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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.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Google-land, Dublin

I got up at half past noon today and have therefore rectified my lack of sleep problem. I quickly showered and met Marco for lunch at his office. He works for Google. Let me tell you that if you are looking for an exciting job, this could be it. Fun looking and more relaxed than any workplace I have ever been to. The employees were all given the afternoon off today in respect to the upcoming new year - but they didn't announce it until after lunch. I think this is pretty cool considering, because it benefited the people who had sucked it up and come to work anyway instead of taking a half day. He gave me a tour of the building including a conference room and his floor.

There are little kitchens and game tables (ping pong, foosball, pool tables) on basically every floor. The walls are decorated with pictures of places all around the world and cut out designs of beaches, lady bugs, suns, and plants. There are bean bags on the floor every two rows of desks or so, and there are giant exercise balls to play with just rolling about in corners and next to the multi-colored couches on every floor as well. In the reception area, there was a massage chair in one corner and the front desk was lit by lava lamps in addition to the ceiling lights. On the sole wall in the lobby that didn't have a Google promotional poster, there was a rolling feed of the searches being typed into Google right now (including misspelling in some cases). The atmosphere is incredible.

Also, there are snack counters and open drink stations posted on either side of each floor, which are free to employees and guests. Lunch was served buffet style with someone to help you toast your bagels and a variety of spreads to put on it. Lunch is always on the company if you eat in the office. In the near future they hope to expand to 600 more employees and have already taken the empty office building next door to accomodate them. They will be building an employee gym there as well.

**This company has gone to incredible lengths to make their employees happy. I think this is important considering the monotony of monitoring computer screens all day, but there are also interesting business practices at work here. Serving lunch guarantees the employees can get back to their desks on time. Good atmosphere breeds friendship and better team dynamics - which is important when you are adding as many new employees a year as Google does. When the employees found out they had a half day, many of them were still there, talking with co-workers and planning their weekends together. Put their friends at work and they are less likely to leave early to see them. Good ideas if you decide to start your own business one day.**

Check out Marco's blog about working there if you are truly interested in the subject. If you are just starting out on your career path, working for one of the fastest growing companies in the world might make a good resume builder; not to mention giving you valuable workplace experience in a job that you are bound to enjoy. More about the rest of the day in a seperate blog, I think I'm getting a little too long here. Loveya, ~ Heather

Traveling Time Zones

I sit here in Marco's apartment happy to be on solid ground again. Let me tell you about the jouneyI took to get here. I got up Wednesday morning EST a little before nine. I did laundry and finished putting everything in my suitcase. Dad was enlisted to (voluntarily, and with great appreciation from a doting daughter) to scan in the pages from a wide variety of reference books I intend to use to apply for my internship at the National Air and Space Museum. I also burned a good amount of music into the music library on my computer so that I would have some more options when I got back to France. We left the house a little after three and my parents and brother took me to the airport for my 5:55 (17:55) flight to Philidelphia.

I arrived in PA with just enough time to transfer from one gate to another and take a little rest at the gate while they boarded the other zones of the aircraft. The 8:20 (20:20 (side note for Lorien: "I'm Walter Mathau and this is Jack Lemmon and this is 20/20")) flight left about 30 minutes late due to a small sensor problem in the cockpit and then we were off. Zou should know that there were a good number of screaming babies on the flight, including two in the same row as me. My window (quality hand craftmanship) was not actually double plated, and ice began to form in between the two panes of glass. The video system had to be reset about 20 minutes in as well. But, I have to say this was one of the best flights I have ever been on. This is because I had the aisle seat and the window seat next to me was empty. I got to stretch out, use two tray tables - which is convenient if you want to cross you legs, and had the benefit of two pillows. I actually slept for about 2 1/2 hours.

Arrival in Paris went pretty smoothly, and after acquiring my baggage I headed for the RER. Two stops later including the Metro, I walked the four blocks to Roger's apartment. I immediately went out to lunch with some of their friends and had Japanese food, which was delicious. I came back and did some quick checking up on the flight stuff, took money out of the ATM and had a 3 hour nap. I woke around 17:30. What a wonderful rested sensation! I grabbed food at the downstairs grocery store, packed up my ag and took two Metro lines to the bus stop to catch the shuttle to the Beauvais-Tille airport.

** If you ever plan on taking a RyanAir or EasyJet flight, do not forget to keep in mind that there are going to be serious transportation costs to get to these weird airports. 13€ shuttle expenses one way is kind of steep, and the smaller costs can add up. Bargain shop wisely.**

Dinner on the bus and a short nap later, I met two fabulous women while waiting for the plane to Dublin. This was good, because I really did stand in lines for check-in and security for the entire two hours prior to my flight. Thank goodness I was early. We talked about all sorts of things and had a generally god time. We were rather amused afer having boarded the plane (you can sit where you want on the flights basically) because a passenger in the first row was asked to leave the plane. He wouldn't, and was systematically removed by police. This added to our take-off delay considerably and fifty minutes after our scheduled departure, at around 12:07 (0:07) we were in the air. The pilot made excellent time and we only arrived 30 minutes late, or around 12:15 (0:15) Dublin time. Luckily I had managed a short nap on this flight as well.

I was going to take the shuttle to the city wth one of the women I had met on the plane, but Marco came up behind me and surprised me. We took a cab to near his apartment and walked the rest of the way so he could show me exactly how to get to the local transportation to get around the city while he was at work. We dropped my stuff off at his place and then ran over to his office, which is like 5 minutes away, and called my parents. We came back and fiddled on the computer a bit to plan my way around before both hitting the sack around 3:40.

So, based on actual hours (instead of crazy travel hours having stood in 3 seperate time zones in less than 24 hours), I traveled working on a total accumulated nap time of 6 1/4 hours for basically 30 hours and having been awake for about 38 total hours before going to bed again. Craziness. I recommend this to anyone who has endurance and a sense of adventure. Or, someone who has been labeled as insane already.

So there it is. A completely documented tale of trans-Atlantic flight. I hope youd enjoyed yourselves. I'll keep you posted on what is going on here, because I know you are going to love hearing about Dublin. Hugs and kisses, ~Heather

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas

Christmas was an amazing adventure this year. I can't even begin to go into detail about everything that has gone on since I arrived home. Some highlights include: finishing Christmas shopping, wrapping presents, cleaning the kitchen after countless awesome meals, seeing tons of family (the Sweeney's, Ian, Grandmother, the NC Bensons, the Keiners, and of course my immediate family), and resting.

Tonight I started in on my research for the Smithsonian application and tomorrow I am going to try to wrap up all of the technological things I need to do and get out to a bookstore and buy a travel guide book for Europe. And a can of Lysol (the only thing on my list I didn't get this year), I am going to pick up that too.

Chances are I am never going to get around to telling you about everything, but I am going to post some pictures tomorrow after I have the computer issues worked out on my laptop. In the mean time - since most of you are on vacation and not reading this thing right now anyway - I am going to go and hang out with my brother and cousin and clean up the reference books I left scattered on the couch downstairs.

Tomorrow night: The Fourth Harry Potter. Can't wait. Love you all, hugs and kisses, ~Heather

Friday, December 16, 2005

La reste

I had an amazing day yesterday. I walked straight through a protest to get to the Prefecture and got my Carte/Titre de sejour (this allows me to stay and work in the country after my visa expires tomorrow). I walked home stopping at the grocery store to buy the supplies to bake cookies with one of my classes. I had to go to the pharmacy to get the baking soda! We baked and had alot of fun in my classes. This week we are talking about Christmas, and I decided it was about time I actually taught these kids something useful.

We did an exercise on similies. "The Christmas tree was like ...", "The present was as ... as ...", etc. Then we sang Rudolph. But, they had to put in their own words for the echoes (go similies!). Then I taught them the real words (and as many variations as I could remember). I spent the evening chatting away with Alice after finishing up my second to last bit of Christmas shopping. I sent two emails in french, got a response from the Smithsonian ... it was incredible.

In regards to that to-do list:
I told you about this weekend, stopped procrastinating, taught alot, found something to do every night but tonight (really want to go ice skating), made cookies with my students, got a train schedule, and suitably finished most of the other tasks on my list. It is just the rest of it I haven't done yet.

It is hard to be patient knowing I have nothing mandatory to do between now and my departure. Lots of people have invited me "around" this weekend though - I think they knew it would be an antsy time waiting.

For my friends in Columbia and the surrounding areas, I hope all is well after the ice storm. Stay safe and warm if possible.

This is a randomly done blog. I guess my fatigue is loosening my slack writing style. I'm off. Love, ~Heather

"Before the break"

WARNING: The following is a brief political discourse.

I hope they pass the anti-torture legislation before the break. I really think Americans should be held to a higher standard. There are arguments that the information gotten through "testimony" from tortured prisoners could protect the country from a future terrorist attack. Let me clear up right now that nothing is going to prevent another terrorist attack except perhaps the end of the world (which requires the coming of the anti-Christ and Jesus, so chances are there will still be some warring going on anyway). I don't see how we can say we are giving Iraq its freedom from oppression and persecution from its government when we pick up their citizens, remove them from the country, and then torture, oppress, and persecute them. Excellent logic. It might be time to revisit my idea of building an island in the middle of the Pacific and dumping all the criminals on it. Terrorists included. This gets us out of having to use the death penalty and frees us from needing to torture people. They can abuse and murder themselves. All we have to do is have an Armada protect the island from people who want to escape and idiots who try to free them.

And hurray for McCain being in on the deal. Future president?? Is it 2008 yet?

END OF POLITICAL DIALOGUE

Before I leave for vacation, I have alot to do:
Teach 3 more classes
Go ice skating in an outdoor rink
Buy three more little gifts
Do my laundry - Clean my room - Pack my bag
Go to the basketball game
Eat with a teacher and her family - Go to church
Empty refrigerator - get to Paris
Get to the airport with all appropriate things

I'm going to get started. 3 more sleeps. Love always, ~Heather

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Being Adventureous

Things to not get upset about today: The fact that you have been working to put together a showing of It's a Wonderful Life in English with subtitles in French for three weeks (technological confusion, logistics, time for advertising, etc) and not a single person showed up. Not a teacher, a student, another assistant, a staff member of the school - just you and the same 16 minutes and 20 seconds of Christmas music you have had saved on your computer for close to 5 years now. Talk about overinflating a balloon and letting it go without tying it.

The truth is, I was pretty sure there wouldn't be alot of people there, but NO ONE was a surprise I could have lived without. I have plenty of other things to do with my afternoon - shopping for presents, deciphering a cryptic letter, going to Sedan with Alice, buying the ingredients to bake cookies tomorrow, volleyball practice tonight, and getting myself organized to go to the Prefecture tomorrow (like getting my visa this summer, this process is worked up to be extremely difficult and annoying but I am hoping it turns out to be rather simple).

I can't give up hope though. I know these kids are just like American students - eager to participate in anything fun they can, especially with their friends; but hesitant to jump into the pool of academic extracurriculars. Actually, there are no extracurriculars here. Which is why I thought maybe this would work. And Marco is currently thinking, "Stop trying to Americanize everyone," but I honestly believe that these kids could use a few "extras" in their lives. I don't ever want to become a teacher, because the disappointment of having students who are bright but uninterested would kill me. But for this year, I am going to do it. I am going to teach, and amuse them, and make them want to learn. I am going to figure out how. Because I want everyone to be able to enjoy school and more importantly right now, English.

I'm off to improve my spirits. Love and hugs and four more sleeps, ~Heather

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Proposal

I propose that one day I should become smart. In the meantime, I am just going to continue filling out applications to graduate school, fellowship and internship opportunities (Smithsonian, Society for Conservation of America, AEI with Newt Gingrich, etc.), and praying that somewhere along the line I actually have the strength of character and mind to choose what I am going to do for the rest of my life.

Seriously though, I am going to post my proposal for my fellowship application after Dad corrects it and any comments would be greatly appreciated. Love ya, ~Heather

Editted by Dad (I changed two words to other synonyms after editting - can you spot which ones???)

My current plan is to outline the societal influences on NASA before thespace race with a focus on the social and cultural consequences of humanspace exploration, specifically in regard to film. My general theory is that NASA and cinema has a symbiotic relationship. Prior to the Mercury missions, the media, movies, and political forces influenced American ideas about the future of human space flight. Furthermore, that after the successful Mercury missions, space flight effected American culture - particularly in respect to film. For example, without NASA's adventures in space, culturally iconic films like Star Wars, Close Encounters, and Alien would have been fantasy films and not science fiction. Without NASA, these films would therefore not have been as successful.

Additionally, I believe that the release of films such as The Red Planet and Mission to Mars coinciding within months of the projected rover landing on Mars, influences public opinion. Successful films lend credence (not to mention understanding and support) of space exploration. Potentially, the space program could be fueled more by movies than any other resource.

Monday, December 12, 2005

You deserve an update

You deserve an update on everything I have been doing. So, here goes.

Friday I taught class all afternoon after my visit to the doctor. Then I went to Alice and Hugues to watch the baby for a little while. Alice was super tired, so I stayed awhile longer to give Martin his bath and feed him dinner. Then Hugues drove me to the Taizé prayer and song event I was supposed to go to with Eric. I stayed there for a bit, sang, prayed, watched other people drink coffee and tea, sorted music into alphabetical order, and then Eric drove a bunch of us home. Friday night I watched the third Harry Potter, because I had been teaching about Harry Potter all week and had it on my brain.

After having some disturbing dreams about being a rat (perhaps Scabbers?) and being electrically shocked (actually woke up in fright), I rested tranquilly until a little after nine on Saturday morning. I got up, ate a good breakfast, made plans for the evening and then headed out to do some Christmas shopping. It is important to note that this can actually exhaust a person. Especially because I had to figure if it would fit in my bag, if it would weigh too much, or if it was even legal to carry over international borders (I am not trafficing drugs, but you would be shocked by the rules about food and alcohol). I got home 4 more presents down and with an idea where to find one more. I had also managed to go grocery shopping and to the bakery. It had been a very good and productive day. I cleaned my room (took an extremely long time) and did my dishes (if I do not have a dishwasher I have an extremely disturbing tendancy to leave dirty dishes in the sink for unforgivable periods of time). Then I fixed lunch - tuna, cucumbers with my special sauce (recipes available at EMAIL ME now .com), the freshly bought still slightly warm bread .... oh it was delicious. Plus, I have yet to mention that it is a beautiful day, the sun is shining (this is very rare - I cannot seriously remember the time before this weekend that I needed my sun glasses, and almost all of you know I wear those things practically all the time). I layed down for a fifteen minute nap and as I was getting up, Mom and Dad called.

I talked to them for about a half an hour, and then went outside to take some pictures. I took a slew of pictures of the school from different angles, including my door and the other normal things I see everyday. I think people usually forget to take pictures of those things. And if one day I get amnesia, or just don't remember, or something, I want to be able to look back and think ... ah, I have a picture of that. Anyway, I'll post those photos soon - and in a more accessible online photo gallery as per Marco's request.

After picture time, I took a real nap. I know it seems like I sleep alot, but really, I have to keep up my sleep to avoid illness. I think I have discovered why I am constantly getting sick here, and am currently testing the theory. But, because I figured out what was making me sick this past week, logic tells us I must have somehow gotten sick again. Anyway, I took a nap. I got up and made a multilayer chocolate concoction and then went to Béatrice and Julien's for dinner. They both work in the Vie Scolaire (kind of like the guidance office and the attendance office and the Assistant principal's office (but not for discipline) ) all mixed together. We had raclette, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite meals. Too bad the cheese is forbidden in the US because it isn't pastuerized. Dommage. Afterwards, we talked about old 80's television series and watched The Lord of the Rings. The voices in french are really funny - but Treebeard and Gollum are shockingly similar. Home after midnight and straight into bed. Goodnight me.

Sunday morning, bright and 9a.m. early, Fredérique came and picked me up with her son Arnaud and we went to a confirmation mass for two of the girls in the Aumonerie - youth group. The mass was abbreviated (no second reading, skipped the creed, etc) because it would have been too long otherwise. I would usually be upset, but I was confused and happy about the truncation. This is specifically because there was no heat in the church. The ceiling is so high in the center, that when they tried to start heating it years ago, they discovered they were wasting money. So they stopped trying altogether. It was in the low 20's Saturday night and it hovered around 32 all day Sunday. It was cold in the church to say the least. Also, because I thought it was being held at another church, I had only worn two long sleeve shirts, a scarf and my jacket. No gloves, no sweater, no thick socks ... because the last church was super hot and I would up stripping layers off throughout the whole mass. I will not underestimate the power of cold again.

The service was really cool, and the bishop he remembered what each of the confirmants had written in their letters to him and talked to each of them after blessing them with the oil. What he tells them is a secret between them and God. I like this particular feature. I know they only confirm like, seven kids at a time here, but the personalization has such a poignant effect. We sold our little goodies afterwards (same ones from last time, except the cakes, those were freshly baked). Three hours after I had been picked up I was a human popsicle. I went to the Drumel's for lunch and afterwards they drove me home. They invited me to go on a hike with them, but I had proimised to help Hugues with the baby because he was alone with Martin for the weekend. (I had also been invited to Belgium.... I swear I am going to get to that country before I leave here.)

I watched West Wing and vegged out for an hour and then went over to Hugues. Martin was still napping, so we talked about everything from school, to work, to parquet flooring ... it was great. Then we took a walk in the park and I successfully took the baby carriage up and down steps! Then I gave Martin his bath and took care of him while Alice and Hugues and Christophe (Hélène's huband) and Eric tried to move two all wood armoires, a desk, and a table along with a bed for the baby and an assortment of small appliances and boxes up to the equivalent of the 5th floor from the basement level (where the truck was parked) in an elevator the size of a large phone booth. Afterwards, I got to celebrate the third Sunday of Advent with everyone, and then I had dinner with Alice and Hugues. Doing the wreath was cool, because in France they do not use different colored candles. They use all white or all red. Apparently the color thing is regional, and was done to match the color of the priest's vestments. (This is a deduction based on hearsay from varying levels of reliable sources. Anyone with facts should comment to straighten things out.)

Hugues drove me home and I watches Edward Scissorhands and made a giant poster for the hall. On Wednesday, I am showing It's a Wonderful Life in the big conference room on a projector screen. I wanted to advertise it, so I cut letters out of printed newsprint (not like a ransom note, letters actually formed from the paper) and made a 3'x4' poster. I really hope people come. I have been working on setting this up for three weeks now. I got to bed around one and made myself get up this morning an hour early to prepare lessons. I am sure I didn't actually have to, because Christmas is something I can talk about for hours, but I am glad I found some excellent worksheets and things for the kids to do. However, more suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

I hung the poster, taught, ate lunch with the Proviseur and first year teachers, did some surfing on the internet, fixed up "this here blog" by adding links to blogs I often read on the side, answered some email, rested in my room, taught some more, made sheets for all the English teachers to please announce the movie on Wednesday to their classes, had dinner with some of the students, and then came down here to give you a super cool update. I want to note that I love eating with the kids. They talk to me throughout the whole meal, there is usually something interesting to discuss, and tonight there was a girl who really wanted to speak to me in English, even though she claimed she was horrible at it. I love the fact that just sitting with them encourages them into learning. I love it. Plus, I get to learn, and it is significantly more amusing then eating alone.

This still does not explain the weekend in Paris, or many of the other adventures I have had and not told you about, but ... no, no excuses. I am a slacker. Guess you will have to get used to it. Hugs and kisses, and as Mom said, seven more sleeps 'til I'm home for vacation, ~Heather

Things to Do

Today I need to:

Tell you about this weekend
Stop procrastinating
Send off an email to the Smithsonian
Get American, Georgetown, and Regent to send application packets to the house
Teach at 4
Find something to do for tonight
Make a fork costume (I will explain later)
Get a ride to the store tomorrow so I can buy supplies to bake cookies
Get the recipes from Mom on how to make the cookies from scratch
Prepare more lessons
Reply to two emails
Stop thinking about nonsense
Get a train schedule for this weekend
Add "where" to the poster I hung in the hall
Hang the World AIDS Day flyers in the English hallway
Upload pictures on to the internet
Get Travis' Christmas present

For someone who is looking for something to do tonight, I think I could probably occupy myself with finishing my own to do list! A little busy. Hugs and kisses, ~Heather

Friday, December 09, 2005

Going to the Doctor

If anyone claims the following is not worthy of the title "adventure," I challenge you to an appointment - in french.

Last night at 0:51 I remembered I had an immigration medical exam this morning at nine. Well, at least I remembered. Anyway, I got up, told the office I might be late for my 11 o'clock class and headed to the office. They explained I would have an x-ray and an eye-exam, as long as I wasn't pregnant. Good news for everyone back home, I took both.

All of the assistants had their appointments at basically the same time, so I got to see everyone. I scored 10/10 vision and got sent back to the waiting room. Then I put on my jacket and walked around the corner to the hospital for a chest x-ray. Apparently, x-ray machines in France have not reached the technological level of those in the rest of the world, and I was required to do this bit sans clothes. I was less than thrilled. The results came back about 2 minutes after I had gotten dressed again. I took my x-ray back around the corner to the doctor's office and waited again.

Someone escorted me to one of a series of phonebooth size rooms where I was to again undress. The doctor would come and get me when he was ready. Because I am sick, there was no way I was going to sit in there and be cold, so I wore my sweater and socks too; I think I can handle the extra pound it might add to my weight. The little rooms all open into the doctor's office. (Who's behind door number 3??) The doctor was really nice, and he didn't make me take it off until he wanted to listen to my breathing and undergarments are permissible with the doctor (thank goodness). So then he sent me back to the phonebooth to get changed. When I stepped back into the office, he asked me a few more questions and then filled out the paperwork, gave me a medical note saying I was fit to play volleyball, and in 2 1/4 hours it was all over.

If they ever did this to you in the US, dressing and undressing you, I think someone would beat them. But, this is all part of the service at government medical offices in France. It is like they couldn't learn how to slide the stethoscope under my shirt to listen. At USC, they sued to bring a nurse in just to be in the room while the doctor was listening OVER your clothes. Oh well. I lived. One more adventure under my belt. Gotta run. Love always, ~Heather

P.S. In case you have read this whole thing and didn't know I have a horrifying fear of being naked or about being in various stages of undress, I hope this clarifies my considering this an adventure. ~HB

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Ideas

I have all sorts of ideas of things to do and places to go and other exciting experiences I want to have. I have finally made plans to do some of them and my own adventureousness (sp?) frightens me. This weekend I am going to Strasbourg in the extreme northeast of France. They have a fabulous Christmas market. The one we have in town has an ice skating rink and outdoor tables and food and all sorts of marvelous things, but this is supposed to be the best one in France. Going to Germany would be the BEST option, but my lack of language skills in that country frightens me.

For the New Year I am going to go to Dublin, which adds a country to my very slack list of places visited. And, over the course of this afternoon I am going to try to start planning my February vacation and hopefulyl have an opportunity to visit Malise.

I found out yesterday that you can buy an around the world airline ticket ... I am so excited but terribly scared at the same time. For now, I am going to face a different fear - lunch in the cafeteria. I have things to do and volleyball tonight, so I will update you again tomorrow (or this afternoon if it rains. Love you, ~Heather

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Peanuts (the cartoon this time)

Rerun
You are Rerun!

Which Peanuts Character are You?


I do not remember who this character is. But it makes me kind of wonder about how people get the accuracy right on these quizzes they make up. It is like horoscopes I guess, where it is only true because it is so general it could fit anyone. However, it truly makes me wonder. Do I have charm? And if so do I use it to mask my cleverness? And by the way, I think only strangers look over my talents. Everyone else is so nice. Yeah you. Wait, that makes this thing only 50% accurate. I am detracting from my own point. End of digression.

Also, last night while doing Harry Potter research on JK Rowlings website - actually was doing stuff for work, though it is probably hard to believe - I found another interesting thing. The wands for Harry, Hermione, and Ron are all made of the wood that according to the Celtic tree calendar is from the month they were born in. So I used this Celtic tree calendar and my wood should be a willow. Let me tell you have freakishly coincidental I thought that was considering that I have loved willow trees since I first read/saw My Girl as a child. I guess it is only a coincidence, but is it possible that after years of research there is just truth in some of these weird forecasting things like the Chinese animals and the astrological signs? Do we assign meaning to them based on facts or based on our need to identify with something? Are we the ones assigning the meaning or is it inherently there and part of some greater plan? God's plan? Like the "golden ratio" or something?

I just wanted to bring up these small points in a forum where someone would accidentely read them. Having the internet again has allowed me plenty of time to look up random things and search strangeness (and practical things like graduate schools and scholarships) to my heart's content. You always appreciate things more after you have been forced to live without them. Also, I promise to get back to regular blogging (adventures, french things, etc.) soon. As soon as I have anything to report probably. Until then, think of this as an adventure in my mind. I think that if you are scared of traveling, the adventure in my mind is significantly more frightening than real travel, so good luck. Again soon and much love, ~Heather

Christmas Lists

In my family we have many traditions involving Christmas. One of these is that the "Official Christmas List" is due to Mom and Dad by Thanksgiving. At least one of us fails to do this every year, and so far the threat of no presents has yet to be acted upon. Thank goodness. When we were very young, my parents would send the list off to the North Pole for us (I really hope they kept some, I'd love to read them now). When we got older, they were hung in the kitchen somewhere so we would know what to get each other. Then one year we had the infamous "camera incident" and the basic list plan didn't really work as well. Now we have to check and double check with each other to make sure no one gets someone something that the other people already got them. I know this whole process seems to take the fun out of giving gifts at Christmas, but when you consider that people notoriously ask for things like kitchen appliances, deoderant, scissors, and/or cleaning supplies, the fun wasn't really there to begin with.

I'm just kidding about the fun, because we always give and receive marvelous presents underneath the Benson family Christmas tree, and I doubt this year will be any different. Due to the unusual distance between the family this year (France, Florida, Colorado, and North Carolina), Mom created a master list and sent it out via email. For the past few days there have been banterings, descriptions of listed items (color, size, purchase order number, etc), and additions to the list. Additions have traditionally been a no-no unless you didn't have enough stuff on your list that everyone could get you something. Anyway, I have found it really amusing. Especially when my brother accused my mother (jokingly) of being "greety." I think we all know what he was getting at, but I kind of like the modified adjective as well. (We must excuse his spelling right now though, because exams do sap every last brain cell dry.)

All this talk about it has made me really think about the gifts we give. I can remember shopping for Christmas presents when I was younger at this sale they had in the school - it is so weird looking back - and being given a certain amount of money, say $10, to buy everyone a present. Now we certainly spend more (not all inflation's fault) and we almost always get exactly what was on our lists. Each person always has a surprise present of course, and I know we still give out of love for each other.... I guess the Santa Claus magic is starting to wear away a little. But, I know that even if I didn't send in a list, my family would know pretty much exactly what to get me. The same way I am bound to get them each something they'll at least pretend to like that isn't actually on their lists. I think that shows the strength and love we have for each other. And the fact that we still follow traditions that were invented when all of us (25, 22, and 21 now) still believed in the jolly old guy with reindeer is amazing.

It makes me a little sad that we won't all be together this year, but in a way, we will be. We still have each other, we'll talk on the phone and use speakerphone when opening presents with Lorien and Bobby, and everyone will go to bed on the 24th in new warm and snuggly pajamas. Some people want a white Christmas. Others want someone for Christmas. All I want for Christmas is that our whole family is happy and the promise that some year soon we'll all sit under the same Christmas tree again. And even if all Dad asks for is deoderant and undershirts, that we always know exactly what to get each other. No lists necessary. Love always, ~Heather

Monday, December 05, 2005

Orbitz

Dear Mom and Dad,
Orbitz did not contact me today. I would have sent you an email about it, but the teachers still have not finished putting their freaking grades in the computers, and I can't get on the one that allows me to send email. I was able to send some email this afternoon, but I wanted to wait until tonight to see if Orbitz contacted me. Because I can't check, I'll assume they didn't. Love, ~Heather

For everyone else: Orbitz is a super sucky company and you really shouldn't use their services. In their infinite wisdom, they have extended my trip to almost a day's worth of travelling, which is, I believe, highly unaceptable considering I bought the tickets in September and it was only going to be about 12 hours then. Luckily though, I have an uber-cool Dad who is going to give that company "a good talking to." Gotta love the dad-meister.

Today was a really practically accomplished day. I got up at a reasonable hour and had time to read a little during breakfast. I set up my appointments for the day and scanned the news headlines before teaching my first class. We worked on Harry Potter. The first student to give his presentation misunderstood my directions, and explained his person without telling the class who he was describing, leaving us the opportunity to make it like a guessing game. I like this method much better, and I think we will do that in my other classes this week as well.

After class I ran upstairs, changed stuff out of my bag, and then headed to lunch. I proceeded to make Anna upset with me - she even rolled her eyes as she later walked past me - because I didn't sit with her at lunch. I know we went there together, but another friend had specifically saved me a seat, and Anna has missed a ton of meals lately so she didn't save two. I chose speaking with the other french people instead of her, so she's disgruntled. We'll just forget that she and the other assistants scheduled the ice-skating outing for this afternoon while I was going to be in class, so I couldn't go. Oh, and that she .... forget it. I am not going to complain, because it isn't worth any of our time. Childishness never is.

After lunch I had a ton of uninterrupted computer time, which was really good. I decided to prepare a secondary lesson specifically for the boys in my afternoon class, because they care about very little outside of sports. I used Wikipedia (especially for you Marco) because it had decent descriptions of how to play the sports along with diagrams of the different fields/courts/playing areas for each sport. So, I made a worksheet about 7 different sports (soccer, football, basketball, baseball, tennis, ice hockey, and volleyball) and they pulled a sport out of a hat (figuratively) and then got that worksheet. They had fifteen minutes to prepare a five minute presentation on their sport. I wrote some questions on the board to get them going, and I was overwhelmed with the result. Specifically tailoring the lessons for each class is difficult and time consuming work considering I have 18 different classes. Ah - fire alarm. I'm out for a bit. Hugs, ~Heather

Five minutes later
So the students left the buildings, but the teachers stayed in the lounge or took ages to get out of the building. Who knows what they were thinking about. Well, it is dinner time now. I have high hopes that they will leave the internet on so I can use it after dinner. I guess only time will tell on that little venture. Here's hoping, ~Heather

Friday, December 02, 2005

"One short day"

(Sing title to the appropriate tune in the Wicked soundtrack.)

Today I started teaching about AIDS again, and I finished teaching about Harry Potter. I love Harry Potter. I don't think I can really begin to describe it. One thing you might be interested to learn is that Voldemort is a play on words that translates to "Fly from death" in french. I don't think it made alot of sense from the beginning of the series, but considering the Horcruxes revealed in the 6th book, well, you know. Anyway, I can't wait to come home and watch it with you Dad.

Last night at the prayer meeting I really enjoyed myself. I still do not know the story of Ester, which really bugs me, because I keep getting the beginning and missing the end (last night I just didn't understand the end, which I suppose is slightly different). But, there were about thirty people there praying for everyone's intentions, including for Aunt Yolanda. I bet she never thought that people all around the world would be praying for her. I hope she is smiling about it now.

Tonight I am playing in a charity fundraiser volleyball tournament. Talk about combining things I really like together! The only way they could make it better would be to play musical soundtracks in the background and decorate the walls with characters from my favorite books and movies!!! Okay, that is actually alot they would have to do, but that is still beyond th point. I am glad to get to do something I love for the good of sick children. I think that is really important.

After volleyball, I am going to fix dinner (should I go grocery shopping??) and then start working on my proposal for the Smithsonian job next year. Almost no one here has even heard of the Smithsonian, which is weird considering a good number of Americans have heard of the Louvre (and even more will have heard of it after they turn the Da Vinci Code into a movie). Actually, most of them have a very vague idea of where to find Washington, DC. I guess it is the same with alot of Americans though - they probably couldn't tell you where France was exactly, better yet Paris. Oh well.

For the moment, I am thrilled to have access to the internet and really am trying to take full advantage of it. So, if you please, I am going to sign off from you in order to get some work done. Love always, ~Heather

Peanuts and Rasperry Lemonade

17:21 December 1, 2005

Peanuts and Raspberry-Lemonade. Absolutely loving it. In some ways, being forced to type the blog in my room has its distinct advantages; like eating and listening to music while typing. Also, by the way, hurray for Christmas music. Okay, so about today.

Today I slept in because I was exhausted from yesterday. After I was done writing I went and made Christmas cards and cookies for our youth group sale on Saturday. That took close to three hours. I came home and ate dinner then took off for volleyball. I was unable to post yesterday evening, because the Internet had magnificently shut itself off again. (The tech guy was absent again today – that makes 4 days this week, I wonder if he is taking the entire week off. I mean, I hope the guy isn’t sick or anything, but for all three computer guys to be inaccessible during the same week seems seriously unreasonable. Anyway. Practice was good and the mean coach wasn’t there. However, I really don’t like playing with the guys. They ignore rules like not CATCHING the ball before hitting it and they constantly run through and under the net, which is precarious for my poor ankles!! Good thing I love it!!! (Smiling!!)
When I got home last night I was a little bummed out (coming off a sporty high I guess) and Anna was on the phone so I couldn’t talk to her or anyone else (freaking internet). So, I put on The Last Castle to remind myself that life could certainly be worse. That took me until bedtime.
This morning the dog down the hall didn’t wake me up (terrific improvement), so it was practically lunch time after I had taken a shower, cleaned up my room and photocopied my lessons for the day. Lunch significantly resembled Chef Boyardee, but the lasagna half was good (you know I love lasagna). Anyway, I went to a conference on AIDS being run by the school nurse. That was really useless, because the idiot dispensing information to the kids basically told them that if they used protection they couldn’t really contract the disease. Right. If you ignore 2% chance from using contraceptives and don’t even discuss getting it from sharing needles or other blood contaminating activities. I hate when people don’t share all the possible information. It makes me want to become a teacher just to make sure it doesn’t keep happening! (Don’t get your hopes up though – I still lack the patience.)

After that though I had three hours of teaching. That went pretty well. I love my Thursday classes; because they are the smartest I have all week basically. Fun fun. Also, they stay interested all period, which I prefer. All in all, except me almost telling off a fellow teacher for throwing Anna and me off of the computers (less than five minutes into using them), it was a pretty good day.

**Note for Mom: I heard your voice in my head saying, "Choose your battles, Heather. Choose your battles," when I was sitting there trying to formulate how to politely explain to that idiot woman that we deserved five minutes on the computers a day too. I decided I couldn’t say it politely, so I just left the room.**

Tonight I am going to a prayer group for AIDS at a church across town (Grandmother and Aunt Ro – the one with the circular stained glass windows that was all locked up when we tried to go see it this summer.) I was supposed to go to a meeting about Women in the Workplace, but I don’t think I can handle talk about that for an entire evening. Plus praying is better.
Mom just called to tell me that my great-great-aunt Yolanda died. If you can, please say a prayer for her and my family. It is going to be a difficult weekend dealing with the loss. But, because Mom and I talked for so long, it is now almost time for dinner. Which, I think is actually good for you because it abbreviates my entry for the day. I love all of you. And Aunt Yolanda, wherever you are, I hope you are enjoying your scotch on the rocks and a banana-split. God bless and God speed, ~Heather

Thursday, December 01, 2005

It's a Long One

I am warning you in advance that this is a long entry. Good luck. Special Note: It is now Dec.1 at 11:34. Crazy how long it took to find a working computer.

13:17 November 30, 2005
So here I am in my room, listening to Les Miserables (while the actual book sits behind the computer screen) and writing the blog that I haven’t even had enough time to think about the past few weeks. Sorry about that by the way. I have honestly wanted to write the past two weeks, but it hasn’t really been feasible. Here is my explanation:

The administration of the school has decided to become more technologically oriented. This would usually be a good thing, but they didn’t have enough pre-planning to realize they would have to teach the older teachers how to use the technology. So all of the professors have to put their grades in the computer. There are about 50 teachers and three computers with the program on it. They didn’t have the program until two weeks ago and grades are due on Friday. In France, you not only give number grades, you also have to write a paragraph on each student explaining why their grade is the way it is (lack of participation, poor comprehension, great ability to communicate ideas, etc). I know that doesn’t sound too scary considering these teachers teach about 16 hours a week (18 being the legal maximum) and only see probably 4 or 5 different classes of around 20 students. However, there are seriously teachers here who couldn’t type their full name if you gave them a minute to find the keys on the keyboard. So this is how come it has taken them ages to get all of their grades in the computer. Plus, no one explained that you could . . . Let’s just say no one explained the program to these poor people. It is really incredible how dumb an idea it was.

In general, this wouldn’t explain why I have been so incompetent at writing in my blog. However, if you consider that there are only three computers in the school with the gradebook program on them, and that they don’t always work, and that they are also the same three computers the teachers have to do all of their regular course work and internet searching on, and that two of them are attached to the only two printers available for the teachers who did manage to get their work done at home, it really limits my availability to get on a computer. Then, I had the added benefit of the ridiculously stupid technology guy deciding this would be a good week to start shutting the internet off after 6pm when the teachers leave – consequently forcing me to only be able to use the computers during the day when everyone is trying to use the same freaking three computers …. Oh, and he has also been absent all week so I can’t even ask him about why the internet is going off at night. (I am using the term "absent" loosely, because he forcibly only has to be here 18 hours a week too, and therefore is rarely here in a week where he doesn’t cancel 6 of his office hours.)

I hope that is a significant explanation of why things have been so backwards lately. Now on to what I have been doing.

Last week being Thanksgiving, I cooked a full four-course meal for three English teachers, two other assistants, the principal, the school manager, and the manager’s family. Twelve people in all, and I have never been more exhausted. I won’t tell you everything that we had, but it was enough that there were significant leftovers. I only burned myself once – which I consider a serious achievement considering I was using the huge cafeteria oven and had forgotten my oven mits. Everyone really enjoyed the meal, and it was everyone else’s first Thanksgiving. I was really proud to be able to share our traditions with them.

This past weekend I was in Paris to celebrate Thanksgiving with Roger and his family. As usual, they were incredibly generous and loving. It is almost like being with super extended family. Their little girl, Olivia asked to be excused the second day I was there, and her mother said no, because there was a guest at the table. She looked around and asked who the guest was. It was so cute. Sunday I helped her with her piano lessons. It was really interesting, because she is using the same book I used as a child. Also, I think my French is better with the kids, because I am significantly more relaxed. Olivia and I are seriously on the same level in language, because I have been studying the language for slightly longer than she has been alive. She asked if I knew all the words in French yet, and I told her that of course I didn’t. At first she was a little shocked. Then she looked up at me and with a straight face said, "Neither do I, yet." It was too cute.

When I got home Sunday evening, there were three partially melted snowmen in the garden. We got 20 cm here in Charleville. Snow totally makes the cold bearable. I ate Thanksgiving leftovers and prepared my lessons for this week. I’ve been teaching about World AIDS Day, which is tomorrow. If you have some, please wear a red ribbon for the rest of the week. Since freshman year the HIV/AIDS campaign has really meant a lot to me, and it is really interesting to bring the cause to France. The United States has been actively involved in the campaign against AIDS since the late 80’s and the memorial day was established in 1988. The UN took over responsibility for the worldwide campaign in 1996 and gave the program to an independent country this year because it has gotten so big. However, like its neighbors Italy and Spain, France wasn’t actively engaged in the prevention campaign. It only started recording and reporting cases of HIV infections in 2003. Spain still doesn’t and Italy only reports in 7 of 20 districts.

One of the most interesting aspects of the anti-HIV/AIDS campaign is the AIDS Day Quilt. It was started in 1987 and includes more than 40,000 12’x12’ panels (5,760,000 square feet – enough to cover a small state I think). At USC I got to help make panels each year to add to the state quilt. That is the tradition I wanted to bring here. We are making a paper quilt that I am going to hang on the wall in the English hallway. We are going to learn all about the history of the day and about the disease and prevention, then they each make a rectangle that I am going to attach together at the end of the week. Next Wednesday after school I am going to show the movie Philadelphia. If you haven’t seen it, it is an Academy Award winning film staring Tom Hanks, Denzel Washington, and Antonia Banderas about AIDS and discrimination. Interesting side-note: the music is by Howard Shore. Cool huh? Anyway, I got permission; now all I have to do is make sure I can hook up my computer to the projector in the big hall. I think the school nurse is going to come and be available for questions afterwards as well.

Okay, enough about that. I am going to try to give you quick updates on the past few weekends.
The weekend before T-day (Nov 19-20) I had a big volleyball tournament that was far away. We lost, but it was a great experience and I got to see a whole lot more of the countryside. Volleyball in general is going really well. I love going each week. I wish I had more opportunities to practice actually. I am going to ask one of the PE Teachers if I can borrow a ball from the gym and keep it in my room to practice my setting. Since I am now setting full-time, I think it is really important that I get really good at it. I can’t wait until Caroline comes so she can show them how people really play volleyball. I am never more amazed then when I watch that girl slam a ball down – something that I can’t really do here, because I don’t have anyone to really set me. We’re working on it though. I’ll get used to it.

The weekend before that (Nov 11-13) I was on the choir retreat at Abbaye Notre Dame D’Igny. Because this is one of the longest blogs I have ever written, I am going to put the details about this in a different entry. So, see Champagnules Retreat at the Abbey.

And, I am pretty sure that brings us back to when I was still writing everyday. At least I have been writing in my journal though, so I’ll still have the past few weeks. Oh – and don’t forget to read about Fumay which is where I was on Halloween. (No point in calling this blog about my adventures if I write about everyday stuff and never mention the cool day and weekend trips!)
Okay, I am seriously going now, because I have a meeting in a half an hour to make Christmas cards (fun stuff!). When I get home, I am going to try and get on the internet for about five minutes and post this message – so don’t expect the one about Fumay and the Retreat in the same time … just remember for next time. Then, I have to cut up the red ribbon I bought for my students to wear tomorrow (enough to make 52 ribbons – 1.74 euro – definitely worth the expense if it saves even one of them). Followed by writing the other two blog entries I owe you, dinner, and then volleyball practice. I told you I’ve been busy. Really quickly, speaking of that … I visited the Intendant’s (school manager) wife today, she is the amazing woman who helped me prepare Thanksgiving. She was telling me how strange it was that I fixed Thanksgiving and then moved on to planning the film and ribbons for the kids. Her husband was astounded at it. I’m not saying this to yank my own chain or anything, just that things that would be normal in the states – a project a week – seems like an obscene amount of work here. I wonder what they would say if they ever spent a day in Residence Education and saw how many programs we have in one building at USC. Or if they were to wander into a guidance office in any American high school and see the services available to the students. I think they wouldn’t know what to do with themselves. Yeah for America and our amazing ability to provide a variety of resources for our students. (Figuring we don’t really teach them as well, I think it is really good that we have these other opportunities.) Anyway, this poor blog is coming up on 3 full typed pages and I stopped being used the American keyboard a few weeks ago. I love and miss you all and hope to hear from you soon (if you haven’t died in exhaustion trying to read this entry). Hugs and Kisses, ~Heather

(It is 14:16 now … phew … less than an hour to type all that!!!)

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