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Adopting in Ashburn

What began in France moved to Washington, DC and then the suburbs. Let the adventures in Ashburn continue.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Paris for the weekend

I went to Paris for the weekend. It was incredible. It snowed, I got to go to an open-air fish market, a cheese shop, a bakery with marvelous pastries and such. It was just amazing. One of the coolest things about the trip happened in the train station before I left though. I was stnading in line and actually got to participate in the banter as we waited for the slowest cashiers of all time!!! I don't have alot of time, and I'll explain that later. But I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has been incredibly nice and sent me messages for Thanksgiving. I'll tell you more about that later too. Really, I never thought it could be so cool. Off for now. Hugs and kisses, ~Heather

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

A Note on the Catholic News

I usually reserve this space for stories about my adventures, but I am about to jump out and make some possibly politically, and definitely religiously, incorrect statements regarding the article I just read on CNN.com (http://edition.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/europe/11/23/vatican.homosexual/index.html)

I think that this is really ridiculous. I understand that there are certain moral values that belong in the church. However, I don't understand why a "don't ask, don't tell" policy wouldn't be appropriate. I think I am split on the issue, but I think it is time the church took steps into understanding the science of the issue. There was a time in the past when priests and other religious figures were the smartest people in the land. They relied on scientific instruments, they were astronomers, farmers, artists, chemists, scribes - you name it, you got it. Now, the entire religion seems to have turned its back on science.

Through a number of studies, there is significant evidence to defend the idea that homosexuality is not a matter of choice, but a matter of biology. Even if those studies are unsupported, it has been widely agreed that homosexuality is not a disorder of any kind; much less a "psychosexual disorder." At what medical school did the church receive the degree to declare someone ill? Don't make up science if you aren't going to accept actual science.

Secondly, and this is where I am slightly torn on standards, when there is such a shortage of men willing to become priests, why would we turn away people who were willing to devote their lives to God? If you are celibate, does it matter who you might be having sex with if you weren't? Are we going to ban women from going to church because they might be attractive to the priest? If heterosexual priests are able to control their hormones, why wouldn't homosexual priests be able to do the same? Is the church trying to define homosexuals as a lesser race of men unable to control themselves? Now, in general, if you are against a sin, I can understand you not wanting to admit someone into the seminary who was a sinner. But our sins (as preached by the church) are between us and God. If God doesn't like what we are doing, then we can have that chat when we meet. The Catholic Church is going against its own acceptance policies by discouraging and forbidding potential seminarians who are committing what they consider a sin. Since all sins are worth the same, isn't a priest who has dated women committed the sin of adultery because he looked at someone? If we are going to go the literal route, let's do it. But, if we are going to be subjective, then we need to stop being selective about our subjectivity.

Now, to the issue that annoys me more than anything else... Homosexual priests are no more likely to molest children then heterosexual priests. Availability was the issue, and in twenty years there will be stories (sadly) of altar girls who have been harrassed. It just so happens, that it was only boys who were serving before. Science (yup, back to that again), and particularly psychology, has more or less decided that pediphilia is an actual disorder. Like alcoholism, OCD, and other psychological issues, this is an actual disorder. (Although it hasn't been declared so by the highly trained medical expert of a Pope we have, so maybe it isn't yet!) These priests were pediphiles - sick people who got pleasure out of hurting children. It is an illness. However, they are responsible for controlling themselves. Those men couldn't. By national standards, the number of incidences of pedipliclic priests is significantly lower than the number of pediphilic men in the country.

But, we expect more of our priests, we expect godliness. Go back to CCD friends, because it just isn't going to happen. So, stop making policies about things based on fears. Stop making policies based on subjective bias. If you have a moral issue with someone committing a sin. Cool, we're square, I gotcha. But don't tell me that I should go to confession and be forgiven for the things I have done wrong and that I am still welcome in the church if you are going to throw my friends out for their sins. Because unlike life, church should be fair. Jesus died for everyone. Even homosexuals.

P.S. - The Bible explicitly states that the act of homosexual intercourse is forbidden. Could someone please find me some Bible passages where homosexual urges are considered sinful in the New Testament? The Old Testament, which I love and respect, says I should take out someone's eye if they take out mine. I am not inclined to believe that Jesus would have done that (justification: "turn the other cheek"). So, New Testament passages that say you cannot have emotional connections or sexual urges for someone of the same gender. I am interested to see Biblical support for the Pope's statement.

**I am sorry for this religious diatribe after 4 days of no messages and 2 weeks of scanty and undetailed messages. I promise to get back to regularly scheduled programming soon. I just couldn't contain my anger on the subject any longer, and I don't think the argument would come out as strong in my completely inept french grammar. Hugs and kissses and another message soon. Love always, ~Heather

Friday, November 18, 2005


So my slackness has gotten me nowhere except figuring out what to do about New Years. Otherwise, I am still planless for the evening. Though I did make two new friends, which I think is gratiying in it of itself. Because Anna isn't here, I ate with the Vie Scolaire people. They are about my age and totally cool. Very similar to how I think we were as an RA staff two years ago - together alot, but clique-y, etc. Anyway, they were awesome and said I could go to EuroDisney with them, or Belgium, or Luxembourg, or whatever, but just to ask, because they both had cars and lived in Charleville, so it was totally not a big deal to bring me along. Also, they are doing what I did in college for three years, except they look over high schoolers. So, we have plenty to talk about. This is going to sound horrible, but I don't really mind when Anna is away anymore, because I think it forces me to go and try things I usually wouldn't. I have made two friends and two acquaintainces in two nights being forced to find someone new to eat with. And I like this, because it makes me function in french. Speaking of which, I am currently going on in english. I am seriously off to try finding something to do now. More hugs, ~Heather

What a day

Today has been amazingly long. I was up at 8:30 due to my body clock only allowing me 7.5 hours of sleep each night. So, I went to the teacher's lounge and made invitations to the Thanksgiving supper I am cooking next week. I feel super bad about not being able to have everyone come and try at least a little food, but I know it isn't practical to attempt to cook for more than 15 people. Heck, fifteen might kill me. Okay, so after that, I ran back upstairs to get something (really don't remember what) and then off to teach my first class of the day.

Today's class was the best I've had yet. Their level of English was significantly lower than most of the rest of my classes, but they honestly wanted to learn, and put effort into asking me questions in return. Class today turned into a 1/2 hour discussion about why it was safe to live in the US and the reasons why terrorists target certain places. The students said that with shark attacks, hurricanes, tornados, terrorists, wasps, crocodiles (I found the last two very amusing considering they hadn't mentioned earthquakes or landslides) and people being allowed to walk around carrying guns, they didn't understand how it was safe. I tried to explain that with 8 times (I think) as much territory as France, we have alot more places where things can go wrong, but it doesn't make it unsafe. This pattern of though was unsuccessful. So I switched to something closer to home. I asked if they felt safe living in France after all the riots. They said sure, it was normal for people to get upset and bad things to happen occassionally. I think when they realized it was the same in the US, more of them were swayed to believe me.

The biggest thing to try and explain was freedom. Don't get me wrong, they have that here, but it isn't exactly the same. Seperation of church and state is significantly more drastic therefore infringing on the rights to expression of beliefs and ideas. It is the same in the community and the workplace. In a french election, no one would be asking which religion you were. Because of this, it was really important for me to explain that we were really the first country to have full freedom of rights, and that we always have had it - since the conception of our country 229 years ago. (I am, of course, glazing over slavery, civil rights, and giving women the vote - but as that didn't really happen anywhere in the world until the past century, I figured I didn't have to go that deep quite yet.)

It was amazing to listen to their opinions. Madrid, London, and the 9/11 attacks were because we were the three countries who went into Iraq. Sadly, this required some timeline work, as we didn't go to Iraq until after (and this student was not referring to Desert Storm, although she did reference Israel.) It was such a good discussion. For 15 year-olds, it was more than I was expecting. I was so impressed I was psyched up for two hours afterwards. Right up until my next class, which is by far the group that is the farthest behind of all of my students.

These girls kill me, they really do. It seems like getting them interested is impossible. We've watched Friends, we've listened to music, we've talked about their families, asked questions about the things they like, etc. Nothing. They are unable to engage, either for lack of skill or lack of interest. however, all was salvaged with my next two classes. The first was good, the second superior. The smartest group I have worked with to date. They were seriously incredible. They finished two classes worth of material in one class. I am going to have to bring a slew of material the next time I work with them just to make sure we don't run out of things to do.

I have quite a few things to do tonight, planning for my return to France after christmas and such, but for the moment, I think I am going to run back up to my room and try to find someone to hang out with for the evening. It is rather boring to spend the entire evening alone (though it wouldn't hurt to get my postcards written and all of my other work finished in advance so I could better enjoy the upcoming freedom allowed by the weekend. Tomorrow I have a really long drive - 3 hours - to a volleyball game and then, of course, 3 hours back. At an hour for warm-ups and an hour for the game and we have ourselves a bonafide 8 hour day. I have no idea what I am going to do in the car for that long!!

So, in an effort to have a productive evening, I am going to sign off now, hoping I have satisfied the thirst for details I have created in each of you (my faithful readers who know this is only a medium length blog entry) and I leave you with the hope for more in the future - just hopefully not tonight, as it will mean I was sadly unable to find better things to do. (Not that writing to you is sooo awful, but I am sure you would agree it would be a significantly more cultural experience to leave the building on a Friday night then it is to stay here and be alone with the computer.) Anyways, you know I love you. Hugs, ~Heather

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Beaujolais Noveau

This isn't the weird translation of something you know, it is the name of today's holiday. Talk about a weird holiday. The entire oliday is commercial, because it is based on the yearly release of a bottle of wine. This one vinyard makes wine out of the same years harvest and sends it out to the general public for consumption. (In the wine world, this is a major faux pas. They say it tastes like California wine!) Anyway, there was this party with charcuterie (fancy name for different types of cold cut style meats and sausages) and bread (duh!). However, there was this huge loaf of bread, seriously 1x2.5 feet in the shape of a wine bottle with a fake label baked on and everything. So cute. And there was another loaf baked in the shape of an alligator. I was really sad I didn't have a camera with me. But, anyway, the whole point of the holiday is to enjoy each other's compay while drinking really bad wine (by french standards) and eating meat and bread. so funny really. And everyone was wishing me a good first holiday like it was a huge deal or something. The party was in the school (other huge difference - alcohol on school grounds!), and the teachers and administrators and custodians and everything joined in the fun. The Proviseur told me that even though it wasn't Thanksgiving, at least it was a holiday. I think maybe he doesn't understand Thanksgiving quite yet.

For now, my fingers are freezing and I still haven't told you about the Abbey this past weekend, or about volleyball last night, or the amazingly cool pizza man, or going shopping, or teaching, or anything else cool from this week. However, I have all of Sunday afternoon (big volleyball game Saturday) that I should be able to work on it. Oh, and tomorrow morning if I can make myself get up. For the moment, I am going back up to my room to snuggle into some seriously warm pj's and watch a movie. Reading Les Miserables would be rather ambitious of me as I have been functioning in english the past hour or so on the computer and switching back and forth is a pain. necessary however, so maybe I'll make myself. Ugh. I am sure my inner language struggles do not interest you in the least bit. Hugs, and seriously, I'll write in detail again soon. Love, ~Heather

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

One Full Tuesday

Tuesday is an interesting day usually. This is because it often follows Monday and precedes Wednesday. Today Tuesday is especially interesting because there are/were alot of things to do. **Special note for those who think "alot" is not actually a word: it is. Check the dictionary if you don't believe me.** Okay, I really meant all of that jokingly, but it looks kind of like it might have come out wrong. Ah, sorry if it did. Anyway. I had lessons this morning, then I prepped for more lessons. Broke one of the two photocopiers (not actually my fault), and then foiund out the other was broken. Had lunch, had another lesson (only 1/2 the class was there). Now I am quick timing through emails etc before tutoring a friend in English and then grocery shopping. Followed by dinner and Youth Group. Followed by planning tomorrow's lessons. Sometimes being an over acheiver gives you more work then you anticipated. Gotta run. Details later. Promise. Hugs, ~Heather

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Quick Notes

Well, I am heading out of town for the weekend. I am going to a retreat with a choir called the Champagnules. They are named for the Champagne region that is directly south of where I live. It should be really exciting and a great opportunity to function only in french for an entire weekend. I promise details when I get back. In the meantime, I wanted to toss out some quick new:
Classes are going really well!
Armistice Day is tomorrow, so I have no classes (hence the ability to go on retreat).
I have finally posted pictures on the internet of some of the trips I have taken at http://www.kodakgallery.com/Slideshow.jsp?&conn_speed=1&collid=54852552209.62552334409.1131637536590&mode=fromsite
My students were much more involved in the lessons today, so I am in a really good mood.
I am going to get to celebrate Thanksgiving here (more details later).
I finally bought postcards and wrote some letters, so if you have sent me your address, you will probably be getting one! (If you haven't just email me... I love writing letters!)
I started reading Les Miserables. Wow it is good. I don't know the story at all, so I am always surprised.
I miss all of you terribly - but not in a bad terribly way, because I know I will be able to see you / hear from you soon.
And finally:
I have some students who are interested in having American penpals. I of course thought of my cousins and friends at home who are perfect specimens of young Americans!! If you are at all interested (they would be writing to you in English), please let me know. When they are interested in something, I always want to see if I can make it happen for them ... isn't great when people want to learn???
Anyway, I am so late, again, and I know I haven't written half as much as I should have, or in remotely enough detail, but .... Ack, I'm rambling!!! Okay, seriously, I have to go. All of you know I am horribly slow at packing and I can't be late. Hugs all around, you are in my thoughts and prayers!!!! (Especially those of you who are still dealing with hurricane clean-up). Keep in touch and I will too!!!! Love always, ~Heather

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

The Riots

Like you, I have been following the rioting in Paris pretty actively. The good news is, that the curfews set out by the state seemed to have curbed some of the violence and burning. The bad news is, it isn't over yet. The spread of burnings has not reached my region yet - and is bound not to. I live in a very agricultural part of the country. It would be like riots in Chicago effecting the people in southern Illinois - not bound to happen. It has moved to other cities around the country, and there have been isolated incidents in Brussels and Berlin as well.

Most of the unrest stems from unemployment, which anyone could tell you is a major problem here. The second problem comes from the first generation Muslims. Do you remember (the answer will be no unless you read about it, because you are all pretty much too young) what New York city was like in the early 1900's? Alot of unemployment, or people unable to get jobs because their name was too European, etc? That is basically what is going on here? There was alot of immigration in the 80's and 90's from countries like Morocco and Algeria, and the children who are born and bred French are tired of being treated like immigrants. Many of them are beginning to enter the work force, but their chances of being turned away because they have an Arab sounding last name is five times higher than someone with a French sounding last name.

Also, because of the school system here, if you aren't intellectually bound, you basically can leave school around age 14 and have to find a job. This is totally legal, but incredibly difficult. Unemployment can be as high as 50% in immigrant neighborhoods. And, in a country where people work for the government just to make sure they can't get fired, getting a job at 15 doesn't seem very likely. Additionally, there are some new ideas floating around the EU about cutting agricultural subsidies to France (because they receive the benefits more than any of the other EU countries) which would put even more independent farms out of business and cause an influx of younger workers into the major cities searching for jobs - where there currently aren't any.

So, the long and short of it is, I'm safe and so is my town, but this isn't the end of the problem or the things that sparked it. Also, to further quell your fears (Family especially), I am registered with the American Embassy in Paris. That means they have my information and contact stuff and will come and get me if need be. I also receive email advisories about unsafe zones or places in the country, and any abnormalities near the American Embassy. Travel advisories included. Mom, Dad, Lorien, and Travis can obtain my personal information from the Embassy if need be, and Dad is my emergency contact in the US (though it is the house number, so really, it is both of you).

You should also know that the major Muslim and Islamic groups in the country have come out against the riots and are encouraging the youth to desist and allow the government to respond appropriately. Hopefully that will work. These major religious groups coming out for peace also means that terrorist acts (at least those that originate from this country) aren't bound to be happening any time soon. Again, we can keep our fingers crossed. If you believe in this sort of thing, pray that the hearts of those involved will be calmed/pacified and that the government will be able to come to some sort of reasonable solution. Ooo, also that Austria will not use these riots to let their xenophobic conservative party pass a law outlawing immigration. Love and miss you all. ~Heather

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Goings On

My life has been surprisingly full the past three days.
Wednesday I organized the hundreds of pictures from my digital camera and the ones on my computer. In the afternoon, I went out and did some shopping for postcards and groceries. I also stopped by the bank because they hadn't mailed me my checkbook, and it had been a month. The nice man there showed me how to write out a check in french. Surprisingly different. Then I filled my backpack with groceries, and home I went. I grilled (really I think it is alot more like broiling) a small steak for dinner (about the size of a porkchop) with a salad and a new type of cheese called compte. So good. Then it was time for volleyball. When I got home, Anna and I exchanged our weekend adventure stories and then it was off to bed.

Yesterday I had classes after lunch (my NyQuil had basically had me out cold until 10:30, so the morning didn't exist entirely), then I hung out on the computer for awhile. Evening time brought a meeting with the Ardennes society for people from Great Britain (where they invited all the English speaking assistants - so no worries, I haven't immigrated). That was funny because everyone there was exceptionally old. I mean, they could have been taking a bus back to the retirement home afterwards kind of old. But of course, they were nice. They gave us apple cider and Ardennaise cakes - which are really good. Also, it is quite possibly the first time I have ever liked cider. I ducked out a little early so I could get to my next meeting. There was a meeting for the Young Professionals. All of these people go to my church and are between 25 and 31. I was therefore, the youngest person there. I understood a ton more this time then I had the last time, which was good. Also, I got to hang out with some of the people who I've met since then, which is really good. The subject was dealing with death - in respect to the All Saint's Day holiday this week. I actually spoke up three times during the meeting too, which I was quite proud of. Vincent walked me home afterwards (still no working lights at the school) and I spent the remainder of the evening listening to music and playing spider solitaire on my computer.

Today I got up, took a shower, had breakfast, read some of the Free Times (thanks again Dad, I have been rationing the pages), and then headed down to search for things on the internet. I ate lunch with one of the younger professors and then ran off to teach class. I should tell you that for lunch today we had couscous with tomato sauce with vegetables in it, fried calamari, cucumber slices, and an apple - how spoiled am I with the CAFETERIA food??? I have been trying to teach the students American things and so today we watched a bit of Friends and then had to describe which character we were most like. (Although I was not participating, I'm sure you all know that I am a combination between Ross - smart, nerdy, rather socially incompetent - and Phoebe - random, eccentric, ready to try anything new.) Moving onward... they understood very little of the lesson and progressively annoyed me into not even smiling. It infuriated me the most when one girl got up and started to give her presentation in french! I thought I was going to beat her. Then I had another girl who went to the front of the room, said she had nothing to say (in french, then in english after I gave her "the eye") and then sat there for the remainder of her three minutes. My favorite students however, were the ones who tried to tell me they had never seen Friends. Even here, that was a huge lie. After classes (one entire class didn't even showup!), I goofed off on the internet again and wrote emails. I just had dinner and dessert (an incredible vanilla ├ęclair) and now I think I am going to stay in for the evening in an effort to not get myself in too much trouble - in other words, I am going to save money and attempt to recuperate my stupidly sucky health. Call me bummy, lazy, anything you want ... but I am going to write out my postcards, and you won't get one if you are mean! (Or if you have failed to send me your address, because sadly, I am not omniscient.) Plus, I have a volleyball match tomorrow night, so I can use the rest in advance anyway. Anywho. Have a marvelous evening and I will speak to you soon (or write, you know). Oh, Mom and Dad, email me or call or whatever so we can arrange a time to meet online tomorrow! Love always (hugs and kisses if you want them), ~Heather

Thursday, November 03, 2005

"Special" Classroom Moments

So I recently have gotten a few "hints" that I am not telling you guys enough about how the actual teaching is going. Please do not take the following as examples of what happens all the time - but it should be noted that the following are true stories. Laugh to your hearts content.

I let the students choose songs to bring in and listen to in class. They had to bring the lyrics with them, and I said I would go over the vocabulary or idiomatic expressions they didn't understand with them. Things that are bad: that idea. No, in all seriousness, it was a great idea, but get ready for the good part. The first class brough mostly rap and pop with them. I had to explain lyrics from a song that described a decently explicit sex scene. Someone else brought the new Gwen Stefani music ... if you don't know her music, let's just say she uses alot of ghetto terminology. It also included the phrase "I'll meet you at the bleachers, there's no teachers." Ah, nothing like useful vernacular. One of the best ones was in the song "Smells like Teen Spirit" by Nirvana. The refrain goes something like, "A mulatto, an albino, a mosquito, my libido - Yeah!" I have never in my life been happier that cognates exist. (A cognate, for my special friends, is a word that is the same in both languages.)

Next exciting experience. You know how in those old movies the teachers are always on this platform at the front of the room? Those platforms really exist here. Except they are mostly just plywood and two by fours. Also, they do not extend the whole length of the chalkboard. So there I am, writing away in English, and trying to talk to the class simultaneously and - Mom always said I couldn't do two things at once - I seriously fell off of the platform. I caught myself on the chalktray, but I definitely slipped. It was really classy. It was even better when everyone noticed.

Last, but certainly not least was today's exciting incident and my motivation for this blog. While teaching a lesson about the TV show Friends, I got up to add a new minor character's name to the list we had been creating on the board. But, I couldn't really go very far. Have you ever seen Sister Act 2? The one where they glue Whoopi Goldberg to the chair? Well they didn't glue me to it, but I was certainly stuck. My skirt had gotten stuck between the metal and wooden parts of the seat and didn't look like it was coming out anytime soon. So, I stood up (thank goodness it was a knee length skirt) and then picked up the chair with my left hand, walked to the board (luckily not far) and wrote the name on the board, brought my chair back to my desk, and sat down again. At least the class was polite enough not to laugh this time. Maybe this happens alot? Probably not, but oh well. I totally coped - and gracefully got my skirt out while they watched the next scene. I am so smooth.

So, I hope that was good for those of you who have been looking for some details from the classroom this is youf red-faced, clumsy, chair-loving friend signing off. Love always, ~Heather

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