This Land Was Made for You and Me

screen_shot_2017-02-05_at_8-25-37_pmAfter watching Lady Gaga’s halftime performance recently, I’ve been thinking about one of the opening songs she chose, and I found out some interesting facts about “This Land is Your Land.”

  1. The original lyrics were written by Woodie Guthrie, an Oklahoman, around 1944 in the wake of the Great Depression
  2. They had a good deal of frustration and criticism to offer for America

Here they are reposted from http://www.woodyguthrie.org/

This Land Is Your Land
Words and Music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land This land is my land
From California to the New York island;
From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and Me.

As I was walking that ribbon of highway,
I saw above me that endless skyway:
I saw below me that golden valley:
This land was made for you and me.

I’ve roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts;
And all around me a voice was sounding:
This land was made for you and me.

When the sun came shining, and I was strolling,
And the wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling,
As the fog was lifting a voice was chanting:
This land was made for you and me.

As I went walking I saw a sign there
And on the sign it said “No Trespassing.”
But on the other side it didn’t say nothing,
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Nobody living can ever stop me,
As I go walking that freedom highway;
Nobody living can ever make me turn back
This land was made for you and me.

To learn more about the origins of the song and its relationship to the 2017 Super Bowl, read this article.

Since its very conception, the United States has been a refuge for people who wanted to believe differently and live freely. And since the beginning, its people have spoken out against tyranny they have witnessed.

I call on you to enact or to support non-violent civil disobedience in whatever way you can.

This is my act. To post the original lyrics of a beloved patriotic song and to remind us that America has problems, problems that we must examine with open eyes if we are to move beyond them.

But you know what? America has always had problems. We have been the bad guys AND the good guys. It’s important to remember that we’re not perfect. When we see that, we can look at our choices and make new ones that better represent us.

This is the sign on our most recognizable and historical gateway:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Let’s embody what is best of America as the land of opportunity to create a new life, one free of hierarchy, tradition, and inherited privilege.

With the exception of Native Americans, every person in the U.S.A. is descended from immigrants. The nation was founded on religious tolerance, and it has always thrived through diversity. E Pluribus Unum: Out of many, one.

us-great-seal-front

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Different Values

Aside from the most noticeable cultural differences, there are many aspects of daily life in France and the general way of being that are, for me, a welcome departure from how I lived in the U.S.

Right now, I’m thinking about the fact that we were able to get a composter for 10 euros (about $12 USD) and that we benefit from a comprehensive recycling system. The department that collects the trash even puts out a newsletter and little brochures explaining which things you can recycle, which things to compost, and what has to be thrown away.

I’m thankful that we have this here in our small city because even in Toulouse, it was nearly impossible to recycle since the dumpsters marked for it were just filled with garbage bags instead of items sorted for later reuse.

Aside from being able to recycle, there are many kinds of public transportation that are really affordable. For example, for 2 euros, I can go into the mountains on a regional bus, or I can take the train to Toulouse for 13-26 euros.

Because our city doesn’t have that many bike paths in the downtown area, cyclists gather to ride around town in a protest every month. They’re showing up to remind people that this is still an issue that they want resolved.

french-house-construction

These are the bones of a typical modern French house.

And instead of using air conditioning in the summer, the house we rent has thick walls made of concrete bricks that are well insulated. I am able to open our windows at night and then close them in the early morning to keep in the cool air for the rest of the day. If it’s really hot, we use our shutters.

different-type-de-volets.jpg

Here are some of the different kinds of shutters in France.

In France, every house or apartment has shutters to help keep it warmer or cooler depending on the season and as a means of added privacy. In the States, I don’t think I ever saw a house that had working shutters, which could really help people in case of storms or just to help reduce their energy consumption all year round.

maison-avec-volets

Put them together, and it looks like this 😉

I know that in some states, Oklahoma, for example, it wouldn’t be possible to air out your house at night, even if it were made of the same materials as the residences in France. This is because it’s too hot and humid, even at night. But I do think that if houses were made of different materials and people had shutters that they could drastically cut back not only on their electricity and gas bills but also on how much CO2 they put out into the environment.

garbure

Be it ever so humble, it’s really f*ing delicous.

There’s also a strong regional pride here about what is grown, produced, or made in each local area. Here, we have white beans, a certain kind of pork, a hearty stew called “garbure” (see above), and many varieties of honey. There’s even a small mountain town about an hour’s drive from where we live that uses their honey to make organic cosmetics and other products that are sold in local pharmacies.

balllo-flurin2

Ballot-Flurin products made with honey and natural ingredients in the French Pyrenees 😀

I am working toward recycling and composting effectively as well as buying as much as I can that is either grown or made in France. I am thankful that regional pride encourages me to look for the good things that we produce here each season and to only buy what I can realistically consume or preserve.

Is France paradise? For me, I would say, yes or that it’s the closest I’ve come to it so far. But I know it’s not for everyone. The reason I love it so much is that the values people have here, for the most part, match those that are most important to me.

French people do plenty of things that I think are funny or just plain unnecessary, but they are good people, and the most important thing in any interaction is your relationship to the other person. More on that later 😉

 

Summer Adventures: Part II

Dinner at Sakura

Ok, so admittedly, I’ve been a bad pen pal, BUT… I did keep a journal during most of the five weeks.

Here are some of the cool things that I got to do during my solo summer:

  • Went rafting on a river for the first time
  • Jumped into a very chilly river from a high foothold
  • Watched a fireworks display over a lake with friends
  • Cycled nearly everywhere I needed to go, including 10 km roundtrip to a friend’s house
  • Went to the movies and out on several hikes
  • Ate dinner at French friends’ homes
  • Explored a rural bike path solo
  • Got a bangs!
  • Went on a trip to Toulouse
  • Prepared a nice dinner for a friend at home
  • Watched  the movie version of a play by the French equivalent of Shakespeare (with help from a cultured friend)
  • Enjoyed a day at the beach in Biarritz
  • Had a successful picnic in the park without utensils or plates, hahaha
  • And, yes, I did actually go to the gym! (and more than once or twice ^^)

New Haircut

My French friends would always ask me if I was bored, and I would kind of laugh and say, “No, I’m definitely not ever bored.” The hardest thing was feeling lonely and sleeping well at night with all of the settling noises and creaks in the house, which made me feel vulnerable and worried about my safety.

I missed my husband a lot, and the toughest day was his birthday, which was right around the half-way point in my time on my own. It was also a time when I was really frustrated about a big project I had been working on for our business (teaching English to French locals).

However, once I made it past the half-way mark of two and a half weeks, it got a lot easier.

Some weeks I got to spend a lot of time with friends, and other weeks I got a lot done on my own for our business and made sure to get out regularly.

Dealing with the challenges of being in charge of the business, handling any paperwork, dealing with our French service providers (don’t get me started on how tough it was to change from one cell phone company to another :P) and running the house on my own for five weeks did a lot to increase my confidence and self-reliance.

Two days ago, I went out with my husband’s parents, who are experienced cyclists, and we rode 25 km round-trip on a cycling path that starts in Lourdes called La Voie Verte. This is easily the farthest and longest bike ride I’ve ever attempted, much less completed, AND it was about 88 degrees (31 C) and sunny, which made it all the more challenging from someone who usually chooses the shade over the beach 😉

Voie Verte with Family

I did need about 1.5 liters of water during the journey and had use my tricks o’ the trade to stave off a migraine afterward, but my body really handled it like a champ. My legs were not sore the next day, and neither was my rump, hahaha.

Before my summer adventures, there’s no way I would have said yes to going cycling for a straight two hours in the heat, especially since I knew we were going to prepare a surprise party complete with apero, cocktails, two pizzas, and a dessert for a total of eight dinner guests directly afterward.

But with a brief rest and cold shower (and the help of my in-laws), we were able to pull it off and keep my husband from figuring out the surprise 😀

 

Solo Summer Adventures: Part I

 

Me and my bike-001

This summer, I’ll be living alone for about five weeks. It’s been about four years since I’ve lived alone, and in that time I haven’t been on my own for more than half a day or so.

I didn’t grow up as a very independent person. As an only child, my parents were quite protective of me and were there to help me with almost any challenge I encountered. France has been the only place where I’ve truly faced my difficulties on my own.

Now that I’m married, I depend too much on my husband to do various things for me that I don’t feel like doing or that I think that I can’t do.

Since I have this time on my own, I’ve decided to take full advantage of my summer. Every moment and every opportunity that comes my way, I will enjoy.

I’m very proud to say that I did this from the day that Ivan left even though I was very sad and anxious. On the first day, this Monday,

  • I mailed an official letter,
  • Deposited checks at our new bank with no help from staff since only the machines were open,
  • Stopped by to try and change my phone service, and
  • Joined the gym.

Several of these were things that I normally would put off doing or that Ivan would take care of for me or that I would want him to come with me to do.

I can’t say that it will be a quick or simple change to make permanent in our relationship since falling into routine is the easiest thing to do, but if I don’t carve out my own independent identity for myself, when am I going to do it?

Since I want to become a mother in the next year or so, it’s really important to me not to build my identity around my children. How can I have a solid foundation for that if my current identity is based on my relationship with my husband?

Things to think about 😉

At the end of the day, I got to Skype with a close friend and went to out to the movies with a group that one of my good French friends organized. The movie is a beautifully-shot film called Brothers of the Wind or L’aigle et l’enfant.

Though the story was a bit predictable, it was touching nonetheless, and the wilderness and wildlife footage were breathtaking.

However, I was touched most of all that my good friend told me that if it was too difficult being alone at the house, I could come and stay with her for a few days.

More to come. Wish me luck!

An Important Message for Women

Andrew PhillipsDon’t try to accomplish everything all at once, don’t try to help every person out when you’re at your own breaking point and please don’t be afraid to ask for a hand because you can’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders alone. The minute you stop working and stop planning the…

via To The Girl Who Tries To Carry The Weight Of The World, Please Give Yourself A Break — Thought Catalog

Trump Isn’t the Problem

As I read Stephen King’s The Dead Zone, I am reminded of our current political climate.

In the book, Johnny Smith has the supernatural ability to see “into people,” witnessing their thoughts as well as their past and future actions by touching them.

He gets curious about up-and-coming politicians and attends several rallies until he stumbles onto a really bad seed, and he sees all the evil of which this man is capable along with the fact that he will become president years in the future.

The politician he fears, Greg Stillson, is unqualified with no real platform and behaves like a clown. His political rallies are like rock concerts, and he has no concern for the wellbeing of those that he governs but for his own interests.

Now, they may not be twins, but this loose cannon reminds me a good deal of Donald Trump.

Johnny begins to ask himself and many people he encounters, ‘If you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you do it?’

I asked myself the same question when I was about nine years old, and at the time, I thought it was the right thing to do. After all, wasn’t Hitler the one who orchestrated the Holocaust and World War II?

However, the reality is that people like Hitler, Stillson, and Trump do not exist in a vacuum. Hitler understood this: “A new state cannot simply fall down from the sky, instead it has to grow from within the people.”

Someone like Hitler could never have become so powerful without the wounds from the Treaty of Versailles, which assigned almost exclusive blame for World War I to Germany.

Hitler at Nuremburg

The Germans believed that others had caused their misfortune, and that they must unite and protect their people and eradicate these threats. In other words, they wanted to ‘Make Germany Great Again.’ Sound familiar?

The Germans saw others succeeding while they struggled, a group of people who had entered the country uninvited. The Jewish people became the poster child for all that had been done against the German nation.

This reminds me a lot of the desire to build a wall to keep out Mexicans and other immigrants south of the border and Trump’s call to ban all Muslim travel to the U.S.

Will we let this happen again? Can we blame a man like Trump, someone who until recently we had seen as a clown? Can we really paint him as the threat? He is a symptom but not the problem.

donald-trump

The more serious question is this: Why are Trump and people like him being taken seriously now? Why are his ideas and the way he expresses them suddenly so appealing?

The truth is this: If things are so bad that Hitler can rise to power, killing him may do nothing. The fear of others is the real problem, and love, openness, and trust are the solution.

People do things that we don’t like or that are evil for many reasons. But we cannot change what others do.

So ask yourself: What can I do? How can I be part of the solution? Am I treating others in a way that I don’t want them to treat me?

If we are truly awake, then no one can lead us astray. Let’s choose to build our lives and our nations based on love and not on fear. The power of choice and of love is in you just as it is in me.

So how will you choose to act today?

 

 

Freedom in Laundry

Freedom

Ok, so admittedly I do NOT live near the ocean, and it’s been quite a rainy, wintery March… which is exactly why I was at the laundromat with a giant load of mostly socks and underwear and a few other essentials freshly washed that I wanted dried ASAP.

Feeling thoroughly unmotivated on a Sunday night to bag our wet laundry and go to said Lavomatic, the fact that I would be even less keen to do it the next morning (and that I wanted to wear clean pajama pants that night) helped move me along.

Instead of being empty as it usually is, the laundromat was full of wet laundry spread out over the table provided for folding, strewn over the tops of several machines, and draped over the open doors of the four industrial-strength dryers. In the middle of the chaos were two middle-aged, decidedly drunk French men happily talking and smoking cigarettes.

It was such a strange sight that my brain kind of refused to acknowledge the situation, and I walked directly up to the dryers and said in a general way in French, “I need to use a clothes dryer.” Thankfully, these men were of a kindly, if disorderly sort, and they asked me how many I would like, and even gave me my pick of which one I wanted.

After struggling a bit to get the change machine to work in my favor, I popped in a few 50 cent coins and set my dryer at 75 C (that’s 167 degrees fahrenheit)! These dryers will get a large load of laundry nice and crispy in about 15-25 minutes, a Godsend in cold, rainy weather when you normally dry your clothes outside on one of these.

Clothes-drying rack.png

These fine fellows immediately asked where I was from, something that rarely ever happened when we lived in Toulouse, but in southwest France, it’s a smaller gene pool and a much smaller “normal” accent pool.

“I’m from the United States,” I said busily and self-importantly to make myself seem confident as I was alone with two strange and drunk men who had taken over the place (my hubby was sick at home).

“Oh yeah, you can tell” one of them said “ça s’entend.” I stifle a growl of frustration that even a (potentially) homeless, thoroughly drunk individual immediately knows I’m foreign.

Thankfully, the gents were kind enough to do their smoking outside at this point. One of them came back in while I was mostly pretending to read the book I had brought, and he asks me if I’ve been in France a long time.

“Yes” I say. “About three years”

“That’s not really very long.”

“It is to me.”

“Do you miss your country?”

“Certain things, yes. But I really don’t like living there, and I’m generally not attached to it. I just can’t change my home culture.” Here I’m thinking of all the things we take for granted in our home culture, like how to interact with people while grocery shopping.

“Yeah, that’s true. But you’re doing what you want, right? That’s the important thing, getting to do what you want.”

And I never would have guessed that a random person like him, from a foreign culture en plus, would really understand why I left and why I’m here.

America may be the land of freedom, but every place has its own set of expectations for what people’s lives should look like. Where I’m from in the States, most people my age have been married about 2-5 years longer than me and are about to have their second kid. They also (largely) subscribe to a certain set of political and religious beliefs and see the world in a certain way since a good number of them have not ventured farther than one or two states away and even the Valedictorians and Salutatorians my age went to state schools for college.

I am here to do exactly what I want. Not in a crazy let’s go binge-drinking way. I’m talking about having the freedom to be myself and to shuck the expectations of what my life should look like and how I should think. I’m here to be my own person and not my parents’ daughter or the person that people have known since high school anymore.

And it’s been so much harder this year than I ever thought it would be, but this freedom to do what I want and to start a business with my husband and to create something of my own on my own terms is priceless.

At a time when I’m struggling to accept myself and the fact that I’m different from people even in the place I’ve chosen to make my home, I’m grateful to have been accepted and welcomed by these two kind, funny men in my neighborhood laundry.

Faire les courses: Grocery Shopping in France

I’ve kind of come to hate grocery shopping here. The more involved, personal interactions that feel missing in the U.S. sometimes feel way too personal on days when I’m sick, don’t feel like wearing makeup, or just want to be anonymous.

I have not chosen an anonymous life. That’s not to say I’m the Ron Burgundy of Tarbes, far from it. But in Toulouse, you have the anonymity of the big city, and anglophones and internationals are a dime a dozen. Here in Tarbes, my local grocer definitely knows who I am, and I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m super weird.

Let me back up. There is an overpriced, neighborhood grocery store about… 30-50 paces from my apartment. It’s run by a husband and wife team, and sometimes their middle-school-age daughter is there, too.

So if I need a quick stock up to hold me over until I can go to a better store that’s farther away, I pretty much have to go there. Especially if I’ve been sick as a dog for over a week 😦

But even when I can go to the giant supermarket E.Leclerc, I get to be anonymous and have low prices, but then I have to deal with all the people.

I have lived in France for almost three years (this time, nearly five years if you count the other times I’ve lived here), but I am STILL not used to the way French people grocery shop. It is something we take utterly for granted: personal space and expectations of how people accommodate your moving through a space.

Generally speaking, French people will NOT wait for you to finish looking at an item or even to get all of an item (say apples) off a shelf before they stand right next to you or basically on top of you to get what they need, sometimes interrupting what you’re doing to get their item. This unnerves me every time. It’s really not personal, and it is what they are used to, but so help me, my American-ness kicks in and gets all riled up.

Part of this may relate to how they direct the flow of traffic on the road: In France, through traffic is often expected and/ or given signage to make them yield to turning traffic. In the States, he who goeth straight hath the right of way unless there is an exceedingly strange road configuration. Period. End of Story. But my husband and I kept noticing through traffic on a major street coming to a complete stop for us when we were trying to make a right turn onto the road.

Anyway, back to the grocery store. So personal space is definitely smaller here, and French people do yielding backwards, so the person who’s already doing something for longer is expected to halt and allow the person just trying to break in to do his thing before continuing on her marry way. Fine. But then we get to how they look at items on the shelves. I’m used to being out of the way if I stand closer to a display. Normally, the person will look at the items and easily walk past me. Not so here.

People tend to look at the items close up, so while I’m trying to do what was helpful in the past, I’m really in the way here. Part of that is because French people don’t follow the rules I’m used to. They walk with purpose and in a straight line as if they will not be stopping, making it impossible for me to know if they are “just passing through” the aisle or if they are about to stop to pick up an item, which usually is what happens, and I am in their way.

Result: I feel like I’m in the way everywhere in the grocery store! Maybe one day I will figure out where to walk or stand in the big supermarket, but that has not happened, yet.

On the positive side, the ingredients lists are SUPER short here compared to the States, and that is for over 90% of non-organic items that are at relatively low prices. Also, I really like that you will rarely (read never) find grocery carts strewn about the parking lot because you deposit a coin to free up your cart and have to return it to have the money back in your pocket.

Also, the ample selection of wines at basically any grocery store is pretty fantastic as are the baguettes you can finish baking in your own oven at home 😀

 

I am successful.

It’s tough not to feel like a failure when you’re getting a new business off the ground. Most people my age are established in their careers and have two kids, and they live in their native countries…

I’ve chosen a different path, and sometimes it’s absolutely terrifying. Today was one of those days. We learned about an administrative obstacle and may have to take our business to the next level to overcome it (becoming officially established paperwork-wise), which feels totally out of our league.

I started working on a flyer so that people in our area will actually know we’re here, by that I mean that I used GIMP to make a few rectangles and tried different filters on an image only to decide to scrap the whole thing for another idea. I felt so lame and unproductive.

Then I ran across this list. It may seem heavy at first to read about the five biggest regrets that dying people have, but it put things in perspective for me. And you know what? I’ve done or am the process of doing everything on that list. Number one was the hardest (and the first for me): Living a life that is true to who you are. My current challenges are keeping up with friends and the big one, expressing your feelings.

top-5-regrets-of-the-dying-bronnie-ware

Reading through the list, I realized that I AM successful now! These things that people at the end of their lives regret, I’m doing them and picking up momentum all the time.

Maybe I can start seeing my successes more and the ways that my life is good 🙂

Here are inspirational quotes by the same author. Enjoy!

A New Start ;)

cow pic

We bid Toulouse adieu after two years and are now living in a small city (pop 45,000) called Tarbes (tarb). The picture was taken up in the mountains a dozen or so kilometers from where we live.

Today, I’m really thankful for our students. For the past month, we’ve been doing English conversation workshops two evenings a week, and we’ve got a healthy, consistent attendance. I feel connected to the people who come, and I feel good that I can provide a place for them to come and improve their relationship with English and get to know others with similar interests.

Our students are really kind and fun, generally positive and some are very outgoing.

It took a leap of faith for us to come to France at all, much less move from the 4th largest city in France to a town 1/10th its size that some people describe as “closed.” To that I say, “I made inroads in Moulins-sur-Allier, Auvergne, so I can get along anywhere!”

This week, people have been asking me if it isn’t really hard being here as a foreigner. If I didn’t have my husband Ivan, it would be very, very difficult. But he keeps me grounded and focused on the big picture, looking at the “bigger fish” that need frying 😉 But I love France.

For all its challenges (and there are plenty), it is such a beautiful place, both in its natural settings and in urban areas; aesthetics have been key to the French for centuries. If I wasn’t here, I’d spend all my time wishing I were here. And though I get pangs of homesickness from time to time, especially when I can’t go to my cousin’s wedding or be there for Thanksgiving, I know that living in the States wouldn’t give me the same satisfaction. It would just be easier.

I’ve known since I was 12 that I wanted to study abroad and since I was 20 that French people needed help with English, and that I could do it. Whenever I leave, she pulls me back in. And I feel proud to be a part of this country, with all her flaws, she’s my favorite. I feel proud of the people who rose up and reclaimed this country from the aristocracy and tore down centuries of disfunction. If the system doesn’t work, they remake it. The French people have a voice, and they like to use it.

Surprisingly, it is here that I feel the most American. In the States, I feel European or French, and when I travel in Europe, I feel very French. This was especially apparent in Italy because they “did the meal all wrong” in restaurants. Ivan and I were laughing at each other for being so critical of something we normally would have marveled at, but France spoils you that way. They have perfected the dining experience as well as cuisine. The Japanese are close contenders and have a wonderful sense of aesthetics.

I feel national pride here and look forward to the day that I become a French citizen. And it is here that I can see the best things about being American. I think I see both sides most clearly here. In the States, I feel really turned off and haughty toward my fellow Americans, and I idealize France to a crazy extent. Here, I see France’s warts along with her beauty marks.

Ivan and I were looking at cars today. It’s a humbling experience starting over and getting around on the bus and by foot. In Toulouse, it didn’t matter: there was the metro system, trams, buses, and city bikes. You could go anywhere easily. Here, there’s lots to do, but it’s spread out in neighboring towns and cities, and things are farther apart, so you really need a car. It’s so weird coming here and basically starting from zero, a reverse pioneer coming from the New World back to the Old.

As we were at the bus stop looking at times, a car stopped next to us. I was alarmed at first and wanted whoever it was to mind their own business, but then I glanced in, and saw one of our students from the night before. He offered us a ride home and listened attentively to what we were looking for in a new car, saying he’d keep an eye out (he has a friend who owns a garage).

Earlier in the week, I went out to join a meetup.com-type group, but the pictures didn’t resemble the people. Ugh, I hate it when people basically photoshop themselves (putting up pictures from 5 years ago or ones with a great haircut or where they look tall). And everyone already know each other, so they didn’t really stick to the designated meeting place, AND the person who arranged it moved the meet time up about 15 minutes not long before the event started… Luckily, I saw one of our students there, and she was with the group. She took me under her wing, and I had a seat mate and good conversation, not to mention a ride home.

I am thankful for the blessing of having these kind, real people in our lives, and I am humbled because I know they have as much or more to offer me as I have to give them.

It’s so good to finally feel like I’m supposed to be here. It’s not the last step (that would be a house and offices in one of the cities nearby), but I can see our lives here. Exploring different areas, going to different events and activities, taking our kids around. We’re really close to the mountains and not very far from the beach and a big city (Pau and Toulouse). It’s perfect. Well, perfect for me and I think for Ivan, too.