Learning French

My baby cousin was born in 1998. At this time I was in the 4th grade, and very excited. Being so much younger than her siblings and closest cousins, she was the only one to not reap the advantage of only speaking Arabic until she went to school. We foiled our parent’s plans and taught her English well before her time. One such lesson came when we went to Wal-Mart together when she was about two years old. Greeting customers stood an elderly man in a blue vest handing out yellow stickers decorated with the Wal-Mart smiley face.

I love walmart stickers

A mature 11, I did not want a sticker. My baby cousin, however, REALLY wanted a sticker. She tugged on our sleeves and expressed her aspirations to bestow the sticker upon her little hand. There was but one thing standing in her way: She couldn’t speak English.

Along with her older sister, I coached my little cousin in a huddle next to the corral of shopping carts. “You can do it!”, we assured her, “Repeat after me: I WANT A STICKER.”

Locking eyes with me, she recited deliberately, “I….want….sticker…”

“Very good! Again!” We had her repeat the phrase many times until she looked ready. “Alright, now walk over there and say exactly that.” Pattering over to the greeter, she confidently proclaimed, just as she’d practiced half a dozen times…. “I    WANT      STICKER”. I was so proud of my brave little cousin.

The man leaned down to her level, smiled and replied, “Whuudyoo saayy?”  I saw her confidence deflate when she turned to us, unprepared to say another statement to this  man, who apparently didn’t speak English either. “It’s okay, say it again” we instructed her from a safe distance. ……  “I      WANT     STICKER!”  She raised her voice…… Again, “Whuuudyoo saayy?” We nodded to signal her request again.  Even louder,  “I    WANT      STICKER!!!”………. No dice, “Whuuudyoo saayy?”

Someone had to intervene. “She wants a sticker!” My older cousin and I seemed to shout in unison.

“Oh! Here you go!”

This is how I feel trying to speak French in public. Learning a language informally as an adult can be tricky. I learn phrases as needed and practice saying them at strangers, who sometimes don’t quite understand me. Since most people do speak some English, I don’t usually require a translator’s supervision…usually.

Daily, I think about my little cousin learning how to ask the Wal-Mart greeter for a sticker. I not to get frustrated or scared when someone speaks French to me or worse, responds to me in French when I clearly don’t speak French; I just remember how adorable my little cousin was, grinning like a little fool with her yellow sticker.

Un Baguette

It’s dark inside our small flat. I live with Debbie; she is also in the same program at Colorado School of Mines and here in Paris with me. Each day we rise, reluctantly, gather our things and thoughts and proceed to commute to school via metro, train, and finally bus. Lately, we’ve been opting to walk rather than take the bus for the final leg of our journey to school. Our little flat is situated in Le Marais area of Paris. Our school is situated in Rueil Malmaison. They are not close, but so far I enjoy the stress free commute. We herd ourselves from one vessel to the next. That’s how I’d describe the commute…. herding. Of course, it’s always fun to see the posters and advertisements along the route. Here is Debbie and my favorite poster.

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Le Marias area of Paris is bustling with activity. It’s apparently a historic part of Paris and is now rather “hip”. We live directly next to a bakery. I imagine everyone lives directly next to a bakery. After school, we walk in with a euro coin and say, “un baguette s’il vous plait”. We exchange the euro for a baguette. I’ve been attempting to cook. Debbie and I made a carrot soup together out of a home made chicken broth. So, we’ve been eating soup and chicken. We’re the thrifty girls who bring our lunch to school amid a gourmet cafeteria.

Yesterday, I took myself for a run to a nearby cemetery. Pere Lachaise Cemetery is an incredible historical site and hosts many famous grave sites. It’s lush with greenery and a labyrinth of stone walk ways.

Jan 9 run

This wall with a statue of a woman and faces in the stone behind her sits outside the entrance to Pere Lachaise.

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Jim Morrison’s grave site was barricaded. The barrier was covered in stickers, writings in permanent marker, and mostly hair-ties. A bamboo screen, decorated with chewed gum and small notes, encircled the tree in front of the barrier. Though this grave is possibly the most famous in the cemetery, the park is really so much more than a popular tourist spot. It’s incredible.

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Much like everything else in Paris, its grande. It’s a piece of art than you become a part of as you walk through and loose yourself among the edifices of tombs.

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Along the walkway I entered from, this tomb above stands easily 12 feet tall. Not only is it a historical site, its an active cemetery, with many graves I walked past dating 2015. Curious, I did some research about this site. I wanted to know what is the tallest tombstone there, oldest? Here are some facts I found out.

  • The cemetery is Paris’s largest cemetery and largest park. It’s 110 acres.
  • To be buried there you must have lived in Paris or died in Paris.
  • The first person to be buried there was a five year old girl who was the daughter of a door-bell man in 1804.
  • Initially, the site was not a popular place to be buried. To attract more interest and funerals to the site, the cemetery administrators had famous remains moved there and grave sites constructed.

I plan to make this a recurring trip, as there’s millions of people buried in Pere Lachaise. I have many more tombs to see. I’ll leave you with this last one- that I deem “The Batmobile” of grave sites.

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2015: All The Things

As I think back on the year, its really difficult to convey how important, amazing, scary, emotional, exciting, and simply pivotal 2015 has been. Not only has it been a big year for me, but for my family as well. Let’s not forget what a great year Fetty Wap had. I sit in front of the computer, scanning my brain to recount all the incredible experiences of 2015. How do I do them justice? Do I post photos of the magnificent views I saw while hiking, driving, flying, diving, and running around the globe? Do I talk about the life changing time I spent with my family and reconnecting with old friends? Or do I make a list? I’m in awe of how much can happen in 365 days. I’m grateful for every second. I know they’ll last forever, immortalized in my memories.

Well, I’ve dusted off the ol’ keyboard… Let’s get to it! In no specific order……

  1. I suffered an absolute low in my career as a field engineer with three consecutive service quality failures on my watch and one severe safety incident when of my crew members fell off a trailer and was care-flighted to a hospital.
  2. I was laid off and so funemployed. (See many examples below)
  3. I touched US soil for the first time in over a year. I left Qatar. The manic emotions of this return still keep me motivated on a daily basis.
  4. My most excellent mother was crowned a 2015 Piper Professor and 2015 US PROFESSOR OF THE YEAR!!!! I was privileged to celebrate the former with her in May and see my mother beam as she was recognized for her high achievements.
  5. My most excellent sister defended her PhD in cancer research. I was lucky enough to attend this as well….. along with a lot of my other family.
  6. My most excellent father had a triple bypass surgery. I was again, lucky enough to be with my family and experience this together. I can’t stress how lucky.
  7. I watched my college roommate get married in a beautiful ceremony and reception celebration in scenic Tucson Arizona.
  8. I drove down Highway 1 on the coast of California.
  9. I drove myself 10,000 miles on a series of road trips in the United States.
  10. I reconnected with friends of 20+ years. After not seeing them for the past 8.
  11. I saw Third Eye Blind in concert. On July 4th. In Dallas.
  12. I went to the UK on a dare.
  13. I started graduate school! I made an A in graduate school!
  14. I played on two soccer teams.
  15. I had my face painted on all occasions whenever face painting was available.
  16. I toured a fire department and dressed up in full fireman gear!
  17. I flew in a two-seater experimental plane.
  18. I rode a motorcycle for the first time. On a highway.
  19. I rolled down a sand dune.
  20. I took a four year old to a Renaissance festival. I saw her believe in magic and fairies and time travel.
  21. I felt whole again for the first time in a long time.
  22. I threw beads from a balcony on Bourbon Street.
  23. I experienced debilitating heartburn. I went to a doctor for it. I now know what is heart burn.
  24. I went to a 10 year high school reunion. In Wakulla County. That’s Florida.
  25. I caught crabs in the Gulf of Mexico.
  26. I went on a road trip with my mom.
  27. I went on two different road trips with two of my best friends.
  28. I saw a brunch Drag Show in San Francisco.
  29. I went on a road trip with my sister.
  30. I toured the New Mexico state capital!
  31. I went to Thailand with my other best friend, Francis. We won a t-shirt contest.We also ate bugs. And curry.
  32. I drove a U-Haul trailer hitched to my car.
  33. I moved. THREE TIMES to THREE countries.
  34. I bought a new (used) car.
  35. I went to three different zoo’s.
  36. I had a most beautiful domestic partnership with my mentor.
  37. I learned some violin. I performed on that violin at an open mic night.
  38. I taught science.
  39. I had the best year ever.

I am now living in Paris for part of my degree program. While I am skeptical that 2016 could ever compare in importance, lessons and excitements to 2015, I do feel that I will be less busy and able to document the time with a more committed blogging regiment.

Thanks to Francis for reminding me to post.

Thanksgiving is Cold

In a little condo in Avon, Colorado, Lynn, her mother, my classmate and good friend, Uma Thurman, myself, and some of Lynn’s friends who share the condo with her are enjoying the snow and preparing for a Thanksgiving meal. The four of us ladies slept on air mattresses blown up in the living room in front of the TV like a giant slumber party.

Yesterday, we drove up from Denver and spent the day snowboarding at Beaver Creek Ski Resort. I wore my GoPro and proceeded to tumble down the mountain with Uma Thurman.

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Today, we’re spending the morning with Thanksgiving stuffing fumes percolating through the condo while we study for our upcoming final exams and presentations. It’s a cozy feeling to be inside with close friends and family.

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Later, we will eat all the foods, watch football, and take a nap. An All-American good time!

If the Spirit Moves You

Let me groove you.

It’s been well over a month since my last posting. I’ve thought many times over the last several weeks, I need to make a rigtales post about this….

To summarize all those stories, I’ve been busy. As hell.  I’ve been taking exams on a weekly basis. I study daily until I can’t see straight anymore. I’ve played and practiced my violin and am supposed to play a song at an open mic night with Lynn tomorrow. I practice daily. I spend time with my new friends and classmates, learning about their expertise and exchanging stories and laughter. I’m dressing up in a lab coat and running around with children trying to excite them about science. I do this several times a week and couldn’t be happier with all that I’m learning through school, work, friends and hobbies.

Just before Halloween weekend, I found out my father would need by-pass surgery. After attempting to postpone, he opted to have the surgery done immediately. I went home to Texas. I RAN home to Texas. Within 10 minutes of hearing the news, I had cancelled all my work and took off 8 days from school, missing an exam to go home. I booked a flight and was back in mom and dad’s house within hours, packing a single giant purse. While supporting my dad and mom during this stressful and life altering procedure was clearly a priority, the truth is- I went for purely selfish reasons. After the operation went flawlessly and dad was up and walking around in recovery, I admitted to him and myself…

“I was afraid I’d never see you again”

Thinking about this now is a little shocking. I believe in science and modern medicine. I know open hear surgery is extremely routine in the USA and highly successful. But I felt all the feelings that week, proving once again that emotional arguments can be stronger than logical ones.

I was excited to see mom, dad and my sister. Speaking to my dad before coming home, I assured him I would take care of his pet tortoises during his hospital stay, and for that I really was excited. I love those animals.

I was overwhelmed trying to imagine how scared my father must have been. I once had heartburn, and that is the most extreme extent of any physical pain or medical condition I’ve had to endure.

I was stressed to be missing so much school and an exam, fearing I’d fall behind. These concerns were pretty much alleviated by my professors and department administrators who comforted me, “If it were my daughter, I’d want her to be there.”

Standing with my mom and sister around my dad’s hospital bed, we tried to shoulder his anxiety prior to him being taken in to the operating room. We told him funny stories. I reminded him of the time I crapped my pants as a toddler under his care when mom was out of town. We laughed. The surgeon and anesthesiologist came in to take him. We cried. I was beyond tears when I said bye to him before he was wheeled away for the surgery. Suppressing heaves, sobs and snot, I hugged my dad and laid my head on his chest.

I hope I never forget the intensity of those moments. A few hours later, there was little anxiety left. The surgery went great and dad was in recovery. Within a day he was eating and talking like normal. Within a couple days, he was up and walking around.

Again, the novelty of being home and no longer in Qatar has yet to wear off. I can’t believe I would have missed that. I’m back in Colorado and chugging along in the semester.

I study economics, learn violin, teach science, and call my parents every single day.

The Feels

As the sun sinks, my brow furrows and the jeans start to heat up my legs. I’m sitting at a large open window in bookbar of Denver. Their extended hours have lured me here from the loft. Occasionally my hand cramps and I get up to go to the bathroom to relieve my bladder and my knuckles from the stress of writing notes. I lower the shade; the sun eventually sinks; I raise the shade again.

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The focus feels familiar. I remember studying and taking notes, furiously filling binders and engaging my more senior co workers in casual discussions about tool theory and science. These days, I’m taking notes on decision making, probabilities, resources, economics, and math problems. It’s a new world, but it’s not really. I took my first grad school exam today and felt alright about it. It dawned on me that I haven’t been studying after dark. This similar phenomenon occurred in Qatar- where I wouldn’t go out with friend or work out or leave my bed once the sun went down (which is at or before 6:30 all year long). In short, I decided to consciously force myself to study later in the day, and hence my new existence at this “book bar”. I’d almost forgotten the feeling of accomplishing something cool when I checked my email between taking notes.

I got promoted at my science teaching job! While teaching science is not my primary focus of being here, it feels good to know I am doing a good job. It’s not just a fun job where I play with kids, I believe getting kids into science is extremely important. This week, I taught my kids about mirrors and optical illusions. I let them draw on the board and demonstrate how convex and concave mirrors worked. Lately, the kids see me and want to remind me of what we learned earlier. Currently, 7 and 8 year olds are using words such as “sinusoidal”, “oxidation”, and “polymer”. It makes my heart float to hear them want to tell me how much they remember from each lesson.

Economics are great, but science is something else.

Sound Waves

Teaching science has proved to be more eventful than I’d ever dreamed. I teach five classes. One of my groups of kids ranges from K-2nd grade. In this group, I have 7 girls and one little boy, lets call him Damian.

Damian is the youngest child in my class, and he loves to talk to me. He talks the hour long session. As a teacher trying to remain in control of a group of children who have already been in school all day, this is frustrating. As a former child who earned the nickname “Motor Mouth” from all her family, friends, educators, and baby sitters, I have a high tolerance and understanding for this condition. Us extroverts must talk. We must talk all the time. We must talk to everyone. We must talk about everything we think.

Last week, I was teaching this little group about sounds. I asked them to tell me their favorite song or kind of music before delving into some demonstrations about waves and such. In this discussion, Damian told me he plays the electric guitar and plays songs by “Fernando”. I don’t know what this means, but I gave him a high five, assuming that’s cool.

Throughout my introduction and demonstrations, all the girls kept raising their hands and claiming, “Miss, Damian is bothering me!” Patronizing them, I will turn and ask, “Damian, are you bothering them!?” Damian always looks at me with droopy sad eyes and says meekly, “No”. I move on.

Later, the children were standing and pretending to be gas, liquid and solid molecules. They move closer together with each phase and we simulate a wave propagating through each. Damian fidgets and a little folded piece of paper falls out of his pocket. Holding out my hand, he quietly picks up the paper and hands it to me. I place it in my back pocket and move on.

After I came home, I found the paper again in my pocket. Curious, I unfolded it to find this:

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I now know that Damian was, in fact bothering them. I wonder which little girl was meant to receive this. While this little note brought me much laughter, I can’t help but feel for little Damian, wearing his heart on his sleeve and writing love letters in science class. Us extroverts want everyone to know how we feel about them.