It’s autumn…and here come the spiders.

24 09 2010

Now that it’s officially fall (after the autumnal equinox and all), I thought I would mention again that I love this season.  The orange and brown leaves on the ground are so pretty.

But there is one sign of fall that I didn’t really think about until yesterday: spiders.

Someone I talked to mentioned that spiderwebs are more common in autumn.  I had never thought about that, but it makes sense.  You know, all the spiderweb decorations at Halloween, and the fact that spiders like to come into your house more in fall than any other time.  More or less.

Side note: I am not a big fan of spiders, but I can tolerate them even though they make my skin crawl a little bit.  But one thing I am quite passionate about is that I HATE spiders who come into my house.  They don’t belong inside!

I’ll never forget the time I saw a big wolf spider in the sink.  It was back when I was living in an apartment off campus my senior year of college with three fabulous girls who I miss very much.  I woke up early for class one autumn day and went to make coffee.  And the spider scared me half to death.  It’s the last thing I expected to see in the sink as I was about to fill up the coffee pot with water.

The thing is, although I dislike sharing my own living space with spiders, I can’t squish them.  That really grosses me out.  (That goes for all insects, actually.  I wash my hands every time I slap a mosquito or a fruit fly.  Gross.)

So squishing is out.  And I don’t trust the vacuum method.  How can you be sure they’re really dead?  (Especially the big ones – wolf spiders are hearty little fellows!)  Will they crawl back out of the tube and come take their revenge on me while I sleep?

Since I can’t squish or vacuum up a spider, I am left with one plausible solution.  I grab the nearest cup and piece of paper, capture the little 8-legged vermin, and fling him outside with all of my might.  And then I say a little prayer that he won’t come back inside again later.

The one exception to my very humane “capture-and-release” rule was the time I found a black widow spider on New Year’s Day back in high school.  I caught it with a glass and showed it to my grandma.  She told me to leave it on the counter for my mom (who hates spiders).  That’s one spider we didn’t want to let back out into the wild, though.  So we flushed it down the toilet.

How do you feel about spiders?  Do you let them cohabitate with you in the corner of your living room ceiling, or do you get rid of them?  Do you have any other methods than the ones I already mentioned?



2 07 2010

As you read this, I am in a plane on my way to the States with Tobias.  We are flying British Airways via Heathrow, so hopefully that volcano with the unpronounceable name in Iceland will keep quiet during our travels.  So, as I journey back to my home country, I want to spend a little time sharing my last impressions of France and the end of my assistant teaching in Mantes-la-Ville.

Last week of teaching

This is the schoolyard of the school I taught at in the afternoons.

As I may have mentioned, I only worked two days a week this past school year in France, as I was only allowed to work 12 hours per week. Because it was so far out in the banlieue, they scheduled me to work two full days – Monday and Tuesday every week.

On my last Monday of work, I only had to work a half day because of a field trip the kids at my morning school were on. I came anyway at 11:30, when I would normally be done teaching in the morning, so I could bring all of the materials back that they loaned me in the beginning of the year.

Some of my afternoon school’s teachers and the directrice were there to pick up some books and they drove me back to the afternoon school. They had told me last week not to bring a lunch with me on Monday because they wanted to have a party for me. When I arrived at the school, I realized that all of the teachers had pitched in and brought all sorts of delicious French specialties for a big meal together. There were two types of quiche (one with spinach and quiche lorraine, with ham),

The party was great! They even had a little apéritif before eating. And, in typical French style, there was wine – both red and white – and cider. They made kir with sirop de cassis and white wine. It was great! I had a glass of each. (Small glasses…didn’t want to be drunk at work! But I must say I enjoyed being allowed to drink at work! That will not likely happen in Germany or in the States!)

It was very special. I didn’t really add much to the conversation, per usual, but I had a lot of fun at this party. They dedicated a toast to me, and I thanked them for everything they’d done for me over the year. For dessert there was a clafoutis, a cherry dessert that I’ve made twice before at home. All of the food they brought was really delicious, and I was very full when the lunch break was over.

The afternoon classes on Monday were perfect. I did the normal “date / weather / how are you” ritual, and after that I taught them the game Heads Up, Seven Up. That’s a game I remember playing in elementary school and middle school and really loved it at the time. The French kids also loved it, and I had fun playing that with them.

Tuesday: the very last day

This is the handout I made with the lyrics to the song.

Then, on my last day of work, I was very excited to finish things up. I decided to spend all the class periods playing games with the kids. I taught them The Moose Song and they loved that. Then I did hangman with the phrase “Let’s play Simon Says!” And they all understood enough to be really excited about the answer and say, “Yeah!” (Well, they actually said “ouais!!! and it made me feel a little bit like I hadn’t really taught them anything this year.) So we played a round or two of Simon Says, and then we transitioned into several rounds of Heads Up, Seven Up. Then, with 5 minutes left in class, I made them sing The Moose Song again, and then it was time to say goodbye.

I didn’t expect it, but I was a lot more emotional about saying goodbye than I thought I would be. One class in the morning cheered me out with “Hip hip hip hourrah!” and another class had just gotten dictionaries as a gift from their school before they enter middle school, and they wanted me to sign their dictionaries. (They got all their friends to sign them, too.) So I gave plenty of autographs, which felt pretty funny. The kids said they would miss me, and I wished them good luck with the next school year. What really hit me was saying goodbye to the kids in my favorite class in the afternoon school. It was the second class of the afternoon and they surprised me with thank-you cards they drew and letters they wrote for me. It touched me so much, and was so unexpected, that I cried. I went around to each of them and took their cards and said goodbye. That was really sweet. In the other classes, I went around to each of them and gave them a high five and told them goodbye individually by name. In another class, they had brought in some cakes and brownies and juice for everyone, and we had snack time at the end. A few kids asked me questions about my life and why I came to France, and where I was going next. That was nice to see their reactions to different things about my life. All of the teachers gave me la bise (you know, that French cheek kiss greeting) and asked to keep in touch.

The day was not without its problems, though. The one class that was horrible every day all year was also horrible for the last day. It wasn’t even fun to play the game with them and the kids were really disrespectful. I was SO glad to leave that class. And in another class in the morning, I had to break up a fight between two nine-year-old students. (Not surprisingly, these were the two most misbehaved children in the class.) For whatever reason — probably the after-effects of verbal arguments during recess — one kid back-handed the other in the torso. The other reacted very badly to this and yelled at him, and then proceeded to strangle him! I ran over and had to pull them apart. It was so crazy – why would this happen on my last day?  Because life is funny that way, I suppose.  At least it made for an interesting story, and the kids didn’t seriously hurt each other or anything.

This is a view of the hallway outside of one of my classrooms in the afternoon school.

Now that this job is over, and I know I most likely won’t see those students ever again, it’s a bittersweet feeling. But that feeling didn’t last too long, because there are too many other exciting travels coming up!

Au revoir, Paris!

30 06 2010

I’m leaving on a jet plane fast train / don’t know when I’ll be back again…

It’s moving day! Goodbye Paris, France.  Hello Hamburg, Germany!!

I started packing as soon as Tobias left last Thursday.  Since then, I have packed and repacked, and repacked again and again.  The cheap-o + pack-rat combination is not a good one; I had a hard time throwing things out.  But in the end, I donated 3 bags of clothes, got rid of two bags and a pair of shoes, and donated random leftover girly items (like tissue paper, cookie mix, chai mix, headbands, shampoo, etc.) to the nice Japanese girl who just moved in downstairs.

It feels good.  Well, sorta.  I still wish I had less luggage.

Putting the “lug” in “luggage”

Okay, so I don’t have quite as many bags as this lady does (left), but I will be quite overloaded today with 4 large bags to lug around.

I have 1 large backpack (for backpacking) filled to brim with clothes and shoes.  And two large suitcases that are both very heavy and…I had to sit on them to get them to zip closed.  (Here’s to hoping nothing bursts open during my travels!)

To top it off, I will have to wear my computer backpack on the front.  It contains all the technical  stuff (computer, camera, router, and external hard drive) and the last-minute stuff (toothbrush, deodorant, contact solution).  Oh, and I will also be carrying my Lord of the Rings to read on the train (I wish I’d timed it so I was reading a smaller book right now!).  I’m even wearing my heavy hiking boots today because they were too bulky & heavy to put in my bags. Ha!

But at least I’ll be kind of balanced, right?  Backpack on the back, backpack on the front, and one suitcase for each arm.  You can imagine that I’m dreading this aspect of moving.

Tobi’s friend Bruno, who is moving into this apartment, is coming to get the keys this morning and will help me to the train station.  That will be a really big help, and I’m very grateful for this.  Getting the bags from the apartment to the train station is the most effort, especially when it includes stairs and the metro.  After that, I have two transfers on the way to Hamburg; once in Frankfurt and again in Hannover.  That will definitely be hard, and probably also difficult to find room to store my luggage once I transfer to those trains.

But in the end, I’ll be back in Hamburg, and this time to stay.  Well, until Tobias and I fly to the States on Friday.  But when we come back in August, I’ll be living in Hamburg.  Exciting things are happening!


I’ve said my goodbyes to friends, teachers, students, my apartment, and even Paris itself.  I feel like I’ve really been able to take advantage of all the city has to offer during the last several weeks.  I plan to share more about my last few days in Paris, so stay tuned.

Ready?  Set!  Go!!


Paris Apartment

28 06 2010

One thing I will miss about this Paris apartment is the beautiful sunset I get to see from my window every evening.

There are, however, plenty of things I won’t miss about this apartment.  For instance, the fact that it’s freezing cold in the winter.  Or the loudness of the streets below my bedroom.  Or having no floor-length mirror and doing lots of guessing about outfits (or taking photobooth pictures, ha!).

But I think the thing I’ll miss the least is the fact that  if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, I have to grab my keys, walk down the hallway, and unlock the door to my other room in order to reach the bathroom.  Having two separate, locked rooms in a hallway shared with other people is strange, and feels more like college dorm life than real life.

And did I mention how darn cold it was this winter?  *shiver*

But, all in all, it was a nice place.  Great location.  Near the Champs-Élysées, Place de la Concorde, Tuileries, the Louvre.  25-minute walk to the Marais or the Eiffel Tower.  Very central!

If any of you are curious to see what my apartment looks like from the inside, here are some pictures for you (and for me, to look back upon fondly!).  Come on in!

This is the door into my main room.

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Fête de la Musique 2010

26 06 2010

This past Monday, June 21st, was the big music festival all around Paris.  (I think they also have this in other cities.)

Every year, on the first official day of summer, Paris opens its streets to musicians of all shapes and sizes.  The Élysée Palace (where the president lives, right across the street from my apartment…!) even opened its courtyard to the public for a musical program.  Tobias and I started there and listened to a steel drum band play some pretty cool, funky music.

We went back to our apartment, had some dinner, and then went back out on the town.  We walked to the Tuileries garden, to the Louvre, and then along a smaller street to the Marais.  Along the way, we saw a drum group, a cheesy choir singing Edith Piaf songs, a jazz band with a tap dancer, a few wannabe bands playing classic rock, a cheesy-sounding gospel group, an American Indian group in feathers and costumes, a techno deejay on a balcony, more techno in the GLBT district of the Marais complete with drag queens and muscle men with no shirts, and some other random groups along the way.  There was quite a lot of variety!

Tobias treated me to some frozen yogurt at mÿ berry and then we went to Selina’s apartment to hang out and toast her birthday at midnight on the 22nd.  Happy birthday to Selina!

It was a very fun night.  It was hard to get up at 5:30 the next morning, and I was utterly exhausted at work that Tuesday.  But it was worth it.  You only live once…and Fête de la Musique is only once per year!

One day, I’ll get myself a better camera that takes better videos.  The sound quality is just so bad on my poor old Nikon Coolpix P4 VR.  It just hasn’t been the same since I dropped it that one time at Christmas…three years ago.  I bought it just before going to Paris for study abroad back in 2006, so it’s quite old as far as these little point-and-shoot cameras go.  Anyway, camera talk aside – I made a little video of the performances we saw at Fête de la Musique.  Its not high-quality or anything, but I wanted to have a little video memory of that night!


En grève

25 06 2010

Yesterday, France was on strike.  It was a national strike against the proposed change of the minimum age of retirement from 60 years to 62 years.  (Whatever, France, it’s 65 in the States.  It could be “worse”.)

The worst thing about strikes in France is that when someone else strikes, usually so does the RATP – the Parisian transit system.  That resulted in extreme delays and cancelations for metro trains, buses, and intercity trains.

This is especially bad when you have to go to the airport on strike day. Tobias had to fly back to Hamburg.  (Luckily, his flight wasn’t canceled, as some were!  I’m surprised, though, because if anyone would strike, I would think it would be Air France.  However, his flight did end up being delayed by an hour, in the end.)

C’était le bordel

It was a complete mess.  Line 1 of the metro wasn’t so bad until we got to Châtelet to transfer to the RER B.  We already knew there would be less trains (and therefore, it would also be more crowded) because the info on the RATP website said there would be 1 train out of 5 for the RER B during rush hour.  But then we get down to the platform with all his luggage, and there is a sign on the computer screens that normally say the train schedule:  NO RER B TRANSFER AT CHÂTELET.  Really?  Crap.  So we had to go back up with his suitcase and take a line 4 train to Gare du Nord, setting us back about 12 minutes.  And of course, because of that, the train was packed.

So then we got to Gare du Nord, and instead of going down to the RER platform, we had to go up to the actual train tracks to take the RER from quai 33.  We got on the train and felt relieved that we were finally on our way.

But then, just outside of Paris, at the Stade de France stop, just as we were pulling away, the train lurched to a sudden halt.

Someone had pulled the alarm.  Maybe it was an accident, but we had to sit there for at least 5 minutes (maybe more?) while we listened to the alarm sound and the driver (or whoever) checked to make sure nothing was wrong.  Of course, this delayed not only our train, but also the trains behind us, I’m sure.

Well, we finally made it to the airport.  And then it was fine from there.  At least we knew of the strike ahead of time, and we had left much earlier than necessary.  Good thing we did.  It was just crazy.

Going home

After Tobi left to go through security, I went outside.  I thought, “Maybe the Roissybus will be better than taking the RER back.”  Perhaps it would have been, but I realized that it wasn’t when 9 or 10 buses passed by our stop, waving “no” at us when we tried to get them to pull over and pick us up.  Though it was annoying to wait so long (I waited 45 minutes), it was at least nice to be out in the open air and sunshine.  I just read my book and continued to wait.  The bus that finally came was full already, such that I had to stand the entire way back.  I was very tired by the time I got back to Paris.

I went to Starbucks on the way home and treated myself to a frappuccino.  I drank them a lot last summer when I worked at Sofitel, because there was one just across the street, up one block from the hotel.  But drinking my frapuccino and walking back home to my apartment in the sun made me think, finally, “This is summer.”

Hopefully, nobody will be striking on the 30th when I leave France on a train to Hamburg.  That’s 5 days from now! Can you believe it?


Eiffel Tower

23 06 2010

As our last time in Paris together draws to a close, Tobias and I have been trying to do Paris-y things.  I’m sure it won’t be our very last time in Paris, but I’m also not sure when we’ll go back again.

Tobias and I had never gone to the Eiffel Tower together except to see the fireworks on the 14 juillet.  So on Sunday, we took a walk to the most iconic Parisian monument and paid (a discounted fee) to climb the stairs to the second tower.

It was a very cloudy day, which made the city look very dramatic from up above.  We climbed the steps, walked around the tower, and took many pictures.  Tobias treated us to a snack in the café on the 2nd level: waffles and lattes.

We had a really lovely time.  It was so special to go do that together.  More photos below!

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