Saturday, June 27, 2009


Steve and me at the Tower of London, May 9 2008
(it's a terrible picture of both of us, but the only one I have)

My friend Steve passed away on Monday.

Steve and I first met on Planet Cancer, an online community for young adults with cancer. Both leukemia patients, both having recieved bone marrow transplants only a few months earlier, we bonded over sharing medication side effects and dosages, trying to figure out if a bizarre symptom might have been due to GVHD (more often than not, yes), and exchanging advice offered by our medical teams. Steve lived in England, but we emailed every couple of weeks over the course of three years.

Being a young adult with cancer is a strange position to be in. You don't fit in with the grandparents at the cancer clinic, but you're too old to play with the toys in the kids' waiting room. Your non-cancer peers are mostly concerned with classes and exams, who they are currently hooking up with, and how to get drunk that weekend. We are more concerned about not puking every five minutes, finding a warm enough head covering for winter and not dying. Planet Cancer is an amazing organization that offers a supportive, empowering and knowledgeable community, where you don't have to worry about being bald (because everyone else is, was or will be!), or expressing your fears about dating after cancer, the loss of independence, medical stories or talking about how truly awful chemotherapy and radiation really are. Anything and everything goes on PC, especially including humor about cancer and the situation we find ourselves in.

Steve had been through a lot. Originally diagnosed with leukemia back in March of 2005, he had a hard time getting into remission and went through months of chemotherapy. He got a transplant in September of 2005 from his younger sister, and then dealt with GVHD and many medications and a few infections. But he never let it get him down. Steve wanted to be a photographer when he finally finished being sick. He took a photography course by correspondance and entered several photography competitions while he was still going to the hospital every week.

Steve relapsed shortly before his three year transplant birthday. He recieved more chemo, had various complications and infections, and then got a second transplant from an unrelated donor at the end of January. The last time I heard from him things were going well, he seemed to be happy and recovering. He was spending a lot of time with his girlfriend, Laura.

And then I got an email earlier this week from Laura. Steve is gone.

Steve and I only met in person once, last May when I went to London. I'm so glad we got the chance to meet in person when we were both well.

I don't think it's really sunk in yet that he's gone. I think it will in a couple of weeks when I start thinking that I haven't heard from him in a while and wondering how he is doing, and then realize that I will never recieve an email from him again.

I posted about Steve because he deserves to be remembered. He was so nice, positive, always supportive, just a really good guy who I will miss greatly. I encourage you to check out his photography at

Rest in peace, Steve. You deserve to.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

For my 200th post...

I will share this link with you from the New York Times about 30,000+ year old musical instruments.

Early human civilization has always fascinated me. At one point I seriously considered archeology or archeological anthropology as a career. My favorite museums are archeological museums. I love seeing the way people lived so long ago, their objects of daily life, the ways they amused themselves. Why did humans start to paint their pottery? Who decided one day that they wanted to take basic, everyday objects and make them beautiful, and what was their inspiration? Someone had to do all of these things for the first time.

And now we see that music and art have coexsited side by side for 30,000 years. How did music start? How did language transition to vocal music, and who ever thought of creating instruments? These simple flutes are the most basic and yet complicated of instruments (very difficult to actually get music out of!). And somehow music has progressed to brass, string, even electronic instruments. Vocal music is expressed in operas, rock and roll, metal screaming bands. And that isn't even talking about the various uses of music! Why did early homo sapiens sapiens use music? Was is religious, entertaining, used to cement social ties or celebrate hunts, as the article speculates?

Whatever the reason, what is clear is that there is something in us that causes us to want to make our world more beautiful, to create art and music, to express outselves through those mediums.

The human brain is an amazing thing.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Private Lessons

A while back I posted that one of the administrators at the local school district had asked me about taking lessons. How did that end up going?

Really strangely. He will be working in the US next year so he wanted to work specifically with an American on American English. Except that we rarely have what might be called a class. Mostly what he wants to do is read out loud to me in English from either his work contract or letters he recieves from the place of work, have me correct his pronounciation, and ask me about something if he doesn't understand it. Last week he had been at the entrance exams for IUFM or something, part of which took place in English, and he had copied down all of the questions that this French professor of English had asked. He wanted to ask me if these were things we would say in the US or not.


I don't really know what purpose this serves! I'm trying to talk to him about how we usually say "gonna" instead of "going to" and get him used to the speed of speech in the US and he wants to read out loud to me! I think the problem is that he's mostly worried about interacting with people in his job and saying things correctly, while I'm worried about how he's going to understand the woman at the grocery store checkout who was born in Mexico. I brought in money today with the intention of having him practice making change but he just wanted to examine the 50 State series of quarters and know what the letters on the dollars mean (not even the stuff on the back, the letter on the left front side of the dollar bill. Heck if I know. Probably has to do with where it was minted).

Last session is next week. He's the customer, and the customer is always right, but man, I feel like the €15 I'm earning per session is more of a payment for emotional distress than payment for any service I'm rendering.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Remember that time I herded sheep?

A coworker invited me over for dinner last night. It's the first time she's invited me over, and out of the 20ish people I work with, she's only the fourth to invite me over to her house. She had a bunch of friends coming over too, the family of one of my current students, and the family of one of my former students, so that was kind of cool.

As it turns out, the family of my former student owns a large farm up on a hill above the tiny village. They not only own fields, but also animals, including sheep, which needed to be brought into the barn from the pasture for the evening. The dad needed some help, so my coworker's daughter, her friend, and I were recruited to go help herd the sheep into the barn.

A farm linked to an abbey was first built on the site back in the 5th century. The entire farm was destroyed during fighting along the Chemin des Dames during WWI; it was being used as a hospital for wounded soldiers, and when the Germans discovered it they bombed it. It was rebuilt in the 1930s. The view is gorgeous:

These are some of the sheep we had to herd

Over to this barn

It started out okay. The other girls and I had to try to keep the sheep assembled along the path behind my student's father and not wander off into the grain and the tractors. At first most of the herd followed my student's father into the barn, but there were about six stragglers that kind of wandered around confusedly and then went back into the pasture. When they finally came out of the pasture they ran all over the yard, into the tractors, into the grain.... but they were finally pushed towards the now reopened barn dooor ... and all the sheep we had already driven in ran back out again! Now we really had our work cut out for us, rounding up all the sheep who were wreaking havoc in the yard.

My student's father trying to round up rebellious sheep

After running around after the sheep, which included getting them unstuck from behind farm equipment (luckily that wasn't my job!) we finally got them all more or less willingly into the barn, with the door firmly shut.

I don't think I have much of a future as a sheep herder, but it was pretty fun, and I would do it again if needed!

The dinner itself was nice, although I was definitely the odd wheel among a group of people who were all married with children ranging from 15 to 3 years old, but it was a nice evening.

My coworker drove me back again afterwards, and in the car she of course asked me if I had a good time and all, and then she says "yes, I've wanted to invite you over for a while because I know it must be hard to make friends in France, and you're so far away from your family."

Seriously? I've already been here for two years, my contract is over in ten days, and now she's worried about me making friends and being lonely? Sheesh. I have gotten used to the fact that the French are very private people and aren't prone to inviting strangers over just to "make them feel welcome" like we do in the US, but I will never understand it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The End

I'm starting to realize that I am really leaving my town and my schools at the end of the year. The fete d'ecole this weekend was a real wake up call that my time here is ending. The part that bothers me the most is leaving my students (well, the ones that aren't in the monster class). I really like my students, they're mostly good, nice, enthousiastic kids, and I wish I could stay and see them grow up a little more, teach them some more English and open their little tiny minds to the world around them. I feel like I'm abandoning them. I know I would be 1000 times better as a teacher than I was this year or last year because I keep learning things about teaching and expanding my personal curriculum and I won't be able to put my new ideas into practice next year.

It's weird to think that I'm leaving this town I've lived in for the past two years. This has been home for two years. It sounds like such a long time but it doesn't feel like it! I'll miss hearing the bells of the cathedral every 15 minutes between 8 AM and 10 PM, the old stone buildings, being able to walk to every interesting place in town, twisting my ankles on the cobblestone streets, going to my favorite bakery, walking into my schools to chorus of "Hello!," little bisous from my students ...

Things I won't miss: crappy internet at the lycée, having no internet after 10:30 PM because there's a timed alarm on the room, no wireless and not being able to use my laptop, living with dirty boys who can't lift a finger to clean anything or take out the trash or their empty bottles, living with someone who steals my food (my brother is away at school, so he won't be doing that anymore), the annoying lycéens, the weird reserved transportation I have to take to one of my schools with old creepy guy drivers.

It's so strange to start thinking of things in terms of "one of the last times I'll...." I know I don't want to live here forever, but it's strange that it's ending right now.

And, on another note, I for one am keeping a close eye on the Iranian election fall-out, and found this hilarious cartoon on Twitter. I'm inspired by this totally poeple driven, non-violent protest movement and wish them success! Good luck Iranians!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Yep, more working stuffs

Had another interview today in Paris. Went well I think, and she told me she'd definitely get back to me next week one way or the other. Nice to have two interesting prospects (although I emailed Interview #1 a couple days ago and haven't heard back.... hmmmm....)

Visa situation is starting to look up. I did some creative thinking and came up with another option. More as the situation progresses.

Tomorrow is the first of three Saturdays that I will be spending at fêtes d'ecole. I'll conduct my little CE1 in a song in English, and then try to avoid telling the parents of the monster class how miserable their children have made me for the past two years.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

20 Hours

Just found this.

To be eligible for student Sécu you have to take 20 hours of class a week. That is a TON of class time.

I have that answer, at least.

Aaaannnddd, Alliance Française has a Medical French class that would fill 9 hours a week. For those who may think (ie my dad) that this would be a ridiculous way to waste a year when I should be pursuing my medical studies.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Still Thinking

I have been trying to get to the truth behind the number of hours per week required for a student visa. Unable to find anything online, I had the foolish thought that perhaps I could email Campus France for the answer. They told me the average is 30 hours a week, which is a bunch of n'importe quoi (it's completely ridiculous to think that anyone spends 30 hours a week in classes!!), so it's back to hunting the info down on the web.

I'm getting more excited about the job itself though, so a lot of it will depend on if I can figure out some kind of student plan that will work. It looks like the most likely option would be taking classes at Alliance Française, but I'm worried that I would have trouble managing the job and classes. Teaching isn't a job that you can leave at the office, you have to come home at night and make lesson plans and grade papers, so even if I would only be working 15 hours a week, I could count on at least 7 hours working at home, and then to have 15-20 hours of class on top of that? Even if it were just conversation classes, they still take up time, and I wouldn't feel right just missing classes all the time. It's exhausting just thinking about it.

But then I think of the opportunity to live in Paris, continue to work on my French, keep travelling around Europe, keep eating pastries (ummm, better strike that from the list, actually). It is probably worth it. It's not like I have much to go back to anyways.

Quick question to Paris dwellers: is €1050 enough to live on per month for a 25 year old?

So yeah, lots of thinking to do, and really quickly, because I need to figure out if I'm sticking around or heading home for good in July.

Hey blog readers, are you on Twitter? Because I just joined! Drop an email and give me your name. We can stalk each other, it will be fun.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I had an interview yesterday for a position with a private, bilingual school in Paris. I think the interview went well, the woman I interviewed with seemed to like me and my ideas for the class. The school has a really exciting education philosophy and I think it would be a really inspiring and very challenging environment to work in. They would expect a lot out of me. Big problem: they won't sponsor me for a visa. The first thing she wanted to talk about was my visa situation and she said right off the bat that they've sponsored visas for other employees before and it is too much of a hassle and they don't do that anymore.

My only visa option then would be to get a student visa (or get married to a French guy, but that is not happening). I just don't know how much I want to enroll in a program, probably a masters program, and have the hassle of going to classes and writing a thesis just to stay in Paris for another year and have a really challenging job. If I could get a student visa just to take one or two classes, I would do it, but I don't know if that's possible.

The other problem is that I still haven't told my parents that I've been trying to get a job to stay in France for another year, and now that it's getting close to the time that they think I'm coming home for good my mom keeps telling me how excited she is that I'm finally coming home. I just don't know if I can break my mom's heart when she has only been wonderful and supportive to me my whole life (well, except when I was 16 and got my driver's licence and wasn't legally allowed to drive between midnight and 5 AM, but everyone did anyway, but she wouldn't let me. That was frustrating). I was expressing this worry to a coworker who I trust, and even though she's a mom herself (!) she said that I should still think about myself first, or I could end up resentful of my mom. I can't really imagine that I would ever resent my mom for anything (cue shmaltzy music and montage of me and mom photos) but I understand what she was trying to say.

I'm not sure what to do. I'm sad to think about about going home for good, but I'm also sad when I think about how upset my mom - well, both of my parents - will be.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Even More Travel Pics: Bruges

Bruges was very cute, and I definitely recommend it for a visit. I don't know that I thought it was soooo spectacular, as a bunch of Frenchies told me before I left, but it was really cute, especially walking along the canals and down by the Begijnhof.

Part of the Market Square. Note the funny roof style, which is characteristic of the Low Countries.

The Bell Tower on the Market Square.

Saturday morning I took a half hour canal cruise. I recommend Bruges for travellers with sun exposure problems because there are lots of trees and very narrow streets, which means lots of shade, even on the canals (mostly). Some highlights from the canal cruise:

Don't forget to check out the Begijnhof and Minnewater, which are peaceful, green, shaded retreats from the tourist hustle and bustle. Begijnhofs were founded during the Middle Ages as lay orders for women who wanted to earn a respectable living without taking the full vows of a nun. There were more women than men around during the Middle Ages, so the single gals needed an option that wasn't marriage, nunnery, or prostitution.

View across a canal from a bridge in the Minnewater

Nice sunset view of the canals

More Travel Pics: Rouen

Rouen was adorable, full of little gingerbread houses like the ones shown above. This is a style of building called half timbered construction. The walls are filled in between the timbers, rather than a modern building where the walls are installed inside and outside of the frame.

Unfortunately, medieval folk weren't the best builders... that or those bombs dropped during WWII were powerful enough to knock the buildings helter-skelter:

And make tiny, narrow passageways buckle and become even more narrow:

These homes were built in the 16th century around a courtyard that was once a burial ground (or dumping ground) for plague victims. The wood is carved into skulls and shovels, doesn't take too much imagination to think of why. Now it's home to an art school.

Rouen of course is also famous for it's cathedral, which Monet painted many, many times. Unfortunately I couldn't get a full picture of the façade because the plaza in front of it is pretty small and not good for photos, but here are a couple:

The cathedral is the final resting place of the heart of Richard the Lionheart, which apparently merited a full sized tomb. Here's the face of that famous crusader:

And of course, who could for get that Rouen is also famous as the place where Joan of Arc was tried and burnt at the stake by the English. The Place du Marché where she was burned is now lined with crappy tourist trap restaurants, post card stands, and even a wax museum of her story, and also houses a very modern church built for her. This is a fountain that is part of the church, doesn't it look like a dragon?

And the Tour Jeanne d'Arc, originally part of the now long gone castle of Phillip Augustus (a buddy and probably one-time lover of Richard Coeur de Lion)

My analysis: definitely worth a visit, though maybe not much more than a day trip. It's only an hour and a half from Paris by train. Don't forget to compost your ticket!