Whirlwind

Can it be? Have four, almost five, whole months passed since my last post?!

Where should I even begin? I have too many tales to regale. Like the time a 10-year-old French ‘player’ (yes, 10- apparently they’re starting younger and younger) shyly professed his love for me on the last day of camp. Or the time I got involved in a Game of Thronesesque pranking war that divided all the counselors against each other in untrusting good fun. Or the time I had a break (pun intended?) from camp,  went on a nice birthday-weekend-kayak-trip, and proceeded to bash my head and break my nose on said kayak. Pros- I got a cheap nose job, a badass story, the reassurance that I can communicate in drug-induced French, and a more solid appreciation for life. Cons- rapids still traumatize me…just a little.

Proof

Proof

And I haven’t even started on summer.

So now that I’ve proven I am alive (and for the moment well) I hope to recount some of the adventures in more detail. Hopefully to come: the misadventures of traveling with one’s mom, the pros and cons of the group tour, the vegetarian guide to Spain, becoming a flamenco addict, hiking Cinque Terre in less than 24 hours, understanding Pisa’s charm, and even a pretty picture or two.

But for now let me summarize the whirlwind in a few photos:

 

La vie est belle. 

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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!!

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

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 🙂 

Time of Traditions

Happy (belated) Halloween!

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Though Spring takes the lead for my favorite season, I must say that this time of the year brings me immense joy. It’s the time of traditions.

First of all, there’s Halloween (which is then followed by Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years). And while I generally don’t like horror movies, gore and the whole being scared out of your mind thing (I have an overactive imagination ok?), I LOVE Halloween. And what’s not to love? Gore aside, there are friends, fun, decoration, candy, and above all creativity. I’ll take any excuse to exercise creativity, gather with friends, and don a costume

…and binge on succulent sweets (the chocolate addict in me cannot lie).

I usually start brainstorming somewhere around summer, using the following months to piece the costume together, and adding details only an OCD person would notice. I blame my mom with all her infinite creativity. I had a homemade costume almost every year, and by 4th grade, I was making my own. Plus, my neighborhood was THE neighborhood for trick or treating. Haunted sidewalks, spooky backyard mazes, and webbed front porches became the norm during the weeks before Halloween. The bar was set high and I wanted to keep it that way. 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

Let Vacation Time Commence!

It’s official. Vacation time is here! I’m off to Paris today to retrieve my sister, and my cousin, and then on to Rome, Naples and the Amalfi coast (particularly excited about this one)! I then return to Grenoble for a week and meet friends in Spain for more European gallivanting. Hoping to post along the way, but I’m not exactly sure about internet accessibility.

But today I’m feeling grateful. Appreciative of visiting family friends, excited for family arrival, and happy to have the opportunity for these experiences.

As Epicurus wrote, “We must exercise ourselves in the things which brings happiness, since, if that be present, we have everything, and if that be absent, all our actions are directed toward attaining it.”

Or if quotes aren’t your thing, here are some pictures of Bastille Day fireworks. Fireworks are fun. These were awesome.

Especially when they projected them off of the protruding tower in the middle of the park. That was a firework first.

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Happy Monday!

Life’s Rewards (and awards!)

Happy Bastille Day! (Or as I recently learned- quatorze juillet. Apparently no one actually calls it Bastille day…I guess like no one really says Independence day for the 4th of July…)

But happy it is indeed, as summer is in full swing with a free MIKA concert, visiting family friends (a.k.a. the surrogate family or the family ambassadors…), new dining out adventures, swimming in a beautiful mountain lake, and exploring quaint Annecy (future blog post on Annecy to come)!

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To add to the happiness- I was nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger award! I’ve really enjoyed getting into the blogger community- sharing experiences, opinions, adventures and words! So thanks to all the followers- family, friends, and blogging community- especially as I fumble my way not only through a foreign country but through the blogging world as well!

Enough sentiment. Here are the rules for the award: Continue reading

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!

In with the new

Bonne Annee!

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I can’t believe it’s already 2013! Where did 2012 go? It’s been a while since my last post as December was a whirlwind of travelling, Christmas festivities, vin chaud and noel marche exploring, squeezing in time with old friends, new friends, boyfriends (just the one really) and finally the arrival of the Christmas Ambassador and the adventures that ensued. And then there was Berlin- a whirlwind of fascinating (and depressing) history, wild all nighters (literally ALL night- the earliest I left a bar was 4 am!), an energetic new years with fireworks a plenty (anyone can buy what ever kind they want at your local convenience store), and a loonnggg 13 hour drive across Germany back to Montbeliard. So yeah. Sorry I’ve been MIA. I’ve been re-cooperating from the past month.

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See?

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Happy New Year from Berlin!

Unfortunately so far 2013 has not been off to the best start for me. My really nice, expensive camera that I bought (normally I don’t buy expensive technology!) as a Christmas present for myself last year, broke on Christmas this year (haven’t had a complete melt down yet because I’m waiting on Macgyver to work his magic). Then my little camera broke on New Years day and soon after my right hand went out of commission with tendinitis. No photos, no painting, no writing and no ukulele practicing. What is 2013 trying to tell me?? Give up the artist pipe dream? Anyone who knows me will understand what hell it is for me to have my outlets of creativity cut off. However, I have had to exercise my creativity in other ways, like adapting to left hand use and not going crazy. That’s something. Fortunately it’s steadily improving and I can type! The start of this year has also been an exercise in mind over matter and creating my own happiness. Which leads me to the Resolutions.

The majority of my lessons so far have centered around New Years traditions in the U.S. (I was surprised to learn that very few of them know about the ball drop in Times Square) but mostly around New Year’s Resolutions. Amazingly enough I’ve received a few thoughtful and specific resolutions- one student was determined to hug her friends once a day, another to give up on bad boys who make her cry, and of course many used the the oh so popular “quit smoking”. But as I worked with my students to commit to one thing they wanted to improve for the new year, I became more determined to solidify my list of things I want to change for this next chapter.

I’ve been reading a book entitled The Happiness Project by Gretchen Ruben for quite some time (note to self: read more) and the author makes some eloquent points that I find particularly relevant to my life right now and to my resolutions.

1. “Be Gretchen. I have an idea of who I wish I were, and that obscures my understanding of who I actually am.” I personally struggled with this idea last year as I made the decision to move away from my life, my little community in Boston and head overseas to France. I had to let go of living my life in the way that I think I should live it and instead live how I actually want to live it. And it’s a nice reminder- Be Anna. Do those things that challenge you, but don’t force it. Push those comfort zone boundaries, but don’t step so far outside that you lose yourself.

2. However Ruben contrasts this idea with a quote from Yeats, “Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure nor this thing nor that, but simply growth. We are happy when we are growing.” His words resonate with my particular desire to be in the moment, to take more risks- things that are not easy for a type A, over-achieving, planner like myself. But it’s true- when I feel like I’m growing, I’m happy.

3. Which leads me to three. To grow we must make choices and “our lives are in the space between Isaiah Berlin’s ‘We are doomed to choose and every choice may entail an irreparable loss’ and Borges’s Garden of Forking Paths, where every choice produces a quantum explosion of alternate futures.” Basically this is a wordy way of reemphasizing my need to be here now, to trust my choices and to stop psychoanalyzing the present for an unknown future. Easier said than done, but that’s what resolutions are for, right? 

4. And finally “one of the many paradoxes of happiness: we seek to control our lives, but the unfamiliar and the unexpected are important sources of happiness.” I am a control freak. There is no way around it. I’m working on it, but I say bring it on 2013! Here’s to a year full of unfamiliar and unexpected, new choices and continued growth, unplanned futures, and the ever-present effort to be in the moment and to just be Anna.

Bonne Anne a Tous!

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.