Monday, October 18, 2010

We're moving to Nice, where it is oh so nice!

Life sure can be one crazy ride. A year ago, I had just embarked on my journey year in Paris. Now I see that that adventure was just the beginning of an exciting, unexpected ride. Once I met Olivier and we became serious, I knew that Nice was a possibility in my future. Then as we grew closer and I planned to move to France for good, I knew that Nice was likely. However, it all is suddenly seeming so very real and I am so excited. On Friday morning, Olivier called me right after an interview for a job in Monaco. "Pack your swimsuit." Huh? I was a little confused, as I was still in a rather sleepy state. "Pack your swimsuit. I got the job. We're moving to Nice!" I was immediately so excited. And I was not in the least bit sad about not spending another cold winter in Paris. After all, it felt really nice to know that we were really going to be starting the next chapter of our life together in the place we eventually wanted to be living. Most of all, I knew that this was what he had been hoping for for so long. Later we talked about when he would be moving and starting the new job. He will probably move in mid-December, and then I arrive in mid-January. Perfect. I told him that I was excited to help him decorate his new apartment. Then he corrected me, "our apartment." I like the sound of that.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The End of One Adventure and the Beginning of Another

I am writing this blog mostly as a way to wrap up my whirl-wind year in France, and as an introduction to what lies ahead. As made evident by earlier blogs, I was very sad to leave my life in France. I could not quit picturing myself leaving with so much sadness. Well, it was sad. It was hard, but I learned that I am a lot stronger than I originally thought. I pictured my miserable self sobbing on the plane. That is not at all how it went. Thank goodness for individual tv screens and many movie/tv show choices. I made it home and was so happy to see my parents waiting in the airport.

Then I saw a surprise and I was so excited that I cried. One of my dearest friends was waiting with a camera...Miss Julie Weston (soon to be Julie Wilsey :) on October 9!).

My first few weeks home were eventful to say the fact, I was hardly home at all. I was busy squeezing in visits, getting a long overdue haircut, setting up a new mobile phone account, getting everything done so that I could drive my car again, and trying to catch Olivier on Skype whenever our schedules would allow. Then after less than a week back in Cadillac, I went to Elk Rapids for a week for the Brugger family camping reunion. Thank goodness I stayed so busy...I needed it.

Then Olivier came to Michigan (and Chicago and NYC). I freaked out when he called me at 4:45 in the morning the day he was supposed to arrive in Chicago. He couldn't get on the flight because an Aer Lingus employee said he needed to "print" his ESTA number. This is a recently-required US borders thing that is required of all people from specific countries not needing visas for tourism. Anyway, he had the number "recorded" as instructed by Homeland Security. After much research, I have repeatedly verified that he was in the right. Anyway, I was freaking out because we didn't know if he would be able to come, especially with ticket prices being so expensive. By some miracle, his brother found a reasonably-priced (still expensive!) ticket and he was on a flight the next day. I am still waiting to hear back from Aer Lingus. He heard back, and they are only willing to refund his airport tax of 108 euro. Needless to say, this is NOT over yet. With one less day in Chicago, we spent one day exploring and then drove back to Michigan that evening.

Once in Michigan, we spent almost every day at a Lake Michigan beach. He loved it. I loved that he loved it. Honestly, how could one not love Lake Michigan beaches?!

While enjoying the beaches, we also enjoyed the Platte River...a few times. Olivier quickly got the hang of lounging in tubes and drinking beverages while floating down the peaceful river into Lake Michigan. I think we floated it three times that weekend. Along with my family, we had the company of long-time family friends, the Vance/Marvin family. He was able to meet one of my best friends, Brittany Marvin, and Robbie, her sweet and fun husband. We had a blast. Here we are, done with one tour of the river, and ready to start round two.

This tubing trip coincided with our annual camping trip with the Vance's/Marvin's. Olivier successfully enjoyed (so he said) a few nights of camping in a tent, and survived an intense thunderstorm.

Our time together in Michigan was wonderful. The weather was perfect everyday, we saw nature's way of bragging everywhere we went, and we thoroughly enjoyed each other's company. We were not ready to leave when it was time to go. He was actually planning his next trip over before we left for New York.

Last stop: NYC. We spent three nights in New York, enjoying our last days together for now. We started off our first evening enjoying Italian at an outside cafe in Greenwich Village. Then we walked to Times Square to take in the intensity and excitement that only Times Square can provide. We were exhausted, so we headed back to the hotel so that we would be ready for the next day. We packed in as much touristy stuff as possible that day, taking full advantage of our hop-on, hop-off bus pass. Although we did encounter some rain, most of the day was great (Yes, that IS Rupert from Hello Deli!).

We spent our last day taking it easy with a boat ride and long walk through Central Park. I desperately wanted our time to slow down, but like all things, our last evening came to an end. We spent the next morning and early afternoon relaxing. We ate at a local cafe and walked to Prospect Park, not far from our hotel. Then it was time to head to the airport. As I saw signs for La Guardia Airport, I knew it was goodbye. It was so difficult to see him pull away, but I was okay (he had to leave from JFK).

I think part of what makes this all easier is that I know that we are going to work this all out. It is not as hard as I imagined it would be. I am staying busy working and catching up with people, and I talk to him via Skype almost every day. I know that I need to be here right now. I have so much to take care of, including the mountains of paperwork required to get me back to him. I have to make money and go through all of my stuff. So for now, I am okay being here. I know that I will be back with him before long.

As of right now, I am planning on going back to France in mid-January. I decided to work as a waitress and substitute teacher until then, saving as much money as possible. I am spending the holidays here with my family, and then getting ready to head back and start my life with him. For the first year I will not be legally able to get a real job, but I will be babysitting and tutoring in order to make enough to get by (luckily my student loans are my only big expense right now). Then after that year, I can do other paperwork that will allow me the right to work. Once I have that, I will probably work as an English teacher or maybe a math teacher in a bilingual or international school. We'll see. For now, I am just doing what I can to make it work, as is he. Nobody ever said life was easy, but it sure is great. I don't know where my road will lead, but I am currently headed WAY East, with signs in francais.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Good Stuff (Thanks Greta)

First of all, I need to mention one of my dearest friends. We've only spent a few days together here and there, but I love her and she is truly one of the most amazing people I know. I just caught up on her blog and she lifted my spirits right up. She is so strong, loving, adventurous, and incredible. Greta Weisman, thank you! Jubilee!!!!

I just posted my last blog a little over an hour ago, and I can't stop thinking about how depressing I sound. Well, I wrote it to feel better. Sometimes I feel better when I write what I'm feeling...just another form of venting I guess.

Here's what happened. I was on my way home and I was listening to my Ipod. Of course, some song came on that triggered everything, and I started crying. I cried by myself and then to get over it, I wrote a blog. Hence, it was pretty miserable. However I will not delete it. It is true, it is how I am feeling, and I can't deny how sad I am about leaving. But I am also happy. I am so comfortable here, I am with the guy I love, and he loves me too. Aside from the fact that going home means I have to leave him, at least for now, I am so excited to get home. Finally. I have missed friends, family, even Cadillac. What do I want to do when I get home?! Well, here's my list. It's not finished and I'm sure I left out a lot, but here are just a few things.

1) Hug my parents
2) Hug my dogs and throw tennis balls for them
3) See Lina, Sanna, and Lucas (Maria, Gus, and Buxton too!)
4) Go to the movie theater with my dad
5) Hang out with Lauren
6) Play Cranium and Euchre with the Lempe family and friends (Lo, you're on my team, chica)
7) Eat peanut butter chocolate ice cream
8) Eat Mexican Food at Herraduras
9) Swing with Grandpa Porter on his porch swing and learn from Pat
10) Drive up to Traverse City to have lunch with Grandpa and Grandma Brugger
11) Call Julie and Brittany and (insert a bunch of names here of my best buds) and REALLY catch up
12) Drink coffee on my porch with my mom
13) Skype Olivier
14) Go through my closet and rediscover my clothes
15) Go camping (luckily I have 2 trips planned right away!)
16) Lay on the boat
17) The list goes on and on.....

I am thankful that when I get back, my time will be completely filled with friends, family, and fun (some of my very favorite "F" words). I already have some lunches planned, I have a week-long camping trip with the Brugger family, and Olivier is coming for two weeks, arriving in Chicago on August 1st. Then it will be my birthday and Lauren has already assured me that we WILL have fun. Basically, I will be so busy having fun, that my time will fly and before I know it, fall will be here, I'll be working, and planning a trip back to France. Life is good. No, life is great.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I'm an Emotional Basketcase

Hi. I’m sorry that I haven’t blogged in ages. I can’t even explain why. I have not been exceptionally busy or anything. I guess I just have not had the desire. I had plans to run through all of the little details of summer trips, etc. However, for now, I just feel like writing about how I’m feeling.

My countdown has been in effect for several months, but I am officially leaving in a week. It is down to the wire and I am going through hundreds of emotions: happy, devastated, hopeful, love, fear, heartbreak, longing… I still haven’t figured out exactly how I am going to eventually come back to France, but I know that I will…I know that it is in my future, and that I just have to somehow work out the logistics.

Several weeks ago I wrote a poem about being in the calm before the storm. I wrote that I could see a storm approaching, I knew that it would be bad, and that eventually it would pass. The storm I am referring to is, of course, my life far from my love. It hardly seems fair, but I guess life never is. Don’t misinterpret this please. I am so excited to finally be with my family and friends, but my heart is already aching knowing how hard it is going to be for me to be away from Olivier. In my poem, the storm broke as I said goodbye on my way to the airport. It was the strongest at first, and over time, I got used to the thunder and rain. I adapted and even though it was hard, I survived. And I will. There is no doubt in my mind that I will be fine. However, instead of starting when I leave, I feel like the storm is already here. I love every moment I spend with him, but every time I think about how happy I am, I am reminded that my time with him is almost over, at least for now. I just thank God that my upcoming goodbye is just temporary and that I am not saying goodbye forever.

My emotions are completely crazy. I am so happy one moment, then crying the next. I am trying to be strong. I am doing ok. It is just hard. I don’t know how I will find the strength to leave, but I will. I can’t wait to hug my parents. I can’t wait to chat with girl friends, visit family, go camping, walk on the beaches, play ball with my dogs, and see my kids (aka Maria’s kids). This will all immensely help me. I am so lucky to have so much love in my life. Thank you all for loving me, supporting me, and just being there. I love you all. What would I do without you?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

My Current Predicament

Hi everyone. All is going pretty well here. The weather is beautiful and warm. I found a babysitting job to keep me occupied and help me out monetarily until I come home. The family is a nice Australian family. They live in the suburbs of Paris in a nice house on the river. The kids are sweet and the parents are very kind.

Things are also going well with Olivier. I am just dreading leaving him behind when I come home. Thinking about saying goodbye is already hard enough. I am just hoping that I will be able to eventually come back to be with him. For now, I am doing my best to really enjoy the time I have left here. I am down to the under two month mark. Time sure does fly.

When I think about everything I have gone through this year, I realize just how emotional this year has been. It started with homesickness, then troubles with the French family, then missing my family, especially at Christmas, then the realization that I had fallen in love and would have to leave, and of course, the decision to leave the French family. As I look at all of this, the most troubling for me is still unresolved. I want to be with Olivier, but it is nearly impossible. How do you follow your heart when it means living an ocean away from your family? I have really done ok this year being far away. It was hard in the beginning, and from time to time throughout the year, but I am ok. I can manage it. I have realized that being with Olivier makes me so happy, and I feel that I need to follow my heart and see where our relationship goes. Logic has flown right out the window.

Now my struggle is figuring out how to stay here. The reality is that I need to work. I need a real job. I cannot continue babysitting for the rest of my life. It is just not enough, both financially and intellectually. I have those darn student loans hanging over me, and trust me, they will be there for a long, long time. I knew this when I started school. For me, I did not personally have a choice. I had to have an education and student loans were my way of achieving this. Enough about those darn loans. Those are just part of life. In order to live in France, I need a visa. Since I need a job, I need a work visa. I have been researching this for months now and a work visa is almost impossible for an American teacher like me to obtain. Basically, I need to find a job that will do the visa paperwork for me. They must prove that they need my skills for the job, etc... Now why would any school do this when they can easily just hire a Brit or another European? Exactly...they wouldn't. I have sent out numerous e-mails and resumes. Of the responses I received, the jobs required that I already have working papers. It is one big Catch-22. I'm stuck. So basically I am still hoping that any good karma in my life will catch up with me and throw me a miracle of a bone. Until then, I just have to wait and see.

I can't help but continually play one song in my head. It was sort of a theme song last time I left Paris, but it has become even more fitting for my current situation. John Denver's "Leaving on a Jet Plane" pretty much sums it all up. I just hope that when I go, I will be coming back. It might not be for awhile, but I can't imagine my life any other way.

I am going to spend Wednesday through Sunday with Olivier at his parents' home in Antibes. He has some vacation time and I thought it best to spend what little time I have left here enjoying our time together. I really cannot wait to be there. He left yesterday morning for Dublin for a week-end with his best friend, and I will not see him until I fly into Nice. Needless to say, I am giddy with excitement. I hope you are all doing well. I'll see you soon.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My Summer Wish

I hope that I can make the best of our time together.

I hope I can find a way to come back.

I hope I can be happy and just enjoy being with you,
Instead of being sad about not being with you.

I hope this is not our last summer together.

I hope this is our first summer together.

Bisous, cheri.

I Thought of You

The other day, I awoke early, and for some reason, had the urge to write this down.

Yesterday, when I moved to another bench to find the sun, I thought of you.

As I saw the moon peek up over the city last night, I thought of you.

As I was crying over life's difficulties, I thought of you.

This morning, in the still early hours,
As the birds' chirping brought the only sound to my ears and I slowly drank my first cup of coffee, I thought of you.

As I thought about your mother, I thought of you.

When the song came on that makes us think of us, I thought of you.

Every day, throughout the day, I think of you.

I love you, I miss you.

No matter what I do or where I am, I keep you with me.

I thought of you, Mom.

I am looking forward to our next morning coffee together.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Our Tour de France

OK, so here it tour through France with my parents. We had a wonderful time together. I was so happy to see them. It was such a good feeling to be with them in person after so long apart. Once we were back together, it was like nothing had I had seen them just a few weeks earlier. It was great.

At the airport, we were surprised to find that our rental car happened to be a little better than our quoted Taurus. Hello BMW. We travelled in style :)

My Mom tested her skills among the French drivers and successfully got us to our destination, Crystal's place, for night one. We walked around Pigalle, Paris's touristy red light district, grabbed some lunch, and headed back to the apartment to try and rest up before dinner. My parents were finally able to meet Olivier and it went very well.

The next morning, we left for Normandy....first stop: D-Day beaches. We arrived in the early afternoon at the American National Cemetery in Normandy, where we went for a walking tour and solemnly gazed at Omaha Beach, once widely called "Bloody Omaha."

We decided to call it a day after a light lunch, and headed to our hotel to rest up for the next day. My parents fell asleep very quickly thanks to jet-lag. Jet-lag also influenced internal clocks, along with the help of the blinds that made the room completely dark. After my mother's assurance that my dad would wake up around 6 or 7 am, I did not set my alarm. Well, at 12:14 pm the next day, I woke up in disbelief. Haha. It really didn't matter anyway.

We headed to one of the world's wonders, Mont-Saint-Michel, an abbey started in the 10th century. This medieval city was absolutely breathtaking. My dad couldn't get over how old it was.

After Mont-Saint-Michel, we started the drive south. We knew getting all the way to the French Riviera from Normany was a long stretch, so we stayed one night in Tours. After a long drive the next day, we pulled up to our condo. It was perfect for us and in a great location. Basically it was central to all of the major cities we wanted to visit on the Riviera. Nice and Monoco were to the East, and Antibes and Cannes were to the West.

We decided to spend our first full day on the Riviera with a car tour. We didn't have any specific destination in mind, but since I had been there a few months earlier with Olivier, I sort of knew the area. My mom ventured the winding hairpin turns to our first visit in the medieval town of Eze. Eze is situation very high up and has one of the best views of the Riviera. We climbed the streets and stairs until we finally reached the eagle's nest view surrounded by an exotic garden.

After the trek back down through the village, we drove towards Nice along the water, and then through Monoco. We didn't even get out of the car in Monoco. The streets were so curvy and unfamiliar that we decided we preferred to just head back for the day. We did our grocery shopping and enjoyed a nice meal before heading to the beach to gaze at the moon. It was full, glowing, and glistened over the water. We thought of my grandmother as we always do when we see the moon.

If you know my family, you know that we love the beach. Guess what we did the very next morning. We packed up our mini cooler with drinks, lunch and a few snacks, and headed to the closest beach we could find. The beach was rocky like most beaches east of Antibes, but my mom made the best of the situation, occupying herself for hours in the hunt for the perfect stones and beach glass. She was actually pretty successful in her search. My dad pretended to help and I found a few pieces while I was lying on my towel.

After a few hours in the sun, we decided to check out Antibes, Olivier's home town. It really is charming with all of the boats and little streets. I think it is my favorite Mediterranean city.

That night, after a few cocktails and dinner prepared by me, we headed to the beach again to watch the moon rise (My dad was so surprised that I could cook. He thought I would never know how to cook a thing. I guess France agrees with me. However, I have a LONG way to go...trial and error is how I get by). The moon was absolutely gorgeous. It started off as a huge, glowing, red ball as it climbed itself up over the water. I don't think I have ever watched a moon rise like that before. It was breathtaking. We enjoyed our wine and cameras as we took countless photos, continually laughing uncontrollably at ourselves. Luckily we had a few winners.

The next day we went to a sandy beach in Antibes for a few hours, and then headed home for awhile before venturing into Nice for a dinner out. I couldn't find the restaurant recommended by Olivier, so hunger and the need of a bathroom led us to a restaurant similar to most others. It was the perfect evening for strolling around Nice. Place Massena, the main open area, was very cool and alive with night life.

My parents went to the beach for a few hours the next morning while I slept in and avoided making my sunburn worse. Then we headed into Nice to check out the area a little more for the rest of the day. We left Nice the next morning and drove through Italy and the Alps towards Chamonix. Apparently we were in the South at the right time because a huge wave and bad weather made a mess of the area just a few days after we left.

Chamonix was, unfortunately, not exactly the same as it had been the last time my mom and I visited. It had been perfect before, but this time, the weather made it a little less desirable. It was rainy and very foggy, making the amazing mountains almost completely hidden from our view. We tried to make the best of it by enjoying onion soup and a train ride through the mountains to walk inside a huge glacier. We ended up leaving Chamonix a day early because of the weather. We drove as far as Dijon, and then drove back to Paris as scheduled.

We took a tour bus around Paris for a few days, and then I led us around a little as well. They saw just about everything. The weather was really cold, but at least it was not raining! We were able to have dinner with Olivier again before they left. The last night, we ate dinner, just the three of us, in a little restaurant by Arc de Triomphe, and then headed to a bridge to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle before heading in. It was hard to see them leave, but it did help knowing that I will be seeing them in just a few short months. I am so thankful that they came and were able to share France with me. Ten years ago, I would never have thought this to be a reality. Thanks so much Mom and Dad. I love you and feel so honored that you came to spend this time here with me.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Quick Overview...More to Come

Well, I haven't blogged in over a month...sorry! A lot has happened since I last blogged, so here is a quick overview of everything.

First of all, I moved. Like I said before, I decided to leave the family I was working for. It just was not working out for me, and I wanted to spend my time here enjoying it as much as possible. Luckily things ended relatively well with the family, so there was not much drama. I moved in with Olivier and have started looking for any small job. Basically, I'm looking to tutor people in English and for babysitting jobs.

Right after I moved out, my parents arrived. Perfect timing. Luckily the volcano allowed for their flight to arrive on-time. We did a grand tour of France, and I will post a few pictures later when I have time to go into further detail of our trip. It was so nice to see them again. I had a great time and had fun sharing my love of France with them. We went to Omaha Beach (D-Day landings) in Normandy, Mont-Saint-Michel, the French Riviera, Chamonix (a small town near Mont Blanc in the Alps), and, of course, Paris. We rented a very fun car and enjoyed driving everywhere we went (except Paris). I was sad to see them go, but I know they were ready to leave when their 2 weeks were up.

Now I am just preparing for a long week-end in London. Olivier's brother lives there, so we will stay with him. I am very excited as it will be my first time in London and my first real trip with Olivier. Also, at the end of next week, my cousin Bonnie is coming for about a week and a half. I can't wait to see her! This must be the season for visitors :) I will write more next week when I have a little more time. Things have just been busy. Have a nice week-end!

Monday, April 5, 2010


"Paques" is French for Easter. In France, almost everyone gets Monday off of work, so we get a nice 3-day-weekend. I spent mine with Olivier. We didn't do a lot, but it was nice to relax. On Monday we had a friend, Philippe, over and I cooked. To my surprise, the food tasted pretty good. I made pasta with chicken in a garlic, buttery, creamy sauce with mushrooms. Oh and we did eat bread and wine (unintentionally a religious meal). I did miss spending the day with my family and searching for my Easter dad still likes to watch us search like kids as soon as we wake up (David still acts like a 5-year-old in search of his basket). And I will say that Easter candy in the US is sooooo good. I love it..Starburst jelly beans, Cadbury mini eggs, Reese eggs, ....I could go on all day. I hope you all had a great Easter :)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

"Almost French"

I have found a book that is absolutely perfect in describing how I feel as an outsider living in Paris. It is called "Almost French" and it is written by Sarah Turnbull, an Australian woman who fell in love with a Frenchman and ended up staying in Paris. She brings up so many different things that I have experienced. I am not yet finished with the book, but I am loving it and recommend it. I am just going to include a few quotes that have really impacted me.

"After four months of traveling, I know only one thing with absolute certainty: if I don't go to France...I might regret it forever. I'll always be wondering about the love of my life that could have been, the entirely different future that might have been if only I'd taken the risk. Sure, there's no guarantee that it will work, but then nothing ventured, nothing gained. All I know is a chance encounter has thrown open an unexpected door. Instinct tells me to step through it."

This quote hit me like a ton of bricks. I don't know what my future holds, but I know that if I come home as planned and don't try to be with Olivier, I will always wonder what might have been. The path I had always envisioned for myself has shifted drastically from a life in the US to one in France. The next quote is also very meaningful. I feel like I am an "in-betweener." I feel so American in France, but when I am home in the United States, I feel like a part of me is missing. I see France in everything...I think of it every day. While in Greece, the author encountered a man who was also from Australia, but had spent a lot of his life in Greece.

"'It's a bittersweet thing, knowing two cultures...It's a curse to love two countries.' ...I had no idea then how radically my life was about to change and how well I would come to understand what the Greek had said."

The last quote has to deal with some of the frustration that comes from living in a world where my first language is not spoken on a normal basis. After a dinner party, Sarah was perceived as being shy and quiet for not talking a lot. I feel just like her because I simply cannot always follow conversations and I feel like when I do try to add something, I end up sounding stupid. This is not so bad right now, but before, it could really be frustrating.

"It does matter to me that I'm now perceived as quiet, nice and boring. And the reason it bothers me is because it's true. Looking back, I'd said very little all night. When I did speak, it was to issue childlike statements or ask simple questions which made me cringe at my own dumbness."

In general, this book has really helped me realize the differences in French life and culture, and helped me to better understand that what I am going through is similar for other expats.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

With Spring Comes Change

Spring is here and I am loving it! The weather has been pretty warm (light jacket weather) and it has been really sunny...except when it randomly decides to rain. It feels so nice to be able to walk around Paris and not be shielding from the elements the entire time. While I am thrilled that it is spring and I am having a wonderful time in most aspects of my life, I have decided to make a big change. After many months of being an au pair, I have decided to quit. I have had enough and I am just ready to be done with it all. And here is why...

In general, I feel taken advantage of. What I was told and promised before I arrived is just not the reality. The hours in my contract have never been respected and the idea of being paid for several extra hours left my mind right after I first arrived. I never really know when I will be finished at night, which can be very annoying, especially when I have plans with friends. For example, last week I was supposed to meet with friends around 8:30 pm. Well, since I wasn't relieved of childcare responsibilities until 10 pm, that did not happen. Monday night I figured I might be done around 8:30, when in fact, I was not done until 11. It just gets old. Oh, and hardly ever is there a call or text to inform me that I will be done very late. It is all a guessing game. I am never paid extra for working the hours outside of my contract. Apparently these make up for the "2 babysitting nights" that were never mentioned before I arrived (they are definitely not mentioned in my contract). I had assumed that I would be paid for extra full days (since I had been told I would be). Oh and I am hardly ever paid on time.

Another thing is that it is hard with the kids. They act out all of the time because they want their mother. They blame me for their mother not being there. I understand that they do not understand and I try to comfort them. I do not like being a part of it. I feel bad for them, but I am ready to be away from it.

I did not realize before I arrived that I would have the kids all day long, five days a week during the entire month of July (about 50/55 hours). This is well over the 30 hour a week rule, but once I found out about it, I was told that I would be compensated. Right after announcing that I would be leaving, I learned that in fact I probably would not have been paid anything extra. Thank goodness I am deciding to leave because I would much rather spend most of the month of July in beautiful northern Michigan than spending endless stressful hours watching three kids that are constantly naughty and disrespectful.

In the beginning I had asked about taking a Friday off here and there for traveling. After all, part of living in France is being able to take little vacations around Europe. I was told that this would not be a problem, just as long as I told them a few weeks in advance. Well, for the first time I asked for a Friday off. I asked for it nearly two months in advance. It was refused on the grounds that the parents had to work. Well in my opinion, they have plenty of time to work something else out. I think the mother figured out that I was mad about that and eventually gave me the day off. This happened the day I told her I was leaving, so it was too late for her. Oh well, I wouldn't have changed my decision anyway.

There are lots of other little things that I do not like about my job, like all of the cleaning, but I can put up with that stuff. If I had the hours in my contract and did only "light housework" for the cleaning (like I was told), I would stay the rest of my time here. However being continually taken advantage of has put a damper on my year abroad. I want to spend the rest of my time here enjoying myself without this burden. I have a student visa and plan on taking a class this summer to satisfy that. And if that doesn't work I can always just go to England for a few days and return to France as a tourist. I'll figure it out. I can do little babysitting jobs or tutor people in English and I will make more than I make now. I have a place to stay so I am not worried about that at all. I can always just hop on a plane and come back to the states if there are problems. Since I have told of my leaving, I feel like a huge weight has been lifted. Even though the situation in the home is now pretty uncomfortable, I can deal with it. The parents and I are not often home at the same times anyway. I am helping in the search for another au pair and I already have a few potential people that are already in Paris.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Guest Blog

I wrote a guest blog describing my life in France as an au pair. Check it out :) Sorry I can't get the link to work, so just copy and paste the address...

Monday, March 8, 2010

Arabian Nights: My trip to Morocco

So, as many of you know, I went to Morocco a few weeks ago. I had a wonderful time and really enjoyed being in a culture so different from that to which I have grown so accustomed. However, after a few days, the excitement began to wear off, and I was definitely ready to return to the western world. It was a great experience and I enjoyed being surrounded by an atmosphere full of new, exotic things. Hearing the call to prayer throughout the day was definitely an experience, as was being a minority among women, as we were not wearing burqas or headscarves of any kind. From night one, we felt like we were in the movie Aladdin. I went with Crystal and another au pair friend Sarah. Sarah's classmate Gabby came along too.

Well, we arrived on time and right away, the warm air put smiles on our faces. The writing on the airport was also exciting because it was in Arabic. That night, after an interesting taxi ride, we were led through small, winding streets by all kinds of people wanting a tip. We were definitely uneasy, but luckily we spoke French and could talk to other people, in order to make sure we were going the right way. Sure enough, after many turns and stops to ask for advice, we arrived at our hostel. Honestly, it is a good thing that locals helped us, because I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have been able to find it ourselves. After a knock on the door, our minds were set at ease as we trudged into our little sanctuary (voted #1 hostel in Morocco in 2008 on Hostel world!). We loved the place right away. It felt very safe, the people were very kind and helpful, and it had an authentic Arabian feel to it. The random cats everywhere also gave it a little character. I guess replacing Parisian pigeons for Moroccan cats isn't a bad trade-off for a few days. Our room that slept 8 was huge! I felt like it had once housed a small harem.

We decided to take a stroll that night to take advantage of our first night in Marrakech. Amazingly enough, we easily found the main square and realized our hostel was in the perfect location. It was in the Souks, a famous area of Marrakech known for it's sellers and bargaining. One could by anything from little leather camels to prayer carpets to saffron to fake Gucci here (no, I did not buy any fake goods)!

In the main square, called Place Jemma el Fna, there were several performers (like gay arabian dancers haha), games, henna artists, and mini restaurants under tents. Being that were were starving and excited to try something new, we dove right in, finding the first tent that looked good, also known as "#81" (since the tents are numbered). It ended up being our favorite. Here are are "homies" and our dinners. They knew us for the rest of the week and called us their "homies" whenever we walked by.

We ended the night early because we wanted to be ready-to-go early the next morning. It is funny how we were all so motivated early-on, and then determined to sleep in the last few days. Lucky for us, the breakfast at our hostel was delicious. First of all, we were served fresh orange juice, which was probably the best OJ I have ever tasted, and then we were brought several goodies. Of these breakfast things, we loved the Moroccan version of the crepe and some fried airy things (a little like beignets), that I quickly named "pockets of love." We documented the making of the pockets of love. The staff got a kick out of our intrigue.

Just for reference, here is our street in the daylight. You can imagine how we were a little worried when we arrived at night.... Also, here are some pictures of our walk through the Souks, on our way to the main square.

Once in the square, we saw our first snake charmers and monkeys of the day, as well as the endless dried fruit stands.

We headed toward the main mosque to start a little sightseeing tour. We quickly realized that everyone willing to help us wanted to be paid, and that road signs, especially those not in French (French is an official language), were almost non-existent. So, we opted for the open-tour bus, a sure-thing in almost any major city, in order to get our bearings. It took us all over the city, and was a very good idea. Oh and by the way, I have grown to thoroughly love McDonalds. I used to hate it, really, but now that I am abroad, McDonalds has come to be some sort of safe-haven where I can always find a Diet Coke (or Coca Light) and a toilet. Crystal and I even went to the Arabian McDonalds to relax and catch some sun one afternoon after we decided we had done all the touristy stuff already. We never regretted it one bit, but we did consider ourselves a bit pathetic, and very American. I was honestly a little sick of couscous when that day came.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking in a famous garden, trying to figure out how we were going to get to Tangier later that week, visiting a palace, and making our way back to the main square for dinner. We had fun bartering with the Souks for a few hours, even though we did not buy much. Most of them were really fun, but there were a few here and there who got annoyed when we didn't buy anything. It is amazing how much they were willing to lower their prices. Usually we could get them down to about a fifth of their original offer. I must say that as the week wore on and in the heat of the day, these sellers could get pretty irritating, as well as the women always trying to henna us.

The next day was another day of touristy stuff, as well as still trying to figure out bus or train tickets (luckily we got it all figured it out that day). We visited a famous school for studying the Koran called the Medersa Ben Youssef, the Museum of Marrakech, and the Saadiens Tombs. The Tombs were actually hidden for centuries by a very narrow passageway, making it an especially hard-to-find tourist attraction. Luckily we are good at being tourists and can figure this stuff out. Hint: follow other tourists with guidebooks that look like they know what they are doing.

For the next few days we took it easy, having already seen the main attractions. We hung out at McDonalds where we sun-bathed and had a nice view of the Atlas Mountains, as I mentioned earlier, rested in a park, strolled in the newer area of the city, did some more haggling in the Souks, and went to a Hammam. The Hammam was the very best idea ever. A Hammam is basically the Muslim version of a spa. And it is amazing. Crystal and I bought the package that included a 30-minute massage, while Sarah joined us until our massage started. I will do my best to describe it. My advice is to go if you ever have the chance. It is soooo worth it. Us and three other tourist women were led into a room where we put all of our belongings, except for our underwear, into a basket, which was locked into a cabinet. We were then led into a shower-type room where two women started dumping buckets of warm water on us, and then washing us down with some type of soap. Then we spent several minutes in a sauna, which towards the end, was almost unbearable. In fact, it was kind of cool because leaving the sauna felt so refreshing. The women poured tepid water on us and then we laid down on tables where they scrubbed us with soap and these gloves that removed our dead skin (luckily we kept the gloves, which made me feel better about the sanitation of the place). Back to the sauna for another melt-down. I couldn't take the heat for very long, so I laid back down on the table, all the while thinking to myself how great this all was. The ladies then led us to another room where they washed our hair and bodies and rinsed us thoroughly with buckets of water. Then we were given big, comfy robes and led to a dim, mesmerizing room where laid down and drank tea while listening to soft, Arabian music. After awhile, we were taken to our massages. This was the first real massage of my life. It was incredible. So perfect. After that we relaxed in a room and drank more tea before leaving. The whole experience lasted around two hours. Imagine doing this, maybe once a week (not with the massage), in the name of religion...

After four full days in Marrakech, we took a night bus to Tangier. We thought this was a good idea. After all, we could sleep on the bus and save money on a hostel, as well as save daylight hours for touring around. We were wrong. This night was very bad. Out of Crystal, Sarah, and I, I was the only one that slept on the bus to Tangier. We first took a bus to Casablanca, we waited there for a few hours, and then took another bus to Tangier, where we arrived around 4:30 am. We found a cafe where we sipped tea and waited for daylight to come, surrounded by baby cockroaches, and then we took naps in the bus station once it opened. We saw the beach, ate some food, wandered a bit, and then finally took a cab to the airport. We were ready to leave Morocco by that time. When we booked our trip, we thought it would be fun to visit Tangier for a few days, so that we were not always in one place. We should have just stayed in Marrakech. Tangier was not too exciting, although I'm sure it would have been nicer if we had more sleep and more time to spend there. The sea was beautiful, luckily, and it was a nice day to wander. One of my Tangier highlights was that there were hundreds of boys playing soccer on the beach and I joined in for a few minutes. I really wanted to play, but quickly realized that I fell down more often than normal in the sand. Ah well...

All in all, it was a wonderful trip. I was able to experience a very different culture and have fun. I even have a great new "worst travel experience" story (I'm talking about the bus trip and early morning in Tangier, of course).