilled to know another word that reminds me both of Hillsdale and of here.
  4. Gifts- I love both giving and receiving gifts. Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year because I get to pick out gifts for people I love and give them to them. Sometimes I measure how well I know someone by how well I do in picking out his gift. Since both my gifts for my American family and friends and my French acquaintances went over well, I was really pleased. I think the Dora the Explorer tent that I picked up for Marie’s girls was probably my biggest success. Hooray for children’s unabashed enthusiasm and love of play.  Also, one of my dear friends, “Paige Turner” recently sent me a care package that made me feel really loved. It’s incredible what a blessing friends can be to each other.
  5. Community. Recently I’ve been realizing the value of community as I’m feeling the lack of it. Hillsdale does an amazing job of creating community for its scholars and so does Summit. In leaving those safe-havens, I’ve learned that it’s hard to live alone on one’s one. God made us human, and as humans we have a need for community. The lack of it means that we can’t share our hearts or express fully who we are. Since I don’t speak the language here fluently and since I don’t have very many friends, I’ve felt the void that a lack of community creates.
  6. Sleep, Stress and Satisfaction. Coming back from Christmas wasn’t easy; I’ll admit it. While I love living in France most of the time, I miss having conversations about deeper things than the weather and food. I’ve become pretty adept at continuing polite, albeit superficial conversations, but sometimes I get really tired of banal conversation and I want to talk about something important with someone. Skype has come in handy on several occasions for this purpose of late. But the last couple of weeks have also reminded me that I’m human and I need sleep, no matter how much I want to be super-woman. Additionally, because I’m human, I know that I’m finite and I don’t know what’s going to happen 5 minutes from now, let alone five months from now. Thus, my satisfaction and joy needs to be in something bigger than myself, i.e. God. Stressing out about what I’m doing next school year won’t make me happier or more content.
  7. Earlier this week I had the revelation that rereading a book is like seeing a friend that you haven’t seen for a long time. It doesn’t take very long and the old memories come back and things get really comfortable. I’ve begun rereading the Harry Potter series because they’re worth rereading and because they’re some of the only books in English that the Longjumeau public library owns. Yes, I do have a Kindle that my parents gave me for graduation, which has many classic books loaded on it, and yes, I am using it. But nothing beats the actual sensation of holding a book in your hands and turning the pages. I’m perhaps a bit of a luddite when it comes to e-books vs. real books. There’s something about the very definition of a book that seems to defy the very idea of an e-reader. I think that this would be a good question to pose to Dr. Arnn. Somehow, I feel like a book without real pages and a real cover is like his imaginary cup that has a whole in the bottom. If a cup has a whole in the bottom, it can’t be a good cup. Likewise, something essential is lacking in a book without pages.

 

 

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Foods and Moods

Tomorrow I leave Paris to spend Christmas with my family. It’s hard to believe that Christmas is nearly here. It seems like it was just yesterday that I was recuperating my Thanksgiving turkey from my neighbor’s oven.

Life has proceeded at its normal breakneck speed since Thanksgiving. In A Severe Mercy, Sheldon Vanauken explains that C.S. Lewis told him that our frustration with time and the lack of it, the feeling of always being busy, and never having enough time to accomplish everything we want to, is evidence that man was created to be timeless, that he was created for eternity. This thought has been a relief, because I feel like time goes by so quickly that I can’t keep up with it.  My blog certainly doesn’t…

Since my last post, I succeeded in getting M. Nicolas to install the used oven that Véronique got for our apartment. M. Nicolas is the person who looks after the grounds of the lycée and is quite the handyman. He’s looked after Anne and me since we arrived, making sure that we have what we need. Just after we arrived here in October, he installed a new light bulb in the bathroom downstairs (which now has a heater- Thank the Lord!), he assiduously explained that we should never, ever touch the light bulb when leaving the shower. It is very, very dangerous to touch a light bulb when wet: one could be electrocuted and die. During his next visit later that week, M. Nicolas was duly impressed that Anne had changed the light bulb of our little living room lamp on her own. “You did it? All alone?” he asked her. “Yes, yes” she assured him.  I wasn’t there, but I wish that I could have seen their exchange. I told Anne that perhaps M. Nicolas was surprised that she was able to do it all by herself because she’s blonde. This didn’t elicit much of a verbal response, just a groan, rolled eyes, and a reluctant smile.

The new oven is quite a character and seems to be very moody. I think that she doesn’t like me very much. While our old oven had a broken temperature gauge and we didn’t ever know how hot it was and we could bake something for an extra 20 or 40 minutes without a problem, this oven on the other hand, is impatient to cook things.  She reminds me of a student that just wants to get his homework done and doesn’t really care how thorough he is. Instead of evenly distributing the heat to cook a tart, for example, the oven generally burns the bottom of it and leaves the top just cooked enough- even when baking at lower temperatures than the recipe’s directions. Also, whenever I try to turn on the gas burners on the stovetop, I usually have to try all four before I can get one of them to stay lit. Today, I was 75% of the way through my usual frustrating routine when Anne came in and lit the stove on her first try. I really think that our cuisinière is prejudiced, temperamental, and prefers Anne to me. She doesn’t seem to ever want to work properly for me.

Speaking of burning, or rather cooking, something that I’ve noticed while living in France is that food is important to the French.  This is an understatement. In fact, I rarely have a conversation with a new acquaintance where food doesn’t come up as a topic of conversation. Food is very important here. Obviously, we can’t live without food, and the French duly recognize this fact. I’m learning to appreciate the care with which food is prepared here. Dinners are a lot of work to put on, and when I’m invited over to people’s houses, I have much more appreciation for them than before. I discovered recently that I like fois gras. Apparently, it is really expensive, but it is really good! We had some at the “L’Arbre de Noël” on Friday celebrating the end of school. On Thursday, also celebrating the end of school, we had a gustation with champagne and finger foods, then really nice meal in the cantine replete with red wine. Only in France, does one drink champagne and wine at lunch and then head upstairs to teach classes that afternoon! Anne just shook her head at me and smiled.  We’ve heard that our school is perhaps more pleasant than other schools, and I believe it. I don’t think that all the teachers eat together in other lycées, and I certainly don’t think that other lycées are as well disciplined as ours.

This week, I had Nina and Louise over to make cookies with me, which was really fun! We made chocolate chip cookies and iced sugar cookies. The girls took home plates to their families, and I gave the rest to the administration, the dean’s office, Marie and Véronique. In addition to my baking efforts, which were mostly successful despite my moody oven, the past couple weeks have been replete with lots of different activities keeping me busy: my friend Andrea visited for a weekend; we’ve had company over for dinner twice; I went to a young people’s Christian gathering called PULSE which was amazing and really encouraging; I had a couple English teachers over for tea; I went shopping and to Starbucks with Charlotte; I attended Jérôme’s orchestra concert with Charlotte; I visited Beaubourg and watched the film Intouchables with Anne; and I spent last night with Marie and Matthieu and their girls at a gathering for mentally handicapped people and their family and friends. Beyond all of this, I’ve found a new church in Massy that seems to be very solid, as well as warm, welcoming and Spirit-filled. I can’t wait to go back in January! Life is full and God continues to be faithful to me here.

 

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An American Thanksgiving (more or less)

A month ago, I started my preparations for my first Thanksgiving away from my family. Here in France, I decided, I would celebrate Thanksgiving and recognize the teachers who have received me so kindly. I duly invited Marie and Véronique and their husbands to come to my apartment on Friday night for Thanksgiving. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll remember that out of the 8 or 9 English teachers at my Lycée, Marie and Véronique have occupied themselves the most with me.

I’m so grateful for all that they’ve done and will never be able to repay them. But, I thought that Thanksgiving in their honor would be a nice gesture.

Ever since I gave them their invitations, I started looking for the things I would need to have for a proper American Thanksgiving: most importantly, a turkey. The French however, eat turkey at Christmas, not at the end of November. Thanks to my friend Ilka who lives in Paris, I discovered the small American grocery store in Paris actually called “Thanksgiving.” It sells foods imported from the States and happily I was able to order a whole, farm-fresh, three-kilo turkey there (the smallest possible- still 3 kg!).

As Thanksgiving grew nearer, I became more and more anxious about making all the food myself. In fact, my mom and my aunts have always made everything in the past, and the most I’ve ever done is throw together a salad or make cornbread. Not anymore! I decided I would make as traditional a meal as possible, hence: appetizers, salad, bread (duly purchased from the Boulanger), Texas potatoes (a family tradition), roasted potatoes, cranberry sauce, oatmeal cookies, apple pie and of course, a turkey!

I decided to make the desserts in advance on Thursday since they would hold until Friday evening. But our kitchen does not have a rolling pin. So I went over to the dean of student’s apartment to see if I could borrow hers.  Obligingly, she loaned it to me and I proceeded to bake my first homemade pies all by myself!  Since our oven temperature gauge is broken, we can use the oven, but we have no idea how hot it is. While I was talking to my family on Thursday evening while they were celebrating Thanksgiving at home, I had to run and check on the pies several times. I accidentally burned the top of one of them, but in the end it turned out quite well…

Homemade apple pies

I took this a good sign for the following day, but still the idea of cooking a Thanksgiving turkey intimidated me and so I asked several friends to pray for my dinner. Worried that the turkey would be too dry, or worse, flavorless, I demanded the advice of those back home. Filled with new insight, I nervously anticipated Friday’s kitchen adventure.

Friday, after cleaning out the inside of the turkey (vraiment un tâche dégoutant!), I carefully put the turkey inside the oven at noon. My company planned to arrive at 8:00 pm, so, “no problem,” I thought, this should have more than enough time to cook –since it was only supposed to take about three hours.

I prepared all of the other dishes and when I got home from school about six, I turned back on the oven to allow the bird to finish cooking since the pop up timer hadn’t popped. But by the time Marie and Mathieu arrived, at a quarter past eight, it still hadn’t popped.

Oh no! While we would have l’apéritif first, I did want to eat the turkey before midnight and my broken oven stubbornly refused to cooperate. I consulted with Marie and we decided that the best thing to do was to ask my neighbor, the dean of students, if I could cook my fowl in her oven for a while. I grabbed the rolling pin to return and the extra apple pie I’d baked, and Marie accompanied me to ask the favor. Obliging once again, the neighbors agreed, and so we returned to fetch the bird. Just as we collected it, the timer popped, but since the neighbors had already begun to preheat their oven, we decided to take it over for 20 minutes anyway so that it could brown on top since it still had a rather uncooked appearance when I removed it from its cooking bag.

After we recuperated the turkey and the potatoes from the neighbors, we put them in my oven to stay warm. Then, before dinner, Marie and Véronique gave me a beautiful recipe book of French desserts called, le Larousse des Desserts, essentially, The Dictionary of Desserts. It’s beautiful, but it weighs about as much as a Merriam Webster’s dictionary. I don’t know how everyone here knows that I like books so much, but somehow, that’s all that I’ve been given for my birthday. (It actually makes me super happy- I can’t think of anything I like better!) My parents send me the best gift ever, which was completely a surprise: an electronic dictionary-translator. I felt like a giddy child on Christmas morning when I opened it! It’s the most practical gift ever and it will allow me to read these books much more easily!  I plan to bring as much home at Christmas as possible, but still, it’s going to be a squeeze…

Friday evening flew by: I made a teary speech in French thanking everyone for being so kind to me, gave thanks for the food and everything else in life God has given me, and then finally, the Thanksgiving diner began. After the turkey mishap, the evening went smoothly and later Marie said something like, “on a bien mangé, on a bien bu, c’était vraiment sympa.” Basically, everything as great and we had a blast! It’s hard to believe that in such a short time, these friends have become so dear. So kind and thoughtful, they’re what I love so much about France.

I was grateful that all my food turned out well, if I don’t say so myself, and also for the opportunity to recognize the generosity and kindness of my colleagues here.

Our meal

Me and Marie

Marie et Matthieu

Véronique et Regis

Thanksgiving more than just a meal, it is truly an opportunity to reflect on the blessings that God has given us and for me, this year, this list of blessings contains so many people’s names. If you’re reading this, you’re almost certainly on this list, and I thank God for each of you and for the influence you’ve had on my life.

I’m also grateful that we now have heat in our bathroom that previously was about as cold as outdoors- i.e. freezing! Moreover, I’m thankful that I have the chance to spend a few more months here improving my teaching skill and trying to ameliorate my French.

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