Thursday, August 20, 2015

NOT Back to School

This is the time of year that makes trips to the grocery store, with school supplies prominently on display, painful. Back to school, ugh. So much anxiety and preparation. Anticipation, too, of seeing favorite students and co-workers again and seeing what the new school year will bring.

But not this year. I quit. No mas Rowlett High School.

I haven't done a big announcement or thrown the "I quit teaching" parade because I wasn't quite sure how I felt about it and was even more unsure on how explain why.

I just finished my 10th year at RHS, 11 years teaching French and was by no means planning on quitting or changing schools or any other drastic measure until the last few weeks of the year. For the most part, I really enjoy teaching. I feel like I'm good at it. Okay, that's false modesty. I'm a kicka** teacher. I made learning French a challenging, entertaining, engaging experience. I connected with 97% of my students and really had them participating from bell to bell, And it was exhausting. I was up nursing the baby and off to work before dawn, teach like a swarm of bees, then come home, run on the treadmill and help Casey finish making dinner. Eat, clean up, put Gigi to bed, then Indiana, and finally have an hour or so with Casey or to myself before bed. Rinse and repeat. Saturdays, I'd get up super-early to do a long run (12-22 miles), then make a grocery list while trying to eat, hit the grocery store with the whole family, feed the kids lunch, then finally rest. On Sunday, mounds of laundry and lunches for the week to make. Clean up.

This is life, I know, for lots of people. I was more than content doing it. I even had a student tell me that I was different because I was happy all the time. Who wouldn't be? A good stable job, two beautiful kids, loving husband, lovely home and enough free time to keep training for marathons. Piece of cake.

But, there were lots of things I wanted to do, but couldn't. Like take Indiana to school. Or at least know what was going on with him at school. And be home in the mornings to dress sweet Gigi who spent the first year of her life in jammies, pretty much. And to be there to take Indiana to his first day of school. Or to do Giselle's hair before school, when she starts. And take them to activities. And to have time to really talk to my husband. And go to doctor's appointments for crying out loud.

There was never enough time or enough emotional energy for everything and everyone, and I felt like Casey was definitely getting the short end of the stick. He was trying to work in his workout with taking care of Indiana in the morning (Gigi sleeps in, God bless her) then take Indiana to school after Mom got to the house. After school, someone from Casey's office would pick Indiana up, and Indiana would be at Casey's office watching Netflix, eating jelly beans for an hour or two. They'd get home, and I'd usually be on the treadmill, so Casey would start dinner. And he NEVER complained about it. Or hardly ever.

But, then his office started picking up more and more business, he'd come home later and later, saying he just couldn't get it all done. He was bringing stuff home on the weekend too, sometimes, along with going to evening board meetings a couple evenings a month. Not a lot of down time, but the good part was, he was doing a ton of work and getting paid to do it.

We met with a financial adviser in April, and he kinda off-hand mentioned that I didn't need to work, but we didn't take it that seriously then. He ran the numbers again for us in May, and then we really started to talk about me going part time. So, I asked. I figured it was a good time. RHS was about to change to block schedule for coming year, and they had finally hired a second French teacher who was only teaching French half the time.mSo, I proposed teaching every other day the upper level classes.

I even had my students fill out a survey on SurveyMonkey about my classes and brought it with me. They wrote stuff like "I wish my teacher knew that....'she's a great teacher'." I didn't even have to offer extra credit for that. Plus, I figured they wouldn't let a Dual Credit teacher (as in, someone with a Masters degree in their teaching field) out of their hands. But I was wrong. I kept asking up the chain and waiting for responses, but I also started packing up my room. I got the final word on the second to last day. Garland ISD does not have part time positions. And the response was in the tone of, "We told you we don't do part-time. Why are you asking?"

Therein lies one of the real problems. I liked my job. I liked my co-workers. I liked my students. I did not like my bosses. Or their bosses. Rowlett had gone from a big family to a big factory, it felt, and the student demographic was changing too. For the first time ever, I suspected that there might be a drug deal going down in one of my classes, or at least, that I had students that were selling drugs at school. I reported it but was never told what was going on. Because, why would they tell me? That's what it was like. And that's a shame. Lots of teachers left RHS this year. I quote the principal at the last faculty meeting, "too many to name." That's sad. For the good kids and the good teachers still fighting the good fight. There are many of them still, and if you're one of them, I salute you. And, you should probably stop reading here.

Because I'm ecstatic. I drove away from RHS with my car packed to the gills and thought, "That's the best decision I ever made." Sure, sure...husband, kids, etc. But those weren't gut-wrenching decisions. I'd always wanted to be married and have kids. I'd NEVER wanted to be a stay-at-home mom and told everyone I knew so. Sour grapes, I'm sure they were thinking. But I'd been awake restless thinking about it for the two weeks it took from asking for the part time position to the last day. Oh, and that last day nearly killed me. Sad good-byes, hugs, well wishes and "but you're the best teacher I have" and "your class changed my life!" Killing me. I cried and cried. Until I left that parking lot.

Because this is my life.
Morning runs outside. Legos with Indiana before taking him to school. Knowing his teachers and what's going on. Friday morning yoga.
Plenty of time to do what needs to be done, but enough time to slow down and enjoy the moment. Take a picture with a giant mango. Or dance in the kitchen. Make whole-wheat oatmeal bars and low-sugar snacks for my kids. 
And watch baby girl, 15 months old, walk. Yes, Karime, (former RHS student) I am happy. And my kids are happy. And Casey, too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

My Big Fat French Family

My mother, the kids and I went to France for two weeks in July. Two and a half days were mostly occupied with traveling, one day in Paris, and the rest at my grandmother's country house in Luxe, outside of Angouleme in Central France.

I know when you hear 'France' and 'country house' you think, "Fancy!" and "Ooo, la la, these people are rich!" And some of them probably are. But certainly not fancy.
French people, to an American perspective, are very thrifty. They do not throw things away, tear down old buildings, etc. Especially food, never...that's why French toast exists, along with lots of other recipes designed to use up leftover food.  And thank goodness for my Aunt Sylvie's dog because some of that stuff, I was not eating. Lights are always turned off when you leave a room and broken things are not thrown away. Repaired or not. For example, my grandmother had three pairs of scissors in the house, all completely chewed up and horrible looking. She hasn't had a dog in years. I chucked the worst pair when she wasn't looking. The toaster had two settings, not enough and incinerated. After a week, I wanted to hurl it out the window.  My grandmother, above, is 93 years old and a queen of thriftiness. I couldn't help thinking...Lady, you have two houses, and you're worried about the price of tomatoes? But she was and would put them back if she found a price she liked better. But she would wave off other things for not being good enough quality too. It was a challenge, let's just say, to do the daily grocery shopping for 6,10,12,14, and even17 people!
As you can see, they're not really fat, except for my cousin's son, Matthieu there in the middle...and that's just baby fat. ;-) That poor kid has the curse of being picky in a country where food and meals is such a part of the lifestyle. I feel like the whole day there was about food. Meal planning, grocery shopping, meal prep, serving, eating, cleaning up...start again. Anyway, Matthieu commits the daily crime of not liking much and eating mostly what would show up on a kids menu in the US. Here, he'd be a slight irritation, there was a major deal. They talked about it for DAYS before he came, and then every meal was: what's he eating now? Well, whatever his dad would make separate for him: nuggets, pizza, plain pasta.  They had to explain to my grandmother what a 'nugget' was, but they did sell them in the grocery store. There, they consider it part of their upbringing to teach kids to eat meals, and table manners mattered, even when eating outside in your swimsuit, a little at least. 

My kids instantly won my grandmother's affection by eating everything, especially Gigi, even if they didn't make it to dinner a few nights because it was so late. Lunch at 2:30 and dinner at 8:30, 9 pm is tough for little kids. My grandmother was really alarmed the first time I put one or the other to bed without lunch/dinner. "But when will she eat? She needs dinner!" Seriously, it worried her. It was a problem. Kids (and adults sometimes) are expected to eat a snack at 4-5pm, and cookies are completely acceptable. Other than that, I didn't really see much snacking. I grab fruit or yogurt for them or myself as necessary, and thankfully, there was plenty of that. I ate so much white flour bread, butter, full-fat cheese, and second helpings on lots of stuff (just to please my grandmother, of course) and didn't gain weight (much...but that was all the pastries I ate in Paris #noregrets). Portion, shmorshen, fiber, shmiber. Not an issue. But I did eat lots and lots of fruit because 1) it was delicious, especially the, and 2) most meals started and/or ended with fruit. 

People sometimes ask me if I cook for "French food" or I want to make French food, what do I do? Here it is. Courses. It MUST be in stages. There are rules for what is served and even for who served what (men pour the wine, offer the dish to the people around you before serving yourself, the guest is served first, host sits at the head of the table, etc.).
1) First course. Everyone starts eating 1 thing. Like an appetizer, but the options are more like, in the summer, a slice of melon (cantaloupe or watermelon), carrot salad, tomato salad, cucumber salad---aka tossed in vinaigrette, or in the winter, cold cuts, pate, soup. Chips and salsa, a Texas staple, would be a pre-first course, an aperitif (served with champagne!  I may defect.)
2) Main course. Meat and veg.  Veal and peas, Roast beef and mashed potatoes, sausages and rice, etc. 
3) Cheese course. Bread, butter and cheese.Multiple kinds of cheese. After every lunch and dinner. I don't think I've eaten cheese but once or twice since we've come back. So.much.cheese.
4) Dessert. Yogurt, fruit, and if you're lucky, cake. I did make cookies too. The 12 year old French kids said they were the best they'd ever had. :-)
Hurray for Gigi! And for Nathalie. She's my oldest girl cousin, and it was really nice to spend time with her and her 12 year old son Rudy, my unofficial godson. She was really, really sweet with my kids and dove in with the chores of food prep etc, and it was awesome. I could tell she'd made the trip up from the south of France special to see us.You can't tell, but her hair is mostly shaved except for some seriously long dread-locks. Now, you're thinking, how can she hold down a normal job with that hairstyle? Well, she doesn't; she makes purses and jewelry to sell at antique fairs and the beach, and that allows her to live a more bohemian lifestyle. She definitely doesn't fit the stereotype, and I love that about her.
We got so tan spending afternoons playing in the pool, every afternoon, three hours at this beautiful pool. The weather was in the 60's in the morning and high 80's in the afternoon. Great weather for running, having lunch outside in the shade. Lovely. Except at night. No the only way to cool the house was opening the windows, so you had the choice of sweltering heat or being devoured by mosquitoes. The children looked like they had chicken pox at one point. Boo.
 Lots of playing in the pool! There was a little pool for Indiana's age and even a baby pool. It was great. My grandfather, God rest his soul, was a wise man to build such a nice pool for the kids, grandkids and great-grandkids.
We celebrated two birthdays in one, Pascal my oldest cousin in the middle, and Rudy on the right's 12th birthday. Pascal, my oldest cousin, is a character. Very smart and funny but has terrible personal habits...lots of smoking and a fair amount of drinking, but he would challenge anyone who said anything about it to him to compare their blood test results with his. Not having mine available, I held my tongue. Plus, he was highly entertaining and made a beautiful Salad Nicoise. That cake, BTW, I have the recipe, and I will use it. 
 My cousin Adeline, standing above, came with her three kids for the last couple of days we were there. They stayed at my grandmother's city house, about 30 minutes away. She was great too. I felt like we understood each other. She's a mom, nuclear engineer and lives in a beautiful apartment in a fantastic neighborhood in Paris. She makes the best chocolate cake, or second best to my grandmother's celebration cake that Nathalie made for Rudy's birthday (in the previous picture). And she did the grocery shopping the last day, so I wouldn't have to, God bless her.
Rudy was a hoot! Indiana loved getting to play with him the first couple of days before all the other kids came. Then it was just fun all around.
 Gigi loved my uncle Alain, which is very surprising, considering that's the closest to a smile that I've ever seen. But, every time he was there, he would bring the best bread and break out the wine (and champagne, for lunch, even) and he bickered with no one, unlike several other, unmentioned people. Ahem. I made fajitas for dinner one of the nights, and despite the strangeness of it, he complimented it and insisted that the red champagne he was serving with it went very nicely, and I should let people know. So, here I am. Red sparkling wine goes well with steak fajitas. Ha! 
 Cousins! Since I only get to see them every few years, it was really special getting to spend time with them.
 More! Adeline's brother Antoine (who liked the fajitas too, God bless him) and Pascal, Nath, Indiana and me. Antoine drove up for dinner one night and showed us pictures of the two hundred year old house his family (wife and four kids!) are remodeling. They throw nothing away.
French kids do eat everything. Except Matthieu. Indiana loved the canteloupe, which is a different species from what they grow here in the US. So good. First course, at least once a day.
Rudy, demonstrating his Kung Fu. Cool kid. I'm trying to get his mom to let me take him for a summer. I spend several summers in France, and two of my cousins came to visit as well. I'd love for that to continue with the next generation.
Mamie Paulette, not sure about those fajita things. Whatever. They were perfect and delicious. I found tortillas at the store and made fresh salsa in the blender. And chocolate chip cookies for dessert. I am a culinary rock star....or at least according to the kids.
I ran almost every day there. It worked out great. No one got up before 10, so I'd get up early, run and be back and have breakfast before the house started stirring. Indiana did get up earlier, but thankfully, they have cartoons. When asked what is favorite part of France was, he'll say the cartoons. Oh, well.
He liked the food too, though. See him sneaking a taste of the uncooked 'cake' batter. 'Cake' to a French person means a savory bread. Nathalie's had leftover chicken, steamed zucchini and feta. Served with salad. Lunch, done.
Eating, and more eating! Plus, these are the only shots I have of the family together.
Gigi, eating and sitting on the oldest of her second cousin's lap, Camille, with Blanche on the left and Henri on the right.
Finally, Rudy the goof and Indiana, wanting to be just like him. 

It was so fun and rewarding (and so challenging) to take my kids to another country. I hope we can do it again when they're a little bit older and will do their mother a solid and sleep on the dang plane. A mother can dream, right?