An Explanation

Ok ok…maybe I’m a little bit terrible at this blog thing. In fairness, though, I have a bit of an excuse for the moment. My internet is out on my computer (which means I am currently typing this on host family’s French keyboard and growing increasingly frustrated by the word–all the letters are scrambled!)

I currently have at least 2 posts written out that I had intended to share once my camera cord came in the mail, but alas, I don’t actually have a way to share those pictures at the moment (oh jump drive, where are you???)

In the meantime, suffice it to say that I’m doing very well and keeping busy. We have a lot planned in the next few weeks leading up to Christmas, and then we all part ways for a bit to celebrate said holiday. I, in fact, have quite an exciting little trip planned–but more on that later.

My French is improving, believe it or not. There are still days when I have absolutely no idea what anyone is saying, but I’ve started to realize that sometimes that’s their problem, not mine (I’m looking at you lady behind the Quick Burger counter who refused to speak at a hearable decibel. ”I don’t want the fish (poisson),” I said to her, ”I asked for chicken!” ”Oui,” she replied, ”but do you want a drink (boisson)?” oops)

La fille and le garçon are also making progress in English, but it can be a bit hard for them at times if we aren’t repeating the words and phrases on a daily basis. They know how to say put on your coat, brush your teeth, can I have a snack please?, etc but still seem to struggle through My name is…and I am 7 years old. The other day they were allowed to watch a movie (very rare around here–la mère is strict with the tv) so I made them watch Winnie the Pooh in English, and I was so proud when le garçon was able to pick out a few words he remembered from his Cars book we’ve been reading. ”Best friends!” he shouted, ”comme Mater et McQueen!”

Anyway, pray my internet decides to awaken from its slumber, and I will have more than a few fun pics to share with you all.

Until then, à toute à l’heure!

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Visitors

Ok, ok…I’m a little bad at this blog thing. I have a few posts “in the works,” but haven’t had the time to really sit down and get them up and going. Unfortunately, between starting language classes, hosting visitors, and coming down with the cough of death, this little blog has been on the back burner for awhile. Hopefully, though, I’ll get into a better rhythm balancing it all. The cold weather is upon us now, so I have a feeling there are many days to come snuggled up with a blanket and hot tea…a perfect blogging atmosphere. In the meantime, I’ll catch you up on the exciting weekend I had about two weeks ago.

Two of my American friends were able to come to town and visit for a few days. Their trip was short and seemed to fly by so quickly, but I’m super grateful for the time we got to spend catching up and hanging out. Emi flew in Thursday night and Susan followed the next morning (after a 3 hour plane delay in Miami, bless her), and we spent the next few days doing lots of touristy things and tip-toeing our way around my very crowded apartment. I was actually quite impressed at how much we managed to cram into what little time we had. In three days we were able to squeeze in trips to the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Musee d’Orsay, Versailles, shopping on the Champs-Elysees, all while still having time to relax at cafes, browse quaint little shops, and eat delicious dinners out. It was quite a grey and drizzly weekend, but we didn’t let that get us down. In fact, I find something quite lovely about Paris in the rain (except for the part where you have cold, wet feet all the time).

With my little camera cord still lost in the postal abyss (oh French mail, why are you so complicated?), I’ve stolen a few pictures off my friends’ cameras from the weekend. These are the highlights:

Me and Susan at the little park on my street

At the Arc de Triomphe

Underneath the Eiffel Tower

We love you, Paris!

Notre Dame in the rain

Me and Susan in front of the palace at Versailles…

…and me and Emilie on the back lawn.

The gardens at Versailles…just before the rain came again

Monet’s Gardens

This is post is a little overdue. Sorry.

Two Sundays ago, I had a chance to go to Giverny to see Monet’s gardens with a fellow au pair. We had planned to meet at Gare St. Lazare at noon to catch the 12:20 train to Vernon, but confusing ticket windows and long lines left us breathless as, at 12:22, we were forced to purchase our ticket on the 2:20 train instead. Oops.

We decided to make the best out of the lost time, so we went to a local park and ate lunch by the pond—not a bad way to spend a couple of hours in Paris!

When we did finally board the train, we ended up sitting next to a really sweet French lady (girl, lady, woman? She was probably in her late twenties/early thirties…what do you call these people?!) She had been an au pair in California several years ago, as well as in the Blue Mountains in Australia—what a small world! She was going home to Rouen and told us all about her town; apparently it was the city where Joan of Arc was executed. She even invited us to come visit her one weekend so she could show us around. The whole time I kept thinking, “wow God, you knew what you were doing when you made us 2 minutes late for the last train!”

We got to Vernon just after 3pm and opted to rent bikes to ride to the gardens. Giverny is only about 5km from Vernon, and visitors can take shuttle buses or taxis to Monet’s house. But if you are ever there and are of able body, let me advise you to rent a bike! It’s pretty cheap and the ride is gorgeous—first through the little town of Vernon, across the river, and then into the countryside. I tried to take a couple of pictures, but nothing could ever really do it justice.

So there I was, riding a little bike through la campagne on my way to see the gardens of one of my most favorite artists…sometimes life is so beautiful.

Once we made it to Giverny, we booked it straight to Monet’s house and were immediately greeted by his flourishing backyard. While ambling down the many paths, I overheard a British woman remark, “Can you believe this? It’s so beautiful! And it’s not even spring!” My thoughts exactly.

Afterwards, we made our way over to the famous water garden. And it did not disappoint. The willows, the pond, the lily pads, the bridges—here it all was right in front of me. I wanted to lay out a blanket on a patch of grass and stay there all day…or forever. I just kept thinking, “This is it. This is the place where he sat and watched and dreamed and painted.” I’ve often heard Monet described as being twice an artist—once with the creation of his gardens and second by painting them.

Finally, I made my way into his house, and I was amazed how open it was to the public. Except for his studio where they kept a bunch of paintings, nothing was roped off. There were only a few polite signs asking you not to touch anything (and, of course, to not take pictures…c’est dommage). His studio was definitely my favorite part, but I also loved how every room had giant windows with a view of the gardens. Imagine waking up to that every morning!

We ended our day riding our bikes back into Vernon and hopping on the last train back to Paris. Because we got to Giverny a bit later than originally planned, we didn’t have time to see the rest of the little town—the church, cafes, and museums. But not to worry, I fully intend on going back in the spring.

La vie à Paris

This last week in Paris has been one of huge improvement. Despite the fact that I feel like my knowledge of the French language has hit a wall, I feel like I’m making significant progress everywhere else. I’m getting into a good routine with the kids and finding that they are much better behaved when they have structure to their days. Specifically, le garçon and I are getting much closer thanks to some one on one time while la fille is at her various activities. Initially it was much harder to bond with him because, quite frankly, he’s a big ole’ mama’s boy.

No really.

Last night he was so disappointed when it was papa coming through the door and not maman that he literally let out a shout of disapproval. But after a few park trips, fort building, and a million rounds of animal dominos, I really feel like he’s starting to love me. The other day when I went to pick him up from school, he came running to greet me with a big smile and an even bigger hug—progress!

My own day to day routine is also starting to feel more, well, routine. Interestingly enough, I’m actually finding it much easier to meet other English speakers than it is to meet “locals.” There are so many groups and outings for ex-pats and au pairs, but integrating with the Parisians is a bit harder. The other day at the park, I met a super sweet Irish mum whose daughter happened to be in the same judo class as le garçon. She treated me to a hot cup of tea and told me what Paris has been like for her since moving here in June. “It turns out that Paris,” she enlightened me, “isn’t really a good place to come if you want to learn French.”

The whole language thing has probably been the biggest struggle so far, and with so many English speakers around, it’s hard to be consistent about speaking French all the time and being immersed in the language. At the same time, however, sometimes I’m just so grateful to be able to express myself fully to other English speakers—it’s nice to know you’re being understood.

Living here does often feel like one big paradox. Life starts to feel “normal” (whatever that really means)—daily school runs, metro routes, schedules, etc—and then suddenly I’ll stumble upon some amazing piece of history and realize, once again, that this city is anything but normal.

My daily view going to and from work

In the meantime, I’m just trying to find my place in it all. I visited a bilingual church a couple of Sundays ago and the preacher spoke about how every day is full of potential and opportunity when we let God direct our steps. That’s been the prayer I’ve been praying every morning here in Paris—that God would put me exactly where He wants me…the right place at the right time. Paris was a dream He put in my heart a long, long time ago, and He’s gotten me this far. Needless to say, I’m excited to find out what each new day will bring.

À bientôt,

Meg

A sacred heart

This past Monday I spent yet another long day with the kids, but on Tuesday they finally started school—hallelujah praise the Lord! It’s not that I don’t love spending time with the kids, but the last week had been making me feel a bit claustrophobic—2 antsy kids in a little apartment was a recipe for fatigue.

So when la rentrée (the French term for “back to school”) rolled around, I was more than happy to have a little sleep in and then do something touristy. The windows in my own apartment offer a stunning little view of the Sacré-Coeur, so I decided it was about time to pop over and introduce myself.

The view from my window one morning

And just for kicks, here’s the view at night

I opted to walk from my apartment hoping that it would lend me a chance to see a bit more of my neighborhood and get my bearings straight. It turns out I don’t live very far from the famous Montmartre Cemetery, the Moulin Rouge, and the Sacré-Coeur herself. I think in total it was about a 30-35 minute walk.

Taken with my iPod, so not the best quality, but here’s the Moulin Rouge

When I made it to the church, an endless array of stairs stood ready to greet me. Back home in Georgia, my grandfather had issued a challenge. “Your grandmother,” he said, “climbed up all those stairs. So if she did it, you have to do it too.” Granted, my grandmother also said they hadn’t realized at the time that there was another way up—a little cable car that rides up the hill.

The Sacre Coeur and all those steps!

Ready to meet the challenge, I started the ascent and found that, actually, the stairs weren’t so bad. Maybe I’ve been so conditioned by the 7 flights to my apartment, or maybe it was also the little breaks I took between staircases to take in the views. Either way, I made it to the top and took a turn walking inside to observe a bit the mid-day mass. The singing was just as beautiful as the inside of the church. There were signs everywhere, though, asking people not to take photos inside. Of course, many people did anyway, but I just didn’t feel right about it, especially in the middle of a service. So a photo from the internet will have to do until you can come and see it for yourself.

Inside the church (stolen from here)

Getting up close and personal–the statue is of St. Joan of Arc

Afterwards, I decided to climb to the top of the basilica’s dome for a small €6 fee. These staircases, however, are not for the faint of heart. Winding in a tight spiral with very little light, I started to worry I’d be stuck forever in a never ending swirly dungeon. The sounds of footsteps of fellow tourists ahead of me kept me going, though, and at the tippy top we were all rewarded with some spectacular views of Paris.

Despite blue skies over the church, it was actually a bit foggy over the rest of the city

When my jaunt around the church was over, I strolled around the shops behind the church and bought myself a pain au chocolat while simultaneously trying to avoid all of the “portrait sketchers” begging to draw me for a small fee. The area was definitely overrun by tourists and trinket shops, but the buildings and streets were beautiful and oh so French.

Overall, it was a nice day out and definitely a much needed break from the previous week.

À tout à l’heure,

Meg

Un baptême par le feu

Let’s play catch up.

Sorry this post is a bit long, but here is a summary of life so far.

To say my first weeks in France have been filled with ups and downs would probably be the biggest fib I’ve ever told you. In reality, these last couple of weeks have thrust me into the fastest roller coaster of emotions I’ve ever been on. I go from wanting to cry over the tiniest things (as well as some other more important things) to wanting to cry because—voila!—there’s the Eiffel Tower I’ve always dreamed of seeing up close.

Needless to say, my first week here was a bit of a “baptism by fire” (which I have clumsily translated for you into the title of this post). Straight off my flight—9 hours to London, a 3 hour connection, and then 1 hour to Paris—my host mom, la mère, met me at the airport and whisked me into the city center while I tried my hardest to maintain some sort of a conversation in French. Despite her fluency in English, she was (and still is) resolute about indoctrinating me into the language. While I’m grateful she is so eager to help me learn, it was more than a little overwhelming in the beginning.

In Paris, we stopped by my little apartment, met my host dad, le père, and dropped off my big luggage—2 suitcases each weighing about 50 pounds that we dragged up 7 flights of stairs. Yes, folks, that’s right, seven flights of stairs. No elevator.

After a quick browse around my little studio, we loaded ourselves back into the car and drove 5 hours to the grandparents’ country house in Auvergne. I slept the whole way and woke just in time for our midnight arrival, where we were greeted by the entire family, all welcoming me with cheek kisses and heavy French accents. Once I made it to my bed, I slept again for a long time.

When I did finally wake, the view from the house (smartly built with windows all along the front side) was certainly worth the jet-lagged journey. Auvergne is a beautiful place; a bustling town nestled inside what la grand-mère referred to as “medium” mountains. In the center of the city stood a great black cathedral, colored that way I learned, because it was made from volcanic rock in the surrounding mountains. The grandparents’ summer house itself was a stunning little gem, perched up on a hill and surrounded by trees and wild fruits (we picked our own blackberries with the kids).

A view of the city from the house

A closer look at the cathedral

The weekend was filled with croissants, cooking, conversation, and me trying not to convince myself to hop on the first plane back home. As beautiful as this little piece of the countryside was, it was also incredibly overwhelming, and I was incredibly exhausted. The family couldn’t have been nicer or more helpful, and the food was delicious, but by the time Sunday rolled around I was definitely ready to get back to the city and rest.

Or not.

The car ride home, this time with both kiddos in tow, ended up being a little over 7 hours because of all the traffic. By the time we got home around 8:30, we ate a quick dinner and la mère drove me back to my apartment where I was greeted by my 2 giant suitcases yet to be unpacked and a bathroom I could barely fit into. The next morning, I had to be ready to go by 10am so la mère and I could pick up the kids from their sports camp. And this is how the rest of the week went—me traversing Paris to collect les enfants and spending the rest of the day entertaining them. More exhaustion.

I just kept telling myself to make it through the week, because school would start the next week and it would all get a little less chaotic. By Friday I was worn out, but that morning the agency I went through held a rendez-vous at a little café for the first Au Pair arrivals. I met up with about 8 other girls, many of whom were experiencing similar first week turmoil, and it was all like a breath of fresh air.

When the weekend rolled around, I had a good sleep in, and then hopped the first metro to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time up close. I instantly felt like bursting into tears, but this time out of joy. The rest of the weekend offered walks along the Seine river, garden wandering, talks with other Au Pairs, and lunch in little cafés.

La Tour Eiffel, in all her beauty

Like almost everything in life, big changes can come with big challenges. But they also come with big rewards and unique opportunities. I think this year I will benefit most by finding a healthy balance between work and pleasure and remembering to soak in the moments I have here.

Why yes, Paris, I do think I love you.

À bientôt,

Meg

Always a good idea

I give in. This whole blog thing, I’ll give it go.

I went back and forth in my head over and over again about whether I should bother trying to keep a blog. It’s a lot of effort to get these posts into tip-top shape and, quite frankly, I haven’t really had the time so far.

But alas, I have so many thoughts about this current adventure and so many people I’d like to share them with. So for anyone willing to spend a few minutes of their time reading about an ordinary life in an extraordinary city, welcome to le blog.

After a spell in Australia and a year back home in Atlanta, Georgia, I’ve found myself once again crossing oceans to wrangle little munchkins and teach them the fine art of the hokey-pokey (as it happens, my French kiddos are obsessed—obsessed!—with the hokey pokey). I won’t be revealing their names or any details of where they live; it’s a mad world we live in. But I will tell you that there are two of them: la fille, age 7 and le garçon, age 4. They’re super cute and super French, and I will be their main source of English for the next year, helping them once and for all achieve that pesky “th” sound. Initial bonding has been harder this time around, mostly due to the language and cultural boundaries, but day by day we’re all adjusting and growing. My own language classes will start in early October, so until then I’m playing tourist with the free time I have while the kids are at school and praying my 5 years of French (the last lesson of which I took almost 5 years ago) will come magically flooding back into my brain.

So there you have it—the beginning of what I hope is a great year to come. Because as Audrey Hepburn once said, “Paris is always a good idea.”

À tout à l’heure,

Meg