Thursday, March 4, 2010

Recent news: Bread, laptop stress and warm weather!

Current events in the life of Madeleine:

-bread: I am currently baking my own bread, and right now have a loaf rising. It's cheaper than buying a new loaf every day, probably healthier (I buy the 5 grain pain aux céréales) and relaxing to make by hand.

-laptop crash: I had to take my laptop in to an Informatique boutique last Friday in Agen, due to a random crash that my laptop experienced about two weeks ago. Since then, I've been going to Atlas, the local Internet/phone store, and paying 2 Euro for an hour of connection to the outside world. I have my computer back, with the internet, but the technicians weren't able to restore the files properly from my old hard drive, so now I am missing loads of information (music, photos, documents, et cetera). The owner of the shop was quite rude with me; and when I tried fighting the 24-Euro fee he decided to tack on for "recuperation of files", when really, nothing was recuperated, he wouldn't change his mind. I paid 114 Euro to basically have a new hard drive installed with Windows XP (in French) reinstalled, and hardly any of my old files from my other hard drive. The owner said my files still existed, so it wasn't impossible to recuperate what I had lost; it just took time and effort, both of which he apparently didn't have. Why is it I seem to be encountering this repeating problem of workers getting paid in France to do absolutely nothing?

One nice thing about that recent trip to Agen was the beautiful sky that appeared to be on fire on my way home. Looking out the train window, this was my view:

-Warm weather: The sun has been out and is bringing along with it a feeling of Spring that I have been missing for a long while. Spring means several things for me: The completion of this assistantship, answers from graduate schools, visits to Nice and Biarritz/Hossegor/St. Jean de Luz, and better moods. I am affected by the weather so much, that these cloudy, rainy days we've been having have been weighing on my mood and causing me to stay inside my apartment like a hermit. But dry, warm weather means exercise outside, summer vacation and vitamin D. All of which I need badly.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ah, success.

Well, she's in: Lucille has been selected for the Au Pair program.
I was given this news via very-excited-sounding text:
"hello! my interview was very well pass! she had said I have got the profil for this programme! I'm very happy and excite! :) I will say more when we will see! bisous!"
This was definitely a day-maker for me (not to mention, Lucille herself, I'm sure).
I knew she'd be able to do it, and I am so proud of her.
I brought it up in class today as a side-note and we applauded her hard work.
I'm hoping the others will use her success as inspiration and push themselves to greatness.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

As per request.

I have been unfaithful to my blog recently, and have decided to give it the attention it deserves.
For a bit, I was considering continuing the blog with "Vlogs", or video blogs, since I do have a webcam and can easily upload a video on here (it just takes some time). I feel, though, that I can express myself more accurately in writing, because I am given time to think about my words and edit them when necessary. Vlogs are fun, but I like seeing my ideas categorized and written out.

Recently, I've been trying to figure out what I'd want to do with my upcoming vacation, coming in about a week. I'm thinking of going back to Paris to see my friend Nikki who is studying at a University there, while living with her husband. It will be great to see another familiar face, it always gives me a sense of being home. I've found this article on free things to do in Paris, so I'll be studying that before my next trip up north.

Recently on, I've been finding lots of articles on France. They seem to be mainly culture-promoting articles, funded by the government. There are a few "i-Report" articles as well, but I couldn't find anything relating to the area where I'm staying. Maybe I'll submit some of my own amateur photography and articles to the site, and see if they are approved. It seems like a cool idea, because not many people have heard about the Lot-et-Garonne (the region in which I'm staying) or for that matter, Aiguillon. I do have quite a bit of extra time, perhaps I will make some submissions with the documentation I've already completed.

Lucille, my student in Terminale who I've been having English conversation practice with, had her interview this morning in Bordeaux. I'm going to ask her how she did on Tuesday when I have her in class. I feel like she's improved a lot in the two weeks we've been talking, and she showed a lot more self-confidence yesterday, during our last conversation before her interview. I sincerely hope she is accepted into the Au-Pair program, she obviously wants it and is passionate for working with children. I will update when I hear her news.

Last night I was invited to eat at another colleague's house for dinner- Claire, another English teacher, had me over and served up a wonderful meal of foie gras, confit de canard, potatoes, wine, salad/cheese, and homemade chocolate cake. They got the duck from a friend of theirs, who raises the animals on his own land. I mistakenly thought the duck was "very fresh" because of this, but confit de canard actually takes a lot of time to prepare and thus, is not fresh. Because the duck is basically marinating in its own fat, (which can be for up to a year in a properly sealed glass jar), the meat absorbs the flavor (as does the skin, which is left on) and makes for a very delicous, appetizing entrée. The skin is the fattiest part, and one is not expected to eat it, but the meat itself is flavorful and incomparable to any meat I've eaten before.
Claire's beautiful children, Bastien (3) and Léo(1), were excitedly running around their house when I came in. There was a lot of joyful squealing and cooing from Léo, who, might I add, has the most gorgeous big eyes and curly hair. He would toddle up to my side when I was sitting at the table and rest his head against me, while drooling and sucking on his fingers. I was biting my lip trying to fight back the cuteness, but Léo won me over and I had to just sit back and admire the beauty of childhood. Bastien was full of nervous energy and was contented while the three of us ate (Claire, her husband and I) with a Pink Panther video playing in the background. This brought up memories of my family watching the older, Peter Sellers version of Pink Panther (not the recent movies with Steve Martin) and I told Claire she'd have to see these movies as they, to me, are classics.

Tonight I am going to another dinner with my newest colleague, Laleeta, who started teaching in January. She is preparing Indian food tonight, as she has Indian ancestry. I believe her grown kids will be there as well, and perhaps her father. I've bought a bottle of red wine to bring over, but now that I think about it, I believe a white moelleux would have been more appropriate with Indian food. Maybe I'll stop back at the store before I head out, around 4 this afternoon.

I still have to take a shower and get some reading in today. I've been slacking on my reading because of the graduate school applications I've been hurriedly trying to complete before the deadline for Fall admission. I'm just waiting now for the 2 recommendation letters to be submitted, and hopefully by March I'll start to receive some responses. Will be thinking nothing but positive thoughts until then.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Long overdue post.

It's been a bit of time since my last post, so let me recap what the past few weeks have been like.

I started to hold conversation sessions with one of my students (a senior) who is applying for an au pair program in California for this coming Fall. She is very motivated to go to the States, and her level of spoken English is one of the best in her class. However, she'll be applying among older students who've already taken University English classes, and is insistent on improving her level in the next few weeks so she can realize her dream. She sought me out and we picked several days over the next few weeks to speak English for 45 minutes to an hour. It's not a paid gig, just something to help her practice speaking. She's the only student of mine who is seeking extra practice with her English, and to me that shows serious motivation. I'm hoping she gets accepted to the program. With her attitude and knowledge of the language, I don't have much doubt in my mind that she'll be accepted. She reminds me of myself a little when I was applying to study abroad in Besançon- seriously motivated but a less-than-perfect level of the target language. I told her that being in the country where the language is spoken is the best way to become fluent, and that this opportunity could definitely help her. She's even working on her own with a listening CD and book she got for Christmas from her grandmother. It's wonderful to see such drive in my students.

I bought my plane ticket home today, but I am waiting to see if the purchase goes through (I bought it with a student discount, and I'm not sure if my student status will be verified or not). Chances are it will, because other assistants have bought student-discounted airline tickets before after having graduated. If the deny it, it's their loss, right?

The weather here is so-so, no snow but very chilly. I went for a jog a few days ago and I regretted immediately not wearing more winter jogging gear (earmuffs and gloves to be exact), but it did feel great to get my blood flowing. I've been doing lots of sitting around my apartment, so the warmer the weather gets the happier Maddie will be. Amy and I went for a long walk this past Sunday to the hills/farmland outside of Aiguillon. It was really gorgeous where we went, and she took a few pictures (I will try and get them up here once she's uploaded them). I haven't been taking many pictures recently due to a certain power converter of mine that is currently en panne (broken). It's about time I get a working converter; I've been needing one for a while now.

I haven't been going to Sud Management to help Peter after the New Year; he may not need my assistance there anymore. Not sure if he's decided to work on other projects, or what, but now my Wednesday afternoons are wide open. I'll most likely go to Agen today to look for a converter and pass some time away in the bookstore.

Amy and I went and had dinner at her colleague's house with her son and his roommates, as we had done in the Fall last year. The same four students our age were there, minus one. Florian, Anne-Sophie, Jimmy and Leo all brought things to make a delicious dinner of potatoes, cheese, tomatoes, peppers, and spices (can't think of the specific name of the dish) but basically all the veggies and potatoes are chopped up and mixed together, and placed in aluminum foil which gets baked for 30 mins. or so. Starts with a P...I'll have to look it up. Anywho, the dinner was great and we were among good company. Amy and I are in the works of planning a trip to Mont-de-Marsan to visit the roommates and have them show us around- right now we're just trying to align our schedules a bit. The all go to an école du bois, which is like a wood engineering University, and are often out hiking in the woods and getting their boots muddy. They came to the dinner directly from one of their hikes, and it showed! They have the right idea, finding a profession where you are surrounded by nature half the time. Just reminds me that I need to get out more...

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

(Insert witty subject line here)

Day 3 of my cold. I've been sick since Monday, on medication, and already missed the first two work days this week. Today, I went in (only have one class- the 3emes) knowing that it'd be an easy day, my other class for the day was canceled (I think the teacher is sick too). It went as any normal day in France teaching goes- waited for the teacher to come with the students in the hallway for about 5 minutes, realized she was late, took the whole class in and started a game with them. We ended up doing the game the whole hour- would've taken about twenty minutes if the kids actually followed instructions, but 1/4 of them were talking the whole period and about 1/4 of them just didn't write anything down at all. It was a super simple game, you write your name in the middle of the white board and circle it. You have 5 branches coming off of that circle with random things (I used my zip code, my age, my dog's name, my sister's name, and the city I'm from). The rest of the class has to guess what each word or number means by asking the appropriate question in English. Such as: "Is 48382 your postal code?" or "is Michelle your sister?" No matter how many times I had to correct them (they usually said things like "Michelle eez your sistehr?" they didn't seem to want to correct their mistakes (give or take two students who are probably the best in the class). I wanted to pull these two chatty girls out by their ears into the hallways and leave them there for the period, but something told me that might not be the best way to handle things. The funny thing about these students is, even though I announced loud and clear (in French) in the beginning of class that I just got over a bad cold and can't yell because it hurts my throat, they were just as loud as if I didn't say anything at all. It's times like this that I can't wait to try my hand at teaching University students just to know what it's like to have students that listen and care!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Getting Stuff Done Day

So, in a way, today was very productive. And in a way, it was useless.

It started with my heading to my 8:15 a.m. class, arriving early and getting my lesson for the day all written up on the board. Comme normal, I head upstairs to take half of the students away from my colleague's English class. When she arrives, she lets me know that the students have homework due that day, and that I wasn't needed. Well, I don't mind that much, because it's one of my favorite colleagues who I like and she usually doesn't forget to tell me when she doesn't need me for class. At least, she's forgotten a lot less than my other colleagues. So I shrug it off and go back to my apartment, call France Telecom (asking them why some stranger's address was on my account and explaining that that's probably the reason I hadn't received my phone yet), and explaining to them that, since we didn't have our modem until mid-December (when Orange sent us a confirmation that it would be delivered around mid-November) we shouldn't have to pay the first bill when we couldn't even access the service. The guy on the phone was understanding, but what added to the complications of my explaining the situation, was that I was calling from my cell phone- super expensive way to call customer service, because I have the pay-as-you-go plan and calls to Customer Service aren't free. So, knowing the call was about to be cut because of my credit expiring, I hastily told the representative that he'd have to call me back (I can talk on their dime as long as they call me. Instead of saying "okay, will do" he replied "C'est un mobile? On n'a pas le droit d'appeler aux mob-" and then of course, it cut off. (He was in the middle of telling me they aren't allowed to call cell phone numbers. What?) Frustrated, I threw my phone on my bed and was about to find my shoes to go back to the school for my next lesson when he called me back. "It's France Telecom", he said. Apparently they do have the "droit" to call one on their cell phone. He asked why, if I have a fixed line number, I didn't just call from that line instead, because it would have been free. Once again I explained that, because of their error, I don't have my phone, they had sent it to some random person's address. So, we finished up by my successfully (but not without some poor grammar mistakes thrown in) getting the first bill waived from our February bill. Phew, what a process.

Let's move now to the next lesson for the day. Repeat steps one and two. Lesson on board, go to get half the next class...but wait! My students are standing outside my door. They ask me where the teacher is. I look down the hall, and sure enough, her door is closed. I tell them I'll go down to Vie Scolaire with them to solve the puzzle. Sure enough, even though I looked on the missing profs sheet (twice) that same morning, the professor's name was freshly written under Thursday, January 7th. So, my students had a free hour. But that already makes two classes out of the day I didn't need to bother with.

Went back to the apartment, paid my internet bill through January, recharged my phone with credit so I can just lazily call to pay my bills in the future instead of writing a check and mailing it out. It was already late anyway, because it had been sitting in the school's mailbox waiting to be delivered to me all throughout break. Hopefully, I won't be smacked with a fee because of that.
The third class of the day (technically the first), I had the noisy 3emes. They couldn't seem to stop talking (even the girls, who are usually much quieter and more well-behaved). I was spending a large chunk of the hour just standing there trying my best to look stern, waiting for them to get the picture and calm down. Didn't work. I tried explaining that I can't yell (unlike the professor who has them normally) and that when they talk, I have to yell over them. Didn't work. I was running out of ideas and patience, so I just gave in and we played Scattergories for the last 20 minutes. The lesson was finished, and they ultimately felt like concentrating even more on the game we were playing. Guess it's games from here on out.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Bonne Année/Happy New Year!

So, with the new year, I am pretty much required to update my blog again.
I went back to teaching yesterday. It was a nice, slow start as my first class on Monday didn't commence until 2:20 in the afternoon. Even then, it was cancelled- which left me with my one and only class of Terminales for the day at 3:25. It went well- the students were energetic, but only one of them refused to speak english, and no matter how much I prompted her she only replied in French- most often with attempted wit for every response. I didn't let her get to me (there's one in every class I have it seems) because I know when it comes time for her to study for the BAC, and she can't say a word, I'll just shrug my shoulders with the whole "not my fault" look on my face. I'm really mastering this whole French attitude.

One thing that brightened my day yesterday was getting the mail- and lots of it. Because everything that is sent to me is kept in the school (I can't check my mail over vacation), there were 2 weeks worth of stocked up letters/packages waiting for me upon my return. The packages were a lovely care box filled with an XL size jar of peanut butter/mixed dried fruits and nuts from my mother (love her so much), and my LIVEBOX. Yes, it came. Do I need it anymore? No. Thanks anyway, France Telecom. You haven't done 1 thing right yet since I've subscribed for your service.
The letters were a mix of Christmas cards, bills, letters about my Carte de Séjour (which basically just say they want more paperwork, even though I already sent in everything they required the first week I arrived in France). All they want is three pages photocopied out of my Passport. Did it really take 3 months to go through my envelope and tell me there is still stuff missing? Need I even bother getting my Carte de Séjour anymore, since I only have less than 4 months more in France and won't be traveling out of the country before then? If I have a harder time in the CDG airport without one, then fine. I'll make the copies. But hopefully the security by then will be a little loosened from the past attempted attack on Christmas Day (what is wrong with people)?

The Christmas market is outside, and I am more than tempted to buy a nice loaf of 6-grain bread for the next few days. One can only eat plain baguette so often before one begins to crave heartier things. Amy made the comment yesterday as we placed our items on the conveyor belt in the checkout line that I had "posh food choices", which could be true, if posh means healthy. One of my new year's resolutions was to eat healthier and get a little exercise in every day. So far, I've been eating very well, but the exercise thing hasn't kicked in yet. Maybe once I get my schedule organized I'll create a little time slot for a run. I do miss running, but the weather has kept me gathering the motivation. For the past few days, it's been as if you're walking through a cloud- misty and wet. I'm not complaining, though- tells me the States have been hit with a nasty cold spell. I know I'd be much crankier if it were colder here. I'm going to miss this temperate weather in the winter, wherever I end up.

This weekend, Amy and I are planning on meeting two of the other assistants from Marmande somewhere to hang out. It's only during the assistant meetings we've had that we've actually chatted, so I sent them a text earlier this week asking if they'd be interested in doing something on Saturday. Should be fun- I'm going to get out more these next few months and really see what I can of France before I'm outta here.