Monday, August 31, 2009

On y va!

And so it begins! Tomorrow I'm leaving for Dusseldorf to pick up a group of students on Wednesday morning. Beginning Thursday we'll be thrust in to a fury of orientation activities filled with speeches (two given by yours truly) and field trips. I am so ready to get this semester started!

But seriously, sitting in my office, with nothing but my thoughts and a closet full of broken umbrellas (a rather one-sided lost-and-found), has been at times constructive, but almost introspective to a fault. On the constructive side, however, I've been able to create some objectives for the coming months: reconnect with old friends, discover true luxembourgish life, and find ways to challenge myself.

And speaking of challenges. I've decided to run a 10K in Munich on October 11th. This decision came after talking to one of my colleagues at the Chateau, an art professor who is running the marathon to raise money for an Fine Arts endowment at Miami. It's an inspiration, and I encourage you to check out her blog to learn more about her project.

So far training has been great. Running around town has been the best way to discover the little nuances of Differdange. I see people drinking espresso outside the local cafes, children playing in the park, couples strolling down the street - its iconic Europa and I love it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Joyeux Anniversaire

I'm officially 23....yikes! Another year older, another year of adventure. It's funny, but, my birthday always happens on the cusp of transition - right before a new school year, a new job, a new living situation, etc - and in a way, its a great way to begin a new phase of life.

I'm starting to get settled into life here in Differdange. I was reading/reflecting on earlier posts from when I had first moved to France, and in a way, they are very comforting to read. The emotions were the same at the beginning - nervous, anxious for routine, a little homesick - but now, when I remember last year, those feelings are so foreign. By the time my contract was over, I had my myself a little home in La Rochelle. In French, the expression is 'c'est parallele', or 'it's parallel' to refer to similarity. I think its another charmingly French phrase -things more than just 'similiar', but the same in a way that they almost echo each other. One could says it's another way of rephrasing 'the more things change, the more things stay the same.'

Coming back to Differdange, I can't help but think about that - things changing, but remaining so similar. And three years ago, things weren't so different. I was in Greece on my 20th birthday, (my first time out of the country) cliff jumping, sipping on ouzo, wondering with excited anticipation what the semester would be like. Now, I sit in my apartment (unfortunatly Differdangs is sans cliffs) sipping on wine, once again trying to imagine what my life will look like in two weeks.

I'm still trying to find my feet, but, on my birthday, I had a few warm and fuzzy moments that made this place feel more like home. The first occured in the afternoon, after lunch. That morning, I woke up to find an email notification about a staff meeting at 2:30pm. Yet, when I arrived, there was coffee, plum tarts, chocolate and a lovely rendition of 'happy birthday.'

And all I could think, smiling ear t0 ear, was 'What a lucky girl I am....'

Saturday, August 15, 2009


home sweet home, circa a century or two ago

And so, the adventure continues. I'm in Luxembourg, drinking a large glass of Cote de Rhone, nibbling on cheese and bread, finding myself appreciating the strange familiarity of European life. The bells are ringing outside my apartment, I hear children playing soccer outside, off-tone ambulance sirens periodically interrupting, and I realize...this is my life. For the moment anyway.

My living situation has changed 180 degrees from that in my French life. For starters, I live in a Chateau. And let me tell you, nothing makes you feel like a giddy little girl quite like exploring a large 14th century house when no one else is around.

I should also mention that my goal for this upcoming year (after a somewhat 'basic' year) was to have a table. And chairs. And if possible, more than one fork. I'm happy to report that all goals have more than been met!

Today I walked around Differdange and found myself under a tree in the park, reading. Sitting there, I heard French, Luxembourgish, German, Italian, and suddenly, I didn't feel like the outsider. Maybe because I am a foreigner in a country of immigrants, or maybe because I am living where I first found myself in Europe. And here, in this little town in Luxembourg, I feel like I am reunited with someone I said good-bye to three years ago: wide-eyed, ready for adventure, believing in limitless possibility.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

another BV summer

Bay Village a la mode francaise

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Expat Returns

And so begins another summer in the Village. Driving around in the clunky mini-van, I am reminded how much I cherish this little town on the lake.

I'll be living at home until August until I move to Luxembourg. Once again I find myself nervous, but excited, and curious to see where this adventure will lead me.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Team Engelbrecht takes on Budapest

Chili Hot Chocolate? Ginger and Honey Cocoa? why not

A night at the opera

garlic, sour cream, cheese, heaven

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Chateau

Let me paint you a picture of my life at this moment:
I'm sitting in a little flat situated in a chateau in the small village of Sacy-le-petit. Life is good - a small band of wwoofer's, six in total, have spent our day off in Compeigne, biking to historical war sites (one of the hundreds France has to offer), eating picnics on the quai, and watching newlyweds leave the town hall. The Scotsman is humming along to the Amelie soundtrack, while Miss H., the Mother and Daughter, and the Composer and Play write bustle around downstairs getting the table ready for dinner.

But. Let me tell you. It has not always been this way. At all. In fact, I nearly left my first night. An abrupt 'blow-up' left me sitting on a grassy knoll, wondering 'Why am I here?'

And then, deciding to take this as a learning opportunity, I stayed. And I'm so lucky that I did. I can't even to begin to describe this place, but maybe if I leave a list of 'things learned,' you'll understand this magical place in the L'Oise.

1. Miss H., in addition to being a somewhat erratic french woman, is also a former tightrope-walking-singer. She experienced a bit of fame in the '80s, before inheriting her grandparent's Chateau in the mid-'90s. And here we find ourselves.

2. Miss H. also has an incredible Rolodex (in the literary sense...organization seems to make her flustered, thus nothing in the physical sense exists) of fascinating friends that include not only painters, sculptures, but trapeze artists, and fellow tightrope walkers. Some of whom have come to dinner while I've stayed here.

3. The Chateau runs on a code of unspoken rules that include the following: no discussing recipes at the dinner table (or film scenarios for that matter), never ever bring the ceramic mugs outside - that's what the metal mugs are for, and when weeding, poppies always stay. Even if it's the carrot patch. Even if you're re-graveling the path that leads up to the house, keep the poppy thats growing in the middle. And you do. not. drink wine with soup. Oh, and asparagus is never a 'side-dish', always its own course.

Part French, part eccentric, part human, Miss H. is unlike any I've ever met before. What a two weeks it has been...

Sunday, May 10, 2009

(author's note: this post was written last Wednesday, but has been unable to be published due to complete lack of internet!)

As I write this, I’m sitting in my friend Laura’s kitchen, making her coffee before she goes to work. I’ve moved my pile of belongings to her loft, officially leaving my little studio on rue de Jean Guiton. Today is the massive cleaning day, and tomorrow I’ll have my rendez-vous with the agency so they can determine how much of my deposit I’ll get back. Here in France, the etat de lieu is very important – before I moved in, my English friend Rose told me horror stories of people who got charged to replace the dry-wall after a 'nic' in the plaster was discovered. All things considered, however, I think I’ll be okay.

And so, as I’m moving out of my apartment, I’m also moving onto the next phase of my life. In the short term, this means three more weeks in Europe. On Saturday I’m leaving to spend two weeks at a Chateau in the Oise department. This is another Wwoofing venture, only instead of a vineyard, I think I’ll be working in a garden and with artists. And finally, I’ll be meeting Katie in Vienna and we’ll be jaunting over to Budapest for the week. She will be studying abroad for the month of June in Vienna and we couldn’t let an opportunity to meet in Europe pass us over – she’s coming a week early, I’m staying a few weeks late, and I think our first sister trip will be absolutly wonderful.

As I prepare to move, travel, return home, I can’t help but reflect on this year – the year of figuring out french life, of learning how to teach, of personal growth, of adventure. These seven months have passed so quickly.

I can say that I dream of the day where one piece of paper will suffice when dealing with administrative tasks, but still – even then- la vie francaise is a beautiful one. Some of my favorite moments have included biking out to the ‘Ile de Re,’ mucking for oysters, and our little gang biking through La Rochelle at all hours of the day. And I love (love!) how the French appreciate the fine details of living. How asking for a restaurant suggestion means a serious, well thought-out response. And this continues into the realm of wines, breads, coffees, even the kind of mustard one should buy at the grocery store.

I’ll be leaving this wonderful, albeit eccentric, life soon. It seems my future holds another year in Europe, but that’s for a different post. For now, let me just say, what a year its been...

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

It's Over?

April 29th, 2008 - I received the email congratulating me on getting into the assistantship program in the academie of Poitiers.

and now?

April 21, 2009 - I am officially done with my assistant responsibilities. This experience as been incredible, eye-opening and quite the adventure. More reflection will come soon, but for now, this is the schedule of events until I return to the states:

April 25 - April 30: visit Bordeaux and Lyon

May 6: move out of the apartment!

May 9- May 25th: Wwoof at Chateau de Sacy, near Paris

May 25th-June 1st: Budapest with my little sister Katie

June 2nd: Return to Cleveland

Monday, March 30, 2009

Huitres Sauvage

Well, I'm in love. And even more so than before.

This past week has involved more delicious experience with La Rochelle huitres, wonderful oysters from the sea.

I returned from California last Tuesday and by Wednesday I found myself on the beach, in my water-proof wellies, wading into the low tide. Buckets in hand, we went mucking (I'm sure there's a more technical term for that?) for oysters. After seeing people doing this all year long, some of the La Rochelle kids decided to give it a whirl while I was out of town, and then let me tag-along last week. The process is easy: make sure you're wearing appropriate foot-gear, that the tide is low, and that the oyster is still living when you put it in the bucket (read: the shell is completely shut). If they're already dead, you can end up pretty sick.

And afternoon of shucking followed the mucking, the result being some delicious fried oyster sandwiches. Truth be told, I much prefer oysters raw - and I think the majority of the rochelais would agree (to the chagrin of some assistants)- and loved standing ankle deep in the low tide, slurping an oyster straight from the sea.

Today I went to an oyster 'farm' near Ile Oleron with some Swedish students who are in Rochefort on an exchange. While there is a major different between more controlled, 'cultivated' oysters, nothing really beats the thrill of collecting the les huitres sauvage.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

"Art possessed impeccable character and integrity. He was trusted by those who worked for him and with him. Big Weave was a larger than life friend, an avid golfer and a devoted family man. He was a loving husband, a forceful and encouraging father and a caring grandfather to his grandchildren. As a man convinced of the goodness and greatness of God, his life was committed to doing the right thing. His was a life well lived, he will be sorely missed."

Your greatest legacy is not something tangible and material, but is the love and faith that you instilled in your family. I love you Poppa.

Friday, March 13, 2009

"Soupe de Poisson! Legumes frais!"

Without fail, whenever I find myself strolling La Rochelle's porte vieux - parking my bike, grabbing café, meeting friends at the Grosse Horlodge (roughly translated: big clock) - I will hear the strained yelling of petite french propriatess. Daily this woman stands outside her restaurant, rain or shine, snow or sleet, trying to persuade the passerbys that her bistro serves the best fish soup, mussels, etc. Think Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, singing with her hands outstretched and her voice soaring... only instead of haunting melodies, think hoarse cries.

I was thinking about this the other day, about how odd this all seemed - I have never thought of the French as the kind of people drawn to self-publicizing. In fact, when it comes to cafés and restaurants, I still feel like I'm trying to crack the 'hours of business' code. How is it that in a city with literally hundreds of tiny cafés, more than half can afford to stay closed for the majority of the week? Or how on Saturday nights the local brasserie will be locked up by 8:30? Or how I keep my fingers crossed that the small marché will still be open at 3:30 on a Thursday afternoon?

For the most part, its a bit laissez-faire; you don't see small business owners sweating over costumers, watching hopefully from the window for prospective patrons to come in for a glass of wine. Its a cultural thing. The United States was intially founded on that idea of the small business owner standing outside, beckoning the persecuted, the weary, etc. But France has no "bring us your tired, your weary"plaque at its front door- instead its "France is wonderful, of course. We don't really need to advertise. Its really no question that you would like to live, visit, or spend money here."

But this woman. At first I would roll my eyes, avoid eye-contact and hope she wouldn't single me out. 5 months later, I still have no intention of eating at her restaurant, but she makes me smile. She has such faith in her little bistro, such determination to win customers that sometimes, it makes me feel like home.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Chateau de Tour Blanc

Well, after two weeks of the rustic french countryside, I find myself back in my city-on-the-sea, once again breathing deep the salty air.

On February 21st, Miss Smith and I found ourselves at a bus stop in the small town of Barbaton, waiting anxiously for our hosts to pick us up. What followed were two weeks of nine-hour labor-intensive days, delicious organically grown food and wine-making with the Keltons, a British family farming in the Landes department of France.

Their mantra seems to be pretty straightforward – lead a simple life, eat organically, be self-sustaining, and respect the environment. Sandra and Philip, after living in all around the world (think Portugal and Greece) found themselves in France, looking for an artist’s space with big windows. And thus Chateau de Tour Blanc was born. A few years later, the vineyards surrounding their home were up for sale, and instead of letting industrial-corn farmers buy the land, only to spray it with pesticides, the Keltons became wine-makers.

So Miss Smith and I, girls from the ‘city,’found ourselves at Chateau de Tour Blanc tending to the vines (clearing old rusted wire, attacking bramble patches) and feeding the animals (chickens, geese, sheep, and one incredible goat).

It was incredible! Sandra is an amazing cook, we made friends with their children Victor and Valentina, and we got to explore a more rustic department of France. This region is also known for Armagnac, or Brandy. Philip and Sandra were kind enough to drive us to an off-the-road, award winning distillery on one of our last days!

After not showering for two weeks, rolling what seemed to be miles of wire, rigging an electric fence and making some wonderful new friends, we returned to La Rochelle. I start work tomorrow, and while it’s good to be home, our little adventure was pretty amazing ☺

1. The electric fence your's truely built

2. Miss Engelbrecht and Miss Smith, day ten.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

la vacance de fevrier

Well, once again it's time to go on holiday! This Saturday I'll be leaving for Gascogne, a region in the south of France. Miss L. Smith and I will be Wwoof-ing for two weeks on a small vineyard/sheep farm, collecting interesting (I can only imagine!) stories and wonderful experiences.

Wwoof is an organization that is dedicated to networking in around the world through an exchange of skills. Their website states "WWOOF allows volunteers to stay on organic farms and join in with the various projects hosts are busy with. There is a variety of properties spread throughout France, in which organic growing plays some part."

So stay tuned for the next post, detailing our adventures! Laura and I are hoping to make some new French friends, discover a new section of the country, and of course, have plenty of opportunities to sample the wine!

image courtesy of

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tasting All the Fruits of the Sea

I think one of my favorite things about living in La Rochelle is the food. Before I returned to France after the Christmas break in Ohio, I read Julia Child’s “My Life in France,” a memoire that chronicles her discovery of France, her discovery of its food, which eventually resulted in her discovery of the love of cooking and an iconic career in the culinary world. Upon my return to La Rochelle, I was ready to dive into the gastronomy of my new residence.

Because La Rochelle is a port-town on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean, fruits de mer (literally translated: fruit of the sea) or seafood reigns as king in the ultimate culinary experience. My first fruit de mer experience was in October after I first arrived and involved the not-so-scary, first-baby-steps dish of moules-frites, or mussels and fries. Usually steamed and small, its easy to avoid dwelling on the slight rubbery texture in order to appreciate their light freshness. Juxtaposed with the crispy fries, its really quite wonderful. The mussels can be prepared in an infinate amount of ways –I’ve counted a total of nine at one small bistro!

For the more adventuresome, La Rochelle boasts to have the best huitres, or oysters, in the world. Now, the verdict is out on how amazing these huitres really are. To be completely honest, I’ve yet to try them (although, hopefully this weekend I’ll remedy that!), but I’ve heard stories that run the full gamat, from horror to elation. My friend Lee had his first (and last) huitres in the Fall. What makes them tricky is that because they are so fresh and naturally delicious, huitres are eaten raw, straigh from the shell, with only a little lemon juice. Lee insists that the little guy winced at the lemon juice. And while he also declared that it tasted like salt-water, I’m convinced that there’s a reason why this city has based a huge portion of their tourist industry on the illustrious ‘huitre.’

The daily market, in addition to its beautiful display of fresh produce and flowers, has stand after stand of fish, oysters, and shrimp. Its actually when I see these stands in particular that I become inspired to learn how to become a culinary master in the French tradition, and who knows, maybe one day I’ll become brave enough to buy a bucket of huitres on my own (although I have heard stories of people nearly slicing off their fingers trying to pry open the shell). For now? I’ve budgeted my modest salary so I can enjoy the cooking skills of the professionals, which has resulted in the latest of my culinary adventures: sting ray! And its delicious ☺

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bikes, articles, what next?

Just a heads up folks: this next post is a standard, run-of-the-mill, "life update" post. A few notable things have happened in my French life since I returned at the beginning of January, so I thought I'd share some of the highlights:

- I got a bike! A bright blue bike that has a few rust spots, but is perfect for riding around town. This not only means I've considerably cut-down my travel time from point "a" to point "b," but I also get the sense that I am a legit French person. The only thing I need, in addition to the bike, is a bright yellow reflector vest. Yes, I know that this seems very unsophisticated, but leave it to the French to have a PSA with Chanel's Karl Lagerfeld modeling the latest in bike safety.

- A few of my articles are getting published in an online magazine called Its an online publication geared towards expatriots living in Paris or for tourists looking to explore some local hotspots. If you'rep lanning a vacation to the city of lights or just interested in the city of Paris, I recommend checking it out! The writing staff (excluding myself) is comprised of people who have made Paris their home and love to share its secrets.
- And finally, I've been spending these past couple of weeks trying to answer the question "What will happen after La Rochelle?" My contract ends at the end of April, my sister comes to Europe at the end of May, and the latest I can return to the US is July. So: do I try and find some work in Europe for a month so I can hang out with the sister or save some money and come home early? If you have any thoughts, I would appreciate any advice given!

à bientot, mes amis

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

La Greve Nationale

It was the monday before Christmas break, le vacance de noel, and I had taken the train to Rochefort. I usually don’t work on Monday’s, but a little re-shuffling of my emploi de temps was necessary because I was taking a day trip to Versailles on Tuesday.

My college professor, Alain (charmingly French with an eccentric mustache to match his equally eccentric personality), had invited to me to make up my Tuesday afternoon class on Monday afternoon and I had prepared a class on Christmas. Vocabulary notes, flashcards, and a few ‘holly jolly’ Christmas carols in tow, I made my way from the Rochefort train station to the school building, first passing the lycee.

And that’s when I saw the spray painted sheets. And then the yellow construction tape. And then the mob of students in the midst of which was a petite, confused looking french teacher. Apparently, she hadn’t gotten the message that the students had decided to go on strike. And it turns out I hadn’t either.

They had barricaded the doors with those wooden platforms that you find at loading dock warehouses, defiantly not going to class, playing their guitars and, of course, smoking. Now, in a way, this didn’t surprise me. Rewind only two weeks earlier and you’d find me and Mary, making our way to the train station in La Rochelle only to be overcome by a mob of teenagers, storming the streets, flooding the train platforms with pamphlets and literature. Their fliers said something about ‘educational reforms’ so I guess I should have realized it was only a matter of time before little Rochefort got caught up in the momentum.

To be completely honest, I didn’t really care – I was intrigued, but not invested. Until the repas de noel, the Christmas-dinner lunch, was canceled. And then I was annoyed. My first (and who knows? Possibly only) French Christmas meal had been scraped because my students refused to go to class. So I started asking questions.

First: Why? The French Ministry of Education had made a few reforms that the students didn’t agree with. They were removing teaching positions, and suggested changing some of the requirements for the students. Although, I recently found out that they weren’t actually implemented, just recommended, but still. It doesn’t hurt to let ‘the man’ know you don’t like where he’s going with those crazy ideas.

Second: How? How in the world did all of these students mobilized with such efficiency and organization? This wasn’t just a Rochefort/La Rochelle situation, but a national greve; all the lycee students, in all of France were up in arms. And then I found out that the students are in a union. Talk about something that could never translate into American culture.

And finally: “Do you feel like you made a difference?” My older students, the Senior-year equivalents, said ‘yes!’ They were the most involved, some traveling to neighboring towns to rally the students. And then there was my sweet student, in the younger lycee class, who looked at me, rolled her eyes and said with a little sigh ‘no.’

I spent a lot of time thinking about this. A little confused and a little piqued, I thought “who do they think they are?” But talking to them, my opinion has changed to some extent. I’m realizing that in this country, if you are upset, you let people know. You take action – just look at the frequency at which they strike, or protest - and you don’t remain complacent. And while this has also resulted in a healthy fear of middle-aged french ladies (they also refuse to be complacent when they're upset…) it has also stirred up some admiration. But maybe only until those trains stop running. Again.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Life of the Rochelais

It has been a long time since I’ve posted tid-bits from my french adventures, but this is because I moved! To the city! And am now the proud renter of her first apartment (wonderful, albeit, sans internet)

I first and formost want to clarify that ‘the city’ is not, in fact, Paris. I moved to the biggest city closest to Rochefort, a port city named La Rochelle. On the coast of the Atlantic ocean, it is a section of France that has been in the center of some major historical things involving Huguenots and les quebecois. In fact, the ‘tagline’ for the town is “La belle et la rebelle” or the beautiful and the rebellious.

Since it has been far too long since I last updated, let me do my best to give you the sparknotes version of the past six weeks of my life:

1. French Thanksgiving was a success! Sweet pototatoes could not be found initially, but when I was informed that they are considered an ‘exotic fruit’ (silly me! I was looking in the vegetable section!) all problems were solved, the crisis averted, and a wonderful feast was had by all. In total, eleven nationalities were represented, and for many of the non-Americans, this was a new experience. And true to tradition, there was chaos in the kitchen and too much food.lovely ladies at Thanksgiving

2. Immediately following the thanksgiving festivities, two wonderful things happened – I moved (as previously mentioned) and my dear friend Mary came to visit. And thank goodness. To make a long story short, we ended up camping-out in my empty apartment on the ice-cold parkay floor. No amount of layered jackets, scarves, hats, sweatshirts and blankets could keep us warm. After a cold, sleepless night, we promptly decided to spend the night on a friend’s spare couch the next night. Don’t worry, I have a bed (read: cot) and have figured out how all my appliances work. And I am indebted to dear sweet Mary for keeping my spirits high in the midst of absolute mayhem.
Chez Moi

3. The Christmas season in La Rochelle was lovely: lights decorated the streets, each neighborhood with a different decorative theme. We ice-skated in Rochefort, drank Christmas ale, and dominated 'noel quiz night' at the local Irish pub.

4. My students went on strike. Yes, my students. Because they’re in a union. The students. I explained to them today that things like that could never exsist in les etats unis, and they were shocked. I am learning so much.

5. I spent Christmas at home with my wonderful family, and the new year in Barcelona with incredible friends.

And now I am back in La Rochelle, with a resolution to perfect my french, learn how to cook the local cuisine and of course, keep this blog updated more regularly.

Je vous souhaite une bonne annee!

Culinary update: I tried ostrich today, once again compliments of the lycee cafeteria. Incroyable.