Enfin, Je suis employé!

I must share my happiness today because the long wait is OFFICIALLY over!! I have a job! True, it’s only a temporary one as it’s a camp, but it’s not only a source of income, but a job that I am excited about!!

I got hired to work as a counselor at American Village, a program that organizes English immersion language camps throughout France. This is a great program for Americans who want to get paid to be in France. It is a rare thing to find, and I couldn’t be happier I got it! I’ll be teaching English and art, playing and creating games, frolicking in the sun (hopefully), and who knows what else!

Today marked the start of a new chapter as the long drought of unemployment finished, and I received a tiny book of hope in the mail, aka my paperwork. At first I felt daunted by the plethora of paper (I mean come on camp- this is temporary employment after all), but as I continued to read, my stomach filled with butterflies of excitement and happiness. This camp means business. Business I’m thrilled to be a part of.

I particularly relished the program’s goals, as they discussed providing a culture of awareness and global understanding/respect. Initially I was worried when I signed up for American Village Camps, but smiled with relief to know that not only are we on the same page, but my multicultural training can not only be utilized here, but could even thrive!

It’s nice to be reminded that sometimes having patience can pan out.

Needless to say, I’m feeling good (cue Bublé) -today and about the future.

Countdown to camp tales: One month.

Happy Thursday all!!

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Sunday Marché: Hello again old friend

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Dear Marché,

It’s been a while. I’ve missed you old friend. You bring back such sweet memories.

Memories of my first time in this foreign land, when I was a child both intimidated and intrigued by things outside of my element. So much has changed, and yet so much has stayed the same.

The first time my mother wove us through your crowds of interesting people, my nostrils filled with your array of new smells, and my ears submerged in sounds of French. You embraced my family into your welcome arms; you provided that first space where I felt I belonged in this new unknown place.

And as I walked once again among patterned cloths blowing in the wind, as fruits and flowers sprung to life in the sunlight, I thought of you. As smells of strong cheese, old diesel trucks, and rotisserie chickens unleashed memories of my mother’s market cooking, of new-found independence, and youthful exploratory boldness, I smiled. 

With mud on my hands from fresh spinach, winter sun warming my cheeks, and my ears once again wrapped up in sounds of French, I became entranced by the visual feast you displayed. A painters dream unveiled before me in colors, shapes, and patters, both foreign and familiar.

So I wanted to say thank you Marché. For the reminders of my wonderful, fortunate past, and for reminding me that I live in an incredible place- that I live in France. 

Thank you for letting me be in this moment, reminding me to enjoy the simple things in life- like fresh food, and sunlit colors, fond memories, and stopping to feel the moment, in a space that reminds me of, and almost feels like, home.

Always with love,

Anna

Blogaloutions

Bonne année and happy 2014 to all! Are we really already a month into the new year? And has it really been almost 2 months since my last post??

I was partially MIA due to the fact that my long visit home was insanely busy (as home usually is), filled with a flurry of friends, family, much missed food, painting commissions and workshops, and a surprise trip to the arctic tundra that is the northeast (Boston was 4 fahking degrees!)

…but part of my lack of writing was due to the fact that I didn’t quite have the words. I know, I know. It might seem incroyable- Me, not have words?? But I was silently bottling up something I’ve been trying to hide for far too long. And this is my confession for the new year: in spite of all my denial- in spite of this very blogs title- I am… a little lost.

*Warning. This shits about to get personal and maybe a bit ranty so proceed with caution… Continue reading

Time of Thanks

As I’ve said before about Living Abroad, I find that my holiday convictions are especially strong when I’m far away from home. This year has proved to be not much different from the last. I’ve planned with fellow Americans weeks in advance, scoured super marches for items that could be feastworthy, and even requested a care package from home- which turned out to be a fully stocked surprise. Moms are the best:

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So much deliciousness

It’s amazing how at times like these, the smallest things bring me joy. When I discovered Ritz crackers at Carrefour, I could barely contain my excitement, or avoid the awkward isle stares of, “C’est qui- this strange cracker enthused fille?” But I didn’t care. I was one step closer to creating a real green bean casserole.

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They actually exist in France!

When I finally baked the pumpkin bread yesterday, I was surprised by how a simple taste or smell could instantly transport me home. And by how much happiness the delightful taste of cinnamon, nutmeg, and pumpkin could provide. This time of year Americans are inundated with pumpkin flavor and scents- pumpkin candles, lattes, breads, pies…I guess even commercial traditions work their way into your psyche. Because having pumpkin flavors and scents brought me far too much joy. I was happy to share with my student as we discussed thanksgiving traditions, and how the holiday has changed over time. And I was happy to come home to an apartment filled with the aroma of fresh-baked goods and spiced pumpkin. Oh the simple pleasures. Continue reading

Resistance is Futile- I am “a artist.”

Not too long ago, my mom and I rediscovered a film of my 7th birthday party. We watched as my mother interviewed each of my semi-toothless friends about their future aspirations- “a doctor, a mommy, a teacher, a vet”. As each little girl relayed their dreams with gap toothed smiles, I grew curious about what my own scrawny, short-haired, seven-year old self would say. And I was surprised by the answer.

“A artist”.

My mom and I turned to each other in awe. How could a seven-year old be so insightful?

I didn’t know much at that time, especially when it came to hairstyles, but I knew what I wanted, boy hair and all. If only I’d continued to carry the same confidence as that seven-year old. I’ve spent the past 15 years denying something that has been such an important part of my life for fear of- I don’t know what. Failure? Self-indulgence? Being too contrived? Taking a risk? Fear is a funny thing. It holds us back before we even know what it looks like, or what exactly it is that we’re afraid of.

The thing is, I like to create. I always have, in one way or another, whether it was hand sewing costumes for Halloween or plays, or crafting cards for any possible holiday or celebration. One summer, my friend and I spent hours making and delivering anonymous cards to the neighborhood that just read “have a nice day”. Each one was different.

And I don’t know who I was kidding. I had endless sketchbooks filled with doodles and costume designs, and journals embellished with ‘marginal’ drawings. When I went to a Fine Arts high school to study theater, I double majored in art with a passion for painting. And though I went to college for psychology, a serendipitous turn of events led me to studio work and to becoming an art teacher.

But I found that as I taught young artists to embrace their own creations, discover their personal marks, and celebrate the “happy accidents”, I struggled to do that for myself. It wasn’t until my semester abroad in Greece, where I realized how much I learned, how much I knew, and how much I truly loved to paint, that I finally allowed myself to acknowledge what that seven-year old did with such ease.

I am ‘a artist’.

I am an artist who loves to paint. Loves to capture the moments in life- the subtle connections, and the little things that make us smile or wonder. I am an artist who still uses that word with trepidation. Who just wants to create. To capture the magnificence of the ‘ordinary’ within the corners of canvas. I am an artist who finally took the plunge.

And created a website.

So fears aside, today I am admitting that I am an artist, and introducing a new chapter, a new part of my blogging experience, and a new website:

Annakotecki.com

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Happy Friday! This weekend- do something that scares you 🙂 

Sasquatch

It’s official. I’m a crazy cat lady.

Alright. Alright. I’ve always been a crazy cat lady. But I didn’t really have a choice, since loving cats is all part of my namesake. No really. Kotecki means cat lover. Or so I’m told.

But it’s officially official because I have one of my own. One who both terrorizes and amuses me. One who drives me insane in one instant and melts my heart in the next. One who goes by Sasquatch.

So in an effort to introduce this charismatic cat to the world and appease my crazy cat ladydom, (or maybe the claws of insanity are slowly tightening their grip on my mind), I decided to write a poem. Continue reading

The Return

I meant to share this post when I first returned to the states….a.k.a. before I got all distracted and procrastinatey. But now I’ve decided to share it- just in time for my return to France! 

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This is a strange place.

The pipes in Texas are so hot that it’s impossible to get cold water from the sink. Even cool water. I’m lucky if it comes out lukewarm as I’m brushing my teeth. On the other hand, the air conditioning is so ice-cold, that by the time I go outside, I welcome the oven-like furnace heat as the thick air thaws my frozen flesh. And the cars- oh how the cars continuously catch my eye- all shiny, and giant, and new. Slick SUVs and Trucks consuming the large roads. SO. Shiny.

I’m not just back in America. I’m in Texas.

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Continue reading

The Waiting Game

I wrote this a while ago, and while I’m finally back in France (and travel stories will ensue), I wanted to share.  

The thought of entering that waiting room terrified me. Because then it was real. Then I actually had to face the fact that my grandma was undergoing intense surgery. That the tearful laughter we shared the night before in the hotel lobby, might just be the last time we laughed together.

That was a possibility that no part of me was willing to face.

I was terrified that the waiting room would be sterile, dark and bleak. That it would feel oppressive and daunting. And that the hard shell of denial that I had so diligently worn for the past month, would crack in seconds. But I was surprised to enter an area that was spacious and open, filled with sunlight, and the buzz of cheery conversation.

Feeling mildly relieved, my family settled in with our breakfast tacos and nervous chatter about the weather and how long we thought we’d be in the waiting room. Would it really be over in 8 hours? Could it possibly be shorter, with good news that would end this unsettling wait? Continue reading

It’s the little things

Today I’m feeling appreciative of the little things in life that make a big difference. Like:

  • The universe aligning to alleviate stress, reduce complicated factors and streamline a difficult process (is streamline to corporate jargony? is jargony even a word?)

Or more specifically:

  • The French administration not only being accurate about the arrival of important documents (for once), but actually being EARLY with said documents!!
  • Receiving my récépissé a week in advance, thus allowing me to purchase my plane ticket home and be there for my Grandma’s consultation.
  •  Buying a round trip ticket to the United States 5 days before departure and discovering a ticket $1,000 less than the original expected price!
  • The knowledge that my visa might actually be ready when I return. And due to French error it might be a working visa!

And more generally:

  • A wonderful support system all over the world.
  • And knowing that I can return to an amazing source of support here in France.
  • The excitement that comes with returning home after a year.
  • The happiness that stems from my Grandma’s happiness.
  • Sharing celebratory desserts to further appreciate these little things.
  • And of course- kittens. Kittens are always worth appreciating.

Come Sunday, one of these will be mine (…and Antoine’s).

What’re you feeling appreciative of today?

kittens!

Kittens!

Happy Friday Everyone!

Heading Home

Where to start?

I can’t believe it’s been three weeks since my last post. So much has happened in that time. Where did it all go?

I guess when you have a surrogate family to introduce to Grenoble, sisters to meet at the airport in Paris, then cousins to meet at the airport in Paris, and nonstop drinking, laughing, chowing, sightseeing, conversing, exploring and general wanderlusting around Italy and Paris, it’s easy to lose track of time.

I have so many stories, so many adventures….and misadventures to report back. And those stories and photos will come. But right now, home is on the brain.

Home.

Something I’ve been thinking about and questioning more and more as I move around. But it’s funny how home can mean so many different things, can be so muddled and confusing as you travel, and redefine it’s meaning, and yet in a split second, the meaning of home can solidify into something so crystal clear. Continue reading

On Living Abroad

It’s funny how living abroad makes you hold on to things from home more than you usually would. I’ve visited, backpacked, studied and stayed with friends abroad, but living in another country has created a shift in my mentality especially as my life becomes increasingly intertwined with something that was once so foreign.

More often than not, when travelling I would let go of my “americansims”, try to quiet down, blend in, learn a little language, taste the local foods, and do as the locals. When Bush was president, and I was backpacking through Europe, I didn’t dare utter that I was Texan. I almost told people I was Canadian in an effort to avoid the Bush shame. But when you live in a place and your idea of home starts to shift, you find pieces of your identity, pockets of your home and covet it like an irrational gollum creature.

“Damn right I’m from Texas!”

“Of course we’re celebrating Halloween…and Thanksgiving…and Christmas, and Valentines- ALL the celebratory American occasions!!!”

“What do you mean they don’t have triple sec? What kind of godforsaken land is this?!”

“I finally found black beans!! They actually exist!! Don’t touch! My precious….”

…You don’t want to imagine the greedy hoarding that would take place if I found refried beans. Continue reading

The bug

Let's Go Anywhere

Well, it’s official. I’m living in Grenoble!

I finally moved in a couple weeks ago. It’s been a long back and fourth of visiting for visa purposes, wondering if I could even stay in France, finishing my time in Montbeliard, and running around the south of France with the remaining TAPIF assistants. By the end, I was ready for down time. Traveling and trying to move in/establish a new life felt draining. I wanted to invest in one or the other. And I felt it was time to invest in living in France.

But now here I am, officially in Grenoble and I have the itch. The travel bug is gnawing away at me- impatient and greedy. And I don’t know what will satisfy this fat little fucker. I’m living in France! I’ve been traveling on and off for the past 8 months. I just finished booking a trip to Italy with my cousin and sister in July, and another to Spain in August with my friend. But the bug wants more. It wants Thailand and Morocco. Egypt and China. To revisit Greece and Turkey. To backpack, to explore, to volunteer, to teach. And I don’t think it will stop there.  Continue reading

Stumble, Walk…Dance!

I’m awkward in Grenoble. True, I just moved here and am still getting my footing, but like a baby learning to walk, I’ve spent my start in a state of stumbling (whether that be verbally, physically or socially).

Me in Grenoble. (Except that it's actually Jennifer Lawrence)

Me in Grenoble. (Except that it’s actually Jennifer Lawrence. But it’s awkward. )

I blame Montbeliard. It was a lovely little home for what it was, but it created an antisocial cave creature, that burns immediately when exposed to sunlight, and doesn’t know how to communicate to Frenchies who aren’t old or teenagers.

Take my first nightlife outing in Grenoble. Much to our surprise, Maribel (fellow assistant) and I actually dragged ourselves outside and in to the cold rain. Effort #1. In Montbeliard you don’t leave your dwelling if there is rain…which is always…hence the cave creaturedom.

But we trudged through the rain, promising ourselves just one drink and then the reward of antisocial solitude in our shelter back home. We aimed for the more low-key option of the wine bar, but upon seeing the mass of people waiting outside, we became discouraged. Effort #2. In Montbeliard you don’t deal with crowds or lines.There aren’t enough people out and about.

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Lost in nightlife translation

Looking disheveled and confused,we arrived at our second option, the London Pub, where we awkwardly awaited the complicated entrance.

  • Wait for bouncer to come to door.
  • Wait for door #1 to open.
  • Wait inside small chamber with bouncer, friend, and dripping umbrellas, until bouncer decides it’s time to open door #2 and allow you in the bar.

Seconds in to our arrival, we were bombarded by a bartender who asked if we wanted to sit, to which we replied with a relieved “Oui.” However, before we could be granted our table, he asked, “Vous etes d’ou?” (Where are you from?). Or at least that’s what I thought. “Etas-Unis” I replied, wondering what kind of bizarre code we were speaking. We were at London Pub, maybe only English speakers could get a table. Or certain types of English speakers. Should I have said Scottish?! However, my thoughts came to a halt when I saw the smile and head shake as he repeated, “Vous etes deux?” (You’re two?). “Ohhh. Oui. Juste deux.” Cheeks were definitely turning red.

One weird, disappointingly juice heavy cocktail, a surprisingly empty bar, some drying and lots of embarrassment later, Maribel and I considered tossing in the towel. We were out of our element. We’d been hermits for too long. Hermits we would remain. But something within us rebelled and we tried for one more place. We’d trudged though the rain for a night of fun, not fail. After all, you have to stumble before you can learn to walk.

Long story short, getting lost led us to the start, where we gained footing at Le Tord Boyaux (the wine bar from before) and ended our “night” with the birds. We sang ridiculous French songs, watched the bar illuminate in flames, met some awesome people, tried bizarre flavors of wine (mango and apple pour moi), and caught the last tram to an electro dance.

 

At first we feared a fail repeat as the large place lacked people, and the people who were there swayed like repetitive zombies in front of the dj, leaving the dance floor naked and neglected. But sometimes you just need to dance like no one’s watching. Which is exactly what we did. We let go of the awkward moments, the language barriers, and the social constraints. We shed our hermit skin and left it on the dance floor as we twirled and laughed and danced.

And maybe that’s kinda how life is (or my life at least)- stumbling through the start, until you reach a place of solid footing, ultimately realizing that at the end, you just want to let go and dance like nobody’s watching.

I’ve Missed The Wildflowers

Bike riding down dusty paths, exploring cobblestone tops of old castles, seeking warmth under the sand with my bare feet, and stopping to smell the wildflowers. Amazingly enough these are not memories from my childhood, but rather the foundation of my quarter century start.

I was fortunate enough to celebrate my 25th birthday in the South of France. The remaining assistants and I stayed in a big local house (thanks to airbnb) in the quaint, but difficult to pronounce, town of Villeneuve les Maguelone. Situated close to protected beaches and accessible to Montpellier, it was the perfect introduction to summer in the South (hoping to have a whole Southern France section of this blog later).

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The tiny town was quiet and not accustomed to seeing non-French tourists, which made for authentic experiences. The roads were bikeable and the old church by the beach was intimate with it’s vineyard, medical services, and sweet scents of jasmine wafting from the botanical garden. The beaches were not overcrowded, and the inhabitants moved slower through the small, interwoven streets and smiled more often than the non verbal Montbeliardans I’d become familiar with. It was a welcome change.

The area made it convenient for day trips to France’s 8th largest city and an old Medieval town- Montpellier and Aigues-Mortes. Though my time in Montpellier was short, it took only a small sliver time to make a big impression. I will definitely be returning.

Containing an old Medieval town within its walls and a colorful salt marsh just outside, Aigues-Mortes was unique to say the least. Winding through the old streets, observing with intrigue at the Medieval festival, and climbing through the castle brought back a rush of delightful freedom and a sense of wonder.

Wonderfully enough this trip entering adulthood sent me back to memories from my childhood. The warm weather, the smells of spring, and the simple pleasures of hearing waves rolling, or tasting hard-boiled eggs in a homemade sandwich were refreshing. And then there were the wildflowers. Oh how I missed the wildflowers. As we drove away from the Alps of Grenoble and the terrain became increasingly more flat and dry (reminding me more and more of Austin), I was surprised to feel my heart swell with childlike glee at the sight of wildflowers. I can’t believe it’s been years since I’ve seen them like that. Years since I’ve seen them in full bloom, taking over masses of earth, and tangling with each other in bursts of colorful confusion. No wonder the painters headed down South. Oh I’ve seen flowers. I might have been deprived of Spring in the spastic Boston weather, but I’ve still seen flowers. But there was something particularly breath taking about seeing the wildflowers- to see their color dominating fields, sides of roads, and cracks of walls. Or maybe it was because encapsulated in their passionate forms, they held pieces of home, of familiarity, of a time filled with innocence and memories of simple pleasures.

Or maybe they were just on my mind because of my Grandma’s quirkiness. During one phone conversation prior to the beach, she blurted, “The bluebonnets are blooming.” To which I responded, “Oh. That’s so nice. I miss the bluebonnets.” As images of their blue bodies floated through my mind and I realized just how much I missed them, my grandma interrupted with West Texan urgency, “No, no, no! That’s our code word.” “Our what?!” “Our code word. If anything happens. You say ‘The bluebonnets are blooming,’ and you’ll have a ticket home!” “Grandma. What would I need a code word for?” “I don’t know if something were to happen. If Antoine were to go bad or you were in a situation that required a code word.” As if I’m living in some hostile territory or dating some operative that could turn on me at any moment.

Needless to say that took the innocence out of the moment. My grandma is worth a blog post of her own- several for that matter. She is a character, a force to be reckoned with, and a whole lot of crazy who I completely admire.

Code words aside, it was nice to be reminded of simple things. It was nice to recharge with spring, with sun and especially with the wildflowers.

Pre-Life Crisis

In exactly 8 days I will turn 25.

And according to “real life”, in exactly 8 days I need to have my shit together.

Quarter life crisis time? Not exactly. I’ve been in the throws of what I like to call a “pre-life crisis” for some time now. True, I’ve had the space (and privilege) to give time to these thoughts, but basically I’ve been avoiding the whole adulthood thing (what is an adult anyways?), struggling with ideas of what I ‘should’ be doing vs. what I actually want to be doing…and consequently figuring out what exactly it is that I want to be doing…

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You see, I’ve always been very organized and very calculated, with a prospective plan on the horizon. Until one day I set out to not have a plan. That’s right. I planned to not plan. I specifically went to an alternative liberal arts college where majors weren’t declared so I could have space to explore. And what did my type A self do? I decided that I wanted to make my life more complicated, choose a distinct path, and get a license to teach. So I spent my remaining college years with a clear plan in mind and unstoppable wheels in motion. As I realized that I truly adored teaching, and as I saw a potential life flash before my eyes- a young teacher settling in a community and establishing herself in a very specific way- my desire to be unplanned rebelled.

Almost three years later, here I am in France, in my mid-twenties, with the weirdest plan I’ve ever had- winging it. It might seem like a bizarre time in my life to go down this path as I don’t have a working visa, I don’t have a job, and my savings is growing sizeably smaller. But I do have a love of teaching, painting, writing, and cooking, and I plan to do something with it.

And just as I was feeling self-congratulatory and confident about my new path, real life (or my dad) called reminding me of responsibility. I received two important letters- one explaining my need to deal with student loans, and the other stating that I am no longer eligible for health insurance now that I have reached the ripe age of 25. So much for Obamacare. It looks like adulthood has found me. Right when I decided to be self-employed.

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Happy freaking birthday.

A therapist once read my ‘star chart’ and told me that I was going to face a personal crisis that most people experience in their 40s, early on in my life. She said that I would spend some time struggling, but that I would come out of it self aware, secure, and stable even in to middle age where most of my peers would be struggling.

But as much as I’d like to believe my therapist’s lovely portrait of the future, when I look at the present, my peers are also struggling now. Every one of my friends in one way or another is facing the “real world” and figuring out their place in it. Maybe it’s technology, maybe it’s the time (can you say recession?), maybe we’re just at ‘that age’, or maybe it’s just the nature of transition. I think we underestimate the power of times of transition. As you pass from one phase, one place, one path to another, it seems only natural that you face a life-crisis- or maybe a life introspection. But it’s times and challenges like these that help us grow. Or maybe I’m just projecting…

But who knows, if my therapist was actually right, I’ll be sitting pretty while those suckers are doing their time.

So bring on 25 and all the misadventures that come with it!