Holidays are here

Love these ornaments

I cant believe it’s here. That time of madness where you eat way too much, drink (maybe not enough), question the sanity of the people around you, laugh abundantly, and by the first day of the new year wonder, where did all that time go?

Halloween came and went and before I knew it, so did Thanksgiving. This past Saturday marked the start of the Noel Marche and santas now adorn marche corners and Christmas trees decorate every street. Being that this is the first time I’m out of the country during ‘holiday season’, instead of doing like the French, I’ve apparently made extra efforts to hold on to my holiday traditions. I even yelled at my Dad and told him I was ‘offended’ after learning that they almost had a Chinese take out Thanksgiving. Why would they do such a thing when there are perfectly good cranberries and canned pumpkins waiting to be feasted on?!

After learning that my students hadn’t even heard about Thanksgiving, I promptly instructed them to do like the preschoolers and make a hand turkey. Of course, we delved deeper into things that they are thankful for (making extra emphasis on the “th” that is oh so difficult for frenchies), but really they seemed more interested in the hand turkey. Oh highschoolers. Computers, sports, video games, friends and good food seemed to be the top contenders. I did however, have a few interesting and thoughtful “I am thankful for” statements, mothers, family, teachers being amongst them, but my personal favorite was “I am thankful for american assistants”. True, I had written down that I’m thankful for French students (because without them where would I be?), but I’ll take what I can get!

Where did fall go?

I attempted to delve into the controversies of Thanksgiving and discuss the perspective of Native Americans, but being that they were confused about “what is a Pilgrim” and “why do you play football on this day” and “why do you have a Friday that is black”, it proved to be a bit difficult. And trying to translate the food into French was a feat in and of itself. Nonetheless trying to create a Thanksgiving feast in France.

But my fellow Americans and I rallied together, found a big assed supermarche and bought way too much. It’s beginning to look a lot like Thanksgiving.

Working with what we can

We cooked all morning, improvising with a lack of cooking materials and utensils. We even reconstituted dried cranberries with rum and water. Amazingly enough after some boiling and cinnamon seasoning they turned out quite well. Ilka, Diego and our newest Brittish addition, Lise-Marie all joined for the feast and were quite surprised with the spread. We toasted with things of thanks and lots of eye contact (according to the French it’s seven years bad sex if you cheers without it). Afterwards, the fattened Americans plopped on the air mattress, rolling around like full bellied sea lions, while the people who know how to feast without stuffing themselves, started cleaning. At least they got an authentic idea of what happens. We consume. This is the time of consumption.

At one point one of the non-American assistants asked us, “How is this different than Christmas?” We all looked at each other and at first said, “It’s not.” But after awhile I stopped to say that generally Thanksgiving has a greater emphasis on family time. Sure you have the football, the food, and the parade, but for me it was always about getting together with the family and taking a bit of time to stop and appreciate. Of course Christmas is also a time of family, but too often its emphasis gets buried under the presents. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the over the top present tradition my family has somehow grown accustomed to, but I do feel like Americans especially can get lost this time of year.

I have the fondest memories of piling our presents on top of the car, as Dad drove 8 dangerous hours across icy roads to Lubbock, Texas, and feeling that sense of happiness (and relief) when we made it and Grandma was ecstatically greeting us at the door in her satin nightgown. To me, Christmas is the excitement of an inch of snow as it glitters under the street lamp at night, unwrapping the mystery ornament from last year’s swap, the bowl of velvetta mac and cheese that Gran Gran would make especially for us kids (even though she was an excellent cook), the half eaten cookies and letters from Santa that we eventually recognized as Mom’s handwriting, the hours of bickering over which tree to chop down, but the warm peace that came with finding the tree and celebrating with home made cookies and hot coco, the hay bale king of the mountain wars that Mom always tried to win, the forced but fun caroling, the endless laughter (and tests of sanity) that comes with being around family for 72+ hours straight, the games that usually ended in competitive arguments, and the smiles (and sometimes tears) that evolved from thoughtfulness.

It’s going to be strange not to be around this year. But as my mom said at least I’ve got a “Christmas ambassador” (Dad) coming my way.

Though many Christians might like to deny it, Christmas is linked to the pagan traditions surrounding the winter solstice. And ultimately, the common thread of the holidays at this time are tied to finding ways to bring light to the dark. So I guess as the madness descends, I’d like to detox once again and be thankful for all the wonderful memories I’ve had and for what I have now. I want to find ways to illuminate the dark. 

But don’t worry. You’re still getting presents from France.

I’m Alive

I know it’s verging on a month since my last post, but I am alive- in both the blog world and…life. I managed to survive the 2 week roadtrip where Antoine and I traveled to East Europe and battled snow and the breakdown of the campervan. But oh what a fun experience it was- nine hour drive through surprise snow in Germany to get to the Czech Republic, adventures in Prague and Bohemian Paradise, gear stick breakdown, sunny days, thermal baths and Disneyesque castles in Budapest, large, overcompensating structures in Vienna, some more engine issues, and finishing with mystical Alpine scenery.

Snowy Czech Republic

Beautiful Prague

Bohemian Paradise

Disney in Budapest

Budapestian Baths (Thermal!)

Colossal Vienna

While travelling I learned a thing or two.

Here are Eight things I’ve Learned:

1. You will not (unlike in Texas) get shot or yelled at if you park a big green campervan in random spots for sleeping

2.Travel books are a godsend- especially if you’re lost, hungry, cold or just need a place to find a good drink

3. Don’t fall into tourist traps. Don’t let hunger win. It’s never worth it.

4. A little crown or forint (Czech and Hungarian currency) goes a long way- we feasted like kings

5. And speaking of kings, if you’re in search of castles, travel the countryside of Prague. There are castles aplenty  off of just about every exit

6. Campervans are great- unless you’re driving in the big European cities where the ancient streets are small and the parking is expensive, too tiny, or nonexistent

7. When roadtripping, always have snacks available. Lost + hungry= cranky captain, cranky copilot, cranky car

8. If a gear stick breaks, fear not! Welding tools? Don’t need em! Wrenches, metal bands, some screws and a bit of Macgyvering and you’re good to go!

And of course Eight things to Travel With:

1. Pocket knife- scissors, tweezers, cheese cutter- need I say more?

2. Maps, detailed maps- especially when travelling by car. City maps are good too

3. Layers. Always layers. Good thing I had training in New England to know that a sunny day can always turn to rain and snow likes to surprise you

4. Water- cuz you never know when it will cost more than a pint of beer

5. Tissues- great for the nose and napkins and even better for the occasional TP during those really gross rest stops

6. I-pod- music is essential for road trip sanity. Unfortunately we had to learn the hard way.  Random songs popping up when you don’t have music- Zombie (yes that 90s Cranberries song) and Call Me Maybe on repeat in your head. It’s a wonder we didn’t kill one another

7. Sunglasses- you never know when you’ll be blinded by the sun…or snow

8. A sense of humor- because nothing ever quite goes as planned when traveling

**And of course a good travel companion is always nice

Unfortunately I just spent the past half hour attempting to figure out how to import video into this blog only to discover that it’s not really possible and my internet is too slow for youtube.

BUT all in all it was an amazing trip filled with breath taking sights, a wonderful re-connection to nature, some battles of my neuroses and the campervan’s defiance, therapeutic thermals, lots of castles,  eye opening art exhibits about the Slavic ethic, an increased interest in Eastern European history and how it was shaped by WWI and WWII, much laughter and quite a bit of delirium and ultimately a  great beginning to my eastern exploration. One lofty goal I have is to one day keep going east. We’ll see what happens. But for now I’m happily back in France, finally finding my teaching rhythm and eating lots of cheese.

Winter wonderland. It’s not every day you see the fusion of winter and fall

One of our campsites

Antoine’s second Macgyver fix

At least I’m not claustrophobic

St. Vitus Cathedral in the Prague Castle- Fisheye style

Prague is pretty gorgeous

Is this real life?

Beautiful Budapest

Belly of the beast