Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Another trip brought to you by the sale of a 2000 Subaru Outback named Gretel...

Long before I knew that I would be quitting my job and becoming an unemployed loser for a few months, I had booked a ski trip to Val d'Isere, France. (Just to note, there should be an accent over the first 'e' going up to the left but I don't know how to make one of my computer!) A friend from my English school, Nicola, had worked there for two seasons before becoming a teacher and I was so excited to meet someone who skied and wanted to take a ski trip!
Our trip was almost the ski holiday that "wasn't" as the airport in London had been closed the day before we went and apparently the planes were scattered all over Europe because of weather. Our flight was delayed by six hours, but we finally made it out! The whole plane, because it was a chartered flight from a tour operator, was full of people going to various locations around the French Alps. Our plane landed in Grenoble and then a bus picked us up for the three hour drive to Val d'Isere. By the time we got there it was well after 2 am and we were completely exhausted.
We stayed at a chalet (basically a small hotel that has a kitchen/dining/living room where all the guests eat together) and had 8 other people in the chalet. Everyone was English as it was an English company called Skiworld with whom we traveled. The rest of the chalet guests were really nice and that was actually my favorite part of the whole trip- the fact that we had breakfast and dinner with everyone together, family style, and everyone would hang out for a few hours after dinner, drinking wine and chatting. Our chalet had the two of us, a family with two kids who were 18 and 21 (the parents were both teachers so we had a lot of interesting educational discussions), two divorced middle-aged guys, and another young English guy from Switzerland who decided to go skiing while his American wife went home to Texas (good choice, I say!).
The skiing was different than what I am used to as the whole mountain is the above the tree line. So, if it is cloudy, the light is very very flat and I felt like I was starting to understand what a blind skier must feel like since I could barely see my own feet for most of the trip. We did have two days where it was only partly cloudly and I took as many pictures as I could those days! Unfortunately, my ski legs weren't ready for big mountains and I was a wimpy loser for the first two days and only skied 1/2 - 3/4 days. Not to sound like a brat (I think it will be unavoidable sounding like one with my next statement...but...) I have never had to ski for 6 whole days in a row. When you live in Colorado, you don't often go for a full week and when I lived in Winter Park, even if I went six days in a row (I didn't usually because I had to work!) I only went for a few hours at a time because I would have had to work in the afternoon! Alas, it was still fun because a shitty day skiing is still a good day!
The views on the semi-clear days were absolutely amazing! The lifts were much longer than in Colorado as were the majority of the ski runs! I imagine that on a clear day, with good snow, it would just be an "EPIC" day!

It was hard to believe that I was in France. First of all, I was with all English people and it seemed that the majority of people skiing there were also English. I will say that we never stood in a line, not even once, and if anything, that was the most amazing part. But, I am sure that if we had had to stand in line, I would have ended up at the back of the line and not known how I got at the end. When I lived in Nice, we called it the "classic European boxout" as we would be waiting for the bus at the front of the line and then suddenly be at the end of the line and not have a clue how we got there. The lift lines are not organized the way they are in Colorado and it is pretty much just a full-on sly squeeze-in (European boxout) to the front of the line. English people are good queuers too (a trait I enjoy because it makes waiting less stressful when people calmly wait in lines to go into places!) so good thing I had an experienced France skier with me or I might still be waiting for someone to yell "FRONT ROW!" at me like at home!

Val d'Isere is right next to a town/resort called Tignes. The resorts are connected and our tickets worked for both. There were some gondolas that held over 50 people! That scared me! And, some chairlifts were about 10 people wide. When they were that wide, there was a "magic carpet" to stand on to get everyone in the correct spot after the little gates at the front of the lines opened. For 10 people, I think that was a pretty good idea but it was a really weird sensation to stand on a magic carpet next to a bunch of people.

This is a huge rock formation called "the eye of the needle" and I realize that in this picture it just looks like a rock with a blob of snow on it...but now you can see that the sky and the snow were exactly the same color and when there weren't any rocks around to provide contour, it was literally impossible to tell where land ended and sky began!
Most of the town of Val d'Isere has been built up in the last 60 or so years as the ski industry has grown. However, there were a few really old buildings and this church is said to be from about 400 years ago. It was all stone and was really beautiful all lit up. "Lucky" for us, they rang the bells every hour on the hour so you always knew what time it was. One morning, I think they were giving us a church-bell snooze button as they rang them 8 times at 8:00, 8:02, 8:04, and 8:06. How nice!

Everywhere around town there were snow sculptures for Christmas and this one was in front of the church, fittingly. I also saw Santa, a St. Bernard, and children playing carved as snow sculptures. And, in real life, not made of snow, I saw a Swiss Mountain Dog and was really excited to see one in its "natural habitat (almost...we were only a few miles from Switzerland)" since my cousin in Colorado breeds them! I love that they were bred for 1) pulling milk carts from farm to farm and 2) babysitting children. I love the idea of a dog babysitting...really safe!

Our chalet had a traditional English Christmas dinner complete with Christmas pudding that was soaked in brandy and lit on fire! Really, it just tastes like a really rich and sugary raisin cake (not totally unlike an American fruitcake but won't break your teeth and doesn't have candied fruit in it...so I guess the fact that it is some sort of dough with some sort of dried fruit in it is actually where the similarities end!). The food in our chalet was amazing and a 22-ish year old English girl was our "Chalet Host" who lived off site but arrived every morning at 7 to prepare our breakfast. Don't worry, there were ALWAYS baked beans as a breakfast option which I have really come to like after living in England for 4 months. There was also amazing French bread and NUTELLA!!!! (Pretty much the most amazing thing ever invented ever in the world, ever.)
We exchanged Secret Santa gifts in our chalet and I got a Mister book in French called "Mr. Snow or Monsieur Neige." It is really cute and that made it feel a bit more Christmas-y that we all had something to open after Christmas dinner.
This was our chalet and you could walk out the back door, put on your skis, and go right to the lifts. That part of it was amazing! It was a great week!

These pictures were taken as we drove away from Val d'Isere...the first sight of the sun in about 5 days! I guess that just means that I'll have to go back and hope for bluebird, sunny days! I will also have to maybe do some actual exercise leading up to my next trip as well as I about had to amputate my quads every day after skiing. I also think I am going to invest in some sort of boot heaters...but for everyone who has had to live through my ski boot saga for the last two seasons...I think I will actually get to keep all my nails after this trip which is a MIRACLE! My toes are still numb from being so cold, but I do have 10 of them, so what's a little numbness! Ha.

So now, I am preparing to leave for Dol-de-Bretagne, France a week from tomorrow (January 5th!). I have purchased my train ticket and will have to take the following number of trains:
1) Chesham to London
2) London to Paris (Gare du Nord)
3) Gare du Nord to Gare du Montparnasse in Paris
4) Paris to Rennes
5) Rennes to Dol-de-Bretagne

This will take me about 9 hours (not too bad, really when you consider I will be crossing the English Channel and a portion of western France) and then the family with whom I'll be staying for the next two months will pick me up at the Dol-de-Bretagne station. I will return to London on January 20th to attend a job fair for international schools...fingers crossed that I get a job for next year somewhere really cool (like London, par example!) and I can work at an IB school!

So, hope everyone had a great Christmas. It was hard to be gone and I am really missing everyone at home right now as I think about all those fun Christmas break activities (like Scrabble and wine drinking) that I am missing with those I love! Natalie and I were wishing we could have "flue powder" like in Harry Potter where you just jump into the fireplace and appear somewhere else! That would have made this whole thing so much easier. Sometimes I wish I could just pop home for the weekend, but it is just too far! Oh well, visitors visitors visitors, I say! My next are my parents in April, then Nicole, then (HOPEFULLY) Gordon, and then Nat! Can't wait!!

Lots of LOVE!!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

En Français s'il vous plait...

Well, I have figured out my next adventure. After my job prospects here in the Chesham area didn't really seem to be panning out in a way that I was okay with, I found a program called Geovisions where I will live with a family and teach them English in exchange for free room and board for a few months. The exact timeframe is still yet to be determined, but I'm thinking about 2-3 months is what it'll end up being.

So, I am going to France for 2-3 months and for at least the first two months, I will be living in a town called Dol-de-Bretagne in northern France. It is a tiny village, with a giant cathedral and is only about 8 miles from a larger town called Saint Malo, which I have heard is somewhat of a chi-chi (how does one spell this word...chic-chic? she-she?...not sure, but you get the point!) vacation spot on the English Channel. I have never been to this part of France and I am really excited to see it- it looks GORGEOUS in the pictures!

Most people reading this blog probably know that I minored in French and lived in Nice for six months during college. I started taking French in a before-school program when I was in first grade and have always been somewhat of a Francophile- mostly thanks to some AMAZING teachers in middle and high school! I haven't really spoken any French in about 10 years and I have been really down on the fact that I spent so long studying it and then let it go! So, I am extremely happy for this opportunity to brush up on my skills. I have been dating a French teacher here in England and hearing him speak French so well has inspired me to get off my butt and do something about it!

Since I am about to be an unemployed loser in a matter of days, (8.5 days to be exact!) I had to figure out some way to pass my time and I am definitely not ready to just throw in the towel on this experience and come home. Finding this program was awesome as I now won't have to spend a lot of money but will have something cool to do AND most importantly, relearn French!

The family in Dol-de-Bretagne has two boys who are 12 and 9. They all have very limited English but are opening a bed and breakfast and so they want to brush up on their skills so that they can increase the business. England is only about a 5 hour ferry ride across the English Channel from them and I am sure there are many English speaking tourists looking for a stone farmhouse in the country, which apparently they seem to have! They also have two dogs, two cats, and two little ponies! HOW CUTE!!!

I've been reading Harry Potter et l'école des sorciers (Harry Potter 1) in French for the last few weeks to work on brushing up on my skills as well as tormenting Mike by asking him one million questions about how to say things and grammar questions.

This week at school was one of my worst yet from the kid perspective. My head of department has basically stopped helping me with any sort of discipline issues as I am leaving so soon and so this week I was called a stupid b**ch twice and told to F off several times. Makes me feel awesome. Obviously, this is not how all schools are, but there are some issues for sure at CPCC. I am happy to not have to deal with them anymore.

On the real job front, I have been accepted to an international school job fair in London at the end of January for jobs during 2011-2012 school year. There will be about 180 different international schools from all over the world. I'd like to get a job in one of the 5 in London but we'll see. Mama needs a new pair of shoes.

So, once again, my whole life is up in the air, but at least I have something cool to do for a few months! And, before I actually move to France, I am going skiing in the French Alps with my friend Nicola for a week over Christmas! YAY!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A sad occasion brings laughter and quality family time....

This past weekend, I went to Kingham which is in Oxfordshire in the Cotswolds (think the scenery from the movie "The Holiday"). I went there because my dad's sister, JoAnn and her family were here. They were here as my Uncle Abdul's mother died last week. Though I never met her, she was an AMAZING woman (I learned this weekend!) who lived an extraordinary life that began in Tanzania where she was friends with the wives of ambassadors and government officials and was deeply involved in the women's rights movement there. Eventually, to help her diabetic son, she moved the whole family to England where the majority of them still live. My Uncle Abdul moved to Seattle in the 1960s where he met JoAnn and they have lived there ever since. I hadn't seen them since my Grandma's memorial in August 2009 so I was really excited to spend time with them!

So, because of her passing, JoAnn, my Uncle Abdul and my cousins Nate and Annie came to England for the funeral. We spent the weekend in Kingham at the house of Adbul's brother, Naj. Though it was a sad occasion, there were tons of laughs, lots of food, and it was great to be around family when I was on the sad side from being gone for Thanksgiving.

I met Nate, Annie, and JoAnn in London on Friday and we were drawn to go shopping due to our American heritage that tells us to shop on the day after Thanksgiving! We then took the train to Kingham to meet the rest of the family and commence the eating. Theme? By Sunday evening, between 10 of us, we had finished 18 bottles of wine and all of my clothes smelled like fried food as I had learned to make East African food and was in charge of working the fryer! I'm darn good at it now...but man, it is very permeating of everything!!!

The "kids" stayed at a bed and breakfast in the village and, as usual, it was so cute that I almost died of the cuteness. I need a new word to describe English villages...quaint, adorable...HELP!

My cousin Annie and I in front of our 'cute' bed and breakfast!

Church rectory house in Kingham. I love the old stone houses!

Church next to the rectory house.

The fried bahji's that we made...they are made out of rehydrated lentils, hot chilis, onions, and garlic and are DELISH!! Jenny (Naj's wife) and I got really good at making them and made about 100 of them!

Jenny and I working the fryers! I might be able to get a restaurant job if I can't go back to teaching as I am now a really good fryer!

Abdul & Annie making the mix for the lamb/potato kebabs...also fried....see what I mean!
They were also amazing!
Annie is my "twin cousin" as I was born on her due date and she was born on mine.
We are 11 days apart.

JoAnn (my dad's younger sister) had to be in constant kitchen cleaning mode! We made a serious mess. So, that pretty much made it exactly like Thanksgiving where I feel like cleaning the kitchen is actually part of the holiday traditions!

We went to a pottery factory and I saw this sign. It is too true. Funny.

What you can't see in this picture is that Patrick Swayze is helping her sculpt it a la "Ghost." This was seriously the largest pot I'd ever seen. If someone fell in while trying to plant something, they'd be trapped forever!

Not sure what this structure actually is, but it was so idyllic that I had to take a picture of the scene. It has been REALLY cold here and I was wishing that I had a fluffy wool coat like a sheep!

Manor house in Oxfordshire.
I can picture carriages driving up to this.
It was right across the street from the idyllic sheep scene.

This was the view from the window of our bed and breakfast.
The fences were woven together. So cool!

It was a great weekend, despite the sad occasion and I am so glad that we got to spend so much time together!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Greener pastures....

I have officially resigned my position at Chesham Park as of today. I literally felt lighter as I walked home today. The stress of the situation has been turning me into the most weepy, ridiculously emotionally needy freak and I HATE being like that! I have had a chapped nose for the last month because I have cried so freaking much!

I actually feel sort of hopeful again…I know that sounds extremely melodramatic (it is) but I have been feeling extremely down lately and it feels so nice to maybe feel a bit like me again. So, to the many people I have sobbed to over the last month…THANK YOU…I really appreciate you in my life! The low-efficacy, life-stinks Liz is hopefully gone for awhile. Knowing I only have to get through 3 ½ more weeks there allows me to not internalize stuff so much now.

So, what now, you ask? Well, this is the joy of working for an employment agency. There are other positions around that I can apply for and the first one coming up is at an all girls school teaching biology about three towns over. The idea of an all-girls school is so appealing to me as I have come to despise teenage boys with the passion of a thousand burning suns…don’t worry, I won’t say that in my interview. Granted, several of the ones I teach right now are likely jail-bound. I know that there are people out there who are amazing at working with kids like that, but apparently, I am not one of them- at least once they are out of middle school. Also, the biology aspect is the most exciting part as I am SO not into chemistry and physics. I am hoping to get an interview. I would have to teach up to Key Stage 5, which translates to Years 12 & 13, which translates to Juniors & Seniors. So, hopefully, they will think I am qualified even though I haven’t taught kids that old. I even added my HS biology student teaching experience to my resume just to spice it up a bit!

I am also applying to attend an international school job fair in January in London through the Council of International Schools. I have to apply just to attend the job fair and have all of references and qualifications checked before they even let you come to the fair. But, there are international/American schools from all over the world and four in London alone. So, we’ll see what happens with that. That wouldn’t start until next school year anyway. But, I think that those schools might be more in line with my beliefs but I don’t want to make any gross generalizations because I have only been in one English school and that would be quite premature. I could get to my next school and be much happier...hopefully that will be the case!

Last night was my first official driving lesson. It was really scary!! It is super-weird to have to concentrate so fully on something that is so automatic on the right side of the road. I am most nervous about roundabouts because it is my instinct to stop at an intersection, but if the way is clear, one keeps going. And, I have to know which lane to be in going on to the roundabout based on where I am getting off the roundabout. So, once I get the idea of going down the left side, I am going to buy a cheap car. If I am working outside of Chesham, I will need one and I would like to stay in my current house for now, for sure as I have everything I need here.

Though Chesham is a cute little town, it does get annoying to be in such a small town that doesn’t have a movie theatre or any sort of shopping at all unless you want to go to thrift stores that close at like 5:30. And, without a car, I feel pretty stuck since the buses aren’t exactly convenient and the only train is into London- which by the way, I went to London last Saturday to see “Chicago,” the musical, and it was AMAZING!! So, I am signed up for another few lessons and then I think I’ll be okay. If I had my own car to practice on, I wouldn’t be as scared but considering I have to go around like 5 roundabouts just to get out of Chesham, it is necessary to have a few lessons!

It does really suck to be gone for Thanksgiving and I miss everyone a lot! But, I am just keeping it in my head that in a mere four weeks, I will be skiing in the French Alps! WOO HOO!!! So, Happy Turkey Day to everyone…I am going to American Thanksgiving on Saturday with friends of my friend Tim from high school. He is bringing a crew of Americans to London from Brussels and we are having a feast. So, though I will be at Year 11 Parents’ Evening on Thursday night telling a bunch of parents how ridiculously rude and lazy their kid is (not holding back…truth, because WHO CARES!?), everyone else will be feasting!

Have fun! J

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

I know why I never wanted to teach high school....

Today, during my Year 11 class, which was one of the worst classes I've had since arriving, I actually, in my head, weighed the options involved in just walking out and not returning. It was THAT bad. Apparently, my class has been grouped the way they are because they are "high achievers" and can do well on their exams so whenever I ask for help about behavior, everyone just keeps reminding me that they must do well on their exams and offers me NO practical solutions other than to write them a detention.

I was sitting there deliberating in my head and what ultimately stopped me was actually NOT professional responsibility, but the thought that because my laptop has been stolen, I have to bring my own computer to school everyday and it was hooked up to the projector at the time and that would have taken me too long to unhook it so I shouldn't leave. I called 8 parents after school today and BEGGED my department head to help me solve this issue, but she didn't mention one word about it and when I came to speak to her about it, she actually ignored me and then shut her door. Awesome. I feel really well supported.

I literally don't know what else to do. I've called parents, written detentions (which is obviously completely ineffective) and tomorrow I will try new seats AGAIN with a rearranged room that is in rows facing forward. I can't do any labs with them as the last time we did a lab, they were throwing weights at each other and then stole a bunch of them and they were found all around the building. So, I feel like I can't vary things instructionally to try to curb behavioral issues. I don't know what to do. I have reached my max as a teacher for classroom management and I need help. So, if anyone has any advice they could throw my way, I would really really appreciate it. I AM SERIOUS. HELP ME. I know that half of the people reading this are teachers and I don't know what to do.

On a funny note, today I called a parent and introduced myself as their child's teacher from Conrad Ball Middle School....old habits die hard. The lady was like...WHAT? Well, at least Conrad and Chesham start with the same letter.

I'm being observed again tomorrow...can't wait to be told again how much I suck by my department head who dresses like a teenager.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

This trip sponsored by the sale of a 2000 Subaru Outback named Gretel...

Our first day in Amsterdam involved a lot of getting lost, getting wet from the ridiculous wind and pouring rain, and dodging a million tourists while walking in circles. Our hotel turned out to be in a heavily touristy area surrounded by many shops selling wooden clogs, weed, and women. That aspect of Amsterdam was overwhelming and quite nasty and we were glad to escape that and find some nicer parts of the city because it is truly a beautiful place with the old canal houses, the canals, and everybody cruising around on bikes. The biking aspect reminded me of being in Fort Collins and maybe that is why I felt like Amsterdam was extra enjoyable.

This was the view out the window of our canal house apartment!

Really? Really? GROSS!!! We did NOT attend. I repeat...we did NOT attend.

The first time we walked by this dragging our huge bag, I said to Courtney, "oh yeah, we'll be getting in that shoe." She agreed that it was only a matter of time!

For dinner that night, we met up with a friend of my friend Christine, with whom I studied in France. His name is Jonathan and he has lived in Amsterdam for about 10 years and so it was great to meet a “local.” We went to a GREAT restaurant that had a set menu and was really good and crazy expensive. Courtney and I informed him about our dietary restrictions that she is vegan and kosher, and that I have a gluten allergy, a peanut allergy and that all food I eat must be Halal. Amazing that a restaurant was able to accommodate all of those requests, isn’t it? Ha ha. I can tell I’m coming off of a visit with Court because we spend most of our time just making stuff up. It is awesome!

Jonathan then took us to a very local Dutch bar where we were the only tourists. People were surprised that we had found it, which is funny because really, it was like a 10-minute walk from the tourist area. They had great beers on tap and Dutch people are super-friendly and speak English better than most native speakers! In striking up a conversation with the guys next to us crammed into this tiny bar (it was impossible not be involved with the people around us because it was so smashed and crowded), we learned that one of them was a Count…like his dad is Baron and he is a Count…WHAT? Oh, and, he was a dentist. Hilarious. Count Dentist. Oh, and, he’d recently been to Omaha which was extra funny since Courtney is from Omaha. A Dutch Count Dentist in Omaha…it doesn’t get much more random than that!

The next day we went to the Anne Frank house, which was extremely moving and VERY powerful. When the rooms were cleared out, her father decided that it should be a museum the way it was, not a recreation of the furniture they’d had in the years they had spent in the annex. It is much smaller than I ever imagined and the population density is so high in Amsterdam that it is truly remarkable that they weren’t detected for so long. While there, I became especially enraged that the “Rachel’s Challenge” people (a program in schools in the US to deter violence in schools based on the student, Rachel Scott, who was killed in the Columbine massacre) have compared her to Anne Frank. When you actually see the annex next to pictures of concentration camps and realize that Anne Frank died of typhus in a concentration camp after hiding for years with her family, it is shocking that someone had the audacity to compare the “plight” of a suburban high school teenager (though tragically killed) to that of Anne Frank. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Bitterballen and Beer. Yum.

Really, the best part of Amsterdam is just hanging out in cafes, bars, and people watching. So, we spent a lot of our time sampling Dutch beer and eating yummy food. One of the most common Dutch bar foods is called Bitterballen…it is some sort of fried meat stew contraption. I know that sounds gross (Courtney thought it was) but I thought they were awesome. I mean really, how can deep-fat fried things served with beer not be a magical combination?

I've embraced wearing scarves in Europe. Courtney already had because she's just way cooler than me in general!

Canal Boat House in Amsterdam with a natural roof.

We took a one hour canal boat ride which was beautiful, but due to all of the partying, I became narcoleptic which really was hilarious to Courtney.

We arrived in Brussels just before dark but still got to see some beautiful countryside between there and Amsterdam. Tim was a great host and walked us all over the historic area of Brussels and then we went to a traditional Belgian brasserie for dinner. It has definitely been reinforced to me that I have sunk so low in my French speaking skills that I am worse than a deaf chimp. I need to brush up.

Tim took us out for a night on the town in Brussels (bars don't have a closing time so suddenly, you're like..oops, it is 4 am.) and then the next day we went on a driving tour of Gent and Bruge which were so incredibly beautiful!

GO DULANEY!!! Two Dulaney kids (and a Roosevelt kid) in Gent, Belgium.

What? I know.

Again, seriously?

A trumpolin? A violumpet?

Senior pictures in Bruge.

You get the pleasure of viewing this picture twice as it won't let me delete it!

Belgian waffle with chocolate sauce in Belgium. Our last meal before flying home. And, my last meal before heading to the gym and going on a massive diet for the rest of time.