Bonjour, 2017!

Well, look at that. Yet again, 6 months have passed since my last blog post. I really am getting worse and worse at keeping up with this thing. However, I refuse to delete it, or stop, because even if my life here seems more and more normal, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things worth sharing in more detail than I might on Facebook.

For this long overdue post, I’ve decided to start by picking up where my last post left off: Irish music festivals!

Last summer, M and I went to our second Irish music festival. We spent a week in the Alps and I loved every minute of it. In three weeks, we’ll be heading to the Brittany Winter School, an Irish festival that takes place in Arzon, in the region of Brittany. I’m so excited to go to the fiddle workshops, reunite with festival friends, and actually be able to play in a session or two. It’s such a huge change from last year, where I almost didn’t even bring my fiddle with me. One of my goals for 2017 is to record myself playing a tune every week from the Online Irish Academy of Music in order to see myself progress throughout the year. You can check out my Instagram if you want to follow along.

16143084_10207503097485093_4059793859840681999_n
My fiddle is ready, with its very own sheep cosy.

Other travel plans for this year include a week in Gosport, England at the end of March with my school, a week in Belfast in April with M, and some time in Dallas in August to celebrate our wedding (in July, in France).

I’ve had the chance to participate in the planning and realisation of an Erasmus + exchange project between our high school, a German high school, and a British high school. Over two years, 13 students from each school will work together with theater professionals to learn about WWI history and create a theater piece based on their reactions and feelings about the event and its relation to the current state of political affairs. After an international meeting in Lille in November, we will all head to England in March (and then to Germany in the fall) to finish the research and planning of the piece, which will then be performed in public in all three countries. It’s pretty fun to watch the students work together, mixing languages and personalities. It’s also nice to do something other than teach. Extracurricular activities do not take place at school in France; it’s up to the students to sign up for clubs or lessons outside of school.

15192796_10207086843078993_8778113355312964206_n

Our trip to Belfast is just an idea floating around right now. We have yet to buy tickets or book anything, but Northern Ireland and Ireland are so affordable to travel to from France that we’re not too rushed. Hopefully we’ll be flying into Dublin, driving up to Belfast, and then driving through a few other cities in Ireland, like Donegal and Sligo. We shall see!

Luckily, M’s parents agree to keep our dog Benji for us every time we travel. He really is one lucky dog. This next trip, however, they will only be keeping Benji for us, and not our dear rabbit Violette, who unfortunately died in December. We miss her so, so much. The impact that an adorable little ball of fur can have on someone’s life is incredible.

screen-shot-2017-01-29-at-13-35-41
Best bunny ever.

For our big trip to Dallas, however, we will have to find someone to keep Benji Boo for us, as Michel’s parents will be traveling to Dallas as well. We are so excited to be able to have our civil wedding here in France surrounded by close friends and family (including my immediate family who will be here!), and then to be able to celebrate with a blessing and reception in Dallas with even more friends and family who we see much too rarely. It’s going to be a busy month filled with excitement!

img_0765
Photo taken by Pierre Clément, all rights reserved.

I have a feeling things will go by very quickly up until then. I’ll keep you posted – or at least, I’ll try to!

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!