hello, summer?

Summer in the North isn’t really the summer that I knew growing up near Dallas, Texas. 55° versus 100°. Rain versus sunshine. Windbreakers versus tank tops.

But when I have a view like this on my evening walks, can I really complain?

12888742_10154074227674868_6068631990559352172_o.jpg

This week has been better: the sun finally came out for my birthday, which was on the 22nd. M and I went for a drink in Lille where some of my friends surprised me and joined us. Since then, I haven’t had to put my winter coat back on – yet – so, maybe summer is finally here!

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 12.29.59.png
My birthday gift: my very own violin, with help from my parents, grandma, and M. Thanks, guys!

Schoolwise, I finished classes in early June. I had half a week off and then had to go check on some 10th graders who were doing their mini summer internships. This past week, I picked up my “birthday present” of 90 national tests to grade in a week’s time. France, unlike the United States, has a national education board. Therefore, all seniors take the same subject tests at the end of their senior year to receive their diploma.

The tests I’m grading are for the students doing a specialty in technology. They took a two hour test made up of two texts, comprehension questions, and a 150 word written expression exercise.

If any of you are wondering what sort of level French high schoolers are supposed to have in English, here’s the test subject for technology students.

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 12.16.16.png

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 12.16.26.png

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 12.16.42.png

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 12.16.51.png

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 12.17.02.png

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 12.17.10.png

My 90 tests are anonymous, so I have no idea whose tests I’m grading. They’re definitely not students from my school, just in case I might recognise their handwriting. So far, I’ve had tests between 4/20 and 18.5/20. Some students just chose to not answer half of the comprehension questions; others didn’t even write anything for the written expression. But, once in a while, there are tests that are extremely well done. So it’s not TOO bad. I’ve made it through all 90 tests for the comprehension questions, and have done about 20 tests for the expression. So I should have no problem finishing on time!

I finish work for the year on July 7th. Between now and then, I have: my tests to finish grading, half a day of internship presentations by the 10th graders, the school’s end of the year soirée, and three days in Calais to grade make-up exams and act as a jury member of the final grade deliberations for any strange test cases.

After that, my friend Shane will be here to visit for a week! The week after that, M and I are heading down to the Alps for the Celticimes Irish Music Festival! Yippee!

Here’s hoping the weather doesn’t change anytime soon.

Deux bonnes balades

If I had to name this weekend, it’d be the Weekend of the Walks.

A couple of months ago, a colleague spoke to me about an event in Saint-Sylvestre-Cappel (a town at the bottom of Mont Cassel, where we live) called La Balade de l’Ortie: The Nettle Walk. Apparently, nettles are a huge thing in the North. You can find them everywhere this time of year.

This is a walk organised by some local business owners and consists in a 4 kilometre walk in the countryside with six stops along the way. There are several groups of about a hundred people that leave every twenty minutes. Each stop has some sort of show: comedy routine, storytelling, marionnettes, short play, concert, street art. Normally, there is a serving of nettle soup involved, but last year it was so hot that the soup went sour. This year it was replaced by chai tea. A nettle walk with no nettles?! Oh well!

We left from the town center of Saint-Sylvestre-Cappel at 4:20pm. First stop: the gardening store where we buy all of our backyard supplies! They had installed a seating area with a stage, where we were treated to a comedy routine by two actors that was fun for everyone. Thank goodness we were sitting in the back; they pulled multiple people onstage to help with the show.

We walked through a neighbouring field for about ten minutes before arriving at our next stop: an old barn. Music was playing through a small hand organ. Bales of hay had been converted into long benches, and a backdrop had been installed. A storyteller entered the scene; she told us a story about a magical forest, a young boy who falls in love, the first violin being created, and the boy and his wife living happily ever after…

13323764_10154240567814868_8532086352940371484_o.jpg
The backdrop of the storytelling stop

… and then in the barn next door, we attended the “wedding reception” of the couple from the story. Beer, juice, and snacks for everyone, accompanied by accordion music from a local music school. So fun!

13320538_10154240639919868_531512086654748261_o.jpg
The group behind us; views during the walk; enjoying a beer at the “wedding reception”

(You’ll notice in the picture that I’m rather poofy, wearing a t-shirt, long-sleeved shirt, sweatshirt, rain jacket, and scarf. It was June 4th. Lord help us all.)

We continued on, with a longer walk this time, until arriving at a private property with a large house and lake. There was an outdoor stage set up with makeshift seating made from barrels and wooden planks. A marionnette performer treated us to a fifteen minute show with two different marionnettes: a cat and a caterpillar. When you hear “marionette show” and you’re over the age of ten, it may sound a bit silly, but honestly, it was so impressive. This cat marionnette had at least twenty strings controlling each part of the puppet. The little caterpillar was so cute. And the whole story of cat falls asleep, caterpillar comes out to play, cat hunts caterpillar, caterpillar escapes and turns into a butterfly… was adorable.

We continued on to another venue: another barn. This barn was in the process of being renovated, unlike the first one, which was in current use. It was a one-man show, just like the previous ones. This actor performed a skit of a crazy circus manager and his goofy Russian employee, who had to deliver some magic nuts to a fellow circus manager. The actor obviously performed both roles. It was hilarious. (Once again I was happy to be in the back of the audience – there was some very funny audience participation in this one!)

Our last stop of the walk had two shows. We arrived at a – yet another! – barn about a kilometre away. As we were walking up, we saw horses and cows and could smell that campfire smell. I felt like I was back in Texas. The feeling was even stronger as we entered the barn enjoyed some dinner with a live bluegrass concert.

13391645_10154240844549868_8452988896099604288_o.jpg
The stage was made out of bales of hay!

After refueling on beer, bread, and cheese, we walked to the barn next to this one for another show. Two guys performed street art with Chinese YoYos. It felt like an act that you would see on America’s Got Talent. It was amazing! How did they do it? We’ll never know. The best part of the show is that the guys seemed so proud and amazed that they made it through the act with only one drop. It was so much fun.

At this point, we started to head back to the town center. Our final stop was in the town’s church, where a rather large jazz group of about twenty people performed three songs for us before we walked back to the community center for dessert: ice cream and coffee!

We got home around 10pm, so it was a 6-hour affair! I’d definitely do it again next year. For only 12€, we had tickets to six shows, a nice walk in the countryside, two beers, a light dinner, and dessert. Not bad for a Saturday afternoon!

M was so inspired by the experience that he planned a 7km walk for us near Cassel on Sunday. We left the house around 3:30pm and followed the “yellow trail”, which was supposed to take us down the hill, around a neighbouring hill, and back up to the town center of Cassel.

IMG_5081.JPG
You can see Cassel’s church in the background horizon.

The walk started out well, so I felt comfortable telling M about the recent article I read about a 65-year-old woman who got off track by a few hundred yards while hiking the Appalachian trail in Maine and ended up dying because the area was so dense that even if you were a hundred feet from someone, you wouldn’t be able to see or hear them. That wouldn’t happen to us, right?

We reached a point where there were a few different marks and decided to go left. Thinking back, I’m sure this is where we went wrong…

Good thing we brought water, because we ended up walking for over 13 kilometres instead of the 7 that we had planned.

IMG_5084.JPG

I was mostly scared for Benji, who has never walked for more than an hour or two. This time, he went on for three hours! Brave puppy. (He’s still sleeping as I type this. Yes, he’s breathing. No playing this morning!)

Even I was done by the end of the walk. The great thing about going back to Cassel is that, seeing as we live on top of a giant hill, the last thirty minutes are a rather steep incline. But we made it. We survived. And we’re one step (or 13 kilometres) closer to our summer beach bodies for 2016. Ha!

Needless to say, we stopped at our favorite estaminet on the way back where we ran into our group of friends and consumed most of the calories that we had burned with beer, cheese, and pizza.

A successful, well-balanced weekend, I’d say!