"guuhhgrag arghftpt uh ug"...

Markus: Do you hate me?

Jessi: No.

Markus: You just don't love me anymore?

Jessi: No, that's not it.

Markus: Are you mad at me?

Jessi: Yes.

Markus: [laugh]

Jessi: And before you ask why, let me just tell you, I am mad at you because I told you weeks ago to put that flea medicine on Jack, and you said, "guuhhgrag arghftpt uh ug, nah, it's past the season…".

Markus: [laugh out loud] What's that I said?

Jessi: You heard me, it's what all men say when they think they know more than their woman. It's a man thing. You men say it all the time, like this, "guuhhgrag arghftpt uh ug [whatever the opposite of what your woman is telling you to do is]".

Markus: [still laughing] ermuhgawd you're really mad at me right now.

Jessi: Yes, yes I am. Because I told you to put that flea stuff on him and you didn't, even though he kept scratching. "Oh, he just has sensitive skin," you told me. Bull. And that was weeks ago! And then you found fleas in your house and had to flee the area [no pun intended do NOT laugh any more at that] and now you've brought them to my house.


Jessi: What's that on Kudzu's face?

Markus: Cat stuff.

Jessi: It's a flea.

Markus: No it's not.

Jessi: Yes, yes it is [pop] ew, gross…

Markus: Well I put flea medicine on Jack last night, so they should be gone by now, and then we left the house this morning after I set the bombs off inside…

Jessi: Well, Kudzu gets her flea medicine every first of the month, and it's not the cheap kind, and she doesn't go outside, soooo…

[Jessi and Markus look at Jack's bed]

Jessi: Markus, do you think perhaps they are in his bed?

Markus: We can take the cover off it and put it in the washer.

Jessi: Let's do that.

[pause for hesitation]

Jessi: And by "let's do that", I mean why don't you do that, like right now.

[Markus gets up to separate cover from foam bed]

Jessi: Markus, do you think they could also be in the foam of the bed?

Markus: No.

Jessi: What makes you think they aren't in the foam?

Markus: They're in the foam too, I see one.

Jessi: Uh-huh. Why don't you take that out of the house too?

[While Markus takes care of the bed, Jessi turns on the vacuum cleaner]

Markus: Can I take a photo of that and instagram it?

Jessi: Of what?

Markus: Of you vacuuming in your heels.

Jessi: You just said that.


Kudzu's first day of rehab...

My cat is addicted to crack. The catnip kind.

I was telling a coworker today about how I discovered she is scratching the wall paper off of the walls in my dining room. It's a textured wall paper, so she can really grab ahold of it. Here I was thinking my awarding treats every time she uses her scratch pad was working. Guess it doesn't work so much when I'm not home to treat her.

My colleague asked if I had any catnip in the house.

Well, yeah, ALL her toys have catnip in them. So does one of her scratch pads, although it's not her preferred post.

"Jessica...you're cat's probably high off all the catnip, and that's why she acts berserk all the time!"

Well $#!t...

Here I am thinking I have saved this poor kitty's life by adopting her from the Humane Society. On the contrary, I have brought her home to a kitty crack-house!

When I discovered the wall paper being scratched off the walls this past weekend, I picked up a spray bottle at Wal Mart and filled it with water. Now we're not just practicing the I-get-a-treat-when-I-use-the-scratch-pad technique, we're also practicing the spray-water-in-face-whenever-I-do-something-that-lady-doesn't-want-me-to-do technique.

All of her catnip-crack toys have been moved into a cupboard in her litter box room - she's already tried scratching it open to get them out. Most times she gets sprayed once and takes the hint. She tried breaking in to the catnip cupboard seven times before she quit.

Now all I have to do is hold up the bottle of water when she acts out and she takes off at lightening speed.

Poor cat. She's deprived of all crack, cold-turkey, snoozing on the sofa table now where the fish used to sit. Poor Puppy has been moved to the mantle. After Kudzu started drinking the water, it was only a matter of time before she fished puppy out of his bowl...way to go ME for having that foresight!

My herpetologist sister called her feline specialist friend and he suggested a few things I'm going to try, including giving her her own room (now that I have a room to spare) full of all her toys and scratch posts, litter, food, etc. We'll see how that goes....


This story has two parts...

I signed up for some Spartan Race Challenge thing in November. I don’t recall why I thought it would be a good idea, but I’ve paid. I’m committed.

Today I attended my first Versus Athletic Training class…

I should back up and mention that this entry has two story parts. One: the part where I decided going to Versus AT was in my best interest for completing the Spartan Challenge. Two: the part where I almost died.

Part One: Signing up for Versus AT is in my best interest. At a friend’s paint party it came out that all five of us ladies were signed up for the Spartan Challenge. So of course, we talked about what the race would entail, what videos people had watched online from previous challenges around the nation, etc.

“Four-plus miles”

“Fifteen-plus obstacles”

“Fire, mud, barbed wire, rope climbing, water (not the drinking kind)…”

These are just a few of the nouns/verbs/adjectives that were thrown in and around the conversation as I diligently made my way through the living room with my paint roller, sweating a little bit more as the conversation progressed.

I quickly agreed that yes, we need team t-shirts, but more importantly these t-shirts must be an obnoxiously bright color, so that the rest of the team members can easily identify me during the race, so as not to trample me.

Someone mentioned how these team shirts could say something clever about “being the 16th obstacle”.

Yes. Fantastic idea. I found my purpose: I WILL BE THE SIXTEENTH OBSTACLE!

Long story short, one of these friends helping paint and signed up for the race, is an athletic trainer for Versus. And several of the other women attend boot camps or classes offered by the outdoor gym. I was soon convinced that I should sign up for an AT class between the paint party and the race, after which I would easily be able to compete in the race rather than just survive it.

Part Two: This is where I almost died.
It wasn’t DURING the workout I experienced any near-death feelings - at that point I only felt the urge to vomit everywhere. All over everyone.

The class consisted of:

6AM start. Not bad, when I go to the gym I’m usually there by 5:30AM.

The warm up consisted of several various interval activities: running, squatting, jumping, knee-highs, kicking, etc…it felt good and I was thrilled with my ability to complete each task.

The actual work out was two seven-minute activities. The first, run around the train depot, 10 palm-up man-pushups, 15 come-all-the-way-up sit ups. Do that as many times as you can in 7 minutes. The second, 21 kettle bell squats, 21 kettle bell thrusts, one suicide, 15 kettle bell squats, 15 kettle bell thrusts, one suicide, 9 kettle bell squats, 9 kettle bell thrusts, last suicide; all under 7 minutes.

Last thing: core work out. On the ground. Flutter kicks, bicycles, planks, etc.

It was hard. But I completed everything and was proud.

It wasn’t until AFTER the workout, when I got to Staci's (she's been kind enough to let me use her extra bedroom on these workout days to get ready for work), the following ensued...

I laid on the bed a good 10 minutes before I could fathom the thought of standing up to get to the bathroom. Forget having to lift a leg to climb into a tub.

With some serious focus I made it to the shower but had to SIT the entire time.

In fact when it came time to put suds my hair, I had to lie down against the back of the tub. Then I had to use the soap-bar-holder-thingy to help pull myself back up into a seated position.

When I got out of the shower I couldn't towel off, so I hobbled to the spare bedroom and sat on the floor, wrapped in a towel, dripping hair, etc.

When I say, "hobbled" what I really need you to picture is sloth-like-movements
At 7:30 I thought I'd better do something to get ready for work so I made it back to the bathroom but couldn't decide what I needed to do when I got there (vomit, sit, poop, cry...)

So I stood there dripping, wrapped up in a towel, leaning against the door.

Staci found me and asked if I was okay.

"Yeah. Yup. Mmmmhmmm. Nope."

She got me a pop tart and some more water. She is the bestest friend.

Then I sat on the bed a bit longer.

And then on the floor.

Eventually Staci left for work.

Needless to say I am alive. I survived. I made it to work before the rest of the office, right at 8:00.

And I feel better. I ate a peanut butter whole wheat bagel and have been drinking water all day. By 9 I actually felt perky! But there’s been this undertone of ill-feeling floating in and out all day. I probably haven’t had enough water, still, and might have over done it a bit.

But I'm excited to see what my body does and how it morphs over the next month and a half. Yes, I used the word morph, I am certain that is what will take place.

And hopefully I will do more than just survive the Spartan Challenge.


Apparently I need to learn to trust myself...

The whole reason I came to Paris during this point of the program was so that someone would be here managing each groups' arrival. To make sure each student gets put in a bed in the rooms we have reserved at this hostel. Without a pointed person last year we had students phoning home to explain to their parents "they don't have a place for me to stay!" Which was soooo not the case. No, having faculty here to sort the room mess last year wasn't enough. They can't be around 24/7, they have class to teach. So this year, I am here. I love Paris. No big deal. And really, how difficult is it to put people in to their assigned spaces? Especially when I'm the one who organized it?

I stayed in London to see each coach off on departure day, and then booked it to Paris on the Eurostar to beat the groups arriving in Paris that evening. I got to the hostel, keys were ready, and I made my lists of which students were assigned to each room.

What complicated things last year is that in a room of ten beds, only six were occupied the first two nights. The students moved around and switched things up, so when the next group arrived two days later and students wet handed keys to that room (which was supposed to have four empty beds) it appeared they had no bed to claim as their own...

So when the group arrived this year and I handed out keys, I explained they were not to move around, because students would be arriving in two days to fill those beds. Period.

What did they do? They moved around. I don't know why I was surprised. They were sharing keys and propping the door so everyone, even those without a key (because they hadn't been assigned to that room) could access it. So the organization I had done to ensure I kept the extra keys for students who wouldn't arrive for two days went out the window.

I found out when I met a professor for a pint in the hostel after the first full day in Paris. Unfortunately for her, ONE of the students who participated in this switcheroo was also sitting in the bar...

Jessi: Hi there. Your professor has just told me you ladies moved some things around last night, so that you are all in the same room?

Student: Yes, it's great!

Jessi: Uh-huh. So when the next group arrives, and I hand keys to those students for the room they are actually assigned, and they get up there to see all the beds are taken, what would you have me tell them?

Student: Oh. Um. We were going to tell you we moved things around.

Jessi: Really? When? Because when I was handing out keys yesterday would have been prime time, don't you think?

Student: Well, we didn't know how to get in touch with you.

Jessi: Wait...You didn't know how to get in touch with me? Do you want to try that one again?

Student: Oh, yeah [looks at the ceiling] I guess we have your number...

Jessi: Aaaand my email, aaaaand the Facebook group...

So I went back to my room down the street, grabbed the keys I was saving for the students arriving later, and keyed in to the room they belonged to, of which every bed is now occupied. By that time the student who was unfortunate enough to bear the brunt of my questioning had already told the others the trouble they caused, so they all had their keys ready to trade in when I got there.

I fixed it.

Fast forward to today, the rest of the group plus two VIP guests from one of our consortium partners arrives in a few minutes...me and my organized self calls to check in with the profs, assures them all is well and sorted, and I'll see them when they arrive.

I decide to go in to the city for a coffee, and to 2 hours before the bus lands, ETA 1pm.

Simultaneously I remember to call my anonymous friend for a courtesy wakeup call so that he doesn't over sleep and miss his early flight to FL for business. While the phone rings on his end the thought occurs to me that I didn't see the VIP guests's names on my room list at the hostel for check in, in two hours. I freeze in a slight panic. The people at my hotel didn't mention anyone else in my group arriving later, either. How on earth could I forget to book them beds in Paris!?!?!

Anonymous friend answers the phone, quite groggily, "Rise and shining. I'm awake".

Jessi: Oh good. I am FREAKing out.

AF: "Wait, what? Why?"

So I spit it out in one breath and proceed to talk through how I was going to fix this out loud.

AF: Jessi, it's all about problem solving, which is what you do. You're thinking creatively, you'll be fine.

Wow, so positive and supportive from thousands of miles away at 4:15AM! #alwaysknowswhattosay #browniepoints

I made it back to the hostel's side of town in the 19th arrondissement with an hour to figure this out. My hotel was completely booked, so was the hostel. On the metro I located two more hotels nearby (I love my iPhone) and turns out one of them had two rooms left. And they weren't just saying that, I saw it on their computer screen!

So I did my usual be-a-really-charming-american-lady-speaking-French thing and paid in full. Problem sorted, with 30 minutes to spare.

I stopped in my hotel on my way back to the hostel and explained to the desk lady I would be leaving tomorrow rather than Thursday. She said something about how it didn't matter to her because the room was already paid for and when would my two other guests be arriving today?

.....other guests?

"Pardon? Des autres? Mais...qui?"

Of course she named the VIPs.

Of course I had already taken care of them.

Of course I put them in a hotel rather than the hostel no matter what anyone else suggested.

Not THREE minutes after I booked two rooms at the hotel down the street for two nights, did I return to cancel them. Ay ay ay, while the little concierge man was thrilled to see me again, he was not thrilled when I asked him to cancel the rooms and refund me in full. He'd only just started the job, didn't know how, would have to speak to his manager.

Okay...go speak to your manager. Please and thank you.

Unfortunately getting our money back (because of course I paid in full with the card upfront) will take 5 weeks minimum, and that's only after I e-mail my request and explanation to them...if worse comes to worst we'll just have the credit and can use the rooms another time - and there is plenty of opportunity for that with our programs in France.

I called my anonymous friend back and explained that I seem to be more organized than even I can handle. Of course I had rooms for them, I just focused so much on sorting the HOSTEL rooms out, I forgot to print the hotel list...so automatically I assumed I fudged up.

Anonymous friend said later, that he hadn't doubted me for a minute...and promised next time to help me think through things slowly first, before I assume the only explanation is that I made a mistake.

Everyone will have a bed. Everything is fine. And I'm better than I give myself credit for.


Lunch at the beauborg...

I'm sitting at a café, Bistro du Centre, facing the Pompidou Centre. The sun is peeking through the clouds, wind lightly blowing, it's 70 degrees. I took my time finishing a salade campagnard: lettuce, cantal cheese, jambon de pays, potatoes, croutons, tomate...as always, served with a side of baguette. And un quart du vin blanc. I can't decide on dessert. I'm slowly sipping the rest of my sauvignon. It's funny how I don't mind cigarette smoke while I'm eating when I'm in Paris. There is a Chinese American family in front of me. When I ordered my lunch the waiter continued with me in French. I was pleased. It's such fun speaking a second language. It feels like I'm walking around with a secret. When the family in front of me ordered 2 coffees and a sprite, he reverted to English, they were grateful. A musician playing the Spanish guitar just set up right in front of the café. He's fantastic. I ordered the dessert du jour: tarte poire amandine. I'm sure I'll have a coffee before it's over. The café is full now and I'm thankful for my terrace table providing a view of the centre, the passerbys, the musician, even the pigeons chasing a piece of bread floating in a puddle of water. The tarte was sensationelle. I ordered un grand crème. And some water. I think the waiter enjoys it every time I ask from something new. The musician left , i gave him a coin. The bill will be next. And then I think I will walk up to Montmartre.

It just hit me, I'm leaving the same café Staci and I enjoyed a coffee one of the days we were in Paris together.


My last Monday in Mississippi, for a while.

I woke up this morning with that feeling of my impending departure in the pit of my stomach.

"This is my last Monday in MS for a while," wandered through my mind. I thought a run would rid it, but I'm still feeling the funk.

Maybe writing it down will help? I haven't blogged in a while. You'd think this TCK would be used to these feeling by now. Also, I haven't had any coffee yet this morning.

Holy crap I still have so much to do before I fly. Professionally and personally.

There are those people you want to be sure to spend time with before you go. There's the bitter feeling of never having enough time with my folks in the summers because I am always gone for the month of July. I always miss the Neshoba County Fair and that's starting to get real old real fast. 

Boo-hoo, Jessi, you're going to freaking LONDON. 

Yup. I am. And going there with 158 students, 12-ish faculty, 2 staff, multiple guests and visiting professors is a hell-of-a lot different than going for a vacay. So stop rolling your eyes. 

What's even more is that I've spent the last many weeks preparing for this program, and it's not even close to being over yet - the work is only just beginning. However I will say I do feel more prepared for this round than the last three...that's nice. It doesn't take away from the approaching load, though. 

Boo this feeling.

It's that feeling of wanting to make sure you tie up loose ends before you take off for six weeks. There are the usual friends you want to be sure to spend time with, even though you never say "goodbye" only, "see you later". They are friends who are equally as used to you departing as you are.

There are the family members you already don't see on a regular basis, but really won't see now - especially the one who lives with you and might not be there when you get back. Don't really want to come to grips with that.

And then there's that "anonymous friend". The one you weren't expecting to be a part of your life, certainly not in this very large way, completely unexpected. There are a lot of things you don't want to admit about that one. Nope.


It'll be fine, duh. All of it. But that doesn't mean I can't have all the thoughts I'm having.

Once you get past all the above - it's really quite thrilling. London for a month. Boom! Work hard for a month, and then shut down for two weeks. Two weeks of vacation traveling around London, Paris, Pontlevoy and Erlangen with the aforementioned "anonymous friend". Epic, it will be. You can be jealous. 

Just don't forget all this does come with a roller coaster of emotions. 

Good thing I have my head screwed on straight. Right?


Meet my "crazy"...

I found it today, my "crazy".

An anonymous friend has been trying to find my "crazy switch" since we started seeing more of each other. I've assured him I had it removed, and I have the scar on my arm to prove it. I think he's desperately trying to figure out what's "wrong" with me. It's not my fault the majority of his former "friends" have been...well, we'll just say he spent a lot of time chasing after some interesting characters...but that doesn't mean there's something wrong with me - right?

That's right! I am wonderful. Even in my imperfections. And most time it's their imperfections that draw me to "the other". It's what makes them unique.

Gross, I just said that.

All of that is beside the point. The purpose of this entry is: My "crazy" is visiting today and I don't remember how to keep it on lock.

It's all going on in my head. Right now. This very instant. It's quite the adventure.

There's got to be some research out there that points to chemical imbalances occurring within women's brains during random periods of time. It can't all just be me, there's got to be some science behind it.

I should Google it.

Today is one of those days where I literally feel like I am going clinically insane. I know "hormones" have a lot to do with it...but it hasn't hit me like this in a long while, so it's freaking me out.

No, not freaking me out - I don't play that game. It's more like, making-me-an-ugly-human-being-no-one-should-be-subjected-to.

I know part of how I control my "crazy" is through the help of my dear friends. They get to hear all about it. The ridiculous thoughts that go through my mind, the crazy urges I have, the irrational attitude that erupts out of no where spurred by the most insignificant thing.

I turn down invitations to events. I don't respond to text messages. Or phone calls. Or if I do, it's just to say, hi, you really don't want to talk to me right now, I'm having a crazy day, I'll call you when it passes. I don't want to be around people and they are happier not to be around me. It really makes my day catering to people, interesting.

Through the course of today I've thrown a few fits at the numerous idiotic questions students have emailed me to ask about their study abroad program. Silly? Yes. I should just respond and forget the small stuff. It's the principle of so many of them not reading anything I send out that throws me over the edge. I should also mention that the questions to set me off are those that come in the form of a direct reply to an email I sent seconds prior with the answer to their question answered in the first sentence of the email they replied to...you follow?

You know how sometimes life happens and you aren't attached to your cell phone so you don't respond to a text within seconds? Yeah - happens to me all the time. And I usually don't pay too much attention to a delayed response. Not today. Nope.

Meet my crazy.

I really do pride myself on keeping my cool, not overreacting to the small stuff, and being able to juggle a lot of things at one time.

Not today.

I got that chocolate urge too - that NEVER happens. Ever. So I left the office for a 15 minute break to hit up Starbucks before I hurt somebody, and when I got downstairs I realized our entire street has been netted off to the point of having to walk an extra third of the way around to get to where I was going.

Oh! To have seen my facial expression when I made that realization! You don't want me to repeat the bazaar that went through my mind at that moment.

So looky-there. I do have some crazy in me. Satisfied?


Don't you hate those time stamped emails?

I've been calling students departing on our newest program this summer to inform them of our plans to "ticket" for the group flight (assign their name to an actual seat) and Eur Rail pass next week. We do this to explain that even though the payment deadline for the program isn't for a few weeks, they will owe the money for both of these items no matter what happens (read: make sure you have your $#!^ together).

The majority of students today rely on some form of Financial Aid to fund a portion if not the majority of their program - this means that come the payment deadline they are not always due any money out of pocket to us, because their aid typically doesn't get released until days before the program departs. If they have enough aid to cover the full cost of the program, then they don't pay anything out of pocket before departure. Breaking it down even further, students can drop out days before the program and not be out any money, but we lose because we've usually already paid out on their behalf. In the case of their airline tickets we can't do anything but charge them for it because it belongs to them after we ticket, and if they withdraw from the program, well, "congratulations you have an international plane ticket good for a year! Woohoo!"

When I make these calls I leave a lot of messages. I understand, I screen my calls too. Sometimes while I'm on the phone leaving another message, one of the students who screened my call earlier returns the call and leaves me a message. One student, we'll call her Shelley, left this message:

"Hi, this is Shelley, you just left me a message about the ________ program and I'm just calling to let you know that I withdrew from that program a long time ago, so I don't understand why you're calling me at all. Please call me back."

I called Shelley back. "Hi Shelley, this is Jessica with the ________ program returning your call..."

"Yeah, I talked to y'all, like, months ago, and withdrew my application for that program, so I don't know why you are calling me."

"I'm sorry to hear that, Shelley, we hate to lose you! I called you about the program because I'm actually looking at your very active application online right now. If you would log in when you have a moment later and click the withdrawal button though, you will be officially removed from the program. Either that or send us an email - we just need something in writing from you."

"I did this weeks ago, I just don't understand, my application is already withdrawn. I already did all of that."

"I'm sorry for the confusion, Shelley, but when you log back in you'll see that you're still listed as being approved to go on the program - there's nothing to worry about, this is why we make these phone calls. All you have to do is withdraw or shoot us that email."

"Well I won't be near internet tonight."

"Totally understandable, there's no rush, I've noted our conversation and you have about a week to get this done before we ticket."

End of conversation....

So, I continued with my list. About a minute after I hung up with Shelley, an email popped into my inbox from our application software. You see, whenever a student does anything within their application, our software notifies us in case we need to follow up with that student. Ingenius, I know. Well this particular email named the program for which I was making these phone calls, and you'll never guess whose name was listed having "WITHDRAWN APPLICATION"...

The notification email came in while I was leaving yet another message for a different student and simultaneously I saw my new voicemail light turn on. Another message!

"Hi, this is Shelley, I just spoke with you and told you that I had already withdrawn from that program, and I just checked my application online and it indeed lists me as withdrawn so if you could call me back and tell me that you misread my application and that everything is okay now I would appreciate it. Thanks."


Shelley didn't know it, but she really didn't want me to call her back.

Instead, I counted to 10, took a deep breath, and clicked "Forward"on the Application Withdrawal announcement email.

Dear Shelley,

We spoke on the phone earlier in regards to your ________ Program application. Sorry for the confusion but I wanted to let you know we just received your successful application withdrawal, today, at the time marked below in the confirmation email. Thank you for taking care of this and please know how sorry we are to lose you, and we hope you will consider studying abroad in the future!

Have a fantastic day!


Mothers....not mine.

For having not been in the home office for the month of April in two years, I sure have experienced a whirlwind of a welcome back! The phones ring off the hook. Students are studying abroad - that's great! And with the Olympic summer approaching we're seeing a banner year in terms of enrollment for London. All positive, woohoo!

We're also seeing more "friends" and "parents" wanting to come over. Which makes for interesting phone calls. I picked up a call to the main line from a mother the other day, her son is studying abroad on "the study abroad program" this summer and she was hoping to have a few questions answered, could she speak to me about them?

Of course, ma'am, I'll be happy to help - would you mind telling me which program your son is participating on? The London one. Great. Thank you.

She proceeded to ask a few of the usual questions that we do in fact go over during our pre-departure orientation closer to program departure, but I answered them for her nonetheless. Towards the end of our conversation she asked about the mini-break travel period, "housing is not provided during that time, is this correct?"

Yes ma'am, that is correct, students pack up and move out for that period of time, all travel and accommodation is independent of the program during the mini-break.

"And when do they start to make those arrangements?"

Well, some students will plan their mini-break travels long before program departure, but many students wait until they are actually in London, to see where their friends decide to go, and they make plans together.

"Oh I see, well my husband and I would like to come over during that time to get him from place to place, is that something people do?"

Do parents come to visit? Yes, parents and friends come every year to visit program participants. Generally they come before the program or after the program rather than during the mini-break because that time is rather short, but it's entirely possible.

"Oh wonderful. So when will we pay for those arrangements?"

I'm sorry, I don't think I understand your question?

"Well for those travel arrangements, the ones during the mini-break, when will we pay you for that?"

Um, well, I don't make those arrangements, they are separate from the program, your son will make his arrangements. Not our office. If you decide to come over during that time, then you can make those plans accordingly.

"Oh, I see, so you're not just the travel agent?"

What does that even mean?

No, no ma'am, I am not a travel agent, far from it actually. But our office does in fact work with a travel agent and I would be happy to put you in touch with her if you need assistance planning any sort of non-program-related travel.

"Well that would be wonderful, yes, thank you."

I have an even better one coming later...


Ils ne sont pas propres...

Some people can't use the bathroom in public places. It's like a phobia or something. I like to think of it as purely lack of experience.

How can anyone lack experience going to the bathroom? Well, it's not the act/s I'm referring to, it's the locations in which the act/s is/are performed.

I think growing up in third world countries taught me that "when you gotta go, you go wherever you can"; and, to consider it lucky if said place has walls, a door, a floor, a toilet, toilet paper, running water, etc. Really if just one of all the above exists, count your blessings.

Personally I prefer the squatters, or a simple hole in the ground/behind a bush because you don't have to touch anything. And actually, I think I read somewhere that women empty their bladders better from that angle/position than from just sitting upright on a commode?

Where the hell is this coming from? I promise I don't just sit around thinking about bodily functions and where they happen.

I spent all night at CHU Bichat-Claude Bernard hospital in Paris with a student. As you can imagine, in the many hours I was there, sitting, watching, waiting, I had to visit the WC...

My first visit was actually in the toilettes of les chambres des urgences. As he directed me to the WC, the nurse said, "j'espere qu'ils sont propre."

They were not "propre". Think of any substance one could excrete, including the essence of life pumping through our veins, and you'll have a vague idea of what welcomed me. The metallic toilet bowl was the "cleanest" part of the room. Did I notice the disgusting view? Of course I did, I tweeted about it sans photograph (you're welcome). But the main thing I noticed was that there was toilet paper. #WhatABlessing. And that it was actually on a roll attached to the wall, not on the floor soaking up things-we-shall-not-mention.

Generally I practice two things when it comes to public restrooms:
  1. Before entering the "area" I immediately stop breathing through my nose so as to avoid any unnecessary smells from entering my nostrils. I think this started at an early age from when I used to vomit any time I got in a moving vehicle. I still practice this when I start to feel motion sick, but I vaguely remember as a child despising the smell of cars and associating that (the smell, not the actual motion sickness) with my reason for vomiting.
  2. I always carry a small packet of tissues in my purse, or a paper napkin, just in case. Mom taught me this one.
I am positive my experience in the emergency room toilets would have been far worse had my sense of smell absorbed the sight. Furthermore, had I been in practice of rule #2 above, my second experience, in the toilettes dans la salle d'attente (waiting room), would have been even better.

Alas, there are those moments in a woman's life when she must practice the drip/shake and just go with it.


Break in case of emergency...

I gave my staff the go-ahead to have last weekend off to drive to Amsterdam. So my two student coordinators, two local guys from Pontlevoy, and one of the staff members from The Abbey took off at 4am Thursday, packed into a rental car.

The night before their departure we found ourselves at Le Commerce ordering "corner pizza" and playing blackjack, and the five of them were going on about what fun they would have, the sights they would see, all the culture they would soak up [ahem].

I decided because everyone was leaving me to manage the students solo, they should return bearing gifts. So I proposed this challenge: whomever could bring me back the corniest/cheesiest souvenir from Amsterdam for under 5 Euros would be treated to dinner, by me, with everyone else who participates in attendance. After some explanation and translation of the words "corny" and "cheesy" into French, everyone accepted the challenge.

They left, they survived, they returned alive Sunday evening. I made a reservation for our group at Le Procoppio for Monday night and made it clear that I wasn't to know who selected each souvenir; I needed to separate the objects from the people. At dinner, an unbiased party pulled each souvenir out from a bag, and placed them in front of me.

Wow. What treasures!

I couldn't just choose on the spot, I needed some time to contemplate my decision. I needed to get to know each souvenir, and announced I would remove one from the pile after each course.

The keychain was the first to go. Followed by the wooden tulip. Both fantastic souvenirs that I will cherish from that time everyone else went to Amsterdam without me, but neither worthy of the prize.

That left the incredibly creepy children-of-the-corn-looking dutch kids wearing wooden clogs sitting in a tulip shaped magnet - OR - the pornographic snow globe that inspired the title of this blog (with a little help from an anonymous friend). Yes, that is a penis inside the snow globe. Yes, that is a naked lady riding it, sitting on top of a marijuana leaf.

Note: Some might find this vulgar or inappropriate. It might make you uncomfortable? I'm sorry.

What a difficult choice to make!

During our dessert course, I removed the magnet and announced the snow globe the winner. Congratulations, Nora!

Why, you ask? Believe me, it really was a difficult choice, those children are oh-so-corny...and I do look forward to welcoming them into my magnet collection on the fridge at home; but I thought the magnet really depicted Holland as a whole, not Amsterdam in particular.

And, what screams "corny/cheesy Amsterdam souvenir" louder than a penis-snow-globe from the Red Light District?


What makes you happy?

Friday night was one of those epic nights in this village. Le Commerce had a ska band concert (I never knew an accordion could look so good) and most of the hard-core student partiers were out of town, so the small group of them left behind were fun and relatively contained.

Late in the evening Mark and Adam turned up. They are such a fantastic couple. Mark is Dutch, speaks four languages, Adam is American but has lived in France longer at this point, and speaks three languages. They both live and work in Paris but have a home in Pontlevoy and another (more recent) in Uruguay. I shared my "upbringing" with Mark for the first time. Adam had heard it before, I'm pretty sure. Mark had a lot of questions for me. Not the typical "wow, did you like growing up in that way?"More like, "What do you want, Jessica? Do you want a husband? Do you want to live in France? England? Indonesia? What do you want? Marriage? A career? Great sex?"

"Can I not have it all, Mark? Is that not an option?"

"How old are you?" Mark asked.


Oh well then of course, because I am so young and have already experienced so much, I only have that much more to experience during the rest of my life, yes I can have it all - "but the real question is, Jessica, what do you want? What makes you happy?"

Apparently this had been the topic of conversation over their steak dinner before heading to the concert. He was really in to the subject.

Okay, reader, ask YOURself that question...do you know? I mean really, does anyone really know? And for those who say they know, that they know exactly what they want and how they are going to get there, well is that any fun? Forget whether or not it's really possible, aren't they missing key moments in life that surely pass them by for being so focused on exactly what they want?

I'm happy wherever I am. I don't want to have to choose "husband" or "career" or anything else. I want life as it comes at me. I don't know where I'll be in five years. Hell I don't know where I'll be a year from now, literally. I can say that I'm fairly certain I won't be France, but maybe I'll come over for a week or two? I'm fairly certainly I'll be in Hattiesburg, for a good while longer (I like it there!), but where else? I don't know, and that's okay!

This question about "do you want a husband? A marriage?" is one that's come up a few times this week, funny how that happens. My response has been somewhere along the lines of, "I want a life partner, yes, that is something that I want, to add to my life's adventures....because that would be so much fun!"

Do I want to find that person right now this very moment? It doesn't matter! If I said no, someone would stumble in to my world and it would stir everything up. If I said yes, well, that would be depressing. So no, no I don't want that right here right now, but if it happened tomorrow - it would work out. It's just the idea of finding "it" one day, building up to that, it's exciting. And comforting. And in the meantime, I'm just going to take life one day at a time...yes, me, "Miss Planner", is saying that.

So far every opportunity I've encountered has just appeared through an open door, and I've walked through it. Sure, some doors have been closed, but others open, and that's just how it's been. I have some relative ideas of what I'd like to do in the future...live overseas, maybe become a high school guidance counselor and do what my parents do, get a masters degree, have kids, travel, go on a cruise (a really self-indulging one).

The good thing is I don't have to answer any of these questions, really. Furthermore, I've been pretty good recently about deciding not to be unhappy. Just be happy. Change whatever it is making you unhappy, and be happy. Two years ago I was miserable and decided to drop out of grad school. Instantly I felt happier, weight lifted off my shoulders, I just wasn't in to it. And I've never regretted it.

I don't have a strong conclusion here, I think this will be a constant conversation with myself, with others - as it should be! And I look forward to it.


Remember that time the wrong cousins were selected...?

Uncle Bernie...

Uncle Bernie (related to the director of the program) bought this beauty several years ago for a few months-stint in France. Then he gave it to the program, basically. The thing has so many speeding tickets on it from over the years no one else will take it. It's a 1970-something Mercedes Benz. Drives like a tank, no parking break, can start her off in third gear just as easy as first, and reversing requires putting your entire body weight in to pushing down on the stick and shifting down below fifth gear. The radio only picks up the most cheesy and eclectic of all French radio stations. I love this car. 


Showered and shaved...

I have water. It is glorious. I never, ever thought I would be excited to shower in my closet of a bathroom stall, but today was magnificent. It's amazing what a hot shower and a shave can do for a girl, especially when she doesn't have to march down a freezing hallway to get to running water.

Staci visited over the weekend, just a quick trip to France for four days. It was tons of fun and exactly what I needed for a positive energy boost. I think she had a pretty good time too! We walked our buns off - literally, probably 10 miles our last day in Paris. Monday morning we hit the train back to Onzain where "uncle Bernie" was waiting for us - more on that in another post - and drove back to Pontlevoy. 

It's so great when people from "home" can visit me when I'm working one of our programs. It just helps everything come together, I think, for them and also for me. The things I talk about, the places I mention, the people I interact with while I'm "gone"...to be able to see it, meet them, it just paints a clearer picture for the people at home. 

And for me, well, it's not exactly a "normal" lifestyle I have been living the past few years, living in three countries a year. I suppose that applies to the majority of my life though, if you really think about it. I remember getting on the plane as a kid, leaving the US for whatever country we lived in at the time and it felt like I was traveling between worlds. Really, I can remember engaging my brain to revert back to how we lived in the world we were traveling to. Okay, as an adult it isn't as fantastical as that sounds, it's a much easier adjustment, there is less engaging of the brain in that sense, but I vividly remember those feelings as a kid. The only constant between the worlds I traveled between was my immediate family. 

So, when the people from these worlds visit the other it adds a little more sense to life. It bridges a gap somewhere. It's nice. 

Although there is a strange line that can be crossed which is difficult to explain, but a visit from people between these worlds can also feel somewhat invading, for lack of a better word. There was that one time a "significant other" was leaving on a plane to come visit me in France the very next day, but then he didn't come, long story. I remember the feeling was very overwhelming - for a lot of reasons - but part of it was me wondering whether I really wanted to let that person "in" as intimately as allowing them to visit me in one of my other worlds...[rolling my eyes] does this all just sound incredibly cheesy?  It's not meant to. And you might also be thinking, "well, Jessi, then why the hell did you let him book his ticket if you were going to freak out about it?" I'm not turning this post in to an analysis of previous relationships...

All I want to say is: it's incredibly satisfying to have friends/family visit me when I travel for work, because it puts it all together in a way that's not possible without an actual visit, but only the closest of friends/family can make that trip, I think, people who I have the right kind of connection with mentally, emotionally, etc. - or else it feels a little invading and/or forced. 

I just realized this post's title has little to do with where I actually took it. Eh.

Just some of the fun Staci and I made.


le brazza...

There's a bar-tabac down the street called Le Brazza that I try to visit for coffee before I open the office during the week. Except on Mondays, they're closed Mondays and I have to go to Bar de la Poste owned and operated by a mullet-sporting couple. Even their dog has a mullet, if you can believe that. 

A different couple owns Le Brazza, and they trade off mornings. This morning the man was there, and he reminds me of my Granddaddy Lamb. On the rare occasions my grandpa picked up the phone when I called home in college, we would talk about the weather. Always. That's usually what the Brazza man and I discuss. Today's conversation: The snow is melting, it's not as cold, how nice, etc. And then he offered me my grand crème at a discount!

I bundled up to walk down there and thought it almost felt warm! That's probably because my body is now adept at functioning in extremely-cold-below-freezing temps.

On the way to work I stopped at the boulangerie. Another daily activity. The hardest decision to make is what pastry to purchase for breakfast. A pain au chocolat? Or the even more devine pain au chocolat aux amandes...a pain aux raisins? A few days ago I tried something new, a pastry with apricots and cream worked in somehow. Amazing. Not too sweet, the perfect puffy pastry. Sometimes I walk out with a few options, and share with anyone who happens to wander in the office. 

Today I walked out with a single pain au chocolat - like a croissant filled with chocolate, and two chocolate hearts with a ribbon tied around them placed delicately in their own bakery bag to give my student coordinator, Brian and Nora:

I made those cut out heart cards myself yes I did. Happy Valentine's Day!

With the warmer weather I'm hoping for thawed pipes in the staff wing, and running water for me by the end of the week. It would be so fantastic to be able to use my restroom finally - and get some laundry done, there are only so many times you can re-wear wool socks...


Photos from the past few adventures...

...this is how cold it was at the airport.

Nora's first "Le Quick" experience waiting on our train at Montparnasse station.

View from the TGV en route to St. Pierre des Corps.

Greeted by the "grey ghost" in Montrichard.

Thanks Marianne for coming to get us!

Outside Le Commerce on la place first evening - super pumped and exhausted!

It's $%^#(@& cold!

The gardens in front of the Abbey - some of you remember more trees being there.

That's the little green door the students use to enter and exit the grounds.

Sunsets here are magnificent.

Fabulous - that's how awesome I look bundled up in my office.

Can you see the snow falling?

La vache qui rit...

I was actually hot last night under the covers with all my layers and hot water bottle. It was delightful. Unfortunately I still didn't sleep well, darn jetlag - and probably some anxiety over what's about to happen, and lack of exercise.

Now I don't have ANY water. So to shower: I layer up inside my room, in full winter gear, head into to the arctic hallway with my shower caddy in tow, and walk to the student wing to a condemned room that has hot water but will never have heat. Or something like that. It's like being back in college, really, only in Alaska instead of Mississippi.

I went to my former host family's house for dinner tonight. She called me and told me to come for dinner to "thaw out". I'd love to! We had real fondue, from the Savoie region of France. It was amazing. Her father is from around there - Italian descendants.

My host family first met me when I was 19, a student studying abroad on the Abbey program. I had a host sister too, Emily, I wonder what's come of her...

I fell in love with them immediately - he is one of the town doctors, very interested in everything, inquisitive, pensive, etc. She is warm (so is he, but she's the mom), loving, kind, an excellent cook. They are both very active and love to travel and explore new places. Their home is very warm and cozy.

When I left after my time as a student, in 2004, the only "French cheese" I could tolerate was La vache qui rit. Anyone who's been to my house has seen a framed vintage print of it hanging by the front door - if you paid attention.

News flash: The Laughing Cow Cheese is not considered a cheese in France. It's what you give children, you know, picky ones who can't handle the real stuff yet. My host parents laughed and laughed when I told them my favorite French cheese was La vache qui rit and from then onward she put a piece, wrapped in it's foil with that grinning cow on the cover, on the cheese plate that emerged after our meals.

When I came back in 2007 they were thrilled. And she remembered. We still chuckle about it. But that year I was ready for the real stuff, and although I relied on bread to accompany the stronger flavors, I ate (and enjoyed) all of it.

In 2010 and 2011 the foil cheese came out a few times, we still chuckle about it to this day, but they were SUCH proud host parents when they saw me go after the stinkiest cheese without any bread to wash it down. I miss cheese when I'm not in France.

There wasn't a cheese plate tonight, not after fondue. But there was soup to start, the fondue, and a home made tarte made from fruit from the garden - cerises blanc (white cherries) or meribel (maybe it's the same in english?), that was the discussion over dessert.

It all ended with a decaf espresso and chatter about my friend Staci coming to visit in EIGHT DAYS! They've invited us to dinner, for un vrai diner français. He speaks more English than he's willing to admit, and Staci speaks zero French - but neither did my parents when they came in 2007 and it was such fun. We'll see - I told her I'd confirm later this week, after I speak to Staci.

Look at that, it's 11pm again. Off to bed....


today's lessons...

1. Having hot water isn't always a blessing.
2. When the cold water pipes are frozen the toilet won't flush.
3. Don't warm your pajamas on the stove cover.

I've mentioned the Abbey doesn't have heat. The student wing will be fine. We think. The property managers have placed electric heaters in each room until the pipes thaw and the regular heat can flow through. Can the old Abbey wiring handle 17 electric heaters going all at once on one wing? We shall find out, shan't we?

I do have hot water. That is a blessing. However, I have zero cold water. It's not easy to shower in scalding hot water. I suppose I could do the ole: run washcloth through hot water, let cool a bit, wipe body down, trick? I suppose I shouldn't complain. I should have realized, though, hot water doesn't connect to the toilet. So after I flushed once, I can't flush again. The cold water pipes are frozen connecting to my room. Don't worry - nothing bad was left in the commode.

I moved my stuff in today. There are four space heaters and an oven warming my room. The ceilings are at least 20 feet high, and you know where hot air goes? Up. Yes, I said the oven is on. It's the stove, actually. I'll get to that in minute. Don't freak out, mother.

I haven't unpacked entirely yet because in this place you can't finish anything when you first start it. Nothing. Not even a text message. I'll be surprised if I even finish this entry! I've decided this place is an alternate universe, it's the only way to explain some things, and I will have to devote a separate entry to that topic another day. But just know the only reason I am even typing this, now, after I wanted to be in bed already, is because I left my only toothpaste in my travel-safe-size bag in the office. And the office is the only place in this building that has internet. And I was so frustrated that I even had to march down here to get my toothpaste through the freezing halls, I sat down to share these lessons.

Earlier I was so distraught at thinking about having to sleep in a room where I couldn't stand without shivering unless all my 12 layers were on and my two hats, I turned the stove on - KNOWING one is NEVER to do that. Let's face it, fires start that way, I KNOW this. But I stayed there and stood to watch it heat, and it felt great, okay? I turned it off to go to Michele's for dinner. I wasn't 100% on leaving, I sort of felt I needed a night on my own, I crave my alone time and it's hard to come by in this alternate universe, but I went to dinner. As I put the stove top down over the eyes, I had a thought: ooh! You could warm your PJs on this warm-metal-stove-top-cover-thing and they'll be nice and toasty when you get back. Again, the stove was cooling down, nothing was turned on. So I laid my lovely flanel plaid long night shirt and black stretchy pants on the cover, and took off.

Dinner was lovely.

My apartment was surprisingly warmer when I got home. Or maybe my body was just warm from walking up the four flights of stairs? I started to undress, filled the furry hot water bottle Michele has lent me, I have PLENTY of hot water, and then remembered my PJs on the stove top. When I picked up my flanel top, under it on the white metal stove cover was a dark brownish spot.


I looked at the flanel shirt. Seeing what was there on the side that laid on the stove cover made me think of crispy na'an bread you eat at middle easter or indian restaurants. You know those black crunchy flakey parts? Not what you want to see on your flanel night shirt. There wasn't a black spot underneath where my stretchy pants laid, so I hoped for the best. I haven't decided what to do with the shirt yet. The black bit comes off on your fingers at the touch.

Changing clothes in the cold should be an olympic event. It's an art mastering the perfect timing of slipping off one pant leg while keeping wool sock on and quickly inserting leg into stretchy-pant leg then immediately back in to house shoe. Success! Time for the second half of my lower body. Mind you I still have on a tank-top, sweater, pullover, vest, down jacket and hat on my upper body. Second leg was a success, time to pull up stretchy pants to cover exposed-and-getting-colder-by-the-minute bum. My left hand's fingers went right through that side of my stretchy pants. Like paper.

FAIL. I guess I couldn't see the part of the stretchy pants that turned into na'an like blackness because the tights themselves are/were black. They're in the garbage now, and thankfully I brought a second pair.

So currently I'm sitting in my office, no heat in here either, writing this blog. I'm in my fully dressed and layered top half - although I threw my flat hair up into a bun and have the hat over it, I really look fantastic - and my stretchy pants and wool socks and house shoes.

I better not forget what I came all the way down here for: toothpaste!



I've never been so cold...

I made it to France. In one piece. A frozen piece. Didn't sleep a wink on the plane, and I even took a "natural" sleeping pill -whatever that means-  but it didn't do anything. My mind was racing through recent events. Everything is better now. I feel good.

When I boarded the plane with my carry-on, it wouldn't fit in any of the over-head compartments. Really? They were much smaller than I recall them being on any other international flight - so I had to check that bag. I will say this, though, if you want to avoid that second-checked-bag-fee, that's the way to go. Act like it's totally going to fit in the overhead, and then when it doesn't, act ticked off that you have to check it, they don't charge you!

Before she took it from me, the flight attendant asked if there was anything I couldn't live without in the bag, I hastily said no because I was flustered I had to check it at all - what international airline has overhead compartments that won't hold an over-stuffed, legally-sized, carry-on bag? The kind that doesn't have individual TV screens in each seat - that's who.

When the pilot announced it was -6 degrees Celsius over the intercom I immediately regretted forgetting that my jacket, scarf, hat, mittens, etc. were in that bag. The Paris airport is under a roof, yes, but there is a lot of open air space....

Both bags made it and I was out of baggage claim and at the train station waiting for Nora, one of my student coordinators, within less than an hour of de-boarding. This means I waited about two hours tracking her flight. Every warm article of clothing was on my body and still, I shivered. The Charles de Gaulle train station is not heated. And the doors constantly open with people entering and exiting the platforms. I couldn't have bundled up anymore. Still...miserably freezing. Even in the heated "waiting room", people wandered in the over-crowded room with glass windows and doors just to double check that there wasn't any more space, so all the heat wandered out - it was pointless. 

Nora wandered up without me having to search for her, which was great. I had contemplated panicking about not mentioning what I would be wearing, what my luggage would look like, that I'd have my tiger-print glasses on instead of contacts, why didn't I pin-point an exact spot to meet?! But she got off the escalator and walked right to me, waving like a crazy tourist (me, not Nora).

The train we planned to take from the airport decided not to run, which was not great. It would have put us in Montrichard at 12:30pm, just in time for lunch at Le Commerce in Pontlevoy. So while I shivered and waited for Nora, I researched alternative options.

Option A: Hang out in the freezing airport for another four hours, and then 2 hours in the St. Pierre des Corps station (a.k.a. butt-hole of France) and arrive in Pontlevoy around 5pm.

Option B: Take the RER B line in to Paris, jump on the metro line 4 to Montparnasse station, hop an 11:20 TGV train to St. Pierre des Corps and then switch trains (with our bags) within 10 minutes to get to Montrichard. Arrive in Montrichard before 14:00 (France tells time like this, get used to it if you're going to keep reading subsequent blogs).

We chose Option B, whatever happened we wanted to be moving, and get there as soon as possible. Nora slept on the plane and was up for seeing as much of Paris as possible her first day.

For anyone who has never been to Paris: be prepared for stairs in the underground. And pack light.

We made it through the first twelve 2-flight stair cases before we found an escalator (they are rare) and while on it, it STOPPED! So we picked up our 50 lbs bags and started hiking it up the tall stairs (you know the stairs are taller on an escalator) - I felt like I was in an ironman contest. I lost. 

Three Parisian boys wandered up behind us and picked up Nora's suitcase to hike up the escalator with us. How darling and helpful! Did anyone come to my rescue? No. Assholes. So, me and my two bags - one on either side of me - blocked up the whole walkway - it didn't matter that Nora had helpers, we were still going to be slow.

I got to the top and heard Nora say, "Hey!" and my stomach clenched. I turned around and everything seemed nonchalant. Nora was fidgeting with her bag, looking through it, face white. I asked if they messed with her, they had already vanished, she said she found one of their hands in her purse but everything was still accounted for. FAIL for that dude.

Shaken up, but determined to make our train, we kept walking toward the Metro line 4. I felt awful and wondered if she was okay, what an awful experience to have on your first day in France!

Right before we exited that part of the underground to find our line 4, a tall - somewhat handsome - man wandered up inconspicuously beside us flashing a badge. I'm always suspicious of a handsome man, as you may or may not know, but you should know that, and he flashed his wallet at me saying "Madame, police, est-ce que je pourrais vous parler?" I checked out the badge, it looked fake (what do I know?) but he insisted on talking to us. He asked if one of those three hooligans put his hand in one of our bags? Woah! How do you know that? He wasn't in uniform, what was I supposed to think?

Three undercover cops saw the whole shake down. One of the three cops already had the three crooks against a wall (I wondered how they vanished so quickly), yelling questions at them. "Who stopped the escalator?!" and "Who put their hand in her purse?!" Apparently that escalator is a "usual spot" for these guys to stop the escalator and rob unsuspecting tourists.

So, Nora and I dictated what happened for a police report, and we missed our train. It didn't matter that we were insistent with the police officers about needing to get to Montparnasse. You could tell they were so excited to finally make a bust. We missed the train big time. Lugging bags through the underground, escalator or not, takes forever.

So we waited 2 hours in a Montparnasse cafe for a while, until they started to set up for their lunch crowd and scorned us for not ordering off their over-priced menu. At that point we moved next door to the French equivalent of McDonald's (Le Quick). Fries and a Heineken never went down so well. Yes, fast food joints serve alcohol in France. Isn't it fabulous?

Yes, I had mayo with my french fries. And they were actually, really, French, isn't that fun? Ha. Give me a break, Elliot, I'm so jet-lagged.

We got on our train and discovered it was delayed. Did I already mention we only had 10 minutes to make our connection in the butt-hole of France's station? I guess the conductor who checked our ticket, saw my exhaustion, heard my ever-so-trying-to-sound-fluent French and felt sorry for us. Apparently he called ahead and they held our train for us. We didn't know this fact until we arrived to the platform in St. Pierre des Corps, breathless, and I yelled as we ran up and they were blowing their whistle  (because I wasn't 100% sure we were getting on the right connection) "est-ce que vous arretez a Montrichard?"

"Oui, madame, nous vous attendez" - MERCI, MONSIEUR CONDUCTEUR, MERCI! They were waiting for us.

Home-free. Marianne picked us up at the Montrichard station and it felt like coming home. To this home. Because I have so many!

Good day. Safe arrival. Julien offered us plenty of wine at Le Commerce last night -"to purify your body after travel", he said - and he asked the usual questions, "What weekends will the students most likely not travel? So I can host a concert. What professors are coming this year? Are there any cool ones? What ages are the students, what are they like? Will they party at my bar every night? Are you married yet? All the French boys have been asking again. Oh you're not? Hmmmmm. I have some friends you should meet, just for fun, you know. You have a stick up your ass and need to loosen up."

I really do think that he thinks I don't have enough fun. I like to call it "being responsible" and "having self-respect", yadda yadda. I love him anyway. And if you know Julien (the bar owner) this makes a lot of sense to you. If you don't know him, just don't worry about it. It isn't anything to get excited about. I performed my usual move, enjoyed the complimentary wine (who wouldn't?), and bowed-out early - it's safer that way, and I slept like a baby.

Wait - did I mention there is no heat or hot water in the Abbey? Maybe I forgot that tidbit. So we're currently staying at my friend Michele's, across the street. Nora will move in to her room at the Abbey tomorrow, Brian arrived today (another student coordinator) and moved in to his room tonight - because the hot water is working in their rooms, just not the "staff wing". Fantastic.

Also - have I mentioned how cold it is? Or that Brian had to wait in the butt-hole of France for FOUR hours today because of the weather? He, too, had a run in with the police - but that's another story.

I've only been here two days, one sleep, and already so much has happened.

And I've realized - after talking to Nora and Brian about it - it's different for the people we leave behind. We leave, and enter a whole new world, where everything is different. For our friends and family, a piece of their world leaves, and it constantly feels like something is "missing". Those are VERY different experiences that come with very different emotions. Some people can handle it, some can't - or they don't quite know how to handle it just yet. Some people are better with words than others, others are afraid to use them. For me, I'm always the one leaving, and I will always speak what's on my mind. I think that's something I've learned having to "leave" all the time. It's important to me. You're welcome. It takes guts sometimes, but I think it's easier in the long run. I don't know...

I do know this: I am extremely jet-lagged and exhausted. And I only hope whatever I wrote up there makes sense and you can follow it. Hopefully it made some of you chuckle at parts. It's freezing outside and HOW is one supposed to run in these conditions? I'm dying for a workout...I might just have to bundle up tomorrow and hope for no ice on my path....



really, it's not a big deal...

It's only 2 months.

I've been away for much longer than that before, and everything's been fine.

Okay maybe not always, something always happens: relationships end, marriages happen, people have babies - but other than the usual life, why does anything else have to be different?

I think it's everyone else. I've done this my whole life, left. I'm always going somewhere. People handle leaving in a variety of ways. They handle ME leaving in a variety of ways. My friends like to start talking about starting up girls night again, the week before I leave, because we don't see enough of each other. It's true, we don't. But now we're really not going to - at least not me, and that's okay! I'll be right back. My cousin and I agreed we don't spend enough time in New Orleans or on the coast, they're so close and we rarely go. "Let's start going more!" Okay, when I get back.

I get all sorts of responses from people when I talk about where I'm going, what I'm going to do...I like to think that their reaction is a reflection of whatever subconscious issues they are dealing with themselves. That might not be the right way to put it, the word "issues" isn't right, but it's what I've got for now.

I get a lot of, "wow, that's awesome, you have the coolest job in the world!" And some of these people can't comprehend how it can also be quite daunting, yes -so cool, but everything has it's ups and downs and that's only me being a realist. What am I supposed to say, "yes, you are right, I have the coolest job in the world and am all the better for it."? I want to feel "normal" too, folks. I have challenges I work through and overcome, and yes, even in a foreign country! I like to think these people are just aching to escape their own reality. That they're tied down, or they feel like they are in one way or another, so all they can do is envy what I do and scoff at me for having anything but bunnies and butterfly feelings about my job.

A lot of women give me the whole, "gosh, that's cool but, that probably makes relationships impossible, right?" What's the right answer here? Yes? No? Who cares? Why is that the first thing that pops in to your head? Is that what I should be thinking/worrying about? Wtf? What these women are not saying out loud is, 'more power to you but thank God I don't have to do that, I'd never find anyone...'

There's a mixture of other reactions - it's like having the conversation about where and how I grew up all over again..."Do you like that? What's it like? Why? So you teach? Wait what do you do? So you go over there and party, oh I get it..."

Now I've lost track of my thought process and have little idea of where this ramble is supposed to be going.

But I think it's here: yes, I am leaving everyone. News flash: it's not my virgin voyage. I'm just going across the pond. Just for 8 short weeks. And I firmly believe they will fly faster for me, over there, than anywhere else - let's get real, I'll have 30+ college students to look after around the clock. That's what I do. And you know what else? There's internet in France too! Yaaaayyy!!! That means skype, facetime, emails, blogging - and let's not forget the good old fashioned phone call - or dare I mention snail mail? That's still my preference. I'm really good at being a long distance friend, I love to send long emails, I know they are read and appreciated and if all I get back is a short, "miss you, loved your update, keep them coming" that's fine - I'll take that about 3-4 times before I blow up your FB wall asking for an update of your own.

If you would like to reach me old school style, send a note to:

[my name]
The Abbey Program
1, place du college
41400 Pontlevoy

And don't fret, not that much will change in 2 months. And if it does, well that's L.I.F.E. I'm used to this part. That doesn't mean it's "easy" - clearly, I'm blogging about it. Why? Oh who knows... It's what's on my mind at the moment!

I fly in 13 hours. But I'll be right back. Keep in touch.


Don't gross out the world

Thought this would be a nice follow up to my last post (thanks Dad):

Are you ready to travel?