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Stop the Bus!

19 May

It’s a quiet rainy Sunday at English Village.  I am sneaking in a little time to write my blog before I head off to Seoul.  There is a district meeting today for my SGI Buddhist group.  Our meeting is at 1pm but I generally allow about two hours for the journey.  This includes waiting for bus 2200 traveling directly to Seoul, the 50 minutes bus-ride, then catching the subway and any miscellaneous walking involved.  I spent part of my morning today preparing a simple dish for the potluck lunch after the meeting.  It was a good reminder to me how grounding it is to spend a little simple time preparing food.  Cutting vegetables, adding seasonings, mixing ingredients and preparing it to share with others is a simple ceremony that feels like it honors my soul.

I am glad for the rainy weather this weekend.  It somehow gives me permission to have a quiet steady pace after the preceding hectic workweek.  This weekend has been a gentle rhythm of spending time on my own reading and tidying up a bit, traveling to Seoul for a chiropractor appointment and doing a little grocery shopping.  Then yesterday afternoon there was a staff barbecue at English Village.  And last night, I made some homemade tomato soup.  I have never done this before.  It was just wonderful and seemed to feed something in me deeply in need of nourishment and comfort.  Here is the recipe I used!

My second visit to the chiropractor continues the journey of healing my left ankle from my fall in France.  As he works on it, with his friendly and comical “bedside manner”  he gently scolds me as he points out the many different places and ways that my ankle is in need of adjusting.  I have also talked with him a bit about my persistent back and neck pain.  He has concluded that this problem is a hereditary thing and suggest that I sue my parents and we split it 70% for me 30% for me.  Then, he says, I can quit my job and sit at the beach and drink beer.

This past work week was a different rhythm from the sometimes frantic pace of teaching busloads of visiting middle school children.  I worked Monday – Wednesday with a group of college students here from Japan.   It was fun to connect with them and explore the distinctness of being Japanese, the different sounds of their language and names.  I was grateful for some of the simple benefits of teaching college students.  You don’t have to collect them or herd them like disgruntled cats to get them to class.  Generally in class they are well-behaved.  And you don’t have to worry that they might randomly run out of class or hit their friend if you don’t have your eye on them.  That said, upon returning to my regular middle school appointment on Thursday, I was genuinely happy to reconnect with the younger students.  Although challenging at times, it is fun for me to be around their lightness, sometimes shenanigans, and fun spirit.

The greatest challenge lately and this past week has been… how to teach English to students who speak very little if any English.  As I have mentioned before, English Village is a teach English in English organization.  Even the Korean teachers here are encouraged to teach only in English.  English Village even trains teachers how to teach English in English.  And as I continue to develop this skill and refine how to simplify a lesson or express something in its most simplest terms, sometimes I am at a loss of what to do.

Earlier this week I had a class of Japanese college students who spoke and understood only the simplest of English.  My class to teach them was Idioms.  An idiom, if you’ve forgotten, is a phrase commonly used that has its own distinct meaning that is often very different from what the words literally mean.  An example is ” a chip on your shoulder” or “high as a kite”.  Quite difficult to explain to students who don’t have a grasp on the basics of the English language.  But I went into the class with good intentions and did my best to explore it and simply.  After about five minutes as I looked out into a class of totally blank faces, I stopped and said “just one minute!”.  I snuck out of the classroom and quickly made my way to my supervisors down the hall.  I desperately told them my situation and we quickly decided to change the lesson to a word game using English called “Stop the Bus”.  In this game each team has to think of words for different categories beginning with whatever letter is offered for that round…. B, S, T.  When their team has written words for all categories they have to shout “Stop the Bus!”, hence the name. I returned to the class and smiled and announced that we will do a new lesson.  They smiled and laughed and then were fully engaged in the game.

This coming week I will work again with a special visiting group.  They are high school students from a language school.  It is likely that their English level will be high and their behavior a bit more mature as they are in high school.  I am looking forward to it and we will see how it goes!

I must depart now as the bus to Seoul is calling my name.  The bus driver is unforgiving if you are even a few seconds late and will not stop the bus…  Enjoy your weekend!  And of course, feel free to write and share what’s up in your world or even just say hello.  It’s always good to hear from you!

Photo at top, another view of the hills and land surrounding English Village.  Those stone pillars you see on the right… yes those are the giant replica of Stonehenge that greets you as enter English Village.

Settling into Spring

12 May

It is a foggy Sunday morning here in English Village.  This week has continued to be the typical atypical shenanigans of life and work in English Village (EV).  Monday 500 adolescent Korean students arrived.  We danced the “EV mambo” with them for three days (a unique combination of moves including language and cooking lessons, badminton, soccer and rides on the EV railbike), then they left and a new group arrived.

The visiting schools this past week were filled with the general array of bright faces and unexpected challenges.  First there was the girl who, when I opened the room up for questions raised her hand and asked me if I thought I was pretty and then later asked me for my “autograph”.  Later in the week there was the class of 17 boys who for the first hour wouldn’t listen to anything I asked them to do and talked to each other throughout the whole lesson.  As I had these boys for three consecutive hours of lessons, they challenged me to regroup, adjust the planned lesson, and begin the next two hours reviewing good classroom behavior.  I pulled out some classroom discipline tricks I had seen another teacher use, reminiscent of those from my own middle school teacher.  In the end, they left for lunch quiet and orderly and even picked up the trash on the floor before leaving.  Hooray!  and … Whew!….

As the weekend continues, I am doing my best to soak up the luxury of a quiet weekend day before Monday makes her way back around.  Saturday I took the familiar journey into Seoul.  I had scheduled a chiropractor appointment to tend to my injured left ankle still hurting from a fall down some stairs in France over a year ago.  The chiropractor, who is Korean, spoke excellent English from his studies and work in the States. By the end of my appointment I couldn’t have been happier.  I now can see clearly how my ankle is not properly aligned, my foot turning slightly in to the right, which is why I still have pain.  After one appointment that was just a little painful, it already looks better.  He was also able to give me some good information about my painful back, spine and neck.  He took one look at my neck and asked me if I slept on my stomach… which I do.  He told me that I needed to sleep on my back… so I am now in the process of learning to sleep on my back.  First night… not too bad, but it will take some getting used to!

In the afternoon I met with my SGI Buddhist group.  We had a study group meeting in the home of one of the members.  We read and discussed the writings of Nicheren, the Japanese Buddhist monk who is the founder of the practice.  The more I explore this Buddhism, the more I enjoy it.  It’s general message of perseverance and happiness in the midst of all challenges and situations is very compelling to me.  It’s also been great to know and be connected to the other Buddhist members in the area and feel a sense of community here in S. Korea.

This coming week I will be a little off of my familiar track as I am scheduled to teach Korean college students visiting for the week.  So it looks like this week I will dance a new dance with a different beat and a more mature students body.

Spring continues to settle in with temperatures lately topping off at around 70 degrees farenheit.  It is a deep relief to walk outside and feel a gentle warmth after months of a startling winter.  I took a few photos from a walk in the hills of English Village one night after work.  Also, here are some photos of the neighboring agriculture.  This used to look like an abandoned lot and is now fastidiously developing into a proper garden.

All is well on this side of the earth.  How about you?  How are things in your world?  It’s always great to hear from you!

Photo at top a view from “behind the scenes” of the English Village “hollywood-esque” sign nestled in the hills of Paju City, South Korea.

My Next Big Step!

28 Nov

Well the time has come… I just can’t keep it a secret anymore!  I am ready to share the NEXT BIG STEP on my journey.  After taking the leap and buying a ticket to Europe over a year and half ago and recently returning to the States for a few months of preparation, it is nearing time for me to depart on my next adventure.

Where am I heading you ask?  Well…I will be traveling to South Korea to live and work for a year teaching English as a Second Language!

Here is how this NEXT BIG STEP came to be.
While traveling in Europe, as I am sure you can imagine, I was always open to, looking for and wondering how I could earn some income to support myself as I travel.  I lived very modestly and simply but as time went on I was nearing the edge of my finances.  I needed to find a way to earn money and travel.  It was suggested I look into teaching English as a Second Language (ESL).  I explored this in a light and curious way about 6 months into my journey.  I searched online for jobs and schools.  I read blogs of others who had traveled and done the same. I met other travelers who were preparing for jobs teaching English.

My initial investigation was into jobs teaching English in Europe.  My inherent enthusiasm began to dwindle as I knocked on virtual door after door only to hear repeatedly that if I was not a citizen of the EU or did not have a permit to work in the EU, I would not be considered for a job.  This seemed like a catch 22 as the only way I knew for an American to get a work visa in Europe was to be sponsored by a company.  Alas, and so it goes…  I was sure there were Americans teaching English in Europe and that somewhere there were indeed jobs to be found, but how or where to find them was a mystery to me.

The next question that arose was certification.  I have a Master’s Degree in Education specializing in Higher Education, but with no experience teaching ESL. I wondered if I needed to get a certification in TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) or TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages).  The programs vary widely from quickie on-line courses to in-depth courses where you get your certification on-location.  The better courses come with a price tag which didn’t help my initial call which was – replenish the well and earn some income.

Unsure of where this would lead, I did my best to take in information and stay open to new possibilities.  Later into my journey a trusted friend urged me to more seriously consider teaching ESL.  At this point it seemed pretty unlikely that I would get a job teaching English in Europe, especially without a TEFL or TESOL certificate, so I expanded my outlook and began looking into teaching in other countries.

When I opened the ESL door wide open I started reading about and looking into the best places to teach English for Americans.  There are many countries that easily welcome Americans to teach English and many are willing to hire you without a TEFL or TESOL certificate.  Still I wanted to be mindful as I was seeking a quality experience.

I was referred to a website called Dave’s ESL Cafe by a fellow traveler.  This site lists jobs teaching English in Korea, Thailand, Japan, and all over the world and is well-known in the ESL community.  I found it to be a simple and straightforward website with plenty of job listings primarily in Asian countries.  I scanned through them regularly, curious and yet nervous about working and teaching English.

One day I found a job listing that peaked my interest.  It wasn’t a typical teaching job, but in a learning environment created to be like an English Village.   Children came to the Village for a week-long experience in speaking English.  Teachers were more like facilitators and learning was active and hands on.  With my background as a leader in experiential education and creating workshops where students learn by doing, the seemed it may be up my alley.  The job was in Paju City, South Korea, about an hour outside of Seoul.  I was interested, but I ignored it at first and continued on with my day.

Later that night as I was going to bed, my intuition whispered to me “take a leap!” and apply for the job at the English Village in South Korea.  So, excited but nervous I submitted my resume.  Time passed by and I heard nothing… but still in the back of my mind I had a “feeling” that something may come of it. Then one day, just a few weeks before my time commitment was to end at my helpx exchange in France, I got an email from the English Village in Korea asking if I was still interested in a position.  Yes!  Yes I was interested!  I was scheduled for a Skype interview at 4:00 in the morning my time…ugh…  All went well and I was offered the position.  That was the beginning of a long process in preparing to work and teach in South Korea.

This news changed my travel plans and redirected me to the States.  The process of obtaining all the documents needed for a work visa would be much easier in the US.  Presently, about three months into the process of obtaining a visa… I am getting closer and nearing the final steps.  Yippee!  And Oh my God!….

I am really looking forward to being in a learning environment again and strengthening some teaching muscles I have not used in a bit.  I am also grateful to begin a travel opportunity that will support my financial needs. In the meantime… there is a bit of a financial gap… between now and when I receive my first paycheck.  My staff contact in Korea reminded me recently that I won’t actually receive a paycheck until I have been there for a month.  With my extended time in the States preparing my visa and the continued gap of working in exchange for room and board and no income, I have some unmet financial needs.  This is what inspired me to … TAKE A LEAP…. and create a campaign on Indiegogo, the on-line fundraising resource, to raise funds to support myself during this time of transition and the continuation of my journey.

Please visit my Indiegogo campaign. Preparing this campaign has been fun and inspiring.  I have invested some time and created a video/slide show presentation called “Gypsy Woman: an unexpected journey”.  I would love for you to check it out. If you’re inspired… make a little donation.  No amount is too small… really…or too large.  I am excited to share my story and my journey with you through this campaign. Also… if you’re inspired… please share my campaign with others… maybe someone you know who might enjoy my story and mission.

And for now… the path continues.  I am not sure of the exact date of my departure to South Korea as the visa process seems to have a mind of its own.  But likely I am about 4 weeks away from leaving for South Korea.  Wow…my next big step!

Photo of Gyeonggi English Village in Paju City, South Korea.

Being at home

26 Oct

It is around 7pm on a school night.  I can hear the kids outside up to some sort of mischief with neighborhood friends.  I am seeking a bit of refuge up in my room on the third floor.  The chaos of full on busy family life has its interesting spins and for me, sometimes, it is exhausting.  I have to laugh as I find one of my primary roles here is the evening meal cook, a job I scarcely thought myself capable of holding.  But it seems that I am doing okay.  After spending 8 months in the busy but capable kitchens of the Seminar Haus in Germany and four months mostly a witness to the beautiful meal preparation of the kitchens of Les Battees in France, it seems, to some degree, I can cook.  This is a revelation for me.  Tonight as I was preparing dinner the oldest son, 7, said to me a bit sheepishly, “I have to say, I don’t know what recipes you’re using but… you sure are a good cook.”  From the mouths of babes.  No better compliment.

I am still finding my way a bit in this home…. As a “helpxer“, or living with folks in exchange for room and board, I find there is an ebb and flow to each new experience and my job is to learn to ride the wave.  I have found you can try to set parameters, do you best to set some boundaries, but in the end the experience is its own creature.  Here in this home in Philadelphia I am still exploring how to make the most of my trade in service to them in balance with my own independence.  Some days I feel that “I’ve got it” and other days… I wonder. It’s a dance and every new experience has its own rhythm.

In this home, in the midst of some chaos of a family of good people with “too much” on their plate right now, it seems being here is also a place of healing.  Living here I sometimes hear the cries and yells of children and parents doing the best they can in a stressful situation and I find my “inner child” shrieking and shriveling in response reminded of similar echos from my own childhood.  As my travels and experience are ultimately a journey of healing, it has been useful for me to get present when this happens, get clear that what is happening in this home at this moment is not about me… that it is not my “fault” and that while I can contribute to the well-being of this home, it is not my responsibility to “fix” what is going on here.  And so it continues…

Being here has also given me a profound new understanding of the complexities and challenges of being a parent…. up close and personal in a way I have never experienced before.  At the age of 42 with no kids, I had no true idea of what it takes to be a parent and the limits that children can stretch you to… even in their innocence.  I have a new perspective of my own parents and my own childhood.  I am now thinking that parents are miracle workers to do it all… even the basics of clothing, feeding and educating a child.  And if there are challenges in the environment, it is now easier for me to understand, while those “challenges” may not be an environment that is best for the child, that the parents are often doing the best they can.

And so I continue the syncopation of my gypsy ways currently in family life in Philadelphia.  As someone who has spent a lot of my adulthood alone and independent, I appreciate the ways it is stretching and growing me.  And that said, I also need and love my time tucked in my bedroom, or at the yoga studio, or strolling through the neighborhood.

Last weekend I had a wonderful adventure!  A few weeks ago at a neighborhood festival I heard a Samba group play and the drums just made me feel alive!  It turns out that they were from a local class taught just a few miles away from where I am staying.  Last Sunday I took a leap and joined the class… and I LOVED it!

It was so amazing, everyone playing there was filled with such joy, beaming smiles on their faces as they played.  As I became more familiar with my drum and my role, I let go of my concentrated effort and allowed my own beaming smile to join in with theirs… moving and grooving as we played collectively.  It was fabulous!  The teacher was a wonderful leader and I am welcomed back in the future while I am visiting in town.  It is so great!

I also discovered a BEAUTIFUL park just a few miles from here.  The park is called the Wissahickon and my hosts here guided me to a friendly and beautiful walk down a road in the park called Forbidden Road.  It was … amazing.  The fall leaves are in peak and the road runs along a gurgling river.  It was truly one of most beautiful parks I have ever been too.  The magesty of the surrounding trees just took me in and brought me home to that place where I feel nurtured.

The adventures continue, it’s fun, it’s beauty, complexity and simplicity… .  Life with a family… its blessings and its challenges.  I suppose its all just a part of learning to be…at home.

Photo just a little slice of Fall!

I’m home

2 Oct

From the very beginning, this journey has been an adventure.  A big part of the experience has been the practice of being in the present moment while exploring multiple options for the future and seeing what unfolds.  And so it seems on this journey that just when I think the road is taking me in one direction, a new possibility presents itself and another path is considered.  Just four weeks ago I was in the countryside in France.  I had connected with various hosts through the website helpx in different areas of Europe with the intent of continuing my time in Europe.  And just when it seemed the next step was there to take… something would change.  I had considered various possibilities… house sitting on an Island in Greece, working at a Bed and Breakfast in Italy…. none of them it seemed was just the right fit…

Then about 6 weeks ago I got an email.  A new opportunity was presented to me… an opportunity that for now I will keep secret… but with that opportunity my travel considerations looked… different.  I followed up with the email.  As things began to unfold it seemed a new direction was emerging.  A new thought entered my brain in the face of this opportunity… Maybe I should return to the States for a bit… wow, that… is unexpected!  This presented a few challenges for me, the lightest of which was, “what will I call my website if I am no longer a wondering flower growing in Europe…”  Alas, I digressed and started opening doors to possibly return to the States…

I began with my trusted friend and started sending off letters of interests to many different hosts in the States that looked inviting and welcoming to me…  An artist in Hollywood, a bed and breakfast on a boat in the bay near San Francisco, picking fruit in Hawaii.  I shopped hastily for cheap flights back to the States.  I had a time clock that was ticking… my commitment was to leave my current host in France at the end of August… the number of days remaining were getting fewer and fewer.  There was new possibility… but still no definite plans.

I eagerly checked my email daily, hourly, moment to moment awaiting news from possible helpx hosts who could provide me with a place to land in the States.  Simultaneously I was also considering a possibility to visit with a host in Northern Spain, an opportunity that was still tempting.  Days ticked by until… finally… I got a reply from a host in the States that seemed like the right connection.  A few more precious days passed until clearly I had an agreement with the helpx host in the States and I had a green light to purchase a ticket.

I used the search engine and found some very affordable flights back to the States on just a few weeks notice.  And so, in somewhat of a daze I booked a ticket and it seemed I was going back to the States.

After being in Europe for 15 months with a mind focused on travel and moving forward, going back to the States was unexpected.  But I did the only thing there is to do on this journey… I walked step by step through the path and plans I laid out for myself.  I couldn’t believe I was going back.  Boarding the plane in Paris seemed like going through a wormhole… like some sort of time travel from one way of being to another that was familiar… and yet not the same.

My journey back was long enough.  I flew from Paris to Frankfurt Germany and then Frankfurt to Baltimore, Maryland.  In Baltimore I took a train to my destination and so I now  find myself… in Philadelphia.  The City of Brotherly Love.  I flew Condor airlines back to the States after discovering their great last-minute deals on International flights.  Oddly enough, there was a great deal flying from Frankfurt to Baltimore.

When I arrived in the States, I prepared to go through customs.  I showed my passport to the officer and he said to me, “welcome home”.  While I wasn’t exactly weepy eyed to return, it felt good to be someplace where I was a “member”, where the information on my passport communicated very clearly “you are welcome here!”…

It took about a week for my mind and body to more fully arrive in the States.  I stayed at first with a friend from New Orleans now living in Philadelphia who graciously offered me her futon, a place of refuge to relax a bit before beginning my next adventure in trading.  I walked in legs that didn’t feel like my own through the familiar strangeness of an American city.  It was joyful for me to be able to communicate with strangers in the streets after months of limiting conversation in the midst of foreign languages.  Even though I was in a new city, after negotiating foreign cities in Europe where I didn’t speak the language, finding my way in Philly was easy… and liberating. It took me a few weeks to get used to the idea that the people in the city around me did indeed speak English and that when I picked up a paper, magazine, or grocery item, I could read whatever it might say on the headline or package.  I woke up once in the middle of the night truly startled and unclear about where I was… “I don’t understand what’s going on…” I cried.  My kind friend immediately responded, “You’re in Philadelphia”.    Her words came through a thick wall… just a glimmer of information received while I put the pieces together and slowly laid down and went back to sleep.

After a week of much-needed time for adaptation, I connected with my new hosts.  I hitched a ride with my friend’s friend as she was heading just a few miles from my host’s home.  We easily connected and I hopped into her 1994 gold Mercedes and we were off.  A new adventure to begin.

Since I am back in the States, I must admit, I feel less like a traveler.  Sure I am in a new place and I have seen some touristy things like visit Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, very cool by the way.  But here, in the States, the syncopation feels more to me like… my regular life then daily living in Europe.  While I am here I have a little business to take care of… like renewing my driver’s license that expired some time ago and preparations for my new possibility more easily sewn from home soil.

And so I continue… my practice of being present in the midst of change and new plans unfolding.  My helpx hosts in Philadelphia are a busy family living in a sweet historic area just within the city limits called Mt. Airy.  I am happily placed in a private room on the third floor amidst a busy family, running a business from home and two young boys, ages 4 and 7.  It is a big change for me from the quiet respite of the French countryside.   Since arriving, I have found my way here in little ways… attending yoga classes at a studio down the street, meeting with my New Orleans connection for a Reiki exchange.  The neighborhood here is filled with regular faces who I am already recognizing as I make my way in their world… to the neighborhood street festival and local co-op.

I am doing a variety of things here as part of my help exchange.  I am using my design and marketing skills to help support their growing home business.  I also help with basic things around the house like keeping the kitchen clean and organizing places and corners in need of attention.  From time to time I am able to give my hosts a Reiki treatment and sometimes give an extra hand with caring for the children.

But here I am, back in the States.  Just another step in my unexpected journey.

And so, I leave you pondering one of  the deeper questions of life… what should I call my website now that I am no longer “a wandering flower in Europe”…  Any suggestions?

Photo of the Liberty Bell, up close and personal.

Two Days in Paris

5 Sep

It was almost a miracle to me that I was able to carve out two days in Paris.  After spending the summer just hours away I wasn’t sure I would make my way to Paris.  But I found a way to do it… even on my very small gypsy woman budget.

The cornerstone of my stay?  An inexpensive place to stay!  We are talking unbelievably inexpensive…  Through the website I booked a place called Paris B&B for Girls.  Now, the term B&B may be stretching it a bit but for the remarkable price of 8 Euros a night (about ten dollars) I got my very own bed in a group room.  While it was far from “fancy” it was a very clean place run by a nice family who spoke good English.  It was tucked away in a safe neighborhood that had easy access to all there is to see in Paris.  They even offered complimentary croissants and orange juice in the morning!

After my first night’s sleep on Friday I woke up on Saturday raring to go.  I hit the streets walking and purchased an overpriced map of Paris.  I became a shameless tourist, map in hand and camera not far behind.

For me Paris was a visual feast.  Here are some of the highlights of my two days in Paris!

That’s me in front of Notre Dame.

Notre Dame Cathedral 
There she was in all her glory.  I was easily led there by my trusted map companion.  Just arriving there felt like some sort of personal victory for me.  I soaked up the fair weather day as I admired her flying buttresses.  It is free to enter the cathedral and I eagerly joined the queue.  Within minutes I found myself inside gripped by the sense of majesty in the silence.  I wondered around looking up at the ceilings and down at the floors.  I was in awe of the stain glass windows.  Being there felt epic and I felt large and small at the same time.  I wandered through an exhibit on St. Teresa the Little Flower and then stayed around for mass.

Sacre Coeur Basilica
I almost didn’t go here.  It was “out-of-the-way” from where I was visiting and staying.  But one night I found myself heading in that direction and gave way to a visit.  I wandered down the nearby Avenue de Clichy and couldn’t help but be struck by the contradictions.  As I walked down the street I passed the Moulin Rouge and various other sex shops and shows with their bright colors flirting with the tourist crowds.  And then a quick left turn, a short walk up a hill through a crowded street and Sacre Coeur was in view glistening in the evening sunlight.

I have to say she didn’t disappoint.  I may have even gasped in wonder at first sight.  There she was on top of a hill overlooking the city.  I made my “pilgrimage” to her, one step at a time, one flight of stairs at a time.  My ascension was surrounded by street musicians and vendors.  Shameless tourism danced and played all around the Cathedral.  There was a puppet show of Noah’s arc and designer knock-off purses for sale.  I paused from my determined trek up the stairs and turned around.  I felt my heart leap as the city of Paris opened up below me.  Around me there were people laughing and lounging while beer and water were peddled to the masses.  By this time it was early evening on a Saturday night and the monument had turned into a party.

I stood around and took in the scene.  The musician playing his guitar and singing to the crowds.  The performer swinging from the street lamp while juggling a ball with his feet.   And then finally… I entered Sacre Coeur.  I was greeted by the gentle but awesome energy of the  mosaic of Jesus with his arms open wide and his sacred heart.  I let the basilica, her beauty, her history, move through me as I walked around.  Until… it was time to leave and I made my way back out to the party.

On  the way down I discovered there is an elevator of sorts that looks almost like a ski lift or a carnival ride to take tourists up and down the someone daunting elevation to Sacre Coeur.  Ever the budget traveler, I smiled at the idea of taking a ride then continued down the path by foot until once again surrounded by the streets of sex and scandal.  I found a metro station and made my way home.

In the Jardin de Luxemburg

Jardin de Luxemburg
I found this unexpectedly.  The Jardin de Luxemburg.  Me and my map had been playing around town and I was on my way to the Pantheon.  What a thrill to stroll the streets of a city speckled with so much astounding history and beauty.  A funny thing happened on the way to the Pantheon.  I got tired.  I mean really tired.  And in no time at all I was offered gentle respite.  It was an inviting reclining chair in a park-like setting.  I wasn’t yet sure exactly where I was, but for a good long moment I took it in and just enjoyed relaxing in the moment baking in the late morning sun.  As my body gave way to the chair and the moment, I couldn’t help but notice the sound of music coming from not too far away.  Like following the tune of the pied piper, my body, despite its fatigue, rose to find out where it was.

In no time at all I discovered a bandstand surrounded by a cafe in the midst of a garden and trees.  A Parisian jazz band was playing and the crowd soaked in their tunes.  A little girl was up front unabashedly struttin’ her stuff and I appreciated the musical respite.  In time I found myself distracted by a beautiful array of flowers framing the front lawn of the French Senate building.  As I investigated further I found a large fountain where children could rent and launch miniature sailboats.  The garden led me to neatly manicured cubist trees and locals and tourists alike enjoying a warm Sunday afternoon.  What a beautiful detour, distraction and delight!

Thrift Store Shopping
No, not the typical Parisian diversion.  A friend of mine suggested that I buy myself a little something at a local thrift store to remember Paris.  A great idea that fit my budget!  I am not a vintage or discount designer kind of gal.  It took a while to find your basic thrift store where one could find a sweater for just a few Euros.  But I found one.  It’s called Guerrisol.  A not-to-trendy but popular store with five locations throughout Europe.  It took a little effort but with some time I found a sweater that suited me for just a few Euros to take home.  I happily brought it to the check-out counter and handed them a 2 Euro coin.  The man took my money and smiled and said “c’est bonne”  which means literally “it is good”.  Yes it is!

As someone who doesn’t eat sugar and does my best to stays away from breads and pastries, France was not the best place to eat on a budget.  Mostly I ate very simply purchasing a few items at local markets doing my best to eat healthy simple food.  I found a beautiful little bakery in the streets of the Ile Saint-Louis that had lovely little open-faced sandwiches that were calling my name.  For only 3 Euros 50 I had a beautiful piece of toasted fresh bread with tuna, roasted veggies, lettuce and cheese for lunch.  Delish!

Croque Madame at Le Nemrod

For a treat one day I took myself to a local budget friendly restaurant called Le Nemrod.  I went there curious to try what is called a “Croque Madame” kin to the Croque Monsieur, Paris famous ham and cheese sandwich.  The croque madame adds a fried egg to the sandwich. I arrived at the restaurant after much walking.  Grateful to be seated at a table I was soon greeted and playfully teased by the local staff. I ordered my croque madam, a small cup of decaf coffee and a glass of water.  I enjoyed a little conversation from other waiters curious about where I was from.  Happily, I enjoyed my meal and for the bargain price of under 10 Euros.

Even with a very small budget, my visit to Paris was priceless.  The city itself has so much to offer and I am much richer for the experience!

Leaving Les Battees

31 Aug

Well, I did it.  I left Les Battees.  I find that every time I leave someplace on this journey it feels like at least some sort of leap of faith.  New adventures ahead…still unfolding… some are known, but much unknown.

My host Roy couldn’t have been sweeter as I left from the train station not far from Les Battees.  He was helpful in all the little ways that mattered to me in my departure outside of the comfort and nestling of the French countryside.  He walked me into train station, assisted me in turning in my e-ticket for a “real ticket” and directed me to “compost” my ticket, a validation of sorts required for all tickets before entering the train.  And he assisting me in finding my car number and seat number on the train and finding the appropriate section of the gate for my car.  It’s the little things that make a difference when venturing out on one’s own into new territory.

I had fun my last few days at Les Battees.  It was simple fun, but it was what I had grown to count on.  Enjoying the fresh country air, simple lunches outside, strolls in the countryside.  And of course you can’t forget ironing sheets and cleaning bathrooms for the guest house.  Perhaps not always fun, but a good experience in its own way.  I was glad to be there to assist Roy in the myriad of daily activities during his busy season as the Chambres D’hotes.  And, like Mary Poppins, every good custodian of service has a time to arrive… and a time to leave.  Today was my time.

And where did the wind blow me you may ask?  Well not too far away.  I jumped on a lightning fast French train called a TGV and headed to Paris.  And that’s where I am now!  It is still amazing to me that all of the places that we think and dream of visiting and seeing are actually real places that you can get to… if you buy a ticket!

I was a little nervous about leaving the nest.  But I collected my remnants of high school French, left behind Les Battees, and headed on my way.  I have been here now just for hours really.  I am sitting outside a cafe spending a little time until I can check into my hostel in Paris.  So far my two hours of being in Paris have been quite welcoming!  A friendly Frenchman helped me get my huge (it seems to be growing) red suitcase off of the train.  And then I found my way to the metro.  Pretty easy all in all with friendly French staff throughout.

I had an unexpected experience on my way to the metro…  I was attempting to make my way through the large metro door for handicapped and those with luggage.  It took a few times to get through and on the other side there was a friendly Frenchman who seemed to be waiting for me to make sure I made it through.  Once I did he became my escort of sorts… carrying my bag for me and leading me along the long route to my metro line.  He only spoke French so I understood some of what he said, but there were other things I was not quite sure I understood.  He ended up escorting me on the metro and once I arrived at my stop he exited with me and carried my heavy bag all the way up the stairs.  What a help!

Being a suspicious American I did wonder some of what he was asking and saying…  but my instincts told me not to worry.  When we arrived at street level of my stop he continued to speak in French and I continued to only partially understand.  I was able to communicate that I couldn’t check in for another few hours.  And he continued to communicate things that… I wasn’t clear I understood.  So I played it safe and found two nice English-speaking Frenchmen to translate… and suddenly the conversation became simple.  He just wanted to make sure that I could get to my hotel okay with the bag.  “Yes, it is not far” I said.  Then he amicably shook my hand and headed on his way.  Welcome to Paris!

I am spending the night in a little hostel for women only and will spend the next few days touring Paris.  I was fortunate enough to get a little tourist direction from a local connection I have through a networking group.  So I am ready!  Paris here I am come.  But for now… just a little more time before me and my luggage can check into my hostel.  Their doors are only open for check in only from 7-9pm.  So I am writing as the evening sun begins to set and the cool Paris air tosses things about.  It’s good to be in Paris.

I will depart with my favorite new quote from the Course in Miracles workbook, Lesson 244.  It says simply “I am in danger nowhere in the world.”  And so it is.

Photo of Les Battees Guest House nestled in the surrounding French countryside.

Final Days at Les Battees

27 Aug

Wow.  It is hard to believe it is the end of August already.  Time feels full and good.  I am doing my best to stay grounded as I walk through my final days at Les Battees, making the beds, cleaning the kitchen.  The weather is amazing as I breathe in the fresh clean country air that by now I have become accustomed to.  It seems that summer is beginning to slide away here in the Burgundy region of France as you can feel something fresh in the air ushering in the new season.

Thankfully there have been a few breaks in the busy Les Battees schedule these last few days.  Time to catch up on a few things like cleaning the kitchen,washing all the sheets and towels, and breathe and rest a bit preparing for the new set of guests.  The relentless nearly unstoppable pace of July and early August has dwindled.  It seems now the is a day or two to take a break.

Life has been good here at Les Battees.  Roy, my host has been quite busy lately preparing dinners for guests known in France as table d’hote, which literally means “host’s table”. He offers an optional vegetarian meal to guests who stay here for an additional cost.  Over the summer I have come to appreciate Roy as a chef.  Now also mind you, at his root he is a scientist with a Ph.D. and background in food science and research.  His scientific manner bleeds through in his cooking, methodical and precise, but also consistent and filled with the utmost care and concern for the quality and authenicity of the meal he is preparing.  Roy has a policy with the food her serves at the table d’hotes… he never serves a recipe or meal to a guest without first testing it on friends to make sure that it is a high quality, enjoyable meal.

One of his favorite dishes lately has been a polenta and olive dish served with roasted vegetables (sweet potato, fennel and red peppers) accented with yummy goat cheese (you haven’t eaten goat cheese until you have visited France!) and a fresh mint herb salsa on the side.  The dish is a real treat to eat.  It is an earnest pleasure to enjoy the meal surrounded by other guests appreciating the care, freshness and taste of the meal.  I caught him once dipping his bananas into orange juice as he was preparing a dessert featuring bananas.  “What are you doing?” I asked him… wondering if perhaps the ceaseless days of work had finally gotten to his head.  He informed me that dipping the bananas into the orange juice keeps them from turning brown.  That is the kind of care he puts into his cooking!

Over the weekend Roy and I took a quick escape on Sunday to the local brocante.  A brocante in France is somewhat like a rummage sale or an antique or flea sale in the states.  It is a mostly organized occasion with local people bringing their antiques, finds or excess items to sell.  I have come to love these events as I can pick up a little of this or a little of that for extraordinarily good prices.  I bought a camera at a brocante and at this most recent brocante I found a sweater that I liked for the outrageous price of 1 Euro and a  jacket as well for 2 euros.  As someone who has been living for the past year solely on work exchanges, it is a joy to make little purchases that fit into my traveling budget!

 I have learned that wherever I go, wherever I travel… I am unmistakably American. Being American is something that leaks out of me as I try to speak French making a purchase at the local brocante.  It is distinct as I speak to guests visiting here at Les Battees from Begium, England, the Netherlands.  “You’re American, aren’t you” they say.  Roy informed me that the giant size dishes that we use to serve dinner, the dishes that are too big to fit into the dishwasher and have to be washed by hand, are called by the French “Les Americans”.  Funny.

I have just a few days left here at Les Battees.  My plans are mostly set although I find I am still a bit quite about them as the final details weave and fold into place.  But for now I am content to breathe in the fresh French air and let myself be for a bit.  Feeling the excitement of the time I have spent here and the good of what is to come welcomed in by the brisk almost autumn air.

The photo is of a beautiful blossoming dahlia in the gardens of Les Battees.  Always the source of information, Roy shared that dahlia’s used to be grown for their somewhat potato-like root and eaten.  But apparently today they are mostly enjoyed for their beautiful bloom.

Bed-Making, Bohemian Rhapsody and Runner Beans

17 Aug

Well the busy pace of life continues at Les Battees.  July is the holiday season in France and seems to bleed into August.  The daily rhythm continues… dinners for guests prepared by Roy, ironing sheets, doing dishes, and making beds in the guest rooms while discussing important issues in life… like the origin of certain English words…which leads us to conversations about Canterbury Tales and the language of the time (14th century) used in the book… and ultimately somehow digressed into a conversation about the song Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen and the muppet version of that song.  To say things aren’t just a little bit “koo-koo” around here from the unrelenting daily work at Les Battees would not be the truth.  But alas, so it goes.

The busy times has brought guests from the Netherlands and England. There have been French guests who have mistaken me for Roy’s wife and wondered why it was that I was so unfriendly not speaking a word to them… Unfortunately they did not understand my friendly American smile that I offered which means something like… “I come in peace… and I cannot speak your language!”  Yes, it seems I have digressed into saying that I cannot speak French.  My “foundation” of high school French has proven quite… inadequate… as mostly I tend to say “Je ne parle pas Francais”  which is, of course, I don’t speak French.  Part of the challenge I have found in speaking French is listening to and understanding French when spoken by a French person.  A whole different ballgame.  The other night at dinner there was a Dutch woman speaking French with the French guests so beautifully.  I had French envy.  Despite my challenges I still think it would be fun to speak French or another language in addition to English.

I remain “pampered” with the wonderful food here at Les Battees.  I never tire of French cheese and my prior habit of eating little dairy has had to simply… go out the window.  Roy continues to pull fresh vegetables from his garden, some familiar, and some less so.  The other day he picked some green beans from the garden.  They looked innocent enough until I saw the bright red beans on the inside.  They didn’t look like any green beans I had ever had!  Roy calls them runner beans and says that he thinks these are the same beans we use to grow kidney beans.  He steamed them and served them up with one of his famous mushroom omelettes.  Yummy!

We have another busy weekend ahead and then it looks like possibly a break…the first in weeks.  When I am not busy with the Chambres d’Hotes lately I am spending my time busily researching for my “next step” when I leave Les Battees… plans still under development.

So in the meantime, still making my way.  Ironing the sheets.  Making the beds.  And in between grabbing some sunlight and taking breaks in the fresh country air accompanied by the gentle hills surrounding Les Battees.

The Sweet Life

7 Aug

It’s another mild day at Les Battees.  The coolness of the summer breeze leaves me feeling content and relaxed while the warmth of the sun has me melting, happy and satisfied.  Our busier pace continues here at Les Battees.  July is the typical travel time in Europe and now bleeding into early August.  The chambre d’hotes has been booked full and we have been busy workers!

I originally found out about Les Battees through the website  Roy, the owner of Les Battees, and I traded emails exploring the possibility of a visit to determine if it would be a good fit.  The general agreement through is work in exchange for room and board. I mentioned in an email that I don’t eat refined sugar.  Not a drop.  I asked Roy, “would that be a problem?”  “I don’t know why it would be,”  he replied.

Living life without sugar has become a regular way for me.  People may ask or even assume that I am allergic to sugar and that’s not quite the truth.  I describe it more as being sensitive to sugar.  I am like every other “good” American raised on plenty of sugar and sweets.  I never would have considered cutting sugar out of my diet until I saw a friend reading the book Sugar Blues by William Duffy about 8 years ago. I was in the midst of a major personal health transformation and willing to make any changes necessary to feel better. I was intrigued by the book and decided to give it a read for myself.  After reading it I considered the possibility that sugar may be acting like poison in my body and impacting my mood and well-being.  I decided to give it a shot without sugar and see what a difference it made.

The first thing I noticed was that sugar is in everything.  Spaghetti sauce, bread, mayonnaise… you name it.  I became a fervent label reader and with persistence successfully explored a diet with no sugar.  Without sugar, I noticed my mood felt a bit lighter, my anxiety reduced, and my anger and mood swings lessened.  As my body was no longer used to sugar, even a tiny bit of sugar immediately triggered my mood to drastically turn for the worse.  Additionally my body just no longer “felt right” when I ate sugar.  So I am very clear… no sugar for me! When I say sugar I am referring mostly to refined sugar.  I still enjoy moderate amounts of natural sugars… honey, agave nectar, fruits and fruit juices.

I was recently turned on to a website called radiant recovery.  The founder of that website, Kathleen DesMaisons Ph.D, is a scientist and the website is based on her working theory of sugar sensitivity.  According to Dr. DesMaisons, someone is sugar sensitive if they have unstable blood sugar, low serotonin and low beta endorphin.  She has created a 7 step diet that when followed can help create balance.  This diet, strangely enough, includes eating a potato before bed.  She has written a book about this called Potatoes Not Prozac: Solutions for Sugar Sensitivity.

Life without sugar has not been a bad thing for me!  In fact, here at Les Battees I am definitely living the sweet life!  My host Roy doesn’t hesitate to replace sugar in some dessert recipes with honey.  I have enjoyed, in moderation, wonderful apple pie, roasted apricots and rhubarb, all sweetened with honey.  And of course, there is never sugar added to Roy’s wonderful vegetarian main dishes.  Fabulous savory tarts and cobblers.  No deprivation here!

It has certainly been worth it, this adventure in the sweetness of life without sugar.  I am a lot happier and feel better.  And there are still plenty of wonderful foods to enjoy along the way!  Bon Appetite!

Photo of olive polenta served with roasted vegetables prepared by Roy Patchett, owner of Les Battees.

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