country girl in the big city

My bags are packed. I am (hopefully) under the weight limit.

I have learned how to say, “ayudame por favor”.

I ran a trial half-marathon and didn’t pass out. I can also still walk.

Will camels be as friendly as cows are?

The roomates and I had a last supper:  the star was homade Munster from the Vosges. I am scared I will go into cheese withdrawl.

I told my students that if I get lost would they come find me? And bring me back to cheeseland?  They said they would. If you can’t trust 7 year olds, who can you trust?

I won’t be blogging for the next two weeks – but I have a few guest posts planned. Can’t wait to share my adventures! A bientôt 😉


I had so much fun visiting my friends in the Vosges this past weekend. I brought my roomates along, so they got to experience the generousity and kindness of my hosts as well. What a change from the flat, gray Verdun: the Vosges is tall, majestic, and green. We spent the weekend taking longs hikes in the woods, breathing the fresh mountain air, and reveling in our own fabuleux destin.

The other thing we did was eat. Every meal was delicious – on Saturday we had a choucroute (cabbage, potatoes, carrots, ham, and sausage) and Alsatian wine. I contributed my special banana bread – and it went over pretty well! Sunday lunch – typically a lengthy, relaxing affair – was perfect. As the rain drizzled over the gardens outside, we were cozy inside, huddled around the table. A yummy red wine paired with pasta bolognaise, sprinkled with veggies from the garden filled our bellies. Afterwards, salad with homade dressing, baguette with tomme de savoie cheese, coffee, and a little chocolate truffle. Before we knew it, we were already late and rushed to get our things in order and head to the train station.

When people are so generous – it just makes me feel so happy! Solange and Guy share so much wisdom, fun, and friendship with me. I don’t know if I can ever repay them, but I’ve made it my mission to keep the good karma going and return the favor to someone else.

What are some of your small acts of kindness? I’m sure many of you don’t realize their importance! Spread the love this weekend!


how to pack efficiently

I am the queen of last-minute packing. I hate doing laundry, I hate folding socks, and I hate fitting everything in a small suitcase. I usually forget vital things like my wallet (remember when?). So this time, as I am doing a round-the globe trip and won’t be back in my apartment for two whole weeks, I thought I would actually prepare myself instead of waiting until the last minute.

You see, I’m not just going to Italy for two weeks. That would be simple – a few pairs of dark jeans (with elastic waistbands to account for the pasta consumption), some red lipstick and you’re out the door. I’m going to the Spanish countryside to work with professionals in an intensive English program, paticipating in a semi-marathon, and spending a week in the desert. The tricky thing is that I need enough space for clean running clothes, cute boots, and baby wipes! Here is how I am staying organized – and still leaving room for cute clothing.

1.) PAPERASSE. First and foremost, I printed out all of my travel info, and organized it so that I wouldn’t be frantically lost somewhere looking for addresses when I was tired or stressed. I also haven’t left the countryside in two months, and am afraid lots of people, noise, or general over-stimulation will leave me confused. I printed out a map of each city’s public transportation system, and marked the stops near my hostels and important meeting points. I’m traveling alone for most of the journey, so sending someone my itinerary was a must – in case I was in any sort of trouble!

2.) LISTS! I am such a list girl. There are post-it’s all over my desk, stuffed in my purse, and flowing out of my pockets. Once, an entire classroom of 7 year olds laughed in my face, and when I asked them what was up, they pointed at my fesse and said, “you have a post-it on your butt”. True story. The point is that by writing everything down first, you’ll be sure not to forget it.

3.) PILES! I put everything into piles. A pile for what I’ll need at each stage of the trip! This way you can see everything laid out in front of you – you’re much less likely to forget something (I don’t think my mother quite likes this strategy, as before I leave my house to move wherever I’m going I leave a hefty “pile” of things I ditch last minute).

4.) STRATEGY! The hardest part is fitting everything into your luggage. Fold and organize everything neatly, and get the most out of your space. As I am flying both RyanAir and EasyJet, the two biggest sticklers for baggage allowance, I need to make sure that my suitcase is not too heavy! Do one final check and take out things that are absolutely not necessary. Yes! Take out those high heels, you’re not going to wear them.

With a little luck, I will get everywhere I’m going in proper attire. What are your packing strategies? Have you ever had airport nightmares?

stylish blogger

I’ve been awarded the “stylish blogger” award by Laura from The Everyday Life of an American Girl in France,  Katrina from Lardon my French, and Cailen from Lifestyle Maven. This means that I’m very stylish (obviously!). It also means I have to tell you seven things you didn’t know about me already.

1.) My best friends from college all lived on the same floor freshman year. They are  like my sisters! My favorite thing is spending time with them – whether we are in Miami, DC, Philly, New York, or on skype – we always find a way to get together.

2.) I studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France. It is my favorite city in the whole country, and I highly recommend a visit there if you haven’t already. Students can eat like queens at Crepes-A-Gogo or Pizza Capri.

3.) My sister sent me a picture of herself eating the new  mango-flavored Chobani because she knows I have a weird obsession with yogurt.

4.) When I read this article this morning, I nearly fainted! And I think you know why!

5.) The sink clogged last week in our kitchen, and I almost had a nervous breakdown. I really, really, hate dirty dishes lying around. I also really love our bricoleur, Patrice.

6.) Some days, I’m pretty freaked out that I share my thoughts, opinions, and photos with the world wide web!!!  I also feel weird telling people, “yeah…I have a blog…/oui, j’ai un blog….”

7.) I’m from a very small town. I once not so long ago, gave a speech at my alma mater… (JHS 06!) I have a great group of friends from home that I’ve known since kindergarten. We’ve all seen each other through our awkward stages (mine was very long and started early), so I guess we’re in it for the long haul.

Thanks for the awards ladies! Happy Monday, Bisous!

bon weekend

So, this weekend, I’m off to go skiing. But I’ve only been skiiing once before? When I ran into people and got yelled at and had to throw myself into ditches to stop? My mom even asked me if I was in my right mind going skiiing again! But I gotta give it another try – I mean, French people do it all the time.

I am so excited, because after work I’m heading to the Vosges. I’m going to stay with the same family I stayed with when I volunteered on the farm! I’m so excited to see them again and to relax in plein nature! What are you weekend plans? Bisous!

sunny days

The weather has been so nice these past few days! Running has been a breeze! We took advantage of the lovely sunshine this weekend and went wandering around les champs de bataille. Of course, I saw lots of my students doing the same thing! Is it weird to take strolls on battlefields?

Verdun is a small, small town. When we were getting on the bus to go to Andy’s house this weekend, the bus driver asked, “vous allez chez Andy?” (are you going to Andy’s?) right away. How did he recognize are anglo ways? How did he know where we were going? Apparently, Andy is an icon.

“Vous savez, Andy était en short et tong hier!” (did you know, Andy was wearing shorts and and flip-flops yesterday!) exclaimed the bus driver.

Oh my. You can take the boy out of California but not the California out of the boy.

things my students wanted to write in their valentine’s cards

My students are poets! When I told them that American students make Valentines in school, they were shocked! We made cards in class, and things got a little out of hand. I tried to teach them that Valentine’s Day is about friendship, too. Was it a lost cause? The following is proof that the French live up to their reputation as romantics….

Est-ce que j’ai le droit d’offrir ma carte à mon amoureux? / Am I allowed give my card to my lover?

Tu fais battre mon Coeur / You make my heart beat

Tu es précieux en mes yeux / You are precious in my eyes

Je t’aime de tout mon cœur / I love you with all of my heart

Tu te sens comme les fleurs / You smell like flowers!

J'aime ms. brehha, j'aime ma famie/j'aime ms. brenna, j'aime ma famille/i love ms. brenna, I love my family

Please note, that my students are between six and ten years old. !!?? Can you imagine American students writing this stuff? I’m pretty sure they stick with “you’re nice,” and “you’re cool”. Le sigh.

return of the ugly american?

While planning my upcoming trip to Morocco, I got stuck in a particularly alarming sentence published in the 2011 edition of Le Guide du Routard, Marrakech. While explaining how the “marchandage” (bargaining) works in the souks of Marrakesh, they wrote, “Annoncer votre prix en arabe vous donne tout de suite plus de crédit. Vous n’etes plus un ‘américain,’ mais devenez presque un connaisseur”.  “Announcing your price in Arabic gives you credit right away. You’re no longer an American, but you become almost a connoisseur”.

Oh dear. It seems like the case of the Ugly American is still around.

via jobsanger

Sure, my little students asked me some silly questions when I arrived here, of course. But I thought it was because they are little. I was shocked when I asked my co-workers, teaching in high schools, what the students had asked them. Some of the most haunting included, “Do you have a gun? Why aren’t you obese? Do you eat at McDonalds?”. Can you imagine being faced with any of these questions on your first day of work?

Europe is inundated with American culture in films, tv shows, music, and trends (if I confiscate one more silly band I’ll scream). With pop culture constantly reporting a distorted view of realistic life, of course people are going to believe it’s true. But the problem is rooted deeper than pop culture. After the election of Obama, I felt a slight change in Europe’s perception of Americans. But some days I question whether progress has been made. I have heard it all: that our own government was the culprit behind September 11th, that our foreign policy is focused on world domination, and that our culture is non-existent. What’s a girl to do? Whip up that 50-state American smile, keep calm, and set the story straight.

In no way can I say this is a daily occurrence. But the fact that such strong sentiments against my country exist is a definite wake-up call. If everyone can do their part in educating others – through leading by example – I do believe that things can change. Here’s how to negate the American stereotype.

1.)   Learn at least ten phrases in the native language of the country you are visiting. Don’t know how to speak Spanish? There are 35.5 million people in the United States who do. Take someone to coffee and ask for a few basic tips. They don’t call us a melting pot for nothing!

2.)   Do your research! Read! Learn about the history and culture of the places you are visiting. There’s nothing worse than being uninformed about current events while traveling abroad.

3.)   Don’t travel with lofty expectations of “service”. When you go to another country, you have to commit to their rules. No one is going to rush to get you cream for your expresso. You’re not going to die if you eat something you’ve never tried before. Things will be different, and may be out of your comfort zone. Stop whining about it and go with the flow!

4.)   Be aware of your voice level. In restaurants, in the metro, on your cell phone. I will never forget when I was introducing a French friend to a group of Americans, and she winced at the sheer volume of their voices. My heart broke!

Overall, try to travel with an open mind. You represent your country, and everything you do reflects back to a population of over 300 million people. Own it!

What have your experiences been? What do you do to negate the American stereotype?

saint valentin

Tu sais que les hippopotames ils choisissent un autre hippopotame et toute leur vie il reste avec. Tu le savais ça ? / You know, hippopatamuses choose another hippopatamus and stay with them the rest of their life. Did you know that?

C’est quoi ce bordel avec l’amour là ? Comment ça se fait qu’on devient dingue à ce point ? T’imagine le temps qu’on passe à s’prendre la tête la-dessus ? Quand t’es seul tu te plains: est-ce que je vais trouver quelqu’un ? Quand t’as quelqu’un: est-ce que c’est la bonne ? Est-ce que je l’aime vraiment et est-ce qu’elle m’aime autant que moi je l’aime ? Est-ce qu’on peut aimer plusieurs personnes dans sa vie ? Pourquoi on se sépare ? Est-ce qu’on peut réparer les choses quand ça part en couille ? Toutes ces questions à la con qu’on se pose tout le temps ! … Pourtant on peut pas dire qu’on y connait rien ! On est préparé putain: quand on est petit on lit des livres d’amours, on lit des contes, on lit des histoires d’amour, on voit des films d’amour ! L’amour, l’amour, l’amour !

What’s all this shit about love? How do we get so nuts? The time we waste! When you’re alone, you cry, “Will I find her?” When you’re not- “Does she love me as much as I love her?” “Can we love more than one person in a lifetime?” Why do we split up? All these ****ing questions! You can’t say we’re uninformed. We read love stories, fairy tales, novels. We watch movies. Love, love, love…!

J’ai repensé à toutes les filles que j’avais connu, avec qui j’avais couché ou même que j’avais seulement désiré. Je me suis dit qu’elles étaient comme des poupées russes. On passe sa vie entière à jouer à ce jeu. On est curieux de savoir qui sera la dernière, la toute petite qui était caché depuis le début. On ne peut pas l’attraper directement, on est obligé de suivre le cheminement. Faut les ouvrir l’une après l’autre en se demandant à chaque fois « est-ce que c’est elle la dernière ?

If I think about all the girls I’ve known or slept with or just desired, they’re like a bunch of Russian dolls. We spend our lives playing the game dying to know who’ll be the last, the teeny-tiny one hidden inside all the others. You can’t just get to her right away. You have to follow the progression. You have to open them one by one wondering, “Is she the last one?”

Bonne fête de Saint Valentin/Happy Valentine’s Day, inspired by les Poupées Rousses (the suite to L’Auberge Espagnol). What are your favorite romantic movies?

bon weekend

So today, I got the best Valentine’s card, addressed to Frenchie. It comes every year, postmarked right from Philadelphia, without fail. When I was little, it was usually accompanied by a little gift, and now that the secret’s out, it’s always given with chocolate.

It’s from not one, but three boys, who pretty much are forced to love me, but they’re not forced to be my Valentines. It also may or may not have been heavily influenced by my mother, but hey, that is the nature of les garcons. Surprise! It’s from my dad and two brothers. Aren’t they cute?

I think Valentine’s Day is highly commercial – overly priced restaurants and tacky teddy bears included. But every once in a while, it’s nice to have a little glitter for the mantel place, non?

Have a LOVEly weekend – romantic or not!