Social media could take over a person’s life. Am I right? Tweets, Instagram, Facebook posts and private messages just to name the ones I actually have on my phone. Lord only knows how many more there are and how many more are either in the works or in someone’s head about to pop out. I tweet once in a blue moon, I post photos on Instagram just about as often. Facebook and I are buddies. I mean, how amazing that I can “talk” to my French friends in real time. Back in the olden days, way before the internet and cell phones, when regular phone calls to and from France cost a small fortune (not to mention that in 1978 I had to give Mama Mildred’s phone number to a woman at la poste, who would pretend not to understand my French thus reducing me to tears, and ask her to dial it for me, I would go to a bank of phones, talk to Mama for 30 seconds or so, then give the woman however many French francs she demanded, hoping that I understood her number and didn’t give her 10 times more than she asked for). Ah, the good old days. Damn traumatic is more like it. At least that first time in Paris. And letters? They took (and still take, by the way) 7-10 days to arrive, if they arrived at all. I’ve watched postal workers take my postcards, stick them up on a shelf, then assure me that they will get to my friends, Mama, husband and/or children in the U.S. But for all of that, I do not allow my students to randomly use their cell phones except to take photos and check the time. No text messaging, snapchatting, instragramming, or whatever kids do these days. They may most certainly check in with their parents and pals once we are back at the hotel and checked in for the night. I am careful to follow my own rules as well. It’s called living in the moment. And having something to show and tell everyone when you get home.
I digress un peu. I came across a very funny article in The Local this morning. Tell me that this would not pique your interest if you are at all interested in France.
Twitter reveals 25 everyday ‘problems’ about life in France
I could not not read that, could I? And then try to locate my Twitter password (I couldn’t so I had to change it), log on, and follow this group (or whatever a group is called on Twitter). #franceproblems
Here’s the run-down on the list with my experiences noted.
Waiters giving women their phone numbers. Even as a femme d’un certain âge, I have to admit this is rather flattering. Harmless really. It happened to me about three years ago during a solo January trip, but it wasn’t a waiter, but a museum guard at Le Grand Palais. I had just seen an exhibit about Gertrude Stein and her art collection and was exiting the exhibit when a guard stopped me. Of course, the first thing that popped into my head is that I swear I did not touch a painting. Did I take photos? No flash? Was it even allowed? No, he just wanted to tell me how beautiful I am, ask me my name (that day I became Isabella) and give me his phone number on a slip of paper.
Kiss vs handshake. Okay, this can be a bit worrisome. Kiss your friends. How many times? Twice? Three times? Depends on where you are in France. In Paris and northern France I’ve found that two times suffices. With my friends in the south of France, it’s usually three. Total strangers? A very quick handshake will do. Not the pumping thing that Americans tend to do sometimes. I practice with my students. Not les bises, just the handshake. I call in a nearby teacher to help me with the kissing thing. But no hugs. At least not unless they are very good friends and grab you first.
Somewhere to eat in the late afternoon. The French eat at meal times, my American friends. They are not a nation of snackers and eat anytime you please people. Look around you next time you are there. They are not obese. Plan your meals a little more carefully when you are there. Or find a café that is open all day. No, it won’t be a Michelin star restaurant, but it will tide you over. And dinner before 6:00 pm? Never. Apéritifs, the after work drinks with a friend, but even dinner at 6:00 is a ridiculous idea. Usually around 8:00-8:30 pm for families. Later in Paris on a night out perhaps or the weekend.
Resisting the temptations of French cuisine. Ha! I do not do that. Why? Moderation and the knowledge that you are walking many kilometers a day help. Resist a chocolate dessert? A pretty pink macaron from Pierre Hermé? An éclair at Christophe Adam’s shop? Jamais. Now, granted when living there, you really have to practice that moderation thing. But I found that the food at meals was so incredibly satisfying that I didn’t really need to overindulge. Sweets aren’t as sugary there either. (Dare I say sugar is the downfall of the American diet?)
Baguettes. No preservatives are used so you must consume the whole thing within a few hours and buy a new one tonight or tomorrow. Otherwise you are looking at a baseball bat not fit to consume unless you are going to toast it a bit, throw on some gruyère cheese and add it to the top of your soupe à l’oignon. The government controls the price of basic baguettes so that everyone can afford them. There is also a yearly baguette competition in Paris with the winner supplying baguettes to M. Le Président for a year. How cool is that? I try to remember to check the list, write down the address of the top finishers and try one. Well worth it.
Planning Sunday meal in advance. Or buying anything much on Sunday. If grocery stores are open on Sunday, it is for a short period of time in the early morning. Day of rest. Time with families. Think and plan ahead. Period. I learned that when I thought I would run over to Monoprix in Arles one Sunday afternoon to pick up a few things I needed. Guess again. I sat down at a café for a glass of rosé instead, wrote some postcards and people-watched instead. Much more fun.
French hobbies- striking and smoking. It does seem that a lot of French people smoke. The crowd I hang with at home does not. When I go home to my little mountain town in NC, there is still plenty of evidence of smokers. French cigarette packages are not pretty– they carry the words Fumer Tuer or something to that effect in big black letters. Smoking kills. Strikes? Yes, they can be very inconvenient for visitors. No trash pick up. No train. No public transportation. No museum guards. No postal service. No air traffic controllers. It seems to be a part of the way they get things done… better pay, better benefits. Maybe it all dates back to the Revolution, what do I know of such things. There are unions for teachers in the US, but not in my state. It’s illegal.
Filling out forms- French bureaucracy. I have heard horror stories, but I have no firsthand knowledge of this one. You are on your own if you decide to move over, buy a house or even apply for a visa. Talk to someone who has lived through it and get some sound advice (from an American, not a Frenchman- you will probably just get a Gallic shoulder shrug and a C’est comme ça or C’est normal.)
Red wine, smelly cheese and kissing your boyfriend afterwards. Seriously? This is a problem? Not in my book. I have nothing to add. Except maybe eat some of the cheese yourself and slurp some Côtes du Rhône with him and then you won’t notice.
Face cream that smells like Camembert and has to be kept in the fridge. Never heard of it. Désolée. I just use a basic American brand, nothing fancy or smelly. In Arles, we did have a small refrigerator just for the cheese, though. Smelly? Oh yeah. Délicieux aussi.
Watch where you walk- dog poop. Very real danger. And smelly to boot. Yes, everyone is supposed to carry plastic baggies and clean up after Fifi when she does her business, but does it always happen in any city? Non. And one day in Paris, I did overhear an older monsieur berating a jeune homme for not cleaning up after his chien. A real tongue-lashing. The French love their dogs and there are many mostly well-behaved ones. They take them almost everywhere they go- with the exception of museums and supermarkets.
Looking chic- no sweatpants in public. It’s a thing. I did not wear mine outside of the house. I don’t take any with me when I go. You do not have to look like you stepped out of the pages of a fashion magazine, Elle, for instance, but watch the jogging and yoga clothes in public unless you really are going running. Yoga clothes would probably be changed into in the studio. If you want to wear sneakers, Converse and Vans are popular. When my feet are killing me and I must wear mine, I have black ones that don’t scream tourist. I already wear a lot of black. And scarves. Casual is fine- meaning jeans. Put together, I guess you’d say.
Fiscal stamps needed for visas. Once again, no experience here. Take a good book to read and just don’t be in a rush. Won’t help. Will only make you trèsmad and trop frustrated. Have a nice drink and people watch at a café afterwards to calm down.
Good meat pie. Seriously? You miss that? Try Québec and their lovely tourtière next vacation. If you are living there, make one yourself. Feed it to a Frenchie to gauge their interest. That’s always fun. You will know if they don’t like it. And you will know if they do. And then maybe you will start the next food fad.
Frenchmen find their next love on the street. Well… one lovely January Sunday afternoon I was strolling (flâner– I love this word) along the Seine making my way towards Notre Dame. I felt as if someone was following me, well, not really following, just walking along parallel to me. Sure enough. A nicely dressed Frenchman struck up a conversation. He even asked if he could buy me a souvenir at one of the bouquinistes stands. Mais oui, merci, monsieur. When he asked if I’d like to stop somewhere for a coffee or a drink, I declined and told him that I was meeting friends at Notre Dame. Was I? Non. But he didn’t press the issue and got lost, perhaps looking for another single woman to buy a salt and pepper shaker for. I didn’t feel threatened or harassed. It was broad daylight, there were a million other people strolling the same as we were, I speak French well.
Breakfast- no eggs and bacon. The French do not eat eggs before lunch and then they will be in an omelette, quiche or hard-boiled with a lovely house made mayonnaise spread on top. Bread, butter, jam, yogurt, fruit, coffee, tea or hot chocolate for le petit déj. Voilà. Who am I to argue with a baguette or croissant or pain aux raisins.
Train strikes. A pain in the neck. They are usually announced beforehand so that you are warned. See #7. I’ve missed a side trip or two due to this. C’est la vie.
Finding an open food store after work or a late class. Check times for the corner grocery store. Plan ahead. What else can I say? The French like to go home to dinner, too. Easier to find an open one in Paris than in smaller towns.
Banks and businesses that close for lunch. Mealtimes are sacred, in case you haven’t caught on, even for bank employees and shop clerks. Sacred. An hour and a half usually. No running errands during lunch. Barbarians do that. Eat. Have a nice lunch break. Don’t eat in the car or at your desk. A picnic outside if the weather is nice.
Becoming addicted to French cheese. This is a problem?? Only if you have to go home and you can’t find your favorite kind(s) or you have to pay a small fortune for it. I don’t think you will find a recovery group for this. I dream about fresh chèvre and Camembert or Brie served at just the right temperature. But remember, it is NOT eaten as an hors-d’oeuvre in France. Cheese has it’s own course, after the main course and green leaf salad dressed with house made vinaigrette. Three choices usually suffice. A cow’s milk, sheep perhaps, and a goat. Mon dieu, I miss the cheese. Or as the French say– Lefromage me manque. The cheese is lacking to me.
Obtaining a French visa for non-EU citizens. I am a non-EU citizen, but I have never tried to apply for a visa. When my dream school or company hires me, I am sure they will take of that for me. Right?
Drinking coffee. Well, I drink it with lots of hot milk for breakfast, but I never adapted to the custom of little cups of espresso after lunch and dinner and at a coffee break in between. I do get disbelieving stares sometimes in restaurants, but I imagine they are thinking — Eh, l’Américaine. With the Gallic shrug. That explains it.
Listening to neighbors have sex. No comment. Not touching that one.
Having your French corrected. It happens. Take it for what it’s worth. A quick smile and apology for butchering their lovely language will usually get the corrector off your back. Once again, you may get the Eh, l’Américaine look. After all, the corrector probably does not speak English and is not aware that we do not have that guttural R thing in our language nor do we care about all words flowing together nicely. Most Frenchies are very nice to me and think that I have un accent charmant. I have learned to take that as a compliment. I try. It took me a while to accept the fact that I will never sound like a Française.Pas possible. I started learning French at the age of 14 or 15. Too late. But I will keep trying until I draw my last breath.
Shower curtains and hand-held shower heads. The shower curtain thing puzzles me, too. Some hotels have half glass doors. That, mes amis, does not protect against water all over the floor. And I am very careful. Imagine the angst I suffer when taking 14 year-olds to stay in French hotels. I am lucky we have never had to pay for a flooded room below. I pray to the shower gods about this every March. The hand-held things sometimes attach to the wall, sometimes not. I just sit and take a shower-bath, if necessary. After all, I AM IN FRANCE. What is there really to complain about?
The blue and yellow salt and pepper shakers hugging are my souvenir from the Random French Man day. On my shelf of do-dads in my classroom!
I am not especially fond of photos of myself, but this is the only one I could find of my Got Gratitude? classroom bulletin board. I do not and I repeat, emphatically, do not like creating bulletin boards. I have only one in my classroom. I come up with an idea at the beginning of the year and I do not change it. For the past few years, I’ve gone with the gratitude theme and I add every thank you note that I receive during the year. Today I came across an article called Why Keeping a Daily Journal Could Change Your Life. I started reading because this is something that I am very interested in. I obviously love to write. I would write this blog even if no one showed up to read it (but I am very grateful to those of you who do- trust me). When I was younger, I kept a diary. I have no earthly idea where those little books filled with teen-age angst are, but I wish that I did. I also kept one when I got married 35 years ago. No idea where that one is either unfortunately. I used to write letters when I was upset, pouring out my feelings on paper. I would reread them, my anger usually dissipating, and then burn the letters in our fireplace. When and why did I stop doing that? Probably when I went away to college.
So, what does keeping a journal have to do with gratitude? Benjamin P. Hardy, the author of the article, had already hooked me, but about halfway through the article he hit upon the subject near and dear to my heart:
Journaling Increases Your Gratitude
Even if you start a journal session in a bad mood, the insight writing brings has a subtle way of shifting your mind towards gratitude.
When you start writing what you’re grateful for, new chambers of thought open in the palace of your mind. You’ll often need to put your pen down and take a few overwhelming breathes. You’ll be captivated not only by the amazing things in your life, but by the awe and brilliance of life in general.
As part of your morning and post-work journaling sessions, be sure to include some gratitude in your writing. It will change your entire life orientation from scarcity to abundance. The world will increasingly become your oyster.
Gratitude journaling is a scientifically proven way to overcome several psychological challenges. The benefits are seemingly endless. Here are just a few:
Gratitude makes you happier
Gratitude makes other people like you
Gratitude makes you healthier
Gratitude boosts your career
Gratitude strengthens your emotions
Gratitude develops your personality
Gratitude makes you more optimistic
Gratitude reduces materialism
Gratitude increases spirituality
Gratitude makes you less self-centered
Gratitude increases your self-esteem
Gratitude improves your sleep
Gratitude keeps you away from the doctor by strengthening physiological functioning
Gratitude lets you live longer
Gratitude increases your energy levels
Gratitude makes you more likely to exercise
Gratitude helps you bounce back from challenges
Gratitude makes you feel good
Gratitude makes your memories happier (think of Pixar’s Inside Out)
Gratitude reduces feelings of envy
Gratitude helps you relax
Gratitude makes you friendlier
Gratitude helps your marriage
Gratitude makes you look good
Gratitude deepens your friendships
Gratitude makes you a more effective manager
Gratitude helps you network
Gratitude increases your goal achievement
Gratitude improves your decision making
Gratitude increases your productivity
Mr. Hardy’s list is much longer than the ones I have come up with on my own, but I truly believe every single one of them. I believe that focusing on what I am thankful for keeps my mind from wandering to the past and all of the things that I wish that I had done differently or the words that I wish I could take back. I try to practice what I preach with my students. We write thank you notes at Thanksgiving, during several of our advisory sessions, and my 8th graders have to write a thank you letter- en français bien sûr, for the writing section of their final exam in my French 2 class. I give them guidelines and they can write it in advance and bring it to the exam. I promise that I will mail them. I just put letters addressed to Kobe Bryant, Zinedine Zidane, Paul Van Haver (aka Stromae), several sets of grandparents, a dog named Norman, Bertrand, the tour manager for our March France trip (if you ever need a tour guide in Paris or other parts of Paris, check out My Private Paris), three faculty members, one brother, and two sisters in the mail today, keeping a few for myself.
I will begin a journal. Not an on-line one. An old-fashioned one in a notebook, using a favorite pen. (I am truly obsessed with pens. It’s insane.) I will collect quotes and follow guidelines that I set for myself, using some from the article on journaling. I will Dream Big, Have fun, Share (some of what I write), Try new things, Always tell the truth, and do my best.
I think I may even start with this:
What do you think? Do you keep a journal or diary? If so, do you share it with anyone or is it strictly for your eyes only?
Here’s a recipe to be grateful for… JC made these the other night for a potluck dinner. I ate mine so fast that there was no time for a photo.
Judy’s Cream Cheese Brownies
from Taste of Home
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 ounces German sweet chocolate, chopped
3 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 large eggs
1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional)
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325°. Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. In a large microwave-safe bowl, microwave chocolate and butter on high until butter is melted; stir until smooth. Whisk in sugar until blended. Whisk in extracts and eggs, one at a time. Stir in flour mixture. Pour half of the batter into a greased 8-in. square baking dish. Beat together filling ingredients until blended; spoon over batter in pan. Spoon remaining batter over top. Swirl gently with a knife. Bake until filling is set, 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack 1 hour. Refrigerate at least 2 hours. Cut into bars. Refrigerate leftovers.
Yield: 2 dozen.
Bon appétit, my grateful friends and family! Make a gratitude list. Make it an experiment and see if it makes you feel better. Tell someone that you are grateful for them. Send a note, an email, a text or call them.
Most defining characteristics: You are lively, outgoing and emotionally open. You are a leader.
As you probably already know, you are a born leader. You are a very charismatic, passionate, mature and calculated person. You are always there when people need you, you always know the right thing to say, and you are always able to help. You have a great career, amazing family and lifelong friends, but you are no stranger to hard times as well. You’ve had more than enough struggles through life, and although it seemed very daunting at the time, your good spirit and amazing set of skills has always helped you to overcome them.
Okay, I confess. I am kind of addicted to these personality-type quizzes that pop up on Facebook. This one showed up today. Of course, I was already pretty sure that extrovert would be the end result. I’ve taken the Myers-Briggs test a couple of times during faculty development workshops. I can never remember all those letters, but I know that there is an E in there. And that the Ex-Ex and I are complete opposites. As for this morning’s revelation, I am not sure which photos I chose to lead to that conclusion, but it is pretty spot on. I am bossy… is that a leadership quality? Hope so. Over the years, I’ve learned to be a better listener and not be as defensive as I was in my younger days. That helps when talking to students and/or parents about their children and sometimes righting wrongs. Thank goodness wisdom comes with age.
Maybe everyone does this, but since age 11 or 12, I’ve wondered about what makes me me. Why am I the way I am? I still think about it. Genetics? Environment? A combination of both? Most likely the latter. But since having my own two children, I never discount the personality that humans come into the world already owning. It is fascinating to now watch my granddaughter’s personality develop. (Grandparents have the luxury of worrying less and observing more!)
How would I describe myself? What adjectives or traits would I assign to me?
The two traits I am working on are worrier and judgmental. Mindfulness practice, a lot of deep breathing and my summer reading book, Wherever You Go There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn, are helping. I know that mindfulness has become a catchword, but what I am working on is wrapping my mind around being in the present. A few sentences/phrases I have highlighted:
…it often seems as if we are preoccupied with the past, with what has already happened, or with a future that hasn’t arrived yet. We look for someplace else to stand, where we hope things will be better, happier, more the way we want them to be, or the way they used to be.
To find our way, we will need to pay more attention to this moment. It is the only time that we have in which to live, grow, feel, and change.
… there are many things in life over which we have little or no control.
It is about not taking life for granted. Because, seriously, the present is all we have. Think about it. The past? Done. Over. Fini. The future? Not here. Will get here when it gets here. Or not. I saw another quote the other day that hit home.
Never be a prisoner of your past, it was just a lesson not a life sentence.
I don’t know who said it. But, yep, that sums it up.
It’s also about realizing that we have to let others make their own mistakes, learn their own lessons, chart their own course. I wouldn’t be a teacher if I didn’t want to help others, but everyone has to find his/her own way. We can help guide, but we can’t control. Boy, as a parent, is that a hard one. I struggle daily with that. That’s where my worrier personality takes over. And where the deep breathing is saving me.
I do my best thinking in the shower and while baking. Kneading dough is very conducive to thinking. And I have often wished for a waterproof idea board to tack up in the shower so I can actually write down and remember the great ideas I come up with in there. But then again, maybe I think too much. Maybe I just need to let go, take some deep breaths and enjoy the hot water or the feel of the dough under the heel of my palm. Live in the moment. Take that feeling of pleasure and revel in it. Enjoy the smell of lavender goat’s milk soap or vanilla sugar. Marvel at the juicy ripe cherries as I fold them into the dough. Be thankful for a seemingly limitless supply of indoor, hot, running water. Think less, feel more.
I found cherries for $1.99 a pound at Aldi. (On my summer to-do list, I finally went to the one here in Durham.) And I love using the cherry pitter do-dad I found last summer.
I baked them into scones. The Ex-Ex’s breakfast for the week. I am a big fan of cherry and vanilla. I am pretty sure that dates back to my childhood love of Biltmore Cherry-Vanilla ice cream. The milkman made deliveries to Bell Street and when Mama Mildred could afford it, she would give us money for a half-gallon of ice cream in the summer. Pure bliss. What I wouldn’t give for a Winky Bar. I promise that I would enjoy every second of eating it.
Cherry Vanilla Scones
makes 12 small-ish scones; this is a variation of Quick Scones, a recipe I have posted several times in the past
2 c. all-purpose flour ¼ c. granulated sugar 4 tsp. baking powder ½ tsp. salt ¼ c. cold butter
1-1/2 c. fresh pitted cherries, cut in half or chopped smaller, if desired 1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract 1-1/3 c. vanilla yogurt (I used Greek yogurt this time) 1 egg yolk for brushing tops Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling on top, if desired
In large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Add butter and cut in until crumbly. Make a well in the center.
In small bowl, beat egg until frothy. Add vanilla and whisk together. Pour into well. Add yogurt, stirring slowly until a soft dough forms. Turn out on lightly floured surface. Divide into 2 equal parts. Knead each part about 5 times, by folding it over, spreading it out with the palm of your hand, folding over again. After spreading it out for the final time, place cherries on the dough, fold it over again, trying not to smash the cherries too much and keeping them inside the dough as much as possible. Pat each into a 6-inch circle. Transfer to greased baking sheet or a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Brush tops with egg yolk and sprinkle with sugar, if desired. Score each top into 6 pie-shaped markings (or you can go ahead and cut them, if you wish). Bake in 425F oven for 15-18 minutes until risen and browned slightly, making sure that the center is baked with over-baking them.
Bon appétit and Happy Monday! Keep breathing. Enjoy the moments of your day. Merci to my friends and family who put up with me.